Category Archives: sopranos

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

Cleopatra in Egitto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That being said, I loved Galou’s timing and interactions with the orchestra – the way she got in and out of the phrase and how that blended with the sound around her – surprisingly especially when she was “duetting” with the flute, if I remember correctly. I also got a kick out of her big grins during and lots of clapping after Va tacito.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. too hastily, it seems, as “my” box remained empty. I thought about returning to it but then I wouldn’t have had Galoumisu eyes all night. 
  2. Don Giovanni in Paris last December. 
  3. why are Sestos always urged by strong women to stab someone? 
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Woman at Point Zero (LSO at St Luke’s, 13 July 2017)

To give you an idea of the environment of Old Street. Use it for whenever I mention Shoreditch as well 😉

As I was saying in an earlier post, I liked this very much indeed, but being other it wasn’t easy to write about. Also I’ve been sucked into the blackhole known as other interests these days and have generally neglected to put words on paper screen (what do you mean other interests? what can be more interesting than l’opera??? I know, I was shocked too. Sabotage!).

Anyway, a fitting return of Thursday’s Something Else. Let’s see what the blurb tells us:

In this special, one-evening concert, The Royal Opera joins forces with Shubbak Festival to showcase works by five composers from the Arab world. Shubbak is London’s major biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture, connecting London audiences with the best of Arab culture across visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, architecture and debate. This evening in two parts will share and celebrate short works by five composers, centring on the premiere of scenes from Bushra El-Turk’s new opera Woman at Point Zero.

Woman at Point Zero is based on the seminal novel by Egyptian author, feminist and doctor Nawal El Saadawi – an allegorical tale of historical female oppression in Egypt that questions what true freedom and empowerment can mean for women today. Preceding extracts of Woman at Point Zero are the UK premieres of chamber works by the four participants of The Royal Opera and Shubbak’s inaugural Arab Composer Residency programme: Amir ElSaffar (Iraq/US), Nadim Husni (Syria/Poland), Bahaa El-Ansary (Egypt) and Nabil Benabdeljalil (Morocco).

You can see how they separated the Baroque church skeleton from the music venue bit, complete with glass window, for that airy feel. The instruments were moved away for the opera scenes and the orchestra lined up to that panelling.

Though St Luke’s – an 18th century church converted into a musical venue – is located at Old Street and thus very convenient for yours truly and I got there with time to spare, I managed not to land a programme, being more focused on getting from point A to point B (seating) inside the venue, so that I could find a nice spot on the balcony to better view the stage. Thus I couldn’t tell which piece/composer came first, middle and last.

The pieces ranged from what a rather clueless Westerner (yours truly) would call Middle Eastern singing backed by a string quartet to some string shredding that would not look out of place in an extreme metal festival, via a piece that combined Polish folk singing and Middle Eastern instrumentation rather interestingly – so full circle. Unsurprisingly I felt serious kinship with the entirely instrumental string shredding – very fine work from the LSO violonist, whom I would nominate if I had the programme… – in spite of the heavy angst – or perhaps it was just simply very energetic.

After the interval we had the scenes from Woman at Point Zero, entirely orchestrated with an array of very good looking world music wind instruments and an accordion that sounded like no accordion I’ve ever heard. That was a very good thing, as if there is one instrument I can’t stand it’s that one1.

The scenes were staged in a manner that reminded me of Sellars’ treatment of The Gospel According to the Other Mary – that is, movement was integral, staging minimal. Now seeing as how this shapes up to be chamber opera, that was ideal. The orchestra, made up of 6 musicians, was also called to move throughout the piece. I was highly impressed with how they managed to interact with the main character (The Woman) whilst playing without scores (especially the flautist). I’m compelled to add that I find myself a lot more responsive to this contemporary type of dance than to its classical counterpart. Maybe I should start the broadening of my ballet horizons via this.

At the beginning they were all lined up at the back of the stage, in hieratic poses. As The Woman starts to breath, the wind instruments help her find her voice, coming closer and closer and offering her a variety of primordial sounds. This is a feminist text so that was an excellent illustration of one’s emerging sense of self. It also harked back – I think – to the Ancient Egyptian Ka. I loved it. Soprano Merit Ariane Stephanos (one of the forces behind the inception of the project) did a mesmerising job with the title role.

