Category Archives: mozart

In local Tito news

… and online! also on Radio 3 at the end of August

Glyndebourne has posted a podcast on Tito with their current team (none of the singers, though), featuring music from the 1993 Harnoncourt recording (and not their own recording, for some reason). Usual readers aren’t likely to hear many new things but at least it’s clear that teams have left behind the old school slight embarrassment at producing Tito and are now focusing on the music (how it’s different from the other things Mozart composed in his later years) and what it’s about.

Aside from the 3 August Glyndebourne livestream (6pm London time), Tito will appear at the Proms (semi staged with the same cast) on Monday 28 August at 7pm London time. All I’m going to say about that is the broadcast will be a much better deal than the actual Royal Albert Hall acoustics.

Glyndebourne 2017 loot

Glyndebourne 2013

Glyndebourne 2013

Given that I haven’t been to Glyndebourne in a few years, I don’t know if this general booking system is new or not. In any case, you apparently can’t sneak in before the appointed time. Though I got in 14secs after 6pm, I was #622 in the queue. Luckily I was tag-teaming with Baroque Bird, who was in the 300s already. So Team London will be there for La clemenza di Tito on 31 July (Glyndebourne will broadcast the 3 August performance) and yours truly will see a couple more shows (Hipermestra and Hamlet in June plus another go at Tito in August). Let’s hope for clement weather 🙂

edit: we now have Annio (Anna Stéphany) and Publio (Clive Bayley). Interesting that Stéphany is Annio, seeing as how she’s already sung Sesto. But I do rather see her as Annio. You may remember I saw Bayley as Aye in Akhnaten last year and when I say saw I mean it. It’s going to be nice actually hearing him 😉

Belcanto Tito – a bit of update

See post La clemenza di Tito (De Marchi)

What the title says. This morning I found some time to write on a few arias/ensembles from act II. Sorry I’ve written so haltingly about this interesting take on Mozart’s Tito as well as for the blog being very quiet, but February has been busy at the currently relocating casa de dehggi. I really wish I were writing rather than packing my belongings and having to decide on which crap I haven’t used in ages I can/can’t part with!

When singers make baby Mozart weep; today’s culprit: Dorothea Roschmann

baby-mAh, the youtube comment section! – exerting its powerful pull whenever boredom strikes. I’ve posted earworm‘s video before, along with a rant stating:

I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

But if you check out the mini convo started by the latest comment below the video you will see some people have the exact opposite opinion regarding her singing. It never ceases to amuse me how people can hear the same thing in such radically different ways.

Belcanto Tito (De Marchi/Academia Montis Regalis)

I headed over to Spotify to witness how Weigl, Mayr and De Marchi fiddled with Tito. It might not sound like much but it brings up the good ol’ write you own opera! adage. The new arias are in red.

Tito: Carlo Allemano
Vitellia: Nina Bernsteiner
Sesto: Kate Aldrich
Annio: Ann-Beth Solvang
Servilia: Dana Marbach
Publio: Marcell Bakonyi

Conductor: Alessandro De Marchi / Academia Montis Regalis

Overture: very speedy; details are very nicely emphasised by the lean sound but I could do with a more measured tempo

Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!:

Come ti piace imponi: I can see what Anna was saying about the interpolated ornaments… coooome tiiiii piaaaace. Ok, whatever. You know what ornamentation for the sake of it does to a piece – lowers the drama. Also since fa mille affetti is done as in the original we have a sort of stylistic disconnect for no particular reason as per these 21st century ears, at least.

Annio: Ma che, sempre l’istesso?!: we jump back to Sesto and Vitellia’s convo, ended by Vitellia’s verdict I want Tito dead before the sun goes down. I thought the whole point of Come ti piace imponi was to hammer home what she wants from Sesto and what he feels about it. Here Sesto has no time to lament his fate as

Annio barges in: what is the point of screwing with the very clear Mazzola edit? Nice tone for Annio. I actually like Vitellia’s as well. Sesto says his lines theatrically detached – o. virtu. and de nuuuullllaaa. 

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: not bad, I really like Bernsteiner’s tone and it’s nicely performed but I didn’t feel a lot of individuality in the interpretation. There are some early 1800s touches in the trills which you might need to get used to.

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: the BFFs moan about forever together and then launch into a very lyrical rendition of this pretty duettino. It’s the loveliest and most Mozartean thing this far, though I couldn’t quite tell our mezzos apart.

March/Sebate dei custodi: the drumroll was so long I thought it was another Spotify advert (too tame for a rock drum solo). The choir sounds small and thin in the low end but is tight and keeps up with the orchestra. It probably is adequate to the size of the orchestra (which I don’t think is big).

Publio and Annio talk about loot etc.: whoever thought the beginning didn’t make sense as it was thinks this is worth keeping. Publio is potato-mouthed, Tito declames well, Annio is about to pass out from admiration, the choir gives a cheer.

reprise of March with Tito and choir: thankfully no more drumroll. Belcanto alert! Tito’s part isn’t bad at all; it’s like something Argirio would sing in Tancredi. The choir falls over itself with admiration in the middle. LOLZ moment. I like Del piu sublime soglio but I’m ok with this replacement and how the march tune and the choir was woven in. Not a bad idea in this context though I wouldn’t go as far as to say it improves on the original. I don’t know if this is how it was back in 1804 or if De Marchi thought to make it more interactive with all the inserts of the choir and in the end Tito stating that he wants the BFFs to stay behind, but so far this is the best redone bit.

Tito and BFFs: Romantic moaning between Sesto and Tito over the Berenice business. I’ll give myself over to friendship – which to Tito means marrying his BFF’s sister. Quite the gay undercurrent in this heaving bosom moaning. Annio joins in with his own emoting.

Incolpar tu non dovrai: surprise Tito – Sesto duet this early! I thought we’d have this in act II. More gay undercurrent. Tito, if you kiss him now he might not return to Vitellia. It’s belcanto allright and moderately entertaining. Incorporates some of the lyrics of Del piu sublime soglio but the tune isn’t as good. Allemano and Aldrich work well together, though.

Annio : Servilia: the lovebirds moan, slightly more OTT than usual. The continuo is nicely done.

