Category Archives: ENO

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.

Advertisements

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 ūüėČ ), 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 ūüėÄ 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 Рa 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 friends | Wigmore Hall

27 Anna Bonitatibus |¬†Wigmore 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 ūüôā

31 Angelika Kirchschlanger | Wigmore Hall

February

4 Adrian Behle | Wigmore Hall

5 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 Рquite 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 Rice / Rebecca 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 Рyes, 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 Violence | ROH Рit 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 Рafter 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 РTHE 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 ūüėÄ

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 Рsuch 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 minor | Löningen Рalso 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 ūüėÄ and more Iervolino! Excuse me if I simply love the woman, she is cute as button here. She also sings rather well ūüėČ

26 Serse | Barbican

November

2 Marie-Nicole Lemieux | Wigmore Hall

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

December

11 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

Glyndebourne – the lawn, 2018

Intense Porgy and Bess (ENO, 17 October 2018)

Porgy: Eric Greene
Bess: Nicole Cabell
Crown: Nmon Ford
Sportin’ Life: Frederick Ballentine
Serena: Latonia Moore
Clara: Nadine Benjamin
Maria: Tichina Vaughn
Conductor: John Wilson
Director: James Robinson

Last night was the premiere of ENO’s first (!) production of Porgy and Bess. I don’t think I’ve seen such a rambunctious crowd at ENO before. The Balcony was full! And the ushers actually paraded up and down with “no mobiles and cameras” signs. Do they do it at other types of performances? I haven’t seen this at the opera before. I mean it was done on top of the very loud “turn off your mobiles now” sound effects that you normally hear. The crowd was significantly younger and more diverse (instead of the usual 2 black people, there were 10 last night). It’s always younger at 20th century/contemporary shows – and more diverse, though I noticed belcanto also gets its share of ethnic diversity. Baroque (this side of oratorios) is still niche-y.

The fact that it’s younger doesn’t mean it’s more enthusiastic or more knowledgeable (very fashionable and pretty woman in her 20s, on her mobile, of course: I hope the second part isn’t this long! – it was surprisingly long, I agree; about the length of your regular Baroque opera (with cuts)). But I did overhear intelligent (and enthusiastic) remarks from a couple of 30 somethings about some of the performances I agreed with and the possibility of freely shaping the sound inherent to jazz-influenced writing.

The length is justified, though, and Gershwin keeps it inventive, with a surprising number of memorable tunes (dude was good, both at absorbing/rehashing/writing in black vernacular and in carrying the tension over 3 hours). It’s got one of the grittiest libretti I can think of – in a good way. Very realistic and detailed in its observations regarding people’s interactions in a small, southern town, where the only whites are the police and their involvement is minimal1.

The production is “of its time”, so it won’t tell you anything the libretto doesn’t but the large cast, which is on stage most of the time, is well handled and acts well in return. The stage design – stilt houses in a fishing town (Catfish Row) – revolves occasionally to show the shore of the river at the back or reassembles to suggest the inside of a building (the church?) during the hurricane scene. The fight scenes are very effective and well acted.

The male singers are are all great and act superbly, especially the trio that circles Bess – Crown (her original boyfriend and top bad guy, sung by Nmon Ford), his drug dealin’ friend, Sportin’ Life (sung with just the right amount of oily smugness by Frederick Ballentine) and, best of all, Eric Greene as Porgy, the gentle-hearted town cripple who takes Bess in when no one wants to associate with her. Greene was simply wonderful all around, such a smooth tone and way with sound!

Of the women, Latonia Moore as Serena has a voice that I would like to hear again – really exqusite tone and great support. I’m not the biggest Cabell fan but she can hold a note like a superstar and has the opportunity to do so on several occasions. There’s always this feeling with her that she’s holding back, because the basic sound or her voice is very fine otherwise so on paper there’s little she can’t do. However, dramatically she’s very credible as the complex and troubled Bess.

All in all, a very intense evening, with impressive commitment from the cast and some really fine brass playing from the orchestra as you would like in this context.


  1. The plot in brief: Crown is a gamblin’, swearin’, fight pickin’, coke snortin’ bad guy, Bess is his equally hard partyin’ girlfriend and Sportin’ Life is their drug dealin’ (and wheelin’) friend. The town is ambivalent about them (namely, the church going women are). Crown stabs someone whilst drunk, everyone clears off, leaving Bess in a lurch. Porgy, the local kind hearted crippled beggar, takes her in and one thing leads to another – as it always does with Bess. Everything goes well for a while, she’s “mending her ways” and Porgy is happy. But then Crown returns from hiding from the law. As you can imagine, things go downhill from there. Like, really downhill. It ends on a strange note: Porgy decides to go looking for Bess in NYC (it’s sung in major key) but how well can this endeavour end? 

