Blog Archives

Vivaldi, not to be outdone:

Staying with Basso, how exquisite is this?! I’m not even a fan of laments but the sophistication on display here is something else:

Someone in the comments says it’s organic – very apt. It’s got it all – style, technique, emotion, imagination. Just ❤

ps: it’s recorded with my favourite Baroque outfit in the world 😀

Advertisements

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!” 

Juditha triumphans (De Nationale Opera Amsterdam, 26 January 2019)

Did y’all know Juditha‘s outro is the actual anthem of Venice?! I didn’t, to my shame, but I do now. (There are certain themes running through this blog). Good on them, it’s such a great little choir bit, very typical Baroque loose-end tying but so effective. I simply love Vivaldi’s writing and with good reason – if you listen closely, you will hear how his chord progressions have come down all the way to pop music.

*

The operatic year 2019 started wonderfully for yours truly with this out of my usual season opera trip to Amsterdam, in the always enthusiastic company of thadieu and Agathe (who organised this one – thank you, thank you!).

After having been tipped off by thadieu a few years ago as to what a gem Vivaldi’s military oratorio, celebrating Venice’s victory over the Ottoman Empire, was, I have (quickly) grown to love it myself. These days it’s got a well deserved spot among my top 3 favourites, yet it’s not often you get to see it staged.

As you know, the concert performance Marcon toured in 2016/2017 was one of my highlights of that season, so when this was announced – and with Iervolino to boot, to whom I was introduced via Nox obscura, anyway – it was a no brainer.

However, that concert performance, as wonderful as it had been (Galou and Hallenberg, hello! Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra + the all female choir), did not prepare me for several things. For some reason, the difference in feel from concert to staged production was the most radical I have seen yet.

Juditha: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Abra: Polly Leech
Ozias: Francesca Ascioti
Conductor: Andrea Marcon | La Cetra Barockorchester Basel, Choir of the DNO

triumph over rubble?

You have probably gleaned from thadieu’s report (and if you have not, you should read it; whilst you’re at it, read Giulia’s account as well) that this staging is not ambiguous at all as to good and bad. Juditha and her people are the good ones, of course, and Holofernes and them are very horrible indeed, more so than a concert can ever convey.

It’s wartime and we are never left to forget just how that brings out the worst in its perpetrators in particular. I say this because war does not spare the oppressed from stretching the limits of what during peacetime we would call morally sound. In the end we are left with a Juditha unsettled by her own actions and resentful of her heroic status.

So not a happy ending; this Juditha is humanised, not merely a symbol of victory for those who write history. Much is made of the famous painting during the opera, most curiously with Holofernes presenting it to Juditha during their “date”, as part of the looted artwork he has decorated his quarters with. A strange element of foreshadowing, perhaps pointing out Holofernes’ and them’s utter arrogance.

Spoilers? (ps: I hope TI won’t hate me for posting this. Visit her FB for wholesome pictures by clicking on the severed head…)

Yet Holofernes goes to some lengths to appear magnanimous even from the get go: as soon as he comes on stage, he starts by shooting one of his officers who is in the process of raping a Bethulian woman. He goes on to stage a photo shoot of him giving candy to local children (apparently unaware it can also be read as majority creepy). Of course, the libretto (and his very laid back music) does paint him as willing to compromise to a certain extent with the locals. But there is not compromise for Bethulians, it’s freedom or nothing1.

I can see why it was another production featuring the Nazi as the bad guys, given the story and that this was Amsterdam. I still think there is room for this oratorio to be set even more contemporary, though there is always the trap of falling into sensationalism with that, especially when beheadings are involved. Speaking of which, you’ve probably seen Iervolino’s selfie with Holofernes’ chopped head. Armed with that knowledge ahead of the show, it turned out all some of us were eagerly awaiting to see how effectively they would stage the beheading. Though the very relaxed Amsterdam audience giggled a little when the chopped head emerged from under the sheets, it was rather effective. Holofernes was passed out drunk, she put a sheet on his head and did the deed.

With a very unpleasant “upstart” Vagaus, this turn of events looked even more his fault than usual. You remember it is him that encourages Holofernes to grant Juditha an audience. Here, Holofernes appeared particularly uninterested at the beginning and Vagaus had to work hard (and bourishly) to convince him. Then he does a piss poor job at keeping vigilant, given that he found both Juditha and Abra armed upon entering his superior’s quarters.

