Superb Baroque Entertainment and Education at Vattnäs

SwedenSweden   Barock’n Roll. Maria Forsström (contralto), Magnus Karlberg (counter tenor), Louise Agnani (baroque cello), Janniz Jönsson (harpsichord). Vattnäs Concert Barn, Vattnäs, Dalecarlia, Sweden. 25.7.2012 (GF)


Broschi: Son qual nave (Artaserse, 1734)
Vivaldi: Nel profondo cieco mondo (Orlando furioso, 1727)
Handel: Ombra mai fu (Serse, 1738)
Frescobaldi: Così mi disprezzate (1630)
Handel: , speme infida pur (The Arcadian Duets, 1710)
Barrière: Allegro from Sonata in F Major
Caldara: Selve amiche (La costanza in amor; 1710)
Handel: Aure, deh per pietà (Giulio Cesare, 1724)
Handel: Duo Troppo oltraggi la mia fede (Serse, 1738)
Vivaldi: Sorge l’irato nembo (Orlando furioso, 1727)
Gluck: O del mio dolce ardor (Paride ed Helena, 1770)
Handel: Empio, dirò tu sei (Giulio Cesare, 1724)
Vivaldi: Vedrò con mio diletto (Il Giustino, 1724)
Handel: Lascia ch’io pianga (Rinaldo, 1711)
Kapsberger: Figlio dormi (Libro secondo di villanelle, 1619)
Gluck: Andante solenne from Sonata in G Major
Caccini: Non ha’l ciel cotanti lumi (1614)
Handel: Di te mi rido (Alcina, 1735)
Porpora: Alto Giove (Polifemo, 1735)
Kander:  Ebb: A Little Bit of Good (Chicago, 1975)
Monteverdi: Pur ti miro (L’incoronazione di Poppea, 1642)

Two of the most famous singers from the 18th century appeared at the concert barn at Vattnäs on Wednesday night: mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni (1693 – 1781) and castrato Farinelli, born Carlo Broschi (1705 – 1782). Their present day impersonators were Maria Forsström and Magnus Karlberg and such was the musicality, virtuosity and expressivity of both singers that we all felt transported back almost three centuries to Naples, Vienna or London. Riveting stage costumes and evocative lighting further enhanced the feeling and the programme, with one exception, mirrored their repertoires admirably: Vivaldi and a lot of Handel, a little Gluck but also less familiar names like Caldara, Porpora and Kapsberger. The evening opened with Karlberg – Farinelli showing amazing coloratura technique in an aria from Artaserseby Riccardo Broschi, Farinelli’s older brother, and more than two hours later the two singers joined forces in the final duet from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. Whether Monteverdi actually wrote this music is a moot point but it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful numbers in any baroque opera.

What made this concert such a life-enhancing experience was not only the high level of musicianship and the artistry but also the way of presenting the repertoire. The aim was, first and foremost, to put the castrato in an historical perspective, to get the audience of today to realize the sufferings of so many young boys and men who were castrated to provide the Catholic church with high voices and the hope to give their parents a wealthy life in the case the son became a star singer. The chances were small: most of these boys never had a career (only ten out of one hundred were successful, according to Maria Forsström, and I suspect that even that figure was an overestimation). They were bereft of a family life, many of them lead a life in poverty, as beggars, some of them became monks. This was certainly a tragic tale. But of course some of them had talents, a few were brilliant and in the annals of 18th century opera we find legendary names who lived prosperous lives and were loved by audiences and composers. Farinelli was one of them. All this and a lot more was related in deep earnestness but also with a large portion of humour. Baroque music is not everybody’s cup of tea and there were fewer visitors at this concert than at the previous three I saw, but those who came were richly rewarded and there was a hearty atmosphere all through the programme, which also was spiced by Magnus Karlberg’s appearances as a friend of Maria’s, a hilarious dialectal man from the countryside. Karlberg is a brilliant stand-up comedian!

The choice of music was excellent and showed the wide spectrum of the baroque repertoire. Quite a few numbers were showcases in coloratura bravura, there were intensely dramatic arias but also melodious songs like Ombra mai fu from Serse and Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo. Both these pieces are well known but there was also a real gem, that I believe was unknown to the majority of the audience, Kapsberger’s beautiful lullaby Figlio dormi, wonderfully sung by Maria Forsström. The admirable instrumentalists were allotted two nice instrumental pieces and besides the individual arias the soloists also got together in a couple of duets, the highspot, to me at last, the dramatic Troppo oltraggi la mia fede from Handel’s Serse, which ended the first part of the concert.

The odd number out was the excerpt from the Broadway musical Chicago, and gave Magnus Karlberg the opportunity to another of his specialities: to act female roles, and Mary Sunshine is in most productions revealed in the end to be a man. Another direct hit!

I am convinced that this concert gave a lot of new insights to most visitors and that the baroque era and music after this felt less distant than before. Education and entertainment is a splendid combination!

Göran Forsling