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Masterclass fans: new ROH Masterclass with JDD

Just to make me happy, it starts off with Parto. I haven’t seen it yet but I hope it’s good (almost 2 new hours). If it’s not good we can laugh about it here 😉

After watching/listening to it:

For those who don’t know and would like to before applying yourselves to an 1hr and 46min, this batch is mezzo only and it containts work on three mezzo staples: Parto, Dido’s lament and Non piu mesta (which I always call Non piu messed up). They are all promising singers but the young woman working on Dido’s lament has a particularly beautiful tone (baby contralto? we should be so lucky 😀 ). She is also very cutely star-struck.


ROH Semiramide Radio 3 broadcast alert (Sat, 6 January 2018)

Thanks to thadieu for signalling this for all interested parties:

Semiramide on Radio 3, Saturday, 6 January 2018, 6pm GMT

If that alone doesn’t fill your JDD fix, 6 January is your day, as BBC 3 is running one of her American Songbook recitals at 1pm GMT.

All about his mother (Semiramide take 2, ROH 4 December 2017)

…with the bust of Adelina Patti, who sang Semiramide in the 1890s.

A woosh of dread went through the packed hall when an announcer came out, so strong I thought it would push her back to where she’d come from.

Announcer: No, no, no, everything is fine. All I wanted to say is that JDD had a respiratory infection last week but she is much better tonight. Enjoy the evening!

Frenetic applause and a general sigh of relief. More applause when Pappano came out (there normally are, but these were extra jaunty).

Let’s start with the conclusion: thank you Pappano and all. You convinced me this is truly a great opera and I wish it made its way back into the repertoire so we can hear/see it more often. Rossini outdid himself here. It’s got it all somehow melded into a whole: his playfulness, his expertise with the opera seria formula, lots of innovation and the great tunes never stop.

One of the great things about it is that Rossini knows how to write for the voice and won’t let the orchestra intrude but he has also written excellent instrumental parts. Also peppering the score with ensembles and keeping the choir active really makes a difference in regards to pacing (always fresh).

However, it most likely needs a great team – top singers and a very intelligent conductor. An insightful production doesn’t hurt. It really is shortchanged when the focus is on noodling runs of coloratura or if the conductor thinks the drama needs too much push. Pappano trusts Rossini and focused on bringing out all the inventive details, which are a pleasure to hear. His voice-orchestra balance was optimal.

Compared to the 25th it was like this: Arsace and Semiramide’s act II duet = best moment of the night (and not just in my opinion either. My seatmate dubbed it “fantastic!”, lots of applause and shouts etc. and some teary eyes from me). I just wanted it to go on and on (and luckily Rossini knows a good thing, so, as most duets here, it’s quite long). I still think Ah, come mai quell’anima is the more beautiful duet but this is wonderful, especially with Barcellona and JDD who work together so well. Have a listen to how they sounded in Munich earlier this year (imo, not nearly as good. I actually don’t like that recording and I’m glad I didn’t listen to it before going. I had to agree with the commenter who heard JDD off pitch a lot of the time. Esposito came off majorly bland of tone (to me, who am not his greatest fan to begin with). The duet is beautiful, though).

Brownlee (still no ping, from the lower slips in the auditorium) had some of the most amazing floated notes I’ve ever heard in Ah dov’è il cimento? Seriously, that stuff was staggering, to the point I had to remember where my loyalties lay 😉 cue in severe shaking from Azema1 and that quip about how if she didn’t think Arsace was the biggest hero in the world she’d totally go for Idreno. Don’t listen to his 2013 rendition found on ‘tube as it’s vastly inferior. Sadly it seems to be his only rendition on youtube.

His interaction with JDD in the act I finale, where everybody was trying to come to terms with the appearance of Nino’s ghost was acoustically interesting: his lines were louder than hers but this appeared deliberate, giving a very welcome depth to the sound. However his act II aria saw surprising ups and downs in concentration, which makes this performance one of the most curious I’ve witnessed.

Pertusi’s pre-mad aria recit was again his strongest moment – he’s really good at that kind of thing, vivid and credible. Also he had many very Verdian flashes through the night (and I mean that in a good way. Philip II was calling?). JDD did sound (even) more cautious with the very highs and I think I remember a moment where the sound came out a bit unfocused but other than that she was as strong and committed as usual.

