Review by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
Toronto ON January 17th 2019
The Harlequin Salon: Tafelmusik reconstructs a Roman “accademia” of 1723
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The Harlequin Salon; Left to right (in costume): program creator and oboist Marco Cera as Pier Leone Ghezzi; soprano Roberta Invernizzi as Faustina Bordoni;
violinist & music director Elisa Citterio as Vivaldi; actor Dino
Gonçalves as Harlequin; and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Photo credit: Jeff Higgsin
In my experience, detailed, multi-faceted, reconstructions of specific musical events are the performances that are the most exciting to witness. The focus on an accumulation of music-historical details gets the attention of all participants and brings the best out in all performers. In the end it also brings out the best in the audience.
Tafelmusik oboist Marco Cera programmed the evening with an intriguing idea: the re-enactment of one of the salons, or accademias held in Rome in the house of the amateur musician and renowned portraitist and caricaturist (there are over four thousand of his drawings of musicians) Pierre Leone Ghezzi. The conception of the presentation was well designed; Cera, outfitted with a long gown, and the correct hat for his social position, sat at a desk with ink and quill, drawing caricatures of the famous musicians who performed. The drawings he had done were projected on a screen as videos while the music was performed. I think he must be the reincarnation of Ghezzi, because he drew beautifully and confidently and also played the oboe with his usual expertise and expressivity.
Various musicians came to the accademia to perform their music. Vivaldi (Elisa Citterio) gave a spirited, precise performance of one of his sonatas for violin solo and continuo and a sonata for two violins. The continuo (Charlotte Nediger, harpsichord, Lucas Harris, long-necked lute, and Alison MacKay, double bass) performed crisply, accurately, and energetically all evening).
Soprano Roberta Invernizzi, who has performed with esteemed period conductors Harnoncourt and Ton Koopman, played the diva Faustina Bordoni. She sang repertoire originally created for castrati beautifully and convincingly all evening. For me her finest moments came in the second half, in a technically challenging aria composed by castrato Farinelli (the abrupt and extreme contrasts of register, written by the best castrato of the day to show off the power and flexibility of his voice, push the techniques of most singers beyond their limits), and even more in Porpora’s gorgeous, moving aria “Alto Giove.” The extended Pergolesi aria afterwards, featuring Invernizzi and Cera (on the oboe), making the Baroque texture of two high lines and lower parts, could have gone on and one as far as I was concerned.
The glue of the evening, holding the narrative together was provided by Cera’s performance as Ghezzi and that of Dino Gonçalves, a physical actor playing the part of Harlequin. Such energy!
And the strings—the strings were synchronized and wonderfully expressive.
The pre-concert talk by stage director Guillaume Bernardi, was erudite, expert, very informative and clear. The depth of his expertise and indeed of the whole production was evident also in the “talkback session” following the concert, in which he, Prof. Pietropaolo, and Cera fielded questions from the audience. I asked music director Citterio if I was right in my impression that strings were more strongly articulated than usual, and that in the fast movements spaces were left between the long (double-dotted) notes and the following short notes. She replied that this was the practice she chose for the evening because they were performing one to a part and wanted to be more prominent, and also because much of the music was vocal and she wanted to make articulation for the consonants!
The strings made articulations for the singers’ consonants. You see what I mean: this production was in no way hurriedly or casually prepared. I think Cera’s plan must have taken a very long time to flesh out in detail, and I am sure that all performers did their best to bring that evening of 1723 alive for the audience with every musical and artistic detail that could be reproduced or reliably fashioned. The careful attention of everyone made for a riveting evening, and I encourage everyone to attend. Thank you Marco Cera and all who contributed.
The production will be repeated January 17th, 18th and 19th at 8pm and on Sunday January 20th at 3:30pm at Trinity- St.Paul's Centre.