Category Archives: mezzos & contraltos

Cantiam, cantiam, Lucano!

A propos of nothing, except I wanted to re-listen to this somewhat curious scene. Observe how back then it was done of peep show-style and now it’s all fluid sexuality. Let’s do a then and now – sorry for the bad quality video (then and now):

THEN

NOW

PS: just in case you thought the “blubber of love” in the background was something sprung out of Lauwers’ mind (also sorry for the tenor not staying in tune):

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Marie-Nicole Lemieux looks for that mythical place (Wigmore Hall, 2 November 2018)

My first encounter with Lemieux was via my favourite Vivaldi aria:

Having to pass the test of a favourite is the tallest order for a anyone but she did it brilliantly. Since then I’ve kept an eye out for her stops in London. I eventually saw her as the Sphynx in Enescu’s Oedipe, testimony to her wide-ranging repertoire.

She didn’t sing this last night, but that aria is a surprisingly good example of her temper. She actually is like that in a recital.

MNL to late comers: (signals to Vignoles) let’s stop for a moment and greet the new arrivals. Please, take your seats.

MNL to people who haven’t turned their phones off: you have two seconds to turn it off.

MNL to people who rush out before the encores: bye-bye, see you soon!

Hahaha! What a heroine! Others (who had come on time, stayed until the end and had turned off their mobiles) enjoyed the attitude so much, the applause started to materialise at random times, which resulted in MNL requesting for people to applaud at appropriate times. Haha! That being said, she gave us a very sweet and emotional thank you in the end, so she clearly did appreciate people who were into the performance.

ps: I really enjoyed her choice of jewellery – black squares for the German rep, and silver “chainmail” for the French.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux contralto
Roger Vignoles piano

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kennst du das Land? Op. 98a No. 1
Lied der Suleika Myrthen Op. 25

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Der Musensohn D764
Ganymed D544
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Wonne der Wehmut Op. 83 No. 1
Die Trommel gerühret Op. 84 No. 1

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)
Harfners Lied
Über allen gipfeln ist Ruh

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Goethe Lieder
Blumengruss
Frühling übers Jahr
Kennst du das Land

Interval

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
L’albatros

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Chant d’automne Op. 5 No. 1

Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
Les hiboux

Gabriel Fauré
Hymne Op. 7 No. 2

Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956)
La mort des amants

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Le jet d’eau
Recueillement

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
L’invitation au voyage
La vie antérieure

Encore:
more Goethe one of which was Connais-tu le pays?

So much vitality! And a surprising amount of cheerful songs; most singers have a tendency to take themselves very seriously in these recitals – which might just be their personality and we probably love them exactly for that – but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be funny and silly and show off your technique and understanding of the text at the same time.

I really liked the German songs, rather surprisingly, since usually if there is a selection of French and German and the singer is French, I’ll go for the French chanson – but somehow I felt the German stuff fit her better. How unusual! I don’t know if I’m right, because there was of course nothing wrong with the French stuff. Perhaps the juxtaposition oomphed the German material, which had more Lebenslust, dare I say, whereas the French songs were more languid (Le jet d’eau, for instance; though Les hiboux was very cool and so was Chant d’automne1). But, considering she returned to Goethe for the encores, it’s clear she enjoys the German rep a lot.

I was further surprised how much time she spent in the top region of her voice. She went from very conversational, typical “lieder singing”, to booming for effect (better turn that phone, off, buddy 😉 ) and from the top to very secure (but not super low) bottom on enough occasions but on the whole was more mezzo than contralto, not that’s a bad thing. There is a reason my mezzos-and-contraltos section is labeled thus. I also enjoyed her and Vignoles’ communcation with each other, which added to the charged allure of the evening.

Between Galoumisù two weeks ago and Lemieux last night, the French connection has been happily reestablished.


  1. I don’t know if this is about “pitting” Goethe and Baudelaire, because in literature I did enjoy Baudelaire a lot sooner than Goethe. To be fair, I have been behind in re-reading the classics in recent times… I won’t say “I didn’t have time” because that is a shitty/laughable excuse; I simply did not return to the readings of teenage years. 

Semiramide visits her true home (Gran Teatro La Fenice, 25 October 2018)

Teatro La Fenice – it’s all about the logo

You can’t go to a theatre like La Fenice and not think about its history. Staying true to the name, it resurfaced after three fires (1774, 1836 and 1996). What we see today is the house re-opened in 2004. So it’s both old and new. You may think it’s big because it has that compact design, but although the horseshoe is packed with seats, the stalls don’t go far back. The capacity is a mere 1126, according to Wiki. And yet, some of the operas now played with big orchestras in massive houses have premiered here1. Top belcanto WS favourites were first mounted here: Tancredi, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, as well as Semiramide itself.

