Vocal fireworks resounded in the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, as the boutique early music Pinchgut Opera Company premiered its early musical masterpiece Bajazet on Saturday 4th July, which was full of ‘honour, anger and love’.
Over the past decade or so the Pinchgut Opera have gained a place on the creative and cultural landscape of Sydney, with productions of little known and often rare early and classical music opera works.
Created by much celebrated Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) in 1735 from a libretto by Agostino Piovene, the pasticcio of works that made up Bajazet was a wonderful success performed for the first time down under.
One could say it has it all; exotic characters, an elaborately styled plot, recitatives of extraordinary power and above all, glorious arias festooned with feeling and imagination.
An elite ensemble, the singers individually and collectively inspiring each other, captivated the audience with both their valour and constancy.
What a triumph it was, wonderfully expressive, deeply emotional and very fine.
Their casting was truly defining, each quite brilliant in their own way. However when sparring off each other they rose to heights perhaps exceeding expectations. For me it was a real pleasure to be there.
At times the singing was so mesmerizing I felt myself being lifted up into some glorious and sublime realm. This is only an experience you can have at a live performance, one honed by research and performed by people passionate about their work.
Endeavouring to re-create the work as it sounded as close to what the composer intended was the challenge for Erin Helyard, conductor and co-artistic director, who travelled to Turin to study the original manuscript.
Under Helyard’s bountiful baton the stunning Orchestra of the Antipodes playing together, or in small ensembles, provided a glorious accompaniment, This is an opera extremely challenging for the singers and musicians to perform with its florid ornamental style.
New Zealand baritone Hadleigh Adams took the title role of this tragedy of passion and power.
While born from maturity and experience, his Bajazet was a man sure of his own worth with a stunning voice, which was flawless in many ways.
He commanded the stage when he was on it and with a considerable maturity and mellowness of tone. His vocal achievement for me was a joy and privilege to behold as he transported us all to another time and place while facing the ideal of ‘death before dishonour’.
He was the only player on stage who seemed to me ‘exotic’, which was not about the way he was dressed but everything to do with his bearing; carrying himself with great dignity.
Passionate with a depth of emotion that was palatable, Adams could impressively sustain the intensity of the colours in the bottom register of his voice, while excelling in both the middle and upper reaches of the arias he was singing.
He was truly noble.
Adams was Bajazet, a stand-alone character. What he achieved was entirely up to his own personal pursuit of excellence and his strength in performance was compelling to watch
This wasn’t about pride, but about the assured self-confidence he oozed from every pore.
What a formidable force he is. Younger singers would learn a great deal from observing his considerable grace and style of movement on stage.
Christopher Lowrey as Tamerlane (1336-1405) Emperor of the Uzbek Turks, who demanded the hand in marriage of Bajazet’s daughter Asteria, was a cocky, proud and compelling presence with his dynamic countertenor voice and a wonderful swagger like Jack Spratt.
In the past few years I have heard some truly wonderful countertenor voices and I must say I can understand why our eighteenth century counterparts enjoyed it’s angelic qualities.
Lowrey certainly has it in spades, a voice made in heaven.
Countertenor Russell Harcourt was for me a wonderful surprise.
As the Greek Prince Andronico who lost his kingdom and his crown and then won it all back again, his intensity and strength was irresistible.
Soprano Sara McLiver, a formidable force on stage for some years now in Australia also has an intensity, which makes her a pleasure to watch and listen to.
As Idaspe Andronico’s friend she held us all in sway when singing, especially when she gave her sensitive rendition of the aria ‘Anch’il mar par che sommerga’.
Mezzo Soprano Emily Edmonds as Asteria while wooing Tamerlane into her bed in the hopes of ending his life by knife shone brightly.
As a young lady on the cusp of a great career, she will become a salaried member of The Royal Opera Covent Garden Jette Parker Young Artists program this year, a journey sure to enhance her professional path.
Mezzo Soprano Helen Sherman as Irene was truly superb on every level.
What a woman, what a voice. She is a beautifully timbered and fluid mezzo and her interpretation of the proud Queen seemingly usurped by a younger rival, had all the hallmarks of a complex heroine.
Her range from rich to resonate, took on an extra dimension when she performed the virtuosic gob-smacking aria I was especially waiting for Qual guerriero in campo armato with its crowd-pleasing virtuosity.
What an extraordinary work and what a powerhouse showstopping performance Bajazet was.
Must say that I felt like leaping to my feet and shouting for joy.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Bajazet Hadleigh Adams
Tamerlano Christopher Lowrey
Irene Helen Sherman
Asteria Emily Edmonds
Andronico Russell Harcourt