Category Archives: mezzos & contraltos

When to see and hear Salzburg Poppea from the convenience of your home

© Salzburger Festspiele / Maarten Vanden Abeele

Tune into radio: 18 August at 19:30 CET via the Ö1 channel of ORF radio

Watch livestream: 20 August 2018 at 18:30 CET on medici.tv

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Cookoo Nerone and his doomed sex kitten – first impressions from Salzburg 2018

Gorgeous singing – this is the best I’ve heard from Lindsey, and I’ve seen her a lot, even two months ago; she should sing more of this stuff; Yoncheva rocked, too, and the two of the have excellent chem, both vocally and dramatically – some fabulous diminuendi in their scenes together (you know which, the supremely sexy ones)

Christie and team – YEA! Well deserved most applause – some badass original ornaments, especially around Seneca’s parts

Desandre and Quintans – lovely discoveries for me, great stage presence and very confident, stylish singing

Production poster – if you long to see two women headline together ❤ I took some very cheesy non-selfies with it 😉 (Giulia was so gracious to put up with my “photo shoot”) and you will be forced to see them, because when are we getting that kind of poster for a major festival again? Not for next year’s Alcina, that’s for sure.

The venue – so bloody stylish! You know I like my casual everything but I can appreciate style when it’s done right. And great acoustics, too, though diction was so-so

Company – it was great hanging out with Giulia, I hope I did not exhaust you 😉 ah, going to the opera with enthusiastic buddies is a drug in itself!

Some of the production ideas were great; some not so much; generally it was undercooked. Rest assured I will go into how I see this done right, because – though I was here to enjoy myself “to the bitter end” 😉 – I am getting a bit tired of directors overdoing Poppea. It really is not that hard. The Glyndebourne production is still the most concise and coherent for me.

Upcoming at ROH and Glyndebourne 2019

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

Solomon in concert with Zazzo in the title role

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

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

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

Winter:

The Queen of Spades = must not forget

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

Katya Kabanova – I’ll probably go

Così returns but don’t count me in

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

Spring:

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

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

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

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

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

Summer:

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

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

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

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

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

Glyndebourne 2019

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

Rusalka – nah

Il barbiere – see below

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

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

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

Sara Mingardo, Francesca Biliotti and the hunt for Monday lunch (Wigmore Hall, 21 May 2018)

along Regent’s Canal

This was the second time in recent years that Mingardo came to Wiggy for a Monday Lunchtime Concert, which is a short but sweet (re: informal) deal. This was also – concidentally (ha!) – the second time thadieu did the same 😉

Since it was a very early performance and the day looked good for London (pretty warm, no rain), we decided to make a day out of it and by 11am we were already at the train station (neither one of us is an early riser).

The idea was to find a bubble tea place but there aren’t a lot of them in London and I definitely wouldn’t know one way or another. Thadieu found two online: one in Camden and one in Wembley. Now since Wembley is just one block away from the Outer London area better described as There Be Dragons, Camden it was. However, by the time the train got moving it became pretty clear that the bubble tea had to wait until after the show.

Sara Mingardo contralto
Francesca Biliotti contralto
Giovanni Bellini theorbo
Giorgio Dal Monte harpsichord

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Settimo libro de madrigali
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core? ‘Romanesca’
Con che soavità, labbra odorate

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Toccata nona

Claudio Monteverdi
Settimo libro de madrigali
Vorrei baciarti
Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano

Settimo libro de madrigali
Non è di gentil core
O come sei gentile

Giovanni Kapsberger (c.1580-1651)
Canzone prima

Claudio Monteverdi
Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti

As you can see, the show was pretty much Settimo libro de madrigali with two contraltos (for the price of one). We had fifth row centre seats, thanks to Baroque Bird, so we saw everything and heard Mingardo and the harpsichord really well. She was in very good spirits and smiled more or less through the show. It’s quite unsual to be in a position to feel a contralto is loud but Wiggy’s first few rows can offer you that opportunity. Her top is bright as it is and it came through.

