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From the great book of Handel duets

This just came to my attention and I’m a bit in love with how good Karg and Basso sound together:

A good week to all ūüôā

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Trills on demand with Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica (Wigmore Hall, 11 December 2018)

A Vivaldi-heavy performance is only fitting to cap a very exciting concert-going year, that has brought me to Vivaldi’s homebase twice. In furore iustissimae irae¬†is one of those badass motets that can only come from the Red Priest (lest we forget he was an ordained priest; I usually do, his music sounds so wordly most of the time) and it was this that convinced me to attend, even though they livestreamed it. Somehow I have not noticed anyone else bringing it to Wiggy in my time of patronising the venue. I hope more do in the future.

I’ve seen La Nuova Musica in action enough to know what to expect. I have to commend Lucy Crowe for the highest professionalism with which she adapted to the breakneck speeds that are so dear to Bates. Her tone is too sweet (not a criticism) to call what she used “machinegun coloratura” but it’s definitely one of the fastest and most accurate I’ve heard so far. Her top has enough piercing power to break through the volume levels Bates likes to employ.

Gent from Manchester who took 3 trains for this event: she’s more like a mezzo.

Because she sang Gelido in ogni vena, which I’ve only heard contraltos (and countertenors) sing so far? An interesting choice, I agree, proving she has a middle, but something that benefits from a conductor more focused on emotional detail than energy and forward momentum.

She sounded in top form from the getgo, though I still think that, overall, I prefer her in Mozart (I loved her Ismene in Mitridate! She sounded like she was having so much fun, even though the production is somewhat restrictive in allowing you to put your personal touch on the character; then again, I wasn’t so keen on her Susanna and my interest in her was sparked by her Rodelinda… so you see how it goes). I would say from a techincal point of view she absolutely rocked and this was what Bates wanted from her. I suppose had he wanted her to add personality as well, she would’ve.

For its part, La Nuova Musica is perhaps more suited to Handel, as Рat least to me Рthe sound was too heavy for Vivaldi/Italian Baroque, and occasionally the top strings produced a smudgy sound. The harpsichord was, of course, loud.  So heavy-ish, loud and furious, though not ponderous but also not souple and bright.

Lucy Crowe soprano
La Nuova Musica | David Bates director

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Overture from Il Farnace RV711
Siam navi all’onde algenti from¬†L’Olimpiade¬†RV725
Gelido in ogni vena from Il Farnace RV711

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso in G minor Op. 6 No. 8 ‘For a Christmas Night’

Nico Muhly (b.1981)
Land in an Isle (Part One: Translation of the Body) (London première)

Antonio Vivaldi
Motet: In furore iustissimae irae RV626

Interval

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Gloria HWV deest
Sonata a5 HWV288

Nico Muhly
Land in an Isle (Part Two: Land in an Isle) (London première)

George Frideric Handel
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV46a
Tu del ciel ministro eletto
Un pensiero nemico di pace

Encore:
Lascia la spina from Il trionfo…

The Il trionfo bits were also of much interest to me, as I have never seen it/heard any of them live yet. I admit that when Bates said they’d have another trionfo aria for the encore, this time from Piacere, my heart skipped a bit in hopes of Come nembo. After that coloratura fest, can you blame me? Failing that, at least¬†Un pensiero was as lively as one can hope, though that one could hope for more lightness ūüėČ

Not sure I’d heard any Muhly before. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I had no particular reaction to the piece. The biggest effect was showcasing Crowe’s diction in English vs Italian. It could have been the high speeds, but her Italian was mostly vowels.

I was first introduced to In furore… by Roschmann, of all people. Unless you’re familiar with this wonderful motet, you may not know that Roschamann used to sing this kind of stuff when she was very young (1994). It’s quite the rarity for me but you can feel her distinctive personality already, albeit in a much lighter presentation than we know and love.

Then I went on to listen to Piau’s definitive version and so on. It’s a piece that benefits from a more introverted approach rather than an operatic one, dealing as it is with one’s relationship with sin, divine forgiveness and human rejoicing.

The event was suprisingly well attended, perhaps it’s the time of year when people feel a particular pull towards live culture – and thus people were very happy with the performance. I was somewhat amused to have a May-December couple plop next to me. This is not an unusual occurence at Wiggy, where we have the following types of public: old money mature populace who goes to these things as a matter of fact, music students, other musicians, regular music loving people/fans of the singer/band/conductor and academics and their much younger partners (ex (one hopes)-students). The May part of the couple behaved exactly like the young woman from Carol.

Serse with tomato and beans + Galoumis√Ļ desert (Barbican, 26 October 2018)

This show could be summed up simply as:

Galoumis√Ļ

But it actually was a very entertaining evening even beyond the Galoumis√Ļ daydreaming.

A funny thing happened right before the performance started. First, I firmly demanded my seat back from a gent, only to realise I was in the wrong row – because surely I wasn’t sitting in the second row, was I? Yes, I was. I don’t even know how long ago I bought this ticket, possibly last decade ūüėČ All I remembered was that it was on the left side of the stalls. Well, it turned out I was 2m away from the performers, and judging by Anik’s curtain call picture from TADW, just where Galoumis√Ļ would be positioned. I just now realise that was her position at curtain call but hey! wishful thinking can work in your favour (she didn’t wear the pumpkin dress but the steel-purplish one was backless fine as well).

Lady in front row: this is row B! Everything is confusing in this hall!
Gent sitting next to me in row C: this building is designed to help people get lost. So, come here often?
dehggi: [haha] yes, all the time! What brought you here this evening?
Gent row C: actually, I’ve a soft spot for Galou.
dehggi: !!!!!!

Now¬†THAT is the way to chat dehggi up ūüėÄ After a bit of Galoumis√Ļ fan…personing, we realised we¬†were from the same neck of Eastern Europe. What are the odds?!

Franco: Santa Maria della Salute is not where we’re singing this! But I had a premonition dehggi would go to Venice around the same time so I insisted we use this image…

Serse: Franco Fagioli (aka, the beans)
Arsamene: Vivica Genaux
Amastre: Delphine Galou (aka, Galoumis√Ļ)
Romilda: Inga Kalna
Atalanta: Francesca Aspromonte
Elviro: Biagio Pizzuti
Ariodate: Andreas Wolf (uncredited by the Barbican site (bad Barbican!) but there are like 3 Handel basses doing the rounds these days)
Conductor: Maxim Emelyanychev¬†| Il pomo d’oro (aka, pomodoro = the tomato)

There was a high level of involvement from everyone, down to curtain call antics (Aspromonte singlehandedly1 clearing up some music stands for access to the front of the stage, Genaux trying to sneak her music book back and Galoumis√Ļ graciously handing it to her, Genaux mocking Aspromonte’s pulling up her dress so she could walk faster, Pizzuti giving his (real) bouquet to the¬†string player he’d pestered as Elvira, the fake florist¬†etc.).

