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Right now: Ann Hallenberg in Moscow (mezzo arias)

In case you need a reminder: check it out. At the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall.

Il ritorno di Tobia Haydn

Overture and aria Sudo il guerierro

Haydn’s stuff is always fun until he gets too noodly. I thought the aria was a bit low for her but an always welcome start.

Paride aed Elena Gluck

Paride’s mournful aria (don’t know the title)

It fit her very well; really nice variations in the middle section.

La clemenza di Tito Mozart

Overture and Deh, per questo instante solo

Capuano’s take on the overture is of the jaunty kind. There is a reason is often played in concerts. Her take on Deh, per questo… is something I think I talked about before. very affecting and natural at the same time ❤

Orphee et Eurydice Gluck

Amour, viens rendre a mon ame

Just yes, with a lot of warm smiles. The public loved it, too. Somehow 40min went in a blink.


L’italiana in Algeri Rossini

Overture and Cruda sorte!

The overture got out the bombast but perhaps not so much the Italian silliness. AH got all that in Cruda sorte. Just wonderful and tossed off like nothing.

Otello Rossini

Song of the willow

I know nothing about any Ot(h)ello operas, honestly. It sounds beautiful enough and very suited to AH’s tone.

La favorite Donizetti


Favaritka? It sounded like that in Russian. The darkest thing so far. The Russians love to go very Romantic on things.

Semiramide Rossini

Arsace! not the obvious choice from him, either but In si barbara sciagura.


Che faro senza Euridice Gluck (Orfeo)

Really heartfelt, but then again, it’s AH.

Il segreto per esser felice Donizetti (Lucrezia Borgia)

Great to hear Il segreto…! The drinking song with a dark undertow. One of the first mezzo arias I got into, in that random manner one does. I want to listen to it on repeat now. Is there something she can’t sing?

Proms 2018 (slim pickin’s for yours truly)

I parsed the programme and, as far as I’m concerned, there are two Proms I would be interested in:

Prom 71

John Eliot Gardiner conductor | Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
JDD mezzo

Hector Berlioz
Overture ‘Le corsaire’ (8 mins)
La mort de Cléopâtre (21 mins)
The Trojans – Royal Hunt and Storm (10 mins)
The Trojans – Dido’s death scene (7 mins)


Hector Berlioz
Harold in Italy (42 mins)

Prom 74

Handel’s Theodora. I know I said it was boring but Ann Hallenberg is Irene. It will be worth listening to it on the radio 🙂

Ann Hallenberg superlative in Gluck and Mozart (Wigmore Hall, 23 May 2016)

It isn’t often that a highly anticipated performance actually surpasses expectations. There were some hints along the way that this would at the very least be a highly enjoyable evening:

  1. Ann Hallenberg for 18th century repertoire mezzo lovers (check out this very positive and timely review of her recent performance in Zingarelli’s Giulietta e Romeo in Salzburg)
  2. last month’s truly outstanding Il Vologeso with Ian Page and Classical Opera
  3. exquisite Gluck and Mozart selections

click for the non-squinting version

I met Leander (read her take on it) and Baroque Bird before the show and I hyped Hallenberg up so much to them a sensible person should have feared she couldn’t possibly live up to it. Come the interval Leander said she was ready to buy everything Hallenberg has ever been in 😀 I reminded them that tickets are out for Juditha triumphans (2 November, Barbican), which is our next chance to catch Hallenberg in London.

Before I launch into much fawning over the setlist, let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to hear Classical Opera again. For a 20 piece combo they really make a lot of noise and it’s the right kind of noise too. Much like in last month’s Il Vologeso, I enjoyed the tightness of the ensemble and the aplomb, which came out most excitingly during Kraus. Thank you Ian Page and all for bringing this dashing piece to my and others’ attention. The oboe did an great job all night, spot on, great dialogue with Hallenberg in the arias and sweet tone if I’ve ever heard one. Also points to the horn (also very nice tone and timely in its interventions) and the harpsichord (bouncy, lots of fun) from me.

