Category Archives: acting in opera
…if we’re lucky
Ariodante: Alice Coote
Ginevra: Christiane Karg
Dalinda: Mary Bevan
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
King of Scotland: Matthew Brook
Odoardo: Bradley Smith
Conductor: Harry Bicket | The English Concert
This time I will spare you my usual bitching about the Barbican, because there are some good things I have to report. I found out there is at least another set of toilets (this one for the balcony crowd), though, naturally, one was out of order. If you exit quickly they are very handy. At some point I realised there were 6 of us wearing glasses in the queue, one after the other. To better see your wicked moves, Polinesso 😉
The venue has announcers who tell you which show will begin when, because there are concurent events in different halls. It’s like a very posh airport lounge so the feeling of we’re all here for the same reason is nonexistent. Weirdly enough – or because I took the detective-like approach of canvassing the main lounge area – I actually found Giulia and her lively bunch of Twitter friends, which was a very nice touch before the show. Let’s hope the Baroque thing at Teatro Regio Torino continues so we can meet again 🙂
Up and down the stairs and nooks and crannies, bars and lounges, you see people and (I) try to guage what event they are here for. It’s hard to tell, especially as the crowd is so mixed even in the main hall (where the opera was held). On my right I had a lady perhaps in her early 60s (who dozed off in Act I but braved Act II and III), on my left a woman in her 30s; in front of us there were two young (straight-looking) couples (mid to late 20s), further to the left two very Baroque-knowledgeable ladies in their 60s, on the other side a gent over 50 who spent the majority of the show hunched forward, watching intently as if he were going to write a report later – and so on. Though the show was not sold out, it felt like the troops around me multiplied rather than depleted as the evening went on.
There was definitely a lot of interest but somewhat glib – lots of laughter in all the appropriate places and then some. Maybe I am overly invested and felt people were taking it all lighter than I did. But then there were the knowledgeable ladies who seemed to have a whale of a time, there was the hunched forward gent and somewhere in the stalls was Giulia and friends. I can’t vouch for the very quiet and polite lady in her 30s (at least I think so, Asian people are hard for me to guage age-wise) next to me, who was very quiet and polite but applauded a lot. The young couples stayed gamely but I sensed a certain detachment – maybe it’s just my reaction to the sudden existence of people younger than me at classical music shows 😉 (the cheek! down with that kind of thing).
Another plus I noticed this time: it appears that if you sit central and avoid the balcony overhang, the acoustics aren’t bad at all, lots of (if not all) pianissime made their way up to the last row of the Balcony. There was an interesting feeling as the sound bounced off the nearby ceiling; it was filtered but not unpleasant and surprisingly clear.
Karg’s was the slenderest voice and there were still no problems (which shows her projection is ace). You could tell Bicket was very mindful of the singers, especially in Con l’ali di costanza, where the tempo was “casual jog” and the orchestra toned nicely down, a lesson to all interested parties. We could hear everything yet it was light as a feather.
Thadieu will laugh, but I’m still hung up on the harpsichord is a teamplayer1 thing so I continue to admire Bicket’s approach. It was always there to drive things (I could observe his lightness and rhythmic precision better at TADW, where I had a perpendicular view to match the sound) but never overpowered. You have Giulia‘s word of how the low strings were muscular without unnecessary over-shredding – in the words of Statira, I concur. Another shoutout goes to the wonderfully wistful bassoon work in Scherza, infida. When the bassoon started its mournful call and Coote turned towards it with a lost look on Ariodante’s face, I immediately teared up. In fact, I almost did as I wrote this. It was just a gently sad whisper, mad props to the bassoonist ❤
The big venue seemed to have cut down on the possibility of constant interaction between those on stage, unless they were right next to each other, singing to or talking to each other. I felt like they sang their arias alone on stage more often than before – I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but an illusion given that the stage is very large and bare, even with the orchestra there as well. I didn’t notice any particular winking/eye rolling from Polinesso and Dalinda during Ginevra and Ariodante’s lovey dovey moments – a bit disappointing.
However, Ariodante’s accusatory remarks towards Dalinda during Cieca notte were still in place (even from quite a distance, as Dalinda was sat on “her” chair by the wall), as was Dalinda’s engulfing shame. All direct interaction between Dalinda and Polinesso was there in technicolour (“praise the lord”). As others have noticed, Prina once again adjusted her manhandling to the type of dress Bevan was wearing. This time, as you know by now, Bevan had on a dress that hinted at just how ready Dalinda was for Polinesso’s attention. Prina made a show of Polinesso’s boredom with Dalinda’s professions of love, which, combined with Bevan’s credible ardour gave their scenes a very natural feel.
It was obvious Karg and Coote had developed a neat chemistry as the tour went on. Each had polished their characterisation so they meshed into a mutually appreciative and tender couple. By the end of the opera it looked like they might be more realistically positioned to build a future together. I know that doesn’t gel with the libretto per se, but that’s the beauty of concert performances 😉 Once again, their duets were some of the highlights of the evening, with their very nicely balanced voices – Karg light and precise and Coote full and ardent (so ardent, in Bramo aver mille vite she started a touch too loud; Bicket restored balance by the second line).
