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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 😉

Der Rosenkavalier at its most lyrical and tame (ROH, 11 January 2017)

Die Marschallin’s boudoir (click for more ROH ‘kavalier images)

I’m often not on board with critics but this time I found myself ditto-ing the entire Clements review for the Guardian back in December (which I read today, so as not to influence my opinion). If you haven’t done so, you can read it here as I’m not going to go over all that since I agree. I’m not sure I have seen a Carsen production live before but this re-tweaked Salzburg one certainly hasn’t made me a fan.

There isn’t – at least in this ROH incarnation – anything wrong with it; it rather reminds me of the current ROH Traviata (also associated with Fleming): goodlooking, lavish and little else. Also as here Act III happens in a brothel, the insistent hammering of “young love is so cute” in the coda (Sophie and Octavian’s duettino is reprised for our pleasure… and because they’re cute, innit) falls flat to me. Then again, maybe I’m a prude and brothels are really romantic. Maybe I just don’t get the deeper meaning but the way the production unfolded I didn’t feel intellectually stimulated to look for one.

On the very bright side I came away with a heightened appreciation for Andris Nelsons. His handling of the ROH forces – with special attention to details (the sprightly, buoyant brass in the overture, ideally evocative of the unencumbered cheerfulness of youth, the excellent interventions of the winds throughout) – and a much welcome Mozart filter through which he saw this Strauss score was close to a revelation for me. Light footed but with energy and body – I really liked hearing it this way! The ROH Orchestra felt fresher than ever. There were some moments, though, when I questioned the slowness/languidity of the tempi. But I was in a funny mood.

Die Marschallin: Renée Fleming
Octavian: Alice Coote
Sophie von Faninal: Sophie Bevan
Baron Ochs: Matthew Rose
Faninal: Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Valzacchi: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Annina: Angela Simkin
Italian Singer: David Junghoon Kim
Marschallin’s Major Domo: Samuel Sakker
Faninal’s Major Domo: Thomas Atkins
Marianne/Noble Widow: Miranda Keys
everyone else1
Conductor: Andris Nelsons | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Robert Carsen

As ‘Rosenkavalier keen followers might remember, two years ago Coote spoke out for Tara Erraught when the Octavian media debacle happened around the Glyndebourne production. One thing is for sure: the costume department has learned the lesson taught by Glyndebourne. All Coote’s costumes, though not lavish, were studiously fitting. Good job ROH costume department! Keep up the excellent trouser role work!

That being established, through the evening I kept thinking about the 2014 Glyndebourne ‘Rosenkavalier production. For all its faults, that one had fizz and I feel it truly understood the spirit of farce so evident in the libretto. This one was overly lyrical and the comedy strangely demure. I wish we had that production with this conducting/orchestra work.

Though I like Strauss, the opera and Coote, the biggest attraction this time was Fleming in a Strauss role in which she has been very successful. I also considered that she isn’t so young anymore and we might not catch many chances to see her in full productions in the future.

My conclusion was manifold. As you know big diva sopranos aren’t my number one pull towards opera, thus I approached Fleming as someone rather exotic. There is indeed a diva air about her – the fur, the silk and, of course, she was bedazzling in jewellery for the grand finale (I genuinely can’t remember a time when I saw someone sparklier on a stage) – but it didn’t eclipse all around her.

The voice is quite obviously in decline – and frankly I don’t know if it’s a voice I would’ve liked at the best of times – with quite acidic edges at the top. Most would agree she has never been a natural on stage, though she certainly has learned to walk across it without fear and with enough classic elegance as to hold an audience’s attention – at least in a role like this. It seemed to me like a woman who has quantified her strengths very realistically and built a career on this realistic assessment.

She also proved her undeniable Strauss qualities to me. Where it counts – in Marschallin’s long Act I monologue – her musicality and vocal control (the famous Fleming portamento, various dynamics) was truly top notch and fleshed out the beautiful voice-orchestra (oboe, flute etc.) dialogue Strauss has written. I thought to myself I can see/hear why she has excelled in Strauss, the voice and her musical temper is made for it. If there is one thing I’m taking with me from having heard Fleming live is this.

The monologue, though, infused the mood of the night to such a degree – and I’m not entirely sure how much of this is it being a vehicle for Fleming, or just the production in itself, or Nelsons’ fault of judgment, or my mood because I’m closing in on a certain age these days and might subcosciously want to stop the clocks too – that it really put a damper of the comedy. Without the score being conducted in a too Wagnerian manner – far from it – maybe perhaps due to an occasionally overly lingering languidity I actually dozed off at the end of Act II and almost fell face first into the bald spot of the chap in the row below.

