Category Archives: sopranos

Agrippina stirs some sh…tuff up (Barbican, 31 May 2019)

As a very big fan of Poppea, the prequel causes lots of amusement.

Poppea: Ottone, my boo-boo teddybear!
Ottone: I do not wish for power, all I want it my lovely, sexy and very virtuous Poppea!
Nerone: Poppea, Poppea! Considering I am higher up the totem pole than him, can I have some?
Poppea: Go away, pimply teenager! Now, where is my boo-boo teddybear, whom I will love forever?

Famous. last. words.

Claudio: Nerone, leave alone (ie, to me) virginal patrician women!
Agrippina: Nerone, stick to the plan! Now is not the time to get horny!

And so on.

Joyce DiDonato Agrippina
Elsa Benoit Poppea
Xavier Sabata Ottone
Franco Fagioli Nerone
Luca Pisaroni Claudio
Andrea Mastroni Pallante
Carlo Vistoli Narciso
Biagio Pizzuti Lesbo
Maxim Emelyanychev harpsichord/director | Il Pomo d’Oro

There is an unwritten law that says operas about this imperial family must have really good libretti. This one is funny as hell, there are too many good things to mention. If the music was not as good you would almost want it to be a very silly play about lust for power. For those who do not know, everybody has their own game they pursue to various results.

At this point, Poppea is actually a paragon of virtue compared to her later self. She does not want Nerone at all, no matter how much closer to the throne he is, and she is actually repulsed by Claudio, the emperor:

Poppea: He is like… old.

Although I think Pisaroni is younger than Sabata? Heh, heh. And, well, for once the bass-baritone is less credible age-wise than the soprano.

Poppea sticks with her true love here and fends off the danger (Claudio and Nerone) but also shows us that she can perform her own machinations. Now said schemes are not particularly clever, as she manages to 1) confuse boo-boo teddybear Ottone and 2) her well thought out scheme works in such a way as to lose him his throne. Ooops. Was Arnalta on holiday?

As far as the singers I had two surprises – for once I liked Fagioli’s acting better than his singing and I actually heard Sabata live! Those of you who have read my Disarmonia estravaganza may remember that I have seen him live before. Less with the hearing. It tells you something if you can hear a singer better from the Barbican’s balcony than from Wigg’s 5th row. And that something is

the orchestra and the conductor

I want to put my vote for Emelyanychev as the most singer friendly conductor EVER. OK, ever as in modern times and in Baroque specifically. But, maaaan, can he support a singer or what! Also, his orchestra is butter. When I saw them for Serse last year I was too close to Gal… I mean, to the action, so I actually did not have the best spot for focusing on hearing the work of the instrumentalists. But from my perch in the front row balcony (upgrade! that was a sweet spot for my £15) I could hear it in its multichannel beauty.

Now butter (salted, full fat) is usually a top like from me, but I have to say that, here and there, I could have liked a hint of recklessness (couple of pebbles in that butter?). I know, I know, as that wise man Muddy Waters once said, I can never be satisfied. But I think with me, it is actually high praise if I say it was wonderful butIt means you are on a whole other level from the riff-raff who cannot do a pianissimo to save their life. As I was saying much later, when the conversation turned to whether one has or has not seen that 8 hour tunnel that is the Wagner light – I like my music performed with delicacy and attention to detail.

Now lets go back to Franco. Hey, this man was made for solo shows, dramatically leaving and returning to the stage comedy! First Serse, now this. I think he was even better here, with his Mummy, Mummy, I’m scared schtick. Singingwise, I have already mentioned last year that Im going off him. Even so, it was a bit strange that, of everything that went on last night, Come nube came off the least convincing. Mind you, that was just me – the public loved it. Now, of course they would love it, the music is just so good. I also applauded, because how can you not give this orchestra and its head honcho a bit of clap? Heh heh. PS: first violin, sweet tone all night.

Handel: Hello, all! You may remember me for that wonderfully sparkling work I presented a couple of years ago, Il trionfo del Tempo… No? OK, the subject was a bit finger wagging – but the music! I came up with some of my best ideas back in 1707. I think I shall cannibalise that work for the rest of my life (wistful sigh). Let me remind you.

