Category Archives: sopranos

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

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

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

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

(Co-production with Opéra National de Paris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Fountains of Vienna

viennafountains

click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Véronique Gens soprano
Susan Manoff piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karita Mattila soprano
Ville Matvejeff piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galina Averina soprano

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

St George’s Hanover Sq from Maddox Street

Handel
Un cenno leggiadretto Serse

Cavalli
Restino imbalsamate La Calisto

Handel
Neghittosi, or voi che fate? Ariodante

JS Bach
Zerfliesse, mein Herze St John Passion

Handel
Piangero la sorte mia Giulio Cesare

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

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

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

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

Handel
Sonata in D major for violin HWV 371

Handel
Myself I shall adore Semele

Rameau
Amour, lance tes traites! Platée

Handel
Tornami a vagheggiar Alcina

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

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

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

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

Atalanta: futile but cheerful scheming,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

duelling cembali!

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

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

no messing with the contralto 😉

Handel’s Alceste with singing lobsters (Wigmore Hall, 29 March 2017)

Whoever advertised this performance struck gold: this was one of the best attended shows I’ve ever witnessed at Wigmore Hall. Though the Colossus of Rhodes or the Pharos was planted firmly in the seat in front of me I couldn’t find a convenient seat to upgrade to without bothering someone. But the Pharos1 was very polite and self aware and leaned to the left (Tower of Pisa, then) – we were on the end seats – so I could actually see 2/3 of the stage, which included the singers and the bassoonist (yes, there was a tenor-bassoon duet!).

Mary Bevan soprano
Benjamin Hulett tenor
James Platt bass
Christian Curnyn director | Early Opera Company (Choir included)

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in G major
William Boyce (1711-1779)
Excerpts from Solomon

Interval

George Frideric Handel
Alceste HWV45

Alceste is incidental music with a lot of contribution from the choir and in my case it proved incidental to a good nap. For whatever reason, perhaps because it started with the concerto and because I wasn’t familiar with the Boyce piece, I was lulled into this cocooned state of semi consciouness.

When Hulett and Bevan duetted I had that thought one sometimes entertains of what would an alien make of this if s/he/it dropped in. A bunch of people intently watching two other people on stage make tuneful oooo, aaaa sounds with others coaxing a slightly different kind of sound from wooden boxes of various shapes and sizes. But to what end? the alien might soon zero in to the crux of the matter. And a good explaination, judging by the rapt faces, may be to lull the people in attendence. Nefarious or farious, that would remain to be determined after further investigation. Might the alien subject itself to this experiment?

I don’t necessary recommend pursuing this train of thought too diligently, as I ended up dozing and incorporating the stage action in said flights into delta state. Case in point, when Hulett recited along the lines of …and he rose from below! with the choir rising from below/behind the harpsichord2 to deliver a hearty Handel part, I also rose, and an image similar to this flashed through my mind:

a fine substitute for a singing lobster choir! (click for a funny blog post that has nothing whatsoever to do with opera)

I was convinced the action was taking place at the bottom of the sea. Of course. It must be The Enchanted Island effect. You might think I’m being unnecessary silly but shouldn’t we be truthful about the effects of music on us?

The singers were fine. I remember Hulett as the Oronte from that very fine Alcina from Moscow. His tone is good for Handel but as you well know by now, I like more colour in the voice. Bevan sounded to me particularly mezzo-ish here, perhaps due to the rather low lying parts of what she had to sing and also the way she attacked the acuti. Platt has been someone I look forward to hearing since his very entertaining stint as Caronte in the 2015 ROH Orfeo. Here he sang with gusto and that burnished bass tone as well, both as part of the choir (his biggest part) and as a soloist. The orchestra – Baroque bows aplenty, solid bassoon action and very fun trumpet interventions – sounded velvety.

A while ago a blogger who specialises in London trails liked my post about ‘giardiniera where I talk at some length about South Ken/how to get to RCM. I thought it might be a good idea to take some pictures for readers possibly unfamiliar with London, pictures illustrating how I get to Wiggy or St George’s etc. (you can click for biger views)

once you exit the tube at Oxford Circus, you can reach Wiggy walking up ahead Oxford Street or making a right on Regent Street and then first left.

