more on Vivaldi (and Venice)

wonderful documentary, to start the mid-week, in case we would like to learn more about our (latest) favorite composer while reminiscing Venice. Perhaps we did cross one of Vivaldi’s houses?

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il ritorno d’Ulisse (e di Penelope) in Hamburg, re-run 2019

Zürich, May 2014

Back in 2014 the Boston Early Music Festival put out an announcement that they would stage The Monteverdi’s Trio, Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea for their 2015 summer festival. Until that point, I have to admit I had never listened to Monteverdi except for this lamentation (of course Kasarova sang it, and as a VK worshiper I sampled all, but thought it was realllllly slow music and somber). About the same time I also discovered Sara Mingardo.. and it was quite obvious that she was not singing Rossini or Mozart (which were VK’s main rep) but rather singing a lot of Vivaldi and Monteverdi! So, Monteverdi was on the list to be discovered! On my travel plan for early 2014, i searched around and found that Sara Mingardo was to sing the role Penelope in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria in Zürich! Without knowing even the storyline I rerouted my trip for a stop there. Not surprisingly I didn’t digest much of Penelope’s music.. Though looking back, can we locate already exactly which part of the music she’s rehearsing here*? What i distinctively remembered from that event was (a) Penelope’s music was realllly sad! , (b) the orchestra was SUPERB (I LOOOOOVE the music), and (c) I LOOOOVE the staging! Give me an empty stage with suits and ties in black and white any day!

Fast forward to 2017 when they finally brought it to Hamburg. The air was buzzing as supposedly the stage director was a big name… But not big enough for any kind of video streaming or capturing sadly, even if we were very fortunate to have the radio broadcast (thanks Stray!). By this time of course I have become much more acquainted with Monteverdi’s music and style, with ears especially tuned to catching S.Mingardo’s phrasing. So when they made the announcement for a re-run, yes, yours truly booked tickets to the entire run.

Is there anything more self indulgent than being locked in a room with Sara Mingardo phrasing Monterverdi? Perhaps, but opportunities like these don’t come very often. And since I’ve talked extensively already about her phrasing and how it simply worked for my brain, let’s use this space to discuss about the production, the characters, the combinations of singers and musicians, to perhaps bring across why it was worth witnessing every single time**.

What pleasantly surprises me is, perhaps aside for the actual fancy premier where we looked like we did not belong amongst the very fancily decked up crowd, the reception was positively honest and rapturous. Especially in the last performance, last Friday 2/Feb/2019, during the final scene, I took just a moment to realize how special it was to be completely transported into the imaginary world as Penelope made a turn and slowly approached Ulisse. Unreal.As she collapsed into Ulisse’s arms, there were members in the front and side audience removing glasses to wipe tears, with sound of soft nose blowing a couple of rows behind. The strange thing is you can not just see the final scene in itself to feel this transportation. One must go through the entire journey to experience how (realistically)

Penelope had years after years in loneliness thwarted approaches and temptations, and how Ulisse had suffered along his journey. The pains in Telemaco’s and Ericlea’s faces (and music) documented the toll of witnessing the years of Penelope’s anguish. Only then that one can understand the poignant moment of

Hor sì ti riconosco,
hor sì ti credo

and the weight that dropped along with her shoulder, her body, as she was finally able to shed the armor and façade, along with the loneliness.

This post is getting long, but we’re going to start from the beginning, on the effectiveness of the staging in telling the story! i encourage you to check out the wonderful interview Operatraveler conducted with Sara Mingardo, ( ❤ ❤ , click on the image on the left to go to the interview). I love it that they (Italians) read about Penelope already in middle school in Italy! Not where I grew up. But perhaps the equivalence for us of the Trưng_Sisters, who we learned about since first grade and well identify with and might know how to portray. But yes, the staging. As perhaps you have seen from the various trailers (Zürich, Hamburg), it’s an extended empty space on which all things unfolded. There were occasional tables in the back serving as transport devices for the gods and goddesses, such as when they brought Telemaco back on the paper airplane wings. The gods and goddesses dress in blue while humans in black and white. Journeys such as when Ulisse was brought back took place on the deserted space. Meetings between Eumete and Ulisse, or Ulisse and his son Telemaco took place with one already at center stage and the other transiting or being transported in. Here the space was open. The opposite is the case for Penelope’s scenes where the boundaries of the white dish serve as confinement. She’s locked in, center staged languishing or being forced to the tables as the suitors and parasite wrecked havoc days after days. Every attempt she made to escape was cut off by all participants. Even when offstage she’s being hounded, as often when she comes on running front with the crowd chasing behind.  Often the only space she has as refuge was at the edge of the dish.

