Lisa Saffer and David Daniels are two American singers whose Handelian reputations are long established. Tonight they have teamed with Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie to offer an all-Handel concert in the Teatro del Liceu.
A whole generation of admirers of Handel operas have first listened to many famous arias with Saffer in Nicholas McGegan’ s pioneer recordings. Her soprano has lost a bit of its former sheen – and maybe that is why she has been kept away from the gramophone since long. On listening to her opening item in the program, Voglio amare, from Partenope, this idea seemed very clear to me. She squeezed her way up in an uncomfortable way and much of the charm she projected was confined to her extremely likeable charismatic stage presence. Cleopatra’ s Non disperar only confirmed this first impression - strained high notes hardly suggest the nonchalance this aria requires. By then, I was truly sorry, for Saffer is a most intelligent and stylish singer. Fortunately, the intermission proved to be most healthy to her voice. Her Lascia ch’ io pianga from Rinaldo was exquisitely sung in warm and lovely voice. Semele’ s Myself I shall adore is a fearsome aria requiring true virtuoso quality – and even if the voice could be a bit more radiant, she tackled her divisions with impressive accuracy. More than that: she is a singer who masters the art of transmitting emotion in her coloratura – a rare talent today,
I have in my Ipod two Giulio Cesares with David Daniels – one from 1999 (if I am not mistaken) when he sang the part of Sesto and one from last year in which he had the title role. It is impossible not to notice that much of the brightness in his tone has declined considerably in these eight years. And this impression was confirmed in his first aria in the program, Va tacito e nascosto. His voice was rather pale and did not carried very well into the hall - low notes were virtually inaudible. This first impression was quickly dismissed by a more lyric aria, Dove sei from Rodelinda, in which his legato and sensitive phrasing were shown to advantage. It seems that the intermission was also most positive for Daniels – his Aure, deh, per pieta was even more smoothly and touchingly sung. Even if his voice does not suggest heroic quality, he proved capable of producing the right sense of bravura in Furibondo spira il vento from Partenope through the fearlessness of his runs – a genuine tour de force.
Both duets (Io t’abbraccio from Rodelinda and Più amabile beltà from Giulio Cesare) showed absolute congeniality between these singers, but the encores were actually the greatest moments in the evening. Theodora’ s To thee, thou glorious son of worth awakened in Saffer the bell-toned quality of her old recordings and both singers’ voices blended scrumptiously. Monteverdi’ s final duet from L’ Incoronazione di Poppea was a showpiece of erotic mezza voce; that was truly a memorable moment.
I have always had a good opinion of Bernard Labadie, but tonight he proved to be a masterly Handelian. His sophisticated sense of dynamics and rhythm brings welcome variety to repeats and he made his chamber orchestra (a handpicked group of musicians from the house band, if I am not mistaken) play with enthusiasm and discipline in the orchestral items of the program (a suite made of the overture and dance numbers from Alcina and highlights from Water Music, suite no. 3.