I like to pass through Cavendish Sq going towards the red building in the background. Your destination is across the grand building on the left. I enjoy a pre-opera snack in front of that funky bath shop


  1. It was only after I noticed the handy (or bummy?) cushion that I remembered the Pharos had sat in front of me before, but at a show where I upgraded to the right). Wiggy is the kind of place where you do end up seeing familiar faces after a while. 
  2. It’s always fun to see 20+ people crammed on the Wiggy stage. I see with pleasure that this trend continues to be joyfully pursued. 

The miraculously uplifting world of Patricia Petibon (Wigmore Hall, 18 March 2017)

If you ever got a chuckle reading this blog I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and book a ticket to a Petibon recital. There’s nothing quite like it. You might come out of it and find the world brutal and monochrome but you will also have something surprisingly sturdy to hang on to when things do indeed get ugly.

I normally put up the setlist1 after the first couple of paragraphs but this time I can say what she sang was secondary. Not that I didn’t like the programme – on the contrary, I liked everything, because this was a Petibon takes over your senses kind of recital. Yes, everything, props (lots of them) and dresses included (her dress style is superb). This is a recital about which I would not change a thing – also because I don’t think my creativity is extensive enough for that task 😉

You should know that I’ve long harboured the opinion that she is the most beautiful woman in opera the world. It’s not about some fantastically perfect features (delicate bones + a large mouth can be hard to pull off), it’s the way everything is lit from within, and of course, the mischievous smile.

Part of the reason I insisted on booking a ticket to the recital was because I wanted to verify via those unsuspecting senses that there are indeed women who look like that in the 21st century. To me she doesn’t look like someone who uses Facebook and Uber (though burping and taking a poo are well within the realm of possibility). She looks like The Lady of the Lake or the French version of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. Now that I have seen her rock a deep green cape I am convinced she should star as the seductive queen in the opera version of Guingamor (my secret opera project 😉 though perhaps it should only be a lyrical scene, because part II is roughly similar to Alcina).

You may think enough with this puppy eyed worshipfest of her looks, tell us about the singing, but what someone who hasn’t seen her live may need to know is that her body is integral to her singing. Since I’m still in the realm of web art, her stage persona reminds me of this classic gif:

  • it moves graciously (she never stops), it’s happy and zany and nobody can quite say what it is (it’s supposed to be a unicorn llama (of course) but to me it looks like the most cheerful progeny of a dinosaur and a giraffe). Also, it’s green.

This recital is the perfect example of what I was saying earlier about how European opera singers do it vs the American ones. Does Petibon have a good tecknique? Yes, she does, but we learn that within the space of the first few songs, after which she – nonverbally – said now that we’ve established that, let’s have some fun.

She also has a sizeable voice for her gossamer floated notes2 to project all the way to the back without ever dissipating en route, even when she sings piano (usually). This ability to float is my favourite technical trick of hers, also because it fits her onstage persona so well. When you see her so delicate and pink you do expect her to sing like that. But of course she doesn’t just do the angelic thing – if it is indeed angelic. I would say she’s far too sophisticated for that. It’s medieval lore rather (mists and distant battles) than Disney in spirit.

buddy looks suspiciously like my old boss…

Not that her persona cannot incorporate Disney 😀 and how! – irreverent Disney. We were treated to a complete scene of Snow White choking on the apple and then making out with her Prince garden gnome. For Busy Line she unwrapped a (very long) phone cord/washing line and proceeded to hang some clothes on it and had the audience help hold it.

I think what holds everything together is her palpable sense of line. It’s the fine art kind – if you’ve ever spent some time drawing you’ll immediately feel it. Some singers sing like instrumentalists and some singers paint with words. She draws with sound3, sometimes she even sculpts the music, with sharp curves and contrasts of weight and tint. It’s more 3D/physical than usual from a singer. Yet it’s almost always very soft and light, like an ink drawing or a cottonwool sculpture – at least in this programme. There were certain chord progressions and moods (the Iberian medieval and the kitsch parody) that reoccurred through the night, so one can imagine they are things she feels close to, at least at the moment.

