Category Archives: donizetti

London gets on with things: L’elisir d’amore (ROH, 6 June 2017)

You ever imagine Tristan and Isolde with a happy ending? No? The French did (of course they did!) and so did the Italians, even more successfully. It was 1832 and women in opera had a few more years left to be intelligent, poke fun at hackneyed stories and crucially not die by the end.

I bought this ticket wrongly and long before I knew how contralto-mad times would get. So let me make a belcanto pitstop before I get back to my German adventures.

Adina: Pretty Yende
Nemorino: Liparit Avetisyan
Dulcamara: Alex Esposito
Belcore: Paolo Bordogna
Giannetta: Vlada Borovko
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Laurent Pelly

(Co-production with Opéra National de Paris)

I missed this “much loved” production the last time it was aired but I caught it on the radio and kicked myself for missing it. This time I was determined to see it – but as cheap as possible. It was only after booking that I realised I got the second cast, at the time including Rolando Villazon. Though you might remember I got a bit googly eyed for Alexandra Kurzak during Il turco in Italia and was rather annoyed to miss her this year, I decided to see the glass half full and check rising star Pretty Yende out.

At the weekend I (half enthusiastically) mentioned to Agathe that I would be seeing Villazon on Tuesday. Well, what with not being a Villazon aficionado I don’t know when the change happened but today I noticed his name was not part of the cast.

I had no idea who Avetisyan was but he turned out to be a very welcome surprise. He’s a good singer, really looks the (dorky) part and has excellent comedic timing. In spite of the dorkiness, the man has serious stage presence. For my money he was the best actor tonight in a cast that was by no means shabby, continuously drawing laughs and not just because he had obviously learned his part (and stunts) very well. The man has a feel for the stage and is lucky to have caught our attention in such a carefully detailed production. His diction ain’t bad either. He does have to work on making his vocal performance more detailed, more personal, but I suppose that is the kind of thing that comes with experience. If he’s intelligent and has a good team to support him I think he will do very well in the future.

Yende has more of a Netrebko-type voice than what I’d expect in an ideal belcantist. Though she can pull off the trills and the top seems to come easy at her age, I imagine she will soon grow into heavier roles. It’s always interesting “getting to know” a voice for the first time live. I’d heard some stuff on zetube and couldn’t quite make up my mind. Live I liked her soft singing best, which is genuinely warm with just enough roundness. A congenial voice.

Her stage presence, in fact, is very girl-next-door (and she and Avetisyan made a very cute village couple). She sort of reminded me of Veronique Gens as Dona Elvira – a bit (or perhaps way) too nice for the role. At the beginning we need to be unsure of Adina’s feelings or to laugh with her at Nemorino. She’s the local landowner so she can’t be too chummy with Nemorino from the getgo. It might be part of the production but I felt Yende’s Adina was just another girl in the village, gently teasing Nemorino and getting girlishly sulky when he’s pretending not to care for her.

Though her soft singing has quite a bit of character (the emotion came through), she tended to be more abstract in the coloratura and when deploying the very top – neither of which were unpleasant on the ear, mind. Maybe next time she convinces me that coloratura isn’t just there to wow the audience with pure technical skill.

This is the kind of production where even the baddies are lovable. Bordogna was quite the bufoon as the self satisfied Sargent Belcore. It was the fourth time I’ve seen Esposito and by far the most pleasant. He must enjoy singing in an undershirt, as I think this is probably the third time I see him in one. It’s neither an opera nor a production interested in commenting on consumerism and public gullibility, so his Dulcamara is simply amusing, the way he keeps popping up and tying his magic potion to everything that works well.

Dulcamara: hello everybody, I’m Dr Dulcamara and I came up with that magic potion that works on everything from bedbugs to constipation, you may have heard of it1.
Villagers: ooooooooooh! Hello Dr Dulcamara, can we have some of that?
Dulcamara: of course! It’s cheap too. And it can make you great in bed and rich at the same time, like Nemorino here!
Villagers: OMG, how did we live without it all this time?!

Pelly productions always have extra little somethings, and here the curtain at intermission was a giant Dulcamara advert (in Italian, which made it even funnier), with pictures and text describing various ailments cured by the miraculous drug (you can see pictures here).

