First: I added pictures to the initial Torino post 🙂
Second: there is a second Dario post on the way.
… but back to gelato. OMG. I’m not even an ice cream person (I haven’t had any since a bad accident involving an allergy to strawberries or strawberry flavour (they aren’t real, are they?) back in the ’90s). Over the weekend I sampled about half the flavours on offer in Torino. You hear this from people who go to Italy and you kind of roll your eyes but it’s true1. Contraltos
with and gelato = stuff of legend. We took no pictures as neither of us wanted to chance it when holding an ice cream cone, especially one with two delicious flavours – a true Io t’abraccio of tastes.
Aside from gelato (and contraltos2), the staff at Teatro Regio Torino – at least this past weekend ones – are darlings. Maybe the weekend crowd is easy but this is how ushering should be run: helping instead of policing you around. They helped with everything from printing out tickets (yours truly has obviously never gone through the click to print stage before) to showing us to our box (us = contralto fans in the woods) and finally, hooking us up with production posters for that unforgettable feel ❤
btw, Teatro Regio does not seem to have an actual shop. They sell programmes and… tickets. There are magnets with the Shroud and Pope Francis (sometimes together) around town, loads with the Mole (which is cool all right) but none with the opera house! There is one post card where you can see its corner, though, so I promptly got that one for mum. As for magnets, I bought one with hieroglyphs instead (no visit to Museo Egizio as the opera timing (3-6pm) overlapped with opening hours (you can’t get yours truly out of the house before noon; not on holiday)).
But before you think we only ate ice cream, we also had pizza, and about this you can hear further lyrical waxing from thadieu.
- If I’m not mistaken, Torino was the place where mezzo Jennifer Rivera survived on gelato alone for 2 months and got acquainted with all the local banks before being able to pick up her paycheck. So when our host replied “it’s complicated” to my seemingly simple question “can you direct me to a mailbox in which I can drop my post card?” I had to just leave it at that, as much as I really wanted to hear the whole complicated story. It’s a mailbox, right? Well, remember about the deserted train station? But back to gelato: I could see myself feeding on it for the foreseeable future. ↩
- I hear there were also other voice types in this production but I’ve yet to remember anything about that 😉 (half) kidding. ↩
Thadieu and I arrived bright and early in Torino on 21 April, after a (very smooth) redeye flight that saw us leave the house at 4am. As per instructions, we went to the train station across from the airport. It was deserted, the ticket machine broken. We went back into the airport looking for another machine, as per the instructions on the broken one, but in the end it turned out the train wasn’t running (don’t ask me why, my operatic Italian only goes so far) and we got bus tickets to the rail replacement instead, with assurance the bus will leave us in the proximity of the Dora Station, where we needed to get in the first place.
But this is a commuter bus and you need to know when your stop is coming up. We, of course, didn’t. We followed it on Google maps but then, at an unknown distance from our stop, the bus made a right turn and crossed the river. Oops. We got off and made our way on foot, which wasn’t bad at all, and it took us to China Town and to that – apparently – famous and very large street market near the Duomo, to thadieu’s delight.
After a very welcome nap (yours truly slept like a hollow log, heard nothing, smelt nothing whilst the host cooked downstairs), we got some tips from our host and went out exploring. The theatre was comfortably close, right outside Regio Parco, through an ivy covered wall and up a short, curved slope. From the outside it looked like all the other buildings lining up the square – all with collonades facing Palazzo Madama. Inside, though, is a modern building. Much to our enjoyment, L’incoronazione di Dario was advertised in immense letters and in various posters.
We ventured into the box office and I picked up a leaflet advertising the local Vivaldi Festival. If there is a Handel Festival – several, in fact – it only makes sense someone somewhere should celebrate the Red Priest 🙂 hopefully every year?
From the leaflet I learned that Galou and Cirillo were singing Vivaldi and JS Bach’s Magnificats with Dantone and the local orchestra and that night!
thadieu: should they be singing three nights in a row?
dehggial: I guess they can!
Whilst we gently wandered around the square, I inched towards wanting to attend the show even if thadieu wanted to get back due to raging allergies and in spite of the fact that we only had one key. But I learned a valuable lesson: the box office closes at 6pm during the week so no greed for dehggial. We also realised they had a Juditha with lesser known singers (including a contralto who sang Holofernes, Abra and Ozias!) on April 19, part of the festival.
