Vagaus triumphans

Amanda Forsythe made a triumphant return to Jordan Hall last night, delivering a world-class level “Armatae Face, Et Anguibus” that brought the house down. It was impressive. I sat there grinning at the luxury of having experienced *that* live while my friend rave about the amazing momentum she built and interaction with the orchestra to strengthen the ramping up of tension. (So this is the right place to mention she will be here again with a baroque band for a recital that i would miss (GRRRRRR), but i was very sure to pass on the information to my friend who is very enthusiastic to learn more, if she can get a ticket.)

But before “Armatae Face..”, she was already hogging the stage with her recitative phrasing and “communicative” skill. This is a very short write-up of my experience hearing Vivaldi “Juditha Triumphans” live for the first time.

As a *huge* (but recent) fan of the work, i and a crowd (that i gathered from the office) arrived at Jordan Hall to realize they ran out of booklets and there was no surtitles. By the end of the evening, the buzz is about the “woman in white coat” (Vagaus), with “the woman in blue doing a decent job..”. If I have to compose a narrative of the storyline following what I heard/saw, it would be:

“Starving, Holofernes descended down Juditha’s village begging for food to find the town sleeping peacefully to hammocky-swinging-soothing violins. Searching further, Holofernes arrived to find Juditha drowning in the low notes in her basement while Abra the maid cheerfully smiling at anything while mumbling to self. Holefernes offered Juditha a chair on which she launched several last gasps of high notes before flatlining, with Holefernes following right behind. Cause of death: lack of high notes and heft. Vagaus *charged* in, weaved her (his) swagger conquering all women to triumphant trumpets + drums.”

In the 2nd half, i switched place with my generous friend (was sitting on far left in 1st) and the orchestra came much more alive, am not sure if due to positioning or that they really woke up… The highlights for many of my friends are the various selections of quite exotic instruments: chalumeaux, mandolin, theorbo, lyra viol, organ, viola da gamba, recorder, baroque trumpets, as well as the combo of these with voices. I really enjoyed, for example, the combo of *3* theorbos with Vagaus, mandolin with Juditha, chalumeaux with Juditha. Not sure if i’m developing an “entitled” attitude now or what.. but I have 2 primary complaints:

1. I have a very big issue with the conducting. I was already a bit worried following Agrippina, and now, let’s just say i will prefer any other conductor for these Baroque vocal pieces. I have loved Maestro Pearlman in Beethoven and Händel’s Messiah, but left for home a bit “angry” last night. sorry. Especially in the first half, those 10-12 violins need more dynamics (more below) and a serious jolt of energy (tempo). And this is the first time I found the harpsichord playing dragging and interfering! (you don’t understand its function, it’s just there, running over the singers).
2. I don’t understand the casting of mezzos for the roles of Holofernes and Juditha. Through the night, we don’t get to hear these singers in the range of their strength. Flat-line is what i kept thinking, as they can’t go lower. Even if not flat-lined, there is so little wiggle room down there for musical expression to do justice to these beautiful arias. Adding to the issue is the “loud” violins mentioned in (1): Maestro Pearlman have almost all violins playing at their strength (lacking dynamics!) while drowning out the mezzos singing in their basement (where these types of voices are prone to be drowned out unless you have enough heft as few mezzos or any contralto should/would have.) On this note, with the format ABA, the 2nd “A” became a typical route of “wild” excursions up the octave into the singers’ optimal range, almost with little context/connection to anything they’re singing about.

I’m sorry for the complaint. I told my friend just before the performance that we have to keep in mind it’s a live performance, that we are not here to compare with what we “are used to hear” on such and such recording. But I think the performance in its own right needs more dynamics (conductor’s take), and the choice of singers in their optimal vocal strength to express the music would be a great bonus…

So, just 1 clip then, as i realized from last night that the orchestra is primarily string for most of the night, and kept wondering how you’re going to get more dynamics. Some tempi variation + varying intensity of the strings? Some “rocking” please! For example, like this?

I know it’s a live “recording”, but note the violins are not on top of the singers, they’re much stronger when the singers are not active… at intermission, one of my friends said to me: the singers are getting in the way of the orchestra! I know what he meant: the orchestra was taking over, letting the poor mezzos drowning almost so you can hear neither of them well. Another friend’s point was that there was somewhat a disconnection between the singers and the orchestra.. with Amanda Forsythe being the sole singer interacting with orchestra and engaging us (me). I know they recorded this, perhaps for radio broadcast later. It should be noted that the singers stood in front of the mic, so a broadcast can also be biased (same with youtube video above) in that you might hear the singers very well there, but it’s not necessary the case in the hall.

