Category Archives: tenors

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. 

New updates to the Stutzmann Wigmore show and miscelaneous

Thought I’d point out that I made some updates to that unusually scatterbrained entry 😉 This blog is testimony that I’m not quite as lacking in discipline as it sometimes feels like… [ / end navel gazing, though we could have some naval gazing to go with that post ].

Out of that long list of Autumn 2016 at Wigmore Hall I posted a while ago I managed to secure the following:

02/10 Stutzmann + Orfeo 55
05/10 A. Bonitatibus
05/11 Röschmann
20/11 Pisaroni
24/11 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth
28/11 La Calisto
29/12 Prina and Invernizzi

But before all that there’s a return to the Proms (deities help us with the acoustics) with a concert performance of that badass 20th century 1 act opera:

03/08 Bluebeard’s Castle (Ildikó Komlósi and John Relyea)

…and who knows how the shaky state of events will impinge on my concert going afterwards (I know, first world problems; the (not so U)K is still part of the first world… for now).

Even so, looking at the ROH shows coming up on General Sale in a fortnight, there is Cosi which I will have to wing somehow (though I have no idea about Corinne Winters ? I hope Bychkov can keep it light) and this curious Norma. I don’t know what to say. Isn’t Yoncheva a bit young for Norma? Fura del Baus, though, sounds like might do something with this very difficult to stage opera. Then there’s Hoffmann

Pappano’s Werther (ROH, 24 June 2016)

When I bought my ticket it was with JDD in mind, as up to that point several efforts to get into Werther had proved completely unsatisfying. That it had Grigòlo in the title role was, I thought, a good thing, since I had come to enjoy his sound and singing manner after a rough start.

I have by now learned to be cautious with singers because liking someone’s voice does not guarantee you will like them in every role and just going for something random can cause one to dimiss a perfectly good singer in a not so matching role. I’m saying this because I quite surprisingly am in agreement with the author or this review, which might be a first, though I read his stuff because he’s knowledgeable. Namely, I felt that neither JDD nor Grigòlo were quite right for their roles.

In the end, though, it wasn’t a bad night, thanks to Pappano and the ROH orchestra who was in excellent form. Even though I did not know before that this is a favourite of Pappano’s, I could tell he was in his element – everything ran smoothly, with details well fleshed out, and he had a very good hold on the whole (the thing felt well balanced across the acts). The orchestra purred; I especially enjoyed the contributions from the winds and brass, but they usually sound sweet. So there you go, saved by the conductor and the orchestra. Even the kids (you know how I feel about children in opera) did a very good job with their annoying carol.

Werther: Vittorio Grigòlo
Charlotte: Joyce DiDonato
Albert: David Bizic
Sophie: Heather Engebretson
The Bailli: Jonathan Summers
Johann: Yuriy Yurchuk
Schmidt: François Piolino
Brühlmann: Rick Zwart
Käthchen: Emily Edmonds
Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Orchestra of the ROH

I couldn’t tell you what my issue was with JDD vocally (reason for which I referred you to the above linked review in the first place) but I just felt like her sound wasn’t what was needed. I’ve heard her live twice before and each time she was more than convincing so I have no doubt about her abilities. But Charlotte might just not be her thing. I also didn’t “feel” her dramatically, which rather baffled me, as I consider her a very capable actress. She seemed way too chaste/bourgeois, more like the Charlotte in the book than the very ambivalent one in the opera. Yes, I think Charlotte isn’t a good idea.

Quite possibly the super traditional staging, which in turn gave us a very traditionally-looking Charlotte didn’t help her with carving a more physically tormented character. Sometimes – especially in these OTT Romantic operas – you want the tension and unease to ooze out of the singer and I didn’t get that though I had my one-eyed opera glasses on her at the most important moments. That being said I couldn’t fault her for trying to flesh out the inner conflict during L’air de la lettre and expertly employing some of her trademark diminuendos in act IV. Alas, sometimes trying isn’t enough.

