Category Archives: tenors

Tito under the mulberry tree (more Glyndebourne)

Intermission notes:

This time I cried during Del piu sublime soglio. Awesome performance from Croft.

Everybody is more relaxed by now, the acting flows beautifully. There are no more cameras.

Rookie audience:

Young woman at intermission: is Sesto sung by a woman? I kept wondering…
Other ladies in the loo queue: Yes, yes, he is. There was a cast change. But the reviews are about the one we’re seeing.
Young woman: oh, wow! Sesto is the star of the evening!
Other ladies: YES!

The only applause came after Parto. I was confused as it had been so beautifully performed, light and gentle, with some swoony ppp along the way (really moving) but also funny (Vitellia putting the moves on Sesto).

Especially in the wake of the Currentzis Tito I want to commend Ticci and Gupta on the fortepiano continuo for a very light, unfussy touch.

It’s raining. I took refuge under a very friendly mulberry tree with a cute little sleepy bird. How appropriate!

We had a weird incident on the way here, that held up the trains for almost an hour and a half. Luckily I was on a train ahead of the suggested train. The shuttle waited for the stragglers ūüôā but we only had 20min to settle and have a bite before curtain up.

Loud thunder was overheard in the auditorium just as the insurrection started on stage.

Staff offered umbrellas but I like my tree. Too bad I couldn’t visit with the sheep properly (now grazing on the adjacent meadow) ‚̧

Gent next to me in the auditorium: nobody dies! Not very operatic.
Dehggi: nobody should die. It’s all about the search for a better, more forgiving society.

the mulberry is split in two and the side on the right is propped up.

After the intermission:

This was an all around emotional day, as it was my last time at Glyndebourne this year, the end of “my” season (though I really would’ve liked to come back again a couple of times, but you have to observe life-opera balance). Also going to the opera on your own makes for a very different atmosphere, perhaps even moreso when it’s your favourite opera. Even so, a few conversations happened:

Lady who sat next to me for act 2: I saw you talking to the usher about those free seats up there.
dehggi: yes, I want to possibly upgrade because this is my favourite opera.
Lady: …of all operas?!
dehggi: YES! I really like the ideals, forgiveness… and the music is beautiful.
Lady: well, someone is always forgiven at the end of Mozart operas.
(dehggi: someone, even some ones but not everyone.) I didn’t actually say it, because I didn’t particularly want to chat, I was in my own world and cried again during Eterni dei. After the curtain calls I dashed out for fear somebody would notice how tearful I was. Also to be first in line at the loo.

On the bus there were two French people behind me. The woman thought the production was too “brutalist” and concluded “this was the new tendency”. I wanted to turn around and ask where she had been for the past 20 years. She did think the voices very good, though this opera was “by no means” one of her favourites (dehggi: eyeroll). Then she went on to wax lyrical about some wonderful production of Giselle at Opera Garnier.

At 21:30 the train station was almost deserted and the train board let us know the 19:30 was delayed. Some ladies started to make plans in case the trains were still disrupted. I said I’d help them split the taxi bill to London if it came to that. We co-opted some very excited Japanese ladies, so all in all, we would’ve been 5 to split that bill.

The train was on time. I’ve never heard the Glyndebourne crowd whoop so freely outside the opera house before ūüėÄ

Everybody said they liked the performance, very good voices. One of the “taxi planning” ladies explained trousers roles to me ūüėÄ Then I somehow got to talking about the earlier Hamlet production/opera with the other taxi lady. She, like the gent sat next to me at that performance, loved it (the actual music)! She also thought the production was “more modern” than this one. (dehggi: head scratching moment. Maybe we were thinking of different things?).

In the end, there were three arias that received applause: Sesto’s and Se all’impero¬†(<- a lot more than for the livestreamed performance). However, there was very loud thumping at curtain calls. I guess this audience is more used to lieder? Heh. I’m not quite sure why they kept their appreciation to the end if they actually liked it this much. There was, however, a lot of laughter, even during Vengo…! Aspetatte! I agree, it’s a funny moment.

La clemenza di Tito or the return of evil Sesto (Glyndebourne, 31 July 2017)

(1) Guth managed not to fuck up this Mozart! (praise the gods)

(2) Mezzo Vitellia = YES! ROH take note. It’s time to bring Tito back to London.

