Category Archives: frequented opera venues

dehggial’s usual haunts

Akhnaten moonlapse

If you’re wondering what happened to my 2019 ENO Akhnaten reviews I will have to disappoint you. They are not going to happen. One day I will probably want to publicly write/talk about Akhnaten again in one context or another but the two shows I saw last week have brutally become part of my personal mythology so the door is closed on them.

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

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

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

Katerina (Katya): Amanda Majeski
Boris Grigorjevic (the lover): Pavel Cernoch
Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova (Kabanicha): Susan Bickley
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
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. 

Sonia Prina and friends: deluxe Vivaldi (Wigmore Hall, 7 February 2019)

Vivaldi? The guy who wrote The Seasons and then renamed it different things over his long career? This was one of those performances that gives the listener a glimpse at Vivaldi’s varied range of skills, from virtuosic instrumental writing to vocal music.

I know we’ve barely finished a long conversation around Vivaldi’s Juditha, so everyone around here is way past a need for an introduction to Vivaldi’s badass music but this isn’t just that. It works on different levels. If you know your Vivaldi even a little bit, this team of musicians pulls you into his exciting world and by the end of the evening things feel better than before.

Super annoying corporatist type behind me to his junior female companion: I once was at a Vivaldi concert in Venice, in Vivaldi’s church!1

I couldn’t take it anymore so I upgraded to row M.

click picture to enlarge

Sonia Prina contralto

Alina Pogostkina violin

Dorothee Oberlinger recorder

Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concerto in G minor for strings RV156

Là, sull’eterna sponda from Motezuma RV723

Ho il cor già lacero from Griselda RV718

Concerto in C for flute RV443

Sol da te mio dolce amore from Orlando Furioso RV728

INTERVAL

Concerto in E minor for violin RV277 ‘Il favorito’

Concerto in D for violin RV234 ‘L’inquietudine’

Sovente il sole from Andromeda Liberata

Anderò, volerò, griderò from Orlando finto pazzo RV727

Encore (aka, let no Vivaldi recital be without a Juditha section)

Veni, me sequere fida ❤ ❤ ❤

Agitata infinido flatu (all star)

When I heard both encores would be from Juditha I just about passed out 😀 It’s like she was there with us recently and thought “speaking of Juditha…”. But how will I ever be able to enjoy these arias in recital without a woodwind on hand, let alone an all star Agitata?! Yes, First Operaworld Problems strike again.

If you’re wondering if Prina has sung Juditha, the answer is yes, and in very good company (at your fingertips, too). I think I speak for all of us when I say we hope to hear her sing the whole thing live at a reachable venue 😀

It was a dark start, which augmented my rather unsettled state (let’s just say this week has been indirectly a bit too intense). ‘eterna sponda was done with that seductive wistfulness Prina can convey so well, yet with the usual spontaneity (the orchestra needed a moment to catch up but were solid throughout afterwards). Ho il cor gia lacero turned out fabulously febrile. This stuff fits her tone and temper like a glove. There is a bit of an arc between it and the other “fast and furious” aria of the night – Anderò, volerò, griderò, one of her staples – which she did faster than I’ve heard her before, to the point that I couldn’t follow the words – but she somehow could sing them! Hehe. T pointed out in the Juditha report (or was it in conversation?) that with Vivaldi there are many words to be sung and that can, sometimes, trip singers. Not in Prina’s case.

The wistful/slow and seductive arias benefited from her other skill – that of singing with gentleness and care. That also came through in her interaction with the other musicians on stage, especially her “duet” partners. As you know, Prina always interacts. She’s not the kind of singer lost in their own world, oblivious to the proceedings around them. Here she watched and “conversed” with her partners in crime as she does with her singing partners in a concert performance or in a staged production.

I don’t know what kind of violin Pogostkina plays but, whatever it is, it has a sweeeeet tone. I’m not the biggest solo violin fan but, wow, I loved that one and could imagine myself listening to it for the rest of the night – plump and warm, never strident. Whilst listening, it occurred to me that sometimes when I complain about the strings, it may also be that I don’t enjoy certain violin tones and not just the lacking skills of the players. Not to take away from Pogostkina’s skills, which I thought were excellent (really nice legato, light touch on the endings; she can “shred”2 without sounding uncouth and has very good rhythm).

