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Good times at the opera in 2018

Venice, Teatro Malibran, 2018

You may or may not know, but for the past few years all of late December has been family time chez dehhgi. So now that New Year is being celebrated at the ancestral home, yours truly gets involved in food preparation. Due to a fluke (a less adventurous one than the setting up of the 2017 Christmas tree ūüėČ ), we ended up cooking all we wanted to cook yesterday, leaving quite a bit of thumb twiddling time for today, just right for a recap of what I took part – and what I skipped or missed – in 2018.

I think the right word for 2018 is fabulous, in its glamorous connotation – Venice, Salzburger Festspiele and lots of Glyndebourne, with notable stops in Halle and at the Bremen Music Fest, all of which spawned wonderful memories from meeting up with you, gentle reader, for some rocking performances (and a certain odd production). I think I may also start paying rent at Wiggy, since from the below list it looks like I went there at least once a month, with the notable exception of August, festival month.

Hope to see you at a theatre near you (or me) in 2019 ūüėÄ though what is on at the usual places does not look quite as exciting as before. Then again, there were some things this year I did not know I was going to see until closer to the time…

Salzburg opera mile, 2018

January

11 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall Рa good way to start the year, right?

17 Salome | ROH

21 Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria¬†| Roundhouse – I like this January Monteverdi fixture every couple of years. After we are done with the rep, can we start over?

23 Classical Opera (Mozart’s 1768) |¬†Wigmore Hall

25 Anna Bonitatibus and friends | Wigmore Hall

27 Anna Bonitatibus |¬†Wigmore Hall – I did not write about it because she did not sing from En travesti and I was a bit underwhelmed by her choices. But, of course, she is wonderful ūüôā

31 Angelika Kirchschlanger | Wigmore Hall

February

4 Adrian Behle | Wigmore Hall

5 Golda Schultz | Wigmore Hall

8 English Concert (Buxtehude) | Wigmore Hall – I was sick for the rest of the month, along with Mum (who was visiting…)¬†and one of my cats. Not the best of times chez dehggi by a very long shot.

26 Les Talens Lyriques | Wigmore Hall

March

13 Rinaldo | Barbican Рquite the letdown, aside from Pisaroni as Argante. Both Davies and Harvey did much, much better at Glyndebourne later in the year.

14 From the House of the Dead | ROH

20 Christine Rice / Rebecca Evans | Wigmore Hall

22 Esther | Wigmore Hall – this year most of the festivals happened elsewhere. This was the only London Handel Fest performance I saw and in the end I did not write about it. Not the best Handel I have seen, I would say, though for sure nowhere near the worst.

26 D’Odette¬†| Wigmore Hall

April

5 Haim / Crebassa / Desandre / Devieilhe | Wigmore Hall Рyes, this happened. Do not ask me details, as I cannot remember much, beside enjoying the deft playing of the band that did not need extra fireworks. The same Desadre that wowed me in Salzburg did not do much for me here. Perhaps I was bummed Crebassa bailed on me us?

7 Dido and Aeneas | Wigmore Hall

19 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice

21 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice – this was such a fun trip, I do need to write about it again.

24 Matthias Goerne | Wigmore Hall

May

1 Sonia Prina / Vivica Genaux | Wigmore Hall

3 Mauro Peter | Wigmore Hall

4 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

6 Royal Academy | Wigmore Hall

16 Hannigan Masterclass | Linbury Studio

21 Sara Mingardo / Francesca Biliotti | Wigmore Hall

24 Lessons in Love and Violence | ROH Рit did spawn some interesting ideas (about love and violence) which in the end did not coagulate into a post. I kinda wish I had persevered but sometimes where there is a lot on the roster it is not easy to get your mind disciplined about something you do not particularly enjoy as such.

27 Simon Keenlyside | Wigmore Hall

June

4 Franco Fagioli | Barbican

5 Stephane Degout | Wigmore Hall

9 Arianna in Creta | Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche Halle Handelfest Рafter a couple of years of feasts, we have missed Hallenberg in London, so this was an awesome treat.

13 Jakub Jozef Orlinski | Wigmore Hall

15 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne РTHE Glyndebourne Cesare! With overseas friends! A good metaphor for blogging about opera, right?

17 Ian Bostridge | Wigmore Hall

18 Christine Rice Julien Van Mallaerts | Wigmore Hall

19 Der Rosenkavalier | Glyndebourne

23 Giulio Cesare¬†| Glyndebourne – and again ūüėÄ

Glyndebourne 2018

July

2 Veronique Gens | Wigmore Hall

6 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall – that was the week of fabu French singers and I did not write up on them. For no fault of theirs, they were wonderful as usual in their light and sophisticated way. I was absolutely rotten lazy/tired in July, as you can see by the lack of activity below.

9 Felicity Palmer | Wigmore Hall

15 JPYA | ROH – yes, I went again but I did not write, although I had an absolutely hilarious seatmate, very much up my own alley in spirit. The show itself was a bit underwhelming this year, cannot say anyone stood out for me, hence the lack of commentary.

18 L’ange de Nisida¬†| ROH – if no one produces La favourite around here, at least we got its previous incarnation.

20 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and the third time, now with the London Crew. It was a very fun (although overcast) day, and the post is half written. I swear I was so tired and a bit out of it in July that I am afraid I came off stand-offish to those who know me less, though it was by no means the case.

22 Pavol Breslik | Wigmore Hall

27 Saul | Glyndebourne Рsuch a fun production! For some reason, a Chinook flew over the gardens. They give me the heebie-jeebies.

August

1 Pelleas et Melisande | Glyndebourne

12 L’incoronazione di Poppea¬†| Salzburger Festspiele (Haus fur Mozart) – yes. At least nobody got clever with the musical content.

September

8 La Iole (Porpora) | Theater Oldenburg – my first live encounter with the wonderful Iervolino – and with a Porpora work in its entirety. If you are asking yourself Oldenburg what? this was part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018, which is kind enough to spread around the region instead of allowing the city to hog all the events. Another take on the Hercules/Dejanira story, this centres on the woman with whom he is cheating on her. The cosy Theater Oldenburg lavished its audience with a cast of top young singers in excellent form – Iervolino (Dejanira), Aspromonte (Iole) and Renato Dolcini (Ercole). It is a short (but fun) work but all three really got into it with much gusto and the audience loved it. I liked Aspromonte here much better than in Vivaldi.

10 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall

14 Marianne Crebassa / Mass in B minor | Löningen Рalso part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018. As you can see, Crebassa remains elusive to me, but the Mass in B minor is a lovely work and the choir did a good job.

19 Masterclass Sarah Connolly | Wigmore Hall – cannot tell you why I never finished this post, I was even well rested by then.

October

8 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall

17 Porgy and Bess | ENO

22 Karina Gauvin | Wigmore Hall – annoyingly, I was under some rough weather in October and missed these two fine ladies due to horrible head colds.

25 Semiramide¬†| Teatro La Fenice – back to Venice ūüėÄ and more Iervolino! Excuse me if I simply love the woman, she is cute as button here. She also sings rather well ūüėČ

26 Serse | Barbican

November

2 Marie-Nicole Lemieux | Wigmore Hall

19 Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall Рthe show that caused me to pick up a guitar (and make some noise)!

December

11 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall

Glyndebourne – the lawn, 2018

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Rejoice! The pioneering spirit returns to London

Director Peter Sellars returns with two contrasting staged productions, continuing and expanding on previous Barbican and LSO collaborations: a performance of Lassus’s a cappella Renaissance masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro (Barbican classical music season 2018/19)

YAY! This is our chance to see a very ye olde worke transposed in So-Cal cca 2018 meets 1988 fashion. I was starting to get widthdrawals.

Serse with tomato and beans + Galoumis√Ļ desert (Barbican, 26 October 2018)

This show could be summed up simply as:

Galoumis√Ļ

But it actually was a very entertaining evening even beyond the Galoumis√Ļ daydreaming.

A funny thing happened right before the performance started. First, I firmly demanded my seat back from a gent, only to realise I was in the wrong row – because surely I wasn’t sitting in the second row, was I? Yes, I was. I don’t even know how long ago I bought this ticket, possibly last decade ūüėČ All I remembered was that it was on the left side of the stalls. Well, it turned out I was 2m away from the performers, and judging by Anik’s curtain call picture from TADW, just where Galoumis√Ļ would be positioned. I just now realise that was her position at curtain call but hey! wishful thinking can work in your favour (she didn’t wear the pumpkin dress but the steel-purplish one was backless fine as well).

