Category Archives: live performances

seen and heard live

Joyce DiDonato and Brentano String Quartet (Wigmore Hall, 21 December 2017)

Or the perils and joys of (contemporary) opera superstardom

Though I have seen JDD several times in staged operas and concert performances, this is the first time I’ve been to one of her recitals. She is nowadays one of the biggest opera stars under 70 but because she has such an engaging personality and is very switched on to what’s happening in the world I always forget just how well the marketting machine is working for her. Reality check:

I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by more music snobs in my life.

Posh Gent: I’ve told you before, it’s the way Wigmore Hall has gone these days. Everything is sold out and the only thing one can do is go to their seat and listen to music.
Lady wearing Chanel #5: This is supposed to be a very popular concert.

As the first song of the Heggie song cycle ended, someone at the front enunciated very earnestly and audibly, in a beautiful baritenor voice: bravissima!

And on and on. I swear this audience filled every pause with either coughs or commentary on what had just been performed (too long (Heggie), much better than Birtwistle (Heggie again), too heavy (the string quartet in general) etc.). Considering the median age, the sheer amount and immediacy of engagement she got out of people was remarkable (but exhausting).

However, we all know JDD is using the platform of superstardom to express her personal ideas as well as the music she performs, so (among quite a bit of politically slanted chatting at the very end) she offered this quip:

You know when “I say I love you” I really mean it. [bit where she said how much she enjoyed returning to London for a run] So thank you very much for opening your arms to me, a foreigner!

Hahaha, thanks JDD 🙂

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

All’ mein Gedanken Op. 21
Du meines Herzens Krönelein Op. 21
Die Nacht Op. 10 No. 3
Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden Op. 21
Traum durch die Dämmerung Op. 29 No. 1

Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894)

Molto adagio

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Trois chansons de Bilitis (arr. Jake Heggie)

Interval

Jake Heggie (b.1961)

Camille Claudel: Into the Fire

Encore:

Morgen (R. Strauss)
Silent Night (with audience participation)

I was sandwiched between two overly lively ladies and had behind me Chanel #5 and the posh gent let down by the recent offer of social engagements at Wiggy. One of the lively ladies turned to me about as soon as JDD closed her mouth to announce she thought JDD was better in Rossini. For whatever reason I had started tearing up during the second line of Silent Night and when JDD invited us to sing with her I actually couldn’t mouth more than a few lines before getting choked up but this lady was looking around her with the biggest and most conversational smile. Is this a generational thing or is it just me wanting a bit of privacy during a live performance?

As a matter of fact, I enjoyed this about as much as her Rossini. The string quartet was very good in itself (no pitch/intonation problems and very good interaction with each other and JDD) but I did agree with the chatty ladies that I like my Debussy lighter. I seem to like Debussy a lot so I should listen to some more. I did not mind the quartet in Strauss at all but the Lekeu piece stretched my tolerance for too much string. I’ve never heard of him before but it sounded to me just like what a 17 year old would write in the 1880s (and wouldn’t you know…  😉 ). By which I mean oh, the pathos.

I’d also never heard anything by Heggie before. The ladies around me were powered by some trepidation as to whether this would be another one of those dreaded “world premiere”-like moments and one of them appeared somewhat apologetic for preferring Schubert to most modern composers. The good thing about a song cycle is it’s a lot shorter than a full opera.

In the end everyone let out a sigh of relief, as Into the Fire fit very well with the rest of the program (which was only logical…). I liked it well enough, I wouldn’t mind listening to it again and it’s obvious it was written for JDD, as it showcases her strengths (there are even some not very tricky but finesse requiring trills).

I have come to the conclusion that JDD really likes what she does (and can do what she likes), because her commitment is always top notch. Also, the amount of pressure she must be having to carry now that she is the “popular concert” in town needs to have some other support beside just work ethic. Nearing 50 one can see that she’s cared very well for her voice, as only a technical perfectionist would. Yes, I think Rossini/belcanto might be her true home, but I am always impressed by her versatility. Her opera voice has a good size for large halls but she can sing just as easily/naturally in chamber voice when the rep needs it. Here she even used some vibrato. Then there is the way she controls her instrument, which is impressive as nothing seems forced or a last minute decision but fresh and natural. I also like her timing. I was watching how she traversed instrumental passages, how she communicated with the quartet and how she was easing the voice in, not a moment too soon or too late.

Her interaction with the audience is also interesting. As I was lamenting above, there’s a lot of hysteria and snobbery, but she doesn’t seem particularly affected by it. With other singers who do similar things/elicit diva-worship responses it always feels like “and now I should chum up to my people” but with her the mix of chat and “singer mode” comes off naturally. There is neither mistique nor feigned modesty, just “look, you guys, now that I got the world’s attention I’m going to put on a nice dress (shoulders!), get a cute haircut (tousled), talk about some serious issues and let you into some neat details of stuff composers old a new wrote. Who’s with me?”

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All about his mother (Semiramide take 2, ROH 4 December 2017)

…with the bust of Adelina Patti, who sang Semiramide in the 1890s.

A woosh of dread went through the packed hall when an announcer came out, so strong I thought it would push her back to where she’d come from.

Announcer: No, no, no, everything is fine. All I wanted to say is that JDD had a respiratory infection last week but she is much better tonight. Enjoy the evening!

Frenetic applause and a general sigh of relief. More applause when Pappano came out (there normally are, but these were extra jaunty).

Let’s start with the conclusion: thank you Pappano and all. You convinced me this is truly a great opera and I wish it made its way back into the repertoire so we can hear/see it more often. Rossini outdid himself here. It’s got it all somehow melded into a whole: his playfulness, his expertise with the opera seria formula, lots of innovation and the great tunes never stop.

One of the great things about it is that Rossini knows how to write for the voice and won’t let the orchestra intrude but he has also written excellent instrumental parts. Also peppering the score with ensembles and keeping the choir active really makes a difference in regards to pacing (always fresh).

However, it most likely needs a great team – top singers and a very intelligent conductor. An insightful production doesn’t hurt. It really is shortchanged when the focus is on noodling runs of coloratura or if the conductor thinks the drama needs too much push. Pappano trusts Rossini and focused on bringing out all the inventive details, which are a pleasure to hear. His voice-orchestra balance was optimal.

Compared to the 25th it was like this: Arsace and Semiramide’s act II duet = best moment of the night (and not just in my opinion either. My seatmate dubbed it “fantastic!”, lots of applause and shouts etc. and some teary eyes from me). I just wanted it to go on and on (and luckily Rossini knows a good thing, so, as most duets here, it’s quite long). I still think Ah, come mai quell’anima is the more beautiful duet but this is wonderful, especially with Barcellona and JDD who work together so well. Have a listen to how they sounded in Munich earlier this year (imo, not nearly as good. I actually don’t like that recording and I’m glad I didn’t listen to it before going. I had to agree with the commenter who heard JDD off pitch a lot of the time. Esposito came off majorly bland of tone (to me, who am not his greatest fan to begin with). The duet is beautiful, though).

Brownlee (still no ping, from the lower slips in the auditorium) had some of the most amazing floated notes I’ve ever heard in Ah dov’è il cimento? Seriously, that stuff was staggering, to the point I had to remember where my loyalties lay 😉 cue in severe shaking from Azema1 and that quip about how if she didn’t think Arsace was the biggest hero in the world she’d totally go for Idreno. Don’t listen to his 2013 rendition found on ‘tube as it’s vastly inferior. Sadly it seems to be his only rendition on youtube.

His interaction with JDD in the act I finale, where everybody was trying to come to terms with the appearance of Nino’s ghost was acoustically interesting: his lines were louder than hers but this appeared deliberate, giving a very welcome depth to the sound. However his act II aria saw surprising ups and downs in concentration, which makes this performance one of the most curious I’ve witnessed.

Pertusi’s pre-mad aria recit was again his strongest moment – he’s really good at that kind of thing, vivid and credible. Also he had many very Verdian flashes through the night (and I mean that in a good way. Philip II was calling?). JDD did sound (even) more cautious with the very highs and I think I remember a moment where the sound came out a bit unfocused but other than that she was as strong and committed as usual.

Now that I could focus more on things other than the immediate impact, I thought Arsace spends a lot of time in the lower recesses of the mezzo voice, so perhaps this is a reason VK never sang it (as her voice is darker rather than low, where Barcellona’s is both dark and solidly low). I’m now compelled to hear Hallenberg’s take again. I also had time to realise I’ve been spending so much time listening to Baroque specialists that even a little – understandable – vibrato throws me a bit (Barcellona and Pertusi). I won’t fault them, of course, but it was interesting to see how little JDD uses in comparison. Come to think of it, Brownlee did the same. Unless he has the type I don’t catch. Might be an issue of American vs Italian style?

The choir was (I think) better this time, thought the beginning of the opera still posed challenges.

She may be wicked but she is my mother

Arsace as a character is a bit underdeveloped for contemporary sensibilities, which is why, I suppose, he’s given a pony 😉 I’ve noticed this thing in pre mid-19th century opera (though, come to think of it, heroes continue to be rather intellectually fluffy (see all Wagner)), where we have supposedly accomplished warriors/strategists act very naively in private matters. They are also way too young for those military accolades. Something’s got to give, eh, and that is usually intelligence.

As per libretto Arsace is characterised by being brave (commander of the Babylonian army at the tender age of… about 25, I’d say), dutiful (rushes back to headquarters when Semiramide calls and is unwaveringly on her side even before he learns she’s his mother) and very much in love (his entrance aria reminisces about how he saved Azema from marauders and then their eyes met = opera love).

All of a sudden he’s hit with major existential questions, which he is ill equipped to answer. Then again, who of us would have an easy time with a mother who wants to marry us and who has also, incidentally, offed our father? Plus the realisation that we’re next in line as the country’s top honcho? All of these revelations in one day, the same day we were merely supposed to announce our wedding (to someone else than the mum)! Barcellona is very good at portraying the youthful hero with all his youthful imaturity mixed with the earnest desire to do the right thing by everyone. I have cats to hug when things get weird, why shouldn’t Arsace have a pony? I also see that moment as his return to his childhood room, with the pictures and the toys one’s parents keep in the attic (or spare room).

The ending is rather poignant, with the hacked to death Semiramide reaching wordlessly (a victory for realism! thank you, Rossini) towards her son and Arsace’s duty tragically winning over love in grand opera seria style, as he ascends the stairs to the throne and glory. For his unexpected ascension to top honours he looks shattered so who knows che mai sarà.

Singing-wise, Barcellona was the picture of understated poise, with excellent stamina and that beautiful lyric tone needed for best results in belcanto trouser roles.

So now that this first ever ROH run is over I can’t wait until they revive it 😉 hopefully with a similarly strong cast and Pappano (or someone else who can do Rossini justice on this level).

late November view of London from Alexandra Palace


  1. Agathe, you were right, that seems to be D. Alden’s shorthand for severe emotion (“moved” indeed). 

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. 

Your execution is my retribution or Rodelinda, queen of hilarious choreography (ENO, 9 November 2017)

The challenge for ENO was not only in rendering a Handel libretto palatable to 21st century audiences but in making an obscure 7th century AD political situation entertaining when you understand every word of it. Enter Richard Jones and team, officially my favourite Baroque opera director/team. If you liked his Aix Ariodante you will like (potentially love) this. Check out what he has to say about it:

For whatever reason the pertinent commentary from Jones has no visuals from Rodelinda, so here’s the trailer, but ignore the comments, which are heartfelt but tell you nothing:

Rodelinda: Rebecca Evans
Bertarido: Tim Mead (with a cold)
Grimoaldo: Juan Sancho
Eduige: Susan Bickley
Garibaldo: Neal Davies
Unulfo: Christopher Lowrey
Flavio: Matt Casey
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Choir and Orchestra of the ENO
Director: Richard Jones/Donna Stirrup (revival director)
Choreographer: Sarah Fahie

The Longobards/Lombards, right? There are few foggier historical periods than those significantly lumped under the term The Dark Ages (of Europe). The constant waves of migrations criss-crossing Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire never quite got big in popular culture. One can rightly assume this period was the theatre of political musical chairs, with tribal hopefuls stealing thrones from each other only to be swallowed by the black hole of historical oblivion. Jones sort of updates this to fascist Italy, says the Guardian, but to me it looked like the mob in the ’20s. Strangely, though, for all the update it still feels like way back when. In a good way.