Oberlinger looked just like my idea of the Pied Piper – are all recorder/flute/other mad winds players a bit whimsical? That’s a good thing, btw – as is the Pied Piper, one of my favourite characters, as I have mentioned around here before. At first I thought she was a bit flashy, the first piece sure went at lightning speed, but perhaps virtuosity was the whole idea. However, she won me over with the very lovey-dovey obligato in Sol da te and then the… whimsical one in Veni, me sequere fida. I think T called it a serious aria, but is it really? I think Juditha is allowing herself to be a bit playful/encouraging here, although they are sad. Oberlinger’s interaction with Prina, the way they played with the sounds, was simply a joy to listen to/watch. I really needed that 🙂

Though Agitata3 isn’t my favourite Juditha aria, to hear it with these virtuosic forces (again!) was a badass ending to an evening of comprehensive exploration of non-Seasons/Folia Vivaldi. Most of the audience realised the evening was top quality as the reception was very warm and enthusiastic. Somehow Prina and Co. lucked out on a really bright winter day here in London and in turn left us the gift of joy (indeed).


  1. that was just the best of the absolute nonsense that moron spouted liberally. 
  2. remember Basso’s famous words, Vivaldi is rock’n’roll – shredding skills required. 
  3. I like Agitata da due venti a lot better; probably the aria that made me think “I love Baroque opera!” 

The man who didn’t do it with Pelleas…

… doesn’t do it with Pikovaya Dama.

The Queen of Spades review – Herheim puts Tchaikovsky centre stage for stimulating frustration

2 / 5 stars 2 out of 5 stars.

Drink the funny water, Yeletsky!

If ever there was a time to read the reviews before going:
[Herheim} is not half as interested in the story of Pushkin’s novella and Tchaikovsky’s opera as he is in the story of Tchaikovsky himself. In fact, forget Pushkin; this is all about Tchaikovsky. The composer was the toast of musical Russia; he was also a depressive, a gay man who had a breakdown following a disastrous marriage, someone who could plausibly have drunk the cholera-infected water that killed him in full awareness that it was contaminated. Knowledge of all this is crucial to understanding the next three hours on stage, and Herheim concedes us a few projected lines of explanation at the very start.
Say what? It’s kind of bad that he’s not interested in the novella, since it’s one of the better ones Pushkin penned (better than that upper class melodrama Onegin, for my money at least).
Herheim has projected Tchaikovsky into the character of Yeletsky, the dull old prince who offers heroine Liza love and security only for her to gamble her honour and sanity on flaky antihero Gherman instead.
The disastrous marriage might’s been a dead giveaway… I’ve seen this opera a few times and I can’t even remember the old dude.
brandishing glasses half full of iridescent cholera water.
That’s kinda cool, in that Simpsons’ three-eyed fish kind of way.
Yeletsky is normally a bit part, singing little except one of Tchaikovsky’s most ravishing ariashow beautifully Tchaikovsky wrote for the boring men in his operas, and how he must have craved ordinariness for himself!
Maybe he was craving the boring men! This is the guy who complained Handel was awful. I rest my case.
miming away at the piano like some 19th-century version of Animal from The Muppets, or disrupting any intimate scene between other characters.
I like that image! Haha, if only this is so funny I’m more down with this production than you’d think from the writeup.
The Royal Opera has not recently been a stranger to stagings about operas rather than of them: Barrie Kosky’s Carmen was a breath of fresh air.
Kosky is always a breath of fresh air.
Eva-Maria Westbroek’s soprano misses the ideal innocence for Liza, and Aleksandrs Antonenko sings Gherman with a scything tenor that’s a blunt instrument, too often veering off pitch.
Westbroek is Liza? A bit odd even on paper. But I do like the schwing on Antonenko. I am looking forward to the off pitch moments 😀
and Felicity Palmer, mesmerising as the Old Countess. If this is indeed this remarkable singer’s last stage role, it’s a fittingly memorable one.
Whew! The Countess is the best part of the show, any day. Nothing of Polina, so I guess we don’t get the Mozart-pastiche trouser role bit. Meh, Herheim, you be no fun.

