Category Archives: sopranos

Rinaldo: a story of love, battle and colonialism (Barbican, 13 March 2018)

Almost a year after Ariodante, the London public has returned to the Barbican for Handel’s first local smash hit, 1711’s Rinaldo. Set during the First Crusade, Rinaldo manages the feat to be both unapologetically silly and decidedly un-PC. Goffredo’s army has come very close to liberating Sion from the Saracens when Argante’s top scheming ally, the witch Armida, has nonchalantly plucked Rinaldo’s beloved from under his nose.

Armida: sorry, stud, I need your fiance for a moment. poof!
Rinaldo: … what just happened? … and where is Almirena? [aka, Cara sposa]

Goffredo: you can get my daughter back after we conquer Sion.
Rinaldo: no! Almirena first, battle next.

He might be young and relatively unexperienced but things fall into place the way he wants them to. Super bonus: the baddies, Argante and Armida, willingly (narrow miss) convert to Christianity! All in a day’s work.

The English Concert
Harry Bicket conductor
Iestyn Davies Rinaldo
Jane Archibald Armida
Sasha Cooke Goffredo
Joelle Harvey Almirena
Luca Pisaroni Argante
Jakub Józef Orliński Eustazio
Owen Willetts Mago

As far as concert performances go, this was a mixed bag. The English Concert was in its usual high form, very disciplined, at best in the muscular parts of the score, with just minimal desynchs in the wind section and some – I guess inevitable – trumpet clarity trouble in the trills of Or la tromba. To the trumpets’ credit, they absolutely rocked Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which was the highlight of the night for me (surprise, surprise). They did such a good job as far as I’m concerned that they very narrowly upstaged Pisaroni.

Everybody before him (and some after) started a bit cautiously but he took this massive entrance aria with the right aplomb and confidence (and sang without a score through the night). It didn’t hurt that his voice was 2 sizes larger than everyone else’s. However he didn’t show this off for the sake of muscle flexing and resized back for the rest of his interventions. Even here he played with volume dynamics in the coloratura – perhaps foreshadowing Argante’s weakness? Now if you have volume and you’re called to sing an aria such as this I’m all for you firing on all cylinders 😀 and if you can play with it, that’s even better.

Pisaroni was also the most committed acting-wise, showing softeness when Argante falls for Almirena, (almost comical) caution and passion with lover/ally Armida and a very smooth U-turn at the end, when the baddies admit deafeat. This on top of the right amount of boastfulness of a “feared enemy”. It’s a silly role but a more nuanced one that you’d immediately give credit.

As Armida, Archibald was her usual self, I guess. I’m not a fan (for me she’s a soprano who has a very ringing but rather unpleasant top and little of interest elsewhere) but I will allow that, dramatically, her interactions with Pisaroni were rather fun. Vocally she was one of the most cautious ones, so Furie terribili was a bust – at least for me. Let us not forget that Handel wrote for virtuosi, who cherished the challenge to make a grand entrance, whereas I felt that she was still guaging how far her voice could go. If you have a voice large and sonorous enough to sing Strauss I’d say you could blast through a 2min Handel bravura aria (ok, ok, different style and all – but still; also as far as style went I thought she did well). But aside from a not entirely style-appropriate reach to the top of her voice later on, you wouldn’t have known what volume she has at her disposal. The coloratura was correct, if rather robotic (as Baroque Bird noted) but the moments when she cruelly played with Rinaldo by manhandling Almirena weren’t bad dramatically.

She was also unfairly hampered by the harpischord in that aria that features the keyboard at length, I wouldn’t know what to tell you about her interpreation, thank you overbearing harpsi. Imagine your concert performance is going well, with the various instruments having their moments, when an aria comes where you detect more prominent than usual harsichord involvement. At first I thought “how cool! There harpsi comes to the forefront to loudly let us know what it thinks, not just to whisper as it normally does – it’s ok if all the others (including the soprano) have to stop, turn around and pay attention.” It was ok and interesting even the second time. Then the third time came. Ok, I thought, Tom Foster is a very skilled player, why not? Oh, and this is actually an aria and the soprano is trying to convey something or another. What was that again? Nevermind, the harpsi will return for a fourth time. So all in all in that aria, the harpsi had centre stage for about 15min and the sorpano for 3. Classic(al) drum solo moment if I’ve ever seen one!

