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Marie-Nicole Lemieux looks for that mythical place (Wigmore Hall, 2 November 2018)

My first encounter with Lemieux was via my favourite Vivaldi aria:

Having to pass the test of a favourite is the tallest order for a anyone but she did it brilliantly. Since then I’ve kept an eye out for her stops in London. I eventually saw her as the Sphynx in Enescu’s Oedipe, testimony to her wide-ranging repertoire.

She didn’t sing this last night, but that aria is a surprisingly good example of her temper. She actually is like that in a recital.

MNL to late comers: (signals to Vignoles) let’s stop for a moment and greet the new arrivals. Please, take your seats.

MNL to people who haven’t turned their phones off: you have two seconds to turn it off.

MNL to people who rush out before the encores: bye-bye, see you soon!

Hahaha! What a heroine! Others (who had come on time, stayed until the end and had turned off their mobiles) enjoyed the attitude so much, the applause started to materialise at random times, which resulted in MNL requesting for people to applaud at appropriate times. Haha! That being said, she gave us a very sweet and emotional thank you in the end, so she clearly did appreciate people who were into the performance.

ps: I really enjoyed her choice of jewellery – black squares for the German rep, and silver “chainmail” for the French.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux contralto
Roger Vignoles piano

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kennst du das Land? Op. 98a No. 1
Lied der Suleika Myrthen Op. 25

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Der Musensohn D764
Ganymed D544
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Wonne der Wehmut Op. 83 No. 1
Die Trommel gerühret Op. 84 No. 1

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)
Harfners Lied
Über allen gipfeln ist Ruh

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Goethe Lieder
Blumengruss
Frühling übers Jahr
Kennst du das Land

Interval

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
L’albatros

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Chant d’automne Op. 5 No. 1

Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
Les hiboux

Gabriel Fauré
Hymne Op. 7 No. 2

Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956)
La mort des amants

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Le jet d’eau
Recueillement

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
L’invitation au voyage
La vie antérieure

Encore:
more Goethe one of which was Connais-tu le pays?

So much vitality! And a surprising amount of cheerful songs; most singers have a tendency to take themselves very seriously in these recitals – which might just be their personality and we probably love them exactly for that – but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be funny and silly and show off your technique and understanding of the text at the same time.

I really liked the German songs, rather surprisingly, since usually if there is a selection of French and German and the singer is French, I’ll go for the French chanson – but somehow I felt the German stuff fit her better. How unusual! I don’t know if I’m right, because there was of course nothing wrong with the French stuff. Perhaps the juxtaposition oomphed the German material, which had more Lebenslust, dare I say, whereas the French songs were more languid (Le jet d’eau, for instance; though Les hiboux was very cool and so was Chant d’automne1). But, considering she returned to Goethe for the encores, it’s clear she enjoys the German rep a lot.

I was further surprised how much time she spent in the top region of her voice. She went from very conversational, typical “lieder singing”, to booming for effect (better turn that phone, off, buddy 😉 ) and from the top to very secure (but not super low) bottom on enough occasions but on the whole was more mezzo than contralto, not that’s a bad thing. There is a reason my mezzos-and-contraltos section is labeled thus. I also enjoyed her and Vignoles’ communcation with each other, which added to the charged allure of the evening.

Between Galoumisù two weeks ago and Lemieux last night, the French connection has been happily reestablished.


  1. I don’t know if this is about “pitting” Goethe and Baudelaire, because in literature I did enjoy Baudelaire a lot sooner than Goethe. To be fair, I have been behind in re-reading the classics in recent times… I won’t say “I didn’t have time” because that is a shitty/laughable excuse; I simply did not return to the readings of teenage years. 

The oppressive mists of emotion in Pelléas et Mélisande (Glyndebourne, 1 August 2018)

the set: that’s how the Organ Room looks.

1 August was the date Glyndebourne reserved for people under 30 to flock to this production of Pelléas et Mélisande – I’ve never seen so many truly young people at the opera! It was disconcerting until I realised what was going on. My first thought was why does Debussy bring out so many young people as opposed to Handel? 😉 Heh. Once I will make a point to go for the under 30 performance of a Handel opera.

My relationship with Debussy is generally positive, reason for which I attended. It was the same in this case. Musically I find much to appreciate about his anti-opera, though I can’t say I ever get to the point of loving it like I do Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle1. To my ears it’s always very listenable, though a bit too loose structurally to grip me.