De Billy and Co. did a reasonably good job. Maybe it’s my seat (horseshoe left), maybe it’s my ears, but I felt like the sound from the orchestra was particularly uniform. The flute, oboe, bassoon and harp did their job when called for solos and/or lead, with the flute faring best, though nothing to write home about. I can’t say maestro made any efforts to pick out interesting sounds from his team. Likewise the chorus, who had quite a bit to do on stage – the villagers are very present in the opera. They sounded solid and on time but aside from one instance when the male side of the chorus sprung up quite nicely they seemed satisfied with merely keeping to the rhythm. The whole thing (orchestra included) could’ve benefited from more rubato. Belcanto comedy is built on simple, hummable tunes which can sound very mechanical without a bit of imagination.

The audience loved it, laughed a lot, clapped a lot and gave the team a very warm reception. It’s a likable production, I can’t complain. The atmosphere was congenial, with my seatmates on the left jolly and relaxed as well as knowledgeable, and my seatmate on the other side not particularly knowledgeable but certainly friendly and enjoying herself. It’s great to see Londoners letting their hair down at times like these.


  1. The good old days when quacks prescribed placebo! Imagine if all the pill-poppers around us merely drank weak wine. 
Advertisements

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 😛

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. 

Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes (Wigmore Hall, 16 March 2016)

Siurina’s partner, Charles Castronovo, was scheduled to perform but once again he eludes me. Instead we got to hear a young singer which we (I) remember from the 2014 JPYA at Royal Opera House Summer Show, in which he was (o mio) Fernando. Siurina is quite well known as for instance Adina in L’elisir d’amore, or Ilia in that Salzburg Idomeneo where Harteros chews scenery, but readers with similar tastes to mine might remember this image even better:

Servilia and Annio (image lifted from operaramblings – click to read the review)

Indeed, I first came across her as dreamboat Servilia in the famous Paris “Potato” production of Tito. I looked up her Askonas Holt profile and it seems a Morgana and a Cleopatra are the works. Bring them on, I say.

Ekaterina Siurina soprano
Luis Gomes tenor
Iain Burnside piano

Pietro Mascagni
Suzel, buon di (L’amico Fritz)

Paolo Tosti
L’ultima canzone
Ideale
L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra (Quattro canzoni d’Amaranta)

Gioachino Rossini
La pastorella dell’Alpi (Les soirees musicales)

Vincenzo Bellini
Malinconia, ninfa gentile

Gaetano Donizetti
A mezzanotte

Giacomo Puccini (La Boheme)
Che gelida manina
Mi chiamano Mimi
O soave fanciulla

INTERVAL

Temperamentally Siurina and Gomes are very different. He earnest and impetuous, she playful and cute as a button. If he came into his own with Che gelida manina, for which he has the passion and Italianate tone, her most memorable point before the interval was Rossini’s La pastorella dell’Alpi. Siurina’s gift for comedy and witty phrasing of the (very silly) coloratura were pure delight.

Georges Bizet
Me voila seule dans la nuit… Comme autrefois (Les pecheurs de perles)

Sergey Rachmaninov 1

Sing not to me, beautiful maiden/Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (6 Songs Op. 4 No. 4)
In my Garden at Night/Noch’yu v sadu u menya Op. 38 No. 1
To Her/K ney Op. 38 No. 2
How fair this spot/Zdes’ khorosho Op. 21 No. 7
They Answered/Oni otvechali Op. 21 No. 4
A Dream/Son Op. 38 No. 5
Spring Waters/Vesenniye vodï Op. 14 No. 11

Charles Gounod (Romeo et Juliette)
Ah, leve toi soleil!
Va, je t’ai pardonne… Nuit d’hymenee

In terms of skill it was hard not to notice Gomes was the junior partner in this joint. Both of them have large enough voices to make your ears ring even when sat at the back of the hall. Driven by youthful enthusiasm, Gomes took every opportunity to soar as Italian tenor in full cry. There’s no doubt this is his path, a path that allows a good deal of shouting, but when he chose to sing one of the Russian songs entirely below full power it wasn’t unpleasant at all. A bit of variation in volume dynamics is a good thing even for his preferred repertoire. When in duets the both of them turned up the volume to the max the sounds became harder to distinguish, let alone the words. That’s a shame, because he has a beautiful, manly tone up and down the range which we want to hear and bask into.

