Category Archives: tenors

Kat’a Kabanova and Richard Jones, a match made in small town hell (ROH, 9 February 2019)

Small town mentalities, mother-in-law from hell + traditional woman’s role (aka, guilt over even existing) = the river Volga looks mightily inviting.

that’s right, Kat’a has a dark cloud over her head and the waters are quickly rising to engulph her…

Katerina (Katya): Amanda Majeski
Boris Grigorjevic (the lover): Pavel Cernoch
Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova (Kabanicha): Susan Bickley
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Vána Kudrjáš: Andrew Tortise
Tichon Ivanyc Kabanov (the husband): Andrew Staples
Glaša: Sarah Pring
Savël Prokofjevic Dikoj: Clive Bayley
Kuligin: Dominic Sedgwick
Fekluša: Dervla Ramsay
Conductor: Edward Gardner | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones

Doesn’t sound like the kind of opera I’d rush to see but Janáček’s libretti are always worth your while (it’s 1921, after all, not 1840). The story is repugnant on all levels yet somehow the way it’s told does not insult the contemporary Western intelligence. It also helps that it’s directed by Richard Jones.

As you can imagine with Jones at the helm, whatever humour there is (and, surprisingly, there is) gets a very evident and effective treatment. That’s very welcome (and clever for those who have hired him) because otherwise this opera is as depressing as those facepalm gems Lucia di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly. (I’m aware both are actually sympathetic to their heroines but it doesn’t make it any better; we still have these self-sacrificial role models perpetuating the mentality that you either conform or die, no matter how much we all think you’re actually a decent person).

Normally I’d roll my eyes at the MIL from hell trope, because it portrays (older) women in that ugly, mysoginistic manner etc. On the other hand, traditionally, Eastern European MILs do tend to be overly protective of their perfect progeny and very distrustful of anyone they ever date, let alone marry, because who could ever be good enough for their genius babies, right? The tendency to insert themselves in the young ones’ marriage is a reality. Another reason I put my eyeroll back on its shelf was because the way the libretto treats this – here overblown – state of affairs is very funny. The MILzilla (Kabanicha) wastes no time before starting with her complaints. To say she’s unrealistic, uncooperative, implacable or childishly jealous of her daughter-in-law doesn’t even start to cover the extent of her tantrum (the role of Kabanicha is an extended tantrum that puts the Queen of the Night to shame).

Some gems from the libretto:

Kabanicha (to her son): you love your wife more than you love me!
Tichon: Mum!
Kabanicha: what if she had a lover?
Tichon: but she doesn’t!
Kabanicha: but what is she did?
Tichon: … I’d still love her.
Kabanicha: you’re a moron!

Later:

Kat’a: why must you go [to Kazan Market]?
Tichon: because Mum said so. [Kabanicha: if you really loved your Mum, you’d go to Kazan Market.]
Kat’a: must you go? I feel something terrible is going to happen to me if you go.
Tichon: yes, if only to get away from here.
Kat’a: take me with you!!!

On the other hand, the hard done by Kat’a gets a really beautiful aria from which we learn of her lofty imagination and her (sadly very repressed) adventurous spirit. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town knows that the only place imagination and adventurousness gets you is in trouble. Small towns thrive on conformity and propriety (although we also soon learn that the staunchest uplholders of those qualities are also very hypocritical).

So for having a “fairytale” MIL and a downtrodden daughter-in-law, paired with benevolent but ineffective men (Kat’a’s husband, Tichon, and her lover, Boris), the libretto is unexpectedly balanced by the existence of a second young couple (the sidekicks), Varvara and Vána. Vána is a scientist and Varvara is a right on sister, who willingly assists Kat’a with her issues and tries to cheer her up, offering a lighter, more pragmatic view of the world. This couple is quite clearly pitted against the Behold God’s wrath! old skool mentality, embodied by Dikoj (Boris’ cantakerous uncle) and Kabanicha. This happens during the storm scene, when Vána and Dikoj face off (to humorous effect) over “what is a storm?” So the future is yet bright (Vána and Varvara go together to Moscow, where we all hope their enterprising personalities will help them thrive).

For whatever reason, the couple Kat’a and Boris is much less successful. Probably this has something to do with the dying class – nobility, undone by the limitations propriety and the rest of that stylised form of existence puts on its healthy development.

I’m not familiar with the music enough to make extensive comments, but I will say that the singers were supported with care by Gardner and the interventions by various winds and brass sounded particularly good. In the title role we had Amanda Majeski, who has so far been known to me only as Vitellia to JDD’s Sesto way back in 2014 (Chicago). Live she made a very good impression on me, both vocally and dramatically. I wouldn’t mind hearing her Vitellia again 😉 even though these two roles are as far from each other as it gets. It’s that kind of nicely rounded soprano voice that has various colours to work with and she knows how to handle it.

As far as acting, she was completely immersed in this sad role and shone in the aria I mentioned above, where Kat’a talks about her dreams of soaring above the drab and stifling world1 she lives in. This appears to have been her ROH debut, and I hope to see her again in some interesting roles, mind. Please, ROH, don’t bury her in the same old. And if we can have Tito back at ROH sometime in the next decade, I’m definitely not going to be one to complain 😀 In any case, she got a very warm welcome in the house and the word on the street is equally as positive. Welcome to London 🙂 With Brexit looming, we might end up welcoming a lot more American singers of this calibre… that would be the good side of things.

The others did well, too, of course especially Bickley, who chewed scenery with the best of them as the self-righteous busybody Kabanicha. As unpleasant an cliche as it is, she made the role quite hypnotic in its small-town diabolique manner.

[edit]: The last scene was – totally unexpected – the most Russian thing I’ve seen on an English stage (true, I have not seen many Russian things, but I have seen Jones’ decidedly un-Russian 2016 Boris Godunov, one of his less successful productions, as far as I’m concerned). The spirit seemed just right to me (the main trio: Tichon holding the dead Kat’a, with Kabanicha tugging at them).

It was an evening equally as rewarding as it was frustrating, which is a good thing if you’re relaxed enough to put up with 😉 Jones has been on a roll for a few years now, so I would suggest you don’t miss his productions if you’re a fan of good theatre. But dress lightly, especially in the Upper Amphi; the heaters are on full blast.

This was my first return to ROH after it has completed its refurbishment of the Amphitheatre lounge. They have done a very good job integrating it with the rest of the ROH design, congratulations. It’s swanky but not obnoxiously so. After my travels around Europe, I think it’s still got the coolest lounge areas of all the major theatres.


  1. Two men to my right were discussing – somewhat mockingly – the cheap looking beige panneling that was the constant background to the proceedings. I was a bit surprised that it needed explaining. For my part, Jones’ ideas and Antony McDonald designs were spot on and smoothly clear at every turn: the hippie young couple proclaiming nature was beautiful, the “squares” with their ’50s style clothes and furnighings etc. 
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Cantiam, cantiam, Lucano!

A propos of nothing, except I wanted to re-listen to this somewhat curious scene. Observe how back then it was done of peep show-style and now it’s all fluid sexuality. Let’s do a then and now – sorry for the bad quality video (then and now):

THEN

NOW

PS: just in case you thought the “blubber of love” in the background was something sprung out of Lauwers’ mind (also sorry for the tenor not staying in tune):

The seldom spotted high altitude tenor

merrily leaping above the stave

Oh, after only 10 months we’re back with a post featuring a few (!) tenors. But Rossini, though not made for tenors per se, is known for his earworms. You listen to it once and you must re-listen – about 20 times, or until neighbours start slamming their windows shut in frustration. Having shot down Scala at La Fenice 😉 and now feeling I was a bit (just a wee bit) unfair, I felt like I needed to re-listen for other opinions:

I know Blake was very popular in this rep in the ’80s and ’90s but his voice/way of singing rubs me the wrong way. The goat is randy even below the summit! Ok, this is very late in his career but he sounds like this in other videos. He can and dares do lots of things but none of them are pleasant to my ears. He seems to forget this is a seduction aria not a moment to throw notes like knives at a petrified damsel in distress.

The tone is rather nice but talk about lack of mementum for this “Indian Nemorino”.

JDF is a Capricorn. Coincidence? Nah-uh.

I like Brownlee’s tone best of the bunch. There’s no strangled goat bleating in the stratospheric heights but he covers the tessitura without issues, and he can sound really beautiful in the tender moments. BTW: are there any non-virtuoso Rossini arias?

But Kunde is also surprisingly pleasant to listen to, though I can hear some insecurity. I didn’t even know he used to sing in this rep.

El Tito de Villazon (DG, 2018)

In which we (ie, I) return to Tito after a very long break and find new (to “us”) voices, pleasantly re-acquaint ourselves with older finds and get a few surprises, some good, some not so good.

Tito: Rolando Villazon
Vitellia: Marina Rebeka
Sesto: Joyce DiDonato
Annio: Tara Erraught
Servilia: Regina Mühlemann
Publio: Adam Plachetka
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin | Chamber Orchestra of Europe and RIAS Kammerchor

Overture: notable for its pregnant pauses, though less pregnant than Currentzis’. Those ones are preganant with sixtuplets.

Act I

Ma che…: pianoforte a bit loose in the joints; nice tone from Rebeka, actually. Never heard her before, but she can do recit quite excitingly. JDD is a less nervous Sesto than when I last heard her; more authoritative than you usually hear him, with a touch of introversion. Good balance between the voices though I wouldn’t say any sexual obsession is conveyed. Surprisingly, Sesto falls like a souffle in the end. It’s the longer version of the recit.

Come ti piace: Sesto rocks the rubato. Sounds a lot like N-S lets JDD lead. Rebeka comes in guns blazing and she can hold that with the best of them but it’s nothing new as far as Vitellia is concerned. The ending is beautifully executed but again, nothing overly exciting.

Annio shows up: he’s no-nonsense, Tito is waiting! Vitellia mocks him. He doesn’t care. O virtu…! comes off… I’m not sure how, sort of like Sesto is reading about Tito. Annio and Vitellia sound more alive than him.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: maybe not the sexiest inflections on the market but Rebeka has a very good looking tone and an impressive range.

pre-Prendi recit: The continuo is a bit gentile for my taste. Annio and Sesto are cute together.

Deh, prendi: go Annio! one feels the Romeo and the Octavian in Erraught’s enthusiasm.

March/Serbate, dei custodi: a bit funny jumping from Nerone’s court to Tito’s court with 150 musical years in between. Choir sounds rather telephoned.

This version has the long text of the Bring gifts to Tito! bit. Villazon starts well but he does soon sound like he’s ready to take flight rather than saying words. Or maybe I’m still mentally with Poppea and 150 years later recits are naturally a lot more stylised.

March reprise: it’s there and I always like to hear it but that’s it.

Annio : Sesto : Tito: Annio is eager, Sesto very timid. Tito still taking flight, especially on oggi mia sposa sara la tua germana!, which sounds as if he’s reciting and ode. Annio is the most natural and effective here. Wait, seriously: Erraught sang Sesto in Munich, why is she Annio here? Reason why things shouldn’t be planned too far in advance.

Del piu sublime soglio: Villazon starts it alone, which is not necessary a good idea, as he inflates sublime in a strange manner. His tone is actually not bad but he doesn’t sound dramatically involved enough – or in a manner that works for me. Maybe someone needs to pair him up with Garanca, then we’ll have two people singing it whilst thinking about how to make every note beautifully follow the other.

Non ci pentiam: Annio is trying to make the most of his predicament. He’s upset but heroic. I like Erraught’s way of going about the recit. Why is she not singing more Mozart? Servilia is also ready to fix things; these two always (ok, most times) bring a smile on.

