Stomp of joy, coif of steel (4 June, Sonia Prina at Halle Handel Fest 2017)

look at that fine coif, after 2hrs of sweating!

All you’ve heard about the Halle Handel Fest atmosphere is true. Now I’m not your best witness, seeing as how I only had time/funds1 for one performance in one venue but the feel in and around Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche was relaxed and congenial, complete with “cheerleader” thumping.

Going to a not very large town at the weekend (long weekend at that) makes said town appear deader than perhaps it is. So you shouldn’t be surprised we saw Prina strolling again or that we ran into other “opera travellers” (this time Leander and Baroque Bird’s Twitter friends Meri from Barcelona and Jutta from… Germany) – it’s probably because the only people out and about were musicians and opera fans. After the show we joined them for some general opera chat (often from opposite sides of the argument! keeping it intellectually stimulating into the night ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche is on Leipzigerstrasse across from shops and has a fountain and stone benches where you can wait (feverishly) for the doors to open. We were there super early because Agathe was convinced the show was starting at 7pm (eager ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It paid off!

I scouted the area (as it was on my path) before meeting Agathe and then we went there together. There was no movement that early on (3pm) and little at 6pm. Then a few old ladies dressed for church showed up and still the door stayed shut. Eventually Prina herself (+ fiance) skipped by (proper spring in her step) to the artists’ entrance. “Our” door = nada.

Finally we were allowed in at 7pm on the dot (I imagine) but not in-in, just in the boxoffice area and in the inner courtyard. Prina and team were doing warmups on the other side of the wall, as if our fire needed stoking ๐Ÿ˜‰ As we were chatting, Meri from Barcelona showed up. We had met at Stutzmann’s 2 July show at the Wiggy last year, when she said “I know you from from Giulia on Twitter!” The Giulia she meant is the Giulia we know and love (so thank you, Giulia, for mentioning me, even though I’m not on Twitter ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Small Baroque world, small Baroque fan world. To illustrate just how small, Meri and I met again the next day at Schรถnefeld Airport.

Finally we got in. We hoped the seat next to me would still be free and Agathe could upgrade but sadly no dice. I had two gents dressed in suits on each side; how they coped with the heat is a mystery to me but then they probably haven’t spent the last decade at an average temperature of 19C like yours truly.

Ombra cara (with Vivaldi instrumental greatest hits and the Hasse one from the Rokoko CD because everyone likes it)

mezzos and contralto FTW!

Sonia Prina contralto
George Petrou director | Armonia Atenea
Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche

i. Concert in A minor RV522 (Vivaldi)
Bella Asteria Tamerlano
Agitato da fiere tempeste Ricardo primo
i. La follia (Vivaldi)
Ombra cara Radamisto
Furibundo spira il vento Partenope


i. Concert in G major for mandolin and orchestra Op.3 Nr.11 (JA Hasse)
Pena, tiranna Amadigi
Se fiera belva ha cinto Rodelinda (what is this one ripping off? I can’t figure out!)
i. Concert in E minor RV484 (Vivaldi)
Qual nave smarrita Radamisto
Venti, turbini Rinaldo


Giร  l’ebro mio ciglio (? I’m pretty sure it was this one…) Orlando
Fammi combatere Orlando

Prina beamed through the evening and infected everyone on stage and most beyond with her liveliness. Even Meri’s friend Jutta, who’s hardly a Prina fan, noted with surprise that she’d never seen Petrou smile before.

She started with Bella Asteria which was all gentle lovey-doveness; a good easing into the mood. I’d heard it in that interview she did for the BBC last month and wasn’t quite convinced. Again, live everything sounds better; it’s probably easier to feed off a roomful of people than to sound exciting in a studio with an audience of technicians at work and a (good) accompanist on the harpsichord, especially when no one asks you how it is to play a man on stage ๐Ÿ˜‰

It’s true she can make you swoon with her sudden drops to seductiveย ppps and her lightly smoked tone sounded as smooth as ever but I first and foremost love her for the stomp. I can’t think of anyone else on the Baroque opera stage today who’s more effective when it comes to the heroic stance. Certainly no one looks like they have more fun with it.

That fun goes a very long way. I might just be speaking for myself but forget about aced high notes and ringing chest ones, smooth coloratura and beautiful legato – if the performance is bland and detached you might just as well stay home and listen to a polished recording. The truth is I’m going through the trouble of organising a trip abroad because I want to be seduced. I want that electricity in the room (even the occasional palpitations that come with it) that can only be communicated directly by a very involved performer.

After a triple dose of Prina within the span of three weeks it’s perhaps hard to write anything new. She was happy and in great form. She “delivered” to the standards those who like her would appreciate. In fact, having seen her 6 times now I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t “on”. Quite the work rate.

the Handeltram

A recital is a different beast from an operatic performance, even a concert one. The performer mainly feeds off you, the audience, as opposed to other performers on stage. Baroque Bird was curious if there had been any costume changes. I was surprised to note that I hadn’t even thought about that and that I actually didn’t remember any in previous recitals. But apparently there had been (at Wiggy). So you see, perhaps it’s not that kind of venue, as Baroque Bird later mused. Perhaps a regular recital is different from a festival recital.

