Category Archives: mezzos & contraltos
There must be a reason why Statira is wearing a blonde wig whilst Argene has on something very much akin to a cycling helmet (everyone knows cyclists are pests!). Ok, so it’s a ropey turban 😉 she still looks ready to mount a bike (considering all the men are steering clear…).
Similarly, there must be a reason why Dario is wearing the same attire as the shadow of Cyro (Saudi style). The other guys simply can’t compete, whether they have the oil or the weapons.
You would think a smart woman like Argene knows 1) what the oracle says goes (whoever marries Statira will rule the empire) so 2) simply tempting Dario away from the blonde won’t do the trick. But it appears she has fallen for him much in the same way men who should know better (Niceno) have gone gaga over Statira. During part I she languishes in bed, mopey because he won’t notice her. But she springs into action as soon as he wanders into her room (as opera characters seem to; to be fair, she promised him her “help” in getting Statira to love him).
Flora: Mylady, Dario is coming, cover yourself so you can receive him!
Argene: better yet, I shall receive him naked! (she lounges, eyes aflutter, legs and bosom exposed – by her time period’s standards; in this production it means the blanket-robe is off).
Dario: any news about Statira?
Argene: still hates you.
Dario: oh, how cruel my fate etc.
Argene: well, there might be others who like what they see when they look at you (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
Dario: that’s nice, but could you possibly talk to Statira again?
Argene: sure, I’ll do all I can. But first help me write a letter, all of a sudden – right about the time you stepped into the room – I became so overcome with emotion my hand has started trembling (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)
Dario: ok. Who’s this letter addressed to?
Argene (gets into his personal space): the man who has conquered my dreams. Write! My sun, light of my days (mega bosom nudge, power eyelash flutter) –
Dario (eyes popping, scoots away): My sun, light of my days… ok, next?
Argene: oh, I’m wasting away for your love! (mega nudge)
Dario: the man of your dreams must be very difficult indeed. Light of my days, oh, I’m wasting away for your love…?
Argene: you didn’t understand anything, did you?
Dario: on the contrary, I understood perfectly.
Dario: remember you said you’ll help me with Statira?
Argene (eyeroll): ok, enough writing. Go, go, I’ll write the name later.
In the meanwhile, Statira is worried about suddenly being pushed into the limelight.
Statira: Flora, what is this commotion all about?
Flora: Mylady, you’ll soon be queen!
Statira: hm. What does a queen do?
Flora: she wears a tiara!
Statira: that’s nice. What else?
Flora: she presides over public ceremonies!
Statira: eh, that sounds tedious. Anything else?
Flora (wink-wink): she does her wifely duties to the king.
Statira: but what are those?
Seriously. Was she raised by wolves? Clearly not, otherwise she wouldn’t be so scared when she gets to the woods. But talk about sheltered. And she’s the older daughter. Reminds me of that joke about the two pious virgins who got married and were still childless a year later (not for lack of trying).
Niceno, who’s supposed to be the token Arabian (nights) philosopher (must have a philosopher at the Persian court, right?), has poured all his emotions into a soulful and finely crafted series of letters to the woman who makes him sigh but who, he has a feeling, might not be returning his feelings. He finally plucks the courage to give Statira the letters. She really gets into the amourous atmosphere and reads aloud with pathos to wistful viola da gamba backing (I have a horribly sneaky suspicion this is a joke on emotionally astute but otherwise dim actors) only at the end to prove she has absolutely no clue about what he’s trying to tell her.
Hey, Mr Bookworm, didn’t you notice by now that she’s Miss Literal? So, in his desperation, though he has pined for her for who knows how long, he makes a terrible pact with Argene, who, apparently (it’s still wink-wink territory, blink and you missed it, though with Galou at the helm you most likely won’t) promises him she will sleep with him if he helps her break the not-yet lovebirds apart. If you can’t have one sister… the librettist’s commentary is clearly that no matter how intellectual or practical the man, none of them likes the smart sister (pfui! back to the kitchen) but will “work” with her if she throws something else into the pot. At some point whilst Statira is once again acting “blonde”, both Niceno and Argene turn to the bottle. That’s a bit like 2017.
Statira soon finds out what her future husband wants from her: her eyes, her hands. Very alarming! The man sounds like a right serial killer 😀 She has a stern/earnest sounding aria (quirky Vivaldi) about how she simply won’t allow that malarkey. Which plays right into the hands of the more practical Arpago and Oronte, who each boasts about their military or admin-y (oil pumping? there’s a dirty joke in there) exploits.
If you think the silly comedy can get tired after a while then more credit to Mingardo who remained funny even after we knew exactly what was coming. Also credit to Vivaldi who has a very clever way of putting silly and extremely catchy together with very beautiful.
After trying his luck in vain, Niceno defects to Argene’s side, “guiding” Statira by telling her each of these young men is worthy of her hand. She promptly promises her hand to both (I guess she quickly got over the fear of literally losing her hand to every man in the country 😉 ). This annoys Dario, who thinks she’s playing hard to get. He vows to take his anger out on his rivals. Now we know the cause of so many bloody battles through history.
Next comes Niceno’s badass bass aria with bassoon obligato (bullseye) along the lines of Tardi s’avvede. That is to say a “wise adviser aria”, in which Niceno cautions Dario that getting irate makes him appear less suave. The youthful looking Mr Bassoon did a solid job and I can assure you youtube doesn’t have a better version than Novaro’s, who has a somewhat similar type of voice to Galou (light but of high density).
I guess the Saudi connection is that Persia was the Saudi Arabia of its time. The Oracle is the West, who always somehow supports the winners in the area, though it pretends not to get involved. Astutely, then, neither the ones who have the oil nor the ones with the guns really win and whoever tries to stand up to the Oracle’s dictums will end up in the “harshest chains” (I really like that bit. Are they the kind with spikes on the inside?).
It only took me several listens and two live performances but I must say the libretto isn’t that bad after all!
On Sunday we made our way back to Piazza Castello, where we could already recognise some people as dressed for the opera. After soaking a bit of the very congenial atmosphere we went up to our box on the other side (left) of the auditorium. Interestingly, the door was locked. We tried other doors and it seemed hit and miss. We noticed others had similar problems, so we made our way to the auditorium to look for an usher.
