DaPonte: … and the biggest joke of all shall be its title!
One of my colleagues likes to listen to ClassicFM and although the playlist is mostly waltzes, 19th century stuff with cymbals, Mozart piano music, waltzes, film music, Elgar, more waltzes or arias recorded at least 30 years ago, the posh sounding DJs have somehow not managed to learn how to say the opera titles/aria names the composer failed to provide in English for our convenience. I haven’t felt so proud of my Italian opera title proficiency in a good while.
Conclusion: the music selection might be mostly boring, but listening to ClassicFM DJs’ mangled Italian will make you feel good about yourself.
PS: the prize of the current ClassicFM competition is a trip to Maastricht to visit Andre Rieu’s fairy castle. I mean, come on! Who would refuse that?! I did. I went to Maastricht last month, spent more time than strictly necessary and I still failed to visit that wonder of the classical world 😦
What with everything, I missed the Gen Sale for the return to Wagner at ROH (oh, no!). The Ring Cycle is back this Autumn, with Pappano at the helm. I may look up returns for Stemme’s sake (aka, best intentions). Otherwise, we have the following:
Solomon in concert with Zazzo in the title role
Verdi’s Requiem with Jamie Barton and Stoyanova; sold out at this point
Simon Boranegra… for those of strong Verdi constitution (but where there is Wagner, there is also Verdi and there will be another production for the hardcore Verdians soon; an opera we know and I love to make fun of, because a recent new production at ENO clearly was not enough)
The Queen of Spades = must not forget
Traviata for the casual goer – it’s still the much loved production
Katya Kabanova – I’ll probably go
Così returns but don’t count me in
Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season
La forza del destino 😉 yep, that one, in Loy’s vision; with Trebs and the Alvaro of our times
Faust – hm, I might go, see how Damrau is holding up, PLUS it’s got Abrahamyan in her ROH debut (!) as Siebel (let’s all lament the fate of very good mezzos). On the downside, Ettinger conducts.
Billy Budd conducted by Ivon Bolton – the all male cast opera, let’s check it out…
Andrea Chenier – NOT with the Alvaro of our times but with Alagna and Radvanovsky! How can we resist that offer?!
Tosca with Opolais/Grigolo/Terfel but the last show brings Draculette back to her rightful territory so yay for those who care.
Boris Godunov still with Terfel but without Ain Anger; so soon? Maybe because they were short of money for a new production…
Carmen, because we’d already missed her, this time with Margaine, and Pisaroni as Escamillo, ha!
Figaro after a couple of seasons, because there are only 3 operas and 1/2 by Mozart; this is the season with Kimchilia Bartoli as Cherubino but also unusually with Gerhaher as Figaro plus Keenlyside as the Count. You know it might actually be worth revisiting and weirdly enough, for the men.
La fille du regiment returns once more, now with Devieilhe, and Camarena will show us his 3283576 high C in a row. Then again, Pido conducts.
In conclusion, some interesting turns but generally a rather meh year ahead for yours truly’s taste.
La damnation de Faust – a Richard Jones production, so it could be much fun
Rusalka – nah
Il barbiere – see below
Die Zauberflote – I’ll have to see it at some point, don’t know that this is that point; however, Agathe, David Portillo is Tamino 😉
Cendrillon – usually a spectacular mezzo-mezzo borefest, now with DeNiese and the ever trouserable Kate Lindsey; I mean, they had to make up for the music…
Rinaldo with DeShong in the title role. A bit of a strange choice IMO, but to be honest I have not heard her live and in Handel to boot. I was proven wrong before.
…but might have an issue with Madamina, il catalogo e questo and possibly Mozart comedy in general. Time to unsheath the sword.
I wish this blog was still active, because it’s a very different take than the kind the readers of this blog and I have and would have liked to engage. Though I rarely agreed, I found myself reading on because it is so different. Example:
The transcending appeal of the Ring Cycle can definitely be compared to that of the The Lord of the Rings books. A big reason why the latter became more than “just fantasy” in the public imagination was because of the beautiful film adaptations that came out in the early 2000s. They were made by someone who loved the books. He spared no detail in making the movies, and almost by default they were amazing. It was a big story, and he wanted to do it right. (from Why do we LOVE the Ring Cycle?)
As a self described “opera lover” who doesn’t care about the Ring Cycle and who’s (unsurprisingly) suffered impatiently through the neverending journey into hobbit
imminent annihilation maturity, I found the post interesting. Whenever something bores me to death I want to understand why anyone puts up with that sort of thing. I think the last two phrases sum up the appeal of both: lots of details, big stories.
