Category Archives: live performances

seen and heard live

Kat’a Kabanova and Richard Jones, a match made in small town hell (ROH, 9 February 2019)

Small town mentalities, mother-in-law from hell + traditional woman’s role (aka, guilt over even existing) = the river Volga looks mightily inviting.

that’s right, Kat’a has a dark cloud over her head and the waters are quickly rising to engulph her…

Katerina (Katya): Amanda Majeski
Boris Grigorjevic (the lover): Pavel Cernoch
Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova (Kabanicha): Susan Bickley
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Vána Kudrjáš: Andrew Tortise
Tichon Ivanyc Kabanov (the husband): Andrew Staples
Glaša: Sarah Pring
Savël Prokofjevic Dikoj: Clive Bayley
Kuligin: Dominic Sedgwick
Fekluša: Dervla Ramsay
Conductor: Edward Gardner | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones

Doesn’t sound like the kind of opera I’d rush to see but Janáček’s libretti are always worth your while (it’s 1921, after all, not 1840). The story is repugnant on all levels yet somehow the way it’s told does not insult the contemporary Western intelligence. It also helps that it’s directed by Richard Jones.

As you can imagine with Jones at the helm, whatever humour there is (and, surprisingly, there is) gets a very evident and effective treatment. That’s very welcome (and clever for those who have hired him) because otherwise this opera is as depressing as those facepalm gems Lucia di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly. (I’m aware both are actually sympathetic to their heroines but it doesn’t make it any better; we still have these self-sacrificial role models perpetuating the mentality that you either conform or die, no matter how much we all think you’re actually a decent person).

Normally I’d roll my eyes at the MIL from hell trope, because it portrays (older) women in that ugly, mysoginistic manner etc. On the other hand, traditionally, Eastern European MILs do tend to be overly protective of their perfect progeny and very distrustful of anyone they ever date, let alone marry, because who could ever be good enough for their genius babies, right? The tendency to insert themselves in the young ones’ marriage is a reality. Another reason I put my eyeroll back on its shelf was because the way the libretto treats this – here overblown – state of affairs is very funny. The MILzilla (Kabanicha) wastes no time before starting with her complaints. To say she’s unrealistic, uncooperative, implacable or childishly jealous of her daughter-in-law doesn’t even start to cover the extent of her tantrum (the role of Kabanicha is an extended tantrum that puts the Queen of the Night to shame).

Some gems from the libretto:

Kabanicha (to her son): you love your wife more than you love me!
Tichon: Mum!
Kabanicha: what if she had a lover?
Tichon: but she doesn’t!
Kabanicha: but what is she did?
Tichon: … I’d still love her.
Kabanicha: you’re a moron!

Later:

Kat’a: why must you go [to Kazan Market]?
Tichon: because Mum said so. [Kabanicha: if you really loved your Mum, you’d go to Kazan Market.]
Kat’a: must you go? I feel something terrible is going to happen to me if you go.
Tichon: yes, if only to get away from here.
Kat’a: take me with you!!!

On the other hand, the hard done by Kat’a gets a really beautiful aria from which we learn of her lofty imagination and her (sadly very repressed) adventurous spirit. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town knows that the only place imagination and adventurousness gets you is in trouble. Small towns thrive on conformity and propriety (although we also soon learn that the staunchest uplholders of those qualities are also very hypocritical).

So for having a “fairytale” MIL and a downtrodden daughter-in-law, paired with benevolent but ineffective men (Kat’a’s husband, Tichon, and her lover, Boris), the libretto is unexpectedly balanced by the existence of a second young couple (the sidekicks), Varvara and Vána. Vána is a scientist and Varvara is a right on sister, who willingly assists Kat’a with her issues and tries to cheer her up, offering a lighter, more pragmatic view of the world. This couple is quite clearly pitted against the Behold God’s wrath! old skool mentality, embodied by Dikoj (Boris’ cantakerous uncle) and Kabanicha. This happens during the storm scene, when Vána and Dikoj face off (to humorous effect) over “what is a storm?” So the future is yet bright (Vána and Varvara go together to Moscow, where we all hope their enterprising personalities will help them thrive).

For whatever reason, the couple Kat’a and Boris is much less successful. Probably this has something to do with the dying class – nobility, undone by the limitations propriety and the rest of that stylised form of existence puts on its healthy development.

I’m not familiar with the music enough to make extensive comments, but I will say that the singers were supported with care by Gardner and the interventions by various winds and brass sounded particularly good. In the title role we had Amanda Majeski, who has so far been known to me only as Vitellia to JDD’s Sesto way back in 2014 (Chicago). Live she made a very good impression on me, both vocally and dramatically. I wouldn’t mind hearing her Vitellia again 😉 even though these two roles are as far from each other as it gets. It’s that kind of nicely rounded soprano voice that has various colours to work with and she knows how to handle it.

As far as acting, she was completely immersed in this sad role and shone in the aria I mentioned above, where Kat’a talks about her dreams of soaring above the drab and stifling world1 she lives in. This appears to have been her ROH debut, and I hope to see her again in some interesting roles, mind. Please, ROH, don’t bury her in the same old. And if we can have Tito back at ROH sometime in the next decade, I’m definitely not going to be one to complain 😀 In any case, she got a very warm welcome in the house and the word on the street is equally as positive. Welcome to London 🙂 With Brexit looming, we might end up welcoming a lot more American singers of this calibre… that would be the good side of things.

The others did well, too, of course especially Bickley, who chewed scenery with the best of them as the self-righteous busybody Kabanicha. As unpleasant an cliche as it is, she made the role quite hypnotic in its small-town diabolique manner.

[edit]: The last scene was – totally unexpected – the most Russian thing I’ve seen on an English stage (true, I have not seen many Russian things, but I have seen Jones’ decidedly un-Russian 2016 Boris Godunov, one of his less successful productions, as far as I’m concerned). The spirit seemed just right to me (the main trio: Tichon holding the dead Kat’a, with Kabanicha tugging at them).

It was an evening equally as rewarding as it was frustrating, which is a good thing if you’re relaxed enough to put up with 😉 Jones has been on a roll for a few years now, so I would suggest you don’t miss his productions if you’re a fan of good theatre. But dress lightly, especially in the Upper Amphi; the heaters are on full blast.

This was my first return to ROH after it has completed its refurbishment of the Amphitheatre lounge. They have done a very good job integrating it with the rest of the ROH design, congratulations. It’s swanky but not obnoxiously so. After my travels around Europe, I think it’s still got the coolest lounge areas of all the major theatres.


  1. Two men to my right were discussing – somewhat mockingly – the cheap looking beige panneling that was the constant background to the proceedings. I was a bit surprised that it needed explaining. For my part, Jones’ ideas and Antony McDonald designs were spot on and smoothly clear at every turn: the hippie young couple proclaiming nature was beautiful, the “squares” with their ’50s style clothes and furnighings etc. 
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Sonia Prina and friends: deluxe Vivaldi (Wigmore Hall, 7 February 2019)

Vivaldi? The guy who wrote The Seasons and then renamed it different things over his long career? This was one of those performances that gives the listener a glimpse at Vivaldi’s varied range of skills, from virtuosic instrumental writing to vocal music.

I know we’ve barely finished a long conversation around Vivaldi’s Juditha, so everyone around here is way past a need for an introduction to Vivaldi’s badass music but this isn’t just that. It works on different levels. If you know your Vivaldi even a little bit, this team of musicians pulls you into his exciting world and by the end of the evening things feel better than before.

Super annoying corporatist type behind me to his junior female companion: I once was at a Vivaldi concert in Venice, in Vivaldi’s church!1

I couldn’t take it anymore so I upgraded to row M.

click picture to enlarge

Sonia Prina contralto

Alina Pogostkina violin

Dorothee Oberlinger recorder

Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concerto in G minor for strings RV156

Là, sull’eterna sponda from Motezuma RV723

Ho il cor già lacero from Griselda RV718

Concerto in C for flute RV443

Sol da te mio dolce amore from Orlando Furioso RV728

INTERVAL

Concerto in E minor for violin RV277 ‘Il favorito’

Concerto in D for violin RV234 ‘L’inquietudine’

Sovente il sole from Andromeda Liberata

Anderò, volerò, griderò from Orlando finto pazzo RV727

Encore (aka, let no Vivaldi recital be without a Juditha section)

Veni, me sequere fida ❤ ❤ ❤

Agitata infinido flatu (all star)

When I heard both encores would be from Juditha I just about passed out 😀 It’s like she was there with us recently and thought “speaking of Juditha…”. But how will I ever be able to enjoy these arias in recital without a woodwind on hand, let alone an all star Agitata?! Yes, First Operaworld Problems strike again.

If you’re wondering if Prina has sung Juditha, the answer is yes, and in very good company (at your fingertips, too). I think I speak for all of us when I say we hope to hear her sing the whole thing live at a reachable venue 😀

It was a dark start, which augmented my rather unsettled state (let’s just say this week has been indirectly a bit too intense). ‘eterna sponda was done with that seductive wistfulness Prina can convey so well, yet with the usual spontaneity (the orchestra needed a moment to catch up but were solid throughout afterwards). Ho il cor gia lacero turned out fabulously febrile. This stuff fits her tone and temper like a glove. There is a bit of an arc between it and the other “fast and furious” aria of the night – Anderò, volerò, griderò, one of her staples – which she did faster than I’ve heard her before, to the point that I couldn’t follow the words – but she somehow could sing them! Hehe. T pointed out in the Juditha report (or was it in conversation?) that with Vivaldi there are many words to be sung and that can, sometimes, trip singers. Not in Prina’s case.

The wistful/slow and seductive arias benefited from her other skill – that of singing with gentleness and care. That also came through in her interaction with the other musicians on stage, especially her “duet” partners. As you know, Prina always interacts. She’s not the kind of singer lost in their own world, oblivious to the proceedings around them. Here she watched and “conversed” with her partners in crime as she does with her singing partners in a concert performance or in a staged production.

I don’t know what kind of violin Pogostkina plays but, whatever it is, it has a sweeeeet tone. I’m not the biggest solo violin fan but, wow, I loved that one and could imagine myself listening to it for the rest of the night – plump and warm, never strident. Whilst listening, it occurred to me that sometimes when I complain about the strings, it may also be that I don’t enjoy certain violin tones and not just the lacking skills of the players. Not to take away from Pogostkina’s skills, which I thought were excellent (really nice legato, light touch on the endings; she can “shred”2 without sounding uncouth and has very good rhythm).

Oberlinger looked just like my idea of the Pied Piper – are all recorder/flute/other mad winds players a bit whimsical? That’s a good thing, btw – as is the Pied Piper, one of my favourite characters, as I have mentioned around here before. At first I thought she was a bit flashy, the first piece sure went at lightning speed, but perhaps virtuosity was the whole idea. However, she won me over with the very lovey-dovey obligato in Sol da te and then the… whimsical one in Veni, me sequere fida. I think T called it a serious aria, but is it really? I think Juditha is allowing herself to be a bit playful/encouraging here, although they are sad. Oberlinger’s interaction with Prina, the way they played with the sounds, was simply a joy to listen to/watch. I really needed that 🙂

Though Agitata3 isn’t my favourite Juditha aria, to hear it with these virtuosic forces (again!) was a badass ending to an evening of comprehensive exploration of non-Seasons/Folia Vivaldi. Most of the audience realised the evening was top quality as the reception was very warm and enthusiastic. Somehow Prina and Co. lucked out on a really bright winter day here in London and in turn left us the gift of joy (indeed).


  1. that was just the best of the absolute nonsense that moron spouted liberally. 
  2. remember Basso’s famous words, Vivaldi is rock’n’roll – shredding skills required. 
  3. I like Agitata da due venti a lot better; probably the aria that made me think “I love Baroque opera!” 

Juditha triumphans (De Nationale Opera Amsterdam, 26 January 2019)

Did y’all know Juditha‘s outro is the actual anthem of Venice?! I didn’t, to my shame, but I do now. (There are certain themes running through this blog). Good on them, it’s such a great little choir bit, very typical Baroque loose-end tying but so effective. I simply love Vivaldi’s writing and with good reason – if you listen closely, you will hear how his chord progressions have come down all the way to pop music.

*

The operatic year 2019 started wonderfully for yours truly with this out of my usual season opera trip to Amsterdam, in the always enthusiastic company of thadieu and Agathe (who organised this one – thank you, thank you!).

After having been tipped off by thadieu a few years ago as to what a gem Vivaldi’s military oratorio, celebrating Venice’s victory over the Ottoman Empire, was, I have (quickly) grown to love it myself. These days it’s got a well deserved spot among my top 3 favourites, yet it’s not often you get to see it staged.

As you know, the concert performance Marcon toured in 2016/2017 was one of my highlights of that season, so when this was announced – and with Iervolino to boot, to whom I was introduced via Nox obscura, anyway – it was a no brainer.

However, that concert performance, as wonderful as it had been (Galou and Hallenberg, hello! Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra + the all female choir), did not prepare me for several things. For some reason, the difference in feel from concert to staged production was the most radical I have seen yet.

Juditha: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Abra: Polly Leech
Ozias: Francesca Ascioti
Conductor: Andrea Marcon | La Cetra Barockorchester Basel, Choir of the DNO

triumph over rubble?

You have probably gleaned from thadieu’s report (and if you have not, you should read it; whilst you’re at it, read Giulia’s account as well) that this staging is not ambiguous at all as to good and bad. Juditha and her people are the good ones, of course, and Holofernes and them are very horrible indeed, more so than a concert can ever convey.

It’s wartime and we are never left to forget just how that brings out the worst in its perpetrators in particular. I say this because war does not spare the oppressed from stretching the limits of what during peacetime we would call morally sound. In the end we are left with a Juditha unsettled by her own actions and resentful of her heroic status.

So not a happy ending; this Juditha is humanised, not merely a symbol of victory for those who write history. Much is made of the famous painting during the opera, most curiously with Holofernes presenting it to Juditha during their “date”, as part of the looted artwork he has decorated his quarters with. A strange element of foreshadowing, perhaps pointing out Holofernes’ and them’s utter arrogance.

