Ann Hallenberg superlative in Gluck and Mozart (Wigmore Hall, 23 May 2016)

It isn’t often that a highly anticipated performance actually surpasses expectations. There were some hints along the way that this would at the very least be a highly enjoyable evening:

  1. Ann Hallenberg for 18th century repertoire mezzo lovers (check out this very positive and timely review of her recent performance in Zingarelli’s Giulietta e Romeo in Salzburg)
  2. last month’s truly outstanding Il Vologeso with Ian Page and Classical Opera
  3. exquisite Gluck and Mozart selections

click for the non-squinting version

I met Leander (read her take on it) and Baroque Bird before the show and I hyped Hallenberg up so much to them a sensible person should have feared she couldn’t possibly live up to it. Come the interval Leander said she was ready to buy everything Hallenberg has ever been in 😀 I reminded them that tickets are out for Juditha triumphans (2 November, Barbican), which is our next chance to catch Hallenberg in London.

Before I launch into much fawning over the setlist, let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to hear Classical Opera again. For a 20 piece combo they really make a lot of noise and it’s the right kind of noise too. Much like in last month’s Il Vologeso, I enjoyed the tightness of the ensemble and the aplomb, which came out most excitingly during Kraus. Thank you Ian Page and all for bringing this dashing piece to my and others’ attention. The oboe did an great job all night, spot on, great dialogue with Hallenberg in the arias and sweet tone if I’ve ever heard one. Also points to the horn (also very nice tone and timely in its interventions) and the harpsichord (bouncy, lots of fun) from me.

Though I’m not particularly familiar with Gluck beyond his reform operas, I have generally liked what I heard and I usually like opera from the Classical period, so things were looking good for the first half of the recital. But what made this performance unmissable for me was the Mozart side, with 3 of my top favourite arias of his, none of which, as it happens, I had so far heard in recital setting before.

Those who read this blog remember I had the chance to hear Il tenero momento only last month in Vienna, very enjoyably sung by Franco Fagioli, in Theater an der Wien’s semi-staged Lucio Silla. There are pros and cons for hearing a favourite aria within the context of its opera: the main pro (especially if things are well conducted/sung/recited up to there) is the added emotional build-up to make it particularly swoon-worthy. The con is that the singer is constricted by the whole and can’t very well show off their mad skillz 😉 A con specific to this aria is that Il tenero momento is Cecilio’s entrance aria and it happens within the first ~20min of a 3 hour-long opera, so it’s anti-climaticly placed if you’re particularly fond of it. It’s like, well, what now? In the context of a recital it can take centre place and the singer can go to town a bit. In our case, Hallenberg added an unaccompanied cadenza and it ended up in lots of applause and hoots. This is a fiendishly difficult aria but she dispatched the coloratura with customary accuracy and effortlessness. I did indeed believe Cecilio was deliriously happy.

That was all very nice and well but the biggest draw for me was another entrance aria, this one arriving within a whooping first ~10min of its opera. I’m talking about Ramiro’s Se l’augellin sen fugge from La finta giardiniera (yes, don’t remind me I scoffed at it and completely ignored the whole thing when Glyndebourne mounted it last year). La finta giardiniera is, for those unfamiliar with it, not exactly the kind of opera one would spend much time analysing. Namely, the libretto is buffa-light peppered with domestic violence; in confectionery terms it’s a trifle (with a spoonful of strychnine). If you’re really blunt it’s moronic 😉

However, it’s got one of those irresistibly perky Mozart overtures and some really neat buffa arias/ensembles. Sort of like really good summer sorbet. But we’re talking about the composer of complex comedies (dramedies?) like Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni and perhaps Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (it’s complex all right but perhaps not quite for the best 😉 ) so this one can hardly compete when it’s just light fare (albeit really well done) of the kind Cimarosa and the like were churning out every other month.

I really like Se l’augellin sen fugge because it’s one of the (musically) cutest things I’ve ever heard and, as most cat owners, I have a bit of a thing for anything cute. Mozart had a light/giddy side that allowed him to make complete nonsense irresistible. So in preparation I’ve been listening to quite a bit of ‘giardiniera. Yes, in preparation to hearing just this one aria I’ve listened to a few versions of the entire 3 hour opera. In my defense, I’ve had an unusually convincing introduction to this opera (thanks to Anik), the likes of which one can but wish to have the good luck to stumble upon, especially when coming to random, lesser known operas. Suffice to say I was won over before even hearing a single note 😀 and then I heard Se l’augellin and it was game over, no more snide remarks from me (well, other than about the libretto…).

