music for calmness

my absolute fav section of the entire dvd! i’ll need this to stay very calm and collect for the next 8 hours, to write the (*&#@)^%#@ report… wasted 7 hours last night.. and i have to re-start again now.. but it will be done! YES IT WILL. with VK’s floating notes, ahhhh.

probing conducting, rambling

yes yes, i’m supposed to be typing the Result section 3.1.. but writing time always coincides with music discovery.. and this time, it has been Gluck’s Armide. I’ve been siting through… I think must have been 7 rounds at least of that Riccardo Muti’s live broadcast (with ACA, of course!) , and 3 rounds of Marc Minkowski’s full version in Wien this past October. My preference: Marc Minkowski’s orchestration. Simply because i’m an early music addict and the sound of theorbos strumming will conquer! But in listening to the two conductors in succession, one can’t help but notice the vast difference in the approach and the mood it creates. So, how about an intro to Gluck’s Armide with Armide’s first aria. This one has all the various mood changes (color-coded! and time-tagged.)

Clip1 (time-tag to the moment of the _rush_ in (4) below)

Clip2 (no time-tag, to hear the opening orchestration)

1. an opening of orchestration, which one can only hear clearly in Minkowski’s take,
C1: 00:00:00–00:00:19 , C2: 00:00:00–00:00:21

2. a “grand” entrance of recitative. At this point, I will also point out I think Anna Caterina Antonacci is an exceptional singer, in her accentuation of the words within the musical phrase. I wonder if Gaëlle Arquez, being a native French speaker, might have overlooked how the recitative would sound? Simply listen to the word “Enfin” to start for example, and the first phrase.
C1: 00:00:19–00:01:10 , C2: 00:00:21–00:01:18

Enfin, il est en ma puissance
Ce fatal ennemi, ce superbe vainqueur
Le charme du sommeil le livre à ma vengeance,
Je veux percer son invincible coeur.

Par Lui tous mes Captifs, sont sortis d’esclavage
Qu’il éprouve toute ma rage.

3. a slow burner of recitative
More drooling for fans of recit:
C1: 00:01:11–00:02:53, C2: 00:01:18–00:02:28


Quel trouble me saisit qui me fait hésiter?
Qu’est ce qu’en sa faveur la pitié me veut dire?
Frappons …

qui peut m’arrêter!
Achevons …
je frémis! vengeons-nous …

je soupire?!
Est-ce ainsi que je dois me venger aujourd’hui!
Ma colère s’éteint quand j’approche de lui
Plus je le vois plus ma fureur est vaine
Mon bras tremblant se refuse à ma haine.

4. a VERY FAST mood change, a RUSH, which one hears immediately in Muti’s take along with how Antonacci switches gears (in just a moment of prolongation, then go at “il n’a pu trouver“). In almost a complete contrast, Minkowski created a veeeery quiet orchestra and Arquez making it a very internal conflict moment:
C1: 00:02:53–00:04:37 , C2: 00:02:28–00:04:24

Ah quelle cruauté de lui ravir le jour!
A ce jeune héros tout céde sur la terre.
Qui croiroit qu’il fut né seulement pour la guerre?
Il semble être fait pour l’amour.
Ne puis-je me venger à moins qu’il ne perisse?
Ne me suffit il pas que l’amour le punisse?
Puisqu’il n’a pu trouver mes yeux assez charmans,
Qu’il m’aime au moins par mes enchantemens,
Que s’il se peut, s’il se peut je le haisse.

