The other day around noon I was at home deciding which thumb to start twiddling, just on time to see Stutzmann/Orfeo 55’s concert in Chengdu, thanks to thadieu’s link. Sichuan (otherwise known for its spicy sauce and giant pandas) has a snazzy TV station that broadcasts online.
I clicked the link to see the TV presenter sat in a comfy chair near a neat little table (set Chinese style, of course), checking her messages (Western style) whilst the accompanying picture on the Orfeo 55’s FB page shows La Stutz languidly lounging in someone’s suped-up basement.
I was thinking ok, nice setting but are we going to watch this young woman check her messages? Yes, we were! For about 20min. In the meanwhile, other people got in and out of the camera, in a nice kind of way. I suppose the cameram… person was checking their messages, as well? – and the video director, too.
Eventually some adverts with a giant panda came on and I recognised the music from adverts back home (to something or another, possibly mobile providers?), though the visuals were obviously nothing like you’d see on Eastern European TV (they were way cuter, in a Poundland-cute kind of way). So far so £1 hipster (especially the message bubble sound effects).
After the adverts went on for a while I finished twidling both thumbs and decided to take a shower; hen I came back the presenter was interviewing someone in French (she was speaking in Chinese, the other woman was answering in French). After the interview they rolled what seemed like the same bubble sound effect advert for 25min, which is only fair if your consumerist communism is trying to hammer the message home to its subjects. I think I want the giant panda provider myself now. But I was confused since the show was supposed to start and the adverts were merrily popping on and on.
25min later the giant panda suddenly gave way to the Orfeo 55 performance – smack dab in the middle of an aria 😀 – opera broadcast Sichuan style! Now that we were finally in business, something became alarmingly obvious: the performance was broadcast via someone’s not so smart mobile. The high strings as well as the applause was distorted in an early ’80s well worn VHS kind of way but the vocals and the lower pitched instruments came off as well as one can hope from a Poundland mobile phone. Leave it to Chinese tech to work out the impossible.
There seemed to be more breaks than usual and the panda returned at random times, after the video director let us admire the empty stage for a suitable amount of time. The performance itself was all right, perhaps a bit less enthusiastic than I remember Orfeo 55/La Stutz from previous Wiggy moments but maybe it came down to the Poundland broadcast acoustics.
This is a youthfully angry, sharp and to the point aria, in which little Sesto fumes at the mouth against Tolomeo (he doesn’t deserve to breathe (the air)). Whilst re-reading a post of mine (I do that too 😉 ), I had a sudden need to re-listen. A few versions later I was bathed in the multitude of colours it allows.
Let’s start with Stutzmann, because I love her handeling of dynamics both in conducting and in singing. I feel this is a wonderful introduction to this aria, so typical of Handel’s writing of arias of fury (it’s not quite vengeance here; see Svegliatevi nel cuore for that). Also check out her moves at around 0:12:
(One of the iconic little Sesti of our time) Semmingsen with her bright(eyed) mezzo comes next for strong contrast. I’m not so sure about Mortensen’s conducting here; I feel the details are a bit muddled, though in the interest of characterisation – this is a very young Sesto – that might not be a bad idea:
Also a mezzo, but much darker, is Bonitatibus; always a strong Handelian (especially in troubled youth roles), it’s interesting to compare a dark mezzo voice with a true contralto:
And here we have another Jacobs take – a very speedy one – with Ernman at the forefront, unexpectedly catching my ear. This Sesto is a bit older or wilder than usual; if I were Tolomeo I’d keep my hand on the dagger:
Stutzmann and Orfeo 55 got one of the most enthusiastic receptions I’ve heard at Wigmore Hall. A lady next to me, who confessed to her seatmate that she had never heard of Stutzmann before the show, sounded like she became a convert about the time Stutzmann turned her note stand around and opened her mouth.
Initially this show was supposed to be comprised of more obscure morsels but for whatever reason a change of programme was announced a month or two back. Judging by how packed and buzzing the hall looked nobody was complaining – especially since we did not get this show when she was touring it originally.
Handel: Heroes from the Shadows
Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55
Overture Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17
Sinfonia from Act 3 Poro, re dell’Indie HWV28
L’aure che spira Giulio Cesare in Egitto
Sinfonia from Act 3 Serse (‘Xerxes’) HWV40
(I) Larghetto Concerto Grosso in E minor
Son qual stanco pellegrino Arianna in Creta HWV32
(III) Allegro Concerto Grosso in E minor
Sinfonia from Act 3 Orlando HWV31
Pena, tiranna Amadigi di Gaula HWV11
Those who have seen Stutzmann live know the turning of the stand is done with a lot of dramatic flair (albeit of the understated kind). In fact, that is one Stutzmann’s strengths. It’s not just a show, it’s a performance with a start and an end. Her attention to detail in conducting, singing and performance is second to none.