Anyway, there are several versions out there, none of which is absolutely spot on. The most fun production is the Salzburg one conducted by Ivor Bolton, which happens in the Garden Section of a B&Q/Home Depot type shop. All you need to know is that there are giant cacti, a flesh eating plant and the main soprano has a topiary plant/plastic bag hairdo. Adriana Kucerova in the secondary role of Serpetta steals the show as far as I’m concerned.

The most excitingly conducted Se l’augellin comes from Harnoncourt (to me the best champion of lesser known Mozart, a subject on which I should expand elsewhere) who gets just the fleeting nature of the little bird, hopping from here to there. Once you hear it you will find it very hard to return to other versions, who don’t manage the jerkiness of rubato anywhere near as effectively. Ramiro is sung there by Monica Bacelli, who has always been a very solid singer in this repertoire. However I feel the aria needs more hunour (yea, Ramiro is quite a stiff character but you can play him with a bit of winky detachment). Vocally my favourite version has been Marie-Claude Chappuis‘ (because I think a brighter voice works better with it) but I found the conducting a bit bland or conventional-Mozart. On the other hand, she might need a bit more stiffness. Tough customer, I know.

I’m very happy to report Hallenberg has just the voice for this, tinsy bit of stiffness included when needed. She got the humour right from the start, in the flat out silly way she said sen fugge and conveyed it with her general attitude. She also has the cheerful, unselfconscious personality to pull off arias about hopping little birds. Ian Page’s Classical Opera was consistently bouncy, if perhaps a bit speedier than I’d have gone for. But, really, I’m saying that as someone who has already devoted 5 paragraphs to this little aria. It was excellent, I had a big grin on throughout 🙂

All this before we even got to Deh, per questo instante solo. Haha. Dear reader, I must not be going to enough Mozart-centred mezzo recitals if this is the first time I’ve heard it outside its own opera. What can I say? Half way through I contemplated the very good idea of seeing Hallenberg as Sesto. I would like that. Her voice works surprisingly well with it for those of us more familiar with her as Baroque singer par excellence. She has made (more or less successful) forays into later repertoire and it seems she’s right after all (I was put off by her Isabella but her Arsace (with a smaller/HIP orchestra? better recording?) was almost a revelation – at least in that Rossini isn’t necessary hopeless for her). Of course we’re talking about Wigmore Hall not about ROH and about a 20 piece orchestra but I’d still think somewhere like Glyndebourne (or Theater an der Wien) would work very well.

Wishful thinking (?) aside, she’s the kind of consumate performer to bring the drama out. You can – and I have heard it done quite often – sing this as the beautiful, wistful rondo it is. Or you can really go for the different moods: nostalgia, regret, embarrassment, ambivalence, heroism. She made it all vivid and moving without sacrificing the Mozartness of it all. In the end, everybody – performers and audience – looked happy and we all went home satisfied (or so I hope). The atmosphere was particularly congenial.

The Gluck side. My favourite bits were O del mio dolce ardor (Paride ed Elena), where Hallenberg had the chance to wow us with some moving ppps. This is the kind of thing you want to hear, brilliant technique as tool for conveying emotion. The ability to end a note firmly yet naturally-sounding (no hard landing) seems to be particular to flexible voices; it’s very enjoyable. The other one I specifically liked was the closer, Misera, dove son… ah, non son io (Ezio), where the pathos was so compelling I kept catching my breath along with the character and as a consequence I ended up feeling a bit sick by the end. It’s certainly one of Gluck top arias, listen to it and maybe enjoy getting a tad unwell, too 😉

This was without a doubt one of the best recitals I’ve ever had the pleasure and good luck to attend. Several times during the night I felt relaxed as if bathed in a sort of primordial soup of musical goodness.


About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on May 24, 2016, in classical period, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, mozart, wigmore hall and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. jealous

    you didn’t follow her into the green room to ask if she might be singing Sesto or Cecilio?
    Cat was also there but i guess you gals didn’t meet up..

    • Oh, she was? Glad to hear that, it was such a lovely show! I also upgraded like 8 rows for the Mozart side 😀 I had a ticket in the last row again, though I could hear well, I wanted to be a bit closer.