Elbphilharmonie, this will jumble your sails

it looks sort of similar…

The new, state of the art London music venue is coming to a roundabout near… well, not you, probably. Near the City of London, which is not the same as London. You know those intersecting circles? It’s that kind of a thing here. Or London > the City of London.

The City of London is that ugly bit in East London (as opposed to the beautiful bits of East London… err, anyway!) most famous around here for the Barbican. There is a roundabout there with a subway (as in: underground passageway) and a bunch of skyscrapers squeezed in for that special NYC Financial District feel, because, well, it is the financial heart of London. An ideal spot for a swanky music venue, don’t you agree? That’s exactly where they want to build it (you really want to see the roundabout).

The concept includes a pedestrian plaza and foyer above which would sit an “acoustically perfect” 2,000-seat concert hall for the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). (from The Guardian, see link at top)

Pedestrian plaza = good.

Rising further would be four floors of commercial space

Yay, commercialism sitting on top of music! Grinding it down?

a destination restaurant

I’m not posh enough to know what that means. Swanky, in any case.

at the top, a more intimate venue for jazz and other performances

a-ha!

Diller [the architect] said the wooden concert hall, in which the audience would wrap around the orchestra, was inspired by geological formations of layered strata. It would be quite steep so every seat in the house would have a good view. There would also be breakout areas for musicians to perform within the audience.

OK, pretty much like all modern music venues. Breakout areas = that sounds rather ominous = the soprano broke ranks! Catch her if you can. Haha. But if the acoustics is perfect, you can hear her from every position. Or they’ll have to spin around like at Elbie?

Where the money comes from remains to be seen. “We are working with a number of major, potential donors,” said Kathryn McDowell, the LSO’s managing director. “We are in the early stages but we are making good progress.”

Evil money, as usual, thus furthering the idea that classical music = for the rich, because probably quite rightly the public would bulk at £288m being taken from the public purse for a musical venue in a city that already has several.

The £288m figure is a large one, although much less than Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie, which opened two years ago. It was originally estimated at €450m (£395m) and ended up costing €866m, most of it public money. Jean Nouvel’s publicly funded concert hall in Paris came in at €390m, three times over budget.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, the managing director of the Barbican, pointed to the success of both concert halls in creating new demand for music.

I know the adage “build and they will come”, though I’m never quite sure how it applies here, other than how it applied to Elbie = all star superstar concerts of see and be seen public vs interesting music programming.

She [the architect] admitted that the location, in the middle of a busy city of London roundabout, was not the most dignified spot for a landmark building. “It is quite a moat.”

But she said it provided huge potential and would bring a southern entrance to the Barbican site which was “transparent, porous and welcoming. Basically everything that the north entrance is not.”

Heh, at least she’s admitting to the ugliness of the Barbican.

There you go, apparently something to look forward to after Brexit. Sort of.

Good times at the opera in 2018

Venice, Teatro Malibran, 2018

You may or may not know, but for the past few years all of late December has been family time chez dehhgi. So now that New Year is being celebrated at the ancestral home, yours truly gets involved in food preparation. Due to a fluke (a less adventurous one than the setting up of the 2017 Christmas tree 😉 ), we ended up cooking all we wanted to cook yesterday, leaving quite a bit of thumb twiddling time for today, just right for a recap of what I took part – and what I skipped or missed – in 2018.

I think the right word for 2018 is fabulous, in its glamorous connotation – Venice, Salzburger Festspiele and lots of Glyndebourne, with notable stops in Halle and at the Bremen Music Fest, all of which spawned wonderful memories from meeting up with you, gentle reader, for some rocking performances (and a certain odd production). I think I may also start paying rent at Wiggy, since from the below list it looks like I went there at least once a month, with the notable exception of August, festival month.

Hope to see you at a theatre near you (or me) in 2019 😀 though what is on at the usual places does not look quite as exciting as before. Then again, there were some things this year I did not know I was going to see until closer to the time…

Salzburg opera mile, 2018

January

11 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall – a good way to start the year, right?

17 Salome | ROH

21 Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria | Roundhouse – I like this January Monteverdi fixture every couple of years. After we are done with the rep, can we start over?