Faninal's drawing room

Faninal’s drawing room

Sacrilege! Act II is both sweet and funny and Rose as Ochs was very interesting of voice and campy-buffoon rather than uncooth. But one expects Ochs to be boorish rather than just ridiculous. I couldn’t see the country cousin in Rose, as much as I enjoy(ed) his gorgeous bass tone. I’m trying not to be closed minded and as such I’m not saying this winky-campy take was wrong per se. In a sense, with the Marschallin lacking any hint of desperation (she’s just lyrically musing about the passage of time with Octavian as a cute accessory) and Octavian coming off as a completely benign young man, this polished Ochs made sense. The production, too, is clean enough to accomodate a good chap (albeit lecherous) type of cousin.

I still dozed off.

Coote, as a perfectly tame boytoy, drew the few laughs of the night – as she should’ve. I don’t think it was her fault as much as the general mood I mentioned above and what the production gave her to work with. Any Octavian to Fleming’s Marschallin is going to be less of the zany, fart joke type. You’re actually a bit surprised he would consider cross dressing – and in this case that – the fact he genuinely enjoys pulling this erotically charged prank, whilst his ex-lover is dining with the ancient uncle Greifenklau – springs out more than ever and makes you think he is right to move on. I thought Fleming and Coote’s chemistry was good enough, but it felt like Octavian came to life less in her company than when he was caught up in his schemes of deceiving Ochs. Now this might be just it but usually my focus is on wishing for him to return to Die Marschallin in a fictitious Act IV. Though I don’t buy the brothel-located young love, this time I was convinced that Octavian and Sophie had a future together.

Vocally I was surprised how well Coote projected. Her voice has always had good heft but I have only heard her in much lighter fare so far. Her top notes are solid and not bad at all. So though I think I may like a brighter tone (or possibly more colourful, but I always like extra colours) for Octavian I had no problems. Now we shall see how Vitellia comes off later this year.

Bevan was Sophie. She’s making quite a career here in London and I myself have seen her in a number of roles but, sort of like with Lucy Crowe, I don’t feel her very much, without being dead set against her. I normally enjoy a more “bell-like” tone in this role, with some semblance of innocence. Lacking that, she pulled off very well the bits where Sophie tells Octavian how she would stand her ground and bitchslap anybody who “dissed” her and also in Act III where she tells Ochs to stuff his marriage certificate where the sun don’t shine.

Act III's brothel d'amour

Act III’s brothel d’amour

Supporting this production’s bent for elegance, the Italian Singer was (way) less awful than usual. David Junghoon Kim did a very smooth job in fact, possibly because he had the chance to step in for an indisposed Giorgio Berrugi. Well, good job, mister, in that case we can allow you to wow us with your chops for sacharine Italian tunes. He also lucked out when the Italian Singer was allowed to reprise his aria as a move on the director’s part – I imagine – to add even more pizazz to Marschallin’s morning audience, when the Italian Singer sees the Milliner’s beautiful models parading in front of Die Marschallin (really pretty dresses – the costume department did an ace job all around).

Much like Domingo, Fleming still pulls and this being a firm canon opera the hall was packed to the gills even this far into the run. The atmosphere was rather congenial, though in our tight quarters (aka, Upper Amphi) a fight almost broke out between over ’50s regarding knees touching shoulders once too often. I also had a revelation about the rather special self definition of class in this country whilst rushing (as ever) for my seat. What better opera to hammer home class distinctions?


  1. Innkeeper: Alasdair Elliott
    Police Inspector: Scott Conner
    Notary: Jeremy White
    Milliner: Kiera Lyness
    Animal Seller: Luke Price
    Doctor: Andrew H. Sinclair
    Boots: Jonathan Fisher
    Noble Orphans: Katy Batho / Deborah Peake-Jones / Andrea Hazell
    Lackey/Waiters: Andrew H. Sinclair / Lee Hickenbottom / Dominic Barrand / Bryan Secombe
    Mohammed: James Wintergrove
    Leopold: Atli Gunnarsson 

ROH’s 2016/17 Winter Season now on General Sale

roh tunnelThe Winter Season at the ROH usually eludes me but this year I wanted to specifically catch two productions: the first revival of McVicar’s Adriana Lecouvreur and a new Der Rosenkavalier. Though I had work training today at the very time the tickets went on sale, I managed to sneak out for a 10min break and book tickets to said shows 😀

Some of you might know I have a soft spot for Adriana (and have never seen La Gheorghiu yet). As for Der Rosenkavalier, if it’s in town I’ll go. Probably still the most sensible thing to experience Renee Fleming in.

…and that’s my old skool diva loot for the year 😉 Now let’s hope no one catches a cold at that time of the year (me included).

I also thought about getting tickets to Written on Skin to hear Babs Hannigan. I’ve been vacillating because 1) I didn’t like the music the one time I listened to it and 2) is seeing Hannigan in an opera the best way to get her complex personality? As in, is this not too stifling and boxed-in?

edit 19/10: based on John’s recommendation below, I booked a ticket to Written on Skin as well.

