Category Archives: favourite opera productions
Guess who’s back? (Early) Handel opera on the main stage of the ROH! What was it, only about 10 years since last we had one of longtime London resident’s operas grace the acoustics of the main hall?
Nevermind, ROH has not only poshed up to high heavens – if it ever needed such a thing1 – but has hit a big win with those who have long known that staging Handel doesn’t have to be tedious. One didn’t have to look farther than ENO, who’s been running brilliant Handel productions for years. All you need to know is that this Kosky riotous fun is giving that “mamazing” Richard Jones Rodelinda I always rave about a run for its money. Clearly these two are the best Baroque opera directors of the moment.
Agrippina: Joyce DiDonato
Nerone: Franco Fagioli
Poppea: Lucy Crowe
Ottone: Iestyn Davies
Claudio: Gianluca Buratto
Pallante: Andrea Mastroni
Narciso: Eric Jurenas (covered last night?)
Lesbo: José Coca Loza
Conductor: Maxim Emelyanychev | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Director: Barrie Kosky
Drop what you’re doing and go see it. If/when your local cinema shows it, get your ticket now. For those who like their mezzo power amped up, the Met is going to stage it (
run this production? See comments, it’s McVicar’s production from La Monnaie that is going to the Met. You should still see the Met broadcast, it’s a good team there as well) with the always suitable Kate Lindsey as Nerone2 and they’ll broadcast it. If there’s one Met broadcast you need to see, this is going to be it.
Kosky has already hit fabulous Handel heights with his Glyndebourne Saul, so this didn’t necessary come as a surprise. It was more what’s he going to do this time? Well, this is a very restrained production, both for him and for ROH. The focus is sharply on characterisation and character interaction, with a (current ROH favourite) rotating cube with various rooms as backdrop. Every character has their well defined personality and they interact like they’re supposed to, whilst at the same time use park and bark for our benefit (so that we can hear what they’re singing – big house, light voices = park and trill).
If you’ve seen Kosky comedies you know his humour ain’t subtle. Then again, neither were these particular Romans. But he’s good at what he does and even though it maybe cheap, it’s never stupid. The costumes range from really beautiful (for the women) to understandably blingy-ridiculous (Nerone) and midlife crisis-ridiculous (Claudio).
The singing is ROH level tops, with JDD and Crowe as big standouts and Davies in close pursuit. Fagioli’s diction is as garbled as ever (even from closer) but I think we’ve all agreed that this is what it is. Handel’s Nerone is definitely his role, though, and if you’re going to see him in a staged opera, I heartily suggest it’s this one. He can negotiate Come nube (aka, Come nembo from Il trionfo…) at proper pace and if you don’t mind super pressurised emission, you’re going to be happy with his rendition. Emelyanychev, of course, cradles him in a cocoon of sotto playing from Baroque-subtlety veterans Opera of the Age of Enlightenment.
JDD has always appealed to me in Baroque roles and Agrippina is no exception. She has the stage presence to carry the title role and her Pensieri and Ogni vento (with the fun improvs) were as good as anything. At this point in her career she’s mastered many styles and when you hear her in Baroque you don’t think Rossini, which is a very fine feat. So after a very stark Pensieri sung on a bare (and soul baring) stage, we had Ogni vento staged as the big moment of a consummate pop star (complete with sparkly microphone, poses, direct interaction with the public). It’s pretty trendy these days to give nods and/or poke fun at pop star moments but in the productions that I have seen it used it has worked. It fits here too, especially considering breaking the fourth wall is one of the pillars of this very self aware libretto. And it also makes sense Ogni vento (aka, whatever it takes) gets this treatment, because it’s Agrippina’s biggest moment of honesty for someone who’s genuinely dishonest.
After the Madrid Rodelinda, we know to expect good things from Lucy Crowe in Handel roles. And I’m pretty sure she loves this rep, because her enthusiasm at embracing Poppea’s many moods and scheming (complete with fabulous phrasing) was infectious.
