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The last classic diva – Adriana Lecouvreur (ROH, 7 February 2017)

If you’re like me and spend most of your opera time with modernised productions of operas written in the 18th century, a traditional (with capital T) performance of an opera like Adriana Lecouvreur always feels like a trip to a very old relative’s house. You might enjoy spending time with said relative, you might even like their quaint taste in the inevitable knick-knacks but it’s still miles away from your life and views.

Though written in 1902, I was hard pressed to see anything 20th century about it. It’s simply old school and it needs singers who have a feel for that kind of thing.

Adriana Lecouvreur: Angela Gheorghiu
Maurizio: Brian Jagde
Abbé de Chazeuil: Krystian Adam
Princesse de Bouillon: Ksenia Dudnikova
Prince de Bouillon: Bálint Szabó
Michonnet: Gerald Finley
Mademoiselle Jouvenot: Vlada Borovko
Mademoiselle Dangeville: Angela Simkin
Poisson: Thomas Atkins
Quinault: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: Daniel Oren | Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Coproduction with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Vienna State Opera, San Francisco Opera and Opéra National de Paris

Luckily for us, Angela Gheorghiu is one of those singers. The only properly old school singers I had seen live were Domingo and Nucci and even they are merely a few years older than my parents. Watching Gheorghiu at work was the closest I came to witnessing a classic diva. Though Fleming is older, she’s got that American knack for updating her image, getting on with times etc. and just blending grand with business casual whereas Gheorghiu seems to have made a conscious effort of sticking with the legendary image of a European diva. You’re never going to pull off shouting – in recit voice – I am Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy! if you haven’t embraced that.

I was fully expecting her to overdo it but she didn’t. She stayed within the schmalzy limits of the libretto/music. In this sense her death scene was the most telling. She couldn’ve snatched a last cry but she went gently. She also didn’t seem intent on outshining her co-stars, more power to her (because she really didn’t need to; Adriana has it all).

(Schmalz: you might think there isn’t anything OTT about Adriana and perhaps you’re right; I just have a very low tolerance for sentimentality; doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have fun trying something like that on stage).

This being the first time I heard La Gheorghiu live (her repertoire isn’t normally up my alley), I was very impressed with her vocally. She’s just this side of 50 and the voice shows no signs of wear and tear. Then again, I guess nobody could accuse her of oversinging. Her attacks are always smooth and measured without feeling emotionless, she can pull a breathtaking pianissimo when she wants, and that part of her range that has made her famous still boasts gorgeously rounded notes, whilst the lower part has matured. Like her stage persona, the voice also has an old school feel to it, like she’s grown up on a steady diet of Tebaldi and never found the need to fix what ain’t broken.

I’m glad she hasn’t. We need all kinds of personalities out there. Sometimes you feel like everybody rushes to be cool and modern. Evenings like this make you stop and consider that it’s not absolutely necessary to do that. Especially if we want to keep operas like this in the repertoire. Having developed a soft spot for Adriana, I would love it if singers could keep the link to this tradition alive, musty as it may feel on occassion. Not everything is about Handel and Mozart (in shorts).

In spite of the traditonal this, traditional that talk, I do think the libretto is one of the better ones out there (subject and character-wise; there were moments when I wasn’t sure who sends whom which letter). Adriana, Michonnet and the Evil Princess are all well done characters. There are worse tenor characters than Maurizio. I like the social angle, as well, though of course if I could sing one role it would be Princess de Bouillon, leftist values be damned. What a villain! But it’s good that Adriana tries, at least, to stand up for herself in the face of unyielding power and privilege.

This is a revival of the 2010 ROH production, the first in 100 years, originally designed for Gheorghiu. There are many things that could be said about La Gheorghiu (that she keeps to a narrow repertoire, for instance) but there’s no doubt that she is very good at what she does. It’s quite obvious she feels at home in this production.

The role is not for the faint of heart or beginners (though Michonnet alludes to Adriana’s young age), as Adriana gets right into the meat of things within a couple of minutes of stepping – appearing, more likely – on stage, with Io son l’umile ancella, which is a less catchy Vissi d’arte but still quite the aria. There is so much to recite as well as sing here that one needs to be well into their career to carry this – for indeed the opera’s success rests on the shoulders of the soprano.

If you also have solid singers in the other roles that’s a bonus, of course. We did. I’m quite the Finley fan and here (as Michonnet) he was not only in very fine vocal form but also touching dramatically. Michonnet is a sweetie but most likely the type of chap destined for the friendzone as most women of Adriana’s temper – the ones he is interested in – crave adventure and danger instead of reliability and quiet loyalty.