Before we arrived for the very late 7pm2 start time, thadieu and I roamed the streets without much planning aside from 1) must have dinner some time before the opera and 2) must have gelato sooner rather than later. That eventually turned into an obsession for yours truly: find the 2 Euro 2 scoop gelato or else! You see, gelato gets more expensive the closer you get to the TripAdvisor sanctioned areas (all of sestiere San Marco, Ponte Rialto etc.). Tip: get your gelato early on (ie, closer to the bus station). I think I drove thadieu a bit mad with my stubbornness but cheap gelato was eventually found, eagerly consumed and then all was serene again 😉

We had a leisurely dinner of seafood at a Mom and Pops restaurant in a very quiet neighbourhood somewhere near the Arsenal. After that we strolled back with enough time to do some touristy shopping at the Fenice shop. It’s rather well stocked! They do La Fenice bags for 12 Euros and La Fenice t-shirts (off white, navy, black and red) for 19.99 Euros or thereabouts. There are magnets, cards, pencils, lots of books and CD/DVDs as well. We got the t-shirt – thadieu in navy and yours truly in red. You know I also got one of the magnets.

Teatro La Fenice – hall from top to bottom; everything enclosed, except for the stalls

After getting our La Fenice fan fill, it was already time for the opera. As we were walking up the very cosy stairs I kept thinking “this is our floor” but thadieu just knew we had a long climb to our loggione seats. As with Teatro Malibran, the trick is to get first row in your area, no matter how high or low you’re sitting. We had seats in the central block of the top loggione and aside from an unfortunate pole (old school design…) – which could, in the end, be negotiated – we had excellent views. Ok, you had to lean forward a bit due to lights and railing, but nobody actually sat behind us3, so we didn’t have to worry about blocking someone’s view and we even stood for the most interesting duets/ensembles. The party in the loggione is very friendly, as is the Upper Amphi at ROH, the very top in Munich or at Theatre des Champs Elysees. It’s also mostly locals (of which there were plenty on the bus back to Mestre as well).

The orchestra were already busy tuning up. We noticed our main timpanist was a lady and she did a very good job during the night.

the spectre, dancers, Mitrane, Oroe, Assur, Semiramide, Maestro, Arsace, Idreno, Azema, the spectre’s voice, more dancers

Semiramide: Jessica Pratt
Arsace: Teresa Iervolino
Assur: Alex Esposito
Idreno: Enea Scala
Oroe: Simon Lim
Azema: Marta Mari
Mitrane: Enrico Iviglia
L’ombra di Nino: Francesco Milanese
Conductor: Ricardo Frizza | Choir and Orchestra of La Fenice
Director: Cecilia Ligorio

The production looked to me “modernised Pizzi”, which turned out to be fine. It’s “generic period opera” costumes, with some black vs white business for the dancers/Semiramide or Assur’s attendants. As the opera progressed, Assur’s outfit morphed into “generic Bond bad guy” (ie, black and pretty tight). Arsace, who has been brought up to believe he’s Scythian, wears “generic BC foreign dude” wear, in other words “stuff put together to confuse sophisticated Babylonians” (a cow patch cape, two-tone wide leg trousers, platform shoes4 and a beret). None of this motley stuff detracts from Iervolino’s cuteness in this role ❤ or from her vocal awesomeness. THIS is Arsace.

Semiramide agrees, because in this production it’s pretty clear that these two are getting it on, though initially cute and disciplined Arsace stops Semiramide’s wandering hand before her touch becomes too distracting.

Arsace: I’d die for you [my Queen]!
Semiramide: oh, no, gorgeous, I’d rather you live for me (winks and lounges seductively). Come closer and tell me what you’d do to… I mean for me.
Arsace: like I was saying, I’d die for you! I’m a warrior…
Semiramide: oh, a warrior is exactly what I – by which I mean this empire – need(s). (strokes his thigh) You’re so strong…
Arsace: err, my Queen, I must tell you something…
Semiramide: I know what you’re going to say and the answer is yes! As long as you’re as faithful to me as you’ve been so far you can ask me anything – and I mean anything.

This goes on for a while, wine5 is involved and, well… what’s a young man to do when a beautiful and powerful woman his mother’s age offers him the world (literally and metaphorically)? Azema would have to hold down the fort against Idreno’s wooing by herself for a while. Though after his Ah dov’è, dov’è il cimento? (also known as dude, where’s the cement?!) she too is getting a bit frisky. Lesser known historical titbit: conversations about construction materials were pillow talk back in ye olde Babylonia. I mean did you think the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens built themselves?!

Teatro La Fenice – front of hall

Speaking of which, why is Idreno expecting Semiramide to just give him the keys to the empire? He’s just some dude from India, pretty much on Arsace’s level, except he looks like he’s commanding an army of blingy tailors rather than burly warriors. Semiramide wears her “belcanto diva” dress but we all know belcanto heroines like their men heroic (except for Violetta). I would also say this Arsace is most definitely a man, any ambiguity present is not of the gender kind.