The cheerful awfulness of the Italian Singer

Preface

R. Strauss is very exciting and “PoMo” (for his time) but there’s a hell of a lot to absorb when you (by which I mean someone without musical education) first start listening to his music; especially if you’re coming from the very clear and neatly structured Baroque end of the music spectrum. His music is like a wall of sound crashing down on you from all sides, many layers of intricate lines now converging, now juxtaposed, styles put in a blender set on high. You feel alone at sea (un mar turbato, of course), there are 3 hours until the happy ending and your brain is already that little boat smashing against the rocks of too-clever musical writing with which you have no hope of keeping up1.

Clueless (but sincere and eager) novice opera lover: I think I like it but hell if I could say why or indeed if I like it at all… but it’s kinda cool…

It’s very useful to develop a well rounded idea about his music and the libretti he used if you want to – eventually – get the most out of it. Unless you’re one of those strange people who goes with their gut instead of over analysing everything (but then why are you reading blogs? 😉 ) before deciding if they like something.

This is the reason why though I like virtually all the R. Strauss stuff I’ve heard, I very rarely write anything about it. I have learned enough to appreciate most of his wit and in-jokes but I may never be comfortable enough to express myself intelligently about it all. The first paragraph of this post is the result of a few years’ listening with an open mind and much reading, because there are others who are knowledgeable enough to ‘splain it to all of us alarmed helmsmen and helmswomen2 😉

The Italian Singer

So, the Italian Singer, right – from Der Rosenkavalier. Imagine the Clueless novice opera lover first coming across this one’s sole aria.

Does the singing go with my hairstyle?

Clueless novice (now very serious, because s/he wants to grasp as much as s/he can): So I’m listening to Post-Romantic opera from the 20th century which is set in the 1740s’ Vienna and is based on Mozart/DaPonte/Beaumarchais’ Le nozze di Figaro from the 1780s – did I get my references right? – when all of a sudden, among orphans and dog trainers – don’t ask, I’ve yet to digest those details -, this opera singer within the opera shows up and starts belting out… right? Right.

…like, what?

He sounds sort of belcanto but the lyrics are all about fighting love which is kinda Baroque – am I still on, reference-wise? – but what’s the point of it all because he’s, well, awful…? Am I allowed to say that? Lack of musical education and all – but that’s kinda how I hear it. No, don’t ask me to tell you what’s wrong, I just know something’s wrong .” (the little boat smashes against another jutting rock)

This is the point where Clueless novice needs to be referred to two – yes, not just one, two – further readings. One is about the Baroque Singer in All His/Her Glory and the other is about another R. Strauss opera – remember his PoMo-ness? Self referencing is so on – which, though written later, explains so much about the in-jokes in this one.

  1. In layman’s terms, the Baroque Singer in Excelsis is a bit ridiculous and thus easy to make fun of. He both genuinely loves to sing – loves music – and is in love with his own singing/high notes.
  2. From getting acquainted with Ariadne auf Naxos, Clueless novice learns that R. Strauss and buddy Hofmannsthal were fond of making fun of the music profession.

These are the kind of people who can distance themselves from it all and have a good laugh about it (though I don’t think it’s a mean laugh, but a laugh nonetheless) – unlike the Italian Singer (but he has a plight and they do support it a few years later when they revisit and expand on the subject).

Clueless novice also learns that Ariadne auf Naxos, like Le nozze di Figaro, was inspired by a French play3, though this one’s libretto does not follow the play per se. Instead it picks up a secondary thread and runs with it in a very original manner. But all that the Clueless novice wanting to understand the reason why R. Strauss gave us the Italian Singer needs to know is that the main characters in Ariadne auf Naxos are the equivalent of the Italian Singer. Yes, he and Hofmannsthal referenced a play then referenced themselves referencing Beaumarchais et all as well…

Maybe – but this is pure theory now – Strauss and Hofmannsthal were also hinting at the general reception and function of art in society, and this view is more depressing. – Lankin <- click me! The Italian Singer needs your attention

I fully subscribe to that theory! Following up Der Rosenkavalier with Ariadne confirms this. Anybody who’s been involved in the arts – especially the more commercial side of it – knows things haven’t changed much. Which is why Ariadne (and the Komponist) has a very special place in my heart.

So if you’re still with me after all this rambling I really did not realise I had in me 😉 I point you to above quoted Lankin’s brilliantly clear and detailed dissection of the Italian Singer via his very aria. You (the now much wiser Clueless novice opera lover) will love R. Strauss that much more for his attention to detail.


