Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The English Concert/Bicket @ Barbican Hall, London

10 February 2013

David Daniels

David Daniels
(Photo: Robert Recker)

Although not the most frequently performed of Handel’s works today, Radamisto remains the piece that launched his twenty-year domination of London opera. Set in ancient times, the story tells of Tiridate, the King of Armenia’s attempts to conquer Thrace and win the princess Zenobia, even though he is married to Polissena, the sister of Zenobia’s husband, Radamisto. If the ending in which Tiridate suddenly renounces his tyrannical ways is laughable (and this audience did chuckle when the moment came), this is more than compensated for by the sheer power and beauty to be found in a staggering range of arias.

This concert performance from The English Concert, conducted by Harry Bicket, delivered far more than might have been hoped for, following an announcement at the start that all three female soloists were suffering from colds. Our understanding was requested, but, in the event, the sheer determination and professionalism of Patricia Bardon, Brenda Rae and Elizabeth Watts meant that the most visible sign of anything being amiss was the sight of Watts frequently blowing her nose while sitting at the side.

In the title role, counter-tenor David Daniels tackled his arias with conviction, revealing both sweetness and gravitas in his voice, and creating some exhilarating, soaring sounds. He also proved an engaging performer, with his bodily stances creating bold visual effects as well as supporting his voice. As his wife, Patricia Bardon revealed a rich and charismatic voice that was blessed with both depth and a brilliant lightness in the upper register. Their duets were captivating.

As Tigrane, the Prince of Pontus who is an ally of Tiridate and yet in love with his wife, Elizabeth Watts gave a truly mesmerising performance. It was not only the compassion and sensitivity in her voice, or the precision in her phrasing, that marked her out, but also the way in which her expressions and mannerisms revealed the character’s love-struck calculations to win the affections of Polissena. Brenda Rae produced a sumptuous sound that made good, though never excessive, use of vibrato, while Robert Rice was effective in the relatively small role of Radamisto’s father, King Farasmane. As Tiridate, Luca Pisaroni’s rich bass-baritone instrument proved the perfect vehicle for expressing the character’s determination, obsession and sense of self-righteousness.

The evening was ‘staged’ simply yet effectively, by seeing singers occupy the front of the stage for their scenes, before exiting to the sides or offstage depending on when they were next needed. This gave soloists ample room to express themselves and interact with each other, while ensuring that entrances and exits did not become too distracting. A degree of theatricality was also introduced by, for example, having the trumpeters specifically come on to herald Tiridate’s call to destroy Thrace. The English Concert was in model form throughout, producing a finely balanced sound that was characterised by evenness, precision and focus, and which succeeded in generating all of the excitement that Handel’s music was designed to create.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk

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