Tisbe – review, Buxton

Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello is hardly a household name among Baroque composers; in fact, a vast majority of people will have even remotely heard of him, let alone an opera by him.

Adrian Chandler’s first-rate period instrument Baroque ensemble La Serenissima is offering an opportunity to rectify the latter situation with a semi-staged concert performance of the opera, Tisbe, as part of the Buxton International Festival.

Brescianello was born in Bologna around 1690 and died in Stuttgart in 1758. Next to nothing is known about him before 1715 when he moved to Stuttgart and began playing violin in the court orchestra there.

A year later, he became court music director and completed what would appear to be his only opera, La Tisbe – seemingly, he penned a fair amount of instrumental music – in early 1718.

Although rarely heard, it is said to be of high quality and violinist Chandler, an Italian Baroque specialist, goes as far as to describe Tisbe as “a candidate for the finest Baroque opera ever.”

Monteverdi and Handel, for a start, would have something to say about that!

Nevertheless, you can appreciate where he is coming from. There is much fine music and a whole string of quality arias conveying all sorts of mood and emotion (within the confines of music development of the time), and you are rarely aware of the limited amount of linking recitative, unlike in most Baroque opera.

Brescianello’s ‘opera pastorale’ is the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe as recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses to an already extant libretto by Pier Jacopo Martello who also hailed from Bologna, although there is no evidence to suggest that they knew each other.

Two outstanding performances grace La Serenissima’s concert version, the Alceste of Morgan Pearse, a superb bass-baritone, and a no less fine tenor, Robert Murray as Piramo who turns in a riveting account of his lengthy scene at the beginning of act three.

Tisbe herself, surprisingly, rarely gets music of the same inspired level to sing but what she does have is expertly and beautifully delivered by soprano Julia Doyle.

Commenting on the music of the shepherdess Licori is barely possible as Hilary Summers, an excellent contralto, was stricken with a throat infection. With what voice was at her disposable, however, she still managed an engaging performance.

The eight-member chorus renders what little it has to do without fuss, stage director Mark Burns (not averse to some harmless humour) coming up with an ingenious way to employ the octet in one of its many stretches of vocal inactivity.

Adrian Chandler and harpsichordist Robert Howarth are joint music directors and cellist Vladimir Waltham cries out for mention for his contributions to the proceedings

Further performance: 17th of July

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