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Christine Rice MIA, Julien Van Mallaerts in de hause (Wigmore Hall, 18 June 2018)

I’m all for privacy but what is going in in the Rice camp, y’all? This year alone I was supposed to see her three times (January, March and June) and everything ended up cancelled. I hope things are on the mend, for everyone’s sake.

Wiggy presented us with a young upstart instead, namely baritone Julien Van Mallaerts, who is about to go to Bayreuth for some Wagnerian schooling. He did sound like that. The end.

😉

With Rice we were expecting a French programme (La voix humaine) so we at least got that (not La voix humaine – but wouldn’t it be fun to hear a baritone sing it?). You know I like ze French songse. His French diction is good (or I had a very good seat) and he seemed like he really got into it interpretively. Pity we didn’t know what was so funny, though based on the titles I’m sure it was. I need to get a bit more culture (not just about Madama Butterfly). I thought he had a nice, run-of-the-mill baritone but Anna wasn’t so sure it was a bari-tone after all (his low notes were a bit cloudy to me, especially if he wanted to do pp. He was at his best when he could employ bright and loud highs).

Whatever it is, it wasn’t offensive but nothing much to write home about as far as I’m concerned. How about a picture of Camden instead1? It was such a warm and gorgeous day on Monday, Anna and I decided to walk along the Regent Canal (yes, I wanted to take some pictures like I couldn’t after the last Lunchtime Concert when the battery died after two measly shots 😉 ).

not quite Venice but nice cow, eh?

Julius Drake was a treat twice within less than 24hours, though I thought he was a lot more interesting (like super cool) in the German programme. I commend that work ethic!

Julien Van Mallaerts baritone
Julius Drake piano

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
La vie antérieure
Phidylé

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
FĂȘtes galantes Book II
Les ingenus
Le faune
Colloque sentimental

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Histoires naturelles
Le paon
Le grillon
Le martin-pecheur
La pintade
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Chanson romanesque
Chanson epique
Chanson a boire

Encore:

Nachtlied Schubert


  1. It has come to my attention that I don’t post enough pictures, so there you go, nautical London. 
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StĂ©phane Degout: not quite it (Wigmore Hall, 5 June 2018)

If you take enough chances, the time will come when something falls flat like a souffle. I have to report that Degout hasn’t left much of an impression on me, beside his nicely pronunced French.

Stéphane Degout baritone
Simon Lepper piano

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Aurore Op. 39 No. 1
Poùme d’un jour Op. 21
Automne Op. 18 No. 3

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
O kĂŒhler Wald Op. 72 No. 3
Die Mainacht Op. 43 No. 2
Auf dem Kirchhofe Op. 105 No. 4
Feldeinsamkeit Op. 86 No. 2
Alte Liebe Op. 72 No. 1
Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen Op. 32 No. 2
Willst du, dass ich geh? Op. 71 No. 4

Interval

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kerner Lieder Op. 35

I have an inkling that French chanson can be shouted in a nervous manner and not suffer for it but during the first half of the programme I did not discern much dynamic variation. I mean, there was, but not used for contrast, rather this song was sung forte, the next mezzoforte etc.

Degout has a very bright and penetrating voice (is this a French thing? = light beam; I was in the last row but it carried like a bullet, for better (diction in both languages) and worse (even volume)). It’s not unpleasant by any means but it’s quite colourless and with the lack of… moulding, its effect felt to me like what thadieu calls water faucet.

On top of that his face stayed slightly pained/startled for the duration. It’s not one’s fault when they don’t have a mobile face but in this case that only made matters worse. Curiously, he also took on the stance of the Tower of Pisa, alternatively leaning towards the right for good periods of time and righting himself for a while. I hope he wasn’t in any kind of actual pain.

I did enjoy Lepper’s accompaniment, though I can’t say anything further than his handling of the instrument worked for me.

I had to leave at the interval but for once that didn’t bother me too much. Maybe the Schumann would’ve got my attention but I kinda doubt it.

