How fitting for the Handel season – I found myself in the right place at the right time for this webcast (we used the medici.tv channel) and ended up having a very enjoyable watching party “with” thadieu and Agathe, based on Giulia’s report from the house (which you can read here if you haven’t yet; it’ll help make sense of what I’m only mentioning in passing). I’m not going into the whole thing because I don’t know Rodelinda enough but I wanted to share a few impressions:
- what a (musically) wonderful opera! The perils of being exposed to the wrong singers/etc. come to mind when I think I’ve deprived myself of it for so long; lovely work from Bolton et all balancing the sweet mournfulness with the action
- yes to the 5 countertenors but can Bejun Mehta spin a dulcet line or what? I was floored by Bertarido’s entrance aria. Looking forward to Gia dagli occhi… in 3 months’ time!
- Eduige: more reasons to love Prina; seriously, the role works so well for her. Wish she had more to sing. She had some really fun things to do here, quite surprisingly considering it was a Guth production
- speaking of Guth, I agree he doesn’t quite get the Baroque ethos, but I did enjoy the whole kid + nightmares part and the unexpected humour; the Personnenregie is always paid attention to in his work and it was here as well
- I was further surprised how much I liked Lucy Crowe considering I’m not usually a fan. This was easily the best performance I’ve seen/heard from her.
This recital has a bit of back story. The dynamic duo was booked for 3 January 2015 in support of their Amore e morte dell’amore CD but apparently the both of them succumbed to the English weather. Its next proposed incarnation was to take place on 28 June 2016, as a threeway recital with Karina Gauvin. That didn’t quite work out either, though you could hardly say Prina’s Gluck programme was a letdown. Finally, here we are, in spite of very low (for London) temperatures due to freezing fog (mesmerisingly sparkly under streetlights).
Sonia Prina contralto
Roberta Invernizzi soprano
Luca Pianca director, lute
Vittorio Ghielmi viola da gamba
Margret Köll harp
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core?
Giovanni Kapsberger (c.1580-1651)
Toccata seconda arpeggiata
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Aria detta la Frescobalda
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sono liete, fortunate HWV194
Antonio Lotti (1666-1740)
Poss’io morir Op. 1 No. 7
Francesco Durante (1684-1755)
Son io, barbara donna
Antoine Forqueray (1671-1745)
Le Carillon de Passy
George Frideric Handel
Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi HWV197
Wigmore Hall is still in Christmas garb, its foyer sporting a beautiful tree decorated in red and green and floral arrangements with red baubles and red pine cones and bows in the hall. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful.
Prina and Invernizzi were first joined on stage by Pianca on lute and Köll on harp and between them did a very lively rendition of Vorrei baciarti. The slender accompaniment was beneficial in that I focused almost completely on the ideal mix of voices which had me basking in the simple joy of sound.
Interestingly, I overheard someone comment at the intermission that she enjoyed the music a lot but was a bit unsure about the singing. I for one can tell you even less than usual about the orchestral side, which mostly kept to a supporting role. I do remember once thinking (during Sono liete, fortunate?) the viola da gamba had a nice organ feel to it. The orchestral pieces didn’t make much of an impression on me, in fact La Leclair had me on the verge of dozing off. But that might just be me, what with the lack of woodwinds.
Sono liete, fortunate was a tour de force, when I marvelled at “the noise” two singers could make, what with both of them constantly switching between singing harmony and melody. We’re talking about two very energetic singers, though they toned down their more flamboyant tendencies and focused on supporting each other towards a robust merged sound. It wasn’t just their tones matching, their exchanges were always spot on. Instead of her often belligerent top, Invernizzi made more use of her middle which is warm and pleasant, though not as memorable as Prina’s tone. The softer pieces saw some of those disarming slides to piano Prina uses when you least expect. I remember thinking about one such soft exchange that it felt like squirrel hair watercolour brushes against the skin. Tanti strali saw them once again weave sparkling lines of elaborate coloratura around each other.
The encore made for a natural ending to a show that mixed liveliness with breathless seduction. Now I really want to hear Prina as Nerone. On the other hand, we’re only a few months away from the Barbican Ariodante.
Things have a tendency of reoccurring – 30 December 2013 was the date I first visited Wigmore Hall for a Prina recital I booked at the last minute to wrap up a good opera year in style. This time it was quieter and smaller scale than usual even at Wigmore Hall; it infused me with contentment, which is quite unusual to find outside oneself these days.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says contralto? For me it’s Vivaldi:
How awesome is this aria? “Awesomer” is only:
Whenever I hear these arias I really, really want to be a contralto myself, drop from acuti to the chest register and thrash things on stage as mad Orlando 😀
…but in all seriousness I’m just getting pumped for hearing Stutzmann sing some wrist-slashing Handel contralto arias (because, unlike Vivaldi, that’s what Handel usually gives his lowest voiced ladies).
