Christian Gerhaher rides a white horse and causes a few damsels to joyously faint (Wigmore Hall, 15 July 2017)
Chatty mature lady: have you seen Gerhaher before?
dehggi: yes, but not in recital, only in Tannhauser.
Chatty mature lady: he was the only reason I went to see Tannhauser!
So it came to pass that I saw Gerhaher at Wiggy. I suppose had I hunted for returns I could’ve seen him earlier but for all my traipsing around I really am not the type to hang around for returns (or anything else). If they happen organically… you’ve heard me say that before. My current ticket was such an organic occasion – Baroque Bird couldn’t go and we had talked ahead of time that I would gladly take the ticket given those circumstances.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Die schöne Magelone Op. 33
Christian Gerhaher baritone
Gerold Huber piano
Ulrich Tukur actor
The beautiful Magelone is the story of a young knight who goes out on a maturity quest, which provides many occasions for exceptional feats of arms, proofs of great courage and wise choices for someone so young. Also, a seemingly endless opportunity to sing. His name is not Magelone – that’s the princess who falls madly in love with his jousting skills and singing chops. He is more modestly named Pierre. I’ve learned all this with the help of Tukur, who provided the (English) cliff notes to what happens in between the singing bits. Although he scared us all non German speakers when he did the introduction in German.
I’ve not seen a song cycle done this way before but it sure helps those on an erudition spectrum 😉 I saw on operaramblings that Soile Isokoski just had a recital with surtitles in Toronto, so perhaps this trend is catching. (Now that I dug a bit, here’s further proof of my sliding down the spectrum: this cycle seems habitually done this way; Goerne performed it the same way at Wiggy, 11 years ago!)
As you know I’m not the kind to spend a performance with my nose stuck in the programme (if it comes into my possession organically I will peruse it beforehand but unicorns are surprisingly rare at Wiggy). Surtitles = please bring them on. An actor reading it = even better, if all parties can afford the addition.
The story as read by Tukur proved hilarious. My fave part was this: a random nosy raven shows up just when our hero finds his three rings inside the locket of his conveniently asleep beloved – after he’d “eased off her dress”. Wait, what??? What kind of noble knight behviour is that? No wonder a raven showed up and flew away with the ring(s). Moral conundrums aside, our hero dashes off after the raven and, long story short, he falls into the Mediterranean, gets caught by moorish pirates and ends up sold into slavery to the Ottoman sultan (quite historically accurate, no?).
This is the type of story that ends well, so the two lovebirds find each other again – also by chance, after we understand that each of them has gained their gender required knowledge in the ways of the world (Magelone picks herself up, realises that he has not left of his own volition and waits for him whilst doing assorted au-pair duties for a farmer family in the Naples countyside – obviously back then even rich families didn’t enlist the help of local law enforcement to look for their missing damsels).
You might be wondering by now but dehggi, what happened to the raven? No? What about Gerhaher on his white horse? Oh, yes! He waited gamely for the cliff notes to unfold and then launched into Pierre’s mood-illustrating songs. Gotta love the Romantics, they were really confident in their genius. All these songs on a medieval theme sound absolutely nothing like one would imagine medieval music. No matter, though, because they are very fine indeed, and cover a wide range of moods. You can say that Pierre’s basic nature is jolly but, of course, what with loving and then losing (thanks for nothing, raven!), some somber tunes found their way within as well.
With this format there is inevitably a break in the mood, because reading a Romantic story in a 21st century English translation is one thing and singing Brahms in German is another. Sometimes I really wanted to find out what happened next and hear the music separately at a later time, Gerhaher or no Gerhaher. But his phrasing is really gorgeous and when he was singing I didn’t want us to go back to reading. I also really like his top (as well as his tie), as showcased by these songs. He’s the kind of singer whose fach affiliation you don’t have to question – he has the density and just enough weight – but who has heart flutter inducing notes up and down the range. So I gently fainted with the rest of the damsels (the hall was packed) and sighed behind my veil.
The see a French singer at least once a month programme has been going on since October. It’s true sometimes (February) it was quite a stretch but in my defense I only saw one show (shudder! gasp!) that month – and sometimes (April) the French singer was spotted more than once a month whereas in December I was in France and saw a bunch of them in one go. Vive la brioche!
On Monday I went to see Gens with 4 hours of broken sleep (thanks for nothing, kitties) at the ungodly hour of 1pm (part of BBC3’s Lunchtime Concert and you can hear it too). I didn’t droop, mostly because Mme Gens, in spite of her tall frame, has a voice light as a feather and it lifts you up.
I first heard her in La clemenza di Tito from Brussels (the one I call the reality TV Tito) where she towered over Boni’s Sesto. She managed to stick in my memory due to her unusual skill at making herself appear smaller (as if taking refuge within herself) when Vitellia realises things are going down the drain (act I finale). That skill was apparent here as well, though in a slightly different manner.
