Category Archives: italian opera

Strongly introspective Semiramide (ROH, 25 November 2017)

major spoilers (credit: ROH)

ROH hasn’t seen Semiramide staged in over 100 years but it’s good they did it now, when they have a Rossini-appreciative conductor in the house and such an exceptional team of Rossinians to sing it. It’s the most expensive production of the season but it’s definitely worth it musically. Dramatically I guess I’m not an Alden fan but it’s not a stupid staging either. I just thought more (or prettier) could’ve been done to match the singers’ skills and commitment to the drama.

“let’s get the Rossini face on!” (credit: JDD’s website)

Semiramide: Joyce DiDonato
Arsace: Daniela Barcellona
Assur: Michele Pertusi
Idreno: Lawrence Brownlee
Oroe: Bálint Szabó
Azema: Jacquelyn Stucker
Mitrane: Konu Kim
Nino’s Ghost: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Royal Opera House Choir and Orchestra
co-production with Bayerische Staatsoper

This is “another modern staging” that places the action amidst a moment of acute power vacuum within a dictatorship – with good reason, Babylonia wasn’t a shining example of enlightened democracy (not that we should be talking).

The story is wonky enough: even though Nino, the former North Korean style dictator, here referenced by a giant statue and apparently Trump-like family portraits, has been dead for 15 years, it is only now that a new – read: male – leader is needed. It appears that so far Semiramide (his widow) and Assur’s (descendant of Baal, so Mr Macho) regency has been good enough. Or perhaps this is just heavy foreshadowing/convenient plot device.

Nino and Semiramide’s son Ninia has secretly survived his infancy and has gained a reputation for himself by rising to the position of commander of Semiramide’s army, under the (Scythian) name of Arsace. It seems like Assur has not been careful enough when sweeping his path to power.

It’s the ancient world so rituals and the mysterious (ie: vague, confusing) will of gods are par for the course. Alden indulges adequately. Knee crawling and extensive “praise the gods” genuflecting from the choir pepper the duration of the opera. Agathe observed that it’s even more exaggerated than in Munich, so perhaps it’s intentionally made to appear ridiculous. I for one did not, in any case, get a feeling that Alden has any spare affection for this world.

The best quip is Azema’s completely constricting (albeit technically very accomplished) golden dress. Her constant facial expression of defeat brings out the straitjacket feel induced by the hampering overlong sleeves. Usually carried to and fro (like a sack of potatoes) by a male attendant (she seems to be needed everywhere, although it is never clear why, as she barely has a voice, mostly to express dissatisfaction with her lot1; perhaps to make up the quota of women at the court), she is at some point placed on a cordoned off plinth, with Idreno agitating around like a blood hound. I liked Bachtrack reviewer‘s comment that she looks like an Grammy Oscar statuette, considering her suitors (Assur, Idreno and “lucky” winner Arsace) engage in what was in 1823 – and possibly still today, in certain circles – a singing contest.

Though, to be fair, the way Rossini is sung here is as far removed from showcasing fireworks as anything I’ve seen. Not that the singers don’t cover all that, because they all do with lots of skill and style, but because the focus is staunchly placed on conveying a believable drama to contemporary audiences. We have come a very long way from the ’80s. This a 3 1/2 hour opera and I didn’t flag once. A great accomplishment by all – less so by the choir, who had some issues keeping up with Pappano and Rossini, something both Agathe and I noticed, so it’s not just me always finding fault with them something 😉

I really enjoyed Pappano’s supple and lucid conducting and the precision with which the orchestra responded to him. It’s late, more through-composed Rossini, but Pappano didn’t make it unnecessary loud and kept the drama under control. It’s still Rossini and you can still smile at jaunty tunes at dramatic moments. I was also pleased to notice the germs of “angsty soliloquies” later developed by Bellini and mastered by Verdi – at moments when the main characters have scenes which combine tuneful lines with more recit-based passages – ariosos? I’m not sure they were still called that into the 19th century – and even include “distant sounds of the city”.

JDD did a tour de force with Semiramide. He interactions with both Pertusi’s Assur (he’s an old school bad guy but a convincing one) and Barcellona’s youthful, conflicted Arsace brought out a very well rounded, strong woman, who tries and fails to reconcile outward personal ambition with an inward sense of right and wrong and sort out different kinds of love/attraction. A busy day, indeed. Though a subject well explored in the 18th century, it is perhaps no surprise that this heroine found her strongest voice in the 19th century, the one where female leads aren’t supposed to win.

credit: Tristram Kenton via thestage.co.uk

I’m not saying that offing your husband should be given a pass if you beat yourself up for it for 15 years or if you then defend your child with your life but such is the scarcity of women with agency in opera that one finds it hard not to side with her – especially the unsentimental way JDD plays her. I felt from the getgo that Semiramide was ready to meet her fate whatever the costs but she was optimistic that things would turn out right in the end. Regardless of what she did that one time 15 years ago, she seems to want to right things now – get rid of dictator in waiting Assur and secure the throne for upright hero Arsace. Of course her motives are complex but that’s what we like in our fictional heroe(ine)s.

