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A Barga evening to remember – Roberta Invernizzi

In last night’s sultry night cortile Roberta’s gloriously expressive and virtuosistic voice gave us much needed refreshment. Roberta is one of the growing clan of dazzling Italian historically-informed vocalists who specialise in the baroque repertoire.

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The good thing about friends in not always so much that they’re there in case of need (although it can be useful) but that they can introduce one to new pleasures in life.

Such a pleasure was that heard when the wonderful Roberta Invernizzi sang last night in the cloister of the ex-convent of Sant’Elizabetta in Barga. The week of Barga opera festival wasn’t even mentioned in LuccaMusica but then if you don’t tell them they can’t know…

In last night’s sultry night cortile Roberta’s gloriously expressive and virtuosistic voice gave us much needed refreshment. Roberta is one of the growing clan of dazzling Italian historically-informed vocalists who specialise in the baroque repertoire.

Invernizzi is truly an international star, having sung with such icons of period music as Harnoncourt, Koopman, Leonhardt, Bruggen…. Does this astral list have to continue? Perhaps I should add those greats of Italian baroque musicians: Fabio Biondi, and Rinaldo Alessandrini.

We all realise that the historically informed music movement started with the Dolmetch family in Hazelmere, UK and first blossomed in Holland with the great Leonhardt. In Britain we have such wonderful singers as my all-time favourite, Emma Kirkby, but now it is absolutely appropriate that if one wants to hear Baroque opera as she is sung then surely opera’s birthplace in Italy (more specifically Tuscany with Peri and Caccini) is the place to head for.

The Italians have the language. They now have the research, the style, the élan to sing the music of their glorious musical predecessors with the greatest expression. And they have some of the world’s greatest singers too!

Combining Roberta with the Auser Musici, a band of period instrumentalists who title themselves from the ancient Roman name for our own Serchio River, is magic drawing one to seventh (or even eighth) heaven… Conducted by virtuoso baroque flute player, Carlo Ipata and standing up to perform, (apart from some instrumentalists like theorbo and harpsichord), they form an ideal cradle for Roberta’s ecstatic voice.

Already great local baroque musicians like Boccherini and Barsanti have had their music issued in Auser’s impeccable recordings.

The Camaiorese Gasparini, another introduction by my friend, was represented by a sinfonia and arias from Bajazette and Tamerlano. For more of this composer see my post here

For me, however, the great discoveries were the absolutely exquisite lines of Niccolò Porpora, that great Neapolitan who was born and died in what must have been Europe’s brightest city in the eighteenth century (let’s hope so much that it rises again with vibrant energy to that pre-eminent position it held in the arts when Pergolesi, Vinci, Leo and the Scarlattis ruled the roost.)

Porpora was invited to London in 1729 by the anti-Handel battalion of nobles (music is full of feuds – take the case of Verdians V Wagnerians in early twentieth century Italy and elsewhere) but, even with the great castrato Farinelli, he lost out and left in the 1730’s for the Saxony court where he had to cope with the highly influential court composer Hasse and his singer-wife Faustina Bordoni.

Coming to Vienna Porpora met and taught Haydn who noted the remarkable number of swear-words his teacher used although Joseph did admit he learnt a lot from Niccolò.

Sadly, Porpora’s style fell out of fashion and he retired to his native Naples dying in so much poverty that his funeral had to be paid for by a subscription concert.

Anyway, nothing of this came in the way of Porpora’s music which was absolutely divine. I look forwards to hearing a lot more from this too-neglected composer.

The interlacing of Roberta’s angelic vocal chords and Carlo’s sweet transverse flute gave me a taste of what I might hear when I end my present state of consciousness.

It was truly an evening to remember, even if it took place in a convent now converted in an old folks’ home and with a certain amount of background noise. But then isn’t that historically informed too? I bet we’d be astounded at the amount of bickering going on among the audience in any eighteenth century audience. Perhaps all we need now is to be taking in an amount of snuff to be quite authentic or for women to be wearing patches which are, at least, easily removable, unlike the tattoos which several of them displayed on their backs in their low-slung evening dresses.

Article by Francis Pettitt – more can be found on his extremely informed and entertaining site here

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