Musical Delicacies

— Early Music Concert Series —

Three women, three destinies

Scenic rendition of cantatas by Georg Friedrich Händel.

Friday 13 November 2015 19:30 — Mendel’s refectory, Augustinian Abbey (Mendel Museum), Mendlovo náměstí 1a, 602 00 Brno, Czech Republic. Wheelchair accessible
(The entrance is across the street from the tram stops, a narrow gateway in the whitewashed monastery wall, see map.)

In collaboration with Opera na cestách and Art in Motion (PL).


Matthew Locke (cca. 1621 – 1677) Suite no. 1 d-minor — fantasia
Georg Friedrich Händel (1685 – 1759) Armida abbandonata   (HWV 105)
Bellerofonte Castaldi (1580 – 1649) Tasteggio Soave
Georg Friedrich Händel (1685 – 1759) Agrippina condotta a morire   (HWV 110)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) Sonata g-minor   (RV 26)
Georg Friedrich Händel (1685 – 1759) La Lucrezia   (HWV 145)

About the programme

The oeuvre of Georg Friederich Händel has experienced a worldwide renaissance in the last decades. Also in the Czech Republic music by Händel appears increasingly often in the repertoire, and his larger works such as oratorios and orchestral works are attracting more attention. However, Händel’s vocal compositions of chamber music character are rather neglected, even though they constitute an extremely valuable and inspiring part of his work. Among these are the Italian cantatas, which Händel wrote during his stay in Italy in 1706–1710. They comprise more than eighty cantatas in which the young composer demonstrates his exceptional melodic inventiveness, his dramatic sensitivity and briefness, and above all a deep understanding of what lurks in the depths of the human soul. The Italian cantatas are what laid the basis for Händel’s unique operas and oratorios.

The cantata Armida abbandonata tells the story of the Saracen sorceress and princess Armida and her love for the Christian knight Rinaldo. Thanks to Torquado Tasso’s elaboration of this legend in his Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), the story became very popular and was later often used as subject for opera librettos (Armida by Lully, Rossini and Dvořák, as well as Händel’s opera Rinaldo). Armida bewitched Rinaldo such that he abandoned his friends and mission, following her to her palace. His friends, however, were able to break the spell and bring the knight back to the Christian camp. The lovesick Armida destroyed the palace by lightning and came to kill Rinaldo, riding on a carriage drawn by two dragons.

In contrast, Agrippina is based on historical events that took place in the 1st century. Agrippina was the wife of the Emperor Claudius and had brought her son Nero into the marriage. She concentrated all her power and intrigue to make Nero Claudius’ successor. After Claudius had been poisoned (probably through her efforts) in the year 54, Nero ascended the throne. However, her reward was unexpected: In the year 59, he sentenced his mother Agrippina to death and had her executed, apparently led by fears that she knew too much about the events leading to his path to the throne.

Also La Lucrezia deals with a real historical story. Its leading heroine, the wife of the Roman general Tarquinius Collatinus (6th century BCE), was regarded as a model of virtue, however, she aroused the interest of Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the last Roman King of Etruscan origin, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. When Lucrezia rejected his proposals, Sextus raped her. Only after Lucrezia had forced her husband to swear to avenge her, she told him what had happened. Afterwards, she took her own life in an effort to restore lost honor. According to the legend, the Roman aristocracy’s disgust over Sextus’ crime initiated the expulsion of King Tarquinius Superbus and the subsequent formation of the Republic. This story became the topic of many works of art, both visual (Botticelli, Titian) and literary and theatrical (e. g., Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece of 1594 or the eponymous opera by Benjamin Britten from 1946).

The first performance of Händel’s Armida took probably place in Rome in 1707. Händel’s autograph manuscript of the score is preserved and a copy of the parts in Johann Sebastian Bach’s handwriting, which puts this work into a unique perspective. In the work, Händel focuses on Armida’s anger in the moment where she discovers that Rinaldo has left her. The furious Armida convened the forces of nature to avenge her. Yet immediately she admits that she still loves Rinaldo, and in the final aria in tempo siciliano she asks the God of Love to free her from this burden.

The cantata Agrippina condotti a morire was probably created in Florence in the autumn of 1707 and captures the Empress in the last moments before her execution. Agrippina is torn between hatred of the tyrant who sentenced her to death, and love for his son, in whose interest she even had been able to commit murder. The changes in mood and feelings gave Händel an opportunity to create a work full of contrasts.

La Lucrezia was also written in Florence in 1706 or 1707. This cantata requires a voice with extreme positions and is a highly dramatic work with a multitude of nuances capturing Lucrezia’s feelings before taking her own life. In one of the three surviving sources of this work, a violin has been added at the end, perhaps as a symbol of Lucrezia’s soul. This version will be used in our programme.

The artists

Foto: Laila Cathleen Neuman

Laila Cathleen Neuman (Armida) began studying singing in the Netherlands with Christy Pfeiler and Susanna Waleson and continued at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan with Rosina Crosatti and Margaret Hayward, and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Breda Zakotnik and Barbara Bonney. She has participated in master classes with leading artists such as Dalton Baldwin, Max van Egmond, Johannette Zomer, Trevor Pinnock, Angelika Kirschlager and Deda Cristina Colonna. She mainly deals with baroque music, baroque dance and historic gesture, for which she worked with Margit Legler and Reinhold Kubik. She made her debut as the Second Woman in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and sang Melpomene in Gluck’s Il Parnaso Confuse in a production of the Mozart Opera Institute Salzburg. She is currently working with Ensemble Esprit directed by J. Hulst, Ensemble La Silva, Het Philadelphus Ensemble (member of Concertgebouw Orchestra) and Convivio d’Arte in the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Italy. Her repertoire ranges from renaissance to contemporary music and includes chamber music as well as oratorios and operas.

Foto: Andrea Široká

Andrea Široká (Agrippina) graduated from the Janáček Academy in Brno. After two years of engagement with the Silesian Theatre in Opava she became an opera soloist at the National Theatre Brno, where she still works and where she has performed many roles of opera and operetta repertoire, such as Xenia (Musorgsky: Boris Godunov), Frasquita (Bizet: Carmen), Rosina (Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Adele (Strauss: Die Fledermaus), Volpino (Haydn: Lo speciale), Clorinda (Rossini: La Cenerentola), Zerlina (Mozart: Don Giovanni), Esmeralda (Smetana: The Bartered Bride), Titania (Britten: A Midsummernight’s Dream), Vanda (Nedbal: Polenblut), Dafne (Hanzlík/Zouhar: La Dafne).

In addition to her home stage she had guest performances at the Municipal Theatre in Brno, and appeared with the opera company Orfeo in several successful productions of Baroque operas. As a concert singer, she focuses on the Czech and international song repertoire, as well as on pre-romantic sacred music. She appeared in concerts, among others with the Czech Virtuosi chamber orchestra and with the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, Zlín. In 2008 she and the pianist H. Fialová prepared for the Reduta Theatre in Brno a cycle of three individual recitals, called Melodic Sunday. This year she successfully performed the title role in D. Sarri’s baroque opera Didone abbandonata. In 2014, she received the Brno National Theatre’s DIVA award. She teaches also at Brno Conservatory.

Foto: Stanislava Jirků

Stanislava Jirků (Lucrezia) is soloist of the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague, where she performed in many roles, such as Goffredo (Händel: Rinaldo), Dorabella (Mozart: Cosi fan tutte), Cherubino (Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro), Frances (Britten: Gloriana). She gives performances abroad regularly (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain) and performs with orchestras, such as the BBC Orchestra, Collegium 1704, Czech Philharmonic and others. Her repertoire is very broad, spanning from baroque music to the contemporary compositions, from song repertoire to oratorical music or operas.

{oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna

Foto: Orkiestra Historyczna

{oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna is an ensemble formed by young professional musicians from Katowice (Poland) specialized in historically informed music performance practice from the Baroque period to the Romanticism. The main goal of the ensemble is to present the most authentic sound by utilizing scholary research of the available sources. The members of the ensemble are laureates of competitions and graduates from Polish and international Music academies, where they gained experience performing with renowned European conductors, ensembles and soloists. Foto: Martyna Pastuszka

Concertmaster Martyna Pastuszka graduated from the Academy of Music in Katowice in 2004. She co-founded {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna with the wish to take the performance of classical music in Silesia to a whole new level. She works currently as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician with Arte dei Suonatori (Poznań) and Le Cercle de l’Harmonie (Paris), and as concertmaster of Le Parlement de Musique (Strasbourg) and Capella Cracoviensis (Kraków). Since 2007 she teaches Baroque Violin at the Academy of Music in Katowice, and since 2015 also at JAMU in Brno.

Thank you

The concert takes place with financial support from the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic the Statutory City of Brno and the City of Katowice.

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