Category Archives: barbican
Life is funny in many unexpected ways. When I first saw the advert for this show I thought “pfft, Barbican! Just how big does FF think he is?”1 So I didn’t buy a ticket, though, as you can see from the setlist, it contains two of my top favourite Baroque arias plus change.
Ffwd to last month, Baroque Bird asked me are you going to Franco’s show at the Barbican? Turns out she had an orphan ticket. Well… let’s say it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting and thanks to a very understanding colleague, some night shift Tetris was performed with speed.
Franco Fagioli countertenor
Gianpiero Zanocco | Venice Baroque Orchestra
Vivaldi Sinfonia in G major, RV 146
Cessate, o mai cessate, RV 684
Sinfonia in G minor, RV 156
‘Mentre dormi’ from Olimpiade
‘Nel profondo cieco mondo’ from Orlando Furioso
Handel ‘Dopo notte’ from Ariodante
‘Sento brillar ner (sic) sen’ from Il Pastor Fido
Vivaldi Sinfonia in C major from Il Giustino, RV 717
Handel ‘Scherza, infida’ from Ariodante
Geminiani Concerto gross (sic) in D minor ‘La follia’ (after A. Corelli Op 5, No 12)
Handel ‘Se potessero i sospir miei’ from Imeneo
‘Crude furie’ from Serse
‘Ombra mai fu’ from Serse
One of the things I discovered since intently listening to Baroque opera is that there are Handel singers and Vivaldi singers. The top Baroque specialists sound good in both but even so you can tell which one is more up their alley. In Fagioli’s case it’s obviously the great Handel, to quote the man himself. The best moments of the night were hands down Dopo notte (one of his signature arias) and Sento brillar nel sen. His Vivaldi wasn’t bad in any way but hearing his coloratura on the cheerful Handels sounded like so many fruit machine jackpots.
A funny-WTF thing happened after Sento brillar, when my seatmate turned to me in top conversational mode and asked do you fancy him? I kid you not, that’s what he asked me, though we’d barely exchanged a couple of words before – and he actually leaned in and expected a giggly yes (he got a are you shitting me? look and he ceased and desisted from trying to get chummy for the rest of the night).
Now, I’m sure constant readers of the blog have gleaned I may be fancying certain singers but let me reassure you Franco isn’t one of them, memorable CT-hug moment notwithstanding. This tells you quite a bit about the Barbican audience, who is looselier jointed than the Wiggy one. Case in point, when, after the interval, FF was doing his let them wait and cheer for me schtick, people actually started calling for him in a manner that lay curiously between cute and weird. I suggested to Leander the orchestra start Dopo notte without him, just to scare him into his senses a bit 😉
Whether I may internally groan at his diva moves (greatly toned down this time around2) and go for a very different look (I guess you’d say) in singers, let alone get constantly frustrated with the politics of casting castrato roles, in between Sento brillar and Dopo notte it dawned on me that I really enjoy him as a musician.
I’ve seen him enough times now that I don’t have to catch his performances if I don’t want to and I think I can certainly be objective in my subjectivity. I spent a good chunk of the night checking out his vibrato – the very one that does thadieu’s head in. I kinda see it’s there 😉 but it still doesn’t bother me. His diction was about as usual, perhaps a bit better (Leander thought a lot better) – or maybe it’s just because we were close (really nice spot, row K). I did understand quite a few words and it seemed they disintegrated only when he was putting the pedal to metal. His choice of ornaments wasn’t particularly exciting, mostly an occasion to remind us of his range. On the other hand, this was one of the areas he toned down on, so perhaps he went to the other extreme.
I also think the Vivaldi contralto arias should stay with contraltos (though I did enjoy him starting with Cessate, omai cessate (because it’s a great one to hear live), the whole came off a bit unfocused and the fun last bit sort of never quite took off the way I’m used to – but then that’s the peril with stated arias). His range was nicely showcased in Nel profondo, complete with his trademark very secure
Bartoli baritonal touches, but somehow the effect on me wasn’t the same as when he hit the Handel runs. I think I know every note in Dopo notte and all of them went directly home.
He can certainly hit the whistle register (perhaps we just expect this from countertenors) but he doesn’t sound as unhinged as a contralto does when doing the same; for Orlando a bit of kookoo is desired. I don’t know if I’m right or not, but I think Vivaldi asks for a greater emphasis on contrast and colour than Handel (who, I also suppose, is more about structure and accuracy?). Please let me know what you think on this.
Even so, the things that I like (the joy and the gentleness that come through in his singing in the arias that require such) hit me perfectly. Leander’s friend observed that he didn’t seem to feed off the (very appreaciative) audience and rather stayed in his own world whilst singing. Interestingly, FF himself put it this way during the encores: thank you for enjoying the show with me. Now that might be international English for you, but quite. He enjoyed singing, we enjoyed listening.
This did get me thinking, though. We all perform to someone sometime, even though we’re not on an official stage. Those who know me irl may remember I enjoy telling what I think are “funny stories” – and that is the time when I can relate to feeding off the audience. You will know immediately if those around you are with you or not so more of the same may come out or be momentarily locked away accordingly.
But how does that work with a preexisting setlist? I suppose you offer to people things that either they know you for or are around the same lines. But it’s different, isn’t it, you telling the same story for the fifth time to the same audience3 or you hearing one of your favourites spin Dopo notte one more time, whether he’s in his own world or not.
Singing is a bit different than talking. It inhabits a certain magical space that simple talking never quite does, though it gets closest when it’s your favourite voice doing it. So with magic comes one’s own world. You may be pulled into it and you can stroll around and enjoy the sights, though you may not interact with them in a physical way – sort of like virtual reality. That’s how I always felt with FF – his offerings have a way of worming their way into my heart, yet he always remains remote. But, circling back to that funny-WTF interaction, that’s just fine with me 😉
To give you a different idea of ways in which his singing hits home with me, thanks to the fact I actually understood most of the words in his Scherza, infida, the moment he hit io tradito, a morte in braccio I was reminded how Jones’ Aix production brings into foreground the grossly unfair treatment of Ginevra. Prejudice from one’s own community that leads to tragic or near tragic results is one of the things that affect me most. I recently read about/listened to/watched the PBS documentary on the Todd Willingham case4 so I spent the bulk of the aria in an unsettled state. Say Baroque opera isn’t relevant to today’s world…
- It did not completely sell out. ↩
- Simple charcoal suit (and glasses), less to and fro-ing to backstage than usual, only one Latino stomp (after Crude furie) and pretty toned down vocal-showing off. ↩
- Though, to be fair, there are a couple of stories that I told certain audiences more than once on request! I guess it happens, if you hit the right audience with the right kind of story. ↩
- You can watch it too, if you want to be horrified at how your own community – from bottom to the top – can send you to your death based on prejudice, ignorance, cynicism and politcal interest whilst feeling self righteous about it, too. ↩
2019-2020 will see quite a bit of Agrippina action in London, for which I think we’re all (or at least most) getting excited. Those who were a bit miffed by the ROH cast should take a look at the lineup of the concert version at the Barbican, in May 2019:
Il Pomo d’Oro
Maxim Emelyanychev harpsichord/director
Joyce DiDonato Agrippina
Katryn Lewek Poppea
Marie-Nicole Lemieux Ottone ❤ ❤ ❤
Franco Fagioli Nerone
Luca Pisaroni Claudio
Andrea Mastroni Pallante
Jakub Jósef Orlinski Narciso
Let’s hope nobody cancels!
Almost a year after Ariodante, the London public has returned to the Barbican for Handel’s first local smash hit, 1711’s Rinaldo. Set during the First Crusade, Rinaldo manages the feat to be both unapologetically silly and decidedly un-PC. Goffredo’s army has come very close to liberating Sion from the Saracens when Argante’s top scheming ally, the witch Armida, has nonchalantly plucked Rinaldo’s beloved from under his nose.
Armida: sorry, stud, I need your fiance for a moment. poof!
Rinaldo: … what just happened? … and where is Almirena? [aka, Cara sposa]
Goffredo: you can get my daughter back after we conquer Sion.
