Author Archives: dehggial

Vivaldi, not to be outdone:

Staying with Basso, how exquisite is this?! I’m not even a fan of laments but the sophistication on display here is something else:

Someone in the comments says it’s organic – very apt. It’s got it all – style, technique, emotion, imagination. Just ❤

ps: it’s recorded with my favourite Baroque outfit in the world 😀

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From the great book of Handel duets

This just came to my attention and I’m a bit in love with how good Karg and Basso sound together:

A good week to all 🙂

Kat’a Kabanova and Richard Jones, a match made in small town hell (ROH, 9 February 2019)

Small town mentalities, mother-in-law from hell + traditional woman’s role (aka, guilt over even existing) = the river Volga looks mightily inviting.

that’s right, Kat’a has a dark cloud over her head and the waters are quickly rising to engulph her…

Katerina (Katya): Amanda Majeski
Boris Grigorjevic (the lover): Pavel Cernoch
Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova (Kabanicha): Susan Bickley
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Vána Kudrjáš: Andrew Tortise
Tichon Ivanyc Kabanov (the husband): Andrew Staples
Glaša: Sarah Pring
Savël Prokofjevic Dikoj: Clive Bayley
Kuligin: Dominic Sedgwick
Fekluša: Dervla Ramsay
Conductor: Edward Gardner | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones

Doesn’t sound like the kind of opera I’d rush to see but Janáček’s libretti are always worth your while (it’s 1921, after all, not 1840). The story is repugnant on all levels yet somehow the way it’s told does not insult the contemporary Western intelligence. It also helps that it’s directed by Richard Jones.

As you can imagine with Jones at the helm, whatever humour there is (and, surprisingly, there is) gets a very evident and effective treatment. That’s very welcome (and clever for those who have hired him) because otherwise this opera is as depressing as those facepalm gems Lucia di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly. (I’m aware both are actually sympathetic to their heroines but it doesn’t make it any better; we still have these self-sacrificial role models perpetuating the mentality that you either conform or die, no matter how much we all think you’re actually a decent person).

Normally I’d roll my eyes at the MIL from hell trope, because it portrays (older) women in that ugly, mysoginistic manner etc. On the other hand, traditionally, Eastern European MILs do tend to be overly protective of their perfect progeny and very distrustful of anyone they ever date, let alone marry, because who could ever be good enough for their genius babies, right? The tendency to insert themselves in the young ones’ marriage is a reality. Another reason I put my eyeroll back on its shelf was because the way the libretto treats this – here overblown – state of affairs is very funny. The MILzilla (Kabanicha) wastes no time before starting with her complaints. To say she’s unrealistic, uncooperative, implacable or childishly jealous of her daughter-in-law doesn’t even start to cover the extent of her tantrum (the role of Kabanicha is an extended tantrum that puts the Queen of the Night to shame).

Some gems from the libretto:

Kabanicha (to her son): you love your wife more than you love me!
Tichon: Mum!
Kabanicha: what if she had a lover?
Tichon: but she doesn’t!
Kabanicha: but what is she did?
Tichon: … I’d still love her.
Kabanicha: you’re a moron!

Later:

Kat’a: why must you go [to Kazan Market]?
Tichon: because Mum said so. [Kabanicha: if you really loved your Mum, you’d go to Kazan Market.]
Kat’a: must you go? I feel something terrible is going to happen to me if you go.
Tichon: yes, if only to get away from here.
Kat’a: take me with you!!!

On the other hand, the hard done by Kat’a gets a really beautiful aria from which we learn of her lofty imagination and her (sadly very repressed) adventurous spirit. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town knows that the only place imagination and adventurousness gets you is in trouble. Small towns thrive on conformity and propriety (although we also soon learn that the staunchest uplholders of those qualities are also very hypocritical).

So for having a “fairytale” MIL and a downtrodden daughter-in-law, paired with benevolent but ineffective men (Kat’a’s husband, Tichon, and her lover, Boris), the libretto is unexpectedly balanced by the existence of a second young couple (the sidekicks), Varvara and Vána. Vána is a scientist and Varvara is a right on sister, who willingly assists Kat’a with her issues and tries to cheer her up, offering a lighter, more pragmatic view of the world. This couple is quite clearly pitted against the Behold God’s wrath! old skool mentality, embodied by Dikoj (Boris’ cantakerous uncle) and Kabanicha. This happens during the storm scene, when Vána and Dikoj face off (to humorous effect) over “what is a storm?” So the future is yet bright (Vána and Varvara go together to Moscow, where we all hope their enterprising personalities will help them thrive).

For whatever reason, the couple Kat’a and Boris is much less successful. Probably this has something to do with the dying class – nobility, undone by the limitations propriety and the rest of that stylised form of existence puts on its healthy development.