Now this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Degout – that would be a couple of weeks ago, in Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence. Which brings me to another subject – the backlog. Yes, dear reader, a backlog has accumulated in the opera, innit? drawer because… well, because sometimes regardless of how you feel about a show you don’t feel quite like writing.

Due to Benjamin’s opera (another thing I took a chance on, with mixed results), I’ve attended Barbara Hannigan’s Masterclass and Degout’s recital. Whilst the masterclass has given me plenty of food for thought – and is actually one of the few things partly written – I have not finished it yet.

I also mean to write another post about Venice, a bit about Sara Mingardo’s recital-plus my and thadieu’s quest for a meal in London 😉 as well as Simon Keenlyside’s VERY funny recital (it’s contralto and baritone season chez dehggi) – what a contrast to Degout! – and a few words on how I realised Franco Fagioli is actually one of my favourite singers (shudder-gasp, I know).

Evening longing with Matthias Goerne (Wigmore Hall, 24 April 2018)

Goerne is one of those people who does not sing in a repertoire I frequent, but, for whatever reason, I thought I should go see him (I do read reviews/writeups of a wider rep than I physically enjoy and in hindsight it can be hard to pinpoint what made me curious about one singer/work or another).

Once again, it was a wise choice (wise beyond my ears, that’s me). Right from the getgo I thought, wow, this is a gorgeous voice! And later I could see how skilled he is at building drama with that lucky break he got from the universe. The second part of the performance did start to get a bit same-y in mood, which happens often enough in recitals, as singers I guess find a groove that works for their psyche and/or voice and go with it, often potentially losing the casual listener who’d like a bit of variation.

The general mood that works for him seems to be rather sinister – it fit seamlessly with the cruel-ish intentions dream (I know, right? ha.ha…) I had woken up with that morning – which kept my imagination busy particularly during the Pfitzner set.

Seong-Jin Cho brought all the Korean women in the Wiggy yard – and I mean all of them! I hadn’t seen so many Koreans in one place since Uni days (my school was very popular with South Koreans). One of them came and asked me about my seat (remember that story? this was the first time it happened that week) but then softly drifted away before I could even answer, just like Cho’s pps 😉

Matthias Goerne baritone
Seong-Jin Cho piano

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo

Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949)
Sehnsucht Op. 10 No. 1
Wasserfahrt Op. 6 No. 6
Es glÀnzt so schön die sinkende Sonne Op. 4 No. 1
Ist der Himmel darum im Lenz so blau Op. 2 No. 2
An die Mark Op. 15 No. 3
Abendrot Op. 24 No. 4
Nachts Op. 26 No. 2
Stimme der Sehnsucht Op. 19 No. 1

Interval

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Wesendonck Lieder

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Traum durch die DĂ€mmerung Op. 29 No. 1
Morgen Op. 27 No. 4
Ruhe, meine Seele Op. 27 No. 1
Freundliche Vision Op. 48 No. 1
Im Abendrot from Four Last Songs

A slice of Lucy Crowe (Wigmore Hall, 4 May 2018)

After a not-quite meeting of minds on the local live scene, I discovered Lucy Crowe in last year’s Madrid Rodelinda, which you may remember as an unusually tender affair from Guth with some formidable singing from the top trio Crowe-Mehta-Prina. Things followed the same exciting path a couple of months later live, with ROH’s resuscitation of their long dormant Mitridate and here we are in 2018.

What the first part of the recital solidifies for me is that Crowe’s voice is best suited to Early-ish mezzoforte to pp detail work rather than sustatined drama shaped by drastic volume gear changes. She’s at a point in her career where she can fire the jets if needs be, but the result, at least to my ears, is acidic and opaque (claustrophobic)1 – nowhere near a challenge for someone whose top volume revels in dramatic colouring like, say, Roschmann.

