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Whimsical Partenope returns to kick off the Handel season (ENO, 17 March 2017)

You know what we/I haven’t had in a while? (A bit of semi-obscure) Handel! Since Gauvin’s recital at the end of January, to be precise. ENO has programmed their revival of the Award Winning 2008 production of Partenope to coincide with the usual time of the year when we celebrate the Grandmaster of the Baroque Formula.

I bought this ticket the day before the show, just before leaving for the Radvanovsky recital. Because 1) I bungled it when the tickets went on sale, 2) there was no way for me to attend this week’s performances no matter how I tried to cut it (and these days the situation at work is the sort where one should try to cut it as little as possible) and last but most importantly 3) this is a badass production, which kept niggling at the back of my mind (you’re not going to see that? Seriously? You’re not? And you call yourself an admirer of clever stylish silly ideas? It’s Handel, ffs! A Handel comedy!).

Oh, who am I kidding?! It all comes down to:

Like Radvanovsky was saying: I just like I was lucky to have quite a grand introduction to it, on my very first outing at Wigmore Hall. You should see my badass moves 😉 If I were a singer with a half decent coloratura this would be one of my audition/recital staples. By the end of it the audience would be bawling on each other’s shoulders. Or perhaps chuckling. But moved they would be. After about 30min on repeat (various versions) my musically inclined cat joined in with the coloratura 😀 that’s how much we love this aria at casa dehggi.

Partenope: Sarah Tynan
Emilio: Rupert Charlesworth (taking the entire season over from Robert Murray (indisposed))
Arsace: Patricia Bardon
Armindo: James Laing
Rosmira “Eurimene”: Stephanie Windsor-Lewis
Ormonte: Matthew Durkhan
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Orchestra of the ENO
Director: Christopher Alden
Set designer: Andrew Lieberman
Costume designer: Jon Morell

In this production, the laddish Arsace, who sings the aria after being roasted by his jilted lover, brandishes about a bottle of something stiff but somehow does not smash it by the end. Dude! I’d like several (the entire stash) to smash to the coloratura.

“But what if Man Ray isn’t what turns you on? If your fancy isn’t taken by the erotic charge of a strategically positioned black triangle, or a prominent nipple in an expanse of flesh smoothed flat by the lens and viewpoint, or if the sight of a 1920s siren smoking through a long cigarette holder fails to excite? In that case, this production has little for you.” (Davin Karlin for Bachtrack on this revival of ENO/Opera Australia’s 2008 production of Partenope).

That’s the case with every production built on a schtick. Luckily, I get down with all of that, especially the siren bit, which Tynan rocks (is there anything more stylish than 1920s fashions? Nah.) It’s a sort of “flat” production, in the sense it’s all about posing rather than following a plot logically1 but then we’re talking Surrealist photography, Bauhaus and whatnot. Visual arts during Modernism made a point out of removing (or at least disrupting) the narrative.

How does this relate to Handel? Singers do silly things whilst singing but we’re reminded that singers in Handel’s time used to make the most of their limelight moments as well and the public was often engaged otherwise. People do silly things at moments of heightened emotion – and sometimes at regular times, too. Sometimes overthinking gets in the way of good fun.

Partenope the character is flirty but constant. She likes to be admired and friendzones men by the boatload. Arsace (her lover at the beginning of the opera) isn’t particularly flirty but as soon as “Eurimene” shows up he suddenly knows remembers he’s actually Rosmira, his hitherto fogotten ex. It’s a bit Alcina without the magic – or “for adults”. Case in point: we have the bonus of a mezzo making out with both the title soprano and another mezzo.

In the end Partenope rebounds with the shy guy and Rosmira gets her pretty man back after a satisfying bout of emotional torture (no hard feelings from Partenope, who is reasonable/together enough to know it’s all Arsace’s fault). Emilio – the enemy, who, in a short duet suavely sings he’d like to make Partenope his chattel – is added to the friendzone menagerie. So far so contemporary feminist.

The singing was constantly fine across the board though I can’t say it ever rose to stratospheric levels of emotion. Bardon has a very recognisable dark mezzo and here somehow outcountertenored Laing. She also showed what a bitch of an aria Furibondo… is. I remember someone on youtube commenting on a live recording of Scholl singing it how he for once prefers Daniels. Not fair comparing live to studio!

The reason why I love it is because Handel packs so much. You start on coloratura, then you have to vary projection, sometimes mid-phrase (= shouts of agitation), more coloratura, then you get to the B section, where I gather you add rubato to taste (I really liked what Horne did there on an almost melancholic agitata and the contrast with the very dark dol), because the rhythm is pretty much the same throughout – relentless and staccato.

Back to Bardon’s: it was good but not fabulous. I suppose there are many factors that go into this. People have criticised Curnyn’s approach as too fast in general, not giving singers breathers. I remember thinking during one of the slow Arsace arias that it could’ve been a tad faster. He did manage some very pretty interventions from the winds and assorted brass during Eurimene’s warlike aria2. Also the rhythm section deserves praise for keeping it tight throughout. It made me grin, thinking, ah, there’s nothing (in classical music) quite like Baroque to rock a solid rhythm.

But yes, perhaps Furibondo… was too fast. There were times (the shouty moments) when Bardon didn’t project as strongly as I would’ve expected – for whatever reason. I thought the role suited her otherwise, even though, like I said, I don’t remember her sounding quite so countertenorish before. Special mention: really nice job from Bardon on the movement-whilst-singing-a-male-character department.

photo from The Stage (click for review)

Tynan has the right voice and style for the role. All is needed is a bit of extra something to make it outstanding. Her interaction with her suitors and her Partenope persona were on the money throughout. I must commend the Personnenregie in general, very convincing in its details.

But in spite of the mezzo-soprano-mezzo estravaganza, Charlesworth’s Emilio stole the show this time. He took proper advantage of the silliness surrounding his character – the baddie, here a privacy stealing Man Ray – and seemed to have so much fun every time he was on stage that he drew the most attention and applause. It didn’t hurt that his diction was the best of the bunch and his pojection grand.

It was rather good fun – literally and figuratively – and really easy on the eyes. I’m glad I went last week, not after the Petibon concert (though I wish I’d’ve posted this before that concert, it would’ve read a lot more lively). Sitting in those tiny bum seats in the Balcony (economy) section between a Spanish couple and two Polish women I thought to myself how the ENO audience often seems like the most relaxed. ENO has the biggest opera-presenting hall in London yet it somehow feels very cosy (must be the tiny bum seats) and up there it feels almost as chummy as TEC.


  1. There is a plot and there is logic but that’s not central to this production. 
  2. That was the only time the music and the production didn’t flow together for me. The Bloomsbury atmosphere is so strong, the thought of actual war is jarring. 

The beauty of colour in L’aure che spira

This is a youthfully angry, sharp and to the point aria, in which little Sesto fumes at the mouth against Tolomeo (he doesn’t deserve to breathe (the air)). Whilst re-reading a post of mine (I do that too 😉 ), I had a sudden need to re-listen. A few versions later I was bathed in the multitude of colours it allows.

Let’s start with Stutzmann, because I love her handeling of dynamics both in conducting and in singing. I feel this is a wonderful introduction to this aria, so typical of Handel’s writing of arias of fury (it’s not quite vengeance here; see Svegliatevi nel cuore for that). Also check out her moves at around 0:12:

(One of the iconic little Sesti of our time) Semmingsen with her bright(eyed) mezzo comes next for strong contrast. I’m not so sure about Mortensen’s conducting here; I feel the details are a bit muddled, though in the interest of characterisation – this is a very young Sesto – that might not be a bad idea:

Also a mezzo, but much darker, is Bonitatibus; always a strong Handelian (especially in troubled youth roles), it’s interesting to compare a dark mezzo voice with a true contralto:

And here we have another Jacobs take – a very speedy one – with Ernman at the forefront, unexpectedly catching my ear. This Sesto is a bit older or wilder than usual; if I were Tolomeo I’d keep my hand on the dagger:

