Händel Aci Galatea e Polifemo at Wigmore Hall


These mid-week concerts often require quite a bit of rope jumping to navigate schedules.. but after catching Sonia Prina and Roberta Mameli together on the radio last year in that gorgeous Orfeo ed Eurydice, then subsequently Mameli’s Aminta and Vitellia also on the radio (we reallllly realllly love the team Mameli + Sardeli), it waas a no brainer that as soon as we saw Wigmore Hall schedule released we’d get the tickets and sort out work later! Even more lucky, we saw the schedule release of the Enescu festival and a possible broadcast to listen and keep <3. After brewing over that in anticipation for 1 full week, Agathe and I arrived in London (with even a fun train race) to Dehggi's WS hub, with enough time to relax before the show (hopefully I’ll find time to write about that “accidental” DonG at the Royal Opera haus). Wigmore Hall has since a while now a special place in my heart, primarily for its superb acoustics and intimate atmosphere, along with the memory of hearing beloved contralto (Sara Mingardo) in such a setting. In fact a couple of us (deep female voice lovers) knew of Händel's "Aci, Galatea e Polifemo" via our beloved contraltos and I admit to never quite have paid proper attention to Aci and/or Polifemo as I (may be?) should.

Händel Aci, Galatea e Polifemo
Wigmore Hall, 26.09.2019
Aci: Roberta Mameli
Galatea: Sonia Prina
Polifemo: Luigi De Donato
Oboist: Nicola Barbagli
laBarocca
Ruben Jais conducting

Though rather short in length, ~90min, this work is packed with drama and loaded with arias for all characters, all of which covers quite a deep range of emotion, to lighter orchestration than Händel’s later works (Alcina for example). Since our discovery of Roberta Mameli we have been very much looking forward to her take on Aci. I have to admit I can hear such depth in Aci’s music with her that I have not been aware of before. Her voice, as I have noted in Stockholm, has this warmth and heft that really covers the whole reception range of the (my) ear. It’s really a marvel just to enjoy this particular color she has. Actually, if I can compare, I once mistook her voice (as Nerone, on audio) for Anna Caterina Antonacci’s , though I would say ACA’s has more richness.., but at times, especially in Monteverdi, I’ve gotten them mixed up.. And on the note of comparison, if I can go further to discuss “range” and the low notes for a second.. I am not sure where the breaks in their (ACA and Mameli) voices are, but I can hear extremely well the attractiveness of their tones as they descend and land solidly on the low notes. I think to express the full range of emotions, a singer should have the ability to land solidly in the low range because it offers such a wide range of possibility for expression, color, and shaping to bring out different mood in the music within that range. And yes, not only me, but Agathe has also commented on how well she could hear Mameli’s low notes and depth as Aci. And no, we’re not talking (yet) about those incredibly low Vitellia’s notes (that’s for another discussion), Aci’s lows are quite high in comparison i think (?), but that “color” she manges whenever she swings by these notes are irresistibly attractive to my brain. ❤

But enough with the low notes, Aci has quite a few arias, 2 duets, and 1 trio, and a loooot of recits. Along with them a range of emotion: carefree joy in “Sorge il dì“, high charge defiance in “Che non può la gelosia“, low charge defiance in “Dell’aquila l’artigli“, reaching its max swinging with hope (“Qui l’augel da pianta in pianta“, every time I hear such an upswing tune Marc Minkowski’s voice “give it a ray of hope” is in my head), only to tragically end on this heart-breaking free-style recitative-like “Verso già l’alma col sangue”.. Too tragic, with Galatea’s hand reaching out for a last touch 😥 . That is just not fair…

Actually i confess I’m judging the mood of the arias by how i hear Mameli communicating the music, and have not seen the translation, so i could be very wrong!! And yes, through the entire range of vocal expression, we could hear her changing from positive assurance in the tone early on to nearly full-on piano as Aci’s last breath drew near. What a masterful display of voice control and emotive delivery. I can only say I’m extremely glad I caught her Aminta right at the beginning of this year (on radio, and various clips by Teatro la Fenice, that is how you promote, YES!) and able to sort out schedule just in time to catch her recent Ginevra and now this.

I confess when first discovering the contralto range I was not listening to a lot of clips from Sonia Prina because I stumbled on Sara Mingardo first (just recently really, 2014).. But that was really *the* only stubborn hurdle. With Agathe’s help, I’m growing ever more attached to her descriptive phrasing, especially in recitative, along with having a somewhat addiction for her slow arias.. SLOW because she does so much with it, it’s incredible! and yet if one can imagine, it was even more incredible last night with the acoustic at Wigmore Hall, where ALL the fine details reached my ears, these small variation and various softness within a single line that draws you very deep into Galatea’s mind state. And it is now also established that one *must* see her live, not only for these nuances that somehow is not well captured at times through recordings, but also for her intense commitment to acting. Those glaring exchanges with Polifemo were PRICELESS. What I loved also was how generous she is with sharing the stage with her colleagues, warm touches and smiles, and how much at ease and in tune she is with the flow. A Sonia Prina experience must be live for one to fully appreciate her artistry and dedication. (The fast arias are also gorgeous when heard live but i’ve in love with her melancholy phrasings..) OK, that was a lot of gushing, Here’s an example of her sensitive phrasing, starting from, as always, must start from, recitative.

There’s also Polifemo of course! I will need to read up on the story to find out exactly what happened.. all I know is he’s a brute, jealous, and Aci got killed.. 😥 .. But Polifemo’s music is actually *very* deep and dark in places, and Luigi De Donato delivered some very serious phrasing (those piano ascents) and solid sustained lines of lows that reverberated in the hall in “Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori“. But I have liked his deep voice since his Nettune in Hamburg in that great staging, dangling his legs off the circular dish having fun with the fragile humans.. His voice also provides a VERY nice contrast in the trios:

I must also mention the superb play by members of laBarocca, especially woodwind player Nicola Barbagli who superbly duetted with all singers. May be when i have time I’d come back to add more about the orchestra and Ruben Jais’ take.. though am not sure what else to say besides they were really great, leaving lots of rooms for the singers, filled in all the spaces with wonderful musical lines and dynamics, everything worked just perfect!

Post concert we did make our way backstage to say hi to everyone and sending our deep appreciation for their dedicated musical communication. This has been such a tremendous experience, it’s ashamed to be so short and ends so quickly (only 2 shows, though we’re lucky to have seen one and have the other being broadcast). One can’t help but hope to see this staged somewhere, with this wonderful trio, given how well they work together ❤ . Am not sure if we could also wish for the band to be included given that most houses have their own band? But please make it happened somehow, we VERY much would make the effort to clear our schedules to attend multiple shows!

Below is the curtain call. I’m still reliving the playlist and hoping to get to hear Mameli and Prina more, together please, we also love that Orfeo ed Eurydice! (But i admit Aci Galatea e Polifemo is more balanced for the singers..). Altogether, it has been such a wonderful experience, getting to hang out and share this with dearest WS friends and all. ❤

ps- we’ve been keeping track of the number of arias Händel borrowed from himself, “Sibilar l’angui d’Aletto” is the same as in Rinaldo as D reminded me, and the begin of and bits of “S’agita in mezzo all’onde” were later lifted for Poppea in Agrippina…

ps2- I wanted to make a note on the usage of AC in concert halls and opera houses: I simply don’t understand the ignorance and insistence for its usage, given that we’ve heard so many singers pointing out how much it affects their throats. Especially when they’re vulnerable on stage where one cannot simply use a scarf to wrap around to protect their instrument. That, and the other problem (I always worry) that singers might catch a cold because they’re working hard and sweating and now having the damn cold air blowing at them without the ability to simply cover themselves up. I still remember reading Kasarova’s interview when she was in the dead summer heat in NY sweating buckets but explained to the interviewer she would never turn on the AC in her own apartment on the day off.. to the story of Papatanasiu somehow miraculously managed to convince the entire Dallas Opera haus to shut the AC off so she could preserve her voice.. But jeah, it used to be a problem only in the US, but sadly recently many cities in Europe (and UK) appear to also follow this madness trend, very infuriating

Advertisements

Ariodante at Drottningholm, round 2

Not having yet enough, we returned for round two last night. The weather has been so gorgeous here we decided to walk across the bridge to enjoy the scenery and breeze instead of being snuffed in the bus. This post is not really a post, just more random thoughts on horns, Ginevra, Ariodante, the staging, and perhaps the meaning of “life” 🙂 .


