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Betrayal – in the music of George Frederic Handel and Barbara Strozzi

Ceruleo

Emily Owen   Soprano
Jenni Harper  Soprano
Aileen Henry  Harp
Josh Salter   ‘Cello
Satoko Doi-Luck  Harpsichord

Barbara Strozzi (1619-77) was an Italian singer and composer, adopted daughter of the poet Giulio Strozzi. She was said to be the most prolific composer, man or woman, of secular vocal music in Venice at the time and often set both her own poetry and that of her father’s, as can be seen in Sonetto, proemio dell’opera which opens tonight’s concert. This text talks of becoming ‘a new Sappho’ and binding two souls together in love and harmony.

 Sonetto, proemio del’opera – Barbara Strozzi (1619-77)
Occhi miei, che faceste –  George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
Placa l’alma (from Alessandro)
Falsa immagine (from Ottone)
Sospira, respira  –  Barbara Strozzi
Tempesta e calma (from Alessandro)  –  George Frederic Handel
Begli occhi –  Barbara Strozzi

Occhi miei, che faceste is a short cantata for soprano and continuo by Handel, one of Britain’s most beloved composers, who settled in London in 1712 and lived in Brook Street until his death. He composed this work in 1708, during a prolific and innovative period of writing (he composed Dixit Dominus a year earlier). His solo cantatas were likely written to be performed at small soirees and were a chance for Handel to experiment bold harmonic gestures and chromatic melodic lines. The text describes an internal battle between the heart and the treacherous eyes who have allowed unwanted love to enter the protagonist’s heart and mind.

Taken from Handel’s opera Alessandro, written for the Royal Academy of Music in 1726, Placa l’alma is a duet for the two princesses Lisaune and Rossane (sung by Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni respectively). Cuzzoni and Bordoni were the two most famous sopranos in London at the time and had an infamous rivalry. The aria that brought Cuzzoni to fame was Falsa immagine, taken from Handel’s opera Ottone. Originally written for a different soprano, Cuzzoni at first refused to sing the aria, asking Handel to replace the aria with one written for her, at which Handel threatened to throw her from a window. Consequently this aria became one of Cuzzoni’s best-loved performances in recitals and concerts throughout her career.

Sospira, respira is a love duet by Strozzi describing the sighing, breathing, and the pleasurable pain of first love. These themes are echoed in Handel’s Tempesta e calma, again taken from his opera Alessandro and sung by Faustina Bordoni. This minuet features many divisions in an instrumental style and was vocally extremely challenging, requiring a technique that perhaps only Bordini possessed at that time.

We finish the first half with another duet by Strozzi, this time a secular cantata for two voices, describing the wounds inflicted by beautiful eyes. There is some wonderful word painting here, especially on the words langue (languishing). The long melisma at the end signifies the long wait (aspetta’ for death.

Interval

Dolce conforto (from Astianatte) – Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
L’Eraclito amoroso – Barbara Strozzi
Credete al mio dolore (from Alcina) – George Frederic Handel
Lascia ch’io pianga
O grati orrori-S’or mi dai pene (from Ottone)
L’ho perduto (from Rodelinda)
No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi  

The first duet of the second half is one of the few surviving duets from Astianatte by Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747). This is the opera in which the infamous fight between Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni took place on stage, in which they were reported to have pulled each other’s coifs and called each other ‘Bitch’ and ‘Whore’

L’Eraclito amoroso is an exquisite, anguished lament for lost, betrayed love, taken from Strozzi’s Cantate, ariette, e duetti, Op.2. In a beautiful repeated ground, the singer mourns for her lover, who has cruelly betrayed her, but also reflects on the pleasing nature of the grief and pain she endures.

Credete, al mio dolore is one of the most memorable laments from Handel’s Alcina. Morgana tries to convince Oronte to take her back following her rejection of him at the beginning of the opera in favour of a new man. The soprano voice is joined by a haunting cello obligato solo.

O grati orrori – S’or mi dai pene is taken from Ottone, re di Germania, which was Handel’s biggest hit of the London Italian opera season in 1723. There were several revisions to this opera, for various revivals, in which new lead singers were introduced and for which Handel wrote out ornamentation for several arias. This was a relatively unusual practise, as lead singers were usually expected to devise or improvise their own embellishments, so we assume they were written out for teaching purposes, or for a less experienced singer.

L’ho perduto, il caro sposo is the opening aria from Handel’s Rodelinda, sung by Rodelinda herself. It is a perfect distillation of the loss she feels for her lover, which contrasts with the anger articulated in L’empio rigor later in the opera.

We finish tonight’s concert with Handel’s cantata for two sopranos, No, di vol non vo fidarmi, which was composed in 1740. This late work demonstrates the dexterity with which Handel constructs counterpoint, with technically complex passages fashioned with grace and charm. This piece was the forerunner to Handel’s most famous work, the Messiah and much of the thematic content can also be found in the four part choruses, some of which you may recognise. 

