Sunday, June 14, 2009

BEMF chamber opera double-bill

"Venus and Adonis," John Blow's operatic masterpiece, is the first of its kind in the English language. The Boston Early Music Festival's production, smartly paired with Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "Actéon," made for an achingly beautiful evening last night at Jordan Hall. Both are short "chamber operas" of less than an hour each, and both treat myths having to do with the hunt, and they were written in the same decade (the 1680s), so it made sense to have both on the program. The same small group of singers and players delivered both, in a brilliantly effective semi-staging by Gilbert Blin with period choreography by Lucy Graham.

Standouts in "Venus and Adonis" included mezzo Mireille Lebel, whom Houston friends may remember from her wonderful solo work in "Messiah" this past year at Jones Hall, and the melting soprano of Amanda Forsythe, who had a busy week in both this production and in "Poppea." Aaron Sheehan, a nobly effective "Actéon," spent the last several minutes of this opera wearing a large stag's head, one of several animal heads used in both operas and worn by not only the adults but some of the cutest kids in Boston! The little ones were utterly adorable in both operas: dressed to the hilt in 18th-century finery, complete with blond curly tresses, they were hilarious as hunting hounds.

Tragicomedia then took the stage for a late-night program of mostly Monteverdi madrigals aptly entitled "Here I am, ready for kisses" ("Eccomi pronta ai baci"). This kind of music is what makes casual early music fans turn into raving maniacs: it's amazing stuff, and was delivered with great humor and stage presence by one of the best continuo ensembles in the business and a group of first-rate young singers.

Now back for a few weeks to the Houston heat, much refreshed by several days of superlative music-making and some nice cool Boston weather. Yesterday was glorious: 70 degrees, sunshine, and even a festive Gay Pride parade!

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