Giulio Cesare with the contralto cacciator (Theater an der Wien, 18 October 2017)

Cleopatra in Egitto

You might be surprised to hear that I once again lucked out with the weather in Vienna, something that only a year ago seemed laughable. T-shirt weather in October in Central Europe!

I also lucked out with my hastily bought seat1 and had an all night direct view at Galoumisù  visually there’s precious little better than DG’s upper back/neck and with a profile view you get the best of both worlds… But, you know, the music!

2017 shall remain in dehggi history as the year of the contralto hunt, as all my opera trips were dedicated to the rarest spotted fach.

Giulio Cesare: Lawrence Zazzo
Cleopatra: Emöke Baráth
Tolomeo: Filippo Mineccia
Cornelia: Delphine Galou
Sesto: Julie Boulianne
Achilla: Riccardo Novaro
Conductor: Ottavio Dantone | Accademia Bizzantina

It may come as a surprise to some that, although I have by now quite a few experiences with, for instance, Ariodante, this is the first time I’ve seen Giulio Cesare in any house. So that is why, perhaps, I felt I liked the music a little less. To be sure, taken aria by aria we have a slew of strong ones, but also our ladies get some proper dirges. Also Tolomeo doesn’t get quite the snappy material Polinesso has. His horribleness usually amounts to old skool sexism:

Tolomeo: hey sexy mama, how about you and me in the desert-shed? Bow-chica-wow-wow!
Cornelia (lips twisted in disgust): how dare you, third world vermin, speak like that to a Roman Citizen?!

This exchange happens 3 or 4 times (as Cornelia is also popular with Achilla) and with both Galou and Mineccia very good actors, it was, dramatically, the highlight of my night. But I couldn’t help thinking we’ve got a sleazy man caricature and a racist cow… I mean, no shit, Cornelia, you’re the symbol of the colonialist establishment, you may not want to use that particular trait as the one we should remember you by.

However, Anik and I agreed nobody moves quite like Galou. She has the height (+ those heels that somehow haven’t broken her back yet) and enviable posture and she knows how to work them. This was the first time when I could see why these dudes are so hot and bothered by Cornelia, who usually is made to look like this mature and sorrowful widow, ready for the veil.

In that sense, Boulianne as Sesto appeared more like Cornelia’s younger sister (a vacillating Zdenka?). Though a singer I have appreciated in the past2, with a resonant voice and interesting darker tone, I’m not convinced Handel is her repertoire. Perhaps she was too focused on the surprisingly many, moody arias Sesto has, but on the heels of Galou and Mineccia, I was hurting for even a bit of nervous movement to go with that angst. I know I’m a fidget but how can you refrain from putting your body into this stuff?!

Hats off to Mineccia for his fantastic stage presence, with liberal (but very well directed) moving about. As I was saying earlier, his interactions with Galou (<- those snarls! haha) were priceless. I also liked the “sculpted” string sound during Empio, sleale, indegno – an underrated aria. He didn’t portray Tolomeo quite as a teenager but in the context of a very fiery Cornelia that rude young man thing was a logical foil.

However, back to Boulianne’s Sesto, I did enjoy her duet with Galou’s Cornelia. Their mix of very different voices (though I think tessitura-wise they’re rather similar) worked nicely for me. The dark colour brings them together for blending, but the weight and approach to singing makes each one pop out.

Going to see Cesare for Cornelia is a thankless task, though, being a sucker for the plight of damsels in distress, I obliged 😉 Ok, who am I kidding

I don’t quite care about Cornelia’s arias; in fact I was surprised to learn she has a chipper one towards the end. So far no matter how good the singer I thought it was just whinge, whinge, that third world bastard killed my husband, boohoo, my teenage son and I are all alone, omg, who’s going to save us now that Cesare is dead? Hello, Mr librettist: why the hell has Cornelia gone to Egypt with her teenage son in tow?

Cornelia: look, Sesto3, that scum there is your father’s murderer! Stab him!
Sesto: omg, I must be strong, but I’m only 12! What’s my mum been thinking?! Shit, now I’m seeing things…

You will say, wait, wait, dehggi, she didn’t know Pompey was dead. She thought he was just imprisoned by Tolomeo and Cesare (aka, Ancient World Police) would negotiate with (= force) said third world bastard and all will end well and her family would get a Sharm el-sheikh holiday out of it as entitled to by their first world status. It’s still kind of funny when, after liberally throwing imperialist/racist abuse at sleazebag she goes all omg! we’re lost. You’re in a war zone, lady.

