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Sara Mingardo, Francesca Biliotti and the hunt for Monday lunch (Wigmore Hall, 21 May 2018)

along Regent’s Canal

This was the second time in recent years that Mingardo came to Wiggy for a Monday Lunchtime Concert, which is a short but sweet (re: informal) deal. This was also – concidentally (ha!) – the second time thadieu did the same 😉

Since it was a very early performance and the day looked good for London (pretty warm, no rain), we decided to make a day out of it and by 11am we were already at the train station (neither one of us is an early riser).

The idea was to find a bubble tea place but there aren’t a lot of them in London and I definitely wouldn’t know one way or another. Thadieu found two online: one in Camden and one in Wembley. Now since Wembley is just one block away from the Outer London area better described as There Be Dragons, Camden it was. However, by the time the train got moving it became pretty clear that the bubble tea had to wait until after the show.

Sara Mingardo contralto
Francesca Biliotti contralto
Giovanni Bellini theorbo
Giorgio Dal Monte harpsichord

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Settimo libro de madrigali
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core? ‘Romanesca’
Con che soavità, labbra odorate

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Toccata nona

Claudio Monteverdi
Settimo libro de madrigali
Vorrei baciarti
Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano

Settimo libro de madrigali
Non è di gentil core
O come sei gentile

Giovanni Kapsberger (c.1580-1651)
Canzone prima

Claudio Monteverdi
Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti

As you can see, the show was pretty much Settimo libro de madrigali with two contraltos (for the price of one). We had fifth row centre seats, thanks to Baroque Bird, so we saw everything and heard Mingardo and the harpsichord really well. She was in very good spirits and smiled more or less through the show. It’s quite unsual to be in a position to feel a contralto is loud but Wiggy’s first few rows can offer you that opportunity. Her top is bright as it is and it came through.

Biliotti, on the hand, was more reserved, which I chalked up to nerves. The times we heard her she showed off a very nice voice (especially in the duets). Dal Monte was manning the harpsichord the last time we saw Mingardo and he played the same solo piece. Last time I didn’t get much out of it but this time I slightly warmed up to it. It’s actually a lot shorter than I remembered it 😉 The Kapsberger piece for theorbo was one of those things where you go “and that was the theorbo”…

So once the performance was over I suggested we go directly to the Green Room and give our thanks to Mingardo. Thadieu was already in omg, omg-fan mode but, as I was saying, if you want to say hello and thank you for the music to your favourite singer there is not better place than Wiggy after a Lunchtime Concert. We walked backstage and found a very tiny queue ahead of us, consisting of a few friends of Biliotti’s (she’s based in London) and a lady I see at practically all the Baroque shows to the point I even wonder if she’ll be there before I get to the venue (she always is).

Then came our turn and we told her how we’d seen her in random places around Europe as well as Detroit for thadieu, which always gets a surprised look. As you probably know from thadieu’s account, the omg, omg-fan mode worked against us securing the picture we actually got with her but we still have the nice little conversation and her gracious nature.

After us she sort of walked to the side (by the fireplace) as if to catch her breath from all the attention and let Biliotti hug her friends from the Monteverdi Choir, which she later introduced to her. Thinking we could get a shortcut, we turned the first right and ended up on the Wiggy stage 🙂 The venue looks rather small from there!

HOME IS WHERE FOOD IS

To get our bearings a bit, we decided Camden was close enough to walk, so we cut through Regent’s Park and then walked along the canals – not on par with Venice but still a scenic route. The skies darkened a bit but it didn’t really rain before we got to Camden. Once in the Camden Market, which is just off the canal, we tried to find the bubble tea place.

The market is a maze of stalls and most of the time your best direction is it must be here somewhere – but we found a good Samaritan who all but said to us when are you going to ask me to show you the way? We’re liberated women so we ignored him until he actually pointed the way because he was listening in (what’s a hero in waiting to do?). We found it, upstairs and around the corner, because the market in a nutshell is upstairs/downstirs, turn right, turn left, past that fake exotic food stall then past that incense stand.

It was shut down, empty inside – much like our stomachs. So there we were, at about 2:30pm on a Monday, with one Vietnamese restaurant in my old general area shut on Mondays and another one thadieu was fairly sure would be breaking until the early afternoon. That’s the small problem with early shows on a Monday, you might end up starving in your own town – or break down and have a sandwich. Anyway, we still made our way to the bus stop just as it started to rain in earnest. We caught one of the new “vintage” Boris-double deckers that you can board from the back and the seats are more comfortable than they look.

As we finally arrived in Finsbury Park the skies started to brighten, but our luck not so much. The first restaurant was so shut and bolted you couldn’t even consult a menu (leftover from 2011’s riots? Locksmiths made a mint that August). The second one would indeed open by 5:30pm. Thadieu was in that faint stage of barely able to walk for lack of nourishment. I was proceeding with determined haste and a grim face, braincells able to put together one thought only: must.have.food.now.