BIOGRAPHIES

Ceruleo formed in November 2014 at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and were Brighton Early Music Festival’s Early Music Live! scheme participants for 2015/16. They have performed in the UK and abroad; highlights include the London Festival of Baroque Music at St John’s Smith Square, the Antiqua 2016 series in Accademia del Ricercare, Italy, the London Handel Festival as well as performing live on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune. In July 2017, Ceruleo premiered ‘Rival Queens’; an immersive operatic experience at Handel and Hendrix in London, in collaboration with stage director Thomas Guthrie. Ceruleo were delighted to be Artist Fellows at The Guildhall School for 2016/17. Future plans include performances in the Folkestone Literary Festival and Concerts in the West, alongside a reprisal of ‘Rival Queens’ for Handel and Hendrix in London.

Emily Owen graduated from the Guildhall School in 2016, specialising in Historical Performance and studying with Marie Vassiliou. She is a member of the Handel House Talent Scheme 2016/17, which has seen her give several solo recitals and participate in masterclasses with Carolyn Sampson and Laurence Cummings.

Emily has a varied career as a consort singer and soloist, working regularly with groups such as Britten Sinfonia Voices, Dowland Works and Apollo5 and she is a regular soprano at the Church of All Saints, Margaret Street. Notable solo performances include the title roles in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Charpentier’s Acteon with the GSMD Cantata Ensemble and JS Bach’s Jauchzett Gott with John Butt and the Academy of Ancient Music.

A keen educator, Emily works with Apollo5 and Voces Cantabilis Music in their outreach work across Europe as well as leading the Baroque Central project for Handel and Hendrix in collaboration with the Royal College of Music and education projects for the RNIB.

Jenni Harper completed the Artist Masters course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2015, for which she was awarded a Distinction. She is a Britten-Pears Young Artist and studies with Kate Paterson.

Jenni will perform the roles of Euridice, La Musica and Speranza for Brighton Early Music Festival’s production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in November 2017.  She played Drusilla in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with Hampstead Garden Opera last May.

Concert highlights include singing the solos in Mozart’s C Minor Mass for the Croydon Bach Choir, with whom she has also sung Handel’s Dixit Dominus. She was the featured soloist with Belsize Baroque last year, singing Bach’s solo cantatas Jauchzet Gott and Ich Habe Genug and was the Soprano soloist for Voce Chamber Choir’s performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass. Future solo concerts in 2017 include Handel’s Messiah with Dover Choral Society and Haydn’s Nelson Mass with the London Pro Arte Choir.

Satoko Doi-Luck studied composition in Tokyo before continuing her Masters in Composition at the Royal College of Music. Satoko then studied harpsichord with James Johnstone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was the Junior Fellow in Harpsichord/Continuo at the Royal College of Music, and also a Handel House Talent Scheme Artist for 2015-16. She has participated in masterclasses with Kenneth Weiss, Andreas Staier, Tom Koopman, Menno van Delft and Richard Egarr.

Her group Ensemble Molière has performed throughout Europe including festivals in Graz, Bruges, and Utrecht. Ensemble Molière, alongside Ceruleo, were selected to be a part of Early Music Live! scheme at the Brighton Early Music Festival 2015-16, and also performed at the London Festival of Baroque Music in St John’s Smith Square in 2017. Ensemble Molière was also the finalists for the York Early Music International Young Artist Competition 2017.

Josh Salter studied at the Royal Northern College of Music where he was a scholarship holder and awarded prizes for cello and chamber music and as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating  with an MA with Distinction in July 2016. His principal teachers have been Nicholas Jones, Nick Trygstad and Felix Schmidt. He is grateful for the financial support of the Dorothy Croft Trust, Raphael Sommer Trust, Stephen Bell Charitable Trust, Loan Fund for Musical Instruments and Ann Watson Trust.

He performed Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra in June 2017. His chamber music performances include live broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, recitals at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Wigmore Hall and St John’s, Smith Square. Festivals include Aberystwyth Musicfest, Lake District Summer Music, Suffolk Villages Festival, English Haydn Festival and Mendelssohn on Mull. Josh regularly freelances with  the Halle, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, City of London Sinfonia, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Hanover Band.

Aileen Henry is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the foremost exponents of the baroque harp, as both a soloist and as a continuo player or accompanist.  Originally from Northern Ireland, Aileen moved to London to pursue an undergraduate degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, studying with Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly, followed by a postgraduate degree at the same institution during which she was a TL scholar.  While active as a solo and orchestral modern harpist, it is as a performer of baroque music that she is particularly esteemed, working with some of the most exciting young period ensembles in London and beyond.