BWW Reviews: Mostly Mozart Offers 'Enlightenment' on Handel
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Laurence Cummings, conductor Renata Pokupic, mezzo Anna Stéphany, mezzo
It's a slippery slope--when an orchestra commemorates the career of a famous singer, featuring other, less well-known artists. That's exactly what the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment did last Thursday at Mostly Mozart in Alice Tully Hall. In an all-Handel concert, the group remembered its long collaboration with the late, celebrated mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, conducted by Laurence Cummings.
Would the concert bring the discovery of exciting talent who had yet to make their mark in New York? Would the soloists--both unknown to me--thrill us while paying homage to the person they were celebrating, in music that she made famous? I kept wondering about this before the concert began, with feelings of expectation and exhilaration.
An artist indisposed
Then, Croatian mezzo Renata Pokupic came on stage in a stunning emerald gown and opened her mouth for "L'angue offeso mai riposa" from GIULIO CESARE IN EGITTO. She was animated, ardent--and could barely be heard over the chamber orchestra of 19 musicians. Why was she here, I wondered? I kept on wondering after she returned for "Where shall I fly?" from HERCULES. It wasn't till after the intermission that the truth came out--that she was indisposed and couldn't continue. It was a pity that there was no word of her indisposition until then, or that they hadn't made other plans.
Anna Stéphany thrills and excites audience
Luckily, there was another singer on the bill, Anglo-French mezzo Anna Stéphany, who after singing two arias of her own, stepped in for her colleague on "Dopo notte" from ARIODANTE. She knocked it out of the proverbial ballpark, combining spotless technique and warmth in her performance. Reading from the score, she thrilled, as she executed the trills and runs with aplomb. The audience adored her.
She followed this with more spectacular work on "Svegliatevi nel core," another aria from GIULIO CESARE IN EGITTO, where her mellow voice shone wonderfully. It made me sorry that she hadn't been pulled in earlier, because she would surely have been exciting in Pokupic 's two arias. The other parts of her program were less effective, "Ah! Whither should we fly...As with rosy steps the morn" and "Lord, to Thee each night and day" from THEODORA. In these less showy pieces, Stéphany didn't find an emotional core that would have made them more persuasive. Still, she is definitely someone to look out for. (She recently covered Joyce DiDonato in Rossini's LA DONNA DEL LAGO at Covent Garden.)
It was a pleasure to hear the accomplished musicians of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (who perform standing, on period instruments) in two Concerti Grossi (in B minor and in B flat) and the overtures from GIULIO CESARE IN EGITTO and THEODORA. There was particularly memorable work from Kati Debretenzi on violin, Katharina Spreckelsen on oboe, and Andrew Skidmore and Susan Sheppard on cello. Maestro Cummings was a lively presence at the keyboard, to put it mildly: Think of Leonard Bernstein at his most agitato and take it up a notch.