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Semiramide, Penelope and Salome in the not so distant future

I guess everybody knows by now that JDD had to pull out of the European dates of the Ariodante tour. But there will be plenty of JDD in London later this year, as Semiramide is finally taking place this November at ROH and she has two dates and a Masterclass scheduled at Wiggy at the end of that production.

ROH returns to the Roundhouse for Il ritorno d’Ulisse (Christine Rice as Penelope) next January, which gives yours truly hope that in a year or two we’ll see a Poppea at the Roundhouse as well 😉 you never know. The news about this Ulisse has somehow bypassed me thus far so it was very welcome today.

January is for once busy, as Salome is about as well. Can’t say I’m the biggest Byström fan, but Michaela Schuster is Herodias. Now that I’m older and wiser I’d really like to see her again in Die Frau ohne Schatten. But I suppose she can do ornery as well 😉

Oreste, Juditha triumphans and Ariodante in the months to come

Here are some reasons why Handel’s pasticcio of own arias, Oreste, is a good idea for ROH’s Young Artists Autumn Show.

One. A who’s who of core Handel collaborators sang it:

Oreste mezzo-soprano castrato Giovanni Carestini
Ifigenia, priestess of Diana soprano Cecilia Young
Ermione, Oreste’s wife soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pò
Pilade, faithful friend and companion of Oreste tenor John Beard
Filotete, captain of King Toante’s guard contralto Maria Caterina Negri

Two. Some rocking music:

Pensieri, voi mi tormentate (Agrippina)
Agitato da fiere tempeste (Ricardo primo) Fagioli | Stutzmann
Dite pace e fulminate (Sosarme)
Empio, se mi dai vita (Radamisto, though there it’s called Vile, se mi dai vita)
Se’l caro figlio (Siroe)
Dopo l’orrore (Ottone)
Ah, mia cara (Floridante) the best Handel duet – ever? alone worth the price of admission
Tu di pieta mi spogli (Siroe)
Mi lagnerò, tacendo (Siroe)

Barbican. Though it remains a staunch purveyor of Baroque music, the Barbican has gone mad on prices and terrible on spelling (have a drink for each one you spot in the screen cap below), but still:


For this 16 May 2017 performance of Ariodante I got a Balcony £30 ticket and I advise interested parties to avoid the overhang at the back of the stalls. Now let’s hope nobody changes their mind until then.

But before May 2017 we have Vivaldi’s mezzo/contralto heaven Juditha triumphans on 2 November 2016. And you will soon see why I made the effort:

Vivaldi Juditha Triumphans

Magdalena Kožená Juditha
Delphine Galou Holofernes ❤ 😀
Ann Hallenberg Vagaus ❤
Romina Basso Ozias
Silke Gaeng Abra
Andrea Marcon director | Venice Baroque Orchestra

Not to say that the music alone isn’t worth your money wise choice of seat but DG in the flesh! I hope the sound carries well to where I got a seat on the left side of the Circle. And the others are very fine also (AH! as they say Ah, AH! 4 times in a year?! Spoiled, I tells ya), less so Ms Juditha but at least she has a pleasant voice.

Here‘s Sardelli’s take on it (of whose angular style I’m very fond), with DG and AH, and here is Marcon’s Venice Baroque Orchestra, which is closer to what we’re in for (for my ears the choir is a bit too soprano-flighty).

PS: Sorry for misspelling triumphans more often than not…

Ariodante, deeper into the swamp (London Handel Fest, 14 March 2016)

Over the past few days I have come to a better understanding – and appreciation – of Handel’s own Scottish play. Since thadieu was in town for a few days only and tried to pack in as much as she could I thought I’d join her for another look at Ariodante, now with alternate cast, save for the King of Scotland and Odoardo.


