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When I first saw David McVicar’s production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore for the Met back in 2009, I remember feeling shortchanged when I left the theatre. This is an opera that thrives on white heat, and lukewarm won’t ever make do. Nine years of use have not made it more exciting, but rather duller and drearier. One could say that nobody goes to Il Trovatore for the staging, but then one would be entitled to an exciting musical performance.

Maestro Marco Armiliato is hardly the world’s most exciting conductor, but he is undeniably a reliable one who makes something of whatever he has to work with. Ths evening fulfilled some of the basic requirements: the tempi were ebullient enough, the conductor was attentive to dramatic effects and helped out his singers without making it too obvious. However, other than the world’s best anvils, the house orchestra sounds ill-at-ease in this work. Rereading what I wrote in 2009 – and what I have just written this weekend – I am forced to acknowledge that I am repeating myself, but here it goes again: the sound lacks brightness and flexibility. You actually can use a full-toned, full-powers orchestral sound in Verdi – as Herbert von Karajan had, for very exciting results, but his cast had some high-octane voices such as Elena Obrasztova.

This evening’s group of “four best singers in the world” started off with the replacement of Italy’s favorite new lyric soprano, Maria Agresta, by Jennifer Rowley, the Met’s favorite stand-in singer this year. I had seen her previously as Tove in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in São Paulo and couldn’t help findint it curious to see her as Leonora. Hers is a voice forced into a sound different from the one intended by nature. In its manipulated present state, it has a nondescript tonal quality in its darkened vowels, and the insufficient focus does not truly carry it into the auditorium. When things get too high and fast, she lightens it a bit and then she manages to acquit herself quite commendably in some difficult passages, such as the cabaletta of the Miserere, Tu vedrai che amor in terra, and the ensuing duet with the baritone. As much as her hard work deserves praise, it is ultimately a performance about the mechanics. earthbound and short in expression.

This evening, Leonora and Manrico have more than the enmity of the Count di Luna in common: both have an extreme fondness for an artifficialy darkened sound. It is admirable the amount of energy employed by Yonghoon Lee to keep the illusion of a dramatic voice, and the fact that he is only very intermittently tired makes it even more remarkable. Although his idea of interpretation is a series of variations on ardor, it is also true that he is capable of singing piano and producing seamless legato now and then. His act-4 duet with Azucena particularly smooth. I confess I cannot really watch him doing his Bergonzi-like stand-and-deliver stage routine without sense of Fremdscham, but with my eyes closed the splash of James King in the sound of his voice made his Manrico quite appealing to my ears. If it were not for a Di quella pira reduced to one verse nonetheless shorn of many notes written by the composer to acommodate a long but not truly flashing final interpolated note, he could be the most decent Manrico in the market these days.

Luca Salsi’s baritone too is a couple of sizes smaller than the role of the Count, but, differently from tenor and soprano, his voice sounds natural and his diction is crystal-clear. Only when things get really Verdian – i.e., high and dramatic – his attempt of beefing up his high register ends up a bit hooty and wooden. In any case, he shares with the evening’s prima donna the ability of holding very long lines, even when tested by the writing. The fact that he is comfortable with the bad-guy attitude rounded off a performance in which the sum was greater than the parts. His interaction with a Kwangchul Youn in excellent voice made for some of the best moments this evening.

On paper, Anita Rachvelishvili’s mezzo is on the light side for the role of Azucena, but this resourceful Georgian singer did not seem fazed by that. Hers was a take on the role entirely different from everyone else’s. In her fruity tonal quality and ability to spin long legato phrases, she portrayed primarily the vulnerabilty, the bereavement, the loneliness. Her Azucena was more passive-aggressive than commanding – and only when the character’s mental imbalance is speaking does Ms. Rachvelishvili unleashes her reserves of power to produce a more conventionally dramatic sound. This vocal ambiguity made her take on the part revelatory in many ways. Also in terms of style. I could not help imagining that this was closer to what Verdi must have heard than the behemoth mezzo with abysmal chest register usually heard in this repertoire.

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For decades, a performance of a Wagner opera at the Met would mean that it would be conducted by the music director James Levine, whose credentials had been endorsed by 15 seasons in Bayreuth. Since decaying health and PR debacle put an end to his career, the New York opera house had its share of Italian maestros but finally has decided to look closer to home in its own new music director, Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Seguin. He is no newcomer in this repertoire, having conducted Lohengrin and Der fliegende Holländer in the Vienna State Opera, for example.

