Author Archives: dehggial

Whimsical Partenope returns to kick off the Handel season (ENO, 17 March 2017)

You know what we/I haven’t had in a while? (A bit of semi-obscure) Handel! Since Gauvin’s recital at the end of January, to be precise. ENO has programmed their revival of the Award Winning 2008 production of Partenope to coincide with the usual time of the year when we celebrate the Grandmaster of the Baroque Formula.

I bought this ticket the day before the show, just before leaving for the Radvanovsky recital. Because 1) I bungled it when the tickets went on sale, 2) there was no way for me to attend this week’s performances no matter how I tried to cut it (and these days the situation at work is the sort where one should try to cut it as little as possible) and last but most importantly 3) this is a badass production, which kept niggling at the back of my mind (you’re not going to see that? Seriously? You’re not? And you call yourself an admirer of clever stylish silly ideas? It’s Handel, ffs! A Handel comedy!).

Oh, who am I kidding?! It all comes down to:

Like Radvanovsky was saying: I just like I was lucky to have quite a grand introduction to it, on my very first outing at Wigmore Hall. You should see my badass moves 😉 If I were a singer with a half decent coloratura this would be one of my audition/recital staples. By the end of it the audience would be bawling on each other’s shoulders. Or perhaps chuckling. But moved they would be. After about 30min on repeat (various versions) my musically inclined cat joined in with the coloratura 😀 that’s how much we love this aria at casa dehggi.

Partenope: Sarah Tynan
Emilio: Rupert Charlesworth (taking the entire season over from Robert Murray (indisposed))
Arsace: Patricia Bardon
Armindo: James Laing
Rosmira “Eurimene”: Stephanie Windsor-Lewis
Ormonte: Matthew Durkhan
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Orchestra of the ENO
Director: Christopher Alden
Set designer: Andrew Lieberman
Costume designer: Jon Morell

In this production, the laddish Arsace, who sings the aria after being roasted by his jilted lover, brandishes about a bottle of something stiff but somehow does not smash it by the end. Dude! I’d like several (the entire stash) to smash to the coloratura.

“But what if Man Ray isn’t what turns you on? If your fancy isn’t taken by the erotic charge of a strategically positioned black triangle, or a prominent nipple in an expanse of flesh smoothed flat by the lens and viewpoint, or if the sight of a 1920s siren smoking through a long cigarette holder fails to excite? In that case, this production has little for you.” (Davin Karlin for Bachtrack on this revival of ENO/Opera Australia’s 2008 production of Partenope).

That’s the case with every production built on a schtick. Luckily, I get down with all of that, especially the siren bit, which Tynan rocks (is there anything more stylish than 1920s fashions? Nah.) It’s a sort of “flat” production, in the sense it’s all about posing rather than following a plot logically1 but then we’re talking Surrealist photography, Bauhaus and whatnot. Visual arts during Modernism made a point out of removing (or at least disrupting) the narrative.

How does this relate to Handel? Singers do silly things whilst singing but we’re reminded that singers in Handel’s time used to make the most of their limelight moments as well and the public was often engaged otherwise. People do silly things at moments of heightened emotion – and sometimes at regular times, too. Sometimes overthinking gets in the way of good fun.

Partenope the character is flirty but constant. She likes to be admired and friendzones men by the boatload. Arsace (her lover at the beginning of the opera) isn’t particularly flirty but as soon as “Eurimene” shows up he suddenly knows remembers he’s actually Rosmira, his hitherto fogotten ex. It’s a bit Alcina without the magic – or “for adults”. Case in point: we have the bonus of a mezzo making out with both the title soprano and another mezzo.

In the end Partenope rebounds with the shy guy and Rosmira gets her pretty man back after a satisfying bout of emotional torture (no hard feelings from Partenope, who is reasonable/together enough to know it’s all Arsace’s fault). Emilio – the enemy, who, in a short duet suavely sings he’d like to make Partenope his chattel – is added to the friendzone menagerie. So far so contemporary feminist.

The singing was constantly fine across the board though I can’t say it ever rose to stratospheric levels of emotion. Bardon has a very recognisable dark mezzo and here somehow outcountertenored Laing. She also showed what a bitch of an aria Furibondo… is. I remember someone on youtube commenting on a live recording of Scholl singing it how he for once prefers Daniels. Not fair comparing live to studio!

The reason why I love it is because Handel packs so much. You start on coloratura, then you have to vary projection, sometimes mid-phrase (= shouts of agitation), more coloratura, then you get to the B section, where I gather you add rubato to taste (I really liked what Horne did there on an almost melancholic agitata and the contrast with the very dark dol), because the rhythm is pretty much the same throughout – relentless and staccato.

