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Happy Tito Day to all Tito lovers!

As the banner says, September is normally Tito Month but since we had a very full August this year I think we’re all taking it easy in September 😉 Nonetheless, (this) September 6 marks the 226th anniversary of Mozart’s Tito premiere in Prague. So I’ll leave you with that silly Sesto and Vitellia dance from Sellars’ production:

I think it’s supposed to be erotic? I don’t quite believe Vitellia is trying to ascertain Sesto isn’t armed and ready to off her instead, though they are performing those weird stabbing movements as well… I guess the little dance gives you the gist of the opera and especially the gist of Sellars’ approach to it.

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Prom 59 2017: La clemenza di Tito (28 August 2017)

The usual thoughts on arias, recits etc. I’ll put this behind a cut because at this point I think it’s mostly of interest to me. Let’s look at it again when the DVD comes out next year. I’m curious how it’s going to feel from a few months’ distance. Read the rest of this entry

Tito at the Proms tonight (28 August 2017)

 

Tito17G

The bird we all love! 😉

Just a reminder, in case you haven’t had enough Tito this month: tonight the Glyndebourne team will be live at the Proms at 19:00 GMT for a last round of Tito. If you can’t make it tonight, you’ll find the concert archived by the BBC for a while (a month, I think).

ps: since I’m gif happy now (thanks for the relentless push, t 😉 ), I also added the Parto shake to the big WTF Medley post. You know you want to see it.

Tito under the mulberry tree (more Glyndebourne)

Intermission notes:

This time I cried during Del piu sublime soglio. Awesome performance from Croft.

Everybody is more relaxed by now, the acting flows beautifully. There are no more cameras.

Rookie audience:

Young woman at intermission: is Sesto sung by a woman? I kept wondering…
Other ladies in the loo queue: Yes, yes, he is. There was a cast change. But the reviews are about the one we’re seeing.
Young woman: oh, wow! Sesto is the star of the evening!
Other ladies: YES!

The only applause came after Parto. I was confused as it had been so beautifully performed, light and gentle, with some swoony ppp along the way (really moving) but also funny (Vitellia putting the moves on Sesto).

Especially in the wake of the Currentzis Tito I want to commend Ticci and Gupta on the fortepiano continuo for a very light, unfussy touch.

It’s raining. I took refuge under a very friendly mulberry tree with a cute little sleepy bird. How appropriate!

We had a weird incident on the way here, that held up the trains for almost an hour and a half. Luckily I was on a train ahead of the suggested train. The shuttle waited for the stragglers 🙂 but we only had 20min to settle and have a bite before curtain up.

Loud thunder was overheard in the auditorium just as the insurrection started on stage.

Staff offered umbrellas but I like my tree. Too bad I couldn’t visit with the sheep properly (now grazing on the adjacent meadow) ❤

Gent next to me in the auditorium: nobody dies! Not very operatic.
Dehggi: nobody should die. It’s all about the search for a better, more forgiving society.

the mulberry is split in two and the side on the right is propped up.

After the intermission:

This was an all around emotional day, as it was my last time at Glyndebourne this year, the end of “my” season (though I really would’ve liked to come back again a couple of times, but you have to observe life-opera balance). Also going to the opera on your own makes for a very different atmosphere, perhaps even moreso when it’s your favourite opera. Even so, a few conversations happened:

Lady who sat next to me for act 2: I saw you talking to the usher about those free seats up there.
dehggi: yes, I want to possibly upgrade because this is my favourite opera.
Lady: …of all operas?!
dehggi: YES! I really like the ideals, forgiveness… and the music is beautiful.
Lady: well, someone is always forgiven at the end of Mozart operas.
(dehggi: someone, even some ones but not everyone.) I didn’t actually say it, because I didn’t particularly want to chat, I was in my own world and cried again during Eterni dei. After the curtain calls I dashed out for fear somebody would notice how tearful I was. Also to be first in line at the loo.

