All you’ve heard about the Halle Handel Fest atmosphere is true. Now I’m not your best witness, seeing as how I only had time/funds1 for one performance in one venue but the feel in and around Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche was relaxed and congenial, complete with “cheerleader” thumping.
Going to a not very large town at the weekend (long weekend at that) makes said town appear deader than perhaps it is. So you shouldn’t be surprised we saw Prina strolling again or that we ran into other “opera travellers” (this time Leander and Baroque Bird’s Twitter friends Meri from Barcelona and Jutta from… Germany) – it’s probably because the only people out and about were musicians and opera fans. After the show we joined them for some general opera chat (often from opposite sides of the argument! keeping it intellectually stimulating into the night 😉 ).
Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche is on Leipzigerstrasse across from shops and has a fountain and stone benches where you can wait (feverishly) for the doors to open. We were there super early because Agathe was convinced the show was starting at 7pm (eager 😉 ). It paid off!
I scouted the area (as it was on my path) before meeting Agathe and then we went there together. There was no movement that early on (3pm) and little at 6pm. Then a few old ladies dressed for church showed up and still the door stayed shut. Eventually Prina herself (+ fiance) skipped by (proper spring in her step) to the artists’ entrance. “Our” door = nada.
Finally we were allowed in at 7pm on the dot (I imagine) but not in-in, just in the boxoffice area and in the inner courtyard. Prina and team were doing warmups on the other side of the wall, as if our fire needed stoking 😉 As we were chatting, Meri from Barcelona showed up. We had met at Stutzmann’s 2 July show at the Wiggy last year, when she said “I know you from from Giulia on Twitter!” The Giulia she meant is the Giulia we know and love (so thank you, Giulia, for mentioning me, even though I’m not on Twitter 🙂 ). Small Baroque world, small Baroque fan world. To illustrate just how small, Meri and I met again the next day at Schönefeld Airport.
Finally we got in. We hoped the seat next to me would still be free and Agathe could upgrade but sadly no dice. I had two gents dressed in suits on each side; how they coped with the heat is a mystery to me but then they probably haven’t spent the last decade at an average temperature of 19C like yours truly.
Ombra cara (with Vivaldi instrumental greatest hits and the Hasse one from the Rokoko CD because everyone likes it)
Sonia Prina contralto
George Petrou director | Armonia Atenea
i. Concert in A minor RV522 (Vivaldi)
Bella Asteria Tamerlano
Agitato da fiere tempeste Ricardo primo
i. La follia (Vivaldi)
Ombra cara Radamisto
Furibundo spira il vento Partenope
i. Concert in G major for mandolin and orchestra Op.3 Nr.11 (JA Hasse)
Pena, tiranna Amadigi
Se fiera belva ha cinto Rodelinda (what is this one ripping off? I can’t figure out!)
i. Concert in E minor RV484 (Vivaldi)
Qual nave smarrita Radamisto
Venti, turbini Rinaldo
Già l’ebro mio ciglio (? I’m pretty sure it was this one…) Orlando
Fammi combatere Orlando
Prina beamed through the evening and infected everyone on stage and most beyond with her liveliness. Even Meri’s friend Jutta, who’s hardly a Prina fan, noted with surprise that she’d never seen Petrou smile before.
She started with Bella Asteria which was all gentle lovey-doveness; a good easing into the mood. I’d heard it in that interview she did for the BBC last month and wasn’t quite convinced. Again, live everything sounds better; it’s probably easier to feed off a roomful of people than to sound exciting in a studio with an audience of technicians at work and a (good) accompanist on the harpsichord, especially when no one asks you how it is to play a man on stage 😉
It’s true she can make you swoon with her sudden drops to seductive ppps and her lightly smoked tone sounded as smooth as ever but I first and foremost love her for the stomp. I can’t think of anyone else on the
Baroque opera stage today who’s more effective when it comes to the heroic stance. Certainly no one looks like they have more fun with it.
That fun goes a very long way. I might just be speaking for myself but forget about aced high notes and ringing chest ones, smooth coloratura and beautiful legato – if the performance is bland and detached you might just as well stay home and listen to a polished recording. The truth is I’m going through the trouble of organising a trip abroad because I want to be seduced. I want that electricity in the room (even the occasional palpitations that come with it) that can only be communicated directly by a very involved performer.
After a triple dose of Prina within the span of three weeks it’s perhaps hard to write anything new. She was happy and in great form. She “delivered” to the standards those who like her would appreciate. In fact, having seen her 6 times now I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t “on”. Quite the work rate.
A recital is a different beast from an operatic performance, even a concert one. The performer mainly feeds off you, the audience, as opposed to other performers on stage. Baroque Bird was curious if there had been any costume changes. I was surprised to note that I hadn’t even thought about that and that I actually didn’t remember any in previous recitals. But apparently there had been (at Wiggy). So you see, perhaps it’s not that kind of venue, as Baroque Bird later mused. Perhaps a regular recital is different from a festival recital.
Though the atmosphere was relaxed, it was so in a different manner than at Wiggy. Generally, as you can tell, the setlist was very structured – now a slow and sexy aria, now a furious one, and this structure was not strayed from, for better or worse, even in the encores, where performers usually loosen up and may even sing an aria by a (gasp) different composer (what? we had so much Vivaldi already!). I wonder how much say the conductor has, since I saw some material overlap with the following day’s Cencic recital in Salzburg. I was happy with the choices, quite a few of which I had not heard her sing before. But you can see what I mean when it comes to the feel of the thing. If I were to compare the three recent performances I’ve seen, the TADW one was lively and free, the Barbican a bit toned down and the Halle one lively but a tad too neatly organised.
Of course that doesn’t mean the fury arias didn’t punch. I had already hinted at almost passing out from the sheer drama in Furibundo spira il vento (that knack for timing I keep mentioning when it comes to Prina) and the mad stomp that Venti, turbini turned out to be. I’ll forever be let down now if the next performances of it I see don’t include kicks and stomping 😀 The urgent way she phrases the words venti, turbini! in the repeats is unique, too. Some people go soft on turbini and rush with the command, but let me tell you: it’s wrong.
After her impressive stint earlier this Spring in Rodelinda it was good to hear her sing a Bertarido aria for a change (and the damn thing got properly stuck in my head for days!). Same with Agitato da fiere tempeste and Fammi combatere, which were interesting to hear with a thicker kick, as in my mind it’s always Ann Hallenberg singing them and although I love her too, I don’t quite see her as a mad (anti)hero.
…I think I have to leave the comments on the swoony-seductive arias to Agathe 🙂
The day started with downpours so I spent the morning in a heavy session of thumb twiddling at the temporary dehggi residence in Halle. The sun came out with a vengeance once Agathe and I met by Handel’s statue. We decided to stroll, which was very pleasant (let’s walk this way!) on a now warm and quiet summer afternoon. I’m a big fan of the winding street thing and I also appreciate the unassuming, such as Handel House; those two terms sum up the Old Town.
Our conversation extended from opera to the past 30 post-communist years, because it’s quite obvious Eastern Germany hasn’t yet shaken the spirit. Halle is an interesting mixture of said pretty winding medieval streets with goodlooking architecture in the Old Town and communist vestiges popping up elsewhere (like the train/bus station area, which gave me flashbacks to the ’80s; even the customer service did2). Leipzigerstrasse, the street linking the train/bus station area with the venue and Marktplatz in the Old Town, is a curious narrow, old building-lined shopping strip with a persistent ex-communist feel (the shops) which feel was not aided by the super deadness on a Sunday/church holiday.
I felt the venue a bit wonky from the getgo, as it’s very narrow for how tall it is, with barely two aisles of seats and some more tucked away on the left side. I do get it, continental Gothic churches and all, but hot on a Summer day3 with all windows closed. At the front it was even hotter due to stage lights. Jutta later joked there was ventilation at the back – at foot level 😉 The staff was indeed very nice – the coat checker even suggested Agathe and I leave our stuff on the same hanger. The toilets were likewise good. So though I’m being critical I don’t want it to come off as all around negativity.
Baroque Bird informed me since that Jutta had slammed the band on Twitter and I will admit I too had some issues with the sound, though to me it wasn’t clear who or what was the biggest culprit. Either way, it’s not natural to have problems hearing properly from the second row. Namely at the beginning (Concert in A minor) I couldn’t make out the low strings. Later I did notice a significant improvement in balance but a sense of muddled sound persisted; after several times at St George’s Hanover Sq I know that sound in churches often gets lost vertically, so it might have well been the case. Jutta said later the band is usually very unbalanced but I had not heard them before live, and since I know even less about instruments than about voices, I’ll refrain from further comments. Suffice it to say I wasn’t convinced – though when I could hear the low strings I did rather enjoy them. It helped that Prina’s voice has a cello-like consistency.
As the lyrical waxing above may remind you, I’m a singer’s fan so as long as the singer sounds good to me the accompaniment comes second. But having heard some orchestras with enough personality to make me pay attention I’m not denying the experience is more pleasurable when the singer has a solid “cushion” to spring off. In conclusion:
ps: as usual, sorry about any typos etc., just finished a batch of nights but I know I’ve taken long enough with this post 🙂
- I actually did have time but it does get complicated when there are only so many days (budget) planes fly from London to Leipzig and back and you have to look at other options for departing the land of music. ↩
- lady selling me the flixbus ticket somehow understood my “Berlin” as “Hamburg”; I know my German doesn’t rate but seriously. ↩
- if that Salzburg thing works out I think I need to bring ice packs along. ↩
- Have some sort of ventilation at the front of Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche
Just get a better (less tall?) venue (acoustics)
Not charge €35 for worldwide ticket shipping (Agathe = ❤ )
Things Sonia Prina could do better:
But because of the lack of ventilation, which she herself complained about after the first aria (a lovely rendition of Bella Asteria), I thought I was going to have a heart attack towards the end of Furibundo spira il vento – I love that aria and it’s also in her company that I first heard it – live! – so I have a particular attachment to it especially when sung by her. You can imagine my pulse rose again to alarming levels, living every high and low of the anguished coloratura… It really works better as a recital aria than it its Partenope context (too dramatic for it).
And in spite of the short (?) intermission, the juice, and the also stagnant air in the otherwise neat venue garden, I was this close to leaving the show during Pena tiranna, which was the first aria after the intermission.
But I kept thinking you can’t possibly miss Venti, turbini! and somehow made it through a few terrifying moments when I thought I was about to pass out and the drama that would cause. It was a good thing I got ahold of myself, because man, she rocked Venti, turbini like you wouldn’t believe. Or you would, if you enjoy her. Her timing! The sheer joy of singing that is so infectious about her ❤ the way she simply owns the stage – VENTI! (stomp) TURBINI! (kick)… That Rinaldo would so kick Armida’s arse right back to where she’s from 😀
But this is just a teaser 😉 a more detailed account when I get back to London… if there is still a London left?!
ps: yes, she did walk by us. Just once 🙂
😀 😀 😀 yes, that’s exactly what Anik and and I did tonight at the best Baroque venue in the world, aka Theater an der Wien (did I mention how in love I am with this venue? It’s been so good to me so far!). And there is pictorial evidence of Polinesso in our clutches, which I will post after a bit of doctoring to preserve Anik’s dignity.
In case you were wondering, the show per se was [ insert your superlative of choice here; hell, insert more than one ] too. Truly a wonderful night of opera and tandem perving 😉 (shoulders…! And Polinesso at work). There will also be civilised posts about this, fear not. Well, mostly civilised…
ps: I was in Vienna and it did not rain. Clearly I did something very, very special to deserve this mini holiday. Or I will have to pay dearly one day. But for everything to fall in place like this… aaaah. And to have someone likeminded to share it with 🙂 Belinda freakin Carlisle was right.
edit 14/05/17: there are surprisingly still tickets on sale for the Barbican show on Tuesday. If you’re in London do yourself a favour and book!
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.