The scenes continued like this, The Woman recounting the events of her life that built on her present condition, which seemed both desperate (death row) and keenly self aware. It’s a very typical story of Woman trying to find her place in a society that does not offer her much of a choice. What impresses is of course her inner strength and desire to better herself/discover her worth.

The “recit” part of the text is spoken (no Spechgesang) in English and sung in Arabic, so we have an interesting and quite seamless combination of Western and Arab. The recits are contemporary music in ethos whilst the singing seems written in traditional manner from around the world, which also helps illustrate the divergent forces that create the drama at hand.

To get a better idea, check it out here and read the blurb below the video as well, it’s got more info:


  1. Chalk it up to a childhood of inescapable moments like this. Worse than Verdi dirges and wounded bohemian with guitar combined? Quite possibly. 

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

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

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

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

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

Upon return home I realised this was not Simon Boccanegra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interval

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“venera gimadieva nude”, Tito in Aspen and other news from the cave

the nudes …another eyebrow-raising search engine term. Dear reader, I must disappoint you. I actually had to google Ms Gimadieva’s images as I had only a vague idea of how she looked (= brunette). Less of an idea about her in the nude 😉 but I can see how those who like typical Russian features might dig further (and they will have to, I don’t have any related pictures stashed around this blog).

the cave. I’m in the cave because I’ve been struck by ear blockage, which prevented me from going to see Spyres and El-Khoury yesterday. So much for giving Spyres another chance. After some in-house work on my ears I’m crossing my fingers Gerhaher projects tonight because I don’t want to miss him as well now that I finally chanced on a ticket to see him in recital. You see how fate keeps trying to stop me from seeing him?

Tito. It’s been a while, eh? But you might remember it’s not long now that Tito will return to Glyndebourne and the Proms, so there will be a lot of Tito talk around here, like in the good old days.

In the meanwhile, somebody graciously informed me that the Aspen Music Festival is running three Tito dates this August, so if you can get there check it out. I would love to see Tito in that kind of landscape (I’m from a mountain town myself).

Woman at Ground Zero. The show happened on Thursday, before my blocked ear wahala. I loved it! It’s the kind of contemporary opera project I can happily get behind. Post to come.

The Love for Three Oranges. Just for fun 🙂

…just before I ate the one on the left

London gets on with things: L’elisir d’amore (ROH, 6 June 2017)

You ever imagine Tristan and Isolde with a happy ending? No? The French did (of course they did!) and so did the Italians, even more successfully. It was 1832 and women in opera had a few more years left to be intelligent, poke fun at hackneyed stories and crucially not die by the end.

I bought this ticket wrongly and long before I knew how contralto-mad times would get. So let me make a belcanto pitstop before I get back to my German adventures.

Adina: Pretty Yende
Nemorino: Liparit Avetisyan
Dulcamara: Alex Esposito
Belcore: Paolo Bordogna
Giannetta: Vlada Borovko
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Laurent Pelly

(Co-production with Opéra National de Paris)

I missed this “much loved” production the last time it was aired but I caught it on the radio and kicked myself for missing it. This time I was determined to see it – but as cheap as possible. It was only after booking that I realised I got the second cast, at the time including Rolando Villazon. Though you might remember I got a bit googly eyed for Alexandra Kurzak during Il turco in Italia and was rather annoyed to miss her this year, I decided to see the glass half full and check rising star Pretty Yende out.

At the weekend I (half enthusiastically) mentioned to Agathe that I would be seeing Villazon on Tuesday. Well, what with not being a Villazon aficionado I don’t know when the change happened but today I noticed his name was not part of the cast.

I had no idea who Avetisyan was but he turned out to be a very welcome surprise. He’s a good singer, really looks the (dorky) part and has excellent comedic timing. In spite of the dorkiness, the man has serious stage presence. For my money he was the best actor tonight in a cast that was by no means shabby, continuously drawing laughs and not just because he had obviously learned his part (and stunts) very well. The man has a feel for the stage and is lucky to have caught our attention in such a carefully detailed production. His diction ain’t bad either. He does have to work on making his vocal performance more detailed, more personal, but I suppose that is the kind of thing that comes with experience. If he’s intelligent and has a good team to support him I think he will do very well in the future.

Yende has more of a Netrebko-type voice than what I’d expect in an ideal belcantist. Though she can pull off the trills and the top seems to come easy at her age, I imagine she will soon grow into heavier roles. It’s always interesting “getting to know” a voice for the first time live. I’d heard some stuff on zetube and couldn’t quite make up my mind. Live I liked her soft singing best, which is genuinely warm with just enough roundness. A congenial voice.