Purely on a “let’s not do another story from the Big Book of Greek Myths” basis I welcome the librettist’s decision. I also welcome the presence of leading damsels who stand up to their oppressors. I mentioned before that a Baroque opera named after a woman means said woman is no shrinking violet. Rodelinda is possibly the most kick ass Baroque heroine (the line quoted in this post’s title is hers).

The Guardian review mentions “a dark vision of Handel” but I think it’s rather a dark subject matter, treated in an unexpectedly funny manner. I don’t know if my sense of humour is particularly bleak, but, omg, I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard during a Baroque opera production before, even during comedies. Surprise was a major factor. I attended this performance because I recently fell in love with the music but I found out there were so many hilarious moments and they were so cleverly placed as the night progressed, it was hard to keep track and generally not to snort.

As I was saying, I’ve only discovered this musically wonderful opera this year, with the livestreamed Madrid performance, featuring Crowe, Mehta, Zazzo and Prina, in Guth’s thougthful and sensitive production. Let me tell you, Jones’ 2014 production is not thoughtless by any means, but sensitive it is not. I liked Guth’s as well, but I would say this is more in keeping with the ethos of the Dark Ages.

As someone whose first language isn’t an operatic one and who has been introduced to the art form via operas in their supposed languages, it is always striking to hear an opera in a language that you instantly understand 100%. There is also the issue of translation. When you have a couple of lines that get repeated over 5min you/I really want a poetic translation. I quite struggled during Partenope on that account. Here the translation was also mostly to the point (except for a couple of arias) but the choreography was so clever it turned something potentially bland into the height of hilarity.

My favourite moment was Rodelinda’s aria where she tells Garibaldo just what she’s going to do to him after she is forced (by him) to marry her reprehensible stalker Grimoaldo. Whilst she’s singing, she and son Flavio are mimic-ing just what she has in mind and let me tell you, that was some imaginative(ly amusing) choreography to fill 3 to 5min.

Then we have metrosexual double agent Unulfo coming up with a plan to free Bertarido, in which he selects a gigantic meat cleaver from Garibaldo’s serial killer shed, whilst Eduige is busy unscrewing a window frame for easy transfer. Said meat cleaver returns to “haunt” Unulfo later, when Bertarido accidentally stabs him (repeatedly) with it, only to apologise profusely.

Unulfo (caughing blood): my lord, is that you? How handy with a sword you have become!
Bertarido (aghast): omg, I’m so sorry, Unulfo! How could I do this to you?! Let me press my jacket to your fatal wounds.
Unulfo (leaking entrails all over the floor): there is no time, my lord! You must save yourself and your loved ones!
Bertarido: but me must get you to the A and E!
Unulfo (crawling heroically, hands him the fatal meat cleaver): I’ll… be… fine!… Save… yourself!

But we’ve all figured out that Unulfo is devoted to the literal last breath, and although he’s more chopped liver than human by this point, he makes sure there is a happy ending – just not for him, sadly, as, forgotten by all, he collapses in the last scene. Dark Ages, eh? I know this sounds gruesome but it isn’t visually offensive.

Like I said, there is more, not the least the happy ending chorus, during which Rodelinda and Bertarido lock up Grimoaldo and Eduige, with Grimoaldo getting the meat cleaver treatment from Bertarido’s traumatised son Flavio (that one is going to need a lifetime of therapy; failing that, the serial killer shed is already set up).

So that’s 800 words on the production alone.

Musically I was surprised the Guardian reviewer felt Curnyn’s conducting occasionally lacked definition and impetus. I thought it was some of the best Baroque conducting I’ve heard in London. The orchestra, too, played beautifully and idiomatically, with the harpsichord (just right, volume-wise), oboe and strings particularly in good form; really nice interplay between the sections and with the singers (never overpowered).

Though a notch below the Madrid team (except for Davies = vastly superior to aging Chiummo), the singers were strong throughout and they also had a lot of stuff to do physically, more often than not requiring perfect timing with each other.

Bertarido’s entrance aria (Dove sei, amato bene) was rather uneven but Mead’s performance grew in strength over the evening (much better in his lament at having lost it all) and he still had enough energy to power through Vivi, tiranno (I saved you), or at least power it as much as possible given his countertenor-of-the-lyrical-kind voice. You really need a contralto for Eduige; a mezzo, no matter how experienced, is not the same. Above mentioned Davies rocked Garibaldo’s late aria in praise of gung-ho tyranny.

Io t’abbraccio (Ah, my beloved) wasn’t bad, Mead and Evans mixed well; all it needed was that extra bit of something. Lowrey did a very good job as general butt of jokes Unulfo (I didn’t even know this one had so many arias!), gamely coping with it all and showing top comedic skills (best moment: when he sings whilst holding the meat clever of doom, on which Eduige is writing a VERY long message to Bertarido – who subsequently reads it all in recit, much to everyone’s amusement). Imagine a metrosexual holding propping up a giant, rusty meat cleaver like it’s dipped in poo.

Somewhat like Lowrey, Juan Sancho had to put up with a thankless role, in his case deconstructing evil into pathetic – his singing had something wistful to go with that. In fact, beyond the cheapish laughs, Jones has once again given us a production that deals with (toxic) masculinity and which, interestingly, includes Eduige (and possibly Rodelinda herself) as a culprit. I was pleasantly surprised to see this dealt with here, after our discussion during and after the Madrid livestream. Here the big sign of the macho is getting a tattoo. Bertarido has one of Rodelinda on his arm (foreshadowing), Eduige has one of Grimoaldo on her back and Grimoaldo gets one of Rodelinda (whilst singing! I’m telling you, they get up to some stuff in this production). Rodelinda needs no tattoos to assert herself when she makes Grimoaldo an offer he can’t bring himself to accept.

Rodelinda: I’m ready to marry you…
Grimoaldo: A-ha!
Rodelinda: … on one condition.
Gariblado: she’s going to ask for my head!
Grimoaldo: … anything, except his head.
Rodelinda: pffft, who cares about that moron?
Grimoaldo: very good! What, then? Name it and you shall have it.
Rodelinda: in order to get the throne, you must kill my son, the rightful heir!
Grimoaldo: 😮

She even draws a big X in lipstick on her son’s chest whilst singing the taunting aria! Rodelinda is right out of Orange is the new Black, yo. So the “happy” ending comes less as a surprise.

I had a seat up in the gods (you can always get a row all to yourself up there, so you can move around as needed1, and it’s above the angle where you get the Balcony railing to block half of your view). London venues offer very good sound from their amphitheatre seats. Given this is the biggest of them all, I had time during the evening to re-think my usual position on big venues vs. Baroque. I now think it’s mostly down to acoustics and a thoughtful conductor. So there you go, big halls of the world, update your acoustics, hire a good conductor and bring on the Baroque, gruesome or not.

PS: ENO, I ❤ you. Please don’t screw yourself up any time soon. We need “people” like you.


  1. If, say, you get a tallish woman with a brazen bun in front of you. 

Il ritorno di Willy Decker to Hamburg (Hamburg Opera, 29 October 2017)

…according to the poster in the house 😉

Ulisse: Kurt Streit
Penelope: Sara Mingardo
…and others who I will add later (also read below)
Conductor: Vaclav Luks | Collegium 1704
Director: Willy Decker

This production originates from Zurich and is very effective. We saw its Hamburg premiere and it received lots of applause and no abuse. It’s simple – everything happens in the same space (as thadieu put it, a sloping white, round dish) and the differences/advances in the story are told via changing costume rather than props. It’s one step up from a concert performance, which means you’re never left scratching your head. My minor qualm, after seeing a bunch of Monteverdi productions where the gods are made a big deal out of, is that we could do with one production where gods don’t physically appear at all (of course we still get to hear them). Then again, thadieu pointed out that it might not be clear to all who are the gods and who are not.

There were some curious decisions on the part of the local advertising team that might make sense locally but baffled the tourists – such as using the director’s picture for the poster in the house (there were no outdoors posters, just banners) and uploading the trailer after the actual premiere <- they apparently filmed a new one, so kinda cool in the end (see the trailer at thadieu‘s – and read her report(s) as well 🙂 ).

The performance in itself was mostly very fine vocally, aside from both Melanto and Eurimaco, who did not live up to their fine music. Tassou has a colourless voice and you know that is the kiss of death for yours truly. She did get better as time went on but there is a lot of nice harmony in Melanto’s music that, for me, never came through. Now that I’m listening to the broadcast, wow, she had some trouble staying on breath and the line got away from her a few times… As she started it seemed like the music took her by surprise (wait, what? It’s my turn?!!! Shiii… where am I?). Palchykov sang in an overly operatic manner not suited for Monteverdi. Also his voice is rather bigger than the others’, ready to break into La donna e mobile 😉 and he too had a bit of an issue with the Monteverdi ornamentation… early music skills, eh. Though I think for a different rep he’s not bad and can get quite seductive.

I did, however, have a welcome revelation with local ensemble mezzo (surprise, surprise) Dorottya Lang, who sang Minerva and showed very fine potential. I don’t know that her future is necessary in this repertoire, but I liked her attention to style and a rather striking dark tone.

All three of us also agreed Pieweck as Ericlea (Penelope’s nurse), could have had more to sing. She knows her Monteverdi and has solid chops.

This is not something you usually hear from me but whilst listening to Dumaux’ Human Fragility I thought here is a role that decidedly belongs to the countertenor voice. We all know he is good both as a singer and as an actor and he did not disappoint. I am actually quite looking forward to see him in his perhaps trademark role in the summer, as so far it has been more self effacing circumstances, which he can do as well, no doubt. He regaled us with what I think is the most spectacular falling technique I’ve ever witnessed on stage, when he “dropped dead” from touching Ulisse’s bow (as suitor Amfinomo).

I was quite surprised how much I liked Trost as Eumete the kind beggar, since my most memorable encounter with him was as Tito in that overly soft Mackerras recording – where he was alarmingly bleaty. Here he showed impressive Monteverdi skills and a fine voice. His acting/interaction with others, especially Streit’s Ulisse, was not bad at all.

Nurgeldiyev as Telemaco is probably another singer that will make his name in later repertoire, but he evidently paid attention to style and ended up doing a good job, with some sensitive acting, too.

Streit in the title role was somewhat of a mixed bag. I quite like his tone and have generally enjoyed him before. He is always committed, if, in this case, I would agree with thadieu that he veered off into overreacting, both dramatically and vocally. Ulisse’s entrance aria where he’s not sure if he’s awake or sleeping was taken a bit strongly. As a result, for the rest of the night his Ulisse came off rather angstier than I normally imagine him. Now you may remember I saw the very finely subtle Ian Bostridge in this role before and he created a lasting impression. Generally I thought Streit’s performance was stronger whenever he had someone to interact with. The ending duet with Penelope was sensitively done, though, and made me think what an unusual opera this is, to tackle the trials and tribulations of mature love and to make said love appear fresh at that.

Mingardo has sung Penelope before in this very production, so of course she was at ease and with her love and care for Monteverdi she shaped the music with her subtle, introspective touch. Her Penelope was perfectly loyal, though she did not fall into the trap of making her unfeeling to the suitors’ plight. We did see Penelope’s struggle to keep her wits about herself during the 20 year party, especially when they suitors wooed her with their posh I ❤ Penelope t-shirts 😉 <- it is true, we spent quite some time thinking about ways to produce said shirts and we came up with a couple of more “P” possibilities, heh. I have to say, I ❤ P sounds like a pretty good title for a Mingardo fan site 😀

Uncharacteristically, we heard less piano singing from her because we had a super loud harpsichord. Now at intermission the three of us pondered harpsichord’s applicability or lack thereof in Monteverdi. Not only did I find it superfluous but I thought the harpsichordist used it as if he was playing Handel. It was the worst offender of the otherwise very enjoyable night, worse even that the singers I went merciless on above.

Whenever we only had violins, winds and theorbo things improved drastically. Perhaps I am turning into a HIP fanatic, which I don’t necessary want to do, but I really don’t like harpsichords in Monteverdi. I would like to hear whatever anyone else has to say on the matter.

I’ll point you thadieu‘s way for more comments on Luks’ orchestra, because she’s better than me at pointing out all the intricacies of different baroque orchestras, whereas I am more apt to zero in on faults 😉 all you need to know from me is that, harpsichord decisions aside, I had no issues with the orchestra, which was the largest I have seen for early opera.

…there is more, of course, and I will be back here to add more text and pictures (but no more bitching I should never promise this…), because it was actually rather sunny in Hamburg and the Echo Awards were being given at the Elbphilarmonie 😉

As thadieu mentioned, this was a lovely opportunity for her, Agathe and I to get together for a hard-core contralto adventure which even the skies favoured with good weather, if some chilly blasts from the sea. We visited the main sites within the centre of Hamburg and a bit of the harbour before it was time for the 20 year party. I liked this side of Hamburg a lot, especially the canals, which reminded me of Lonodon’s. Expect some dramatic cloud pictures. I’m not quite sold on the Elbphilarmonie design, but the “jam smudge” sails can be endearing on a good day.

On the contrary, the opera house is a very low key affair, with particularly narrow lobbies. I was a bit intimidated by the insistence of pretty much everyone present to dress up, and strangely coordinated in black and white at that. At ROH you do get the overdressed crowd, especially for premieres, but it seems there is more of a variation in regards to colour usage and even necessity of dressing up (in the amphi most people don’t go further than “business casual”). Here I had a cheap ticket and I was surrounded by gents in tuxes! Agathe seemed baffled too, saying that’s noit been her experience in the past. Who knows! I wonder if this had anything to do with the concurrent presentation of the Echo Klassic Awards next door (for that matter, the house was full, so clearly the public is a bit different, though apparently the Hamburg Opera management is not known to chance on up and coming singers).

In any case, I hope to return to Hamburg for more opera, at the opera house or the Elbphilarmonie, if possible in similarly good company 🙂 and with fingers crossed for another lucky break with the weather.

nice Venetian feel, eh?

Roberta Invernizzi, the softer version (Wigmore Hall, 20 October 2017)

Invernizzi and Co. decided to run this show without an intermission which I thought would suit most, as we’d all make it home sooner rather than later (in my case I had an early shift to wake up to). But people are odd – even though we got to the end 20-30min sooner, people still got up to leave before the encores. Where are people rushing to?

Roberta Invernizzi soprano
Accademia Hermans
Fabio Ciofini conductor/harpsichord

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Scherza in mar la navicella Lotario HWV26
Ah, mio cor Alcina HWV34
Traditore, traditore Berenice HWV38
Trio Sonata No. 6 in G minor HWV391 Op. 2
Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17:
Tu la mia stella sei
Piangerò la sorte mia
Sinfonia bellica
Da tempeste il legno infranto
Che sento? Oh dio! Morrà Cleopatra ancora
Se pietà di me non senti

Encore:

Lascia ch’io pianga Rinaldo
Da tempeste (reprise)

Invernizzi interestingly started with the light hearted aria about the boat, the one I discovered with Karina Gauvin earlier in the year. Considering they sang some of the same material, it was interesting to compare the results. There is a tendency to sacrifice the first aria whilst getting your voice in gear. I couldn’t say Invernizzi needed a lot of tuning in but I had more fun with Gauvin’s version, which came at the end of the first half.

Ah, mio cor, on the other hand, was less dramatic in Gauvin’s interpretation. With Invernizzi this was the moment I perked up and started to imagine her singing the whole role. Now, interestingly, if you listen to each of their ‘navicella (Invernizzi | Gauvin) you might get the opposite impression (that Gauvin, with her denser voice, would be better suited for Ah, mio cor). I did think Invernizzi’s voice was a bit light for Alcina but somehow she fleshed Ah, mio cor into the compelling moment it should be. These days she seems less interested in technical dazzling.

Baroque Bird commented that Accademia Hermans managed to pick the most boring Trio Sonata Handel had ever written 😉 Well, it wasn’t particularly interesting. We spent some time during the intermission (what? I mean after the show…) trying to remember if it had 3 or 4 parts. I thought there were four (slow/fast/slow/fast) with the third particularly boring, or perhaps it just came out unfocused, but the last fast one not too bad. I didn’t have too much issue with the band this time and will admit to using a bit of time conducting scientific research started at TADW a couple of days before (subject: cellists and toned upper arms).

Baroque Bird thought they didn’t feel very comfortable with Da tempeste. I, on the other hand, was very comfortable with it and I was quite pleased to hear it 1 1/2 times more in the past week. After much whinging, Cleopatra’s ship makes it into the port of Good Times and the audience (your truly) cracks a smile. What more can one want, indeed. Well, perhaps the whole aria encored 😉 It’s really too bad Cleo doesn’t have more arias along those lines (Da tempeste is a good conversation starter regarding Cesare. It’s normally the one that comes up as my favourite – right before I think “wait, how about Se in fiorito1? Svegliatevi nel core? Quel torrente? L’aure che spira?” – after which I remember it’s a pretty good set).

Now that I was forced to hear Piangerò la sorte mia twice as much as I normally would like in any given week, I have discovered I rather enjoy the play with harmony Handel does later in the piece.

The last time I saw Invernizzi was almost a year back in a joint concert with Prina. On paper it looked great, in the house I felt like Prina outshined her somehow or, for some reason, things came off very quiet instead of the fiery interaction I’d envisioned. This time it occurred to me that her manner of singing reminds me of Galou (the way I hear it, they’re both “abstract” singers) so perhaps pairing them would work better (for me).

