Category Archives: acting in opera
…if we’re lucky
You can’t go to a theatre like La Fenice and not think about its history. Staying true to the name, it resurfaced after three fires (1774, 1836 and 1996). What we see today is the house re-opened in 2004. So it’s both old and new. You may think it’s big because it has that compact design, but although the horseshoe is packed with seats, the stalls don’t go far back. The capacity is a mere 1126, according to Wiki. And yet, some of the operas now played with big orchestras in massive houses have premiered here1. Top belcanto WS favourites were first mounted here: Tancredi, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, as well as Semiramide itself.
Before we arrived for the very late 7pm2 start time, thadieu and I roamed the streets without much planning aside from 1) must have dinner some time before the opera and 2) must have gelato sooner rather than later. That eventually turned into an obsession for yours truly: find the 2 Euro 2 scoop gelato or else! You see, gelato gets more expensive the closer you get to the TripAdvisor sanctioned areas (all of sestiere San Marco, Ponte Rialto etc.). Tip: get your gelato early on (ie, closer to the bus station). I think I drove thadieu a bit mad with my stubbornness but cheap gelato was eventually found, eagerly consumed and then all was serene again 😉
We had a leisurely dinner of seafood at a Mom and Pops restaurant in a very quiet neighbourhood somewhere near the Arsenal. After that we strolled back with enough time to do some touristy shopping at the Fenice shop. It’s rather well stocked! They do La Fenice bags for 12 Euros and La Fenice t-shirts (off white, navy, black and red) for 19.99 Euros or thereabouts. There are magnets, cards, pencils, lots of books and CD/DVDs as well. We got the t-shirt – thadieu in navy and yours truly in red. You know I also got one of the magnets.
After getting our La Fenice fan fill, it was already time for the opera. As we were walking up the very cosy stairs I kept thinking “this is our floor” but thadieu just knew we had a long climb to our loggione seats. As with Teatro Malibran, the trick is to get first row in your area, no matter how high or low you’re sitting. We had seats in the central block of the top loggione and aside from an unfortunate pole (old school design…) – which could, in the end, be negotiated – we had excellent views. Ok, you had to lean forward a bit due to lights and railing, but nobody actually sat behind us3, so we didn’t have to worry about blocking someone’s view and we even stood for the most interesting duets/ensembles. The party in the loggione is very friendly, as is the Upper Amphi at ROH, the very top in Munich or at Theatre des Champs Elysees. It’s also mostly locals (of which there were plenty on the bus back to Mestre as well).
The orchestra were already busy tuning up. We noticed our main timpanist was a lady and she did a very good job during the night.
Semiramide: Jessica Pratt
Arsace: Teresa Iervolino
Assur: Alex Esposito
Idreno: Enea Scala
Oroe: Simon Lim
Azema: Marta Mari
Mitrane: Enrico Iviglia
L’ombra di Nino: Francesco Milanese
Conductor: Ricardo Frizza | Choir and Orchestra of La Fenice
Director: Cecilia Ligorio
The production looked to me “modernised Pizzi”, which turned out to be fine. It’s “generic period opera” costumes, with some black vs white business for the dancers/Semiramide or Assur’s attendants. As the opera progressed, Assur’s outfit morphed into “generic Bond bad guy” (ie, black and pretty tight). Arsace, who has been brought up to believe he’s Scythian, wears “generic BC foreign dude” wear, in other words “stuff put together to confuse sophisticated Babylonians” (a cow patch cape, two-tone wide leg trousers, platform shoes4 and a beret). None of this motley stuff detracts from Iervolino’s cuteness in this role ❤ or from her vocal awesomeness. THIS is Arsace.
Semiramide agrees, because in this production it’s pretty clear that these two are getting it on, though initially cute and disciplined Arsace stops Semiramide’s wandering hand before her touch becomes too distracting.
Arsace: I’d die for you [my Queen]!
Semiramide: oh, no, gorgeous, I’d rather you live for me (winks and lounges seductively). Come closer and tell me what you’d do to… I mean for me.
Arsace: like I was saying, I’d die for you! I’m a warrior…
Semiramide: oh, a warrior is exactly what I – by which I mean this empire – need(s). (strokes his thigh) You’re so strong…
Arsace: err, my Queen, I must tell you something…
Semiramide: I know what you’re going to say and the answer is yes! As long as you’re as faithful to me as you’ve been so far you can ask me anything – and I mean anything.
This goes on for a while, wine5 is involved and, well… what’s a young man to do when a beautiful and powerful woman his mother’s age offers him the world (literally and metaphorically)? Azema would have to hold down the fort against Idreno’s wooing by herself for a while. Though after his Ah dov’è, dov’è il cimento? (also known as dude, where’s the cement?!) she too is getting a bit frisky. Lesser known historical titbit: conversations about construction materials were pillow talk back in ye olde Babylonia. I mean did you think the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens built themselves?!