ENO’s rolling good times 2018-2019

Good news, ENO seems to be powering on most cylinders. Some interesting things written in English:

Oct – Nov 2018 Porgy and Bess! How cool, I’ve always wanted to see it, so yay ENO.

Feb 2019 Akhnaten is back already! ūüėÄ I’m going twice again. Whoever wants to come along, please do, it’s a lot of fun. Maybe they’ll film it this time?

Apr 2019 Jack the Ripper – I wonder if it’s ok. I’ve always been in two minds about the subject – on the one hand unsolved mystery = yes, on the other serial killers = eh

May 2019 Dido (without Aeneas?) Dido and Belinda?

There’s also a new Salome¬†(but this Strauss has been seen around town in recent years so I don’t know), and a new¬†Merry Widow that could be fun.

Good times at the opera in 2017

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 ūüėČ And then there was the Summer of Tito. Plus a couple of duds and misses… ūüėČ

Read the rest of this entry

Things London did well in 2016

Now that we’re nearing the end of 2017, 2016 memories have started to take firmer shape.

Three productions had a profound impact on yours truly this year: ENO’s Akhnaten and ROH’s The Nose and Oedipe. Hard to miss¬†that all of them are 20th century operas. Perhaps they just lend themselves a lot better to contemporary takes. Also, to apparently fresh takes, as none is particularly often performed. The thrill of the lesser spotted is its own reward.

Becoming who you are

Akhnaten the opera is, for me, a great example of an intelligent way of dealing with a subject (apparently) alien to our contemporary sensibilities. Our sources of understanding are 2000 years of Christianity, the Curse of the Pyramids, National Geographic aesthetics and Tutankhamen as pop culture symbol. The assertion of the self resonates through centuries.

Losing yourself

The Nose is comedy in its purest sense. Laughing Рletting go of words Рis letting go of rationality (= identity). We laugh at something when it becomes absurd and words to describe what is happening fail us. Laughing is also an act of confidence: identity is revealed as silly self importance.

Identity as burden

Oh, poor Oedipe, he is cursed to be who he is. The terracotta living wall is visceral and primordial, sun-infused and of slithery mud at the same time.

Your execution is my retribution or Rodelinda, queen of hilarious choreography (ENO, 9 November 2017)

The challenge for ENO was not only in rendering a Handel libretto palatable to 21st century audiences but in making an obscure 7th century AD political situation entertaining when you understand every word of it. Enter Richard Jones and team, officially my favourite Baroque opera director/team. If you liked his Aix Ariodante you will like (potentially love) this. Check out what he has to say about it:

For whatever reason the pertinent commentary from Jones has no visuals from Rodelinda, so here’s the trailer, but ignore the comments, which are heartfelt but tell you nothing:

Rodelinda: Rebecca Evans
Bertarido: Tim Mead (with a cold)
Grimoaldo: Juan Sancho
Eduige: Susan Bickley
Garibaldo: Neal Davies
Unulfo: Christopher Lowrey
Flavio: Matt Casey
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Choir and Orchestra of the ENO
Director: Richard Jones/Donna Stirrup (revival director)
Choreographer: Sarah Fahie

The Longobards/Lombards, right? There are few foggier historical periods than those significantly lumped under the term The Dark Ages (of Europe). The constant waves of migrations criss-crossing Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire never quite got big in popular culture. One can rightly assume this period was the theatre of political musical chairs, with tribal hopefuls stealing thrones from each other only to be swallowed by the black hole of historical oblivion. Jones sort of updates this to fascist Italy, says the Guardian, but to me it looked like the mob in the ’20s. Strangely, though, for all the update it still feels like way back when. In a good way.

Purely on a “let’s not do another story from the Big Book of Greek Myths” basis I welcome the librettist’s decision. I also welcome the presence of leading damsels who stand up to their oppressors. I mentioned before that a Baroque opera named after a woman means said woman is no shrinking violet. Rodelinda is possibly the most kick ass Baroque heroine (the line quoted in this post’s title is hers).