23 Classical Opera (Mozart’s 1768)Wigmore Hall

25 Anna Bonitatibus and friendsWigmore Hall

27 Anna BonitatibusWigmore Hall – I did not write about it because she did not sing from En travesti and I was a bit underwhelmed by her choices. But, of course, she is wonderful 🙂

31 Angelika Kirchschlanger | Wigmore Hall

February

4 Adrian Behle | Wigmore Hall

Golda Schultz | Wigmore Hall

8 English Concert (Buxtehude) | Wigmore Hall – I was sick for the rest of the month, along with Mum (who was visiting…) and one of my cats. Not the best of times chez dehggi by a very long shot.

26 Les Talens Lyriques | Wigmore Hall

March

13 Rinaldo | Barbican – quite the letdown, aside from Pisaroni as Argante. Both Davies and Harvey did much, much better at Glyndebourne later in the year.

14 From the House of the Dead | ROH

20 Christine RiceRebecca Evans | Wigmore Hall

22 Esther | Wigmore Hall – this year most of the festivals happened elsewhere. This was the only London Handel Fest performance I saw and in the end I did not write about it. Not the best Handel I have seen, I would say, though for sure nowhere near the worst.

26 D’Odette | Wigmore Hall

April

5 Haim / Crebassa / Desandre / Devieilhe | Wigmore Hall – yes, this happened. Do not ask me details, as I cannot remember much, beside enjoying the deft playing of the band that did not need extra fireworks. The same Desadre that wowed me in Salzburg did not do much for me here. Perhaps I was bummed Crebassa bailed on me us?

7 Dido and Aeneas | Wigmore Hall

19 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice

21 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice – this was such a fun trip, I do need to write about it again.

24 Matthias Goerne | Wigmore Hall

May

1 Sonia Prina / Vivica Genaux | Wigmore Hall

3 Mauro Peter | Wigmore Hall

4 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

6 Royal Academy | Wigmore Hall

16 Hannigan Masterclass | Linbury Studio

21 Sara Mingardo / Francesca Biliotti | Wigmore Hall

24 Lessons in Love and ViolenceROH – it did spawn some interesting ideas (about love and violence) which in the end did not coagulate into a post. I kinda wish I had persevered but sometimes where there is a lot on the roster it is not easy to get your mind disciplined about something you do not particularly enjoy as such.

27 Simon Keenlyside | Wigmore Hall

June

4 Franco Fagioli | Barbican

5 Stephane Degout | Wigmore Hall

9 Arianna in Creta | Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche Halle Handelfest – after a couple of years of feasts, we have missed Hallenberg in London, so this was an awesome treat.

13 Jakub Jozef Orlinski | Wigmore Hall

15 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – THE Glyndebourne Cesare! With overseas friends! A good metaphor for blogging about opera, right?

17 Ian Bostridge | Wigmore Hall

18 Christine Rice Julien Van Mallaerts | Wigmore Hall

19 Der Rosenkavalier | Glyndebourne

23 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and again 😀

Glyndebourne 2018

July

2 Veronique Gens | Wigmore Hall

6 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall – that was the week of fabu French singers and I did not write up on them. For no fault of theirs, they were wonderful as usual in their light and sophisticated way. I was absolutely rotten lazy/tired in July, as you can see by the lack of activity below.

9 Felicity Palmer | Wigmore Hall

15 JPYA | ROH – yes, I went again but I did not write, although I had an absolutely hilarious seatmate, very much up my own alley in spirit. The show itself was a bit underwhelming this year, cannot say anyone stood out for me, hence the lack of commentary.

18 L’ange de Nisida | ROH – if no one produces La favourite around here, at least we got its previous incarnation.

20 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and the third time, now with the London Crew. It was a very fun (although overcast) day, and the post is half written. I swear I was so tired and a bit out of it in July that I am afraid I came off stand-offish to those who know me less, though it was by no means the case.

22 Pavol Breslik | Wigmore Hall

27 Saul | Glyndebourne – such a fun production! For some reason, a Chinook flew over the gardens. They give me the heebie-jeebies.

August

1 Pelleas et Melisande | Glyndebourne

12 L’incoronazione di Poppea | Salzburger Festspiele (Haus fur Mozart) – yes. At least nobody got clever with the musical content.

