Pinchgut Opera is an Australian chamber opera company
founded in 2002, when they gave performances of Handel’s Semele.
They have since gone on to perform Purcell’s Fairy Queen,
Rameau’s Dardanus and Monteverdi’s Orfeo. This
recording of Orfeo is taken from their live performances
Conductor Anthony Walker is co-artistic director of
the company as well as being conductor of the Orchestra of
the Antipodes, the period instrument ensemble which accompanies
the opera. Both Walker and the Orchestra of the Antipodes
are familiar to me from a number of recital discs that have
found their way into my in-box.
recorded live, this performance has precious little stage
noise or distraction from the audience. The advantage is
that it does sound like a dramatic performance and does not
suffer from that rather static quality which can beset performances
of music of this period.
from the initial fanfares, Walker and his small instrumental
ensemble give a crisply lively account of the score. In the
faster, dance-like movements, Walker’s speeds are infectious
and he adds a certain amount of percussion to the textures.
But in the slower ritornelli and choral movements, I found
his speeds sometimes a little on the slow side. This shows
in a comparison of overall running times, where both Nigel
Rogers on Archiv and Emmanuelle Haim on Virgin have shorter
running times than Walker.
course, some of this might stem from the fact that this was
a staged operatic production and that there were dramatic
production reasons for the slower speeds. After all, very
little is specified in Monteverdi’s score. Another area where
the production affects the opera’s sound-world is the choral
texture. Cantillation are a seventeen voice chamber choir
and they make a lovely flexible, focused sound, shaping Monteverdi’s
music beautifully even if they don’t make enough of the text.
Though I enjoyed their performance I found myself regretting
that they made such a finely integrated sound and wishing
for more of a sense of madrigalian ensemble, with differentiated
vocal lines rather than a smooth choral blend. This is a
matter for preference really; after all Cantillation’s performance
is excellent in its own way.
what of the soloists? Mark Tucker sings the title role, a
role which he has also sung with Philip Pickett and the New
London Consort. Tucker has a big voice - well it sounds big
in this music - but he phrases with style and navigates his
way around Monteverdi’s complex ornamentation with apparent
ease. Some of the more elaborate ornaments, e.g. in Possente
Spirto sound a little smudged but that is partly because
of his natural vibrato. For me, the ideal Orfeo remains Nigel
Rogers with a razor-sharp edge to his voice and superb control
of the ornamentation. Tucker is not quite in this class,
but brings warmth and passion to the role. He makes a convincing
hero. It helps that, almost alone in the cast, Tucker makes
much of the words. His Orfeo is positively vibrant.
Musica, Messagiera and Proserpina are all sung by Sara Macliver.
Macliver is a wonderfully talented performer with a lovely,
focused voice and a shapely feel for baroque music. In terms
of sound quality, she is rarely bettered. But on previous
discs I have complained about Macliver’s apparent disengagement
from the text and this is the case here. I would have liked
more colour in the voice to reflect the meanings of the text.
This was very true of Messagieria’s scene, where much more
could have been made of the dramatic effect of Striggio’s
beauty of tone at the expense of dramatic vibrancy seems
to have rubbed off on the other female singers. Penelope
Mills (Eurydice) and Josie Ryan (Ninfa) were lovely without
ever quite drawing me into the drama as much as I would have
liked. It is unfair of me I know, but Anna Fraser’s Speranza
just did not make my spine tingle the way others singers
have in this role, particularly at the words Lasciate
ogni speranza. That said, her interpretation of the role
was entirely creditable.
Whiteley has a dark and well defined voice and brought much
character to the roles of Caronte and Plutone. Paul McMahon
was a luminous Apollo, able to match the brilliance of his
tone to that of Mark Tucker in the glorious final duet.
that this is a live record of staged performances, it is
perhaps unfair of me to be too critical. But a critic lives
by comparison and this is a strong, involving production
which stands up well to other performances even if it is
not first choice for the library. For those interested in
the state of baroque opera in the Antipodes, it is essential