And, yes, T, S’agita in mezzo all’onde is called Vaghe perle here 😉 and is sung by the soprano. Let’s not forget Papa Handel was very young (24) and when he got this Venetian3 commission only a year after Aci, Galatea and Polifemo, so no wonder he immediately rushed to his stash of “greatest early hits” and plundered like there was no tomorrow (there probably wasn’t).
Incidentally, for those who may not know but read this blog, Aci & friends played at Wigmore Hall in very fine company the night of the ROH Agrippina premiere. Yours truly made the wise decision to attend that first (in very fine company, on, off stage and backstage). I also think that bit I really like from La resurezzione is also mixed in here. Though I may be wrong about this one… but it was written the previous year.
If you go to see one of the Nerone-related operas in the big UK houses, your chance at getting a Iestyn Davies Ottone are 99% or higher 😉 That being said, if we’re denied a contralto (as originally written for), he’s a very good alternative and was in top voice. Ottone, as ever, is parked in Lament City but he’s assigned that beautiful Crede l’uomo aria from Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno.
So, like I was saying, Emelyanychev conducted, because this is ROH and if they’re going to have Baroque opera for their main course, they are wise enough to invite music people to match the poshness of their lobby. In other words ❤
He’s like the Currentzis for the discerning audience – all the subtlety of dynamics, none of the whiplash or boxing of singers in between two bouts of interpolated extraneous choruses. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is always wonderful to hear, lucky us here in ye olde (soon to be ye lost in the Atlantic), but I have to say that I have never heard (really, NEVER) better period trumpet interventions. Wow. Whoever you are, you have absolutely ruled last night. Not to say that the oboes, strings or double basses weren’t great. Or, indeed, the fine cembalo playing from Maestro and Steven Devine. The whole sing rocked, the house was full and the laughs were genuine. Can we have more Baroque at ROH now?
PS: Emelyanychev’s cembalo is truly beautiful 🙂 I sat on the horseshoe and looked at it all night.
- turns out it did. T, upon visiting ROH for the first time last week has declared the new and improved ROH the poshest opera house ever. Dehggi: but what about Munich? T: yes, but this is modern posh. So there you have it, the new posh. Not just the finest names in classical music, also the coolest opera lobby experience. ↩
- how she’s going to cope with Come nube I am very curious, after her “expanded horizons” stint as the other Nerone. Which is what I’m trying to get at: I hope exposure to this Nerone will bring more attention to her Monteverdi Nerone, her best role to date in my opinion. ↩
- for the theatre now called Malibran, which we mostly love, minus the humongous moon 😉 from last year’s Orlando. ↩
That week was all about Glyndebourne and it being June, we were graced with good to very good weather – bright skies, fluffy clouds, fragrant roses and fields and acceptable temperatures for this time of the day in a temperate climate.
It’s quite amusing (in an endearing way) to see people’s first reaction at arriving in the bucolic English countryside for opera. Agathe said pictures don’t do it justice, as you think what is posted is the best of the best possible angles but when you get there it’s that in 360 surround. She also reckons it’s bigger and more remote than Bayreuth. Though remote isn’t exactly what I would call English countryside (unless it’s the moors). It is very much the country, rolling hills that just cry out for a long walk with your hounds, healthy crops, shady country lanes and exquisitely tended to look awesome-wild flower beds but it isn’t quite the same as Croatian forest wild.
Under the care of the younger Christie Glyndebourne has become more accomodating to the younger and trendier crowds (though the big bulk is still mature audiences that think nothing of dishing out £200 on a ticket and having the swanky G-dining experience on top of that) whilst at the same time getting really creative with the type and design of products they can attach the G logo to. If I had the money to spent I’d be shelling a few hundreds on G goods, they are all very well done.
So this time it was Agathe and I who took the train from Victoria to Lewes along with various picnic-ers and someone who looked suspiciously much like Patricia Bardon (conspicuous: no luggage, no picnic/gown attire but took the designated train and got off at Lewes with all of us; moreover, she was on the train back with all of us). In the G gardens, we met Giulia at the interval over some major Baroque-swooning (you can read her account here if you haven’t already).
