alcina 2016, round 2

Back from my 21-hr journey and now have mixing in head a combination of jet-lag + too much caffein + fluid equations + alcina… I regretted not being able to stay until the last performance tomorrow due to a pressing conference.. Ideally I would like a sudden cancelation of conference now.. and a teleport machine to transfer me back to Vienna.. But as it is not the case, here we are, with a report from my 2nd attendance of Alcina, Wednesday, 26.Oct.2016. Please refer to Anik’s wonderful post of the same night’s experience here.
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We are going to start with Alcina :-). Way back in 2010, someone gave me an Alcina book for this production, with a very nice interview with A.Harteros who discussed about singing this role, about the character, ornamentations, and the six arias (here’s the original text and translation, much much thanks to Smorgy; the post just after that is Minkowski’s interview and translation). Listening to Harteros at the time, then many other Alcinas with “lighter” voices through the years, and now with Papatanasiu over 2 nights, I’m really developing an appreciation for the wide range of heft, sustained emotion, tessitura, and agility these six arias demanded. Last Sunday I was trying to understand M.Papatanasiu’s “Ombre pallide” and “Ma quando tornerai”, and I have them now figured out! Her voice fits this role (and my brain) like a glove! with enough darkness in the tone and an edge to it. Especially the ones which requires long sustained lines and emotion, e.g., “Sì, son quella“, “Ah! mio cor“, and “Mi restano le lagrime” . For “Dì, cor mio” , I know why I’m having difficulty: there is a disconnection between the mood in the text/music and the abrupt physical movements on the stage. It was less abrupt during this night.. Putting the “legendary” (<– I believe this is the right word) take of this scene by Harteros with Kasarova as her stage partner aside and judging this night performance as an independent entity, perhaps *much* less action is needed, if one can not move without disrupting the flow of the music. Here I’m talking entirely of Ruggiero’s movements. Apology for going a bit overboard, but Ruggiero’s “touches” on Alcina reminded me of someone looking for a lost key in the dark.. Another way to say this: perhaps it would have worked better (for the digestion) if I had closed my eyes and let the imagination fills in Alcina’s musical lines. Thus, i have not yet sorted out if this aria truly works for me with MP singing it, and wished I could have a 3rd night to experience. On this night, MP also pushed quite a bit harder (more emotion), but at the expense of less piani and pianissimi. It worked out GREAT for “Ombre pallide” and “Ma quando tornerai” ! These two arias are at times fast and furious, and perhaps requiring a bit of “heft” and “rage” at the expense of control, and the way she did it simply worked! In “Ma quando tornerai”, I was curious how she would maneuver the fast coloratura with the more “weight” she put on: The shake is back! 🙂 . With Harteros, as a certain reader might have noticed, i discussed discretely her “shake” in tune with the coloratura: it actually works quite well in transmitting perhaps a certain level of “rage” and emotion (?). MP brought her shoulder shake to the table this time along with more emotion and heft, GREAT! I absolutely loved it! And for “Ombre pallide”, i regret not having made any keep of her wonderful navigation up and down the vocal range and into her chest register! It is an art in itself how she does it, so wonderful for the (my) ears (I should mention her ascending into high notes are *really* wonderful and reveals she’s a soprano, i was hoping she could cover both soprano and mezzo ranges :-D)! I first noticed it during “se viver non degg’io” and more prominently in Semiramide, but this is serious plunging to great effect. Of particular note is the “sorder da me” to end “Ombre pallide”, no short cut, no navigating away, no easy way out, simply a strong presence and punctuation. *love*. For “Mi restano le lagrime”, i missed the piani and quiet (very short) pauses between the phrases, which she brought out more prominently during the Sunday’s performance. This is an aria of reflection, and I think a more internalized take could fit better (?) . But what these two nights have highlighted for me is an artist who is not afraid to bring all she has to the table, to be true to the character, and to adapt night to night the way the emotion flows. On any given night, the portrayal can be different from the last, but the true character is present in full flesh. That is something I search for and truly appreciate / cherish. Alcina is truly hers. Please keep this role in the repertoire!!
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Onto Ruggiero.. I read on Anik’s post’s comment section regarding voice type for this role, heavy versus light.. and through all of that, i think Rachel Frenkel is still on the extreme light side for this role. But then i caught myself thinking “hey, this could have been P.Jarrousky”, and that pretty much re-set the appreciation-o-meter (sorry, i insist a mezzo for Ruggiero!!). But it is true, on this night, her movements and actions are more with purposes, and that simply worked into the portrayal of the character. For “Mi lusinga il dolce affeto”, I’m still having difficulty: it still sounded somehow “too fast”. As I discussed with Anik, “fast” or “slow” is a relative perception: Even for identical tempo, if the singer can delve deeply into the emotional state, through the use of colors and intensity, we the audience almost pause in time to reflect with the character on the true meaning; however if you (the audience) don’t feel this reflection is happening but rather hearing an aria being sung, then it’s rushing by too fast. There, my analogy. Starting with “Verdi prati” i enjoyed her phrasing much more. This scene also has so much sincerity to it thanks to the now quite touching build-up of Ruggiero-Bradamante’s relationship, and I think she also took more time with the phrasing. And “sta nell’ircana” is a tour-de-force! Marc Minkowski and les Musiciens du Louvre marched along with her building up the tension, accentuate the “vocal swagger”, and put forth a highly charged take. Even her stage movements to start the aria are now more spontaneous: Ruggiero is now marching the stage ordering the troupe into form, the arm gestures are shorter but full of intention. As for her vocal heft, you’re welcome to have a glimpse with the trio “non e amor ne gelosia” , which is a good case to hear the contrast in voice heft because Alcina always makes the entrance in the long sustained line, with Ruggiero and Bradamante following suit. This year is the first time I heard Alcina’s line almost as “solo” and realized how much darker MP’s tone is compared to even Gritskova (and thus the reason I hear MP’s voice so well in general).

