In November 2021, a starry ‘touring company’ performed Handel’s Theodora in Vienna, Milan, Paris, Luxembourg and Essen. An elevated and moving oratorio, first performed in 1750, it tells the story of Christian martyrs in ancient Antioch under Roman occupation. Theodora was Handel’s penultimate major work and he considered it among his best.
Leading the company was Maxim Emelyanychev in his capacity as Chief Conductor of the instrumentalists and choral singers of Il Pomo d’Oro. Soprano Lisette Oropesa took the role of the noble Theodora, while mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato portrayed her friend Irene, a leading light of Antioch’s community of Christians; Didymus, a Roman soldier who loves Theodora, was sung by countertenor Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, and his friend Septimius by tenor Michael Spyres, while baritone John Chest held sway as the authoritarian Roman governor Valens.
This recording was made at the performance in Essen. It took place in the acoustically outstanding Alfried Krupp Saal, and was described by the Online Merker as “an evening of top-flight singing of a kind that is only rarely experienced.” The reviewer praised Lisette Oropesa – renowned in such operatic roles as Mozart’s Konstanze, Donizetti’s Lucia and Verdi’s Violetta – for her “dark-toned, full and sensual soprano voice” and “exceptionally refined control of her vocal line”. Joyce DiDonato, meanwhile, demonstrated her “consummate command of the art of 18th century vocal music in all its emotional moods and subtleties” with her “variety of vocal means: dynamic nuance … tone colour, with a spectrum from straight-toned brightness to luscious, vibrant radiance … In the aria ‘As with rosy steps the morn’, DiDonato’s soft shadings evoked the dawn as a reflection of eternal light … Great art in the form of controlled, meditative singing engendered by inner thought.” Michael Spyres, with his “secure, uninhibited high notes, gleaming middle register and sure-fire agility” had “everything it takes to give masterly shape to Handel’s music,” and Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian was notable for his “even, elegantly produced voice … sparkling like gold brocade in its lower reaches and shimmering like silk in its unforced upper register”. John Chest made an imposing tyrant with his “firm, robust tone” and the chorus “delighted with its bravura phrasing and absolutely clean intonation.” The players of Il Pomo d’Oro offered both “effervescent presence and dramatic accents”.
Earlier in the tour, the performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris prompted Diapason to say that: “Justifiably, there was a triumphant reception for the interpretation of Maxim Emelyanychev, Il Pomo d’Oro and a stunning line-up of singers.” There was the “astonishing vocal richness of Joyce DiDonato, between vehemence and contained sorrow, breathtaking in the pianissimos,” and the “luminous timbre and delicate top notes of Lisette Oroposa, the ideal representation of the virgin martyr”. Maxim Emelyanychev’s conducting was described as “absolute in its commitment …masterly.” ResMusica judged Michael Spyres’ voice to be “ideal for Handel’s tenor roles … The precision and speed of his coloratura raised the stakes to fine effect,” and praised John Chest for his “rich, strong voice, particularly incisive in its upper reaches.” Crescendo admired the way Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian applied his “substantial vocal resources with touching musical intelligence and dramatic intensity”, and summed up by saying that, by the end of the evening, the audience was “in a state of bliss … as if floating in the air”.
At the BOZAR arts centre in Brussels last night, Joyce DiDonato gave the inaugural concert of her international In War & Peace tour. Far more than an aria recital, the show promises choreography, dynamic on-stage interaction with Baroque ensemble Il pomo d'oro, and costumes by Vivienne Westwood as featured on the cover artwork for the new album In War & Peace.
The programme features Baroque arias by Purcell, Handel, Jommelli and Leonardo Leo, as heard on the album, as well as music by Monteverdi. Upcoming tour dates include In War & Peace concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall, London's Barbican Centre, the Berlin Philharmonie and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.