And reminded we was. In my case, I was reminded of the breathtaking renditions Bonitatibus and Hallenberg, to name but two, do of this aria. I am not entirely sure who or what to fault, but considering maestro was so keen on supporting his singers I shall blame both him and Franco. Emelyanychev chose to support him, so perhaps the lack of clarity or focus came from that. Do not get me wrong, the string section’s sound was as good as ever and the winds were no slouch. The tempo was no problem. What I did not quite feel was the drive. Franco, for his part, made a completely abstract sparkle of coloratura out of it. Like words tossed by the wind, as it were. I know I am asking too much from him, but I love this aria to such a degree that I would like to actually catch a word here and there.

Sabata, on the other hand, when heard, sounds lovely. Stylish as anything plus his recit skills are quite legendary. And whilst we are at other badass 1707 arias I wanted the world to remember, at some point Ottone breaks into Crede l’uom, only about birds and bees or something equally as incongruous. Wait a minute, that’s a cautioning the soprano aria. And whoever sings it, actually gets the soprano (right? Disinganno gets Bellezza in the end? so to speak; it is a morality tale, after all), which is the case here. Short lived victory, Ottone, alas. But Ottone is the character that stays the same through both works.

Agrippina: Whew! Now that I’ve seen my son on throne, I can die happy.
Nerone: Happy to oblige! (ok, not just yet)

This Agrippina provided a unique moment when I actually liked all three countertenors on stage. Even though I am moving on from Franco and the contrast with the warmer tones of Sabata and Vistoli was not flattering as far as I’m concerned, this was still the best possible gaggle of CTs on one stage for me. And though I appreciated Orlinski before, I think we were indeed better off with Vistoli as Narciso, to contrast the bolder Pallante (really fun acting chops from Mastroni) towards Agrippina. He has that hopeless lover tone that would probably do a nice Ottone in the future.

Because I never want my writeups to sound like they are coming from a hopeless Betty (Mary?) Sue, I shall remind you that I have always been indifferent to JDD’s tone. But then comes the rest of the story. JDD is without a doubt one of the smartest singers out there. I have long admired the way she balances her belcanto and her Baroque. She understands style and she can be interesting within the required parameters, without having to borrow skills from another time period. And, as you may know, I have been obsessed with her Barcelona Ogni vento from earlier this month. You sing Baroque, you need to do that kind of precise and inventive coloratura, you have to be able to sing softly, change dynamic gears in an instant, you need to pay attention to details. With her, it is all there and it feels easy to boot.

Her Agrippina did not try to out-Poppea Poppea. She took the role of scheming older woman very seriously and that was a clever move, because it fits her much better. Dramatically, her chiding mother to Franco’s whingy son and the lying through their teeth oh so civil couple she and Pisaroni made were the best moments of the night.

What can I say about Pisaroni? It is always a pleasure to hear him spin Baroque coloratura and, yes, we got his trade mark mezzo-hair sniffing moment. Haha.

I really did not mind Benoit and thought her acting was fine, although the company rather came down on her and thought she was boring. Not the most memorable voice out there but see above.

The evening ended up a lot more animated than I thought it would be. First, Giulia found me in the Barbican shop wihtout us actually making any plans. Then a bunch of Twitter folk she knew joined in for lively conversation. At the intermission I was stuck in an unbelievable loo queue. Barbican… you have so much dead space and so little understanding of how women and loo breaks function. As I was saying to a queue companion, it should not be called intermission any longer, rather it should be women’s loo break.

On the other hand, this may be Barbican’s clever have Londoners mingle plan. I found out that the two most efficient ice breakers in London are 1) complaining about the weather, 2) complaining about the loo queue at a performance venue. The third is admiring pets on the public transport.

You know the joke is Londoners never speak to each other or make eye contact on the tube (not true, I hasten to add). I have met some very interesting people on this very queue and I was a bit sad we could not continue our conversation due to impending return of performers on stage (the gall!). But after the show I joined Giulia and her friends for a pint at the local and that was very fun. We shall do it again!

