Astounding Mezzo-Soprano Ann Hallenberg with the Venice Baroque Orchestra

Nélida Nassar 02.27.2020

Boston Early Music Festival welcomes back the highly anticipated and world acclaimed Swedish soprano Ann Hallenberg who will be in concert with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Ms. Hallenberg first appeared in a fully performed opera in the US in BEMF’s presentation of Cavalli’s Ercole Amante, when she played Dejanira, the hero’s jealous wife who is driven to madness. 

She will open her upcoming concert with a group of tunes considered to be the “pop” music of the eighteenth century, rediscovering long-forgotten aspects of Vivaldi, Handel and other Baroque masters. Some singers do not so much shine by the opulence of their voice, the mellowness of their timbre or the precision of their technique as by the balanced tension of their singing. In opera as in electricity, intensity and voltage are deeply linked. This is particularly true of Ms. Hallenberg

We could limit ourselves to praising her ruby-colored mezzo: an opulent voice, perfectly focused and well projected; a breathtaking technique which renders each rapid sound with the same intensity of an organ note; and superb diction, with faultless phrasing which seems to sculpt the simplest sentence into a three-dimensional object. A superlative actress with a controlled melisma, she is powerful but never outrageous, and always seems authentic. All these qualities make her an excellent baroque singer. What makes her surpass all her contemporaries is the balance and force evident throughout her expansive vocal range, from an earthy low to a fleshy medium and on to brightly ringing highs.

There are many other coloratura mezzos-sopranos but none of them are capable of both sustaining high tessitura and convincingly portraying operatic heroes, a feat Ms. Hallenberg can carry off thanks to her singing that is neither strident nor easy, but which emerges like a cry of distress from one struggling to survive in uncertain and hostile circumstances. Glory is always somehow beyond reach. Such is the tragic fate of the heroes she embodies. 

Superbly intelligent in managing her resources, Ms. Hallenberg can easily fill any theatre or church with her beautiful voice, from impeccable highs all the way down to daringly deep lows. This fullness will be heard from the concert’s onset in the tender and challenging “Quando il flebile usignolo” from Piotro Torri’s L’Ippolito. 

Vivaldi’s highly contrasted music and Handel’s well known (and some not-so-famous) works in all their guises – heroic, lyrical, dramatic – demand precisely Ms. Hallenberg’s kind of what we might call a “natural” response – almost like improvisation. (The soloist herself has spoken of her search for color and almost limitless inflections.) She will follow with arias from a number of operas including L’IppolitoFarnace, Juditha triumphans, Serse, Ottone, and Ariodante, as well as the famous “Son qual nave” from Artaserse, the best-remembered score written for the widely-acclaimed castrato, by none other than his brother Riccardo Broschi. Ms. Hallenberg employs a combination of Farinelli’s and her own ornaments. The aria’s alternation of time-suspending cantilena passages with cascades of roulades is perfect for her, as it apparently was for him: singing with absolute mastery of the music, she sails through the aria in stunning fashion, artfully but never willfully ornamenting the da capo after reaching dizzying heights in her B-section cadenza. 

The program also includes one of Vivaldi’s Sinfonia for Strings and Continuo as well as three of his concertos for Strings and Continuo performed by one of the very finest period instrument ensembles the Venice Baroque Orchestra. In addition to Gianpiero Zanocco as concertmaster, this flamboyant ensemble features Giorgio Baldan, Giuseppe Cabrio, Lovato Francesco, Pro Gabriele, Russo Valentina, Nicola Mansutti and Mauro Spinazzè, on violin; Alessandra Di Vincenzo and Meri Skejic on viola; Massimo Raccanelli and Federico Toffano on violoncello; Alessandro Pivelli on double bass; Rossella Policardo on harpsichord; Ivano Zanenjgi on lute; and Stefano Meloni on bassoon.

Ms. Hallenberg convincingly brings out the tragic dimensions of the operas, her facial expressions marking the changing moods of the score, even in moments when she is silent. Supported by a supple orchestra whose members seem to breathe along with each of her notes and who provide a lush background for her pure soprano tone, she reminds anyone who still doubts it that the opera seria is above all theater, as she deftly paints the painful and vindictive figure of the dazzling eunuch Vagaus, or the anguished Tamiri. Her most admirable quality, perhaps, is the eloquence with which she voices the text – of which we perceive every word. Governed by such mastery of baroque rhetoric, agility finds its proper place: it does not decorate, it expresses.

Friday, February 28 at 8.00 pm
Emmanuel Church
15 Newbury Street, Boston, MA

Antonio Vivaldi: Sinfonia in B minor for strings and basso continuo, RV 168
George Frideric Handel: Dopo L’orrore from Ottone
Pietro Torri: Quando il flebile usignolo from L’Ippolito
Vivaldi: Concerto in D minor for two violins, RV 514
Vivaldi: Gelido in ogni vena from Il Farnace
Vivaldi: Armatae face et anguibus from Juditha triumphans
Vivaldi: Concerto in D major for strings and basso continuo, RV 121
Handel: Crude Furie from Serse
Handel: Vieni, o figlio from Ottone
Vivaldi: Concerto in C major for strings and basso continuo, RV 119
Handel: Scherza infida from Ariodante
Carlo Broschi: Son qual nave from Artaserse