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Handel’s Alceste with singing lobsters (Wigmore Hall, 29 March 2017)

Whoever advertised this performance struck gold: this was one of the best attended shows I’ve ever witnessed at Wigmore Hall. Though the Colossus of Rhodes or the Pharos was planted firmly in the seat in front of me I couldn’t find a convenient seat to upgrade to without bothering someone. But the Pharos1 was very polite and self aware and leaned to the left (Tower of Pisa, then) – we were on the end seats – so I could actually see 2/3 of the stage, which included the singers and the bassoonist (yes, there was a tenor-bassoon duet!).

Mary Bevan soprano
Benjamin Hulett tenor
James Platt bass
Christian Curnyn director | Early Opera Company (Choir included)

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in G major
William Boyce (1711-1779)
Excerpts from Solomon

Interval

George Frideric Handel
Alceste HWV45

Alceste is incidental music with a lot of contribution from the choir and in my case it proved incidental to a good nap. For whatever reason, perhaps because it started with the concerto and because I wasn’t familiar with the Boyce piece, I was lulled into this cocooned state of semi consciouness.

When Hulett and Bevan duetted I had that thought one sometimes entertains of what would an alien make of this if s/he/it dropped in. A bunch of people intently watching two other people on stage make tuneful oooo, aaaa sounds with others coaxing a slightly different kind of sound from wooden boxes of various shapes and sizes. But to what end? the alien might soon zero in to the crux of the matter. And a good explaination, judging by the rapt faces, may be to lull the people in attendence. Nefarious or farious, that would remain to be determined after further investigation. Might the alien subject itself to this experiment?

I don’t necessary recommend pursuing this train of thought too diligently, as I ended up dozing and incorporating the stage action in said flights into delta state. Case in point, when Hulett recited along the lines of …and he rose from below! with the choir rising from below/behind the harpsichord2 to deliver a hearty Handel part, I also rose, and an image similar to this flashed through my mind:

a fine substitute for a singing lobster choir! (click for a funny blog post that has nothing whatsoever to do with opera)

I was convinced the action was taking place at the bottom of the sea. Of course. It must be The Enchanted Island effect. You might think I’m being unnecessary silly but shouldn’t we be truthful about the effects of music on us?

The singers were fine. I remember Hulett as the Oronte from that very fine Alcina from Moscow. His tone is good for Handel but as you well know by now, I like more colour in the voice. Bevan sounded to me particularly mezzo-ish here, perhaps due to the rather low lying parts of what she had to sing and also the way she attacked the acuti. Platt has been someone I look forward to hearing since his very entertaining stint as Caronte in the 2015 ROH Orfeo. Here he sang with gusto and that burnished bass tone as well, both as part of the choir (his biggest part) and as a soloist. The orchestra – Baroque bows aplenty, solid bassoon action and very fun trumpet interventions – sounded velvety.

A while ago a blogger who specialises in London trails liked my post about ‘giardiniera where I talk at some length about South Ken/how to get to RCM. I thought it might be a good idea to take some pictures for readers possibly unfamiliar with London, pictures illustrating how I get to Wiggy or St George’s etc. (you can click for biger views)

once you exit the tube at Oxford Circus, you can reach Wiggy walking up ahead Oxford Street or making a right on Regent Street and then first left.

I like to pass through Cavendish Sq going towards the red building in the background. Your destination is across the grand building on the left. I enjoy a pre-opera snack in front of that funky bath shop


  1. It was only after I noticed the handy (or bummy?) cushion that I remembered the Pharos had sat in front of me before, but at a show where I upgraded to the right). Wiggy is the kind of place where you do end up seeing familiar faces after a while. 
  2. It’s always fun to see 20+ people crammed on the Wiggy stage. I see with pleasure that this trend continues to be joyfully pursued. 

David Daniels the sponge (Wigmore Hall, 20 March 2017)

When Wiggy posted their upcoming season we (Team London) looked curiously at this date. He’s singing what? I wanted to see DD because I really like his Furibondo spira il vento tone so if he was singing Beethoven so be it.

It all started with Daniels apologising for obliterating his bowtie due to stage jitters. Perhaps if he waltzed in without mentioning it no one would’ve been the wiser (though what do I know, I’m all for casual chic and for moving swiftly on) but after that I’m sure we all focused on his collar. It was kinda cute.

David Daniels countertenor
Martin Katz piano

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Adelaide Op. 46

Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Music for a while Z583
A Fool’s Preferment Z571
– I’ll sail upon the dog star
– Sweeter than roses Z585

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac Op. 51

The first part was dominated by the Britten canticle, for which DD benefitted from help from tenor buddy David Webb. Their voices matched very well and they got into character enough to give the piece expressivity so that anyone could tell who was Abraham and who was Isaac. I liked it -> I should listen to more Britten.

INTERVAL

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Rodelinda HWV19
– Pompe vane di morte!… Dove sei, amato bene?
– Si, l’infida consorte… Confusa si miri

Traditional
Ten Thousand Miles Away (arr. Steven Mark Kohn)
On the other shore (arr. Marita Kohler)
Wanderin’ (arr. Marita Kohler)
The Farmer’s Curst Wife (arr. Marita Kohler)

After the interval we were on familiar territory, with DD giving us a bit of his well known Bertarido. DD is the type of coutertenor with a very smooth voice and a youthful, sensitive tone (by which I mean plaintive but not schmalzy), which fits soulful arias better than vicious ones.

But we (Baroque Bird and I) agreed that the most memorable part was the traditional bit, with The Farmer’s Curst Wife coming off a riot. So yes (from me) to coutertenors singing art song and, in this case, traditional song. I’m quite fond of traditional in general and I wish more opera singers included it in their song recitals.