Coote, on home turf in London, put the pedal to the metal in general. After a brave tackling of Con l’ali di costanza she relaxed into things more up her alley (ie, soulful), that benefited from the many colours in her voice and its warm, affecting fulness (she’s a mezzo-mezzo, who reminds you why you like that voice type in the first place). Even so, the biggest applause of the night (in general) turned out to be for Dopo notte where she let it rip with what I would call furious joy.
I would say Prina’s performance was a bit toned down, though I’m sure mellow wouldn’t be how most of the audience saw it. Polinesso’s every intervention was as complex as we’ve seen before, both vocally and dramatically. The contrasts in Spero per voi were brilliantly delivered and her timing impeccable (then again, I’ve always admired her uncanny sense of rhythm). It’s interesting, every time I check back to the Aix recording I think she’s singing it better this time around. Then again, recording vs live rendition where one is there (so many factors converge to make something an experience rather then mere entertainment; I think it matters that Marcon is going for a darker mood than Bicket is, to match the very dark concept of the production; this Polinesso is more gleeful whereas that one is very dangerous).
This time around, after Polinesso gets stabbed and is being carried away, I thought she was going to sit down in one of the chairs, as they stopped for a moment at the top of the stairs that led down to the side of the stage. At the same time, Ariodante sprung up from this hatch at the beck of the stage. That was a very good use of the stage. Sometimes you get this at the Barbican (one that comes to mind is L’Orfeo a few seasons back, which incorporated the openings at the back of the stage into the action).
David Portillo trumpeted all the way to the back of the auditorium; like I said in the comments previously, no complaints there, as one could hardly imagine a better suited voice as a 21st century John Beard. He also has the right approach as Ariodante’s loyal and justice-driven brother Lurcanio. Alas, he will always be second best for Dalinda, as Bevan portrayed her emotionally conflicted to the end.
Bevan has indeed an interesting voice that sounds, as Anik predicted, to be developing into something more dramatic than Karg’s likely would. Perhaps unsual but fitting for Dalinda, as that darker fulness hints at her penchant for the dangerous. Again, absolutely no issues hearing her from the rafters, and also again, I loved her mad chemistry with Prina.
Perhaps in this densely-voiced company Brook’s voice came off a bit light as the lowest anchor but there are always those easy runs (and pps) to admire and his very sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted father-king (there would be no Baroque opera without someone agonising between love and duty).
Poor Odoardo is just kinda there, so it must’ve been strange for Bradley Smith to travel around just so he could drop a few Italian sentences here and there. No complaints about his involvement, though.
For my good deeds, Ginevra’s shoulder-bearing red dress was back (made me grin widely as soon as the singers came on stage) and as a bonus, so was Dalinda’s choker. Due to negligence, my camera died on me so there isn’t even a bad picture from yours truly, not even of the Barbican (I’m sure you’re mourning that loss). It was a hot, muggy day; so hot, in fact, I went out for fresh air during the second intermission and even by the pond there was no breeze (we’re talking about London, where it’s windy on a daily basis).
I’m really glad I could catch two (very different) nights of this tour and feel very lucky that we also got the Carnegie Hall webcast as a memento of how it all went down. We’ll see how things develop, but, as in the case of The English Concert’s 2014 Alcina, I think this will live long in my memory 🙂 Thank you Handel and thank you all involved.
- you can tell how traumatised I was by what Bates did to Renard and in general. ↩
Ariodante has been a slow burner with me. It’s precisely because it’s centred on the dopey dude, instead of the villain. I don’t mind heroes on white horses, it’s dopeyness that makes my eyes roll.
Ariodante: lalala, I’m in love!
Ginevra: me too! with you!
Ariodante: oh? Really? Whoa. Like, we should get married.
Ginevra: yes! But, oh, my dad is coming!
Ariodante: crap, what if he doesn’t like me for a son-in-law? [doubt already present; heavy foreshadowing]
The King: fear not, Ariodante, I want nothing more than the two of you to get married.
Ariodante: you mean you already knew we were in love?
The King: duh! Take her hand, you have my blessing.
Ariodante (~6min coloratura fest): like, wow.
Most directors insist on making Ariodante the centre of the action to unsurprisingly mild dramatic results. Luckily Richard Jones thought otherwise when he saw through the unidimensional sketch that is Polinesso on paper. This was the moment when, in spite of fine Polinessi of the past, things got turned on their head and the reign of evil wreaked havoc with the hearts of contralto lovers the world over 😉
Sorry dear Ariodanti, us damned love both of your arias with notte in the title and even the lalala and like, wow ones, but when one has the chance to see Prina as the villain it’s game over.
Ok, I’m trying to be objective here and talk about everybody because I genuinely thought the cast was strong from side to side. On the other heand I was genuinely giddy through the night so my objectivity may be called into question.
Judging by my previous comments, you wouldn’t know I noticed there are also 2 tenors and 1 bass in it and they were excellent too. I was very glad to sit where I did and be able to hear all the ppps employed (how often does that happen?! <- but that was the reoccurring theme of the night) by Matthew Brook. His is a very well developed (human) King, but I understand he’s been singing the role on stage concurently with the tour. You can tell from his fatherly glances that he loves his daughter and it’s only duty that makes him cast her away; a duty he perhaps doesn’t quite believe in but what’s a King to do, eh?
