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Polinesso sexmagic (aka Ariodante, Theater an der Wien, 12 May 2017)

Ariodante has been a slow burner with me. It’s precisely because it’s centred on the dopey dude, instead of the villain. I don’t mind heroes on white horses, it’s dopeyness that makes my eyes roll.

Ariodante: lalala, I’m in love!
Ginevra: me too! with you!
Ariodante: oh? Really? Whoa. Like, we should get married.
Ginevra: yes! But, oh, my dad is coming!
Ariodante: crap, what if he doesn’t like me for a son-in-law? [doubt already present; heavy foreshadowing]
The King: fear not, Ariodante, I want nothing more than the two of you to get married.
Ariodante: you mean you already knew we were in love?
The King: duh! Take her hand, you have my blessing.
Ariodante (~6min coloratura fest): like, wow.

Meanwhile, Polinesso:

Most directors insist on making Ariodante the centre of the action to¬†unsurprisingly mild dramatic results. Luckily Richard Jones thought otherwise when he saw through the unidimensional sketch that is Polinesso on paper. This was the moment when, in spite of fine Polinessi of the past, things got turned on their head and the reign of evil wreaked havoc with the hearts of contralto lovers the world over ūüėČ

Sorry dear Ariodanti, us damned¬†love both of your arias with notte in the title and even the lalala and like, wow¬†ones, but when one has the chance to see Prina as the villain¬†it’s game over.

Ok, I’m trying to be objective here and talk about everybody because I genuinely thought the cast was strong from side to side. On the other heand I was genuinely giddy through the night so my objectivity may be called into question.

Judging by my previous comments, you wouldn’t know I noticed¬†there are also 2 tenors and 1 bass in it and they were excellent too. I was very glad to sit where I did and be able to hear all the ppps employed (how often does that happen?! <- but that was the reoccurring theme of the night) by Matthew Brook. His is a very well developed (human) King, but I understand he’s been singing the role on stage concurently with the tour. You can tell from his fatherly glances that he loves his daughter and it’s only duty that makes him cast her away; a duty he perhaps doesn’t quite believe in but what’s a King to do, eh?

Portillo was also ideal for Lurcanio, both vocally (slender but not whingy, great command of coloratura) and dramatically (he’s the clueless one in shiny shoes; they were so shiny I was wondering if they weren’t rock solid; he thinks looking the part is what Dalinda is after. It’s interesting they have that duet in the end, when, even after Polinesso is dead, he still asks Dalinda if he loves (present tense) Polinesso. He may not be that clueless; then again, this is an opera centred on doubt and male weakness so he might actually not be aware he’s clueless). You probably remember Portillo¬†from the seminal Aix production or the Carnegie Hall webcast (still on medici tv for your pleasure).

If you’d like further comments on his performance – and in general – check Anik‘s review of this performance, she knows what she’s talking about and she’s thorough enough to think about the tenor as well as¬†the gender angle. I never spend too much time analysing secondary characters in Ariodante this side of Dalinda, who, with her split loyalties, is a genuinely interesting person. You know she’s good but she has some serious intimacy issues to work out, preferably not in¬†Polinesso’s company. I think we can all, more or less, recognise ourselves in her, every time we make the same mistake again because there’s that personal weakness (whichever it is) that compels us in spite of knowing better. Though Bevan doesn’t get to such levels of inner darkness as Piau does in the Aix production – no that anyone would expect her to, in a concert performance – she brings out Dalinda’s wide eyed fascination with Polinesso vividly.

all these shots are from the Carnegie Hall webcast and I saved them for this specific purpose

Their interaction, built on Bevan and Prina’s obvious ease with each other, drives the drama: visceral, freely given and forcefully taken, in stark contrast to Ariodante and Ginevra’s formal courtship. It’s telling that Ariodante doesn’t appear aware of it. How could anything like that enter his line of vision, before Scherza, infida? He’s not yet living, just imagining his life.

Though my love affair with Theater an der Wien continues unabated, you may be surprised to hear that TADW wasn’t my first choice of venue after the Barbican. That was easy, though the thought was tedious (not the wonderful environment of Brutalism again!).

When I realised this show was also going on tour1 the notion of taking myself abroad as well¬†blossomed. My first choice was Theatre des Champs Elysees for another excuse of returning to Paris. But I found out that, in spite of its easy going atmosphere, the online booking was rather mysterious. Briefly put, I couldn’t tell if there were any tickets left.

not Linke Wienzeile but sunny and hot on Mariahilfer Str. on 12 May

Then came Hamburg, because hello new, muchly hyped venue. But that was completely sold out! Back in January, before¬†all the other venues! Anik quipped that people go there for the novelty of the venue rather than for the music. I consoled myself with the thought that it’s too big and the reason I wanted to sample something else beside the Barbican was specifically its size. So what would be the point, wonderful acoustics or not? It’s either intimate or it’s not.

And we know which one of all those venues is the most intimate. Wouldn’t you know, there were still tickets left.

But I still wasn’t totally sold on Ariodante¬†as a work. The thought niggled that perhaps investing in two performances, one of which involved travel abroad, was overkill. That notion was finally blasted away by the Carnegie Hall webcast. Yep, I definitely needed two performances, one of them¬†preferably in a smaller venue. The webcast might famously have sound compressing problems but they could not take away from the wickedly fine performance of orchestra and¬†cast under Bicket.

So after all that, on Friday I was back on¬†the now familiar grounds of Linke Wienzeile, now with hot sun and not a hint of rain in those fluffy clouds. First Anik and I had a very enjoyable pre-opera chat (though I was a bit of a lame-o to begin with and waited outside whilst she was waiting inside). We both ate¬†the desert she posted on her blog. I have to admit I too was so focused on our chat, on being there, on it being a gorgeous day that I’m not quite sure how it tasted either. I think it was suitably fluffy. This chat did contain snark ūüėČ on the usual topics you would imagine, but it turned out the cutoff time for snark was¬†7pm, with the cast¬†stepping on stage.