  1. And some people still wonder if ha-ha-ha coloratura is ever warranted! Hells yea, when your character is inhaling mouthfuls of algae-infested seawater! 
  2. That’s my translation of a favourite Baroque image: ‘l nocchiero spaventato (from Griselda‘s Agitata da due venti or Tossed around by two twenties 😉 ). Strauss is clearly parodying this type of typical (Italian) Baroque aria, where love’s sudden and disturbing effect on one’s emotions is compared to a storm at sea. 
  3. Truly a great play, Le bourgeois gentilhomme

Would Octavian shave his legs?

click for a run-through of JDD’s Octavians

It may be a whimsical (yet burning) question but think about it: trouser roles are supposed to be men. Would they shave their legs? I’m sure a dude like Orlando wouldn’t even think the razor was for something other than offing enemies. Tancredi wouldn’t either. Neither would Holofernes, unless he was convinced that would win Juditha’s heart (maybe that’s what Dalila should’ve done to Samson). Cherubino’s probably smooth as a baby’s arse and I don’t see Sesto as particularly hairy, though you never know, he’s Mediterranean… Annio might, he’s a bit dapper and strikes me as a budding control freak.

Anyway, a few of these were originated by men, so maybe the answer is a decided hell no. But what about a bona fide trouser role like Octavian? Especially since it’s the one most likely to show some leg, both because of Mariandel and because he first comes to our attention whilst in bed. He’s older than Cherubino so he might’ve sprouted some. I think he’d be proud of it. As would The Composer, since nobody’s taking him seriously.

ROH 2016-2017 confirmed, let’s talk!

So, it’s finally out!

Let’s start with Mozart:

Mitridate (26 June–7 July 2017) 

Mitridate – Michael Spyres
Aspasia – Albina Shagimuratova
Farnace – Bejun Mehta
Ismene – Lucy Crowe
Marzio – Andrew Tortise
Sifare – Anett Fritsch
Arbate – Jennifer Davis

Shagimuratova, then. I won’t be expecting complex characterisation, just very precise singing in an alluring voice, which is what people seem to endlessly equate Aspasia with (super difficult singing – yea, but so what?). Don’t know Anett Frisch but Spyres and Mehta are (same old) known quantities in their respective roles. Excuse me while I stand bitterly disappointed after the definitive-looking Paris production. Doesn’t mean I won’t go see it for Mozart.

Così fan tutte (22 September–19 October 2016)

Conducted by Byckhov, of all people! I loved his Die Frau ohne Schatten, what will he do here?

Fiordiligi – Corinne Winters
Dorabella – Angela Brower
Ferrando – Daniel Behle
Guglielmo – Alessio Arduini
Don Alfonso – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Despina – Sabina Puértolas

Brower is known to me as the multitalented Annio from the circus/cult Tito (Munich) production. The one with unicorn hair 😉 and the lovely tone, who accompanied himself for the Act II intro recit with Sesto. Will they have her do something out of the ordinary here as well?

We have dates for Adriana Lecouvreur (7 February–2 March 2017), woohoo! Must start saving now (sigh). I have never heard of the alternative soprano. But yay Finley as Michonnet!

Adriana Lecouvreur – Angela Gheorghiu (except 21 Feb, 2 Mar) / Hrachuhi Bassenz (21 Feb, 2 Mar)
Maurizio – Brian Jagde
Abbé di Chazeuil – Krystian Adam
Princesse de Bouillon – Ksenia Dudnikova
Prince de Bouillon – Bálint Szabó
Michonnet – Gerald Finley (except 27 Feb; 2 Mar) / Alessandro Corbelli (27 Feb; 2 Mar)
Mlle Jouvenot – Vlada Borovko
Mlle Dangeville – Angela Simkin
Poisson – Thomas Atkins
Quinault – Simon Shibambu

And now for something I didn’t expect: Röschmann returns! In an opera I severely dislike but such is life. I will follow the Röschmann compass:

Otello/Verdi (21 June–15 July 2017)

Otello – Jonas Kaufmann (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Gregory Kunde (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Desdemona – Maria Agresta (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Dorothea Röschmann (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Iago – Ludovic Tézier (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Željko Lučić (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Cassio – Frédéric Antoun
Roderigo – Thomas Atkins
Emilia – Kai Rüütel
Montano – Simon Shibambu
Lodovico – In Sung Sim

So no JK for me then (boohoo 😉 ). Might as well see how Kunde sounds live. My recent discovery Simon Shibambu (King of Scotland in the RCM Ariodante) will be there too. Please cross your fingers for me, last time I tried to sit through this one I couldn’t cope with more than 1 1/2 acts. It was a few years back…

Der Rosenkavalier (17 December 2016–24 January 2017)