For her part, Siurina showed a variety of dynamic approaches. Though not a small voice, hers it’s remarkably vibrato-less and still wonderfully flexible. I’m not sure whether the Russian songs were more uplifting than usual or it’s just her light hearted personality as she breezed through them. I’d say she doesn’t sound like the typical Russian soprano. In the Italian songs she balanced between a “relaxed” manner and a full on operatic one, which I thought was rather interesting and reminded me of Antonacci’s way of singing them.

Burnside accompanied but I have to say between each of the singers’ pizzazz I lost him. In any case, this was an interesting break into my Handel-fest. Will definitely make time for Siurina’s recitals in the future and perhaps I’ll catch Gomes when I venture into his repertoire.


  1. I don’t know if the Russian is correct, I copied it off Wigmore Hall’s site. 

ROH Spring Season and London Handel Fest General Sale

Yours truly’s purse has taken a heavy hit today as these two fine opera purveyors have decided to start their General Sale on the same day. Luckily Wigmore Hall’s is on 5 February (whew). Here’s what I got:

ROH

Boris Godunov
Lucia di Lamermoor
Oedipe

London Handel Fest

Ariodante – my demands are few: Dopo notte and a good Polinesso. Let’s hope so!
Maria Ostroukhova recital – anyone who includes La bocca vaga in their recital has my attention.
Berenice“She (Berenice) has her sights on the Macedonian prince Demetrio. But he loves Berenice’s sister Selene,” – my hope is we’ll get a nice mezzo-countertenor duet out of this. In any case, looking forward to Michal Czerniawski.
Elpidia (pasticcio) – Opera Settecento returns with some of our local faves

Alexander Balus was so overpriced I had to let it go. The prices seemed high in general, but the festival offers discounts for booking 3+ events.

Operalia final (ROH, 19 July 2015)

This year Placido Domingo’s singing competition reached London town on a pleasantly balmy afternoon. I’d never attended a singing competition before so I was way curious. As the evening wore on it became clear that the standard was very high.

But first the evening kicked off without much ado (save for a congenial introduction by the world’s most famous baritenor/MC/conductor/accompanist etc.) with Largo al factotum. Now if you’re going to start that famous intro coloratura off stage in a high profile competition you should be able to project like a pro. Sadly, US baritone Edward Parks did not. Likewise his stage antics remained within the confines of stretched arms a la the ’50s.

Listen, this is one of the most famous baritone arias out there – probably all baritones have sung it at one point or another. It comes down to a simple question: how are you going to stand out? I always think back to JDD’s deconstruction of it: you are supposed to be showing off. Come on, show off! For once it’s allowed to behave like a divo on skates. The aria is basically an advert for Figaro inc. Be funny, be silly, be a dude. Just don’t stand there stretching your arms at regular intervals.

Nonetheless, the public was determined to have fun and clapped.

Next up was US soprano Andrea Carroll who sang Qui la voce…/Vien diletto. It was soon obvious that she was a straight up lyric soprano, with a rather beautiful (super plaintive – give her all the consumptive/hard done by damsel roles there are, please), well schooled voice. However the extreme plaintiveness of her tone undermined the Vien diletto bit of the aria. We all know it’s a mini mad scene of unadulterated joy – Elvira is horny as a kitten. That sexy delirium did not come through in her rendition. On top of it, maybe due to nerves, maybe because of her temperament, she went very carefully about it. It’s Bellini, it’s going to be hard to sing – long lines, legato, requires a free top capable of ornaments in the attic of the voice. But if you’re going to sing it, come on! step on the pedal, live a little.

The public was nice to her too, or maybe some really enjoyed it.

French tenor Julien Behr was next. I thought, hey, Julien Behr already has a career, he’s sung here at ROH as well as at other big houses, why is he in this competition with the kids? He was indeed the oldest. But I guess it’s never too late to propel yourself further. He took advantage of the fact French is well represented in the repertoire and sang Faust’s aria Salut! Demeure chaste et pure. I’ve already gone over my attitude to Gounod (bit boring) yesterday, so all I’m going to say is that at this point he was the best. He floated a pianissimo quite nicely at a pivotal point.

