Ariodante: Alice Coote
Ginevra: Christiane Karg
Dalinda: Mary Bevan
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
King of Scotland: Matthew Brook
Odoardo: Bradley Smith
Conductor: Harry Bicket | The English Concert
This time I will spare you my usual bitching about the Barbican, because there are some good things I have to report. I found out there is at least another set of toilets (this one for the balcony crowd), though, naturally, one was out of order. If you exit quickly they are very handy. At some point I realised there were 6 of us wearing glasses in the queue, one after the other. To better see your wicked moves, Polinesso 😉
The venue has announcers who tell you which show will begin when, because there are concurent events in different halls. It’s like a very posh airport lounge so the feeling of we’re all here for the same reason is nonexistent. Weirdly enough – or because I took the detective-like approach of canvassing the main lounge area – I actually found Giulia and her lively bunch of Twitter friends, which was a very nice touch before the show. Let’s hope the Baroque thing at Teatro Regio Torino continues so we can meet again 🙂
Up and down the stairs and nooks and crannies, bars and lounges, you see people and (I) try to guage what event they are here for. It’s hard to tell, especially as the crowd is so mixed even in the main hall (where the opera was held). On my right I had a lady perhaps in her early 60s (who dozed off in Act I but braved Act II and III), on my left a woman in her 30s; in front of us there were two young (straight-looking) couples (mid to late 20s), further to the left two very Baroque-knowledgeable ladies in their 60s, on the other side a gent over 50 who spent the majority of the show hunched forward, watching intently as if he were going to write a report later – and so on. Though the show was not sold out, it felt like the troops around me multiplied rather than depleted as the evening went on.
There was definitely a lot of interest but somewhat glib – lots of laughter in all the appropriate places and then some. Maybe I am overly invested and felt people were taking it all lighter than I did. But then there were the knowledgeable ladies who seemed to have a whale of a time, there was the hunched forward gent and somewhere in the stalls was Giulia and friends. I can’t vouch for the very quiet and polite lady in her 30s (at least I think so, Asian people are hard for me to guage age-wise) next to me, who was very quiet and polite but applauded a lot. The young couples stayed gamely but I sensed a certain detachment – maybe it’s just my reaction to the sudden existence of people younger than me at classical music shows 😉 (the cheek! down with that kind of thing).
Another plus I noticed this time: it appears that if you sit central and avoid the balcony overhang, the acoustics aren’t bad at all, lots of (if not all) pianissime made their way up to the last row of the Balcony. There was an interesting feeling as the sound bounced off the nearby ceiling; it was filtered but not unpleasant and surprisingly clear.
Karg’s was the slenderest voice and there were still no problems (which shows her projection is ace). You could tell Bicket was very mindful of the singers, especially in Con l’ali di costanza, where the tempo was “casual jog” and the orchestra toned nicely down, a lesson to all interested parties. We could hear everything yet it was light as a feather.
Thadieu will laugh, but I’m still hung up on the harpsichord is a teamplayer1 thing so I continue to admire Bicket’s approach. It was always there to drive things (I could observe his lightness and rhythmic precision better at TADW, where I had a perpendicular view to match the sound) but never overpowered. You have Giulia‘s word of how the low strings were muscular without unnecessary over-shredding – in the words of Statira, I concur. Another shoutout goes to the wonderfully wistful bassoon work in Scherza, infida. When the bassoon started its mournful call and Coote turned towards it with a lost look on Ariodante’s face, I immediately teared up. In fact, I almost did as I wrote this. It was just a gently sad whisper, mad props to the bassoonist ❤
The big venue seemed to have cut down on the possibility of constant interaction between those on stage, unless they were right next to each other, singing to or talking to each other. I felt like they sang their arias alone on stage more often than before – I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but an illusion given that the stage is very large and bare, even with the orchestra there as well. I didn’t notice any particular winking/eye rolling from Polinesso and Dalinda during Ginevra and Ariodante’s lovey dovey moments – a bit disappointing.
However, Ariodante’s accusatory remarks towards Dalinda during Cieca notte were still in place (even from quite a distance, as Dalinda was sat on “her” chair by the wall), as was Dalinda’s engulfing shame. All direct interaction between Dalinda and Polinesso was there in technicolour (“praise the lord”). As others have noticed, Prina once again adjusted her manhandling to the type of dress Bevan was wearing. This time, as you know by now, Bevan had on a dress that hinted at just how ready Dalinda was for Polinesso’s attention. Prina made a show of Polinesso’s boredom with Dalinda’s professions of love, which, combined with Bevan’s credible ardour gave their scenes a very natural feel.
