Category Archives: …and then I heard that

The miraculously uplifting world of Patricia Petibon (Wigmore Hall, 18 March 2017)

If you ever got a chuckle reading this blog I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and book a ticket to a Petibon recital. There’s nothing quite like it. You might come out of it and find the world brutal and monochrome but you will also have something surprisingly sturdy to hang on to when things do indeed get ugly.

I normally put up the setlist1 after the first couple of paragraphs but this time I can say what she sang was secondary. Not that I didn’t like the programme – on the contrary, I liked everything, because this was a Petibon takes over your senses kind of recital. Yes, everything, props (lots of them) and dresses included (her dress style is superb). This is a recital about which I would not change a thing – also because I don’t think my creativity is extensive enough for that task 😉

You should know that I’ve long harboured the opinion that she is the most beautiful woman in opera the world. It’s not about some fantastically perfect features (delicate bones + a large mouth can be hard to pull off), it’s the way everything is lit from within, and of course, the mischievous smile.

Part of the reason I insisted on booking a ticket to the recital was because I wanted to verify via those unsuspecting senses that there are indeed women who look like that in the 21st century. To me she doesn’t look like someone who uses Facebook and Uber (though burping and taking a poo are well within the realm of possibility). She looks like The Lady of the Lake or the French version of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. Now that I have seen her rock a deep green cape I am convinced she should star as the seductive queen in the opera version of Guingamor (my secret opera project 😉 though perhaps it should only be a lyrical scene, because part II is roughly similar to Alcina).

You may think enough with this puppy eyed worshipfest of her looks, tell us about the singing, but what someone who hasn’t seen her live may need to know is that her body is integral to her singing. Since I’m still in the realm of web art, her stage persona reminds me of this classic gif:

  • it moves graciously (she never stops), it’s happy and zany and nobody can quite say what it is (it’s supposed to be a unicorn llama (of course) but to me it looks like the most cheerful progeny of a dinosaur and a giraffe). Also, it’s green.

This recital is the perfect example of what I was saying earlier about how European opera singers do it vs the American ones. Does Petibon have a good tecknique? Yes, she does, but we learn that within the space of the first few songs, after which she – nonverbally – said now that we’ve established that, let’s have some fun.

She also has a sizeable voice for her gossamer floated notes2 to project all the way to the back without ever dissipating en route, even when she sings piano (usually). This ability to float is my favourite technical trick of hers, also because it fits her onstage persona so well. When you see her so delicate and pink you do expect her to sing like that. But of course she doesn’t just do the angelic thing – if it is indeed angelic. I would say she’s far too sophisticated for that. It’s medieval lore rather (mists and distant battles) than Disney in spirit.

buddy looks suspiciously like my old boss…

Not that her persona cannot incorporate Disney 😀 and how! – irreverent Disney. We were treated to a complete scene of Snow White choking on the apple and then making out with her Prince garden gnome. For Busy Line she unwrapped a (very long) phone cord/washing line and proceeded to hang some clothes on it and had the audience help hold it.

I think what holds everything together is her palpable sense of line. It’s the fine art kind – if you’ve ever spent some time drawing you’ll immediately feel it. Some singers sing like instrumentalists and some singers paint with words. She draws with sound3, sometimes she even sculpts the music, with sharp curves and contrasts of weight and tint. It’s more 3D/physical than usual from a singer. Yet it’s almost always very soft and light, like an ink drawing or a cottonwool sculpture – at least in this programme. There were certain chord progressions and moods (the Iberian medieval and the kitsch parody) that reoccurred through the night, so one can imagine they are things she feels close to, at least at the moment.

She encored with a song (I didn’t know and she’s soft spoken) from the perspective of someone getting their life energy from a tree. I thought to myself how else could you finish whilst wearing a green corset? Then she thanked us for being alive with her tonight which promptly made me cry, though I’m not sure quite why other than it just fit the whole evening so well.

Points to Susan Manoff (piano) for being the buffer to that unique persona, she really held her own both musically (softness and contrast and general liveliness) and in personality (the sensible one).

Go see her/them, the world will appear a better place afterwards.


