Classical review: Viva Voce choir brings out the best in Handel's Solomon

By William Dart

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Mezzo Sarah Castle. Photo / Supplied
Mezzo Sarah Castle. Photo / Supplied

Handel would have been heartened by Viva Voce's Solomon on Sunday, one of the finest of his oratorios, cannily written to appeal to the tastes of his (and all) time. From the start Viva Voce's choristers were in jubilant mode, and conductor John Rosser had already ensured that anticipation was high with a crisp overture, graced by Rachael Griffiths-Hughes' shimmering harpsichord.

This was Handel's complete score, with light staging by Aidan Lang and mezzo Sarah Castle as the wise monarch.

Above stage, a screen melded the libretto with images ranging from historic temples to contemporary desolation, displaying guns and other armaments during the thrilling choral belligerence of Shake the dome and pierce the sky. The central act was the most effective, showing Solomon's arbitration between two women claiming the same child. Tonight, they were harlots, appearing in a tussle and dressed appropriately.

It was obvious that Emma Roxburgh would win the case; she had classier garb (a halter-top gown) and her finely nuanced singing must have moved every heart in the hall.

Rachel Alexander, less attractively costumed and given to stomping around stage, delivered vocalism of a much lower calibre.

It was in this act that Sarah Castle was at her most effective, emotionally gripping in When the sun o'er yonder hills, and not concealed behind the conductor as she had been earlier.

If Morag McDowell, as Solomon's consort, was uncomfortably shrill then Emma Fraser triumphed as the exotic Queen of Sheba.

Processing down the aisle, to Handel's celebrated entrance music, Fraser was coolly regal; her immaculate diction drew one's eyes from screen to stage, and she made exquisite harmony with piquant oboe and flutes in Will the sun forget to streak.

Andrew Grenon, although admirably agile of voice, needed to invest Zadok's arias with a more heroic ring.

Solomon was a spectacular success, with any minor blemishes being subsumed by the confidence and energy of Rosser's choir.


Classical review

What: Solomon
Where: Auckland Town Hall

- NZ Herald

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