Category Archives: romantic opera
The man who didn’t do it with Pelleas…
… doesn’t do it with Pikovaya Dama.
The Queen of Spades review – Herheim puts Tchaikovsky centre stage for stimulating frustration
2 / 5 stars 2 out of 5 stars.
[Herheim} is not half as interested in the story of Pushkin’s novella and Tchaikovsky’s opera as he is in the story of Tchaikovsky himself. In fact, forget Pushkin; this is all about Tchaikovsky. The composer was the toast of musical Russia; he was also a depressive, a gay man who had a breakdown following a disastrous marriage, someone who could plausibly have drunk the cholera-infected water that killed him in full awareness that it was contaminated. Knowledge of all this is crucial to understanding the next three hours on stage, and Herheim concedes us a few projected lines of explanation at the very start.
Herheim has projected Tchaikovsky into the character of Yeletsky, the dull old prince who offers heroine Liza love and security only for her to gamble her honour and sanity on flaky antihero Gherman instead.
brandishing glasses half full of iridescent cholera water.
Yeletsky is normally a bit part, singing little except one of Tchaikovsky’s most ravishing arias – how beautifully Tchaikovsky wrote for the boring men in his operas, and how he must have craved ordinariness for himself!
miming away at the piano like some 19th-century version of Animal from The Muppets, or disrupting any intimate scene between other characters.
The Royal Opera has not recently been a stranger to stagings about operas rather than of them: Barrie Kosky’s Carmen was a breath of fresh air.
Eva-Maria Westbroek’s soprano misses the ideal innocence for Liza, and Aleksandrs Antonenko sings Gherman with a scything tenor that’s a blunt instrument, too often veering off pitch.
and Felicity Palmer, mesmerising as the Old Countess. If this is indeed this remarkable singer’s last stage role, it’s a fittingly memorable one.
Let’s put a Ring on it
You know how I like the piss taken out of Wagner and I haven’t indulged in a good while. But a Ring is being forged at ROH, so I must pay my homage. This time I’ve modestly just “curated” a few quips and occasional back and forths from Le Guardian, the beacon brightening up boring afternoons at work.
Shakespeare, perhaps the world’s first psychic opera critic, summed up The Ring Cycle perfectly: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing” (bergisman)
Just stupid. (Markus6974)
Anyone who is able to respond with an open heart to music and drama loves the Ring. (Shrimpandgrits)
Wagnerians are nut jobs. (rouputuan)
As I have said, I am tone-deaf. (Shrimpandgrits)
I’ll give this one a miss. Seen the Ring Cycle twice, tried my best, but far too long, tho with some nice tunes. (tatterdemelon)
Wagner? No! Utter dross. Mozart, Rossini, Bizet, even Verdi or Puccini on a good day. But Wagner? He should have been writing musicals, Cats or Phantom of the Opera. Fine, if you like that sort of thing, but it isn’t opera. (Linda Roberts)
You don’t really know much about music, do you?1 (LevNikolayevich)
Linda, I’ve marked your comment:
‘Wagner?’ Yes. 19th century composer, musically speaking not that controversial in the 21st.
‘Utter dross’ If you mean worthless then no it’s not dross, I encourage you to look up how much tickets cost for this production. If you mean artistic dross then I would like you to explain further.
‘He should have been writing musicals, Cats or Phantom of the Opera’ Ah, a good stab at humour there.
‘Fine, if you like that sort of thing’ A little condescending perhaps but thanks!
‘but it isn’t opera’ well, you can label it whatever you like of course but as it generally has to be performed in an opera house with operatic singers then you’ll forgive people for calling an opera from time to time.
Engaging with the subject: C
Encouraging people to listen to classical music: D
Ensuring people don’t think of classical music lovers as Snobs, Elitist, Close Minded: F2 (Henry Melbourne)
“Wagner – utter dross”
Doesn’t say anything at all other than you don’t like Wagner.
