Belcanto Tito – a bit of update

See post La clemenza di Tito (De Marchi)

What the title says. This morning I found some time to write on a few arias/ensembles from act II. Sorry I’ve written so haltingly about this interesting take on Mozart’s Tito as well as for the blog being very quiet, but February has been busy at the currently relocating casa de dehggi. I really wish I were writing rather than packing my belongings and having to decide on which crap I haven’t used in ages I can/can’t part with!

Let’s look at ROH rumours 2017-2019

tl;dr: barely any Mozart, no Baroque (though some might trickle through nearer to the time) but some tempting things nonetheless. Here‘s your source.

New productions 2017-18

La Vestale (Spontini) La Gheorghiu continues her work to keep the rep traditional
Julia: Angela Gheorghiu

La Boheme (Puccini)
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Production: Richard Jones
Mimi: ? keeping the suspense
Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano
Marcello: Mariusz Kwiecien

The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) – Co-Production with De Nederlandse Opera   
Production: Stefan Herheim I like it, I’ll go

Der Freischutz (Weber) I don’t quite like it but I might go because how often does it come around?
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Production: Kasper Holten
Max: Jonas Kaufmann / Stuart Skelton

Semiramide (Rossini) bring it on! I might go twice
Production: David Alden
Semiramide: Joyce DiDonato
Assur: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Arsace: Daniela Barcellona

Katya Kabanova (Janacek) tempting
Production: Ivo van Hove
Kabanicha: Rosalind Plowright
Katya: Amanda Majeski

Lessons in Love and Violence (George Benjamin, World Premiere)
Director: Katie Mitchell
Stephane Degout
Barbara Hannigan ❤ I’ll take the chance with her
Peter Hoare

Revivals 2017-18

Les Vepres Siciliennes (Verdi) October – November 2017
Rachele Stanisci (Helene), two performances who’s she? I missed the Vepres the last time around, might go this time

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) / Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) Dec 2017
Nedda: Carmen Giannattasio
Silvio: Artur Rucinski
Santuzza: Elina Garanca I’d go for comparison purposes but it’s a bit soon

Tosca (Puccini) January 2018
Caravadossi: Vittorio Grigolo yes, but who is Tosca?

Lucia di Lammermor (Donizetti) November 2017? So soon?!
Lucia: Olga Peretyatko
Raimondo: Michele Pertusi
Edgardo: Juan Diego Flórez he doesn’t want to!

Don Giovanni (Mozart) July 2018
Donna Anna: Chen Reiss
Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik

Andrea Chenier (Giordano) ?2018 never too soon 😉
Andrea Chenier: Jonas Kaufmann

Salome (Strauss) Yay! Hope it’s good.

Peter Grimes (Britten)
Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton
Ellen Orford: Emma Bell

New Productions 2018-19

Königskinder (Humperdinck) 13, 17, 21, 27, December 2018, 1 January 2019
Production: David Bosch
Der Königssohn: Daniel Behle ❤

Fedora (Giordano)
Fedora: Angela Gheorghiu

From the House of the Dead (Janacek) I’ll go
Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski

Through the Looking Glass (Unsuk Chin) World Premiere (?)

Don Pasquale (Donizetti) I really don’t see the appeal of this one
Production: Damiano Michieletto

La Forza Del Destino (Verdi) – 2019 not unless we get Harteros
Conductor: Antonio Pappano

Death in Venice (Britten) I like the story, I might go
Conductor: Mark Elder
Production: David McVicar

Revivals 2018-19

Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Brunnhilde: Nina Stemme should yours truly make an effort?
Siegfried: Stefan Vinke
Siegmund: Stuart Skelton

Carmen November- December 2018
Micaela: Eleonora Buratto

Faust (Gounod) should go this time

The beauty of colour in L’aure che spira

This is a youthfully angry, sharp and to the point aria, in which little Sesto fumes at the mouth against Tolomeo (he doesn’t deserve to breathe (the air)). Whilst re-reading a post of mine (I do that too 😉 ), I had a sudden need to re-listen. A few versions later I was bathed in the multitude of colours it allows.

