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)
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
Così returns but don’t count me in
Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season
La forza del destino 😉 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.
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.
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 😉
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.
July is the time when the ROH audience checks on the house’s young artists to see how they’ve grown. I found this year’s programme rather ambitious and the results mixed.
Verdi: I due Foscari, Act II (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Lucrezia Contarini: Vlada Borovko
Jacopo Foscari: David Junghoon Kim
This is the kind of opera that kept yours truly aloof from the art form for so long. I couldn’t wait for the overwrought scene/duet to be over. If you can’t pinpoint it in your mind, imagine the typical belcanto duet between important/main characters who are about to be parted by fate. It’s mainly Italian angst, with moments of gloomy recit, ominous shredding from the string section for the moments when ghosts are mentioned (one of the characters is ever on the brink of a breakdown, the other one tries more or less feebly to be their rock but it’s obvious they are also suffering) then a cheerful tune gets shoehorned in (so that the audience can draw a breath) and is explained in the dialogue by “outdoors sounds” such as the gondolier, good moment for the whinger to draw attention back to their plight, so that the hand wringing can start anew and continue for another 15min. Kim is on the right track for this kind of thing and has a beautiful tone but he’s obviously too young for the finer details this 19th century brand of Italian neuroticism needs.
Nowadays they simply have women either dressed in an updated version of ’80s powersuits or as lalala bohemians. Borovko looked utterly in charge in her suit which I dare say was curious for
Amelia Lucrezia. Then again, I despise this opera so much that I might have missed something essential. I doubt it, Romantic opera womenfolk were utterly decorative.
Upon return home I realised this was not Simon Boccanegra.
Massenet: Cendrillon, Act II (duet)
Conductor: Matthew Scott Rogers
Cendrillon: Kate Howden
Prince: Angela Simkin
Massenet, eh? Poor mezzos, he wrote for them but alas, I don’t like his saccharine stuff. For once I would’ve like the mezzo singing the trouser role to wear sensible shoes but it was not to be. Aside from that, Howden and Simkin’s interaction was not bad at all. Sometimes when I see mezzos and sopranos singing to each other of love I feel the interaction is actually helped by them both being (straight) women. It’s almost like they think whew, it’s just her, I won’t get distracted by wayward hormones, I can focus on the notes I’m supposed to sing and when I have some free time I can glance at her in a chummy manner – which masquerades surprisingly well as young love. Howden covered for an indisposed Emily Edmonds and I can’t complain about anything, but then again, Massenet. Simkin had more of a moment here than as Isolier later on, obviously since this is a duet, and though I again have no complaints, I also didn’t feel particularly wowed by her tone.
Mascagni: L’amico Fritz, Act I (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Suzel: Francesca Chiejina
Fritz: Thomas Atkins
I find it a bit odd that I enjoy Mascagni quite as much as I do (Cavalleria) but there you go, I liked this duet as well. You might ask wait, how is this any less fluff than Massenet above? It’s not but it’s much more enjoyable music to my ears. Atkins and Chiejina had rather nice chemistry going and were well suited vocally. Plus, there was a really big bucket of cherries on stage and a hot summer day outside. Chiejina’s cutely colourful maid outfit exemplified what I said above about the lalala bohemian vs powersuit.
Strauss: Arabella, Act III (final duet)
Conductor: David Syrus
Arabella: Jennifer Davis
Mandryka: Gyula Nagy
Jennifer Davis has a surprisingly large voice for her age, definitely able to cope with a Strauss orchestra as conducted by Syrus, and has a rather fearless attitude about attacking the highs and a good technique to back that. I could see from the Don Giovanni bit after the interval that Syrus was unusually careful in helping his singers do their best, so I suppose he was here as well. As far as the finer parts, well I guess that’s where both nature and experience come in. I remember the fairly recent (sometime last year) Bayerische livestream of Arabella with Harteros in the title role, which I loved, so I think that’s a good goal to keep in mind for aspiring Strauss singers.
Nagy sounded a bit stiff to me in what I imagine is a very tricky role. Aside from the livestream, my experience with Arabella is rather limited so I don’t as yet have a good idea about who Mandryka is supposed to be, aside from a vaguely wild force, personification of sexual desire as experienced by virginal women? Anyway, one needs a bit of stage and life experience to make that work.
Rossini: Le Comte Ory, Act II (final scene)
Conductor: James Hendry
Countess Adèle de Formoutiers: Francesca Chiejina
Isolier: Angela Simkin
Count Ory: David Junghoon Kim
This hilarious trio/scene elicited a lot of mirth, as it usually does, even though I dare say none of them are natural Rossinians, and thus the finer details did not shine. Hendry must’ve got a bit too much into it and, perhaps skewed by Strauss volume levels, let the orchestra rip which often covered the singers. But they were mostly funny, especially Kim who got into the nun act. The bed cover looking like something from Pylones added to the silliness.
Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II (from Zerlina finding Masetto to end)
Conductor: David Syrus
Fortepiano continuo: Nick Fletcher
Donna Anna: Vlada Borovko
Donna Elvira: Jennifer Davis
Zerlina: Haegee Lee
Don Ottavio: Thomas Atkins
Don Giovanni: Gyula Nagy
Leporello: David Shipley
Masetto/Commendatore: Simon Shibambu
As I was saying earlier, Syrus did a really good job with the volume here, definitely one of the better ways to approach DG that I have heard at ROH, where conductors seem to think this is early Verdi. The singers were properly cradled and it showed once again how good Mozart is for young singers regardless of what voice type their future has in store. It was easily the best moment of the evening.
Thomas Atkins as Don Ottavio got the most applause. It’s true he has a very fine tenor that works with many things and he coped pretty well with Il mio tesoro, a bold choice to be sure. Let’s say I’d rank my ROH Don Ottavios like so: Antonio Poli, Atkins, Villazon. Nagy was much more at ease with the Don than with Mandryka and I think he makes quite a dashing figure; I see this role in his future, he has it all going for him. ROH says he is a baritone but I felt he was rather a bass-baritone or he will be one soon.
Generally I was impressed with the density of the basses and the baritone voices on display – proper stuff. To that end, Shibambu divested himself well of the lugubrious DON GIOVANNI! cry one expects from the statue. He needs a bit more projection for the big stage but otherwise smooth sailing. Btw, I noticed he constantly gets to wear a military uniform but then I guess that’s the lot of basses, what with their authority figure repertoire. Shipley as Leporello was pretty good, too, not overly funny but his interaction with Nagy’s Don was on the money.
Borovko returned as Donna Anna. Now that I’ve seen her recently in a big role I can say this: her top is very good and her coloratura ace but the cloudiness from the middle down seems constant. I don’t know what others hear but if this is simply how her voice sounds I can’t see myself getting excited in the future. Or perhaps she needs to find herself very high roles and stick with those? How about contemporary opera, then. Davis as Donna Elvira wasn’t bad at all, coping very dutifully with all required, though I still think Strauss is where she needs to aim. This Donna Elvira was abjectly in love with the Don but I think Davis got her – tricky for the contemporary mind – preoccupation with saving DG’s soul from eternal damnation.
Sopranos: Vlada Borovko, Francesca Chiejina, Jennifer Davis
Mezzo-sopranos: Angela Simkin, Kate Howden
Tenors: Thomas Atkins, David Junghoon Kim
Baritone: Gyula Nagy
Basses: Simon Shibambu, David Shipley
If you think I was a bit hard on the young singers, bear in mind that I somehow managed to get there two hours before the start of the show (I thought it started at 16:30 instead of 6:30. I know, getting old…), after which I decided to wander around and (re)discovered what a consumerist Mecca Covent Garden is. Let’s start with the hapless straw hat “boy with guitar”, whom I was this close to pay a fiver to shut up for a few minutes. Worse even than a Verdi dirge is a wounded bohemian pop tune. You know the kind, something from the late seasons of Dr House. Try stepping into a shop, they all play music – your choice is now bubblegum pop with nondescript teen voices. Then there was the obligatory curly haired musician setting up his amp to blast what sounded very much like gentle Shoreditch downtempo cca 2003. I guess these moves are savvy, it’s touristy as all getout around there and all of the above are now part of the pop psyche.
I couldn’t take it anymore so I scurried into a book shop (where I knew they don’t play any music) to read Andrew Eames’ account of getting morbidly bored on a barge on the lower Danube. What was he thinking, right? Muddy water, catfish, poplars and weeping willows, engine fuel, moody sailors – a proper circuit party.
But the Comte Ory trio got stuck in my head for days, so things righted themselves to an extent.
When I bought my ticket it was with JDD in mind, as up to that point several efforts to get into Werther had proved completely unsatisfying. That it had Grigòlo in the title role was, I thought, a good thing, since I had come to enjoy his sound and singing manner after a rough start.
I have by now learned to be cautious with singers because liking someone’s voice does not guarantee you will like them in every role and just going for something random can cause one to dimiss a perfectly good singer in a not so matching role. I’m saying this because I quite surprisingly am in agreement with the author or this review, which might be a first, though I read his stuff because he’s knowledgeable. Namely, I felt that neither JDD nor Grigòlo were quite right for their roles.
In the end, though, it wasn’t a bad night, thanks to Pappano and the ROH orchestra who was in excellent form. Even though I did not know before that this is a favourite of Pappano’s, I could tell he was in his element – everything ran smoothly, with details well fleshed out, and he had a very good hold on the whole (the thing felt well balanced across the acts). The orchestra purred; I especially enjoyed the contributions from the winds and brass, but they usually sound sweet. So there you go, saved by the conductor and the orchestra. Even the kids (you know how I feel about children in opera) did a very good job with their annoying carol.
Werther: Vittorio Grigòlo
Charlotte: Joyce DiDonato
Albert: David Bizic
Sophie: Heather Engebretson
The Bailli: Jonathan Summers
Johann: Yuriy Yurchuk
Schmidt: François Piolino
Brühlmann: Rick Zwart
Käthchen: Emily Edmonds
Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Orchestra of the ROH
I couldn’t tell you what my issue was with JDD vocally (reason for which I referred you to the above linked review in the first place) but I just felt like her sound wasn’t what was needed. I’ve heard her live twice before and each time she was more than convincing so I have no doubt about her abilities. But Charlotte might just not be her thing. I also didn’t “feel” her dramatically, which rather baffled me, as I consider her a very capable actress. She seemed way too chaste/bourgeois, more like the Charlotte in the book than the very ambivalent one in the opera. Yes, I think Charlotte isn’t a good idea.
Quite possibly the super traditional staging, which in turn gave us a very traditionally-looking Charlotte didn’t help her with carving a more physically tormented character. Sometimes – especially in these OTT Romantic operas – you want the tension and unease to ooze out of the singer and I didn’t get that though I had my one-eyed opera glasses on her at the most important moments. That being said I couldn’t fault her for trying to flesh out the inner conflict during L’air de la lettre and expertly employing some of her trademark diminuendos in act IV. Alas, sometimes trying isn’t enough.
I liked Grigòlo better. To be fair, his part is a lot more interesting musically – also there’s a lot more of it, as it should be. I liked him (his stage presence is very good, dashing but not overly masculine – let’s not forget Werther spends the entire opera whinging about unrequitted love) – I like his voice and I like his natural manner of singing. But I do agree he’s not particularly smooth when transitioning from anguish to gentleness, though he can do both and he sounds good in both. I think he likess fff better than pp and he was lucky Pappano conducted this with lots of vigor.
Dramatically, Werther and Charlotte are very unbalanced in this revival (the production debuted in 2004 but I don’t know how it was then) – he’s mad with love/horniness from the moment they meet and she’s prim and proper until almost the very end. I didn’t feel like he had any reason to be so ga-ga over this frumpy housewife (awful costumes and hair for Charlotte), though you could say he doesn’t need much, he’s unhinged and that’s that. But I don’t know, I think the whole point is a descent into desperation, because when the opera starts he’s all like “weee! I love nature! I love life!”.
The review talks about the production in positive terms but I didn’t get all the subtle stuff. It’s most certainly not ugly, even pleasant in act I, with the oversized, diagonally placed wooden gate and ivy covered wall, complete with occasionally broken plaster (maybe that’s one of the subtle hints?). But it’s what it is, it does the job and that’s that. There is indeed a very technically accomplished timelapse done with lighting during the instrumental bit that illustrates the time when Werther and Charlotte are at the party in act I but to me that felt like big whoop. It does nothing dramatically. Likewise, the “snowflakes” (which look more like fireflies) in act IV are very pretty but still so what.
I think it would be wrong to say there’s no chemistry between Grigòlo and JDD but not on level with, say, VK and Alagna a few years back in Vienna. I liked that production a lot better as it gave them the opportunity to match the OTT-ness of the music with very intense acting (also it gives us more of an idea of who the hell Charlotte might be under the duty! children!1 mother’s deathbed promise! veneer). JDD manages to convey the post-marital depression borne out of trying to repress her attraction to Werther but it comes out as merely catatonic.
There’s one character who comes off very well and that is, oddly, Sophie. Charlotte’s younger sister (dude, the Bailli has 8 children, obviously by two different wives, given the large age difference between the older sisters and the wee ones) usually comes off as annoying but Engebretson manages to be only marginally so; she fits the production very well, you get the feel of the classic younger sister with a crush on the older sister’s boyfriend (or, in this case, would be boyfriend). She’s also a good singer, who doesn’t overdue2 it though she makes the most of her role.
Piolino and Yurchuk were entertainting3 in their secondary roles, as well, though comic relief characters always make me raise a metaphorical eyebrow in proper tragedies like this. Especially as they were hamming it up with lots of gusto, which made it feel like they were rather in the comedy next door. Considering that the mood in the Remain camp was a bit more than sombre yesterday, I was a lot less ready to see the fun in their campiness than I normally would. On the other hand I really empathised with Werther’s brooding and especially with Pappano’s flights of fff brass – so good it bears repeating.
So what do I think about Werther the opera? It’s better than I gave it credit for so far, though I’ll probably stick with live renditions, if possibly in the house or with visuals.