Il complicated mondo di Faramondo (Britten Hall RCM, 25 March 2017)

With Faramondo we visit a more or less fictional moment from the history of Franks (Faramondo et Co.), Cimbrians (Gustavo’s people) and Swabians (Gernando’s baddies).

Before we start, I’ll direct you to Leander‘s elaborate writeup (with pictures!). You should also know that we saw the second cast (as customary, RCM fields two different teams on alternative days).

Faramondo King of the Franks: Kamilla Dunstan
Clotilde his sister: Amy Manford
Gustavo King of the Cimbrians: Julien Van Mellaerts
Rosimonda his daughter: Ashlyn Tymms
Adolfo his older son: Louise Fuller
Gernando King of the Swabians: Tom Scott-Cowell
Teobaldo Cimbrian general: Timothy Edlin
Childerico the real Sveno, Gustavo’s younger son: Eleanor Sanderson-Nash

Conductor: Laurence Cummings | London Handel Orchestra

I learned from Leander that Serse and Faramondo were written about the same time in late winter 1737. Faramondo was first performed on 3 January 1738. We can admire his work ethic and (maybe) forgive him for choosing a very shaggy (albeit popular at the time) libretto, a true smorgasboard of Baroque cliches as follows:

  • star crossed lovers
  • duty/love anxiety
  • angsty arias about ships mercilessly tossed about by waves and winds
  • honourable enemies/noble savages in this production
  • backstabbers ahoy
  • lecherous but kind hearted king/vacillating person in power

super bonus:

  • babies swapped at birth

For our pleasure confusion, Handel used a revised version of the original Zeno libretto that had about half of the recits removed. Case in point: 2/3 in, this chap Childerico shows up and acts like he’d been there all along but I can assure you he hadn’t. There is a very good reason (by this revised libretto’s standards) he was shoe-horned in. If we check wiki we learn he was originally sung by boy wonder and Handel protege William Savage, the kid who (during his boy soprano period) sang Oberto in Alcina. He sang alto when his voice broke (here) and finally went on to create a few bass roles for Handel. Makes you think of an all rounder football player with Handel as a shrewed coach 😉

Also upon checking wiki we learn that aside from the “dad” figure, the customary bass and the title role which went to Cafarelli, the other men and women were sung by women, with a mezzo (Rosimonda) and contralto (Gernando1) thrown in. The nice variation of female voices is one of the strengths of this opera.

Then come the downsides.

The music is pleasant enough though it never gets as memorable as Serse or other Handel operas we know and love. The libretto… everybody wants Gustavo’s position, but Gernando also wants his daughter, who doesn’t want him. Faramondo and Rosimonda like each other a lot but duty/honour comes first for the both of them. Teobaldo secretly wants Gustavo’s throne and had also swapped the babies around (Childerico and Sveno).

The whole thing goes pear-shaped when Sveno (raised by an unsuspecting Gustavo as his son) is killed by… somebody, with Faramondo taking the blame for it. Gustavo has another son called Adolfo, who is of course in love with Faramondo’s sister Clotilde (they’re a very Annio-Servilia type couple). He uses his father’s love for him to stop him every time (about every 15min) Gustavo wants to kill Faramondo/his kin. Things get more complicated as Gustavo has the hots for Clotilde and justifies pursuing his son’s gf by such gems as “I’m the king, you’re my underling so you have to relinquish her to me”.

Somehow the voice of reason in all this is Clotilde, who has some choice arias (at least 2 about being tossed by waves and winds) and perhaps because of this develops a driking problem in this production and seems totally nonplussed by the very cynical ending (the hitherto noble Faramondo, friend to all, casually hacks all the baddies during his last aria (and with the help of Rosimondo, who hands him several weapons).

Likewise, the star of the show was Manford as Clotilde, who showed excellent command of coloratura, very fine Handel style and an ideal voice for this repertoire. If she likes it she should definitely pursue it. I would love to see her as Morgana, she has the comic timing and tone for that role. Her scenes were the most exciting, not just because her direction was the most logical and detailed but also because of her very promising dramatic chops. Her moves did come off as a bit studied – but enthusiastically so – yet you could see a natural actress developing, who stayed in character even when she wasn’t at the centre of the action. By the end she had the audience in stitches.

Dunstan (you may remember her as Ariodante from last year) once again cut a fine figure as the hero and put on a solid vocal performance, with some fine projection and elaborate fioriture, though I admit I prefer her sensitive Ariodante.

