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Sondra Radvanovsky recital or the triple queen of diminuendo takes London by giggle (Cadogan Hall, 16 March 2017)

It’s hard to believe this was Radvanovsky’s debut as recitalist in London, but I think there are two types of American singers: some who become household names there but rarely visit these shores/Europe and some who seem comfortable on both sides (those are the ones with Mozart/Strauss/Baroque in their rep and Radvanovsky seems to miss this).

Sondra Radvanovsky soprano
Anthony Manoli piano

VivaldiSposa son disprezzata from BajazetBelliniPer pietà, bell’idol mio; La Ricordanza; Ma rendi pur contento – she actually quizzed us about which one of his own arias Bellini ripped off in La Ricordanza 😉 do you know?StraussAllerseelen; Befreit; Morgen!; Heimliche Aufforderung

I don’t even know how well the event was advertised because I only learned about it via the Barbican newsletter last week, right around the time one of my shifts was moved from Thursday to Sunday. A time comes in an opera lover’s life when one doesn’t go to a show just because they worship a performer. Sometimes one goes because someone considered an important contemporary voice should be experienced live.

I’ve not been a fan and this performance did not make me one. But there’s no denying Radvanovsky’s qualities, regardless of what one wants in a performer. For fans though, this must’ve been one of those nights memory would return to often.

To begin with, she appeared very excited to be here. Enthusiasm always helps. Then there was the curiosity of American singers. There is something specific about their modus operandi, different from how the Europeans do it. The Europeans would mostly just toss together a bunch of songs/arias that show off their qualities, mix in their personal pizzaz – which quite often means throwing caution to the wind – and call it a day.

The Americans curate their shows – carefully. Everything has an explaination and is in place with the specific intent of winning the audience over. Hell, she even plugged her upcoming Met Norma! – though considering her encores, Casta diva was conspicuously absent. I can’t say it bothered me (it’s her space to entertain, and she was entertaining1) but this is not something I’ve ever heard from European singers. We also learned she will be debuting Andrea Chenier in Barcelona, so the places between songs functioned like chirpy tweeter moments.

This chattiness is another American thing. When speaking and walking about she constantly reminded me of Joyce DiDonato. I don’t know if they are friends, but I could easily imagine them have long convos over coffee (“… that time in Prague when-“, “Oh, but let me tell you what happened in Madrid! It was the weirdest thing!” etc.).

It is one of those weird things. Radvanovsky is one of those singers who is built, looks and sounds like a tragedian when singing but speaks like a soubrette (in content as well). After the dark or very covered sound (it’s one of her peculiarities so she probably doesn’t do it on purpose) during the songs/arias she just chimes in with a giggle.

When presenting the Vivaldi aria she made a face best represented by this ascii art:

¯_(ツ)_/¯

(she said: I just like it! which could be a candid moment of pure music joy or hey Baroque fans, don’t judge! – because the way she and Manoli attacked it was with a Liszt-type feel; possibly both – but it was not the gesture of a tragedian). Again, I didn’t mind it, but it was quite different than most of my previous recital experiences.

As I mentioned in the title, diminuendo – the woman knows how to tackle this (as well as crescendo, but one could argue that’s easier). Her technique seemed simply fabulous to me. From that angle this was a performance to take voice students to: watch and learn, this is the kind of solidity you need to aim for and you’re going to have a long and fruitful career. Her control of dynamics and projection was wonderful through the night and her flights to the top of her voice illuminating (metaphorically and literally). The voice has a very alluring opacity at the bottom – let’s say indigo, like her second dress of the night – and an interesting rock solid brightness without ping at the top but the middle (I’d guess right around the area where mezzos tend to have the passaggio) was occasionally marred by cloud.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you that I connected much on an emotional level, this side of the Barber set and Vissi d’arte. It might be due to a difference in personality or just that I constantly sensed her position herself for best technical results rather than letting go enough for my liking. Even when she let rip (often, especially after the interval) – something the size of her voice easily allows for – it seemed strangely contained.

The audience responded very warmly to her coaxing, though, even when I thought she was going a bit far with the please like me attitude. American singers are not shy about their ambitions. But, come on, you’re Radvanovsky, not a beginner, of course people will like you if you drop by. Now, like she said she would like to, she could start with some Strauss – perhaps Ariadne? – and call again.

INTERVAL

LisztS’il est un charmant gazon; Enfant, si j‘étais roi; Oh! Quand je dorsBarberHermit Songs – At Saint Patrick’s Purgatory; St Ita’s Vision; The Crucifixion; The Monk and His Cat; The Desire for HermitageGiordanoLa mamma morta from Andrea Chénier

The surprise of the night was the Barber set. I felt it was the best suited to her voice, like she had reached her true home – and made me love it in the process.

