This was a vocal competition with a twist. The repertoire was all baroque and the prizes were the soloist spots in upcoming performances of Zelenka’s Missa Omnium Sanctorum. To some extent that dictated the format with three bass-baritones, three tenors and three altos (two mezzos and a countertenor) competing and a prize winner in each triad. Each singer had to offer the appropriate piece from the Zelenka Mass plus a piece of their choice by each of Bach and Handel. I did wonder whether I would get through an afternoon of twenty seven baroque vocal pieces but aided by free pizza and cookies I made it. At least, for once, I was at a singing competition where nobody would be singing Pierrot’s Tanzlied.
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.