Relax, it’s just the premiere!

As I mentioned before, none of us were prepared for Gaelle Arquez, whose Amsterdam debut was this very performance. Juditha’s arias are mostly dirges2, because she’s understandably upset with the situation and she’s trying to keep her dignity. It’s a sign of virtuosity to make them stand out and not drag (she somehow even managed to make Transit aetas jaunty). Arquez more than managed that, via deft vocal characterisation and her dense tone that fit Juditha to a t (or a th). Also, her Vivaldi style was impeccable, nothing was overdone or flashy for the sake of it and nothing betrayed how acquainted she is with other repertoire. I really need to hear more from her (more Juditha and more Baroque in general) to talk in further detail, but suffice to say that I like her tone a lot and this first live impression will stay with me for a good while.

I consider myself super lucky to have seen live my two favourite Holoferni. I have said it before, Iervolino is by quite some margin my favourite of the new generation of voices, and in this role in particular. Though more boyish/less sophisticated than Galou’s, her Holofernes does have his own strong hypnotic charm. Her softly resplendent tone lends itself particularly well to the sexy arias sung by the drunken Holofernes during the second part. This Holofernes needed all the help he could get, given the masculine toxicity all around him. But we all know Vivaldi does not portray him in a repulsive manner, so the Juditha/Holofernes scenes are always rather curious. She always seems to have the upper hand, as much as she is literally at his mercy, yet he keeps laying on an irresistible (to us) charm. I don’t know that I can say anything else that I haven’t said before about Iervolino: go see her and you will weep for joy that this wonderful music gets sung by such a voice.

Perhaps to go with the production, Marcon used the “made up” overture this time, which is the first time I’ve seen him do it. You probably know the original overture has been lost – at least partially – so the chorus we are used to is merely the bit that would normally come next. The overture heard here is good enough, in the way Vagaus’ alternative first aria is – but no cigar. Appending it before the chorus feels to me like dampening the powerful effect of the rumbling timpani and piercing (female) chorus.

The fabulous La Cetra Barockorchester Basel… and some rubble

The good news is Marcon and his orchestra are able to make you feel this is thrilling music. All the soloists were marvelous! They played with virtuosity and feeling. The mixed choir – again, I suppose for the purposes of the production, because usually Marcon uses the female-only choir – worked generally very well, with only some minor dragging. When you have the mixed choir you sacrifice that piercing quality for dialogue, which I like as well (I started by prefering Sardelli’s very martial mixed choir and was only won over by the all female version upon hearing Marcon’s take live).

This was my introduction to De Nationale Opera. I want to congratulate the Amsterdam public for being amazing – supremely relaxed yet engaged and well bahaved (no rustling/phone ringing/phone flashing and minimal coughing in the middle of a miserable season). No fussiness about this being a premiere, yet generous with the applause.

The house looks modern inside, along the lines of Opera Bastille. The hall isn’t that large but the stage is – especially deep. The sightlines are excellent and the acoustic very good. It also houses the local City Hall. As you do! Gotta love Dutch Style. We started imaging what if it wasn’t just operahouse/city hall, but also airport3 😉 that would anger the hotel industry, as people would fly in, watch a show and fly out – but isn’t that the Dutchest thing ever? Haha.

Your Juditha needs in one spot

There’s more: the Dutch business sense showed itself at the souvenir counter. Not only did they have Juditha magnets, but also Juditha posters4. Yes, they had opera specific paraphernalia, at decent prices. And a very cute – woman cut option, though no Juditha-option – t-shirt. That’s how it should be done! My only complaint is I didn’t like the poster (ha).

So although I agree with thadieu that Marcon should’ve reined in the orchestra at times (his only fault), and in spite of the minor quibles above, I have gained a very high level of respect for De Nationale Opera. It may not be as famous as others but they do some great stuff here and they are not afraid to feature young talent in top roles – and lesser known operas, for that matter. Lesser known operas that should be MUCH better known. It wasn’t just us, but Agathe’s friends who joined us to the opera also reported liking it a lot.

