Category Archives: live performances

seen and heard live

Donizetti’s L’Ange de Nisida – belated world premiere (ROH, 18 July 2018)

The crucial question here is: does the world need another Donizetti opera?

The very next one: was it fun?

The answer to the first question will vary greatly even within the belcanto community, seeing as how Donizetti was more prolific than his other two best known belcanto brethren and many of his operas are still popular. In a very general way1, I actually like the story of La favorite so I could very well stand this one.

Sylvia: Joyce El-Khoury
Leone de Casaldi: David Junghoon Kim
King Fernand of Naples: Vito Priante
Don Gaspar: Laurent Naouri
THE Monk: Evgeny Stavinsky
Conductor: Mark Elder | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH

Old Mature codger: I can jolly well see why he recycled the music to this one.

Yea, me too – some of it is very entertaining (most of the choir bits, which I remembered from elsewhere and were really catchy in the way act I of Maria Stuarda is2) and the rest is easily listenable – to answer the second question.

I have a feeling its success was one part Donizetti and two parts Mark Elder, who’s long championed lesser known Donizettis, like Dom Sebastian. He obviously likes this kind of stuff and has a lot of fun with it, which in turn rubs off on the audience (or at least people like yours truly). He was great in alternating the melodrama with the funny and his communication with the soloists, orchestra and choir remarkable; aside from some arias in some need of editing (bad Donizetti!), the motion of the the ocean was bouncy and sprightly.

Here I have to stop and commend the choir. I’ve not always been ROH Choir’s biggest fan but they were on fire for this. I don’t remember when was the last time they were so into it, when everything sounded so easy and exciting. Excellent job, everyone.

For those who are more or less familiar with La favorite, this opera is its first – unlucky – incarnation (the sponsor went bankrupt and it was never performed – until yesterday in London). Unlike its later version, L’Ange de Nisida is less serious, in that it has a thoroughly comic character in Don Gaspar, the corrupt official. He starts like he means to go on with a rather complex aria of the same nature like Rossini’s Figaro or his own Dulcamara’s. I’m Don Gaspar and there’s nothing I can’t fix if the price is right. The chorus communicates with him during the aria, as he has brought them along to serenade l’ange of the title but then sends them off when he notices a new fish he could hook (the hapless tenorino, Leone).

Things go downhill from there but he never loses his enterpreneurial spirit, no matter how much those around him moan in belcanto anguish. That is to say, Leone (who loves l’ange aka Sylvia) and l’ange (aka Sylvia, who loves him back but oh, non! it’s not meant to be!) keep it old skool and struggle with love and honour for the majority of the opera’s 3 hours. The king wrestles with love vs authority (dude, like what atuthority? Gaspar and l’ange keep telling him what to do) and THE monk punishes everyone who has a semblence of fun on the island of Nisida (I kinda see where he’s coming from. He’s like a born again who went to Ibiza for a weekend), the choir keeps gossiping and judging the poor star crossed couple, even though we’re told (by them!) from the getgo that Sylvia has helped them out whenever their ships were tossed by the storm and their flocks in mortal danger.

There is a duet between the king and Sylvia, where she tears him a new one because he’s never made her an honest woman though he promised her he would (whatever did they teach young noble women about the ways of the world back then?). It is revealed during the opera that she’s a very honourable and concerned soul who just happens to be the king’s mistress – ye shalt not judge. Also hatas gonna hate. Alas.

Both her and Leonore in La favorite are a bit po-faced; I have to give it to Verdi (or Schiller?) that the coolest character of king’s mistress fame is Eboli. I mean she gets to be witty, seductive, evil and also grow emotionally by the end of the opera. These two are just kind of woe is me, love is not to be – though Oh, mio Fernando is a cool aria (not present here; also alas).

I’m really sad 1839 was so far removed from 1739, because we don’t get a ship tossed by the sea aria for Leone, even though that’s basically his story. It takes him about 3/4 of the opera to understand that he’s being used by all (perhaps not so much by Sylvia, who loves him but gets to despise him when he agrees to marry her in exchange for titles and money – although that’s not why he marries her, but, hey, if someone says do you want to marry the woman you love and get lots of money for the effort, too? – would you say no to that? – that’s just some ersatz melodrama so people end up thoroughly emotionally drained by act IV). It’s belcanto.

Start of Act IV Sylvia: I’m dying of sorrow.
End of Act IV Sylvia: oh, Leone, I love you but we can never be together.
Leone: why not? I love you too, we got each other! and that’s a lot – for love
Sylvia: because I’m dying of happiness. [dies]

Also in act IV: Leone is tired by all that happened that day (in the morning he gets the death penalty for dissing someone or something important, by lunch Gaspar and l’ange intervene for him and the king commutes his sentence (told you, he’s Mr Authority) – to married life 😉 – then Leone meets with l’ange and she tells him she loves him but can’t be with him, in the afternoon the king tells him to marry her and during the ceremony her realises she’s the king’s mistress and everyone shuns him for being dishonourable) and decides enough is enough and joins a monastery – and by the evening he’s ordained priest! I guess because THE monk – who keeps threatening with the Papal Red Bull – knew his father and what’s a bit of nepotism if it’s for a god good cause?