5. a ramping up to the finale. Again, one hears it more in Muti’s take how quickly it changes. I do love Minkowski’s take of just a slight prolongation of the first note, before the _rush_ and quite more depth in the orchestra, compared to the “drive” forward in Muti.
C1: 00:04:38–end , C2: 00:04:24–end

Venez sécondez mes désirs,
Démons transformez-vous en d’aimables Zéphirs.
Je céde à ce vainqueur, la pitié me surmonte;
Cachez ma foiblesse et ma honte
Dans les plus réculés déserts
Volez, conduisez nous,
Au bout de l’univers

In general, Muti’s take is, i used the word “hurricane” before, you either go with him or he’ll leave you in the dust! ACA gave a comment in one of the interviews i linked 2 posts ago, that she was (am paraphrasing) “very intimidated” by him and how he created this “atmosphere” in the music that she worried she would ruin it all.. In listening to Minkowski, one never has this impression. There’s simply plenty of breathing. But I don’t deny Muti’s take along with Antonacci’s vocal expression, is what actually got me into this opera in the first place. I think you could listen without the libretto and hear all the mood changes. The only thing one misses is the “deeper look in the internal” conflict which Minkowski leaves so much room for. Very nice and interesting :-).

Ann Hallenberg to start early morning of more typing

On the menu for today:
1 milk tea
Results: Section 3.3
Discussion: Section 4
Summary: Section 5.

I ambitious! this _will_ get done, with the right music! I have the *entire* radio broadcast of Agrippina with Ann Hallenberg 2 years ago, with K.Hammarström and R.Pokupic! (but am also a bit addicted to Gluck’s Armide).. surely there will be time for all of that in the next 6 ambitious hours.

music for the working night

Since getting back from San Francisco, I have had a new appreciation for Anna Caterina Antonacci’s singing, if you can believe that. Anik was very nice to point out a tribute Parterre wrote up on the occasion of her appearance in SF this year.. which prompted me to dig up this spectacularly intriguing program (the same one in the tribute above) that i really wish she would sing more often. More importantly, I *did* sit through Gluck’s Armide in Wien last October, though admittedly still quite jet-lagged and not knowing the story at all. But of course this curated show did nothing but further stirred my interest..

I already was aware of the existence of various clips on youtube of ACA singing the role to great acclaim back in 1996 and 1999.. There’s also the entire version on youtube (just audio), though I’m afraid per usual, somehow during the processing, the poster damaged the quality of the audio, I suspect… Major ringing + headache inducing.. But no fear! I’ve just found a SUPBERB audio version, wav format, of the entire thing. So, here it is, a clip, the music to finally start the morning of (more) paper writing.

La chaine de l’Hymen m’étonne,
Je crains, je crains ses plus aimables noeuds:
Ah! qu’un coeur devient malheureux
Quand la liberté l’abandonne!


(ps- on the note of SF, she gave two really nice interviews with them. The first, hilarious comments on actresses versus singers 🙂 , and the second providing more info on her background. I’m beginning to love San Francisco more and more.)
(ps2- yes, the Juditha Triumphans write up *will* come, _after_ i finish these 2 manuscripts + 1 final project report + 1 review + 2 proposal edits…, because they must be done prior to me heading off to see more contraltos.. )


This is a repost, of Dehggi’s latest entry, of this incredible (as it sounds like) Patricia Petibon’s recital at Wigmore Hall. You know I wanted to fly over for this, and swapped out for Anna Caterina Antonacci’s concert. I have no regret, only wished i could be in both places, but as I can not, just very happy Dehggi decided to come and blogged impression about it. Head over, and make sure if Petibon is any where near you that you don’t miss her concert/performance.

stunning Anna Caterina Antonacci in San Francisco

stunning! that was the first word out of my mouth as the light shut and applause rolled in. I don’t get how there are no 3rd and 4th calls.. In any case, I would have loved to linger a bit longer just to soak in the experience, but there was no time to waste thanks to a flight waiting. I have been debating the title of this post, but it’s not just “La Voix humaine” but the *entire* evening was captivating, so it fits this way. Today I showed up alone, which strangely enough I quite prefer. It’s one of those evenings you want to take the time to let things sink in. Something bugged me about the previous outing: ACA sang and phrased and I got lost in the words.  To ensure that wouldn’t happen again, I *studied* the text dear reader. I *memorized* them 🙂 . No no, not word by word, there’s not point to taht. But big picture, small picture, a whole phrase, how it fits in in context to the entire poem / piece. Yep. It helped that it’s in French (and not German), and that I had already sat through the show once, so I knew where i got tripped/entangled with words last time.

