Category Archives: countertenors

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.

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Opera Twitter meets The Onion

As you all know, I have so far decided to stay away from Twitter, mostly on account of already spending enough time online (I’m falling by the wayside, I know, but -). Based on the accounts below, I don’t know that I dare put up with the mental anguish and aesthetic dilemas at stake:

Twitter discombobulated when bachtrack review does not praise everyone involved

(it’s bachtrack, but they do occasionally give 3 stars and less, don’t they? This describes a performance of Handel’s (virtue-praising borefest) Theodora)

We’re talking about students and young professionals so I’ll be wary about bandying names.

Heavy forshadowing… but starting with the good:

Here instead, in a nod to last weekend’s Glyndebourne Opera Cup and as a means of cutting to the chase, is my roll of honour.

First prize: Polly Leech (mezzo- soprano) a complete artist whose command of style, score, vocal technique and stagecraft was staggering. Her rendition of Irene’s “Bane of virtue” was the first moment at which a singer’s performance met the measure of the work.

[…]

Honourable mentions go to soprano Charlotte Bowden, tenor Patrick Kilbride and bass Jolyon Loy.

(Bane of virtue is a really badass title – \m/ at ya, DJ Handel)

So far so polite and appreciative. Now onto the scandalous part:

There were near-misses for a couple of countertenors too, but one shrieked at the top and faded at the bottom while the other, though more technically secure, buried his head so deeply in his score that poor old Didymus remained glued the page.

😀 Sorry, I don’t have the Twitter truth quotes, as this was pointed out to me by Baroque Bird, who likes countertenors a lot, so I have no reason to think her mezzo-biased or malicious. We had a convo over whether it was weird or not to lay it into ’em (whoever ’em happen to be). Well, you know me 😉 You’re on stage, wear your Gorgon shield.

Twitter magic wand fight between composer, critics, singers etc. over mild criticism

These are comments on the ROH production of Turnage’s opera for children, Coraline, apparently doomed to be his last (opera):

The Observer’s Fiona Maddocks felt it was overlong, but praised the cast and staging, writing. “With some text trims and … judicious use of surtitles, it could triumph.”

And

The Guardian’s Tim Ashley, in a four-star review, noted that the children in the audience enjoyed it but added: “Turnage has long divided opinion, and not everyone, I suspect, will like it.”

Like, OMG, no platform, the two of you!

Worst of all, the bad boy of English classical music criticism:

Indeed, the Telegraph’s opera critic Rupert Christiansen did not pull his punches. “Turnage’s score is grey, sluggish and lacking in either charm or spookiness,” ran his review.

That’s almost as bad as they cuss up in Tottenham, fam. What what!

Hugh Canning, the Sunday Times’s opera writer – although this was not a production he was reviewing himself in a formal capacity – added in a tweet since deleted that he thought that Christiansen’s comments were “spot on”.

He hastens to add, he was not reviewing it himself. But he did post a thumbs up. What’s the (first) world coming to? Wait, he deleted it 😀 world crisis (almost) averted – you didn’t think this stopped here, did you?

The following day, ahead of his opera’s final performance of this current run, Turnage, who in 2015 was awarded the CBE for services to music, wrote a tweet to Canning and Christiansen which said: “Don’t worry Hugh. There will be no further operas by me that you will ever have to sit through again. I’m done with the genre. Going to leave it [sic] my more talented contemporaries and younger colleagues.”

I’m taking my CBE and I’m going home! You critics can write your own operas now! See if I care.

Canning replied: “I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve been a big fan of your earlier pieces. Can I suggest a few cuts in Act 1 & a sprinkling of fairy-dust on the orchestration?”

lolz. It’s but a step from thumbs up, big dawg to a sprinkling of fairy dust. We all flirt with danger on occasion but soon return to the rivers and the lakes that we’re used to. Or to the bowl of potpurri.

The critic’s response was heavily criticised by opera singers including British tenor Paul Curievici, who was not involved with the production. He wrote: “The shared-space-ness of Twitter is tricky, and this is one incident among several in which the right tone has seemed hard to land on … Opera twitter prompting one of our most garlanded composers into abandoning the art form does not make me feel good about opera twitter.”

double lolz. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The tenor Ben Johnson tweeted: “Where does a critic get off directly (publicly) writing to a composer of this standing in such a way?”