Maybe you’re wondering what I mean by the sponge metaphor. Whilst listening I kept imagining a gently squeezed sponge, which refers to elasticity and to smoothness across the range as well as softness of tone. It’s true that he’s the old school kind of countertenor – neither as fast nor as interested in proving chest note prowess (I don’t think he ventured that way) as the current crop – but the kind of elegant wistful emotion he can produce is still endearing and unique, to my ears at least. Even in the Baroque repertoire it’s not all about athleticism.

And, yes, it’s the end of the month hence the pedal to the metal with a flurry of posts after days of languidity.

The miraculously uplifting world of Patricia Petibon (Wigmore Hall, 18 March 2017)

If you ever got a chuckle reading this blog I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and book a ticket to a Petibon recital. There’s nothing quite like it. You might come out of it and find the world brutal and monochrome but you will also have something surprisingly sturdy to hang on to when things do indeed get ugly.

I normally put up the setlist1 after the first couple of paragraphs but this time I can say what she sang was secondary. Not that I didn’t like the programme – on the contrary, I liked everything, because this was a Petibon takes over your senses kind of recital. Yes, everything, props (lots of them) and dresses included (her dress style is superb). This is a recital about which I would not change a thing – also because I don’t think my creativity is extensive enough for that task 😉

You should know that I’ve long harboured the opinion that she is the most beautiful woman in opera the world. It’s not about some fantastically perfect features (delicate bones + a large mouth can be hard to pull off), it’s the way everything is lit from within, and of course, the mischievous smile.

Part of the reason I insisted on booking a ticket to the recital was because I wanted to verify via those unsuspecting senses that there are indeed women who look like that in the 21st century. To me she doesn’t look like someone who uses Facebook and Uber (though burping and taking a poo are well within the realm of possibility). She looks like The Lady of the Lake or the French version of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. Now that I have seen her rock a deep green cape I am convinced she should star as the seductive queen in the opera version of Guingamor (my secret opera project 😉 though perhaps it should only be a lyrical scene, because part II is roughly similar to Alcina).

You may think enough with this puppy eyed worshipfest of her looks, tell us about the singing, but what someone who hasn’t seen her live may need to know is that her body is integral to her singing. Since I’m still in the realm of web art, her stage persona reminds me of this classic gif:

  • it moves graciously (she never stops), it’s happy and zany and nobody can quite say what it is (it’s supposed to be a unicorn llama (of course) but to me it looks like the most cheerful progeny of a dinosaur and a giraffe). Also, it’s green.

This recital is the perfect example of what I was saying earlier about how European opera singers do it vs the American ones. Does Petibon have a good tecknique? Yes, she does, but we learn that within the space of the first few songs, after which she – nonverbally – said now that we’ve established that, let’s have some fun.

She also has a sizeable voice for her gossamer floated notes2 to project all the way to the back without ever dissipating en route, even when she sings piano (usually). This ability to float is my favourite technical trick of hers, also because it fits her onstage persona so well. When you see her so delicate and pink you do expect her to sing like that. But of course she doesn’t just do the angelic thing – if it is indeed angelic. I would say she’s far too sophisticated for that. It’s medieval lore rather (mists and distant battles) than Disney in spirit.

buddy looks suspiciously like my old boss…

Not that her persona cannot incorporate Disney 😀 and how! – irreverent Disney. We were treated to a complete scene of Snow White choking on the apple and then making out with her Prince garden gnome. For Busy Line she unwrapped a (very long) phone cord/washing line and proceeded to hang some clothes on it and had the audience help hold it.

I think what holds everything together is her palpable sense of line. It’s the fine art kind – if you’ve ever spent some time drawing you’ll immediately feel it. Some singers sing like instrumentalists and some singers paint with words. She draws with sound3, sometimes she even sculpts the music, with sharp curves and contrasts of weight and tint. It’s more 3D/physical than usual from a singer. Yet it’s almost always very soft and light, like an ink drawing or a cottonwool sculpture – at least in this programme. There were certain chord progressions and moods (the Iberian medieval and the kitsch parody) that reoccurred through the night, so one can imagine they are things she feels close to, at least at the moment.

She encored with a song (I didn’t know and she’s soft spoken) from the perspective of someone getting their life energy from a tree. I thought to myself how else could you finish whilst wearing a green corset? Then she thanked us for being alive with her tonight which promptly made me cry, though I’m not sure quite why other than it just fit the whole evening so well.

Points to Susan Manoff (piano) for being the buffer to that unique persona, she really held her own both musically (softness and contrast and general liveliness) and in personality (the sensible one).

Go see her/them, the world will appear a better place afterwards.


  1.  Samuel Barber (1910-1981) Sure on this Shining Night Op. 13 No. 3 | Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Greensleeves | Nicolas Bacri (b.1961) “Melodías de la melancolía Op. 119b” A la mar | Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) “7 canciones populares españolas” El paño moruno | Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) Canción del grumete | Fernando J Obradors (1897-1945) “El vito” Chiquitita la novia | Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Nesta Rua | Frank Bridge (1879-1941)  Winter Pastoral H168 | Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) “Banalités” Sanglots | Henri Collet (1885-1951)  Seguidilla Op. 75 No. 2 | Murray Semos/Frank Stanton Busy Line | Francisco Paulo Mignone (1897-1986) Dona Janaina Interval Henri Collet “Los Amantes de Galicia” Camiña don Sancho | Enrique Granados (1867-1916) “12 Tonadillas en un estilo antiguo” El mirar de la maja | Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) “Poema en forma de canciones Op. 19” Cantares | Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) La rosa y el sauce |  Agustín Lara (1897-1970)  Granada | Frank Churchill (1901-1942) Someday my prince will come (arr. Didier Lockwood) | Francis Poulenc Novelette sur un thème de Manuel de Falla | Norbert Glanzberg (1910-2001) Padam Padam (arr. Dimitri Naïditch) 
  2. Is this a French thing? Piau does her version of it as well. It’s gorgeous. 
  3. I think she has a fine art background? Maybe that’s where this comes from. 