Back to Bardon’s: it was good but not fabulous. I suppose there are many factors that go into this. People have criticised Curnyn’s approach as too fast in general, not giving singers breathers. I remember thinking during one of the slow Arsace arias that it could’ve been a tad faster. He did manage some very pretty interventions from the winds and assorted brass during Eurimene’s warlike aria2. Also the rhythm section deserves praise for keeping it tight throughout. It made me grin, thinking, ah, there’s nothing (in classical music) quite like Baroque to rock a solid rhythm.

But yes, perhaps Furibondo… was too fast. There were times (the shouty moments) when Bardon didn’t project as strongly as I would’ve expected – for whatever reason. I thought the role suited her otherwise, even though, like I said, I don’t remember her sounding quite so countertenorish before. Special mention: really nice job from Bardon on the movement-whilst-singing-a-male-character department.

photo from The Stage (click for review)

Tynan has the right voice and style for the role. All is needed is a bit of extra something to make it outstanding. Her interaction with her suitors and her Partenope persona were on the money throughout. I must commend the Personnenregie in general, very convincing in its details.

But in spite of the mezzo-soprano-mezzo estravaganza, Charlesworth’s Emilio stole the show this time. He took proper advantage of the silliness surrounding his character – the baddie, here a privacy stealing Man Ray – and seemed to have so much fun every time he was on stage that he drew the most attention and applause. It didn’t hurt that his diction was the best of the bunch and his pojection grand.

It was rather good fun – literally and figuratively – and really easy on the eyes. I’m glad I went last week, not after the Petibon concert (though I wish I’d’ve posted this before that concert, it would’ve read a lot more lively). Sitting in those tiny bum seats in the Balcony (economy) section between a Spanish couple and two Polish women I thought to myself how the ENO audience often seems like the most relaxed. ENO has the biggest opera-presenting hall in London yet it somehow feels very cosy (must be the tiny bum seats) and up there it feels almost as chummy as TEC.


  1. There is a plot and there is logic but that’s not central to this production. 
  2. That was the only time the music and the production didn’t flow together for me. The Bloomsbury atmosphere is so strong, the thought of actual war is jarring. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

buddy looks suspiciously like my old boss…

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sondra Radvanovsky recital or the triple queen of diminuendo takes London by giggle (Cadogan Hall, 16 March 2017)

It’s hard to believe this was Radvanovsky’s debut as recitalist in London, but I think there are two types of American singers: some who become household names there but rarely visit these shores/Europe and some who seem comfortable on both sides (those are the ones with Mozart/Strauss/Baroque in their rep and Radvanovsky seems to miss this).

Sondra Radvanovsky soprano
Anthony Manoli piano

VivaldiSposa son disprezzata from BajazetBelliniPer pietà, bell’idol mio; La Ricordanza; Ma rendi pur contento – she actually quizzed us about which one of his own arias Bellini ripped off in La Ricordanza 😉 do you know?StraussAllerseelen; Befreit; Morgen!; Heimliche Aufforderung

I don’t even know how well the event was advertised because I only learned about it via the Barbican newsletter last week, right around the time one of my shifts was moved from Thursday to Sunday. A time comes in an opera lover’s life when one doesn’t go to a show just because they worship a performer. Sometimes one goes because someone considered an important contemporary voice should be experienced live.

I’ve not been a fan and this performance did not make me one. But there’s no denying Radvanovsky’s qualities, regardless of what one wants in a performer. For fans though, this must’ve been one of those nights memory would return to often.

To begin with, she appeared very excited to be here. Enthusiasm always helps. Then there was the curiosity of American singers. There is something specific about their modus operandi, different from how the Europeans do it. The Europeans would mostly just toss together a bunch of songs/arias that show off their qualities, mix in their personal pizzaz – which quite often means throwing caution to the wind – and call it a day.

The Americans curate their shows – carefully. Everything has an explaination and is in place with the specific intent of winning the audience over. Hell, she even plugged her upcoming Met Norma! – though considering her encores, Casta diva was conspicuously absent. I can’t say it bothered me (it’s her space to entertain, and she was entertaining1) but this is not something I’ve ever heard from European singers. We also learned she will be debuting Andrea Chenier in Barcelona, so the places between songs functioned like chirpy tweeter moments.

This chattiness is another American thing. When speaking and walking about she constantly reminded me of Joyce DiDonato. I don’t know if they are friends, but I could easily imagine them have long convos over coffee (“… that time in Prague when-“, “Oh, but let me tell you what happened in Madrid! It was the weirdest thing!” etc.).

It is one of those weird things. Radvanovsky is one of those singers who is built, looks and sounds like a tragedian when singing but speaks like a soubrette (in content as well). After the dark or very covered sound (it’s one of her peculiarities so she probably doesn’t do it on purpose) during the songs/arias she just chimes in with a giggle.