So, yea, that’s the story. They really clean it up for La favorite but on the other hand Don Gaspar! Naouri was so much fun, I kept wanting Don Gaspar to make another scheming and shamelessly self serving appearance. He and Elder (and the choir) had the most fun of the night.

This was the first time I heard El-Khouri (though I had tix to see her and hubby in recital exactly a year ago but couldn’t go due to random illness). It was a curious experience and it took me the entire night to figure out what was going on. I came to the conclusion that she didn’t feel comfortable with the dramatic nature of this role – her voice felt strangled whenever she wasn’t singing coloratura, which was very good (same goes for diminuendo – beautifully executed, with technique and feeling). To me she felt so uncomfortable that it was hard to get much expression beside said ornaments. However, next to Naouri she had the most engaged stage presence, considering this was a concert performance.

Kim as innocent tenorino Leone was also a mixed bag, but rather because he is so young. Last year he was still part of ROH’s Jette Parker Young Artist programme and this was a big role for him. He had some utterly beautiful moments throughout the night, especially when called to sing piano and with feeling and he was wise enough not to push for schmalz. Donizetti and possibly grand opera is a good route for him, his voice is very well suited for Nemorino and that kind of haplessly plaintive stuff. We root for him, especially as he’s cute as a button! (I’m saying that as a good thing – if you got it, go for it, there are many cute and innocent roles for tenors). He’s not the most interactive actor, at least not in a non-scripted environment but he does look like he means what he sings.

Priante as the king seemed to me like his voice was a size too small for the role but otherwise I can’t say I have complaints. He does look like the kind of king this opera calls for and he was engaged, especially as the night progressed. Stavinsky as THE monk of the Bull was pretty menacing, though maybe give him another act and his monk would mellow quite a bit to get jamming with the locals.

It was a very entertaining evening and I’m sure Opera Rara recorded it, because there were plenty of mics on stage, so I think you will be able to listen to it, should you be inclined to indulge in yet another belcanto opera (where all the big moments end exactly the same). There is one more performance on July 21 and still plenty of (rather cheap) tickets, because it’s not Maria Stuarda, after all (or at least not all of it is).


  1. insofar as any story involving the other woman is concerned (though poor ange finds herself in the unusual situation of being the other woman to the ghost of the honest woman). I always enjoy seeing reviled characters/antagonists on stage. And in this case we have a bit of (sentimentalised) exploration of the question: would winning the social lottery make you happy? 
  2. probably because that’s where I heard at least some of them, ha. 
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Arianna in Cretan temperatures (Halle Handel Fest, 9 June 2018)

First violin, Gauvin, Hallenberg, Emelyanychev, Aspromonte, Nesi and Hammarstrom (sorry, Wolf!).

Dear all, this month has been busier than usual and it’s only now that I get around to writing about this wonderful performance! Sorry all about the delay, it’s the madness of everything, work and fun, amping up at the same time, so I ended up running from one to the other, like a headless but musical chicken.

There are two things about Halle: it seems it’s always unbearbly hot in June (like 30C and up, plus humidity) and the Ulrichskirche is inescapable. Other than that = fabulous.

Early June is too early for London to get that hot-busy, so for me it was a bit of a shock to the system (we’ve updated ourselves to Summer heat since, especially this week). It’s now one of those memories, very akin to childhood ones, of thadieu, Agathe and I walking up the tram tracks in the scorching sun, in an effort to get to the road we needed to be on for the airbnb. I have a vague feeling we complicated our lives a bit but that’s what fun memories are made of!

We quickly took showers and then headed off for some before-the-show grub. Once again, Halle was deader than a Dodo. We speculated some but our host came to the rescue and revealed the dark secret: everyone and their cat was out at the beach. Yes, thanks to the river, there is such a thing even this deep inland. Indeed, on the way to grub we ran into people with beach bags. Apparently the locals were expecting thunder storms with their lunch but seeing as how those got postponned, people took the opportunity to roast themselves in the sun and cool themselves in the Saale river. We thought maybe next year we should make it a longer trip and avail ourselves of the beach as well.

This nice banner was nailed to the venue’s wall.

As you can imagine with this cast, there is very little more one can want musically aside from less humidity. The singers braved 30C for 4 hours, which is one of the most commendable efforts I’ve yet witnessed with my opera. And they sang well, too! I don’t know how they did it. True, water bottles were consumed throughout and there was liberal fanning – of your colleague, as well, which only made it all more congenial and down to earth (although by that I don’t mean to say singers should endure these temperatures day in, day out). The ladies singing ladies at least wore dresses, but Nesi had on a frock and Hallenberg a suit – whew!

Though everyone’s Baroque chops are superior, this was hands down Hallenberg’s show. The Energiser Bunny had nothing on her. She just merely spun really complicated arias and probably would’ve still gone on into the night, with an ease and cheerfulness that still looks amazing even after you’ve seen her several times.

