Category Archives: basses

El Tito de Villazon (DG, 2018)

In which we (ie, I) return to Tito after a very long break and find new (to “us”) voices, pleasantly re-acquaint ourselves with older finds and get a few surprises, some good, some not so good.

Tito: Rolando Villazon
Vitellia: Marina Rebeka
Sesto: Joyce DiDonato
Annio: Tara Erraught
Servilia: Regina Mühlemann
Publio: Adam Plachetka
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin | Chamber Orchestra of Europe and RIAS Kammerchor

Overture: notable for its pregnant pauses, though less pregnant than Currentzis’. Those ones are preganant with sixtuplets.

Act I

Ma che…: pianoforte a bit loose in the joints; nice tone from Rebeka, actually. Never heard her before, but she can do recit quite excitingly. JDD is a less nervous Sesto than when I last heard her; more authoritative than you usually hear him, with a touch of introversion. Good balance between the voices though I wouldn’t say any sexual obsession is conveyed. Surprisingly, Sesto falls like a souffle in the end. It’s the longer version of the recit.

Come ti piace: Sesto rocks the rubato. Sounds a lot like N-S lets JDD lead. Rebeka comes in guns blazing and she can hold that with the best of them but it’s nothing new as far as Vitellia is concerned. The ending is beautifully executed but again, nothing overly exciting.

Annio shows up: he’s no-nonsense, Tito is waiting! Vitellia mocks him. He doesn’t care. O virtu…! comes off… I’m not sure how, sort of like Sesto is reading about Tito. Annio and Vitellia sound more alive than him.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: maybe not the sexiest inflections on the market but Rebeka has a very good looking tone and an impressive range.

pre-Prendi recit: The continuo is a bit gentile for my taste. Annio and Sesto are cute together.

Deh, prendi: go Annio! one feels the Romeo and the Octavian in Erraught’s enthusiasm.

March/Serbate, dei custodi: a bit funny jumping from Nerone’s court to Tito’s court with 150 musical years in between. Choir sounds rather telephoned.

This version has the long text of the Bring gifts to Tito! bit. Villazon starts well but he does soon sound like he’s ready to take flight rather than saying words. Or maybe I’m still mentally with Poppea and 150 years later recits are naturally a lot more stylised.

March reprise: it’s there and I always like to hear it but that’s it.

Annio : Sesto : Tito: Annio is eager, Sesto very timid. Tito still taking flight, especially on oggi mia sposa sara la tua germana!, which sounds as if he’s reciting and ode. Annio is the most natural and effective here. Wait, seriously: Erraught sang Sesto in Munich, why is she Annio here? Reason why things shouldn’t be planned too far in advance.

Del piu sublime soglio: Villazon starts it alone, which is not necessary a good idea, as he inflates sublime in a strange manner. His tone is actually not bad but he doesn’t sound dramatically involved enough – or in a manner that works for me. Maybe someone needs to pair him up with Garanca, then we’ll have two people singing it whilst thinking about how to make every note beautifully follow the other.

Non ci pentiam: Annio is trying to make the most of his predicament. He’s upset but heroic. I like Erraught’s way of going about the recit. Why is she not singing more Mozart? Servilia is also ready to fix things; these two always (ok, most times) bring a smile on.

Deh, perdona: in this case it’s very easy to tell them apart in the duet. Another aria that sounds nice enough but nothing earth shattering from Maestro.

Tito : Publio: Villazon reminds me of someone else but I can’t tell who. His Servilia, Augusta! is pretty nice – more surprised than besotted. Nice delivery from Servilia. She has such a Mozart voice! Sounds like she’s just stepped off Entfuhrung. There is a lot of stuff Tito has to say. It’s definitely the long version of the recits.

Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: it’s a lot better than I expected. Perhaps because it’s naturally more “shouty”, but Villazon has the right reading. Well, I’ll be. If someone told me the most I’d enjoy Villazon would be as Tito I’d have thrown down. Or something. The truth is I wouldn’t mind listening to his ‘Fosse again.

Vitellia : Servilia: Servilia isn’t scared but makes the exchange short, nonetheless.

pre-Parto recit: Rebeka sounds fresh, with just the right amount of sarcasm, JDD not so much (there comes a time to leave Sesto behind). Rebeka needs somebody as fresh as she is for a foil to her voice acting. I quite enjoy listening to her, a very nice find as Vitellia.

Parto: hm, there is a weird energy in how JDD phrases her initial double parto, reminiscent of how Villazon did his Ah, se fosse. Interesting in a way – a sort of going forward and breaking at the same time, but also not quite fetching. What I notice is JDD’s foray lower then she is known for (though not on that potentially super sexy belta; ok, everyone should have their trademark way of doing Parto). Her coloratura is as strong as ever yet she sounds heavier or darker otherwise. My conclusion is this is far from her most exciting take on Parto.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…!: very seductive mix of threat and self satisfaction from Vitellia, I like it. Publio and Annio are rather chummy.

Vengo! Apetatte… Sesto!: of course attending live shows is exiting (sometimes deliriously so), but there is a downside: you’re really spoiled for spontaneity. I find it very hard to get in the right mood for studio recordings, where everything sounds so obviously polished. It’s a very good version of Vengo! but I’m really dying for something to go slightly awry or at least not to feel like there’s a team of engineers trying to fix whatever vocal/techinical limitations might come up and in the process, smother the life out of it all. [earth to dehggi: this is apparently live. Dehggi: is it?! No, really: is it?!]

Again and again the feeling returns that this is all (the recording in general) very competent but no much beyond that (except Rebeka’s tone and enthusiasm for the recits – she’s been robbed of a better (really live) environment for a recording of this role).

Act I finale

Hey, JDD woke up! As we know, this is the moment when Sesto can be rescued from mediocrity if things (in this case, the drama) hadn’t gone anywhere fast up to this point. I can’t shake the feeling that, in spite of JDD’s experience and long list of qualities, she’s just not Sesto at this point in her career. She can phrase and she can dose her energy for this mad scene but the emotion feels generalised instead of raw. More attention seems put into rolling the Rs than into Sesto feeling overwhelmed by what he’d got into. JDD also doesn’t sound young and scared anymore – or even just scared. Her Sesto seems rather annoyed with himself – I can’t believe I’ve fallen for Vitellia’s trick – again!

By contrast, Annio, Servilia and Publio sound engaged. When everybody gathers together, Maestro speeds proceedings up a little too much, so that the choir’s interventions of ah! sound almost glib. Rebeka comes to the rescue again. Her Tito…? is tentative, as if Vitellia is scared even to call his name as she can tell the news can’t be good. Then taci, forsenatto! has he back in control again. The choir is a bit too resigned-mournful, so the sudden brass “screams” seem overdone and it all fizzles out before you realise.