Marschallin – Renée Fleming (17, 20 Dec, 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Rachel Willis-Sørensen (22 Dec, 17, 24 Jan)
Octavian – Alice Coote (17, 20 Dec, 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Anna Stéphany (22 Dec, 17, 24 Jan)
Sophie von Faninal – Sophie Bevan
Baron Ochs – Matthew Rose
Faninal – Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Valzacchi – Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Annina – Helene Schneiderman (except 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Angela Simkin (8, 11, 14 Jan)
Italian Singer – Giorgio Berrugi
Marschallin’s Major Domo – Samuel Sakker
Faninal’s Major Domo – Thomas Atkins
Marianne – Miranda Keys
Inn Keeper – Alasdair Elliot
Police Inspector – Scott Connor
Notary – Jeremy White

New production by Carsen but apparently it’s the one from Salzburg? Or something. Anyway, it’s the ‘kavalier, I’m going no matter who’s in it (within reason and mostly depending on Octavian. I’d like a more adventurous choice for Die Marschallin but, hey, big house. And if its the one time I’m seeing Fleming live this is probably the best bet).

Speaking of other choices, has Catherine Naglestad ever sung Die Marschallin? I know she won’t be putting bums on seats in the way Fleming does (because the world is funny like that) but I’m having a bit of a Naglestad fest in my little world and I thought her Salome was way fine. And you might remember that semi-legendary (but severely cut) Alcina with Naglestad and Coote (daydream moment).

The customary belcanto bit – Il barbiere di Siviglia (13 September–11 October 2016)

Rosina – Daniela Mack
Count Almaviva – Javier Camarena
Figaro – Vito Priante (Sept) / Florian Sempey (Oct)
Doctor Bartolo – José Fardilha
Don Basilio – Ferruccio Furlanetto (Sept) / Carlo Lepore (Oct)
Berta – Madeleine Pierard
Fiorello – Gyula Nagy

For those like me who don’t habitually watch Cardiff Singer of the World (perhaps we should), here’s Daniela Mack singing obvious morsels like Pensa alla patriaVerdi prati and Amour, viens rendre a mon ame three years ago:

She’s agile but I’m not wowed by that voice. Too big too full too early? Not enough lyric quality. I guess Rossini fits her best out of that medley. She’ll be throwing babies into the fire before you know it.

More obvious belcanto – L’elisir d’amore (27 May–22 June 2017) 

Adina – Pretty Yende (May, 3, 6, 11 Jun) / Aleksandra Kurzak (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Nemorino – Rolando Villazón (May, 3, 6 Jun) / Ivan Magrì (11 Jun) / Roberto Alagna (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Dulcamara – Alex Esposito
Belcore – Paolo Bordogna (May, 3, 6, 11 Jun) / Adam Plachetka (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Giannetta – Vlada Borovko

But it’s Kurzak and hubby1 (cheers, no Villazón for me, though I would like to hear Yende) and enough with the Esposito, I bet he’ll make Dulcamara all menacing and whatnot. Eh. It’s a bloody comedy. Anyway, Kurzak!

Les Contes d’Hoffmann (7 November–3 December 2016)

Hoffmann – Vittorio Grigolo (except 28 Nov, 3 Dec) / Leonardo Capalbo (28 Nov, 3 Dec)
Four Villains – Thomas Hampson
Olympia – Sofia Fomina
Giulietta – Christine Rice
Antonia – Sonya Yoncheva
Nicklausse – Kate Lindsey
Spalanzani – Christophe Mortagne
Crespel – Eric Halfvarson
Four Servants – Vincent Ordonneau
Spirit of Antonia’s Mother – Catherine Carby
Nathanael – David Junghoon Kim
Hermann – Charles Rice
Schlemil – Yuriy Yurchuk
Luther – Jeremy White

Conducted by “my homie” Evelino Pidò. I recently had a weird moment with Hoffmann: I felt like it would be something I could sing. Not as in I can actually sing it, because I can’t even “actually sing” Row, row, row your boat, rather I could easily get into the spirit/rhythm/chord progression/Frenchness of it. A bit weird – French opera, of all things. Ok, let’s see Kate Lindsey in something she’s properly well known for. There’s a shitload of big names in it = more saving, and Yurchuk as well, lovely tone ex-Young ROH Squad baritone.

The Nose (20 October–9 November 2016)

Platon Kuzmitch Kovalev – Martin Winkler
Ivan Iakolevitch/Clerk/Doctor – John Tomlinson
Osipovna/Pretzel Seller – Rosie Aldridge
The Nose – Alexander Lewis
District Inspector – Alexander Kravets
Old Lady – Susan Bickley
Iaryzhkin – Peter Bronder
Pelageya Podtotschina – Helene Schneiderman
Podtotschina’s daughter – Ailish Tynan

You know I said I was going to go although I thought the music was unbearable because I’m a not so secret Gogol fan. Also Rosie Aldridge is in it and I really liked her in local Monteverdi and Handel. This is neither, I know, but I’m (and will be) very happy to see her on a big stage.

