alcina at the wiener staatsoper (2016)


Almost exactly 6 years after the premiere, and after some unexpected (personal schedule) delay, Alcina has finally arrived. Unlike in the original run where I was alone at the queue and sending reports out, this round was extra special with Anik‘s accompaniment. To say we were a tad anxious was about perhaps not quite descriptive enough ;-). Already the night before at Armide I was searching up and down for (what i expected full-wall-sized) announcement of Alcina. We arrived rather early in the standing room ticket queue anxiously going through the various scenarios of bad dreams, Anik’s being “kicked to the back of the queue, show canceled, show replaced..” while mine was more a big paste over of the main singer’s name with a REPLACEMENT.. Thank goodness, nothing happened (yet) as we rushed up the stairs to another door, with tickets in hands, only to wait another half hour as Les Musiciens du Louvre (lMdL) tuned their instruments and ran through the first bit of the overture and finale chorus. Yes, dear readers, to say I have a photographic memory of this staging as well as an imprinted-in-head replay of every character’s music + aria (led by Minkowski and lMdL) is an understatement. Since my discovery of Händel in 2010, this has been _the_ Alcina for me, starting from the bell ringing to the opening overture. I have heard countless other Alcinas, however, if your first ever *three* live performances were that of the Alcina run in 2010, it is simply a part of your life 🙂 .

By the time we finished putting on the scarf to mark our spots, only meekly 15min remained to take care of any last minute needs. The anxious wait has ended. Here I was again, stehplatz parterre, just 3 spots to the left of where I was in 20.Nov.2010, looking into the pit with theorbo arriving. As the curtain raised to the familiar scene, the memory has come full circle. My reasons for coming to _this_ Alcina are very specific. I was trying to rank them, and through impossible as it is, it has to be: Alcina with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre, AND Myrtò Papatanasiu as Alcina. Yes, I would say if it’s only the first two, I might not have gone completely out of my way to get here. And to put into perspective, these combinations, for example, would prompt me to immediately clear schedule: Harteros as Alcina, Antonacci (!!) as *any* character, Kasarova as Ruggiero, Sara Mingardo as Bradamante, Nathalie Stutzmann or E.Haïm or R.Jacobs and their orchestras in the pit, or Minkowski+lMdL+Papatanasiu. On the flight over I was debating a bit why I was quite drawn to Papatanasiu’s singing, especially because of all the singers I love listening to, her voice is the most difficult for me. Well, let’s proceed with Alcina shall we!

squealing (stealing photo from Anik's)

squealing (stealing photo from Anik’s)

Just as the overture start, Alcina is already on scene to greet her various friends and family. Yes, perhaps when we do enjoy seeing/hearing a performer, there is a certain level “obsession” as to why we can not take our eyes/ears off of them? But let us flip the question around: why does a certain singer/performer demand your attention? In general, and for Papatanasiu’s case, I have to mention her subtlety and intensity in body angle and gesture and foremost facial expression and eye angles: The key to “less is more”. The moment she’s on scene she demands our attention, and this is even before she sings a note.


At this point perhaps I should warn you, dear readers, that the post might get quite long and I might not get around to talk about any other singers :-). As I’m so used to hearing Minkowski’s take of the overture, it was simply time well-spent to enjoy the body gestures and movements on stage. We will come back to Bradamante and Morgana in a bit, but let’s start with the ballet! Even during my flight, while pondering if the main singer might need to cancel, I concluded I would still have a great time basking myself in the ballet music and dancing (more ballet music below). As much as I tried, there was inevitably always going to be some comparison to the 2010 run, namely the two main singers then and now. Perhaps on this coming Wednesday I’ll try to keep a more open mind, but the contrast of “slowly building of the momentum” and “sensual movements from the core” between Harteros and Kasarova and the sometimes rather abrupt movements between Papatanasiu and Frenkel were rather strong, and as my brain has always processed this aria in the sensual-approach, it took a bit of time to adjust to. Hearing live, vocally, Papatanasiu’s voice is quite bigger than I had expected, with none of the tightness I experienced hearing via recording (except when she has to sing very fast some recitative parts), but rather with an edge which I do enjoy very much. The voice is quite rich, expressive, and her phrasing really makes sense to my brain. Again, I have talked about this before, I have no idea how it works, but I would compare her phrasing to Antonacci’s phrasing when it comes to “making sense”. I do think there is a universal way humans communicate aurally to deliver the phrase. For lack of vocabulary, I’d categorize it as via the musical path and the shaping-of-the-language path (to my musically uneducated brain). And in this home-made language, I’d put Kasarova and Harteros in the intense shaping of music regardless of language, and Antonacci, Mingardo, and Papatanasiu in the accentuation of the phrase from the language vantage in parallel with the music.