Vivaldi, Darius and the Shroud of Turin

It’s official, thadieu and I have our tickets for the very silly L’incoronazione di Dario at Torino’s Teatro Regio, where we’ll see this badarse cast under Dantone’s (who else? He loves this one) baton:

Dario, che viene incoronato re dei persiani tenore Carlo Allemano
Statira, principessa semplice, primogenita
di Ciro contralto

Sara Mingardo
Argene, sorella minore di Statira contralto Delphine Galou
Niceno, filosofo baritono Riccardo Novaro
Alinda, principessa di Media, amante
di Oronte soprano

Roberta Mameli
Oronte, nobile perfetto, pretendente
di Statira mezzosoprano

Lucia Cirillo
Arpago, pretendente di Statira soprano Veronica Cangemi
Flora, damigella di corte, confidente delle due
principesse contralto

Romina Tomasoni
Ombra di Ciro tenore Cullen Gandy

So we know the contraltos but what of the baritone? He was also in the original recording as well as at Festival de Beaune:

And here’s Sr Novaro singing not Vivaldi but spinning rather well on that horse statue:

Whilst scratching my no so cosmopolitan head regarding things to do in Torino other than watching contraltos and friends, a buddy reminded me of the famous shroud.

Jesus in the shroud, posing suspiciously like a medieval knight would

Why of course! Who wouldn’t want to see that? Except, upon investigation, it turns out that it’s not that often on display. 9/10 times you’re likely to see a copy. Which means you see a copy of a… fantasy. About right for the post truth era 😉 Though we hope all the above musicians show up in old skool real fashion.

The night Karina Gauvin sang just for me (Wigmore Hall, 28 January 2017)

Kidding 😉 but she looked so often in my direction I could’ve been fooled. I rather enjoyed the thought – who wouldn’t want Tornami a vagheggiar directed at them?!

Have you ever noticed how cheerful these Baroque-leaning singers are? Gauvin came out with the “crew” and sat down quietly for most of the first half. Well, aside from the times when she was singing, when the wink was on almost from the getgo.

All Handel programme

Karina Gauvin soprano

Le Concert de la Loge, director: Julien Chauvin violin

Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17
Overture
Da tempeste il legno infranto
Suite in F major ‘Water Music’ HWV348 (excerpts)
Rodelinda HWV19
Ombre, piante, urne funeste
Organ Concerto in B flat major Op. 4 No. 2 HWV290 (excerpts) something heavy on dueting oboes ❤ lots of fun, Mr and Ms Oboe and team
Solomon HWV67
Will the sun forget to streak
Lotario HWV26
Scherza in mar la navicella

The melisma fest that is Da tempeste is an excellent intro by my standards (more is more where coloratura is concerned) but although it fits Gauvin’s strongest bit of the range very well, I noticed some nerves and a bit of caution with volume (I actually though her voice was tiny but eventually she filled in). Also, whilst I’m noting the minuses, her voice is rather cloudy at the bottom end and support fails her on occasion. There’s also that bit about diction, what diction? However, her playful stage presence and the way she handles her strengths make for a very entertaining evening in her company. There are certain (not very high) notes at the top that are simply gorgeous and full.

I didn’t know Scherza in mar la navicella but it was the right choice to end the first half. By the end Gauvin was positively beaming with joy that I couldn’t supress a chuckle. The first time of the night where I made sure to lead the applause.

Never heard Le Concert de la Loge before (well, they just got together in 2015) but they was tight! Very nice job working together, though on occasion the string section had to catch up with Gauvin.

Interval

Alcina HWV34
Tornami a vagegghiar <- as misspelled by Wiggy 😉
Ah, mio cor, schernito sei
Suite in G major ‘Water Music’ HWV350 (excerpts) (not sure about the order of these bits as I wasn’t quite paying attention when the announcer said there had been some changes in the order and placement of the instrumentals (them instrumental bits!))
Concerto Grosso in G major
Rinaldo HWV7
Ah, crudel!
Furie terribili

Encore:
Mio caro bene Rodelinda
Lascia ch’io pianga Giulio Cesare

I hereby nominate this second half start of a recital as the best ever! You might remember I wrote a post in praise of Gauvin’s Tornami a while ago and last night I had the chance to hear it live 😀 This take was somewhat faster and less lyrical – a good tempo as far as I’m concerned.

As already shown in ‘navicella, Gauvin has a strong flirty side to her personality and rocked this favourite of mine (and of many) to levels where I wasn’t so unhappy when it ended as my pulse was racing. I wouldn’t mind keeling over to something like Tornami but not just yet 😉 give me another 2-3 decades and we’ll talk. It was my pleasure to lead the applause – I have now worked it out just when it’s ok to start clapping as soon as an aced aria ends (the cheerful ones, not the dirges where it’s respectful to give a few moments before the surge).

But that wasn’t all! The oboes, especially lead oboe, were fantastic (through the night) in this. I lucked out by sitting on the side of the winds1 so I heard the details even better than usual. The duet voice-oboe was buttah, playful, really on the beat, lovely communication, directly at fault for my palpitations. And what a sweet tone for those true cult oboes! Just superbe.

I can’t end before mentioning the smooth cellist with the funky crushed velvet trousers, slender hands and sexy dark curls (and Baroque bow). Ahem. You can see why I was hyperventilating between Gauvin’s kittenish charm, Mr Oboe and her. I’m sort of glad I couldn’t upgrade even closer to the stage. I was there for the music! (I swear).

Ah, mio cor was intense enough but I’ve already established that I think Gauvin is at her best when things are more lighthearted or downright foaming at the mouth. That would be Furie terribili! which she once again rocked. That’s another fine piece of Handel-writing. Some people would complain that he writes within a very cliched frame but, come on, how spot on is that fuming piece? You get the gist of it even if your Italian is 0. I saw a bit of that overly dramatic (to self parody heights) Vitellia of a couple of years ago in this. She turned around in her electric blue dress and pointed at the crowd. We were all shaking in our boots 😉 or giggling. Speaking of the dress, nice choice of colour for her and also shoulders. And that just fucked hairstyle suits her.

When she returned for the encores she jauntily said she wouldn’t want to leave us on quite that note (people laughed and I shouted that note was very fine, thank you very much. You shouted?! you might ask, but yes, the atmosphere was the relaxed one Baroque singers usually exude and that loosens yours truly’s tongue to alarming levels). We got the soft and playful (there are soft moments in Rodelinda?! Who knew!) and Lascio, which isn’t a favourite but I already got a good chunk of those and she did it lovely.

All in all, an excellent evening in all kinds of ways. I almost went backstage to tell Gauvin and the cellist that I was accepting marriage proposals 😉


  1. shoutout to Baroque Bird who hooked me up with a ticket at the right edge of row W from where I shot up to row I (right aisle) when the lights dimmed 😀 Edge of the row tickets are obviously the way to go when you want the option of upgrading. I thought about upgrading to centre aisle but the best thing about aisle edge seats is direct line of view (no heads! The singer can look into your eyes 😉 ). 

Intensely intimate Prina and Invernizzi (Wigmore Hall, 29 December 2016)

This recital has a bit of back story. The dynamic duo was booked for 3 January 2015 in support of their Amore e morte dell’amore CD but apparently the both of them succumbed to the English weather. Its next proposed incarnation was to take place on 28 June 2016, as a threeway recital with Karina Gauvin. That didn’t quite work out either, though you could hardly say Prina’s Gluck programme was a letdown. Finally, here we are, in spite of very low (for London) temperatures due to freezing fog (mesmerisingly sparkly under streetlights).

Sonia Prina contralto
Roberta Invernizzi soprano
Luca Pianca director, lute
Vittorio Ghielmi viola da gamba
Margret Köll harp

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Vorrei baciarti
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core?

Giovanni Kapsberger (c.1580-1651)
Toccata seconda arpeggiata

Claudio Monteverdi
Interrotte speranze

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Aria detta la Frescobalda

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sono liete, fortunate HWV194

Interval

Antonio Lotti (1666-1740)
Poss’io morir Op. 1 No. 7

Francesco Durante (1684-1755)
Son io, barbara donna

Antoine Forqueray (1671-1745)
La Girouette
Le Carillon de Passy
La Leclair

George Frideric Handel
Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi HWV197

Encore:

Wigmore Hall is still in Christmas garb, its foyer sporting a beautiful tree decorated in red and green and floral arrangements with red baubles and red pine cones and bows in the hall. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful.

