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When singers make baby Mozart weep; today’s culprit: Dorothea Roschmann

baby-mAh, the youtube comment section! – exerting its powerful pull whenever boredom strikes. I’ve posted earworm‘s video before, along with a rant stating:

I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

But if you check out the mini convo started by the latest comment below the video you will see some people have the exact opposite opinion regarding her singing. It never ceases to amuse me how people can hear the same thing in such radically different ways.

The new Dorothea Röschmann (Wigmore Hall, 5 November 2016)

For the past couple of years I’ve been in attendance of Röschmann’s Wigmore Hall shows. If you read back, you will notice that my comments always mention her abandon (generally positive) to the point where I’ve taken to sitting at the back lest my ears be seared.

This year I’ve noticed a change.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister D877
Heiss mich nicht reden
So lasst mich scheinen
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Kennst du das Land D321

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Rückert Lieder

Interval

Franz Schubert
Der König in Thule D367
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118
Gretchens Bitte D564

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Wesendonck Lieder

Encore:

Es muss ein Wunderbares sein (Liszt)

Piercing heights of release have been reached last night as well, but significantly more judiciously than before. I’m pretty sure it was deliberate. Even her usual storytelling is more reserved and introverted, if still as detailed as ever when it comes to moods. Of course, it might be the material (I’m not particularly familiar with Mahler and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder have put me to sleep before), with a high frequency of very long, sustained lines, which she navigated without issues. But I think it’s also her.

Not only has her delivery changed, but her voice as well. Again, different material, different sounds, I know, but I felt that in Schubert as well. Her voice seems to have lost its warmth, which was more confusing than upsetting. I know singers’ voices change and sometimes that can be very exciting, even as it takes them down unfamiliar (to me) avenues.

She’s at a time in her life and career where a change is likely inevitable. The voice, whilst still full, is not so much bigger as it is harder, more metallic; in a sense, I venture to say, more conventional. The delivery remains on the operatic side, but considerably less flamboyant.

But what with this change, last night was an opportunity for me to focus on her interaction with Martineau a lot more than I have done before. It’s probably the first time I really gave him proper attention. The man has a very light, even playful touch, it seems to me, which contrasts Röschmann’s earnest intensity well. You can tell they’ve been working together long because their interaction was exemplary, particularly where timing was concerned. The echoes of the piano reoccurred in her singing in that way I call “organic” and he gave her space to breathe without being self effacing. The mood through the evening was pensive, with the inner turmoil pushed even further inside, under a settled veneer.

The next time she’s in London it will be for Otello, so due to this change I’m more curious than before how that’s going to work out.

New updates to the Stutzmann Wigmore show and miscelaneous

Thought I’d point out that I made some updates to that unusually scatterbrained entry 😉 This blog is testimony that I’m not quite as lacking in discipline as it sometimes feels like… [ / end navel gazing, though we could have some naval gazing to go with that post ].

Out of that long list of Autumn 2016 at Wigmore Hall I posted a while ago I managed to secure the following:

02/10 Stutzmann + Orfeo 55
05/10 A. Bonitatibus
05/11 Röschmann
20/11 Pisaroni
24/11 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth
28/11 La Calisto
29/12 Prina and Invernizzi

But before all that there’s a return to the Proms (deities help us with the acoustics) with a concert performance of that badass 20th century 1 act opera:

03/08 Bluebeard’s Castle (Ildikó Komlósi and John Relyea)

…and who knows how the shaky state of events will impinge on my concert going afterwards (I know, first world problems; the (not so U)K is still part of the first world… for now).

Even so, looking at the ROH shows coming up on General Sale in a fortnight, there is Cosi which I will have to wing somehow (though I have no idea about Corinne Winters ? I hope Bychkov can keep it light) and this curious Norma. I don’t know what to say. Isn’t Yoncheva a bit young for Norma? Fura del Baus, though, sounds like might do something with this very difficult to stage opera. Then there’s Hoffmann

Head to head Dove sono

Yesterday was one of those London fog days when humidity seeps into your bones. Driving home at 9:30pm is like disappearing into the dark. Once home it’s time for a cup of tea and cats settling in the lap. Normally only one of them does, but last night I had the unusual honour of both of them pilling up in my lap for a long session of Röschmann. I suspect my Vitellia-like cat has a special liking for Röschmann, she’s never been a lap cat. Today she’s back, though cautiously as headrest.