On the bus there were two French people behind me. The woman thought the production was too “brutalist” and concluded “this was the new tendency”. I wanted to turn around and ask where she had been for the past 20 years. She did think the voices very good, though this opera was “by no means” one of her favourites (dehggi: eyeroll). Then she went on to wax lyrical about some wonderful production of Giselle at Opera Garnier.

At 21:30 the train station was almost deserted and the train board let us know the 19:30 was delayed. Some ladies started to make plans in case the trains were still disrupted. I said I’d help them split the taxi bill to London if it came to that. We co-opted some very excited Japanese ladies, so all in all, we would’ve been 5 to split that bill.

The train was on time. I’ve never heard the Glyndebourne crowd whoop so freely outside the opera house before 😀

Everybody said they liked the performance, very good voices. One of the “taxi planning” ladies explained trousers roles to me 😀 Then I somehow got to talking about the earlier Hamlet production/opera with the other taxi lady. She, like the gent sat next to me at that performance, loved it (the actual music)! She also thought the production was “more modern” than this one. (dehggi: head scratching moment. Maybe we were thinking of different things?).

In the end, there were three arias that received applause: Sesto’s and Se all’impero (<- a lot more than for the livestreamed performance). However, there was very loud thumping at curtain calls. I guess this audience is more used to lieder? Heh. I’m not quite sure why they kept their appreciation to the end if they actually liked it this much. There was, however, a lot of laughter, even during Vengo…! Aspetatte! I agree, it’s a funny moment.

And now: Tito from Salzburg tonight (single violin liveblogging from dehggi)

Tito from Salzburg on medici.tv

Just in case somebody doesn’t know about this and/or hasn’t had enough Tito this week 😀 when it rains, it pours! (btw, I mean to finish this! I am just juggling two Titi at the same time and spending a bit too much time with the ending of the Glyndebourne one at the moment 🙂 )

– does the Tito dance –

I’m reading the Tommyknockers right now. When I saw that green stuff I thought “They got Sesto!” – you know Sesto would be the first to go.

Intermission edit: I didn’t intend to liveblog this (because I like to take my time with Tito), I started with regular handwritten notes but then the production sort of took over and I had to “say” something. I wanted to do a different post for this later but it looks like I should better add my earlier notes here and let this mofo do its thing. Also I may not be able to watch everything tonight on account of work (I’ve already been late yesterday because of the Glyndebourne livestream), so I may just end mid-sentence, to be added later. Anyway, if you’re here, enjoy 😉

one more edit before I sign off for tonight: someone needs to tell Sellars that too much hand movement ain’t needed for operas written before 2010. Come ti piace imponi was a riot because of that. Come to think of it, maybe those were secret hand signals from Vitellia to the terrorists… but where’s the sex? Too much violence, not enough sex (remember Bush’s Everything Zen? Ha, I didn’t think I’d come to quote that fake grunge band but there you go, thanks for nothing, Sellars).

THE WTF MOZART MEDLEY TITO

Tito: Russell Thomas
Vitellia: Golda Schultz
Sesto: Marianne Crebassa
Annio: Jeanine de Bique
Servilia: Christina Gansch
Publio: Willard White
Conductor: Teodor Currentzis | musicAeterna / musicAeterna Choir
Director: Peter Sellars
Felsenreitschule (where else?!)

edit on 5 August: for the sake of completeness, here are my initial handwritten notes, in navy, with some additions after I slept on it.

Overture: running? Structures? coming out of the ground? Sesto and Servilia are running, he’s confused. The motley choir is back! Are they muslims?

And who are the armed dudes? Terrorists already? Guards?

Tito and his court come in, he checks out the crowd and wants Sesto and Servilia to join them; he introduces Sesto to Vitellia but the way they look at each other you can tell they’ve been acquainted already. The plot thickens! Did she signal to Tito which “commoners” to get?