Her stage presence, in fact, is very girl-next-door (and she and Avetisyan made a very cute village couple). She sort of reminded me of Veronique Gens as Dona Elvira – a bit (or perhaps way) too nice for the role. At the beginning we need to be unsure of Adina’s feelings or to laugh with her at Nemorino. She’s the local landowner so she can’t be too chummy with Nemorino from the getgo. It might be part of the production but I felt Yende’s Adina was just another girl in the village, gently teasing Nemorino and getting girlishly sulky when he’s pretending not to care for her.

Though her soft singing has quite a bit of character (the emotion came through), she tended to be more abstract in the coloratura and when deploying the very top – neither of which were unpleasant on the ear, mind. Maybe next time she convinces me that coloratura isn’t just there to wow the audience with pure technical skill.

This is the kind of production where even the baddies are lovable. Bordogna was quite the bufoon as the self satisfied Sargent Belcore. It was the fourth time I’ve seen Esposito and by far the most pleasant. He must enjoy singing in an undershirt, as I think this is probably the third time I see him in one. It’s neither an opera nor a production interested in commenting on consumerism and public gullibility, so his Dulcamara is simply amusing, the way he keeps popping up and tying his magic potion to everything that works well.

Dulcamara: hello everybody, I’m Dr Dulcamara and I came up with that magic potion that works on everything from bedbugs to constipation, you may have heard of it1.
Villagers: ooooooooooh! Hello Dr Dulcamara, can we have some of that?
Dulcamara: of course! It’s cheap too. And it can make you great in bed and rich at the same time, like Nemorino here!
Villagers: OMG, how did we live without it all this time?!

Pelly productions always have extra little somethings, and here the curtain at intermission was a giant Dulcamara advert (in Italian, which made it even funnier), with pictures and text describing various ailments cured by the miraculous drug (you can see pictures here).

De Billy and Co. did a reasonably good job. Maybe it’s my seat (horseshoe left), maybe it’s my ears, but I felt like the sound from the orchestra was particularly uniform. The flute, oboe, bassoon and harp did their job when called for solos and/or lead, with the flute faring best, though nothing to write home about. I can’t say maestro made any efforts to pick out interesting sounds from his team. Likewise the chorus, who had quite a bit to do on stage – the villagers are very present in the opera. They sounded solid and on time but aside from one instance when the male side of the chorus sprung up quite nicely they seemed satisfied with merely keeping to the rhythm. The whole thing (orchestra included) could’ve benefited from more rubato. Belcanto comedy is built on simple, hummable tunes which can sound very mechanical without a bit of imagination.

The audience loved it, laughed a lot, clapped a lot and gave the team a very warm reception. It’s a likable production, I can’t complain. The atmosphere was congenial, with my seatmates on the left jolly and relaxed as well as knowledgeable, and my seatmate on the other side not particularly knowledgeable but certainly friendly and enjoying herself. It’s great to see Londoners letting their hair down at times like these.


  1. The good old days when quacks prescribed placebo! Imagine if all the pill-poppers around us merely drank weak wine. 

Fountains of Vienna

viennafountains

click to enlarge

Since that soprano-tenor debacle happened just before I travelled to Vienna in April, I made it a point to snap a few pictures of fountains. Clearly there’s ample reason to step out of the hall for a glass of water.

Don’t give into confusion – that was last year. But since this year the same participants had another close encouter of the operatic kind (which means they didn’t meet at all, though they were supposed to) in the same opera, a unique chance to post my hitherto neglected draft appeared.

Bonus: here’s a fountain of Vienna from 2017, to belatedly celebrate this year’s no show/operatic tradition renewal:

Véronique Gens’ quiet lightness of being (Wigmore Hall, 8 May 2017)

The see a French singer at least once a month programme has been going on since October. It’s true sometimes (February) it was quite a stretch but in my defense I only saw one show (shudder! gasp!) that month – and sometimes (April) the French singer was spotted more than once a month whereas in December I was in France and saw a bunch of them in one go. Vive la brioche!

On Monday I went to see Gens with 4 hours of broken sleep (thanks for nothing, kitties) at the ungodly hour of 1pm (part of BBC3’s Lunchtime Concert and you can hear it too). I didn’t droop, mostly because Mme Gens, in spite of her tall frame, has a voice light as a feather and it lifts you up.

