Category Archives: sopranos

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 ūüôā

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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
V√°na Kudrj√°Ň°:¬†Andrew Tortise
Tichon Ivanyc Kabanov (the husband): Andrew Staples
GlaŇ°a:¬†Sarah Pring
Sav√ęl Prokofjevic Dikoj:¬†Clive Bayley
Kuligin: Dominic Sedgwick
FekluŇ°a:¬†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¬†Jan√°ńćek’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 V√°na. V√°na 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 V√°na and Dikoj face off (to humorous effect) over “what is a storm?” So the future is yet bright (V√°na 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 ūüėČ 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 ūüėÄ 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 ūüôā 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 ūüėČ 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 √Ė1

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 ūüėČ

*

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 ūüėČ 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 ūüėČ

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 ūüėČ

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 ūüėČ 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 ūüėČ

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 ūüėČ

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) ūüėČ

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

Senna festegiante (with Emöke Baráth)

Katarina Karn√©us 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 Рat least to me Рthe 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 ūüėČ

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 ūüėČ 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 ūüėČ 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 pi√Ļ bella

Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger: Arpeggiata

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

Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce √®’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 ūüėČ 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. 

Lively Invernizzi on BBC 3 Lunchtime Concert

What better way to start the week than a¬†mini-performance of¬†17th century songs? Luckily, BBC3 agrees and you can too sample Invernizzi and friends’ delightful¬†one hour show from earlier today.

Bel raggio more or less lusinghier

Just when you thought the Semiramide season was over ūüėČ

With this very famous and very difficult aria let’s do something I don’t normally do: let’s go way back, at least 25 years.

It’s hard to imagine something more technically competent but at the same time quite as lacking in charm, in spite of the chandelier-sparkly top.

Well, we can feel it’s sung by a human being. But do you feel the “gioia”? To me it seems like Callas is Medea regardless of the aria she’s singing. Also this aria is showing off how unpretty her voice was.

Hey, thadieu, wanna hear some kitschy ornaments up at the very top? Saying that, it’s the first time I can hear “gioia”. If she sounded a bit less… girl next door in tone and ornaments we’d be talking.

Hm, what’s up with these very unjoyous Semiramides? I like some of the things Devia does here dynamics-wise but she sounds downright pissed off Arsace is returning. Too much Donizetti? The Fenice choir sounds equally as grimly determined to put up with Arsace’s presence if it has to.

Finally, some proper joy even on the finale! I don’t know that I like everything she does here (I may be wrong, but, as far as style, I think Mozart suits her better) but I can definitely get down with the ethos.

On thadieu’s advice, let’s finish on an Antonacci note, to link the past and present:

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

Teatro La Fenice – it’s all about the logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teatro La Fenice – front of hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thadieu: someone hand them flashlights already!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thadieu: they’re missing a really great performance.

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

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


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

Serse with tomato and beans + Galoumis√Ļ desert (Barbican, 26 October 2018)

This show could be summed up simply as:

Galoumis√Ļ

But it actually was a very entertaining evening even beyond the Galoumis√Ļ daydreaming.

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

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

Now¬†THAT is the way to chat dehggi up ūüėÄ After a bit of Galoumis√Ļ fan…personing, we realised we¬†were from the same neck of Eastern Europe. What are the odds?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

[much later on:]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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