I finally saw Fagioli act! Now Serse is a role where he can be himself ūüėČ The endless rows of ornamenti and consummate self absorption fit Serse to a t (or to an s). Even him walking off stage after every aria, regardless of drama around him fit, because it falls right into Handel’s intended mockery of everyone’s melodrama.

I love the structure of this opera even more than I love the arias per se. The Serse-trademark speech interrupted by singing interrupted by speech interrupted by more singing¬†feels so fresh and modern (or Neapolitan, perhaps?). Go Papa Handel! I love how he lavishes great tunes for only a minute or so and isn’t afraid to go back to Spechgesang all I’m playin’ wid’ya! All of the characters are made fun or – and in turn make fun of others. I love how characters just pop up when it’s convenient for them to do so –

Romilda (supposedly alone): oh, Serse, that tyrant!
Serse (cheerful): anyone mention my name?

[much later on:]

Romilda (when she’s run out of sensible arguments against Serse’s pestering): ok, my lord, it will be as you wish!
Arsamene (supposedly not in the room):  ok, my lord, it will be as you wish! So much for your ardently professed faithfulness!

Before we go forward, let’s talk a bit about Fagioli, the star of the night. Now that I sat so close and after¬†we have discussed him at length, I can see the vibrato and I can feel the tension – indeed it’s so great, half the time I’m afraid he’ll blow a gasket. Singing doesn’t have to look like a¬†Strong¬†Man¬†competition. But it can and in his case it sure does. I’m also amused about his stance, which is always on the verge of Ol√©!

His acting was much more involved than usual and with flashes of comedic brilliance, especially when dismissing others (which Serse does a lot)¬†or “wooing” Romilda (who knew he had it in him?!) but the ornamenti felt a bit noodly and, as much as he can do it, I’ve heard more sparkling Crude furies. Perhaps unfair of me to say that, as it comes so late in the game, but maybe if he didn’t pack so much tension from the start… Ombra mai fu felt like his best moment of the night, vocally. Or it’s just me always connecting to his softer singing

The public loved him, of course, but I’ve seen him so many times now that, as earwormopera once said about JDD,

Is there such a thing as awesome fatigue? I’ve heard DiDonato live quite a few times now, and I think I may be chasing the dragon, in a sense that she’s as good as she always is, but I’m so used to it that it doesn’t stun me as much as it did the first time.

So I have a feeling this would be a good point to call it a day as far as following Franco. Blaze of glory and all that.

What with all the excitement about other characters, Kalna’s Romilda got less applause than she should have. She did some fine juxtapositions of quiet and loud singing that showed great control and her voice is as flexible as ever. Romilda is one of those costante amante that have endless woe is me, I’m so oppressed but I will stay true to my principles arias¬†and get¬†energetic only once in the last act (right about the time she gets annoyed at Arsamene for not trusting her after all this effort, bless her heart), which was the one time she also got deserved applause. The woman is very versatile and underrated.

Genaux,¬†Galoumis√Ļ and Aspromonte were kickin’ it in heels. When you sit so close to the stage you have ample opportunity to ponder on singers’ walking gear, which is level with your nose (or, if you’re particularly short, your hairline). I don’t think you’ll be surprised if I told you Galoumis√Ļ wins the stiletto competition. How she skips around in them I don’t know, but they are spiky, high and stylish as all getout. Let me take a(nother) minute to

Ok, back to women’s¬†oppressive¬†footwear. Genaux’s Arsamene was going for that Goth look where men wear leather, heels and eyeliner – or she was just taking the men right out of Arsamene. The shoes weren’t bad,¬†consisting of¬†a patch of black leather (also worn at TADW), but Galoumis√Ļ’s silver bead pair to accessorise the purplish dress was in a different class altogether. Aspromonte wore a pair of practical white pumps, which was why she could “roll up her sleeves” and organise the music stands ūüėČ We don’t know what Kalna wore under the turquoise dress.

Genaux is Genaux and although I doubt I’ll ever be a fan, Arsamene sits well for her, plus she can act and seems to have a sense of humour that she can adapt to the chumminess that usually runs through Baroque specialist circles.

As the night went on, I came to a conclusion on the issue I have with Aspromonte, who has so far been a very reliable performer¬†if uneven at hitting that emotional spot with me (best fit: the trouser role of Alceste in Arianna in Creta). As far as I’m concerned, Atalanta is one of those roles owned by Piau. Aspromonte’s voice is less light, so the impishness does not come out of her vocal delivery alone. Atalanta is a very young and cunning girl, who has the guts to compete with her older sister for love and the selfishness to use any means necessary to get the man when he’s not responding to her wiles. Amusingly, her plans get thwarted by adults who aren’t as¬†easy to manipulate¬†as she thinks they are. Aspromonte is good and very convincing dramatically, especially in that girlish pink dress.

Pizzuti as Elviro was a riot at Elvira, as he needed to be. Elvira the florist’s entrance was hilariously loud and garish, smack dab into Amastre’s heartfelt moaning about being betrayed by her adored Serse. That’s what I’m talking about!¬†While we’re at it,¬†you gotta love the piss taken out of opera disguises, what with Elviro’s hastily applied head scarf and super obviously fake woman’s voice or Amastre’s equally fail “en travesti”, which consisted of a long-ish and clashingly unstylish coat on top of her very “royal” dress. We could totally believe she was a warrior forged in the heat of battle! Haha.

Then we have Wolf’s Ariodate, opera’s most amiable army commander. He’s basically there to say yes, Your Highness! and confuse matters at THE crucial moment of the opera. Plus he’s been in charge of the Most Badass Bridge of the Ancient World, to link Asia with Europe and crown Serse’s ambitions at conquering the world. Both Elviro and Amastre take pot shots at the bridge’s reliability. Is there nothing sacred in this libretto, you will ask? Nothing, gentle reader, nothing.

Except Amastre’s gorgeousness. Are you ready for more eyelash batting? OMG. So you know how she usually doesn’t get applause because contralto or something – possibly the narrow beam effect2. But this time I was determined to rectify this, so as soon as Amastre’s vengeange aria finished and she started to walk away I wrestled the clapping right out of the audience (I’ll be sending in my application to the Strong Person contest, too). So she actually turned around and gave us a little curtsy and me (I hope it was me) her cheeky smile. Dehggi = in love!

gentle readers: wait a minute, dehggi, you’ve been batting the eyelashes at Galou’s altar for how long now?
dehggi: since March 2015. Your point? Love needs to be tended to on a daily basis.

fellow Galou fan: she has such an exquisite voice.
dehggi:¬†where do you think Galoumis√Ļ comes from? And I love her manner of singing, though I still don’t quite know how to characterise it. There’s something she does with sound that’s very cool; it’s not simply beautiful singing, it’s sculpted sound (from my Giulio Cesare in Vienna review: […] timing and interactions with the orchestra ‚Äď the way she got in and out of the phrase and how that blended with the sound around her).
fellow Galou fan: in my opinion she’s very beautiful.
dehggi:

But I was actually talking about Andreas Wolf as Ariodate, right? You don’t remember that? Well, I was. I like his voice a lot, one of those flexible basses that can cope with Baroque coloratura without forcing the gates at the Strong Man contest (yes, I know, this post is all about English breakfast, Italofrench desert and the Strong Man contest. I’m trying to tell it like it is).

I know a lot of people really dig on Emelyanychev’s antics but to me he’s equally as ready to join the Strong Man contest as Mr Argentinian Bean. He looks like he’s wrestling the sound out of his very talented string players, to the point it made me wonder if, left to their own devices, they’d suddenly feel lost at sea and end up sounding like Disarmonia. That being said, 4 hours pass like nothing under his care and his singers are greatly taken care of, especially our evening’s beans on toast, whom he was setting up to soar. What can I tell you about the Attack of the Baroque Tomatoes? That string sound is sweet and they can roque without sounding like they’re trying hard to be cool. But to be honest, sitting on a side I don’t think I got the best of their abilities, except for the strings on the left that I keep mentioning and which healed the still lacerating wounds caused by… that which shall only be named once in this paragraph.

Moral of the story: a) the very front is for getting the best out of the singers, stay further back for the band, b) talk to your neighbours, they might be your real life neighbours, c) someone two people over to my right was – very obviously – recording the show so it could surface somewhere. I wanted to talk to her about it but my neighbour distracted me. Oh, well, sometimes pleasant memories are better than overly scrutinised reality ūüėČ

But since I failed to bring the camera along when sitting smack dab in front of the stage, let me leave you with a shot of the general area of where I think Franco is (supposedly) twirling in the above poster, as seen from Santa Maria della Salute:

San Giorgio Maggiore with lighthouse, blue skies and really warm sun


  1. how often does the soprano do menial work?! 
  2. aka, small, forward concentrated voice (= the laser of gorgeousness). 

Upcoming at ROH and Glyndebourne 2019

What with everything, I missed the Gen Sale for the return to Wagner at ROH (oh, no!). The Ring Cycle is back this Autumn, with Pappano at the helm. I may look up returns for Stemme’s sake (aka, best intentions). Otherwise, we have the following:

Solomon in concert with Zazzo in the title role

Verdi’s Requiem with Jamie Barton and Stoyanova; sold out at this point

Simon Boranegra… for those of strong Verdi constitution (but where there is Wagner, there is also Verdi and there will be another production for the hardcore Verdians soon; an opera we know and I love to make fun of, because a recent new production at ENO clearly was not enough)

Carmen and Hansel and Gretel for the mezzo-deprived; Dudnikova might be an interesting Carmen, I liked her Principessa de Bouillon.

Winter:

The Queen of Spades = must not forget

Traviata for the casual goer – it’s still the much loved production

Katya Kabanova – I’ll probably go

Cos√¨ returns but don’t count me in

Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season

Spring:

La forza del destino ūüėČ yep, that one, in Loy’s vision; with Trebs and the Alvaro of our times

Faust – hm, I might go, see how Damrau is holding up, PLUS it’s got Abrahamyan in her ROH debut (!) as Siebel (let’s all lament the fate of very good mezzos). On the downside, Ettinger conducts.

Billy Budd conducted by Ivon Bolton – the all male cast opera, let’s check it out…

Andrea Chenier – NOT with the Alvaro of our times but with Alagna and Radvanovsky! How can we resist that offer?!

Tosca with Opolais/Grigolo/Terfel but the last show brings Draculette back to her rightful territory so yay for those who care.

Summer:

Boris Godunov still with Terfel but without Ain Anger; so soon? Maybe because they were short of money for a new production…

Carmen, because we’d already missed her, this time with Margaine, and Pisaroni as Escamillo, ha!

Figaro after a couple of seasons, because there are only 3 operas and 1/2 by Mozart; this is the season with Kimchilia Bartoli as Cherubino but also unusually with Gerhaher as Figaro plus Keenlyside as the Count. You know it might actually be worth revisiting and weirdly enough, for the men.

La fille du regiment returns once more, now with Devieilhe, and Camarena will show us his 3283576 high C in a row. Then again, Pido conducts.

In conclusion, some interesting turns but generally a rather meh year ahead for yours truly’s taste.

Glyndebourne 2019

La damnation de Faust – a Richard Jones production, so it could be much fun

Rusalka – nah

Il barbiere – see below

Die Zauberflote – I’ll have to see it at some point, don’t know that this is that point; however, Agathe, David Portillo is Tamino ūüėČ

Cendrillon – usually a spectacular mezzo-mezzo borefest, now with DeNiese and the ever trouserable Kate Lindsey; I mean, they had to make up for the music…

Rinaldo with DeShong in the title role. A bit of a strange choice IMO, but to be honest I have not heard her live and in Handel to boot. I was proven wrong before.

Giulio Cesare 2018 comes into its own (Glyndebourne, 23 June 2018)

That week was all about Glyndebourne and it being June, we were graced with good to very good weather – bright skies, fluffy clouds, fragrant roses and fields and acceptable temperatures for this time of the day in a temperate climate.

It’s quite amusing (in an endearing way) to see people’s first reaction at arriving in the bucolic English countryside for opera. Agathe said pictures don’t do it justice, as you think what is posted is the best of the best possible angles but when you get there it’s that in 360 surround. She also reckons it’s bigger and more remote than Bayreuth. Though remote isn’t exactly what I would call English countryside (unless it’s the moors). It is very much the country, rolling hills that just cry out for a long walk with your hounds, healthy crops, shady country lanes and exquisitely tended to look awesome-wild flower beds but it isn’t quite the same as Croatian forest wild.

Under the care of the younger Christie Glyndebourne has become more accomodating to the younger and trendier crowds (though the big bulk is still mature audiences that think nothing of dishing out ¬£200 on a ticket and having the swanky G-dining experience on top of that) whilst at the same time getting really creative with the type and design of products they can attach the G logo to. If I had the money to spent I’d be shelling a few hundreds on G goods, they are all very well done.

So this time it was Agathe and I who took the train from Victoria to Lewes along with various picnic-ers and someone who looked suspiciously much like Patricia Bardon (conspicuous: no luggage, no picnic/gown attire but took the designated train and got off at Lewes with all of us; moreover, she was on the train back with all of us). In the G gardens, we met Giulia at the interval over some major Baroque-swooning (you can read her account here if you haven’t already).

Dumaux, Bardon, Stephany, Connolly, Christie, Harvey, Moore, Kim and Thatcher.

Giulio Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cleopatra: Joelle Harvey
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Anna Stephany
Achilla: John Moore
Nireno: Kangmin Justin Kim
Curio: Harry Thatcher
Conductor: William Christie | Orchestra or the Age of Enlightenment
Director: David McVicar

Like a vintage convertible, Cesare took a couple of performances to come into its own. Compared to previous week (second performance of the run), everybody seemed more relaxed and ready to adlib.

After seeing two performances, I am happy with everything but above all I loved the sound of the orchestra to a delirious degree (ha!). With the less than satisfactory acoustics of Ulrichskirche still fresh in mind, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the Glyndebourne hall had my ears purring.

