Monday, July 6, 2015


Photo by Keith Saunders 

Pinchgut Opera present BAJAZET, by Antonio Vivaldi (1735), at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, 4, 5, 7 & 8 July, 2015.

Pinchgut Opera presents, BAJAZET, an Italian Opera, music by Antonio Vivaldi, Libretto by Agostino Piovene, first performed in Verona in 1735. This is this opera's first performance in the Southern Hemisphere. Pinchgut Opera, a Sydney company, have since 2008, presented Baroque Opera at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place. This is the second year that it has presented two productions in a year. BAJAZET, is the first of 2015, and in December, Andre Gretry's L'AMANT JALOUS (The Jealous Lover) will be given.

The plot of BAJAZET, is, generally, today, a contemporary nonsense, but its concerns are of the familiar pressures of sex, love, power and social status and rule its activities and the concerns of the libretto. It seems nothing core has fundamentally changed in human interactions, and so give, even in this archaic form, some 'contemporary' grasps for us to engage with its dramatic thrusts. It is the music sounds that we essentially, are there for, anyway, isn't it? Though, despite the contemporary silliness of the dramatic convolutions, the performances, Directed by Thomas De Mallet Burgess, do build to some intensity as the work proceeds. Mr De Mallet Burgess, even with some gratuitous and overstated sexual 'games' (Irene and Tamerlano consummating on a table top!), moves the work, generally, with some elegance and discreet skill - the stage performers: Luke Middlebrook, Kathleen Coghill, and Blake Feltis, and the Lighting by Matthew Marshall manages to keep the work focused and fluid in a pleasingly forward manner - the opera is never static or dull. More attention to the details of period custom (especially social status and manners of the chosen period) would, I feel, give the production a tidier and tighter tension, that would be more useful for the storytelling, than the present 'impulse' work of the singer/actors. Set in another period other than that of the original, the Design of Set and Costume by Alicia Clements, with assistance from Elizabeth Gadsby, supports our belief in the action on the stage.

However, the quintessential reason to attend BAJAZET is to hear the music and the singing. It is an exciting, occupying triumph of refined musicality. The work is played in two acts here, rather than in the original three act construct. The Conductor, Erin Helyard, has a muscular but sweeping delicacy of control of the score and draws from the Orchestra of the Antipodes, employing many period instruments to refine the sound of the score and to 'pitch' it truer to the 'authentic' that the modern instruments could not do, is a brilliant engaging experience from start to finish. The disciplined response of his orchestra strikes one from the first moment and is maintained thrillingly for almost three hours of total thraldom. The score in the hands and skill of these musicians seems to grow and develop with gathering sophistication and impact and has many, many moments of exquisite beauty.

Pinchgut Opera has assembled a marvellous cast for this production and under the nurturing and tutelage of Mr Helyard rise to transporting heights of the communication of music - 'the art or science of combining vocal and instrument sounds of orchestra to produce beauty of form, harmony and expression of emotion'. Christopher Lowrey, an American counter tenor, sings the villain of the piece, Tamelano, with emotional and sexual physical swagger, and is balanced by the thrilling and mature stature and fully embodied sound of mezzo soprano, Helen Sherman, singing Irene, the scorned Princess of Trebisond. The 'toys' (goodies) of the piece, Asteria, sung by Emily Edmonds, and Andronico, sung by counter tenor, Russell Harcourt, give as good as they get, and musically more than hold their ground in the dramatics of the score. While Hadleigh Adams, as Bajazet, adds an unusual sound as a bass baritone in the Baroque Opera repertoire, and creates a figure of torment and heroism of some masculine power. Sara Macliver, as Idaspe, an unrequited and undeclared aspirant for the love of Andronico, seizes the attention and admiration of the audience with her blossoming soprano reaches. All in all, as aria after aria is sung, the quality of the singing seems to grow and grow in prowess and musical passion. There are no languors.

This early opera is not for the beginner usually, but my companion was hearing only his fifth opera ever, and certainly his first Baroque Opera, and was held spellbound in the wonder of this new world that he was being introduced to. The time, he said, collapsed into euneirophrenia - a peace of mind after a pleasant dream - and he was amazed that he had spent so long a period of time, immersed, with such concentration. Music as therapy-  nothing new to those of us who seek it out - music, that is.

I urge you all to seek out BAJAZET and keep attention for that later December season of the French work, L'AMANT JALOUS. PInchgut Opera does not receive any Government Funding and is dependent on the audience to continue its practice - this company, on the display of last night (and other works, I have seen) is one of the 'Gems' of the Sydney Arts Scene and ought not to be missed, or lost.

This opera is known as a pasticcio - it was common practice to compile arias from other composers with one's own work for an opera. In this case there are some six arias 'filched' from other composers of the time: Germiniano Giacomelli, Johann Adolf Hasse and Riccardo Broschi. In BAJAZET Vivaldi has composed the arias of the 'good' characters and used other composers for the 'villains'. For instance, the most famous aria (Cecilia Bartoli has given it attention) : Sposa, son disprezzato (I am wife and I am scorned), sung by the villainous character, Irene, is by Germiniano Giacometti, from his opera La Merope (1734). Vivaldi, the youngest son of a poor family was entered into the priesthood, as was the custom, and began to compose for the female music ensemble of the Ospendale della Pieta - an orphanage. He became a famous musician, violinist, travelled and worked in the Royal Court of Vienna, but with his patronage lost in the turmoils of European politics, returned to Italy and became a composer of opera but died a pauper. His work was virtually re-discovered in the early twentieth century, when some of his scores were found amongst the work of Bach. The Four Seasons, is his most famous work, and today he is regarded as one of the greatest of Baroque composers. He was known as 'The Red Priest', presumably, for the colour of his hair - there is a play by Canadian, Mieko Ouchi, of that title, that was interesting to read for background. His nick name may not have been for his hair colour. Certainly, the sexual politics of BAJAZET might suggest personal experiences and preoccupations, might they not?

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