Sandrine Piau

The wide-ranging Halle Händel Festspiele is in full swing and “Trove Thursday” previews its most anticipated event with a superb broadcast of the composer’s rarely performed Arianna in Creta with Sandrine Piau, Kristina Hammarström and Ann Hallenberg conducted by Christophe Rousset

This Arianna comes from the wonderful Piau/Rousset/Handel partnership that has been one of the most rewarding in baroque opera for more than 25 years. Their Scipione  and Riccardo Primo remain essential opera recordings, while Opera seria must be one of the finest Handel arias recitals ever released. On it Piau offers a sublime version of Arianna’s best known aria “Son qual stanco” which belongs to the minor character Alceste, not Arianna.

Since 1991 I’ve caught most of Piau’s appearances in New York along with several in Europe, some led by Rousset and two included Handel works. In 1998 the conductor’s orchestra Les Talens Lyriques performed a pair of concerts here and one included the delightful cantata Aminta e Fillide; Piau’s partner was supposed to have been Véronique Gens but she withdrew and was replaced by the excellent American soprano Christine Brandes.

In 2005 Rousset conducted Pierre Audi’s productions of Alcina and Tamerlano at the Netherlands Opera and after the run both works were presented in concert at the Châtelet in Paris where I caught them. Piau was a magnificent Asteria in the latter opera which more than made up for Christine Schäfer’s mediocre Alcina later that same day.

Both productions were revived ten years later in Brussels again with Rousset conducting Les Talens Lyriques and Piau switched to the title role of Alcina, a devastating portrayal captured on video.

One of the bafflements of Piau’s Handel career has been her seeming preference for the soubrette roles—Atalanta (Serse) instead of Romilda or Dalinda (which she performed recently in both the Richard Jones and the Christoph Loy productions of Ariodante) over Ginevra. The Brussels Alcina and the Paris Asteria I heard proved how commanding she can be as the prima donna but next year in Salzburg she reverts to Morgana abetting Cecilia Bartoli’s sorceress in a new Damiano Michieletto Alcina.

The Piau-Rousset connection continues next month when they perform Rinaldo not with Les Talens Lyriques but with the Kammerorchester Basel in the group’s home town plus Paris and Halle on Saturday night.

As she will be preoccupied with Almirena, the title role of Halle’s Arianna will be performed by Karina Gauvin with Rousset’s Teseo and Tauride taking on different roles—Hallenberg is promoted to Teseo, one of Carestini’s most challenging roles, and Hammarström becomes Carilda while the lovely young soprano Francesca Aspromonte takes on Alceste.

By the way, another rarely done A-list Handel work—Atalanta—is being performed in July at the Caramoor Festival led by the opera’s longtime proponent Nicolas McGegan.

New York is scheduled to get an increasingly rare Piau visit this fall when she once again joins Les Arts Florissants, this time for Haydn’s Die Schöpfung at Alice Tully Hall.

A month earlier Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques will tour the US with an all-Couperin program including visits to New York and Boston.

On that program will be the heavenly Leçons de Ténèbres which Piau and Brandes sang at the second NYC concert twenty years ago; Rousset memorably recorded those three pieces with the sublime pairing of Piau and Gens.

Two of my favorite non-Handel recordings by Piau and Rousset come from the French baroque: Mondonville’s riotous romp Les Fêtes de Paphos, unfortunately now out-of-print, and a recent release of an exquisite Rameau Zaïs.

Handel: Arianna in Creta

Beaune Festival
6 July 2002

Sandrine Piau — Arianna
Kristina Hammarström — Teseo
Ewa Wolak — Carilda
Anna-Lise Sollied — Alceste
Ann Hallenberg — Tauride
Evgenyi Alexiev – Minnos/II Sonno

Les Talents Lyriques
Christophe Rousset – conductor

As a special bonus, souvenirs of other Piau-Rousset-Handel collaborations: three of Antigona’s arias from Admeto (Beaune Festival 1998) followed by a pair of Asteria’s from Tamerlano (Paris 2005) and ending with Alcina’s great “Ah, mio cor! (Brussels 2015)

Piau has twice before appeared on “Trove Thursday” in Mozart’s Davide Penitente with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants and performing “Misera, dove son!” in January’s Mozart concert aria marathon.

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