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The capitalism vs. the people Idomeneo Act 3 (Jacobs, 2013)

Remember this one? I posted parts I and II way back when in January 2014. Thanks to this performance I 1) got interested in Idomeneo, 2) realised I quite like Rene Jacobs as a conductor, 3) became interested in the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, 4) Theater an der Wien appeared on my radar in style. So whilst cleaning the cobwebs inside the vault I thought I should to put this last part out, even all this time later.

I care because you do, as Richard D. James would say. Thanks to some interest shown in Act I and II, I took pity on this production and went back to finishing Act III, most of which – you will weep – was already written in January. Yes, that’s right, I had it in my drafts just sitting there, gathering virtual dust. But I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to say about Andro ramingo (I’m still not sure) and the ending (dramatically; now I think meh) and I had to also watch it again because my attention drifted away from the extremely exciting production. And then a flurry of Clemenze completely distracted me for many months. We all know it’s game over for everything else when that happens.

  • Idomeneo: Richard Croft
  • Idamante: Gaelle Arquez
  • Ilia: Sophie Karthauser
  • Elettra: Marlis Petersen
  • Arbace: Julien Behr
  • Il Gran Sacerdoto di Nettuno: Mirko Guadagnini

Conductor: Rene Jacobs | Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 2013 | Freiburger Barockorcherster | Arnold Schoenberg Choir

So it’s only been what, 3 years+? Right. Back in January 2014 we left off where Nessie gets angry at the Cretans. But by Act III he’s lost some steam and the weather has improved, because Wolfie needed to shoe in a bit of lovin’. Monsters and storms are fun for a couple of acts. But what’s the use of having two young people of marriageable age in your opera if you won’t make them fall in love?

Act III starts with Zeffiretti lusinghieri. Up to this point I said barely anything about Ilia. SK started quite screechy but maybe that’s how the director wanted it or maybe it was nerves. I gave her time to come into her own but by now I know that I don’t particularly like her voice. It’s sort of run of the mill, her vibrato bothers me and I’m not one to call foul on its use. She’s not that lacking in technique just kind of meh in presentation.

Principessa, a tuoi sguardi… ah, s’io non moro a questi accenti isn’t bad. Arquez is coping very well with Idamante’s transporto. Ilia takes pity on Idamante, who is at the end of his tethers after being rejected by both father and the woman he loves. She admits to her feelings and tells the poor sod she actually shares his love. They launch into the gorgeous duet that is S’io non moro. It’s a sweet moment, where our hitherto doomed lovers are finally getting a bit of respite from all the gloom and mud. Tutto vince il nostro ardor, Arquez and K sound beautiful together – moving and delicate. (But now that I’ve been there a few times it’s really hard to imagine the stage at TADW as muddy as that!) Of course they get interrupted but at least now they know where they stand which is together.

Andro ramingo e solo – an unsual one, this ensemble. Idamante: I’ll go looking for death and I’ll find it (and after that I’ll write a long post about it in my (online) diary). Ilia: Me too, me too! I wanna go with you. Elettra: (mocking Ilia wordlessly) Me too, me too! Then she abuses a lone plant (standing for hope I guess) Ilia later cares for. Idomeneo: Somebody kill me! I can’t watch Nessie chomp on my son! All: I can’t take this anymore! Idamante gives his dad his jacket (to sing to?) and Idomeneo physically abuses him a bit. Hey, mister, you’ve been really tough on the youngster by which we know you mean you really love him. Idamante puts the jacket back on, ready to take on Nessie. Ilia takes off his jacket, because we all know he can’t leave without it.

Arbace mourns Sidon’s fate and goes on a bit of rampage of his own then sings his aria about saving the local royal family. Behr’s voice is pleasant but the aria ain’t all that.

Nice intro to the Gran Sacerdoto, who’s got a pleasantly sacerdotal voice. The chorus swings low and noble then the music goes on like this for quite a while.

Trumpets. The choir gets busy. Idomeneo wonders what’s going on. Arbace rushes in with the news that Idamante put on his power suit to face off with Nessie. Idomeneo isn’t sure his delicate son is cut out for hand-to-tentacle combat. Idamante tries to convince him how noble it is to save his people by handing in a son. They argue over idealism vs. paternal love. Ilia shows up and isn’t keen on this Idamante as sacrificial lamb deal. She offers herself. She and Idamante go back and forth outdoing each other on who’s more ready to die.

Creepy celestial womb rumbles, all stand to attention. Foetus ex machina speakth: Idoemeo’s humanity has been taken on board but as a manager he has failed. He’s fired. Idamante is replacing him as King of Crete effective immediately. Ilia shall marry him and to hell with Elettra’s plans.