Thought I’d point out that I made some updates to that unusually scatterbrained entry 😉 This blog is testimony that I’m not quite as lacking in discipline as it sometimes feels like… [ / end navel gazing, though we could have some naval gazing to go with that post ].
Out of that long list of Autumn 2016 at Wigmore Hall I posted a while ago I managed to secure the following:
But before all that there’s a return to the Proms (deities help us with the acoustics) with a concert performance of that badass 20th century 1 act opera:
03/08 Bluebeard’s Castle (Ildikó Komlósi and John Relyea)
…and who knows how the shaky state of events will impinge on my concert going afterwards (I know, first world problems; the (not so U)K is still part of the first world… for now).
Even so, looking at the ROH shows coming up on General Sale in a fortnight, there is Cosi which I will have to wing somehow (though I have no idea about Corinne Winters ? I hope Bychkov can keep it light) and this curious Norma. I don’t know what to say. Isn’t Yoncheva a bit young for Norma? Fura del Baus, though, sounds like might do something with this very difficult to stage opera. Then there’s Hoffmann…
We love some singers because they are full of emotion. We love others because they dazzle us with their skills. We love Sonia Prina because of her magnetic personality.
The moment she stepped on stage, unapalogetically rock’n’roll (blue spiky hair, tank top and trousers with spangly belt), all eyes were on her. And that’s where they stayed for the rest of the night, along with warmer and warmer ovations. The woman is one of those physical singers who, if nothing else, embodies the energy of the music, be it sorrow, gentleness or triumph. It is, of course, triumph that fits her positive, impish personality best. It’s always great to see a short person command the stage 😉
Sonia Prina and laBarocca | Works by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
— Sinfonia Le cinesi – very lightly done; I noticed that both kinds of bows were used – the first violin as well as another one and the double bass used the old school ones, everyone else had the usual type; sadly I can’t tell you more as I haven’t noticed this before (I’m sure it was just me) so I have nothing to compare it to or know anything on the subject…
Dal suo gentil sembiante Demetrio – Prina started with a soft, tender aria that showcased the many moods she commands and her skill at gracefully transitioning between them
M’opprime m’affana La Sofonisba – she brought forward her very strong low notes – clear, of satisfyingly dense texture and healthy; fury came through, her dynamic stage presence adding to the gravitas
— Sinfonia Ipermestra – the harpsichord as driving force felt istelf present here specifically and throughout in general; the horn had a very fine tone
Nobil onda La Sofonisba – here Prina showed off her ample emotional range, with an emphasis on nobility of spirit
Se in campo armato La Sofonisba – as the title implies, this is a bombastic bravura aria with horns; Prina put all of herself into it (major “stew stirring” arm movements 😉 ), showed spot-on timing throughout and ended with a towering (though not ear-splitting, thank you contralto texture) ff. As I was saying to Leander (read her take on it), this is how you do a trouser role (even though Sofonisba isn’t a trouser role 😀 but you catch my drift – the authority poured off her)
— Sinfonia La Semiramide riconosciuta – the horn and the winds return; all well integrated
Sperai vicino il lido Demofoonte – she was fearless and spontaneous here, though I felt iffy about her cadenza
Se tu vedessi come vegg’io Ippollito – this was a moment where it was obvious that Prina “stepped” into it well before her part started; she didn’t break the mood in between the verses either
— Ballabili (Dances) Orfeo ed Euridice
Tradita, sprezzata La Semiramide riconosciuta – the low strings created an excellent angsty mood; Prina vividly sustained and was on top of the very strong contrasts; it made me think she’d rock Monteverdi where this matters way more than agility
Se fedele mi brama il regnate Ezio – this one was all about colour and fun with dynamics in general
Encore: ? – whatever it was (she named it but as usual I didn’t get it…), it was suitably grand. Prina dueted very handsomely with the horn (see my comments on that below).
Sonia Prina’s voice is one I instantly liked. It’s unmistakable, as is her manner of singing. More than that, it really works with the whole: her strong stage presence finds perfect reflection in its top to bottom opacity mixed with lighteness. That’s the thing, I think. It’s very opaque, without being particularly dark, but light in weight (though “punchy”, not agile). She can, when she wants, brighten it for effect, and then it gets surprsingly gentle, almost vulnerable, but generally speaking it’s compact and direct. It goes very well with the sound of the horn. It’s regal and extroverted.
Recently I’ve started to listen to more (pre reform) Gluck and I’m liking it better and better. Among other things his La clemenza di Tito is surprisingly (or not?) fetching. More on that in an upcoming post.
This particular selection has afforded Prina the opportunity to show off her considerable emotional range. She’s given us everything from tender gentleness (some disarming diminuendos) to unmovable authority (courtesy of her rock solid – and very sexy – chest notes) – sometimes within a span of seconds, conducted with amazing self assurance. If her coloratura is rather curiously deployed – and, some would say, fired with more aplomb than accuracy – and her ornaments seem so spontaneous that they misfire on occasion, she can build and sustain the mood of an arioso with a coherence and an authority I don’t see very often.
One of the things I remember from watching that Thomas Hampson masterclass was his insistence that the singer should get into the mood and rhythm of the aria before their part starts. Prina definitely does that. She’s riding that mood, whichever it is, whether she’s singing or not. She’s the kind of singer who pays attention to her surroundings (the orchestra), and so her singing feels very oraganic. It’s not for people who go for rigour and cleanliness, but she knows rhythm, has impecable timing, knows how to colour her phrases and make them interesting and isn’t afraid to use her body to illustrate the music. Isn’t afraid to be herself, in fact. She might not be technically the best but she’s one of the most interesting, unique and infectiously positive singers on the scene today. She’s not fussy or self conscious; she sings, she has a good time – seemingly even when the aria is about heartbreak or scorn. We’ve got 6 months until the next Wigmore Hall installment 😀
Random debate with Team London: Bach or Vivaldi?
There are times when you miss something and discover it was great only after you read a review. Stile Antico sang this at Wigmore Hall on December 31 and I missed it. I’m not exactly gutted as I did not know about it or about Stile Antico before but it’s a gorgeous piece and it must be wonderful hearing it live along with the rest of the Mass.
Invernizzi and Prina – 3 January, Wigmore Hall = MIA
What are the odds? Wigmore Hall says both ladies were ill so nada show this Saturday. I was really looking forward to an evening of Baroque love duets but what can you do? Shit happens. Some other time, hopefully soon.
Almost. I visited Wigmore Hall’s site and Spring dates have been popping up. I got Prina and Invernizzi tickets for 3 January since I managed to miss them when they were last there earlier this year. Not sure why, as I love Prina. She’s got such a wonderful tone and playful personality.
I also spotted a Jessica Pratt recital and jumped at the chance. I have greatly enjoyed her in Rossini. Why she’s not already singing all the bel canto roles in the big houses is beside me.
But I think I should shell out for Gerald Finley and Marie-Nicole Lemieux as well…
You know how sometimes you must listen to a certain aria or else? I came across this gorgeous rendition of Ma quando tornerai:
I think Auger is my favourite Alcina. I love how woo-hoo-yay! the threatening first verse is. And then she gets dark and expressive in the second one, where Alcina is pleading with Ruggiero to return to her. Gotta love 2-mood Baroque arias.
But actually the aria I had to have or else was Semplicetto, a donna credi:
Giustiniani sounds lovely but how about that orchestra? I love the odd touches of humour in this opera. I mean I’ve never quite got the tigress simile in Sta nell’Ircana1 and Di te mi rido is just weird (mostly in a good way, the ha-ha-ha-has are great but Ruggiero is sarcastic rather than amused, so it’s not funny haha…).
Moving on, a bit of Bradamante:
I’ve always wondered why Handel wrote Bradamante’s part lower than Ruggiero’s. Maybe he was short one quality musico. But it’s not a trouser role. I’ve confused myself now. Was the term contralto even used in the 1730s? Or did they just employ sopranos with good chest notes? Anyway, Bradamante’s a busy woman, ain’t she? Especially in a wooly coat 😉
The heroic knight Ruggiero is destined to a short but glorious life, and a benevolent magician is always whisking him away from the arms of his fiancée, Bradamante. Bradamante is not the type to put up with the constant disappearance of her lover, and she spends vast portions of the poem in full armor chasing after him. Just before the opera begins she has rescued him from an enchanted castle, only to have her hippogriff take a fancy to Ruggiero and fly off with him.
That’s one naughty hippogriff. Are we sure the benevolent magician has not fed him enchanted oats?
- Maybe I’m just too hung up on the apparent randomness of mentioning a tigress, like I used to be on all the boats being pushed this or that way in the storm-referencing arias ;-) ↩
Since my boss, in his infinite wisdom, decided to reschedule my missing shift in January, I had the opportunity to end 2013 on a fun note:
Sonia Prina & Ensemble Claudiana (led by lutist Luca Pianca) | Wigmore Hall
…are coming to Wigmore Hall to sing Baroque. Not together, mind, although that would be way cool (like in that Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno). Ah, the curse of options! But since I can’t go to Paris to see Alcina, on account of shot finances, might as well treat myself locally to two of my favourite singers, innit?