In front of the Dr. Anton Philipszaal a long line of people slowly moves towards the entrance. Some are here to hear Nathalie Stutzmann, the alto with the dark red velvet voice, while other have come for Philippe Jaroussky, the unrivalled virtuoso amongst coutertenors who sings with angelic purity. The audience was about to witness what will be perhaps one of the most beautiful baroque concerts ever heard in this doomed concert hall which, until recently, was home to the Residentie Orchestra.

Nathalie Stutzmann and Philippe Jaroussky © Cyrille Guir: Arsenal, Metz en Scène
Nathalie Stutzmann and Philippe Jaroussky
© Cyrille Guir: Arsenal, Metz en Scène

Last Sunday, Philippe Jaroussky descended like a blackbird on a blossoming branch. The flowering tree however was given shape by the versatile, and intensely musical, alto Nathalie Stutzmann and her ensemble Orfeo 55. In the words of Sir Simon Rattle: “So much love, intensity and pure technique, Nathalie is a true conductor. We need more conductors like her.” This proved not to be an exaggeration as Stutzmann, conducting with graceful dancing movements, is able to make the essence of the music flow freely to all the corners of the auditorium with liberal musical accuracy, enchanting warmth, endless energy and total abandonment. Like rays of sunlight shining through the stained glass windows of an old cathedral and returning life to the silenced space, Nathalie Stutzmann's spontaneous inspiration lit up the essence of Vivaldi and Handel's scores, seen by some as too often reduced to sensible frumpiness and dogmatism in the world of authentic music performance.

Under Stutzmann's organic direction, however, they were coaxed into revealing their emotional significance. Stutzmann's Vivaldi and Handel are deeply human. Within her tender embrace each and every note dances, laughs, weeps, rages, desires and dreams. Stutzmann's ensemble Orfeo 55, which she founded in 2009, was in the palm of her hand. Flexible and attentive it allowed itself to be swept along with the adventures of the lovers from Vivaldi and Handel's operas. Confident of her loyal orchestra, Stutzmann would turn to the audience while conducting and start singing from somewhere deep down, either solo or in beautiful duets with Philippe Jaroussky who would happily walk back and forth as required. Singing alone the countertenor, as ever, reached stellar heights without any apparent effort but it was in the duets with his musical soulmate Stutzmann that he sang with even more passion and intensity.

Rarely did forgotten opera heroes capture the imagination like the exasperated Anastasio from Vivaldi's Il Giustino, the sorrowful Farnace from the same opera who “feels the blood flow through his veins like an icy stream”, or the smitten Princess Atalanta and her charming huntsman Meleagro from Handel's opera Atalanta, who sing together “At last love in us has forged a sweet bond but now finally fate desires the eternal joining of our hearts. Dearest, beloved!”: words that could have served as a motto for the entire concert. 

These are only a handful of examples of what is very hard to put into words: the sublime singing, the dramatic humour and the ultimate inspiration of Jaroussky, Stutzmann and her Orfeo 55 created a truly wonderful musical event.

*****