It was only upon further researching that I realised that was Vo far guerra (Archibald’s Italian diction isn’t anything to write home about…) and the harpsichord part is nowhere near as verbose, though it’s there and it’s definitely fun [edit: well, I’m proven kinda wrong. In the sense you can improv the hell out of it – according to your taste. It’s better if it’s at the end, though]. You’ll ask yourself, “come on, dehggi, you didn’t know Vo far guerra?!” Dear reader, I thought I did (kinda; that being said I totally forgot about Or la tromba until it started). One of the problems with the Barbican’s open plan hall is that if you’re seated on the Balcony and have my eyesight you can’t read the surtitles (I used the opera glasses to keep up with the plot but you can’t do it all the time or chance a headache).

Now of course I know Baroque is all about excess and if the singers can do their shtick, why not the instruments? Right, but it’s still an opera and not a keyboard concerto with bonus singing. Nevermind, judged by the ovations, this was the crowd’s favourite moment of the night, so there you go.

Iestyn Davies has been our local Rinaldo for a while now but I have to say he wasn’t in top form the other night. He came off a bit pale, both vocally and dramatically (most alive as a lover in his interactions with Harvey’s Almirena) and, hate to say it, his Rinaldo was upstaged in both stage presence and vocal shine by Orliński’s Eustazio – who has already sung his own Rinaldo in Frankfurt and I could see why.

I noticed some physical struggle with Davies’ coloratura in the massive bravura arias, which took his attention away from the drama. Especially in Or la tromba one needs to look like a very hopeful hero, ready to take on the last challenge in battle, and all I got from him was careful singing. I know it comes very late in the game but, you know, tough luck. In defense of the trumpets, aside from some tonal blur in the trills, the rest was great, beautiful sound, very good synch. I feel like I need to reiterate this because the trumpets were a pleasure and I know this is very difficult (impossible?) to do spotless with those valveless Baroque instruments.

To illustrate what I missed here dramatically, I’ll leave you with this concert performance (don’t be deterred by the low quality audio):

Harvey continues to baffle me. Though a singer of pleasant tone, vocal commitment and good technical skills, her stage presence is nonexistant. Glyndebourne is mere months away, I wager she needs to do something, because at this point, dramatically I have very low expectations from her Cleopatra. That being said, Almirena’s second aria was beautiful singing, my favourite from hers so far. The Augelletti aria not so much, though the piccolo was the bigger culprit (I didn’t like the tone, though I won’t argue if you call me nitpicky).

Like I mentioned earlier, I liked Orliński a lot. He and Pisaroni had the best stage presence and enthusiasm by far and he showed a very beautiful tone and nuanced phrasing. I’m going to see him in concert soonish, so expect to read something more in depth here once I hear more from him.

Cooke as Goffredo wasn’t bad, perhaps one needs to hear more before making a definitive call (I hadn’t heard her before). I couldn’t make my mind up if she was a low mezzo or a contralto but that wasn’t a problem. She came off as a good Goffredo, who’s supposed to be older and wiser – with unhurried gestures and a fairly authoritative vocal presence. She is one of those singers whose chest register sounds very different from her top. The chest is pretty solid though not particularly resonant whilst she can get a very strong ring out of her top. It’s quite metallic but rather intriguing, so I’d like to hear more of it. As an aside, hairwise she sported the curl of joy 😉 so there is a little extra bonus there.

All in all, a good, if not great evening. I’m way less familiar with Rinaldo than with Ariodante and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music Handel produced before his 26th birthday (it premiered the day after). The number of arias that have become Handel classics is impressive and the lesser known ones ain’t bad either.

The conversations around me were way amusing (how many times have we seen Davies? Three? No, many! Even when Farinelli transfered to the West End! He was also in something else here, though in a secondary role [dehggi: he was Ottone in Poppea a couple almost 4 years back, which is known as not having lesser roles – actually his E pur io torno qui is very nice]), though Mr. Twitter with fascist hair’s constant leaning directly in my line of view, especially during Cara sposa, wasn’t. I know not everyone suffers as much as I do if I can’t see the singers but I hate the disconnect. I have to say this was the first time I had “restricted view” at the Barbican. Moral of the story: never get second row Balcony seats, try higher.

Anyway! the next Handel opera concert performance at the Barbican is Serse this coming October, with Pomo d’Oro and a starry cast, including a certain contralto referenced in this very post 😀 I coughed up £40 for a second row Stalls seat so let’s hope all is good by then.