First off: as some of you said, especially for art songs, I don’t think everything is in just the music. So I studied more carefully the Berlioz’s and Debussy’s pieces (before my brain got saturated with text 😀 ). Second: the arc of the sentence/story helps tremendously with the brain intake because you know it is not about this word or that or this emphasis or that, but rather where it sits in context and thus where we are along in the journey, and where we’re heading to. I’m a big-picture person! How much does one benefit from it? Ahh, the reward of hearing the fine fine fine details in Antonacci’s phrasing ❤ . The sudden pull into quietness as Ophélie “tombe…” , as an exemplified sample. Thanks to dedicating time studying the text, I can also confess now to loving Berlioz’s “La mort d’Ophélie” the music. Though very short, it’s got several “scenes” to it (like how “La Mort de Cléopâtre” has). I love the middle “Ah!” (very prolonged), and i love the final “Ah!”  It’s so nice to discover this, however short it is.  Yes, it was there last time, but I didn’t catch on to its various mood change so got lost in where the piece starts and ends and what it was about. Let me look if she has sung it elsewhere.. ahhh, voilà! and there’s a version with orchestra! and score.

Onto Debussy! I have it sorted out: I like “La Flûte de Pan” the best, followed by “Le tombeau des Naïdes”, while there’s still too many things sitting uncomfortably in the inner body with “La chevelure”. What do I remember from these? Actually just the small details in her phrasing.. but perhaps I was still under the spell of Berlioz.. I mean, she came out of the gate with this avalanche of gorgeous warm voice coming at you… and Poulenc’s “La fraîcheur et le feu” song cycle, just more phrasing.. though I didn’t study the text as much. But yes, one particular note: the phrasing of the actual poem “La fraîcheur et le feu”, the contrast in her voice intensity between the word “fraîcheur” and “FEU”! There were more fine details, but it’s not useful to list them in a list really, just the joy of *hearing” the shape of the sentence/block.

Intermission rolled around. This time, I purposely stayed off just on own to observe the setting of the stage. As I arrived with my backpack (laptop + clothes + stuff) I chose not to sit front row and possibly distracting ACA. Though in hindsight it would have been quite an experience. No matter, I sat 3rd row, which was *really* close. What is the difference today compared to Saturday? It feels as if we’re *inside* her (“Elle”) apartment. We watched intently as she paced the place, circling her table, kneeling on floor.. Since I spent the weekend listening a few more times to “La Voix humaine” from Wigmore Hall, I noticed a few things: that she (ACA) paused often. There was “space” to the piece. It has moments of pondering, moment of rushing, of climax, of resignation.. I was wondering if by hearing only (no visuals) one could absorb these but in real life it was all a bit too much coming at once? Regardless, it felt like today ACA took much more time. There was quite more prolonged pauses (to hear the other side), of softer singings in moment.. of less desperation during a couple of the interuptions of the line.. There was at one point I myself even lost track of where I was, and wonder what had happened to the flow.. But soon everything came together! It can not climax without moments of pauses: one can not be frantic the entire time because at some point that particular emotion is overused / saturated and we don’t get the difference between *more* intense versus *high* intense moments. Here, because time was slowing down as the conversation got started, I really saw how everything developed slowly. This evening, she (“Elle”) started out almost in a mood of “whatever, i no longer care” . But soon she’s drawn in again to her own desperation and began to repeat the things that got her into this obsessive mess (something about as we keep repeating, we become). It hadn’t occurred to me until tonight that she did indeed hung up the phone after saying “bon soir”, but the other side called her back! One could ask why is the other party kept feeding her this unhealthy cycle. But of course one can see a decent human being perhaps is indeed concerned what the other person might do, feels guilty, and calls back. And yet this is how the cycle continues to no ends.