Seeing as Barber wrote it for Leontyne Price (check them both out here), she talked a bit about fangirling Price. Apparently she decided to pursue an opera career after listening to Price sing Verdi. I can’t blame her, I think Price does the phattest maledizione there is (but the whole thing is worth it):

Yes. That last note was held exactly as long as it should’ve been. Even if it’s an old recording, you can tell how well her voice holds against the orchestra.

So whilst Radvanovky isn’t the second coming of Price, she does inhabit a similar vocal space.

ENCORE:

Song to the Moon Rusalka
I could’ve danced all night My Fair Lady – and she could’ve!
Io son l’umile ancella… Adriana Lecouvreur
Vissi d’arte Tosca

4 encores after all that – Americans and their work ethic 😉 There’s never enough Adriana Lecouvreur in the recitals I attend, so I was right happy, but to be fair Vissi d’arte turned out to be surprisingly moving2. Perhaps because it was the last piece she dropped a bit of that control – and it was a good thing. What we learned tonight? Going out of your comfort zone can be surprisingly rewarding.


  1. I’d just finished a set of night shifts the morning before the performance and was afraid I’d doze off but I was far from it. Good job, SR! 
  2. Nice combo, two arias about living for art – prefaced by her comment that the world right now needs more music and less… all that stupid crap (she didn’t put it like that). 
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Hasse’s Demetrio (Cadogan Hall, 21 September 2016)

demetriohasseOlinto: Ray Chenez
Cleonice: Erica Eloff
Alcestes (Demetrio): Michael Taylor
Fenicio: Rupert Charlesworth
Barsene: Ciara Hendrick
Mithranes: Augusta Hebbert
Conductor: Leo Duarte | Opera Settecento

Opera Settecento’s latest offering is Hasse’s Demetrio, on a libretto by the indefatigable Metastasio. They were the dreamteam of the (early) 18th century opera and solidified the basis of that young-ish art form in general.

This wasn’t one of their best efforts. Sure, the lofty ideals of the Enlightenment shine through, as the opera starts with a strong feminist-friendly recit. Queen Cleonice of Syria asserts that women are as capable of ruling as men, citing other examples from around the Ancient World. Of course this is tempered a bit by her accepting the necessity of finding a husband. At least she is allowed to choose one. More or less. But it was written in 1732 so the thought counts. Then there’s her musing about the possibility of the world accepting a brave and patriotic shepherd (Alceste) as king instead of a self-entitled aristocrat (Olinto). The fact that she does not know Alceste’s identity until the end speaks well in her favour. Though it isn’t completely clear if the only reason she’s not prejudiced is because she is smitten with love, you see. But again, the thought counts. You’re a good man, Mr. Metastasio.

The libretto also offers us something like 10 storm arias, which you all know I love beyond all else. Then there’s the animal simile arias (everything from lions to turtle-doves is mentioned. Or was that a turtle? Why is it called a turtledove in the first place? It looks nothing like one. The eggplant effect?) and plant similes. Like I said, I’m fine with the libretto.

It’s the music that lets it down a bit. Though I have noticed a few interesting things Hasse did. In the first Barsene aria there is a wicked rhythm that gives the harpsichord the opportunity of going to town. I found myself following it with gusto rather than the vocal line (though I liked Hendrick’s singing a lot – when I could hear it! For whatever reason she chose to sing rather quietly most of the time).

Then there’s a neat trick that you (or at least I) don’t often hear in Baroque opera: a sung response to a recit. This came after the intermission, when the Queen was asking Mithranes why – apprently – Alceste did not want to talk to her anymore. Without further ado Mithranes launches into a jaunty answer-aria that reminded me a lot of Atalanta’s humorous Dirà che amor per me (you know the one that reoccurs a few times during Atalanta’s conversation with Serse about Arsamene). There really should be more of these, because science tells us that people remember messages better if they hear them sung 😉

Another thing was the arioso/duettoso between Cleonice and Alceste when they think (or she thinks) they need to do the right thing and split because he’s a plebeian. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever heard (could’ve used a lot more orchestral variety – says I, from my 21st century armchair) but you could tell Hasse tried to make the moment specifically angsty.

Then you had the arias themselves. In this opera it’s the baddie – Olinto (what kind of antagonist name is that?!) – who gets to bring down the house. He has the foot-stomping horn arias. I’ll say Hasse did very nice in these instances and gave Chenez the opportunity to rock out to the delight of the (otherwise rather unjustly reserved) audience. Chenez has very good stage presence though he’s very slight. I got a kick out of his proper piercing squillo and enjoyed his very free coloratura and solid breath. I hope he comes back for more of the same 🙂

With such a brat character to the forefront, Alceste/Demetrio’s only chance was to play it cool, relaxed and amorous, which Taylor did. Also, absent the badass arias, he chose to go for the chest register once or twice. This brings me to the question: when countertenors go for the chest register, are they tenors1? Either way, Taylor was pretty good at it and also quite nice in the duettoso with Eloff.