Lady in front row: this is row B! Everything is confusing in this hall!
Gent sitting next to me in row C: this building is designed to help people get lost. So, come here often?
dehggi: [haha] yes, all the time! What brought you here this evening?
Gent row C: actually, I’ve a soft spot for Galou.
dehggi: !!!!!!

Now¬†THAT is the way to chat dehggi up ūüėÄ After a bit of Galoumis√Ļ fan…personing, we realised we¬†were from the same neck of Eastern Europe. What are the odds?!

Franco: Santa Maria della Salute is not where we’re singing this! But I had a premonition dehggi would go to Venice around the same time so I insisted we use this image…

Serse: Franco Fagioli (aka, the beans)
Arsamene: Vivica Genaux
Amastre: Delphine Galou (aka, Galoumis√Ļ)
Romilda: Inga Kalna
Atalanta: Francesca Aspromonte
Elviro: Biagio Pizzuti
Ariodate: Andreas Wolf (uncredited by the Barbican site (bad Barbican!) but there are like 3 Handel basses doing the rounds these days)
Conductor: Maxim Emelyanychev¬†| Il pomo d’oro (aka, pomodoro = the tomato)

There was a high level of involvement from everyone, down to curtain call antics (Aspromonte singlehandedly1 clearing up some music stands for access to the front of the stage, Genaux trying to sneak her music book back and Galoumis√Ļ graciously handing it to her, Genaux mocking Aspromonte’s pulling up her dress so she could walk faster, Pizzuti giving his (real) bouquet to the¬†string player he’d pestered as Elvira, the fake florist¬†etc.).

I finally saw Fagioli act! Now Serse is a role where he can be himself ūüėČ The endless rows of ornamenti and consummate self absorption fit Serse to a t (or to an s). Even him walking off stage after every aria, regardless of drama around him fit, because it falls right into Handel’s intended mockery of everyone’s melodrama.

I love the structure of this opera even more than I love the arias per se. The Serse-trademark speech interrupted by singing interrupted by speech interrupted by more singing¬†feels so fresh and modern (or Neapolitan, perhaps?). Go Papa Handel! I love how he lavishes great tunes for only a minute or so and isn’t afraid to go back to Spechgesang all I’m playin’ wid’ya! All of the characters are made fun or – and in turn make fun of others. I love how characters just pop up when it’s convenient for them to do so –

Romilda (supposedly alone): oh, Serse, that tyrant!
Serse (cheerful): anyone mention my name?

[much later on:]

Romilda (when she’s run out of sensible arguments against Serse’s pestering): ok, my lord, it will be as you wish!
Arsamene (supposedly not in the room):  ok, my lord, it will be as you wish! So much for your ardently professed faithfulness!

Before we go forward, let’s talk a bit about Fagioli, the star of the night. Now that I sat so close and after¬†we have discussed him at length, I can see the vibrato and I can feel the tension – indeed it’s so great, half the time I’m afraid he’ll blow a gasket. Singing doesn’t have to look like a¬†Strong¬†Man¬†competition. But it can and in his case it sure does. I’m also amused about his stance, which is always on the verge of Ol√©!

His acting was much more involved than usual and with flashes of comedic brilliance, especially when dismissing others (which Serse does a lot)¬†or “wooing” Romilda (who knew he had it in him?!) but the ornamenti felt a bit noodly and, as much as he can do it, I’ve heard more sparkling Crude furies. Perhaps unfair of me to say that, as it comes so late in the game, but maybe if he didn’t pack so much tension from the start… Ombra mai fu felt like his best moment of the night, vocally. Or it’s just me always connecting to his softer singing

The public loved him, of course, but I’ve seen him so many times now that, as earwormopera once said about JDD,

Is there such a thing as awesome fatigue? I’ve heard DiDonato live quite a few times now, and I think I may be chasing the dragon, in a sense that she’s as good as she always is, but I’m so used to it that it doesn’t stun me as much as it did the first time.

So I have a feeling this would be a good point to call it a day as far as following Franco. Blaze of glory and all that.

What with all the excitement about other characters, Kalna’s Romilda got less applause than she should have. She did some fine juxtapositions of quiet and loud singing that showed great control and her voice is as flexible as ever. Romilda is one of those costante amante that have endless woe is me, I’m so oppressed but I will stay true to my principles arias¬†and get¬†energetic only once in the last act (right about the time she gets annoyed at Arsamene for not trusting her after all this effort, bless her heart), which was the one time she also got deserved applause. The woman is very versatile and underrated.