Ashlyn Tymms’s lounge singer Rosimonda was one of this production’s better ideas. Much as I enjoy updated productions, sometimes, when very specific historical moments as involved it’s not esay to get into the vision. The lounge singer heroine isn’t an original take but it has time and again proved at least efficient (especially if one enjoys ’40s noir). Dramatically Tymms was also one of the better performers in a production where Personnenregie was erratic at best.

On the one hand we had Clotilde and Rosimonda’s clearly developed personas, on the other we had a pretty loosely designed Faramondo, charicature baddies and unclear Gustavo (is he just an upright chap succumbing to temptation in regards to Clotilde or is he creepy?) with bonus dramatically useless cheesy hanger-ons who pretty much clogged the stage when their bosses’ arias were being sung.

Anyway, Rosimonda is the kind of strong Baroque woman angstily2 bound by duty with “heavy hearted” arias that need a fuller voice, hence the mezzo designation. For whatever reason Tymms sounded to me like a dramatic soprano in the making but maybe she’s a Stephanie Blythe type of mezzo.

Gernando, sung by Scott-Cowell (last year’s Polinesso), was, Leander and I guessed, a schemer messed up on drugs (he sniffs glue/helium during his revenge aria, which is kind of odd but hey3). Once again Scott-Cowell was plagued by a silly unidimesional directorial choice, so it’s hard to gauge his dramatic skills. I thought his singing was fine, a clear improvement over last year.

London Handel Orchestra under Cummings generally did a commendable job accomodating the students’ speeds.

Given it was a very pleasant day and also because it was my first time at RCM since I moved, I actually gave myself plenty of time to get there. No Lamborghini sightings, but I realised it’s not the Scientology Church across the street from The Science Museum but the Mormon Church. So now you know. Also: at (my) leisure pace, the walk from the South Ken tube station to Britten Hall is 10min long.


  1. Though I thought the inclusion a countertenor Gernando worked well. Perhaps a countertenor with a better defined bottom (hey! not that one) might’ve worked even better. 
  2. It’s not tragic if it ends well. 
  3. If we’re going for aggressivity-inducing drugs, wouldn’t meth be the immediate choice? Or is this too American? 

Ormisda or DJ Handel at his finest (St George’s Hanover Sq, 28 March 2017)

Opera Settecento returned in top form with Handel’s 1730 pasticcio of arias from Vinci, Leo, Hasse, Orlandini and other Northern Italians with ethnically ambiguous names. Team London appreciated this year’s choice very much indeed.

Artenice: Marie Lys
Ormisda: John-Colyn Gyeantey
Arsace: Maria Ostroukhova
Erismeno: Nicholas Mogg
Palmira: Ciara Hendrick
Cosroe: Tom Verney
Musical Director: Leo Duarte | Opera Settecento

Tuesday was a lovely, warm day here in London so it was a pleasure to wander a bit in the Oxford Circus area, which is somewhere I go to often but only because it’s (also) the general neighbourhood of Wigmore Hall. Otherwise it’s a tourist Mecca – always crowded and 90% of the sights are clothes shops. The buildings are nice though, probably from Handel’s time.

Suffice to say I got there early and Leander (read her take on Ormisda here) and I pored over the libretto for clarification and a bit of chuckle at the 18th century translation (ruby lips, fine brows etc.). We noticed with some trepidation it was by the ubiquitous Apostolo Zeno, the very same poet who penned that jumble sale of plotlines called Faramondo (as well as many other equally questionable early 18th century libretti). We also tried to work out the storm arias judging by title.

So what is Ormisda about? I initially thought Ormisda was a woman, not having made the Ormuzd (and Ahriman) connection. It transpired he was the dad figure. Oh. His two sons are Cosroe and Arsace and his wife is Palmira. I clearly need to brush up on Persian history.

So, you wonder, why is that woman Artenice listed first? Well, it’s because Handel put this together for his star soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pó. Artenice is an Armenian (I think) princess, due to marry whoever of Ormisda’s sons will take the throne. Palmira, as queens are often wont to do, is scheming to get her son Arsace as heir, although Cosroe is the first born.

As can be seen from the Moon, Artenice and Arsace will fall madly in love, regardless of right of way. She will sing many arias whilst he, as the second uommo, will sing only 3 (I don’t know if any were cut) but these three are as effective as Cherubino’s two in Le nozze.

