Category Archives: basses
Agrippina or Handel’s Italian period greatest hits set to a great libretto (ROH, 4 October 2019)
Guess who’s back? (Early) Handel opera on the main stage of the ROH! What was it, only about 10 years since last we had one of longtime London resident’s operas grace the acoustics of the main hall?
Nevermind, ROH has not only poshed up to high heavens – if it ever needed such a thing1 – but has hit a big win with those who have long known that staging Handel doesn’t have to be tedious. One didn’t have to look farther than ENO, who’s been running brilliant Handel productions for years. All you need to know is that this Kosky riotous fun is giving that “mamazing” Richard Jones Rodelinda I always rave about a run for its money. Clearly these two are the best Baroque opera directors of the moment.
Agrippina: Joyce DiDonato
Nerone: Franco Fagioli
Poppea: Lucy Crowe
Ottone: Iestyn Davies
Claudio: Gianluca Buratto
Pallante: Andrea Mastroni
Narciso: Eric Jurenas (covered last night?)
Lesbo: José Coca Loza
Conductor: Maxim Emelyanychev | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Director: Barrie Kosky
Drop what you’re doing and go see it. If/when your local cinema shows it, get your ticket now. For those who like their mezzo power amped up, the Met is going to stage it (
run this production? See comments, it’s McVicar’s production from La Monnaie that is going to the Met. You should still see the Met broadcast, it’s a good team there as well) with the always suitable Kate Lindsey as Nerone2 and they’ll broadcast it. If there’s one Met broadcast you need to see, this is going to be it.
Kosky has already hit fabulous Handel heights with his Glyndebourne Saul, so this didn’t necessary come as a surprise. It was more what’s he going to do this time? Well, this is a very restrained production, both for him and for ROH. The focus is sharply on characterisation and character interaction, with a (current ROH favourite) rotating cube with various rooms as backdrop. Every character has their well defined personality and they interact like they’re supposed to, whilst at the same time use park and bark for our benefit (so that we can hear what they’re singing – big house, light voices = park and trill).
If you’ve seen Kosky comedies you know his humour ain’t subtle. Then again, neither were these particular Romans. But he’s good at what he does and even though it maybe cheap, it’s never stupid. The costumes range from really beautiful (for the women) to understandably blingy-ridiculous (Nerone) and midlife crisis-ridiculous (Claudio).
The singing is ROH level tops, with JDD and Crowe as big standouts and Davies in close pursuit. Fagioli’s diction is as garbled as ever (even from closer) but I think we’ve all agreed that this is what it is. Handel’s Nerone is definitely his role, though, and if you’re going to see him in a staged opera, I heartily suggest it’s this one. He can negotiate Come nube (aka, Come nembo from Il trionfo…) at proper pace and if you don’t mind super pressurised emission, you’re going to be happy with his rendition. Emelyanychev, of course, cradles him in a cocoon of sotto playing from Baroque-subtlety veterans Opera of the Age of Enlightenment.
JDD has always appealed to me in Baroque roles and Agrippina is no exception. She has the stage presence to carry the title role and her Pensieri and Ogni vento (with the fun improvs) were as good as anything. At this point in her career she’s mastered many styles and when you hear her in Baroque you don’t think Rossini, which is a very fine feat. So after a very stark Pensieri sung on a bare (and soul baring) stage, we had Ogni vento staged as the big moment of a consummate pop star (complete with sparkly microphone, poses, direct interaction with the public). It’s pretty trendy these days to give nods and/or poke fun at pop star moments but in the productions that I have seen it used it has worked. It fits here too, especially considering breaking the fourth wall is one of the pillars of this very self aware libretto. And it also makes sense Ogni vento (aka, whatever it takes) gets this treatment, because it’s Agrippina’s biggest moment of honesty for someone who’s genuinely dishonest.
After the Madrid Rodelinda, we know to expect good things from Lucy Crowe in Handel roles. And I’m pretty sure she loves this rep, because her enthusiasm at embracing Poppea’s many moods and scheming (complete with fabulous phrasing) was infectious.
And, yes, T, S’agita in mezzo all’onde is called Vaghe perle here 😉 and is sung by the soprano. Let’s not forget Papa Handel was very young (24) and when he got this Venetian3 commission only a year after Aci, Galatea and Polifemo, so no wonder he immediately rushed to his stash of “greatest early hits” and plundered like there was no tomorrow (there probably wasn’t).
Incidentally, for those who may not know but read this blog, Aci & friends played at Wigmore Hall in very fine company the night of the ROH Agrippina premiere. Yours truly made the wise decision to attend that first (in very fine company, on, off stage and backstage). I also think that bit I really like from La resurezzione is also mixed in here. Though I may be wrong about this one… but it was written the previous year.
If you go to see one of the Nerone-related operas in the big UK houses, your chance at getting a Iestyn Davies Ottone are 99% or higher 😉 That being said, if we’re denied a contralto (as originally written for), he’s a very good alternative and was in top voice. Ottone, as ever, is parked in Lament City but he’s assigned that beautiful Crede l’uomo aria from Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno.
So, like I was saying, Emelyanychev conducted, because this is ROH and if they’re going to have Baroque opera for their main course, they are wise enough to invite music people to match the poshness of their lobby. In other words ❤
He’s like the Currentzis for the discerning audience – all the subtlety of dynamics, none of the whiplash or boxing of singers in between two bouts of interpolated extraneous choruses. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is always wonderful to hear, lucky us here in ye olde (soon to be ye lost in the Atlantic), but I have to say that I have never heard (really, NEVER) better period trumpet interventions. Wow. Whoever you are, you have absolutely ruled last night. Not to say that the oboes, strings or double basses weren’t great. Or, indeed, the fine cembalo playing from Maestro and Steven Devine. The whole sing rocked, the house was full and the laughs were genuine. Can we have more Baroque at ROH now?