But yesterday’s Victorian evening is not what the post is about. It’s about youtube comments. Yes, premature darkness, fog and cold bring out the bitchy side. Haven’t had a properly ranty post in a while, eh.

I don’t mind it if people don’t like something I do but it ticks me off when someone posts more than once in a youtube video’s comment section urging you to better listen to so and so’s version if you want to hear a real [insert aria]. Especially if, out of curiosity, I do listen to what was suggested only to go ho-hum. This post could be over right now if I were satisfied with the cliched (but true) conclusion that we can’t all like the same things. But I have a bit of emotional investment here (a soft spot for Dove sono) so I’m going for a comparison. Feel free to chime in.

So yesterday, after listening to the hilarious Der Hochzeitsbraten on Earworm’s channel (listen if don’t know it, it’s realy worth your 11min), I felt like a bit of Porgi amor and Dove sono, which she had posted as well. Now I’m not the biggest fan of how Röschmann finishes this particular Dove sono. On the other hand, I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

The thing with voices is that you like what you like and if you don’t like the sound of something, no amount of arguments regarding someone’s skill and general proficiency can change your mind. Much less being told you should like something simply because it’s come down the ages as great.

It’s the same with style and personality. I said above I like singers who go for broke, who sing in a lively manner and emphasise drama over beauty. It’s not to say I don’t like beautiful singing (Valer Sabadus comes to mind) but I prefer it when the singer goes with the drama instead of focusing on beauty for the sake of beauty. If the drama calls for beauty and the singer can’t do that I feel things suffer as much as when the drama calls for something less angelic and all you get is well rounded notes.

When we say beauty, what kind of beauty? If it’s too ethereal and angelic I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed with the sugar and porcelain feel of it. Beautiful is a sound that reminds me of dignity and heroism rather, though I also accept velvet and kind gentleness.

After this long preface I present you an Elisabeth Schwarzkopf version of Dove sono I found on youtube without digging too deeply. As you know I’m not knowledgeable about old recordings, so I don’t know how other versions from her compare. My focus is solely on Schwarzkopf’s tone and dramatic style, as this is what I’ve been going on in the past couple of paragraphs: what makes a voice attractive or not.

Dramatically, there is a general sense of sadness and melancholy but I don’t feel like the Contessa is that heartbroken over her marriage going sour. More like ha, we had so much fun once, too bad it’s over. Listen to her giuramenti – it’s so reserved, even detached. Hello! Perchè mai, se in pianti e in pene is delivered in a matter of fact manner and schoolmarmy in sound: all those boring dinners with your friends, Sr Almaviva, you owe me all that!

When the tune changes tempo as Mozart obviously wants the singer to get into it, she’s still barely picking up steam (it’s a wise decision, as there is a danger of disconnect with the orchestra here. But a riveting performance is rarely based on wise choices1). For the last few ingrato cors she sounds rather surly. Her last trill on ingrato is… not to my taste. I’d say the understanding of the role is Contessa as majestic noble woman more than someone who was Rosina just as a few years ago. If you remember, Rosina is from a bourgeois family, so not exactly born and bred Marschallin. I’d advise against reserve here.

Now check out Röschmann’s version:

It’s apt to compare two German singers as neither’s Italian is tops. Whereas Schwarzkopf stays German both in pronounciation and in delivery, Röschmann’s German accent comes through less harshly (doltchetza) and she goes all out in delivery. That aside, it’s just a warmer voice, more beautiful to my ears in moments like cangio or menzogner. She keeps quite a bit of German spirit in her delivery but it’s expressive and believable singing.