Act I conclusion: JDD a disappointment, Rebeka a very welcome find, Erraught should’ve been Sesto1, Mühlemann endearingly eager, Maestro not sold on this opera, Plachetka solid and Villazon better than I ever imagined, though far from a Tito for the ages. With so many Tito recordings on the market in recent years I’m not sure why this one ever happened, except the young gen of conductors eager to leave their mark – or at least tick the box – on Mozart. I hate to say it, but I’ll take Currentzis’ exaggerations over Nézet-Séguin’s lack of ideas any day. But maybe I’ll be more engrossed in Act II…

ps: that’s gotta be one of the poorest CD covers I’ve seen in ages. Tito’s back of the head? Seriously? And why is the standard so badly placed within the composition?

Act II

Annio : Sesto: helpful Annio 🙂 Sesto is finally alarmed. Annio doesn’t want to hear whinging, he says: wipe your boogers and focus on the fact that Tito survived!… Wait, you’ve actually done it? DUDE, WTF?… Anyway, nobody can prove anything so STOP whinging!! Sesto dithers some more but Annio shakes him. I’m gonna be the helpful friend whether you like it or not, brov.

Torna di Tito a lato: beautifully, sensitively done – with heroics thrown in.

Partir deggio…?: Sesto continues to poop his finery, Vitellia is dramatically appealing to his fidelity, he raises to the bait, she gets sarcastic. Not bad.

Publio : Sesto: Publio is no-nonsense but not cruel, almost friendly. Sesto has gathered his courage back; seems like he only falls apart with Vitellia. But he’s also quite annoyed with her. I find the harsh dramatic contrasts JDD employs a bit blunt for Mozart.

Se al volto: Sesto’s start is rather good, nice employment of soft trills. Rebeka uses similar strong contrasts as above in her delivery and although I really like the ease with which she transitions from one to another (and her incursions at the top of her voice, which is beautiful and flexible), I still don’t like such rather overblown dramatics. I think I should blame Maestro? Plachetka’s Publio is again solid.

Si grazie si rendano: the choir isn’t bad here. I wish Villazon toned it down a bit, it’s a no-shouting moment. His Tito sounds like he wasn’t even in Rome when the fire happened. Introspection = a very Tito quality.

Publio : Tito: Publio is very hush-hush. I guess this one likes Sesto. Tito doesn’t sound particularly upset by the news but uses the end of the phrase for another shouty-McShout. And yet, he can do pp – if only he thought about it more often and how this should be the basis of characterisation.

Tardi s’avvede: Plachetka’s a very honourable Publio; this is a very civilised court. Along with the hush-hush recit he uses the softest tardis in the repeats. It’s very cool in itself and very dance-y. Diplomatic Publii are a thing.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is confused, Annio barges in (also in a civilised way), Publio gets gutsy, Tito is finally crushed. His Annio, lasciami in pace! is the most heartbroken I’ve heard yet. Villazon gets points for originality. I can work with this stuff.

Tu fosti tradito: Annio for emperor! So heroic 😀 and yet there are softer moments and Erraught can spin a trill. A bit acidic at the very top but it’s that aria. Easily one of the most involved and effective Annios out there.

Tito = OMG!: finally a moment for Villazon to go all Puccini and not sound funny. It’s ok for Tito to sound on the brink of a meltdown. His delivery is pretty convincing.

Quello di Tito e il volto: this is definitely a Tito + Sesto = friendship (but possibly Publio hearts Sesto) kind of Tito. They are very balanced and dramatically more suited together than with their respective women friends. Maestro uses that rubato at the end almost as if he remembered it at the last moment.

Tito : Sesto: Sesto sounds ready to lose his shit again. Tito sounds very hurt and doesn’t try to hide it. Sesto decides to try for heroism but it doesn’t quite work (not that I think JDD wanted it to). It’s one of those it’s not you, it’s me kind of cringe-y moments. It’s also very long. There is a lot of emotional fretting being thrown about, though… at least they are both on the same page of dramatics. It’s probably more akin to how they did it at the London premiere in 1805.

Deh, per questo instante solo: this is not how I remember JDD’s voice. I don’t know how this voice is. It’s like everything else is there but it’s missing its Mozart shine. Too much belcanto? Too much soprano? It sort of doesn’t sound like a trouser mezzo voice anymore – the genderambiguous charm, the emotional youthfulness2. It’s darker, but soprano-dark. Has the centre of balance changed? Unsurprisingly, the most memorable moment is the trill up at the top of the voice (on questo cor).

Tito ponders: I like the darkly phrased vendetta… otherwise it’s a pretty straight-forward Tito. I like him but what can I do??? thinks Tito. His heartbreak is very much of the heart only. Publio tries to figure out what happened.

Se all’impero: I don’t know if sounding insecure is by design but it actually fits Tito’s reluctant decision.

Publio : Vitellia: it’s a very diplomatic conversation, neither wants to give their hand away.

Vitellia : Annio : Servilia: everybody is alarmed. Annio, as usual, wants things done already. Vitellia is still able to keep up appearances. Servilia isn’t easily fooled.

S’altro che lagrime: not sure if the continuo was needed to segues into S’altro. Mühlemann continues to sound like a very young Mozart heroine, with a beautiful top for the gioveras.

Ecco il punto, Vitellia… : Rebeka begins cold but slowly, slowly, the more she says Sesto’s name, things are starting to fall apart. Somehow she manages to sound distressed without the usual ugliness. It’s still not entirely thawed, in contrast with Sesto and Tito’s emotional wrecks.

Non piu di fiori: I guess the descent into temporary madness could be more gradually described but her use of range is the best this side of Erraught. The low G is on pieta and it’s not overly ugly but rather solid. Like with the rest of this recording, all that’s missing is some interesting ideas.

Act II finale

The orchestral sound is a bit thin but the choir is up for grandeur. Tito is more or less calm again. This is the Tito who puts benevolent into benevolent ruler. Vitellia gets low range gutsy – yes, please. La tua bonta is said in such a… casual tone, I guess, it’s surprising but not very dramatic. I mean, has she already got over the fact that Tito is BENEVOLENT? It was a big enough deal in the morning that she wanted to get him killed. Tito is, of course, not that observant, and instead he goes on declaiming about his generosity. Puppy-Sesto says he’s way touched. Tito strokes his head and gives him a kind biscuit. All is good again in the world. The women’s voices do blend very nicely. Eterni dei sounds suitably grand. Villazon suddenly gets a Kermit voice for il ben di Roma and is a bit lost in the general praising of himself. I like more presence from the male side in the big chorus moments (speaking of which, what happened to Publio?! Should we be worried?).

The conclusions from the end of Act I still stand. I was susprised not to hate Villazon, though I think it’s a very superficial reading of Tito with some nice occasional touches. I would recommend this for Rebeka, though, judging by how she started, I was expecting more from her Non piu di fiori. I’m not entirely sure how much is her fault and how much is Maestro’s, who has not impressed me at all. For Erraught I urge everyone to revisit her Munich Sesto.