PS: Emelyanychev’s cembalo is truly beautiful 🙂 I sat on the horseshoe and looked at it all night.
- turns out it did. T, upon visiting ROH for the first time last week has declared the new and improved ROH the poshest opera house ever. Dehggi: but what about Munich? T: yes, but this is modern posh. So there you have it, the new posh. Not just the finest names in classical music, also the coolest opera lobby experience. ↩
- how she’s going to cope with Come nube I am very curious, after her “expanded horizons” stint as the other Nerone. Which is what I’m trying to get at: I hope exposure to this Nerone will bring more attention to her Monteverdi Nerone, her best role to date in my opinion. ↩
- for the theatre now called Malibran, which we mostly love, minus the humongous moon 😉 from last year’s Orlando. ↩
Agrippina stirs some sh…tuff up (Barbican, 31 May 2019)
As a very big fan of Poppea, the prequel causes lots of amusement.
Poppea: Ottone, my boo-boo teddybear!
Ottone: I do not wish for power, all I want it my lovely, sexy and very virtuous Poppea!
Nerone: Poppea, Poppea! Considering I am higher up the totem pole than him, can I have some?
Poppea: Go away, pimply teenager! Now, where is my boo-boo teddybear, whom I will love forever?
Famous. last. words.
Claudio: Nerone, leave alone (ie, to me) virginal patrician women!
Agrippina: Nerone, stick to the plan! Now is not the time to get horny!
And so on.
There is an unwritten law that says operas about this imperial family must have really good libretti. This one is funny as hell, there are too many good things to mention. If the music was not as good you would almost want it to be a very silly play about lust for power. For those who do not know, everybody has their own game they pursue to various results.
At this point, Poppea is actually a paragon of virtue compared to her later self. She does not want Nerone at all, no matter how much closer to the throne he is, and she is actually repulsed by Claudio, the emperor:
Poppea: He is like… old.
Although I think Pisaroni is younger than Sabata? Heh, heh. And, well, for once the bass-baritone is less credible age-wise than the soprano.
Poppea sticks with her true love here and fends off the danger (Claudio and Nerone) but also shows us that she can perform her own machinations. Now said schemes are not particularly clever, as she manages to 1) confuse boo-boo teddybear Ottone and 2) her well thought out scheme works in such a way as to lose him his throne. Ooops. Was Arnalta on holiday?
As far as the singers I had two surprises – for once I liked Fagioli’s acting better than his singing and I actually heard Sabata live! Those of you who have read my Disarmonia estravaganza may remember that I have seen him live before. Less with the hearing. It tells you something if you can hear a singer better from the Barbican’s balcony than from Wigg’s 5th row. And that something is
the orchestra and the conductor
I want to put my vote for Emelyanychev as the most singer friendly conductor EVER. OK, ever as in modern times and in Baroque specifically. But, maaaan, can he support a singer or what! Also, his orchestra is butter. When I saw them for Serse last year I was too close to Gal… I mean, to the action, so I actually did not have the best spot for
focusing on hearing the work of the instrumentalists. But from my perch in the front row balcony (upgrade! that was a sweet spot for my £15) I could hear it in its multichannel beauty.
Now butter (salted, full fat) is usually a top like from me, but I have to say that, here and there, I could have liked a hint of recklessness (couple of pebbles in that butter?). I know, I know, as that wise man Muddy Waters once said, I can never be satisfied. But I think with me, it is actually high praise if I say it was wonderful but… It means you are on a whole other level from the riff-raff who cannot do a pianissimo to save their life. As I was saying much later, when the conversation turned to whether one has or has not seen that 8 hour tunnel that is the Wagner light – I like my music performed with delicacy and attention to detail.
Now lets go back to Franco. Hey, this man was made for
solo shows, dramatically leaving and returning to the stage comedy! First Serse, now this. I think he was even better here, with his Mummy, Mummy, I’m scared schtick. Singingwise, I have already mentioned last year that Im going off him. Even so, it was a bit strange that, of everything that went on last night, Come nube came off the least convincing. Mind you, that was just me – the public loved it. Now, of course they would love it, the music is just so good. I also applauded, because how can you not give this orchestra and its head honcho a bit of clap? Heh heh. PS: first violin, sweet tone all night.
Handel: Hello, all! You may remember me for that wonderfully sparkling work I presented a couple of years ago, Il trionfo del Tempo… No? OK, the subject was a bit finger wagging – but the music! I came up with some of my best ideas back in 1707. I think I shall cannibalise that work for the rest of my life (wistful sigh). Let me remind you.
And reminded we was. In my case, I was reminded of the breathtaking renditions Bonitatibus and Hallenberg, to name but two, do of this aria. I am not entirely sure who or what to fault, but considering maestro was so keen on supporting his singers I shall blame both him and Franco. Emelyanychev chose to support him, so perhaps the lack of clarity or focus came from that. Do not get me wrong, the string section’s sound was as good as ever and the winds were no slouch. The tempo was no problem. What I did not quite feel was the drive. Franco, for his part, made a completely abstract sparkle of coloratura out of it. Like words tossed by the wind, as it were. I know I am asking too much from him, but I love this aria to such a degree that I would like to actually catch a word here and there.
Sabata, on the other hand, when heard, sounds lovely. Stylish as anything plus his recit skills are quite legendary. And whilst we are at other badass 1707 arias I wanted the world to remember, at some point Ottone breaks into Crede l’uom, only about birds and bees or something equally as incongruous. Wait a minute, that’s a cautioning the soprano aria. And whoever sings it, actually gets the soprano (right? Disinganno gets Bellezza in the end? so to speak; it is a morality tale, after all), which is the case here. Short lived victory, Ottone, alas. But Ottone is the character that stays the same through both works.