Suffice to say we sat somewhere central, next to these very nice old ladies, who had upgraded too. This was the last performance of the run and there were empty seats scattered around the venue. But no more cameras.
The sound from the auditorium was very good on both nights, perhaps a bit better on Sunday, when we had prime location. We could hear every singer’s consonants. Finally we could see what we missed stage design-wise on the first night (quite a bit).
You might remember the poster that says “the best voices in Baroque for Dario“. It didn’t lie. Regardless of one’s preference for one singer’s tone or another, Dantone had assembled a gorgeous sounding team indeed. Vivaldi saw to it that everybody had their time to shine and the direction dropped the curtain behind all but the two main ladies to give them centre spotlight at least once and they took the challenge with gusto.
Mameli’s phrasing in particular rivaled the main ladies’, though her role is quite clearly written for “we need to give something to the soprano” reasons. Alinda is Oronte’s ex, who is – as ever in Baroque opera – stalking him and generally putting spanners in his works with amazingly precise timing. She’s stealthy like a ninja and her outfit fits the description.
One has to comment on their very toxic relationship. She’s, as I was saying, a stalker and he is very abusive towards her up until the very end (he even has an aria along the lines of “leave me alone with your fidelity, I’ve moved on”). Yet they are “happily” reunited. Of course, we are led to believe that he’s only discarded her because of his ambitions to the throne, but he is still extremely emotionally abusive throughout. You don’t want to be reunited with someone who’s done that to you. You also might want to stay away from people who are so needy as to take you back unconditionally after repeated abuse. [ / soapbox]
I wasn’t too into Cirillo’s voice until she had a slow (and a bit boring) aria with long lines. Those came out rather nice. Perhaps Oronte’s music isn’t quite that gripping, on top of his character being a selfish dick, so I didn’t get that much out of the whole thing beside said long lines.
There’s that bit of sparring roughly in the middle, between Arpago’s soldiers and Oronte’s techies, which I guess makes less sense in reality than in this production. It reminded me of the military parade in the Aix Tito in that the sparring people shout at every move. For my money it was a bit slow but entertaining enough, moreso because all involved were women.
I was – predictibly – more excited when Argene pulled a gun on Arpago at the end and then even turned it on Dario himself. That Dario just plucked it away was, as thadieu already mentioned, less climatic, especially since he had not, at any point in the production, looked like much of a warrior (rather like middle management). Pointing a flashlight at Niceno and repeating back his creepy words at him doesn’t quite count as heroism in my book. Then again, Argene was in love with him and Oronte was hardly helping with his getting cold feet over killing Alinda (why not just throw her in jail?).
Did I mention that Argene, after mistakenly revealing to Dario the plan to get rid of Statira (in a last ditch attempt to get him) decided to get Oronte on her side and as consort? Why not Arpago, the chap without a stalking gf is anyone’s guess (clearly Argene digs administrator types). But after bitching about Oronte and Alinda’s disfunctional relationship I can’t say that any two people in this opera have a healthy relationship, aside from perhaps Dario and Statira, who look like they they’ll work it out.
Thadieu was suggesting a different take on the ending rather than the floppy plucking of the gun. I also thought that Argene’s last line of recit – “Every crime has a punishment” – was one of those Captain Obvious moments that 18th century librettists liked to tack on the ending for moralistic reasons. I’d’ve done away with that and just gone into Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte! The announcement about Galou’s indisposition ran on Sunday as well, but she amped it up for the last show of the run, with an appropriately desperate cry on the last (il mio) furror! And she was hilarious in this super scheming role. I don’t think I’ve seen a more persistent schemer yet, 80% of what comes out of her mouth is post truth fare.
So because thadieu has goaded me enough over the (last) weekend I’ve raked my brains for my own description of Galou’s voice – as I feel it. Thus far I basked in an ah, so smooth! cloud every time I heard her, unusually not needing further word-anchoring. But after the “beam of light” analogy I thought I agreed but not quite. Then I listened a bit and right after this version of Quel torrente1 it hit me:
Luscious mascarpone cheese layered with espresso-soaked sponge fingers, with a touch of cognac or brandy.
Also known as tiramisu. Light (weight) and dark (colour) and soft and heady (and often humorous). I think the way she approaches singing is more impressionistic than architectural/visual, so too much analysis won’t leave you any more knowledgeable than the moment it hits you (or doesn’t). The sound just brushes you in passing, disolves almost instantly and you’re not quite sure if you’ve imagined it or if it was real. For instance it this bit of Stabat mater the sound just envelopes you much like darkness itself would. It’s there but it’s kinda not. Very poetic. Then for a return to Vivaldi, just check out the smile in the voice and general impishness in this cutest of arias (Io sembro appunto quell’augelletto; my mum was right after all, it is birds and flowers/leaves 😉 ). The delay in posting this was partly due to my spending a fair bit of time fawning over this charming aria.
On that note we should perhaps move on to Mr Dario, sung here by Mr Belcanto Tito. Allemano’s larger (and darker) voice makes a fine contrast to the others and sets him apart as “big boss”, though the role itself is pretty congenial. He more or less waltzes in without fantastic credits like Arpago and Oronte and gets the throne with the help of personal charm (un bel viso) and a few good decisions, like the one where he pretends to take Argene up on her offer, simply to find out where Statira might be. Allemano’s not a bad actor at all, looking a bit dorky here and showing good comedic skills (especially when Argene is – unsubtly – trying to put the moves on him). He copes well with the coloratura demands and has that typical Italian tenor smoothness when it comes to languid arias.
Though affable on both days, the public was more animated on Sunday and they also applauded different arias (the Sunday crowd liked Galou better 😉 – her “instant double manipulation” moment got (very deserved) applause too, whilst the Saturday one really loved Tomasoni (I also thought her big aria was done especially flashy on Saturday); thadieu felt she was trying to steal the show but I think she was simply making the most of her time on stage, given she is very young. It would have been very difficult to upstage the main ladies, though the public – and pretty much everyone else – seems to adore Mameli; I’m not all that taken with her tone, though, like I said, her artistry is very fine. Everybody was happy with Mingardo on both nights, though I think the giggles were louder on Sunday).
