Category Archives: live performances

seen and heard live

From the House of the Dead (ROH, 14 March 2018)

From the House of the Dead at ROH (Photo by Clive Barda)

For me, Janáček is singular among composers in that he had the ability, unlike others who tried way too hard, to write some wickedly thoughful libretti on themes other than the same old operatic fodder – and the music isn’t bad either, especially after you get used to Sprechgesang.

I first came across him via Glyndebourne’s production of Cunning Little Vixen and although I found the singing a bit hard going, I genuinely enjoyed the fable-like libretto (I’m also fond of foxes; London is their playground, pretty much every neighbourhood has a den and they even walk along with you on the pavement in daylight). Then I heard The Makropulos Case, easier music to take (or perhaps I was a bit less green), again with a libretto that discusses a subject I find fascinating (immortality) and another very strong female character.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting this production, based on all this, a curiousity about Warlikowski and my longterm interest in psychology.

Alexandr Gorjancikov: Willard W. White
Aljeja: Pascal Charbonneau
Luka Kuzmič: Štefan Margita
Skuratov: Ladislav Elgr
Šiškov/Priest: Johan Reuter
Prison Governor: Alexander Vassiliev
Big Prisoner/Nikita: Nicky Spence
Small Prisoner/Cook: Grant Doyle
Elderly Prisoner: Graham Clark
Voice: Konu Kim
Drunk Prisoner: Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Šapkin: Peter Hoare
Prisoner/Kedril: John Graham-Hall
Prisoner/Don Juan/Brahmin: Aleš Jenis
Young Prisoner: Florian Hoffmann
Prostitute: Allison Cook
Čerevin: Alexander Kravets
Guard: Andrew O’Connor
Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth | Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House
Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski
Co-production with La Monnaie and Opera de Lyon

Janáček adapted Dostoevsky’s semi-autobiographical novel of life in a 19th century Siberian prison into a series of scenes rather than the kind of linear narrative libretto we know and love. Each of the characters has the centre stage for the purpose of sharing the events that lead to his index offence. The wider point of each story is to illustrate that a grain of humanity exists even within the most despicable characters – or, as the Foucault quote during the overture tells us, what society considers despicable.

(Well, it’s admirable (and desirable) to look at every person beyond their worst actions, but with some people it’s really hard to be optimistic. Still, ever since the performance I’ve been thinking from the point of view that justice is a system organised to apportion blame and dish out what is currently deemed as appropriate punishment; it’s far from perfect and it should continuously be bettered but it’s necessary – and it’s not entirely about making ourselves feel better/superior as it’s implied here; but our sentenced (and unsentenced) offenders do tell us a lot about ourselves as society).

The story begins with the arrival of a new prisoner (Alexandr Gorjancikov), who claims he is there for political reasons, thus setting himself apart from the run of the mill prison population. He functions as the narrator and the opera ends once he is, quite unexpectedly, discharged. (This is similar to what actually happened to Dostoevsky, who spent years on death row after which he was suddenly pardoned.)

Interestingly, although he is the narrator (for the sake of a minimal narrative), his role isn’t bigger than the others’ (we also never hear his backstory), which highlights one of the lines in the libretto – “we are all equal in prison”. He befriends a young prisoner (Aljeja, in for something that sounds like common theft) and tries to help him by defending him from vicious inmates and teaching him how to read and write. The other prisoners go about their usual (rather boring) routines and stand out randomly, for instance when they get into scuffles with each other.

A play is put on for the higher ups (all of which are portrayed as cruel, venal and grandiose and get some right on verbal beating from Kuzmič (aka, eternal rebel Filka Morozov, slyly portrayed by Margita), in which the prisoners perform their (very violent) version of pantomine and opera (a crudely funny take on Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a character which rightly resonates with the inmates; I like how Janáček refrained from pastiche and used only a few short phrases reminding of Mozart). Prisoners’ personal threads are woven into the plot of the play and they are later developed into characters’ testimonies.

As you can imagine, the drama could be rather static. Warlikowski and his team give us a basic set, which looks like a prison gym with plastic chairs to the right and a glass-walled office for the guards to the left of the stage. The office revolves later to accommodate the stage for the play and also for the stories, which are acted out as they are being told. Everyone is always on stage, even when they (apparently) have nothing to contribute to the drama. But that comes in handy when characters are called to sing random lines. Also, their acting out other inmates stories keeps the entire world interconnected. You can imagine the prisoners have heard these stories before and have their own versions of what and how things went down.

This is one of the most (if not the most) Personenregie detailed opera productions I’ve seen so far, to the point where sometimes what was happening on stage made it hard to focus on the music. In a good way, though. I’m normally a fan of very contained dramas and the classic up to 6 characters, but getting a theatre director really enhanced the performance in this case. There were a lot of things going on but it never felt like clutter or unnecessary fussiness. Each character was defined as soon as the curtain went up, by having a personal thread to follow even when “idle”.

As far as performances I can say dramatically the standard was very high. Vocally I was especially impressed by Reuter’s Šiškov, whose story takes up something like 20min of singing in one chunk in act III. This is Sprechgesang, so success comes down to singers’ handling of text. I think the term “gripping” has been overused but that was pretty much how I felt about Reuter’s intervention – clear and solid and emotional (the story moves from cold violence to humbling sentiment and back again, which, according to Mum, is typically Russian). I don’t know this repertoire enough to talk further and, as I was saying ealier, I often felt it difficult to focus on stage action, singing and orchestra at once, but I will tell you there are many unusual objects played aside from usual instruments, my favourite being a real saw and plank of wood. Check out what Tim Ashley has to say, he heard more than I did.

Though quite a bit went over my head I’m really glad I went. Janáček’s voice is unique and interesting and speaks as much to one’s intellect as to their emotions. If you can get to at least like him it’s well worth it. I think I’m starting to feel him a bit of a hero.


Rinaldo: a story of love, battle and colonialism (Barbican, 13 March 2018)

Almost a year after Ariodante, the London public has returned to the Barbican for Handel’s first local smash hit, 1711’s Rinaldo. Set during the First Crusade, Rinaldo manages the feat to be both unapologetically silly and decidedly un-PC. Goffredo’s army has come very close to liberating Sion from the Saracens when Argante’s top scheming ally, the witch Armida, has nonchalantly plucked Rinaldo’s beloved from under his nose.

Armida: sorry, stud, I need your fiance for a moment. poof!
Rinaldo: … what just happened? … and where is Almirena? [aka, Cara sposa]

Goffredo: you can get my daughter back after we conquer Sion.
Rinaldo: no! Almirena first, battle next.

He might be young and relatively unexperienced but things fall into place the way he wants them to. Super bonus: the baddies, Argante and Armida, willingly (narrow miss) convert to Christianity! All in a day’s work.

The English Concert
Harry Bicket conductor
Iestyn Davies Rinaldo
Jane Archibald Armida
Sasha Cooke Goffredo
Joelle Harvey Almirena
Luca Pisaroni Argante
Jakub Józef Orliński Eustazio
Owen Willetts Mago

As far as concert performances go, this was a mixed bag. The English Concert was in its usual high form, very disciplined, at best in the muscular parts of the score, with just minimal desynchs in the wind section and some – I guess inevitable – trumpet clarity trouble in the trills of Or la tromba. To the trumpets’ credit, they absolutely rocked Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which was the highlight of the night for me (surprise, surprise). They did such a good job as far as I’m concerned that they very narrowly upstaged Pisaroni.

Everybody before him (and some after) started a bit cautiously but he took this massive entrance aria with the right aplomb and confidence (and sang without a score through the night). It didn’t hurt that his voice was 2 sizes larger than everyone else’s. However he didn’t show this off for the sake of muscle flexing and resized back for the rest of his interventions. Even here he played with volume dynamics in the coloratura – perhaps foreshadowing Argante’s weakness? Now if you have volume and you’re called to sing an aria such as this I’m all for you firing on all cylinders 😀 and if you can play with it, that’s even better.

Pisaroni was also the most committed acting-wise, showing softeness when Argante falls for Almirena, (almost comical) caution and passion with lover/ally Armida and a very smooth U-turn at the end, when the baddies admit deafeat. This on top of the right amount of boastfulness of a “feared enemy”. It’s a silly role but a more nuanced one that you’d immediately give credit.

As Armida, Archibald was her usual self, I guess. I’m not a fan (for me she’s a soprano who has a very ringing but rather unpleasant top and little of interest elsewhere) but I will allow that, dramatically, her interactions with Pisaroni were rather fun. Vocally she was one of the most cautious ones, so Furie terribili was a bust – at least for me. Let us not forget that Handel wrote for virtuosi, who cherished the challenge to make a grand entrance, whereas I felt that she was still guaging how far her voice could go. If you have a voice large and sonorous enough to sing Strauss I’d say you could blast through a 2min Handel bravura aria (ok, ok, different style and all – but still; also as far as style went I thought she did well). But aside from a not entirely style-appropriate reach to the top of her voice later on, you wouldn’t have known what volume she has at her disposal. The coloratura was correct, if rather robotic (as Baroque Bird noted) but the moments when she cruelly played with Rinaldo by manhandling Almirena weren’t bad dramatically.

She was also unfairly hampered by the harpischord in that aria that features the keyboard at length, I wouldn’t know what to tell you about her interpreation, thank you overbearing harpsi. Imagine your concert performance is going well, with the various instruments having their moments, when an aria comes where you detect more prominent than usual harsichord involvement. At first I thought “how cool! There harpsi comes to the forefront to loudly let us know what it thinks, not just to whisper as it normally does – it’s ok if all the others (including the soprano) have to stop, turn around and pay attention.” It was ok and interesting even the second time. Then the third time came. Ok, I thought, Tom Foster is a very skilled player, why not? Oh, and this is actually an aria and the soprano is trying to convey something or another. What was that again? Nevermind, the harpsi will return for a fourth time. So all in all in that aria, the harpsi had centre stage for about 15min and the sorpano for 3. Classic(al) drum solo moment if I’ve ever seen one!

It was only upon further researching that I realised that was Vo far guerra (Archibald’s Italian diction isn’t anything to write home about…) and the harpsichord part is nowhere near as verbose, though it’s there and it’s definitely fun [edit: well, I’m proven kinda wrong. In the sense you can improv the hell out of it – according to your taste. It’s better if it’s at the end, though]. You’ll ask yourself, “come on, dehggi, you didn’t know Vo far guerra?!” Dear reader, I thought I did (kinda; that being said I totally forgot about Or la tromba until it started). One of the problems with the Barbican’s open plan hall is that if you’re seated on the Balcony and have my eyesight you can’t read the surtitles (I used the opera glasses to keep up with the plot but you can’t do it all the time or chance a headache).

Now of course I know Baroque is all about excess and if the singers can do their shtick, why not the instruments? Right, but it’s still an opera and not a keyboard concerto with bonus singing. Nevermind, judged by the ovations, this was the crowd’s favourite moment of the night, so there you go.

Iestyn Davies has been our local Rinaldo for a while now but I have to say he wasn’t in top form the other night. He came off a bit pale, both vocally and dramatically (most alive as a lover in his interactions with Harvey’s Almirena) and, hate to say it, his Rinaldo was upstaged in both stage presence and vocal shine by Orliński’s Eustazio – who has already sung his own Rinaldo in Frankfurt and I could see why.

I noticed some physical struggle with Davies’ coloratura in the massive bravura arias, which took his attention away from the drama. Especially in Or la tromba one needs to look like a very hopeful hero, ready to take on the last challenge in battle, and all I got from him was careful singing. I know it comes very late in the game but, you know, tough luck. In defense of the trumpets, aside from some tonal blur in the trills, the rest was great, beautiful sound, very good synch. I feel like I need to reiterate this because the trumpets were a pleasure and I know this is very difficult (impossible?) to do spotless with those valveless Baroque instruments.

To illustrate what I missed here dramatically, I’ll leave you with this concert performance (don’t be deterred by the low quality audio):

Harvey continues to baffle me. Though a singer of pleasant tone, vocal commitment and good technical skills, her stage presence is nonexistant. Glyndebourne is mere months away, I wager she needs to do something, because at this point, dramatically I have very low expectations from her Cleopatra. That being said, Almirena’s second aria was beautiful singing, my favourite from hers so far. The Augelletti aria not so much, though the piccolo was the bigger culprit (I didn’t like the tone, though I won’t argue if you call me nitpicky).

Like I mentioned earlier, I liked Orliński a lot. He and Pisaroni had the best stage presence and enthusiasm by far and he showed a very beautiful tone and nuanced phrasing. I’m going to see him in concert soonish, so expect to read something more in depth here once I hear more from him.

Cooke as Goffredo wasn’t bad, perhaps one needs to hear more before making a definitive call (I hadn’t heard her before). I couldn’t make my mind up if she was a low mezzo or a contralto but that wasn’t a problem. She came off as a good Goffredo, who’s supposed to be older and wiser – with unhurried gestures and a fairly authoritative vocal presence. She is one of those singers whose chest register sounds very different from her top. The chest is pretty solid though not particularly resonant whilst she can get a very strong ring out of her top. It’s quite metallic but rather intriguing, so I’d like to hear more of it. As an aside, hairwise she sported the curl of joy 😉 so there is a little extra bonus there.

All in all, a good, if not great evening. I’m way less familiar with Rinaldo than with Ariodante and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music Handel produced before his 26th birthday (it premiered the day after). The number of arias that have become Handel classics is impressive and the lesser known ones ain’t bad either.

The conversations around me were way amusing (how many times have we seen Davies? Three? No, many! Even when Farinelli transfered to the West End! He was also in something else here, though in a secondary role [dehggi: he was Ottone in Poppea a couple almost 4 years back, which is known as not having lesser roles – actually his E pur io torno qui is very nice]), though Mr. Twitter with fascist hair’s constant leaning directly in my line of view, especially during Cara sposa, wasn’t. I know not everyone suffers as much as I do if I can’t see the singers but I hate the disconnect. I have to say this was the first time I had “restricted view” at the Barbican. Moral of the story: never get second row Balcony seats, try higher.

Anyway! the next Handel opera concert performance at the Barbican is Serse this coming October, with Pomo d’Oro and a starry cast, including a certain contralto referenced in this very post 😀 I coughed up £40 for a second row Stalls seat so let’s hope all is good by then.

(as usual, sorry for the possible typos)

Golda Schultz’s bright sunshine in the dead of winter (Wigmore Hall, 5 February 2018)

Sometimes you have an idea about a singer that is so far off the mark that you (I) discreetly check your ticket to see if you’re at the right performance 😉 I exaggerate but only so much.

Golda Schultz soprano
Jonathan Ware piano

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
An Chloe K524
Das Lied der Trennung K519

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Heimliches Lieben D922
Romanze zum Drama Rosamunde D797 No. 3b
Suleika I D720
Suleika II D717

Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Three Browning Songs Op. 44

John Carter (1929-1991)

Somewhere over the Rainbow
South African Song

I know thadieu will remind me that she was also in that ‘trovatore in Munich with Harteros but to me she has so far been Vitellia in this past Summer’s Curretzology in Salzburg. That time I had to use a mental shovel and push away quite a bit of currentz-balast but in the end I liked her and upon seeing that she’d be coming to Wiggy I seized a ticket.

Well! This was a very good opportunity to be reminded that singers play roles in opera productions and whatever you think you can glean about them during the performance might be very little of or very different than how they are like in real life.

I don’t know that I’ve seen such a cute singer before (Petibon, perhaps, but that’s different kind of cute; cute with a lot of life experience; Schultz is young-cute – somebody giddy-positive that all is right with the world and happy to be doing what they’re doing). I don’t want to detract from her artistry; with me cute is a very high recommendation indeed. So much for Vitellia!

Schultz has sung the Countess, I hear, but I think Susanna or Adina are emotionally more up her alley. Or Rosina (I know she’s way past Serpetta career-wise, but she would be a hoot! Or how about the witty serva in Pergolesi’s La serva padrona? Does anyone sing that anymore? I wish someone (her) did in London!). I mean I’m all for getting ahead in life but there was such a brightness and liveliness to her in this recital, I think (and it might just be me) would be a shame to waste on more serious roles at this time. Anyway!

It was fresh and bright and happy and it flowed seamlessly from Mozart to John Carter then I teared up during Somewhere over the Rainbow – but in a good way – happy for her that she’s made it.

I wrote this immediately after and thought it was too short a writeup, but, really, this is how the performance was: short and sweet.

How to be cheerful about love and death in Venice (Wigmore Hall, 26 February 2018)

This was the first performance I attended in 3 weeks and that musical starvation added quite a bit to my enjoyment. If you look at the programme you can see it’s very attractive and interesting, though my favourite bit was, predictibly, the Poppea part. As we reached the interval I thought to myself “I could listen to the Poppea duets for hours!”

Love and death in Venice
Les Talens Lyriques
Christophe Rousset director, harpsichord
Gilone Gaubert-Jacques violin
Gabriel Grosbard violin
Emmanuel Jacques cello

Jodie Devos soprano
Judith van Wanroij soprano

This is the pared down team Rousset usually brings along to recitals and, also as usual, it did a great job. The violins stepped in and out, showing virtousity when taking centre stage, with Rousset himself and Jacques carrying most of the voice-supporting work. Rousset can, on occasion, come off a bit lacklustre in opera, but his very laid-back, rhythmically solid but non-intrusive keyboard style is always strong in recitals. His singers have room to shine and they did here, too.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Madrigals, Book 7
Chiome d’oro
O come sei gentile
Ahi sciocco mondo e cieco

Dario Castello (c.1600)
Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro I
Seconda Sonata

Claudio Monteverdi
L’incoronazione di Poppea
Prologue and Sinfonia
Signor, deh, non partire
Signor oggi rinasco
Pur ti miro, pur ti godo


Luigi Rossi (c.1597-1653)
A che tanto spavento
Che può far Citherea
Vi renda Amor mercè
Lasciate, Averno

Johann Rosenmüller (c.1619-1684)
Sonata Sesta a3

Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Lamento di Cassandra
Lamento di Didone

The singers took a bit to achieve optimal blend, what with Devos’ very bright top occasionally covering Wanroij more middle placed voice but as far as aural mix they worked very well and they looked like they were having fun singing together. Seeing two women in dresses (pink and bright red) sing the Poppea-Nerone duets also brought on a smile for yours truly.

As you know, I’m not exactly a fan of laments, and I learned Leander shares this feeling. Baroque Bird pointed out that Cassandra’s lament was rather interesting (quite chromatic, I guess? my vocabulary is a bit iffy – angular and “stabby” is what I felt) and while I agree it was memorable writing it was still a lament… Anyway, they did encore with another duet, and although Rousset mentioned its title/composer, they now completely escape me (but Leander got it, as well as Damigella and Valletto’s duet which I, uh, didn’t know was there 😉 d’oh!).

The performance was very well attended and the laidback feel permeated the hall, though London has been going through a most peculiar weather moment (dark clouds and snow/clear sky and bright sun chasing each other several times a day). Leander and Baroque Bird mentioned mezzo Emilie Renard was in attendence but sadly I spotted her at the opposite end of the hall so no hello from me though I would have liked to chat a bit. Hope to see her on stage at some point in the near future 🙂

Schubert with Angelika Kirchschlager (Wigmore Hall, 31 January 2018)

Angelika Kirchschlager is someone I’ve been aware of for what counts as forever but her contemporaries always appeared more interesting especially at a time when I was exclusively interested in opera and saw recitals as second best. As a result this was the first time I properly listened to her. It was a very pleasant semi-surprise.

Final concert in Schubert: The Complete Songs series
Angelika Kirchschlager mezzo-soprano
Julius Drake piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Namenstagslied D695
Frühlingsglaube D686
Geheimes D719
Im Frühling D882
Bei dir allein D866 No. 2
Lambertine D301
Am Bach im Frühling D361
Ganymed D544
Wiegenlied D498
In der Mitternacht D464
Erlkönig D328


Gesang der Norna D831
Der liebliche Stern D861
Romanze zum Drama Rosamunde D797 No. 3b
Suleika I D720
Suleika II D717
An den Mond D193
Der Jüngling an der Quelle D300
Der Wanderer an den Mond D870
Der Unglückliche D713
Lied des Florio D857 No. 2
Abschied von der Erde D829



I went because I can be a bit of a completist and because I kept remembering her from that Mozart docu (that shows the gaudy pink wallpaper from his house in all its splendor – I think) where she made singing Mozart sound like the bees knees. She can’t be all bad if she likes Mozart that much, can she? Then again, she’s from his hometown so I guess it’s the law to love Wolfie.

Two first things first: 1. Hair. That’s some hair she’s (still) got going! It’s like Galou’s nose (which I managed not to mention all this time 😉 ); there is hair and then there is Kirchschlager hair. I’m sure it’s boring for her and other well-maned people to hear about it but wow. I’m saying that appreciatively, even though I’m not particularly into hair (or noses – still Galou’s: ❤ ). 2. Mezzo? I know these fachs are approximative and at this point in her career it probably doesn’t matter anymore, plus her tone is very pleasant. But: mezzo?

Whatever her exact voice bracket, she can spin a phrase and sing lieder non-operatically and still have enough dynamic variation to hear comfortably anywhere in the hall (her excellent diction helps as well). A very interesting experience – somewhat like Antonacci in the sense of filling the hall without any apparent effort and definitely without shouting. She’s very different from Antonacci, though, so don’t get the wrong impression. It’s a very gentle/congenial sound, even when she steps on the pedal in something like Erlkönig – it’s still not commanding. It’s so delicate it feels a bit old skool girlie, especially hearing her so soon after Boni, who has that quintessential boyish mezzo tone, with a bit of kick to it. I was thinking it would be interesting to hear them together, also I should give her Octavian another try. I’m more ready for a very girlie Octavian nowadays.

In any case, this was exquisitely sung lieder, a mix of well used experience and enough spontaneity and youthfulness. Sometimes something done in the simplest manner can have a strong effect.

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

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

Daniel Behle tenor
Armonia Atenea
Markellos Chryssicos director, harpsichord

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

Le cinesi
Son lungi e non mi brami

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

La Semiramide riconosciuta
Bel piacer saria d’un core

Non hai cor per un’impresa


Christoph Willibald Gluck
La Semiramide riconosciuta
Io veggo in lontananza

Quercia annosa sull’erte pendici

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

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Iphigénie en Aulide
Cruelle, non, jamais

Orphée et Eurydice
J’ai perdu mon Eurydice


Oggi per me non sudi

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

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

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

The return of Ulysses to the English public (Roundhouse, 21 January 2018)

Ulysse: Roderick Williams
Penelope: Caitlin Hulcup
Telemachus: Samuel Boden
Melanto: Francesca Chiejina
Eurymachus: Andrew Tortise
Iros: Stuart Jackson
Minerva: Catherine Carby
Shepherd: Matthew Milhofer
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Early Opera Company and assorted chorus
Director: John Fulljames

In what has now become a very welcome dedication to the earlier repertoire, this January ROH has staged the second of the three Monteverdi operas, in an excellent English translation by Christopher Cowell. I didn’t feel at all deprived of Italian. For a more historically informed writeup please check Leander‘s.

Interestingly and quite like Willy Decker’s, Fulljames’ production also featured a rotating stage, this time with the orchestra in the middle pit rotating one way and the singers on an external donut rotating the other way. I guess this concept only makes sense what with this story often portrayed on ancient vases and/or to show the passage of time etc.