Now that I could focus more on things other than the immediate impact, I thought Arsace spends a lot of time in the lower recesses of the mezzo voice, so perhaps this is a reason VK never sang it (as her voice is darker rather than low, where Barcellona’s is both dark and solidly low). I’m now compelled to hear Hallenberg’s take again. I also had time to realise I’ve been spending so much time listening to Baroque specialists that even a little – understandable – vibrato throws me a bit (Barcellona and Pertusi). I won’t fault them, of course, but it was interesting to see how little JDD uses in comparison. Come to think of it, Brownlee did the same. Unless he has the type I don’t catch. Might be an issue of American vs Italian style?

The choir was (I think) better this time, thought the beginning of the opera still posed challenges.

She may be wicked but she is my mother

Arsace as a character is a bit underdeveloped for contemporary sensibilities, which is why, I suppose, he’s given a pony 😉 I’ve noticed this thing in pre mid-19th century opera (though, come to think of it, heroes continue to be rather intellectually fluffy (see all Wagner)), where we have supposedly accomplished warriors/strategists act very naively in private matters. They are also way too young for those military accolades. Something’s got to give, eh, and that is usually intelligence.

As per libretto Arsace is characterised by being brave (commander of the Babylonian army at the tender age of… about 25, I’d say), dutiful (rushes back to headquarters when Semiramide calls and is unwaveringly on her side even before he learns she’s his mother) and very much in love (his entrance aria reminisces about how he saved Azema from marauders and then their eyes met = opera love).

All of a sudden he’s hit with major existential questions, which he is ill equipped to answer. Then again, who of us would have an easy time with a mother who wants to marry us and who has also, incidentally, offed our father? Plus the realisation that we’re next in line as the country’s top honcho? All of these revelations in one day, the same day we were merely supposed to announce our wedding (to someone else than the mum)! Barcellona is very good at portraying the youthful hero with all his youthful imaturity mixed with the earnest desire to do the right thing by everyone. I have cats to hug when things get weird, why shouldn’t Arsace have a pony? I also see that moment as his return to his childhood room, with the pictures and the toys one’s parents keep in the attic (or spare room).

The ending is rather poignant, with the hacked to death Semiramide reaching wordlessly (a victory for realism! thank you, Rossini) towards her son and Arsace’s duty tragically winning over love in grand opera seria style, as he ascends the stairs to the throne and glory. For his unexpected ascension to top honours he looks shattered so who knows che mai sarà.

Singing-wise, Barcellona was the picture of understated poise, with excellent stamina and that beautiful lyric tone needed for best results in belcanto trouser roles.

So now that this first ever ROH run is over I can’t wait until they revive it 😉 hopefully with a similarly strong cast and Pappano (or someone else who can do Rossini justice on this level).

late November view of London from Alexandra Palace

  1. Agathe, you were right, that seems to be D. Alden’s shorthand for severe emotion (“moved” indeed). 

Strongly introspective Semiramide (ROH, 25 November 2017)

major spoilers (credit: ROH)

ROH hasn’t seen Semiramide staged in over 100 years but it’s good they did it now, when they have a Rossini-appreciative conductor in the house and such an exceptional team of Rossinians to sing it. It’s the most expensive production of the season but it’s definitely worth it musically. Dramatically I guess I’m not an Alden fan but it’s not a stupid staging either. I just thought more (or prettier) could’ve been done to match the singers’ skills and commitment to the drama.

“let’s get the Rossini face on!” (credit: JDD’s website)

Semiramide: Joyce DiDonato
Arsace: Daniela Barcellona
Assur: Michele Pertusi
Idreno: Lawrence Brownlee
Oroe: Bálint Szabó
Azema: Jacquelyn Stucker
Mitrane: Konu Kim
Nino’s Ghost: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Royal Opera House Choir and Orchestra
co-production with Bayerische Staatsoper

This is “another modern staging” that places the action amidst a moment of acute power vacuum within a dictatorship – with good reason, Babylonia wasn’t a shining example of enlightened democracy (not that we should be talking).

The story is wonky enough: even though Nino, the former North Korean style dictator, here referenced by a giant statue and apparently Trump-like family portraits, has been dead for 15 years, it is only now that a new – read: male – leader is needed. It appears that so far Semiramide (his widow) and Assur’s (descendant of Baal, so Mr Macho) regency has been good enough. Or perhaps this is just heavy foreshadowing/convenient plot device.