She encored with a song (I didn’t know and she’s soft spoken) from the perspective of someone getting their life energy from a tree. I thought to myself how else could you finish whilst wearing a green corset? Then she thanked us for being alive with her tonight which promptly made me cry, though I’m not sure quite why other than it just fit the whole evening so well.

Points to Susan Manoff (piano) for being the buffer to that unique persona, she really held her own both musically (softness and contrast and general liveliness) and in personality (the sensible one).

Go see her/them, the world will appear a better place afterwards.


  1.  Samuel Barber (1910-1981) Sure on this Shining Night Op. 13 No. 3 | Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Greensleeves | Nicolas Bacri (b.1961) “Melodías de la melancolía Op. 119b” A la mar | Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) “7 canciones populares españolas” El paño moruno | Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) Canción del grumete | Fernando J Obradors (1897-1945) “El vito” Chiquitita la novia | Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Nesta Rua | Frank Bridge (1879-1941)  Winter Pastoral H168 | Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) “Banalités” Sanglots | Henri Collet (1885-1951)  Seguidilla Op. 75 No. 2 | Murray Semos/Frank Stanton Busy Line | Francisco Paulo Mignone (1897-1986) Dona Janaina Interval Henri Collet “Los Amantes de Galicia” Camiña don Sancho | Enrique Granados (1867-1916) “12 Tonadillas en un estilo antiguo” El mirar de la maja | Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) “Poema en forma de canciones Op. 19” Cantares | Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) La rosa y el sauce |  Agustín Lara (1897-1970)  Granada | Frank Churchill (1901-1942) Someday my prince will come (arr. Didier Lockwood) | Francis Poulenc Novelette sur un thème de Manuel de Falla | Norbert Glanzberg (1910-2001) Padam Padam (arr. Dimitri Naïditch) 
  2. Is this a French thing? Piau does her version of it as well. It’s gorgeous. 
  3. I think she has a fine art background? Maybe that’s where this comes from. 

Sondra Radvanovsky recital or the triple queen of diminuendo takes London by giggle (Cadogan Hall, 16 March 2017)

It’s hard to believe this was Radvanovsky’s debut as recitalist in London, but I think there are two types of American singers: some who become household names there but rarely visit these shores/Europe and some who seem comfortable on both sides (those are the ones with Mozart/Strauss/Baroque in their rep and Radvanovsky seems to miss this).

Sondra Radvanovsky soprano
Anthony Manoli piano

VivaldiSposa son disprezzata from BajazetBelliniPer pietà, bell’idol mio; La Ricordanza; Ma rendi pur contento – she actually quizzed us about which one of his own arias Bellini ripped off in La Ricordanza 😉 do you know?StraussAllerseelen; Befreit; Morgen!; Heimliche Aufforderung

I don’t even know how well the event was advertised because I only learned about it via the Barbican newsletter last week, right around the time one of my shifts was moved from Thursday to Sunday. A time comes in an opera lover’s life when one doesn’t go to a show just because they worship a performer. Sometimes one goes because someone considered an important contemporary voice should be experienced live.

I’ve not been a fan and this performance did not make me one. But there’s no denying Radvanovsky’s qualities, regardless of what one wants in a performer. For fans though, this must’ve been one of those nights memory would return to often.

To begin with, she appeared very excited to be here. Enthusiasm always helps. Then there was the curiosity of American singers. There is something specific about their modus operandi, different from how the Europeans do it. The Europeans would mostly just toss together a bunch of songs/arias that show off their qualities, mix in their personal pizzaz – which quite often means throwing caution to the wind – and call it a day.

The Americans curate their shows – carefully. Everything has an explaination and is in place with the specific intent of winning the audience over. Hell, she even plugged her upcoming Met Norma! – though considering her encores, Casta diva was conspicuously absent. I can’t say it bothered me (it’s her space to entertain, and she was entertaining1) but this is not something I’ve ever heard from European singers. We also learned she will be debuting Andrea Chenier in Barcelona, so the places between songs functioned like chirpy tweeter moments.

This chattiness is another American thing. When speaking and walking about she constantly reminded me of Joyce DiDonato. I don’t know if they are friends, but I could easily imagine them have long convos over coffee (“… that time in Prague when-“, “Oh, but let me tell you what happened in Madrid! It was the weirdest thing!” etc.).

