Endless Pleasure

Review of Classical Opera Company, Wigmore Hall

There was a distinctly old-fashioned feel to this light-hearted excursion among the numerous attractions of Handel's operas. Entitled Endless Pleasure, the evening's entertainment consisted of a chronologically arranged selection of arias, interspersed with readings from contemporary and 19th-century reviews, letters and anecdotes. In different circumstances, the sense of benevolent didacticism might have been rather overbearing. But with inspired singing and the company's band at the top of their game, the evening proved - as advertised - endlessly pleasurable.

Much of the delight came from the discovery of Sophie Bevan, a soprano who, despite her youth (she only graduated last year), has the richness of tone and command of vocal gesture of a singer at the peak of her powers. In Ah, Spietato! from Amadigi, she soared with all the grandeur and intensity called for by this most luxurious of Handel's laments. Soaring effortlessly on the melody's contours, her sorceresses' grief curdled with frightening intensity to the magnificent raging of the brief middle section. By Di', Cor Mio, the playful showpiece of another of Handel's great sorceresses, Alcina, Bevan's own magic had clearly worked its way through the audience.

Singing alongside her were Gillian Keith, who gave a delightful Vedi l'Ape (Berenice), and the talented Anna St├ęphany. In Ariodante's imperious lament Scherza Infida, she was electrifying - and this despite the additional difficulties brought about by Ian Page's exaggeratedly languorous direction. The band, visibly and audibly revelling in the evening's musical delights, proved themselves yet again to be one of the country's best ensembles for small-scale opera.

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