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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 😉

Monteverdi Day 2016 (belated)

So how about the Magnificat? I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m quite fond of them in general. As a towering composer of vocal music, it’s natural that Monteverdi’s rocks.

ps: traditionally Monteverdi Day is 15 May, but it seems that he was born on 9 May and baptised on 15… Either way, I got involved in other things and missed both. But it’s still May and he still rocks 🙂

(Further) Sprinkles of Baroque love from Theater an der Wien


12 May 2017: it turns out that Theater an der Wien has the exact same Ariodante team that hits the Barbican on 16 May 2017. Warehouse in Brutalism Central vs. cosy little venue across from the Naschmarkt…

22 March 2017: Rene Jacobs conducts Ulisse (with Degout, Zorzi Giustiniani and Chappuis).

16 December 2016: before all that there’s Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria (with Fagioli and Mynenko) and a month to the day before that a bit of Rameau (Zoroastre) (with Piau and Emmanuelle de Negri).

Dear TadW, thanks for nothing! Way to spread the love around instead of condensing everything for my convenience. I keep singing your praises yet I get no respect >:-O whichever one of these will be my next time there I’m going to pack the venue up in my holdall and transplant it to London. For a bribe of poppyseed strudel I can send the Barbican over.

Behold the outdoors splendor:

And the halls:

Maria Ostroukhova recital (London Handel Fest, 14 March 2016)

Also part of the London Handel Fest 2016 was mezzo Maria Ostroukhova’s lunch time recital, comprising madrigals and Handel arias. It was fun to return to St. George’s Hanover Sq., Handel’s neighbourhood church and the place I last visited for Catone in Utica 1 year ago almost to the day. Thadieu and I showed up with time to spare and enjoyed the bright and cheerful atmosphere of the church.

Part I (with James Bramley on lute)

Occhi miei
Da poi ch’un orsa
Mille amorosi lacci
Se l’aura spira
Tu ch’ai le penne amore
Voglio di vita uscir

The show started with just voice and lute, enough for the singer to get into the mood and us to get (re)acquainted with the beauty of tone. I’d say Ostroukhova’s voice is a bit heavy for this delicate fare but it was enjoyable to focus on her dense, confident and evenly produced voice. She finished with a bit of melodramatic Monteverdi, of which I had learned via Sara Mingardo. Ostroukhova set the mood for the afternoon by delivering it in a fiery1 fashion.

Part II (with Les Bougies Baroques conducted by Ian Peter Bugeja on harpsichord)

Presti omai l’Egizia terra (Giulio Cesare)
Mi lusinga il dolce affetto (Alcina)
La bocca vaga (Alcina)
Ira, sdegni… O stringerò nel sen (Teseo)
Lascia ch’io pianga (Rinaldo)
Empio, dirò, tu sei (Giulio Cesare)
Cieca notte (Ariodante)
Vo’far guerra (Rinaldo)

For the Handel arias Ostroukhova was joined by the solidly supporting Les Bougies Baroques. With Presti omai l’Egizia terra we were immediately introduced to secure vocal ornamentation and heroic strength. Out of the gentler moments, Ostroukhova gauged the right mood of uncertainty laced with tenderness for Mi lusinga il dolce affetto.

It was interesting to hear Ruggiero’s moment of major confusion back to back with the willful La bocca vaga. This one sees the young man confronting the one whom he perceives as a rival. Ostroukhova’s no-nonsense rendition reminded us that – his gentle side notwidthstanding – Ruggiero is perfectly capable of beating the crap out of any opponent.

If you’re lucky a recital makes you discover new or old things. This one made me discover something I had heard only the other day but which had not, up to yesterday, caught my attention: Ariodante’s lament Cieca notte. Ostroukhova had the right vocal weight and emotional gravitas to make me notice the grand heartbreak of this miniatural mad scene. There is, after all, more to Ariodante than suicidal tendencies and delirious joy. Along with the stomp and tantrum arias it convinced me that Ostroukhova’s earthy, resonant mezzo voice is at its most enjoyable in powerful, high energy moments. In other words, furious knights and scorned women 😉

Not for nothing did the show end in fireworks with her blasting rendition of Armida’s stomping Vo’far guerra which also gave Bugeja the opportunity to rock out at the harpshichord, using Handel’s own virtuosic improvisation.

  1. as thatdieu put it. 

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.


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 😀


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

L’incoronazione di Poppea (Bucharest, 19 September 2015)

The timely intervention of dumb luck; manipulation and corruption rewarded; virtue and steadfastness cast out; tonely Seneca as moral compass turned butt of jokes – truly an opera for our times.