Spoilers? (ps: I hope TI won’t hate me for posting this. Visit her FB for wholesome pictures by clicking on the severed head…)

Yet Holofernes goes to some lengths to appear magnanimous even from the get go: as soon as he comes on stage, he starts by shooting one of his officers who is in the process of raping a Bethulian woman. He goes on to stage a photo shoot of him giving candy to local children (apparently unaware it can also be read as majority creepy). Of course, the libretto (and his very laid back music) does paint him as willing to compromise to a certain extent with the locals. But there is not compromise for Bethulians, it’s freedom or nothing1.

I can see why it was another production featuring the Nazi as the bad guys, given the story and that this was Amsterdam. I still think there is room for this oratorio to be set even more contemporary, though there is always the trap of falling into sensationalism with that, especially when beheadings are involved. Speaking of which, you’ve probably seen Iervolino’s selfie with Holofernes’ chopped head. Armed with that knowledge ahead of the show, it turned out all some of us were eagerly awaiting to see how effectively they would stage the beheading. Though the very relaxed Amsterdam audience giggled a little when the chopped head emerged from under the sheets, it was rather effective. Holofernes was passed out drunk, she put a sheet on his head and did the deed.

With a very unpleasant “upstart” Vagaus, this turn of events looked even more his fault than usual. You remember it is him that encourages Holofernes to grant Juditha an audience. Here, Holofernes appeared particularly uninterested at the beginning and Vagaus had to work hard (and bourishly) to convince him. Then he does a piss poor job at keeping vigilant, given that he found both Juditha and Abra armed upon entering his superior’s quarters.

Relax, it’s just the premiere!

As I mentioned before, none of us were prepared for Gaelle Arquez, whose Amsterdam debut was this very performance. Juditha’s arias are mostly dirges2, because she’s understandably upset with the situation and she’s trying to keep her dignity. It’s a sign of virtuosity to make them stand out and not drag (she somehow even managed to make Transit aetas jaunty). Arquez more than managed that, via deft vocal characterisation and her dense tone that fit Juditha to a t (or a th). Also, her Vivaldi style was impeccable, nothing was overdone or flashy for the sake of it and nothing betrayed how acquainted she is with other repertoire. I really need to hear more from her (more Juditha and more Baroque in general) to talk in further detail, but suffice to say that I like her tone a lot and this first live impression will stay with me for a good while.

I consider myself super lucky to have seen live my two favourite Holoferni. I have said it before, Iervolino is by quite some margin my favourite of the new generation of voices, and in this role in particular. Though more boyish/less sophisticated than Galou’s, her Holofernes does have his own strong hypnotic charm. Her softly resplendent tone lends itself particularly well to the sexy arias sung by the drunken Holofernes during the second part. This Holofernes needed all the help he could get, given the masculine toxicity all around him. But we all know Vivaldi does not portray him in a repulsive manner, so the Juditha/Holofernes scenes are always rather curious. She always seems to have the upper hand, as much as she is literally at his mercy, yet he keeps laying on an irresistible (to us) charm. I don’t know that I can say anything else that I haven’t said before about Iervolino: go see her and you will weep for joy that this wonderful music gets sung by such a voice.

Perhaps to go with the production, Marcon used the “made up” overture this time, which is the first time I’ve seen him do it. You probably know the original overture has been lost – at least partially – so the chorus we are used to is merely the bit that would normally come next. The overture heard here is good enough, in the way Vagaus’ alternative first aria is – but no cigar. Appending it before the chorus feels to me like dampening the powerful effect of the rumbling timpani and piercing (female) chorus.

The fabulous La Cetra Barockorchester Basel… and some rubble

The good news is Marcon and his orchestra are able to make you feel this is thrilling music. All the soloists were marvelous! They played with virtuosity and feeling. The mixed choir – again, I suppose for the purposes of the production, because usually Marcon uses the female-only choir – worked generally very well, with only some minor dragging. When you have the mixed choir you sacrifice that piercing quality for dialogue, which I like as well (I started by prefering Sardelli’s very martial mixed choir and was only won over by the all female version upon hearing Marcon’s take live).

This was my introduction to De Nationale Opera. I want to congratulate the Amsterdam public for being amazing – supremely relaxed yet engaged and well bahaved (no rustling/phone ringing/phone flashing and minimal coughing in the middle of a miserable season). No fussiness about this being a premiere, yet generous with the applause.

The house looks modern inside, along the lines of Opera Bastille. The hall isn’t that large but the stage is – especially deep. The sightlines are excellent and the acoustic very good. It also houses the local City Hall. As you do! Gotta love Dutch Style. We started imaging what if it wasn’t just operahouse/city hall, but also airport3 😉 that would anger the hotel industry, as people would fly in, watch a show and fly out – but isn’t that the Dutchest thing ever? Haha.

Your Juditha needs in one spot

There’s more: the Dutch business sense showed itself at the souvenir counter. Not only did they have Juditha magnets, but also Juditha posters4. Yes, they had opera specific paraphernalia, at decent prices. And a very cute – woman cut option, though no Juditha-option – t-shirt. That’s how it should be done! My only complaint is I didn’t like the poster (ha).

So although I agree with thadieu that Marcon should’ve reined in the orchestra at times (his only fault), and in spite of the minor quibles above, I have gained a very high level of respect for De Nationale Opera. It may not be as famous as others but they do some great stuff here and they are not afraid to feature young talent in top roles – and lesser known operas, for that matter. Lesser known operas that should be MUCH better known. It wasn’t just us, but Agathe’s friends who joined us to the opera also reported liking it a lot.

Even the inclement weather (rain followed by heavier rain) did not dampen the mood. Thadieu saved the day via uber, which showed up in 5min, which meant we didn’t miss the overture (I was particularly worried we would miss the choir, of course).

It’s all Vagaus’ fault

I just realised I said nothing about Vagaus other than he was unpleasant here. Berzhanskaya did a very good job with him. If you remember, he has the flourish arias in this piece – and they are quite a few. You may think he’s merely a sidekick but does he work hard or what?! So there was a bit of disconnect between his general unpleasantness (thanks, direction) and that sweet aria (Umbrae carae – remind yourself how lovely it is) where he puts a blanket over his sleeping buddy Holofernes and cleans up the dinner date leftovers. Just when you thought this one would follow the out of the leftfield evil dudes and rub his hands at the first chance his superior is incapacitated, he gets all soft and lyrical. A bit of bromance there, eh? You know the adage: he may have done evil things, but he was nice to his family.

Anyway, this is a role where coloratura is the first and foremost requirement. If you can get gentle on Umbrae carae = bonus. Berzhanskaya worked as hard as you’d expect in this role and aced her angsty coloratura, though she had to climb over rubble at the same time, occasionally at the expense of projection. I wouldn’t mind hearing her again in other angsty/perky roles of this repertoire that are best served by youthful, slender voices.

… and what with this mesmerising oratorio, I managed to bungle up my local opera going. But I have a feeling in the long run this will be a very small price in comparison to the exceptional memories. Seriously, go if you can. There are still a few performances.


  1. According to the booklet, the Assyrians had not won the fight yet. It was merely the eve of the battle when Juditha wormed her way into their camp. 
  2. Aside from Transit aetas, where she’s very playfully reminding a very drunk Holofernes about the perishability of beauty. 
  3. Although I have some annoying memories from my second time at Schipol in 2012, I love how easy to navigate it is, considering it’s one of the busiest in the world and it’s set over canals and the motorway. I don’t know how, but it takes you about twice as long to get from the plane to Arrivals at Luton. Only then you take a bus to the train station, whereas here you’re on the train within 5min. And the train is 5.50 euros, tax included. 
  4. Which they wrap for you in their own poster-box. They have thought of everything. 

Good times at the opera in 2018

Venice, Teatro Malibran, 2018

You may or may not know, but for the past few years all of late December has been family time chez dehhgi. So now that New Year is being celebrated at the ancestral home, yours truly gets involved in food preparation. Due to a fluke (a less adventurous one than the setting up of the 2017 Christmas tree 😉 ), we ended up cooking all we wanted to cook yesterday, leaving quite a bit of thumb twiddling time for today, just right for a recap of what I took part – and what I skipped or missed – in 2018.

I think the right word for 2018 is fabulous, in its glamorous connotation – Venice, Salzburger Festspiele and lots of Glyndebourne, with notable stops in Halle and at the Bremen Music Fest, all of which spawned wonderful memories from meeting up with you, gentle reader, for some rocking performances (and a certain odd production). I think I may also start paying rent at Wiggy, since from the below list it looks like I went there at least once a month, with the notable exception of August, festival month.

Hope to see you at a theatre near you (or me) in 2019 😀 though what is on at the usual places does not look quite as exciting as before. Then again, there were some things this year I did not know I was going to see until closer to the time…

Salzburg opera mile, 2018

January

11 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall – a good way to start the year, right?

17 Salome | ROH

21 Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria | Roundhouse – I like this January Monteverdi fixture every couple of years. After we are done with the rep, can we start over?

23 Classical Opera (Mozart’s 1768)Wigmore Hall

25 Anna Bonitatibus and friendsWigmore Hall

27 Anna BonitatibusWigmore Hall – I did not write about it because she did not sing from En travesti and I was a bit underwhelmed by her choices. But, of course, she is wonderful 🙂

31 Angelika Kirchschlanger | Wigmore Hall

February

4 Adrian Behle | Wigmore Hall

Golda Schultz | Wigmore Hall

8 English Concert (Buxtehude) | Wigmore Hall – I was sick for the rest of the month, along with Mum (who was visiting…) and one of my cats. Not the best of times chez dehggi by a very long shot.

26 Les Talens Lyriques | Wigmore Hall

March

13 Rinaldo | Barbican – quite the letdown, aside from Pisaroni as Argante. Both Davies and Harvey did much, much better at Glyndebourne later in the year.

14 From the House of the Dead | ROH

20 Christine RiceRebecca Evans | Wigmore Hall

22 Esther | Wigmore Hall – this year most of the festivals happened elsewhere. This was the only London Handel Fest performance I saw and in the end I did not write about it. Not the best Handel I have seen, I would say, though for sure nowhere near the worst.

26 D’Odette | Wigmore Hall

April

5 Haim / Crebassa / Desandre / Devieilhe | Wigmore Hall – yes, this happened. Do not ask me details, as I cannot remember much, beside enjoying the deft playing of the band that did not need extra fireworks. The same Desadre that wowed me in Salzburg did not do much for me here. Perhaps I was bummed Crebassa bailed on me us?

7 Dido and Aeneas | Wigmore Hall

19 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice

21 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice – this was such a fun trip, I do need to write about it again.

24 Matthias Goerne | Wigmore Hall

May

1 Sonia Prina / Vivica Genaux | Wigmore Hall

3 Mauro Peter | Wigmore Hall

4 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

6 Royal Academy | Wigmore Hall

16 Hannigan Masterclass | Linbury Studio

21 Sara Mingardo / Francesca Biliotti | Wigmore Hall

24 Lessons in Love and ViolenceROH – it did spawn some interesting ideas (about love and violence) which in the end did not coagulate into a post. I kinda wish I had persevered but sometimes where there is a lot on the roster it is not easy to get your mind disciplined about something you do not particularly enjoy as such.

27 Simon Keenlyside | Wigmore Hall

June

4 Franco Fagioli | Barbican

5 Stephane Degout | Wigmore Hall

9 Arianna in Creta | Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche Halle Handelfest – after a couple of years of feasts, we have missed Hallenberg in London, so this was an awesome treat.

13 Jakub Jozef Orlinski | Wigmore Hall

15 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – THE Glyndebourne Cesare! With overseas friends! A good metaphor for blogging about opera, right?

17 Ian Bostridge | Wigmore Hall

18 Christine Rice Julien Van Mallaerts | Wigmore Hall

19 Der Rosenkavalier | Glyndebourne

23 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and again 😀

Glyndebourne 2018

July

2 Veronique Gens | Wigmore Hall

6 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall – that was the week of fabu French singers and I did not write up on them. For no fault of theirs, they were wonderful as usual in their light and sophisticated way. I was absolutely rotten lazy/tired in July, as you can see by the lack of activity below.

9 Felicity Palmer | Wigmore Hall

15 JPYA | ROH – yes, I went again but I did not write, although I had an absolutely hilarious seatmate, very much up my own alley in spirit. The show itself was a bit underwhelming this year, cannot say anyone stood out for me, hence the lack of commentary.

18 L’ange de Nisida | ROH – if no one produces La favourite around here, at least we got its previous incarnation.

20 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and the third time, now with the London Crew. It was a very fun (although overcast) day, and the post is half written. I swear I was so tired and a bit out of it in July that I am afraid I came off stand-offish to those who know me less, though it was by no means the case.

22 Pavol Breslik | Wigmore Hall

27 Saul | Glyndebourne – such a fun production! For some reason, a Chinook flew over the gardens. They give me the heebie-jeebies.

August

1 Pelleas et Melisande | Glyndebourne

12 L’incoronazione di Poppea | Salzburger Festspiele (Haus fur Mozart) – yes. At least nobody got clever with the musical content.

September

8 La Iole (Porpora) | Theater Oldenburg – my first live encounter with the wonderful Iervolino – and with a Porpora work in its entirety. If you are asking yourself Oldenburg what? this was part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018, which is kind enough to spread around the region instead of allowing the city to hog all the events. Another take on the Hercules/Dejanira story, this centres on the woman with whom he is cheating on her. The cosy Theater Oldenburg lavished its audience with a cast of top young singers in excellent form – Iervolino (Dejanira), Aspromonte (Iole) and Renato Dolcini (Ercole). It is a short (but fun) work but all three really got into it with much gusto and the audience loved it. I liked Aspromonte here much better than in Vivaldi.

10 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall

14 Marianne Crebassa / Mass in B minorLöningen – also part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018. As you can see, Crebassa remains elusive to me, but the Mass in B minor is a lovely work and the choir did a good job.

19 Masterclass Sarah Connolly | Wigmore Hall – cannot tell you why I never finished this post, I was even well rested by then.

October

8 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall

17 Porgy and Bess | ENO

22 Karina Gauvin | Wigmore Hall – annoyingly, I was under some rough weather in October and missed these two fine ladies due to horrible head colds.

25 Semiramide | Teatro La Fenice – back to Venice 😀 and more Iervolino! Excuse me if I simply love the woman, she is cute as button here. She also sings rather well 😉

26 Serse | Barbican

November

2 Marie-Nicole Lemieux | Wigmore Hall

19 Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall – the show that caused me to pick up a guitar (and make some noise)!