Dunno, dude, I thought you had a really funny sense of humour. A composer of this standing – good thing it’s still ok to say what you have to say about lesser known composers.

All I can say is, a friend of a friend who’s into Neil Gaiman (as well as opera) went and enjoyed it.

Ok, there’s something else I wanted to say:

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)

Giulio Cesare with the contralto cacciator (Theater an der Wien, 18 October 2017)

Cleopatra in Egitto

You might be surprised to hear that I once again lucked out with the weather in Vienna, something that only a year ago seemed laughable. T-shirt weather in October in Central Europe!

I also lucked out with my hastily bought seat1 and had an all night direct view at Galoumisù  visually there’s precious little better than DG’s upper back/neck and with a profile view you get the best of both worlds… But, you know, the music!

2017 shall remain in dehggi history as the year of the contralto hunt, as all my opera trips were dedicated to the rarest spotted fach.

Giulio Cesare: Lawrence Zazzo
Cleopatra: Emöke Baráth
Tolomeo: Filippo Mineccia
Cornelia: Delphine Galou
Sesto: Julie Boulianne
Achilla: Riccardo Novaro
Conductor: Ottavio Dantone | Accademia Bizzantina

It may come as a surprise to some that, although I have by now quite a few experiences with, for instance, Ariodante, this is the first time I’ve seen Giulio Cesare in any house. So that is why, perhaps, I felt I liked the music a little less. To be sure, taken aria by aria we have a slew of strong ones, but also our ladies get some proper dirges. Also Tolomeo doesn’t get quite the snappy material Polinesso has. His horribleness usually amounts to old skool sexism:

Tolomeo: hey sexy mama, how about you and me in the desert-shed? Bow-chica-wow-wow!
Cornelia (lips twisted in disgust): how dare you, third world vermin, speak like that to a Roman Citizen?!

This exchange happens 3 or 4 times (as Cornelia is also popular with Achilla) and with both Galou and Mineccia very good actors, it was, dramatically, the highlight of my night. But I couldn’t help thinking we’ve got a sleazy man caricature and a racist cow… I mean, no shit, Cornelia, you’re the symbol of the colonialist establishment, you may not want to use that particular trait as the one we should remember you by.

However, Anik and I agreed nobody moves quite like Galou. She has the height (+ those heels that somehow haven’t broken her back yet) and enviable posture and she knows how to work them. This was the first time when I could see why these dudes are so hot and bothered by Cornelia, who usually is made to look like this mature and sorrowful widow, ready for the veil.

In that sense, Boulianne as Sesto appeared more like Cornelia’s younger sister (a vacillating Zdenka?). Though a singer I have appreciated in the past2, with a resonant voice and interesting darker tone, I’m not convinced Handel is her repertoire. Perhaps she was too focused on the surprisingly many, moody arias Sesto has, but on the heels of Galou and Mineccia, I was hurting for even a bit of nervous movement to go with that angst. I know I’m a fidget but how can you refrain from putting your body into this stuff?!

Hats off to Mineccia for his fantastic stage presence, with liberal (but very well directed) moving about. As I was saying earlier, his interactions with Galou (<- those snarls! haha) were priceless. I also liked the “sculpted” string sound during Empio, sleale, indegno – an underrated aria. He didn’t portray Tolomeo quite as a teenager but in the context of a very fiery Cornelia that rude young man thing was a logical foil.

However, back to Boulianne’s Sesto, I did enjoy her duet with Galou’s Cornelia. Their mix of very different voices (though I think tessitura-wise they’re rather similar) worked nicely for me. The dark colour brings them together for blending, but the weight and approach to singing makes each one pop out.

Going to see Cesare for Cornelia is a thankless task, though, being a sucker for the plight of damsels in distress, I obliged 😉 Ok, who am I kidding

I don’t quite care about Cornelia’s arias; in fact I was surprised to learn she has a chipper one towards the end. So far no matter how good the singer I thought it was just whinge, whinge, that third world bastard killed my husband, boohoo, my teenage son and I are all alone, omg, who’s going to save us now that Cesare is dead? Hello, Mr librettist: why the hell has Cornelia gone to Egypt with her teenage son in tow?