Cosroe, as primo uomo sung by Senestino, also sings a lot of arias, but, as one familiar with Verney can glean, they are soulful ones that march on gentle sentiment. He does have a storm one later on but it’s not on the same level of drama (though I seem to remember the coloratura as very difficult) as Arsace’s. Then again, he does manage to get the throne, so he doesn’t have that much to be upset about. Generally speaking his performance was fine, with yours truly having an interesting perspective on his (very smooth) coloratura production from sitting right above him in the gallery.

Interestingly, consumate 18th century actress/contralto Antonia Merighi sang Palmira and baddie Gernando in Faramondo (as well as Amastre in Serse). Hendrick had a nice even tone but you could be fooled trying to figure out who was the scheming queen between the two women singing women. She was nice all around. I could’ve done with a bit of storming around on stage/general pissed off queen strut.

Lys as Artenice was one of the highlights of the evening. Her voice has the light tone and sparkling quality that works best with Baroque soprano roles. She’s in possession of a very coloratura and endurance, as she and Verney had the most arias. Her Artenice put some feistiness into her acting, so it wasn’t all just lovey-dovey with lovebird Arsace.

Which brings us to the secondo uommo, here sung by Ostroukhova, the woman who has made me love Cecca notte. Team London were waiting to hear some proper Baroque flights of angst and we were not disappointed. Arsace’s three arias go from irked to furious to energetic. Cooking with gas! Some may remember that Ostroukhova has a dark yet sonorous mezzo voice that seems specifically made for this kind of material. She tailored her phrasing for palpable drama and I’m pretty sure nobody was in doubt Arsace was very conflicted throughout. She also put a very fine effort into varying her fioriture for the repeats. Leander and I thought Ann Hallenberg would approve of this performance 🙂 Last but not least, Team London appreciated her 18th century pirate look 😉 We were in Handel’s parish church, after all.

What of Ormisda? Here he’s very much a nice chap who tries to calm down different sections within his household. His arias rely a lot on long held notes – as far as I remember, or perhaps this was indeed Gyeantey’s strength? He has a smooth tenor voice which I for one could really see in later Italian repertoire (Nemorino?). Mogg’s Erismeno was there for one reason or another (one needs a bass, eh?) and from his one aria I could glean a beautiful bass tone and very clear diction.

Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte put on another of their enthusiastic performances1. From my perch behind the singers I could hear them especially well, with the rhythm section, oboes (beautiful interventions) and the harpsichord in the first half and the string section in the second (a bit of seat swapping happened). Some of the arias had very nice melodic lines (and the bass aria (?) had a rather interesting rhythm), lovely carried by the orchestra, who, as usual, sounds very tight and up to date Baroque.

Thank you to all involved, it made for a wonderful evening of Baroque music in a Baroque environment.

ps: I noticed with relief that St George’s has updated the toilet situation as much as the premises allow.


  1. To the point someone broke a string before the intermission. 

ROH’s Summer Season 2017 went on sale on Tuesday…

… and yours truly was sleeping. Quite. I realised just as I was about to get dressed to go out today yesterday and was thinking about Bejun Mehta. The good news is there were still affordable tickets to the old Mitridate production and to the JPYA show. The bad news is all the Kaufmann Otello tickets were gone. ALL. Like, boohoo.

Ok, boohoo is a bit of an exaggeration 😉 but they were all gone, not just the cheap ones. So were most of the second cast tickets. If you remember Roschmann is singing Desdemona with Kunde et Co. I managed to find a £68 ticket on the last night but then I thought £68 for an opera I don’t like where the soprano has 1 sorta aria in act 7? So my act of generosity today was to leave that £68 ticket to somebody who actually likes late Verdi.

Instead I bought a ticket to this interesting looking thing, Woman at Point Zero, because without Otello I had some change burning in my pocket and it’s good to put that towards broadening the horizons.

ps: if you’re wondering where are the writeups to the last few Handels I saw – they are coming! Stuck on the slow train, but they’re on their way.

Whimsical Partenope returns to kick off the Handel season (ENO, 17 March 2017)

You know what we/I haven’t had in a while? (A bit of semi-obscure) Handel! Since Gauvin’s recital at the end of January, to be precise. ENO has programmed their revival of the Award Winning 2008 production of Partenope to coincide with the usual time of the year when we celebrate the Grandmaster of the Baroque Formula.