Agrippina: Whew! Now that I’ve seen my son on throne, I can die happy.
Nerone: Happy to oblige! (ok, not just yet)
This Agrippina provided a unique moment when I actually liked all three countertenors on stage. Even though I am moving on from Franco and the contrast with the warmer tones of Sabata and Vistoli was not flattering as far as I’m concerned, this was still the best possible gaggle of CTs on one stage for me. And though I appreciated Orlinski before, I think we were indeed better off with Vistoli as Narciso, to contrast the bolder Pallante (really fun acting chops from Mastroni) towards Agrippina. He has that hopeless lover tone that would probably do a nice Ottone in the future.
Because I never want my writeups to sound like they are coming from a hopeless Betty (Mary?) Sue, I shall remind you that I have always been indifferent to JDD’s tone. But then comes the rest of the story. JDD is without a doubt one of the smartest singers out there. I have long admired the way she balances her belcanto and her Baroque. She understands style and she can be interesting within the required parameters, without having to borrow skills from another time period. And, as you may know, I have been obsessed with her Barcelona Ogni vento from earlier this month. You sing Baroque, you need to do that kind of precise and inventive coloratura, you have to be able to sing softly, change dynamic gears in an instant, you need to pay attention to details. With her, it is all there and it feels easy to boot.
Her Agrippina did not try to out-Poppea Poppea. She took the role of scheming older woman very seriously and that was a clever move, because it fits her much better. Dramatically, her chiding mother to Franco’s whingy son and the lying through their teeth oh so civil couple she and Pisaroni made were the best moments of the night.
What can I say about Pisaroni? It is always a pleasure to hear him spin Baroque coloratura and, yes, we got his trade mark mezzo-hair sniffing moment. Haha.
I really did not mind Benoit and thought her acting was fine, although the company rather came down on her and thought she was boring. Not the most memorable voice out there but see above.
The evening ended up a lot more animated than I thought it would be. First, Giulia found me in the Barbican shop wihtout us actually making any plans. Then a bunch of Twitter folk she knew joined in for lively conversation. At the intermission I was stuck in an unbelievable loo queue. Barbican… you have so much dead space and so little understanding of how women and loo breaks function. As I was saying to a queue companion, it should not be called intermission any longer, rather it should be women’s loo break.
On the other hand, this may be Barbican’s clever have Londoners mingle plan. I found out that the two most efficient ice breakers in London are 1) complaining about the weather, 2) complaining about the loo queue at a performance venue. The third is admiring pets on the public transport.
You know the joke is Londoners never speak to each other or make eye contact on the tube (not true, I hasten to add). I have met some very interesting people on this very queue and I was a bit sad we could not continue our conversation due to impending return of performers on stage (the gall!). But after the show I joined Giulia and her friends for a pint at the local and that was very fun. We shall do it again!
Kat’a Kabanova and Richard Jones, a match made in small town hell (ROH, 9 February 2019)
Small town mentalities, mother-in-law from hell + traditional woman’s role (aka, guilt over even existing) = the river Volga looks mightily inviting.
Katerina (Katya): Amanda Majeski
Boris Grigorjevic (the lover): Pavel Cernoch
Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova (Kabanicha): Susan Bickley
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Vána Kudrjáš: Andrew Tortise
Tichon Ivanyc Kabanov (the husband): Andrew Staples
Glaša: Sarah Pring
Savël Prokofjevic Dikoj: Clive Bayley
Kuligin: Dominic Sedgwick
Fekluša: Dervla Ramsay
Conductor: Edward Gardner | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones
Doesn’t sound like the kind of opera I’d rush to see but Janáček’s libretti are always worth your while (it’s 1921, after all, not 1840). The story is repugnant on all levels yet somehow the way it’s told does not insult the contemporary Western intelligence. It also helps that it’s directed by Richard Jones.
As you can imagine with Jones at the helm, whatever humour there is (and, surprisingly, there is) gets a very evident and effective treatment. That’s very welcome (and clever for those who have hired him) because otherwise this opera is as depressing as those facepalm gems Lucia di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly. (I’m aware both are actually sympathetic to their heroines but it doesn’t make it any better; we still have these self-sacrificial role models perpetuating the mentality that you either conform or die, no matter how much we all think you’re actually a decent person).
Normally I’d roll my eyes at the MIL from hell trope, because it portrays (older) women in that ugly, mysoginistic manner etc. On the other hand, traditionally, Eastern European MILs do tend to be overly protective of their perfect progeny and very distrustful of anyone they ever date, let alone marry, because who could ever be good enough for their genius babies, right? The tendency to insert themselves in the young ones’ marriage is a reality. Another reason I put my eyeroll back on its shelf was because the way the libretto treats this – here overblown – state of affairs is very funny. The MILzilla (Kabanicha) wastes no time before starting with her complaints. To say she’s unrealistic, uncooperative, implacable or childishly jealous of her daughter-in-law doesn’t even start to cover the extent of her tantrum (the role of Kabanicha is an extended tantrum that puts the Queen of the Night to shame).
Some gems from the libretto:
Kabanicha (to her son): you love your wife more than you love me!
Kabanicha: what if she had a lover?
Tichon: but she doesn’t!
Kabanicha: but what is she did?
Tichon: … I’d still love her.
Kabanicha: you’re a moron!
Kat’a: why must you go [to Kazan Market]?
Tichon: because Mum said so. [Kabanicha: if you really loved your Mum, you’d go to Kazan Market.]