Eloff herself was once more the duty/love torn queen. She’s good at these roles, she has the regal bearing for them, both vocally and physically but these virtuously hearbroken roles aren’t giving her the opportunity to rock out and make the audience worship her excellent coloratura chops. By the end even in spite of some impressive manipulation of vocal dynamics up and down the range, ppp and ffff, the audience still wanted more horns and more stomping.

Hendrick and Hebbert were also good. Hendrick had the advantage of some rather snarky lines – her character is scheming to get Alceste but all falls apart because he couldn’t care less (and she’s the second soprano, what was she thinking?).

At the beginning, Cleonice, pining for her lover, asks whistfully: Have you heard anything from Alceste? Which is meant to be taken as “Comfort me, Barsene!” Well, Barsene takes her at face value: Don’t be stupid, Cleonice, Alceste is dead. Focus on your other suitors.

As per opera seria, the second soprano is supposed to love someone and be loved by a third character, with whom she usually couples up by the end. In this case it was Mithranes who was interested. He says so, Barsene has an aria along the lines of “How sweet! Though you’re not my type I believe your feelings for me are genuine. How does the friendzone sound to you?” His answer seems to be a cheerful “Oh, well”, and that, dear reader, is the last we hear of this matter. Eh?? How odd. I bet you there were cuts. Anyway, I remember some good work with phrasing and a lovely tone from Hendrick.

Although Mithranes had countless of single recit lines of the “Here he is, My Queen!” variety, Hebbert also got to sing 2 arias and did very well with them. Both asked for a good middle and easy-flow ventures into the top notes, both of which she had.

I guess Hasse wasn’t interested in basses because the wise father figure in Demetrio is sung by a tenor. It was a bit funny imagining Charlesworth as Olinto and Alceste’s dad but he did good chiding Olinto, praising Alceste and worrying that his – benevolent – scheming might backfire. Fenicio is the only one who knows Alceste’s true identity, as the previous Demetrio left the child in his care. He had a couple (or more) of those alarmed helmsman in a storm arias and sung well, though Hasse short-changed him a bit along the way (the first aria was rocking and the first of the night that got applause).

I was very pleased with the level of singing, there were no weak links. The singers seemed to have a good time and were dressed more casually than usual (aside from Olinto, but he’s stuck up). The general atmosphere was very congenial, though I must say Hasse doesn’t bring people in the yard as much as others do. Lucky for me as I upgraded to a spot in the centre of the auditorium. Cadogan Hall is a bit cold at this time of the year even though I was rather overdressed for the tube. All in all, a good welcome back to live opera for me, after my (gasp) monthlong hiatus.


  1. This question was half-amusingly debated on an (at least one) episode of the Opera Now! podcast which I found via Jennifer Rivera’s blog, during my recent raids into the past (no pillaging). For some interesting Baroque banter (and the countertenor/tenor bit) you should listen from about 1hr into the podcast. 

Hasse for London/UK Baroque lovers

Hasse’s Demetrio (from the always interesting Opera Settecento) is coming up at Cadogan Hall in a couple of days. There are still tickets for those interested. Bring a cushion if you choose the gallery pews (they are pews).

Exciting Il Vologeso (Cadogan Hall, 28 April 2016)

Any doubts about whether Jommelli’s 1766 Il Vologeso needed a belated UK premiere at all were dispelled on Thursday night. Indeed, Ian Page and the Classical Opera orchestra showed such care and enthusiasm for it that this ended up being one of the most entertaining (post) Baroque events I have heard/seen in London in the past few years.

Lucio Vero: Stuart Jackson
Vologeso: Rachel Kelly
Berenice: Gemma Summerfield
Lucilla: Angela Simkin
Flavio: Jennifer France
Aniceto: Tom Verney
Conductor: Ian Page | Classical Opera

Though perhaps it needed a bit (more) of editing, Jommelli’s work was made a definitive case for by Ian Page & Co. who used an entire palette of colours and accents to bring out the many twists and turns and ever changing moods. There were lovely interplays between sections of the orchestra throughout, with the viola da gamba, oboe and horn especially “on”. I was very tired after travel delays and not overly familiar with the work and still barely flagged at all.

The libretto is a tutti frutti mixing favourite period tropes such as the benevolent ruler who must fight his base emotions (he is, as Dubya would put it, a flip-flopper), the 18th century heroine who has generally high moral standards and is steadfast in love, ready to sacrifice her happiness and/or life for her husband, the said (also steadfast) husband, a freedom fighter who is, nonetheless, equally as concerned with saving the damsel in distress (his wife/lover), the secondary character/schemer who has his eyes on the virtuous heroine and whose schemes are eventaully twarted as true love prevails in the end. The music is a lot more exciting, with several moments of palpable suspense (accompanied recits and ariosos) if still built on a typically Baroque structure of recit/aria/recit.