The staging calls for everyone involved to be on scene nearly at all time during all the partying scenes. One of my favorites is the scene between Melanto and Penelope, with Melanto pushing the envelope and Penelope pulling stops, first to the rushing tune (Marion Tassou (2017) as Melanto)

Un bel viso fa guerra,
il guerriero costume al morto spiace,
che con cercan gli estinti altro che pace.
Langue sotto i rigori
de’ tuoi sciapiti amori
la più fiorita età,
ma vedova beltà
de te si duole,
che dentro ai lunghi pianti
mostri sempre in acquario un sí bel sole.
A face marked by inner struggle
displeases the dead,
for those who have expired seek only peace.
Under the rigours
of your renunciation
the time of your greatest bloom languishes;
your beauty
suffers in widowhood,
for through continual weeping,
you show a lovely sun behind a veil of water.

where with each beat in music the crowd gathered from the far side taunting and closing in to eventually engulfing Penelope with their invading hands and bodies

In split seconds, the crowd dispersed to the edge of the dish as it spin to the next melancholy tune (Marion Tassou (2017) as Melanto)

Ama dunque, che d’Amore
dolce amica è la beltà.
Dal piacer il tuo dolore
saettato caderà.
So love; for Cupid’s
sweet companion is beauty.
In pleasure will your grief
fall before his arrows.

There’s something very effective about spinning in time and space to such an almost ironic tune. Though Penelope fought with all her reasoning and strength, there was simply no escape even after seeking refuge off the edge of the confinement

 

It really was a great use of the far-field/near-field and timeless/spaceless combination of effects.

Argh, look at the time! i must get to work.. I might have to wrap this up, argh! Perhaps to mention I quite like our new Melanto (Katharina Konradi), she’s more “musical” than Marion Tassou, and that helped bring out the music very nicely. The new Telemaco (Fabio Trümpy), I tremendously enjoyed his acting, especially in the scene with him holding the flower reminiscing Ulisse and pondering his return, actually brought me to tears twice! Though I admit something in his phrasing did not quite work for me during Telemaco’s opening phrase: It’s a very melancholy tune again, and for me Dovlet Nurgeldiyev from last year brought out the music more in this entrance. Dorottya Lang as Minerva was a ball! And I like her Monteverdi’s phrasing a lot! The same can be said about Katja Pieweck’s Ericlea, she kept her singing so fresh every time, along with vocal and visual acting! And last but not least, I must mention Kurt Streit in the title role ( 🙂 ) . He was very generous and had exceptional care for partner. The last scene of Ulisse and Penelope, for me, ranks up there as one of the most emotional scenes in opera when done right. I simply can not see how (yet) other staging and another pair can bring out more the real emotion like this. There was standing ovations all around us, along with very enthusiastic applause and response from the audience. Quite an unforgettable experience.

My only major complaint is that they (Hamburg, and partly Zürich) failed miserably to capture this great staging with this set of singers, and of particular with Sara Mingardo as Penelope. My only hope is that they will somehow stage it ever again, either in France or Italy where there are hopes of having cameras to capture for release.. Unfortunately if that ever happened it would be without Kurt Streit, as it was announced that last Friday was his last professional performance on world opera stage. I wish him the best, it was a privilege to see his acting and generosity. (Sorry about the bad quality, the camera has great difficulty gaining focus when at same level with the stage..)

