Category Archives: mezzos & contraltos

Tito under the mulberry tree (more Glyndebourne)

Intermission notes:

This time I cried during Del piu sublime soglio. Awesome performance from Croft.

Everybody is more relaxed by now, the acting flows beautifully. There are no more cameras.

Rookie audience:

Young woman at intermission: is Sesto sung by a woman? I kept wondering…
Other ladies in the loo queue: Yes, yes, he is. There was a cast change. But the reviews are about the one we’re seeing.
Young woman: oh, wow! Sesto is the star of the evening!
Other ladies: YES!

The only applause came after Parto. I was confused as it had been so beautifully performed, light and gentle, with some swoony ppp along the way (really moving) but also funny (Vitellia putting the moves on Sesto).

Especially in the wake of the Currentzis Tito I want to commend Ticci and Gupta on the fortepiano continuo for a very light, unfussy touch.

It’s raining. I took refuge under a very friendly mulberry tree with a cute little sleepy bird. How appropriate!

We had a weird incident on the way here, that held up the trains for almost an hour and a half. Luckily I was on a train ahead of the suggested train. The shuttle waited for the stragglers 🙂 but we only had 20min to settle and have a bite before curtain up.

Loud thunder was overheard in the auditorium just as the insurrection started on stage.

Staff offered umbrellas but I like my tree. Too bad I couldn’t visit with the sheep properly (now grazing on the adjacent meadow) ❀

Gent next to me in the auditorium: nobody dies! Not very operatic.
Dehggi: nobody should die. It’s all about the search for a better, more forgiving society.

the mulberry is split in two and the side on the right is propped up.

After the intermission:

This was an all around emotional day, as it was my last time at Glyndebourne this year, the end of “my” season (though I really would’ve liked to come back again a couple of times, but you have to observe life-opera balance). Also going to the opera on your own makes for a very different atmosphere, perhaps even moreso when it’s your favourite opera. Even so, a few conversations happened:

Lady who sat next to me for act 2: I saw you talking to the usher about those free seats up there.
dehggi: yes, I want to possibly upgrade because this is my favourite opera.
Lady: …of all operas?!
dehggi: YES! I really like the ideals, forgiveness… and the music is beautiful.
Lady: well, someone is always forgiven at the end of Mozart operas.
(dehggi: someone, even some ones but not everyone.) I didn’t actually say it, because I didn’t particularly want to chat, I was in my own world and cried again during Eterni dei. After the curtain calls I dashed out for fear somebody would notice how tearful I was. Also to be first in line at the loo.

On the bus there were two French people behind me. The woman thought the production was too “brutalist” and concluded “this was the new tendency”. I wanted to turn around and ask where she had been for the past 20 years. She did think the voices very good, though this opera was “by no means” one of her favourites (dehggi: eyeroll). Then she went on to wax lyrical about some wonderful production of Giselle at Opera Garnier.

At 21:30 the train station was almost deserted and the train board let us know the 19:30 was delayed. Some ladies started to make plans in case the trains were still disrupted. I said I’d help them split the taxi bill to London if it came to that. We co-opted some very excited Japanese ladies, so all in all, we would’ve been 5 to split that bill.

The train was on time. I’ve never heard the Glyndebourne crowd whoop so freely outside the opera house before 😀

Everybody said they liked the performance, very good voices. One of the “taxi planning” ladies explained trousers roles to me 😀 Then I somehow got to talking about the earlier Hamlet production/opera with the other taxi lady. She, like the gent sat next to me at that performance, loved it (the actual music)! She also thought the production was “more modern” than this one. (dehggi: head scratching moment. Maybe we were thinking of different things?).

In the end, there were three arias that received applause: Sesto’s and Se all’impero (<- a lot more than for the livestreamed performance). However, there was very loud thumping at curtain calls. I guess this audience is more used to lieder? Heh. I’m not quite sure why they kept their appreciation to the end if they actually liked it this much. There was, however, a lot of laughter, even during Vengo…! Aspetatte! I agree, it’s a funny moment.

La clemenza di Tito or the return of evil Sesto (Glyndebourne, 31 July 2017)

(1) Guth managed not to fuck up this Mozart! (praise the gods)

(2) Mezzo Vitellia = YES! ROH take note. It’s time to bring Tito back to London.

(3) DVD! Not only a livestream, a Proms stint but also a proper DVD is in the works. 4 Cameras were in the house yesterday. Glyndebourne does things in style (also it was high time they put the old production behind).

Tito: Richard Croft
Vitellia: Alice Coote
Sesto: Anna Stéphany
Annio: MichÚle Losier
Publio: Clive Bayley
Servilia: Joélle Harvey
Conductor: Robin Ticciati
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Glyndebourne Chorus
Clarinet obligato: Katherine Spencer
Director: Claus Guth

When the last echoes of the Act I finale faded I thought to myself I don’t want to wait for 1 1/2hours! At the end of Act II I said I was ready to come back and see it for the rest of the week. Guth and team have put together a highly cinematic Tito.

I kept my mind clear of any reviews before this report so you shall see for yourselves on Thursday and make your own judgments. So far, though – and you know how it is when you have to focus on everything at once and can’t stop the show and “rewind”, or go to the kitchen for a moment and ponder, and especially when it’s your first time seeing your favourite opera staged – I am very pleased with Guth’s take on it. It’s dark but it’s not quite as angsty as I feared (certainly not as angsty as his TADW Poppea). Ticci himself opted for a super clean libretto to go with brisk – rambunctious, even – tempi. The house was packed and the applause generous throughout plus lots of stomping (especially for StĂ©phany) at curtain call. I am of course very happy to see such a hearty reception for my favourite opera 🙂

We did not luck out with our seating. It seems there’s an unwritten law that says lots of the action in a staged production shall happen on the right side of the stage (from the audience’s perspective) – unless it’s Wagner, says Leander (read her take on this performance of Tito here), who actually sat through 5 hours of Tristan for Connolly’s sake. We, of course, had seats on that side of the horseshoe). So we did miss a fair bit of the action (such as the shooting of fake Tito). I’d moan more if there were no livestream and DVD or me going again next week.

Evil Sesto. Sometimes Guth’s interest in deeper psychological investigation pans out. Here we have the return of the lesser spotted evil Sesto. Normally we know who our baddy is. In this case Vitellia is ambitious and dangerously driven by scorn but it feels like high drama would’ve been averted had Tito simply made the nature of his generosity clearer. Moral: if you pride yourself on working for the higher good, take time to speak to all your subjects, lest someone feels shafted due to miscommunication. People aren’t used to such levels of goodness and they might take your kindness for love.

But what of Sesto, eh? During the overture we had video projections. Praise the lord, they do serve a clear purpose here, as they give us a snippet of Tito and Sesto’s friendship. It’s a neat little black and white short that focuses on a key moment of their childhood. I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know yet what happens. Watch it on Thursday 😉 Let’s just say that it tells us there is something inherently wrong with Sesto. I’m game with that! Guth gives us a possible answer as to why Sesto keeps getting into these ambiguous relationships. It makes that line ch’io son l’oggetto dell’ira degli Dei work for us 21st century audiences.

It’s kind of interesting that StĂ©phany ended up playing this new incarnation of evil Sesto not that long after her stint in the Zurich production of the original evil Sesto. Whereas that one was very self aware rotten, I feel this one is bad in spite of himself. He doesn’t want to do harm but he keeps succumbing to those atavistic impulses. I like it. The black and white short’s atmosphere reminded me a bit of Haneke’s White Ribbon. (Speaking of films, a favourite of mine – and if you know it you won’t be at all surprised I like it -, the Japanese classic Onibaba, also has sex, betrayal and revenge happen within a world of tall grass).

As you (may) know, my previous experience of StĂ©phany live left me very unimpressed with her acting abilities, to the point where I purposely missed that particular revival of the Zurich Tito, even though it’s one of my very favourite takes on the story and I would like to see it one day in the house, if they still hold on to it.

Before the show started I said to Leander that I’m open to possibilities, as long as the whole works out. And I have to say that within this whole StĂ©phany did work out. Leander herself, who bitterly lamented the cast change, ended up saying she did not miss Lindsey in the end. The public gave her stomps. So you know she must’ve done something right.