December

11 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

Glyndebourne – the lawn, 2018

Trills on demand with Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica (Wigmore Hall, 11 December 2018)

A Vivaldi-heavy performance is only fitting to cap a very exciting concert-going year, that has brought me to Vivaldi’s homebase twice. In furore iustissimae irae is one of those badass motets that can only come from the Red Priest (lest we forget he was an ordained priest; I usually do, his music sounds so wordly most of the time) and it was this that convinced me to attend, even though they livestreamed it. Somehow I have not noticed anyone else bringing it to Wiggy in my time of patronising the venue. I hope more do in the future.

I’ve seen La Nuova Musica in action enough to know what to expect. I have to commend Lucy Crowe for the highest professionalism with which she adapted to the breakneck speeds that are so dear to Bates. Her tone is too sweet (not a criticism) to call what she used “machinegun coloratura” but it’s definitely one of the fastest and most accurate I’ve heard so far. Her top has enough piercing power to break through the volume levels Bates likes to employ.

Gent from Manchester who took 3 trains for this event: she’s more like a mezzo.

Because she sang Gelido in ogni vena, which I’ve only heard contraltos (and countertenors) sing so far? An interesting choice, I agree, proving she has a middle, but something that benefits from a conductor more focused on emotional detail than energy and forward momentum.

She sounded in top form from the getgo, though I still think that, overall, I prefer her in Mozart (I loved her Ismene in Mitridate! She sounded like she was having so much fun, even though the production is somewhat restrictive in allowing you to put your personal touch on the character; then again, I wasn’t so keen on her Susanna and my interest in her was sparked by her Rodelinda… so you see how it goes). I would say from a techincal point of view she absolutely rocked and this was what Bates wanted from her. I suppose had he wanted her to add personality as well, she would’ve.

For its part, La Nuova Musica is perhaps more suited to Handel, as – at least to me – the sound was too heavy for Vivaldi/Italian Baroque, and occasionally the top strings produced a smudgy sound. The harpsichord was, of course, loud.  So heavy-ish, loud and furious, though not ponderous but also not souple and bright.

Lucy Crowe soprano
La Nuova Musica | David Bates director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Overture from Il Farnace RV711
Siam navi all’onde algenti from L’Olimpiade RV725
Gelido in ogni vena from Il Farnace RV711

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso in G minor Op. 6 No. 8 ‘For a Christmas Night’

Nico Muhly (b.1981)
Land in an Isle (Part One: Translation of the Body) (London première)

Antonio Vivaldi
Motet: In furore iustissimae irae RV626

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Gloria HWV deest
Sonata a5 HWV288

Nico Muhly
Land in an Isle (Part Two: Land in an Isle) (London première)

George Frideric Handel
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV46a
Tu del ciel ministro eletto
Un pensiero nemico di pace

Encore:
Lascia la spina from Il trionfo…

The Il trionfo bits were also of much interest to me, as I have never seen it/heard any of them live yet. I admit that when Bates said they’d have another trionfo aria for the encore, this time from Piacere, my heart skipped a bit in hopes of Come nembo. After that coloratura fest, can you blame me? Failing that, at least Un pensiero was as lively as one can hope, though that one could hope for more lightness 😉

Not sure I’d heard any Muhly before. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I had no particular reaction to the piece. The biggest effect was showcasing Crowe’s diction in English vs Italian. It could have been the high speeds, but her Italian was mostly vowels.

I was first introduced to In furore… by Roschmann, of all people. Unless you’re familiar with this wonderful motet, you may not know that Roschamann used to sing this kind of stuff when she was very young (1994). It’s quite the rarity for me but you can feel her distinctive personality already, albeit in a much lighter presentation than we know and love.

Then I went on to listen to Piau’s definitive version and so on. It’s a piece that benefits from a more introverted approach rather than an operatic one, dealing as it is with one’s relationship with sin, divine forgiveness and human rejoicing.

The event was suprisingly well attended, perhaps it’s the time of year when people feel a particular pull towards live culture – and thus people were very happy with the performance. I was somewhat amused to have a May-December couple plop next to me. This is not an unusual occurence at Wiggy, where we have the following types of public: old money mature populace who goes to these things as a matter of fact, music students, other musicians, regular music loving people/fans of the singer/band/conductor and academics and their much younger partners (ex (one hopes)-students). The May part of the couple behaved exactly like the young woman from Carol.

Christian Gerhaher as natural resource (Wigmore Hall, 28 November 2018)

It’s not for nothing that my last post regarding Christian Gerhaher involved a white horse: he’s on the mild side of the typical baritone. Last night I kinda felt a few moments of darker teething but they stood out exactly because they are so unusual for him. As do his bottom notes, which seem like a different language than he normally speaks. Whenever he ventured there (not often), it hit me: oh, he’s a baritone! Not that he normally sounds like a tenor; he normally sounds like Gerhaher. He has all the warmth of the baritone but none of the nastiness habitually associated with the term.

It seems that everybody likes this White Chocolate of baritones, because the house was packed like a charismatic church on faith healing day. Bring me your old, bring me your young, bring me your sick and bring me your healthy! Just keep the poor home 😉 Kidding.

In front of me sat the unlikely pairing of a younger but portlier James Levine-lookalike who only needed half a phrase to brag how he’d already seem Gerhaher 100 times1 and a sedentary grasshopper, with the pernickety air of a retired mechanical engineering teacher, currently masquerading as a skyscraper (seriously, he was the tallest person I’d ever seen in my life), next to me the Islington version of Stephen King kept his nose in the programme because words are important, ffs! and behind me two people in wheelchairs were in the midst of a conversation about Ermonela Jaho’s skills as Violetta.

I’d never met a Jaho fan2 before, so I had to turn around and see who was standing up for her to this extent. That was when a fashionably bearded Bismarck walked past, along with a lady sporting that droopy cheek and eyelid thing so specific to certain English physionomies – but only after I spotted her exchanging double cheek kisses with some gent. Clearly the lady voted Remain. We also had the bald patch + straw hair mullet “conductor from the provinces”, a male movie star from the 1940s (he looked exactly like that, with his slicked back parted hair, hard done by eyes and suit) and minorities from 2018. Basically the entire country, for the past 150 years.

Christian Gerhaher baritone
Gerold Huber piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Sei mir gegrüsst D741
Dass sie hier gewesen D775
Lachen und Weinen D777
Du bist die Ruh D776
Greisengesang D778

Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952)
Tasso-Gedanken (UK première)

Franz Schubert
Abendbilder D650
Himmelsfunken D651

Interval

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Goethe Lieder
Harfenspieler I
Harfenspieler II
Harfenspieler III

Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Vier Lieder Op. 2

Hugo Wolf
Mörike Lieder
Begegnung
Lied eines Verliebten
Auf ein altes Bild
Auf eine Christblume II
Schlafendes Jesuskind
Goethe Lieder
Grenzen der Menschheit

Lady: how did you like the Rihm?
Gent: I didn’t dislike it.
Lady: I didn’t like it but I didn’t hate it.

Maybe you know this piece, I didn’t, since it was a UK premiere and, duh, contemporary. What do I know, right? Well, I know now that it sounds like you imagine it. The above descriptions are very apt, even though they lack in imagination.