That being said, I loved Galou’s timing and interactions with the orchestra – the way she got in and out of the phrase and how that blended with the sound around her – surprisingly especially when she was “duetting” with the flute, if I remember correctly. I also got a kick out of her big grins during and lots of clapping after Va tacito.

Zazzo, whom I remember as a very approachable chap from the masterclass I saw a few years back, seems to be a relaxed and courteous man all around, as he gamely shared the stage with Mr Hornplayer during this (Va tacito) most famous (?) or Cesare’s areas. Perhaps not as memorable a voice as others, his is very congenial live, when countertenors can sometimes come off abrasive.

He’s also a “stage mover”, though perhaps not quite as deliberate as Galou and Mineccia, but he brought out a surprisingly affable and luminous Cesare, who’d probably (very nicely) tell Cornelia to dial down the imperialistic angle. Along the same lines, his portrayal came off like Cleopatra was out of his league, but wow, what luck, she might actually like him (the kiss at the end of their end of opera duet was on-the-cheek shy). By the way, how catchy is that duet? Zazzo and Baráth somehow found the energy to play with it and sound playful whilst doing so. It got stuck in my head for the rest of the night and most of next day.

So now that we’ve established TADW decided to advertise this as Cleopatra in Egitto, how was Baráth? She was very fine, indeed. She has the Baroque-tone, the coloratura, the breath, the intelligence and the looks to pull it off but you know I thought Cornelia outshined her Cleopatra when it came to stage movement/charisma. She’s a bit too contained/cautious, but perhaps she’ll let go with time and experience.

Novaro as Achilla was very reliable and I really liked his red/black dragon jacket but, you know, Achilla. He was pretty respectful in his interest in Cornelia and took her rejection rather meekly.

During whingy less interesting arias I had time to listen to the hall and it is true it’s not absorbent (which is probably a good thing for this repertoire). Luckily our singers were in very good form. The band wasn’t bad, though I understand it was occasionally sluggish/unfocused. The public was as usual very discerning and I was pleased to see that all the people on my row were interested through the evening.

Anik and I met before the show for one of those chats that managed to mix the traditional opera snark, the chicken with four breasts and whether personal bunkers of hard liquor is the best answer to Europe’s current problems. At interval we were joined for impressions by another very enthusiastic WS, who has already put up a review which will hopefully answer the questions I skipped.

The good news is TADW continues to win at Baroque opera in concert.  Another good news is that TADW doesn’t object to taking your camera to your seat. The bad news is Quel torrente was cut again. And with Galoumisù so close at hand!


  1. too hastily, it seems, as “my” box remained empty. I thought about returning to it but then I wouldn’t have had Galoumisu eyes all night. 
  2. Don Giovanni in Paris last December. 
  3. why are Sestos always urged by strong women to stab someone? 
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ROH Winter 2017/18 tickets now on general sale

It’s bright1 and early here for dehggi, as the loot was worth it:

Semiramide with JDD/Barcellona/Brownlee/D’Arcangelo

Salome being Salome (even with McVicar’s vision); next year I’m spoiled rotten: two cool operas to choose from for an outing on my birthday! I predictably went with:

Il ritorno d’Ulisse because when Monteverdi calls one must answer, especially after the great success with L’Orfeo at the Roundhouse two years ago. Let’s hope they’ll livestream this one as well.

There was 0 pain getting in/booking this time. Good job ROH!


  1. actually, it’s rather foggy (but warm). 

