From the very start, Christie led a historically informed and authentic sounding band, pacing them with a rare, dramatic drive and employing special orchestral effects that rendered more modern stage gadgetry almost entirely without necessity. There was plenty of sting and bite when called for, the strings digging into the meat of the music, and there was also an almost restrained lyricism that at times made me feel like I was truly listening to the music of the gods. ( I just read several reviews taking Christie to task and calling his effort here, "dull" - I cannot imagine a less apt description than "dull" for his work here - it is never less than thrilling.)
There is a lot of "meat" for the title character and I was pleased that Christie had at his disposal a contralto, rather than countertenor for this part. The choice of Marijana Mijanovi' is an interesting and wise one. Miss Mijanovi''s voice has a sort of bottled-up quality much more similar in timbre and weight to a countertenor than any female singer I can recall hearing since the Baroque Boom. Slender and elegant, she also (and without resorting to artificial facial hair) makes a rather believable guy. Some of her coloratura (particularly in the last act, where I fear she may also have been running out of steam), was unusually produced, a mixture of the aspirated and chug-a-chug varieties - but it also seemed to be borne of a dramatic, rather than musical choice. Regardless , Mijanovi' gives a bold, theatrical performance. Her depiction of the hero's madness in the last 20 or so minutes of the second act were delightfully and theatrically horrific. This performance was particularly startling to me as several reviews I'd read complained that Mijanovi' was "unconvincing" in the trousers part. To the contrary, her turn here is one of the MOST convincing male impersonator I've yet seen.
Having already witnessed an axe-wielding Orlando, our hero begins the final scene of the act on a mostly darkened stage, appearing in a doorway, light streaming out, the ax in high relief. As a life-long horror fan, it always does my heart good to see directors not skimp on the shock factor (without resorting to the schlock factor) and with this one simple image, Jens-Daniel Herzog won a fan for life.
While I enjoyed her overall, I wish I could be even more enthusiastic about the performance of Martina Janková as Angelica. Looking remarkably like Charlize Theron in "Head in the Clouds" (right down to her costumes and wigs) she is a beguiling stage beauty. The voice, in its middle range is warm, with a feminine gorgeousness to it. Unfortunately, as she gets to the upper range and her extension, I found the sound tremulous and edgy, and not always properly tuned. Super high notes (which felt unnecessarily added on) had a particularly screechy sound, probably more noticeable in this recording than live in the house.
Basso, Konstantin Wolff both in voice and visage made an imposing, impressive Zoroastro. The voice had a rich, bloom and he dispatched his coloratura elegantly and with authority. The very bottom of his voice tended towards the gravel-voiced or even inaudible, which can diminish - if only slightly - the effectiveness of Handel's music for him, but everything else was so spot on - including his wonderful acting - that he made the role work and his contribution was a major one.
With less time to shine than anyone else on stage, Katharina Peetz was pleasant as Medoro, while not bowling me over entirely. Additionally, Ms. Peetz wasn't at all helped by the wardrobe mistress who made her Medoro appear as if an extra in a regional production of "The Most Happy Fella."
This leaves the role of Dorinda and the discovery of my new crush: Christina Clark. The American soprano from Toledo, Ohio is one of the brightest discoveries I've seen or heard in several years. A little digging revealed she primarily works in Europe these days, though about a decade ago won accolades on these shores, singing the title role of Joplin's "Treemonisha" for Opera Theatre of St. Louis).
A naturally effervescent personality (at times she almost seems to exude sparkles) with a clear, radiant and flexible lightweight voice, her coloratura is of the razzle-dazzle variety. She nails what seem to be about 30 trills in this music without batting an eye (okay, maybe once she bats an eye . . . sue me!) and Dorinda's music - clearly the most virtuostic in this score, is dispatched with a sense of élan and overall joy that is positively infectious. Clark appears to be a completely natural stage performer, and whenever she is onstage you can't help but keep your eyes glued to her. She's a good "reactor" - always paying attention to her fellow principals to the point where her reactions are as important as their cause. While I enjoyed much of the "business" from the other singers it, at times, felt studied or tagged on. None of this is true with Ms. Clark's performance - every action feeling germane to Dorinda's plight, including her interpolated giggles and sobs which, too often with operatic voices, come off as gimmicky and false. Clark is definitely someone to watch for, but hands off . . . she's mine!
Herzog's production at first annoyed me, moving the 8th Century era to a Fin de siècle sanitarium, with its seemingly never ending "Upstairs/Downstairs" parade of servants and nurses. It did not, however, take long for me to be absorbed by this conceit, the director, conductor and cast winning me over with brilliant musicmaking, above-par operatic action, marvelous costumes, sliding panels and ever shifting spaces for action.
While this has never been my favorite Handelian score, as here presented, the music flows beautifully, aria-after-aria, its ensembles, few and small in number, including a beautiful and rare (for Handel) trio sung with exquisite feeling and sense of time. The baroque balance between drama and comedy are perfectly balanced and there is little not to enjoy in its 3 or so nicely paced hours. This was a genuine joy.