Biliotti, on the hand, was more reserved, which I chalked up to nerves. The times we heard her she showed off a very nice voice (especially in the duets). Dal Monte was manning the harpsichord the last time we saw Mingardo and he played the same solo piece. Last time I didn’t get much out of it but this time I slightly warmed up to it. It’s actually a lot shorter than I remembered it 😉 The Kapsberger piece for theorbo was one of those things where you go “and that was the theorbo”…

So once the performance was over I suggested we go directly to the Green Room and give our thanks to Mingardo. Thadieu was already in omg, omg-fan mode but, as I was saying, if you want to say hello and thank you for the music to your favourite singer there is not better place than Wiggy after a Lunchtime Concert. We walked backstage and found a very tiny queue ahead of us, consisting of a few friends of Biliotti’s (she’s based in London) and a lady I see at practically all the Baroque shows to the point I even wonder if she’ll be there before I get to the venue (she always is).

Then came our turn and we told her how we’d seen her in random places around Europe as well as Detroit for thadieu, which always gets a surprised look. As you probably know from thadieu’s account, the omg, omg-fan mode worked against us securing the picture we actually got with her but we still have the nice little conversation and her gracious nature.

After us she sort of walked to the side (by the fireplace) as if to catch her breath from all the attention and let Biliotti hug her friends from the Monteverdi Choir, which she later introduced to her. Thinking we could get a shortcut, we turned the first right and ended up on the Wiggy stage 🙂 The venue looks rather small from there!

HOME IS WHERE FOOD IS

To get our bearings a bit, we decided Camden was close enough to walk, so we cut through Regent’s Park and then walked along the canals – not on par with Venice but still a scenic route. The skies darkened a bit but it didn’t really rain before we got to Camden. Once in the Camden Market, which is just off the canal, we tried to find the bubble tea place.

The market is a maze of stalls and most of the time your best direction is it must be here somewhere – but we found a good Samaritan who all but said to us when are you going to ask me to show you the way? We’re liberated women so we ignored him until he actually pointed the way because he was listening in (what’s a hero in waiting to do?). We found it, upstairs and around the corner, because the market in a nutshell is upstairs/downstirs, turn right, turn left, past that fake exotic food stall then past that incense stand.

It was shut down, empty inside – much like our stomachs. So there we were, at about 2:30pm on a Monday, with one Vietnamese restaurant in my old general area shut on Mondays and another one thadieu was fairly sure would be breaking until the early afternoon. That’s the small problem with early shows on a Monday, you might end up starving in your own town – or break down and have a sandwich. Anyway, we still made our way to the bus stop just as it started to rain in earnest. We caught one of the new “vintage” Boris-double deckers that you can board from the back and the seats are more comfortable than they look.

As we finally arrived in Finsbury Park the skies started to brighten, but our luck not so much. The first restaurant was so shut and bolted you couldn’t even consult a menu (leftover from 2011’s riots? Locksmiths made a mint that August). The second one would indeed open by 5:30pm. Thadieu was in that faint stage of barely able to walk for lack of nourishment. I was proceeding with determined haste and a grim face, braincells able to put together one thought only: must.have.food.now.

We decided it was best to take a sandwich leftover pitstop because there was no way we were going to make it to the park itself (where I initially suggested we hang out until opening time). Whilst we were scarfing down the Pret Sandwich of Goodness (as per thadieu) on the stoop of a townhouse, we heard the air ambulance pass us over. The sandwich perked us up a bit so we walked to the park and saw there had indeed been a pretty serious car crash by the station, traffic diverged etc.

By now the sun was out again and we went and sat on the grass in the park and watched the paramedics do something to the gurney. Some guy got into an altercation with the cops over something undiscernable and thadieu marvelled at how long they took to talk sense into him.

Eventually the air ambulance took off a lot less noisily than I thought it would and went off. With that we also returned to the restaurant and were the first to sit down and consult the menu that day. Food at long last! Though some locals who came after us were served first. We overordered but the food was good and I’m not one to say no to takeaway 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Problem with the libretto? Swap the Saracens for popstars (Rinaldo)

Last night, thadieu and I sat through 6 hours of a Rinaldo mashup. The term wild ride applies.

Armida: Carmela Remigio.
Goffredo: Francisco Fernández-Rueda.
Almirena: Loriana Castellano.
Rinaldo: Teresa Iervolino.
Argante: Francesca Ascioti.
Eustazio: Dara Savinova.
Lesbina: Valentina Cardinali.
Nesso: Simone Tangolo.
Araldo di Argante: Dielli Hoxha.
Uno Spirito in forma di Donna: Kim-Lillian Strebel.
Mago Cristiano: Ana Victória Pitts.