She did. Her singing was technically flawless. The coloratura was as flexible as anything (what is it with French singers and top coloratura chops?), she divested herself of a couple of well placed and new to me flourishes on each of Sesto’s big arias and the initial partos had individuality enough to inform us of his bravado/indecision. She made a surprisingly convincing troubled young man (early to mid 20s?) and would’ve done so even absent the (well done) facial hair.

For me she was just short of spectacular because I still want more (or warmer?) charisma in Sesto, more can be done with Deh, per questo aside from beautiful/energetic singing and I also want a ringing chest touchdown in Parto, and, of course, a truly memorable voice. But that’s me with my standards for this character, which have prevented me from settling on a number of staged productions until now. You can argue this quasi-psychopathic Sesto does not need the warmer charisma, Leander will say her voice is finer than Garanca’s. I may yet grow to like the performance more upon further investigation, because I am already a big fan of the Tito/Sesto background story.

the image belongs to Glyndebourne

900 words before we get to Vitellia. Let it be put in print that Vitellia is hands down my favourite role for Coote. I like her even better here than as Ruggiero. What I was saying about her voice’s texture proved true. YES! We need a mezzo Vitellia more often (3 mezzo Tito = for me! 😀 ) and those who are willing, let them sing the hell of her.

I don’t know about the neck brace, but I had no problem whatsoever with her singing last night. It got to the point where I was thinking: why do sopranos sing this role, again? And you know how I love my Roschmann1 Vitellia, which I should re-listen to see why indeed. (With a mezzo you don’t get the intended screechiness but you get more unshakable power instead). Coote’s voice has got the right warmth and weight and she managed the high notes like the pro she is. I’ve seen her quite a bit this year (1 x Octavian, 2 x Ariodante) and I have to say, the woman knows how to sing.

Baroque Bird was asking what is she known for? (as in what genre). And I said, everything! She is at a point in her career where she can navigate everything, reason for which I vote she sings more of this stuff – earth to ROH again. I guess you could – and after the livestream I probably will – make a deeper analysis of her performance but for now I will just say I simply loved it, the rather benign crankiness and the coogarness of it. She’s a determined woman and she found a way to get what she wanted – but didn’t realise she unleashed something she couldn’t quite control in the end.

Guth isn’t very focused on Vitellia, having established she’s rather succumbed to wishful thinking and misunderstanding than pure evil. She’s ambitious enough to manipulate Sesto but her contrition at the end of act II is unusually credible. Her and Tito’s interaction is likewise warmer and more mature than usual; they are more together as people than in most productions. She’s getting more and more annoyed with the turn events take and is chain smoking in very tall grass, which caused Baroque Bird to suggest she could’ve set the Capitol on fire all on her own 😉

Vitellia (act 2 finale): Tito, I have to tell you something.
Tito: what is it now?
Vitellia: I started the fire. My chain smoking got the better of me.
Tito: Romans, keep Rome safe! Quit smoking!

Tito. We had a bit of a laugh at the intermission, what with the childhood short where Tito seems older than Sesto but not quite as much as the obvious age difference between stage Tito and Sesto. I joked that perhaps suave Sesto (is there any other kind?) has his Dorian Gray portrait in the attic. I wouldn’t put it past this child of the corn.

Age difference out of the way, Sesto and Tito share an interesting natural feel that I don’t know that I got in other productions. Usually much is made of the stunted relationships among the characters, which is reflected by a stiffness in their interactions. Here we have a moment where, in a rambunctious effort to get through to his best friend, Tito lifts Sesto off the ground, in a gesture that is both chummy and manages to draw further attention to Sesto’s apparent youth – which he (Sesto) does not seem to like.

Their age difference can point out their different levels of responsibility/maturity. This Tito is very sane (though his limits are pushed) and a down to earth man, with a higher than usual (even among Titi) common touch. Yet he is forced in a position of power which finds him removed from the very people he wants to be close to. That’s true to life. Once you get in a position of some sort of power, everyone, even those closest to you starts to treat you differently.

There is that moment when a frustrated Tito asks Sesto if he hoped to gain happiness by attaining power and Sesto says no. Well, perhaps Sesto would benefit from becoming more responsible. But this one can’t.

Croft is here perhaps the most self effacing Tito I have seen. He too is a cog in the system. His subjects (the highly stylised-moving chorus) seem to act of their own accord, their adulation towards their leader a given but also a powerful force. Guth elects to use Serbate, dei custodi as the mob casting out Berenice2 rather than as an ode to Cesar. Another touch I really enjoyed.

So in the end, when Tito decides to defy the gods (mob?), it feels like this is his own breakthrough, with Croft conveying that with much clarity mixed with that specific brand of vulnerability that makes his characters so human with so little apparent effort. His Tito knows it’s dangerous to meet badness with understanding and kindness but (in the long run) it’s worse to perpetuate the cycle of violence and if there is one thing he can do from his position is attempt to break this cycle.

Croft’s singing is also off the cuff, so when he gets to toss the endless coloratura in Se all’impero you may be fooled it’s no biggie. He puts the benevolent in benevolent ruler by voice alone and Tito’s mission statement comes off a less like a here’s my big aria! moment and much more integrated into the whole. It’s a rare achievement.

Tito’s 1:1 with Sesto also benefitted from Croft’s unfussy Tito. It was easy to believe him when he told Sesto I’ve never hidden anything from you. Their interaction here was, as it should be, driven by a genuinely friendly Tito. I think this particular Tito’s drama is that he isn’t unapproachable like others tend to be. He lost his approachability due to his position instead of something he has or hasn’t done.

… there is more I want to say and surely it needs further pondering but right now I have to stop short to post this even if it’s not completely done. Rest assured I’ll have more to say in the next few weeks and again when the DVD comes out.

Two more things before a more step by step rundown after Thursday: the clarinet/basset horn was fab and the chorus, drafted at the back of the stalls/under the boxes during the Act I finale was in very good form – and very effective due to the positioning (shouts of tradimento! coming from underneath), sending shivers up my spine.

As I was saying, there were some harkbacks to the classic Salzburg Tito, among them the tiered structure, about which Ticciati gives a neat little explanation below:


  1. And Naglestad and Varady and Gauvin. And Antonacci (but that’s cheating, she’s the quintessential mezzo/soprano). Saying that, come on, why is she not singing Vitellia again? 
  2. This is the kind of production where Berenice makes appearances. 

Sad Glyndebourne Tito news

Edit: seems Coote is still singing tonight 😉

Edit at the intermission: all went well! In fact better than well, it was pretty much great! Echoes of the classic Salzburg production so I’m happy 🙂 everybody sounding great. Lots of fun and cake for Team London.

Just heard Alice Coote won’t be able to sing Vitellia tonight due to a very serious sounding stage injury. I really hope she’s doing as well as it can be expected 😩 and I wish her a speedy recovery. Glyndebourne has not updated their Tito page yet so I don’t know anything else, since as you know I live under a rock outside Twitter-world.

It just so happens that tonight is the night Leander, Baroque Bird and I have tickets to Tito, so stay tuned for other (hopefully better) news from the Glyndebourne lawn and auditorium.

OMG Tito moment and update on Glyndebourne livestream date

Cast update I somehow have missed:

Tito: Richard Croft

Be still my beating heart! ❀ ❀ ❀ Did I mention ❀ ❀ ❀ ?

Sesto: Anna Stephany

Wait, whatever happened to Lindsey? She’s not showing for the Proms either. It’ll have to do. I’m sure Stephany can sing it (in a pretty manner), not sure at all about her acting.

LIVESTREAM UPDATE

Date and time: 6pm GMT on 3 August, on the Glyndebourne page. In the event this isn’t working, try telegraph.co.uk and look for Tito. If you miss it/can’t make it, come back to the page and watch if for 1 week after the broadcast date.

You can see it at the cinema on the same date.

The Proms date is still 28 August (7pm), which you will be able to listen to here.

Full cast as of now:

Vitellia Alice Coote
Sesto Anna Stéphany
Annio MichÚle Losier / Rachel Kelly (19, 21 August)
Publio Clive Bayley
Tito Richard Croft
Servilia Joélle Harvey

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2017 (ROH, 16 July 2017)

July is the time when the ROH audience checks on the house’s young artists to see how they’ve grown. I found this year’s programme rather ambitious and the results mixed.

Verdi: I due Foscari, Act II (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Lucrezia Contarini: Vlada Borovko
Jacopo Foscari: David Junghoon Kim

This is the kind of opera that kept yours truly aloof from the art form for so long. I couldn’t wait for the overwrought scene/duet to be over. If you can’t pinpoint it in your mind, imagine the typical belcanto duet between important/main characters who are about to be parted by fate. It’s mainly Italian angst, with moments of gloomy recit, ominous shredding from the string section for the moments when ghosts are mentioned (one of the characters is ever on the brink of a breakdown, the other one tries more or less feebly to be their rock but it’s obvious they are also suffering) then a cheerful tune gets shoehorned in (so that the audience can draw a breath) and is explained in the dialogue by “outdoors sounds” such as the gondolier, good moment for the whinger to draw attention back to their plight, so that the hand wringing can start anew and continue for another 15min. Kim is on the right track for this kind of thing and has a beautiful tone but he’s obviously too young for the finer details this 19th century brand of Italian neuroticism needs.

Nowadays they simply have women either dressed in an updated version of ’80s powersuits or as lalala bohemians. Borovko looked utterly in charge in her suit which I dare say was curious for Amelia Lucrezia. Then again, I despise this opera so much that I might have missed something essential. I doubt it, Romantic opera womenfolk were utterly decorative.

Upon return home I realised this was not Simon Boccanegra.

Massenet: Cendrillon, Act II (duet)
Conductor: Matthew Scott Rogers
Cendrillon: Kate Howden
Prince: Angela Simkin

Massenet, eh? Poor mezzos, he wrote for them but alas, I don’t like his saccharine stuff. For once I would’ve like the mezzo singing the trouser role to wear sensible shoes but it was not to be. Aside from that, Howden and Simkin’s interaction was not bad at all. Sometimes when I see mezzos and sopranos singing to each other of love I feel the interaction is actually helped by them both being (straight) women. It’s almost like they think whew, it’s just her, I won’t get distracted by wayward hormones, I can focus on the notes I’m supposed to sing and when I have some free time I can glance at her in a chummy manner – which masquerades surprisingly well as young love. Howden covered for an indisposed Emily Edmonds and I can’t complain about anything, but then again, Massenet. Simkin had more of a moment here than as Isolier later on, obviously since this is a duet, and though I again have no complaints, I also didn’t feel particularly wowed by her tone.

Mascagni: L’amico Fritz, Act I (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Suzel: Francesca Chiejina
Fritz: Thomas Atkins

I find it a bit odd that I enjoy Mascagni quite as much as I do (Cavalleria) but there you go, I liked this duet as well. You might ask wait, how is this any less fluff than Massenet above? It’s not but it’s much more enjoyable music to my ears. Atkins and Chiejina had rather nice chemistry going and were well suited vocally. Plus, there was a really big bucket of cherries on stage and a hot summer day outside. Chiejina’s cutely colourful maid outfit exemplified what I said above about the lalala bohemian vs powersuit.

Strauss: Arabella, Act III (final duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Arabella: Jennifer Davis
Mandryka: Gyula Nagy

Jennifer Davis has a surprisingly large voice for her age, definitely able to cope with a Strauss orchestra as conducted by Syrus, and has a rather fearless attitude about attacking the highs and a good technique to back that. I could see from the Don Giovanni bit after the interval that Syrus was unusually careful in helping his singers do their best, so I suppose he was here as well. As far as the finer parts, well I guess that’s where both nature and experience come in. I remember the fairly recent (sometime last year) Bayerische livestream of Arabella with Harteros in the title role, which I loved, so I think that’s a good goal to keep in mind for aspiring Strauss singers.

Nagy sounded a bit stiff to me in what I imagine is a very tricky role. Aside from the livestream, my experience with Arabella is rather limited so I don’t as yet have a good idea about who Mandryka is supposed to be, aside from a vaguely wild force, personification of sexual desire as experienced by virginal women? Anyway, one needs a bit of stage and life experience to make that work.

Rossini: Le Comte Ory, Act II (final scene)
Conductor: James Hendry
Countess AdĂšle de Formoutiers: Francesca Chiejina
Isolier: Angela Simkin
Count Ory: David Junghoon Kim

This hilarious trio/scene elicited a lot of mirth, as it usually does, even though I dare say none of them are natural Rossinians, and thus the finer details did not shine. Hendry must’ve got a bit too much into it and, perhaps skewed by Strauss volume levels, let the orchestra rip which often covered the singers. But they were mostly funny, especially Kim who got into the nun act. The bed cover looking like something from Pylones added to the silliness.

Interval

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II (from Zerlina finding Masetto to end)
Conductor: David Syrus
Fortepiano continuo: Nick Fletcher
Donna Anna: Vlada Borovko
Donna Elvira: Jennifer Davis
Zerlina: Haegee Lee
Don Ottavio: Thomas Atkins
Don Giovanni: Gyula Nagy
Leporello: David Shipley
Masetto/Commendatore: Simon Shibambu

As I was saying earlier, Syrus did a really good job with the volume here, definitely one of the better ways to approach DG that I have heard at ROH, where conductors seem to think this is early Verdi. The singers were properly cradled and it showed once again how good Mozart is for young singers regardless of what voice type their future has in store. It was easily the best moment of the evening.

Thomas Atkins as Don Ottavio got the most applause. It’s true he has a very fine tenor that works with many things and he coped pretty well with Il mio tesoro, a bold choice to be sure. Let’s say I’d rank my ROH Don Ottavios like so: Antonio Poli, Atkins, Villazon. Nagy was much more at ease with the Don than with Mandryka and I think he makes quite a dashing figure; I see this role in his future, he has it all going for him. ROH says he is a baritone but I felt he was rather a bass-baritone or he will be one soon.

Generally I was impressed with the density of the basses and the baritone voices on display – proper stuff. To that end, Shibambu divested himself well of the lugubrious DON GIOVANNI! cry one expects from the statue. He needs a bit more projection for the big stage but otherwise smooth sailing. Btw, I noticed he constantly gets to wear a military uniform but then I guess that’s the lot of basses, what with their authority figure repertoire. Shipley as Leporello was pretty good, too, not overly funny but his interaction with Nagy’s Don was on the money.

Borovko returned as Donna Anna. Now that I’ve seen her recently in a big role I can say this: her top is very good and her coloratura ace but the cloudiness from the middle down seems constant. I don’t know what others hear but if this is simply how her voice sounds I can’t see myself getting excited in the future. Or perhaps she needs to find herself very high roles and stick with those? How about contemporary opera, then. Davis as Donna Elvira wasn’t bad at all, coping very dutifully with all required, though I still think Strauss is where she needs to aim. This Donna Elvira was abjectly in love with the Don but I think Davis got her – tricky for the contemporary mind – preoccupation with saving DG’s soul from eternal damnation.

Sopranos: Vlada Borovko, Francesca Chiejina, Jennifer Davis
Mezzo-sopranos: Angela Simkin, Kate Howden
Tenors: Thomas Atkins, David Junghoon Kim
Baritone: Gyula Nagy
Basses: Simon Shibambu, David Shipley

If you think I was a bit hard on the young singers, bear in mind that I somehow managed to get there two hours before the start of the show (I thought it started at 16:30 instead of 6:30. I know, getting old…), after which I decided to wander around and (re)discovered what a consumerist Mecca Covent Garden is. Let’s start with the hapless straw hat “boy with guitar”, whom I was this close to pay a fiver to shut up for a few minutes. Worse even than a Verdi dirge is a wounded bohemian pop tune. You know the kind, something from the late seasons of Dr House. Try stepping into a shop, they all play music – your choice is now bubblegum pop with nondescript teen voices. Then there was the obligatory curly haired musician setting up his amp to blast what sounded very much like gentle Shoreditch downtempo cca 2003. I guess these moves are savvy, it’s touristy as all getout around there and all of the above are now part of the pop psyche.

I couldn’t take it anymore so I scurried into a book shop (where I knew they don’t play any music) to read Andrew Eames’ account of getting morbidly bored on a barge on the lower Danube. What was he thinking, right? Muddy water, catfish, poplars and weeping willows, engine fuel, moody sailors – a proper circuit party.

But the Comte Ory trio got stuck in my head for days, so things righted themselves to an extent.

