LA SENA FESTEGGIANTE, Buxton Festival, Buxton Opera House
Adrian Chandler’s tireless work in reviving glorious music by Vivaldi (and others) bore fruit in a beautifully executed performance of the Red Priest’s serenata, La Sena Festeggiante, by specialist ensemble La Serenissima and three top-class soloists in the Buxton Festival.
The piece is effectively an extended cantata, with introductions, recitatives, arias and a final tutti to each of two halves, celebrating Louis XV for the French community in Venice, probably in 1726. There’s no scenery or action, but the soloists are allegorical figures and the text, though a completely over-the-top orgy of obsequious boot-licking to our ears, has a certain charm in its elaborate contrivances.
The fount of it all is the figure of the River Seine in Paris, and bass singer Henry Waddington made a magnificent job of personifying this Ol’ Man River of the 18th century, characterful and demonstrative in his recitatives and eloquent in his arias.
The spirit of The Golden Age was represented by soprano Gillian Keith (a good friend of the Buxton Festival), and her aria comparing herself to a nightingale, with its imitative effects in both ritornello and voice part, was a charmer. The other figure is Virtue, and Hilary Summers’ pure and even contralto matched the role perfectly, especially since Vivaldi was clearly determined to show that the Devil does not have all the best tunes, in this context.
The two girls also made a lovely tonal blend in their duets. It’s entertainment music, made to lend a bit of class to a posh celebration, and Adrian Chandler’s merry band, bringing out the sheer bounce and élan of Vivaldi’s inspiration, delivered that in spades.