The Guardian review mentions “a dark vision of Handel” but I think it’s rather a dark subject matter, treated in an unexpectedly funny manner. I don’t know if my sense of humour is particularly bleak, but, omg, I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard during a Baroque¬†opera production before, even during comedies. Surprise was a major factor. I attended this performance because I recently fell in love with the music but I found out there were so many hilarious moments and they were so cleverly placed as the night progressed, it was hard to keep track and generally not to snort.

As I was saying, I’ve only discovered this musically wonderful opera this year, with the livestreamed Madrid performance, featuring Crowe, Mehta, Zazzo and Prina, in Guth’s thougthful and sensitive production. Let me tell you, Jones’ 2014 production is not thoughtless by any means, but sensitive it is not. I liked Guth’s as well, but I would say this is more in keeping with the ethos of the Dark Ages.

As someone whose first language isn’t an operatic one and who has been introduced to the art form via operas in their supposed languages, it is always striking to hear an opera in a language that you instantly understand 100%. There is also the issue of translation. When you have a couple of lines that get repeated over 5min you/I really want a poetic translation. I quite struggled during Partenope on that account. Here the translation was also mostly to the point (except for a couple of arias) but the choreography was so clever it turned something potentially bland into the height of hilarity.

My favourite moment was Rodelinda’s aria where she tells Garibaldo just what she’s going to do to him after she is forced (by him) to marry her reprehensible stalker Grimoaldo. Whilst she’s singing, she and son Flavio are mimic-ing just what she has in mind and let me tell you, that was some imaginative(ly amusing) choreography to fill 3 to 5min.

Then we have metrosexual double agent Unulfo coming up with a plan to free Bertarido, in which he selects a gigantic meat cleaver from Garibaldo’s serial killer shed, whilst Eduige is busy unscrewing a window frame for easy transfer. Said meat cleaver returns to “haunt” Unulfo later, when Bertarido accidentally stabs him (repeatedly) with it, only to apologise profusely.

Unulfo (caughing blood): my lord, is that you? How handy with a sword you have become!
Bertarido (aghast): omg, I’m so sorry, Unulfo! How could I do this to you?! Let me press my jacket to your fatal wounds.
Unulfo (leaking entrails all over the floor): there is no time, my lord! You must save yourself and your loved ones!
Bertarido: but me must get you to the A and E!
Unulfo (crawling heroically, hands him the fatal meat cleaver): I’ll… be… fine!… Save… yourself!

But we’ve all figured out that Unulfo is devoted to the literal last breath, and although he’s more chopped liver than human by this point, he makes sure there is a happy ending – just not for him, sadly, as, forgotten by all, he collapses in the last scene. Dark Ages, eh? I know this sounds gruesome but it isn’t visually offensive.

Like I said, there is more, not the least the happy ending chorus, during which Rodelinda and Bertarido lock up Grimoaldo and Eduige, with Grimoaldo getting the meat cleaver treatment from Bertarido’s traumatised son Flavio (that one is going to need a lifetime of therapy; failing that, the serial killer shed is already set up).

So that’s 800 words on the production alone.

Musically I was surprised the Guardian reviewer felt Curnyn’s conducting occasionally lacked definition and impetus. I thought it was some of the best Baroque conducting I’ve heard in London. The orchestra, too, played beautifully and idiomatically, with the harpsichord (just right, volume-wise), oboe and strings particularly in good form; really nice interplay between the sections and with the singers (never overpowered).

Though a notch below the Madrid team (except for Davies = vastly superior to aging Chiummo), the singers were strong throughout and they also had a lot of stuff to do physically, more often than not requiring perfect timing with each other.

Bertarido’s entrance aria (Dove sei, amato bene) was rather uneven but Mead’s performance grew in strength over the evening (much better in his lament at having lost it all) and he still had enough energy to power through Vivi, tiranno (I saved you), or at least power it as much as possible given his countertenor-of-the-lyrical-kind voice. You really need a contralto for Eduige; a mezzo, no matter how experienced, is not the same. Above mentioned Davies rocked Garibaldo’s late aria in praise of gung-ho tyranny.

Io t’abbraccio (Ah, my beloved) wasn’t bad, Mead and Evans mixed well; all it needed was that extra bit of something. Lowrey did a very good job as general butt of jokes Unulfo (I didn’t even know this one had so many arias!), gamely coping with it all and showing top comedic skills (best moment: when he sings whilst holding the meat clever of doom, on which Eduige is writing a VERY long message to Bertarido – who subsequently reads it all in recit, much to everyone’s amusement). Imagine a metrosexual holding propping up a giant, rusty meat cleaver like it’s dipped in poo.

