Love indeed knows no boundaries – and the music heard tonight was some of the most sorrowful on earth, but sung and played with such beauty. Lamentations and libations (at interval) were promised and the capacity Great Hall audience did not suffer. It was great to see Roland Peelman back in Sydney as guest conductor of this formidable choir and guests The Muffat Collective. I have missed his choral conducting and sheer joy for the music of the tonight’s concert – Monteverdi, Gesualdo and Purcell; some of my long-term favourites.
Peelman’s pre-concert talk gave a great analysis of love, laments, ladies in distress and ladies who fight back. My only lament was I had momentarily forgotten that we were not just hearing Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, but an hour of warm up music from Italy. My real only complaint, and this a stretch to avoid gushing, is it maybe appeared to be two separate concerts. Both halves were stunning, but the second half had a lot more energy and joy – possibly due to the staging and acting or just confidence in performing a work that was clearly a favourite for all on stage. The University of Sydney’s Great Hall is often a hard space to fill, and tonight the SCC felt a little distant or quiet in contrast to their last concert I heard in April.
The concert opened with a slight change of order and the beautiful Litanies of the Blessed Virgin by Monteverdi. This six-part textured work gave the choir an opportunity to share around the many solos – of particular note the tenor and bass duet during the Agnus Dei and the Miserere a capella finish. Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna was very beautifully sung by the choir without accompaniment, illustrating the despair and grief, with some of the most delicate singing heard tonight. The drama of Dove a la fede che tanto mi giuravi (Where is the loyalty you swore to me so often?) was heart-wrenching. Gesualdo’s music often sounds so modern – ‘eyebrow-raising at the very least’ – but I love that those harmonies are so oddly spectacular. The two madrigals presented by the choir alone were more elegant representations of sorrow, love lost and general misery. To finish the first half, one of the most popular of Monteverdi’s madrigals – Lamento della ninfa. This time for solo soprano (Wei Jiang) and just the gentlemen of the choir, singing over a descending four-note pattern played by our ever patient continuo players. Wei Jiang sang with great emotion, soaring above the male voices and acting the sorrow of the young nymph with great passion.
Dido and Aeneas
And now what we had been waiting all night for – two Grecos for the price of one! The Muffat Collective, now doubled in size with Matthew Greco leading on violin, began with unbounded enthusiasm under the expert and exuberant guidance of Roland Peelman. Our two soloists from within the SCC – Belinda Montgomery as Dido and Megan Cronin as Belinda – were resplendent in gorgeous dresses and the singing matched. Montgomery could be not faulted – singing off book, with passion and the experience of many prior performances was a perfect Dido. Cronin gave an elegant performance of Belinda throughout, though a little more volume would have made it perfect. The two in duet were angelic. But the entrance of our Trojan prince strutting down the aisle of the Great Hall caused an audible gasp in the audience. David Greco’s voice can surely fill that hall and no one disbelieved his love for Dido. Act two began with soprano Wei Jiang returning as the Sorceress with her two cackling witchy accomplices – an excellent use of simple staging. This act showed off many of the SCC’s women in solos and duets – particular mention of Liane Papantoniou and Natalie Shea.
Ed the subtle sailor
After nearly two hours of sorry, lamenting, more sadness and heartbreak, the comic entry of the SCC’s Ed Suttle as the drunken sailor was comic relief. The string players were equally fantastic playing in a more sea shanty fashion, particularly in the ballet movement following Suttle’s ‘Come Away’ aria. Greco and Montgomery’s final duet nearly broke me – Dido looked genuinely upset at the errors in his ways and I nearly yelled – ‘forgive him’!
When I am laid in earth
No words can really sum up the power and beauty of Montgomery’s performance of one of the most famous arias of all time. Faultless. I’m sure not a breath was taken in the audience until her last note. The final ensemble ‘With dropping wings ye Cupids come’ was also dynamic, heartbreaking and a worthy finish. My only complaint for this great second half, was that Dido and Aeneas always feels too short, and I’m sure most of the capacity audience would have happily heard it again.
Roland Peelman – conductor
Sydney Chamber Choir
Belinda Montgomery – soprano
David Greco – baritone
The Muffat Collective
Sydney Chamber Choir and The Muffat Collective | Saturday 7 October 2017 | The University of Sydney Great Hall