What it brought to my (very imaginative) mind was the bell curve of adrenaline rush. When a person is pissed off and adrenaline kicks in, it takes exactly 90 min3 until the person calms down. During that period, the person will do something regrettable at least once, but possibly more than once, in quick succession, depending on 1) how annoying/lacking in diplomacy the people around are, 2) whether they have wisely vacated the premises and taken cover, 3) whether there is suitable property just waiting to be destroyed. In the end, arousal will drop below the person’s garden variety level, due to exhaustion. This is when you rush in and acuphase the composer 😉

Why nobody hated it is because it was sung by White Chocolate on white horse Gerhaher. I didn’t hate it either, although I quite possibly dozed off for a minute or two of those 900, only being sprung back to contemporary reality during the spikes of regrettability, known as tuneful shrieks. Artists always embelish reality, so the structure of the composition didn’t mimic science to a t.

Other than that it was a delightful performance. The Jaho fan commented that Gerhaher started very softly but 1) everyone does, because duh, 2) I like it, 3) Gerhaher’s chief attraction to me is how he can make himself heard anywhere (that I’ve seen him, which is exactly two places) very clearly both in volume and diction-wise, without having to max the ping, which he doesn’t have, anyway. He doesn’t need it, his tone is civilised and sensitive, the addition of ping would be akin to opening a fast food joint on the first floor of an ecohouse.

The other chief attractions are 1) how well he collaborates with the accompanist – I love singers who don’t sing in the vacuum of their glorious talent and intelligence <3, 2) no phrase ever sounds dull.

You know how some singers will focus on this or that part of a song/aria and make that it all nice and polished, because they’ve decided that’s the bit that matters – but leave other words/parts to hang limp and sound uninteresting, like they’re just there (bad librettist/poet!). Well, he doesn’t. There are other singers who manage that (hint: the ones that I like), of course, but he’s one them. The whole is really a whole, not just a clever pun with leftover dressing.

Now I need to see if I can get returns4 for his Winterreise.


  1. I was compelled to run mental calculations on how many times a year he had to have dutifully trotted to Gerhaher recitals or Tannhauser
  2. It was him that was in the midst of the conversation, the lady was rather to the side of it, gauging his enthusiasm against her willingness to see yet another Traviata, (probably the 500th, relative to her age vs portly Levine’s). 
  3. Not 89, not 91 – exactly 90. Kidding 😉 but that’s the ballpark. 
  4. I got this ticket as a return, too :-) 

Roberta Invernizzi, two lutes, one viola da gamba and beguiling canzoni (Wigmore Hall, 19 November 2018)

I love these one shot (no interval) lunchtime Wiggy concerts! It’s usually pensioners and music students – and people who eat music on rye for lunch 😉 I try to get the day off for them, because otherwise they are really inconvenient for anyone working shifts but sometimes needs must include good ole’ skiving 😉 Put yourself in my place: 17th century love songs vs. Monday1 at work. I don’t care how much you love your job, music should win or you’re reading the wrong blog.

Anyway, I was only 1 1/2hrs late, so I’m keeping my respectability, especially after looking like I saved the day from a short on staff afternoon! Baroque heroes, you’ve got nothing on me.

Roberta Invernizzi soprano
Rodney Prada viola da gamba
Craig Marchitelli lute
Franco Pavan lute

Giulio Caccini: Dolcissimo sospiro; Dalla porta d’oriente

Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger: Passacaglia

Claudio Monteverdi: Ecco di dolci raggi; Disprezzata Regina from L’incoronazione di Poppea

Orazio Bassani: Toccata per B quadro

Girolamo Frescobaldi: Canzone a basso solo

Tarquinio Merula: Folle è ben che si crede

Luigi Rossi: La bella più bella

Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger: Arpeggiata

Sigismondo D’India: Intenerite voi, lagrime mie; Cruda Amarilli

Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è’l tormento; Voglio di vita uscir

Encore:

Giulio Caccini: Amarilli, mia bella from Le nuove musiche

It’s been a couple of weeks or so from Lemieux with nothing – nothing! The upside is you really appreciate the musicians’ efforts after a drought. As soon as Invernizzi spun out the very first trill I was all how I wish I could do that! And when the lutes kicked in I thought this is it, I was born to listen to this 😉 I also, quite unusually, had a seat at the front of the venue, which, with Invernizzi works well as you get all sorts of nice dynamic transitions. This is the kind of concert where there is so little time, you need to be on from the moment you step on stage.

I really enjoyed her in this rep – probably my favourite performance from her. She has the style down pat and she didn’t either force or hold back, she was completely at home. As usual I liked the jaunty songs best (Dalla porta d’oriente has the same tune as Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosi) but Disprezzata regina by a soprano wasn’t a bad idea at all. It was a lot less stark and brutal than the recent one from Salzburg (it seemed like 2 lutes made a lot more noise than Christie’s entire band) but her tone and her investment worked nicely indeed. Voglio di vita uscir, a favourite of Baroque recitalists, with that playful start that belies its glum title, was, unsurprisingly, giddier than usual.

All in all, this is exactly my idea of a Monday lunchtime concert – content and presentation. I don’t know that I have words for how emotionally close I feel to this stuff. Might as well sneak in another Venice picture, though not everything above comes from Venice.

remember what I said about nighttime walks in Venice?


  1. Mondays and Wednesdays are the busiest for us. 

Lively Invernizzi on BBC 3 Lunchtime Concert

What better way to start the week than a mini-performance of 17th century songs? Luckily, BBC3 agrees and you can too sample Invernizzi and friends’ delightful one hour show from earlier today.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux looks for that mythical place (Wigmore Hall, 2 November 2018)

My first encounter with Lemieux was via my favourite Vivaldi aria:

Having to pass the test of a favourite is the tallest order for a anyone but she did it brilliantly. Since then I’ve kept an eye out for her stops in London. I eventually saw her as the Sphynx in Enescu’s Oedipe, testimony to her wide-ranging repertoire.

She didn’t sing this last night, but that aria is a surprisingly good example of her temper. She actually is like that in a recital.

MNL to late comers: (signals to Vignoles) let’s stop for a moment and greet the new arrivals. Please, take your seats.

MNL to people who haven’t turned their phones off: you have two seconds to turn it off.

MNL to people who rush out before the encores: bye-bye, see you soon!

Hahaha! What a heroine! Others (who had come on time, stayed until the end and had turned off their mobiles) enjoyed the attitude so much, the applause started to materialise at random times, which resulted in MNL requesting for people to applaud at appropriate times. Haha! That being said, she gave us a very sweet and emotional thank you in the end, so she clearly did appreciate people who were into the performance.

ps: I really enjoyed her choice of jewellery – black squares for the German rep, and silver “chainmail” for the French.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux contralto
Roger Vignoles piano

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kennst du das Land? Op. 98a No. 1
Lied der Suleika Myrthen Op. 25

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Der Musensohn D764
Ganymed D544
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Wonne der Wehmut Op. 83 No. 1
Die Trommel gerühret Op. 84 No. 1

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)
Harfners Lied
Über allen gipfeln ist Ruh

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Goethe Lieder
Blumengruss
Frühling übers Jahr
Kennst du das Land

Interval

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
L’albatros

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Chant d’automne Op. 5 No. 1

Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
Les hiboux

Gabriel Fauré
Hymne Op. 7 No. 2

Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956)
La mort des amants

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Le jet d’eau
Recueillement

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
L’invitation au voyage
La vie antérieure

Encore:
more Goethe one of which was Connais-tu le pays?