For his part, Arsace appears like a decent sort, law abiding to a fault and the opposite of a politician. He’s also, for someone who presumably grew up in the saddle and has seen a serious amount of combat, eyebrow-raisingly naive. At first Semiramide uses subtlety when pursuing him but he only gets it when she corners him cougar-style in her nightgown. Ok, battle experience does not prepare one for being chased by a woman that someone has a lot of respect for and sees as outranking him. But still, he seems young (Barcellona’s channeling Tancredi); no wonder Alden gives him a stuffed pony to remember his childhood by (he also has some unexplored issues regarding family).

The two most dramatically impressive moments for me were when Semiramide tells Assur that she would gladly renounce the throne for her child, were he to be found alive (after a conversation where Assur implies that she too has been power mad) and her desperate chase for an embarrassed Arsace. JDD portrays a moving mother-Semiramide which only makes the later scene that much more sad and tragic.

JDDs duets with Assur and Arsace were the most moving vocally. I loved the gentle way she delivered her lines in the duet where she and Assur are in bed (and he just provides long sustained vocal backing), and the very fine way she interacted/echoed the orchestra. Her second act duet with Arsace was lovely for the unassuming way JDD and Barcellona meshed their voices (mezzo-mezzo duets = ❤ ) and made the moment of mother and son reconciliation simple and moving. Agathe remarked that so late in the opera there is nothing for the singers to prove; I welcomed it as I enjoyed the consistent commitment to exploring the drama at the expense of needless showing off.

Brownlee’s Idreno and Pertusi’s Assur were less developed – and both were meant to come off as unpleasant but no less vocally accomplished. Brownlee got his shorter aria back (it was axed in Munich) and got deserved applause come curtain time (and before; most arias did). He doesn’t have JDF’s piercing wail at the very top but I don’t know that we’re poorer for that. His tone is very handsome and the voice has just the right flexibility for Rossini, no wonder he’s made his name in this repertoire. He comes off as a nice chap in interviews but here he managed to infuse Idreno with an amount of entitlement disguised as passion for Azema that reminded me of an annoying wasp.

I understand Pertusi was unwell during the premiere but everything was fine on Saturday. I hadn’t heard him before but I enjoyed his tone and elaborate skills, especially in Assur’s act II mini mad scene when Assur is hallucinating about Nino’s return. Agathe mentioned that in Munich, Esposito had acted this mad scene in such a strong manner that she hadn’t even realised just how beautiful the music was. I was quite impressed with the complexity of vocal emotion Pertusi used for this mad scene.

Out of the smaller roles I liked Szabó’s tone a lot – very easy on the ears and nicely solid singing. His dramatic skills were good, too.

There was a feeling of everyone on stage knowing that they are part of something special and behaving accordingly, with congenial help from Pappano and the orchestra. A highly enjoyable performance and a wonderful showcase of Rossini’s complex skills. During the evening I started thinking I’d like to see it again and I’m pleased to report I just managed to secure a reasonably priced second ticket this late in the game 😀 Everyone who likes great singing, try to go. The surprisingly good news is you can luck out on a return at any time (only two days ago the cheap available seat situation looked dire).

Agathe and I got tickets on the Stalls Circle left, because she knew from Munich that was the best position for the “important action” (Arsace and Semiramide singing directly at us; Barcellona’s dark, gently heroic tone caused Agathe to be on the verge of passing out 😉 several times during the evening). We were only a few feet away from the stage also with a good view of the orchestra/Pappano. There was a bit of muffle for the ppps but only in the sense of lack of ping across the board, which we supposed would not be the case from the auditorium (I’ll get back to you on that next week, especially re: Brownlee). Otherwise we heard it all in all its glory (though I had a blocked ear which caused me to strait during act I; it finally popped by the end of act I) and a badass evening it was 😀

We spent the – clear but very cold for London – day walking about central London and catching a truly beautiful sunset from the Golden Jubilee Bridge. Out of fangirl anxiety we arrived one hour early at ROH and spent time chatting in the very cosy amphitheatre lobby (ROH is in the midst of major refurbishing). I don’t shower ROH with enough praise but it’s got a lovely lobby area design – grand but not overly so; you’ll soon relax – and the ushers have once again been super accommodating. Agathe commented that the applause wasn’t quite as mad as in Munich but I thought by Stalls Circle standards it was warm indeed. In spite of the cold weather there was minimal coughing, too.


  1. Or, somewhat confusingly, how much Idreno’s first aria has moved her, and she’d think twice about his (very aggressive) attentions if only Arsace wasn’t the love of her life. This can be a very funny moment, though I’m not sure that’s how it’s played here, in spite of the fact that this is Rossini. By funny I mean if it’s played as a comment on the tenor’s singing skills and the relationship between star singers and their fanbase. But then it’s mixed with what today is glaringly read as a lack of agency (not one aria for her) when she’s at the centre of the entire sublot and things become funny har har. 
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Verdi feelings

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…

L’italiana in Algeri vs. La cenerentola

It just (by which I mean in September last year, but blog-time can be stretched according to needs) occurred to me that L’italiana is funnier and has the better arias (especially for the title role) but it seems to me – maybe it is just me – that La cenerentola gets more attention. Anyone have a theory one way or another?

The contralto counter-offensive

Since last year’s Juditha at the Barbican my appreciation for Andrea Marcon’s way with Vivaldi has escalated dramatically. I was casually going through a bunch of renditions of that badass1 Sorge l’irato nembo when I came across this one:

I really like the interesting way the B section is done here. It’s so smooth.

I wanted to write more on the subject (I love this aria – and all the other Orlando ones), post a couple more renditions but I am deflated from too much irl fuss this month so this is it. It’s a good moment to have Basso in the spotlight, since I don’t think I’ve done so yet. More power to the contraltos and their ferocious set of chompers!


  1. Isn’t Orlando the fount of the greatest Vivaldi arias?! 

Why is Trekkie Nerone singing Ottone’s entrance aria?

😀 look at those moves1! What formidable Ottavia can play this space-conquering Ottone?

ps: ever tried having your Ottone duet with himself on this? I accidentally opened two similar windows a few seconds apart and let me tell you = twice the fun.


  1. on second thought, forget Nerone, that’s Space Cesare right there! 

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2017 (ROH, 16 July 2017)

July is the time when the ROH audience checks on the house’s young artists to see how they’ve grown. I found this year’s programme rather ambitious and the results mixed.

Verdi: I due Foscari, Act II (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Lucrezia Contarini: Vlada Borovko
Jacopo Foscari: David Junghoon Kim

This is the kind of opera that kept yours truly aloof from the art form for so long. I couldn’t wait for the overwrought scene/duet to be over. If you can’t pinpoint it in your mind, imagine the typical belcanto duet between important/main characters who are about to be parted by fate. It’s mainly Italian angst, with moments of gloomy recit, ominous shredding from the string section for the moments when ghosts are mentioned (one of the characters is ever on the brink of a breakdown, the other one tries more or less feebly to be their rock but it’s obvious they are also suffering) then a cheerful tune gets shoehorned in (so that the audience can draw a breath) and is explained in the dialogue by “outdoors sounds” such as the gondolier, good moment for the whinger to draw attention back to their plight, so that the hand wringing can start anew and continue for another 15min. Kim is on the right track for this kind of thing and has a beautiful tone but he’s obviously too young for the finer details this 19th century brand of Italian neuroticism needs.

Nowadays they simply have women either dressed in an updated version of ’80s powersuits or as lalala bohemians. Borovko looked utterly in charge in her suit which I dare say was curious for Amelia Lucrezia. Then again, I despise this opera so much that I might have missed something essential. I doubt it, Romantic opera womenfolk were utterly decorative.

Upon return home I realised this was not Simon Boccanegra.

Massenet: Cendrillon, Act II (duet)
Conductor: Matthew Scott Rogers
Cendrillon: Kate Howden
Prince: Angela Simkin

Massenet, eh? Poor mezzos, he wrote for them but alas, I don’t like his saccharine stuff. For once I would’ve like the mezzo singing the trouser role to wear sensible shoes but it was not to be. Aside from that, Howden and Simkin’s interaction was not bad at all. Sometimes when I see mezzos and sopranos singing to each other of love I feel the interaction is actually helped by them both being (straight) women. It’s almost like they think whew, it’s just her, I won’t get distracted by wayward hormones, I can focus on the notes I’m supposed to sing and when I have some free time I can glance at her in a chummy manner – which masquerades surprisingly well as young love. Howden covered for an indisposed Emily Edmonds and I can’t complain about anything, but then again, Massenet. Simkin had more of a moment here than as Isolier later on, obviously since this is a duet, and though I again have no complaints, I also didn’t feel particularly wowed by her tone.