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Agrippina in London, round one (next week)

*Please note that…

NOOO!

Am I the only one who has a sharp intake of breath whenever they have to *please note something regarding casting?

For the much awaited Barbican Agrippina concert performance currently touring I got my tickets last March, that is March 2018 – it was an accident, I am not quite as rabid an early Handel fan, though the amount of Ogni vento I listened to in the past couple of days could have had one fooled. But because of recent I have been known to forget shows I wanted to see (I also forgot to vote today…), I thought checking and rechecking that the show has not happened yet would be a good idea.

What I found out was that the show is still on 31 May BUT now we have to:

*Please note Kathryn Lewek is replaced by Elsa Benoit in the role of Poppea for this performance – well, ok, I guess?

**Please note Marie-Nicole Lemieux is replaced by Xavier Sabata in the role of Ottone for this performance – NOOOOO! …but it could be much worse

***Please note Jakub Jósef Orlinski is replaced by Carlo Vistoli in the role of Narciso for this performance – why, that one could be good!

In case you are wondering, I am not touring along. Round two should be in the Fall, when the Kosky production graces ROH. I guess we are lucky JDD is such a big name and that she likes her Baroque so she can use her influence with the big houses.

Handel for harpsichord and sorceress

You know how after you haven’t listened to music for a good while there’s that one thing you know you want to listen to? For some reason this was it.

Orgonasova was a very fine Handelian, was she not? Wish I caught her career.

Son rubini amorosi…

I may have fallen into the Poppea well again… but can you blame me? It’s the month of love and lust. For how tongue in cheek cynical the libretto is, Poppea has a high ratio of very romantic passages. Perhaps the most romantic of all is this bit Nerone sings whilst fantasising about Poppea’s beauty. I simply love it. I thought it was the best thing Lindsey sang all night that night (and I already thought she was at her best in this role) but now it’s Mameli that has stolen my heart. Try not to be seduced (close you eyes, the visuals alone might do the trick):

From the great book of Handel duets

This just came to my attention and I’m a bit in love with how good Karg and Basso sound together:

A good week to all 🙂

Kat’a Kabanova and Richard Jones, a match made in small town hell (ROH, 9 February 2019)

Small town mentalities, mother-in-law from hell + traditional woman’s role (aka, guilt over even existing) = the river Volga looks mightily inviting.

that’s right, Kat’a has a dark cloud over her head and the waters are quickly rising to engulph her…

Katerina (Katya): Amanda Majeski
Boris Grigorjevic (the lover): Pavel Cernoch
Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova (Kabanicha): Susan Bickley
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Vána Kudrjáš: Andrew Tortise
Tichon Ivanyc Kabanov (the husband): Andrew Staples
Glaša: Sarah Pring
Savël Prokofjevic Dikoj: Clive Bayley
Kuligin: Dominic Sedgwick
Fekluša: Dervla Ramsay
Conductor: Edward Gardner | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones

Doesn’t sound like the kind of opera I’d rush to see but Janáček’s libretti are always worth your while (it’s 1921, after all, not 1840). The story is repugnant on all levels yet somehow the way it’s told does not insult the contemporary Western intelligence. It also helps that it’s directed by Richard Jones.

As you can imagine with Jones at the helm, whatever humour there is (and, surprisingly, there is) gets a very evident and effective treatment. That’s very welcome (and clever for those who have hired him) because otherwise this opera is as depressing as those facepalm gems Lucia di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly. (I’m aware both are actually sympathetic to their heroines but it doesn’t make it any better; we still have these self-sacrificial role models perpetuating the mentality that you either conform or die, no matter how much we all think you’re actually a decent person).

Normally I’d roll my eyes at the MIL from hell trope, because it portrays (older) women in that ugly, mysoginistic manner etc. On the other hand, traditionally, Eastern European MILs do tend to be overly protective of their perfect progeny and very distrustful of anyone they ever date, let alone marry, because who could ever be good enough for their genius babies, right? The tendency to insert themselves in the young ones’ marriage is a reality. Another reason I put my eyeroll back on its shelf was because the way the libretto treats this – here overblown – state of affairs is very funny. The MILzilla (Kabanicha) wastes no time before starting with her complaints. To say she’s unrealistic, uncooperative, implacable or childishly jealous of her daughter-in-law doesn’t even start to cover the extent of her tantrum (the role of Kabanicha is an extended tantrum that puts the Queen of the Night to shame).