(more ballet)

This is a long way of saying as soon as Papatanasiu started singing “Di cor mio”, i was thinking perhaps I should rearrange my flight to stay until the last performance next sunday. Right, then some stuff happening on stage, and Alcina made her return to the stopping-breathing “Si son quella”. Tear-inducing dear readers, such an honesty, raw emotion, combining with very subtle acting and movement. It is simply very hard (for me) to understand in this staging how this sympathetic Alcina can be a sorceress. But we already knew that from 2010 when I openly questioned how anyone can abandon Alcina. As she slowly drifted out of sight, I was left thinking again of the psychological build-up of Alcina. (Perhaps this is the right spot to mention Papatansiu is quite effective in portraying troubled powerful female character. She left me thinking for months about Semiramide!) Some more singing went on and finally “ah mio cor” was upon us. The recitative leading into both this and “Si son quella”…, riiiight, Please, dear Ms. Papatanasiu, if you ever chance upon reading this, please sing some Monteverdi!! Emotionally filled recitative, how I *ADORE* ❤ ❤ . While i was intensively drawn to the military drive from the pit (<– do click on the link), Alcina had collapsed to the floor, from which an internalized “ah! mio cor..” rose. For a brief moment, I was thinking perhaps she was pushing a bit too hard. But if there is a moment for an all-out, this is it: the wheels just came off Alcina’s wagon. And for every fff “traditore! t’amotanto“, she always pulled back to a piano “puoi lascarmi sola in pianto“. As detailed in Anik’s post of her take on Lungi da te, I would put this down as a very specific choice of how she wants to phrase the music to draw in internally this question in the text.

The contrast with Harteros' take is stark: Harteros' Alcina is an imposing figure raging the stage in the B-section claiming vengence and stood defiantly to the end. Papatanasiu's take is a devastating one, both in her phrasing and the physical portrayal: from the stumbling collapse, to slowly coming off the chair falling by the sideway. Even in her defiant moment grabbing the bystander by the collar as she abruptly declared "Ma! (che fà gemendo Alcina?)“, Alcina’s vulnerability is still fully on display. Unlike Harteros’, I am unsure if Papatanasiu’s Alcina is capable of being vindictive. This is not a statement that one is better than the other, but rather an analysis of how both are devastatingly effective. Slowly, Alcina rising to her feet, stars (and time) slowly coming down, train of (baroque) strings plunging into the abyss, curtain coming close.. and I (we), left frozen in space and time, drifted to the floor in exhaustion.
Given that I was unable to move for the next 10min dear readers, we settled on the spot to discuss “things”. There were questions to me regarding how I managed to block out the live performances I have experienced in 2010 when it comes to this new cast + take. To summarize, with Alcina, it worked for me from the start. Papatanasiu’s portrayal was simply real, raw, emotional, and much more importantly, musically intense, such that one does not need to revert to any previous experience for comparison. And i only mentioned Harteros often above to simply point out how the characters were portrayed and why they were so effective. (But to be very honest, I think it is much more difficult to cast Ruggiero, and yes, it’s a curse if your first ever Ruggiero is Kasarova and you are into that type of vocal expression…)

