Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Myrna Herzog directs Ensemble PHOENIX and singers in the world premiere of Michelangelo Falvetti's "Nabucco"

Left to right: Fabrizio Longo,Oshri Segev, Tal Arbel (photo:Eliahu Feldman)

On October 24th 2016, Ensemble PHOENIX (director: Myrna Herzog) performed the world premiere of Michelangelo Falvetti’s “Nabucco” - the complete oratorio - at the 50th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival in the Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant, Kiryat Yearim, close to Jerusalem. Of the many works Falvetti (1642-1692) composed, only two large pieces have survived in full – “Il Diluvio Universale” (1682), performed by Ensemble PHOENIX the previous year, and “Il Dialogo del Nabucco” (1683). Heavily modified versions of “Nabucco” have taken place, but thanks to the research and editing work of violinist and musicologist Fabrizio Longo (Bologna, Italy), unearthing the two major Falvetti works and raising this great Messina composer out of oblivion, and Myrna Herzog's work on the manuscript, the complete and authentic “Nabucco” score for ensemble and six singers has been reconstructed, culminating in the first full performance of it in modern times, with Dr. Myrna Herzog conducting and Fabrizio Longo playing first violin.  In which case, this was an auspicious, ground-breaking event in the history of performance of Italian Baroque music. Ensemble PHOENIX was joined by sopranos Einat Aronstein, Liat Lidor and Yuval Oren, mezzo-soprano Anne-Marieke Evers, tenor Oshri Segev and baritone Guy Pelc.

Fabrizio Longo has done much research on Sicilian music.  At a talk at the Italian Cultural Institute (Tel Aviv), he gave a palpable picture of Messina of the time, stressing its importance as a great commercial and cultural centre at the peak of its splendour. He mentioned several men of letters from there, their academic activity connecting literature with music, astronomy, philosophy and medicine. He spoke of the influence these key figures had on each other in the meeting of opinions and of poets changing emphases or even facts in biblical stories to suit specific works, i.e. taking a sacred subject and viewing it through their personal prism. Falvetti’s librettist Vincenzo Giattini (1630-1697) made clear choices as to where to place his focus in the plot, inspired by Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Daniel. The two main musical genres of the time were the oratorio and the monodrama. Longo also mentioned the different techniques used for printing music in the region. In 1682, Falvetti, a Sicilian priest, took on the position of maestro di cappella in the Messina Cathedral. The Cathedral, originating from the 12th century, was an important centre of music, known to have had a paid orchestra and choir at hand. This was where such works as the two major Falvetti oratorios were performed.

The oratorio’s dramatic plot presents the story of the three Jewish youths condemned to be burned alive by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship the king’s gold statue and how they emerge unscathed from the flames. In Herzog’s words: “The opposition and defiance to this single statue embodying arrogance and idolatry become the main subject of the plot”.  The story was also used by composer and librettist to symbolize Sicily’s national struggle, following the arrival of the Spanish Viceroy Francisco Benavides to Messina after the 1674-78 rebellion, with the city deprived of ancient privileges and subject to harsh repression.  Thus, the work is infused with political reference. The story unfolds by way of dialogues launched in economic, seamless continuum via Giattini’s rapid directness, a style evocative in images and emotion. Falvetti matches this in immediacy, transparency of textures and a cogent build-up of tension.

Here is a true masterpiece, whose greatness is all written into the score, with no need of extra-textual material or editing. Longo had mentioned some uncertainty as to instrumentation due to composer’s use of terminology; Herzog’s finely balanced instrumental ensemble of 11 players on period instruments illuminated Falvetti’s mid-Baroque style with splendid delicacy, with sensuousness infused with Mediterranean expressivity and with involvement in the course of events. Especially enriching to the string section, which was attentively and elegantly led by Maestro Longo himself, were the early winds - cornett  (Alma Mayer), chalumeau (Gili Rinot), Baroque bassoon (Inbar Navot) and recorders ( Alma Mayer) – with the Baroque guitar (Ian Aylon) offering delicacy and poignancy. Other players were Aviad Stier-organ, Smadar Shidlowsky-violin, Tal Arbel-viola da gamba, Sonja Navot- Baroque 'cello and Dara Bloom-violone. Percussionist Oded Geizhals gave a subtle and sensitive underpinning to the ensemble, the castanets a bold and pronounced reminder of the fact that Messina had been under Spanish domination.
Ensemble PHOENIX was joined by members of its vocal group VOCE PHOENIX, featuring as follows: in the roles of the three young Jews from Judah – Anania, Azaria and Misaele – we heard sopranos Einat Aronstein, Yuval Oren and Liat Lidor in performance that was fresh, well blended, vibrant and interactional. Their bold, mocking of Nabucco in “Let it shine like the sun, the giant piece that proudly makes war on heaven”, its dance rhythm enhanced by tambourine and metal jingles, moves into tragic acceptance of death, then to return to courage and confidence in three exuberant solos extolling the beauty of flames in the language of metaphors. As Arioco, captain of the king’s guard, mezzo-soprano Anne-Marieke Evers was convincing and intense, her clean, unmannered singing occasionally lacking sonority in the lower register.  Baritone Guy Pelc, his large vocal presence authoritative, his singing highlighting and phrasing Giattini’s lofty language, was well cast as the larger-than-life prophet Daniel:
‘Let the arrogant ones be confused!
From the throne of Babylon
Nabucco believes to be able to make war on the stars, armed with a crown;
Yet he cannot banish the fear from his breast.’ (Translation: Myrna Herzog)
Tenor Oshri Segev did well at drawing together the threads of the Nebuchadnezzar personality - a soul troubled by dreams, his attempted tolerance and eventual fury – in singing that was communicative, vivid, resonant and pleasing in colour.

Straddling the genres of historical oratorio and “drama per musica”, Michelangelo Falvetti’s “Il Dialogo del Nabucco” is an extraordinary work, its musical canvas as rich instrumentally as it is vocally, one of both high drama and personal expression.  Myrna Herzog’s deep enquiry into the work and her exhilarating direction of it were meticulous and uplifting, resulting in Baroque performance of the highest order. Deeply moved, the audience showed its enthusiasm in lengthy applause, shouts and whistles. For those who missed the premiere, more performances of “Nabucco” are in the planning.

Photo: Eliahu Feldman


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