Rinaldo: no! Almirena first, battle next.
He might be young and relatively unexperienced but things fall into place the way he wants them to. Super bonus: the baddies, Argante and Armida, willingly (narrow miss) convert to Christianity! All in a day’s work.
The English Concert
Harry Bicket conductor
Iestyn Davies Rinaldo
Jane Archibald Armida
Sasha Cooke Goffredo
Joelle Harvey Almirena
Luca Pisaroni Argante
Jakub Józef Orliński Eustazio
Owen Willetts Mago
As far as concert performances go, this was a mixed bag. The English Concert was in its usual high form, very disciplined, at best in the muscular parts of the score, with just minimal desynchs in the wind section and some – I guess inevitable – trumpet clarity trouble in the trills of Or la tromba. To the trumpets’ credit, they absolutely rocked Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which was the highlight of the night for me (surprise, surprise). They did such a good job as far as I’m concerned that they very narrowly upstaged Pisaroni.
Everybody before him (and some after) started a bit cautiously but he took this massive entrance aria with the right aplomb and confidence (and sang without a score through the night). It didn’t hurt that his voice was 2 sizes larger than everyone else’s. However he didn’t show this off for the sake of muscle flexing and resized back for the rest of his interventions. Even here he played with volume dynamics in the coloratura – perhaps foreshadowing Argante’s weakness? Now if you have volume and you’re called to sing an aria such as this I’m all for you firing on all cylinders 😀 and if you can play with it, that’s even better.
Pisaroni was also the most committed acting-wise, showing softeness when Argante falls for Almirena, (almost comical) caution and passion with lover/ally Armida and a very smooth U-turn at the end, when the baddies admit deafeat. This on top of the right amount of boastfulness of a “feared enemy”. It’s a silly role but a more nuanced one that you’d immediately give credit.
As Armida, Archibald was her usual self, I guess. I’m not a fan (for me she’s a soprano who has a very ringing but rather unpleasant top and little of interest elsewhere) but I will allow that, dramatically, her interactions with Pisaroni were rather fun. Vocally she was one of the most cautious ones, so Furie terribili was a bust – at least for me. Let us not forget that Handel wrote for virtuosi, who cherished the challenge to make a grand entrance, whereas I felt that she was still guaging how far her voice could go. If you have a voice large and sonorous enough to sing Strauss I’d say you could blast through a 2min Handel bravura aria (ok, ok, different style and all – but still; also as far as style went I thought she did well). But aside from a not entirely style-appropriate reach to the top of her voice later on, you wouldn’t have known what volume she has at her disposal. The coloratura was correct, if rather robotic (as Baroque Bird noted) but the moments when she cruelly played with Rinaldo by manhandling Almirena weren’t bad dramatically.
She was also unfairly hampered by the harpischord in that aria that features the keyboard at length, I wouldn’t know what to tell you about her interpreation, thank you overbearing harpsi. Imagine your concert performance is going well, with the various instruments having their moments, when an aria comes where you detect more prominent than usual harsichord involvement. At first I thought “how cool! There harpsi comes to the forefront to loudly let us know what it thinks, not just to whisper as it normally does – it’s ok if all the others (including the soprano) have to stop, turn around and pay attention.” It was ok and interesting even the second time. Then the third time came. Ok, I thought, Tom Foster is a very skilled player, why not? Oh, and this is actually an aria and the soprano is trying to convey something or another. What was that again? Nevermind, the harpsi will return for a fourth time. So all in all in that aria, the harpsi had centre stage for about 15min and the sorpano for 3. Classic(al) drum solo moment if I’ve ever seen one!
It was only upon further researching that I realised that was Vo far guerra (Archibald’s Italian diction isn’t anything to write home about…) and the harpsichord part is nowhere near as verbose, though it’s there and it’s definitely fun [edit: well, I’m proven kinda wrong. In the sense you can improv the hell out of it – according to your taste. It’s better if it’s at the end, though]. You’ll ask yourself, “come on, dehggi, you didn’t know Vo far guerra?!” Dear reader, I thought I did (kinda; that being said I totally forgot about Or la tromba until it started). One of the problems with the Barbican’s open plan hall is that if you’re seated on the Balcony and have my eyesight you can’t read the surtitles (I used the opera glasses to keep up with the plot but you can’t do it all the time or chance a headache).
Now of course I know Baroque is all about excess and if the singers can do their shtick, why not the instruments? Right, but it’s still an opera and not a keyboard concerto with bonus singing. Nevermind, judged by the ovations, this was the crowd’s favourite moment of the night, so there you go.
Iestyn Davies has been our local Rinaldo for a while now but I have to say he wasn’t in top form the other night. He came off a bit pale, both vocally and dramatically (most alive as a lover in his interactions with Harvey’s Almirena) and, hate to say it, his Rinaldo was upstaged in both stage presence and vocal shine by Orliński’s Eustazio – who has already sung his own Rinaldo in Frankfurt and I could see why.
I noticed some physical struggle with Davies’ coloratura in the massive bravura arias, which took his attention away from the drama. Especially in Or la tromba one needs to look like a very hopeful hero, ready to take on the last challenge in battle, and all I got from him was careful singing. I know it comes very late in the game but, you know, tough luck. In defense of the trumpets, aside from some tonal blur in the trills, the rest was great, beautiful sound, very good synch. I feel like I need to reiterate this because the trumpets were a pleasure and I know this is very difficult (impossible?) to do spotless with those valveless Baroque instruments.
To illustrate what I missed here dramatically, I’ll leave you with this concert performance (don’t be deterred by the low quality audio):
Harvey continues to baffle me. Though a singer of pleasant tone, vocal commitment and good technical skills, her stage presence is nonexistant. Glyndebourne is mere months away, I wager she needs to do something, because at this point, dramatically I have very low expectations from her Cleopatra. That being said, Almirena’s second aria was beautiful singing, my favourite from hers so far. The Augelletti aria not so much, though the piccolo was the bigger culprit (I didn’t like the tone, though I won’t argue if you call me nitpicky).
Like I mentioned earlier, I liked Orliński a lot. He and Pisaroni had the best stage presence and enthusiasm by far and he showed a very beautiful tone and nuanced phrasing. I’m going to see him in concert soonish, so expect to read something more in depth here once I hear more from him.
Cooke as Goffredo wasn’t bad, perhaps one needs to hear more before making a definitive call (I hadn’t heard her before). I couldn’t make my mind up if she was a low mezzo or a contralto but that wasn’t a problem. She came off as a good Goffredo, who’s supposed to be older and wiser – with unhurried gestures and a fairly authoritative vocal presence. She is one of those singers whose chest register sounds very different from her top. The chest is pretty solid though not particularly resonant whilst she can get a very strong ring out of her top. It’s quite metallic but rather intriguing, so I’d like to hear more of it. As an aside, hairwise she sported the curl of joy 😉 so there is a little extra bonus there.
All in all, a good, if not great evening. I’m way less familiar with Rinaldo than with Ariodante and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music Handel produced before his 26th birthday (it premiered the day after). The number of arias that have become Handel classics is impressive and the lesser known ones ain’t bad either.
The conversations around me were way amusing (how many times have we seen Davies? Three? No, many! Even when Farinelli transfered to the West End! He was also in something else here, though in a secondary role [dehggi: he was Ottone in Poppea
a couple almost 4 years back, which is known as not having lesser roles – actually his E pur io torno qui is very nice]), though Mr. Twitter with fascist hair’s constant leaning directly in my line of view, especially during Cara sposa, wasn’t. I know not everyone suffers as much as I do if I can’t see the singers but I hate the disconnect. I have to say this was the first time I had “restricted view” at the Barbican. Moral of the story: never get second row Balcony seats, try higher.
Anyway! the next Handel opera concert performance at the Barbican is Serse this coming October, with Pomo d’Oro and a starry cast, including a certain contralto referenced in this very post 😀 I coughed up £40 for a second row Stalls seat so let’s hope all is good by then.