When presenting the Vivaldi aria she made a face best represented by this ascii art:

¯_(ツ)_/¯

(she said: I just like it! which could be a candid moment of pure music joy or hey Baroque fans, don’t judge! – because the way she and Manoli attacked it was with a Liszt-type feel; possibly both – but it was not the gesture of a tragedian). Again, I didn’t mind it, but it was quite different than most of my previous recital experiences.

As I mentioned in the title, diminuendo – the woman knows how to tackle this (as well as crescendo, but one could argue that’s easier). Her technique seemed simply fabulous to me. From that angle this was a performance to take voice students to: watch and learn, this is the kind of solidity you need to aim for and you’re going to have a long and fruitful career. Her control of dynamics and projection was wonderful through the night and her flights to the top of her voice illuminating (metaphorically and literally). The voice has a very alluring opacity at the bottom – let’s say indigo, like her second dress of the night – and an interesting rock solid brightness without ping at the top but the middle (I’d guess right around the area where mezzos tend to have the passaggio) was occasionally marred by cloud.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you that I connected much on an emotional level, this side of the Barber set and Vissi d’arte. It might be due to a difference in personality or just that I constantly sensed her position herself for best technical results rather than letting go enough for my liking. Even when she let rip (often, especially after the interval) – something the size of her voice easily allows for – it seemed strangely contained.

The audience responded very warmly to her coaxing, though, even when I thought she was going a bit far with the please like me attitude. American singers are not shy about their ambitions. But, come on, you’re Radvanovsky, not a beginner, of course people will like you if you drop by. Now, like she said she would like to, she could start with some Strauss – perhaps Ariadne? – and call again.

INTERVAL

LisztS’il est un charmant gazon; Enfant, si j‘étais roi; Oh! Quand je dorsBarberHermit Songs – At Saint Patrick’s Purgatory; St Ita’s Vision; The Crucifixion; The Monk and His Cat; The Desire for HermitageGiordanoLa mamma morta from Andrea Chénier

The surprise of the night was the Barber set. I felt it was the best suited to her voice, like she had reached her true home – and made me love it in the process.

Seeing as Barber wrote it for Leontyne Price (check them both out here), she talked a bit about fangirling Price. Apparently she decided to pursue an opera career after listening to Price sing Verdi. I can’t blame her, I think Price does the phattest maledizione there is (but the whole thing is worth it):

Yes. That last note was held exactly as long as it should’ve been. Even if it’s an old recording, you can tell how well her voice holds against the orchestra.

So whilst Radvanovky isn’t the second coming of Price, she does inhabit a similar vocal space.

ENCORE:

Song to the Moon Rusalka
I could’ve danced all night My Fair Lady – and she could’ve!
Io son l’umile ancella… Adriana Lecouvreur
Vissi d’arte Tosca

4 encores after all that – Americans and their work ethic 😉 There’s never enough Adriana Lecouvreur in the recitals I attend, so I was right happy, but to be fair Vissi d’arte turned out to be surprisingly moving2. Perhaps because it was the last piece she dropped a bit of that control – and it was a good thing. What we learned tonight? Going out of your comfort zone can be surprisingly rewarding.


  1. I’d just finished a set of night shifts the morning before the performance and was afraid I’d doze off but I was far from it. Good job, SR! 
  2. Nice combo, two arias about living for art – prefaced by her comment that the world right now needs more music and less… all that stupid crap (she didn’t put it like that). 

Glyndebourne 2017 loot

Glyndebourne 2013

Glyndebourne 2013

Given that I haven’t been to Glyndebourne in a few years, I don’t know if this general booking system is new or not. In any case, you apparently can’t sneak in before the appointed time. Though I got in 14secs after 6pm, I was #622 in the queue. Luckily I was tag-teaming with Baroque Bird, who was in the 300s already. So Team London will be there for La clemenza di Tito on 31 July (Glyndebourne will broadcast the 3 August performance) and yours truly will see a couple more shows (Hipermestra and Hamlet in June plus another go at Tito in August). Let’s hope for clement weather 🙂

edit: we now have Annio (Anna Stéphany) and Publio (Clive Bayley). Interesting that Stéphany is Annio, seeing as how she’s already sung Sesto. But I do rather see her as Annio. You may remember I saw Bayley as Aye in Akhnaten last year and when I say saw I mean it. It’s going to be nice actually hearing him 😉

Belcanto Tito – a bit of update

See post La clemenza di Tito (De Marchi)

What the title says. This morning I found some time to write on a few arias/ensembles from act II. Sorry I’ve written so haltingly about this interesting take on Mozart’s Tito as well as for the blog being very quiet, but February has been busy at the currently relocating casa de dehggi. I really wish I were writing rather than packing my belongings and having to decide on which crap I haven’t used in ages I can/can’t part with!

