One of the most fun things at London Handel Festival is to attend recitals by the local young singers on the rise. You might remember I was very impressed by Averina’s performance as Dalinda in last year’s RCM production of Ariodante. Others agreed and she came second in London Handel Festival’s 2016 singing competition. On Wednesday we had the opportunity to hear her sing the tunes I imagine she likes best. As you can see below, they tend to be playful, always a bonus for me.
Galina Averina soprano
Claudia Norz violin
Oliver John Ruthven harpsichord
? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the cellist’s name as she had stepped in for the original one
Un cenno leggiadretto Serse
Restino imbalsamate La Calisto
Neghittosi, or voi che fate? Ariodante
Zerfliesse, mein Herze St John Passion
Piangero la sorte mia Giulio Cesare
Averina is vocally very accomplished, with a clear, easy coloratura and a pleasant, even tone across the range and from the getgo, good interaction with the instruments around her, as thadieu and I noticed last year in Ariodante. Her posture is very good and, though lively, knows how to contain her moves. She also looks like you’d imagine a character who has arias like Un cenno leggiadretto or Tornami a vagheggiar. Her characterisations were spot on, culminating with getting playful with her compact mirror on Myself I shall adore. It’s a long aria to marvel at one’s own gorgeousness but I think she loves herself all right 😉
Perhaps because the playful arias work so well for her, I was quite taken with the wistfulness she pulled for Zerfliesse… .
The violin sonata came off nicely, especially the Allegro part, where I really enjoyed the bassline.
Sonata in D major for violin HWV 371
Myself I shall adore Semele
Amour, lance tes traites! Platée
Tornami a vagheggiar Alcina
One glance at the setlist and something jumps right at you: we don’t often get French Baroque in London. It’s fun when it happens, especially if it’s one of Folie’s arias. You probably all remember Mireille Delunsch acting French-mad in that music sheet dress. If you don’t, check it out pronto. Averina did a lively job of it herself. I was reminded of an advice Marilyn Horne gave an English-language based singer presenting a German aria: pronounce it much stronger than you think necessary. Likewise, if it’s madness and it’s French you can fire all cylinders and it might not be nutty enough 😉 But she’s on the right track.
You know any setlist that includes Tornami… is guaranteed to make me book a ticket. I was amused that in her presentation of each aria Averina said of Piangero… (along the lines of) “this is the character every Baroque soprano wants to sing” but in regards to Tornami… “this is Handel’s most fun aria”. And it certainly is, for soprano. Even Myself I shall adore isn’t quite on that level of giddiness. It was as fun and playful as a closer could ever get.
Earnest moment of the month: have you noticed the curious thread that links most of these characters?
Atalanta: futile but cheerful scheming,
Calisto: her lesbian tendencies cruelly exploited (poor Calisto!) – also, what the hell is this thing about being turned into a bear? I mean, a bear?! Couldn’t she have been turned into a cat or a doe (something Diana loves)? Celestial Cat, the Big Cat and the Small Cat, Cat licking its Paw, Cat napping (any cluster or stars looks like a fat cat napping) – even her name can be tweaked to include cat 😉
Dalinda: duped and physically/sexually abused (we’re beyond poor here),
Semele: duped and burned to death (don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!!!),
Morgana: duped and… it’s not clear what happens to her other than she gets back with her ex. But, yea, in that context poor Platée, who’s only duped and humiliated in front of everybody who’s anybody is having it easy. So I think we need someone to get a Platée together in London.
But at least these unfairly treated women have some great arias/potentially show stealing moments in their respective operas.
In less earnest news, the dry, sunny weather continues in London. I took a few more pictures of that touristy area1, so you can have visual reminders every time there’s a writeup about Wiggy/St George’s Hanover Sq.
- After a long and tiring day at work, I took Wednesday off and went sightseeing in the city I’ve called home for the past 10 years; I tells ya, it’s never too late to get acquainted with the less visited rooms in your house. ↩
In the time of ancient gods, warlords and kings… an unstoppable plague spread through the land and crept up Mount Olympus, infecting it for all eternity. Its name was horniness.
