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The “history of lovers” Tancredi (1995)

I haven’t done an audio only writeup in… a long time (my laptop’s disc drive went bust about 2 years ago). This one is from the vault, of course, started in November 2013 and last updated in August 2014. There’s nothing wrong with it, aside from being relatively short, which I think was the reason I never ended up posting it. These days I don’t think it’s necessary to cross all the ts. I trust you, gentle reader, to get the gist of how I feel about this or that.

History of lovers refers to the Calexico with Iron and Wine tune.

Tancredi: Vesselina Kasarova
Amenaide: Eva Mei
Argirio: Ramon Vargas
Orbazzano: Harry Peeters
Isaura: Melinda Paulsen
Roggiero: Veronica Cangemi
Conductor: Roberto Abbado | Munchner Rundfunkorchester (17-25/08/95)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks

Back in the ’90s Kasarova had that distinctive yet youthful tone backed by high energy which made her so appealing in rash and broody youngster roles1. I remember hearing a Voi che sapete she sang way back when and thinking “this Cherubino would punch the Count in the face”. Her young men never sounded innocent2 yet they were all very immature. For her part, Mei is the girliest Amenaide I’ve heard so far, which is just as well; Amenaide is – or should be – a virginal babe3.

Tancredi doesn’t suffer when the lovers’ young age isn’t strictly adhered to. But now that it is expressed, it gives the whole thing a brighter, more hopeful feel from the getgo. This Amenaide would scream piercingly if Tancredi died and she’d collapse from grief on the spot4. The emphasis is on love-faced-with-terrible-obstacles rather than honour, duty and bitter revenge5.

Vargas’ Argirio can project enough leadership and he’s convincing as a concerned if strict father as well. Vargas always works as the good guy as he sounds like he means well.

Orbazzano is satisfyingly low but sounds a tad too old, like’s he’s from Argirio’s generation, which is workable. He’s never supposed to be a romantic rival to Tancredi. Peeters could sound more menacing.

Fiero incontro/Ah, come mai quell’anima: Here’s where the virginal/sensual thing really works. Even their fioriture match, good job Maestro for taking care of this detail. In the cantabile neither lover sounds particularly bitter, in fact they sound glad for a reason to sing together. They’re momentarily overcome with love for each other in spite of crossed wires. That’s not exactly what the text says but it goes with the hopeful tone of the recording. They get more angsty in the cabaletta, although never too dark. This one rocks; Mei and Kasarova’s voices are perfectly suited for each other6.

Perche turbar la calma: I said in the Valentini-Terrani Tancredi that this is a mofo of an aria but I didn’t explain myself. It’s tricky because there’s quite a bit going on:

self-pity: he’s barely regained his composure by walking away from his traitorous lover and here she is back, threatening to ruin his mood by lying to his face once again (so he thinks).

tantrum (at Amenaide): Tancredi renews his accusations of infidelity. But immediately her tears move him to almost believing her. He is indecisive for a few moments. The choir’s war cries distract him and, spurred by them, he decides on the spot to solve his dilemma by going into battle to die so that Amenaide can blame herself for his demise.

30 year old Kasarova’s Tancredi sounds a lot younger than Valentini-Terrani’s and Horne’s. Aside from whatever their own personalities imparted to the role, the level of life experience between 30 and 39 (V-T) or 43 (Horne) is pretty significant. Kasarova’s reading is unsurprisingly the less focused7 of the three. After hearing Valentini-Terrani’s Perche turbar la calma I can only expect a sharper contrast between the different moods I outlined above when discussing the aria. In hers, Kasarova uses the fff/ppp contrast where Valentini-Terrani goes for colour, more effective when it comes to expressing moods. Even though I love Kasarova’s tone, Valentini-Terrani’s characterisation is simply mindboggling.


  1. Like Tancredi and Romeo. 
  2. In a sensual way, I mean. They lack life experience all right. In fact, they sound hot headed and on the fast track to disaster. 
  3. I said before that my hunch is that she and Tancredi knocked the boots in ye olde Constantinopole. Here we’ve got an extremely virginal sounding Amenaide and a more sensual than usual Tancredi. Where Valentini-Terrani’s was morose and overwhelmed by dejection and Horne’s too authoritarian (more of a man’s man), Kasarova’s sounds hot blooded and annoyed rather than angsty. He must’ve been a hit with the Greek ladies back in Byzantium. I can see this girly and sensitive Amenaide getting head over hills with him and throwing caution to the wind. 
  4. The same team brought us Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi just a couple of years later, so you know what I mean. 
  5. 11th century Sicily is obviously struggling with multiculturalism. 
  6. So how did that Zurich Clemenza di Tito go so wrong? 
  7. Things worked such that Kasarova sang Tancredi in the early part of her career, which is rather unusual. I really – really – wish she sang it these days, with this more darker tone she’s got now and with the wealth of experience she’s gained since. 
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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 😉

Think you love opera? To death?