Let’s look at ROH rumours 2017-2019

tl;dr: barely any Mozart, no Baroque (though some might trickle through nearer to the time) but some tempting things nonetheless. Here‘s your source.

New productions 2017-18

La Vestale (Spontini) La Gheorghiu continues her work to keep the rep traditional
Julia: Angela Gheorghiu

La Boheme (Puccini)
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Production: Richard Jones
Mimi: ? keeping the suspense
Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano
Marcello: Mariusz Kwiecien

The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) – Co-Production with De Nederlandse Opera   
Production: Stefan Herheim I like it, I’ll go

Der Freischutz (Weber) I don’t quite like it but I might go because how often does it come around?
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Production: Kasper Holten
Max: Jonas Kaufmann / Stuart Skelton

Semiramide (Rossini) bring it on! I might go twice
Production: David Alden
Semiramide: Joyce DiDonato
Assur: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Arsace: Daniela Barcellona

Katya Kabanova (Janacek) tempting
Production: Ivo van Hove
Kabanicha: Rosalind Plowright
Katya: Amanda Majeski

Lessons in Love and Violence (George Benjamin, World Premiere)
Director: Katie Mitchell
Stephane Degout
Barbara Hannigan ❤ I’ll take the chance with her
Peter Hoare

Revivals 2017-18

Les Vepres Siciliennes (Verdi) October – November 2017
Rachele Stanisci (Helene), two performances who’s she? I missed the Vepres the last time around, might go this time

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) / Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) Dec 2017
Nedda: Carmen Giannattasio
Silvio: Artur Rucinski
Santuzza: Elina Garanca I’d go for comparison purposes but it’s a bit soon

Tosca (Puccini) January 2018
Caravadossi: Vittorio Grigolo yes, but who is Tosca?

Lucia di Lammermor (Donizetti) November 2017? So soon?!
Lucia: Olga Peretyatko
Raimondo: Michele Pertusi
Edgardo: Juan Diego Flórez he doesn’t want to!

Don Giovanni (Mozart) July 2018
Donna Anna: Chen Reiss
Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik

Andrea Chenier (Giordano) ?2018 never too soon 😉
Andrea Chenier: Jonas Kaufmann

Salome (Strauss) Yay! Hope it’s good.

Peter Grimes (Britten)
Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton
Ellen Orford: Emma Bell

New Productions 2018-19

Königskinder (Humperdinck) 13, 17, 21, 27, December 2018, 1 January 2019
Production: David Bosch
Der Königssohn: Daniel Behle ❤

Fedora (Giordano)
Fedora: Angela Gheorghiu

From the House of the Dead (Janacek) I’ll go
Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski

Through the Looking Glass (Unsuk Chin) World Premiere (?)

Don Pasquale (Donizetti) I really don’t see the appeal of this one
Production: Damiano Michieletto

La Forza Del Destino (Verdi) – 2019 not unless we get Harteros
Conductor: Antonio Pappano

Death in Venice (Britten) I like the story, I might go
Conductor: Mark Elder
Production: David McVicar

Revivals 2018-19

Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Brunnhilde: Nina Stemme should yours truly make an effort?
Siegfried: Stefan Vinke
Siegmund: Stuart Skelton

Carmen November- December 2018
Micaela: Eleonora Buratto

Faust (Gounod) should go this time

The beauty of colour in L’aure che spira

This is a youthfully angry, sharp and to the point aria, in which little Sesto fumes at the mouth against Tolomeo (he doesn’t deserve to breathe (the air)). Whilst re-reading a post of mine (I do that too 😉 ), I had a sudden need to re-listen. A few versions later I was bathed in the multitude of colours it allows.

Let’s start with Stutzmann, because I love her handeling of dynamics both in conducting and in singing. I feel this is a wonderful introduction to this aria, so typical of Handel’s writing of arias of fury (it’s not quite vengeance here; see Svegliatevi nel cuore for that). Also check out her moves at around 0:12:

(One of the iconic little Sesti of our time) Semmingsen with her bright(eyed) mezzo comes next for strong contrast. I’m not so sure about Mortensen’s conducting here; I feel the details are a bit muddled, though in the interest of characterisation – this is a very young Sesto – that might not be a bad idea:

Also a mezzo, but much darker, is Bonitatibus; always a strong Handelian (especially in troubled youth roles), it’s interesting to compare a dark mezzo voice with a true contralto:

And here we have another Jacobs take – a very speedy one – with Ernman at the forefront, unexpectedly catching my ear. This Sesto is a bit older or wilder than usual; if I were Tolomeo I’d keep my hand on the dagger:

When singers make baby Mozart weep; today’s culprit: Dorothea Roschmann

baby-mAh, the youtube comment section! – exerting its powerful pull whenever boredom strikes. I’ve posted earworm‘s video before, along with a rant stating:

I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

But if you check out the mini convo started by the latest comment below the video you will see some people have the exact opposite opinion regarding her singing. It never ceases to amuse me how people can hear the same thing in such radically different ways.