Genaux,¬†Galoumis√Ļ and Aspromonte were kickin’ it in heels. When you sit so close to the stage you have ample opportunity to ponder on singers’ walking gear, which is level with your nose (or, if you’re particularly short, your hairline). I don’t think you’ll be surprised if I told you Galoumis√Ļ wins the stiletto competition. How she skips around in them I don’t know, but they are spiky, high and stylish as all getout. Let me take a(nother) minute to

Ok, back to women’s¬†oppressive¬†footwear. Genaux’s Arsamene was going for that Goth look where men wear leather, heels and eyeliner – or she was just taking the men right out of Arsamene. The shoes weren’t bad,¬†consisting of¬†a patch of black leather (also worn at TADW), but Galoumis√Ļ’s silver bead pair to accessorise the purplish dress was in a different class altogether. Aspromonte wore a pair of practical white pumps, which was why she could “roll up her sleeves” and organise the music stands ūüėČ We don’t know what Kalna wore under the turquoise dress.

Genaux is Genaux and although I doubt I’ll ever be a fan, Arsamene sits well for her, plus she can act and seems to have a sense of humour that she can adapt to the chumminess that usually runs through Baroque specialist circles.

As the night went on, I came to a conclusion on the issue I have with Aspromonte, who has so far been a very reliable performer¬†if uneven at hitting that emotional spot with me (best fit: the trouser role of Alceste in Arianna in Creta). As far as I’m concerned, Atalanta is one of those roles owned by Piau. Aspromonte’s voice is less light, so the impishness does not come out of her vocal delivery alone. Atalanta is a very young and cunning girl, who has the guts to compete with her older sister for love and the selfishness to use any means necessary to get the man when he’s not responding to her wiles. Amusingly, her plans get thwarted by adults who aren’t as¬†easy to manipulate¬†as she thinks they are. Aspromonte is good and very convincing dramatically, especially in that girlish pink dress.

Pizzuti as Elviro was a riot at Elvira, as he needed to be. Elvira the florist’s entrance was hilariously loud and garish, smack dab into Amastre’s heartfelt moaning about being betrayed by her adored Serse. That’s what I’m talking about!¬†While we’re at it,¬†you gotta love the piss taken out of opera disguises, what with Elviro’s hastily applied head scarf and super obviously fake woman’s voice or Amastre’s equally fail “en travesti”, which consisted of a long-ish and clashingly unstylish coat on top of her very “royal” dress. We could totally believe she was a warrior forged in the heat of battle! Haha.

Then we have Wolf’s Ariodate, opera’s most amiable army commander. He’s basically there to say yes, Your Highness! and confuse matters at THE crucial moment of the opera. Plus he’s been in charge of the Most Badass Bridge of the Ancient World, to link Asia with Europe and crown Serse’s ambitions at conquering the world. Both Elviro and Amastre take pot shots at the bridge’s reliability. Is there nothing sacred in this libretto, you will ask? Nothing, gentle reader, nothing.

Except Amastre’s gorgeousness. Are you ready for more eyelash batting? OMG. So you know how she usually doesn’t get applause because contralto or something – possibly the narrow beam effect2. But this time I was determined to rectify this, so as soon as Amastre’s vengeange aria finished and she started to walk away I wrestled the clapping right out of the audience (I’ll be sending in my application to the Strong Person contest, too). So she actually turned around and gave us a little curtsy and me (I hope it was me) her cheeky smile. Dehggi = in love!

gentle readers: wait a minute, dehggi, you’ve been batting the eyelashes at Galou’s altar for how long now?
dehggi: since March 2015. Your point? Love needs to be tended to on a daily basis.

fellow Galou fan: she has such an exquisite voice.
dehggi:¬†where do you think Galoumis√Ļ comes from? And I love her manner of singing, though I still don’t quite know how to characterise it. There’s something she does with sound that’s very cool; it’s not simply beautiful singing, it’s sculpted sound (from my Giulio Cesare in Vienna review: […] timing and interactions with the orchestra ‚Äď the way she got in and out of the phrase and how that blended with the sound around her).
fellow Galou fan: in my opinion she’s very beautiful.
dehggi:

But I was actually talking about Andreas Wolf as Ariodate, right? You don’t remember that? Well, I was. I like his voice a lot, one of those flexible basses that can cope with Baroque coloratura without forcing the gates at the Strong Man contest (yes, I know, this post is all about English breakfast, Italofrench desert and the Strong Man contest. I’m trying to tell it like it is).