“….even Verdi or Puccini on a good day”
So not really a fan of Verdi either, not even Otello? I don’t know why you bothered coming here.3 (dwhitley)
This is such a poorly written article. It’s in desperate need of a decent sub editor. (Campagnolo)
They said the same to Wagner. (chris1958)
Some of my friends have sat through the Ring at Bayreuth, giddy from heat and discomfort. (Shrimpandgrits)
I had the ambition to try and ‘do the Ring’ for years and persuaded my spouse that we should give it a go…and it has turned out to be the greatest cultural experience of my life – no exaggeration! (PandaMonium13)
“You’d be surprised how calm and business-like it is”
I’m not surprised at all. Wagner’s Ring, is a huge, technical tour-de-force, a gargantuan gorging on one trumpet-blast after another mechanically melded into some pretty twittering and rustling cleverly connected to a dramatic dirge dovetailed into a bombastic blast of brother-sister incest and so on. Schubert’s Winterreise has more drama, musicality and artistic sincerity in an hour and a half, than the Ring’s sixteen hours of precision engineering. You have to be matter-of-fact to deal with it as a singer. People go to see the Ring like punters flock to motor shows. To be impressed and wowed. Not moved. (routputuan)
- knowing something about music won’t have an effect on one’s love or lack thereof of Wagner. ↩
- I have a special dislike for people who mark somebody’s comment like this. Talk about snobs, elitists etc. ↩
- I would say for someone who doesn’t like Wagner, Verdi’s Othello would be especially problematic. Why not say “don’t you even like La traviata?” After all, she said she could sit through Verdi “on a good day”. ↩
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
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
Kurpie Songs Op. 58
Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981)
Four Love Sonnets
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
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 – Onegin, Lucia 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).
Donizetti’s L’Ange de Nisida – belated world premiere (ROH, 18 July 2018)
The crucial question here is: does the world need another Donizetti opera?
The very next one: was it fun?
The answer to the first question will vary greatly even within the belcanto community, seeing as how Donizetti was more prolific than his other two best known belcanto brethren and many of his operas are still popular. In a very general way1, I actually like the story of La favorite so I could very well stand this one.
Sylvia: Joyce El-Khoury
Leone de Casaldi: David Junghoon Kim
King Fernand of Naples: Vito Priante
Don Gaspar: Laurent Naouri
THE Monk: Evgeny Stavinsky
Conductor: Mark Elder | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Old Mature codger: I can jolly well see why he recycled the music to this one.
Yea, me too – some of it is very entertaining (most of the choir bits, which I remembered from elsewhere and were really catchy in the way act I of Maria Stuarda is2) and the rest is easily listenable – to answer the second question.
I have a feeling its success was one part Donizetti and two parts Mark Elder, who’s long championed lesser known Donizettis, like Dom Sebastian. He obviously likes this kind of stuff and has a lot of fun with it, which in turn rubs off on the audience (or at least people like yours truly). He was great in alternating the melodrama with the funny and his communication with the soloists, orchestra and choir remarkable; aside from some arias in some need of editing (bad Donizetti!), the motion of the the ocean was bouncy and sprightly.
Here I have to stop and commend the choir. I’ve not always been ROH Choir’s biggest fan but they were on fire for this. I don’t remember when was the last time they were so into it, when everything sounded so easy and exciting. Excellent job, everyone.
For those who are more or less familiar with La favorite, this opera is its first – unlucky – incarnation (the sponsor went bankrupt and it was never performed – until yesterday in London). Unlike its later version, L’Ange de Nisida is less serious, in that it has a thoroughly comic character in Don Gaspar, the corrupt official. He starts like he means to go on with a rather complex aria of the same nature like Rossini’s Figaro or his own Dulcamara’s. I’m Don Gaspar and there’s nothing I can’t fix if the price is right. The chorus communicates with him during the aria, as he has brought them along to serenade l’ange of the title but then sends them off when he notices a new fish he could hook (the hapless tenorino, Leone).
Things go downhill from there but he never loses his enterpreneurial spirit, no matter how much those around him moan in belcanto anguish. That is to say, Leone (who loves l’ange aka Sylvia) and l’ange (aka Sylvia, who loves him back but oh, non! it’s not meant to be!) keep it old skool and struggle with love and honour for the majority of the opera’s 3 hours. The king wrestles with love vs authority (dude, like what atuthority? Gaspar and l’ange keep telling him what to do) and THE monk punishes everyone who has a semblence of fun on the island of Nisida (I kinda see where he’s coming from. He’s like a born again who went to Ibiza for a weekend), the choir keeps gossiping and judging the poor star crossed couple, even though we’re told (by them!) from the getgo that Sylvia has helped them out whenever their ships were tossed by the storm and their flocks in mortal danger.