Giulio Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cleopatra: Joelle Harvey
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Anna Stephany
Achilla: John Moore
Nireno: Kangmin Justin Kim
Curio: Harry Thatcher
Conductor: William Christie | Orchestra or the Age of Enlightenment
Director: David McVicar
Like a vintage convertible, Cesare took a couple of performances to come into its own. Compared to previous week (second performance of the run), everybody seemed more relaxed and ready to adlib.
After seeing two performances, I am happy with everything but above all I loved the sound of the orchestra to a delirious degree (ha!). With the less than satisfactory acoustics of Ulrichskirche still fresh in mind, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the Glyndebourne hall had my ears purring.
All three of us agreed that this is one of the best period ensembles (or ensembles who play period Baroque) on the market today. I still have the gorgeous sound of the low strings from Svegliatevi nel core1 ringing in my ears. It’s not quiet playing but it’s always accomodating the singers and still the power comes through. Certain Baroque-playing bands that fancy themselves rock’n’roll badass should pay attention to this subtle solidity.
I highly enjoyed focusing on this time was Christie’s interaction with orchestra and singers. He quite obviously allowed the singers to lead and do their thing2 and then he would bring in the orchestra with perfect timing, giving specific instruments their moment to shine as well – all this with elegance of movement and minimal fuss (none of that flying off the conductor’s stand).
I attended this actually not knowing the work1. Stray has repeatedly mentioned how \m/ this oratorio is. How very true! The choir parts in this piece are super badass! Combined with Kosky’s tongue in cheek approach, their first entrance had the effect of an avalanche on me. Maybe Kosky needs to stage Israel in Egypt as well? More busy choir (and in fact it reminded me of it2). Set your speakers to the loudest option:
You can’t quite get the feeling from the video as you do from the hall – the choir are grinning like how excellent! He killed Goliath! Way cool. Also it’s much more booming in the house (Glyndebourne has dry acoustics, as far I understand – similar to TADW).
I haven’t seen the DVD but at first you get the very long overture with the curtain down. It goes on and on (not the most exciting one in the scheme of things to come) and nothing happens. Then all of a sudden you realise there is a head on stage (didn’t we have one just last week? Dead heads in Handel = a thing) on something that looks like dirt, but it’s actually road grit (made me think of the blasting of Sodom).
The curtain goes up and David comes in with his slingshot, a second curtain goes up and we get the choir perched on the table, in high mime mode, as only Kosky can do it and not look cheap. I generally love all his references, he integrates his chosen elements very well and it never feels thrown together or gratuitous3 (just poking fun at received reverence).
I can see how this work could get very preachy-earnest4 if you don’t find a way to infuse it with some levity. But it’s an interesting moment to write about and you’re left aching for the sequel of how great David is going to be when he grows up.
Saul/Apparition of Samuel: Markus Brück
David: Iestyn Davies
Merab: Karina Gauvin
Michal: Anna Devin
Jonathan: Allan Clayton
Abner/High Priest/Amalekite/Doeg: Stuart Jackson
Witch of Endor: John Graham-Hall
Dancers: Robin Gladwin, Ellyn Hebron, Thomas Herron, Merry Holden, Gareth Mole, Yasset Roldan
Conductor: Laurence Cummings | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment | The Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Barrie Kosky (2015)
In short, Saul needs to be performed more often. It’s true the arias aren’t as catchy as in his most famous works but it’s quite obvious he thinks differently when it comes to oratorios. The scale is grander and he stretches his creativity in all directions, including giving opportunities to all sorts of instruments (as per wiki):
He conceived Saul on the grandest scale and included a large orchestra with many instrumental effects which were unusual for the time including a carillon (a keyboard instrument which makes a sound like chiming bells); a specially constructed organ for himself to play during the course of the work; trombones, not standard orchestral instruments at that time, giving the work a heavy brass component; large kettledrums specially borrowed from the Tower of London; extra woodwinds for the Witch of Endor scene; and a harp solo.:318–319
I love Handel’s organ work! Whoever else does, listen to this, there is quite a bit 😀 Kosky, as usual, listens and responds to the music, so when the major organ solo happens the organist + organ raises from
hell below the stage and spins around in the centre of a field of candles! That’s what I’m talking about (\m/).
