Category Archives: belcanto

belcanto composers are buttah

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

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

Sondra Radvanovsky soprano
Anthony Manoli piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¯_(ツ)_/¯

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

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

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

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

INTERVAL

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

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

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

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

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

ENCORE:

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

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


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

Belcanto Tito – a bit of update

See post La clemenza di Tito (De Marchi)

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

Let’s look at ROH rumours 2017-2019

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

New productions 2017-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revivals 2017-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salome (Strauss) Yay! Hope it’s good.

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

New Productions 2018-19

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

Fedora (Giordano)
Fedora: Angela Gheorghiu

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

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

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

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

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

Revivals 2018-19

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

Carmen November- December 2018
Micaela: Eleonora Buratto

Faust (Gounod) should go this time

2017 ROH Spring Season now on General Sale

roh tunnel

(Accidents happen or don’t buy opera tickets when very tired/distracted)

I set my alarm for 8am this morning then when the intro to ‘giardiniera started I kicked it and went back to sleep which tells you this ROH Spring brings slim pickings for me.

But when I returned from work I decided to scavenge for anything cheap for The Exterminating Angel (I don’t like didn’t like Bunuel when I was 19, but based on my very positive experience with Written on Skin I thought I’d try another comtemporary opera) and L’elisir d’amore because of secret soprano crush Kurzak (here with hubby Alagna)… and then I accidentally ended up with Yende and Villazon (they were team A but perhaps unsurprisingly team B sold faster). Now I was curious about Yende anyway but oh dear god, Villazon. Come on, Sr V, prove me wrong 😛

Think you love opera? To death?

Would you have your ashes sprinkled into the pit of your favourite opera house?

New York City’s Metropolitan Opera was forced to cancel its Saturday afternoon performance of Guillaume Tell after an audience member sprinkled an unidentified powder, which police believe was cremated ashes, into the orchestra pit.

At the expense of sounding a bit too into the season, I find this idea tempting. Though I think “the sprinkler” went about it wrongly. First off, this is not something you share with your seatmates. You also don’t do it during intermission. I think the best time to go about it would be after the curtain falls, whilst everyone is gathering their things and the ushers can’t wait to go home. Then you nonchalantly turn your back to the pit and pour the ashes behind your back, just so. If anyone asks, you pretend some “tobacco” dropped out of your pocket >>charming smile<<.

But even better, assuming the pit does get swept occasionally, why not pour the ashes over a potted plant in the lobby? It’s organic. Surely the ghost or whatever can float into the auditorium if it wants to watch a show (I for one can see worse things than spending eternity in the Wigmore Hall lobby). Or, if the future ghost isn’t happy with that, you can sprinkle the ashes from the balcony onto the parterre during curtain calls. Just don’t be too obvious, it’s not like you have to sprinkle 3kg of ashes, is it?

Now, Guillaume Tell… an odd opera to sprinkle ashes to. But perhaps the dearly departed favoured it. My first thought for optimal ash sprinkling moment was Deh tu, bell’anima from I Capuleti e i Montecchi (precisely that one, thank you very much). You get everything there: a crypt, a (supposedly) dead love of your life and eternity. Also people might be discreetly bawling so less likely to be paying attention to you. Failing that (by which I mean a suitable Romeo), the Eterni dei chorus is a good option as well, what with being grand and lofty and final. Select a trusted conductor.

Anyway, have a good Day of the Dead season, all 🙂

A paragon of wit (to do Rossini proud)

paragonechatelet

Having gobbled up a good number of opera productions I think I’m pretty aware by now how hard it actually is to do something interesting which also fits the spirit of the libretto/music. One of those felicitous productions is the Théâtre du Châtelet staging of Rossini’s La pietra del paragone. I’ve hinted at my appreciation for it but I never gave it centre stage before.

A few things started this one off the right path:

  • (and you’ll have to bear with me if I always mention it) this is the opera that shares an overture with Tancredi
  • it’s got Sonia Prina in one of those Rossini feisty women roles (TM) (with just a bit of cross-dressing, when Clarice disguises herself as her (convenient) own brother)
  • it contains action figures (those who remember the old opera, innit? header know the look is right up my alley)
  • Spinosi’s mad tempi give it a very modern feel

The reason I felt the need to talk about it was a recent surge in disparaging YT comments:

“I understand they didn’t have money to build sets, that’s OK, LOL, but abusing technology…to create a background and special effects does not represent the story in Pietra di Paragone. I doubt Rossini would have liked it.”