(as usual, sorry for the possible typos)
2017 was a busy opera year for yours truly, with plenty local outings as well as opera trips to Italy, Austria and Germany, and a return to Glyndebourne in style (3 out of 4 dates = sunny). I met old and new friends and even ran into a certain contralto on the street 😉 And then there was the Summer of Tito. Plus a couple of duds and misses… 😉
The Hipermestra post got really long-winded (out of necessity) and in the meanwhile I saw two other shows, one of which was Monteverdi’s Vespro alla beata vergine. I just got Harnoncourt’s book in which he also discusses the interpretation of this work and thought about reading it before writing this but I’m a slow reader (not just a slow writer) and it’s starting to annoy me that posts are piling up.
Academy of Ancient Music | Choir of the AAM
Robert Howarth director/harpsichord
Rowan Pierce soprano
Louise Alder soprano
Charles Daniels tenor
Thomas Hobbs tenor
Richard Latham bass
This is a work I first heard around the time I was getting better acquainted with Monteverdi in general, and usually return to Gardiner’s version with the wonderful Monteverdi Choir; I liked it immediately. The AAM Choir isn’t quite as accomplished (well, few are) but they did a very solid job. Chiefly they were excellently drilled and the interaction (balance, dynamics) between the female and male side came off beautifully. My main complaint is I would’ve liked a bit more personality.
Since Ariodante I have pretty much changed my mind on the Barbican. Yes, this year my outings there have been a lot more satisfying; perhaps my seat choices were wiser since the semi-disastrous St Matthew Passion. This time I sat on the left side of the second level and again had no issues with acoustics. Although I had to go into work very early and later make it into town, which is something I try to avoid because I’m inevitably tired, it was my seatmate who fell asleep within 10min.
Ok, there’s plainchant but still – this is very exciting musical writing, with some striking chord changes and the further contrast of plainchant and not so plain singing. Hipermestra also helped; I noticed every time I see something by Cavalli I get an urge to go through Monteverdi’s oeuvre for a few solid days (this time it was the ’93 Poppea from Bologna) so I was in the right mental place to absorb this stuff.
I thought Alder sounded a tad too operatic in the context (though she toned it down as the evening progressed) whilst Pierce was in even more need of a defined personality than the choir. The men seemed better positioned stylistically for this work. Daniels reminded me a lot of Anthony Rolfe Johnson in tone and delivery (but less emotionally nuanced), with a very good understanding of the style and some beautiful touches dynamic-wise, though quite alarmingly short of breath when it came to coloratura. His breath control seemed fine when single long notes were required. Latham was fine but didn’t have all that much to sing.
The vocal star of the evening for me was Hobbs, with a lovely high tenor, very good projection, easy coloratura, excellent style (the only one who got inside the chords in search of harmony and as such was a pleasure to listen to (the thing JDD explains here1; that’s the thing with this early music, as far as I understand it: you, the singer/soloist, have a lot of room to express your imagination or tremendous responsibility to make the whole thing live – when it works it’s revealed as particularly affecting music2). His duets with Daniels were some of the best things all evening, along with the work of the choir.
The true kult Early Music orchestra (complete with Baroque bassoon & trombones, cornetti and, of course, theorbo) is rather fine; Howarth kept them in a tight leash, to the point the choir overpowered them in several occasions. More power to the choir 😉 But I could follow some nice lines for the double bass and smooth cornetto work.
It was an interesting evening combining the peculiarly English type of relaxed atmosphere with a kind of music that manages to withstand the passing of centuries. Maybe it’s because Monteverdi allows you so much wiggle room that the music never feels dated.
- I recommend listening to the entire sequence, it’s one of my favourite JDD Masterclass moments, a total light bulb! moment. ↩
- I don’t know if it’s affecting in a spiritual sense, because I’m not particularly spiritual, though I do get the general sense of that from certain performances of certain things. Again I don’t quite think AAM is hitting that spot and perhaps Monteverdi’s music itself is rather worldlier than that. Nevertheless, it does have a very strong emotional impact, but a quieter sort, none of that I’m going to pass out deal, though I’m occasionally on the brink of tears – but that’s not the essence of it. It’s not about tears of sighing, rather more abstract yet still alive. ↩
Ariodante: Alice Coote
Ginevra: Christiane Karg
Dalinda: Mary Bevan
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
King of Scotland: Matthew Brook
Odoardo: Bradley Smith
Conductor: Harry Bicket | The English Concert
This time I will spare you my usual bitching about the Barbican, because there are some good things I have to report. I found out there is at least another set of toilets (this one for the balcony crowd), though, naturally, one was out of order. If you exit quickly they are very handy. At some point I realised there were 6 of us wearing glasses in the queue, one after the other. To better see your wicked moves, Polinesso 😉
The venue has announcers who tell you which show will begin when, because there are concurent events in different halls. It’s like a very posh airport lounge so the feeling of we’re all here for the same reason is nonexistent. Weirdly enough – or because I took the detective-like approach of canvassing the main lounge area – I actually found Giulia and her lively bunch of Twitter friends, which was a very nice touch before the show. Let’s hope the Baroque thing at Teatro Regio Torino continues so we can meet again 🙂
Up and down the stairs and nooks and crannies, bars and lounges, you see people and (I) try to guage what event they are here for. It’s hard to tell, especially as the crowd is so mixed even in the main hall (where the opera was held). On my right I had a lady perhaps in her early 60s (who dozed off in Act I but braved Act II and III), on my left a woman in her 30s; in front of us there were two young (straight-looking) couples (mid to late 20s), further to the left two very Baroque-knowledgeable ladies in their 60s, on the other side a gent over 50 who spent the majority of the show hunched forward, watching intently as if he were going to write a report later – and so on. Though the show was not sold out, it felt like the troops around me multiplied rather than depleted as the evening went on.
There was definitely a lot of interest but somewhat glib – lots of laughter in all the appropriate places and then some. Maybe I am overly invested and felt people were taking it all lighter than I did. But then there were the knowledgeable ladies who seemed to have a whale of a time, there was the hunched forward gent and somewhere in the stalls was Giulia and friends. I can’t vouch for the very quiet and polite lady in her 30s (at least I think so, Asian people are hard for me to guage age-wise) next to me, who was very quiet and polite but applauded a lot. The young couples stayed gamely but I sensed a certain detachment – maybe it’s just my reaction to the sudden existence of people younger than me at classical music shows 😉 (the cheek! down with that kind of thing).
Another plus I noticed this time: it appears that if you sit central and avoid the balcony overhang, the acoustics aren’t bad at all, lots of (if not all) pianissime made their way up to the last row of the Balcony. There was an interesting feeling as the sound bounced off the nearby ceiling; it was filtered but not unpleasant and surprisingly clear.
Karg’s was the slenderest voice and there were still no problems (which shows her projection is ace). You could tell Bicket was very mindful of the singers, especially in Con l’ali di costanza, where the tempo was “casual jog” and the orchestra toned nicely down, a lesson to all interested parties. We could hear everything yet it was light as a feather.
Thadieu will laugh, but I’m still hung up on the harpsichord is a teamplayer1 thing so I continue to admire Bicket’s approach. It was always there to drive things (I could observe his lightness and rhythmic precision better at TADW, where I had a perpendicular view to match the sound) but never overpowered. You have Giulia‘s word of how the low strings were muscular without unnecessary over-shredding – in the words of Statira, I concur. Another shoutout goes to the wonderfully wistful bassoon work in Scherza, infida. When the bassoon started its mournful call and Coote turned towards it with a lost look on Ariodante’s face, I immediately teared up. In fact, I almost did as I wrote this. It was just a gently sad whisper, mad props to the bassoonist ❤
The big venue seemed to have cut down on the possibility of constant interaction between those on stage, unless they were right next to each other, singing to or talking to each other. I felt like they sang their arias alone on stage more often than before – I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but an illusion given that the stage is very large and bare, even with the orchestra there as well. I didn’t notice any particular winking/eye rolling from Polinesso and Dalinda during Ginevra and Ariodante’s lovey dovey moments – a bit disappointing.