Portillo was also ideal for Lurcanio, both vocally (slender but not whingy, great command of coloratura) and dramatically (he’s the clueless one in shiny shoes; they were so shiny I was wondering if they weren’t rock solid; he thinks looking the part is what Dalinda is after. It’s interesting they have that duet in the end, when, even after Polinesso is dead, he still asks Dalinda if he loves (present tense) Polinesso. He may not be that clueless; then again, this is an opera centred on doubt and male weakness so he might actually not be aware he’s clueless). You probably remember Portillo from the seminal Aix production or the Carnegie Hall webcast (still on medici tv for your pleasure).
If you’d like further comments on his performance – and in general – check Anik‘s review of this performance, she knows what she’s talking about and she’s thorough enough to think about the tenor as well as the gender angle. I never spend too much time analysing secondary characters in Ariodante this side of Dalinda, who, with her split loyalties, is a genuinely interesting person. You know she’s good but she has some serious intimacy issues to work out, preferably not in Polinesso’s company. I think we can all, more or less, recognise ourselves in her, every time we make the same mistake again because there’s that personal weakness (whichever it is) that compels us in spite of knowing better. Though Bevan doesn’t get to such levels of inner darkness as Piau does in the Aix production – no that anyone would expect her to, in a concert performance – she brings out Dalinda’s wide eyed fascination with Polinesso vividly.
Their interaction, built on Bevan and Prina’s obvious ease with each other, drives the drama: visceral, freely given and forcefully taken, in stark contrast to Ariodante and Ginevra’s formal courtship. It’s telling that Ariodante doesn’t appear aware of it. How could anything like that enter his line of vision, before Scherza, infida? He’s not yet living, just imagining his life.
Though my love affair with Theater an der Wien continues unabated, you may be surprised to hear that TADW wasn’t my first choice of venue after the Barbican. That was easy, though the thought was tedious (not the wonderful environment of Brutalism again!).
When I realised this show was also going on tour1 the notion of taking myself abroad as well blossomed. My first choice was Theatre des Champs Elysees for another excuse of returning to Paris. But I found out that, in spite of its easy going atmosphere, the online booking was rather mysterious. Briefly put, I couldn’t tell if there were any tickets left.
Then came Hamburg, because hello new, muchly hyped venue. But that was completely sold out! Back in January, before all the other venues! Anik quipped that people go there for the novelty of the venue rather than for the music. I consoled myself with the thought that it’s too big and the reason I wanted to sample something else beside the Barbican was specifically its size. So what would be the point, wonderful acoustics or not? It’s either intimate or it’s not.
And we know which one of all those venues is the most intimate. Wouldn’t you know, there were still tickets left.
But I still wasn’t totally sold on Ariodante as a work. The thought niggled that perhaps investing in two performances, one of which involved travel abroad, was overkill. That notion was finally blasted away by the Carnegie Hall webcast. Yep, I definitely needed two performances, one of them preferably in a smaller venue. The webcast might famously have sound compressing problems but they could not take away from the wickedly fine performance of orchestra and cast under Bicket.
So after all that, on Friday I was back on the now familiar grounds of Linke Wienzeile, now with hot sun and not a hint of rain in those fluffy clouds. First Anik and I had a very enjoyable pre-opera chat (though I was a bit of a lame-o to begin with and waited outside whilst she was waiting inside). We both ate the desert she posted on her blog. I have to admit I too was so focused on our chat, on being there, on it being a gorgeous day that I’m not quite sure how it tasted either. I think it was suitably fluffy. This chat did contain snark 😉 on the usual topics you would imagine, but it turned out the cutoff time for snark was 7pm, with the cast stepping on stage.
We went to the venue, each to our own box, which happened to be on different sides of the hall (we waved to one another). My seat, bought cheap, was the third row in the very first box on the left as you look at the stage, right above the parterre box I sat in for Cavalli’s Xerse. The box was great, within 2-3m of the singers and with a perfect view of the orchestra. The seat was abysmal, especially for a short person like yours truly. I could see neither the orchestra, nor the singers and I had a feeling the sound would be muffled.
Luckily – remember, it was my lucky day! -, the TADW audience are polite people, who actually sit in their designated seats (mwahahaha!). To begin with we were 4 in our box, with chairs to spare: a couple at the front row (centre and right corner), a very stiff gent in the second row (left corner) and me, of variable positions. I sat in the second row centre until two ladies came, saying (again, super politely and also friendly) all they wanted was to sit together and I of course obliged.
When the lights went down I made a show of asking them if they minded me taking one of the unoccupied seats at the front (right under the surtitle screen, I learn from the picture on the right) and they said they were absolutely fine.
I was more than fine; I was thrilled: orchestra to the right, the singers (shoulders, tattoos, funky shoes) a couple of yards below. I was thinking “I’m here!!! (TADW but also in the middle of things)”. It really doesn’t get better than this. So because there was nobody in front of me and, if I squeezed against the wall, nobody behind me either, I, as Anik says, ended up hanging out of the box every time something particularly exciting was going on. Which was all the time. If you want to get from liking an opera to loving it this is the way to do it. At TADW if possible2.
