Juditha Triumphans at Carnegie Hall, 7/Feb/2017

Silke Gäng, Francesca Ascioti, Delphine Galou, Mary Ellen Nesi, Ann Hallenberg

Yeah i know, this is 7 months late.. and memory is fading, and I didn’t take any notes, so this is all from memory, likely in bullet point format. But I wanted to write about it to perhaps self analyze what exactly one hears. And a warning: this will likly turn into an Ann Hallenberg swooning post. In fact, so much swooning that we (Stray and I) spontaneously made friend with (a very surely White SHirt) friend who was sandwiched between our seats and had to hear our opinions hurling back and forth, and proceeded to discuss with said friend and her other friend for more than 1 hour after the concert.. and it wasn’t until near midnight that I realized I *forgot* my laptop at Carnegie Hall coat check stall, with a flight out at 5am the next morning… That was an interesting experience trying to break into the hall*. But let’s get to the concert.

Tuesday 7/Feb/2017, Carnegie Hall
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Andrea Marcon, Music Director and Conductor
Delphine Galou, Contralto (Juditha)
Mary-Ellen Nesi, Mezzo-Soprano (Holofernes)
Ann Hallenberg, Mezzo-Soprano (Vagaus)
Francesca Ascioti, Contralto (Ozias)
Silke Gäng, Mezzo-Soprano (Abra)
TENET (female chorus)

Edit: This is part of a series, with Dehggi’s take at the Barbican here, and Anik’s take at theater an der Wien here.

Am not sure why they scheduled it on a Tuesday evening, which made trips from out of town very difficult to arrange without possibly losing nearly 2 days of work. But yes, Tuesday evening. Which means yours truly already arrived to the concert hall after some crazy-early-hour flight and fighting through NY metro signs to navigate into Manhattan. The absolute best thing for these kinds of hectic planning is to meet up with fellow equally (or even more?) enthusiastic fan/friend (Stray), who can immediately chill you down and talk real business (singers swooning, for their voices of course.. ). We booked a little bit late way back last year and got tickets on the extreme right side *behind* the singers. The only thing i could say was great was we got a superb view of Ann Hallenberg boots, and wonderful manteau, and swagger. Also on our side was Mary-Ellen Nesi’s swaggering Holofernes. Oh, and a nice view of the Theorbo ensemble!

First up, the Venice Baroque Orchestra (and Andrea Marcon). You know this immense feeling you sometimes have when things are just so *right* your inner cells are dancing with joys and your (missing) apple are coming up in your throat? That’s the feeling I got hearing the VBO playing Juditha. Those who have read my blog in the past might recall my first traumatic Juditha experience. Enough for me to sit there in Carnegie Hall thinking: “jeah, this, they know what they’re doing! They “feel” the flow, it’s in their beings. They Jive with it, they live it, they toss each other little phrases, challenge each other with an extra dose of energy and strumming, jeah, take that, you return something better! wink. .” And they smile widely while being challenged and together bring forth the music. I think there’s a huge difference between having “baroque” in your blood (drink?) versus “following” instruction on what one is supposed to do… And Andrea Marcon conducting Juditha? it’s like water flowing: no matter the course, water will “naturally” meander and flow downhill after trickling in every little extra corner to explore if such space has a path forward. And the contrast between this and having the feeling “why is this conductor forcing the water to go up this uniform ramp, across these strange steps? why are these steps chosen? was it because the conductor thought: hmm, not sure where this is going, let me draw up some steps, and tell my troupe to follow me”.. Enough dig, but yeah. SWOONING. (But a small note, as you can see by our seats, we were *behind* the orchestra. The sound was not good. Carnegie Hall is huge, and likely the stage too I think. Such that a small band like the VBO fitted tightly at the center and seats to the side will not get the warm baroque/focus sound. After intermission i climbed my way 5 seats in and that was what needed to catch Ann Hallenberg at her best.)

Onto the singers. Juditha the role I think is quite a difficult one. If you have a voice with enough colors perhaps you can shade her various (altogether rather somber) moods well? This was the first time I heard D. Galou live, and she has the disadvantage of being on the very far side at almost a 15-20 deg angle to my seat, with her voice projecting out at 90deg angle.

I might have mentioned D.Galou’s narrow-beam focus (to my ears) elsewhere. And admittedly at this extremely unfavorably angle, I’d also say somehow her color is quite uniform. Enough such that at times I did scratch my head thinking “hmm.. Juditha music is long”. I think for this type of music, this particular role, you really need someone who can shape things in 3-D (Please wait patiently, i might have more hand-drawn pix for Ann Hallenberg vocal shaping.). M.-E. Nesi was closer to us. Also, I think her voice is “warmer” and is a bit more in volume than Galou’s. But still a little bit on the similar-in-color-throughout family. Hearing both of them, I kept thinking of the voice tone being trapped inside a circular steel pipe that could not go beyond that narrow solid boundary to add more dynamics, colors, and texture (More precisely: that my ears need that wall to be more like cloth/bamboo, not steel). In any case, beyond all that.. what was suuuuuuuuuuuper enjoyable was how D.Galou joiceously (i made that word up) scaled up and down Juditha’s music without *any* hinderance. AAHHHHHH the beauty of having a contralto singing this role ❤ . She and M.-L. Nesi’s Holofernes also had a nice exchange with the champagne glasses. Too cute.