The first great news is of the announcement of a radio broadcast, i believe on 17/Aug. And more importantly, the radio bus was here! which means the broadcast will be of last night performance, unless they recorded twice to gauge the sound? With all the mics set up (at the front, as well as mounted on nearly all instruments in the pit) everyone brought their A-game. To our relief, the row just in front was empty of 2 seats, and with us sitting behind some really tall Swedes, we decisively upgraded just as the ushers closed the doors. And look who we found right opposite ❤ (more later)..

I can’t say I understand more the staging. If anything, I now know where to put my focus, and on this day it was to see if I could understand Ariodante’s story better as well as that of Dalinda’s. I can’t tell if it’s the switching of side that resulted in us hearing Ann Hallenberg’s better (?), but it was a very clear case that she was in top form. Hearing her really made me appreciate how wonderful a human voice can be, as well as marvel what it (she) can do.
I’m no closer to figuring out what/who Ariodante is, but made a decision last night that I don’t care. With that level of pulsative joy and argony being expressed live, let us live and enjoy life! And as a lover of dancing, i confess all dancers were completely overlooked last night when Ariodante and/or Ginevra were on stage! Beside their symbolic oppression in association with Ginevra, I find them superfluous and at times a distraction. But why distraction in the first place? Because again we do not understand the staging very well, except again when it comes to Ginevra. With the radio mic placed up front, i find any flow/hint to the staging were squashed as often the singers, most noticeably the male singers, planted in front and sang statically, and a lot of ornamentations were added at the expense of drama.

No new info can be extracted for Dalinda’s storyline either (from me). My original theory of the staging with puppets being pulled around (by Polinesso as Degghi observed) in the first Act.. and supposedly gone by the 3rd when everyone was bare.. was smashed.. because Dalinda was still in her jerky motion all through 2nd and 3rd Acts. Thus it becomes a little bit of a “concert” performance. AHHH, i think i might have gotten it! especially now that I recall seeing Dalinda, after singing the duet with Lurcanio, simply got up and walked out the door where the bright light entered: The story is sort of like in that movie “Dark City” (in case you haven’t seen, one of my favs) , where humans were being pulled on strings by the aliens who had invaded the earth and used them (humans) for memory experiment to understand certain level of emotions they can not achieve. The entire movie is in the dark as each day humans’ memory were swapped and allowed to wake up only at night to interact with total strangers who were suddenly now their family members.. and in the final scene, after a battle and conscience discussion, a ray of light finally emerged on the horizon and with it humans can be themselves again:

In this setting, even those black-body dancers can be put into context, as they were indeed the one pulling strings, and embedded within them the “made up story” where humans would further inflict pains among themselves, with Ginevra being the chosen victim? Here Ariodante could be seen as traveling somewhat in “parallel” to Ginevra existence (hence they never touched) , with some close encounters (their wonderful duets) and supposed pains felt by Ariodante through “Scherza infida”? Anyhow, I’m definitely thinking a bit too much into this, as you can clearly see how confused we are with this staging..

In any case, I can now tell you definitively which section in the opera has horn in it! WONDERFUL horns. The poor king and his famous “Voli colla sua la tromba” was in no contest as the horns had my/our FULL attention. Suuuuuuuuuch a lazy (in the best complimentary way) sound, the kind you feel warm in the heart and know it can never overwhelm your hearing except to compliment ❤ ❤ ❤ . If you don't know how serious the 2nd Act is yet, now you do: Händel removed all horns until the 3rd Act. They joined in again both to signify the triumph of Ginevra (when she is finally awaken and let out), as well as complimenting the final chorus, alternating between the dual voices of Ginevra and Ariodante and the rest.