 

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** Of course we’re not going to discuss that she sang nearly 15 performances during that Zürich run.. as it was too new I don’t think I would have absorbed much, all things need time.

ps- While you are at Operatraveller’s site, do also check out the review for the performance Sunday 27/Jan. Actually it was a performance I missed as coming back from Juditha to a very early performance of Ulisse was just not realistic..

vivaldi explained

no no, we’re not done with Juditha yet.. am still listening around the clock and might get around to write more! but first, here, a very nice interview with Andrea Marcon, courtesy of “De Nationale Opera” youtube channel.

Juditha triumphans in Amsterdam

After Semiramide, we have been waiting anxiously for this opportunity to hear Iervolino swaggering on stage as smooth silky Holofernes. I confess when first seeing the cast yesterday of frowning upon seeing Gaëlle Arquez’s name as Juditha. I have heard her as Armide in Wien and did not having much impression.. Well, can we say we have found a Juditha for the next 10+ years?!

Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans
Dutch Nationale Opera
Juditha: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Abra: Polly Leech
Ozias: Francesca Ascioti
La Cetra Barockorchester
Andrea Marcon
Saturday 26/Jan/2019

So, this whole blog post might be about Juditha.. Let’s see how it goes.. With the militarish staging I was not sure which way it would go.. sometimes with modern staging suits and ties are more up my alley.. But, from the get go we were greeted with a very toxic Vagaus, the type singling out women to taunt and escalate the brutality.. it did set the stage quite well for Juditha’s desperation. Though the orchestra was SUPERB (and Marcon) I have to confess I think it was too “loud” for Holofernes first aria. That, combining with a staging that put Iervolino quite deep (in a huge stage) facing “IN” away from the audience at times, made it quite more difficult to hear her well rounded tone in “Nil arma, nil bella” . Even Vagaus’s first aria, to my ears, the orchestra was too loud.. though Dehggi and Agathe reported excellent hearing of Vasilisa Berzhanskaya’s singing, I confess also not hearing her too well either… The mood changed with the arrival of Juditha, to this tune:

As I have written last year at Carnegie Hall, Juditha is a very difficult role. Her music is somber, dense, intense, all elements that require a lot of phrasing, color, dynamics, and the subtle ability to sustain the tension. Of the many things I have seen Gaëlle Arquez in, mostly on youtube, and once live as Armide, nothing prepared me for her intense and subtle stance to convey the vulnerability of Juditha. Just her presence on stage while the orchestra building up the suspense was worth re-watching. Then the phrasing started, w.o.w. … it’s quite a revelation to finally get someone who can reveal the gorgeous lines in Juditha’s music.. In particular, I love her timbre, it’s a mezzo voice with enough heft and solid tone to sustain a line distinctive from the orchestra such that it does not get covered as easily. The key thing is the subtle change in the music line that brings out vulnerability: She came to request help for her people, but was fully at the mercy of Holofernes and Vagaus. Things could have gone either way during the first meeting.. I think here we come back to the acting: for me it’s best when one achieves a stance and expresses music, with very subtle movements to convey the situation, without any need of overdoing.. in fact with Juditha’s music I find her approach of less moving but expressive yet subtle body angle and musical phrasing extremely effective. What can I say, after so many years of frustration1. I think we have found a Juditha who can do justice to the music (and acting chop to portray the character)! And she has many many arias solo with exotic instruments. Actually this is to Arquez’s great advantage as she can cover the full range (in notes) while being expressive and not at all being covered by large number of violins (which is unfortunately not the case for Vagaus and Holofernes).

Since Juditha’s acting and singing was so on point, everything seemed to work. Here we also comment highly Vasilisa Berzhanskaya’s acting in making Vagaus (and Holofernes’s side) to be so unlikeable and violent such that Juditha saw no other way to escape. The staging has Holofernes to be quite more humane (as oppose to Vagaus) and at times opposed violence against women (which was the behavior of his troops throughout the two hours of the opera). The staging was also quite effective in bringing out the different mood in the music, for example during “Veni me seguere fida”, a very solemn aria when Juditha and Abra sat by the burial of their countrymen and communicated tender private lines about their past and fate. This came right after their conversation with Holofernes, with the stage turning to show the constant torment and why Juditha must (somewhat) follow through with a (not-fully) plan.