Ah, perdonna: they kept this one, no surprise here. I bet it’s been a hit since day one. You can definitely tell who’s who. Lovely tone Marbach, can’t wait for her S’altro che lagrime. The tempo is right here, quite delicately done. Once we’re back in Mozartland you can see how he’s a few notches above “the improvement” even with a few simple strokes. Best moment so far.

Tito : Publio: segues right in, very jarring after that lovey-dovey moment. Allemano does the Romantic Tito with much aplomb. Servilia is very efficient; just finished with the suave boyfriend and, without missing a beat, she’s ready to talk shop with Tito.

“improved” Ah, se fosse intorno al trono: only not really. The original tune was great so why screw with it? This isn’t better writing by any stretch of imagination, though it was probably very fashionable in its day (reminds me of Paisiello). Also the bassoon is replaced with a reoccurring short oboe tune (also likely a trendy touch for the the first decade of the 1800s), which is nice enough (best part) but sort of too casual for the mood of this improvement.

Generally I have the feeling these additions don’t have the tight focus of Mozart’s pieces (my complaint with Paisiello’s Il barbiere: too verbose for its own good) but I think that was the main issue with those changing trends, until the advent of Rossini (and even in his case…). The upshot is Allemano would be (is already?) really good in the Paisiello/Cimarosa repertoire. He does get lots of deserved applause (applause! none until this bit and they threw me when they barged in).

Servilia : Vitellia : Sesto: Vitellia could be more vicious, Servilia ok (more focus in the recit would’ve strengthened the moment) but the cello continuo features nicely. Later (ancora mi schernisce!) Vitellia is more grand than dramatic, though she too gets a din-din-din-deeeen cello accompaniment that was good in this context. Sesto slumps in sort of lalala – this one isn’t very alert – furious Vitellia jumps on him.

+ pre-Parto argument: the recit is pretty much the one we know and love and it’s rather well acted. Sesto holds his own; questo acciaro nel sen di Tito…! was acted all right but the pause after it seemed a bit too long. Bernsteiner is the better actress. Her Vitellia is impatient and most likely physically pushed Sesto into Parto.

Parto: the intro is played like a death sentence. Someone thought it’d be a good idea to add trills to each of the twin partos. We still have the clarinet line (not fudged with and nice job the player) and the general tune is the same (whew). Trills abundant, added seemingly at random. Listen, I could live with messing with Tito’s arias, but Parto? This is the meat and potatoes of Tito. At least the stretto is the same, coloraura/clarinet and all. If anything, Aldrich is a trooper and does a good job with all this messing around (I’m not a fan of her tone and her dramatic skills aren’t something I’d write home about).

But her coloratura work surprised me with its consistency and fluency, especially if this was live. I wouldn’t have thought she had it in her any longer (I heard her Orsini long ago and I liked it quite a bit but nothing since, especially her Amneris, although the size/thickness of her voice points that way). The public really liked it and I bet you it was all because De Marchi was wise enough to keep the ending as we know and love.

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai: Bernsteiner is rather lugubrious, though her Cesare…? doesn’t have the dramatic finesse some inflect it with.

Vengo…! Aspetatte…! Sesto…!: her chops/tone/fullness come in handy for this one. She’s exquisite here and her Vengo! shouts have just the amount of hysteria needed. Her top Ds have a gorgeous full ring I must add. The tempo is very good.

Act I finale

Oh, dei…/Deh, conservate…: De Marchi drives this all sharp edges brisk. The music has not been improved. Aldrich isn’t bad; in fact I’d say she does all the right things but somehow I can’t get too enthusiastic no matter what she does. Annio’s entrance isn’t quite as contrasting as it usually is.

The drama cranks up in the string section as soon as Servilia comes in. I think it’s a bit of a tall order to go all Romantic with a Baroque-sized orchestra. But what do I know, the size of the orchestra couldn’t have changed so much between 1791 and 1804? Aldrich all of a sudden pulls out some impressive chest notes for rinserra un traditor. Hey, I liked that! Not many mezzos do it though they definitely should if they can reach down. The choir still sounds too thin for this very dramatic moment. The brass does what it can but the whole still feels a bit deflated.

Act II

TBC tomorrow or later this week sorry, been very busy this month; currently packing up to move house; I only updated this today because I wanted to listen to something whilst construction workers drilled, puffed and played bad pop put up scaffolding 2m away from my window.

What happens up to Se al volto isn’t particularly anything to write home about. The recits veer on the stilted side and Solvang’s voice seems heavy for Torna di Tito a lato.

Se al volto mai ti senti: the trio came out very well, with interesting little touches from the strings and from Vitellia herself, who varied her o dio!s enough to show vulnerability and generally paid clever attention to details. Bernsteiner full tone shone throghout. Aldrich’s Sesto had a couple of surprisingly neat trills. Expressively conducted, De Marchi handled its halting nature with sensitivity via the intelligent use of rubato.

Ah grazie si rendano: nice introspective start, the choir isn’t bad, though perhaps a bit too reined in. Allemano milks his darkish sound in a way I haven’t heard since Kaufmann’s Tito. He sounds gently sorrowful.

Publio : Tito: the cello continuo is a bit annoying (very cutting). Publio is of the potato-mouthed kind, though not a bad actor. Tito continues his belcanto-style declamation which in this context is appropriate.

Tardi s’avvede: tardi s’avvide d’un traditmentu is how Bakonyi puts it. Publio sounds hush-hush (with a second tardi that is very nicely caressed), which is a good idea and I’m surprised we haven’t heard it more often, as the aria is an aside. De Marchi makes it both very bouncy and quiet in mood and resists the temptation to push it farther/bigger than the material allows. It’s nicely contained and Bakonyi does a very good job fitting in.

Tito : Annio : Publio: Tito is eager for the rumours about Sesto to be proven wrong. Annio sounds courageous enough. Publio is one of the more objective ones. Tito is upset but not overboard.

Tu fosti tradito: poor Annio, denied.

Tito’s anguished recit: the strings are cutting and to the point, yet retaining warmth of sound. Allemano is still belcanto, expressively paced and with beautiful diction and nice little pps. It’s a voice you can listen to for quite a while.