I bought this ticket the day before the show, just before leaving for the Radvanovsky recital. Because 1) I bungled it when the tickets went on sale, 2) there was no way for me to attend this week’s performances no matter how I tried to cut it (and these days the situation at work is the sort where one should try to cut it as little as possible) and last but most importantly 3) this is a badass production, which kept niggling at the back of my mind (you’re not going to see that? Seriously? You’re not? And you call yourself an admirer of clever stylish silly ideas? It’s Handel, ffs! A Handel comedy!).

Oh, who am I kidding?! It all comes down to:

Like Radvanovsky was saying: I just like I was lucky to have quite a grand introduction to it, on my very first outing at Wigmore Hall. You should see my badass moves 😉 If I were a singer with a half decent coloratura this would be one of my audition/recital staples. By the end of it the audience would be bawling on each other’s shoulders. Or perhaps chuckling. But moved they would be. After about 30min on repeat (various versions) my musically inclined cat joined in with the coloratura 😀 that’s how much we love this aria at casa dehggi.

Partenope: Sarah Tynan
Emilio: Rupert Charlesworth (taking the entire season over from Robert Murray (indisposed))
Arsace: Patricia Bardon
Armindo: James Laing
Rosmira “Eurimene”: Stephanie Windsor-Lewis
Ormonte: Matthew Durkhan
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Orchestra of the ENO
Director: Christopher Alden
Set designer: Andrew Lieberman
Costume designer: Jon Morell

In this production, the laddish Arsace, who sings the aria after being roasted by his jilted lover, brandishes about a bottle of something stiff but somehow does not smash it by the end. Dude! I’d like several (the entire stash) to smash to the coloratura.

“But what if Man Ray isn’t what turns you on? If your fancy isn’t taken by the erotic charge of a strategically positioned black triangle, or a prominent nipple in an expanse of flesh smoothed flat by the lens and viewpoint, or if the sight of a 1920s siren smoking through a long cigarette holder fails to excite? In that case, this production has little for you.” (Davin Karlin for Bachtrack on this revival of ENO/Opera Australia’s 2008 production of Partenope).

That’s the case with every production built on a schtick. Luckily, I get down with all of that, especially the siren bit, which Tynan rocks (is there anything more stylish than 1920s fashions? Nah.) It’s a sort of “flat” production, in the sense it’s all about posing rather than following a plot logically1 but then we’re talking Surrealist photography, Bauhaus and whatnot. Visual arts during Modernism made a point out of removing (or at least disrupting) the narrative.

How does this relate to Handel? Singers do silly things whilst singing but we’re reminded that singers in Handel’s time used to make the most of their limelight moments as well and the public was often engaged otherwise. People do silly things at moments of heightened emotion – and sometimes at regular times, too. Sometimes overthinking gets in the way of good fun.

Partenope the character is flirty but constant. She likes to be admired and friendzones men by the boatload. Arsace (her lover at the beginning of the opera) isn’t particularly flirty but as soon as “Eurimene” shows up he suddenly knows remembers he’s actually Rosmira, his hitherto fogotten ex. It’s a bit Alcina without the magic – or “for adults”. Case in point: we have the bonus of a mezzo making out with both the title soprano and another mezzo.

In the end Partenope rebounds with the shy guy and Rosmira gets her pretty man back after a satisfying bout of emotional torture (no hard feelings from Partenope, who is reasonable/together enough to know it’s all Arsace’s fault). Emilio – the enemy, who, in a short duet suavely sings he’d like to make Partenope his chattel – is added to the friendzone menagerie. So far so contemporary feminist.

The singing was constantly fine across the board though I can’t say it ever rose to stratospheric levels of emotion. Bardon has a very recognisable dark mezzo and here somehow outcountertenored Laing. She also showed what a bitch of an aria Furibondo… is. I remember someone on youtube commenting on a live recording of Scholl singing it how he for once prefers Daniels. Not fair comparing live to studio!

The reason why I love it is because Handel packs so much. You start on coloratura, then you have to vary projection, sometimes mid-phrase (= shouts of agitation), more coloratura, then you get to the B section, where I gather you add rubato to taste (I really liked what Horne did there on an almost melancholic agitata and the contrast with the very dark dol), because the rhythm is pretty much the same throughout – relentless and staccato.

Back to Bardon’s: it was good but not fabulous. I suppose there are many factors that go into this. People have criticised Curnyn’s approach as too fast in general, not giving singers breathers. I remember thinking during one of the slow Arsace arias that it could’ve been a tad faster. He did manage some very pretty interventions from the winds and assorted brass during Eurimene’s warlike aria2. Also the rhythm section deserves praise for keeping it tight throughout. It made me grin, thinking, ah, there’s nothing (in classical music) quite like Baroque to rock a solid rhythm.