Would you have your ashes sprinkled into the pit of your favourite opera house?

New York City’s Metropolitan Opera was forced to cancel its Saturday afternoon performance of Guillaume Tell after an audience member sprinkled an unidentified powder, which police believe was cremated ashes, into the orchestra pit.

At the expense of sounding a bit too into the season, I find this idea tempting. Though I think “the sprinkler” went about it wrongly. First off, this is not something you share with your seatmates. You also don’t do it during intermission. I think the best time to go about it would be after the curtain falls, whilst everyone is gathering their things and the ushers can’t wait to go home. Then you nonchalantly turn your back to the pit and pour the ashes behind your back, just so. If anyone asks, you pretend some “tobacco” dropped out of your pocket >>charming smile<<.

But even better, assuming the pit does get swept occasionally, why not pour the ashes over a potted plant in the lobby? It’s organic. Surely the ghost or whatever can float into the auditorium if it wants to watch a show (I for one can see worse things than spending eternity in the Wigmore Hall lobby). Or, if the future ghost isn’t happy with that, you can sprinkle the ashes from the balcony onto the parterre during curtain calls. Just don’t be too obvious, it’s not like you have to sprinkle 3kg of ashes, is it?

Now, Guillaume Tell… an odd opera to sprinkle ashes to. But perhaps the dearly departed favoured it. My first thought for optimal ash sprinkling moment was Deh tu, bell’anima from I Capuleti e i Montecchi (precisely that one, thank you very much). You get everything there: a crypt, a (supposedly) dead love of your life and eternity. Also people might be discreetly bawling so less likely to be paying attention to you. Failing that (by which I mean a suitable Romeo), the Eterni dei chorus is a good option as well, what with being grand and lofty and final. Select a trusted conductor.

Anyway, have a good Day of the Dead season, all 🙂

A paragon of wit (to do Rossini proud)

paragonechatelet

Having gobbled up a good number of opera productions I think I’m pretty aware by now how hard it actually is to do something interesting which also fits the spirit of the libretto/music. One of those felicitous productions is the Théâtre du Châtelet staging of Rossini’s La pietra del paragone. I’ve hinted at my appreciation for it but I never gave it centre stage before.

A few things started this one off the right path:

  • (and you’ll have to bear with me if I always mention it) this is the opera that shares an overture with Tancredi
  • it’s got Sonia Prina in one of those Rossini feisty women roles (TM) (with just a bit of cross-dressing, when Clarice disguises herself as her (convenient) own brother)
  • it contains action figures (those who remember the old opera, innit? header know the look is right up my alley)
  • Spinosi’s mad tempi give it a very modern feel

The reason I felt the need to talk about it was a recent surge in disparaging YT comments:

“I understand they didn’t have money to build sets, that’s OK, LOL, but abusing technology…to create a background and special effects does not represent the story in Pietra di Paragone. I doubt Rossini would have liked it.”

“I agree that the sets are nothing more than a perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera. It is preferable to listen to it without viewing it.”

The sets are most certainly not a “perversion totally unrelated to the story of the opera” unless one’s idea of staging opera starts and ends with this. But we already have that so why not try something else?

Let’s start by settling what this opera is about – deception. The decided lack of much of anything on stage matches several things that lack – or appear to lack – in the libretto (the Count’s money, most of the women’s genuine interest in him, what’s his face talent for poetry). The clever projection of luxurious things that aren’t really there fits the Count’s ingenious scheme of getting rid of undeserving pretenders. Lastly, it’s really silly and funny and that is the deeper essence of Pietra – a comedy of bantz.

(I know you didn’t think this one had a deeper essence 😉 but if you’ve read this blog more than once – or better yet, met me – you know I find witty banter a fine art worth pursuing. (Whilst we’re indulging in that old skool favourite – musing about “what composers really wanted”) I’m fairly sure so did Rossini so ha to the bit where the YT warrior above says he doubts Rossini would’ve liked it. Keeping Tancredi in mind, you can follow Rossini’s brilliant sendup of opera seria (the overture, the chorus, the duet tenor-baritone/bass, the fake-seria duet between the Count and Clarice etc. – everything is… well, perverted opera seria structure. Tongue-in-cheek grand.)