Some gems from the libretto:

Kabanicha (to her son): you love your wife more than you love me!
Tichon: Mum!
Kabanicha: what if she had a lover?
Tichon: but she doesn’t!
Kabanicha: but what is she did?
Tichon: … I’d still love her.
Kabanicha: you’re a moron!

Later:

Kat’a: why must you go [to Kazan Market]?
Tichon: because Mum said so. [Kabanicha: if you really loved your Mum, you’d go to Kazan Market.]
Kat’a: must you go? I feel something terrible is going to happen to me if you go.
Tichon: yes, if only to get away from here.
Kat’a: take me with you!!!

On the other hand, the hard done by Kat’a gets a really beautiful aria from which we learn of her lofty imagination and her (sadly very repressed) adventurous spirit. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town knows that the only place imagination and adventurousness gets you is in trouble. Small towns thrive on conformity and propriety (although we also soon learn that the staunchest uplholders of those qualities are also very hypocritical).

So for having a “fairytale” MIL and a downtrodden daughter-in-law, paired with benevolent but ineffective men (Kat’a’s husband, Tichon, and her lover, Boris), the libretto is unexpectedly balanced by the existence of a second young couple (the sidekicks), Varvara and Vána. Vána is a scientist and Varvara is a right on sister, who willingly assists Kat’a with her issues and tries to cheer her up, offering a lighter, more pragmatic view of the world. This couple is quite clearly pitted against the Behold God’s wrath! old skool mentality, embodied by Dikoj (Boris’ cantakerous uncle) and Kabanicha. This happens during the storm scene, when Vána and Dikoj face off (to humorous effect) over “what is a storm?” So the future is yet bright (Vána and Varvara go together to Moscow, where we all hope their enterprising personalities will help them thrive).

For whatever reason, the couple Kat’a and Boris is much less successful. Probably this has something to do with the dying class – nobility, undone by the limitations propriety and the rest of that stylised form of existence puts on its healthy development.

I’m not familiar with the music enough to make extensive comments, but I will say that the singers were supported with care by Gardner and the interventions by various winds and brass sounded particularly good. In the title role we had Amanda Majeski, who has so far been known to me only as Vitellia to JDD’s Sesto way back in 2014 (Chicago). Live she made a very good impression on me, both vocally and dramatically. I wouldn’t mind hearing her Vitellia again 😉 even though these two roles are as far from each other as it gets. It’s that kind of nicely rounded soprano voice that has various colours to work with and she knows how to handle it.

As far as acting, she was completely immersed in this sad role and shone in the aria I mentioned above, where Kat’a talks about her dreams of soaring above the drab and stifling world1 she lives in. This appears to have been her ROH debut, and I hope to see her again in some interesting roles, mind. Please, ROH, don’t bury her in the same old. And if we can have Tito back at ROH sometime in the next decade, I’m definitely not going to be one to complain 😀 In any case, she got a very warm welcome in the house and the word on the street is equally as positive. Welcome to London 🙂 With Brexit looming, we might end up welcoming a lot more American singers of this calibre… that would be the good side of things.

The others did well, too, of course especially Bickley, who chewed scenery with the best of them as the self-righteous busybody Kabanicha. As unpleasant an cliche as it is, she made the role quite hypnotic in its small-town diabolique manner.

[edit]: The last scene was – totally unexpected – the most Russian thing I’ve seen on an English stage (true, I have not seen many Russian things, but I have seen Jones’ decidedly un-Russian 2016 Boris Godunov, one of his less successful productions, as far as I’m concerned). The spirit seemed just right to me (the main trio: Tichon holding the dead Kat’a, with Kabanicha tugging at them).

It was an evening equally as rewarding as it was frustrating, which is a good thing if you’re relaxed enough to put up with 😉 Jones has been on a roll for a few years now, so I would suggest you don’t miss his productions if you’re a fan of good theatre. But dress lightly, especially in the Upper Amphi; the heaters are on full blast.

This was my first return to ROH after it has completed its refurbishment of the Amphitheatre lounge. They have done a very good job integrating it with the rest of the ROH design, congratulations. It’s swanky but not obnoxiously so. After my travels around Europe, I think it’s still got the coolest lounge areas of all the major theatres.


  1. Two men to my right were discussing – somewhat mockingly – the cheap looking beige panneling that was the constant background to the proceedings. I was a bit surprised that it needed explaining. For my part, Jones’ ideas and Antony McDonald designs were spot on and smoothly clear at every turn: the hippie young couple proclaiming nature was beautiful, the “squares” with their ’50s style clothes and furnighings etc. 

Juditha, the Mozart version now on Ö1

A reminder to tune in right now for Betulia liberata (featuring Galou and Piau), just in case you haven’t had enough of Juditha over this period 😉

*

To begin with, the tenor has a proto-Se all’impero type aria, hehe. There is a tenor. Is he Holofernes?

Have you ever wondered why none of Mozart’s best known operas are based on biblical subjects? Could be because they all end up sounding like bedroom dramas/dramedies 😉 The recits for sure.

This must be Juditha; she’s not exactly heroic but she has some very high notes. Piau sounds different in Mozart but beautiful nonetheless. The tenor: blah blah. Juditha answers back. He must be Holofernes, indeed. She sounds sort of like a particularly en garde Susanna. He sounds like a Mozart tenor that is not portraying royalty.

I know this aria! Unless I’m thinking about a Haydn aria. Nope, it’s this aria I’m thinking about. The one here is neither but it’s pretty good, finally something rather heroic. Well, finally – we’re not yet half an hour in.

As I understand, this is being held at Haus fur Mozart (it’s part of Mozart Week 2019), which we know and love in all its splendid poshness. The audience is very appreciative, they applau after every aria.

More tenor; he’s fretting (like Mozart tenors are wont to). The chorus mirrors his fretting – see what I mean about sounding like a bedroom dramedy?

A minor key aria, oh no! His nookie chances have perished for the moment. Pieta, signor di noi! He really says that. Wait, maybe he’s not Holofernes? It’s a bit serious and the chorus joins in. Maybe he’s… Ozias? Mozart, help me out here. Are we supposed to laugh at him or cry with him/them?

Anyway, it’s kind of an interesting mood, quite far from great Mozart but onto something.

More budoir-chatting recit. Oh, look, Galou showed up. Who is she here? She seems alarmed. We hope for an angsty aria. It’s a rousing accompanied recit, pretty decent writing from Wolfie, great agitation from Galou. Cool, how about the aria now? Hey, it’s actually a mid-tempo number with trills. Who knew! She sounds interesting in Mozart, more mezzoish than usual. She’s hoping for something, but who isn’t in this scenario? She seems to be vaccilating (also known as the typical mid-tempo number with trills). Oh, no, a Mozart character who is undertain of how to proceed further?!

The audience is so well behaved, even the contralto gets applause! Aww, and I always make fun of the Salzburg crowd 😉

Speaking of preghi sinceri (sp), is she Holofernes or what?

The tenor and the choir return for a honest to god (no kidding) dirge. He could be Ozias. A tenor Ozias?!

No answer to preghi, some bass showed up. I think we’re doomed. Whoever he is, he’s also nowhere near as calm as the Assyrians over at Vivaldi’s. A fretting buffo bass is amusing.

Yes, an aria with trumpets! NOW we’re talking. The buffo bass reminds me of the cuckolded husband from Lo sposo deluso. He must be Holofernes. I think we’ve established by now that everyone else save for Piau could be Holofernes 😉

Wait, the amorous tenor is speaking to Galou and calling her Giuditta. Err… ? Haha. Total confusion chez dehggi.