Finally, let us (me) discuss more about Ginevra and her music! Ever since the first live performance I heard in London a couple years ago, I've gained an appreciation for the music (it really requires an investigation because on sound alone you might exclaim “oh no, not another sad section!”). This has allowed me to fully hear how Roberta Mameli brought it to life. I must repeat again the way she delivers the recitative gives me such a tremendous joy of feeling connected to the music and rhythm. As you might have known, I don't speak many other languages typically sung in operas. and can't read music. What this means is apparently i can "hear" what is communicated only via the weighting and shaping of the musical phrasing rather than perfectly pronounced words in whichever language. And it is truly a simple joy of being able to hear these types of phrasings, as they connect the dots and allow you to understand the characters without wrestling for 5000 words trying to figure out what they are singing about.. Mixing with this was her commitment to the acting to make Ginevra's story very believable: for nearly 30 min starting with her first appearance in Act 2 trapped amongst wire and dark pulling hands and hunched down behind the curtain fighting to launch forward (away from puppet pulling?), to the end of the delirium (end of Act 2, end of fighting with the dark force in bed), it was SERIOUS wrestling! We were exhausted just from watching (and curious how she managed the physical demand). And in between delivering "Il mio crudel martoro" with full force? FULL OF RESPECT! (Händel really made it hard for the sopranos here, with the countless "morte, dove sei tu" (at least 10x?? I think even more)..

Anyhow, I'd like to cap this endless rambling off by offering Ginevra's last two short arias (her first three were serious dark mood). I liked them a lot also for their change of pace. Here is the 2nd to last which, as she struggled in isolation (mentally and physically), the mood change gives her an outlet with the full orchestra (vicious violin) in behind in support!

Così mi lascia il padre? Oh cor, stà forte!
il minor de’ miei mali è sol la morte.

Sì, morrò; ma l’onor mio meco, oh! Dio!
Morir dovrà? Giusto Ciel, deh, pietà
del reggio onor!

And the last one, truly sorrowful recit 😥 , followed by triumphant horns (wonderful exchange of smile with our horn players as they stood up for this!)

Da dubbia infausta sorte,
quanto pender degg’io
incerta tra la vita, e tra la morte, senza conforto,
abbandonata e sola?
chi mi soccorre, oh Dei! chi mi consola?

Manca, oh Dei! la mia costanza,
mentre ha fine il mio dolor!
Nè mi resta la speranza di morir…

So, that’s a wrap to this session of rambling! Below is the quite-up-close curtain call. I might not get to the next, but if i do, we might explore Ginevra’s music some more! The rain has stopped, the sun has come out, it’s time to explore Stockholm again! Until next time.

Ariodante at Drottningholm, 5/Aug/2019


After missing out on hearing Roberta Mameli live earlier this year as Aminta (I was in europe at that time! could have taken a flight to Venice! sigh) and Vitellia a month later, I was quite excited to finally catch her in this tour-de-force role Ginevra. As I might have mentioned a couple of years ago, Ariodante is, in my opinion, quite more a challenging piece than Händel’s other famous works, especially that notorious 2nd Act bridging into half of the 3rd Act where you need singers with descriptive vocal expressions (and a good conductor) to sustain the tension.

Händel Ariodante
Drottningholms Slottsteater
Ariodante: Ann Hallenberg
Ginevra: Roberta Mameli
Dalinda: Francesca Aspromonte
Polinesso: Christophe Dumaux
King of Scotland: Johannes Weisser
Lurcanio:Martin Vanberg
Edoardo: Olof Lilja
Ian Page, conducting the Drottningholm Theatre Orchestra

We (Dehggi and I) were greeted with superb weather as we arrived several hours early thinking it would have been a long trip like going to Glyndebourne. The first stop was of course to scout out the theater before enjoying the surroundings.