Speaking of which, why is Idreno expecting Semiramide to just give him the keys to the empire? He’s just some dude from India, pretty much on Arsace’s level, except he looks like he’s commanding an army of blingy tailors rather than burly warriors. Semiramide wears her “belcanto diva” dress but we all know belcanto heroines like their men heroic (except for Violetta). I would also say this Arsace is most definitely a man, any ambiguity present is not of the gender kind.
So even though they got pretty well acquainted the day before, Arsace is still stunned when Semiramide makes the big announcement (that she’s passing on the throne to him as well as wants to marry him).
Arsace: shit! How am I going to explain this to Azema?!
Luckily, the spectre of his father gets involved (after all a father should attend his son’s wedding even if he had to bribe Cerberus to get there) and the conversation suddenly turns horror-film style. Trope #1: being mesmerised by weird stuff:
Arsace (to the spectre): I feel compelled to touch you! Can I?
I mean the spectre looks pretty damn well preserved for having been dead for 15 years, except in dire need of a shower – like he’d come down a chimney rather that up a drainage ditch from the world below (come to think of it, this decision is for the best; the production had hinted at it earlier when the sacred fire went out and ashes poured out from the sacred ash plates. Later the temple virgins did a surprisingly poor job at cleaning the floor (what amateurs don’t soak the towels first?!) but let’s not get lost in details like Scala did in his cement).
Oroe is a very congenial high priest but I have a feeling he’s rigged this game from the getgo, namely he made sure the basement’s (is, burial chamber’s) electrical instalation wasn’t working. The last act boasts that famous trio that goes something like this:
Semiramide: it’s very dark in here, I can’t see my hand. I hope I don’t soil my finery before this ordeal is over.
Arsace: wow, it’s so dark in this basement! Even as a fearless warrior I feel my bowels loosen…
Assur: was it always so dark here? With my luck that stupid spectre will come back and scare me shitless.
All: it’s so dark in here, we’re pooping our pants!
thadieu: someone hand them flashlights already!
We’re lucky this is in flowery, 19th century Italian, thank you very much.
But flashlights do eventually appear, because somehow Oroe’s attendants are able to locate Semiramide and realise she’s been stabbed to death.
Oroe: arrest Assur!
Arsace: …OMG! Who did I stab, then?!
Like, dude…! What kind of army commander of the Babylonian Empire are you, stabbing randomly in the dark?! This production does not give Arsace a stuffed unicorn to hold.
So, after much noodling that didn’t even mention the eyeliner wearing male harem that gets Semiramide hot and bothered whilst she’s singing about how happy she is that sexy stud Arsace is back in town, how was the singing, the conducting and the house band?
Let’s start with the conducting: compared with Pappano, Maestro seemed more interested in keeping the forward movement – which he did. Occasionally (the overture, for instance) he turned the corners a bit too abrasively for my taste, where I would’ve preferred more detail/more legato. But 4 hours went fast. The singers were not hampered by the orchestra. The house band sounded good to me, all the solos went without hitch and the instrumental tones were pleasant to the ear.
The singing went like this, from best to not so good: Iervolino, Pratt, Esposito, Lim, with Scala sort of around the corner. Dude started a bit shaky, with some intonation problems and wobble at the very top, which made the cement aria appear unfocused both vocally and dramatically. I loved it when Brownlee sang it but here it seemed to just go on and on. To Scala’s credit, he got it mostly together as the night went on. But he’s not someone I’m in any hurry to hear again. The public loved him.
Both thadieu and I agreed Lim as Oroe has a very warm, secure, rounded bass but he doesn’t have that much to sing. That warmth and rondness made him feel wise and kind dramatically, which fit. Would listen to him again.
Esposito was the night’s revelation to me, as I have been mostly cold toward him until now. This is the smallest house I’ve seen him in, which I’m sure has something to do with it. In this absorbent6 environment and at this size his voice travelled very well and dramatically he was ideal. Maybe I just need to see him in bad dude roles 😉 The only unintentionally amusing moment came when Assur sang about the spectre’s pulling his (Assur’s) hair 😀
Pratt has the belcanto diva down pat, without coming off too cold. I wonder why ROH doesn’t hire her. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’ve enjoyed her excellent technique, ease with coloratura, beautiful, completely unforced – “blooming” (as per thadieu) – top and stylish touches of unfussy softer singing. Thadieu thought she applied too many ornaments but I disagreed. This is Rossini, there is no such thing as too many ornaments7; furthermore, even if you – which is me, quite often, lately – think Rossini did write too many notes, I didn’t feel like that in her case.
I guess thadieu liked JDD’s more psychologically exploratory approach – and certainly her lower notes, which, true, Pratt does not have – but this production is different and this Semiramide is a less conflicted heroine (until the end, where her conflict is more of the “omg, this is my child!” kind) and rather someone who is always trying to do what she has to do without overthinking it (that kind of thinking might’ve got her in this mess in the first place, but she’s a woman in charge of an empire, she can’t vacillate too much).
