Beautifully poetic, Atalante’s “Lamentarium” was an expressive portrayal of love and regret.
This international group, founded by Erin Headley, is devoted to the operatic repertoire of 17th century Rome. The exotic timbres and vivid acting transported the audience not only to that era, but also to the edge of the sea, the regret of a faded beauty and the realm of the underworld.
On Friday, Friends of Chamber Music presented the ensemble as part of the series’ 40th season. Three instrumentalists and two vocalists were staged in front of Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral’s altar. Projected supertitles were framed by the cathedral’s wrought iron rood screen.
Atalante is unique in its repertoire, much of it reconstructed by Headley from archives in the Vatican Library, as is the instrumentation, with harpsichord (Jörg Jacobi), triple harp (Siobhán Armstrong) and either viola da gamba or lirone (Headley). The lirone, with its ethereal, sustained harmonies, specifically accompanies laments. The instruments are ornately decorated with carvings and marbleized panels.
The singers, too, were adorned in luxurious period-appropriate silk gowns, with headdresses and accessories that indicated their characters. Soprano Nadine Balbeisi and mezzo-soprano Theodora Baka offered richly emotive performances, their pure voices enunciating the lyrical text as it moved fluidly from recitative to aria.
The concert featured the work of three Roman composers, Domenico Mazzocchi, Luigi Rossi and Marco Marazzoli, and drew heavily from classical antiquity, both sacred and secular.
Of the first half, three pieces stood out. Balbeisi captured Rossi’s “Lamento di Zaida,” witnessing her lover abducted, alternatively pleading and fiercely defiant to the gods, her voice glorious. In Marazzoli’s “Lamento d’Armida,” Baka was the mythical sorceress, cursing her abandonment. Together, they performed Marazzoli’s “Lamento d’Helena” with Balbeisi in a declamatory narrative and Baka with pensive mediation as an aged Helen of Troy.
The second half of the concert was devoted to a concise version of Rossi’s “Orfeo” from 1647.
Balbeisi, as Eurydice, was dressed in a shimmering white gown, with Baka, as Orfeo, complementarily costumed, projecting with broad, courtly gestures.
The music set the action: joyous melodies at the start; a harsh, jangling chord when the snake struck; dark tonal colors at Eurydice’s death; and Orfeo’s sorrowful strains as he sought death, departing to a final harp arpeggio.
Beautiful duet moments, as when Balbeisi sang with her back turned to an offstage Baka, and subtle staging, as when Orfeo attempted to lead Eurydice out of Hades, created an affecting experience of this sophisticated, aristocratic entertainment.