I’m not familiar with the music enough to make extensive comments, but I will say that the singers were supported with care by Gardner and the interventions by various winds and brass sounded particularly good. In the title role we had Amanda Majeski, who has so far been known to me only as Vitellia to JDD’s Sesto way back in 2014 (Chicago). Live she made a very good impression on me, both vocally and dramatically. I wouldn’t mind hearing her Vitellia again 😉 even though these two roles are as far from each other as it gets. It’s that kind of nicely rounded soprano voice that has various colours to work with and she knows how to handle it.

As far as acting, she was completely immersed in this sad role and shone in the aria I mentioned above, where Kat’a talks about her dreams of soaring above the drab and stifling world1 she lives in. This appears to have been her ROH debut, and I hope to see her again in some interesting roles, mind. Please, ROH, don’t bury her in the same old. And if we can have Tito back at ROH sometime in the next decade, I’m definitely not going to be one to complain 😀 In any case, she got a very warm welcome in the house and the word on the street is equally as positive. Welcome to London 🙂 With Brexit looming, we might end up welcoming a lot more American singers of this calibre… that would be the good side of things.

The others did well, too, of course especially Bickley, who chewed scenery with the best of them as the self-righteous busybody Kabanicha. As unpleasant an cliche as it is, she made the role quite hypnotic in its small-town diabolique manner.

[edit]: The last scene was – totally unexpected – the most Russian thing I’ve seen on an English stage (true, I have not seen many Russian things, but I have seen Jones’ decidedly un-Russian 2016 Boris Godunov, one of his less successful productions, as far as I’m concerned). The spirit seemed just right to me (the main trio: Tichon holding the dead Kat’a, with Kabanicha tugging at them).

It was an evening equally as rewarding as it was frustrating, which is a good thing if you’re relaxed enough to put up with 😉 Jones has been on a roll for a few years now, so I would suggest you don’t miss his productions if you’re a fan of good theatre. But dress lightly, especially in the Upper Amphi; the heaters are on full blast.

This was my first return to ROH after it has completed its refurbishment of the Amphitheatre lounge. They have done a very good job integrating it with the rest of the ROH design, congratulations. It’s swanky but not obnoxiously so. After my travels around Europe, I think it’s still got the coolest lounge areas of all the major theatres.


  1. Two men to my right were discussing – somewhat mockingly – the cheap looking beige panneling that was the constant background to the proceedings. I was a bit surprised that it needed explaining. For my part, Jones’ ideas and Antony McDonald designs were spot on and smoothly clear at every turn: the hippie young couple proclaiming nature was beautiful, the “squares” with their ’50s style clothes and furnighings etc. 

Sonia Prina and friends: deluxe Vivaldi (Wigmore Hall, 7 February 2019)

Vivaldi? The guy who wrote The Seasons and then renamed it different things over his long career? This was one of those performances that gives the listener a glimpse at Vivaldi’s varied range of skills, from virtuosic instrumental writing to vocal music.

I know we’ve barely finished a long conversation around Vivaldi’s Juditha, so everyone around here is way past a need for an introduction to Vivaldi’s badass music but this isn’t just that. It works on different levels. If you know your Vivaldi even a little bit, this team of musicians pulls you into his exciting world and by the end of the evening things feel better than before.

Super annoying corporatist type behind me to his junior female companion: I once was at a Vivaldi concert in Venice, in Vivaldi’s church!1

I couldn’t take it anymore so I upgraded to row M.

click picture to enlarge

Sonia Prina contralto

Alina Pogostkina violin

Dorothee Oberlinger recorder

Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concerto in G minor for strings RV156

Là, sull’eterna sponda from Motezuma RV723

Ho il cor già lacero from Griselda RV718

Concerto in C for flute RV443

Sol da te mio dolce amore from Orlando Furioso RV728

INTERVAL

Concerto in E minor for violin RV277 ‘Il favorito’

Concerto in D for violin RV234 ‘L’inquietudine’

Sovente il sole from Andromeda Liberata

Anderò, volerò, griderò from Orlando finto pazzo RV727

Encore (aka, let no Vivaldi recital be without a Juditha section)

Veni, me sequere fida ❤ ❤ ❤

Agitata infinido flatu (all star)

When I heard both encores would be from Juditha I just about passed out 😀 It’s like she was there with us recently and thought “speaking of Juditha…”. But how will I ever be able to enjoy these arias in recital without a woodwind on hand, let alone an all star Agitata?! Yes, First Operaworld Problems strike again.

