Advent Calendar Day 7: Comfort Ye / Ev’ry Valley – Handel

Well, now, I could hardly have a ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord / make His path straight’ theme and not include Handel, now could I?  I’m pretty sure there is a law about that sort of thing.

The trick with this piece is, of course, that so many people have sung it that it’s really difficult to pick a favourite recording of it.  And I really can’t have Ian Bostridge every year.  Well, I mean, I could, but it seems like cheating…

So this year, I’ve found a rather delightful recording by Kurt Streit.  There are some flaws in the recording (for some reason, it’s squished and compressed, and someone cut a bunch of the accompaniment – why would you DO that?), but there are really none in his performance.  I love the effortlessness with which he sings, and how much joy he brings to the performance – it’s absolutely contagious, and I’d basically follow him anywhere if he sang at me like that.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

PS – OK, I simply cannot mention Handel’s Messiah without drawing your attention to this completely bonkers production, directed by Claus Guth.  It’s impeccably sung, but the staging is bizarre and includes interpretive dance, a sign language interpreter, and significantly more seductive intent than one usually finds in either ‘He Shall Feed his Flock’ or ‘How Beautiful Are the Feet’.  (And yes, it goes precisely where you think it does in the latter case.)

If you have a couple of hours to spare and have a taste for high-quality Baroque music made completely bizarre, I highly recommend this to your attention.


Advent Calendar Day 17: Rejoice Greatly (Handel)

I know, I know, I’m really milking this Rejoice business now, aren’t I?  But you see, I went looking for a Magnificat, and then fell down an internet rabbit hole and found myself listening to Patricia Petibon singing Der Hölle Rache, as well as a whole lot of other entirely un-Adventy things, because she is an utterly addictive singer to watch, and then I remembered seeing a recording of a very young Patricia Petibon (with dark hair!) singing Rejoice Greatly, and *clearly* that had to be the next thing I posted here, because it’s gorgeous.

I love this aria, and I just adore the way Petibon sings it – she is so very expressive, with those huge eyes and wild hair, and I do find it hilarious when she goes all sopranolicious on those cadenzas.  I didn’t think that baroque ornaments normally went into the stratosphere like that, but that’s not going to stop her, and nor should it, because she sounds amazing.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything to add to this, except that you really should go and find more videos of Patricia Petibon singing.  I love her CDs – her choice of music is superb and diverse – but really, watching her sing is something else again.

Friday Fun: Spera e godi, il mio tesoro (Handel)

I went to see Opera Australia’s production of Partenope on Wednesday.  It’s a wonderful, insane production of a wonderful, bonkers opera.  The plot concerns Partenope, the soprano and the Queen of Naples, who is beloved by everyone, including Arsace (a mezzo), who she favours, and Armindo (a male alto), who is in love with her but too shy to say so.  Unfortunately, Arsace has abandoned Rosmira (another mezzo), who decides to take her revenge by dressing as a man (as you do), pretending to be in love with Partenope, and making it her business to torment Arsace, who recognises her, but for some reason says nothing about this.  There is also a random tenor prince who is trying to invade Naples because he is in love with Partenope, but that’s sort of a side issue in all the general crazy.  This particular production – which I will review when I am not busy making myself late to work – was rendered extra-specially mad by adding a lot of surrealism, making the invading tenor prince into an analogue of photographer Man Ray, and making everything even more sexualised than it was already.  Which is saying something.

Anyway, I was rather taken by the aria which Partenope sings right after Rosmira (still pretending to be a man) reveals Arsace’s perfidy – Partenope immediately turns to Armindo (who she has previously been treating in a mildly mocking fashion) and informs him that they will be living happily ever after now, but has to keep looking back over her shoulder to sing invective at Arsace.  As you do.

Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to find one recording of this, and it has a lot of background laughter, though it is beautifully sung.

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Monday Music: El Vito (Joaquín Nin y Castellanos) sung by Patricia Petibon

Really, how gorgeous is Patricia Petibon?  I mean, first there is that impeccable, light coloratura voice, full of personality, and then there is her amazing, almost outrageously expressive face.  I wish there were more videos of her singing live, because I could watch and listen to her for hours.

Actually, I kind of have been.  But I’m saving some of those other posts for later.  And swooning a little.

Anyway, here she is, singing El Vito, a Spanish folk song that was, if I understand correctly (I do not have her Melancolia CD – yet! – so I can’t tell you based on the notes) set by Joaquín Nin y Castellanos.  The lyrics are a little concerning, translating to “An old woman is worth a silver coin and a young girl two copper coins, but as I am so poor I go for the cheapest. On with the dancing, on with the dancing, ole! Stop your teasing, sir, else I’ll blush!”

But I don’t really care about dodgy lyrics, because Petibon is just so utterly gorgeous when she sings them. I’m sorry, I know I keep saying that.  One of the other things I really love about Petibon’s work is her choice of repertoire – her CDs tend to be a combination of baroque arias with the sort of folk songs that are halfway to being dances – full of lively percussion. To me, that’s the perfect mix… or perhaps it’s just the way Petibon sings?

Because I am now officially a Petibon addict, I’m going to leave you with a couple more of her songs.  Here’s her version of the Doll Song from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, complete with strange doll-like noises, broken creaks, and random attacks of Queen of the Night.  And for contrast, here she is, singing ‘Lascia ch’io pianga‘ (let me weep), from Handel’s opera, Rinaldo.

Can I be her when I grow up?

Good Friday: He Was Despised and Rejected (Handel)

I actually sang Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott at this morning’s Good Friday service, and had every intention of posting it here.  But as I was sitting at my desk, writing about last night’s Maundy Thursday service in more detail, Mayhem, who shall henceforth be surnamed The Liturgy Cat, walked across my keyboard and somehow managed to switch on Handel’s Messiah.  This is impressive on two counts; first, I have no idea how she managed to start something playing in iTunes without, apparently, leaving the Firefox browser window, and second, I had no idea I even had a recording of The Messiah on my computer…

Anyway, The Liturgy Cat has spoken, so the Messiah we must have.  And for Good Friday, there can be only one choice.  Actually, that’s not true – there’s quite a bit of Good Friday stuff in The Messiah, but ever since I heard Bejun Mehta sing He Was Despised and Rejected, no other version can ever compete.  I’m afraid it’s spread across two videos, but it’s absolutely worth it to click on video number two, which is where Mehta demonstrates ornamentation so perfect that I and my alto friends can only swoon in envy.

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Monday Music: Scherza Infida (G.F. Handel)

I think my love for both Handel and Ian Bostridge are pretty well established now, and if you spend much time on this blog, you will probably find yourself getting to know them rather well.  Part of me feels that I should be looking for more variety, but honestly, this blog is about the music I love, and, well, this is it.  And this particular aria contains, I think, some truly perfect singing, especially in the repeat at the end.

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Advent Calendar Day 25: There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Fields (Handel)

Merry Christmas!  I thought it fitting to end Advent with another piece from Handel’s Messiah, and this recording is a fascinating one, dating from 1930.  Singing styles have changed quite a bit since then, and I think my personal preference is for a rather faster version of this recitative, but there is something rather special about listening to a voice that was recorded more than 80 years ago.

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