A large bunch of people took a delibrate selfie with the big Dario sign. Just to the far side of the collonade was a couple of buskers who drew a pretty good crowd singing what sounded like vaguely traditional Italian music. In Piazza Carignano a chap was singing The Ring of Fire, which struck me as very odd after the opera, but there you go.
That was our first experience of seeing Italian opera in Italy. I hope they hang on to the Vivaldi Festival, as there are more good things to see from him and I – in case it wasn’t clear – I really liked Teatro Regio. Just not the far boxes. Sounds from the chat after the radio broadcast that there will be reasons to return, as the Baroque project is mainstay at Teatro Regio. Also interesting from the chat is what Dantone says about Dario‘s place in Vivaldi’s oeuvre, due to the ascendence of opera buffa. Though he thinks that Vivaldi’s operas are usually harder to stage (back then it was apparently left to the singers to improvise in opera seria), this one, because of the commedia dell’arte influence, is a lot easier. As we know, Vivaldi, though very successful in his youth, died in poverty, because of changing trends he couldn’t buck. Dantone also says he was happy with the Teatro Regio musicians who were interested in the language of Baroque, though their usual repertoire is the typical late 19th century fare… etc.
And, yes, this post better be posted. I might tweak it a bit in the coming days (too many pictures to choose from!), I spent to much time playing with that curtain call picture…
- not that I’m going to convince TADW who’s already decided to have her sing Cornelia. ↩
Thadieu and I arrived bright and early in Torino on 21 April, after a (very smooth) redeye flight that saw us leave the house at 4am. As per instructions, we went to the train station across from the airport. It was deserted, the ticket machine broken. We went back into the airport looking for another machine, as per the instructions on the broken one, but in the end it turned out the train wasn’t running (don’t ask me why, my operatic Italian only goes so far) and we got bus tickets to the rail replacement instead, with assurance the bus will leave us in the proximity of the Dora Station, where we needed to get in the first place.
But this is a commuter bus and you need to know when your stop is coming up. We, of course, didn’t. We followed it on Google maps but then, at an unknown distance from our stop, the bus made a right turn and crossed the river. Oops. We got off and made our way on foot, which wasn’t bad at all, and it took us to China Town and to that – apparently – famous and very large street market near the Duomo, to thadieu’s delight.
After a very welcome nap (yours truly slept like a hollow log, heard nothing, smelt nothing whilst the host cooked downstairs), we got some tips from our host and went out exploring. The theatre was comfortably close, right outside Regio Parco, through an ivy covered wall and up a short, curved slope. From the outside it looked like all the other buildings lining up the square – all with collonades facing Palazzo Madama. Inside, though, is a modern building. Much to our enjoyment, L’incoronazione di Dario was advertised in immense letters and in various posters.
We ventured into the box office and I picked up a leaflet advertising the local Vivaldi Festival. If there is a Handel Festival – several, in fact – it only makes sense someone somewhere should celebrate the Red Priest 🙂 hopefully every year?
From the leaflet I learned that Galou and Cirillo were singing Vivaldi and JS Bach’s Magnificats with Dantone and the local orchestra and that night!
thadieu: should they be singing three nights in a row?
dehggial: I guess they can!
Whilst we gently wandered around the square, I inched towards wanting to attend the show even if thadieu wanted to get back due to raging allergies and in spite of the fact that we only had one key. But I learned a valuable lesson: the box office closes at 6pm during the week so no greed for dehggial. We also realised they had a Juditha with lesser known singers (including a contralto who sang Holofernes, Abra and Ozias!) on April 19, part of the festival.
To ease the pain 😉 we went and got 2 flavour gelato (€2) and capped the day off with fluffy pizza at a place frequented by locals (suggested by our host). On the way back we marvelled at – and approved – the homely feel of the practical use of window and balcony space.
After a 12 hours sleep (thadieu due to jetlag/allergies, yours truly due to lack of sleep in general) and an amazing racket made by the host’s cat in one of those mad moods, we were ready for the opera! We got there with enough time to leisurely marvel at the venue (selfie time with… everything, but especially the doors, which are very clever and the giant sign advertising Dario – pictures when I get home and also at thadieu’s blog) and realise our tickets actually needed printing. That wasn’t an issue, the staff at the venue/box office were very nice.
We then got to our box – as you can see from pictures of the venue, there is an open plan auditorium and one level of boxes all around. The layout reminds me a bit of Opera Bastille. The views are good from everywhere in the auditorium but not from all the boxes. Namely, not from ours, because the orchestra pit is curved, so I don’t at all recommend the first 6 boxes on the sides, unless you particularly want to see the orchestra – you get the best view in the house for that, and we did make the most of what we had. This production added insult to existing injury by having the singer’s often sing from the back of the stage, so, for instance, Dario’s first aria came to us through the wall, which made for some guessing. We also missed some of the visuals, like late Cyrus’ portrait and half the action during the fight scene.
However, you know we’re always looking to upgrade and I spotted central seats on the row with the camera. Yes, there were cameras in the house so one can hope for possibly a TV broadcast? Ideally a DVD, but who knows how Italian houses do it. Considering the market is not saturated with Dario DVDs and Dantone believes in this cast… in any case, we successfully upgraded to the 8th or so row centre for the second half and we could then see and hear everything.
It would have really been annoying to miss the “contralto in the woods” aria, with Mingardo’s back and forth flights to the back of the stage, because it was absolutely hilarious. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s the moment when Statira, having been tricked by her scheming sister, Argene, is imagining how beautiful the woods with the chirping birds will be when she meets Dario outside city walls. The aria repeats the A section several times and she keeps coming back to the centre of the stage, much to the annoyance of Argene and her paid help, who want her gone already. Suffice to say the aria showed off Mingardo’s artistry both in singing and with regards to comedy. I especially enjoyed a moment where she deliberately allowed the violin centre stage, having varied her dynamics in sorts of ways up to that point.
This is a good moment to mention that thadieu and I (along with Leander and Baroque Bird) saw a performance in London on the 20th, which left us perplexed by the conducting choices. So I was paying special attention to Dantone’s handling of a non-specialised orchestra with Baroque voices. Time and again it was clear that a very delicate touch did the job brilliantly, allowing the singers to vary their dynamics as needed, without being drowned.
However, remember that short convo thadieu and I had upon realising Galou and Cirillo were singing three days in a row? Well…
Teatro Regio announcer: Sra Galou has oversung but will still be with us tonight, just go gently on her.
So she’s not made of teflon, after all 😉 welcome to 40, Sra Galou. Only volume seemed affected, so upgrading helped. The coloratura was there, the silliness of course (Argene is very busy scheming, especially in part two, but all her efforts are thwarted, so she needs to be very resourceful) and the ravishingly beautiful tone as usual. I guess she could vary her facial expressions a bit, there is only so far mischievous winking can go – I say this myself as an abuser of said winking and veteran face puller. But this is an out and out comedy and she, along with everyone else, seemed to have lots of fun. I especially enjoyed the short aria where she manipulates both Dario and Statira and – of course! – the closer, Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte!, when Argene, having been found out, is put in “the harshest chains” yet she boasts she’s not scared at all. We know she’ll be plotting away. Here was where a bit more volume would’ve helped with the shouts of “morte!” but still the legs to was beautiful (< that was autocorrect, but yes, legs indeed. Argene showed leg at every opportunity, not that anyone was complaining (except for Dario). What I actually meant was legato 😉 ).
I dind’t mind the costumes as much as I thought I would (but I will still bitch about them), though I didn’t understand why Cyrus and Niceno were dressed in Saudi garb, with the women in Gate of Ishtar attire, the army as guerillas, the Oracle in Western suit/PR clothes and Oronte, who’s the chief of Persian administration (so a Prime Minister of sorts) looking like the Captain of the Janitors. It’s especially amusing when Argene, in her sumptuous robes (blankets) asks Mr Janitor in fluorescent jacket and rubber boots to rule the empire alongside her. I guess that would assure special attention would be given to the local plumbing issues 😉 I also don’t think the piping/stage design made any particular statement, aside possibly from pointing to courtly internal machinations/more focus on Captain Janitor 😉 there were also lots of hanging curtains, some of each resembled he local Shroud suspiciously well, at least to my mind. I really admired the work put into the representations of Persian relief sculptures, though, again, the whole concept felt so scattered to me I didn’t particularly see need for them. For my money, the costumes (blankets) and filigree lamps gave enough suggestion of the era.
well, with Giulia’s explaination and after seeing it again, I have finally got the concept. More about that in the next installment.
So that’s it for now (more gelato and pizza after the show, of course). I know there is a lot I didn’t talk about – like more than half the cast – but this is due to the luxury of seeing two performances. I confess on occasion I was so focused on the orchestra/Dantone I had to sacrifice the attention paid to singers. For more impressions on this production, check out thadieu (this performance) and giulia (the premiere). There will be lots of venue (selfies included), town and maybe curtain call pictures when I get home, though as curtain call goes you’re better off with thadieu’s video for the feel of the place.
ps: sorry for any typos, the kindle isn’t made for writeups.
How fitting for the Handel season – I found myself in the right place at the right time for this webcast (we used the medici.tv channel) and ended up having a very enjoyable watching party “with” thadieu and Agathe, based on Giulia’s report from the house (which you can read here if you haven’t yet; it’ll help make sense of what I’m only mentioning in passing). I’m not going into the whole thing because I don’t know Rodelinda enough but I wanted to share a few impressions:
- what a (musically) wonderful opera! The perils of being exposed to the wrong singers/etc. come to mind when I think I’ve deprived myself of it for so long; lovely work from Bolton et all balancing the sweet mournfulness with the action
- yes to the 5 countertenors but can Bejun Mehta spin a dulcet line or what? I was floored by Bertarido’s entrance aria. Looking forward to Gia dagli occhi… in 3 months’ time!
- Eduige: more reasons to love Prina; seriously, the role works so well for her. Wish she had more to sing. She had some really fun things to do here, quite surprisingly considering it was a Guth production
- speaking of Guth, I agree he doesn’t quite get the Baroque ethos, but I did enjoy the whole kid + nightmares part and the unexpected humour; the Personnenregie is always paid attention to in his work and it was here as well
- I was further surprised how much I liked Lucy Crowe considering I’m not usually a fan. This was easily the best performance I’ve seen/heard from her.
This is a youthfully angry, sharp and to the point aria, in which little Sesto fumes at the mouth against Tolomeo (he doesn’t deserve to breathe (the air)). Whilst re-reading a post of mine (I do that too 😉 ), I had a sudden need to re-listen. A few versions later I was bathed in the multitude of colours it allows.
Let’s start with Stutzmann, because I love her handeling of dynamics both in conducting and in singing. I feel this is a wonderful introduction to this aria, so typical of Handel’s writing of arias of fury (it’s not quite vengeance here; see Svegliatevi nel cuore for that). Also check out her moves at around 0:12:
(One of the iconic little Sesti of our time) Semmingsen with her bright(eyed) mezzo comes next for strong contrast. I’m not so sure about Mortensen’s conducting here; I feel the details are a bit muddled, though in the interest of characterisation – this is a very young Sesto – that might not be a bad idea:
Also a mezzo, but much darker, is Bonitatibus; always a strong Handelian (especially in troubled youth roles), it’s interesting to compare a dark mezzo voice with a true contralto:
And here we have another Jacobs take – a very speedy one – with Ernman at the forefront, unexpectedly catching my ear. This Sesto is a bit older or wilder than usual; if I were Tolomeo I’d keep my hand on the dagger:
I’m often not on board with critics but this time I found myself ditto-ing the entire Clements review for the Guardian back in December (which I read today, so as not to influence my opinion). If you haven’t done so, you can read it here as I’m not going to go over all that since I agree. I’m not sure I have seen a Carsen production live before but this re-tweaked Salzburg one certainly hasn’t made me a fan.
There isn’t – at least in this ROH incarnation – anything wrong with it; it rather reminds me of the current ROH Traviata (also associated with Fleming): goodlooking, lavish and little else. Also as here Act III happens in a brothel, the insistent hammering of “young love is so cute” in the coda (Sophie and Octavian’s duettino is reprised for our pleasure… and because they’re cute, innit) falls flat to me. Then again, maybe I’m a prude and brothels are really romantic. Maybe I just don’t get the deeper meaning but the way the production unfolded I didn’t feel intellectually stimulated to look for one.
