Monteverdi Festival Cremona 2024 Review: Amore Dolore

Balducci & Dolci Affetti Serve Up A Beautifully Paced Concert

By Alan Neilson

There was plenty going on at this summer’s Monteverdi festival in Cremona. On the first Saturday evening, along with a staged production of a selection of Monteverdi’s madrigals, entitled “Polittico Monteverdiano,” visitors had the opportunity to experience two concerts, each featuring a male soprano. The performances took place at different venues, with just enough time for the keener members of the audience to hotfoot across town to catch the next performance.

First up was “Amore Dolore – a voice against the tide,” a concert of pieces from across the baroque era featuring the Dolce Affetti ensemble and the Italian Nicoló Balducci, whose biography classifies him as a soprano, although he was billed as a countertenor for this concert.

The venue was the courtyard of the 15th century Palazzo Guazzoni Zaccaria, an elegant building situated at the edge of the city’s historical centre. The small quadrangle made for an ideal performance space. The seating was arranged on three sides with a fountain in its centre, while artists took up their positions on the fourth side. Everyone in the audience was, therefore, provided with an intimate, up-close vantage point.

Balducci first gained attention in 2022 when he was awarded the First Prize and the Young Artist’s Prize at the 2022 Renata Tebaldi Competition, which he then followed up with Third Prize at Innsbruck’s Cesti Competition as well as its Young Artist Award, since which time he has met with considerable success. Two years on, and he has now firmly established himself on the European opera circuit, specializing in the baroque repertoire, although he also managed to include a performance as Cherubino in a performance of “Le Nozze di Figaro.” He has also recorded two discs, both with Dolce Affetti.

A Monteverdi Favorite Prefaces A Concert of 18th Century Rarities

The concert opened with Monteverdi’s well-known “Zefiro torna” from his 6th Book of Madrigals, which, given that the remainder of the program was comprised of pieces from the 18th century, appeared to be tagged on as an acknowledgement to the great composer. It was nevertheless beautifully presented, showing off Dolce Affetti’s refined accompaniment and Balducci’s voice to good effect, successfully capturing the narrator’s ‘weeping and singing.’

The concert then turned its focus onto the 18th century with an interesting selection of works by Telemann and Leo, along with two relatively unknown composers, namely Filippo Finazzi (1705-76) and Giuseppe Porsile (1680–1750).

Finazzi, born in Bergamo, was not only a successful composer but also happened to be Vivaldi’s favorite castrato. Two of his works were selected, both from his collection of “Six Songs for Voice and String Quartet.” The first, cantata No. 2, “Pianger vidi,” a consideration of the sufferings caused by love, set in a pastoral context, was given a dramatically strong rendition that captured a tumult of emotions. Balducci immersed himself in the scene in an honest, direct way, using his vocal brilliance to bring out the shepherdess’ pain with his sparkling embellishments, audacious coloratura runs and leaps. There was no anxiety in the voice, which sounded totally secure. In the more reflective passages, he showed off his smooth legato, holding the intensity of the line perfectly. Dolci Affetti again provided wonderful accompaniment, fashioning a beautiful, lively interpretation that was fully attuned to Balducci’s singing.

The second piece was cantata No. 3, “D’Amore il primo dardo,” another beautiful piece for which Balducci produced a sweet, expressively persuasive rendition.

In between these two cantatas, there was a performance of the recently reconstructed “Sonata in A minor for recorder and continuous bass” by Telemann, for which Dan Laurin on the recorder produced a lively rendition that highlighted its folk-like melodies.

There were also two further instrumental pieces scheduled; however, owing to time constraints, only Leonardo Leo’s “Toccata in G minor No.2 for harpsichord” was presented, which Anna Paradiso Laurin played with poise and a vibrant spirit.

There were also two arias by Neapolitan composer Giuseppe Porsile (1680-1750), taken from his 1707 opera “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria.” The first, “Tu sei crudel cosi,” in which Balducci, full of rage and his eyes flashing with anger, unleashed a passionate tirade of vocal fireworks and drenched his voice in the fury of his his emotions. If that were not enough, the second aria, “Mi preparo a trionfar,” allowed him to indulge in an outrageously complex coloratura display, which he followed with passages of even greater complexity. It was a stunning performance and the perfect way to bring the concert to its conclusion.

Lasting just over an hour, the time flashed by as Balducci, supported by the excellent Dolci Affetti, put on a great show! He is a singer with a pleasing presence and a vocal agility that is able to wow the audience, but he is also very attentive to the work’s artistic qualities so that there is nothing gratuitous or overly flamboyant in his presentations; he is always focused on capturing the strength and emotional qualities in a very honest way.

Although the audience demanded an encore, time intervened, and so only a very short piece was performed, allowing just enough time for the audience to make its way across town to the next concert, a recital by the soprano Samuel Mariño entitled “When Farinelli meets Monteverdi.”


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