I will give detractors one thing: it must’ve been pretty confusing to see it in the house as it’s so obviously meant for DVD (and in that sense, the TV direction is great). But the singers are all superior actors and that must’ve gone a long way. On the other hand, the sense of everything not being what it appears must’ve been heightened.

Fluid Semiramide at the 2016 Proms

Again catching up with my links of interest. I didn’t intend to write about this (because it’s so long and I only had 2 1/2hrs set out for it), all I wanted was to casually listen to it whilst sewing a curtain for the kitchen (as you do).

But I was soon very impressed with how Mark Elder handled the score. He kept it light and clear and flowing though the tempi weren’t particularly speedy. His cast was very well chosen for Rossini, with – aside from the main ladies who were known quantities to me and of which Barcellona is a current staple in Rossini contralto roles – an excellent Assur in Mirko Palazzi and a pretty neat Idreno in Barry Banks.

I don’t reccommend the interval chat (more of an intro to Rossini’s Semiramide pre-recorded chat), because the two talkers say little of any importance. On top of that, one of them has the horrible old skool habit of calling everything enormous (the scale of the opera, the length of the acts, the difficulty of the title role etc.) and the other’s speech is riddled with irksome parasites such as “sort of” and “if you like”. I sort of didn’t like it.

I don’t yet know if they finished as well as they started but it seems a very good choice for anyone who wants a contemporary take on Semiramide. Opera Rara with Elder/Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and this very cast (= the same team) have actually just finished recording it UNCUT so you’ll get to hear it in all its 4hrs+ glory as soon as they sort it out.

Edit 16/09/16: finally finished it! Very good stuff. I’m now curious how the recording will be, comparatively.

Upcoming Proms 2016 for opera lovers

Seeing as how it’s high Proms season, I thought I’d put a few reminders here in case any of you, dear local (or perhaps not so local? I don’t know how/if the iPlayer works outside the UK but I was able to access it a couple of years back) readers, would like to listen:

16 August: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Coote, Kunde and Mark Elder

19 August: Janacek’s The Makropulos Affair with Mattila

20 August: Mozart’s Mass in C minor

26 August: Mozart’s Requiem

30 August: JS Bach’s Cantata #82, “Ich habe genug” with Gerhaher

01 September: JS Bach’s Mass in B minor with Les Arts Florissants/Christie

04 September: Rossini’s Semiramide with Shagimuratova, Barcellona, D’Arcangelo etc.

09 September: Verdi’s Requiem

…and if you can’t listen and would like to, let me know and maybe we can work something out, as they are supposed to sit on the iPlayer for the next month or so.

Summery Rossini (is there any other kind?)

I don’t talk enough about Rossini (and even less so about La cenerentola), so le’t rectify this a bit today:

Considering I think JDD owns this role, I was very, very impressed with Semmingsen’s extra playful approach here. Wonderful handling of that hair curling coloratura 🙂

So now let’s have Non piu mesta again, also in outdoors conditions:

edit: but since I’m of the moar mezzos mindset, how about Bartoli for the final?

Operalia final (ROH, 19 July 2015)

This year Placido Domingo’s singing competition reached London town on a pleasantly balmy afternoon. I’d never attended a singing competition before so I was way curious. As the evening wore on it became clear that the standard was very high.

But first the evening kicked off without much ado (save for a congenial introduction by the world’s most famous baritenor/MC/conductor/accompanist etc.) with Largo al factotum. Now if you’re going to start that famous intro coloratura off stage in a high profile competition you should be able to project like a pro. Sadly, US baritone Edward Parks did not. Likewise his stage antics remained within the confines of stretched arms a la the ’50s.

Listen, this is one of the most famous baritone arias out there – probably all baritones have sung it at one point or another. It comes down to a simple question: how are you going to stand out? I always think back to JDD’s deconstruction of it: you are supposed to be showing off. Come on, show off! For once it’s allowed to behave like a divo on skates. The aria is basically an advert for Figaro inc. Be funny, be silly, be a dude. Just don’t stand there stretching your arms at regular intervals.

Nonetheless, the public was determined to have fun and clapped.