Also, there are quite a few very effective duets, ariosos, direct dialogue between the choir and different characters and lots of exciting chromatic stuff like this amazing minute of brass’n’vocal goodness here:
And then he goes into old school Handel like it was nothing. Then he reprises How excellent. Handel = the man, best known for Messiah. Let the world not stop there.
As far as acting, Gauvin’s Merab ran circles around everyone else. Such direct, logical, efficient and unaffected acting ❤ Nobody was a bad actor in regards to doing what they were called to do, but it’s also a matter of stage presence. You have a panoramic view of the stage from your spot in the audience and you get a very good feel for who has presence and who is being dutiful about their stage movement.
Merab’s job isn’t that complicated by acting standards but there are some moments that a sensitive actor will use to pop her character into 3D. For presence we have the time early on when Merab wasn’t gonna take daddy Saul’s shit (= marry David from the barrio just because he said so, being momentarily taken with the popular hero). She also gets to call him on his illogical ways when Saul changes his mind from David is the bees knees to David must die or I’m gonna throw down. But then there’s the moment of reflection when she feels bad for David, who although not posh, has some qualities. Plus the way she acts outraged and disgusted by Saul’s trying to assault her when mad – all this adds to a rounded portrait of a living person.
Saul is quite the opera about men interacting with each other, so we only have two female characters and the Bechdel test would be easily failed. Michal in Devin’s interpretation is a typical teenager, instantly in love with David the same way contemporary girls would rave about the Biebster. It’s a valid portrayal, but I’m not habitually enamoured with her high soprano. On the other hand, I enjoyed the contrast of sound with Gauvin’s Merab. It’s an interesting role vocally, lower and more dramatic than Michal; of course, Gauvin worked it with intelligence.
From our perspective Saul’s turn from yay, David to nay, David is a funny moment: the choir is busy praising – Saul killed a thousand enemies, he gets a few thousand praises. David killed ten thousand enemies, he gets a large shitload of praises! Yay, David, you rock! [David stage dives and they carry him around – no, really, he does and they do]
Saul: Yay, David! Wait… that can’t be right. Why do I get just a few thousand praises and he gets the large shitload? I mean, come on! He’s just a kid! What next? They’ll be voting him king! OMYahweh.
Saul becomes very tormented – we assume he’s in throes of psychosis, because the dancers show up at least once specifically to mime him wrestling with unseen forces. He has a fit and people have to hold him down. Jonathan pleads with bro David to do something.
Here we see David’s very fine de-escalation techniques, when he sings to Saul (which works for a while) and then holds him (human touch also works for a while). Alas, the situation is too serious already. Acuphase came to mind. He’s behaving unreasonably with his loved ones and insists David should die, which is embarassing, now that he’s agreed for David to marry his younger daughter, Michal5.
He schemes to have David go into battle against the Philistines, hoping he would be killed. David being David, the battle has a happy ending. Saul is upset his son Jonathan, too, has started to idolise David (bromance alert) and refuses to kill him, even when his father points out that David will depose him of his rightful throne. At wits’ end, Saul enlists the powers of daaaaaaaaaaaarkness (\m/).
Lydia of Definitely the Opera fame warned me that the Witch of Endor was the worst caricature of mature femininity and I was expecting something offensive. What I got was comical. It’s sung by a mature dude who looks like Willie Nelson with the fakest (though apparently lactating, so much for mature) saggy boobs. It’s more Les Mamelles de Tiresias than Ulrica Arvidson on a bad day.
The Witch does in no way act feminine to me, so I resolved to see the whole thing like an interaction between a man without boobs and a man with boobs (not breasts, those are defo boobs). That was especially true when the Witch grabbed Saul’s hand after the terrible pact with Samael and the two walked off like two arthritic gents from the Retirement Palace.
Say a job opening appeared for a witch, not a wizard, and Willie Nelson put on his boobsuit and applied. Absent other candidates, the Witchy Authorities of Endor felt pressed to fill the vacancy the best they could (a bit day late and dollar short, judging by how things turn out but that’s HR departments the world over).