  1.  Samuel Barber (1910-1981) Sure on this Shining Night Op. 13 No. 3 | Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Greensleeves | Nicolas Bacri (b.1961) “Melodías de la melancolía Op. 119b” A la mar | Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) “7 canciones populares españolas” El paño moruno | Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) Canción del grumete | Fernando J Obradors (1897-1945) “El vito” Chiquitita la novia | Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Nesta Rua | Frank Bridge (1879-1941)  Winter Pastoral H168 | Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) “Banalités” Sanglots | Henri Collet (1885-1951)  Seguidilla Op. 75 No. 2 | Murray Semos/Frank Stanton Busy Line | Francisco Paulo Mignone (1897-1986) Dona Janaina Interval Henri Collet “Los Amantes de Galicia” Camiña don Sancho | Enrique Granados (1867-1916) “12 Tonadillas en un estilo antiguo” El mirar de la maja | Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) “Poema en forma de canciones Op. 19” Cantares | Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) La rosa y el sauce |  Agustín Lara (1897-1970)  Granada | Frank Churchill (1901-1942) Someday my prince will come (arr. Didier Lockwood) | Francis Poulenc Novelette sur un thème de Manuel de Falla | Norbert Glanzberg (1910-2001) Padam Padam (arr. Dimitri Naïditch) 
  2. Is this a French thing? Piau does her version of it as well. It’s gorgeous. 
  3. I think she has a fine art background? Maybe that’s where this comes from. 

2016 in WP stats

According to WP stats, 2016 was the year where I achieved the most with the least effort (119 posts published before this one, though we might get to 125 by the end of the year; by contrast, there were 140 posts in 2015 and 211 in 2013), which is a fine motto by me 😉

So let’s see what people liked to read on opera, innit? this year:

  1. “revival adriana lecouvreur roh 2016-17”
  2. Akhnaten at ENO (take 2)
  3. Ann Hallenberg (Gluck and Mozart)
  4. Juditha triumphans
  5. Akhnaten at ENO (take 1)
  6. Stutzmann and Orfeo 55 (Vivaldi)
  7. ROH 2016-2017 confirmed
  8. Maria Ostroukhova recital
  9. ROH Spring Season/London Handel Fest General Sale
  10. Ariodante at RCM (take 1)

The most read Tito was Röschmann’s Tito (how very surprising, I know).

Translation: Baroque, something unsual with countertenor, something properly old school with diva and what’s coming next at ROH. I am obviously not surprised about all the Baroque, or even about Akhnaten – because we haven’t had it in 30 years and ENO can do spectacular when it wants (or still) and in this case it definitely did, but I didn’t expect La Lecouvreur to get so much attention. We’ll all have to wait until February 7 to see if the bated breath was worth it (aka, if La Gheorghiu still has it). But yes, Akhnaten (I really hope they filmed it) and all the Baroque was the dog’s bollocks, fully deserving to be shared with all.

There are no doubts around these parts about Baroque but I’m very glad people have read about Akhnaten; it’s a wonderful “mood piece” about which I have very little to bitch (and that only when I’m especially mardy; my chief complaint is the title role should be sung by a mezzo or contralto 😉 you could see that one coming, I know) and I think more people should listen to it and definitely see it if it comes anywhere near them. I consider myself wildly lucky to have seen it performed “in my backyard” so soon after becoming acquainted with it.

Lost and found: The Nose (ROH, 20 October 2016)

On 25 March an unusually strange event occurred in St. Petersburg.

[…]

Ivan Yakovlevitch donned a jacket over his shirt for politeness’ sake, and, seating himself at the table, poured out salt, got a couple of onions ready, took a knife into his hand, assumed an air of importance, and cut the roll open. Then he glanced into the roll’s middle. To his intense surprise he saw something glimmering there. He probed it cautiously with the knife — then poked at it with a finger.

“Quite solid it is!” he said to himself. “What in the world is it likely to be?”

He stuck in his fingers, and pulled out — a nose!

[…]

He realized that the nose was none other than that of Collegiate Assessor Kovalev, whom he shaved every Wednesday and Sunday. (The Nose by N.V. Gogol, 1835)

Platon Kuzmitch Kovalov: Martin Winkler
Ivan Iakovlevitch/Clerk/Doctor: John Tomlinson
Ossipovna/Vendor: Rosie Aldridge
District Inspector: Alexander Kravets
Angry Man in the Cathedral: Alexander Lewis
Ivan: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Iaryshkin: Peter Bronder
Old Countess: Susan Bickley
Pelageya Podtotshina: Helene Schneiderman
Podtotshina’s daughter: Ailish Tynan
Ensemble1: see below
Conductor: Ingo Metzmacher | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH | Co-production with Komische Oper Berlin and Opera Australia
Director: Barrie Kosky

For the very first time at ROH (though written between 1927-28), The Nose will be at large (and occasionally caught) in London until 9 November <- and on that day ROH will apparently broadcast it online. If you enjoy surrealist humour do yourself a favour and be one of those who catch it. I for one have never seen anything madder (and I see a lot of nutty stuff “irl”) 😀 My favourite things were the bicycles/tables that stood in for any number of things.