Let’s start with Stutzmann, because I love her handeling of dynamics both in conducting and in singing. I feel this is a wonderful introduction to this aria, so typical of Handel’s writing of arias of fury (it’s not quite vengeance here; see Svegliatevi nel cuore for that). Also check out her moves at around 0:12:

(One of the iconic little Sesti of our time) Semmingsen with her bright(eyed) mezzo comes next for strong contrast. I’m not so sure about Mortensen’s conducting here; I feel the details are a bit muddled, though in the interest of characterisation – this is a very young Sesto – that might not be a bad idea:

Also a mezzo, but much darker, is Bonitatibus; always a strong Handelian (especially in troubled youth roles), it’s interesting to compare a dark mezzo voice with a true contralto:

And here we have another Jacobs take – a very speedy one – with Ernman at the forefront, unexpectedly catching my ear. This Sesto is a bit older or wilder than usual; if I were Tolomeo I’d keep my hand on the dagger:

When singers make baby Mozart weep; today’s culprit: Dorothea Roschmann

baby-mAh, the youtube comment section! – exerting its powerful pull whenever boredom strikes. I’ve posted earworm‘s video before, along with a rant stating:

I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

But if you check out the mini convo started by the latest comment below the video you will see some people have the exact opposite opinion regarding her singing. It never ceases to amuse me how people can hear the same thing in such radically different ways.

The last classic diva – Adriana Lecouvreur (ROH, 7 February 2017)

If you’re like me and spend most of your opera time with modernised productions of operas written in the 18th century, a traditional (with capital T) performance of an opera like Adriana Lecouvreur always feels like a trip to a very old relative’s house. You might enjoy spending time with said relative, you might even like their quaint taste in the inevitable knick-knacks but it’s still miles away from your life and views.

Though written in 1902, I was hard pressed to see anything 20th century about it. It’s simply old school and it needs singers who have a feel for that kind of thing.

Adriana Lecouvreur: Angela Gheorghiu
Maurizio: Brian Jagde
Abbé de Chazeuil: Krystian Adam
Princesse de Bouillon: Ksenia Dudnikova
Prince de Bouillon: Bálint Szabó
Michonnet: Gerald Finley
Mademoiselle Jouvenot: Vlada Borovko
Mademoiselle Dangeville: Angela Simkin
Poisson: Thomas Atkins
Quinault: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: Daniel Oren | Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Coproduction with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Vienna State Opera, San Francisco Opera and Opéra National de Paris

Luckily for us, Angela Gheorghiu is one of those singers. The only properly old school singers I had seen live were Domingo and Nucci and even they are merely a few years older than my parents. Watching Gheorghiu at work was the closest I came to witnessing a classic diva. Though Fleming is older, she’s got that American knack for updating her image, getting on with times etc. and just blending grand with business casual whereas Gheorghiu seems to have made a conscious effort of sticking with the legendary image of a European diva. You’re never going to pull off shouting – in recit voice – I am Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy! if you haven’t embraced that.

I was fully expecting her to overdo it but she didn’t. She stayed within the schmalzy limits of the libretto/music. In this sense her death scene was the most telling. She couldn’ve snatched a last cry but she went gently. She also didn’t seem intent on outshining her co-stars, more power to her (because she really didn’t need to; Adriana has it all).

(Schmalz: you might think there isn’t anything OTT about Adriana and perhaps you’re right; I just have a very low tolerance for sentimentality; doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have fun trying something like that on stage).

This being the first time I heard La Gheorghiu live (her repertoire isn’t normally up my alley), I was very impressed with her vocally. She’s just this side of 50 and the voice shows no signs of wear and tear. Then again, I guess nobody could accuse her of oversinging. Her attacks are always smooth and measured without feeling emotionless, she can pull a breathtaking pianissimo when she wants, and that part of her range that has made her famous still boasts gorgeously rounded notes, whilst the lower part has matured. Like her stage persona, the voice also has an old school feel to it, like she’s grown up on a steady diet of Tebaldi and never found the need to fix what ain’t broken.

I’m glad she hasn’t. We need all kinds of personalities out there. Sometimes you feel like everybody rushes to be cool and modern. Evenings like this make you stop and consider that it’s not absolutely necessary to do that. Especially if we want to keep operas like this in the repertoire. Having developed a soft spot for Adriana, I would love it if singers could keep the link to this tradition alive, musty as it may feel on occassion. Not everything is about Handel and Mozart (in shorts).

In spite of the traditonal this, traditional that talk, I do think the libretto is one of the better ones out there (subject and character-wise; there were moments when I wasn’t sure who sends whom which letter). Adriana, Michonnet and the Evil Princess are all well done characters. There are worse tenor characters than Maurizio. I like the social angle, as well, though of course if I could sing one role it would be Princess de Bouillon, leftist values be damned. What a villain! But it’s good that Adriana tries, at least, to stand up for herself in the face of unyielding power and privilege.

This is a revival of the 2010 ROH production, the first in 100 years, originally designed for Gheorghiu. There are many things that could be said about La Gheorghiu (that she keeps to a narrow repertoire, for instance) but there’s no doubt that she is very good at what she does. It’s quite obvious she feels at home in this production.