Next up was US soprano Andrea Carroll who sang Qui la voce…/Vien diletto. It was soon obvious that she was a straight up lyric soprano, with a rather beautiful (super plaintive – give her all the consumptive/hard done by damsel roles there are, please), well schooled voice. However the extreme plaintiveness of her tone undermined the Vien diletto bit of the aria. We all know it’s a mini mad scene of unadulterated joy – Elvira is horny as a kitten. That sexy delirium did not come through in her rendition. On top of it, maybe due to nerves, maybe because of her temperament, she went very carefully about it. It’s Bellini, it’s going to be hard to sing – long lines, legato, requires a free top capable of ornaments in the attic of the voice. But if you’re going to sing it, come on! step on the pedal, live a little.

The public was nice to her too, or maybe some really enjoyed it.

French tenor Julien Behr was next. I thought, hey, Julien Behr already has a career, he’s sung here at ROH as well as at other big houses, why is he in this competition with the kids? He was indeed the oldest. But I guess it’s never too late to propel yourself further. He took advantage of the fact French is well represented in the repertoire and sang Faust’s aria Salut! Demeure chaste et pure. I’ve already gone over my attitude to Gounod (bit boring) yesterday, so all I’m going to say is that at this point he was the best. He floated a pianissimo quite nicely at a pivotal point.

Kiandra Howarth, our Australian acquaintance from yesterday and other dates, came in to sing Juliette’s Amour, reanime mon courage – that is to say, the aria she sang yesterday in the JPYA Summer Performance. It’s not often you get to hear a singer sing the same thing two days in a row. But since this aria fits her voice nicely I wasn’t going to complain. This was the first time of the evening when someone projected enough so that us in the Upper Slips could hear properly. Though I enjoyed her creamy tone, I still felt underwhelmed by Gounod’s writing. I thought: all of them are very capable, good technique and all but so far she’s ahead of the others.

Without a break, South African bass-baritone Bongani Justice Kubheka came in with Basilio’s La calunnia. He started rather quietly but then this is an aria where the singer needs to pace himself very carefully: it’s all about the crescendo. His was a more characterful voice than Parks’ and he put on the – dramatically – most exciting performance thus far. He stomped, he chuckled, he used colour (woohoo!) to vary his lines. He obviously knew what he was saying and he seemed to have a ball doing it. I wish him luck and I hope to see him in buffo roles. Here’s a singer who can capture your attention when he’s on stage. At this point I was sure I was going to vote for him in the Male Voice section.

Korean soprano Hyesang Park‘s name appeared on screen but there were a few moments until she herself showed up. Did she get cold feet? Did she have a last minute costume malfunction? People were obviously wondering.

Then she showed up, in a very pretty white/red dress and we learned she was going to sing Lucia’s Il dolce suono. 20min later 😉 we were all at her feet. Hells yea. You don’t have to be a coloratura soprano fanatic to appreciate the work and talent that went into that performance. Unsurprisingly, her mind-boggingly deft maneuvering of acuti stopped the show short, with people unable to contain themselves – mad clapping, hollering, the works. Later she continued with the last 5minutes of the behemoth. More clapping, stomping, swooning.

Lest you think she’s all about acuti (though a bit of foray below showed she still needs to work on the bottom of her voice), the tone itself is exquisite. I don’t throw that around easily; it had quicksilver personality. Just when I – of all people – was starting to crave a bright voice, here she came with the kind of crystal clear top that you so want for belcanto coloratura. And you know there’s very little that Donizetti denied us in this proper belcanto extravaganza: super exposed singing – check, duet with the flute – check. If you can get through this you can probably solve world peace too 😉 Just remembering all the notes is probably a few months’ work. Then you need to make it flow and possibly, show some drama kookiness. Let me tell you, quicksilver can do kooky. I knew who I was going to vote for in the Female Voice section.

US baritone Tobias Greenhalgh was slotted to follow. I felt for him. He gave us the second Largo al factotum of the night. His Figaro ‘tude was superior to Parks’ and he had some original moves. It wasn’t bad at all, he even elicited some laughs, but as baritones go Kubheka had been funnier. You need to marshal out your inner extrovert with this aria. And you need to sing well. And hopefully have a voice that sticks out. I thought Domingo could’ve sped up the tempo a bit but as he had been supportive with his singers thus far maybe this was the tempo Greenhalgh was comfortable with. You don’t want to fub the patter in this one.