So even though they got pretty well acquainted the day before, Arsace is still stunned when Semiramide makes the big announcement (that she’s passing on the throne to him as well as wants to marry him).

Arsace: shit! How am I going to explain this to Azema?!

Luckily, the spectre of his father gets involved (after all a father should attend his son’s wedding even if he had to bribe Cerberus to get there) and the conversation suddenly turns horror-film style. Trope #1: being mesmerised by weird stuff:

Arsace (to the spectre): I feel compelled to touch you! Can I?

I mean the spectre looks pretty damn well preserved for having been dead for 15 years, except in dire need of a shower – like he’d come down a chimney rather that up a drainage ditch from the world below (come to think of it, this decision is for the best; the production had hinted at it earlier when the sacred fire went out and ashes poured out from the sacred ash plates. Later the temple virgins did a surprisingly poor job at cleaning the floor (what amateurs don’t soak the towels first?!) but let’s not get lost in details like Scala did in his cement).

Teatro La Fenice – pit and front stalls; that’s all!

Oroe is a very congenial high priest but I have a feeling he’s rigged this game from the getgo, namely he made sure the basement’s (is, burial chamber’s) electrical instalation wasn’t working. The last act boasts that famous trio that goes something like this:

Semiramide: it’s very dark in here, I can’t see my hand. I hope I don’t soil my finery before this ordeal is over.
Arsace: wow, it’s so dark in this basement! Even as a fearless warrior I feel my bowels loosen…
Assur: was it always so dark here? With my luck that stupid spectre will come back and scare me shitless.
All: it’s so dark in here, we’re pooping our pants!

thadieu: someone hand them flashlights already!

We’re lucky this is in flowery, 19th century Italian, thank you very much.

But flashlights do eventually appear, because somehow Oroe’s attendants are able to locate Semiramide and realise she’s been stabbed to death.

Oroe: arrest Assur!
Arsace: …OMG! Who did I stab, then?!

Like, dude…! What kind of army commander of the Babylonian Empire are you, stabbing randomly in the dark?! This production does not give Arsace a stuffed unicorn to hold.

So, after much noodling that didn’t even mention the eyeliner wearing male harem that gets Semiramide hot and bothered whilst she’s singing about how happy she is that sexy stud Arsace is back in town, how was the singing, the conducting and the house band?

Teatro La Fenice – loggione/ceiling detail (we were that high up!)

Let’s start with the conducting: compared with Pappano, Maestro seemed more interested in keeping the forward movement – which he did. Occasionally (the overture, for instance) he turned the corners a bit too abrasively for my taste, where I would’ve preferred more detail/more legato. But 4 hours went fast. The singers were not hampered by the orchestra. The house band sounded good to me, all the solos went without hitch and the instrumental tones were pleasant to the ear.

The singing went like this, from best to not so good: Iervolino, Pratt, Esposito, Lim, with Scala sort of around the corner. Dude started a bit shaky, with some intonation problems and wobble at the very top, which made the cement aria appear unfocused both vocally and dramatically. I loved it when Brownlee sang it but here it seemed to just go on and on. To Scala’s credit, he got it mostly together as the night went on. But he’s not someone I’m in any hurry to hear again. The public loved him.

Both thadieu and I agreed Lim as Oroe has a very warm, secure, rounded bass but he doesn’t have that much to sing. That warmth and rondness made him feel wise and kind dramatically, which fit. Would listen to him again.

Esposito was the night’s revelation to me, as I have been mostly cold toward him until now. This is the smallest house I’ve seen him in, which I’m sure has something to do with it. In this absorbent6 environment and at this size his voice travelled very well and dramatically he was ideal. Maybe I just need to see him in bad dude roles 😉 The only unintentionally amusing moment came when Assur sang about the spectre’s pulling his (Assur’s) hair 😀

Pratt has the belcanto diva down pat, without coming off too cold. I wonder why ROH doesn’t hire her. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’ve enjoyed her excellent technique, ease with coloratura, beautiful, completely unforced – “blooming” (as per thadieu) – top and stylish touches of unfussy softer singing. Thadieu thought she applied too many ornaments but I disagreed. This is Rossini, there is no such thing as too many ornaments7; furthermore, even if you – which is me, quite often, lately – think Rossini did write too many notes, I didn’t feel like that in her case.

I guess thadieu liked JDD’s more psychologically exploratory approach – and certainly her lower notes, which, true, Pratt does not have – but this production is different and this Semiramide is a less conflicted heroine (until the end, where her conflict is more of the “omg, this is my child!” kind) and rather someone who is always trying to do what she has to do without overthinking it (that kind of thinking might’ve got her in this mess in the first place, but she’s a woman in charge of an empire, she can’t vacillate too much).

