Opera Review: Women of the Pietà

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The atmosphere of the Venetian Lagoon greets us as we enter the beautifully paneled auditorium space of the Melbourne Recital Center. The mist covers the musicians warming up their instruments in the golden, smoky light.

The first piece of this baroque music recital (using real or replica period instruments) is Concerto for two horns in F major, by Vivaldi. With the exception of the last piece, Vivaldi constitutes the greater part of the concert, while Pinchgut Opera sets out to reproduce the atmosphere of the ospedali – public shelters for poor or homeless young women, where Antonio Vivaldi taught music in the 18th century. Here Vivaldi composed some of his most virtuoso choral and string works, including his Concerto for two horns and Magnificat.

A wonderful piece to start with, the Concerto for two horns sees Carla Blackwood and Dorée Dixon show off their dexterity with these instruments, requiring precise embouchure and airflow to achieve a smooth glissando. This musical prowess is also found in singers, strings and percussion. Conductor and harpsichordist Erin Helyard sets the golden example, rising and sitting down to alternately conduct and play effortlessly. Simon Martin-Ellis’ cheerful baroque guitar playing is melodious amid the horns, which sound like a fanfare for the delights to follow.

The star of the show, Miriam Allan, the soprano who performed at the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, comes on stage to In furore iutissimae irae, showing the fiercely euphonious nature of his voice. Resplendent in her black satin dress and jewelry, enhanced by the intimate lighting, her voice undulates like a river over the audience, evoking divinity; the violins a perfect emotional accompaniment. There is a warmth and richness both in her voice and in Hannah Fraser, mezzo soprano, that is as pleasant as bathwater or honey.

After the intermission, Allan sings Laudate pueri Dominium, with flute accompaniment by Mikaela Oberg, is perfection, as they blend and harmonize in a wash of splendor. These moments, enhanced by the skillful lighting design of Trent Suidgeest, are ambrosial and breathtaking, moving from warm ablutions to celestial rafters of white light.

The last piece, Says Dominusfrom Vivaldi’s contemporary Galuppi, is a dizzyingly beautiful ending, with Fraser showing a glorious vocal affinity with the French horn.

Read: Theater Review: Variations or Exit Music

There was an encore, in which Allan returned to sing accompanied by Helyard; the public exulted. Perhaps the positioning of the choir at the back of a crowded stage obstructed our vision a little too much. It would have been nice to see all the singers in all their glory. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful moment of musical sublimity in the middle of the week.

Women of the Pieta
pinchgut opera
Melbourne Recital Center

Women of the Pieta took place from September 15 to 16, 2022.

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