photo © Christian Merle
70ème Festival de Musique
Menton (France), Parvis de la Basilique de Saint-Michel Archange, 10 August 2019
Three countertenors under the stars
“Ivresse baroque” (baroque inebriation): this is how the tenth of Les Grands Interprètes concerts was named in the program of this important summer music festival that reaches its 70th edition. And it is not the only chance offered: from 25 July to 13 August at various points in the beautiful city of the French Riviera, including the Concerts at the Palace (Palais de l’Europe) and the Fringe Festival, every day there is at least one opportunity of listening to high-level music with world-famous artists and an intriguing agenda.
A real stunning baroque playbill centered on the figures of George Frideric Handel and Antonio Vivaldi was presented by the orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro conducted by Zefira Valova with three of the best countertenors available today. In the cosy little square of Saint Michael the Archangel one listened to fireworks of roulades, trills, cadences, variations and what else. But the mere virtuosity was not the intention of the concert: rather the staging of the expressive possibilities of a vocal genre. Only a few decades ago this vocal type – which wanted to recreate the castrati of the golden age of Italian opera – included performers with an unnatural sound, voices without body, short breath and bleached colours. Today the situation has drastically changed and these three young singers, each one very different from the other, testify to the extraordinary flowering of this kind of voices. And it’s even thanks to them that a musical genre, ironically named Barock, has increasing success in the world.
The Italian Carlo Vistoli, with a “virile”and seductive colour, great elegance and style, already brought many characters of the works by Monteverdi, Cavalli, Purcell, Caldara, Hasse, Mysliveček, Handel, Vivaldi, Gluck on stage. Here he delivered an intense interpretation of Guido’s aria “Rompo i lacci e frango i dardi” from Handel’s Flavio, followed by the marvelous “Sovente, il sole risplende in cielo” with violin obbligato from Vivaldi’s Andromeda liberata. The beauty of the voice, always masterly sustained, the impeccable legato and the perfect diction of the text are the elements that distinguish the quality of Vistoli’s art.
On youtube one can find Kangmin Justin Kim’s hilarious performance as Kimchilia Bartoli in “Agitata da due venti”, a playful early tribute to his idol. Endowed with a luminous timbre and perfectly at ease in the most acute register, Kim began his performance with a self-restraint version of Lotario’s “Sento in seno ch’in pioggia di lagrime”, one of the few remaining musical numbers of Vivaldi’s Tieteberga. Here the composer shows off his instrumental mastery by mimicking with pizzicatos on the strings the tears that punctuate the king’s lament. More virtuosity could be found in the performance of “Con l’ali di costanza” by Handel’s Ariodante, highlighting the clever vocal technique of the Korean countertenor.
Jake Arditti is a product of the great English countertenor school. Enfant prodige as Yniold in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at the age of 11, he has then collected awards and triumphs the word wide for his excellent stage presence that made his Nero in Handel’s Agrippina an unforgettable character. Here Arditti sang “Crude furie” from his Xerxes and “Vedrò con mio diletto” from Vivaldi’s Giustino. Then he joined Vistoli in the duet “Coronata di gigli e di rose” by Handel’s Tamerlano. One more duet was performed by Kim and Vistoli in “Ne’ giorni tuoi felice” from Vivaldi’s L’Olimpiade.
The orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro, limited to strings (nine violins, two violas, two cellos and a double bass) – who struggled to keep their pitch due to the humidity rising from the sea and therefore needed constant tuning – had started the evening with the overture from L’Olimpiade and then connected the vocal pieces with Handel’s Sonata in G minor, virtually a concerto for two violins and two cellos, and Vivaldi’s violin concerto in B minor, whose complex and skilfull structure was accomplished by Zefira Valova as a soloist.
The enthusiastic response of the audience that had filled the square to the brim prompted the singers to deliver two encores: “Nel profondo cieco mondo” by Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso and Handel’s well-known “Ombra mai fui”, sung as trios. The two pieces confirmed the style and supreme skill of the young countertenors.
It was an evening that would have been a shame to miss.