When she tries something like Wolf’s Philine, on the other hand, it’s a revelation to whoever has not experienced her Handel and early Mozart (like I imagine the chap behind me, who, before the show made some of the most refreshing comments I’ve overheard at Wiggy). Her voice sparkles, full of life and kinetic and she handles the text with the right amount of impishness.

Sadly I can’t comment on the second part of the show, as I had to leave early for an unshakable night shift. I do, however, want to comment on the term “female” when used to describe women in converstation as opposed to in biology books. I hate it. It sounds like how a serial killer would itemize its bludgeoned victims rather than a thoughtful man’s musings on what he makes of women’s experience – as I suppose it’s intended here.

On the other hand, a programme of women’s portraits done by men yet sung and played by women is still a good idea. But I would’ve needed to stay until the end to get a real idea of how this mirrored reinterpretation works out.

Female Portraits

Lucy Crowe soprano
Anna Tilbrook piano

Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Bess of Bedlam Z370

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
An Silvia D891
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118
Marie D658
Suleika I D720

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Ach, um deine feuchten Schwingen Op. 34 No. 4

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Lieder und GesÀnge aus Wilhelm Meister Op. 98a
No. 1 Kennst du das Land?
Myrthen Op. 25
Lied der Suleika

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Goethe Lieder
Philine

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Drei Lieder der Ophelia Op. 67
CĂ€cilie Op. 27 No. 2

Interval

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
A Chloris

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Lydia Op. 4 No. 2
Sylvie Op. 6 No. 3
Nell Op. 18 No. 1

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Jane

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Phidylé

Émile Paladilhe (1844-1926)
Psyché

William Walton (1902-1983)
Daphne
Beatriz’s Song

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Sweet Polly Oliver

Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981)
Georgia on my Mind

Cole Porter (1891-1964)
Miss Otis regrets


  1. Though it’s true it freed up quite a bit by the end of ther period. 

Dido and Aeneas’ Wiggy lunch date (Wigmore Hall, 7 April 2018)

La Nuova Musica and their Director of Micromanagement (Bates) was back at Wiggy midday Saturday with a rather Purcefalian Dido and a very lively array of mezzos.

La Nuova Musica
David Bates director
Rachel Kelly mezzo-soprano (as Dido)
George Humphreys baritone (as Aeneas)
Anna Dennis soprano (as Belinda)
Emilie Renard soprano (as Sorceress) soprano…?
Helen Charlston mezzo-soprano (as First Witch)
Martha McLorinan mezzo-sporano (as Second Witch)
Louise Kemény soprano (as Second Woman)
Nick Pritchard tenor (as Sailor)
Richard Bannan baritone (as Spirit)

You don’t realise why some bang on about diction in singing until you hear an opera in a language you can instantly understand. The people on stage start to produce sound and all of a sudden you panic because the salvation of surtitles is missing and all you can make out is oeaiueaooo biscuit oooieueeeaa missed it. I was starting to question my recently checked ears when I remembered I’d just seen Le Concert d’AstrĂ©e there two days before, from exactly the same distance. It was a very different auditory experience.

Now though La Nuova Musica copes a lot better than AA, the ethos is similarly noise (ba)rock. Bates can’t be faulted for enthusiasm but the whole business comes out unecessary noisy – for my ears at least. Whereas with Le Concert d’AstrĂ©e I followed an interesting approach to sounding energetic without attempts at breaking the sound barrier, yesterday (as on other occasions) Nuova Musica’s efforts seemed to me cluttered, though this time the Wiggy legendary acoustics meant the singers could be heard (at least from row G). Add to that most of the singers’ problematic diction and there were few precious moments where I could follow the emotion at the heart of the piece.

The story, as I suppose most are aware, is stupid. Trojan stud warrior Aeneas has a pitstop in the port of Carthage on his way to sealing his place in mythology by founding Rome. He has a one night stand with the local queen and then sails merrily on his way, whilst she kills herself on account of her freshly broken heart. Ze end.