People go nuts over the Ring Cycle. As in Woodstock crazy. It’s the kind of event that young opera lovers like me dream of attending. It is an initiation into opera craziness like nothing else. (from the same post as above)
Heh. I have one word for you: contraltos 2017 (one word made of two words 😉 ). No need for lavish sets. Someone pass around the rainbow bandanas 😉
So that’s a short write-up on why opera freaks love the Ring. If you want to be a “true” opera fan, it pays to at least check it out. Which leaves folks like myself and the Opera Teen who haven’t yet seen it in a weird spot. But that craving for the Ring Cycle lingers within us. We want to see it and experience it with a desire uncommon to most works of art. (from same)
legit trv kvlt.
Ring fandom is difficult to comprehend because the Ring is so far removed from all negative stereotypes associated with opera. (from same)
😀 😀 😀
As an audience member at the opera, I may get bored if some prat in an opera is whining onstage about how many women his master’s slept with. (from The Billy Connolly Problem (or, Why Opera Is Boring))
Interesting. Someone can sit through a 50 hour plot recapping opera mini series but gets bored by one of the most hilarious arias out there (though her example is from the Met production; ’nuff said). To be fair, she goes on to say:
But if he’s emphasizing the repetition with his body, using the language as an acting tool and not just a script to sing out, entertainment is achieved. (from above post)
So the conclusion is, we need a good director+actor if the music is boring. Agreed here but poor Mozart. Seriously, people think that aria is boring?! She did sit through Come scoglio on a different occasion and her comment was:
Miah Persson is excellent as the (mostly) faithful Fiordiligi, but her aria is the Billy Connolly Problem incarnate. She plants herself on stage and never only seems to alter her facial expression twice throughout the entire number. In earlier and later scenes, Persson lends a gravity to her character that few could ever conjure. But in her aria, she settles into being a diva. (from Review: The Glyndebourne Festival’s Cosi Fan Tutti)
Heh. The aria is called Come scoglio, after all. I suppose the subtitles were on? Otherwise, I have a feeling google translate will side with Persson. Also it’s a comedy. Mostly. I think it might have been more of a comedy in the 1790s than it is now. But there is only so much serious in a libretto that centrally features boyfriends disguised with only ‘staches.
It seems to me that a certain part of the opera going public might need a bit of adjustment to comedy before 1800 (wait, was there comedy in the 1800s? Oh, yea, Rossini, Offenbach 🙂 sorry!).
This is definitely a fluffy Romantic opera
(from the post quote above)
This is why it’s good to read up on your opera before commenting. I hope she meant Romantic in the “Romantic comedy” sense. Because it’s definitely not a Romantic opera in the Verdi sense. Nor is it as fluffy as it may seem.
Captain (18th-Century-Opera) Obvious’ Mini Lecture
It’s funny to hear an opera seria aria sendup like Come scoglio in the middle of a comic scene. That’s what Mozart and DaPonte are doing, making fun of the upright opera sentiments (here costanza) come down from Papa Metastasio (changing mores are a very important reoccurring theme in Mozart operas). This is one of those meta moments when if she looks like she’s doing a shit job at acting she’s actually acting well.
Then there’s the issue of repetition. I don’t think anyone who’s ever hummed a contemporary pop song has a leg to stand when complaining about someone else using repetition in music. Not that repetition is necessary a fail. Repetition is not only widely used in all art but it appears in nature and, by extension, everyday life (don’t tell me you woke up today at the usual time, had a cup of coffee/tea and then went to work? Was this what you did yesterday? And the day before? Like, wow).
But! Remember Statira’s aria with the endless repetition of birds chirping? Even back in Vivaldi’s time they knew repetition could be used to amuse not just in earnest. Ponnelle here uses that trick brilliantly for Come scoglio (and Gruberova is just wonderful).
I can see how people who enjoy through composed opera may be adverse to the concept of simple tune. I mean, it is simple. After all, we’ve established earlier that LOTR is not just fantasy. It’s… complicated fantasy (ok, ok, there might not be any other kind 😉 ). Like one of those dreams in which you’re trying to get out of a building only to have one corridor turn into another and then another.
Whilst we’re on the Glyndebourne Così, check out Vondung’s ending to È amore un ladroncello. I did not expect her to end so well based on how she started but I found myself in love with her (repeated, ha) “così” at minute 2:45. Splendid sound, even aside from her dramatic commitment to a breathlessly satisfied Dorabella. Now that I think about it, “chiede” at minute 2:39-2:41 is great too. That’s how you do sexy vowel ending. She earned that cake!
