Category Archives: wigmore hall

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

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

the stairs to the Wiggy restaurant

Ian Bostridge tenor
Julius Drake piano

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

 

Interval

London has fountains, too

Mörike Lieder

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

Encore:

Schubert, of course

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

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

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

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

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Christine Rice MIA, Julien Van Mallaerts in de hause (Wigmore Hall, 18 June 2018)

I’m all for privacy but what is going in in the Rice camp, y’all? This year alone I was supposed to see her three times (January, March and June) and everything ended up cancelled. I hope things are on the mend, for everyone’s sake.

Wiggy presented us with a young upstart instead, namely baritone Julien Van Mallaerts, who is about to go to Bayreuth for some Wagnerian schooling. He did sound like that. The end.

😉

With Rice we were expecting a French programme (La voix humaine) so we at least got that (not La voix humaine – but wouldn’t it be fun to hear a baritone sing it?). You know I like ze French songse. His French diction is good (or I had a very good seat) and he seemed like he really got into it interpretively. Pity we didn’t know what was so funny, though based on the titles I’m sure it was. I need to get a bit more culture (not just about Madama Butterfly). I thought he had a nice, run-of-the-mill baritone but Anna wasn’t so sure it was a bari-tone after all (his low notes were a bit cloudy to me, especially if he wanted to do pp. He was at his best when he could employ bright and loud highs).

Whatever it is, it wasn’t offensive but nothing much to write home about as far as I’m concerned. How about a picture of Camden instead1? It was such a warm and gorgeous day on Monday, Anna and I decided to walk along the Regent Canal (yes, I wanted to take some pictures like I couldn’t after the last Lunchtime Concert when the battery died after two measly shots 😉 ).

not quite Venice but nice cow, eh?

Julius Drake was a treat twice within less than 24hours, though I thought he was a lot more interesting (like super cool) in the German programme. I commend that work ethic!

Julien Van Mallaerts baritone
Julius Drake piano

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
La vie antérieure
Phidylé

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Fêtes galantes Book II
Les ingenus
Le faune
Colloque sentimental

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Histoires naturelles
Le paon
Le grillon
Le martin-pecheur
La pintade
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Chanson romanesque
Chanson epique
Chanson a boire

Encore:

Nachtlied Schubert


  1. It has come to my attention that I don’t post enough pictures, so there you go, nautical London. 

Stéphane Degout: not quite it (Wigmore Hall, 5 June 2018)

If you take enough chances, the time will come when something falls flat like a souffle. I have to report that Degout hasn’t left much of an impression on me, beside his nicely pronunced French.

Stéphane Degout baritone
Simon Lepper piano

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Aurore Op. 39 No. 1
Poème d’un jour Op. 21
Automne Op. 18 No. 3

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
O kühler Wald Op. 72 No. 3
Die Mainacht Op. 43 No. 2
Auf dem Kirchhofe Op. 105 No. 4
Feldeinsamkeit Op. 86 No. 2
Alte Liebe Op. 72 No. 1
Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen Op. 32 No. 2
Willst du, dass ich geh? Op. 71 No. 4

Interval

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kerner Lieder Op. 35

I have an inkling that French chanson can be shouted in a nervous manner and not suffer for it but during the first half of the programme I did not discern much dynamic variation. I mean, there was, but not used for contrast, rather this song was sung forte, the next mezzoforte etc.

Degout has a very bright and penetrating voice (is this a French thing? = light beam; I was in the last row but it carried like a bullet, for better (diction in both languages) and worse (even volume)). It’s not unpleasant by any means but it’s quite colourless and with the lack of… moulding, its effect felt to me like what thadieu calls water faucet.

On top of that his face stayed slightly pained/startled for the duration. It’s not one’s fault when they don’t have a mobile face but in this case that only made matters worse. Curiously, he also took on the stance of the Tower of Pisa, alternatively leaning towards the right for good periods of time and righting himself for a while. I hope he wasn’t in any kind of actual pain.