Cornelia: look, Sesto3, that scum there is your father’s murderer! Stab him!
Sesto: omg, I must be strong, but I’m only 12! What’s my mum been thinking?! Shit, now I’m seeing things…

You will say, wait, wait, dehggi, she didn’t know Pompey was dead. She thought he was just imprisoned by Tolomeo and Cesare (aka, Ancient World Police) would negotiate with (= force) said third world bastard and all will end well and her family would get a Sharm el-sheikh holiday out of it as entitled to by their first world status. It’s still kind of funny when, after liberally throwing imperialist/racist abuse at sleazebag she goes all omg! we’re lost. You’re in a war zone, lady.

That being said, I loved Galou’s 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 – surprisingly especially when she was “duetting” with the flute, if I remember correctly. I also got a kick out of her big grins during and lots of clapping after Va tacito.

Zazzo, whom I remember as a very approachable chap from the masterclass I saw a few years back, seems to be a relaxed and courteous man all around, as he gamely shared the stage with Mr Hornplayer during this (Va tacito) most famous (?) or Cesare’s areas. Perhaps not as memorable a voice as others, his is very congenial live, when countertenors can sometimes come off abrasive.

He’s also a “stage mover”, though perhaps not quite as deliberate as Galou and Mineccia, but he brought out a surprisingly affable and luminous Cesare, who’d probably (very nicely) tell Cornelia to dial down the imperialistic angle. Along the same lines, his portrayal came off like Cleopatra was out of his league, but wow, what luck, she might actually like him (the kiss at the end of their end of opera duet was on-the-cheek shy). By the way, how catchy is that duet? Zazzo and Baráth somehow found the energy to play with it and sound playful whilst doing so. It got stuck in my head for the rest of the night and most of next day.

So now that we’ve established TADW decided to advertise this as Cleopatra in Egitto, how was Baráth? She was very fine, indeed. She has the Baroque-tone, the coloratura, the breath, the intelligence and the looks to pull it off but you know I thought Cornelia outshined her Cleopatra when it came to stage movement/charisma. She’s a bit too contained/cautious, but perhaps she’ll let go with time and experience.

Novaro as Achilla was very reliable and I really liked his red/black dragon jacket but, you know, Achilla. He was pretty respectful in his interest in Cornelia and took her rejection rather meekly.

During whingy less interesting arias I had time to listen to the hall and it is true it’s not absorbent (which is probably a good thing for this repertoire). Luckily our singers were in very good form. The band wasn’t bad, though I understand it was occasionally sluggish/unfocused. The public was as usual very discerning and I was pleased to see that all the people on my row were interested through the evening.

Anik and I met before the show for one of those chats that managed to mix the traditional opera snark, the chicken with four breasts and whether personal bunkers of hard liquor is the best answer to Europe’s current problems. At interval we were joined for impressions by another very enthusiastic WS, who has already put up a review which will hopefully answer the questions I skipped.

The good news is TADW continues to win at Baroque opera in concert.  Another good news is that TADW doesn’t object to taking your camera to your seat. The bad news is Quel torrente was cut again. And with Galoumisù so close at hand!


  1. too hastily, it seems, as “my” box remained empty. I thought about returning to it but then I wouldn’t have had Galoumisu eyes all night. 
  2. Don Giovanni in Paris last December. 
  3. why are Sestos always urged by strong women to stab someone? 

The Catalan German Piano ™ jams with the lo-fi czardas caballeros (Xavier Sabata, Wigmore Hall, 9 October 2017)

Wiggy usher (opens a window): oh, hello darling!
Woman: hello! I’ve never heard this band before, are they any good?

Xavi Sabata countertenor
(dis)Armonia Atenea, George Petrou director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto for Strings in G minor RV157
Giuseppe Maria Orlandini (1676-1760)
Ciò che donò la frode … Alza al ciel pianta orgogliosa Adelaide
Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (c.1682-1732)
In te, sposa Griselda, mi uccido … Cara sposa Griselda
Antonio Vivaldi
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 1 No. 12 RV63 ‘La follia’
Pietro Torri (c.1650-1737)
Vorresti col tuo pianto Griselda
Antonio Vivaldi
Gelido in ogni vena Farnace RV711

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Admeto, re di Tessaglia HWV22
Introduzione
Orride larve!
Chiudetevi miei lumi
Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Viver vogl’io sempre per te mio dio … Or mi pento La conversione di Sant’Agostino
Antonio Vivaldi
Mandolin Concerto in C major RV425
Attilio Ariosti (1666-1729)
Spirate, o iniqui marmi … Voi d’un figlio tanto misero Caio Marzio Coriolano
Giuseppe Maria Orlandini
O del mio caro ben … Già mi sembra al carro avvinto Adelaide

Encore:

Lorca poem in Greek
Delizie e contenti Cavalli

Yes, the “…” are supposed to be not particularly subtle pregnant pauses liberally placed.