Because this is a 17th century opera we thankfully have comic relief, in the shape of the Sorceress and witches, who are jumping at the opportunity of bringing Carthage down (why do you hate Carthage, dehggi? – rather, their evil glee was infectious). Lucky for us, our Sorceress was dehggi favourite Emilie Renard, who pulled off another one of her hilarious performances as the meanly gleeful Boss Witch. I’ve always enjoyed her involvement in the drama and willingness to go for expression without fear of not sounding pretty enough. Her summoning of evil forces came off epic, from the grand way she “entered” (from the soloists’ chair to the side) to the actual interaction with the choir, classic diva moves and wicked glances.

She had spirited help from (and very good communication with) fellow mezzos Helen Charlston and Martha McLorinan as the Junior Witches, itchy at the prospect at wreaking havoc with poor Dido. Renard clarified my confusion when I could actually understand what she was saying, proving the problem wasn’t on my side.

The witch action and the choir’s interventions were the best moments of the early afternoon. The choir in general was very good, with smooth blending, high levels of energy and engagement and, as mentioned, good solo/duo moments. One of the felicitous moments from a member of the choir was Nick Pritchard’s (Sailor) short forshadowing aria about how sailors are players. He sang stylishly I could once again understand what was being said.

Humphreys as top man Aeneas was also rather good in the diction department. His projection helped his well handled baritone sail (ha.ha) over the general noise and his first interaction with Rachel Kelly’s disconcertingly demure Dido was very apt (his Aeneas looked like he was thinking “nice bit of distraction”). During their quarrel the morning after he even appeared ready to appease Dido when protesting that he would stay.

Dido is a role that I suppose needs a bit of life experience? I obviously don’t know Kelly’s experience with being dumped by a man who’s in a hurry to fulfill his destiny of founding a great imperial nation but I wager (and hope) she hasn’t so far had reasons to dwell on that time when they will lay her in earth. I personally got no rhyme or reason out of her interpretation of that very famous lament. Sure, her mezzo is a beautiful instrument and there is quite a bit of attention to musical detail in her interpretation, so what I specifically missed was the purpose (and the diction) behind all her efforts.

I don’t know what age Dido is supposed to be but as one of the tragic heroines of opera I can’t shake the feeling that she needs quite a bit of gravitas. Either Kelly’s reading was of a very young, naive woman – which I wouldn’t say is wrong per se – or she simply can’t do gravitas. Young and naive is fine but then there’s the music. Maybe you are very green but I guess when death is the only option as presented here you quickly sober up – and perhaps even wisen up (momentarily). It’s that destiny thing at work – and destiny is very serious business indeed.

A mention needs to go to Anna Dennis’ Belinda, rocking an ’80s reminiscent outfit (bangles, strappy sandals, boldly cut outfit), complete with closely cropped hair. Her poor Belinda does what she can to support Dido but to no avail. Beautiful voice, solid singing, strong stage presence, though she too needs to work on her diction.

This is an early opera (composed between 1683 and 1688), so I figure it benefits from being sung in that “Monteverdi manner” (for want of a better term – please inform me what the proper one is for future ref) where the sounds produced don’t come off as very operatic. For whatever reason that was not always the case – let’s just say the singers who I could best understand were the ones who adhered to this.

So although I as usual had some quibbles, I was still left with a smile on my face for the rest of the day, which might not be the overall emotion intended by the opera, but, as ROH says, any emotion is better than no emotion and a positive one is best.

16h century lute works with Paul O’Dette (Wigmore Hall, 26 March 2018)

About 15 or so years ago I went through a phase of “getting some (high) culture” which only bore a few (rather timid) fruits. You can argue that a 25 year old can only absorb so much out of the multitude of experiences the world has on offer. In any case, it was during that effervescent period when I became aware of Paul O’Dette. Earlier this week I finally made it to one of his shows, in a renewed effort of expanding my horisons beyond vocal classical music.