On the very bright side I came away with a heightened appreciation for Andris Nelsons. His handling of the ROH forces – with special attention to details (the sprightly, buoyant brass in the overture, ideally evocative of the unencumbered cheerfulness of youth, the excellent interventions of the winds throughout) – and a much welcome Mozart filter through which he saw this Strauss score was close to a revelation for me. Light footed but with energy and body – I really liked hearing it this way! The ROH Orchestra felt fresher than ever. There were some moments, though, when I questioned the slowness/languidity of the tempi. But I was in a funny mood.
Die Marschallin: Renée Fleming
Octavian: Alice Coote
Sophie von Faninal: Sophie Bevan
Baron Ochs: Matthew Rose
Faninal: Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Valzacchi: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Annina: Angela Simkin
Italian Singer: David Junghoon Kim
Marschallin’s Major Domo: Samuel Sakker
Faninal’s Major Domo: Thomas Atkins
Marianne/Noble Widow: Miranda Keys
Conductor: Andris Nelsons | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Robert Carsen
As ‘Rosenkavalier keen followers might remember, two years ago Coote spoke out for Tara Erraught when the Octavian media debacle happened around the Glyndebourne production. One thing is for sure: the costume department has learned the lesson taught by Glyndebourne. All Coote’s costumes, though not lavish, were studiously fitting. Good job ROH costume department! Keep up the excellent trouser role work!
That being established, through the evening I kept thinking about the 2014 Glyndebourne ‘Rosenkavalier production. For all its faults, that one had fizz and I feel it truly understood the spirit of farce so evident in the libretto. This one was overly lyrical and the comedy strangely demure. I wish we had that production with this conducting/orchestra work.
Though I like Strauss, the opera and Coote, the biggest attraction this time was Fleming in a Strauss role in which she has been very successful. I also considered that she isn’t so young anymore and we might not catch many chances to see her in full productions in the future.
My conclusion was manifold. As you know big diva sopranos aren’t my number one pull towards opera, thus I approached Fleming as someone rather exotic. There is indeed a diva air about her – the fur, the silk and, of course, she was bedazzling in jewellery for the grand finale (I genuinely can’t remember a time when I saw someone sparklier on a stage) – but it didn’t eclipse all around her.
The voice is quite obviously in decline – and frankly I don’t know if it’s a voice I would’ve liked at the best of times – with quite acidic edges at the top. Most would agree she has never been a natural on stage, though she certainly has learned to walk across it without fear and with enough classic elegance as to hold an audience’s attention – at least in a role like this. It seemed to me like a woman who has quantified her strengths very realistically and built a career on this realistic assessment.
She also proved her undeniable Strauss qualities to me. Where it counts – in Marschallin’s long Act I monologue – her musicality and vocal control (the famous Fleming portamento, various dynamics) was truly top notch and fleshed out the beautiful voice-orchestra (oboe, flute etc.) dialogue Strauss has written. I thought to myself I can see/hear why she has excelled in Strauss, the voice and her musical temper is made for it. If there is one thing I’m taking with me from having heard Fleming live is this.
The monologue, though, infused the mood of the night to such a degree – and I’m not entirely sure how much of this is it being a vehicle for Fleming, or just the production in itself, or Nelsons’ fault of judgment, or my mood because I’m closing in on a certain age these days and might subcosciously want to stop the clocks too – that it really put a damper of the comedy. Without the score being conducted in a too Wagnerian manner – far from it – maybe perhaps due to an occasionally overly lingering languidity I actually dozed off at the end of Act II and almost fell face first into the bald spot of the chap in the row below.
Sacrilege! Act II is both sweet and funny and Rose as Ochs was very interesting of voice and campy-buffoon rather than uncooth. But one expects Ochs to be boorish rather than just ridiculous. I couldn’t see the country cousin in Rose, as much as I enjoy(ed) his gorgeous bass tone. I’m trying not to be closed minded and as such I’m not saying this winky-campy take was wrong per se. In a sense, with the Marschallin lacking any hint of desperation (she’s just lyrically musing about the passage of time with Octavian as a cute accessory) and Octavian coming off as a completely benign young man, this polished Ochs made sense. The production, too, is clean enough to accomodate a good chap (albeit lecherous) type of cousin.
I still dozed off.
Coote, as a perfectly tame boytoy, drew the few laughs of the night – as she should’ve. I don’t think it was her fault as much as the general mood I mentioned above and what the production gave her to work with. Any Octavian to Fleming’s Marschallin is going to be less of the zany, fart joke type. You’re actually a bit surprised he would consider cross dressing – and in this case that – the fact he genuinely enjoys pulling this erotically charged prank, whilst his ex-lover is dining with the ancient uncle Greifenklau – springs out more than ever and makes you think he is right to move on. I thought Fleming and Coote’s chemistry was good enough, but it felt like Octavian came to life less in her company than when he was caught up in his schemes of deceiving Ochs. Now this might be just it but usually my focus is on wishing for him to return to Die Marschallin in a fictitious Act IV. Though I don’t buy the brothel-located young love, this time I was convinced that Octavian and Sophie had a future together.
Vocally I was surprised how well Coote projected. Her voice has always had good heft but I have only heard her in much lighter fare so far. Her top notes are solid and not bad at all. So though I think I may like a brighter tone (or possibly more colourful, but I always like extra colours) for Octavian I had no problems. Now we shall see how Vitellia comes off later this year.
Bevan was Sophie. She’s making quite a career here in London and I myself have seen her in a number of roles but, sort of like with Lucy Crowe, I don’t feel her very much, without being dead set against her. I normally enjoy a more “bell-like” tone in this role, with some semblance of innocence. Lacking that, she pulled off very well the bits where Sophie tells Octavian how she would stand her ground and bitchslap anybody who “dissed” her and also in Act III where she tells Ochs to stuff his marriage certificate where the sun don’t shine.
Supporting this production’s bent for elegance, the Italian Singer was (way) less awful than usual. David Junghoon Kim did a very smooth job in fact, possibly because he had the chance to step in for an indisposed Giorgio Berrugi. Well, good job, mister, in that case we can allow you to wow us with your chops for sacharine Italian tunes. He also lucked out when the Italian Singer was allowed to reprise his aria as a move on the director’s part – I imagine – to add even more pizazz to Marschallin’s morning audience, when the Italian Singer sees the Milliner’s beautiful models parading in front of Die Marschallin (really pretty dresses – the costume department did an ace job all around).