Another thing Wigmore Hall has been doing lately is cramming 10 singers or so and a Baroque ensemble on its crescent stage for our enjoyment. I’m all in favour of this arguably cramped arrangement! Of course you are, you might say, it’s not you squeezing between an organ and a double bass with a giant bear mask on your face. Imagine being chased by satyrs and trying not to upset the music stands when making a mad, chastity-preserving dash for the back of the stalls!
Calisto: Lucy Crowe soprano
Giove: George Humphreys bass
Diana: Jurgita Adamonyté mezzo-soprano
Endimione: Tim Mead countertenor
Giunone: Rachel Kelly mezzo-soprano
Mercurio: James Newby baritone
Pane: Andrew Tortise tenor
Linfea: Sam Furness tenor
Satirino: Jake Arditti countertenor
Silvano: Edward Grint bass-baritone
David Bates director | La Nuova Musica
I always forget to check these things, otherwise I’d have flagged it out for non Radio 3 listeners but this performance was broadcasted live (and you can still listen to it here for the next month). The interesting thing is that it comes exactly 365 years (to the day) after its first performance in Venice. Had you heard the broadcast, you might’ve been perplexed by the laughter and grunts that accompanied the dances. Wigmore Hall gets another cookie from me – I don’t lavish enough praise and cash on it, I know – for its continuous determination to keep Baroque and Baroque opera fun.
As we know by now, 17th century tastes did not ask librettists to choose either tragedy or comedy when writing an opera. As a result we have both, usually with the main, spiritually – if not by birth – “noble” character getting a raw deal but eliciting our sympathy and respect and the lesser ranks having all the fun and making it alive by the end of the opera.
Another thing 17th century librettists are good at is not spoon feeding us morality. You should know which path to follow, with the understanding that cheating and lying will be more amusing… for the public, of course.
Like Semele, Calisto is a babe who catches The Universal Cheater’s eye. Only she’s sworn to Diana, the goddess of hunt1 and chastity (in Ancient Greek parlance, no sex with men). She takes her vows very seriously indeed, because she not only likes Diana but likes her. Yes, she’s – at least initially – one step further up the Kinsey scale than Daphne2.
Who wouldn’t like like Diana, the goddess whose job is to roam the countryside on horseback, keeping the ecosystem healthy and balanced? She has no time for petty intrigue and usually stays out of politics, unlike 95% of that backstabbing Ancient Greek lot of gods. Endimione (a shepherd who constantly misplaces his sheep due to his poetic musings and heaving bosom) and Pane, the goat-god of randiness, both showing better taste than one would give them credit for at first sight, are also in hot pursuit.
Of course Ancient Greeks and 17th century Venetians didn’t see gay desire quite the same way we do today; in the end, this is not the ultimate lesbian story, with Diana and Calisto some sort of Xena and Gabrielle righting wrongs and having fun in hot springs, although there is plenty of passion and danger. Major missed opportunity if ever there was one, but we 21st century folk are made of sturdier stuff and can work with what life gives us (if it’s subtext, imagine fanfic). A couple of tears rolled down my cheeks at the end but you know I’d lie if I said act I wasn’t where it was at for me.
Anyway, there’s singing. The original cast had three replacements due to illness yet the evening was very energetic nonetheless. As I was saying to Leander, the men had an edge over the women but then they had all the fun stuff to sing/do! Endimione was the only man with languidly soppy arias (the best part was when Diana, though in this version she’s really into him, left him prey3 to Pane and Silvano; Mead as Endimione had this great expression on his face omg, Diana! You don’t suppose I should fight these brutes, do you?!). We also commented that perhaps one day we’d see Mead as something else than the soulful lover. Not that he isn’t good at it, which is perhaps why he keeps singing these ancient r’n’b dreamboats. In fact one extended bit he had (about love, of course) made for possibly the best singing of the evening.
A big standout was Arditti as Satirino (accessoried with fake goatee), who did his stellar best to be randy and obnoxious, both dramatically and in the elaborate and cleverly placed trills he employed. He and Furness as the horny Diana-devotee Linfea probably had the most fun, culminating in that mad chase around the auditorium, which ended with Satirino stealing Linfea’s bra (which Linfea snatched back at curtain call). For his part, Furness brought back his considerable cross-gender chops, last noticed by yours truly in last year’s Orontea on the very same stage. He has a very mobile face, ideally suited for this kind of silliness, contrasted by an agile yet manly voice.