“I agree that the sets are nothing more than a perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera. It is preferable to listen to it without viewing it.”

The sets are most certainly not a “perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera” unless one’s idea of staging opera starts and ends with this. But we already have that so why not try something else?

Let’s start by settling what this opera is about – deception. The decided lack of much of anything on stage matches several things that lack – or appear to lack – in the libretto (the Count’s money, most of the women’s genuine interest in him, what’s his face talent for poetry). The clever projection of luxurious things that aren’t really there fits the Count’s ingenious scheme of getting rid of undeserving pretenders. Lastly, it’s really silly and funny and that is the deeper essence of Pietra – a comedy of bantz.

(I know you didn’t think this one had a deeper essence 😉 but if you’ve read this blog more than once – or better yet, met me – you know I find witty banter a fine art worth pursuing. (Whilst we’re indulging in that old skool favourite – musing about “what composers really wanted”) I’m fairly sure so did Rossini so ha to the bit where the YT warrior above says he doubts Rossini would’ve liked it. Keeping Tancredi in mind, you can follow Rossini’s brilliant sendup of opera seria (the overture, the chorus, the duet tenor-baritone/bass, the fake-seria duet between the Count and Clarice etc. – everything is… well, perverted opera seria structure. Tongue-in-cheek grand.)

I will give detractors one thing: it must’ve been pretty confusing to see it in the house as it’s so obviously meant for DVD (and in that sense, the TV direction is great). But the singers are all superior actors and that must’ve gone a long way. On the other hand, the sense of everything not being what it appears must’ve been heightened.

Fluid Semiramide at the 2016 Proms

Again catching up with my links of interest. I didn’t intend to write about this (because it’s so long and I only had 2 1/2hrs set out for it), all I wanted was to casually listen to it whilst sewing a curtain for the kitchen (as you do).

But I was soon very impressed with how Mark Elder handled the score. He kept it light and clear and flowing though the tempi weren’t particularly speedy. His cast was very well chosen for Rossini, with – aside from the main ladies who were known quantities to me and of which Barcellona is a current staple in Rossini contralto roles – an excellent Assur in Mirko Palazzi and a pretty neat Idreno in Barry Banks.

I don’t reccommend the interval chat (more of an intro to Rossini’s Semiramide pre-recorded chat), because the two talkers say little of any importance. On top of that, one of them has the horrible old skool habit of calling everything enormous (the scale of the opera, the length of the acts, the difficulty of the title role etc.) and the other’s speech is riddled with irksome parasites such as “sort of” and “if you like”. I sort of didn’t like it.

I don’t yet know if they finished as well as they started but it seems a very good choice for anyone who wants a contemporary take on Semiramide. Opera Rara with Elder/Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and this very cast (= the same team) have actually just finished recording it UNCUT so you’ll get to hear it in all its 4hrs+ glory as soon as they sort it out.

Edit 16/09/16: finally finished it! Very good stuff. I’m now curious how the recording will be, comparatively.

Summery Rossini (is there any other kind?)

I don’t talk enough about Rossini (and even less so about La cenerentola), so le’t rectify this a bit today:

Considering I think JDD owns this role, I was very, very impressed with Semmingsen’s extra playful approach here. Wonderful handling of that hair curling coloratura 🙂

So now let’s have Non piu mesta again, also in outdoors conditions:

edit: but since I’m of the moar mezzos mindset, how about Bartoli for the final?

Revisiting the Bechdel test for opera

A while ago I put some of my favourite operas to this test, with various results. But on re-reading it today, an idea about how perception complicates matters came to me. Let’s first see what happened when I Capuleti e i Montecchi’s turn came:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; ooops, not enough women in this, fail
  2. they talk to each other; N/A, fail
  3. they talk about something other than a man: ok, given that Giulietta has a long monologue, she ends up talking about how much she hates her life and would rather die than marry the man imposed on her by her father. Not really check but at least something. Still fail.

