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Monday, April 4, 2011

Concert Review: The Alchemy of Handel

David Daniels and Dorothea Röschmann at Carnegie Hall
Soprano Dorothea Röschmann

Sunday afternoon's concert at Carnegie Hall paired two performers steeped in the repertory of the 18th century: the soprano Dorothea Röschmann, and the countertenor David Daniels. The two singers were expertly accompanied by the Juilliard 415 Ensemble in an all-Handel program that showcased each voice to mesmerizing effect.

In baroque opera, a strict division exists between recitative/plot development and emotional reaction. The latter is expressed through arias, which put an emphasis on development of emotional truth and embellishment second.

Ms. Röschmann, a singer heard often in Mozart, sang with stellar technique, soaring to heights with a clear, firm line that allowed equal balance between the meaning of the words and the starry flourishes that come in the recaptulation of the text. She shifted moods ably throughout the recital, from the erotic charge of "V'adoro, pupille" *from Giulio Cesare) to tragic loss in the excerpts from Rodelinda.

Countertenor David Daniels
Mr. Daniels first sang for New Yorkers as Arsamene in Handel's Xerxes at City Opera in 1997. Those performances, opposite the late Lorraine Hunt, triggered that company's renaissance as a haven for the performance of baroque opera. He then moved on to the Met, rising to heights with appearances in operas like Orphée et Euridice, a role that he will bring back to New York in May.

Although he sings from the "head", Mr. Daniels' voice is radically different from most countertenors. He is equipped with a round, viola-like resonance that is rare among his ilk: producing powerful, fully formed tones that never sound flutey or forced. This formidable technique was best heard on the elegant "Crede l'uomo ch'egli riposi", and the moving "Perfido, di a quell'empio tiranna" from Radamisto.

Jory Vinkour and Monica Huggett led the Juilliard 415 ensemble, which takes its numeric name from the tuning pitch of the note A (415) in baroque period performance. Using theorbo, hautboys, harpsichord, and old-style bassoons, the Juilliard musicians provided expert accompaniment to the arias, including the complex antiphonal passages from Giulio Cesare. The orchestra also had its time in the spotlight, playing engaging accounts of the Rodelinda overture, a Handel passacaglia and a lithe account of the second Concerto Grosso, Op. 3.

The individual excerpts were exceptional, but they paled compared to the molten alloy of these two voices together in the three duets on the program. The first was "Io t'abbraccio", which featured Mr. Daniels and Ms. Röschmann's voices melting together in a complex weave of sound. "Scherzano sul tu volto" (moved earlier in the program) and "Per le porte del tormento passan l'anime" showed that this fusion of voices was no accident. The encore too, featured a gorgeous duet: "Pur ti miro, pur ti godo" from Monteverdi's L'Incorinazione di Poppea, a perfect, intimate end to an extraordinary afternoon.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats