Category Archives: classical period

Right now: Ann Hallenberg in Moscow (mezzo arias)

In case you need a reminder: check it out. At the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall.

Il ritorno di Tobia Haydn

Overture and aria Sudo il guerierro

Haydn’s stuff is always fun until he gets too noodly. I thought the aria was a bit low for her but an always welcome start.

Paride aed Elena Gluck

Paride’s mournful aria (don’t know the title)

It fit her very well; really nice variations in the middle section.

La clemenza di Tito Mozart

Overture and Deh, per questo instante solo

Capuano’s take on the overture is of the jaunty kind. There is a reason is often played in concerts. Her take on Deh, per questo… is something I think I talked about before. very affecting and natural at the same time ❤

Orphee et Eurydice Gluck

Amour, viens rendre a mon ame

Just yes, with a lot of warm smiles. The public loved it, too. Somehow 40min went in a blink.

Interval

L’italiana in Algeri Rossini

Overture and Cruda sorte!

The overture got out the bombast but perhaps not so much the Italian silliness. AH got all that in Cruda sorte. Just wonderful and tossed off like nothing.

Otello Rossini

Song of the willow

I know nothing about any Ot(h)ello operas, honestly. It sounds beautiful enough and very suited to AH’s tone.

La favorite Donizetti

Overture

Favaritka? It sounded like that in Russian. The darkest thing so far. The Russians love to go very Romantic on things.

Semiramide Rossini

Arsace! not the obvious choice from him, either but In si barbara sciagura.

Encores:

Che faro senza Euridice Gluck (Orfeo)

Really heartfelt, but then again, it’s AH.

Il segreto per esser felice Donizetti (Lucrezia Borgia)

Great to hear Il segreto…! The drinking song with a dark undertow. One of the first mezzo arias I got into, in that random manner one does. I want to listen to it on repeat now. Is there something she can’t sing?

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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).

Everything is better with contraltos

Yes, another contralto post this weekend. And it’s Lemieux again:

Isn’t her tone just perfect for this?!

The return of contralto duels

Haydn, right? The cheerful composer wrote vocal music among other things, and one of those pieces was the promisingly titled oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia. The biblically challenged me immediately wanted to know where Tobia went in the first place (answer: to Persia, on a money (owed to his father) collecting errand; (post)Baroque-bargain moment: he also found a wife; on the way he ran into the Angel Raphael (as you do), who wisely advised him to pick up certain items that came in very handy later, such as when he needed to cure his father’s blindness and get married – though not at the same time.

Anyway, a weekend Bible lesson isn’t the reason for this post, but a brass-happy aria, Sudò il guerriero (tl;dr: your efforts aren’t always justly rewarded but keep fighting and eventually you will prevail) sung by many (not just contraltos) but new to me. Our duellers today are Ewa Podles and Marie-Nicole Lemieux:

I like the Classicism of it all, with its post-Baroque flashes of virtuosity and construction and the more modern (for its time) development of the phrase. It reminds me of both Mozart’s Mitridate and Entfuhrung, which is of course a good thing.

Florid Gluck with Daniel Behle (Wigmore Hall, 4 February 2018)

Daniel Behle first came to my attention in Cosi fan tutte, with his Aur’amorosa, which was the best thing of that night. I was a bit surprised to see him bring a whole Gluck programme because I had this idea that tenors always sing stuff like Una furtiva lagrima in recital, regardless of their usual rep. Then again, as soon as he started I thought to myself  “he even looks like a bureaucratic Tito!”. So he sounds and looks like this rep, he might as well make the most of it.

Daniel Behle tenor
Armonia Atenea
Markellos Chryssicos director, harpsichord

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
La contesa de’ numi
Qual ira intempestiva … Oggi per me non sudi

Le cinesi
Son lungi e non mi brami

Suite of excerpts from Orphée, Don Juan and Iphigénie en Aulide

La Semiramide riconosciuta
Bel piacer saria d’un core

Ipermestra
Non hai cor per un’impresa

Interval

Christoph Willibald Gluck
La Semiramide riconosciuta
Io veggo in lontananza

Antigono
Quercia annosa sull’erte pendici

Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785)
Concerto a quattro No.1 in G minor a different concert was played but don’t ask me details

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Iphigénie en Aulide
Cruelle, non, jamais

Orphée et Eurydice
J’ai perdu mon Eurydice

Encore:

Oggi per me non sudi

I’m always on the lookout for the next crop of Titi. He seems like a strong contender though I don’t know if he’ll ever get to the level of vocal agility + expressivity someone like Croft showed us is possible in this repertoire. I hope I’m wrong because I’d like to hear more high quality Titi and Idomenei in the years to come. Perhaps he had a slight cold as the very top proved rather stiff, though he navigated around that and everything else worked very well, with a good to very good command of dynamics. He’s convincing when he’s actively involved in music making, he’s not afraid of jumping head first into aggressive bounts of coloratura and his timing is ace (my favourite thing of the evening; his entrances were all spot on, even when the rhythm was akin to a ship tossed by tempestuous winds). I venture to say, though, that he needs to work a bit on his charisma in between numbers; that bureaucratic feel should be left with Tito.

It’s also unusual for me to hear so much stormy stuff from a tenor though of course I know composers occasionally give them such (Fuor del mar, Tu vivi etc.). There wasn’t that much bravura, just of very good quality, chief among them a strong oak aria – Quercia annosa sull’erte pendici – and the very first number, Oggi per me non sudi, which kicked things off in high gear. Pre-reform Gluck can be a lot of fun!

You all know my feelings about AA so I won’t reiterate (quick reminder = my Sabata writeup) but in their favour I quite appreciated Chryssicos’ cembalo skills. I welcomed the toning down of frenzy he brought along. I can see there is a schtick they go for regardless of who’s conducting (ie, fast’n’choppy) but here it was less mad with the rock’n’roll and more with the legato.

The Mozartists (1768) (Wigmore Hall, 23 January 2018)

Classical Opera/The Mozartists
Ian Page conductor
Katy Bircher flute
Chiara Skerath soprano

Classical Opera does, as the name suggests, specialise in music of the Classical period and does it very well. You might remember my and thadieu‘s enthusiastic accounts (as well as Leander‘s) of a Cadogan Hall 2016 performance of Jommelli’s Il Vologeso – it was them that done it.

They’re also going through Mozart’s oeuvre, one year at a time. This time it’s the year 1768, when Wolfie was 12 and, opera-wise, wrote La finta semplice, here presented via its not too shabby overture and the Amoretti aria. It’s not just Mozart but a wider look at his time period as well, with works by other composers from the mid to late 18th century.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 26 in D minor HI:26 ‘Lamentatione’

Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774)
Fetonte Ombre che tacite qui sede

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Flute Concerto in D major WC79

Joseph Haydn
Lo speziale HXXVIII:3
Amore nel mio petto
Salamelica, Semprugna cara

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
La finta semplice K51
Overture
Amoretti, che ascosi qui siete

Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Piramo e Tisbe Perderò l’amato bene

Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813)
Symphony in D minor

As expected, Classical Opera were excellent and Ian Page got a very “surround sound” from them, with a deft merging of the different sections of the orchestra whilst at the same time allowing them space to breathe and make themselves heard (quite muscular at times). In other words, the opposite of the porridge-sound.

This was one of the best attended shows at Wiggy, though the troops thinned a bit after the intermission (luckily, the tall chap in front of me was among them). Skerath excelled, I thought, at Hasse’s Perderò l’amato bene, where she used some superb light weight trilling and the aria seemed a perfect fit for her gentle soprano voice.

Ian Page chose his soloists well, the both of them in possession of particularly fine ways with the trills. Being primarily a fan of vocal music I admit I don’t always “get” solo instrumentals but in Bircher’s case something clicked. It is perhaps that all winds are up my alley as opposed to, say, the piano, but I could follow very well, in a similar way to how I would the voice.

A lovely evening that invited the listener to further explore this engaging period of Western classical music, with the last piece hinting at the things to come in further decades.

Mitridate, re di Ponto and Ismene the wise (ROH, 1 July 2017)

This is, I think, the first production of Mitridate I watched on yt, early on in my opera days. Because it’s so old (1993) I didn’t think I would get to see it in the house but here we are! Thanks a lot to whoever had the idea this fun production of a very early Mozart opera should be unearthed 🙂

As we all know, this is one of Mozart’s first (the first?) important commissions and he got to conduct it in Milan, one month shy of his 15th birthday. They really did things differently back in ye olde 1700s. I mean 14 olds were surely more mature then, perhaps more like 17-18 year olds nowadays, but still.

Last night’s performance was recorded by BBC3 and you can listen to it here on 8 July.

Mitridate:  Michael Spyres
Aspasia: Albina Shagimuratova Vlada Borovko
Sifare: Salome Jicia
Farnace: Bejun Mehta
Ismene: Lucy Crowe
Marzio: Rupert Charlesworth
Arbate: Jennifer Davis Francesca Chiejina
Conductor: Christophe Rousset | Orchestra and Choir of the ROH
Director: Graham Vick

As you can glean from my scratches, we had some cast changes. The two above were last minute ones. But there were actually more. You may remember Anett Fritsch was first scheduled to sing Sifare, but she pulled out with time to spare. Marzio was initially meant to be sung by Andrew Tortise.

We ended up with a bunch of young singers. The lady next to me lamented aloud at the announcement about Shagimuratova. I, not being Shagi’s biggest fan (though she has plenty technical skills, as I saw with her Donna Anna here and heard with her Semiramide at last year’s Proms), was happy for the youngsters to get breaks. Borovko is a Jette Parker Artist here at ROH and has already had smaller roles on the main stage but this is surely a big break for her. You may remember Chiejina from the Guildhall Masterclass with JDD where she sang Donna Elvira’s Ah, chi mi dice mai (a dehggi favourite). I think she’s on the way to great things, lovely full voice and very amiable presence – she fit right in and her diction in Arbate’s recits was not bad at all. “We” know Charlesworth from many Baroque outings in town and elsewhere and were likewise happy for him.

Borovko had a steep night ahead of her, especially as Aspasia has the first aria. She showed strong nerves indeed, as she navigated it with poise and sang without a hitch. The public was very happy for her, lots of applause. As the night progressed her voice clouded but it’s unsurprising, given the tough task at hand. I was wondering if she covered or pushed a bit – she has a very plum voice so young – or if it was the nerves seeping through – but I really liked her pluck. A commendable effort. It’s very unusual to see such a young singer as Aspasia, as young Mozart was ruthless and in no way makes it easy for the singer. Rousset, on the other hand, went very gently on his singers, much more so than Minkowski did with Idomeneo.

Speaking of possible nerves and something that sounded like covering, I heard that in Charlesworth’s case too. No need, really. He has a beautiful, ringing tenor that projects well. His Marzio had a bit of Mighty Boosh going on, which was rather amusing. I can’t remember if this was the case in the previous runs.

Mitridate and his guards (all images except for the last one belong to ROH)

Aside from some rambunctiousness from the brass side, the orchestra “behaved” in its supporting role, as much as a non-HIP orchestra will with this type of music (they really have a come a long way from that 1963 night with Karajan).

Another reason the singers were lucky with this production is its very stylised nature, spilling into stage movement, which doesn’t give one much room for spontaneous acting. Normally you’d think it a block but when you’re busy focusing on your very difficult arias it’s surely a blessing.

Nonetheless, Mehta and Crowe, matched again as a couple shortly after the gorgeous Rodelinda in Madrid, found ways to sneak spontaneity into their acting, to the delight of the packed auditorium. Yes, even an early Mozart sells ROH out, such is the Salzburg runt’s legacy.

This is one of my favourite ROH productions, matching two qualities dear to my heart: simplicity and imagination. At no time there is anything on stage that has no function, symbolic or otherwise. Vick had the good sense to make the red velvet side panels movable so when singers had a particularly important aria the walls moved closer and the sound was not lost backstage. You probably can’t make this out in the video but it was both practical and effective regarding stage action. The rectangle shape of the walls fit the abstract design too.

The costumes, though taking their cue from crinolines, were a lively take on the design, with striking bright colours in pleasing hues, adorned with intricate patters. I bet they were a fun challenge for the costume department!

The choreography added another positive accent. There are times when you – especially me, who don’t quite feel dance – aren’t sure why choreography is there but put up with it anyway. In this case the dancing fell to the attendants of this and that character – though in arias the singers sometimes were called to join in – who also acted like a silent chorus, marveling at or approving whatever else was happening on stage. This has the potential to be too much but not in this case, as it was done in a playful manner, which took a bit off the very earnest atmosphere of the libretto.

I like the plot quite a bit but it’s solidly post-Baroque what with a large amount of lamenting one’s harsh fate – I was happy for any levity. How can anyone not like Mitridate’s personal guards who look scary to the point of parody? But the OTT-ness felt to me in perfect keeping with the Baroque-Classical idea of entertainment (it’s opera, not a history lesson).

Ismene and Farnace

The quintessential stars of the evening were Lucy Crowe as Ismene and Bejun Mehta as Farnace, both of whom showed simply wonderful artistry and style. Still, for the “kick” arias in a large venue I feel the edge of a mezzo’s voice would add an extra oomph and evilness, yet I greatly enjoyed his sense of style (gorgeous dialogue with the orchestra) and the little, presumably spontaneous (once or twice just tossed off) trills he added on occasion.

It’s always great to see a role veteran at work, from the moment Farnace walzes in with feigned carelessness and asks Aspasia to stop rejecting him (or else), through Va, l’errore mio palesa, when he comically bumps Ismene out of the way, to his U-turn in Gia dagli occhi, which was taken super slow and the audience broke into applause before the last repeat of the A section – and I actually joined them! though I’m very well acquainted with this aria in its extended version. To quote the Emperor, too many notes, Wolfie. Seriously, when I overheard my very young seatmate sigh before the third repeat I couldn’t fault her for it. It goes on and on. Ffwd to 1791 and Mozart’s super brief take on opera seria – worlds away. Then again, not fair comparing a 14 year old with a seasoned 35.

But the audience was right to applaud, Mehta’s soft singing is buttah. His interaction with Crowe was some of the best stuff of the evening, you could feel the connection the characters are supposed to have beyond the momentary rough patch.

The first time Crowe genuinely impressed me was the above mentioned Rodelinda, where she sung the title role. I am very happy to report she continues to rock. She had the best night vocally (and likely otherwise), with all the (many) trills flowing effortlessly and her sense of Mozart style was fabulous. On top of this, she, as I said above, managed to act through the stylised choreography, making it a springboard for a dialogue with the public. This works for Ismene, who, as the second woman, is the wise character, always acting in diplomatic ways that ultimately restore order. We know Mitridate, his sons and Aspasia have to reconcile their differences; she is the one character who shares our knowledge that things can’t be as bad as everyone else laments they are.

I can’t say I was convinced by Jicia as Sifare. Her performance was patchy as far as I can tell – sometimes the voice was really on, flowing beautifully in difficult passages, at other times it seemed blighted by… something I can’t quite put into words. Almost as an old AM radio going in and out of proper reception. Her acting was pretty much what the stylised production required, nothing more, nothing less. I obviously don’t know about her interaction with Shagi but with Borovko it was rather cold – possibly understandably so. Still, as this is the main romantic relationship of the opera it felt underwhelming.

Michael Spyres in the title role was solid. He’s already sinking his claws into this role but to me he’s no Bruce Ford (the veteran of the ROH production). I’ve even sampled Richard Croft’s take on the role and I still think Bruce Ford is Mitridate. Even though both Croft and Spyres have more elasticity, that typical resonance and the spcific type of characterisation in Ford’s voice wins it for me1.

Out of the three, Spyres’ is the least recognisable voice, with a bit of Rossinian fervour seeping through. He was also struck by a bad case of nerves in his first aria but carried on without batting an eyelash and things got much better. He has the stage presence and the capacity to navigate the runs, yes, and his work with dynamics isn’t bad at all, but I didn’t feel the same level of musicality and Mozart-feeling as with Crowe and Mehta.

Genderwise, it’s interesting how they cast this opera nowadays, with a soprano as the good son and a countertenor as the sexually forceful villain. Make of that what you will.

look at that outfit! (this one is from The Guardian)

The night was, objectively speaking, a mixed bag. But as far as I was concerned I had a swell time, because of the top drawer job Crowe and Mehta did and because this production is, to me, a thing of beauty2. It makes me smile, it suits my sense of design and I am really happy to have seen it in the house, especially in the company of these musicians.

It’s so OTT that it can still deliver even though times have changed so much since 1993 and only last year we’ve had those two game changing productions of Mitridate. It’s also probably lucked out – at least with me – that it returned to the stage in 2017 rather than last year, to compete with the very topical productions from Paris and Brussels. Post Brexit the focus has shifted yet again.


  1. You may also remember how much I like his Tito. He has just the right kind of magnanimous ruler feel in his voice. 
  2. And I’m a bit annoyed the 1993 video was obviously VHS, so the yt clips don’t allow for quality screencaps. 

ROH wifi at Mitridate

I may have finally stepped into the current decade as I found out today that ROH also provides wifi (duh, I know; please be patient with me 😉 ) and it’s very strong to boot. Expect a long entry about Mitridate, which is a lot of things – good (I really like this old but very stylish, Ponnellesque production and it’s official Lucy Crowe is enjoying a splendid season) and occasionally less so (stricken with a large number of cast changes – two just for today, which include our original Aspasia).

Anna Bonitatibus, 100 years of Semiramide (Wigmore Hall, 5 October 2016)

As mezzo fans know, in 2014 Boni put together a themed CD centred on Semiramide, a very popular character throughout the 18th century and even a little beyond. She’s still touring this project and on Wednesday the tour reached London to much acclaim from the Wigmore Hall audience.

Collegium 1704
Václav Luks conductor
Anna Bonitatibus mezzosoprano

Semiramide “La signora regale”

Semiramide in Ascalone Antonio Caldara
Introduzione
Povera navicella

Semiramide HWVA8 (pasticcio) George Frideric Handel/Vinci
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Niccolò Jommelli
Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata

Sémiramis Christoph Willibald Gluck
La Semiramide riconosciuta
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Ferdinando Bertoni
Non so se più t’accendi

Interval

bonisemiramide

photo by thadieu – from the window of a music shop in Basel, Switzerland

I was introduced to Boni via Handel’s coloratura tour de force that is Come nembo/nube. Anyone who comes a winner in that Italian Handel battle has my attention. Up to this point I’d seen her as Cherubino at ROH and saw her Sesto from Brussels (not live). Cherubino was cute but hardly enough. Sesto – driven by demons in that production. I needed a bit more.

A few things came out of this performance: her exceptional involvement in recits/ariosos, crystal clear diction (a rarity these days) and the freeflowing coloratura (some gents at the back were very glad for the lack of aspirates in general).

From the getgo I’ve been a big fan of her tone, especially in the middle. It’s just so… mezzo. There’s that stubborn feel to it, like the character is a bit ticked off (think grounded teenager). That’s a good thing! Especially for trouser roles and revenge arias 😀 Though not so good for super happy arias, where I want more of a smile in the voice. But, really…

At the top her voice gets very bright but still mezzo (very audible but amazingly no ping, no matter how much forte she puts into it). In conclusion, she can sing these high mezzo/soprano roles but she still sounds solidly mezzo.