Come ti piace imponi: interpretive dance?! Well… 😀 Berenice (muslim?) and Tito say a long goodbye

Annio: quite strong voiced/ no nonsense

Berenice shakes hands with Vitellia; Vitellia looks ready to bite her scarf off

Deh se piacer mi vuoi: very smooth start, nice trills on tuoi and fede; continuo gets busy (kitchen sink); Sesto wears cargo pants with tie – I really like Servilia’s black and white gauzy dress, girl has style; Vitellia puts moves on Tito who initially seems repulsed by her but then seems pulled into her game (did she not notice that? why does she need Sesto then?).

What does Tito want?

Musically I like this version, it’s very elaborate, with the right accents and very good chops from Schultz; it’s Vitellia we know and love but I think the message gets muddled as she moves between Sesto and Tito. I know there is a point there but we get it from the libretto. I think this would confuse Sesto even more and this aria is all about Sesto getting the right message.

It’s quite odd, as for once she seems to put the moves erotically on Sesto but then she gets further from that, which I don’t think is a good decision. Context intruding?

Annio has Servilia with him when asking Sesto for her hand, I like this. It’s good that she’s included, instead of the men (men? see below) deciding her life. Their (all three) interaction is very warm.

Deh prendi: interesting interpretive moves; are Sesto and Annio women? I don’t think men interact that way with each other. I will take it they are women in this production. Nice vocal mix and I like the added trills, you barely even get that in this little duettino. I like their warm interaction 🙂

Serbate dei custodi: who is Annio? He seems to be more the upper class dude in this production. Sesto and Servilia go back to “their people” and hug them. It feels like they’re about to plead their cause or something.

The choir has good vocal balance.

White’s Publio looks super fierce.

Tito gets massive gold bullions as his temple.

Edit during stream: Lucky me! I’m loving this production, too, though what the hell is it with the Baroque music during the Temple scene? (Ok, Rob explains it in the comments; I mean he explains what it is, not why it’s there) Molto odd! Let’s get back to Tito.

Annio speaks up about how cool that gal Servilia is, who, remember, is there already, so she gets the good news directly from Tito and runs away. Annio is gutsy.

No more talk – Del piu sublime soglio – which Tito sings at Sesto (who is there, too). He seems touched. Very forceful segue into it; seems Tito gets bigger voiced with every production. The couple of trills don’t come easy to Thomas. I enjoyed Croft’s softly delivered avrei a lot more.

Everyone is very sweaty already.

Ah perdona: wish the damn continuo wouldn’t keep barging in where it’s not its business. (see the comments again if you’re not used to Currentzis) I like how Servilia ain’t happy Annio shopped her to Tito. They seem very worried, not the usual happy duet and without much talk they start to sing. I like the rubato Currentzis gives the both of them to emphasise their own position within the duet.

Tito : Publio: they talk about the list of wrongdoers brought by Publio. Sesto is there for it, quite pointedly so. Tito says se ragion to Sesto (in regards to why people plot against him). Does he have, well, reasons to hint at that?

Servilia kisses Annio to make her point to Tito and then I guess what happens next makes sense:

Is this La clemenza di Tito or La voce di Servilia? More Servilia intrusive music?! Seriously, maybe I spoke too soon about liking this production. SCREW THE EXTRANEOUS MUSIC!

… because I guess she thinks she needs to sweeten the verdict a bit? Still:

Ah se fosse: THANK FUCK! For a moment there I really thought we’d skip it. It’s kinda interesting how everybody is there all the time and it makes sense. Though when we have bassoon why do we need that annoying continuo to start the aria?

Parto already! Ha. I have to think if Sesto being there for everything justifies why he should be so easily pushed into Parto. If anything, I’d think the opposite. Lying on one’s back for Parto = classic 😉 Also, the week of the French Sesti (ok, Stephany is not). That physical jump into guardami! was amusing. Poor Sesto. He killed the clarinet, eh heh. Is this a first, when even the instrumentalists lie on the floor?! 😀 Too much movement for the cadenza, though the ladies who complained there wasn’t enough movement in the Glyndebourne one would love it (some old bats on the train back to London bitched about it being too static; I hope they liked this shit). Whose brilliant idea was to have a closeup there? My head was spinning from all the movement up and down and all around. Gimmicky to the max but at least Crebassa tried to look for a chest touchdown. Didn’t find a sexy one, eh.