4 years of opera, innit?

nobody messes with the contralto

It’s that time of the year again – opera, innit?‘s anniversary so here’s a mini Q and A:

Interviewer dehggi: so, Blogger dehggi, it’s been 4 years now. What motivates you to continue running the blog?
Blogger dehggi: Tito and contraltos in action!
Interviewer dehggi: how about the good people you’ve met because of opera?
Blogger dehggi: they are the hidden perks 🙂 thank you all for making it lively and spontaneous!
Interviewer dehggi: and the cake? Are we forgetting the cake?
Blogger dehggi: how could we?! Goes with all the fun/snarky opera chats. Virtual Tito-cake for all 🙂

The Catalan German Piano ™ jams with the lo-fi czardas caballeros (Xavier Sabata, Wigmore Hall, 9 October 2017)

Wiggy usher (opens a window): oh, hello darling!
Woman: hello! I’ve never heard this band before, are they any good?

Xavi Sabata countertenor
(dis)Armonia Atenea, George Petrou director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto for Strings in G minor RV157
Giuseppe Maria Orlandini (1676-1760)
Ciò che donò la frode … Alza al ciel pianta orgogliosa Adelaide
Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (c.1682-1732)
In te, sposa Griselda, mi uccido … Cara sposa Griselda
Antonio Vivaldi
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 1 No. 12 RV63 ‘La follia’
Pietro Torri (c.1650-1737)
Vorresti col tuo pianto Griselda
Antonio Vivaldi
Gelido in ogni vena Farnace RV711

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Admeto, re di Tessaglia HWV22
Introduzione
Orride larve!
Chiudetevi miei lumi
Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Viver vogl’io sempre per te mio dio … Or mi pento La conversione di Sant’Agostino
Antonio Vivaldi
Mandolin Concerto in C major RV425
Attilio Ariosti (1666-1729)
Spirate, o iniqui marmi … Voi d’un figlio tanto misero Caio Marzio Coriolano
Giuseppe Maria Orlandini
O del mio caro ben … Già mi sembra al carro avvinto Adelaide

Encore:

Lorca poem in Greek
Delizie e contenti Cavalli

Yes, the “…” are supposed to be not particularly subtle pregnant pauses liberally placed.

And, no, the moniker “German piano” isn’t my invention, because I know nothing about pianos, German or otherwise. I nicked it from Baroque Bird, who actually owns a piano (German?).

I do however know a bit about the – trv kvlt – black metal sound, which I occasionally reference around here, most famously in relation to Roschmann’s “facial” during Non piu di fiori 😉

In this case, it’s what the band’s sound at “shredding time” reminded me of. Those of you not familiar with (the second wave of) black metal should note vintage bm is the most trv kvlt-sounding of all extreme metal genres1. Forget death metal growls, forget industrial’s… industrial sounds; bm’s vision2 is:

  1. get beat up instruments from a decrepit second hand shop
  2. drag them through thickening mud
  3. plug them in (bonus if you get electric shocks on occasion)
  4. shred in unison only
  5. place boombox from 1981 (previously run over by a lorry) about 50m away from the instruments
  6. hit record (hit it like you mean it)
  7. rip out the tape’s ribbon
  8. shred it to pieces
  9. piece it together randomly with used sellotape
  10. shake well until you achieve complete homogenisation of sound
  11. save on your laptop using the lowest sound quality possible
  12. play loudly on said 1981 boombox
  13. = masterpiece!
  14. bonus: take yourself very seriously
  15. ps: don’t believe me?

I (being the kind hearted optimist you know and love) prefer to think this was Petrou’s mission statement, rather than a showcase for the band’s actual skills.

Or I did back in Halle this past June, when I blamed it all on boogie the acoustically challenged venue.

They did come up with a new twist here – perhaps they did it in Halle too, and the acoustics were indeed so echo-y the whole thing bounced off my skull and got lost. This new(?) twist was the czardas-turned last ritornello in La follia, that unfailing old Vivaldi chestnut. Or was it a sirtaki? Now I seem to remember it’s customary to make sure your violin keeps in tune for a czardas

but I’m not a musician, so I can go stick my opinion in a blog or something, right?… all I’m saying is I’ve actually (or literally) had my ears checked recently and they have passed the MOT.

This Summer I listened to more Currentzis than I cared to and to be fair, that

pregnant pause thing

has its merits. But this time I really hurt for some legato with that pregnancy. It should still flow, shouldn’t it? I don’t know if you, dear reader, are familiar with Tracey Emin’s hand drawings, but suffice it to say that drawing skills aren’t prerequisite for becoming a contemporary fine art superstar. Still Tracy Emin surprised us with her humble side a few years back when she suddenly put some effort into honing her inner Picasso. The night’s orchestral accompaniment was the aural equivalent of that when it came to negotiating dynamics (and, often, tune).

dehggi (during the Cavalli encore): ah, so exquisite! Even the violins are more in tu… nevermind, I spoke too soon. But Sabata should sing more of this stuff.