The role is not for the faint of heart or beginners (though Michonnet alludes to Adriana’s young age), as Adriana gets right into the meat of things within a couple of minutes of stepping – appearing, more likely – on stage, with Io son l’umile ancella, which is a less catchy Vissi d’arte but still quite the aria. There is so much to recite as well as sing here that one needs to be well into their career to carry this – for indeed the opera’s success rests on the shoulders of the soprano.

If you also have solid singers in the other roles that’s a bonus, of course. We did. I’m quite the Finley fan and here (as Michonnet) he was not only in very fine vocal form but also touching dramatically. Michonnet is a sweetie but most likely the type of chap destined for the friendzone as most women of Adriana’s temper – the ones he is interested in – crave adventure and danger instead of reliability and quiet loyalty.

Jagde as the heroic dreamboat Maurizio was suitably dashing (though perhaps moreso for those who missed Kaufmann in 2010) and his Italianate tenor cries carried to the rafters without any issue. His voice is very good for that kind of thing and there’s a good deal of artistry there as well, which manifested itself in an ability to alternate dynamics and colour. The chemistry between him and Gheorghiu was believable.

There can’t be a satisfying Adriana Lecouvreur for a mezzo fan without a rumbling Acerba volutta. Yours truly awaited the start of act II with a bated breath and opera glasses at the ready. In good opera tradition, her shadow preceeds the Evil Princess, as her theme (also the opera’s theme) surges ominuously and then drops mysteriously into apparent bubbliness. Then she pulls her veil and we can see who will stand between our kind hearted to a fault (if self absorbed) Melpomene and her happiness.

Cilea really doesn’t do half measures here, the villain has to hold her own against Adriana. I didn’t know Dudnikova but she held my attention all right through the evening. The voice isn’t as metallic as one would expect from a Slavic singer. There is a good deal of velvet along with the dark chest notes and very clear top notes, at least as far as the role requires, and the voice carries very well. She’s also got the looks to rival Gheorghiu’s – Ice Princess vs. Southern European temper.

Their dialogue in the dark and the act III showdown at Bouillon’s party were without a doubt the best parts of the evening, pitting two strong personalities, barbed words and icy glances but also real emotions and hurt. Too bad the reason was so mundane.

As someone with at least some interest in the history of theatre/opera, I can’t say I didn’t appreciate the effort this production put into recreating an 18th century theatre experience within the opera per se (operas about opera/theatre usually rank high with me). We were shown everything – actors’ lives backstage, actors on stage, actors interacting with their public, actors as human beings, dealing with their personal emotions and in the end theatre and life getting jumbled.

As I was saying earlier, my favourite bit of the libretto is the dialogue Adriana and the Evil Princess have in the dark (where neither knows who the other one is) and their showdown in act III, because we can see different aspects of public and private personas. Adriana gets another kind of adulation and respect than the Princess, but it is real adulation and respect nonetheless and it does, even though briefly, win the day.

In conclusion, everybody was very good and La Gheorghiu has still got it. Go watch her in one of her strong pieces, especially if you’re at the younger end of the opera fans’ spectrum and don’t quite know how they did it back then.

I was so taken with the business on stage I can’t say much about the conducting/orchestra other that they didn’t hurt the stage action and there were a few instances with various singers where the interaction between the stage and the pit stood out clearly and in a good way. A standout night in a packed house, all the arias got hearty applause and there was much cheering at curtain call.

Belcanto Tito (De Marchi/Academia Montis Regalis)

I headed over to Spotify to witness how Weigl, Mayr and De Marchi fiddled with Tito. It might not sound like much but it brings up the good ol’ write you own opera! adage. The new arias are in red.

Tito: Carlo Allemano
Vitellia: Nina Bernsteiner
Sesto: Kate Aldrich
Annio: Ann-Beth Solvang
Servilia: Dana Marbach
Publio: Marcell Bakonyi

Conductor: Alessandro De Marchi / Academia Montis Regalis

Overture: very speedy; details are very nicely emphasised by the lean sound but I could do with a more measured tempo

Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!:

Come ti piace imponi: I can see what Anna was saying about the interpolated ornaments… coooome tiiiii piaaaace. Ok, whatever. You know what ornamentation for the sake of it does to a piece – lowers the drama. Also since fa mille affetti is done as in the original we have a sort of stylistic disconnect for no particular reason as per these 21st century ears, at least.