September

8 La Iole (Porpora) | Theater Oldenburg – my first live encounter with the wonderful Iervolino – and with a Porpora work in its entirety. If you are asking yourself Oldenburg what? this was part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018, which is kind enough to spread around the region instead of allowing the city to hog all the events. Another take on the Hercules/Dejanira story, this centres on the woman with whom he is cheating on her. The cosy Theater Oldenburg lavished its audience with a cast of top young singers in excellent form – Iervolino (Dejanira), Aspromonte (Iole) and Renato Dolcini (Ercole). It is a short (but fun) work but all three really got into it with much gusto and the audience loved it. I liked Aspromonte here much better than in Vivaldi.

10 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall

14 Marianne Crebassa / Mass in B minorLöningen – also part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018. As you can see, Crebassa remains elusive to me, but the Mass in B minor is a lovely work and the choir did a good job.

19 Masterclass Sarah Connolly | Wigmore Hall – cannot tell you why I never finished this post, I was even well rested by then.

October

8 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall

17 Porgy and Bess | ENO

22 Karina Gauvin | Wigmore Hall – annoyingly, I was under some rough weather in October and missed these two fine ladies due to horrible head colds.

25 Semiramide | Teatro La Fenice – back to Venice 😀 and more Iervolino! Excuse me if I simply love the woman, she is cute as button here. She also sings rather well 😉

26 Serse | Barbican

November

2 Marie-Nicole Lemieux | Wigmore Hall

19 Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall – the show that caused me to pick up a guitar (and make some noise)!

December

11 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

Glyndebourne – the lawn, 2018

Wigmore Hall: what to look forward to from April 2019 on

Some new faces, some old, plus the return of von Otter:

April

Aci, Galatea e Polifemo it’s that thing he did twice (among the other things he did twice) 😉

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

Senna festegiante (with Emöke Baráth)

Katarina Karnéus let’s see what she’s up to

St John Passion my fave Passion

May

Anne Sophie von Otter she’s baack! And again, after hours.

Paula Murrihy I have no idea how she sounds like, so I should go and hear for myself, right?

Sumi Jo Masterclass Sumi Jo!

L’Arpegiatta I’m not really a fan but sometimes it’s tempting to go against your own grain

The Bangash Brothers who doesn’t love the sarod?!

June

Mafi and Morison in “Lieder fan tutte” – sounds like it could be a hoot(-hoot at Paulton’s Park)

Gerald Finley I somehow never saw him in recital

July

Simon Keenlyside singing Americana – he made such a good impression on my soaked trainers, I am buying what he’s selling even so late in the season

Trills on demand with Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica (Wigmore Hall, 11 December 2018)

A Vivaldi-heavy performance is only fitting to cap a very exciting concert-going year, that has brought me to Vivaldi’s homebase twice. In furore iustissimae irae is one of those badass motets that can only come from the Red Priest (lest we forget he was an ordained priest; I usually do, his music sounds so wordly most of the time) and it was this that convinced me to attend, even though they livestreamed it. Somehow I have not noticed anyone else bringing it to Wiggy in my time of patronising the venue. I hope more do in the future.

I’ve seen La Nuova Musica in action enough to know what to expect. I have to commend Lucy Crowe for the highest professionalism with which she adapted to the breakneck speeds that are so dear to Bates. Her tone is too sweet (not a criticism) to call what she used “machinegun coloratura” but it’s definitely one of the fastest and most accurate I’ve heard so far. Her top has enough piercing power to break through the volume levels Bates likes to employ.

Gent from Manchester who took 3 trains for this event: she’s more like a mezzo.

Because she sang Gelido in ogni vena, which I’ve only heard contraltos (and countertenors) sing so far? An interesting choice, I agree, proving she has a middle, but something that benefits from a conductor more focused on emotional detail than energy and forward momentum.

She sounded in top form from the getgo, though I still think that, overall, I prefer her in Mozart (I loved her Ismene in Mitridate! She sounded like she was having so much fun, even though the production is somewhat restrictive in allowing you to put your personal touch on the character; then again, I wasn’t so keen on her Susanna and my interest in her was sparked by her Rodelinda… so you see how it goes). I would say from a techincal point of view she absolutely rocked and this was what Bates wanted from her. I suppose had he wanted her to add personality as well, she would’ve.