Now onto more Verdi, because ROH = big opera house and big opera house = trad repertoire until the cows come home:

Il trovatore aka Babies into the fire (4 December 2016–9 February 2017)

Leonora – Maria Agresta (Dec) / Lianna Haroutounian (Jan, Feb)
Manrico – Roberto Alagna (Dec) / Gregory Kunde (Jan, Feb)
Count di Luna – Quinn Kelsey (Dec) / Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Jan, Feb)
Azucena – Anita Rachvelishvili
Ferrando – Gábor Bretz (Dec) / Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Jan, Feb)
Inez – Jennifer Davis (Dec) / Francesca Chiejina (Jan, Feb)
Ruiz – David Junghoon Kim (Dec) / Samuel Sakker (Jan, Feb)

Ok, I want to hear Kelsey live so that settles it – though I liked Tsymbalyuk’s Commendatore and I’d like to hear Haroutounian just because her name is badass… but twice with the pirotechnic babies? A bit much.

Don Carlo (12 May–29 May 2017)

Don Carlo – Bryan Hymel
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa – Ludovic Tézier
Elizabeth of Valois – Krassimira Stoyanova
King Philip II – Ildar Abdrazakov
Princess Eboli – Ekaterina Semenchuk
Grand Inquisitor – Paata Burchuladze
Frate – Andrea Mastroni
Voice from Heaven – Francesca Chiejina
Tebaldo – Emily Edmonds
Count of Lerma – David Junghoon Kim
Flemish Deputies – James Cleverton, Gyula Nagy, Simon Shibambu, David Shipley and Yuriy Yurchuk

Good chance to hear Stoyanova and Tézier (don’t know why I should hear him other than his name has been around for a while), also Abdrazakov (tongue twister ftw!). Heard Semenchuk’s Eboli on zetube, wasn’t that impressed. Maybe she’ll be better this time around.

The Exterminating Angel (24 April–8 May 2017)

Thomas Adès conducts a huge ensemble cast of world-class singers in the UK premiere of his latest opera, inspired by Luis Buñuel’s iconic film.

Leonora – Anne Sofie von Otter
Blanca – Christine Rice
Nobile – Charles Workman
Lucia – Amanda Echalaz
Raúl – Frédéric Antoun
Doctor – John Tomlinson
Roc – Thomas Allen
Francisco – Iestyn Davies… and many others

Look at the fine cast but ugh, Buñuel? I don’t know, I’m really unfamiliar with Adès.

Oreste (Wilton’s Music Hall) (8 November–19 November 2016)
George Frideric Handel

See the opera stars of tomorrow in a blackly comic production of Handel’s masterful pasticcio, in the atmospheric setting of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Ermione – Vlada Borovko
Ifigenia – Jennifer Davis
Oreste – Angela Simkin
Pilade – Thomas Atkins
Filotete – Gyula Nagy
Toante – Simon Shibambu

Whoa, look! ROH has sort of caught on to the Baroque craze for its young singers. Sounds like it could be fun. More chance to hear Shibambu’s deep bass voice and let’s see if these yougins measure up to our local baroque talent.

Tuesday lunchtime recital – 4 October at 1.30pm

Francesca Chiejina and Thomas Atkins perform art songs, accompanied by David Gowland.

Francesca Chiejina was the young and very promising soprano who made an impression in JDD’s Masterclass at Guildhall last year. Worth checking her out in recital.

…and of course there are other things that I am not interested in, though I may go see Barbara Hannigan in Written on Skin in a somewhat similar way I’ll put up with Otello for Röschmann.


  1. Though isn’t it a bit weird having real life couples sing lovers on stage? 

Der Winterkavalier returns

rosenkactIINot that long ago I was whinging about my Zurich Der Rosenkavalier DVD 1 not working.

2016 brings a first success: I managed to make it work on another laptop and ripped it for good measure 😀 😀 😀

That means my DVD drive is lame…

Ariadne in London (ROH, 10 October 2015)

Boasting mostly the same cast, Ariadne returns to joyful reception in London after 15 short months. We’re all one year older and wiser (?). In the past year I’ve also become acquainted with Semele’s story, which adds to the comic angle of the plot (when Bacchus tells his life story).

The Prima Donna/Ariadne: Karita Mattila
The Tenor/Bacchus: Robert Dean Smith
Zerbinetta: Jane Archibald
The Composer: Ruxandra Donose
Harlequin: Nikolay Borchev
Music Master: Thomas Allen
Dancing Master: Norbert Ernst
Scaramuccio: Ji-Min Park
Brighella: Paul Schweinester
Truffaldino: Jeremy White
Naiad: Sofia Fomina
Dryad: Karen Cargill
Echo: Kiandra Howarth
Wig Maker: Samuel Dale Johnson
Lackey: Simon Wilding
Officer: Nicholas Ransley
Major Domo: Christoph Quest
Concert Master: Sergey Levitin
Conductor: Lothar Koenigs | Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Every so often I comment negatively on fellow opera goers’ behaviour. This time the public has wowed me by showing great appreciation for the comedy, especially when the snarky quips from the vaudevillians turned into the Composer’s very serious moans. I think the conducting helped as well. I enjoyed the smooth transitions and the attention to detail, which brought out several instruments beautifully – for instance the oboe in Großmächtige Prinzessin.

