Category Archives: where does this belong, eh

Arquez triumphans in Amsterdam

Thadieu: Arquez is the best Juditha ever!

Everyone else: Confermo!

That is all.

For now.


Righteous moaning ahead?

mezzo vs guitar – picture taken on my and thadieu’s first opera trip together (Basel 2015)

Dear all, have you ever wondered how come I don’t play or sing, since I enjoy talking and writing about music so much? Well, wonder no more! I bought a guitar 😀 so now I can join the ranks of those actually involved in music, even a little bit. No more simple moaning from the bleachers for yours truly 😉 I hope this new endeavour will help me appreciate everyone’s efforts more than before.
PS: the decision sprung up shortly after the Invernizzi recital with the two lutes, so thank you, Marchitelli and Pavan! I’ve actually tried learning before but it never quite caught on. This is the first time it feels like fun. Long may it stay that way 🙂

Narrow miss!

Venice flooded today:

ROH Spring Season 2018

…I forgot all about General Sale kicking off. The good news is there are still decently priced tickets. This is your choice. I’m going to see From the House of the Dead (Warlikowski’s ROH debut I think) and Lessons in Love and Violence (if it sucks at least it’s short; but it might not), plus Hannigan’s Masterclass. But one could go for both Macbeths (Verdi and Shostakovich). I might try the Shosty one, not sure yet, this is all quite out of my usual rut. Then again, it’s a Richard Jones production.

Back to Glyndebourne 2017 (Brett Dean’s Hamlet)

This time for Hamlet, about which I have no clue, except for the obvious, but the cast was too good to miss.

16:40 – just sitting on the lawn, listening to Sarah Connolly warm up with… Idamante? Didn’t expect that one; in fact it took me a while to figure out why I should know the tune.

It’s not raining! And it’s not nearly as windy as last time. Lots of bees doing their thing to plants in many shades of purple.

20:45 – that was the most boring opera first half I’ve ever willingly gone to see in the house. About halfway through I gave up the fight against zzzs and napped in earnest. Somehow I managed not to drop my opera glasses. During the second half I did not sleep but I entertained myself by trying to figure out ways to get Vitellia1 to lose some weight.


If you’re curious, Glyndebourne live streams it on 6 July, but for my £15 it was deadly dull, both at orchestra level and vocally. The singers did their job commendably when there was something for them to tackle. Give me Anna Nicole any day. At least that one is unabashedly pop and has fun with its idiom.

This is pretentious yet unimaginative. It pulls out all the boring contemporary opera tricks and none of the interesting stuff – like some unusual orchestration, interesting instruments, some sort of rhythmic inventiveness – or whatever they’re supposed to do so as not to repeat the past. The singing is pretty much Sprechgesang (the kind I pull out to liven up daily chores) peppered with ambulance siren ensembles2 and sort of arias, obviously to wake up the people lulled to sleep by the very serious dullness.

The sort of aria I have in mind is Ophelia’s, undoubtedly an homage to the mad scenes of yore, which, in this case and production is Zerbinetta having a breakdown. Poor Babs Hannigan, they had her jump around like a gymnast, throw herself and writhe on the floor, jump on someone’s back – the works, I suppose, of what posh women are expected to do when they’re having a manic episode. It’s also obviously hard to sing and she coped very well (because we know she likes this sort of thing, jumping around included) – but remember what Richard Croft said in the interview I posted the other day, it’s very hard to be spotless vocally with this kind of stuff and dramatically moving at the same time. I’m really glad now that I saw her in Written on Skin, where she got to be emotionally expressive; even though I’m not its biggest fan, that was a much more enjoyable experience all around.

Connolly and Tomlinson wasted their time with this, as far as I’m concerned. Il padre adorato was my favourite bit from her all night, glad I kept near the building where she was warming up 🙂 Allan Clayton in the title role put a lot of effort into it but I’ve never heard a more boring main part in an opera before. I can’t remember anything; based on just this, I find it impossible to judge his singing skills. I’m also not sure why they gave him a bushy beard that made him look like an extra from Boris Godunov.

The point of it all seemed to be staying as close to the play as possible, so we got all the famous lines, sometimes more than once and by different characters. Playing with what has penetrated popular culture to the point of cliche is fine if you do it cleverly. Not the case here. Just having The Ghost/Gravedigger say “to be or not to be” and wink is kind of har.har. Hamlet actually says “the rest is silence” as he’s expiring which almost made me chuckle. Surely you didn’t need that?! Especially as Horatio was just going on about how singing angels will guide him to his resting place. It’s like “oy, Horatio, I don’t need no stinkin’ angels! This is not the 1800s”. Are we supposed to laugh or are we supposed to be navel gazing?