Non tradirmi in quest’instante: the oboe has a lot to do in this half-incarnation. It’s of its time but I liked the nice little tune. This gently dolorous aria sounds like a good 19th century pastiche of Mozart. It even has a cabaletta that employs the choir and reminds me a bit of Non più andrai. By now you’d think I’d be expecting the choir and the cabaletta but it’s so unmozartean I’m always thrown. Though it shows how those martial interventions one merely played with in Mozart’s days developed later.

I do enjoy the choir’s interventions and honestly, I’d’ve liked a full belcanto version of Tito (I know there is at least one out there), a bit more than this weird concoction of Mozart and proto-Rossini. This might be a good moment to recommend Mayr’s Ginevra di Scozia (1801), which is his belcanto take on Ariodante (if this Tito whetted anyone’s appetite for old fashioned themes for the early 1800s – Mayr also wrote a Tamerlano, Adriano in Siria, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and a Demetrio – among other classic themes – as well as comedies on contemporary libretti).

Allemano gets a lot of applause and I’m thrown again, as some moments are so quietly received (no coughing either) that I keep forgetting this was live.

Tito : Publio: Non tradirmi turned out quite on the gay side, though perhaps they took the mood differently back then (reminds me of how girlyshly Werther’s letter writing reads in The Sorrows…). Now Tito goes on moaning where’s Sesto? Why is he not coming? which adds to the gayness.

Quello di Tito e il volto: back to Mozart. Juxtaposing the two keeps showing just how exquisite Mozart’s writing is. No matter how much I enjoyed Non tradirmi, this is more complex emotionally. De Marchi keeps it light and brisk and his team of singers is very well drilled. Vocally Aldrich is not bad at all here, though I wouldn’t say she shows a spellbinding personality.

more to come when I have some time

Opera in 50 words (Tito)

The past couple of months I skipped Titoness so here’s something I concoted a while back and never got around to posting:

One can go on elaborately when talking about what this or that opera is about – or one can boil it down to essentials by summarising each character’s arias:

the picture belongs to NEC, who have a Tito recording I will talk about as soon as I listen to it

Vitellia (hobby: shooting herself in the foot):

  1. Do as I say or else
  2. I’m screwed!

Sesto (excuses, excuses):

  1. She’s too hot to refuse
  2. Err, I didn’t really mean it…

Tito (Mr. self-analysis):

  1. Generosity is its own reward
  2. Happiness is honest people
  3. I’m a gentle chap

Annio (wise beyond his years):

  1. Dude, start grovelling
  2. Please forgive him, boss

Sevilia (not-so-secretly hates Vitellia):

  1. Do something, bitch!

Publio (secretly loves Tito):

  1. You’re too nice for your own good

La finta giardiniera with tube prelude (RCM, 30 November 2016)

fintaposter

A few months ago Leander alerted me the Royal College of Music was staging La finta giardiniera and you bet I couldn’t say no to early Mozart. Then everyone got busy and come the day of the show I was on my own with a wildly unreliable (at the time) Piccadilly Line.

Don Anchise (Podestà/Mayor of Lagonero): Thomas Erlank
Marchioness Violante Onesti “Sandrina” (the fake gardener): Carly Owen
Arminda (Don Anchise’s gold digging niece): Elizabeth Reeves
Contino Belfiore (Violante’s abusive ex, now engaged to Arminda): Thobela Ntshanyana
Cavaliere Ramiro (Arminda’s mercilessly rejected, continuously moaning ex): Kamilla Dunstan
Serpetta (Don Anchise’s servant, looking to marry him): Harriet Eyley
Roberto “Nardo” (Violante’s servant, also faking it as a gardener, interested in Serpetta): Kieran Rayner
Conductor: Michael Rosewell
Director: Harry Fehr

(I copied the cast listing from the informative Opera Today’s review of the performance on 3 December; judging by the pictures it looks very similar; if I am wrong in any way I apologise; the RCM site doesn’t provide a cast)

There doesn’t seem to be much getting between me and my Mozart. I will, for a while at least, associate the piercing strings from the ‘giardiniera overture with crushing every single toe unfortunate enough to find itself between me and my augellin.

For your convenience I marked the two sides of this adventure (scroll all the way down to ‘giardiniera) so you don’t have to read about the tube madness if you don’t care.

Winter Mozart Mad Dash

This time I had the questionable honour of being the person who made an entire row get up. As soon as I saw that lady – smack dab in the middle of the row – carefully fold her cardie I knew she was of the this is the way things ought to be done school of thought. Sure enough, she wouldn’t stand for tomfoolery when I asked to be allowed to pass, lecturing me there are no more free seats this way (for people wearing pirate hoodies). I didn’t back down either but the lights did and somebody I had already passed physically pushed me foreward (or, well, sideways).

Normally that would annoy me but at that moment I wisely chose my battles, namely I stumbled without remorse all over the rest of the old ladies with bad ankles (the entire row had probably said goodbye to sweet 65 in the early ’00s). They were most likely black and blue the next day and lamented, over morning coffee, youth today, no respect, no time keeping and no dress sense. Luckily good English manners meant no further reprimands. On the other hand, ladies, count yourselves lucky my dress sense included light weight trainers instead of high heels.

click to enlarge for the main attractions along the Piccadilly Line (Covent Garden = ROH; Finsbury Park = Arsenal Stadium; Knightsbrigde = Lamborghinis)

Well, dear old ladies (fastidious or kindly), blame whatever was going on with the Piccadilly line. TFL advised me to take Victoria to Green Park and retake Piccadilly from there but, alas, that was to be a mistake. We made good time bypassing King’s Cross due to whatever had happened there earlier but you should’ve seen my face at Green Park when the Cerberus there snapped the Piccadilly tunnel metal gate closed right in front of me. Munch’s Scream had nothing on me.

It was 6:33pm and the opera started at 7pm. We waited there for 8 excrutiating minutes. Behind me was an American with the nasal + high pitched type voice talking at a leisurely pace about her trip to Venice (so boring! apparently) whilst I was agonising over why the bloody hell Se l’augellin sen fugge had to be the first aria in the whole damn opera. If I don’t make it in time for it, what’s the point???? (overdramatic, me? Perish the thought). Then again, Dolce d’amor compagna, said the sensible side of my brain. If they don’t cut it. They do it often enough. Why let optimism gain the upper hand?! Life is suffering and midweek public transport torment etc. At that point I only persevered because turning back was more hassle than continuing.