It’s a 19th century opera, what did you expect? The libretto is textbook woman oppressed by the patriarchy. You do want to cry during her first duet (or first part of the long duet) with Romeo and not just because the music is so damn beautiful (snif, snif).

Right, it fails spectacularly, in grand Victorian tradition, which is unsurprising. But there is one interesting thing about it: namely that Romeo is specifically written for a woman1. So in a sense, there are two women in it and they do talk about quite a few things. They are also trying – with tragic results – to get away from “patriarchy”. It’s almost like a classic lesbian twist, which needs to end badly for all involved. I think nowadays that subtext is there even though it wasn’t always so.

The case of Der Rosenkavalier is somewhat similar, for the same reason. Octavian is supposed to be sung/played by a woman. You know that point where Octavian says “the Field Marshall is hunting in the Croatian forest and I’m here… hunting for… hehe…” – that always makes me imagine the Field Marshall as this big, forged in the heat of battle chap with large, black whiskers; and his wife prefers this giggly kid after all. I know it’s Strauss’s version of Le nozze but still2, the Field Marshall hunts for bears and boars for a reason. And we know they’ve been married since she came out of the convent – which was probably around age 16-18 – and they still don’t have any children. Maybe they couldn’t conceive but maybe she’s just not into black-whiskered boar hunters. Maybe he isn’t into women. Hofmannsthal was gay after all, can’t put this thought beyond him.

How Mozart/Bellini/Strauss intended it is one thing but how we see it today is almost always different.


  1. I know there are musical reasons why that is so – Bellini wanted the lovers to sound more alike so as to make a strong contrast to those who are opposing them. 
  2. I guess we could discuss Le nozze as well. Beaumarchais himself wanted Cherubino to be played by a girl and he still went on with the third part of the trilogy. You could say the kid had to be very pretty, that’s the point. You could also say, with the third part in place you know he meant for the Countess and Cherubino to really be getting it on, no ifs and buts there. What I’m getting at is you can’t get away from subtext, it’s just not possible, the way we think these days. 

Lucia di Lammermoor between Feminism and unintentional comedy (ROH, 14 April 2016)

Patriarchy: Marry some dude you never met for the sake of the family, Lucia!
Lucia: But I’m in love with someone else!
Patriarchy: It’s ok if you don’t love him, focus on the fact that your brother is in trouble [because of bad political decisions].
Lucia: I promised I will marry someone else!
Patriarchy: Oh, a marital promise not blessed by a priest doesn’t matter.
Lucia: I don’t want to marry someone just because my brother is inept at politics!
Partiarchy: Shush, adults are speaking!

1) This libretto is what caused Feminism to erupt into the world, folks. Ok, not literally but OMG. There are no words.

2) Have you ever laughed when watching Lucia? Well, this production gave us unexpected opportunities (yes, more than one). There is a Live Cinema relay on 25 April, which may or may not be the reason why there were cameras today and will be again on 19 April. If there is a DVD so much the better, because humorous Lucia should be immortalised.

The harp sounded very fine in its solo. Also the glass harmonica worked nicely in tandem with Lucia. I think belcanto was served well through the evening, though it’s the kind of thing where you come for the singers – and the choir, that meddling belcanto choir we love from Bellini, Rossini and recently Mayr.

eh, not Lucia?! Pretty damn fitting poster, though!

Lucia: Diana Damrau
Edgardo: Charles Castronovo
Enrico: Ludovic Tézier
Arturo: Taylor Stayton
Raimondo: Kwangchul Youn
Normanno: Peter Hoare
Alisa: Rachael Lloyd
Conductor: Daniel Oren | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH

The thing with this production is that there are many scene changes that for me felt quite disruptive, especially the one before the very last scene. Lucia has sung her long, complicated, famous bit and that’s when we get a break. Poor Edgardo, who cares anymore? At least he gets to slit his throat rather dramatically. Otherwise, the brouhaha about woo, gory! seems to have been pure hype, and not the best kind, as some people have shied away. A few pints of blood were shed but no actions we haven’t seen on crime shows for the past 20 years.