Jagde as the heroic dreamboat Maurizio was suitably dashing (though perhaps moreso for those who missed Kaufmann in 2010) and his Italianate tenor cries carried to the rafters without any issue. His voice is very good for that kind of thing and there’s a good deal of artistry there as well, which manifested itself in an ability to alternate dynamics and colour. The chemistry between him and Gheorghiu was believable.

There can’t be a satisfying Adriana Lecouvreur for a mezzo fan without a rumbling Acerba volutta. Yours truly awaited the start of act II with a bated breath and opera glasses at the ready. In good opera tradition, her shadow preceeds the Evil Princess, as her theme (also the opera’s theme) surges ominuously and then drops mysteriously into apparent bubbliness. Then she pulls her veil and we can see who will stand between our kind hearted to a fault (if self absorbed) Melpomene and her happiness.

Cilea really doesn’t do half measures here, the villain has to hold her own against Adriana. I didn’t know Dudnikova but she held my attention all right through the evening. The voice isn’t as metallic as one would expect from a Slavic singer. There is a good deal of velvet along with the dark chest notes and very clear top notes, at least as far as the role requires, and the voice carries very well. She’s also got the looks to rival Gheorghiu’s – Ice Princess vs. Southern European temper.

Their dialogue in the dark and the act III showdown at Bouillon’s party were without a doubt the best parts of the evening, pitting two strong personalities, barbed words and icy glances but also real emotions and hurt. Too bad the reason was so mundane.

As someone with at least some interest in the history of theatre/opera, I can’t say I didn’t appreciate the effort this production put into recreating an 18th century theatre experience within the opera per se (operas about opera/theatre usually rank high with me). We were shown everything – actors’ lives backstage, actors on stage, actors interacting with their public, actors as human beings, dealing with their personal emotions and in the end theatre and life getting jumbled.

As I was saying earlier, my favourite bit of the libretto is the dialogue Adriana and the Evil Princess have in the dark (where neither knows who the other one is) and their showdown in act III, because we can see different aspects of public and private personas. Adriana gets another kind of adulation and respect than the Princess, but it is real adulation and respect nonetheless and it does, even though briefly, win the day.

In conclusion, everybody was very good and La Gheorghiu has still got it. Go watch her in one of her strong pieces, especially if you’re at the younger end of the opera fans’ spectrum and don’t quite know how they did it back then.

I was so taken with the business on stage I can’t say much about the conducting/orchestra other that they didn’t hurt the stage action and there were a few instances with various singers where the interaction between the stage and the pit stood out clearly and in a good way. A standout night in a packed house, all the arias got hearty applause and there was much cheering at curtain call.

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ROH 2016-2017 confirmed, let’s talk!

So, it’s finally out!

Let’s start with Mozart:

Mitridate (26 June–7 July 2017) 

Mitridate – Michael Spyres
Aspasia – Albina Shagimuratova
Farnace – Bejun Mehta
Ismene – Lucy Crowe
Marzio – Andrew Tortise
Sifare – Anett Fritsch
Arbate – Jennifer Davis

Shagimuratova, then. I won’t be expecting complex characterisation, just very precise singing in an alluring voice, which is what people seem to endlessly equate Aspasia with (super difficult singing – yea, but so what?). Don’t know Anett Frisch but Spyres and Mehta are (same old) known quantities in their respective roles. Excuse me while I stand bitterly disappointed after the definitive-looking Paris production. Doesn’t mean I won’t go see it for Mozart.

Così fan tutte (22 September–19 October 2016)

Conducted by Byckhov, of all people! I loved his Die Frau ohne Schatten, what will he do here?

Fiordiligi – Corinne Winters
Dorabella – Angela Brower
Ferrando – Daniel Behle
Guglielmo – Alessio Arduini
Don Alfonso – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Despina – Sabina Puértolas

Brower is known to me as the multitalented Annio from the circus/cult Tito (Munich) production. The one with unicorn hair 😉 and the lovely tone, who accompanied himself for the Act II intro recit with Sesto. Will they have her do something out of the ordinary here as well?

We have dates for Adriana Lecouvreur (7 February–2 March 2017), woohoo! Must start saving now (sigh). I have never heard of the alternative soprano. But yay Finley as Michonnet!