Even thadieu agreed that once she started interacting with Iervolino’s Arsace she “humanised”. Indeed, their interaction was excellent. I also thought her and Esposito’s Assur worked – something akin to a mutually destructive relationship. I mean, she still has the broader gestures of belcanto acting but within that frame she’s very effective.

That leaves us with Iervolino’s Arsace. Right after the entrance aria, thadieu and I were in agreement:

thadieu: I’m in love!
dehggi: this is perfect!

What can I say? She’s got everything: the whole range, the ease with coloratura, the wonderful warm contralto tone, the eveness from top to bottom and she can act. A pleasure to listen to/watch. Do yourself a favour and book a ticket to see her NOW. We’re lucky to have caught the Iervolino train this early 😀

After the opera finished, staff was eager to go home and pretty much rushed us out, hehe, somewhere in a narrow street at the back or side of the house.

thadieu: should we get the phone out?
dehggi: yes, because who the hell can navigate Venezia in the middle of the night?!

In the end we followed the crowd, comprised of orchestra members and audience, which took us back to Piazzale Roma more or less in no time. I have to say that nighttime walks through Venezia are the most romantic thing ever, even when you’re rushing to get the last bus. I was tempted to risk having to walk back to Mestre on the side of the motorway 😉 I mean, secluded little bridges, with not a soul in sight, Canal Grande in the darkness, the temptation to try and steal a gondola and glide into the night – you get the picture. With full moon to boot.

We passed a bunch of young people being loud with pizza (and beer?) in a piazza and that seemed the most incongruous thing ever to do in Venice.

thadieu: they’re missing a really great performance.

Youth is really lost on the young (I wouldn’t have cared about opera or, indeed, Venezia, when I was that age, either). But there’s a time for everything and right now I can’t wait for another reason to return ❤

ps: more pictures later, I wanted to get the post out.


  1. Ernani, Rigoletto, La traviata and Simon Boccanegra
  2. I don’t know what the deal is with the union in Venice, but Italians in general don’t seem to mind a show going well into the night (see Torino and Napoli). Semiramide is a long opera even with cuts, so our performance finished well after 11pm. 
  3. though people did shuffle around to get better views. 
  4. the Disco era alive and kicking up in the Caucasus! 
  5. and perhaps a bit of GHB… 
  6. kinda like in Munich, this is not a dry acoustics house. 
  7. whether you like it or not. 

Serse with tomato and beans + Galoumisù desert (Barbican, 26 October 2018)

This show could be summed up simply as:

Galoumisù

But it actually was a very entertaining evening even beyond the Galoumisù daydreaming.

A funny thing happened right before the performance started. First, I firmly demanded my seat back from a gent, only to realise I was in the wrong row – because surely I wasn’t sitting in the second row, was I? Yes, I was. I don’t even know how long ago I bought this ticket, possibly last decade 😉 All I remembered was that it was on the left side of the stalls. Well, it turned out I was 2m away from the performers, and judging by Anik’s curtain call picture from TADW, just where Galoumisù would be positioned. I just now realise that was her position at curtain call but hey! wishful thinking can work in your favour (she didn’t wear the pumpkin dress but the steel-purplish one was backless fine as well).

Lady in front row: this is row B! Everything is confusing in this hall!
Gent sitting next to me in row C: this building is designed to help people get lost. So, come here often?
dehggi: [haha] yes, all the time! What brought you here this evening?
Gent row C: actually, I’ve a soft spot for Galou.
dehggi: !!!!!!

Now THAT is the way to chat dehggi up 😀 After a bit of Galoumisù fan…personing, we realised we were from the same neck of Eastern Europe. What are the odds?!

Franco: Santa Maria della Salute is not where we’re singing this! But I had a premonition dehggi would go to Venice around the same time so I insisted we use this image…

Serse: Franco Fagioli (aka, the beans)
Arsamene: Vivica Genaux
Amastre: Delphine Galou (aka, Galoumisù)
Romilda: Inga Kalna
Atalanta: Francesca Aspromonte
Elviro: Biagio Pizzuti
Ariodate: Andreas Wolf (uncredited by the Barbican site (bad Barbican!) but there are like 3 Handel basses doing the rounds these days)
Conductor: Maxim Emelyanychev | Il pomo d’oro (aka, pomodoro = the tomato)

There was a high level of involvement from everyone, down to curtain call antics (Aspromonte singlehandedly1 clearing up some music stands for access to the front of the stage, Genaux trying to sneak her music book back and Galoumisù graciously handing it to her, Genaux mocking Aspromonte’s pulling up her dress so she could walk faster, Pizzuti giving his (real) bouquet to the string player he’d pestered as Elvira, the fake florist etc.).