Stuart Jackson1 as the amourous Lucio Vero shone as an exceptionally expressive singer/actor, clearly having a ball with his role, now putting smooth moves on Berenice, now spewing anger as his “good will and generosity” is repeatedly disdained by the stubborn couple Vologeso-Berenice. It’s fair to say that he electrified all the other singers into trying to match his level of involvement.

Rachel Kelly in the title role was especially ready to raise to Jackson’s level and their characters’ interactions were the most interesting of the evening, with Lucio and Vologeso tearing at each other with gusto. Which ran about 7 times along the lines of:

Lucio Vero: you are free, noble warrior! Behold my generosity!
Vologeso: freedom means nothing without my wife!
Lucio Vero: savage, you’re abusing my good will! Guards! Take him back to his cell!

later:

Lucio Vero: you are free, noble warrior! Behold my generosity!
Vologeso (looking all bristly): what do you want to do with me? Make up your mind already!
Lucio Vero: guards! Take him back to his cell!

Gemma Summerfield had quite a bit to sing as Berenice, Vologeso’s wife, much coveted by Lucio. Berenice’s contempt for Lucio was very clear through the night. She had some of those woe is me ariosos to navigate and did that with much aplomb. Her voice stood out as larger than the ones around her; it had a very pleasing warmth to it and a solid body which I suppose it going to work nicely in Mozart.

Jennifer France as Flavio, Lucio’s army commander, had the honour of singing my favourite Vologeso aria, Crede sol, which turns out to be one of those Baroque-simile arias about how those who could never imagine cheating on their partner can’t believe there are people who jump from flower to flower like butterflies 😉 It is a difficult aria and she coped very well with the… bounciness of the insect. Yes, that’s right, Lucio Vero’s army commander singing about flitting butterflies 😀

Thadieu thought she made good use of the ppp. It’s worth popping over to her blog post on Vologeso for a more detailed description of the evening.

As it appeared everybody was running late and the Cadogan Hall rather cramped foyer was busy (and perhaps a bit overdressed?) as usual, we only briefly ran into Leander, Baroque Bird and friends. It’s also not the easiest venue to get out of because the foyer is in the basement and you have to go up the stairs to get to the main hall. That being said, it’s a good, nicely expanding auditorium. I can’t complain too much since we have more than one smaller scale venue (capacity: 950) in London when other cities have none. They should definitely look into semi-staged operas there.


  1. You can catch him soon in the next Classical Opera outing, Don Giovanni (as Don Ottavio). 

Good times at the opera in 2015

venues2015

Chez dehggi, 2015 shall go down as the year of smashing opera trips abroad and the full Monteverdi. I’ve also visited new (to me) local venues such as the Roundhouse and Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. I had a boatload of Baroque and recitals from some of my top favourites but all periods were included. Also I had the chance to catch Operalia in its first stop to London. The one glaring miss this year was Glyndebourne.

January

L’Orfeo | Roundhouse: very moving performance and surprisingly fitting venue. It’s not for nothing I started the year on a Monteverdi high, I went on to see live his other two great works, in chronological order no less.

February

Farinelli and the King | Wanamaker Playhouse: a play with music, kinda like an opera but with less music, though the music got the most applause, so… 🙂

L’Ormindo (Cavalli) | Wanamaker Playhouse: not quite Monteverdi but silly as hell

March

VK Handel Recital | Karlsruhe Handel Fest: when the Baroquemobile shifts into turbo gear

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny | ROH: film noir meets mezzos

Semele | London Handel Festival: if I persist in listening, Sem’le I shall adore

Catone in Utica | London Handel Festival: new gen gets whimsical with pasticcio

April

St Matthew Passion | Barbican: the Passion of Mr Oboe and the Coughing Squad

Ben Johnson | Wigmore Hall: Mr Oronte sings zany stuff

JDD Masterclass | Milton Court/Barbican: shut up and learn to trill!

Adriano in Siria (JC Bach) | Britten Hall, RCM: a traditional production!

Il turco in Italia | ROH: introducing Aleksandra Kurzak’s chutzpah

May

Roschmann/Uchida | Wigmore Hall: when very serious and not so serious meet

VK’s Cleopatre | Stadscasino Basel: in which la forza del cleavage defeats dehggi

La forza del destino | Bayersiche Staatsoper: la forza del bad libretto vs. the Temple of Music

Krol Roger | ROH: mesmerising stuff

Sara Mingardo | Wigmore Hall: wrist slashing music done with elegance and… calm

Jessica Pratt | Wigmore Hall: major fun but should come with silencer

June

La voix humaine/Bluebeard’s Castle | Wiesbaden: women battling demons on a hot, sunny day

Queen of Spades | ENO: the least suspected mezzo tour de force (thanks (I think?!), David Alden)

Don Giovanni | ROH: all hail La Roschmann’s Donna Elvira!