The night Karina Gauvin sang just for me (Wigmore Hall, 28 January 2017)

Kidding 😉 but she looked so often in my direction I could’ve been fooled. I rather enjoyed the thought – who wouldn’t want Tornami a vagheggiar directed at them?!

Have you ever noticed how cheerful these Baroque-leaning singers are? Gauvin came out with the “crew” and sat down quietly for most of the first half. Well, aside from the times when she was singing, when the wink was on almost from the getgo.

All Handel programme

Karina Gauvin soprano

Le Concert de la Loge, director: Julien Chauvin violin

Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17
Overture
Da tempeste il legno infranto
Suite in F major ‘Water Music’ HWV348 (excerpts)
Rodelinda HWV19
Ombre, piante, urne funeste
Organ Concerto in B flat major Op. 4 No. 2 HWV290 (excerpts) something heavy on dueting oboes ❤ lots of fun, Mr and Ms Oboe and team
Solomon HWV67
Will the sun forget to streak
Lotario HWV26
Scherza in mar la navicella

The melisma fest that is Da tempeste is an excellent intro by my standards (more is more where coloratura is concerned) but although it fits Gauvin’s strongest bit of the range very well, I noticed some nerves and a bit of caution with volume (I actually though her voice was tiny but eventually she filled in). Also, whilst I’m noting the minuses, her voice is rather cloudy at the bottom end and support fails her on occasion. There’s also that bit about diction, what diction? However, her playful stage presence and the way she handles her strengths make for a very entertaining evening in her company. There are certain (not very high) notes at the top that are simply gorgeous and full.

I didn’t know Scherza in mar la navicella but it was the right choice to end the first half. By the end Gauvin was positively beaming with joy that I couldn’t supress a chuckle. The first time of the night where I made sure to lead the applause.

Never heard Le Concert de la Loge before (well, they just got together in 2015) but they was tight! Very nice job working together, though on occasion the string section had to catch up with Gauvin.

Interval

Alcina HWV34
Tornami a vagegghiar <- as misspelled by Wiggy 😉
Ah, mio cor, schernito sei
Suite in G major ‘Water Music’ HWV350 (excerpts) (not sure about the order of these bits as I wasn’t quite paying attention when the announcer said there had been some changes in the order and placement of the instrumentals (them instrumental bits!))
Concerto Grosso in G major
Rinaldo HWV7
Ah, crudel!
Furie terribili

Encore:
Mio caro bene Rodelinda
Lascia ch’io pianga Giulio Cesare

I hereby nominate this second half start of a recital as the best ever! You might remember I wrote a post in praise of Gauvin’s Tornami a while ago and last night I had the chance to hear it live 😀 This take was somewhat faster and less lyrical – a good tempo as far as I’m concerned.

As already shown in ‘navicella, Gauvin has a strong flirty side to her personality and rocked this favourite of mine (and of many) to levels where I wasn’t so unhappy when it ended as my pulse was racing. I wouldn’t mind keeling over to something like Tornami but not just yet 😉 give me another 2-3 decades and we’ll talk. It was my pleasure to lead the applause – I have now worked it out just when it’s ok to start clapping as soon as an aced aria ends (the cheerful ones, not the dirges where it’s respectful to give a few moments before the surge).

But that wasn’t all! The oboes, especially lead oboe, were fantastic (through the night) in this. I lucked out by sitting on the side of the winds1 so I heard the details even better than usual. The duet voice-oboe was buttah, playful, really on the beat, lovely communication, directly at fault for my palpitations. And what a sweet tone for those true cult oboes! Just superbe.

I can’t end before mentioning the smooth cellist with the funky crushed velvet trousers, slender hands and sexy dark curls (and Baroque bow). Ahem. You can see why I was hyperventilating between Gauvin’s kittenish charm, Mr Oboe and her. I’m sort of glad I couldn’t upgrade even closer to the stage. I was there for the music! (I swear).

Ah, mio cor was intense enough but I’ve already established that I think Gauvin is at her best when things are more lighthearted or downright foaming at the mouth. That would be Furie terribili! which she once again rocked. That’s another fine piece of Handel-writing. Some people would complain that he writes within a very cliched frame but, come on, how spot on is that fuming piece? You get the gist of it even if your Italian is 0. I saw a bit of that overly dramatic (to self parody heights) Vitellia of a couple of years ago in this. She turned around in her electric blue dress and pointed at the crowd. We were all shaking in our boots 😉 or giggling. Speaking of the dress, nice choice of colour for her and also shoulders. And that just fucked hairstyle suits her.

When she returned for the encores she jauntily said she wouldn’t want to leave us on quite that note (people laughed and I shouted that note was very fine, thank you very much. You shouted?! you might ask, but yes, the atmosphere was the relaxed one Baroque singers usually exude and that loosens yours truly’s tongue to alarming levels). We got the soft and playful (there are soft moments in Rodelinda?! Who knew!) and Lascio, which isn’t a favourite but I already got a good chunk of those and she did it lovely.

All in all, an excellent evening in all kinds of ways. I almost went backstage to tell Gauvin and the cellist that I was accepting marriage proposals 😉


  1. shoutout to Baroque Bird who hooked me up with a ticket at the right edge of row W from where I shot up to row I (right aisle) when the lights dimmed 😀 Edge of the row tickets are obviously the way to go when you want the option of upgrading. I thought about upgrading to centre aisle but the best thing about aisle edge seats is direct line of view (no heads! The singer can look into your eyes 😉 ). 

La Calisto’s fun, games and misty eyes (Wigmore Hall, 28 November 2016)

In the time of ancient gods, warlords and kings… an unstoppable plague spread through the land and crept up Mount Olympus, infecting it for all eternity. Its name was horniness.

Another thing Wigmore Hall has been doing lately is cramming 10 singers or so and a Baroque ensemble on its crescent stage for our enjoyment. I’m all in favour of this arguably cramped arrangement! Of course you are, you might say, it’s not you squeezing between an organ and a double bass with a giant bear mask on your face. Imagine being chased by satyrs and trying not to upset the music stands when making a mad, chastity-preserving dash for the back of the stalls!

Calisto: Lucy Crowe soprano
Giove: George Humphreys bass
Diana: Jurgita Adamonyté mezzo-soprano
Endimione: Tim Mead countertenor
Giunone: Rachel Kelly mezzo-soprano
Mercurio: James Newby baritone 
Pane: Andrew Tortise tenor
Linfea: Sam Furness tenor
Satirino: Jake Arditti countertenor
Silvano: Edward Grint bass-baritone

David Bates director | La Nuova Musica

I always forget to check these things, otherwise I’d have flagged it out for non Radio 3 listeners but this performance was broadcasted live (and you can still listen to it here for the next month). The interesting thing is that it comes exactly 365 years (to the day) after its first performance in Venice. Had you heard the broadcast, you might’ve been perplexed by the laughter and grunts that accompanied the dances. Wigmore Hall gets another cookie from me – I don’t lavish enough praise and cash on it, I know – for its continuous determination to keep Baroque and Baroque opera fun.

As we know by now, 17th century tastes did not ask librettists to choose either tragedy or comedy when writing an opera. As a result we have both, usually with the main, spiritually – if not by birth – “noble” character getting a raw deal but eliciting our sympathy and respect and the lesser ranks having all the fun and making it alive by the end of the opera.

Another thing 17th century librettists are good at is not spoon feeding us morality. You should know which path to follow, with the understanding that cheating and lying will be more amusing… for the public, of course.

Like Semele, Calisto is a babe who catches The Universal Cheater’s eye. Only she’s sworn to Diana, the goddess of hunt1 and chastity (in Ancient Greek parlance, no sex with men). She takes her vows very seriously indeed, because she not only likes Diana but likes her. Yes, she’s – at least initially – one step further up the Kinsey scale than Daphne2.

Who wouldn’t like like Diana, the goddess whose job is to roam the countryside on horseback, keeping the ecosystem healthy and balanced? She has no time for petty intrigue and usually stays out of politics, unlike 95% of that backstabbing Ancient Greek lot of gods. Endimione (a shepherd who constantly misplaces his sheep due to his poetic musings and heaving bosom) and Pane, the goat-god of randiness, both showing better taste than one would give them credit for at first sight, are also in hot pursuit.

Of course Ancient Greeks and 17th century Venetians didn’t see gay desire quite the same way we do today; in the end, this is not the ultimate lesbian story, with Diana and Calisto some sort of Xena and Gabrielle righting wrongs and having fun in hot springs, although there is plenty of passion and danger. Major missed opportunity if ever there was one, but we 21st century folk are made of sturdier stuff and can work with what life gives us (if it’s subtext, imagine fanfic). A couple of tears rolled down my cheeks at the end but you know I’d lie if I said act I wasn’t where it was at for me.

Anyway, there’s singing. The original cast had three replacements due to illness yet the evening was very energetic nonetheless. As I was saying to Leander, the men had an edge over the women but then they had all the fun stuff to sing/do! Endimione was the only man with languidly soppy arias (the best part was when Diana, though in this version she’s really into him, left him prey3 to Pane and Silvano; Mead as Endimione had this great expression on his face omg, Diana! You don’t suppose I should fight these brutes, do you?!). We also commented that perhaps one day we’d see Mead as something else than the soulful lover. Not that he isn’t good at it, which is perhaps why he keeps singing these ancient r’n’b dreamboats. In fact one extended bit he had (about love, of course) made for possibly the best singing of the evening.

A big standout was Arditti as Satirino (accessoried with fake goatee), who did his stellar best to be randy and obnoxious, both dramatically and in the elaborate and cleverly placed trills he employed. He and Furness as the horny Diana-devotee Linfea probably had the most fun, culminating in that mad chase around the auditorium, which ended with Satirino stealing Linfea’s bra (which Linfea snatched back at curtain call). For his part, Furness brought back his considerable cross-gender chops, last noticed by yours truly in last year’s Orontea on the very same stage. He has a very mobile face, ideally suited for this kind of silliness, contrasted by an agile yet manly voice.

Humphreys replaced James Platt as the philandering Giove. He was very good as Giove but hilarious as Fake Diana. He had to ride falsetto for half his performance and did so commendably and with lots of gusto. Then again, with lines like to the kisses! to the kisses! it’s hard to go wrong. Poor Calisto had no chance.

