Many questions were in the air: would the old magic of the Handel Festival in this rather quaint old German town with its bustling modern population arise from the ashes of the long Covid-induced intermission of live playing? Would the new Artistic Director, George Petrou, be able to conjure the same musical excellence from the FestspielOrchester Göttingen as his predecessors? Would the all-new management team pull it all together? Based on the opening night of the 2022 season, entitled New Horizons, the answer is a resounding yes!

George Petrou conducts the FestspielOrchester Göttingen
© Frank Stefan Kimmel

Performed in the University Aula, with its elegant décor and Hanoverian associations, it was a delight to see familiar faces trickle onto the stage. The first half comprised four Concerti grossi from Handel's Op.3 set. From the very first bar it was obvious that the FOG/Petrou alliance had meshed, with a rich and sumptuous sound. Allegro passages were as speedy and well articulated as they should be, the Minuets sprightly, with flowing oboes and dazzling violin work, especially from the concertmaster, Elizabeth Blumenstock. No. 2 finished with a pretty and witty solo theorbo cadenza (Theodoros Kitsos). The conclusion of no. 5, the last in the set, provided a rousing finale, which triggered very warm applause, especially for Petrou.

After the interval came one of Handel’s mini gems, the Italian dramatic cantata Aminta e Fillide. It was composed in Rome in 1706-8, a period during which Handel did a lot of self borrowing, and many of the arias are instantly recognisable melodies as heard in Rinaldo and Agrippina. 

The work provided a showcase for a pair of rapidly rising singers, both singing in the soprano range. My prior experience of male sopranos – or sopranistas – had led me to believe that whatever produced that vocal type, and regardless of technique, the resulting sound was ineluctably horrible. Bruno de Sá, from Brazil, and previously encountered in Bononcini’s Polifemo in Potsdam, refutes this theory, with incredibly powerful and accurate high notes which, if perhaps a little startling at first, ring out in totally unconstrained fashion. He sings with precision and purity, and often sweetness, with never a trace of strain. It has to be admitted though it is not a voice type that will endear itself to every listener. As Aminta, a shepherd in love with Fillide, who is extremely marriage resistant, he wins her over by an insistence on his constancy, fidelity and, of course, charm.

Myrsini Margariti and Bruno de Sá perform Aminta e Fillide
© Frank Stefan Kimmel

The initially mocking Fillide was sung by Greek soprano Myrsini Margariti, who impressed as Alcina at Bad Lauchstädt about three years ago. Not only is she blessed with a warm, flexible, accurate voice across its range, she also exudes charm and acting ability. She was also dressed to kill, in a slinky sparkly blue low cut floor length gown, with Aminta of course in male evening attire.  

Highlights included Aminta’s aria “Se vago rio”, recognisable as the Sirene song from Rinaldo, but sung here at a much slower tempo in sicilienne style, simply and beautifully sung, and representing the turning of Fillide’s affections at this point – who could resist? His further avowal of fidelity in “Al dispetto di sorte crudele”, with very fluid coloratura, cements the deal. Fillide expresses her feelings in “E un fuoco quel d’amore” with shimmering high notes. The work concludes with a stunning duet, with the voices here blending beautifully, de Sá contributing some wonderful vocal leaps and Margariti. perhaps more dramatic; one felt they could have been a bit closer together physically, with less restraint.

Wild rapturous applause greeted the last note, including synchronised clapping and a standing ovation. This went on until the players showed signs of regrouping. They then repeated the duet, this time with the singers standing side by side, all restraint thrown to the winds. 

*****