Barock’n’roll from fearless Sonia Prina (Wigmore Hall, 28 June 2016)

We love some singers because they are full of emotion. We love others because they dazzle us with their skills. We love Sonia Prina because of her magnetic personality.

The moment she stepped on stage, unapalogetically rock’n’roll (blue spiky hair, tank top and trousers with spangly belt), all eyes were on her. And that’s where they stayed for the rest of the night, along with warmer and warmer ovations. The woman is one of those physical singers who, if nothing else, embodies the energy of the music, be it sorrow, gentleness or triumph. It is, of course, triumph that fits her positive, impish personality best. It’s always great to see a short person command the stage 😉

Sonia Prina and laBarocca | Works by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)

— Sinfonia Le cinesi – very lightly done; I noticed that both kinds of bows were used – the first violin as well as another one and the double bass used the old school ones, everyone else had the usual type; sadly I can’t tell you more as I haven’t noticed this before (I’m sure it was just me) so I have nothing to compare it to or know anything on the subject…
Dal suo gentil sembiante Demetrio – Prina started with a soft, tender aria that showcased the many moods she commands and her skill at gracefully transitioning between them
M’opprime m’affana La Sofonisba – she brought forward her very strong low notes – clear, of satisfyingly dense texture and healthy; fury came through, her dynamic stage presence adding to the gravitas
— Sinfonia Ipermestra – the harpsichord as driving force felt istelf present here specifically and throughout in general; the horn had a very fine tone
Nobil onda La Sofonisba – here Prina showed off her ample emotional range, with an emphasis on nobility of spirit
Se in campo armato La Sofonisba – as the title implies, this is a bombastic bravura aria with horns; Prina put all of herself into it (major “stew stirring” arm movements 😉 ), showed spot-on timing throughout and ended with a towering (though not ear-splitting, thank you contralto texture) ff. As I was saying to Leander (read her take on it), this is how you do a trouser role (even though Sofonisba isn’t a trouser role 😀 but you catch my drift – the authority poured off her)


— Sinfonia La Semiramide riconosciuta – the horn and the winds return; all well integrated
Sperai vicino il lido Demofoonte – she was fearless and spontaneous here, though I felt iffy about her cadenza
Se tu vedessi come vegg’io Ippollito – this was a moment where it was obvious that Prina “stepped” into it well before her part started; she didn’t break the mood in between the verses either
— Ballabili (Dances) Orfeo ed Euridice
Tradita, sprezzata La Semiramide riconosciuta – the low strings created an excellent angsty mood; Prina vividly sustained and was on top of the very strong contrasts; it made me think she’d rock Monteverdi where this matters way more than agility
Se fedele mi brama il regnate Ezio – this one was all about colour and fun with dynamics in general

Encore: ? – whatever it was (she named it but as usual I didn’t get it…), it was suitably grand. Prina dueted very handsomely with the horn (see my comments on that below).

Sonia Prina’s voice is one I instantly liked. It’s unmistakable, as is her manner of singing. More than that, it really works with the whole: her strong stage presence finds perfect reflection in its top to bottom opacity mixed with lighteness. That’s the thing, I think. It’s very opaque, without being particularly dark, but light in weight (though “punchy”, not agile). She can, when she wants, brighten it for effect, and then it gets surprsingly gentle, almost vulnerable, but generally speaking it’s compact and direct. It goes very well with the sound of the horn. It’s regal and extroverted.

Recently I’ve started to listen to more (pre reform) Gluck and I’m liking it better and better. Among other things his La clemenza di Tito is surprisingly (or not?) fetching. More on that in an upcoming post.

This particular selection has afforded Prina the opportunity to show off her considerable emotional range. She’s given us everything from tender gentleness (some disarming diminuendos) to unmovable authority (courtesy of her rock solid – and very sexy – chest notes) – sometimes within a span of seconds, conducted with amazing self assurance. If her coloratura is rather curiously deployed – and, some would say, fired with more aplomb than accuracy – and her ornaments seem so spontaneous that they misfire on occasion, she can build and sustain the mood of an arioso with a coherence and an authority I don’t see very often.

