In contralto news, you can tune in tonight (and most likely listen to later on as well) for some Baroque from Prina and Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin at 19:30 GMT. This is, of course, from Wiggy.
(it’s one of those old news chez dehggi moments)
From Serenade‘s account of a 2017 performance of Le Nozze at Wiener Staatsoper (the other opera house in Vienna 😉 ):
The Countess was played by Dorothea Roschmann herself an erstwhile Susanna. In my opinion she has not quite graduated yet to the bigger role and she would do well to limit her appearances as the Countess. Her Porgi amor at the beginning of Act Two was sung with beauty of tone and a quick vibrato. But her Act Three Aria Dove sono was disappointing as it lacked breath control and a sense of line. She was unable to take any of the long phrases in a single breath and there were times when the voice just did not carry forward.
She has not quite graduated?! Ehehehe. I think I’d still like to see her as the Countess even on a so-so day. Then again, I’d rather see my fave singers on their good days.
2017 was a busy opera year for yours truly, with plenty local outings as well as opera trips to Italy, Austria and Germany, and a return to Glyndebourne in style (3 out of 4 dates = sunny). I met old and new friends and even ran into a certain contralto on the street 😉 And then there was the Summer of Tito. Plus a couple of duds and misses… 😉
Dear all, as usual at this time of the year I’m thinking about all the friends, old and new, who made 2017 a (privately) happy time 🙂 I’m, rather unusually, at my Mum’s this Christmas where there is some snow left and lots of trad glass baubles (real vintage these days, Mum is a champion at keeping things for decades). We had a rather surreal time doing the tree last night (in my family we always do the tree on the 24th as the Eve is the bigger deal here), after my Mum realised (rather late in the game) that the tree trunk was wider than her tree support… so you can imagine how we solved the conundrum using a dull hand axe, my grandma’s ancient… torte knife and ended up “potting” it into a large porcini jar 😉
So Happy Christmas to all who celebrate (however you do it), Happy New Year later this week to everyone! And hope to see you, dear reader/commenter, somewhere near an opera house in 2018 😀
This year’s carol is Come all ye faithful, one of the seasonal carols my neighbour has been rehearsing on the saxophone for the past month, and has at length made me realise how you can sing Voi che sapete to the same tune 😉
Or the perils and joys of (contemporary) opera superstardom
Though I have seen JDD several times in staged operas and concert performances, this is the first time I’ve been to one of her recitals. She is nowadays one of the biggest opera stars under 70 but because she has such an engaging personality and is very switched on to what’s happening in the world I always forget just how well the marketting machine is working for her. Reality check:
I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by more music snobs in my life.
Posh Gent: I’ve told you before, it’s the way Wigmore Hall has gone these days. Everything is sold out and the only thing one can do is go to their seat and listen to music.
Lady wearing Chanel #5: This is supposed to be a very popular concert.
As the first song of the Heggie song cycle ended, someone at the front enunciated very earnestly and audibly, in a beautiful baritenor voice: bravissima!
And on and on. I swear this audience filled every pause with either coughs or commentary on what had just been performed (too long (Heggie), much better than Birtwistle (Heggie again), too heavy (the string quartet in general) etc.). Considering the median age, the sheer amount and immediacy of engagement she got out of people was remarkable (but exhausting).
However, we all know JDD is using the platform of superstardom to express her personal ideas as well as the music she performs, so (among quite a bit of politically slanted chatting at the very end) she offered this quip:
You know when “I say I love you” I really mean it. [bit where she said how much she enjoyed returning to London for a run] So thank you very much for opening your arms to me, a foreigner!
Hahaha, thanks JDD 🙂
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
All’ mein Gedanken Op. 21
Du meines Herzens Krönelein Op. 21
Die Nacht Op. 10 No. 3
Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden Op. 21
Traum durch die Dämmerung Op. 29 No. 1
Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Trois chansons de Bilitis (arr. Jake Heggie)
Jake Heggie (b.1961)
Camille Claudel: Into the Fire
Morgen (R. Strauss)
Silent Night (with audience participation)
I was sandwiched between two overly lively ladies and had behind me Chanel #5 and the posh gent let down by the recent offer of social engagements at Wiggy. One of the lively ladies turned to me about as soon as JDD closed her mouth to announce she thought JDD was better in Rossini. For whatever reason I had started tearing up during the second line of Silent Night and when JDD invited us to sing with her I actually couldn’t mouth more than a few lines before getting choked up but this lady was looking around her with the biggest and most conversational smile. Is this a generational thing or is it just me wanting a bit of privacy during a live performance?