My favourite thing of the night was the Jommelli arioso Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata of up and down moods, where she showed her superior skills at sustaining drama, coupled with excellent mix with the orchestra. As I later said to Baroque Bird, I found myself happy each time we returned to another recit. She’s the kind of singer who, though she can obviously spin coloratura at the highest speeds, does not randomly rush things. Couple that with the super crisp diction (hers are some rrrrolled Rs! plus you can make out _every_ word) and the beautiful middle, you just want her to tell you more.

La vendetta di Nino, o sia Semiramide Francesco Bianchi
Sinfonia

La Semiramide in Villa Giovanni Paisiello
Serbo in seno il cor piagato

La morte di Semiramide Sebastiano Nasolini
Deh, sospendi ai pianti miei… Serbo ancora un’alma altera

Sémiramis (Dance No. 1 and No. 2) Charles-Simon Catel

Semiramide Gioachino Rossini
Bel raggio lusinghier this is an early version of the aria, not the one we’re used to

Semiramis Manuel García
Già il perfido discese… Al mio pregar t’arrendi

Encore:

? Boni named this one as something (Semiramide related) from Isabela Colbran’s repertoire. Sounded like a shortish arioso.

Vanne fido, e al mesto regno Semiramide regina dell’Assiria Porpora

When a performance covers a century of music you get to observe how music changes. Boni flowingly moved through Baroque, Classical and Belcanto.

It’s also very interesting hearing the same aria done differently by different composers, like in the case of Fuggi dagl’occhi miei. As you probably guessed, Semiramide riconosciuta is a libretto by Papa Metastasio. Like in the case of most of his libretti, this one was the basis of pretty much all the Semiramide operas through the 1700s. So you get to hear the same arias tweaked this or that way by composers but they remain the same in spirit, because Metastasio had already worked the tune in his lines. Gluck, still in Baroque mode, puts an interesting spin on his, which here came off sort of jazzy – less straight-laced Baroque, though rhythmical.

Boni was so focused on the concept, we got 4 different outfits, two of which you can see here (starting with the very first, flesh/”gold” coloured one in Povera navicella and ending with the last one, the white/”Assirian”, in Vanne fido…). There was also a red and a black one in between.

Vanne fido… is an excellent example of all I was talking about so far – taking her time, dramatic involvement, beautiful “mezzo” middle, sharp diction, soft, flowing attack on coloratura (which I now understand is a fast vibrato – well there you go, Baroque Bird, you were right!).

Though she was very serious through the performance, Boni appeared very touched by the reception after the encores (I thought she was going to step down into the audience and chat with us 😉 ). For me, surrounded as I was by very well behaved fans (though the gent in front of me constantly positioned himself at an angle and I had to angle along), it was an introspective evening, but Baroque Bird encountered heavy breathers (not that kind…), rustlers and a chatty lady.

In conclusion, somebody stage/organise a concert performance of that Jommelli with Boni in the title role, please 🙂

Barock’n’roll from fearless Sonia Prina (Wigmore Hall, 28 June 2016)

We love some singers because they are full of emotion. We love others because they dazzle us with their skills. We love Sonia Prina because of her magnetic personality.

The moment she stepped on stage, unapalogetically rock’n’roll (blue spiky hair, tank top and trousers with spangly belt), all eyes were on her. And that’s where they stayed for the rest of the night, along with warmer and warmer ovations. The woman is one of those physical singers who, if nothing else, embodies the energy of the music, be it sorrow, gentleness or triumph. It is, of course, triumph that fits her positive, impish personality best. It’s always great to see a short person command the stage 😉

Sonia Prina and laBarocca | Works by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)