La Scintilla Orchestra. Conductor: Fabio Luisi | Martina Franca

Now we know that Rinaldo was Handel’s most revived opera within his lifetime, the first opera he presented when he moved to London from Italy and his first mega hit that immediately established his reputation in London.

He revised it in 1717 and again in 1731:

Revisions, 1717 and 1731

The opera was frequently revised, most particularly in 1717 and in 1731; modern performances are usually a conflation of the versions available. Up to and including 1717, these changes had no significant effect on the plot. In the 1731 version, however, in Act 2 Armida imitates Almirena’s voice rather than assuming her appearance, and Argante declares his love to Almirena’s portrait rather than to her face. In Act 3 the marches and the battle scene are cut; Armida and Argante remain unrepentant and vanish in a chariot drawn by dragons before the conclusion.[23]

The opera was also performed in German in Hamburg to much success. Leo presented it in pasticcio form in Naples:

A pastiche of the opera, with additional numbers by Leonardo Leo, was presented by Leo at the Royal Court in Naples in 1718, with Nicolini singing his original role.[25]

This is the mashup we heard, though the Italian presenters insisted on calling it “Handel’s Rinaldo“, only occasionally mentioning that it also contained arias by Leo and others. Let me assure you it’s not quite Handel’s Rinaldo so it’s kind of annoying when it’s presented as such. But the whole thing was obviously legit and with Fabio Luisi at the helm so you have to think that we’re starting to see things differently now, especially these old skool operas (though I do remember things have been done to Fidelio recently and the less said about that Currentzis modification to a certain Mozart opera, the better). It looks like a trend, for better or worse. I personally find it’s trying a bit too hard, but I’m not so young anymore so who knows.

I think this was one of those productions where you had to be there. On the radio, sometimes the recits, done by secondary characters buffa-style (I felt like in a Pergolesi comedy), went on so long that when an aria I knew started I was almost startled. Do I care about Lesbina and some guy in Rinaldo? Do we want servants represented? I guess we do, but Rinaldo has a kind of specific focus. This woman Lesbina wasn’t even there in “Handel’s Rinaldo“, so why do we have to hear her mock (I guess – or was that the woman-spirit?) the main characters?

It can be said that Rinaldo‘s plot is problematic in today’s world because mentioning crusades and infidels isn’t done in cosmopolitan company. Well, fair enough, it’s one way of looking at it. For my part, it’s historical through a fantasy lens but if it has to be dropped from the rep because it’s not PC, so be it. We can do concert performances, seeing as how the music is still appreciated. I wouldn’t drop it but I wouldn’t make a big stink either about it if people were so offended by it.

What these people did was chuck the plot altogether and change all the characters to ’80s pop stars. In the main roles we have Freddy Mercury (Rinaldo), that annoying guy from Kiss (Argante), David Bowie and Elton John (don’t know who’s who in the opera and frankly I couldn’t care less) and two unidentified by me women as Almirena and Armida. One is in a big white dress with teased hair and the other is in a black dress, looking vaguely Goth. I leave it to ’80s pop fans to figure out the riddle, because to me it makes no sense. I didn’t even know Queen and Kiss had some sort of feud, if that is supposed to be reflected here. I think Queen was the sophisticated end of mainstream radio and Kiss was lowest common denominator frat party fodder.

So I guess they take the edge out of the plot and place the story in a conspicuously white-Western world cca 1980 – in order to make this cooler for today’s (opera going) public, which must be over 40, because I can’t see anyone under 40 care one way or another about Queen and Kiss, though Elton John is still present enough and David Bowie died cool.

But from the commentary during intervals I gathered thay wanted to make it more Neapolitan, hence I guess the Leo pasticcio. Which is ok and all, but don’t call it “Handel’s Rinaldo“, call it Leo’s Rinaldo pasticcio.