As per Rupert Christiansen, “Neil Armfield’s effective and unassertive production is inoffensively updated to a modern setting”, which in my translation means it’s just there. They have these side windows at some point which I swear they recycled from that scene in Le nozze di Figaro where Cherubino has to jump out the window (though upon checking it looks more like th ROH production windows – but that kind nonetheless).

As a conclusion I think from now on I will 1) not allow myself fly off just because the cast looks brilliant, 2) avoid Brett Dean stuff.

On the upside, for that £15 I actually got to sit down in a central seat in the upper amphi, which is probably quite rare at Glyndebourne. Also the day progressed into very pleasant come the interval, so I just lay down in the grass and watched the clouds, which is another thing I don’t get to do often enough.

On the bus I chatted with a woman from NYC (not originally) who was visiting London and decided to come to Glyndebourne on her own when her friends balked out. How commendable! After the interval a seatmate thought to make conversation:

Chap (cheerfully): So how do you like the opera?
Dehggi: I think it’s terrible.
Chap (taken aback): Really? In what way?
Dehggi: I couldn’t get into neither the orchestral part or the singing.
Chap (turns around and starts talking to someone else).

Said chap was also a woop! woop! shouter and had this slow and emphatic way of clapping, as if he was sarcastic only I’m pretty sure he wasn’t. The claps were particularly loud, each clap like a gunshot. And when it was time to leave, he and his buddy cheerfully stopped dead at the end of the row, effectively blocking everyone else’s way. Clearly he liked it. The rest of us had a bus to catch and Glyndebourne is too lovely a place to leave in a hurry, especially on a balmy night, when it’s not quite dark.

  1. cat ;-) 
  2. Rupert Christiansen thinks “Dean is rare among contemporary opera composers in understanding how to present people singing together” but to me it sounded exactly as boring as most contemporary attempts at just that – people singing at such intervals as to cancel each other’s efforts and end up sounding like the din of the schoolyard. I mean, by all means don’t reinvent The Anvil Chorus but if I wantedto listen to a schoolyard ensemble I’d open the window. But read his review because maybe you don’t need to take my word for it. 

…and it ends like Parsifal

I haven’t been able to write about this issue (old skool 20th century interpretations of Baroque opera) quite as I would’ve liked to. It always comes off – at least in my head – as a cross between a whinge and an eye-roll. I want to find something to like about it yet I could never get over all the hurdles (there are just so many). I try not to be dogmatic about things because I know that’s the easiest way to fence myself away from potential enjoyment. But this is like reading a book from another era and going “did decent people from back then really think this was ok?” Then I wonder what things we take for granted now that future generations will roll their eyes at. So whinge or not, I’ll go ahead and post.


1963 was a very long time ago, further from us than 1643 it seems. Just because it’s set in Rome it doesn’t mean it has to be GRAND. I take it Karajan did not have tongue-in-cheek in his vocabulary? Of course not, everybody belongs to the socially accepted gender-description. But if you don’t get the joke, then why even bother with a work like this? Is this merely an academic attempt? An overly earnest nod to “the genius of Monteverdi”? What exactly did someone of Karajan’s mindset think when looking at that manuscript?1

Jurinac is merely unsexy as Poppea (shouldn’t that be a capital offence in this opera? but in spite of myself I like her in the seduction duet – she shows potential compared with her hopeless Nerone). Perhaps she’s as sexy as a 30ft marble statue of Mother Earth could be; but even if she were able to do something closer to the original idea, what else could she do, given the dire context?

I mean the tempi! OMG. A kingdom – no, two kingdoms – for a hint of rubato and a lick of finesse. Everything is so square, there’s zero flow, life is completely sucked out of the score, details-what-details, (across the board) no sense of phrasing at singing level. There is a chugging GRANDEUR at orchestral level (I bet K used the full forces of Wiener Philharmonic) but that seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t this primarily vocal music?

The way Ottone’s entrance lament E pur io torno cui qui was obliterated of any semblance of poetry and longing makes baby Jesus cry because that music is some of the most beautiful in the whole opera. Seriously, if you like it even a little bit don’t listen.