I DO know this aria! It’s… it’s… hold on, I know it. It’s… something that Hallenberg sings. Parto inerme! e non pavento! So Galou’s made up her mind and she IS indeed Giuditta, because, hello, she’s going unarmed. So she’s the one chopping heads in this one. Who is Piau? Abra? Piau is not Holofernes 😉 I’ve never heard Galou sing Mozart; she’s stylish as usual. I’m still not sure if Wolfie’s music best suits the colour of her voice. I mean she sounds good and all but I’m not sure she sounds great like in the Baroque rep. The audience loves her. Aww. I think she’d got more applase here than in the Baroque I’ve heard her where she stole my heart. Such is life eh?

The choir gets all verklempt over the gran cimento she’s getting herself into. I wouldn’t advise anyone to play with cement either. Even the choir gets hearty applause. Hey, Salzburg fans, go easy on the cider.

**

We understand from the commenter that Holofernes has not entered the building yet! This was all in the Bethulian camp. So, there you go, the Who is Holofernes? game continues.

Apparently there is a theological debate going on, as the next (tenor) aria features the line “if you want to see god”. Could’ve fooled me, it sounds along the lines of Del piu sublime soglio. And dude, does it go on…

The tenor/Ozias really has a lot to sing in this one. They are some long neat mid-tempo Tito in training arias. The audience will get sore palms by the end of this performance.

The Bethulians can’t deal with the tension, Giuditta is not replying to texts. Answer: angsty-storm aria!

I’ve heard this one, too, though I can’t name it – something heavily featuring procella and naufragar, of course. I have to say that Haus for Mozart, although the small hall out of the three, isn’t exactly that small. Would have been intereseting to hear how Piau and Galou managed. Their style is great. The audience has been building up their cheer and I think they likes this one best. Piau’s coloratura-fest was ace.

To the fields! They are all basket cases. Oh, Giudatta’s back, thank YWH! You do get that nice effect with a contralto/dark mezzo tone, where you don’t have to do much to get everyone to calm down: just open your mouth. Giuditta gives a heartfelt speech and you bet they all hang onto her very word. Well, I did and all the way from here at that. Aha, she’s already built her plan, she will attack whilst he’s asleep. Good idea, Giuditta, I heard it works rather well, especially if your Holofernes is a burly chap. She’s quite verbose, let me tell you, but that just means more Galou sounds. Maybe she told them everything in great detail. I think there is also something else she tells them: listen to Vivaldi’s version 😉

There is quite a lot of wringing of hands this side of the 18th century.

Prigionier che fa ritorno – is this an aria we should know, or is this just one of those Metastasio stock phrases? They do like to give Giuditta mid-tempo stuff with very long held notes to sing. Come on, I want something fist-pumping. Then again, Galou gets some neat emotion in this one – she sounds more like usual self here. This Giuditta is much less angry than the Vivaldi one. I think she may enjoy the spotlight a lot better.

The buffo bass is pooping his pants for some reason. Take heart, dude, Giuditta is doing just fine, judging by the above aria. I think he loves her or something. Te solo adoro, he says in a – you guessed – mid-tempo aria with trills. His trills are kinda nice. Also, nice pp I wasn’t expecting on eternita (they all get philosophical). I think he’s a bass-baritone – a nicely toned one. Tentative applause, no! He did quite nicely.

More fretting in Bethulian camp. And another mid-tempo aria with… Pieta, signior, pieta – now for soprano, with some nice pp. The deal seems to be this: the Assyrians are attacking. The Bethulians have prayed very hard.

YHW: [closed]
Bethualians: YHW! Pieta, signior, pieta!
YHW: [closed]
Giuditta: clearly, someone has to do something.
Ozias: YHW bless you, noble widow! We will pray for you.
Buffo bass: she’s so hot when she gets bossy.

Bethulians – in this case, Amanda Forsythe – are still busy fretting. Major fret aria, so-so on the Mozart scale. They keep talking, obsviously Giuditta is busy… wait, she’s back. I wonder if Metastasio was short on funds and couldn’t afford the Assyrians in this libretto 😉

The choir is back and so is Giuditta – together. Nice idea, could be a powerful scene to stage. We need more Galou + choir, smartly conducted, though. Very nice ending, Wolfie recovered well.

