Amanda Forsythe Shows That She Is One Step Ahead of the Rest

CanadaCanada Handel and his Rivals – Amanda Forsythe (soprano): Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Alexander Weimann (conductor), Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, 16.9.2016. (GN)

Amanda Forsythe with conductor Alexander Weimann © Jan Gates.
Amanda Forsythe with conductor Alexander Weimann © Jan Gates.

Handel – ‘Mio caro bene’, ‘Se’l mio duol’ from Rodelinda; ‘Piangero, ‘Da tempeste’ from Giulio Cesare; Largo from Concerto Grosso Op.3/2; Adagio from Concert Grosso Op.3/1; Adagio from Concerto Grosso Op.3/3; Suite from HWV 342, 346 & Water Music
Hasse – Sinfonia to Artaserse
Porpora – ‘Miseri sventurati’ from Arianna
Bononcini – ‘Difese mi giurasti’ from Astianatte
Veracini – Concerto for Violin & Strings in D major

If there is one young Baroque soprano who has taken America by storm in recent years, it is Amanda Forsythe. Technically, she is an absolute wonder, able to bring striking precision, agility and dynamic shading to her articulation, and to her coloratura runs and trills in particular. Very clean across the full vocal range and scintillating at the top, she also produces singing of real strength and character, always managing to secure an engaging, if not entrancing, emotional resonance. Forsythe’s last appearance here was two years ago as Beauty in Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo, where she impressed by the boldness of her virtuoso cut-and-thrust and the sharpness and weight of her emotional contours (review).

This concert was more of a gala celebration of her recent accomplishments, and consisted of selected arias by Handel and his contemporaries interspersed between orchestral pieces. It follows on from her latest recording, ‘The Power of Love’, for Avie, released at the end of last year. The cinematic character of this occasion could be gleaned from the fact that the singer wore a blue dress for the first half of the concert and a red one for the second half, possibly mirroring the flavour of her arias. Musically, what struck me was that Forsythe now seems to have found an even more natural fusion of technique and emotions. One has never doubted her ability to project feelings with a strong edge and candour; she now finds a greater range of refined shades and nuances, with a more innocent sweetness and tenderness to mesh with softer, more vulnerable settings. No soprano can be complete without the latter in Handel.

The opening ‘Mio caro Bene’ from Rodelinda immediately established what was in store: Forsythe’s vocal paragraphs beautifully put in place, phrases and runs beguiling, with the emotional tapestry cunningly penetrated. In ‘Se’l mio duoi’ from the same opera, the singer illustrated her ability to push into long legato phrases and establish a compelling undulating flow. This allowed for great vocal freedom and projection, producing results that were absolutely vivid when underpinned by her technique. The more extended ‘Plangero’ from Giulio Cesare also had a stellar control of dramatic line. Cultivating a fine suspension, it took the volatile allusions of the opening to a superbly-centered coloratura display, before winding down to a very tender and sweet close notable for its subtle shadings. The famous ‘Da Tempeste’ did not disappoint, featuring the singer’s ability to cut from the dramatic to a lovely creamy sweetness, and to command a myriad of emotional postures in close proximity. Darker sentiments also pervaded the two arias by Handel’s contemporaries, Nicola Porpora’s ‘Miseri sventurati’ and Giovanni Bononcini’s ‘Difese mi giurasti’. Forsythe cultivated notable refinement and fluidity in the former (alongside oboist Matthew Jennejohn) and a more tortured white heat in the latter.

What impressed me throughout was how Forsythe’s technique never dominated her distillation of the feeling in each aria. She always maintained a keen dramatic sense and emotional line even though the characterization was often so exact that one might have surmised that each and every note and phrase had been studied intensively to give it precisely the right shading and import. Her retreats to a softer, more contemplative fabric were also telling, and each aria highlighted different vocal resources and postures. While the soprano might need some plainer moments in the course of a full opera or oratorio, it did seem revealing that each aria emerged as unique in tone, yet each had a natural cohesion and spontaneity. Her intelligent detailing always opened up meaning and variety, and was never distracting.

Alexander Weimann and the Pacific Baroque did a fine job in accompanying, and also introduced orchestral rarities from Handel’s competitors on their own. The concert began with a spirited, tightly-knit account of Johann Adolph Hasse’s Sinfonia to Artaserse, with the orchestra in full virtuoso mode and some excellent rasping horns. This piece seemed a little metrical but would doubtlessly be fun to play. Better was Francesco Maria Veracini’s Violin Concerto, where leader Chloe Myers gave a most able account of the solo part. There was interesting variety in this three-movement piece, though the orchestra’s thrusting angularity and strong projection were a little excessive at points. We returned to the master with three slow movements from the Concerto Grosso Op.3 (set alongside the arias) and a slice of Water Music. I might have preferred a complete Op.3 concerto to the selected movements (which seemed too similar), while the four movements of Water Music surfaced as a little too excitable to reveal their full charm; the closing Hornpipe was driven at a hectic pace. Of course, with Amanda Forsythe’s artful virtuosity present, one might expect a conductor to get a little excited.

Geoffrey Newman

Previously published in a slightly different form on

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