The return of Ulysses to the English public (Roundhouse, 21 January 2018)
Ulysse: Roderick Williams
Penelope: Caitlin Hulcup
Telemachus: Samuel Boden
Melanto: Francesca Chiejina
Eurymachus: Andrew Tortise
Iros: Stuart Jackson
Minerva: Catherine Carby
Shepherd: Matthew Milhofer
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Early Opera Company and assorted chorus
Director: John Fulljames
In what has now become a very welcome dedication to the earlier repertoire, this January ROH has staged the second of the three Monteverdi operas, in an excellent English translation by Christopher Cowell. I didn’t feel at all deprived of Italian. For a more historically informed writeup please check Leander‘s.
Interestingly and quite like Willy Decker’s, Fulljames’ production also featured a rotating stage, this time with the orchestra in the middle pit rotating one way and the singers on an external donut rotating the other way. I guess this concept only makes sense what with this story often portrayed on ancient vases and/or to show the passage of time etc.
Though the orchestra was trv kvlt early music, cornetto and all, the team decided to introduce a chorus (made up of selected ROH Orchestra members and Guilhall students, if I remember correctly). In the queue to the loo after the event I overheard some comments that it was unnecessary but I enjoyed it a lot in the party numbers where they were used (I didn’t even know there were party numbers in Ulisse, side from what the pretenders sing; perhaps this was made up but it did not bother me one bit). I thought there was enough informed stuff what with the orchestra and the singers largely adhering to style so a bit of something else along the same lines of Monteverdi’s writing was a-ok.
Williams as Ulisse was wonderful, very affecting and light at the same time (in regards to his movements as well – Mum commented his dancing skills were tops). Now having heard a few Ulisses I liked his take better than Streit’s. I’m still undecided between him and Bostridge because both are great. I’m quite sure Streit was shortchanged by the orchestral forces behind him and possibly by the direction. This time everything was as it should be, with no singers ever having the force their way through the
harpsichord wall of sound or chance becoming unheard or simply powering through for no discernible reason.
I wasn’t convinced by Carby’s Minerva, whose voice sounded too large for the role for me. I understand the direction asked her to portray the boot and combat trouser, strong and scorned god but one still needs to vocally keep with the style of the piece presented. Unlike Leander, I enjoyed Chiejina’s Melanto a lot and did not hear her vibrato. I thought she did a wonderful job, the best I’ve heard from her so far, with attention to style, wit and youthfulness – and I really like her full (but not too full yet) tone and her tackling of trills. She was easily my favourite after Williams.
Hulcup, taking over the run at the last minute from Chistine Rice (who is on the DVD with Christie), has a genuine mezzo voice that’s not hard to enjoy. On the other hand, Penelope is a very difficult role – what with the constant lamenting – so one needs a lot of colour and to show an intrinsic knowledge of a wife’s tribulations. I didn’t feel either, though the moment she finally recognises Ulisse was well done and she and Williams blended in a lovely manner in the subsequent duet.
This was a very serious production with the comical side toned down considerably and the chorus standing in for stranded refugees. The rotating donut pulled Ulisse away from Penelope even as they sang the final, “happy-ending” duet, apparently in a thought provoking manner. It is perhaps my failing that my thoughts didn’t feel particularly challenged…
I loved it musically – especially concept-wise and in regards to Williams’ performance and liked most of others’ performances. Dramatically I’m not sure I got it all but you know I always enjoy a sparse design and am rather fond of rotating stages. The Roundhouse either has very good acoustics or something because, as with any round halls, the singers do turn around to sing to different sides and sometimes they have their back to you. There was sound muffling but minimally so. I also liked Minerva and Telemachus singing their duet whilst circling the stage on a tandem bike 😀 it provoke the thoughts of “look at what else opera singers have to do these days! Great cycling skills! Remember Rinaldo at Glyndebourne? And remember how Orfeo had to dangle from the ceiling in this very venue two years ago? What shall they have Poppea do in 2020?!”
ps: the ushers at the Roundhouse are ace! There was quite a bit of going out of one’s way observed by yours truly. Also the public was very congenial. Mum and I were in a lift with a bunch of ladies her age who all smiled at everybody. My Mum went what’s all that smiling about? All I could say was think first world thoughts, Mum.