  1. if young conductors want to record these things, they should employ the young gen of singers as well (here I have to give props to Currentzis again; don’t worry, we’ll be back to normal soon 😉 ). You know I like JDD (though she was never a fave Sesto) but really; people like Erraught and Crebassa and Lindsey deserve their mainstream shot at Sesto. 
  2. I had to go back to VK’s Deh, per questo with Welser-Most to try to figure out what the problem is. I think 42 year old VK’s voice has a similar density there but her colours simply sparkle in comparison. Though perhaps I’m wrong and VK solved a lot of density problems by darkening through her career so she could manueuvre colours a lot better. JDD didn’t darken and waited for real density but by then the colours (which were never on level with VK’s) had washed out? Anyway, sounds like JDD is a lot more conventional in her rendition here. The amount of rubato in VK’s version is quite striking in comparison and the use of trills is very (very) different. JDD seems to want her cadenzas at top speed and her trills tossed off with abandon, whereas VK is not afraid to put lots of breaks into the proceedings and add often shorter trills for dramatic effect rather than in that belcanto way JDD likes them. 
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Hurrah, new Tito recording with Villa… wait, what?

The trailer is all Parto so you almost want to ask: what’s Villi doing there? I do like JDD’s a la Titus hairdo. Nice attention to detail.

Mozart Cycle – I ❤ that. Obviously Mozart worked it all out so it culminates with Tito 😉

I don’t need to reiterate how the summer festival season has blinded me to the latest Tito developments but a new CD has dropped this past July (instead of waiting for September like I would’ve).

Known quantities JDD and Marina Rebeka sing our seditious lovers. (Has JDD never recorded Sesto before? I suppose VK saturated that market for about a decade before JDD started singing soprano roles (out of frustration?)).

Then we know who Sesto’s should’ve been, no offence to JDD because we all know what JDD can do. We also know what KL + SY can do (KLSY or, with a little help, SYLK?). So the reason this didn’t happen: DVD =/= CD.

Do we think SY can sing Vitellia? I don’t trust my SY objectivity just now. Please alert me when that DVD comes out, I will write on it ASAP. They can bring their Poppea getups along.

ps: as per the comments on the above tumblr post, she was apparently slotted to sing Vitellia on this recording. Saving it for the DVD, I tells ya.

The smaller roles are impeccably cast, with Regina Mühlemann dewdrop-sweet as Servilia, Tara Erraught making much of Annio, and Adam Plachetka as the commander Publio, who sounds rather more secure than his emperor. (from the Guardian’s […]Tito – Nézet-Séguin and Villazón return)

Schwing! Haha.

Of course I feared this moment ever since I saw him as Don Ottavio. Sigh. One day I will have to actually listen – this month, even! Stay tuned.

Tara Erraught making much of Annio

Like, ha. This generation of singers are doing things all backwards. Then again, there is audio evidence of Fassbaender’s Annio.

The main idiosyncrasy is Villazón – and in this opera, where the tenor has the title role, that’s not easy to gloss over. Some listeners will find his warm, passionate portrayal of the merciful emperor an antidote to the generic, antiseptic style in which Mozart can be played today; others will balk at his expressive tuning, and wonder why he sounds as if he is limbering up for Nessun Dorma. (from same as above)

I can hear it already!

Wait, who these days plays Mozart in an antiseptic way?! I thought the trend was to spritz him up with edgy stuff.

This month, he and Nézet-Séguin will return to Baden-Baden for Die Zauberflöte; Villazón will go full Domingo and sing the baritone role of Papageno. (from same as above)

Haha! This is gold. Hands down my favourite Erica Jeal review, we’re usually at odds.

Upcoming at ROH and Glyndebourne 2019

What with everything, I missed the Gen Sale for the return to Wagner at ROH (oh, no!). The Ring Cycle is back this Autumn, with Pappano at the helm. I may look up returns for Stemme’s sake (aka, best intentions). Otherwise, we have the following:

Solomon in concert with Zazzo in the title role

Verdi’s Requiem with Jamie Barton and Stoyanova; sold out at this point

Simon Boranegra… for those of strong Verdi constitution (but where there is Wagner, there is also Verdi and there will be another production for the hardcore Verdians soon; an opera we know and I love to make fun of, because a recent new production at ENO clearly was not enough)

Carmen and Hansel and Gretel for the mezzo-deprived; Dudnikova might be an interesting Carmen, I liked her Principessa de Bouillon.

Winter:

The Queen of Spades = must not forget

Traviata for the casual goer – it’s still the much loved production

Katya Kabanova – I’ll probably go

Così returns but don’t count me in

Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season

Spring:

La forza del destino 😉 yep, that one, in Loy’s vision; with Trebs and the Alvaro of our times

Faust – hm, I might go, see how Damrau is holding up, PLUS it’s got Abrahamyan in her ROH debut (!) as Siebel (let’s all lament the fate of very good mezzos). On the downside, Ettinger conducts.

Billy Budd conducted by Ivon Bolton – the all male cast opera, let’s check it out…

Andrea Chenier – NOT with the Alvaro of our times but with Alagna and Radvanovsky! How can we resist that offer?!

Tosca with Opolais/Grigolo/Terfel but the last show brings Draculette back to her rightful territory so yay for those who care.

Summer:

Boris Godunov still with Terfel but without Ain Anger; so soon? Maybe because they were short of money for a new production…

Carmen, because we’d already missed her, this time with Margaine, and Pisaroni as Escamillo, ha!

Figaro after a couple of seasons, because there are only 3 operas and 1/2 by Mozart; this is the season with Kimchilia Bartoli as Cherubino but also unusually with Gerhaher as Figaro plus Keenlyside as the Count. You know it might actually be worth revisiting and weirdly enough, for the men.

La fille du regiment returns once more, now with Devieilhe, and Camarena will show us his 3283576 high C in a row. Then again, Pido conducts.

In conclusion, some interesting turns but generally a rather meh year ahead for yours truly’s taste.

Glyndebourne 2019

La damnation de Faust – a Richard Jones production, so it could be much fun

Rusalka – nah

Il barbiere – see below

Die Zauberflote – I’ll have to see it at some point, don’t know that this is that point; however, Agathe, David Portillo is Tamino 😉

Cendrillon – usually a spectacular mezzo-mezzo borefest, now with DeNiese and the ever trouserable Kate Lindsey; I mean, they had to make up for the music…

Rinaldo with DeShong in the title role. A bit of a strange choice IMO, but to be honest I have not heard her live and in Handel to boot. I was proven wrong before.

Giulio Cesare 2018 comes into its own (Glyndebourne, 23 June 2018)

That week was all about Glyndebourne and it being June, we were graced with good to very good weather – bright skies, fluffy clouds, fragrant roses and fields and acceptable temperatures for this time of the day in a temperate climate.

It’s quite amusing (in an endearing way) to see people’s first reaction at arriving in the bucolic English countryside for opera. Agathe said pictures don’t do it justice, as you think what is posted is the best of the best possible angles but when you get there it’s that in 360 surround. She also reckons it’s bigger and more remote than Bayreuth. Though remote isn’t exactly what I would call English countryside (unless it’s the moors). It is very much the country, rolling hills that just cry out for a long walk with your hounds, healthy crops, shady country lanes and exquisitely tended to look awesome-wild flower beds but it isn’t quite the same as Croatian forest wild.

