Category Archives: woodwinds

Sonia Prina and friends: deluxe Vivaldi (Wigmore Hall, 7 February 2019)

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

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

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

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

click picture to enlarge

Sonia Prina contralto

Alina Pogostkina violin

Dorothee Oberlinger recorder

Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concerto in G minor for strings RV156

Là, sull’eterna sponda from Motezuma RV723

Ho il cor già lacero from Griselda RV718

Concerto in C for flute RV443

Sol da te mio dolce amore from Orlando Furioso RV728

INTERVAL

Concerto in E minor for violin RV277 ‘Il favorito’

Concerto in D for violin RV234 ‘L’inquietudine’

Sovente il sole from Andromeda Liberata

Anderò, volerò, griderò from Orlando finto pazzo RV727

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

Veni, me sequere fida ❤ ❤ ❤

Agitata infinido flatu (all star)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. that was just the best of the absolute nonsense that moron spouted liberally. 
  2. remember Basso’s famous words, Vivaldi is rock’n’roll – shredding skills required. 
  3. I like Agitata da due venti a lot better; probably the aria that made me think “I love Baroque opera!” 
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Woman at Point Zero (LSO at St Luke’s, 13 July 2017)

To give you an idea of the environment of Old Street. Use it for whenever I mention Shoreditch as well 😉

As I was saying in an earlier post, I liked this very much indeed, but being other it wasn’t easy to write about. Also I’ve been sucked into the blackhole known as other interests these days and have generally neglected to put words on paper screen (what do you mean other interests? what can be more interesting than l’opera??? I know, I was shocked too. Sabotage!).

Anyway, a fitting return of Thursday’s Something Else. Let’s see what the blurb tells us:

In this special, one-evening concert, The Royal Opera joins forces with Shubbak Festival to showcase works by five composers from the Arab world. Shubbak is London’s major biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture, connecting London audiences with the best of Arab culture across visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, architecture and debate. This evening in two parts will share and celebrate short works by five composers, centring on the premiere of scenes from Bushra El-Turk’s new opera Woman at Point Zero.

Woman at Point Zero is based on the seminal novel by Egyptian author, feminist and doctor Nawal El Saadawi – an allegorical tale of historical female oppression in Egypt that questions what true freedom and empowerment can mean for women today. Preceding extracts of Woman at Point Zero are the UK premieres of chamber works by the four participants of The Royal Opera and Shubbak’s inaugural Arab Composer Residency programme: Amir ElSaffar (Iraq/US), Nadim Husni (Syria/Poland), Bahaa El-Ansary (Egypt) and Nabil Benabdeljalil (Morocco).

You can see how they separated the Baroque church skeleton from the music venue bit, complete with glass window, for that airy feel. The instruments were moved away for the opera scenes and the orchestra lined up to that panelling.

Though St Luke’s – an 18th century church converted into a musical venue – is located at Old Street and thus very convenient for yours truly and I got there with time to spare, I managed not to land a programme, being more focused on getting from point A to point B (seating) inside the venue, so that I could find a nice spot on the balcony to better view the stage. Thus I couldn’t tell which piece/composer came first, middle and last.

The pieces ranged from what a rather clueless Westerner (yours truly) would call Middle Eastern singing backed by a string quartet to some string shredding that would not look out of place in an extreme metal festival, via a piece that combined Polish folk singing and Middle Eastern instrumentation rather interestingly – so full circle. Unsurprisingly I felt serious kinship with the entirely instrumental string shredding – very fine work from the LSO violonist, whom I would nominate if I had the programme… – in spite of the heavy angst – or perhaps it was just simply very energetic.

After the interval we had the scenes from Woman at Point Zero, entirely orchestrated with an array of very good looking world music wind instruments and an accordion that sounded like no accordion I’ve ever heard. That was a very good thing, as if there is one instrument I can’t stand it’s that one1.

The scenes were staged in a manner that reminded me of Sellars’ treatment of The Gospel According to the Other Mary – that is, movement was integral, staging minimal. Now seeing as how this shapes up to be chamber opera, that was ideal. The orchestra, made up of 6 musicians, was also called to move throughout the piece. I was highly impressed with how they managed to interact with the main character (The Woman) whilst playing without scores (especially the flautist). I’m compelled to add that I find myself a lot more responsive to this contemporary type of dance than to its classical counterpart. Maybe I should start the broadening of my ballet horizons via this.

At the beginning they were all lined up at the back of the stage, in hieratic poses. As The Woman starts to breath, the wind instruments help her find her voice, coming closer and closer and offering her a variety of primordial sounds. This is a feminist text so that was an excellent illustration of one’s emerging sense of self. It also harked back – I think – to the Ancient Egyptian Ka. I loved it. Soprano Merit Ariane Stephanos (one of the forces behind the inception of the project) did a mesmerising job with the title role.

The scenes continued like this, The Woman recounting the events of her life that built on her present condition, which seemed both desperate (death row) and keenly self aware. It’s a very typical story of Woman trying to find her place in a society that does not offer her much of a choice. What impresses is of course her inner strength and desire to better herself/discover her worth.

The “recit” part of the text is spoken (no Spechgesang) in English and sung in Arabic, so we have an interesting and quite seamless combination of Western and Arab. The recits are contemporary music in ethos whilst the singing seems written in traditional manner from around the world, which also helps illustrate the divergent forces that create the drama at hand.

To get a better idea, check it out here and read the blurb below the video as well, it’s got more info:


  1. Chalk it up to a childhood of inescapable moments like this. Worse than Verdi dirges and wounded bohemian with guitar combined? Quite possibly. 

Endangered species: the Bassoon

Well, not according to these people (listen to the end):

The Guardian has an article on this featuring a hip picture (with funky scarf!) to get the cool kids interested. It’s even got over 100 comments, unlike most classical music articles (this side of regie opera productions). The secret is, if you’re a cool kid you already love the bassoon, because

The bassoon is the king of the orchestra. The emperor is the contrabassoon. (ancient wisdom)

How many other instruments look like a folded e-cigarette and sound like a whoopee cushion with a cold? No wonder the audiences felt weird when they first heard The Rite of Spring.

 

Scherza, fagotto…

tu-tu-tu-tu…

So, the bassoon. It would be impossible to love Ah, se fosse intorno al trono and feel nothing at all for the bassoon. Even though it kicks off this most dignified of arias, there’s something not entirely serious about that sound, eh? Surprisingly (?), the same could be said about the Pedantic Bassoonist blog. Check it out at your own peril; you might end up making your own reeds before the day is over 😉 alternatively, you might wet yourself laughing.

We need Oboecop

Oboe thief strikes again in Montreal! Hey, this could make a funny episode on a cop show: reclusive oboe collector hires specialised criminal to depose musicians of their instruments. Sources say he was redecorating.

Oboe collector’s neighbour: He was a quiet man, he mostly kept to himself. Sometimes when I was mowing the lawn I could hear classical music coming from his house. It was so calming! We never knew he had an oboe obsession…

Oboe collector’s neighbour’s wife: You know what they say about people who listen to classical music…

That being said, I hope the oboes resurface soon, I feel for the musicians.