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Il ritorno di Willy Decker to Hamburg (Hamburg Opera, 29 October 2017)

…according to the poster in the house πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ™‚ ).

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰ <- 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 πŸ˜€

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ™‚ and with fingers crossed for another lucky break with the weather.

nice Venetian feel, eh?

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