Nino and Semiramide’s son Ninia has secretly survived his infancy and has gained a reputation for himself by rising to the position of commander of Semiramide’s army, under the (Scythian) name of Arsace. It seems like Assur has not been careful enough when sweeping his path to power.

It’s the ancient world so rituals and the mysterious (ie: vague, confusing) will of gods are par for the course. Alden indulges adequately. Knee crawling and extensive “praise the gods” genuflecting from the choir pepper the duration of the opera. Agathe observed that it’s even more exaggerated than in Munich, so perhaps it’s intentionally made to appear ridiculous. I for one did not, in any case, get a feeling that Alden has any spare affection for this world.

The best quip is Azema’s completely constricting (albeit technically very accomplished) golden dress. Her constant facial expression of defeat brings out the straitjacket feel induced by the hampering overlong sleeves. Usually carried to and fro (like a sack of potatoes) by a male attendant (she seems to be needed everywhere, although it is never clear why, as she barely has a voice, mostly to express dissatisfaction with her lot1; perhaps to make up the quota of women at the court), she is at some point placed on a cordoned off plinth, with Idreno agitating around like a blood hound. I liked Bachtrack reviewer‘s comment that she looks like an Grammy Oscar statuette, considering her suitors (Assur, Idreno and “lucky” winner Arsace) engage in what was in 1823 – and possibly still today, in certain circles – a singing contest.

Though, to be fair, the way Rossini is sung here is as far removed from showcasing fireworks as anything I’ve seen. Not that the singers don’t cover all that, because they all do with lots of skill and style, but because the focus is staunchly placed on conveying a believable drama to contemporary audiences. We have come a very long way from the ’80s. This a 3 1/2 hour opera and I didn’t flag once. A great accomplishment by all – less so by the choir, who had some issues keeping up with Pappano and Rossini, something both Agathe and I noticed, so it’s not just me always finding fault with them something 😉

I really enjoyed Pappano’s supple and lucid conducting and the precision with which the orchestra responded to him. It’s late, more through-composed Rossini, but Pappano didn’t make it unnecessary loud and kept the drama under control. It’s still Rossini and you can still smile at jaunty tunes at dramatic moments. I was also pleased to notice the germs of “angsty soliloquies” later developed by Bellini and mastered by Verdi – at moments when the main characters have scenes which combine tuneful lines with more recit-based passages – ariosos? I’m not sure they were still called that into the 19th century – and even include “distant sounds of the city”.

JDD did a tour de force with Semiramide. He interactions with both Pertusi’s Assur (he’s an old school bad guy but a convincing one) and Barcellona’s youthful, conflicted Arsace brought out a very well rounded, strong woman, who tries and fails to reconcile outward personal ambition with an inward sense of right and wrong and sort out different kinds of love/attraction. A busy day, indeed. Though a subject well explored in the 18th century, it is perhaps no surprise that this heroine found her strongest voice in the 19th century, the one where female leads aren’t supposed to win.

credit: Tristram Kenton via

I’m not saying that offing your husband should be given a pass if you beat yourself up for it for 15 years or if you then defend your child with your life but such is the scarcity of women with agency in opera that one finds it hard not to side with her – especially the unsentimental way JDD plays her. I felt from the getgo that Semiramide was ready to meet her fate whatever the costs but she was optimistic that things would turn out right in the end. Regardless of what she did that one time 15 years ago, she seems to want to right things now – get rid of dictator in waiting Assur and secure the throne for upright hero Arsace. Of course her motives are complex but that’s what we like in our fictional heroe(ine)s.

For his part, Arsace appears like a decent sort, law abiding to a fault and the opposite of a politician. He’s also, for someone who presumably grew up in the saddle and has seen a serious amount of combat, eyebrow-raisingly naive. At first Semiramide uses subtlety when pursuing him but he only gets it when she corners him cougar-style in her nightgown. Ok, battle experience does not prepare one for being chased by a woman that someone has a lot of respect for and sees as outranking him. But still, he seems young (Barcellona’s channeling Tancredi); no wonder Alden gives him a stuffed pony to remember his childhood by (he also has some unexplored issues regarding family).

The two most dramatically impressive moments for me were when Semiramide tells Assur that she would gladly renounce the throne for her child, were he to be found alive (after a conversation where Assur implies that she too has been power mad) and her desperate chase for an embarrassed Arsace. JDD portrays a moving mother-Semiramide which only makes the later scene that much more sad and tragic.