If you’re wondering if Prina has sung Juditha, the answer is yes, and in very good company (at your fingertips, too). I think I speak for all of us when I say we hope to hear her sing the whole thing live at a reachable venue 😀

It was a dark start, which augmented my rather unsettled state (let’s just say this week has been indirectly a bit too intense). ‘eterna sponda was done with that seductive wistfulness Prina can convey so well, yet with the usual spontaneity (the orchestra needed a moment to catch up but were solid throughout afterwards). Ho il cor gia lacero turned out fabulously febrile. This stuff fits her tone and temper like a glove. There is a bit of an arc between it and the other “fast and furious” aria of the night – Anderò, volerò, griderò, one of her staples – which she did faster than I’ve heard her before, to the point that I couldn’t follow the words – but she somehow could sing them! Hehe. T pointed out in the Juditha report (or was it in conversation?) that with Vivaldi there are many words to be sung and that can, sometimes, trip singers. Not in Prina’s case.

The wistful/slow and seductive arias benefited from her other skill – that of singing with gentleness and care. That also came through in her interaction with the other musicians on stage, especially her “duet” partners. As you know, Prina always interacts. She’s not the kind of singer lost in their own world, oblivious to the proceedings around them. Here she watched and “conversed” with her partners in crime as she does with her singing partners in a concert performance or in a staged production.

I don’t know what kind of violin Pogostkina plays but, whatever it is, it has a sweeeeet tone. I’m not the biggest solo violin fan but, wow, I loved that one and could imagine myself listening to it for the rest of the night – plump and warm, never strident. Whilst listening, it occurred to me that sometimes when I complain about the strings, it may also be that I don’t enjoy certain violin tones and not just the lacking skills of the players. Not to take away from Pogostkina’s skills, which I thought were excellent (really nice legato, light touch on the endings; she can “shred”2 without sounding uncouth and has very good rhythm).

Oberlinger looked just like my idea of the Pied Piper – are all recorder/flute/other mad winds players a bit whimsical? That’s a good thing, btw – as is the Pied Piper, one of my favourite characters, as I have mentioned around here before. At first I thought she was a bit flashy, the first piece sure went at lightning speed, but perhaps virtuosity was the whole idea. However, she won me over with the very lovey-dovey obligato in Sol da te and then the… whimsical one in Veni, me sequere fida. I think T called it a serious aria, but is it really? I think Juditha is allowing herself to be a bit playful/encouraging here, although they are sad. Oberlinger’s interaction with Prina, the way they played with the sounds, was simply a joy to listen to/watch. I really needed that 🙂

Though Agitata3 isn’t my favourite Juditha aria, to hear it with these virtuosic forces (again!) was a badass ending to an evening of comprehensive exploration of non-Seasons/Folia Vivaldi. Most of the audience realised the evening was top quality as the reception was very warm and enthusiastic. Somehow Prina and Co. lucked out on a really bright winter day here in London and in turn left us the gift of joy (indeed).


  1. that was just the best of the absolute nonsense that moron spouted liberally. 
  2. remember Basso’s famous words, Vivaldi is rock’n’roll – shredding skills required. 
  3. I like Agitata da due venti a lot better; probably the aria that made me think “I love Baroque opera!” 

Right now: Ann Hallenberg in Moscow (mezzo arias)

In case you need a reminder: check it out. At the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall.

Il ritorno di Tobia Haydn

Overture and aria Sudo il guerierro

Haydn’s stuff is always fun until he gets too noodly. I thought the aria was a bit low for her but an always welcome start.

Paride aed Elena Gluck

Paride’s mournful aria (don’t know the title)

It fit her very well; really nice variations in the middle section.

La clemenza di Tito Mozart

Overture and Deh, per questo instante solo

Capuano’s take on the overture is of the jaunty kind. There is a reason is often played in concerts. Her take on Deh, per questo… is something I think I talked about before. very affecting and natural at the same time ❤

Orphee et Eurydice Gluck

Amour, viens rendre a mon ame

Just yes, with a lot of warm smiles. The public loved it, too. Somehow 40min went in a blink.

Interval

L’italiana in Algeri Rossini

Overture and Cruda sorte!

The overture got out the bombast but perhaps not so much the Italian silliness. AH got all that in Cruda sorte. Just wonderful and tossed off like nothing.

Otello Rossini

Song of the willow

I know nothing about any Ot(h)ello operas, honestly. It sounds beautiful enough and very suited to AH’s tone.

La favorite Donizetti

Overture

Favaritka? It sounded like that in Russian. The darkest thing so far. The Russians love to go very Romantic on things.

Semiramide Rossini

Arsace! not the obvious choice from him, either but In si barbara sciagura.

Encores:

Che faro senza Euridice Gluck (Orfeo)

Really heartfelt, but then again, it’s AH.

