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Reviews/Music

Pure Handel

5 August 2020

Perth’s baroque royalty come together for this Freeze Frame Opera performance. But can you have too much Handel? Bourby Webster finds out.

Freeze Frame Opera, “Handel in the House” ·
Government House Ballroom, 2 August 2020 ·

I entered Government House Ballroom for the matinee and second concert of Freeze Frame Opera’s “Handel in the House” with slight trepidation. Not because of the musicians as the concert featured Perth’s best: sopranos Sara Macliver and Bonnie de la Hunty accompanied by Stewart Smith (harpsichord), Sarah Papadopoulos (violin) and Krista Low (cello), but because the program featured music entirely by George Frideric Handel, and too much of one composer can be, well, a little bit much.

I need not have worried; for the next two hours I was immersed in sublime singing and performing that transported me back in time and at times took my breath away. The program was beautifully and carefully crafted, showcasing the full range of Handel’s expressive writing for voice and continuo. The first half was a variety of arias from Handel’s operas and oratorios, the majority sung in English, with subtitles projected on the wall of the venue for those sung in Italian.

I was reminded how wonderfully immediate Handel’s music is, rich in expression and emotion with phrasing and pitch that clearly expresses the text, making subtitles almost unnecessary; the intent of each song could not have been clearer. Add to this Macliver and de la Hunty’s emotional renditions, capturing perfectly the essence of each aria, and the audience was left in no doubt that songs such as ‘Angels, ever bright and fair’’ from Theodora were full of pity and heart-wrenching sadness.

Perth’s baroque music royalty (L-R): Sara Macliver, Stewart Smith, Bonnie de la Hunty, Sarah Papadopoulos, Krista Low. Photo supplied.

The two sopranos sang mostly solo although they blended superbly in the duets. I adore Macliver’s voice and she was at her flawless best in this repertoire. Her solo from the opera Semele, “O sleep, why dost thou leave me?”  is sung as Semele wakes and wishes she could return to the dream she was having. It opens with a beautiful lyrical cello and harpsichord introduction, putting Low’s wonderful cello playing to the fore. From this introduction Macliver’s sustained pure notes emerged floating on the air – one of many wonderful moments to savour.

De la Hunty followed this with her own aria from Semele, “Myself, I shall adore”, sung full of cheeky character whilst gazing at herself on her mobile phone. A reminder that the present and past can blend superbly, even when technology meets 18th century baroque music.

It was a rare treat to hear these two arias, followed by the duet “Per le porte del tonnento” from Imeneo performed on baroque instruments in the hands of very accomplished musicians with their gentle tone and expressive bows.

” Such a range of emotions, colours and timbres that it was a roller-coaster to experience.”

Perth should be incredibly excited that artists such as Low, Papadopoulos and de la Hunty are stepping on to the stage alongside world-class musicians Macliver and Smith, demonstrating we’ve incredible talent that isn’t just emerging, but rightfully taking its place alongside our own music royalty.

The second half featured arias only from Handel’s Giulio Cesare sung in Italian, but with such a range of emotions, colours and timbres that it was a roller-coaster to experience. Handel’s music has such a directness and purity of expression that you had a sense of the entire work from just a few songs and the musicians absolutely did Handel’s detailed ornamentation and expression justice. Baroque virtuosity at its best!

Freeze Frame Opera are brilliant with attention to detail, ensuring the audience experience is as good as can be. Whether it was selecting the perfect venue for Handel, complementary cheese and wine, lively introductions to each song, lyrics projected on the wall, and of course incredible music – every element combined to make it a memorable afternoon, enabling a wide audience to enjoy the music of Handel. This is the second year of “Handel in the House” and judging from the audience response, everyone will be back for more next year.

Freeze Frame Opera’s next performance is “Truck-o-rama”, an operatic tour around Europe, August 8 – 15 at Claremont Showgrounds.

Picture top: Sopranos Sara Macliver and Bonnie de la Hunty with musicians Krista Low, Stewart Smith and Sara Papadopoulos. Photo supplied

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Author —
Bourby Webster

Bourby Webster is the Founder and CEO of Perth Symphony Orchestra one of WA’s newest and fastest growing arts companies. She is a graduate of Oxford University in Music and the Royal College of Music and is a professional violist, lecturer, presenter, and producer. She can’t even look at a playground as she suffers chronic motion sickness.

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