Though the orchestra was trv kvlt early music, cornetto and all, the team decided to introduce a chorus (made up of selected ROH Orchestra members and Guilhall students, if I remember correctly). In the queue to the loo after the event I overheard some comments that it was unnecessary but I enjoyed it a lot in the party numbers where they were used (I didn’t even know there were party numbers in Ulisse, side from what the pretenders sing; perhaps this was made up but it did not bother me one bit). I thought there was enough informed stuff what with the orchestra and the singers largely adhering to style so a bit of something else along the same lines of Monteverdi’s writing was a-ok.

Williams as Ulisse was wonderful, very affecting and light at the same time (in regards to his movements as well – Mum commented his dancing skills were tops). Now having heard a few Ulisses I liked his take better than Streit’s. I’m still undecided between him and Bostridge because both are great. I’m quite sure Streit was shortchanged by the orchestral forces behind him and possibly by the direction. This time everything was as it should be, with no singers ever having the force their way through the harpsichord wall of sound or chance becoming unheard or simply powering through for no discernible reason.

I wasn’t convinced by Carby’s Minerva, whose voice sounded too large for the role for me. I understand the direction asked her to portray the boot and combat trouser, strong and scorned god but one still needs to vocally keep with the style of the piece presented. Unlike Leander, I enjoyed Chiejina’s Melanto a lot and did not hear her vibrato. I thought she did a wonderful job, the best I’ve heard from her so far, with attention to style, wit and youthfulness – and I really like her full (but not too full yet) tone and her tackling of trills. She was easily my favourite after Williams.

Hulcup, taking over the run at the last minute from Chistine Rice (who is on the DVD with Christie), has a genuine mezzo voice that’s not hard to enjoy. On the other hand, Penelope is a very difficult role – what with the constant lamenting – so one needs a lot of colour and to show an intrinsic knowledge of a wife’s tribulations. I didn’t feel either, though the moment she finally recognises Ulisse was well done and she and Williams blended in a lovely manner in the subsequent duet.

This was a very serious production with the comical side toned down considerably and the chorus standing in for stranded refugees. The rotating donut pulled Ulisse away from Penelope even as they sang the final, “happy-ending” duet, apparently in a thought provoking manner. It is perhaps my failing that my thoughts didn’t feel particularly challenged…

I loved it musically – especially concept-wise and in regards to Williams’ performance and liked most of others’ performances. Dramatically I’m not sure I got it all but you know I always enjoy a sparse design and am rather fond of rotating stages. The Roundhouse either has very good acoustics or something because, as with any round halls, the singers do turn around to sing to different sides and sometimes they have their back to you. There was sound muffling but minimally so. I also liked Minerva and Telemachus singing their duet whilst circling the stage on a tandem bike 😀 it provoke the thoughts of “look at what else opera singers have to do these days! Great cycling skills! Remember Rinaldo at Glyndebourne? And remember how Orfeo had to dangle from the ceiling in this very venue two years ago? What shall they have Poppea do in 2020?!”

ps: the ushers at the Roundhouse are ace! There was quite a bit of going out of one’s way observed by yours truly. Also the public was very congenial. Mum and I were in a lift with a bunch of ladies her age who all smiled at everybody. My Mum went what’s all that smiling about? All I could say was think first world thoughts, Mum.

Are you afraid of me, Jokanaan? (Salome at ROH, 17 January 2018)

what sticks in the mind above all is McVicar’s conception of Salome as a petulant pseudo-teen. She’s a riot of overwrought pouting, wheedling, sulking and foot-stamping. The gap between her mundane histrionics and her extraordinary desires could hardly be larger. – Flora Wilson for The Guardian

A pseudo-teen? Why, she’s supposed to be a petulant teenager, n’est-ce pas? There is no gap between her histrionics and her desires! Going for the extreme version of anything is exactly what a petulant teen would do.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Salome. She finds Jokanaan interesting because her elders are so scared of him. And when she – literally – possesses him, she scores the supreme goal against her parents. That’s quintessentially adolescent 😀

Salome: Malin Byström
Jokanaan: Michael Volle
Herod: John Daszak
Herodias: Michaela Schuster
Narraboth: David Butt Philip
Page of Herodias: Christina Bock
cast +1
Conductor: Henrik Nánási | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: David McVicar

This 2008 Salome is one of those good McVicar productions, it makes its point and doesn’t overdo anything. The stage has two levels but focuses on the lower tier, which is the seedy area underneath the banquet hall above, aka the dungeon. I liked that – at least from my seat in the gods (£19!) – you could only see the legs of those attending the banquet.

Hells, yea, that’s exactly what a girl like Salome would like, and she says that much when she descends: I like it here, it’s so breezy. I bet it was really stuffy upstairs.

