* Notes *
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and new Music Director Richard Egarr (pictured) ended the 2021-2022 season with Händel's Radamisto last weekend at the Bing Concert Hall on the Stanford campus. The intimate venue proved unflattering, though there certainly was some lovely singing and playing.
I attended the last performance of the run yesterday afternoon, and was able to hear Egarr conduct. He had a foot infection and was at the hospital, and the assistant conductor had lead the first two performances. The overture sounded warm and focused, though there were moments in the 2 hour and 45 minute piece that were off-kilter and chaotic. The trumpets and the flute had some strong soli.
Christophe Gayral's production is staid and serious. The insignia of the Armenians looked much like the logo of a certain German athletic brand, but it was unclear if this was intentionally humorous. There was much use of the different configurations of the Bing's stage to change the set, which could have been interesting, but seemed to change the acoustic for the singers and did not serve the music well. There were a lot of guns and flags. There was much fussing with a navy blue coat in a scene with Radamisto and his wife Zenobia that didn't do much dramatically. A later scene in which Radamisto's sister Polissena is stripped of her queenly gown works better, but effective staging elements were far and few between. The lighting design seemed off at times, at one point in Act I Polissena stepped forward into darkness, and the light only caught up later. If this was done on purpose, it did not seem so.
It was hard to get a good read on some of the voices in the cast, as they sounded different in the various locations of the hall and in its different configurations. Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta seemed warm and clear in her first vocal appearance as Prince Tigrane, but later on in the act. Likewise bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock's voice had a light, floaty quality to it in the space, he wasn't very threatening as the villain Tiridate. Soprano Ellie Laugharne stayed on the right side of shrill as unloved Polinessa, her icy sound a nice contrast to the warm, bright tones of soprano Liv Redpath (Zenobia).
Only Redpath and countertenor Iestyn Davies in the title role had a consistent beauty to their voices, it was unclear to me if this was because I happened to be seated in the right place to hear their voices or because the staging was more forgiving to them somehow. Redpath could clearly convey emotion in her voice, sounding especially plaintive and bell-like in her Act II aria "Che farà quest'alma mia." Davies too has a brilliant sound, his "Ombra cara" of Act II was great, as were his duets in Act III with Redpath.
* Tattling *
Though the hall seemed to amplify the audience members as well as the performers, and I heard some wrappers, zippers, and coughs, there were few if any electronic sounds or talking. Most everyone wore masks, despite the fact that they are no longer required.