OAE/Norrington/Antonacci – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers is the eye-catching title for a series of concerts in the current Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment season that deal with the presentation of women in baroque and classical opera. Sarah Connolly, Emma Bell and Stéphanie d'Oustrac are among the singers scheduled to appear in it over the next year. But we opened with Anna Caterina Antonacci portraying a series of tragic heroines from works by Cherubini, Gluck and Berlioz in the wider context of an examination by Roger Norrington of the neo-classical strain in music written for performance in France.

A great artist, Antonacci has the ability to immerse herself completely in whatever she sings, so that even in extracts we are acutely conscious of an absolute totality of characterisation. In Medea's first-act aria from Cherubini's opera, we sensed that the hurt, rage and infinite capacity for manipulation were part of an ongoing psychological development, rooted in a terrible past as well as presaging a violent future. The lament from Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, sometimes seen as consolatory, was a harrowing expression of grief, while Dido's Je Vais Mourir from Berlioz's Les Troyens was minutely detailed in its progress from fury to uncontrollable despair. In sharp contrast, her encore was the Chanson Bohème from Bizet's Carmen, done with great erotic wit and a smile in the tone.

The arias were interwoven with dances from the Paris version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice and bookended by Haydn's Symphony No 85, "La Reine" – after Marie Antoinette – and Bizet's Symphony in C. Bizet's conciseness marks him out very much as a classicist, though on this occasion his only symphony could have done with more energy and sparkle. The Haydn, perfectly played, was immaculate in its charm, elegance and humour.

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Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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