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Good times at the opera in 2016

Cotroversial in everyday life and politics, 2016 was a good opera year for yours truly. I went to Vienna again and returned to Paris after two decades, lots of fun! London wasn’t too shabby either, with its mezzo/contralto traffic jams and my love affair with Wigmore Hall only intensified this year ‚̧ Last but not least, looking over the many shows that sign posted this year I had another opportunity to think about the fine people I shared some of these good times with. Thank you all and a much happier 2017!

January

11 Benjamin Appl | Wigmore Hall: a Schubert start to the year

February

20 L’Etoile | ROH: a bit of a weird romp, but a romp nonetheless (le romp francais). I hope whoever succeeds Holten at ROH sprinkles the seasons with wackiness of this sort.

March

4, 8 Akhnaten | ENO: X-Files meets Aida = most spectacular show of the year! Let’s keep ENO in business for more of the same.

12, 14 Ariodante | RCM Britten Hall: students go hardcore Highlands

14 Maria Ostroukhova | St George’s Hanover Sq: Cecca notte!

16 Ekaterina Siurina/Luis Gomes | Wigmore Hall: there is still Belcanto, lest we forgot about it

17 Berenice | St George’s Hanover Sq: hit and miss Handel

21 Boris Godunov | ROH: Terfel, the Welsh Boris(h)

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: Il pianto di Maria

31 Elpidia | St George’s Hanover Sq: very good singing, so-so pasticcio

April

14 Lucia di Lammermoor | ROH: Damrau is no damsel in distress

27 Lucio Silla | Theater an der Wien: the Arnold Schoenberg Choir! with not that much to sing ūüėČ

28 Il Vologeso | Cadogan Hall: proof that Jommelli rocks

30 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall: super stylish Boroque with La Piau

May

08 Tannhauser | ROH: an opportunity to see Christian Gerhaher sing Wagner lyrically.

23 Ann Hallenberg | Wigmore Hall: ūüėÄ

26 Oedipe | ROH: almost as spectacular as Akhnaten

June

24 Werther | ROH: Pappano gets it

29 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall: the first of two shows this year; this is the feisty one.

July

02 Nathalie Stutzmann | Wigmore Hall: the smoothest contralto takes on Vivaldi

07 Il trovatore | ROH: Bosch brings his caravan to Verdi

17 JPYA | ROH: ROH students return

August

03 Bluebeard’s Castle | Proms/Royal Albert Hall: there are a few things I will always attend and this is one of them.

September

21 Demetrio (Hasse) | Cadogan Hall: musically not the most exciting

22 Cosi fan tutte | ROH: this one was a bit of a miss…

October

02 Nathalie Stutzmann/Orfeo 55 | Wigmore Hall: oh yea!

05 Anna Bonitatibus | Wigmore Hall: …and yea to Semiramide, too.

21 The Nose | ROH: between this and L’Etoile we covered Eastern and Western wackiness.

November

02 Juditha triumphans | Barbican: the mezzo/contralto fest of the year

05 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall: dramatic Roschmann is here

07 Les contes d’Hoffmann | ROH: traditional tales of sexism (with mezzos)

13 Oreste (Handel) | Wilton’s Music Hall: the Atrides in Jack the Ripper’s neighbourhood

20 Luca Pisaroni | Wigmore Hall: Luca sings the Schubert

24 Stuart Jackson/Marcus Farnsworth | Wigmore Hall: more Schubert!

28 La Calisto | Wigmore Hall: Wigmore Hall goes kookoo-funny

30 La finta giardiniera | RCM Britten Hall: students being successfully silly

December

05 Don Giovanni | Theatre des Champs-Elysees: Don Leporello muses in the beautiful surroundings of TCE.

06 Sancta Susanna/Cavalleria rusticana | Opera Bastille: Sancta Susanna = the runner up in the badass production contest of the year

29 Sonia Prina/Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: oh so quiet and gentle

Handel’s Oreste: shellshock and glee (Wilton’s Music Hall, 13 November 2016)

In which Ermione learns it’s wise to meet your lover’s family before sacrificing too much for love

Indeed, this Jette Parker Young Artist showcase is built around Vlada Borovko’s Ermione (Oreste’s Bradamante-like wife). I saw¬†her in the 2016 Summer JPYA performance and in a small role in Boris Godunov earlier this year but neither¬†prepared me for her Baroque chops. Her voice feels very natural in this repertoire¬†and more intimate setting. Should she want to continue down this route, I predict an intense Alcina in her future. The public loved her in any case. There was much to love. The voice filled the venue just right and it felt to me like her understanding of singing Baroque is spot on, coupled with a vocal texture that just works with what the music asks (thus able to express a lot of fine detail). To give you an idea, through the night I was reminded of Piau.

Ermione: Vlada Borovko
Ifigenia: Jennifer Davis
Oreste: Angela Simkin Russell Harcourt
Pilade: Thomas Atkins
Filotete: Gyula Nagy
Toante: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: James Hendry | Southbank Sinfonia | Continuo: Nick Fletcher
Director: Gerard Jones

Davis (also seen in the 2016 Summer JPYA performance) as Ifigenia has a higher placed but more voluminous voice. Now it is true that Wilton’s acoustics are¬†rather on the echoe-y side and that occasionally made it hard to gauge the finer points¬†of what was being presented but I think she’s destined for a different repertoire and much bigger halls (Wilton’s capacity is a mere 300). Nontheless she was very committed. I was also quite on her side dramatically, she blended a few moods and traits in her Ifigenia’s personality that did not feel out of place. She had the most fans in the audience.