Calisto herself has really serious things to sing because, well, she’s in a very serious situation, with the Big Kahuna of the Ancient World on her tail. Crowe isn’t someone I naturally “get” and here I’d have liked more winky swooniness in her interaction with Diana. That’s the one bit where Calisto is other than confused or hurt or faced with the reality of having one vision of heaven before spending eternity as celestial bear. I’m sure there’s some ancient meaning for the bear thing, though for modern sensibilites (this side of plushies) the simile seems a bit curious.

Adamonyté’s Diana wasn’t bad for a heterosexual reading of the text (though it’s really hard to “think straight” before intermission and generally to imagine Diana in a gown) and showed a very nice tone and good authority as goddess. She was gentle then stern with Calisto, furious with them goats and rather giddy with Endimione.

In act II we have Giunone getting up to speed on Hubby of the Year’s shenanigans. She’s not happy. After Leander told me ETO had Giunone in their production show up in leather, sporting a riding crop, I wasn’t going to hold the image that lived in my mind against Kelly. Her Giunone was upset all right, though perhaps riding crop furious comes with age and a lot of philandering husband experience.

David Bates led la Nuova Musica and his soloists with speedy tempi and enough cuts not to let anyone flag save for the gent in front of me, but that was fortunate 😉 I was also placed in the cheery corner, with two ladies next to me laughing like there was no tomorrow. Although when I looked behind me for the chastity preservation dance I saw some perplexed faces. Should we laugh or should we purse our lips and interlace our fingers in our lap? Yes, of course we should laugh, especially with such a good translation and with such a fun crew. May we hear more laughs and silliness at Wigmore Hall!


  1. Hunt and chastity? Hunt? Shouldn’t that be “teasing and chastity” then? 
  2. Who likes trees instead of men. Trees? I know I’m fishing, but that would be a pretty decent metaphor for vibrators. So I’d say Daphne is questioning where Calisto is ardently bicurious
  3. Because she clearly has her own issues -> duty/love. 

Three men and a boatload of Schubert songs (Wigmore Hall, 24 November 2016)

For the past year or so, Wigmore Hall has been running a massive Schubert project, with the goal of having every one of his songs performed. Something for everyone indeed. And in this case, my favourite Schubert lied gets a deluxe treatment.

Stuart Jackson tenor
Marcus Farnsworth baritone
James Baillieu piano

Leichenfantasie D7
Das war ich D174a
Das war ich (fragment) D174b
Der Morgenstern (fragment) D172
Die erste Liebe D182
Jägers Abendlied D215
Grablied D218
Der Fischer D225
Abends unter der Linde D235
Abends unter der Linde D237
Lob des Tokayers D248
Punschlied: im Norden zu singen D253

Interval

Der Vatermörder D10
An Rosa I D315
An Rosa II D316
Fischerlied D351
Die Einsiedelei D393
Ins stille Land D403 x 4
Fischerlied D562
Die Einsiedelei D563
Des Fräuleins Liebeslauschen D698
Doch im Getümmel der Schlacht D732 No. 8
Wenn ich dich, Holde, sehe D732 No. 13
Totengräber-Weise D869
Fischerweise D881 😀

I’ll start with the helmsman, Baillieu, because he had some major workouts with the Schubert youthful epics that started the two halves of the evening and of course, the rest of the marathon. He kept the boat afloat and avoided any treacherous rocks 😉

I’ve seen Jackson in JC Bach’s Adriano in Siria and Jommelli’s Il Vologeso and was going to see him in recital anyway when spotting Fischerweise doublesealed the deal. I don’t recall encountering Marcus Farnsworth before but I liked his approach a lot. The two of them took the intimate approach to art song, relying on beauty of tone and focusing on words to drive the drama. Jackson got to forte a couple of times but his tenor is of the gentler type so eardrums stayed intact.

When Farnsworth stepped on stage he introduced the programme a bit, setting the mood as that of a workshop with public. I liked that idea. I’m definitely not adverse to singers singing several versions of a song if there is more than one. In fact, I would even enjoy the singer taking different approaches to a song within a recital even when there’s only one official version. If a recital is where we see/hear more of the singer than in a staged opera, why not share with us their different approaches to something?

Suffice to say the 4 different versions in a row – both tenor and baritone – of Ins stille Land were my favourite thing after my favourite thing 😉 You really get into the mood after one or two spins of the same thing and start to appreciate details.

There are probably other good reasons for them to share a recital but an important one is surely how well their voices fit together. It was almost like Jackson’s voice was a natural upper extension of Farnsworth’s. In any case, whether in duet of when simply alternating songs, the combo helped the evening flow smoothly for the ear.

Having them duet on Fischerweise was a special treat ending to a song-dense but very relaxed evening. There are quite a few renditions of the jolly fisherman’s story on YT and I can’t say I dislike the slow ones though I usually feel like cheering the singer with hearty come ons! but I tend to return to the ones with a bit of zing. The duet had plenty of zing and wink. Farnsworth’s serious, organised drive and Jackson’s cheerful, easy going persona (also coming through in the ode to Tokay wine) brought out the different aspects of the lied in a way that energised me and put a smile on my face that extended well beyond the time I got home.

Audience-wise, I am amused to report quite a number of couples comprised of very tall men and very short women. Behind me sat the two chattiest men in the world so at “lights down” I shot over 4 rows of seats to a central location I’d been eyeing since I first took my seat. Luckily the man at the end of my row was more than understanding and picked his things up in record time so I could make it out and around without further disturbances.

Though big name lieder nights are very well attended, the young singer ones seem not quite so. It’s too bad, because the very relaxed – occasionally even spontaneous – interactions and general breezy atmosphere is very welcome. After all, art songs were meant for informal evenings.