I finally saw Fagioli act! Now Serse is a role where he can be himself 😉 The endless rows of ornamenti and consummate self absorption fit Serse to a t (or to an s). Even him walking off stage after every aria, regardless of drama around him fit, because it falls right into Handel’s intended mockery of everyone’s melodrama.

I love the structure of this opera even more than I love the arias per se. The Serse-trademark speech interrupted by singing interrupted by speech interrupted by more singing feels so fresh and modern (or Neapolitan, perhaps?). Go Papa Handel! I love how he lavishes great tunes for only a minute or so and isn’t afraid to go back to Spechgesang all I’m playin’ wid’ya! All of the characters are made fun or – and in turn make fun of others. I love how characters just pop up when it’s convenient for them to do so –

Romilda (supposedly alone): oh, Serse, that tyrant!
Serse (cheerful): anyone mention my name?

[much later on:]

Romilda (when she’s run out of sensible arguments against Serse’s pestering): ok, my lord, it will be as you wish!
Arsamene (supposedly not in the room):  ok, my lord, it will be as you wish! So much for your ardently professed faithfulness!

Before we go forward, let’s talk a bit about Fagioli, the star of the night. Now that I sat so close and after we have discussed him at length, I can see the vibrato and I can feel the tension – indeed it’s so great, half the time I’m afraid he’ll blow a gasket. Singing doesn’t have to look like a Strong Man competition. But it can and in his case it sure does. I’m also amused about his stance, which is always on the verge of Olé!

His acting was much more involved than usual and with flashes of comedic brilliance, especially when dismissing others (which Serse does a lot) or “wooing” Romilda (who knew he had it in him?!) but the ornamenti felt a bit noodly and, as much as he can do it, I’ve heard more sparkling Crude furies. Perhaps unfair of me to say that, as it comes so late in the game, but maybe if he didn’t pack so much tension from the start… Ombra mai fu felt like his best moment of the night, vocally. Or it’s just me always connecting to his softer singing

The public loved him, of course, but I’ve seen him so many times now that, as earwormopera once said about JDD,

Is there such a thing as awesome fatigue? I’ve heard DiDonato live quite a few times now, and I think I may be chasing the dragon, in a sense that she’s as good as she always is, but I’m so used to it that it doesn’t stun me as much as it did the first time.

So I have a feeling this would be a good point to call it a day as far as following Franco. Blaze of glory and all that.

What with all the excitement about other characters, Kalna’s Romilda got less applause than she should have. She did some fine juxtapositions of quiet and loud singing that showed great control and her voice is as flexible as ever. Romilda is one of those costante amante that have endless woe is me, I’m so oppressed but I will stay true to my principles arias and get energetic only once in the last act (right about the time she gets annoyed at Arsamene for not trusting her after all this effort, bless her heart), which was the one time she also got deserved applause. The woman is very versatile and underrated.

Genaux, Galoumisù and Aspromonte were kickin’ it in heels. When you sit so close to the stage you have ample opportunity to ponder on singers’ walking gear, which is level with your nose (or, if you’re particularly short, your hairline). I don’t think you’ll be surprised if I told you Galoumisù wins the stiletto competition. How she skips around in them I don’t know, but they are spiky, high and stylish as all getout. Let me take a(nother) minute to

Ok, back to women’s oppressive footwear. Genaux’s Arsamene was going for that Goth look where men wear leather, heels and eyeliner – or she was just taking the men right out of Arsamene. The shoes weren’t bad, consisting of a patch of black leather (also worn at TADW), but Galoumisù’s silver bead pair to accessorise the purplish dress was in a different class altogether. Aspromonte wore a pair of practical white pumps, which was why she could “roll up her sleeves” and organise the music stands 😉 We don’t know what Kalna wore under the turquoise dress.

Genaux is Genaux and although I doubt I’ll ever be a fan, Arsamene sits well for her, plus she can act and seems to have a sense of humour that she can adapt to the chumminess that usually runs through Baroque specialist circles.

As the night went on, I came to a conclusion on the issue I have with Aspromonte, who has so far been a very reliable performer if uneven at hitting that emotional spot with me (best fit: the trouser role of Alceste in Arianna in Creta). As far as I’m concerned, Atalanta is one of those roles owned by Piau. Aspromonte’s voice is less light, so the impishness does not come out of her vocal delivery alone. Atalanta is a very young and cunning girl, who has the guts to compete with her older sister for love and the selfishness to use any means necessary to get the man when he’s not responding to her wiles. Amusingly, her plans get thwarted by adults who aren’t as easy to manipulate as she thinks they are. Aspromonte is good and very convincing dramatically, especially in that girlish pink dress.