After intermission, I was wondering how one can recover from “ah mio cor”.. “ombre pallide” came a bit too soon. And again, i immensely enjoyed her recitative take before waving the magic wand. Let me listen once more on Wednesday before commenting on this, as I admit to being a bit distracted by the arms wand 😉 , as well as her lovely low notes. Yes, she did some lovely plunging into the chest register. Those low notes are quite distracting. “Ma quando tornerai” was taken *quite* faster than what I’m used to! Let me work again on Wednesday to sort out how it fits. By now, of course, Alcina has almost resigned to the fact Ruggiero is a goner, any last minute attempt to rekindle is long gone. The trio “non e amor e gelosia” was taken even faster than my brain could digest, really need a couple more days to sort out how this fits in. As the dust settle in the Lioness’ den, the dim light has returned to “mi restano le lagrime”, with Alcina reminiscing her good time with Ruggiero, a timid hand-hug, a polite bow, a soft smile.. heart break.. sniff… yes, that sitting in on the chair, candle flickering, pouring self a scotch. Poor poor Alcina. (side track: this scene somehow brings back memory of Kasarova’s soft smile in the tomb in Capuleti, sniff..)

(yes, even more ballet, to hope)

Dear readers, I think I might just end here, too heart broken to go on. There needs to be a radio recording of Papatanasiu singing this role, with a baroque specialist in the pit who cares for her phrasing and work together to make such music possible for us the audience to enjoy. We left rather slowly while recovering from the evening. But yes, we did attempt to swing by the stage door aftward. Similar to the lack of any kind of promotion posters for Alcina in the Metro, I was surprised to see not too many waiting there to talk to her. I guess that is the norm here at Wiener Staatsoper to only promote premiere and bury all others under some rugs. I’m unsure how aware Papatanasiu is of her more expanded fanbase in western europe and even the US in response to the recent broadcasts of her Mitridate. I will be on the look out for her performances, especially if she’s singing with these fantastic orchestras and conductors and in early music. And as usual, we all hope singers keep an updated schedule far enough in advance on their sites for fans to manage schedule/flight to attend. I’d say for me, she’s a very unique performer with the capability to transport the music (early?) and in combination with her acting, leaving a very strong impression, enough for one to travel 1/2 way around the globe to hear.

here’s a short curtain call. i missed the roar she received on the first walk out, too busy clapping! please excuse the lack of discussion for the orchestra, but with enough music excerpts of the ballets + overture, i hope to convince you of my obsession for M.Minkowski’s take with lMdL of this Alcina.

(ps- I might return at some point to write about the rest of the performance and singers in a separate post…)

About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

7 Responses to alcina at the wiener staatsoper (2016)

  1. Agathe says:

    Thank you for this very personal review, thadieu, lovely to read! Together with that fantastic new entry on your channel it really feels like being there.

  2. Anik LaChev says:

    …and I will just be camping here until tomorrow afternoon.
    Thank you for this (and you manage to be so much more coherent than me despite my best attempts. I should, like you, focus on the essential!)
    It reads beautifully.
    Also thank you for the curtain call. If Ms. P. wanted to promote another perspective of her applause, this is the one 😉

    • thả diều says:

      i’ve just sat through 2x of “Ah mio cor”, and just now re-lisented to “Sì, son quella”. You know what, *if* i didn’t know her before i’d become her fan through these! (and Lungi for sure!!) . But ja, listening to her Alcina, i can’t describe more than to just say “it works”! it really really works for my brain, really the way I feel the emotion. You know how a singer can “lead” you in 1 direction the emotion through the 1/2 half of the phrase, and sometimes the 2nd half suddenly left you either “hanging” or “pop out of the emotional state” or something, due to whatever, phrasing break, word non-shaping, etc. But no, her way, it really WORKS just the way i “think”! If I have to draw the arc of the emotion, it would flow just rightly so to the end of the finger tip. I don’t know how she does that! (but VK has the same effect on me…) And through the commonality, I’m assuming it has to do with first the singer visualizes (through feeling?) what the emotional state is, then shapes it, but I guess you have to be honest? Because if you don’t, then the emotion doesn’t ring true! The other thing I noticed also is how she “shaped” the actual word. Take her final “perche” in “Ah mio cor” for example: it was funny already hearing it live i was thinking: noooo, don’t say it “out loud”! it’ll break the flow of the feeling and the music! and she didn’t! she “closed” it (how i termed it: she made it “internal” and almost covered the word, and it came out *just* as I had hoped! along with the visuals too as Alcina slowly drifted into darkness.)