Listen to each one’s initial dove sono line as I think it’s where voice alone is showcased. Everybody agrees it’s a moment of whistfulness and (most likely) everybody is going to go for beauty of sound. To me Röschmann sounds vulnerable and heartbreaking because of tone alone. Easily the more beautiful voice and the more appropriate for the role: her vibrato tells me this Contessa is a young woman who still believes in marital happiness. I understand Schwarzkopf was once the gold standard Contessa. For me there’s no contest whatsoever.

Some people in the comments complained about the faces Röschmann makes. What faces do they think a woman would make in the same situation as the Contessa? I like it when realism comes through in an interpretation (which is why I find certain concert performances so riveting). I get that some are more into stylised stage presences but the very fact that the singer is less animated does not make them better. In this case I want the singer to show the heartbreak behind a line like di cangiar l’ingrato cor.


  1. perhaps I shouldn’t compare live performances to studio recordings but that was the first one I got my claws on and for obvious reasons I wasn’t digging any further. 

Multimedia Don Giovanni v.2 (ROH, 18 June 2015)

What a frustrating evening… I haven’t had quite so many mixed feelings about an opera performance in a while. Act I went smoothly, act II got progressively irritating. The public didn’t help.

Don Giovanni: Christopher Maltman
Leporello: Alex Esposito
Donna Anna: Albina Shagimuratova
Don Ottavio: Rolando Villazón
Donna Elvira: Dorothea Röschmann
Zerlina: Julia Lezhneva
Masetto: Nahuel di Pierro
Commendatore: Eric Halfvarson
Conductor/Fortepiano continuo: Alain Altinoglu

I’ve already written about this production last year, the DVD came out some time ago so I won’t go over it all again. Two things seemed very different with this first revival: the comedy was brought forward and the overly intellectual take on the Don himself was scraped. Both worked with the public, who loved it.

My #1, 2 and 3 reasons for seeing it again were Dorothea Röschmann’s Donna Elvira. For her sake I was going to put up with Julia Lezhneva who did not leave me with a pleasant feeling on recordings and Christopher Maltman whom I rather disliked as The Count in Le nozze di Figaro. Alex Esposito wasn’t bad last year, but who I really want to hear as Leporello is Luca Pisaroni and until such time I find it very difficult to be patient with others. But back to Esposito: either I got used to his Leporello or he was slightly better this year. I didn’t mind him at all. He actually got (deserved) applause in the middle of the Catalog aria – and at the end as well.

I found Julia Lezhneva more palatable live, though her obsession with the perfect sound at the expense of emotion still won’t win me over. It doesn’t help that her tone is rather cold – reportedly a common thing among Slavic singers; not sure about that, Albina Shagimuratova didn’t share it. In fact, tone-wise she was for me the revelation of the evening. At least from my angle she didn’t seem like much of an actress, but what a beautiful lyric tone. Apparently she’s a well-known Queen of the Night and I can see why: she’s got one of the freest tops I’ve had the pleasure of hearing live. Perhaps due to her acting chops, perhaps deliberately, her Donna Anna was more ambiguous than Malin Byström’s darkly horny one. I liked the ambiguity, though I would’ve also preferred better acting. So perhaps Shagström.

I liked Christopher Maltman better in this role. He was classically caddish, cold and cynical but looked like he was having fun (who wouldn’t in this role?! Kwiecien, from what I remember). His singing was pretty good, not the most memorable voice though and perhaps a bit light. When he crouched alone on stage for the finale he looked small and rather scared. I think Kwiecien carried that better; admitedly, it’s a difficult thing.

Nahuel di Pierro looked too much like a gentleman for Masetto but I liked his acting, he was the manliest dude on stage. For my money Eric Halfvarson didn’t hold a candle to Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s Commendatore. He was kinda meh, nowhere powerful or creepy enough.