Apology for not many words about Silke Gäng’s Abras.. she did not leave me with much impression.. But Francesca Ascioti!!! JEAH!! She has the “authority” in the tone. First, a mention about the role itself (let’s listen to R.Basso while we check out the fuss about heft and the role as I type):

Feel the scowling? the growling? and in the marching sound in the music? jeah! I don’t care about technique at this point (not that I know any), but what I absolutely loved was Ascioti’s authority in tone and the feeling “she means what she’s singing”. I did wonder about having her as Juditha, whether the role might be too low for her? but I responded much better to her dynamics than to both the two prior mentioned singers. Altogether though, sorry to sound like i’m whining, because it’s nonsense. It was a GREAT evening in the presence of this level of deep female voice. ❤ ❤ ❤ .

Then Ann Hallenberg stepped up. I’ve only heard her in recording on youtube before.. I am telling you, there is NO preparation for hearing her live in this Vagaus role. Actually I’m very convinced I’d greatly enjoyed her in the role of Juditha too, or Holofernes. Let me resort to my hand-drawn pix again, for an attempt to demonstrate how her vocal expression blossomed / exploded / flourished in my brain. No, actually, let’s go with this image I found on the net:

Ann Hallenberg’s sound wave and dynamics, as registered in thadieu’s brain. © unknown

Or here’s another screen cap of my search on the internet. Because it seems that’s what my brain was responding to her incoming sound. Post concert, Stray and I sat there asking out-loud: how did she do it? HOW?? Let me attempt with some hand-waving words.. First, the dynamical range, and the speed at which she can do it: Range: ppp to fff. speed: ranging from an explosion to a steady ramping up, and same in reverse. I think there are few occasions in music where you need to have this “tool” to express. I know i talk about ACA a lot, but it is also this tool, a burst/pull of it, *just* at the right time, to convey the *exact* milisecond of a reaction. Also: color. I think a voice with a “ping” as an asset can be very effective for this kind of “explosion”. Like that which should be used in Ostinati (e tal sarà) in Romeo’s entrance aria. Let it rip as I think of it. It should be used very rarely, but have it at one’s disposal. This is different than when such tools are not accessible to one’s voice, and the singer might then utilize a different approach to the phrasing for that moment, for a different effect in the listener’s brain. And then, the rest: just the technique (now you hear comparison to how i heard M.Papatanasiu in Alcina, the things that she did, which I always thought you just do it, like how VK had done it for decades.. but it was explained to me it’s technique. And know when to use it.) Ann Hallenberg’s voice is not the most powerful. I mean as far as categories go, I suspect she fits in the “thinner” side as we might box? But that is the basis. What is available at her disposal was this tremendous bag of assets. Just listening to her recit alone was an experience. Actually, one can compare a little bit hers to the recent brain-opening experience I had listening to Alice Coote’s Vitellia phrasing. If anything, besides all that have been described, I’d say for me Alice Coote has more “heft” in her toolbox and because of that she can pull more shades if/when needed. Something a more thinner voice wouldn’t be able to pull through because there’s not enough heft to begin with to scale back.

Anyway, her Umbrae Carae was a hypnotizing display at expert level. I thought of attempting to do something about the sound intake but selfishly opted for just letting the jaw dropped and experienced that live moment. Sadly there wasn’t enough of her fans in the hall to capture the piece, sigh. So you’ll just have to take my words for it. and Here’s the rest of the photos, and a tiny curtain call video:

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boots!

more boots!

Galou’s smile

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* if you forget things at Carnegie hall in the middle of the night and desperately need to gain access, don’t try to climb on the gate, go behind the hall, next to the dumpster, there is a security door. It’s locked, but knock on it, there is someone sitting there 24hr/7days to help you out. Many thanks to Stray who was accommodating me on my trek back and strange attempts at midnight to gain access.. I was also secretly hoping to catch Ann Hallenberg coming out at that hour 🙂 .

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background ramblings

It’s been an unsettling time.. One of those moods where one feels realizes (again) being able to go into hiding implies you do have the luxury to do so, while others are being actively oppressed/hurt. On a closer to heart front (i feel a rant coming..), have the patience to see Antonacci portraying this mad woman will you? (time-tag 7m58s). Do you think Antonacci is this woman? is Antonacci mad? Is it that difficult to see an artist’s “realistic” and effective portrayal is a reflection of their craft but not an announcement this is who they are? Isn’t it clear their moving “performance” is not an invitation to freely project and suddenly “identify” with them and think they’re the answer to your life? I find it troublesome some people cannot seem to distinguish between a performance/writing/painting and the artist’s private personal space/life. Actually it must be quite frightening for an artist who has to perform in public, if that is something they suddenly have to worry about, instead of just focussing on their well beings and effective methods to communicate their arts. I think both V.Kasarova and S.Mingardo had in separate interviews (yay, i found S.Mingardo’s insightful Polish interview!!) talking about the needs to “unplug” from the stage, to define the clear line between “online” versus offline. Whatever people “project” on them based on their portrayals… well, it’s fantasy, that is all. there. random rant is over….