Wigmore Hall: what to look forward to from April 2019 on

Some new faces, some old, plus the return of von Otter:

April

Aci, Galatea e Polifemo it’s that thing he did twice (among the other things he did twice) 😉

Matthew Rose from the “let no Spring pass without a bass recital” rule book

Senna festegiante (with Emöke Baráth)

Katarina Karnéus let’s see what she’s up to

St John Passion my fave Passion

May

Anne Sophie von Otter she’s baack! And again, after hours.

Paula Murrihy I have no idea how she sounds like, so I should go and hear for myself, right?

Sumi Jo Masterclass Sumi Jo!

L’Arpegiatta I’m not really a fan but sometimes it’s tempting to go against your own grain

The Bangash Brothers who doesn’t love the sarod?!

June

Mafi and Morison in “Lieder fan tutte” – sounds like it could be a hoot(-hoot at Paulton’s Park)

Gerald Finley I somehow never saw him in recital

July

Simon Keenlyside singing Americana – he made such a good impression on my soaked trainers, I am buying what he’s selling even so late in the season

Trills on demand with Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica (Wigmore Hall, 11 December 2018)

A Vivaldi-heavy performance is only fitting to cap a very exciting concert-going year, that has brought me to Vivaldi’s homebase twice. In furore iustissimae irae is one of those badass motets that can only come from the Red Priest (lest we forget he was an ordained priest; I usually do, his music sounds so wordly most of the time) and it was this that convinced me to attend, even though they livestreamed it. Somehow I have not noticed anyone else bringing it to Wiggy in my time of patronising the venue. I hope more do in the future.

I’ve seen La Nuova Musica in action enough to know what to expect. I have to commend Lucy Crowe for the highest professionalism with which she adapted to the breakneck speeds that are so dear to Bates. Her tone is too sweet (not a criticism) to call what she used “machinegun coloratura” but it’s definitely one of the fastest and most accurate I’ve heard so far. Her top has enough piercing power to break through the volume levels Bates likes to employ.

Gent from Manchester who took 3 trains for this event: she’s more like a mezzo.

Because she sang Gelido in ogni vena, which I’ve only heard contraltos (and countertenors) sing so far? An interesting choice, I agree, proving she has a middle, but something that benefits from a conductor more focused on emotional detail than energy and forward momentum.

She sounded in top form from the getgo, though I still think that, overall, I prefer her in Mozart (I loved her Ismene in Mitridate! She sounded like she was having so much fun, even though the production is somewhat restrictive in allowing you to put your personal touch on the character; then again, I wasn’t so keen on her Susanna and my interest in her was sparked by her Rodelinda… so you see how it goes). I would say from a techincal point of view she absolutely rocked and this was what Bates wanted from her. I suppose had he wanted her to add personality as well, she would’ve.

For its part, La Nuova Musica is perhaps more suited to Handel, as – at least to me – the sound was too heavy for Vivaldi/Italian Baroque, and occasionally the top strings produced a smudgy sound. The harpsichord was, of course, loud.  So heavy-ish, loud and furious, though not ponderous but also not souple and bright.

Lucy Crowe soprano
La Nuova Musica | David Bates director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Overture from Il Farnace RV711
Siam navi all’onde algenti from L’Olimpiade RV725
Gelido in ogni vena from Il Farnace RV711

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso in G minor Op. 6 No. 8 ‘For a Christmas Night’

Nico Muhly (b.1981)
Land in an Isle (Part One: Translation of the Body) (London première)

Antonio Vivaldi
Motet: In furore iustissimae irae RV626

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Gloria HWV deest
Sonata a5 HWV288

Nico Muhly
Land in an Isle (Part Two: Land in an Isle) (London première)

George Frideric Handel
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV46a
Tu del ciel ministro eletto
Un pensiero nemico di pace

Encore:
Lascia la spina from Il trionfo…

The Il trionfo bits were also of much interest to me, as I have never seen it/heard any of them live yet. I admit that when Bates said they’d have another trionfo aria for the encore, this time from Piacere, my heart skipped a bit in hopes of Come nembo. After that coloratura fest, can you blame me? Failing that, at least Un pensiero was as lively as one can hope, though that one could hope for more lightness 😉

Not sure I’d heard any Muhly before. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I had no particular reaction to the piece. The biggest effect was showcasing Crowe’s diction in English vs Italian. It could have been the high speeds, but her Italian was mostly vowels.