Even the inclement weather (rain followed by heavier rain) did not dampen the mood. Thadieu saved the day via uber, which showed up in 5min, which meant we didn’t miss the overture (I was particularly worried we would miss the choir, of course).

It’s all Vagaus’ fault

I just realised I said nothing about Vagaus other than he was unpleasant here. Berzhanskaya did a very good job with him. If you remember, he has the flourish arias in this piece – and they are quite a few. You may think he’s merely a sidekick but does he work hard or what?! So there was a bit of disconnect between his general unpleasantness (thanks, direction) and that sweet aria (Umbrae carae – remind yourself how lovely it is) where he puts a blanket over his sleeping buddy Holofernes and cleans up the dinner date leftovers. Just when you thought this one would follow the out of the leftfield evil dudes and rub his hands at the first chance his superior is incapacitated, he gets all soft and lyrical. A bit of bromance there, eh? You know the adage: he may have done evil things, but he was nice to his family.

Anyway, this is a role where coloratura is the first and foremost requirement. If you can get gentle on Umbrae carae = bonus. Berzhanskaya worked as hard as you’d expect in this role and aced her angsty coloratura, though she had to climb over rubble at the same time, occasionally at the expense of projection. I wouldn’t mind hearing her again in other angsty/perky roles of this repertoire that are best served by youthful, slender voices.

… and what with this mesmerising oratorio, I managed to bungle up my local opera going. But I have a feeling in the long run this will be a very small price in comparison to the exceptional memories. Seriously, go if you can. There are still a few performances.


  1. According to the booklet, the Assyrians had not won the fight yet. It was merely the eve of the battle when Juditha wormed her way into their camp. 
  2. Aside from Transit aetas, where she’s very playfully reminding a very drunk Holofernes about the perishability of beauty. 
  3. Although I have some annoying memories from my second time at Schipol in 2012, I love how easy to navigate it is, considering it’s one of the busiest in the world and it’s set over canals and the motorway. I don’t know how, but it takes you about twice as long to get from the plane to Arrivals at Luton. Only then you take a bus to the train station, whereas here you’re on the train within 5min. And the train is 5.50 euros, tax included. 
  4. Which they wrap for you in their own poster-box. They have thought of everything. 

Arquez triumphans in Amsterdam

Thadieu: Arquez is the best Juditha ever!

Everyone else: Confermo!

That is all.

For now.

Trills on demand with Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica (Wigmore Hall, 11 December 2018)

A Vivaldi-heavy performance is only fitting to cap a very exciting concert-going year, that has brought me to Vivaldi’s homebase twice. In furore iustissimae irae is one of those badass motets that can only come from the Red Priest (lest we forget he was an ordained priest; I usually do, his music sounds so wordly most of the time) and it was this that convinced me to attend, even though they livestreamed it. Somehow I have not noticed anyone else bringing it to Wiggy in my time of patronising the venue. I hope more do in the future.

I’ve seen La Nuova Musica in action enough to know what to expect. I have to commend Lucy Crowe for the highest professionalism with which she adapted to the breakneck speeds that are so dear to Bates. Her tone is too sweet (not a criticism) to call what she used “machinegun coloratura” but it’s definitely one of the fastest and most accurate I’ve heard so far. Her top has enough piercing power to break through the volume levels Bates likes to employ.

Gent from Manchester who took 3 trains for this event: she’s more like a mezzo.

Because she sang Gelido in ogni vena, which I’ve only heard contraltos (and countertenors) sing so far? An interesting choice, I agree, proving she has a middle, but something that benefits from a conductor more focused on emotional detail than energy and forward momentum.

She sounded in top form from the getgo, though I still think that, overall, I prefer her in Mozart (I loved her Ismene in Mitridate! She sounded like she was having so much fun, even though the production is somewhat restrictive in allowing you to put your personal touch on the character; then again, I wasn’t so keen on her Susanna and my interest in her was sparked by her Rodelinda… so you see how it goes). I would say from a techincal point of view she absolutely rocked and this was what Bates wanted from her. I suppose had he wanted her to add personality as well, she would’ve.

For its part, La Nuova Musica is perhaps more suited to Handel, as – at least to me – the sound was too heavy for Vivaldi/Italian Baroque, and occasionally the top strings produced a smudgy sound. The harpsichord was, of course, loud.  So heavy-ish, loud and furious, though not ponderous but also not souple and bright.