Humphreys replaced James Platt as the philandering Giove. He was very good as Giove but hilarious as Fake Diana. He had to ride falsetto for half his performance and did so commendably and with lots of gusto. Then again, with lines like to the kisses! to the kisses! it’s hard to go wrong. Poor Calisto had no chance.
Calisto herself has really serious things to sing because, well, she’s in a very serious situation, with the Big Kahuna of the Ancient World on her tail. Crowe isn’t someone I naturally “get” and here I’d have liked more winky swooniness in her interaction with Diana. That’s the one bit where Calisto is other than confused or hurt or faced with the reality of having one vision of heaven before spending eternity as celestial bear. I’m sure there’s some ancient meaning for the bear thing, though for modern sensibilites (this side of plushies) the simile seems a bit curious.
Adamonyté’s Diana wasn’t bad for a heterosexual reading of the text (though it’s really hard to “think straight” before intermission and generally to imagine Diana in a gown) and showed a very nice tone and good authority as goddess. She was gentle then stern with Calisto, furious with them goats and rather giddy with Endimione.
In act II we have Giunone getting up to speed on Hubby of the Year’s shenanigans. She’s not happy. After Leander told me ETO had Giunone in their production show up in leather, sporting a riding crop, I wasn’t going to hold the image that lived in my mind against Kelly. Her Giunone was upset all right, though perhaps riding crop furious comes with age and a lot of philandering husband experience.
David Bates led la Nuova Musica and his soloists with speedy tempi and enough cuts not to let anyone flag save for the gent in front of me, but that was fortunate 😉 I was also placed in the cheery corner, with two ladies next to me laughing like there was no tomorrow. Although when I looked behind me for the chastity preservation dance I saw some perplexed faces. Should we laugh or should we purse our lips and interlace our fingers in our lap? Yes, of course we should laugh, especially with such a good translation and with such a fun crew. May we hear more laughs and silliness at Wigmore Hall!
- Hunt and chastity? Hunt? Shouldn’t that be “teasing and chastity” then? ↩
- Who likes trees instead of men. Trees? I know I’m fishing, but that would be a pretty decent metaphor for vibrators. So I’d say Daphne is questioning where Calisto is ardently bicurious. ↩
- Because she clearly has her own issues -> duty/love. ↩
My first operatic outing in Vienna was a last minute decision but it turned out to be highly enjoyable.
Cavalli’s Xerse is easy to follow by those familiar with Handel’s. There are a couple of more characters but the jist is the same: Xerse loves Romilda, who loves and is loved by Arsamene, who is in turn coveted by Adelanta. Amastre is once more Xerse’s forgotten lover disguised as a foreign warrior slash busybody. Ariodate is Romilda and Adelanta’s father and the commander of Xerse’s army. The others are hanger-ons, more or less there for comic relief.
Xerse: Ugo Guagliardo
Arsamene: Tim Mead
Ariodate: Carlo Vincenzo Allemano
Romilda: Emöke Baráth
Adelanta: Camille Poul
Eumene: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro
Amastre: Emmanuelle de Negri
Aristone: Frédéric Caton
Elviro: Pascal Bertin
Interestingly, here the title character is a bass and that works very nicely, though this version of Ombra mai fu feels a bit disconcerting and is much less flashy. Guagliardo has a pleasantly shaped voice with an imposing ring to it without being overly voluminous – consistent in mass, let’s say. Xerse is – or came off – as less of an annoying prat than in Handel’s version. Instead of a bratty rant he gets a heartbreaking aria towards when he realises he can’t have Romilda and his making up with Amastre is more credible. Then again, 17th century composers and librettists had a more natural way of mixing comedy and more serious situations.
Ariodate has the honour to sing the one proper bravura aria, unsurprisingly, his entrance aria – with percussion and cornetti. Allemano, also a bass and sporting Xerxes-era locks, sang it with gusto. His sound was more voluminous, the kind that wouldn’t be out of place in belcanto.
I liked Toro’s tone a lot, a lovely, expressive tenor, with lots to offer for the ear, though I think the coloratura in his second (?) aria gave him some trouble.