We decided it was best to take a sandwich leftover pitstop because there was no way we were going to make it to the park itself (where I initially suggested we hang out until opening time). Whilst we were scarfing down the Pret Sandwich of Goodness (as per thadieu) on the stoop of a townhouse, we heard the air ambulance pass us over. The sandwich perked us up a bit so we walked to the park and saw there had indeed been a pretty serious car crash by the station, traffic diverged etc.

By now the sun was out again and we went and sat on the grass in the park and watched the paramedics do something to the gurney. Some guy got into an altercation with the cops over something undiscernable and thadieu marvelled at how long they took to talk sense into him.

Eventually the air ambulance took off a lot less noisily than I thought it would and went off. With that we also returned to the restaurant and were the first to sit down and consult the menu that day. Food at long last! Though some locals who came after us were served first. We overordered but the food was good and I’m not one to say no to takeaway 😉

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Il ritorno di Willy Decker to Hamburg (Hamburg Opera, 29 October 2017)

…according to the poster in the house 😉

Ulisse: Kurt Streit
Penelope: Sara Mingardo
…and others who I will add later (also read below)
Conductor: Vaclav Luks | Collegium 1704
Director: Willy Decker

This production originates from Zurich and is very effective. We saw its Hamburg premiere and it received lots of applause and no abuse. It’s simple – everything happens in the same space (as thadieu put it, a sloping white, round dish) and the differences/advances in the story are told via changing costume rather than props. It’s one step up from a concert performance, which means you’re never left scratching your head. My minor qualm, after seeing a bunch of Monteverdi productions where the gods are made a big deal out of, is that we could do with one production where gods don’t physically appear at all (of course we still get to hear them). Then again, thadieu pointed out that it might not be clear to all who are the gods and who are not.

There were some curious decisions on the part of the local advertising team that might make sense locally but baffled the tourists – such as using the director’s picture for the poster in the house (there were no outdoors posters, just banners) and uploading the trailer after the actual premiere <- they apparently filmed a new one, so kinda cool in the end (see the trailer at thadieu‘s – and read her report(s) as well 🙂 ).

The performance in itself was mostly very fine vocally, aside from both Melanto and Eurimaco, who did not live up to their fine music. Tassou has a colourless voice and you know that is the kiss of death for yours truly. She did get better as time went on but there is a lot of nice harmony in Melanto’s music that, for me, never came through. Now that I’m listening to the broadcast, wow, she had some trouble staying on breath and the line got away from her a few times… As she started it seemed like the music took her by surprise (wait, what? It’s my turn?!!! Shiii… where am I?). Palchykov sang in an overly operatic manner not suited for Monteverdi. Also his voice is rather bigger than the others’, ready to break into La donna e mobile 😉 and he too had a bit of an issue with the Monteverdi ornamentation… early music skills, eh. Though I think for a different rep he’s not bad and can get quite seductive.

I did, however, have a welcome revelation with local ensemble mezzo (surprise, surprise) Dorottya Lang, who sang Minerva and showed very fine potential. I don’t know that her future is necessary in this repertoire, but I liked her attention to style and a rather striking dark tone.

All three of us also agreed Pieweck as Ericlea (Penelope’s nurse), could have had more to sing. She knows her Monteverdi and has solid chops.

This is not something you usually hear from me but whilst listening to Dumaux’ Human Fragility I thought here is a role that decidedly belongs to the countertenor voice. We all know he is good both as a singer and as an actor and he did not disappoint. I am actually quite looking forward to see him in his perhaps trademark role in the summer, as so far it has been more self effacing circumstances, which he can do as well, no doubt. He regaled us with what I think is the most spectacular falling technique I’ve ever witnessed on stage, when he “dropped dead” from touching Ulisse’s bow (as suitor Amfinomo).

I was quite surprised how much I liked Trost as Eumete the kind beggar, since my most memorable encounter with him was as Tito in that overly soft Mackerras recording – where he was alarmingly bleaty. Here he showed impressive Monteverdi skills and a fine voice. His acting/interaction with others, especially Streit’s Ulisse, was not bad at all.

Nurgeldiyev as Telemaco is probably another singer that will make his name in later repertoire, but he evidently paid attention to style and ended up doing a good job, with some sensitive acting, too.

Streit in the title role was somewhat of a mixed bag. I quite like his tone and have generally enjoyed him before. He is always committed, if, in this case, I would agree with thadieu that he veered off into overreacting, both dramatically and vocally. Ulisse’s entrance aria where he’s not sure if he’s awake or sleeping was taken a bit strongly. As a result, for the rest of the night his Ulisse came off rather angstier than I normally imagine him. Now you may remember I saw the very finely subtle Ian Bostridge in this role before and he created a lasting impression. Generally I thought Streit’s performance was stronger whenever he had someone to interact with. The ending duet with Penelope was sensitively done, though, and made me think what an unusual opera this is, to tackle the trials and tribulations of mature love and to make said love appear fresh at that.

