Monday, March 6, 2017

concert review: 18th century opera ... in Hebrew

"Esther is the story of an unwise and powerful leader under the influence of an evil advisor. Any similarity to present-day events is both coincidental and unfounded."

So read the placard on the titles screen opening up a (professional-quality, I'm pleased to say) performance of this rare and unique artifact: a 1774 Purimspiel in Hebrew, telling the story of the Megilla in opera form.

It was commissioned by the Jewish community of Amsterdam, who hired a rabbi, Raphael Jacob Saraval, to craft an appropriate libretto and transliterate it into Latin characters for the sake of the non-Jewish composer, Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti.

Lost for centuries, the manuscript score was found in a booksale about 20 years ago, and has since been published and performed occasionally. I couldn't miss this chance. 18th-century recitatives and arias in Hebrew? In truth, the scoring was so elaborate that it was hard to make out the words, but it was an adequately composed and enjoyable work.

Described by the impresario of this performance as being in the style of early Mozart, it sounded more like leftover post-Baroque to me, especially in Haman's pompous and heavily-dotted music. Using the same vocal ranges as Handel's oratorio on the same topic, but with a considerably less elaborate libretto, it tells a simple version of the story with many opportunities for arias. The chorus, whose part is small, has two soprano lines and bass, but nothing in between. That, the speaker suggested, implies that the composer was used to writing trio sonatas and just borrowed that technique.

Kyle Stegall as the king was an especially good lyric tenor, and the orchestra, the Albany Consort on period instruments, gave excellent backup.

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