It’s a Kosky production, so I didn’t expect any camp opportunity to be missed. There are way worse faults out there beside indulging in it. So bring on the moob-y man-witch and let these past-their-due-date heroes get on with their dastardly schemes. I mean you can imagine what kind of dark entity Samael is if he has to do their bidding. Though does he? Because in the next scene Saul ends up headless (moral: it’s always good to tone down your enthusiasm when your mortal enemy ends up headless, lest some devil-wannabe from a literal hellhole play a cruel prank on you).
Brück’s job is to portray Saul as an erstwhile hero whose mental health is destabilised by today’s yoof. It’s not easy for any of us getting to grips with the latest gadget (BC version: a slingshot) but it’s not worth losing your head over it. What we get is a garden variety mental breakdown so in itself not all that amazing to act. The best part is when Brück has to channel Samael and alternate sounding authoritative with meek and lost. Also his mock-Shakespearian, fourth wall-breaking recitation of I’m the king! was quite powerful and caused at least one goer to keep asking afterwards was that re-ci-ta-ti-ve? Because I don’t quite know what it was. His singing was all right but the top credits as far I’m concerned would go to Gauvin, Davies and Clayton, in this order.
It’s not that long ago that most everybody ended up suggesting that Stephany’s Cesare Sesto wig was the same she had on last year for Tito‘s Sesto. I offer that Clayton’s Jonathan wig is the same he had last year as Hamlet. Glyndebourne hair politics aside, he’s a very musical singer, always paying attention to the orchestra and working with what’s going on around him. This role showcases his sensitivity a lot more than Hamlet did (but I’m sure you could see that one coming from me). Tl;dr: more Baroque, less shot in the dark contemporary.
Acting-wise, he was very involved and followed the character well, though not quite a stage animal. Then again, Jonathan is more like a self-effacing hippie at heart. He has an aria that would warm the cockles of Jarvis Cocker’s heart – ie, he’s all about the love of common people, titles and high birth meaning nothing to him. Well, dear, I’d like to see you move to the barrio with David and leave palace life behind to Merab and them. Funny how just hours before I read this gem from Gigi Hadid, a woman famous for having society-approved features: My first Louboutins came from my first paycheck.
Naive or not, Jonathan is David’s biggest fanboy. Kosky does not miss the opportunity to have the two of them make out and David seems very satisfied by that course of action (does he kiss Jonathan’s dead head later on? quite possibly; opera history tells us that’s a go in that part of the world).
For his part, David is not only in the possession of the latest gadgets but leads his generation with his no-label attitude to love. Here he’s pictured open to anything (he’s very polite in refusing Merab’s hand, though he notices her antagonism, accepts Michal’s worship with enthusiasm and Jonathan’s puppy-eyed devotion with similar good nature and gusto). A doubly large shitload of praises to you, Jesse’s son.
Davies presents that with his usual boyish charm. That’s the thing with CTs, they have plenty of that kind of presence. Later on David has to step up as winner of popular vote, with Saul and Jonathan conveniently killed in battle while he was away to see his family for the holidays. He walks down the same stage Sarah Connolly walked a day before as Cesare. It’s hard not to compare. There is no comparison.
On the other hand, with the proper amount of rehearsal behind him and without the hectic travel he did in the Spring, he too sounded superior to his stint in Barbican’s Rinaldo. His pleasant plaintive tone and clear coloratura sounded fresh and flowing.
Cummings is a regular at the annual London Handel Fest, where I have seen him conduct Faramondo, Ariodante and Semele. He knows how to read his Handel make it exciting and did a very good job this time as well. The orchestra needs no further recommendation from me, I have only good things to say about their performances. The Glyndebourne Chorus likewise, especially considering the amount of physical stuff they have to do whilst singing. All in all, a wonderfully riveting performance of a still underrated score. Opera houses, please program Saul more often. In the meanwhile, watch it here and if you like it remember you have until Thursday to back it up.
You know what I noticed a good while ago and somehow never worked into any of my write-ups? There’s this trend among Japanese opera fans in this courntry to show up in kimonos regardless of rep. We had at least one kimono yesterday. What’s the deal with that? To be fair, we also had the kilt with sporran, which made sense for Cesare but seemed a bit out of place for Saul. I’m always a bit thrown by specific traditional attire as formalwear.
