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Stomp of joy, coif of steel (4 June, Sonia Prina at Halle Handel Fest 2017)

look at that fine coif, after 2hrs of sweating!

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 ūüėČ ).

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 ūüėČ ). 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 ūüėČ 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 ūüôā ). Small Baroque world, small Baroque fan world. To illustrate just how small, Meri and I met again the next day at Sch√∂nefeld 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)

mezzos and contralto FTW!

Sonia Prina contralto
George Petrou director | Armonia Atenea
Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche

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

Intermission

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

Encore:

Gi√† 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 ūüėČ

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.

the Handeltram

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 ūüėÄ 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 ūüôā

Handel: Goodbye, Halle! I’m going to Italy!

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 ūüėČ 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.

Leipziger Turm

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:

Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche with a sign that invites wise cracks

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 ūüôā

  1. 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. 
  2. lady selling me the flixbus ticket somehow understood my “Berlin” as “Hamburg”; I know my German doesn’t rate but seriously. 
  3. if that Salzburg thing works out I think I need to bring ice packs along. 

Vivaldi, Darius and the Shroud of Turin

It’s official, thadieu and I have our tickets for the very silly¬†L’incoronazione di Dario at Torino’s Teatro Regio, where we’ll see this badarse cast under Dantone’s (who else? He loves this one) baton:

Dario, che viene incoronato re dei persiani tenore Carlo Allemano
Statira, principessa semplice, primogenita
di Ciro contralto

Sara Mingardo
Argene, sorella minore di Statira contralto Delphine Galou
Niceno, filosofo baritono Riccardo Novaro
Alinda, principessa di Media, amante
di Oronte soprano

Roberta Mameli
Oronte, nobile perfetto, pretendente
di Statira mezzosoprano

Lucia Cirillo
Arpago, pretendente di Statira soprano Veronica Cangemi
Flora, damigella di corte, confidente delle due
principesse contralto

Romina Tomasoni
Ombra di Ciro tenore Cullen Gandy

So we know the contraltos but what of the baritone? He was also in the original recording as well as at Festival de Beaune:

And here’s Sr Novaro singing not Vivaldi but spinning rather well on that horse statue:

Whilst scratching my no so cosmopolitan head regarding things to do in Torino other than watching contraltos and friends, a buddy reminded me of the famous shroud.

Jesus in the shroud, posing suspiciously like a medieval knight would

Why of course! Who wouldn’t want to see that? Except, upon investigation, it turns out that it’s not that often on display. 9/10 times you’re likely to see a copy. Which means you see a copy of a… fantasy. About right for the post truth era ūüėČ Though we hope all the above musicians show up in old skool real fashion.

Oreste, Juditha triumphans and Ariodante in the months to come

Here are some¬†reasons why Handel’s pasticcio of own arias,¬†Oreste, is a good idea for ROH’s Young Artists Autumn Show.

One. A¬†who’s who of core Handel collaborators sang it:

Oreste mezzo-soprano castrato Giovanni Carestini
Ifigenia, priestess of Diana soprano Cecilia Young
Ermione, Oreste’s wife soprano Anna Maria Strada del P√≤
Pilade, faithful friend and companion of Oreste tenor John Beard
Filotete, captain of King Toante’s guard contralto Maria Caterina Negri

Two. Some rocking music:

Pensieri, voi mi tormentate (Agrippina)
Agitato da fiere tempeste (Ricardo primo) Fagioli | Stutzmann
Dite pace e fulminate (Sosarme)
Empio, se mi dai vita (Radamisto, though there it’s called Vile, se mi dai vita)
Se’l caro figlio (Siroe)
Dopo l’orrore (Ottone)
Ah, mia cara (Floridante) the best Handel duet Рever? alone worth the price of admission
Tu di pieta mi spogli (Siroe)
Mi lagnerò, tacendo (Siroe)

Barbican. Though it remains a staunch purveyor of Baroque music, the Barbican has gone mad on prices and terrible on spelling (have a drink for each one you spot in the screen cap below), but still:

ariodantecast

For this 16 May 2017 performance of Ariodante I got a Balcony ¬£30 ticket and I advise interested parties to avoid the overhang at the back of the stalls. Now let’s hope¬†nobody changes their mind until then.

But before May 2017 we have Vivaldi’s mezzo/contralto heaven¬†Juditha triumphans on 2 November 2016. And you will soon see why I made the effort:

Vivaldi Juditha Triumphans

Magdalena KoŇĺen√° Juditha
Delphine Galou Holofernes ‚̧ ūüėÄ
Ann Hallenberg Vagaus ‚̧
Romina Basso Ozias
Silke Gaeng Abra
Andrea Marcon director | Venice Baroque Orchestra

Not to say that the music alone isn’t worth your money wise choice of seat but DG in the flesh! I hope the sound carries well to where I got a seat on the left side of the Circle. And the others are very fine also (AH! as they say Ah, AH! 4 times in a year?! Spoiled, I tells ya),¬†less so Ms Juditha but at least she has a pleasant voice.