This ace Midnight Concert by the Academy of Ancient Music and Co. was the last one at this year’s George Enescu Festival (the Midnight Series was dedicated to Baroque music this time), but yours truly wasn’t available for the livestreaming. So here’s a good opportunity to publicly thank thadieu for giving us all (yea, I saw the many clicks) the great gift of livestreaming capture 😀 Big pot o’soup for ya!

poppeafinalePoppea: Louise Adler
Nerone: Sarah Connolly
Ottavia: Marina de Liso
Ottone: Iestyn Davies
Seneca: David Soar
Arnalta: Andrew Tortise
Drusilla/Virtu: Sophie Junker
Amore/Damigella: Daniella Lehner
Nutrice: John Lattimore
Valetto/First Soldier: Joshua Ellicott
Conductor: Robert Egarr | Academy of Ancient Music | George Enescu Festival, Ateneul Român

Given Poppea’s bare shoulder hazard (I demand modest clothing! 😉 ), I made it through with intact concentration by first just listening to it. Perhaps I should bring a blindfold to live performances just in case 😉 But the upshot was I could properly focus on the music/singing/playing. Apparently they had one hour of rehearsal before Ulisse, so one imagines it was more or less the same in this case.

These days Poppea has joined Tito and Alcina in the rarefied abode known as my top 3 operas1. It hit me when I realised just how much I like Poppea and Nerone’s mostly spoken back and forths. Surprisingly, I also got all excited every time Ottone barged in with his wistful laments. Then again, I’ve never heard ID below competent and this role lets his sensitive countertenor voice shine.

Mr Greenhill has achieved the most with the least means. I just love how Nerone and Poppea converse then all of a sudden melody takes off in the most natural manner, just enough to shape the emotional content of the text.


I ended up replaying this bit for 5-6 times until I found myself chanting my own thoughts to the tune of Poppea’s non posso, non posso, non posso… and Egarr’s great harpsichord setup for the (equally ace) coloratura after Nernone’s non temer, non temer…! Then Poppea “loses” her patience and asks demands tornerai? and Nerone says tornero! in an ardent yet playful manner. No fuss, no unnecessary complications, just the right amount of manipulation and ardor = gripping. It might be faulty memory, but I’ve a feeling this performance was way better than last year’s at the Barbican.

The TVR2 presenter asked a good question awkwardly during the intermission of Ulisse: would this music be boring if the singers were not into it? Most certainly! Wouldn’t any music? But, yes, here there’s definitely no fancy orchestration to hide behind. Either you’re into it or it’s going to be torture. Done well this is theatre at its best. Take for instance the moment where Nerone closes his eyes and floats a long and satisfied/seductive addio…! at Poppea. She responds with knowing sexiness via another long held note; the stuff of dreams, the Connolly/Adler pairing is ace (more, please!).

Out of the smaller roles – all well sung but one still has to pick – Daniela Lehner as Amore/Damigella fearlessly let it rip through the evening to amusing results (where Damigella beat her inconstant dreamboy with the score). She’s got a remarkable mezzo voice (very secure, heroic middle) which I hope we’ll soon see grow into the top mezzo roles that are waiting to be tackled by the new generation.

Outside of music and singing, one of the best things about TVR2 broadcasting this concert performance was Nerone’s badass coat. SC wore it to great effect last year as well, so let’s see it in more detail:


Screw the Senate and the people!

  1. femme fatales ftw! 

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.


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 😉


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.


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


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:

Poppea, Poppea, lascia ch’io parta!

Remember this post?

Well… statistics say1 that you’re most likely to book another opera trip right after you returned from one. My arm was very painfully twisted (ow, ow) by Leander. So I booked a ticket to see what Penda + Sabadus and Co. (with Emilie Renard) will do in Wien in October under the strange parenting of Guth and Spinosi.

What goes with Monteverdi? (Mozartkugeln! Schnitzel! Waltz! But Wien without Der Rosenkavalier…?)

  1. I made that one up! 😀 thadieu, maybe you should come too, see it done properly the European way (plus at least two mezzos in the mix). 

Curious Poppea at Theater an der Wien (October 2015)

Theater and der Wien is at it again – sounds like this could be an event all right: conducted by Spinosi (so chipper?), directed by Guth (so maybe not chipper but possibly weird) and sung by these folks:

Nerone: Valer Sabadus (eh heh, Nerone wishes he looked like that)
Poppea: Alex Penda (I kid you not! Poor Sabadus, how will he cope in those duets, especially the last one 😀 )
Ottone: Christophe Dumaux
Ottavia: Jennifer Larmore (I didn’t know she was back in the saddle! Hope all is good)
Drusilla: Sabina Puertolas
Lucano (and others): Rupert Charlesworth (the smooth-voiced Jupiter/Apollo in the recent London Semele)
Valletto: Emilie Renard (the (very) cute/joyful Arbace in the London Catone in Utica)

and many others I don’t know. Leander wants to go see it and I have to say I am quite tempted myself since it could end up being all sorts of things.