My favourite Invernizzi “trick” is the way she can stop the sound short without giving you aural whiplash in the process. It’s like turning off the ignition when the car is starting to roll down the hill. Hallenberg and other light voiced Baroque specialists also do a variation of this but Invernizzi uses it very particularly and both for musical and dramatic purposes at the same time. It helps her “turn direction” unexpectedly.

So a tad less showy, more introspective Invernizzi? Why not…


  1. yes, I know, I’m a sucker for arias about coy little birds… especially when sung by contraltos. There is an English version too: Fleet o’er Flowery meadow glinding. How’s that for a tongue twister? 

Giulio Cesare with the contralto cacciator (Theater an der Wien, 18 October 2017)

Cleopatra in Egitto

You might be surprised to hear that I once again lucked out with the weather in Vienna, something that only a year ago seemed laughable. T-shirt weather in October in Central Europe!

I also lucked out with my hastily bought seat1 and had an all night direct view at Galoumisù  visually there’s precious little better than DG’s upper back/neck and with a profile view you get the best of both worlds… But, you know, the music!

2017 shall remain in dehggi history as the year of the contralto hunt, as all my opera trips were dedicated to the rarest spotted fach.

Giulio Cesare: Lawrence Zazzo
Cleopatra: Emöke Baráth
Tolomeo: Filippo Mineccia
Cornelia: Delphine Galou
Sesto: Julie Boulianne
Achilla: Riccardo Novaro
Conductor: Ottavio Dantone | Accademia Bizzantina

It may come as a surprise to some that, although I have by now quite a few experiences with, for instance, Ariodante, this is the first time I’ve seen Giulio Cesare in any house. So that is why, perhaps, I felt I liked the music a little less. To be sure, taken aria by aria we have a slew of strong ones, but also our ladies get some proper dirges. Also Tolomeo doesn’t get quite the snappy material Polinesso has. His horribleness usually amounts to old skool sexism:

Tolomeo: hey sexy mama, how about you and me in the desert-shed? Bow-chica-wow-wow!
Cornelia (lips twisted in disgust): how dare you, third world vermin, speak like that to a Roman Citizen?!

This exchange happens 3 or 4 times (as Cornelia is also popular with Achilla) and with both Galou and Mineccia very good actors, it was, dramatically, the highlight of my night. But I couldn’t help thinking we’ve got a sleazy man caricature and a racist cow… I mean, no shit, Cornelia, you’re the symbol of the colonialist establishment, you may not want to use that particular trait as the one we should remember you by.

However, Anik and I agreed nobody moves quite like Galou. She has the height (+ those heels that somehow haven’t broken her back yet) and enviable posture and she knows how to work them. This was the first time when I could see why these dudes are so hot and bothered by Cornelia, who usually is made to look like this mature and sorrowful widow, ready for the veil.

In that sense, Boulianne as Sesto appeared more like Cornelia’s younger sister (a vacillating Zdenka?). Though a singer I have appreciated in the past2, with a resonant voice and interesting darker tone, I’m not convinced Handel is her repertoire. Perhaps she was too focused on the surprisingly many, moody arias Sesto has, but on the heels of Galou and Mineccia, I was hurting for even a bit of nervous movement to go with that angst. I know I’m a fidget but how can you refrain from putting your body into this stuff?!

Hats off to Mineccia for his fantastic stage presence, with liberal (but very well directed) moving about. As I was saying earlier, his interactions with Galou (<- those snarls! haha) were priceless. I also liked the “sculpted” string sound during Empio, sleale, indegno – an underrated aria. He didn’t portray Tolomeo quite as a teenager but in the context of a very fiery Cornelia that rude young man thing was a logical foil.

However, back to Boulianne’s Sesto, I did enjoy her duet with Galou’s Cornelia. Their mix of very different voices (though I think tessitura-wise they’re rather similar) worked nicely for me. The dark colour brings them together for blending, but the weight and approach to singing makes each one pop out.

Going to see Cesare for Cornelia is a thankless task, though, being a sucker for the plight of damsels in distress, I obliged 😉 Ok, who am I kidding

I don’t quite care about Cornelia’s arias; in fact I was surprised to learn she has a chipper one towards the end. So far no matter how good the singer I thought it was just whinge, whinge, that third world bastard killed my husband, boohoo, my teenage son and I are all alone, omg, who’s going to save us now that Cesare is dead? Hello, Mr librettist: why the hell has Cornelia gone to Egypt with her teenage son in tow?

Cornelia: look, Sesto3, that scum there is your father’s murderer! Stab him!
Sesto: omg, I must be strong, but I’m only 12! What’s my mum been thinking?! Shit, now I’m seeing things…

You will say, wait, wait, dehggi, she didn’t know Pompey was dead. She thought he was just imprisoned by Tolomeo and Cesare (aka, Ancient World Police) would negotiate with (= force) said third world bastard and all will end well and her family would get a Sharm el-sheikh holiday out of it as entitled to by their first world status. It’s still kind of funny when, after liberally throwing imperialist/racist abuse at sleazebag she goes all omg! we’re lost. You’re in a war zone, lady.

That being said, I loved Galou’s timing and interactions with the orchestra – the way she got in and out of the phrase and how that blended with the sound around her – surprisingly especially when she was “duetting” with the flute, if I remember correctly. I also got a kick out of her big grins during and lots of clapping after Va tacito.

Zazzo, whom I remember as a very approachable chap from the masterclass I saw a few years back, seems to be a relaxed and courteous man all around, as he gamely shared the stage with Mr Hornplayer during this (Va tacito) most famous (?) or Cesare’s areas. Perhaps not as memorable a voice as others, his is very congenial live, when countertenors can sometimes come off abrasive.