JDDs duets with Assur and Arsace were the most moving vocally. I loved the gentle way she delivered her lines in the duet where she and Assur are in bed (and he just provides long sustained vocal backing), and the very fine way she interacted/echoed the orchestra. Her second act duet with Arsace was lovely for the unassuming way JDD and Barcellona meshed their voices (mezzo-mezzo duets = ❤ ) and made the moment of mother and son reconciliation simple and moving. Agathe remarked that so late in the opera there is nothing for the singers to prove; I welcomed it as I enjoyed the consistent commitment to exploring the drama at the expense of needless showing off.

Brownlee’s Idreno and Pertusi’s Assur were less developed – and both were meant to come off as unpleasant but no less vocally accomplished. Brownlee got his shorter aria back (it was axed in Munich) and got deserved applause come curtain time (and before; most arias did). He doesn’t have JDF’s piercing wail at the very top but I don’t know that we’re poorer for that. His tone is very handsome and the voice has just the right flexibility for Rossini, no wonder he’s made his name in this repertoire. He comes off as a nice chap in interviews but here he managed to infuse Idreno with an amount of entitlement disguised as passion for Azema that reminded me of an annoying wasp.

I understand Pertusi was unwell during the premiere but everything was fine on Saturday. I hadn’t heard him before but I enjoyed his tone and elaborate skills, especially in Assur’s act II mini mad scene when Assur is hallucinating about Nino’s return. Agathe mentioned that in Munich, Esposito had acted this mad scene in such a strong manner that she hadn’t even realised just how beautiful the music was. I was quite impressed with the complexity of vocal emotion Pertusi used for this mad scene.

Out of the smaller roles I liked Szabó’s tone a lot – very easy on the ears and nicely solid singing. His dramatic skills were good, too.

There was a feeling of everyone on stage knowing that they are part of something special and behaving accordingly, with congenial help from Pappano and the orchestra. A highly enjoyable performance and a wonderful showcase of Rossini’s complex skills. During the evening I started thinking I’d like to see it again and I’m pleased to report I just managed to secure a reasonably priced second ticket this late in the game 😀 Everyone who likes great singing, try to go. The surprisingly good news is you can luck out on a return at any time (only two days ago the cheap available seat situation looked dire).

Agathe and I got tickets on the Stalls Circle left, because she knew from Munich that was the best position for the “important action” (Arsace and Semiramide singing directly at us; Barcellona’s dark, gently heroic tone caused Agathe to be on the verge of passing out 😉 several times during the evening). We were only a few feet away from the stage also with a good view of the orchestra/Pappano. There was a bit of muffle for the ppps but only in the sense of lack of ping across the board, which we supposed would not be the case from the auditorium (I’ll get back to you on that next week, especially re: Brownlee). Otherwise we heard it all in all its glory (though I had a blocked ear which caused me to strait during act I; it finally popped by the end of act I) and a badass evening it was 😀

We spent the – clear but very cold for London – day walking about central London and catching a truly beautiful sunset from the Golden Jubilee Bridge. Out of fangirl anxiety we arrived one hour early at ROH and spent time chatting in the very cosy amphitheatre lobby (ROH is in the midst of major refurbishing). I don’t shower ROH with enough praise but it’s got a lovely lobby area design – grand but not overly so; you’ll soon relax – and the ushers have once again been super accommodating. Agathe commented that the applause wasn’t quite as mad as in Munich but I thought by Stalls Circle standards it was warm indeed. In spite of the cold weather there was minimal coughing, too.

  1. Or, somewhat confusingly, how much Idreno’s first aria has moved her, and she’d think twice about his (very aggressive) attentions if only Arsace wasn’t the love of her life. This can be a very funny moment, though I’m not sure that’s how it’s played here, in spite of the fact that this is Rossini. By funny I mean if it’s played as a comment on the tenor’s singing skills and the relationship between star singers and their fanbase. But then it’s mixed with what today is glaringly read as a lack of agency (not one aria for her) when she’s at the centre of the entire sublot and things become funny har har. 

L’italiana in Algeri vs. La cenerentola

It just (by which I mean in September last year, but blog-time can be stretched according to needs) occurred to me that L’italiana is funnier and has the better arias (especially for the title role) but it seems to me – maybe it is just me – that La cenerentola gets more attention. Anyone have a theory one way or another?

