I suppose it’s fair to say that Philippe Jaroussky is a singer who divides opinion; you either love his light bright “soprano” sound or you prefer something more muscular (Sesto vs. Cesare perhaps). He has a cult following and he knows it. That side of things was very much on display at Koerner Hall last night when he appeared with the Ensemble Artaserse in a programme of arias from18th century Italian opera. It was clear that a goodly section of the audience had travelled from out of town for the concert and knew exactly what to expect. This was exemplified by the three encores leading up to Handel’s “Lascio ch’io pianga” which the hard core fans had been shouting for and weren’t going to go home without hearing!
Isabel Bayrakdarian’s latest CD is rather odd. The material is obscure. It’s all taken from 18th century operas about the Armenian king Tigranes and his daughter Cleopatra. The plots are basically the same. Tigranes wants Cleopatra to make a marriage of state but she is in love with Tigranes’ enemy Mithridates. The outcomes are predictable. Apparently, these operas are Bayrakdarian’s academic specialty and she has chosen excerpts from Cleopatra’s part in versions by Hasse, Vivaldi and Gluck.
Rival Queens is a collaboration between Tafelmusik and Isabel Bayrakdarian showcasing music written for Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni; star divas of the 18th century who fought out a bitter rivalry on stage in London in 1726-28. The great composers of the sage, most notably Handel, all composed for them and wrote works that brought out their respective, and quite contrasted, strengths.
In the first half of the program Bayrakdarian focused on works for Bordoni. There were arias from Handel’s Alessandro (one of the works both divas performed in), Bononcini’s Astianatte and Hasse’s Cajo Fabricio. These are pieces requiring extremely secure technique. They lie fairly low in the soprano range (maybe modern mezzo territory) but have long, long, intricate coloratura runs which Bayrakdarian navigated with apparent ease. The arias were rounded out with orchestral pieces by Handel and Zelenka.