However, Ariodante’s accusatory remarks towards Dalinda during Cieca notte were still in place (even from quite a distance, as Dalinda was sat on “her” chair by the wall), as was Dalinda’s engulfing shame. All direct interaction between Dalinda and Polinesso was there in technicolour (“praise the lord”). As others have noticed, Prina once again adjusted her manhandling to the type of dress Bevan was wearing. This time, as you know by now, Bevan had on a dress that hinted at just how ready Dalinda was for Polinesso’s attention. Prina made a show of Polinesso’s boredom with Dalinda’s professions of love, which, combined with Bevan’s credible ardour gave their scenes a very natural feel.
It was obvious Karg and Coote had developed a neat chemistry as the tour went on. Each had polished their characterisation so they meshed into a mutually appreciative and tender couple. By the end of the opera it looked like they might be more realistically positioned to build a future together. I know that doesn’t gel with the libretto per se, but that’s the beauty of concert performances 😉 Once again, their duets were some of the highlights of the evening, with their very nicely balanced voices – Karg light and precise and Coote full and ardent (so ardent, in Bramo aver mille vite she started a touch too loud; Bicket restored balance by the second line).
Coote, on home turf in London, put the pedal to the metal in general. After a brave tackling of Con l’ali di costanza she relaxed into things more up her alley (ie, soulful), that benefited from the many colours in her voice and its warm, affecting fulness (she’s a mezzo-mezzo, who reminds you why you like that voice type in the first place). Even so, the biggest applause of the night (in general) turned out to be for Dopo notte where she let it rip with what I would call furious joy.
I would say Prina’s performance was a bit toned down, though I’m sure mellow wouldn’t be how most of the audience saw it. Polinesso’s every intervention was as complex as we’ve seen before, both vocally and dramatically. The contrasts in Spero per voi were brilliantly delivered and her timing impeccable (then again, I’ve always admired her uncanny sense of rhythm). It’s interesting, every time I check back to the Aix recording I think she’s singing it better this time around. Then again, recording vs live rendition where one is there (so many factors converge to make something an experience rather then mere entertainment; I think it matters that Marcon is going for a darker mood than Bicket is, to match the very dark concept of the production; this Polinesso is more gleeful whereas that one is very dangerous).
This time around, after Polinesso gets stabbed and is being carried away, I thought she was going to sit down in one of the chairs, as they stopped for a moment at the top of the stairs that led down to the side of the stage. At the same time, Ariodante sprung up from this hatch at the beck of the stage. That was a very good use of the stage. Sometimes you get this at the Barbican (one that comes to mind is L’Orfeo a few seasons back, which incorporated the openings at the back of the stage into the action).
David Portillo trumpeted all the way to the back of the auditorium; like I said in the comments previously, no complaints there, as one could hardly imagine a better suited voice as a 21st century John Beard. He also has the right approach as Ariodante’s loyal and justice-driven brother Lurcanio. Alas, he will always be second best for Dalinda, as Bevan portrayed her emotionally conflicted to the end.
Bevan has indeed an interesting voice that sounds, as Anik predicted, to be developing into something more dramatic than Karg’s likely would. Perhaps unsual but fitting for Dalinda, as that darker fulness hints at her penchant for the dangerous. Again, absolutely no issues hearing her from the rafters, and also again, I loved her mad chemistry with Prina.
Perhaps in this densely-voiced company Brook’s voice came off a bit light as the lowest anchor but there are always those easy runs (and pps) to admire and his very sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted father-king (there would be no Baroque opera without someone agonising between love and duty).
Poor Odoardo is just kinda there, so it must’ve been strange for Bradley Smith to travel around just so he could drop a few Italian sentences here and there. No complaints about his involvement, though.
For my good deeds, Ginevra’s shoulder-bearing red dress was back (made me grin widely as soon as the singers came on stage) and as a bonus, so was Dalinda’s choker. Due to negligence, my camera died on me so there isn’t even a bad picture from yours truly, not even of the Barbican (I’m sure you’re mourning that loss). It was a hot, muggy day; so hot, in fact, I went out for fresh air during the second intermission and even by the pond there was no breeze (we’re talking about London, where it’s windy on a daily basis).
I’m really glad I could catch two (very different) nights of this tour and feel very lucky that we also got the Carnegie Hall webcast as a memento of how it all went down. We’ll see how things develop, but, as in the case of The English Concert’s 2014 Alcina, I think this will live long in my memory 🙂 Thank you Handel and thank you all involved.
- you can tell how traumatised I was by what Bates did to Renard and in general. ↩
Now that venues are posting their 2017-2018 offerings it turns out that ENO is bringing out their 2014 production of the beautiful Rodelinda in Oct/Nov, whilst the Barbican is airing Rinaldo on 13 March, with a few features from the Glyndebourne production – Iestyn Davies 1 in the title role and Pisaroni as Argante + the addition of Jane Archibald as Armida. I have to say my £15 was for Pisaroni’s Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto. I hope the trumpets live up to the hype all the way to the balcony. I’m not sure about Rodelinda (Io t’abraccio in English) just yet, I might pull a Partenope-move and book at the last minute if I can’t get it out of my mind long enough.
- He sang in the recent revival which I missed because he’s not Prina. ↩
Before I toot my own horn, I’ll direct you to this review of Juditha. Does some of it sound familiar? I’m game to to be told to pull my head out of my own arse if it doesn’t.
Re: Galou’s supposed lack of projection (check the above linked review): I have two words for you – Baroque contraltos. How many of them have you heard to shake the walls, this side of Podles (who’s more a contralto who also sang Baroque very well 20 years ago, rather than a Baroque contralto in the 21st century)? In recent times I have heard Prina, Mingardo, Stutzmann and Summers and let me tell you, none – aside from Prina at her most vicious – came anywhere near to even bothering my ears at Wigmore Hall and if you’ve read anything on this blog you know I have sensitive ears.
They have Baroque sized voices (few large voices can move fast/easily enough for the demands of Baroque coloratura), by their nature (and necessity, considering what they are asked to sing – usually second men and scorned women, often villains, written to contrast the bright sounds of the heroes), opaque in colour. Now imagine that at the Barbican, a venue not known to be friendly to any singers. That being said, let’s hear Galou in a high lying role and we might be talking differently. We should also revisit this after Ariodante comes to the Barbican next year and we hear Prina again (never heard her at the Barbican before).
You can’t fault a singer for sounding as the role asks (in this case, relaxed), even when some around them have bigger voices and/or employ pyrotechnics for the express reason of wowing the audience.
Now that I have immersed myself in 3-4 different Judithas, I’m going to return to the subject, as there are some interesting variations I heard that call for further commentary.
At long last! Marcon’s take on “Vivaldi’s triumphant celebration of sex, death and boundless glory”, as the Barbican site blurb advertises it, reaches London.
Upon telling my mum I was on my way to seeing a Vivaldi piece, she quipped “Oh, flowers and birds”. Excuse me?! I know he’s most famous for his musical descriptions of weather conditions (Weather at 6 with the Red Priest) but around here we already know Vivaldi is the most rock’n’roll Baroque composer. More rock’n’roll is only being struck down by an implacable cold, as yours truly was just yesterday, and valiantly plowing on because nothing says Sacred Military Oratorio more than an all female cast and all female choir.
Juditha: Magdalena Kožená
Holofernes: Delphine Galou
Vagaus: Ann Hallenberg
Ozias: Francesca Ascioti
Abra: Silke Gaeng
Andrea Marcon director | Venice Baroque Orchestra
Last night I wrote a 2000+ word report on this performance only for WP to eat it up like the flesh eating plant it can be. I suspect it was my digs at the ugly and pointlessly meandering Barbican that did it 😉 tough shit, Barbican, even the dismay at finding myself tired and sick as dog at 4am with my loquacious entry wiped out won’t stop me from bitching about the Brutalist monstrosity that you are.