Il segreto per esser felice Donizetti (Lucrezia Borgia)

Great to hear Il segreto…! The drinking song with a dark undertow. One of the first mezzo arias I got into, in that random manner one does. I want to listen to it on repeat now. Is there something she can’t sing?

Juditha, the Mozart version now on Ö1

A reminder to tune in right now for Betulia liberata (featuring Galou and Piau), just in case you haven’t had enough of Juditha over this period 😉

*

To begin with, the tenor has a proto-Se all’impero type aria, hehe. There is a tenor. Is he Holofernes?

Have you ever wondered why none of Mozart’s best known operas are based on biblical subjects? Could be because they all end up sounding like bedroom dramas/dramedies 😉 The recits for sure.

This must be Juditha; she’s not exactly heroic but she has some very high notes. Piau sounds different in Mozart but beautiful nonetheless. The tenor: blah blah. Juditha answers back. He must be Holofernes, indeed. She sounds sort of like a particularly en garde Susanna. He sounds like a Mozart tenor that is not portraying royalty.

I know this aria! Unless I’m thinking about a Haydn aria. Nope, it’s this aria I’m thinking about. The one here is neither but it’s pretty good, finally something rather heroic. Well, finally – we’re not yet half an hour in.

As I understand, this is being held at Haus fur Mozart (it’s part of Mozart Week 2019), which we know and love in all its splendid poshness. The audience is very appreciative, they applau after every aria.

More tenor; he’s fretting (like Mozart tenors are wont to). The chorus mirrors his fretting – see what I mean about sounding like a bedroom dramedy?

A minor key aria, oh no! His nookie chances have perished for the moment. Pieta, signor di noi! He really says that. Wait, maybe he’s not Holofernes? It’s a bit serious and the chorus joins in. Maybe he’s… Ozias? Mozart, help me out here. Are we supposed to laugh at him or cry with him/them?

Anyway, it’s kind of an interesting mood, quite far from great Mozart but onto something.

More budoir-chatting recit. Oh, look, Galou showed up. Who is she here? She seems alarmed. We hope for an angsty aria. It’s a rousing accompanied recit, pretty decent writing from Wolfie, great agitation from Galou. Cool, how about the aria now? Hey, it’s actually a mid-tempo number with trills. Who knew! She sounds interesting in Mozart, more mezzoish than usual. She’s hoping for something, but who isn’t in this scenario? She seems to be vaccilating (also known as the typical mid-tempo number with trills). Oh, no, a Mozart character who is undertain of how to proceed further?!

The audience is so well behaved, even the contralto gets applause! Aww, and I always make fun of the Salzburg crowd 😉

Speaking of preghi sinceri (sp), is she Holofernes or what?

The tenor and the choir return for a honest to god (no kidding) dirge. He could be Ozias. A tenor Ozias?!

No answer to preghi, some bass showed up. I think we’re doomed. Whoever he is, he’s also nowhere near as calm as the Assyrians over at Vivaldi’s. A fretting buffo bass is amusing.

Yes, an aria with trumpets! NOW we’re talking. The buffo bass reminds me of the cuckolded husband from Lo sposo deluso. He must be Holofernes. I think we’ve established by now that everyone else save for Piau could be Holofernes 😉

Wait, the amorous tenor is speaking to Galou and calling her Giuditta. Err… ? Haha. Total confusion chez dehggi.

I DO know this aria! It’s… it’s… hold on, I know it. It’s… something that Hallenberg sings. Parto inerme! e non pavento! So Galou’s made up her mind and she IS indeed Giuditta, because, hello, she’s going unarmed. So she’s the one chopping heads in this one. Who is Piau? Abra? Piau is not Holofernes 😉 I’ve never heard Galou sing Mozart; she’s stylish as usual. I’m still not sure if Wolfie’s music best suits the colour of her voice. I mean she sounds good and all but I’m not sure she sounds great like in the Baroque rep. The audience loves her. Aww. I think she’d got more applase here than in the Baroque I’ve heard her where she stole my heart. Such is life eh?

The choir gets all verklempt over the gran cimento she’s getting herself into. I wouldn’t advise anyone to play with cement either. Even the choir gets hearty applause. Hey, Salzburg fans, go easy on the cider.

**

We understand from the commenter that Holofernes has not entered the building yet! This was all in the Bethulian camp. So, there you go, the Who is Holofernes? game continues.

Apparently there is a theological debate going on, as the next (tenor) aria features the line “if you want to see god”. Could’ve fooled me, it sounds along the lines of Del piu sublime soglio. And dude, does it go on…

The tenor/Ozias really has a lot to sing in this one. They are some long neat mid-tempo Tito in training arias. The audience will get sore palms by the end of this performance.