I never quite understood the fuss over Rolando Villazón. At the time I got into opera he was I think still out with vocal problems, so I didn’t get to hear him during his “heyday”. I saw a video on youtube of him singing mezzo/countertenor arias (Baroque stuff) which rather confused me. So I was circumspect. Well… I almost never lean back in my seat (certainly not during Mozart operas) and let my eyes wonder around the house, but I did so whilst he was sawing away at his Il mio tesoro. What a boring, colourless rendition! (and that’s how he carried on through the night). Still, to my irritation, the public threw bravos like they were going out style. I mean what?! Vocally Antonio Poli from last year kicked his arse on every level (though he seemed less comfortable on stage, which is not to say that RV conveyed more than a daft but petulant Don Ottavio). Also he seemed completely absent in ensembles. There’s a trio with Donna Anna and Donna Elvira where the donnas mashed beautifully. Physically he was there too, vocally – god only knows where. But he got a super warm reception nonetheless… which progressively got me more and more irritated –

Especially considering Dorothea Röschmann got no (yea, you read it correctly: no) applause until her last aria. She did get a lot of laughs for her comedic efforts but, come on, here’s one of the best Donna Elviras ever and we praise her for her acting alone?! It’s true I was psyched to finally see her sing Mozart but (in spite of reasons 1-3) I’m not unreasonable. She didn’t have a bad day either, her fearless singing and nuanced vocal acting were present as ever. You could tell she knew this role like the back of her hand, she was totally into it, now fuming, now merciful and always credible. I thought she dominated the stage, especially when storming about in act I (this production is another occasion to hear her sing whilst climbing stairs). Unlike Véronique Gens’ Donna Elvira, who I remember as overly soft-hearted, hers acquired the comedic spice that distinguishes this revival. Donna Elvira’s ever so timely interventions towards thwarting Don Giovanni’s lecherous efforts were hilarious. I also liked her chie e la? at the end of A, chi me dice mai – this time an after thought to set up the amusing surprise when she realises just who is there.

Considering the strong personalities of the three female leads – as motley a bunch as they were – they made for a compelling showcase of operatic singing. You had the technical brilliance of Lezhneva, Shagimuratova’s stratospheric coloratura and Röschmann’s heart and soul. It does count for something (especially if you go to the opera once a year), though I’d prefer more coherence across the board.

Though not as loud as last time, the orchestra was loud enough and the singers got overpowered on occasion. I am starting to wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with the location of my seat (on the right side of the horseshoe). I used to think ROH had such good acoustics that your location didn’t matter but I’m not so sure anymore. At times (like in some ensembles or when the orchestral part was more complex) the sound was muddled to the point where it was hard for me to distinguish separate lines. Though Maestro was on the other hand quite singer friendly, the orchestral backing tended to seem a bit lacklustre. On the bright side, his fortepiano was sensitive and playful. The act I finale was pretty well done, could’ve been a bit faster but the dinner scene came off very spirited.

So on the one hand I enjoyed the funnier take, on the other I kinda missed the stranger, detached Don. I’m very happy to have caught Röschmann’s Donna Elvira, as much as I thought Gens’ sounded beautiful. I’d gladly ditch RV for Poli and JL for Watts. But there you go, big venues enjoy cramming a bunch of well known names for better or worse. The house was packed and the applause at curtain time very generous.

May Madness Mix 1: Röschmann/Uchida (Wigmore Hall, 2 and 5 May 2015)

Röschmann and Uchida fans will be glad to hear that these two performances were recorded for future release by Decca. Luckily there was little and rather unintrusive coughing (though people were more careful not to cover the singing than the solo piano).

roschmannuchidawig

thanks to thadieu’s camera (but not to Wigmore’s lighting system)

Robert Schumann
Liederkreis Op. 39
Interval
Alban Berg
7 frühe Lieder
Robert Schumann
Frauenliebe und -leben Op. 42

Encore:
Nur wer die Sennsucht kennt

Seeing as how I’m hardly a lieder expert, I’ll direct you to earworm’s review of the Röschamann/Uchida Carnegie Hall show for a more indepth reading of this program. I had heard some of the songs before but most of them I think were new to me.

Partly it was deliberate. Maybe this isn’t the way to listen to lieder, but perhaps the main draw of a recital for me is basking in the singer’s sound; you get way more singing from a favourite voice than in a staged opera and quite possibly more personal involvement so I take it as moment to savour rather than overintellectualise (for once!).