I know a lot of people really dig on Emelyanychev’s antics but to me he’s equally as ready to join the Strong Man contest as Mr Argentinian Bean. He looks like he’s wrestling the sound out of his very talented string players, to the point it made me wonder if, left to their own devices, they’d suddenly feel lost at sea and end up sounding like Disarmonia. That being said, 4 hours pass like nothing under his care and his singers are greatly taken care of, especially our evening’s beans on toast, whom he was setting up to soar. What can I tell you about the Attack of the Baroque Tomatoes? That string sound is sweet and they can roque without sounding like they’re trying hard to be cool. But to be honest, sitting on a side I don’t think I got the best of their abilities, except for the strings on the left that I keep mentioning and which healed the still lacerating wounds caused by… that which shall only be named once in this paragraph.

Moral of the story: a) the very front is for getting the best out of the singers, stay further back for the band, b) talk to your neighbours, they might be your real life neighbours, c) someone two people over to my right was – very obviously – recording the show so it could surface somewhere. I wanted to talk to her about it but my neighbour distracted me. Oh, well, sometimes pleasant memories are better than overly scrutinised reality ūüėČ

But since I failed to bring the camera along when sitting smack dab in front of the stage, let me leave you with a shot of the general area of where I think Franco is (supposedly) twirling in the above poster, as seen from Santa Maria della Salute:

San Giorgio Maggiore with lighthouse, blue skies and really warm sun


  1. how often does the soprano do menial work?! 
  2. aka, small, forward concentrated voice (= the laser of gorgeousness). 

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

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

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

Franco Fagioli countertenor
Gianpiero Zanocco | Venice Baroque Orchestra

Vivaldi Sinfonia in G major, RV 146
Cessate, o mai cessate, RV 684
Sinfonia in G minor, RV 156
‚ÄėMentre dormi‚Äô from¬†Olimpiade
‚ÄėNel profondo cieco mondo‚Äô from¬†Orlando Furioso
Handel¬†‚ÄėDopo notte‚Äô from¬†Ariodante
‚ÄėSento brillar ner (sic) sen‚Äô from Il Pastor Fido
Vivaldi Sinfonia in C major from Il Giustino, RV 717
Handel¬†‚ÄėScherza, infida‚Äô from Ariodante
Geminiani¬†Concerto gross (sic) in D minor ‚ÄėLa follia‚Äô (after A. Corelli Op 5, No 12)
Handel¬†‚ÄėSe potessero i sospir miei‚Äô from Imeneo

Encore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What London needs is lo… I mean moar Agrippina

2019-2020 will see quite a bit of Agrippina action in London, for which I think we’re all (or at least most) getting excited. Those who were a bit miffed by the ROH cast should take a look at the lineup of the concert version at the Barbican, in May 2019:

Il Pomo d’Oro
Maxim Emelyanychev harpsichord/director
Joyce DiDonato Agrippina
Katryn Lewek Poppea
Marie-Nicole Lemieux¬†Ottone ‚̧ ‚̧ ‚̧
Franco Fagioli Nerone
Luca Pisaroni Claudio
Andrea Mastroni Pallante
Jakub Jósef Orlinski Narciso

Let’s hope nobody cancels!

Rinaldo: a story of love, battle and colonialism (Barbican, 13 March 2018)

Almost a year after Ariodante, the London public has returned to the Barbican for Handel’s first local smash hit, 1711’s Rinaldo. Set during the First Crusade, Rinaldo manages the feat to be both unapologetically silly and decidedly un-PC. Goffredo’s army has come very close to liberating Sion from the Saracens when Argante’s top scheming ally, the witch Armida, has nonchalantly plucked Rinaldo’s beloved from under his nose.

Armida: sorry, stud, I need your fiance for a moment. poof!
Rinaldo: … what just happened? … and where is Almirena? [aka,¬†Cara sposa]

Goffredo: you can get my daughter back after we conquer Sion.
Rinaldo: no! Almirena first, battle next.

He might be young and relatively unexperienced but things fall into place the way he wants them to. Super bonus: the baddies, Argante and Armida, willingly (narrow miss) convert to Christianity! All in a day’s work.

The English Concert
Harry Bicket conductor
Iestyn Davies Rinaldo
Jane Archibald Armida
Sasha Cooke Goffredo
Joelle Harvey Almirena
Luca Pisaroni Argante
Jakub J√≥zef OrliŇĄski Eustazio
Owen Willetts Mago

As far as concert performances go, this was a mixed bag. The English Concert was in its usual high form, very disciplined, at best in the muscular parts of the score, with just minimal desynchs in the wind section and some – I guess inevitable – trumpet clarity trouble in the trills of¬†Or la tromba. To the trumpets’ credit, they absolutely rocked Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which was the highlight of the night for me (surprise, surprise). They did such a good job as far as I’m concerned that they very narrowly upstaged Pisaroni.

Everybody before him (and some after) started a bit cautiously but he took this massive entrance aria with the right aplomb and confidence (and sang without a score through the night). It didn’t hurt that his voice was 2 sizes larger than everyone else’s. However he didn’t show this off for the sake of muscle flexing and resized back for the rest of his interventions. Even here he played with volume dynamics in the coloratura – perhaps foreshadowing Argante’s weakness? Now if you have volume and you’re called to sing an aria such as this I’m all for you firing on all cylinders ūüėÄ and if you can play with it, that’s even better.

Pisaroni was also the most committed acting-wise, showing softeness when Argante falls for Almirena, (almost comical) caution and passion with lover/ally Armida and a very smooth U-turn at the end, when the baddies admit deafeat. This on top of the right amount of boastfulness of a “feared enemy”. It’s a silly role but a more nuanced one that you’d immediately give credit.

As Armida, Archibald was her usual self, I guess. I’m not a fan (for me she’s a soprano who has a very ringing but rather unpleasant top and little of interest elsewhere) but I will allow that, dramatically, her interactions with Pisaroni were rather fun. Vocally she was one of the most cautious ones, so Furie terribili was a bust – at least for me. Let us not forget that Handel wrote for virtuosi, who cherished the challenge to make a grand entrance, whereas I felt that she was still guaging how far her voice could go. If you have a voice large and sonorous enough to sing Strauss I’d say you could blast through a 2min Handel bravura aria (ok, ok, different style and all – but still; also as far as style went I thought she did well). But aside from a not entirely style-appropriate reach to the top of her voice later on, you wouldn’t have known what volume she has at her disposal. The coloratura was correct, if rather robotic (as Baroque Bird noted) but the moments when she cruelly played with Rinaldo by manhandling Almirena weren’t bad dramatically.

She was also unfairly hampered by the harpischord in that aria that features the keyboard at length, I wouldn’t know what to tell you about her interpreation, thank you overbearing harpsi. Imagine your concert performance is going well, with the various instruments having their moments, when an aria comes where you detect more prominent than usual harsichord involvement. At first I thought “how cool! There harpsi comes to the forefront to loudly let us know what it thinks, not just to whisper as it normally does – it’s ok if all the others (including the soprano) have to stop, turn around and pay attention.” It was ok and interesting even the second time. Then the third time came. Ok, I thought, Tom Foster is a very skilled player, why not? Oh, and this is actually an aria and the soprano is trying to convey something or another. What was that again? Nevermind, the harpsi will return for a fourth time. So all in all in that aria, the harpsi had centre stage for about 15min and the sorpano for 3. Classic(al) drum solo moment if I’ve ever seen one!

It was only upon further researching that I realised that was Vo far guerra¬†(Archibald’s Italian diction isn’t anything to write home about…) and the harpsichord part is nowhere near as verbose,¬†though it’s there and it’s definitely fun [edit: well, I’m proven kinda wrong. In the sense you can improv the hell out of it – according to your taste. It’s better if it’s at the end, though]. You’ll ask yourself, “come on, dehggi, you didn’t know Vo far guerra?!” Dear reader, I thought I did (kinda; that being said I totally forgot about Or la tromba until it started). One of the problems with the Barbican’s open plan hall is that if you’re seated on the Balcony and have my eyesight you can’t read the surtitles (I used the opera glasses to keep up with the plot but you can’t do it all the time or chance a headache).

Now of course I know Baroque is all about excess and if the singers can do their shtick, why not the instruments? Right, but it’s still an opera and not a keyboard concerto with bonus singing. Nevermind, judged by the ovations, this was the crowd’s favourite moment of the night, so there you go.

Iestyn Davies has been our local Rinaldo for a while now but I have to say he wasn’t in top form the other night. He came off a bit pale, both vocally and dramatically (most alive as a lover in his interactions with Harvey’s Almirena) and, hate to say it, his Rinaldo was upstaged in both stage presence and vocal shine by¬†OrliŇĄski’s Eustazio – who has already sung his own Rinaldo in Frankfurt and I could see why.

I noticed some physical struggle with Davies’ coloratura in the massive bravura arias, which took his attention away from the drama. Especially in Or la tromba one needs to look like a very hopeful hero, ready to take on the last challenge in battle, and all I got from him was careful singing. I know it comes very late in the game but, you know, tough luck. In defense of the trumpets, aside from some tonal blur in the trills, the rest was great, beautiful sound, very good synch. I feel like I need to reiterate this because the trumpets were a pleasure and I know this is very difficult (impossible?) to do spotless with those valveless Baroque instruments.

To illustrate what I missed here dramatically, I’ll leave you with this concert performance (don’t be deterred by the low quality audio):

Harvey continues to baffle me. Though a singer of pleasant tone, vocal commitment and good technical skills, her stage presence is nonexistant. Glyndebourne is mere months away, I wager she needs to do something, because at this point, dramatically I have very low expectations from her Cleopatra. That being said, Almirena’s second aria was beautiful singing, my favourite from hers so far. The Augelletti aria not so much, though the piccolo was the bigger culprit (I didn’t like the tone, though I won’t argue if you call me nitpicky).

Like I mentioned earlier, I liked OrliŇĄski a lot. He and Pisaroni had the best stage presence and enthusiasm by far and he showed a very beautiful tone and nuanced phrasing. I’m going to see him in concert soonish, so expect to read something more in depth here once I hear more from him.

Cooke as Goffredo wasn’t bad, perhaps one needs to hear more before making a definitive call (I hadn’t heard her before). I couldn’t make my mind up if she was a low mezzo or a contralto but that wasn’t a problem. She came off as a good Goffredo, who’s supposed to be older and wiser – with unhurried gestures and a fairly authoritative vocal presence. She is one of those singers whose chest register sounds very different from her top. The chest is pretty solid though not particularly resonant whilst she can get a very strong ring out of her top. It’s quite metallic but rather intriguing, so I’d like to hear more of it. As an aside, hairwise she sported the curl of joy ūüėČ so there is a little extra bonus there.

All in all, a good, if not great evening. I’m way less familiar with Rinaldo than with Ariodante and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music Handel produced before his 26th birthday (it premiered the day after). The number of arias that have become Handel classics is impressive and the lesser known ones ain’t bad either.

The conversations around me were way amusing (how many times have we seen Davies? Three? No, many! Even when Farinelli transfered to the West End! He was also in something else here, though in a secondary role [dehggi: he was Ottone in Poppea a couple almost 4 years back, which is known as not having lesser roles – actually his E pur io torno qui is very nice]), though Mr. Twitter with fascist hair’s constant leaning directly in my line of view, especially during Cara sposa, wasn’t. I know not everyone suffers as much as I do if I can’t see the singers but I hate the disconnect. I have to say this was the first time I had “restricted view” at the Barbican. Moral of the story: never get second row Balcony seats, try higher.

Anyway! the next Handel opera concert performance at the Barbican is Serse this coming October, with Pomo d’Oro and a starry cast, including a certain contralto referenced in this very post ūüėÄ I coughed up ¬£40 for a second row Stalls seat so let’s hope all is good by then.

(as usual, sorry for the possible typos)

Good times at the opera in 2017

2017 was a busy opera year for yours truly, with plenty local outings as well as opera trips to Italy, Austria and Germany, and a return to Glyndebourne in style (3 out of 4 dates = sunny). I met old and new friends and even ran into a certain contralto on the street ūüėČ And then there was the Summer of Tito. Plus a couple of duds and misses… ūüėČ

Read the rest of this entry

Ariodante all star (Barbican, 16 May 2017)

once again, shots from the Carnegie Hall webcast

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 ūüėČ

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 ūüôā

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 ūüėČ (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 ūüėČ 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 ūüôā Thank you Handel and thank you all involved.


  1. you can tell how traumatised I was by what Bates did to Renard and in general. 

Late 2017, early 2018: Rodelinda at ENO and Rinaldo at the Barbican

photo credit: hdvdarts.com

Now that venues are posting their 2017-2018¬†offerings it turns out that ENO is bringing out their 2014 production of the beautiful Rodelinda¬†in Oct/Nov, whilst the Barbican is airing¬†Rinaldo on 13 March, with a few features from the Glyndebourne production – Iestyn Davies 1 in the title role and Pisaroni as Argante +¬†the addition of Jane Archibald as Armida. I have to say my ¬£15 was¬†for Pisaroni’s Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto. I hope the trumpets live up to the hype all the way to the balcony. I’m not sure about Rodelinda¬†(Io t’abraccio in English) just yet, I might pull a Partenope-move and book at the last minute if I can’t get it out of my mind long enough.


  1. He sang in the recent revival which I missed because he’s not Prina

Good times at the opera in 2016

Cotroversial in everyday life and politics, 2016 was a good opera year for yours truly. I went to Vienna again and returned to Paris after two decades, lots of fun! London wasn’t too shabby either, with its mezzo/contralto traffic jams and my love affair with Wigmore Hall only intensified this year ‚̧ Last but not least, looking over the many shows that sign posted this year I had another opportunity to think about the fine people I shared some of these good times with. Thank you all and a much happier 2017!

January

11 Benjamin Appl | Wigmore Hall: a Schubert start to the year

February

20 L’Etoile | ROH: a bit of a weird romp, but a romp nonetheless (le romp francais). I hope whoever succeeds Holten at ROH sprinkles the seasons with wackiness of this sort.

March

4, 8 Akhnaten | ENO: X-Files meets Aida = most spectacular show of the year! Let’s keep ENO in business for more of the same.

12, 14 Ariodante | RCM Britten Hall: students go hardcore Highlands

14 Maria Ostroukhova | St George’s Hanover Sq: Cecca notte!

16 Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes | Wigmore Hall: there is still Belcanto, lest we forgot about it

17 Berenice | St George’s Hanover Sq: hit and miss Handel

21 Boris Godunov | ROH: Terfel, the Welsh Boris(h)

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: Il pianto di Maria

31 Elpidia | St George’s Hanover Sq: very good singing, so-so pasticcio

April

14 Lucia di Lammermoor | ROH: Damrau is no damsel in distress

27 Lucio Silla | Theater an der Wien: the Arnold Schoenberg Choir! with not that much to sing ūüėČ

28 Il Vologeso | Cadogan Hall: proof that Jommelli rocks

30 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall: super stylish Boroque with La Piau

May

08 Tannhauser | ROH: an opportunity to see Christian Gerhaher sing Wagner lyrically.

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: ūüėÄ

26 Oedipe | ROH: almost as spectacular as Akhnaten

June

24 Werther | ROH: Pappano gets it

29 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall: the first of two shows this year; this is the feisty one.

July

02 Nathalie Stutzmann | Wigmore Hall: the smoothest contralto takes on Vivaldi

07 Il trovatore | ROH: Bosch brings his caravan to Verdi

17 JPYA | ROH: ROH students return

August

03 Bluebeard’s Castle | Proms/Royal Albert Hall: there are a few things I will always attend and this is one of them.

September

21 Demetrio (Hasse) | Cadogan Hall: musically not the most exciting

22 Cosi fan tutte | ROH: this one was a bit of a miss…

October

02 Nathalie Stutzmann/Orfeo 55 | Wigmore Hall: oh yea!

05 Anna Bonitatibus | Wigmore Hall: …and yea to Semiramide, too.

21 The Nose | ROH: between this and L’Etoile we covered Eastern and Western wackiness.

November

02 Juditha triumphans | Barbican: the mezzo/contralto fest of the year

05 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall: dramatic Roschmann is here

07 Les contes d’Hoffmann | ROH: traditional tales of sexism (with mezzos)

13 Oreste (Handel) | Wilton’s Music Hall: the Atrides in Jack the Ripper’s neighbourhood

20 Luca Pisaroni | Wigmore Hall: Luca sings the Schubert

24 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth | Wigmore Hall: more Schubert!

28 La Calisto | Wigmore Hall: Wigmore Hall goes kookoo-funny

30 La finta giardiniera | RCM Britten Hall: students being successfully silly

December

05 Don Giovanni | Theatre des Champs-Elysees: Don Leporello muses in the beautiful surroundings of TCE.

06 Sancta Susanna/Cavalleria rusticana | Opera Bastille: Sancta Susanna = the runner up in the badass production contest of the year

29 Sonia Prina/Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: oh so quiet and gentle