In the first bars of this evening’s performance I did think of my only Parsifal in Vienna (1999, Jun Märkl) in its clarity and cleanliness. Later on, the absence of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and its refulgent string section would be missed. The Met Orchestra can produce Wagnerian orchestral sound, but not really within the limits of this lighter and more transparent sound picture, when it veers towards the colorless and poorly articulated. It is no wonder that the purely orchestral passages would be the highlights of this performance.

Blaming the orchestra (and the chorus, whose lack of purity is particularly problematic in this piece) would be oversimplifying matters. Mr. Nézet-Seguin is an extremely objective Wagnerian, in a way that would make Georg Solti sound like Hans Knappertsbusch in comparison. As long as his straight-to-the-matter approach was allied to a certain directness in what regards tempo, this proved to be a viable and valid approach, not dissimilar to Riccardo Muti’s Wagner performances at La Scala (dismissed by many as overfast and unambitious). The first scene with Amfortas, however, hinted at a problematic turn in his concept. There, the conductor tried something more traditionally Wagnerian, i.e., flexibility of beat in order to achieve a certain gravitas to the proceedings. Then, one started to feel an increasing number of full stops in the discourse. Without depth of sound and no real profoundness of meaning, pauses sounded like silence and rubato sounded like lingering.

Act 2 is the one that generally benefits from conductors who keep things moving on, but here Mr. Nézet-Seguin seemed conflicted between Reginald Goodall and Pierre Boulez. His shifting from overslow to overfast would make some specialists in baroque opera envious. When you have singers of legendary tonal variety, they can fill in the blanks of the orchestral playing. Knappertsbusch had Martha Mödl and Régine Crespin in Bayreuth. This was not always the case this evening. As usual, act 3 tends to inspire conductors to give their best and the final note was rather positive, if not truly illuminating.

I had seen Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry in Tokyo and was a bit disappointed by the fact that she was caught short with the exposed acuti in the end of act 2. For this second encounter, I decided to hope that she would be in top form and flash Spitzentöne in the auditorium. I couldn’t be more off the mark. As a matter of fact, Ms. Herlitzius has never sung more subtly than she did this evening. She tried all kinds of softer dynamics and her intent to sing legato even involved the use of portamento. As she deals with the text adeptly, one felt drawn to her interpretation. The problem remains that, if her control of the passaggio was masterly, she still finds the dramatic high notes difficult, what is surprising for an experienced Brünnhilde. Sometimes, her voice sounded poorly focused, even if the squalliness was less pronounced than what one would expect.

Klaus Florian Vogt’s monochrome Parsifal is not the best fit to this performance. Whenever the conductor gave him time to produce a dramatic effect, one would just hear a note sung after the other with very little affection. Maybe I’ve grown too accustomed to James King’s recordings, but it all sounded reined in and lacking dynamic variety. It is true that the one color suggests innocence and youth, but this is a long opera and one needs a little bit more than that.

Peter Mattei’s tighly focused baritone is consistently pleasant to the ears and he phrases with the imagination and sensitivity of a Lieder singer. His Amfortas sounded particularly vulnerable and expressive. He would be tested when the writing demanded a little bit more power, and this was the only thing between him and complete success in this role. This was not a problem shared by Evgeny Nikitin, whose superpowerful bass-baritone finds no difficulty  in the role of Klingsor. Moreover, he seems to have fun in bad-guy roles. It is a pity that René Pape was not in his best voice. The way it grated whenever he tried mezza voce made me think he has the flu or something like that. He would sound more comfortable in act 3, but even then this does not compare to his usual standards in the role. In any case, this is still comparing him to himself.

I am not sure about François Girard’s 2013 production. It is indeed very creative in its low-cost quality and the way it explores powerful and simple symbols, but the red/black/white colors and the wet-baby-doll-contest Flower-maidens made me think of Las Vegas. Also, the male/female imbalance storyline has been – even if less clearly – more insightfully explored elsewhere.

I remember the Met’s old production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, even though I had never seen it live. One can still see it in two different DVDs, both with Luciano Pavarotti. One of them features Judith Blegen, the other one has Kathleen Battle. Having seen it on video makes for an experience for those who have the opportunity to see the “new” production at the Met. In its cardboard sceneries and kind-of period costumes and cuteness it looks a hundred years older than the “old” production.

It is also more expertly directed and truly better acted than what we can see on video. The comedy timing is almost always impeccable and even individual chorus members seem to be aware of their “motivations”. Its 2012 premiere had Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani, who happens to be this afternoon’s Nemorino. It is praiseworthy that his long experience in it does not turn out calculated or bureaucratic, but rather as well-mastered and effective in his portray of the likable but unsexy.

Vocally, his performance is less persuasive. His once dulcet tenor now sounds quite grainy and open-toned. Even if a smoother legato would make all the difference in the world, he generally sings with poise and sense of style. Curiously not in his big aria, in which he sounded oversentimentalized, effortful and overreliant on falsetto. Someone like Pavarotti could get away with Verdianizing his Donizetti, but that’s an entirely different voice.

I had never seen Pretty Yende live before and YouTube videos did not made me look forward to it. Hearing her in the theatre made has the opposite effect on me. Her aim in life seems to be proving that you can sing with the full range of overtones and still sound bright and focused. There are moments when she really manages it and the sound is simply gorgeous. There are also moments when you can see that she is negotiating in her mind if she should sing the next note bright and light or full and round. Normally, the bright and light option is the right answer, but I reckon she likes the full and round better. Those are the moments when the voice sounds smoky and unfocused – and I could bet that this is when the microphone does not flatter her. Anyway, Ms. Yende got me under her spell with her unbridled joie de chant. She is on stage as if she were in the place she has always wanted to be and her singing sounds like someone who is doing her favorite thing in the world. She tackles every trill, run and mezza voce passages not as challenges but as opportunities to show the audience how thrilling these effects are. Moreover she has a lovely stage presence and an irresistible smile. She made this performance something refreshing.

Davide Luciano’s Belcore was aptly light and flexible and he managed the be funny without exaggerations. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, on the other hand, did not seem comfortable with clowniness and tried to do his Dr. Dulcamara in his own hipster-ish way. That has somehow and surprisingly worked. There was something wild and potentially dangerous about this con guy, and that made the show more interesting. With the right director, it could even be revelatory. He sang it accordingly, without buffo effects and in an important tonal quality, forceful, firm and dark.

Conductor Domingo Hindoyan seems to have the right approach to this score. He kept the proceedings light, clear and forward-moving, but the Met orchestra (probably not in is A-team version given that there is Parsifal to be played in the evening) sounded opaque and unfinished, entirely un-Italianate. Sometimes he would try an accelerando effect to mark the change of atmosphere, but his musicians would sometimes feel ill-at-ease following his beat then. Not the singers, to whom Mr. Hindoyan was always alert. Unfortunately, the chorus was in very poor shape, especially the women. Finally, a hearable Gianetta would make all the difference in the world in ensembles .

The Frenchness of Le Comte Ory is a matter of debate. Although Rossini felt himself at home in Paris and was a central presence in the Parisian operatic scene, he is together with Verdi the composer one would use for the dictionary example of “Italian opera composer”. Also, a great deal of the music heard in act I is recycled material from Il Viaggio a Reims. All that said, it was written in French for performances at the Opéra, where it met with great success. People like Berlioz liked it. And the truth is that, although the hardware is definitely Italian, the software is unmistakably French. The atmosphere, the ambiguous sense of humor, the elegance and sensuousness of the music (especially the soprano/mezzo/tenor scene in the last act) are worthy of an appellation d’origine contrôlée.

Although Le Comte Ory’s creation had nothing to do with the Opéra Comique, the absence of spoken dialogues does not make it less fitting to the house’s style. The fresh-from-the-oven new production couldn’t be less Parisian: the forces are 100% French, starting with conductor Louis Langrée and a director societaire de la Comédie Française, Denis Podalydès, passing by costumes by Christian Lacroix and ending with a cast filled with the youngest and brightest stars of the French-speaking operatic firmament. I won’t make suspense: it was delightful, concocted to perfection as a creation of a French chef in a three-star Michelin restaurant.