(3) DVD! Not only a livestream, a Proms stint but also a proper DVD is in the works. 4 Cameras were in the house yesterday. Glyndebourne does things in style (also it was high time they put the old production behind).

Tito: Richard Croft
Vitellia: Alice Coote
Sesto: Anna Stéphany
Annio: Michèle Losier
Publio: Clive Bayley
Servilia: Joélle Harvey
Conductor: Robin Ticciati
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Glyndebourne Chorus
Clarinet obligato: Katherine Spencer
Director: Claus Guth

When the last echoes of the Act I finale faded I thought to myself I don’t want to wait for 1 1/2hours! At the end of Act II I said I was ready to come back and see it for the rest of the week. Guth and team have put together a highly cinematic Tito.

I kept my mind clear of any reviews before this report so you shall see for yourselves on Thursday and make your own judgments. So far, though – and you know how it is when you have to focus on everything at once and can’t stop the show and “rewind”, or go to the kitchen for a moment and ponder, and especially when it’s your first time seeing your favourite opera staged – I am very pleased with Guth’s take on it. It’s dark but it’s not quite as angsty as I feared (certainly not as angsty as his TADW Poppea). Ticci himself opted for a super clean libretto to go with brisk – rambunctious, even – tempi. The house was packed and the applause generous throughout plus lots of stomping (especially for¬†St√©phany) at curtain call. I am of course very happy to see such a hearty reception for my favourite opera ūüôā

We did not luck out with our seating. It seems there’s an unwritten law that says lots of the action in a staged production shall happen on the right side of the stage (from the audience’s perspective) – unless it’s Wagner, says Leander (read her take on this performance of¬†Tito here), who actually sat through 5 hours of Tristan for Connolly’s sake. We, of course, had seats on that side of the horseshoe). So we did miss a fair bit of the action (such as the shooting of fake Tito). I’d moan more if there were no livestream and DVD or me going again next week.

Evil Sesto. Sometimes Guth’s interest in deeper psychological investigation pans out. Here we have the return of the lesser spotted evil Sesto. Normally we know who our baddy is. In this case Vitellia is ambitious and dangerously driven by scorn but it feels like high drama would’ve been averted had Tito simply made the nature of his generosity clearer. Moral: if you pride yourself on working for the higher good, take time to speak to all your subjects, lest someone feels shafted due to miscommunication. People aren’t used to such levels of goodness and they might take your kindness for love.

But what of Sesto, eh? During the overture we had video projections. Praise the lord, they do serve a clear purpose here, as they give us a snippet of Tito and Sesto’s friendship. It’s a neat little black and white short that focuses on a key moment of their childhood. I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know yet what happens. Watch it on Thursday ūüėČ Let’s just say that it tells us there is something inherently wrong with Sesto. I’m game with that! Guth gives us a possible answer as to why Sesto keeps getting into these ambiguous relationships. It makes that line ch’io son l’oggetto dell’ira degli Dei¬†work for us 21st century audiences.

It’s kind of interesting that¬†St√©phany ended up playing this new incarnation of evil Sesto not that long after her stint in the Zurich production of the original evil Sesto. Whereas that one was very self aware rotten, I feel this one is bad in spite of himself. He doesn’t want to do harm but he keeps succumbing to those atavistic impulses. I like it. The black and white short’s atmosphere reminded me a bit of Haneke’s White Ribbon. (Speaking of films, a favourite of mine – and if you know it you won’t be at all surprised I like it -, the Japanese classic Onibaba, also has sex, betrayal and revenge happen within a world of tall grass).

As you (may) know, my previous experience of¬†St√©phany live left me very unimpressed with her acting abilities, to the point where I purposely missed that particular revival of the Zurich Tito, even though it’s one of my very favourite takes on the story and I would like to see it one day in the house, if they still hold on to it.

Before the show started I said to Leander that I’m open to possibilities, as long as the whole works out. And I have to say that within this whole St√©phany did work out. Leander herself, who bitterly lamented the cast change, ended up saying she did not miss Lindsey in the end. The public gave her stomps. So you know she must’ve done something right.

She did. Her singing was technically flawless. The coloratura was as flexible as anything (what is it with French singers and top coloratura chops?), she divested herself of a couple of well placed and new to me flourishes on each of Sesto’s big arias and the initial partos had individuality enough to inform us of his bravado/indecision. She made a surprisingly convincing troubled young man (early to mid 20s?) and would’ve done so even absent the (well done) facial hair.