The Bethulians can’t deal with the tension, Giuditta is not replying to texts. Answer: angsty-storm aria!

I’ve heard this one, too, though I can’t name it – something heavily featuring procella and naufragar, of course. I have to say that Haus for Mozart, although the small hall out of the three, isn’t exactly that small. Would have been intereseting to hear how Piau and Galou managed. Their style is great. The audience has been building up their cheer and I think they likes this one best. Piau’s coloratura-fest was ace.

To the fields! They are all basket cases. Oh, Giudatta’s back, thank YWH! You do get that nice effect with a contralto/dark mezzo tone, where you don’t have to do much to get everyone to calm down: just open your mouth. Giuditta gives a heartfelt speech and you bet they all hang onto her very word. Well, I did and all the way from here at that. Aha, she’s already built her plan, she will attack whilst he’s asleep. Good idea, Giuditta, I heard it works rather well, especially if your Holofernes is a burly chap. She’s quite verbose, let me tell you, but that just means more Galou sounds. Maybe she told them everything in great detail. I think there is also something else she tells them: listen to Vivaldi’s version 😉

There is quite a lot of wringing of hands this side of the 18th century.

Prigionier che fa ritorno – is this an aria we should know, or is this just one of those Metastasio stock phrases? They do like to give Giuditta mid-tempo stuff with very long held notes to sing. Come on, I want something fist-pumping. Then again, Galou gets some neat emotion in this one – she sounds more like usual self here. This Giuditta is much less angry than the Vivaldi one. I think she may enjoy the spotlight a lot better.

The buffo bass is pooping his pants for some reason. Take heart, dude, Giuditta is doing just fine, judging by the above aria. I think he loves her or something. Te solo adoro, he says in a – you guessed – mid-tempo aria with trills. His trills are kinda nice. Also, nice pp I wasn’t expecting on eternita (they all get philosophical). I think he’s a bass-baritone – a nicely toned one. Tentative applause, no! He did quite nicely.

More fretting in Bethulian camp. And another mid-tempo aria with… Pieta, signior, pieta – now for soprano, with some nice pp. The deal seems to be this: the Assyrians are attacking. The Bethulians have prayed very hard.

YHW: [closed]
Bethualians: YHW! Pieta, signior, pieta!
YHW: [closed]
Giuditta: clearly, someone has to do something.
Ozias: YHW bless you, noble widow! We will pray for you.
Buffo bass: she’s so hot when she gets bossy.

Bethulians – in this case, Amanda Forsythe – are still busy fretting. Major fret aria, so-so on the Mozart scale. They keep talking, obsviously Giuditta is busy… wait, she’s back. I wonder if Metastasio was short on funds and couldn’t afford the Assyrians in this libretto 😉

The choir is back and so is Giuditta – together. Nice idea, could be a powerful scene to stage. We need more Galou + choir, smartly conducted, though. Very nice ending, Wolfie recovered well.

Juditha triumphans (De Nationale Opera Amsterdam, 26 January 2019)

Did y’all know Juditha‘s outro is the actual anthem of Venice?! I didn’t, to my shame, but I do now. (There are certain themes running through this blog). Good on them, it’s such a great little choir bit, very typical Baroque loose-end tying but so effective. I simply love Vivaldi’s writing and with good reason – if you listen closely, you will hear how his chord progressions have come down all the way to pop music.

*

The operatic year 2019 started wonderfully for yours truly with this out of my usual season opera trip to Amsterdam, in the always enthusiastic company of thadieu and Agathe (who organised this one – thank you, thank you!).

After having been tipped off by thadieu a few years ago as to what a gem Vivaldi’s military oratorio, celebrating Venice’s victory over the Ottoman Empire, was, I have (quickly) grown to love it myself. These days it’s got a well deserved spot among my top 3 favourites, yet it’s not often you get to see it staged.

As you know, the concert performance Marcon toured in 2016/2017 was one of my highlights of that season, so when this was announced – and with Iervolino to boot, to whom I was introduced via Nox obscura, anyway – it was a no brainer.

However, that concert performance, as wonderful as it had been (Galou and Hallenberg, hello! Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra + the all female choir), did not prepare me for several things. For some reason, the difference in feel from concert to staged production was the most radical I have seen yet.

Juditha: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Abra: Polly Leech
Ozias: Francesca Ascioti
Conductor: Andrea Marcon | La Cetra Barockorchester Basel, Choir of the DNO

triumph over rubble?

You have probably gleaned from thadieu’s report (and if you have not, you should read it; whilst you’re at it, read Giulia’s account as well) that this staging is not ambiguous at all as to good and bad. Juditha and her people are the good ones, of course, and Holofernes and them are very horrible indeed, more so than a concert can ever convey.