Deh, perdona: in this case it’s very easy to tell them apart in the duet. Another aria that sounds nice enough but nothing earth shattering from Maestro.

Tito : Publio: Villazon reminds me of someone else but I can’t tell who. His Servilia, Augusta! is pretty nice – more surprised than besotted. Nice delivery from Servilia. She has such a Mozart voice! Sounds like she’s just stepped off Entfuhrung. There is a lot of stuff Tito has to say. It’s definitely the long version of the recits.

Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: it’s a lot better than I expected. Perhaps because it’s naturally more “shouty”, but Villazon has the right reading. Well, I’ll be. If someone told me the most I’d enjoy Villazon would be as Tito I’d have thrown down. Or something. The truth is I wouldn’t mind listening to his ‘Fosse again.

Vitellia : Servilia: Servilia isn’t scared but makes the exchange short, nonetheless.

pre-Parto recit: Rebeka sounds fresh, with just the right amount of sarcasm, JDD not so much (there comes a time to leave Sesto behind). Rebeka needs somebody as fresh as she is for a foil to her voice acting. I quite enjoy listening to her, a very nice find as Vitellia.

Parto: hm, there is a weird energy in how JDD phrases her initial double parto, reminiscent of how Villazon did his Ah, se fosse. Interesting in a way – a sort of going forward and breaking at the same time, but also not quite fetching. What I notice is JDD’s foray lower then she is known for (though not on that potentially super sexy belta; ok, everyone should have their trademark way of doing Parto). Her coloratura is as strong as ever yet she sounds heavier or darker otherwise. My conclusion is this is far from her most exciting take on Parto.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…!: very seductive mix of threat and self satisfaction from Vitellia, I like it. Publio and Annio are rather chummy.

Vengo! Apetatte… Sesto!: of course attending live shows is exiting (sometimes deliriously so), but there is a downside: you’re really spoiled for spontaneity. I find it very hard to get in the right mood for studio recordings, where everything sounds so obviously polished. It’s a very good version of Vengo! but I’m really dying for something to go slightly awry or at least not to feel like there’s a team of engineers trying to fix whatever vocal/techinical limitations might come up and in the process, smother the life out of it all. [earth to dehggi: this is apparently live. Dehggi: is it?! No, really: is it?!]

Again and again the feeling returns that this is all (the recording in general) very competent but no much beyond that (except Rebeka’s tone and enthusiasm for the recits – she’s been robbed of a better (really live) environment for a recording of this role).

Act I finale

Hey, JDD woke up! As we know, this is the moment when Sesto can be rescued from mediocrity if things (in this case, the drama) hadn’t gone anywhere fast up to this point. I can’t shake the feeling that, in spite of JDD’s experience and long list of qualities, she’s just not Sesto at this point in her career. She can phrase and she can dose her energy for this mad scene but the emotion feels generalised instead of raw. More attention seems put into rolling the Rs than into Sesto feeling overwhelmed by what he’d got into. JDD also doesn’t sound young and scared anymore – or even just scared. Her Sesto seems rather annoyed with himself – I can’t believe I’ve fallen for Vitellia’s trick – again!

By contrast, Annio, Servilia and Publio sound engaged. When everybody gathers together, Maestro speeds proceedings up a little too much, so that the choir’s interventions of ah! sound almost glib. Rebeka comes to the rescue again. Her Tito…? is tentative, as if Vitellia is scared even to call his name as she can tell the news can’t be good. Then taci, forsenatto! has he back in control again. The choir is a bit too resigned-mournful, so the sudden brass “screams” seem overdone and it all fizzles out before you realise.

Act I conclusion: JDD a disappointment, Rebeka a very welcome find, Erraught should’ve been Sesto1, Mühlemann endearingly eager, Maestro not sold on this opera, Plachetka solid and Villazon better than I ever imagined, though far from a Tito for the ages. With so many Tito recordings on the market in recent years I’m not sure why this one ever happened, except the young gen of conductors eager to leave their mark – or at least tick the box – on Mozart. I hate to say it, but I’ll take Currentzis’ exaggerations over Nézet-Séguin’s lack of ideas any day. But maybe I’ll be more engrossed in Act II…

ps: that’s gotta be one of the poorest CD covers I’ve seen in ages. Tito’s back of the head? Seriously? And why is the standard so badly placed within the composition?

Act II

Annio : Sesto: helpful Annio 🙂 Sesto is finally alarmed. Annio doesn’t want to hear whinging, he says: wipe your boogers and focus on the fact that Tito survived!… Wait, you’ve actually done it? DUDE, WTF?… Anyway, nobody can prove anything so STOP whinging!! Sesto dithers some more but Annio shakes him. I’m gonna be the helpful friend whether you like it or not, brov.

Torna di Tito a lato: beautifully, sensitively done – with heroics thrown in.

Partir deggio…?: Sesto continues to poop his finery, Vitellia is dramatically appealing to his fidelity, he raises to the bait, she gets sarcastic. Not bad.

Publio : Sesto: Publio is no-nonsense but not cruel, almost friendly. Sesto has gathered his courage back; seems like he only falls apart with Vitellia. But he’s also quite annoyed with her. I find the harsh dramatic contrasts JDD employs a bit blunt for Mozart.

Se al volto: Sesto’s start is rather good, nice employment of soft trills. Rebeka uses similar strong contrasts as above in her delivery and although I really like the ease with which she transitions from one to another (and her incursions at the top of her voice, which is beautiful and flexible), I still don’t like such rather overblown dramatics. I think I should blame Maestro? Plachetka’s Publio is again solid.

Si grazie si rendano: the choir isn’t bad here. I wish Villazon toned it down a bit, it’s a no-shouting moment. His Tito sounds like he wasn’t even in Rome when the fire happened. Introspection = a very Tito quality.

Publio : Tito: Publio is very hush-hush. I guess this one likes Sesto. Tito doesn’t sound particularly upset by the news but uses the end of the phrase for another shouty-McShout. And yet, he can do pp – if only he thought about it more often and how this should be the basis of characterisation.

Tardi s’avvede: Plachetka’s a very honourable Publio; this is a very civilised court. Along with the hush-hush recit he uses the softest tardis in the repeats. It’s very cool in itself and very dance-y. Diplomatic Publii are a thing.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is confused, Annio barges in (also in a civilised way), Publio gets gutsy, Tito is finally crushed. His Annio, lasciami in pace! is the most heartbroken I’ve heard yet. Villazon gets points for originality. I can work with this stuff.

Tu fosti tradito: Annio for emperor! So heroic 😀 and yet there are softer moments and Erraught can spin a trill. A bit acidic at the very top but it’s that aria. Easily one of the most involved and effective Annios out there.

Tito = OMG!: finally a moment for Villazon to go all Puccini and not sound funny. It’s ok for Tito to sound on the brink of a meltdown. His delivery is pretty convincing.

Quello di Tito e il volto: this is definitely a Tito + Sesto = friendship (but possibly Publio hearts Sesto) kind of Tito. They are very balanced and dramatically more suited together than with their respective women friends. Maestro uses that rubato at the end almost as if he remembered it at the last moment.

Tito : Sesto: Sesto sounds ready to lose his shit again. Tito sounds very hurt and doesn’t try to hide it. Sesto decides to try for heroism but it doesn’t quite work (not that I think JDD wanted it to). It’s one of those it’s not you, it’s me kind of cringe-y moments. It’s also very long. There is a lot of emotional fretting being thrown about, though… at least they are both on the same page of dramatics. It’s probably more akin to how they did it at the London premiere in 1805.

Deh, per questo instante solo: this is not how I remember JDD’s voice. I don’t know how this voice is. It’s like everything else is there but it’s missing its Mozart shine. Too much belcanto? Too much soprano? It sort of doesn’t sound like a trouser mezzo voice anymore – the genderambiguous charm, the emotional youthfulness2. It’s darker, but soprano-dark. Has the centre of balance changed? Unsurprisingly, the most memorable moment is the trill up at the top of the voice (on questo cor).

Tito ponders: I like the darkly phrased vendetta… otherwise it’s a pretty straight-forward Tito. I like him but what can I do??? thinks Tito. His heartbreak is very much of the heart only. Publio tries to figure out what happened.

Se all’impero: I don’t know if sounding insecure is by design but it actually fits Tito’s reluctant decision.

Publio : Vitellia: it’s a very diplomatic conversation, neither wants to give their hand away.

Vitellia : Annio : Servilia: everybody is alarmed. Annio, as usual, wants things done already. Vitellia is still able to keep up appearances. Servilia isn’t easily fooled.

S’altro che lagrime: not sure if the continuo was needed to segues into S’altro. Mühlemann continues to sound like a very young Mozart heroine, with a beautiful top for the gioveras.

Ecco il punto, Vitellia… : Rebeka begins cold but slowly, slowly, the more she says Sesto’s name, things are starting to fall apart. Somehow she manages to sound distressed without the usual ugliness. It’s still not entirely thawed, in contrast with Sesto and Tito’s emotional wrecks.

Non piu di fiori: I guess the descent into temporary madness could be more gradually described but her use of range is the best this side of Erraught. The low G is on pieta and it’s not overly ugly but rather solid. Like with the rest of this recording, all that’s missing is some interesting ideas.

Act II finale

The orchestral sound is a bit thin but the choir is up for grandeur. Tito is more or less calm again. This is the Tito who puts benevolent into benevolent ruler. Vitellia gets low range gutsy – yes, please. La tua bonta is said in such a… casual tone, I guess, it’s surprising but not very dramatic. I mean, has she already got over the fact that Tito is BENEVOLENT? It was a big enough deal in the morning that she wanted to get him killed. Tito is, of course, not that observant, and instead he goes on declaiming about his generosity. Puppy-Sesto says he’s way touched. Tito strokes his head and gives him a kind biscuit. All is good again in the world. The women’s voices do blend very nicely. Eterni dei sounds suitably grand. Villazon suddenly gets a Kermit voice for il ben di Roma and is a bit lost in the general praising of himself. I like more presence from the male side in the big chorus moments (speaking of which, what happened to Publio?! Should we be worried?).

The conclusions from the end of Act I still stand. I was susprised not to hate Villazon, though I think it’s a very superficial reading of Tito with some nice occasional touches. I would recommend this for Rebeka, though, judging by how she started, I was expecting more from her Non piu di fiori. I’m not entirely sure how much is her fault and how much is Maestro’s, who has not impressed me at all. For Erraught I urge everyone to revisit her Munich Sesto.


  1. if young conductors want to record these things, they should employ the young gen of singers as well (here I have to give props to Currentzis again; don’t worry, we’ll be back to normal soon 😉 ). You know I like JDD (though she was never a fave Sesto) but really; people like Erraught and Crebassa and Lindsey deserve their mainstream shot at Sesto. 
  2. I had to go back to VK’s Deh, per questo with Welser-Most to try to figure out what the problem is. I think 42 year old VK’s voice has a similar density there but her colours simply sparkle in comparison. Though perhaps I’m wrong and VK solved a lot of density problems by darkening through her career so she could manueuvre colours a lot better. JDD didn’t darken and waited for real density but by then the colours (which were never on level with VK’s) had washed out? Anyway, sounds like JDD is a lot more conventional in her rendition here. The amount of rubato in VK’s version is quite striking in comparison and the use of trills is very (very) different. JDD seems to want her cadenzas at top speed and her trills tossed off with abandon, whereas VK is not afraid to put lots of breaks into the proceedings and add often shorter trills for dramatic effect rather than in that belcanto way JDD likes them. 

Hurrah, new Tito recording with Villa… wait, what?

The trailer is all Parto so you almost want to ask: what’s Villi doing there? I do like JDD’s a la Titus hairdo. Nice attention to detail.