He’s also a “stage mover”, though perhaps not quite as deliberate as Galou and Mineccia, but he brought out a surprisingly affable and luminous Cesare, who’d probably (very nicely) tell Cornelia to dial down the imperialistic angle. Along the same lines, his portrayal came off like Cleopatra was out of his league, but wow, what luck, she might actually like him (the kiss at the end of their end of opera duet was on-the-cheek shy). By the way, how catchy is that duet? Zazzo and Baráth somehow found the energy to play with it and sound playful whilst doing so. It got stuck in my head for the rest of the night and most of next day.

So now that we’ve established TADW decided to advertise this as Cleopatra in Egitto, how was Baráth? She was very fine, indeed. She has the Baroque-tone, the coloratura, the breath, the intelligence and the looks to pull it off but you know I thought Cornelia outshined her Cleopatra when it came to stage movement/charisma. She’s a bit too contained/cautious, but perhaps she’ll let go with time and experience.

Novaro as Achilla was very reliable and I really liked his red/black dragon jacket but, you know, Achilla. He was pretty respectful in his interest in Cornelia and took her rejection rather meekly.

During whingy less interesting arias I had time to listen to the hall and it is true it’s not absorbent (which is probably a good thing for this repertoire). Luckily our singers were in very good form. The band wasn’t bad, though I understand it was occasionally sluggish/unfocused. The public was as usual very discerning and I was pleased to see that all the people on my row were interested through the evening.

Anik and I met before the show for one of those chats that managed to mix the traditional opera snark, the chicken with four breasts and whether personal bunkers of hard liquor is the best answer to Europe’s current problems. At interval we were joined for impressions by another very enthusiastic WS, who has already put up a review which will hopefully answer the questions I skipped.

The good news is TADW continues to win at Baroque opera in concert.  Another good news is that TADW doesn’t object to taking your camera to your seat. The bad news is Quel torrente was cut again. And with Galoumisù so close at hand!


  1. too hastily, it seems, as “my” box remained empty. I thought about returning to it but then I wouldn’t have had Galoumisu eyes all night. 
  2. Don Giovanni in Paris last December. 
  3. why are Sestos always urged by strong women to stab someone? 

The Catalan German Piano ™ jams with the lo-fi czardas caballeros (Xavier Sabata, Wigmore Hall, 9 October 2017)

Wiggy usher (opens a window): oh, hello darling!
Woman: hello! I’ve never heard this band before, are they any good?

Xavi Sabata countertenor
(dis)Armonia Atenea, George Petrou director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto for Strings in G minor RV157
Giuseppe Maria Orlandini (1676-1760)
Ciò che donò la frode … Alza al ciel pianta orgogliosa Adelaide
Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (c.1682-1732)
In te, sposa Griselda, mi uccido … Cara sposa Griselda
Antonio Vivaldi
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 1 No. 12 RV63 ‘La follia’
Pietro Torri (c.1650-1737)
Vorresti col tuo pianto Griselda
Antonio Vivaldi
Gelido in ogni vena Farnace RV711

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Admeto, re di Tessaglia HWV22
Introduzione
Orride larve!
Chiudetevi miei lumi
Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Viver vogl’io sempre per te mio dio … Or mi pento La conversione di Sant’Agostino
Antonio Vivaldi
Mandolin Concerto in C major RV425
Attilio Ariosti (1666-1729)
Spirate, o iniqui marmi … Voi d’un figlio tanto misero Caio Marzio Coriolano
Giuseppe Maria Orlandini
O del mio caro ben … Già mi sembra al carro avvinto Adelaide

Encore:

Lorca poem in Greek
Delizie e contenti Cavalli

Yes, the “…” are supposed to be not particularly subtle pregnant pauses liberally placed.

And, no, the moniker “German piano” isn’t my invention, because I know nothing about pianos, German or otherwise. I nicked it from Baroque Bird, who actually owns a piano (German?).

I do however know a bit about the – trv kvlt – black metal sound, which I occasionally reference around here, most famously in relation to Roschmann’s “facial” during Non piu di fiori 😉

In this case, it’s what the band’s sound at “shredding time” reminded me of. Those of you not familiar with (the second wave of) black metal should note vintage bm is the most trv kvlt-sounding of all extreme metal genres1. Forget death metal growls, forget industrial’s… industrial sounds; bm’s vision2 is:

  1. get beat up instruments from a decrepit second hand shop
  2. drag them through thickening mud
  3. plug them in (bonus if you get electric shocks on occasion)
  4. shred in unison only
  5. place boombox from 1981 (previously run over by a lorry) about 50m away from the instruments
  6. hit record (hit it like you mean it)
  7. rip out the tape’s ribbon
  8. shred it to pieces
  9. piece it together randomly with used sellotape
  10. shake well until you achieve complete homogenisation of sound
  11. save on your laptop using the lowest sound quality possible
  12. play loudly on said 1981 boombox
  13. = masterpiece!
  14. bonus: take yourself very seriously
  15. ps: don’t believe me?

I (being the kind hearted optimist you know and love) prefer to think this was Petrou’s mission statement, rather than a showcase for the band’s actual skills.

Or I did back in Halle this past June, when I blamed it all on boogie the acoustically challenged venue.

They did come up with a new twist here – perhaps they did it in Halle too, and the acoustics were indeed so echo-y the whole thing bounced off my skull and got lost. This new(?) twist was the czardas-turned last ritornello in La follia, that unfailing old Vivaldi chestnut. Or was it a sirtaki? Now I seem to remember it’s customary to make sure your violin keeps in tune for a czardas

but I’m not a musician, so I can go stick my opinion in a blog or something, right?… all I’m saying is I’ve actually (or literally) had my ears checked recently and they have passed the MOT.

This Summer I listened to more Currentzis than I cared to and to be fair, that

pregnant pause thing

has its merits. But this time I really hurt for some legato with that pregnancy. It should still flow, shouldn’t it? I don’t know if you, dear reader, are familiar with Tracey Emin’s hand drawings, but suffice it to say that drawing skills aren’t prerequisite for becoming a contemporary fine art superstar. Still Tracy Emin surprised us with her humble side a few years back when she suddenly put some effort into honing her inner Picasso. The night’s orchestral accompaniment was the aural equivalent of that when it came to negotiating dynamics (and, often, tune).

dehggi (during the Cavalli encore): ah, so exquisite! Even the violins are more in tu… nevermind, I spoke too soon. But Sabata should sing more of this stuff.