ROH Winter 2017/18 tickets now on general sale

It’s bright1 and early here for dehggi, as the loot was worth it:

Semiramide with JDD/Barcellona/Brownlee/D’Arcangelo

Salome being Salome (even with McVicar’s vision); next year I’m spoiled rotten: two cool operas to choose from for an outing on my birthday! I predictably went with:

Il ritorno d’Ulisse because when Monteverdi calls one must answer, especially after the great success with L’Orfeo at the Roundhouse two years ago. Let’s hope they’ll livestream this one as well.

There was 0 pain getting in/booking this time. Good job ROH!

  1. actually, it’s rather foggy (but warm). 

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2017 (ROH, 16 July 2017)

July is the time when the ROH audience checks on the house’s young artists to see how they’ve grown. I found this year’s programme rather ambitious and the results mixed.

Verdi: I due Foscari, Act II (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Lucrezia Contarini: Vlada Borovko
Jacopo Foscari: David Junghoon Kim

This is the kind of opera that kept yours truly aloof from the art form for so long. I couldn’t wait for the overwrought scene/duet to be over. If you can’t pinpoint it in your mind, imagine the typical belcanto duet between important/main characters who are about to be parted by fate. It’s mainly Italian angst, with moments of gloomy recit, ominous shredding from the string section for the moments when ghosts are mentioned (one of the characters is ever on the brink of a breakdown, the other one tries more or less feebly to be their rock but it’s obvious they are also suffering) then a cheerful tune gets shoehorned in (so that the audience can draw a breath) and is explained in the dialogue by “outdoors sounds” such as the gondolier, good moment for the whinger to draw attention back to their plight, so that the hand wringing can start anew and continue for another 15min. Kim is on the right track for this kind of thing and has a beautiful tone but he’s obviously too young for the finer details this 19th century brand of Italian neuroticism needs.

Nowadays they simply have women either dressed in an updated version of ’80s powersuits or as lalala bohemians. Borovko looked utterly in charge in her suit which I dare say was curious for Amelia Lucrezia. Then again, I despise this opera so much that I might have missed something essential. I doubt it, Romantic opera womenfolk were utterly decorative.

Upon return home I realised this was not Simon Boccanegra.

Massenet: Cendrillon, Act II (duet)
Conductor: Matthew Scott Rogers
Cendrillon: Kate Howden
Prince: Angela Simkin

Massenet, eh? Poor mezzos, he wrote for them but alas, I don’t like his saccharine stuff. For once I would’ve like the mezzo singing the trouser role to wear sensible shoes but it was not to be. Aside from that, Howden and Simkin’s interaction was not bad at all. Sometimes when I see mezzos and sopranos singing to each other of love I feel the interaction is actually helped by them both being (straight) women. It’s almost like they think whew, it’s just her, I won’t get distracted by wayward hormones, I can focus on the notes I’m supposed to sing and when I have some free time I can glance at her in a chummy manner – which masquerades surprisingly well as young love. Howden covered for an indisposed Emily Edmonds and I can’t complain about anything, but then again, Massenet. Simkin had more of a moment here than as Isolier later on, obviously since this is a duet, and though I again have no complaints, I also didn’t feel particularly wowed by her tone.

Mascagni: L’amico Fritz, Act I (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Suzel: Francesca Chiejina
Fritz: Thomas Atkins

I find it a bit odd that I enjoy Mascagni quite as much as I do (Cavalleria) but there you go, I liked this duet as well. You might ask wait, how is this any less fluff than Massenet above? It’s not but it’s much more enjoyable music to my ears. Atkins and Chiejina had rather nice chemistry going and were well suited vocally. Plus, there was a really big bucket of cherries on stage and a hot summer day outside. Chiejina’s cutely colourful maid outfit exemplified what I said above about the lalala bohemian vs powersuit.

Strauss: Arabella, Act III (final duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Arabella: Jennifer Davis
Mandryka: Gyula Nagy

Jennifer Davis has a surprisingly large voice for her age, definitely able to cope with a Strauss orchestra as conducted by Syrus, and has a rather fearless attitude about attacking the highs and a good technique to back that. I could see from the Don Giovanni bit after the interval that Syrus was unusually careful in helping his singers do their best, so I suppose he was here as well. As far as the finer parts, well I guess that’s where both nature and experience come in. I remember the fairly recent (sometime last year) Bayerische livestream of Arabella with Harteros in the title role, which I loved, so I think that’s a good goal to keep in mind for aspiring Strauss singers.