For me she was just short of spectacular because I still want more (or warmer?) charisma in Sesto, more can be done with Deh, per questo aside from beautiful/energetic singing and I also want a ringing chest touchdown in Parto,¬†and, of course, a truly memorable voice. But that’s me with my standards for this character, which have prevented me from settling on a number of staged productions until now. You can argue this quasi-psychopathic Sesto does not need the warmer charisma, Leander will say her voice is finer than Garanca’s. I may yet grow to like the performance more upon further investigation, because I am already a big fan of the Tito/Sesto background story.

the image belongs to Glyndebourne

900 words before we get to Vitellia. Let it be put in print that Vitellia is hands down my favourite role for Coote. I like her even better here than as Ruggiero. What I was saying about her voice’s texture proved true. YES! We need a mezzo Vitellia more often (3 mezzo Tito = for me! ūüėÄ ) and those who are willing, let them sing the hell of her.

I don’t know about the neck brace, but I had no problem whatsoever with her singing last night. It got to the point where I was thinking: why do sopranos sing this role, again? And you know how I love my Roschmann1 Vitellia, which I should re-listen to see why indeed. (With a mezzo you don’t get the intended screechiness but you get more unshakable power instead). Coote’s voice has got the right warmth and weight and she managed the high notes like the pro she is. I’ve seen her quite a bit this year (1 x Octavian, 2 x Ariodante) and I have to say, the woman knows how to sing.

Baroque Bird was asking what is she known for?¬†(as in what genre). And I said, everything! She is at a point in her career where she can navigate everything, reason for which I vote she sings more of this stuff – earth to ROH again. I guess you could – and after the livestream I probably will – make a deeper analysis of her performance but for now I will just say I simply loved it, the rather benign crankiness and the coogarness of it. She’s a determined woman and she found a way to get what she wanted – but didn’t realise she unleashed something she couldn’t quite control in the end.

Guth isn’t very focused on Vitellia, having established she’s rather succumbed to wishful thinking and misunderstanding than pure evil. She’s ambitious enough to manipulate Sesto but her contrition at the end of act II is unusually credible. Her and Tito’s interaction is likewise warmer and more mature than usual; they are more together as people than in most productions. She’s getting more and more annoyed with the turn events take and is chain smoking in very tall grass, which caused Baroque Bird to suggest she could’ve set the Capitol on fire all on her own ūüėČ

Vitellia (act 2 finale): Tito, I have to tell you something.
Tito: what is it now?
Vitellia: I started the fire. My chain smoking got the better of me.
Tito: Romans, keep Rome safe! Quit smoking!

Tito. We had a bit of a laugh at the intermission, what with the childhood short where Tito seems older than Sesto but not quite as much as the obvious age difference between stage Tito and Sesto. I joked that perhaps suave Sesto (is there any other kind?) has his Dorian Gray portrait in the attic. I wouldn’t put it past this child of the corn.

Age difference out of the way, Sesto and Tito share an interesting natural feel that I don’t know that I got in other productions. Usually much is made of the stunted relationships among the characters, which is reflected by a stiffness in their interactions. Here we have a moment where, in a rambunctious effort to get through to his best friend, Tito lifts Sesto off the ground, in a gesture that is both chummy and manages to draw further attention to Sesto’s apparent youth – which he (Sesto) does not seem to like.

Their age difference can point out their different levels of responsibility/maturity. This Tito is very sane (though his limits are pushed) and a down to earth man, with a higher than usual (even among Titi) common touch. Yet he is forced in a position of power which finds him removed from the very people he wants to be close to. That’s true to life. Once you get in a position of some sort of power, everyone, even those closest to you starts to treat you differently.

There is that moment when a frustrated Tito asks Sesto if he hoped to gain happiness by attaining power and Sesto says no. Well, perhaps Sesto would benefit from becoming more responsible. But this one can’t.

Croft is here perhaps the most self effacing Tito I have seen. He too is a cog in the system. His subjects (the highly stylised-moving chorus) seem to act of their own accord, their adulation towards their leader a given but also a powerful force. Guth elects to use Serbate, dei custodi as the mob casting out Berenice2 rather than as an ode to Cesar. Another touch I really enjoyed.

So in the end, when Tito decides to defy the gods (mob?), it feels like this is his own breakthrough, with Croft conveying that with much clarity mixed with that specific brand of vulnerability that makes his characters so human with so little apparent effort. His Tito knows it’s dangerous to meet badness with understanding and kindness but (in the long run) it’s worse to perpetuate the cycle of violence and if there is one thing he can do from his position is attempt to break this cycle.

Croft’s singing is also off the cuff, so when he gets to toss the endless coloratura in Se all’impero you may be fooled it’s no biggie. He puts the benevolent in benevolent ruler by voice alone and Tito’s mission statement comes off a less like a here’s my big aria! moment and much more integrated into the whole. It’s a rare achievement.

Tito’s 1:1 with Sesto also benefitted from Croft’s unfussy Tito. It was easy to believe him when he told Sesto I’ve never hidden anything from you. Their interaction here was, as it should be, driven by a genuinely friendly Tito. I think this particular Tito’s drama is that he isn’t unapproachable like others tend to be. He lost his approachability due to his position instead of something he has or hasn’t done.

… there is more I want to say and surely it needs further pondering but right now I have to stop short to post this even if it’s not completely done. Rest assured I’ll have more to say in the next few weeks and again when the DVD comes out.

Two more things before a more step by step rundown after Thursday: the clarinet/basset horn was fab and the chorus, drafted at the back of the stalls/under the boxes during the Act I finale was in very good form – and very effective due to the positioning (shouts of tradimento! coming from underneath), sending shivers up my spine.

As I was saying, there were some harkbacks to the classic Salzburg Tito, among them the tiered structure, about which Ticciati gives a neat little explanation below:


  1. And Naglestad and Varady and Gauvin. And Antonacci (but that’s cheating, she’s the quintessential mezzo/soprano). Saying that, come on, why is she not singing Vitellia again? 
  2. This is the kind of production where Berenice makes appearances. 

OMG Tito moment and update on Glyndebourne livestream date

Cast update I somehow have missed:

Tito: Richard Croft

Be still my beating heart! ‚̧ ‚̧ ‚̧ Did I mention ‚̧ ‚̧ ‚̧ ?

Sesto: Anna Stephany

Wait, whatever happened to Lindsey? She’s not showing for the Proms either. It’ll have to do. I’m sure Stephany can sing it (in a pretty manner), not sure at all about her acting.

LIVESTREAM UPDATE

Date and time: 6pm GMT on 3 August, on the Glyndebourne page. In the event this isn’t working, try telegraph.co.uk and look for Tito. If you miss it/can’t make it, come back to the page and watch if for 1 week after the broadcast date.

You can see it at the cinema on the same date.

The Proms date is still 28 August (7pm), which you will be able to listen to here.

Full cast as of now:

Vitellia Alice Coote
Sesto Anna Stéphany
Annio Michèle Losier / Rachel Kelly (19, 21 August)
Publio Clive Bayley
Tito Richard Croft
Servilia Joélle Harvey

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2017 (ROH, 16 July 2017)

July is the time when the ROH audience checks on the house’s young artists to see how they’ve grown. I found this year’s programme rather ambitious and the results mixed.

Verdi: I due Foscari, Act II (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Lucrezia Contarini: Vlada Borovko
Jacopo Foscari: David Junghoon Kim

This is the kind of opera that kept yours truly aloof from the art form for so long. I couldn’t wait for the overwrought scene/duet to be over. If you can’t pinpoint it in your mind, imagine the typical belcanto duet between important/main characters who are about to be parted by fate. It’s mainly Italian angst, with moments of gloomy recit, ominous shredding from the string section for the moments when ghosts are mentioned (one of the characters is ever on the brink of a breakdown, the other one tries more or less feebly to be their rock but it’s obvious they are also suffering) then a cheerful tune gets shoehorned in (so that the audience can draw a breath) and is explained in the dialogue by “outdoors sounds” such as the gondolier, good moment for the whinger to draw attention back to their plight, so that the hand wringing can start anew and continue for another 15min. Kim is on the right track for this kind of thing and has a beautiful tone but he’s obviously too young for the finer details this 19th century brand of Italian neuroticism needs.

Nowadays they simply have women either dressed in an updated version of ’80s powersuits or as lalala bohemians. Borovko looked utterly in charge in her suit which I dare say was curious for Amelia Lucrezia. Then again, I despise this opera so much that I might have missed something essential. I doubt it, Romantic opera womenfolk were utterly decorative.

Upon return home I realised this was not Simon Boccanegra.

Massenet: Cendrillon, Act II (duet)
Conductor: Matthew Scott Rogers
Cendrillon: Kate Howden
Prince: Angela Simkin

Massenet, eh? Poor mezzos, he wrote for them but alas, I don’t like his saccharine stuff. For once I would’ve like the mezzo singing the trouser role to wear sensible shoes but it was not to be. Aside from that, Howden and Simkin’s interaction was not bad at all. Sometimes when I see mezzos and sopranos singing to each other of love I feel the interaction is actually helped by them both being (straight) women. It’s almost like they think whew, it’s just her, I won’t get distracted by wayward hormones, I can focus on the notes I’m supposed to sing and when I have some free time I can glance at her in a chummy manner – which masquerades surprisingly well as young love. Howden covered for an indisposed Emily Edmonds and I can’t complain about anything, but then again, Massenet. Simkin had more of a moment here than as Isolier later on, obviously since this is a duet, and though I again have no complaints, I also didn’t feel particularly wowed by her tone.

Mascagni: L’amico Fritz, Act I (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Suzel: Francesca Chiejina
Fritz: Thomas Atkins

I find it a bit odd that I enjoy Mascagni quite as much as I do (Cavalleria) but there you go, I liked this duet as well. You might ask wait,¬†how is this any less fluff than Massenet above? It’s not but it’s much more enjoyable music to my ears. Atkins and Chiejina had rather nice chemistry going and were well suited vocally. Plus, there was a really big bucket of cherries on stage and a hot summer day outside. Chiejina’s cutely colourful maid outfit exemplified what I said above about the lalala bohemian vs powersuit.

Strauss: Arabella, Act III (final duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Arabella: Jennifer Davis
Mandryka: Gyula Nagy

Jennifer Davis has a surprisingly large voice for her age, definitely able to cope with a Strauss orchestra as conducted by Syrus, and has a rather fearless attitude about attacking the highs and a good technique to back that. I could see from the Don Giovanni bit after the interval that Syrus was unusually careful in helping his singers do their best, so I suppose he was here as well. As far as the finer parts, well I guess that’s where both nature and experience come in. I remember the fairly recent (sometime last year) Bayerische livestream of Arabella with Harteros in the title role, which I loved, so I think that’s a good goal to keep in mind for aspiring Strauss singers.

Nagy sounded a bit stiff to me in what I imagine is a very tricky role. Aside from the livestream, my experience with Arabella is rather limited so I don’t as yet have a good idea about who Mandryka is supposed to be, aside from a vaguely wild force, personification of sexual desire as experienced by virginal women? Anyway, one needs a bit of stage and life experience to make that work.

Rossini: Le Comte Ory, Act II (final scene)
Conductor: James Hendry
Countess Adèle de Formoutiers: Francesca Chiejina
Isolier: Angela Simkin
Count Ory: David Junghoon Kim

This hilarious trio/scene elicited a lot of mirth, as it usually does, even though I dare say none of them are natural Rossinians, and thus the finer details did not shine. Hendry must’ve got a bit too much into it and, perhaps skewed by Strauss volume levels, let the orchestra rip which often covered the singers. But they were mostly funny, especially Kim who got into the nun act. The bed cover looking like something from Pylones added to the silliness.

Interval

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II (from Zerlina finding Masetto to end)
Conductor: David Syrus
Fortepiano continuo: Nick Fletcher
Donna Anna: Vlada Borovko
Donna Elvira: Jennifer Davis
Zerlina: Haegee Lee
Don Ottavio: Thomas Atkins
Don Giovanni: Gyula Nagy
Leporello: David Shipley
Masetto/Commendatore: Simon Shibambu

As I was saying earlier, Syrus did a really good job with the volume here, definitely one of the better ways to approach DG that I have heard at ROH, where conductors seem to think this is early Verdi. The singers were properly cradled and it showed once again how good Mozart is for young singers regardless of what voice type their future has in store. It was easily the best moment of the evening.

Thomas Atkins as Don Ottavio got the most applause. It’s true he has a very fine tenor that works with many things and he coped pretty well with Il mio tesoro, a bold choice to be sure. Let’s say I’d rank my ROH Don Ottavios like so: Antonio Poli, Atkins, Villazon. Nagy was much more at ease with the Don than with Mandryka and I think he makes quite a dashing figure; I see this role in his future, he has it all going for him. ROH says he is a baritone but I felt he was rather a bass-baritone or he will be one soon.

Generally I was impressed with the density of the basses and the baritone voices on display – proper stuff. To that end, Shibambu divested himself well of the lugubrious DON GIOVANNI! cry one expects from the statue. He needs a bit more projection for the big stage but otherwise smooth sailing. Btw, I noticed he constantly gets to wear a military uniform but then I guess that’s the lot of basses, what with their authority figure repertoire. Shipley as Leporello was pretty good, too, not overly funny but his interaction with Nagy’s Don was on the money.

Borovko returned as Donna Anna. Now that I’ve seen her recently in a big role I can say this: her top is very good and her coloratura ace but the cloudiness from the middle down seems constant. I don’t know what others hear but if this is simply how her voice sounds I can’t see myself getting excited in the future. Or perhaps she needs to find herself very high roles and stick with those? How about contemporary opera, then. Davis as Donna Elvira wasn’t bad at all, coping very dutifully with all required, though I still think Strauss is where she needs to aim. This Donna Elvira was abjectly in love with the Don but I think Davis got her – tricky for the contemporary mind – preoccupation with saving DG’s soul from eternal damnation.

Sopranos: Vlada Borovko, Francesca Chiejina, Jennifer Davis
Mezzo-sopranos: Angela Simkin, Kate Howden
Tenors: Thomas Atkins, David Junghoon Kim
Baritone: Gyula Nagy
Basses: Simon Shibambu, David Shipley

If you think I was a bit hard on the young singers, bear in mind that I somehow managed to get there two hours before the start of the show (I thought it started at 16:30 instead of 6:30. I know, getting old…), after which I decided to wander around and (re)discovered what a consumerist Mecca Covent Garden is. Let’s start with the hapless straw hat “boy with guitar”, whom I was this close to pay a fiver to shut up for a few minutes. Worse even than a Verdi dirge is a wounded bohemian pop tune. You know the kind, something from the late seasons of Dr House. Try stepping into a shop, they all play music – your choice is now bubblegum pop with nondescript teen voices. Then there was the obligatory curly haired musician setting up his amp to blast what sounded very much like gentle Shoreditch downtempo cca 2003. I guess these moves are savvy, it’s touristy as all getout around there and all of the above are now part of the pop psyche.

I couldn’t take it anymore so I scurried into a book shop (where I knew they don’t play any music) to read Andrew Eames’ account of getting morbidly bored on a barge on the lower Danube. What was he thinking, right? Muddy water, catfish, poplars and weeping willows, engine fuel, moody sailors – a proper circuit party.

But the Comte Ory trio got stuck in my head for days, so things righted themselves to an extent.

Tu vivi, says the tenor (more Ariodante)

Or get over it, brov! Don’t let that unfaithful woman get you down.

Tenors get no(t enough) love around here ūüėČ Contrary to how it might appear, I like some of them quite a bit. Handel wrote some neat stuff for the voice in 1735:

I like how tight, clean and elastic this rendition is. (Honorary mezzo) Croft always has emotion in his voice, he doesn’t need to force the issue (the emotion bit is hinted at in the interview at the bottom). It helps that his tone is noble and has just the right amount of cojones so one doesn’t feel like his characters can be knocked down with a feather. Here’s a tenor I wish I’d seen live, because he’s doing well here too, at a tempo not many could cope with:

In this interview he says something rather interesting about how Minkowski helped him get back his confidence with (Baroque) coloratura and how you need to try it before you can figure out how you’re going to approach it; also about the challenge of composers who write “mathematically”:

It always surprises me when a naturally gifted singer comes from a not particularly musical family (in his case, it was both him and his brother, but apparently no one else).

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:

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 ūüėČ 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 (Ildik√≥ Koml√≥si 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¬†Grig√≤lo 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
Br√ľhlmann:¬†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 Grig√≤lo 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¬†Grig√≤lo 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.