And, no, the moniker “German piano” isn’t my invention, because I know nothing about pianos, German or otherwise. I nicked it from Baroque Bird, who actually owns a piano (German?).

I do however know a bit about the – trv kvlt – black metal sound, which I occasionally reference around here, most famously in relation to Roschmann’s “facial” during Non piu di fiori 😉

In this case, it’s what the band’s sound at “shredding time” reminded me of. Those of you not familiar with (the second wave of) black metal should note vintage bm is the most trv kvlt-sounding of all extreme metal genres1. Forget death metal growls, forget industrial’s… industrial sounds; bm’s vision2 is:

  1. get beat up instruments from a decrepit second hand shop
  2. drag them through thickening mud
  3. plug them in (bonus if you get electric shocks on occasion)
  4. shred in unison only
  5. place boombox from 1981 (previously run over by a lorry) about 50m away from the instruments
  6. hit record (hit it like you mean it)
  7. rip out the tape’s ribbon
  8. shred it to pieces
  9. piece it together randomly with used sellotape
  10. shake well until you achieve complete homogenisation of sound
  11. save on your laptop using the lowest sound quality possible
  12. play loudly on said 1981 boombox
  13. = masterpiece!
  14. bonus: take yourself very seriously
  15. ps: don’t believe me?

I (being the kind hearted optimist you know and love) prefer to think this was Petrou’s mission statement, rather than a showcase for the band’s actual skills.

Or I did back in Halle this past June, when I blamed it all on boogie the acoustically challenged venue.

They did come up with a new twist here – perhaps they did it in Halle too, and the acoustics were indeed so echo-y the whole thing bounced off my skull and got lost. This new(?) twist was the czardas-turned last ritornello in La follia, that unfailing old Vivaldi chestnut. Or was it a sirtaki? Now I seem to remember it’s customary to make sure your violin keeps in tune for a czardas

but I’m not a musician, so I can go stick my opinion in a blog or something, right?… all I’m saying is I’ve actually (or literally) had my ears checked recently and they have passed the MOT.

This Summer I listened to more Currentzis than I cared to and to be fair, that

pregnant pause thing

has its merits. But this time I really hurt for some legato with that pregnancy. It should still flow, shouldn’t it? I don’t know if you, dear reader, are familiar with Tracey Emin’s hand drawings, but suffice it to say that drawing skills aren’t prerequisite for becoming a contemporary fine art superstar. Still Tracy Emin surprised us with her humble side a few years back when she suddenly put some effort into honing her inner Picasso. The night’s orchestral accompaniment was the aural equivalent of that when it came to negotiating dynamics (and, often, tune).

dehggi (during the Cavalli encore): ah, so exquisite! Even the violins are more in tu… nevermind, I spoke too soon. But Sabata should sing more of this stuff.

After all, we were all there to hear him. I for one wanted to see him live specifically for his dramatic talents. At one point (right after the intermission?) he walked out with the band. The aria had a very long intro so he stood quietly to the side. All of a sudden he walked decisively towards the centre of the room, but not “hi all, listen to my next aria”, which is how it often feels like in recitals. Or how Antonio Poli walked off stage after a really good rendition of Il mio tesoro in the staged Don Giovanni at ROH :-p 3 No, this was thoroughly in character well before he started singing. And then things got even better because he has a very good technique that serves him up and down the range. And, you know, he‘s in tune.

At first I didn’t quite know what was happening because I barely heard him during the first aria and I lay some heavy blame on his projection or lack thereof. You should be heard from the 11th row at Wiggy. But things improved dramatically during the evening, which caused me to place the blame back on the Tracey Emins. Good on him for not forcing himself to sing over the racket. The second aria was already much better, when he employed some very stylish forays down the middle of his voice and all of a sudden someone on stage had personality. Fancy that.

He’s not the kind of singer who dazzles with endless coloratura (I understand this is the basis of the German Piano metaphor) but he can phrase with the best of them and has an imagination (and skills) to shape the sound, as thadieu would say. Which is why he should sing more of that Early Baroque, I think he has the right feel for it and for making it exciting.

In spite of all this, there were a couple of things from the others that I enjoyed – the metallic wrist-slashing chords from the viola da gamba during Gelido in ogni vena, the jazzy show starter from the double bass4 and the “wave” sound (during the Lorca song) that came out from the gut of the harpsi when Petrou stroked it. Wish the Vivaldijazz was further explored/incorporated and not in that L’aperggiata smooth jazz manner.

… it made for very lively conversation with Baroque Bird, Leander and friends at the interval and afterwards, though we didn’t all agree about everything.

as usual, sorry for any typos/errors, it’s been almost a week and I want to put it out there and my brain is a bit hazy edit-wise today.

  1. and it thus attracts tryhards by the boatload. BM fans tend to be even more humourless than those belcanto fans who think opera died when Callas lost her voice the first time. 
  2. “Just crank the gain, turn up the treble, scoop the mids, and bury the bass. “Metal” distortion pedals can also work well. The old bands did not give a f@ck about good tone.” (from here). 
  3. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that! He just walked away, like ok, aria done, let me get back to my crossword puzzle. 
  4. Yes to jazzy Vivaldi in general, though perhaps not so much to a syncopated tune in particular… but that’s personal taste for you. 

Gorgeous Rodelinda (Teatro Real Madrid webcast, 31 March 2017)

duelling cembali!

How fitting for the Handel season – I found myself in the right place at the right time for this webcast (we used the medici.tv channel) and ended up having a very enjoyable watching party “with” thadieu and Agathe, based on Giulia’s report from the house (which you can read here if you haven’t yet; it’ll help make sense of what I’m only mentioning in passing). I’m not going into the whole thing because I don’t know Rodelinda enough but I wanted to share a few impressions:

  • what a (musically) wonderful opera! The perils of being exposed to the wrong singers/etc. come to mind when I think I’ve deprived myself of it for so long; lovely work from Bolton et all balancing the sweet mournfulness with the action
  • yes to the 5 countertenors but can Bejun Mehta spin a dulcet line or what? I was floored by Bertarido’s entrance aria. Looking forward to Gia dagli occhi… in 3 months’ time!
  • Eduige: more reasons to love Prina; seriously, the role works so well for her. Wish she had more to sing. She had some really fun things to do here, quite surprisingly considering it was a Guth production
  • speaking of Guth, I agree he doesn’t quite get the Baroque ethos, but I did enjoy the whole kid + nightmares part and the unexpected humour; the Personnenregie is always paid attention to in his work and it was here as well
  • I was further surprised how much I liked Lucy Crowe considering I’m not usually a fan. This was easily the best performance I’ve seen/heard from her.

no messing with the contralto 😉

David Daniels the sponge (Wigmore Hall, 20 March 2017)

When Wiggy posted their upcoming season we (Team London) looked curiously at this date. He’s singing what? I wanted to see DD because I really like his Furibondo spira il vento tone so if he was singing Beethoven so be it.

It all started with Daniels apologising for obliterating his bowtie due to stage jitters. Perhaps if he waltzed in without mentioning it no one would’ve been the wiser (though what do I know, I’m all for casual chic and for moving swiftly on) but after that I’m sure we all focused on his collar. It was kinda cute.

David Daniels countertenor
Martin Katz piano

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Adelaide Op. 46

Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Music for a while Z583
A Fool’s Preferment Z571
– I’ll sail upon the dog star
– Sweeter than roses Z585

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac Op. 51

The first part was dominated by the Britten canticle, for which DD benefitted from help from tenor buddy David Webb. Their voices matched very well and they got into character enough to give the piece expressivity so that anyone could tell who was Abraham and who was Isaac. I liked it -> I should listen to more Britten.

INTERVAL

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Rodelinda HWV19
– Pompe vane di morte!… Dove sei, amato bene?
– Si, l’infida consorte… Confusa si miri

Traditional
Ten Thousand Miles Away (arr. Steven Mark Kohn)
On the other shore (arr. Marita Kohler)
Wanderin’ (arr. Marita Kohler)
The Farmer’s Curst Wife (arr. Marita Kohler)

After the interval we were on familiar territory, with DD giving us a bit of his well known Bertarido. DD is the type of coutertenor with a very smooth voice and a youthful, sensitive tone (by which I mean plaintive but not schmalzy), which fits soulful arias better than vicious ones.