Mascagni: L’amico Fritz, Act I (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Suzel: Francesca Chiejina
Fritz: Thomas Atkins

I find it a bit odd that I enjoy Mascagni quite as much as I do (Cavalleria) but there you go, I liked this duet as well. You might ask wait, how is this any less fluff than Massenet above? It’s not but it’s much more enjoyable music to my ears. Atkins and Chiejina had rather nice chemistry going and were well suited vocally. Plus, there was a really big bucket of cherries on stage and a hot summer day outside. Chiejina’s cutely colourful maid outfit exemplified what I said above about the lalala bohemian vs powersuit.

Strauss: Arabella, Act III (final duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Arabella: Jennifer Davis
Mandryka: Gyula Nagy

Jennifer Davis has a surprisingly large voice for her age, definitely able to cope with a Strauss orchestra as conducted by Syrus, and has a rather fearless attitude about attacking the highs and a good technique to back that. I could see from the Don Giovanni bit after the interval that Syrus was unusually careful in helping his singers do their best, so I suppose he was here as well. As far as the finer parts, well I guess that’s where both nature and experience come in. I remember the fairly recent (sometime last year) Bayerische livestream of Arabella with Harteros in the title role, which I loved, so I think that’s a good goal to keep in mind for aspiring Strauss singers.

Nagy sounded a bit stiff to me in what I imagine is a very tricky role. Aside from the livestream, my experience with Arabella is rather limited so I don’t as yet have a good idea about who Mandryka is supposed to be, aside from a vaguely wild force, personification of sexual desire as experienced by virginal women? Anyway, one needs a bit of stage and life experience to make that work.

Rossini: Le Comte Ory, Act II (final scene)
Conductor: James Hendry
Countess Adèle de Formoutiers: Francesca Chiejina
Isolier: Angela Simkin
Count Ory: David Junghoon Kim

This hilarious trio/scene elicited a lot of mirth, as it usually does, even though I dare say none of them are natural Rossinians, and thus the finer details did not shine. Hendry must’ve got a bit too much into it and, perhaps skewed by Strauss volume levels, let the orchestra rip which often covered the singers. But they were mostly funny, especially Kim who got into the nun act. The bed cover looking like something from Pylones added to the silliness.

Interval

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II (from Zerlina finding Masetto to end)
Conductor: David Syrus
Fortepiano continuo: Nick Fletcher
Donna Anna: Vlada Borovko
Donna Elvira: Jennifer Davis
Zerlina: Haegee Lee
Don Ottavio: Thomas Atkins
Don Giovanni: Gyula Nagy
Leporello: David Shipley
Masetto/Commendatore: Simon Shibambu

As I was saying earlier, Syrus did a really good job with the volume here, definitely one of the better ways to approach DG that I have heard at ROH, where conductors seem to think this is early Verdi. The singers were properly cradled and it showed once again how good Mozart is for young singers regardless of what voice type their future has in store. It was easily the best moment of the evening.

Thomas Atkins as Don Ottavio got the most applause. It’s true he has a very fine tenor that works with many things and he coped pretty well with Il mio tesoro, a bold choice to be sure. Let’s say I’d rank my ROH Don Ottavios like so: Antonio Poli, Atkins, Villazon. Nagy was much more at ease with the Don than with Mandryka and I think he makes quite a dashing figure; I see this role in his future, he has it all going for him. ROH says he is a baritone but I felt he was rather a bass-baritone or he will be one soon.

Generally I was impressed with the density of the basses and the baritone voices on display – proper stuff. To that end, Shibambu divested himself well of the lugubrious DON GIOVANNI! cry one expects from the statue. He needs a bit more projection for the big stage but otherwise smooth sailing. Btw, I noticed he constantly gets to wear a military uniform but then I guess that’s the lot of basses, what with their authority figure repertoire. Shipley as Leporello was pretty good, too, not overly funny but his interaction with Nagy’s Don was on the money.

Borovko returned as Donna Anna. Now that I’ve seen her recently in a big role I can say this: her top is very good and her coloratura ace but the cloudiness from the middle down seems constant. I don’t know what others hear but if this is simply how her voice sounds I can’t see myself getting excited in the future. Or perhaps she needs to find herself very high roles and stick with those? How about contemporary opera, then. Davis as Donna Elvira wasn’t bad at all, coping very dutifully with all required, though I still think Strauss is where she needs to aim. This Donna Elvira was abjectly in love with the Don but I think Davis got her – tricky for the contemporary mind – preoccupation with saving DG’s soul from eternal damnation.