So much vitality! And a surprising amount of cheerful songs; most singers have a tendency to take themselves very seriously in these recitals – which might just be their personality and we probably love them exactly for that – but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be funny and silly and show off your technique and understanding of the text at the same time.

I really liked the German songs, rather surprisingly, since usually if there is a selection of French and German and the singer is French, I’ll go for the French chanson – but somehow I felt the German stuff fit her better. How unusual! I don’t know if I’m right, because there was of course nothing wrong with the French stuff. Perhaps the juxtaposition oomphed the German material, which had more Lebenslust, dare I say, whereas the French songs were more languid (Le jet d’eau, for instance; though Les hiboux was very cool and so was Chant d’automne1). But, considering she returned to Goethe for the encores, it’s clear she enjoys the German rep a lot.

I was further surprised how much time she spent in the top region of her voice. She went from very conversational, typical “lieder singing”, to booming for effect (better turn that phone, off, buddy 😉 ) and from the top to very secure (but not super low) bottom on enough occasions but on the whole was more mezzo than contralto, not that’s a bad thing. There is a reason my mezzos-and-contraltos section is labeled thus. I also enjoyed her and Vignoles’ communcation with each other, which added to the charged allure of the evening.

Between Galoumisù two weeks ago and Lemieux last night, the French connection has been happily reestablished.


  1. I don’t know if this is about “pitting” Goethe and Baudelaire, because in literature I did enjoy Baudelaire a lot sooner than Goethe. To be fair, I have been behind in re-reading the classics in recent times… I won’t say “I didn’t have time” because that is a shitty/laughable excuse; I simply did not return to the readings of teenage years. 

Semiramide visits her true home (Gran Teatro La Fenice, 25 October 2018)

Teatro La Fenice – it’s all about the logo

You can’t go to a theatre like La Fenice and not think about its history. Staying true to the name, it resurfaced after three fires (1774, 1836 and 1996). What we see today is the house re-opened in 2004. So it’s both old and new. You may think it’s big because it has that compact design, but although the horseshoe is packed with seats, the stalls don’t go far back. The capacity is a mere 1126, according to Wiki. And yet, some of the operas now played with big orchestras in massive houses have premiered here1. Top belcanto WS favourites were first mounted here: Tancredi, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, as well as Semiramide itself.

Before we arrived for the very late 7pm2 start time, thadieu and I roamed the streets without much planning aside from 1) must have dinner some time before the opera and 2) must have gelato sooner rather than later. That eventually turned into an obsession for yours truly: find the 2 Euro 2 scoop gelato or else! You see, gelato gets more expensive the closer you get to the TripAdvisor sanctioned areas (all of sestiere San Marco, Ponte Rialto etc.). Tip: get your gelato early on (ie, closer to the bus station). I think I drove thadieu a bit mad with my stubbornness but cheap gelato was eventually found, eagerly consumed and then all was serene again 😉

We had a leisurely dinner of seafood at a Mom and Pops restaurant in a very quiet neighbourhood somewhere near the Arsenal. After that we strolled back with enough time to do some touristy shopping at the Fenice shop. It’s rather well stocked! They do La Fenice bags for 12 Euros and La Fenice t-shirts (off white, navy, black and red) for 19.99 Euros or thereabouts. There are magnets, cards, pencils, lots of books and CD/DVDs as well. We got the t-shirt – thadieu in navy and yours truly in red. You know I also got one of the magnets.

Teatro La Fenice – hall from top to bottom; everything enclosed, except for the stalls

After getting our La Fenice fan fill, it was already time for the opera. As we were walking up the very cosy stairs I kept thinking “this is our floor” but thadieu just knew we had a long climb to our loggione seats. As with Teatro Malibran, the trick is to get first row in your area, no matter how high or low you’re sitting. We had seats in the central block of the top loggione and aside from an unfortunate pole (old school design…) – which could, in the end, be negotiated – we had excellent views. Ok, you had to lean forward a bit due to lights and railing, but nobody actually sat behind us3, so we didn’t have to worry about blocking someone’s view and we even stood for the most interesting duets/ensembles. The party in the loggione is very friendly, as is the Upper Amphi at ROH, the very top in Munich or at Theatre des Champs Elysees. It’s also mostly locals (of which there were plenty on the bus back to Mestre as well).

The orchestra were already busy tuning up. We noticed our main timpanist was a lady and she did a very good job during the night.

the spectre, dancers, Mitrane, Oroe, Assur, Semiramide, Maestro, Arsace, Idreno, Azema, the spectre’s voice, more dancers

Semiramide: Jessica Pratt
Arsace: Teresa Iervolino
Assur: Alex Esposito
Idreno: Enea Scala
Oroe: Simon Lim
Azema: Marta Mari
Mitrane: Enrico Iviglia
L’ombra di Nino: Francesco Milanese
Conductor: Ricardo Frizza | Choir and Orchestra of La Fenice
Director: Cecilia Ligorio

The production looked to me “modernised Pizzi”, which turned out to be fine. It’s “generic period opera” costumes, with some black vs white business for the dancers/Semiramide or Assur’s attendants. As the opera progressed, Assur’s outfit morphed into “generic Bond bad guy” (ie, black and pretty tight). Arsace, who has been brought up to believe he’s Scythian, wears “generic BC foreign dude” wear, in other words “stuff put together to confuse sophisticated Babylonians” (a cow patch cape, two-tone wide leg trousers, platform shoes4 and a beret). None of this motley stuff detracts from Iervolino’s cuteness in this role ❤ or from her vocal awesomeness. THIS is Arsace.

Semiramide agrees, because in this production it’s pretty clear that these two are getting it on, though initially cute and disciplined Arsace stops Semiramide’s wandering hand before her touch becomes too distracting.

Arsace: I’d die for you [my Queen]!
Semiramide: oh, no, gorgeous, I’d rather you live for me (winks and lounges seductively). Come closer and tell me what you’d do to… I mean for me.
Arsace: like I was saying, I’d die for you! I’m a warrior…
Semiramide: oh, a warrior is exactly what I – by which I mean this empire – need(s). (strokes his thigh) You’re so strong…
Arsace: err, my Queen, I must tell you something…
Semiramide: I know what you’re going to say and the answer is yes! As long as you’re as faithful to me as you’ve been so far you can ask me anything – and I mean anything.

This goes on for a while, wine5 is involved and, well… what’s a young man to do when a beautiful and powerful woman his mother’s age offers him the world (literally and metaphorically)? Azema would have to hold down the fort against Idreno’s wooing by herself for a while. Though after his Ah dov’è, dov’è il cimento? (also known as dude, where’s the cement?!) she too is getting a bit frisky. Lesser known historical titbit: conversations about construction materials were pillow talk back in ye olde Babylonia. I mean did you think the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens built themselves?!

