Arianna in Creta - Academy of Ancient Music / Hogwood - Barbican, 17 May 2009
Two three hour Handel operas in London in one day. Arianna in Creta at the Barbican began just an hour after Zurich Opera's excellent Agrippina ended at the Royal Festival Hall. Neither was anything like full. Why can't venues check each other's diaries? I'm sure plenty of people picked just one because they didn't have the iron constitution for both. Despite my best intentions, I was wilting before this one even started.
Christopher Hogwood is a more fastidious observer of the exactitudes of historical performance than Monsieur Minkowski. My heart sank at the sight of his natural horns. And it was to prove an astringent reading, probably better appreciated by fresher ears than mine. The splayed notes of the horns aside, it was hard to fault the playing. But Mr Handel was sparing with his tunes in this one and Mr Hogwood is not the sort to pop in a dab of Chopin to jolly things up. Despite the latent dramatic potential of the Theseus and the Minotaur storyline, many stretches proved less than engrossing. It was wonderful to have the rare opportunity to experience a live performance, but I wasn't too surprised to find this was its first UK airing for many years.
The singing though was of almost uniformly high quality, even if with most noses buried in scores it wasn't always as communicative as it might have been.
Filling in for the sick Angelika Kirchschlager as Teseo was Kristina Hammarström, who leapt from note to note with tremendous agility, but remained a little laid back for a monster-slaying hero. The silvery bloom of Miah Persson's soprano enchanted in the title role. Lisa Milne made a bold and assertive Alceste, confidently delivered, and Sonia Prina showcased the most energetic coloratura of the evening in her feisty Carilda. A few wobbly moments from the lone bass were the only intrusion.
If only I'd had a less Handel-packed day, I'm sure I would have appreciated it all more.
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