Of the ladies I enjoyed de Negri’s Amastre best, not least because I thought her acting chops were ace and came through vocally as well. Amastre is quite a bit of a Bradamante and here even more so, having Aristone as sidekick/advisor. She is angry and hurt for most of the opera and thus has lyrical stuff to sing which tends to call for some delicate employment of pianissimi, sensitively done by de Negri. She also managed the “in disguise” acting very well.
I liked Tim Mead in the past and I liked him again. In this version of “the events”, Arsamene is less of a dormat, more of a credible rival for his brother. Still he’s the metrosexual to his brother “in charge” type. Mead has a very secure technique and a rather manly texture to his countertenor voice.
As I was saying to my box-mate, a very lovely and lively local lady, I’ve started to really enjoy these concert performances. Lately, at least, they involve a lot of interaction between singers that has quite honestly made me forget the scarcity or downright lack of props. Tonight we had a rectangular box that looked like a speaker as stand in for the plane tree, behind which characters would hide and a few smaller square boxes which could’ve been shrubs as well as benches. There was a knife as well and bracelets with which Xerse hoped to win Romilda over.
This trend is very good news for me, as it means opera can start to prove that relying on singers’ acting skills instead of lavish and overly expensive sets is viable.
I hovered on my decision to attend this show until yesterday, when it turned out that among the cheapest seats left was one in a box. I’d never sat in a box before but I enjoyed it tremendously. It was just me and the above mentioned lady and we got on like a house on fire. We were right behind the orchestra and thus had a great view of the musicians – scores included – and the singers could be heard very well and seen perfectly. If there was any muffle it was welcome, as a couple of singers had more penetrating voices. It was also a pleasure to see Emanuelle Haim at work, energetic and smiley. She got some beautiful, emotive performances from her singers.
About half way through it occurred to me that I was enjoying this more – musically speaking – than L’Ormindo. Maybe the sheer amount of 17th century baroque I’ve heard this year has something to do with it. Still, it did go on a bit too long and it’s not quite as fresh as Monteverdi.
Outside, the area is a bit blah, sort of in between this and that, especially with the (rather small) Naschmarkt closed on Sundays (weird if you come from Consumerism Central). Inside, Theater an der Wien seemed tiny to me but that much more accommodating for this repertoire. And since the Theatre cafe does a tasty goulash, it’s now on my list of opera venues to return to.
After quickly selling out last year, Cavalli’s L’Ormindo returned earlier this month to the Wanamaker Playhouse1. Judging by the enthusiastic applause and stomping, there is definitely a public for 17th century opera. It might not be a large one (venue capacity: 340 seats), but it’s there.
Ormindo: Samuel Boden
Amidas: Ed Lyon
Nerillus: James Laing/Rupert Enticknap
Sicle: Joelle Harvey
Eryka: Harry Nicoll
Erisbe: Susanna Hurell
Mirinda: Rachel Kelly
King Ariadenus: Graeme Broadbent
Osman: Ashley Riches
Director: Christian Cumryn | Orchestra of the Early Opera Company
How great is it to see opera in a venue that size? Very. You might not want to go back to ye olde large auditorium afterwards (for early opera in any case). You hear every pianissimo and every word. Often the singers are only a couple of feet away, mingling with the audience. Definitely renders the mic-or-no-mic question moot.
Not only is the venue built based on 17th century drawings of the Blackfriars Theatre, but a production of this sort in a hall like is probably the closest you’ll ever get to how they experienced opera back then. Excellent use was made of the venue itself as well as of the kind of tools they employed in the theatre during the 1600s. I for one got a kick out of the much maligned Bart Sher Comte Ory production they had at the Met a few years back, for the specific reason that it used period tools. But I conceed the hulking Met might have not been the best venue for this kind of approach.
Here, though, the “creepy” cave scene came off brilliantly. If you don’t know the synopsis, L’Ormindo is one of those operas that has everything from an exotic location (Fez) and long lost sons (Ormindo himself) to abandoned lovers disguised as gypsies – with a threesome thrown-in for good measure and a highjacked poisoning for extra drama. During the cave scene the spirit of the abandoned lover is “resurrected” (of course she’s not dead, this is a comedy). You can imagine that raising the dead in a cave will cause a few spectres to groan and moan, and we get a lot of that from among the audience (though not by the audience). Suffice to say, it comes off very amusing but also atmospheric – small, candle lit venue2. Fun times by the Thames