In the end, all of Juditha’s mood, conflict, and conviction were well portrayed both vocally and through acting, both through seduction and torment and in the end madness as triumphant music returned to glorify the beheading act.

Perhaps some mentions here of the rest of the characters 🙂 . Holofernes is sooooooooo smooth and silky in “Nox obscura tenebrosa” and “Noli, o cara”. Actually after the intermission Holofernes music were also more mellow and required less accompaniment, which allowed for Iervolino’s gooooorgeous voice to shine without needing to compete with the violins. And Iervolino’s acting (partnered with Arquez’s) was spot on and convincing. The beheading scene was very effective 🙂 . Abra was quite nicely portrayed as someone clearly following and loyal to Juditha but not as skillful and intelligent.. Vocally she was good. I also like her acting, especially in the first aria when they both have just arrived and met Vagaus and the brute troops, who quickly tossed Juditha around. Here Abra took over in a flirtatious way (a very courageous move it seems to protect Juditha) to distract the troops and gather their attention away from Juditha. As for Vagaus, I progressively heard her better as the evening grew, but might leave it to Dehggi (and Agathe) to write/comment more as I’m no expert in fast and furious arias, and especially when my ears are just not well tuned to hearing well her voice type (she has a on-the-softer side tone, something like Connoly’s tone, which simply didn’t make it well to my ears in general when there’s orchestra playing at the same time..)

Altogether, it was a very rewarding experience to see a staging that makes sense and strong singers (and actresses) to bring the storyline fully forward. We are still discussing it, with the trip back listening to the entire Juditha again (with Mingardo) to recall how the story evolved.. if you have a chance do come check out the goooooorgeous music and some very fine Vivaldi singers, excellent orchestra and chorus.. I hope the orchestra will not cover the singers as much in the rest of the run.. For the record we sat on the left side second balcony, where possibly the violins might have come up directly and too strong.. but it’s a huge stage, and with singers being put quite a bit deep in, I think the orchestra can be a bit less loud… And we hope to see this pair of Juditha-Holofernes (Arquez-Iervolino) for many years to come.

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Edit

1. We all got into Juditha a little bit too late to catch the wave of S.Prina or S.Mingardo or A.Hallenberg touring alternately as Juditha.. Speaking for myself what I have heard up until this performance left me between uninspired to confused about the character, with occasional frustration..

mezzo soprano romeo

what do you think of the youngster’s WS (wearing) skill?

one can also listen of course . i got there via a search “mezzo soprano romeo”. The tempo is a bit slow and too regular.. but it’s just not fair that i always have VK’s Dresden’s Romeo in my head. Though perhaps a sword can make things more spontaneous :-).

the other Juditha

music for the the early schedule. I quite like waking up early enough to see early sunlight slowly creeping in before filling the entire living space, now that all the trees are leaf-free. and, some music of course, on the nice speakers, all before needing to pack and head for the office. I really like the “swinging” feeling in Mozart’s music, something we hear all the time especially in all his earlier operas. And it’s a treat hearing SM’s phrasing within it. This was from a radio broadcast a while back in Wien:
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(there are several more clips from the same broadcasts, all on operabaroque channel . I especially like “Del pari infeconda” also, and have downloaded it for the phone. Though strangely I don’t hear the Mozart swing as much in that as the one posted here.)

music for Sunday

some catching up on Nathalie Stutzmann… Beethoven’s 5th is now added to the list of work I’ll try to follow her to listen, will have to keep an eye out on the programs of her next trip(s) to the US (video embeded from facebook, turn the volume on, it’s muted by default. In the case it’s not visible via reader mode, here’s the link.):

That’s great, now we get to hear her sing how she’d like to hear from the orchestra 🙂 .

And there’s also the concert just last week in Dublin, Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5, available in full on tube, on the plate for tonight working music.