Annio: Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!: we jump back to Sesto and Vitellia’s convo, ended by Vitellia’s verdict I want Tito dead before the sun goes down. I thought the whole point of Come ti piace imponi was to hammer home what she wants from Sesto and what he feels about it. Here Sesto has no time to lament his fate as

Annio barges in: what is the point of screwing with the very clear Mazzola edit? Nice tone for Annio. I actually like Vitellia’s as well. Sesto says his lines theatrically detached – o. virtu. and de nuuuullllaaa. 

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: not bad, I really like Bernsteiner’s tone and it’s nicely performed but I didn’t feel a lot of individuality in the interpretation. There are some early 1800s touches in the trills which you might need to get used to.

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: the BFFs moan about forever together and then launch into a very lyrical rendition of this pretty duettino. It’s the loveliest and most Mozartean thing this far, though I couldn’t quite tell our mezzos apart.

March/Sebate dei custodi: the drumroll was so long I thought it was another Spotify advert (too tame for a rock drum solo). The choir sounds small and thin in the low end but is tight and keeps up with the orchestra. It probably is adequate to the size of the orchestra (which I don’t think is big).

Publio and Annio talk about loot etc.: whoever thought the beginning didn’t make sense as it was thinks this is worth keeping. Publio is potato-mouthed, Tito declames well, Annio is about to pass out from admiration, the choir gives a cheer.

reprise of March with Tito and choir: thankfully no more drumroll. Belcanto alert! Tito’s part isn’t bad at all; it’s like something Argirio would sing in Tancredi. The choir falls over itself with admiration in the middle. LOLZ moment. I like Del piu sublime soglio but I’m ok with this replacement and how the march tune and the choir was woven in. Not a bad idea in this context though I wouldn’t go as far as to say it improves on the original. I don’t know if this is how it was back in 1804 or if De Marchi thought to make it more interactive with all the inserts of the choir and in the end Tito stating that he wants the BFFs to stay behind, but so far this is the best redone bit.

Tito and BFFs: Romantic moaning between Sesto and Tito over the Berenice business. I’ll give myself over to friendship – which to Tito means marrying his BFF’s sister. Quite the gay undercurrent in this heaving bosom moaning. Annio joins in with his own emoting.

Incolpar tu non dovrai: surprise Tito – Sesto duet this early! I thought we’d have this in act II. More gay undercurrent. Tito, if you kiss him now he might not return to Vitellia. It’s belcanto allright and moderately entertaining. Incorporates some of the lyrics of Del piu sublime soglio but the tune isn’t as good. Allemano and Aldrich work well together, though.

Annio : Servilia: the lovebirds moan, slightly more OTT than usual. The continuo is nicely done.

Ah, perdonna: they kept this one, no surprise here. I bet it’s been a hit since day one. You can definitely tell who’s who. Lovely tone Marbach, can’t wait for her S’altro che lagrime. The tempo is right here, quite delicately done. Once we’re back in Mozartland you can see how he’s a few notches above “the improvement” even with a few simple strokes. Best moment so far.

Tito : Publio: segues right in, very jarring after that lovey-dovey moment. Allemano does the Romantic Tito with much aplomb. Servilia is very efficient; just finished with the suave boyfriend and, without missing a beat, she’s ready to talk shop with Tito.

“improved” Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: only not really. The original tune was great so why screw with it? This isn’t better writing by any stretch of imagination, though it was probably very fashionable in its day (reminds me of Paisiello). Also the bassoon is replaced with a reoccurring short oboe tune (also likely a trendy touch for the the first decade of the 1800s), which is nice enough (best part) but sort of too casual for the mood of this improvement.

Generally I have the feeling these additions don’t have the tight focus of Mozart’s pieces (my complaint with Paisiello’s Il barbiere: too verbose for its own good) but I think that was the main issue with those changing trends, until the advent of Rossini (and even in his case…). The upshot is Allemano would be (is already?) really good in the Paisiello/Cimarosa repertoire. He does get lots of deserved applause (applause! none until this bit and they threw me when they barged in).

Servilia : Vitellia : Sesto: Vitellia could be more vicious, Servilia ok (more focus in the recit would’ve strengthened the moment) but the cello continuo features nicely. Later (ancora mi schernisce!) Vitellia is more grand than dramatic, though she too gets a din-din-din-deeeen cello accompaniment that was good in this context. Sesto slumps in sort of lalala – this one isn’t very alert – furious Vitellia jumps on him.

+ pre-Parto argument: the recit is pretty much the one we know and love and it’s rather well acted. Sesto holds his own; questo acciaro nel sen di Tito…! was acted all right but the pause after it seemed a bit too long. Bernsteiner is the better actress. Her Vitellia is impatient and most likely physically pushed Sesto into Parto.