After all, we were all there to hear him. I for one wanted to see him live specifically for his dramatic talents. At one point (right after the intermission?) he walked out with the band. The aria had a very long intro so he stood quietly to the side. All of a sudden he walked decisively towards the centre of the room, but not “hi all, listen to my next aria”, which is how it often feels like in recitals. Or how Antonio Poli walked off stage after a really good rendition of Il mio tesoro in the staged Don Giovanni at ROH :-p 3 No, this was thoroughly in character well before he started singing. And then things got even better because he has a very good technique that serves him up and down the range. And, you know, he‘s in tune.

At first I didn’t quite know what was happening because I barely heard him during the first aria and I lay some heavy blame on his projection or lack thereof. You should be heard from the 11th row at Wiggy. But things improved dramatically during the evening, which caused me to place the blame back on the Tracey Emins. Good on him for not forcing himself to sing over the racket. The second aria was already much better, when he employed some very stylish forays down the middle of his voice and all of a sudden someone on stage had personality. Fancy that.

He’s not the kind of singer who dazzles with endless coloratura (I understand this is the basis of the German Piano metaphor) but he can phrase with the best of them and has an imagination (and skills) to shape the sound, as thadieu would say. Which is why he should sing more of that Early Baroque, I think he has the right feel for it and for making it exciting.

In spite of all this, there were a couple of things from the others that I enjoyed – the metallic wrist-slashing chords from the viola da gamba during Gelido in ogni vena, the jazzy show starter from the double bass4 and the “wave” sound (during the Lorca song) that came out from the gut of the harpsi when Petrou stroked it. Wish the Vivaldijazz was further explored/incorporated and not in that L’aperggiata smooth jazz manner.

… it made for very lively conversation with Baroque Bird, Leander and friends at the interval and afterwards, though we didn’t all agree about everything.

as usual, sorry for any typos/errors, it’s been almost a week and I want to put it out there and my brain is a bit hazy edit-wise today.

  1. and it thus attracts tryhards by the boatload. BM fans tend to be even more humourless than those belcanto fans who think opera died when Callas lost her voice the first time. 
  2. “Just crank the gain, turn up the treble, scoop the mids, and bury the bass. “Metal” distortion pedals can also work well. The old bands did not give a f@ck about good tone.” (from here). 
  3. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that! He just walked away, like ok, aria done, let me get back to my crossword puzzle. 
  4. Yes to jazzy Vivaldi in general, though perhaps not so much to a syncopated tune in particular… but that’s personal taste for you. 

Jazzy Sonia Prina (Wigmore Hall, 10 September 2017)

Sonia Prina contralto
Paolo Spadaro Munitto piano

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Voglio di vita uscir
Lamento d’Arianna
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csík BB45b
Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Au pays où se fait la guerre
L’invitation au voyage
Chanson triste
A piece from Feuilles volantes Op. 1
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
7 canciones populares españolas

Interval

Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960)
4 French Folk Songs
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Chanson lithuanienne Op. 74 No. 16
Lamento Op. 74 No. 9
Madrigal Op. 74 No. 12
La jeune fille et le fleuve Op. 74 No. 3
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
The Man I Love
3 Preludes
No. 2 Prelude in C sharp minor
Erroll Garner (1923-1977)
Misty

Encore:

Bella Asteria Tamerlano

Don’t we all want to hear our favourite singers occasionally step out of the same old, same old?

No?

No?

😉

Regardless of what we want, they sometimes do. In this case Prina put on a dress and spent most of the evening crooning. One’s personality comes out well rounded in recitals and so there were still enough fist pumping moments as well as humour (the Bartók songs). Mostly, though, it was an evening that quite naturally lead into Bella Asteria.

Perhaps it was a logical response to unfamiliar sounds (though the songs in themselves were entertaining), but I’ve never heard a more beautiful rendition of Andronico’s serenata. This isn’t an aria that normally makes me purr, plus when she was in London for Ariodante she’d sung it in her BBC interview and I was quite unconvinced. But though she herself admitted she was tired, this time it came out really pretty. Her ppps were on fire all night, as was her phrasing.

The Duparc set seemed to me the most suited to her voice – she did it very low and velvety so now that I heard the songs that way I don’t want to hear them any other way. Her “vocal meandering” in L’invitation au voyage was exquisite.

The least suited was the de Falla stuff, which seemed to me like, in spite of her dramatic involvement, never quite bloomed. I kept thinking it needs ping, but aside from the tartness her voice gets at the very top when she’s loud, there’s no ping in her voice.

Baroque Bird joined me at the show at least in part because I managed to misplace all my Autumn Wiggy tickets and needed a reprint :o! She knows more about music than I do and she gave me some pointers regarding the piano, which is an instrument I don’t quite get (as in, I don’t normally know what I’m supposed to be looking for).

According to her, Spadaro has a particular feel for jazz so the second part came out more naturally to him. I was seated on his side and all I could say was that he was too loud in general. After she mentioned it, I could follow that he tends to finish songs quite abruptly, which on occasion I thought hampered Prina when was going for a dreamy atmosphere. But she likes him and she obviously teamed up with him for that jazzy feel she was after all night.

The jazz stuff sounded very well – Baroque Bird had come especially for that and was so happy with the result she said she’s all for Prina singing/recording more of that – and it got me thinking that Baroque specialists have the advantage of that more relaxed style of singing when it comes to song in general. It never felt like there was a break in styles, the show just flowed very naturally, though Prina did get into the spirit of things (I can tell you she had the right temper and timing for the Bartók stuff).

It left me in a very mellow mood, basking in her pps and tangy frutti di bosco gelato tone and wondering how things would’ve been if she went the jazz route instead.

Tito under the mulberry tree (more Glyndebourne)

Intermission notes:

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.

Rookie audience:

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.

the mulberry is split in two and the side on the right is propped up.

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.