July

Guillaume Tell | ROH: Gerry Finley acting mighty morose

JPYA Summer Performance | ROH: mixed bag with young singers

Operalia | ROH: high quality contestants

Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: finally fearless Invernizzi

August

Daphne | Grimeborn: unplugged Strauss

September

La voix humaine/La dame de Monte Carlo | Wigmore Hall: la voix de la merveilleuse dame Antonacci

Adriano in Siria (Pergolesi) | Cadogan Hall: Farnaspe in love

Orphee et Eurydice | ROH: the Monteverdi Choir tames the furies

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria | Barbican: il triunfale ritorno d’AAC to Barbican

October

Ariadne auf Naxos | ROH: Mattila does it again

Leo Nucci | Cadogan Hall: old skool Italian

Xerse (Cavalli) | Theater an der Wien: Emmanuelle Haim and Le Concert d’Astrée at work

L’incoronazione di Poppea | Theater an der Wien: Metastasio, tornado of concepts and chatting about opera

November

Franco Fagioli recital | Wigmore Hall: sweetly done and Dopo notte!

December

Orontea (Cesti) | Wigmore Hall: shambolic early Baroque

Hard to wish for more excitement after this romp but, as usual, you never know. What I do wish is to hang out again with the fine folks I had such good opera times this year. Half the fun was you 🙂

Nucci’s game of three halves (Cadogan Hall, 13 October 2015)

A week before that eventful trip to Vienna I went to see Leo Nucci with chamber accompaniment. I liked him in Nabucco two years ago and it’s good to visit other places beside your comfort zone on occasion. There’s something to be said about the tried and true – other things tend not to seem quite as sparkling – so here we are, with an overdue writeup.

You might wonder if it is necessary to write about everything one sees. I have on occasion asked myself the same question. My conclusion is in principle yes, why else run a blog? I very rarely go see something about which I have no idea whatsoever. If I see something I want to talk about it, to the best of my ability.

I like baritones in theory – low voices ahoy – but I am not very familiar with their repertoire outside of Mozart. I also love sung Italian in general and it’s not that often you hear a native speaker (saying that, he’s the fourth Italian singer I heard in concert this year) but for Verdi and them you want the typical Italianate sound.

Leo Nucci, baritone
Paolo Marcarini, piano
Pierantonio Cazzulani, violin
Lino Pierantonio, violin
Christian Serazzi, viola
Massimo Repellini, cello
Davide Burano, harp

Donizetti, Poliuto – Di tua beltade imagine
Bellini, Beatrice di Tenda – Qui mi accolse
Donizetti, Don Sebastiano – O Lisbona, alfin ti miro
Marcarini, Le donne di Donizetti: chamber versions of Donizetti ladies’ arias
Verdi, Macbeth – Mal per me m’affidai
Verdi, Non t’accostare all‘urna
Verdi, L’esule

Nucci needed quite a bit of time to warm up. To start with there was a whooping amount of vibrato especially at the top, whenever he took flight. On top of that I don’t know Verdi’s romanze, I’m not familiar with Poliuto and barely with Macbeth, I haven’t listened to Beatrice in a long time and I really don’t like Don Sebastiano, so this first part was a bit lukewarm for me. The upshot was that his pianissimos were lovely. He sang the romanze in operatic voice but Non t’accostare all’urna was quite moving in that dark over the top Verdi manner (which is to say nightmares, palpitations and soaked pillows). Also considering the accompaniment it was quite a full sound.

Interval

Verdi, I due Foscari – O vecchio cor, che batti
Verdi, I vespri siciliani – In braccia alla dovizie
Marcarini, Le donne di Bellini: chamber versions of Donizetti ladies’ arias; my complaint here was the piano in Casta diva, it felt like it was breaking the mood.
Rossini, Guillaume Tell – Sois immobile
Bellini, I Puritani – Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei
Donizetti, La Favorita – Vien, Leonora, a’ piedi tuoi

Eventually Nucci shook off most of the vibrato and by Ah! Per sempre… he was cooking with heartbreaking belcanto gas. Which reminds me, we need more Bellini in London. He does the kind of tearjerkers I can get behind.