"Thrilled to have my dear friends Il Pomo d’Oro and Maxim Emelyanychev with me on what I know will be an unforgettable adventure, and something I have waited for with great anticipation," wrote DiDonato. "I hope you can join us, and reflect on how you find peace in the midst of chaos."
"I can't put out a major artistic statement for a new album and not have it addressing what's happening in the world today," she told the media in Brussels. "My job is a singer, a communicator, but it's impossible for me to stay quiet when I see injustices around us."
Today, 21 September, the United Nationals International Day of Peace, American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato reveals what she desribes as her "most personal project to date": In War and Peace: Harmony through Music - the new album set for release on 4 November.
Her ambitions for this collection of arias from Baroque operas are substantial. Surrounded as we are by instability, she hopes it will help us find an answer to a vitally important question: “In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?” (Fans are invited to submit their answer on the dedicated website, www.inwarandpeace.com.)
Her aim is to “steer conversation and discourse … to help all of us find peace in our lives in a dynamic way … As I have tried to convey in this selection of music, the power to bravely tip the scales towards peace lies firmly within every single one of us.”
DiDonato, an opera singer who certainly does not live in an ivory tower, was motivated to assemble the programme after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. She had been planning an exploratory album with an emphasis on rare arias, but in the light of the tragic events she rethought her approach, giving it wider and deeper implications.
In War and Peace: Harmony through Music was recorded with Il Pomo d’Oro under its principal conductor Maxim Emelyanychev. The programme comprises 15 arias divided into two sections: ‘War’ and ‘Peace’. Both contain music by Purcell and Handel – including, to close ‘War’, Dido’s dignified, but searing lament from Dido and Aeneas and Almirena’s haunting and heartbreaking ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from Rinaldo. An excerpt from Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse is included in ‘Peace’, which concludes with Cleopatra’s spirited and defiantly optimistic ‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’ from Giulio Cesare. A further aria from Giulio Cesare is the bonus track for the album (on iTunes/Apple Music and vinyl formats only); it is Sesto’s touching apostrophe to hope, ‘Cara speme’, which Joyce DiDonato sings unforgettably on a floating whisper of breath.
In her search for peace and harmony, the American singer did not entirely desert her musicological quest, and the album also contains no fewer than three world premiere recordings: a ‘War’ aria from Andromaca by the Neapolitan composer Leonardo Leo (1694-1744), and two ‘Peace’ arias, from the operas Attila and Attilio Regolo, by another Neapolitan, Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774).
When Baroque opera was at its height, the highly stylised art form was famously described by the English writer Dr Samuel Johnson as “an exotic and irrational entertainment which has always been combated, and always has prevailed”. It is nearly three centuries since he made that judgement, but opera has continued to prevail – by impassioning performers and thrilling and moving audiences: nothing rivals it in giving intense, compelling expression to matters of life, love and death. Over recent decades, opera of the Baroque era has gained a new and vigorous life, with frequent revivals of works by such masters as Handel, Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Purcell, and the rediscovery of operas by composers who had fallen into obscurity.
Fuelled by these arias, Joyce DiDonato is fervently committed the cause of engaging the hearts and minds of music-lovers around the world. As she leads the way forward, long may opera – and peace – prevail.
In War & Peace - Harmony Through Music, slated for release on 4 November, is available to pre-order now.
It’s the second year in a row that Warner Classics and Erato have taken the lion’s share in the ECHO Klassik Awards, the prestigious German classical music prizes revealed today. Artists from the two labels claimed a total of twelve accolades for excellence in classical recording and performance, including one for the Warner Classics-distributed Euroarts DVD label.
Philippe Jaroussky has been crowned Singer of the Year for the second time (his 5th ECHO Klassik) – the only countertenor ever named in this category to date. He receives the prize for his album Green, a journey through French chanson settings of poetry by Paul Verlaine.
From the Francophile flair of his last recital album, Jaroussky chose to sing in German for the first time for his highly-anticipated recording of Bach and Telemann cantatas with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, to be released in October. And as this year’s artist in residence at the Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Hamburg, set to sing at the opening night of Hamburg’s new concert hall Elbphilharmonie, he has developed stronger connections to German musical life than ever before.