Kat’a: must you go? I feel something terrible is going to happen to me if you go.
Tichon: yes, if only to get away from here.
Kat’a: take me with you!!!
On the other hand, the hard done by Kat’a gets a really beautiful aria from which we learn of her lofty imagination and her (sadly very repressed) adventurous spirit. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town knows that the only place imagination and adventurousness gets you is in trouble. Small towns thrive on conformity and propriety (although we also soon learn that the staunchest uplholders of those qualities are also very hypocritical).
So for having a “fairytale” MIL and a downtrodden daughter-in-law, paired with benevolent but ineffective men (Kat’a’s husband, Tichon, and her lover, Boris), the libretto is unexpectedly balanced by the existence of a second young couple (the sidekicks), Varvara and Vána. Vána is a scientist and Varvara is a right on sister, who willingly assists Kat’a with her issues and tries to cheer her up, offering a lighter, more pragmatic view of the world. This couple is quite clearly pitted against the Behold God’s wrath! old skool mentality, embodied by Dikoj (Boris’ cantakerous uncle) and Kabanicha. This happens during the storm scene, when Vána and Dikoj face off (to humorous effect) over “what is a storm?” So the future is yet bright (Vána and Varvara go together to Moscow, where we all hope their enterprising personalities will help them thrive).
For whatever reason, the couple Kat’a and Boris is much less successful. Probably this has something to do with the dying class – nobility, undone by the limitations propriety and the rest of that stylised form of existence puts on its healthy development.
I’m not familiar with the music enough to make extensive comments, but I will say that the singers were supported with care by Gardner and the interventions by various winds and brass sounded particularly good. In the title role we had Amanda Majeski, who has so far been known to me only as Vitellia to JDD’s Sesto way back in 2014 (Chicago). Live she made a very good impression on me, both vocally and dramatically. I wouldn’t mind hearing her Vitellia again 😉 even though these two roles are as far from each other as it gets. It’s that kind of nicely rounded soprano voice that has various colours to work with and she knows how to handle it.
As far as acting, she was completely immersed in this sad role and shone in the aria I mentioned above, where Kat’a talks about her dreams of soaring above the drab and stifling world1 she lives in. This appears to have been her ROH debut, and I hope to see her again in some interesting roles, mind. Please, ROH, don’t bury her in the same old. And if we can have Tito back at ROH sometime in the next decade, I’m definitely not going to be one to complain 😀 In any case, she got a very warm welcome in the house and the word on the street is equally as positive. Welcome to London 🙂 With Brexit looming, we might end up welcoming a lot more American singers of this calibre… that would be the good side of things.
The others did well, too, of course especially Bickley, who chewed scenery with the best of them as the self-righteous busybody Kabanicha. As unpleasant an cliche as it is, she made the role quite hypnotic in its small-town diabolique manner.
: The last scene was – totally unexpected – the most Russian thing I’ve seen on an English stage (true, I have not seen many Russian things, but I have seen Jones’ decidedly un-Russian 2016 Boris Godunov, one of his less successful productions, as far as I’m concerned). The spirit seemed just right to me (the main trio: Tichon holding the dead Kat’a, with Kabanicha tugging at them).
It was an evening equally as rewarding as it was frustrating, which is a good thing if you’re relaxed enough to put up with 😉 Jones has been on a roll for a few years now, so I would suggest you don’t miss his productions if you’re a fan of good theatre. But dress lightly, especially in the Upper Amphi; the heaters are on full blast.
This was my first return to ROH after it has completed its refurbishment of the Amphitheatre lounge. They have done a very good job integrating it with the rest of the ROH design, congratulations. It’s swanky but not obnoxiously so. After my travels around Europe, I think it’s still got the coolest lounge areas of all the major theatres.
- Two men to my right were discussing – somewhat mockingly – the cheap looking beige panneling that was the constant background to the proceedings. I was a bit surprised that it needed explaining. For my part, Jones’ ideas and Antony McDonald designs were spot on and smoothly clear at every turn: the hippie young couple proclaiming nature was beautiful, the “squares” with their ’50s style clothes and furnighings etc. ↩
Wigmore Hall: what to look forward to from April 2019 on
Some new faces, some old, plus the return of von Otter:
Aci, Galatea e Polifemo it’s that thing he did twice (among the other things he did twice) 😉
Matthew Rose from the “let no Spring pass without a bass recital” rule book
Senna festegiante (with Emöke Baráth)
Katarina Karnéus let’s see what she’s up to
St John Passion my fave Passion
Anne Sophie von Otter she’s baack! And again, after hours.
Paula Murrihy I have no idea how she sounds like, so I should go and hear for myself, right?
Sumi Jo Masterclass Sumi Jo!
L’Arpegiatta I’m not really a fan but sometimes it’s tempting to go against your own grain
The Bangash Brothers who doesn’t love the sarod?!
Mafi and Morison in “Lieder fan tutte” – sounds like it could be a hoot(-hoot at Paulton’s Park)
Gerald Finley I somehow never saw him in recital
Simon Keenlyside singing Americana – he made such a good impression on my soaked trainers, I am buying what he’s selling even so late in the season
Cantiam, cantiam, Lucano!
A propos of nothing, except I wanted to re-listen to this somewhat curious scene. Observe how back then it was done of peep show-style and now it’s all fluid sexuality. Let’s do a then and now – sorry for the bad quality video (then and now):
PS: just in case you thought the “blubber of love” in the background was something sprung out of Lauwers’ mind (also sorry for the tenor not staying in tune):
Semiramide visits her true home (Gran Teatro La Fenice, 25 October 2018)
You can’t go to a theatre like La Fenice and not think about its history. Staying true to the name, it resurfaced after three fires (1774, 1836 and 1996). What we see today is the house re-opened in 2004. So it’s both old and new. You may think it’s big because it has that compact design, but although the horseshoe is packed with seats, the stalls don’t go far back. The capacity is a mere 1126, according to Wiki. And yet, some of the operas now played with big orchestras in massive houses have premiered here1. Top belcanto WS favourites were first mounted here: Tancredi, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, as well as Semiramide itself.
