Opera Reviews
6 July 2020
Untitled Document

Alan Curtis resurrects Gluck's Demofonte with vitality and flair



by Moore Parker
Gluck: Demofonte
Theater an der Wien
23 November 2014

This, the presentation of Baroque expert Alan Curtis’ edition of Gluck’s rare, and (until now unpublished) opera Demofonte, is among significant events marking the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

The thematic material (produced in libretto form by Pietro Metastasio in the early 1730’s) drew great interest among composers of the day, and by the year 1800 had inspired more than 70 operas - including Gluck’s version which premiered in Milan in 1743. While the main musical numbers have been preserved over the years, the original recitatives were almost totally lost - now to be replaced by Curtis’ versions in which he has attempted to remain true to the composer’s style, based on the available material.

For this concert performance Il Complesso Barocco (comprising some 20 members) used a shallow pit, with the singers elevated behind them on stage, utilizing the Theater an der Wien’s ideal ambience and acoustics as in a staged version.

Despite its title, the work tends to focus upon the role of Timante which was originally a vehicle for the famous castrato, Carestini - and is filled with testing music for any singer, no less so for Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen who performed the part at the current showing. 
In fact, this was the young countertenor’s European operatic debut. If he was somewhat naïvely ebullient and wanting in artistic polish, he nevertheless showed distinct promise for the future.

His voice possesses a soft-grained, rather pleasing timbre, and boasted sufficient technique to guarantee secure intonation and staying power for the arduous evening. At the time of undertaking the role, Carestini’s range had dropped in pitch - toward alto, away from his original mezzo-soprano. This, unfortunately, was an evident issue in this revival, where Nussbaum Cohen was challenged by many of the lower-lying sections of Gluck’s score, despite Curtis’ valiant efforts in the pit. However, an admirable first shot.

As Dircea, Sylvia Schwartz gave arguably the most poised and consummate reading of the evening. Her lyric soprano yields with ease to Gluck’s demands, producing just the right delicacy - yet with the weight and power required as the evening and drama progress. Especially lovely, “Se tutti i mali miei io ti potessi dir…”, and a delightful performance in all respects.

Singing with a great sense of style and expression, Romina Basso made much of Cherinto - losing marks only for the flutter which occasionally blotted sustained lines, and for her silent movie gesticulations which distracted (and detracted) from her reading.

A change of cast brought a young member of Theater an der Wien’s ensemble, Natalia Kawałek-Plewniak. into the cast - albeit only to sing Creusa’s two arias (leaving the Adrasto of the evening to perform Creusa’s recitatives, in addition to her own part).
With an appealing appearance and stage manner to compliment her richly-textured mezzo (of apparent wide range and flexibility) the young Polish singer made her mark - despite a couple of timing fluffs in Creusa’s fiendishly difficult “Non dura una sventura…”! 

In her house debut, the young Spanish mezzo Nerea Berraondo also left a strong impression, displaying an interesting variety of vocal colours and a fine sense of timing in her use of words as Adrasto/Creusa (recitatives)

Vittorio Prato commands a finely-tuned lyric baritone, and is ideally suited to the demands of Matusio. A pity, however, that he was so bound by the score - singing constantly into his music stand and subsequently limiting his projection in terms of personality and interpretation.

Most mature among the male line-up of performers, Colin Balzer, gave a highly polished performance of the title role - particularly effective in his Act 2 aria, “Se tronca un ramo, un fiore l’agricoltor cosi…” in which he displayed the best trills of the evening, and a finely-spun legato.

Meticulously prepared (as anticipated), Alan Curtis and his ensemble brought a sense of intimacy and vitality to this rarely-exposed score, while generating an interesting document for the future with the evening’s recording.  

Text © Moore Parker
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