I admit I didn’t get the dance of the seven veils scene, which was all intellectualised with no nudity whatsoever. In fact the nudity present in the production did not involve Salome at all. I don’t mind that, perhaps on the contrary. But I also don’t quite know what to say about the dance. With its threshhold and/or mirror it seemed to me like something having to do more with Herod’s boundaries rather than having us all part of the male gaze. If that’s what it was then good but I’m not sure; all of this is stuff I rationalised since, not something that hit me at the time.

But, as we all know, Salome’s interaction with Herod isn’t what makes this opera. Here Byström makes the boredom mixed with apprehension and uneasiness with Herod very apparent and comes alive (as Salome should) in her exploratory interactions with Jokanaan. He, rather than Herod, stands in for the unwavering, demeaning authority of the patriarchy, with his decrying of her mother’s debauchery and basically calling Salome an abomination by virtue of existing. She seems amused (and emboldened) by all this – as a teen would. She goes on to tell him she wants his various body parts and when he turns her down in disgust she says she hates the above mentioned body parts 😀 I don’t know about others but I remember those petulant reactions so well (and so fondly, now that I have just turned into a “respectable” 40 year old).

Salome herself gets the ax in the end (from supreme local authority Herod’s order) but it feels perfunctory. The bourgeoisie/parents/male authority (both secular and religious) has been dully riled up and the opera is named after her.

I’m not necessary a Malin Byström fan (my last encounter with her was as the Countess in Nozze, where she sang very well but came off very cold) but I liked her better here. Her embodiment of a willful teenager wasn’t bad from my faraway seat and her singing was good, her commitment even better. I guess I have a bit of a hard time warming up to her. Everybody else was good, no complaints from me, though not earth shattering. As far as Jokanaan, I really liked Samuel Youn a couple of years ago at the Proms and Michael Volle didn’t make a more interesting impression.

I loved Michaela Schuster as the Nurse in Die Frau ohne Schatten and so I was thrilled to have her back here, though Herodias does not require much vocally beside shrillness. She still did a great job as a woman living her frustrations with the patriarchy through her rebellious daughter whilst realising she’s lost any grip on her. Points to Christina Bock who looked really cute and miserable as Herodias rather conflicted (and possibly bisexual) page. I also liked John Daszak’s Herod, especially his acting, as a very sophisticatedly depraved Herod.

I didn’t quite get Henrik Nánási’s take, which was, in my opinion, low on drama. Perhaps, volume-wise, he let the singers come forward? But still there was the matter of tempi, which were super relaxed, especially in the dance of the seven veils (and that added to my confusion regarding that scene). The libretto is so edgy, you want the music to have some bite.

It was a good night, just short of great. There is a 2008 DVD of this production (different cast), if anyone wants to check it out (this run has just finished).

  1. First Jew: Dietmar Kerschbaum
    Second Jew: Paul Curievici
    Third Jew: Hubert Francis
    Fourth Jew: Konu Kim
    Fifth Jew: Jeremy White
    First Soldier: Levente Páll
    Second Soldier: Alan Ewing
    First Nazarene: Kihwan Sim
    Second Nazarene: Dominic Sedgwick
    Cappadocian: John Cunningham 

Anna Bonitatibus and friends (Wigmore Hall, 25 January 2018)

This was part I of a two part event where Boni (with and without co.) introduced some of us to lirica italiana.

Anna Bonitatibus mezzo-soprano
Serena Farnocchia soprano
Paul Nilon tenor
Rocco Cavalluzzi bass
Margaret Campbell flute
Vincenzo Scalera piano

Girolamo Crescentini (1762-1846)
Il primo amore

Giovanni Battista Perucchini (1784-1870)
Taci, invan mia cara lole
Vieni, t’appressa all’urna
Se i sospiri degli amanti
Odi d’un uom che muore

Luigi Gordigiani (1806-1860)
Il Trovatore
La notte
La lacrima

Alberto Mazzucato (1813-1877)
Il lago
Il bacio
Il pensiero della sera
Il canto d’amore

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Notturno (Guarda che bianca luna)


Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870)
Virginia: Cantata for soprano and piano

Giuseppe Verdi
Cupo è il sepolcro e mutolo

Vincenzo Gabussi (1800-1846)
La luna

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
Il giuramento

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
L’ultimo ricordo

Sir Michael Costa (1808-1884)
Ecco quel fiero istante

Maria Malibran (1808-1836)
Nel cor più non mi sento

Gioachino Rossini
I gondolieri


The cat quartet (Rossini)

Though Wiggy has of recent been making a habit of getting together singers, orchestras and instrumental soloists, here is no doubt that managing any number of people larger than two is no easy feat. Originally the performance was supposed to include Jeremy Ovenden (last heard by me in that not quite Tamerlano from Brussels) and Riccardo Novarro (whom you might remember from last year’s Dario and Giulio Cesare) but they had to cancel.

