From raging lust to peaceful paradise: The Trials of Love
Ahead of our upcoming The Trials of Love concerts, we caught up with our Music Director John Butt, who talks about classical mythology, our fantastic soloists and what to listen out for in Handel’s Apollo e Dafne and Scarlatti’s Bella madre de’ fiori
What can you tell us about the programme?
Both these pieces use classical mythology to depict love-sick situations that, even through their other-worldly characterisation, seem to relate extraordinarily vividly to modern experiences. Apollo e Dafne relates to an all-too serious situation of overbearing male lust, which the myth solves with Daphne’s metamorphosis into a laurel tree. Handel’s music communicates both the menace and seriousness of the situation but also the remarkable beauties and passions of both characters. The quicksilver style follows every twist and turn of the drama and we experience charm and humour just as much as the horror of Apollo’s desires.
Bella madre de fiori relates to the emotions of what is nearly the opposite situation, in which another young female, Clori, laments her rejection by Fileno. Here the naturalistic metaphors are all in her mind, but made all the more real by the music. The cantata seems to follow her thoughts and emotions in real time, right up to the point where Cupid finally takes pity on her and gives her liberating sleep.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Well, it has to be our two singers. Anna Dennis is one of the most stunning sopranos in baroque repertory, with an extraordinarily vocal facility, emotional range and a brilliant intelligence. Matthew Brook is one of the most versatile and expressive performers of our age — for the Bach Passions, he’s the best Jesus there can be. But he equally relishes evil and roguish roles…
Is there anything in particular the audience should listen out for?
They should listen for the subtle changes of emotion in the Scarlatti monologue, with the string soloists telling us almost as much as the vocalist. In the Handel cantata, the striking thing is the speed with which the composer creates a new situation — Apollo’s raging lust one minute and Daphne’s peaceful paradise the next.
Handel clearly had stunning instrumentalists around 1710: listen out for the superb solo lines for cello, oboes, bassoon and flute, together with the athleticism of the string group as a whole.