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Juditha, the Mozart version now on Ö1

A reminder to tune in right now for Betulia liberata (featuring Galou and Piau), just in case you haven’t had enough of Juditha over this period 😉

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To begin with, the tenor has a proto-Se all’impero type aria, hehe. There is a tenor. Is he Holofernes?

Have you ever wondered why none of Mozart’s best known operas are based on biblical subjects? Could be because they all end up sounding like bedroom dramas/dramedies 😉 The recits for sure.

This must be Juditha; she’s not exactly heroic but she has some very high notes. Piau sounds different in Mozart but beautiful nonetheless. The tenor: blah blah. Juditha answers back. He must be Holofernes, indeed. She sounds sort of like a particularly en garde Susanna. He sounds like a Mozart tenor that is not portraying royalty.

I know this aria! Unless I’m thinking about a Haydn aria. Nope, it’s this aria I’m thinking about. The one here is neither but it’s pretty good, finally something rather heroic. Well, finally – we’re not yet half an hour in.

As I understand, this is being held at Haus fur Mozart (it’s part of Mozart Week 2019), which we know and love in all its splendid poshness. The audience is very appreciative, they applau after every aria.

More tenor; he’s fretting (like Mozart tenors are wont to). The chorus mirrors his fretting – see what I mean about sounding like a bedroom dramedy?

A minor key aria, oh no! His nookie chances have perished for the moment. Pieta, signor di noi! He really says that. Wait, maybe he’s not Holofernes? It’s a bit serious and the chorus joins in. Maybe he’s… Ozias? Mozart, help me out here. Are we supposed to laugh at him or cry with him/them?

Anyway, it’s kind of an interesting mood, quite far from great Mozart but onto something.

More budoir-chatting recit. Oh, look, Galou showed up. Who is she here? She seems alarmed. We hope for an angsty aria. It’s a rousing accompanied recit, pretty decent writing from Wolfie, great agitation from Galou. Cool, how about the aria now? Hey, it’s actually a mid-tempo number with trills. Who knew! She sounds interesting in Mozart, more mezzoish than usual. She’s hoping for something, but who isn’t in this scenario? She seems to be vaccilating (also known as the typical mid-tempo number with trills). Oh, no, a Mozart character who is undertain of how to proceed further?!

The audience is so well behaved, even the contralto gets applause! Aww, and I always make fun of the Salzburg crowd 😉

Speaking of preghi sinceri (sp), is she Holofernes or what?

The tenor and the choir return for a honest to god (no kidding) dirge. He could be Ozias. A tenor Ozias?!

No answer to preghi, some bass showed up. I think we’re doomed. Whoever he is, he’s also nowhere near as calm as the Assyrians over at Vivaldi’s. A fretting buffo bass is amusing.

Yes, an aria with trumpets! NOW we’re talking. The buffo bass reminds me of the cuckolded husband from Lo sposo deluso. He must be Holofernes. I think we’ve established by now that everyone else save for Piau could be Holofernes 😉

Wait, the amorous tenor is speaking to Galou and calling her Giuditta. Err… ? Haha. Total confusion chez dehggi.

I DO know this aria! It’s… it’s… hold on, I know it. It’s… something that Hallenberg sings. Parto inerme! e non pavento! So Galou’s made up her mind and she IS indeed Giuditta, because, hello, she’s going unarmed. So she’s the one chopping heads in this one. Who is Piau? Abra? Piau is not Holofernes 😉 I’ve never heard Galou sing Mozart; she’s stylish as usual. I’m still not sure if Wolfie’s music best suits the colour of her voice. I mean she sounds good and all but I’m not sure she sounds great like in the Baroque rep. The audience loves her. Aww. I think she’d got more applase here than in the Baroque I’ve heard her where she stole my heart. Such is life eh?

The choir gets all verklempt over the gran cimento she’s getting herself into. I wouldn’t advise anyone to play with cement either. Even the choir gets hearty applause. Hey, Salzburg fans, go easy on the cider.

**

We understand from the commenter that Holofernes has not entered the building yet! This was all in the Bethulian camp. So, there you go, the Who is Holofernes? game continues.