(as usual, sorry for the possible typos)


Golda Schultz’s bright sunshine in the dead of winter (Wigmore Hall, 5 February 2018)

Sometimes you have an idea about a singer that is so far off the mark that you (I) discreetly check your ticket to see if you’re at the right performance 😉 I exaggerate but only so much.

Golda Schultz soprano
Jonathan Ware piano

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
An Chloe K524
Das Lied der Trennung K519

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Heimliches Lieben D922
Romanze zum Drama Rosamunde D797 No. 3b
Suleika I D720
Suleika II D717

Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Three Browning Songs Op. 44

John Carter (1929-1991)

Somewhere over the Rainbow
South African Song

I know thadieu will remind me that she was also in that ‘trovatore in Munich with Harteros but to me she has so far been Vitellia in this past Summer’s Curretzology in Salzburg. That time I had to use a mental shovel and push away quite a bit of currentz-balast but in the end I liked her and upon seeing that she’d be coming to Wiggy I seized a ticket.

Well! This was a very good opportunity to be reminded that singers play roles in opera productions and whatever you think you can glean about them during the performance might be very little of or very different than how they are like in real life.

I don’t know that I’ve seen such a cute singer before (Petibon, perhaps, but that’s different kind of cute; cute with a lot of life experience; Schultz is young-cute – somebody giddy-positive that all is right with the world and happy to be doing what they’re doing). I don’t want to detract from her artistry; with me cute is a very high recommendation indeed. So much for Vitellia!

Schultz has sung the Countess, I hear, but I think Susanna or Adina are emotionally more up her alley. Or Rosina (I know she’s way past Serpetta career-wise, but she would be a hoot! Or how about the witty serva in Pergolesi’s La serva padrona? Does anyone sing that anymore? I wish someone (her) did in London!). I mean I’m all for getting ahead in life but there was such a brightness and liveliness to her in this recital, I think (and it might just be me) would be a shame to waste on more serious roles at this time. Anyway!

It was fresh and bright and happy and it flowed seamlessly from Mozart to John Carter then I teared up during Somewhere over the Rainbow – but in a good way – happy for her that she’s made it.

I wrote this immediately after and thought it was too short a writeup, but, really, this is how the performance was: short and sweet.

How to be cheerful about love and death in Venice (Wigmore Hall, 26 February 2018)

This was the first performance I attended in 3 weeks and that musical starvation added quite a bit to my enjoyment. If you look at the programme you can see it’s very attractive and interesting, though my favourite bit was, predictibly, the Poppea part. As we reached the interval I thought to myself “I could listen to the Poppea duets for hours!”

Love and death in Venice
Les Talens Lyriques
Christophe Rousset director, harpsichord
Gilone Gaubert-Jacques violin
Gabriel Grosbard violin
Emmanuel Jacques cello

Jodie Devos soprano
Judith van Wanroij soprano

This is the pared down team Rousset usually brings along to recitals and, also as usual, it did a great job. The violins stepped in and out, showing virtousity when taking centre stage, with Rousset himself and Jacques carrying most of the voice-supporting work. Rousset can, on occasion, come off a bit lacklustre in opera, but his very laid-back, rhythmically solid but non-intrusive keyboard style is always strong in recitals. His singers have room to shine and they did here, too.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Madrigals, Book 7
Chiome d’oro
O come sei gentile
Ahi sciocco mondo e cieco

Dario Castello (c.1600)
Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro I
Seconda Sonata

Claudio Monteverdi
L’incoronazione di Poppea
Prologue and Sinfonia
Signor, deh, non partire
Signor oggi rinasco
Pur ti miro, pur ti godo


Luigi Rossi (c.1597-1653)
A che tanto spavento
Che può far Citherea
Vi renda Amor mercè
Lasciate, Averno

Johann Rosenmüller (c.1619-1684)
Sonata Sesta a3

Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Lamento di Cassandra
Lamento di Didone

The singers took a bit to achieve optimal blend, what with Devos’ very bright top occasionally covering Wanroij more middle placed voice but as far as aural mix they worked very well and they looked like they were having fun singing together. Seeing two women in dresses (pink and bright red) sing the Poppea-Nerone duets also brought on a smile for yours truly.

As you know, I’m not exactly a fan of laments, and I learned Leander shares this feeling. Baroque Bird pointed out that Cassandra’s lament was rather interesting (quite chromatic, I guess? my vocabulary is a bit iffy – angular and “stabby” is what I felt) and while I agree it was memorable writing it was still a lament… Anyway, they did encore with another duet, and although Rousset mentioned its title/composer, they now completely escape me (but Leander got it, as well as Damigella and Valletto’s duet which I, uh, didn’t know was there 😉 d’oh!).

The performance was very well attended and the laidback feel permeated the hall, though London has been going through a most peculiar weather moment (dark clouds and snow/clear sky and bright sun chasing each other several times a day). Leander and Baroque Bird mentioned mezzo Emilie Renard was in attendence but sadly I spotted her at the opposite end of the hall so no hello from me though I would have liked to chat a bit. Hope to see her on stage at some point in the near future 🙂

Oscara in maschera

Nobody1 quite knows why, but for Un ballo in maschera Verdi concocted a trouser role. It’s written for a high soprano (or at least that’s what I always heard it as – always meaning the 2-3 times I listened). Every one of those times I rolled my eyes at the perky soprano prancing around rather like a cheerleader (they were all way girly, too) than what I would normally imagine as the king’s secretary (someone like Annio, I guess?). But here comes Tim Albery with a slammed production for Opera North:

having the king’s secretary, Oscar (Tereza Gevorgyan) change from his suit into an evening dress for the final scene is hard to rationalise and rather undermines Verdi’s idea of making it a trousers role for a coloratura soprano in the first place. – Andrew Clements for The Guardian

That’s kind of interesting for a change. Maybe Albery felt like me. Maybe he just wanted to highlight the ambivalence of trouser roles. If the king’s secretary is going to be a chirping coloratura soprano, what does that mean? To me it means he’s quicksilver gender-wise, so why not go full circle? I mean trouser-role wise I rate Verdi very low (I’m still bitter he changed Ernani the bandit from trouser mezzo to tenor) but he did make an (ill-conceived?) effort here and must’ve wanted something with it.

  1. I learned today Ballo is supposed to be a bit comedic, so maybe that’s one of the reasons. I don’t really get Verdi humour, so it had to be spelled out to me. But it’s progress! 

Golda Schultz recital on BBC3’s Lunchtime Concert 5 February 2018

If you, like me, enjoyed Schultz’s turn as Vitellia in last Summer’s new Salzburg Tito production – I mean as much as one could, given the new and improved context – here’s a chance to tune in to BBC3 tomorrow at 1pm GMT for some song. I’m sure we’ll all miss the riveting choreography from Sellars’ team but we’ll still have the voice.

Are you afraid of me, Jokanaan? (Salome at ROH, 17 January 2018)

what sticks in the mind above all is McVicar’s conception of Salome as a petulant pseudo-teen. She’s a riot of overwrought pouting, wheedling, sulking and foot-stamping. The gap between her mundane histrionics and her extraordinary desires could hardly be larger. – Flora Wilson for The Guardian

A pseudo-teen? Why, she’s supposed to be a petulant teenager, n’est-ce pas? There is no gap between her histrionics and her desires! Going for the extreme version of anything is exactly what a petulant teen would do.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Salome. She finds Jokanaan interesting because her elders are so scared of him. And when she – literally – possesses him, she scores the supreme goal against her parents. That’s quintessentially adolescent 😀

Salome: Malin Byström
Jokanaan: Michael Volle
Herod: John Daszak
Herodias: Michaela Schuster
Narraboth: David Butt Philip
Page of Herodias: Christina Bock
cast +1
Conductor: Henrik Nánási | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: David McVicar

This 2008 Salome is one of those good McVicar productions, it makes its point and doesn’t overdo anything. The stage has two levels but focuses on the lower tier, which is the seedy area underneath the banquet hall above, aka the dungeon. I liked that – at least from my seat in the gods (£19!) – you could only see the legs of those attending the banquet.

Hells, yea, that’s exactly what a girl like Salome would like, and she says that much when she descends: I like it here, it’s so breezy. I bet it was really stuffy upstairs.

I admit I didn’t get the dance of the seven veils scene, which was all intellectualised with no nudity whatsoever. In fact the nudity present in the production did not involve Salome at all. I don’t mind that, perhaps on the contrary. But I also don’t quite know what to say about the dance. With its threshhold and/or mirror it seemed to me like something having to do more with Herod’s boundaries rather than having us all part of the male gaze. If that’s what it was then good but I’m not sure; all of this is stuff I rationalised since, not something that hit me at the time.