I was first introduced to In furore… by Roschmann, of all people. Unless you’re familiar with this wonderful motet, you may not know that Roschamann used to sing this kind of stuff when she was very young (1994). It’s quite the rarity for me but you can feel her distinctive personality already, albeit in a much lighter presentation than we know and love.

Then I went on to listen to Piau’s definitive version and so on. It’s a piece that benefits from a more introverted approach rather than an operatic one, dealing as it is with one’s relationship with sin, divine forgiveness and human rejoicing.

The event was suprisingly well attended, perhaps it’s the time of year when people feel a particular pull towards live culture – and thus people were very happy with the performance. I was somewhat amused to have a May-December couple plop next to me. This is not an unusual occurence at Wiggy, where we have the following types of public: old money mature populace who goes to these things as a matter of fact, music students, other musicians, regular music loving people/fans of the singer/band/conductor and academics and their much younger partners (ex (one hopes)-students). The May part of the couple behaved exactly like the young woman from Carol.

Roberta Invernizzi, two lutes, one viola da gamba and beguiling canzoni (Wigmore Hall, 19 November 2018)

I love these one shot (no interval) lunchtime Wiggy concerts! It’s usually pensioners and music students – and people who eat music on rye for lunch 😉 I try to get the day off for them, because otherwise they are really inconvenient for anyone working shifts but sometimes needs must include good ole’ skiving 😉 Put yourself in my place: 17th century love songs vs. Monday1 at work. I don’t care how much you love your job, music should win or you’re reading the wrong blog.

Anyway, I was only 1 1/2hrs late, so I’m keeping my respectability, especially after looking like I saved the day from a short on staff afternoon! Baroque heroes, you’ve got nothing on me.

Roberta Invernizzi soprano
Rodney Prada viola da gamba
Craig Marchitelli lute
Franco Pavan lute

Giulio Caccini: Dolcissimo sospiro; Dalla porta d’oriente

Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger: Passacaglia

Claudio Monteverdi: Ecco di dolci raggi; Disprezzata Regina from L’incoronazione di Poppea

Orazio Bassani: Toccata per B quadro

Girolamo Frescobaldi: Canzone a basso solo

Tarquinio Merula: Folle è ben che si crede

Luigi Rossi: La bella più bella

Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger: Arpeggiata

Sigismondo D’India: Intenerite voi, lagrime mie; Cruda Amarilli

Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è’l tormento; Voglio di vita uscir

Encore:

Giulio Caccini: Amarilli, mia bella from Le nuove musiche

It’s been a couple of weeks or so from Lemieux with nothing – nothing! The upside is you really appreciate the musicians’ efforts after a drought. As soon as Invernizzi spun out the very first trill I was all how I wish I could do that! And when the lutes kicked in I thought this is it, I was born to listen to this 😉 I also, quite unusually, had a seat at the front of the venue, which, with Invernizzi works well as you get all sorts of nice dynamic transitions. This is the kind of concert where there is so little time, you need to be on from the moment you step on stage.

I really enjoyed her in this rep – probably my favourite performance from her. She has the style down pat and she didn’t either force or hold back, she was completely at home. As usual I liked the jaunty songs best (Dalla porta d’oriente has the same tune as Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosi) but Disprezzata regina by a soprano wasn’t a bad idea at all. It was a lot less stark and brutal than the recent one from Salzburg (it seemed like 2 lutes made a lot more noise than Christie’s entire band) but her tone and her investment worked nicely indeed. Voglio di vita uscir, a favourite of Baroque recitalists, with that playful start that belies its glum title, was, unsurprisingly, giddier than usual.

All in all, this is exactly my idea of a Monday lunchtime concert – content and presentation. I don’t know that I have words for how emotionally close I feel to this stuff. Might as well sneak in another Venice picture, though not everything above comes from Venice.

remember what I said about nighttime walks in Venice?


  1. Mondays and Wednesdays are the busiest for us.