Mozart Cycle – I ❤ that. Obviously Mozart worked it all out so it culminates with Tito 😉

I don’t need to reiterate how the summer festival season has blinded me to the latest Tito developments but a new CD has dropped this past July (instead of waiting for September like I would’ve).

Known quantities JDD and Marina Rebeka sing our seditious lovers. (Has JDD never recorded Sesto before? I suppose VK saturated that market for about a decade before JDD started singing soprano roles (out of frustration?)).

Then we know who Sesto’s should’ve been, no offence to JDD because we all know what JDD can do. We also know what KL + SY can do (KLSY or, with a little help, SYLK?). So the reason this didn’t happen: DVD =/= CD.

Do we think SY can sing Vitellia? I don’t trust my SY objectivity just now. Please alert me when that DVD comes out, I will write on it ASAP. They can bring their Poppea getups along.

ps: as per the comments on the above tumblr post, she was apparently slotted to sing Vitellia on this recording. Saving it for the DVD, I tells ya.

The smaller roles are impeccably cast, with Regina Mühlemann dewdrop-sweet as Servilia, Tara Erraught making much of Annio, and Adam Plachetka as the commander Publio, who sounds rather more secure than his emperor. (from the Guardian’s […]Tito – Nézet-Séguin and Villazón return)

Schwing! Haha.

Of course I feared this moment ever since I saw him as Don Ottavio. Sigh. One day I will have to actually listen – this month, even! Stay tuned.

Tara Erraught making much of Annio

Like, ha. This generation of singers are doing things all backwards. Then again, there is audio evidence of Fassbaender’s Annio.

The main idiosyncrasy is Villazón – and in this opera, where the tenor has the title role, that’s not easy to gloss over. Some listeners will find his warm, passionate portrayal of the merciful emperor an antidote to the generic, antiseptic style in which Mozart can be played today; others will balk at his expressive tuning, and wonder why he sounds as if he is limbering up for Nessun Dorma. (from same as above)

I can hear it already!

Wait, who these days plays Mozart in an antiseptic way?! I thought the trend was to spritz him up with edgy stuff.

This month, he and Nézet-Séguin will return to Baden-Baden for Die Zauberflöte; Villazón will go full Domingo and sing the baritone role of Papageno. (from same as above)

Haha! This is gold. Hands down my favourite Erica Jeal review, we’re usually at odds.

Upcoming at ROH and Glyndebourne 2019

What with everything, I missed the Gen Sale for the return to Wagner at ROH (oh, no!). The Ring Cycle is back this Autumn, with Pappano at the helm. I may look up returns for Stemme’s sake (aka, best intentions). Otherwise, we have the following:

Solomon in concert with Zazzo in the title role

Verdi’s Requiem with Jamie Barton and Stoyanova; sold out at this point

Simon Boranegra… for those of strong Verdi constitution (but where there is Wagner, there is also Verdi and there will be another production for the hardcore Verdians soon; an opera we know and I love to make fun of, because a recent new production at ENO clearly was not enough)

Carmen and Hansel and Gretel for the mezzo-deprived; Dudnikova might be an interesting Carmen, I liked her Principessa de Bouillon.

Winter:

The Queen of Spades = must not forget

Traviata for the casual goer – it’s still the much loved production

Katya Kabanova – I’ll probably go

Così returns but don’t count me in

Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season

Spring:

La forza del destino 😉 yep, that one, in Loy’s vision; with Trebs and the Alvaro of our times

Faust – hm, I might go, see how Damrau is holding up, PLUS it’s got Abrahamyan in her ROH debut (!) as Siebel (let’s all lament the fate of very good mezzos). On the downside, Ettinger conducts.

Billy Budd conducted by Ivon Bolton – the all male cast opera, let’s check it out…

Andrea Chenier – NOT with the Alvaro of our times but with Alagna and Radvanovsky! How can we resist that offer?!

Tosca with Opolais/Grigolo/Terfel but the last show brings Draculette back to her rightful territory so yay for those who care.

Summer:

Boris Godunov still with Terfel but without Ain Anger; so soon? Maybe because they were short of money for a new production…

Carmen, because we’d already missed her, this time with Margaine, and Pisaroni as Escamillo, ha!

Figaro after a couple of seasons, because there are only 3 operas and 1/2 by Mozart; this is the season with Kimchilia Bartoli as Cherubino but also unusually with Gerhaher as Figaro plus Keenlyside as the Count. You know it might actually be worth revisiting and weirdly enough, for the men.

La fille du regiment returns once more, now with Devieilhe, and Camarena will show us his 3283576 high C in a row. Then again, Pido conducts.

In conclusion, some interesting turns but generally a rather meh year ahead for yours truly’s taste.

Glyndebourne 2019

La damnation de Faust – a Richard Jones production, so it could be much fun

Rusalka – nah

Il barbiere – see below

Die Zauberflote – I’ll have to see it at some point, don’t know that this is that point; however, Agathe, David Portillo is Tamino 😉

Cendrillon – usually a spectacular mezzo-mezzo borefest, now with DeNiese and the ever trouserable Kate Lindsey; I mean, they had to make up for the music…

Rinaldo with DeShong in the title role. A bit of a strange choice IMO, but to be honest I have not heard her live and in Handel to boot. I was proven wrong before.

Problem with the libretto? Swap the Saracens for popstars (Rinaldo)

Last night, thadieu and I sat through 6 hours of a Rinaldo mashup. The term wild ride applies.

Armida: Carmela Remigio.
Goffredo: Francisco Fernández-Rueda.
Almirena: Loriana Castellano.
Rinaldo: Teresa Iervolino.
Argante: Francesca Ascioti.
Eustazio: Dara Savinova.
Lesbina: Valentina Cardinali.
Nesso: Simone Tangolo.
Araldo di Argante: Dielli Hoxha.
Uno Spirito in forma di Donna: Kim-Lillian Strebel.
Mago Cristiano: Ana Victória Pitts.