But, as we all know, Salome’s interaction with Herod isn’t what makes this opera. Here Byström makes the boredom mixed with apprehension and uneasiness with Herod very apparent and comes alive (as Salome should) in her exploratory interactions with Jokanaan. He, rather than Herod, stands in for the unwavering, demeaning authority of the patriarchy, with his decrying of her mother’s debauchery and basically calling Salome an abomination by virtue of existing. She seems amused (and emboldened) by all this – as a teen would. She goes on to tell him she wants his various body parts and when he turns her down in disgust she says she hates the above mentioned body parts 😀 I don’t know about others but I remember those petulant reactions so well (and so fondly, now that I have just turned into a “respectable” 40 year old).

Salome herself gets the ax in the end (from supreme local authority Herod’s order) but it feels perfunctory. The bourgeoisie/parents/male authority (both secular and religious) has been dully riled up and the opera is named after her.

I’m not necessary a Malin Byström fan (my last encounter with her was as the Countess in Nozze, where she sang very well but came off very cold) but I liked her better here. Her embodiment of a willful teenager wasn’t bad from my faraway seat and her singing was good, her commitment even better. I guess I have a bit of a hard time warming up to her. Everybody else was good, no complaints from me, though not earth shattering. As far as Jokanaan, I really liked Samuel Youn a couple of years ago at the Proms and Michael Volle didn’t make a more interesting impression.

I loved Michaela Schuster as the Nurse in Die Frau ohne Schatten and so I was thrilled to have her back here, though Herodias does not require much vocally beside shrillness. She still did a great job as a woman living her frustrations with the patriarchy through her rebellious daughter whilst realising she’s lost any grip on her. Points to Christina Bock who looked really cute and miserable as Herodias rather conflicted (and possibly bisexual) page. I also liked John Daszak’s Herod, especially his acting, as a very sophisticatedly depraved Herod.

I didn’t quite get Henrik Nánási’s take, which was, in my opinion, low on drama. Perhaps, volume-wise, he let the singers come forward? But still there was the matter of tempi, which were super relaxed, especially in the dance of the seven veils (and that added to my confusion regarding that scene). The libretto is so edgy, you want the music to have some bite.

It was a good night, just short of great. There is a 2008 DVD of this production (different cast), if anyone wants to check it out (this run has just finished).

  1. First Jew: Dietmar Kerschbaum
    Second Jew: Paul Curievici
    Third Jew: Hubert Francis
    Fourth Jew: Konu Kim
    Fifth Jew: Jeremy White
    First Soldier: Levente Páll
    Second Soldier: Alan Ewing
    First Nazarene: Kihwan Sim
    Second Nazarene: Dominic Sedgwick
    Cappadocian: John Cunningham 

The Mozartists (1768) (Wigmore Hall, 23 January 2018)

Classical Opera/The Mozartists
Ian Page conductor
Katy Bircher flute
Chiara Skerath soprano

Classical Opera does, as the name suggests, specialise in music of the Classical period and does it very well. You might remember my and thadieu‘s enthusiastic accounts (as well as Leander‘s) of a Cadogan Hall 2016 performance of Jommelli’s Il Vologeso – it was them that done it.

They’re also going through Mozart’s oeuvre, one year at a time. This time it’s the year 1768, when Wolfie was 12 and, opera-wise, wrote La finta semplice, here presented via its not too shabby overture and the Amoretti aria. It’s not just Mozart but a wider look at his time period as well, with works by other composers from the mid to late 18th century.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 26 in D minor HI:26 ‘Lamentatione’

Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774)
Fetonte Ombre che tacite qui sede

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Flute Concerto in D major WC79

Joseph Haydn
Lo speziale HXXVIII:3
Amore nel mio petto
Salamelica, Semprugna cara

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
La finta semplice K51
Amoretti, che ascosi qui siete

Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Piramo e Tisbe Perderò l’amato bene

Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813)
Symphony in D minor

As expected, Classical Opera were excellent and Ian Page got a very “surround sound” from them, with a deft merging of the different sections of the orchestra whilst at the same time allowing them space to breathe and make themselves heard (quite muscular at times). In other words, the opposite of the porridge-sound.

This was one of the best attended shows at Wiggy, though the troops thinned a bit after the intermission (luckily, the tall chap in front of me was among them). Skerath excelled, I thought, at Hasse’s Perderò l’amato bene, where she used some superb light weight trilling and the aria seemed a perfect fit for her gentle soprano voice.