But reports of a 2000+ words entry might give you an indication of how much I enjoyed myself. I urge you to see it for yourself if/when it comes in your neck of the woods, which is as follows:
- 8 November at Bozar in Brussels
- 4 February in Urbana, Illinois
- 7 February at Carnegie Hall in NYC
Whilst selling your first born might be slightly OTT, you have my blessing if you’re thinking of pawning off your mother-in-law 😉
My records show just how much I talk the talk instead of walking the walk: it’s my first time with a full Vivaldi operatorio since Griselda 2 years ago. But what a piece! As soon as the martial timpani start to roll, the trumpets blow their piercing trills and the girls’ choir launches its war cry you know you’re in for a ride. I understand the overture was lost so the original Juditha started differently. I can’t imagine how the overture could’ve topped this intro.
One good thing about the Barbican is that the auditorium, like most venues built since the ’70s, affords very good visibility from every seat. The seats themselves are comfy and legroom is plentiful. I myself had coincidentally picked a spot on the Barbarian Side (Holofernes and Vagaus) and needed just a bit of adjustment at the beginning (it’s a big venue for Baroque voices).
Let me begin by stating my appreciation of Marcon and his team, starting with his insistence (judging by other renditions of his) to keeping the all women’s choir. I initially liked the mixed choir favoured by Sardelli and Fasolis but now I’m sold on this.
Vivaldi gives solos to practically all the wind instruments, the mandolin and of course, the violin, and there are 4 theorbi for our enjoyment. A special word from me goes out to the timpanist, who looked like he had great fun in his interventions. Everything was very stylishly played and most pleasing to the ear, so those of you who enjoy the sounds of the Baroque orchestra in itself should try to make that extra sacrifice and catch this as I’m certain you’ll love it.
Next up is Kožená. As some of you know, the mezzo lover that I am, I have studiously been avoiding her so far. But since the night featured two of my favourite singers in this repertoire and since I genuinely like the oratorio, I had no choice but to take my chances.
I have to admit that my criticism of her has been unfair. She is actually a good singer, with a true mezzo tone (recently plumped up? sounded a lot rounder and more burnished than in (earlier) recordings). Her chief skills were a deft employment of dynamics (here mostly volume-wise) and a very reliable, vibrato-less trill (quite an interesting production, too; enough to have stayed with me so that I think I could pick it out of a line-up in the future).
Perhaps she and Marcon had made a pact whereby Juditha’s arias were slower than usual. Since she’s not exactly a stage animal, my mind occasionally wondered off. But when things got frantic I noticed she had to focus more and didn’t project quite as loudly as she did otherwise (unsurprisingly, her voice is bigger than her more Baroque oriented colleagues’). Nevertheless, she met the technical demands of the role. There were some trills and pyrotechnics I thought you don’t usually hear in a Baroque context but mostly she kept idiomatic.
I’d have liked a bit more abandon but I think that just isn’t her personality, nor is Juditha necessary the character to bring such things out. Still, sometimes, even when Juditha was fuming with outrage and hatred she just went for louder rather than more intense. Only once did she let things flourish a bit – oddly during the aria where Juditha muses on the impermanence of things. Somehow she got so much into it that her face changed to the point she looked 10 years younger. Quite an unusual thing to witness (I had my opera glasses and watched the singers closely during their arias).
But all in all, hearing her was a positive experience. I don’t know that I’d rush to her next recital but if she sings something I enjoy I might think about it. I most certainly won’t avoid her again.
Speaking of unsual things, the Barbarians, Juditha veterans that they are, brought a unique vibe to the Barbican, the sort I don’t think I have witnessed before and I have seen some exciting things there. They were both so relaxed and good humoured, the atmosphere was a curious combination of the chummy quality recitals can have and top quality professionalism. I have mentioned Hallenberg’s cheerfulness before but since this was my first time seeing Galou live I didn’t know she was also 5 by 5.
But let’s talk a bit about Juditha, because since it’s in Latin the finer points of the libretto have hitherto been foggy to me. Now with surtitles I could elucidate the gaps. It goes something like this:
Girl Power Choir/Virtuous Bethulian Women: War! Death! Vengeance on the enemy!
Holofernes: victory! My brothers, you have fought well but as conquerors we must show mercy to our defeated enemy, ’tis only gentlemanly.
Vagaus (Holofernes’ squire): hey, boss, I bring good tidings.
Holofernes: please speak.
Vagaus (winks): boss, there’s this hot local babe wants to speak to you.
Holofernes (lifts an eyebrow): do tell me more.
Vagaus: she’s top drawer, boss, I think you should see her pronto.
Holofernes: please bring her in. But tidy the tent a bit before you go.
Vagaus goes to where Juditha and her companion, Abra, are waiting.
Vagaus (friendly): fair local matrons, my lord is ready to receive you. Please don’t be frightened by his ferocious appearance, he isn’t only a glorious warrior but also a most just and kind master. Feel at home, you’re among good people here.
Juditha: (to Abra) what arrogance!
Juditha enters the tent.
Holofernes: (aside) wow! I knew Vagaus had good taste in women but WOW! (to Juditha) Gracious lady, excuse our coarse military manners. Please be my guest and take a seat.
Juditha (not wishing to appear too easy): I’m but a humble daughter of my unfortunately defeated Fatherland, I’m not worthy of sitting in the presence of such a great lord.
Holofernes (seductive): oh, but you are! Please sit.
Juditha (coldly): it’s against good manners…
Holofernes: Sit, sit, sit! Please, my fair matron, take a seat.
Yes, he has a jaunty mini tantrum (Sede, o cara) which he spends enticing Juditha to take a seat. Oh, for the good old days when Barbarian army commanders were raised well and sounded as smokey-seductive as Galou 😉
Juditha eventually decides it’s wiser to comply (or maybe she gives in a little to that velvety voice – because Holofernes doesn’t shout or really get angry (even less so the gallant way Galou is singing him), he’s confident and keeps it seductive throughout. Therefore, Galou regaled us with her easily and finely spun, impressively long lines of legato and slender, dark honey middle that should make many a Juditha forget her duties to god and country 😉
We’ll have to wait to experience her skills at portraying madmen and eccentrics via that surprisingly (for a contralto) clear and piercing top some other time. Can’t have it all – except in a recital (or two) at the trusty Wigmore Hall? One can hope! The good news is her voice is very well captured by recordings so you’re not missing that much at home beside that almost gregarious stage presence).
Holofernes (all smiles): so how can I honour a most lovely visitor?
Juditha (offers him a religious tract): have you heard the good news?
Holofernes (takes the tract but keeps his eyes on her): the best news is your presence in my tent.
Juditha (with dignity): I came to beg mercy for my Fatherland.
Holofernes: you ask much, fair matron. But you shall have it – and more. I was just saying to my boys that it’s time to put a stop to war and make peace with the good citizens of Bethulia. Would you like to have dinner with me? I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate peace between our people!
Juditha (coldly): I’m just doing my duty to my country and to my god.
Holofernes: but it would make me so happy if you accepted! I’ll order the best dishes in the land.
Juditha: (aside) the best dishes in my land, bastard. (aloud) Food? Pah! After much famine and hardship we have learned not to pay attention to such trifles. Besides, our god has placed a lot of restrictions on foodstuffs…
I understand Juditha is a Bethulia Liberation Front militant but, my god, does a storm cloud hang over her head or what? She’s such a wet towel to Holofernes’ (and Vagaus’, who’s obviously smitten as well) eager gallantry. I wish she was more dishy like Dalila, they’re both secret agents with similar missions, are they not? She doesn’t do much seduction, honestly. She’s dignified and honourable and loyal to her country and god.
Kožená and Galou played them like this – Juditha cold and severe and Holofernes so suavely solicitious at one point even Kožená couldn’t keep a straight face any longer and broke into an amused grin. But her favourite moment was obviously the recit where Juditha vividly describes her skills with a blade.
Warriors of the world – and Octavian – please keep your swords out of the bedroom. Remember most accidents happen at home. Also, try to exercise caution when a gorgeous stranger of the defeated enemy shows up at your door for sexy time. The moral for our times: risk assessment is essential.
