* Notes *
Yesterday in San Francisco, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performed the first of six performances celebrating Henry Purcell. The evening started with his "O Sing Unto the Lord a New Song," Chacony in G minor, "Hear My Prayer, O Lord," and the Suite from Abdelazer, or The Moor's Revenge. Conducted by Music Director Nicholas McGegan, the playing was buoyant. The Philharmonia Chorale, directed by Bruce Lamott, was also in fine form. Most of the soloists featured in the first half are members of the Chorale, with the exceptions of sopranos Cyndia Sieden and Céline Ricci. All sounded lovely, though Ricci did not clearly enunciate the words of "Lucinda is bewitching fair," in the Suite from Abdelazer.
The semi-staged Dido and Aeneas that came after the intermission was entirely gratifying. The orchestra was splendid and together, as was the chorale. Cyndia Sieden was sweet and bird-like as Belinda, and only had the slightest gasp during "Pursue thy Conquest, Love." Céline Ricci was a good vocal foil as the Second Woman, her voice being warmer but her coloratura more effortful. Ricci overacted and moved a great deal, even swaying her hips to the music. It was not very becoming, considering she had only a few lines by herself, but it was easy enough to ignore her. Sieden and Ricci were amusing as the two witches. Tenor Brian Thorsett also had two roles, as the Spirit in the likeness of Mercury at the end of Act II, and the First Sailor at the beginning of Act III. He was able to give very different characterizations for each.
Jill Grove was an imperious Sorceress, her low notes were rich, but there was some strain and lack of smoothness in her higher register. Baritone William Berger (Aeneas) has a pleasant sound, and he held his own against the incredible Susan Graham (Dido). Their exchange in the last act was heartrending. Graham sang with a facile beauty, yet with a stately grace in keeping with the music.
* Tattling *
They seemed to skip the chorus near the end of Act II, though the text was printed in the program. The audience was well-behaved, though I did hear one watch alarm near the end of the performance.