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Semiramide, Penelope and Salome in the not so distant future

I guess everybody knows by now that JDD had to pull out of the European dates of the Ariodante tour. But there will be plenty of JDD in London later this year, as Semiramide is finally taking place this November at ROH and she has two dates and a Masterclass scheduled at Wiggy at the end of that production.

ROH returns to the Roundhouse for Il ritorno d’Ulisse (Christine Rice as Penelope) next January, which gives yours truly hope that in a year or two we’ll see a Poppea at the Roundhouse as well 😉 you never know. The news about this Ulisse has somehow bypassed me thus far so it was very welcome today.

January is for once busy, as Salome is about as well. Can’t say I’m the biggest Byström fan, but Michaela Schuster is Herodias. Now that I’m older and wiser I’d really like to see her again in Die Frau ohne Schatten. But I suppose she can do ornery as well 😉

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (Barbican, 29 September 2015)

The music starts in the dark. A trembling light advances slowly from the left: it’s Penelope carrying a (red) candle for Ulisse.

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Penelope’s bench and red candle (centre) and the wind machine behind the theorbo

Ulisse: Ian Bostridge
Penelope: Barbara Kozelj
Minerva/Amore: Elizabeth Watts
Telemaco: Andrew Tortise
Tempo/Nettuno/Antinoo: Lukas Jakobski
Melanto/Fortuna: Sophie Junker
l’Umana Fragilita: Daniela Lehner
Iro: Alexander Oliver
Eumete: Christopher Gillet
Giunone: Charmian Bedford
Pisandro/Coro di Feaci: John Lattimore
Anfinomo/Coro di Feaci: Richard Latham
Eurimaco/Giove: Gwilym Bowen
Director/harpsichord: Richard Egarr | Academy of Ancient Music

10 days fter the excellent performance in Bucharest I was curious in which ways – if any – it would be different. As usual, seeing it live is so different from hearing/seeing it recorded. I am delighted to report that Watts did not sound screechy in the least and Kozelj performance was much more affecting than I had previously thought. My outings at the Barbican have been either in the front stalls or front balcony and back balcony. I have a feeling it does matter a lot where you’re sitting, so I am now taking care to sit in the stalls.

I have come to enjoy these Barbican semi-stagings. For these early operas there’s probably no need for much more. This time we had a centre stage weathered bench for Penelope, which was also used by other characters for their own antics. Barbican’s stage inbuilt stairs solved a lot of problems of depth. Most of the characters looked like they were instructed to bring something black in which they felt comfy and which brought out their own personality. Sashes and bright coloured cloths added some pizzaz where needed. Ulisse (in disguise) and Eumete had gnarly staffs and Nettuno brandished a more elaborate one. Iro ate several things.

As before, the entire hall was used. Several characters made their entrances to scenes/sang from the stalls or from the balcony. Having singers harmonise behind you is surprisingly – or not – effective, as I came to realise when I heard Tito‘s Act I finale with the choir at the back of the venue. You do get the feeling of total immersion.

But a Monteverdi opera lives or dies on the singers’ (vocal) acting skills. Our bunch of singers are luckily very good actors so they were engaging throughout.

As before I really enjoyed Ian Bostridge’s performance. There are no objections whatsoever, everything was conducted brilliantly and with great emotion; the voice sounded in perfect health, plus he’s got the kind of tone I can easily associate with my idea of Ulisse (a clever hero).

At home, with many distractions, it’s perhaps too easy to fall back on the things one is used to. 1m away from the performer, a music lover falls under the spell of their artistry, I rediscovered last night. So instead of focusing on who she doesn’t sound like, I was won over by Kozelj’s nuanced singing. Lots of floated notes and delicate inflections – a rather internalised grief, very stylish. Pivotal moments, such as Penelope’s idea – implemented by Minerva – to challenge the suitors to stringing Ulisse’s bow or her meeting with Ulisse where she is obviously attracted to him but isn’t sure of his identity yet, came off very clearly. And this time both Penelope and Ulisse looked genuinely happy to meet again.

Once again Watts had a lot of fun, especially when Minerva disguised herself as an old hag/shepherd to surprise Ulisse and also during her “let rip” moment, when she complained about the offence against her that started the Trojan War. When I saw her in Don Giovanni I didn’t particularly like her voice but here my ears were very pleasantly tickled especially by her low register, which sounded surprisingly solid. Excellent performance all around.

Another singer who had a lot of fun with his characters was Jakobski as Tempo/Nettuno/Antinoo. In turn childishly mean (Time) to l’Umana Fragilita (the poor thing!), outraged at the lack of respect from humans (Nettuno) and cleverly materialistic (Antinoo), he snarled, foamed at the mouth and acted smooth around Penelope. His cheerfully warm and elastic bass stood out easily among the many high voices around him.

Sophie Junker (Melanto/Fortuna) had the opportunity for flirtatious lightheartedness to balance Penelope’s stubborn glum. In possession of a mobile face and lovely bell-like tone, she’s really good at this kind of thing. She also had very good chemistry with Gwilym Bowen’s Eurimaco.

