Blog Archives

Drop the bass

How cool – the ETO blog isn’t half bad. Check out their entry about ground bass in Monteverdi, before and thereafter. For those (like me) non-musically trained I’m not going to explain the term because the blog does it really well and gives cool examples.

Interesting things ETO does this Autumn around the UK:

Radamisto

Dido and Aeneas + more (Purcell, Carissimi and Gesualdo)

and others.

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Jakub Józef 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
Nachtstück 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.

ENO’s rolling good times 2018-2019

Good news, ENO seems to be powering on most cylinders. Some interesting things written in English:

Oct – Nov 2018 Porgy and Bess! How cool, I’ve always wanted to see it, so yay ENO.

Feb 2019 Akhnaten is back already! 😀 I’m going twice again. Whoever wants to come along, please do, it’s a lot of fun. Maybe they’ll film it this time?

Apr 2019 Jack the Ripper – I wonder if it’s ok. I’ve always been in two minds about the subject – on the one hand unsolved mystery = yes, on the other serial killers = eh

May 2019 Dido (without Aeneas?) Dido and Belinda?

There’s also a new Salome (but this Strauss has been seen around town in recent years so I don’t know), and a new Merry Widow that could be fun.

Dido and Aeneas’ Wiggy lunch date (Wigmore Hall, 7 April 2018)

La Nuova Musica and their Director of Micromanagement (Bates) was back at Wiggy midday Saturday with a rather Purcefalian Dido and a very lively array of mezzos.

La Nuova Musica
David Bates director
Rachel Kelly mezzo-soprano (as Dido)
George Humphreys baritone (as Aeneas)
Anna Dennis soprano (as Belinda)
Emilie Renard soprano (as Sorceress) soprano…?
Helen Charlston mezzo-soprano (as First Witch)
Martha McLorinan mezzo-sporano (as Second Witch)
Louise Kemény soprano (as Second Woman)
Nick Pritchard tenor (as Sailor)
Richard Bannan baritone (as Spirit)

You don’t realise why some bang on about diction in singing until you hear an opera in a language you can instantly understand. The people on stage start to produce sound and all of a sudden you panic because the salvation of surtitles is missing and all you can make out is oeaiueaooo biscuit oooieueeeaa missed it. I was starting to question my recently checked ears when I remembered I’d just seen Le Concert d’Astrée there two days before, from exactly the same distance. It was a very different auditory experience.

Now though La Nuova Musica copes a lot better than AA, the ethos is similarly noise (ba)rock. Bates can’t be faulted for enthusiasm but the whole business comes out unecessary noisy – for my ears at least. Whereas with Le Concert d’Astrée I followed an interesting approach to sounding energetic without attempts at breaking the sound barrier, yesterday (as on other occasions) Nuova Musica’s efforts seemed to me cluttered, though this time the Wiggy legendary acoustics meant the singers could be heard (at least from row G). Add to that most of the singers’ problematic diction and there were few precious moments where I could follow the emotion at the heart of the piece.

The story, as I suppose most are aware, is stupid. Trojan stud warrior Aeneas has a pitstop in the port of Carthage on his way to sealing his place in mythology by founding Rome. He has a one night stand with the local queen and then sails merrily on his way, whilst she kills herself on account of her freshly broken heart. Ze end.

Because this is a 17th century opera we thankfully have comic relief, in the shape of the Sorceress and witches, who are jumping at the opportunity of bringing Carthage down (why do you hate Carthage, dehggi? – rather, their evil glee was infectious). Lucky for us, our Sorceress was dehggi favourite Emilie Renard, who pulled off another one of her hilarious performances as the meanly gleeful Boss Witch. I’ve always enjoyed her involvement in the drama and willingness to go for expression without fear of not sounding pretty enough. Her summoning of evil forces came off epic, from the grand way she “entered” (from the soloists’ chair to the side) to the actual interaction with the choir, classic diva moves and wicked glances.

She had spirited help from (and very good communication with) fellow mezzos Helen Charlston and Martha McLorinan as the Junior Witches, itchy at the prospect at wreaking havoc with poor Dido. Renard clarified my confusion when I could actually understand what she was saying, proving the problem wasn’t on my side.

The witch action and the choir’s interventions were the best moments of the early afternoon. The choir in general was very good, with smooth blending, high levels of energy and engagement and, as mentioned, good solo/duo moments. One of the felicitous moments from a member of the choir was Nick Pritchard’s (Sailor) short forshadowing aria about how sailors are players. He sang stylishly I could once again understand what was being said.

Humphreys as top man Aeneas was also rather good in the diction department. His projection helped his well handled baritone sail (ha.ha) over the general noise and his first interaction with Rachel Kelly’s disconcertingly demure Dido was very apt (his Aeneas looked like he was thinking “nice bit of distraction”). During their quarrel the morning after he even appeared ready to appease Dido when protesting that he would stay.

Dido is a role that I suppose needs a bit of life experience? I obviously don’t know Kelly’s experience with being dumped by a man who’s in a hurry to fulfill his destiny of founding a great imperial nation but I wager (and hope) she hasn’t so far had reasons to dwell on that time when they will lay her in earth. I personally got no rhyme or reason out of her interpretation of that very famous lament. Sure, her mezzo is a beautiful instrument and there is quite a bit of attention to musical detail in her interpretation, so what I specifically missed was the purpose (and the diction) behind all her efforts.

I don’t know what age Dido is supposed to be but as one of the tragic heroines of opera I can’t shake the feeling that she needs quite a bit of gravitas. Either Kelly’s reading was of a very young, naive woman – which I wouldn’t say is wrong per se – or she simply can’t do gravitas. Young and naive is fine but then there’s the music. Maybe you are very green but I guess when death is the only option as presented here you quickly sober up – and perhaps even wisen up (momentarily). It’s that destiny thing at work – and destiny is very serious business indeed.

A mention needs to go to Anna Dennis’ Belinda, rocking an ’80s reminiscent outfit (bangles, strappy sandals, boldly cut outfit), complete with closely cropped hair. Her poor Belinda does what she can to support Dido but to no avail. Beautiful voice, solid singing, strong stage presence, though she too needs to work on her diction.

This is an early opera (composed between 1683 and 1688), so I figure it benefits from being sung in that “Monteverdi manner” (for want of a better term – please inform me what the proper one is for future ref) where the sounds produced don’t come off as very operatic. For whatever reason that was not always the case – let’s just say the singers who I could best understand were the ones who adhered to this.

So although I as usual had some quibbles, I was still left with a smile on my face for the rest of the day, which might not be the overall emotion intended by the opera, but, as ROH says, any emotion is better than no emotion and a positive one is best.

Masterclass fans: new ROH Masterclass with JDD

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

After watching/listening to it:

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

…speaking of Purcell, let’s hear something from Weldon

After discovering Dido and Aeneas thanks to thadieu’s recent Anna Caterina Antonacci obsession 😉 I thought I’d relax with a bit of funeral music by Purcell. At the tail end of the performance I found another1 great duet (from Purcell Weldon’s The Tempest) that showcases the lower voice:

It’s not often that the lower voice springs out in a duet but here we have the wonderful opportunity to hear just that (without inconveniencing the soprano either). Great job all!


  1. another other great one being the soprano/alto duet from Pergolesi’s Stabat mater