The Gogol fan that I am, I have to report that the libretto, the music and the translation – it’s performed in English (supposedly so we can better follow the madness – a wise choice) – all do perfect justice to the short story. The production, too, is mad as a box of frogs and gets the Russian-ness of it all (though I guess there’s room for even weirder takes than the length to which ROH stretched itself). It’s never taking itself seriously nor is it trying to be clever for cleverness’ sake or to the detriment of humour. It’s modestly aiming at absurdist (and also gets the feel of the period it was written in and the theatrical influences on Shostakovich <- imagination abounded). An excellent achievement, all! I think it’s quite safe to say this is my favourite ROH production so far.

dehggitablebikes

This is the kind of opera that – at least for me – fares better in the house. I tried listening to it at home and I just couldn’t sit through it. I decided to put up with it live because I simply love the short story. I have no regrets! No snoozing to report, lots of laughs and I noticed some interesting musical decisions along the way (strange but welcome noises that wouldn’t normally be heard in polite company opera, various spoofs of opera cliches – I loved the cathedral scene, where Kovalov meets his nose and tries to engage him in conversation whilst a funeral is going on and people are wailing: sometimes Kovalov conversational music is “seamlessly” picked up and given centre stage by one of the mourners; I guess he too is mourning a loss 😉 ). It is a bit of a tour de force noise-wise, though it’s not constantly (nor stupidly) obnoxious – there are lots (lots!) of moods packed in those 2 hours.

I was afraid of screechiness from Ossipovna (the singer in the recording I heard just about made my ears shrivel with her abrasive top) but Aldridge was a very good choice here and so my ears remain intact, which will come in handy as there’s Baroque to come in a couple of weeks.

Also paramount are singers’ acting skills. Comedy timing in this case – quite low brow comedy – but you do need to carry a flimsy joke for 2 hours. The characters are supposed to be at least partly caricatures2, as there’s a layer of satire, and Winkler as the beleaguered Kovalov and Kravets as the District Inspector were hilarious in my book. Also highly humorous was Kovalov’s servant, who had not so much arias (though he had one… song), but 2 or 3 (very!) long held notes, a clear snipe at traditonal opera excess.

dehgginosesThe nose pops out of/is shaved off (?) Kovalov’s face and takes on the identity of a high ranking official with no one the wiser only to at long last be apprehended by the corrupt District Inspector – I guess he can smell deception 😉 – but the story and the music focuses on maudlin Kovalov’s plight as well as indulging in the weirdness of what could be dream sequences or drunken hallucinations (neither Kovalov nor the barber rule out the possibility they could be drunk). No surprise then, that the biggest applause of the night was earned by 11 tap dancing noses. The choreography (drawing from the world of cabaret) supports the music faithfully – which is to say it’s very lively.

Really, though, it’s the kind of thing words (mine, not Gogol’s) on their own can’t do justice. Even pictures aren’t enough; you have to see the whole put together, music, text and dancing noses. Until then, you can check out ROH’s Insights where they are more coherent than I can (or in this case, care to) be:


  1.  Andrew O’Connor, Paul Carey Jones, Alasdair Elliott, Alan Ewing, Hubert Francis, Sion Goronwy, Njabulo Madlala, Charbel Mattar, Samuel Sakker, Michael J. Scott, Nicholas Sharratt, David Shipley, Jeremy White, Simon Wilding, Yuriy Yurchuk 
  2. The other part it’s just acting strangely but in a silly rather than sinister manner. 

Clemenza a l’espagnol

How cool is this thing?! It’s been on ze tube for aeons but I just ran into it (major randomness: whilst looking for a Serbate dei custodi screen shot for my previous post). I might have to change my Entfuhrung ringtone to this.

Barbican’s 2014 Alcina (part II)

After my gushing initial post, here are a few a bunch of additional comments. I hope this covers all 😉 for now.

Alcina up-close

The Hallenberg-Ariodante effect on mardy gits

Maybe I’m alone in that Ariodante-wise I’m not a big fan of Scherza, infida. What makes or breaks Ariodante for me is a good stab at Dopo notte1. It never ceases to amaze me how an 8min coloratura-fest never gets old. But it has to be done right (very, very gentle and bright).

Maybe it’s unfair to compare two such drastically different arias mood-wise. I’m not even saying I dislike Scherza, infida. It can move me all right but it gets me to a murky place, as, I suppose, intended. I can’t listen to it on repeat. Dopo notte, on the other hand, has broken several repeat buttons 😉 In fact I don’t know that I can listen to it just once or to just one version when the Dopo notte mood strikes. It’s one of the most life-affirming tunes ever.