One of the things I remember from watching that Thomas Hampson masterclass was his insistence that the singer should get into the mood and rhythm of the aria before their part starts. Prina definitely does that. She’s riding that mood, whichever it is, whether she’s singing or not. She’s the kind of singer who pays attention to her surroundings (the orchestra), and so her singing feels very oraganic. It’s not for people who go for rigour and cleanliness, but she knows rhythm, has impecable timing, knows how to colour her phrases and make them interesting and isn’t afraid to use her body to illustrate the music. Isn’t afraid to be herself, in fact. She might not be technically the best but she’s one of the most interesting, unique and infectiously positive singers on the scene today. She’s not fussy or self conscious; she sings, she has a good time – seemingly even when the aria is about heartbreak or scorn. We’ve got 6 months until the next Wigmore Hall installment 😀

Random debate with Team London: Bach or Vivaldi?

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on June 29, 2016, in baroque, classical period, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, wigmore hall and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I love Sonia Prina! I heard her as Polinesso in Ariodante in Amsterdam, and she was wonderful. I’m planning see her in Rodelinda in Madrid (as Eduige). I’m so glad you liked her!

  2. As I have said before, I don’t usually comment on blogs ever, but you’ve set me off. BACH. END OF STORY. NO CORRESPONDENCE ENTERED INTO. BACH. And JS, to be abundantly clear, not JC (whatever The Idle Woman might say) or any of JS’ other issues. BACH. screams silently in frustration

    • ehehehe! He left us many issues to choose from 😉 cheers for delurking!

      • Ah, she’s in denial. Just let her scream it out and she’ll come round to truth and justice in the end. Vivaldi. The guy was a legend. Bach couldn’t have written a storm aria if you had Metastasio sitting next to him nudging him and giving him hints. Now, his son J.C. on the other hand was a bit of a bright spark 😉 Sits back and watches the spluttering with some satisfaction

        It’s true what she says about blogs, Dehgg. I’ve only managed to get her to comment on one of my posts, and that was by mistake…

        • You hit the nail on the head: JS Bach is great and all but writing for the voice is something I don’t think he quite mastered on par with the Italians and Handel.

      • I should add that when someone feels the need to resort to writing in capital letters, they know their case doesn’t really hold water. grins and hides

      • Did Mozart ever say of Vivaldi, “Now there is music from which a man can learn something”? (I dare you to say on this blog that Mozart had no taste.) Was he ever described by Beethoven as, “the immortal god of harmony”? Did he ever gain the adoration of such other luminaries as Brahms, Schumann, or Mendelssohn? Did Vivaldi ever get into a sword fight with a bassoonist? Did Vivaldi write anything that even remotely comes close to the Goldberg Variations, or die Kunst der Fuge? Was he born in that wonderful year, 1685? Does he ever appear in lists of great composers with surnames beginning with the same letter (eg the 3 Bs, the 3 Hs)? Can Vivaldi spell his name using the keyboard? Do people make pilgrimages to his house and make their friends take photos of them with his statue?

        No no no no no. No.

        You don’t need storm arias when you have the Goldbergs. Or the Brandenburgs.

        All I can say is that JC can attribute his success to good genes and an excellent musical upbringing. Both courtesy of JS. And his mother too. Mama Bach had excellent taste in music. And JS had excellent taste in women. JC couldn’t help but succeed with that sort of pedigree. It would be like a fish not being able to swim.

        And even Bach thought Vivaldi could do with some improving – he arranged/transcribed quite a bit of his work (“Mmm, the tune’s alright but let me make it into a proper piece of music”).

        Really, the only thing Vivaldi has going for him is his red hair.