But finally it was time! And Ian Page got us started with a refreshing sound from the orchestra. That overture has a lot of mood, if you ever have a chance to just sit through it a few time on repeat! But sure sure, I was already distracted with singers and dancers right in front of us (the teater is really intimate and small, enough for you to hear the singers taking deep breath prior to attacking the next phrase). My first impression, as Ginevra being the first character to sing, was how lovely warm and yet solid, earthly, and focus Roberta Mameli’s sound is. Hearing live up close it’s quite more warm and dynamic than in either stream/radio broadcasts or recording. I have heard her live before of course as Alinda in L’incoronazione di Dario, but I think that role is not offering as much dynamic as Ginevra’s.

We are still trying to understand the staging: full costumes and jerky motions (being puppets pulled on strings) in the first, onto peeling off more layers in 2nd Act (wigs off) , to fully in boxers and underwear (bare?) in the 3rd. What truly works at ALL times though is Ginevra duetting with Ariodante. We were really in for a treat as to how Ann Hallenberg’s and Mameli’s voices meshed and intertwined, phrase by phrase, wonderful volume and finer detail adjustments to fit into each other like gloves, really a marvel to hear up close ❤ .

Ann Hallenberg and Roberta Mameli. ©Mats Backer

One often comes to Ariodante for Ariodante’s music. But to me, this staging builds it into a Ginevra’s story. And why not? Her story is often never told, such that for the longest time I wonder what the problem was with all the whining and lament that one has to prepare for once the cheery music in Act 1 finished. And often one does not come to Ariodante for Ginevra (?) .. As a refresher, the guys overheard that Ginevra was going to cheat, then saw through some blurry fence of someone looking like Ginevra flirting with Polinesso. No-one bothered to ask Ginevra herself any questions, it was decided she was an “impudica” (whore, as the translation goes in that Ariodante I saw at the London Händel’s festival 2 years ago). She was immediately condemned to imprisonment (death?) suffered in isolation and darkness, through internal turmoil and hallucination (and even self reconciliation that she forgave those who had wronged her). On the outside, they went on and on making decisions without her, and at the end, just opened the door for release without explanation! And there she’s to be very happy and grateful to be exonerated and resume her happy time with Ariodante…

With the exception in Aix, Dehggi and I discussed that none of the stagings come close to depicting Ginevra’s plight. So I’m happy to see one putting the injustice in more focus. I feel very lucky to have Roberta Mameli as the central character here, as she was fully committed in the acting and able to sustain the tension in the music throughout the entire last two acts. The most effective scene that leaves a long lasting image is “il mio crudel martoro”:

Roberta Mameli as Ginevra. ©Mats Backer

when upon being accused, Ginevra collapsed onto the ground uttering the word “impudica!”, convulsed, and overcome by “darkness” as dancers dressing in black surrounded and carried her into isolation. There a tiny bed, signifying perhaps conformity, is awaiting. She was to lie nicely and smily in it, any hint of struggle was addressed by the mass of shadowy bodies pulling her arms and legs, walling her in, and sitting on her if needed, to straighten her out and force a serene smile and calm expression as per snow-white lying in the casket. Quite tragically effective.

Vocally, her voice was a delight to the ears. Ginevra’s music can potentially tempt over-emoting in combination with over-acting to bring out her suffering. Not in this case. I think already by the end of the 1st act I was looking forward to hearing Ginevra’s music being expressed by Mameli. Her voice is extremely descriptive, with slight varying in dynamics, colors, texture, and many places of pulling into piano to balance out sections of forte, one feels the journey of the character instead of hearing a singer portraying it. Such a delight I find myself smiling on the inside at the arrival of the sound 😇 .