Aspromonte was a bit of a revelation to me, as I hadn’t quite felt her in Vivaldi. I know everyone else praised her, but there you go. Here, though, and in a Vagaus-like trouser role at that, she sounded very good and enthusiastic, with enough energy throughout to match her experienced colleagues. It was very sweet of Hallenberg to give her a friendly push onto the stage when Aspromonte’s Alceste had to sing right after a bring-down-the-house aria by Teseo.

As Giulia noted (in her account of this performance), Arianna fits Gauvin’s voice really well (it sits at that not very high spot where her voice is at its most beautiful) and she threw in some cool and interesting ornaments in that bigger, more furious aria Arianna has (sorry if I’m not very well acquainted with the opera – most of Arianna’s arias are somewhat anguished but there is one that has kick to it).

opera goers approaching Ulrichskirche (just around that O2 corner)

This was the first time I heard Nesi and Hammarstrom live and they both lived up to their respective names. I was a bit irked when Emelyanychev, who had been thus far very accomodating to his singers (especially Gauvin, who strikes me like the kind of woman who will work out the best deal for herself 😉 which is a good thing!), all of a sudden let the horns loose on a particularly rambunctious Tauride aria.

Now the thing is, Tauride seems to have all the horn arias (which is also a good thing – we need more horn arias), so it was more than once that Nesi’s very solid low notes were swallowed by the combined efforts of the horns and Ulrichskirche acoustics. Most of us know that Nesi has one of the most reliable chest registers among mezzos, one of the very few mezzos who can sing Holofernes without sounding like the ship is sinking. So I wanted to hear those notes! Anyway, her singing was excellent and she has this sort of cool but badass aura to her that is unique.

Hammarstrom is a very different singer, rather reserved in manner and with a lyric piangency to her equally reliable chest register. Though she’s a Bradamante veteran, here she sang a girly-girl (Teseo’s ex?), who’s eventually whisked off by Alceste for the happy ending (we joked that Alceste and Carilda return for the finale after a lengthy period, in which one could only imagine what is happening).

Wolf seems to be a veteran of Halle bass(-baritone?) roles and he sounded good here too, putting some fear into Arianna (is he her dad?). I’m low on details but the gist of this particular Arianna story is she’s in trouble (with the Minotaur?) and Teseo flies to her/her people’s rescue, they fall in love, there’s some typical Baroque drama with exes and rivals but they finally get married or whatever the equivalent was in Creta back then. This story does not hint at all at what will happen in Naxos, all is Teseo ❤ Arianna here.

the plaza in front of the local opera is undergoing massive contruction. But the fountain is still functional!

Speaking of an opera that isn’t very often performed, the team made it flow seamlessly for 4 hours, which is another excellent achievement. I could quite see how without a cast, orchestra and conductor of this level it could flag. Really looking forward to hear Emelyanychev and Il Pomo d’Oro later this year, under better acoustic conditions.

About two thirds into the show thunder and lightning arrived in Halle but by the time the show ended we were actually happy for some rain. So we, joined by Giulia since intermission, ran around a bit, looking for a place to sit down and chat and possibly eat/drink something.

Now this was 11:30pm on a Sunday morning and the centre of Halle had, as far as we could see, about 2 1/2 places still open. We finally chose a shisha bar, of all things, only because it looked like it was gonna be open indefinitely and had room to sit. The bar staff were actually cool and turned off the awful music on offer, though whether that was for our benefit or because it was late I can’t tell. But I for one really appreciated the effort and we went on chatting for a good while into the night.

ps: sorry, Giulia, I said I didn’t have any pictures from the curtain call – turns out I did have this one and it somehow got lost amidst all the other 2018 opera trip ones.

a nice shady spot

Der Rosenkavalier or the threesome and the jets (Glyndebourne, 19 June 2018)

I was sloppy with these pictures and the details aren’t very good close-up but that wallpaper is right out of The Sims ™!

Der Rosenkavalier is, in many ways, the ultimate trouser role opera. Octavian is a mezzo with not one but two sopranos to choose from. That could be the end right there but s/he also gets to humiliate the ridiculous villain out of the opera, just to doubly underline the point.

What’s more, it’s actually funny. In Richard Jones’ hands that’s very silly. The second time around it seems even more hilarious.

I was sort of swept by peer pressure (that’s actually a strong term, peer enthusiasm rather) and went again, on the strength of the daring wallpaper in Marschallin’s salon. It was also because Carsen’s production from ROH was a bit too heavy on its own meaning and way, way too light on the comedy for me. I don’t want to overthink things when it comes to DR, I want to have a silly couple of 3 hours.