Before we arrived for the very late 7pm2 start time, thadieu and I roamed the streets without much planning aside from 1) must have dinner some time before the opera and 2) must have gelato sooner rather than later. That eventually turned into an obsession for yours truly: find the 2 Euro 2 scoop gelato or else! You see, gelato gets more expensive the closer you get to the TripAdvisor sanctioned areas (all of sestiere San Marco, Ponte Rialto etc.). Tip: get your gelato early on (ie, closer to the bus station). I think I drove thadieu a bit mad with my stubbornness but cheap gelato was eventually found, eagerly consumed and then all was serene again 😉
We had a leisurely dinner of seafood at a Mom and Pops restaurant in a very quiet neighbourhood somewhere near the Arsenal. After that we strolled back with enough time to do some touristy shopping at the Fenice shop. It’s rather well stocked! They do La Fenice bags for 12 Euros and La Fenice t-shirts (off white, navy, black and red) for 19.99 Euros or thereabouts. There are magnets, cards, pencils, lots of books and CD/DVDs as well. We got the t-shirt – thadieu in navy and yours truly in red. You know I also got one of the magnets.
After getting our La Fenice fan fill, it was already time for the opera. As we were walking up the very cosy stairs I kept thinking “this is our floor” but thadieu just knew we had a long climb to our loggione seats. As with Teatro Malibran, the trick is to get first row in your area, no matter how high or low you’re sitting. We had seats in the central block of the top loggione and aside from an unfortunate pole (old school design…) – which could, in the end, be negotiated – we had excellent views. Ok, you had to lean forward a bit due to lights and railing, but nobody actually sat behind us3, so we didn’t have to worry about blocking someone’s view and we even stood for the most interesting duets/ensembles. The party in the loggione is very friendly, as is the Upper Amphi at ROH, the very top in Munich or at Theatre des Champs Elysees. It’s also mostly locals (of which there were plenty on the bus back to Mestre as well).
The orchestra were already busy tuning up. We noticed our main timpanist was a lady and she did a very good job during the night.
Semiramide: Jessica Pratt
Arsace: Teresa Iervolino
Assur: Alex Esposito
Idreno: Enea Scala
Oroe: Simon Lim
Azema: Marta Mari
Mitrane: Enrico Iviglia
L’ombra di Nino: Francesco Milanese
Conductor: Ricardo Frizza | Choir and Orchestra of La Fenice
Director: Cecilia Ligorio
The production looked to me “modernised Pizzi”, which turned out to be fine. It’s “generic period opera” costumes, with some black vs white business for the dancers/Semiramide or Assur’s attendants. As the opera progressed, Assur’s outfit morphed into “generic Bond bad guy” (ie, black and pretty tight). Arsace, who has been brought up to believe he’s Scythian, wears “generic BC foreign dude” wear, in other words “stuff put together to confuse sophisticated Babylonians” (a cow patch cape, two-tone wide leg trousers, platform shoes4 and a beret). None of this motley stuff detracts from Iervolino’s cuteness in this role ❤ or from her vocal awesomeness. THIS is Arsace.
Semiramide agrees, because in this production it’s pretty clear that these two are getting it on, though initially cute and disciplined Arsace stops Semiramide’s wandering hand before her touch becomes too distracting.
Arsace: I’d die for you [my Queen]!
Semiramide: oh, no, gorgeous, I’d rather you live for me (winks and lounges seductively). Come closer and tell me what you’d do to… I mean for me.
Arsace: like I was saying, I’d die for you! I’m a warrior…
Semiramide: oh, a warrior is exactly what I – by which I mean this empire – need(s). (strokes his thigh) You’re so strong…
Arsace: err, my Queen, I must tell you something…
Semiramide: I know what you’re going to say and the answer is yes! As long as you’re as faithful to me as you’ve been so far you can ask me anything – and I mean anything.
This goes on for a while, wine5 is involved and, well… what’s a young man to do when a beautiful and powerful woman his mother’s age offers him the world (literally and metaphorically)? Azema would have to hold down the fort against Idreno’s wooing by herself for a while. Though after his Ah dov’è, dov’è il cimento? (also known as dude, where’s the cement?!) she too is getting a bit frisky. Lesser known historical titbit: conversations about construction materials were pillow talk back in ye olde Babylonia. I mean did you think the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens built themselves?!
Speaking of which, why is Idreno expecting Semiramide to just give him the keys to the empire? He’s just some dude from India, pretty much on Arsace’s level, except he looks like he’s commanding an army of blingy tailors rather than burly warriors. Semiramide wears her “belcanto diva” dress but we all know belcanto heroines like their men heroic (except for Violetta). I would also say this Arsace is most definitely a man, any ambiguity present is not of the gender kind.
So even though they got pretty well acquainted the day before, Arsace is still stunned when Semiramide makes the big announcement (that she’s passing on the throne to him as well as wants to marry him).
Arsace: shit! How am I going to explain this to Azema?!
Luckily, the spectre of his father gets involved (after all a father should attend his son’s wedding even if he had to bribe Cerberus to get there) and the conversation suddenly turns horror-film style. Trope #1: being mesmerised by weird stuff:
Arsace (to the spectre): I feel compelled to touch you! Can I?