Paul O’Dette lute

Marco Dall’Aquila (c.1480-1538)
Ricercar No. 18
Saltarello ‘La Traditora’ No. 2
Ricercar No. 26
Nous bergiers (Janequin)
La Battaglia (Janequin) O’Dette replaced it on account of the lute’s lack of cooperation; the lute declined to comment
Ricercar No. 6
Il est bel e bon (Passereau)
Ricercar No. 19
Cara Cossa No. 10

Alberto da Ripa da Mantova (c.1500-1551)
Fantasie II
O Passi Sparsi (Festa)
Fantasie IX ‘Faulte d’argente’
Or vien ça vien mamie Perrette (Janequin)
Fantasia XXII
L’eccho (Gentian)
Fantasia VIII

Francesco da Milano (1497-1543)
Fantasia No. 28
Fantasia No. 8
Fantasia No. 3
Fantasia No. 38
Fantasia No. 64
Fantasia No. 33
Fantasia No. 34
Fantasia (App. 31)
Vignon vignetta (Claudin de Sermisy)
O bone Jesu (Antonio de Ribera)
Tu discois que je mourroye (Claudin de Sermisy)

Though I was extremely tired on account of time change having woken up at a truly ungodly hour, gone to the airport and came back etc. and somehow managed to snatch a nap before the show, I was quite impressed that I did not flag at all. Two men, one young, one old, were sawing away two rows behind me.

I can’t claim to have known about any of these composers, so it was good that O’Dette provided a bit of introduction, presenting them as the best of the best of their time period, each having developed their own style. What I was able to get was the complexity of the music, which I hadn’t hitherto suspected. I enjoyed O’Dette’s lively work with dynamics, and general range of expression with an instrument that seems rather limited, especially having managed to upgrade to row H for the first half and then to second row after the interval, courtesy of Baroque Bird.

So though I’m very low on comments this time, due to lacking anything to compare his fine work against, it was a lovely performance and O’Dette very personable in his slighly self deprecating way. Don’t miss him (and his stubborn lute) if he comes to your neck of the woods (I’ll just assume your tolerance for Early Music is high to very high if you’re reading this).

Schubert with Angelika Kirchschlager (Wigmore Hall, 31 January 2018)

Angelika Kirchschlager is someone I’ve been aware of for what counts as forever but her contemporaries always appeared more interesting especially at a time when I was exclusively interested in opera and saw recitals as second best. As a result this was the first time I properly listened to her. It was a very pleasant semi-surprise.

Final concert in Schubert: The Complete Songs series
Angelika Kirchschlager mezzo-soprano
Julius Drake piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Namenstagslied D695
FrĂŒhlingsglaube D686
Geheimes D719
Im FrĂŒhling D882
Bei dir allein D866 No. 2
Lambertine D301
Am Bach im FrĂŒhling D361
Ganymed D544
Wiegenlied D498
In der Mitternacht D464
Erlkönig D328

Interval

Gesang der Norna D831
Der liebliche Stern D861
Romanze zum Drama Rosamunde D797 No. 3b
Suleika I D720
Suleika II D717
An den Mond D193
Der JĂŒngling an der Quelle D300
Der Wanderer an den Mond D870
Der UnglĂŒckliche D713
Lied des Florio D857 No. 2
Abschied von der Erde D829

Encore:

?

I went because I can be a bit of a completist and because I kept remembering her from that Mozart docu (that shows the gaudy pink wallpaper from his house in all its splendor – I think) where she made singing Mozart sound like the bees knees. She can’t be all bad if she likes Mozart that much, can she? Then again, she’s from his hometown so I guess it’s the law to love Wolfie.

Two first things first: 1. Hair. That’s some hair she’s (still) got going! It’s like Galou’s nose (which I managed not to mention all this time 😉 ); there is hair and then there is Kirchschlager hair. I’m sure it’s boring for her and other well-maned people to hear about it but wow. I’m saying that appreciatively, even though I’m not particularly into hair (or noses – still Galou’s: ❀ ). 2. Mezzo? I know these fachs are approximative and at this point in her career it probably doesn’t matter anymore, plus her tone is very pleasant. But: mezzo?