Since I went on my own this time, I decided to explore the lesser taken paths, which would be the veggie garden, the mini orchard and the hothouses (all extremely well tended). And what did I find? The statue of Tito from the old production 😀 at least I think it’s Tito (it looks Roman). Anyway, I only had my old Samsung with me this time and the battery was kaput by then, so no old Tito pic for now. A quick shower caught me in the tomato and chili pepper hothouse so I spent some time with them 😉 27 was the turning point of weather this Summer with the temperature plunging for at least 10 degrees within an hour or so. Back to the capricious English weather, though apparently the hot temperatures will make a return next week.
- At this point my attitude to Handel is I’ll most likely enjoy it, whatever it is. But I don’t enjoy everything this much. Military oratorios FTW! ↩
- Unsurprisingly, since Israel in Egypt is his next work. It’s true what Grant said, Handel goes into 6-12 months of intense inspiration, so many of of his best works come in twos. ↩
- Like when other directors think they’re cool by having all sorts of periods represented together on stage and it just looks clueless, confused and lazy. ↩
- It’s a morality piece: envy – the eldest born of hell – is bad for you -> it gets Saul killed. ↩
- Michal sounds exactly like Michael and confuses my gender-conscious mind. ↩
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?
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.
- you just know he would call women females. ↩
I have to praise Teatro Regio/Dynamic once more for the speed with which they released this DVD, recorded in April 2017. It definitely does the job of presenting the stage environment and the sound appears very good. A bunch of us have watched it the other day and nobody seemed to have any complaints on sound quality. This is the kind of opera where piano singing is integral to its success and here it does come through.
You might have reservations regarding the staging (oil pipes everywhere to represent the Middle East) but it’s far from annoying. Anyway, most of the action is carried by the dramatic capabilities of the singers, all of which have superior comedy chops. I’ve talked about it before (twice), as has thadieu and Giulia, so there’s really not much more to add, beside the fact that I liked some of the singers (especially Cirillo) better here than in the house and that, even after seeing it twice already, it’s still (very) funny.
I encourage you to get the DVD/BluRay or have someone gift it to you for the holidays 😉 A few years back Dantone recorded it on CD with most of the same cast but it’s just not the same. Here’s your chance to laugh at the dialogue as well as hum along to the endlessly catchy tunes.
Yesterday I had a short exchange on this subject with Kate V. and it seems it got stuck in my head before the performance 😉 Here are some things that occurred to me only whilst seeing it again in the house (says something about my usual attention span):
on the subject of age: it works for Sesto to be/look significantly younger, especially when the production is based on the angle of Tito missing those more innocent times. In this case = absolutely. I was thinking about Sesto’s rock, too, which is located right under Tito’s chair/throne. There is a reason why it’s there and not across the stage, which would also make sense.
burying the magpie (during Del piu sublime soglio):
- shows us that Tito and Sesto are working on their issues together
- Tito hasn’t forgotten but has forgiven Sesto, so he’s not faking his goodness
- Sesto is aware of his own nature and is actively trying to become a better person
amicitia vs il primo amor: Glyndebourne translated il primo amor in Deh, per questo as “the first friendship”. During the opera (ie, other than in this aria) their relationship is called amicitia, whereas Annio and Servilia always refer to theirs as il primo amor. What I take from this is that Tito and Sesto’s friendship is of a more intense kind than usual friendship (though not necessary gay as we understand it today). Also considering it’s only called amor during an aria, it’s probably not something that’s so much put into words as felt.
questo cor and altro cor: Sesto refers to questo cor in Deh, per questo (not cor 😉 ) and immediately on its heels Tito asks for (un) altro cor in Se all’impero. I like that link of ideas and I also like how at the end all the people who turn out to share questo cor are downstairs in the reeds whereas the bureaucrats are upstairs in the manmade structure1.
ah, sventurato!: says Publio, upon hearing from Tito that Sesto’s fate is decided (right before Se all’impero). I’ve always taken it to refer to Sesto but after yesterday’s performance it hit me that Publio is talking about Tito because he knows Tito2 and he also knows what the mob wants (not merciful leaders, despite professing otherwise).
the reeds: they pop right out of their stands, if you look closely when Tito is harvesting them (Tu fosti tradito).