We were let through before I could turn around to glare pointedly at the sinus challenged Venice disser. This time I only had to hop over a small child. The train pulled away as I arrived. Of course. Then more people flooded the place but I managed to squeeze into a seat (more ruthlessness) only for the train to be held there momentarily. 6:43pm. Only three stops from Green Park which means no longer than 6min provided the train makes an effort to move from point A to point B. At the next stop we were held momentarily again whilst I seethed how long do I need to cover that bloody Museums tunnel? They said the reason for severe delays was them fixing tube cars, not digging new tunnels. Though I have a sneaky suspicion it’s neither, rather it’s stopping trains momentarily for no particular reason (if they are fixing trains it means there are less trains, so no need to regulate the traffic, eh).

museumrink

Natural History Museum Ice Skating Rink (click to enlarge)

We made it to South Ken by 6:53pm. Another child, another jump, mad dash up the stairs and down the Museums tunnel. It seems an interminable tunnel but it actually only takes 3min to cover if you (well, I; you might be in better shape) mix sprinting and furious walking and factor in tourists stopping in dazed poses in the most inconvenient places. Shall we get out here? Oh, wouldn’t be fun? Let’s explore a little! Look, a Lamborghini. Yes, I spotted another one but who had time to snap pictures? That damn escaping augellin wasn’t waiting, was it?

Once you’re out the tunnel there is more walking (London scoffs at shortcuts) – past the Scientology temple and the Science Museum (facing each other!), then left past the imposing Royal College of Music itself with the Royal Albert Hall on your right and, at long last, the modest door of the Britten Hall. Deserted.

OMG, it’s started! and for a moment I wasn’t sure I was in the right place (were these lockers here before?). Ok, not quite started but I was the last person to arrive and the orchestra had finished tuning. I’m usually cutting it close but haven’t been this late since that time at L’Ormindo when I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the Thames in pouring rain and my main concern was getting out of the rain rather than making it to the opera. That had been tremendous fun, because the usher, looking like a Phantom of the Opera drop-out, closed the gate dramatically behind me then rushed up the stairs along with me. Stewing in squelchy boots for the rest of the show was a different thing…

This chap waves me in, the cute kind and efficient usher smiles until she notices my seat number. It’s somewhere there, actually, she points to the other side of the auditorium. A beat as I scan her face rather than the full rows of seats separating me from my cleverly chosen spot. Do you mean I have to disturb the entire row? Gentle smile: pretty much. Well, if she doesn’t offer to keep me with her until a suitable break occurs then I have to, don’t I?

The good news is I was in my seat before the singing started and no important arias were cut. The suited chap in the next seat glared at me but he left at the interval – good, because he was taking too much space and barely clapped. Sadly he didn’t leave his progamme behind so it took me until now (thank you, Opera Today) to figure out who sang.

Long Island ‘giardiniera

fintacurtain

Serpetta, Ramiro, Belfiore, “Sandrina”, Don Anchise, Arminda and “Nardo” in the wedding tent

The production is of the quietly modern type (no flesh eating plants or plastic bag headdresses, although the madcap act II finale happens in an impressively rendered boiler room to which Arminda has cut the power). We spend most of the time in Arminda and Belfiore’s wedding tent, which gives the singers the opportunity to fiddle around with cutlery, drinks and various boxes; most of the fiddling felt soap opera natural.

Generally speaking, comedies can be easily updated and ‘giardiniera fares as well as any. It’s about a bunch of young people looking to get hitched, hopefully to the right person (whatever right means for each of them). But it wouldn’t be a comedy if things were so simple.

Violante/Sandrina (here a mysteriously disappeared NYC heiress) and Roberto/Nardo are travelling incognito and have – more or less accidentally – infiltrated Belfiore and Arminda’s wedding by pretending to be working for a Long Island Catering company (in her green apron she’d be very much at home at Starbucks).

Don Anchise, here dressed like a Long Island JR Ewing, who has organised his niece’s wedding party, has noticed the self effacing “Sandrina” and is cheerfully flirting with her. She – still in love with her abusive ex – is not interested. Even so, Serpetta (Don Anchise’s young and feisty housemaid) feels she is competition. Serpetta is of course aware of “Nardo”‘s interest in her and gladly flirts with him – for fun.

Bolshy Arminda can’t believe her luck having landed (probably more like stalked, jumped upon and secured with iron claws) a dashing, rich Count in Belfiore. Her ex (socially inferior to Belfiore) Ramiro (unbeknownst to either party, a close friend of her uncle’s) is one of the wedding guests, a rather morose one, still not over Arminda (we’re not sure why, she’s thoroughly unpleasant – but they are the opera seria characters and that is typically the relationship between lovers in that context). Reeves has the perfect attitude for the very ambitious (“I will climb over anything in order to get married”) Arminda. Her singing wasn’t bad, considering it’s a tricky role, with a lot of bombastic, elaborate phrases.

At the beginning of the opera Ramiro has just played tennis with Don Anchise, who is trying to cheer him and Sandrina up. Don Anchise does a pretty good job and so we (I!) get Se l’augellin sen fugge (not going to fall in love again) as a result. Dunstan, who was the Ariodante of the nice jaw earlier this year at RCM, has the handsome darkish tone usually associated with Ramiro and does rather well with the ‘augellin (still romantic under all that moodiness. You know I like a bit of self mockery here but I let her off the hook). Over the course of the night she was a bit underpowered if valliant in taking on the many decorations teenage Mozart has given Ramiro’s fairly elaborate arias.

Dramatically the biggest hurdle against a successful ‘giardiniera is the act II dream sequence (or whatever it is where Violante and Belfiore suddenly act mad; it’s one of those tacked on things in opera when the librettist is not sure how to solve the plot; or maybe it means they’re madly in love; they apparently didn’t know what to make of it even in Mozart’s time). Here we had Violante (still Sandrina to most) and Belfiore hang out and act kookoo in the wedding tent with a light fixture that projcts stars all over the walls. It worked well (cute, unforced all things considered) and ended when the light fixture was simply turned off. Thus it felt more like daydreaming/playing around than a randomly mad moment.