I did enjoy Lepper’s accompaniment, though I can’t say anything further than his handling of the instrument worked for me.

I had to leave at the interval but for once that didn’t bother me too much. Maybe the Schumann would’ve got my attention but I kinda doubt it.

Now this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Degout – that would be a couple of weeks ago, in Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence. Which brings me to another subject – the backlog. Yes, dear reader, a backlog has accumulated in the opera, innit? drawer because… well, because sometimes regardless of how you feel about a show you don’t feel quite like writing.

Due to Benjamin’s opera (another thing I took a chance on, with mixed results), I’ve attended Barbara Hannigan’s Masterclass and Degout’s recital. Whilst the masterclass has given me plenty of food for thought – and is actually one of the few things partly written – I have not finished it yet.

I also mean to write another post about Venice, a bit about Sara Mingardo’s recital-plus my and thadieu’s quest for a meal in London 😉 as well as Simon Keenlyside’s VERY funny recital (it’s contralto and baritone season chez dehggi) – what a contrast to Degout! – and a few words on how I realised Franco Fagioli is actually one of my favourite singers (shudder-gasp, I know).

Evening longing with Matthias Goerne (Wigmore Hall, 24 April 2018)

Goerne is one of those people who does not sing in a repertoire I frequent, but, for whatever reason, I thought I should go see him (I do read reviews/writeups of a wider rep than I physically enjoy and in hindsight it can be hard to pinpoint what made me curious about one singer/work or another).

Once again, it was a wise choice (wise beyond my ears, that’s me). Right from the getgo I thought, wow, this is a gorgeous voice! And later I could see how skilled he is at building drama with that lucky break he got from the universe. The second part of the performance did start to get a bit same-y in mood, which happens often enough in recitals, as singers I guess find a groove that works for their psyche and/or voice and go with it, often potentially losing the casual listener who’d like a bit of variation.

The general mood that works for him seems to be rather sinister – it fit seamlessly with the cruel-ish intentions dream (I know, right? ha.ha…) I had woken up with that morning – which kept my imagination busy particularly during the Pfitzner set.

Seong-Jin Cho brought all the Korean women in the Wiggy yard – and I mean all of them! I hadn’t seen so many Koreans in one place since Uni days (my school was very popular with South Koreans). One of them came and asked me about my seat (remember that story? this was the first time it happened that week) but then softly drifted away before I could even answer, just like Cho’s pps 😉

Matthias Goerne baritone
Seong-Jin Cho piano

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo

Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949)
Sehnsucht Op. 10 No. 1
Wasserfahrt Op. 6 No. 6
Es glänzt so schön die sinkende Sonne Op. 4 No. 1
Ist der Himmel darum im Lenz so blau Op. 2 No. 2
An die Mark Op. 15 No. 3
Abendrot Op. 24 No. 4
Nachts Op. 26 No. 2
Stimme der Sehnsucht Op. 19 No. 1

Interval

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Wesendonck Lieder

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Traum durch die Dämmerung Op. 29 No. 1
Morgen Op. 27 No. 4
Ruhe, meine Seele Op. 27 No. 1
Freundliche Vision Op. 48 No. 1
Im Abendrot from Four Last Songs

Baroque triomphe (Wigmore Hall, 6 May 2018)

L’Amour Triomphe

Royal Academy of Music Baroque Soloists
Rachel Podger violin

This was the second time last week when I had to cut a performance short due to work. It happens (so I’m less critical with people who leave at the interval; you never know what their reasons were).

The show was lovely for three reasons: Podger is a wonderful soloist, the students were very good and the musical selections likewise. Though the violin isn’t my favourite sound (especially when it comes to the ways it was used in the second half of the 19th century, but then I usually frind that musical period difficult to crack…), Baroque-style violin has done a lot of good for my warming up to it.