Sopranos: Vlada Borovko, Francesca Chiejina, Jennifer Davis
Mezzo-sopranos: Angela Simkin, Kate Howden
Tenors: Thomas Atkins, David Junghoon Kim
Baritone: Gyula Nagy
Basses: Simon Shibambu, David Shipley

If you think I was a bit hard on the young singers, bear in mind that I somehow managed to get there two hours before the start of the show (I thought it started at 16:30 instead of 6:30. I know, getting old…), after which I decided to wander around and (re)discovered what a consumerist Mecca Covent Garden is. Let’s start with the hapless straw hat “boy with guitar”, whom I was this close to pay a fiver to shut up for a few minutes. Worse even than a Verdi dirge is a wounded bohemian pop tune. You know the kind, something from the late seasons of Dr House. Try stepping into a shop, they all play music – your choice is now bubblegum pop with nondescript teen voices. Then there was the obligatory curly haired musician setting up his amp to blast what sounded very much like gentle Shoreditch downtempo cca 2003. I guess these moves are savvy, it’s touristy as all getout around there and all of the above are now part of the pop psyche.

I couldn’t take it anymore so I scurried into a book shop (where I knew they don’t play any music) to read Andrew Eames’ account of getting morbidly bored on a barge on the lower Danube. What was he thinking, right? Muddy water, catfish, poplars and weeping willows, engine fuel, moody sailors – a proper circuit party.

But the Comte Ory trio got stuck in my head for days, so things righted themselves to an extent.

Reasons to go to Venice: Vivaldi’s Orlando (2018)

(thanks Agathe for the tip)

Venice! Vivaldi! Sonia Prina! – 13/15/17/19/21 April 2018. Tickets going on sale… nowish? Anyway, let’s make it a trip – if anyone has figured out how to book. My screen isn’t moving when I try to get info on tickets. I mean the end of June 2017 is now.

Hello from Glyndebourne 2017!

There is WiFi! So as a first from yours truly, I’m waving at you from the Glyndebourne main lawn 🙂 it’s a gorgeous sunny day out here – very windy! My hair is messier than usual (a fright, as one says here), which is a good thing, as it would be too hot otherwise and I’m not wearing shorts today 😉

Tonight’s entertainment is Cavalli’s Hipermestra, or fifty brides for 49 soon to be dead dead husbands. There is a Saudi Prince waving in and out with his bride, so I’m guessing he’s the lucky one 😉

There will be pics!

Interval edit: ah, good acoustics, how I missed you! I think Glyndebourne hall is also on the dry side but, damn, that crispness is nice on these ears. The two theorbists really worked for their money! So do the rams in the distance, they’re making a racket 😀

Damsel in distress the woods (ok, the desert), petrol pumps – deja vu?

Just after the show edit: gotta give it to Vick, that was some effective inserting of the band!

ps: Emoke Barath is sitting one seat up from me on the bus back to Lewes. Yes, I know, it’s that kind of summer.

Fountains of Vienna

viennafountains

click to enlarge

Since that soprano-tenor debacle happened just before I travelled to Vienna in April, I made it a point to snap a few pictures of fountains. Clearly there’s ample reason to step out of the hall for a glass of water.

Don’t give into confusion – that was last year. But since this year the same participants had another close encouter of the operatic kind (which means they didn’t meet at all, though they were supposed to) in the same opera, a unique chance to post my hitherto neglected draft appeared.

Bonus: here’s a fountain of Vienna from 2017, to belatedly celebrate this year’s no show/operatic tradition renewal:

L’incoronazione di Dario or blondes have all the fun (Teatro Regio Torino, 23 April 2017)

 

this might break your browser but it’s my best effort at curtain call shots. Plus it’s got birds and bees so you want to enlarge it 😉

There must be a reason why Statira is wearing a blonde wig whilst Argene has on something very much akin to a cycling helmet (everyone knows cyclists are pests!). Ok, so it’s a ropey turban 😉 she still looks ready to mount a bike (considering all the men are steering clear…).

Similarly, there must be a reason why Dario is wearing the same attire as the shadow of Cyro (Saudi style). The other guys simply can’t compete, whether they have the oil or the weapons.