Parto: the intro is played like a death sentence. Someone thought it’d be a good idea to add trills to each of the twin partos. We still have the clarinet line (not fudged with and nice job the player) and the general tune is the same (whew). Trills abundant, added seemingly at random. Listen, I could live with messing with Tito’s arias, but Parto? This is the meat and potatoes of Tito. At least the stretto is the same, coloraura/clarinet and all. If anything, Aldrich is a trooper and does a good job with all this messing around (I’m not a fan of her tone and her dramatic skills aren’t something I’d write home about).

But her coloratura work surprised me with its consistency and fluency, especially if this was live. I wouldn’t have thought she had it in her any longer (I heard her Orsini long ago and I liked it quite a bit but nothing since, especially her Amneris, although the size/thickness of her voice points that way). The public really liked it and I bet you it was all because De Marchi was wise enough to keep the ending as we know and love.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: Bernsteiner is rather lugubrious, though her Cesare…? doesn’t have the dramatic finesse some inflect it with.

Vengo…! Aspetatte…! Sesto…!: her chops/tone/fullness come in handy for this one. She’s exquisite here and her Vengo! shouts have just the amount of hysteria needed. Her top Ds have a gorgeous full ring I must add. The tempo is very good.

Act I finale

Oh, dei…/Deh, conservate…: De Marchi drives this all sharp edges brisk. The music has not been improved. Aldrich isn’t bad; in fact I’d say she does all the right things but somehow I can’t get too enthusiastic no matter what she does. Annio’s entrance isn’t quite as contrasting as it usually is.

The drama cranks up in the string section as soon as Servilia comes in. I think it’s a bit of a tall order to go all Romantic with a Baroque-sized orchestra. But what do I know, the size of the orchestra couldn’t have changed so much between 1791 and 1804? Aldrich all of a sudden pulls out some impressive chest notes for rinserra un traditor. Hey, I liked that! Not many mezzos do it though they definitely should if they can reach down. The choir still sounds too thin for this very dramatic moment. The brass does what it can but the whole still feels a bit deflated.

Act II

TBC tomorrow or later this week sorry, been very busy this month; currently packing up to move house; I only updated this today because I wanted to listen to something whilst construction workers drilled, puffed and played bad pop put up scaffolding 2m away from my window.

What happens up to Se al volto isn’t particularly anything to write home about. The recits veer on the stilted side and Solvang’s voice seems heavy for Torna di Tito a lato.

Se al volto mai ti senti: the trio came out very well, with interesting little touches from the strings and from Vitellia herself, who varied her o dio!s enough to show vulnerability and generally paid clever attention to details. Bernsteiner full tone shone throghout. Aldrich’s Sesto had a couple of surprisingly neat trills. Expressively conducted, De Marchi handled its halting nature with sensitivity via the intelligent use of rubato.

Ah grazie si rendano: nice introspective start, the choir isn’t bad, though perhaps a bit too reined in. Allemano milks his darkish sound in a way I haven’t heard since Kaufmann’s Tito. He sounds gently sorrowful.

Publio : Tito: the cello continuo is a bit annoying (very cutting). Publio is of the potato-mouthed kind, though not a bad actor. Tito continues his belcanto-style declamation which in this context is appropriate.

Tardi s’avvede: tardi s’avvide d’un traditmentu is how Bakonyi puts it. Publio sounds hush-hush (with a second tardi that is very nicely caressed), which is a good idea and I’m surprised we haven’t heard it more often, as the aria is an aside. De Marchi makes it both very bouncy and quiet in mood and resists the temptation to push it farther/bigger than the material allows. It’s nicely contained and Bakonyi does a very good job fitting in.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is eager for the rumours about Sesto to be proven wrong. Annio sounds courageous enough. Publio is one of the more objective ones. Tito is upset but not overboard.

Tu fosti tradito: poor Annio, denied.

Tito’s anguished recit: the strings are cutting and to the point, yet retaining warmth of sound. Allemano is still belcanto, expressively paced and with beautiful diction and nice little pps. It’s a voice you can listen to for quite a while.

Non tradirmi in quest’instante: the oboe has a lot to do in this half-incarnation. It’s of its time but I liked the nice little tune. This gently dolorous aria sounds like a good 19th century pastiche of Mozart. It even has a cabaletta that employs the choir and reminds me a bit of Non più andrai. By now you’d think I’d be expecting the choir and the cabaletta but it’s so unmozartean I’m always thrown. Though it shows how those martial interventions one merely played with in Mozart’s days developed later.