Lucy Crowe soprano
La Nuova Musica | David Bates director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Overture from Il Farnace RV711
Siam navi all’onde algenti from L’Olimpiade RV725
Gelido in ogni vena from Il Farnace RV711

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso in G minor Op. 6 No. 8 ‘For a Christmas Night’

Nico Muhly (b.1981)
Land in an Isle (Part One: Translation of the Body) (London première)

Antonio Vivaldi
Motet: In furore iustissimae irae RV626

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Gloria HWV deest
Sonata a5 HWV288

Nico Muhly
Land in an Isle (Part Two: Land in an Isle) (London première)

George Frideric Handel
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV46a
Tu del ciel ministro eletto
Un pensiero nemico di pace

Encore:
Lascia la spina from Il trionfo…

The Il trionfo bits were also of much interest to me, as I have never seen it/heard any of them live yet. I admit that when Bates said they’d have another trionfo aria for the encore, this time from Piacere, my heart skipped a bit in hopes of Come nembo. After that coloratura fest, can you blame me? Failing that, at least Un pensiero was as lively as one can hope, though that one could hope for more lightness 😉

Not sure I’d heard any Muhly before. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I had no particular reaction to the piece. The biggest effect was showcasing Crowe’s diction in English vs Italian. It could have been the high speeds, but her Italian was mostly vowels.

I was first introduced to In furore… by Roschmann, of all people. Unless you’re familiar with this wonderful motet, you may not know that Roschamann used to sing this kind of stuff when she was very young (1994). It’s quite the rarity for me but you can feel her distinctive personality already, albeit in a much lighter presentation than we know and love.

Then I went on to listen to Piau’s definitive version and so on. It’s a piece that benefits from a more introverted approach rather than an operatic one, dealing as it is with one’s relationship with sin, divine forgiveness and human rejoicing.

The event was suprisingly well attended, perhaps it’s the time of year when people feel a particular pull towards live culture – and thus people were very happy with the performance. I was somewhat amused to have a May-December couple plop next to me. This is not an unusual occurence at Wiggy, where we have the following types of public: old money mature populace who goes to these things as a matter of fact, music students, other musicians, regular music loving people/fans of the singer/band/conductor and academics and their much younger partners (ex (one hopes)-students). The May part of the couple behaved exactly like the young woman from Carol.

The virtual world of Franco Fagioli (Barbican, 4 June 2018)

Life is funny in many unexpected ways. When I first saw the advert for this show I thought “pfft, Barbican! Just how big does FF think he is?”1 So I didn’t buy a ticket, though, as you can see from the setlist, it contains two of my top favourite Baroque arias plus change.

Ffwd to last month, Baroque Bird asked me are you going to Franco’s show at the Barbican? Turns out she had an orphan ticket. Well… let’s say it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting and thanks to a very understanding colleague, some night shift Tetris was performed with speed.

Franco Fagioli countertenor
Gianpiero Zanocco | Venice Baroque Orchestra

Vivaldi Sinfonia in G major, RV 146
Cessate, o mai cessate, RV 684
Sinfonia in G minor, RV 156
‘Mentre dormi’ from Olimpiade
‘Nel profondo cieco mondo’ from Orlando Furioso
Handel ‘Dopo notte’ from Ariodante
‘Sento brillar ner (sic) sen’ from Il Pastor Fido
Vivaldi Sinfonia in C major from Il Giustino, RV 717
Handel ‘Scherza, infida’ from Ariodante
Geminiani Concerto gross (sic) in D minor ‘La follia’ (after A. Corelli Op 5, No 12)
Handel ‘Se potessero i sospir miei’ from Imeneo

Encore:

‘Crude furie’ from Serse
‘Ombra mai fu’ from Serse

One of the things I discovered since intently listening to Baroque opera is that there are Handel singers and Vivaldi singers. The top Baroque specialists sound good in both but even so you can tell which one is more up their alley. In Fagioli’s case it’s obviously the great Handel, to quote the man himself. The best moments of the night were hands down Dopo notte (one of his signature arias) and Sento brillar nel sen. His Vivaldi wasn’t bad in any way but hearing his coloratura on the cheerful Handels sounded like so many fruit machine jackpots.