I mean the spectre looks pretty damn well preserved for having been dead for 15 years, except in dire need of a shower – like he’d come down a chimney rather that up a drainage ditch from the world below (come to think of it, this decision is for the best; the production had hinted at it earlier when the sacred fire went out and ashes poured out from the sacred ash plates. Later the temple virgins did a surprisingly poor job at cleaning the floor (what amateurs don’t soak the towels first?!) but let’s not get lost in details like Scala did in his cement).
Oroe is a very congenial high priest but I have a feeling he’s rigged this game from the getgo, namely he made sure the basement’s (is, burial chamber’s) electrical instalation wasn’t working. The last act boasts that famous trio that goes something like this:
Semiramide: it’s very dark in here, I can’t see my hand. I hope I don’t soil my finery before this ordeal is over.
Arsace: wow, it’s so dark in this basement! Even as a fearless warrior I feel my bowels loosen…
Assur: was it always so dark here? With my luck that stupid spectre will come back and scare me shitless.
All: it’s so dark in here, we’re pooping our pants!
thadieu: someone hand them flashlights already!
We’re lucky this is in flowery, 19th century Italian, thank you very much.
But flashlights do eventually appear, because somehow Oroe’s attendants are able to locate Semiramide and realise she’s been stabbed to death.
Oroe: arrest Assur!
Arsace: …OMG! Who did I stab, then?!
Like, dude…! What kind of army commander of the Babylonian Empire are you, stabbing randomly in the dark?! This production does not give Arsace a stuffed unicorn to hold.
So, after much noodling that didn’t even mention the eyeliner wearing male harem that gets Semiramide hot and bothered whilst she’s singing about how happy she is that sexy stud Arsace is back in town, how was the singing, the conducting and the house band?
Let’s start with the conducting: compared with Pappano, Maestro seemed more interested in keeping the forward movement – which he did. Occasionally (the overture, for instance) he turned the corners a bit too abrasively for my taste, where I would’ve preferred more detail/more legato. But 4 hours went fast. The singers were not hampered by the orchestra. The house band sounded good to me, all the solos went without hitch and the instrumental tones were pleasant to the ear.
The singing went like this, from best to not so good: Iervolino, Pratt, Esposito, Lim, with Scala sort of around the corner. Dude started a bit shaky, with some intonation problems and wobble at the very top, which made the cement aria appear unfocused both vocally and dramatically. I loved it when Brownlee sang it but here it seemed to just go on and on. To Scala’s credit, he got it mostly together as the night went on. But he’s not someone I’m in any hurry to hear again. The public loved him.
Both thadieu and I agreed Lim as Oroe has a very warm, secure, rounded bass but he doesn’t have that much to sing. That warmth and rondness made him feel wise and kind dramatically, which fit. Would listen to him again.
Esposito was the night’s revelation to me, as I have been mostly cold toward him until now. This is the smallest house I’ve seen him in, which I’m sure has something to do with it. In this absorbent6 environment and at this size his voice travelled very well and dramatically he was ideal. Maybe I just need to see him in bad dude roles 😉 The only unintentionally amusing moment came when Assur sang about the spectre’s pulling his (Assur’s) hair 😀
Pratt has the belcanto diva down pat, without coming off too cold. I wonder why ROH doesn’t hire her. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’ve enjoyed her excellent technique, ease with coloratura, beautiful, completely unforced – “blooming” (as per thadieu) – top and stylish touches of unfussy softer singing. Thadieu thought she applied too many ornaments but I disagreed. This is Rossini, there is no such thing as too many ornaments7; furthermore, even if you – which is me, quite often, lately – think Rossini did write too many notes, I didn’t feel like that in her case.
I guess thadieu liked JDD’s more psychologically exploratory approach – and certainly her lower notes, which, true, Pratt does not have – but this production is different and this Semiramide is a less conflicted heroine (until the end, where her conflict is more of the “omg, this is my child!” kind) and rather someone who is always trying to do what she has to do without overthinking it (that kind of thinking might’ve got her in this mess in the first place, but she’s a woman in charge of an empire, she can’t vacillate too much).
Even thadieu agreed that once she started interacting with Iervolino’s Arsace she “humanised”. Indeed, their interaction was excellent. I also thought her and Esposito’s Assur worked – something akin to a mutually destructive relationship. I mean, she still has the broader gestures of belcanto acting but within that frame she’s very effective.
That leaves us with Iervolino’s Arsace. Right after the entrance aria, thadieu and I were in agreement:
thadieu: I’m in love!
dehggi: this is perfect!
What can I say? She’s got everything: the whole range, the ease with coloratura, the wonderful warm contralto tone, the eveness from top to bottom and she can act. A pleasure to listen to/watch. Do yourself a favour and book a ticket to see her NOW. We’re lucky to have caught the Iervolino train this early 😀
After the opera finished, staff was eager to go home and pretty much rushed us out, hehe, somewhere in a narrow street at the back or side of the house.
thadieu: should we get the phone out?
dehggi: yes, because who the hell can navigate Venezia in the middle of the night?!
In the end we followed the crowd, comprised of orchestra members and audience, which took us back to Piazzale Roma more or less in no time. I have to say that nighttime walks through Venezia are the most romantic thing ever, even when you’re rushing to get the last bus. I was tempted to risk having to walk back to Mestre on the side of the motorway 😉 I mean, secluded little bridges, with not a soul in sight, Canal Grande in the darkness, the temptation to try and steal a gondola and glide into the night – you get the picture. With full moon to boot.
We passed a bunch of young people being loud with pizza (and beer?) in a piazza and that seemed the most incongruous thing ever to do in Venice.
thadieu: they’re missing a really great performance.