Teatro La Fenice – front of hall

Speaking of which, why is Idreno expecting Semiramide to just give him the keys to the empire? He’s just some dude from India, pretty much on Arsace’s level, except he looks like he’s commanding an army of blingy tailors rather than burly warriors. Semiramide wears her “belcanto diva” dress but we all know belcanto heroines like their men heroic (except for Violetta). I would also say this Arsace is most definitely a man, any ambiguity present is not of the gender kind.

So even though they got pretty well acquainted the day before, Arsace is still stunned when Semiramide makes the big announcement (that she’s passing on the throne to him as well as wants to marry him).

Arsace: shit! How am I going to explain this to Azema?!

Luckily, the spectre of his father gets involved (after all a father should attend his son’s wedding even if he had to bribe Cerberus to get there) and the conversation suddenly turns horror-film style. Trope #1: being mesmerised by weird stuff:

Arsace (to the spectre): I feel compelled to touch you! Can I?

I mean the spectre looks pretty damn well preserved for having been dead for 15 years, except in dire need of a shower – like he’d come down a chimney rather that up a drainage ditch from the world below (come to think of it, this decision is for the best; the production had hinted at it earlier when the sacred fire went out and ashes poured out from the sacred ash plates. Later the temple virgins did a surprisingly poor job at cleaning the floor (what amateurs don’t soak the towels first?!) but let’s not get lost in details like Scala did in his cement).

Teatro La Fenice – pit and front stalls; that’s all!

Oroe is a very congenial high priest but I have a feeling he’s rigged this game from the getgo, namely he made sure the basement’s (is, burial chamber’s) electrical instalation wasn’t working. The last act boasts that famous trio that goes something like this:

Semiramide: it’s very dark in here, I can’t see my hand. I hope I don’t soil my finery before this ordeal is over.
Arsace: wow, it’s so dark in this basement! Even as a fearless warrior I feel my bowels loosen…
Assur: was it always so dark here? With my luck that stupid spectre will come back and scare me shitless.
All: it’s so dark in here, we’re pooping our pants!

thadieu: someone hand them flashlights already!

We’re lucky this is in flowery, 19th century Italian, thank you very much.

But flashlights do eventually appear, because somehow Oroe’s attendants are able to locate Semiramide and realise she’s been stabbed to death.

Oroe: arrest Assur!
Arsace: …OMG! Who did I stab, then?!

Like, dude…! What kind of army commander of the Babylonian Empire are you, stabbing randomly in the dark?! This production does not give Arsace a stuffed unicorn to hold.

So, after much noodling that didn’t even mention the eyeliner wearing male harem that gets Semiramide hot and bothered whilst she’s singing about how happy she is that sexy stud Arsace is back in town, how was the singing, the conducting and the house band?

Teatro La Fenice – loggione/ceiling detail (we were that high up!)

Let’s start with the conducting: compared with Pappano, Maestro seemed more interested in keeping the forward movement – which he did. Occasionally (the overture, for instance) he turned the corners a bit too abrasively for my taste, where I would’ve preferred more detail/more legato. But 4 hours went fast. The singers were not hampered by the orchestra. The house band sounded good to me, all the solos went without hitch and the instrumental tones were pleasant to the ear.

The singing went like this, from best to not so good: Iervolino, Pratt, Esposito, Lim, with Scala sort of around the corner. Dude started a bit shaky, with some intonation problems and wobble at the very top, which made the cement aria appear unfocused both vocally and dramatically. I loved it when Brownlee sang it but here it seemed to just go on and on. To Scala’s credit, he got it mostly together as the night went on. But he’s not someone I’m in any hurry to hear again. The public loved him.

Both thadieu and I agreed Lim as Oroe has a very warm, secure, rounded bass but he doesn’t have that much to sing. That warmth and rondness made him feel wise and kind dramatically, which fit. Would listen to him again.

Esposito was the night’s revelation to me, as I have been mostly cold toward him until now. This is the smallest house I’ve seen him in, which I’m sure has something to do with it. In this absorbent6 environment and at this size his voice travelled very well and dramatically he was ideal. Maybe I just need to see him in bad dude roles 😉 The only unintentionally amusing moment came when Assur sang about the spectre’s pulling his (Assur’s) hair 😀

Pratt has the belcanto diva down pat, without coming off too cold. I wonder why ROH doesn’t hire her. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’ve enjoyed her excellent technique, ease with coloratura, beautiful, completely unforced – “blooming” (as per thadieu) – top and stylish touches of unfussy softer singing. Thadieu thought she applied too many ornaments but I disagreed. This is Rossini, there is no such thing as too many ornaments7; furthermore, even if you – which is me, quite often, lately – think Rossini did write too many notes, I didn’t feel like that in her case.

I guess thadieu liked JDD’s more psychologically exploratory approach – and certainly her lower notes, which, true, Pratt does not have – but this production is different and this Semiramide is a less conflicted heroine (until the end, where her conflict is more of the “omg, this is my child!” kind) and rather someone who is always trying to do what she has to do without overthinking it (that kind of thinking might’ve got her in this mess in the first place, but she’s a woman in charge of an empire, she can’t vacillate too much).

Even thadieu agreed that once she started interacting with Iervolino’s Arsace she “humanised”. Indeed, their interaction was excellent. I also thought her and Esposito’s Assur worked – something akin to a mutually destructive relationship. I mean, she still has the broader gestures of belcanto acting but within that frame she’s very effective.

That leaves us with Iervolino’s Arsace. Right after the entrance aria, thadieu and I were in agreement:

thadieu: I’m in love!
dehggi: this is perfect!

What can I say? She’s got everything: the whole range, the ease with coloratura, the wonderful warm contralto tone, the eveness from top to bottom and she can act. A pleasure to listen to/watch. Do yourself a favour and book a ticket to see her NOW. We’re lucky to have caught the Iervolino train this early 😀

After the opera finished, staff was eager to go home and pretty much rushed us out, hehe, somewhere in a narrow street at the back or side of the house.

thadieu: should we get the phone out?
dehggi: yes, because who the hell can navigate Venezia in the middle of the night?!

In the end we followed the crowd, comprised of orchestra members and audience, which took us back to Piazzale Roma more or less in no time. I have to say that nighttime walks through Venezia are the most romantic thing ever, even when you’re rushing to get the last bus. I was tempted to risk having to walk back to Mestre on the side of the motorway 😉 I mean, secluded little bridges, with not a soul in sight, Canal Grande in the darkness, the temptation to try and steal a gondola and glide into the night – you get the picture. With full moon to boot.

We passed a bunch of young people being loud with pizza (and beer?) in a piazza and that seemed the most incongruous thing ever to do in Venice.

thadieu: they’re missing a really great performance.

Youth is really lost on the young (I wouldn’t have cared about opera or, indeed, Venezia, when I was that age, either). But there’s a time for everything and right now I can’t wait for another reason to return ❤

ps: more pictures later, I wanted to get the post out.


  1. Ernani, Rigoletto, La traviata and Simon Boccanegra
  2. I don’t know what the deal is with the union in Venice, but Italians in general don’t seem to mind a show going well into the night (see Torino and Napoli). Semiramide is a long opera even with cuts, so our performance finished well after 11pm. 
  3. though people did shuffle around to get better views. 
  4. the Disco era alive and kicking up in the Caucasus! 
  5. and perhaps a bit of GHB… 
  6. kinda like in Munich, this is not a dry acoustics house. 
  7. whether you like it or not.