I first heard her in La clemenza di Tito from Brussels (the one I call the reality TV Tito) where she towered over Boni’s Sesto. She managed to stick in my memory due to her unusual skill at making herself appear smaller (as if taking refuge within herself) when Vitellia realises things are going down the drain (act I finale). That skill was apparent here as well, though in a slightly different manner.

Véronique Gens soprano
Susan Manoff piano

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Néère (from Études latines)
Trois jours de vendange

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Chanson triste
Romance de Mignon

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Le charme Op. 2 No. 2
Les papillons Op. 2 No. 3
Hébé Op. 2 No. 6

Reynaldo Hahn
Quand je fus pris au pavillon (from Rondels)
Le rossignol des lilas
A Chloris

Ernest Chausson
La chanson bien douce Op. 34 No. 1
Le temps des lilas

Reynaldo Hahn
Lydé | Tyndaris | Pholoé | Phyllis (from Études latines)
Le printemps

In nice contrast to Mattila, who joked with the crowd and kissed her accompanist on both cheeks after each section, Gens’ stage presence makes me imagine her all by herself, reading a book in a quiet coffee shop. In between songs she’s perfectly self effacing and even looks a bit uncomfortable with having a roomful of people watch her. When the songs start she gets animated.

Which brings to mind the oddness of performing. You’re there in front of people, who are all busy gauging your every move (well, the ones who don’t have their eyes glued to the programme). Pretty odd situation for a private person, which she seems to be.

If you enjoy singers who have a feel for and a deft command of piano and pianissimo, Gens is for you. I’m not sure how she sounded at the back of the room because, unusually, I had a seat at the front of the hall, but she employed some of the most delicate turns of phrase I have heard so far.

The repertoire was of the airiest kind and gave Manoff the opportunity to spin an impishly playful web beneath Gens’ feather-light sound. Their communication was clear and – for me – surprinsingly balanced: Manoff leading with more than a tinge of humour and Gens flawlessly picking up the sound and transforming it into diaphanous droplets. She can hit forte when needed and luckily there is no ping to her voice but the most interesting moments are those disarmingly soft touches, when the ends of phrases are left floating.

Foggy backroads with Karita Mattila (Wigmore Hall, 6 May 2017)

The moment Mattila waltzed in, grand and self mocking at the same time, as Primadonna/Ariadne on the ROH stage a couple of years back I was in love. So I jumped at the opportunity of a night of listening to her alone. What I got was unexpected.

Karita Mattila soprano
Ville Matvejeff piano

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Zigeunerlieder Op. 103
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Wesendonck Lieder
Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Vier Lieder Op. 2
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Der Stern Op. 69 No. 1
Wiegenlied Op. 41 No. 1
Meinem Kinde Op. 37 No. 3
Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden Op. 21
Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten Op. 19 No. 4
Allerseelen Op. 10 No. 8
Cäcilie Op. 27 No. 2

The Zigeunerlieder were cracking, the kind of chutzpah that first attracted me to her but eventually the night turned into something very introspective, with Mattila mostly parked at the low end of her range. Her voice is plummy there but that part of her range doesn’t necessary have a lot of colour, neither does it have the sparkle I was chasing. But she sprinkled some sparkle later on and in the encores, which were her cabaret best – I wasn’t the only one to think so.

I love her natural charm, the direct, unfussy way she communicates, the way she can build a low brow joke even in an evening dress, with dangly earrings. I also like how she controls her hands and uses them a lot but makes it look necessary. Another thing I enjoy is watching singers between songs/when they aren’t singing. I like to catch the moment they get in character/change from one to the other. She’s very spontaneous, just slips in and sails with the mood.

It was a quite weird, though, the sober mood that permeated the night, which sent my thoughts to some issues I’ve tried to avoid sort out for years. I must’ve felt very comfortable with her in the house to visit those ultra personal places. My mind sometimes wanders during performances but usually to more immediate matters. This was indeed the week of singing psychotherapy.

Galina Averina recital (St George’s Hanover Sq, 5 April 2017)

One of the most fun things at London Handel Festival is to attend recitals by the local young singers on the rise. You might remember I was very impressed by Averina’s performance as Dalinda in last year’s RCM production of Ariodante. Others agreed and she came second in London Handel Festival’s 2016 singing competition. On Wednesday we had the opportunity to hear her sing the tunes I imagine she likes best. As you can see below, they tend to be playful, always a bonus for me.