It is one of those weird things. Radvanovsky is one of those singers who is built, looks and sounds like a tragedian when singing but speaks like a soubrette (in content as well). After the dark or very covered sound (it’s one of her peculiarities so she probably doesn’t do it on purpose) during the songs/arias she just chimes in with a giggle.

When presenting the Vivaldi aria she made a face best represented by this ascii art:

¯_(ツ)_/¯

(she said: I just like it! which could be a candid moment of pure music joy or hey Baroque fans, don’t judge! – because the way she and Manoli attacked it was with a Liszt-type feel; possibly both – but it was not the gesture of a tragedian). Again, I didn’t mind it, but it was quite different than most of my previous recital experiences.

As I mentioned in the title, diminuendo – the woman knows how to tackle this (as well as crescendo, but one could argue that’s easier). Her technique seemed simply fabulous to me. From that angle this was a performance to take voice students to: watch and learn, this is the kind of solidity you need to aim for and you’re going to have a long and fruitful career. Her control of dynamics and projection was wonderful through the night and her flights to the top of her voice illuminating (metaphorically and literally). The voice has a very alluring opacity at the bottom – let’s say indigo, like her second dress of the night – and an interesting rock solid brightness without ping at the top but the middle (I’d guess right around the area where mezzos tend to have the passaggio) was occasionally marred by cloud.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you that I connected much on an emotional level, this side of the Barber set and Vissi d’arte. It might be due to a difference in personality or just that I constantly sensed her position herself for best technical results rather than letting go enough for my liking. Even when she let rip (often, especially after the interval) – something the size of her voice easily allows for – it seemed strangely contained.

The audience responded very warmly to her coaxing, though, even when I thought she was going a bit far with the please like me attitude. American singers are not shy about their ambitions. But, come on, you’re Radvanovsky, not a beginner, of course people will like you if you drop by. Now, like she said she would like to, she could start with some Strauss – perhaps Ariadne? – and call again.

INTERVAL

LisztS’il est un charmant gazon; Enfant, si j‘étais roi; Oh! Quand je dorsBarberHermit Songs – At Saint Patrick’s Purgatory; St Ita’s Vision; The Crucifixion; The Monk and His Cat; The Desire for HermitageGiordanoLa mamma morta from Andrea Chénier

The surprise of the night was the Barber set. I felt it was the best suited to her voice, like she had reached her true home – and made me love it in the process.

Seeing as Barber wrote it for Leontyne Price (check them both out here), she talked a bit about fangirling Price. Apparently she decided to pursue an opera career after listening to Price sing Verdi. I can’t blame her, I think Price does the phattest maledizione there is (but the whole thing is worth it):

Yes. That last note was held exactly as long as it should’ve been. Even if it’s an old recording, you can tell how well her voice holds against the orchestra.

So whilst Radvanovky isn’t the second coming of Price, she does inhabit a similar vocal space.

ENCORE:

Song to the Moon Rusalka
I could’ve danced all night My Fair Lady – and she could’ve!
Io son l’umile ancella… Adriana Lecouvreur
Vissi d’arte Tosca

4 encores after all that – Americans and their work ethic 😉 There’s never enough Adriana Lecouvreur in the recitals I attend, so I was right happy, but to be fair Vissi d’arte turned out to be surprisingly moving2. Perhaps because it was the last piece she dropped a bit of that control – and it was a good thing. What we learned tonight? Going out of your comfort zone can be surprisingly rewarding.


  1. I’d just finished a set of night shifts the morning before the performance and was afraid I’d doze off but I was far from it. Good job, SR! 
  2. Nice combo, two arias about living for art – prefaced by her comment that the world right now needs more music and less… all that stupid crap (she didn’t put it like that). 

When singers make baby Mozart weep; today’s culprit: Dorothea Roschmann

baby-mAh, the youtube comment section! – exerting its powerful pull whenever boredom strikes. I’ve posted earworm‘s video before, along with a rant stating:

I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

But if you check out the mini convo started by the latest comment below the video you will see some people have the exact opposite opinion regarding her singing. It never ceases to amuse me how people can hear the same thing in such radically different ways.