I’ve lost count of the fine singers I heard for the very first time during Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival the latest being beauteous Trinidadian soprano Jeanine De Bique who appeared Sunday afternoon with the visiting Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer.
From Cecilia Bartoli in 1990 to Christine Brewer, Thomas Quathoff, Natalie Stutzmann and most recently Gaëlle Arquez, Marianne Crebassa and Rosa Feola just last summer, Mostly Mozart has in my experience had a canny knack for presenting performers early in their careers or those one might not hear otherwise around the city.
At 38, De Bique isn’t a newcomer here; in fact she did her undergraduate and graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music but since then she has been working steadily working while staying under my radar until 2017.
That year she appeared in the striking Peter Sellars–Teodor Currentzis production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at the Salzburg Festival. As she was announced for the role of Sesto’s friend, I assumed she was a mezzo but turned out to be an accomplished soprano Annio.
As so often happens once a name is called to my attention, suddenly I begin to see it everywhere and that high-profile Salzburg exposure seems to have done wonders for De Bique.
However, her appearance at the Geffen turned out to be a bit puzzling. Fischer and his swell orchestra had previously brought Mostly Mozart its fascinating stagings of Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro to the Rose Theater. Sunday’s concert was otherwise devoted to Haydn and Mozart so De Bique’s three Handel arias seemed an odd supplement.
Also the choice of excerpts from La Resurrezione, Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda looked utterly random until I realized it was a matter of “a bit of what I’ve just done and some of what I’m about to do.”
Last fall De Bique starred as Rodelinda in a well-received production in Lille conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm and co-starring boy-countertenor-star Jakub Józef Orlinski that was streamed by Culturebox.
Looking stunning in a stylish scarlet gown, De Bique working in reverse chronological order (and contrary to the printed program) began with Rodelinda’s mournful “Ritorna, oh caro.” Her slim, silvery soprano floated graciously above Fischer’s swiftly discreet accompaniment despite a wildly over-amplified harpsichord. One wanted crisper Italian and a more heartfelt connection to the queen’s desperate situation but it was a promising beginning.
To me the originally announced order of first the fiery Resurrezione aria followed by the lament and ending with “Da tempeste” made more sense. But instead she continued after Rodelinda with the two showstoppers in succession, Cleopatra’s joyous simile aria and the Angel’s ferocious exhortation “Disseratevi!”
Just as Fischer took “Ritorna” a bit faster than one might have wished, he set a fleet tempo for “Da tempeste” and then raced through “Disseratevi” far faster than I’ve ever heard it befire. De Bique and the dueling pairs of oboes and trumpets deserved hearty kudos just for making it to the finish line together but, though exciting, the aria became a big coloratura blur.
The most familiar aria turned out to be the most successful as De Bique charmingly conveyed the rescued queen of Egypt’s joy with especially delightful and crazily inventive ornaments in the da capo repeat.
Her choice in arias reminded me that an older generation of divas would often program baroque works to open a recital program. The first time I heard Joan Sutherland she got the show on the road with chestnuts from Atalanta, Samson and Alcina.
As De Bique and Fischer sprinted through the second and third works, her all-too-brief appearance felt as if was over just after it begun. No encore was forthcoming despite the wildly cheering audience—why not a piece from Handel’s Jephtha which De Bique performs at the BBC Proms at the end of this month?
De Bique’s distinctly lovely soprano was far stronger at the vibrant, ringing top than in the mellow middle, and her weaker bottom could disappear at moments. its attractively quick vibrato was occasionally spelled by some well-used straight-tone especially in the Rodelinda.
She attacked the florid music with fervor and aplomb but perhaps her real strength lies in adagio rather than allegro music. I will be eager then to listen to the Iphis from London in a few weeks as I suspect it might be an ideal match for her gifts.
In October De Bique will make her San Francisco Opera debut as Susanna (which I fear might be a bit low for her) in Nozze. Interestingly she is paired with the Figaro of African-American bass-baritone Michael Sumuel as servants to a white Count and Countess. I will be fascinated to read Michael Anthonio’s review of how that provocative casting turns out.
The rest of Sunday’s program featured a rather mannered rendition of Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 and a near-ideal traversal of Mozart’s much-loved if over-played “Jupiter.” As I usually relish Haydn’s symphonies over Mozart’s I was surprised to enjoy Fischer’s 41 so much more. Fischer’s Handel however will be a topic revisited on parterre box in the near future.
Perhaps—as so often happens—the encore at the end was perhaps the most satisfying moment of this distinctly short concert. Fischer announced a rarely-performed Moravian composition by Dvorak which turned out to be a piece for chorus in which the female orchestra members rose to sing accompanied by their male colleagues—and the non-Hungarian female concert mistress. Beautifully done, it clearly touched the group’s many compatriots in attendance.
Photo: © Kevin Yatarola, courtesy of Lincoln Center