Ariodante collage at Britten Hall (photo by thadieu)

Ariodante: Kamilla Dunstan
Ginevra: Gemma Lois Summerfield
Dalinda: Marie Lys
Polinesso: Thomas Scott-Cowell
Lurcanio: Thomas Erlank
King of Scotland: Simphiwe Simon Shibambu
Odoardo: Joel Williams
Conductor: Laurence Cummings

The biggest curiosity of the night was the slowest Con l’ali di costanza either of us has ever heard. We initially thought perhaps last night’s Ariodante had to take it easy with the coloratura, but the confident Dopo notte showed that wasn’t the case. So I’m at a loss as to the possible reasons behind this decision. After a murky initial coloratura, Dunstan recovered considerably and continuously improved through the night, culminating with a rousing Dopo notte, sung with panache and expressivity (and cheerful splashes in the pool). Thadieu also thought Scherza, infida was done proper justice and she loves that aria more than I do. I felt a tad more emotion1 could’ve been wrung out but otherwise was pleased with its coherence. Dunstan has an interesting darkish voice that gets a bit covered in duets but which she uses with intelligence in solo arias. For instance her redition of Cieca notte had enough gravitas to also leave a positive impression.

After seeing it twice with different singers it appears that the director specifically wanted this production’s Polinesso to come off as a homicidal creep. To that end I was surprised more (as in evil or disgusting) wasn’t done with the dolls Dalinda is playing with when Polinesso approaches her. In the first aria Scott-Cowell captured the deceptive mood rather well but then had constant trouble with the coloratura in Se l’inganno (I figure it lies rather low? Quite a few contraltos have sung it, with very good results). Later Dover, giustizia, amor was more solid. Sadly, this production’s Polinesso was a missed opportunity.

Perhpas to balance this, Lurcanio is more manly than usual. He manhandles Dalinda rather roughly at the beginning of the show, which makes it feel like all men are tough lumberjacks at the King of Scotland’s court. Save for Ariodante, of course, who’s fey – and thus inexplicably chosen to rule. Whilst on the subject of manliness of men – this time around it felt like the duel scene was highly enjoyed – perhaps the high point of the evening – by the protagonists. Also points to Scott-Cowell for properly slumping in the swamp.

After the first act I both thadieu and I agreed that Summerfield’s Ginevra was outstanding. She had a bigger voice than the others but with a compact body to it and sang with much expressivity. Ginevra’s laments were still a bit slow going but her (congenial) stage presence helped a lot. I also noticed very good dramatic interaction between her and Dalinda and her and Ariodante. Generally speaking I thought acting was better this time around and I do think she was the driving force behind it.

The orchestra sounded more energetic – and rhytmically driven – than on Saturday and the general mood was jollier. I was quite pleased with the oboes (and their hot pink chairs). Sadly having moved early on to the now favourite right side balcony, the theorbo ornaments during Scherza, infida were lost. But from this perch with excellent view of the orchestra I enjoyed watcheing Cummings guide his singers through the fiendish coloratura.

Not having to focus on everything at the same time and move around for every act I could think a bit about the swamp. At the beginning the swamp is completely obscured by a floating pontoon, which starts to break by the beginning of act II. So I suppose this means the kingdom is shaken to its very foundations. I also imagine that the invading (dark) water represents the deceptive feelings that interfere in the order of things.

The moral of this story is to go more than once (if the circumstances allow), you might get a few surprises.

  1. I habitually am in tears by the end of (sometimes halfway through) those renditions I’m most moved by. 

Ariodante in the swamp (London Handel Fest, 12 March 2016)

After a very intense couple of weeks with minimalist opera yours truly has returned to familiar shores, ie Handel – this time with fellow Handel-head thadieu. The evening ended up being quite a bit of romp, with the two of us sampling the central Upper Gallery and both sides of the horseshoe (one for each act) at Britten Theatre (RCM).


curtain call with swamp and orchestra (photo by thadieu)

Ariodante: Katie Coventry
Ginevra: Sofia Larsson
Dalinda: Galina Averina
Polinesso: Elspeth Marrow
Lurcanio: Peter Aisher
King of Scotland: Simphiwe Simon Shibambu
Odoardo: Joel Williams
Conductor: Laurence Cummings | London Handel Orchestra
Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music
Director: James Bonas

Neither of us had seen Ariodante in the hall before. Whereas thadieu is a big fan, to yours truly Ariodante is “the other Handel opera from 1735”. But as usual, seeing something in the haus makes quite a bit of difference. Until now I remembered it as rather emotionally despondent and a bit dragging in act II, needing a very strong cast to hold my interest. Aside from the well known arias, of course, of which there are quite a few. But like Rossini used to say about Wagner, there are those dragging half hours in between the good 15min bits 😉 – here mostly known as Ginevra’s laments. Ok, it’s not quite as bad as that. In fact I think I only flagged during the last Ginevra lament, which did seem to go on a bit long.

The basic plot is that Ariodante is one of those Ariosto knights who has found himself at the court ot the King of Scotland, where he has fallen in love with the king’s daughter, Ginevra, who returns his affection. The king values him very highly and is happy to leave his throne to him as well as give him the daughter in marriage. But not everybody is so happy about it. Polinesso, the Duke of Albany, has his own designs with Ginevra, who hates him (with good reason, he’s a creep). He’s not deterred and cunningly deceives Ariodante into thinking that Ginevra is a chater and does not really love him. Ariodante is crushed and goes off to off himself (just like that). Ginevra is banished because of lost reputation and has a mini mad scene. Eventually everything is put right, Ariodante returns not the worse for wear and we get a very happy – impressively rendered here – chorus in the end.

Quite a bit is usually made in Ariodante productions of the Scottish location. In this case we get rustic wood, furs and knitted sweaters. Also the stage – a rectangular basin – progressively fills with water, which is neat visually but perhaps a bit of a hazard for singers? (who are wisely fitted with sturdy workboots). I also wonder if the orchestra got one or two splashes. The production made me think of the Theater-and-der-Wien ethos, which I am all for. Good use was made of the entire auditorium (very small), with Ariodante and Polinesso once entering from the stalls and the trumpets being perched on the far right balcony (right next to us in act III – bonus!).

We initially had seats in the front row of the Upper Gallery, which would’ve suited us just fine, had we (meaning I) not blocked the view of the people behind us. The problem is you either lean (perfect view of the stage and orchestra) or completely slump in your seat (no view of orchestra, limited view of the stage). A very nice lady who chatted with us before the start had warned us about this issue. Because of that I spent the first act feeling terrible for whoever was behind me but also not wanting to not see. So eating your cake and having it too can be less fun than you might think.Only at the intermission the lady behind me very politely told me I had completely blocked her view (let’s have three cheers for British politness).


the cosy Britten Hall from far left horseshoe. Fave seats top centre (photo by thadieu)

Thadieu spotted two empty seats on the far left end of the horseshoe, so we relocated. This gave us an awesome aerial view of the orchestra and very good view of the stage, minus that corner. Also we could hear everything very well, including singers’ softer moments. However either the seats were too high or the floor too low, our feet were dangling, which presented a different discomfort. We did make it through the slow burning act II pretty well all in all (thadieu had a good nap 😉 ).

Act II had two high points for me, Scherza, infida and the moment when Ginevra very precariously climbed on a table top filled with water to sing her lament. Please, directors, think of your singers (and of us, audience members who might be making a leaving out of gauging risk).

Scherza, infida is one of those arias so famous within the Baroque context that probably each of us has a favourite at the back of their mind. When you hear very experienced singers do this you never think how hard it actually is. Here I was reminded it’s very long and you need to sustain the dreadful mood. Ariodante is at his lowest point, ready to commit suicide. For like 7min. Somewhat similar to Mi lusinga il dolce affetto from later that year, I am looking to hear some haunting woo-woos, which, to me, make up the climax of misery in this aria. There is no doubt Katie Coventry has a very agile voice but I thought those woo-woos needed more heartbreak. Not in the sense of verismo vocal crying, but in the colour inflected. Here they were a bit glossed over. Another thing that one probably gains with experience is a very clear idea of the mood of an aria. You need to carry that through, it doesn’t have to be too complicated – this aria is not, just woe is me and the slightly angry bit in the middle – but it has to be a consistent and recognisable mood. I felt Conventry’s rendition lost a bit of emotional coherence by the da capo. Before I move on I should add that the theorbo ornaments were very fine in this and the bassoon pleasant as usual.