It was obvious Karg and Coote had developed a neat chemistry as the tour went on. Each had polished their characterisation so they meshed into a mutually appreciative and tender couple. By the end of the opera it looked like they might be more realistically positioned to build a future together. I know that doesn’t gel with the libretto per se, but that’s the beauty of concert performances 😉 Once again, their duets were some of the highlights of the evening, with their very nicely balanced voices – Karg light and precise and Coote full and ardent (so ardent, in Bramo aver mille vite she started a touch too loud; Bicket restored balance by the second line).
Coote, on home turf in London, put the pedal to the metal in general. After a brave tackling of Con l’ali di costanza she relaxed into things more up her alley (ie, soulful), that benefited from the many colours in her voice and its warm, affecting fulness (she’s a mezzo-mezzo, who reminds you why you like that voice type in the first place). Even so, the biggest applause of the night (in general) turned out to be for Dopo notte where she let it rip with what I would call furious joy.
I would say Prina’s performance was a bit toned down, though I’m sure mellow wouldn’t be how most of the audience saw it. Polinesso’s every intervention was as complex as we’ve seen before, both vocally and dramatically. The contrasts in Spero per voi were brilliantly delivered and her timing impeccable (then again, I’ve always admired her uncanny sense of rhythm). It’s interesting, every time I check back to the Aix recording I think she’s singing it better this time around. Then again, recording vs live rendition where one is there (so many factors converge to make something an experience rather then mere entertainment; I think it matters that Marcon is going for a darker mood than Bicket is, to match the very dark concept of the production; this Polinesso is more gleeful whereas that one is very dangerous).
This time around, after Polinesso gets stabbed and is being carried away, I thought she was going to sit down in one of the chairs, as they stopped for a moment at the top of the stairs that led down to the side of the stage. At the same time, Ariodante sprung up from this hatch at the beck of the stage. That was a very good use of the stage. Sometimes you get this at the Barbican (one that comes to mind is L’Orfeo a few seasons back, which incorporated the openings at the back of the stage into the action).
David Portillo trumpeted all the way to the back of the auditorium; like I said in the comments previously, no complaints there, as one could hardly imagine a better suited voice as a 21st century John Beard. He also has the right approach as Ariodante’s loyal and justice-driven brother Lurcanio. Alas, he will always be second best for Dalinda, as Bevan portrayed her emotionally conflicted to the end.
Bevan has indeed an interesting voice that sounds, as Anik predicted, to be developing into something more dramatic than Karg’s likely would. Perhaps unsual but fitting for Dalinda, as that darker fulness hints at her penchant for the dangerous. Again, absolutely no issues hearing her from the rafters, and also again, I loved her mad chemistry with Prina.
Perhaps in this densely-voiced company Brook’s voice came off a bit light as the lowest anchor but there are always those easy runs (and pps) to admire and his very sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted father-king (there would be no Baroque opera without someone agonising between love and duty).
Poor Odoardo is just kinda there, so it must’ve been strange for Bradley Smith to travel around just so he could drop a few Italian sentences here and there. No complaints about his involvement, though.
For my good deeds, Ginevra’s shoulder-bearing red dress was back (made me grin widely as soon as the singers came on stage) and as a bonus, so was Dalinda’s choker. Due to negligence, my camera died on me so there isn’t even a bad picture from yours truly, not even of the Barbican (I’m sure you’re mourning that loss). It was a hot, muggy day; so hot, in fact, I went out for fresh air during the second intermission and even by the pond there was no breeze (we’re talking about London, where it’s windy on a daily basis).
I’m really glad I could catch two (very different) nights of this tour and feel very lucky that we also got the Carnegie Hall webcast as a memento of how it all went down. We’ll see how things develop, but, as in the case of The English Concert’s 2014 Alcina, I think this will live long in my memory 🙂 Thank you Handel and thank you all involved.
- you can tell how traumatised I was by what Bates did to Renard and in general. ↩
Ariodante has been a slow burner with me. It’s precisely because it’s centred on the dopey dude, instead of the villain. I don’t mind heroes on white horses, it’s dopeyness that makes my eyes roll.
Ariodante: lalala, I’m in love!