Prina and Invernizzi were first joined on stage by Pianca on lute and Köll on harp and between them did a very lively rendition of Vorrei baciarti. The slender accompaniment was beneficial in that I focused almost completely on the ideal mix of voices which had me basking in the simple joy of sound.

Interestingly, I overheard someone comment at the intermission that she enjoyed the music a lot but was a bit unsure about the singing. I for one can tell you even less than usual about the orchestral side, which mostly kept to a supporting role. I do remember once thinking (during Sono liete, fortunate?) the viola da gamba had a nice organ feel to it. The orchestral pieces didn’t make much of an impression on me, in fact La Leclair had me on the verge of dozing off. But that might just be me, what with the lack of woodwinds.

Sono liete, fortunate was a tour de force, when I marvelled at “the noise” two singers could make, what with both of them constantly switching between singing harmony and melody. We’re talking about two very energetic singers, though they toned down their more flamboyant tendencies and focused on supporting each other towards a robust merged sound. It wasn’t just their tones matching, their exchanges were always spot on. Instead of her often belligerent top, Invernizzi made more use of her middle which is warm and pleasant, though not as memorable as Prina’s tone. The softer pieces saw some of those disarming slides to piano Prina uses when you least expect. I remember thinking about one such soft exchange that it felt like squirrel hair watercolour brushes against the skin. Tanti strali saw them once again weave sparkling lines of elaborate coloratura around each other.

The encore made for a natural ending to a show that mixed liveliness with breathless seduction. Now I really want to hear Prina as Nerone. On the other hand, we’re only a few months away from the Barbican Ariodante.

Things have a tendency of reoccurring – 30 December 2013 was the date I first visited Wigmore Hall for a Prina recital I booked at the last minute to wrap up a good opera year in style. This time it was quieter and smaller scale than usual even at Wigmore Hall; it infused me with contentment, which is quite unusual to find outside oneself these days.

Handel’s Oreste: shellshock and glee (Wilton’s Music Hall, 13 November 2016)

In which Ermione learns it’s wise to meet your lover’s family before sacrificing too much for love

Indeed, this Jette Parker Young Artist showcase is built around Vlada Borovko’s Ermione (Oreste’s Bradamante-like wife). I saw her in the 2016 Summer JPYA performance and in a small role in Boris Godunov earlier this year but neither prepared me for her Baroque chops. Her voice feels very natural in this repertoire and more intimate setting. Should she want to continue down this route, I predict an intense Alcina in her future. The public loved her in any case. There was much to love. The voice filled the venue just right and it felt to me like her understanding of singing Baroque is spot on, coupled with a vocal texture that just works with what the music asks (thus able to express a lot of fine detail). To give you an idea, through the night I was reminded of Piau.

Ermione: Vlada Borovko
Ifigenia: Jennifer Davis
Oreste: Angela Simkin Russell Harcourt
Pilade: Thomas Atkins
Filotete: Gyula Nagy
Toante: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: James Hendry | Southbank Sinfonia | Continuo: Nick Fletcher
Director: Gerard Jones

Davis (also seen in the 2016 Summer JPYA performance) as Ifigenia has a higher placed but more voluminous voice. Now it is true that Wilton’s acoustics are rather on the echoe-y side and that occasionally made it hard to gauge the finer points of what was being presented but I think she’s destined for a different repertoire and much bigger halls (Wilton’s capacity is a mere 300). Nontheless she was very committed. I was also quite on her side dramatically, she blended a few moods and traits in her Ifigenia’s personality that did not feel out of place. She had the most fans in the audience.