Gritskova turned in a very honest Bradamante’s portrayal. Everything was more spontaneous during this performance, and with that, we have Bradamante instead of a singer trying to portray Bradamante. You know Gritskova is fully embodying the character when she plowed over the chair without any concern (Anik mentioned this) or especially during “Verdi prati” when she “forgot” to (follow the routine to) take off her sword before lying down on the “grass” field listening to Ruggiero. Vocally I quite like her darker tone, which sounded natural to my ears. And even for the B-section in “Vorei vendicarmi” where it’s a bit low for her, there is such an honesty in the vocal details and delivery you can feel Bradamante’s pain. Another thing I really enjoyed was when she took off the Richardo’s “mask” in the form of changing into the dress: there’s a little expression of intial self “joy”, then a slight reaction to the surrounded crowd of “this is actually who i am”, then an uplifted subtle “delight” with the vocal delivery filling in the gap. These gestures and reactions are so small, and yet they yielded a wonderful effect that many of the “grand” postures and large gestures can not bring.

With these three singers leading the way, the night was much more rewarding than on Sunday where I thought Papatanasiu carried the show (she still did, but now with Ruggiero and Bradamante participating). I truly wished I could have stayed for the last performance to see how everything fits together once more..

Some very last notes then: Now that I have finally paid attention to the staging, I have a lot of questions. For example, why was there an old guy showing up during Oberto’s aria (can’t remember which one, when he was playing tickling with Alcina, that was a cute scene 🙂 ), which prompted Oberto to hide behind Alcina’s back and her given him a glare? Also, who exactly is Ruggiero in this case? The Dutchess’ lady friend? Was she longing for an excursion before reverting back to the norm?

Finally, an amusement.  As “Mi restano le lagrime” ended, I always needed a bit of time to recover. As a result, the sight of Papatanasiu with the javelin took a little bit of time to register! And as we joked the contrast of a “heavy-weight javelin” in Harteros case versus “feather-weight” for MP’s, I wanted to mention again how well she strikes the balance with the javelin. As none of us here are olympic athletes (?), being given a javelin (or sword..) can reveal our imbalance unfavorably.. and Papatanasiu really held it with such great balance you can feel a sense of threat / aim (and indeed it’s so in balance i initially thought it was the ballet dancer who was holding it). This really expanded to a more general case of her stage presence, where a movement or a look is never wasted but has a strong purpose, a case when someone glares at something with such intensity that causes the entire room full of people to trace the back-end of it, as an example. I know I have talked about her quite a bit in this post and the last, but I have come to realize it’s quite rare to find an artist with such high technical level of singing and acting commitment, and an intensed focus to bring truth to the character, and I am very glad to have discovered her.