      • Anik LaChev says:

        Before reading your comment, I had memories of certain lines cross my mind on the bus this morning, and there was a visceral pull to open the clip once I got to the office, post-haste…

        Several of the things you mention here on listening and phrasing are fresh in my head because I try to talk about the subjectivity in all reviewing in that post I am drawing up on the Currentzis Don Giovanni.

        You are (and you are likely the only person) aware of the long paragraps I wrote on the use of “perché” in MP’s Vienna Ah mio cor. And while there are a few factors that I can describe in more measurable terms: volume, coloring, breath… I think there are a few that I have in a column titled “magic”, especially thinking of the last night where some things were different because the mood in the house was different and beause we all (onstange and offstage) are never the exact same people twice.
        Why do we clikc with things? Part is our biographies, or listening histories. Part is the more objectifiable components of singing (color, breath, embellishments, dynamics), but already in how those are chosen, it’s back to magic – the indefinable mix of instinct and intuition (which then is the musician’s biography and experiences and knoweldge), conscious choice and stylistic agreements with the entire team.
        I woudl say there are various ways to arrive at a convincing result – “honest” is an interesting term here, because what would that mean? Self-checking against one’s one impression of the emotion prevalent in a phrase? Or channeling it ore through the role? Or through artistic premises of historcial periods (beauty of sound, embellishments, codes for ‘honesty’?)?

        In talking with singers, my impression is that for some, there a a lot of conscious, also intellectual, choices made, while for others, it’s absolutely intuitive and thinking about it ruins their approach. I find both can work, though the way we ‘decode’ them is still another variable entirely – one thing is how the teeth on the keys are arranged and chosen. But even a perfectly balanced key depends on a lockt hat can be opened with it.

        • thả diều says:

          done with 2 pages! need 2 more! but i’m allowed to be distracted slightly:

          I always think of it in the sense of be in character and moment and understand the situation, thus one can express it fully (whichever way one wishes to address). It boils down sometimes to the basic example of walking from point A to point B, do it because you know why, not because you “want to do it to show something” or because you’re told, or because you want to demonstrate how well you can walk.

          Yes, i remember your discussion on her use of “perché”, though i can use this as an excuse to read again, note #2 i believe? 🙂 . But it’s now 5am.. let me plow through 1 more page if possible.. oh the things we have dangled in front to keep us going..

          Why do we clikc with things?
          Yes, we’ve talked about this before as well… and i will write a bit about it on the Ariodante liveblog later.. that i always have a hard time with S.Connolly, and given how effective she is for so many others, i really understand it’s very specific to our makeup/(pre-)condition .

          On a more fun note, when i first got my hand on ACA’s Nerone, I think that’s the first time i got a clue it’s so specific what we hear / identify with: the first duet, with Ciofi sang “Tornarai?”, ACA plowed right though with “e ben io vò Pur teco stò”, i always laugh by myself at this because the way she phrased it it was so similar to how i’d do it, the sort of “i’m just gonna say what i want to say, whatever your question is i’m not paying attention”. One could interpret it otherwise once you understand the libretto, but without knowing it, that’s exactly the way it flows in my head, all the way until the 3rd “Tornerai?” when she finally got up from the floor and *finally* addressing Poppea’s question.

  3. dehggial says:

    I missed it for some reason but cool rundown 🙂 it’s quite unusual to have two very different casts you care about of a production that has personal emotional meaning for a not very popular opera.

  4. Just back from Zurich and the Alcina of Baroli and Jaroussky – I cannot believe there can ever be another production that comes close to this one. Fabulous

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s