A funny-WTF thing happened after Sento brillar, when my seatmate turned to me in top conversational mode and asked do you fancy him? I kid you not, that’s what he asked me, though we’d barely exchanged a couple of words before – and he actually leaned in and expected a giggly yes (he got a are you shitting me? look and he ceased and desisted from trying to get chummy for the rest of the night).

Now, I’m sure constant readers of the blog have gleaned I may be fancying certain singers but let me reassure you Franco isn’t one of them, memorable CT-hug moment notwithstanding. This tells you quite a bit about the Barbican audience, who is looselier jointed than the Wiggy one. Case in point, when, after the interval, FF was doing his let them wait and cheer for me schtick, people actually started calling for him in a manner that lay curiously between cute and weird. I suggested to Leander the orchestra start Dopo notte without him, just to scare him into his senses a bit 😉

Whether I may internally groan at his diva moves (greatly toned down this time around2) and go for a very different look (I guess you’d say) in singers, let alone get constantly frustrated with the politics of casting castrato roles, in between Sento brillar and Dopo notte it dawned on me that I really enjoy him as a musician.

I’ve seen him enough times now that I don’t have to catch his performances if I don’t want to and I think I can certainly be objective in my subjectivity. I spent a good chunk of the night checking out his vibrato – the very one that does thadieu’s head in. I kinda see it’s there 😉 but it still doesn’t bother me. His diction was about as usual, perhaps a bit better (Leander thought a lot better) – or maybe it’s just because we were close (really nice spot, row K). I did understand quite a few words and it seemed they disintegrated only when he was putting the pedal to metal. His choice of ornaments wasn’t particularly exciting, mostly an occasion to remind us of his range. On the other hand, this was one of the areas he toned down on, so perhaps he went to the other extreme.

I also think the Vivaldi contralto arias should stay with contraltos (though I did enjoy him starting with Cessate, omai cessate (because it’s a great one to hear live), the whole came off a bit unfocused and the fun last bit sort of never quite took off the way I’m used to – but then that’s the peril with stated arias). His range was nicely showcased in Nel profondo, complete with his trademark very secure Bartoli baritonal touches, but somehow the effect on me wasn’t the same as when he hit the Handel runs. I think I know every note in Dopo notte and all of them went directly home.

He can certainly hit the whistle register (perhaps we just expect this from countertenors) but he doesn’t sound as unhinged as a contralto does when doing the same; for Orlando a bit of kookoo is desired. I don’t know if I’m right or not, but I think Vivaldi asks for a greater emphasis on contrast and colour than Handel (who, I also suppose, is more about structure and accuracy?). Please let me know what you think on this.

Even so, the things that I like (the joy and the gentleness that come through in his singing in the arias that require such) hit me perfectly. Leander’s friend observed that he didn’t seem to feed off the (very appreaciative) audience and rather stayed in his own world whilst singing. Interestingly, FF himself put it this way during the encores: thank you for enjoying the show with me. Now that might be international English for you, but quite. He enjoyed singing, we enjoyed listening.

This did get me thinking, though. We all perform to someone sometime, even though we’re not on an official stage. Those who know me irl may remember I enjoy telling what I think are “funny stories” – and that is the time when I can relate to feeding off the audience. You will know immediately if those around you are with you or not so more of the same may come out or be momentarily locked away accordingly.

But how does that work with a preexisting setlist? I suppose you offer to people things that either they know you for or are around the same lines. But it’s different, isn’t it, you telling the same story for the fifth time to the same audience3 or you hearing one of your favourites spin Dopo notte one more time, whether he’s in his own world or not.