Whatever her exact voice bracket, she can spin a phrase and sing lieder non-operatically and still have enough dynamic variation to hear comfortably anywhere in the hall (her excellent diction helps as well). A very interesting experience – somewhat like Antonacci in the sense of filling the hall without any apparent effort and definitely without shouting. She’s very different from Antonacci, though, so don’t get the wrong impression. It’s a very gentle/congenial sound, even when she steps on the pedal in something like Erlkönig – it’s still not commanding. It’s so delicate it feels a bit old skool girlie, especially hearing her so soon after Boni, who has that quintessential boyish mezzo tone, with a bit of kick to it. I was thinking it would be interesting to hear them together, also I should give her Octavian another try. I’m more ready for a very girlie Octavian nowadays.

In any case, this was exquisitely sung lieder, a mix of well used experience and enough spontaneity and youthfulness. Sometimes something done in the simplest manner can have a strong effect.

The Mozartists (1768) (Wigmore Hall, 23 January 2018)

Classical Opera/The Mozartists
Ian Page conductor
Katy Bircher flute
Chiara Skerath soprano

Classical Opera does, as the name suggests, specialise in music of the Classical period and does it very well. You might remember my and thadieu‘s enthusiastic accounts (as well as Leander‘s) of a Cadogan Hall 2016 performance of Jommelli’s Il Vologeso – it was them that done it.

They’re also going through Mozart’s oeuvre, one year at a time. This time it’s the year 1768, when Wolfie was 12 and, opera-wise, wrote La finta semplice, here presented via its not too shabby overture and the Amoretti aria. It’s not just Mozart but a wider look at his time period as well, with works by other composers from the mid to late 18th century.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 26 in D minor HI:26 ‘Lamentatione’

NiccolĂČ Jommelli (1714-1774)
Fetonte Ombre che tacite qui sede

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Flute Concerto in D major WC79

Joseph Haydn
Lo speziale HXXVIII:3
Amore nel mio petto
Salamelica, Semprugna cara

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
La finta semplice K51
Overture
Amoretti, che ascosi qui siete

Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Piramo e Tisbe PerderĂČ l’amato bene

Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813)
Symphony in D minor

As expected, Classical Opera were excellent and Ian Page got a very “surround sound” from them, with a deft merging of the different sections of the orchestra whilst at the same time allowing them space to breathe and make themselves heard (quite muscular at times). In other words, the opposite of the porridge-sound.

This was one of the best attended shows at Wiggy, though the troops thinned a bit after the intermission (luckily, the tall chap in front of me was among them). Skerath excelled, I thought, at Hasse’s PerderĂČ l’amato bene, where she used some superb light weight trilling and the aria seemed a perfect fit for her gentle soprano voice.

Ian Page chose his soloists well, the both of them in possession of particularly fine ways with the trills. Being primarily a fan of vocal music I admit I don’t always “get” solo instrumentals but in Bircher’s case something clicked. It is perhaps that all winds are up my alley as opposed to, say, the piano, but I could follow very well, in a similar way to how I would the voice.

A lovely evening that invited the listener to further explore this engaging period of Western classical music, with the last piece hinting at the things to come in further decades.

Sonia Prina on BBC 3 tonight (11 january 2018)

In contralto news, you can tune in tonight (and most likely listen to later on as well) for some Baroque from Prina and Akademie fĂŒr Alte Musik, Berlin at 19:30 GMT. This is, of course, from Wiggy.

Good times at the opera in 2017

2017 was a busy opera year for yours truly, with plenty local outings as well as opera trips to Italy, Austria and Germany, and a return to Glyndebourne in style (3 out of 4 dates = sunny). I met old and new friends and even ran into a certain contralto on the street 😉 And then there was the Summer of Tito. Plus a couple of duds and misses… 😉

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