Even thadieu agreed that once she started interacting with Iervolino’s Arsace she “humanised”. Indeed, their interaction was excellent. I also thought her and Esposito’s Assur worked – something akin to a mutually destructive relationship. I mean, she still has the broader gestures of belcanto acting but within that frame she’s very effective.
That leaves us with Iervolino’s Arsace. Right after the entrance aria, thadieu and I were in agreement:
thadieu: I’m in love!
dehggi: this is perfect!
What can I say? She’s got everything: the whole range, the ease with coloratura, the wonderful warm contralto tone, the eveness from top to bottom and she can act. A pleasure to listen to/watch. Do yourself a favour and book a ticket to see her NOW. We’re lucky to have caught the Iervolino train this early 😀
After the opera finished, staff was eager to go home and pretty much rushed us out, hehe, somewhere in a narrow street at the back or side of the house.
thadieu: should we get the phone out?
dehggi: yes, because who the hell can navigate Venezia in the middle of the night?!
In the end we followed the crowd, comprised of orchestra members and audience, which took us back to Piazzale Roma more or less in no time. I have to say that nighttime walks through Venezia are the most romantic thing ever, even when you’re rushing to get the last bus. I was tempted to risk having to walk back to Mestre on the side of the motorway 😉 I mean, secluded little bridges, with not a soul in sight, Canal Grande in the darkness, the temptation to try and steal a gondola and glide into the night – you get the picture. With full moon to boot.
We passed a bunch of young people being loud with pizza (and beer?) in a piazza and that seemed the most incongruous thing ever to do in Venice.
thadieu: they’re missing a really great performance.
Youth is really lost on the young (I wouldn’t have cared about opera or, indeed, Venezia, when I was that age, either). But there’s a time for everything and right now I can’t wait for another reason to return ❤
ps: more pictures later, I wanted to get the post out.
- Ernani, Rigoletto, La traviata and Simon Boccanegra. ↩
- I don’t know what the deal is with the union in Venice, but Italians in general don’t seem to mind a show going well into the night (see Torino and Napoli). Semiramide is a long opera even with cuts, so our performance finished well after 11pm. ↩
- though people did shuffle around to get better views. ↩
- the Disco era alive and kicking up in the Caucasus! ↩
- and perhaps a bit of GHB… ↩
- kinda like in Munich, this is not a dry acoustics house. ↩
- whether you like it or not. ↩
Check it out tomorrow, 30 September, on Wiggy’s livestream. It’s at 3pm London time, so it might be a bit weird, but I believe it will also be rather interesting, especially for mezzo fans 🙂 I’ll be around, from the comfort of my lounge, and will give a bit of a running commentary in this very post, if everything goes the way it should 😉
So, here I am. Janet Baker and Simon Callow talk about her seeing Lotte Lehman at Wiggy in the late ’50s, who came in her hat and gloves, which stopped Baker in her tracks. Apparently Lehman was very intimidating, including to the young Baker, who found her teaching style lacking in spontaneity, having to do everything exactly the same way Lehman wanted. Baker felt greatly inhibited by this. She wondered about the generation gap being similar today.
Callow: who did she admire at that time in her time? Sena Jurinak.
Acting: connecting with the thoughts of the character = both agree. As the narrator in the church nativity play, she felt very serious about it and also “in charge” of the play, and being confident she was “right” in what she was doing, unlike the others in the play 😉
Words and music: as important as each other.
Friends play teddybear picnic on the piano = reprehensible 😉
(Certain) rubbish church songs vs Bach = no contest 😉
G&S = also terrible, haha. Reacted strongly to “quality as she saw it” since a young age. She’s since changed her mind about G&S. All great but she’s never wished to sing it herself 😉
Voice: teachers apparently could tell she had a good voice by age 11, as per a school friend, she’s quite surprised how anyone could tell so early on.
Callow: says she realised early on that she had a responsibility towards her talent (to nurture it); a sense of destiny = she agrees. Baker: surely you felt the same way? Callow: nope. he loved theatre but her no experience with training. Wrote to Laurence Olivier about the wonderful theatre he was running and LO wrote back, inviting him to work at the box office 😉 not too bad! Would this ever happen today? Very unlikely. CV >>> enthusiasm for any medium.
She thinks she was very “gullible” when she was told not to sing for two years. Callow thinks she was way disciplined for a young person. This was when her voice was changing from high soprano to mezzo.
Both acknowledge luck, as they met people without “shopping around” for teachers etc. and the choices one makes (having a children and family etc.).
Talks about her Austrian teacher (see also: the conversation with JDD). She really enjoyed lieder, which was what her teacher specialised it. She says she enjoyed singing in German, German language in general and the love of words developed further. She was also singing in the Glyndebourne Chorus at the same time = she says it was luck that all came at the same time.