I think it was the stiff gent who had shied away from taking the empty seat at the front who “shopped” me out to the usher, as how would the usher have otherwise known to come in and ask me to take my proper seat, “just in case those people at the front came”? I said sure, I will take my proper seat if (and only if) those people do come. I’s a seasoned warrior, yo. There was no point to start opera fights, especially not when I was having so much fun and we were so close to the action (I might occasionally be unfriendly to seatmates but I wouldn’t deliberately disrupt a performance. Ever). So after the intermission I demurely took my third row seat, up until the time the kind ladies who only wanted to sit together (oh? 😉 ) were ready to close the box door. I obliged and then moved to my claimed seat at the front. The gent went on seething whilst I was thinking whatcha gonna do? Sue me?
As we know, the low mood Act II is the killer of casual Baroque fans. In the case of our box we lost the ladies and – yay! – the seething gent. As my mum commented, why make a big deal out of it and then leave? So I took the opportunity to rearrange the seats a bit (there were too many at the front for just three of us and some plugs were poking into my thigh) and spent Act III in style (more hanging, more grinning, leading the applause on several occasions, major grinning, following the rhythm, watching Bicket play and interact with the singers etc. (nice detail: his emerald cufflinks)).
I’ve seen The English Concert a few times now in London (that amazing 2014 Alcina they did at the blasted Barbican (which also travelled to various places) among them) and they have that tight, phat sound that makes baroque strings bounce/menace most alluringly, especially in pieces like Cieca notte. That’s one aria (arioso-like in scope) that once you start liking it becomes the central moment of the night. Poor Ariodante, it’s his bitter revelation moment. The world isn’t always your cocoon, buddy.
As much as I like JDD’s supple sound and attention to detail, you really want a denser voice in this to match the somber mood of the low strings. A rock solid chest register just kills. Coote has both of those qualities, plus a special knack for tragedy. But as Anik says, in spite of Coote’s relatively recent move into much heavier repertoire, she also knows this is Baroque and doesn’t overdo it, neither does she lose sight of dynamic variation. Her voice has not trouble filling a venue this size but she let it drop to breathtaking ppps when needed (again, Anik, who takes notes tirelessly, pinpoints just where those were). It was because I have liked her so much in Baroque that I had not heard Coote live since that Alcina (also from a great, 2nd or 3rd seat row) <- actually I have! This year, even. As Octavian. Oops. It was then a pleasure to hear how good and idiomatic she still sounds almost 3 years (and many Mahler dirges (Anik again)) later from a few yards away. Hers is a direct approach, based on an often disarming combination of technique and emotional vulnerability.
You feel JDD’s Ariodante is a more complex character than usual, someone who’s on the verge of deserving the throne the King promises him, whereas Coote keeps him wide eyed and palpably youthful. He loves!!!, he is hurt as only one very young can be and he gets angry when he finds out it was all a lie. Then he gets breathlessly happy when all is fine again.
Speaking of a dense sound, every time Prina opened her mouth I wondered how can anyone imagine Polinesso otherwise than sung by a contralto (edit: perhaps because the role was created by Maria Caterina Negri?). It’s just right. I refer you again to Se l’inganno above, even if you know it well; listen again as you’re reading. Just like how Cieca notte is a defining moment for Ariodante (who has had some growing up to do over the course of the opera), this is Polinesso’s self actualistion.
I don’t know that great is the right word when it comes to Pina’s Polinesso. It’s more like Connolly’s Cesare and VK’s Sesto. It’s just how it should be and once you see it you wonder how else they ever did it before. Not only is there conviction in her acting, at no moment when she’s on stage – at the centre of attention, reacting to others’ lines/behaviour or simply sitting – do you forget that this is Polinesso and he’s the villain. Also Prina’s really good at improvising little things (her reaction to Ginevra’s entrance was a bit different than at Carnegie Hall) that probably energise those around her. Definitely she brought out the best in Karg when Polinesso shows himself as Ginevra’s defender with just the right touch of mocking flourish, and Karg let it rip (no fucking way!!!) in such a spontaneous manner I wouldn’t have thought her capable of.
Anik senses him as a misfit but I see him as a chap who does not accept failure or second best. He knows he has to fight for what he wants (Ariodante doesn’t know that initially and possibly even at the end) and he is ready to do anything to further his ambition. The way Prina acted right before Polinesso’s duel with Lurcanio makes me think he’s bluffing, that he knows he will lose but goes through with it anyway. Maybe this is just my way of making sense of his anticlimatic defeat. But I like the angle; if I think about it, I might have got that from Nesi’s Polinesso as well.
Related to what Anik was saying about how interesting Polinesso and Ariodante’s interactions are, it occurs to me that Polinesso, though without a doubt a strong character and a master manipulator, is never trying to solve his predicaments via force. He doesn’t stab Ariodante, he makes him kill himself. I suppose 18th century audiences would see that as cowardly but to me it seems more like orchestrating the perfect crime.
It was interesting to hear Prina’s trademark way with coloratura from up close. In the past it took me a while to get used to it but now I think it’s part of her take no prisoners approach. Others might lose their way if they did it like that but she’s on top of it. She’s another singer whose singing is closely related to her acting, to the point it’s not worth talking about them separately. All her moves are reflected in the sound and she’s not afraid to incorporate (evil) laughter or breaths (of indignation), gnashing of teeth etc. if the lines call for that kind of thing. It all comes off as strong but not over the top. She’s also not afraid to show us exactly how Polinesso seduces Dalinda but even that doesn’t appear overdone. Seduction is an around the clock job, you can’t punch out after 8 hours and hope the next shift will take care of it – because the next shift might just take care of it for good, haha, and all your toil will be for naught.
Karg as Ginevra had already made a strong impression on me in the webcast. Previously I had often wondered why she’s been constantly singing at Wiggy; I guess I should’ve trusted them. It was also lucky I had seen the webcast, because on Friday she was wearing a red dress with her (freckly) upper back exposed right under my very appreciative eyes. Here are some ……. for you to ponder that.
But the sound, right? I love it. You don’t hear me say I love a soprano’s voice so often, though I like quite a few sopranos. I usually like their personality or their vocal intelligence rather than the sound per se. But in Karg’s case, I just love the fullness of her tone, just right to avoid ping and just enough to accomodate excellent coloratura chops, just enough volume to carry well. It incorporates a bit of introspection, which is always very alluring to me.
She was quite reserved dramatically at Carnegie Hall – though I thought that suitable for Ginevra, who’s the bashful/upright kind – but I do agree she seemed more at ease at TADW, perhaps with a less complicated Ariodante. Like I mentioned in the comments over at Anik’s, I really enjoyed their duets, where you got a very appealing contrast between their voices, deftly emphasised by the way Handel entertwines their lines, especially in Bramo aver mille vite, which is easily one of the cutest awwww moments in Baroque.
Ariodante: do you still love me after all I put you through by believing you were a slut?
Ginevra: I adore you! Please take my heart! If I had more I’d give them all to you!
Ariodante: omg, me too! Let’s move in together and give each other many hearts!
Ginevra and Ariodante: let’s move in together and exchange hearts! Let’s! Let’s!
Statira (peeking in from another opera): wait, what? What’s this talk of heart exchange I hear? Stop the metaphorical talk, I’m having a panic attack!
Dear reader, it was wonderful. At the end I lingered in the box, just basking in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s good I can’t go there all the time and see it lose its special charm. I still remember the “sardines” in the box across from mine, 10 people who stuck it out to the end, shoulder to shoulder, for the love of Handel. Or the chap in the first row centre, who was trying to keep track of the action via his programme. In the first row centre. Or the people in the standing room box just under the ceiling. I wonder how you see/hear from there (but not too hard; I like “my” box). Or sneaking amused glances at Anik scribbling away in her box whenever someone did something breathtaking, knowing she’s thinking along the same lines as I do. Or the lady in the box next to hers, who fanned herself vigorously through the entire show (TADW is on the hot side but not quite that bad, I’d say; maybe she was building arm muscle…). Or trying to figure out if Odoardo really has multicolour pastel socks on. Or wondering how they all decided which outfits to use for each venue (this one is more bare shoulder-friendly, that one wants patterns, does Carnegie Hall need more dramatic collapsing on the floor so the people up in the rafters get the point I’m a distraught father? (Brook scaled it way back down at TADW) etc.). Good geeky fun 😉
The previous times we met for shows at TADW, Anik and I spent the intermissions in a lively exchange of impressions but this time it was rather a goofy exchange of grins and gushing. After the performance I think we started to put together some coherent ideas as we lingered in front of the poster at the front.
Eventually the time came to hightail each to our own home (opera fans = regular party animals 😉 ) when Anik all of a sudden started tugging on my sleeve and speaking in a strangled tone: look! look! I was thinking whatever happened to her, she’s normally so eloquent? when who would be casually strolling by (from behind me, the general direction of the stage door) with spiky hair and spiky backpack (remember them, rubber spikes)? I’m sure you know who by now.
I was indeed speechless for once. Then that funny thing happened (a first!), where my knees went literally (not just “literally”) soft, so I had to actually grab onto the white wall you see in the picture above. Since I was still lalalala with excitement I found this hysterically funny even though it was happening to me. But as you can see from Anik’s distillation of our moment, I wasn’t the only one on the verge of pulling a damsel in distress. I mean, come on, do people actually go weak in the knees? Given the right contralto it turns out they do.
me (fronting by way of joke): be still my beating heart! …wait, I think it had actually gone still for a moment.
So after we came to, we had one of those whoa! moments you remember from your teen years. We spent the next few minutes coming to grips with what had just happened (I know, you’re like wait, she just walked past you, why all the fluster?! to that I say you had to be there), when who would just as casually be strolling back from wherever she and her friend went? (one of the shops a couple of doors down from TADW). How nice of Prina to give us a few moments to catch our breath! 😉
That’s when I knew we had to do something. Anik was all prim and proper (there is such a thing as too polite and apparently you don’t even have to be English) but all I could see in my mind was all the moments a chance presented itself and I didn’t grab it with both hands. I learned the hard way that you almost never get the same chance twice, so when you do…!!! Let me tell you I hate regret as much as Polinesso hates virtue.
I plastered the biggest grin on my face and made a beeline for Prina (I’m sure I barged into their conversation but what would Polinesso do, right?) and just went – without any intro – WE LOVE YOUR POLINESSO! WE LOVED THE SHOW! BUT MOSTLY WE LOVE YOU! She was a bit confused at the beginning (who the hell is this person, should I know her from somewhere? is she mad? is she asking me for change?) but let me assure you flattery will get you anywhere 😉 I grabbed her hand, shook it and went on blabbering about how great she was and I was seeing her on Tuesday in London as well and btw, she was also singing something a bit weird in London in September – how come? and here’s my friend too (that was Anik, in front of whom we had arrived in the meanwhile).
This was Prina’s cue to actually get a word in edgewise and she introduced herself to Anik (in my mind I was like WE SO KNOW WHO YOU ARE! WE LOVE YOU!) and then she introduced her friend to us, who – surprise, surprise – was also a contralto (two for one!). I told her friend WE LOVE CONTRALTOS! because duh! and it’s always exciting to meet another one, since everyone (around here) knows there should be more of them.
Not to lose momentum I asked Prina if she would be so nice as to take a picture with us and she chivalrously obliged. Her friend immediately took the initiative of snapping the picture (Anik is actually in it as well but she’s pulling a Zoro and her identity must remain hidden).
Gotta love contraltos, so laid back and friendly ❤ I wonder if they wouldn’t have accepted, had we invited them to a drink. But in spite of how it might sound, I was taking care not to be too intrusive and we let them go soon after. Not before laying some smooth moves on Prina, as you might know from the comment section in the Aaaahriodante post. One chance only and all that. But since it’s my claim to fame I shall reiterate. After we disengaged from the picture pose, Prina turned to me (you can see she was very close).
Prina: so you’re a singer too?
dehggi: yes! [I would’ve said yes to anything, haha] I mean no! (a beat, then winky eyes) Do I have to be a singer to like you?
She smiled like heh, good one! and I thought yes, she liked that and I felt even more buoyant than before. Then we said goodbye and good luck and they, just as casually, strolled back to where they came from, though they looked a bit undecided as to what to do next (have a drink with us!).
Given the daze of the moment I actually have no clue what Anik said or didn’t say so she’ll have to tell you that herself. But I hope she told Prina she was the one who wrote the post Prina had gushed about on FB.
Not 5 minutes pass (we’re back to gushing) and Anik tugs on my sleeve again – Karg with her mum or older relative and another woman passes by, in plimsols, leggins, backpack but still with the same hair, munching carrots 😀 Opera singers are so low key ❤ You really have to look, because they are so unflashy off stage you could easily miss them. Off the heels she’s almost tiny (I’m saying almost because I also thought Prina was short and… well, you can see above which one of us is the tall chief). However! as someone quite obviously not tall, I of course am very heartened when I see we are so well represented on stage 😀
Moral of the story: do linger after the show, a beloved singer might just walk by slow enough to make you get over your starstruck state. Or it might just be fun chatting with an equally enthusiastic opera lover. Did I mention I love TADW3?
- I really like this idea. Gives people from further afield the opportunity to see a high quality show as well as gives those who would like to travel the advantage of checking out different venues. ↩
- Because I’m a bit uncultured, I just found out TADW is where Die Zauberflote premiered. Also Die Fledermaus. I like it even better now (if possible). ↩
- They aren’t paying me to say this. Though if they want to, I’ll be very happy with that box seat for whenever I come over ;-) ↩
Written on Skin had its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012 and ran at ROH in 2013 under the baton of the composer (so we can settle what the composer really wanted in this case). This month it had its first ROH revival, also conducted by Benjamin.
Though I’m not a contemporary opera afficionado I do enjoy keeping abreast at least partially with what’s being written these days. When I first heard it I didn’t like it; not because I found it unlistenable (it’s not); I just didn’t like the vibe. The lack of visuals didn’t help. I wasn’t going to see it this time around either although I really wanted to see Barbara Hannigan live in anything modern and when her date at Wiggy went MIA last Autumn I was at a loss. John suggested this was a good opportunity for just that so I booked a ticket. At £19 what’s one got to lose?
The Protector: Christopher Purves
Agnès: Barbara Hannigan
Angel 1 / The Boy: Iestyn Davies
Angel 2 / Marie: Victoria Simmonds
Angel 3 / John: Mark Padmore
Conductor: George Benjamin | Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
A co-commission and co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Netherlands Opera Amsterdam and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse
I know by now that there are operas you like just by listening to the music, others where you need visuals to spur you on and some yet that you might only appreciate if you get your arse into the designated space for this type of entertainment. This is one of them (for me). I liked the performance/production a lot; I was not bored for a moment but I don’t know that I’d rush to just listen to it again. I would go see it again but not tomorrow.
However I can see why some have really got into it – it’s got a lot going for it – especially the libretto, with its very compact/concise style, which somehow mixes a lot of poetry in and because of this interesting combo it’s actually rather difficult to discuss. Characters speak as themselves as well as the narrator, modernity and old skool attitudes alternate when you least expect it, as if past and present are running at the same time whilst people live and watch themselves do the act of living.
It is good to see women taking control of their lives in opera, even when the only control they can have is over their own death. Or maybe I’m a miser here, Agnes did have her fun before that. I also liked that she didn’t want to live a lie.
