- Miles Hedley
STROZZI! at Blackheath Halls
Barbara Strozzi is one of those composers who isn’t known nearly well enough, primarily because society has such a shocking history of hostility towards creative women. Happily, Trinity Laban has dedicated a great deal of time and effort to reinstating women to their rightful place in the musical pantheon and this remarkable 17th century Venetian is the latest to get a long-overdue reappraisal, in this case thanks to a new opera, Strozzi!
A brilliant libretto, by the opera’s director Jennifer Hamilton, tells the tempestuous story of Barbara’s life from being a child prodigy singer to an adulthood of fame and infamy as a composer and courtesan who wrote texts for Monteverdi, was tutored by Cavalli and caused outrage with her affairs and her illegitimate children. Stozzi! is a riproaring picaresque, by turns funny, heartwarming, angry and tragic, set to her own glorious music.
Trinity staged the opera in the round at Blackheath Halls over three days with two different casts sharing the roles. In the performance I saw, the part of Barbara was memorably taken by soprano Miranda Ostler who not only sang it beautifully but also gave the character a joie de vivre and a profound humanity that put flesh on a fascinating but dreamlike figure.
She was admirably supported by her super-talented fellow students who filled the hall with harmonic delights as they moved restlessly around the stage like the tides that wash through the canals of Venice. I particularly enjoyed the smouldering cameo by basso Giuseppe Pellingra.
The music was provided by a note-perfect 12-piece ensemble directed by Harry Sever which featured historically accurate instruments including a lute, a harpsichord and – best of all – a quartet of sackbuts.
Strozzi! is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful composer with whom we all need to become more familiar. Its Blackheath run was a huge success and it surely must now go on to win ever-larger audiences. But it’s hard to imagine it will ever being sung better than it was by these fabulous Trinity youngsters. Bravo, tutti!
Pictures © Briony Campbell