I had been planning (for some time) to write on either Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (one of my favorite favorite operas -- and Wolftrap is putting it on this summer!) or Сказание о невидимом граде Китеже и деве Февронии, Skazaniye o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii (hee hee! how's that for a long title?), an opera that has long held a deep fascination for me. I am ultimately planning to work on this and other Rimsky operas.
But all of that has been shoved aside. By what, you ask? Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno by Handel. Some time ago, I attended a musicology colloquium with Ellen Harris as guest speaker. She extended the observations and arguments she made in her book Handel as Orpheus and spoke about this early Handel oratorio. I thought the clips she played were absolutely stunning (organ concerto, final scene) but after sniffing around a bit thereafter, forgot about it.
Now (well, to me!), Emmanuelle Haim has recorded it with a stunning quartet of soloists. And there are some videos of recording released that are an enormous amount of fun -- some of them are below. In the quartet voglio tempo, I was struck by all of the singers -- how appropriate Natalie Dessay, Sonia Prina, Pavol Breslik, and Ann Hallenberg are to their roles and to this kind of approach to early music.
Twenty years ago, everything was concentrated on the reaction against the romantic tradition of interpreting the baroque. Bill is part of that generation: people like him and Reinhard Goebel and Sigiswald Kuijken fought to establish authentic practices of ornamentation and bowing techniques. For them, it was a battle for purity. Now it is over, they have won and students learn in conservatoire both romantic and baroque methods. You can choose whether you hold a violin against your chest or your neck.
This double practice is what interests me, and that's how the players in Le Concert d'Astrée are trained. Most of them are very young and all of them are flexible. My leader also works for the 'normal' orchestra in the opera house in Toulouse, my cellist is a great jazz player, my percussionist is involved in Indian music.
This is what I like -- she still has a historical perspective on performance practice (for instance, instrumentation in baroque operas -- what might work for Handel would not work for Monteverdi, say) but feels free to adapt and adopt without a concern for purity. Musical practice miscegenation perhaps. Anyhow, her recordings both feature so-called baroque specialists and others that are anything but: Susan Graham as Dido, Ian Bostridge as (Monteverdi's) Orfeo and Aeneas, Natalie Dessay as...well as a whole crapton of things. It leads to incredibly vital music-making which is still recognizably historically informed.
--In any case, it got me to thinking about 2 things: (1) what sort of qualities in a voice suit this style of music (keeping in mind that "this style" is perhaps one of the richest and most varied period of classical composition lumped all the hell together)? and (2) holy shit, Ann Hallenberg rocks!
Let's go with #2. The evidence, your honor:
Ann Hallenberg steps in at Zurich for Bartoli:
Stepping into a difficult, untested role as a substitute for perhaps the most famous singer in Europe on a few hours notice, Ann Hallenberg was greeted with polite applause as she walked with Minkowski to their podiums in the pit. And then, somehow, a magical evening commenced.
Hallenberg singing the same role, Piacere:
AH sings Bradamante in the Spinosi recording of Vivaldi's Orlando furioso:
1) Asconderò il mio sdegno
2) Taci, non ti lagnar
3) Se cresce un torrente
4) Io son ne' lacci tuoi