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An evening with Sara Macliver and opera highlights
Every year, the Peninsula Summer Music Festival puts on a gala evening in the grounds of St John's Church Flinders. Seasoned festival veterans know to arrive early with their picnic hampers to secure a spot in the late afternoon sunshine.
This year, lucky festival-goers got to spend it with the incomparable Sara Macliver, ably supported by the Australian Haydn Ensemble in a program of baroque gems. The evening started with a Boccherini flute quintet, an opportunity for the Ensemble to show off its paces with performances of orchestral pieces. It was a taut and energetic performance with the core string section augmented by Melissa Farrow on flute and Tom Foster on harpsichord to add sonority and texture. The absence of a conductor gave a closer engagement between performers and with the audience.
It was followed by two arias that demonstrated Sara Macliver's range and expressive quality. Ms Macliver delivered just the right mix of pathos and warmth to Boccherini's Stabat Mater, conveying the terrible suffering of the mother of Jesus standing at the foot of the cross. By contrast, Vivaldi's famous 'In furore iustissimae irae' requires great force and control in the opening sequence, transforming into a poignant, even austere meditation before a final triumphant Alleluia. The soprano delivered with a dramatic show of her musical and performance skills.
The second half of the gala concert started with a performance of Haydn's last symphony No 104 (commonly known as the London Symphony) which he composed in 1795 while living in London. It shows off all of Haydn's skills as a composer and justifies his title as the father of the symphony. This spirited performance finished with a flourish after a series of delightful interrupted cadences.
The highlight of the evening was the series of operatic arias by Mozart that filled the remainder of the program. We heard two arias from Don Giovanni. In the first delightful number "Vedrai, cariono …" poor Masetto has been beaten up by Don Giovanni (who is disguised as Leporello). In the second, "Batti, batti…" Zerlina attempts to placate her fiancé Masetto after her attempted seduction by the Don by inviting him to beat her as punishment. Apparently, Zerlina 'knew' he wouldn't take her up on it because 'he loved her'. This kind of reasoning sits uncomfortably in 2019, but back in 1787 it was perfectly acceptable. It certainly provoked some post-concert rumination on the part of your reviewer.
The tale of the anguish of love betrayed is also the substance of Pamina's great lament "Ach, ich Fuhl's…," from The Magic Flute. Pamina falls in love with Tamino and cries of his apparent indifference to her, unaware that he has taken a vow of silence. In both arias, the combination of Sara Macliver and the Ensemble delivered passion and drama, along with musical expressiveness and delicacy.
The final item on the set program was 'Laetari iocaro...' from Mozart's first opera, composed at the age of 11; a classic example of an operatic fireworks display beautifully delivered by Macliver. Her choice of encore – the heartbreaking 'Lascia ch'io pianga …' from Handel's Rinaldo - brought the house (or should I say marquee) down. It's hard to imagine a better way to spend an evening.