I do enjoy the choir’s interventions and honestly, I’d’ve liked a full belcanto version of Tito (I know there is at least one out there), a bit more than this weird concoction of Mozart and proto-Rossini. This might be a good moment to recommend Mayr’s Ginevra di Scozia (1801), which is his belcanto take on Ariodante (if this Tito whetted anyone’s appetite for old fashioned themes for the early 1800s – Mayr also wrote a Tamerlano, Adriano in Siria, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and a Demetrio – among other classic themes – as well as comedies on contemporary libretti).

Allemano gets a lot of applause and I’m thrown again, as some moments are so quietly received (no coughing either) that I keep forgetting this was live.

Tito : Publio: Non tradirmi turned out quite on the gay side, though perhaps they took the mood differently back then (reminds me of how girlyshly Werther’s letter writing reads in The Sorrows…). Now Tito goes on moaning where’s Sesto? Why is he not coming? which adds to the gayness.

Quello di Tito e il volto: back to Mozart. Juxtaposing the two keeps showing just how exquisite Mozart’s writing is. No matter how much I enjoyed Non tradirmi, this is more complex emotionally. De Marchi keeps it light and brisk and his team of singers is very well drilled. Vocally Aldrich is not bad at all here, though I wouldn’t say she shows a spellbinding personality.

more to come when I have some time

Vivaldi, Darius and the Shroud of Turin

It’s official, thadieu and I have our tickets for the very silly L’incoronazione di Dario at Torino’s Teatro Regio, where we’ll see this badarse cast under Dantone’s (who else? He loves this one) baton:

Dario, che viene incoronato re dei persiani tenore Carlo Allemano
Statira, principessa semplice, primogenita
di Ciro contralto

Sara Mingardo
Argene, sorella minore di Statira contralto Delphine Galou
Niceno, filosofo baritono Riccardo Novaro
Alinda, principessa di Media, amante
di Oronte soprano

Roberta Mameli
Oronte, nobile perfetto, pretendente
di Statira mezzosoprano

Lucia Cirillo
Arpago, pretendente di Statira soprano Veronica Cangemi
Flora, damigella di corte, confidente delle due
principesse contralto

Romina Tomasoni
Ombra di Ciro tenore Cullen Gandy

So we know the contraltos but what of the baritone? He was also in the original recording as well as at Festival de Beaune:

And here’s Sr Novaro singing not Vivaldi but spinning rather well on that horse statue:

Whilst scratching my no so cosmopolitan head regarding things to do in Torino other than watching contraltos and friends, a buddy reminded me of the famous shroud.

Jesus in the shroud, posing suspiciously like a medieval knight would

Why of course! Who wouldn’t want to see that? Except, upon investigation, it turns out that it’s not that often on display. 9/10 times you’re likely to see a copy. Which means you see a copy of a… fantasy. About right for the post truth era 😉 Though we hope all the above musicians show up in old skool real fashion.

The night Karina Gauvin sang just for me (Wigmore Hall, 28 January 2017)

Kidding 😉 but she looked so often in my direction I could’ve been fooled. I rather enjoyed the thought – who wouldn’t want Tornami a vagheggiar directed at them?!

Have you ever noticed how cheerful these Baroque-leaning singers are? Gauvin came out with the “crew” and sat down quietly for most of the first half. Well, aside from the times when she was singing, when the wink was on almost from the getgo.

All Handel programme

Karina Gauvin soprano

Le Concert de la Loge, director: Julien Chauvin violin

Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17
Overture
Da tempeste il legno infranto
Suite in F major ‘Water Music’ HWV348 (excerpts)
Rodelinda HWV19
Ombre, piante, urne funeste
Organ Concerto in B flat major Op. 4 No. 2 HWV290 (excerpts) something heavy on dueting oboes ❤ lots of fun, Mr and Ms Oboe and team
Solomon HWV67
Will the sun forget to streak
Lotario HWV26
Scherza in mar la navicella

The melisma fest that is Da tempeste is an excellent intro by my standards (more is more where coloratura is concerned) but although it fits Gauvin’s strongest bit of the range very well, I noticed some nerves and a bit of caution with volume (I actually though her voice was tiny but eventually she filled in). Also, whilst I’m noting the minuses, her voice is rather cloudy at the bottom end and support fails her on occasion. There’s also that bit about diction, what diction? However, her playful stage presence and the way she handles her strengths make for a very entertaining evening in her company. There are certain (not very high) notes at the top that are simply gorgeous and full.

I didn’t know Scherza in mar la navicella but it was the right choice to end the first half. By the end Gauvin was positively beaming with joy that I couldn’t supress a chuckle. The first time of the night where I made sure to lead the applause.

