Il ritorno di Willy Decker to Hamburg (Hamburg Opera, 29 October 2017)

…according to the poster in the house 😉

Ulisse: Kurt Streit
Penelope: Sara Mingardo
…and others who I will add later (also read below)
Conductor: Vaclav Luks | Collegium 1704
Director: Willy Decker

This production originates from Zurich and is very effective. We saw its Hamburg premiere and it received lots of applause and no abuse. It’s simple – everything happens in the same space (as thadieu put it, a sloping white, round dish) and the differences/advances in the story are told via changing costume rather than props. It’s one step up from a concert performance, which means you’re never left scratching your head. My minor qualm, after seeing a bunch of Monteverdi productions where the gods are made a big deal out of, is that we could do with one production where gods don’t physically appear at all (of course we still get to hear them). Then again, thadieu pointed out that it might not be clear to all who are the gods and who are not.

There were some curious decisions on the part of the local advertising team that might make sense locally but baffled the tourists – such as using the director’s picture for the poster in the house (there were no outdoors posters, just banners) and uploading the trailer after the actual premiere <- they apparently filmed a new one, so kinda cool in the end (see the trailer at thadieu‘s – and read her report(s) as well 🙂 ).

The performance in itself was mostly very fine vocally, aside from both Melanto and Eurimaco, who did not live up to their fine music. Tassou has a colourless voice and you know that is the kiss of death for yours truly. She did get better as time went on but there is a lot of nice harmony in Melanto’s music that, for me, never came through. Now that I’m listening to the broadcast, wow, she had some trouble staying on breath and the line got away from her a few times… As she started it seemed like the music took her by surprise (wait, what? It’s my turn?!!! Shiii… where am I?). Palchykov sang in an overly operatic manner not suited for Monteverdi. Also his voice is rather bigger than the others’, ready to break into La donna e mobile 😉 and he too had a bit of an issue with the Monteverdi ornamentation… early music skills, eh. Though I think for a different rep he’s not bad and can get quite seductive.

I did, however, have a welcome revelation with local ensemble mezzo (surprise, surprise) Dorottya Lang, who sang Minerva and showed very fine potential. I don’t know that her future is necessary in this repertoire, but I liked her attention to style and a rather striking dark tone.

All three of us also agreed Pieweck as Ericlea (Penelope’s nurse), could have had more to sing. She knows her Monteverdi and has solid chops.

This is not something you usually hear from me but whilst listening to Dumaux’ Human Fragility I thought here is a role that decidedly belongs to the countertenor voice. We all know he is good both as a singer and as an actor and he did not disappoint. I am actually quite looking forward to see him in his perhaps trademark role in the summer, as so far it has been more self effacing circumstances, which he can do as well, no doubt. He regaled us with what I think is the most spectacular falling technique I’ve ever witnessed on stage, when he “dropped dead” from touching Ulisse’s bow (as suitor Amfinomo).

I was quite surprised how much I liked Trost as Eumete the kind beggar, since my most memorable encounter with him was as Tito in that overly soft Mackerras recording – where he was alarmingly bleaty. Here he showed impressive Monteverdi skills and a fine voice. His acting/interaction with others, especially Streit’s Ulisse, was not bad at all.

Nurgeldiyev as Telemaco is probably another singer that will make his name in later repertoire, but he evidently paid attention to style and ended up doing a good job, with some sensitive acting, too.

Streit in the title role was somewhat of a mixed bag. I quite like his tone and have generally enjoyed him before. He is always committed, if, in this case, I would agree with thadieu that he veered off into overreacting, both dramatically and vocally. Ulisse’s entrance aria where he’s not sure if he’s awake or sleeping was taken a bit strongly. As a result, for the rest of the night his Ulisse came off rather angstier than I normally imagine him. Now you may remember I saw the very finely subtle Ian Bostridge in this role before and he created a lasting impression. Generally I thought Streit’s performance was stronger whenever he had someone to interact with. The ending duet with Penelope was sensitively done, though, and made me think what an unusual opera this is, to tackle the trials and tribulations of mature love and to make said love appear fresh at that.

Mingardo has sung Penelope before in this very production, so of course she was at ease and with her love and care for Monteverdi she shaped the music with her subtle, introspective touch. Her Penelope was perfectly loyal, though she did not fall into the trap of making her unfeeling to the suitors’ plight. We did see Penelope’s struggle to keep her wits about herself during the 20 year party, especially when they suitors wooed her with their posh I ❤ Penelope t-shirts 😉 <- it is true, we spent quite some time thinking about ways to produce said shirts and we came up with a couple of more “P” possibilities, heh. I have to say, I ❤ P sounds like a pretty good title for a Mingardo fan site 😀

Uncharacteristically, we heard less piano singing from her because we had a super loud harpsichord. Now at intermission the three of us pondered harpsichord’s applicability or lack thereof in Monteverdi. Not only did I find it superfluous but I thought the harpsichordist used it as if he was playing Handel. It was the worst offender of the otherwise very enjoyable night, worse even that the singers I went merciless on above.