I must repeat again how much the piano plays such an important role in changing the mood. This whole piece is full of monologues, but there were very few places where there’s a full music line which Antonacci shaped GORGEOUSLY with the piano leading the way. If you listen on the radio link, you can spot them easily.  I might come back and highlight a few to get us all who wants to explore started.  It did occur to me sitting there that I could listen to ACA sings this more than 10 times, and by the 10th I’m sure i’d get the shape of this piece all mapped out. One could feel the pace increasing as the intensity ramped up to its max.. to the final “Je t’aime” in plain deep voice to no music. Elle is left holding the phone as the last note from the piano arrived, lights out.

I also like this ending a lot. Different that 3 nights ago. Almost a different human being. I’m quite sure my determination to skip the translation helped tremendously to feel the flow, experience the pauses (which I think she might have used extensively last time as well, but that I was too busy *trying* to untangle from the text to let the moments took place) and all the fine details. Stunning. And interesting how each night is so different. Made me really want to hear her on the last night as well :-). But that is a wrap this spring already for me and ACA. I’m already home thanks to an 11.45pm flight, very optimal use of time. I was hoping she’d come back to San Francisco next year, but I’m told they don’t have her on the program.. oh well, Vienna then :-). I can’t believe it’s over already. That was some experience.

La Voix humaine at San Francisco Opera

I first heard of this piece when Dehggi reported hearing Anna Caterina Antonacci live at Wigmore Hall in Sep/2015. That post triggered my 2nd round interest in her work, which became more intensified and culminated with trips to hear her first live Sancta Susanna in the 3000+-seat Opéra Bastille last December and “Elle” at the superbly intimate 300+-seat Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco last night.


First, a shout out to the intimate space! It’s a real treat to have the opportunity to hear an artist of this caliber in such a small setting with good acoustics. The place was packed, which was nice to see. If this were taking place in Paris I imagine it would be sold out within 30min of the opening of ticket sale? I brought 2 new companions along, both who have traveled the world and seen far and beyond what I have, and as a bonus, 1 being fluent in French and *loves* Debussy. As he told me, Debussy has been in his blood since childhood, so he was quite looking forward to hear the song cycle. My other companion is a fan of the piano and passionate follower of “anything Puccini” and have often been to both the San Francisco Opera and symphony orchestra concerts. As for me, one could say, only by ear, a passionate fan of early music.

I mentioned our various backgrounds because, I would say at least for me, this concert program is really out on the edge of my listening experience, La Voix humaine included (though i’ve had it on several times beginning with the Wigmore Hall radio recital). So, Debussy.. I now recall the same feeling I had when first hearing another piece of the same composer in her radio-broadcast recital in Brussels: that it sits somewhat in a strange not quite comfortable place :-). Like all ACA’s non-early works I have been trying to get accustomed to listening, Les Troyens, Penelope, La Ciociara, La Voix humaine, Sancta Susanna, etc., I think the ears do need time to get adjusted. Additionally, when it comes to song cycles, for non-native speakers, we look to identify with something in the music, the “conversational” communicative tone (musical phrasing). For this, I somehow identify so much more with Poulenc’s La fraicheur et le feu cycle. As was my non-Debussy-in-blood companion! There is something big picture that sits within one’s experience and arch of identification I think! This cycle is more on big picture, at times melancholy, at times feisty. Altogether, quite a treasure to sit in such a small space and experience ACA communicating this live. Let me attach my Brussels radio broadcast capture here, for those who wish to explore the cycle further, and I to listen along while typing.

During intermission, the stage is set for a single orange phone, a small lamp table, a few love letters, a chair, a few cushions, and one just have enough time to prepare for the switch in intensity. Now that I have had 1 overnight to think about it, I realize how an enormous challenge this show is: a solo artist, with her pianist, but this one was really her front and center, all exposed for 40 minutes to hold the audience’s attention. These are by far my most favorite types of settings, minimal props, just enough for us to have an idea, and the rest is up to the performer! Though admitting at times I got distracted because it *is* a lot of French dialogue and I got lost in it at times and tried to sneak up a few glances at the English** translation… These glances indeed took away the ability to follow the flow and identify with “HER”. But one can’t help recalling there was one time or another one perhaps was desperately waiting by the phone just to hear a voice. As ACA explained it in her interview on the piece with SF Opera, and my companion and I discussed post concert, the piece is about searching, yearning, reaching for a connection. In fact I wonder if it might even work in a setting of sending and receiving letters ( I grew up during that time! we got 1 letter PER year and the whole family rushed out the greet the mail person..), where these conversations “Elle” carried over the phone could be played out in her head as she composed the letters..