With that, the Alcina 2016 excitement ended for me, but I will be camping over at Anik‘s for a report on tomorrow’s performance.  Below is the curtain call. please excuse the shaking. Also, some of the zoomings were outside my control (i swear)! As soon as people started moving in front the zoom suddenly took a life of its own…

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About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

7 Responses to alcina 2016, round 2

  1. dehggial says:

    Also, who exactly is Ruggiero in this case? The Dutchess’ lady friend?

    yes. Remember at the beginning when they first show up dressed in “contemporary” clothing? I have a book detailing their 20 year odd 3some with the Dutchess’ husband (here Oronte). The Dutchess and the husband were rather boring people but the friend was an interesting and quite hard to pin down kind of person.

    Glad to hear Ombre pallide and Ma quando tornerai came out great 😀 my fave arias for Alcina. And hells yea a mezzo for Ruggiero (or in any case not PJ). So Gritskova redeemed herself as Bradamante, eh? She’ll have a mountain to climb in my case but who knows… stranger things have happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thả diều says:

      ahhh! now i remember you mentioned this once in one of the posts? (The Dutchess and her fantasies..)
      Yes, on Gritskova! Even Anik was taken by her! I still remember turning around to tell Anik: you know, Gritskova, perhaps she’s young, i can really see she will improve the acting and being as true as she is here to the character! (on the same note, i also told Anik that for CR (singing Morgana) it’s hopeless.)

      Like

  2. Anik LaChev says:

    Aaaah, thank you. Feels like being back there and makes the wait for tomorrow shorter. 🙂

    The questions: In the “I play an opera with my circle of friends”, Ruggiero is a lady friend (I read it as an affair that ends within the opera, as the Duchess returns to her husband and to playing happy family in the end), and the “old guy” is Astolfo, Oberto’s father, a former lover of Alcina that has been turned into a beast by Alcina – and on the “Circle of aristocratic friends” level, the role is taken on by the Duke, her husband, so they get to act out their marriage tiffle around Oberto (watch out for him throwing down his coat and not being into this opera at all in the opening scene, while Alcina keeps flirting with Lady Ruggiero).

    The “feather-weight javelin”… we talked about physicality/balance/axis regarding Papatanasiu’s stage presence a lot in the “Mitridate”; but I think it applies in general, and thank you for pointing towards it again. I found it also apparent in two instances with Ruggiero that were in the first part, I think (one might even have been in “Dì, cor mio”), with the stopping/reaching out/pulling and then completely realigning the axis to that impulse. It always reminds me of tango technique classes, where it’s all about listening to impulses this way to establish a natural flow within the music.

    We already discussed sharing the impression that “Mi restano le lagrime” seemed more differentiated on Sunday, while “Ombre Palide” and “Ma quando tornerai” carried better on Wednesday (we also talked about exhaustion…) – agreed. I am curious what it will turn out to be tomorrow. So far, I’d say the most stunning vocally/emotionally was Sunday, the best take so far scenically this Wednesday one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thả diều says:

      Yes, thanks for reminding me exchange of momentum during “Dì, cor mio”. It almost felt that Alcina has taken the matter into her own hand to make sure Ruggiero is in the mood! I think with 1 more performance I would have worked out my kinks. After hearing 2 takes, and from what you describe, i now see how these arias can be approached: “Ah! mio cor” and “Mi restano le lagrime” from past Sunday’s approach, “Ombre Pallide” and “Ma quando tornerai” with that much emotion and heft from Wed. I didn’t discuss “Sì, son quella” but both takes work for me, with more refined piani on Sunday or more energy/emotion on Wed (because on Wed, Ruggiero’s reaction had so much more dynamics it fitted). Then, I also predict Lady Ruggiero gets her “touches” in order and you’re in for an intense performance!
      (am typing while having her Paris’ Lungi on repeat, now with even more appreciation after hearing the voice live..)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. towanda says:

    grateful for both of your posts (WP seems to not be like me over here for some reason). Love your thoughts and questions! And MP curtain calls…she really owns the stage, always.

    Like

  4. thả diều says:

    thanks for stopping by Towanda! (this is the first time you commented here so it was waiting for my approval)

    Like

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