- I like designer Christian Schmidt’s comments on how the structure seems to have dropped from the sky in that originally idyllic landscape. It’s a good metaphor for adult life, with its inherent rigidity and hypocrisy invading the simpler, more direct and more imaginative world of childhood. ↩
- isn’t he singing what Tito feels during Quello di Tito e il volto? He’s clearly aware of Tito’s struggles. ↩
This time I cried during Del piu sublime soglio. Awesome performance from Croft.
Everybody is more relaxed by now, the acting flows beautifully. There are no more cameras.
Young woman at intermission: is Sesto sung by a woman? I kept wondering…
Other ladies in the loo queue: Yes, yes, he is. There was a cast change. But the reviews are about the one we’re seeing.
Young woman: oh, wow! Sesto is the star of the evening!
Other ladies: YES!
The only applause came after Parto. I was confused as it had been so beautifully performed, light and gentle, with some swoony ppp along the way (really moving) but also funny (Vitellia putting the moves on Sesto).
Especially in the wake of the Currentzis Tito I want to commend Ticci and Gupta on the fortepiano continuo for a very light, unfussy touch.
It’s raining. I took refuge under a very friendly mulberry tree with a cute little sleepy bird. How appropriate!
We had a weird incident on the way here, that held up the trains for almost an hour and a half. Luckily I was on a train ahead of the suggested train. The shuttle waited for the stragglers 🙂 but we only had 20min to settle and have a bite before curtain up.
Loud thunder was overheard in the auditorium just as the insurrection started on stage.
Staff offered umbrellas but I like my tree. Too bad I couldn’t visit with the sheep properly (now grazing on the adjacent meadow) ❤
Gent next to me in the auditorium: nobody dies! Not very operatic.
Dehggi: nobody should die. It’s all about the search for a better, more forgiving society.
After the intermission:
This was an all around emotional day, as it was my last time at Glyndebourne this year, the end of “my” season (though I really would’ve liked to come back again a couple of times, but you have to observe life-opera balance). Also going to the opera on your own makes for a very different atmosphere, perhaps even moreso when it’s your favourite opera. Even so, a few conversations happened:
Lady who sat next to me for act 2: I saw you talking to the usher about those free seats up there.
dehggi: yes, I want to possibly upgrade because this is my favourite opera.
Lady: …of all operas?!
dehggi: YES! I really like the ideals, forgiveness… and the music is beautiful.
Lady: well, someone is always forgiven at the end of Mozart operas.
(dehggi: someone, even some ones but not everyone.) I didn’t actually say it, because I didn’t particularly want to chat, I was in my own world and cried again during Eterni dei. After the curtain calls I dashed out for fear somebody would notice how tearful I was. Also to be first in line at the loo.
On the bus there were two French people behind me. The woman thought the production was too “brutalist” and concluded “this was the new tendency”. I wanted to turn around and ask where she had been for the past 20 years. She did think the voices very good, though this opera was “by no means” one of her favourites (dehggi: eyeroll). Then she went on to wax lyrical about some wonderful production of Giselle at Opera Garnier.
At 21:30 the train station was almost deserted and the train board let us know the 19:30 was delayed. Some ladies started to make plans in case the trains were still disrupted. I said I’d help them split the taxi bill to London if it came to that. We co-opted some very excited Japanese ladies, so all in all, we would’ve been 5 to split that bill.
The train was on time. I’ve never heard the Glyndebourne crowd whoop so freely outside the opera house before 😀
Everybody said they liked the performance, very good voices. One of the “taxi planning” ladies explained trousers roles to me 😀 Then I somehow got to talking about the earlier Hamlet production/opera with the other taxi lady. She, like the gent sat next to me at that performance, loved it (the actual music)! She also thought the production was “more modern” than this one. (dehggi: head scratching moment. Maybe we were thinking of different things?).