All three of us agreed that this is one of the best period ensembles (or ensembles who play period Baroque) on the market today. I still have the gorgeous sound of the low strings from Svegliatevi nel core1 ringing in my ears. It’s not quiet playing but it’s always accomodating the singers and still the power comes through. Certain Baroque-playing bands that fancy themselves rock’n’roll badass should pay attention to this subtle solidity.

I highly enjoyed focusing on this time was Christie’s interaction with orchestra and singers. He quite obviously allowed the singers to lead and do their thing2 and then he would bring in the orchestra with perfect timing, giving specific instruments their moment to shine as well – all this with elegance of movement and minimal fuss (none of that flying off the conductor’s stand).


  1. specifically when Sesto says svegliatevi! and the low strings echo it = swoon. 
  2. though most certainly he wasn’t down for anyone going all diva and screwing with the tempi for personal gain. 

Problem with the libretto? Swap the Saracens for popstars (Rinaldo)

Last night, thadieu and I sat through 6 hours of a Rinaldo mashup. The term wild ride applies.

Armida: Carmela Remigio.
Goffredo: Francisco Fern√°ndez-Rueda.
Almirena: Loriana Castellano.
Rinaldo: Teresa Iervolino.
Argante: Francesca Ascioti.
Eustazio: Dara Savinova.
Lesbina: Valentina Cardinali.
Nesso: Simone Tangolo.
Araldo di Argante: Dielli Hoxha.
Uno Spirito in forma di Donna: Kim-Lillian Strebel.
Mago Cristiano: Ana Victória Pitts.

La Scintilla Orchestra. Conductor: Fabio Luisi | Martina Franca

Now we know that Rinaldo was Handel’s most revived opera within his lifetime, the first opera he presented when he moved to London from Italy and his first mega hit that immediately established his reputation in London.

He revised it in 1717 and again in 1731:

Revisions, 1717 and 1731

The opera was frequently revised, most particularly in 1717 and in 1731; modern performances are usually a conflation of the versions available. Up to and including 1717, these changes had no significant effect on the plot. In the 1731 version, however, in Act 2 Armida imitates Almirena’s voice rather than assuming her appearance, and Argante declares his love to Almirena’s portrait rather than to her face. In Act 3 the marches and the battle scene are cut; Armida and Argante remain unrepentant and vanish in a chariot drawn by dragons before the conclusion.[23]

The opera was also performed in German in Hamburg to much success. Leo presented it in pasticcio form in Naples:

A pastiche of the opera, with additional numbers by Leonardo Leo, was presented by Leo at the Royal Court in Naples in 1718, with Nicolini singing his original role.[25]

This is the mashup we heard, though the Italian presenters insisted on calling it “Handel’s Rinaldo“, only occasionally mentioning that it also contained arias by Leo and others. Let me assure you it’s not quite Handel’s Rinaldo so it’s kind of annoying when it’s presented as such. But the whole thing was obviously legit and with Fabio Luisi at the helm so you have to think that we’re starting to see things differently now, especially these old skool operas (though I do remember things have been done to Fidelio recently and the less said about that Currentzis modification to a certain Mozart opera, the better). It looks like a trend, for better or worse. I personally find it’s trying a bit too hard, but I’m not so young anymore so who knows.

I think this was one of those productions where you had to be there. On the radio, sometimes the recits, done by secondary characters buffa-style (I felt like in a Pergolesi comedy), went on so long that when an aria I knew started I was almost startled. Do I care about Lesbina and some guy in Rinaldo? Do we want servants represented? I guess we do, but Rinaldo has a kind of specific focus. This woman Lesbina wasn’t even there in “Handel’s Rinaldo“, so why do we have to hear her mock (I guess – or was that the woman-spirit?) the main characters?

It can be said that Rinaldo‘s plot is problematic in today’s world because mentioning crusades and infidels isn’t done in cosmopolitan company. Well, fair enough, it’s one way of looking at it. For my part, it’s historical through a fantasy lens but if it has to be dropped from the rep because it’s not PC, so be it. We can do concert performances, seeing as how the music is still appreciated. I wouldn’t drop it but I wouldn’t make a big stink either about it if people were so offended by it.

What these people did was chuck the plot altogether and change all the characters to ’80s pop stars. In the main roles we have Freddy Mercury (Rinaldo), that annoying guy from Kiss (Argante), David Bowie and Elton John (don’t know who’s who in the opera and frankly I couldn’t care less) and two unidentified by me women as Almirena and Armida. One is in a big white dress with teased hair and the other is in a black dress, looking vaguely Goth. I leave it to ’80s pop fans to figure out the riddle, because to me it makes no sense. I didn’t even know Queen and Kiss had some sort of feud, if that is supposed to be reflected here. I think Queen was the sophisticated end of mainstream radio and Kiss was lowest common denominator frat party fodder.

So I guess they take the edge out of the plot and place the story in a conspicuously white-Western world cca 1980 – in order to make this cooler for today’s (opera going) public, which must be over 40, because I can’t see anyone under 40 care one way or another about Queen and Kiss, though Elton John is still present enough and David Bowie died cool.

But from the commentary during intervals I gathered thay wanted to make it more Neapolitan, hence I guess the Leo pasticcio. Which is ok and all, but don’t call it “Handel’s Rinaldo“, call it Leo’s Rinaldo pasticcio.

When we get to the actual Rinaldo stuff, that is pretty cool, though so diluted – like I was saying above – that it feels like hours have passed between Vo far’ guerra and Or la tromba, both of which are done with enough gusto (especially Or la tromba = you understand why there are contraltos in this rep; Vo far’ guerra was surprisingly understated, I suppose only the Barbican harpsichordist was let loose, though it would have so made sense to indulge in endless classic rock noodling in this production! Missed opportunity if there was one). Sadly, although I sat through 6 hours of it, I missed both Venti, turbini [edit: they cut it! They WHAT?! They cut Venti, turbini and they’re calling it (Handel’s)¬†Rinaldo?! Dude….] and Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto, which is a real miss, because how often do you hear a contralto Argante?!):

Role
(in singing order)
Voice type
(1711)[12]
Notes Premiere cast, 24 February 1711
Conductor:[19]
Ref.
Goffredo:¬†leader of the First Crusade. 1096‚Äď99 contralto¬†(en travesti) Tenor¬†after 1731 revision Francesca Vanini-Boschi [20]
Rinaldo:¬†a nobleman of the House of Este alto¬†castrato Written in soprano clef, now sung by a contralto,¬†mezzo-soprano¬†or countertenor Nicolo Grimaldi¬†(“Nicolini”) [20]
Almirena: daughter of Goffredo soprano Isabella Girardeau [20]
Eustazio:¬†brother to Goffredo alto castrato This part was eliminated before the 1717 revival, and is often omitted from modern productions Valentino Urbani¬†(“Valentini”) [20][21]
A herald tenor Bass¬†in 1731 revival “Lawrence” [20]
Argante: Saracen king of Jerusalem bass Contralto in 1731 revival, now usually bass Giuseppe Boschi [20]
Armida:¬†Queen of Damascus, Argante’s mistress soprano Contralto in 1731 revival, now usually soprano Elisabetta Pilotti-Schiavonetti [20][22]
Two mermaids sopranos Not recorded [20]
A woman soprano In some productions the woman’s lines are sung by a mermaid Not recorded [20]
A Christian magician alto castrato Bass from 1731 revival Giuseppe Cassani [20]
Mermaids, spirits, fairies, officers, guards, attendants Non-singing parts

I can totally see why you would also have a contralto Armida and how a dramatic soprano does justice to Furie terribili. Remigio (who, if I’m not wrong, has sing Vitellia, which is as dramatic as sopranos in this rep get) did a pretty good job of Armida in general. I might like her better on repeat listens.