Under the care of the younger Christie Glyndebourne has become more accomodating to the younger and trendier crowds (though the big bulk is still mature audiences that think nothing of dishing out £200 on a ticket and having the swanky G-dining experience on top of that) whilst at the same time getting really creative with the type and design of products they can attach the G logo to. If I had the money to spent I’d be shelling a few hundreds on G goods, they are all very well done.

So this time it was Agathe and I who took the train from Victoria to Lewes along with various picnic-ers and someone who looked suspiciously much like Patricia Bardon (conspicuous: no luggage, no picnic/gown attire but took the designated train and got off at Lewes with all of us; moreover, she was on the train back with all of us). In the G gardens, we met Giulia at the interval over some major Baroque-swooning (you can read her account here if you haven’t already).

Dumaux, Bardon, Stephany, Connolly, Christie, Harvey, Moore, Kim and Thatcher.

Giulio Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cleopatra: Joelle Harvey
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Anna Stephany
Achilla: John Moore
Nireno: Kangmin Justin Kim
Curio: Harry Thatcher
Conductor: William Christie | Orchestra or the Age of Enlightenment
Director: David McVicar

Like a vintage convertible, Cesare took a couple of performances to come into its own. Compared to previous week (second performance of the run), everybody seemed more relaxed and ready to adlib.

After seeing two performances, I am happy with everything but above all I loved the sound of the orchestra to a delirious degree (ha!). With the less than satisfactory acoustics of Ulrichskirche still fresh in mind, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the Glyndebourne hall had my ears purring.

All three of us agreed that this is one of the best period ensembles (or ensembles who play period Baroque) on the market today. I still have the gorgeous sound of the low strings from Svegliatevi nel core1 ringing in my ears. It’s not quiet playing but it’s always accomodating the singers and still the power comes through. Certain Baroque-playing bands that fancy themselves rock’n’roll badass should pay attention to this subtle solidity.

I highly enjoyed focusing on this time was Christie’s interaction with orchestra and singers. He quite obviously allowed the singers to lead and do their thing2 and then he would bring in the orchestra with perfect timing, giving specific instruments their moment to shine as well – all this with elegance of movement and minimal fuss (none of that flying off the conductor’s stand).


  1. specifically when Sesto says svegliatevi! and the low strings echo it = swoon. 
  2. though most certainly he wasn’t down for anyone going all diva and screwing with the tempi for personal gain. 

Der Rosenkavalier or the threesome and the jets (Glyndebourne, 19 June 2018)

I was sloppy with these pictures and the details aren’t very good close-up but that wallpaper is right out of The Sims ™!

Der Rosenkavalier is, in many ways, the ultimate trouser role opera. Octavian is a mezzo with not one but two sopranos to choose from. That could be the end right there but s/he also gets to humiliate the ridiculous villain out of the opera, just to doubly underline the point.

What’s more, it’s actually funny. In Richard Jones’ hands that’s very silly. The second time around it seems even more hilarious.

I was sort of swept by peer pressure (that’s actually a strong term, peer enthusiasm rather) and went again, on the strength of the daring wallpaper in Marschallin’s salon. It was also because Carsen’s production from ROH was a bit too heavy on its own meaning and way, way too light on the comedy for me. I don’t want to overthink things when it comes to DR, I want to have a silly couple of 3 hours.

Octavian: Kate Lindsey
Die Marschallin: Michaela Kaune
Ochs: Brindley Sherratt
Sophie: Louise Alder
Faninal: Michael Kraus
Annina and Valzacchi: Stephanie Lauricella and Alun Rhys-Jenkins
Italian tenor: Sehoon Moon
Marianne Leimetzerin: Garniele Rossmanith
and others
Conductor: Robin Ticciati | London Philharmonic Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Richard Jones / Revival Director: Sarah Fahey

Whilst the production still stands 4 years later and acting across the board served it very well, the singing was a bit more approximative. We appreciated Lindsey’s ability to project over the orchestra and the Kaune’s… acting ability. She wasn’t quite as comfortable as Kate Royal during the “manhandling Mariandel” scene (when Ochs is merely boasting about his “female hunting”1 techniques and says oh, yea, you only know how it is to be pursued, but, omg, to be on the prowl every season of the year like me! – and the Marschallin is playfully trying some fun hunting moves on Mariandel for a change), but she was game most of the rest of the time.

The monologue scene wasn’t particularly memorable and the last trio was marred by Ticci allowing the jets in the orchestra to finally take off, so that the singers were left to fend for themselves. The result was more akin to an enthusiastic racket rather than smooth and alluring. Yo, Ticci, I guess you don’t know the one about trouser role operas and threesome epilogues. Someone should send him the memo.

Alder as Sophie has finally come into her own as far as I’m concerned. That’s a voice that begs to soar over something, and she’s ready to move on from sinking a delicate Baroque mezzo/contralto. She was the epitome of modern woman when it came to scolding Ochs for his ochsnoxiousness or generally being outraged at what is going on around her when Octavian isn’t there. Her interaction with Lindsey’s Octavian was very good in the Presentation of the Rose (this production has them sway back and forth, languishing in the arms of budding teenage desire).

Sherratt’s Ochs was more Ochsish than last run’s Rose (who was rather the bumbling English country cousin type) and was probably in possession of the best suited voice for Strauss on that stage, at this particular moment.

None of the rest or the orchestra stood out for any kind of faults as far as I can remember, but then we don’t go to DR for Faninal or the Italian Singer ™, do we?

the rose garden in the middle and the building where the singers warm up in the background

On the way back from Glyndebourne we caught an earlier train and spent the ride back into Victoria thinking about scenarios regarding the fictitious act IV. Put a bunch of WS together and pretty soon discussions about whether Octavian would or would not (and under which conditions) return to the Marschallin arise.

Forgot to say: at Cesare, crows and magpies thieved our blackberries (and were well on their way to make off with the celery)!!! :p so this time we got clever and put all the fruit away. And then at the short interval we only had time to move the blanket into the sun before we had to go back to the opera. I ended up very thirsty.

Crow: what are you doing this summer?
Magpie: I’m going to Glyndebourne.
Crow: trying to get famous, are you?
Magpie: I heard the catering is fabulous. Then again, if I get offered a cameo I’m not going to say no…

The lawn was mobbed with picnic-ers even more so than at Cesare‘s, so we (this time Mon, Anna and I) ended up also pondering if the Cesare and DR crowds are different or the same. I think we agreed they should more or less be the same. It was also amusing to note that DR is 30min shorter. Baroque operas mean business.

This year it was very smooth sailing as far as trains were concerned (knock on wood from now on). If anyone is interested, the recommended train is going to Ore/Littlehampton and you need to be in the 4 front (Ore) carriages. It (usually) runs from track 15 during the week and track 12 at the weekend.

evidence that young people like opera, too.