After all, we were all there to hear him. I for one wanted to see him live specifically for his dramatic talents. At one point (right after the intermission?) he walked out with the band. The aria had a very long intro so he stood quietly to the side. All of a sudden he walked decisively towards the centre of the room, but not “hi all, listen to my next aria”, which is how it often feels like in recitals. Or how Antonio Poli walked off stage after a really good rendition of Il mio tesoro in the staged Don Giovanni at ROH :-p 3 No, this was thoroughly in character well before he started singing. And then things got even better because he has a very good technique that serves him up and down the range. And, you know, he‘s in tune.

At first I didn’t quite know what was happening because I barely heard him during the first aria and I lay some heavy blame on his projection or lack thereof. You should be heard from the 11th row at Wiggy. But things improved dramatically during the evening, which caused me to place the blame back on the Tracey Emins. Good on him for not forcing himself to sing over the racket. The second aria was already much better, when he employed some very stylish forays down the middle of his voice and all of a sudden someone on stage had personality. Fancy that.

He’s not the kind of singer who dazzles with endless coloratura (I understand this is the basis of the German Piano metaphor) but he can phrase with the best of them and has an imagination (and skills) to shape the sound, as thadieu would say. Which is why he should sing more of that Early Baroque, I think he has the right feel for it and for making it exciting.

In spite of all this, there were a couple of things from the others that I enjoyed – the metallic wrist-slashing chords from the viola da gamba during Gelido in ogni vena, the jazzy show starter from the double bass4 and the “wave” sound (during the Lorca song) that came out from the gut of the harpsi when Petrou stroked it. Wish the Vivaldijazz was further explored/incorporated and not in that L’aperggiata smooth jazz manner.

… it made for very lively conversation with Baroque Bird, Leander and friends at the interval and afterwards, though we didn’t all agree about everything.

as usual, sorry for any typos/errors, it’s been almost a week and I want to put it out there and my brain is a bit hazy edit-wise today.

  1. and it thus attracts tryhards by the boatload. BM fans tend to be even more humourless than those belcanto fans who think opera died when Callas lost her voice the first time. 
  2. “Just crank the gain, turn up the treble, scoop the mids, and bury the bass. “Metal” distortion pedals can also work well. The old bands did not give a f@ck about good tone.” (from here). 
  3. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that! He just walked away, like ok, aria done, let me get back to my crossword puzzle. 
  4. Yes to jazzy Vivaldi in general, though perhaps not so much to a syncopated tune in particular… but that’s personal taste for you. 

The Great Book of Big Composer Hair

It all started with hair and it veered into writing opera:

Clearly the red scarf was the essential accessory that season!

The contralto counter-offensive

Since last year’s Juditha at the Barbican my appreciation for Andrea Marcon’s way with Vivaldi has escalated dramatically. I was casually going through a bunch of renditions of that badass1 Sorge l’irato nembo when I came across this one:

I really like the interesting way the B section is done here. It’s so smooth.

I wanted to write more on the subject (I love this aria – and all the other Orlando ones), post a couple more renditions but I am deflated from too much irl fuss this month so this is it. It’s a good moment to have Basso in the spotlight, since I don’t think I’ve done so yet. More power to the contraltos and their ferocious set of chompers!


  1. Isn’t Orlando the fount of the greatest Vivaldi arias?! 

Jazzy Sonia Prina (Wigmore Hall, 10 September 2017)

Sonia Prina contralto
Paolo Spadaro Munitto piano

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Voglio di vita uscir
Lamento d’Arianna
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csík BB45b
Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Au pays où se fait la guerre
L’invitation au voyage
Chanson triste
A piece from Feuilles volantes Op. 1
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
7 canciones populares españolas

Interval

Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960)
4 French Folk Songs
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Chanson lithuanienne Op. 74 No. 16
Lamento Op. 74 No. 9
Madrigal Op. 74 No. 12
La jeune fille et le fleuve Op. 74 No. 3
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
The Man I Love
3 Preludes
No. 2 Prelude in C sharp minor
Erroll Garner (1923-1977)
Misty

Encore:

Bella Asteria Tamerlano

Don’t we all want to hear our favourite singers occasionally step out of the same old, same old?