Callow: how was she so naturally in character? Baker: mind/heart/body coming together = acting. Callow: not all actors have that either – after 3 years in drama school, he was able to say convincingly “My lord, the carriage awaits!” 😉 Baker: John Copley and Peter Hall taught her to act as far as “the mechanics” go. Callow: says she can transform with a minimal amount of makeup (specifically in Les Troyens). No generalised rush of emotion. Baker: Peter Hall said she was dangerous because she took risks (don’t we love that 😀 ). She says she doesn’t teach beginners because she wants to dig deeper when acting, because at that point you need to expose yourself, which she acknowledges is a lot to ask, but it’s necessary (as a good actor) and it never bothered her. She thinks it’s because of how she cares so much about the power of words so she just goes with whatever is required by said words. Callow: he was surprised how the very big emotions fit the limits of her voice. Baker: trusted her solid technique, practiced every day, before whatever she sang, though it was tiresome, so she didn’t have to worry about it later. Lucky she had teachers who suited her. Because of this she was able to focus on her acting on stage. She worked for 30+ years busy all the time.
On retirement: relief! Not having to wake up and sing. She says younger singers coming up and having their turn = natural. Likens her singing to raising children – at one point you have to let it go.
Baker: as actors, do you learn discipline to see you through? Callow: yes, physical and vocal (dancing, singing = to warm up). The attitude towards voice in theatre changed in recent years. Voice = no longer considered for its expressive qualities. Actors are increasingly wearing microphones. Body becomes slacker and less expressive – physical excitement lessens. Diction, rhythm = not so important today. With actors it’s not just the voice = talent, it’s a bundle of things (personality, physical package). Doing 8 shows a week = needs good character (mental stamina) to do it 8 shows a week for 3, 6, 12 months at a time or 40 takes on a movie set. The challenge = to keep the reality of it. Acting = “images of destiny”. Baker’s Full Circle book = Callow praises it.
Opera productions: respect the composer and libretist. Costumes also important = supports your imagination of who the character is. Critices “busy-ness” on stage (I agree!). Callow: opera is ahead of theatre in experiementalism. Seems ambivalent about many different angles but no Wagner with urinals. Midsummer Night’s Dream in a box = ok, thinks it worked.
Farewell: Orfeo handing the lyre back. Chorus gave it back to her 😉
A certain conversation spurred me to listen to this rooster compilation 😉 Although this post might initially appear overly whimsical, think again. Whoever’s spent some time in a traditional village or small town is well acquainted with the classic sounds and mannerisms of the rooster.
Today I’m reviewing the above 33 roosters on: dramatic skills/entrances, plumage stylishness, beauty of sound, sound projection, cleanliness of tone, trill skills, and, of course, posture. For your express pleasure, I included direct links to my favourites.
1 flaps wings, great posture, clean, classic sound, has all the notes
2 short, unassuming (though nice crest), no-nonsense crowing
3 perched, nice plumage, short on breath (all good until the end)
4 short, hairy legs, Rossini would not be pleased with his slur
5 classic look and sound, loses steam by the end
6 shaggy-stylish diva-dude, goes for the money notes (projection!) but slurs his way there
7 the JK of roosters, impressive plumage, great posture, baritenor sound, a bit gutted by the end
8 short, with ‘tude, great projection, needs to work on clean sound
9 (0:38) super stylish 3colour plumage, perched, checking out his audience, clean, classic tenor
10 funny looking shag, all black, woodsy type, great projection and posture, not the prettiest sound but he doesn’t cheat
11 nice, peppery plumage with nicely contrasting crest, good posture, short and to the point (Baroque-sized crow)
12 (0:52) the red baron of roosters, what perch when you have that bari-tone? absolute classic crow
13 redish coat, no crest to speak of but he can crow no problem, great snag for a second tier
14 someone dropped the pepper all over him, needs a lot of work on his breath
15 peppery with a yellow twist, good posture, short crow, he was perhaps hanging out with the 20th century rooster-crowd (“you want me to do… trills?!”)
16 all the colours in the book, just launches into the sound, he might ruin his voice pushing (against wind and debris) but for now it’s a great crow
17 white with peppery bib, still has the tone but is starting to lose the control
18 all peppery with blue tinge by the tail, legendary posture, passable crow
19 all colours, good posture, honest crow with the trims
20 snowy with black tail and faded crest, checks his audience, “still singing at 70”
21 all colour, perch, classic crow with trims but pushing a bit forward
22 all white, all ‘tude, starts great but loses steam
23 great white colour, very nice crest and no-nonsense baritenor crow
24 white/black, tiny crest, great woodsy perch, cheats
25 squat, whitish, a bit too much grain in the diet, sound drops about halfway through
26 all colour unique plumage, great crest and aerodynamic posture (not so great in the long run but highly photogenic), good crow; the cyclist of roosters
27 red, perched lazily at the coop “door”, “what, you actually want me to sing?!” face, does an approximation of the crow
28 golden, good posture, nice ping but Rossini would shake his head
29 (2:02) the king or roosters, unique marmot-stance, great crow
30 all colour, all crest, the equivalent of a bearded (hipster) rooster, writes his own ornaments
31 (2:10) perched impressively, impressive tail feathers, massive entrance, clean tenor sound with trims – the Pavarotti of roosters
32 short, squat-ish, colours = check, good posture, countertenor sound! honest crow
33 all white, forward crest, posture, great tone but a bit slurred by the end
This is a pretty good account of what went down in Zurich (re: Poppea). (From my seat in my Mum’s kitchen) I’m not very convinced by those projections either but I do like the rounded stage idea, with the displaced balcony box spectators at the back.