So, it’s a trend and to me it’s a very whimsical one (read: hit and miss). But I wasn’t there and on the radio and without 100% Italian a lot was missed. On the other hand, now might be time to present the WS revised Alcina and Der Rosenkavalier.

Jakub J√≥zef Orlinski celebrates 100 years of Polish independence (Wigmore Hall, 13 June 2018)

You know how I always say that if the singer is French, the Wiggy audience gets a major influx of French speaking people, if the pianist is Korean – etc. Well, in this case there was an extra reason everybody seemed to speak Polish – the concert was broadcast on Polish TV and it was part of the celebrations around a century of Polish independence. It was a bit weird being there casually, as a lot of people around me seemed to be patriotically invested in the event.

I do actually have a personal story to go with this, and it’s as usual rather amusing. You know how we in Eastern Europe are always mixed with this and that. Well, so am I. For the longest time the story – told by mum – was that I was part Polish on my dad’s side. A couple of years ago she goes “oh, Czech, like your people”. Of course I was like :-O! “wait a second, didn’t you say we were Polish?” And she was like “oh, one of those!” She, who makes a way bigger deal about her heritage than I do, was so casual about my heritage! You can imagine that for a moment or two the pillars of my identity got a good shake. I may not make a bog deal about it but I do care about accuracy. Anyway, I’m none the wiser (due to complicated communication issues within my family), but thanks to the confusion I felt a bit (more?) Polish that night.

Jakub Józef Orlinski countertenor
Michal Biel piano

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Inumano fratel … Stille amare Tolomeo HWV25

Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Music for a while Z583
If music be the food of love Z379c
What power art thou (Cold Genius aria) Z628
Strike the viol Z323

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Auf der Donau D553
Die Stadt Schwanengesang D957
Nachtst√ľck D672

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
A Chloris
Mai
Paysage
Fêtes galantes
L’heure exquise

Interval

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
Kurpie Songs Op. 58
Lecioly zórazie
Wysla burzycka
Uwoz mamo
U jeziorecka

Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981)
Four Love Sonnets

Pawel Lukaszewski
Jesien

George Frideric Handel
Agitato da fiere tempeste Riccardo Primo, re d’Inghilterra HWV23

And indeed, in spite of the Handel arias, I actually enjoyed the Polish songs best, as Orlinski sounded to me very relaxed and at home in them. He has style (including versatility), intelligence and sensitivity, as well as presence and a very bright and enjoyable top, only lacking a wider range. There are a few countertenors I’ve heard so far who have a certain segment of their voice where things are top notch and they, quite understandably, march on arias and parts that showcase that particular segment. It’s not hard at all to figure out what that is, as you will hear it again and again during a recital. It’s of course, pleasant like witnessing a homerun, but it does also point to the limitations of a voice.

(The madness of king) Saul (Glyndebourne, 27 July 2018)

I attended this actually not knowing the work1. Stray has repeatedly mentioned how \m/ this oratorio is. How very true! The choir parts in this piece are super badass!¬†Combined with Kosky’s tongue in cheek approach, their first entrance had the effect of an avalanche on me. Maybe Kosky needs to stage Israel in Egypt as well? More busy choir (and in fact it reminded me of it2). Set your speakers to the loudest option:

You can’t quite get the feeling from the video as you do from the hall – the choir are grinning like how excellent! He killed Goliath! Way cool. Also it’s much more booming in the house (Glyndebourne has dry acoustics, as far I understand – similar to TADW).

I haven’t seen the DVD but at first you get the very long overture with the curtain down. It goes on and on (not the most exciting one in the scheme of things to come) and nothing happens. Then all of a sudden you realise there is a head on stage (didn’t we have one just last week? Dead heads in Handel = a thing) on something that looks like dirt, but it’s actually road grit (made me think of the blasting of Sodom).

The curtain goes up and David comes in with his slingshot, a second curtain goes up and we get the choir perched on the table, in high mime mode, as only Kosky can do it and not look cheap. I generally love all his references, he integrates his chosen elements very well and it never feels thrown together or gratuitous3 (just poking fun at received reverence).

I can see how this work could get very preachy-earnest4 if you don’t find a way to infuse it with some levity. But it’s an interesting moment to write about and you’re left aching for the sequel of how great David is going to be when he grows up.

Saul/Apparition of Samuel:¬†Markus Br√ľck
David: Iestyn Davies
Merab: Karina Gauvin
Michal: Anna Devin
Jonathan: Allan Clayton
Abner/High Priest/Amalekite/Doeg: Stuart Jackson
Witch of Endor: John Graham-Hall
Dancers: Robin Gladwin, Ellyn Hebron, Thomas Herron, Merry Holden, Gareth Mole, Yasset Roldan
Conductor: Laurence Cummings | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment | The Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Barrie Kosky (2015)

In short, Saul needs to be performed more often. It’s true the arias aren’t as catchy as in his most famous works but it’s quite obvious he thinks differently when it comes to oratorios. The scale is grander and he stretches his creativity in all directions, including giving opportunities to all sorts of instruments (as per wiki):

He conceived¬†Saul¬†on the grandest scale and included a large orchestra with many instrumental effects which were unusual for the time including a carillon (a keyboard instrument which makes a sound like chiming bells); a specially constructed organ for himself to play during the course of the work;¬†trombones, not standard orchestral instruments at that time, giving the work a heavy brass component; large¬†kettledrums¬†specially borrowed from the¬†Tower of London; extra woodwinds for the Witch of Endor scene; and a harp solo.[2]:318‚Äď319

I love Handel’s organ work! Whoever else does, listen to this, there is quite a bit ūüėÄ Kosky, as usual, listens and responds to the music, so when the major organ solo happens the organist + organ raises from hell below the stage and spins around in the centre of a field of candles! That’s what I’m talking about (\m/).

Also, there are quite a few very effective duets, ariosos, direct dialogue between the choir and different characters and lots of exciting chromatic stuff like this amazing minute of brass’n’vocal goodness here:

And then he goes into old school Handel like it was nothing. Then he reprises How excellent. Handel = the man, best known for Messiah. Let the world not stop there.

As far as acting, Gauvin’s Merab ran circles around everyone else. Such direct, logical, efficient and unaffected acting ‚̧ Nobody was a bad actor in regards to doing what they were called to do, but it’s also a matter of stage presence.¬†You have a panoramic view of the stage from your spot in the audience and you get a very good feel for who has presence and who is being dutiful about their stage movement.

Merab’s job isn’t that complicated by acting standards but there are some moments that a sensitive actor will use to pop her character into 3D. For presence we have the time early on when Merab wasn’t gonna take daddy Saul’s shit (= marry David from the barrio just because he said so, being momentarily taken with the popular hero). She also gets to call him on his illogical ways when Saul changes his mind from David is the bees knees to David must die or I’m gonna throw down. But then there’s the moment of reflection when she feels bad for David, who although not posh, has some qualities. Plus the way she acts outraged and disgusted by Saul’s trying to assault her when mad – all this adds to a rounded portrait of a living person.

Saul is quite the opera about men interacting with each other, so we only have two female characters and the Bechdel test would be easily failed. Michal in Devin’s interpretation is a typical teenager, instantly in love with David the same way contemporary girls would rave about the Biebster. It’s a valid portrayal, but I’m not habitually enamoured with her high soprano. On the other hand, I enjoyed the contrast of sound with Gauvin’s Merab. It’s an interesting role vocally, lower and more dramatic than Michal; of course, Gauvin worked it with intelligence.

From our perspective Saul’s turn from yay, David to nay, David¬†is a funny moment: the choir is busy praising – Saul killed a thousand enemies, he gets a few thousand praises. David killed ten thousand enemies, he gets a large shitload of praises! Yay, David, you rock! [David stage dives and they carry him around – no, really, he does and they do]

Saul: Yay, David! Wait… that can’t be right. Why do I get just a few thousand praises and he gets the large shitload? I mean, come on! He’s just a kid! What next? They’ll be voting him king! OMYahweh.

Saul becomes very tormented – we assume he’s in throes of psychosis, because the dancers show up at least once specifically to mime him wrestling with unseen forces. He has a fit and people have to hold him down. Jonathan pleads with bro David to do something.

Here we see David’s very fine de-escalation techniques, when he sings to Saul (which works for a while) and then holds him (human touch also works for a while). Alas, the situation is too serious already. Acuphase came to mind. He’s behaving unreasonably with his loved ones and insists David should die, which is embarassing, now that he’s agreed for David to marry his younger daughter, Michal5.

He schemes to have David go into battle against the Philistines, hoping he would be killed. David being David, the battle has a happy ending. Saul is upset his son Jonathan, too, has started to idolise David (bromance alert)¬†and refuses to kill him, even when his father points out that David will depose him of his rightful throne. At wits’ end, Saul enlists the powers of daaaaaaaaaaaarkness (\m/).

Lydia of Definitely the Opera fame warned me that the Witch of Endor was the worst caricature of mature femininity¬†and I was expecting something offensive. What I got was comical. It’s sung by a mature dude who looks like Willie Nelson with the fakest (though apparently lactating, so much for mature)¬†saggy boobs. It’s more Les Mamelles de Tiresias than Ulrica Arvidson on a bad day.

The Witch does in no way act feminine to me, so I resolved to see the whole thing like an interaction between a man without boobs and a man with boobs (not breasts, those are defo boobs). That was especially true when the Witch grabbed Saul’s hand after the terrible pact with Samael and the two walked off like two arthritic gents from the Retirement Palace.

Say a job¬†opening¬†appeared for a witch, not a wizard, and Willie Nelson put on his boobsuit and applied. Absent other candidates, the Witchy Authorities of Endor felt pressed to fill the vacancy the best they could (a bit day late and dollar short, judging by how things turn out but that’s¬†HR departments¬†the world over).

It’s a Kosky production, so I didn’t expect any camp opportunity to be missed. There are way worse faults out there beside indulging in it. So bring on the moob-y man-witch and let these past-their-due-date heroes¬†get on with¬†their dastardly schemes. I mean you can imagine what kind of dark entity Samael is if he has to do their bidding. Though does he? Because in the next scene Saul ends up headless (moral: it’s always good to tone down your enthusiasm when your mortal enemy ends up headless, lest some¬†devil-wannabe¬†from a literal hellhole play a cruel prank on you).

Br√ľck’s job is to portray Saul as an erstwhile hero whose mental health is destabilised by today’s yoof. It’s not easy for any of us getting to grips with the¬†latest gadget (BC version: a slingshot)¬†but it’s not worth losing your head over it.¬†What we get is¬†a¬†garden variety¬†mental breakdown so in itself not all that amazing to act. The best part is when Br√ľck has to channel Samael and alternate sounding authoritative with meek and lost. Also his mock-Shakespearian, fourth wall-breaking¬†recitation of I’m the king! was¬†quite powerful and caused at least one goer to keep asking afterwards was that re-ci-ta-ti-ve? Because I don’t quite know what it was.¬†His singing was all right but the top credits as far I’m concerned would go to Gauvin, Davies and Clayton, in this order.

It’s not that long ago that most everybody ended up suggesting that Stephany’s Cesare Sesto wig was the same she had on¬†last year for Tito‘s Sesto. I offer that Clayton’s Jonathan wig is the same he had last year as Hamlet. Glyndebourne hair politics aside, he’s a very musical singer, always paying attention to the orchestra and working with what’s going on around him. This role showcases his sensitivity a lot more than Hamlet did¬†(but I’m sure you could see that one coming from me). Tl;dr: more Baroque, less shot in the dark contemporary.

Acting-wise, he was very involved and followed the character well, though not quite¬†a stage animal. Then again, Jonathan is more like a self-effacing hippie at heart. He has an aria that would¬†warm the cockles of¬†Jarvis Cocker’s heart – ie, he’s all about the love of common people, titles and high birth meaning nothing to him. Well, dear, I’d like to see you move to the barrio with David and leave palace life behind to Merab and them. Funny how just hours before I read this gem from Gigi Hadid, a woman famous for having society-approved features: My first Louboutins came from my first paycheck.

Naive or not, Jonathan is David’s biggest fanboy. Kosky does not miss the opportunity to have the two of them make out and David seems very satisfied by that course of action (does he kiss Jonathan’s dead head later on? quite possibly; opera history¬†tells us¬†that’s a go¬†in that part of the world).

For his part, David is not only in the possession of the latest gadgets but leads his generation with his no-label attitude to love. Here he’s pictured open to anything (he’s very polite in refusing Merab’s hand, though he notices her antagonism, accepts Michal’s worship with enthusiasm and Jonathan’s puppy-eyed devotion with similar good nature and gusto). A doubly large shitload of praises to you, Jesse’s son.

Davies presents that with his usual boyish charm. That’s the thing with CTs, they have plenty of that kind of presence. Later on David has to step up as winner of popular vote, with Saul and Jonathan conveniently killed in battle while he was away to see his family for the holidays. He walks down the same stage Sarah Connolly walked a day before as Cesare. It’s hard not to compare. There is no comparison.