  1. you just know he would call women females

Giulio Cesare – the bright side of colonialism (Glyndebourne, 15 June 2018)

Dumaux, Bardon, Stephany, Connolly, Harvey, Moore, Kim and Thatcher.

A bight, warm-ish day saw picnic-ers return to the Glyndebourne lawn for another round of the production that even McVicar-haters love. Updating Rome to the British Empire at its height and Egypt to the Subcontinent as its prized possession has retained both its poignancy and light-hearted humour.

Giulio Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cleopatra: Joelle Harvey
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Anna Stephany
Achilla: John Moore
Nireno: Kangmin Justin Kim
Curio: Harry Thatcher
Conductor: William Christie | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Director: David McVicar

As most die hard Baroque fans are aware, this is the Giulio Cesare production on the market, still enduring after more than 12 years. It’s returned to the Glyndebourne hall after a whooping 9 years. Connolly, Dumaux and Bardon reprise their trademark roles – when you star in a definitive production the differences between you and your role will blur in the public’s mind.

Newcomers Harvey, Stephany and Kangmin Justin Kim are more than able to fill in the tall boots they were presented with. Though not a natural mover with DeNiese in mind or when sharing the stage with Connolly (textbook swagger) and Dumaux (Mr Athleticism), Harvey showed that she is very proficient at following directions to portraying a lively and energetic Cleopatra. Vocally she’s not Piau but her accomplishment surpasses DeNiese’s by far and her stamina is enviable. Remember, it’s not just 8 arias (most of them difficult, with Da tempeste rounding it all up after almost 4 hours) but also the relentless matching choreography.

Stephany, hot on the heels of portraying the other Sesto (big Sesto, to this little Sesto) at last year’s festival, was very convincing as the earnerst son of Pompey, called to take adult responsibility much too soon, and her interaction with Bardon’s Cornelia, Sesto’s mother, was entirely believable. This role is very well suited to her voice (I’d say better suited than big Sesto).

I have not seen before Kangmin Justin Kim but he entirely lived up to his niche comedy reputation as Kimcilia Bartoli, which amounted to a winning stage presence (ie: very camp funny). Nireno doesn’t have much to sing so it’s hard to gauge him just yet but in his aria he showed an unusually mezzo-ish tone. Afterwards we discussed the possibility of him actually being a tenor.

The orchestra was on top form, with the winds, brass and continuo all sounding like butter and Christie conducting at optimal tempi. A genuine pleasure to listen to! I could’ve honestly been happy with just them alone. 4 hours flew like nothing. It is really a shame Glyndebourne isn’t streaming it this year so more can hear it but I guess the DVD will have to do – after all, it was Christie and them back then as well.

I came to this production at a time when I was sick and tired of pop music so my first rection to its Bollywoodness was ambivalent. On the one hand I couldn’t deny its effectiveness, on the other I really hated the choreography. Time has passed and the 2018 me loved the opportunity of witnessing a legendary production with its legendary actors in its legendary house. Seeing this Cesare at Glyndebourne is like seeing Der Rosenkavalier in Vienna or any Verdi in Italia. Nowadays I enjoy the jokey nature and the silly moves – Baroque music lends itself really well to dancing and it’s great when a production finds a way to incorporate that in the stage action.

One interesting aspect of this production is played by way of costume. At the beginning we see the Romans wearing… err, British gear and the Egyptians harem-style getups. But as things move on, the Roman/British outfits start to crop up with the Egyptians as well. This to me alludes to what we’d (still) call today the cosmopolitan nature of the Egyptian (ie, exotic land Westerners want to conquer civilise) elite. They presumably speak fluent Latin/English with their visitors.

Indeed, during Va tacito we see Tolomeo’s staff bring out what looks like tea cakes and some sort of liquor. Cleopatra rocks a 1920s flapper girl outfit to seduce Cesare as Lydia and Tolomeo apparently enjoys hunting in safari gear as much as he does swinging his hips in harem trousers. The discreet appeal of colonialism has swayed minds even before any war ships and blimps appear on the horison.

Seeing it in the company of an international cast of WS was another highlight (check us out on Definitely the Opera, if you haven’t already). After plotting this outing for roughly a year, we finally met for this very special reason. I think I speak for us all when I say we had a blast. When you’re picnic-ing on the Glyndebourne lawn for a couple of hours, enjoying the sights, atmosphere – that curious combination of posh dress and easy chumminess1 – and a good opera chat, the ring of the first bell comes almost as a surprise: there’s live opera on the menu as well 🙂 And not just any opera.

What can I say? Tolomeo grew a hipster beard since the DVD came out and we know Cesare has badass hair under that wig2 – it goes really well with the coat – too bad we didn’t get to see it 😉 all the badass moves are there and people still openly ooh and aah at them and it’s always funny to see Cleopatra nonchalantly use Pompey’s urn as umbrella holder… it takes a bit of time to get used to the fact that something you’ve seen countless of times on the screen is now happening under your eyes, though in the house the difference in voice projection between Connolly and Bardon was rather striking. But this was only the second performance of the run and things evened out and got even livelier the week after.


  1. in that sense, Glyndebourne is like Venice – everybody’s happy to be there and most will be friendly. 
  2. it’s kind of interesting how McVicar did this year’s Vienna Ariodante in a similar vein, especially since Connolly and Dumaux were rivals there as well – or maybe because of that. I still think he shoul’ve relented on the Cesare hair front. 

Orlando fabuloso (Teatro Malibran, Venice, 19 April 2018)

Remember this post? Let’s see if Canaletto’s account of 18th century Venice stands for truth in April 2018.

That’s a closer picture of what Canaletto has in the background of his: the East side of Piazza San Marco with the Doge’s palace and the tower and the San Marco Cathedral in the back – but crucially, I’m glad I got St Mark’s lion’s bum in the picture 😉 Below we have the very calm waters of the lagoon (a proper puddle!), from the opposite side to Canaletto’s, because we didn’t have the time to boat around it like he did:

Looks just a bit less festive than the Marriage of the Sea, though if you peek closely you see there are plenty of boats going to and fro. Cielo e mar are pretty much a spitting image of their 18th century selves.

Sorge l’irato nembo
e la fatal tempesta
col sussurrar dell’onde,
ed agita e confonde,
e cielo e mar.

Ma fugge in un baleno
l’orrida nube infesta
e il placido sereno
in cielo appar.

Pretty much! Coming from London where you get 5 types of weather in one day, I basked in the eveness of Venice. Every day sunny, breezy and roughly the same temperature. Serenissima and all that. Today’s weather in my neighbourhood: Max 7C, min 4C. Raining steadily. Winds strong enough for the cornices to howl. Tomorrow is Mayday.

I mentioned earlier that Venice is all about history. The fact that it’s not built to include cars and other such vehicles beyond Piazzale Roma (where the buses etc. drop you if you’re arriving from inland), goes a very long way to removing that sense of living today that you don’t even realise until car engines are turned off (comercialism is alive and kicking – perhaps a trading city like Venice was always meant to incorporate – even welcome – that). I felt like stepping into the past – and though I sometimes enjoy fantasising about medieval times etc., I’m not exactly a la-la-la, I’m a princess! type 😉 but in Venice it felt almost wrong to place yourself in 2018. Funny enough, Prina hints to that in her Orlando interview with Mezzo TV.

a quiet backyard. People do live in Venice.