Pizzuti as Elviro was a riot at Elvira, as he needed to be. Elvira the florist’s entrance was hilariously loud and garish, smack dab into Amastre’s heartfelt moaning about being betrayed by her adored Serse. That’s what I’m talking about! While we’re at it, you gotta love the piss taken out of opera disguises, what with Elviro’s hastily applied head scarf and super obviously fake woman’s voice or Amastre’s equally fail “en travesti”, which consisted of a long-ish and clashingly unstylish coat on top of her very “royal” dress. We could totally believe she was a warrior forged in the heat of battle! Haha.

Then we have Wolf’s Ariodate, opera’s most amiable army commander. He’s basically there to say yes, Your Highness! and confuse matters at THE crucial moment of the opera. Plus he’s been in charge of the Most Badass Bridge of the Ancient World, to link Asia with Europe and crown Serse’s ambitions at conquering the world. Both Elviro and Amastre take pot shots at the bridge’s reliability. Is there nothing sacred in this libretto, you will ask? Nothing, gentle reader, nothing.

Except Amastre’s gorgeousness. Are you ready for more eyelash batting? OMG. So you know how she usually doesn’t get applause because contralto or something – possibly the narrow beam effect2. But this time I was determined to rectify this, so as soon as Amastre’s vengeange aria finished and she started to walk away I wrestled the clapping right out of the audience (I’ll be sending in my application to the Strong Person contest, too). So she actually turned around and gave us a little curtsy and me (I hope it was me) her cheeky smile. Dehggi = in love!

gentle readers: wait a minute, dehggi, you’ve been batting the eyelashes at Galou’s altar for how long now?
dehggi: since March 2015. Your point? Love needs to be tended to on a daily basis.

fellow Galou fan: she has such an exquisite voice.
dehggi: where do you think Galoumisù comes from? And I love her manner of singing, though I still don’t quite know how to characterise it. There’s something she does with sound that’s very cool; it’s not simply beautiful singing, it’s sculpted sound (from my Giulio Cesare in Vienna review: […] timing and interactions with the orchestra – the way she got in and out of the phrase and how that blended with the sound around her).
fellow Galou fan: in my opinion she’s very beautiful.
dehggi:

But I was actually talking about Andreas Wolf as Ariodate, right? You don’t remember that? Well, I was. I like his voice a lot, one of those flexible basses that can cope with Baroque coloratura without forcing the gates at the Strong Man contest (yes, I know, this post is all about English breakfast, Italofrench desert and the Strong Man contest. I’m trying to tell it like it is).

I know a lot of people really dig on Emelyanychev’s antics but to me he’s equally as ready to join the Strong Man contest as Mr Argentinian Bean. He looks like he’s wrestling the sound out of his very talented string players, to the point it made me wonder if, left to their own devices, they’d suddenly feel lost at sea and end up sounding like Disarmonia. That being said, 4 hours pass like nothing under his care and his singers are greatly taken care of, especially our evening’s beans on toast, whom he was setting up to soar. What can I tell you about the Attack of the Baroque Tomatoes? That string sound is sweet and they can roque without sounding like they’re trying hard to be cool. But to be honest, sitting on a side I don’t think I got the best of their abilities, except for the strings on the left that I keep mentioning and which healed the still lacerating wounds caused by… that which shall only be named once in this paragraph.

Moral of the story: a) the very front is for getting the best out of the singers, stay further back for the band, b) talk to your neighbours, they might be your real life neighbours, c) someone two people over to my right was – very obviously – recording the show so it could surface somewhere. I wanted to talk to her about it but my neighbour distracted me. Oh, well, sometimes pleasant memories are better than overly scrutinised reality 😉

But since I failed to bring the camera along when sitting smack dab in front of the stage, let me leave you with a shot of the general area of where I think Franco is (supposedly) twirling in the above poster, as seen from Santa Maria della Salute:

San Giorgio Maggiore with lighthouse, blue skies and really warm sun


  1. how often does the soprano do menial work?! 
  2. aka, small, forward concentrated voice (= the laser of gorgeousness). 

Versatile mezzo appreciation post or Lucia Cirillo vs the sea

You can’t love Baroque opera and not be particularly soft on rough sea arias:

Do I need to remind you that, earlier this year, Cirillo was the unabashedly hedonistic Alcina in Vivaldi’s Orlando, at the wonderful Teatro Malibran in Venezia (where else?!)? I don’t think so. But you can still catch it on Culturebox, if you haven’t already done so.

PS: Yes, y’all, a very post-lazy month is nearing its end (don’t forget to change your clocks tonight, lest you show up one hour early to wherever you’re going tomorrow 😉 ), and that means I’m cramming it like a student on exam week. But let me take this opportunity to thank all who have nevertheless read the blog, even though there were only two new posts.