The typical Classical period comedy madcap scene is in this case usually staged in the garden at night where everybody makes out with the wrong (sometimes horribly so) partner. Here it was, as I said, done in the basement boiler room, left dark by Arminda once she’s tied “Sandrina” up to get her out of the way. It was funny enough and of course ended with Ramiro (the pompous voice of reason) restoring light and reality and a lot of shame to everyone involved.

I really enjoyed the concept, it felt fresh and unforced. We’re lucky to come across interesting concepts often here in London, even for student productions. The acting ranged from all right to the very funny Rayner as Nardo and Reeves as Arminda (Ms Prenup). Carly Owen in the title role had excellent recit skills, with a real feel for Italian phrasing. The best singing of the night – smooth and self assured – belonged to Erlank as Don Anchise. The orchestral side wasn’t earth shattering but nice enough and tempi were kept brisk.

Another good Mozart idea for students is, I think, Lo sposo deluso, as it’s got a lot of Mozartness to it and it’s short (and they could do something mad with the staging). Maybe coupled with Der Schauspieldirektor? (which I missed at Grimeborn this year). In any case, yay for silly Mozart!

PS: the Piccadilly Line is back to normal.

Grand Tito again at Salzburg 2017?

Just a few months ago I was predicting the future Tito would be seen in a smaller, cosier space. Wrong! The new production of Tito returns to Felsenreitschule with a cast that doesn’t look Mozart-based. I am somewhat puzzled/surprised rather than miffed I was wrong – or ahead of times (as I like to think).

Currentzis, obviously looking to make his way through the entire Mozart catalog, brings his musicAesterna choir and orchestra crew to support the following:

Tito: Russell Thomas (this could be interesting)
Vitellia: Golda Schultz
Sesto: Marianne Crebassa (should we expect cape tossing? I’m all for that)
Annio: Jeanine de Bique (a soprano Annio)
Servilia: Christina Gansch
Publio: Willard White (really? Isn’t he a bit too estalished for Publio? Good for us!)

You will notice that everyone save for Sesto and Servilia is black. That in itself can take Tito in a different direction than usual. So probably no cape tossing.

Not quite modern Don Giovanni (Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 5 December 2016)

What better opera to see in Paris on the anniversary of Mozart’s death than Don Giovanni? Last night thadieu and I caught the premiere of the first (I think) revival of the recent TCE production.

Don Giovanni: Jean-Sébastien Bou
Donna Anna: Myrtò Papatanasiu
Donna Elvira: Julie Boulianne
Don Ottavio: Julien Behr
Leporello: Robert Gleadow
Zerlina: Anna Grevelius
Masetto: Marc Scoffini
Commendarore: Steven Humes
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer | Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Choeur de Radio France
Director: Stéphane Braunschweig

My records say I have seen Don Giovanni every year for the past 3. The first was the first 😉 , the second because of Röschmann and the third because I was going to be in Paris anyway so why not?

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TCE’s cosy and stylish upper balconies

This was my first experience of TCE and wow, what a welcoming venue! It has immediately skyrocketed into my top of opera venues. Thadieu (read her take here) and I combined sightseeing with opera going (which, as usual by now, turned into a mad dash up the Champs Elysées Christmas Market when we realised we were running out of time) and so I decided to take the opportunity of shooting night time pictures of Paris and possibly having to put the camera in storage at the venue. But no, the Cerbers waived us in and the announcer asked us not to use flash and that was that. Go TCE!

I really enjoyed the very relaxed atmosphere, although, acoustic-wise I don’t know that we got the best deal, positioned as we were above the orchestra. Now I am aware that one’s first time at a venue includes a period of adjustment. You might want to check thadieu’s account in regards to the orchestral playing in general. We did agree Cercle de l’Harmonie (same period ensemble who played for Rhorer’s TCE Tito two years ago) was very good in itself. However, from where we sat Rhorer got a very loud sound out of them (the strings, of course, but the flute as well). A period ensemble, loud?! This is why I think it might have been the seats rather than the orchestra per se. The fact that both thadieu and I thought it was too loud (every singer was at times covered) at least vindicates my ears.

Then again, every time I’ve heard Don Giovanni live I thought the conductor was too energetic to begin with. Usually things settle and they did here as well though still, due to our positioning or whatever, occasionally the singers were covered. Another issue I had, confirmed later by thadieu’s friend Albena, was Rhorer’s rather rigid manner. At the beginning a lot of the orchestral detail was lost (= smudged) because he seemed very interested in a martial sound and an overly quick pace. I like a leisurely pace all in all for Mozart. The worst offense last night was Fin ch’han dal vino, which was so fast and choppy that for me it expressed nothing. It wasn’t even ugly, it was just noise.

Which brings us to the comedy in Don Giovanni. There is comedy in this – again, agreeing with Albena – efficient production but it’s not quite at the forefront. Don Giovanni himself is played as a rather sarcastic more than nihilistic dude, very well acted by Bou. He likes his fun and he is unapologetic until the end but he doesn’t overthink it, like his current ROH counterpart. In fact, though the production looks modern, it is very traditional in spirit. The Don is a cad, Donna Anna and hubby are so buttoned up they feel “English”, Donna Elvira genuinely cares for the Don and Zerlina is no innocent lamb.

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Paris venues have a thing for chandeliers (click to enlarge)

In this context I felt the fast and ugly Fin ch’han dal vino stuck out like a sore, self hating thumb. Bou went with what the conductor wanted (and vocally didn’t make a strong impression one way or another) but I felt in other instances Rhorer did not help his singers when they perhaps wanted to express things that did not fit the tempo imposed.

Either by personality or design, Papatanasiu fared better when it came to this, she being the only one who could or was allowed to do her own thing. Boulianne, by contrast, was thwarted by Rhorer in Donna Elvira’s Ah, chi me dice mai. I could tell she did go for some sensitive phrasing yet the orchestra inexorably marched on. Some mismatch with the orchestra happened in Leporello’s Notte, giorno fatticar, but considering it was at the very beginning it was hard to tell who was at fault.