The last classic diva – Adriana Lecouvreur (ROH, 7 February 2017)

If you’re like me and spend most of your opera time with modernised productions of operas written in the 18th century, a traditional (with capital T) performance of an opera like Adriana Lecouvreur always feels like a trip to a very old relative’s house. You might enjoy spending time with said relative, you might even like their quaint taste in the inevitable knick-knacks but it’s still miles away from your life and views.

Though written in 1902, I was hard pressed to see anything 20th century about it. It’s simply old school and it needs singers who have a feel for that kind of thing.

Adriana Lecouvreur: Angela Gheorghiu
Maurizio: Brian Jagde
Abbé de Chazeuil: Krystian Adam
Princesse de Bouillon: Ksenia Dudnikova
Prince de Bouillon: Bálint Szabó
Michonnet: Gerald Finley
Mademoiselle Jouvenot: Vlada Borovko
Mademoiselle Dangeville: Angela Simkin
Poisson: Thomas Atkins
Quinault: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: Daniel Oren | Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Coproduction with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Vienna State Opera, San Francisco Opera and Opéra National de Paris

Luckily for us, Angela Gheorghiu is one of those singers. The only properly old school singers I had seen live were Domingo and Nucci and even they are merely a few years older than my parents. Watching Gheorghiu at work was the closest I came to witnessing a classic diva. Though Fleming is older, she’s got that American knack for updating her image, getting on with times etc. and just blending grand with business casual whereas Gheorghiu seems to have made a conscious effort of sticking with the legendary image of a European diva. You’re never going to pull off shouting – in recit voice – I am Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy! if you haven’t embraced that.

I was fully expecting her to overdo it but she didn’t. She stayed within the schmalzy limits of the libretto/music. In this sense her death scene was the most telling. She couldn’ve snatched a last cry but she went gently. She also didn’t seem intent on outshining her co-stars, more power to her (because she really didn’t need to; Adriana has it all).

(Schmalz: you might think there isn’t anything OTT about Adriana and perhaps you’re right; I just have a very low tolerance for sentimentality; doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have fun trying something like that on stage).

This being the first time I heard La Gheorghiu live (her repertoire isn’t normally up my alley), I was very impressed with her vocally. She’s just this side of 50 and the voice shows no signs of wear and tear. Then again, I guess nobody could accuse her of oversinging. Her attacks are always smooth and measured without feeling emotionless, she can pull a breathtaking pianissimo when she wants, and that part of her range that has made her famous still boasts gorgeously rounded notes, whilst the lower part has matured. Like her stage persona, the voice also has an old school feel to it, like she’s grown up on a steady diet of Tebaldi and never found the need to fix what ain’t broken.

I’m glad she hasn’t. We need all kinds of personalities out there. Sometimes you feel like everybody rushes to be cool and modern. Evenings like this make you stop and consider that it’s not absolutely necessary to do that. Especially if we want to keep operas like this in the repertoire. Having developed a soft spot for Adriana, I would love it if singers could keep the link to this tradition alive, musty as it may feel on occassion. Not everything is about Handel and Mozart (in shorts).

In spite of the traditonal this, traditional that talk, I do think the libretto is one of the better ones out there (subject and character-wise; there were moments when I wasn’t sure who sends whom which letter). Adriana, Michonnet and the Evil Princess are all well done characters. There are worse tenor characters than Maurizio. I like the social angle, as well, though of course if I could sing one role it would be Princess de Bouillon, leftist values be damned. What a villain! But it’s good that Adriana tries, at least, to stand up for herself in the face of unyielding power and privilege.

This is a revival of the 2010 ROH production, the first in 100 years, originally designed for Gheorghiu. There are many things that could be said about La Gheorghiu (that she keeps to a narrow repertoire, for instance) but there’s no doubt that she is very good at what she does. It’s quite obvious she feels at home in this production.

The role is not for the faint of heart or beginners (though Michonnet alludes to Adriana’s young age), as Adriana gets right into the meat of things within a couple of minutes of stepping – appearing, more likely – on stage, with Io son l’umile ancella, which is a less catchy Vissi d’arte but still quite the aria. There is so much to recite as well as sing here that one needs to be well into their career to carry this – for indeed the opera’s success rests on the shoulders of the soprano.

If you also have solid singers in the other roles that’s a bonus, of course. We did. I’m quite the Finley fan and here (as Michonnet) he was not only in very fine vocal form but also touching dramatically. Michonnet is a sweetie but most likely the type of chap destined for the friendzone as most women of Adriana’s temper – the ones he is interested in – crave adventure and danger instead of reliability and quiet loyalty.