In this context of further opening to new (to me) things, I more than enjoyed Podger’s playing – fluid and playful yet perfectly controlled. Her sense of style is fabulous (super flexible, light). Baroque Bird quipped that the students could’ve relaxed more, as they were doing very well and appeared enthusiastic (especially the trumpets), kept the rhythm without overpowering the others (the harpsichords). And indeed, I can think of at least one established Baroque band that could consider themselves so lucky to sound as disciplined and accurate as the RAM Baroque Soloists… The impish slide to ppp(p) in the pizzicato part was ace – but you know I’m very partial to the soft approach.

A few days ago I was reading YT comments on a certain pop song, where a conversation had started on whether the greatness of classical music vs pop lies in its being harder to play. Someone who’d done both mentioned how often times single classical piece parts are easy because the focus is on sound as a whole, rather than on solo parts. As they say, the devil is in the details – how you approach them, what you do with them.

Georg Phillipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho TWV21:32 (excerpts)

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Platée RCT 53 (excerpts)

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Don Juan (excerpts)

Interval

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Pigmalion RCT 52 (excerpts)

A slice of Lucy Crowe (Wigmore Hall, 4 May 2018)

After a not-quite meeting of minds on the local live scene, I discovered Lucy Crowe in last year’s Madrid Rodelinda, which you may remember as an unusually tender affair from Guth with some formidable singing from the top trio Crowe-Mehta-Prina. Things followed the same exciting path a couple of months later live, with ROH’s resuscitation of their long dormant Mitridate and here we are in 2018.

What the first part of the recital solidifies for me is that Crowe’s voice is best suited to Early-ish mezzoforte to pp detail work rather than sustatined drama shaped by drastic volume gear changes. She’s at a point in her career where she can fire the jets if needs be, but the result, at least to my ears, is acidic and opaque (claustrophobic)1 – nowhere near a challenge for someone whose top volume revels in dramatic colouring like, say, Roschmann.

When she tries something like Wolf’s Philine, on the other hand, it’s a revelation to whoever has not experienced her Handel and early Mozart (like I imagine the chap behind me, who, before the show made some of the most refreshing comments I’ve overheard at Wiggy). Her voice sparkles, full of life and kinetic and she handles the text with the right amount of impishness.

Sadly I can’t comment on the second part of the show, as I had to leave early for an unshakable night shift. I do, however, want to comment on the term “female” when used to describe women in converstation as opposed to in biology books. I hate it. It sounds like how a serial killer would itemize its bludgeoned victims rather than a thoughtful man’s musings on what he makes of women’s experience – as I suppose it’s intended here.

On the other hand, a programme of women’s portraits done by men yet sung and played by women is still a good idea. But I would’ve needed to stay until the end to get a real idea of how this mirrored reinterpretation works out.

Female Portraits

Lucy Crowe soprano
Anna Tilbrook piano

Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Bess of Bedlam Z370

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
An Silvia D891
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118
Marie D658
Suleika I D720

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Ach, um deine feuchten Schwingen Op. 34 No. 4

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister Op. 98a
No. 1 Kennst du das Land?
Myrthen Op. 25
Lied der Suleika

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Goethe Lieder
Philine

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Drei Lieder der Ophelia Op. 67
Cäcilie Op. 27 No. 2

Interval

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
A Chloris

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Lydia Op. 4 No. 2
Sylvie Op. 6 No. 3
Nell Op. 18 No. 1

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Jane

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Phidylé

Émile Paladilhe (1844-1926)
Psyché

William Walton (1902-1983)
Daphne
Beatriz’s Song

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Sweet Polly Oliver

Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981)
Georgia on my Mind

Cole Porter (1891-1964)
Miss Otis regrets


  1. Though it’s true it freed up quite a bit by the end of ther period. 

Mauro Peter (what, a tenor?!) (Wigmore Hall, 3 May 2018)

Contrary to popular belief, I sometimes pay attention to tenors. Even more unusual, sometimes I go to a show based on a single item on the menu. I’ll let you guess what that was.