It was a very curious night. It contained curiosity, boredom, amusement, frustration, appreciation… The biggest culprit was Bychkov. Per pieta, Mr., LET’S.MOVE.ON! You know I normally like my Mozart not too fast but Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, Per pietà was excrutiating. It felt like it lasted about 2 months longer than it should. I know it’s supposed to be slow but I’m sure not THAT slow. The last time I got bored during Mozart was when Villazon sang Mio bel tesoro. It wasn’t Winters’ fault. She is a good singer and worked with what Maestro gave her, which was cruel and unusual. That being said, the versions on youtube vary quite alarmingly in length, so perhaps Bychkov isn’t the only one who likes to roast his Fiordiligis.
Fiordiligi: Corinne Winters
Dorabella: Angela Brower
Ferrando: Daniel Behle
Guglielmo: Alessio Arduini
Despina: Sabina Puértolas
Don Alfonso: Johannes Martin Kränzle
Conductor: Semyon Bychkov | Orchestra and Choir of the ROH
Director: Jan Philipp Gloger
His tempi were super slow throughout. We were forewarned by the early start time (6:45pm). His conducting, in my opinion, wasn’t necessary heavy (which I feared) – though it wasn’t light either, so if he decides to conduct Tito we might still get heavier voices – so not necessary heavy as much as lacking in that quicksilver touch necessary for Mozart. It felt somewhat middle-aged, as if reacting a second (or two) too late to the joke.
Now I know that a very important thing about Così is it’s not simply a comedy. There is a surprising amount of pshychology being explored. There is darkness and moments of realisation that make us pause. But not THAT long. So in Bychkov’s defense, yes, we did pause and we did think of the implications of what was happening. But it would’ve been nice to have some tunes with that as well, because – perhaps in a clumsy effort at presenting detail – we had, here and there, a random instrument stick out for no apparent purpose, sometimes after pregnant silences.
But since there will be much ranting ahead, let me first talk about the best bit, vocally. It was Ferrando’s Un’aura amorosa. I had never heard Behle before, but I can see why ROH has booked him quite a bit. He sang most of it softly and carried on from p to ppp outstandingly. Bychkov eventually had him throw in some marked contrast, which I thought was unnecessary and broke the atmosphere. It felt like going from pppp to FF within the same aria, which is something I doubt Mozart wrote. But those ppps were exemplary, hands down the best singing of the evening. Also, a lovely voice.
A word to the now reoccuring booers at Mozart productions: do you realise how difficult it is to get Così right? Very. Just check the recent Aix production and weep in horror. The ROH production did very well with the tricky makebelieve issue. There’s a lot to it, but I will give you just one example: Fiordiligi sings that exhausting Per pieta on a stage within the opera which Don Alfonso has concocted for the purpose of seducing the ladies. It’s a typical 18th century bucolic tableau (woods, stream etc.) – though the production is set nowadays. Whilst she realises she’s not exactly a one night stand kinda girl, all the bucolic elements start to disappear. Later on, after having found out about Dorabella’s betrayal, Ferrando sings of his sorrow on the now deserted stage within the opera. All this is ace. There’s a lot of pretense but there are also real feelings seeping through the pretense.
Another thing seeing it in the house made me realise is that it’s not just love and sex being discussed here. It’s also friendship, with the lovely warmth and easy camaraderie as well as its pitfalls of peer pressure, competition, losing face, feeling like a stick-in-the-mud. This was well carried over by the singers/production.
But although I was pleased with the general idea of the production, certain details didn’t pan out very well. For instance, I felt all of Dorabella’s scenes were misses. I don’t know why it’s so difficult. The woman is a ditz and she’s simple. Really, there isn’t much more to it. Fiordiligi is the brains of the operation, such as it is (she’s no Harvard material either but at least she has a conscience). Dorabella is lovable in her naivete, you know she doesn’t mean to cause harm; she just can’t help herself.
Well, what do you do with Smanie implacabili!!!? You pretty much have her throw a tantrum. Here it felt like they didn’t know what to do with Brower for most of the aria. The ending, when she gets on the table and finally has everyone’s attention, tries to be sexy and feels a bit self conscious was good. But leading up to that they just had her flail her arms about with no particular purpose in mind. There was also no purpose to the singing as far as I was aware.
My benchmark Smanie is Nikiteanu’s from way back when in Zurich. The woman just knows how to do ditz, tantrums, hormones and comedy in general. She might not be the most suavely detailed singer out there, but you sure can follow purpose in her singing (check it out). With Bower’s I just couldn’t feel any dramatic detail, the lines were just pushed out randomly and if you didn’t know the aria beforehand you probably thought she was just shouting unintelligibly.
I think it’s quite obvious I had a big problem with Brower’s Dorabella through the night. I know this is her debut at the ROH but I think it’s a mistake. She needs to bring another role pronto on this stage and forget all about this one. I don’t want to sound like a(ny more of a) horrible person, but is she really a mezzo? Because between her and Winters, and especially in their duets, I could’ve been fooled by who was the mezzo and who was the soprano. Maybe it’s part of this Così switcheroo thing… My other encounter with her was Annio in that Cirque du Soleil Tito from Munich (2014) and I liked her there. But Annio is a bright, high lying role. Stick with Annio, lady.
Because, what happened to E amore un ladroncello? Sigh. I love that aria; it’s of the same sort as Se l’augellin sen fugge, cute and silly. Who knew cute was difficult to do? Apparently it is and it’s a mystery to Bychkov as well. Check out Ziegler’s fantastic acting under Ponnelle’s guidance (hey, I don’t just bitch about the man!). That’s the essence of Dorabella and there’s the quicksilver non so che I was talking about earlier. Notice I am giving you Harnoncourt conducted Cosis so you can’t fault me for comparing slow with fast. And that’s a mezzo voice.
I don’t care how dark you want to go (and this time it wasn’t that dark), Dorabella is the comic relief, always. She’s more lighthearted than all the others. Another thing I noticed was that the men were a lot more clearly differentiated in their personalities from the getgo. For quite a while both women seemed very similar. I think you can start to have them react in their own way right from the start, have Dorabella a little more interested in what Despina says instead of all of a sudden say she has already made up her mind about the brunet. Like, where did that come from? Dorabella had an independant thought?!
In spite of all this, I did appreciate the last scene here – Dorabella really wants Guglielmo now and they need to pull her off him. That was good and Brower was funny and even a bit clumsy. Too little, too late, though.
Winters as Fiordiligi was consistently good. She has an alluring fullness to her voice, with a good middle and quite a bit of power, well focused, very good range. I don’t know that it’s a Mozart voice, but there is agility for those jumps in Come scoglio. She didn’t wow me like Behle but was possibly more consistent than him. It’s fun that Fiordiligi’s ethos is that of an opera seria primadonna. She’s the one who struggles most with this love/duty dichotomy. I’m not sure that her arc was as well resolved here as Dorabella’s. It’s really difficult to overcome that devotion to duty in world of much looser morals than that of opera seria.
The others were fine. I’m not sure I quite get Puértolas or – for all my love for a good snarkfest – could ever reach Despina levels of cynicism (probably a good thing) but she seemed to enjoy herself a lot. Arduini sounds exactly as you would expect Guglielmo to sound, no more, no less. Kränzle had the level of charisma needed to run the farce and not come off completely detestable. In fact, Don Alfonoso merely appeared reasonable in this production.
Since this is an opera where people interact closely a lot, you might wonder why I didn’t say anything about the ensembles. Well, aside from Soave sia il vento, where Bychkov’s and my sensibility momentarily met – and the singers blended worth the stage they were singing on – the others didn’t particularly stay with me, though I think the Act I finale felt hectic. Did you notice there are a lot of arias/duets/ensembles about the wind in Mozart?
So let me conclude by saying it was a funny evening; I and the rest of the audience laughed often (it helps that it’s a snarky libretto). But a long one, too. Normally I like to take a stroll after the opera but tonight I wanted to go straight home and bitch about it 😉 If you’re not put off by the writeup, the production is still running or you can check it out at the cinema next month. But I’d wait for the more accessible places for a look at the production.
Così fan tutte (22 September)
The Nose (20 October)
Les Contes d’Hoffmann (7 November)
Oreste (13 November) <- last few tickets!
… so that about rounds up my Autumn season, along with the Wigmore and Barbican dates. Busy month: November.
Radio 3 was at it again this week, now with The Met’s Cosi. I half-assedly tried to get a cinema ticket a few months ago but it was already sold out so here I am, once again thanks to eyesometric (resident Radio 3 vigilante 😉 ). I say half-assedly because the idea of opera at the cinema doesn’t sit well with me. It’s the ear-splitting sound level I can’t get down with. I heard they keep it loud for the opera too so… on the other hand, I also heard good things about the singing in this Cosi production so I was somewhat willing to give in. On a scale of Dorabella to Fiordiligi, slightly less than Fiordiligi cca Some scoglio kind of willingness to give in.
Having nothing clever or deep to say on this lively occasion, I’m just going to post a few of my favourite videos from the big 3:
This oldie is my favourite Don Giovanni production. I think Siepi is spot on suave and Erna Berger a very tongue-in-cheek contadina, just how I like them.
Not my favourite Cosi production but my favourite ladroncello scene. Nikiteanu’s Dorabella is hilarious, I love how she screws with Bartoli’s very uptight Fiordiligi. Probably the liveliest, horniest, least inhibited Dorabella out there.
Where to begin?! One of those so bad it’s good concepts for Cherubino and Schafer just runs with it.
Cheers, Wolfie, for the lolz.