Ginevra: me too! with you!
Ariodante: oh? Really? Whoa. Like, we should get married.
Ginevra: yes! But, oh, my dad is coming!
Ariodante: crap, what if he doesn’t like me for a son-in-law? [doubt already present; heavy foreshadowing]
The King: fear not, Ariodante, I want nothing more than the two of you to get married.
Ariodante: you mean you already knew we were in love?
The King: duh! Take her hand, you have my blessing.
Ariodante (~6min coloratura fest): like, wow.
Most directors insist on making Ariodante the centre of the action to unsurprisingly mild dramatic results. Luckily Richard Jones thought otherwise when he saw through the unidimensional sketch that is Polinesso on paper. This was the moment when, in spite of fine Polinessi of the past, things got turned on their head and the reign of evil wreaked havoc with the hearts of contralto lovers the world over 😉
Sorry dear Ariodanti, us damned love both of your arias with notte in the title and even the lalala and like, wow ones, but when one has the chance to see Prina as the villain it’s game over.
Ok, I’m trying to be objective here and talk about everybody because I genuinely thought the cast was strong from side to side. On the other heand I was genuinely giddy through the night so my objectivity may be called into question.
Judging by my previous comments, you wouldn’t know I noticed there are also 2 tenors and 1 bass in it and they were excellent too. I was very glad to sit where I did and be able to hear all the ppps employed (how often does that happen?! <- but that was the reoccurring theme of the night) by Matthew Brook. His is a very well developed (human) King, but I understand he’s been singing the role on stage concurently with the tour. You can tell from his fatherly glances that he loves his daughter and it’s only duty that makes him cast her away; a duty he perhaps doesn’t quite believe in but what’s a King to do, eh?
Portillo was also ideal for Lurcanio, both vocally (slender but not whingy, great command of coloratura) and dramatically (he’s the clueless one in shiny shoes; they were so shiny I was wondering if they weren’t rock solid; he thinks looking the part is what Dalinda is after. It’s interesting they have that duet in the end, when, even after Polinesso is dead, he still asks Dalinda if he loves (present tense) Polinesso. He may not be that clueless; then again, this is an opera centred on doubt and male weakness so he might actually not be aware he’s clueless). You probably remember Portillo from the seminal Aix production or the Carnegie Hall webcast (still on medici tv for your pleasure).
If you’d like further comments on his performance – and in general – check Anik‘s review of this performance, she knows what she’s talking about and she’s thorough enough to think about the tenor as well as the gender angle. I never spend too much time analysing secondary characters in Ariodante this side of Dalinda, who, with her split loyalties, is a genuinely interesting person. You know she’s good but she has some serious intimacy issues to work out, preferably not in Polinesso’s company. I think we can all, more or less, recognise ourselves in her, every time we make the same mistake again because there’s that personal weakness (whichever it is) that compels us in spite of knowing better. Though Bevan doesn’t get to such levels of inner darkness as Piau does in the Aix production – no that anyone would expect her to, in a concert performance – she brings out Dalinda’s wide eyed fascination with Polinesso vividly.
Their interaction, built on Bevan and Prina’s obvious ease with each other, drives the drama: visceral, freely given and forcefully taken, in stark contrast to Ariodante and Ginevra’s formal courtship. It’s telling that Ariodante doesn’t appear aware of it. How could anything like that enter his line of vision, before Scherza, infida? He’s not yet living, just imagining his life.
Though my love affair with Theater an der Wien continues unabated, you may be surprised to hear that TADW wasn’t my first choice of venue after the Barbican. That was easy, though the thought was tedious (not the wonderful environment of Brutalism again!).
When I realised this show was also going on tour1 the notion of taking myself abroad as well blossomed. My first choice was Theatre des Champs Elysees for another excuse of returning to Paris. But I found out that, in spite of its easy going atmosphere, the online booking was rather mysterious. Briefly put, I couldn’t tell if there were any tickets left.
Then came Hamburg, because hello new, muchly hyped venue. But that was completely sold out! Back in January, before all the other venues! Anik quipped that people go there for the novelty of the venue rather than for the music. I consoled myself with the thought that it’s too big and the reason I wanted to sample something else beside the Barbican was specifically its size. So what would be the point, wonderful acoustics or not? It’s either intimate or it’s not.
And we know which one of all those venues is the most intimate. Wouldn’t you know, there were still tickets left.