But yes, perhaps Furibondo… was too fast. There were times (the shouty moments) when Bardon didn’t project as strongly as I would’ve expected – for whatever reason. I thought the role suited her otherwise, even though, like I said, I don’t remember her sounding quite so countertenorish before. Special mention: really nice job from Bardon on the movement-whilst-singing-a-male-character department.

photo from The Stage (click for review)

Tynan has the right voice and style for the role. All is needed is a bit of extra something to make it outstanding. Her interaction with her suitors and her Partenope persona were on the money throughout. I must commend the Personnenregie in general, very convincing in its details.

But in spite of the mezzo-soprano-mezzo estravaganza, Charlesworth’s Emilio stole the show this time. He took proper advantage of the silliness surrounding his character – the baddie, here a privacy stealing Man Ray – and seemed to have so much fun every time he was on stage that he drew the most attention and applause. It didn’t hurt that his diction was the best of the bunch and his pojection grand.

It was rather good fun – literally and figuratively – and really easy on the eyes. I’m glad I went last week, not after the Petibon concert (though I wish I’d’ve posted this before that concert, it would’ve read a lot more lively). Sitting in those tiny bum seats in the Balcony (economy) section between a Spanish couple and two Polish women I thought to myself how the ENO audience often seems like the most relaxed. ENO has the biggest opera-presenting hall in London yet it somehow feels very cosy (must be the tiny bum seats) and up there it feels almost as chummy as TEC.


  1. There is a plot and there is logic but that’s not central to this production. 
  2. That was the only time the music and the production didn’t flow together for me. The Bloomsbury atmosphere is so strong, the thought of actual war is jarring. 

The miraculously uplifting world of Patricia Petibon (Wigmore Hall, 18 March 2017)

If you ever got a chuckle reading this blog I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and book a ticket to a Petibon recital. There’s nothing quite like it. You might come out of it and find the world brutal and monochrome but you will also have something surprisingly sturdy to hang on to when things do indeed get ugly.

I normally put up the setlist1 after the first couple of paragraphs but this time I can say what she sang was secondary. Not that I didn’t like the programme – on the contrary, I liked everything, because this was a Petibon takes over your senses kind of recital. Yes, everything, props (lots of them) and dresses included (her dress style is superb). This is a recital about which I would not change a thing – also because I don’t think my creativity is extensive enough for that task 😉

You should know that I’ve long harboured the opinion that she is the most beautiful woman in opera the world. It’s not about some fantastically perfect features (delicate bones + a large mouth can be hard to pull off), it’s the way everything is lit from within, and of course, the mischievous smile.

Part of the reason I insisted on booking a ticket to the recital was because I wanted to verify via those unsuspecting senses that there are indeed women who look like that in the 21st century. To me she doesn’t look like someone who uses Facebook and Uber (though burping and taking a poo are well within the realm of possibility). She looks like The Lady of the Lake or the French version of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. Now that I have seen her rock a deep green cape I am convinced she should star as the seductive queen in the opera version of Guingamor (my secret opera project 😉 though perhaps it should only be a lyrical scene, because part II is roughly similar to Alcina).

You may think enough with this puppy eyed worshipfest of her looks, tell us about the singing, but what someone who hasn’t seen her live may need to know is that her body is integral to her singing. Since I’m still in the realm of web art, her stage persona reminds me of this classic gif:

  • it moves graciously (she never stops), it’s happy and zany and nobody can quite say what it is (it’s supposed to be a unicorn llama (of course) but to me it looks like the most cheerful progeny of a dinosaur and a giraffe). Also, it’s green.

This recital is the perfect example of what I was saying earlier about how European opera singers do it vs the American ones. Does Petibon have a good tecknique? Yes, she does, but we learn that within the space of the first few songs, after which she – nonverbally – said now that we’ve established that, let’s have some fun.

She also has a sizeable voice for her gossamer floated notes2 to project all the way to the back without ever dissipating en route, even when she sings piano (usually). This ability to float is my favourite technical trick of hers, also because it fits her onstage persona so well. When you see her so delicate and pink you do expect her to sing like that. But of course she doesn’t just do the angelic thing – if it is indeed angelic. I would say she’s far too sophisticated for that. It’s medieval lore rather (mists and distant battles) than Disney in spirit.

buddy looks suspiciously like my old boss…

Not that her persona cannot incorporate Disney 😀 and how! – irreverent Disney. We were treated to a complete scene of Snow White choking on the apple and then making out with her Prince garden gnome. For Busy Line she unwrapped a (very long) phone cord/washing line and proceeded to hang some clothes on it and had the audience help hold it.

