Tropical Baroque Festival concludes with mix of vocal rarities and chestnuts

By Lawrence Budmen

Amid the Italian palazzo splendor of the Alhambra Ballroom in Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel, the Tropical Baroque Festival closed Saturday night with a concert of Italian Baroque Arias.

This year’s festival has concentrated on vocal music, mixing rarities from the early opera and cantata literature with more familiar Baroque chestnuts. The final concert featured a cantata by Francesco Mancini, an obscure Neapolitan composer, and the American premiere of two Vivaldi arias. Under the expert guidance of Donald Oglesby, an ensemble of five strings and harpsichord (with two horns added for Handel and Vivaldi scores) provided idiomatic, vital support for the singers.

Mancini’s cantata Quanto dolce e quell’ ardore is a passionate outpouring of love set in stately melodic lines. Karen Neal’s pure, vibratoless soprano spanned a wide octave range without strain at the high and low extremes. Beautiful and statuesque, Neal infused charm and elegance into Mancini’s catchy melodies with violinist Scott Flavin and harpsichordist Christopher Harrell offering stylish, energetic support. Neal was somewhat less effective in Vivaldi’s cantata  Il povero mio core, her coolly beautiful traversal of the  vocal line wanting greater expressive depth in this plea for a parted lover to return.

University of Miami vocal professor Tony Boutte’s firmly focused light tenor encompassed the sprightly, clipped pulse of Stradella’s Pensier ostinato and high flights of Caccini’s Amarilli mia bella with aplomb. In Monteverdi’s rollicking Ninfa che, his incisive declamation and agile coloratura were capped by a perfectly produced series of trills, cellist Ross Harbaugh’s deft obbligato adding zest.

Although Vivaldi’s opera Tito Manilo has been produced in Europe and recorded three times, two arias received what was billed as their first American performances. In the best Vivaldi manner, an insistent war like string figuration pervades Se il cor guerriero while Orribile lo scempo springs forth in graceful phrases. Bass Carl DuPont radiated commanding authority as the warrior Tito, rolling deep low notes with ease.

DuPont concluded the program with two arias from  Ariodante, one of Handel’s operatic masterpieces. Bringing soft, mellifluous tones to the second verse of Invida sorte avara, DuPont spun a winning burst of sustained song. The contrasting martial Voli colla sua tromba was exuberantly backed by two horns trilling in proto Handelian fashion. Jon Anderson and Vince Morreale made a brave attempt at the treacherously high Allegro from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Horns No. 1 in F Major, but their playing was not always accurate or in sync with the ensemble.

Among the concert’s excellent cast of singers,  Katherine Wiggins made the strongest impression. A mainstay of recent Frost Opera Theater productions at the University of Miami, Wiggins’ clear, voluminous mezzo shone in excerpts from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Cara speme was spun eloquently and Svegliatevi nel core ignited with fiery passion. Wiggins probed the depths of Orfeo’s heartbreak and despair in an earthy voiced Che faro senza Euridice from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, the melody shaped with nobility.

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Sun Mar 10, 2013
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