Another thing about Venice that I don’t think I felt so strongly anywhere else (yet?) is how happy everybody is to be here (Agathe pointed this out when we encountered a group of middle aged women whose collective jaw dropped – loudly! and amusingly – upon coming face to face with a carnival item shop). It’s absolutely mobbed with tourists but the general attitude is of wow! and so cool! as well as how cool am I for being here? though, of course, I’ve seen some bemused faces (or perhaps they were tired of seeing so much in one go?).

But as a lover of Vivaldi’s work there’s an extra something about making your way through the narrow streets which sometimes don’t accomodate two people at once and most certainly are winding confusingly in the beginning. He lived here and wrote here (and Orlando premiered here – I swear we accidentally stopped there on our way to finding a bridge to cross back from the San Marco side; whilst we’re on Vivaldi spots, Ospedale della pieta used to be here and yes, we (unknowingly) did pass by it because hello, Tourist Central – told you, it’s the kind of place where you accidentally step into another piece of history).

Back to Teatro Malibran, which is La Fenice’s studio theatre (aka, where the cool stuff happens). The back (the Artists’ Entrance) is apparently located in what used to be Marco Polo’s house. How cool is that?! Or maybe it’s the next building over or across the tiny canal. Even so, how cool!

Teatro Malibran’s artists’ entrance. That’s where Mezzo TV filmed the Orlando interviews 🙂

Look at the below picture and learn as we did: the loggia is nice and airy and gets all the music. The more expensive balcony space below and back of the stalls are all covered. The further back you are, the more you get 1) sound muffle, 2) no view of the surtitles and of the top of the stage (when Orlando climbed the moon, everyone around us was ducking left and right to see what he was doing up there). But the seats are almost twice the price! On the upside, you get a rather eye level view of the stage. Hm. Choose wisely. And, yes, that metal bar holding up the lights all around the venue was as annoying irl as is in this picture.

So just how fabulous was Orlando? By now you’ve probably seen the livestreaming footage, as it’s up online, I’ve jogged your memory with a few pictures of the environment, which I know aren’t everything, because you really have to feel the gentle air in Venice, but, still, the sights can go a long way – I doubt it could’ve been anything but fabulous even before it started.

From up on our perch (second row in the loggia) we had that badass loud sound and we could see much better than on Saturday. The railing occasionally interfered but not to a great extent. The stage was small enough to feel super cosy and the very 18th century informed special effects (the ripples of the sheet-sea, the papier mache hippogriff, the very obviously not real “ruins”) are tongue-in-cheek but also charming and more effective than one would immediately think.

like every theatre in Venice, Teatro Malibran has its own hotel, restaurant and courtyard!

The house is very unpretentious, what you see in that indoors picture is most of the decoration. The staircases are narrow (of course) but bright and simple and the ushers a bit stiff but mostly very friendly. One of them remembered us on the second night! T thought we “looked very specific” and I agree we were more dressed down than most but the rest of the audience (lots of locals) weren’t particularly sporting crown jewels. They were friendly and chatty (even occasionally during singing) and did not boo anyone, on the contrary, were free with their applause (I believe only a couple of arias did not get a response).

It is a bit weird to have the opera called after Orlando but see all this other action taking most of the space, with Orlando himself only having two (very badass) arias and some havoc wreaking at the end. Though, to be fair, that havoc and its respective recits were way worth it. And, again, sort of unusual, because it’s almost regular theatre with these bits and pieces of music to highlight the most important emotions Orlando is experiencing. Prina mentioned Fasolis stripped it even further so you do start to get into the “play” – or I did, at least. It had a stronger emotional impact than usual, because sometimes music can lift a bit of the tension – you get into the pretty sounds, you admire the musical skills…

I really like Orlando the character. He’s in a unique position, of someone who’s physically stronger/more skilled than everyone around him, and everyone fears him and gives him a wide bearth, which impinges on the possibility of developing any sort of real relationships. For her part, I think Angelica does not fear him (for herself) as much as is fed up and wants him gone, because she knows he can crush Medoro, who’s not macho at all.

Though in this production it is brought into question just how much she wants him gone… We have some very explicitly non repellant interaction between her and Orlando in that balloon aria where she bewitches him. There are ways to get rid of someone via wiles that don’t have to involve so much participation from the supposedly unwilling partner.

Then again, this is an opera where women are very 3D, as opposed to men (except for Orlando). And, true, if you can’t match someone for strength you should try to outwit them. We see the damage Orlando causes once he realises he’s been had.

What I also find interesting is Angelica and Medoro’s position at the end, once Alcina is defeated. Up to that point they were quite obviously on her side, what with Alcina concocting the plan to get them happily hitched and away from Orlando and providing the very sophisticated nuptial entertainment. But in the end Angelica’s like “oh, btw, what Alcina did to Orlando is totally uncool (it’s pure coincidence that it worked for us). And let’s not start on the poor hippogriff! Not cool! Prosecco, anyone?” Medoro: “What she said! I love my cutie-coo gf! Teehee!”

Oh, yea, the 19th was apparently Fasolis’ 60th birthday, so the orchestra and the choir did a very nice Baroque improv on Happy Birthday and everyone clapped and congratulated him on a job well done reaching 60 in the pit 😉

We ended up not getting lost and made our way back via the same winding but well signed streets at dusk and then took the commuter bus back into Mestre. You really don’t need the vaporetto, unless you specifically want to (go to the islands). Basically you’re fine with the 3Euro/day roundtrip from Mestre and back. And unless you must dine on the shores of Canal Grande, prices are reasonable even within Venice.

Rinaldo: a story of love, battle and colonialism (Barbican, 13 March 2018)

Almost a year after Ariodante, the London public has returned to the Barbican for Handel’s first local smash hit, 1711’s Rinaldo. Set during the First Crusade, Rinaldo manages the feat to be both unapologetically silly and decidedly un-PC. Goffredo’s army has come very close to liberating Sion from the Saracens when Argante’s top scheming ally, the witch Armida, has nonchalantly plucked Rinaldo’s beloved from under his nose.

Armida: sorry, stud, I need your fiance for a moment. poof!
Rinaldo: … what just happened? … and where is Almirena? [aka, Cara sposa]

Goffredo: you can get my daughter back after we conquer Sion.
Rinaldo: no! Almirena first, battle next.

He might be young and relatively unexperienced but things fall into place the way he wants them to. Super bonus: the baddies, Argante and Armida, willingly (narrow miss) convert to Christianity! All in a day’s work.