Kiandra Howarth, our Australian acquaintance from yesterday and other dates, came in to sing Juliette’s Amour, reanime mon courage – that is to say, the aria she sang yesterday in the JPYA Summer Performance. It’s not often you get to hear a singer sing the same thing two days in a row. But since this aria fits her voice nicely I wasn’t going to complain. This was the first time of the evening when someone projected enough so that us in the Upper Slips could hear properly. Though I enjoyed her creamy tone, I still felt underwhelmed by Gounod’s writing. I thought: all of them are very capable, good technique and all but so far she’s ahead of the others.

Without a break, South African bass-baritone Bongani Justice Kubheka came in with Basilio’s La calunnia. He started rather quietly but then this is an aria where the singer needs to pace himself very carefully: it’s all about the crescendo. His was a more characterful voice than Parks’ and he put on the – dramatically – most exciting performance thus far. He stomped, he chuckled, he used colour (woohoo!) to vary his lines. He obviously knew what he was saying and he seemed to have a ball doing it. I wish him luck and I hope to see him in buffo roles. Here’s a singer who can capture your attention when he’s on stage. At this point I was sure I was going to vote for him in the Male Voice section.

Korean soprano Hyesang Park‘s name appeared on screen but there were a few moments until she herself showed up. Did she get cold feet? Did she have a last minute costume malfunction? People were obviously wondering.

Then she showed up, in a very pretty white/red dress and we learned she was going to sing Lucia’s Il dolce suono. 20min later 😉 we were all at her feet. Hells yea. You don’t have to be a coloratura soprano fanatic to appreciate the work and talent that went into that performance. Unsurprisingly, her mind-boggingly deft maneuvering of acuti stopped the show short, with people unable to contain themselves – mad clapping, hollering, the works. Later she continued with the last 5minutes of the behemoth. More clapping, stomping, swooning.

Lest you think she’s all about acuti (though a bit of foray below showed she still needs to work on the bottom of her voice), the tone itself is exquisite. I don’t throw that around easily; it had quicksilver personality. Just when I – of all people – was starting to crave a bright voice, here she came with the kind of crystal clear top that you so want for belcanto coloratura. And you know there’s very little that Donizetti denied us in this proper belcanto extravaganza: super exposed singing – check, duet with the flute – check. If you can get through this you can probably solve world peace too 😉 Just remembering all the notes is probably a few months’ work. Then you need to make it flow and possibly, show some drama kookiness. Let me tell you, quicksilver can do kooky. I knew who I was going to vote for in the Female Voice section.

US baritone Tobias Greenhalgh was slotted to follow. I felt for him. He gave us the second Largo al factotum of the night. His Figaro ‘tude was superior to Parks’ and he had some original moves. It wasn’t bad at all, he even elicited some laughs, but as baritones go Kubheka had been funnier. You need to marshal out your inner extrovert with this aria. And you need to sing well. And hopefully have a voice that sticks out. I thought Domingo could’ve sped up the tempo a bit but as he had been supportive with his singers thus far maybe this was the tempo Greenhalgh was comfortable with. You don’t want to fub the patter in this one.

From New Zealand we had tenor Darren Pene Pati, who sang Edgardo’s Tombe degli avi miei. Here we had a bit of Pavarotti feel, not unpleasant at all. Quite the contrary. Beautifully, soulfully sung, with good projection and better than average diction.

We stayed in the Southern hemisphere with South African soprano Noluvuyiso Mfopu for Violetta’s E strano…/Sempre libera. Lovely tone as well, lyric but not overwhelmingly plaintive, elegant and perhaps a bit introverted. This introversion marred Sempre libera some, as there wasn’t a marked difference in moods between the two sections. Too elegant; more abandon would’ve given it an extra oomph. Showman Domingo made us all sigh by joining in for Alfredo’s echoes (which, just between you and me, I like a lot better than what Violetta has to sing and thus stayed with for the rest of the night. If I could sing, I’d break into Amor è palpito dell´universo intero,/misterioso, altero,/croce e delizia al cor at any given time 😀 ).