Speaking of caution, Vagaus, this disaster is all your fault, mate. What in the world were you thinking pushing your boss in bed with the newly conquered?! We know what Vivaldi was thinking – Armatae face et anguibus, Vagaus’ show stealing vengeance aria at the end of the oratorio.
And stolen it was, Hallenberg soaring with her characteristic organic manner of singing – not so much a vocal soloist but voice as integral part of the orchestra. Armatae is a fiendish aria to begin with – what with the leaps, the dramatic inflections the text asks for and the fast and furious coloratura, yet she took it to another level by matching the other instruments’ in tone and dynamics at every step. It really doesn’t get better than this. To be fair, Vagaus is such a fun role. He even has an early aria about the joys of wining and dining (O servi, volate) to the accompaniment of all 4 theorbi and little else (cembalo?).
I don’t know what happened to Basso. If there was an announcement between April and now I missed it. Though I was sad to miss her, Ascioti (as Ozias) did a very good job (solid, sonorous tone and excellent diction as well as good acting). Gaeng (as Abra) also sang with aplomb and was appropriately vicious towards the Barbarians.
Some comments on outfits: Kožená wore a red dress with pockets. They seemed rather an accessory than efficent tools but pockets they were. Hallenberg had on her blue/purple frock and comfy gold pumps, whilst Galou wore a version of her pant and frock/trenchcoat with the spikiest heels. I couldn’t even begin to imagine walking on something like that but she might as well, as her posture is remarkable even by singer standards (she didn’t even use the backrest of her chair for most of the night). I also realised she’s not as tall as I initially thought. Being very thin with a big head will cause that perception. Ascioti had a wide leg pant and very long vest-y combo that some singers favour in recitals. I seem to remember a Vagaus with a wide leg pant somewhere on YT, so Juditha attracts these 😉 Gaeng won the most daring (in a way) and amusing outfit with her zebra dress. But Marcon himself thought a touch of style would keep the audience interested – his black shirt had a slit at the back which revealed a white inset.
Some comments on the audience and the Barbican (yes, I’m unrepenting): if the ROH public is the most formal in town, the Barbican audience favours the retired university lecturer attire (check shirt and wool vest, optional receeding yet wild hair and thick rimmed glasses). I had one on each side of me as well as one in the row below, who only lifted his head from the programme to shush a young professional couple (another feature at the Barbican) who, inexplicably, started to chat during the intro to one of Holofernes’ arias. Also naturally silver or white bobs seem to be all the rage with women aged 50+.
For being a fancy “cultural centre”, sporting spaces for music, theatre, film, fine art and photography exhibits, as well as a wide range of the now inevitable dining spaces (as if audiences can’t go for three hours without stuffing their pieholes), the Barbican could really up their game when it comes to the toilet experience. They’re all on one level which is reached by being forced to spin in pointless circles and there’s always a queue and the stalls are often out of order. Did I mention it’s ugly as sin and you have to be careful through which entrance you exit or you might lose your way in the depressing cement mess that it its outside balconies (or ramparts)?
But venue aside, this was a most pleasant performance experience, for which I once again thank Marcon and team plus the choir and the soloists. We need more Vivaldi and by extension, more mezzos and contraltos 😀 Yes, I really wish there was another performance I could’ve attended, even as broken and sick as I am today.
As far as I know this early 2012 performance was the last time Tito was done in London and someone had the generosity to record it for all of us Titoheads. Because we’ve had it twice in 2014 in concert form but I don’t think bootlegs exist.
Tito: Michael Schade
Vitelia: Malin Hartelius
Sesto: Alice Coote
Annio: Christina Daletska
Servillia: Rosa Feola
Publio: Brindley Sheratt
Conductor: Louis Langrée | Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and Deutscher Kammerchor
Alice Coote stepped in for Garanca (lucky me!). A bit of digging showed Coote has sung Sesto before. It makes sense since her voice fits this role very well. I also think her unique touch for tragedy is very interesting for Sesto. So why, oh why isn’t ROH bringing Tito back to the stage when we’ve got such an excellent Sesto locally? Answer: because Glyndebourne’s snagged her for Vitellia 😀
Hartelius has made good impressions in the past and I’m always game for a new Vitellia. Further, upon a (2 year old) convo with RnR, I thought I should expand my Vitellia taste. Schade is Mr. Tito. It’s always good to hear him in this role. He plays Tito pretty much the same way he did in the Salzburg DVD which is a-ok by me.
Overture: very muscular, mi piace, such nice contrast with the slow bit, which comes off very delicate. I also like that the bootlegger takes a deep breath just before the orchestra starts.
Ma che, sempre l’istesso…: Hartelius is annoyed although not OTT. Her “creamy” tone is very fetching. She and Coote make a more mature couple than usual. Interesting angle, maybe insidiously sinister? – in the sense that proper adults should know better.
Come ti piace imponi: these two match very well, they’ve got a similar kind of timbre, which makes them sound “couple-y”. It comes off very introverted (conspiratorial), rather unusual, with a unique allure. The descending lines in the orchestra were clearly emphasised.
Annio’s news: girly Annio here. Daletska sounds very serious, even annoyed at Vitellia’s sarcastic remark. Hartelius doesn’t sound that sarcastic, rather upset with Tito.
Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: mmmm, sexy lascia sospetti… tuooooooi. Hartelius has the right idea (and the right voice) even the second time when she revisits it a bit differently. It’s one of those slow and swinging ones, just right for big band orchestra treatment 😉
Little bro Annio reminds Sesto why he’s really here: he and Servilia are ready to settle down. Sesto sounds very honest.
Deh, prendi…: barcarolle ahoy. Nice job. They blended so well I didn’t know who was who. Someone in the audience really liked it and clapped with one hand.
March/Serbate dei custodi: grand but bouncy, as it should be. I like Langrée’s style. The choir is well drilled, they’re pleased with Tito. Neat harpsi arpeggio at the end seguing into Tito’s recit.
Let’s take a moment and see what the choir has to say in this opera:
- Yay, Tito is grand! (Serbate dei custodi)
- Oh, no, they killed Tito! (Act I finale)
- Whew, they didn’t kill Tito! (Ah grazie se rendano)
- OMG, Tito is so merciful! We’re not worthy. (Act II finale)
Nicely balanced structure, n’est-ce pas?
Tito & all on how the loot should be used: Schade Vespasiano is benevolent but clearly in charge. He sounds a bit older but the tone is still beautiful. Publio sounds manly. Sesto tries to breach the subject in halting tones. Tito covers well. Sesto is really stricken by the news. What a good friend, eh. But wait, Annio outdoes him. He jumps in front of Tito and praises Servilia. Tito is pleased. The day might end in happiness, he thinks.
Del piu sublime soglio: really nice segue by Schade from the recit to “del”. He was born to sing this, was he not? Buttah. Pretty support from the orchestra.
Annio is gutted. I like Daletska’s recit skills. She’s not OTT but you get Annio’s torment.
Ah, perdona al primo affetto: Annio and Servilia mesh as well, not bad at all. As a result, I think Annio, Servilia and Sesto should sing a trio. Why isn’t there one?
Tito and Publio: leave me alone with this treason crap, buddy, says Tito. He does it along the Salzburg lines, only now he sounds more congenial. Servilia shows up, Tito gets all giddy. Servilia soulfully confesses. OMG, you rock so hard! says Tito. Someone close to the taper chuckled at Schade’s antics, whatever they were.
Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: you know how it is when you’ve done something inside out. Schade’s playing with this favourite aria or mine. I couldn’t ask for anything more; I’m just sitting here with a big grin on my face, thinking, maaaaan, I need to see this man in the concert hall. Why haven’t I yet!? And I just realised the intorno al trono tongue twister.
Vitellia sounds dark and menacing, all contained hatred, every word is a barb. Interesting. Feola’s Servilia dispatches the retort dryly. Hartelius continues with the barely suppressed displeasure. Whoever was laughing earlier chuckles at Vitellia’s irrational anger at Sesto. I mean s/he’s having a ball. I know what you mean. Vitellia sort of explodes but not really:
Vitellia: Is the Campidoglio in ashes? Is Tito dead?
Sesto: I’ve done nothing yet.