Galina Averina soprano

Musica Poetica
Claudia Norz violin
Oliver John Ruthven harpsichord
? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the cellist’s name as she had stepped in for the original one

St George’s Hanover Sq from Maddox Street

Handel
Un cenno leggiadretto Serse

Cavalli
Restino imbalsamate La Calisto

Handel
Neghittosi, or voi che fate? Ariodante

JS Bach
Zerfliesse, mein Herze St John Passion

Handel
Piangero la sorte mia Giulio Cesare

Averina is vocally very accomplished, with a clear, easy coloratura and a pleasant, even tone across the range and from the getgo, good interaction with the instruments around her, as thadieu and I noticed last year in Ariodante. Her posture is very good and, though lively, knows how to contain her moves. She also looks like you’d imagine a character who has arias like Un cenno leggiadretto or Tornami a vagheggiar. Her characterisations were spot on, culminating with getting playful with her compact mirror on Myself I shall adore. It’s a long aria to marvel at one’s own gorgeousness but I think she loves herself all right 😉

Perhaps because the playful arias work so well for her, I was quite taken with the wistfulness she pulled for Zerfliesse… .

The violin sonata came off nicely, especially the Allegro part, where I really enjoyed the bassline.

there is an Ancient Maps shop very close to St George’s Hanover Sq. This is a wind chart (click to enlarge).

Handel
Sonata in D major for violin HWV 371

Handel
Myself I shall adore Semele

Rameau
Amour, lance tes traites! Platée

Handel
Tornami a vagheggiar Alcina

One glance at the setlist and something jumps right at you: we don’t often get French Baroque in London. It’s fun when it happens, especially if it’s one of Folie’s arias. You probably all remember Mireille Delunsch acting French-mad in that music sheet dress. If you don’t, check it out pronto. Averina did a lively job of it herself. I was reminded of an advice Marilyn Horne gave an English-language based singer presenting a German aria: pronounce it much stronger than you think necessary. Likewise, if it’s madness and it’s French you can fire all cylinders and it might not be nutty enough 😉 But she’s on the right track.

You know any setlist that includes Tornami… is guaranteed to make me book a ticket. I was amused that in her presentation of each aria Averina said of Piangero…  (along the lines of) “this is the character every Baroque soprano wants to sing” but in regards to Tornami… “this is Handel’s most fun aria”. And it certainly is, for soprano. Even Myself I shall adore isn’t quite on that level of giddiness. It was as fun and playful as a closer could ever get.

shop windows; the handbag one blinded me with its shininess; it’s also the window that flags Maddox Street in case you forgot your whereabouts

Earnest moment of the month: have you noticed the curious thread that links most of these characters?

Atalanta: futile but cheerful scheming,

Calisto: her lesbian tendencies cruelly exploited (poor Calisto!) – also, what the hell is this thing about being turned into a bear? I mean, a bear?! Couldn’t she have been turned into a cat or a doe (something Diana loves)? Celestial Cat, the Big Cat and the Small Cat, Cat licking its Paw, Cat napping (any cluster or stars looks like a fat cat napping) – even her name can be tweaked to include cat 😉

Dalinda: duped and physically/sexually abused (we’re beyond poor here),

Semele: duped and burned to death (don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!!!),

Morgana: duped and… it’s not clear what happens to her other than she gets back with her ex. But, yea, in that context poor Platée, who’s only duped and humiliated in front of everybody who’s anybody is having it easy. So I think we need someone to get a Platée together in London.

But at least these unfairly treated women have some great arias/potentially show stealing moments in their respective operas.

In less earnest news, the dry, sunny weather continues in London. I took a few more pictures of that touristy area1, so you can have visual reminders every time there’s a writeup about Wiggy/St George’s Hanover Sq.

as you exit the Oxford Circus tube station, the Palladium is down your first left on Argyll Street. (Still on Argyll St, going towards Maddox St) at the end of a side street on the right you can see the imposing Apple shop building. It’s a truly massive shop.


  1. After a long and tiring day at work, I took Wednesday off and went sightseeing in the city I’ve called home for the past 10 years; I tells ya, it’s never too late to get acquainted with the less visited rooms in your house. 

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

duelling cembali!

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

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

no messing with the contralto 😉