Then we had Humes’ curious Commendarore. As thadieu said, one expects the floor to rumble when he goes Don GIOVANNI! but he sounded like an electric guitar after the plug was pulled out of the amp. I doubt he’s a bass or even bass baritone.

My favourite of the night was Boulianne as Donna Elvira. Though the production called for a very soft hearted, even kittenish Elvira, she carried the concept very well. How often is Donna Elvira the girlier one these days? Very rarely. This is my first time seeing this take. It worked for me, though I know thadieu said she didn’t get it. She’s quietly strong rather than whip-cracking furious and quite probably – of all of Elviras – the least likely to thrive when she joins the convent at the end (if she actually goes through with it, which I doubt; I think this one will get over the Don, judging by her determination to leave him to his fate after she lasts pleads with him to mend his ways).

Vocally, though already a bigger, rounder voice than usually heard in Mozart, Boulianne has a plump mezzo tone I enjoyed a lot, as I did her forays into detail (when the orchestra dind’t cover or outright veto them). I don’t know what else she is singing these days but I am interested to hear more.

I also don’t know that Donna Anna in this specific production is the best option for hearing Papatanasiu live for the first time. Like I said she was the one who had enough experience and drive to go her own way without buckling to the orchestra in her arias, and that allowed her more expressivity, but her top is an acquired taste. Also I habitually don’t care about Donna Anna. I don’t condone the Don’s actions and I do get (better even: know) that desire is irrational but I simply don’t feel her as a character.

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Don Giovanni descends to hell in style (Continental staircases are the best!)

I did think having her and Don Ottavio act so buttoned up (in her case, literally, as she wears a suit for most of the opera which makes her look like a company exec) was astute (also helps that she can carry a suit with the best of them). These two duty bound people are faced with raw lust and they don’t quite know what to do about it. In that sense keeping the moralistic ensemble in the finale fit. For once I felt like they will from now on pretend nothing ever happened and continue their typical upper middle class existence.

Zerlina and Masetto were rather well acted, with a good amount of charisma and comic skills, and likewise sung. Here Masetto is less a country bumpkin and gets just what is happening. In La ci darem la mano Zerlina is not even trying to be coy, rather she wants to find out just how much she can get out of the Don. Later we had a scene with her abusing Leporello that I had not seen before, so I figure it usually gets cut. I didn’t think it added anything to the story, on the contrary, but it allowed Grevelius and Gleadow some more stage time.

Gleadow’s Leporello was more to my liking than Alex Esposito’s. The hard done by thing comes off well and so does the comedy, such as it is. Vocally I expected him to be shouting but he was fine, even put in some soft singing. Now keep in mind I had the opposite problem with singers last night. The Catalog aria was all right (here was, curiously, a moment when Rhorer went for slowness and I like a bit of spritz) but someone decided to loudly boo it/him. Thadieu suggested it could have been the production, which had him undressing a doll and “molesting” it. I didn’t think that was an offence to taste…

All in all a mixed bag but a very enjoyable night due to the added fun of the surroundings (my first time in Paris as an adult), TCE and, last but in no way least, the enthusiastic company of thadieu and Albena. So, yes, I’ll be keeping an eye out for TCE productions.

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Le Cercle de l’Harmonie at curtain call (click to enlarge)

Grand but intelligent Tito (Met, 6 December 1997)

This is one of the many revivals of that one and only Tito production the Met has ever had so it’s interesting to see how every cast makes it their own. In the 2012 one, Fritolli brought out the hilarity of certain moments but here Vaness is a typical grand diva. ASvO is (way) subtler and more of a knight errant than the courtier type Sesto EG portrayed. And ARJ is an wise and understanding older friend as opposed to Filianoti’s yearning for connection Tito.

Tito: Anthony Rolfe Johnson
Vitellia: Carol Vaness
Sesto: Anne Sofie von Otter
Annio: Angelika Kirchschlanger
Servilia: Heidi Grant-Murphy
Publio: John Cheek

Conductor: James Levine | Met Chorus and Orchestra, Sirius radio broadcast, 6 December 1997

A bit of digging reveals some interesting bits about this run of Tito: this particular performance, a matinee at the end of the run, was ARJ’s last Met performance. Annio was young Kirchschlanger’s debut at the Met and sounded quite auspicious. Vaness was unwell during the second performance and Brenda Harris (whose 2002 Vitellia I discussed here), as Vaness’ cover, saw herself debut straight into Vitellia’s tough act II. I don’t know how that went but there aren’t harder Mozart ways to make an impact, so go her.

Overture: zooming past (picking speed as it moves). Maestro has a long association with Tito and wants everyone in the audience to know this isn’t season filler.

Ma che, sempre l’istesso: Vitellia is ticked off and wants Sesto to know it. The way Vaness recites sounds like she also wants to make it clear this is Vitellia’s Grand Show. Knight on White Horse with a Mind of His Own Sesto is in high placating mode. He uses his own powers of seduction to try and cajole her.

It’s a a seduction sparring moment, I like it. Even when Vitellia says Fine, I’m leaving! and Sesto gets all wait! Wait! We’ll do it the way you want it, it still feels like he’s not actually afraid she’ll leave; it’s more part of their role-playing. I’ve always liked this very short bit at the beginning where we get a glimpse of their complex way of interacting and I’m always interested in how it’s done.

Come ti piace, imponi: Sesto says ok, hurt me and Vitellia delivers her verdict: kill your best friend. Sesto goes on oh, your wicked mind turns me on. The mille affetti bit can be taken in many ways, but I guess it might sound totally wrong but I’m so turned on is as good a way as any. Can’t really argue with fantasies, eh? Except when they’re starting to act on them.

