Blog Archives

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 ūüėČ ), 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:

Anna Bonitatibus, 100 years of Semiramide (Wigmore Hall, 5 October 2016)

As mezzo fans know, in 2014 Boni put together a themed CD centred on Semiramide, a very popular character throughout the 18th century and even a little beyond. She’s still touring this project and on Wednesday¬†the tour reached London to much acclaim from the Wigmore Hall audience.

Collegium 1704
V√°clav Luks conductor
Anna Bonitatibus mezzosoprano

Semiramide “La signora regale”

Semiramide in Ascalone Antonio Caldara
Povera navicella

Semiramide HWVA8 (pasticcio) George Frideric Handel/Vinci
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Niccolò Jommelli
Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata

Sémiramis Christoph Willibald Gluck
La Semiramide riconosciuta
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Ferdinando Bertoni
Non so se pi√Ļ t‚Äôaccendi



photo by thadieu – from the window of a music shop in Basel, Switzerland

I was introduced to Boni via Handel’s coloratura tour de force that is¬†Come nembo/nube. Anyone who comes a winner in that Italian Handel battle has my attention. Up to this point I’d seen her as Cherubino at ROH and saw her Sesto from Brussels (not live). Cherubino was cute but hardly enough. Sesto – driven by demons in that production. I needed a bit more.

A few things came out of this performance: her exceptional involvement in recits/ariosos, crystal clear diction (a rarity these days) and the freeflowing coloratura (some gents at the back were very glad for the lack of aspirates in general).

From the getgo I’ve been¬†a big fan of her tone, especially in the middle. It’s just so… mezzo. There’s that stubborn feel to it, like the character is a bit ticked off (think grounded teenager). That’s a good thing! Especially for trouser roles and revenge arias ūüėÄ Though not so good for super happy arias, where I¬†want more of a smile in the voice. But, really…

At the top her voice gets very bright but still mezzo (very audible but amazingly no ping, no matter how much forte she puts into it). In conclusion, she can sing these high mezzo/soprano roles but she still sounds solidly mezzo.

My favourite thing of the night was the Jommelli arioso Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata of up and down moods, where she showed her superior skills at sustaining drama, coupled with excellent mix with the orchestra. As I later said to Baroque Bird, I found myself happy each time we returned to another recit. She’s the kind of singer who, though she can obviously spin coloratura at the highest speeds, does not randomly¬†rush things. Couple that with the super crisp diction (hers¬†are some rrrrolled Rs! plus you can make out _every_ word) and the beautiful middle, you just want her to tell you more.

La vendetta di Nino, o sia Semiramide Francesco Bianchi

La Semiramide in Villa Giovanni Paisiello
Serbo in seno il cor piagato

La morte di Semiramide Sebastiano Nasolini
Deh, sospendi ai pianti miei… Serbo ancora un’alma altera

Sémiramis (Dance No. 1 and No. 2) Charles-Simon Catel

Semiramide Gioachino Rossini
Bel raggio lusinghier¬†this is an early version of the aria, not the one we’re used to

Semiramis Manuel García
Gi√† il perfido discese… Al mio pregar t’arrendi


? Boni named this one as something (Semiramide related) from Isabela Colbran’s repertoire. Sounded like a shortish arioso.

Vanne fido, e al mesto regno¬†Semiramide regina dell’Assiria¬†Porpora

When a performance covers a century of music you get to observe how music changes. Boni flowingly moved through Baroque, Classical and Belcanto.

It’s also very interesting hearing the same aria¬†done differently by different composers, like in the case of Fuggi dagl’occhi miei. As you probably guessed, Semiramide riconosciuta is a libretto by Papa Metastasio. Like in the case of most of his libretti, this one was the basis of pretty much all¬†the Semiramide operas through the 1700s. So you get to hear the same arias tweaked this or that way by composers but they remain the same in spirit, because Metastasio had already worked the tune in his¬†lines. Gluck, still in Baroque mode, puts an interesting spin on his, which here came off sort of jazzy – less straight-laced Baroque, though rhythmical.

Boni was so focused on the concept, we got 4 different outfits, two of which you can see here (starting with the very first, flesh/”gold” coloured one in Povera navicella and ending with the last one, the white/”Assirian”, in Vanne fido…). There was also a red and a black one in between.

Vanne fido… is an excellent example of all I was talking about so far – taking her time, dramatic involvement, beautiful “mezzo” middle, sharp diction, soft, flowing attack on coloratura (which I now understand is a fast vibrato – well there you go, Baroque Bird, you were right!).

Though she was very serious through the performance, Boni appeared very touched by the reception after the encores (I thought she was going to step¬†down into the audience and chat with us ūüėČ ). For me, surrounded as I was by very well behaved fans (though the gent¬†in front of me constantly positioned himself at an angle and I had to angle along), it was an introspective evening, but Baroque Bird encountered¬†heavy breathers (not that kind…), rustlers and a chatty lady.

In conclusion, somebody stage/organise a concert performance of that Jommelli with Boni in the title role, please ūüôā

New updates to the Stutzmann Wigmore show and miscelaneous

Thought I’d point out that I made some updates to that unusually scatterbrained entry ūüėČ This blog is testimony that I’m not quite as lacking in discipline as it sometimes feels like… [ / end navel gazing, though we could have some naval gazing to go with that post ].

Out of that long list of Autumn 2016 at Wigmore Hall I posted a while ago I managed to secure the following:

02/10 Stutzmann + Orfeo 55
05/10 A. Bonitatibus
05/11 Röschmann
20/11 Pisaroni
24/11 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth
28/11 La Calisto
29/12 Prina and Invernizzi

But before all that there’s a return to the Proms (deities help us with the acoustics) with a concert performance of that badass 20th century 1 act opera:

03/08 Bluebeard’s Castle (Ildik√≥ Koml√≥si and John Relyea)

…and who knows how the shaky¬†state of events will impinge on my concert going afterwards (I know, first world problems; the (not so U)K is still part of¬†the first world… for now).

Even so, looking at the ROH shows coming up on General Sale in a fortnight, there is Cosi¬†which I will have to wing somehow (though I have no idea about Corinne Winters ? I hope¬†Bychkov can keep it light) and this curious Norma. I don’t know what to say. Isn’t Yoncheva a bit young for Norma? Fura del Baus, though, sounds like might do something with this very difficult to stage opera. Then there’s Hoffmann

Ornament City hosts The Battle of Trills

Take me down to Ornament City
Where the runs are quick and the trills aplenty

(to the tune of G’n’R’s Paradise City)

Tancredi seems to have¬†gained considerable ground. We don’t know if it’ll reach our fair shores any time soon but it’s¬†frequently staged¬†in Europe these days. I came around to this year’s Lausanne production via Yijie Shi’s Argirio. It boasted our much appreciated acquaintances Anna Bonitatibus, aka Boni and Jessica “eardrum hazard” Pratt as the doomed couple. Here’s their (extended) take on my beloved¬†Ah, come mai quel’anima. That first trill made my eyes pop out. And there’s 8 more minutes of countless notes. I think there’s also feeling but I couldn’t focus on that just yet.

One reason why I love the mezzosoprano voice

Last night I listened to¬†to¬†Boni’s Sesto¬†and it reminded me how much I liked her. Words sort of fail to sum up¬†just how this rendition of Par che mi nasca in seno makes me feel. I’d call it lovely but the term¬†falls way short. It’s gentle and melancholic but also hopeful and loving and peaceful – put together it musically expresses what I’d call¬†kindness. I feel cocooned by it.