As a matter of fact, I enjoyed this about as much as her Rossini. The string quartet was very good in itself (no pitch/intonation problems and very good interaction with each other and JDD) but I did agree with the chatty ladies that I like my Debussy lighter. I seem to like Debussy a lot so I should listen to some more. I did not mind the quartet in Strauss at all but the Lekeu piece stretched my tolerance for too much string. I’ve never heard of him before but it sounded to me just like what a 17 year old would write in the 1880s (and wouldn’t you know… 😉 ). By which I mean oh, the pathos.
I’d also never heard anything by Heggie before. The ladies around me were powered by some trepidation as to whether this would be another one of those dreaded “world premiere”-like moments and one of them appeared somewhat apologetic for preferring Schubert to most modern composers. The good thing about a song cycle is it’s a lot shorter than a full opera.
In the end everyone let out a sigh of relief, as Into the Fire fit very well with the rest of the program (which was only logical…). I liked it well enough, I wouldn’t mind listening to it again and it’s obvious it was written for JDD, as it showcases her strengths (there are even some not very tricky but finesse requiring trills).
I have come to the conclusion that JDD really likes what she does (and can do what she likes), because her commitment is always top notch. Also, the amount of pressure she must be having to carry now that she is the “popular concert” in town needs to have some other support beside just work ethic. Nearing 50 one can see that she’s cared very well for her voice, as only a technical perfectionist would. Yes, I think Rossini/belcanto might be her true home, but I am always impressed by her versatility. Her opera voice has a good size for large halls but she can sing just as easily/naturally in chamber voice when the rep needs it. Here she even used some vibrato. Then there is the way she controls her instrument, which is impressive as nothing seems forced or a last minute decision but fresh and natural. I also like her timing. I was watching how she traversed instrumental passages, how she communicated with the quartet and how she was easing the voice in, not a moment too soon or too late.
Her interaction with the audience is also interesting. As I was lamenting above, there’s a lot of hysteria and snobbery, but she doesn’t seem particularly affected by it. With other singers who do similar things/elicit diva-worship responses it always feels like “and now I should chum up to my people” but with her the mix of chat and “singer mode” comes off naturally. There is neither mistique nor feigned modesty, just “look, you guys, now that I got the world’s attention I’m going to put on a nice dress (shoulders!), get a cute haircut (tousled), talk about some serious issues and let you into some neat details of stuff composers old a new wrote. Who’s with me?”
A woosh of dread went through the packed hall when an announcer came out, so strong I thought it would push her back to where she’d come from.
Announcer: No, no, no, everything is fine. All I wanted to say is that JDD had a respiratory infection last week but she is much better tonight. Enjoy the evening!
Frenetic applause and a general sigh of relief. More applause when Pappano came out (there normally are, but these were extra jaunty).
Let’s start with the conclusion: thank you Pappano and all. You convinced me this is truly a great opera and I wish it made its way back into the repertoire so we can hear/see it more often. Rossini outdid himself here. It’s got it all somehow melded into a whole: his playfulness, his expertise with the opera seria formula, lots of innovation and the great tunes never stop.
One of the great things about it is that Rossini knows how to write for the voice and won’t let the orchestra intrude but he has also written excellent instrumental parts. Also peppering the score with ensembles and keeping the choir active really makes a difference in regards to pacing (always fresh).
However, it most likely needs a great team – top singers and a very intelligent conductor. An insightful production doesn’t hurt. It really is shortchanged when the focus is on noodling runs of coloratura or if the conductor thinks the drama needs too much push. Pappano trusts Rossini and focused on bringing out all the inventive details, which are a pleasure to hear. His voice-orchestra balance was optimal.
Compared to the 25th it was like this: Arsace and Semiramide’s act II duet = best moment of the night (and not just in my opinion either. My seatmate dubbed it “fantastic!”, lots of applause and shouts etc. and some teary eyes from me). I just wanted it to go on and on (and luckily Rossini knows a good thing, so, as most duets here, it’s quite long). I still think Ah, come mai quell’anima is the more beautiful duet but this is wonderful, especially with Barcellona and JDD who work together so well. Have a listen to how they sounded in Munich earlier this year (imo, not nearly as good. I actually don’t like that recording and I’m glad I didn’t listen to it before going. I had to agree with the commenter who heard JDD off pitch a lot of the time. Esposito came off majorly bland of tone (to me, who am not his greatest fan to begin with). The duet is beautiful, though).
Brownlee (still no ping, from the lower slips in the auditorium) had some of the most amazing floated notes I’ve ever heard in Ah dov’è il cimento? Seriously, that stuff was staggering, to the point I had to remember where my loyalties lay 😉 cue in severe shaking from Azema1 and that quip about how if she didn’t think Arsace was the biggest hero in the world she’d totally go for Idreno. Don’t listen to his 2013 rendition found on ‘tube as it’s vastly inferior. Sadly it seems to be his only rendition on youtube.