Sesto: Didn’t you say…?
Vitellia: Revenge! NOW!
I love how Vitellia smoothly makes it sound like her earlier raving was perfectly logical. Hartelius does a great job at “shaking” Sesto. It’s not exactly a sexy seduction but a powerful one nonetheless. The way she says corri, mi vendica e son tua sounds like she definitely means it and it will be the kind that involves knee boots and a riding crop.
Parto: AC’s Sesto sounds in awe of his Vitellia. The partos are like “whoa! she really said she’d be mine if I did it!”. Maestro goes slow on it but I don’t mind at all. Partos should be slow-ish, it takes the man a while to settle his pros and cons. Unsually playful clarinet, like the wheels turning in Sesto’s mind but also like mocking him. Maybe not as elastic as others but I liked the feel of it. It had character and that’s harder to find than canary singing. Judging by the enthusiastic applause and the shouting, the Barbican public agreed with me.
Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…: Vitellia is darkly pleased. Publio and Annio seem to have been looking for her everywhere (clearly the sedition talk was being had in a dark corner somewhere). Tito has summoned you, says Annio. Vitellia’s all taken aback: Tito (of all people)???? The same one who thinks your sister’s the dog’s bollocks? Publio spells it out for her in a grand voice and Annio underlines it in plain (and very.clearly.enunciated)
English Italian. The bootlegger or one of the neighbours chuckles loudly. People always laugh here but it is the one hilarious moment in the opera.
Vengo… Aspetatte… Sesto: the hilarity continues with this trio: (Vitellia) let’s go! No, wait! Where’s Sesto? Oh dear me, I just sent him to off my new fiance! (Publio and Annio) how cute, marital announcements always have a confusing effect on women! Maestro puts the pedal to the medal and the string section ends up sounding like the knife sharpening squad (in a good way). I love a very serious or plum sounding Vitellia like Hartelius at this moment, because she gets to sing ohime! and it sounds incongruous. The other two give her very good support at this high speed. If you notice, this trio mirrors the ending of the overture, which basically goes up/down/up/down/up/down. I guess if you speed it up too much it turns into the Benny Hill tune 😉
Act I finale:
Sesto is a basket case from the getgo (Maestro sets the scene extra anxious for him). I heard Coote chewed major scenery as Dejanira (this Spring? last Spring? I know it was some year recently in March). Her Sesto would probably set fire to all 7 hills plus the suburbs. I mean if he managed to strike the match; by the way he’s going, he’d have a hard time not dropping all the matches on the floor first 😉 Suffice to say, he’s all over the shop. But who wouldn’t be, if they had to choose between stabbing their BFF dead and never getting nookie ever again with the most high maintenance woman in Rome? No wonder Act II normally starts with Sesto considering the merits of retiring to a cottage in the countryside and raising goats (goats apparently are man’s other best friend beside dogs). Maybe the sequel sees him as a goatheard meet Tito, the farmer. Vezzoso pastorello, eh? 😉
But until then Sesto wrestles with the fact that not only he can’t be a good friend but he can’t quite bring himself to do what Vitellia has made him swear to do. Nonetheless, he plows through with the wretched plan. Someone needs to tell him to lighten up and abort plans that just ain’t working. That someone isn’t Annio. When Annio comes in and says I don’t quite get what Sesto’s trying to say you really believe him. Daletska sounds so earnest! He’s not one for metaphors, and certainly not a suspicious type, but even he feels some doubts raising.
There’s a screechy chord from the strings that just spells creepy… and then the orchestra gets together to as the hammer of doom, when Servilia reveals that something’s not quite right about this fire. I have to admit Mozart builds up the frenzy quite nicely, as the orchestra is doubled by piercing cries from the chorus (good idea just having them reduced to onomatopeia), with our heroes mincing about like puny humans. It’s also nice how everything just slows down as Sesto returns. He’s obviously so confused (and perhaps there’s smoke everywhere), that even as he says he’s trying to hide he’s run right back to his friends. Vitellia doesn’t lose her head: what’s up with Tito? OMG, says Sesto (he probably is happy to confess the horrid circumstance that has changed his life), I saw his soul departing his body… Everybody’s like …!!! Who could have possibly done this?! Clearly this lot have not been raised on Crime TV, where family and friends are always the prime suspects. A most despicable man, nature itself shudders to think of him, it was… – is what Sesto is happy to supply. Shh! Shh, enough with the details before we get you legal counsel, Vitellia wisely suggests. But it’s ok, our chorus has stopped listening after the bit about the soul leaving the body. Except Publio but we’re not supposed to know that yet.
Maestro has organised this one very well, it’s captivating and clear. It’s always interesting to hear the act dissipate amids the pulsating hammers of doom + cries of tradimento (it’s Rome, legal matters will come into dicsussion).
Annio : Sesto: in these case, these two are very young in spirit. Annio well intentioned, anxious and naive (but also resourceful) and Sesto, too impulsive not to fall for Vitellia’s calculated charms.
Torna di Tito a lato: perhaps a bit over-enunciated but Daletska knows which ones of her notes sound beautiful and uses them. This is an aria which benefits from being sung beautifully.
Partir deggio, o restar…?: Vitellia must’ve been hiding behind a pillar because Sesto doesn’t even have time for vacillation. She tells him in a matter of fact way that he has to make himself scarce. Sesto makes it a point – in a voice half sad, half outraged – that he would never betray her.
Publio must’ve hidden behind the other pillar, because he sneaks up on them and he and Sesto don’t have the back and forth about the sword. He just says give it up, I know you did it. Vitellia sounds tired in o, colpo fatale…! Perhaps she herself is relieved that she didn’t have to live with the fear of being discovered. Sesto’s focus remains on Vitellia and in this instance it sounds like he’s blaming her for talking too loudly.
Se al volto mai ti senti: the oboe seems a bit dry but it might’ve been the acoustics. This sets the tone for the least ethereal Se al volto… I can remember. All three have this earthy quality to their voices which makes Vitellia remorseful in a practical manner (as if saying ok, perhaps I could’ve used Sesto in a way that didn’t run the risk of his demise), Sesto seems determined to look fate squarely in the eyes and Publio is a by the books type. Hartelius gives us a crisp, vivid, almost touching first che crudelta! complete with “thoughtful” descending trill and expert ppp on -ta. Sheratt makes the most of his “head shake” lines. As the tempo speeds up for the conclusion, Hartelius reprises that beautiful ppp (Vitellia’s starting to get a glimpse of the larger picture) and Sesto gets more reproachful – especially on the last che crudelta, which Coote dominates.
Ah grazie se rendano: starts quite hesitantly. The choir ain’t bad at all, nice balance between the male and female voices. When Schade came in I got this image of his Tito dancing by himself at his own birthday party. Don’t ask. Just after Tito finishes his lines there is this long note on the flute/oboe that here comes off more dissonant than before and it really fits the not quite mood.
Publio : Tito: Tito of course can’t believe that his Sesto could betray him. Schade uses his most useful sound to make Tito extra trusting. Publio sounds close to the limit of his patience in non han tutti il cor di Tito.
Tardi s’avvede: very good, strong, good straight-up Publio. Sheratt uses a lot of colour, seemingly determined to leave an impression. He finds the right balance of colour/tone/chutzpah relative to the size of the aria and it works.
Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito sounds like he’s cheering himself up (remember him dancing with himself earlier?) that Sesto can’t possibly be that bad in spite of Publio’s sung insinuation of treason. Annio seems scared shitless but also appears to think that speaking the bitter truth in a chipper manner might actually make it less awful. Publio underlines in a thundering voice: WHAT DID I TELL YOU, BOSS? – SESTO IS GUILTY! Tito is like : – O Annio tries to get his attention, hoping for mediation. Schade’s Tito is on the brink of tears when he replies leave me alone, Annio! Then he gets all irate and throws something at Publio which makes Annio freeze. But he (Annio) recovers and goes on. What a good friend, can I have his number?
Tu fosti tradito: remember how I said (twice) Daletska makes the effort to enunciate? An almost lost skill nowadays. Maybe that’s why she sounds a bit OTT with it. But the way she says morrrrte is butter. Never has it sounded so allur(rrr)ing. Also it kinda works with the moment, as if to illustrate how much guts it takes to plead with Tito when in this irate state. In the end it’s kinda great. There’s dynamic variation, it’s not screechy and it is impassionate. Plus all the words are clear and even though they sound more like a Central European impression of Italian, there is beauty in those sounds.
Tito is conflicted: and Schade is very musical. It segues smoothly into
Quello di Tito e il volto: it’s not usually that Publio has the biggest voice but in this case Sheratt towers over the others volume-wise. Coote’s Sesto is suddenly apprehensive. Very wistful addio…! But she drives the trio well, muscularly rising over the other two’s né gli occhi ardisce alzar. Schade’s Tito, as usual, is annoyed. The trio is quite intense, finishes before you realise.
Tito : Sesto: friendly, understanding Tito, even though he is appalled by what appears to be the truth. Schade’s Tito traditionally has a short fuse. It’s now Sesto who sounds like a self-flagellating lover (it’s not you, it’s me). Tito seems to kinda like this (just tell me you love me and I’ll forgive it all – but of course Sesto can’t say yes). He (Sesto) begs for a last kiss as if the realisation dawns on him that this is truly the end (as in, he will die). Up until now he seemed more preoccupied with gathering his courage and holding his own in front of Tito.
Deh, per questo instante solo: Coote starts this in a very sombre mood. It’s driven more by the need to make a favourable impression on Tito than by a focus on the good old days. Generally her Sesto is built on a realistic sense of duty and here a pressing need to redeem his name. The way she says se vedessi questo cor suggests more stark admission of guilt than a desire to save his arse. This Sesto is thus characterised before everything by his sense of honourability. Coote’s final di dolor x2 hammers home his conviction that he is at fault and that he doesn’t think he deserves to be pardoned. It’s one of the most restrained and unsentimental versions.
Tito makes up his mind: Tito still seems hurt but greatly appreciative of his BFF’s courage to face up to his mistake. He knows the law would be merciless but the way he says Sesto is reo… Sesto mora! is very detached. It’s the nature of management to have to uphold rules that one does not believe in. But what of rules that go against one’s own sense of self? Sometimes I think that more than a generous ruler Tito is the symbol of a corrupt ruler – my friends above all! To be fair, Mestastasio has taken care to have him pardon random dissenters in Act I. Anyway, this is not the way Tito sees it: he’s all about another opportunity to parade his generosity and Schade is always good at expressing this abstract side of him.
Se all’impero: behold, my generosity! The sheer pomposity of that abstractness infuses Schade’s take. He launches into it all guns blazing, oozing earnest amazement in his own goodness. Then he uses his arsenal of dynamics to go from f to ppp with rubato on top to underline the most virtuous parts of his argument. The ardent, even nervous tackle on the coloratura mirrors that amazement.
Vitellia : Servilia : Annio: we jump over Vitellia’s trying to ferret info out of Publio and go straight to her recit with Sesto’s people. Vitellia sounds panicked, the others anxious to get her to intercede for Sesto. Hartelius sounds grand on Annio! Non son’ Augusta ancor…! The subtext is but I really, really hope I’m wrong so, please, for the love of all that is holy, tell me so. He indulges her. She is so sure of the inevitability of getting what’s rightfully hers that she isn’t even surprised. Once again the practical one, she muses that Sesto must’ve kept his promise to her. Somewhere in middle thought she finally sees him for the good guy he is, which up to now was only useful to her. Now it’s someobody actually cares about me enough to go against not only his own views and interest but against the love someone else has for him. That’s a pretty strong realisation for anyone to have (though, frankly, people in that position are usually selfish enough to never reach it).
A bit OT, the other day I was reading about limerence, something I’d never heard of before. If you don’t know what it is, here’s the jist: infatuation is bad for you. Reading about it invalidates love poetry and romcoms down the ages but avoiding it 1 makes practical sense. Also it makes me wonder that there are indeed people out there who have never felt the “ravages” love/infatuation can wreak on you. Though it is perfectly sensible to wish for infatuation never to visit you, it also seems like something is lost, like life would be less lively without its occasional tornadoes. Maybe we’re just conditioned that way.
In any case, Sesto seems an excellent example of the debilitating effect of extreme limerence. He’s in love and that takes him from ecstasy to the pits of hell in a manner that seems unhinged. His sobre moments suggest he’s indeed not lacking judgment in other areas of his life.
But back to Vitellia: her warming up to the realisation that Sesto loves her is a sign she’s not a complete narcissist, just a woman up her own arse. Now she seems mortified at having lost the one person who would do everything for her. The way Hartelius does it seems more genuine than usual.
S’altro che lagrime: not bad at all, in fact rather great. Can’t fault it at all.
Ecco il punto…/Non piu di fiori: Maestro drives an energetic, rather rigorous tempo that translates into an unsentimental feel for the recit. Hartelius’ Vitellia is strong enough to take stock of her own shortcomings. There’s sentiment when she pronounces Sesto’s name. His love for her is all encompassing but his (subconscious) goodness goes beyond it, hence his failure. She knows now that in essence he did do her bidding, even if practically he couldn’t carry it out. So how is she going to respond to that proof of love? She realises that she won’t be able to cast him aside as useless to her now that she’s got what she wanted. So on one hand Sesto couldn’t physically be a murder and on the other she herself can’t walk over his dead body and pretend it doesn’t mean anything to her. Her addio in speranze… addio! is said in a strangled way. It’s hard for her to give her hopes up but she does nonetheless. This Vitellia is not the same Vitellia of Come ti piace, imponi. She sees now that her initial sense of identity was unrealistic, most likely driven by outside pressures.
Hartelius sings the rondo proper in a way that suggests quiet realisation rather than impassioned repentance. Her voice has the noblesse suitable to Vitellia’s upbringing and suggests a level of self-awareness for our heroine that precludes self aggrandizing or cheap drama. Where Naglestad’s Vitellia has to tackle the consequences of her own cynical irrestibility and Roschmann’s is faced with the imperative necessity of dousing her firey self interest, this one’s meltdown is along the lines of admitting fair enough, I tried being smart and it didn’t work. Perhaps my whole approach to life was wrong. And the tragedy is, it’s now that I realise I was wrong when everybody is going to think I’m a bitch. The basset horn goes very gentle on her (sweet tone! sweet descrescendo!), because it agrees she’s a more congenial Vitellia after all. That creamy tone I mentioned in Come ti piace, imponi makes this a very alluring rendition. Hartelius also places the low G where she should.
Act II finale
Non piu di fiori segues right into the finale, which is done in the dome-like way, with quite a strong Baroque whiff. Tito tries to sound pissed off but we know he’s only doing this to set up the grand surprise of his generosity. You know he’s been choreographing this ever since he sent Publio to get Sesto to the arena. Vitellia sounds like she kinda likes confessing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she found it easier to do this with an audience than in private. More chuckling from the audience as Tito is wondering just how many self-confessed traitors would spring up today. But it’s working nicely for him. He pretty much flings freedom at all rather than offering it on a velvet cushion. Sesto sounds like he can’t quite believe his ears and swears he’ll repent forever. Maybe he’ll set up a charity. Tito strokes his scruff and says good boy.
But even more importantly we have a very good Eterni dei. The choir has done a sterling job throughout, but then one can trust a German choir to be solid and keep up with the orchestra and soloists. The male and female sides are very well balanced (yes, I said it before but it bears repeating, especially in the context of Eterni dei).
This is a very good example of teamwork in opera, so thank you Maestro for energising your people and keeping a very strong balance among the parts of the whole. Everybody worked hard to the best of their seizable abilities, which, for a concert version is fantastic (but then, in spite of its acoustics, the Barbican has seen some very strong concert versions over the years). I would recommend it to fans of the singers and of Tito, it’s a very solid modern-sounding addition to the Tito catalogue.
- it appears you can’t avoid it or wish for it if you’re not naturally predisposed to it. ↩