Golaud: Christopher Purves
Mélisande: Christina Gansch
Geneviève: Karen Cargill
Arkel: Brindley Sherratt
Pelléas: John Chest
Yniold: Chloé Briot
Doctor: Michael Mofidian
Shepherd: Michael Wallace
Conductor: Robin Ticciati | London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Stefan Herheim

The subject is a more complicated matter. Obsessive jealousy isn’t a favourite plot, and the woman character as cipher is tedious as far as I’m concerned. I do understand the validity of presenting characters who never quite get each other’s motives (that’s rather realistic for an opera interested in the elusiveness of emotion) and I think my reaction to the cipher woman comes out of the frustration of having seen so many men insist on writing about women without bothering to communicate with them long enough to start making sense of them. Though making sense is hardly what Debussy had in mind here, so even if it irks me, it’s not fair to bitch too much about it in this case.

The three main characters (Pelléas, Mélisande and Golaud) are all presented via their emotions first and foremost. When Golaud and and Mélisande first meet, she’s acting severely traumatised, but we of course never find out why. He’s lost in the woods. Pelléas falls deeply in love with Mélisande as soon as he sees her. Later on, she tells Golaud that she’s unhappy in their relationship (which, duh! he saves her and immediately marries her because what other course of action can there be? Plus his wife has died and his father says in so many words that a wife will distract him from “unsavoury actions”) but puts it in a it’s not you, it’s me way, that rings true to this day – people only say that when they’re afraid of the other one’s reaction to the truth. He, of course, flies off the handle and starts suspecting Pelléas, who, by virtue of being young, is more suited to her.

As the opera goes on we learn that we’re dealing with unreliable witnesses and Golaud’s frustration with pushing for his the truth culminates with him directly asking Mélisande(‘s ghost?) whether there was anything between her and Pelléas, to which the answer is, of course, inconclusive. This was my favourite scene in the entire opera. We can never know, especially when we push for a certain answer which has more to do with our insecurities than with evidence. But at this point it’s not even clear whether the whole thing plays only in his mind or if it actually happened (Herheim does a good job at keeping it unclear).

If this was the high point of the opera, the lowest – for me – was the romantic scene between Pelléas and Mélisande, where he comes to – so to speak – serenade her below the tower when Golaud has locked her (ie, their bedroom). He asks her to let her hair down so he can touch it and basically make out with it. Ok. This scene goes on for quite some time and I did realise, after a while, that it’s supposed to be really romantic and sexy. Dear reader, I have a romantic deficiency and I actually fell asleep on my feet, to the point I was about to fall down, but luckily was jolted awake midfall. No joke 😉

And, indeed, this is an opera where everything is deadly serious, aside from a rather unintentionally comic moment when Pelléas says that his grandfather, who has been gravely ill, has woken up and upon seeing him commented that he (Pelléas) looks like someone who doesn’t have long to live, so he’d better go travelling.

The production by Herheim seemed fine to me but I have never seen another one for this opera, neither do I know it enough to have thought about it before. I think it covers everything and deals with the issues at the heart of the plot. He says in the Glyndebourne interview printed in the booklet that he has incorporated the organ from the Glyndebourne Organ Room because it looks so ominous, even more so because it is not used at all for its music making in the opera, just as a visual symbol (gothic, oppresive, old school mores etc.). I would argue that making every production Glyndebourne related can turn into a bit of a gimmick but, fair enough, why not use the organ if it makes sense? Whether having Glyndebourne goers show up in the last scene is closer to gimmick or not depends on your feelings.

I wasn’t invested enough to feel one way or another, but that’s more Debussy’s fault than Herheim’s – or my detachment from this particular plot2. I did enjoy how he used the sets (the dining-drawing room of the big, old house) for every scene, with only certain lighting details to signify a dream sequence or walls retracting for literally more space. Also the central pedestal-well-sarcophagus-grotto was another aptly used multifunctional symbol.

Purves as Golaud was great, but I guess to no surprise, as his role in Written on Skin is very similar and it really suits him dramatically. In fact, before the intermission I kept thinking of parallels between the two3. Things do change quite a bit (for the better) in the last two acts. The others were good, too, though in spite of its name, this opera is mostly about Golaud (or like Hippolyte at Aricie, where they main characters just go on and on – she ❤ him, he ❤ her – and other more interesting things happen around them).

Speaking of its long ranging influence on 20th and 21st operas, the beginning of Bluebeard is very similar (for my taste Bartók improved on whatever Debussy tried with Pelléas et Mélisande) and I swear the distinctive flute part in Akhnaten comes right out of here. The libretto must be made up of 80% words of Latin origin, as I could never follow a French text to such a degree before (also thanks to the clear – if not always very French – diction employed by the singers).