Adriana Lecouvreur – Angela Gheorghiu (except 21 Feb, 2 Mar) / Hrachuhi Bassenz (21 Feb, 2 Mar)
Maurizio – Brian Jagde
Abbé di Chazeuil – Krystian Adam
Princesse de Bouillon – Ksenia Dudnikova
Prince de Bouillon – Bálint Szabó
Michonnet – Gerald Finley (except 27 Feb; 2 Mar) / Alessandro Corbelli (27 Feb; 2 Mar)
Mlle Jouvenot – Vlada Borovko
Mlle Dangeville – Angela Simkin
Poisson – Thomas Atkins
Quinault – Simon Shibambu

And now for something I didn’t expect: Röschmann returns! In an opera I severely dislike but such is life. I will follow the Röschmann compass:

Otello/Verdi (21 June–15 July 2017)

Otello – Jonas Kaufmann (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Gregory Kunde (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Desdemona – Maria Agresta (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Dorothea Röschmann (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Iago – Ludovic Tézier (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Željko Lučić (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Cassio – Frédéric Antoun
Roderigo – Thomas Atkins
Emilia – Kai Rüütel
Montano – Simon Shibambu
Lodovico – In Sung Sim

So no JK for me then (boohoo 😉 ). Might as well see how Kunde sounds live. My recent discovery Simon Shibambu (King of Scotland in the RCM Ariodante) will be there too. Please cross your fingers for me, last time I tried to sit through this one I couldn’t cope with more than 1 1/2 acts. It was a few years back…

Der Rosenkavalier (17 December 2016–24 January 2017)

Marschallin – Renée Fleming (17, 20 Dec, 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Rachel Willis-Sørensen (22 Dec, 17, 24 Jan)
Octavian – Alice Coote (17, 20 Dec, 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Anna Stéphany (22 Dec, 17, 24 Jan)
Sophie von Faninal – Sophie Bevan
Baron Ochs – Matthew Rose
Faninal – Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Valzacchi – Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Annina – Helene Schneiderman (except 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Angela Simkin (8, 11, 14 Jan)
Italian Singer – Giorgio Berrugi
Marschallin’s Major Domo – Samuel Sakker
Faninal’s Major Domo – Thomas Atkins
Marianne – Miranda Keys
Inn Keeper – Alasdair Elliot
Police Inspector – Scott Connor
Notary – Jeremy White

New production by Carsen but apparently it’s the one from Salzburg? Or something. Anyway, it’s the ‘kavalier, I’m going no matter who’s in it (within reason and mostly depending on Octavian. I’d like a more adventurous choice for Die Marschallin but, hey, big house. And if its the one time I’m seeing Fleming live this is probably the best bet).

Speaking of other choices, has Catherine Naglestad ever sung Die Marschallin? I know she won’t be putting bums on seats in the way Fleming does (because the world is funny like that) but I’m having a bit of a Naglestad fest in my little world and I thought her Salome was way fine. And you might remember that semi-legendary (but severely cut) Alcina with Naglestad and Coote (daydream moment).

The customary belcanto bit – Il barbiere di Siviglia (13 September–11 October 2016)

Rosina – Daniela Mack
Count Almaviva – Javier Camarena
Figaro – Vito Priante (Sept) / Florian Sempey (Oct)
Doctor Bartolo – José Fardilha
Don Basilio – Ferruccio Furlanetto (Sept) / Carlo Lepore (Oct)
Berta – Madeleine Pierard
Fiorello – Gyula Nagy

For those like me who don’t habitually watch Cardiff Singer of the World (perhaps we should), here’s Daniela Mack singing obvious morsels like Pensa alla patriaVerdi prati and Amour, viens rendre a mon ame three years ago:

She’s agile but I’m not wowed by that voice. Too big too full too early? Not enough lyric quality. I guess Rossini fits her best out of that medley. She’ll be throwing babies into the fire before you know it.

More obvious belcanto – L’elisir d’amore (27 May–22 June 2017) 

Adina – Pretty Yende (May, 3, 6, 11 Jun) / Aleksandra Kurzak (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Nemorino – Rolando Villazón (May, 3, 6 Jun) / Ivan Magrì (11 Jun) / Roberto Alagna (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Dulcamara – Alex Esposito
Belcore – Paolo Bordogna (May, 3, 6, 11 Jun) / Adam Plachetka (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Giannetta – Vlada Borovko

But it’s Kurzak and hubby1 (cheers, no Villazón for me, though I would like to hear Yende) and enough with the Esposito, I bet he’ll make Dulcamara all menacing and whatnot. Eh. It’s a bloody comedy. Anyway, Kurzak!

Les Contes d’Hoffmann (7 November–3 December 2016)

Hoffmann – Vittorio Grigolo (except 28 Nov, 3 Dec) / Leonardo Capalbo (28 Nov, 3 Dec)
Four Villains – Thomas Hampson
Olympia – Sofia Fomina
Giulietta – Christine Rice
Antonia – Sonya Yoncheva
Nicklausse – Kate Lindsey
Spalanzani – Christophe Mortagne
Crespel – Eric Halfvarson
Four Servants – Vincent Ordonneau
Spirit of Antonia’s Mother – Catherine Carby
Nathanael – David Junghoon Kim
Hermann – Charles Rice
Schlemil – Yuriy Yurchuk
Luther – Jeremy White

Conducted by “my homie” Evelino Pidò. I recently had a weird moment with Hoffmann: I felt like it would be something I could sing. Not as in I can actually sing it, because I can’t even “actually sing” Row, row, row your boat, rather I could easily get into the spirit/rhythm/chord progression/Frenchness of it. A bit weird – French opera, of all things. Ok, let’s see Kate Lindsey in something she’s properly well known for. There’s a shitload of big names in it = more saving, and Yurchuk as well, lovely tone ex-Young ROH Squad baritone.