The English Concert
Harry Bicket conductor
Iestyn Davies Rinaldo
Jane Archibald Armida
Sasha Cooke Goffredo
Joelle Harvey Almirena
Luca Pisaroni Argante
Jakub Józef Orliński Eustazio
Owen Willetts Mago

As far as concert performances go, this was a mixed bag. The English Concert was in its usual high form, very disciplined, at best in the muscular parts of the score, with just minimal desynchs in the wind section and some – I guess inevitable – trumpet clarity trouble in the trills of Or la tromba. To the trumpets’ credit, they absolutely rocked Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which was the highlight of the night for me (surprise, surprise). They did such a good job as far as I’m concerned that they very narrowly upstaged Pisaroni.

Everybody before him (and some after) started a bit cautiously but he took this massive entrance aria with the right aplomb and confidence (and sang without a score through the night). It didn’t hurt that his voice was 2 sizes larger than everyone else’s. However he didn’t show this off for the sake of muscle flexing and resized back for the rest of his interventions. Even here he played with volume dynamics in the coloratura – perhaps foreshadowing Argante’s weakness? Now if you have volume and you’re called to sing an aria such as this I’m all for you firing on all cylinders 😀 and if you can play with it, that’s even better.

Pisaroni was also the most committed acting-wise, showing softeness when Argante falls for Almirena, (almost comical) caution and passion with lover/ally Armida and a very smooth U-turn at the end, when the baddies admit deafeat. This on top of the right amount of boastfulness of a “feared enemy”. It’s a silly role but a more nuanced one that you’d immediately give credit.

As Armida, Archibald was her usual self, I guess. I’m not a fan (for me she’s a soprano who has a very ringing but rather unpleasant top and little of interest elsewhere) but I will allow that, dramatically, her interactions with Pisaroni were rather fun. Vocally she was one of the most cautious ones, so Furie terribili was a bust – at least for me. Let us not forget that Handel wrote for virtuosi, who cherished the challenge to make a grand entrance, whereas I felt that she was still guaging how far her voice could go. If you have a voice large and sonorous enough to sing Strauss I’d say you could blast through a 2min Handel bravura aria (ok, ok, different style and all – but still; also as far as style went I thought she did well). But aside from a not entirely style-appropriate reach to the top of her voice later on, you wouldn’t have known what volume she has at her disposal. The coloratura was correct, if rather robotic (as Baroque Bird noted) but the moments when she cruelly played with Rinaldo by manhandling Almirena weren’t bad dramatically.

She was also unfairly hampered by the harpischord in that aria that features the keyboard at length, I wouldn’t know what to tell you about her interpreation, thank you overbearing harpsi. Imagine your concert performance is going well, with the various instruments having their moments, when an aria comes where you detect more prominent than usual harsichord involvement. At first I thought “how cool! There harpsi comes to the forefront to loudly let us know what it thinks, not just to whisper as it normally does – it’s ok if all the others (including the soprano) have to stop, turn around and pay attention.” It was ok and interesting even the second time. Then the third time came. Ok, I thought, Tom Foster is a very skilled player, why not? Oh, and this is actually an aria and the soprano is trying to convey something or another. What was that again? Nevermind, the harpsi will return for a fourth time. So all in all in that aria, the harpsi had centre stage for about 15min and the sorpano for 3. Classic(al) drum solo moment if I’ve ever seen one!

It was only upon further researching that I realised that was Vo far guerra (Archibald’s Italian diction isn’t anything to write home about…) and the harpsichord part is nowhere near as verbose, though it’s there and it’s definitely fun [edit: well, I’m proven kinda wrong. In the sense you can improv the hell out of it – according to your taste. It’s better if it’s at the end, though]. You’ll ask yourself, “come on, dehggi, you didn’t know Vo far guerra?!” Dear reader, I thought I did (kinda; that being said I totally forgot about Or la tromba until it started). One of the problems with the Barbican’s open plan hall is that if you’re seated on the Balcony and have my eyesight you can’t read the surtitles (I used the opera glasses to keep up with the plot but you can’t do it all the time or chance a headache).

Now of course I know Baroque is all about excess and if the singers can do their shtick, why not the instruments? Right, but it’s still an opera and not a keyboard concerto with bonus singing. Nevermind, judged by the ovations, this was the crowd’s favourite moment of the night, so there you go.

Iestyn Davies has been our local Rinaldo for a while now but I have to say he wasn’t in top form the other night. He came off a bit pale, both vocally and dramatically (most alive as a lover in his interactions with Harvey’s Almirena) and, hate to say it, his Rinaldo was upstaged in both stage presence and vocal shine by Orliński’s Eustazio – who has already sung his own Rinaldo in Frankfurt and I could see why.

I noticed some physical struggle with Davies’ coloratura in the massive bravura arias, which took his attention away from the drama. Especially in Or la tromba one needs to look like a very hopeful hero, ready to take on the last challenge in battle, and all I got from him was careful singing. I know it comes very late in the game but, you know, tough luck. In defense of the trumpets, aside from some tonal blur in the trills, the rest was great, beautiful sound, very good synch. I feel like I need to reiterate this because the trumpets were a pleasure and I know this is very difficult (impossible?) to do spotless with those valveless Baroque instruments.

To illustrate what I missed here dramatically, I’ll leave you with this concert performance (don’t be deterred by the low quality audio):

Harvey continues to baffle me. Though a singer of pleasant tone, vocal commitment and good technical skills, her stage presence is nonexistant. Glyndebourne is mere months away, I wager she needs to do something, because at this point, dramatically I have very low expectations from her Cleopatra. That being said, Almirena’s second aria was beautiful singing, my favourite from hers so far. The Augelletti aria not so much, though the piccolo was the bigger culprit (I didn’t like the tone, though I won’t argue if you call me nitpicky).

Like I mentioned earlier, I liked Orliński a lot. He and Pisaroni had the best stage presence and enthusiasm by far and he showed a very beautiful tone and nuanced phrasing. I’m going to see him in concert soonish, so expect to read something more in depth here once I hear more from him.

Cooke as Goffredo wasn’t bad, perhaps one needs to hear more before making a definitive call (I hadn’t heard her before). I couldn’t make my mind up if she was a low mezzo or a contralto but that wasn’t a problem. She came off as a good Goffredo, who’s supposed to be older and wiser – with unhurried gestures and a fairly authoritative vocal presence. She is one of those singers whose chest register sounds very different from her top. The chest is pretty solid though not particularly resonant whilst she can get a very strong ring out of her top. It’s quite metallic but rather intriguing, so I’d like to hear more of it. As an aside, hairwise she sported the curl of joy 😉 so there is a little extra bonus there.

All in all, a good, if not great evening. I’m way less familiar with Rinaldo than with Ariodante and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music Handel produced before his 26th birthday (it premiered the day after). The number of arias that have become Handel classics is impressive and the lesser known ones ain’t bad either.

The conversations around me were way amusing (how many times have we seen Davies? Three? No, many! Even when Farinelli transfered to the West End! He was also in something else here, though in a secondary role [dehggi: he was Ottone in Poppea a couple almost 4 years back, which is known as not having lesser roles – actually his E pur io torno qui is very nice]), though Mr. Twitter with fascist hair’s constant leaning directly in my line of view, especially during Cara sposa, wasn’t. I know not everyone suffers as much as I do if I can’t see the singers but I hate the disconnect. I have to say this was the first time I had “restricted view” at the Barbican. Moral of the story: never get second row Balcony seats, try higher.