One more for Tito: Simionato’s S’altro che lacrime

Giulietta Simionato is one of my (few) favourite Romeos but I just found today – whilst researching the state of Tito nowadays – that she’s ended her illustrious career (willingly) singing… Servilia in La Scala’s small hall. File it under odd choices to go out on. It’s interesting, but more like how Annio would sing it (obviously):

ps: don’t get excited, it’s not her singing Non piu di fiori later – though it would’ve been cool for her to sing Vitellia, however she apparently made her decision late in the game (every other role was taken). So, yes, La Scala allowed Tito about 90 years ago – in the small hall, mind.

Live from Wigmore Hall: Dame Janet Baker in conversation

Check it out tomorrow, 30 September, on Wiggy’s livestream. It’s at 3pm London time, so it might be a bit weird, but I believe it will also be rather interesting, especially for mezzo fans 🙂 I’ll be around, from the comfort of my lounge, and will give a bit of a running commentary in this very post, if everything goes the way it should 😉

So, here I am. Janet Baker and Simon Callow talk about her seeing Lotte Lehman at Wiggy in the late ’50s, who came in her hat and gloves, which stopped Baker in her tracks. Apparently Lehman was very intimidating, including to the young Baker, who found her teaching style lacking in spontaneity, having to do everything exactly the same way Lehman wanted. Baker felt greatly inhibited by this. She wondered about the generation gap being similar today.

Callow: who did she admire at that time in her time? Sena Jurinak.

Acting: connecting with the thoughts of the character = both agree. As the narrator in the church nativity play, she felt very serious about it and also “in charge” of the play, and being confident she was “right” in what she was doing, unlike the others in the play 😉

Words and music: as important as each other.

Friends play teddybear picnic on the piano = reprehensible 😉

(Certain) rubbish church songs vs Bach = no contest 😉

G&S = also terrible, haha. Reacted strongly to “quality as she saw it” since a young age. She’s since changed her mind about G&S. All great but she’s never wished to sing it herself 😉

Voice: teachers apparently could tell she had a good voice by age 11, as per a school friend, she’s quite surprised how anyone could tell so early on.

Callow: says she realised early on that she had a responsibility towards her talent (to nurture it); a sense of destiny = she agrees. Baker: surely you felt the same way? Callow: nope. he loved theatre but her no experience with training. Wrote to Laurence Olivier about the wonderful theatre he was running and LO wrote back, inviting him to work at the box office 😉 not too bad! Would this ever happen today? Very unlikely. CV >>> enthusiasm for any medium.

She thinks she was very “gullible” when she was told not to sing for two years. Callow thinks she was way disciplined for a young person. This was when her voice was changing from high soprano to mezzo.

Both acknowledge luck, as they met people without “shopping around” for teachers etc. and the choices one makes (having a children and family etc.).

Talks about her Austrian teacher (see also: the conversation with JDD). She really enjoyed lieder, which was what her teacher specialised it. She says she enjoyed singing in German, German language in general and the love of words developed further. She was also singing in the Glyndebourne Chorus at the same time = she says it was luck that all came at the same time.

Acting

Callow: how was she so naturally in character? Baker: mind/heart/body coming together = acting. Callow: not all actors have that either – after 3 years in drama school, he was able to say convincingly “My lord, the carriage awaits!” 😉 Baker: John Copley and Peter Hall taught her to act as far as “the mechanics” go. Callow: says she can transform with a minimal amount of makeup (specifically in Les Troyens). No generalised rush of emotion. Baker: Peter Hall said she was dangerous because she took risks (don’t we love that 😀 ). She says she doesn’t teach beginners because she wants to dig deeper when acting, because at that point you need to expose yourself, which she acknowledges is a lot to ask, but it’s necessary (as a good actor) and it never bothered her. She thinks it’s because of how she cares so much about the power of words so she just goes with whatever is required by said words. Callow: he was surprised how the very big emotions fit the limits of her voice. Baker: trusted her solid technique, practiced every day, before whatever she sang, though it was tiresome, so she didn’t have to worry about it later. Lucky she had teachers who suited her. Because of this she was able to focus on her acting on stage. She worked for 30+ years busy all the time.

On retirement: relief! Not having to wake up and sing. She says younger singers coming up and having their turn = natural. Likens her singing to raising children – at one point you have to let it go.

Baker: as actors, do you learn discipline to see you through? Callow: yes, physical and vocal (dancing, singing = to warm up). The attitude towards voice in theatre changed in recent years. Voice = no longer considered for its expressive qualities. Actors are increasingly wearing microphones. Body becomes slacker and less expressive – physical excitement lessens. Diction, rhythm = not so important today. With actors it’s not just the voice = talent, it’s a bundle of things (personality, physical package). Doing 8 shows a week = needs good character (mental stamina) to do it 8 shows a week for 3, 6, 12 months at a time or 40 takes on a movie set. The challenge = to keep the reality of it. Acting = “images of destiny”. Baker’s Full Circle book = Callow praises it.

