The miraculously uplifting world of Patricia Petibon (Wigmore Hall, 18 March 2017)

If you ever got a chuckle reading this blog I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and book a ticket to a Petibon recital. There’s nothing quite like it. You might come out of it and find the world brutal and monochrome but you will also have something surprisingly sturdy to hang on to when things do indeed get ugly.

I normally put up the setlist1 after the first couple of paragraphs but this time I can say what she sang was secondary. Not that I didn’t like the programme – on the contrary, I liked everything, because this was a Petibon takes over your senses kind of recital. Yes, everything, props (lots of them) and dresses included (her dress style is superb). This is a recital about which I would not change a thing – also because I don’t think my creativity is extensive enough for that task 😉

You should know that I’ve long harboured the opinion that she is the most beautiful woman in opera the world. It’s not about some fantastically perfect features (delicate bones + a large mouth can be hard to pull off), it’s the way everything is lit from within, and of course, the mischievous smile.

Part of the reason I insisted on booking a ticket to the recital was because I wanted to verify via those unsuspecting senses that there are indeed women who look like that in the 21st century. To me she doesn’t look like someone who uses Facebook and Uber (though burping and taking a poo are well within the realm of possibility). She looks like The Lady of the Lake or the French version of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. Now that I have seen her rock a deep green cape I am convinced she should star as the seductive queen in the opera version of Guingamor (my secret opera project 😉 though perhaps it should only be a lyrical scene, because part II is roughly similar to Alcina).

You may think enough with this puppy eyed worshipfest of her looks, tell us about the singing, but what someone who hasn’t seen her live may need to know is that her body is integral to her singing. Since I’m still in the realm of web art, her stage persona reminds me of this classic gif:

  • it moves graciously (she never stops), it’s happy and zany and nobody can quite say what it is (it’s supposed to be a unicorn llama (of course) but to me it looks like the most cheerful progeny of a dinosaur and a giraffe). Also, it’s green.

This recital is the perfect example of what I was saying earlier about how European opera singers do it vs the American ones. Does Petibon have a good tecknique? Yes, she does, but we learn that within the space of the first few songs, after which she – nonverbally – said now that we’ve established that, let’s have some fun.

She also has a sizeable voice for her gossamer floated notes2 to project all the way to the back without ever dissipating en route, even when she sings piano (usually). This ability to float is my favourite technical trick of hers, also because it fits her onstage persona so well. When you see her so delicate and pink you do expect her to sing like that. But of course she doesn’t just do the angelic thing – if it is indeed angelic. I would say she’s far too sophisticated for that. It’s medieval lore rather (mists and distant battles) than Disney in spirit.

buddy looks suspiciously like my old boss…

Not that her persona cannot incorporate Disney 😀 and how! – irreverent Disney. We were treated to a complete scene of Snow White choking on the apple and then making out with her Prince garden gnome. For Busy Line she unwrapped a (very long) phone cord/washing line and proceeded to hang some clothes on it and had the audience help hold it.

I think what holds everything together is her palpable sense of line. It’s the fine art kind – if you’ve ever spent some time drawing you’ll immediately feel it. Some singers sing like instrumentalists and some singers paint with words. She draws with sound3, sometimes she even sculpts the music, with sharp curves and contrasts of weight and tint. It’s more 3D/physical than usual from a singer. Yet it’s almost always very soft and light, like an ink drawing or a cottonwool sculpture – at least in this programme. There were certain chord progressions and moods (the Iberian medieval and the kitsch parody) that reoccurred through the night, so one can imagine they are things she feels close to, at least at the moment.

She encored with a song (I didn’t know and she’s soft spoken) from the perspective of someone getting their life energy from a tree. I thought to myself how else could you finish whilst wearing a green corset? Then she thanked us for being alive with her tonight which promptly made me cry, though I’m not sure quite why other than it just fit the whole evening so well.

Points to Susan Manoff (piano) for being the buffer to that unique persona, she really held her own both musically (softness and contrast and general liveliness) and in personality (the sensible one).

Go see her/them, the world will appear a better place afterwards.


  1.  Samuel Barber (1910-1981) Sure on this Shining Night Op. 13 No. 3 | Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Greensleeves | Nicolas Bacri (b.1961) “Melodías de la melancolía Op. 119b” A la mar | Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) “7 canciones populares españolas” El paño moruno | Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) Canción del grumete | Fernando J Obradors (1897-1945) “El vito” Chiquitita la novia | Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Nesta Rua | Frank Bridge (1879-1941)  Winter Pastoral H168 | Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) “Banalités” Sanglots | Henri Collet (1885-1951)  Seguidilla Op. 75 No. 2 | Murray Semos/Frank Stanton Busy Line | Francisco Paulo Mignone (1897-1986) Dona Janaina Interval Henri Collet “Los Amantes de Galicia” Camiña don Sancho | Enrique Granados (1867-1916) “12 Tonadillas en un estilo antiguo” El mirar de la maja | Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) “Poema en forma de canciones Op. 19” Cantares | Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) La rosa y el sauce |  Agustín Lara (1897-1970)  Granada | Frank Churchill (1901-1942) Someday my prince will come (arr. Didier Lockwood) | Francis Poulenc Novelette sur un thème de Manuel de Falla | Norbert Glanzberg (1910-2001) Padam Padam (arr. Dimitri Naïditch) 
  2. Is this a French thing? Piau does her version of it as well. It’s gorgeous. 
  3. I think she has a fine art background? Maybe that’s where this comes from. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on March 19, 2017, in ...and then I heard that, 20th century, live performances, sopranos, wigmore hall and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. ❤ ❤ ❤ (now i read)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. done reading.. back to the beginning… i really felt so strong when i first truly discovered her in that “Al destin che la minaccia” . THere is something so deep in how she communicates, it’s really deeep from within and, as you say, just painting it, both with notes and with her.. almost fragile, but deeply honest, expression.. and i really became a “devout” follower .. but still nothing like what you describe here i’d expect.. well, next time she’s at Wigmore i’m flying over! (or Vienna, or both…) She has very strange schedules, and also as odd the program as ACA, you really have to track them down..
    (back to the top to read again now..)

