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Blasts from the past: Le nozze di Figaro, ROH, 27 September, 2013

I’ve recently (ok, sort of) written my impressions about this production, but here are a few notes on a performance I attended in September 2013:

This production is extremely detailed and requires a lot of acting even by today’s standards. Let it be said that the interactions were as smooth as anything. Obviously well rehearsed.

First off, as with a humongous war horse as Nozze, the hall was full from top to bottom. I nicked a seat in the Stall Circle left which gave me an excellent view of the orchestra and a dead angle for the extreme left of the stage, plus muffled sound. The good part was being so close to the action (the singers were within sight 90% of the time) and being able to hear the pinanissimos. No objections on the conducting and the orchestra; some nice touches here and there but for the life of me I can’t remember where beside the “knowing” horns in Figaro’s aria from Act IV.

Stand-outs:

Figaro: Pisaroni makes a youthful, playful Figaro, both in voice and acting. He was hilarious and his interaction with Susanna and everybody else outstanding. You can tell he’s been singing Figaro for a while. He hasn’t got a lot of volume to his voice but he had a pleasant, smooth sound through the night.

Contessa: Bengtsson’s voice is truly beautiful and well suited for the Countess – secure, warm, round and plaintive with excellent technique. Acting wise, I’d have liked a better timing for comedy and a bit more guts in her interaction with the Count. She played it all a bit too dignified for a character who was Rosina of Il Barbiere just a few years ago.

Cherubino: oh, dear! Pokupic makes one of the cutest, funniest Cherubinos I’ve seen. Spot on and excellent voice. Had the crowd in stitches, especially in the garden scene in Act IV, when trying to put the moves on “Susanna”.

Don Basilio: JP Fouchecourt came as a replacement but he blows the 2006 DVD Don Basilio out of the water! He camped it up just right and delivered a hysterical performance of the meddling music teacher. I’ve known him from Baroque recordings but never realised he was this funny. Possibly the best ever in this role.

For a more rounded writeup, check out a review of another performance from the same run from operatraveller.

Upcoming at ROH and Glyndebourne 2019

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)

Carmen and Hansel and Gretel for the mezzo-deprived; Dudnikova might be an interesting Carmen, I liked her Principessa de Bouillon.

Winter:

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

Cos√¨ returns but don’t count me in

Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season

Spring:

La forza del destino ūüėČ 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.

Summer:

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.

Glyndebourne 2019

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 ūüėČ

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.

Bad night for Roschmann?

(it’s one of those old news chez dehggi moments)

From Serenade‘s account of a 2017 performance of Le Nozze at Wiener Staatsoper (the other opera house in Vienna ūüėČ ):

The Countess was played by Dorothea Roschmann herself an erstwhile Susanna. In my opinion she has not quite graduated yet to the bigger role and she would do well to limit her appearances as the Countess. Her Porgi amor at the beginning of Act Two was sung with beauty of tone and a quick vibrato. But her Act Three Aria Dove sono was disappointing as it lacked breath control and a sense of line. She was unable to take any of the long phrases in a single breath and there were times when the voice just did not carry forward.

She has not quite graduated?! Ehehehe. I think I’d still like to see her as the Countess even on a so-so day. Then again, I’d rather see my fave singers on their good days.

Revisiting the Bechdel test for opera

A while ago I put some of my favourite operas to this test, with various results. But on re-reading it today, an idea about how perception complicates matters came to me. Let’s first see what happened when¬†I Capuleti e i Montecchi’s¬†turn came:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; ooops, not enough women in this, fail
  2. they talk to each other; N/A, fail
  3. they talk about something other than a man: ok, given that Giulietta has a long monologue, she ends up talking about how much she hates her life and would rather die than marry the man imposed on her by her father. Not really check but at least something. Still fail.

It’s a 19th century opera, what did you expect? The libretto is textbook woman oppressed by the patriarchy. You do want to cry during her first duet (or first part of the long duet) with Romeo and not just because the music is so damn beautiful (snif, snif).

Right, it fails spectacularly, in grand Victorian tradition, which is unsurprising. But there is one interesting thing about it: namely that Romeo is specifically written for a woman1.¬†So in a sense, there are two women in it and they do talk about quite a few things. They are also trying – with tragic results – to get away from “patriarchy”. It’s almost like a classic lesbian twist, which needs to end badly for all involved. I think nowadays that subtext is there even though¬†it wasn’t always so.