The original Oreste, Simkin, had to skip this performance due to illness (to read about her and about the performance on 9 November, check out Leander’s post). Instead we heard her cover, Australian countertenor Russell Harcourt, who had been involved in the JPYA program in 2007/2008. He has a very good grasp on coloratura and, though placed high, a pleasant to the ear voice. He could do with more body in the lower range. Dramatically, fitting the dystopia the production went for, he seemed to me like a deadringer for Unplugged in New York-era Kurt Cobain (+ dreads), complete with beige cardigan and barely held together general appearance. Any time he opened his mouth I thought he was going to break into Come As You Are.

wiltonswhitechap

the area projects a very mixed vibe (click to enlarge)

If you’re wondering Wilton’s Music what? then you should know that London is littered with quaint venues and these venues are usually of such (small) size, simply inviting Baroque performances (which venues warrant a post of their own).

Initially I was whinging a bit about getting to Whitechapel, especially after Saturday, a detestable day of rainy doom. But yesterday (though rather cold) the sun was shining brilliantly so I forgot all about that, even though Whitechapel still throws me with its incomprehensible identity. Wilton’s (The City’s hidden stage) gradually won me over with its Grimebornesque air. There’s something very soothing/comfy about listening to Baroque in nonchalant settings.

As you can see above and below, Wilton’s sports that derelict chic outside and inside (very East London, the new, gentrified one). Likewise, the ceiling ornamentation is restored, although the ceiling per se is left with a just so feel of possibly dropping on your head during the next heavy rain.

orestewiltons16

the feel of the hall (click to enlarge)

I overheard somebody explaining that the production imagined a council estate setting. Perhaps, though that wasn’t my reading. The general idea I picked, of a doomed dictatorial regime on a wretched island, fit the libretto, and perhaps because the plot cuts rather close to contemporary reality (all foreigners shall be put to death), it was left more or less general.

By the end of act III the singers appeared to be adlib-ing (kinda like how they did (?) for the Fledermaus free for all at the JPYA Summer performance back in July). The vaguely ritualistic gestures from the beginning were left behind in favour of updated mannerisms (acting crazy, 21st century style).

Certain characters acted like they had taken the wrong turn on another opera/film set. Nagy’s Filotete seemed to channel an amorous version of Golum (my precious Ifigenia), which I think was the reason for the lack of applause (his singing was generally good, and his baritone very pleasant. My only eyebrow raising moment was him starting Bella sorge la speranza about two levels too forte for everything around him. However, by then – this being the end – everybody was likely tired and I could hardly say the ensemble was the high point of the evening).

Where most looked like they picked their clothes in Tesco’s Sleepwear aisle, Ermione landed on the island as if she’d just decided to step off her cruise boat and mingle with the natives (a sort of Elletra, to keep it in the family). By which I mean she wore a clean coat, tafetta dress, handbag, high heels and a relaxed attitude. Her arc was that much more surprising, I’ll tell you that much.

Speaking of which, between her and Ifigenia this production was driven by the women. I’m all for women not being shy to roll up their sleeves and do the job when needed but in this case I felt that left the men with precious little to do beside driving long lines of coloratura. That they did well.

In fact, at the end, Pilade had a very long aria of much complex coloratura (and little else) which felt like Handel slapping his head and going damn, I forgot to give the tenor (John Beard) much of anything to do. I’ll just have him sing the bravura aria with horns (modern here) at the end so he doesn’t desert me for the rival company. Atkins looked a bit deer in the headlights with concentration but I can’t complain about his delivery. His John Beard-ness (tone) is also of the good kind (Oronte = yes).

The only problem was that during these very long da capos, the others, who were almost constantly all on stage, didn’t have much to do beside occasionally mock the current singer (as per the production, I guess, and also in keeping with Baroque traditions. Another check for postmodernism).

When Ermione and Oreste sang that swoon-inducing duet Ah, mia cara, Toante stood close to them, watching. I felt like he was thinking you better blend well or I’ll cut you. The duet itself was pretty good, though here was the moment where Harcourt’s very light in the lower range voice didn’t provide quite the contrast to Borovko’s already on the smokier side soprano I am used to (you know the one I always pass out over; so good, just thinking about it makes me all verklempt). Perhaps to help him out, Hendry didn’t drive the orchestra particularly hard. So in the end it felt a bit light in heartbreak. The orchestra was just underneath me so I couldn’t see them at all, but I had a direct view of Fletcher, whose continuo playing was very tight throughout.