I don’t know if Wigmore Hall plans to release a boxset of their Schubert exploration but I hope so and I hope some of the songs in this particular recital make it on. In any case, I’d hear these two again.

Luca and Maciej preach to the converted (Wigmore Hall, 20 November 2016)

Our Evangelists leading with the left hand last Sunday were:

Luca Pisaroni bass-baritone
Maciej Pikulski piano

And that was the truth, they were leading with the left hand, each one in his specific way. I don’t think that much about the piano but I can tell when rhythm is being kept with gusto. As for veering down the left hand path, that only occurred on occasion, lucifer skills being part and parcel for baritones and basses. Given that Pisaroni is known for his almost giggly nature, the Doppelgänger came out rather creepy. But he does hold out his left hand in that Homer grabbing Bart by the throat way when things get specifically dramatic.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Der Schiffer D536
Memnon D541
Fahrt zum Hades D526
Auf der Donau D553

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Lied aus der Ferne WoO. 137
Der Kuss Op. 128
Zärtliche Liebe WoO. 123 ‘Ich liebe dich’
Adelaide Op. 46

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Neue Liebe Op. 19a No. 4
Gruss Op. 19a No. 5
Morgengruss Op. 47 No. 2
Allnächtlich im Traume Op. 86 No. 4
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges Op. 34 No. 2
Reiselied Op. 34 No. 6

Interval

Excited Lady: I’ve been listening to Radio 3 for 30 years but I’ve never been to Wigmore Hall before. I didn’t even know where it was.

Well, good pick there, WH newbie! I knew about WH since close to the beginning of my “classical singing journey” but I gave it a wide birth for a while out of a misguided conviction that opera singers should be heard in staged operas only. My loss indeed! Up to now I had not heard Pisaroni sing lieder, thinking he’s Italian. My loss again! But since I like him and I had not heard him live since 20131 I thought he couldn’t possibly ruin Schubert too much, could he now?! Don’t know about Beethoven or Mendelssohn but you’d have to be hopeless to ruin Schubert.

Gentle reader, he didn’t. More than that, I thought his lieder skills were delightful. I could’ve well gone on listening to him for two more hours, especially since next on my schedule came the fourth night shift in a row. I’m pretty sure 99% of opera, innit? readers are well aware of how Pisaroni sounds and at least 80% would agree with me 4 hours wouldn’t be long enough. But even considering all this, I thought he was just wonderful.

As an old boss of mine would say, he kept his indoors voice on and I thought it was just the right size and consistency for lieder at Wigmore Hall. Which is to say, it carried very well but it was always intimate. His diction was great, too, though naturally I can’t comment on his pronunciation.

Franz Schubert
Schwanengesang D9572
Der Atlas
Ihr Bild
Das Fischermädchen
Die Stadt
Am Meer
Der Doppelgänger

Schäfers Klagelied D121
Grenzen der Menschheit D716
Ganymed D544
Erlkönig D328
Willkommen und Abschied D767

Lady with programme: It says here he’s appeared in La clemenza di Tito, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni and even in the title role in Le nozze di Figaro… He wasn’t Cherubino, was he?
Mr accompanying Lady with programme: I think he was… Figaro.
Lady with programme: Oh!
Mr accompanying Lady with programme: Or maybe the Count?

There might be room for a conversation regarding the title role in Le nozze di Figaro (I have it on good authority he never appeared as the wedding itself… yet) but he did sound particularly Mozartean in his approach. Definitely a good thing, especially for a non-German, I venture to say. I’ve heard that those of us not Germans don’t quite get lieder, although those among us who are singers will inch a bit closer with time and experience, but it seems like going Mozart is the safe option for most things.

I’ll have to disappoint you, having forgotten what the encores were but I should add that Pikulski was an excellent foil for Pisaroni’s quirkiness. There was this impishness to his playing I quite enjoyed, where he would apparently go all Romantic on a few chords then drop the whole thing with lightness.

Let’s hope we’ll see Pisaroni more often in London (even as Cherubino – I actually could see that and it would be a riot too), especially on a date when I’m more with it.


  1. He was slotted at WH this past January but retreated with a cold. We were lucky this rain soaked November date didn’t gobble him up again. 
  2. In swan news, I got my refund this payday. 

The new Dorothea Röschmann (Wigmore Hall, 5 November 2016)

For the past couple of years I’ve been in attendance of Röschmann’s Wigmore Hall shows. If you read back, you will notice that my comments always mention her abandon (generally positive) to the point where I’ve taken to sitting at the back lest my ears be seared.

This year I’ve noticed a change.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister D877
Heiss mich nicht reden
So lasst mich scheinen
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Kennst du das Land D321

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Rückert Lieder

Interval

Franz Schubert
Der König in Thule D367
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118
Gretchens Bitte D564

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Wesendonck Lieder

Encore:

Es muss ein Wunderbares sein (Liszt)

Piercing heights of release have been reached last night as well, but significantly more judiciously than before. I’m pretty sure it was deliberate. Even her usual storytelling is more reserved and introverted, if still as detailed as ever when it comes to moods. Of course, it might be the material (I’m not particularly familiar with Mahler and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder have put me to sleep before), with a high frequency of very long, sustained lines, which she navigated without issues. But I think it’s also her.

Not only has her delivery changed, but her voice as well. Again, different material, different sounds, I know, but I felt that in Schubert as well. Her voice seems to have lost its warmth, which was more confusing than upsetting. I know singers’ voices change and sometimes that can be very exciting, even as it takes them down unfamiliar (to me) avenues.