But I still wasn’t totally sold on Ariodante as a work. The thought niggled that perhaps investing in two performances, one of which involved travel abroad, was overkill. That notion was finally blasted away by the Carnegie Hall webcast. Yep, I definitely needed two performances, one of them preferably in a smaller venue. The webcast might famously have sound compressing problems but they could not take away from the wickedly fine performance of orchestra and cast under Bicket.
So after all that, on Friday I was back on the now familiar grounds of Linke Wienzeile, now with hot sun and not a hint of rain in those fluffy clouds. First Anik and I had a very enjoyable pre-opera chat (though I was a bit of a lame-o to begin with and waited outside whilst she was waiting inside). We both ate the desert she posted on her blog. I have to admit I too was so focused on our chat, on being there, on it being a gorgeous day that I’m not quite sure how it tasted either. I think it was suitably fluffy. This chat did contain snark 😉 on the usual topics you would imagine, but it turned out the cutoff time for snark was 7pm, with the cast stepping on stage.
We went to the venue, each to our own box, which happened to be on different sides of the hall (we waved to one another). My seat, bought cheap, was the third row in the very first box on the left as you look at the stage, right above the parterre box I sat in for Cavalli’s Xerse. The box was great, within 2-3m of the singers and with a perfect view of the orchestra. The seat was abysmal, especially for a short person like yours truly. I could see neither the orchestra, nor the singers and I had a feeling the sound would be muffled.
Luckily – remember, it was my lucky day! -, the TADW audience are polite people, who actually sit in their designated seats (mwahahaha!). To begin with we were 4 in our box, with chairs to spare: a couple at the front row (centre and right corner), a very stiff gent in the second row (left corner) and me, of variable positions. I sat in the second row centre until two ladies came, saying (again, super politely and also friendly) all they wanted was to sit together and I of course obliged.
When the lights went down I made a show of asking them if they minded me taking one of the unoccupied seats at the front (right under the surtitle screen, I learn from the picture on the right) and they said they were absolutely fine.
I was more than fine; I was thrilled: orchestra to the right, the singers (shoulders, tattoos, funky shoes) a couple of yards below. I was thinking “I’m here!!! (TADW but also in the middle of things)”. It really doesn’t get better than this. So because there was nobody in front of me and, if I squeezed against the wall, nobody behind me either, I, as Anik says, ended up hanging out of the box every time something particularly exciting was going on. Which was all the time. If you want to get from liking an opera to loving it this is the way to do it. At TADW if possible2.
I think it was the stiff gent who had shied away from taking the empty seat at the front who “shopped” me out to the usher, as how would the usher have otherwise known to come in and ask me to take my proper seat, “just in case those people at the front came”? I said sure, I will take my proper seat if (and only if) those people do come. I’s a seasoned warrior, yo. There was no point to start opera fights, especially not when I was having so much fun and we were so close to the action (I might occasionally be unfriendly to seatmates but I wouldn’t deliberately disrupt a performance. Ever). So after the intermission I demurely took my third row seat, up until the time the kind ladies who only wanted to sit together (oh? 😉 ) were ready to close the box door. I obliged and then moved to my claimed seat at the front. The gent went on seething whilst I was thinking whatcha gonna do? Sue me?
As we know, the low mood Act II is the killer of casual Baroque fans. In the case of our box we lost the ladies and – yay! – the seething gent. As my mum commented, why make a big deal out of it and then leave? So I took the opportunity to rearrange the seats a bit (there were too many at the front for just three of us and some plugs were poking into my thigh) and spent Act III in style (more hanging, more grinning, leading the applause on several occasions, major grinning, following the rhythm, watching Bicket play and interact with the singers etc. (nice detail: his emerald cufflinks)).
I’ve seen The English Concert a few times now in London (that amazing 2014 Alcina they did at the blasted Barbican (which also travelled to various places) among them) and they have that tight, phat sound that makes baroque strings bounce/menace most alluringly, especially in pieces like Cieca notte. That’s one aria (arioso-like in scope) that once you start liking it becomes the central moment of the night. Poor Ariodante, it’s his bitter revelation moment. The world isn’t always your cocoon, buddy.
