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BREMF – LA DAFNE (1608) – BREMF Live! performers

- February 9, 2020

How do you bring a 400 year-old opera back to life? Give it the BREMF Live! treatment – some truly excellent singing most beautifully accompanied. The BREMF team are getting very good at delivering this.

Marco da Gagliano’s music-drama set Ottavio Rinuccini’s eloquent poetry in the innovative recitative style, as near to natural speech as possible. It’s therefore essential that the words are clear and, kudos to all the singers, even in the unforgiving acoustic of The Old Market we could hear almost every word. As in previous productions, Silvia Reseghetti’s precise surtitles made the Italian easy to follow. These days, however, recitative can be hard work for the singers and audience alike unless the continuo accompaniment is alive and inventive. Claire Williams’ harpsichord and her two chitarronists, Jonatan Bougt and Sergio Bucheli, brought a special vigour to the drama. Their distinct styles added contrast and a much wider dynamic range to the solo singing and a powerful energy when they all played together. Even more thrilling in the last scene was a virtuoso trio of nymphs and a shepherd (Angela Hicks, Laura Lopes & Sebastian Maclaine) who sang brilliantly without the support of any accompaniment. That stark lack of instruments emphasised just how important the continuo had been throughout the rest of the work.

Indeed, that last scene really brings this proto-opera to life. Tirsi’s poignant account of Dafne’s cruel fate, so tenderly sung by CN Lester, was the dramatic centre of the piece and very powerful in its restraint. In turn, it ignited Apollo’s anguish, rage and heroic resolution, letting tenor Rory Carver come into his own with a stunning aria of vocal fireworks, well worthy of the ardent sun god.

Photo © Robert Piwko

Oliver Webber’s fine Baroque strings added some sinfonie by Salomone Rossi between the scenes which had the happy effect of diluting the torrent of recitative with elegant dance tunes. Thomas Guthrie’s understated staging was sometimes abstruse and the flat-cap costumes were inexplicably dull, so this production is more like an animated, musically superlative, concert performance.

A host of very experienced professionals and volunteers make Artistic Director Deborah Robert’s ‘BREMF Live!’ project possible. The talented young performers in this cast, some already now international stars, benefit greatly from their BREMF introductions, mentoring and the very appreciative audience.

The Open Market, Hove,
8 February, 2020
Rating: ★★★★½
Andrew Connal

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