A propos of nothing, except I wanted to re-listen to this somewhat curious scene. Observe how back then it was done of peep show-style and now it’s all fluid sexuality. Let’s do a then and now – sorry for the bad quality video (then and now):
PS: just in case you thought the “blubber of love” in the background was something sprung out of Lauwers’ mind (also sorry for the tenor not staying in tune):
If you don’t check your email the day of the show you can get a surprise. A good surprise or a bad one. This one turned out to be good: Ann Hallenberg was scheduled to sing, couldn’t make it and we got a soprano instead. Lucky for us, a very good soprano. The funny thing was, thadieu and I had some time to kill on the way to the venue and were actually talking (appreciatively) about Piau.
The show was billed Les Talens Lyriques but it wasn’t quite. It consisted of:
Christophe Rousset, director, harpsichord
Gilone Gaubert-Jacques, violin
Jivka Kaltcheva, violin
Emmanuel Jacques, cello
Sandrine Piau, soprano
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737)
Cantata: La Morte di Lucretia
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 3 No. 5
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Cantata: Tinte a note di sangue
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 1 No. 12 RV63 ‘La follia’
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Cantata: Notte placida e cheta HWV142
Piangero la sorte mia, Giulio Cesare
Tornami a vagheggiar, Alcina
Though it could’ve gone a day late and a dollar short it was actually very enjoyable. Having bought our tickets at different times, thadieu (<- writeup here) and I once again had separate seats. I had one of my usual places dead centre at the back of the venue but this time I was glad for an upgrade. It was the first time I had problems with the Wigmore balcony overhang, quite curious. I wasn’t expecting a booming voice out of Piau but I didn’t think I’d have to strain to hear either. Perhaps I need my ears cleaned… or Piau’s voice only carries over to row T. In any case, I moved to thadieu’s seat (she’d upgraded to the row ahead) after the intermission and didn’t have any more issues. This was 4 rows up on the extreme left. I’m pleased to have found that the sound is in no way warped at the side of the venue.
At the interval we ran into a local gent whom thadieu had “befriended” at Il Vologeso. He made the rather unusual comment that Piau would sometimes open her mouth and no sound would be forthcoming. Afterwards I made it a point to watch her face intently. It was quite clear to me that the issue I had had wasn’t related to no sound coming out, rather to Piau’s very quiet approach to singing/size of her voice. It turned out that what the gent had experienced was related to preparation. He was quite perceptive, too, because Piau only took a fraction of a second to prepare before launching sound.
Related to what thadieu herself was saying about Piau’s facial expressions whilst singing, that didn’t bother me in the least. In fact I focused on and enjoyed the Frenchness of Piau’s manner. Sometimes I get a very clear vibe from a first live encounter with a singer. Piau stepped on stage at the same time as the instrumentalists and seemed unaffected and direct.
I’d first heard her via the badarse rendition of Da tempeste which to this day remains my top favourite. She has that exact control on stage. I found her singing manner very interesting, perhaps textbook Baroque, almost completely un-operatic/no trace of vibrato, very precise and efficient1 though with lots of emotional inflections just via colour, dynamics and her personal brand of chutzpah when the text calls for such.
She did get to ff on a couple of occasions (without strain) but mostly kept things between pp and mezzoforte. Somehow, in spite of the gentleness of her manner things never felt overly polished. Both thadieu and I were impressed with the unusual warmth of her voice. It’s one of those rare soprano voices you can see yourself listen to for hours without a headache. The pieces were rather low but we didn’t hear ping even on Tornami. All in all, a very well shaped, well schooled and well taken care of voice.
[Notes on the instrumental side] Rousset pulled some surprisingly full sound from the harpsichord on a few occasions. As for the strings, I loved the intentional choppiness/shredding in Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in D minor so much that I was disappointed when it finished. Over time I’ve gone through many phases with Vivaldi, from the ubiquitous Seasons when I was just old enough to put a vinyl on to the excitement of finding his vocal music as an adult to a partial (time devoted to opera permitting) return to his instrumental music in recent months. Of late I’ve developed an interest in finding out just how much smaller and smaller ensembles can rock. After some random ‘tube sampling, I noticed that La follia seemed to be a popular theme for minor key works and most of them are really good (like this Geminiani one).
Rousset himself introduced the encores but I didn’t understand what he said 😉 so when Tornami a vagheggiar started I was once again very pleasantly surprised and then found myself singing along (very quietly).
Later on strolling down a finally quieter Oxford Street, thadieu and I tested the limitations of our respective ranges by attempting it (humming, don’t get too excited) then alternating it with the Mingardo low C (it seemed ridiculously low but very satisfyingly rumbly) which – according to thadieu – is necessary when pronouncing cat in Vietnamese. I pointed out that my cat’s meow comes off a lot higher but apparently that has no relevance. So: tornami a vaghe-meow-meow-meow-meow… all the way to Marble Arch, which was of course the wrong way.
- She can cut a sound very short without it sounding like a gymnast’s hard landing. ↩
It’s been many months since La Monnaie has livestreamed this production; it’s been available online since. Yet after all this time I couldn’t get properly excited about it. The lack of colour when it comes to the sets and the costumes is one reason. Piau’s very subdued take on the sorceress is another. But there’s more to moan about.
Alcina is the kind of opera where a lavish/imaginative approach to decors and costumes is always warranted. So there must be a reason for sharing costumes with Tamerlano:
- Drottningholm is cheap
- Drottninghold is clever saving on costumes
- Audi is trying to tell us you are now entering the Museum of Baroque Opera; this is rather trendy these days, though La Monnaie is not Drottningholm, so the location charm is lost. But if that’s the idea then Beaumont’s direction to act very much the star castrato is an astute move.
- Audi must think there are some parallels between Alcina and Tamerlano, considering how similarly he directed the last scene in both.
Alcina, the character. I’ll blame Audi for most of my lack of enthusiasm. No doubt Piau did what she was asked to do. Though perhaps her lower notes aren’t strong enough for this role. She sounded sort of veiled or monochrone when not called to deliver acuti. The very rare occasions for a bit of playfululness coupled with this vocal greyness made for a surprisingly unengaging Alcina chez dehggi.
Musically. Maestro zooms through it perhaps a bit too much for (my) comfort. Les Talens Lyriques is an orchestra always worth listening to; it most certainly does not dissapoint. However, the mood of the production is sombre; Alcina isn’t truly happy even on Ah, mio cor and her hidden fear at losing her charms is very obvious during Si, son quella. Combined with speed and relative harsheness of the conducting it feels dreary rather than tragic.
Alcina: Sandrine Piau
Ruggiero: Maite Beaumont
Morgana: Sabina Puértolas
Bradamante: Angélique Noldus
Oronte: Daniel Behle
Melisso: Giovanni Furlanetto
Oberto: Chloé Briot
Conductor: Christophe Rousset | Les Talens Lyriques, Choeur de Chambre de l’IMEP
Director: Pierre Audi
Who saves the day? Among the disappointments there is still a brighter light: Maite Beaumont’s Ruggiero. Though not the subtlest of singers, Beaumont can be relied upon when it comes to trouser roles, both vocally and dramatically. Sta nell’ircana is satisfyingly heroic and solidly sung.
In the beginning, Ruggiero is confused by the new arrivals on the island (of love):
La bocca vaga: Beaumont is ferocious here and it works. Though she appears tiny compared to her co-stars, she can do commanding with the best of them. Her Ruggiero is very much an Octavian: young and confused but also gutsy when his patience has run out. Here she’s in excellent voice, which is a treat, as her voice fits Ruggiero. I loved her ringing low notes – but then I loved the whole thing, epecially, on subsequent watching, Ruggiero’s obvious lack of faith in his lover despite his vociferous statements to the contrary. One of the very best Boccas out there.
Morgana thinks she’s aced a hottie:
Tornami a vagheggiar: I never took the coloratura for hahahahas before, but the light and playful way Les Talens Lyriques echo them lit the bulb in my mind. Indeed! Morgana is delighted to learn that Ricciardo prefers her to the way more powerful sister. Puertolas’ is not the lightest voice but she can convey lightheartedness.
Ruggiero grows up/old:
Mi lusinga il dolce affetto: Beaumont is definitely more of an aria di bravura singer and I knew this would be the true test of her Ruggiero. She’s got the right attitude and her acting is spot on but it seems like it’s not easy for her to stay below mezzo forte for long. The ppps are rather ps. In the da capo (the che m’inganni amando ancor bit) I thought she was too loud and forceful. Yes, Ruggiero is majorly confused but he is so scared he might be making a mistake he couldn’t possibly be crying out. I can see JDD coaching this: “you’re barely able to utter the words for fear you’ll be breaking the wrong spell”.
The bitter end:
Non e amor ne gelosia: Rousset once again goes for extreme speed, which I take to illustrate the all around frustration. But it’s kind of annoying on a purely sensorial level. The doublebass sounds very harsh and dull. Maybe it was better in the house. Though the singers can’t be faulted, it’s over quickly and the effect is underwhelming.
The Farinelli Show
When Les Talens Lyriques are in town with Ann “Ariodante” Hallenberg you’ve got to see them – if you like Baroque at all.