Like I said in the Carmen post, I’m not sure I care so much about being physically super immersed in the action as long as the acting is convincing and the production clear and coherent. I can draw my own Poppea/Carmen/Tito etc. parallels, thank you. But I doubt I could’ve forked out the money for those seats, anyway (though maybe you got discounts for having the public watch you as part of the action… but it looks like they’re not always there? whatever it was).
In any case, David Hansen vs. Kate Linsdey ultimately seals it for me.
ps: pregnant Poppea = yes.
I know this is oooold news, but it’s just now that I’ve made time to think about Tcherniakov’s Aix Carmen (2017) and it’s holiday downtime.
Baranello’s (of Likely Impossibities) review is very evocative for those who have not seen this production for themselves. I feel both intrigued and a bit disoriented. It sounds like a cool idea for a production but somehow also rather fanciful. Usually I bitch about productions being underdeveloped but in this case it might be too well thought out, to the point where it leaves opera as musical entertainment in the dust and turns into a film that uses a very popular opera libretto as pop psychology prop (narrowly before MeToo).
It’s an unusual feeling, maybe somewhat similar to the recent Martina Franca extended-play Rinaldo (just found out Armida = Cher1). I want the action on stage to keep my attention focused by being novel and interesting but I also want to retain the feeling that I’m at the opera rather than in a play in play in play.
If it were a film I think I’d really enjoy it2 – I’m already in the frame of mind where the opera is called Don Jose, Incel extraordinaire.
The clinic’s staff is too excited to notice that the treatment didn’t work: The man they think they have cured is still locked in his own head, seemingly unable even to hear their praise, still believing he killed Carmen. (from the above mentioned review)
Don’t directors always like the trope of the self satisfied psychiatric staff? Heh.
1 August was the date Glyndebourne reserved for people under 30 to flock to this production of Pelléas et Mélisande – I’ve never seen so many truly young people at the opera! It was disconcerting until I realised what was going on. My first thought was why does Debussy bring out so many young people as opposed to Handel? 😉 Heh. Once I will make a point to go for the under 30 performance of a Handel opera.
My relationship with Debussy is generally positive, reason for which I attended. It was the same in this case. Musically I find much to appreciate about his anti-opera, though I can’t say I ever get to the point of loving it like I do Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle1. To my ears it’s always very listenable, though a bit too loose structurally to grip me.
Golaud: Christopher Purves
Mélisande: Christina Gansch
Geneviève: Karen Cargill
Arkel: Brindley Sherratt
Pelléas: John Chest
Yniold: Chloé Briot
Doctor: Michael Mofidian
Shepherd: Michael Wallace
Conductor: Robin Ticciati | London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Stefan Herheim
The subject is a more complicated matter. Obsessive jealousy isn’t a favourite plot, and the woman character as cipher is tedious as far as I’m concerned. I do understand the validity of presenting characters who never quite get each other’s motives (that’s rather realistic for an opera interested in the elusiveness of emotion) and I think my reaction to the cipher woman comes out of the frustration of having seen so many men insist on writing about women without bothering to communicate with them long enough to start making sense of them. Though making sense is hardly what Debussy had in mind here, so even if it irks me, it’s not fair to bitch too much about it in this case.
The three main characters (Pelléas, Mélisande and Golaud) are all presented via their emotions first and foremost. When Golaud and and Mélisande first meet, she’s acting severely traumatised, but we of course never find out why. He’s lost in the woods. Pelléas falls deeply in love with Mélisande as soon as he sees her. Later on, she tells Golaud that she’s unhappy in their relationship (which, duh! he saves her and immediately marries her because what other course of action can there be? Plus his wife has died and his father says in so many words that a wife will distract him from “unsavoury actions”) but puts it in a it’s not you, it’s me way, that rings true to this day – people only say that when they’re afraid of the other one’s reaction to the truth. He, of course, flies off the handle and starts suspecting Pelléas, who, by virtue of being young, is more suited to her.
As the opera goes on we learn that we’re dealing with unreliable witnesses and Golaud’s frustration with pushing for
his the truth culminates with him directly asking Mélisande(‘s ghost?) whether there was anything between her and Pelléas, to which the answer is, of course, inconclusive. This was my favourite scene in the entire opera. We can never know, especially when we push for a certain answer which has more to do with our insecurities than with evidence. But at this point it’s not even clear whether the whole thing plays only in his mind or if it actually happened (Herheim does a good job at keeping it unclear).