His interaction with JDD in the act I finale, where everybody was trying to come to terms with the appearance of Nino’s ghost was acoustically interesting: his lines were louder than hers but this appeared deliberate, giving a very welcome depth to the sound. However his act II aria saw surprising ups and downs in concentration, which makes this performance one of the most curious I’ve witnessed.
Pertusi’s pre-mad aria recit was again his strongest moment – he’s really good at that kind of thing, vivid and credible. Also he had many very Verdian flashes through the night (and I mean that in a good way. Philip II was calling?). JDD did sound (even) more cautious with the very highs and I think I remember a moment where the sound came out a bit unfocused but other than that she was as strong and committed as usual.
Now that I could focus more on things other than the immediate impact, I thought Arsace spends a lot of time in the lower recesses of the mezzo voice, so perhaps this is a reason VK never sang it (as her voice is darker rather than low, where Barcellona’s is both dark and solidly low). I’m now compelled to hear Hallenberg’s take again. I also had time to realise I’ve been spending so much time listening to Baroque specialists that even a little – understandable – vibrato throws me a bit (Barcellona and Pertusi). I won’t fault them, of course, but it was interesting to see how little JDD uses in comparison. Come to think of it, Brownlee did the same. Unless he has the type I don’t catch. Might be an issue of American vs Italian style?
The choir was (I think) better this time, thought the beginning of the opera still posed challenges.
She may be wicked but she is my mother
Arsace as a character is a bit underdeveloped for contemporary sensibilities, which is why, I suppose, he’s given a pony 😉 I’ve noticed this thing in pre mid-19th century opera (though, come to think of it, heroes continue to be rather intellectually fluffy (see all Wagner)), where we have supposedly accomplished warriors/strategists act very naively in private matters. They are also way too young for those military accolades. Something’s got to give, eh, and that is usually intelligence.
As per libretto Arsace is characterised by being brave (commander of the Babylonian army at the tender age of… about 25, I’d say), dutiful (rushes back to headquarters when Semiramide calls and is unwaveringly on her side even before he learns she’s his mother) and very much in love (his entrance aria reminisces about how he saved Azema from marauders and then their eyes met = opera love).
All of a sudden he’s hit with major existential questions, which he is ill equipped to answer. Then again, who of us would have an easy time with a mother who wants to marry us and who has also, incidentally, offed our father? Plus the realisation that we’re next in line as the country’s top honcho? All of these revelations in one day, the same day we were merely supposed to announce our wedding (to someone else than the mum)! Barcellona is very good at portraying the youthful hero with all his youthful imaturity mixed with the earnest desire to do the right thing by everyone. I have cats to hug when things get weird, why shouldn’t Arsace have a pony? I also see that moment as his return to his childhood room, with the pictures and the toys one’s parents keep in the attic (or spare room).
The ending is rather poignant, with the hacked to death Semiramide reaching wordlessly (a victory for realism! thank you, Rossini) towards her son and Arsace’s duty tragically winning over love in grand opera seria style, as he ascends the stairs to the throne and glory. For his unexpected ascension to top honours he looks shattered so who knows che mai sarà.
Singing-wise, Barcellona was the picture of understated poise, with excellent stamina and that beautiful lyric tone needed for best results in belcanto trouser roles.
So now that this first ever ROH run is over I can’t wait until they revive it 😉 hopefully with a similarly strong cast and Pappano (or someone else who can do Rossini justice on this level).
- Agathe, you were right, that seems to be D. Alden’s shorthand for severe emotion (“moved” indeed). ↩
I have to praise Teatro Regio/Dynamic once more for the speed with which they released this DVD, recorded in April 2017. It definitely does the job of presenting the stage environment and the sound appears very good. A bunch of us have watched it the other day and nobody seemed to have any complaints on sound quality. This is the kind of opera where piano singing is integral to its success and here it does come through.
You might have reservations regarding the staging (oil pipes everywhere to represent the Middle East) but it’s far from annoying. Anyway, most of the action is carried by the dramatic capabilities of the singers, all of which have superior comedy chops. I’ve talked about it before (twice), as has thadieu and Giulia, so there’s really not much more to add, beside the fact that I liked some of the singers (especially Cirillo) better here than in the house and that, even after seeing it twice already, it’s still (very) funny.
I encourage you to get the DVD/BluRay or have someone gift it to you for the holidays 😉 A few years back Dantone recorded it on CD with most of the same cast but it’s just not the same. Here’s your chance to laugh at the dialogue as well as hum along to the endlessly catchy tunes.