To ease the pain 😉 we went and got 2 flavour gelato (€2) and capped the day off with fluffy pizza at a place frequented by locals (suggested by our host). On the way back we marvelled at – and approved – the homely feel of the practical use of window and balcony space.
After a 12 hours sleep (thadieu due to jetlag/allergies, yours truly due to lack of sleep in general) and an amazing racket made by the host’s cat in one of those mad moods, we were ready for the opera! We got there with enough time to leisurely marvel at the venue (selfie time with… everything, but especially the doors, which are very clever and the giant sign advertising Dario – pictures when I get home and also at thadieu’s blog) and realise our tickets actually needed printing. That wasn’t an issue, the staff at the venue/box office were very nice.
We then got to our box – as you can see from pictures of the venue, there is an open plan auditorium and one level of boxes all around. The layout reminds me a bit of Opera Bastille. The views are good from everywhere in the auditorium but not from all the boxes. Namely, not from ours, because the orchestra pit is curved, so I don’t at all recommend the first 6 boxes on the sides, unless you particularly want to see the orchestra – you get the best view in the house for that, and we did make the most of what we had. This production added insult to existing injury by having the singer’s often sing from the back of the stage, so, for instance, Dario’s first aria came to us through the wall, which made for some guessing. We also missed some of the visuals, like late Cyrus’ portrait and half the action during the fight scene.
However, you know we’re always looking to upgrade and I spotted central seats on the row with the camera. Yes, there were cameras in the house so one can hope for possibly a TV broadcast? Ideally a DVD, but who knows how Italian houses do it. Considering the market is not saturated with Dario DVDs and Dantone believes in this cast… in any case, we successfully upgraded to the 8th or so row centre for the second half and we could then see and hear everything.
It would have really been annoying to miss the “contralto in the woods” aria, with Mingardo’s back and forth flights to the back of the stage, because it was absolutely hilarious. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s the moment when Statira, having been tricked by her scheming sister, Argene, is imagining how beautiful the woods with the chirping birds will be when she meets Dario outside city walls. The aria repeats the A section several times and she keeps coming back to the centre of the stage, much to the annoyance of Argene and her paid help, who want her gone already. Suffice to say the aria showed off Mingardo’s artistry both in singing and with regards to comedy. I especially enjoyed a moment where she deliberately allowed the violin centre stage, having varied her dynamics in sorts of ways up to that point.
This is a good moment to mention that thadieu and I (along with Leander and Baroque Bird) saw a performance in London on the 20th, which left us perplexed by the conducting choices. So I was paying special attention to Dantone’s handling of a non-specialised orchestra with Baroque voices. Time and again it was clear that a very delicate touch did the job brilliantly, allowing the singers to vary their dynamics as needed, without being drowned.
However, remember that short convo thadieu and I had upon realising Galou and Cirillo were singing three days in a row? Well…
Teatro Regio announcer: Sra Galou has oversung but will still be with us tonight, just go gently on her.
So she’s not made of teflon, after all 😉 welcome to 40, Sra Galou. Only volume seemed affected, so upgrading helped. The coloratura was there, the silliness of course (Argene is very busy scheming, especially in part two, but all her efforts are thwarted, so she needs to be very resourceful) and the ravishingly beautiful tone as usual. I guess she could vary her facial expressions a bit, there is only so far mischievous winking can go – I say this myself as an abuser of said winking and veteran face puller. But this is an out and out comedy and she, along with everyone else, seemed to have lots of fun. I especially enjoyed the short aria where she manipulates both Dario and Statira and – of course! – the closer, Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte!, when Argene, having been found out, is put in “the harshest chains” yet she boasts she’s not scared at all. We know she’ll be plotting away. Here was where a bit more volume would’ve helped with the shouts of “morte!” but still the legs to was beautiful (< that was autocorrect, but yes, legs indeed. Argene showed leg at every opportunity, not that anyone was complaining (except for Dario). What I actually meant was legato 😉 ).