The orchestra was mostly kept to chamber level, making the few bang! moments memorable. This allowed the singers to be expressive, such as in the case of Mattila’s wonderful phrasing of “you’re the captain of a dark ship ready to take me on a dark journey” in her duet with RDS’ Bacchus. I did believe Ariadne had developed a fascination with death (rather than a death wish).

This reminds me: the Composer, in his dialogue with Zerbinetta, is adamant that Ariadne dies at the end of his opera. But in the end it’s quite obvious (to me?) that she does not. So I wonder: is it because tossing the two world views together has influenced them both and the opera had, perhaps, taken on a life of her own? It is, after all, an opera that advises compromise and praises a sensible approach to life. Death can simply mean transformation.

One year later (and perhaps with all of us more relaxed), I liked both Mattila and Archibald better. Still not quite sold on JA’s tone but fearless (and ocassionally used to excellent comic effect) take on the coloratura fest as well as good acting through the evening. Last year I know I said I liked Mattila’s personality better than her voice but this time I must’ve been in a more receptive mood for her dark velvety tone. Now I think it’s an interesting sound, very appropriate for Ariadne the character.

I’ve enjoyed Donose’s Composer last year and did so again this year. It’s good to see things twice, as once the novelty of the production has cooled and it doesn’t capture so much of one’s attention you can focus on the most important thing: the singing. Although not the biggest fan of her tone, I have to admit that the woman can sing. The Composer is a tough role, very high for a mezzo, with a lot of angst in the top bit of the voice. It’s balm to the ear to hear a (properly timbred) mezzo who can extend there and be in perfect control.

Robert Dean Smith, whom I have not heard before, did a very good job with Bacchus. I preferred him by a good margin to last year’s Roberto Saccà. Less flashy in acting, he was an almost bashful Bacchus with a fluid tone, coping very well with the demands (Strauss not being too kind to tenors). He was also hilarious in the ugly wig the Tenor throws at the wigmaster.

The obligatory Strauss trio of ladies was reprised by last year’s ladies with similarly successful results. Listening to them I gave into fanciful thinking: how the (female) voice is like light – to enjoy its beauty best you want to separate it in three (ok, with light it’s more than three, but let’s keep the main idea in mind). Three voices together soar to heights of beauty one could not possibly encompass alone… or something along these lines 😉

There’s that strange business in the Ariadne-Bacchus conversation where Bacchus dwells on the fact that he did not succumb to Circe’s wiles. So Circe, the seductress, has not conquered… drinking? – whereas idealistic, “honest woman” Ariadne has. Bacchus likes the fact that she has sacrificed herself (gods like sacrifices), when obviously Circe did not have any of that in mind. Hardly a feminist take but yanno… beautifully sung and it’s perhaps disingenuous to over-analyse happy endings. It’s fair to say that Bacchus finds his meaning by saving Ariadne so they complete each other.

Lovely night at ROH – may this clever Loy production stay for a long time.

Daphne (Grimeborn Festival, 20 August 2015)

After managing the feat of failing both Glyndbourne shows I was aiming for this year, I enthusiastically took on Grimeborn, the Dalston festival that proudly pokes fun at the East Sussex event whilst attracting the same audience. Or at least the safe shows that I attend do.

daphnegbornDaphne: Justine Viani
Apollo: John Upperton
Leukippos: Panos Ntourntoufis
Fisherman/Daphne’s dad: James Gower
Gaea/Daphne’s mum: Violetta Gawara
Borja Gomez
Dario Dugandzic
Erika Mädi Jones
Milena Dobrzycka
Ros Stern
Jaymes Aaron

Piano: Marta Lopez
Director: Jose Gandia | Assistant Director: Henriette Rietveld
Set and Costume Designer: Victoria Johnstone | Lighting Designer: Philip Jones
Producer: Alexia Mankovskaya

When I saw they were running Richard Strauss’ Daphne I immediately bought a ticket. As the event approached I was way curious to see how they would manage to replicate the lush Strauss sound in an under 200 seat venue. The day before the event I checked the site again and noticed the important piece of info: orchestra = piano. For those who have not heard a Strauss opera done with just a piano, this 1min Bill Bailey video illustrates it perfectly:

It was a good thing Richard Strauss never tried his luck at immortality only via solo piano works. That being said, a bare bones event such as this reveals why he is a great opera composer: dude could write for the voice. Even the male parts ain’t that bad after all (thank you, John Upperton!).