The chap (a Wagnerian baritone…) simply can’t wrap his voice around this stuff and neither can Wiener Philharmonic cope with the filigree. At funeral speed he uneasily sketches a couple of flourishes, much like a first timer on ice would try to get to the other side of the rink, but the only thing he conveys is a timid attempt at religious fervour from the very general ballpark of Bach’s Passions; you’re not quite sure where he should be arriving anyway, since at that speed and squareness the phrase is pretty much a candle’s flicker in a damp, dark tomb.

One of the beautiful things with Monteverdi is that it’s so sparsely written it allows everyone an opinion. Of course, it also allows for exercises such as this. The other beautiful thing about Monteverdi is it’s not rocket science. Just say (legato) that sentence in your head: E pur io torno qui. How simple and beautiful, eh? It really doesn’t need anything besides what it is. So, yea, you can have your vision but you also have to take what he gives you as he gives it to you. Don’t muddle it up; have some respect for the music.

But it’s Nerone who is so off the mark it defies description. Seriously, in the Nerone-Poppea duet of mutual seduction/manipulation he brays like an amorous donkey (hint: louder =/= more passionate; at least not before 1840).

Even so “the best thing” is the orchestration just prior to and on Pur ti miro. But then there’s the heldenchoir towards the end… seriously, the goodies keep on coming. Ottavia’s Addio, Roma! is hair raising. If I were Nerone I’d remove all the spanners and candle sticks within her reach^%&(()&&%$F!

Did everyone (aside from religious music specialists) sing like this back then? I mean, did they (ie, Karajan) just use the same singers for all the operas and did all the operas simply sound like either young or mature Wagner?

Did I mention the tempi and the clever curious medieval accents? This is 1643 not the 1400s. Why would Ottavia sing Disprezzata regina as if she were a medieval princess locked in a misty tower on the northern edges of Norway (or perhaps Outer Mongolia)? It does sound like she’ll break into Vissi d’arte2 any moment now – which is neither Northern Norway nor Outer Mongolia and definitely not Monteverdi.

In spite of my usual snarkiness I don’t want to kick a sick puppy but this is just so odd, from a 2017 perspective. I enjoy when something is done slightly – or not so slightly – differently, but not if it’s not working. The very vision doesn’t match in this case.

Yet, like in the case of a car wreck, once you start listening it’s hard to stop. It’s very interesting listening to this in parallel with Harnoncourt’s version from 1979, which itself is way more flowery than what’s being done nowadays, yet clearly from another world.

ps: I need to write a separate post about E pur io torno qui. There are some interesting interpretive differences out there (and I’ve been a bit obsessed with it recently; that Ottone ain’t half bad; then that weird interaction with Ottavia… heh).

ps2: the title (and the mention of Turandot) comes from one of the wry comments below the yt video. It’s worth reading them.

  1.  needs more brass, probably. 
  2. I only say that because I can’t quote anything Turandot sings. 

Dearth of opera live streaming?

I really miss the t(h)rills of opera live streaming! I must’ve just been out of the loop due to being busy IRL, surely there were things happening? A quick search to two of those houses you can count on says:

La Monnaie:

They will be streaming Mitridate next May. It’s got Michael Spyres in the title role, which is very good, as the ROH rumours page says he will be the Mitridate here in London when we finally get it. Seems this early Mozart has picked up a bit of momentum (Theater an der Wien in April!). La Monnaie also live streams Beatrice et Benedict next month.

Bayerische Staatsoper () :

19 March Un ballo in maschera (c: Mehta; Beczala, Keenlyside, Harteros)

26 June La Juive (c: de Billy; Opolais, Alagna, Osborn, Kurzak ❤ )

31 July Meistersinger (c: K. Petrenko; JK and others who sing this repertoire)

All for the good of Rome: opera, innit? turns 2

chocolate Colosseum cake!

Many thanks to all who have been contributing by reading and/or commenting, it makes the heart swell 🙂 How about some grandiosity on this occasion? Have a virtual cake bite and feel free to air conduct along with Il Harnoncourt:

Operalia 2015 winners (aka, tardy news)

I’m beyond late but I wanted to express my satisfaction at seeing “my man” Ioan Hotea win first prize as well as the zarzuela prize! Felicitari si la mai mare!

There you go, more proof that you should trust me… when it comes to tenors 😀 Congrats also to Lise Davidsen for her wins (first prize, too and the Audience Prize for Female Voice). For those who may have missed it even more than I did, here‘s a list of all the winners.

Sneaky review

About that briefly seen Caldara Tito review – it’s not done and won’t be done for a while so I had to put it back on its shelf.