Much like Domingo, Fleming still pulls and this being a firm canon opera the hall was packed to the gills even this far into the run. The atmosphere was rather congenial, though in our tight quarters (aka, Upper Amphi) a fight almost broke out between over ’50s regarding knees touching shoulders once too often. I also had a revelation about the rather special self definition of class in this country whilst rushing (as ever) for my seat. What better opera to hammer home class distinctions?
Innkeeper: Alasdair Elliott
Police Inspector: Scott Conner
Notary: Jeremy White
Milliner: Kiera Lyness
Animal Seller: Luke Price
Doctor: Andrew H. Sinclair
Boots: Jonathan Fisher
Noble Orphans: Katy Batho / Deborah Peake-Jones / Andrea Hazell
Lackey/Waiters: Andrew H. Sinclair / Lee Hickenbottom / Dominic Barrand / Bryan Secombe
Mohammed: James Wintergrove
Leopold: Atli Gunnarsson ↩
This recital has a bit of back story. The dynamic duo was booked for 3 January 2015 in support of their Amore e morte dell’amore CD but apparently the both of them succumbed to the English weather. Its next proposed incarnation was to take place on 28 June 2016, as a threeway recital with Karina Gauvin. That didn’t quite work out either, though you could hardly say Prina’s Gluck programme was a letdown. Finally, here we are, in spite of very low (for London) temperatures due to freezing fog (mesmerisingly sparkly under streetlights).
Sonia Prina contralto
Roberta Invernizzi soprano
Luca Pianca director, lute
Vittorio Ghielmi viola da gamba
Margret Köll harp
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core?
Giovanni Kapsberger (c.1580-1651)
Toccata seconda arpeggiata
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Aria detta la Frescobalda
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sono liete, fortunate HWV194
Antonio Lotti (1666-1740)
Poss’io morir Op. 1 No. 7
Francesco Durante (1684-1755)
Son io, barbara donna
Antoine Forqueray (1671-1745)
Le Carillon de Passy
George Frideric Handel
Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi HWV197
Wigmore Hall is still in Christmas garb, its foyer sporting a beautiful tree decorated in red and green and floral arrangements with red baubles and red pine cones and bows in the hall. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful.
Prina and Invernizzi were first joined on stage by Pianca on lute and Köll on harp and between them did a very lively rendition of Vorrei baciarti. The slender accompaniment was beneficial in that I focused almost completely on the ideal mix of voices which had me basking in the simple joy of sound.
Interestingly, I overheard someone comment at the intermission that she enjoyed the music a lot but was a bit unsure about the singing. I for one can tell you even less than usual about the orchestral side, which mostly kept to a supporting role. I do remember once thinking (during Sono liete, fortunate?) the viola da gamba had a nice organ feel to it. The orchestral pieces didn’t make much of an impression on me, in fact La Leclair had me on the verge of dozing off. But that might just be me, what with the lack of woodwinds.
Sono liete, fortunate was a tour de force, when I marvelled at “the noise” two singers could make, what with both of them constantly switching between singing harmony and melody. We’re talking about two very energetic singers, though they toned down their more flamboyant tendencies and focused on supporting each other towards a robust merged sound. It wasn’t just their tones matching, their exchanges were always spot on. Instead of her often belligerent top, Invernizzi made more use of her middle which is warm and pleasant, though not as memorable as Prina’s tone. The softer pieces saw some of those disarming slides to piano Prina uses when you least expect. I remember thinking about one such soft exchange that it felt like squirrel hair watercolour brushes against the skin. Tanti strali saw them once again weave sparkling lines of elaborate coloratura around each other.
The encore made for a natural ending to a show that mixed liveliness with breathless seduction. Now I really want to hear Prina as Nerone. On the other hand, we’re only a few months away from the Barbican Ariodante.
Things have a tendency of reoccurring – 30 December 2013 was the date I first visited Wigmore Hall for a Prina recital I booked at the last minute to wrap up a good opera year in style. This time it was quieter and smaller scale than usual even at Wigmore Hall; it infused me with contentment, which is quite unusual to find outside oneself these days.
According to WP stats, 2016 was the year where I achieved the most with the least effort (119 posts published before this one, though we might get to 125 by the end of the year; by contrast, there were 140 posts in 2015 and 211 in 2013), which is a fine motto by me 😉
So let’s see what people liked to read on opera, innit? this year:
- “revival adriana lecouvreur roh 2016-17”
- Akhnaten at ENO (take 2)
- Ann Hallenberg (Gluck and Mozart)
- Juditha triumphans
- Akhnaten at ENO (take 1)
- Stutzmann and Orfeo 55 (Vivaldi)
- ROH 2016-2017 confirmed
- Maria Ostroukhova recital
- ROH Spring Season/London Handel Fest General Sale
- Ariodante at RCM (take 1)
The most read Tito was Röschmann’s Tito (how very surprising, I know).
Translation: Baroque, something unsual with countertenor, something properly old school with diva and what’s coming next at ROH. I am obviously not surprised about all the Baroque, or even about Akhnaten – because we haven’t had it in 30 years and ENO can do spectacular when it wants (or still) and in this case it definitely did, but I didn’t expect La Lecouvreur to get so much attention. We’ll all have to wait until February 7 to see if the bated breath was worth it (aka, if La Gheorghiu still has it). But yes, Akhnaten (I really hope they filmed it) and all the Baroque was the dog’s bollocks, fully deserving to be shared with all.
There are no doubts around these parts about Baroque but I’m very glad people have read about Akhnaten; it’s a wonderful “mood piece” about which I have very little to bitch (and that only when I’m especially mardy; my chief complaint is the title role should be sung by a mezzo or contralto 😉 you could see that one coming, I know) and I think more people should listen to it and definitely see it if it comes anywhere near them. I consider myself wildly lucky to have seen it performed “in my backyard” so soon after becoming acquainted with it.
After a Mozart night at the compact and bijou Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, thadieu and I relocated to the humongous Opéra Bastille for some verismo and expressionism.