We went to the venue, each to our own box, which happened to be on different sides of the hall (we waved to one another). My seat, bought cheap, was the third row in the very first box on the left as you look at the stage, right above the parterre box I sat in for Cavalli’s Xerse. The box was great, within 2-3m of the singers and with a perfect view of the orchestra. The seat was abysmal, especially for a short person like yours truly. I could see neither the orchestra, nor the singers and I had a feeling the sound would be muffled.

left arrow = my box; right arrow = Anik’s box; the stage doesn’t extend behind the initial curtain for concert performances (you can click to enlarge pic)

Luckily – remember, it was my lucky day! -, the TADW audience are polite people, who actually sit in their designated seats (mwahahaha!). To begin with we were 4 in our box, with chairs to spare: a couple at the front row (centre and right corner), a very stiff gent in the second row (left corner) and me, of variable positions. I sat in the second row centre until two ladies came, saying (again, super politely and also friendly) all they wanted was to sit together and I of course obliged.

When the lights went down I made a show of asking them if they minded me taking one of the unoccupied seats at the front (right under the surtitle screen, I learn from the picture on the right) and they said they were absolutely fine.

I was more than fine; I was thrilled: orchestra to the right, the singers (shoulders, tattoos, funky shoes) a couple of yards below. I was thinking “I’m here!!! (TADW but also in the middle of things)”. It really doesn’t get better than this. So because there was nobody in front of me and, if I squeezed against the wall, nobody behind me either, I, as Anik says, ended up hanging out of the box every time something particularly exciting was going on. Which was all the time. If you want to get from liking an opera to loving it this is the way to do it. At TADW if possible2.

I think it was the stiff gent who had shied away from taking the empty seat at the front who “shopped” me out to the usher, as how would the usher have otherwise known to come in and ask me to take my proper seat, “just in case those people at the front came”? I said sure, I will take my proper seat if (and only if) those people do come. I’s a seasoned warrior, yo. There was no point to start opera fights, especially not when I was having so much fun and we were so close to the action (I might occasionally be unfriendly to seatmates but I wouldn’t deliberately disrupt a performance. Ever). So after the intermission I demurely took my third row seat, up until the time the kind ladies who only wanted to sit together (oh? ūüėČ ) were ready to close the box door. I obliged and then moved¬†to my claimed seat at the front. The gent went on seething whilst I was thinking whatcha gonna do? Sue me?¬†

As we know, the low mood Act II is the killer of casual Baroque fans. In the case of our box we lost the ladies and Рyay! Рthe seething gent. As my mum commented, why make a big deal out of it and then leave? So I took the opportunity to rearrange the seats a bit (there were too many at the front for just three of us and some plugs were poking into my thigh) and spent Act III in style (more hanging, more grinning, leading the applause on several occasions, major grinning, following the rhythm, watching Bicket play and interact with the singers etc. (nice detail: his emerald cufflinks)).

and now for a short 18th century-style clouds break

I’ve seen The English Concert a few times now in London (that amazing 2014¬†Alcina they did at the blasted Barbican (which also travelled to various places) among them) and they have that tight, phat sound that makes baroque strings¬†bounce/menace most alluringly, especially in pieces like Cieca notte. That’s one aria (arioso-like in scope) that once you start liking it becomes the central moment of the night. Poor Ariodante, it’s his bitter revelation moment. The world isn’t always your cocoon, buddy.

As much as I like JDD’s supple sound and attention to detail, you really want a denser voice in this to match the somber mood of the low strings. A rock solid chest register just kills. Coote has both of those qualities, plus a special knack for tragedy. But as Anik says, in spite of Coote’s relatively¬†recent move into much heavier repertoire, she also knows this is Baroque and doesn’t overdo it, neither does she lose sight of dynamic variation. Her voice has¬†not trouble filling a venue this size but she let it drop to breathtaking ppps when needed (again, Anik, who takes notes tirelessly, pinpoints just where those were). It was because I have liked her so much in Baroque that I had not heard¬†Coote live since that Alcina (also from a great, 2nd or 3rd seat row) <- actually I have! This year, even. As Octavian. Oops. It was then a pleasure to hear how good and idiomatic she still sounds almost 3 years (and many Mahler dirges (Anik again)) later from a few yards away. Hers is a direct approach, based on an often disarming combination of technique and emotional vulnerability.

You feel JDD’s Ariodante is a more complex character than usual, someone who’s on the verge of deserving the throne the King promises him, whereas Coote keeps him wide eyed and palpably youthful. He loves!!!, he is hurt as only one very young¬†can be and he gets angry when he finds out it was all a lie. Then he gets breathlessly¬†happy when all is fine again.

Speaking of a dense sound, every time Prina opened her mouth I wondered how can anyone imagine Polinesso otherwise than sung by a contralto (edit: perhaps because the role was created by Maria Caterina Negri?). It’s just right. I refer you again to Se l’inganno above, even if you know it well; listen again as you’re reading. Just like how Cieca notte is a defining moment for Ariodante (who has had some growing up to do over the course of the opera), this is Polinesso’s self actualistion.

I don’t know that great is the right word when it comes to Pina’s Polinesso. It’s more like Connolly’s Cesare and VK’s Sesto. It’s just how it should be and once you see it you wonder how else they ever did it before. Not only is there conviction in her acting, at no moment when she’s on stage – at the centre of attention, reacting to others’ lines/behaviour or simply sitting – do you forget that this is Polinesso and he’s the¬†villain. Also Prina’s really good at improvising little things (her reaction to Ginevra’s entrance was a bit different than at Carnegie Hall) that probably energise those around her. Definitely she brought out the best in Karg when Polinesso shows himself as Ginevra’s defender with just the right touch of mocking flourish, and Karg let it rip (no fucking way!!!) in such a spontaneous manner¬†I wouldn’t have thought her capable of.

