Saturday, March 3, 2018

in which we get a bit non-linear

You all may have noticed that 2017 was something of a slack year for blogging here on the Third Floor. A lot of that has to do with a complicated upping of sticks to the Second Floor, a tenacious bug that nixed a lot of concert plans, and the Greifenklau saga. But that's not to say I didn't get to some things and write about them, so as I go through drafts I may toss a few in the hopper that may still be of interest to people, especially if there's a coda down the line. As is the case with this one, from last November:

Boston Early Music Festival's plan to increase the number of available commercial recordings of Almira by 100% shifted into high gear with two concert performances over Thanksgiving weekend of this opera -- Händel's first -- that was the fully-staged centerpiece of BEMF's 2013 festival. The cast was largely the same as then, with soprano Amanda Forsythe (Edilia), tenors Zachary Wilder (Osman) and Colin Balzer (Fernando), and bass Christian Immler (Consalvo) all reprising their roles from 2013. New this round were soprano Sherezade Panthaki in the role of Almira, Queen of Castile; baritone Jesse Blumberg as Raymondo, Mauritanian Man of Mystery; soprano Teresa Wakim as the Princess Who Will Definitely Need To Be Rescued In The Sequel; and tenor Jan Kobow in the buffo role of Tabarco, Orange-Suited Dogsbody.

The opera itself is a complicated array of love and power interests that, of course, all turn out for the best in the end, and also [spoiler alert] nobody dies. As Händel wrote it in Hamburg, it has the there-and-then-not-uncommon feature of being in two languages, with recits and some arias in German, and the rest of the arias in Italian. People nowadays find this weird, but what the hey. And there is a reason for it, but I forget what it is.

There were some judicious cuts to the score for this concert outing from the previous staged version, some of which left plot details hanging, but which moved things along briskly and contained the whole in two acts. Much of what remained, musically, was prologue to Händel's later work in Rome and England -- an instrumental that would mutate into Lascia ch'io pianga, some power chord experimentation that rears its metal head again with the arrival of the Witch of Endor in Saul, and, as the delegation's non-resident Methodist chaplain and chorister was faster to suss than I, a bit of incipient Messiah.

As with 2013, when soprano Ulrike Hofbauer was given an emergency field promotion to Queen from Second Princess due to the star soprano bailing at the last minute, Sherezade Panthaki parachuted in to replace an ailing Dorothee Mields, and did the role creditable service in spite of a few notes going wide. (Post-game analysis at Pizzeria Uno afterward yielded speculation that the role is cursed. This is Boston, you know.)

Tenor Zachary Wilder was reported to have a cold, but it wasn't detectable in any way other than that (I gather) some of his arias were cut to give him a break. So Osman's interest in Bellante was perhaps a little more abrupt than I remember, but the fabulous snark-trading between his Osman and Amanda Forsythe's Edilia remained intact.

Despite the title of the piece, Händel gave all the home-run arias to Edilia, and Amanda Forsythe fired them off with her customary mad coloratura skillz.

The rest of the large cast was as evenly excellent, as was the orchestra (per usual), and we're just going to sit here and hope they do a live-stream concert when they get to Bremen as they did with their last two projects. (please please please...)

Update: As far as I know they didn't, but I guess the thing is in the can, so we may keep the whinging to a minimum.

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