Singing is a bit different than talking. It inhabits a certain magical space that simple talking never quite does, though it gets closest when it’s your favourite voice doing it. So with magic comes one’s own world. You may be pulled into it and you can stroll around and enjoy the sights, though you may not interact with them in a physical way – sort of like virtual reality. That’s how I always felt with FF – his offerings have a way of worming their way into my heart, yet he always remains remote. But, circling back to that funny-WTF interaction, that’s just fine with me 😉

To give you a different idea of ways in which his singing hits home with me, thanks to the fact I actually understood most of the words in his Scherza, infida, the moment he hit io tradito, a morte in braccio I was reminded how Jones’ Aix production brings into foreground the grossly unfair treatment of Ginevra. Prejudice from one’s own community that leads to tragic or near tragic results is one of the things that affect me most. I recently read about/listened to/watched the PBS documentary on the Todd Willingham case4 so I spent the bulk of the aria in an unsettled state. Say Baroque opera isn’t relevant to today’s world…


  1. It did not completely sell out. 
  2. Simple charcoal suit (and glasses), less to and fro-ing to backstage than usual, only one Latino stomp (after Crude furie) and pretty toned down vocal-showing off. 
  3. Though, to be fair, there are a couple of stories that I told certain audiences more than once on request! I guess it happens, if you hit the right audience with the right kind of story. 
  4. You can watch it too, if you want to be horrified at how your own community – from bottom to the top – can send you to your death based on prejudice, ignorance, cynicism and politcal interest whilst feeling self righteous about it, too. 

Orlando fabuloso (Teatro Malibran, Venice, 19 April 2018)

Remember this post? Let’s see if Canaletto’s account of 18th century Venice stands for truth in April 2018.

That’s a closer picture of what Canaletto has in the background of his: the East side of Piazza San Marco with the Doge’s palace and the tower and the San Marco Cathedral in the back – but crucially, I’m glad I got St Mark’s lion’s bum in the picture 😉 Below we have the very calm waters of the lagoon (a proper puddle!), from the opposite side to Canaletto’s, because we didn’t have the time to boat around it like he did:

Looks just a bit less festive than the Marriage of the Sea, though if you peek closely you see there are plenty of boats going to and fro. Cielo e mar are pretty much a spitting image of their 18th century selves.

Sorge l’irato nembo
e la fatal tempesta
col sussurrar dell’onde,
ed agita e confonde,
e cielo e mar.

Ma fugge in un baleno
l’orrida nube infesta
e il placido sereno
in cielo appar.

Pretty much! Coming from London where you get 5 types of weather in one day, I basked in the eveness of Venice. Every day sunny, breezy and roughly the same temperature. Serenissima and all that. Today’s weather in my neighbourhood: Max 7C, min 4C. Raining steadily. Winds strong enough for the cornices to howl. Tomorrow is Mayday.

I mentioned earlier that Venice is all about history. The fact that it’s not built to include cars and other such vehicles beyond Piazzale Roma (where the buses etc. drop you if you’re arriving from inland), goes a very long way to removing that sense of living today that you don’t even realise until car engines are turned off (comercialism is alive and kicking – perhaps a trading city like Venice was always meant to incorporate – even welcome – that). I felt like stepping into the past – and though I sometimes enjoy fantasising about medieval times etc., I’m not exactly a la-la-la, I’m a princess! type 😉 but in Venice it felt almost wrong to place yourself in 2018. Funny enough, Prina hints to that in her Orlando interview with Mezzo TV.

a quiet backyard. People do live in Venice.

Another thing about Venice that I don’t think I felt so strongly anywhere else (yet?) is how happy everybody is to be here (Agathe pointed this out when we encountered a group of middle aged women whose collective jaw dropped – loudly! and amusingly – upon coming face to face with a carnival item shop). It’s absolutely mobbed with tourists but the general attitude is of wow! and so cool! as well as how cool am I for being here? though, of course, I’ve seen some bemused faces (or perhaps they were tired of seeing so much in one go?).

But as a lover of Vivaldi’s work there’s an extra something about making your way through the narrow streets which sometimes don’t accomodate two people at once and most certainly are winding confusingly in the beginning. He lived here and wrote here (and Orlando premiered here – I swear we accidentally stopped there on our way to finding a bridge to cross back from the San Marco side; whilst we’re on Vivaldi spots, Ospedale della pieta used to be here and yes, we (unknowingly) did pass by it because hello, Tourist Central – told you, it’s the kind of place where you accidentally step into another piece of history).

Back to Teatro Malibran, which is La Fenice’s studio theatre (aka, where the cool stuff happens). The back (the Artists’ Entrance) is apparently located in what used to be Marco Polo’s house. How cool is that?! Or maybe it’s the next building over or across the tiny canal. Even so, how cool!

Teatro Malibran’s artists’ entrance. That’s where Mezzo TV filmed the Orlando interviews 🙂

Look at the below picture and learn as we did: the loggia is nice and airy and gets all the music. The more expensive balcony space below and back of the stalls are all covered. The further back you are, the more you get 1) sound muffle, 2) no view of the surtitles and of the top of the stage (when Orlando climbed the moon, everyone around us was ducking left and right to see what he was doing up there). But the seats are almost twice the price! On the upside, you get a rather eye level view of the stage. Hm. Choose wisely. And, yes, that metal bar holding up the lights all around the venue was as annoying irl as is in this picture.

So just how fabulous was Orlando? By now you’ve probably seen the livestreaming footage, as it’s up online, I’ve jogged your memory with a few pictures of the environment, which I know aren’t everything, because you really have to feel the gentle air in Venice, but, still, the sights can go a long way – I doubt it could’ve been anything but fabulous even before it started.

From up on our perch (second row in the loggia) we had that badass loud sound and we could see much better than on Saturday. The railing occasionally interfered but not to a great extent. The stage was small enough to feel super cosy and the very 18th century informed special effects (the ripples of the sheet-sea, the papier mache hippogriff, the very obviously not real “ruins”) are tongue-in-cheek but also charming and more effective than one would immediately think.

like every theatre in Venice, Teatro Malibran has its own hotel, restaurant and courtyard!

The house is very unpretentious, what you see in that indoors picture is most of the decoration. The staircases are narrow (of course) but bright and simple and the ushers a bit stiff but mostly very friendly. One of them remembered us on the second night! T thought we “looked very specific” and I agree we were more dressed down than most but the rest of the audience (lots of locals) weren’t particularly sporting crown jewels. They were friendly and chatty (even occasionally during singing) and did not boo anyone, on the contrary, were free with their applause (I believe only a couple of arias did not get a response).

It is a bit weird to have the opera called after Orlando but see all this other action taking most of the space, with Orlando himself only having two (very badass) arias and some havoc wreaking at the end. Though, to be fair, that havoc and its respective recits were way worth it. And, again, sort of unusual, because it’s almost regular theatre with these bits and pieces of music to highlight the most important emotions Orlando is experiencing. Prina mentioned Fasolis stripped it even further so you do start to get into the “play” – or I did, at least. It had a stronger emotional impact than usual, because sometimes music can lift a bit of the tension – you get into the pretty sounds, you admire the musical skills…

I really like Orlando the character. He’s in a unique position, of someone who’s physically stronger/more skilled than everyone around him, and everyone fears him and gives him a wide bearth, which impinges on the possibility of developing any sort of real relationships. For her part, I think Angelica does not fear him (for herself) as much as is fed up and wants him gone, because she knows he can crush Medoro, who’s not macho at all.

Though in this production it is brought into question just how much she wants him gone… We have some very explicitly non repellant interaction between her and Orlando in that balloon aria where she bewitches him. There are ways to get rid of someone via wiles that don’t have to involve so much participation from the supposedly unwilling partner.

Then again, this is an opera where women are very 3D, as opposed to men (except for Orlando). And, true, if you can’t match someone for strength you should try to outwit them. We see the damage Orlando causes once he realises he’s been had.

What I also find interesting is Angelica and Medoro’s position at the end, once Alcina is defeated. Up to that point they were quite obviously on her side, what with Alcina concocting the plan to get them happily hitched and away from Orlando and providing the very sophisticated nuptial entertainment. But in the end Angelica’s like “oh, btw, what Alcina did to Orlando is totally uncool (it’s pure coincidence that it worked for us). And let’s not start on the poor hippogriff! Not cool! Prosecco, anyone?” Medoro: “What she said! I love my cutie-coo gf! Teehee!”

Oh, yea, the 19th was apparently Fasolis’ 60th birthday, so the orchestra and the choir did a very nice Baroque improv on Happy Birthday and everyone clapped and congratulated him on a job well done reaching 60 in the pit 😉

We ended up not getting lost and made our way back via the same winding but well signed streets at dusk and then took the commuter bus back into Mestre. You really don’t need the vaporetto, unless you specifically want to (go to the islands). Basically you’re fine with the 3Euro/day roundtrip from Mestre and back. And unless you must dine on the shores of Canal Grande, prices are reasonable even within Venice.