My acquaintance with Le Comte Ory was made by means of John Eliot Gardiner’s Lyon recording and it took me a while to adjust to this evening’s conducting. While the English conductor’s performance shines like fireworks in its exuberance, Maestro Langrée has a more relaxed approach, subtler in its colors and attention to detail. The fact that he had a period-instrument band, the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, gave it an earthier sound that added some spiciness to the proceedings. It has also played richly throughout. Mr. Podalydès is the opposite of a Régietheater director and one could notice only two “interventions”: costumes suggest XIXth century rather than Middle Age and there is an idea that few women would endorse, namely that Ory’s harassment is something a woman cannot resist. Although the female characters clearly say that he is a bully and that they would never forgive his deceit (and they act accordingly), this production shows them incapable of not responding to a man’s insistence. So here the Countess may say she prefers Isolier, but the sexual chemistry goes for the alpha male.

Julie Fuchs is not a name I would associate with bel canto, simply because she has been labelled – with good reason – a Mozart soprano. And yet she deals with the coloratura so beautifully and expressively that one cannot say that this is not her forte. If there is something that the comparison with Gardiner’s Sumi Jo shows is that she is not the kind of soprano who cannot wait to show her in alts. Ms. Fuchs’s voice goes to her high notes with naturalness, but her calling card is the lyric quality of her soprano. During the evening, I couldn’t help imagining that she might be an excellent Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, but there might be a Donna Anna waiting ahead. Her Isolier was Gaëlle Arquez, a mezzo soprano whose firmness of tone and flashiness of high notes are hard to resist. I had listened to samples of her new CD and found them ok, but live she proved to be far more appealing. Maybe it is the repertoire (the usual French mezzo suspects). Tenor Philippe Talbot usually appears in haute-contre repertoire, but his head-voice acuti are exactly what Rossini would have liked to hear and the tonal quality is dulcet and boyish enough. He has fluent coloratura and phrases with elegance. And he really is a funny guy.

All minor roles were extremely well-taken. Ève-Maud Hubeaux (Dame Ragonde) has a beautiful, rich contralto, Jean-Sébastien Bou (the world’s favorite Pelléas for a while) was an incisive, flexible Raimbaud and Patrick Bolleire was a reliable Gouverneur. Having Jodie Devos for the tiny role of Alice is an extravagance.

Since the Opéra de Paris has adopted the highly discriminatory policy of forbidding people older than to 35 to enter the building (I wonder how the French constitution could allow someone not to be allowed in a public building because of his or her age…) in some performances, I was not able to see Michael Spyres, Aleksandra Kurzak and Marianne Crebassa as Tito, Vitellia and Sesto in the reprise of Willy Decker’s 1997 production. Although I have seen Crebassa in this role only last August, I was curious to heaR Spyres live for the first time and check how Kurzak would deal with the tricky writing of the prima donna role. As if getting older did not have enough disadvantages… All the same, La Clemenza di Tito is one of my favorite operas in the repertoire and the second cast had its charms too.

Being young would not make you get away with the fact that Dan Ettinger is the conductor scheduled for all performances. My memories of his Mozart performances in the Lindenoper were that they were unstylish and akward. It seems that my memory has not betrayed me. This evening’s was by far the worst conducted Tito I have ever heard in my life. And I’ve seen it in some odd places. The conductor’s beat was so erratic that singers were often ahead or behind or looking forward with a “wtf?”-expression. In order to write this review, I’ve tried to find some method to his madness, but I failed. Generally, one had the impression that phrases would die out of boredom before they reached the last note. But sometimes things moved forward in a spasmodic way without any explanation. Also, it seemed that clarity was seen as the enemy. The orchestra sounded messy, raspy and dyspeptic but for the drums. There was something I cannot really define involving accent. Everything would halt and, when you were almost giving up, the conductor would produce a loud abrupt chord to wake you up. I truly wonder if someone new to this opera would feel like listening to it again after this evening. To make things worse, the chorus sang poorly and was so distant and unconcerned in the first act finale that one would have to use their imagination to believe that there was a public calamity going on.The fact that Willy Decker’s production (at least, as revived) is mostly stactic, dramatically superficial and aesthetically minimalistic in a highly decorative way did not save the show from its marmoreal coldness.

