Soprano Liv Redpath and mezzo-soprano Lea Désandre were the evening’s stars; as if in acknowledgement of their status, Opera Lafayette used one or another–sometimes both–in every number. Both stayed firmly within the Baroque stylistic boundaries, while betraying not a trace of early-music primness, showing that Monteverdi in his way can be as expressively direct as Mascagni. Redpath’s voice was fresh and sweet; cool without being the least bit narrow. In Lamento della Ninfa, which pits the soprano against a ‘continuo section’ of tenor, baritone, and bass, she showed a marvelous sense of rubato, flying freely within the male contingent’s firm metrical framework. Redpath moreover proved herself a striking stage presence, never more so than in the scena Il Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda. She had very little to sing there, but in her demeanor she decisively proved herself the noble warrior…Désandre’s voice has a similar instrumental beauty, and in two duets, the two voices blended to wonderful effect; Désandre’s clarinet setting off Redpath’s flute.
This delightful concert was the first time that a guest music director has led Opera Lafayette. Lutenist Thomas Dunford, in collaboration with guest harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, brought together a continuo section also made up completely of guest musicians. The selection of music by Claudio Monteverdi, whose 450th birthday was celebrated this year, featured a strong vocal consort, most notably Lea Désandre and Liv Redpath.
Désandre’s voice combines seamlessly with soprano Liv Redpath in the flighty, run-filled duet ‘O come sei gentile.’ This quasi-trio sonata (two high voices plus continuo), is featured in some of Monteverdi’s greatest music. In the tragic duet ‘Ohimè dov’è il mio ben,’ the two women perfectly judged the combination of their voices in anguished suspensions, sweetly resolving, with one never overwhelming the other in sound…On her own, Redpath was also excellent, an intense quiver in her tone communicating the grief of the nymph in the ‘Lamento della ninfa,’ set to a repeated descending bass pattern, filled out inventively by Dunford’s archlute. The three male singers were at their best in this piece, forming a cohesive unit observing Redpath’s distress.