Last Sunday, May 13, Seattle had the opportunity to hear soprano Amanda Forsythe, a specialist in Baroque style and singing technique, performing Handel cantatas, while just a little earlier in the month Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva, also steeped in Baroque style and singing technique, had sung Handel as well as Vivaldi. It was a fascinating experience to hear two very different, equally fine voices of the same range in the same style in such close juxtaposition.
Lezhneva knocked the socks off everyone who heard her, and Forsythe’s concert Sunday filled Trinity Parish Church on a gloriously summery afternoon with enthusiastic plaudits at the end.
She was the featured soloist at Pacific MusicWorks’ last concert of the season. It was titled “Roman Holiday: Young Handel’s Italian Adventures” and comprised three of his cantatas plus an excerpt from another, with Corelli and Handel sonatas in between to give Forsythe a brief rest from these astonishing works.
The 21-year-old HandeI, in Italy from 1706 for three years, delved into the craze for ancient Greek and Roman stories, but addressed them in his cantatas from the point of view of the women, particularly those with a passionate reason to emote. Each of the three cantatas on this program are from the point of view of rejected women, their outrage, fury, despair, and conflicted feelings. Two, “Sarei troppo felice” and “Armida abbandonata,” are the outpourings of women abandoned by lovers, while the first sung, “Agrippina condotta a morire” has Agrippina coping with the fact that her son Nero has condemned her to death, surely the ultimate in rejection.
For Forsythe, these are the perfect vehicle for her voice. She is a dramatic soprano, and these cantatas, both their recitatives as well as their arias, gave great scope for alternating feelings of vengeance and anguish, spitting rage and sorrowful pain, regret and cursing. Each has multiple opportunities for ornamentation and are filled with cascading runs at full speed from top to bottom of the range, which Forsythe accomplished with apparent ease and perfect pitch.
Accompanying her was a small chamber group of musicians, well known to Seattle as well as around the continent and the world. We are fortunate that all but one live here and can frequently be heard. Lutenist and baroque guitarist Stephen Stubbs, founder and director of Pacific MusicWorks, harpist Maxine Eilander, baroque cellist Elisabeth Reed, violinists Tekla Cunningham and Ingrid Matthews, and harpsichordist Henry Lebedinsky created the musical context around the vocal parts of the cantatas. Sometimes it was only the continuo group of Reed, Eilander, Stubbs, and Lebedinsky. In a couple of instances, the continuo was in superb contrast to the vocal line, as in the one excerpt, “Col partir la bella Clori,” where the running passages in the continuo made a foil for the long legato line in the voice, and the exciting obbligato cello accompanying one of the arias in “Sarei troppo felice.”
Fine work by the instrumentalists in the short Corelli Trio Sonata, Op. 4, No. 1, and the longer Handel Sonata in G major, Op 5., No. 4, rounded out this delightful program — the audience was left with the brochures for next season, promising more Baroque vocal rarities.