— Sinfonia Le cinesi – very lightly done; I noticed that both kinds of bows were used – the first violin as well as another one and the double bass used the old school ones, everyone else had the usual type; sadly I can’t tell you more as I haven’t noticed this before (I’m sure it was just me) so I have nothing to compare it to or know anything on the subject…
Dal suo gentil sembiante Demetrio – Prina started with a soft, tender aria that showcased the many moods she commands and her skill at gracefully transitioning between them
M’opprime m’affana La Sofonisba – she brought forward her very strong low notes – clear, of satisfyingly dense texture and healthy; fury came through, her dynamic stage presence adding to the gravitas
— Sinfonia Ipermestra – the harpsichord as driving force felt istelf present here specifically and throughout in general; the horn had a very fine tone
Nobil onda La Sofonisba – here Prina showed off her ample emotional range, with an emphasis on nobility of spirit
Se in campo armato La Sofonisba – as the title implies, this is a bombastic bravura aria with horns; Prina put all of herself into it (major “stew stirring” arm movements 😉 ), showed spot-on timing throughout and ended with a towering (though not ear-splitting, thank you contralto texture) ff. As I was saying to Leander (read her take on it), this is how you do a trouser role (even though Sofonisba isn’t a trouser role 😀 but you catch my drift – the authority poured off her)

Interval

— Sinfonia La Semiramide riconosciuta – the horn and the winds return; all well integrated
Sperai vicino il lido Demofoonte – she was fearless and spontaneous here, though I felt iffy about her cadenza
Se tu vedessi come vegg’io Ippollito – this was a moment where it was obvious that Prina “stepped” into it well before her part started; she didn’t break the mood in between the verses either
— Ballabili (Dances) Orfeo ed Euridice
Tradita, sprezzata La Semiramide riconosciuta – the low strings created an excellent angsty mood; Prina vividly sustained and was on top of the very strong contrasts; it made me think she’d rock Monteverdi where this matters way more than agility
Se fedele mi brama il regnate Ezio – this one was all about colour and fun with dynamics in general

Encore: ? – whatever it was (she named it but as usual I didn’t get it…), it was suitably grand. Prina dueted very handsomely with the horn (see my comments on that below).

Sonia Prina’s voice is one I instantly liked. It’s unmistakable, as is her manner of singing. More than that, it really works with the whole: her strong stage presence finds perfect reflection in its top to bottom opacity mixed with lighteness. That’s the thing, I think. It’s very opaque, without being particularly dark, but light in weight (though “punchy”, not agile). She can, when she wants, brighten it for effect, and then it gets surprsingly gentle, almost vulnerable, but generally speaking it’s compact and direct. It goes very well with the sound of the horn. It’s regal and extroverted.

Recently I’ve started to listen to more (pre reform) Gluck and I’m liking it better and better. Among other things his La clemenza di Tito is surprisingly (or not?) fetching. More on that in an upcoming post.

This particular selection has afforded Prina the opportunity to show off her considerable emotional range. She’s given us everything from tender gentleness (some disarming diminuendos) to unmovable authority (courtesy of her rock solid – and very sexy – chest notes) – sometimes within a span of seconds, conducted with amazing self assurance. If her coloratura is rather curiously deployed – and, some would say, fired with more aplomb than accuracy – and her ornaments seem so spontaneous that they misfire on occasion, she can build and sustain the mood of an arioso with a coherence and an authority I don’t see very often.

One of the things I remember from watching that Thomas Hampson masterclass was his insistence that the singer should get into the mood and rhythm of the aria before their part starts. Prina definitely does that. She’s riding that mood, whichever it is, whether she’s singing or not. She’s the kind of singer who pays attention to her surroundings (the orchestra), and so her singing feels very oraganic. It’s not for people who go for rigour and cleanliness, but she knows rhythm, has impecable timing, knows how to colour her phrases and make them interesting and isn’t afraid to use her body to illustrate the music. Isn’t afraid to be herself, in fact. She might not be technically the best but she’s one of the most interesting, unique and infectiously positive singers on the scene today. She’s not fussy or self conscious; she sings, she has a good time – seemingly even when the aria is about heartbreak or scorn. We’ve got 6 months until the next Wigmore Hall installment 😀

Random debate with Team London: Bach or Vivaldi?