Other than having noticed he’s said some silly things about Don Giovanni the character, I hadn’t heard Peter at work before. But I’m cool like that and didn’t let silliness deter me from hearing a potentially exciting Mozart tenor.

Mauro Peter tenor
Helmut Deutsch piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
An Silvia D891
Stimme der Liebe D412
Dass sie hier gewesen D775
Über Wildemann D884
Die Liebe hat gelogen D751
Wandrers Nachtlied D224
Im Frühling D882
Die Sterne D939
Hoffnung D637
Fischerweise D881
Auf der Brücke D853

It turned out open mindedness can pay off handsomely. As far as I’m concerned, he’s got a superb tone and a lovely placement of the voice, specifically tailored for those bright eyed, youthfully energetic yet rather dopey Mozart young tenor roles. I’m aware he’s currently hung up on Belmonte and I can definitely see why. If he sings him anywhere near me I will make sure to attend. All in all, a pleasure to listen to, kept me engaged all evening. He really has a lot of energy to spare!

There is enough heft to the voice and very good projection (no problems hearing him from the last row, overhang be damned), with superior diction in both German and French, but his pps are especially soulful and they were wonderfully supported by Deutsch. I’ve made an effort lately to pay attention to the piano accompaniment and I can say I enjoyed Deutsch light touches a great deal, along with his exciting story telling.

Sounds like Peter should stay in the German rep (don’t know enough about the French one to suggest, but I think tenors tend to be a bit lighter there? or am I discounting all French tenor roles in favour of the haute contre?), though I guess it would be interesting to hear some Italian stuff from him, just to see how it works out.

To conclude the first part, I was very happy with his bright eyed-cheerful rendition of my favourite Schubert ditty. Smiles all around.

Interval

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
S’il est un charmant gazon S284
Enfant, si j’étais roi S283
Comment, disaient-ils S276
Oh! quand je dors S282

Im Rhein, im schönen Strome S272/2
Es war ein König in Thule S278
Über allen gipfeln ist Ruh S306/2
Vergiftet sind meine Lieder S289
Die stille Wasserrose S321
Ihr Glocken von Marling S328
Die drei Zigeuner

Encore:

something soft and sweet I didn’t recognise (sorry!)

Liszt’s French songs are all good and ever since discovering how much I like French song in general I was happy to hear them. He was very fine here as well and his French wasn’t bad at all (perhaps being Swiss helps).

One of those funny things particular to song recitals is having people (re)position themselves centrally only to have their noses stuck in the programme. It’s even funnier if said person is very tall and swings mysteriously into your line of vision. Luckily my seatmates on the left were defeated by part I (apparently it was very consistent-intense). As opposed to the fizzle surrounding the well established duo I’d seen two days before, this performance was a much quieter affair. However, those who did show up seemed very satisfied. I say check him out, if you trust my tenor picks.

Baroque Death Match: Senestino vs Farinelli (Wigmore Hall, 1 May 2018)

From Reinhard WIlting Photography: check it out, there’s more.

Sonia Prina contralto
Vivica Genaux mezzo
Lars Ulrik Mortensen director
Concerto Copenhagen

The ladies and assorted gents sang/played this show the night before in Copenhagen and the next day their special Baroque papier mache helicopter dropped them on the Wigmore Hall stage.

Wrong opera performance? Can you blame me? 😉

This is going to be short and sweet: a blast! Best thing: it was on the Danish radio so this will surface, as some of the arias/duets were nowhere to be found on YT and as such I couldn’t remember what was what aside from: a blast! With endless trills taken in stride by Genaux (she can trill! And she can laugh about it, too) and Attitude from Prina (who knew?! heh heh) and a lot of good humour from Mortensen as well. The orchestra does a very sweet job as well, I wouldn’t mind hearing them again, can do a delicate ending if necessary. So soon after the Barbican Rinaldo concert performance we had Venti, turbini done just the way I like it – with a bassoon-voice on the spot battle that the bassoonist adapted quite quickly and did I mention Attitude? Happy camper in the house.