There is a duet between the king and Sylvia, where she tears him a new one because he’s never made her an honest woman though he promised her he would (whatever did they teach young noble women about the ways of the world back then?). It is revealed during the opera that she’s a very honourable and concerned soul who just happens to be the king’s mistress – ye shalt not judge. Also hatas gonna hate. Alas.
Both her and Leonore in La favorite are a bit po-faced; I have to give it to Verdi (or Schiller?) that the coolest character of king’s mistress fame is Eboli. I mean she gets to be witty, seductive, evil and also grow emotionally by the end of the opera. These two are just kind of woe is me, love is not to be – though Oh, mio Fernando is a cool aria (not present here; also alas).
I’m really sad 1839 was so far removed from 1739, because we don’t get a ship tossed by the sea aria for Leone, even though that’s basically his story. It takes him about 3/4 of the opera to understand that he’s being used by all (perhaps not so much by Sylvia, who loves him but gets to despise him when he agrees to marry her in exchange for titles and money – although that’s not why he marries her, but, hey, if someone says do you want to marry the woman you love and get lots of money for the effort, too? – would you say no to that? – that’s just some ersatz melodrama so people end up thoroughly emotionally drained by act IV). It’s belcanto.
Start of Act IV Sylvia: I’m dying of sorrow.
End of Act IV Sylvia: oh, Leone, I love you but we can never be together.
Leone: why not? I love you too, we got each other! and that’s a lot – for love
Sylvia: because I’m dying of happiness. [dies]
Also in act IV: Leone is tired by all that happened that day (in the morning he gets the death penalty for dissing someone or something important, by lunch Gaspar and l’ange intervene for him and the king commutes his sentence (told you, he’s Mr Authority) – to married life 😉 – then Leone meets with l’ange and she tells him she loves him but can’t be with him, in the afternoon the king tells him to marry her and during the ceremony her realises she’s the king’s mistress and everyone shuns him for being dishonourable) and decides enough is enough and joins a monastery – and by the evening he’s ordained priest! I guess because THE monk – who keeps threatening with the Papal
Red Bull – knew his father and what’s a bit of nepotism if it’s for a god good cause?
So, yea, that’s the story. They really clean it up for La favorite but on the other hand Don Gaspar! Naouri was so much fun, I kept wanting Don Gaspar to make another scheming and shamelessly self serving appearance. He and Elder (and the choir) had the most fun of the night.
This was the first time I heard El-Khouri (though I had tix to see her and hubby in recital exactly a year ago but couldn’t go due to random illness). It was a curious experience and it took me the entire night to figure out what was going on. I came to the conclusion that she didn’t feel comfortable with the dramatic nature of this role – her voice felt strangled whenever she wasn’t singing coloratura, which was very good (same goes for diminuendo – beautifully executed, with technique and feeling). To me she felt so uncomfortable that it was hard to get much expression beside said ornaments. However, next to Naouri she had the most engaged stage presence, considering this was a concert performance.
Kim as innocent tenorino Leone was also a mixed bag, but rather because he is so young. Last year he was still part of ROH’s Jette Parker Young Artist programme and this was a big role for him. He had some utterly beautiful moments throughout the night, especially when called to sing piano and with feeling and he was wise enough not to push for schmalz. Donizetti and possibly grand opera is a good route for him, his voice is very well suited for Nemorino and that kind of haplessly plaintive stuff. We root for him, especially as he’s cute as a button! (I’m saying that as a good thing – if you got it, go for it, there are many cute and innocent roles for tenors). He’s not the most interactive actor, at least not in a non-scripted environment but he does look like he means what he sings.
Priante as the king seemed to me like his voice was a size too small for the role but otherwise I can’t say I have complaints. He does look like the kind of king this opera calls for and he was engaged, especially as the night progressed. Stavinsky as THE monk of the Bull was pretty menacing, though maybe give him another act and his monk would mellow quite a bit to get jamming with the locals.
It was a very entertaining evening and I’m sure Opera Rara recorded it, because there were plenty of mics on stage, so I think you will be able to listen to it, should you be inclined to indulge in yet another belcanto opera (where all the big moments end exactly the same). There is one more performance on July 21 and still plenty of (rather cheap) tickets, because it’s not Maria Stuarda, after all (or at least not all of it is).
- insofar as any story involving the other woman is concerned (though poor ange finds herself in the unusual situation of being the other woman to the ghost of the honest woman). I always enjoy seeing reviled characters/antagonists on stage. And in this case we have a bit of (sentimentalised) exploration of the question: would winning the social lottery make you happy? ↩
- probably because that’s where I heard at least some of them, ha. ↩
Proms 2018 (slim pickin’s for yours truly)
I parsed the programme and, as far as I’m concerned, there are two Proms I would be interested in:
John Eliot Gardiner conductor | Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Overture ‘Le corsaire’ (8 mins)
La mort de Cléopâtre (21 mins)
The Trojans – Royal Hunt and Storm (10 mins)
The Trojans – Dido’s death scene (7 mins)
Harold in Italy (42 mins)
Handel’s Theodora. I know I said it was boring but Ann Hallenberg is Irene. It will be worth listening to it on the radio 🙂
Blasts from the past: Nabucco (ROH, 1 April 2013)
If you ever wondered how things were before this blog started, the answer is I still occasionally jotted down thoughts about shows. I thought I should bring these mini writeups here for the sake of completism. This one marks my very first time at the ROH – the rep may make stray smile 😉
Monday evening I went to see Nabucco here in freezing London (seriously, it’s April! whatever happened to the weather?! – exactly what could be said of 1 April 2018). Now I have mentioned before that I started liking Verdi only about 2 months ago and so far Nabucco is my favourite (unsurprisingly, as one of the most straight-up belcanto operas from the green one). I didn’t want to spoil my fun so I didn’t read anything about the production before going. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but apparently the production has mixed reviews. True enough, it is as static as they come – minimal acting, lots of singing to the public. But gorgeous singing for my balcony seat money! I also enjoyed the Berlin Holocaust Museum/monolith sets – intelligently making the link across time – as well as the wire sculptures of Baal and heads (Nabucco & daughters, as I read them). Add a sand pit and that’s it as far as sets go. Teensy bit more than the Noah’s Ark from Verona.
Singing: I’ve a fondness for badass, tough-as-nails, tough to sing roles and, good lord, how about that Abigaille? Whew! What a range on all levels and how wonderful to witness live when the singer can pull it off. Monastyrska did a hell of a job: yea, she projected, she dominated, in short, she chewed scenery but my favourite part was the way she managed the lyrical bits with that hefty voice (I found her top notes surprisingly pretty). Some control! Nucci also rocked the lyrical side, although I thought he didn’t let loose quite as much. But gorgeous voice acting, brought tears to my eyes. Everybody else (including Pizzolato (Fenena), whom I’ve enjoyed in other belcanto roles) sounded excellent.
Since my babbling was way shorter back then, you can read R. Christiansen’s take on the production (he, of course, saw one of the Domingo performances).
ROH rumours up to 2021
Fantastic ROH news:
During this extended period there will be 2 (yes, two) new Handel productions! The very brand new one by Kosky! The other one – new to ROH – you know and love by Loy (not that one, the other one). Scroll down 😉
Tl;dr: this is turning into a really excting period at ROH and not just because of Handel (but especially). I am also expecting Poppea cca Januray 2020, after the first two Monteverdi instalments. Very low on Mozart, though. You know there is more to him than the DaPonte stuff (and Mitridate).
It’s that time of the year people are eager to find out what’s coming up, so here are some updates from the ever reliable source. I put a NEW next to the information that’s transpired since my last post on the subject:
late 2018 – 2019
Katya Kabanova (Janacek)
NEW Fall 2018 | Production: Richard Jones all the Janacek! from Jones!
The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) Co-Production with De Nederlandse Opera | Production: Stefan Herheim
NEW January 2019 | Polina: Anna Goryachova <- will they keep the trouser role scene?
La Forza Del Destino (Verdi) February 2019 | Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Production: Christof Loy <- Leo gets a white shirt?
Don Alvaro: Jonas Kaufmann
Leonora: Anna Netrebko
Fra Melitone: Alessandro Corbelli
NEW Das Liebesverbot (Wagner) coproduction with Teatro Real-Madrid
Spring 2019 | Director: Kasper Holten
NEW Billy Budd (Britten)
Conductor: Richard Farnes | Director: David McVicar hm, why not?
NEW Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart)
2019 La Contessa: Julia Kleiter
NEW March 2019 | Marguérite: Diana Damrau I might go
NEW Otello (Verdi)
Desdemona: Ermonela Jaho
Andrea Chénier (Giordano)
NEW Spring 2019 (pushed back)
2019 – 2020
NEW Jenufa (Janacek)
Director: Claus Guth
Kostelnicka: Karita Mattila yes to more Mattila and more Janacek. Hope Guth will be on form.
Death in Venice (Britten)
Conductor: Mark Elder | Production: David McVicar
Production: Barrie Kosky ❤ you know you want to come to London!
[edit: debuting in Munich this Summer with Coote in the title role and Fagioli and Davies as Nerone and Ottone]
edit 4 April 2019, due to the high traffic this post is getting:
Ariodante (Händel) -> instead of the above? I don’t know if I should complain; it’s Ariodante, after all, and with JDD. Why can’t we have both? Handel wrote most of his work in London. We should be swimming in Handel every other season.
Elektra (Strauss) 2020
Klytemnestra: Karita Mattila I’ll go see her!
Parsifal (Wagner) 2020
Conductor: Semyon Bychkov
Madama Butterfly (Puccini) Summer 2020
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Goro: Carlo Bosi
NEW 2020 – 2021
Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Offenbach) Fall 2020
Hoffmann: Juan Diego Florez
So they’re chucking out their ancient Hoffmann? Good riddance! I hope Michieletto does something with this sexist story. On the other hand, there’s a lot of Hoffmann in just a few years, chap wrote other fun stuff (like his take of Orphee).
Hänsel und Gretel (Humperdinck)
Production: Antony McDonald I wonder if it’s replacing the cancelled Konigskinder?
4 new works inspired by Slavoj Zizek’s writings (Saariaho, Turnage, Francesconi, Widmann) heh, interesting idea
Librettist: Sofi Oksanen
Alcina (Händel) ❤ ❤ ❤
Production: Christof Loy (from Zurich)
Bradamante: Varduhi Abrahamyan ❤
I’m expecting everyone to London for an extended Alcina party!
Věc Makropulos (Janacek) ❤ Mattila, right? She sang it at Southbank a couple of years back ❤
Oscara in maschera
Nobody1 quite knows why, but for Un ballo in maschera Verdi concocted a trouser role. It’s written for a high soprano (or at least that’s what I always heard it as – always meaning the 2-3 times I listened). Every one of those times I rolled my eyes at the perky soprano prancing around rather like a cheerleader (they were all way girly, too) than what I would normally imagine as the king’s secretary (someone like Annio, I guess?). But here comes Tim Albery with a slammed production for Opera North:
having the king’s secretary, Oscar (Tereza Gevorgyan) change from his suit into an evening dress for the final scene is hard to rationalise and rather undermines Verdi’s idea of making it a trousers role for a coloratura soprano in the first place. – Andrew Clements for The Guardian
That’s kind of interesting for a change. Maybe Albery felt like me. Maybe he just wanted to highlight the ambivalence of trouser roles. If the king’s secretary is going to be a chirping coloratura soprano, what does that mean? To me it means he’s quicksilver gender-wise, so why not go full circle? I mean trouser-role wise I rate Verdi very low (I’m still bitter he changed Ernani the bandit from trouser mezzo to tenor) but he did make an (ill-conceived?) effort here and must’ve wanted something with it.
- I learned today Ballo is supposed to be a bit comedic, so maybe that’s one of the reasons. I don’t really get Verdi humour, so it had to be spelled out to me. But it’s progress! ↩
The other day, the contralto mobile passengers were trying to see what the fuss was about the recent (current?) Don Carlos at Opera Bastille. We failed to zero-in on a coherent answer (feelings, eh) but I remembered this amusing sestissimo post. It’s about La forza del destino – my favourite opera to laugh at – but anyone who also has a (low brow) sense of humour will get a big chuckle out of it, because they will recognise the trouble coping with Verdi-ness in general – if you’re coming from the other side of opera fandom.
In case you’re wondering what’s with this randomness, I’ve decided to clean out the vault, so there’ll be all sorts of stuff – short and silly or long and deliberate – coming out of there for the next couple of months. I hope none of them bite…