 

I really liked how Sesto and the clarinet even did their trills together – BUT this is not about Vitellia anymore. It’s not even just Sesto and his emotions anymore, it’s Sesto and a flesh and blood double. Like I said, gimmicky to the max. Unless I’m missing something, which is possible, because duh.

Vengo!: waaaaay too slow! Haha, kidding, of course. The ’80s called and couldn’t get through to get their styles back. That being said Schultz has some mad chops.

Act I finale – more Baroque shit to mark Mozart’s Romantic forays, yay! I hope Servilia ain’t back with something praising the lords in Latin.

Sesto is putting on a massive submissive act considering how organised his insurrection is.

I really wish they got on with things, I need a bathroom break and the cats were clawing for grub. Finally! Sesto, suicide bomber? Yes, it works, but he lives on to sing the damn Deh per questo… bomb failing?

He’s trying to shoot Tito when he can blow them up? Clearly he’s not thinking straight. Then Tito knows already?

(Dude, take off the damn vest!) How did Annio not see what happened? Haha. They all see everything except the most important bits.

Good call Currentzis to speed the damn thing up after wasting so much time with the baroque stuff. Seriously, though, why is Vitellia wearing latest style cca 1987?

And still nobody notices Sesto’s suicide bomber vest! It’s not 1987, you know.

Is it Brian Large again? I want to see more wide views, less sweat (I know this is maddest continental heatwave since 2003 (coincidence? probably), everyone is drenched in sweat).

End of Act I conclusion: mad chops Schultz, me gusta mucho! WTF is with the extra crap, though??? This is the year Tito is fucked with, yanno. Remember the one with the belcanto add-ons? Let me make one thing clear: TITO DOESN’T NEED EXTRA MUSIC. There, I feel better.

Wow, this production – Sellars has really gone a bit cookoo. I mean, dude. What? But also kinda cool. Some things are very cool, like how everyone is always there and how that makes a difference in how they react – screwing with meaning, I guess. I like that. But we’re wasting too much time with gimmicks. It really does not need gimmicks (especially what happened with Parto and the camera panning into the mad movement – just no). Guth wins this time. Less fuss, more personal meaning, more intimacy. This take is too much about the bigger picture Tim Ashley wanted. I hope he went to Salzburg to see this one.

Currentzis needs to put a cap on the continuo. Seriously, it’s fucking annoying. But some things are cool. Too bad he’s got a kitchen sink kinda mentality. TOO FUCKING MUCH! Calm down a bit, it’s good music already. Trust Mozart.

Act II

Tito is loved by ethnic people. Nice. Is this the Requiem? Can we just have Tito for like 2hrs? Will we get something from the Magic Flute as well?

How about the Commie looking dude? He’s some sort of friend of Sesto’s and Servilia’s. Maybe from when they went backpacking during their gap year and stayed with his family in the Urals and experienced the simple life Tito wants?

I’m all for context but I’m feeling this is too much context and not enough Tito.

Shit, it’s Torna di Tito a lato! Who would’ve thunk they’d throw in a lesser known Tito tune?! Did you guys know I once woke up singing it aloud? Nice trills. In fact, the trills are some of the best things in this Mozart medley.

(phew, Sesto took off his suicide bomber vest!)

And just like that it’s Se al volto. Crebassa is a bit whingy sounding but it’s a very supple voice and this trio needs a bit of whinge. Schultz = ❤ Sesto loves his family. You know what, I only always meant to ask why Sesto and Servilia have so little (like 0) stage time together. So I’m glad we get warmth with Servilia here.

You know what I ain’t feelin’? Sesto and Vitellia’s connection. I’m not sure who exactly they are to each other because chemistry is not built into their acting.

White got some soft action in those vienis.

The continuo doesn’t know yet if Tito has survived. It’s all as it’s happening 😉 Too cool for school.

Ah non sventurato = Tito came back from the dead due to the love of his people! Haha. I like Thomas but he’s a bit past Mozart days.