Somewhat like Lowrey, Juan Sancho had to put up with a thankless role, in his case deconstructing evil into pathetic – his singing had something wistful to go with that. In fact, beyond the cheapish laughs, Jones has once again given us a production that deals with (toxic) masculinity and which, interestingly, includes Eduige (and possibly Rodelinda herself) as a culprit. I was pleasantly surprised to see this dealt with here, after our discussion during and after the Madrid livestream. Here the big sign of the macho is getting a tattoo. Bertarido has one of Rodelinda on his arm (foreshadowing), Eduige has one of Grimoaldo on her back and Grimoaldo gets one of Rodelinda (whilst singing! I’m telling you, they get up to some stuff in this production). Rodelinda needs no tattoos to assert herself when she makes Grimoaldo an offer he can’t bring himself to accept.

Rodelinda: I’m ready to marry you…
Grimoaldo: A-ha!
Rodelinda: … on one condition.
Gariblado: she’s going to ask for my head!
Grimoaldo: … anything, except his head.
Rodelinda: pffft, who cares about that moron?
Grimoaldo: very good! What, then? Name it and you shall have it.
Rodelinda: in order to get the throne, you must kill my son, the rightful heir!
Grimoaldo: ūüėģ

She even draws a big X in lipstick on her son’s chest whilst singing the taunting aria! Rodelinda is right out of Orange is the new Black, yo. So the “happy” ending comes less as a surprise.

I had a seat up in the gods (you can always get a row all to yourself up there, so you can move around as needed1, and it’s above the angle where you get the Balcony railing to block half of your view). London venues offer very good sound from their amphitheatre seats. Given this is the biggest of them all, I had time during the evening to re-think my usual position on big venues vs. Baroque. I now think it’s mostly down to acoustics and a thoughtful conductor. So there you go, big halls of the world, update your acoustics, hire a good conductor and bring on the Baroque, gruesome or not.

PS: ENO, I ‚̧ you. Please don’t screw yourself up any time soon. We need “people” like you.


  1. If, say, you get a tallish woman with a brazen bun in front of you. 

Late 2017, early 2018: Rodelinda at ENO and Rinaldo at the Barbican

photo credit: hdvdarts.com

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.


  1. He sang in the recent revival which I missed because he’s not Prina

Whimsical Partenope returns to kick off the Handel season (ENO, 17 March 2017)

You know what we/I haven’t had in a while? (A bit of semi-obscure) Handel! Since Gauvin’s recital at the end of January, to be precise. ENO has programmed their revival of the Award Winning 2008 production of Partenope to coincide with the usual time of the year when we celebrate¬†the Grandmaster of the Baroque Formula.

I bought this ticket the day before the show, just before leaving for the Radvanovsky recital. Because 1) I bungled it when the tickets went on sale, 2) there was no way for me to attend this¬†week’s performances no matter how I tried to cut it (and these days the situation at work is the sort where one should try to cut it as little as possible) and last but most importantly 3) this is a badass production, which kept niggling at the back of my mind (you’re not going to see that? Seriously? You’re not? And you call yourself an admirer of clever stylish silly ideas? It’s Handel, ffs! A Handel comedy!).

Oh, who am I kidding?! It all comes down to:

Like Radvanovsky was saying:¬†I just like I was lucky to have quite a grand introduction to it, on my very first outing at Wigmore Hall.¬†You should see my badass moves ūüėČ If I were a singer with a half decent coloratura this would be one of my audition/recital staples. By the end of it the audience would be bawling on each other’s shoulders. Or perhaps chuckling. But moved they would be. After about 30min on repeat (various versions)¬†my musically inclined cat joined in with the coloratura ūüėÄ that’s how much we love this aria at casa dehggi.

Partenope: Sarah Tynan
Emilio: Rupert Charlesworth (taking the entire season over from Robert Murray (indisposed))
Arsace: Patricia Bardon
Armindo: James Laing
Rosmira “Eurimene”: Stephanie Windsor-Lewis
Ormonte: Matthew Durkhan
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Orchestra of the ENO
Director: Christopher Alden
Set designer: Andrew Lieberman
Costume designer: Jon Morell

In this production, the laddish Arsace, who sings the aria after being roasted by his jilted lover, brandishes about a bottle of something stiff but somehow does not smash it by the end. Dude! I’d like several (the entire stash) to smash to the coloratura.

