Baroque and early music ensembles find themselves at an unexpected advantage in this pandemic world: their small size permits proper distancing on stage and allows them to perform where more traditional orchestras simply would not fit. For this reason, the Opernhaus Zurich has been able to offer a delightful Baroque concert, with the strings of the orchestra, La Scintilla (plus cembalo), and soprano Julie Fuchs, within the “Finale” mini-festival which is closing the 2019-20 season.

Julie Fuchs
© Sarah Bouasse

Riccardo Minasi was leading the orchestra at the violin. His interpretation was warm and emotional: the extreme precision of La Scintilla may at times come across as aloof, but under his baton (or rather, his bow) they managed to reach beautiful moments of expressiveness and pathos. The orchestra exudes a remarkable sense of unity, the shaping of the musical phrases seems natural and instinctively uniform. 

The concert began with a concerto grosso by Handel, HWV 325. Minasi played all the solo cadenzas with elegance and wonderful technique, despite having a broken finger in his right hand. The final movement (Hornpipe) was particularly exciting and successful.

Enter Julie Fuchs. The French singer started her performance with “Da tempeste” from Giulio Cesare, a typical sparkling coloratura aria, perfectly suited to her high, agile soprano. Her coloratura was precise, but still with a sense of legato, a very exciting performance. 

A Vivaldi cello concerto followed, RV 421, with Claudius Herrmann as the soloist. Herrmann is a solo cello in the Philharmonia Zürich and has a career as a chamber musician. His performance was engaging, his precision and musicality flowing through every note; particularly remarkable was the softness and the delicacy of the attacks in the piano sections. The final movement, a typical Vivaldi furioso, was exciting.

The first part ended with two arias by Handel: “Verso già l’alma col sangue”, from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo and “Non potrà”, from Orlando, where Fuchs’ voice shone bright.

The second part of the concert featured two typical Baroque lament arias: “Sposa, son disprezzata” from Giacomelli’s Bajazet, and “Piangerò la sorte mia”, again from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Here Fuchs gave us a taste of her interpretation abilities, expressing sadness and scorn, with beautiful pianissimo high notes and an intensely emotional performance. She added the introductory recitativi to both arias, where she showed remarkable intensity and perfect diction. The two arias alternated with two string concertos by Vivaldi, RV 152 and RV 123, both were very similar in structure: a first allegro movement, very energetic, a short, melancholic slow movement, and a final Allegro in the form of a fugue. 

The concert was closed by one of the most charming of Handel’s arias: “Tornami a vagheggiar” from Alcina. Fuchs and Minasi joked, pretending to flirt during the performance, with the result that Fuchs lost her place in the reprise of the aria. Laughter ensued, and she graced the audience with an extra-long and elaborate cadenza, to make amends. This aria is particularly suited to Fuchs’ voice, she seemed to dose the staccatos with care, and the silver in her voice shone bright and beautiful.

The generous encores included “Aux langueurs d'Apollon” from Rameau’s Platée, the aria sung by La Folie (Madness). Fuchs was irresistible, turning notes into laughter, and acting crazy on stage. The second encore was a very atmospheric Icelandic song: “Sofðu unga ástin mín” which Fuchs sang with the accompaniment of the musicians’ humming chorus. The third and final encore was “Tu del ciel ministro eletto” from Handel’s Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno. The duet between Fuchs and Minasi’s violin, her spectacular high notes, the phrasing, the beauty of Handel’s calm melody were an inspiring and moving end to a satisfying concert.