Switch to Eastern Europe for Romanian tenor Ioan Hotea‘s Ah, mes amis. Well, well, well, thought I, let’s count his high Cs. Though I’m hardly an OMG, high C! type of opera fan, I appreciate a good one when I hear it. And this aria has 9 of them. Well, well, well, indeed – he nailed them and looked cute doing so. La fille du regiment is a bit of a turkey of an opera, hardly high on realism but good-natured fun, so it takes a lovable Tonio to pull off the starry eyed boyfriend. Slight built Hotea’s got that – and you know what? (Every once in a while) it’s nice to hear a tenor hit some plump high Cs and project them too. I don’t think his voice is quite as recognisable as JDF’s but it’s endearingly healthy and fresh. After this performance I started to wonder if Kubheka’s sense of humour was enough to get my vote.

Norway’s Lise Davidsen brought something completely different to the competition: Wagner. It’s kinda weird hearing Elisabeth’s Dich, teure Halle among all the belcanto, but good to hear something else for a change. I don’t think I’m a competent judge when it comes to Wagner singing, but one thing I know – a dramatic soprano should be big voiced/able to project. She did, she walked all over that orchestra no problem. In fact, if she was in any way cautious I am thankful, as a couple of times I was afraid she was going to send my toupee flying. The public was glad for a change of feel too, and clapped lots.

There was no time for faffing, so the zarzuela part of the competition came next.

Andrea Carroll started things off with a very fun piece, Al pensar en el dueno de mis amores. I’ll be upfront and say I know nada about zarzuela. After this outing, though, I will be sure to investigate because it was lots of fun, quite possibly more fun than lieder, which took a while to endear itself to me. As much as I like to think of myself as rational, I’m very attracted to the Southern European fire in the belly. I think this piece suited Carroll better than Qui la voce. The lyricism of her voice went quite nicely with it. But as earlier I was dying for some fire, especially in the repeated ay! cries, which she sang surprisingly even.

Darren Pene Pati was next with La roca fria del calvario, which, considering the title, sounded like it was going to be sombre and quite possibly heartbreaking. I’ve established that Pene Pati is in possession of a gorgeous tone but, midway through it, I started wondering if he wasn’t going too operatic. I know that can be a pitfall with lieder but I’m clueless when it comes to zarzuela. Still, there was a niggling doubt in my heart. (edit: I now see I was wrong but even so, I’m still standing by my later decision).

Kiandra Howarth sang Tres horas ante del dia, a temperamental piece which went well with her full soprano.

Ioan Hotea “challenged” Pene Pati with the same piece. There is a bit later in the song where the tune returns and it’s a tune that made me think this is sadness the Spanish way. Hotea didn’t overdo it in volume but went for the pain and then intensified the feeling without losing beauty of sound. That’s when I knew I was going to vote for him. A singer should make you feel; if it’s a sad piece, they should bring you to the brink of tears.

Hyesang Park wrapped things up with the coquettish No se que siento aqui. This song was surprisingly operatic and not just in how she presented it; the orchestration – or what Domingo asked from the orchestra – felt very grand. I’ll have to trust Domingo since he’s been around zarzuela from the womb. As I heard someone comment on the way out, this choice played to Park’s strengths, which are of the classic diva variety. I appreciated her very coordinated and fluent stage movement and it’s not like I had any doubt that the woman could sing. But I was a bit baffled and not 100% convinced; it felt like the pizzazz overshadowed the feeling. A quick check to the ROH site tells me zarzuela is rather the Spanish equivalent to operetta, so, yes, the pizzazz was the feeling. I’ll need a bit of immersion before I put together the many sides of it all. I still voted for her in the Female Voice section. The woman is the complete package. Please do come to London for the belcanto roles.

Err, since I had to dash off right after casting my votes for Park and Hotea, I did not catch the winner(s) and the results do not appear to be posted online yet. Please post if you know, I’m writing this at work since I’m internet-less at home due to some fault with my landline I had no time to fix what with the overly busy weekend…

Miscellaneous:

  • The house was full and the public more varied than the regular over 50s pearl necklace brigade – lots of young people for once, different backgrounds. The atmosphere was enthusiastic and encouraging, very generous clapping, open laughter etc. It was lovely sharing the evening with people so glad to be there.
  • Upon checking the Operalia site I was pleased to note that Nutthaporn Thammathi, the lovely Tito from the Fiesole Clemenza, made it to the Quarterfinals. I wish him better luck in future competitions.
  • I was also glad to see a few mezzos and even a countertenor in the running. Let’s hope in the near future we’ll get to hear a larger variety of repertoire and voice types. Until then, this was quite a ball!