In the end, there were three arias that received applause: Sesto’s and Se all’impero (<- a lot more than for the livestreamed performance). However, there was very loud thumping at curtain calls. I guess this audience is more used to lieder? Heh. I’m not quite sure why they kept their appreciation to the end if they actually liked it this much. There was, however, a lot of laughter, even during Vengo…! Aspetatte! I agree, it’s a funny moment.
Having gobbled up a good number of opera productions I think I’m pretty aware by now how hard it actually is to do something interesting which also fits the spirit of the libretto/music. One of those felicitous productions is the Théâtre du Châtelet staging of Rossini’s La pietra del paragone. I’ve hinted at my appreciation for it but I never gave it centre stage before.
A few things started this one off the right path:
- (and you’ll have to bear with me if I always mention it) this is the opera that shares an overture with Tancredi
- it’s got Sonia Prina in one of those Rossini feisty women roles (TM) (with just a bit of cross-dressing, when Clarice disguises herself as her (convenient) own brother)
- it contains action figures (those who remember the old opera, innit? header know the look is right up my alley)
- Spinosi’s mad tempi give it a very modern feel
The reason I felt the need to talk about it was a recent surge in disparaging YT comments:
“I understand they didn’t have money to build sets, that’s OK, LOL, but abusing technology…to create a background and special effects does not represent the story in Pietra di Paragone. I doubt Rossini would have liked it.”
“I agree that the sets are nothing more than a perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera. It is preferable to listen to it without viewing it.”
The sets are most certainly not a “perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera” unless one’s idea of staging opera starts and ends with this. But we already have that so why not try something else?
Let’s start by settling what this opera is about – deception. The decided lack of much of anything on stage matches several things that lack – or appear to lack – in the libretto (the Count’s money, most of the women’s genuine interest in him, what’s his face talent for poetry). The clever projection of luxurious things that aren’t really there fits the Count’s ingenious scheme of getting rid of undeserving pretenders. Lastly, it’s really silly and funny and that is the deeper essence of Pietra – a comedy of bantz.
(I know you didn’t think this one had a deeper essence 😉 but if you’ve read this blog more than once – or better yet, met me – you know I find witty banter a fine art worth pursuing. (Whilst we’re indulging in that old skool favourite – musing about “what composers really wanted”) I’m fairly sure so did Rossini so ha to the bit where the YT warrior above says he doubts Rossini would’ve liked it. Keeping Tancredi in mind, you can follow Rossini’s brilliant sendup of opera seria (the overture, the chorus, the duet tenor-baritone/bass, the fake-seria duet between the Count and Clarice etc. – everything is… well, perverted opera seria structure. Tongue-in-cheek grand.)
I will give detractors one thing: it must’ve been pretty confusing to see it in the house as it’s so obviously meant for DVD (and in that sense, the TV direction is great). But the singers are all superior actors and that must’ve gone a long way. On the other hand, the sense of everything not being what it appears must’ve been heightened.
This wonderful production finally opened up the greatness of Semiramide to me. It was long overdue. Now if I can get a production to do a similar thing with Idomeneo.
Sometimes the right visuals will make you more receptive to the music within, just as the right singers will make previously dull sounding music suddenly appealing. Now combine the two.
Latex, brass wigs, corpse paint, a cage for Amenaide in Act II and a proper bad-ass boat. Hell, yea, I’d have liked that boat myself. Nevermind that in 1005AD work on Notre Dame de Paris hadn’t even started2, the stage design conveys a satisfyingly Medieval look, although I’m not sure how you can work latex into the Middle Ages. Logical considerations aside, it’s my favourite production design of Tancredi so far. Did I mention the boat? Oh, yea.
- Tancredi: Lucia Valentini Terrani
- Amenaide: Gianna Rolandi
- Argirio: Dalmacio Gonzales
- Orbazzano: Roberto Scandiuzzi
- Isaura: Monica Tagliasacchi
- Roggiero: Lucia Rizzi
Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti | Orchestra e coro del Teatro Regio di Torino (1985)
Stage direction: Pierluigi Pizzi (just so you rest assured Calixto Bieito1 was not involved in this production ;-))