The original Oreste, Simkin, had to skip this performance due to illness (to read about her and about the performance on 9 November, check out Leander’s post). Instead we heard her cover, Australian countertenor Russell Harcourt, who had been involved in the JPYA program in 2007/2008. He has a very good grasp on coloratura and, though placed high, a pleasant to the ear voice. He could do with more body in the lower range. Dramatically, fitting the dystopia the production went for, he seemed to me like a deadringer¬†for Unplugged¬†in New York-era Kurt Cobain (+¬†dreads), complete with beige cardigan and barely held together¬†general appearance. Any time he opened his mouth I thought he was going to break into Come As You Are.

wiltonswhitechap

the area projects a very mixed vibe (click to enlarge)

If you’re wondering Wilton’s Music what? then you should know that London is littered with quaint venues and these venues are usually of such (small) size, simply inviting¬†Baroque performances (which venues warrant a post of their own).

Initially I was whinging a bit about getting to Whitechapel, especially after Saturday, a detestable day of rainy doom. But yesterday (though rather cold) the sun was shining brilliantly so I forgot all about that, even though Whitechapel still throws me with its incomprehensible identity. Wilton’s (The¬†City’s hidden stage) gradually won me over with its Grimebornesque air. There’s something very soothing/comfy about listening to Baroque in nonchalant settings.

As you can see above and below, Wilton’s sports¬†that derelict chic outside and inside (very East London, the new, gentrified one). Likewise, the ceiling ornamentation is restored, although the ceiling per se is left with a just so feel of possibly dropping on your head during the next heavy rain.

orestewiltons16

the feel of the hall (click to enlarge)

I overheard somebody explaining that the production imagined a council estate setting. Perhaps, though that wasn’t my reading. The general idea I picked, of a doomed dictatorial regime on a wretched island, fit the libretto, and perhaps because the plot cuts rather close to contemporary reality (all foreigners¬†shall be put to death), it was left more or less general.

By the end of act III the singers appeared to be adlib-ing (kinda like how they did (?) for the Fledermaus free for all at the JPYA Summer performance back in July). The vaguely ritualistic gestures from the beginning were left behind in favour of updated mannerisms (acting crazy, 21st century style).

Certain characters acted like they had taken the wrong turn¬†on another opera/film set. Nagy’s Filotete seemed to channel an amorous version of Golum (my precious Ifigenia), which I think was the reason for the lack of applause (his singing was generally good, and his baritone very pleasant. My only eyebrow raising moment was him starting Bella sorge la speranza about two levels too forte for everything around him. However, by then – this being the end – everybody was likely tired and I could hardly say the ensemble was the high point of the evening).

Where most looked like they picked their clothes in¬†Tesco’s Sleepwear aisle, Ermione landed on the island as if she’d just decided to step off her cruise boat and mingle with the natives¬†(a sort of Elletra, to keep it in the family). By which I mean she wore a clean coat, tafetta dress, handbag, high heels and a relaxed attitude. Her arc was that much more surprising, I’ll tell you that much.

Speaking of which, between her and Ifigenia this production was driven by the women. I’m all for women not being shy to roll up their sleeves and do the job when¬†needed but in this case I felt that left the men with precious little to do beside driving long lines of coloratura. That they did well.

In fact, at the end, Pilade had a very long aria of much complex coloratura (and little else) which felt like Handel slapping his head and going damn, I forgot to give the tenor (John Beard) much of anything to do. I’ll just¬†have him sing the bravura aria with horns (modern here) at the end so he doesn’t desert me for the rival company. Atkins looked a bit deer in the headlights with concentration but I can’t complain about his delivery. His John Beard-ness (tone) is also of the good kind (Oronte = yes).

The only problem was that during these very long da capos, the others, who were almost constantly all on stage, didn’t have much to do beside occasionally mock the current singer (as per the production, I guess, and also in keeping with Baroque traditions. Another check for postmodernism).

When Ermione and Oreste sang that swoon-inducing duet Ah, mia cara, Toante stood¬†close to them, watching. I felt like he was thinking you better blend well or I’ll cut you. The duet itself was pretty good, though here was the moment where Harcourt’s very light in the lower range voice didn’t provide quite the contrast to Borovko’s already on the smokier side soprano I am used to (you know the one I always pass out over; so good, just thinking about it makes me all verklempt). Perhaps to help him out, Hendry didn’t drive the orchestra particularly hard. So in the end it felt a bit light in heartbreak. The orchestra was just underneath me so I couldn’t see them at all, but I had a direct view of¬†Fletcher, whose continuo playing was very tight throughout.

Aptly, after this came the intermission. But not before some brief instrumental music, the purpose of which eluded me. Shibambu’s Toante behaved like you’d expect a textbook tyrant to, with lots of hand signalling to his henchman (Filotete) and gleeful love for violence. Shibambu’s gorgeous bass tone didn’t have all that much use, as basses were kind of there in Handel’s time.

There was much-ish blood (of the wet kind, you know in some productions a character has just killed somebody and s/he touches a wall but nothing sticks; here it did) but then again, what else can you expect from that fucked up family?

All in all, an interesting afternoon in a cleverly picked location that helped the (mood of the) production at least as much as the musical team did. I like this ROH trend of giving its JPYA students the opportunity of a fully staged production and us an off the beaten track piece to see, may it continue (and may it feature more Baroque).