Though I’m not particularly familiar with Gluck beyond his reform operas, I have generally liked what I heard and I usually like opera from the Classical period, so things were looking good for the first half of the recital. But what made this performance unmissable for me was the Mozart side, with 3 of my top favourite arias of his, none of which, as it happens, I had so far heard in recital setting before.

Those who read this blog remember I had the chance to hear Il tenero momento only last month in Vienna, very enjoyably sung by Franco Fagioli, in Theater an der Wien’s semi-staged Lucio Silla. There are pros and cons for hearing a favourite aria within the context of its opera: the main pro (especially if things are well conducted/sung/recited up to there) is the added emotional build-up to make it particularly swoon-worthy. The con is that the singer is constricted by the whole and can’t very well show off their mad skillz 😉 A con specific to this aria is that Il tenero momento is Cecilio’s entrance aria and it happens within the first ~20min of a 3 hour-long opera, so it’s anti-climaticly placed if you’re particularly fond of it. It’s like, well, what now? In the context of a recital it can take centre place and the singer can go to town a bit. In our case, Hallenberg added an unaccompanied cadenza and it ended up in lots of applause and hoots. This is a fiendishly difficult aria but she dispatched the coloratura with customary accuracy and effortlessness. I did indeed believe Cecilio was deliriously happy.

That was all very nice and well but the biggest draw for me was another entrance aria, this one arriving within a whooping first ~10min of its opera. I’m talking about Ramiro’s Se l’augellin sen fugge from La finta giardiniera (yes, don’t remind me I scoffed at it and completely ignored the whole thing when Glyndebourne mounted it last year). La finta giardiniera is, for those unfamiliar with it, not exactly the kind of opera one would spend much time analysing. Namely, the libretto is buffa-light peppered with domestic violence; in confectionery terms it’s a trifle (with a spoonful of strychnine). If you’re really blunt it’s moronic 😉

However, it’s got one of those irresistibly perky Mozart overtures and some really neat buffa arias/ensembles. Sort of like really good summer sorbet. But we’re talking about the composer of complex comedies (dramedies?) like Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni and perhaps Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (it’s complex all right but perhaps not quite for the best 😉 ) so this one can hardly compete when it’s just light fare (albeit really well done) of the kind Cimarosa and the like were churning out every other month.

I really like Se l’augellin sen fugge because it’s one of the (musically) cutest things I’ve ever heard and, as most cat owners, I have a bit of a thing for anything cute. Mozart had a light/giddy side that allowed him to make complete nonsense irresistible. So in preparation I’ve been listening to quite a bit of ‘giardiniera. Yes, in preparation to hearing just this one aria I’ve listened to a few versions of the entire 3 hour opera. In my defense, I’ve had an unusually convincing introduction to this opera (thanks to Anik), the likes of which one can but wish to have the good luck to stumble upon, especially when coming to random, lesser known operas. Suffice to say I was won over before even hearing a single note 😀 and then I heard Se l’augellin and it was game over, no more snide remarks from me (well, other than about the libretto…).

Anyway, there are several versions out there, none of which is absolutely spot on. The most fun production is the Salzburg one conducted by Ivor Bolton, which happens in the Garden Section of a B&Q/Home Depot type shop. All you need to know is that there are giant cacti, a flesh eating plant and the main soprano has a topiary plant/plastic bag hairdo. Adriana Kucerova in the secondary role of Serpetta steals the show as far as I’m concerned.

The most excitingly conducted Se l’augellin comes from Harnoncourt (to me the best champion of lesser known Mozart, a subject on which I should expand elsewhere) who gets just the fleeting nature of the little bird, hopping from here to there. Once you hear it you will find it very hard to return to other versions, who don’t manage the jerkiness of rubato anywhere near as effectively. Ramiro is sung there by Monica Bacelli, who has always been a very solid singer in this repertoire. However I feel the aria needs more hunour (yea, Ramiro is quite a stiff character but you can play him with a bit of winky detachment). Vocally my favourite version has been Marie-Claude Chappuis‘ (because I think a brighter voice works better with it) but I found the conducting a bit bland or conventional-Mozart. On the other hand, she might need a bit more stiffness. Tough customer, I know.