Never heard Le Concert de la Loge before (well, they just got together in 2015) but they was tight! Very nice job working together, though on occasion the string section had to catch up with Gauvin.

Interval

Alcina HWV34
Tornami a vagegghiar <- as misspelled by Wiggy 😉
Ah, mio cor, schernito sei
Suite in G major ‘Water Music’ HWV350 (excerpts) (not sure about the order of these bits as I wasn’t quite paying attention when the announcer said there had been some changes in the order and placement of the instrumentals (them instrumental bits!))
Concerto Grosso in G major
Rinaldo HWV7
Ah, crudel!
Furie terribili

Encore:
Mio caro bene Rodelinda
Lascia ch’io pianga Giulio Cesare

I hereby nominate this second half start of a recital as the best ever! You might remember I wrote a post in praise of Gauvin’s Tornami a while ago and last night I had the chance to hear it live 😀 This take was somewhat faster and less lyrical – a good tempo as far as I’m concerned.

As already shown in ‘navicella, Gauvin has a strong flirty side to her personality and rocked this favourite of mine (and of many) to levels where I wasn’t so unhappy when it ended as my pulse was racing. I wouldn’t mind keeling over to something like Tornami but not just yet 😉 give me another 2-3 decades and we’ll talk. It was my pleasure to lead the applause – I have now worked it out just when it’s ok to start clapping as soon as an aced aria ends (the cheerful ones, not the dirges where it’s respectful to give a few moments before the surge).

But that wasn’t all! The oboes, especially lead oboe, were fantastic (through the night) in this. I lucked out by sitting on the side of the winds1 so I heard the details even better than usual. The duet voice-oboe was buttah, playful, really on the beat, lovely communication, directly at fault for my palpitations. And what a sweet tone for those true cult oboes! Just superbe.

I can’t end before mentioning the smooth cellist with the funky crushed velvet trousers, slender hands and sexy dark curls (and Baroque bow). Ahem. You can see why I was hyperventilating between Gauvin’s kittenish charm, Mr Oboe and her. I’m sort of glad I couldn’t upgrade even closer to the stage. I was there for the music! (I swear).

Ah, mio cor was intense enough but I’ve already established that I think Gauvin is at her best when things are more lighthearted or downright foaming at the mouth. That would be Furie terribili! which she once again rocked. That’s another fine piece of Handel-writing. Some people would complain that he writes within a very cliched frame but, come on, how spot on is that fuming piece? You get the gist of it even if your Italian is 0. I saw a bit of that overly dramatic (to self parody heights) Vitellia of a couple of years ago in this. She turned around in her electric blue dress and pointed at the crowd. We were all shaking in our boots 😉 or giggling. Speaking of the dress, nice choice of colour for her and also shoulders. And that just fucked hairstyle suits her.

When she returned for the encores she jauntily said she wouldn’t want to leave us on quite that note (people laughed and I shouted that note was very fine, thank you very much. You shouted?! you might ask, but yes, the atmosphere was the relaxed one Baroque singers usually exude and that loosens yours truly’s tongue to alarming levels). We got the soft and playful (there are soft moments in Rodelinda?! Who knew!) and Lascio, which isn’t a favourite but I already got a good chunk of those and she did it lovely.

All in all, an excellent evening in all kinds of ways. I almost went backstage to tell Gauvin and the cellist that I was accepting marriage proposals 😉


  1. shoutout to Baroque Bird who hooked me up with a ticket at the right edge of row W from where I shot up to row I (right aisle) when the lights dimmed 😀 Edge of the row tickets are obviously the way to go when you want the option of upgrading. I thought about upgrading to centre aisle but the best thing about aisle edge seats is direct line of view (no heads! The singer can look into your eyes 😉 ). 

Reality and fiction or Written on Skin (ROH, 23 January 2017)

(photo from theupcoming.co.uk)

Written on Skin had its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012 and ran at ROH in 2013 under the baton of the composer (so we can settle what the composer really wanted in this case). This month it had its first ROH revival, also conducted by Benjamin.

Though I’m not a contemporary opera afficionado I do enjoy keeping abreast at least partially with what’s being written these days. When I first heard it I didn’t like it; not because I found it unlistenable (it’s not); I just didn’t like the vibe. The lack of visuals didn’t help. I wasn’t going to see it this time around either although I really wanted to see Barbara Hannigan live in anything modern and when her date at Wiggy went MIA last Autumn I was at a loss. John suggested this was a good opportunity for just that so I booked a ticket. At £19 what’s one got to lose?