Aptly, after this came the intermission. But not before some brief instrumental music, the purpose of which eluded me. Shibambu’s Toante behaved like you’d expect a textbook tyrant to, with lots of hand signalling to his henchman (Filotete) and gleeful love for violence. Shibambu’s gorgeous bass tone didn’t have all that much use, as basses were kind of there in Handel’s time.

There was much-ish blood (of the wet kind, you know in some productions a character has just killed somebody and s/he touches a wall but nothing sticks; here it did) but then again, what else can you expect from that fucked up family?

All in all, an interesting afternoon in a cleverly picked location that helped the (mood of the) production at least as much as the musical team did. I like this ROH trend of giving its JPYA students the opportunity of a fully staged production and us an off the beaten track piece to see, may it continue (and may it feature more Baroque).

Stutzmann and Orfeo 55’s treasure chest (Wigmore Hall, 2 October 2016)

Stutzmann and Orfeo 55 got one of the most enthusiastic receptions I’ve heard at Wigmore Hall. A lady next to me, who confessed to her seatmate that she had never heard of Stutzmann before the show, sounded like she became a convert about the time Stutzmann turned her note stand around and opened her mouth.

Initially this show was supposed to be comprised of more obscure morsels but for whatever reason a change of programme was announced a month or two back. Judging by how packed and buzzing the hall looked nobody was complaining – especially since we did not get this show when she was touring it originally.

Handel: Heroes from the Shadows
Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55

Overture Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17
Sinfonia from Act 3 Poro, re dell’Indie HWV28
L’aure che spira Giulio Cesare in Egitto
Sinfonia from Act 3 Serse (‘Xerxes’) HWV40
(I) Larghetto Concerto Grosso in E minor
Son qual stanco pellegrino Arianna in Creta HWV32
(III) Allegro Concerto Grosso in E minor
Sinfonia from Act 3 Orlando HWV31
Pena, tiranna Amadigi di Gaula HWV11

Those who have seen Stutzmann live know the turning of the stand is done with a lot of dramatic flair (albeit of the understated kind). In fact, that is one Stutzmann’s strengths. It’s not just a show, it’s a performance with a start and an end. Her attention to detail in conducting, singing and performance is second to none.

My reaction to seeing the Overture to Giulio Cesare in the programme was a bit meh. Perhaps because of its over exposure I’ve never properly warmed up to this opera. Don’t get me wrong, I do get into it if I start watching/listening but I don’t have that feeling of “you know what I’d like to listen to again?” with it.

Well, wrong! First of all the overture is rather perky. Also Orfeo 55 are no slouches and sounded on and energetic from the getgo. Like I said before, you can tell they play a lot together because it’s a finely tuned machine, the different sections sound so good together and Stutzmann gives them all their chance to shine. With them you have a very good chance of finding all sorts of things in the score you never noticed before.

I was even more wrong about L’aure che spira. With Giulio Cesare I almost invariably focus on the Cesare/Cleopatra thread (surprisingly, I know) so this aria was almost new to me. It’s also got the added bonus of noticing my seatmate’s mouth gape at Stutzmann’s unexpected sound. Have you noticed the effect of something you like on others have an effect on you? Anyway, it’s the kind of semi-bravura aria that fits Stutzmann’s mellow voice.

The instrumental pieces were characterised by Stutzmann’s architectural sense of the whole, with the instrumental lines as building blocks and a lot of contrasts emphasised between the different sections. I like her brand of conducting, it’s always illuminating and easy to follow, with a very muscular base in the rhythmically driven low strings.