Octavian: Kate Lindsey
Die Marschallin: Michaela Kaune
Ochs: Brindley Sherratt
Sophie: Louise Alder
Faninal: Michael Kraus
Annina and Valzacchi: Stephanie Lauricella and Alun Rhys-Jenkins
Italian tenor: Sehoon Moon
Marianne Leimetzerin: Garniele Rossmanith
and others
Conductor: Robin Ticciati | London Philharmonic Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Richard Jones / Revival Director: Sarah Fahey

Whilst the production still stands 4 years later and acting across the board served it very well, the singing was a bit more approximative. We appreciated Lindsey’s ability to project over the orchestra and the Kaune’s… acting ability. She wasn’t quite as comfortable as Kate Royal during the “manhandling Mariandel” scene (when Ochs is merely boasting about his “female hunting”1 techniques and says oh, yea, you only know how it is to be pursued, but, omg, to be on the prowl every season of the year like me! – and the Marschallin is playfully trying some fun hunting moves on Mariandel for a change), but she was game most of the rest of the time.

The monologue scene wasn’t particularly memorable and the last trio was marred by Ticci allowing the jets in the orchestra to finally take off, so that the singers were left to fend for themselves. The result was more akin to an enthusiastic racket rather than smooth and alluring. Yo, Ticci, I guess you don’t know the one about trouser role operas and threesome epilogues. Someone should send him the memo.

Alder as Sophie has finally come into her own as far as I’m concerned. That’s a voice that begs to soar over something, and she’s ready to move on from sinking a delicate Baroque mezzo/contralto. She was the epitome of modern woman when it came to scolding Ochs for his ochsnoxiousness or generally being outraged at what is going on around her when Octavian isn’t there. Her interaction with Lindsey’s Octavian was very good in the Presentation of the Rose (this production has them sway back and forth, languishing in the arms of budding teenage desire).

Sherratt’s Ochs was more Ochsish than last run’s Rose (who was rather the bumbling English country cousin type) and was probably in possession of the best suited voice for Strauss on that stage, at this particular moment.

None of the rest or the orchestra stood out for any kind of faults as far as I can remember, but then we don’t go to DR for Faninal or the Italian Singer ™, do we?

the rose garden in the middle and the building where the singers warm up in the background

On the way back from Glyndebourne we caught an earlier train and spent the ride back into Victoria thinking about scenarios regarding the fictitious act IV. Put a bunch of WS together and pretty soon discussions about whether Octavian would or would not (and under which conditions) return to the Marschallin arise.

Forgot to say: at Cesare, crows and magpies thieved our blackberries (and were well on their way to make off with the celery)!!! :p so this time we got clever and put all the fruit away. And then at the short interval we only had time to move the blanket into the sun before we had to go back to the opera. I ended up very thirsty.

Crow: what are you doing this summer?
Magpie: I’m going to Glyndebourne.
Crow: trying to get famous, are you?
Magpie: I heard the catering is fabulous. Then again, if I get offered a cameo I’m not going to say no…

The lawn was mobbed with picnic-ers even more so than at Cesare‘s, so we (this time Mon, Anna and I) ended up also pondering if the Cesare and DR crowds are different or the same. I think we agreed they should more or less be the same. It was also amusing to note that DR is 30min shorter. Baroque operas mean business.

This year it was very smooth sailing as far as trains were concerned (knock on wood from now on). If anyone is interested, the recommended train is going to Ore/Littlehampton and you need to be in the 4 front (Ore) carriages. It (usually) runs from track 15 during the week and track 12 at the weekend.

evidence that young people like opera, too.


  1. you just know he would call women females

Giulio Cesare – the bright side of colonialism (Glyndebourne, 15 June 2018)

Dumaux, Bardon, Stephany, Connolly, Harvey, Moore, Kim and Thatcher.

A bight, warm-ish day saw picnic-ers return to the Glyndebourne lawn for another round of the production that even McVicar-haters love. Updating Rome to the British Empire at its height and Egypt to the Subcontinent as its prized possession has retained both its poignancy and light-hearted humour.

Giulio Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cleopatra: Joelle Harvey
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Anna Stephany
Achilla: John Moore
Nireno: Kangmin Justin Kim
Curio: Harry Thatcher
Conductor: William Christie | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Director: David McVicar

As most die hard Baroque fans are aware, this is the Giulio Cesare production on the market, still enduring after more than 12 years. It’s returned to the Glyndebourne hall after a whooping 9 years. Connolly, Dumaux and Bardon reprise their trademark roles – when you star in a definitive production the differences between you and your role will blur in the public’s mind.

Newcomers Harvey, Stephany and Kangmin Justin Kim are more than able to fill in the tall boots they were presented with. Though not a natural mover with DeNiese in mind or when sharing the stage with Connolly (textbook swagger) and Dumaux (Mr Athleticism), Harvey showed that she is very proficient at following directions to portraying a lively and energetic Cleopatra. Vocally she’s not Piau but her accomplishment surpasses DeNiese’s by far and her stamina is enviable. Remember, it’s not just 8 arias (most of them difficult, with Da tempeste rounding it all up after almost 4 hours) but also the relentless matching choreography.

Stephany, hot on the heels of portraying the other Sesto (big Sesto, to this little Sesto) at last year’s festival, was very convincing as the earnerst son of Pompey, called to take adult responsibility much too soon, and her interaction with Bardon’s Cornelia, Sesto’s mother, was entirely believable. This role is very well suited to her voice (I’d say better suited than big Sesto).