Encore

Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia – Largo al factotum
Verdi, Un ballo in maschera – Eri tu
– can’t remember… –
Verdi, Rigoletto – Cortigiani, vil razza dannata

By the encore Nucci was properly energised. After the very serious stuff he pulled out all the tricks in the Largo book with a glee that belied his years – and that very serious stuff, when he was mostly still and stern/pained looking. The trills weren’t very precise but the characterisation was hilarious, which was such a change I wondered if he hadn’t sent a doppelganger out for this number. But he was immediately back to murderous baritone territory with a riveting Eri tu. Nice angst from the strings (which were very good in general). I was quite surprised how much energy he had for these long, difficult encores. Rigoletto is one of his signature roles so he was unsurprisingly intense and once again Verd’emotional. It’s hard to feel for Rigoletto instead of thinking bastard got his due but both Verdi and Nucci tried very hard to pull at heart strings. I was moved all right.

Nucci himself appeared very moved by the warm reception, which might’ve been the reason he sang a setlist the size of rock band’s. I didn’t think he was going to sing so many encores but he kept coming back 😉 Puts younger singers to shame. He sang, he talked, he might’ve even hidden a tear or two. He has quite a particular type of charisma (you might remember I occasionally pick this from singers), surprisingly subtle for a dramatic singer.

I had a seat at the back of the stalls and it seems like the audience there is very different from the one at the front. I was surrounded by chatterboxes – Italian in front and German (or thereabouts, judging by the accent) behind. The “Germans” talked very technically, praised Nucci a lot… and left at the interval. I didn’t get it but hey. The Italians chatted about their daily business and texted well into the show. On my left was a local gent whose feet smelled like a platoon’s socks after a 12 hour march through mud. He was very well behaved otherwise – until he elbowed me on the head whilst fussing with his coat during the applause. Then I dropped my trusty lozenges (Cadogan Hall can be a bit dry)…

So you may conclude, a bit meh all in all? It was better than meh, patchy but with some very enjoyable moments and a proper, unfussy baritone voice. Though I’m worried about Vologeso now as I will be sitting in the same seat. Maybe I’ll sneak in air freshener.

Jommelli’s Il Vologeso coming to town

next April, so, Baroque-loving locals, it’s time to book the cheap seats. Never heard of it before? How can you go wrong with something written in 1766? If you’re curious before booking, it’s on the trusty ‘tube. I for one was in such a hurry to book whilst being on the phone (not with the venue), I got the wrong seat 😀 at least I booked the right performance (I think?! As long as it’s not Wagner arias I’ll cope… we’re talking about 950 seats).

Il Vologeso is set in Ephesus in the second century. The Roman general Lucio Vero has defeated the Parthian king Vologeso but fallen in love with a Parthian princess, Berenice, who is herself betrothed to Vologeso. Powerless to protect her beloved, Berenice is faced with the choice of receiving either Lucio Vero’s hand in marriage or Vologeso’s severed head.

Sound familiar? Two words: Adriano and Siria. There’s something oddly alluring about going to (local) premieres of operas written 250 years ago.

Here’s a stratospheric-sounding morsel:

Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria (Cadogan Hall, 16 September 2015)

… after a rather unexpected Monteverdi detour (which was more intense than documented by posts or in the comments), I return, gentle reader, to the brink of Classicism event of last week. For my convenience I mash Monteverdi, Cavalli, Handel, Rameau, JC Bach and Papa Bach all in one big “baroque” soup, though my more meticulous side is rolling its eyes.

I don’t know where to fit Pergolesi, because his opere buffe sound very much of the Classicism to me and this serie one ain’t as Baroque as the kind of stuff Caldara was writing at the time (Tito) – or Handel, for that matter (Orlando, Arianna in Creta, Ariodante and Alcina). His stuff has that Italian quality that makes it all a bit lighter and more melodic, less stiff in feel if not in structure.

Adriano’s toasty effigy

Adriano: Michael Taylor
Farnaspe: Erica Eloff
Osroa: Gyula Rab
Emirena: Maria Ostroukhova
Sabina: Augusta Hebbert
Aquilio: Cenk Karaferya
Conductor: Leo Duarte | Opera Settecento

Had Metastasio been in attendance last Wednesday, I would’ve asked: why did you call this opera Adriano in Siria? Why not Farnaspe in love? His answer: because I wrote it for the Emperor’s1 name-day, duh. But keep on reading between the lines, dehgg.

Pergolesi set the text to music for Queen of Spain’s birthday in 1734. In his version, Adriano, Emirena, Sabina and Aquilio were sopranos, Osroa and Dario (cut here, not a Metastasio character) were tenors and Farnaspe was sung by Caffarelli. Even with a star of that calibre things didn’t go very smooth. It looks like Pergolesi simply was unlucky when it came to the premieres of his opere serie.