Polinesso: she’s even hotter when she gets mad!

Anik senses him as a misfit but I see him as a chap who does not accept failure or second best. He knows he has to fight for what he wants (Ariodante doesn’t know that initially and possibly even at the end) and he is ready to do anything to further his ambition. The way Prina acted right before Polinesso’s duel with Lurcanio makes me think he’s bluffing, that he knows he will lose but goes through with it anyway. Maybe this is just my way of making sense of his anticlimatic¬†defeat. But I like the angle; if I think about it, I might have got that from Nesi’s Polinesso as well.

Related to what Anik was saying about how interesting Polinesso and Ariodante’s interactions are, it occurs to me that Polinesso, though without a doubt a strong character and a master¬†manipulator, is never trying to solve his predicaments via force. He doesn’t stab Ariodante, he makes him kill himself. I suppose 18th century audiences would see that as cowardly but to me it seems more like orchestrating the perfect crime.

It was interesting to hear Prina’s trademark way with coloratura from up close. In the past it took me a while to get used to it but now I think it’s part of her take no prisoners approach. Others might lose their way if they did it like that but she’s on top of it. She’s another singer whose singing is closely related to her acting, to the point it’s not worth talking about them separately. All her moves are reflected in the¬†sound and she’s not afraid to incorporate (evil) laughter or breaths (of indignation), gnashing of teeth etc.¬†if the lines call for that kind of thing. It all comes off as strong but not over the top. She’s also not afraid to show us exactly how Polinesso seduces Dalinda but even that doesn’t appear overdone. Seduction is an around the clock job, you can’t punch out after 8 hours¬†and hope the next shift will take care of it – because the next shift might just take care of it for good, haha, and all your toil will be for naught.

Karg as Ginevra had already made a strong impression on me in the webcast. Previously I had often¬†wondered why she’s been constantly singing at Wiggy; I guess I should’ve trusted them. It was also lucky I had seen the webcast, because on Friday she was wearing a red dress with her¬†(freckly) upper back exposed right under my very appreciative eyes. Here are some ……. for you to ponder that.

But the sound, right? I love it. You don’t hear me say I love a soprano’s voice so often, though I like quite a few sopranos. I usually like their personality or their vocal intelligence rather than the sound per se. But in Karg’s case, I just love the fullness of her tone, just right to avoid ping and just enough to accomodate excellent coloratura chops, just enough volume to carry well. It incorporates a bit of introspection, which is always very alluring to me.

She was quite reserved dramatically at Carnegie Hall – though I thought that suitable for Ginevra, who’s the bashful/upright kind – but I do agree she seemed more at ease at TADW, perhaps with a less complicated Ariodante. Like I mentioned in the comments over at Anik’s, I really enjoyed their duets, where you got a very appealing contrast between their voices, deftly emphasised by the way Handel entertwines their lines, especially in Bramo aver mille vite, which is easily one of the cutest awwww moments in Baroque.

Ariodante: do you still love me after all I put you through by believing you were a slut?
Ginevra: I adore you! Please take my heart! If I had more I’d give them all to you!
Ariodante: omg, me too! Let’s move in together¬†and give each other many hearts!
Ginevra:¬†let’s!
Ariodante:¬†let’s!
Ginevra and Ariodante: let’s move in together¬†and exchange hearts! Let’s! Let’s!
Statira (peeking in from another opera): wait, what? What’s this talk of heart exchange I hear? Stop the metaphorical talk, I’m having a panic attack!

Dear reader, it was wonderful. At the end I lingered in the box, just basking in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s good I can’t go there all the time and¬†see it lose its special charm. I still remember the “sardines” in the box across from mine, 10 people who stuck it out to the end, shoulder to shoulder, for the love of Handel. Or the chap in the first row centre, who was trying to keep track of the action via his programme. In the first row centre. Or the people in the standing room box just under the ceiling. I wonder how you see/hear from there (but not too hard; I like “my” box). Or sneaking amused glances at Anik scribbling away in her box whenever someone did something breathtaking, knowing she’s thinking along the same lines as I do. Or the lady in the box next to hers, who fanned herself vigorously through the entire show (TADW is on the hot side but not quite that bad, I’d say; maybe she was building arm muscle…). Or trying to figure out if Odoardo really has multicolour pastel socks on. Or wondering how they all decided which¬†outfits to use for each venue (this one is more bare shoulder-friendly, that one wants patterns, does Carnegie Hall need more dramatic collapsing on the floor so¬†the people up in the rafters get the point I’m a distraught father? (Brook scaled it way back down at TADW) etc.). Good geeky fun ūüėČ

Polinesso fanmagic

to give you an idea of the location of our gushing and eventual weak knee moment

The previous times we met for shows at TADW, Anik and I spent the intermissions in a lively exchange of impressions but this time it was rather a goofy exchange of grins and gushing. After the performance I think we started to put together some coherent ideas as we lingered in front of the poster at the front.

Eventually the time came to hightail each to our own home¬†(opera fans = regular party animals ūüėČ ) when Anik all of a sudden started tugging on¬†my sleeve and speaking in a strangled tone: look! look! I was thinking whatever happened to her, she’s normally so eloquent? when who would be casually strolling by (from behind me, the general direction of the stage door) with spiky hair and spiky backpack (remember them, rubber spikes)? I’m sure you know who by now.

I was indeed speechless for once. Then that funny thing happened (a first!), where my knees went literally (not just “literally”) soft, so I had to actually grab onto the white wall you see in the picture above. Since I was still lalalala with excitement I found this hysterically funny even though it was happening to me. But as you can see from Anik’s distillation of our moment, I wasn’t the only one on the verge of pulling a damsel in distress. I mean, come on, do people actually go weak in the knees? Given the right contralto it turns out they do.

me (fronting by way of joke): be still my beating heart! …wait, I think it had actually gone still for a moment.