I dind’t mind the costumes as much as I thought I would (but I will still bitch about them), though I didn’t understand why Cyrus and Niceno were dressed in Saudi garb, with the women in Gate of Ishtar attire, the army as guerillas, the Oracle in Western suit/PR clothes and Oronte, who’s the chief of Persian administration (so a Prime Minister of sorts) looking like the Captain of the Janitors. It’s especially amusing when Argene, in her sumptuous robes (blankets) asks Mr Janitor in fluorescent jacket and rubber boots to rule the empire alongside her. I guess that would assure special attention would be given to the local plumbing issues 😉 I also don’t think the piping/stage design made any particular statement, aside possibly from pointing to courtly internal machinations/more focus on Captain Janitor 😉 there were also lots of hanging curtains, some of each resembled he local Shroud suspiciously well, at least to my mind. I really admired the work put into the representations of Persian relief sculptures, though, again, the whole concept felt so scattered to me I didn’t particularly see need for them. For my money, the costumes (blankets) and filigree lamps gave enough suggestion of the era.
well, with Giulia’s explaination and after seeing it again, I have finally got the concept. More about that in the next installment.
So that’s it for now (more gelato and pizza after the show, of course). I know there is a lot I didn’t talk about – like more than half the cast – but this is due to the luxury of seeing two performances. I confess on occasion I was so focused on the orchestra/Dantone I had to sacrifice the attention paid to singers. For more impressions on this production, check out thadieu (this performance) and giulia (the premiere). There will be lots of venue (selfies included), town and maybe curtain call pictures when I get home, though as curtain call goes you’re better off with thadieu’s video for the feel of the place.
ps: sorry for any typos, the kindle isn’t made for writeups.
I guess everybody knows by now that JDD had to pull out of the European dates of the Ariodante tour. But there will be plenty of JDD in London later this year, as Semiramide is finally taking place this November at ROH and she has two dates and a Masterclass scheduled at Wiggy at the end of that production.
ROH returns to the Roundhouse for Il ritorno d’Ulisse (Christine Rice as Penelope) next January, which gives yours truly hope that in a year or two we’ll see a Poppea at the Roundhouse as well 😉 you never know. The news about this Ulisse has somehow bypassed me thus far so it was very welcome today.
January is for once busy, as Salome is about as well. Can’t say I’m the biggest Byström fan, but Michaela Schuster is Herodias. Now that I’m older and wiser I’d really like to see her again in Die Frau ohne Schatten. But I suppose she can do ornery as well 😉
One of the most fun things at London Handel Festival is to attend recitals by the local young singers on the rise. You might remember I was very impressed by Averina’s performance as Dalinda in last year’s RCM production of Ariodante. Others agreed and she came second in London Handel Festival’s 2016 singing competition. On Wednesday we had the opportunity to hear her sing the tunes I imagine she likes best. As you can see below, they tend to be playful, always a bonus for me.
Galina Averina soprano
Claudia Norz violin
Oliver John Ruthven harpsichord
? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the cellist’s name as she had stepped in for the original one
Un cenno leggiadretto Serse
Restino imbalsamate La Calisto
Neghittosi, or voi che fate? Ariodante
Zerfliesse, mein Herze St John Passion
Piangero la sorte mia Giulio Cesare
Averina is vocally very accomplished, with a clear, easy coloratura and a pleasant, even tone across the range and from the getgo, good interaction with the instruments around her, as thadieu and I noticed last year in Ariodante. Her posture is very good and, though lively, knows how to contain her moves. She also looks like you’d imagine a character who has arias like Un cenno leggiadretto or Tornami a vagheggiar. Her characterisations were spot on, culminating with getting playful with her compact mirror on Myself I shall adore. It’s a long aria to marvel at one’s own gorgeousness but I think she loves herself all right 😉
Perhaps because the playful arias work so well for her, I was quite taken with the wistfulness she pulled for Zerfliesse… .
The violin sonata came off nicely, especially the Allegro part, where I really enjoyed the bassline.
Sonata in D major for violin HWV 371
Myself I shall adore Semele
Amour, lance tes traites! Platée
Tornami a vagheggiar Alcina
One glance at the setlist and something jumps right at you: we don’t often get French Baroque in London. It’s fun when it happens, especially if it’s one of Folie’s arias. You probably all remember Mireille Delunsch acting French-mad in that music sheet dress. If you don’t, check it out pronto. Averina did a lively job of it herself. I was reminded of an advice Marilyn Horne gave an English-language based singer presenting a German aria: pronounce it much stronger than you think necessary. Likewise, if it’s madness and it’s French you can fire all cylinders and it might not be nutty enough 😉 But she’s on the right track.