I have not seen before Kangmin Justin Kim but he entirely lived up to his niche comedy reputation as Kimcilia Bartoli, which amounted to a winning stage presence (ie: very camp funny). Nireno doesn’t have much to sing so it’s hard to gauge him just yet but in his aria he showed an unusually mezzo-ish tone. Afterwards we discussed the possibility of him actually being a tenor.

The orchestra was on top form, with the winds, brass and continuo all sounding like butter and Christie conducting at optimal tempi. A genuine pleasure to listen to! I could’ve honestly been happy with just them alone. 4 hours flew like nothing. It is really a shame Glyndebourne isn’t streaming it this year so more can hear it but I guess the DVD will have to do – after all, it was Christie and them back then as well.

I came to this production at a time when I was sick and tired of pop music so my first rection to its Bollywoodness was ambivalent. On the one hand I couldn’t deny its effectiveness, on the other I really hated the choreography. Time has passed and the 2018 me loved the opportunity of witnessing a legendary production with its legendary actors in its legendary house. Seeing this Cesare at Glyndebourne is like seeing Der Rosenkavalier in Vienna or any Verdi in Italia. Nowadays I enjoy the jokey nature and the silly moves – Baroque music lends itself really well to dancing and it’s great when a production finds a way to incorporate that in the stage action.

One interesting aspect of this production is played by way of costume. At the beginning we see the Romans wearing… err, British gear and the Egyptians harem-style getups. But as things move on, the Roman/British outfits start to crop up with the Egyptians as well. This to me alludes to what we’d (still) call today the cosmopolitan nature of the Egyptian (ie, exotic land Westerners want to conquer civilise) elite. They presumably speak fluent Latin/English with their visitors.

Indeed, during Va tacito we see Tolomeo’s staff bring out what looks like tea cakes and some sort of liquor. Cleopatra rocks a 1920s flapper girl outfit to seduce Cesare as Lydia and Tolomeo apparently enjoys hunting in safari gear as much as he does swinging his hips in harem trousers. The discreet appeal of colonialism has swayed minds even before any war ships and blimps appear on the horison.

Seeing it in the company of an international cast of WS was another highlight (check us out on Definitely the Opera, if you haven’t already). After plotting this outing for roughly a year, we finally met for this very special reason. I think I speak for us all when I say we had a blast. When you’re picnic-ing on the Glyndebourne lawn for a couple of hours, enjoying the sights, atmosphere – that curious combination of posh dress and easy chumminess1 – and a good opera chat, the ring of the first bell comes almost as a surprise: there’s live opera on the menu as well 🙂 And not just any opera.

What can I say? Tolomeo grew a hipster beard since the DVD came out and we know Cesare has badass hair under that wig2 – it goes really well with the coat – too bad we didn’t get to see it 😉 all the badass moves are there and people still openly ooh and aah at them and it’s always funny to see Cleopatra nonchalantly use Pompey’s urn as umbrella holder… it takes a bit of time to get used to the fact that something you’ve seen countless of times on the screen is now happening under your eyes, though in the house the difference in voice projection between Connolly and Bardon was rather striking. But this was only the second performance of the run and things evened out and got even livelier the week after.


  1. in that sense, Glyndebourne is like Venice – everybody’s happy to be there and most will be friendly. 
  2. it’s kind of interesting how McVicar did this year’s Vienna Ariodante in a similar vein, especially since Connolly and Dumaux were rivals there as well – or maybe because of that. I still think he shoul’ve relented on the Cesare hair front. 

Wolf with Julius Drake and Ian Bostridge (Wigmore Hall, 17 June 2018)

About 2 years ago I saw Bostridge as Ulysse in the AAM concert performance tour when it stopped at the Barbie. I really liked his attention to detail and to this day he remains a favourite along with this year’s London Ulysse, Roderick Williams. Afterwards I didn’t pay much attention to his many Wiggy concerts but this season I thought I should get up to speed on the Bostridge lieder experience ™.

the stairs to the Wiggy restaurant

Ian Bostridge tenor
Julius Drake piano

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen
Spätherbstnebel
Du bist wie eine Blume
Mädchen mit dem roten Mündchen
Mein Liebchen, wir sassen beisammen
Wenn ich in deine Augen seh
Mit schwarzen Segeln
Wie des Mondes Abbild zittert
Goethe Lieder
Frech und Froh I
Frech und Froh II
Der Rattenfänger
Gutmann und Gutweib
Ganymed
Grenzen der Menschheit

 

Interval

London has fountains, too

Mörike Lieder

Der Genesene an die Hoffnung
Der Knabe und das Immlein
Jägerlied
Der Tambour
Begegnung
Nimmersatte Liebe
Verborgenheit
Auf ein altes Bild
In der Frühe
Gebet
Peregrina I
Peregrina II
Der Feuerreiter
Abschied

Encore:

Schubert, of course

Well, it turned out that getting a ticket at the end of the next block was a good idea, because Dr Bostridge likes a good, brightly toned, laser-like and anguished shout with his Wolf. If we’re not quite sure what Van Mallaerts is, Bostridge is 100% tenor. And 100% white voice. So if you like that, he’s the man for you. He also got really alarmingly intense when he wasn’t nonchalantly leaning against the piano. I considered offering to make him a nice cuppa.

