Barrocade’s most recent production was Daniel Purcell’s opera “The Judgement of Paris”. This writer attended the event on April 1st 2017 in the Church of the Ark of the Covenant, Kiryat Yearim, some ten kilometers west of Jerusalem. Barrocade – the Israeli Baroque Collective - was established in 2007; its musical director is Amit Tiefenbrunn, with Shlomit Sivan serving as its administrative director. For the opera, Yizhar Karshon conducted from the harpsichord. Oded Reich was stage director. Costumes, stage design and assistant director - Gan De-Lange; lighting design - Yehiel Orgal; assistant producer - Liat Lidor. Vocal soloists Eitan Drori, Revital Raviv, Hadas Faran-Asia, Einat Aronstein and Oded Reich were joined by the Shachar Choir (director: Gila Brill).
Daniel Purcell, Henry Purcell’s younger brother (or cousin) was one of four composers entering a competition held in 1701 by Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax to encourage the development of all-sung English opera. All competitors were required to set William Congreve’s libretto to “The Judgement of Paris”. Daniel Purcell took third place and his opera quickly sank into oblivion. The libretto relates the well-known myth: Paris, a shepherd is visited by Mercury – a messenger of the gods – who gives him the golden apple of discord, which he is to award to the most deserving of three goddesses – Venus (goddess of love), Pallas (goddess of war) or Juno (goddess of marriage). In his informative program notes, Yizhar Karshon draws comparisons between the theme of the opera and the politics of Purcell’s time, in particular, regarding politicians’ (or perhaps Charles II’s) attitudes to women, maintaining that audiences of the time would have understood the warnings Paris received not to become obsessed with hedonism and idleness. Still, Paris chooses to award the prize to the god of love, with dire consequences to follow. Karshon offers explanations as to Purcell’s rich instrumentation: the two recorders (Shai Kribus, Katarzyna Czubek) symbolize the double-piped ancient Greek Aulos flute, a pastoral association. The recorders also symbolize Venus, love and temptation. Karshon mentions the role the trumpets (Yuval Shapiro) and timpani (Nadav Ovadia) play in heroic sections of the opera, especially to do with Pallas. The choir, a band of shepherds, advises and supports Paris.
Barrocade’s fresh, exuberant-sounding performance of the opening symphony takes the audience directly into Purcell’s lively setting, in which a line-up of outstanding home-grown Israeli singers probed Daniel Purcell’s discerning setting of the words, with fine, uncompromising portrayals of the characters. Bass Oded Reich was a regal, authoritative and mischievous Mercury (towering, too!), his gripping presentation of the text alive with meaning, modulated and articulate. Eitan Drori’s large, silvery tenor voice served him well as Paris as he gave his all to the character experiencing a range of human emotions and beset with such human dilemmas. His gentle, supple “asides” contrasted splendidly with moments of elation, his voice swelling into some strategic penultimate dissonances:
‘O Ravishing Delight!
What Mortal can support the Sight?
Alas! Too weak is Human Brain.
So much Rapture to Sustain.
I faint, I fall! O take me hence.
Ere Ecstasie invades my aking Sense…’
As Juno, soprano Hadas Faran Asia used her intuitive sense of melodic line, her face, eyes and the stage area to portray the queen of the gods - a woman both tender, wily and controlling, as she advised Paris to go for something more ambitious and rewarding than shepherding! Einat Aronstein, clad in a mini-dress and armour, dealt as well with the challenging music as she did with the assertiveness of Pallas, taunting the confused and perplexed Paris, knocking him to the ground with her spear, as he struggled to raise himself. Soprano Revital Raviv, fetching and gracious, her voice stable and creamy, was wonderfully suited to her role as Venus as she shaped and embellished melodic lines, spinning melisma passages with alacrity and mesmerizing poor Paris.
Choruses, short as they were, were clear, blending choral timbres and well-shaped. Under Karshon’s vigilant, detailed direction, Barrocade’s instrumental playing was both committed, subtle and effective, addressing the timbral beauty of the various instruments. Small instrumental pieces (symphonies) placed between arias reflected the storyline, also allowing for movement on (or below) stage. It was a colourful production with lively staging and imaginative, witty costuming. And as the characters on stage teased or were teased, the audience could not but smile throughout the performance. Daniel Purcell’s “Judgement of Paris” is a most beautiful work, a rare find, a lost work brought back to life. An outstanding performance!
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