Jagde as the heroic dreamboat Maurizio was suitably dashing (though perhaps moreso for those who missed Kaufmann in 2010) and his Italianate tenor cries carried to the rafters without any issue. His voice is very good for that kind of thing and there’s a good deal of artistry there as well, which manifested itself in an ability to alternate dynamics and colour. The chemistry between him and Gheorghiu was believable.

There can’t be a satisfying Adriana Lecouvreur for a mezzo fan without a rumbling Acerba volutta. Yours truly awaited the start of act II with a bated breath and opera glasses at the ready. In good opera tradition, her shadow preceeds the Evil Princess, as her theme (also the opera’s theme) surges ominuously and then drops mysteriously into apparent bubbliness. Then she pulls her veil and we can see who will stand between our kind hearted to a fault (if self absorbed) Melpomene and her happiness.

Cilea really doesn’t do half measures here, the villain has to hold her own against Adriana. I didn’t know Dudnikova but she held my attention all right through the evening. The voice isn’t as metallic as one would expect from a Slavic singer. There is a good deal of velvet along with the dark chest notes and very clear top notes, at least as far as the role requires, and the voice carries very well. She’s also got the looks to rival Gheorghiu’s – Ice Princess vs. Southern European temper.

Their dialogue in the dark and the act III showdown at Bouillon’s party were without a doubt the best parts of the evening, pitting two strong personalities, barbed words and icy glances but also real emotions and hurt. Too bad the reason was so mundane.

As someone with at least some interest in the history of theatre/opera, I can’t say I didn’t appreciate the effort this production put into recreating an 18th century theatre experience within the opera per se (operas about opera/theatre usually rank high with me). We were shown everything – actors’ lives backstage, actors on stage, actors interacting with their public, actors as human beings, dealing with their personal emotions and in the end theatre and life getting jumbled.

As I was saying earlier, my favourite bit of the libretto is the dialogue Adriana and the Evil Princess have in the dark (where neither knows who the other one is) and their showdown in act III, because we can see different aspects of public and private personas. Adriana gets another kind of adulation and respect than the Princess, but it is real adulation and respect nonetheless and it does, even though briefly, win the day.

In conclusion, everybody was very good and La Gheorghiu has still got it. Go watch her in one of her strong pieces, especially if you’re at the younger end of the opera fans’ spectrum and don’t quite know how they did it back then.

I was so taken with the business on stage I can’t say much about the conducting/orchestra other that they didn’t hurt the stage action and there were a few instances with various singers where the interaction between the stage and the pit stood out clearly and in a good way. A standout night in a packed house, all the arias got hearty applause and there was much cheering at curtain call.

Belcanto Tito (De Marchi/Academia Montis Regalis)

I headed over to Spotify to witness how Weigl, Mayr and De Marchi fiddled with Tito. It might not sound like much but it brings up the good ol’ write you own opera! adage. The new arias are in red.

Tito: Carlo Allemano
Vitellia: Nina Bernsteiner
Sesto: Kate Aldrich
Annio: Ann-Beth Solvang
Servilia: Dana Marbach
Publio: Marcell Bakonyi

Conductor: Alessandro De Marchi / Academia Montis Regalis

Overture: very speedy; details are very nicely emphasised by the lean sound but I could do with a more measured tempo

Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!:

Come ti piace imponi: I can see what Anna was saying about the interpolated ornaments… coooome tiiiii piaaaace. Ok, whatever. You know what ornamentation for the sake of it does to a piece – lowers the drama. Also since fa mille affetti is done as in the original we have a sort of stylistic disconnect for no particular reason as per these 21st century ears, at least.

Annio: Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!: we jump back to Sesto and Vitellia’s convo, ended by Vitellia’s verdict I want Tito dead before the sun goes down. I thought the whole point of Come ti piace imponi was to hammer home what she wants from Sesto and what he feels about it. Here Sesto has no time to lament his fate as

Annio barges in: what is the point of screwing with the very clear Mazzola edit? Nice tone for Annio. I actually like Vitellia’s as well. Sesto says his lines theatrically detached – o. virtu. and de nuuuullllaaa. 

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: not bad, I really like Bernsteiner’s tone and it’s nicely performed but I didn’t feel a lot of individuality in the interpretation. There are some early 1800s touches in the trills which you might need to get used to.

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: the BFFs moan about forever together and then launch into a very lyrical rendition of this pretty duettino. It’s the loveliest and most Mozartean thing this far, though I couldn’t quite tell our mezzos apart.

March/Sebate dei custodi: the drumroll was so long I thought it was another Spotify advert (too tame for a rock drum solo). The choir sounds small and thin in the low end but is tight and keeps up with the orchestra. It probably is adequate to the size of the orchestra (which I don’t think is big).