Apparently there is a theological debate going on, as the next (tenor) aria features the line “if you want to see god”. Could’ve fooled me, it sounds along the lines of Del piu sublime soglio. And dude, does it go on…

The tenor/Ozias really has a lot to sing in this one. They are some long neat mid-tempo Tito in training arias. The audience will get sore palms by the end of this performance.

The Bethulians can’t deal with the tension, Giuditta is not replying to texts. Answer: angsty-storm aria!

I’ve heard this one, too, though I can’t name it – something heavily featuring procella and naufragar, of course. I have to say that Haus for Mozart, although the small hall out of the three, isn’t exactly that small. Would have been intereseting to hear how Piau and Galou managed. Their style is great. The audience has been building up their cheer and I think they likes this one best. Piau’s coloratura-fest was ace.

To the fields! They are all basket cases. Oh, Giudatta’s back, thank YWH! You do get that nice effect with a contralto/dark mezzo tone, where you don’t have to do much to get everyone to calm down: just open your mouth. Giuditta gives a heartfelt speech and you bet they all hang onto her very word. Well, I did and all the way from here at that. Aha, she’s already built her plan, she will attack whilst he’s asleep. Good idea, Giuditta, I heard it works rather well, especially if your Holofernes is a burly chap. She’s quite verbose, let me tell you, but that just means more Galou sounds. Maybe she told them everything in great detail. I think there is also something else she tells them: listen to Vivaldi’s version 😉

There is quite a lot of wringing of hands this side of the 18th century.

Prigionier che fa ritorno – is this an aria we should know, or is this just one of those Metastasio stock phrases? They do like to give Giuditta mid-tempo stuff with very long held notes to sing. Come on, I want something fist-pumping. Then again, Galou gets some neat emotion in this one – she sounds more like usual self here. This Giuditta is much less angry than the Vivaldi one. I think she may enjoy the spotlight a lot better.

The buffo bass is pooping his pants for some reason. Take heart, dude, Giuditta is doing just fine, judging by the above aria. I think he loves her or something. Te solo adoro, he says in a – you guessed – mid-tempo aria with trills. His trills are kinda nice. Also, nice pp I wasn’t expecting on eternita (they all get philosophical). I think he’s a bass-baritone – a nicely toned one. Tentative applause, no! He did quite nicely.

More fretting in Bethulian camp. And another mid-tempo aria with… Pieta, signior, pieta – now for soprano, with some nice pp. The deal seems to be this: the Assyrians are attacking. The Bethulians have prayed very hard.

YHW: [closed]
Bethualians: YHW! Pieta, signior, pieta!
YHW: [closed]
Giuditta: clearly, someone has to do something.
Ozias: YHW bless you, noble widow! We will pray for you.
Buffo bass: she’s so hot when she gets bossy.

Bethulians – in this case, Amanda Forsythe – are still busy fretting. Major fret aria, so-so on the Mozart scale. They keep talking, obsviously Giuditta is busy… wait, she’s back. I wonder if Metastasio was short on funds and couldn’t afford the Assyrians in this libretto 😉

The choir is back and so is Giuditta – together. Nice idea, could be a powerful scene to stage. We need more Galou + choir, smartly conducted, though. Very nice ending, Wolfie recovered well.

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French disconnection

As you can probably see from the lack of activity, this October has been a bit inconsistent. When I saw someone’s been checking out that fun Karin Gauvin post from a while back, I got rather irritated because I was supposed to see her again today. I did not get there, due to freak Victoria line issues (and since it was a lunchtime concert, if you don’t get there on time it’s really not worth the hassle of running there and then running back to work and having to explain your rather conspicuous lateness). This is bad enough but exactly two weeks ago I was supposed to see Sandrine Piau. I did not get there, due to a cold that was at its worst on that specific day. So much for seeing one or more French singers a month (you might remember that was a staple for a while there).

Christophe Rousset & Co. + Sandrine Piau (Wigmore Hall, 30 April 2016)

If you don’t check your email the day of the show you can get a surprise. A good surprise or a bad one. This one turned out to be good: Ann Hallenberg was scheduled to sing, couldn’t make it and we got a soprano instead. Lucky for us, a very good soprano. The funny thing was, thadieu and I had some time to kill on the way to the venue and were actually talking (appreciatively) about Piau.

The show was billed Les Talens Lyriques but it wasn’t quite. It consisted of:

Christophe Rousset, director, harpsichord
Gilone Gaubert-Jacques, violin
Jivka Kaltcheva, violin
Emmanuel Jacques, cello

Sandrine Piau, soprano

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737)
Cantata: La Morte di Lucretia

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 3 No. 5

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Cantata: Tinte a note di sangue

Interval

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 1 No. 12 RV63 ‘La follia’

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Cantata: Notte placida e cheta HWV142

Encore:

Piangero la sorte mia, Giulio Cesare
Tornami a vagheggiar, Alcina

Though it could’ve gone a day late and a dollar short it was actually very enjoyable. Having bought our tickets at different times, thadieu (<- writeup here) and I once again had separate seats. I had one of my usual places dead centre at the back of the venue but this time I was glad for an upgrade. It was the first time I had problems with the Wigmore balcony overhang, quite curious. I wasn’t expecting a booming voice out of Piau but I didn’t think I’d have to strain to hear either. Perhaps I need my ears cleaned… or Piau’s voice only carries over to row T. In any case, I moved to thadieu’s seat (she’d upgraded to the row ahead) after the intermission and didn’t have any more issues. This was 4 rows up on the extreme left. I’m pleased to have found that the sound is in no way warped at the side of the venue.

At the interval we ran into a local gent whom thadieu had “befriended” at Il Vologeso. He made the rather unusual comment that Piau would sometimes open her mouth and no sound would be forthcoming. Afterwards I made it a point to watch her face intently. It was quite clear to me that the issue I had had wasn’t related to no sound coming out, rather to Piau’s very quiet approach to singing/size of her voice. It turned out that what the gent had experienced was related to preparation. He was quite perceptive, too, because Piau only took a fraction of a second to prepare before launching sound.

Related to what thadieu herself was saying about Piau’s facial expressions whilst singing, that didn’t bother me in the least. In fact I focused on and enjoyed the Frenchness of Piau’s manner. Sometimes I get a very clear vibe from a first live encounter with a singer. Piau stepped on stage at the same time as the instrumentalists and seemed unaffected and direct.

I’d first heard her via the badarse rendition of Da tempeste which to this day remains my top favourite. She has that exact control on stage. I found her singing manner very interesting, perhaps textbook Baroque, almost completely un-operatic/no trace of vibrato, very precise and efficient1 though with lots of emotional inflections just via colour, dynamics and her personal brand of chutzpah when the text calls for such.

She did get to ff on a couple of occasions (without strain) but mostly kept things between pp and mezzoforte. Somehow, in spite of the gentleness of her manner things never felt overly polished. Both thadieu and I were impressed with the unusual warmth of her voice. It’s one of those rare soprano voices you can see yourself listen to for hours without a headache. The pieces were rather low but we didn’t hear ping even on Tornami. All in all, a very well shaped, well schooled and well taken care of voice.

[Notes on the instrumental side] Rousset pulled some surprisingly full sound from the harpsichord on a few occasions. As for the strings, I loved the intentional choppiness/shredding in Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in D minor so much that I was disappointed when it finished. Over time I’ve gone through many phases with Vivaldi, from the ubiquitous Seasons when I was just old enough to put a vinyl on to the excitement of finding his vocal music as an adult to a partial (time devoted to opera permitting) return to his instrumental music in recent months. Of late I’ve developed an interest in finding out just how much smaller and smaller ensembles can rock. After some random ‘tube sampling, I noticed that La follia seemed to be a popular theme for minor key works and most of them are really good (like this Geminiani one).

Rousset himself introduced the encores but I didn’t understand what he said 😉 so when Tornami a vagheggiar started I was once again very pleasantly surprised and then found myself singing along (very quietly).

Later on strolling down a finally quieter Oxford Street, thadieu and I tested the limitations of our respective ranges by attempting it (humming, don’t get too excited) then alternating it with the Mingardo low C (it seemed ridiculously low but very satisfyingly rumbly) which – according to thadieu – is necessary when pronouncing cat in Vietnamese. I pointed out that my cat’s meow comes off a lot higher but apparently that has no relevance. So: tornami a vaghe-meow-meow-meow-meow… all the way to Marble Arch, which was of course the wrong way.


  1. She can cut a sound very short without it sounding like a gymnast’s hard landing.