She’s at a time in her life and career where a change is likely inevitable. The voice, whilst still full, is not so much bigger as it is harder, more metallic; in a sense, I venture to say, more conventional. The delivery remains on the operatic side, but considerably less flamboyant.

But what with this change, last night was an opportunity for me to focus on her interaction with Martineau a lot more than I have done before. It’s probably the first time I really gave him proper attention. The man has a very light, even playful touch, it seems to me, which contrasts Röschmann’s earnest intensity well. You can tell they’ve been working together long because their interaction was exemplary, particularly where timing was concerned. The echoes of the piano reoccurred in her singing in that way I call “organic” and he gave her space to breathe without being self effacing. The mood through the evening was pensive, with the inner turmoil pushed even further inside, under a settled veneer.

The next time she’s in London it will be for Otello, so due to this change I’m more curious than before how that’s going to work out.

Anna Bonitatibus, 100 years of Semiramide (Wigmore Hall, 5 October 2016)

As mezzo fans know, in 2014 Boni put together a themed CD centred on Semiramide, a very popular character throughout the 18th century and even a little beyond. She’s still touring this project and on Wednesday the tour reached London to much acclaim from the Wigmore Hall audience.

Collegium 1704
Václav Luks conductor
Anna Bonitatibus mezzosoprano

Semiramide “La signora regale”

Semiramide in Ascalone Antonio Caldara
Introduzione
Povera navicella

Semiramide HWVA8 (pasticcio) George Frideric Handel/Vinci
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Niccolò Jommelli
Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata

Sémiramis Christoph Willibald Gluck
La Semiramide riconosciuta
Fuggi dagl’occhi miei

Semiramide riconosciuta Ferdinando Bertoni
Non so se più t’accendi

Interval

bonisemiramide

photo by thadieu – from the window of a music shop in Basel, Switzerland

I was introduced to Boni via Handel’s coloratura tour de force that is Come nembo/nube. Anyone who comes a winner in that Italian Handel battle has my attention. Up to this point I’d seen her as Cherubino at ROH and saw her Sesto from Brussels (not live). Cherubino was cute but hardly enough. Sesto – driven by demons in that production. I needed a bit more.

A few things came out of this performance: her exceptional involvement in recits/ariosos, crystal clear diction (a rarity these days) and the freeflowing coloratura (some gents at the back were very glad for the lack of aspirates in general).

From the getgo I’ve been a big fan of her tone, especially in the middle. It’s just so… mezzo. There’s that stubborn feel to it, like the character is a bit ticked off (think grounded teenager). That’s a good thing! Especially for trouser roles and revenge arias 😀 Though not so good for super happy arias, where I want more of a smile in the voice. But, really…

At the top her voice gets very bright but still mezzo (very audible but amazingly no ping, no matter how much forte she puts into it). In conclusion, she can sing these high mezzo/soprano roles but she still sounds solidly mezzo.

My favourite thing of the night was the Jommelli arioso Barbaro, non dolerti… Tradita, sprezzata of up and down moods, where she showed her superior skills at sustaining drama, coupled with excellent mix with the orchestra. As I later said to Baroque Bird, I found myself happy each time we returned to another recit. She’s the kind of singer who, though she can obviously spin coloratura at the highest speeds, does not randomly rush things. Couple that with the super crisp diction (hers are some rrrrolled Rs! plus you can make out _every_ word) and the beautiful middle, you just want her to tell you more.

La vendetta di Nino, o sia Semiramide Francesco Bianchi
Sinfonia

La Semiramide in Villa Giovanni Paisiello
Serbo in seno il cor piagato

La morte di Semiramide Sebastiano Nasolini
Deh, sospendi ai pianti miei… Serbo ancora un’alma altera

Sémiramis (Dance No. 1 and No. 2) Charles-Simon Catel

Semiramide Gioachino Rossini
Bel raggio lusinghier this is an early version of the aria, not the one we’re used to

Semiramis Manuel García
Già il perfido discese… Al mio pregar t’arrendi

Encore:

? Boni named this one as something (Semiramide related) from Isabela Colbran’s repertoire. Sounded like a shortish arioso.

Vanne fido, e al mesto regno Semiramide regina dell’Assiria Porpora

When a performance covers a century of music you get to observe how music changes. Boni flowingly moved through Baroque, Classical and Belcanto.

It’s also very interesting hearing the same aria done differently by different composers, like in the case of Fuggi dagl’occhi miei. As you probably guessed, Semiramide riconosciuta is a libretto by Papa Metastasio. Like in the case of most of his libretti, this one was the basis of pretty much all the Semiramide operas through the 1700s. So you get to hear the same arias tweaked this or that way by composers but they remain the same in spirit, because Metastasio had already worked the tune in his lines. Gluck, still in Baroque mode, puts an interesting spin on his, which here came off sort of jazzy – less straight-laced Baroque, though rhythmical.

Boni was so focused on the concept, we got 4 different outfits, two of which you can see here (starting with the very first, flesh/”gold” coloured one in Povera navicella and ending with the last one, the white/”Assirian”, in Vanne fido…). There was also a red and a black one in between.

Vanne fido… is an excellent example of all I was talking about so far – taking her time, dramatic involvement, beautiful “mezzo” middle, sharp diction, soft, flowing attack on coloratura (which I now understand is a fast vibrato – well there you go, Baroque Bird, you were right!).

Though she was very serious through the performance, Boni appeared very touched by the reception after the encores (I thought she was going to step down into the audience and chat with us 😉 ). For me, surrounded as I was by very well behaved fans (though the gent in front of me constantly positioned himself at an angle and I had to angle along), it was an introspective evening, but Baroque Bird encountered heavy breathers (not that kind…), rustlers and a chatty lady.

