Emőke Baráth, Philippe Jaroussky, the Ensemble Artaserse and an all-Handel programme – the opening night of Müpa’s Early Music Festival had all the makings of an excellent concert and, thanks to the tightly-knit, outstanding musical partnership between its performers, it delivered in abundance.

Emőke Baráth
© Szilvia Csibi | Müpa Budapest

Based on Baráth’s new album, Dualità, the programme explored the repertoire of both male and female roles written for Handel’s prima donnas: the trouser roles of Sesto, Radamisto and Achille in the first half, and the more familiar territory of Alcina and Cleopatra, as well as the welcome additions of two duets with Jaroussky himself. It’s a smartly compiled mixture of popular and less well-known pieces, with well-chosen pieces of four Concerti grossi (HWV 313, 316, 322, 330) providing the interludes.

The arias skewed somewhat towards a melancholic, languishing mood, the soft, slow-paced numbers providing the ideal territory for Baráth to show off her enchanting voice. Her silvery soprano has turned an attractive dark timbre, though without losing its characteristic pearly gleam which shone beautifully in Baráth’s ravishingly wounded rendition of “Ombra cara di mia sposa”, one of the highlights of the evening. Though she didn’t seem quite at ease when embodying the male roles, Sesto's “L'aura che spira” from Giulio Cesare and Achille's “Ai Greci questa spada” from Deidamia were sung with an appropriately fiery edge and a sense of bravado. But where Baráth truly reigned supreme were the arias of the second half of the concert, displaying both effortless vocal mastery and a gripping sense of drama, from Alcina's enthralling “Ombre pallide” and Cleopatra's “Se pietà di me non senti” to the joyous (and exquisitely ornamented) performances of Adelaide's “Scherza in mar la navicella” from Lotario and Cleopatra's “Da tempeste il legno infranto”, negotiating the demanding coloratura runs of the latter two with dazzling ease.

Emőke Baráth, Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse
© Szilvia Csibi | Müpa Budapest

On double duty as both conductor and soloist, Jaroussky proved the ideal partner, precise and unassuming in helming Ensemble Artaserse, he lead an ideally balanced performance, perfectly complementing Baráth’s singing. He joined Baráth in two duets, “Io t’abbraccio” from Rodelinda and “Caro! Bella! Più amabile beltà” (Giulio Cesare in Egitto), his soft, bright voice blending beautifully with Baráth’s darker soprano. Their performance of the duet from Rodelinda, deeply felt and sung with an exquisite, chamber music-like sense of intimacy, was another highlight.

Emőke Baráth, Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse
© Szilvia Csibi | Müpa Budapest

A worthy partner for the excellent vocal performances of the evening, Ensemble Artaserse played with a rich, vibrant sound and riveting intensity, their delivery making every orchestral interlude captivating, and the dramatic depth of their accompaniment well matching that of Baráth’s singing. All in all, an unquestionably delightful experience for any early music fan.

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