On the other hand, with the proper amount of¬†rehearsal behind him¬†and without the hectic travel he did in the Spring, he too sounded superior to his stint in Barbican’s Rinaldo.¬†His¬†pleasant plaintive tone and clear coloratura sounded fresh and flowing.

Cummings is a regular at the annual London Handel Fest, where I have seen him conduct Faramondo, Ariodante and Semele. He knows how to read his Handel make it exciting and did a very good job this time as well. The orchestra needs no further recommendation from me, I have only good things to say about their performances. The Glyndebourne Chorus likewise, especially considering the amount of physical stuff they have to do whilst singing. All in all, a wonderfully riveting performance of a still underrated score. Opera houses, please program Saul more often. In the meanwhile, watch it here and if you like it remember you have until Thursday to back it up.

scorched earth and stormy skies… check out how it normally looks by clicking on it.

You know what I noticed a good while ago and somehow never worked into any of my write-ups? There’s this trend among Japanese opera fans in this courntry¬†to show up in kimonos regardless of rep. We had at least one kimono yesterday. What’s the deal with that? To be fair, we also had the kilt with sporran, which made sense for Cesare but seemed a bit out of place for Saul. I’m always a bit thrown by specific traditional attire as formalwear.

Since I went on my own this time, I decided to explore the lesser taken paths, which would be the veggie garden, the mini orchard and the hothouses (all extremely well tended). And what did I find? The statue of Tito from the old production ūüėÄ at least I think it’s Tito (it looks Roman). Anyway, I only had my old Samsung with me this time and the battery was kaput by then, so no old Tito pic for now. A quick shower caught me in the tomato and chili pepper hothouse so I spent some time with them ūüėČ 27 was the turning point of weather this Summer with the temperature plunging for at least 10 degrees within an hour or so. Back to the capricious English weather, though apparently the hot temperatures will make a return next week.


  1. ¬†At this point my attitude to Handel is¬†I‚Äôll most likely enjoy it, whatever it is. But I don‚Äôt enjoy everything this much. Military oratorios FTW! 
  2. Unsurprisingly, since Israel in Egypt is his next work. It’s true what Grant said, Handel goes into 6-12 months of intense inspiration, so many of of his best works come in twos. 
  3. ¬†Like when other directors think they‚Äôre cool by having all sorts of periods represented together on stage and it just looks clueless, confused and lazy. 
  4. ¬†It‚Äôs a morality piece: envy ‚Äď the eldest born of hell ‚Äď is bad for you -> it gets Saul killed. 
  5. Michal sounds exactly like Michael and confuses my gender-conscious mind. 

Arianna in Cretan temperatures (Halle Handel Fest, 9 June 2018)

First violin, Gauvin, Hallenberg, Emelyanychev, Aspromonte, Nesi and Hammarstrom (sorry, Wolf!).

Dear all, this month has been busier than usual and it’s only now that I get around to writing about this wonderful performance! Sorry all about the delay, it’s the madness of everything, work and fun, amping up at the same time, so I ended up running from one to the other, like a headless but musical chicken.

There are two things about Halle: it seems it’s always unbearbly hot in June (like 30C and up, plus humidity) and the Ulrichskirche is inescapable. Other than that = fabulous.

Early June is too early for London to get that hot-busy, so for me it was a bit of a shock to the system (we’ve updated ourselves to Summer heat since, especially this week). It’s now one of those memories, very akin to childhood ones, of thadieu, Agathe and I walking up the tram tracks in the scorching sun, in an effort to get to the road we needed to be on for the airbnb. I have a vague feeling we complicated our lives a bit but that’s what fun memories are made of!

We quickly took showers and then headed off for some before-the-show grub. Once again, Halle was deader than a Dodo. We speculated some but our host came to the rescue and revealed the dark secret: everyone and their cat was out at the beach. Yes, thanks to the river, there is such a thing even this deep inland. Indeed, on the way to grub we ran into people with beach bags. Apparently the locals were expecting thunder storms with their lunch but seeing as how those got postponned, people took the opportunity to roast themselves in the sun and cool themselves in the Saale river. We thought maybe next year we should make it a longer trip and avail ourselves of the beach as well.

This nice banner was nailed to the venue’s wall.

As you can imagine with this cast, there is very little more one can want musically aside from less humidity. The singers braved 30C for 4 hours, which is one of the most commendable efforts I’ve yet witnessed with my opera. And they sang well, too! I don’t know how they did it. True, water bottles were consumed throughout and there was liberal fanning – of your colleague, as well, which only made it all more congenial and down to earth (although by that I don’t mean to say singers should endure these temperatures day in, day out). The ladies singing ladies at least wore dresses, but Nesi had on a frock and Hallenberg a suit – whew!

Though everyone’s Baroque chops are superior, this was hands down Hallenberg’s show. The Energiser Bunny had nothing on her. She just merely spun really complicated arias and probably would’ve still gone on into the night, with an ease and cheerfulness that still looks amazing even after you’ve seen her several times.

Aspromonte was a bit of a revelation to me, as I hadn’t quite felt her in Vivaldi. I know everyone else praised her, but there you go. Here, though, and in a Vagaus-like trouser role at that, she sounded very good and enthusiastic, with enough energy throughout to match her experienced colleagues. It was very sweet of Hallenberg to give her a friendly push onto the stage when Aspromonte’s Alceste had to sing right after a bring-down-the-house aria by Teseo.

As Giulia noted (in her account of this performance), Arianna fits Gauvin’s voice really well (it sits at that not very high spot where her voice is at its most beautiful) and she threw in some cool and interesting ornaments in that bigger, more furious aria Arianna has (sorry if I’m not very well acquainted with the opera – most of Arianna’s arias are somewhat anguished but there is one that has kick to it).

opera goers approaching Ulrichskirche (just around that O2 corner)

This was the first time I heard Nesi and Hammarstrom live and they both lived up to their respective names. I was a bit irked when Emelyanychev, who had been thus far very accomodating to his singers (especially Gauvin, who strikes me like the kind of woman who will work out the best deal for herself ūüėČ which is a good thing!), all of a sudden let the horns loose on a particularly rambunctious Tauride aria.

Now the thing is, Tauride seems to have all the horn arias (which is also a good thing – we need more horn arias), so it was more than once that Nesi’s very solid low notes were swallowed by the combined efforts of the horns and Ulrichskirche acoustics. Most of us know that Nesi has one of the most reliable chest registers among mezzos, one of the very few mezzos who can sing Holofernes without sounding like the ship is sinking. So I wanted to hear those notes! Anyway, her singing was excellent and she has this sort of cool but badass aura to her that is unique.

Hammarstrom is a very different singer, rather reserved in manner and with a lyric piangency to her equally reliable chest register. Though she’s a Bradamante veteran, here she sang a girly-girl (Teseo’s ex?), who’s eventually whisked off by Alceste for the happy ending (we joked that Alceste and Carilda return for the finale after a lengthy period, in which one could only imagine what is happening).