But this monologue is quite more intense over the phone because you “realized” ACA’s “Elle” is hearing something from the other side and reacting. At times she is desperate, pulling the phone far from her ears to let out a scream of despair or panic, perhaps not wanting to admit openly over the phone to her sympathetic (but quite done with her) lover. We see her though the course of the evening/night switching constantly between trying to by cheerful by lying about the casual things (dressing up, dining out), to admitting it was all a lie and in fact she has been retreating to a dark corner consuming some pills.. but “no no, do not worry, i won’t overdose and harm myself again..” Through all these, there were occasional exasperation when the operator interupted to pass on the neighbor’s caller, or when the line got disconnected. I haven’t lived through this, but my companion had! and was explaining to me how the phone used to be shared between her family and the 4 neighbors in the building, with an operator pushing button 1 for family A, 2 for Mrs Smith, 3 for Mr. John, etc. This, in combination with the occasional technical difficulty when “Elle” could not hear well her lover and kept uttering “Allô, can you hear me?!“, intensified the desperation level, and one (me) is worried what would happen when this conversation ends..

I really love the piano in changing the mood / scene. One felt a bit sick to the stomach hearing her asking the lover to not go to the place in Marseille where they used to spend their time.. It is inevitable the lover might not return another phone call ever. In this one we are left unsure what will happen to “Elle”, as the light simply went off with ACA’s sinking back into the chair head down arms still reaching over the hung-up phone. I like such ending as well because it leaves it to the audience to continue the dots in their heads based on their intake of the event. As the light came up, my companion finally breathed and we stood up to give tribute to such a performer / performance. I repeat again, regardless of how one can feel the flow, whether one thinks the performer is over- or under- doing the emotional flow, I am in deep admiration for ACA and her ability to carry these solo (with piano) communicative pieces across.

I have to admit EVERYTIME i see her entered, in my head, i had the opening line to “Tancredi…, che Clorida un homo stima.. ” and had to shake it to absorb the new music :-). Since there’s a plan to come back on Tuesday for a 2nd performance, I have decided that I’ll sit through this audio and read through the original text at least a few times today and tomorrow, so as not to get lost in the conversation. It’s not so much the conversation, but I think the piece has a few “moods” (flow) to it and I just need a better grasp at it. I’m still debating if one gains more by understanding the text.. Perhaps when not very familiar then we rely on that, but theoretically one should gain simply from relying 100\% on the emotional expression in the voice?!

**On that related note, I sent a request to the SF Opera Lab to also project the French text if possible… for the audience who can not follow French, English is great. But for those of us who can at least follow roughly the French text, I *think* it is much less distractive if we can catch quickly the glimpse of the French and not need to “convert” it into English. I’d argue it is much less distraction because the language has its own flow and expression, and it’s moving too fast the thoughts for our head to switch gear to figure out how she’d say such and such in a different language… I could be wrong, but I think the original language contains the original arc through which the singer is communicating, and thus it’s useful for us (who might need it at times…) to catch on.

That’s pretty much it for the first night report. My Debussy-fan companion loved the evening, said the Debussy piece was the best, and that Poulenc was a bit too depressing :-), but that ACA was GREAT. My other companion and I discussed how, though able to separate ourselves, we could feel a human in need of help, and how difficult it is for a performer to keep the intensity level, and how she really has to be fully committed and not a moment distracted/losing sight. Be 100\% in the moment. With that, we parted.
A little more ACA music to wrap it up then, how about some Chausson, from the same recital in Brussels last year’s April.

(ps- oh, look what i found in the hall way:)