I started with the above picture in hope those who have never been to Opéra Bastille get a feel of how massive it is. Just consider the staircase on the left. Capacity-wise it’s not quite the Met but nowadays it can pack more than Wiener Staatsoper (only because WS has reduced its seating capacity). It beats ENO by some 200 seats and the drops and depth are breathtaking. It feels a bit like the O2 Arena of European opera venues. I know thadieu is going to remind me of the Hollywood Bowl (where Ann Hallenberg sang Pergolesi’s Stabat mater…) but, come on, that’s not a venue designed for opera.
We had tickets on the 2nd balcony, which means at the top. The seats were comfy and, as with modern venues, the views were excellent – except for the distance! I’m blind enough to have had trouble with the surtitles (cosmopolitanly provided both in both French and English), thank goodness for my opera glasses, though by the end I was sick and tired of squinting and straining. What can you do, with a piece such as Sancta Susanna and a performer such as ACA, who you want to see acting as much as hear singing. Especially in such a short piece (~20min), where you blink and miss her. I also wanted to ascertain if Garanča can act or not.
However, for its imposing size and heavy figure cut in Place de la Bastille, I was won over by the indoors design. There are many details that make for an architecture photography fan’s delight.
Now with some distance from the shock produced by the sheer size and boldness of Bastille (on first seeing it in real life I said it looked like a prison, which might have even been the point) and after questioning the idea of having an opera of intimate size performed therein, I think it’s not such a far-fetched idea.
Santuzza: Elīna Garanča
Turiddu: Yonghoon Lee
Lucia: Elena Zaremba
Alfio: Vitaliy Bilyy
Lola: Antoinette Dennefeld
Conductor: Carlo Rizzi | Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra national de Paris
Director: Mario Martone
Though 40 years and different cultural attitudes separate Cavalleria rusticana and Sancta Susanna, the take on female sexuality (identity?) is very similar = repressive. That’s not surprising, as that view has come down through history and is still prevalent in certain traditional enclaves.
Thadieu expressed puzzlement as to the plot of Cavalleria rusticana, ie why the big drama? Well, desire and revenge are irrational, especially revenge borne by desire. As such, they are almost impossible to control – and certainly not by reason, rather – if at all – by outside contraints (ie, religion, local customs). So the answer to what is verismo is indeed people shouting at each other (because they can’t contain their emotions; or because they’re Southern Europeans 😉 ).
You could reduce the whole plot to Turiddu being on the rebound (still not over Lola) and Santuzza feeling horribly shafted, having fallen for him. Now we need to add to this local customs, which in traditional societies are very harsh on “fallen women”. There is a reason Turiddu makes it a point to ask his mother to look after Santuzza if he dies. It’s because he knows that according to custom he is supposed to either marry her or somehow provide for a(n unmarried) woman who “has given herself to him”. So sex isn’t fun and games, it’s bondage on both sides. A man needs to guard his own or risk derision. Alfio is being so serious about revenge because Turiddu has taken something of his.
I don’t know if Santuzza cares about this one way or another, aside from being shunned by the community bit. I think she’d be fine enough if Turiddu loved her. But since she’s lost both her honour and his love she decides to do something about it. In traditional societies women don’t have a lot of avenues for expression beside madness or evil. Santuzza pursues evil by disclosing to Alfio Turiddu’s affair with Alfio’s now wife. She knows just what is going to happen, which this production emphasises by having her walk off with determination after hearing of Turiddu’s demise.
Garanča, who, as thadieu would say, I got to see “accidentally”, having studiously avoided her up to now, managed the walk off very well. I would say that was her strongest acting of the night. My beef with her comes out of spite. The woman is in possession of an excellent intrument which I don’t think she uses interestingly. Earlier this Autumn I ended up watching her Cenerentola from the Met with my Mum, who found her completely boring, both vocally and dramatically. I swear I didn’t “groom” her for that opinion!
I thought her singing absolutely spot on (no note out of place, always making every entrance, flowing coloratura) but lacking in fire. So I didn’t have an easy time imagining her as Santuzza. When we were planning this trip I even asked thadieu if we should show up for “part 1”. Though in the end she suffered a lot more than I did, it was her “might as well” that convinced me I should give Garanča a chance.
Well, the report is similar to that on Cenerentola: the woman can surely sing – and the tone is less metallic in the house – the voice sounds as healthy as ever (she’s only 40 or so) and is loud enough to make herself heard in this repertoire in a big house (though the singing is only seldom accompanied by the entire orchestra). Let me tell you that not only is the house big, but the orchestra makes a proper racket that travels all the way up to the rafters. With my hair on end and my eyes popping out I wondered how loud Wagner must sound in there.
Similar to Cenerentola, I thought the fire was lacking. To be fair, they made use of the entire stage – which is likewise staggerinly big sideways and in depth – and often times you had Santuzza and Turiddu share an “intimate” chat 20m apart. It looks good from the rafters but you do wonder, especially as it’s verismo: do people in real life have a very intense conversation physically that far apart?
The personnenregie felt very much old school, with broad gestures and lots of space between protagonists. Bilyy as Alfio wasn’t so bad but Lee as Turiddu acted right out of the ’50s book of opera acting: feet always planted wide apart, pumped fists, head held high etc. Garanča herself never offended me gesture-wise but there’s this removed, ice-queen feel about her. Nervous energy drips from some singers’ tendons – not so in her case. She’s there, apparently focused within.
Santuzza is very much focused on Turiddu. I did not feel that at any point. I think she was at her most emotional in her interaction with Lucia during Voi lo sapete (well, duh, you will say, it’s her big aria), but still, come on, Santuzza’s mind is supposed to be clouded over with emotion for this chap. When playing a woman who asks a man/lover on her knees to return to her, well, that kind of passion needs you to radiate desire (and quite possibly a bit of self hatred) from all your being. I’d say that’s beyond Garanča’s dramatic capabilities. Yet she’s not completely lacking in charisma; just not Sicilian.
Though not impressed with his acting – or his chemistry (lack thereof?) with Garanča, I thought Lee was vocally a good Turiddu (my experience here is limited). The music asks him to provide loud and solid long held notes and he did that with ease and panache. It’s not an unpleasant tone by any means. However I think he could work on his Italian phrasing.
The (loud) choir wasn’t bad at all and the choral bits in the piece made for good contrast between the apparently peaceful rural environment and the festering desires in private.