It’s wartime and we are never left to forget just how that brings out the worst in its perpetrators in particular. I say this because war does not spare the oppressed from stretching the limits of what during peacetime we would call morally sound. In the end we are left with a Juditha unsettled by her own actions and resentful of her heroic status.

So not a happy ending; this Juditha is humanised, not merely a symbol of victory for those who write history. Much is made of the famous painting during the opera, most curiously with Holofernes presenting it to Juditha during their “date”, as part of the looted artwork he has decorated his quarters with. A strange element of foreshadowing, perhaps pointing out Holofernes’ and them’s utter arrogance.

Spoilers? (ps: I hope TI won’t hate me for posting this. Visit her FB for wholesome pictures by clicking on the severed head…)

Yet Holofernes goes to some lengths to appear magnanimous even from the get go: as soon as he comes on stage, he starts by shooting one of his officers who is in the process of raping a Bethulian woman. He goes on to stage a photo shoot of him giving candy to local children (apparently unaware it can also be read as majority creepy). Of course, the libretto (and his very laid back music) does paint him as willing to compromise to a certain extent with the locals. But there is not compromise for Bethulians, it’s freedom or nothing1.

I can see why it was another production featuring the Nazi as the bad guys, given the story and that this was Amsterdam. I still think there is room for this oratorio to be set even more contemporary, though there is always the trap of falling into sensationalism with that, especially when beheadings are involved. Speaking of which, you’ve probably seen Iervolino’s selfie with Holofernes’ chopped head. Armed with that knowledge ahead of the show, it turned out all some of us were eagerly awaiting to see how effectively they would stage the beheading. Though the very relaxed Amsterdam audience giggled a little when the chopped head emerged from under the sheets, it was rather effective. Holofernes was passed out drunk, she put a sheet on his head and did the deed.

With a very unpleasant “upstart” Vagaus, this turn of events looked even more his fault than usual. You remember it is him that encourages Holofernes to grant Juditha an audience. Here, Holofernes appeared particularly uninterested at the beginning and Vagaus had to work hard (and bourishly) to convince him. Then he does a piss poor job at keeping vigilant, given that he found both Juditha and Abra armed upon entering his superior’s quarters.

Relax, it’s just the premiere!

As I mentioned before, none of us were prepared for Gaelle Arquez, whose Amsterdam debut was this very performance. Juditha’s arias are mostly dirges2, because she’s understandably upset with the situation and she’s trying to keep her dignity. It’s a sign of virtuosity to make them stand out and not drag (she somehow even managed to make Transit aetas jaunty). Arquez more than managed that, via deft vocal characterisation and her dense tone that fit Juditha to a t (or a th). Also, her Vivaldi style was impeccable, nothing was overdone or flashy for the sake of it and nothing betrayed how acquainted she is with other repertoire. I really need to hear more from her (more Juditha and more Baroque in general) to talk in further detail, but suffice to say that I like her tone a lot and this first live impression will stay with me for a good while.

I consider myself super lucky to have seen live my two favourite Holoferni. I have said it before, Iervolino is by quite some margin my favourite of the new generation of voices, and in this role in particular. Though more boyish/less sophisticated than Galou’s, her Holofernes does have his own strong hypnotic charm. Her softly resplendent tone lends itself particularly well to the sexy arias sung by the drunken Holofernes during the second part. This Holofernes needed all the help he could get, given the masculine toxicity all around him. But we all know Vivaldi does not portray him in a repulsive manner, so the Juditha/Holofernes scenes are always rather curious. She always seems to have the upper hand, as much as she is literally at his mercy, yet he keeps laying on an irresistible (to us) charm. I don’t know that I can say anything else that I haven’t said before about Iervolino: go see her and you will weep for joy that this wonderful music gets sung by such a voice.

Perhaps to go with the production, Marcon used the “made up” overture this time, which is the first time I’ve seen him do it. You probably know the original overture has been lost – at least partially – so the chorus we are used to is merely the bit that would normally come next. The overture heard here is good enough, in the way Vagaus’ alternative first aria is – but no cigar. Appending it before the chorus feels to me like dampening the powerful effect of the rumbling timpani and piercing (female) chorus.

The fabulous La Cetra Barockorchester Basel… and some rubble

The good news is Marcon and his orchestra are able to make you feel this is thrilling music. All the soloists were marvelous! They played with virtuosity and feeling. The mixed choir – again, I suppose for the purposes of the production, because usually Marcon uses the female-only choir – worked generally very well, with only some minor dragging. When you have the mixed choir you sacrifice that piercing quality for dialogue, which I like as well (I started by prefering Sardelli’s very martial mixed choir and was only won over by the all female version upon hearing Marcon’s take live).

This was my introduction to De Nationale Opera. I want to congratulate the Amsterdam public for being amazing – supremely relaxed yet engaged and well bahaved (no rustling/phone ringing/phone flashing and minimal coughing in the middle of a miserable season). No fussiness about this being a premiere, yet generous with the applause.

The house looks modern inside, along the lines of Opera Bastille. The hall isn’t that large but the stage is – especially deep. The sightlines are excellent and the acoustic very good. It also houses the local City Hall. As you do! Gotta love Dutch Style. We started imaging what if it wasn’t just operahouse/city hall, but also airport3 😉 that would anger the hotel industry, as people would fly in, watch a show and fly out – but isn’t that the Dutchest thing ever? Haha.

Your Juditha needs in one spot

There’s more: the Dutch business sense showed itself at the souvenir counter. Not only did they have Juditha magnets, but also Juditha posters4. Yes, they had opera specific paraphernalia, at decent prices. And a very cute – woman cut option, though no Juditha-option – t-shirt. That’s how it should be done! My only complaint is I didn’t like the poster (ha).

So although I agree with thadieu that Marcon should’ve reined in the orchestra at times (his only fault), and in spite of the minor quibles above, I have gained a very high level of respect for De Nationale Opera. It may not be as famous as others but they do some great stuff here and they are not afraid to feature young talent in top roles – and lesser known operas, for that matter. Lesser known operas that should be MUCH better known. It wasn’t just us, but Agathe’s friends who joined us to the opera also reported liking it a lot.

Even the inclement weather (rain followed by heavier rain) did not dampen the mood. Thadieu saved the day via uber, which showed up in 5min, which meant we didn’t miss the overture (I was particularly worried we would miss the choir, of course).

It’s all Vagaus’ fault

I just realised I said nothing about Vagaus other than he was unpleasant here. Berzhanskaya did a very good job with him. If you remember, he has the flourish arias in this piece – and they are quite a few. You may think he’s merely a sidekick but does he work hard or what?! So there was a bit of disconnect between his general unpleasantness (thanks, direction) and that sweet aria (Umbrae carae – remind yourself how lovely it is) where he puts a blanket over his sleeping buddy Holofernes and cleans up the dinner date leftovers. Just when you thought this one would follow the out of the leftfield evil dudes and rub his hands at the first chance his superior is incapacitated, he gets all soft and lyrical. A bit of bromance there, eh? You know the adage: he may have done evil things, but he was nice to his family.

Anyway, this is a role where coloratura is the first and foremost requirement. If you can get gentle on Umbrae carae = bonus. Berzhanskaya worked as hard as you’d expect in this role and aced her angsty coloratura, though she had to climb over rubble at the same time, occasionally at the expense of projection. I wouldn’t mind hearing her again in other angsty/perky roles of this repertoire that are best served by youthful, slender voices.

… and what with this mesmerising oratorio, I managed to bungle up my local opera going. But I have a feeling in the long run this will be a very small price in comparison to the exceptional memories. Seriously, go if you can. There are still a few performances.


  1. According to the booklet, the Assyrians had not won the fight yet. It was merely the eve of the battle when Juditha wormed her way into their camp. 
  2. Aside from Transit aetas, where she’s very playfully reminding a very drunk Holofernes about the perishability of beauty. 
  3. Although I have some annoying memories from my second time at Schipol in 2012, I love how easy to navigate it is, considering it’s one of the busiest in the world and it’s set over canals and the motorway. I don’t know how, but it takes you about twice as long to get from the plane to Arrivals at Luton. Only then you take a bus to the train station, whereas here you’re on the train within 5min. And the train is 5.50 euros, tax included. 
  4. Which they wrap for you in their own poster-box. They have thought of everything. 

Arquez triumphans in Amsterdam

Thadieu: Arquez is the best Juditha ever!

Everyone else: Confermo!

That is all.

For now.

The man who didn’t do it with Pelleas…

… doesn’t do it with Pikovaya Dama.

The Queen of Spades review – Herheim puts Tchaikovsky centre stage for stimulating frustration

2 / 5 stars 2 out of 5 stars.

Drink the funny water, Yeletsky!