Publio and Annio talk about loot etc.: whoever thought the beginning didn’t make sense as it was thinks this is worth keeping. Publio is potato-mouthed, Tito declames well, Annio is about to pass out from admiration, the choir gives a cheer.

reprise of March with Tito and choir: thankfully no more drumroll. Belcanto alert! Tito’s part isn’t bad at all; it’s like something Argirio would sing in Tancredi. The choir falls over itself with admiration in the middle. LOLZ moment. I like Del piu sublime soglio but I’m ok with this replacement and how the march tune and the choir was woven in. Not a bad idea in this context though I wouldn’t go as far as to say it improves on the original. I don’t know if this is how it was back in 1804 or if De Marchi thought to make it more interactive with all the inserts of the choir and in the end Tito stating that he wants the BFFs to stay behind, but so far this is the best redone bit.

Tito and BFFs: Romantic moaning between Sesto and Tito over the Berenice business. I’ll give myself over to friendship – which to Tito means marrying his BFF’s sister. Quite the gay undercurrent in this heaving bosom moaning. Annio joins in with his own emoting.

Incolpar tu non dovrai: surprise Tito – Sesto duet this early! I thought we’d have this in act II. More gay undercurrent. Tito, if you kiss him now he might not return to Vitellia. It’s belcanto allright and moderately entertaining. Incorporates some of the lyrics of Del piu sublime soglio but the tune isn’t as good. Allemano and Aldrich work well together, though.

Annio : Servilia: the lovebirds moan, slightly more OTT than usual. The continuo is nicely done.

Ah, perdonna: they kept this one, no surprise here. I bet it’s been a hit since day one. You can definitely tell who’s who. Lovely tone Marbach, can’t wait for her S’altro che lagrime. The tempo is right here, quite delicately done. Once we’re back in Mozartland you can see how he’s a few notches above “the improvement” even with a few simple strokes. Best moment so far.

Tito : Publio: segues right in, very jarring after that lovey-dovey moment. Allemano does the Romantic Tito with much aplomb. Servilia is very efficient; just finished with the suave boyfriend and, without missing a beat, she’s ready to talk shop with Tito.

“improved” Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: only not really. The original tune was great so why screw with it? This isn’t better writing by any stretch of imagination, though it was probably very fashionable in its day (reminds me of Paisiello). Also the bassoon is replaced with a reoccurring short oboe tune (also likely a trendy touch for the the first decade of the 1800s), which is nice enough (best part) but sort of too casual for the mood of this improvement.

Generally I have the feeling these additions don’t have the tight focus of Mozart’s pieces (my complaint with Paisiello’s Il barbiere: too verbose for its own good) but I think that was the main issue with those changing trends, until the advent of Rossini (and even in his case…). The upshot is Allemano would be (is already?) really good in the Paisiello/Cimarosa repertoire. He does get lots of deserved applause (applause! none until this bit and they threw me when they barged in).

Servilia : Vitellia : Sesto: Vitellia could be more vicious, Servilia ok (more focus in the recit would’ve strengthened the moment) but the cello continuo features nicely. Later (ancora mi schernisce!) Vitellia is more grand than dramatic, though she too gets a din-din-din-deeeen cello accompaniment that was good in this context. Sesto slumps in sort of lalala – this one isn’t very alert – furious Vitellia jumps on him.

+ pre-Parto argument: the recit is pretty much the one we know and love and it’s rather well acted. Sesto holds his own; questo acciaro nel sen di Tito…! was acted all right but the pause after it seemed a bit too long. Bernsteiner is the better actress. Her Vitellia is impatient and most likely physically pushed Sesto into Parto.

Parto: the intro is played like a death sentence. Someone thought it’d be a good idea to add trills to each of the twin partos. We still have the clarinet line (not fudged with and nice job the player) and the general tune is the same (whew). Trills abundant, added seemingly at random. Listen, I could live with messing with Tito’s arias, but Parto? This is the meat and potatoes of Tito. At least the stretto is the same, coloraura/clarinet and all. If anything, Aldrich is a trooper and does a good job with all this messing around (I’m not a fan of her tone and her dramatic skills aren’t something I’d write home about).

But her coloratura work surprised me with its consistency and fluency, especially if this was live. I wouldn’t have thought she had it in her any longer (I heard her Orsini long ago and I liked it quite a bit but nothing since, especially her Amneris, although the size/thickness of her voice points that way). The public really liked it and I bet you it was all because De Marchi was wise enough to keep the ending as we know and love.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: Bernsteiner is rather lugubrious, though her Cesare…? doesn’t have the dramatic finesse some inflect it with.

