“Classical Heroines” reviewed by Julia W. Rath

By Julia W. Wrath, Around the Town Chicago
March 24, 2022

The elegant and charming soprano Amanda Forsythe took center stage in a demonstrative performance of works by Haydn, Handel, and Purcell at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on March 20th. Backed by various configurations of the Music of the Baroque (MOB) orchestra, Forsythe’s mellifluous voice was beyond compare. She sang Joseph Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice, H.XXIVa:10” and George Frideric Handel’s “Giulio Cesare, HWV 17” in Italian and Handel’s aria “Gentle Morpheus, son of night” from his “Alceste HWV 45” in English. The sorrowful lament in English from Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas, Z. 626” was particularly moving. Principally of note was Forsythe’s engaging coloratura soprano when she sang Handel’s operas. It was thrilling to hear how clearly and rapidly she changed pitches while singing syllables of text over a range of different notes (melisma). Her ornamentation extended to her amazing vibrato that perfectly mimicked the trills and mordents of the orchestra behind her. What an impressive soloist—garbed in a gorgeously sophisticated dress! What a lovely concert of baroque music, united by the theme of classical heroines!

During the moments when Forsythe was not being featured, the MOB played additional works. These included the overture to Handel’s “Agrippina, HWV 6”, Haydn’s “Symphony No. 11 in E-flat Major”, and “Chacony in G Minor, Z. 730 by Purcell plus incidental music from Haydn’s “Alceste HWV 45”, selected by conductor and harpsichordist Nicholas Kraemer for this occasion. His explanations of the genius behind these musical compositions was extremely informative. And today I learned what a chacony is!

If there was any one issue with the performance it had to do with the sound balance. Particularly while Forsythe was singing “Gentle Morpheus”, the orchestra behind her was too loud. Either fewer musicians should have been playing or they should have been softer as a group, since some of the soloist’s words were meant to be recited softly. (Note that the orchestra’s volume was fine when Forsythe wasn’t actively singing.) In contrast, when she sang “When I am laid in earth”, it was particularly stirring when just the few notes of the theorbo were backing her. The sound issue might just have to do with the venue, and perhaps there needed to be an additional sound check before the show, not just to figure out the balance but also to have a better sound mix, specifically, to make sure that the audio levels for the soloist’s microphone were set high enough so that the orchestra didn’t drown out some of her words.

I appreciated seeing the projection of supertitles behind the orchestra and the Italian words in translation. I also liked reading captions of the English words, which could be difficult to understand when sung operatically. But it seemed as if the projection design conked out from time to time. That said, I enjoyed seeing pictures of the upcoming events from the 2022-23 season of MOB that were flashed ahead of the performance. These were narrated by the “comedy duo” of conductor Kraemer and music director Dame Jane Glover, who set a light tone as a means of introduction.

In all, it was a delightful concert that lasted nearly two hours including the intermission. The time went by so quickly: It was as if you snapped your fingers, and it was suddenly over. You never looked at your watch once or when is it going to end. And you didn’t want it to end! That’s how enchanting the evening was!

“Classical Heroines”, performed by Music of the Baroque, took place at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, in Skokie, on Sunday, March 20, 2022. This is being followed on Monday, March 21st by a performance at the Harris Theater, in Millennium Park, 205 W. Randolph Drive, in Chicago, at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about this and future concerts by Music of the Baroque, including times, dates, and locations, please go to: https://www.baroque.org/.

Music of the Baroque is a resident company of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. To learn more about the venue, their future offerings, and ticket prices, visit: https://northshorecenter.org/.

To learn more about the Harris Theater, their future offerings, and ticket prices, go to: https://www.harristheaterchicago.org/.

These performing arts venues take part in a unified policy requiring patrons to present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination and an identification card. Properly worn face masks are required for all patrons regardless of vaccination status. But note that COVID protocols are changing. To find out more about the requirements at the various venues, visit: https://www.baroque.org/2022faq.