Yes, there’s Ariodante! sung by Ann Hallenberg!! You know the last time i heard her live up close her wizardry left me so intoxicated I left my work laptop at Carnegie Hall?! (that was a panic..) I think with Hallenberg, you can only just smile when the sound arrives at your ears. What I found puzzling was the staging putting her way in the back, simply criminal. There’s no story really to tell from back there that can’t be told from closer to the front!!! Especially when the difference is huge when it comes to sound projection! (ok, we’re VERY greedy, we ended up in 2nd row and if you get to experience her sound at that distance you ALWAYS want it at that!! but it’s true there’s a significant change in sound projection for all singers when they were put way in the back..). Character-wise, I’m still unsure what to make of Ariodante. Ok, the character is a bit of an airhead (by our feminist standard?).. what with not asking your beloved directly but trusting some shady characters and making foolish decisions committing suicide (geez) only to come back and acting like nothing had ever happened to Ginevra (boiling..). In this staging, Ariodante came as noble as ever in the first act (gosh, that duet is drooling in its deliciousness) and the music (Con l’ali di costanza) flowed with joys (especially to our ears). The tension for “Scherza infida” was somehow not quite built right.. I wonder if it has to do again with the orchestra right in front of us and Ann Hallenberg being way in the back and the sound balance is just not right.. I’ll check it again today.. but yes, I think if the recitative leading into it is along with the leading music not creating a good balance, it can be difficult to sustain the emotion through the aria.. It is through this, perhaps peeling the pride off oneself?, that Ariodante slowly removed the “costume”.. Ah, I might have got it: then when (s)he came back from the attempted suicide, now cleansed (?), the last layer of clothes are removed and Ariodante is bare? It could have been now at the bare level they (all characters) can just communicate to each other directly and skip the pretentious formality? I’ll have to report again how “Cieca notte” fit in, because by the time “Dopo notte” came around Ginevra was still lying in isolation (right in front of us 🙂 ) and everything was somewhat in disarray…

I can’t remember yet whether the backdoor of the stage finally opened to let all light in during Dopo notte or after Ginevra has woken up and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.. But yes, apparently the door opened, and many characters now headed toward the back as if to have finally the cage-door released and they could escape? Ginevra very much wanted to leave, but her multiple attempts (through “Bramo aver mille cori” and the final chorus) to “will” Ariodante to come with her was faced with hesitation. She left through the door at the end while Ariodante still lingered, perhaps in the only conformed world (s)he had ever known?

Yes, I know, this is getting to be a very long ramble.. but Dalinda! First, I will have to get used to hearing her in such a voice size of Francesca Aspromonte.. I have heard her (Aspromonte) live twice before, as Angelica in the Venice’s Orlando (that was a discovery, super love her vocal expression instantly) and as the full-of-swagger Alceste in Halle (do check out that photo!!) which I absolutely loved. But perhaps I’m so used to hear Dalinda through singers with slender voices (?) that the brain is still adjusting.. will sort it (brain) out again on the next performance. The jerkiness of her movements (part of the staging) is still quite a confuse for me.. I can’t tell if Dalinda the character was left room to develop in this staging.. The strongest impression I had was when she took Ginevra’s wig to give to Polinesso (and expecting returned affection for doing what Polinesso had asked) and got the wig thrown directly back in her face (on the floor, not face), and at that moment she had realized it was a scam to both her heart and that of Ginevra (that moment supposedly Paul (or whichever apostle) had after lying about/to Jesus and got 3 coins thrown at his feet?).

As for Polinesso, as you might (or not) have known, I knew of this character through many beloved contraltos, and missed terribly the low notes.. In my opinion, the missing of the low notes translates to missing half of the character, specifically the half that can do seductive phrasing with tremendous warmth.. Left with the high-end I think the character becomes a tiring one-dimension, which seems to be the trend in the recent monopolizing of the role through what i find as gender-stuck casting.. (semi done ranting..)

ok, this post has gotten VERY long.. let me just wrap it up.. sorry, i don’t yet have impressions on Lurcanio or the King of Scotland… hey, one has only so much in one’s attention span! And they don’t get a lot of points for treating Ginevra so terribly.. But hopefully more to come after my second round!

ps- oh jes, the “technology”! I absolutely loved the “low tech” aspect of it.. reminded me a lot of what they did with Orlando in Venice: you don’t need very expensive special effects as the brain is fully capable of extrapolate and put oneself immediately into the “sea” or “forest” with just some changes .. we were curious about the material, but judging by this cute goat, i think they were/are made of wood!

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?

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..)

 

————————–
** 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.

======================================

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..