You know any setlist that includes Tornami… is guaranteed to make me book a ticket. I was amused that in her presentation of each aria Averina said of Piangero… (along the lines of) “this is the character every Baroque soprano wants to sing” but in regards to Tornami… “this is Handel’s most fun aria”. And it certainly is, for soprano. Even Myself I shall adore isn’t quite on that level of giddiness. It was as fun and playful as a closer could ever get.
Earnest moment of the month: have you noticed the curious thread that links most of these characters?
Atalanta: futile but cheerful scheming,
Calisto: her lesbian tendencies cruelly exploited (poor Calisto!) – also, what the hell is this thing about being turned into a bear? I mean, a bear?! Couldn’t she have been turned into a cat or a doe (something Diana loves)? Celestial Cat, the Big Cat and the Small Cat, Cat licking its Paw, Cat napping (any cluster or stars looks like a fat cat napping) – even her name can be tweaked to include cat 😉
Dalinda: duped and physically/sexually abused (we’re beyond poor here),
Semele: duped and burned to death (don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!!!),
Morgana: duped and… it’s not clear what happens to her other than she gets back with her ex. But, yea, in that context poor Platée, who’s only duped and humiliated in front of everybody who’s anybody is having it easy. So I think we need someone to get a Platée together in London.
But at least these unfairly treated women have some great arias/potentially show stealing moments in their respective operas.
In less earnest news, the dry, sunny weather continues in London. I took a few more pictures of that touristy area1, so you can have visual reminders every time there’s a writeup about Wiggy/St George’s Hanover Sq.
- After a long and tiring day at work, I took Wednesday off and went sightseeing in the city I’ve called home for the past 10 years; I tells ya, it’s never too late to get acquainted with the less visited rooms in your house. ↩
Yep, the new season looks Baroque/Hallenberg-fabulous.
Saul 16-27 Feb 2018 Arnold Schoenberg Choir ❤
Ottone, re di Germania 24 Sept 2017 Hallenberg
Giulio Cesare 18 Oct 2017 Galou + a very tempting cast in general with Dantone conducting
Publio Cornelio Scipione 24 Jan 2018 Sabata/Mynenko/MP
Giulietta e Romeo 27 Jan 2018 Hallenberg
Armida 21 Feb 2018 Jacobs conducting + Zorzi Giustiniani
Radamisto 20 April 2018 Bardon
There’s also a Maria Stuarda in January for those who enjoy Marlis Petersen (and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir). Could be a fun few days in the middle of winter…
How fitting for the Handel season – I found myself in the right place at the right time for this webcast (we used the medici.tv channel) and ended up having a very enjoyable watching party “with” thadieu and Agathe, based on Giulia’s report from the house (which you can read here if you haven’t yet; it’ll help make sense of what I’m only mentioning in passing). I’m not going into the whole thing because I don’t know Rodelinda enough but I wanted to share a few impressions:
- what a (musically) wonderful opera! The perils of being exposed to the wrong singers/etc. come to mind when I think I’ve deprived myself of it for so long; lovely work from Bolton et all balancing the sweet mournfulness with the action
- yes to the 5 countertenors but can Bejun Mehta spin a dulcet line or what? I was floored by Bertarido’s entrance aria. Looking forward to Gia dagli occhi… in 3 months’ time!
- Eduige: more reasons to love Prina; seriously, the role works so well for her. Wish she had more to sing. She had some really fun things to do here, quite surprisingly considering it was a Guth production
- speaking of Guth, I agree he doesn’t quite get the Baroque ethos, but I did enjoy the whole kid + nightmares part and the unexpected humour; the Personnenregie is always paid attention to in his work and it was here as well
- I was further surprised how much I liked Lucy Crowe considering I’m not usually a fan. This was easily the best performance I’ve seen/heard from her.
Whoever advertised this performance struck gold: this was one of the best attended shows I’ve ever witnessed at Wigmore Hall. Though the Colossus of Rhodes or the Pharos was planted firmly in the seat in front of me I couldn’t find a convenient seat to upgrade to without bothering someone. But the Pharos1 was very polite and self aware and leaned to the left (Tower of Pisa, then) – we were on the end seats – so I could actually see 2/3 of the stage, which included the singers and the bassoonist (yes, there was a tenor-bassoon duet!).
Mary Bevan soprano
Benjamin Hulett tenor
James Platt bass
Christian Curnyn director | Early Opera Company (Choir included)
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in G major
William Boyce (1711-1779)
Excerpts from Solomon
George Frideric Handel
Alceste is incidental music with a lot of contribution from the choir and in my case it proved incidental to a good nap. For whatever reason, perhaps because it started with the concerto and because I wasn’t familiar with the Boyce piece, I was lulled into this cocooned state of semi consciouness.
When Hulett and Bevan duetted I had that thought one sometimes entertains of what would an alien make of this if s/he/it dropped in. A bunch of people intently watching two other people on stage make tuneful oooo, aaaa sounds with others coaxing a slightly different kind of sound from wooden boxes of various shapes and sizes. But to what end? the alien might soon zero in to the crux of the matter. And a good explaination, judging by the rapt faces, may be to lull the people in attendence. Nefarious or farious, that would remain to be determined after further investigation. Might the alien subject itself to this experiment?
I don’t necessary recommend pursuing this train of thought too diligently, as I ended up dozing and incorporating the stage action in said flights into delta state. Case in point, when Hulett recited along the lines of …and he rose from below! with the choir rising from below/behind the harpsichord2 to deliver a hearty Handel part, I also rose, and an image similar to this flashed through my mind:
I was convinced the action was taking place at the bottom of the sea. Of course. It must be The Enchanted Island effect. You might think I’m being unnecessary silly but shouldn’t we be truthful about the effects of music on us?
The singers were fine. I remember Hulett as the Oronte from that very fine Alcina from Moscow. His tone is good for Handel but as you well know by now, I like more colour in the voice. Bevan sounded to me particularly mezzo-ish here, perhaps due to the rather low lying parts of what she had to sing and also the way she attacked the acuti. Platt has been someone I look forward to hearing since his very entertaining stint as Caronte in the 2015 ROH Orfeo. Here he sang with gusto and that burnished bass tone as well, both as part of the choir (his biggest part) and as a soloist. The orchestra – Baroque bows aplenty, solid bassoon action and very fun trumpet interventions – sounded velvety.
A while ago a blogger who specialises in London trails liked my post about ‘giardiniera where I talk at some length about South Ken/how to get to RCM. I thought it might be a good idea to take some pictures for readers possibly unfamiliar with London, pictures illustrating how I get to Wiggy or St George’s etc. (you can click for biger views)
- It was only after I noticed the handy (or bummy?) cushion that I remembered the Pharos had sat in front of me before, but at a show where I upgraded to the right). Wiggy is the kind of place where you do end up seeing familiar faces after a while. ↩
- It’s always fun to see 20+ people crammed on the Wiggy stage. I see with pleasure that this trend continues to be joyfully pursued. ↩
When Wiggy posted their upcoming season we (Team London) looked curiously at this date. He’s singing what? I wanted to see DD because I really like his
Furibondo spira il vento tone so if he was singing Beethoven so be it.
It all started with Daniels apologising for obliterating his bowtie due to stage jitters. Perhaps if he waltzed in without mentioning it no one would’ve been the wiser (though what do I know, I’m all for casual chic and for moving swiftly on) but after that I’m sure we all focused on his collar. It was kinda cute.
David Daniels countertenor
Martin Katz piano
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Adelaide Op. 46
Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Music for a while Z583
A Fool’s Preferment Z571
– I’ll sail upon the dog star
– Sweeter than roses Z585
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac Op. 51
The first part was dominated by the Britten canticle, for which DD benefitted from help from tenor buddy David Webb. Their voices matched very well and they got into character enough to give the piece expressivity so that anyone could tell who was Abraham and who was Isaac. I liked it -> I should listen to more Britten.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
– Pompe vane di morte!… Dove sei, amato bene?
