Category Archives: 20th century

Akhnaten moonlapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some gems from the libretto:

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

Later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Good times at the opera in 2018

Venice, Teatro Malibran, 2018

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

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

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

Salzburg opera mile, 2018

January

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

17 Salome | ROH

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

23 Classical Opera (Mozart’s 1768)Wigmore Hall

25 Anna Bonitatibus and friendsWigmore Hall

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

31 Angelika Kirchschlanger | Wigmore Hall

February

4 Adrian Behle | Wigmore Hall

Golda Schultz | Wigmore Hall

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

26 Les Talens Lyriques | Wigmore Hall

March

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

14 From the House of the Dead | ROH

20 Christine RiceRebecca Evans | Wigmore Hall

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

26 D’Odette | Wigmore Hall

April

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

7 Dido and Aeneas | Wigmore Hall

19 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice

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

24 Matthias Goerne | Wigmore Hall

May

1 Sonia Prina / Vivica Genaux | Wigmore Hall

3 Mauro Peter | Wigmore Hall

4 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

6 Royal Academy | Wigmore Hall

16 Hannigan Masterclass | Linbury Studio

21 Sara Mingardo / Francesca Biliotti | Wigmore Hall

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

27 Simon Keenlyside | Wigmore Hall

June

4 Franco Fagioli | Barbican

5 Stephane Degout | Wigmore Hall

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

13 Jakub Jozef Orlinski | Wigmore Hall

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

17 Ian Bostridge | Wigmore Hall

18 Christine Rice Julien Van Mallaerts | Wigmore Hall

19 Der Rosenkavalier | Glyndebourne

23 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and again 😀

Glyndebourne 2018

July

2 Veronique Gens | Wigmore Hall

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

9 Felicity Palmer | Wigmore Hall

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

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

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

22 Pavol Breslik | Wigmore Hall

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

August

1 Pelleas et Melisande | Glyndebourne

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

September

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

10 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall

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

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

October

8 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall

17 Porgy and Bess | ENO

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

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

26 Serse | Barbican

November

2 Marie-Nicole Lemieux | Wigmore Hall

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

December

11 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

Glyndebourne – the lawn, 2018

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? 

The oppressive mists of emotion in Pelléas et Mélisande (Glyndebourne, 1 August 2018)

the set: that’s how the Organ Room looks.

1 August was the date Glyndebourne reserved for people under 30 to flock to this production of Pelléas et Mélisande – I’ve never seen so many truly young people at the opera! It was disconcerting until I realised what was going on. My first thought was why does Debussy bring out so many young people as opposed to Handel? 😉 Heh. Once I will make a point to go for the under 30 performance of a Handel opera.

My relationship with Debussy is generally positive, reason for which I attended. It was the same in this case. Musically I find much to appreciate about his anti-opera, though I can’t say I ever get to the point of loving it like I do Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle1. To my ears it’s always very listenable, though a bit too loose structurally to grip me.

Golaud: Christopher Purves
Mélisande: Christina Gansch
Geneviève: Karen Cargill
Arkel: Brindley Sherratt
Pelléas: John Chest
Yniold: Chloé Briot
Doctor: Michael Mofidian
Shepherd: Michael Wallace
Conductor: Robin Ticciati | London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Stefan Herheim

The subject is a more complicated matter. Obsessive jealousy isn’t a favourite plot, and the woman character as cipher is tedious as far as I’m concerned. I do understand the validity of presenting characters who never quite get each other’s motives (that’s rather realistic for an opera interested in the elusiveness of emotion) and I think my reaction to the cipher woman comes out of the frustration of having seen so many men insist on writing about women without bothering to communicate with them long enough to start making sense of them. Though making sense is hardly what Debussy had in mind here, so even if it irks me, it’s not fair to bitch too much about it in this case.

The three main characters (Pelléas, Mélisande and Golaud) are all presented via their emotions first and foremost. When Golaud and and Mélisande first meet, she’s acting severely traumatised, but we of course never find out why. He’s lost in the woods. Pelléas falls deeply in love with Mélisande as soon as he sees her. Later on, she tells Golaud that she’s unhappy in their relationship (which, duh! he saves her and immediately marries her because what other course of action can there be? Plus his wife has died and his father says in so many words that a wife will distract him from “unsavoury actions”) but puts it in a it’s not you, it’s me way, that rings true to this day – people only say that when they’re afraid of the other one’s reaction to the truth. He, of course, flies off the handle and starts suspecting Pelléas, who, by virtue of being young, is more suited to her.