Annio barges in Vitellia’s bedroom: Annio summons Sesto to his boss best friend’s side, Vaness’ Vitellia is cutting, Annio tells her to sock it and gives them the good news showcasing Tito’s self effacing nature. Vitellia realises her time might’ve come. I like the little cembalo pause, pregnant with possibility. It’s like Vitellia is quickly formulating a plan. Listen, gorgeous, let’s leave the dagger fantasy in the bedroom for the time being. Sesto thinks first Annio barging in at the inopportune time, now this! Blue ball moment if ever there was one. Vitellia steps on his foot and he says ah, fuck it! You’re always dangling release in front of me and then… Vitellia realises she’s gone a bit far but since Annio won’t go the hell away, she needs to convey the message via song.

Deh, se piacer mi vuoi: Vaness and Maestro know what this is about and she can convey seduction with much ability. It’s still mostly cold and remote but perhaps this Sesto really likes the hard to get kind.

Annio : Sesto: Annio explains his other (real?) reason for dropping by on his buddy’s booty call. Annio, that’s a bit selfish. Sesto has it hard to begin with, let him cope a feel when/while he can. Sesto, though, states that he loves being intrerupted at such time by his (other) best friend. Sesto, you martyr, stop putting others’ happiness before yours!

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso: if you can’t touch your girlfriend, you could do a lot worse than getting a hug from your pal. Very nice blending from ASvO and Kirchschalnger.

March/Serbate dei custodi: everybody in their place, Tito’s coming. Maestro likes it speedy but doesn’t shy away from measured paces either. The choir could’ve learned a bit from the above blending but they make it through.

Tito is in the house: the loot talk is cut, Tito tells all to leave him with the boys. Works for us but “in real life” that would’ve been a bit strange. Then again, back then sometimes the whole point was just “to see” the celebrity of the day. Maybe still is, come to think of it.

Annio : Sesto : Tito: Annio knows what he wants, Sesto is pretty gutsy, Tito doesn’t really want to talk about it, good call. But what he does want is to reward Sesto with the title of Imperial Brother-in-Law. Well acted by all, good interplay.

Del piu sublime soglio: ARJ knew his Mozart, his segue from recit to singing is very natural (as is his phrasing). Gotta love the elasticity of his voice even at the ripe age of 57. Very good diction for a non-Italian.

Non ci pentiam: Annio tries, in spite of his hotblooded nature, to do the right thing. His girlfriend has a hard time understanding his brusqueness. HGM is all right, I just wish her voice was nicer.

Ah perdona il primo affetto: I hadn’t heard much of Kirchshlanger so far and that might’ve been a mistake. I like her light but smokey tone and she’s very committed. Her Annio is more serious but along the same knightly lines as ASvO’s Sesto which makes them more matched over the entire arc than is usually the case. Her and HGM mix rather well.

Tito : Publio : Servilia: Publio tries to interest Tito in secret police business but that goes against Tito’s ethos. He can’t be happier when Servilia interrupts. Nice accent on Servilia! Augusta! – with a soft inflection, rather than a grand one, on augusta. HGM again does rather well with her recit, her Servilia is no damsel in distress but will do what needs to be done if there’s no way out.

Ah se fosse intorno al trono: when I first heard ARJ in the Gardiner recording (which is still in the vault) I wasn’t so sure. But actually he’s got just the kind of voice Tito needs. He’s not quite as ecstatic as other Titi here but he’s an older, less starry-eyed Tito. What he projects is surprised delight at Servilia’s uprightness.

There is a reason Tito never gets old for me. Well, there are a few reasons. But wrestling with forgiveness is one of them, as is feeling touched when I encounter goodness.

A lot of times people don’t clap at Ah se fosse but the trusty Met audience made noise. It doesn’t always have to be vocal acrobatics, arranging the notes in such a way as to express something genuine does the trick.

Servilia : Vitellia: phew, close call there, says Servilia, but Vitellia is convinced what she overheard means something completely different. She puts on a fake face but Servilia knows better and – quite playfully – she doesn’t make it easy for her. I bet Servilia has always thought why does Sesto have to like this dreadful woman? Can’t stand her.

pre-Parto recit: Vitellia, in high grand diva mode, moans about Tito’s blindness when it comes to her person. She is deeply offended and isn’t playing anymore. She wants blood yesterday. Breathless Sesto shows up – presumably hoping to be the one to break the news about his sister’s new Imperial appointment to his soon very angry girlfriend. Too late! She knows and she doesn’t spare him.

She deliberately taunts him, by telling him she loved Tito and might love him again, then questioning his macho side and suggesting he lacks ambition. Heavy duty. Sesto can’t take it anymore and says he’s ready to slash Tito then of course catches himself, she laughs at him etc.

It’s well acted by both but I still think a bit of trimming would’ve made it more intense. Her taunting speech, for instance, goes on too long to warrant Sesto’s outburst. In real life he would’ve interrupted her at some point (I’d’ve done it right after she said she could possibly love Tito again 😉 ) instead of listening to all that abuse and then saying his bit. Otherwise he’d have had time to cool off and realise either that she was taunting him or that it was madness to do what she wanted him to do.

Parto: a variant of ASvO’s knightly romantic approach to Sesto (he’s chivalrous and he knows he’s good looking; teoretically no woman should be left unimpressed by his giuramenti. This might be why he’s taken on such a difficult one). I know she wore “Roman” rags but I see this Sesto sporting that Ariodante armour.

The first vorrai faros are super determined (what dagger, he’s picking up a mighty sword or a mace!). But then ritorna in pace is seductive and languid. Come on, Vitellia, you know I adore you. Show me some kindness in return. Later on the languidity moves to vorrai faro and ASvO pulls a beseeching guar-da-mi!, taken at slow and deliberat pace – the woman knows what she’s doing, especially as this comes right before the stretto. The contrast is optimal. Her alla beltas are swoony because, well, Sesto is again turned on, thinking after –this– she must reward me.

Very good stuff, replay worthy so you can get all the detail. The audience barely gave themselves time to breathe in the last note before mad applause. To think I was living in NYC at the time…

Vedrai, Tito, vedrai…: Vitellia is dark with rage but sure Sesto will do what he promised with such great panache and conviction. Publio and Annio show up to surprise her, good acting from them.

Vengo…! Apetatte… Sesto!!!: fast and furious, suits Vaness well and good support from Annio and Publio.

Such a good piece! When I hear stuff like this (delivered like this) I wonder why people have looked down on Tito for so long. Yes, the DaPonte operas are genre defining but so is this. It’s all about concision, opera seria without the excess.

Act I finale

ASvO has this expansive way about her. She can pick up speed but she’s never harried. Sesto sounds very upset with himself but he never loses his grand style. Maestro keeps a good control on this finale. Everybody hits their cue on time and sounds solid, no missed opportunities.

Act II

Annio : Sesto: reliable Annio, Sesto only too ready to find a shoulder to cry on in his buddy – and they do sound like credible buddies.

Torna di Tito a lato: very earnest

Partir deggio…?: Sesto is confused for once but a very alarmed Vitellia shows up before he has time to get too murky. Rather surprised, Sesto tells her that he would rather die than betray her (remember, I’m your knight, Vitellia) but she’s not fooled. She knows he cares about Tito and would find it very hard to keep secrets from him. Publio is hot on her trail and knows all. Sesto tries to be sneaky (very good e… perche?) when he asks for his dagger but Publio has no time for verbal sparring. Lively Sesto gets annoyed with Vitellia (ingrata! addio…) but he also knows he still loves her and wants her to process this information:

Se al volto mai ti senti: Sesto makes this a serenade where he pours all his feelings. He’s not the usual ethereal dude of this melancholic trio, he’s flesh and blood, with a rose in his teeth under Vitellia’s window (open the window, Vitellia, and blow me a kiss. Have mercy, my love, it’s cold out here). Vitellia keeps her cool though the words say otherwise. The way ASvO says addio! is still like as if Vitellia’s “dad” caught them out past the curfew. Rammenta chi t’adora is stop acting hard to get, I know you want it too. Well, yes, they have a connection and it should come through here but this one is less ambiguous than most. Not quite as it should be but why not?

Ah grazie: it’s snowing outside, good timing for the segue in from ARJ, the choir playing a bit of catch-up with each other

Tito : Publio: well acted

Tardi s’avvede: a thick bass vocie, I like it; Cheek isn’t world shaking but no fool either

Tu fosti tradito: Kirchschlanger does darkening for “balls” reasons, nice attack, good trills, all around a good, earnest job; public ecstatic. It didn’t hurt that she must’ve been one of the best looking Annios 😉

Tito is angry: ARJ can act

Quello di Tito e il volto: Sesto is hyping himself for courage; ASvO is of course knightly, she and ARJ match well temperamentally and their Publio is no kindly minder either. Sesto loses a bit of heart halfway through due to feeling like shit, vacillates between embarrassment and his normal knightly nature. His Tito is very kind, the kindest perhaps – ARJ sings most of it softly, quite unusual but very effective.

Tito : Sesto: this Sesto wants to confess a lot more than other do and ASvO is very good at feverishness without overdoing it. ARJ continues his most kind approach. Later his anger is just enough to sound credible. Like I said, the man could act and so does ASvO. Their chemistry is right on the money.

Deh, per questo instante solo: Sesto bends a knee and starts his seduction. In this production, the relationship between Tito and Sesto is more of mentor and pupil – more so this particular pairing – where the age difference feels quite pronounced. This is the most believe me, Tito, I’m a good, upright chap Deh, per questo I have heard so far. Finally Sesto finds a way to confess without quite telling everything – and we know this one really wanted to.

ASvO’s Sesto is interesting in that he never lost the confidence in his own goodness. He’s perhaps the most balanced Sesto out there. He knows he’s good, he understands he has made a big mistake but he doesn’t overdramatise the situation. The Met audience has its own trademark type of clapping, you’ll know it when you hear it = more ecstatic than anywhere else. It feels almost like they’ve discovered a new great aria nobody’s heard of before 😉

Tito makes up his mind: Tito tears the death warrant; it sounds like he tramples on tarp

Se all’impero: Maestro is chipper (good decision, Tito! We were scared there for a moment). ARJ fubs the words a few times but everything else works well and is done with aplomb, sounding easier than in most cases. The public loved it (or him). I also like him a lot.

Servilia : Annio : Vitellia: Annio is serious but alarmed, piqued Servilia urges Vitellia to get over herself already, Vitellia keeping her cards close to her chest

S’altro che lagrime: HGM has mildly bugged me in the past. Here she sounds eye-poppingly old school, like a voice come straight from the ’50s. Her non gioveras are good if a bit thin and she’s appropriately soulful, which makes it a better experience than hearing her in the past has been but it’s still a bit odd.

Ecco il punto…/Non piu di fiori: Vaness’ voice has the cold edge we usually associate with Vitelliae. She’s occasionally a bit detached but mostly on, if always keeping “grand diva” in mind.

Maestro takes the rondo at leisurely pace, which imbues it with an air of “pleasant” regret. Astute idea. Vitellia is, of course, confident in her every decision, including that of self punishment. The agreeable basset horn reflects that self satisfaction. So this rendition is another display of Vitellia’s big stage scheming, rather than humble pie. Vaness carries that with the kind of gravitas I associate with the Met stage in general (big, in your face). Her range is good, her middle and the low notes are especially handsome, plump enough for Vitellia. The top is a bit acidic but that’s also Vitellia. Not as emotionally raw as other versions but a solid and fitting (to this production) one nevertheless. The Met public fights for its right to clapping and find a compromise with Levine in which they both do their thing.

Act II finale

As per stray, Che del ciel comes off as if sung by ecstatic Roman crowds rather than by a disciplined choir. It might’ve caught me at a good moment because I don’t mind it as much as I could’ve. Tito is grand but kindly and goes on a bit to some biting strings, Vitellia appears to have become acquainted with shame a teensy bit (though her confession still feels like an epilogue to the Grand Vitellia Show). Sesto is fervently regretful, Tito is pleased (very good, my son, very good), the others blend well. Eterni dei has some major turbulence (vibrato) on the soprano part but ARJ’s honest man tenor rings very pleasantly.

I knew I had a Tito ally in Levine and he doesn’t disappoint. His choices of soloists are apt and he works well with the rest. Thank you, stray, as though not quite a classic, it’s very satisfying, especially where ASvO is concerned (it’s always worth making time for her Sesto) 🙂

ps: any typos, I’ll come back to check tomorrow.