Youth is really lost on the young (I wouldn’t have cared about opera or, indeed, Venezia, when I was that age, either). But there’s a time for everything and right now I can’t wait for another reason to return ❤
ps: more pictures later, I wanted to get the post out.
- Ernani, Rigoletto, La traviata and Simon Boccanegra. ↩
- I don’t know what the deal is with the union in Venice, but Italians in general don’t seem to mind a show going well into the night (see Torino and Napoli). Semiramide is a long opera even with cuts, so our performance finished well after 11pm. ↩
- though people did shuffle around to get better views. ↩
- the Disco era alive and kicking up in the Caucasus! ↩
- and perhaps a bit of GHB… ↩
- kinda like in Munich, this is not a dry acoustics house. ↩
- whether you like it or not. ↩
Serse with tomato and beans + Galoumisù desert (Barbican, 26 October 2018)
This show could be summed up simply as:
But it actually was a very entertaining evening even beyond the Galoumisù daydreaming.
A funny thing happened right before the performance started. First, I firmly demanded my seat back from a gent, only to realise I was in the wrong row – because surely I wasn’t sitting in the second row, was I? Yes, I was. I don’t even know how long ago I bought this ticket, possibly last decade 😉 All I remembered was that it was on the left side of the stalls. Well, it turned out I was 2m away from the performers, and judging by Anik’s curtain call picture from TADW, just where Galoumisù would be positioned. I just now realise that was her position at curtain call but hey! wishful thinking can work in your favour (she didn’t wear the pumpkin dress but the steel-purplish one was
backless fine as well).
Lady in front row: this is row B! Everything is confusing in this hall!
Gent sitting next to me in row C: this building is designed to help people get lost. So, come here often?
dehggi: [haha] yes, all the time! What brought you here this evening?
Gent row C: actually, I’ve a soft spot for Galou.
Now THAT is the way to chat dehggi up 😀 After a bit of Galoumisù fan…personing, we realised we were from the same neck of Eastern Europe. What are the odds?!
Serse: Franco Fagioli (aka, the beans)
Arsamene: Vivica Genaux
Amastre: Delphine Galou (aka, Galoumisù)
Romilda: Inga Kalna
Atalanta: Francesca Aspromonte
Elviro: Biagio Pizzuti
Ariodate: Andreas Wolf (uncredited by the Barbican site (bad Barbican!) but there are like 3 Handel basses doing the rounds these days)
Conductor: Maxim Emelyanychev | Il pomo d’oro (aka, pomodoro = the tomato)
There was a high level of involvement from everyone, down to curtain call antics (Aspromonte singlehandedly1 clearing up some music stands for access to the front of the stage, Genaux trying to sneak her music book back and Galoumisù graciously handing it to her, Genaux mocking Aspromonte’s pulling up her dress so she could walk faster, Pizzuti giving his (real) bouquet to the string player he’d pestered as Elvira, the fake florist etc.).
I finally saw Fagioli act! Now Serse is a role where he can be himself 😉 The endless rows of ornamenti and consummate self absorption fit Serse to a t (or to an s). Even him walking off stage after every aria, regardless of drama around him fit, because it falls right into Handel’s intended mockery of everyone’s melodrama.
I love the structure of this opera even more than I love the arias per se. The Serse-trademark speech interrupted by singing interrupted by speech interrupted by more singing feels so fresh and modern (or Neapolitan, perhaps?). Go Papa Handel! I love how he lavishes great tunes for only a minute or so and isn’t afraid to go back to Spechgesang all I’m playin’ wid’ya! All of the characters are made fun or – and in turn make fun of others. I love how characters just pop up when it’s convenient for them to do so –
Romilda (supposedly alone): oh, Serse, that tyrant!
Serse (cheerful): anyone mention my name?
[much later on:]
Romilda (when she’s run out of sensible arguments against Serse’s pestering): ok, my lord, it will be as you wish!
Arsamene (supposedly not in the room): ok, my lord, it will be as you wish! So much for your ardently professed faithfulness!
Before we go forward, let’s talk a bit about Fagioli, the star of the night. Now that I sat so close and after we have discussed him at length, I can see the vibrato and I can feel the tension – indeed it’s so great, half the time I’m afraid he’ll blow a gasket. Singing doesn’t have to look like a Strong Man competition. But it can and in his case it sure does. I’m also amused about his stance, which is always on the verge of Olé!
His acting was much more involved than usual and with flashes of comedic brilliance, especially when dismissing others (which Serse does a lot) or “wooing” Romilda (who knew he had it in him?!) but the ornamenti felt a bit noodly and, as much as he can do it, I’ve heard more sparkling Crude furies. Perhaps unfair of me to say that, as it comes so late in the game, but maybe if he didn’t pack so much tension from the start… Ombra mai fu felt like his best moment of the night, vocally. Or it’s just me always connecting to his softer singing
The public loved him, of course, but I’ve seen him so many times now that, as earwormopera once said about JDD,
Is there such a thing as awesome fatigue? I’ve heard DiDonato live quite a few times now, and I think I may be chasing the dragon, in a sense that she’s as good as she always is, but I’m so used to it that it doesn’t stun me as much as it did the first time.
So I have a feeling this would be a good point to call it a day as far as following Franco. Blaze of glory and all that.
What with all the excitement about other characters, Kalna’s Romilda got less applause than she should have. She did some fine juxtapositions of quiet and loud singing that showed great control and her voice is as flexible as ever. Romilda is one of those costante amante that have endless woe is me, I’m so oppressed but I will stay true to my principles arias and get energetic only once in the last act (right about the time she gets annoyed at Arsamene for not trusting her after all this effort, bless her heart), which was the one time she also got deserved applause. The woman is very versatile and underrated.