Il ritorno di Willy Decker to Hamburg (Hamburg Opera, 29 October 2017)
…according to the poster in the house 😉
Ulisse: Kurt Streit
Penelope: Sara Mingardo
…and others who I will add later (also read below)
Conductor: Vaclav Luks | Collegium 1704
Director: Willy Decker
This production originates from Zurich and is very effective. We saw its Hamburg premiere and it received lots of applause and no abuse. It’s simple – everything happens in the same space (as thadieu put it, a sloping white, round dish) and the differences/advances in the story are told via changing costume rather than props. It’s one step up from a concert performance, which means you’re never left scratching your head. My minor qualm, after seeing a bunch of Monteverdi productions where the gods are made a big deal out of, is that we could do with one production where gods don’t physically appear at all (of course we still get to hear them). Then again, thadieu pointed out that it might not be clear to all who are the gods and who are not.
There were some curious decisions on the part of the local advertising team that might make sense locally but baffled the tourists – such as using the director’s picture for the poster in the house (there were no outdoors posters, just banners) and uploading the trailer after the actual premiere <- they apparently filmed a new one, so kinda cool in the end (see the trailer at thadieu‘s – and read her report(s) as well 🙂 ).
The performance in itself was mostly very fine vocally, aside from both Melanto and Eurimaco, who did not live up to their fine music. Tassou has a colourless voice and you know that is the kiss of death for yours truly. She did get better as time went on but there is a lot of nice harmony in Melanto’s music that, for me, never came through. Now that I’m listening to the broadcast, wow, she had some trouble staying on breath and the line got away from her a few times… As she started it seemed like the music took her by surprise (wait, what? It’s my turn?!!! Shiii… where am I?). Palchykov sang in an overly operatic manner not suited for Monteverdi. Also his voice is rather bigger than the others’, ready to break into La donna e mobile 😉 and he too had a bit of an issue with the Monteverdi ornamentation… early music skills, eh. Though I think for a different rep he’s not bad and can get quite seductive.
I did, however, have a welcome revelation with local ensemble mezzo (surprise, surprise) Dorottya Lang, who sang Minerva and showed very fine potential. I don’t know that her future is necessary in this repertoire, but I liked her attention to style and a rather striking dark tone.
All three of us also agreed Pieweck as Ericlea (Penelope’s nurse), could have had more to sing. She knows her Monteverdi and has solid chops.
This is not something you usually hear from me but whilst listening to Dumaux’ Human Fragility I thought here is a role that decidedly belongs to the countertenor voice. We all know he is good both as a singer and as an actor and he did not disappoint. I am actually quite looking forward to see him in his perhaps trademark role in the summer, as so far it has been more self effacing circumstances, which he can do as well, no doubt. He regaled us with what I think is the most spectacular falling technique I’ve ever witnessed on stage, when he “dropped dead” from touching Ulisse’s bow (as suitor Amfinomo).
I was quite surprised how much I liked Trost as Eumete the kind beggar, since my most memorable encounter with him was as Tito in that overly soft Mackerras recording – where he was alarmingly bleaty. Here he showed impressive Monteverdi skills and a fine voice. His acting/interaction with others, especially Streit’s Ulisse, was not bad at all.
Nurgeldiyev as Telemaco is probably another singer that will make his name in later repertoire, but he evidently paid attention to style and ended up doing a good job, with some sensitive acting, too.
Streit in the title role was somewhat of a mixed bag. I quite like his tone and have generally enjoyed him before. He is always committed, if, in this case, I would agree with thadieu that he veered off into overreacting, both dramatically and vocally. Ulisse’s entrance aria where he’s not sure if he’s awake or sleeping was taken a bit strongly. As a result, for the rest of the night his Ulisse came off rather angstier than I normally imagine him. Now you may remember I saw the very finely subtle Ian Bostridge in this role before and he created a lasting impression. Generally I thought Streit’s performance was stronger whenever he had someone to interact with. The ending duet with Penelope was sensitively done, though, and made me think what an unusual opera this is, to tackle the trials and tribulations of mature love and to make said love appear fresh at that.
Mingardo has sung Penelope before in this very production, so of course she was at ease and with her love and care for Monteverdi she shaped the music with her subtle, introspective touch. Her Penelope was perfectly loyal, though she did not fall into the trap of making her unfeeling to the suitors’ plight. We did see Penelope’s struggle to keep her wits about herself during the 20 year party, especially when they suitors wooed her with their posh I ❤ Penelope t-shirts 😉 <- it is true, we spent quite some time thinking about ways to produce said shirts and we came up with a couple of more “P” possibilities, heh. I have to say, I ❤ P sounds like a pretty good title for a Mingardo fan site 😀
Uncharacteristically, we heard less piano singing from her because we had a super loud harpsichord. Now at intermission the three of us pondered harpsichord’s applicability or lack thereof in Monteverdi. Not only did I find it superfluous but I thought the harpsichordist used it as if he was playing Handel. It was the worst offender of the otherwise very enjoyable night, worse even that the singers I went merciless on above.
Whenever we only had violins, winds and theorbo things improved drastically. Perhaps I am turning into a HIP fanatic, which I don’t necessary want to do, but I really don’t like harpsichords in Monteverdi. I would like to hear whatever anyone else has to say on the matter.
I’ll point you thadieu‘s way for more comments on Luks’ orchestra, because she’s better than me at pointing out all the intricacies of different baroque orchestras, whereas I am more apt to zero in on faults 😉 all you need to know from me is that, harpsichord decisions aside, I had no issues with the orchestra, which was the largest I have seen for early opera.
…there is more, of course, and I will be back here to add more text and pictures (
but no more bitching I should never promise this…), because it was actually rather sunny in Hamburg and the Echo Awards were being given at the Elbphilarmonie 😉
As thadieu mentioned, this was a lovely opportunity for her, Agathe and I to get together for a hard-core contralto adventure which even the skies favoured with good weather, if some chilly blasts from the sea. We visited the main sites within the centre of Hamburg and a bit of the harbour before it was time for the 20 year party. I liked this side of Hamburg a lot, especially the canals, which reminded me of Lonodon’s. Expect some dramatic cloud pictures. I’m not quite sold on the Elbphilarmonie design, but the “jam smudge” sails can be endearing on a good day.
On the contrary, the opera house is a very low key affair, with particularly narrow lobbies. I was a bit intimidated by the insistence of pretty much everyone present to dress up, and strangely coordinated in black and white at that. At ROH you do get the overdressed crowd, especially for premieres, but it seems there is more of a variation in regards to colour usage and even necessity of dressing up (in the amphi most people don’t go further than “business casual”). Here I had a cheap ticket and I was surrounded by gents in tuxes! Agathe seemed baffled too, saying that’s noit been her experience in the past. Who knows! I wonder if this had anything to do with the concurrent presentation of the Echo Klassic Awards next door (for that matter, the house was full, so clearly the public is a bit different, though apparently the Hamburg Opera management is not known to chance on up and coming singers).
In any case, I hope to return to Hamburg for more opera, at the opera house or the Elbphilarmonie, if possible in similarly good company 🙂 and with fingers crossed for another lucky break with the weather.
ROH Winter 2017/18 tickets now on general sale
It’s bright1 and early here for dehggi, as the loot was worth it:
Semiramide with JDD/Barcellona/Brownlee/D’Arcangelo
Salome being Salome (even with McVicar’s vision); next year I’m spoiled rotten: two cool operas to choose from for an outing on my birthday! I predictably went with:
Il ritorno d’Ulisse because when Monteverdi calls one must answer, especially after the great success with L’Orfeo at the Roundhouse two years ago. Let’s hope they’ll livestream this one as well.
There was 0 pain getting in/booking this time. Good job ROH!
- actually, it’s rather foggy (but warm). ↩
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.
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 😀
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 🙂
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
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.
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 😉
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.
Watts: proper Cassandra 😀 not the Monteverdiest stylings but an energetic portrayal and her comic skills are up my alley.
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.