Due to people changing into higher gears on their own time and also perhaps due to the choice of songs, the first part of the evening was rather mixed. As one would expect, our host Boni, in what I already called a pink gelato dress (with very nice pink floral embroidery), held her own from the getgo and had a heartwarmingly gentle moment with one of the songs (don’t ask me which, sorry, I’m really not versed in lirica italiana) ending in something I translated as “don’t worry, I’m right here”. And indeed, she let her friends take centre stage through the night, popping in and out to let us know just that.

The turning point for me was the Mercadante cantata, which I did not know, but had the easiest time following the voice-piano dialogue. I was quite stunned, in fact, given that usually when I hear a new piece I’m left with a soup of feelings and maybe the main tune, rather than being able to clearly “read” along with the people on stage. Great job Farnocchia and Scalera, for the mutual communication and ability to impart to us some vintage belcanto writing. We should hear more Mercadante, shouldn’t we? We should also hear more of Scalera, who I have heard before but I’ve started to rate very highly as accompanist since this concert, where he generally seemed to be having a ball.

The first best moment of the night was Boni and Farnocchia’s duet in Donizetti’s Il giuramento – their voices work so well together. You could tell they’ve sung together a lot, too, but their tones are wonderfully suited to each other. Farnocchia, though billed as a soprano and in possession of some piercing high notes, has a very fetching middle, quite related to Boni’s, though brighter. I would not say no to hearing her in some high mezzo roles.

The second high point was Boni’s rendition of Malibran’s Nel cor più non mi sento, which, for those who don’t know, is an excuse for the singer to show off their versatility, as each return of the main tune is done in a different style, from contained pathos to operetta silliness, through trills and octave jumps. Boni had no qualms about taking the piss out of herself as much as of the text, when attempting to reach the highest highs.

Cavalluzzi has a very opaque bass which sounded to me – at least at the beginning – like a Korean-type bass, very dark and rather large and not particularly subtle. I was then very surprised to hear how comfortable he sounded in I gondolieri.

Nilon has the smallest voice of the bunch and not particularly colourful but Italianate all right. He had the least effect on me (I napped through some of his efforts during the first part, having misjudged my energy levels the night before) but then I’m not the biggest tenor fan.

The night ended on an ensemble high with a really well balanced I gondolieri, where we got to hear some of Rossini’s strengths normally reserved for opera act finales done justice by Boni and Co. Lastly, they put decorum aside and regaled us with the Cat quartet.

The night took a bit of warming up and perhaps the selections presented during the first part could’ve been thought over a little but the second part was certainly well worth it. Boni proved a very gracious and generous host and with a hilarious knack for comedy. She can do the dramatic bits no problem, but I think zany comedy is her true calling.

Sonia Prina (Wigmore Hall, 11 January 2018)

Sonia Prina contralto
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in F major

Giovanni Ferrandini (1710-1791)
Cantata: Il pianto di Maria


This was a very well attended concert but in contrast to the JDD estravaganza, the mood was mostly relaxed. There was a certain buzz in the air, as if people had just started to catch on to Prina. Without a doubt her recent excursions in London have raised her status among Wiggy regulars.

A bit strangely, then, Prina showed up in a dress. I was caught unawares – she can dress however she wants but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen her dressed so formally. But, you may say, how appropriate is it to sing Mary’s lament other than formally dressed?

Perhaps to fit that mood and the fact that the show was broadcast live on BBC3, the Akademie sounded on the formal side of excellent. No doubt about their technical prowess and Baroque-ness.

Ferrandini’s Pianto di Maria seems popular among mezzos and contraltos but not so much with me. Prina decided on a very operatic take, with the dramatic turns energetically emphasised and the recit parts done with lots of fervour. I felt a bit of sameness of sound on the low end in spite of it all, so I think I prefer a higher or brighter tone if I have to listen to this piece at all.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Cantata: Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54

Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)
Concerto Grosso in E flat ‘Il Pianto d’Arianna’ Op. 7 No. 6

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629


But who may abide (Messiah)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629

After the interval we had the rather unusual chance to hear Prina sing in German. At least to my ears she did a very good job and I finally perked up.

Unsurprisingly my favourite moment of the night was Vivaldi’s Longe mala…, where I think Prina sounded most comfortable. Perhaps that was the reason why she also capped the night with it, much to my delight. The Akademie let their hair down a bit and matched her to perfection in the endless runs, which she of course took with much gusto. During the intermission I overheard a wry attendee do an uncanny and amusing impression of Prina’s very personal way with coloratura, so the above-mentioned runs brought a smile to my face in spite of the rough patch I went through the week before.

She returned to much applause with a “belated Christmas gift”, which turned out ot be But who may abide. It once again gave her the opportunity to shake the stage up during the energetic b-section. So a more sober encounter than usual but a Prina show is always warm and full of life and the public feels it and responds accordingly.