I’m very happy to report Hallenberg has just the voice for this, tinsy bit of stiffness included when needed. She got the humour right from the start, in the flat out silly way she said sen fugge and conveyed it with her general attitude. She also has the cheerful, unselfconscious personality to pull off arias about hopping little birds. Ian Page’s Classical Opera was consistently bouncy, if perhaps a bit speedier than I’d have gone for. But, really, I’m saying that as someone who has already devoted 5 paragraphs to this little aria. It was excellent, I had a big grin on throughout 🙂

All this before we even got to Deh, per questo instante solo. Haha. Dear reader, I must not be going to enough Mozart-centred mezzo recitals if this is the first time I’ve heard it outside its own opera. What can I say? Half way through I contemplated the very good idea of seeing Hallenberg as Sesto. I would like that. Her voice works surprisingly well with it for those of us more familiar with her as Baroque singer par excellence. She has made (more or less successful) forays into later repertoire and it seems she’s right after all (I was put off by her Isabella but her Arsace (with a smaller/HIP orchestra? better recording?) was almost a revelation – at least in that Rossini isn’t necessary hopeless for her). Of course we’re talking about Wigmore Hall not about ROH and about a 20 piece orchestra but I’d still think somewhere like Glyndebourne (or Theater an der Wien) would work very well.

Wishful thinking (?) aside, she’s the kind of consumate performer to bring the drama out. You can – and I have heard it done quite often – sing this as the beautiful, wistful rondo it is. Or you can really go for the different moods: nostalgia, regret, embarrassment, ambivalence, heroism. She made it all vivid and moving without sacrificing the Mozartness of it all. In the end, everybody – performers and audience – looked happy and we all went home satisfied (or so I hope). The atmosphere was particularly congenial.

The Gluck side. My favourite bits were O del mio dolce ardor (Paride ed Elena), where Hallenberg had the chance to wow us with some moving ppps. This is the kind of thing you want to hear, brilliant technique as tool for conveying emotion. The ability to end a note firmly yet naturally-sounding (no hard landing) seems to be particular to flexible voices; it’s very enjoyable. The other one I specifically liked was the closer, Misera, dove son… ah, non son io (Ezio), where the pathos was so compelling I kept catching my breath along with the character and as a consequence I ended up feeling a bit sick by the end. It’s certainly one of Gluck top arias, listen to it and maybe enjoy getting a tad unwell, too 😉

This was without a doubt one of the best recitals I’ve ever had the pleasure and good luck to attend. Several times during the night I felt relaxed as if bathed in a sort of primordial soup of musical goodness.

The English Concert’s small scale Easter (Wigmore Hall, 23 March 2016)

In contrast to last year’s St Matthew Passion at the lumbering Barbican, this Easter season I opted for a much shorter performance at the intimate Wigmore Hall that included one of my favourite singers’ very welcome return to London.

And, as it rurns out, a lot of… hair.

The English Concert | Harry Bicket director, harpsichord

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concerto for Strings in G minor RV157

Violin Concerto in C major ‘Per la santissima Assunzione di Maria Vergine’ RV581 | Nadja Zwiener violin

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) | Katharina Spreckelsen oboe

Concerto for oboe in D minor Op. 9 No. 2

Antonio Vivaldi

Sinfonia in B minor RV169 ‘Al Santo Sepolcro’

These pieces are all very enjoyable though by music alone I didn’t feel religiously transported. That, I think, is the nature of the music at hand as much as my own nature. But their effect was such that I’ve been listening to them for the past few days. Per la santissima Assunzione di Maria Vergine1 was done in a very dramatic manner, more so than usual, which showcased much virtuosity and chutzpah from the soloist. By contrast the oboe concerto came off serene.


Giovanni Ferrandini (1710-1791) | Ann Hallenberg mezzo-soprano

Cantata: Il pianto di Maria

Obviously for me the big attraction was Ann Hallenberg, whom I had last seen at Wigmore Hall as the end of April 2014. Il pianto di Maria felt more operaticly dramatic (but the Hallenberg way, which is never OTT) than feverishly religious. Then again, I wasn’t looking for a religious experience, rather to hear her live after a good while. One of the things I like most about listening to her is how she blends in with the orchestra. It feels like the voice is another instrument, without which the music would miss its spark. I get an extra dose of enjoyment from listening to singers whose phrasing fits the sounds around them so well.

I sometimes talk about the effect certain singers’ stage presence has on me. Hallenberg is the one who always brings with her a sense of calm and proportion. It makes me feel – for the duration of the performance at least – that everything is all right.

PS: Annual update on Hairstyles at Wigmore Hall + assorted divagations. There was a bit of seat upgrading by the younger gen after the interval thus I got an unexpected windshield wiper head in front of me. I wiped along with him (during the more anguished moments in the music) until I found an angle which allowed me see more of Ann2 and less of my immediate surroundings. Still, it was hard not to notice that in front of the wiper was Prince William’s bald spot and at 11 o’clock a lady with hair dry and bushy like a haystack and which curls at the end and stays starched in that position until wet. I know that type of hair well, it’s common on one side of my family. At 1 o’clock we had a lady with dramatic soprano cca 1965 hairdo but luckily she was short enough and very resistant to swinging with the breeze.

On the way out I saw a few ladies chatting on the side block and one of them had alarmingly opinionated hair (looked a bit like the tray with Jochanaan severed head in it) that made me think of a certain pre-rephaelite painting. Looking it up meant going through about 100 Rosettis and Burne-Jones’ etc. with the the focus on hair. Daunting task, I tell you, as it seems all of them were obsessed with hair livelier than a ! All of them. But most importantly I noticed they all painted the same woman, and that is precisely Anja Harteros in period dress.

Alcina: You pale shadows, I know you hear me;
you hover around me and conceal yourselves,
and are deaf to my words. Why? Why?

Ombre pallide3: We’re afraid of your insatiable hair!

  1. And I seem to recall it being placed just before the intermission. 
  2. Ann’s hair, normally quite cheerful itself, was on best behaviour today, having taken a step back from the spotlight (literally, it was placed behind her neck). 
  3. Yea, this pre-raphaelite incursion gave me an irrestible urge to listen to Ombre pallide

A very Wigmore Hall season

Early Xmas gifts to self:

14/12 Cesti’s OronteaI think HM said she and Leander were going to this and I had no clue what they were on about… Alternatively I’m imagining it 😉 anyway, I decided to go because it’s got Anna Stephany in the title role, who’s going to sing Sesto in this summer’s revival of the Zurich Cernobyl Tito. I am tempted to go see that but I have not yet been convinced by what I’ve heard from Stephany on youtube. This seems like a pretty good opportunity to check her out.

11/01 Pisaroni sings Schubert!

16/03 Siurina/Castronovo – I like them, I missed them so far

23/03 English Concert/Hallenberg – EC plays a bunch of Vivaldi and Hallenberg joins them for Ferrandini’s Il pianto di Maria. The first of 3 Hallenberg Wigmore Hall outings in 2016.

14/06 Mariella Devia – belcanto living legend = must see

Handel spice and Hallenberg nice

Those who have long stepped into the second decade of the 21st centuries must’ve caught on to the fact that Ann Hallenberg is to return to Wigmore Hall in March (Ferrandini), April (Scarlatti, Handel and Vivaldi) and May 2016 (Gluck and Mozart; perhaps a bit of Lucio Silla, pretty please?). I, still being stuck somewhere in cca 2002, did not know all this until thadieu pointed out to me that you don’t even need fb to read AH’s fb page. So now (a couple of weeks after AH’s post) I am in the know as well. Time travel!