Reasons to go to Venice: Vivaldi’s Orlando (2018)

(thanks Agathe for the tip)

Venice! Vivaldi! Sonia Prina! – 13/15/17/19/21 April 2018. Tickets going on sale… nowish? Anyway, let’s make it a trip – if anyone has figured out how to book. My screen isn’t moving when I try to get info on tickets. I mean the end of June 2017 is now.

Stomp of joy, coif of steel (4 June, Sonia Prina at Halle Handel Fest 2017)

look at that fine coif, after 2hrs of sweating!

All you’ve heard about the Halle Handel Fest atmosphere is true. Now I’m not your best witness, seeing as how I only had time/funds1 for one performance in one venue but the feel in and around Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche was relaxed and congenial, complete with “cheerleader” thumping.

Going to a not very large town at the weekend (long weekend at that) makes said town appear deader than perhaps it is. So you shouldn’t be surprised we saw Prina strolling again or that we ran into other “opera travellers” (this time Leander and Baroque Bird’s Twitter friends Meri from Barcelona and Jutta from… Germany) – it’s probably because the only people out and about were musicians and opera fans. After the show we joined them for some general opera chat (often from opposite sides of the argument! keeping it intellectually stimulating into the night 😉 ).

Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche is on Leipzigerstrasse across from shops and has a fountain and stone benches where you can wait (feverishly) for the doors to open. We were there super early because Agathe was convinced the show was starting at 7pm (eager 😉 ). It paid off!

I scouted the area (as it was on my path) before meeting Agathe and then we went there together. There was no movement that early on (3pm) and little at 6pm. Then a few old ladies dressed for church showed up and still the door stayed shut. Eventually Prina herself (+ fiance) skipped by (proper spring in her step) to the artists’ entrance. “Our” door = nada.

Finally we were allowed in at 7pm on the dot (I imagine) but not in-in, just in the boxoffice area and in the inner courtyard. Prina and team were doing warmups on the other side of the wall, as if our fire needed stoking 😉 As we were chatting, Meri from Barcelona showed up. We had met at Stutzmann’s 2 July show at the Wiggy last year, when she said “I know you from from Giulia on Twitter!” The Giulia she meant is the Giulia we know and love (so thank you, Giulia, for mentioning me, even though I’m not on Twitter 🙂 ). Small Baroque world, small Baroque fan world. To illustrate just how small, Meri and I met again the next day at Schönefeld Airport.

Finally we got in. We hoped the seat next to me would still be free and Agathe could upgrade but sadly no dice. I had two gents dressed in suits on each side; how they coped with the heat is a mystery to me but then they probably haven’t spent the last decade at an average temperature of 19C like yours truly.

Ombra cara (with Vivaldi instrumental greatest hits and the Hasse one from the Rokoko CD because everyone likes it)

mezzos and contralto FTW!

Sonia Prina contralto
George Petrou director | Armonia Atenea
Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche

i. Concert in A minor RV522 (Vivaldi)
Bella Asteria Tamerlano
Agitato da fiere tempeste Ricardo primo
i. La follia (Vivaldi)
Ombra cara Radamisto
Furibundo spira il vento Partenope

Intermission

i. Concert in G major for mandolin and orchestra Op.3 Nr.11 (JA Hasse)
Pena, tiranna Amadigi
Se fiera belva ha cinto Rodelinda (what is this one ripping off? I can’t figure out!)
i. Concert in E minor RV484 (Vivaldi)
Qual nave smarrita Radamisto
Venti, turbini Rinaldo

Encore:

GiĂ  l’ebro mio ciglio (? I’m pretty sure it was this one…) Orlando
Fammi combatere Orlando

Prina beamed through the evening and infected everyone on stage and most beyond with her liveliness. Even Meri’s friend Jutta, who’s hardly a Prina fan, noted with surprise that she’d never seen Petrou smile before.

She started with Bella Asteria which was all gentle lovey-doveness; a good easing into the mood. I’d heard it in that interview she did for the BBC last month and wasn’t quite convinced. Again, live everything sounds better; it’s probably easier to feed off a roomful of people than to sound exciting in a studio with an audience of technicians at work and a (good) accompanist on the harpsichord, especially when no one asks you how it is to play a man on stage 😉

It’s true she can make you swoon with her sudden drops to seductive ppps and her lightly smoked tone sounded as smooth as ever but I first and foremost love her for the stomp. I can’t think of anyone else on the Baroque opera stage today who’s more effective when it comes to the heroic stance. Certainly no one looks like they have more fun with it.

That fun goes a very long way. I might just be speaking for myself but forget about aced high notes and ringing chest ones, smooth coloratura and beautiful legato – if the performance is bland and detached you might just as well stay home and listen to a polished recording. The truth is I’m going through the trouble of organising a trip abroad because I want to be seduced. I want that electricity in the room (even the occasional palpitations that come with it) that can only be communicated directly by a very involved performer.

After a triple dose of Prina within the span of three weeks it’s perhaps hard to write anything new. She was happy and in great form. She “delivered” to the standards those who like her would appreciate. In fact, having seen her 6 times now I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t “on”. Quite the work rate.

the Handeltram

A recital is a different beast from an operatic performance, even a concert one. The performer mainly feeds off you, the audience, as opposed to other performers on stage. Baroque Bird was curious if there had been any costume changes. I was surprised to note that I hadn’t even thought about that and that I actually didn’t remember any in previous recitals. But apparently there had been (at Wiggy). So you see, perhaps it’s not that kind of venue, as Baroque Bird later mused. Perhaps a regular recital is different from a festival recital.

Though the atmosphere was relaxed, it was so in a different manner than at Wiggy. Generally, as you can tell, the setlist was very structured – now a slow and sexy aria, now a furious one, and this structure was not strayed from, for better or worse, even in the encores, where performers usually loosen up and may even sing an aria by a (gasp) different composer (what? we had so much Vivaldi already!). I wonder how much say the conductor has, since I saw some material overlap with the following day’s Cencic recital in Salzburg. I was happy with the choices, quite a few of which I had not heard her sing before. But you can see what I mean when it comes to the feel of the thing. If I were to compare the three recent performances I’ve seen, the TADW one was lively and free, the Barbican a bit toned down and the Halle one lively but a tad too neatly organised.

Of course that doesn’t mean the fury arias didn’t punch. I had already hinted at almost passing out from the sheer drama in Furibundo spira il vento (that knack for timing I keep mentioning when it comes to Prina) and the mad stomp that Venti, turbini turned out to be. I’ll forever be let down now if the next performances of it I see don’t include kicks and stomping 😀 The urgent way she phrases the words venti, turbini! in the repeats is unique, too. Some people go soft on turbini and rush with the command, but let me tell you: it’s wrong.

After her impressive stint earlier this Spring in Rodelinda it was good to hear her sing a Bertarido aria for a change (and the damn thing got properly stuck in my head for days!). Same with Agitato da fiere tempeste and Fammi combatere, which were interesting to hear with a thicker kick, as in my mind it’s always Ann Hallenberg singing them and although I love her too, I don’t quite see her as a mad (anti)hero.

…I think I have to leave the comments on the swoony-seductive arias to Agathe 🙂

Handel: Goodbye, Halle! I’m going to Italy!

The day started with downpours so I spent the morning in a heavy session of thumb twiddling at the temporary dehggi residence in Halle. The sun came out with a vengeance once Agathe and I met by Handel’s statue. We decided to stroll, which was very pleasant (let’s walk this way!) on a now warm and quiet summer afternoon. I’m a big fan of the winding street thing and I also appreciate the unassuming, such as Handel House; those two terms sum up the Old Town.

Our conversation extended from opera to the past 30 post-communist years, because it’s quite obvious Eastern Germany hasn’t yet shaken the spirit. Halle is an interesting mixture of said pretty winding medieval streets with goodlooking architecture in the Old Town and communist vestiges popping up elsewhere (like the train/bus station area, which gave me flashbacks to the ’80s; even the customer service did2). Leipzigerstrasse, the street linking the train/bus station area with the venue and Marktplatz in the Old Town, is a curious narrow, old building-lined shopping strip with a persistent ex-communist feel (the shops) which feel was not aided by the super deadness on a Sunday/church holiday.