On the other hand, Julius Drake was 100% fun. I really enjoyed his accompaniment. You may remember I don’t always get into the instrumental part of things but sometimes some accompanists do get my attention quite vividly (more recently, Scalera and Manoff did). Following Drake’s amazing work with dynamics and timing was unexpectedly easy and exciting!

Modest proposal 2018: Wiggy needs to think about ways to implement the mute-the-anguished-tenor button.

you: dehggi, that’s called the instrumental music concert, which has made Wiggy famous.
dehggi: I heard of such things, but they don’t usually play the lieder scores, do they?

Christine Rice MIA, Julien Van Mallaerts in de hause (Wigmore Hall, 18 June 2018)

I’m all for privacy but what is going in in the Rice camp, y’all? This year alone I was supposed to see her three times (January, March and June) and everything ended up cancelled. I hope things are on the mend, for everyone’s sake.

Wiggy presented us with a young upstart instead, namely baritone Julien Van Mallaerts, who is about to go to Bayreuth for some Wagnerian schooling. He did sound like that. The end.

😉

With Rice we were expecting a French programme (La voix humaine) so we at least got that (not La voix humaine – but wouldn’t it be fun to hear a baritone sing it?). You know I like ze French songse. His French diction is good (or I had a very good seat) and he seemed like he really got into it interpretively. Pity we didn’t know what was so funny, though based on the titles I’m sure it was. I need to get a bit more culture (not just about Madama Butterfly). I thought he had a nice, run-of-the-mill baritone but Anna wasn’t so sure it was a bari-tone after all (his low notes were a bit cloudy to me, especially if he wanted to do pp. He was at his best when he could employ bright and loud highs).

Whatever it is, it wasn’t offensive but nothing much to write home about as far as I’m concerned. How about a picture of Camden instead1? It was such a warm and gorgeous day on Monday, Anna and I decided to walk along the Regent Canal (yes, I wanted to take some pictures like I couldn’t after the last Lunchtime Concert when the battery died after two measly shots 😉 ).

not quite Venice but nice cow, eh?

Julius Drake was a treat twice within less than 24hours, though I thought he was a lot more interesting (like super cool) in the German programme. I commend that work ethic!

Julien Van Mallaerts baritone
Julius Drake piano

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
La vie antérieure
Phidylé

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Fêtes galantes Book II
Les ingenus
Le faune
Colloque sentimental

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Histoires naturelles
Le paon
Le grillon
Le martin-pecheur
La pintade
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Chanson romanesque
Chanson epique
Chanson a boire

Encore:

Nachtlied Schubert


  1. It has come to my attention that I don’t post enough pictures, so there you go, nautical London. 

Arianna in Halle with Il Pomo d’Oro and vintage cast

All I have to say right now is: amazing performance 😀 even the usual poor acoustics of the venue could not hinder it.

 

The virtual world of Franco Fagioli (Barbican, 4 June 2018)

Life is funny in many unexpected ways. When I first saw the advert for this show I thought “pfft, Barbican! Just how big does FF think he is?”1 So I didn’t buy a ticket, though, as you can see from the setlist, it contains two of my top favourite Baroque arias plus change.

Ffwd to last month, Baroque Bird asked me are you going to Franco’s show at the Barbican? Turns out she had an orphan ticket. Well… let’s say it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting and thanks to a very understanding colleague, some night shift Tetris was performed with speed.

Franco Fagioli countertenor
Gianpiero Zanocco | Venice Baroque Orchestra

Vivaldi Sinfonia in G major, RV 146
Cessate, o mai cessate, RV 684
Sinfonia in G minor, RV 156
‘Mentre dormi’ from Olimpiade
‘Nel profondo cieco mondo’ from Orlando Furioso
Handel ‘Dopo notte’ from Ariodante
‘Sento brillar ner (sic) sen’ from Il Pastor Fido
Vivaldi Sinfonia in C major from Il Giustino, RV 717
Handel ‘Scherza, infida’ from Ariodante
Geminiani Concerto gross (sic) in D minor ‘La follia’ (after A. Corelli Op 5, No 12)
Handel ‘Se potessero i sospir miei’ from Imeneo

Encore:

‘Crude furie’ from Serse
‘Ombra mai fu’ from Serse

One of the things I discovered since intently listening to Baroque opera is that there are Handel singers and Vivaldi singers. The top Baroque specialists sound good in both but even so you can tell which one is more up their alley. In Fagioli’s case it’s obviously the great Handel, to quote the man himself. The best moments of the night were hands down Dopo notte (one of his signature arias) and Sento brillar nel sen. His Vivaldi wasn’t bad in any way but hearing his coloratura on the cheerful Handels sounded like so many fruit machine jackpots.