For voice-focused opera lovers this sparsely orchestrated music offers almost complete focus on the voice(s). I thought John Lattimore (Pisandro/sailor) and Richard Latham (Anfinomo/sailor) mixed really well with Jakobski in their harmonies in the livestreaming and it was awesome to hear these harmonies in the flesh.

… I could go on but you get the gist of it (and if you need more, you can (re)visit the post about the Bucharest performance. Truly a gorgeous evening of music crowning the Monteverdi cycle. Do I need to tell you that the AAC sound sweet live? Maybe: the strings were plump in sound, the rhythm section drove the whole thing with enthusiasm and the melodic bits were a pleasure on the ear. I wonder what the AAC will bring in the next few years but any time they want to reprise any Monteverdi I’ll be there bar acts of god 😉

So this is how the Month of Tito ends, having suddenly turned into the Season of Monteverdi. Can we have too much of the green man? I’m starting to think not. I’ll let you on a “secret”: there’s more to come next month 😀

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Giunone, Tempo, Eurimaco, Eumete, Minerva, Penelope, the stage director (?), Egarr, Ulisse, Telemaco, Melanto, Anfinomo and Pisandro

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (Bucharest, 18 September 2015)

This excellent livestreamed performance from the George Enescu Festival comes as a bonus for us looking to hear this very same cast at the Barbican in a couple of weeks.

The George Enescu Festival first got my attention via its top quality Baroque (and beyond) bookings, when the concert performance of Ariodante spawned my favourite rendition of Dopo notte:

How sweet is that starting dopo? whew. I’ve heard a good slew of excellent Dopo nottes but this one still has a certain edge. And not bad tempo at all from Curtis, who gave us that sluggish DVD of Ariodante. I envy those in attendence!

Ever since then I’ve checked the Festival for anything (Baroque) interesting. I was quite tempted to attend this year, given their inclusion of Monteverdi, but the September slot is a bit weird for me. Considering the continuous high level of performances, I shall make time one year, though I heard not all the venues used have top notch acoustics (but then neither does the Barbican or the Royal Albert Hall). I understand the Ateneu is a good venue. Annie, maybe you can give a brief account, seeing as how you’ve actually attended this performance 🙂

ulissemugsUlisse: Ian Bostridge
Penelope: Barbara Kozelj
Minerva/Amore: Elizabeth Watts
Telemaco: Andrew Tortise
Tempo/Nettuno/Antinoo: Lukas Jakobski
Melanto/Fortuna: Sophie Junker
L’umana fragilita: Daniela Lehner
Eumete: Christopher Gillett
Iro: Alexander Oliver
Conductor: Richard Egarr | Academy of Ancient Music
George Enescu Festival, Ateneul Român (livestreaming)

Lucky for us all, the Festival livestreams a lot of their performances. Aside from some lazy video mixing before and after the performance and a tendency for super saturated sound (which afflicted Watts worse than anyone else), the streaming was very reliable; some interesting angles from behind the singers. Good emphasis was put on the involved acting from all and sundry.

Egarr’s tempo was quite slow, at least compared to Christie’s in my favourite version (see Missing in action…). That came as a bit of a surprise, as I remember him storming through L’Orfeo two years ago at the Barbican.

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reunited at last (click for accompanying music!)

This Ulisse and his Penelope have been through so much they can’t quite let themselves go. They are very gentle and mature even when everything ends well.

Penelope’s lament: very well sung and dignified but you’d think she’d be more gutted/fed up; gentle voice but perhaps forgettable. The final duet was lovely in its very subdued way.

Ulisse: I’ve only heard Bostridge in lieder so far but very nice tone and phrasing and all in all a riveting performance as the moodiest Ulisse out there. I officially have no more reason to ignore his Wigmore Hall outings 😉

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Anfinomo, Pisandro and Antinoo wooing Penelope

The picture does not lie: apparently, singers in possession of good coloratura skills can be spotted by their long necks. Countertenors and mezzos look more or less the same. Basses are supposedly tall. These three “suitors” blended very well.

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Watts: proper Cassandra 😀 not the Monteverdiest stylings but an energetic portrayal and her comic skills are up my alley.

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Iro laments his fate

Though I don’t like children in opera I do enjoy old geezers swing some trills’n’silly jokes. Alexander Oliver got some of the warmest applause for his scheming Iro.

The others were good too, especially Junker’s Melanto, but more about them in a couple of weeks, in the Barbican semi-staged version!

Missing in action…

… due to a last minute change in schedule at work but should be back tomorrow with the report on the smashing London premiere of Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria and some silly musings on the excellent Il ritorno d’Ulisse from Bucharest. Since I didn’t see (on ‘tube) an as satisfyingly cast Pergolesi Adriano as the one we saw the other day at Cadogan Hall, I’ll just leave you with this wodnerful end bit of Ulisse:

2015 Wigmore Hall and Barbican tickets on general sale now

Go get yours (Wigmore Hall and Barbican). I started with booking for ladies Roschmann+Uchida (twice!), Mingardo and Invernizzi, all at Wigmore Hall in May-July then St Matthew Passion (at Easter) and Il ritorno d’Ulisse (the end of September) at the Barbican.