She can’t take this dissing and flings herself about in mud with abandon. The wig comes off. No more Miss Ditzygirl, she’s feral now. Marlis Petersen, that was some taking one for the team. The entire crew owes you one for getting mud in your eyes whilst singing the best (known) aria from the opera. Jacobs offers gentle support and she copes (although she bypasses the second set of evil laughter), especially considering what she has to do but it’s not all that grand vocally. I don’t think Petersen holds back as much as she doesn’t have the vocal oomph for this aria. I might be among the few who thought this production was entirely miscast save for this bad motherfucker. I mean, HELL yea, that’s portraying your character. No need for mud there. Harteros is pretty damn good in the Salzburg production but not on that level of losing it. Then again, her timbre is the closest to how I envision Elettra. Good thing nature never tossed Behrens and Harteros together, the earth might cleave and swarms of locusts might obscure the sun. (this paragraph sounds amusing to me now but that’s what I thought at the time…)

All live happily ever after. The end, tnx bi. (By which I mean I don’t get whatever Michieletto is trying to say. If you do, please enlighten me. Some productions seem very hard to break through)

The ballet and chaconne at the end is some of my favourite music in the whole piece, though I can imagine it gives headaches to directors (and is often cut? luckily it was neither here nor at ROH later that year). Conclusion 2017: Jacobs and the Freiburger Barockochester, the Arnold Schoenberg Choir and Richard Croft rock. The tempi are great. The other singers are pretty good. There was another chance to see this in concert performance form at TADW earlier this year but I couldn’t be in two places at the same time 😦 Anyway, it’s really worth listening to.

Lucio Silla, the Roman-themed soap opera (Theater an der Wien, 27 April 2016)

The rumours aren’t true, the great Viennese beast has not gulped me 😉 I’ve just been tired and/or otherwise engaged but luckily today is an absolutely lovely Mayday, super slow and lazy at work = perfect blog updating conditions.

So whilst being distracted by life I missed the fact TadW was going to and did livestream this. Anyway, my main reason for going was to hear the Arnold Schoenberg Choir in the flesh. This is hardly the most choir-friendly opera (they had exactly 3 things to sing, though they were on stage for much longer than that) but having sorely missed them (and Rene Jacobs) in Idomeneo earlier this year I took my chances this time, because seeing them in the same place where I “found” them is extra special.

Also though Bayerische Staatsoper is my temple of music, Theater an der Wien is currently the place where I’ve had the best all around memories – each of the three times I’ve been there was memorable in its own way. This reminds me of a short chat I had with thadieu yesterday where she made me pause for a moment and put things in perspective. Namely, what a great venue Wigmore Hall is. But the heart is easily seduced by greener pastures, isn’t it? 😉 Now’s a good moment to take a deep breath and ponder on the luxury of having been able to attend performances at all of them.

Stop! In the name of OSKHJ.

Lucio Silla: Alessandro Liberatore
Giunia: Olga Pudova
Cecilio: Franco Fagioli
Cinna: Chiara Skerath
Celia: Ilse Eerens
Conductor: Laurence Equilbey | Insula Orchestra | Arnold Schoenberg Choir

It’s no mystery that I’m fond of Mozart’s opera seria of which the chunkiest ones are Mitridate, Silla, Idomeneo and Tito. Mitridate and Idomeneo have in common the parent-child relationship whereas Silla and Tito are two takes on the benevolent ruler faced with a difficult personal choice cliche. Out of the last two, Silla has the severely inferior libretto, the type where historical fact is but a background for soap opera twists and turns. Which is annoying, as real life Silla was a rather interesting character.

In our case he’s (fictionally) fixated on Cecilio’s wife Giunia, reason for which he banishes Cecilio from Rome, hoping Giunia – incidentally, the daughter of the man he has deposed (Gaius Marius, the great reformer of the Roman army) – will eventually warm up to his insistence. She’s a constant 18th century heroine, so of course she doesn’t, however she has the opportunity to verbally abuse him (with great vocal florish) at every turn. Mozart has written some of his most gleefully difficult music for her and rare is the soprano who can do it proper justice.

Our Giunia was rather good (keeping in mind that I’m sold on Gruberova in this role). She did an especially satifying job with Ah se il crudel periglio which means her coloratura and breath control are exemplary. Basically Giunia’s breath is catching because she’s scared shitless. I’ve heard established sopranos struggle to make its seemingly endless grupetti sound natural instead of backfiring machine gun set to a metronome 😉 She wasn’t quite as emotionally elaborate as the above towering example but I was pleasantly impressed with her fearless approach and technical skill. So if I find it a bit difficult to be objective, let me go further the other way and admit that I found Pudova way cute and I had a hard time looking elsewhere when she was on stage.

Her interactions – both vocal and dramatic – with Fagioli’s Cecilio were excellent and believable, expecially in their D’elisio in sen m’attendi, another one of those swoony Mozart sexy love duets. Who can resist the heart flutter-like twin coloratura? D’elisio… can sit any day next to S’io non moro a questi accenti and Ah perdona il primo affetto. We need two singers to do an entire Mozart sexy duets recital together 😀 My only complaint is that she felt a bit underprojected before intermission. Maybe she needed some time to warm up.

Cecilio was Franco Fagioli whom I was eager to see again in Mozart, now in a smaller house than the ROH. The smaller, more intimate venue certainly works in his favour, especially when it came to understanding what he was saying. His diction is not his strongest point in general but in this case it wasn’t usually a challenge. The trademark warmth of his delivery was also much better supported by TadW’s acoustics.

Though I think he needs more “body”1 for Il tenero momento for the voice to bloom in the beautifully expansive manner that Mozart seems to ask for, he provided a really lovely diminuendo in the da capo and sounded (here and elsewhere) gorgeous and seductive when sentiment was called for. Reminiscent of his usual Baroque repertoire, his take on the bravura aria was satisfying. He got a bit buried in the duets with Pudova’s Giunia but their voice mix was good – they sound the same at the top which works for a lovers’ duet.

Liberatore in the title role (who’s already sung Lucio in that rather meh Liceu production from a couple years back) would make (has made?) a good Idomeneo, given that his bravura aria, Il desìo di vendetta, e di morte, is pretty much a proto Fuor del mar. His bigger voice provided good contrast with the others, especially effective in the trio with Cecilio and Giunia. He makes a pretty good villain.

Ilse Eerens’ (Celia) voice was particularly well projected with a bright top but not excessive ping, good take on top notes (good differentiation) and consistently good acting as everybody’s go-between. She’s Lucio’s sister in love with dissenter Cinna (Cecilio’s best buddy) and on friendly terms with Giunia. Her job is mostly to help Lucio calm (the hell) down and hide her interest in enemies of the state.

Celia’s boyfriend Cinna was sung with pluck by soprano Chiara Skerath. She did a pretty good job in this somewhat thankless trouser role. I think she actually has a solid middle, which is not bad at all for a young soprano 😉 Her coloratura is reliable for early Mozart, though perhaps more vocal oomph was needed to bring across Cinna as the outlaw Annio that he is. Her stage movement was good enough but I think she needs work on facial expressions, especially when she’s not singing.

Now onto the Arnold Schoenberg Choir = not enough singing!!!! Otherwise OMG2, we got a little glimpse at what it can do – very well drilled, lovely tone across the voices, great interplay between the sopranos and the tenors, real expressivity from the get-go, personality – once you heard it, you will recognise it – and, as Anik said, they brought a “Gluck-ish” feel to the proceedings that really worked in this intimate setting by giving it a sort of introverted gravitas.

The moment they got up and started to sing in the scene where Giunia is visiting her father’s grave is still vivid in my mind. A good choir can have a similar effect on you to hearing a favourite singer. But then they also featured on my favourite Silla recording, the Harnoncourt/Gruberova/Bartoli one from 1989 which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in getting (better) acquainted with this opera. Forget about the plot and just listen.

The performance was semi-staged, which meant the singers were in (contemporary) costume and fussed around with some boards but also the Personnenregie was paid more attention to than you’d normally get in a concert performance. I’d say TadW is getting quite good at recycling its surplus stage equipment 😉 Cecilio and Cinna play around with graffiti red and white chalk, which made me think next time they might  give the young chaps a sandbox.

At some point we have Giunia visit Cecilio in prison. That was represented by them talking to each other through mesh fixed to the frame that was normally holding up the boards the boys (yes, not men) were practicing their graffiti skills on. At the end Giunia tears it down and walks through it (ok, around it) to amusing effect (at least for some of us).

Though I wasn’t quite as underwhelmed by Equilbey/Insula Orchestra as thadieu was, I can’t say that I got a very vivid picture about the working of the whole either. The overture – one of my favourites – was taken at a more languid pace than I’m used to from Harnoncourt’s recording. It felt a bit disconcerting but that’s what happens when you have very clear favourites. I liked the very disciplined and prominent though not intrusive harpsichord throughout and I noticed the strings in bulk come in very handsomely at the more anguished moments.

Musically, it wasn’t the best evening but, as they say, the sum of the evening was greater than its parts: Mozart, the choir, the venue and the very good company of thadieu and Anik made for another great Viennese memory.

In spite of the (reoccurring) fickle weather (Tuesday was in the mid teens and sunny, Wednesday around 7C and rainy) Vienna continues to exert its subtle lure on me. Mozart and lazy chummy chats will do that to you.


  1. Anik explains why really well in her own take on this performance. 
  2. thadieu has her orchestra!!! moments, I sometimes have my choir!!! moments ;-)