When we get to the actual Rinaldo stuff, that is pretty cool, though so diluted – like I was saying above – that it feels like hours have passed between Vo far’ guerra and Or la tromba, both of which are done with enough gusto (especially Or la tromba = you understand why there are contraltos in this rep; Vo far’ guerra was surprisingly understated, I suppose only the Barbican harpsichordist was let loose, though it would have so made sense to indulge in endless classic rock noodling in this production! Missed opportunity if there was one). Sadly, although I sat through 6 hours of it, I missed both Venti, turbini [edit: they cut it! They WHAT?! They cut Venti, turbini and they’re calling it (Handel’s) Rinaldo?! Dude….] and Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which is a real miss, because how often do you hear a contralto Argante?!):

Role
(in singing order)
Voice type
(1711)[12]
Notes Premiere cast, 24 February 1711
Conductor:[19]
Ref.
Goffredoleader of the First Crusade. 1096–99 contralto (en travesti) Tenor after 1731 revision Francesca Vanini-Boschi [20]
Rinaldo: a nobleman of the House of Este alto castrato Written in soprano clef, now sung by a contralto, mezzo-soprano or countertenor Nicolo Grimaldi (“Nicolini”) [20]
Almirena: daughter of Goffredo soprano Isabella Girardeau [20]
Eustazio: brother to Goffredo alto castrato This part was eliminated before the 1717 revival, and is often omitted from modern productions Valentino Urbani (“Valentini”) [20][21]
A herald tenor Bass in 1731 revival “Lawrence” [20]
ArganteSaracen king of Jerusalem bass Contralto in 1731 revival, now usually bass Giuseppe Boschi [20]
ArmidaQueen of Damascus, Argante’s mistress soprano Contralto in 1731 revival, now usually soprano Elisabetta Pilotti-Schiavonetti [20][22]
Two mermaids sopranos Not recorded [20]
A woman soprano In some productions the woman’s lines are sung by a mermaid Not recorded [20]
A Christian magician alto castrato Bass from 1731 revival Giuseppe Cassani [20]
Mermaids, spirits, fairies, officers, guards, attendants Non-singing parts

I can totally see why you would also have a contralto Armida and how a dramatic soprano does justice to Furie terribili. Remigio (who, if I’m not wrong, has sing Vitellia, which is as dramatic as sopranos in this rep get) did a pretty good job of Armida in general. I might like her better on repeat listens.

So, it’s a trend and to me it’s a very whimsical one (read: hit and miss). But I wasn’t there and on the radio and without 100% Italian a lot was missed. On the other hand, now might be time to present the WS revised Alcina and Der Rosenkavalier.

Arianna in Cretan temperatures (Halle Handel Fest, 9 June 2018)

First violin, Gauvin, Hallenberg, Emelyanychev, Aspromonte, Nesi and Hammarstrom (sorry, Wolf!).

Dear all, this month has been busier than usual and it’s only now that I get around to writing about this wonderful performance! Sorry all about the delay, it’s the madness of everything, work and fun, amping up at the same time, so I ended up running from one to the other, like a headless but musical chicken.

There are two things about Halle: it seems it’s always unbearbly hot in June (like 30C and up, plus humidity) and the Ulrichskirche is inescapable. Other than that = fabulous.

Early June is too early for London to get that hot-busy, so for me it was a bit of a shock to the system (we’ve updated ourselves to Summer heat since, especially this week). It’s now one of those memories, very akin to childhood ones, of thadieu, Agathe and I walking up the tram tracks in the scorching sun, in an effort to get to the road we needed to be on for the airbnb. I have a vague feeling we complicated our lives a bit but that’s what fun memories are made of!

We quickly took showers and then headed off for some before-the-show grub. Once again, Halle was deader than a Dodo. We speculated some but our host came to the rescue and revealed the dark secret: everyone and their cat was out at the beach. Yes, thanks to the river, there is such a thing even this deep inland. Indeed, on the way to grub we ran into people with beach bags. Apparently the locals were expecting thunder storms with their lunch but seeing as how those got postponned, people took the opportunity to roast themselves in the sun and cool themselves in the Saale river. We thought maybe next year we should make it a longer trip and avail ourselves of the beach as well.

This nice banner was nailed to the venue’s wall.

As you can imagine with this cast, there is very little more one can want musically aside from less humidity. The singers braved 30C for 4 hours, which is one of the most commendable efforts I’ve yet witnessed with my opera. And they sang well, too! I don’t know how they did it. True, water bottles were consumed throughout and there was liberal fanning – of your colleague, as well, which only made it all more congenial and down to earth (although by that I don’t mean to say singers should endure these temperatures day in, day out). The ladies singing ladies at least wore dresses, but Nesi had on a frock and Hallenberg a suit – whew!