A wonderful Summer day wrapped up my 2018 G-season. A welcome surprise this year was the Southernrail trains, who gave me no trouble whatsoever4. Looks like I’ll be less G-busy next year, but you never know…

Old Tito and some kitted out dude by the tomato and chili pepper hothouse (“Romans! I donate all my veggies to the Vesuvius fund”).


  1. But then I really like the plot in that case and the language is a lot more poetic and the music much more structured. 
  2. You may not be surprised to remember that I did like how Guth used the Glyndebourne grounds for Tito. The grass is indeed a very important feature of the local landscape and the pond at the very back of the garden is mysterious enough to fuel the imagination. 
  3. What is considered scary in entertaiment has changed a lot in the past 100 years, interesting since our actual life is a lot more sheltered. 
  4. Unlike bloody Ryanair, who has added really unnecessary stress for the past month and a detour via Munich for my next outing. 

Song’n’jokes with Simon Keenlyside (Wigmore Hall, 27 May 2018)

27 May marked the ending of a very busy week, sometimes busy in ways that you really don’t need. On Monday thadieu and I witnessed the aftermath of a road accident that necessited air ambulance. On Sunday afternoon (27 May) someone rammed their car into our fence. Apparently nobody was hurt but the vehicle looked totalled and so is our gate. The cat bolted downstairs where I and the other cat were cooking (she with her back to the hob 😉 ) but he does that often enough that I didn’t overthink it. By the time I figured out what’d happened the Police and the Fire Brigade was already there.

Later on, a 10min downpour graced our area and it was exactly the 10min when I had to go to the station and catch the train that would get me into Central London for this performance. I have a humongous mint green umbrellaI I got the last time I had to sit through a performance in sloshing shoes… The joke this time: Central London was absolutely puddle-free and I must’ve looked like someone who’d jumped into a fountain to cool off their feet.

You can imagine that during the time it took me to get there via tube, my feet slowly pickling, I asked myself many times “is this worth listening to a baritone I barely know?” Well! It turns out it was.

Simon Keenlyside baritone
Malcolm Martineau piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Schwanengesang D957
Liebesbotschaft
Kriegers Ahnung
Der Atlas
Am Meer
Der Doppelgänger
Ständchen
An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht D614
Dass sie hier gewesen D775

Schwanengesang D957
Die Stadt
Im Abendrot D799

Schwanengesang D957
Das Fischermädchen
Abschied

Interval

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Tel jour, telle nuit

Suite française
II. Pavane (solo piano)
Mazurka

Métamorphoses
Paganini

Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire
L’anguille
Carte postale
Avant le cinéma
1904

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Voici que le printemps

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Le secret Op. 23 No. 3

Cinq mélodies ‘de Venise’ Op. 58
En sourdine

Le papillon et la fleur Op. 1 No. 1

Keenlyside is an interesting baritone – I’ve never heard so much (well used) falsetto not coming from a CT! Softly spoken, he has a major ping in his singing voice, which, my seatmate confessed, is better experienced from the back of the venue than from the front rows… from under the overhang it was great. His German diction is excellent in the French good (and his pronunciation is better than most others’). His tone, more than anyone else I’ve seen so far, seemed to match the sound of piano – he’s the Steinway of baritones.

Still the best part is his deadpan humour, which imbued even the darker songs. It was very hot in the hall – because it was very hot in London (hence the thunderstorms) – and he was wearing a suit and used about 324676 handkerchiefs, plus glasses of water. At one point, both he and Martineau took a sip of water break! As I was saying, it was very hot and even the chatty seatmate was feeling sorry for him having to wear a suit, but as time went on the besuited attitude softened into the Frenchness of the set and he was cracking jokes left and right.

This was one of the most unexpectedly light hearted shows I’d been to, especially in spite of the pickled feet disaster. I like his style and the only reason I had not posted this before is because that heat was heralding things to come. Mid June was a bit cooler but OMG, July = oven. It’s still 27C here and it’s been that hot for weeks. Summer of 2018 = hottest English Summer since 1976 (probably hotter than that one by now). So if you’re wondering where all the other Summer 2018 posts are – well, I’ll get to them sooner or later.