A funny-WTF thing happened after Sento brillar, when my seatmate turned to me in top conversational mode and asked do you fancy him? I kid you not, that’s what he asked me, though we’d barely exchanged a couple of words before – and he actually leaned in and expected a giggly yes (he got a are you shitting me? look and he ceased and desisted from trying to get chummy for the rest of the night).

Now, I’m sure constant readers of the blog have gleaned I may be fancying certain singers but let me reassure you Franco isn’t one of them, memorable CT-hug moment notwithstanding. This tells you quite a bit about the Barbican audience, who is looselier jointed than the Wiggy one. Case in point, when, after the interval, FF was doing his let them wait and cheer for me schtick, people actually started calling for him in a manner that lay curiously between cute and weird. I suggested to Leander the orchestra start Dopo notte without him, just to scare him into his senses a bit 😉

Whether I may internally groan at his diva moves (greatly toned down this time around2) and go for a very different look (I guess you’d say) in singers, let alone get constantly frustrated with the politics of casting castrato roles, in between Sento brillar and Dopo notte it dawned on me that I really enjoy him as a musician.

I’ve seen him enough times now that I don’t have to catch his performances if I don’t want to and I think I can certainly be objective in my subjectivity. I spent a good chunk of the night checking out his vibrato – the very one that does thadieu’s head in. I kinda see it’s there 😉 but it still doesn’t bother me. His diction was about as usual, perhaps a bit better (Leander thought a lot better) – or maybe it’s just because we were close (really nice spot, row K). I did understand quite a few words and it seemed they disintegrated only when he was putting the pedal to metal. His choice of ornaments wasn’t particularly exciting, mostly an occasion to remind us of his range. On the other hand, this was one of the areas he toned down on, so perhaps he went to the other extreme.

I also think the Vivaldi contralto arias should stay with contraltos (though I did enjoy him starting with Cessate, omai cessate (because it’s a great one to hear live), the whole came off a bit unfocused and the fun last bit sort of never quite took off the way I’m used to – but then that’s the peril with stated arias). His range was nicely showcased in Nel profondo, complete with his trademark very secure Bartoli baritonal touches, but somehow the effect on me wasn’t the same as when he hit the Handel runs. I think I know every note in Dopo notte and all of them went directly home.

He can certainly hit the whistle register (perhaps we just expect this from countertenors) but he doesn’t sound as unhinged as a contralto does when doing the same; for Orlando a bit of kookoo is desired. I don’t know if I’m right or not, but I think Vivaldi asks for a greater emphasis on contrast and colour than Handel (who, I also suppose, is more about structure and accuracy?). Please let me know what you think on this.

Even so, the things that I like (the joy and the gentleness that come through in his singing in the arias that require such) hit me perfectly. Leander’s friend observed that he didn’t seem to feed off the (very appreaciative) audience and rather stayed in his own world whilst singing. Interestingly, FF himself put it this way during the encores: thank you for enjoying the show with me. Now that might be international English for you, but quite. He enjoyed singing, we enjoyed listening.

This did get me thinking, though. We all perform to someone sometime, even though we’re not on an official stage. Those who know me irl may remember I enjoy telling what I think are “funny stories” – and that is the time when I can relate to feeding off the audience. You will know immediately if those around you are with you or not so more of the same may come out or be momentarily locked away accordingly.

But how does that work with a preexisting setlist? I suppose you offer to people things that either they know you for or are around the same lines. But it’s different, isn’t it, you telling the same story for the fifth time to the same audience3 or you hearing one of your favourites spin Dopo notte one more time, whether he’s in his own world or not.

Singing is a bit different than talking. It inhabits a certain magical space that simple talking never quite does, though it gets closest when it’s your favourite voice doing it. So with magic comes one’s own world. You may be pulled into it and you can stroll around and enjoy the sights, though you may not interact with them in a physical way – sort of like virtual reality. That’s how I always felt with FF – his offerings have a way of worming their way into my heart, yet he always remains remote. But, circling back to that funny-WTF interaction, that’s just fine with me 😉

To give you a different idea of ways in which his singing hits home with me, thanks to the fact I actually understood most of the words in his Scherza, infida, the moment he hit io tradito, a morte in braccio I was reminded how Jones’ Aix production brings into foreground the grossly unfair treatment of Ginevra. Prejudice from one’s own community that leads to tragic or near tragic results is one of the things that affect me most. I recently read about/listened to/watched the PBS documentary on the Todd Willingham case4 so I spent the bulk of the aria in an unsettled state. Say Baroque opera isn’t relevant to today’s world…


  1. It did not completely sell out. 
  2. Simple charcoal suit (and glasses), less to and fro-ing to backstage than usual, only one Latino stomp (after Crude furie) and pretty toned down vocal-showing off. 
  3. Though, to be fair, there are a couple of stories that I told certain audiences more than once on request! I guess it happens, if you hit the right audience with the right kind of story. 
  4. You can watch it too, if you want to be horrified at how your own community – from bottom to the top – can send you to your death based on prejudice, ignorance, cynicism and politcal interest whilst feeling self righteous about it, too. 