281 years later, this London premiere was very fine indeed. I enjoyed JC Bach’s version earlier this year but this resides a few notches above. I’m quite a fan of La serva pedrona, heard some of Lo frate ‘nnamorato and was recently spellbound by the famous Stabat Mater. His Adriano in Siria is as good as any to spur a Pergolesi frenzy chez dehggi. Yes, at the beginning of last week my house was buzzing with Pergolesi. Then the rain stopped and… er.

The cry of the peacock and the howl of the gnarly oak

adrianopergolesi

Taylor (Adriano) vs. Rab (Osroa)

Back at Ye Olde Cadogan Hall (where I heard it’s better to get seats at the front so I did) things were off to an auspicious start via a lively sinfonia with horns. Quite soon came Osroa’s strong oak aria (Sprezza il furor del vento), one of my favourite bravura arias in JC Bach’s setting too. But this one is even better and tenor Gyula Rab was satifyingly “oak-y” – lovely tone, proud, precise delivery. Throughout the night he sang in the no-nonsense way that befits the Parthian king – except for the moment of paternal emotion where he has a long arioso about Emirena. Interesting job Pergolesi and Rab, giving a slightly wider dimension to Roman-hating, headstrong Osroa.

We know we’re still Baroque because the first two acts end with a long aria sung by our title char… I mean by Farnaspe. When the oboist made his way up front I knew we were in for something good. Hero + wind instrument = match made in musical heaven. Pergolesi knew it too, he milked the voice-oboe duet for 20min and a half 😉 kidding. It was a long lament but beautifully written and kept interesting by Eloff’s attention to detail, with lots of slight mood changes to the returning phrases. Her voice has the kind of gentle nobility/quiet heroism that fits Metastasio’s sensitive men so well; no aria feels too long when a voice cradles you like that. How about Sesto in the near future?

Michael Taylor was obviously there to have a good time, his Adriano the spoiled but generous after all kind of tyrant. I liked how he exploited every moment of uncertainty Emirena showed in hopes his Adriano would get lucky. Nice tone, not puny; humorous and well managed, though the you’re all enemies aria – the one time Adriano really gets annoyed – was a bit same-y.

As I remarked to Leander during intermission, Eloff seems to get full voiced sopranos as her damsels in distress. Good thinking, as dueling high sopranos could get a bit much over 3 hours. Here all three ladies had very distinctive voices. Hebbert’s Sabina was the typical high soprano, Eloff herself the very lyrical voice and Ostroukhova the voluptuous-toned Emirena.

My first encounter with Ostroukhova was last year Grimeborn’s Coronation of Poppea. I still think of her as one of the best Ottavias I’ve heard. In this case her voice stood out thanks to its density, which is more akin to marmalade then honey. You don’t often hear this type of confectionery in this repertoire but it fits the lyrical arias and troubled determination of Emirena’s character. Let me remind you that Aquilio advises Emirena to deny any involvement with Farnaspe (whom she loves), which causes Adriano to think she’s fair game and Farnaspe to get to the brink of an aneurysm. For her part she’s thickly stuck in a mess of suffering and misunderstanding but has to put on a poker face. When Emirena and Farnaspe are finally reunited their duet comes of rather hypnotic, thanks to these two inward looking voices.

Sabina’s noble, lyrical arias gave Hebbert several opportunities to show off beautifully held notes in the upper register. I enjoyed her elegant, minimalist (by Baroque standards) performance and would love to hear her again in something similar.

Aquilio – as intermediary between Adriano and various others, mainly the ladies – talks a lot and in this performance also had one aria. Karaferya is in possession of a feathery countertenor voice which didn’t quite comes off as shrewdly scheming but wasn’t unpleasant. I suppose it shows off best in the kind of stuff Vince Yi prefers.

Opera Settecento played with the kind of youthful aplomb we’re used to by now. I basked in sound chiefly due to the very clear and enjoyable interplay between the two sides of the orchestra. Aside from the lovely and gutsy oboe solo/voice duet, I need to mention the horns, which were delightful and added that extra oomph when called into action.

A very rewarding evening in a warm and friendly atmosphere (especially in the lobby, when the lavish – and free – programmes showed up 😉 ) with excellent music enthusiastically performed. The word is Opera Settecento’s next “installment” is a(nother) Handel pasticcio in the Spring.


  1. same chap who got Tito two years later. 

Good times at the opera in 2014

venues2014

2014 turned out to be a fun, busy year. I hit most eras, from Monteverdi to Adams, lieder and Masterclasses, the Proms, two festivals and a good number of local venues, many of them for the first time. I ended up changing my mind about ROH’s starry cast Ballo but apparently it wasn’t such a bad decision on my part. Skipping L’elisir because I didn’t like Grigolo was the worse idea, judging by the rather fun broadcast. Oops.

February

Theodora | Barbican – concert performance – live Handel at last.
Don Giovanni | ROH – rather controversial production at the time but Veronique Gens was lovely to listen to.

March

Brigitte Fassbaender | Wigmore Hall/Masterclass – lieder singing introduction from one of the lieder legends.
La fille du regiment | ROH – old, still fun. I like Ciofi a lot. Ewa Podles and Dame Kiri were cameo-ing as well.
Die Frau ohne Schatten | ROH – what a monster: staggering noise level, tremendous music and Guth’s production really appealed to me.

April

Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall/Farinelli recital – the woman owns this repertoire.
La traviata | ROH – Damrau’s fault.

May

Le nozze di Figaro | ROH – this one was Boni’s fault but I’m glad I heard Gerald Finley as well.

June

Der Rosenkavalier | Glyndebourne – like with Le nozze, nobody needs an excuse to go. Plus the very funny Erraught.
Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall/lieder recital – what a goddess!

July

Anne Sofie von Otter | Wigmore Hall/song recital – semi-legendary lyric mezzo = yes, please.
Ariadne auf Naxos | ROH – dude, Ariadne. Matilla and Donose were very good.
Maria Stuarda | ROH – this one has grown on me enormously since then. It’s silly, it’s fun. JDD and Giannatassio sparing ftw.
JPYP | ROH youth – should we hope for the future? We should.

August

Coronation of Poppea | Grimeborn Festival – who knew Poppea in English would be so much fun? Clever staging as well.
Salome | Proms concert performance – Strauss, Nina Stemme and Rattle for £5.

September

Anna Nicole | ROH – colourful! And sometimes they even sang 😉
Griselda | Cadogan Hall – concert performance – Griselda is up there with the best of Baroque opera.
Franco Fagioli | Wigmore Hall/Porpora recital – you should hear Franco live if you enjoy the Baroque repertoire.
Xerxes | ENO – in English, of course; that old production everyone knows; Alice Coote acting like a brat. All around winner.

October

L’incoronazione di Poppea | Barbican – concert performance – no self respecting lyric mezzo lover misses Sarah Connolly in a fun Baroque role.
Alcina (part I and part II) | Barbican – concert performance – 3 mezzos in Alcina! Mind = blown.
Il mondo della luna | Hackney Empire – hilarious ETO production.
Ottone | Hackney Empire – excellently performed Handel.
I due Foscari | ROH – Domingo, nuff said.
Lawrence Zazzo | RCM/Masterclass – Zazzo is one funny chap.

November

Idomeneo 3 November and 24 November | ROH – controversy! Mozart opera seria!
Judas Maccabaeus – Handel oratorios need no recommendation. I think one can just press the book ticket button.
La mort de Cléopâtre and other French sh…tuff | Bozar, Brussels – Cléopâtre, VK and an outing abroad = just what the mood doctor ordered for mid November.
La clemenza di Tito | St. John’s at Waterloo/Midsummer Opera – I scoured the internet hoping when I realised I’d missed the concert performance at Cadogan Hall earlier in the year. You know I loved it.
The Gospel according to the other Mary | ENO – a lot more engrossing than I thought.

December

Messiah | Wigmore Hall – cosy, lovely performance.

I’ll be very happy if 2015 will be just as much fun 🙂

Judas Maccabaeus (Cadogan Hall, 6 November 2014)

This year is shaping up to be a Handel year. After 10 months I returned to the oratorio zone. This time I sat in the gallery, which provided an unsuspectingly fun view of the scores, the orchestra (I was sat above the rhythm section) and the choir.

Mary Nelson soprano 
William Towers c-t
Nathan Vale tenor
Giles Underwood bass
Conductor: Mark Forkgen | Counterpoint period instrument ensemble

I didn’t know this oratorio but I trusted the general opinion that it’s one of Handel’s best. If it’s Handel chances are good I’ll like it. Hard to go wrong with soaring choruses even though I was tired and in danger of dozing off 😉 Maybe it was for the better than the heating wasn’t on (?). Autumn has recently hit here in London (last weekend we had 23C but by Monday it had dropped to unrecognisable lows) and it’s been a rough few days. The downside of sitting up in the gallery is the really hard backrests. Ouch! I recommend bringing a cushion. I used my coat but what would happen in the Summer?

From where I sat I couldn’t get all the words but the gist came through. Seeing as I was sat next to the rhythm section that’s what I focused on. The continuo playing was great. Happy to report the valveless horns sounded good (although they were on the other side).

Nathan Vale in the title role did a really good job with the interpretation. I found it quite engrossing. Mary Nelson and William Towers were lovely in their duets. Maestro wrung a lot of drama out of the choir who was nicely drilled. But my favourite thing was the harpsichord. Sitting so close and being able to follow it closely reminded me just how much I like it. The chap who played it was on it throughout and added a number of “fun” flourishes.