Whenever we only had violins, winds and theorbo things improved drastically. Perhaps I am turning into a HIP fanatic, which I don’t necessary want to do, but I really don’t like harpsichords in Monteverdi. I would like to hear whatever anyone else has to say on the matter.

I’ll point you thadieu‘s way for more comments on Luks’ orchestra, because she’s better than me at pointing out all the intricacies of different baroque orchestras, whereas I am more apt to zero in on faults 😉 all you need to know from me is that, harpsichord decisions aside, I had no issues with the orchestra, which was the largest I have seen for early opera.

…there is more, of course, and I will be back here to add more text and pictures (but no more bitching I should never promise this…), because it was actually rather sunny in Hamburg and the Echo Awards were being given at the Elbphilarmonie 😉

As thadieu mentioned, this was a lovely opportunity for her, Agathe and I to get together for a hard-core contralto adventure which even the skies favoured with good weather, if some chilly blasts from the sea. We visited the main sites within the centre of Hamburg and a bit of the harbour before it was time for the 20 year party. I liked this side of Hamburg a lot, especially the canals, which reminded me of Lonodon’s. Expect some dramatic cloud pictures. I’m not quite sold on the Elbphilarmonie design, but the “jam smudge” sails can be endearing on a good day.

On the contrary, the opera house is a very low key affair, with particularly narrow lobbies. I was a bit intimidated by the insistence of pretty much everyone present to dress up, and strangely coordinated in black and white at that. At ROH you do get the overdressed crowd, especially for premieres, but it seems there is more of a variation in regards to colour usage and even necessity of dressing up (in the amphi most people don’t go further than “business casual”). Here I had a cheap ticket and I was surrounded by gents in tuxes! Agathe seemed baffled too, saying that’s noit been her experience in the past. Who knows! I wonder if this had anything to do with the concurrent presentation of the Echo Klassic Awards next door (for that matter, the house was full, so clearly the public is a bit different, though apparently the Hamburg Opera management is not known to chance on up and coming singers).

In any case, I hope to return to Hamburg for more opera, at the opera house or the Elbphilarmonie, if possible in similarly good company 🙂 and with fingers crossed for another lucky break with the weather.

nice Venetian feel, eh?

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About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on October 31, 2017, in baroque, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, operatic damsels in distress and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 104 Comments.

  1. I feel like such a leech in skulking after all your reports, but thank you, this is SO good to read. Also, wasn’t Dorottya Lang in that Malmö Rosenkavalier a few years back (2014?)? I think I have that one in the archive somewhere.

  2. you are right about Ulisse. just sat through him on train ;-). he dumped the whole bucket out the gate.

    also, jeah , same opinion about the pair entering right after SMingardo’s Penelope lament. him too operatic and her you dont remember well.. i knew something was off at the time because i knew they have teally nice and intricate/interwaeving music that sort of just walked/scrambled through here.

    and the the damn harpsichord is really loud in the radio braodcast.

    and i also figured out the conducting: he actually has a lot of instruments going, often it sounds busy. the soundtrack we heard from Agathe (ffom Beaune) Alessandrini has more “rhythm” ( in my broken musical language) whereas this one is ofyen continous one instrument merging to the next and merging with the continous voice (the whole 1/2 half sounds more like a continuous piece rather than having scenes and changing speed/smooth).

  3. How nice to read this and relive our fantastic opera day! I’ll have to print this out alongside thadieu’s and keep for memory. Hope you get home without any troubles!

  4. OK, ladies, now you have officially raised my expectation level to “Dangerous”. I am very curious about the offending harpsichord.
    Going to Hamburg tomorrow, opera on Saturday, and I’ll let you know!

    • maybe this is an issue for the sides. If you have a central seat sound might be more integrated. Hope you have a good time 🙂

    • may be the right approach is not to expect anything 🙂 . i have to say though, on the radio broadcast the harpsichord was really rampant, esp across/through Penelope’s entrance. and it was much better yesterday. i also noticed the conductor took it slower for the kid. have a wonderful time!

  5. ps- you know, given the quality of the trailer (and doesn’t it look to you like SM wore the mic in the trailer?) may be they’ll release a dvd? (drooling emoticon if so…)

  6. ps2-
    we found ourselves sitting behind the very very young boy and i was amazed how he was able to sustain the entire opera.. and at intermission we striked up a convo with his companions and found out his mother was the soprano singing Melanto. (was funny we were trying many languages until they found out my companions were speaking perfectly fine French to each other afterward, too funny).
    I also wanted to say, as you commented that she was out of breath and struggling etc., that indeed the staging had her stripping (and making it convincing…) during that whole scene which I think can be very difficult for a young singer? In any case, i still think she was still singing without phrasing on the words/text. but perhaps it would come with experience? also i guess depends on whether she wants to sing this rep..

  7. ps3- guess what i’m listening to now while hacking some computer code 😉
    i might up the the whole thing on tube again… strange the opera haus uploaded to soundcloud but only 10min of it…
    I also found out (through one of the friends of my hausmate, who was a major major opera fan and who also saw this in Zürich.. ) that 1 week before the premiere there was an interview with the stage director, conductor, and the singers at an event and there they did interview SM (in Italian, live translation) on her interpretation of the role. Too bad they didn’t record that and put on a podcast. They’re really doing a terrible job with the advertisement, grrr.
    And yes, the director is a very famous one, hence his picture everywhere. barf.

  8. ps4- i also found out premiere night in Hamburg is the night to avoid because only posh people totally decking up showing off their outfits are coming.. on the 2nd night you have much more normal people, speaking all sorts of languages surrounding us, very nice. of course for me/us we’re restricted by our schedules on when we could come.. but premiere = explains why we were the only people standing by the cast sign and talk about the singing it seems 😉

      • We can get them printed 🙂

        • …and wear for next Mingardo performance! Btw., when will that be? her schedule is so hard to find out.

          • thadieu is our SM source 🙂

            • here 🙂 . i think she cuts down on the amount of full production per year? or now can choose and only take what she likes.. in the past few years (since my discovery of her) , she has been on stage for: Ottone at La Scala, Disinganno at La Scala, Aix, Berlin, Neris in Geneva, and Penelope in Zürich and Hamburg. she sings in more concerts. For a while she was singing a lot with N.Stutzmann and with L.Equilbey. I’d love to hear her in the Rossini’s “petite messe solennelle” next year. The finale of that is a whole 5 min goose-bump inducing solo.

              • Thanks, people located in Vienna are lucky… She may choose to sing mainly concerts or she may loose most of her roles to CTs 😦 Age may play a role in casting decisions as well, not sure if we’ll still get the chance to hear her as Ottone or Andronico (If so, we would likely camp there for the entire run!).

                • Especially Ottone! Btw, greetings from ENO’s Rodelinda 🙂 let’s see how it fares against the Madrid one.

                  • Have fun! Is that going to be ‘I embrace you’ at ENO? sounds a bit weird.
                    Oh, CT cast again. But I don’t think anyone could level with the Madrid Eduige 🙂

                    • I am eagerly awaiting for “I embrace you” 😉 for recits I like English, for arias it’s a bit too “immediate”. I wish the translation was more poetic when the repeats come.
                      Oh, yeah, our Eduige is first off not a contralto, second, well, there is only one Prina 😉
                      But this production is really, really funny! In fact, the choreography to that aria where Rodelinda says she will take satisfaction in having Garibaldo killed once she is queen is one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen at the opera.

                    • Yes, it feels weird, but probably the arias wouldn’t be a problem either if one didn’t know the original.
                      Looking forward to your review on the production then!

                    • So it’s translated as “Ah, my beloved”. It was pretty good, but not on Madrid level. Now waiting for the ending and the review will be up sometime tomorrow 🙂

                    • actually translation can really ruin the phrasing, esp for french where many of the endings are sometimes accentuated by the way the words sound (and at times i felt as if it’s the composer’s intention to rhyme it.. bit who knows, i never talked to Donizzeti or Rameau or Charpentier..

                    • translating poetic language is VERY hard. Mum thinks you need a proper poet for it.

                    • for sure! you know as kids we had to memorize tons of poems.. some are so beautiful.. and many times i wanted to translate them but you can just forget about it because, jeah, you must write with the 2nd language as the base and put poetry to the main idea, not word-for-word or even phrase-for-phrase translation.. i was quite proud how SM inspired me to write so lyrically in Hamburg 😀

                    • futhermore, I think you need your first language to be that which you’re translating from. So it’s tricky.

                    • (leave it to VK and you wouldnt feel immediate at all 😉 )

                    • probably not 😀 I really wanted to hear her Solomon a few years ago, only to hear her sing in English 😉

                    • S in Munich went to hear her and said it was really good! i think it’s mainly that she does not get casted any more.. like why she was never in a staged Tancredi, i never understand.. or was Arsace too low for her? (I don’t think so) . might have been a career choice? because i think she probably got a lot of offers for these roles.. Interestingly she was offered Nerone only once (and never sang it)

                    • I think you’re right (casting). But I also think it’s her decision to take it easier now (parents). Seems like there’s always a Carmen around the corner 😉 I was always surprised by no staged Tancredi, since for a while there she seemed like the next big Tancredi of her generation. With Arsace I have no idea, that would be an interesting question to ask her. I don’t think it’s that high since Barcellona does it but I’ll get back to you later this week 😀 Also I think he has less to sing than Tancredi. Nerone would have been fun 😀

            • beware what you are asking for 😉

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