About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

22 Responses to Vagaus triumphans

  1. stray says:

    She’s wearing the same suit she wore for Teseo, I see 🙂

    My other source of intel in the audience says there will be a radio broadcast.

    • thả diều says:

      ah, her suit to conquer the women ;-). i will b curious to hear the broadcast..

      • stray says:

        I’m still trying to figure out what happened to their videostreaming plans :/

        • thả diều says:

          i was wondering what happened to their most basic feature which was the surtitle! you know, a couple of my friends also made comment regarding instruments out of tune (baroque, it was probably -2degC) and perhaps under-rehearsed given disconnection between orchestra + singers.. and i realized how much lacking it was b/t maestro Pearlman and the singers, compared to this clip i included in the post

          • stray says:

            Yeah, I know they had some rehearsal time, but maybe not enough if they had only one performance and everybody was coming in from all over.

  2. dehggial says:

    don’t forget contraltos aren’t that easy to find. Maybe none was available!

    • thả diều says:

      yeah, i was thinking about that too.. but they also dont get called that often due ti lack of repetoire in the US, so i cant imagine why they wouldnt cancel everything for an opp to sing this :-). but listening last night, i also realized Vivaldi demanded quite a bit of breath control… In any case, a casting of a mezzo based on the argument “her range covers this” is not sufficient i believe. she has to be able to be flexible + expressive WHILE having enough heft to be heard. like last night, any single instrument was playing and you already having a hard time hearing them. that and the fact they sounded out-of-tune–ish because they couldnt go lower.. was a strange nite of hearing “singing” for me

      • dehggial says:

        a strange night when you bitch about mezzos 😉 who knows what really goes on behind casting? perhaps your conductor’s baroque credentials stop at Handel’s Messiah and Vivaldi’s vocal music is already something else.

        if the hall is big you might have issues with not being able to make yourself heard – reason for which I try to get stalls tickets at the Barbican these days. Imagine if your voice is already rather small, you’re out of your depth range-wise and the orchestra is playing forte over you…

        • thả diều says:

          it s my fav hall for early music 🙂 . let s just all wait for the radio broadcast to hear more perhaps. but yeah, am open to any other conductor, Stephen Lord from that superb NEC orfeo for example…
          Speaking of Orfeo, Forsythe’s Amore can be heard now on radio3 i believe, same time as VK today so she has to take 2nd seed 😀

          • dehggial says:

            radio 3 will save that performance, will it not?

            btw, the Sardelli Juditha is ace, I kept listening.

          • thả diều says:

            i told you, its addictive!! 😀

          • dehggial says:

            too much music tonight! but at least it made being sick at home entertaining.

          • thả diều says:

            oh? still? sorry to hear! Juditha can soothe (Arianna could indeed be a bit too much.., while Poppea might require a bit more of your energy 😉 )

          • dehggial says:

            I have energy, it’s just the sinuses that are getting in the way 😀 the worst thing is I missed the work trip to the safari park… anyway, thanks for the music, I was more or less new to Arianna and still newish to Juditha.

          • thả diều says:

            juditha was the result of binging last year while on same deadline… and arianna was binging of this year’s, all thanks to your excursion to wigmore hall to hear ACA. i realized with these “new” singers (last year was Mingardo, this is ACA) you have to listen to them on their own turf. Problem with getting a new name is we (I) tend to search for them in works I’m familiar with.. and it took me a while to realize there’s a whole other repertoire out there–Vivaldi binging last year.. and this, once you pointed to that interview of ACA and Monteverdi, that was all i needed.. esp. working well this year as I really discovered Monteverdi! (so last year wouldn’t have worked!)

          • stray says:

            Ah, so we were both home with the plague and checking out Ariadne yesterday, Now I understand 🙂

          • thả diều says:

            “we” = you + dehggi right? coz i was well hooked on to Vagaus 😀

          • stray says:

            Yes, sorry to lob comments into the middle of a convo in progress!

          • thả diều says:

            no no, please jump in, just want to clarify i saw ms. Vagaus in flesh 😀

          • dehggial says:

            showoff! 😀

          • stray says:

            I need some kind of twitter-like abbrevation for “this comment refers to the comment dehggial left over on my blog yesterday, my response to which she probably found slightly mystifying because I was being dense”.

          • dehggial says:

            haha, it’s ok, sometimes online convos do turn mystifying 😉

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