As much as I like JDD’s supple sound and attention to detail, you really want a denser voice in this to match the somber mood of the low strings. A rock solid chest register just kills. Coote has both of those qualities, plus a special knack for tragedy. But as Anik says, in spite of Coote’s relatively recent move into much heavier repertoire, she also knows this is Baroque and doesn’t overdo it, neither does she lose sight of dynamic variation. Her voice has not trouble filling a venue this size but she let it drop to breathtaking ppps when needed (again, Anik, who takes notes tirelessly, pinpoints just where those were). It was because I have liked her so much in Baroque that I had not heard Coote live since that Alcina (also from a great, 2nd or 3rd seat row) <- actually I have! This year, even. As Octavian. Oops. It was then a pleasure to hear how good and idiomatic she still sounds almost 3 years (and many Mahler dirges (Anik again)) later from a few yards away. Hers is a direct approach, based on an often disarming combination of technique and emotional vulnerability.
You feel JDD’s Ariodante is a more complex character than usual, someone who’s on the verge of deserving the throne the King promises him, whereas Coote keeps him wide eyed and palpably youthful. He loves!!!, he is hurt as only one very young can be and he gets angry when he finds out it was all a lie. Then he gets breathlessly happy when all is fine again.
Speaking of a dense sound, every time Prina opened her mouth I wondered how can anyone imagine Polinesso otherwise than sung by a contralto (edit: perhaps because the role was created by Maria Caterina Negri?). It’s just right. I refer you again to Se l’inganno above, even if you know it well; listen again as you’re reading. Just like how Cieca notte is a defining moment for Ariodante (who has had some growing up to do over the course of the opera), this is Polinesso’s self actualistion.
I don’t know that great is the right word when it comes to Pina’s Polinesso. It’s more like Connolly’s Cesare and VK’s Sesto. It’s just how it should be and once you see it you wonder how else they ever did it before. Not only is there conviction in her acting, at no moment when she’s on stage – at the centre of attention, reacting to others’ lines/behaviour or simply sitting – do you forget that this is Polinesso and he’s the villain. Also Prina’s really good at improvising little things (her reaction to Ginevra’s entrance was a bit different than at Carnegie Hall) that probably energise those around her. Definitely she brought out the best in Karg when Polinesso shows himself as Ginevra’s defender with just the right touch of mocking flourish, and Karg let it rip (no fucking way!!!) in such a spontaneous manner I wouldn’t have thought her capable of.
Anik senses him as a misfit but I see him as a chap who does not accept failure or second best. He knows he has to fight for what he wants (Ariodante doesn’t know that initially and possibly even at the end) and he is ready to do anything to further his ambition. The way Prina acted right before Polinesso’s duel with Lurcanio makes me think he’s bluffing, that he knows he will lose but goes through with it anyway. Maybe this is just my way of making sense of his anticlimatic defeat. But I like the angle; if I think about it, I might have got that from Nesi’s Polinesso as well.
Related to what Anik was saying about how interesting Polinesso and Ariodante’s interactions are, it occurs to me that Polinesso, though without a doubt a strong character and a master manipulator, is never trying to solve his predicaments via force. He doesn’t stab Ariodante, he makes him kill himself. I suppose 18th century audiences would see that as cowardly but to me it seems more like orchestrating the perfect crime.
It was interesting to hear Prina’s trademark way with coloratura from up close. In the past it took me a while to get used to it but now I think it’s part of her take no prisoners approach. Others might lose their way if they did it like that but she’s on top of it. She’s another singer whose singing is closely related to her acting, to the point it’s not worth talking about them separately. All her moves are reflected in the sound and she’s not afraid to incorporate (evil) laughter or breaths (of indignation), gnashing of teeth etc. if the lines call for that kind of thing. It all comes off as strong but not over the top. She’s also not afraid to show us exactly how Polinesso seduces Dalinda but even that doesn’t appear overdone. Seduction is an around the clock job, you can’t punch out after 8 hours and hope the next shift will take care of it – because the next shift might just take care of it for good, haha, and all your toil will be for naught.
Karg as Ginevra had already made a strong impression on me in the webcast. Previously I had often wondered why she’s been constantly singing at Wiggy; I guess I should’ve trusted them. It was also lucky I had seen the webcast, because on Friday she was wearing a red dress with her (freckly) upper back exposed right under my very appreciative eyes. Here are some ……. for you to ponder that.
But the sound, right? I love it. You don’t hear me say I love a soprano’s voice so often, though I like quite a few sopranos. I usually like their personality or their vocal intelligence rather than the sound per se. But in Karg’s case, I just love the fullness of her tone, just right to avoid ping and just enough to accomodate excellent coloratura chops, just enough volume to carry well. It incorporates a bit of introspection, which is always very alluring to me.