Though the atmosphere was relaxed, it was so in a different manner than at Wiggy. Generally, as you can tell, the setlist was very structured – now a slow and sexy aria, now a furious one, and this structure was not strayed from, for better or worse, even in the encores, where performers usually loosen up and may even sing an aria by a (gasp) different composer (what? we had so much Vivaldi already!). I wonder how much say the conductor has, since I saw some material overlap with the following day’s Cencic recital in Salzburg. I was happy with the choices, quite a few of which I had not heard her sing before. But you can see what I mean when it comes to the feel of the thing. If I were to compare the three recent performances I’ve seen, the TADW one was lively and free, the Barbican a bit toned down and the Halle one lively but a tad too neatly organised.

Of course that doesn’t mean the fury arias didn’t punch. I had already hinted at almost passing out from the sheer drama in Furibundo spira il vento (that knack for timing I keep mentioning when it comes to Prina) and the mad stomp that Venti, turbini turned out to be. I’ll forever be let down now if the next performances of it I see don’t include kicks and stomping ๐Ÿ˜€ The urgent way she phrases the words venti, turbini! in the repeats is unique, too. Some people go soft on turbiniย and rush with the command, but let me tell you: it’s wrong.

After her impressive stint earlier this Spring in Rodelinda it was good to hear her sing a Bertarido aria for a change (and the damn thing got properly stuck in my head for days!). Same withย Agitato da fiere tempeste and Fammi combatere, which were interesting to hear with a thicker kick, as in my mind it’s always Ann Hallenberg singing them and although I love her too, I don’t quite see her as a mad (anti)hero.

…I think I have to leave the comments on the swoony-seductive arias to Agathe ๐Ÿ™‚

Handel: Goodbye, Halle! I’m going to Italy!

The day started with downpours so I spent the morning in a heavy session of thumb twiddling at the temporary dehggi residence in Halle. The sun came out with a vengeance once Agathe and I met by Handel’s statue. We decided to stroll, which was very pleasant (let’s walk this way!) on a now warm and quiet summer afternoon. I’m a big fan of the winding street thing and I also appreciate the unassuming, such as Handel House; those two terms sum up the Old Town.

Our conversation extended from opera to the past 30 post-communist years, because it’s quite obvious Eastern Germany hasn’t yet shaken the spirit. Halle is an interesting mixture of said pretty winding medieval streets with goodlooking architecture in the Old Town and communist vestiges popping up elsewhere (like the train/bus station area, which gave me flashbacks to the ’80s; even the customer service did2). Leipzigerstrasse, the street linking the train/bus station area with the venue and Marktplatz in the Old Town, is a curious narrow, old building-lined shopping strip with a persistent ex-communist feel (the shops) which feel was not aided by the super deadness on a Sunday/church holiday.

I felt the venue a bit wonky from the getgo, as it’s very narrow for how tall it is, with barely two aisles of seats and some more tucked away on the left side. I do get it, continental Gothic churches and all, but hot on a Summer day3 with all windows closed. At the front it was even hotter due to stage lights. Jutta later joked there was ventilation at the back – at foot level ๐Ÿ˜‰ The staff was indeed very nice – the coat checker even suggested Agathe and I leave our stuff on the same hanger. The toilets were likewise good. So though I’m being critical I don’t want it to come off as all around negativity.

Leipziger Turm

Baroque Bird informed me since that Jutta had slammed the band on Twitter and I will admit I too had some issues with the sound, though to me it wasn’t clear who or what was the biggest culprit. Either way, it’s not natural to have problems hearing properly from the second row. Namely at the beginning (Concert in A minor) I couldn’t make out the low strings. Later I did notice a significant improvement in balance but a sense of muddled sound persisted; after several times at St George’s Hanover Sq I know that sound in churches often gets lost vertically, so it might have well been the case. Jutta said later the band is usually very unbalanced but I had not heard them before live, and since I know even less about instruments than about voices, I’ll refrain from further comments. Suffice it to say I wasn’t convinced – though when I could hear the low strings I did rather enjoy them. It helped that Prina’s voice has a cello-like consistency.

As the lyrical waxing above may remind you, I’m a singer’s fan so as long as the singer sounds good to me the accompaniment comes second. But having heard some orchestras with enough personality to make me pay attention I’m not denying the experience is more pleasurable when the singer has a solid “cushion” to spring off. In conclusion:

Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche with a sign that invites wise cracks

ps: as usual, sorry about any typos etc., just finished a batch of nights but I know I’ve taken long enough with this post ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. I actually did have time but it does get complicated when there are only so many days (budget) planes fly from London to Leipzig and back and you have to look at other options for departing the land of music. 
  2. lady selling me the flixbus ticket somehow understood my “Berlin” as “Hamburg”; I know my German doesn’t rate but seriously. 
  3. if that Salzburg thing works out I think I need to bring ice packs along. 