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    • I tell you a recording and perhaps even a staged opera won’t prepare you for a recital experience because she’s so beyond just singing some songs/arias. It really is a show, with wild improvisation and her just pulling you in with all of herself. You have to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • i know, i saw plenty of that stuff on several concerts on tube she has too. like this Morgana‘s aria.. which i’m sure you might have seen..

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      • or this tango stuff, which i had on repeat yesterday in the office

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        • also I wanted to say I think she sounds kind of different live. But I’m not too sure, it could be the mad charisma that just takes over and you think this is the best thing in the world 😉 or the different rep etc.

          Liked by 1 person

          • i’m sure she sounds different in real life. I think our ability to hear 3-d is not lost. But at least these are the kind of things i settle with for now. But i’m fully aware she’s one of those you don’t need to care / expect, just arrive, and be in it, and live the experience!

            Liked by 1 person

            • exactly! I knew nothing and I was still in tears by the end – good tears but still turned inside out 😉 I actually wanted to say this was the best recital I’ve ever seen but it’s more accurate to say it’s the most… creative.
              The other artists I’ve been praising here are also expressing themselves with sincerity and lots of talent, it’s just that she’s also got a very arty personality and she’s hands down one of the most charismatic.

              Liked by 1 person

          • just to add.. i know i fell in love with her personality also when she showed up at interview like this. As soon as she starts talking you “feel” it, who cares about perfume and makeups..

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            • looking real is a big turnon for yours truly. Too dolled up and you’re starting to bury that uniqueness that could be there. It’s like those beauty pageant women who all look alarmingly similar.

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              • (just to add that unicorn llama/giraffe/brontosaurus is beyond charming)
                (and that first photo is beyond mesmerizing..)
                (and yes, the smile..)

                Liked by 1 person

                • I know, someone on a forum I used to hang out on back in the early 2000s had the unicorn as an avatar and seeing it always put a smile on my face.

                  I actualy chose between a few photos of her (she has such a mobile face, she looks different in each photo – which is ideal for jumping from role to role) and decided on that one because it’s taken in motion, something is rising from within, which is where I think the charisma lies.

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                  • (stop it, don’t make me go back to the top.. -ok i just did – was re-reading 3rd round.. 5th paragraph)

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                    • print the picture in colour and mount it on your wall 😉

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                    • no kidding! i’ll do it in fact!. btw, you know about our “balloon” ? we did come up with the photo.. but didn’t know how to do anything artistic to it, perhaps we just rely on you to crop / turn it artistic as needed? (the naming and crop are fro Anik, i only cut off the word ARTE)

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • thanks for the photo. So you want this on one side? technically if we want both pictures they need to match in style (either both are in colour or both in silhouette). If you just want this one like this then all it needs it tweaking to the ballloon shape.

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                    • turn it however you think fits? shape and color. i don’t even know how to do such things. do you think it’s over kill to have both photos on balloon? (and somehow i can turn it into a gif?) or we settle for the original on that nice snowtank and this updated version for the airway?

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                    • it’s not overkill if you can make it spin (which you could easily with the photoshop gif maker, by flipping between the two sides, so I imagine other gif makers work similarly). Let me think a bit about the rest.

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          • (ps- sorry for taking over the comment section to gush my … well, i’m just super happy you went and report 🙂 , coz i knew i’d miss it.. but was really not sure if you care enough for her unique personality or find it too quirky.. — pardon me for doubting you.)

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  3. Sorry to barge into your two-women fanfest here, but I wanted to say THANK YOU for this, dehggi. Just reading this is making the world a less hostile and more wondrous place.

    A the moment, I’m between shooting myself (because it was HERE and I am so overworked that I never caught it, plus it was not in the Konzerthaus advertisements… so I missed it) and being so happy that you wrote this, and exactly how you wrote this.
    See, even if I’d never met you, I’d read this and think, “Okay, she gets it. She gets Petibon. She’s one of the good ones.”

    As for Petibon, in addition to everything you said, she’s also one of those posters for “Yes, you can be intelligent to the point of quirkiness (because you’ve kind of mastered the getting on and off the 1:1 run of he world), and you will find an audience and be able to make a living that way withough having to dumb yourself down.”

    Also, GREEN.

    Liked by 2 people


    • no no it was not a private party, i knew you were asleep, besides i couldnt contain myself and was stalking Dehggi all nite until this post arrived… As you said, even if i didnt know Dehggi i would still send an email to ask her out for coffe at the train station coz I like what she likes 😉
      As for PP, yes, just by reading this is already so uplifting, to know of someone authentic and doing it her own clever way, and there will be those who appreciate this trait/aspect

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      • You ladies will be happy to learn the audience loved it. The applause was massive and there were lots of laughs. It really was more a performance than a song recital.

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    • it was my pleasure to share a bit of this wonderful evening. I didn’t expect it to be this affecting. On the way home I actually went the wrong way!

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  4. I’d love to see Petitbon live. Some of her performances on DVD are fantastic. Have you seen the Salzburg Così where she plays a biker chick Despina? Brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

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