Ian Page chose his soloists well, the both of them in possession of particularly fine ways with the trills. Being primarily a fan of vocal music I admit I don’t always “get” solo instrumentals but in Bircher’s case something clicked. It is perhaps that all winds are up my alley as opposed to, say, the piano, but I could follow very well, in a similar way to how I would the voice.

A lovely evening that invited the listener to further explore this engaging period of Western classical music, with the last piece hinting at the things to come in further decades.

Bad night for Roschmann?

(it’s one of those old news chez dehggi moments)

From Serenade‘s account of a 2017 performance of Le Nozze at Wiener Staatsoper (the other opera house in Vienna 😉 ):

The Countess was played by Dorothea Roschmann herself an erstwhile Susanna. In my opinion she has not quite graduated yet to the bigger role and she would do well to limit her appearances as the Countess. Her Porgi amor at the beginning of Act Two was sung with beauty of tone and a quick vibrato. But her Act Three Aria Dove sono was disappointing as it lacked breath control and a sense of line. She was unable to take any of the long phrases in a single breath and there were times when the voice just did not carry forward.

She has not quite graduated?! Ehehehe. I think I’d still like to see her as the Countess even on a so-so day. Then again, I’d rather see my fave singers on their good days.

The “history of lovers” Tancredi (1995)

I haven’t done an audio only writeup in… a long time (my laptop’s disc drive went bust about 2 years ago). This one is from the vault, of course, started in November 2013 and last updated in August 2014. There’s nothing wrong with it, aside from being relatively short, which I think was the reason I never ended up posting it. These days I don’t think it’s necessary to cross all the ts. I trust you, gentle reader, to get the gist of how I feel about this or that.

History of lovers refers to the Calexico with Iron and Wine tune.

Tancredi: Vesselina Kasarova
Amenaide: Eva Mei
Argirio: Ramon Vargas
Orbazzano: Harry Peeters
Isaura: Melinda Paulsen
Roggiero: Veronica Cangemi
Conductor: Roberto Abbado | Munchner Rundfunkorchester (17-25/08/95)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks

Back in the ’90s Kasarova had that distinctive yet youthful tone backed by high energy which made her so appealing in rash and broody youngster roles1. I remember hearing a Voi che sapete she sang way back when and thinking “this Cherubino would punch the Count in the face”. Her young men never sounded innocent2 yet they were all very immature. For her part, Mei is the girliest Amenaide I’ve heard so far, which is just as well; Amenaide is – or should be – a virginal babe3.

Tancredi doesn’t suffer when the lovers’ young age isn’t strictly adhered to. But now that it is expressed, it gives the whole thing a brighter, more hopeful feel from the getgo. This Amenaide would scream piercingly if Tancredi died and she’d collapse from grief on the spot4. The emphasis is on love-faced-with-terrible-obstacles rather than honour, duty and bitter revenge5.

Vargas’ Argirio can project enough leadership and he’s convincing as a concerned if strict father as well. Vargas always works as the good guy as he sounds like he means well.

Orbazzano is satisfyingly low but sounds a tad too old, like’s he’s from Argirio’s generation, which is workable. He’s never supposed to be a romantic rival to Tancredi. Peeters could sound more menacing.

Fiero incontro/Ah, come mai quell’anima: Here’s where the virginal/sensual thing really works. Even their fioriture match, good job Maestro for taking care of this detail. In the cantabile neither lover sounds particularly bitter, in fact they sound glad for a reason to sing together. They’re momentarily overcome with love for each other in spite of crossed wires. That’s not exactly what the text says but it goes with the hopeful tone of the recording. They get more angsty in the cabaletta, although never too dark. This one rocks; Mei and Kasarova’s voices are perfectly suited for each other6.

Perche turbar la calma: I said in the Valentini-Terrani Tancredi that this is a mofo of an aria but I didn’t explain myself. It’s tricky because there’s quite a bit going on:

self-pity: he’s barely regained his composure by walking away from his traitorous lover and here she is back, threatening to ruin his mood by lying to his face once again (so he thinks).

tantrum (at Amenaide): Tancredi renews his accusations of infidelity. But immediately her tears move him to almost believing her. He is indecisive for a few moments. The choir’s war cries distract him and, spurred by them, he decides on the spot to solve his dilemma by going into battle to die so that Amenaide can blame herself for his demise.