Susanna: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Klementia: Renée Morloc
Alte Nonne: Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo
Conductor: Carlo Rizzi | Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra national de Paris
Director: Mario Martone
This whole trip was concocted for the sole purpose of seeing Antonacci in a rarely performed opera (and what with going off the beaten track, I have yet to see her sing in Italian). Though I don’t, by any means, dislike Cavalleria rusticana, this type of sexual paroxysm is more up my alley. Can’t beat a nun chorus of Satana! Satana! Satana!, can you? 😉 There are two things Germans are ace at and those are Romanticism and Expressionism – the hidden depths of the mind.
For those of strong emotional constitution the mind is a fascinating realm. Nobody has quite figured out what the hell (and it is often hell) is going on there. I think this small opera is effective – seeing it in the environment of the huge Opéra Bastille auditorium adds to it – because the mind is an immense, volcanic world enclosed in a tiny place.
There is repression/violence by women on women in Cavalleria rusticana but here it’s a lot more obvious. If the nunnery represents the world of women, then it’s quite clear what nuns walling up one of their own stands for.
In my experience nobody thinks more about evil/the devil than the pious. That’s the kind of mind who has invented/defined it and that is the mind that has to live and fight with it. On the other hand it’s true that, pious or not, every once in a while something from the depths surfaces and rearranges one’s identity in ways hitherto unsuspected.
So what I take from this – on a literal level – is the question are the brides of Christ, if Christ is both of God and human, not supposed to engage with his human side in ways brides would? Of course the orthodox view is hell, no! but what harm is there, if they are utterly faithful to him? Poor nuns 😉 To quote thadieu again “why the drama?” Sister Susanna was letting off some steam after hearing her maid go at it with her (the maid’s) lover.
The journey from deep prayer to (literally) pure randiness is scandalous only to hypocrites but otherwise well documented in history. The body/mind seeks balance.
We had Antonacci, one of the singers who best mixes singing and acting into a coherent whole, put the fire of life/lust into our initially catatonic heroine. She doesn’t have much to sing and has to shout a few times (she’s louder than I thought for such a big hall, but she doesn’t have to do it constantly for an hour) so those unfamiliar with her singing might find this outing rather inconclusive.
Dramatically, though, she’s magnificent. She’s in her 50s now but she can act young and elusive and she can also act frantic with desire just by the way or the pace at which she moves. The most interesting part is the development between one state to the other, as well as “the whole being” at the end, when she stands and faces the looming nuns. Thadieu said in the premiere she didn’t leave the crucifix she had climbed onto, but I thought this stand was an excellent idea. She’s neither just angelic nor only frenzied by lust, but a strong presence that likely has integrated both.
There are some really cool things the production does within 20min. If you look closely at the above picture you can see the bottom part of the wall comes off at the crack. When it did, we could see underneath the cell. As lust started to creep into Susanna’s mind/body, a fallen crucifix appeared on our left and a young woman (perhaps the ghost of the previous walled in nun) started embracing it. Later on Susanna descends there, whilst a giant spider that looks like the human centipede crawls on the other side of the stage (remember, it’s vast) and deposits the said young woman on the ground. They wall Susanna in by pushing back the bottom of the wall.
Sign of the times, eh? Someone landed on opera, innit? using this search term. Most curious, as I am 100% I never used it anywhere in this blog up to now and upon doing a bit or research I didn’t quite get it. But because it’s such a curious thing when it comes to a niche blog, I’ll indulge the world at large.
If you’re now thinking hang on a minute, this has nothing whatsoever to do with trump…! –
you’re right 😀 fighting absurdity with absurdity is one of my mottos. So I thought I’d share a picture related to contemporary grooming and snacking habits of those now bitterly crying in their
cornflakes jam jar cocktails.
We live in a world where both lefties and traditonalists wear Father Xmas beards, where experts (especially foreign) are out and the take back our country/make America great again brigade is in and saving the world from the overly educated (the great plague of 2016). Also, far as I know, sharing pictures of food on blogs is still going strong. So as not to appear too snobbish/sneering (also out of style), I thought I’d use this filler post to toast all the great trends of 2016 (or thereabouts).
(as usual) I’ll leave you with this month’s contralto and a message that expresses my feelings regarding the spectacular mess we in the West currently see ourselves in:
Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte
non paventa l’alma forte,
che vien meco il mio furor.
So ch’io sono invendicata,
e che fui meno spietata,
è mia pena, e mio dolor
Google translate illuminates us thus:
Irons, shackles, blood, death (irons = swords)
no serious concerns regarding the strong soul (don’t scare a courageous heart)
who cometh with me my fury. (when it’s pissed off)
I know that I am unavenged,
and that I was less ruthless, (I was too soft)
is my pain, and my pain (so that’s my punishment and pain)
Before I toot my own horn, I’ll direct you to this review of Juditha. Does some of it sound familiar? I’m game to to be told to pull my head out of my own arse if it doesn’t.
Re: Galou’s supposed lack of projection (check the above linked review): I have two words for you – Baroque contraltos. How many of them have you heard to shake the walls, this side of Podles (who’s more a contralto who also sang Baroque very well 20 years ago, rather than a Baroque contralto in the 21st century)? In recent times I have heard Prina, Mingardo, Stutzmann and Summers and let me tell you, none – aside from Prina at her most vicious – came anywhere near to even bothering my ears at Wigmore Hall and if you’ve read anything on this blog you know I have sensitive ears.
They have Baroque sized voices (few large voices can move fast/easily enough for the demands of Baroque coloratura), by their nature (and necessity, considering what they are asked to sing – usually second men and scorned women, often villains, written to contrast the bright sounds of the heroes), opaque in colour. Now imagine that at the Barbican, a venue not known to be friendly to any singers. That being said, let’s hear Galou in a high lying role and we might be talking differently. We should also revisit this after Ariodante comes to the Barbican next year and we hear Prina again (never heard her at the Barbican before).
You can’t fault a singer for sounding as the role asks (in this case, relaxed), even when some around them have bigger voices and/or employ pyrotechnics for the express reason of wowing the audience.
Now that I have immersed myself in 3-4 different Judithas, I’m going to return to the subject, as there are some interesting variations I heard that call for further commentary.