Tardi: I never thought I’d get to hear White sing Tardi. I just like the man. It’s of the booming type, of course. TARDI! Ehehehe.

Publio (to Annio and Servilia): see what you did to him? Anyway, come on, Tito sign the damn thing.

This Tito on deathbed is like the Act IV of Traviata. He sings on! But first some more Requiem or whatever. I mean, duh. 1791 and all. It feels like they were saying in the ’50s when Stalin died (mum told me that when he died in 1953, in ye olde Eastern Europe people were crying in the street like the sun had just dropped off the sky). I want the Papageno-Papagena duet, me.

Come on, folks, with Glyndebourne we were already almost through with Se all’impero. I need to get going. Guth wins so far.

Tu fosti tradito: and io sono partito, ciao bambini! (nice chops, Annio, had we heard more of this stuff tonight, eh? That music is nice, I wonder who wrote it and why.)

fffwd to the end: I wanted to hear what Currentzis did with Eterni dei and… well, when I caught a glimpse of Sesto in the plastic jumpsuit and then how he dropped Tito – clearly he’s not done his Moving and Handling Mandatory Training! Somebody’s (Annio?) going to have to write a very complex Datix on this serious incident and let’s not talk about the inquest. Sesto’s not done with Publio yet.

Glyndebourne Tito picnic with Team London

This unusually picture heavy post is meant as a lure to Glyndebourne for all of you who read this blog but haven’t been there yet. They were gathered over the past three times I’ve been there this year.

As Team London boarded the Glyndebourne bus (you can see it here, posing at Lewes station), the host let us know that we had brought back the sunshine – the weekend had been atrocious. Indeed, the rain returned yesterday in great form – at least in London. Today is all right.

But Monday was a gorgeous day, and as we sat down for cake and prosecco we decided it definitely felt in the low 20s rather than the expected 18C. That’s Summer in England for you, counting your blessings when the thermometer reads 21C 😉 to be fair, the first part of July was scorching. All two weeks of it!

yours truly, Leander and Baroque Bird in the Glyndebourne Rose Garden

Southern Rail, who operates the trains that take one to Lewes, has gone (together with its passengers) through a very bad year. I heard that last year Glyndebourne had to bus its audience from Haywards Heath to the Glyndebourne gardens (that’s about halfway from London), instead of just from Lewes station. Luckily, this year things went well, though I understand Southern Rail service is still iffy. We boarded an earlier (than recommended) train to Brighton and then took a connection from there. I’m telling you this because it is one of the several (cheaper) routes from London into Lewes.

you’ve probably seen the manor before, it dates back to the 1500s (I think)

It was a bit windy, but then again, it’s in the middle of the countryside. We sat on the grass on the other side of the manor, by the auditorium, so we had the chance to hear the singers warm up and even chuckle a bit (they didn’t rehearse any arias per se that I could tell and you know I can tell). We were also right next to the camera crew and the presenter rehearsing for today’s introduction to the livestream. I pretended to be too cool for school and didn’t take any pictures of that 😉

you know I have a bit of a thing for fountains

We overheard the presenter mention something about the “James Bond theme” and we looked at each other like say what? Before the show there was a talk given by the Costume Crew which we did not attend because it’s nicer outside. So whatever the Costume Crew was on about went straight over our heads. I couldn’t imagine something further from Tito than James Bond but who knows…? We were wondering who exactly would James Bond be in Tito? Surely not the strangely Trump-like Publio… So from a random piece of info to a random picture:

cover your eyes, humans!

During the intermission I was a bit too excited to eat, but somehow managed to put away a couple of kebabs (thanks, Leander!) and quite a bit of cake (thanks, Baroque Bird!) by the end 😉 Due to the lovely weather we were able to leave our blankets and things outside (these days you need to check your picnic basket in if you’re not leaving it on the lawn, but most do).

I think I was trying my best to be informative in the post about the performance and didn’t hammer on just how excited I was to hear the overture unfold. In fact it felt a bit unreal but then the curtain rose and everyone tried to manage the reeds and the puddles and before I knew it we got to the act I finale. I don’t know if the marshy bottom layer of the stage is supposed to be Glyndebourne-y or not – because of course the marsh makes sense anyway – but I will reiterate how much I liked the feel.

I have since read Tim Ashley’s Guardian review and I didn’t understand what he meant by “in reimagining the Roman populace as civil servants on the make, however, Guth loses sight of the wider political implications, giving us little sense that lives are at stake beyond the corridors of power in which the drama plays itself out.” I didn’t take it the chorus are meant to be civil servants as much as self righteous mob, which I think does indeed hint at the lives at stake – if the beehive mind has so much say in what goes and what doesn’t, well, then you get Brexit.

But for me Tito has always been about personal relationships and the delicate balances within a close knit group. I wouldn’t usually think too much about the wider implications, though I admit perhaps I should (that would also explain the hitherto rather perplexing motley and meddling chorus in the classic Salzburg Tito).

But let’s get back to the garden, the furthest side of it, where things start to get a bit wilder:

this is the back pond; imagine a quiet canoe ride

In keeping with the mix of wild and nostalgic feel of this production:

remember I mentioned in the Hamlet post I lay in the grass and watched the clouds?

OMG Tito moment and update on Glyndebourne livestream date

Cast update I somehow have missed:

Tito: Richard Croft

Be still my beating heart! ❤ ❤ ❤ Did I mention ❤ ❤ ❤ ?

Sesto: Anna Stephany

Wait, whatever happened to Lindsey? She’s not showing for the Proms either. It’ll have to do. I’m sure Stephany can sing it (in a pretty manner), not sure at all about her acting.

LIVESTREAM UPDATE

Date and time: 6pm GMT on 3 August, on the Glyndebourne page. In the event this isn’t working, try telegraph.co.uk and look for Tito. If you miss it/can’t make it, come back to the page and watch if for 1 week after the broadcast date.

You can see it at the cinema on the same date.

The Proms date is still 28 August (7pm), which you will be able to listen to here.

Full cast as of now:

Vitellia Alice Coote
Sesto Anna Stéphany
Annio Michèle Losier / Rachel Kelly (19, 21 August)
Publio Clive Bayley
Tito Richard Croft
Servilia Joélle Harvey

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2017 (ROH, 16 July 2017)

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.

Interval

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.

Mitridate, re di Ponto and Ismene the wise (ROH, 1 July 2017)

This is, I think, the first production of Mitridate I watched on yt, early on in my opera days. Because it’s so old (1993) I didn’t think I would get to see it in the house but here we are! Thanks a lot to whoever had the idea this fun production of a very early Mozart opera should be unearthed 🙂

As we all know, this is one of Mozart’s first (the first?) important commissions and he got to conduct it in Milan, one month shy of his 15th birthday. They really did things differently back in ye olde 1700s. I mean 14 olds were surely more mature then, perhaps more like 17-18 year olds nowadays, but still.

Last night’s performance was recorded by BBC3 and you can listen to it here on 8 July.

Mitridate:  Michael Spyres
Aspasia: Albina Shagimuratova Vlada Borovko
Sifare: Salome Jicia
Farnace: Bejun Mehta
Ismene: Lucy Crowe
Marzio: Rupert Charlesworth
Arbate: Jennifer Davis Francesca Chiejina
Conductor: Christophe Rousset | Orchestra and Choir of the ROH
Director: Graham Vick

As you can glean from my scratches, we had some cast changes. The two above were last minute ones. But there were actually more. You may remember Anett Fritsch was first scheduled to sing Sifare, but she pulled out with time to spare. Marzio was initially meant to be sung by Andrew Tortise.

We ended up with a bunch of young singers. The lady next to me lamented aloud at the announcement about Shagimuratova. I, not being Shagi’s biggest fan (though she has plenty technical skills, as I saw with her Donna Anna here and heard with her Semiramide at last year’s Proms), was happy for the youngsters to get breaks. Borovko is a Jette Parker Artist here at ROH and has already had smaller roles on the main stage but this is surely a big break for her. You may remember Chiejina from the Guildhall Masterclass with JDD where she sang Donna Elvira’s Ah, chi mi dice mai (a dehggi favourite). I think she’s on the way to great things, lovely full voice and very amiable presence – she fit right in and her diction in Arbate’s recits was not bad at all. “We” know Charlesworth from many Baroque outings in town and elsewhere and were likewise happy for him.

