|Jessica Gould and Diego Cantalupi in a Salon Sanctuary concert (photo by Stephen de las Heras)|
Dear Reader, allow us to introduce guest reviewer Chris Petitt. Mr. Petitt is a communications professional living in New York. He is currently preparing a volume of eyewitness writing about Rome by the artists, adventurers and everybody else who has made the Eternal City a global city from antiquity to the present day.
Soprano and Salon/Sanctuary Concerts Artistic Director Jessica Gould has by now gained some recognition for innovative programs and dramatically gripping performances. Most recently the excellent I Viaggi di Caravaggio, performed with lutenist Diego Cantalupi, was reviewed here in March. Tonight, the reputation for both singer and concert series was resoundingly affirmed with the performance of the original program At the Pleasure of Mazarin, the New York season finale concert performed at the Église St.-Jean Baptiste.
The theme of At the Pleasure of Mazarin is the introduction and subsequent pervasive influence of Italian artistic culture to the French royal court of King Louis XIII and his more famous successor Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” whose court protocol embodied splendor and despotism in the age of royal absolutism. Cardinal Jules Mazarin, born Guilio Mazzarino not far from Rome and educated there by the Jesuits and at the papal court, was the force behind this reaffirmation of ideology by means of art.
This Italian-born cardinal and political innovator became the first of minister of France, and was distrusted by some who perceived in him a master of Machiavellian realpolitik statecraft. He employed artistic magnificence to fend off their attempts to diminish the power of Bourbon monarchy, and just as the Cardinal used artistic splendor for political ends, this concert explored Mazarin’s character through music and the uses of music in the context of Counter-Reformation politics.
The opulent setting of the Église St.-Jean Baptiste, proved ideal, as it was founded to host a French-speaking congregation and designed by the Italian architect Nicolas Serracino, a recent immigrant to New York, in the early 20th century. The evening of the performance, one entered the church as the sky was on the verge of exploding into thunderstorm, a first sign of a delayed spring here in New York and tempests of a more operatic variety lying in wait in the sanctuary. These forces of nature were mirrored by the intensity of the performance of Ensemble L’Aura Soave, Jessica Gould, soprano, Diego Castelli and Dario Palmisano, violins, Diego Cantalupi, theorbo, and Davide Pozzi, harpsichord.
The interplay of Pozzi’s harpsichord and Cantalupi’s theorbo established the connective tissue for the concert. The knowing sensitivity and touch of their playing reminded me of two old friends reading each other’s thoughts, and provided a sustained mood for the accented drama the violins of Castelli and Palmisano, and Gould’s voice. Her singing affirmed our observation in March: this soprano knows what she is singing about and imbues the audience with her passion.
The program was altogether winning, but several works deserve mention. A particular favorite was Luigi Rossi’s "M’uccidete begl’occhi" which was performed with a quiet subtlety and yearning. The mood it introduces re-emerges in the beguiling "Mio Ben" and elegiac "Lasciate Averno" two arias for Euridice and Orfeo, respectively, from the same composer’s Orfeo.
Ms. Gould brought to these Rossi selections a timbre alternately opulent and translucent as called upon by the character, her dramatic impulses sensitively absorbed and enhanced by the able and elegant playing of violinists Diego Castelli and Dario Palmisano. Castelli and Palmisano shined in several overtures and dance movements from Orfeo and elsewhere, while harpsichordist Davide Pozzi performed a selection from the Manuscrit Bauyn with rhythmic momentum and stylistic verve.
More overtly political was Virgilio Mazzocchi’s "Sdegno campion audace", which promises the sweetness of peace but also threatens those who would challenge its narrator, seen in this context as Mazarin himself. In her program notes, Ms. Gould encourages one to hear Rossi’s "Gelosia" in the context of Mazarin’s story as an expression of frustration of Mazarin’s foes at his political triumph, but I, for one, found it impossible to hear anything but a woman scorned in this singer’s burning delivery of the text and liquid melismas as if they were the blood of ex-lovers, tears of pain, a vase thrown across a room, or possibly all those things at once.
Giacomo Carissimi’s "Apritevi Inferni" was the show stopper, literally and figuratively. This monologue for a penitent sinner opens with two-octave leaps and finishes off with hair-raising runs of coloratura passagework that go in every direction imaginable, including several repeated high C’s. Clearly a product of the Counter-Reformation propaganda machine, it expresses the church’s goal of restoring order to a world threatened by chaos-producing rebellion.
I’ve never heard this specific piece sung before by anyone, probably because so few can, but in my experience with something like this, a singer either executes this kind of passagework with consummate ease or undermines the whole thing with even the slightest hint of technical struggle. Gould is master of it.
The apocalyptic dramatic expression she and her colleagues brought to the performance was as shocking and delightful as the precision and command of possibly the most demanding melismas I have ever heard in a baroque vocal work ever. Kudos to the superb basso continuo team Cantalupi and Pozzi for opening up the very gates of hell itself with a muscular earthquake of an introduction on instruments that are often (mis)perceived as precious and delicate.
The concert was the occasion for the release of CD recording of this program on the MV Cremona label, and was previously performed in two venues in Florence, the Palazzo Lenzi, home of the French Cultural Institute, and the Villa Finaly, the Florentine home of the Sorbonne.
The program will next be performed June 4 at Sant’Agnese in Agone, the splendorous baroque church situated on Piazza Navona in Rome. Our advice: make your reservations and pack your bags, now!
(c) meche kroop