L’elisir d’amore on the radio

Back to opera on the radio with Donizetti’s romcom from ROH in Laurent Pelly ever popular production.

Adina: Lucy Crowe
Nemorino: Vittorio Grigolo
Dulcamara: Bryn Terfel
Belcore: Levente Molnár
Giannetta: Kiandra Howarth
Conductor: Daniele Rustioni | Orchestra and Chorus of the ROH

Act I

The best things in act I were the chorus and the conducting. Rustioni managed a very good balance between light and dark and kept it bouncy. Vocally, Grigolo, whom I normally don’t like, surprised me positively. He started strong, he wasn’t bad at all as the naive and romantically inclined Nemorino. On the other hand I still haven’t warmed up to Crowe, although maybe a fuller voice is a good idea for a strong woman? Belcore was all right but Molnár didn’t sound very self important. I might’ve liked a brighter, sparklier tone… Terfel is not a bass, is he? He wasn’t bad, maybe needed to be funnier…

The Nemorino/Dulcamara duet came off all right, I think Terfel needs to up his salesman act. He sounds more like Belcore than Molnár does. Maybe I need to re-asses how much I like him as an actor. But strictly vocally speaking he was very good. Grigolo was a bit forward in duets and ensembles. The choir rocked the end of Act I.

intermission interviews: interesting points made about the changing of the tenor voice during the 1830s, from the left-over (tenore di grazia) of the castrati period to the head+chest mix of later on. Grigolo’s speaking voice does sound like a (high) mezzo’s. Rustioni says clarity is essential in belcanto, every notes counts. You can run but you cannot hide 😉

If you don’t know the story, Adina, the un-romantic land owner, reads the story of Tristan and Isolde and makes fun of the stupid (eh heh) plot. Nemorino (who’s besotted with her) thinks he needs just that kind of potion to make her love him. Roll in Dulcamara, the travelling quack doc. He of course has a “love potion” (red wine) for Nemorino. Nemorino gets drunk on it. Rumour spreads that his rich uncle has conveniently died and made him his heir (somebody needs to connect us all with these rich uncles from opera). All the women in the village jump him. Nemorino thinks it’s the potion. Turns out Adina actually likes him without the help of any potion.

Act II

Grigolo did a good job acting drunk. Choir, Grigolo and Terfel continued to be good to very good. Crowe wasn’t bad just not my thing. Check out the major madness at the end of Una furtiva lagrima (hope it works and sorry about the chop at the start. I was daydreaming)1. As you can hear, the public really got the clap 😉 before it even properly ended. But the public also loved Adina’s big aria. They were really clap-happy. Can’t fault tuneful music with simple plots.

All in all it was very entertaining, I kinda wish I’d been there.


  1. sorry, expired file. 

ROH’s JPYA Summer Performance 2014

Speaking of Donizetti and Mozart, the Jette Parker Young Artists put on one act from each composer for their Summer Performance. I went on a whim with opera buddy and got bargain floor tickets from a kindly couple. It was a first time in the ROH stalls for the both of us. Compared to where I usually sit I’d say the sound was more compact, for want of a better word. I was afraid I’d be spoiled from now on (more leg room! better views even with tall people in front of you!) and turn up my nose at the lower slips but I think I’ll live until such time as ROH stages Clemenza again.

youngsters at work

Maria Stuarda (ROH, 14 July 2014)

So, said the lady next to me at the end of the performance, can Mozart compare to this?
This is different, I said. This is something else.

  • Maria Stuarda: Joyce DiDonato 
  • Elisabetta: Carmen Giannattasio
  • Roberto, Conte di Leicester: Ismael Jordi
  • Guglielmo Cecil: Jeremy Carpenter
  • Giorgio Talbot: Matthew Rose
  • Anna Kennedy: Kathleen Wilkinson

Conductor: Bertrand de Billy | Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

major catfight ahead