In conclusion, somebody stage/organise a concert performance of that Jommelli with Boni in the title role, please 🙂

Stutzmann and Orfeo 55’s treasure chest (Wigmore Hall, 2 October 2016)

Stutzmann and Orfeo 55 got one of the most enthusiastic receptions I’ve heard at Wigmore Hall. A lady next to me, who confessed to her seatmate that she had never heard of Stutzmann before the show, sounded like she became a convert about the time Stutzmann turned her note stand around and opened her mouth.

Initially this show was supposed to be comprised of more obscure morsels but for whatever reason a change of programme was announced a month or two back. Judging by how packed and buzzing the hall looked nobody was complaining – especially since we did not get this show when she was touring it originally.

Handel: Heroes from the Shadows
Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55

Overture Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17
Sinfonia from Act 3 Poro, re dell’Indie HWV28
L’aure che spira Giulio Cesare in Egitto
Sinfonia from Act 3 Serse (‘Xerxes’) HWV40
(I) Larghetto Concerto Grosso in E minor
Son qual stanco pellegrino Arianna in Creta HWV32
(III) Allegro Concerto Grosso in E minor
Sinfonia from Act 3 Orlando HWV31
Pena, tiranna Amadigi di Gaula HWV11

Those who have seen Stutzmann live know the turning of the stand is done with a lot of dramatic flair (albeit of the understated kind). In fact, that is one Stutzmann’s strengths. It’s not just a show, it’s a performance with a start and an end. Her attention to detail in conducting, singing and performance is second to none.

My reaction to seeing the Overture to Giulio Cesare in the programme was a bit meh. Perhaps because of its over exposure I’ve never properly warmed up to this opera. Don’t get me wrong, I do get into it if I start watching/listening but I don’t have that feeling of “you know what I’d like to listen to again?” with it.

Well, wrong! First of all the overture is rather perky. Also Orfeo 55 are no slouches and sounded on and energetic from the getgo. Like I said before, you can tell they play a lot together because it’s a finely tuned machine, the different sections sound so good together and Stutzmann gives them all their chance to shine. With them you have a very good chance of finding all sorts of things in the score you never noticed before.

I was even more wrong about L’aure che spira. With Giulio Cesare I almost invariably focus on the Cesare/Cleopatra thread (surprisingly, I know) so this aria was almost new to me. It’s also got the added bonus of noticing my seatmate’s mouth gape at Stutzmann’s unexpected sound. Have you noticed the effect of something you like on others have an effect on you? Anyway, it’s the kind of semi-bravura aria that fits Stutzmann’s mellow voice.

The instrumental pieces were characterised by Stutzmann’s architectural sense of the whole, with the instrumental lines as building blocks and a lot of contrasts emphasised between the different sections. I like her brand of conducting, it’s always illuminating and easy to follow, with a very muscular base in the rhythmically driven low strings.

Interval

(I) Allegro Sinfonia in B flat major HVW338
Sinfonia from Act 3 Partenope HWV27
Son contenta di morire Radamisto HWV12
Voi che udite il mio lamento Agrippina HWV6
Concerto Grosso in D minor Op. 3 No. 5 HWV316
(III) Adagio
(IV) Allegro ma non troppo
(V) Allegro
Non so, se sia la speme Serse (‘Xerxes’)
(IV) Allegro Concerto Grosso in G minor
Sarò qual vento Alessandro HWV21

Encore:

Dover, giustizia, amor Ariodante
Senti, bell’idol mio Silla

For the Concerti grossi in this section, Stutzmann chose what I would call a “Venetian feel”. Last time I saw her I sensed her voice and personality fit the more relaxed, melodic Venetian Baroque than the very structured, “dramatic Baroque” of Handel. But she can make Handel work for her without a doubt. And this Venetian Handel was very fetching indeed and I would like to listen to it again.

It doesn’t come off in the version above (or in general) but last night in the hall Sarò qual vento had a prominently wistful tinge. I was unexpectedly moved by it, right around the time the A section repeat started, to the point I wanted the show to end there. This has never happened before but her voice fits that wistfulness so well I just felt like staying cocooned in that bitter sweet place. I also wanted the very happy convert next to me to stop grinning and looking around, for fear of her noticing I was on the brink of tears when she was ready to whoop mid-aria.

Luckily, as soon as the first bars of Dover, giustizia… started I was right back in my element. There’s never enough Polinesso in recitals, dear contraltos. Please, feel free to bring him in 😀 Anyway, Stutzmann does a great rendition (pointed to me a while ago by thadieu), with the kind of subtle, breezy irony that fits Polinesso’s self assured arogance. She tweaks the words in the title just a bit on every repeat and every time she added a bit of sarcasm, my seatmates would chuckle loudly. I don’t know if she’s sung him in a production but without a doubt she’d make a great Polinesso. I would be looking forward to his seduction of Dalinda, which I’m sure she’d pull off with the right balance of charm and evil. And she’d probably laugh Ariodante off the stage 😉

She finished with Senti, bell’idol mio from Silla (yes, Handel wrote about him, too) which is just the kind of amorous thing (“Venetian”) that her voice is made for and is sure to turn the audience into eternal worshippers. Whilst she was wooing us with her delicately adoring inflections I thought to myself, imagine someone sing that kind of thing like that specifically to you? That, my friends, is how seduction sounds like. We are only human, eh? Anyway, this was also a moment for her theorbist to spin us around his finger(s). The audience was putty.

I’m telling you, Venetian is the way to go, Handel or no Handel.

ps: sorry for any typos, I’m rushing to work.