Christine Rice MIA, Julien Van Mallaerts in de hause (Wigmore Hall, 18 June 2018)

I’m all for privacy but what is going in in the Rice camp, y’all? This year alone I was supposed to see her three times (January, March and June) and everything ended up cancelled. I hope things are on the mend, for everyone’s sake.

Wiggy presented us with a young upstart instead, namely baritone Julien Van Mallaerts, who is about to go to Bayreuth for some Wagnerian schooling. He did sound like that. The end.

😉

With Rice we were expecting a French programme (La voix humaine) so we at least got that (not La voix humaine – but wouldn’t it be fun to hear a baritone sing it?). You know I like ze French songse. His French diction is good (or I had a very good seat) and he seemed like he really got into it interpretively. Pity we didn’t know what was so funny, though based on the titles I’m sure it was. I need to get a bit more culture (not just about Madama Butterfly). I thought he had a nice, run-of-the-mill baritone but Anna wasn’t so sure it was a bari-tone after all (his low notes were a bit cloudy to me, especially if he wanted to do pp. He was at his best when he could employ bright and loud highs).

Whatever it is, it wasn’t offensive but nothing much to write home about as far as I’m concerned. How about a picture of Camden instead1? It was such a warm and gorgeous day on Monday, Anna and I decided to walk along the Regent Canal (yes, I wanted to take some pictures like I couldn’t after the last Lunchtime Concert when the battery died after two measly shots 😉 ).

not quite Venice but nice cow, eh?

Julius Drake was a treat twice within less than 24hours, though I thought he was a lot more interesting (like super cool) in the German programme. I commend that work ethic!

Julien Van Mallaerts baritone
Julius Drake piano

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
La vie antérieure
Phidylé

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Fêtes galantes Book II
Les ingenus
Le faune
Colloque sentimental

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Histoires naturelles
Le paon
Le grillon
Le martin-pecheur
La pintade
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Chanson romanesque
Chanson epique
Chanson a boire

Encore:

Nachtlied Schubert


  1. It has come to my attention that I don’t post enough pictures, so there you go, nautical London. 

The French Connection 6: Nash Ensemble feat. Rebecca Evans (Wigmore Hall, 20 March 2018)

Since last October, The Nash Ensemble has been the ensemble in residence at Wigmore Hall. Most of their shows have featured French music of the past roughly 100 years, some of which I am now sad I missed, having just discovered an insuficiently tapped affinity for it. But let this be a start!

Nash Ensemble / Ian Brown piano
Rebecca Evans soprano

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Caprice sur des airs danois et russes Op. 79

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Cinq mélodies populaires grecques
Chants populaires (selection)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G minor Op. 10

Interval

Maurice Delage (1879-1961)
Quatre poèmes hindous

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor Op. 45

This show was supposed to feature Christine Rice, who cancelled. I hope everything is good in her camp, given she had to pull out of the entire run of Ulisse this past January.

I only became aware of the change of artist the day of the show and, for a moment, I considered not attending. But then I thought, hey, why not? It turned out to be the right decision.

First off, it has started to become clear to me that I really enjoy French song – as well as the instrumental output. The way the French handle chord progressions is quite different from everyone else and at this point I still find it surprising and refreshing for the ear (though Rameau remains hit and miss…).

I’d seen Evans twice before as Countess Almaviva and then Rodelinda (just a few months ago) and those didn’t turn me into a fan – though her Rodelinda was properly frightening, so it came pretty close. This, however, showcased her intelligence when it comes to phrasing. I’d say she likes singing this stuff perhaps more than the other things I’d seen her in, as what I sensed was a good deal of spontaneity and even playfulness, neither of which is easy to achieve. There were some limitations to her voice which her obvious feeling for style and well honed stage experience (particularly in the sense of tackling things head on) couldn’t quite overcome and in turn made me think this would be/is fabulous rep for Antonacci. That being said, I would come see Evans again in more of the same.

As far as instrumentals, I loved the Saint-Saëns, but then I normally like what I’ve heard from him. Such fun and playful writing for the winds! That is the right approach in getting yours truly interested, because later on came a lot of string shredding, which for me can be rather much (no fault of the ensemble, they sounded gorgeous). This rep was unusually heavy on the viola (ended with a broken string, too) but our violist’s tone sounded superb even for this wind instrument fan. The other piece I loved (not just liked) was Delage’s Quatre poèmes hindous, where vocals and orchestra fed off each other optimally, plus who knew cello does such a good job doubling up as sitar?! Clearly not me, but I was once again (very) pleasantly surprised.

Conclusion: taking a chance can pay off big time.