So after we came to, we had one of those whoa! moments you remember from your teen years. We spent the next few minutes coming to grips with what had just happened (I know, you’re like wait, she just walked past you, why all the fluster?! to that I say you had to be there), when who would just as casually be strolling back from wherever she and her friend went? (one of the shops a couple of doors down from TADW). How nice of Prina to give us a few moments to catch our breath! ūüėČ

That’s when I knew we had to do something. Anik was all prim and proper (there is such a thing as too polite and apparently you don’t even have to be English) but all I could see in my mind was all the moments a chance presented itself and I didn’t grab it with both hands. I learned the hard way that you¬†almost never get the same chance twice, so when you do…!!! Let me tell you I hate regret as much as Polinesso hates virtue.

I plastered the biggest grin on my face and made a beeline for¬†Prina (I’m sure I barged into their conversation but what would Polinesso do, right?) and just went – without any intro – WE LOVE YOUR POLINESSO! WE LOVED THE SHOW! BUT MOSTLY WE LOVE¬†YOU! She was a bit confused at the beginning (who the hell is this person, should I know her from somewhere? is she mad? is she asking me for change?) but let me assure you flattery will get you anywhere ūüėČ I grabbed her hand, shook it and went on blabbering about how great she was and I was seeing her on Tuesday in London as well and btw, she was also singing something a bit weird in London in September – how come? and here’s my friend too (that was Anik, in front of whom we had arrived in the meanwhile).

This was Prina’s cue to actually get a word in edgewise and she introduced herself to Anik (in my mind I was like WE SO KNOW WHO YOU ARE! WE LOVE YOU!) and then she introduced her friend to us, who – surprise, surprise – was also a contralto (two for one!). I told her friend WE LOVE CONTRALTOS! because duh!¬†and it’s always exciting¬†to meet another one, since everyone (around here) knows there should be more of them.

‚̧ is all I’m saying (photo credit: Prina’s friend with Anik’s mobile)

Not to lose momentum I asked Prina¬†if she would be so nice as to take a picture with us and she chivalrously obliged. Her friend immediately took the initiative of¬†snapping the picture (Anik is actually in it as well but she’s pulling a Zoro and her identity must remain hidden).

Gotta love contraltos, so laid back and friendly ‚̧ I wonder if they wouldn’t have accepted, had we invited them to¬†a drink. But in spite of how it might sound, I was taking care not to be too intrusive and we let them go soon after. Not before laying some smooth moves on Prina, as you might know from the comment section in the Aaaahriodante post. One chance only and all that. But since it’s my claim to fame I shall reiterate. After we disengaged from the picture pose, Prina turned to me (you can see she was very close).

Prina: so you’re a singer too?
dehggi: yes! [I would’ve said yes to anything, haha] I mean no! (a beat, then winky eyes) Do I have to be a singer to like you?

She smiled like heh, good one! and I thought yes, she liked that and I felt even more buoyant than before. Then we said goodbye and good luck and they, just as casually, strolled back to where they came from, though they looked a bit undecided as to what to do next (have a drink with us!).

Given the daze of the moment I actually have no clue what Anik said or didn’t say so she’ll have to tell you that herself. But I hope she told Prina she was the one who wrote the post Prina had gushed about on FB.

Not 5 minutes pass (we’re back to gushing) and¬†Anik tugs on¬†my sleeve again – Karg with her mum or older relative and another woman passes by, in plimsols, leggins, backpack but still with the same hair, munching carrots ūüėÄ Opera singers are so low key ‚̧ You really have to look, because they are so unflashy off stage you could easily miss them. Off the heels she’s almost tiny (I’m saying almost because I also thought Prina was short and… well, you can see above which one of us is the tall chief). However! as someone quite obviously not tall, I of course am very heartened when I see we are so well represented on stage ūüėÄ

Moral of the story: do linger after the show, a beloved singer might just walk by slow enough to make you get over your starstruck state. Or it might just be fun chatting with an equally enthusiastic opera lover. Did I mention I love TADW3?


  1. I really like this idea. Gives people from further afield the opportunity to see a high quality show as well as gives those who would like to travel the advantage of checking out different venues. 
  2. Because I’m a bit uncultured, I just found out TADW is where Die Zauberflote premiered. Also Die Fledermaus. I like it even better now (if possible). 
  3. ¬†They aren’t paying me to say this. Though if they want to, I’ll be very happy with¬†that box seat for whenever I come over ;-) 

Aaaahriodante: we came, we perved, we cornered Prina

ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ 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 ūüėČ (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 ūüôā 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!

Theater an der Wien gets my approval once again

Yep, the new season looks Baroque/Hallenberg-fabulous.

Saul 16-27 Feb 2018 Arnold Schoenberg Choir ‚̧

Ottone, re di Germania 24 Sept 2017 Hallenberg

Giulio Cesare 18 Oct 2017 Galou + a very tempting cast in general with Dantone conducting

Publio Cornelio Scipione 24 Jan 2018 Sabata/Mynenko/MP

Giulietta e Romeo 27 Jan 2018 Hallenberg

Armida 21 Feb 2018 Jacobs conducting + Zorzi Giustiniani

Radamisto 20 April 2018 Bardon

There’s also a Maria Stuarda in January for those who enjoy Marlis Petersen (and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir). Could be a fun few days in the middle of winter…

Good times at the opera in 2016

Cotroversial in everyday life and politics, 2016 was a good opera year for yours truly. I went to Vienna again and returned to Paris after two decades, lots of fun! London wasn’t too shabby either, with its mezzo/contralto traffic jams and my love affair with Wigmore Hall only intensified this year ‚̧ Last but not least, looking over the many shows that sign posted this year I had another opportunity to think about the fine people I shared some of these good times with. Thank you all and a much happier 2017!