I had never seen Amanda Majeski before and I intend to write a paragraph about her. Vitellia is a very difficult part and Ms. Majeski came so close of nailing it that she ought to work on that extra mile and inscribe her name in the very short line of great exponents of that role. Hers is a big creamy lyric soprano with amazing reserves of space in her lower notes. Actually, in my experience (and this, unfortunately, does not involve having seen Carol Vaness live), she was the Vitellia most adept in her descent into the lower end of the role’s range. She tackled all trills commendably and, if her coloratura is not truly agile, it is decent enough. To make things better, she has a natural feeling for Mozartian phrasing and deals with the Italian text famously. What is missing then? There is some lack of self-confidence when things get difficult, which, for her, means: when things get _really_ high or dramatic. I have no doubt that she has the stamina and the higher overtones to flash it up there, but it seems that the creaminess is her comfort zone and she is unwilling to leave it. My advice is: get an edge and go, girl. This is something her acting could benefit from too. She has a beautiful stage presence and a good figure and is evidently hard-working, but she should think about her gait, which can seem a bit mechanic, especially when she starts to pace around the stage to show agitation. And there is the problem of self-consciousness. I have the impression that she doesn’t find herself talented as an actress, but there were moments when she could find some dramatic truth in isolated gestures. For instance, during Non più di fiori, she puts the imperial mantle on and frees her hair from it. The way she handled her own hair while singing  “anyone who saw how miserable I am would take pity” said everything about the character in that scene. Ms. Majeski already sings in important opera houses, but she can be more than a singer hired for the second cast. There is true potential for greatness there.

She could learn from Stéphanie d’Oustrac, for instance. Nature did not give her the vocal resources or the bearing of Amanda Majeski, but she does not look back and goes for it with everything she has. I knew Ms. d’Oustrac from recordings and was surprised to find that live her voice lacks color and naturalness. It does have some volume, but the range is restricted, low notes limited in projection and high notes rather forced. She sings very emphatically and her Mozart sounds unflowing and graceless, but she has conviction and charisma. The difficult roulades in the end of Parto, ma tu ben mio were adeptly handled without any hint of difficulty. Valentina Lafornita (Servilia) has developed a lot since I last saw her. Now her voice sounds rounder and fruitier and her intonation is more precise. She made some fatal miscalculations in her aria (and the conductor did everything to sabotage her then), but her contribution to ensembles was very positive. Antoinette Dennefeld sounded more typically Mozartian as Annio. Her mezzo is high and bright in a way that suggests that there is a Octavian/Komponist waiting to be sung there.

I saw Ramón Vargas as Tito almost 10 years ago at the Met. He is still a voice to be reckoned with in the role for its volume, richness and flexibility. It sounds grainier now and he is fond of covering the tone  around f, f# in a way that a “true” Mozart tenor would prefer not to, but the sum here is greater than the parts. Marko Mimica was an intelligent and smooth-toned Publio.

Performances of Handel’s most famous oratorio in December are a tradition of English-speaking countries gradually taking over continental Europe and beyond. This is my second Messiah in France, one particularly pan-European, if one has in mind that chorus, orchestra and conductor are imports from Barcelona and that countertenor and bass were born this side of the English Channel, i.e. La Manche.

Before I speak of the concert, some words must be said about the venue. Its extremely resonant acoustics make it difficult to assess the music-making this evening. I would even say that, without intervention to tame the echo-chamber-like impression, it shouldn’t be used for concerts at all. As it is, although there is a nice glow to the chorus and the orchestra, divisions sound blurred and it can be quite testing for singers.

Jordi Savall is a pioneer in historically informed performances whose interest in Bach and Monteverdi are widely acknowledged, but whose curiosity for Handel has been steadily increasing. Mr. Savall is a self-effacing conductor whose respect for composers involve the eschewal of effects and the search for naturalness. His performance this evening was so honest that it could be called prudent. He clearly sees the work of a non-operatic point of view (which could be called the default these days) and seems to be comfortable with the atmosphere of the spiritual concert   that took place in Dublin under the composer’s supervision. But Handel was an opera composer above anything else, and in numbers like Why do the nations rage so furiously together?, a more vivid approach would have been welcome.

In any case, the crowning glories of this performance were the Concert des Nations’s warm strings and polished trumpets and the exquisite choral singing offered by the Capella Reial de Catalunya, homogeneous yet colourful and expressive throughout. Due to the hall’s resonance, I wouldn’t be able to comment on their pronunciation, though.

