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ArcoVoce @ NGA

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Rosa Lamoreaux, sopranoThe crowd at the National Gallery of Art's regular free concert on Sunday evening was surprisingly large for a holiday weekend. The draw for Ionarts was a program (.PDF file) of 18th-century music, performed by the ArcoVoce Ensemble and the lovely Rosa Lamoreaux. Billed as "The Eighteenth Century Rediscovers the Ancient World," this concert anticipates an upcoming exhibit at the NGA that is sure to be a knockout, Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples, which will open in October 2008. A preparatory visit by members of the NGA Music Department to the Campania region this summer opened up the possibility of a musical collaboration with the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival. The evening began with a brief speech, in Italian, by Dr. Loredana Conti, Director of Museums and Libraries for the Region of Campania. She has brought a selection of musical and historical documents from the region, now on display at the Italian embassy.

To go with the theme of the Neapolitan rediscovery of Roman antiquity, the highlight of the program was a series of cantatas (and opera excerpts) on mythological themes, by Scarlatti père et fils and Pergolesi. The best of the lot opened the program, Alessandro Scarlatti's Correa nel seno amatto, an Arcadian trifle concerning a lovesick shepherd. After a charming sinfonia and balletto featuring the two violinists (Elizabeth Field and Nina Falk) and harpsichordist (Steven Silverman) of ArcoVoce, a soaring melisma from Lamoreaux drew the audience into the opening recitative. In spite of a few minor tuning issues (the musicians may have been seated just a little too far away from one another), there were gorgeous moments to be heard in the stony acoustic of the West Garden Court. The descending chromatic line representing Daliso's weeping at the end of the aria Onde belle, che pietose was particularly lovely.

Tenor Wolodymyr Smishkewych was a less moving Orfeo in the A. Scarlatti Poi che riseppe Orfeo, with a voice that can be lovely and has good agility but can also turn a little pinched. His best moments were in duets with Lamoreaux, especially Domenico Scarlatti's Lasciami piangere from Tetide in Sciro, where the tenor-soprano repeated dialogue was punctuated by keening violin interludes. Two instrumental pieces provided the singers a brief respite. The A. Scarlatti first toccata in G major was almost doubled in length by the long-winded introductory remarks made by its performer, harpsichordist Yonit Kosovske. Far more interesting musically -- and mercifully uncommented upon -- was a sonata for violin and continuo by Isabella Leonarda, a 17th-century nun and accomplished composer, played well by Nina Falk, especially when spinning out long, arching lines. Some of Lamoreaux's strongest singing came on the final piece, which she probably knew the best, Pergolesi's Orfeo: it's a gem, and she sang it with the Folger Consort last month.

For more excellent performances of Neapolitan music of the 18th century, we recommend the upcoming concert by the Cappella della Pietà de' Turchini on Saturday (December 1, 8 pm), at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall. It is part of the first American tour of this historically informed performance ensemble, reviewed by Ionarts this summer in Siena. The program, called Angeli e demoni, features little-heard music by the likes of Paisiello, Sarro, Caresana, and Veneziano. The next free concert at the National Gallery is a reprise of John Musto's new opera, Later the Same Evening (December 2, 6:30 pm).

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