Collegium Marianum’s Sweet ‘Mess’

Opus Osm

The Spanish Hall at Prague Castle is the perfect setting for Collegium Marianum's site-specific concerts.

Collegium Marianum’s Sweet ‘Mess’

Collegium Marianum and guest soloists presented a sweet pasticcio, Italian for ‘mess,’ at Prague Castle Aug 6.

What would you like to hear? A trumpet fanfare for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth’s royal barge? A 17th-century hornpipe with Baroque orchestra and tambourine? Or how about a mournful love lament (“Oh, let me weep, for ever weep”) by a soprano soloist?

All these and more were part of the delightful evening showcasing the pasticcio at the final concert of the 13th Summer Festivities of Early Music (Letní Slavnosti Staré Hudby). A pasticcio is simply the word we know today as pastiche, or collection of short works by various artists or composers, all put together to make one large work.

As the excellent program notes (in Czech and in authentic English) explain, pasticci originated at a time when singers often brought “suitcase arias” along with them. These were favorite songs written for them – which they knew they could sing well – to pair with recitatives and ensembles selected by the house composer (or music director, or even the theatre manager!). So, as an example, this night’s program was pieced together with a little of this and a bit of that, from several works by Purcell and Handel.

The first part of this evening’s concert in the glittering Spanish Hall offered a varied menu cooked up by Henry Purcell (1659-1695), including overtures, tunes, airs, arias, and other pieces and parts from his longer works.

The second part of the program was devoted to a similar “fine mess” of works by Purcell’s almost-contemporary, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). His various types of dances, plus arias, and parts of symphonies fit the venue, orchestra, and soloists perfectly.

The highly-esteemed Polish soprano Olga Pasiecznik brought warmth and animation to her solos. Czech soprano Hana Blažiková, a specialist in Early Music, also sang with great emotion and color. The audience was also treated to duets by the well-matched voices.

The singers were accompanied by the instruments we know and love today (violin, viola, cello, harpsichord, transverse flute, recorder, bassoon, oboe, timpani) as well as some authentic period instruments (the lute-like therobo; the violine, or double bass; and the precursor to the trumpet, the clarina).

The music worked a strange magic on the audience, transporting us to a different age and time. When the final applause faded and the towering mirrored doors of The Spanish Hall swung silently open, it was almost a shock to find the gently rain-washed pavement of modern Prague – and not Elizabeth’s barge – just outside in the castle courtyard. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Collegium Marianum website

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