Vengo…! Aspetatte…! Sesto…!: her chops/tone/fullness come in handy for this one. She’s exquisite here and her Vengo! shouts have just the amount of hysteria needed. Her top Ds have a gorgeous full ring I must add. The tempo is very good.

Act I finale

Oh, dei…/Deh, conservate…: De Marchi drives this all sharp edges brisk. The music has not been improved. Aldrich isn’t bad; in fact I’d say she does all the right things but somehow I can’t get too enthusiastic no matter what she does. Annio’s entrance isn’t quite as contrasting as it usually is.

The drama cranks up in the string section as soon as Servilia comes in. I think it’s a bit of a tall order to go all Romantic with a Baroque-sized orchestra. But what do I know, the size of the orchestra couldn’t have changed so much between 1791 and 1804? Aldrich all of a sudden pulls out some impressive chest notes for rinserra un traditor. Hey, I liked that! Not many mezzos do it though they definitely should if they can reach down. The choir still sounds too thin for this very dramatic moment. The brass does what it can but the whole still feels a bit deflated.

Act II

TBC tomorrow or later this week sorry, been very busy this month; currently packing up to move house; I only updated this today because I wanted to listen to something whilst construction workers drilled, puffed and played bad pop put up scaffolding 2m away from my window.

What happens up to Se al volto isn’t particularly anything to write home about. The recits veer on the stilted side and Solvang’s voice seems heavy for Torna di Tito a lato.

Se al volto mai ti senti: the trio came out very well, with interesting little touches from the strings and from Vitellia herself, who varied her o dio!s enough to show vulnerability and generally paid clever attention to details. Bernsteiner full tone shone throghout. Aldrich’s Sesto had a couple of surprisingly neat trills. Expressively conducted, De Marchi handled its halting nature with sensitivity via the intelligent use of rubato.

Ah grazie si rendano: nice introspective start, the choir isn’t bad, though perhaps a bit too reined in. Allemano milks his darkish sound in a way I haven’t heard since Kaufmann’s Tito. He sounds gently sorrowful.

Publio : Tito: the cello continuo is a bit annoying (very cutting). Publio is of the potato-mouthed kind, though not a bad actor. Tito continues his belcanto-style declamation which in this context is appropriate.

Tardi s’avvede: tardi s’avvide d’un traditmentu is how Bakonyi puts it. Publio sounds hush-hush (with a second tardi that is very nicely caressed), which is a good idea and I’m surprised we haven’t heard it more often, as the aria is an aside. De Marchi makes it both very bouncy and quiet in mood and resists the temptation to push it farther/bigger than the material allows. It’s nicely contained and Bakonyi does a very good job fitting in.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is eager for the rumours about Sesto to be proven wrong. Annio sounds courageous enough. Publio is one of the more objective ones. Tito is upset but not overboard.

Tu fosti tradito: poor Annio, denied.

Tito’s anguished recit: the strings are cutting and to the point, yet retaining warmth of sound. Allemano is still belcanto, expressively paced and with beautiful diction and nice little pps. It’s a voice you can listen to for quite a while.

Non tradirmi in quest’instante: the oboe has a lot to do in this half-incarnation. It’s of its time but I liked the nice little tune. This gently dolorous aria sounds like a good 19th century pastiche of Mozart. It even has a cabaletta that employs the choir and reminds me a bit of Non più andrai. By now you’d think I’d be expecting the choir and the cabaletta but it’s so unmozartean I’m always thrown. Though it shows how those martial interventions one merely played with in Mozart’s days developed later.

I do enjoy the choir’s interventions and honestly, I’d’ve liked a full belcanto version of Tito (I know there is at least one out there), a bit more than this weird concoction of Mozart and proto-Rossini. This might be a good moment to recommend Mayr’s Ginevra di Scozia (1801), which is his belcanto take on Ariodante (if this Tito whetted anyone’s appetite for old fashioned themes for the early 1800s – Mayr also wrote a Tamerlano, Adriano in Siria, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and a Demetrio – among other classic themes – as well as comedies on contemporary libretti).

Allemano gets a lot of applause and I’m thrown again, as some moments are so quietly received (no coughing either) that I keep forgetting this was live.

Tito : Publio: Non tradirmi turned out quite on the gay side, though perhaps they took the mood differently back then (reminds me of how girlyshly Werther’s letter writing reads in The Sorrows…). Now Tito goes on moaning where’s Sesto? Why is he not coming? which adds to the gayness.

Quello di Tito e il volto: back to Mozart. Juxtaposing the two keeps showing just how exquisite Mozart’s writing is. No matter how much I enjoyed Non tradirmi, this is more complex emotionally. De Marchi keeps it light and brisk and his team of singers is very well drilled. Vocally Aldrich is not bad at all here, though I wouldn’t say she shows a spellbinding personality.

more to come when I have some time