        I rest my case. screams more

        PS I did deliberately comment on The Idle Woman’s blog once, when she posted the full Artaserse graphic novel. Like I said, I bring the tone down somewhat (NB, me, not Bach and all things related to him)… Dehgg, you’ve done well to bait me into commenting with just a few words 🙂

        PPS And before you say anything, yes, I know I am going to an almost completely Vivaldi recital on Saturday. But I’m not going for him.

        • rubs hands in glee

          it was worth just for getting such a long and passionate reply! I’m not even going to try arguing, except one point:

          Do people make pilgrimages to his house and make their friends take photos of them with his statue?

          I am tempted to go and invite you along now! 😀

      • And Vivaldi definitely is not a 5 star rated plush toy. No one bothered to make one of him.

        What more proof do you need than this?!

      • Baroque Bird

        Someone has no reply…

        Vivaldihaus doesn’t exist, I don’t think. (Or should that be Casa Vivaldi?)

        • Well, in hindsight I could comment that all your examples, great as they were, did not point to one great vocal piece from JS 😉

          One could say that Venice in general is Casa Vivaldi.

      • Baroque Bird

        I wasn’t referring to you… 😉

        JS was concentrating on exploring all the possibilities of keyboard and ensemble music, that’s why, and such was his genius that when he died he still had much to do in that field 😉 His cantatas are lovely – I once sang BWV 78 and it remains one of the longest passages of German I know (actually, the only one that’s longer than 5 words). On a completely non-scientific survey of Christian feast day musical offerings, I’d say that JS and Handel feature a lot more in concerts and recitals, not only in the UK but on the continent as well. Vivaldi, for whatever reason, doesn’t feature that much (and perhaps not for the reasons that I’ve expounded previously).

        But if you do make a Vivaldi peluche, let me know! Am rather fond of plush toys… See you soon!

  3. Great review, thank you (thadieu pointed it out to me)! I so envy you for that life experience and completely agree with your descriptions of her voice (although I think she can also be quite agile in her coloratura when needed).
    Her Polinesso in THAT Ariodante (with JDD) next year will be my first opportunity to hear her life and I’m so excited about it already.

    Btw. on the discussion on Vivaldi versus Bach I second Baroque bird, but then, I’m German and constantly have to sing Bach in choir, so I kind of have no other choice (no, he is honestly that great!).

    • ah great, you found the post (and i hope you also checked out The Idle Woman’s review as well.. and i also hope you ran across Dehggi’s and TIW’s reviews on A.Hallenberg’s recital too..) .

      After Dehggi and I had a chance to see Ariodante live by a local cast in London I gained some perspective for Polinesso and really enjoyed SP’s take on the character.. talk about creepy! (the character that is.. quite different also than SMingardo’s take along with her gloves and goatie, which i’ve been meaning to make a gif of..)

    • you’re very welcome and thank you. My impression of Bach’s vocal writing my be overly influenced by the Mattaeus Passion I saw live last year. I’m more than willing to give him extra chances. That joke was more to goad Baroque Bird into posting 😉

      I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun seeing Ariodante with that cast at TADW (if that’s where you’re seeing it). Maybe one year we can all see something together at Wigmore Hall 🙂

      • Wigmore Hall, yes, I’d love that! It’s been 10 years since I lived in London for a while and I still miss it incredibly (and ROH, and ENO and the Barbican and the museums and my favourite pubs…).
        Prina’s Polinesso in Aix/Amsterdam is really quite something, but impressive nevertheless, do post that gif of Mingardo, thadieu, for comparison.

        On Bach, I agree that he probably didn’t have his main focus on the human voice, unlike i.e. Handel (hope I’m not stepping into a musicological minefield here), but just listen to the clip Baroque Bird posted (I was very glad to find that, it is a marvellous duet and I had forgotten which cantata it is in, and didn’t have the time to search all 200).

  1. Pingback: Arias by Gluck: Sonia Prina – The Idle Woman

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