Véronique Gens soprano
Susan Manoff piano
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Néère (from Études latines)
Trois jours de vendange
Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Romance de Mignon
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Le charme Op. 2 No. 2
Les papillons Op. 2 No. 3
Hébé Op. 2 No. 6
Quand je fus pris au pavillon (from Rondels)
Le rossignol des lilas
La chanson bien douce Op. 34 No. 1
Le temps des lilas
Lydé | Tyndaris | Pholoé | Phyllis (from Études latines)
In nice contrast to Mattila, who joked with the crowd and kissed her accompanist on both cheeks after each section, Gens’ stage presence makes me imagine her all by herself, reading a book in a quiet coffee shop. In between songs she’s perfectly self effacing and even looks a bit uncomfortable with having a roomful of people watch her. When the songs start she gets animated.
Which brings to mind the oddness of performing. You’re there in front of people, who are all busy gauging your every move (well, the ones who don’t have their eyes glued to the programme). Pretty odd situation for a private person, which she seems to be.
If you enjoy singers who have a feel for and a deft command of piano and pianissimo, Gens is for you. I’m not sure how she sounded at the back of the room because, unusually, I had a seat at the front of the hall, but she employed some of the most delicate turns of phrase I have heard so far.
The repertoire was of the airiest kind and gave Manoff the opportunity to spin an impishly playful web beneath Gens’ feather-light sound. Their communication was clear and – for me – surprinsingly balanced: Manoff leading with more than a tinge of humour and Gens flawlessly picking up the sound and transforming it into diaphanous droplets. She can hit forte when needed and luckily there is no ping to her voice but the most interesting moments are those disarmingly soft touches, when the ends of phrases are left floating.
The moment Mattila waltzed in, grand and self mocking at the same time, as Primadonna/Ariadne on the ROH stage a couple of years back I was in love. So I jumped at the opportunity of a night of listening to her alone. What I got was unexpected.
Karita Mattila soprano
Ville Matvejeff piano
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Zigeunerlieder Op. 103
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Vier Lieder Op. 2
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Der Stern Op. 69 No. 1
Wiegenlied Op. 41 No. 1
Meinem Kinde Op. 37 No. 3
Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden Op. 21
Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten Op. 19 No. 4
Allerseelen Op. 10 No. 8
Cäcilie Op. 27 No. 2
The Zigeunerlieder were cracking, the kind of chutzpah that first attracted me to her but eventually the night turned into something very introspective, with Mattila mostly parked at the low end of her range. Her voice is plummy there but that part of her range doesn’t necessary have a lot of colour, neither does it have the sparkle I was chasing. But she sprinkled some sparkle later on and in the encores, which were her cabaret best – I wasn’t the only one to think so.
I love her natural charm, the direct, unfussy way she communicates, the way she can build a low brow joke even in an evening dress, with dangly earrings. I also like how she controls her hands and uses them a lot but makes it look necessary. Another thing I enjoy is watching singers between songs/when they aren’t singing. I like to catch the moment they get in character/change from one to the other. She’s very spontaneous, just slips in and sails with the mood.
It was a quite weird, though, the sober mood that permeated the night, which sent my thoughts to some issues I’ve tried to
avoid sort out for years. I must’ve felt very comfortable with her in the house to visit those ultra personal places. My mind sometimes wanders during performances but usually to more immediate matters. This was indeed the week of singing psychotherapy.
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
George Frideric Handel
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:
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)
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
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.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
– Pompe vane di morte!… Dove sei, amato bene?
– Si, l’infida consorte… Confusa si miri
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.
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.
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.
- 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) ↩
- Is this a French thing? Piau does her version of it as well. It’s gorgeous. ↩
- I think she has a fine art background? Maybe that’s where this comes from. ↩
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
Da tempeste il legno infranto
Suite in F major ‘Water Music’ HWV348 (excerpts)
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
Will the sun forget to streak
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.
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
Mio caro bene Rodelinda
Lascia ch’io pianga
Giulio Cesare Rinaldo
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 😉
- 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 😉 ). ↩
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!
- Hunt and chastity? Hunt? Shouldn’t that be “teasing and chastity” then? ↩
- 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. ↩
- Because she clearly has her own issues -> duty/love. ↩
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
Das war ich D174a
Das war ich (fragment) D174b
Der Morgenstern (fragment) D172
Die erste Liebe D182
Jägers Abendlied D215
Der Fischer D225
Abends unter der Linde D235
Abends unter der Linde D237
Lob des Tokayers D248
Punschlied: im Norden zu singen D253
Der Vatermörder D10
An Rosa I D315
An Rosa II D316
Die Einsiedelei D393
Ins stille Land D403 x 4
Die Einsiedelei D563
Des Fräuleins Liebeslauschen D698
Doch im Getümmel der Schlacht D732 No. 8
Wenn ich dich, Holde, sehe D732 No. 13
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.
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
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
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.
Schäfers Klagelied D121
Grenzen der Menschheit D716
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.