Opera productions: respect the composer and libretist. Costumes also important = supports your imagination of who the character is. Critices “busy-ness” on stage (I agree!). Callow: opera is ahead of theatre in experiementalism. Seems ambivalent about many different angles but no Wagner with urinals. Midsummer Night’s Dream in a box = ok, thinks it worked.

Farewell: Orfeo handing the lyre back. Chorus gave it back to her 😉

El Tito de Villazon (DG, 2018)

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

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

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

Act I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act I finale

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

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

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

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

Act II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act II finale

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

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


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

Hurrah, new Tito recording with Villa… wait, what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schwing! Haha.

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

Tara Erraught making much of Annio

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

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

I can hear it already!

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

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

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

Those who don’t agree with us… write their own blog posts

Venice will vanish into the sea and Salzburg will slide into Salzach 😉 until then, enjoy another shot of the festival area, now from the other side.

After a 3 week honeymoon with like-minded thoughts and the work itself, the time has come to read other opinions on Poppea (yes, I know, the world has moved on by I have not. It’s Tito month and I’m still stuck in Rome one generation before that story).

For kicks I also listened to Karajan’s trainwreck in the meanwhile and came out with further thoughts: the chap singing Seneca survived best, mostly because his voice was the most suited to the role and because he either made the most effort to sound Monteverdian or he actually had an idea about what that enticed. A contralto Arnalta is usually not a good idea; neither is a tenor Valletto (same thing with the Enescu Festival Poppea; it’s a Cherubino character, leave it to women; never heard a CT in it but worse comes to worst I’d rather hear one than a tenor).

But back to 2018:

Jan Lauwers’s first opera production may be accounted a significant success: alive to theatre, its possibilities and impossibilities, its illusions and delusions. (from A Highly Successful Production of L’incoronazione di Poppea in Salzburg)

If a spinning marathon = alive to theatre then yes.

I heard a good few objections – nothing wrong with that in itself, of course – which, sadly and revealingly, seemed to boil down to that perennial bugbear of ‘too much going on’. By definition, ‘too much’ of something will be a bad thing – although sometimes, perhaps, bad things are required. (from same as above)

When it comes to entertainment too much of boring and illogical isn’t something I want. Bad things can be interesting, not the case here.

Few of the characters in L’incoronazione di Poppea, even Seneca, a somewhat compromised and therefore all the more credible exception, evince scruples in that or any other respect. Sometimes we, sometimes they too, need to ask why, or at least seem to need to do so. It does not, then, seem entirely unreasonable, nor out of keeping with the spirit of this extraordinary work, to attempt something similar. (from same as above)

I’m in agreement with this (though it’s wooly written, so I cleared it up for the reader). Yet I’m not interested in any production telling me why. That’s for each of us to draw from our own experiences with “horrible people”. I’m interested in a production not making things busy for the hell of it. The author seems to imply that simply busy = making us think. On the contrary.

I’m adding a nighttime picture of Salzburg just to make you think (about the smoothness of my new camera)

It is, at any rate, likely to prove more enlightening than simply complaining that ‘too much is going on’. ‘Have you ever seen a Frank Castorf production?’ I was tempted to ask. (from same as above)

What’s that got to do with anything? I have seen this production and it messed with my head for no discernable reason. (Visual) art should speak for itself, not need booklets explaining it1. (Incidentally that Castorf production looks a lot more coherent but I didn’t see it so I won’t be commenting)

The next paragraph is bad writing on the subject of whether or not there is any parallel between Busenello’s libretto and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, psychology (or lack thereof) and whether whatever Accademia deli Incogniti stood for had any bearing on the apparently amoral tone of the libretto. None of it has anything to do with this production so I’ll skip it.

Like staging itself, sometimes they [the dancers] mirror the action, but more often they offer related, alternative paths: a ‘why’, a ‘what if…’, (from same as above)

They do, I guess, but always as a not particularly original or coherent afterthought. First draft?

Throughout history, what has been more pornographic, in any number of senses, than the desire not only to watch but also to write such ‘stories’? Is that not part of what Poppea is? All the while, even whilst we are caught up in its detail, in enjoyment thereof, we, like the selected dancer-in-rotation as focal wheel of fate (Fortuna), know how things will turn out – even if we have forgotten. (from same as above)

Yes to the first part – and I certainly would’ve traded the incessant spinning for more of the reality TV backstage stuff being projected – but can we for once live in the now instead of always thinking about how things turn out? Isn’t that why we indulge in entertainment?

If you’ve ever wondered what’s behind that cliff I kept yapping about.


  1. I’m aware that’s usually what is going on in contemporary art museumes these days but I don’t consider it a good thing.