The case of Der Rosenkavalier is somewhat similar, for the same reason. Octavian is supposed to be sung/played by a woman. You know that point where Octavian says “the Field Marshall is hunting in the Croatian¬†forest and I’m here… hunting for… hehe…” – that always makes me imagine the Field Marshall as this big, forged in the heat of battle chap with large, black whiskers; and his wife prefers this giggly kid after all. I know it’s Strauss’s version of Le nozze but still2, the Field Marshall hunts for bears and boars for a reason. And we know they’ve been married since she came out of the convent – which was probably around age 16-18 – and they still don’t have any children. Maybe they couldn’t conceive but maybe she’s just not into black-whiskered boar hunters. Maybe he isn’t into women. Hofmannsthal was gay after all, can’t put this thought beyond him.

How Mozart/Bellini/Strauss intended it is one thing but how we see it today is almost always different.


  1. I know there are musical reasons why that is so – Bellini wanted the lovers to sound more alike so as to make a strong contrast to those who are opposing them. 
  2. I guess we could discuss Le nozze as well. Beaumarchais himself wanted Cherubino to be played by a girl and he still went on with the third part of the trilogy. You could say the kid had to be very pretty, that’s the point. You could also say, with the third part in place you know he meant for the Countess and Cherubino to really be getting it on, no ifs and buts there. What I’m getting at is you can’t get away from subtext, it’s just not possible, the way we think these days. 

Glyndebourne 2016

That time of the year again, for sketching the next 12 month’s opera schedule. I haven’t made my mind up yet, just musing over the offer:

Die Meistersinger – normally not my thing BUT check out the cast:

Hans Sachs Gerald Finley
Walther von Stoltzing Michael Schade
Beckmesser Jochen Kupfer
Eva Amanda Majeski
Pogner Alastair Miles
David David Portillo

Il barbiere – DeNiese as Rosina, whatever (though of course she’ll be in something at Glyndebourne, just as we’ve got a boatload of Kozena at Wigmore now…). There’s a disgruntled young mezzo out there somewhere.

The Cunning little Vixen – you know, I really like the libretto and I remember it’s a colourful production

Nozze – that ’70s production.

Beatrice et Benedict – making the rounds, eh (Shakespeare year)? Another chance to catch d’Oustrac.

Says Glyndebourne’s site:

French mezzo soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac will make her role debut as Béatrice opposite the US tenor Paul Appleby.

Mais non, she will make her debut in the role next month at La Monnaie so she will have a bit of experience under the belt come next summer.

A Misummer Night’s Dream – obviously also Shakespeare year and:

Oberon Tim Mead – yes!
Tytania Kathleen Kim
Lysander Benjamin Hulett – maybe?
Demetrius Duncan Rock
Hermia Elizabeth DeShong – curious to hear her live
Helena Kate Royal
Theseus Michael Sumuel
Hippolyta Claudia Huckle
Bottom Matthew Rose – love him!

Head to head Dove sono

Yesterday was one of those London fog days when humidity seeps into your bones. Driving home at 9:30pm is like disappearing into the dark. Once home it’s time for a cup of tea and cats settling in the lap. Normally only one of them does, but last night I had the unusual honour of both of them pilling up in my lap for a long session of R√∂schmann. I suspect my Vitellia-like cat has a special liking for R√∂schmann, she’s never been a lap cat. Today she’s back, though cautiously as headrest.

But yesterday’s Victorian evening is not what the post is about. It’s about youtube comments. Yes, premature darkness, fog and cold bring out the bitchy side. Haven’t had a properly ranty post in a while, eh.

I don’t mind it if people don’t like something I do but it ticks me off when someone posts more than once in a youtube video’s comment section urging you to¬†better listen to so and so’s version if you want to hear a real [insert aria]. Especially if, out of curiosity, I do listen to what was suggested only to go ho-hum. This post could be over right now if I were satisfied with the cliched (but true) conclusion that we can’t all like the same things. But I have a bit of emotional investment here (a soft spot for Dove sono) so I’m going for a comparison. Feel free to chime in.

So yesterday, after listening to the hilarious¬†Der Hochzeitsbraten on¬†Earworm’s channel (listen if don’t know it, it’s realy worth your 11min), I felt like a bit of Porgi amor and Dove sono, which she had posted as well. Now¬†I’m not the biggest fan of how R√∂schmann finishes this particular Dove sono. On the other hand, I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is¬†full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

The thing with voices is that you like what you like and if you don’t like the sound of something, no amount of arguments regarding someone’s skill and general proficiency can change your mind. Much less being told you should like something simply because it’s come down the ages as great.

It’s the same with style and personality. I said above I like singers who go for broke, who sing in a lively manner and emphasise drama over beauty. It’s not to say I don’t like beautiful singing (Valer Sabadus comes to mind) but I prefer it when the singer goes with the drama instead of focusing on¬†beauty for the sake of beauty.¬†If the drama calls for beauty and the singer can’t do that I feel things suffer as much as when the drama calls for something less angelic and all you get is well rounded notes.