Conductor of the Year goes to Antonio Pappano for his monumental studio recording of Aïda. The Italian-British maestro recorded Verdi’s masterpiece with an all-star cast (including Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann) in Rome and received international critical acclaim, including the BBC Music Award for Album of the Year and a Diapason d’Or.
Diana Damrau is the second Erato singer who picks up a prize this year, for her tour-de-force Violetta in the Paris Opera production of Traviata released on DVD (Music DVD Production of the Year: Opera).
Young French cellist Edgar Moreau receives the ECHO Klassik 2016 as Newcomer of the Year for his Baroque album Giovincello, on which he brings his youthful energy and virtuosic thrills to 18th-century cello concertos by Haydn, Vivaldi, Boccherini, Platti, and the world-premiere recording of a concerto by Carlo Graziani. He was just 21 at the time he made this vibrant recording with Baroque ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro.
Classical without Borders is a category of the ECHO Klassik for music productions that build a bridge either to or from the classical genre. Two awards in this category go to Warner Classics artists: the John Wilson Orchestra (for Cole Porter in Hollywood), which will make its German concert debut in September, and the German quartet Salut Salon for their delightfully whimsical album Carnival Fantasy.
Two Erato pianists receive prizes: Bertrand Chamayou (Solo Recording of the Year) for his multi-faceted recording of Ravel’s complete works for solo piano, and Alexandre Tharaud (Music DVD production of the Year: Concert) for the majestic and detailed film of him playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which was released as a bonus DVD accompanying the album.
The ECHO for Concert Recording of the Year (19th-century music) goes to Il Pomo d’Oro for their Haydn Concertos album, in which joint music directors Riccardo Minasi on violin and harpsichordist Maxim Emelyanychev take turns leading this refined yet lively Baroque band.
Violinist Vilde Frang receives the prize for Concerto Recording of the Year (20th/21st century music) for her latest album of violin concertos by Korngold and Britten, an unusual but riveting pairing that Frang has said it was her dream to record.
The Artemis Quartet receives the prize for the Chamber Music Recording of the Year. Their intense Brahms’ String Quartets 1 & 3 is the final album the Quartet recorded with their late violist Friedemann Weigle, who tragically passed away last year.
The DVD label EuroArts music, distributed via Warner Classics Label Services, takes home the ECHO for Music DVD Production of the Year: Documentary for Ralf Pleger’s The Tschaikovsky Files.
Congratulations to all the winners. The full list of Erato and Warner Classics ECHO prizewinners below makes for a wonderfully comprehensive Best of 2015. The awards ceremony will take place in October. More information about the ECHO Klassik Awards here.
Singer of the Year (male):
Philippe Jaroussky (Green) – Erato
Conductor of the Year:
Antonio Pappano (AIDA) – Warner Classics
Newcomer of the Year (Cello):
Edgar Moreau (Giovincello) – Erato
Classics without Borders:
John Wilson Orchestra (Cole Porter in Hollywood) – Warner Classics
Salut Salon (Carnival Fantasy) – Warner Classics
Concerto Recording of the Year (19th-century music):
Il Pomo d’Oro (Haydn: Concertos) – Erato
Concerto Recording of the Year (20th/21st-century music):
Vilde Frang (Britten/Korngold) – Warner Classics
Solo Recording of the Year (20th/21st-century music / piano):
Bertrand Chamayou (Ravel) - Erato
Chamber Music Recording of the Year (19th century music / strings):
Artemis Quartett (Brahms) - Erato
Music DVD Production of the Year (Opera):
Diana Damrau (La Traviata) – Erato
Music DVD Production of the Year (concert):
Alexandre Tharaud (Bach: Goldberg Variations) – Erato
Music-DVD-Production of the Year (documentary):
Ralf Pleger (The Tschaikovsky Files) - EuroArts
The period-instrument orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro, founded in 2012, has rapidly built a substantial international reputation. It now boasts two chief conductors, both outstanding soloists in their own right: Riccardo Minasi, the Italian violinist and musicologist, and Maxim Emelyanychev, the young Russian-born harpsichordist and fortepianist.
Conducted by Minasi, Il Pomo d’Oro was the period-instrument band of choice for recent albums including Handel's sparkling opera Partenope featuring Philippe Jaroussky, and the cello sensation Edgar Moreau's Giovincello, a collection of Baroque and Classical concertos.
Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major featured on Giovincello alongside works by other composers, but here the album is entirely devoted to works by the groundbreaking, prolific, long-lived and influential Austrian composer. He wrote numerous concertos for solo instruments and combinations of instruments; perhaps most famous of all is his trumpet concerto in E flat, but this collection focuses on concertos he wrote for violin (played here with breathtaking finesse by Minasi), keyboard (Emelyanychev, here playing harpischord), and horn, (the Austrian horn-player Johannes Hinterholzer). The concertos are complemented by his Symphony No 83 (known as The Hen, because of the ‘clucking’ figures on the strings in its second movement) and his Keyboard Fantasia Hob.XVII:4.
When Minasi and Il Pomo d’Oro appeared at London’s Wigmore Hall in 2014, The Guardian wrote: “Il Pomo d’Oro is a wonderful ensemble, and Minasi an outstanding musician … Minasi gave us concertos …, dancing as he played, communicating his joy in music-making to us and to his ensemble, and bringing the house down with his virtuosity.”
In France, Emmanuelle Giuliani of La Croix had to following to say about Maxim Emelyanychev: “He can do anything with his ten fingers … Rapid, rippling figurations and thrumming chords; from a barely-sketched caress to undulating, legato lines. Beyond his peerless technique one is struck by the lively, passionate spirit of a man of the theatre.”
Il Pomo d'Oro's Haydn Concertos double album will be released late January 2016.
Handel’s sparkling opera Partenope on Erato reunites star countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and the captivating Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin, who both made such an impact in the Erato recording of Steffani’s rediscovered opera Niobe, the ECHO Award-winning album welcomed as a “landmark event” by Gramophone.
The countertenor says that singing the role of Partenope's suitor Arsace is a milestone in his career. "This recording of Handel’s Partenope means a lot to me, as it’s my first studio recording of a Handel opera. When I was asked to do it I said yes right away," he enthused.
Partenope – which offers plenty of comedy as the powerful Queen Partenope juggles an array of suitors – remains a popular work, and in recent years has even enjoyed productions in such theatres as the San Francisco Opera, English National Opera and Sydney Opera House.
Jaroussky takes the role of Arsace, Prince of Corinth, while Karina Gauvin is the eponymous queen. She has superb credentials as a Handelian and has recorded Ariodante (with Joyce DiDonato and the late Alan Curtis) and Giove in Argo (with Ann Hallenberg and Curtis) for Erato. "She's one of the rare singers who can really embody characters such as Alcina or Partenope using a broad palette of tone colours," says Jaroussky of his co-star.
"Philippe is an adorable person and we get on famously together!" added Gauvin.
The rich-voiced Italian mezzo-soprano Teresa Iervolino takes the role of Rosmira – Arsace’s former lover, who is disguised as a man, Prince Eurimene – while the diamantine Hungarian soprano Emőke Baráth takes the role of a real man, Prince Armindo, who is in love with Partenope. “Supremely stylish” were the words used by The Telegraph to describe John Mark Ainsley when he sang Emilio (yet another prince seeking Partenope’s hand) at English National Opera, and the distinguished Italian bass Luca Tittoto brings authority to the role of Partenope’s advisor Ormonte.
The conductor and lead violinist is Riccardo Minasi, who brings real Italianate drama and finesse to the Baroque score with his ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro.
Handel's Partenope starring Philippe Jaroussky will be released on 6 November.
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