A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 134: BEMF intertwines two Pergolesi farces and sublime singing from Dominique Labelle at Aston Magna.

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Amanda Forsythe, Douglas Williams, and Carlos Fittante in Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona. Photo Kathy Wittman.
Amanda Forsythe, Douglas Williams, and Carlos Fittante in Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Pergolesi Operas at the Boston Early Music Festival, in the Mahaiwe Theatre, Great Barrington

This performance was a frolic. It displayed a combination of two quite different buffo operas, and yes, it worked. Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona and Livietta e Tracollo combined, found a zany success. I had my doubts at first, but was laughing my head off soon enough. The better-known of the two, La Serva Padrona, revolves around the character Uberto, a pomposo, energetically sung by Douglas Williams. Sad Tracollo was sung winningly by Jesse Blumberg. Amanda Forsythe, as Serpina, once again gave us the most beautiful singing (and an occasional escape from the hopping and jumping). Though the show was busy, it was deftly and confidently performed by all involved. The time flew. The most fundamental participant was the unequaled Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra. I would gladly hear the operas again without singers, so complete was their playing. The orchestra was a leading character. I looked for an occasional moment of sincerity, but soon realized that the center of this performance was energy. The orchestra made the foundation; the singers blissfully ad-libbed above the excellence. We had falsetto, we had basso profundo, we had large, we had small, and we had a good time. Whoever said that a precise and expert performance was not the best comic method was certainly wrong in this case.  The dancing in this performance was ancillary, not overwhelming. I am still trying to get into my head how early 18th century music lovers could listen to an opera seria, and have one or two interludes of commedia all in one day. This performance gave me a glimpse at least of how this might happen. Again I must praise the speakingness of the orchestral playing. It moved us swiftly and surely through the evening.

Dominque Labelle
Dominque Labelle

Aston Magna in its ‘new-old” Home

It was splendid to hear Aston Magna in Great Barrington in its new home (which is actually its old home), St. James Place, formerly St. James Episcopal Church. The church has been remodeled with imagination and skill. It is now one of the finest performance spaces in Berkshire County. The group’s performance was a landmark for me, the kind of concert you don’t forget. This was due largely to the profoundly beautiful singing of soprano Dominique Labelle. I remember a teacher saying to me that the inside of a musical note is easy—it is beginning and ending it that is hard. Dominique is the absolute mistress of this. Her sound came out of the air and went back into the air with passion. It was singing playing with silence. I often could not tell when the note started and when the note ended. Dominique is a great musical conjurer. She makes the silence “into” sound, and sends it back again. In fact, the silences in her performance were some of the most moving events. The very last notes of the recitative in The Judgement of Solomon, by Charpentier, were unforgettable. It was hard to tell when her singing stopped, and when it began it seemed conjured out of silence itself. Laura Jeppesen, playing both baroque viola and viola da gamba, contributed mightily to the program, her virtuosity never overstated. Violinist Daniel Stepner guided the group with his usual kindness and joy. This was a great concert.

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