“But what if Man Ray isn‚Äôt what turns you on? If your fancy isn’t taken by the erotic charge of a strategically positioned black triangle, or a prominent nipple in an expanse of flesh smoothed flat by the lens and viewpoint, or if the sight of a 1920s siren smoking through a long cigarette holder fails to excite? In that case, this production has little for you.” (Davin Karlin for Bachtrack on this revival of ENO/Opera Australia’s 2008 production of Partenope).

That’s the case with every production built on a schtick. Luckily, I get down with all of that, especially the siren bit, which Tynan rocks (is there anything more stylish than 1920s fashions? Nah.) It’s a sort of “flat” production, in the sense it’s all about posing rather than following a plot logically1¬†but then we’re talking Surrealist¬†photography, Bauhaus and whatnot. Visual arts during Modernism made a point out of removing (or at least disrupting) the narrative.

How does this relate to Handel?¬†Singers do silly things whilst singing but we’re reminded that singers in Handel’s time used to make the most of their limelight moments as well and the public was often engaged otherwise. People do silly things at moments of heightened emotion – and sometimes at regular times, too. Sometimes overthinking gets in the way of good fun.

Partenope the character is flirty but constant. She likes to be admired and friendzones men by the boatload. Arsace (her lover at the beginning of the opera) isn’t particularly flirty but as soon as “Eurimene” shows up he suddenly knows remembers he’s actually Rosmira, his hitherto fogotten ex. It’s a bit Alcina without the magic – or “for adults”. Case in point: we have the bonus of a mezzo making out with both the title¬†soprano and another mezzo.

In the end Partenope rebounds with the shy guy and Rosmira gets her pretty man back after a satisfying bout of emotional torture (no hard feelings from Partenope, who is reasonable/together enough to know it’s all Arsace’s fault). Emilio – the enemy, who, in a short duet suavely sings he’d like to make Partenope his chattel – is added to the friendzone menagerie. So far so contemporary feminist.

The singing was constantly fine across the board though I can’t say it ever rose to stratospheric levels of emotion. Bardon has a very recognisable dark¬†mezzo and here somehow outcountertenored Laing. She also showed what a bitch of an aria Furibondo… is. I remember someone on youtube commenting on a live recording of Scholl singing it¬†how he for once prefers Daniels. Not fair comparing live to studio!

The reason why I love it is because Handel packs so much. You start on coloratura, then you have to vary projection, sometimes mid-phrase (= shouts of agitation), more coloratura, then you get to the B section, where I gather you add rubato to taste (I really liked what Horne did there on an almost melancholic agitata and the contrast with the very dark dol), because the rhythm is pretty much the same throughout Рrelentless and staccato.

Back to Bardon’s: it was good but not fabulous. I suppose there are many factors that go into this. People have criticised Curnyn’s approach as too fast in general, not giving singers breathers. I remember thinking during one of the slow Arsace arias that it could’ve been a tad faster. He did manage some very pretty interventions from the winds and assorted brass during Eurimene’s warlike aria2. Also the rhythm section deserves praise for keeping it tight throughout. It made me grin, thinking, ah, there’s nothing (in classical music) quite like Baroque to rock a solid rhythm.

But yes, perhaps Furibondo… was too fast. There were times (the shouty moments) when Bardon didn’t project as strongly as I would’ve expected – for whatever reason. I thought the role suited her otherwise, even though, like I said, I don’t remember her sounding quite so countertenorish before. Special mention: really nice job from Bardon on the movement-whilst-singing-a-male-character department.

photo from The Stage (click for review)

Tynan has the right voice and style for the role. All is needed is a bit of extra something to make it outstanding. Her interaction with her suitors and her Partenope persona were on the money throughout. I must commend the Personnenregie in general, very convincing in its details.

But in spite of the mezzo-soprano-mezzo estravaganza, Charlesworth’s Emilio stole the show this time. He took proper advantage of the silliness surrounding his character – the baddie, here a privacy stealing Man Ray – and seemed to have so much fun every time he was¬†on stage that he drew the most attention and applause. It didn’t hurt that his diction was the best of the bunch and his pojection grand.