      I was very tempted to go in the Green Room! I would’ve been all over her 😀 OMG, OMG, you’re awesome!

      • self-upgrade is a very satisfactory system!
        So, Ian Page and his band, the thing to look for! it’s great she sings with them! Next time don’t debate, just follow the green room lead!
        Any sniffing in the room during Deh per questo.. ?

        • you should’ve seen me counting rows during the instrumental so as to plan my next move 😀 I had a nice “headless corridor” in front of me, too.

          I’m actually quite shy! (green room)

          no sniffing this time, I was too cheerful and grinning ear to ear.

          • i was lurking on your site for this post 😉
            but now let me go lurking on Cat’s site to see if i can sniff out A.Hallenberg’s schedule for next season.. you can’t say i didn’t try!
            (oh yes, her Vagaus in Juditha, a MUST!! next Feb or Mar in NY…)

        • Also, yes, Ian Page and Classical Opera have really impressed me this season.

    • Dear dehggial

      Ann usually doesn’t read reviews but she did read your review and she is absolutely blown away by your knowledge and kindness – on her behalf: thank you ever so much!

      It was her first collaboration with Ian/Classical Opera and she absolutely LOVED it. Hopefully there will be many more occasions.

      Let me know if you want her upcoming schedule.

      Btw, Ann is the sweetest and kindest person ever and make sure to visit her in the green room next time. Let me know if you need assistance to arrange it.


      • Dear Berger,

        I am honoured to hear this! the post is a small tribute to how much I have been admiring Ann’s work and to how much joy she brings the audience 🙂

        I would indeed like her schedule if it’s convenient to you. I can be reached either here or at dehggial at gmail

        In regards to visiting her, I wonder if the Barbican green room is too much of a bother? The last time I was in the vicinity it appeared to be a bit too formal. In any case, when she returns to Wigmore Hall I will make sure to visit 🙂

        Thanks again and please thank her for me for her kind words!

  2. What a nice review! I adore Ann Hallenberg; I was actually in Salzburg for Giulietta e Romeo and she was definitely the best in that production (Here is my review: )

    She is really amazing, and I absolutely agree with you: she is a fantastic Haendel singer, but she does amazingly well in the music from the Classical period. I never heard her in Mozart, but I would love to! She would be an amazing Sesto, in my opinion, but I defer to yours, when it comes to Tito 🙂

    • thank you for the review, I somehow missed it! I have been so focused on her Baroque persona that I had simply did not think of her in much else. But this outing has convinced me that her talent transcends that repertoire. It is just a matter of hall size from here on (I’ve only heard her live in Wigmore Hall recitals so far, which is another reason I am curious about how she will cope at the Barbican). She’s also experienced enough at her age that she could probably do well in most of her enterprises if she doesn’t misjudge the sheer size of her voice, which is on the small side.

      but, yes, I think her Sesto would be better than those recently appointed.

  3. I want to draw hearts around your review – thank you for taking the time!
    Also, daaaamn, somebody actually put in the Zingarelli, and with her in the cast! Must prowl along the bootleg joints…

  4. i came here for a question.. i forgot now, as i spent the last 20min basking in this again…

    ohh, ja, actually, my question was regarding her Isabella, but now i changed my mind: we should lobby Glyndebourne to cast AH as Sesto!!! (or we need a staging at TADW.. no Currentzis please, and no CT, thank you..)

    • I’m all for it either way. I’d love to see Tito at TADW, two loves together (three – with her). I think Currentzis can now move on to the next Mozart opera. I’m wondering what instrumentals he can attach to Idomeneo 😉

      • since we’re talking casting.. let’s see. we’ll take A.Coote as Vitellia? that’d be super interesting as a couple 😉 . Actually, would be a SUPERB couple given their phrasings you know, they can twist each other.. It seems everyone is talking about Jeanine de Bique now? I’d like to hear her too! so that’s Annio. I must admit i have never quite care for Sevilla! and then we get R.Croft of course ;-). and i’d like to hear Willard White once in my life live.. Conductor? Has E.Haïm taken up on Tito yet?

        • It’s definitely an interesting idea having them both. Would need a conductor with attention for detail (is Haim that one?). I’m fine with all the rest.

  1. Pingback: Che Puro Ciel: Ann Hallenberg – The Idle Woman

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