If this was the high point of the opera, the lowest – for me – was the romantic scene between Pelléas and Mélisande, where he comes to – so to speak – serenade her below the tower when Golaud has locked her (ie, their bedroom). He asks her to let her hair down so he can touch it and basically make out with it. Ok. This scene goes on for quite some time and I did realise, after a while, that it’s supposed to be really romantic and sexy. Dear reader, I have a romantic deficiency and I actually fell asleep on my feet, to the point I was about to fall down, but luckily was jolted awake midfall. No joke 😉
And, indeed, this is an opera where everything is deadly serious, aside from a rather unintentionally comic moment when Pelléas says that his grandfather, who has been gravely ill, has woken up and upon seeing him commented that he (Pelléas) looks like someone who doesn’t have long to live, so he’d better go travelling.
The production by Herheim seemed fine to me but I have never seen another one for this opera, neither do I know it enough to have thought about it before. I think it covers everything and deals with the issues at the heart of the plot. He says in the Glyndebourne interview printed in the booklet that he has incorporated the organ from the Glyndebourne Organ Room because it looks so ominous, even more so because it is not used at all for its music making in the opera, just as a visual symbol (gothic, oppresive, old school mores etc.). I would argue that making every production Glyndebourne related can turn into a bit of a gimmick but, fair enough, why not use the organ if it makes sense? Whether having Glyndebourne goers show up in the last scene is closer to gimmick or not depends on your feelings.
I wasn’t invested enough to feel one way or another, but that’s more Debussy’s fault than Herheim’s – or my detachment from this particular plot2. I did enjoy how he used the sets (the dining-drawing room of the big, old house) for every scene, with only certain lighting details to signify a dream sequence or walls retracting for literally more space. Also the central pedestal-well-sarcophagus-grotto was another aptly used multifunctional symbol.
Purves as Golaud was great, but I guess to no surprise, as his role in Written on Skin is very similar and it really suits him dramatically. In fact, before the intermission I kept thinking of parallels between the two3. Things do change quite a bit (for the better) in the last two acts. The others were good, too, though in spite of its name, this opera is mostly about Golaud (or like Hippolyte at Aricie, where they main characters just go on and on – she ❤ him, he ❤ her – and other more interesting things happen around them).
Speaking of its long ranging influence on 20th and 21st operas, the beginning of Bluebeard is very similar (for my taste Bartók improved on whatever Debussy tried with Pelléas et Mélisande) and I swear the distinctive flute part in Akhnaten comes right out of here. The libretto must be made up of 80% words of Latin origin, as I could never follow a French text to such a degree before (also thanks to the clear – if not always very French – diction employed by the singers).
A wonderful Summer day wrapped up my 2018 G-season. A welcome surprise this year was the Southernrail trains, who gave me no trouble whatsoever4. Looks like I’ll be less G-busy next year, but you never know…
- But then I really like the plot in that case and the language is a lot more poetic and the music much more structured. ↩
- You may not be surprised to remember that I did like how Guth used the Glyndebourne grounds for Tito. The grass is indeed a very important feature of the local landscape and the pond at the very back of the garden is mysterious enough to fuel the imagination. ↩
- What is considered scary in entertaiment has changed a lot in the past 100 years, interesting since our actual life is a lot more sheltered. ↩
- Unlike bloody Ryanair, who has added really unnecessary stress for the past month and a detour via Munich for my next outing. ↩
Last night thadieu and I decided to revisit this precious moment in Viennese Opera Ball history 😉 and then it occurred to us to compare Gritskova’s moves to previous Opera Ball featured singers. What came out was both amusing and illuminating:
As you can see, the moves appear pre-ordained. Now of course, Netrebko was on the verge of fabulousness (already on top of the world?) at the time and she is a natural mover, as opposed to La Grits, who looks like she’s thinking, I will be fa
mousbulous if it kills me!
You didn’t think you’d escape this “scientific experiement” without an incursion into the steely moves of the Ice Mezzo herself, did you? Here she’s singing Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix (brace yourself for some arctic seduction). But, as you can see, she also has to walk and twirl (I mean wowza at the camera movement! That’s some getting down with the debutants for Vienna!).
As thadieu observed whilst we very carefully surveyed a few of her performances (including La tremenda ultrice spada and Non piu mesta), she seems to be thinking I will sing this intense aria, but I will make 100% sure not to trip on the hem of my gown at any time (actually T was more colourful, saying she was careful to avoid stepping into – vocal – mud).
After some big names, prepare for textbook DIVA action:
Aside from the curiously unflattering musical choices, it’s plain to see that Draculette has drafted into her contract if and when she will be moving! Haha! She’s such a veteran, she knows that she will be asked to cover that huge space and wants it in her own terms.
So there you have it, we can be a little less harsh on Gritsy today. After all, her choice of aria was the most… daring?!