– Si, l’infida consorte… Confusa si miri
Ten Thousand Miles Away (arr. Steven Mark Kohn)
On the other shore (arr. Marita Kohler)
Wanderin’ (arr. Marita Kohler)
The Farmer’s Curst Wife (arr. Marita Kohler)
After the interval we were on familiar territory, with DD giving us a bit of his well known Bertarido. DD is the type of coutertenor with a very smooth voice and a youthful, sensitive tone (by which I mean plaintive but not schmalzy), which fits soulful arias better than vicious ones.
But we (Baroque Bird and I) agreed that the most memorable part was the traditional bit, with The Farmer’s Curst Wife coming off a riot. So yes (from me) to coutertenors singing art song and, in this case, traditional song. I’m quite fond of traditional in general and I wish more opera singers included it in their song recitals.
Maybe you’re wondering what I mean by the sponge metaphor. Whilst listening I kept imagining a gently squeezed sponge, which refers to elasticity and to smoothness across the range as well as softness of tone. It’s true that he’s the old school kind of countertenor – neither as fast nor as interested in proving chest note prowess (I don’t think he ventured that way) as the current crop – but the kind of elegant wistful emotion he can produce is still endearing and unique, to my ears at least. Even in the Baroque repertoire it’s not all about athleticism.
And, yes, it’s the end of the month hence the pedal to the metal with a flurry of posts after days of languidity.
With Faramondo we visit a more or less fictional moment from the history of Franks (Faramondo et Co.), Cimbrians (Gustavo’s people) and Swabians (Gernando’s baddies).
Before we start, I’ll direct you to Leander‘s elaborate writeup (with pictures!). You should also know that we saw the second cast (as customary, RCM fields two different teams on alternative days).
Faramondo King of the Franks: Kamilla Dunstan
Clotilde his sister: Amy Manford
Gustavo King of the Cimbrians: Julien Van Mellaerts
Rosimonda his daughter: Ashlyn Tymms
Adolfo his older son: Louise Fuller
Gernando King of the Swabians: Tom Scott-Cowell
Teobaldo Cimbrian general: Timothy Edlin
Childerico the real Sveno, Gustavo’s younger son: Eleanor Sanderson-Nash
Conductor: Laurence Cummings | London Handel Orchestra
I learned from Leander that Serse and Faramondo were written about the same time in late winter 1737. Faramondo was first performed on 3 January 1738. We can admire his work ethic and (maybe) forgive him for choosing a very shaggy (albeit popular at the time) libretto, a true smorgasboard of Baroque cliches as follows:
- star crossed lovers
- duty/love anxiety
- angsty arias about ships mercilessly tossed about by waves and winds
- honourable enemies/noble savages in this production
- backstabbers ahoy
- lecherous but kind hearted king/vacillating person in power
- babies swapped at birth
pleasure confusion, Handel used a revised version of the original Zeno libretto that had about half of the recits removed. Case in point: 2/3 in, this chap Childerico shows up and acts like he’d been there all along but I can assure you he hadn’t. There is a very good reason (by this revised libretto’s standards) he was shoe-horned in. If we check wiki we learn he was originally sung by boy wonder and Handel protege William Savage, the kid who (during his boy soprano period) sang Oberto in Alcina. He sang alto when his voice broke (here) and finally went on to create a few bass roles for Handel. Makes you think of an all rounder football player with Handel as a shrewed coach 😉
Also upon checking wiki we learn that aside from the “dad” figure, the customary bass and the title role which went to Cafarelli, the other men and women were sung by women, with a mezzo (Rosimonda) and contralto (Gernando1) thrown in. The nice variation of female voices is one of the strengths of this opera.
Then come the downsides.
The music is pleasant enough though it never gets as memorable as Serse or other Handel operas we know and love. The libretto… everybody wants Gustavo’s position, but Gernando also wants his daughter, who doesn’t want him. Faramondo and Rosimonda like each other a lot but duty/honour comes first for the both of them. Teobaldo secretly wants Gustavo’s throne and had also swapped the babies around (Childerico and Sveno).
The whole thing goes pear-shaped when Sveno (raised by an unsuspecting Gustavo as his son) is killed by… somebody, with Faramondo taking the blame for it. Gustavo has another son called Adolfo, who is of course in love with Faramondo’s sister Clotilde (they’re a very Annio-Servilia type couple). He uses his father’s love for him to stop him every time (about every 15min) Gustavo wants to kill Faramondo/his kin. Things get more complicated as Gustavo has the hots for Clotilde and justifies pursuing his son’s gf by such gems as “I’m the king, you’re my underling so you have to relinquish her to me”.
Somehow the voice of reason in all this is Clotilde, who has some choice arias (at least 2 about being tossed by waves and winds) and perhaps because of this develops a driking problem in this production and seems totally nonplussed by the very cynical ending (the hitherto noble Faramondo, friend to all, casually hacks all the baddies during his last aria (and with the help of Rosimondo, who hands him several weapons).
Likewise, the star of the show was Manford as Clotilde, who showed excellent command of coloratura, very fine Handel style and an ideal voice for this repertoire. If she likes it she should definitely pursue it. I would love to see her as Morgana, she has the comic timing and tone for that role. Her scenes were the most exciting, not just because her direction was the most logical and detailed but also because of her very promising dramatic chops. Her moves did come off as a bit studied – but enthusiastically so – yet you could see a natural actress developing, who stayed in character even when she wasn’t at the centre of the action. By the end she had the audience in stitches.
Dunstan (you may remember her as Ariodante from last year) once again cut a fine figure as the hero and put on a solid vocal performance, with some fine projection and elaborate fioriture, though I admit I prefer her sensitive Ariodante.
Ashlyn Tymms’s lounge singer Rosimonda was one of this production’s better ideas. Much as I enjoy updated productions, sometimes, when very specific historical moments as involved it’s not esay to get into the vision. The lounge singer heroine isn’t an original take but it has time and again proved at least efficient (especially if one enjoys ’40s noir). Dramatically Tymms was also one of the better performers in a production where Personnenregie was erratic at best.
On the one hand we had Clotilde and Rosimonda’s clearly developed personas, on the other we had a pretty loosely designed Faramondo, charicature baddies and unclear Gustavo (is he just an upright chap succumbing to temptation in regards to Clotilde or is he creepy?) with bonus dramatically
useless cheesy hanger-ons who pretty much clogged the stage when their bosses’ arias were being sung.
Anyway, Rosimonda is the kind of strong Baroque woman angstily2 bound by duty with “heavy hearted” arias that need a fuller voice, hence the mezzo designation. For whatever reason Tymms sounded to me like a dramatic soprano in the making but maybe she’s a Stephanie Blythe type of mezzo.
Gernando, sung by Scott-Cowell (last year’s Polinesso), was, Leander and I guessed, a schemer messed up on drugs (he sniffs glue/helium during his revenge aria, which is kind of odd but hey3). Once again Scott-Cowell was plagued by a
silly unidimesional directorial choice, so it’s hard to gauge his dramatic skills. I thought his singing was fine, a clear improvement over last year.
London Handel Orchestra under Cummings generally did a commendable job accomodating the students’ speeds.
Given it was a very pleasant day and also because it was my first time at RCM since I moved, I actually gave myself plenty of time to get there. No Lamborghini sightings, but I realised it’s not the Scientology Church across the street from The Science Museum but the Mormon Church. So now you know. Also: at (my) leisure pace, the walk from the South Ken tube station to Britten Hall is 10min long.
- Though I thought the inclusion a countertenor Gernando worked well. Perhaps a countertenor with a better defined bottom (hey! not that one) might’ve worked even better. ↩
- It’s not tragic if it ends well. ↩
- If we’re going for aggressivity-inducing drugs, wouldn’t meth be the immediate choice? Or is this too American? ↩
Opera Settecento returned in top form with Handel’s 1730 pasticcio of arias from Vinci, Leo, Hasse, Orlandini and other Northern Italians with ethnically ambiguous names. Team London appreciated this year’s choice very much indeed.
Artenice: Marie Lys
Ormisda: John-Colyn Gyeantey
Arsace: Maria Ostroukhova
Erismeno: Nicholas Mogg
Palmira: Ciara Hendrick
Cosroe: Tom Verney
Musical Director: Leo Duarte | Opera Settecento
Tuesday was a lovely, warm day here in London so it was a pleasure to wander a bit in the Oxford Circus area, which is somewhere I go to often but only because it’s (also) the general neighbourhood of Wigmore Hall. Otherwise it’s a tourist Mecca – always crowded and 90% of the sights are clothes shops. The buildings are nice though, probably from Handel’s time.