The house was packed, so I thought I was toast in my backseat next to the wall on the right aisle1. But then this weird thing happened – the ladies at the sweet end of my row got up and walked out just as the show was about to start. Then an usher came over and demanded (in a nice way) to see my ticket (like I would’ve upgraded there?!) saying something to the effect that maybe they had printed doubles and would I like a different seat but if I was fine with where I was sitting that was perfectly ok. Uh, what? This wouldn’t be so funny if it wasn’t the second time in two weeks (!) that this happened to me. With the same seat. I have one more show in that seat and I’m curious if someone rambles at me again about it. Stay tuned.

But since the subject was broached, I mentioned to the gent next to me that, if the ladies weren’t coming back, maybe we could scoot over. He looked at me in a jolly way as if “gosh, what a very funny thing to say, ha ha!” When I saw the doors had closed and the ladies were definitely not coming back I said I was going to sit on the end if he wasn’t moving. He did oblige. I then noticed another seat on the end a few rows up and I escaped from under the overhang. Hurrah!

Then Genaux came out in her black/silver trouser role frock and Prina in unisex black bra-frock, aka, the tattoo showcase frock, and went on frocking for the rest of the evening, with giggles and hand kisses and cheek kisses and hand holding and Attitude – and quite a bit of emotion. Plus these Ba-frock things that are very funny to look at. The countertenors love them too. I think they go with the trills. Their vocal mix was interesting, with Genaux doing a bright thing that did not cover the solid colour of Prina’s lows.

This was my first time hearing Genaux live. Like I said, the trills are beautifully detailed and fast – plus her da capos always lovely – and her Baroque style is superb but I don’t think I’ll ever warm up to her 5 greens of the day tone, especially in the highs, for which she was on duty during this performance. To Prina’s natural manner (she came out bowing to Genaux’ mad display of technique in the aria she brought out to match Prina’s Venti, turbini) she played the girly sidekick, with demure gestures and hands clasped on her chest at the (very, very) warm reception they got.

It was the most Pavarotti’s in the house atmosphere I’ve seen this side of the countertenor fangirling-machine and the JDD superstardom mayhem. Case in point: the applause started even before they sang one note! Haha. Steady, steady, we’re in England. Then again, the day had been much nicer than the wrist-slashers that preceeded it. Leave it to contraltos and mezzos to bring out the sunshine.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Overture from Rinaldo HWV7

Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)
Vado o caro con la speranza from Elisa

George Frideric Handel
Più d’una tigre altero from Tamerlano

Geminiano Giacomelli (c.1692-1740)
Parti dal core, lasciami in pace from Scipione in Cartagine nuova

George Frideric Handel
Overture from Tamerlano HWV18

Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
La costanza, il timore, l’affetto from Astarto
Mai non potrei goder from Astarto

Interval

Attilio Ariosti (1666-1729)
Overture from Vespasiano

Geminiano Giacomelli
Placide a miglior vita from Gianguir

Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Parto con l’alma in pene from Siroe, re di Persia

Antonio Lotti (1666-1740)
Sinfonia from Ascanio
Quella destra sì mi porgi from Giove in Argo

Pietro Torri (c.1650-1737)
Vo’ che in mezzo del furore from Nicomede

George Frideric Handel
Venti turbini from Rinaldo

Francesco Gasparini (1661-1727)
Se non temi il mio furore from Eumene

Encore:

Son nata a lagrimar from Giulio Cesare
(reprise of) Ma non potrei goder? a cute as hell duet, the replay of the Danish radio performance will tell


  1. sometimes I sacrifice the quality of the seat for the quantity of shows attended… 

Dido and Aeneas’ Wiggy lunch date (Wigmore Hall, 7 April 2018)

La Nuova Musica and their Director of Micromanagement (Bates) was back at Wiggy midday Saturday with a rather Purcefalian Dido and a very lively array of mezzos.