But we (Baroque Bird and I) agreed that the most memorable part was the traditional bit, with The Farmer’s Curst Wife coming off a riot. So yes (from me) to coutertenors singing art song and, in this case, traditional song. I’m quite fond of traditional in general and I wish more opera singers included it in their song recitals.

Maybe you’re wondering what I mean by the sponge metaphor. Whilst listening I kept imagining a gently squeezed sponge, which refers to elasticity and to smoothness across the range as well as softness of tone. It’s true that he’s the old school kind of countertenor – neither as fast nor as interested in proving chest note prowess (I don’t think he ventured that way) as the current crop – but the kind of elegant wistful emotion he can produce is still endearing and unique, to my ears at least. Even in the Baroque repertoire it’s not all about athleticism.

And, yes, it’s the end of the month hence the pedal to the metal with a flurry of posts after days of languidity.

2016 in WP stats

According to WP stats, 2016 was the year where I achieved the most with the least effort (119 posts published before this one, though we might get to 125 by the end of the year; by contrast, there were 140 posts in 2015 and 211 in 2013), which is a fine motto by me 😉

So let’s see what people liked to read on opera, innit? this year:

  1. “revival adriana lecouvreur roh 2016-17”
  2. Akhnaten at ENO (take 2)
  3. Ann Hallenberg (Gluck and Mozart)
  4. Juditha triumphans
  5. Akhnaten at ENO (take 1)
  6. Stutzmann and Orfeo 55 (Vivaldi)
  7. ROH 2016-2017 confirmed
  8. Maria Ostroukhova recital
  9. ROH Spring Season/London Handel Fest General Sale
  10. Ariodante at RCM (take 1)

The most read Tito was Röschmann’s Tito (how very surprising, I know).

Translation: Baroque, something unsual with countertenor, something properly old school with diva and what’s coming next at ROH. I am obviously not surprised about all the Baroque, or even about Akhnaten – because we haven’t had it in 30 years and ENO can do spectacular when it wants (or still) and in this case it definitely did, but I didn’t expect La Lecouvreur to get so much attention. We’ll all have to wait until February 7 to see if the bated breath was worth it (aka, if La Gheorghiu still has it). But yes, Akhnaten (I really hope they filmed it) and all the Baroque was the dog’s bollocks, fully deserving to be shared with all.

There are no doubts around these parts about Baroque but I’m very glad people have read about Akhnaten; it’s a wonderful “mood piece” about which I have very little to bitch (and that only when I’m especially mardy; my chief complaint is the title role should be sung by a mezzo or contralto 😉 you could see that one coming, I know) and I think more people should listen to it and definitely see it if it comes anywhere near them. I consider myself wildly lucky to have seen it performed “in my backyard” so soon after becoming acquainted with it.

“where does franco fagioli lives?”

  • spelled like that, is a new search engine term via which someone found my blog.
  • the reason I’m writing about this is because I’m quite adamant about privacy in general. I can see why someone would be interested in the whereabouts of a beloved celeb (ie, in which country they live, especially if they are originally from a place not at the centre of the opera world). Sometimes they are open and they talk about it themselves. Fair enough. But I still feel it’s less our business. Leave them be.
  • you might think differently and that’s ok. There is a reason people chat with singers after the show. I’m ambivalent about that (as you may have noticed). Chatting might be very pleasant but you shouldn’t forget that the person on stage is somene else.
  • I don’t know where he lives. I also don’t know whom he’s dating (if he is dating anyone) – this related to another search engine term. Please don’t illuminate me about either. Or about any other opera singer I like (but you can tell me about who those I don’t like have broken up with! this is a schadenfreude happy zone, not a nunnery – after all).

Singers and bad timing

Very high countertenors (sopranistas? is there a difference?) are not usually my thing, but this one won me over with his tenderly beautiful lyric tone. I ran into him only because I wanted to hear some more Jommelli and I randomly clicked on this:

The screechy leggiero soprano has the kind of voice that makes me stuff cottonballs in my ears and run for the hills (I guess it was hard to find a soprano with a higher and lighter voice than his) but the contrast between the two made a perfect showcase for his voice, so I clicked on the solo aria, for clarification. He convinced me.

The comment below the video of Cara, deh serbami brought on the interesting subject of timing and/or luck. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this: how many great singers that never were are there somewhere? This one at least has had a career but surely not a super bright one, or I’d have heard of him by now? Maybe it’s just me, but judging by the comment it seems that indeed he was born too early. These days he’d be singing in every important Baroque venue.