Nagy sounded a bit stiff to me in what I imagine is a very tricky role. Aside from the livestream, my experience with Arabella is rather limited so I don’t as yet have a good idea about who Mandryka is supposed to be, aside from a vaguely wild force, personification of sexual desire as experienced by virginal women? Anyway, one needs a bit of stage and life experience to make that work.

Rossini: Le Comte Ory, Act II (final scene)
Conductor: James Hendry
Countess Adèle de Formoutiers: Francesca Chiejina
Isolier: Angela Simkin
Count Ory: David Junghoon Kim

This hilarious trio/scene elicited a lot of mirth, as it usually does, even though I dare say none of them are natural Rossinians, and thus the finer details did not shine. Hendry must’ve got a bit too much into it and, perhaps skewed by Strauss volume levels, let the orchestra rip which often covered the singers. But they were mostly funny, especially Kim who got into the nun act. The bed cover looking like something from Pylones added to the silliness.


Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II (from Zerlina finding Masetto to end)
Conductor: David Syrus
Fortepiano continuo: Nick Fletcher
Donna Anna: Vlada Borovko
Donna Elvira: Jennifer Davis
Zerlina: Haegee Lee
Don Ottavio: Thomas Atkins
Don Giovanni: Gyula Nagy
Leporello: David Shipley
Masetto/Commendatore: Simon Shibambu

As I was saying earlier, Syrus did a really good job with the volume here, definitely one of the better ways to approach DG that I have heard at ROH, where conductors seem to think this is early Verdi. The singers were properly cradled and it showed once again how good Mozart is for young singers regardless of what voice type their future has in store. It was easily the best moment of the evening.

Thomas Atkins as Don Ottavio got the most applause. It’s true he has a very fine tenor that works with many things and he coped pretty well with Il mio tesoro, a bold choice to be sure. Let’s say I’d rank my ROH Don Ottavios like so: Antonio Poli, Atkins, Villazon. Nagy was much more at ease with the Don than with Mandryka and I think he makes quite a dashing figure; I see this role in his future, he has it all going for him. ROH says he is a baritone but I felt he was rather a bass-baritone or he will be one soon.

Generally I was impressed with the density of the basses and the baritone voices on display – proper stuff. To that end, Shibambu divested himself well of the lugubrious DON GIOVANNI! cry one expects from the statue. He needs a bit more projection for the big stage but otherwise smooth sailing. Btw, I noticed he constantly gets to wear a military uniform but then I guess that’s the lot of basses, what with their authority figure repertoire. Shipley as Leporello was pretty good, too, not overly funny but his interaction with Nagy’s Don was on the money.

Borovko returned as Donna Anna. Now that I’ve seen her recently in a big role I can say this: her top is very good and her coloratura ace but the cloudiness from the middle down seems constant. I don’t know what others hear but if this is simply how her voice sounds I can’t see myself getting excited in the future. Or perhaps she needs to find herself very high roles and stick with those? How about contemporary opera, then. Davis as Donna Elvira wasn’t bad at all, coping very dutifully with all required, though I still think Strauss is where she needs to aim. This Donna Elvira was abjectly in love with the Don but I think Davis got her – tricky for the contemporary mind – preoccupation with saving DG’s soul from eternal damnation.

Sopranos: Vlada Borovko, Francesca Chiejina, Jennifer Davis
Mezzo-sopranos: Angela Simkin, Kate Howden
Tenors: Thomas Atkins, David Junghoon Kim
Baritone: Gyula Nagy
Basses: Simon Shibambu, David Shipley

If you think I was a bit hard on the young singers, bear in mind that I somehow managed to get there two hours before the start of the show (I thought it started at 16:30 instead of 6:30. I know, getting old…), after which I decided to wander around and (re)discovered what a consumerist Mecca Covent Garden is. Let’s start with the hapless straw hat “boy with guitar”, whom I was this close to pay a fiver to shut up for a few minutes. Worse even than a Verdi dirge is a wounded bohemian pop tune. You know the kind, something from the late seasons of Dr House. Try stepping into a shop, they all play music – your choice is now bubblegum pop with nondescript teen voices. Then there was the obligatory curly haired musician setting up his amp to blast what sounded very much like gentle Shoreditch downtempo cca 2003. I guess these moves are savvy, it’s touristy as all getout around there and all of the above are now part of the pop psyche.