Let me celebrate this in a random-ish manner with a medley of mostly Handel opera covers that have long made me chuckle:


click for a slightly larger view

  • So… JDD’s cover of Furore/Handel Arias makes me think of the film Face Off. She seems about to remove hers. Wouldn’t that make a good music video for a duet with herself? (Has she not recorded one yet?)
  • Chaconne is giving us a glimpse at local pasttimes. Handel Duets in the bathtub? Every Wednesday. Nipple tweaking with tea and biscuits? Makes chatting more lively.
  • Teddy Tahu-Rhodes DG is pointing his sword at the Sydney Opera House logo to say cheers, SOH, for making everyone remember me as the Chippendale Zorro.
  • The fourth one is a good example of what happens if you market opera to tipsy prom queens (Chaconne, who else is that cutting edge?).
  • As for the oldie but goldie, the facial hair is priceless. I think I need a new facial hair post, now dedicated to gents singing gents’ fashions. The writing utensils and candle add a nice, old fashioned touch. I can’t fathom who he is supposed to be and what is he supposed to be writing other than dear mum…

The Hallenberg-Ariodante effect on mardy gits

Maybe I’m alone in that Ariodante-wise I’m not a big fan of Scherza, infida. What makes or breaks Ariodante for me is a good stab at Dopo notte1. It never ceases to amaze me how an 8min coloratura-fest never gets old. But it has to be done right (very, very gentle and bright).

Maybe it’s unfair to compare two such drastically different arias mood-wise. I’m not even saying I dislike Scherza, infida. It can move me all right but it gets me to a murky place, as, I suppose, intended. I can’t listen to it on repeat. Dopo notte, on the other hand, has broken several repeat buttons 😉 In fact I don’t know that I can listen to it just once or to just one version when the Dopo notte mood strikes. It’s one of the most life-affirming tunes ever.

The weird thing is the night after I became acquainted with this gorgeous aria was indeed atra e funesta, as a close acquaintance had unexpectedly died. Needless to say I then put Dopo notte on the shelf for a while but it re-emerged without asking me if I was ready or not.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Ariodante, I haven’t managed to make time for the entire Aix production, much as I was getting into it. French language sites should refrain from embedding that insidious disponible jusqu’au – notice. It lulls one (me) into a false sense of security. Meaning I then tend to wait until that day, whichever it is (12 January 2015, in this case), to watch the whole shebang. I know I could blame the length. But I could also blame the fact that the 3 Titos have boarded a quick flight from Miami and that I listened to Die Liebe der Danae yesterday or that I still need a something else for tomorrow or Friday… Whatever I say, fact is the thing has been online for a month. But Dopo notte rocks. If it were a person, it would make the best BFF. You know it would offer a ready shoulder to cry on or would always say yes! to a nutty adventure or it would swap shifts with you at work when a last minute concert was announced… Dopo notte would most certainly help you crash something ridiculously stuffy and hard to get into like the Salzburger Festspiele. Cheers, Georgie, Ann, Sofie and Franco.

  1. This entry brought to you by RonR?‘s link to Taminophile’s lovely post on Ann. 

Les Talens Lyriques and Ann Hallenberg at Wigmore Hall (28 April, 2014)

The Farinelli Show

When Les Talens Lyriques are in town with Ann “Ariodante” Hallenberg you’ve got to see them – if you like Baroque at all.

Lots of ornaments and funny looking horns

The wonderful Ann Hallenberg + google rant

I’m a bit sad at having to mix Ann with some histrionic ranting (is there any other kind?), but such is life.

The good news is I finally got around to booking a ticket for her recital with Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall on 28 April at 7:30pm (reminder to myself, as I have La Traviata at ROH on 30 April and it wouldn’t be the first time I mix my dates but it would annoy me to no end to miss either).

rant etc.

Prina and Hallenberg

…are coming to Wigmore Hall to sing Baroque. Not together, mind, although that would be way cool (like in that Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno). Ah, the curse of options! But since I can’t go to Paris to see Alcina, on account of shot finances, might as well treat myself locally to two of my favourite singers, innit?