Pictures later… but here are some thoughts:
Early yesterday I joined T in Venice for major contralto action – and gelato and balmy weather (as the heatwave had just hit London the day before, “balmy” might be putting it mildly. My head is still trying to adjust, but I do appreciate the concept of “breeze”, which is not something London does).
Venice… It is a but weird seeing in the flesh something you’ve heard of enough to consider yourself familiar with (heh) for your entire life. Just how many historical sights have they crammed per square mile?! The mind boggles. Every other city I’ve seen so far has a point where it starts to take it easy with history; Venice just keeps on going. It’s somewhat peculiar location probably helps. Canals, canals, canals… though apparently not quite as lengthy as Birmingham’s. The trick is, of course, how crammed it all is.
If you’ve never been, it’s more tightly together than you can imagine. There is no need to fear distances, you will be able to cover them without major effort. You could probably even walk from the Mestre train station to Ponte Rialto and not feel particularly tired – as they actually have pavements on the side of the motorway (which is more like a larger road).
Apparently, the season is not yet in full swing, but the amount of tourists, especially lining up for overpriced meals and endless selfies by the Grand Canal, is exhausting. Luckily they tend to stay within typical areas. Walk a bit off the beaten path – as Teatro Malibran is – and you can have a gorgeously relaxing time by a tiny canal, where gondoliers do a great job and not ramming their boats into each other.
Moving on towards contralto action, I was astounded by the acoustics at Teatro Malibran! If you want to see something there, DO IT! Don’t think twice. It’s crystal clear. We were quite far up and I could understand every word, hear every inflection. Even the countertenors seem loud here 🙂
As soon as the orchestra started I could tell this was going to be a feast for the ears. Fasolis does a great job with the modern orchestra, only on occasion getting a bit too loud. That being said, and considering what I mentioned about the acoustics, this is one of the loudest Baroque performances I’ve heard so far. For better or worse – you lose some warmth but Fasolis uses the volume dynamics to optimal results – especially in Orlando’s hell raising Sorge l’irato nembo, where going from soft to loud gives a wonderful depth.
Now that the live stream happened and will be out for our pleasure on culturebox for a whole year, I’ll focus on things that are different when heard in the house. Cirillo as Alcina was excellent – I liked her a lot more here than in Torino. Plus the role is so much fun in Vivaldi (it’s still awesome in Handel but fun wouldn’t be the right term)! I liked Vistoli’s Ruggiero better in the live stream, interestingly, but, as t mentioned, it could also be from night to night. He is still very secure sounding in the very long lines, and plumbs some tenoral depths – for better or worse, depending on how you feel about these forays. I’m not quite sure.
Prina was wonderful but then this seems like a perfect role for her particular skills and talents. There is a lot of emotional ground to cover – from seasoned warrior to hopelessly in (unreqitted) love. I want to talk more in depth about Vivaldi’s take on Ariosto vs Handel’s, as they are very different, but I’m going to do this in a longer post, likely after the Saturday performance. Suffice it to say that men are by and large taken the piss out of in the original text and this production follows that. Yet Orlando is not entirely unsympathetic, as uncouth as he comes off. He’s madly in love, the poor thing, and he really has no clue how to tackle this issue, though he definitely tries. If you’ve familiar with Prina you can probably tell how much this suits her. She has that kind of physical authority to always anchor one’s attention, regardless on who else is on stage and/or how well armed the other person is. From vicious Polinesso to poor hapless Orlando…
T and I were a bit worried when Prina climbed the moon during Nel profondo cieco mondo, but luckily she did not slip… Also you could tell the sets worked well to project the voice back to the public, especially when she got close to the back of the top curtain and it came off a bit soft.
So that’s it for first impressions, more later about the rest of the impressions 😉
Ps: I really liked Alcina, but her treatment of the cute and soulful hippogriff was not cool at all! I could hardly focus on things after she carved his heart out… I know she was desperate but COME ON!
Just to make me happy, it starts off with Parto. I haven’t seen it yet but I hope it’s good (almost 2 new hours). If it’s not good we can laugh about it here 😉
After watching/listening to it:
For those who don’t know and would like to before applying yourselves to an 1hr and 46min, this batch is mezzo only and it containts work on three mezzo staples: Parto, Dido’s lament and Non piu mesta (which I always call Non piu messed up). They are all promising singers but the young woman working on Dido’s lament has a particularly beautiful tone (baby contralto? we should be so lucky 😀 ). She is also very cutely star-struck.
…but might have an issue with Madamina, il catalogo e questo and possibly Mozart comedy in general. Time to unsheath the sword.
I wish this blog was still active, because it’s a very different take than the kind the readers of this blog and I have and would have liked to engage. Though I rarely agreed, I found myself reading on because it is so different. Example:
The transcending appeal of the Ring Cycle can definitely be compared to that of the The Lord of the Rings books. A big reason why the latter became more than “just fantasy” in the public imagination was because of the beautiful film adaptations that came out in the early 2000s. They were made by someone who loved the books. He spared no detail in making the movies, and almost by default they were amazing. It was a big story, and he wanted to do it right. (from Why do we LOVE the Ring Cycle?)