Wolf seems to be a veteran of Halle bass(-baritone?) roles and he sounded good here too, putting some fear into Arianna (is he her dad?). I’m low on details but the gist of this particular Arianna story is she’s in trouble (with the Minotaur?) and Teseo flies to her/her people’s rescue, they fall in love, there’s some typical Baroque drama with exes and rivals but they finally get married or whatever the equivalent was in Creta back then. This story does not hint at all at what will happen in Naxos, all is Teseo ‚̧ Arianna here.

the plaza in front of the local opera is undergoing massive contruction. But the fountain is still functional!

Speaking of an opera that isn’t very often performed, the team made it flow seamlessly for 4 hours, which is another excellent achievement. I could quite see how without a cast, orchestra and conductor of this level it could flag. Really looking forward to hear Emelyanychev and Il Pomo d’Oro later this year, under better acoustic conditions.

About two thirds into the show thunder and lightning arrived in Halle but by the time the show ended we were actually happy for some rain. So we, joined by Giulia since intermission, ran around a bit, looking for a place to sit down and chat and possibly eat/drink something.

Now this was 11:30pm on a Sunday morning and the centre of Halle had, as far as we could see, about 2 1/2 places still open. We finally chose a shisha bar, of all things, only because it looked like it was gonna be open indefinitely and had room to sit. The bar staff were actually cool and turned off the awful music on offer, though whether that was for our benefit or because it was late I can’t tell. But I for one really appreciated the effort and we went on chatting for a good while into the night.

ps: sorry, Giulia, I said I didn’t have any pictures from the curtain call – turns out I did have this one and it somehow got lost amidst all the other 2018 opera trip ones.

a nice shady spot

Giulio Cesare – the bright side of colonialism (Glyndebourne, 15 June 2018)

Dumaux, Bardon, Stephany, Connolly, Harvey, Moore, Kim and Thatcher.

A bight, warm-ish day saw picnic-ers return to the Glyndebourne lawn for another round of the production that even McVicar-haters love. Updating Rome to the British Empire at its height and Egypt to the Subcontinent as its prized possession has retained both its poignancy and light-hearted humour.

Giulio Cesare: Sarah Connolly
Cleopatra: Joelle Harvey
Tolomeo: Christophe Dumaux
Cornelia: Patricia Bardon
Sesto: Anna Stephany
Achilla: John Moore
Nireno: Kangmin Justin Kim
Curio: Harry Thatcher
Conductor: William Christie | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Director: David McVicar

As most die hard Baroque fans are aware, this is the Giulio Cesare production on the market, still enduring after more than 12 years. It’s returned to the Glyndebourne hall after a whooping 9 years. Connolly, Dumaux and Bardon reprise their trademark roles – when you star in a definitive production the differences between you and your role will blur in the public’s mind.

Newcomers Harvey, Stephany and Kangmin Justin Kim are more than able to fill in the tall boots they were presented with. Though not a natural mover with DeNiese in mind or when sharing the stage with Connolly (textbook swagger) and Dumaux (Mr Athleticism), Harvey showed that she is very proficient at following directions to portraying a lively and energetic Cleopatra. Vocally she’s not Piau but her accomplishment surpasses DeNiese’s by far and her stamina is enviable. Remember, it’s not just 8 arias (most of them difficult, with Da tempeste rounding it all up after almost 4 hours) but also the relentless matching choreography.

Stephany, hot on the heels of portraying the other Sesto (big Sesto, to this little Sesto) at last year’s festival, was very convincing as the earnerst son of Pompey, called to take adult responsibility much too soon, and her interaction with Bardon’s Cornelia, Sesto’s mother, was entirely believable. This role is very well suited to her voice (I’d say better suited than big Sesto).

I have not seen before Kangmin Justin Kim but he entirely lived up to his niche comedy reputation as Kimcilia Bartoli, which amounted to a winning stage presence (ie: very camp funny). Nireno doesn’t have much to sing so it’s hard to gauge him just yet but in his aria he showed an unusually mezzo-ish tone. Afterwards we discussed the possibility of him actually being a tenor.

The orchestra was on top form, with the winds, brass and continuo all sounding like butter and Christie conducting at optimal tempi. A genuine pleasure to listen to! I could’ve honestly been happy with just them alone. 4 hours flew like nothing. It is really a shame Glyndebourne isn’t streaming it this year so more can hear it but I guess the DVD will have to do – after all, it was Christie and them back then as well.

I came to this production at a time when I was sick and tired of pop music so my first rection to its Bollywoodness was ambivalent. On the one hand I couldn’t deny its effectiveness, on the other I really hated the choreography. Time has passed and the 2018 me loved the opportunity of witnessing a legendary production with its legendary actors in its legendary house. Seeing this Cesare at Glyndebourne is like seeing Der Rosenkavalier in Vienna or any Verdi in Italia. Nowadays I enjoy the jokey nature and the silly moves – Baroque music lends itself really well to dancing and it’s great when a production finds a way to incorporate that in the stage action.

One interesting aspect of this production is played by way of costume. At the beginning we see the Romans wearing… err, British gear and the Egyptians harem-style getups. But as things move on, the Roman/British outfits start to crop up with the Egyptians as well. This to me alludes to what we’d (still) call today the cosmopolitan nature of the Egyptian (ie, exotic land Westerners want to conquer civilise) elite. They presumably speak fluent Latin/English with their visitors.

Indeed, during Va tacito we see Tolomeo’s staff bring out what looks like tea cakes and some sort of liquor. Cleopatra rocks a 1920s flapper girl outfit to seduce Cesare as Lydia and Tolomeo apparently enjoys hunting in safari gear as much as he does swinging his hips in harem trousers. The discreet appeal of colonialism has swayed minds even before any war ships and blimps appear on the horison.

Seeing it in the company of an international cast of WS was another highlight (check us out on Definitely the Opera, if you haven’t already). After plotting this outing for roughly a year, we finally met for this very special reason. I think I speak for us all when I say we had a blast. When you’re picnic-ing on the Glyndebourne lawn for a couple of hours, enjoying the sights, atmosphere – that curious combination of posh dress and easy chumminess1 – and a good opera chat, the ring of the first bell comes almost as a surprise: there’s live opera on the menu as well ūüôā And not just any opera.

What can I say? Tolomeo grew a hipster beard since the DVD came out and we know Cesare has badass hair under that wig2 – it goes really well with the coat – too bad we didn’t get to see it ūüėČ all the badass moves are there and people still openly ooh and aah at them and it’s always funny to see Cleopatra nonchalantly use Pompey’s urn as umbrella holder… it takes a bit of time to get used to the fact that something you’ve seen countless of times on the screen is now happening under your eyes, though in the house the difference in voice projection between Connolly and Bardon was rather striking. But this was only the second performance of the run and things evened out and got even livelier the week after.


  1. in that sense, Glyndebourne is like Venice – everybody’s happy to be there and most will be friendly. 
  2. it’s kind of interesting how McVicar did this year’s Vienna Ariodante in a similar vein, especially since Connolly and Dumaux were rivals there as well – or maybe because of that. I still think he shoul’ve relented on the Cesare hair front.