Actually, the first film in the “Private Music Lessons” series
shot for French television between 1987 and 1991, was a
masterclass given by countertenor and conductor,
René Jacobs. The focus of the class was the interpretation
of Baroque vocal music, and centered on the works of
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
At the time of filming, Jacobs (1946 – ) was still at the
height of his vocal powers; although he’d recently begun
to spend a larger amount of his time on conducting
Here, at a villa in Tuscany, he taught two pupils while
accompanying them on the harpsichord, and often
singing along with them, as well. The pupils were
sopranos María Cristina Kiehr and Susanne Rydén,
who rehearsed excerpts from Handel’s operas,
“Alessandro” and “Flavio,” along with the chamber
cantata, “Mi palpita il cor.”
In addition to possessing a remarkable voice, Jacobs
is obviously a formidable scholar whose knowledge
of Baroque music performance practices is evident.
As he took these students through their paces, he
spent a great deal of time discussing breath control,
trills and the proper idiomatic approach to the text.
While walking through the villa in Tuscany, Jacobs
also provided personal, autobiographical information
and shared his thoughts on music.
This 53-minute film ended with a performance of
the aforementioned cantata by René Jacobs, while
accompanied by Marc Hantaï on flute, Roel Dieltiens on
the Baroque cello and Yvon Repérant on harpsichord.
Jacobs is definitely one of the best countertenors
that I’ve heard, with immaculate trills.
Jacobs has issued many recordings since this masterclass
was filmed, primarily as a conductor. His distinguished
career combines scholarship, singing and teaching,
with a primary focus on the music of the 17th and 18th
Centuries. This DVD offered me a rare glimpse of him
during his transition from soloist to teacher and conductor.
It’s a brief film, but highly worthwhile.