For its part, La Nuova Musica is perhaps more suited to Handel, as – at least to me – the sound was too heavy for Vivaldi/Italian Baroque, and occasionally the top strings produced a smudgy sound. The harpsichord was, of course, loud.  So heavy-ish, loud and furious, though not ponderous but also not souple and bright.

Lucy Crowe soprano
La Nuova Musica | David Bates director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Overture from Il Farnace RV711
Siam navi all’onde algenti from L’Olimpiade RV725
Gelido in ogni vena from Il Farnace RV711

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso in G minor Op. 6 No. 8 ‘For a Christmas Night’

Nico Muhly (b.1981)
Land in an Isle (Part One: Translation of the Body) (London première)

Antonio Vivaldi
Motet: In furore iustissimae irae RV626

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Gloria HWV deest
Sonata a5 HWV288

Nico Muhly
Land in an Isle (Part Two: Land in an Isle) (London première)

George Frideric Handel
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV46a
Tu del ciel ministro eletto
Un pensiero nemico di pace

Encore:
Lascia la spina from Il trionfo…

The Il trionfo bits were also of much interest to me, as I have never seen it/heard any of them live yet. I admit that when Bates said they’d have another trionfo aria for the encore, this time from Piacere, my heart skipped a bit in hopes of Come nembo. After that coloratura fest, can you blame me? Failing that, at least Un pensiero was as lively as one can hope, though that one could hope for more lightness 😉

Not sure I’d heard any Muhly before. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I had no particular reaction to the piece. The biggest effect was showcasing Crowe’s diction in English vs Italian. It could have been the high speeds, but her Italian was mostly vowels.

I was first introduced to In furore… by Roschmann, of all people. Unless you’re familiar with this wonderful motet, you may not know that Roschamann used to sing this kind of stuff when she was very young (1994). It’s quite the rarity for me but you can feel her distinctive personality already, albeit in a much lighter presentation than we know and love.

Then I went on to listen to Piau’s definitive version and so on. It’s a piece that benefits from a more introverted approach rather than an operatic one, dealing as it is with one’s relationship with sin, divine forgiveness and human rejoicing.

The event was suprisingly well attended, perhaps it’s the time of year when people feel a particular pull towards live culture – and thus people were very happy with the performance. I was somewhat amused to have a May-December couple plop next to me. This is not an unusual occurence at Wiggy, where we have the following types of public: old money mature populace who goes to these things as a matter of fact, music students, other musicians, regular music loving people/fans of the singer/band/conductor and academics and their much younger partners (ex (one hopes)-students). The May part of the couple behaved exactly like the young woman from Carol.

Rejoice! The pioneering spirit returns to London

Director Peter Sellars returns with two contrasting staged productions, continuing and expanding on previous Barbican and LSO collaborations: a performance of Lassus’s a cappella Renaissance masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro (Barbican classical music season 2018/19)

YAY! This is our chance to see a very ye olde worke transposed in So-Cal cca 2018 meets 1988 fashion. I was starting to get widthdrawals.

Christian Gerhaher as natural resource (Wigmore Hall, 28 November 2018)

It’s not for nothing that my last post regarding Christian Gerhaher involved a white horse: he’s on the mild side of the typical baritone. Last night I kinda felt a few moments of darker teething but they stood out exactly because they are so unusual for him. As do his bottom notes, which seem like a different language than he normally speaks. Whenever he ventured there (not often), it hit me: oh, he’s a baritone! Not that he normally sounds like a tenor; he normally sounds like Gerhaher. He has all the warmth of the baritone but none of the nastiness habitually associated with the term.

It seems that everybody likes this White Chocolate of baritones, because the house was packed like a charismatic church on faith healing day. Bring me your old, bring me your young, bring me your sick and bring me your healthy! Just keep the poor home 😉 Kidding.

In front of me sat the unlikely pairing of a younger but portlier James Levine-lookalike who only needed half a phrase to brag how he’d already seem Gerhaher 100 times1 and a sedentary grasshopper, with the pernickety air of a retired mechanical engineering teacher, currently masquerading as a skyscraper (seriously, he was the tallest person I’d ever seen in my life), next to me the Islington version of Stephen King kept his nose in the programme because words are important, ffs! and behind me two people in wheelchairs were in the midst of a conversation about Ermonela Jaho’s skills as Violetta.

I’d never met a Jaho fan2 before, so I had to turn around and see who was standing up for her to this extent. That was when a fashionably bearded Bismarck walked past, along with a lady sporting that droopy cheek and eyelid thing so specific to certain English physionomies – but only after I spotted her exchanging double cheek kisses with some gent. Clearly the lady voted Remain. We also had the bald patch + straw hair mullet “conductor from the provinces”, a male movie star from the 1940s (he looked exactly like that, with his slicked back parted hair, hard done by eyes and suit) and minorities from 2018. Basically the entire country, for the past 150 years.

Christian Gerhaher baritone
Gerold Huber piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Sei mir gegrüsst D741
Dass sie hier gewesen D775
Lachen und Weinen D777
Du bist die Ruh D776
Greisengesang D778

Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952)
Tasso-Gedanken (UK première)

Franz Schubert
Abendbilder D650
Himmelsfunken D651

Interval

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Goethe Lieder
Harfenspieler I
Harfenspieler II
Harfenspieler III

Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Vier Lieder Op. 2

Hugo Wolf
Mörike Lieder
Begegnung
Lied eines Verliebten
Auf ein altes Bild
Auf eine Christblume II
Schlafendes Jesuskind
Goethe Lieder
Grenzen der Menschheit

Lady: how did you like the Rihm?
Gent: I didn’t dislike it.
Lady: I didn’t like it but I didn’t hate it.

Maybe you know this piece, I didn’t, since it was a UK premiere and, duh, contemporary. What do I know, right? Well, I know now that it sounds like you imagine it. The above descriptions are very apt, even though they lack in imagination.

What it brought to my (very imaginative) mind was the bell curve of adrenaline rush. When a person is pissed off and adrenaline kicks in, it takes exactly 90 min3 until the person calms down. During that period, the person will do something regrettable at least once, but possibly more than once, in quick succession, depending on 1) how annoying/lacking in diplomacy the people around are, 2) whether they have wisely vacated the premises and taken cover, 3) whether there is suitable property just waiting to be destroyed. In the end, arousal will drop below the person’s garden variety level, due to exhaustion. This is when you rush in and acuphase the composer 😉

Why nobody hated it is because it was sung by White Chocolate on white horse Gerhaher. I didn’t hate it either, although I quite possibly dozed off for a minute or two of those 900, only being sprung back to contemporary reality during the spikes of regrettability, known as tuneful shrieks. Artists always embelish reality, so the structure of the composition didn’t mimic science to a t.

Other than that it was a delightful performance. The Jaho fan commented that Gerhaher started very softly but 1) everyone does, because duh, 2) I like it, 3) Gerhaher’s chief attraction to me is how he can make himself heard anywhere (that I’ve seen him, which is exactly two places) very clearly both in volume and diction-wise, without having to max the ping, which he doesn’t have, anyway. He doesn’t need it, his tone is civilised and sensitive, the addition of ping would be akin to opening a fast food joint on the first floor of an ecohouse.

The other chief attractions are 1) how well he collaborates with the accompanist – I love singers who don’t sing in the vacuum of their glorious talent and intelligence <3, 2) no phrase ever sounds dull.

You know how some singers will focus on this or that part of a song/aria and make that it all nice and polished, because they’ve decided that’s the bit that matters – but leave other words/parts to hang limp and sound uninteresting, like they’re just there (bad librettist/poet!). Well, he doesn’t. There are other singers who manage that (hint: the ones that I like), of course, but he’s one them. The whole is really a whole, not just a clever pun with leftover dressing.

Now I need to see if I can get returns4 for his Winterreise.


  1. I was compelled to run mental calculations on how many times a year he had to have dutifully trotted to Gerhaher recitals or Tannhauser
  2. It was him that was in the midst of the conversation, the lady was rather to the side of it, gauging his enthusiasm against her willingness to see yet another Traviata, (probably the 500th, relative to her age vs portly Levine’s). 
  3. Not 89, not 91 – exactly 90. Kidding 😉 but that’s the ballpark. 
  4. I got this ticket as a return, too :-)