A celebration of a magical masterwork in memory of a friend
28 May 2010
This column is dedicated to my friend, the singer Robert Petersen, whose death in a car crash this month has left our music fraternity bereft and stunned. Last Friday’s memorial service in the Durban City Hall, organised by the KZN Philharmonic, was a deeply moving, hugely uplifting occasion. Such was Robert’s enormous standing that a host of musical luminaries, professional choirs and children’s choristers banded together from far and wide to sing and play for him, paying tribute to his life and the memory of a man who was unfailingly kind, gentle, loving and brave.
For me, listening to music with Robert was always a joyful experience. Pure quality time, filled with moments of glee, exhilaration and mutual delight. A most cherished experience was listening to Rossini’s sumptuously conceived opera seria, Armida, shortly after its sensational CD release in 1994 on the Sony Classics label.
Recorded live at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro in Italy, this extraordinary release launched the American soprano Renée Fleming’s glittering recording career. Small wonder, considering the rising star’s fearless assumption of the opera’s impossibly demanding title role. Both the work and the singer remained personal favourites of ours, and we’d planned to see the Met’s new production of the opera together when it hit our local movie circuit this month end. Its long-awaited HD screening opens today (28 May) at Cinema Nouveau.
One of many settings of Torquato Tasso’s epic poem, Gerusalemme liberata, the plot of Rossini’s opera devolves around the beguiling sorceress of its title, who entices a string of lovers onto her enchanted island. Rossini’s splendid take on the classic Armida and Rinaldo legend was first performed at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples on 11 November 1817. It was the second of eight masterpieces he created for the illustrious Neapolitan house’s team of operatic virtuosi, headed by the Spanish soprano, Isabella Colbran, who became the composer’s muse and his wife.
Scored for one soprano, six tenors, two basses, chorus and orchestra, the opera makes elaborate demands on its singers and orchestral players. Its title role is one of the longest and most demanding Rossini wrote, a veritable steeple chase of technical and vocal hurdles. Its most famous number is the soprano show-stopper, ‘D'amore al dolce impero’, a dazzling set of variations near the start of Act 2. Other musical highpoints include: the ravishing duets between Armida and Rinaldo; the gorgeous ballet in Act 2; and the soprano’s cataclysmic Act 3 finale – not to mention the opera’s various tenor solos, duets, quartet and ensembles.
Attending the press preview of Armida last week, I could only catch the first act and the start of the second act. But with Fleming in typically sumptuous voice, a glinting, sly seductress, I shall certainly keep faith with my friend, and be back for the rest of the production as relayed to global cinema audiences via the Met’s HD transmissions. Heading the coterie of tenors who ring out stratospheric high notes and combative roulades, Lawrence Brownlee delivers a dashing Rinaldo, while our own Kobie van Rensburg more than holds his own against his accomplished colleagues.
[Republished courtesy of The Mercury newspaper]