My reaction to seeing the Overture to Giulio Cesare in the programme was a bit meh. Perhaps because of its over exposure I’ve never properly warmed up to this opera. Don’t get me wrong, I do get into it if I start watching/listening but I don’t have that feeling of “you know what I’d like to listen to again?” with it.
Well, wrong! First of all the overture is rather perky. Also Orfeo 55 are no slouches and sounded on and energetic from the getgo. Like I said before, you can tell they play a lot together because it’s a finely tuned machine, the different sections sound so good together and Stutzmann gives them all their chance to shine. With them you have a very good chance of finding all sorts of things in the score you never noticed before.
I was even more wrong about L’aure che spira. With Giulio Cesare I almost invariably focus on the Cesare/Cleopatra thread (surprisingly, I know) so this aria was almost new to me. It’s also got the added bonus of noticing my seatmate’s mouth gape at Stutzmann’s unexpected sound. Have you noticed the effect of something you like on others have an effect on you? Anyway, it’s the kind of semi-bravura aria that fits Stutzmann’s mellow voice.
The instrumental pieces were characterised by Stutzmann’s architectural sense of the whole, with the instrumental lines as building blocks and a lot of contrasts emphasised between the different sections. I like her brand of conducting, it’s always illuminating and easy to follow, with a very muscular base in the rhythmically driven low strings.
(I) Allegro Sinfonia in B flat major HVW338
Sinfonia from Act 3 Partenope HWV27
Son contenta di morire Radamisto HWV12
Voi che udite il mio lamento Agrippina HWV6
Concerto Grosso in D minor Op. 3 No. 5 HWV316
(IV) Allegro ma non troppo
Non so, se sia la speme Serse (‘Xerxes’)
(IV) Allegro Concerto Grosso in G minor
Sarò qual vento Alessandro HWV21
For the Concerti grossi in this section, Stutzmann chose what I would call a “Venetian feel”. Last time I saw her I sensed her voice and personality fit the more relaxed, melodic Venetian Baroque than the very structured, “dramatic Baroque” of Handel. But she can make Handel work for her without a doubt. And this Venetian Handel was very fetching indeed and I would like to listen to it again.
It doesn’t come off in the version above (or in general) but last night in the hall Sarò qual vento had a prominently wistful tinge. I was unexpectedly moved by it, right around the time the A section repeat started, to the point I wanted the show to end there. This has never happened before but her voice fits that wistfulness so well I just felt like staying cocooned in that bitter sweet place. I also wanted the very happy convert next to me to stop grinning and looking around, for fear of her noticing I was on the brink of tears when she was ready to whoop mid-aria.
Luckily, as soon as the first bars of Dover, giustizia… started I was right back in my element. There’s never enough Polinesso in recitals, dear contraltos. Please, feel free to bring him in 😀 Anyway, Stutzmann does a great rendition (pointed to me a while ago by thadieu), with the kind of subtle, breezy irony that fits Polinesso’s self assured arogance. She tweaks the words in the title just a bit on every repeat and every time she added a bit of sarcasm, my seatmates would chuckle loudly. I don’t know if she’s sung him in a production but without a doubt she’d make a great Polinesso. I would be looking forward to his seduction of Dalinda, which I’m sure she’d pull off with the right balance of charm and evil. And she’d probably laugh Ariodante off the stage 😉
She finished with Senti, bell’idol mio from Silla (yes, Handel wrote about him, too) which is just the kind of amorous thing (“Venetian”) that her voice is made for and is sure to turn the audience into eternal worshippers. Whilst she was wooing us with her delicately adoring inflections I thought to myself, imagine someone sing that kind of thing like that specifically to you? That, my friends, is how seduction sounds like. We are only human, eh? Anyway, this was also a moment for her theorbist to spin us around his finger(s). The audience was putty.
I’m telling you, Venetian is the way to go, Handel or no Handel.
ps: sorry for any typos, I’m rushing to work.
Thought I’d point out that I made some updates to that unusually scatterbrained entry 😉 This blog is testimony that I’m not quite as lacking in discipline as it sometimes feels like… [ / end navel gazing, though we could have some naval gazing to go with that post ].
Out of that long list of Autumn 2016 at Wigmore Hall I posted a while ago I managed to secure the following:
But before all that there’s a return to the Proms (deities help us with the acoustics) with a concert performance of that badass 20th century 1 act opera:
03/08 Bluebeard’s Castle (Ildikó Komlósi and John Relyea)
…and who knows how the shaky state of events will impinge on my concert going afterwards (I know, first world problems; the (not so U)K is still part of the first world… for now).
Even so, looking at the ROH shows coming up on General Sale in a fortnight, there is Cosi which I will have to wing somehow (though I have no idea about Corinne Winters ? I hope Bychkov can keep it light) and this curious Norma. I don’t know what to say. Isn’t Yoncheva a bit young for Norma? Fura del Baus, though, sounds like might do something with this very difficult to stage opera. Then there’s Hoffmann…