The stage was split in two, which I thought worked well in showing what the other characters were doing whilst somebody was singing. The only problem was that sometimes what the other characters were doing distracted from those who were singing. The worst hit was the Enrico/Edgardo duet, which was set during the time Lucia and her mezzo maid wrestled with and killed Arturo.

Quick, he’s getting away!

Because, you see, after Lucia – quite clumsily – stabs Arturo, the chap stays put for like 2min after which he bolts upright and tries to make it for the door. And he wasn’t even singing! The audience in my area was consumed with laughter. Not so fast, tiger, says the mezzo maid, and shoves him to the floor (mezzos are always resorceful). Lucia faffs a bit but then stabs him in the side. He writhes, they keep him down, Lucia brings a rock but is about to pass out rather than bash his head in. All this time Enrico and Edgardo are singing their hearts out and I bet you no one – outside of diehard Castronovo fans – was looking their way.

Another hilarious moment – which, to be fair, had everything to do with the libretto – was during the wedding reception, when Lucia – looking lalalala – is coming into the hall.

Enrico: If Lucia looks a bit unhappy, it’s only because of her mother’s recent death.
Arturo: So I’ve been told. But tell me something, I’ve also heard that chap Edgardo was interested in her…
Enrico: Oh, yea, but this has absolutely nothing to do with it!

They force Lucia to sign the prenup and Edgardo barges in (he’d made his way through Lucia’s conveniently open window – total lack of security during wedding receptions at the beginning of the 18th century Scotland, much like in Capuleti’s Verona). When he’s shown the prenup, he goes off on her:

Edgardo: OMG! You slag! How COULD you? You said you loved me etc.
Lucia: Well, guess what buddy, I was surrounded by my personality disorder(ed) brother, the entire (menacing) male chorus, an ambivalent cleric and not one but two ghosts and now you ask me how could I? Give a bloody girl a break, willya? Jesus.

She doesn’t actually say any of this, but she oughta. She should’ve also packed her suitcase a la Aix Ginevra and left that lot to their petty duels. But then she’d’ve got a bravura aria rather than a glass harmonica, ornament city mad scene. I mean that mad scene has every combination of ornament known to man (and, in this case, woman).

The good news is Damrau can pull it off. She needed a bit of warmup in act I but by this point her top was working flawlessly. She’s also an intelligent singer and the ornaments have a logical basis. What Damrau lacks is a sense of otherworldliness. She’s a very flesh and blood Lucia, which works well for the most part. You really don’t feel she’s a helpless victim and the dramatic arc is very coherent, from the beginning when she and mezzo maid dress in male attire to meet up with Edgardo by the Fountain of Doom where they have very explicit sex1 (sadly, the maid is not involved). This Lucia is a woman ahead of her time and Damrau is the right kind of actress to portray that.

But traditionally Lucia is an emotionally unstable woman – right from the Fountain of Doom scene she’s seeing ghosts – and quite a few Lucias go for weirdness in their mad scene (Gruberova stands out for me as a particularly weird one). No so Damrau. She’s playful and happy in a very non-psychotic-looking way. I like the strong woman approach but I admit I missed the oddness.

But let’s go back to the Fountain of Doom scene. It’s apparently the fountain where an ancestor of Edgardo’s had stabbed the woman he loved, which is an odd spot for Edgardo to meet the woman he loves. Then again, his last name is Ravenswood, so he’s strong with the spooky. Lucia knows the legend, has thought about it and has brought a small bouquet to lay down in memory of that unfortunate woman.

Wouldn’t you know the ghost comes right at her and gives her a hug and kiss! She’s naturally freaked out but then Edgardo arrives and they get it on whilst arguing over whether he should keep his oath to avenge his father (presumably killed by Enrico) or not. You’d think that would be a mood killer but I guess not when you’re pressed for time by conveniently (for the libretto) having to go to France on one side and getting married on the other. This business is mildly funny when contrasted with the impassionate singing but things get properly amusing when the ghost of the Fountain of Doom flirts with the both of them. I mean, I get it, they are both doomed but it’s still funny. I think it would be better if they could manage hologram ghosts but maybe that would look too cheesy? (Can belcanto ever be too cheesy?)