As last year I had a great time sitting in the second row balcony for The Coronation of Poppea, I thought I’d repeat the feat this year and upgrade to first row balcony. That means you’re 5m away and about 1m above the singers. Yes, great for Monteverdi (and cleavage). For Strauss singers will feel compelled to shout even when battling just a piano hidden beneath the balcony.

Dear singers: we’re 5m away. I assure you we can hear. Perhaps not any more after the performance.

At least for once they can feel vindicated by overpowering the accompaniment. Mission accomplished. Special mention to John Upperton (Apollo), who correctly gauged the amount of shout needed to make the public appreciate Straussian passion without also imparting the gift of hearing damage.

On to the plot. Wiki tells us:

At the festival of Dionysos, Leukippos is among the women wearing Daphne’s dress, and he invites her to dance. Believing him to be a woman she agrees,

Wait, what? Just how many women are wearing Daphne’s dress? Lasso-dress if ever there was one! Or was it rather: Leukippos is among the women, wearing Daphne’s dress? Notice she likes it when a girl asks her to dance? How nice!

Let’s see how Wiki introduces Daphne:

The chaste girl Daphne sings a hymn of praise to nature. She loves the sunlight as trees and flowers do, but she has no interest in human romance.

Sounds to me like she has no interest in romance with men (or men who look manly). In this production she was very interested in this girl indeed. Leukippos, whose acting chops I enjoyed a lot, played this bit for laughs but could bring out the youthful emotion as well – later, when Leukippos’ identity is revealed and he needs to plead the depth of his feelings to Daphne, after which:

Daphne refuses both her suitors, and Apollo pierces Leukippos with an arrow.

That was an elaborate dying scene (complete with lighting effects) which, again, Leukippos sustained very nicely.

Daphne mourns with the dying Leukippos. Apollo is filled with regret. He asks Zeus to give Daphne new life in the form of one of the trees she loves. Daphne is transformed, and she rejoices in her union with nature [dehggi: and the girls handily caught in her dress]. This transformation scene, the (metamorphosis), is opulently silvery in the string section.

Opulent it wasn’t, absent the string section, but the silver came out indeed.

The stage production involved three silent characters (one man and two women, looking like they had been thrown out by their Nazi landlord during the war and perhaps having some sort of three-way business going on) being manhandled by the shepherds at various moments of the performance. In the end they find peace by lying down with the dead Leukippos. Perhaps the three-way business was their Dyonisian nature torturing them and the sacrifice of true love liberates them?

Daphne wears a simple dress, Leukippos a casual shirt and Apollo – curiously – an army coat. I suppose it’s the dictatorship of order at work. Leukippos’ stage direction was to act campy/cute, Daphne hieratically and Apollo modern and restrained (rather sinister). Daphne’s parents look like middleaged lushes on a cruise boat. It rather worked, what with it being Strauss, where a melange of eras and styles is always at home.

The most solid performance belonged to John Upperton1, whom I could follow both vocally and dramatically through the evening. I liked Panos Ntourntoufis’ Leukippos dramatically for pulling off very different moods. Justine Viani’s Daphne as a not-quite-human figure wasn’t bad either. I also appreciated a certain still strength she projected when she refused her suitors. Vocally I couldn’t follow the drama as easily as with Apollo – though perhaps as not-quite-human figure she’s not going to be very dramaticaly involved. The volume tended to go to 11 and stay there in the top notes, but I did enjoy her middle, plump and a bit darker – wouldn’t mind hearing her sing in that range again. The bits involving both Daphne and Apollo came off best and quite engagingly.

All in all, whilst not the best thing ever, it made for an interesting evening and a pleasant ending to a long day. I should add that the public was very vocally involved before the performance and during the interval, from “we’ve 5min before the start of the show, let’s read the synopsis aloud” to “why aren’t the singers younger?” Well, because it’s Strauss, innit?


  1. Who had already appeared on my radar in a grand way: as no one else than Tito, last November. 

The Strauss ladies who sang both the ladies and the young men

Whilst researching opera podcasts, I found a number of interesting things. Today I’d like to give a shoutout to the The Operatic PastCast, which, though about the (g)olden days of opera, has some very interesting material that has managed to capture even my contemporary-skewed attention.

This couple of episodes has Lotte Lehmann and the wickedly funny Maria Jeritza discuss (and occasionally disagree about!) Richard Strauss and his operatic work in which they starred and were conducted by him (mostly Ariadne and Die Frau ohne Schatten and a bit about Der Rosenkavalier):

Part I:

Part II:

There’s also self mocking diva talk and on top of it a glimpse at the old school taping process, with the producer coming through once or twice.