As a self described “opera lover” who doesn’t care about the Ring Cycle and who’s (unsurprisingly) suffered impatiently through the neverending journey into hobbit
imminent annihilation maturity, I found the post interesting. Whenever something bores me to death I want to understand why anyone puts up with that sort of thing. I think the last two phrases sum up the appeal of both: lots of details, big stories.
People go nuts over the Ring Cycle. As in Woodstock crazy. It’s the kind of event that young opera lovers like me dream of attending. It is an initiation into opera craziness like nothing else. (from the same post as above)
Heh. I have one word for you: contraltos 2017 (one word made of two words 😉 ). No need for lavish sets. Someone pass around the rainbow bandanas 😉
So that’s a short write-up on why opera freaks love the Ring. If you want to be a “true” opera fan, it pays to at least check it out. Which leaves folks like myself and the Opera Teen who haven’t yet seen it in a weird spot. But that craving for the Ring Cycle lingers within us. We want to see it and experience it with a desire uncommon to most works of art. (from same)
legit trv kvlt.
Ring fandom is difficult to comprehend because the Ring is so far removed from all negative stereotypes associated with opera. (from same)
😀 😀 😀
As an audience member at the opera, I may get bored if some prat in an opera is whining onstage about how many women his master’s slept with. (from The Billy Connolly Problem (or, Why Opera Is Boring))
Interesting. Someone can sit through a 50 hour plot recapping opera mini series but gets bored by one of the most hilarious arias out there (though her example is from the Met production; ’nuff said). To be fair, she goes on to say:
But if he’s emphasizing the repetition with his body, using the language as an acting tool and not just a script to sing out, entertainment is achieved. (from above post)
So the conclusion is, we need a good director+actor if the music is boring. Agreed here but poor Mozart. Seriously, people think that aria is boring?! She did sit through Come scoglio on a different occasion and her comment was:
Miah Persson is excellent as the (mostly) faithful Fiordiligi, but her aria is the Billy Connolly Problem incarnate. She plants herself on stage and never only seems to alter her facial expression twice throughout the entire number. In earlier and later scenes, Persson lends a gravity to her character that few could ever conjure. But in her aria, she settles into being a diva. (from Review: The Glyndebourne Festival’s Cosi Fan Tutti)
Heh. The aria is called Come scoglio, after all. I suppose the subtitles were on? Otherwise, I have a feeling google translate will side with Persson. Also it’s a comedy. Mostly. I think it might have been more of a comedy in the 1790s than it is now. But there is only so much serious in a libretto that centrally features boyfriends disguised with only ‘staches.
It seems to me that a certain part of the opera going public might need a bit of adjustment to comedy before 1800 (wait, was there comedy in the 1800s? Oh, yea, Rossini, Offenbach 🙂 sorry!).
This is definitely a fluffy Romantic opera
(from the post quote above)
This is why it’s good to read up on your opera before commenting. I hope she meant Romantic in the “Romantic comedy” sense. Because it’s definitely not a Romantic opera in the Verdi sense. Nor is it as fluffy as it may seem.
Captain (18th-Century-Opera) Obvious’ Mini Lecture
It’s funny to hear an opera seria aria sendup like Come scoglio in the middle of a comic scene. That’s what Mozart and DaPonte are doing, making fun of the upright opera sentiments (here costanza) come down from Papa Metastasio (changing mores are a very important reoccurring theme in Mozart operas). This is one of those meta moments when if she looks like she’s doing a shit job at acting she’s actually acting well.
Then there’s the issue of repetition. I don’t think anyone who’s ever hummed a contemporary pop song has a leg to stand when complaining about someone else using repetition in music. Not that repetition is necessary a fail. Repetition is not only widely used in all art but it appears in nature and, by extension, everyday life (don’t tell me you woke up today at the usual time, had a cup of coffee/tea and then went to work? Was this what you did yesterday? And the day before? Like, wow).
But! Remember Statira’s aria with the endless repetition of birds chirping? Even back in Vivaldi’s time they knew repetition could be used to amuse not just in earnest. Ponnelle here uses that trick brilliantly for Come scoglio (and Gruberova is just wonderful).
I can see how people who enjoy through composed opera may be adverse to the concept of simple tune. I mean, it is simple. After all, we’ve established earlier that LOTR is not just fantasy. It’s… complicated fantasy (ok, ok, there might not be any other kind 😉 ). Like one of those dreams in which you’re trying to get out of a building only to have one corridor turn into another and then another.
Whilst we’re on the Glyndebourne Così, check out Vondung’s ending to È amore un ladroncello. I did not expect her to end so well based on how she started but I found myself in love with her (repeated, ha) “così” at minute 2:45. Splendid sound, even aside from her dramatic commitment to a breathlessly satisfied Dorabella. Now that I think about it, “chiede” at minute 2:39-2:41 is great too. That’s how you do sexy vowel ending. She earned that cake!