Anyway! the next Handel opera concert performance at the Barbican is Serse this coming October, with Pomo d’Oro and a starry cast, including a certain contralto referenced in this very post 😀 I coughed up £40 for a second row Stalls seat so let’s hope all is good by then.

(as usual, sorry for the possible typos)

ROH Semiramide Radio 3 broadcast alert (Sat, 6 January 2018)

Thanks to thadieu for signalling this for all interested parties:

Semiramide on Radio 3, Saturday, 6 January 2018, 6pm GMT

If that alone doesn’t fill your JDD fix, 6 January is your day, as BBC 3 is running one of her American Songbook recitals at 1pm GMT.

All about his mother (Semiramide take 2, ROH 4 December 2017)

…with the bust of Adelina Patti, who sang Semiramide in the 1890s.

A woosh of dread went through the packed hall when an announcer came out, so strong I thought it would push her back to where she’d come from.

Announcer: No, no, no, everything is fine. All I wanted to say is that JDD had a respiratory infection last week but she is much better tonight. Enjoy the evening!

Frenetic applause and a general sigh of relief. More applause when Pappano came out (there normally are, but these were extra jaunty).

Let’s start with the conclusion: thank you Pappano and all. You convinced me this is truly a great opera and I wish it made its way back into the repertoire so we can hear/see it more often. Rossini outdid himself here. It’s got it all somehow melded into a whole: his playfulness, his expertise with the opera seria formula, lots of innovation and the great tunes never stop.

One of the great things about it is that Rossini knows how to write for the voice and won’t let the orchestra intrude but he has also written excellent instrumental parts. Also peppering the score with ensembles and keeping the choir active really makes a difference in regards to pacing (always fresh).

However, it most likely needs a great team – top singers and a very intelligent conductor. An insightful production doesn’t hurt. It really is shortchanged when the focus is on noodling runs of coloratura or if the conductor thinks the drama needs too much push. Pappano trusts Rossini and focused on bringing out all the inventive details, which are a pleasure to hear. His voice-orchestra balance was optimal.

Compared to the 25th it was like this: Arsace and Semiramide’s act II duet = best moment of the night (and not just in my opinion either. My seatmate dubbed it “fantastic!”, lots of applause and shouts etc. and some teary eyes from me). I just wanted it to go on and on (and luckily Rossini knows a good thing, so, as most duets here, it’s quite long). I still think Ah, come mai quell’anima is the more beautiful duet but this is wonderful, especially with Barcellona and JDD who work together so well. Have a listen to how they sounded in Munich earlier this year (imo, not nearly as good. I actually don’t like that recording and I’m glad I didn’t listen to it before going. I had to agree with the commenter who heard JDD off pitch a lot of the time. Esposito came off majorly bland of tone (to me, who am not his greatest fan to begin with). The duet is beautiful, though).

Brownlee (still no ping, from the lower slips in the auditorium) had some of the most amazing floated notes I’ve ever heard in Ah dov’è il cimento? Seriously, that stuff was staggering, to the point I had to remember where my loyalties lay 😉 cue in severe shaking from Azema1 and that quip about how if she didn’t think Arsace was the biggest hero in the world she’d totally go for Idreno. Don’t listen to his 2013 rendition found on ‘tube as it’s vastly inferior. Sadly it seems to be his only rendition on youtube.

His interaction with JDD in the act I finale, where everybody was trying to come to terms with the appearance of Nino’s ghost was acoustically interesting: his lines were louder than hers but this appeared deliberate, giving a very welcome depth to the sound. However his act II aria saw surprising ups and downs in concentration, which makes this performance one of the most curious I’ve witnessed.

Pertusi’s pre-mad aria recit was again his strongest moment – he’s really good at that kind of thing, vivid and credible. Also he had many very Verdian flashes through the night (and I mean that in a good way. Philip II was calling?). JDD did sound (even) more cautious with the very highs and I think I remember a moment where the sound came out a bit unfocused but other than that she was as strong and committed as usual.

Now that I could focus more on things other than the immediate impact, I thought Arsace spends a lot of time in the lower recesses of the mezzo voice, so perhaps this is a reason VK never sang it (as her voice is darker rather than low, where Barcellona’s is both dark and solidly low). I’m now compelled to hear Hallenberg’s take again. I also had time to realise I’ve been spending so much time listening to Baroque specialists that even a little – understandable – vibrato throws me a bit (Barcellona and Pertusi). I won’t fault them, of course, but it was interesting to see how little JDD uses in comparison. Come to think of it, Brownlee did the same. Unless he has the type I don’t catch. Might be an issue of American vs Italian style?

The choir was (I think) better this time, thought the beginning of the opera still posed challenges.

She may be wicked but she is my mother

Arsace as a character is a bit underdeveloped for contemporary sensibilities, which is why, I suppose, he’s given a pony 😉 I’ve noticed this thing in pre mid-19th century opera (though, come to think of it, heroes continue to be rather intellectually fluffy (see all Wagner)), where we have supposedly accomplished warriors/strategists act very naively in private matters. They are also way too young for those military accolades. Something’s got to give, eh, and that is usually intelligence.

As per libretto Arsace is characterised by being brave (commander of the Babylonian army at the tender age of… about 25, I’d say), dutiful (rushes back to headquarters when Semiramide calls and is unwaveringly on her side even before he learns she’s his mother) and very much in love (his entrance aria reminisces about how he saved Azema from marauders and then their eyes met = opera love).

All of a sudden he’s hit with major existential questions, which he is ill equipped to answer. Then again, who of us would have an easy time with a mother who wants to marry us and who has also, incidentally, offed our father? Plus the realisation that we’re next in line as the country’s top honcho? All of these revelations in one day, the same day we were merely supposed to announce our wedding (to someone else than the mum)! Barcellona is very good at portraying the youthful hero with all his youthful imaturity mixed with the earnest desire to do the right thing by everyone. I have cats to hug when things get weird, why shouldn’t Arsace have a pony? I also see that moment as his return to his childhood room, with the pictures and the toys one’s parents keep in the attic (or spare room).

The ending is rather poignant, with the hacked to death Semiramide reaching wordlessly (a victory for realism! thank you, Rossini) towards her son and Arsace’s duty tragically winning over love in grand opera seria style, as he ascends the stairs to the throne and glory. For his unexpected ascension to top honours he looks shattered so who knows che mai sarà.

Singing-wise, Barcellona was the picture of understated poise, with excellent stamina and that beautiful lyric tone needed for best results in belcanto trouser roles.

So now that this first ever ROH run is over I can’t wait until they revive it 😉 hopefully with a similarly strong cast and Pappano (or someone else who can do Rossini justice on this level).

late November view of London from Alexandra Palace


  1. Agathe, you were right, that seems to be D. Alden’s shorthand for severe emotion (“moved” indeed).