I couldn’t take it anymore so I scurried into a book shop (where I knew they don’t play any music) to read Andrew Eames’ account of getting morbidly bored on a barge on the lower Danube. What was he thinking, right? Muddy water, catfish, poplars and weeping willows, engine fuel, moody sailors – a proper circuit party.

But the Comte Ory trio got stuck in my head for days, so things righted themselves to an extent.

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? 

Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes (Wigmore Hall, 16 March 2016)

Siurina’s partner, Charles Castronovo, was scheduled to perform but once again he eludes me. Instead we got to hear a young singer which we (I) remember from the 2014 JPYA at Royal Opera House Summer Show, in which he was (o mio) Fernando. Siurina is quite well known as for instance Adina in L’elisir d’amore, or Ilia in that Salzburg Idomeneo where Harteros chews scenery, but readers with similar tastes to mine might remember this image even better:

Servilia and Annio (image lifted from operaramblings – click to read the review)

Indeed, I first came across her as dreamboat Servilia in the famous Paris “Potato” production of Tito. I looked up her Askonas Holt profile and it seems a Morgana and a Cleopatra are the works. Bring them on, I say.

Ekaterina Siurina soprano
Luis Gomes tenor
Iain Burnside piano

Pietro Mascagni
Suzel, buon di (L’amico Fritz)

Paolo Tosti
L’ultima canzone
L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra (Quattro canzoni d’Amaranta)

Gioachino Rossini
La pastorella dell’Alpi (Les soirees musicales)

Vincenzo Bellini
Malinconia, ninfa gentile

Gaetano Donizetti
A mezzanotte

Giacomo Puccini (La Boheme)
Che gelida manina
Mi chiamano Mimi
O soave fanciulla


Temperamentally Siurina and Gomes are very different. He earnest and impetuous, she playful and cute as a button. If he came into his own with Che gelida manina, for which he has the passion and Italianate tone, her most memorable point before the interval was Rossini’s La pastorella dell’Alpi. Siurina’s gift for comedy and witty phrasing of the (very silly) coloratura were pure delight.

Georges Bizet
Me voila seule dans la nuit… Comme autrefois (Les pecheurs de perles)

Sergey Rachmaninov 1

Sing not to me, beautiful maiden/Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (6 Songs Op. 4 No. 4)
In my Garden at Night/Noch’yu v sadu u menya Op. 38 No. 1
To Her/K ney Op. 38 No. 2
How fair this spot/Zdes’ khorosho Op. 21 No. 7
They Answered/Oni otvechali Op. 21 No. 4
A Dream/Son Op. 38 No. 5
Spring Waters/Vesenniye vodï Op. 14 No. 11

Charles Gounod (Romeo et Juliette)
Ah, leve toi soleil!
Va, je t’ai pardonne… Nuit d’hymenee

In terms of skill it was hard not to notice Gomes was the junior partner in this joint. Both of them have large enough voices to make your ears ring even when sat at the back of the hall. Driven by youthful enthusiasm, Gomes took every opportunity to soar as Italian tenor in full cry. There’s no doubt this is his path, a path that allows a good deal of shouting, but when he chose to sing one of the Russian songs entirely below full power it wasn’t unpleasant at all. A bit of variation in volume dynamics is a good thing even for his preferred repertoire. When in duets the both of them turned up the volume to the max the sounds became harder to distinguish, let alone the words. That’s a shame, because he has a beautiful, manly tone up and down the range which we want to hear and bask into.

For her part, Siurina showed a variety of dynamic approaches. Though not a small voice, hers it’s remarkably vibrato-less and still wonderfully flexible. I’m not sure whether the Russian songs were more uplifting than usual or it’s just her light hearted personality as she breezed through them. I’d say she doesn’t sound like the typical Russian soprano. In the Italian songs she balanced between a “relaxed” manner and a full on operatic one, which I thought was rather interesting and reminded me of Antonacci’s way of singing them.

Burnside accompanied but I have to say between each of the singers’ pizzazz I lost him. In any case, this was an interesting break into my Handel-fest. Will definitely make time for Siurina’s recitals in the future and perhaps I’ll catch Gomes when I venture into his repertoire.

  1. I don’t know if the Russian is correct, I copied it off Wigmore Hall’s site.