PBO's Amadigi di Gaula
April 24, 2023
* Notes *
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Music Director Richard Egarr did a run of Händel's Amadigi di Gaula last weekend at the Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco. The soloists (pictured) were all really impressive and the small space seemed to focus the attention of the audience.
The piece has a lot of big feelings in it, it is the composer's eleventh opera of over 40 he wrote. I must say it is a bit frustrating that only a handful of Händel's operas are performed regularly, as this one was absolutely lovely and it would be nice to be able to hear more than once. The playing was crisp and together, the woodwinds and trumpet had significant soli.
This co-production between Boston Baroque and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chrorale works well in the tiny theater. There was basically a runway in front of the orchestra with two platforms at each end, plus eight screens for projections behind the musicians. I am not sure I understood what stage director Louisa Muller was trying to say, at one point the sorceress villain takes off her boots and socks, throwing them aside, and then everyone else who came back on stage had no shoes either. It was as if they were just done with footwear, I guess there was too much passion in the music, they needed to expose their feet.
Nor did I find Ian Winters' projection design inspired, the images of the ocean and sky were pretty enough, but there were times when I simply ignored the images and turned my attention to the performers.
The cast was strong. Mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter is basically my favorite sort of Baroque singer, a lady baritone. Singing the hapless Prince of Thrace, Dardano, she sounded very clear and smooth. I loved her Act II aria "Pena tiranna io sento al core" with the interplay of the bassoon. The sopranos were both very good and sounded nothing alike. Soprano Deanna Breiwick was very sweet and pretty as the beloved Oriana, but was able to bring an indignation to her sound when she is unfairly accused of betraying Amadigi.
Soprano Nicole Heaston was delightful as the witch Melissa, her singing is nuanced and filled with colors. Her duet with the title character was a highlight of the evening. It was also a joy to hear countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sing Amadigi. His voice is clean and powerful. It was great to hear the finale with all four singers, it was unexpected to me as I've never heard the whole opera before and Dardano dies before the end.
The audience was very quiet, though the person next to me exclaimed "oops" when the trumpet had a slight misstep in playing.
It was helpful that the piece was played straight through, without an intermission. I loved being able to concentrate on beautiful music for 100 minutes.