Genaux, Galoumisù and Aspromonte were kickin’ it in heels. When you sit so close to the stage you have ample opportunity to ponder on singers’ walking gear, which is level with your nose (or, if you’re particularly short, your hairline). I don’t think you’ll be surprised if I told you Galoumisù wins the stiletto competition. How she skips around in them I don’t know, but they are spiky, high and stylish as all getout. Let me take a(nother) minute to
Ok, back to women’s oppressive footwear. Genaux’s Arsamene was going for that Goth look where men wear leather, heels and eyeliner – or she was just taking the men right out of Arsamene. The shoes weren’t bad, consisting of a patch of black leather (also worn at TADW), but Galoumisù’s silver bead pair to accessorise the purplish dress was in a different class altogether. Aspromonte wore a pair of practical white pumps, which was why she could “roll up her sleeves” and organise the music stands 😉 We don’t know what Kalna wore under the turquoise dress.
Genaux is Genaux and although I doubt I’ll ever be a fan, Arsamene sits well for her, plus she can act and seems to have a sense of humour that she can adapt to the chumminess that usually runs through Baroque specialist circles.
As the night went on, I came to a conclusion on the issue I have with Aspromonte, who has so far been a very reliable performer if uneven at hitting that emotional spot with me (best fit: the trouser role of Alceste in Arianna in Creta). As far as I’m concerned, Atalanta is one of those roles owned by Piau. Aspromonte’s voice is less light, so the impishness does not come out of her vocal delivery alone. Atalanta is a very young and cunning girl, who has the guts to compete with her older sister for love and the selfishness to use any means necessary to get the man when he’s not responding to her wiles. Amusingly, her plans get thwarted by adults who aren’t as easy to manipulate as she thinks they are. Aspromonte is good and very convincing dramatically, especially in that girlish pink dress.
Pizzuti as Elviro was a riot at Elvira, as he needed to be. Elvira the florist’s entrance was hilariously loud and garish, smack dab into Amastre’s heartfelt moaning about being betrayed by her adored Serse. That’s what I’m talking about! While we’re at it, you gotta love the piss taken out of opera disguises, what with Elviro’s hastily applied head scarf and super obviously fake woman’s voice or Amastre’s equally fail “en travesti”, which consisted of a long-ish and clashingly unstylish coat on top of her very “royal” dress. We could totally believe she was a warrior forged in the heat of battle! Haha.
Then we have Wolf’s Ariodate, opera’s most amiable army commander. He’s basically there to say yes, Your Highness! and confuse matters at THE crucial moment of the opera. Plus he’s been in charge of the Most Badass Bridge of the Ancient World, to link Asia with Europe and crown Serse’s ambitions at conquering the world. Both Elviro and Amastre take pot shots at the bridge’s reliability. Is there nothing sacred in this libretto, you will ask? Nothing, gentle reader, nothing.
Except Amastre’s gorgeousness. Are you ready for more eyelash batting? OMG. So you know how she usually doesn’t get applause because contralto or something – possibly the narrow beam effect2. But this time I was determined to rectify this, so as soon as Amastre’s vengeange aria finished and she started to walk away I wrestled the clapping right out of the audience (I’ll be sending in my application to the Strong Person contest, too). So she actually turned around and gave us a little curtsy and me (I hope it was me) her cheeky smile. Dehggi = in love!
gentle readers: wait a minute, dehggi, you’ve been batting the eyelashes at Galou’s altar for how long now?
dehggi: since March 2015. Your point? Love needs to be tended to on a daily basis.
fellow Galou fan: she has such an exquisite voice.
dehggi: where do you think Galoumisù comes from? And I love her manner of singing, though I still don’t quite know how to characterise it. There’s something she does with sound that’s very cool; it’s not simply beautiful singing, it’s sculpted sound (from my Giulio Cesare in Vienna review: […] timing and interactions with the orchestra – the way she got in and out of the phrase and how that blended with the sound around her).
fellow Galou fan: in my opinion she’s very beautiful.
But I was actually talking about Andreas Wolf as Ariodate, right? You don’t remember that? Well, I was. I like his voice a lot, one of those flexible basses that can cope with Baroque coloratura without forcing the gates at the Strong Man contest (yes, I know, this post is all about English breakfast, Italofrench desert and the Strong Man contest. I’m trying to tell it like it is).
I know a lot of people really dig on Emelyanychev’s antics but to me he’s equally as ready to join the Strong Man contest as Mr Argentinian Bean. He looks like he’s wrestling the sound out of his very talented string players, to the point it made me wonder if, left to their own devices, they’d suddenly feel lost at sea and end up sounding like Disarmonia. That being said, 4 hours pass like nothing under his care and his singers are greatly taken care of, especially our evening’s beans on toast, whom he was setting up to soar. What can I tell you about the Attack of the Baroque Tomatoes? That string sound is sweet and they can roque without sounding like they’re trying hard to be cool. But to be honest, sitting on a side I don’t think I got the best of their abilities, except for the strings on the left that I keep mentioning and which healed the still lacerating wounds caused by… that which shall only be named once in this paragraph.
Moral of the story: a) the very front is for getting the best out of the singers, stay further back for the band, b) talk to your neighbours, they might be your real life neighbours, c) someone two people over to my right was – very obviously – recording the show so it could surface somewhere. I wanted to talk to her about it but my neighbour distracted me. Oh, well, sometimes pleasant memories are better than overly scrutinised reality 😉
But since I failed to bring the camera along when sitting smack dab in front of the stage, let me leave you with a shot of the general area of where I think Franco is (supposedly) twirling in the above poster, as seen from Santa Maria della Salute:
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.
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?
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.
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.