As the opera goes on we learn that we’re dealing with unreliable witnesses and Golaud’s frustration with pushing for his the truth culminates with him directly asking Mélisande(‘s ghost?) whether there was anything between her and Pelléas, to which the answer is, of course, inconclusive. This was my favourite scene in the entire opera. We can never know, especially when we push for a certain answer which has more to do with our insecurities than with evidence. But at this point it’s not even clear whether the whole thing plays only in his mind or if it actually happened (Herheim does a good job at keeping it unclear).

If this was the high point of the opera, the lowest – for me – was the romantic scene between Pelléas and Mélisande, where he comes to – so to speak – serenade her below the tower when Golaud has locked her (ie, their bedroom). He asks her to let her hair down so he can touch it and basically make out with it. Ok. This scene goes on for quite some time and I did realise, after a while, that it’s supposed to be really romantic and sexy. Dear reader, I have a romantic deficiency and I actually fell asleep on my feet, to the point I was about to fall down, but luckily was jolted awake midfall. No joke 😉

And, indeed, this is an opera where everything is deadly serious, aside from a rather unintentionally comic moment when Pelléas says that his grandfather, who has been gravely ill, has woken up and upon seeing him commented that he (Pelléas) looks like someone who doesn’t have long to live, so he’d better go travelling.

The production by Herheim seemed fine to me but I have never seen another one for this opera, neither do I know it enough to have thought about it before. I think it covers everything and deals with the issues at the heart of the plot. He says in the Glyndebourne interview printed in the booklet that he has incorporated the organ from the Glyndebourne Organ Room because it looks so ominous, even more so because it is not used at all for its music making in the opera, just as a visual symbol (gothic, oppresive, old school mores etc.). I would argue that making every production Glyndebourne related can turn into a bit of a gimmick but, fair enough, why not use the organ if it makes sense? Whether having Glyndebourne goers show up in the last scene is closer to gimmick or not depends on your feelings.

I wasn’t invested enough to feel one way or another, but that’s more Debussy’s fault than Herheim’s – or my detachment from this particular plot2. I did enjoy how he used the sets (the dining-drawing room of the big, old house) for every scene, with only certain lighting details to signify a dream sequence or walls retracting for literally more space. Also the central pedestal-well-sarcophagus-grotto was another aptly used multifunctional symbol.

Purves as Golaud was great, but I guess to no surprise, as his role in Written on Skin is very similar and it really suits him dramatically. In fact, before the intermission I kept thinking of parallels between the two3. Things do change quite a bit (for the better) in the last two acts. The others were good, too, though in spite of its name, this opera is mostly about Golaud (or like Hippolyte at Aricie, where they main characters just go on and on – she ❤ him, he ❤ her – and other more interesting things happen around them).

Speaking of its long ranging influence on 20th and 21st operas, the beginning of Bluebeard is very similar (for my taste Bartók improved on whatever Debussy tried with Pelléas et Mélisande) and I swear the distinctive flute part in Akhnaten comes right out of here. The libretto must be made up of 80% words of Latin origin, as I could never follow a French text to such a degree before (also thanks to the clear – if not always very French – diction employed by the singers).

A wonderful Summer day wrapped up my 2018 G-season. A welcome surprise this year was the Southernrail trains, who gave me no trouble whatsoever4. Looks like I’ll be less G-busy next year, but you never know…

Old Tito and some kitted out dude by the tomato and chili pepper hothouse (“Romans! I donate all my veggies to the Vesuvius fund”).


  1. But then I really like the plot in that case and the language is a lot more poetic and the music much more structured. 
  2. You may not be surprised to remember that I did like how Guth used the Glyndebourne grounds for Tito. The grass is indeed a very important feature of the local landscape and the pond at the very back of the garden is mysterious enough to fuel the imagination. 
  3. What is considered scary in entertaiment has changed a lot in the past 100 years, interesting since our actual life is a lot more sheltered. 
  4. Unlike bloody Ryanair, who has added really unnecessary stress for the past month and a detour via Munich for my next outing. 

Barbara Hannigan Masterclass (ROH, 16 May 2018)

We all want magic

Carly Owen soprano
“I want magic” from A Streetcar named Desire

A good aria to start off with, even though during a masterclass we’re actually hoping to disassemble the magic and see what makes it tick. That’s the curious thing about their appeal: you’re going all cerebral about things that make you feel. Understanding why you feel something (or hoping you do) often enhances the feeling. And masterclasses have an uncanny way of making you (me?) like even things I don’t normally like. Sometimes for a very short period of time, other times for good, you do catch a glimpse of the composer’s reasons. (I don’t think you ever quite get what makes it tick, but picking the composer’s brain for a few moments is the next best thing).

Hannigan advised Owen to show Blanche’s vulnerability without losing her strength, which I think is very good goal to strive for, as it asks for a lot of maturity from a performer.

The pros and cons of being a decent person

Edmund Danon baritone
“Within this frail crucible of light” from The Rape of Lucretia

pro: the world needs more of you
con: doesn’t come in handy when you’re playing the bad guy

It’s interesing observing someone who’s picked a bad guy aria but then turns out to be not particularly comfortable being creepy. I mean this aria is Creepology 101 (but brilliantly written, chapeau, Mr Britten).

Q & A (paraphrase): should we go all method actor on something like this?

Q & A (tl:dr): when you’re young and don’t have much experience with the (big, bad) world, you can use anything at all that works for you to get in that place where people believe what they see/hear, even if for you it’s all abstract. But playing an antagonist will bring out the not so nice side of you (for the time you have to play said character – hopefully, only for that time).

The common sense advice given to anyone interested in acting is: watch/listen to people. There are going to be all sorts of people around with, with all sorts of reactions and MOs. You don’t have to be them but remembering them when needed will be of great help to build a character that is far from your usual self.

For instance: I mentioned elsewhere that I happen to know a very unsavory character. Now the most important thing I take from our (thankfully) occasional interactions that would be of use here is the tension he carries with him. If you could transfer even half of that tension to your public I think you’d be doing a very good job at portraying a creep. I’m not saying it would be easy – especially doing it in front of others – but then you did pick an intensely unplesant person to inhabit… and actually, it is interesting testing your own limitations of “bad” – unless you find out they extend much further than expected. But at least you’d be aware you have a problem.

The pros and cons of presenting an aria the singer had created

Lorena Paz Nieto soprano
The mad scene from Written on Skin

pro: being able to talk to the person who’s created the role.
con: it must be so much harder to have only one option out there if your imagination is running low.
pro: it must be so exhilirating not to have 348638578436 other singers to be compared against or be blocked by there not being all that much new to say with this role.

It’s useful, I think, especially for a young singer, because it reminds you that a successful performance goes beyond technique. Hannigan advised to bark out those lines, which perhaps doesn’t sound nice to a young singer who has thus far been instructed to make sure their performance in front of an audience is neatly packaged. Though, again, you did pick a mad scene. Going overboard in a mad scene I think is generally approved by all audiences – especially if you made sure your high Cs remain intact.

She mentioned being smart about picking your audition aria (ie: short, expressive). She went on to imply you don’t have to worry too much about the second one, as they would’ve made their decision after the first 30secs but if you have something cool and way out there, do put it in (basically to show off your mad skillz). So, mezzos going in with Parto: stop after the second parto and go home, nobody’s going to listen to you for 6min+ 😉 that being, said, Parto has been a staple for a long time, so someone’s listening, at least for a while. For sopranos she actually recommended S’altro che lagrime – I, of course, was happy to hear a Tito nod from her. I also agreed – as a young soprano, you probably have everything you need to show in that aria.

The tenor still gets the most attention from the public

Satryia Krisna tenor
“Here I stand” from The Rake’s Progress

Here’s the short and sweet aria where it’s going to be immediately obvious if you’re right for it. Krisna sure looks the part and I for one liked his interpretation. Smooth but not overly polished because, hey, this Rake is in progress 😉 I can’t remember what Hannigan told him to work on but I’m sure you’ve already got the gist of her wisdom if you made it this far.

As a general piece of advice she told students to try and be very desciplined and organised in the way they approach their career. Ah, don’t we all wish we could’ve followed that advice at that age? I hope this crop of students do because Hannigan is a living example of how far you can get if you do (and are a bit lucky, too).

This Masterclass was held at the Linden Studio at the Royal Opera Ballet School, which is a very fine space.

Jakub Józef Orlinski celebrates 100 years of Polish independence (Wigmore Hall, 13 June 2018)

You know how I always say that if the singer is French, the Wiggy audience gets a major influx of French speaking people, if the pianist is Korean – etc. Well, in this case there was an extra reason everybody seemed to speak Polish – the concert was broadcast on Polish TV and it was part of the celebrations around a century of Polish independence. It was a bit weird being there casually, as a lot of people around me seemed to be patriotically invested in the event.

I do actually have a personal story to go with this, and it’s as usual rather amusing. You know how we in Eastern Europe are always mixed with this and that. Well, so am I. For the longest time the story – told by mum – was that I was part Polish on my dad’s side. A couple of years ago she goes “oh, Czech, like your people”. Of course I was like :-O! “wait a second, didn’t you say we were Polish?” And she was like “oh, one of those!” She, who makes a way bigger deal about her heritage than I do, was so casual about my heritage! You can imagine that for a moment or two the pillars of my identity got a good shake. I may not make a bog deal about it but I do care about accuracy. Anyway, I’m none the wiser (due to complicated communication issues within my family), but thanks to the confusion I felt a bit (more?) Polish that night.

Jakub Józef Orlinski countertenor
Michal Biel piano

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Inumano fratel … Stille amare Tolomeo HWV25

Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Music for a while Z583
If music be the food of love Z379c
What power art thou (Cold Genius aria) Z628
Strike the viol Z323

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Auf der Donau D553
Die Stadt Schwanengesang D957
Nachtstück D672

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
A Chloris
Mai
Paysage
Fêtes galantes
L’heure exquise

Interval

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
Kurpie Songs Op. 58
Lecioly zórazie
Wysla burzycka
Uwoz mamo
U jeziorecka

Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981)
Four Love Sonnets

Pawel Lukaszewski
Jesien

George Frideric Handel
Agitato da fiere tempeste Riccardo Primo, re d’Inghilterra HWV23

And indeed, in spite of the Handel arias, I actually enjoyed the Polish songs best, as Orlinski sounded to me very relaxed and at home in them. He has style (including versatility), intelligence and sensitivity, as well as presence and a very bright and enjoyable top, only lacking a wider range. There are a few countertenors I’ve heard so far who have a certain segment of their voice where things are top notch and they, quite understandably, march on arias and parts that showcase that particular segment. It’s not hard at all to figure out what that is, as you will hear it again and again during a recital. It’s of course, pleasant like witnessing a homerun, but it does also point to the limitations of a voice.

Grimeborn returns to heat up the London Summer

click the banner for festival link

Because 35C degree London really needs heating up! 8-0

But it’s true that Grimeborn is back (as every year) and there are some interesting things happening, among which some old school choice bits like Cavalli’s Xerse, Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate and some new, low key (and hopefully off beat) takes on repertory operas – OneginLucia and Carmen.

But there are some other pieces that might catch someone’s interest, such as Turnage’s Greek. or a Mexican setting/reinvention of Offenbach’s Hoffmann (which I can’t quite imagine but it exists, so). There are two pieces for kids, one featuring a singing mouse (who loves Puccini and Mozart) and another a singing-challenged cat (who loves jazz). Then there’s The Rape of Lucretia directed by Julia Burbach, probably a good idea to have a woman’s view and see how much can be salvaged… On the other hand, Elephant Steps sounds patchouli mad:

If you like gangster films, rock bands, gypsy violinists, incense or The Sound Of Music then come and see Elephant Steps. Or if you prefer ragtime, silent movies, psychedelic lights or madrigals? You’ll find them in Elephant Steps too.

I like the things in green and dislike the others (I’m ambivalent about silent movies) so I don’t know if I should dare.

I don’t quite know how this works out but then again:

Thoughts on the teenager’s body based on Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri. A cycle of cantates for five voices, an actor and an instrumental ensemble, featuring live music and movement.

Arcola Theatre is rather shady cool from what I remember, so choosing something off the roster might be a better idea than idling at home, half comatose for lack of AC in this country (not that I like it but at 35C you start to think in novel ways).

Der Rosenkavalier or the threesome and the jets (Glyndebourne, 19 June 2018)

I was sloppy with these pictures and the details aren’t very good close-up but that wallpaper is right out of The Sims ™!

Der Rosenkavalier is, in many ways, the ultimate trouser role opera. Octavian is a mezzo with not one but two sopranos to choose from. That could be the end right there but s/he also gets to humiliate the ridiculous villain out of the opera, just to doubly underline the point.

What’s more, it’s actually funny. In Richard Jones’ hands that’s very silly. The second time around it seems even more hilarious.

I was sort of swept by peer pressure (that’s actually a strong term, peer enthusiasm rather) and went again, on the strength of the daring wallpaper in Marschallin’s salon. It was also because Carsen’s production from ROH was a bit too heavy on its own meaning and way, way too light on the comedy for me. I don’t want to overthink things when it comes to DR, I want to have a silly couple of 3 hours.

Octavian: Kate Lindsey
Die Marschallin: Michaela Kaune
Ochs: Brindley Sherratt
Sophie: Louise Alder
Faninal: Michael Kraus
Annina and Valzacchi: Stephanie Lauricella and Alun Rhys-Jenkins
Italian tenor: Sehoon Moon
Marianne Leimetzerin: Garniele Rossmanith
and others
Conductor: Robin Ticciati | London Philharmonic Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Richard Jones / Revival Director: Sarah Fahey

Whilst the production still stands 4 years later and acting across the board served it very well, the singing was a bit more approximative. We appreciated Lindsey’s ability to project over the orchestra and the Kaune’s… acting ability. She wasn’t quite as comfortable as Kate Royal during the “manhandling Mariandel” scene (when Ochs is merely boasting about his “female hunting”1 techniques and says oh, yea, you only know how it is to be pursued, but, omg, to be on the prowl every season of the year like me! – and the Marschallin is playfully trying some fun hunting moves on Mariandel for a change), but she was game most of the rest of the time.

The monologue scene wasn’t particularly memorable and the last trio was marred by Ticci allowing the jets in the orchestra to finally take off, so that the singers were left to fend for themselves. The result was more akin to an enthusiastic racket rather than smooth and alluring. Yo, Ticci, I guess you don’t know the one about trouser role operas and threesome epilogues. Someone should send him the memo.

Alder as Sophie has finally come into her own as far as I’m concerned. That’s a voice that begs to soar over something, and she’s ready to move on from sinking a delicate Baroque mezzo/contralto. She was the epitome of modern woman when it came to scolding Ochs for his ochsnoxiousness or generally being outraged at what is going on around her when Octavian isn’t there. Her interaction with Lindsey’s Octavian was very good in the Presentation of the Rose (this production has them sway back and forth, languishing in the arms of budding teenage desire).

Sherratt’s Ochs was more Ochsish than last run’s Rose (who was rather the bumbling English country cousin type) and was probably in possession of the best suited voice for Strauss on that stage, at this particular moment.

None of the rest or the orchestra stood out for any kind of faults as far as I can remember, but then we don’t go to DR for Faninal or the Italian Singer ™, do we?

the rose garden in the middle and the building where the singers warm up in the background

On the way back from Glyndebourne we caught an earlier train and spent the ride back into Victoria thinking about scenarios regarding the fictitious act IV. Put a bunch of WS together and pretty soon discussions about whether Octavian would or would not (and under which conditions) return to the Marschallin arise.

Forgot to say: at Cesare, crows and magpies thieved our blackberries (and were well on their way to make off with the celery)!!! :p so this time we got clever and put all the fruit away. And then at the short interval we only had time to move the blanket into the sun before we had to go back to the opera. I ended up very thirsty.

Crow: what are you doing this summer?
Magpie: I’m going to Glyndebourne.
Crow: trying to get famous, are you?
Magpie: I heard the catering is fabulous. Then again, if I get offered a cameo I’m not going to say no…

The lawn was mobbed with picnic-ers even more so than at Cesare‘s, so we (this time Mon, Anna and I) ended up also pondering if the Cesare and DR crowds are different or the same. I think we agreed they should more or less be the same. It was also amusing to note that DR is 30min shorter. Baroque operas mean business.

This year it was very smooth sailing as far as trains were concerned (knock on wood from now on). If anyone is interested, the recommended train is going to Ore/Littlehampton and you need to be in the 4 front (Ore) carriages. It (usually) runs from track 15 during the week and track 12 at the weekend.

evidence that young people like opera, too.


  1. you just know he would call women females

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.