If ever there was a time to read the reviews before going:
[Herheim} is not half as interested in the story of Pushkin’s novella and Tchaikovsky’s opera as he is in the story of Tchaikovsky himself. In fact, forget Pushkin; this is all about Tchaikovsky. The composer was the toast of musical Russia; he was also a depressive, a gay man who had a breakdown following a disastrous marriage, someone who could plausibly have drunk the cholera-infected water that killed him in full awareness that it was contaminated. Knowledge of all this is crucial to understanding the next three hours on stage, and Herheim concedes us a few projected lines of explanation at the very start.
Say what? It’s kind of bad that he’s not interested in the novella, since it’s one of the better ones Pushkin penned (better than that upper class melodrama Onegin, for my money at least).
Herheim has projected Tchaikovsky into the character of Yeletsky, the dull old prince who offers heroine Liza love and security only for her to gamble her honour and sanity on flaky antihero Gherman instead.
The disastrous marriage might’s been a dead giveaway… I’ve seen this opera a few times and I can’t even remember the old dude.
brandishing glasses half full of iridescent cholera water.
That’s kinda cool, in that Simpsons’ three-eyed fish kind of way.
Yeletsky is normally a bit part, singing little except one of Tchaikovsky’s most ravishing ariashow beautifully Tchaikovsky wrote for the boring men in his operas, and how he must have craved ordinariness for himself!
Maybe he was craving the boring men! This is the guy who complained Handel was awful. I rest my case.
miming away at the piano like some 19th-century version of Animal from The Muppets, or disrupting any intimate scene between other characters.
I like that image! Haha, if only this is so funny I’m more down with this production than you’d think from the writeup.
The Royal Opera has not recently been a stranger to stagings about operas rather than of them: Barrie Kosky’s Carmen was a breath of fresh air.
Kosky is always a breath of fresh air.
Eva-Maria Westbroek’s soprano misses the ideal innocence for Liza, and Aleksandrs Antonenko sings Gherman with a scything tenor that’s a blunt instrument, too often veering off pitch.
Westbroek is Liza? A bit odd even on paper. But I do like the schwing on Antonenko. I am looking forward to the off pitch moments 😀
and Felicity Palmer, mesmerising as the Old Countess. If this is indeed this remarkable singer’s last stage role, it’s a fittingly memorable one.
Whew! The Countess is the best part of the show, any day. Nothing of Polina, so I guess we don’t get the Mozart-pastiche trouser role bit. Meh, Herheim, you be no fun.

Elbphilharmonie, this will jumble your sails

it looks sort of similar…

The new, state of the art London music venue is coming to a roundabout near… well, not you, probably. Near the City of London, which is not the same as London. You know those intersecting circles? It’s that kind of a thing here. Or London > the City of London.

The City of London is that ugly bit in East London (as opposed to the beautiful bits of East London… err, anyway!) most famous around here for the Barbican. There is a roundabout there with a subway (as in: underground passageway) and a bunch of skyscrapers squeezed in for that special NYC Financial District feel, because, well, it is the financial heart of London. An ideal spot for a swanky music venue, don’t you agree? That’s exactly where they want to build it (you really want to see the roundabout).

The concept includes a pedestrian plaza and foyer above which would sit an “acoustically perfect” 2,000-seat concert hall for the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). (from The Guardian, see link at top)

Pedestrian plaza = good.

Rising further would be four floors of commercial space

Yay, commercialism sitting on top of music! Grinding it down?

a destination restaurant

I’m not posh enough to know what that means. Swanky, in any case.

at the top, a more intimate venue for jazz and other performances

a-ha!

Diller [the architect] said the wooden concert hall, in which the audience would wrap around the orchestra, was inspired by geological formations of layered strata. It would be quite steep so every seat in the house would have a good view. There would also be breakout areas for musicians to perform within the audience.

OK, pretty much like all modern music venues. Breakout areas = that sounds rather ominous = the soprano broke ranks! Catch her if you can. Haha. But if the acoustics is perfect, you can hear her from every position. Or they’ll have to spin around like at Elbie?

Where the money comes from remains to be seen. “We are working with a number of major, potential donors,” said Kathryn McDowell, the LSO’s managing director. “We are in the early stages but we are making good progress.”

Evil money, as usual, thus furthering the idea that classical music = for the rich, because probably quite rightly the public would bulk at £288m being taken from the public purse for a musical venue in a city that already has several.

The £288m figure is a large one, although much less than Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie, which opened two years ago. It was originally estimated at €450m (£395m) and ended up costing €866m, most of it public money. Jean Nouvel’s publicly funded concert hall in Paris came in at €390m, three times over budget.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, the managing director of the Barbican, pointed to the success of both concert halls in creating new demand for music.

I know the adage “build and they will come”, though I’m never quite sure how it applies here, other than how it applied to Elbie = all star superstar concerts of see and be seen public vs interesting music programming.

She [the architect] admitted that the location, in the middle of a busy city of London roundabout, was not the most dignified spot for a landmark building. “It is quite a moat.”

But she said it provided huge potential and would bring a southern entrance to the Barbican site which was “transparent, porous and welcoming. Basically everything that the north entrance is not.”

Heh, at least she’s admitting to the ugliness of the Barbican.

There you go, apparently something to look forward to after Brexit. Sort of.