Sorry, i’ve been in a mood, blame it on the upcoming (or past already?!) eclipse, and current sad news. The purpose of this post is, actually, to retreat into a little safe place to enjoy this wonderful interview with Nathalie Stutzmann. I think being a female conductor she has through the years, as with E.Haïm, being asked a lot about it… What I like about this one is that it’s much more about her back story. I was hoping it was longer! quite fun to hear about her “incognito” audition for a conductor job 😀 😀 . And she discovered Mozart Mass in C from a cassette tape. Hey, i discovered Beethoven 9th Choral (and my entrance into classical music) from a cassette tape too! 🙂

That was also the time i accidentally found myself in Bergen!! and dragged a whole team to hear the concert :-). There is also this super short interview. What I liked from that was, according to my ears, she puts the “rock” into Bach. Quite fun. At first I wondered if I should check out this interview or not.. and 1 bar into the music, i was hooked! Think i have this whole concert (radio) saved somewhere as well… perhaps it’s time to dig it up while remain a little bit more in hiding away from the real world (as she said). Just a tiny bit more, to recharge.

music for working afternoon

Update:
excerpt, for (me) download to phone for listening while commuting:

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click on image to go to bbc radio 3 radio broadcast

interview (and music) for the night

on the occasion Anja Harteros getting a nice featured article in the New York Times (where P.Gelb essentially offers her any spot and would rearrange all schedule around to fit her in if she ever has a chance to come to NY in the future), it’s time to revisit and getting to know more about her latest plan (and nice discussion on her voice, her preference for traveling by car and not plane <– voice related, her Greek side, any potential future performance in Greece and elsewhere..)

(video is in German, with French subtitles (yay!) though she speaks so fast my French reading comprehension was flailing.. ; it’s wonderful to see how little make-up she cares/needs for an interview.)

She’s also slated to be live on stream 9/Jul in Wagner i think… I must admit after her Leonora (Munich Trovatore) I lost track of following.. because as much as I tried Wagner and Verdi aren’t really my thing (and the fact that every single thing i’ve seen of her had JK drapping all over and fans who are more attached to the “couple” idea than caring much about her voice/vocal expression i’m afraid…)

For music, i know i’m still looking backward… these 2 things are staple diet on my phone, (actually 3, the ENTIRE Wien’s Alcina is on phone, that’s a given.)

the countess, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, NY MET 2007 (thanks Stray!)

Leonora (her debut in Cologne, 2011)

(this one was from a fan who recorded.. he posted orginally on Parterre’s site.. which i downloaded. Later he also shared with me the rest of the performance, though the first 2 Acts were sadly from very var distance and audio is totally muffled.)

interview for the night

or day, depending on where you are on the globe, it’s still 15min before midnight here! Having been spending the extended weekend in limited internet space, I have dug up again my “Mingardo” folder and re-listening to some of her earlier works.. and stumbled on this really insightful interview.

Though i can digest the French, it’s most clear when piped through the English translator because there are some quite fine details I couldn’t catch otherwise. It’s the most “blunt” or “direct” (honest) interview I’ve ever heard from her, really reminded me of V.Kasarova’s interviews or some of Antonacci’s. Some of the highlights include:
– How she knew she was a contralto even as a kid 🙂
– JE.Gardiner being the first serious conductor who trusted her in a language other than Italian and gave her the first opportunity (something she often mentioned in subsequent inteview)
– How singing Bach is extremely difficult for her
– How the moment she discovered Monteverdi, everything Monteverdi was better than Azucena 😀
– How she made the jump to “professional” , and knowledge of old system which fostered artists such as ACA versus the lack of anything now.
– She had some very sharp words for the Italian art culture (lack thereof) and direction (during the 2006)
– How young singers saw her as a beacon of light in the search for early music possibility (“they call me directly at my home because they didn’t know where to turn!” — paraphrasing..) This provides insight into her recent project, sponsoring 7 young singers in early music:

Very insightful. I’d really love to read her biography if she ever decides to write one. There is still that other also very insightful interview in Polish, which if I find the link I’ll post here. But this was really a nice window into how her career started. Oh yes, she also sung Cesare and Rinaldo!! with C.Rousset.. am on a mission to find audio evidence..

repost: Vesselina Kasarova in concert in Berlin review

click on photo to go to review

Many thanks to Smorgie who hosted her blog to guest review John Carnegie.
A wonderful read on Vesselina Kasarova’s artistry. ❤

Antonacci video broadcast alert

(Edit: just update to the correct link..)
Rai5 HD TV is making their last night broadcast of Anna Caterina Antonacci’s performance of La Voix Humaine in Bologna last month available to all international viewers! Yay! I don’t know for how long…
(now have in my drawer 🙂 ).