I think what holds everything together is her palpable sense of line. It’s the fine art kind – if you’ve ever spent some time drawing you’ll immediately feel it. Some singers sing like instrumentalists and some singers paint with words. She draws with sound3, sometimes she even sculpts the music, with sharp curves and contrasts of weight and tint. It’s more 3D/physical than usual from a singer. Yet it’s almost always very soft and light, like an ink drawing or a cottonwool sculpture – at least in this programme. There were certain chord progressions and moods (the Iberian medieval and the kitsch parody) that reoccurred through the night, so one can imagine they are things she feels close to, at least at the moment.

She encored with a song (I didn’t know and she’s soft spoken) from the perspective of someone getting their life energy from a tree. I thought to myself how else could you finish whilst wearing a green corset? Then she thanked us for being alive with her tonight which promptly made me cry, though I’m not sure quite why other than it just fit the whole evening so well.

Points to Susan Manoff (piano) for being the buffer to that unique persona, she really held her own both musically (softness and contrast and general liveliness) and in personality (the sensible one).

Go see her/them, the world will appear a better place afterwards.


  1.  Samuel Barber (1910-1981) Sure on this Shining Night Op. 13 No. 3 | Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Greensleeves | Nicolas Bacri (b.1961) “Melodías de la melancolía Op. 119b” A la mar | Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) “7 canciones populares españolas” El paño moruno | Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) Canción del grumete | Fernando J Obradors (1897-1945) “El vito” Chiquitita la novia | Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Nesta Rua | Frank Bridge (1879-1941)  Winter Pastoral H168 | Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) “Banalités” Sanglots | Henri Collet (1885-1951)  Seguidilla Op. 75 No. 2 | Murray Semos/Frank Stanton Busy Line | Francisco Paulo Mignone (1897-1986) Dona Janaina Interval Henri Collet “Los Amantes de Galicia” Camiña don Sancho | Enrique Granados (1867-1916) “12 Tonadillas en un estilo antiguo” El mirar de la maja | Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) “Poema en forma de canciones Op. 19” Cantares | Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) La rosa y el sauce |  Agustín Lara (1897-1970)  Granada | Frank Churchill (1901-1942) Someday my prince will come (arr. Didier Lockwood) | Francis Poulenc Novelette sur un thème de Manuel de Falla | Norbert Glanzberg (1910-2001) Padam Padam (arr. Dimitri Naïditch) 
  2. Is this a French thing? Piau does her version of it as well. It’s gorgeous. 
  3. I think she has a fine art background? Maybe that’s where this comes from. 

Sondra Radvanovsky recital or the triple queen of diminuendo takes London by giggle (Cadogan Hall, 16 March 2017)

It’s hard to believe this was Radvanovsky’s debut as recitalist in London, but I think there are two types of American singers: some who become household names there but rarely visit these shores/Europe and some who seem comfortable on both sides (those are the ones with Mozart/Strauss/Baroque in their rep and Radvanovsky seems to miss this).

Sondra Radvanovsky soprano
Anthony Manoli piano

VivaldiSposa son disprezzata from BajazetBelliniPer pietà, bell’idol mio; La Ricordanza; Ma rendi pur contento – she actually quizzed us about which one of his own arias Bellini ripped off in La Ricordanza 😉 do you know?StraussAllerseelen; Befreit; Morgen!; Heimliche Aufforderung

I don’t even know how well the event was advertised because I only learned about it via the Barbican newsletter last week, right around the time one of my shifts was moved from Thursday to Sunday. A time comes in an opera lover’s life when one doesn’t go to a show just because they worship a performer. Sometimes one goes because someone considered an important contemporary voice should be experienced live.

I’ve not been a fan and this performance did not make me one. But there’s no denying Radvanovsky’s qualities, regardless of what one wants in a performer. For fans though, this must’ve been one of those nights memory would return to often.

To begin with, she appeared very excited to be here. Enthusiasm always helps. Then there was the curiosity of American singers. There is something specific about their modus operandi, different from how the Europeans do it. The Europeans would mostly just toss together a bunch of songs/arias that show off their qualities, mix in their personal pizzaz – which quite often means throwing caution to the wind – and call it a day.