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on June 12, 2017, in baroque, live performances, mezzos & contraltos and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Ah, Dehgg, so pleased to see you had a good time. And how funny you bumped into Meri and Jutta! It truly is a small world. ๐Ÿ™‚ I really want to get back to Halle again at some point – I’ll have to keep an eye open for next year’s programme. Safe travels back!

    • oh, my travels back were another story altogether ๐Ÿ˜‰ but they were safe. Halle is a pleasant place; it’s always fun meeting people for the opera. Hopefully they have a good offer next year, I will definitely check too.

  2. Haha, great photo composition, we should have written that on the board!
    And thank you, what a fun account, it really captures the feel of the day! And it is true, the performance factor was just magnificent, she had absolutely no problems with drawing the audience fully into the different moods of the pieces (at points I was nearly surprised there was no sword in her hand, the ‘wielding’ was so convincing). But in general, as I said, the fast, energetic pieces didn’t work as well for me as the ‘swooney’ ones, and I think that was due to
    a) the really bad acoustics, resulting into a meddling of orchestral sound and at times during really fast coloratura even Prinas voice started to sound a bit blurred, and
    b) the band, I would agree with your and possibly Jutta’s opinion (?) that this was not a supreme performance (especially after having heard The English Concert and Il Pomo d’ Oro very recently). And I think a major point for me was that I didn’t feel they had a very sensitive exchange with the singer, I din’t feel there was a lot of feeling and adjusting for her approach, and at times her voice was even slightly overpowered (and those who have heard Prina live know that she usually carries very well).
    But, enough about the drawbacks, we did have the privilege of hearing Prina in many pieces that are (to my knowledge) not recorded by her, so quite an opportunity. Also, the reverberant acoustics did have certain advantages in the quieter pieces, resulting in a very smooth ‘perfect’ sound, delivered really softly, and that did have it’s own appeal ๐Ÿ™‚
    Oh, and among the most fun regarding the power arias was your account of your fight against passing out, of how she just goes on and on and on… ๐Ÿ˜€

    • we should’ve totally written it! Haha.

      I’t too bad that, based on where you were positioned, the fast bits lost detail (but also good the slow ones carried so well). I really wish I knew a bit about architecture and acoustics, sounds like a pretty interesting field. Now I’m going to make a point of gathering my thoughts and comparing as much as my ears allow how acoustics in different halls compare.

      after what Jutta said about TADW’s acoustics and having heard Prina’s coloratura at close counters there, I can attest it should not come off as muddled.

      also having heard her from the last row of the Barbican I can add that if she’s overpowered it’s not her shortcoming.

      I was thinking about the communication with the band when I wrote about the performer feeding off the audience in a recital – because of course even in a recital it’s not just the audience. I don’t know how well they know her and how easy it is for them to adjust to each singer’s style and temperament. That’s certainly a chief skill for an accompanying band.

      I am taking a bit of a break from being too in tune with performers ๐Ÿ˜‰ sometimes seeing things/singers you know less or not at all is good for one’s wellbeing as well as to open the horizons.

      • Are you saying you’re trying to detach a bit from Prina? Well, good luck with that ๐Ÿ™‚ (and I hope you don’t, I’m hoping for further joined fangirling performances).
        Maybe my impressions on the acoustics and the band would have been a lot less negative if it hadn’t been for the Elbphilharmonie performance, which was quite the opposite regarding precision of sound in that very clear acoustics and very sensitive accompaniment. (But of course there had been a lot more rehearsals/performances of that Ariodante taking place before, probably resulting in very good mutual understanding, and maybe you can’t expect the same from a one time concert). But in general, knowing her voice very well of course makes you notice circumstances more, because you just know it’s not her fault.
        The ‘feeding off the audience’ seemed to work well in my opinion, and I think people were resonating well, I had an elderly couple next to me, looking rather conservative, but they seemed quite enthusiastic about her performance.

        • oh, it’s not that kind of thing. Of course I will be there for future fangirling ๐Ÿ˜‰ it’s just that momentarily I need a bit of calm & boring daily living, coupled with things I’m not so into.

          it’s interesting how no experience is an island, everything has links to previous ones etc. After having the chance of great sound one perhaps gets more critical of lesser conditions.

          in my area we had that as well, the chaps in suits on each side of me were very enthusiastic and the woman at the front who gave her the bouquet was highly impressed, though she sounded like she had never heard a live Baroque recital before.

  3. I finally got a chance to read this account. Thank you Dehggial for a lively report! I am so happy my Baroque friends get to meet each other, it is a VERY small world!
    It sounds like this concert was a mixed bag, but I’m glad you guys enjoyed it anyway, at least in some ways.

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