I liked Grigòlo better. To be fair, his part is a lot more interesting musically – also there’s a lot more of it, as it should be. I liked him (his stage presence is very good, dashing but not overly masculine – let’s not forget Werther spends the entire opera whinging about unrequitted love) – I like his voice and I like his natural manner of singing. But I do agree he’s not particularly smooth when transitioning from anguish to gentleness, though he can do both and he sounds good in both. I think he likess fff better than pp and he was lucky Pappano conducted this with lots of vigor.

Dramatically, Werther and Charlotte are very unbalanced in this revival (the production debuted in 2004 but I don’t know how it was then) – he’s mad with love/horniness from the moment they meet and she’s prim and proper until almost the very end. I didn’t feel like he had any reason to be so ga-ga over this frumpy housewife (awful costumes and hair for Charlotte), though you could say he doesn’t need much, he’s unhinged and that’s that. But I don’t know, I think the whole point is a descent into desperation, because when the opera starts he’s all like “weee! I love nature! I love life!”.

The review talks about the production in positive terms but I didn’t get all the subtle stuff. It’s most certainly not ugly, even pleasant in act I, with the oversized, diagonally placed wooden gate and ivy covered wall, complete with occasionally broken plaster (maybe that’s one of the subtle hints?). But it’s what it is, it does the job and that’s that. There is indeed a very technically accomplished timelapse done with lighting during the instrumental bit that illustrates the time when Werther and Charlotte are at the party in act I but to me that felt like big whoop. It does nothing dramatically. Likewise, the “snowflakes” (which look more like fireflies) in act IV are very pretty but still so what.

I think it would be wrong to say there’s no chemistry between Grigòlo and JDD but not on level with, say, VK and Alagna a few years back in Vienna. I liked that production a lot better as it gave them the opportunity to match the OTT-ness of the music with very intense acting (also it gives us more of an idea of who the hell Charlotte might be under the duty! children!1 mother’s deathbed promise! veneer). JDD manages to convey the post-marital depression borne out of trying to repress her attraction to Werther but it comes out as merely catatonic.

There’s one character who comes off very well and that is, oddly, Sophie. Charlotte’s younger sister (dude, the Bailli has 8 children, obviously by two different wives, given the large age difference between the older sisters and the wee ones) usually comes off as annoying but Engebretson manages to be only marginally so; she fits the production very well, you get the feel of the classic younger sister with a crush on the older sister’s boyfriend (or, in this case, would be boyfriend). She’s also a good singer, who doesn’t overdue2 it though she makes the most of her role.

Piolino and Yurchuk were entertainting3 in their secondary roles, as well, though comic relief characters always make me raise a metaphorical eyebrow in proper tragedies like this. Especially as they were hamming it up with lots of gusto, which made it feel like they were rather in the comedy next door. Considering that the mood in the Remain camp was a bit more than sombre yesterday, I was a lot less ready to see the fun in their campiness than I normally would. On the other hand I really empathised with Werther’s brooding and especially with Pappano’s flights of fff brass – so good it bears repeating.

So what do I think about Werther the opera? It’s better than I gave it credit for so far, though I’ll probably stick with live renditions, if possibly in the house or with visuals.


  1. Don’t you just love what a paragon of traditional femininity she is? Not yet married and with 6 (six!) children already! But not her own, of course. She’s chaste, remember? 
  2. I like the slip so I’ll leave it in. 
  3. This one too – entertainting indeed. 

Operatic traditions valiantly upheald

When operatic traditions are being so heroically fought for, we all let out a sigh of relief and perhaps a bit of envy:

By now, you’ve likely read some [] posts about what turned into an historical night at Wiener Staatsoper on Saturday while you were listening to or watching Roberto Devereux, maybe even listened to a sound clip.

Ah, I forgot, diva behaviour trumps honest performance as far as opera history goes. Maybe we should have more of that, it seems to have gone out of fashion a teensy bit. But did our soprano (who else?) mean to upstage/take revenge at her tenor (who else?)? According to NYT:

André Comploi, a spokesman for the opera house, said in an email that it did not appear to be an intentional slight. 

Ok, cynics, she meant to grab a glass of water 😀 How about next time this happens (it will, somewhere in a tradition loving opera house) we get Tosca side with Scarpia and stab Cavaradossi instead? Then Scarpia throws her off the window at the end in the interest of closure. And the star baritone gets to encore an aria of his own choice (freestyle aria insertion, another opera tradition).

Lucia di Lammermoor between Feminism and unintentional comedy (ROH, 14 April 2016)

Patriarchy: Marry some dude you never met for the sake of the family, Lucia!
Lucia: But I’m in love with someone else!
Patriarchy: It’s ok if you don’t love him, focus on the fact that your brother is in trouble [because of bad political decisions].
Lucia: I promised I will marry someone else!
Patriarchy: Oh, a marital promise not blessed by a priest doesn’t matter.
Lucia: I don’t want to marry someone just because my brother is inept at politics!
Partiarchy: Shush, adults are speaking!

1) This libretto is what caused Feminism to erupt into the world, folks. Ok, not literally but OMG. There are no words.

2) Have you ever laughed when watching Lucia? Well, this production gave us unexpected opportunities (yes, more than one). There is a Live Cinema relay on 25 April, which may or may not be the reason why there were cameras today and will be again on 19 April. If there is a DVD so much the better, because humorous Lucia should be immortalised.

The harp sounded very fine in its solo. Also the glass harmonica worked nicely in tandem with Lucia. I think belcanto was served well through the evening, though it’s the kind of thing where you come for the singers – and the choir, that meddling belcanto choir we love from Bellini, Rossini and recently Mayr.

eh, not Lucia?! Pretty damn fitting poster, though!

Lucia: Diana Damrau
Edgardo: Charles Castronovo
Enrico: Ludovic Tézier
Arturo: Taylor Stayton
Raimondo: Kwangchul Youn
Normanno: Peter Hoare
Alisa: Rachael Lloyd
Conductor: Daniel Oren | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH

The thing with this production is that there are many scene changes that for me felt quite disruptive, especially the one before the very last scene. Lucia has sung her long, complicated, famous bit and that’s when we get a break. Poor Edgardo, who cares anymore? At least he gets to slit his throat rather dramatically. Otherwise, the brouhaha about woo, gory! seems to have been pure hype, and not the best kind, as some people have shied away. A few pints of blood were shed but no actions we haven’t seen on crime shows for the past 20 years.

The stage was split in two, which I thought worked well in showing what the other characters were doing whilst somebody was singing. The only problem was that sometimes what the other characters were doing distracted from those who were singing. The worst hit was the Enrico/Edgardo duet, which was set during the time Lucia and her mezzo maid wrestled with and killed Arturo.

Quick, he’s getting away!

Because, you see, after Lucia – quite clumsily – stabs Arturo, the chap stays put for like 2min after which he bolts upright and tries to make it for the door. And he wasn’t even singing! The audience in my area was consumed with laughter. Not so fast, tiger, says the mezzo maid, and shoves him to the floor (mezzos are always resorceful). Lucia faffs a bit but then stabs him in the side. He writhes, they keep him down, Lucia brings a rock but is about to pass out rather than bash his head in. All this time Enrico and Edgardo are singing their hearts out and I bet you no one – outside of diehard Castronovo fans – was looking their way.

Another hilarious moment – which, to be fair, had everything to do with the libretto – was during the wedding reception, when Lucia – looking lalalala – is coming into the hall.

Enrico: If Lucia looks a bit unhappy, it’s only because of her mother’s recent death.
Arturo: So I’ve been told. But tell me something, I’ve also heard that chap Edgardo was interested in her…
Enrico: Oh, yea, but this has absolutely nothing to do with it!

They force Lucia to sign the prenup and Edgardo barges in (he’d made his way through Lucia’s conveniently open window – total lack of security during wedding receptions at the beginning of the 18th century Scotland, much like in Capuleti’s Verona). When he’s shown the prenup, he goes off on her:

Edgardo: OMG! You slag! How COULD you? You said you loved me etc.
Lucia: Well, guess what buddy, I was surrounded by my personality disorder(ed) brother, the entire (menacing) male chorus, an ambivalent cleric and not one but two ghosts and now you ask me how could I? Give a bloody girl a break, willya? Jesus.

She doesn’t actually say any of this, but she oughta. She should’ve also packed her suitcase a la Aix Ginevra and left that lot to their petty duels. But then she’d’ve got a bravura aria rather than a glass harmonica, ornament city mad scene. I mean that mad scene has every combination of ornament known to man (and, in this case, woman).

The good news is Damrau can pull it off. She needed a bit of warmup in act I but by this point her top was working flawlessly. She’s also an intelligent singer and the ornaments have a logical basis. What Damrau lacks is a sense of otherworldliness. She’s a very flesh and blood Lucia, which works well for the most part. You really don’t feel she’s a helpless victim and the dramatic arc is very coherent, from the beginning when she and mezzo maid dress in male attire to meet up with Edgardo by the Fountain of Doom where they have very explicit sex1 (sadly, the maid is not involved). This Lucia is a woman ahead of her time and Damrau is the right kind of actress to portray that.

But traditionally Lucia is an emotionally unstable woman – right from the Fountain of Doom scene she’s seeing ghosts – and quite a few Lucias go for weirdness in their mad scene (Gruberova stands out for me as a particularly weird one). No so Damrau. She’s playful and happy in a very non-psychotic-looking way. I like the strong woman approach but I admit I missed the oddness.

But let’s go back to the Fountain of Doom scene. It’s apparently the fountain where an ancestor of Edgardo’s had stabbed the woman he loved, which is an odd spot for Edgardo to meet the woman he loves. Then again, his last name is Ravenswood, so he’s strong with the spooky. Lucia knows the legend, has thought about it and has brought a small bouquet to lay down in memory of that unfortunate woman.

Wouldn’t you know the ghost comes right at her and gives her a hug and kiss! She’s naturally freaked out but then Edgardo arrives and they get it on whilst arguing over whether he should keep his oath to avenge his father (presumably killed by Enrico) or not. You’d think that would be a mood killer but I guess not when you’re pressed for time by conveniently (for the libretto) having to go to France on one side and getting married on the other. This business is mildly funny when contrasted with the impassionate singing but things get properly amusing when the ghost of the Fountain of Doom flirts with the both of them. I mean, I get it, they are both doomed but it’s still funny. I think it would be better if they could manage hologram ghosts but maybe that would look too cheesy? (Can belcanto ever be too cheesy?)

Next it’s morning in Lucia’s bedroom and oops, she has morning sickness. That’s your proof that talking about revenge ups one’s virility. She miscarries whilst/from killing Arturo but she will sing her mad scene.

I can’t let her die, I must turn her! (the dark secret of the Ravenswoods emerges at last)

But enough about the production. This evening was the third time the charm with Castronovo and I got to hear Tézier, about whom I was just saying the other day that I knew I had to hear him but I wasn’t sure why. Well, he more than held his own. He made for an unpleasant Enrico and sounded good (though not quite great) whilst doing so. Castronovo, though, was a bit of a letdown. I had seen that webcast of concert Lucia with Damrau and Calleja from – from where? one or two years back – and I remember liking Calleja better. What I mean is I felt that Castronovo’s darker tone got in the way. I was expecting more colour/variation in sound. His ppps sounded a bit funny, too, sort of flat rather than ppp proper. Maybe I’m wrong in my description but the sound seemed bent instead of diminished in volume. Also at some point Edgardo sings together with something like a continuo and the two were not perfectly synchronised. Other than that he was fine, rather good chemistry with Damrau. Maybe I need to hear him in something else.

Kwangchul Youn (as the ambivalent, Lorenzo-like priest) was another singer I had wanted to hear. He has a beautiful, expansive tone but I questioned his legato in the lovely Infelice! della mente/La virtude a lei mancò! Maybe Maestro wanted him to go rhythmical but I wasn’t quite won over.

It was a surprisingly mirthful evening. I also had a very chatty seatmate, we somehow veered into politics and managed to “stay friends” 😉 He first asked me who was my favourite soprano which proved easy enough to answer but then he asked who was my favourite tenor. I totally blanked out, I couldn’t come up with any name aside from JK 😉 I ended up saying I liked mezzos better than tenors which is both true and says it all though I don’t think he got it.

Generally the audience was very congenial and, as I said, with an unexpected sense of humour – you (I) sometimes imagine belcanto fans as these diehard romantics who keep to themselves and sigh at the moon Werther-style. I think the lady next to me (who fit that description) sobbed a bit during the Lucia/Edgardo bits. She also had a very loudly ticking watch (!) which initially worried me, as the seconds ticking away were a continuo accompaniment to the music – but then I either got used to the ticking or the people around me were laughing too hard. Kidding, actually during Lucia’s mad scene you could hear a pin drop.

Speaking of loud noises, Lucia tossed her brass tea set so energetically across the room when her brov came to tell her he won’t be mad at her anymore for consorting with the enemy if she married the Arturo dude, it reminded me of other moments in opera when singers throw/push things like they don’t care:

Alex Esposito as Figaro viciously kicking the count’s boots’ box across the stage during Se vuol ballare a couple of years back at ROH

Anna Caterina Antonacci as Vitellia chucking off her pearls which bounced off the timpani during Non piu di fiori in 2006 in Paris

Richard Croft as Idomeneo messing with the table during Nettuno s’onori in 2013 at Theater-an-der-Wien

Conclusion: this Lucia was mad but in the pissed off kind of way. I don’t object at all to this production because the libretto is kicking it so jawdroppingly old skool (for anyone 200 years removed from traditional culture; I am aware people still marry for social/policial reasons but I can’t get over it). I think going about this your emotions don’t count thing like it’s nothing is much worse than unintentional comedy.

PS: There was yet another funny moment: the brov presents Lucia with the wedding dress (of doom), that Arturo dude offers her the ring, the priest looks busy; they all loom on her like they’re about to put her in solitary – nothing works to convince her, she shoves them all away. So Enrico’s henchman, Normanno, pulls out a gun. Lucia’s like ok, nevermind, I will just sit on my bed. Also Damrau has mad timing – just before one of the scene changes or intermission (can’t keep up with them breaks) the curtain started falling so she dropped to the floor in record time still in time with the music 😀


  1. In the sense that it’s clear what they are doing, not that you see what goes where, unless you count Edgardo’s shirt which gets stuck where it’s not comfortable for Lucia – another unintentional moment of hilarity. Also their being very busy dressing and undressing in a very realistic manner somewhat clashes with the super impetuous belcanto moment. 

Wigmore Hall Season 2016/17

It’s out on the Wigmore Hall site (which is not supported by my Chrome browser; whatever it is missing I don’t know as I use it for most everything else; but I suppose we’ve established google-related stuff is a bit shit).

I’ve spent a couple of hours combing the online booklet for a wishlist but obviously there’s more (please excuse the caps but no way I am typing all that again; might be wise double checking the dates):

SEPTEMBER

9 CONNOLLY

10 SOILE ISOKOSKI

22 FREIBURG BAROCK ORCH

OCTOBER

1 BABS HANNIGAN

2 STUTZMANN / ORFEO 55

5 BONI! / SEMIRAMIDE

12 GERHAHER

23 TOBY SPENCE 3PM

23 JAMIE BARTON 7:30PM

NOVEMBER

3 & 4 FASSBAENDER MASTERCLASS 1PM

5 ROSCHMANN

10 I DAVIES

15 HAIM / MOZART

18 PIECZONKA

20 PISARONI

24 STU JACKSON

28 LA CALISTO 7:30PM

DECEMBER

11 TOMLINSON

12 ARGERICH

29 PRINA / INVERNIZZI (third time’s the charm?)

31 ENGLISH CONCERT 7PM

2017

JANUARY

9 EGARR HARPSI RECITAL

16 MONTEVERDI MADRIGALS

28 GAUVIN

29 ST. DEGOUT

FEBRUARY

2 WATTS

15 MATT ROSE

18 UCHIDA /CLARINET

MARCH

18 PETIBON

29 EARLY OPERA CO

APRIL

8 SPENCE

9 TALENS LYRICQUES

10 CONNOLLY

12 COUPERIN CONCERT

17 LONDON HANDEL PLAYERS

MAY

1 ZAZZO / LUTE 1PM

6 MATTILA

8 GENS 1PM

10 BOSTRIDGE / 9 JULY

JUNE

7 ENGLISH CONCERT

11 BEN JOHNSON

24 BARTOLI / JAROUSSKY

JULY

7 ANTONACCI 7PM

Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes (Wigmore Hall, 16 March 2016)

Siurina’s partner, Charles Castronovo, was scheduled to perform but once again he eludes me. Instead we got to hear a young singer which we (I) remember from the 2014 JPYA at Royal Opera House Summer Show, in which he was (o mio) Fernando. Siurina is quite well known as for instance Adina in L’elisir d’amore, or Ilia in that Salzburg Idomeneo where Harteros chews scenery, but readers with similar tastes to mine might remember this image even better:

Servilia and Annio (image lifted from operaramblings – click to read the review)

Indeed, I first came across her as dreamboat Servilia in the famous Paris “Potato” production of Tito. I looked up her Askonas Holt profile and it seems a Morgana and a Cleopatra are the works. Bring them on, I say.

Ekaterina Siurina soprano
Luis Gomes tenor
Iain Burnside piano

Pietro Mascagni
Suzel, buon di (L’amico Fritz)

Paolo Tosti
L’ultima canzone
Ideale
L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra (Quattro canzoni d’Amaranta)

Gioachino Rossini
La pastorella dell’Alpi (Les soirees musicales)

Vincenzo Bellini
Malinconia, ninfa gentile

Gaetano Donizetti
A mezzanotte

Giacomo Puccini (La Boheme)
Che gelida manina
Mi chiamano Mimi
O soave fanciulla

INTERVAL

Temperamentally Siurina and Gomes are very different. He earnest and impetuous, she playful and cute as a button. If he came into his own with Che gelida manina, for which he has the passion and Italianate tone, her most memorable point before the interval was Rossini’s La pastorella dell’Alpi. Siurina’s gift for comedy and witty phrasing of the (very silly) coloratura were pure delight.

Georges Bizet
Me voila seule dans la nuit… Comme autrefois (Les pecheurs de perles)

Sergey Rachmaninov 1

Sing not to me, beautiful maiden/Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (6 Songs Op. 4 No. 4)
In my Garden at Night/Noch’yu v sadu u menya Op. 38 No. 1
To Her/K ney Op. 38 No. 2
How fair this spot/Zdes’ khorosho Op. 21 No. 7
They Answered/Oni otvechali Op. 21 No. 4
A Dream/Son Op. 38 No. 5
Spring Waters/Vesenniye vodï Op. 14 No. 11

Charles Gounod (Romeo et Juliette)
Ah, leve toi soleil!
Va, je t’ai pardonne… Nuit d’hymenee

In terms of skill it was hard not to notice Gomes was the junior partner in this joint. Both of them have large enough voices to make your ears ring even when sat at the back of the hall. Driven by youthful enthusiasm, Gomes took every opportunity to soar as Italian tenor in full cry. There’s no doubt this is his path, a path that allows a good deal of shouting, but when he chose to sing one of the Russian songs entirely below full power it wasn’t unpleasant at all. A bit of variation in volume dynamics is a good thing even for his preferred repertoire. When in duets the both of them turned up the volume to the max the sounds became harder to distinguish, let alone the words. That’s a shame, because he has a beautiful, manly tone up and down the range which we want to hear and bask into.

For her part, Siurina showed a variety of dynamic approaches. Though not a small voice, hers it’s remarkably vibrato-less and still wonderfully flexible. I’m not sure whether the Russian songs were more uplifting than usual or it’s just her light hearted personality as she breezed through them. I’d say she doesn’t sound like the typical Russian soprano. In the Italian songs she balanced between a “relaxed” manner and a full on operatic one, which I thought was rather interesting and reminded me of Antonacci’s way of singing them.

Burnside accompanied but I have to say between each of the singers’ pizzazz I lost him. In any case, this was an interesting break into my Handel-fest. Will definitely make time for Siurina’s recitals in the future and perhaps I’ll catch Gomes when I venture into his repertoire.


  1. I don’t know if the Russian is correct, I copied it off Wigmore Hall’s site. 

2 days of silly Christmas (random rant roll)

some people don’t like opera as much as operatic singing

As I said on other occasions, my current opera knowledge pertains to the past 15-20 years. Every once in a while I make time to get further acquainted with the past in order to enrich my understanding of the art. Sometimes the best part is the risible fussiness, spice of the comment section.

The other day (by which I mean last July) I was reading what I thought was a very intelligent and relaxed interview with the great Romanian lyric soprano Virginia Zeani. Later I scrolled down to the comments to find a longwinded, passive-aggressive hissy fit from someone who accused the interviewer of “gross lack of respect” for Zeani because he didn’t blindly worship every note that has ever come out of her mouth (surprising reaction considering the interview was a very down to earth conversation with Zeani; all I can suppose is the poster didn’t like to hear an old school diva talk like a very together and often humorous human being).

I’ve read a lot of bollocks online from opera fans but this one took a certain cake. It illustrates a way of writing about opera that has always irked me. Terms such a assoluta, perfection, magnificent, stratospheric, voice of the century are thrown about with wild abandon and make up the heart and soul of such posts.

they were sure milking it, eh?

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful to feel you have witnessed a special moment; there’s nothing quite like when you get exactly what the singer expressed through singing, to the point where an interview on the subject is superfluous. It’s even great reading about others’ similar experiences, when the writing is so vivid it’s almost as if you feel the same thing they did.

What I am objecting to is posts/comments that consist of little beyond continous fawning over human beings as if they never burp or fart. You’re not talking about something threedimensional anymore; you’re not telling me anything, either about the interpretation or about what it made you feel. It’s a diarrhea of superlatives.

The amusing part of the comment came when the poster chided the interviewer for sloppiness in regards to the exact number of times Zeani had sung Violetta – this in the context where Zeani herself said she wasn’t sure! Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

3 different albums or re-packaged for different tastes?

I admit I like a bit of cheap drama, so 9 times out of 10 (and sometimes 10 out of 10) I venture in the comment section. I’ve never believed that comments should be disallowed on youtube or anywhere else. Moderation at the discretion of the poster is ok. Anyway, I was re-listening to Choir Accentus’ (and all) beautiful rendition of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor reccommended by Rob and checked to see what others thought.

Well, a random conversation sparked up on the subject of clapping after a Mass, especially if a Mass is sung in church, such as was the case here. I tells ya, some people have a talent for zero-ing in on the important stuff. My take is it’s not religious worship, it’s a concert, so clap away. But what do I know, I got shushed whilst visiting a cathedral just the other day. If people want perfect quiet they can pray at home not in a public place. The rest of us are alive. Also, god does not actually reside in “the house of god”.

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (Barbican, 29 September 2015)

The music starts in the dark. A trembling light advances slowly from the left: it’s Penelope carrying a (red) candle for Ulisse.

ulissebench

Penelope’s bench and red candle (centre) and the wind machine behind the theorbo

Ulisse: Ian Bostridge
Penelope: Barbara Kozelj
Minerva/Amore: Elizabeth Watts
Telemaco: Andrew Tortise
Tempo/Nettuno/Antinoo: Lukas Jakobski
Melanto/Fortuna: Sophie Junker
l’Umana Fragilita: Daniela Lehner
Iro: Alexander Oliver
Eumete: Christopher Gillet
Giunone: Charmian Bedford
Pisandro/Coro di Feaci: John Lattimore
Anfinomo/Coro di Feaci: Richard Latham
Eurimaco/Giove: Gwilym Bowen
Director/harpsichord: Richard Egarr | Academy of Ancient Music

10 days fter the excellent performance in Bucharest I was curious in which ways – if any – it would be different. As usual, seeing it live is so different from hearing/seeing it recorded. I am delighted to report that Watts did not sound screechy in the least and Kozelj performance was much more affecting than I had previously thought. My outings at the Barbican have been either in the front stalls or front balcony and back balcony. I have a feeling it does matter a lot where you’re sitting, so I am now taking care to sit in the stalls.

I have come to enjoy these Barbican semi-stagings. For these early operas there’s probably no need for much more. This time we had a centre stage weathered bench for Penelope, which was also used by other characters for their own antics. Barbican’s stage inbuilt stairs solved a lot of problems of depth. Most of the characters looked like they were instructed to bring something black in which they felt comfy and which brought out their own personality. Sashes and bright coloured cloths added some pizzaz where needed. Ulisse (in disguise) and Eumete had gnarly staffs and Nettuno brandished a more elaborate one. Iro ate several things.

As before, the entire hall was used. Several characters made their entrances to scenes/sang from the stalls or from the balcony. Having singers harmonise behind you is surprisingly – or not – effective, as I came to realise when I heard Tito‘s Act I finale with the choir at the back of the venue. You do get the feeling of total immersion.

But a Monteverdi opera lives or dies on the singers’ (vocal) acting skills. Our bunch of singers are luckily very good actors so they were engaging throughout.

As before I really enjoyed Ian Bostridge’s performance. There are no objections whatsoever, everything was conducted brilliantly and with great emotion; the voice sounded in perfect health, plus he’s got the kind of tone I can easily associate with my idea of Ulisse (a clever hero).

At home, with many distractions, it’s perhaps too easy to fall back on the things one is used to. 1m away from the performer, a music lover falls under the spell of their artistry, I rediscovered last night. So instead of focusing on who she doesn’t sound like, I was won over by Kozelj’s nuanced singing. Lots of floated notes and delicate inflections – a rather internalised grief, very stylish. Pivotal moments, such as Penelope’s idea – implemented by Minerva – to challenge the suitors to stringing Ulisse’s bow or her meeting with Ulisse where she is obviously attracted to him but isn’t sure of his identity yet, came off very clearly. And this time both Penelope and Ulisse looked genuinely happy to meet again.

Once again Watts had a lot of fun, especially when Minerva disguised herself as an old hag/shepherd to surprise Ulisse and also during her “let rip” moment, when she complained about the offence against her that started the Trojan War. When I saw her in Don Giovanni I didn’t particularly like her voice but here my ears were very pleasantly tickled especially by her low register, which sounded surprisingly solid. Excellent performance all around.

Another singer who had a lot of fun with his characters was Jakobski as Tempo/Nettuno/Antinoo. In turn childishly mean (Time) to l’Umana Fragilita (the poor thing!), outraged at the lack of respect from humans (Nettuno) and cleverly materialistic (Antinoo), he snarled, foamed at the mouth and acted smooth around Penelope. His cheerfully warm and elastic bass stood out easily among the many high voices around him.

Sophie Junker (Melanto/Fortuna) had the opportunity for flirtatious lightheartedness to balance Penelope’s stubborn glum. In possession of a mobile face and lovely bell-like tone, she’s really good at this kind of thing. She also had very good chemistry with Gwilym Bowen’s Eurimaco.

For voice-focused opera lovers this sparsely orchestrated music offers almost complete focus on the voice(s). I thought John Lattimore (Pisandro/sailor) and Richard Latham (Anfinomo/sailor) mixed really well with Jakobski in their harmonies in the livestreaming and it was awesome to hear these harmonies in the flesh.

… I could go on but you get the gist of it (and if you need more, you can (re)visit the post about the Bucharest performance. Truly a gorgeous evening of music crowning the Monteverdi cycle. Do I need to tell you that the AAC sound sweet live? Maybe: the strings were plump in sound, the rhythm section drove the whole thing with enthusiasm and the melodic bits were a pleasure on the ear. I wonder what the AAC will bring in the next few years but any time they want to reprise any Monteverdi I’ll be there bar acts of god 😉

So this is how the Month of Tito ends, having suddenly turned into the Season of Monteverdi. Can we have too much of the green man? I’m starting to think not. I’ll let you on a “secret”: there’s more to come next month 😀

ulissecurtain

Giunone, Tempo, Eurimaco, Eumete, Minerva, Penelope, the stage director (?), Egarr, Ulisse, Telemaco, Melanto, Anfinomo and Pisandro

Operalia 2015 winners (aka, tardy news)

I’m beyond late but I wanted to express my satisfaction at seeing “my man” Ioan Hotea win first prize as well as the zarzuela prize! Felicitari si la mai mare!

There you go, more proof that you should trust me… when it comes to tenors 😀 Congrats also to Lise Davidsen for her wins (first prize, too and the Audience Prize for Female Voice). For those who may have missed it even more than I did, here‘s a list of all the winners.