The production, with its interesting mix of modern and ancient, which in this case is as according to the libretto, fits the mood of the work perfectly. (When I was at uni I used to work in the library, where I got to see how books are mended/made. As a result I developed a slight fascination with the process so I was very pleased to see it play an important role in this production.)
I like stage designs that compartimentalise the space because those compartments speak for themselves. Here we had the house where the couple lives (ancient) and the space where the book about them is being written (modern), plus “the woods”, which in some ways is the space where wild things brew.
This is an opera that heavily relies on acting – voice (in many ways it’s an ode to the written/spoken word) and movement alike. The high quality of the production relied on the choice of performers, some of whom have created the roles1. Right off the bat Benjamin’s writing for the voice reminded me of lieder. I bet you this cast is worth hearing in recital as well. It was gripping word drama. Hannigan had the most intense role – a woman awakening to herself – and her highly charismatic stage presence was captivating even in this half-ethereal role but the men + Simmonds (reprising her 2013 ROH role) were all in high form as well.
With a libretto so strongly focused on words, you notice things like diction and pitch and Hannigan’s were both impressive. Agnes, who is quiet and meek (and illiterate) to begin with but very soon blossoms, emboldened by desire – desire to know the world both physically and intellectually – is a refreshing female role.
Davies as The Boy was in very fine voice and he had no problems making himself heard in the amphitheatre over the slender accompaniment, which makes me think ROH can accomodate Baroque/voice all right. The Boy is another interesting role, as he entirely supportive of Agnes on her journey to personhood, as opposed to The Protector (the husband), who’s basically a backwoods bigot, the type who wants his woman barefoot in the kitchen.
He does commission the book The Boy writes/draws about their righteous life (bigots are usually righteous), which I guess means he’s interested in leaving a very good (albeit hypocritical) impression about himself to the rest of the world. So The Boy is somewhere between personal PR and investigative journalist, as he ends up digging the truth about the so-called righteous couple as is promptly assassinated. Purves as the villainous husband had just the right edge and the appealing lied-narration style fit his voice as well as his temper real well.
The performance ran for ~135min without an interval, save for a couple of breaks for scenery change, which the audience used to expel all the pentup coughing (an impressive amount, considering there were no extraneous noises during the performance; in fact the domino effect of dumping air via the mouth likely caused hilarity among the public). I often praise other houses for their atmosphere, but these breaks gave me the opportunity to remember just how enjoyable the ROH auditorium is as well. I do take it for granted and with good reason: it felt like an extension of my personal space.
- Purves and Hannigan. ↩
This year for Tito Day I’d like to steer you, gentle reader, towards someone else’s writings/experiences.
Have you ever wondered how it is to sing Sesto?
I mean the whole exprience of it, not just picking up the score and trying to hit the notes whilst also interacting with a bunch of other costumed people on stage. Some of you have probably read this account as it’s old (by blogger standards) enough to have achieved cult status but it’s still as entertaining as ever. We Titoheads are extremely lucky to have someone with first hand experience detail the process in such a hilarious manner.
- Yes, it’s mezzo Jennifer Rivera’s old blog. I think she migrated it to her main site but I liked the vintage air and the fact that it’s so Sestoriented. ↩
- If you want to know the audience’s opinion of the (rather handsome) Graham Vick 2008 Torino production of Tito she’s talking about, check out this account. You can also watch the 30min Prima della Prima documentary of this production on ‘zetube. ↩
It may be a whimsical (yet burning) question but think about it: trouser roles are supposed to be men. Would they shave their legs? I’m sure a dude like Orlando wouldn’t even think the razor was for something other than offing enemies. Tancredi wouldn’t either. Neither would Holofernes, unless he was convinced that would win Juditha’s heart (maybe that’s what Dalila should’ve done to Samson). Cherubino’s probably smooth as a baby’s arse and I don’t see Sesto as particularly hairy, though you never know, he’s Mediterranean… Annio might, he’s a bit dapper and strikes me as a budding control freak.
Anyway, a few of these were originated by men, so maybe the answer is a decided hell no. But what about a bona fide trouser role like Octavian? Especially since it’s the one most likely to show some leg, both because of Mariandel and because he first comes to our attention whilst in bed. He’s older than Cherubino so he might’ve sprouted some. I think he’d be proud of it. As would The Composer, since nobody’s taking him seriously.
You probably know HBO is making – has made? or has the FF Jenkins film replaced that project? <-probably more MS’s ballpark, really – this film with Meryl Streep as Maria Callas. Footage of Callas doing the Julliard Masterclass that inspired the play is on zetube for your pleasure1 (annoyingly, the sound is way low and a bit warped on Callas’ side).
I personally am sick about the way MS seems to have cornered every mature woman role of late. Tyne Daly in the stage play seems as fine as anything to me, plus she doesn’t have MS’ annoying mannerisms and pinched face (hey, if this ever gets made she too might be fitted with a prosthetic nose!). I bet you she’s going to bring her magnifying glass and try and cross all Callas’ ts and dot all the is and make her funny. Callas had her sense of humour (it comes through in the interviews) but rather than Nathalie Dessay-funny she was humourous in the way the statue of a goddess (as opposed to a cherub) would be. She was, it’s true, very calcultated, which might be the attraction for MS, but way grander than MS can hope to reach. Who was it who said (Zeffirelli?) that he never believed Caballe’s Norma could kill her children but he was sure Callas’ could?
One more good quip about singing opera – perhaps my favourite ever2 – from JDD, the endless fountain of such:
I love it when an aria from my favourite piece is dissected in a masterclass. I love it even more when watching it crystalises something that had not been clear to me before. In this case we have a young man who launches into Tito’s big aria with Imperial aplomb. Promptly, JDD stops him and tells him to switch to Gounod. Haha! He’s so horrified: was I that bad? Bluntly put, yes. To save face, he admits he hadn’t sung Mozart before. Well, maybe begin with a less fiendish Mozart aria then? He could’ve tried Ah, se fosse... for a start. All Mozartean without being quite so mad.
But this post isn’t meant a bash young singer. By all means, I love it when singers of all levels pay attention to Tito arias. This post is about who Tito is and who he isn’t. The singer’s biggest fault is that this isn’t clear to him. To be fair, it’s not easy to find Tito.
Tito is an Emperor, yes, but not a Napoleon-type Emperor. So none of the Imperial (with capital I) authority here. As usual, the answer is in the libretto:
Se all’impero, amici Dei,
Necessario è un cor severo;
O togliete a me l’impero,
O a me date un altro cor.
The assassination attempt and the revelation of who was behind it has properly humbled him: my heart isn’t harsh. If that’s what’s needed [to rule] rather take the responsibility away from me or give me a different heart altogether. He’s a softie. And then the B part develops on this, shows us his true (soft) self.
This very masterclass exercise proves it’s worth thinking about the whole character arc even when studying just one aria. Tito has spent the entire opera trying to reach out to his less than Imperial friends and become a mortal. Se all’impero is the moment where he feels he has achieved this. After having been betrayed as deeply as possible he still – and (apparently) for real – finds it in his heart to practice what he has been preaching. He lets go of his knee-jerk reactions – remember, he does not have models of Enlightened Emperors to guide him; for the time Metastasio came up with the libretto this was still quite a modern approach – and reconnects with himself1. It’s admirable to have ideals but it’s actually very hard to live up to them. Also, heroism might look quite differently than one has imagined.
- I think this might be a good turning point for singers to give Tito some solidity after all the theoretical musing we’ve seen him indulge in before. ↩
A couple of years ago I saw Diana Damrau in La traviata. To this day I remember her È tardi! after Violetta reads Germont Sr.’s apologetic letter. Was she pitch perfect, did she navigate each act with the appropriate vocal, emotional and technical range set out by Verdi? I think so, but I don’t quite remember it all. What I do recall is that È tardi! Her delivery resonated with my own regrets and losses and it stayed with me and most likely will for a while yet.
There are, of course, anally rententive people out there who will strike your performance for a missed high C or too much vibrato/rubato/portamento, too little volume etc., but generally I think audiences are rather after these elusive moments of connection. We identify with the character, and the singer, channeling the character, speaks/sings for us and then catharsis happens (everybody wins).
Easy for us to say please, singers, live the character’s life on stage tonight. But how did Damrau get to be so effective with that È tardi!? Whatever regret/loss did she have to access? We won’t know but she had to connect with something real within herself. In some ways that might be harder than hitting the high C. It’s not just discipline and honing your skills and taking care of your voice, it’s also putting yourself out there (but learning how not to lose yourself in the moment):
I like this chap. I think he’s helping singers build essential tools in a very direct way yet with a lot of gentleness.
Every once in a while a singer in a masterclass shows amazing promise. You know I don’t easily throw comments like the title around, but I would really love it if this youg singer makes it and we get to hear her sing Vitellia on stage. She already has the right attitude and knows what there is to know about Vitellia plus her tessitura covers everything (in this aria) and her tone is very appealing. Life and stage experience will add richness to that. I have a feeling she’ll be riveting 😀
The video below is also highly reccomended for its very insightful/advanced discussion on Ecco il punto…/Non piu di fiori:
Of late I have only occasionally been writing about Tito but somewhat unusually for me I’ve been watching films. The upshot is it has – finally – dawned on me that it’s only natural for a Tito-head to be a film noir lover. There are a couple of films that have made me immediately think of the central Tito triangle.
Take for instance this scene from Coen Brothers’ breakthrough feature Bood Simple, which I find a great illustration of just the type of struggle Sesto is having in Act I. Brief synopsis of the run-up to the scene, in case you haven’t seen the film: the Sesto character, Ray, thinks his mistress (whom he loves) has murdered her husband (he’s found her gun at the crime scene) and decides to clean up (by driving the body to a field) so that she isn’t found out. Only things may not be quite what they seem:
Ray, like Sesto, is taking his cues for what to do next from what is happening around him. Like him, he’s really shit at this murder business but, also like him, he’s ready to do anything for the femme fatale. Also like in Sesto’s case, I think the film is more about Ray than about anybody else, though every character shows remarkable strength. I don’t want to yap on too much about it, I think the scene (and John Getz as Ray) speaks for itself.
Quite interestingly (though not obvious in this scene), and straying from the classic noir scenario, Blood Simple has a fourth character who could possibly give a few background ideas for Publio’s involvement in the whole affair.