Borovko had a steep night ahead of her, especially as Aspasia has the first aria. She showed strong nerves indeed, as she navigated it with poise and sang without a hitch. The public was very happy for her, lots of applause. As the night progressed her voice clouded but it’s unsurprising, given the tough task at hand. I was wondering if she covered or pushed a bit – she has a very plum voice so young – or if it was the nerves seeping through – but I really liked her pluck. A commendable effort. It’s very unusual to see such a young singer as Aspasia, as young Mozart was ruthless and in no way makes it easy for the singer. Rousset, on the other hand, went very gently on his singers, much more so than Minkowski did with Idomeneo.

Speaking of possible nerves and something that sounded like covering, I heard that in Charlesworth’s case too. No need, really. He has a beautiful, ringing tenor that projects well. His Marzio had a bit of Mighty Boosh going on, which was rather amusing. I can’t remember if this was the case in the previous runs.

Mitridate and his guards (all images except for the last one belong to ROH)

Aside from some rambunctiousness from the brass side, the orchestra “behaved” in its supporting role, as much as a non-HIP orchestra will with this type of music (they really have a come a long way from that 1963 night with Karajan).

Another reason the singers were lucky with this production is its very stylised nature, spilling into stage movement, which doesn’t give one much room for spontaneous acting. Normally you’d think it a block but when you’re busy focusing on your very difficult arias it’s surely a blessing.

Nonetheless, Mehta and Crowe, matched again as a couple shortly after the gorgeous Rodelinda in Madrid, found ways to sneak spontaneity into their acting, to the delight of the packed auditorium. Yes, even an early Mozart sells ROH out, such is the Salzburg runt’s legacy.

This is one of my favourite ROH productions, matching two qualities dear to my heart: simplicity and imagination. At no time there is anything on stage that has no function, symbolic or otherwise. Vick had the good sense to make the red velvet side panels movable so when singers had a particularly important aria the walls moved closer and the sound was not lost backstage. You probably can’t make this out in the video but it was both practical and effective regarding stage action. The rectangle shape of the walls fit the abstract design too.

The costumes, though taking their cue from crinolines, were a lively take on the design, with striking bright colours in pleasing hues, adorned with intricate patters. I bet they were a fun challenge for the costume department!

The choreography added another positive accent. There are times when you – especially me, who don’t quite feel dance – aren’t sure why choreography is there but put up with it anyway. In this case the dancing fell to the attendants of this and that character – though in arias the singers sometimes were called to join in – who also acted like a silent chorus, marveling at or approving whatever else was happening on stage. This has the potential to be too much but not in this case, as it was done in a playful manner, which took a bit off the very earnest atmosphere of the libretto.

I like the plot quite a bit but it’s solidly post-Baroque what with a large amount of lamenting one’s harsh fate – I was happy for any levity. How can anyone not like Mitridate’s personal guards who look scary to the point of parody? But the OTT-ness felt to me in perfect keeping with the Baroque-Classical idea of entertainment (it’s opera, not a history lesson).

Ismene and Farnace

The quintessential stars of the evening were Lucy Crowe as Ismene and Bejun Mehta as Farnace, both of whom showed simply wonderful artistry and style. Still, for the “kick” arias in a large venue I feel the edge of a mezzo’s voice would add an extra oomph and evilness, yet I greatly enjoyed his sense of style (gorgeous dialogue with the orchestra) and the little, presumably spontaneous (once or twice just tossed off) trills he added on occasion.

It’s always great to see a role veteran at work, from the moment Farnace walzes in with feigned carelessness and asks Aspasia to stop rejecting him (or else), through Va, l’errore mio palesa, when he comically bumps Ismene out of the way, to his U-turn in Gia dagli occhi, which was taken super slow and the audience broke into applause before the last repeat of the A section – and I actually joined them! though I’m very well acquainted with this aria in its extended version. To quote the Emperor, too many notes, Wolfie. Seriously, when I overheard my very young seatmate sigh before the third repeat I couldn’t fault her for it. It goes on and on. Ffwd to 1791 and Mozart’s super brief take on opera seria – worlds away. Then again, not fair comparing a 14 year old with a seasoned 35.

But the audience was right to applaud, Mehta’s soft singing is buttah. His interaction with Crowe was some of the best stuff of the evening, you could feel the connection the characters are supposed to have beyond the momentary rough patch.

The first time Crowe genuinely impressed me was the above mentioned Rodelinda, where she sung the title role. I am very happy to report she continues to rock. She had the best night vocally (and likely otherwise), with all the (many) trills flowing effortlessly and her sense of Mozart style was fabulous. On top of this, she, as I said above, managed to act through the stylised choreography, making it a springboard for a dialogue with the public. This works for Ismene, who, as the second woman, is the wise character, always acting in diplomatic ways that ultimately restore order. We know Mitridate, his sons and Aspasia have to reconcile their differences; she is the one character who shares our knowledge that things can’t be as bad as everyone else laments they are.

I can’t say I was convinced by Jicia as Sifare. Her performance was patchy as far as I can tell – sometimes the voice was really on, flowing beautifully in difficult passages, at other times it seemed blighted by… something I can’t quite put into words. Almost as an old AM radio going in and out of proper reception. Her acting was pretty much what the stylised production required, nothing more, nothing less. I obviously don’t know about her interaction with Shagi but with Borovko it was rather cold – possibly understandably so. Still, as this is the main romantic relationship of the opera it felt underwhelming.

Michael Spyres in the title role was solid. He’s already sinking his claws into this role but to me he’s no Bruce Ford (the veteran of the ROH production). I’ve even sampled Richard Croft’s take on the role and I still think Bruce Ford is Mitridate. Even though both Croft and Spyres have more elasticity, that typical resonance and the spcific type of characterisation in Ford’s voice wins it for me1.

Out of the three, Spyres’ is the least recognisable voice, with a bit of Rossinian fervour seeping through. He was also struck by a bad case of nerves in his first aria but carried on without batting an eyelash and things got much better. He has the stage presence and the capacity to navigate the runs, yes, and his work with dynamics isn’t bad at all, but I didn’t feel the same level of musicality and Mozart-feeling as with Crowe and Mehta.

Genderwise, it’s interesting how they cast this opera nowadays, with a soprano as the good son and a countertenor as the sexually forceful villain. Make of that what you will.

look at that outfit! (this one is from The Guardian)

The night was, objectively speaking, a mixed bag. But as far as I was concerned I had a swell time, because of the top drawer job Crowe and Mehta did and because this production is, to me, a thing of beauty2. It makes me smile, it suits my sense of design and I am really happy to have seen it in the house, especially in the company of these musicians.

It’s so OTT that it can still deliver even though times have changed so much since 1993 and only last year we’ve had those two game changing productions of Mitridate. It’s also probably lucked out – at least with me – that it returned to the stage in 2017 rather than last year, to compete with the very topical productions from Paris and Brussels. Post Brexit the focus has shifted yet again.


  1. You may also remember how much I like his Tito. He has just the right kind of magnanimous ruler feel in his voice. 
  2. And I’m a bit annoyed the 1993 video was obviously VHS, so the yt clips don’t allow for quality screencaps. 

ROH wifi at Mitridate

I may have finally stepped into the current decade as I found out today that ROH also provides wifi (duh, I know; please be patient with me 😉 ) and it’s very strong to boot. Expect a long entry about Mitridate, which is a lot of things – good (I really like this old but very stylish, Ponnellesque production and it’s official Lucy Crowe is enjoying a splendid season) and occasionally less so (stricken with a large number of cast changes – two just for today, which include our original Aspasia).