She was quite reserved dramatically at Carnegie Hall – though I thought that suitable for Ginevra, who’s the bashful/upright kind – but I do agree she seemed more at ease at TADW, perhaps with a less complicated Ariodante. Like I mentioned in the comments over at Anik’s, I really enjoyed their duets, where you got a very appealing contrast between their voices, deftly emphasised by the way Handel entertwines their lines, especially in Bramo aver mille vite, which is easily one of the cutest awwww moments in Baroque.
Ariodante: do you still love me after all I put you through by believing you were a slut?
Ginevra: I adore you! Please take my heart! If I had more I’d give them all to you!
Ariodante: omg, me too! Let’s move in together and give each other many hearts!
Ginevra and Ariodante: let’s move in together and exchange hearts! Let’s! Let’s!
Statira (peeking in from another opera): wait, what? What’s this talk of heart exchange I hear? Stop the metaphorical talk, I’m having a panic attack!
Dear reader, it was wonderful. At the end I lingered in the box, just basking in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s good I can’t go there all the time and see it lose its special charm. I still remember the “sardines” in the box across from mine, 10 people who stuck it out to the end, shoulder to shoulder, for the love of Handel. Or the chap in the first row centre, who was trying to keep track of the action via his programme. In the first row centre. Or the people in the standing room box just under the ceiling. I wonder how you see/hear from there (but not too hard; I like “my” box). Or sneaking amused glances at Anik scribbling away in her box whenever someone did something breathtaking, knowing she’s thinking along the same lines as I do. Or the lady in the box next to hers, who fanned herself vigorously through the entire show (TADW is on the hot side but not quite that bad, I’d say; maybe she was building arm muscle…). Or trying to figure out if Odoardo really has multicolour pastel socks on. Or wondering how they all decided which outfits to use for each venue (this one is more bare shoulder-friendly, that one wants patterns, does Carnegie Hall need more dramatic collapsing on the floor so the people up in the rafters get the point I’m a distraught father? (Brook scaled it way back down at TADW) etc.). Good geeky fun 😉
The previous times we met for shows at TADW, Anik and I spent the intermissions in a lively exchange of impressions but this time it was rather a goofy exchange of grins and gushing. After the performance I think we started to put together some coherent ideas as we lingered in front of the poster at the front.
Eventually the time came to hightail each to our own home (opera fans = regular party animals 😉 ) when Anik all of a sudden started tugging on my sleeve and speaking in a strangled tone: look! look! I was thinking whatever happened to her, she’s normally so eloquent? when who would be casually strolling by (from behind me, the general direction of the stage door) with spiky hair and spiky backpack (remember them, rubber spikes)? I’m sure you know who by now.
I was indeed speechless for once. Then that funny thing happened (a first!), where my knees went literally (not just “literally”) soft, so I had to actually grab onto the white wall you see in the picture above. Since I was still lalalala with excitement I found this hysterically funny even though it was happening to me. But as you can see from Anik’s distillation of our moment, I wasn’t the only one on the verge of pulling a damsel in distress. I mean, come on, do people actually go weak in the knees? Given the right contralto it turns out they do.
me (fronting by way of joke): be still my beating heart! …wait, I think it had actually gone still for a moment.
So after we came to, we had one of those whoa! moments you remember from your teen years. We spent the next few minutes coming to grips with what had just happened (I know, you’re like wait, she just walked past you, why all the fluster?! to that I say you had to be there), when who would just as casually be strolling back from wherever she and her friend went? (one of the shops a couple of doors down from TADW). How nice of Prina to give us a few moments to catch our breath! 😉
That’s when I knew we had to do something. Anik was all prim and proper (there is such a thing as too polite and apparently you don’t even have to be English) but all I could see in my mind was all the moments a chance presented itself and I didn’t grab it with both hands. I learned the hard way that you almost never get the same chance twice, so when you do…!!! Let me tell you I hate regret as much as Polinesso hates virtue.
