We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


L'Arpeggiata with Nuria Rial

Until the day when New York City gets a small company performing baroque opera in an intimate house, we will have to be content with an occasional exposure and an evening such as we experienced last night at Zankel Hall when we were treated to an all-too-brief evening of arias by Francesco Cavalli, a protegé of Claudio Monteverdi.

Opera flourished in the mid-17th c. in the independent Venetian Republic whose well-to-do populace enjoyed this new form of music theater. Plots involved mythology; staging was elaborate; singers were superstars. 

Bringing these riches to us were the superb musicians of L'Arpeggiata who graced the stage with their authentic instruments and impressive musicianship, under the artistic direction of Christina Pluhar, master of that curious instrument the theorbo (which we failed to differentiate from last week's archlute).

Composing the ensemble are Francesco Turrisi and Haru Kitamika who traded places on the harpsichord and organ, Veronika Skuplik on the baroque violin, Eero Palviainen playing lute and baroque guitar, Rodney Prada on the viola da gamba, Josetxu Obregon on baroque cello, Boris Schmidt on bass, Doron Sherwin on cornetto, with David Mayoral serving as percussionist.

Our attention was mostly drawn to the cornet which produced a unique penetrating sound and carried the melody most of the time. We were dazzled by Mr. Sherwin's playing of the interesting decorations of the line in the lament "Dammi morte" from Artemisia and his duet with the baroque violin in "Ninfa bella" from Calisto.

As far as the percussion goes, we had never before thought about the role of percussion in early music but last night there was no way not to think about it. In an instrumental Ciaccona by Maurizio Cazzati we heard all kinds of drums, tambourine, and jingly chains to accompany the handclapping.  In the Spanish flavored encore, we heard castanet playing that rivalled that of any flamenco artist.

But the reason we came to the performance was for the singing and soprano Nuria Rial more than fulfilled our expectations. We hasten to reassure you that bel canto (beautiful singing) did not originate in the 19th c. we so dearly love. Ms. Rial's lovely voice made the lavish embellishments sound effortless, particularly in the lovely "Restino imbalsamente" from Calisto, emphasizing the poignant upper register.

She has an unassuming manner that allows her to immerse herself in the song although the use of the music stand occasionally interfered with her engagement with the audience. Her ease with body movement and gesture enhanced the experience of the rhythm of the music.

Many of the arias were laments and her voice brought out the melancholy.  But some of the songs were jolly like "Non è maggior piacere" from Calisto, with its extended melismatic passages. "Che città" from Ormindo was downright frisky.

The lovely evening lasted only slightly more than an hour but we surely could have enjoyed more. Our taste for beauty is insatiable.

(c) meche kroop

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