No?

No?

😉

Regardless of what we want, they sometimes do. In this case Prina put on a dress and spent most of the evening crooning. One’s personality comes out well rounded in recitals and so there were still enough fist pumping moments as well as humour (the Bartók songs). Mostly, though, it was an evening that quite naturally lead into Bella Asteria.

Perhaps it was a logical response to unfamiliar sounds (though the songs in themselves were entertaining), but I’ve never heard a more beautiful rendition of Andronico’s serenata. This isn’t an aria that normally makes me purr, plus when she was in London for Ariodante she’d sung it in her BBC interview and I was quite unconvinced. But though she herself admitted she was tired, this time it came out really pretty. Her ppps were on fire all night, as was her phrasing.

The Duparc set seemed to me the most suited to her voice – she did it very low and velvety so now that I heard the songs that way I don’t want to hear them any other way. Her “vocal meandering” in L’invitation au voyage was exquisite.

The least suited was the de Falla stuff, which seemed to me like, in spite of her dramatic involvement, never quite bloomed. I kept thinking it needs ping, but aside from the tartness her voice gets at the very top when she’s loud, there’s no ping in her voice.

Baroque Bird joined me at the show at least in part because I managed to misplace all my Autumn Wiggy tickets and needed a reprint :o! She knows more about music than I do and she gave me some pointers regarding the piano, which is an instrument I don’t quite get (as in, I don’t normally know what I’m supposed to be looking for).

According to her, Spadaro has a particular feel for jazz so the second part came out more naturally to him. I was seated on his side and all I could say was that he was too loud in general. After she mentioned it, I could follow that he tends to finish songs quite abruptly, which on occasion I thought hampered Prina when was going for a dreamy atmosphere. But she likes him and she obviously teamed up with him for that jazzy feel she was after all night.

The jazz stuff sounded very well – Baroque Bird had come especially for that and was so happy with the result she said she’s all for Prina singing/recording more of that – and it got me thinking that Baroque specialists have the advantage of that more relaxed style of singing when it comes to song in general. It never felt like there was a break in styles, the show just flowed very naturally, though Prina did get into the spirit of things (I can tell you she had the right temper and timing for the Bartók stuff).

It left me in a very mellow mood, basking in her pps and tangy frutti di bosco gelato tone and wondering how things would’ve been if she went the jazz route instead.

Happy Tito Day to all Tito lovers!

As the banner says, September is normally Tito Month but since we had a very full August this year I think we’re all taking it easy in September 😉 Nonetheless, (this) September 6 marks the 226th anniversary of Mozart’s Tito premiere in Prague. So I’ll leave you with that silly Sesto and Vitellia dance from Sellars’ production:

I think it’s supposed to be erotic? I don’t quite believe Vitellia is trying to ascertain Sesto isn’t armed and ready to off her instead, though they are performing those weird stabbing movements as well… I guess the little dance gives you the gist of the opera and especially the gist of Sellars’ approach to it.

Why is Trekkie Nerone singing Ottone’s entrance aria?

😀 look at those moves1! What formidable Ottavia can play this space-conquering Ottone?

ps: ever tried having your Ottone duet with himself on this? I accidentally opened two similar windows a few seconds apart and let me tell you = twice the fun.


  1. on second thought, forget Nerone, that’s Space Cesare right there! 

Sealed with a gif

I think Giulia will especially appreciate this 😉 I saw it years ago but it never gets old.

Speaking of opera gifs, it’s not only been Tito August chez dehggi but also gif August. This was one of the very first scenes I wanted to gif:

that sneaky manteau keeps coming back 😉

ps: …since we’re in gif-land and it would be a bit weird to keep making overly silly posts this side of tumblr, also check out the hysterical Musical Notation (with Cats) post.

ps2: how cool is THAT for an animated gif?! Brings me closer to (gif) deities etc.

ps3: haha! Ohttone…!

ps4: Romeo