Musician of the Month: Seductive Sorcery
Carl and I are cousins: our origins are from Caraquet, a small coastal town in northern New Brunswick, which is part of the French Canadian region called Acadie. Carl grew up in Caraquet, as did my mother, which is my link to the area. Both our mothers share the same maiden name of ‘Lanteigne’. Our musical collaboration began in the summer of 2010, when we were invited to perform a recital together at the ‘Festival Acadien’, which is an annual event held in Caraquet. Since then we have enjoyed working on many recitals together, and are greatly looking forward to our first baroque programme at Handel House. For us both, there is a great connection in terms of heritage and culture, which I believe contributes greatly to the freedom and joy in which we explore music together. No one tinkles the keys or shucks an oyster quite like Carl, which explains it all!
How do the two of you present “indulgence and intrigue: seduction and sorcery” in your performance?
Many of Handel’s characters are out of this world: Greek mythical princesses like Deidamia, enchanting sorceresses such as Alcina, or captivating historical figures as portrayed by Cleopatra. The characters we have chosen to highlight in this programme are sexual, mysterious and magical women: music and drama brings their desires to life.They all used power, intellect and charm to guide their journeys. At the heart of all the tantalising trickery though, lies the essential human need for love and affirmation, which is very much ‘of this world’. What Handel does so brilliantly, is capture human emotion through his music and dramatic context.
Christina, can you tell Handel’s music was written for his specific singers? Do you feel like you need to channel your inner baroque diva to perform it?
All three ladies portrayed in our programme were created by Handel for different divas of the time, and the arias definitely reflect that. Cleopatra was written for the glamorous Italian soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, who premiered the role in London in 1724. The role displays vocal virtuosity, with a combination of light sparkly flexibility and sustained singing. Out of the three characters featured in our programme, I feel Cleopatra fits my vocal qualities best, as do other roles written for Cuzzoni by Handel, such as Rodelinda. Alcina was created for another Italian soprano, by the name of Anna Maria Strada, who premiered the role in London in 1735. Alcina’s music is rich and dramatic in nature, with a lower tessitura than both Cleopatra and Deidamia, which demands a more lyrical sound from the singer. Deidamia was premiered by the French soprano Élisabeth Duparc (‘La Francesina’) in London in 1741, and was Handel’s last Italian opera. The arias lie slightly higher than both Cleopatra and Alcina, and there is a combination of both flexibility and lyricism to the writing. As for channelling my ‘inner baroque diva’: absolutely! Cleopatra and Alcina are both roles I have performed on stage, and I bring the intentions of their characters with me, as I explore the music further. When I performed Cleopatra for example, I sang ‘v’adoro pupille’ wearing an 8 meter long gown, suspended from the stage’s ceiling. The drama calls for the aria to come from the heavens, and the staging reflected that. Before the age of TV and computers, baroque productions used real theatrics to entertain and entice their audience: Handel’s operas are the perfect vehicle for continuously exploring stage craft and engaging with the listener. I wish I could have kept that dress….
Carl, do you find it difficult to create extreme emotion because of the limited range of dynamics on the harpsichord? How do you compensate?
As a pianist, I am used to have an instrument that can create a lot of contrasts in dynamics and colour. When I play harpsichord, my approach is very different. With the harpsichord, the contrasts can be found mostly in the different textures (i.e. bigger chords, fast lines in the right hand, light or heavier accompaniment of the voice, etc.) and in the pacing of the attack. The harpsichord actually gives a different movement to the music, by allowing more freedom in the lines. Since Handel was using this type of instrument as the basis of composition for his operas, this approach is probably closer to what he had in mind when he composed the piece.
Do you think performing at Handel House brings out another dimension of the music?
I have had the chance of performing in two of the houses of Beethoven (Vienna and Baden bei Wien) and it was always a great privilege. There is a great sense of intimacy with the composer and his music. The fact that Handel has been one of the most important figures in opera and that he contributed tremendously to give the genre the importance it has today in London, makes the experience even more exciting.