It was rather good fun – literally and figuratively – and really easy on the eyes. I’m glad I went last week,¬†not after the Petibon concert (though I wish I’d’ve posted this¬†before that concert, it would’ve read¬†a lot more lively). Sitting in those tiny bum seats in the Balcony (economy) section between a Spanish couple and two Polish women I thought to myself how the ENO audience often seems like¬†the most relaxed. ENO has¬†the biggest opera-presenting hall in London yet it somehow feels very cosy (must be the tiny bum seats) and up there it feels almost as chummy as¬†TEC.


  1. There is a plot and there is logic but that’s not central to this production. 
  2. That was the only time the music and the production didn’t flow together for me. The Bloomsbury atmosphere is so strong, the thought of actual war is jarring. 

Good times at the opera in 2016

Cotroversial in everyday life and politics, 2016 was a good opera year for yours truly. I went to Vienna again and returned to Paris after two decades, lots of fun! London wasn’t too shabby either, with its mezzo/contralto traffic jams and my love affair with Wigmore Hall only intensified this year ‚̧ Last but not least, looking over the many shows that sign posted this year I had another opportunity to think about the fine people I shared some of these good times with. Thank you all and a much happier 2017!

January

11 Benjamin Appl | Wigmore Hall: a Schubert start to the year

February

20 L’Etoile | ROH: a bit of a weird romp, but a romp nonetheless (le romp francais). I hope whoever succeeds Holten at ROH sprinkles the seasons with wackiness of this sort.

March

4, 8 Akhnaten | ENO: X-Files meets Aida = most spectacular show of the year! Let’s keep ENO in business for more of the same.

12, 14 Ariodante | RCM Britten Hall: students go hardcore Highlands

14 Maria Ostroukhova | St George’s Hanover Sq: Cecca notte!

16 Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes | Wigmore Hall: there is still Belcanto, lest we forgot about it

17 Berenice | St George’s Hanover Sq: hit and miss Handel

21 Boris Godunov | ROH: Terfel, the Welsh Boris(h)

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: Il pianto di Maria

31 Elpidia | St George’s Hanover Sq: very good singing, so-so pasticcio

April

14 Lucia di Lammermoor | ROH: Damrau is no damsel in distress

27 Lucio Silla | Theater an der Wien: the Arnold Schoenberg Choir! with not that much to sing ūüėČ

28 Il Vologeso | Cadogan Hall: proof that Jommelli rocks

30 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall: super stylish Boroque with La Piau

May

08 Tannhauser | ROH: an opportunity to see Christian Gerhaher sing Wagner lyrically.

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: ūüėÄ

26 Oedipe | ROH: almost as spectacular as Akhnaten

June

24 Werther | ROH: Pappano gets it

29 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall: the first of two shows this year; this is the feisty one.

July

02 Nathalie Stutzmann | Wigmore Hall: the smoothest contralto takes on Vivaldi

07 Il trovatore | ROH: Bosch brings his caravan to Verdi

17 JPYA | ROH: ROH students return

August

03 Bluebeard’s Castle | Proms/Royal Albert Hall: there are a few things I will always attend and this is one of them.

September

21 Demetrio (Hasse) | Cadogan Hall: musically not the most exciting

22 Cosi fan tutte | ROH: this one was a bit of a miss…

October

02 Nathalie Stutzmann/Orfeo 55 | Wigmore Hall: oh yea!

05 Anna Bonitatibus | Wigmore Hall: …and yea to Semiramide, too.

21 The Nose | ROH: between this and L’Etoile we covered Eastern and Western wackiness.

November

02 Juditha triumphans | Barbican: the mezzo/contralto fest of the year

05 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall: dramatic Roschmann is here

07 Les contes d’Hoffmann | ROH: traditional tales of sexism (with mezzos)

13 Oreste (Handel) | Wilton’s Music Hall: the Atrides in Jack the Ripper’s neighbourhood

20 Luca Pisaroni | Wigmore Hall: Luca sings the Schubert

24 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth | Wigmore Hall: more Schubert!

28 La Calisto | Wigmore Hall: Wigmore Hall goes kookoo-funny

30 La finta giardiniera | RCM Britten Hall: students being successfully silly

December

05 Don Giovanni | Theatre des Champs-Elysees: Don Leporello muses in the beautiful surroundings of TCE.

06 Sancta Susanna/Cavalleria rusticana | Opera Bastille: Sancta Susanna = the runner up in the badass production contest of the year

29 Sonia Prina/Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: oh so quiet and gentle