Interval

(I) Allegro Sinfonia in B flat major HVW338
Sinfonia from Act 3 Partenope HWV27
Son contenta di morire Radamisto HWV12
Voi che udite il mio lamento Agrippina HWV6
Concerto Grosso in D minor Op. 3 No. 5 HWV316
(III) Adagio
(IV) Allegro ma non troppo
(V) Allegro
Non so, se sia la speme Serse (‘Xerxes’)
(IV) Allegro Concerto Grosso in G minor
Sarò qual vento Alessandro HWV21

Encore:

Dover, giustizia, amor Ariodante
Senti, bell’idol mio Silla

For the Concerti grossi in this section, Stutzmann chose what I would call a “Venetian feel”. Last time I saw her I sensed her voice and personality fit the more relaxed, melodic Venetian Baroque than the very structured, “dramatic Baroque” of Handel. But she can make Handel work for her without a doubt. And this Venetian Handel was very fetching indeed and I would like to listen to it again.

It doesn’t come off in the version above (or in general) but last night in the hall Sarò qual vento had a prominently wistful tinge. I was unexpectedly moved by it, right around the time the A section repeat started, to the point I wanted the show to end there. This has never happened before but her voice fits that wistfulness so well I just felt like staying cocooned in that bitter sweet place. I also wanted the very happy convert next to me to stop grinning and looking around, for fear of her noticing I was on the brink of tears when she was ready to whoop mid-aria.

Luckily, as soon as the first bars of Dover, giustizia… started I was right back in my element. There’s never enough Polinesso in recitals, dear contraltos. Please, feel free to bring him in 😀 Anyway, Stutzmann does a great rendition (pointed to me a while ago by thadieu), with the kind of subtle, breezy irony that fits Polinesso’s self assured arogance. She tweaks the words in the title just a bit on every repeat and every time she added a bit of sarcasm, my seatmates would chuckle loudly. I don’t know if she’s sung him in a production but without a doubt she’d make a great Polinesso. I would be looking forward to his seduction of Dalinda, which I’m sure she’d pull off with the right balance of charm and evil. And she’d probably laugh Ariodante off the stage 😉

She finished with Senti, bell’idol mio from Silla (yes, Handel wrote about him, too) which is just the kind of amorous thing (“Venetian”) that her voice is made for and is sure to turn the audience into eternal worshippers. Whilst she was wooing us with her delicately adoring inflections I thought to myself, imagine someone sing that kind of thing like that specifically to you? That, my friends, is how seduction sounds like. We are only human, eh? Anyway, this was also a moment for her theorbist to spin us around his finger(s). The audience was putty.

I’m telling you, Venetian is the way to go, Handel or no Handel.

ps: sorry for any typos, I’m rushing to work.

ROH’s Autumn Season goes on General Sale

roh tunnel… what with everything that went on today I forgot about it! The good news is even as late in the day as now I snagged the following:

Così fan tutte (22 September)

The Nose (20 October)

Les Contes d’Hoffmann (7 November)

Oreste (13 November) <- last few tickets!

… so that about rounds up my Autumn season, along with the Wigmore and Barbican dates. Busy month: November.

Had someone told this “migrant” to go back where he was from…

… we wouldn’t have this:

So how about we don’t start down that path 300 years later?

Now that my sense of humour has recovered quite a bit, let’s at least help keep London where it belongs:

LondonEU

click to sign the petition! Anyone can, whether you’re a Londoner or you just like London/Londoners and want to make them smile a little in this time of confusion.

(Further) Sprinkles of Baroque love from Theater an der Wien

TadWahead

12 May 2017: it turns out that Theater an der Wien has the exact same Ariodante team that hits the Barbican on 16 May 2017. Warehouse in Brutalism Central vs. cosy little venue across from the Naschmarkt…

22 March 2017: Rene Jacobs conducts Ulisse (with Degout, Zorzi Giustiniani and Chappuis).

16 December 2016: before all that there’s Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria (with Fagioli and Mynenko) and a month to the day before that a bit of Rameau (Zoroastre) (with Piau and Emmanuelle de Negri).

Dear TadW, thanks for nothing! Way to spread the love around instead of condensing everything for my convenience. I keep singing your praises yet I get no respect >:-O whichever one of these will be my next time there I’m going to pack the venue up in my holdall and transplant it to London. For a bribe of poppyseed strudel I can send the Barbican over.

Behold the outdoors splendor:

And the halls: