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The “history of lovers” Tancredi (1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ornament City hosts The Battle of Trills

Take me down to Ornament City
Where the runs are quick and the trills aplenty

(to the tune of G’n’R’s Paradise City)

Tancredi seems to have gained considerable ground. We don’t know if it’ll reach our fair shores any time soon but it’s frequently staged in Europe these days. I came around to this year’s Lausanne production via Yijie Shi’s Argirio. It boasted our much appreciated acquaintances Anna Bonitatibus, aka Boni and Jessica “eardrum hazard” Pratt as the doomed couple. Here’s their (extended) take on my beloved Ah, come mai quel’anima. That first trill made my eyes pop out. And there’s 8 more minutes of countless notes. I think there’s also feeling but I couldn’t focus on that just yet.

The mysterious popularity of the big, bad Amenaide

It’s been a popular topics fixture since I released it on an unsuspecting world. But really, why should this post (appear to) be so popular? As any WP aficionado knows, the secret’s in the title.


That being said, isn’t this a good description of Amenaide:

7. Female ninjas will usually grow up to be caring, kind and compassionate, despite being raised in an environment that harshly and violently discourages such behavior. (12 Things I learned from watching Ninja Assassin)


The Amenaide as ninja assassin Tancredi (Salzburg, 1992)

This draft has been biding its time since the Autumn of 2013 in the dark and mossy opera, innit? vault. Yesterday thadieu and Smorg showed unexpected interest in it and since I happened to have a day off, its day in the sunshine has come. Thadieu, I’m only talking about the bits you posted on youtube as I don’t have the rest.


Tancredi: Vesselina Kasarova
Amenaide: Nelly Miricioiu
Argirio: Donald Kaasch
Orbazzano: David Pittsinger
Isaura: Ruxandra Donose
Roggiero: Caroline Maria Petrig
Conductor: Pinchas Steinberg | Vienna State Opera Choir | ORF Symphonieorchester | Felsenreitschule | Salzburger Festspiele (August, 1992)

Given that it was performed at Felsenreitschule I mourn the fact that it was a concert performance (I can only imagine how they could’ve handled the boat). The ‘schule is such an odd, badass venue. And yes, the word that comes back again and again regarding this performance is badass. And odd.

As the story goes, back in ye olde early ’90s, Salzburger Festspiele thought they were cool (don’t they always?) and booked cult Tancredi Marilyn Horne as the slightly morose knight. Since things often don’t go as planned, she cancelled rather late in the game. I think the original Amenaide also dropped out but I can’t remember who it was (big name belcantist – Katia Ricciarelli maybe? Edita Gruberova! Cheers, t & S). When Salzburger Festspiele saw themselves without main singers they chanced on the 27 year-old VK who was just then eager to pounce on the opera world, one long and difficult role at a time. Finally, belcanto gun for hire Miricioiu saved their Amenaide-less hide – for a terrible price 😉 fear and trills in Siracusa

The refined no-nonsense Tancredi (Horne, 1983)

Once again, Horne’s Tancredi is a proper knight, no stranger to chopping enemies in cold blood. Amenaide is no ingenue either. She sounds like a twenty something and she won’t swoon easily. The feeling is of mature people getting in a rather childish entanglement. It’s low on subtlety but its energy is fun.

But this isn’t a verismo opera, so too much reality isn’t helping the entertainment value. The knight created by Rossi and Rossini is both macho and soulful. This is probably not true to reality but it makes for better theatre. The challenge is, then, to integrate both these sides of the character.

  • Tancredi: Marilyn Horne 
  • Amenaide: Lella Cuberli
  • Argirio: Ernesto Palacio
  • Orbazzano: Nicola Zaccaria
  • Isaura: Bernardette Manca di Nissa
  • Roggiero: Patricia Schumann

Conductor: Ralf Weikert | Venezia (11 June 1983)

This is an audience recording from the early ’80s and sounds like it. Often I had to strain my ears and still wasn’t sure if what I heard wasn’t warped by the limitations of the recording technology of the time. There are breaks in the middle of some arias where the sound turns better or worse, I guess depending on how the singers moved on stage or when the bootlegger moved the equipment. Luckily no consumptives were sat nearby.

Acts I and II

The no-nonsense Tancredi (Horne, 1977)

  • Tancredi: Marilyn Horne horneT77
  • Amenaide: Margherita Rinaldi
  • Argirio: Renzo Casellato
  • Orbazzano: Nicola Zaccaria
  • Isaura: Bianca Maria Casoni
  • Roggiero: Clara Foti

Conductor: Gabriele Ferro | Orchestra e coro del teatro dell’Opera di Roma (1977)

Like the Valentini Terrani Tancredi I wrote about a couple of months ago, this too is an Italian TV relay, obviously shot on VHS, and the colours are a bit off and fuzzy. It’s a very traditional but fitting and uncluttered production.

We have Marilyn Horne to thank for bringing Tancredi back to the repertoire. Whether hers is the ultimate Tancredi or not is a matter of taste (and of how wide/tight you like your vibrato). She’s properly knightly and she’s got a lot of elaborate fioritura.

Acts I and II

The latex/high gothic Tancredi (Valentini Terrani, 1985)


Latex, brass wigs, corpse paint, a cage for Amenaide in Act II and a proper bad-ass boat. Hell, yea, I’d have liked that boat myself. Nevermind that in 1005AD work on Notre Dame de Paris hadn’t even started2, the stage design conveys a satisfyingly Medieval look, although I’m not sure how you can work latex into the Middle Ages. Logical considerations aside, it’s my favourite production design of Tancredi so far. Did I mention the boat? Oh, yea.

  • Tancredi: Lucia Valentini Terrani
  • Amenaide: Gianna Rolandi
  • Argirio: Dalmacio Gonzales
  • Orbazzano: Roberto Scandiuzzi
  • Isaura: Monica Tagliasacchi
  • Roggiero: Lucia Rizzi

Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti | Orchestra e coro del Teatro Regio di Torino (1985)

Stage direction: Pierluigi Pizzi (just so you rest assured Calixto Bieito1 was not involved in this production ;-))

On we go!

Tancredi, the Sicily-born Norman knight exiled to Byzantium

Recently I was involved in a conversation on Marilyn Horne and Ewa Podles, who happen to have sung famous Tancredis. This naturally led to a few pleasant evenings (or afternoons) with different Tancredis.

tancrediIn case there was any doubt, this is one of my favourite operas1. It’s got a somewhat stuffy hero2, a more stubborn than usual female character3, a pretty satisfying villain and could be staged with sword fights if directors really tried. Oh, and, you know – the music. The music is youthful Rossini, just about the time he perfected the conveyor belt he was going to use again and again until he retired. It doesn’t get staged enough apparently because the title character is hard to cast and has a lot to sing. Pah, I say.

Exactly 200 years ago (1813), this was Rossini’s first big success and it spawned a humongous #1 hit across the nation, aka Di tanti palpiti, the hero’s entrance aria. Sometimes when I stumble upon a shitty music channel at work I try to imagine Di tanti palpiti in heavy rotation, possibly advertising Uncle Ben’s – or maybe Tilda4 – oh, how that risotto con funghi makes my heart beat…

This post functions as a springboard for a series of Tancredis old and newish which I’m going to fawn over, laugh at or, preferably, both.

Al campo!

  1. As far as history goes, I have two favourite periods: Rome and the Crusades. So expect many posts on operas set during those times. Its historical setting isn’t the only reason I love Tancredi but it’s important enough. 
  2. He’s a bit of a hard-ass, isn’t he? If it wasn’t clear he truly loves Amenaide he would be insufferable with his chip on the shoulder. Then again, he was exiled, expropriated and his girlfriend is disputed by two other men. To top it all he thinks she doesn’t love him anymore. That’s a shitty deal. And he still fights for her honour; he’s truly old school. 
  3. As the 19th century advances, female characters start turning into helpless dolls. Gone are the days of Aggripina, Poppea, Alcina, Vitellia, Konstanze, Suzanna, Dorabella and Fiodiligi, here come Giulietta, Lucia, Gilda, Violetta and Mimi. Rossini is the one who really tries, even in the case of a standard opera seria plot such as this. 
  4. It came down the ages as “the rice aria”, because reportedly Rossini was cooking when he came up with the tune. Poor Tancredi, if he only knew. Then again, he had been at sea for maybe a month, he might have liked some home made rice with that fish. 

Tancredi Act I finale

tancred roadAlthough I’ve had this on my mobile for over a year, I just now really listened to the lovely duet bit between Amenaide and Tancredi which comes pretty much in the middle, when everybody goes very quiet and has his/her own lyrical moment. Normally I want the coda with the typical Rossini fireworks but last night this clicked. in fact it’s not so much a duet as a sort of melting into each other. This entwined singing comes to the forefront in Ah, come mai quell’anima, of course, as it creates a very sexy tension between them, whereas here it’s a bit more subtle, just vocal caressing. A good example of a sense of drama in music. You almost don’t need visuals it’s so vividly expressed.

The man just knew how to write a proper finale; from the staccato shouts of surprise at the beginning through the lyrical musings in the middle to the “terrible resolution” ending (echoing into the not so distant future the L’italiana Act I finale) = some craftsmanship.