I felt the venue a bit wonky from the getgo, as it’s very narrow for how tall it is, with barely two aisles of seats and some more tucked away on the left side. I do get it, continental Gothic churches and all, but hot on a Summer day3 with all windows closed. At the front it was even hotter due to stage lights. Jutta later joked there was ventilation at the back – at foot level 😉 The staff was indeed very nice – the coat checker even suggested Agathe and I leave our stuff on the same hanger. The toilets were likewise good. So though I’m being critical I don’t want it to come off as all around negativity.

Leipziger Turm

Baroque Bird informed me since that Jutta had slammed the band on Twitter and I will admit I too had some issues with the sound, though to me it wasn’t clear who or what was the biggest culprit. Either way, it’s not natural to have problems hearing properly from the second row. Namely at the beginning (Concert in A minor) I couldn’t make out the low strings. Later I did notice a significant improvement in balance but a sense of muddled sound persisted; after several times at St George’s Hanover Sq I know that sound in churches often gets lost vertically, so it might have well been the case. Jutta said later the band is usually very unbalanced but I had not heard them before live, and since I know even less about instruments than about voices, I’ll refrain from further comments. Suffice it to say I wasn’t convinced – though when I could hear the low strings I did rather enjoy them. It helped that Prina’s voice has a cello-like consistency.

As the lyrical waxing above may remind you, I’m a singer’s fan so as long as the singer sounds good to me the accompaniment comes second. But having heard some orchestras with enough personality to make me pay attention I’m not denying the experience is more pleasurable when the singer has a solid “cushion” to spring off. In conclusion:

Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche with a sign that invites wise cracks

ps: as usual, sorry about any typos etc., just finished a batch of nights but I know I’ve taken long enough with this post 🙂

  1. I actually did have time but it does get complicated when there are only so many days (budget) planes fly from London to Leipzig and back and you have to look at other options for departing the land of music. 
  2. lady selling me the flixbus ticket somehow understood my “Berlin” as “Hamburg”; I know my German doesn’t rate but seriously. 
  3. if that Salzburg thing works out I think I need to bring ice packs along. 

Things Halle Handel Fest could do better

  1. Have some sort of ventilation at the front of Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche
  2. Just get a better (less tall?) venue (acoustics)

  3. Not charge €35 for worldwide ticket shipping (Agathe = ❀ )

Things Sonia Prina could do better:

Nothing ❀

But because of the lack of ventilation, which she herself complained about after the first aria (a lovely rendition of Bella Asteria), I thought I was going to have a heart attack towards the end of Furibundo spira il vento – I love that aria and it’s also in her company that I first heard it – live! – so I have a particular attachment to it especially when sung by her. You can imagine my pulse rose again to alarming levels, living every high and low of the anguished coloratura… It really works better as a recital aria than it its Partenope context (too dramatic for it).

And in spite of the short (?) intermission, the juice, and the also stagnant air in the otherwise neat venue garden, I was this close to leaving the show during Pena tiranna, which was the first aria after the intermission.

But I kept thinking you can’t possibly miss Venti, turbini! and somehow made it through a few terrifying moments when I thought I was about to pass out and the drama that would cause. It was a good thing I got ahold of myself, because man, she rocked Venti, turbini like you wouldn’t believe. Or you would, if you enjoy her. Her timing! The sheer joy of singing that is so infectious about her ❀ the way she simply owns the stage – VENTI! (stomp) TURBINI! (kick)… That Rinaldo would so kick Armida’s arse right back to where she’s from 😀

But this is just a teaser 😉 a more detailed account when I get back to London… if there is still a London left?!

ps: yes, she did walk by us. Just once 🙂

Ariodante all star (Barbican, 16 May 2017)

once again, shots from the Carnegie Hall webcast

Ariodante: Alice Coote
Ginevra: Christiane Karg
Dalinda: Mary Bevan
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
King of Scotland: Matthew Brook
Odoardo: Bradley Smith
Conductor: Harry Bicket | The English Concert

This time I will spare you my usual bitching about the Barbican, because there are some good things I have to report. I found out there is at least another set of toilets (this one for the balcony crowd), though, naturally, one was out of order. If you exit quickly they are very handy. At some point I realised there were 6 of us wearing glasses in the queue, one after the other. To better see your wicked moves, Polinesso 😉

The venue has announcers who tell you which show will begin when, because there are concurent events in different halls. It’s like a very posh airport lounge so the feeling of we’re all here for the same reason is nonexistent. Weirdly enough – or because I took the detective-like approach of canvassing the main lounge area – I actually found Giulia and her lively bunch of Twitter friends, which was a very nice touch before the show. Let’s hope the Baroque thing at Teatro Regio Torino continues so we can meet again 🙂

Up and down the stairs and nooks and crannies, bars and lounges, you see people and (I) try to guage what event they are here for. It’s hard to tell, especially as the crowd is so mixed even in the main hall (where the opera was held). On my right I had a lady perhaps in her early 60s (who dozed off in Act I but braved Act II and III), on my left a woman in her 30s; in front of us there were two young (straight-looking) couples (mid to late 20s), further to the left two very Baroque-knowledgeable ladies in their 60s, on the other side a gent over 50 who spent the majority of the show hunched forward, watching intently as if he were going to write a report later – and so on. Though the show was not sold out, it felt like the troops around me multiplied rather than depleted as the evening went on.

There was definitely a lot of interest but somewhat glib – lots of laughter in all the appropriate places and then some. Maybe I am overly invested and felt people were taking it all lighter than I did. But then there were the knowledgeable ladies who seemed to have a whale of a time, there was the hunched forward gent and somewhere in the stalls was Giulia and friends. I can’t vouch for the very quiet and polite lady in her 30s (at least I think so, Asian people are hard for me to guage age-wise) next to me, who was very quiet and polite but applauded a lot. The young couples stayed gamely but I sensed a certain detachment – maybe it’s just my reaction to the sudden existence of people younger than me at classical music shows 😉 (the cheek! down with that kind of thing).

Another plus I noticed this time: it appears that if you sit central and avoid the balcony overhang, the acoustics aren’t bad at all, lots of (if not all) pianissime made their way up to the last row of the Balcony. There was an interesting feeling as the sound bounced off the nearby ceiling; it was filtered but not unpleasant and surprisingly clear.

Karg’s was the slenderest voice and there were still no problems (which shows her projection is ace). You could tell Bicket was very mindful of the singers, especially in Con l’ali di costanza, where the tempo was “casual jog” and the orchestra toned nicely down, a lesson to all interested parties. We could hear everything yet it was light as a feather.

Thadieu will laugh, but I’m still hung up on the harpsichord is a teamplayer1 thing so I continue to admire Bicket’s approach. It was always there to drive things (I could observe his lightness and rhythmic precision better at TADW, where I had a perpendicular view to match the sound) but never overpowered. You have Giulia‘s word of how the low strings were muscular without unnecessary over-shredding – in the words of Statira, I concur. Another shoutout goes to the wonderfully wistful bassoon work in Scherza, infida. When the bassoon started its mournful call and Coote turned towards it with a lost look on Ariodante’s face, I immediately teared up. In fact, I almost did as I wrote this. It was just a gently sad whisper, mad props to the bassoonist ❀

The big venue seemed to have cut down on the possibility of constant interaction between those on stage, unless they were right next to each other, singing to or talking to each other. I felt like they sang their arias alone on stage more often than before – I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but an illusion given that the stage is very large and bare, even with the orchestra there as well. I didn’t notice any particular winking/eye rolling from Polinesso and Dalinda during Ginevra and Ariodante’s lovey dovey moments – a bit disappointing.

However, Ariodante’s accusatory remarks towards Dalinda during Cieca notte were still in place (even from quite a distance, as Dalinda was sat on “her” chair by the wall), as was Dalinda’s engulfing shame. All direct interaction between Dalinda and Polinesso was there in technicolour (“praise the lord”). As others have noticed, Prina once again adjusted her manhandling to the type of dress Bevan was wearing. This time, as you know by now, Bevan had on a dress that hinted at just how ready Dalinda was for Polinesso’s attention. Prina made a show of Polinesso’s boredom with Dalinda’s professions of love, which, combined with Bevan’s credible ardour gave their scenes a very natural feel.

It was obvious Karg and Coote had developed a neat chemistry as the tour went on. Each had polished their characterisation so they meshed into a mutually appreciative and tender couple. By the end of the opera it looked like they might be more realistically positioned to build a future together. I know that doesn’t gel with the libretto per se, but that’s the beauty of concert performances 😉 Once again, their duets were some of the highlights of the evening, with their very nicely balanced voices – Karg light and precise and Coote full and ardent (so ardent, in Bramo aver mille vite she started a touch too loud; Bicket restored balance by the second line).

Coote, on home turf in London, put the pedal to the metal in general. After a brave tackling of Con l’ali di costanza she relaxed into things more up her alley (ie, soulful), that benefited from the many colours in her voice and its warm, affecting fulness (she’s a mezzo-mezzo, who reminds you why you like that voice type in the first place). Even so, the biggest applause of the night (in general) turned out to be for Dopo notte where she let it rip with what I would call furious joy.

I would say Prina’s performance was a bit toned down, though I’m sure mellow wouldn’t be how most of the audience saw it. Polinesso’s every intervention was as complex as we’ve seen before, both vocally and dramatically. The contrasts in Spero per voi were brilliantly delivered and her timing impeccable (then again, I’ve always admired her uncanny sense of rhythm). It’s interesting, every time I check back to the Aix recording I think she’s singing it better this time around. Then again, recording vs live rendition where one is there (so many factors converge to make something an experience rather then mere entertainment; I think it matters that Marcon is going for a darker mood than Bicket is, to match the very dark concept of the production; this Polinesso is more gleeful whereas that one is very dangerous).

This time around, after Polinesso gets stabbed and is being carried away, I thought she was going to sit down in one of the chairs, as they stopped for a moment at the top of the stairs that led down to the side of the stage. At the same time, Ariodante sprung up from this hatch at the beck of the stage. That was a very good use of the stage. Sometimes you get this at the Barbican (one that comes to mind is L’Orfeo a few seasons back, which incorporated the openings at the back of the stage into the action).

David Portillo trumpeted all the way to the back of the auditorium; like I said in the comments previously, no complaints there, as one could hardly imagine a better suited voice as a 21st century John Beard. He also has the right approach as Ariodante’s loyal and justice-driven brother Lurcanio. Alas, he will always be second best for Dalinda, as Bevan portrayed her emotionally conflicted to the end.

Bevan has indeed an interesting voice that sounds, as Anik predicted, to be developing into something more dramatic than Karg’s likely would. Perhaps unsual but fitting for Dalinda, as that darker fulness hints at her penchant for the dangerous. Again, absolutely no issues hearing her from the rafters, and also again, I loved her mad chemistry with Prina.

Perhaps in this densely-voiced company Brook’s voice came off a bit light as the lowest anchor but there are always those easy runs (and pps) to admire and his very sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted father-king (there would be no Baroque opera without someone agonising between love and duty).

Poor Odoardo is just kinda there, so it must’ve been strange for Bradley Smith to travel around just so he could drop a few Italian sentences here and there. No complaints about his involvement, though.

For my good deeds, Ginevra’s shoulder-bearing red dress was back (made me grin widely as soon as the singers came on stage) and as a bonus, so was Dalinda’s choker. Due to negligence, my camera died on me so there isn’t even a bad picture from yours truly, not even of the Barbican (I’m sure you’re mourning that loss). It was a hot, muggy day; so hot, in fact, I went out for fresh air during the second intermission and even by the pond there was no breeze (we’re talking about London, where it’s windy on a daily basis).

I’m really glad I could catch two (very different) nights of this tour and feel very lucky that we also got the Carnegie Hall webcast as a memento of how it all went down. We’ll see how things develop, but, as in the case of The English Concert’s 2014 Alcina, I think this will live long in my memory 🙂 Thank you Handel and thank you all involved.


  1. you can tell how traumatised I was by what Bates did to Renard and in general. 

Polinesso sexmagic (aka Ariodante, Theater an der Wien, 12 May 2017)

Ariodante has been a slow burner with me. It’s precisely because it’s centred on the dopey dude, instead of the villain. I don’t mind heroes on white horses, it’s dopeyness that makes my eyes roll.

Ariodante: lalala, I’m in love!
Ginevra: me too! with you!
Ariodante: oh? Really? Whoa. Like, we should get married.
Ginevra: yes! But, oh, my dad is coming!
Ariodante: crap, what if he doesn’t like me for a son-in-law? [doubt already present; heavy foreshadowing]
The King: fear not, Ariodante, I want nothing more than the two of you to get married.
Ariodante: you mean you already knew we were in love?
The King: duh! Take her hand, you have my blessing.
Ariodante (~6min coloratura fest): like, wow.

Meanwhile, Polinesso:

Most directors insist on making Ariodante the centre of the action to unsurprisingly mild dramatic results. Luckily Richard Jones thought otherwise when he saw through the unidimensional sketch that is Polinesso on paper. This was the moment when, in spite of fine Polinessi of the past, things got turned on their head and the reign of evil wreaked havoc with the hearts of contralto lovers the world over 😉

Sorry dear Ariodanti, us damned love both of your arias with notte in the title and even the lalala and like, wow ones, but when one has the chance to see Prina as the villain it’s game over.

Ok, I’m trying to be objective here and talk about everybody because I genuinely thought the cast was strong from side to side. On the other heand I was genuinely giddy through the night so my objectivity may be called into question.

Judging by my previous comments, you wouldn’t know I noticed there are also 2 tenors and 1 bass in it and they were excellent too. I was very glad to sit where I did and be able to hear all the ppps employed (how often does that happen?! <- but that was the reoccurring theme of the night) by Matthew Brook. His is a very well developed (human) King, but I understand he’s been singing the role on stage concurently with the tour. You can tell from his fatherly glances that he loves his daughter and it’s only duty that makes him cast her away; a duty he perhaps doesn’t quite believe in but what’s a King to do, eh?

Portillo was also ideal for Lurcanio, both vocally (slender but not whingy, great command of coloratura) and dramatically (he’s the clueless one in shiny shoes; they were so shiny I was wondering if they weren’t rock solid; he thinks looking the part is what Dalinda is after. It’s interesting they have that duet in the end, when, even after Polinesso is dead, he still asks Dalinda if he loves (present tense) Polinesso. He may not be that clueless; then again, this is an opera centred on doubt and male weakness so he might actually not be aware he’s clueless). You probably remember Portillo from the seminal Aix production or the Carnegie Hall webcast (still on medici tv for your pleasure).

If you’d like further comments on his performance – and in general – check Anik‘s review of this performance, she knows what she’s talking about and she’s thorough enough to think about the tenor as well as the gender angle. I never spend too much time analysing secondary characters in Ariodante this side of Dalinda, who, with her split loyalties, is a genuinely interesting person. You know she’s good but she has some serious intimacy issues to work out, preferably not in Polinesso’s company. I think we can all, more or less, recognise ourselves in her, every time we make the same mistake again because there’s that personal weakness (whichever it is) that compels us in spite of knowing better. Though Bevan doesn’t get to such levels of inner darkness as Piau does in the Aix production – no that anyone would expect her to, in a concert performance – she brings out Dalinda’s wide eyed fascination with Polinesso vividly.

all these shots are from the Carnegie Hall webcast and I saved them for this specific purpose

Their interaction, built on Bevan and Prina’s obvious ease with each other, drives the drama: visceral, freely given and forcefully taken, in stark contrast to Ariodante and Ginevra’s formal courtship. It’s telling that Ariodante doesn’t appear aware of it. How could anything like that enter his line of vision, before Scherza, infida? He’s not yet living, just imagining his life.

Though my love affair with Theater an der Wien continues unabated, you may be surprised to hear that TADW wasn’t my first choice of venue after the Barbican. That was easy, though the thought was tedious (not the wonderful environment of Brutalism again!).

When I realised this show was also going on tour1 the notion of taking myself abroad as well blossomed. My first choice was Theatre des Champs Elysees for another excuse of returning to Paris. But I found out that, in spite of its easy going atmosphere, the online booking was rather mysterious. Briefly put, I couldn’t tell if there were any tickets left.

not Linke Wienzeile but sunny and hot on Mariahilfer Str. on 12 May

Then came Hamburg, because hello new, muchly hyped venue. But that was completely sold out! Back in January, before all the other venues! Anik quipped that people go there for the novelty of the venue rather than for the music. I consoled myself with the thought that it’s too big and the reason I wanted to sample something else beside the Barbican was specifically its size. So what would be the point, wonderful acoustics or not? It’s either intimate or it’s not.

And we know which one of all those venues is the most intimate. Wouldn’t you know, there were still tickets left.

But I still wasn’t totally sold on Ariodante as a work. The thought niggled that perhaps investing in two performances, one of which involved travel abroad, was overkill. That notion was finally blasted away by the Carnegie Hall webcast. Yep, I definitely needed two performances, one of them preferably in a smaller venue. The webcast might famously have sound compressing problems but they could not take away from the wickedly fine performance of orchestra and cast under Bicket.

So after all that, on Friday I was back on the now familiar grounds of Linke Wienzeile, now with hot sun and not a hint of rain in those fluffy clouds. First Anik and I had a very enjoyable pre-opera chat (though I was a bit of a lame-o to begin with and waited outside whilst she was waiting inside). We both ate the desert she posted on her blog. I have to admit I too was so focused on our chat, on being there, on it being a gorgeous day that I’m not quite sure how it tasted either. I think it was suitably fluffy. This chat did contain snark 😉 on the usual topics you would imagine, but it turned out the cutoff time for snark was 7pm, with the cast stepping on stage.

We went to the venue, each to our own box, which happened to be on different sides of the hall (we waved to one another). My seat, bought cheap, was the third row in the very first box on the left as you look at the stage, right above the parterre box I sat in for Cavalli’s Xerse. The box was great, within 2-3m of the singers and with a perfect view of the orchestra. The seat was abysmal, especially for a short person like yours truly. I could see neither the orchestra, nor the singers and I had a feeling the sound would be muffled.

left arrow = my box; right arrow = Anik’s box; the stage doesn’t extend behind the initial curtain for concert performances (you can click to enlarge pic)

Luckily – remember, it was my lucky day! -, the TADW audience are polite people, who actually sit in their designated seats (mwahahaha!). To begin with we were 4 in our box, with chairs to spare: a couple at the front row (centre and right corner), a very stiff gent in the second row (left corner) and me, of variable positions. I sat in the second row centre until two ladies came, saying (again, super politely and also friendly) all they wanted was to sit together and I of course obliged.

When the lights went down I made a show of asking them if they minded me taking one of the unoccupied seats at the front (right under the surtitle screen, I learn from the picture on the right) and they said they were absolutely fine.

I was more than fine; I was thrilled: orchestra to the right, the singers (shoulders, tattoos, funky shoes) a couple of yards below. I was thinking “I’m here!!! (TADW but also in the middle of things)”. It really doesn’t get better than this. So because there was nobody in front of me and, if I squeezed against the wall, nobody behind me either, I, as Anik says, ended up hanging out of the box every time something particularly exciting was going on. Which was all the time. If you want to get from liking an opera to loving it this is the way to do it. At TADW if possible2.

I think it was the stiff gent who had shied away from taking the empty seat at the front who “shopped” me out to the usher, as how would the usher have otherwise known to come in and ask me to take my proper seat, “just in case those people at the front came”? I said sure, I will take my proper seat if (and only if) those people do come. I’s a seasoned warrior, yo. There was no point to start opera fights, especially not when I was having so much fun and we were so close to the action (I might occasionally be unfriendly to seatmates but I wouldn’t deliberately disrupt a performance. Ever). So after the intermission I demurely took my third row seat, up until the time the kind ladies who only wanted to sit together (oh? 😉 ) were ready to close the box door. I obliged and then moved to my claimed seat at the front. The gent went on seething whilst I was thinking whatcha gonna do? Sue me? 

As we know, the low mood Act II is the killer of casual Baroque fans. In the case of our box we lost the ladies and – yay! – the seething gent. As my mum commented, why make a big deal out of it and then leave? So I took the opportunity to rearrange the seats a bit (there were too many at the front for just three of us and some plugs were poking into my thigh) and spent Act III in style (more hanging, more grinning, leading the applause on several occasions, major grinning, following the rhythm, watching Bicket play and interact with the singers etc. (nice detail: his emerald cufflinks)).

and now for a short 18th century-style clouds break

I’ve seen The English Concert a few times now in London (that amazing 2014 Alcina they did at the blasted Barbican (which also travelled to various places) among them) and they have that tight, phat sound that makes baroque strings bounce/menace most alluringly, especially in pieces like Cieca notte. That’s one aria (arioso-like in scope) that once you start liking it becomes the central moment of the night. Poor Ariodante, it’s his bitter revelation moment. The world isn’t always your cocoon, buddy.

As much as I like JDD’s supple sound and attention to detail, you really want a denser voice in this to match the somber mood of the low strings. A rock solid chest register just kills. Coote has both of those qualities, plus a special knack for tragedy. But as Anik says, in spite of Coote’s relatively recent move into much heavier repertoire, she also knows this is Baroque and doesn’t overdo it, neither does she lose sight of dynamic variation. Her voice has not trouble filling a venue this size but she let it drop to breathtaking ppps when needed (again, Anik, who takes notes tirelessly, pinpoints just where those were). It was because I have liked her so much in Baroque that I had not heard Coote live since that Alcina (also from a great, 2nd or 3rd seat row) <- actually I have! This year, even. As Octavian. Oops. It was then a pleasure to hear how good and idiomatic she still sounds almost 3 years (and many Mahler dirges (Anik again)) later from a few yards away. Hers is a direct approach, based on an often disarming combination of technique and emotional vulnerability.

You feel JDD’s Ariodante is a more complex character than usual, someone who’s on the verge of deserving the throne the King promises him, whereas Coote keeps him wide eyed and palpably youthful. He loves!!!, he is hurt as only one very young can be and he gets angry when he finds out it was all a lie. Then he gets breathlessly happy when all is fine again.

Speaking of a dense sound, every time Prina opened her mouth I wondered how can anyone imagine Polinesso otherwise than sung by a contralto (edit: perhaps because the role was created by Maria Caterina Negri?). It’s just right. I refer you again to Se l’inganno above, even if you know it well; listen again as you’re reading. Just like how Cieca notte is a defining moment for Ariodante (who has had some growing up to do over the course of the opera), this is Polinesso’s self actualistion.

I don’t know that great is the right word when it comes to Pina’s Polinesso. It’s more like Connolly’s Cesare and VK’s Sesto. It’s just how it should be and once you see it you wonder how else they ever did it before. Not only is there conviction in her acting, at no moment when she’s on stage – at the centre of attention, reacting to others’ lines/behaviour or simply sitting – do you forget that this is Polinesso and he’s the villain. Also Prina’s really good at improvising little things (her reaction to Ginevra’s entrance was a bit different than at Carnegie Hall) that probably energise those around her. Definitely she brought out the best in Karg when Polinesso shows himself as Ginevra’s defender with just the right touch of mocking flourish, and Karg let it rip (no fucking way!!!) in such a spontaneous manner I wouldn’t have thought her capable of.

Polinesso: she’s even hotter when she gets mad!

Anik senses him as a misfit but I see him as a chap who does not accept failure or second best. He knows he has to fight for what he wants (Ariodante doesn’t know that initially and possibly even at the end) and he is ready to do anything to further his ambition. The way Prina acted right before Polinesso’s duel with Lurcanio makes me think he’s bluffing, that he knows he will lose but goes through with it anyway. Maybe this is just my way of making sense of his anticlimatic defeat. But I like the angle; if I think about it, I might have got that from Nesi’s Polinesso as well.

Related to what Anik was saying about how interesting Polinesso and Ariodante’s interactions are, it occurs to me that Polinesso, though without a doubt a strong character and a master manipulator, is never trying to solve his predicaments via force. He doesn’t stab Ariodante, he makes him kill himself. I suppose 18th century audiences would see that as cowardly but to me it seems more like orchestrating the perfect crime.

It was interesting to hear Prina’s trademark way with coloratura from up close. In the past it took me a while to get used to it but now I think it’s part of her take no prisoners approach. Others might lose their way if they did it like that but she’s on top of it. She’s another singer whose singing is closely related to her acting, to the point it’s not worth talking about them separately. All her moves are reflected in the sound and she’s not afraid to incorporate (evil) laughter or breaths (of indignation), gnashing of teeth etc. if the lines call for that kind of thing. It all comes off as strong but not over the top. She’s also not afraid to show us exactly how Polinesso seduces Dalinda but even that doesn’t appear overdone. Seduction is an around the clock job, you can’t punch out after 8 hours and hope the next shift will take care of it – because the next shift might just take care of it for good, haha, and all your toil will be for naught.

Karg as Ginevra had already made a strong impression on me in the webcast. Previously I had often wondered why she’s been constantly singing at Wiggy; I guess I should’ve trusted them. It was also lucky I had seen the webcast, because on Friday she was wearing a red dress with her (freckly) upper back exposed right under my very appreciative eyes. Here are some ……. for you to ponder that.

But the sound, right? I love it. You don’t hear me say I love a soprano’s voice so often, though I like quite a few sopranos. I usually like their personality or their vocal intelligence rather than the sound per se. But in Karg’s case, I just love the fullness of her tone, just right to avoid ping and just enough to accomodate excellent coloratura chops, just enough volume to carry well. It incorporates a bit of introspection, which is always very alluring to me.

She was quite reserved dramatically at Carnegie Hall – though I thought that suitable for Ginevra, who’s the bashful/upright kind – but I do agree she seemed more at ease at TADW, perhaps with a less complicated Ariodante. Like I mentioned in the comments over at Anik’s, I really enjoyed their duets, where you got a very appealing contrast between their voices, deftly emphasised by the way Handel entertwines their lines, especially in Bramo aver mille vite, which is easily one of the cutest awwww moments in Baroque.

Ariodante: do you still love me after all I put you through by believing you were a slut?
Ginevra: I adore you! Please take my heart! If I had more I’d give them all to you!
Ariodante: omg, me too! Let’s move in together and give each other many hearts!
Ginevra: let’s!
Ariodante: let’s!
Ginevra and Ariodante: let’s move in together and exchange hearts! Let’s! Let’s!
Statira (peeking in from another opera): wait, what? What’s this talk of heart exchange I hear? Stop the metaphorical talk, I’m having a panic attack!

Dear reader, it was wonderful. At the end I lingered in the box, just basking in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s good I can’t go there all the time and see it lose its special charm. I still remember the “sardines” in the box across from mine, 10 people who stuck it out to the end, shoulder to shoulder, for the love of Handel. Or the chap in the first row centre, who was trying to keep track of the action via his programme. In the first row centre. Or the people in the standing room box just under the ceiling. I wonder how you see/hear from there (but not too hard; I like “my” box). Or sneaking amused glances at Anik scribbling away in her box whenever someone did something breathtaking, knowing she’s thinking along the same lines as I do. Or the lady in the box next to hers, who fanned herself vigorously through the entire show (TADW is on the hot side but not quite that bad, I’d say; maybe she was building arm muscle…). Or trying to figure out if Odoardo really has multicolour pastel socks on. Or wondering how they all decided which outfits to use for each venue (this one is more bare shoulder-friendly, that one wants patterns, does Carnegie Hall need more dramatic collapsing on the floor so the people up in the rafters get the point I’m a distraught father? (Brook scaled it way back down at TADW) etc.). Good geeky fun 😉

Polinesso fanmagic

to give you an idea of the location of our gushing and eventual weak knee moment

The previous times we met for shows at TADW, Anik and I spent the intermissions in a lively exchange of impressions but this time it was rather a goofy exchange of grins and gushing. After the performance I think we started to put together some coherent ideas as we lingered in front of the poster at the front.

Eventually the time came to hightail each to our own home (opera fans = regular party animals 😉 ) when Anik all of a sudden started tugging on my sleeve and speaking in a strangled tone: look! look! I was thinking whatever happened to her, she’s normally so eloquent? when who would be casually strolling by (from behind me, the general direction of the stage door) with spiky hair and spiky backpack (remember them, rubber spikes)? I’m sure you know who by now.

I was indeed speechless for once. Then that funny thing happened (a first!), where my knees went literally (not just “literally”) soft, so I had to actually grab onto the white wall you see in the picture above. Since I was still lalalala with excitement I found this hysterically funny even though it was happening to me. But as you can see from Anik’s distillation of our moment, I wasn’t the only one on the verge of pulling a damsel in distress. I mean, come on, do people actually go weak in the knees? Given the right contralto it turns out they do.

me (fronting by way of joke): be still my beating heart! …wait, I think it had actually gone still for a moment.

So after we came to, we had one of those whoa! moments you remember from your teen years. We spent the next few minutes coming to grips with what had just happened (I know, you’re like wait, she just walked past you, why all the fluster?! to that I say you had to be there), when who would just as casually be strolling back from wherever she and her friend went? (one of the shops a couple of doors down from TADW). How nice of Prina to give us a few moments to catch our breath! 😉

That’s when I knew we had to do something. Anik was all prim and proper (there is such a thing as too polite and apparently you don’t even have to be English) but all I could see in my mind was all the moments a chance presented itself and I didn’t grab it with both hands. I learned the hard way that you almost never get the same chance twice, so when you do…!!! Let me tell you I hate regret as much as Polinesso hates virtue.

I plastered the biggest grin on my face and made a beeline for Prina (I’m sure I barged into their conversation but what would Polinesso do, right?) and just went – without any intro – WE LOVE YOUR POLINESSO! WE LOVED THE SHOW! BUT MOSTLY WE LOVE YOU! She was a bit confused at the beginning (who the hell is this person, should I know her from somewhere? is she mad? is she asking me for change?) but let me assure you flattery will get you anywhere 😉 I grabbed her hand, shook it and went on blabbering about how great she was and I was seeing her on Tuesday in London as well and btw, she was also singing something a bit weird in London in September – how come? and here’s my friend too (that was Anik, in front of whom we had arrived in the meanwhile).

This was Prina’s cue to actually get a word in edgewise and she introduced herself to Anik (in my mind I was like WE SO KNOW WHO YOU ARE! WE LOVE YOU!) and then she introduced her friend to us, who – surprise, surprise – was also a contralto (two for one!). I told her friend WE LOVE CONTRALTOS! because duh! and it’s always exciting to meet another one, since everyone (around here) knows there should be more of them.

❀ is all I’m saying (photo credit: Prina’s friend with Anik’s mobile)

Not to lose momentum I asked Prina if she would be so nice as to take a picture with us and she chivalrously obliged. Her friend immediately took the initiative of snapping the picture (Anik is actually in it as well but she’s pulling a Zoro and her identity must remain hidden).

Gotta love contraltos, so laid back and friendly ❀ I wonder if they wouldn’t have accepted, had we invited them to a drink. But in spite of how it might sound, I was taking care not to be too intrusive and we let them go soon after. Not before laying some smooth moves on Prina, as you might know from the comment section in the Aaaahriodante post. One chance only and all that. But since it’s my claim to fame I shall reiterate. After we disengaged from the picture pose, Prina turned to me (you can see she was very close).

Prina: so you’re a singer too?
dehggi: yes! [I would’ve said yes to anything, haha] I mean no! (a beat, then winky eyes) Do I have to be a singer to like you?

She smiled like heh, good one! and I thought yes, she liked that and I felt even more buoyant than before. Then we said goodbye and good luck and they, just as casually, strolled back to where they came from, though they looked a bit undecided as to what to do next (have a drink with us!).

Given the daze of the moment I actually have no clue what Anik said or didn’t say so she’ll have to tell you that herself. But I hope she told Prina she was the one who wrote the post Prina had gushed about on FB.

Not 5 minutes pass (we’re back to gushing) and Anik tugs on my sleeve again – Karg with her mum or older relative and another woman passes by, in plimsols, leggins, backpack but still with the same hair, munching carrots 😀 Opera singers are so low key ❀ You really have to look, because they are so unflashy off stage you could easily miss them. Off the heels she’s almost tiny (I’m saying almost because I also thought Prina was short and… well, you can see above which one of us is the tall chief). However! as someone quite obviously not tall, I of course am very heartened when I see we are so well represented on stage 😀

Moral of the story: do linger after the show, a beloved singer might just walk by slow enough to make you get over your starstruck state. Or it might just be fun chatting with an equally enthusiastic opera lover. Did I mention I love TADW3?


  1. I really like this idea. Gives people from further afield the opportunity to see a high quality show as well as gives those who would like to travel the advantage of checking out different venues. 
  2. Because I’m a bit uncultured, I just found out TADW is where Die Zauberflote premiered. Also Die Fledermaus. I like it even better now (if possible). 
  3.  They aren’t paying me to say this. Though if they want to, I’ll be very happy with that box seat for whenever I come over ;-)