Johann Adolph Hasse’s 1730 opera Artaserse was very famous in its day, but it has rarely been performed since 1760 and certainly not in Australia.
A number of things are immediately obvious in a discussion with the key creatives of this project. They are extremely proud to be involved in the opera’s resurrection. They are passionate about this opera and its relevance for today. Their extensive musical and cultural research makes them articulate advocates for early music in general and this opera in particular. The joy they feel for the whole venture is going to make the performance sparkle, you just wait! The excitement was palpable.
On the discussion panel was Pinchgut Opera’s musical director, conductor and harpsichordist Erin Helyard, the stage director Chas Rader-Shieber, the world-famous visiting mezzo Vivica Genaux who sings the role Mandane, the male soprano David Hansen singing Arbace and the international guest countertenor Carlo Vistoli singing the villain Artabano.
There was much discussion of the need to bring audiences to these relatively unknown works, and that a level of audience trust needs to be developed over the years. It is true; audiences will come to Pinchgut’s performances because they trust that the music selected will be worthwhile (even though they may never have heard of it) and that the production and performance values will be high.
There was discussion too, of the practices in early music like the extemporised ornamentation and sparing use of vibrato. Helyard especially praised Hansen’s ability for his ornamentation and, conversely, Hansen expressed his gratitude for the scope he is given in this regard. Performers are not always given such freedom. We await his performance with eager anticipation.
An interesting discussion ensued on fashions in vocal performance. Genaux commented for that the fashion today is to eliminate the register breaks, especially in the tenor and soprano voices. In earlier periods the differences were celebrated, flipping from head to chest voice. Hopefully, we might hear some of this.
Farinelli performed the debut of this opera in 1730 in Venice and this led to discussions of the lung capacity and tonal quality of these early castrati, but also how the phrases for the female singers were just as demanding.
I was impressed by the commitment, humility and humanity of these artists. I know Artaserse will be a musical feast.
The other soloists are Emily Edmonds (Semira), Andrew Goodwin (Artaserse) and Russell Harcourt (Megabise).
This is the first time Sydney audiences will have the chance to hear Vivica Genaux and she is thrilled to be here. Performances are at the City Recital Hall on November 29, December 1, 2, 4, and 5. More information and tickets here.
For Melbourne audiences, Genaux will be performing a concert with Helyard, including music by Vivaldi, Handel and Hasse, on December 7 in the Recital Centre and more information here.