La Nuova Musica
David Bates director
Rachel Kelly mezzo-soprano (as Dido)
George Humphreys baritone (as Aeneas)
Anna Dennis soprano (as Belinda)
Emilie Renard soprano (as Sorceress) soprano…?
Helen Charlston mezzo-soprano (as First Witch)
Martha McLorinan mezzo-sporano (as Second Witch)
Louise Kemény soprano (as Second Woman)
Nick Pritchard tenor (as Sailor)
Richard Bannan baritone (as Spirit)

You don’t realise why some bang on about diction in singing until you hear an opera in a language you can instantly understand. The people on stage start to produce sound and all of a sudden you panic because the salvation of surtitles is missing and all you can make out is oeaiueaooo biscuit oooieueeeaa missed it. I was starting to question my recently checked ears when I remembered I’d just seen Le Concert d’Astrée there two days before, from exactly the same distance. It was a very different auditory experience.

Now though La Nuova Musica copes a lot better than AA, the ethos is similarly noise (ba)rock. Bates can’t be faulted for enthusiasm but the whole business comes out unecessary noisy – for my ears at least. Whereas with Le Concert d’Astrée I followed an interesting approach to sounding energetic without attempts at breaking the sound barrier, yesterday (as on other occasions) Nuova Musica’s efforts seemed to me cluttered, though this time the Wiggy legendary acoustics meant the singers could be heard (at least from row G). Add to that most of the singers’ problematic diction and there were few precious moments where I could follow the emotion at the heart of the piece.

The story, as I suppose most are aware, is stupid. Trojan stud warrior Aeneas has a pitstop in the port of Carthage on his way to sealing his place in mythology by founding Rome. He has a one night stand with the local queen and then sails merrily on his way, whilst she kills herself on account of her freshly broken heart. Ze end.

Because this is a 17th century opera we thankfully have comic relief, in the shape of the Sorceress and witches, who are jumping at the opportunity of bringing Carthage down (why do you hate Carthage, dehggi? – rather, their evil glee was infectious). Lucky for us, our Sorceress was dehggi favourite Emilie Renard, who pulled off another one of her hilarious performances as the meanly gleeful Boss Witch. I’ve always enjoyed her involvement in the drama and willingness to go for expression without fear of not sounding pretty enough. Her summoning of evil forces came off epic, from the grand way she “entered” (from the soloists’ chair to the side) to the actual interaction with the choir, classic diva moves and wicked glances.

She had spirited help from (and very good communication with) fellow mezzos Helen Charlston and Martha McLorinan as the Junior Witches, itchy at the prospect at wreaking havoc with poor Dido. Renard clarified my confusion when I could actually understand what she was saying, proving the problem wasn’t on my side.

The witch action and the choir’s interventions were the best moments of the early afternoon. The choir in general was very good, with smooth blending, high levels of energy and engagement and, as mentioned, good solo/duo moments. One of the felicitous moments from a member of the choir was Nick Pritchard’s (Sailor) short forshadowing aria about how sailors are players. He sang stylishly I could once again understand what was being said.

Humphreys as top man Aeneas was also rather good in the diction department. His projection helped his well handled baritone sail (ha.ha) over the general noise and his first interaction with Rachel Kelly’s disconcertingly demure Dido was very apt (his Aeneas looked like he was thinking “nice bit of distraction”). During their quarrel the morning after he even appeared ready to appease Dido when protesting that he would stay.

Dido is a role that I suppose needs a bit of life experience? I obviously don’t know Kelly’s experience with being dumped by a man who’s in a hurry to fulfill his destiny of founding a great imperial nation but I wager (and hope) she hasn’t so far had reasons to dwell on that time when they will lay her in earth. I personally got no rhyme or reason out of her interpretation of that very famous lament. Sure, her mezzo is a beautiful instrument and there is quite a bit of attention to musical detail in her interpretation, so what I specifically missed was the purpose (and the diction) behind all her efforts.

I don’t know what age Dido is supposed to be but as one of the tragic heroines of opera I can’t shake the feeling that she needs quite a bit of gravitas. Either Kelly’s reading was of a very young, naive woman – which I wouldn’t say is wrong per se – or she simply can’t do gravitas. Young and naive is fine but then there’s the music. Maybe you are very green but I guess when death is the only option as presented here you quickly sober up – and perhaps even wisen up (momentarily). It’s that destiny thing at work – and destiny is very serious business indeed.

A mention needs to go to Anna Dennis’ Belinda, rocking an ’80s reminiscent outfit (bangles, strappy sandals, boldly cut outfit), complete with closely cropped hair. Her poor Belinda does what she can to support Dido but to no avail. Beautiful voice, solid singing, strong stage presence, though she too needs to work on her diction.

This is an early opera (composed between 1683 and 1688), so I figure it benefits from being sung in that “Monteverdi manner” (for want of a better term – please inform me what the proper one is for future ref) where the sounds produced don’t come off as very operatic. For whatever reason that was not always the case – let’s just say the singers who I could best understand were the ones who adhered to this.

So although I as usual had some quibbles, I was still left with a smile on my face for the rest of the day, which might not be the overall emotion intended by the opera, but, as ROH says, any emotion is better than no emotion and a positive one is best.

The French Connection 6: Nash Ensemble feat. Rebecca Evans (Wigmore Hall, 20 March 2018)

Since last October, The Nash Ensemble has been the ensemble in residence at Wigmore Hall. Most of their shows have featured French music of the past roughly 100 years, some of which I am now sad I missed, having just discovered an insuficiently tapped affinity for it. But let this be a start!

Nash Ensemble / Ian Brown piano
Rebecca Evans soprano

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Caprice sur des airs danois et russes Op. 79

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Cinq mélodies populaires grecques
Chants populaires (selection)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G minor Op. 10

Interval

Maurice Delage (1879-1961)
Quatre poèmes hindous

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor Op. 45

This show was supposed to feature Christine Rice, who cancelled. I hope everything is good in her camp, given she had to pull out of the entire run of Ulisse this past January.

I only became aware of the change of artist the day of the show and, for a moment, I considered not attending. But then I thought, hey, why not? It turned out to be the right decision.

First off, it has started to become clear to me that I really enjoy French song – as well as the instrumental output. The way the French handle chord progressions is quite different from everyone else and at this point I still find it surprising and refreshing for the ear (though Rameau remains hit and miss…).

I’d seen Evans twice before as Countess Almaviva and then Rodelinda (just a few months ago) and those didn’t turn me into a fan – though her Rodelinda was properly frightening, so it came pretty close. This, however, showcased her intelligence when it comes to phrasing. I’d say she likes singing this stuff perhaps more than the other things I’d seen her in, as what I sensed was a good deal of spontaneity and even playfulness, neither of which is easy to achieve. There were some limitations to her voice which her obvious feeling for style and well honed stage experience (particularly in the sense of tackling things head on) couldn’t quite overcome and in turn made me think this would be/is fabulous rep for Antonacci. That being said, I would come see Evans again in more of the same.

As far as instrumentals, I loved the Saint-Saëns, but then I normally like what I’ve heard from him. Such fun and playful writing for the winds! That is the right approach in getting yours truly interested, because later on came a lot of string shredding, which for me can be rather much (no fault of the ensemble, they sounded gorgeous). This rep was unusually heavy on the viola (ended with a broken string, too) but our violist’s tone sounded superb even for this wind instrument fan. The other piece I loved (not just liked) was Delage’s Quatre poèmes hindous, where vocals and orchestra fed off each other optimally, plus who knew cello does such a good job doubling up as sitar?! Clearly not me, but I was once again (very) pleasantly surprised.

Conclusion: taking a chance can pay off big time.