Suffice to say I got there early and Leander (read her take on Ormisda here) and I pored over the libretto for clarification and a bit of chuckle at the 18th century translation (ruby lips, fine brows etc.). We noticed with some trepidation it was by the ubiquitous Apostolo Zeno, the very same poet who penned that jumble sale of plotlines called Faramondo (as well as many other equally questionable early 18th century libretti). We also tried to work out the storm arias judging by title.
So what is Ormisda about? I initially thought Ormisda was a woman, not having made the Ormuzd (and Ahriman) connection. It transpired he was the dad figure. Oh. His two sons are Cosroe and Arsace and his wife is Palmira. I clearly need to brush up on Persian history.
So, you wonder, why is that woman Artenice listed first? Well, it’s because Handel put this together for his star soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pó. Artenice is an Armenian (I think) princess, due to marry whoever of Ormisda’s sons will take the throne. Palmira, as queens are often wont to do, is scheming to get her son Arsace as heir, although Cosroe is the first born.
As can be seen from the Moon, Artenice and Arsace will fall madly in love, regardless of right of way. She will sing many arias whilst he, as the second uommo, will sing only 3 (I don’t know if any were cut) but these three are as effective as Cherubino’s two in Le nozze.
Cosroe, as primo uomo sung by Senestino, also sings a lot of arias, but, as one familiar with Verney can glean, they are soulful ones that march on gentle sentiment. He does have a storm one later on but it’s not on the same level of drama (though I seem to remember the coloratura as very difficult) as Arsace’s. Then again, he does manage to get the throne, so he doesn’t have that much to be upset about. Generally speaking his performance was fine, with yours truly having an interesting perspective on his (very smooth) coloratura production from sitting right above him in the gallery.
Interestingly, consumate 18th century actress/contralto Antonia Merighi sang Palmira and baddie Gernando in Faramondo (as well as Amastre in Serse). Hendrick had a nice even tone but you could be fooled trying to figure out who was the scheming queen between the two women singing women. She was nice all around. I could’ve done with a bit of storming around on stage/general pissed off queen strut.
Lys as Artenice was one of the highlights of the evening. Her voice has the light tone and sparkling quality that works best with Baroque soprano roles. She’s in possession of a very coloratura and endurance, as she and Verney had the most arias. Her Artenice put some feistiness into her acting, so it wasn’t all just lovey-dovey with lovebird Arsace.
Which brings us to the secondo uommo, here sung by Ostroukhova, the woman who has made me love Cecca notte. Team London were waiting to hear some proper Baroque flights of angst and we were not disappointed. Arsace’s three arias go from irked to furious to energetic. Cooking with gas! Some may remember that Ostroukhova has a dark yet sonorous mezzo voice that seems specifically made for this kind of material. She tailored her phrasing for palpable drama and I’m pretty sure nobody was in doubt Arsace was very conflicted throughout. She also put a very fine effort into varying her fioriture for the repeats. Leander and I thought Ann Hallenberg would approve of this performance 🙂 Last but not least, Team London appreciated her 18th century pirate look 😉 We were in Handel’s parish church, after all.
What of Ormisda? Here he’s very much a nice chap who tries to calm down different sections within his household. His arias rely a lot on long held notes – as far as I remember, or perhaps this was indeed Gyeantey’s strength? He has a smooth tenor voice which I for one could really see in later Italian repertoire (Nemorino?). Mogg’s Erismeno was there for one reason or another (one needs a bass, eh?) and from his one aria I could glean a beautiful bass tone and very clear diction.
Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte put on another of their enthusiastic performances1. From my perch behind the singers I could hear them especially well, with the rhythm section, oboes (beautiful interventions) and the harpsichord in the first half and the string section in the second (a bit of seat swapping happened). Some of the arias had very nice melodic lines (and the bass aria (?) had a rather interesting rhythm), lovely carried by the orchestra, who, as usual, sounds very tight and up to date Baroque.
Thank you to all involved, it made for a wonderful evening of Baroque music in a Baroque environment.
ps: I noticed with relief that St George’s has updated the toilet situation as much as the premises allow.
- To the point someone broke a string before the intermission. ↩