Ariodante all star (Barbican, 16 May 2017)

once again, shots from the Carnegie Hall webcast

Ariodante: Alice Coote
Ginevra: Christiane Karg
Dalinda: Mary Bevan
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
King of Scotland: Matthew Brook
Odoardo: Bradley Smith
Conductor: Harry Bicket | The English Concert

This time I will spare you my usual bitching about the Barbican, because there are some good things I have to report. I found out there is at least another set of toilets (this one for the balcony crowd), though, naturally, one was out of order. If you exit quickly they are very handy. At some point I realised there were 6 of us wearing glasses in the queue, one after the other. To better see your wicked moves, Polinesso 😉

The venue has announcers who tell you which show will begin when, because there are concurent events in different halls. It’s like a very posh airport lounge so the feeling of we’re all here for the same reason is nonexistent. Weirdly enough – or because I took the detective-like approach of canvassing the main lounge area – I actually found Giulia and her lively bunch of Twitter friends, which was a very nice touch before the show. Let’s hope the Baroque thing at Teatro Regio Torino continues so we can meet again 🙂

Up and down the stairs and nooks and crannies, bars and lounges, you see people and (I) try to guage what event they are here for. It’s hard to tell, especially as the crowd is so mixed even in the main hall (where the opera was held). On my right I had a lady perhaps in her early 60s (who dozed off in Act I but braved Act II and III), on my left a woman in her 30s; in front of us there were two young (straight-looking) couples (mid to late 20s), further to the left two very Baroque-knowledgeable ladies in their 60s, on the other side a gent over 50 who spent the majority of the show hunched forward, watching intently as if he were going to write a report later – and so on. Though the show was not sold out, it felt like the troops around me multiplied rather than depleted as the evening went on.

There was definitely a lot of interest but somewhat glib – lots of laughter in all the appropriate places and then some. Maybe I am overly invested and felt people were taking it all lighter than I did. But then there were the knowledgeable ladies who seemed to have a whale of a time, there was the hunched forward gent and somewhere in the stalls was Giulia and friends. I can’t vouch for the very quiet and polite lady in her 30s (at least I think so, Asian people are hard for me to guage age-wise) next to me, who was very quiet and polite but applauded a lot. The young couples stayed gamely but I sensed a certain detachment – maybe it’s just my reaction to the sudden existence of people younger than me at classical music shows 😉 (the cheek! down with that kind of thing).

Another plus I noticed this time: it appears that if you sit central and avoid the balcony overhang, the acoustics aren’t bad at all, lots of (if not all) pianissime made their way up to the last row of the Balcony. There was an interesting feeling as the sound bounced off the nearby ceiling; it was filtered but not unpleasant and surprisingly clear.

Karg’s was the slenderest voice and there were still no problems (which shows her projection is ace). You could tell Bicket was very mindful of the singers, especially in Con l’ali di costanza, where the tempo was “casual jog” and the orchestra toned nicely down, a lesson to all interested parties. We could hear everything yet it was light as a feather.

Thadieu will laugh, but I’m still hung up on the harpsichord is a teamplayer1 thing so I continue to admire Bicket’s approach. It was always there to drive things (I could observe his lightness and rhythmic precision better at TADW, where I had a perpendicular view to match the sound) but never overpowered. You have Giulia‘s word of how the low strings were muscular without unnecessary over-shredding – in the words of Statira, I concur. Another shoutout goes to the wonderfully wistful bassoon work in Scherza, infida. When the bassoon started its mournful call and Coote turned towards it with a lost look on Ariodante’s face, I immediately teared up. In fact, I almost did as I wrote this. It was just a gently sad whisper, mad props to the bassoonist ❤

The big venue seemed to have cut down on the possibility of constant interaction between those on stage, unless they were right next to each other, singing to or talking to each other. I felt like they sang their arias alone on stage more often than before – I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but an illusion given that the stage is very large and bare, even with the orchestra there as well. I didn’t notice any particular winking/eye rolling from Polinesso and Dalinda during Ginevra and Ariodante’s lovey dovey moments – a bit disappointing.

However, Ariodante’s accusatory remarks towards Dalinda during Cieca notte were still in place (even from quite a distance, as Dalinda was sat on “her” chair by the wall), as was Dalinda’s engulfing shame. All direct interaction between Dalinda and Polinesso was there in technicolour (“praise the lord”). As others have noticed, Prina once again adjusted her manhandling to the type of dress Bevan was wearing. This time, as you know by now, Bevan had on a dress that hinted at just how ready Dalinda was for Polinesso’s attention. Prina made a show of Polinesso’s boredom with Dalinda’s professions of love, which, combined with Bevan’s credible ardour gave their scenes a very natural feel.