I plastered the biggest grin on my face and made a beeline for Prina (I’m sure I barged into their conversation but what would Polinesso do, right?) and just went – without any intro – WE LOVE YOUR POLINESSO! WE LOVED THE SHOW! BUT MOSTLY WE LOVE YOU! She was a bit confused at the beginning (who the hell is this person, should I know her from somewhere? is she mad? is she asking me for change?) but let me assure you flattery will get you anywhere 😉 I grabbed her hand, shook it and went on blabbering about how great she was and I was seeing her on Tuesday in London as well and btw, she was also singing something a bit weird in London in September – how come? and here’s my friend too (that was Anik, in front of whom we had arrived in the meanwhile).
This was Prina’s cue to actually get a word in edgewise and she introduced herself to Anik (in my mind I was like WE SO KNOW WHO YOU ARE! WE LOVE YOU!) and then she introduced her friend to us, who – surprise, surprise – was also a contralto (two for one!). I told her friend WE LOVE CONTRALTOS! because duh! and it’s always exciting to meet another one, since everyone (around here) knows there should be more of them.
Not to lose momentum I asked Prina if she would be so nice as to take a picture with us and she chivalrously obliged. Her friend immediately took the initiative of snapping the picture (Anik is actually in it as well but she’s pulling a Zoro and her identity must remain hidden).
Gotta love contraltos, so laid back and friendly ❤ I wonder if they wouldn’t have accepted, had we invited them to a drink. But in spite of how it might sound, I was taking care not to be too intrusive and we let them go soon after. Not before laying some smooth moves on Prina, as you might know from the comment section in the Aaaahriodante post. One chance only and all that. But since it’s my claim to fame I shall reiterate. After we disengaged from the picture pose, Prina turned to me (you can see she was very close).
Prina: so you’re a singer too?
dehggi: yes! [I would’ve said yes to anything, haha] I mean no! (a beat, then winky eyes) Do I have to be a singer to like you?
She smiled like heh, good one! and I thought yes, she liked that and I felt even more buoyant than before. Then we said goodbye and good luck and they, just as casually, strolled back to where they came from, though they looked a bit undecided as to what to do next (have a drink with us!).
Given the daze of the moment I actually have no clue what Anik said or didn’t say so she’ll have to tell you that herself. But I hope she told Prina she was the one who wrote the post Prina had gushed about on FB.
Not 5 minutes pass (we’re back to gushing) and Anik tugs on my sleeve again – Karg with her mum or older relative and another woman passes by, in plimsols, leggins, backpack but still with the same hair, munching carrots 😀 Opera singers are so low key ❤ You really have to look, because they are so unflashy off stage you could easily miss them. Off the heels she’s almost tiny (I’m saying almost because I also thought Prina was short and… well, you can see above which one of us is the tall chief). However! as someone quite obviously not tall, I of course am very heartened when I see we are so well represented on stage 😀
Moral of the story: do linger after the show, a beloved singer might just walk by slow enough to make you get over your starstruck state. Or it might just be fun chatting with an equally enthusiastic opera lover. Did I mention I love TADW3?
- I really like this idea. Gives people from further afield the opportunity to see a high quality show as well as gives those who would like to travel the advantage of checking out different venues. ↩
- Because I’m a bit uncultured, I just found out TADW is where Die Zauberflote premiered. Also Die Fledermaus. I like it even better now (if possible). ↩
- They aren’t paying me to say this. Though if they want to, I’ll be very happy with that box seat for whenever I come over ;-) ↩
😀 😀 😀 yes, that’s exactly what Anik and and I did tonight at the best Baroque venue in the world, aka Theater an der Wien (did I mention how in love I am with this venue? It’s been so good to me so far!). And there is pictorial evidence of Polinesso in our clutches, which I will post after a bit of doctoring to preserve Anik’s dignity.
In case you were wondering, the show per se was [ insert your superlative of choice here; hell, insert more than one ] too. Truly a wonderful night of opera and tandem perving 😉 (shoulders…! And Polinesso at work). There will also be civilised posts about this, fear not. Well, mostly civilised…
ps: I was in Vienna and it did not rain. Clearly I did something very, very special to deserve this mini holiday. Or I will have to pay dearly one day. But for everything to fall in place like this… aaaah. And to have someone likeminded to share it with 🙂 Belinda freakin Carlisle was right.
edit 14/05/17: there are surprisingly still tickets on sale for the Barbican show on Tuesday. If you’re in London do yourself a favour and book!
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 😉
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…
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: 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.
- I habitually am in tears by the end of (sometimes halfway through) those renditions I’m most moved by. ↩
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).
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).
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.)
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:
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.
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.