January

11 Benjamin Appl | Wigmore Hall: a Schubert start to the year

February

20 L’Etoile | ROH: a bit of a weird romp, but a romp nonetheless (le romp francais). I hope whoever succeeds Holten at ROH sprinkles the seasons with wackiness of this sort.

March

4, 8 Akhnaten | ENO: X-Files meets Aida = most spectacular show of the year! Let’s keep ENO in business for more of the same.

12, 14 Ariodante | RCM Britten Hall: students go hardcore Highlands

14 Maria Ostroukhova | St George’s Hanover Sq: Cecca notte!

16 Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes | Wigmore Hall: there is still Belcanto, lest we forgot about it

17 Berenice | St George’s Hanover Sq: hit and miss Handel

21 Boris Godunov | ROH: Terfel, the Welsh Boris(h)

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: Il pianto di Maria

31 Elpidia | St George’s Hanover Sq: very good singing, so-so pasticcio

April

14 Lucia di Lammermoor | ROH: Damrau is no damsel in distress

27 Lucio Silla | Theater an der Wien: the Arnold Schoenberg Choir! with not that much to sing ūüėČ

28 Il Vologeso | Cadogan Hall: proof that Jommelli rocks

30 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall: super stylish Boroque with La Piau

May

08 Tannhauser | ROH: an opportunity to see Christian Gerhaher sing Wagner lyrically.

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: ūüėÄ

26 Oedipe | ROH: almost as spectacular as Akhnaten

June

24 Werther | ROH: Pappano gets it

29 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall: the first of two shows this year; this is the feisty one.

July

02 Nathalie Stutzmann | Wigmore Hall: the smoothest contralto takes on Vivaldi

07 Il trovatore | ROH: Bosch brings his caravan to Verdi

17 JPYA | ROH: ROH students return

August

03 Bluebeard’s Castle | Proms/Royal Albert Hall: there are a few things I will always attend and this is one of them.

September

21 Demetrio (Hasse) | Cadogan Hall: musically not the most exciting

22 Cosi fan tutte | ROH: this one was a bit of a miss…

October

02 Nathalie Stutzmann/Orfeo 55 | Wigmore Hall: oh yea!

05 Anna Bonitatibus | Wigmore Hall: …and yea to Semiramide, too.

21 The Nose | ROH: between this and L’Etoile we covered Eastern and Western wackiness.

November

02 Juditha triumphans | Barbican: the mezzo/contralto fest of the year

05 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall: dramatic Roschmann is here

07 Les contes d’Hoffmann | ROH: traditional tales of sexism (with mezzos)

13 Oreste (Handel) | Wilton’s Music Hall: the Atrides in Jack the Ripper’s neighbourhood

20 Luca Pisaroni | Wigmore Hall: Luca sings the Schubert

24 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth | Wigmore Hall: more Schubert!

28 La Calisto | Wigmore Hall: Wigmore Hall goes kookoo-funny

30 La finta giardiniera | RCM Britten Hall: students being successfully silly

December

05 Don Giovanni | Theatre des Champs-Elysees: Don Leporello muses in the beautiful surroundings of TCE.

06 Sancta Susanna/Cavalleria rusticana | Opera Bastille: Sancta Susanna = the runner up in the badass production contest of the year

29 Sonia Prina/Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: oh so quiet and gentle

(Further) Sprinkles of Baroque love from Theater an der Wien

TadWahead

12 May 2017: it turns out that Theater an der Wien has the exact same Ariodante team¬†that hits the¬†Barbican on 16 May 2017. Warehouse in Brutalism Central¬†vs.¬†cosy little venue across from the Naschmarkt…

22 March 2017: Rene Jacobs conducts Ulisse (with Degout, Zorzi Giustiniani and Chappuis).

16 December 2016: before all that there’s Pergolesi’s Adriano in Siria¬†(with Fagioli and Mynenko) and a month to the day before that a bit of Rameau (Zoroastre) (with Piau and Emmanuelle de Negri).

Dear TadW, thanks for nothing! Way to spread the love around instead of condensing everything for my convenience. I keep singing your praises yet¬†I get no respect >:-O whichever one of these will be my next time there I’m going to pack the venue up in my holdall and transplant it to London. For a bribe of poppyseed strudel I can send the Barbican over.

Behold the outdoors splendor:

And the halls:

Lucio Silla, the Roman-themed soap opera (Theater an der Wien, 27 April 2016)

The rumours aren’t true, the great Viennese beast has not gulped me ūüėČ I’ve just been tired and/or otherwise engaged but luckily today is an absolutely lovely Mayday, super slow and lazy at work = perfect blog updating conditions.

So whilst being distracted by life I missed the fact TadW was going to and did livestream this. Anyway, my main reason for going was to hear the Arnold Schoenberg Choir in the flesh. This is hardly the most choir-friendly opera (they had exactly 3 things to sing, though they were on stage for much longer than that) but having sorely missed them (and Rene Jacobs) in Idomeneo earlier this year I took my chances this time, because seeing them in the same place where I “found” them is extra¬†special.

Also though Bayerische Staatsoper is my temple of music, Theater an der Wien is currently the place where I’ve had the best all around memories – each of the three times I’ve been there was memorable in its own way. This reminds me of a short chat I had with thadieu yesterday where she made me pause for a moment and put things in perspective. Namely, what a great venue Wigmore Hall is. But the heart is easily seduced by greener pastures, isn’t it? ūüėČ Now’s a good moment to take a deep breath and ponder on the luxury of having been able to attend performances at all of them.

Stop! In the name of OSKHJ.

Lucio Silla: Alessandro Liberatore
Giunia: Olga Pudova
Cecilio: Franco Fagioli
Cinna: Chiara Skerath
Celia: Ilse Eerens
Conductor: Laurence Equilbey | Insula Orchestra | Arnold Schoenberg Choir

It’s no mystery that I’m fond of Mozart’s opera seria of which the chunkiest ones are Mitridate, Silla, Idomeneo and Tito. Mitridate and Idomeneo have in common the parent-child relationship whereas Silla and Tito are two takes on the benevolent ruler faced with a difficult personal choice cliche. Out of the last two, Silla has the severely inferior libretto, the type where historical fact is but a background for soap opera twists and turns. Which is annoying, as real life Silla was a rather interesting character.

In our case he’s (fictionally) fixated on Cecilio’s wife Giunia, reason for which he banishes Cecilio from¬†Rome, hoping Giunia – incidentally, the daughter of the man he has deposed (Gaius Marius, the great reformer of the Roman army) – will eventually warm up to his insistence. She’s a constant 18th century heroine, so of course she doesn’t, however she has the opportunity to verbally abuse him (with great vocal florish) at every turn. Mozart has written some of his most gleefully difficult music for her and rare is the soprano who can do it proper justice.

Our Giunia was rather good (keeping in mind that I’m sold on¬†Gruberova in this role). She did an especially satifying job with Ah se il crudel periglio which means her coloratura and breath control are exemplary. Basically Giunia’s breath is catching because she’s scared shitless. I’ve heard established sopranos struggle to make its¬†seemingly endless grupetti sound natural instead of backfiring machine gun set to a metronome ūüėČ She wasn’t quite as emotionally elaborate as the above towering example but I was pleasantly impressed with her fearless approach and technical skill. So if I find it a bit difficult to be objective, let me go further the other way and admit¬†that I found¬†Pudova way cute and I had a hard time looking elsewhere when she was on stage.

Her interactions – both vocal and dramatic – with Fagioli’s Cecilio were excellent and believable, expecially in their D’elisio in sen m’attendi, another one of those swoony Mozart sexy love duets. Who can resist the heart flutter-like twin coloratura? D’elisio…¬†can sit any day next to S’io non moro a questi accenti and Ah perdona il primo affetto. We need two singers to do an entire Mozart sexy duets recital together ūüėÄ My only complaint is that she felt a bit underprojected before intermission. Maybe she needed some time to warm up.

Cecilio was Franco Fagioli whom I was eager to see again in Mozart, now in a smaller house than the ROH. The smaller, more intimate venue certainly works in his favour, especially when it came to understanding what he was saying. His diction is not his strongest point in general but in this case it wasn’t usually a challenge. The trademark warmth of his delivery was also much better supported by TadW’s acoustics.

Though I think he needs more “body”1 for Il tenero momento for the voice to bloom in the beautifully expansive manner that Mozart seems to ask for, he provided a really lovely diminuendo in the da capo and sounded (here and elsewhere) gorgeous and seductive when sentiment was called for. Reminiscent of his usual Baroque repertoire, his take on the bravura aria was satisfying. He got a bit buried in the duets with Pudova’s Giunia but their voice mix was good – they sound the same at the top which works for a lovers’ duet.

Liberatore in the title role (who’s already sung Lucio in that rather meh Liceu production from a couple years back) would make (has made?) a good Idomeneo, given that his bravura aria, Il des√¨o di vendetta, e di morte, is pretty much a proto Fuor del mar. His bigger voice provided good contrast with the others, especially effective in the trio with Cecilio and Giunia. He makes a pretty good villain.

Ilse Eerens’ (Celia) voice was particularly well projected with a bright top but not excessive ping, good take on top notes (good differentiation) and consistently good acting as everybody’s go-between. She’s Lucio’s sister in love with dissenter Cinna (Cecilio’s best buddy) and on friendly terms with Giunia. Her job is mostly to help Lucio calm (the hell) down and hide her interest in enemies of the state.

Celia’s boyfriend Cinna was sung with pluck by soprano Chiara Skerath. She did a pretty good job in this somewhat thankless trouser role. I think she actually has a solid middle, which is not bad at all for a young soprano ūüėČ Her coloratura is reliable for early Mozart, though perhaps more vocal oomph was needed to bring across Cinna as the outlaw Annio that he is. Her stage movement was good enough but I think she needs work on facial expressions, especially when she’s not singing.

Now onto the Arnold Schoenberg Choir = not enough singing!!!! Otherwise OMG2, we got a little glimpse at what it can do – very well drilled, lovely tone across the voices, great interplay between the sopranos and the tenors, real expressivity from the get-go, personality – once you heard it, you will recognise it – and, as Anik said, they brought a “Gluck-ish” feel to the proceedings that really worked in this intimate setting by giving it a sort of introverted gravitas.

The moment they got up and started to sing in the scene where Giunia is visiting her father’s grave is still vivid in my mind. A good choir can have a similar effect on you to hearing a favourite singer. But then they also featured on my favourite Silla recording, the Harnoncourt/Gruberova/Bartoli one from 1989 which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in getting (better) acquainted with this opera. Forget about the plot and just listen.

The performance was semi-staged, which meant the singers were in (contemporary) costume and fussed around with some boards but also the Personnenregie was paid more attention to than you’d normally get in a concert performance. I’d say TadW is getting quite good at recycling its surplus stage equipment ūüėČ Cecilio and Cinna play around with graffiti red and white chalk, which made me think next time they might¬† give the young chaps a sandbox.

At some point we have Giunia visit Cecilio in prison. That was represented by them talking to each other through mesh fixed to the frame that was normally holding up the boards the boys (yes, not men) were practicing their graffiti skills on. At the end Giunia tears it down and walks through it (ok, around it) to amusing effect (at least for some of us).

Though I wasn’t quite as underwhelmed by Equilbey/Insula Orchestra as thadieu was, I can’t say that I got a very vivid picture about the working of the whole either. The overture – one of my favourites – was taken at a more languid pace than I’m used to from Harnoncourt’s recording. It felt a bit disconcerting but that’s what happens when you have very clear favourites. I liked the very disciplined and prominent though not intrusive harpsichord throughout and I noticed the strings in bulk come in very handsomely at the more anguished moments.

Musically, it wasn’t the best evening but, as they say, the sum of the evening was greater than its parts: Mozart, the choir, the venue and the very good company of thadieu and Anik made for another great Viennese memory.

In spite of the (reoccurring) fickle weather (Tuesday was in the mid teens and sunny, Wednesday around 7C and rainy) Vienna continues to exert its subtle lure on me. Mozart and lazy chummy chats will do that to you.


  1. Anik explains why really well in her own take on this performance. 
  2. thadieu has her orchestra!!! moments, I sometimes have my choir!!! moments ;-) 

Good times at the opera in 2015

venues2015

Chez dehggi, 2015 shall go down as¬†the year of smashing opera trips abroad and the full Monteverdi. I’ve also visited new (to me) local venues such as the Roundhouse and Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. I had a¬†boatload of Baroque and recitals from some of my top favourites but all periods were included. Also I had the chance to catch Operalia in its first stop to London. The one glaring miss this year was Glyndebourne.

January

L’Orfeo¬†| Roundhouse: very moving performance and surprisingly fitting venue. It’s not for nothing I started the year on a Monteverdi high, I went on to see live his other two great works, in chronological order no less.

February

Farinelli and the King¬†| Wanamaker Playhouse: a play with music, kinda like an opera but with less music, though the music got the most applause, so… ūüôā

L’Ormindo¬†(Cavalli) | Wanamaker Playhouse: not quite Monteverdi but¬†silly as hell

March

VK Handel Recital | Karlsruhe Handel Fest: when the Baroquemobile shifts into turbo gear

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny | ROH: film noir meets mezzos

Semele¬†| London Handel Festival:¬†if I persist in listening, Sem’le I shall adore

Catone in Utica | London Handel Festival: new gen gets whimsical with pasticcio

April

St Matthew Passion | Barbican: the Passion of Mr Oboe and the Coughing Squad

Ben Johnson | Wigmore Hall: Mr Oronte sings zany stuff

JDD Masterclass | Milton Court/Barbican: shut up and learn to trill!

Adriano in Siria (JC Bach) | Britten Hall, RCM: a traditional production!

Il turco in Italia¬†| ROH: introducing Aleksandra Kurzak’s chutzpah

May

Roschmann/Uchida | Wigmore Hall: when very serious and not so serious meet

VK’s Cleopatre¬†| Stadscasino Basel: in which la forza del cleavage defeats dehggi

La forza del destino | Bayersiche Staatsoper: la forza del bad libretto vs. the Temple of Music

Krol Roger | ROH: mesmerising stuff

Sara Mingardo¬†| Wigmore Hall: wrist slashing music done with elegance and… calm

Jessica Pratt | Wigmore Hall: major fun but should come with silencer

June

La voix humaine/Bluebeard’s Castle¬†| Wiesbaden:¬†women battling demons on a hot, sunny day

Queen of Spades | ENO: the least suspected mezzo tour de force (thanks (I think?!), David Alden)

Don Giovanni¬†| ROH: all hail La Roschmann’s Donna Elvira!

July

Guillaume Tell | ROH: Gerry Finley acting mighty morose

JPYA Summer Performance | ROH: mixed bag with young singers

Operalia | ROH: high quality contestants

Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: finally fearless Invernizzi

August

Daphne | Grimeborn: unplugged Strauss

September

La voix humaine/La dame de Monte Carlo | Wigmore Hall: la voix de la merveilleuse dame Antonacci

Adriano in Siria (Pergolesi) | Cadogan Hall: Farnaspe in love

Orphee et Eurydice | ROH: the Monteverdi Choir tames the furies

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria¬†| Barbican: il triunfale ritorno d’AAC to¬†Barbican

October

Ariadne auf Naxos | ROH: Mattila does it again

Leo Nucci | Cadogan Hall: old skool Italian

Xerse (Cavalli) | Theater an der Wien: Emmanuelle Haim and Le Concert d’Astrée at work

L’incoronazione di Poppea | Theater an der Wien: Metastasio, tornado of concepts and chatting about opera

November

Franco Fagioli recital | Wigmore Hall: sweetly done and Dopo notte!

December

Orontea (Cesti) | Wigmore Hall: shambolic early Baroque

Hard to wish for more excitement after this romp but, as usual, you never know. What I do wish is to hang out again with the fine folks I had such good opera times this year. Half the fun was you ūüôā

L’incoronazione di pop culture reference (Theater an der Wien, 19 October 2015)

Do you know that feeling when you have a lot to say about something but the ideas, interesting as they may be, never quite gel together? The more you try to patch them together, the muddier it gets? This production is a lot like that: too clever and too facile at the same time. There are flashes of brilliance and then simple gags literally explained to you.

poppeawien

Poppea: Alex Penda
Nerone: Valer Sabadus
Ottone: Christophe Dumaux
Ottavia: Jennifer Larmore
Seneca: Franz-Josef Selig
Drusilla: Sabina Puertolas
Nutrice: Marcel Beekman
Arnalta: Jose Manuel Zapata
Fortuna: Victorija Bakan
Virtu | Pallade: Natalia Kawalek
Amore | 1. Famigliare: Jake Arditti
Damigella: Gaia Petrone
Valletto: Emilie Renard
Lucano | 1. Soldat | Konsul | 2. Famigliare: Rupert Charlesworth
Liberto | 2. Soldat | Konsul: Manuel Gunther
Mercurio | Tribun | 3. Famigliare: Christoph Seidl
Littore | Tribun: Tobias Greenhalgh
Conductor: Jean-Christophe Spinosi | Ensemble Matheus

Director: Claus Guth

I went in thinking that conceptually this¬†could be either great or shit. It was neither. It had¬†excellent singing/playing, dramatic commitment across the board and a mish-mash of ideas that added up to brain overload. It’s something of such¬†glutonous glory that¬†it couldn’t be described in any less words, though possibly more would’ve done it rounder¬†justice.

Nerone. It’s safe to say that Valer Sabadus has one of the most beautiful top registers in use today. I was sitting there marvelling at how gorgeous every¬†note sounded – all of a sudden more pleasant that I had ever heard them – how well the trills were controlled and how clearly they were produced. Remarkable qualities and lucky us who have heard it all unfold under our eyes.¬† the full monty

Cavalli’s Xerse (Theater an der Wien, 18 October 2015)

My first operatic outing in Vienna was a last minute decision but it turned out to be highly enjoyable.

Cavalli’s Xerse is easy to follow by those familiar with Handel’s. There are a couple of more characters but the jist is the same: Xerse loves Romilda, who loves and is loved by Arsamene, who is in turn coveted by Adelanta. Amastre is once more Xerse’s forgotten lover disguised as a foreign warrior slash busybody. Ariodate is Romilda and Adelanta’s father and the commander of Xerse’s army. The others are hanger-ons, more or less there for comic relief.

xerseposterEmmanuelle Haim | Le Concert d’Astr√©e

Xerse: Ugo Guagliardo
Arsamene: Tim Mead
Ariodate: Carlo Vincenzo Allemano
Romilda: Emöke Baráth
Adelanta: Camille Poul
Eumene: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro
Amastre: Emmanuelle de Negri
Aristone: Frédéric Caton
Elviro: Pascal Bertin

Interestingly, here the title character is a bass and that works very nicely, though this version of Ombra mai fu feels a bit disconcerting and is much less flashy. Guagliardo has a pleasantly shaped voice with an imposing ring to it without being overly voluminous – consistent in mass, let’s say. Xerse is – or came off – as less of an annoying prat than in Handel’s version. Instead of a bratty rant he gets a heartbreaking aria towards when he realises he can’t have Romilda and his making up with Amastre is more credible. Then again, 17th century composers and librettists had a more natural way of mixing comedy and more serious situations.

Ariodate has the honour to sing the one proper bravura aria, unsurprisingly, his entrance aria – with percussion and cornetti. Allemano, also a bass and sporting Xerxes-era locks, sang it with gusto. His sound was more voluminous, the kind that wouldn’t be out of place in belcanto.

I liked Toro’s tone a lot, a lovely, expressive tenor, with lots to offer for the ear, though I think the coloratura in his second (?) aria gave him some trouble.

Of the ladies I enjoyed de Negri’s Amastre best, not least because I thought her acting chops were ace and came through vocally as well. Amastre is quite a bit of a Bradamante and here even more so, having Aristone as sidekick/advisor. She is angry and hurt for most of the opera and thus has lyrical stuff to sing which tends to call for some delicate employment of pianissimi, sensitively done by de Negri. She also managed the “in disguise” acting very well.

I liked Tim Mead in the past and I liked him again. In this version of “the events”, Arsamene is less of a dormat, more of a credible rival for his brother. Still he’s the metrosexual to his brother “in charge” type. Mead has a very secure technique and a rather manly texture to his countertenor voice.

As I was saying to my box-mate, a very lovely and lively local lady, I’ve started to really enjoy these concert performances. Lately, at least, they involve a lot of interaction between singers that has quite honestly made me forget the scarcity or downright lack of props. Tonight we had a rectangular box that looked like a speaker as stand in for the plane tree, behind which characters would hide and a few smaller square boxes which could’ve been shrubs as well as benches. There was a knife as well and bracelets with which Xerse hoped to win Romilda over.

This trend is very good news for me, as it means opera can start to prove that relying on singers’ acting skills instead of lavish and overly expensive sets is viable.

I hovered on my decision to attend this show until yesterday, when it turned out that among the cheapest seats left was one in a box. I’d never sat in a box before but I enjoyed it tremendously. It was just me and the above mentioned lady and we got on like a house on fire. We were right behind the orchestra and thus had a great view of the musicians – scores included – and the singers could be heard very well and seen perfectly. If there was any muffle it was welcome, as a couple of singers had more penetrating voices. It was also a pleasure to see Emanuelle Haim at work, energetic and smiley. She got some beautiful, emotive performances from her singers.

About half way through it occurred to me that I was enjoying this more – musically speaking – than L’Ormindo. Maybe the sheer amount of 17th century baroque I’ve heard this year has something to do with it. Still, it did go on a bit too long and it’s not quite as fresh as Monteverdi.

Outside, the area is a bit blah, sort of in between this and that, especially with the (rather small) Naschmarkt closed on Sundays (weird if you come from Consumerism Central). Inside, Theater an der Wien seemed tiny to me but that much more accommodating for this repertoire. And since the Theatre cafe does a tasty goulash, it’s now¬†on my list of opera venues to return to.

 

Poppea, Poppea, lascia ch’io parta!

Remember this post?

Well… statistics say1 that you’re most likely to¬†book another opera trip right after you returned from one. My arm was very painfully¬†twisted (ow, ow) by Leander. So I booked a ticket to see what Penda + Sabadus and Co. (with Emilie Renard) will do in Wien in October under the strange parenting of Guth and Spinosi.

What goes with Monteverdi? (Mozartkugeln! Schnitzel! Waltz! But Wien without Der Rosenkavalier…?)


  1. I made that one up! ūüėÄ thadieu, maybe you should come too, see it done properly the European way (plus at least two mezzos in the mix).