It was obvious Karg and Coote had developed a neat chemistry as the tour went on. Each had polished their characterisation so they meshed into a mutually appreciative and tender couple. By the end of the opera it looked like they might be more realistically positioned to build a future together. I know that doesn’t gel with the libretto per se, but that’s the beauty of concert performances 😉 Once again, their duets were some of the highlights of the evening, with their very nicely balanced voices – Karg light and precise and Coote full and ardent (so ardent, in Bramo aver mille vite she started a touch too loud; Bicket restored balance by the second line).

Coote, on home turf in London, put the pedal to the metal in general. After a brave tackling of Con l’ali di costanza she relaxed into things more up her alley (ie, soulful), that benefited from the many colours in her voice and its warm, affecting fulness (she’s a mezzo-mezzo, who reminds you why you like that voice type in the first place). Even so, the biggest applause of the night (in general) turned out to be for Dopo notte where she let it rip with what I would call furious joy.

I would say Prina’s performance was a bit toned down, though I’m sure mellow wouldn’t be how most of the audience saw it. Polinesso’s every intervention was as complex as we’ve seen before, both vocally and dramatically. The contrasts in Spero per voi were brilliantly delivered and her timing impeccable (then again, I’ve always admired her uncanny sense of rhythm). It’s interesting, every time I check back to the Aix recording I think she’s singing it better this time around. Then again, recording vs live rendition where one is there (so many factors converge to make something an experience rather then mere entertainment; I think it matters that Marcon is going for a darker mood than Bicket is, to match the very dark concept of the production; this Polinesso is more gleeful whereas that one is very dangerous).

This time around, after Polinesso gets stabbed and is being carried away, I thought she was going to sit down in one of the chairs, as they stopped for a moment at the top of the stairs that led down to the side of the stage. At the same time, Ariodante sprung up from this hatch at the beck of the stage. That was a very good use of the stage. Sometimes you get this at the Barbican (one that comes to mind is L’Orfeo a few seasons back, which incorporated the openings at the back of the stage into the action).

David Portillo trumpeted all the way to the back of the auditorium; like I said in the comments previously, no complaints there, as one could hardly imagine a better suited voice as a 21st century John Beard. He also has the right approach as Ariodante’s loyal and justice-driven brother Lurcanio. Alas, he will always be second best for Dalinda, as Bevan portrayed her emotionally conflicted to the end.

Bevan has indeed an interesting voice that sounds, as Anik predicted, to be developing into something more dramatic than Karg’s likely would. Perhaps unsual but fitting for Dalinda, as that darker fulness hints at her penchant for the dangerous. Again, absolutely no issues hearing her from the rafters, and also again, I loved her mad chemistry with Prina.

Perhaps in this densely-voiced company Brook’s voice came off a bit light as the lowest anchor but there are always those easy runs (and pps) to admire and his very sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted father-king (there would be no Baroque opera without someone agonising between love and duty).

Poor Odoardo is just kinda there, so it must’ve been strange for Bradley Smith to travel around just so he could drop a few Italian sentences here and there. No complaints about his involvement, though.

For my good deeds, Ginevra’s shoulder-bearing red dress was back (made me grin widely as soon as the singers came on stage) and as a bonus, so was Dalinda’s choker. Due to negligence, my camera died on me so there isn’t even a bad picture from yours truly, not even of the Barbican (I’m sure you’re mourning that loss). It was a hot, muggy day; so hot, in fact, I went out for fresh air during the second intermission and even by the pond there was no breeze (we’re talking about London, where it’s windy on a daily basis).

I’m really glad I could catch two (very different) nights of this tour and feel very lucky that we also got the Carnegie Hall webcast as a memento of how it all went down. We’ll see how things develop, but, as in the case of The English Concert’s 2014 Alcina, I think this will live long in my memory 🙂 Thank you Handel and thank you all involved.


  1. you can tell how traumatised I was by what Bates did to Renard and in general. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on May 19, 2017, in acting in opera, barbican, baroque, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, operatic damsels in distress and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. What a great, lively report! Thank you for mentioning me, it was really great to meet you, and I hope we will have more opportunities. I agree with a lot of your opinions, as you already know. What a night!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. (no no, i loooove paying attention to harpsichord! my traumatized moment was at Boston Baroque during the ill-fated Juditha where the harpsichord stepped on, trampled, and destroyed the poor mezzos without any regards… so much that i paid attention to harpsichord intently now..)
    what you wrote here sounds quite similar to my experience at Carnegie sitting wayyy up. there’s the advantage of intimate hall like TADW that these gigantic spaces won’t bring you know.. will write more, zz time now, let’s see what opera dream will come this time.

    Like

    • 😉 I know you like the harpsichord, I wanted to say I’ve been super stuck on its relationship with the rest ever since that night. So I guess it takes a traumatic event to focus our attention on things 😉

      btw, I was gonna say, OMG, Carnegie is bigger than Opera Bastille?! I think my mind was blown when I read that. It’s just wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jeah, the US, they don’t do things small… experiencing opera here is really a non-personal affair. they’re mad into the HD business, which i don’t care for too much.. coz they only cast these people primarily for the camera.. may be.. no idea.. i’m also listening in on your Torino future plan 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t care about HD either, give me a proper (and decently priced) live show. Of coourse, I’m aware the US is a very big place and not everyone can just drop things and waltz to a performance.

          perhaps we can make Torino 2018 one of those multi-blogger events 😉

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          • I think I missed something, what is happening in Torino?

            Liked by 1 person

          • re: HD: we do have local opera here in Denver but it’s not decently priced (a back row seat that is basically a barstool with arms is 10 bucks less than what i paid for the Met), is very uncomfortable, and quality is spotty (sometimes good singers, but productions feel very high-school-ish). I’ve been a few times and would rather pay (less) for HD honestly. I wonder sometimes what it must be like to live in Europe and have such high-quality stuff seemingly everywhere.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I wonder sometimes what it must be like to live in Europe and have such high-quality stuff seemingly everywhere.

              it spoils you. I feel bad now for throwing the comment about HD. I didn’t care about opera until I moved to London and then I had all this choice.

              thadieu was saying how over there you end up with the front rows all empty because of the ridiculous prices. It seems more logical to me to lower the prices and fill the spaces… but I suppose the attitude is that opera is for the upper classes?

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              • No, I think there’s conflicted opinion about HD. I think if you live in NY or Chicago or SF or LA or even Houston (their promos for the Ring look amazing) you should support those! but out here in the middle of the country it’s a challenge.

                Anik and I have chatted about this and she says there’s also the point that the “state” supports the arts so much more in Europe. Not so here (what little there is more and more threatened). So it all relies on big donors which perpetuates the idea that opera is for the upper classes.

                Irony though…I read somewhere about the Met’s 50th at Lincoln Center that the “original” Met was built as a direct jab at the upper class elites. It was meant to be more popular.

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                • I guess the relation with the state is very different in Europe. There seems to be this sentiment in the US of us vs them regarding the state, which is quite puzzling (aren’t we all supposed to be “the state”? what’s the purpose of society otherwise?) and probably damaging to local culture and education among other things.

                  Like

                • Warning: Nerdy Clarifications Follow:

                  The Met was invented by what was then New Money because Old Money had a lock on the Academy of Music. (New Money at the time was Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Belmont, and other Robber Baron families of the Gilded Age.) The particular driver of that one-fingered salute was Alva Belmont, who had previously been married to a Vanderbilt, was munificently divorced then conveniently widowed, walked out of the Estate of Marriage with a massive bucket of cash and spent it on “vacation bungalows”, the Met, and bankrolling the US Women’s Suffrage movement. This, in fact, is how the Met scene shop ended up (briefly) with a sideline in Suffrage Parade float design and construction.

                  The new Met, as part of Lincoln Center, was invented as a Great Society project to bring art to the masses. This is why it’s so damn huge — or at least why the Family Circle / Balcony occupies so much real estate inside the building. Thus it has the awkward pleasure of being considered — often by the same people — as both hopelessly elitist (bc only rich people pretend to like opera) and a last bastion of a creeping vestigial socialism left over from the laughable 1960’s…like, y’know, Sesame Street and the Voting Rights Act.

                  Liked by 2 people

  3. “The contrasts in Spero per voi were brilliantly delivered and her timing impeccable (then again, I’ve always admired her uncanny sense of rhythm).”

    Yes, yes, yes! She has remarkable instinct for getting across what is “said” in a situation, the drama, the emotion, while at the same time managing to keep things at a flow, giving the impression of things just happening naturally, effortlessly (Anik’s wording, very fitting).

    And I also found her delivery in Hamburg even excelling the Aix recording, maybe also a question of hearing live, but I agree, this Polinesso was more multi-layered than just bad.

    Like

    • there is something to be said about experience, having time to flesh out a character based a very good base. Also with a native speaker of the language you know that they’re aware at all times just what’s going on and it would just a lapse in concentration for them to be tripped. Some people are natural actors 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Now see, this is how one writes a review. 😉

    But seriously, enjoyed this very much!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hey Dehggi, your Halle ticket has arrived by mail, so everything’s settled!

    Liked by 2 people

    • great! Thanks again! Everything else is sorted as well, except the train ride to Berlin on Monday but I suppose it’s not hard to get tickets on the day?

      see you there 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would recommend to book in advance because they have saving fares which often save quite a lot (but you can only use them on the specific train you have booked for). Of course it is possible to get the ticket at the station but you have to expect long lines and/or ticket machines that can be hard to use even for native speakers. And, of course things may have changed, but former Eastern Germany is not exactly renowned for their customer friendliness (see international mailing fares). So better not expect Torino standards!

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