Here‘s Sardelli’s take on it (of whose angular style I’m very fond), with DG and AH, and here is Marcon’s Venice Baroque Orchestra, which is¬†closer to what we’re in for (for my ears the choir is a bit too soprano-flighty).

PS: Sorry for misspelling triumphans more often than not…

Rockin’ Griselda (Cadogan Hall, 18 September 2014)

Ever notice how in 18th century opera seria the title character does not sing the biggest number(s)? This is a typical opera seria libretto, boasting a¬†ruler who’s more open minded that his subjects1 and a strong woman who goes through much before the tangled plot is happily resolved. There are no murders but there’s a kidnapping attempt and a gracious pardon from on high. The libretto is rife with metaphorical storms and wild beasts.

Griselda: Hilary Summers (contralto) griselda
Roberto: Andrew Watts (counter-tenor)
Ottone: Erica Eloff (soprano en travesti)
Gualtiero: Ronan Busfield (tenor)
Costanza: Kiandra Howarth (soprano)
Corrado: Tom Verney (counter-tenor)
Conductor: Thomas Foster | Opera Settecento

This was my first time at Cadogan Hall (off Sloane Square) and what an auspicious one! A few months ago I made time to listen to Griselda in its entirety and discovered there’s a lot more to it beside Agitata da due venti and Dopo un’orrida procella. I dully got a ticket to¬†this concert performance and awaited it with some trepidation. It exceeded my expectations.

It seems to me that the major problem an opera director faces today is that the audience for which these operas were written had disappeared. (Captain Obvious alive and kicking on Amazon)

That is certainly not true for Baroque opera! The audience tonight – and every other night I’ve attended a Baroque opera – looked like they were already ancient when I was born. I’m sure they’re hiding hoop dresses and powder wigs in their closets. Why is it that young people would rather see Mimi whinge than watch in amazement as singers negotiate¬†difficult¬†coloratura? With Baroque horns! Come on, horns: they make the heart swell. Anyway ūüėČ

Opera Settecento and Maestro Foster were very supportive. As often the case with Baroque, it was all about the singers and I was sat close enough to even see their facial expressions. Though a concert performance, all of them looked like they were having a good time and were wonderfully committed in their vocal acting. They must’ve fed off the audience’s appreciation, because they seemed more and more relaxed as the evening progressed. It’s hard to imagine them doing more had it been staged.

Contralto Hilary Summers in the title role had a strong stage presence and acting chops, a warm tone and meshed with the orchestra beautifully. Countertenor Andrew Watts as Costanza’s lover, Roberto, showed off impressive ease at the top and let it rip to much applause in his bravura aria. Kiandra Howarth, whom I noticed in JPYA’s Summer Performance this past July, was spirited throughout as Costanza. She had to take on that mofo,¬†Agitata da due venti, and did admirably. I’d say the voice needs a bit more polish but I’ve no other complaints. Tenor Ronan Busfield as Griselda’s royal hubby, Gualtiero, already had some fiendish coloratura within the first five minutes of the show. He tossed it off with impressive confidence. Vivaldi made sure to give Gualtiero¬†more of the same in the upcoming acts and he rolled with the punches. It’s a mofo part, I tells ya. Counternor Tom Verney didn’t have that much to sing as Corrado but got the other horned aria, Alle minacce di fiera belva¬†and was appropriately heroic.

I left soprano Erica Eloff (as the stalkerish Ottone) last because WOW. I didn’t know of her, so she came out the left field. Holy mother of agility and lovely pianissimos! Gorgeous and confident singing, easy top, solid middle – and a lovely tone, especially for¬†the first two soulful arias. Add to that¬†great acting, although maybe playing Ottone’s defeat for laughs wasn’t very opera seria ūüėČ But you know I’m easily amused. She unquestionably aced¬†Dopo un’orrida procella. But even before that, in fact, right from Ottone’s first lament it was obvious that she just owned it. It’s not every day that a singer just grabs you the first time you hear them and it’s even better when that’s live. The only thing I could hope for – and I’m only saying this because I liked her singing so much – is a bit more heft to the voice.

An outstanding evening. Pity Griselda is so seldom performed, it should get back into the repertoire as it’s easily one of the most entertaining Baroque operas I’ve heard so far.


  1. Gualtiero doesn’t care about social standing and marries shepherdess Griselda for love, much to his people’s displeasure. Kinda like in Anna Nicole, right? Poor girl marries rich and tries to be a good mother at the same time. Except with happy ending. Them 18th century optimists! 

“Has Dorothea R√∂schmann’s voice changed?”

… asked a reader and the internets pointed this way. Gentle reader, yes, it has changed, but what time frame did you have in mind? The past year? 5 years? 15 years? Ewa Podles was once a mezzo (exactly¬†37 years, 3 months and 1 day ago ūüėČ ). Most if not all voices change, don’t they? DR isn’t a mezzo yet, not even a dramatic soprano (not that she should be) but the voice¬†has gained volume¬†since the time she sang, say, In furore giustissimae irae, which was 20 years ago. But I’d like to hear her sing this today still. It’s a great motet and I’m glad for this question since it reminded me about it.