Stéphane Degout: not quite it (Wigmore Hall, 5 June 2018)

If you take enough chances, the time will come when something falls flat like a souffle. I have to report that Degout hasn’t left much of an impression on me, beside his nicely pronunced French.

Stéphane Degout baritone
Simon Lepper piano

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Aurore Op. 39 No. 1
Poème d’un jour Op. 21
Automne Op. 18 No. 3

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
O kühler Wald Op. 72 No. 3
Die Mainacht Op. 43 No. 2
Auf dem Kirchhofe Op. 105 No. 4
Feldeinsamkeit Op. 86 No. 2
Alte Liebe Op. 72 No. 1
Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen Op. 32 No. 2
Willst du, dass ich geh? Op. 71 No. 4

Interval

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kerner Lieder Op. 35

I have an inkling that French chanson can be shouted in a nervous manner and not suffer for it but during the first half of the programme I did not discern much dynamic variation. I mean, there was, but not used for contrast, rather this song was sung forte, the next mezzoforte etc.

Degout has a very bright and penetrating voice (is this a French thing? = light beam; I was in the last row but it carried like a bullet, for better (diction in both languages) and worse (even volume)). It’s not unpleasant by any means but it’s quite colourless and with the lack of… moulding, its effect felt to me like what thadieu calls water faucet.

On top of that his face stayed slightly pained/startled for the duration. It’s not one’s fault when they don’t have a mobile face but in this case that only made matters worse. Curiously, he also took on the stance of the Tower of Pisa, alternatively leaning towards the right for good periods of time and righting himself for a while. I hope he wasn’t in any kind of actual pain.

I did enjoy Lepper’s accompaniment, though I can’t say anything further than his handling of the instrument worked for me.

I had to leave at the interval but for once that didn’t bother me too much. Maybe the Schumann would’ve got my attention but I kinda doubt it.

Now this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Degout – that would be a couple of weeks ago, in Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence. Which brings me to another subject – the backlog. Yes, dear reader, a backlog has accumulated in the opera, innit? drawer because… well, because sometimes regardless of how you feel about a show you don’t feel quite like writing.

Due to Benjamin’s opera (another thing I took a chance on, with mixed results), I’ve attended Barbara Hannigan’s Masterclass and Degout’s recital. Whilst the masterclass has given me plenty of food for thought – and is actually one of the few things partly written – I have not finished it yet.

I also mean to write another post about Venice, a bit about Sara Mingardo’s recital-plus my and thadieu’s quest for a meal in London 😉 as well as Simon Keenlyside’s VERY funny recital (it’s contralto and baritone season chez dehggi) – what a contrast to Degout! – and a few words on how I realised Franco Fagioli is actually one of my favourite singers (shudder-gasp, I know).

Evening longing with Matthias Goerne (Wigmore Hall, 24 April 2018)

Goerne is one of those people who does not sing in a repertoire I frequent, but, for whatever reason, I thought I should go see him (I do read reviews/writeups of a wider rep than I physically enjoy and in hindsight it can be hard to pinpoint what made me curious about one singer/work or another).

Once again, it was a wise choice (wise beyond my ears, that’s me). Right from the getgo I thought, wow, this is a gorgeous voice! And later I could see how skilled he is at building drama with that lucky break he got from the universe. The second part of the performance did start to get a bit same-y in mood, which happens often enough in recitals, as singers I guess find a groove that works for their psyche and/or voice and go with it, often potentially losing the casual listener who’d like a bit of variation.

The general mood that works for him seems to be rather sinister – it fit seamlessly with the cruel-ish intentions dream (I know, right? ha.ha…) I had woken up with that morning – which kept my imagination busy particularly during the Pfitzner set.

Seong-Jin Cho brought all the Korean women in the Wiggy yard – and I mean all of them! I hadn’t seen so many Koreans in one place since Uni days (my school was very popular with South Koreans). One of them came and asked me about my seat (remember that story? this was the first time it happened that week) but then softly drifted away before I could even answer, just like Cho’s pps 😉

Matthias Goerne baritone
Seong-Jin Cho piano

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo

Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949)
Sehnsucht Op. 10 No. 1
Wasserfahrt Op. 6 No. 6
Es glänzt so schön die sinkende Sonne Op. 4 No. 1
Ist der Himmel darum im Lenz so blau Op. 2 No. 2
An die Mark Op. 15 No. 3
Abendrot Op. 24 No. 4
Nachts Op. 26 No. 2
Stimme der Sehnsucht Op. 19 No. 1

Interval

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Wesendonck Lieder

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Traum durch die Dämmerung Op. 29 No. 1
Morgen Op. 27 No. 4
Ruhe, meine Seele Op. 27 No. 1
Freundliche Vision Op. 48 No. 1
Im Abendrot from Four Last Songs