Vivid Drama: Radamisto at the Philharmonie Essen

Händel – Radamisto

Radamisto – Philippe Jaroussky
Zenobia – Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Polissena – Emőke Baráth
Tiridate – Zachary Wilder
Farasmane – Renato Dolcini
Tigrane – Anna Bonitatibus
Fraarte – Alicia Amo

Il Pomo d’Oro / Francesco Corti.
Concert performance.

Philharmonie, Essen, Germany.  Sunday, October 10th, 2021.

This performance of Radamisto marked the German stop of a tour that Il Pomo d’Oro is currently undertaking, also visiting venues in Switzerland, France, Catalonia, and Spain.  For it, the group assembled a mouth-wateringly tempting cast of some of the finest singers in this repertoire active today, under the direction of noted Italian harpsichordist, Francesco Corti.  Tonight also marked my first visit to the Philharmonie Essen and it is indeed a handsome venue.  The acoustic of the hall is exceptionally singer friendly.  The voices resonated quite freely around the space, which meant that the singers were able to pull right back and produce some spellbinding pianissimi where required.  As there were unfortunately a significant number of empty seats, I was able to experience the performance from two separate places, both before and after intermission, and I can confirm that the extremely positive impression of the acoustic was similar from all seats.  Essen is a frequent stop on many international tours, and it is a venue that is certainly worth a visit.

Il Pomo d’Oro. Photo: © Julien Mignot

The ensemble is undertaking quite a punishing schedule currently, with performances in different cities and countries every other evening.  Yet there was no sense of tiredness or routine from the singers or the orchestra.  Instead, we had an evening that, while it took a little while to take wing, once it did, it crackled with drama and emotion.  Corti led a reading that was congenial and intelligently phrased.  The cast indulged in some highly stylish ornamentation in their da capos.  As so often happens, perhaps the tension had a tendency to droop in the recitatives, even with a cast as experienced as this one, but once we got to the arias, there were some seriously vivid performances.  That said, I did often wish for Corti to make more explicit use of the emotional impact of a sforzando, for instance.  Still, it was well paced on the whole.  The quality of the orchestral playing was exceptional.  Not least, concertmaster Zefira Volova’s solo with Emőke Baráth’s Polissena, which flowed with improvisatory freedom.  The brass, Jean-François Madeuf and Alexandre Zanetta – doubling both horn and trumpet, was deliciously raucous.

Francesco Corti. Photo: © Caroline Doutre

Philippe Jaroussky took the title role.  Radamisto is a role that requires some declamatory strength and it felt that Jaroussky was more at home in the more contemplative numbers, of which there are many.  When required to give the voice more heft, the top became brittle, lacking in resonance.  Where he was able to pull back, he spun threads of golden tone with an impeccable legato.

Philippe Jaroussky. Photo: © Simon Fowler

Marie-Nicole Lemieux injected Zenobia with sheer theatrical instincts, transforming the concert setting into vivid theatre.  The cries of ‘pietà, del mio dolor’ in ‘Deggio dunque, oh Dio, lasciarti’, were filled with unbearable pain, the richness of her claret contralto enveloping us in a warm blanket of sound.  Lemieux was alive to the instant changes of mood in Zenobia’s music, truly inhabiting both the rage and the tenderness.  She also blended quite spellbindingly with Jaroussky in their duets – and they both clearly relished having the opportunity to sing together.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Photo: © Geneviève Lesieur

Emőke Baráth sang Polissena with limpid tone, seemingly defying gravity in the way that the voice soared with freedom on high.  Baráth also demonstrated some phenomenal breath control, the lines seemingly endless with a milky-smooth legato, giving her singing a freedom that felt both musical and natural.

Emőke Baráth. Photo: © Zsoffi Raffay

Zachary Wilder sang Tiridate with a bright, forward tenor, having clearly mastered his music and able to dispatch the rapid passagework with ease and elegance.  This is a voice that can turn the corners effortlessly, rising to an equally easy top.

Zachary Wilder. Photo: © Philippe Matsas

As Tigrane, Anna Bonitatibus sang with her familiar orange-toned mezzo, full of tonal warmth.  Her virtuosic dispatch of her lines, filling them with meaning, rendering them so much more than notes on a page, made her Tigrane even more vivid.  Naturally, her coloratura was impeccably clear, and she manipulated the text, always digging out and drawing out the deeper motivations of her character.

Anna Bonitatibus. Photo: © Frank Bonitatibus.

Renato Dolcini sang Farasmane with strong oaky tone, while Alicia Amo’s slightly chalky soprano, brought verbal acuity and native communication of the text to the role of Fraarte.

Renato Dolcini. Photo: © Philippe Delval

Tonight really lived up to its promise in so many ways.  We were given a feast of Händelian singing, an evening injected with drama and energy, and accompanied with orchestral playing of the very highest quality.  The audience welcomed the performance with frequent applause after every number and a standing ovation at the very end.  This reaction is testament to the fact that the entire cast was able to transform an opera seria into living, breathing drama.  And that is indeed reason to celebrate.

Alicia Amo: Photo: © Michel Novak
Philharmonie Essen. Photo: © Elias Brochhagen / Stadt Essen.

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