The Nose (20 October–9 November 2016)

Platon Kuzmitch Kovalev – Martin Winkler
Ivan Iakolevitch/Clerk/Doctor – John Tomlinson
Osipovna/Pretzel Seller – Rosie Aldridge
The Nose – Alexander Lewis
District Inspector – Alexander Kravets
Old Lady – Susan Bickley
Iaryzhkin – Peter Bronder
Pelageya Podtotschina – Helene Schneiderman
Podtotschina’s daughter – Ailish Tynan

You know I said I was going to go although I thought the music was unbearable because I’m a not so secret Gogol fan. Also Rosie Aldridge is in it and I really liked her in local Monteverdi and Handel. This is neither, I know, but I’m (and will be) very happy to see her on a big stage.

Now onto more Verdi, because ROH = big opera house and big opera house = trad repertoire until the cows come home:

Il trovatore aka Babies into the fire (4 December 2016–9 February 2017)

Leonora – Maria Agresta (Dec) / Lianna Haroutounian (Jan, Feb)
Manrico – Roberto Alagna (Dec) / Gregory Kunde (Jan, Feb)
Count di Luna – Quinn Kelsey (Dec) / Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Jan, Feb)
Azucena – Anita Rachvelishvili
Ferrando – Gábor Bretz (Dec) / Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Jan, Feb)
Inez – Jennifer Davis (Dec) / Francesca Chiejina (Jan, Feb)
Ruiz – David Junghoon Kim (Dec) / Samuel Sakker (Jan, Feb)

Ok, I want to hear Kelsey live so that settles it – though I liked Tsymbalyuk’s Commendatore and I’d like to hear Haroutounian just because her name is badass… but twice with the pirotechnic babies? A bit much.

Don Carlo (12 May–29 May 2017)

Don Carlo – Bryan Hymel
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa – Ludovic Tézier
Elizabeth of Valois – Krassimira Stoyanova
King Philip II – Ildar Abdrazakov
Princess Eboli – Ekaterina Semenchuk
Grand Inquisitor – Paata Burchuladze
Frate – Andrea Mastroni
Voice from Heaven – Francesca Chiejina
Tebaldo – Emily Edmonds
Count of Lerma – David Junghoon Kim
Flemish Deputies – James Cleverton, Gyula Nagy, Simon Shibambu, David Shipley and Yuriy Yurchuk

Good chance to hear Stoyanova and Tézier (don’t know why I should hear him other than his name has been around for a while), also Abdrazakov (tongue twister ftw!). Heard Semenchuk’s Eboli on zetube, wasn’t that impressed. Maybe she’ll be better this time around.

The Exterminating Angel (24 April–8 May 2017)

Thomas Adès conducts a huge ensemble cast of world-class singers in the UK premiere of his latest opera, inspired by Luis Buñuel’s iconic film.

Leonora – Anne Sofie von Otter
Blanca – Christine Rice
Nobile – Charles Workman
Lucia – Amanda Echalaz
Raúl – Frédéric Antoun
Doctor – John Tomlinson
Roc – Thomas Allen
Francisco – Iestyn Davies… and many others

Look at the fine cast but ugh, Buñuel? I don’t know, I’m really unfamiliar with Adès.

Oreste (Wilton’s Music Hall) (8 November–19 November 2016)
George Frideric Handel

See the opera stars of tomorrow in a blackly comic production of Handel’s masterful pasticcio, in the atmospheric setting of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Ermione – Vlada Borovko
Ifigenia – Jennifer Davis
Oreste – Angela Simkin
Pilade – Thomas Atkins
Filotete – Gyula Nagy
Toante – Simon Shibambu

Whoa, look! ROH has sort of caught on to the Baroque craze for its young singers. Sounds like it could be fun. More chance to hear Shibambu’s deep bass voice and let’s see if these yougins measure up to our local baroque talent.

Tuesday lunchtime recital – 4 October at 1.30pm

Francesca Chiejina and Thomas Atkins perform art songs, accompanied by David Gowland.

Francesca Chiejina was the young and very promising soprano who made an impression in JDD’s Masterclass at Guildhall last year. Worth checking her out in recital.

…and of course there are other things that I am not interested in, though I may go see Barbara Hannigan in Written on Skin in a somewhat similar way I’ll put up with Otello for Röschmann.


  1. Though isn’t it a bit weird having real life couples sing lovers on stage?