Italian countertenor Raffaele Pe has had somewhat of a slow-burning career. He's now 37 and a father of three, yet his first professional engagement was just eight years ago. The late start seems to have done him a lot of favours, most of all giving him the maturity and time to explore music together with the baroque orchestra he formed in 2015, La Lira di Orfeo – they have made five recordings together. It is an unconducted group which takes the lead from Pe when he is singing, or its leader (the authoritative Anais Chen) for musical interludes. He is an extremely easy person for them to follow as he almost dances the more rhythmic pieces, though he can also be very spare with his movements for intense, introspective arias.
Pe's new project in his hometown, Lodi, a half-hour drive from Milan, is Orfeo Week with music, dance, theatre, and workshops. He gave an all-Purcell recital, which is something of a rarity for Italy. Monteverdi yes… but Purcell? Well, Pe's a bit of an anglophile, loves Shakespeare, and agrees that Henry Purcell is one of the greats.
Pe's infectious enthusiasm for what he's performing comes through with great charm in his introductions where he improvised translations from English to Italian, for example, for the poem “If music be the food of love” by Henry Heveningham, who borrowed from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for his first line, and which Purcell set to music. Pe also shared various, often humorous, anecdotes about the composer. “Sound the trumpet” with mezzosoprano Chiara Brunello was exhilarating, and Dido's lament at the close of the programme was especially affecting with the high “remember me” notes using the quietest of pianissimi. His intelligent approach and rounded tone adds to the overall impact of his thrilling and seemingly spontaneous performances. His star continues to rise, and at the end of his Orfeo Week he returned to continue a series of performances with René Jacobs and the Akademie für Alte Musik in Berlin.
Pe's colleague Chiara Brunello sang with soprano Sunhae Im in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, again with La Lira di Orfeo, in the Chiesa di Sant'Agnese, one of Lodi's many magnificent churches. Brunello has a naturally bronzed tone (with no contorted facial expressions to colour a note) descending with a wonderful, full contralto colour, whereas Sunhae Im has a bright soprano with perfect intonation in each of her high-wire attacks and a beautifully communicative face. It was a moving performance in a packed church and bodes well for next year's second edition of the week-long festival.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.