Though everyone’s Baroque chops are superior, this was hands down Hallenberg’s show. The Energiser Bunny had nothing on her. She just merely spun really complicated arias and probably would’ve still gone on into the night, with an ease and cheerfulness that still looks amazing even after you’ve seen her several times.

Aspromonte was a bit of a revelation to me, as I hadn’t quite felt her in Vivaldi. I know everyone else praised her, but there you go. Here, though, and in a Vagaus-like trouser role at that, she sounded very good and enthusiastic, with enough energy throughout to match her experienced colleagues. It was very sweet of Hallenberg to give her a friendly push onto the stage when Aspromonte’s Alceste had to sing right after a bring-down-the-house aria by Teseo.

As Giulia noted (in her account of this performance), Arianna fits Gauvin’s voice really well (it sits at that not very high spot where her voice is at its most beautiful) and she threw in some cool and interesting ornaments in that bigger, more furious aria Arianna has (sorry if I’m not very well acquainted with the opera – most of Arianna’s arias are somewhat anguished but there is one that has kick to it).

opera goers approaching Ulrichskirche (just around that O2 corner)

This was the first time I heard Nesi and Hammarstrom live and they both lived up to their respective names. I was a bit irked when Emelyanychev, who had been thus far very accomodating to his singers (especially Gauvin, who strikes me like the kind of woman who will work out the best deal for herself 😉 which is a good thing!), all of a sudden let the horns loose on a particularly rambunctious Tauride aria.

Now the thing is, Tauride seems to have all the horn arias (which is also a good thing – we need more horn arias), so it was more than once that Nesi’s very solid low notes were swallowed by the combined efforts of the horns and Ulrichskirche acoustics. Most of us know that Nesi has one of the most reliable chest registers among mezzos, one of the very few mezzos who can sing Holofernes without sounding like the ship is sinking. So I wanted to hear those notes! Anyway, her singing was excellent and she has this sort of cool but badass aura to her that is unique.

Hammarstrom is a very different singer, rather reserved in manner and with a lyric piangency to her equally reliable chest register. Though she’s a Bradamante veteran, here she sang a girly-girl (Teseo’s ex?), who’s eventually whisked off by Alceste for the happy ending (we joked that Alceste and Carilda return for the finale after a lengthy period, in which one could only imagine what is happening).

Wolf seems to be a veteran of Halle bass(-baritone?) roles and he sounded good here too, putting some fear into Arianna (is he her dad?). I’m low on details but the gist of this particular Arianna story is she’s in trouble (with the Minotaur?) and Teseo flies to her/her people’s rescue, they fall in love, there’s some typical Baroque drama with exes and rivals but they finally get married or whatever the equivalent was in Creta back then. This story does not hint at all at what will happen in Naxos, all is Teseo ❤ Arianna here.

the plaza in front of the local opera is undergoing massive contruction. But the fountain is still functional!

Speaking of an opera that isn’t very often performed, the team made it flow seamlessly for 4 hours, which is another excellent achievement. I could quite see how without a cast, orchestra and conductor of this level it could flag. Really looking forward to hear Emelyanychev and Il Pomo d’Oro later this year, under better acoustic conditions.

About two thirds into the show thunder and lightning arrived in Halle but by the time the show ended we were actually happy for some rain. So we, joined by Giulia since intermission, ran around a bit, looking for a place to sit down and chat and possibly eat/drink something.

Now this was 11:30pm on a Sunday morning and the centre of Halle had, as far as we could see, about 2 1/2 places still open. We finally chose a shisha bar, of all things, only because it looked like it was gonna be open indefinitely and had room to sit. The bar staff were actually cool and turned off the awful music on offer, though whether that was for our benefit or because it was late I can’t tell. But I for one really appreciated the effort and we went on chatting for a good while into the night.

ps: sorry, Giulia, I said I didn’t have any pictures from the curtain call – turns out I did have this one and it somehow got lost amidst all the other 2018 opera trip ones.

a nice shady spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

evidence that young people like opera, too.


  1. you just know he would call women females

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

There is something in the air: the summer festival season

Before I go into details about Halle and Glyndebourne, I wanted to share this aria I ran into yesterday (after looking up Galou’s version of Quel torrente…, which tends to get cut but Christie didn’t (yay!)) and I was very taken with it. Six degrees: it’s from Halle Handel Festspiele 2010.