The Protector: Christopher Purves
Agnès: Barbara Hannigan
Angel 1 / The Boy: Iestyn Davies
Angel 2 / Marie: Victoria Simmonds
Angel 3 / John: Mark Padmore
Conductor: George Benjamin | Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
A co-commission and co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Netherlands Opera Amsterdam and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse

I know by now that there are operas you like just by listening to the music, others where you need visuals to spur you on and some yet that you might only appreciate if you get your arse into the designated space for this type of entertainment. This is one of them (for me). I liked the performance/production a lot; I was not bored for a moment but I don’t know that I’d rush to just listen to it again. I would go see it again but not tomorrow.

However I can see why some have really got into it – it’s got a lot going for it – especially the libretto, with its very compact/concise style, which somehow mixes a lot of poetry in and because of this interesting combo it’s actually rather difficult to discuss. Characters speak as themselves as well as the narrator, modernity and old skool attitudes alternate when you least expect it, as if past and present are running at the same time whilst people live and watch themselves do the act of living.

It is good to see women taking control of their lives in opera, even when the only control they can have is over their own death. Or maybe I’m a miser here, Agnes did have her fun before that. I also liked that she didn’t want to live a lie.

The production, with its interesting mix of modern and ancient, which in this case is as according to the libretto, fits the mood of the work perfectly. (When I was at uni I used to work in the library, where I got to see how books are mended/made. As a result I developed a slight fascination with the process so I was very pleased to see it play an important role in this production.)

I like stage designs that compartimentalise the space because those compartments speak for themselves. Here we had the house where the couple lives (ancient) and the space where the book about them is being written (modern), plus “the woods”, which in some ways is the space where wild things brew.

This is an opera that heavily relies on acting – voice (in many ways it’s an ode to the written/spoken word) and movement alike. The high quality of the production relied on the choice of performers, some of whom have created the roles1. Right off the bat Benjamin’s writing for the voice reminded me of lieder. I bet you this cast is worth hearing in recital as well. It was gripping word drama. Hannigan had the most intense role – a woman awakening to herself – and her highly charismatic stage presence was captivating even in this half-ethereal role but the men + Simmonds (reprising her 2013 ROH role) were all in high form as well.

With a libretto so strongly focused on words, you notice things like diction and pitch and Hannigan’s were both impressive. Agnes, who is quiet and meek (and illiterate) to begin with but very soon blossoms, emboldened by desire – desire to know the world both physically and intellectually – is a refreshing female role.

Davies as The Boy was in very fine voice and he had no problems making himself heard in the amphitheatre over the slender accompaniment, which makes me think ROH can accomodate Baroque/voice all right. The Boy is another interesting role, as he entirely supportive of Agnes on her journey to personhood, as opposed to The Protector (the husband), who’s basically a backwoods bigot, the type who wants his woman barefoot in the kitchen.

He does commission the book The Boy writes/draws about their righteous life (bigots are usually righteous), which I guess means he’s interested in leaving a very good (albeit hypocritical) impression about himself to the rest of the world. So The Boy is somewhere between personal PR and investigative journalist, as he ends up digging the truth about the so-called righteous couple as is promptly assassinated. Purves as the villainous husband had just the right edge and the appealing lied-narration style fit his voice as well as his temper real well.

The performance ran for ~135min without an interval, save for a couple of breaks for scenery change, which the audience used to expel all the pentup coughing (an impressive amount, considering there were no extraneous noises during the performance; in fact the domino effect of dumping air via the mouth likely caused hilarity among the public). I often praise other houses for their atmosphere, but these breaks gave me the opportunity to remember just how enjoyable the ROH auditorium is as well. I do take it for granted and with good reason: it felt like an extension of my personal space.


  1. Purves and Hannigan. 

2017 ROH Spring Season now on General Sale

roh tunnel

(Accidents happen or don’t buy opera tickets when very tired/distracted)

I set my alarm for 8am this morning then when the intro to ‘giardiniera started I kicked it and went back to sleep which tells you this ROH Spring brings slim pickings for me.

But when I returned from work I decided to scavenge for anything cheap for The Exterminating Angel (I don’t like didn’t like Bunuel when I was 19, but based on my very positive experience with Written on Skin I thought I’d try another comtemporary opera) and L’elisir d’amore because of secret soprano crush Kurzak (here with hubby Alagna)… and then I accidentally ended up with Yende and Villazon (they were team A but perhaps unsurprisingly team B sold faster). Now I was curious about Yende anyway but oh dear god, Villazon. Come on, Sr V, prove me wrong 😛