From New Zealand we had tenor Darren Pene Pati, who sang Edgardo’s Tombe degli avi miei. Here we had a bit of Pavarotti feel, not unpleasant at all. Quite the contrary. Beautifully, soulfully sung, with good projection and better than average diction.

We stayed in the Southern hemisphere with South African soprano Noluvuyiso Mfopu for Violetta’s E strano…/Sempre libera. Lovely tone as well, lyric but not overwhelmingly plaintive, elegant and perhaps a bit introverted. This introversion marred Sempre libera some, as there wasn’t a marked difference in moods between the two sections. Too elegant; more abandon would’ve given it an extra oomph. Showman Domingo made us all sigh by joining in for Alfredo’s echoes (which, just between you and me, I like a lot better than what Violetta has to sing and thus stayed with for the rest of the night. If I could sing, I’d break into Amor è palpito dell´universo intero,/misterioso, altero,/croce e delizia al cor at any given time 😀 ).

Switch to Eastern Europe for Romanian tenor Ioan Hotea‘s Ah, mes amis. Well, well, well, thought I, let’s count his high Cs. Though I’m hardly an OMG, high C! type of opera fan, I appreciate a good one when I hear it. And this aria has 9 of them. Well, well, well, indeed – he nailed them and looked cute doing so. La fille du regiment is a bit of a turkey of an opera, hardly high on realism but good-natured fun, so it takes a lovable Tonio to pull off the starry eyed boyfriend. Slight built Hotea’s got that – and you know what? (Every once in a while) it’s nice to hear a tenor hit some plump high Cs and project them too. I don’t think his voice is quite as recognisable as JDF’s but it’s endearingly healthy and fresh. After this performance I started to wonder if Kubheka’s sense of humour was enough to get my vote.

Norway’s Lise Davidsen brought something completely different to the competition: Wagner. It’s kinda weird hearing Elisabeth’s Dich, teure Halle among all the belcanto, but good to hear something else for a change. I don’t think I’m a competent judge when it comes to Wagner singing, but one thing I know – a dramatic soprano should be big voiced/able to project. She did, she walked all over that orchestra no problem. In fact, if she was in any way cautious I am thankful, as a couple of times I was afraid she was going to send my toupee flying. The public was glad for a change of feel too, and clapped lots.

There was no time for faffing, so the zarzuela part of the competition came next.

Andrea Carroll started things off with a very fun piece, Al pensar en el dueno de mis amores. I’ll be upfront and say I know nada about zarzuela. After this outing, though, I will be sure to investigate because it was lots of fun, quite possibly more fun than lieder, which took a while to endear itself to me. As much as I like to think of myself as rational, I’m very attracted to the Southern European fire in the belly. I think this piece suited Carroll better than Qui la voce. The lyricism of her voice went quite nicely with it. But as earlier I was dying for some fire, especially in the repeated ay! cries, which she sang surprisingly even.

Darren Pene Pati was next with La roca fria del calvario, which, considering the title, sounded like it was going to be sombre and quite possibly heartbreaking. I’ve established that Pene Pati is in possession of a gorgeous tone but, midway through it, I started wondering if he wasn’t going too operatic. I know that can be a pitfall with lieder but I’m clueless when it comes to zarzuela. Still, there was a niggling doubt in my heart. (edit: I now see I was wrong but even so, I’m still standing by my later decision).

Kiandra Howarth sang Tres horas ante del dia, a temperamental piece which went well with her full soprano.

Ioan Hotea “challenged” Pene Pati with the same piece. There is a bit later in the song where the tune returns and it’s a tune that made me think this is sadness the Spanish way. Hotea didn’t overdo it in volume but went for the pain and then intensified the feeling without losing beauty of sound. That’s when I knew I was going to vote for him. A singer should make you feel; if it’s a sad piece, they should bring you to the brink of tears.

Hyesang Park wrapped things up with the coquettish No se que siento aqui. This song was surprisingly operatic and not just in how she presented it; the orchestration – or what Domingo asked from the orchestra – felt very grand. I’ll have to trust Domingo since he’s been around zarzuela from the womb. As I heard someone comment on the way out, this choice played to Park’s strengths, which are of the classic diva variety. I appreciated her very coordinated and fluent stage movement and it’s not like I had any doubt that the woman could sing. But I was a bit baffled and not 100% convinced; it felt like the pizzazz overshadowed the feeling. A quick check to the ROH site tells me zarzuela is rather the Spanish equivalent to operetta, so, yes, the pizzazz was the feeling. I’ll need a bit of immersion before I put together the many sides of it all. I still voted for her in the Female Voice section. The woman is the complete package. Please do come to London for the belcanto roles.

Err, since I had to dash off right after casting my votes for Park and Hotea, I did not catch the winner(s) and the results do not appear to be posted online yet. Please post if you know, I’m writing this at work since I’m internet-less at home due to some fault with my landline I had no time to fix what with the overly busy weekend…

Miscellaneous:

  • The house was full and the public more varied than the regular over 50s pearl necklace brigade – lots of young people for once, different backgrounds. The atmosphere was enthusiastic and encouraging, very generous clapping, open laughter etc. It was lovely sharing the evening with people so glad to be there.
  • Upon checking the Operalia site I was pleased to note that Nutthaporn Thammathi, the lovely Tito from the Fiesole Clemenza, made it to the Quarterfinals. I wish him better luck in future competitions.
  • I was also glad to see a few mezzos and even a countertenor in the running. Let’s hope in the near future we’ll get to hear a larger variety of repertoire and voice types. Until then, this was quite a ball!

Half the truth about Michieletto’s Guillaume Tell (last performance)

Today (17 July) I was one of those people – those who leave at the interval. So I have to disappoint you, I didn’t see the rape scene (act III) and can’t thus comment on its relevance or lack thereof.

You may think, aha, dehgg, you hated it! Them were right. Actually, no, I didn’t hate it at all. On the contrary, the first two acts made a lot of sense to me, as faithful to the text as can be, hardly regietastic. It was even rather pretty – certainly a lot more aesthetically pleasing than Michieletto’s overly gritty Idomeneo. I left because my job interfered with the perfomance1.

credit: The Spectator

Guillaume Tell: Gerald Finley
Arnold Melcthal: John Osborn
Mathilde: Malin Byström
Walter Furst: Alexander Vinogradov
Jemmy: Sofia Fomina
Hedwige: Enkelejda Shkosa
Gesler: Nicolas Courjal
Melcthal: Eric Halfvarson
Rodolphe: Michael Colvin
Leuthold: Samuel Dale Johnson
Ruodi: Ji Hyun Kim
Hunter: Michael Lessiter
Coonductor: Antonio Pappano | ROH Choir and Orchestra
Director: Damiano Michieletto

But back to the performance. Michieletto employed his boxy stage design where the walls don’t really matter but are there to define the stage space where everything happens (and make it all a little more claustrophobic in the process, though not so much here). There was dirt again but thankfully no mud. Melcthal and Arnold smeared themselves liberally with said dirt and Mathilde took her shoes off and walked through it barefoot (good thinking). There were once again strings of lights just under the walls, which both defined the space and illuminated eerily. At the end of act II they were rather effective as the rising sun which called the Swiss resistence al campo.

The stage was furnished with pub/party tables for act I and a large uprooted tree symbolising the forest (and possibly the general state of affairs) in act II. Whilst away on holiday I had a family reunion of my own and got a pair of opera glasses as gift. This was the first opportunity to employ them and boy was it fun! I must’ve spent half the time peering through them. The tree looked real. That made me wonder about how they went about getting it (hi, can I get a large tree, complete with roots?) and how they stored it for the past few weeks. In case you were wondering, the layer of dirt on stage was about ankle deep.

The famous (most famous of all?) overture was made even more fun by overimposing Jemmy playing with action figures2 and following the story in a comic book. I amused myself farther by trying to see if the projections were from a real time camera or pre-recorded, by peering through my glasses at Jemmy on stage and comparing with what was being projected. It appeared in real time. I alternated that with looking at the timpanist, who was directly in my line of sight. Gotta love timpani-happy overtures (when I saw I Capuleti e i Montecchi, I was chuffed that the timpanist went to town with his part). The overture is rather long but what with all this action I was suprised when it finished so quickly. I wouldn’t have disliked it if it was encored 2 or 3 times, Met-style.

Jemmy got a lot to do and props to Sofia Fomina for all the pre-teen boy action she performed (reading comic books, playing with action figures, wrestling, arrow shooting, sword wielding, tree climbing). Though the atmosphere of this opera is uncharacteristically gloomy for Rossini, the moments when Tell is teaching his son to shoot arrows came off very funny (Jemmy is, of course, rubbish at it). Vocally she was a bit underpowered but she’s young.

There were two main reasons I wanted to see this: a) it’s Rossini, b) Gerald Finley in the title role. He made such an all around positive impression on me when I saw him as Count Almaviva (Mozart) two years ago that I could not wait to see him again. I love his tone and he projected with the best of them (his French diction is rather good as well). He had to act moody and agry here and he acquitted himself very well in the first two acts. I liked his inspiring hero – manly but empathetic. Shkosa (Hedwige) and Osborn (Arnold) were also solid; additionally, Osborn was rather good playing this conflicted character, torn between love and duty at a very inopportune moment. A shoutout should go to the tight, martial, very disciplined chorus.

…A time for bitching about the singing: the tenorino (Ruodi) who sings the folk tune at the beginning had such acidic acuti I winced (it reminded me of the always awful Italian singer in Der Rosenkavalier). Halfvarson, whom I recently saw as Il Commendatore, returned with his rope-skipping vibrato. Ok, he plays the ancient chap, but still his vibrato is so wide you could pull a cow through. I don’t know that Rossini is right for Byström’s full soprano. Mathilde’s act II duet with Arnold has some hark-backs to old school Rossinian ornaments and what came out of her mouth sounded rather odd and laborious. Also her acuti, like Kim’s, are not the easiest on the ear. But good job climbing a large tree trunk in a skirt.

…And a time for bitching about seat neighbours: every once in a while it’s one’s lucky day to sit next to the BO black belt. Oh dear, I came very near KO. This one was wearing fleece in July. The funniest bit was when, after the first intermission, my other seatmate moved over to the empty seat to his right, I moved to his seat, thinking I’ll get some breathing space. Not so fast, dehggi, BO black belt followed us. But not for long. He proved to be more considerate than I had given him credit. The rows in the Upper Slips are very close together and his large knee was poking the chap below us in the shoulder, so he retreated back to his seat. Score! He was actually very into the music (constant bobbing), which I found endearing – after there was an empty seat between us.

There is this medieval Batman-like figure dressed like Tell from Jemmy’s comic book who frequently appears on stage and protects certain people (he watches over Jemmy and likes Arnold and Mathilde, who do have it rough). Between him, the large tree trunk, the action figures and hyperactive Jemmy, and in light of the overture’s standing within pop culture, I thought the direction showed a lot of affection for the opera, far from what the negative criticism would have you believe. Though I can’t comment on the rape scene, Leuthold says he had to kill one of Gesler’s people because he tried to rape his daughter, so it seems hardly that far fetched to then include such a scene. But in spite of all the moaning in the media, the house was mostly full, with empty spots here and there but far from swaths of returned seats, as it had been reported. It’s a serious take on a serious opera and I, for one, got misty eyed from all the patriotism at the end of act II.


  1. I asked for the day off, instead I was given 5 nights this week and two days when there was nothing to do. Normally I can swap with my colleagues but no luck this time. I am also going to have to cut it short during the Operalia final… Such is life sometimes. 
  2. I spent most of my childhood playing with action figures. I bought lego figurines earlier this year… 

Michieletto + ROH = freestyle booing

I think this was an opera, not a discussion.

Remember how much I liked Rene Jacobs’ conducting of Idomeneo? And remember how meh I felt about Michieletto’s direction? I watched it once though I listened to it many times since. But opera should indeed be a discussion. Anything less is demeaning to the art form.

Kasper Holten brought Michieletto to ROH for Guillaume Tell and unsurprisingly Michieletto made some waves. This production involves a (gang) rape scene which was booed whilst it was going on. Not at curtain call – during the actual opera. Whether the scene is warranted or not is as usual debatable. I’ll make up my mind later this month when I go see the performance. There will be filming and a cinema relay on 5 July.

What got my head spinning was the comment section in the Guardian. It’s again the same tired comments that opera is jolly entertainment (from people who sound like they don’t go to the opera):

ROH is not the same as Tracey Emin. Modernist interpretation is best reserved for modernist theatre.

I like it when people help us understand what’s what.

Opera and reality don’t mix. People who go to the opera want a stylised, elitist experience follwed by a nice bottle of wine somewhere chic.

Wait, wasn’t this an elitist experience? The chap above might think so.

Isn’t the point of the theatre to get away from reality once in a while?

No.

Audiences will surely stay away from new productions until they work out whether or not they will want to sit through them.

An educational outcome? I can only hope more people will look a bit into what they’re going to see. Hats off to Michieletto, then.