The weird thing is the night after I became acquainted with this gorgeous aria was indeed atra e funesta, as a close acquaintance had unexpectedly died. Needless to say I then put Dopo notte on the shelf for a while but it re-emerged without asking me if I was ready or not.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Ariodante, I haven’t managed to make time for the entire Aix production, much as I was getting into it. French language sites should refrain from embedding that insidious disponible jusqu’au – notice. It lulls one (me) into a false sense of security. Meaning I then tend to wait until that day, whichever it is (12 January 2015, in this case), to watch the whole shebang. I know I could blame the length. But I could also blame the fact that the 3 Titos have boarded a quick flight from Miami and that I listened to Die Liebe der Danae yesterday or that I still need a something else for tomorrow or Friday… Whatever I say, fact is the thing has been online for a month. But Dopo notte rocks. If it were a person, it would make the best BFF. You know it would offer a ready shoulder to cry on or would always say yes! to a nutty adventure or it would swap shifts with you at work when a last minute concert was announced… Dopo notte would most certainly help you crash something ridiculously stuffy and hard to get into like the Salzburger Festspiele. Cheers, Georgie, Ann, Sofie and Franco.


  1. This entry brought to you by RonR?‘s link to Taminophile’s lovely post on Ann. 

En proie a la tristesse (Rossini 101)

Typical Rossini, eh? Rossini does facetiousness very well, it’s the basis of his comedy. All hail subtext. So you need a lot of star quality to pull off a Rossini lead, not just the ability to sing coloratura in your sleep. If you have both it’s the stuff of dreams. If you’re missing either one… say you only got coloratura then you’re the best canary on the block. If all you’ve got is star quality… well, that can go a long way, depending on how racy the production is 😉

Here‘s JDD deconstructing the piece with a very competent “contestant” whom I hope to hear more from in the future. And here‘s the side-splitting end product. It’s a lot of fun watching them one after the other. My very brainy brain wishes all arias came with 30min+ walk-throughs from people who get it. That would make for fun DVD extras.

My subtext for this post is I’m going to see Damrau as Violetta in little over a week! I think she’s a fabulous singing actress and a pretty good singer, too 😉 all right, better than pretty good, note-worthy.

One reason why I love the mezzosoprano voice

Last night I listened to to Boni’s Sesto and it reminded me how much I liked her. Words sort of fail to sum up just how this rendition of Par che mi nasca in seno makes me feel. I’d call it lovely but the term falls way short. It’s gentle and melancholic but also hopeful and loving and peaceful – put together it musically expresses what I’d call kindness. I feel cocooned by it.

Awwwpera moment…

I’m not a total grouch and being that toaday is for gushing and hearts, the Daily prompt has actually spurred me to share my first moment of awwwpera:

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p style=”text-align:justify;”>I was looking around on youtube, just getting my feet wet, listening to a bit of this and a bit of that and feeling somewhat unsure about how this exploring opera thing went, when I came across this rendition. I immediately thought it was the most adorable thing. I then went on a JDD rampage (there was a lot of youtube pillaging, yes). To this day JDD is my favourite Rosina, just the right mix of playfulness and venom 🙂

The capitalism vs. the people Idomeneo Act 2 (Jacobs, 2013)

  • Idomeneo: Richard Croft jacobs
  • Idamante: Gaelle Arquez
  • Ilia: Sophie Karthauser
  • Elettra: Marlis Petersen
  • Arbace: Julien Behr
  • Il Gran Sacerdoto di Nettuno: Mirko Guadagnini

Conductor: Rene Jacobs | Theater an der Wien, 2013 | Freiburger Barockorcherster | Arnold Schoenberg Choir

Now that I’ve seen the entire production there’s a few things:

a) Jacobs, you freaking beauty, this was amazing. I was saying in an earlier post how a production can open up an opera for you. Ironically, I was hoping one Idomeneo production would help me get into it like that creative Semiramide from ’81 did. Alas, it’s back to the music with Idomeneo. Left to the visuals I’d have eventually defected. Jacobs runs a tight ship and his compass is true (bo-boom-tsch).

b) wow, the director doesn’t like anybody. Everybody this side of Idamante gets dirty or severely muddy and constantly long-faced. What a miserable bunch of mofos. I wouldn’t say this if the contrast with the music wouldn’t be so glaring. There are very clear uplifting moments in the score yet the director plods on with the gloom. Meh.

c) acting: what happened? The singers seem left to their own devices. Or I hope so. Otherwise the director has no clue how to illustrate drama. Constant flailing diminishes the big dramatic moments. I thought this was covered in acting 101. At least that’s what I (a natural flailer) learned. As much as I’m one of those who feel.every.moment.of.it, I must agree. Conserving energy, visually and physically, makes the big moments of unleashed movement that much more effective. Here everybody flails in gran cemento at any given moment. I occasionally chuckled out loud and this is not the kind of opera you should be chuckling at. I don’t think the director understands loftiness. This opera is all about noblesse d’esprit and what we get is teeth gritting hard done by characters. You can be noble in the mud, you know? Amateurs.

And now on to Act II