I am not truly convinced that countertenors are the best option for He was despised, but Damien Guillon (whose beard makes him looks like Marcel Proust) sounded small-scaled and monochromatic in these unfavorable acoustics. Tenor Nicholas Mulroy too was hard to hear, especially low notes. On the other hand, Matthias Winckler poured voluminous rich sounds, flexible enough for the coloratura and ductile enough for softer dynamic effects. I leave again the best for last, the bell-toned Rachel Redmond sang the soprano part with such spontaneous musicality that one almost had the impression that Handel wrote it for her. She is the kind of soprano whose low register is so appealing that one never feels sorry when her cadenze go downwards rather than upwards. Rejoice, greatly was the only number when I felt that the conductor was rushing things, but Ms. Redmond produced crystalline fioriture without sounding frantic or desperate. She was clearly the audience’s favorite, especially after singing a truly heartfelt I know that my redeemer liveth.

Reviewers have written miles and miles of sentences about the difficulty of performing Wagner, Brahms or Bruckner, but the sad truth is that no composer has written music as difficult to pull off as that of Johann Sebastian Bach’s. The vocal parts are unsingable, the instrumental parts require virtuoso quality and the ensemble is very hard to balance. Worse: it has to sound effortless and informed by some sort of spiritual depth. Now that we are being honest about the whole thing, it is also truth that, if traditional instruments tend to make it monochrome and opaque, historic instruments live can be testingly erratic. And then there is the complexity of the music itself.

Marc Minkowski and the Musiciens du Louvre are a reference in baroque music and they are almost unrivalled when one thinks of Handel operas. And this is where the problems of this evening’s performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (cantatas I, II, IV and VI) begin. An opera by Handel, Rameau or Gluck  was written for a group of professional singers whose expressive powers were supposed to be highlighted in the course of performances. Their interpretation was an unwritten part of the score. Without it, the music sounds incomplete. Bach, on the other hand, rarely had musicians up to the task of performing his sacred works. They were not written to flatter their personalities. They weren’t even written to flatter Bach’s own personality, but rather as a means of sharing his vision of the joys of Christian faith, uncool as this sounds today. The key element of a performance of  Bach cantata is the presence of the congregation, who would even sing in the chorales during the performances in church. This music was written to SPEAK to the audience, to involve it in the feelings and ideas conveyed by the text and the music. This evening’s performance did not inhabit this universe. It had to do with being on stage, having fun and letting it rip. If you did not get it, then it is your problem.

Almost everybody in the theatre seemed happy about it, so the fact that I did not enjoy it is actually my problem anyway. I do believe that the slow tempi traditionally used to Bach’s sacred music actually disfigured it, robbing it of the dance rhythms around which they are structured. However, overfast tempi can be disfiguring too, sometimes in a most unmusical way. When you hear an orchestra that hardly copes with hitting the notes in supersonic speeds on pitch and without any nuance and singers spitting the text without any possibility of clarity, then this cannot be the right tempo. And there is the problem of balance. Maybe it was the acoustics of the hall, but the performance was heavily bass-oriented, violins barely hearable against a wall of cellists and bassists that moved as if they would burn their instruments on stage after playing them with their teeth. This can be very exciting in Ariodante, but not here, when the feeling is very different and when it obscures a lot of powerful examples of music rhetorics and counterpoint itself.

In the chorus, this was even more problematic. The forces available involved a 3-per-part (including soloists), but for the bass, who had two singers. They were often overshadowed by the small orchestra and, due to the lack of homogeneity, balance was very poor. Again, it could be the acoustics, but one would hear the basses, one of the tenors and sometimes one of the sopranos. In the encore, a one-per-part experiment was made in a number of the 5th canatata and one should thank the conductor for avoiding this for the rest of the evening. Then there was a very exotic group of soloists.  Both sopranos lacked the purity of tone and the instrumental focus a Bach soprano is supposed to have. Both sounded ungainly and projected poorly. Lenneke Ruiten at least could produce some edge to pierce through, but then the results were acidulous. Helena Rasker is a true contralto who could caress her lines in Schlafe, mein Liebster and produce, for once in the whole evening, some Innigkeit, but was sabotaged by fast tempo and heavy-accented orchestral playing. Valerio Contaldo dispatched amazingly clear coloratura in warm tone in Frohe Hirten, but sounded small-scaled elsewhere. Paul Schweinester sounded a bit grainy (or it might be the acoustics), but otherwise stylish and engaged in his Evangelist duties. I leave the best for last: James Platt’s dark, resonant and flexible bass was the secret weapon in this concert. For he alone, this was worth the detour.