Mingardo has sung Penelope before in this very production, so of course she was at ease and with her love and care for Monteverdi she shaped the music with her subtle, introspective touch. Her Penelope was perfectly loyal, though she did not fall into the trap of making her unfeeling to the suitors’ plight. We did see Penelope’s struggle to keep her wits about herself during the 20 year party, especially when they suitors wooed her with their posh I ❤ Penelope t-shirts 😉 <- it is true, we spent quite some time thinking about ways to produce said shirts and we came up with a couple of more “P” possibilities, heh. I have to say, I ❤ P sounds like a pretty good title for a Mingardo fan site 😀

Uncharacteristically, we heard less piano singing from her because we had a super loud harpsichord. Now at intermission the three of us pondered harpsichord’s applicability or lack thereof in Monteverdi. Not only did I find it superfluous but I thought the harpsichordist used it as if he was playing Handel. It was the worst offender of the otherwise very enjoyable night, worse even that the singers I went merciless on above.

Whenever we only had violins, winds and theorbo things improved drastically. Perhaps I am turning into a HIP fanatic, which I don’t necessary want to do, but I really don’t like harpsichords in Monteverdi. I would like to hear whatever anyone else has to say on the matter.

I’ll point you thadieu‘s way for more comments on Luks’ orchestra, because she’s better than me at pointing out all the intricacies of different baroque orchestras, whereas I am more apt to zero in on faults 😉 all you need to know from me is that, harpsichord decisions aside, I had no issues with the orchestra, which was the largest I have seen for early opera.

…there is more, of course, and I will be back here to add more text and pictures (but no more bitching I should never promise this…), because it was actually rather sunny in Hamburg and the Echo Awards were being given at the Elbphilarmonie 😉

As thadieu mentioned, this was a lovely opportunity for her, Agathe and I to get together for a hard-core contralto adventure which even the skies favoured with good weather, if some chilly blasts from the sea. We visited the main sites within the centre of Hamburg and a bit of the harbour before it was time for the 20 year party. I liked this side of Hamburg a lot, especially the canals, which reminded me of Lonodon’s. Expect some dramatic cloud pictures. I’m not quite sold on the Elbphilarmonie design, but the “jam smudge” sails can be endearing on a good day.

On the contrary, the opera house is a very low key affair, with particularly narrow lobbies. I was a bit intimidated by the insistence of pretty much everyone present to dress up, and strangely coordinated in black and white at that. At ROH you do get the overdressed crowd, especially for premieres, but it seems there is more of a variation in regards to colour usage and even necessity of dressing up (in the amphi most people don’t go further than “business casual”). Here I had a cheap ticket and I was surrounded by gents in tuxes! Agathe seemed baffled too, saying that’s noit been her experience in the past. Who knows! I wonder if this had anything to do with the concurrent presentation of the Echo Klassic Awards next door (for that matter, the house was full, so clearly the public is a bit different, though apparently the Hamburg Opera management is not known to chance on up and coming singers).

In any case, I hope to return to Hamburg for more opera, at the opera house or the Elbphilarmonie, if possible in similarly good company 🙂 and with fingers crossed for another lucky break with the weather.

nice Venetian feel, eh?

L’incoronazione di Dario or blondes have all the fun (Teatro Regio Torino, 23 April 2017)

 

this might break your browser but it’s my best effort at curtain call shots. Plus it’s got birds and bees so you want to enlarge it 😉

There must be a reason why Statira is wearing a blonde wig whilst Argene has on something very much akin to a cycling helmet (everyone knows cyclists are pests!). Ok, so it’s a ropey turban 😉 she still looks ready to mount a bike (considering all the men are steering clear…).

Similarly, there must be a reason why Dario is wearing the same attire as the shadow of Cyro (Saudi style). The other guys simply can’t compete, whether they have the oil or the weapons.

You would think a smart woman like Argene knows 1) what the oracle says goes (whoever marries Statira will rule the empire) so 2) simply tempting Dario away from the blonde won’t do the trick. But it appears she has fallen for him much in the same way men who should know better (Niceno) have gone gaga over Statira. During part I she languishes in bed, mopey because he won’t notice her. But she springs into action as soon as he wanders into her room (as opera characters seem to; to be fair, she promised him her “help” in getting Statira to love him).

Flora: Mylady, Dario is coming, cover yourself so you can receive him!
Argene: better yet, I shall receive him naked! (she lounges, eyes aflutter, legs and bosom exposed – by her time period’s standards; in this production it means the blanket-robe is off).
Dario: any news about Statira?
Argene: still hates you.
Dario: oh, how cruel my fate etc.
Argene: well, there might be others who like what they see when they look at you (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
Dario: that’s nice, but could you possibly talk to Statira again?
Argene: sure, I’ll do all I can. But first help me write a letter, all of a sudden – right about the time you stepped into the room – I became so overcome with emotion my hand has started trembling (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)
Dario: ok. Who’s this letter addressed to?
Argene (gets into his personal space): the man who has conquered my dreams. Write! My sun, light of my days (mega bosom nudge, power eyelash flutter) –
Dario (eyes popping, scoots away): My sun, light of my days… ok, next?
Argene: oh, I’m wasting away for your love! (mega nudge)
Dario: the man of your dreams must be very difficult indeed. Light of my days, oh, I’m wasting away for your love…?
Argene: you didn’t understand anything, did you?
Dario: on the contrary, I understood perfectly.
Argene: …and?
Dario: remember you said you’ll help me with Statira?
Argene (eyeroll): ok, enough writing. Go, go, I’ll write the name later.

In the meanwhile, Statira is worried about suddenly being pushed into the limelight.

Statira: Flora, what is this commotion all about?
Flora: Mylady, you’ll soon be queen!
Statira: hm. What does a queen do?
Flora: she wears a tiara!
Statira: that’s nice. What else?
Flora: she presides over public ceremonies!
Statira: eh, that sounds tedious. Anything else?
Flora (wink-wink): she does her wifely duties to the king.
Statira: but what are those?

Seriously. Was she raised by wolves? Clearly not, otherwise she wouldn’t be so scared when she gets to the woods. But talk about sheltered. And she’s the older daughter. Reminds me of that joke about the two pious virgins who got married and were still childless a year later (not for lack of trying).

Niceno, who’s supposed to be the token Arabian (nights) philosopher (must have a philosopher at the Persian court, right?), has poured all his emotions into a soulful and finely crafted series of letters to the woman who makes him sigh but who, he has a feeling, might not be returning his feelings. He finally plucks the courage to give Statira the letters. She really gets into the amourous atmosphere and reads aloud with pathos to wistful viola da gamba backing (I have a horribly sneaky suspicion this is a joke on emotionally astute but otherwise dim actors) only at the end to prove she has absolutely no clue about what he’s trying to tell her.

speaking of books, many similar booths had a large selection of totally random second hand books on Via Po (photo: thadieu)

Hey, Mr Bookworm, didn’t you notice by now that she’s Miss Literal? So, in his desperation, though he has pined for her for who knows how long, he makes a terrible pact with Argene, who, apparently (it’s still wink-wink territory, blink and you missed it, though with Galou at the helm you most likely won’t) promises him she will sleep with him if he helps her break the not-yet lovebirds apart. If you can’t have one sister… the librettist’s commentary is clearly that no matter how intellectual or practical the man, none of them likes the smart sister (pfui! back to the kitchen) but will “work” with her if she throws something else into the pot. At some point whilst Statira is once again acting “blonde”, both Niceno and Argene turn to the bottle. That’s a bit like 2017.

Statira soon finds out what her future husband wants from her: her eyes, her hands. Very alarming! The man sounds like a right serial killer 😀 She has a stern/earnest sounding aria (quirky Vivaldi) about how she simply won’t allow that malarkey. Which plays right into the hands of the more practical Arpago and Oronte, who each boasts about their military or admin-y (oil pumping? there’s a dirty joke in there) exploits.

If you think the silly comedy can get tired after a while then more credit to Mingardo who remained funny even after we knew exactly what was coming. Also credit to Vivaldi who has a very clever way of putting silly and extremely catchy together with very beautiful.

After trying his luck in vain, Niceno defects to Argene’s side, “guiding” Statira by telling her each of these young men is worthy of her hand. She promptly promises her hand to both (I guess she quickly got over the fear of literally losing her hand to every man in the country 😉 ). This annoys Dario, who thinks she’s playing hard to get. He vows to take his anger out on his rivals. Now we know the cause of so many bloody battles through history.

Next comes Niceno’s badass bass aria with bassoon obligato (bullseye) along the lines of Tardi s’avvede. That is to say a “wise adviser aria”, in which Niceno cautions Dario that getting irate makes him appear less suave. The youthful looking Mr Bassoon did a solid job and I can assure you youtube doesn’t have a better version than Novaro’s, who has a somewhat similar type of voice to Galou (light but of high density).

I guess the Saudi connection is that Persia was the Saudi Arabia of its time. The Oracle is the West, who always somehow supports the winners in the area, though it pretends not to get involved. Astutely, then, neither the ones who have the oil nor the ones with the guns really win and whoever tries to stand up to the Oracle’s dictums will end up in the “harshest chains” (I really like that bit. Are they the kind with spikes on the inside?).

It only took me several listens and two live performances but I must say the libretto isn’t that bad after all!

retro but fun

On Sunday we made our way back to Piazza Castello, where we could already recognise some people as dressed for the opera. After soaking a bit of the very congenial atmosphere we went up to our box on the other side (left) of the auditorium. Interestingly, the door was locked. We tried other doors and it seemed hit and miss. We noticed others had similar problems, so we made our way to the auditorium to look for an usher.

Suffice to say we sat somewhere central, next to these very nice old ladies, who had upgraded too. This was the last performance of the run and there were empty seats scattered around the venue. But no more cameras.