You would think a smart woman like Argene knows 1) what the oracle says goes (whoever marries Statira will rule the empire) so 2) simply tempting Dario away from the blonde won’t do the trick. But it appears she has fallen for him much in the same way men who should know better (Niceno) have gone gaga over Statira. During part I she languishes in bed, mopey because he won’t notice her. But she springs into action as soon as he wanders into her room (as opera characters seem to; to be fair, she promised him her “help” in getting Statira to love him).

Flora: Mylady, Dario is coming, cover yourself so you can receive him!
Argene: better yet, I shall receive him naked! (she lounges, eyes aflutter, legs and bosom exposed – by her time period’s standards; in this production it means the blanket-robe is off).
Dario: any news about Statira?
Argene: still hates you.
Dario: oh, how cruel my fate etc.
Argene: well, there might be others who like what they see when they look at you (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
Dario: that’s nice, but could you possibly talk to Statira again?
Argene: sure, I’ll do all I can. But first help me write a letter, all of a sudden – right about the time you stepped into the room – I became so overcome with emotion my hand has started trembling (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)
Dario: ok. Who’s this letter addressed to?
Argene (gets into his personal space): the man who has conquered my dreams. Write! My sun, light of my days (mega bosom nudge, power eyelash flutter) –
Dario (eyes popping, scoots away): My sun, light of my days… ok, next?
Argene: oh, I’m wasting away for your love! (mega nudge)
Dario: the man of your dreams must be very difficult indeed. Light of my days, oh, I’m wasting away for your love…?
Argene: you didn’t understand anything, did you?
Dario: on the contrary, I understood perfectly.
Argene: …and?
Dario: remember you said you’ll help me with Statira?
Argene (eyeroll): ok, enough writing. Go, go, I’ll write the name later.

In the meanwhile, Statira is worried about suddenly being pushed into the limelight.

Statira: Flora, what is this commotion all about?
Flora: Mylady, you’ll soon be queen!
Statira: hm. What does a queen do?
Flora: she wears a tiara!
Statira: that’s nice. What else?
Flora: she presides over public ceremonies!
Statira: eh, that sounds tedious. Anything else?
Flora (wink-wink): she does her wifely duties to the king.
Statira: but what are those?

Seriously. Was she raised by wolves? Clearly not, otherwise she wouldn’t be so scared when she gets to the woods. But talk about sheltered. And she’s the older daughter. Reminds me of that joke about the two pious virgins who got married and were still childless a year later (not for lack of trying).

Niceno, who’s supposed to be the token Arabian (nights) philosopher (must have a philosopher at the Persian court, right?), has poured all his emotions into a soulful and finely crafted series of letters to the woman who makes him sigh but who, he has a feeling, might not be returning his feelings. He finally plucks the courage to give Statira the letters. She really gets into the amourous atmosphere and reads aloud with pathos to wistful viola da gamba backing (I have a horribly sneaky suspicion this is a joke on emotionally astute but otherwise dim actors) only at the end to prove she has absolutely no clue about what he’s trying to tell her.

speaking of books, many similar booths had a large selection of totally random second hand books on Via Po (photo: thadieu)

Hey, Mr Bookworm, didn’t you notice by now that she’s Miss Literal? So, in his desperation, though he has pined for her for who knows how long, he makes a terrible pact with Argene, who, apparently (it’s still wink-wink territory, blink and you missed it, though with Galou at the helm you most likely won’t) promises him she will sleep with him if he helps her break the not-yet lovebirds apart. If you can’t have one sister… the librettist’s commentary is clearly that no matter how intellectual or practical the man, none of them likes the smart sister (pfui! back to the kitchen) but will “work” with her if she throws something else into the pot. At some point whilst Statira is once again acting “blonde”, both Niceno and Argene turn to the bottle. That’s a bit like 2017.

Statira soon finds out what her future husband wants from her: her eyes, her hands. Very alarming! The man sounds like a right serial killer 😀 She has a stern/earnest sounding aria (quirky Vivaldi) about how she simply won’t allow that malarkey. Which plays right into the hands of the more practical Arpago and Oronte, who each boasts about their military or admin-y (oil pumping? there’s a dirty joke in there) exploits.

If you think the silly comedy can get tired after a while then more credit to Mingardo who remained funny even after we knew exactly what was coming. Also credit to Vivaldi who has a very clever way of putting silly and extremely catchy together with very beautiful.

After trying his luck in vain, Niceno defects to Argene’s side, “guiding” Statira by telling her each of these young men is worthy of her hand. She promptly promises her hand to both (I guess she quickly got over the fear of literally losing her hand to every man in the country 😉 ). This annoys Dario, who thinks she’s playing hard to get. He vows to take his anger out on his rivals. Now we know the cause of so many bloody battles through history.

Next comes Niceno’s badass bass aria with bassoon obligato (bullseye) along the lines of Tardi s’avvede. That is to say a “wise adviser aria”, in which Niceno cautions Dario that getting irate makes him appear less suave. The youthful looking Mr Bassoon did a solid job and I can assure you youtube doesn’t have a better version than Novaro’s, who has a somewhat similar type of voice to Galou (light but of high density).

I guess the Saudi connection is that Persia was the Saudi Arabia of its time. The Oracle is the West, who always somehow supports the winners in the area, though it pretends not to get involved. Astutely, then, neither the ones who have the oil nor the ones with the guns really win and whoever tries to stand up to the Oracle’s dictums will end up in the “harshest chains” (I really like that bit. Are they the kind with spikes on the inside?).

It only took me several listens and two live performances but I must say the libretto isn’t that bad after all!

retro but fun

On Sunday we made our way back to Piazza Castello, where we could already recognise some people as dressed for the opera. After soaking a bit of the very congenial atmosphere we went up to our box on the other side (left) of the auditorium. Interestingly, the door was locked. We tried other doors and it seemed hit and miss. We noticed others had similar problems, so we made our way to the auditorium to look for an usher.

Suffice to say we sat somewhere central, next to these very nice old ladies, who had upgraded too. This was the last performance of the run and there were empty seats scattered around the venue. But no more cameras.

The sound from the auditorium was very good on both nights, perhaps a bit better on Sunday, when we had prime location. We could hear every singer’s consonants. Finally we could see what we missed stage design-wise on the first night (quite a bit).

You might remember the poster that says “the best voices in Baroque for Dario“. It didn’t lie. Regardless of one’s preference for one singer’s tone or another, Dantone had assembled a gorgeous sounding team indeed. Vivaldi saw to it that everybody had their time to shine and the direction dropped the curtain behind all but the two main ladies to give them centre spotlight at least once and they took the challenge with gusto.

Mameli’s phrasing in particular rivaled the main ladies’, though her role is quite clearly written for “we need to give something to the soprano” reasons. Alinda is Oronte’s ex, who is – as ever in Baroque opera – stalking him and generally putting spanners in his works with amazingly precise timing. She’s stealthy like a ninja and her outfit fits the description.

One has to comment on their very toxic relationship. She’s, as I was saying, a stalker and he is very abusive towards her up until the very end (he even has an aria along the lines of “leave me alone with your fidelity, I’ve moved on”). Yet they are “happily” reunited. Of course, we are led to believe that he’s only discarded her because of his ambitions to the throne, but he is still extremely emotionally abusive throughout. You don’t want to be reunited with someone who’s done that to you. You also might want to stay away from people who are so needy as to take you back unconditionally after repeated abuse. [ / soapbox]

here’s the big sign, just to break the tension – and to grin.

I wasn’t too into Cirillo’s voice until she had a slow (and a bit boring) aria with long lines. Those came out rather nice. Perhaps Oronte’s music isn’t quite that gripping, on top of his character being a selfish dick, so I didn’t get that much out of the whole thing beside said long lines.

There’s that bit of sparring roughly in the middle, between Arpago’s soldiers and Oronte’s techies, which I guess makes less sense in reality than in this production. It reminded me of the military parade in the Aix Tito in that the sparring people shout at every move. For my money it was a bit slow but entertaining enough, moreso because all involved were women.

I was – predictibly – more excited when Argene pulled a gun on Arpago at the end and then even turned it on Dario himself. That Dario just plucked it away was, as thadieu already mentioned, less climatic, especially since he had not, at any point in the production, looked like much of a warrior (rather like middle management). Pointing a flashlight at Niceno and repeating back his creepy words at him doesn’t quite count as heroism in my book. Then again, Argene was in love with him and Oronte was hardly helping with his getting cold feet over killing Alinda (why not just throw her in jail?).

Did I mention that Argene, after mistakenly revealing to Dario the plan to get rid of Statira (in a last ditch attempt to get him) decided to get Oronte on her side and as consort? Why not Arpago, the chap without a stalking gf is anyone’s guess (clearly Argene digs administrator types). But after bitching about Oronte and Alinda’s disfunctional relationship I can’t say that any two people in this opera have a healthy relationship, aside from perhaps Dario and Statira, who look like they they’ll work it out.

one of the central cameras, on the row we relocated to on the first night

Thadieu was suggesting a different take on the ending rather than the floppy plucking of the gun. I also thought that Argene’s last line of recit – “Every crime has a punishment” – was one of those Captain Obvious moments that 18th century librettists liked to tack on the ending for moralistic reasons. I’d’ve done away with that and just gone into Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte! The announcement about Galou’s indisposition ran on Sunday as well, but she amped it up for the last show of the run, with an appropriately desperate cry on the last (il mio) furror! And she was hilarious in this super scheming role. I don’t think I’ve seen a more persistent schemer yet, 80% of what comes out of her mouth is post truth fare.

