Classical live shows hardly ever ship on their titles, however the second collection of the season from the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia lived as much as its promise of Countertenor Fireworks. Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, the rising American artist who made his Metropolitan Opera debut earlier this yr, served because the spark plug.
Working in collaboration with conductor Geoffrey McDonald, Cohen devised a night that highlighted the breadth of the countertenor repertoire within the Baroque and Classical eras, buffeted by symphonic picks spanning a number of centuries that performed with the idiom. Though the vocal decisions principally hewed to the tried and true—Handel, Gluck, Vivaldi—Cohen’s interpretations had been without delay respectful and probing, marrying modern concepts about opera efficiency and really attractive sound.
Though simply 28 and solely a number of years into his mature profession, Cohen already presents himself as a whole artist. His voice retains its weight and wonder throughout its full vary—particularly in his decrease register, which may usually be tough for countertenors.
His advantageous intonation and management of dynamics was particularly spectacular: Inside the similar phrase, he may capably dial the quantity as much as heroic ranges, then plunge into virtually whispered tender singing. Phrases rang out with colour, readability, and feeling—useful, since no surtitles or translations had been supplied.
His vary was particularly evident in two picks from Saul. He spat fireplace in “Impious wretch,” starting offstage in full voice and reaching fever pitch when he lastly made his technique to the lip of the stage. Moments later, he introduced an aching tenderness to “O Lord, whose mercies numberless.” Cohen is an excellent technician—each melisma was in place—however the revelation of his interpretation was the easy sincerity underpinning his vocal triumph.
Equally, the gripping drama of his “Stille amare” (from Tolomeo) got here as a lot from Cohen’s delicate but engrossing appearing as from his splendid vocals. He introduced convincingly a person in his last moments on earth, without delay accepting and disdainful of his destiny.
In remarks from the stage, McDonald invited the viewers to think about the contradictions in “Che faro senza Euridice,” the live performance’s one blockbuster choice. It’s a lament, positive, however in a serious key, and such a success that it usually seems divorced from its unique context.
Cohen’s eschewal of vibrato and boyish countenance added extra resonance to the piece. You really felt Orfeo’s youth and foolishness, and also you understood within the second that he was going through penalties for the primary time in his life.
By presenting a set of music from the pastiche work Bajazet, Cohen and McDonald highlighted not simply Vivaldi however Geminiano Giacomelli, whose “In sì torbida procella” was folded into the opera’s rating alongside the work of a number of different composers.
Cohen was meant to star within the American skilled premiere of the work at Portland Opera in March 2020—an engagement scotched within the early days of the pandemic—so its presence on this system right here appeared a bit just like the conclusion of unfinished enterprise.
Cohen gave a way of the swagger he would convey to Tamerlano in a blazing efficiency of “Barbaro traditor” that closed the night. His “Cruda sorte” was extra contemplative, although no much less tense. McDonald matched the rising sense of dread within the transparently textured strings.
The excellent Chamber Orchestra gamers took satisfaction of place when Cohen wasn’t singing. Probably the most intriguing non-vocal number of the night was the world premiere of Sinfony, a quick work by composer-in-residence Evan Williams.
In case you ever questioned what a French Baroque overture may sound like as scored by Elmer Bernstein, this seven-minute suite provides a clue. The brilliant tuttis, staccato passages, pizzicato strings and harpsichord that often gave the impression of a harp had been generally overwhelming—however by no means boring. I’d love to listen to it once more.
The third suite from Respighi’s Ancients Airs and Dances struck an ideal steadiness between the composer’s trendy perspective and his encyclopedic information of early music. The orchestra’s interpretation of Purcell’s Abdelazer Suite made this listener admire the drama that unique compositions should have added to performs of the time. And the interspersal of Handel sinfonias between Cohen’s arias confirmed the corps of musicians an plain equal to their good soloist.
Cohen’s star is unquestionably on the rise, however I hope he’ll proceed to develop intellectually stimulating and musically wealthy packages like this effectively into the long run. They not solely present him off to a bonus—they emphasize the bounty of complete eras of music.