For act III we relocated yet again, this time to the far right end of the Balcony. Here we had a superb view of the orchestra and a very good view of the stage. Voices and orchestra carried very well, highly recommended location. Also the trumpets this close (5m away) were lovely, though they inevitably slightly covered the chorus in the finale.

Handel fans know that Ariodante sings my favourite Ariodante aria and one of my top faves in general at the end of act III, namely Dopo notte. I am very happy to report that here Coventry sounded exquisite by all standards and coped impressively with the rather fast tempo in the endless coloratura. This one is easier to sustain that Scherza, infida, what with the unabashedly cheerful mood, which seems to suit Coventry’s disposition. For the da capo she indulged in some enthusiastic splashing, which made me chuckle. I also think her youthful face fits Ariodante as a character, who has always struck me as very young and naive.

Act III also boasts Lurcanio’s duel with Polinesso in regards to Ginevra’s fate (Polinesso is – perversely – her defender). The fight scene happened in the water – splashes and all – and it looked better than most fight scenes. I didn’t envy Marrow (Polinesso) for having to slump in the water any more than I did Larsson (Ginevra) for dropping to her knees and crawling in the same water. Troopers, I tells ya. The orchestra did a very energetic job illustrating the fight.

Which brings us to Polinesso. Marrow has very good chest notes, so good in fact I can still remember them. However thadieu and I agreed more work needs to be done with vocally portraying Polinesso’s evilness. The awesome Dover, giustizia, amor and Se l’inganno came off lukewarm emotionally. The best Polinessos out there have fun with it all, you can hear them rub their hands in glee. I know it’s not easy and, no I couldn’t sing them (though I so wish I could!) but, come on, live a little! A missed note here and there won’t put anyone off a vivid portrayal that will stay with your for a long time.

As far as emotionally charged performances my (and thadieu’s) favourite of the night was hands down Galina Averina’s Dalinda. You don’t go to Ariodante for Dalinda, Ginevra’s cruelly deceived servant, but she simply ruled. She was on from the word go and culminated with a show stealing Neghittosi or voi che fate? I have absolutely no complaints about her performance: lovely tone, awesome interaction with the orchestra, excellent technique, great agility, very expressive phrasing and good acting. I wish her all the best in her career and hope to see her again soon.

Simphiwe Simon Shibambu as the King of Scotland was also impressive both vocally and dramatically (very imposing and fatherly at the same time). Awesome true bass voice, the likes of which you don’t hear every day, with very good coloratura chops.

All in all a very enjoyable evening of young Handel voices and solid orchestra, good job London Handel Festival once again. (Hope to add some pictures later.)

ROH Spring Season and London Handel Fest General Sale

Yours truly’s purse has taken a heavy hit today as these two fine opera purveyors have decided to start their General Sale on the same day. Luckily Wigmore Hall’s is on 5 February (whew). Here’s what I got:


Boris Godunov
Lucia di Lamermoor

London Handel Fest

Ariodante – my demands are few: Dopo notte and a good Polinesso. Let’s hope so!
Maria Ostroukhova recital – anyone who includes La bocca vaga in their recital has my attention.
Berenice“She (Berenice) has her sights on the Macedonian prince Demetrio. But he loves Berenice’s sister Selene,” – my hope is we’ll get a nice mezzo-countertenor duet out of this. In any case, looking forward to Michal Czerniawski.
Elpidia (pasticcio) – Opera Settecento returns with some of our local faves

Alexander Balus was so overpriced I had to let it go. The prices seemed high in general, but the festival offers discounts for booking 3+ events.

“The cause of sin” Ariodante (Aix, 2014)

Ariodante premiered 280 years ago this week. I thought I’d get my act together and finally watch the Aix production, which I predictably left to the last minute (it’s on Culturebox until tomorrow, 12 January; luckily, I just noticed it’s also in other, more accessible places).

Ariodante: Sarah Connolly
Ginevra: Patricia Petibon
Dalinda: Sandrine Piau
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
Il Re di Scozia: Luca Tittoto
Odoardo: Christopher Diffey
Conductor: Andrea Marcon | Freiburger Barockorchester and English Voices
Director: Richard Jones


Ariodante is somewhat curious to me. There’s a lot of sorrow and lamentation from the duped (most everybody) occasionally broken by Polinesso’s gleeful hand-rubbing. This is the main reason why I let the months go by without watching it, even though I liked the highland religious community concept from the get-go. Nonetheless, the music is elegant-Handel.

The four main ladies are always well worth your time, especially in a Baroque setting. Everyone’s singing is excellent and all are doing a great job with their respective character but the most memorable is by far Petibon’s hard done by heroine turned liberated woman. Not to say that Prina’s eeeeeeeevil’n’viiiiiiiiicious biker-priest Polinesso won’t live long in your memory. Or Connolly’s sensitive to the bone Ariodante, or Piau’s troubled Dalinda… you catch my drift. But I think Petibon’s embodiment of Ginevra is one of the most intelligent, coherent and engrossing characterisations I’ve seen so far in opera. The stuff of legend. If I had to live with one Ariodante this would be it. I’m not sure how it could be bettered.

As usual, gentle, rather simple-minded (here country bumpkin) Ariodante isn’t worth his arch enemy’s scheming skills. You feel like all Polinesso has to do is snap his fingers under Ariodante’s nose and this one would burst into tears. He’s an unusually peace-loving hero (he refuses to defend his lady’s honour via weapons; he takes it all on faith – for better or worse – which, granted, makes this here concept only logical). To her credit, Sarah Connolly renders him as sympathetic as he can get. He’s the best man his very traditional community can produce but he can’t see beyond those limitations. In the end he’s left dreaming about a future that can’t be.

Petibon does a remarkable thing with Ginevra. Given a fairly tedious character to work with, she manages the unlikely feat of infusing the unlucky princess with glamour of a very ethereal kind and a surprising amount of inner strength. I swear to god I’ve never cared about Ginevra until now. There are so many 5min+ angsty arias to go through yet she somehow keeps you interested. When she’s offered no other option by her people but to take to pole dancing, this Ginevra has other ideas. After a sweet reunion love duet with Ariodante, she simply leavs the compound. Where will she go we don’t know but we do know she is a changed woman.

Prina’s Polinesso is way satisfying in his pure evil but it’s a rather unidimensional portrayal of a very bad boy narcissist. He wants Ginevra and because she won’t give him the time of day he schemes to have her in his own terms. His plan is almost perfect, except he’s not quite as handy with a knife as country bumpkin Lurcanio (Ariodante’s brother). Prina does dirty-with-a-good-dollop-of-evil like few can yet think I liked Mary Ellen Nesi’s wickedly sarcastic acting during Hallenberg’s Tu, preparati a morire a teensy bit better. Nonetheless, Prina’s Se l’inganno is appropriately ugly. She goes to town with the baa-ing in de-e-e-e-e-e-etesto virtu.

Sandrine Piau takes on the thankless role of Dalinda and it’s heart-wrenching to see. No less is her wonderful Baroque voice, which doesn’t seem to have lost its shine since her memorable Atalanta 14 years ago.

After the ladies I really enjoyed Portillo’s Lurcanio. Very nice tone, excellent in his arias. He’d make a great Oronte (and not for nothing, John Beard created both roles in 1735). Luca Trittoto also coped well as the benevolent but stuck in his ways patriarch. His noble voice helps Il re’s very long and rather boring aria of sorrow. Nothing to complain about regarding the orchestra and the conducting, both nicely supporting and even rather stern and unforgiving to go with the concept.

What we need now is the DVD.


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. 

Scherza, infida…

This is the rendition that opened my ears to the stark greatness of this aria. Although it’s much praised and although I liked Ariodante’s other arias a lot, somehow I never got it before. It’s proof of Coote’s great skill at expressing emotional abyss. Ariodante is an elusive, tricky character and not many get him right. He comes off as a lot more introverted and emotionally vulnerable than other opera seria knights.