So because thadieu has goaded me enough over the (last) weekend I’ve raked my brains for my own description of Galou’s voice – as I feel it. Thus far I basked in an ah, so smooth! cloud every time I heard her, unusually not needing further word-anchoring. But after the “beam of light” analogy I thought I agreed but not quite. Then I listened a bit and right after this version of Quel torrente1 it hit me:

Luscious mascarpone cheese layered with espresso-soaked sponge fingers, with a touch of cognac or brandy.

Also known as tiramisu. Light (weight) and dark (colour) and soft and heady (and often humorous). I think the way she approaches singing is more impressionistic than architectural/visual, so too much analysis won’t leave you any more knowledgeable than the moment it hits you (or doesn’t). The sound just brushes you in passing, disolves almost instantly and you’re not quite sure if you’ve imagined it or if it was real. For instance it this bit of Stabat mater the sound just envelopes you much like darkness itself would. It’s there but it’s kinda not. Very poetic. Then for a return to Vivaldi, just check out the smile in the voice and general impishness in this cutest of arias (Io sembro appunto quell’augelletto; my mum was right after all, it is birds and flowers/leaves 😉 ). The delay in posting this was partly due to my spending a fair bit of time fawning over this charming aria.

On that note we should perhaps move on to Mr Dario, sung here by Mr Belcanto Tito. Allemano’s larger (and darker) voice makes a fine contrast to the others and sets him apart as “big boss”, though the role itself is pretty congenial. He more or less waltzes in without fantastic credits like Arpago and Oronte and gets the throne with the help of personal charm (un bel viso) and a few good decisions, like the one where he pretends to take Argene up on her offer, simply to find out where Statira might be. Allemano’s not a bad actor at all, looking a bit dorky here and showing good comedic skills (especially when Argene is – unsubtly – trying to put the moves on him). He copes well with the coloratura demands and has that typical Italian tenor smoothness when it comes to languid arias.

lobby, chanderlier and stairs to boxes and the retro boxes chairs (pretty comfy)

Though affable on both days, the public was more animated on Sunday and they also applauded different arias (the Sunday crowd liked Galou better 😉 – her “instant double manipulation” moment got (very deserved) applause too, whilst the Saturday one really loved Tomasoni (I also thought her big aria was done especially flashy on Saturday); thadieu felt she was trying to steal the show but I think she was simply making the most of her time on stage, given she is very young. It would have been very difficult to upstage the main ladies, though the public – and pretty much everyone else – seems to adore Mameli; I’m not all that taken with her tone, though, like I said, her artistry is very fine. Everybody was happy with Mingardo on both nights, though I think the giggles were louder on Sunday).

A large bunch of people took a delibrate selfie with the big Dario sign. Just to the far side of the collonade was a couple of buskers who drew a pretty good crowd singing what sounded like vaguely traditional Italian music. In Piazza Carignano a chap was singing The Ring of Fire, which struck me as very odd after the opera, but there you go.

That was our first experience of seeing Italian opera in Italy. I hope they hang on to the Vivaldi Festival, as there are more good things to see from him and I – in case it wasn’t clear – I really liked Teatro Regio. Just not the far boxes. Sounds from the chat after the radio broadcast that there will be reasons to return, as the Baroque project is mainstay at Teatro Regio. Also interesting from the chat is what Dantone says about Dario‘s place in Vivaldi’s oeuvre, due to the ascendence of opera buffa. Though he thinks that Vivaldi’s operas are usually harder to stage (back then it was apparently left to the singers to improvise in opera seria), this one, because of the commedia dell’arte influence, is a lot easier. As we know, Vivaldi, though very successful in his youth, died in poverty, because of changing trends he couldn’t buck. Dantone also says he was happy with the Teatro Regio musicians who were interested in the language of Baroque, though their usual repertoire is the typical late 19th century fare… etc.

And, yes, this post better be posted. I might tweak it a bit in the coming days (too many pictures to choose from!), I spent to much time playing with that curtain call picture…

this is the metal gate that separates the inner “yard” space (with the giant sign) from the opera collonade (photo: thadieu)


  1. not that I’m going to convince TADW who’s already decided to have her sing Cornelia.