It’s nice if I understand what’s being said – and considering the slow approach, DR’s excellent diction in German and my occasional familiarity with German phrases I could understand more than I thought I would – but it’s not essential. Judging by earworm’s reaction to the lyrics of Frauenliebe und -leben I may have not missed all that much 😉 Also, given DR’s well known intensity of expression you get a hell of a lot of feeling from the way she sings it – whether that is what the song is exactly about or not seems rather marginal.

2 May. I’m also not a piano aficionado but thadieu told me afterwards that Uchida is specifically known for her soft approach. That came off very clear (and lovely) indeed; she also got visibly energised and downright playful on the happier tunes, very endearing to watch. On the other hand you have Röschmann, loved for her very involved/enthusiastic take on music. Tossing the two together made for a performance where contrasts were markedly enphasized. Hearing two performers with clear – and by the sounds of it, very different personalities – duet through intimate pieces was unsually engrossing. Glad we’re seeing it all again on Tuesday as sometimes I felt I needed to focus on one or the other or get a bit overwhelmed.

When I saw DR last year I let enthusiasm dictate and bought a front row seat. After the documented hearing hazard, I thought it would be wiser to book a seat further back (4th row this time). Well… though I still had an excellent view of her cute hands I can’t say my ears were any better protected. The sound was smooth throughout, though.

In spite of basking in the sound being fine and jolly I don’t know that I particularly liked the music. I think it might indeed help being more familiar with the tunes, as some of the shorter ones seemed to go by before I had enough time to digest them. I remember getting a bit of a kick out of Berg’s “Nacht”, which I thought came off somewhere between creepy and sexy whether that was the original intention or not.

5 May. On Tuesday I had a seat in the last row and it turns out that is the right distance I need to best admire Röschmann’s singing live. Comparatively thadieu and I agreed she was more relaxed this time. The material presented felt more enjoyable on second listen indeed, so maybe I was wrong about thinking basking in the sound is all I need with lieder. There was beautiful communication between piano and voice especially in some quiet moments where the voice picks up and then carries the same note, here matching the level of softness as well. This time I could pay a lot more attention to the shorter songs, which came off lovely in their fleeting simplicity. However Röschmann’s voice seems to me too worldly for girlishness/innocence and better suited to melancholy. All in all, very impressive couple of performances from these two.

2015 Wigmore Hall and Barbican tickets on general sale now

Go get yours (Wigmore Hall and Barbican). I started with booking for ladies Roschmann+Uchida (twice!), Mingardo and Invernizzi, all at Wigmore Hall in May-July then St Matthew Passion (at Easter) and Il ritorno d’Ulisse (the end of September) at the Barbican.

Blogspot’s robot test makes me question my identity

My good friend blogspot seems obsessed with the possibility that robots are slowly taking over the universe, one blog reply at a time. Luckily, it has already found their weakness: they are poor-sighted.

yousuckSee what I mean? sms 135?… 7?… something else altogether? It’s bad enough that the text is so blurred it makes me slightly queasy. That on top of feeling a short circuit coming on.

I don’t disagree, robot replies are idiotic enough; you’d think blogspot has a spam capture device like wordpress does.

…but you might be wondering what my reply was about. Miah’s version is here and DR’s is here.

“Has Dorothea Röschmann’s voice changed?”

… asked a reader and the internets pointed this way. Gentle reader, yes, it has changed, but what time frame did you have in mind? The past year? 5 years? 15 years? Ewa Podles was once a mezzo (exactly 37 years, 3 months and 1 day ago 😉 ). Most if not all voices change, don’t they? DR isn’t a mezzo yet, not even a dramatic soprano (not that she should be) but the voice has gained volume since the time she sang, say, In furore giustissimae irae, which was 20 years ago. But I’d like to hear her sing this today still. It’s a great motet and I’m glad for this question since it reminded me about it.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall (8 June 2014)

The question I had to ponder for 2 hours yesterday was: is it wise to sit too close to Dorothea Röschmann?

Suspense!