The Americans curate their shows – carefully. Everything has an explaination and is in place with the specific intent of winning the audience over. Hell, she even plugged her upcoming Met Norma! – though considering her encores, Casta diva was conspicuously absent. I can’t say it bothered me (it’s her space to entertain, and she was entertaining1) but this is not something I’ve ever heard from European singers. We also learned she will be debuting Andrea Chenier in Barcelona, so the places between songs functioned like chirpy tweeter moments.

This chattiness is another American thing. When speaking and walking about she constantly reminded me of Joyce DiDonato. I don’t know if they are friends, but I could easily imagine them have long convos over coffee (“… that time in Prague when-“, “Oh, but let me tell you what happened in Madrid! It was the weirdest thing!” etc.).

It is one of those weird things. Radvanovsky is one of those singers who is built, looks and sounds like a tragedian when singing but speaks like a soubrette (in content as well). After the dark or very covered sound (it’s one of her peculiarities so she probably doesn’t do it on purpose) during the songs/arias she just chimes in with a giggle.

When presenting the Vivaldi aria she made a face best represented by this ascii art:

¯_(ツ)_/¯

(she said: I just like it! which could be a candid moment of pure music joy or hey Baroque fans, don’t judge! – because the way she and Manoli attacked it was with a Liszt-type feel; possibly both – but it was not the gesture of a tragedian). Again, I didn’t mind it, but it was quite different than most of my previous recital experiences.

As I mentioned in the title, diminuendo – the woman knows how to tackle this (as well as crescendo, but one could argue that’s easier). Her technique seemed simply fabulous to me. From that angle this was a performance to take voice students to: watch and learn, this is the kind of solidity you need to aim for and you’re going to have a long and fruitful career. Her control of dynamics and projection was wonderful through the night and her flights to the top of her voice illuminating (metaphorically and literally). The voice has a very alluring opacity at the bottom – let’s say indigo, like her second dress of the night – and an interesting rock solid brightness without ping at the top but the middle (I’d guess right around the area where mezzos tend to have the passaggio) was occasionally marred by cloud.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you that I connected much on an emotional level, this side of the Barber set and Vissi d’arte. It might be due to a difference in personality or just that I constantly sensed her position herself for best technical results rather than letting go enough for my liking. Even when she let rip (often, especially after the interval) – something the size of her voice easily allows for – it seemed strangely contained.

The audience responded very warmly to her coaxing, though, even when I thought she was going a bit far with the please like me attitude. American singers are not shy about their ambitions. But, come on, you’re Radvanovsky, not a beginner, of course people will like you if you drop by. Now, like she said she would like to, she could start with some Strauss – perhaps Ariadne? – and call again.

INTERVAL

LisztS’il est un charmant gazon; Enfant, si j‘étais roi; Oh! Quand je dorsBarberHermit Songs – At Saint Patrick’s Purgatory; St Ita’s Vision; The Crucifixion; The Monk and His Cat; The Desire for HermitageGiordanoLa mamma morta from Andrea Chénier

The surprise of the night was the Barber set. I felt it was the best suited to her voice, like she had reached her true home – and made me love it in the process.

Seeing as Barber wrote it for Leontyne Price (check them both out here), she talked a bit about fangirling Price. Apparently she decided to pursue an opera career after listening to Price sing Verdi. I can’t blame her, I think Price does the phattest maledizione there is (but the whole thing is worth it):

Yes. That last note was held exactly as long as it should’ve been. Even if it’s an old recording, you can tell how well her voice holds against the orchestra.

So whilst Radvanovky isn’t the second coming of Price, she does inhabit a similar vocal space.

ENCORE:

Song to the Moon Rusalka
I could’ve danced all night My Fair Lady – and she could’ve!
Io son l’umile ancella… Adriana Lecouvreur
Vissi d’arte Tosca

4 encores after all that – Americans and their work ethic 😉 There’s never enough Adriana Lecouvreur in the recitals I attend, so I was right happy, but to be fair Vissi d’arte turned out to be surprisingly moving2. Perhaps because it was the last piece she dropped a bit of that control – and it was a good thing. What we learned tonight? Going out of your comfort zone can be surprisingly rewarding.


  1. I’d just finished a set of night shifts the morning before the performance and was afraid I’d doze off but I was far from it. Good job, SR! 
  2. Nice combo, two arias about living for art – prefaced by her comment that the world right now needs more music and less… all that stupid crap (she didn’t put it like that). 

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!

Let’s look at ROH rumours 2017-2019

tl;dr: barely any Mozart, no Baroque (though some might trickle through nearer to the time) but some tempting things nonetheless. Here‘s your source.