La Scintilla Orchestra. Conductor: Fabio Luisi | Martina Franca

Now we know that Rinaldo was Handel’s most revived opera within his lifetime, the first opera he presented when he moved to London from Italy and his first mega hit that immediately established his reputation in London.

He revised it in 1717 and again in 1731:

Revisions, 1717 and 1731

The opera was frequently revised, most particularly in 1717 and in 1731; modern performances are usually a conflation of the versions available. Up to and including 1717, these changes had no significant effect on the plot. In the 1731 version, however, in Act 2 Armida imitates Almirena’s voice rather than assuming her appearance, and Argante declares his love to Almirena’s portrait rather than to her face. In Act 3 the marches and the battle scene are cut; Armida and Argante remain unrepentant and vanish in a chariot drawn by dragons before the conclusion.[23]

The opera was also performed in German in Hamburg to much success. Leo presented it in pasticcio form in Naples:

A pastiche of the opera, with additional numbers by Leonardo Leo, was presented by Leo at the Royal Court in Naples in 1718, with Nicolini singing his original role.[25]

This is the mashup we heard, though the Italian presenters insisted on calling it “Handel’s Rinaldo“, only occasionally mentioning that it also contained arias by Leo and others. Let me assure you it’s not quite Handel’s Rinaldo so it’s kind of annoying when it’s presented as such. But the whole thing was obviously legit and with Fabio Luisi at the helm so you have to think that we’re starting to see things differently now, especially these old skool operas (though I do remember things have been done to Fidelio recently and the less said about that Currentzis modification to a certain Mozart opera, the better). It looks like a trend, for better or worse. I personally find it’s trying a bit too hard, but I’m not so young anymore so who knows.

I think this was one of those productions where you had to be there. On the radio, sometimes the recits, done by secondary characters buffa-style (I felt like in a Pergolesi comedy), went on so long that when an aria I knew started I was almost startled. Do I care about Lesbina and some guy in Rinaldo? Do we want servants represented? I guess we do, but Rinaldo has a kind of specific focus. This woman Lesbina wasn’t even there in “Handel’s Rinaldo“, so why do we have to hear her mock (I guess – or was that the woman-spirit?) the main characters?

It can be said that Rinaldo‘s plot is problematic in today’s world because mentioning crusades and infidels isn’t done in cosmopolitan company. Well, fair enough, it’s one way of looking at it. For my part, it’s historical through a fantasy lens but if it has to be dropped from the rep because it’s not PC, so be it. We can do concert performances, seeing as how the music is still appreciated. I wouldn’t drop it but I wouldn’t make a big stink either about it if people were so offended by it.

What these people did was chuck the plot altogether and change all the characters to ’80s pop stars. In the main roles we have Freddy Mercury (Rinaldo), that annoying guy from Kiss (Argante), David Bowie and Elton John (don’t know who’s who in the opera and frankly I couldn’t care less) and two unidentified by me women as Almirena and Armida. One is in a big white dress with teased hair and the other is in a black dress, looking vaguely Goth. I leave it to ’80s pop fans to figure out the riddle, because to me it makes no sense. I didn’t even know Queen and Kiss had some sort of feud, if that is supposed to be reflected here. I think Queen was the sophisticated end of mainstream radio and Kiss was lowest common denominator frat party fodder.

So I guess they take the edge out of the plot and place the story in a conspicuously white-Western world cca 1980 – in order to make this cooler for today’s (opera going) public, which must be over 40, because I can’t see anyone under 40 care one way or another about Queen and Kiss, though Elton John is still present enough and David Bowie died cool.

But from the commentary during intervals I gathered thay wanted to make it more Neapolitan, hence I guess the Leo pasticcio. Which is ok and all, but don’t call it “Handel’s Rinaldo“, call it Leo’s Rinaldo pasticcio.

When we get to the actual Rinaldo stuff, that is pretty cool, though so diluted – like I was saying above – that it feels like hours have passed between Vo far’ guerra and Or la tromba, both of which are done with enough gusto (especially Or la tromba = you understand why there are contraltos in this rep; Vo far’ guerra was surprisingly understated, I suppose only the Barbican harpsichordist was let loose, though it would have so made sense to indulge in endless classic rock noodling in this production! Missed opportunity if there was one). Sadly, although I sat through 6 hours of it, I missed both Venti, turbini [edit: they cut it! They WHAT?! They cut Venti, turbini and they’re calling it (Handel’s) Rinaldo?! Dude….] and Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which is a real miss, because how often do you hear a contralto Argante?!):

Role
(in singing order)
Voice type
(1711)[12]
Notes Premiere cast, 24 February 1711
Conductor:[19]
Ref.
Goffredoleader of the First Crusade. 1096–99 contralto (en travesti) Tenor after 1731 revision Francesca Vanini-Boschi [20]
Rinaldo: a nobleman of the House of Este alto castrato Written in soprano clef, now sung by a contralto, mezzo-soprano or countertenor Nicolo Grimaldi (“Nicolini”) [20]
Almirena: daughter of Goffredo soprano Isabella Girardeau [20]
Eustazio: brother to Goffredo alto castrato This part was eliminated before the 1717 revival, and is often omitted from modern productions Valentino Urbani (“Valentini”) [20][21]
A herald tenor Bass in 1731 revival “Lawrence” [20]
ArganteSaracen king of Jerusalem bass Contralto in 1731 revival, now usually bass Giuseppe Boschi [20]
ArmidaQueen of Damascus, Argante’s mistress soprano Contralto in 1731 revival, now usually soprano Elisabetta Pilotti-Schiavonetti [20][22]
Two mermaids sopranos Not recorded [20]
A woman soprano In some productions the woman’s lines are sung by a mermaid Not recorded [20]
A Christian magician alto castrato Bass from 1731 revival Giuseppe Cassani [20]
Mermaids, spirits, fairies, officers, guards, attendants Non-singing parts

I can totally see why you would also have a contralto Armida and how a dramatic soprano does justice to Furie terribili. Remigio (who, if I’m not wrong, has sing Vitellia, which is as dramatic as sopranos in this rep get) did a pretty good job of Armida in general. I might like her better on repeat listens.

So, it’s a trend and to me it’s a very whimsical one (read: hit and miss). But I wasn’t there and on the radio and without 100% Italian a lot was missed. On the other hand, now might be time to present the WS revised Alcina and Der Rosenkavalier.

Die schöne Müllerin with Pavol Breslik (Wigmore Hall, 22 July 2018)

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
Die schöne Müllerin D795

Pavol Breslik tenor
Amir Katz piano

Last week was very hot and busy and I actually did not check to see what Breslik was singing before arriving at Wiggy. My carefully laid out plans had me bailing out at intermission not because I anticipated not enjoying myself but because I had work which I wasn’t able to swap.

Both I and my seatmate, strategically placed at the end of the row, started to consider the likelihood of upgrading, seeing as how it was sparsely attended – as many shows are, at this time of Summer. So we got to talking and he mentioned the lack of intermission. In the end I stayed for the duration, only skipping the encores (the first of which was Erlkonig, as I overheard from the lobby).

I find it curious that this was Breslik’s Wiggy debut, as he’s been around for quite some time. My first encounter with him was the Munich Lucrezia Borgia but the piece in which I actually appreciated his efforts was Haim’s recording of Il triumfo del tempo a di disinganno, where he was Tempo in that great lineup.

Anyway, the miller-maid was all right in his interpretation, though not beyond1. His voice has darkened and thickened since Tempo though it’s still got a certain allure. It was a bit monocolour but he pushed the ff pedal with the best of them, at times the sound even got distorted.


  1. Since hearing Gerhaher’s Magelone I really enjoy a narrator with song cycles. 

Donizetti’s L’Ange de Nisida – belated world premiere (ROH, 18 July 2018)

The crucial question here is: does the world need another Donizetti opera?

The very next one: was it fun?

The answer to the first question will vary greatly even within the belcanto community, seeing as how Donizetti was more prolific than his other two best known belcanto brethren and many of his operas are still popular. In a very general way1, I actually like the story of La favorite so I could very well stand this one.

Sylvia: Joyce El-Khoury
Leone de Casaldi: David Junghoon Kim
King Fernand of Naples: Vito Priante
Don Gaspar: Laurent Naouri
THE Monk: Evgeny Stavinsky
Conductor: Mark Elder | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH

Old Mature codger: I can jolly well see why he recycled the music to this one.

Yea, me too – some of it is very entertaining (most of the choir bits, which I remembered from elsewhere and were really catchy in the way act I of Maria Stuarda is2) and the rest is easily listenable – to answer the second question.

I have a feeling its success was one part Donizetti and two parts Mark Elder, who’s long championed lesser known Donizettis, like Dom Sebastian. He obviously likes this kind of stuff and has a lot of fun with it, which in turn rubs off on the audience (or at least people like yours truly). He was great in alternating the melodrama with the funny and his communication with the soloists, orchestra and choir remarkable; aside from some arias in some need of editing (bad Donizetti!), the motion of the the ocean was bouncy and sprightly.

Here I have to stop and commend the choir. I’ve not always been ROH Choir’s biggest fan but they were on fire for this. I don’t remember when was the last time they were so into it, when everything sounded so easy and exciting. Excellent job, everyone.

For those who are more or less familiar with La favorite, this opera is its first – unlucky – incarnation (the sponsor went bankrupt and it was never performed – until yesterday in London). Unlike its later version, L’Ange de Nisida is less serious, in that it has a thoroughly comic character in Don Gaspar, the corrupt official. He starts like he means to go on with a rather complex aria of the same nature like Rossini’s Figaro or his own Dulcamara’s. I’m Don Gaspar and there’s nothing I can’t fix if the price is right. The chorus communicates with him during the aria, as he has brought them along to serenade l’ange of the title but then sends them off when he notices a new fish he could hook (the hapless tenorino, Leone).

Things go downhill from there but he never loses his enterpreneurial spirit, no matter how much those around him moan in belcanto anguish. That is to say, Leone (who loves l’ange aka Sylvia) and l’ange (aka Sylvia, who loves him back but oh, non! it’s not meant to be!) keep it old skool and struggle with love and honour for the majority of the opera’s 3 hours. The king wrestles with love vs authority (dude, like what atuthority? Gaspar and l’ange keep telling him what to do) and THE monk punishes everyone who has a semblence of fun on the island of Nisida (I kinda see where he’s coming from. He’s like a born again who went to Ibiza for a weekend), the choir keeps gossiping and judging the poor star crossed couple, even though we’re told (by them!) from the getgo that Sylvia has helped them out whenever their ships were tossed by the storm and their flocks in mortal danger.

There is a duet between the king and Sylvia, where she tears him a new one because he’s never made her an honest woman though he promised her he would (whatever did they teach young noble women about the ways of the world back then?). It is revealed during the opera that she’s a very honourable and concerned soul who just happens to be the king’s mistress – ye shalt not judge. Also hatas gonna hate. Alas.

Both her and Leonore in La favorite are a bit po-faced; I have to give it to Verdi (or Schiller?) that the coolest character of king’s mistress fame is Eboli. I mean she gets to be witty, seductive, evil and also grow emotionally by the end of the opera. These two are just kind of woe is me, love is not to be – though Oh, mio Fernando is a cool aria (not present here; also alas).

I’m really sad 1839 was so far removed from 1739, because we don’t get a ship tossed by the sea aria for Leone, even though that’s basically his story. It takes him about 3/4 of the opera to understand that he’s being used by all (perhaps not so much by Sylvia, who loves him but gets to despise him when he agrees to marry her in exchange for titles and money – although that’s not why he marries her, but, hey, if someone says do you want to marry the woman you love and get lots of money for the effort, too? – would you say no to that? – that’s just some ersatz melodrama so people end up thoroughly emotionally drained by act IV). It’s belcanto.

Start of Act IV Sylvia: I’m dying of sorrow.
End of Act IV Sylvia: oh, Leone, I love you but we can never be together.
Leone: why not? I love you too, we got each other! and that’s a lot – for love
Sylvia: because I’m dying of happiness. [dies]

Also in act IV: Leone is tired by all that happened that day (in the morning he gets the death penalty for dissing someone or something important, by lunch Gaspar and l’ange intervene for him and the king commutes his sentence (told you, he’s Mr Authority) – to married life 😉 – then Leone meets with l’ange and she tells him she loves him but can’t be with him, in the afternoon the king tells him to marry her and during the ceremony her realises she’s the king’s mistress and everyone shuns him for being dishonourable) and decides enough is enough and joins a monastery – and by the evening he’s ordained priest! I guess because THE monk – who keeps threatening with the Papal Red Bull – knew his father and what’s a bit of nepotism if it’s for a god good cause?

So, yea, that’s the story. They really clean it up for La favorite but on the other hand Don Gaspar! Naouri was so much fun, I kept wanting Don Gaspar to make another scheming and shamelessly self serving appearance. He and Elder (and the choir) had the most fun of the night.

This was the first time I heard El-Khouri (though I had tix to see her and hubby in recital exactly a year ago but couldn’t go due to random illness). It was a curious experience and it took me the entire night to figure out what was going on. I came to the conclusion that she didn’t feel comfortable with the dramatic nature of this role – her voice felt strangled whenever she wasn’t singing coloratura, which was very good (same goes for diminuendo – beautifully executed, with technique and feeling). To me she felt so uncomfortable that it was hard to get much expression beside said ornaments. However, next to Naouri she had the most engaged stage presence, considering this was a concert performance.

Kim as innocent tenorino Leone was also a mixed bag, but rather because he is so young. Last year he was still part of ROH’s Jette Parker Young Artist programme and this was a big role for him. He had some utterly beautiful moments throughout the night, especially when called to sing piano and with feeling and he was wise enough not to push for schmalz. Donizetti and possibly grand opera is a good route for him, his voice is very well suited for Nemorino and that kind of haplessly plaintive stuff. We root for him, especially as he’s cute as a button! (I’m saying that as a good thing – if you got it, go for it, there are many cute and innocent roles for tenors). He’s not the most interactive actor, at least not in a non-scripted environment but he does look like he means what he sings.

Priante as the king seemed to me like his voice was a size too small for the role but otherwise I can’t say I have complaints. He does look like the kind of king this opera calls for and he was engaged, especially as the night progressed. Stavinsky as THE monk of the Bull was pretty menacing, though maybe give him another act and his monk would mellow quite a bit to get jamming with the locals.

It was a very entertaining evening and I’m sure Opera Rara recorded it, because there were plenty of mics on stage, so I think you will be able to listen to it, should you be inclined to indulge in yet another belcanto opera (where all the big moments end exactly the same). There is one more performance on July 21 and still plenty of (rather cheap) tickets, because it’s not Maria Stuarda, after all (or at least not all of it is).


  1. insofar as any story involving the other woman is concerned (though poor ange finds herself in the unusual situation of being the other woman to the ghost of the honest woman). I always enjoy seeing reviled characters/antagonists on stage. And in this case we have a bit of (sentimentalised) exploration of the question: would winning the social lottery make you happy? 
  2. probably because that’s where I heard at least some of them, ha. 

Wolf with Julius Drake and Ian Bostridge (Wigmore Hall, 17 June 2018)

About 2 years ago I saw Bostridge as Ulysse in the AAM concert performance tour when it stopped at the Barbie. I really liked his attention to detail and to this day he remains a favourite along with this year’s London Ulysse, Roderick Williams. Afterwards I didn’t pay much attention to his many Wiggy concerts but this season I thought I should get up to speed on the Bostridge lieder experience ™.

the stairs to the Wiggy restaurant

Ian Bostridge tenor
Julius Drake piano

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen
Spätherbstnebel
Du bist wie eine Blume
Mädchen mit dem roten Mündchen
Mein Liebchen, wir sassen beisammen
Wenn ich in deine Augen seh
Mit schwarzen Segeln
Wie des Mondes Abbild zittert
Goethe Lieder
Frech und Froh I
Frech und Froh II
Der Rattenfänger
Gutmann und Gutweib
Ganymed
Grenzen der Menschheit

 

Interval

London has fountains, too

Mörike Lieder

Der Genesene an die Hoffnung
Der Knabe und das Immlein
Jägerlied
Der Tambour
Begegnung
Nimmersatte Liebe
Verborgenheit
Auf ein altes Bild
In der Frühe
Gebet
Peregrina I
Peregrina II
Der Feuerreiter
Abschied

Encore:

Schubert, of course

Well, it turned out that getting a ticket at the end of the next block was a good idea, because Dr Bostridge likes a good, brightly toned, laser-like and anguished shout with his Wolf. If we’re not quite sure what Van Mallaerts is, Bostridge is 100% tenor. And 100% white voice. So if you like that, he’s the man for you. He also got really alarmingly intense when he wasn’t nonchalantly leaning against the piano. I considered offering to make him a nice cuppa.

On the other hand, Julius Drake was 100% fun. I really enjoyed his accompaniment. You may remember I don’t always get into the instrumental part of things but sometimes some accompanists do get my attention quite vividly (more recently, Scalera and Manoff did). Following Drake’s amazing work with dynamics and timing was unexpectedly easy and exciting!

Modest proposal 2018: Wiggy needs to think about ways to implement the mute-the-anguished-tenor button.

you: dehggi, that’s called the instrumental music concert, which has made Wiggy famous.
dehggi: I heard of such things, but they don’t usually play the lieder scores, do they?