Next it’s morning in Lucia’s bedroom and oops, she has morning sickness. That’s your proof that talking about revenge ups one’s virility. She miscarries whilst/from killing Arturo but she will sing her mad scene.

I can’t let her die, I must turn her! (the dark secret of the Ravenswoods emerges at last)

But enough about the production. This evening was the third time the charm with Castronovo and I got to hear Tézier, about whom I was just saying the other day that I knew I had to hear him but I wasn’t sure why. Well, he more than held his own. He made for an unpleasant Enrico and sounded good (though not quite great) whilst doing so. Castronovo, though, was a bit of a letdown. I had seen that webcast of concert Lucia with Damrau and Calleja from – from where? one or two years back – and I remember liking Calleja better. What I mean is I felt that Castronovo’s darker tone got in the way. I was expecting more colour/variation in sound. His ppps sounded a bit funny, too, sort of flat rather than ppp proper. Maybe I’m wrong in my description but the sound seemed bent instead of diminished in volume. Also at some point Edgardo sings together with something like a continuo and the two were not perfectly synchronised. Other than that he was fine, rather good chemistry with Damrau. Maybe I need to hear him in something else.

Kwangchul Youn (as the ambivalent, Lorenzo-like priest) was another singer I had wanted to hear. He has a beautiful, expansive tone but I questioned his legato in the lovely Infelice! della mente/La virtude a lei mancò! Maybe Maestro wanted him to go rhythmical but I wasn’t quite won over.

It was a surprisingly mirthful evening. I also had a very chatty seatmate, we somehow veered into politics and managed to “stay friends” 😉 He first asked me who was my favourite soprano which proved easy enough to answer but then he asked who was my favourite tenor. I totally blanked out, I couldn’t come up with any name aside from JK 😉 I ended up saying I liked mezzos better than tenors which is both true and says it all though I don’t think he got it.

Generally the audience was very congenial and, as I said, with an unexpected sense of humour – you (I) sometimes imagine belcanto fans as these diehard romantics who keep to themselves and sigh at the moon Werther-style. I think the lady next to me (who fit that description) sobbed a bit during the Lucia/Edgardo bits. She also had a very loudly ticking watch (!) which initially worried me, as the seconds ticking away were a continuo accompaniment to the music – but then I either got used to the ticking or the people around me were laughing too hard. Kidding, actually during Lucia’s mad scene you could hear a pin drop.

Speaking of loud noises, Lucia tossed her brass tea set so energetically across the room when her brov came to tell her he won’t be mad at her anymore for consorting with the enemy if she married the Arturo dude, it reminded me of other moments in opera when singers throw/push things like they don’t care:

Alex Esposito as Figaro viciously kicking the count’s boots’ box across the stage during Se vuol ballare a couple of years back at ROH

Anna Caterina Antonacci as Vitellia chucking off her pearls which bounced off the timpani during Non piu di fiori in 2006 in Paris

Richard Croft as Idomeneo messing with the table during Nettuno s’onori in 2013 at Theater-an-der-Wien

Conclusion: this Lucia was mad but in the pissed off kind of way. I don’t object at all to this production because the libretto is kicking it so jawdroppingly old skool (for anyone 200 years removed from traditional culture; I am aware people still marry for social/policial reasons but I can’t get over it). I think going about this your emotions don’t count thing like it’s nothing is much worse than unintentional comedy.

PS: There was yet another funny moment: the brov presents Lucia with the wedding dress (of doom), that Arturo dude offers her the ring, the priest looks busy; they all loom on her like they’re about to put her in solitary – nothing works to convince her, she shoves them all away. So Enrico’s henchman, Normanno, pulls out a gun. Lucia’s like ok, nevermind, I will just sit on my bed. Also Damrau has mad timing – just before one of the scene changes or intermission (can’t keep up with them breaks) the curtain started falling so she dropped to the floor in record time still in time with the music 😀


  1. In the sense that it’s clear what they are doing, not that you see what goes where, unless you count Edgardo’s shirt which gets stuck where it’s not comfortable for Lucia – another unintentional moment of hilarity. Also their being very busy dressing and undressing in a very realistic manner somewhat clashes with the super impetuous belcanto moment.