30 year old Kasarova’s Tancredi sounds a lot younger than Valentini-Terrani’s and Horne’s. Aside from whatever their own personalities imparted to the role, the level of life experience between 30 and 39 (V-T) or 43 (Horne) is pretty significant. Kasarova’s reading is unsurprisingly the less focused7 of the three. After hearing Valentini-Terrani’s Perche turbar la calma I can only expect a sharper contrast between the different moods I outlined above when discussing the aria. In hers, Kasarova uses the fff/ppp contrast where Valentini-Terrani goes for colour, more effective when it comes to expressing moods. Even though I love Kasarova’s tone, Valentini-Terrani’s characterisation is simply mindboggling.

  1. Like Tancredi and Romeo. 
  2. In a sensual way, I mean. They lack life experience all right. In fact, they sound hot headed and on the fast track to disaster. 
  3. I said before that my hunch is that she and Tancredi knocked the boots in ye olde Constantinopole. Here we’ve got an extremely virginal sounding Amenaide and a more sensual than usual Tancredi. Where Valentini-Terrani’s was morose and overwhelmed by dejection and Horne’s too authoritarian (more of a man’s man), Kasarova’s sounds hot blooded and annoyed rather than angsty. He must’ve been a hit with the Greek ladies back in Byzantium. I can see this girly and sensitive Amenaide getting head over hills with him and throwing caution to the wind. 
  4. The same team brought us Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi just a couple of years later, so you know what I mean. 
  5. 11th century Sicily is obviously struggling with multiculturalism. 
  6. So how did that Zurich Clemenza di Tito go so wrong? 
  7. Things worked such that Kasarova sang Tancredi in the early part of her career, which is rather unusual. I really – really – wish she sang it these days, with this more darker tone she’s got now and with the wealth of experience she’s gained since. 

Productions even sinks can’t save

Operaramblings has recently at the time of my rant hit on a subject that still (STILL) gets my goat. Naturally I ran to my 6 many months old ranty draft and stroked it a few times. Then I thought I should vent my anger (for it makes me foamy (oh, so foamy…)).

Eagerly awaited by yours truly, the 2011/2012 Munich I Capuleti e i Montecchi turned out to be a spectacularly inept production1. There are only two good things about it: Bellini’s music and Romeo. The rest is like a wisdom tooth ache: dull, painful and the mere thought of it almost as uncomfortable as the thing itself. Shame on you, Bayerische Staatstoper!

To those few who don’t know, in 2012 this production had VK as Romeo, Anna Netrebko as Giulietta and some guys in the other roles, plus Maestro Yves Abel running the shoddy ship into every rock on the way. To add insult to injury, midway through the run AN decided she’d had enough of her sink and unceremoniously boarded the nearest lifeboat. Bayerische shipped the 2011 Giulietta (Nakamura) back and refunded 1/2 of the (ridiculously high) ticket price to the angry Netrebkites.

Back in 2012 I watched the livestream (on mum’s ancient desktop) and then I re-watched it on youtube on a brand new laptop, which mum thoughtfully bought the day after. I read others’ comments on it, some of which made for very good reading though they appeared to be about something else than what I had seen. I didn’t make an effort to snap it before the cerbers at Bayerische mauled it off youtube. I eventually acquired it in hopes that time brings perspective. I’ve watched it a couple more times and my disappointment has turned to anger. There are just too many things that irk me:

Giulietta – NO. NO. NO. NO. Also: no.
fussy/inept costumes – epitome of fashion hype: unflattering and completely impractical
harsh lighting that made them all look like zombies – it’s set in a morgue, then
all-over-the-shop choir – perhaps coached by some fashion hanger-on
incomprehensible staging:

  • overly precious ending – just look behind you already, Romeo!
  • saddlesobviously!
  • sink – the sink is to regie what stairs are to trad productions = a bold statement of lack of imagination; this is a
  • wedding party on bleachers – fashion shoot on stairs, duh
  • reflective and uneven walls – the stage designer and the light designer meet after a successful double lobotomy

To be fair to the end, VK too seemed a day or two past the sell-by date. Major meh. It’s beyond annoying that posterity will be left with this video version of her Romeo, when she’s done such an exceptional job with this role over the years. At the time I was very upset that I couldn’t see it live but in the very long run it looks like I saved myself further frustration not to mention money and fuss.

  1. I don’t truly like any Capuleti production I’ve seen so far. Very frustrating.