The sound from the auditorium was very good on both nights, perhaps a bit better on Sunday, when we had prime location. We could hear every singer’s consonants. Finally we could see what we missed stage design-wise on the first night (quite a bit).

You might remember the poster that says “the best voices in Baroque for Dario“. It didn’t lie. Regardless of one’s preference for one singer’s tone or another, Dantone had assembled a gorgeous sounding team indeed. Vivaldi saw to it that everybody had their time to shine and the direction dropped the curtain behind all but the two main ladies to give them centre spotlight at least once and they took the challenge with gusto.

Mameli’s phrasing in particular rivaled the main ladies’, though her role is quite clearly written for “we need to give something to the soprano” reasons. Alinda is Oronte’s ex, who is – as ever in Baroque opera – stalking him and generally putting spanners in his works with amazingly precise timing. She’s stealthy like a ninja and her outfit fits the description.

One has to comment on their very toxic relationship. She’s, as I was saying, a stalker and he is very abusive towards her up until the very end (he even has an aria along the lines of “leave me alone with your fidelity, I’ve moved on”). Yet they are “happily” reunited. Of course, we are led to believe that he’s only discarded her because of his ambitions to the throne, but he is still extremely emotionally abusive throughout. You don’t want to be reunited with someone who’s done that to you. You also might want to stay away from people who are so needy as to take you back unconditionally after repeated abuse. [ / soapbox]

here’s the big sign, just to break the tension – and to grin.

I wasn’t too into Cirillo’s voice until she had a slow (and a bit boring) aria with long lines. Those came out rather nice. Perhaps Oronte’s music isn’t quite that gripping, on top of his character being a selfish dick, so I didn’t get that much out of the whole thing beside said long lines.

There’s that bit of sparring roughly in the middle, between Arpago’s soldiers and Oronte’s techies, which I guess makes less sense in reality than in this production. It reminded me of the military parade in the Aix Tito in that the sparring people shout at every move. For my money it was a bit slow but entertaining enough, moreso because all involved were women.

I was – predictibly – more excited when Argene pulled a gun on Arpago at the end and then even turned it on Dario himself. That Dario just plucked it away was, as thadieu already mentioned, less climatic, especially since he had not, at any point in the production, looked like much of a warrior (rather like middle management). Pointing a flashlight at Niceno and repeating back his creepy words at him doesn’t quite count as heroism in my book. Then again, Argene was in love with him and Oronte was hardly helping with his getting cold feet over killing Alinda (why not just throw her in jail?).

Did I mention that Argene, after mistakenly revealing to Dario the plan to get rid of Statira (in a last ditch attempt to get him) decided to get Oronte on her side and as consort? Why not Arpago, the chap without a stalking gf is anyone’s guess (clearly Argene digs administrator types). But after bitching about Oronte and Alinda’s disfunctional relationship I can’t say that any two people in this opera have a healthy relationship, aside from perhaps Dario and Statira, who look like they they’ll work it out.

one of the central cameras, on the row we relocated to on the first night

Thadieu was suggesting a different take on the ending rather than the floppy plucking of the gun. I also thought that Argene’s last line of recit – “Every crime has a punishment” – was one of those Captain Obvious moments that 18th century librettists liked to tack on the ending for moralistic reasons. I’d’ve done away with that and just gone into Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte! The announcement about Galou’s indisposition ran on Sunday as well, but she amped it up for the last show of the run, with an appropriately desperate cry on the last (il mio) furror! And she was hilarious in this super scheming role. I don’t think I’ve seen a more persistent schemer yet, 80% of what comes out of her mouth is post truth fare.

So because thadieu has goaded me enough over the (last) weekend I’ve raked my brains for my own description of Galou’s voice – as I feel it. Thus far I basked in an ah, so smooth! cloud every time I heard her, unusually not needing further word-anchoring. But after the “beam of light” analogy I thought I agreed but not quite. Then I listened a bit and right after this version of Quel torrente1 it hit me:

Luscious mascarpone cheese layered with espresso-soaked sponge fingers, with a touch of cognac or brandy.

Also known as tiramisu. Light (weight) and dark (colour) and soft and heady (and often humorous). I think the way she approaches singing is more impressionistic than architectural/visual, so too much analysis won’t leave you any more knowledgeable than the moment it hits you (or doesn’t). The sound just brushes you in passing, disolves almost instantly and you’re not quite sure if you’ve imagined it or if it was real. For instance it this bit of Stabat mater the sound just envelopes you much like darkness itself would. It’s there but it’s kinda not. Very poetic. Then for a return to Vivaldi, just check out the smile in the voice and general impishness in this cutest of arias (Io sembro appunto quell’augelletto; my mum was right after all, it is birds and flowers/leaves 😉 ). The delay in posting this was partly due to my spending a fair bit of time fawning over this charming aria.

On that note we should perhaps move on to Mr Dario, sung here by Mr Belcanto Tito. Allemano’s larger (and darker) voice makes a fine contrast to the others and sets him apart as “big boss”, though the role itself is pretty congenial. He more or less waltzes in without fantastic credits like Arpago and Oronte and gets the throne with the help of personal charm (un bel viso) and a few good decisions, like the one where he pretends to take Argene up on her offer, simply to find out where Statira might be. Allemano’s not a bad actor at all, looking a bit dorky here and showing good comedic skills (especially when Argene is – unsubtly – trying to put the moves on him). He copes well with the coloratura demands and has that typical Italian tenor smoothness when it comes to languid arias.

lobby, chanderlier and stairs to boxes and the retro boxes chairs (pretty comfy)

Though affable on both days, the public was more animated on Sunday and they also applauded different arias (the Sunday crowd liked Galou better 😉 – her “instant double manipulation” moment got (very deserved) applause too, whilst the Saturday one really loved Tomasoni (I also thought her big aria was done especially flashy on Saturday); thadieu felt she was trying to steal the show but I think she was simply making the most of her time on stage, given she is very young. It would have been very difficult to upstage the main ladies, though the public – and pretty much everyone else – seems to adore Mameli; I’m not all that taken with her tone, though, like I said, her artistry is very fine. Everybody was happy with Mingardo on both nights, though I think the giggles were louder on Sunday).

A large bunch of people took a delibrate selfie with the big Dario sign. Just to the far side of the collonade was a couple of buskers who drew a pretty good crowd singing what sounded like vaguely traditional Italian music. In Piazza Carignano a chap was singing The Ring of Fire, which struck me as very odd after the opera, but there you go.

That was our first experience of seeing Italian opera in Italy. I hope they hang on to the Vivaldi Festival, as there are more good things to see from him and I – in case it wasn’t clear – I really liked Teatro Regio. Just not the far boxes. Sounds from the chat after the radio broadcast that there will be reasons to return, as the Baroque project is mainstay at Teatro Regio. Also interesting from the chat is what Dantone says about Dario‘s place in Vivaldi’s oeuvre, due to the ascendence of opera buffa. Though he thinks that Vivaldi’s operas are usually harder to stage (back then it was apparently left to the singers to improvise in opera seria), this one, because of the commedia dell’arte influence, is a lot easier. As we know, Vivaldi, though very successful in his youth, died in poverty, because of changing trends he couldn’t buck. Dantone also says he was happy with the Teatro Regio musicians who were interested in the language of Baroque, though their usual repertoire is the typical late 19th century fare… etc.

And, yes, this post better be posted. I might tweak it a bit in the coming days (too many pictures to choose from!), I spent to much time playing with that curtain call picture…

this is the metal gate that separates the inner “yard” space (with the giant sign) from the opera collonade (photo: thadieu)


  1. not that I’m going to convince TADW who’s already decided to have her sing Cornelia. 

L’incoronazione di Dario (Teatro Regio Torino, 22 April 2017)

all the pictures in this post can be enlarged 🙂

Thadieu and I arrived bright and early in Torino on 21 April, after a (very smooth) redeye flight that saw us leave the house at 4am. As per instructions, we went to the train station across from the airport. It was deserted, the ticket machine broken. We went back into the airport looking for another machine, as per the instructions on the broken one, but in the end it turned out the train wasn’t running (don’t ask me why, my operatic Italian only goes so far) and we got bus tickets to the rail replacement instead, with assurance the bus will leave us in the proximity of the Dora Station, where we needed to get in the first place.

But this is a commuter bus and you need to know when your stop is coming up. We, of course, didn’t. We followed it on Google maps but then, at an unknown distance from our stop, the bus made a right turn and crossed the river. Oops. We got off and made our way on foot, which wasn’t bad at all, and it took us to China Town and to that – apparently – famous and very large street market near the Duomo, to thadieu’s delight.

Teatro Regio: business at the front, party at the back

After a very welcome nap (yours truly slept like a hollow log, heard nothing, smelt nothing whilst the host cooked downstairs), we got some tips from our host and went out exploring. The theatre was comfortably close, right outside Regio Parco, through an ivy covered wall and up a short, curved slope. From the outside it looked like all the other buildings lining up the square – all with collonades facing Palazzo Madama. Inside, though, is a modern building. Much to our enjoyment, L’incoronazione di Dario was advertised in immense letters and in various posters.

We ventured into the box office and I picked up a leaflet advertising the local Vivaldi Festival. If there is a Handel Festival – several, in fact – it only makes sense someone somewhere should celebrate the Red Priest 🙂 hopefully every year?

that’s the poster

From the leaflet I learned that Galou and Cirillo were singing Vivaldi and JS Bach’s Magnificats with Dantone and the local orchestra and that night!

thadieu: should they be singing three nights in a row?
dehggial: I guess they can!

Whilst we gently wandered around the square, I inched towards wanting to attend the show even if thadieu wanted to get back due to raging allergies and in spite of the fact that we only had one key. But I learned a valuable lesson: the box office closes at 6pm during the week so no greed for dehggial. We also realised they had a Juditha with lesser known singers (including a contralto who sang Holofernes, Abra and Ozias!) on April 19, part of the festival.

To ease the pain 😉 we went and got 2 flavour gelato (€2) and capped the day off with fluffy pizza at a place frequented by locals (suggested by our host). On the way back we marvelled at – and approved – the homely feel of the practical use of window and balcony space.

After a 12 hours sleep (thadieu due to jetlag/allergies, yours truly due to lack of sleep in general) and an amazing racket made by the host’s cat in one of those mad moods, we were ready for the opera! We got there with enough time to leisurely marvel at the venue (selfie time with… everything, but especially the doors, which are very clever and the giant sign advertising Dario – pictures when I get home and also at thadieu’s blog) and realise our tickets actually needed printing. That wasn’t an issue, the staff at the venue/box office were very nice.

Teatro Regio’s mesmerising doors

We then got to our box – as you can see from pictures of the venue, there is an open plan auditorium and one level of boxes all around. The layout reminds me a bit of Opera Bastille. The views are good from everywhere in the auditorium but not from all the boxes. Namely, not from ours, because the orchestra pit is curved, so I don’t at all recommend the first 6 boxes on the sides, unless you particularly want to see the orchestra – you get the best view in the house for that, and we did make the most of what we had. This production added insult to existing injury by having the singer’s often sing from the back of the stage, so, for instance, Dario’s first aria came to us through the wall, which made for some guessing. We also missed some of the visuals, like late Cyrus’ portrait and half the action during the fight scene.

pit view from our box

However, you know we’re always looking to upgrade and I spotted central seats on the row with the camera. Yes, there were cameras in the house so one can hope for possibly a TV broadcast? Ideally a DVD, but who knows how Italian houses do it. Considering the market is not saturated with Dario DVDs and Dantone believes in this cast… in any case, we successfully upgraded to the 8th or so row centre for the second half and we could then see and hear everything.

It would have really been annoying to miss the “contralto in the woods” aria, with Mingardo’s back and forth flights to the back of the stage, because it was absolutely hilarious. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s the moment when Statira, having been tricked by her scheming sister, Argene, is imagining how beautiful the woods with the chirping birds will be when she meets Dario outside city walls. The aria repeats the A section several times and she keeps coming back to the centre of the stage, much to the annoyance of Argene and her paid help, who want her gone already. Suffice to say the aria showed off Mingardo’s artistry both in singing and with regards to comedy. I especially enjoyed a moment where she deliberately allowed the violin centre stage, having varied her dynamics in sorts of ways up to that point.

This is a good moment to mention that thadieu and I (along with Leander and Baroque Bird) saw a performance in London on the 20th, which left us perplexed by the conducting choices. So I was paying special attention to Dantone’s handling of a non-specialised orchestra with Baroque voices. Time and again it was clear that a very delicate touch did the job brilliantly, allowing the singers to vary their dynamics as needed, without being drowned.

However, remember that short convo thadieu and I had upon realising Galou and Cirillo were singing three days in a row? Well…

Teatro Regio announcer: Sra Galou has oversung but will still be with us tonight, just go gently on her.

So she’s not made of teflon, after all 😉 welcome to 40, Sra Galou. Only volume seemed affected, so upgrading helped. The coloratura was there, the silliness of course (Argene is very busy scheming, especially in part two, but all her efforts are thwarted, so she needs to be very resourceful) and the ravishingly beautiful tone as usual. I guess she could vary her facial expressions a bit, there is only so far mischievous winking can go – I say this myself as an abuser of said winking and veteran face puller. But this is an out and out comedy and she, along with everyone else, seemed to have lots of fun. I especially enjoyed the short aria where she manipulates both Dario and Statira and – of course! – the closer, Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte!, when Argene, having been found out, is put in “the harshest chains” yet she boasts she’s not scared at all. We know she’ll be plotting away. Here was where a bit more volume would’ve helped with the shouts of “morte!” but still the legs to was beautiful (< that was autocorrect, but yes, legs indeed. Argene showed leg at every opportunity, not that anyone was complaining (except for Dario). What I actually meant was legato 😉 ).

Team London: Dantone too knows about the magnificent confrontation! 😀 (that was the concert on 21st April)

I dind’t mind the costumes as much as I thought I would (but I will still bitch about them), though I didn’t understand why Cyrus and Niceno were dressed in Saudi garb, with the women in Gate of Ishtar attire, the army as guerillas, the Oracle in Western suit/PR clothes and Oronte, who’s the chief of Persian administration (so a Prime Minister of sorts) looking like the Captain of the Janitors. It’s especially amusing when Argene, in her sumptuous robes (blankets) asks Mr Janitor in fluorescent jacket and rubber boots to rule the empire alongside her. I guess that would assure special attention would be given to the local plumbing issues 😉 I also don’t think the piping/stage design made any particular statement, aside possibly from pointing to courtly internal machinations/more focus on Captain Janitor 😉 there were also lots of hanging curtains, some of each resembled he local Shroud suspiciously well, at least to my mind. I really admired the work put into the representations of Persian relief sculptures, though, again, the whole concept felt so scattered to me I didn’t particularly see need for them. For my money, the costumes (blankets) and filigree lamps gave enough suggestion of the era.

well, with Giulia’s explaination and after seeing it again, I have finally got the concept. More about that in the next installment.

So that’s it for now (more gelato and pizza after the show, of course). I know there is a lot I didn’t talk about – like more than half the cast – but this is due to the luxury of seeing two performances. I confess on occasion I was so focused on the orchestra/Dantone I had to sacrifice the attention paid to singers. For more impressions on this production, check out thadieu (this performance) and giulia (the premiere). There will be lots of venue (selfies included), town and maybe curtain call pictures when I get home, though as curtain call goes you’re better off with thadieu’s video for the feel of the place.

ps: sorry for any typos, the kindle isn’t made for writeups.

Vivaldi and contraltos (again)

The other day I ran into a sensitive Vivaldi cantata that showcases another ace contralto voice and I stayed with it for several hours:

SM’s voice is really good at bitter-sweet, introverted sounding things and for me hit a homerun in this cantata. Them Venitians 😉

May Madness Mix 5: Sara Mingardo (Wigmore Hall, 11 May 2015)

A contralto singing plaintively about lost loves with only a harpsichord and a theorbo as accompniment is best experienced in a smallish setting such as the Wigmore Hall. Misleadingly, SM started with a short and playful Monteverdi tune and ended with a witty one. But it wasn’t long until things turned quiet and heartbreaking. It’s thanks to her vivid vocal delivery that things were kept interesting for the duration.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643)
Quel sguardo sdegnosetto
Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583 – 1643) harpsichord
Toccata seconda (da “Primo libro di toccate e partite d’intavolatura di cimbalo”)
Andrea Falconieri (1585/6 – 1656)
Vezzosette e care pupillette
Non più d’amore
Giacomo Carissimi (1605 – 1674)
Deh, memoria e che più chiedi?
Alessandro Piccinini (1566 – c. 1638) theorbo
Toccata XX
Aria di sarabanda in varie partite
Giovanni Salvatore (early 17th century – ? 1688)
All’hor che Tirsi udia
Barbara Strozzi (1619 – 1677)
L’Eraclito amoroso
La, sol, fa, mi, re, do

Sara Mingardo, contralto
Ivano Zanenghi, theorbo
Giorgio Dal Monte, harpsichord

The centre piece was Deh, memoria, a song about the way memories of a dead loved one torment the still living lover, which she built in an very moving way. Her delivery seemed simple and direct but there were a lot of details in her phrasing – dramatic twists and turns – which signalled that a lot of thought and preparation went into producing that simplicity. Admirable. The more cheerful tunes benefited from her directness and I for one would’ve liked a couple of more. SM has quite a roomy vocal range, well expressed/inhabited by the chosen songs. But the reason why we like contraltos is their lower notes and hers were quietly heroic live, strong and clear yet tender and affecting.

For whatever reason I found the Frescobaldi piece grating. I thought Dal Monte did a choppy job (where dynamics were concerned) but since it appeared intentional I chalk it up to a difference in taste. The theorbo pieces, on the other hand, were very enjoyable, especially Zanenghi’s cheerful take on Aria di sarabanda, reason for which I looked Piccinini up (two hours of lute and chitarrone).

The house was surprisingly full for the early time of the day. These kind old ladies befriended by thadieu took us with them backstage to the Green Room, where I had never been before. For those who hadn’t either, it’s not exactly green but it’s fairly large and very pleasant. The walls are predictibly covered in autographed pictures of singers who have sung at Wigmore Hall. SM was tiny and very relaxed, already changed in “something more comfortable”. She chatted with everybody without rushing and was very kind to smile for a picture which I’m sure thadieu will keep under her pillow 😉

This performance was part of Radio 3’s Lunch Concert Series and as such only about an hour long, without intermission. Over by 2pm, for us late risers it was a breakfast concert, an unusually pleasant start for a Monday. We were left with things to do on a bright day and so we walked from Wigmore Hall to ROH and then to ENO; from there on to Camden Lock, which is hardly operatic but sitting by the water has been a theme with this trip and it was nice to wrap it up the same way. Indeed, gentle reader, this was the last event of the 2015 May Madness, the event that in fact initiated it all. Gentle and low key (like noodle soup 😉 ).

2015 Wigmore Hall and Barbican tickets on general sale now

Go get yours (Wigmore Hall and Barbican). I started with booking for ladies Roschmann+Uchida (twice!), Mingardo and Invernizzi, all at Wigmore Hall in May-July then St Matthew Passion (at Easter) and Il ritorno d’Ulisse (the end of September) at the Barbican.