Tag Archives: Baroque opera

Magnificent new recording of Handel’s ‘Atalanta’

Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco has released a new recording of Handel’s Atalanta this year. It is the fourth disc since the founding of Philharmonia Baroque Productions in 2011, and Atalanta is, in a word, magnificent. Sheer beauty to the ear.

Atalanta is a two-disc album of the 1736 opera in three acts that was recorded live at Berkley’s First Congregational Church on September 10 and 11 of 2005. It features the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan, the Philharmonia Chorale under the direction of Bruce Lamott, and a stellar cast, featuring:

ATALANTA – Dominique Labelle, soprano
MELEAGRO – Susanne Rydén, soprano
IRENE – Cécile van de Sant, mezzo-soprano
AMYNTAS – Michael Slattery, tenor
NICANDRO – Philip Cutlip, baritone
MERCURIO – Corey McKern, baritone

The story behind Atalanta’s creation is interesting. Handel sought to write something to entertain Frederick, Prince of Wales, on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. A work intended for a wedding must not be too sober and needs to end happily in celebration of true love,  thereby auguring a happy union for the newlyweds.  In that regard Atalanta absolutely fits the bill and ends in a happy duet between the royal lovers after a few missteps including a serious instance of mistaken identity. But how can any royal know if he or she is truly loved without taking on the guise of a commoner?

Dominique Labelle / photo by Lino Alvarez

The leading roles are all expertly sung. In the title role, soprano Dominique Labelle is simply angelic. She exhibits both an indescribable augustness and, though everyone knows true love will prevail for Atalanta by the end of the opera, a surprising level of passion that is perceived as genuinely plaintive, especially in her Act II aria “Lassa! ch’io t’ho perduta,” which has a piercing beauty.

Swedish soprano Susanne Rydén as King Mealagro (originally a castrato role) is also a standout in this recording and displays an impressive command of the baroque repertoire from the moment the opera opens with her mellifluous-as-honey arioso “Cara selve.” What an incredible amount of voice control and judicious use of vibrato!

If there is a style of opera where voices project with more clarity and purity of tone than baroque, I am not aware of it. Of course, the quality of this recording also is to be commended in complementing the form.

Another singer turning in an unforgettable performance on this recording is young American tenor and crossover artist Michael Slattery. He sang the lovesick shepherd Amyntas  adroitly, with power and passion. Slattery sings Baroque opera as skillfully as he handles oratorio and Broadway tunes. His pitch-perfect emotional performance washes over the listener and has the power to sweep her away in a tide of happy reverie. And sometimes unbridled longing to be in the physical presence of such a talented artist.

Nicholas McGegan, conductor of “Atalanta”

The orchestration and choral interludes are alternately crisp and grand–vivacious and befitting of nobility–and a sheer treat for the listener. While Handel himself deserves much of the credit for such a charming and uncommon score, credit must also go to the conductor Nicholas McGegan, whose expertise in handling and interpretation of 18th-century music is unprecedented. He is one of a select few baroque specialists who regularly conducts the major orchestras, including those of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington, to name a few. Listening to the chorale is like hearing the choirs of heaven.

Since its inception in 1981, San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has been devoted historically-informed performance of Baroque, Classical, and early-Romantic music on original instruments and is regarded as an “ensemble for early music as fine as any in the world today.” It was founded by early music pioneer and harpsichoridist Laurette Goldberg.

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Filed under Baroque Opera, Recording, Reviews, Uncategorized

Opera Atelier ‘Handels’ silver anniversary season!

OA's Acis and Galatea


Opera Atelier (OA) is a Toronto-based baroque opera company that interprets opera, ballet, and theatre from the 17th and 18th centuries. OA opens its 25th Anniversary Season with the company’s first fully-staged production of Handel’s pastorale Acis and Galatea.  Single tickets are now on sale for performances on  October 30, November 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, 2010.   

Opera Atelier holds a unique place in the North American theatre community. Their productions draw upon the aesthetics and ideals of the period, featuring soloists of international acclaim, period ballet, original instruments, elaborate stage decor, exquisite costumes and an imaginative energy setting Opera Atelier apart from other houses.

According to Opera Atelier, they are not  in the business of “reconstruction.” Each production is a new creative effort and takes its own place in history. Opera Atelier strives to create productions that would have been recognized and respected in their own time while providing a thrilling theatrical experience for modern audiences. Critics have recognized Opera Atelier for its signature approach to stage deportment, which is dance-based. Operagoers can’t help but  “bathe” vicariously in the essential physicality of Acis and Galatea as they drench themselves in the fountain scene depicted above.   

Based on Ovid’s tale of the water nymph Galatea and her doomed love for the Arcadian shepherd Acis, Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most popular creations.  Though Handel is best known for orchestral works and oratorios such as Messiah, until his mid-fifties, his career actually centered on opera. Acis and Galatea was most likely acted in private performances but was never presented as anything but a serenata during Handel’s lifetime. Many, many accomplished singers have attested to the challenge of singing operas by Handel.   

Ready to scale these vocal summits are tenor Thomas Macleay, who thrilled Toronto audiences with his performance in last season’s Iphigénie en Tauride. He is singing the title role of Acis, together with Canadian soprano Mireille Asselin, in her company debut as Galatea.  They are joined by bass João Fernandes who appears as the giant Polyphemus and tenor Lawrence Wiliford as the spirit Damon.  Acis will also feature Artists of Atelier Ballet, and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir under the baton of David Fallis.    

This production is directed by Marshall Pynkoski and choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, OA’s co-artistic directors.  Both sets and costumes will be designed by Gerard Gauci – a first for OA! The production will be lit by Kevin Fraser.  Acis and Galatea will be sung in English with English SURTITLESTM.   

Subscriptions for Opera Atelier’s 2010/11 season start at $55 and are on sale now by calling 416-703-3767 ext. 22. For more information visit www.operaatelier.com.


Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Premieres, Previews