Sonia Prina (Wigmore Hall, 11 January 2018)

Sonia Prina contralto
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in F major

Giovanni Ferrandini (1710-1791)
Cantata: Il pianto di Maria

Interval

This was a very well attended concert but in contrast to the JDD estravaganza, the mood was mostly relaxed. There was a certain buzz in the air, as if people had just started to catch on to Prina. Without a doubt her recent excursions in London have raised her status among Wiggy regulars.

A bit strangely, then, Prina showed up in a dress. I was caught unawares – she can dress however she wants but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen her dressed so formally. But, you may say, how appropriate is it to sing Mary’s lament other than formally dressed?

Perhaps to fit that mood and the fact that the show was broadcast live on BBC3, the Akademie sounded on the formal side of excellent. No doubt about their technical prowess and Baroque-ness.

Ferrandini’s Pianto di Maria seems popular among mezzos and contraltos but not so much with me. Prina decided on a very operatic take, with the dramatic turns energetically emphasised and the recit parts done with lots of fervour. I felt a bit of sameness of sound on the low end in spite of it all, so I think I prefer a higher or brighter tone if I have to listen to this piece at all.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Cantata: Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54

Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)
Concerto Grosso in E flat ‘Il Pianto d’Arianna’ Op. 7 No. 6

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629

Encores:

But who may abide (Messiah)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrores RV629

After the interval we had the rather unusual chance to hear Prina sing in German. At least to my ears she did a very good job and I finally perked up.

Unsurprisingly my favourite moment of the night was Vivaldi’s Longe mala…, where I think Prina sounded most comfortable. Perhaps that was the reason why she also capped the night with it, much to my delight. The Akademie let their hair down a bit and matched her to perfection in the endless runs, which she of course took with much gusto. During the intermission I overheard a wry attendee do an uncanny and amusing impression of Prina’s very personal way with coloratura, so the above-mentioned runs brought a smile to my face in spite of the rough patch I went through the week before.

She returned to much applause with a “belated Christmas gift”, which turned out ot be But who may abide. It once again gave her the opportunity to shake the stage up during the energetic b-section. So a more sober encounter than usual but a Prina show is always warm and full of life and the public feels it and responds accordingly.

Vivaldi’s L’incoronazione di Dario (Torino) out on DVD/BluRay

Flora: The beauty of love, two hearts becoming one! Statira: Literally? (gif by gifmaster thadieu)

I have to praise Teatro Regio/Dynamic once more for the speed with which they released this DVD, recorded in April 2017. It definitely does the job of presenting the stage environment and the sound appears very good. A bunch of us have watched it the other day and nobody seemed to have any complaints on sound quality. This is the kind of opera where piano singing is integral to its success and here it does come through.

You might have reservations regarding the staging (oil pipes everywhere to represent the Middle East) but it’s far from annoying. Anyway, most of the action is carried by the dramatic capabilities of the singers, all of which have superior comedy chops. I’ve talked about it before (twice), as has thadieu and Giulia, so there’s really not much more to add, beside the fact that I liked some of the singers (especially Cirillo) better here than in the house and that, even after seeing it twice already, it’s still (very) funny.

I encourage you to get the DVD/BluRay or have someone gift it to you for the holidays 😉 A few years back Dantone recorded it on CD with most of the same cast but it’s just not the same. Here’s your chance to laugh at the dialogue as well as hum along to the endlessly catchy tunes.

thanks again to thadieu 😀

The contralto counter-offensive

Since last year’s Juditha at the Barbican my appreciation for Andrea Marcon’s way with Vivaldi has escalated dramatically. I was casually going through a bunch of renditions of that badass1 Sorge l’irato nembo when I came across this one:

I really like the interesting way the B section is done here. It’s so smooth.

I wanted to write more on the subject (I love this aria – and all the other Orlando ones), post a couple more renditions but I am deflated from too much irl fuss this month so this is it. It’s a good moment to have Basso in the spotlight, since I don’t think I’ve done so yet. More power to the contraltos and their ferocious set of chompers!


  1. Isn’t Orlando the fount of the greatest Vivaldi arias?!