When we say beauty, what kind of beauty? If it’s too ethereal and angelic I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed with the sugar and porcelain feel of it. Beautiful is¬†a sound that reminds me of dignity and heroism rather, though I also accept velvet and kind gentleness.

After this long preface I present you an Elisabeth Schwarzkopf version of Dove sono I found on youtube without digging too deeply. As you know I’m not knowledgeable about old recordings, so I don’t know how¬†other versions from her compare. My focus is solely on¬†Schwarzkopf’s tone and dramatic style,¬†as this is what I’ve been going on in the past couple of paragraphs: what makes a voice attractive or not.

Dramatically, there is¬†a general sense of sadness and melancholy but I don’t feel like the Contessa is that heartbroken over her marriage going sour. More like ha, we had so much fun once, too bad it’s over. Listen to her giuramenti¬†–¬†it’s so reserved, even detached. Hello!¬†Perch√® mai, se in pianti e in pene¬†is delivered in a matter of fact manner and schoolmarmy in sound: all those boring dinners with your friends, Sr Almaviva, you owe me all that!

When the tune changes tempo¬†as Mozart obviously wants the singer to get into it, she’s still barely picking up steam (it’s a wise decision, as there is a danger of disconnect with the orchestra here. But a riveting performance is rarely based on wise choices1). For the last¬†few ingrato cors she sounds rather surly. Her last trill on ingrato is… not to my taste. I’d say the understanding of the role is Contessa as majestic noble woman more than someone who was Rosina just as a few years ago. If you remember, Rosina is from a bourgeois family, so not exactly born and bred Marschallin. I’d advise against reserve here.

Now check out R√∂schmann’s version:

It’s apt to compare two German singers as neither’s Italian is tops. Whereas Schwarzkopf stays German both in pronounciation and in delivery, R√∂schmann’s German accent comes through less harshly (doltchetza) and she goes all out in delivery. That aside, it’s just a warmer voice, more beautiful to my ears in moments like cangio or menzogner.¬†She keeps quite a bit of German spirit in her delivery¬†but it’s expressive and believable singing.

Listen to each one’s initial¬†dove sono line as I think it’s where voice alone is showcased. Everybody agrees it’s a moment of whistfulness and (most likely) everybody is going to go for¬†beauty of sound. To me R√∂schmann sounds vulnerable and heartbreaking because of tone alone. Easily the more beautiful voice and the more appropriate for the role: her vibrato tells me this¬†Contessa is a young woman who still believes in marital happiness. I understand Schwarzkopf was once the gold standard Contessa. For me there’s no contest whatsoever.

Some people in the comments complained about the faces R√∂schmann¬†makes. What faces do they think a woman would make in the same situation as the Contessa? I like it when realism comes through in an interpretation (which is why I find certain concert performances so riveting). I get that some are more into stylised stage presences but the very fact that the singer is less animated does not make them better. In this case I want the singer to show the heartbreak behind a line like¬†di cangiar l’ingrato cor.


  1. perhaps I shouldn’t compare live performances to studio recordings but that was the first one I got my claws on and for obvious reasons I wasn’t digging any further. 

Regie comments on work/life balance

aixfigaro

With more overtime I might be able to afford my own flat…

The Aix-en-Provence Le nozze di Figaro has been around for a few years now but I just remembered¬†that, in this production, Figaro and Susanna live in the office. Not only is that a comment on overtime but possibly on the precarious¬†access to housing we’re facing nowadays. We’ve come a long way!

Le nozze di Figaro (ROH, 7 May 2014)

Everybody who cares must know this production by now. A straight-forward¬†crowd-pleaser, nothing to keep you up at night thinking what must that mean?¬†No sinks, no nudity but a bit of rolling around on the floor to remind us it’s slapstick after all. They played up the physical angle last Autumn but it felt like they upped it up even more this time. Something along the lines of what went on with Pelly’s super-popular La fille du regiment. The crowd wasn’t complaining; I wasn’t either, I’m easily amused1.

Slapstick and fine singing

Wolfie humour on his birthday

Having nothing clever or deep to say on this lively occasion, I’m just going to post a few of my favourite videos from the big 3:

This oldie is my favourite Don Giovanni production. I think Siepi is spot on suave and Erna Berger a very tongue-in-cheek contadina, just how I like them.

Not my favourite Cosi production but my favourite ladroncello scene. Nikiteanu’s Dorabella is hilarious, I love how she screws with Bartoli’s very uptight Fiordiligi. Probably the liveliest, horniest, least inhibited Dorabella out there.

Where to begin?! One of those so bad it’s good concepts for Cherubino and Schafer just runs with it.

Cheers, Wolfie, for the lolz.