New productions 2017-18

La Vestale (Spontini) La Gheorghiu continues her work to keep the rep traditional
Julia: Angela Gheorghiu

La Boheme (Puccini)
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Production: Richard Jones
Mimi: ? keeping the suspense
Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano
Marcello: Mariusz Kwiecien

The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) – Co-Production with De Nederlandse Opera   
Production: Stefan Herheim I like it, I’ll go

Der Freischutz (Weber) I don’t quite like it but I might go because how often does it come around?
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Production: Kasper Holten
Max: Jonas Kaufmann / Stuart Skelton

Semiramide (Rossini) bring it on! I might go twice
Production: David Alden
Semiramide: Joyce DiDonato
Assur: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Arsace: Daniela Barcellona

Katya Kabanova (Janacek) tempting
Production: Ivo van Hove
Kabanicha: Rosalind Plowright
Katya: Amanda Majeski

Lessons in Love and Violence (George Benjamin, World Premiere)
Director: Katie Mitchell
Stephane Degout
Barbara Hannigan ❤ I’ll take the chance with her
Peter Hoare

Revivals 2017-18

Les Vepres Siciliennes (Verdi) October – November 2017
Rachele Stanisci (Helene), two performances who’s she? I missed the Vepres the last time around, might go this time

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) / Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) Dec 2017
Nedda: Carmen Giannattasio
Silvio: Artur Rucinski
Santuzza: Elina Garanca I’d go for comparison purposes but it’s a bit soon

Tosca (Puccini) January 2018
Caravadossi: Vittorio Grigolo yes, but who is Tosca?

Lucia di Lammermor (Donizetti) November 2017? So soon?!
Lucia: Olga Peretyatko
Raimondo: Michele Pertusi
Edgardo: Juan Diego Flórez he doesn’t want to!

Don Giovanni (Mozart) July 2018
Donna Anna: Chen Reiss
Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik

Andrea Chenier (Giordano) ?2018 never too soon 😉
Andrea Chenier: Jonas Kaufmann

Salome (Strauss) Yay! Hope it’s good.

Peter Grimes (Britten)
Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton
Ellen Orford: Emma Bell

New Productions 2018-19

Königskinder (Humperdinck) 13, 17, 21, 27, December 2018, 1 January 2019
Production: David Bosch
Der Königssohn: Daniel Behle ❤

Fedora (Giordano)
Fedora: Angela Gheorghiu

From the House of the Dead (Janacek) I’ll go
Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski

Through the Looking Glass (Unsuk Chin) World Premiere (?)

Don Pasquale (Donizetti) I really don’t see the appeal of this one
Production: Damiano Michieletto

La Forza Del Destino (Verdi) – 2019 not unless we get Harteros
Conductor: Antonio Pappano

Death in Venice (Britten) I like the story, I might go
Conductor: Mark Elder
Production: David McVicar

Revivals 2018-19

Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Brunnhilde: Nina Stemme should yours truly make an effort?
Siegfried: Stefan Vinke
Siegmund: Stuart Skelton

Carmen November- December 2018
Micaela: Eleonora Buratto

Faust (Gounod) should go this time

The beauty of colour in L’aure che spira

This is a youthfully angry, sharp and to the point aria, in which little Sesto fumes at the mouth against Tolomeo (he doesn’t deserve to breathe (the air)). Whilst re-reading a post of mine (I do that too 😉 ), I had a sudden need to re-listen. A few versions later I was bathed in the multitude of colours it allows.

Let’s start with Stutzmann, because I love her handeling of dynamics both in conducting and in singing. I feel this is a wonderful introduction to this aria, so typical of Handel’s writing of arias of fury (it’s not quite vengeance here; see Svegliatevi nel cuore for that). Also check out her moves at around 0:12:

(One of the iconic little Sesti of our time) Semmingsen with her bright(eyed) mezzo comes next for strong contrast. I’m not so sure about Mortensen’s conducting here; I feel the details are a bit muddled, though in the interest of characterisation – this is a very young Sesto – that might not be a bad idea:

Also a mezzo, but much darker, is Bonitatibus; always a strong Handelian (especially in troubled youth roles), it’s interesting to compare a dark mezzo voice with a true contralto:

And here we have another Jacobs take – a very speedy one – with Ernman at the forefront, unexpectedly catching my ear. This Sesto is a bit older or wilder than usual; if I were Tolomeo I’d keep my hand on the dagger: