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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.


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’Astrée

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! 😀 thadieu, maybe you should come too, see it done properly the European way (plus at least two mezzos in the mix). 

Curious Poppea at Theater an der Wien (October 2015)

Theater and der Wien is at it again – sounds like this could be an event all right: conducted by Spinosi (so chipper?), directed by Guth (so maybe not chipper but possibly weird) and sung by these folks:

Nerone: Valer Sabadus (eh heh, Nerone wishes he looked like that)
Poppea: Alex Penda (I kid you not! Poor Sabadus, how will he cope in those duets, especially the last one 😀 )
Ottone: Christophe Dumaux
Ottavia: Jennifer Larmore (I didn’t know she was back in the saddle! Hope all is good)
Drusilla: Sabina Puertolas
Lucano (and others): Rupert Charlesworth (the smooth-voiced Jupiter/Apollo in the recent London Semele)
Valletto: Emilie Renard (the (very) cute/joyful Arbace in the London Catone in Utica)

and many others I don’t know. Leander wants to go see it and I have to say I am quite tempted myself since it could end up being all sorts of things.

Clemenza’s Young Guns (Theater an der Wien, 10 May 2014)


Theater an der Wien’s Young Artists’ Program has put on I think 5 productions in the past year and we got a live streaming of the last show of the last production, namely Clemenza. Unsurprisingly for Theater an der Wien, it is a very conceptual reading. It felt a bit clunky in the beginning but eventually it was brought together by its coherence.

So, then…