Ariodante at Carnegie Hall

View from row G slight right, 3rd balcony, Carnegie Hall

I will start the report with the photo of our view, to give the reader an idea how far up we were, because most of what I discuss will be entirely dependent on it. I once wrote about my experience listening to Bach Matthäuspassion in the large Boston Symphony Hall, and I think much of it is applicable here. I think for Händel music (baroque, early) it is crucial to hear the voice well because these singers are known for their descriptive singing. Thus to assess it as “i can hear her” is not sufficient and would be a dis-service. Based on this, I think the 3rd Balcony in the Carnegie Hall is too far for this type of intimate music, and relately, I think the acoustic is also not the best. Either that or the orchestra needs to be much more quiet if one can hope to hear the singer’s piano lines (can you?) . You can hear the singers quite well, yes. But at the descriptive level befitting their attention/effort, I am not sure.

Carnegie Hall, 30/Apr/2017
Händel Ariodante
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
Ariodante: Joyce DiDonato
Ginevra: Christiane Karg
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Dalinda: Mary Bevan
King of Scotland: Matthew Brook
Lurcanio: David Portillo
Odoardo: Tyson Miller

So, with that much pretext, let us have a go at my first ever live Prina-extravaganza and 2nd live JDD (1st was Barber of Seville in LA opera waaaay back in 2008(?) when i didn’t know who she was or what I want). This is also my first experience hearing Christiane Karg live, along with the rest of them. The first Act was a little bit “mild” as heard from waaaay above. It’s as if everyone was testing out the sound of the hall and didn’t want to overdo it? The orchestra was soft (as it should be, for a smaller hall) and detailed. Karg started out with a veeeeeerry nice and warm voice! I really love it! I have been more used to hearing sopranos with quite a bit more “ping” (piercing sound) in this role, which might have worked better this far up? She was singing while looking down into the music sheet quite a bit, which somewhat limited the sound projection. From up there, you can hear the significant difference when a singer is not singing into the music sheet.

To my surprise, Sonia Prina voice came up very well and detailed. I think it’s primarily because she did not look into the music sheet but was “acting” and projecting her voice into the hall. Also her voice has quite a bit of (just the right kind of to make it up) heft. If one is not aware of how well she can be descriptive in her recit, this will convert one on the spot! I’m a biiiiiig fan. But i have been a big fan for a while now, thanks to Agathe and Dehggi who “converted” me. The “conversion” part was really just me hearing more from her, and additionally getting used to her way of doing the coloratura. That and the fact that she is fully 3-D, not just always singing and acting the “same” way. She does it, though with her particular flamboyant way, but completely appropriate (of course 😉 ) to the musical content and not for showing off. And one has to appreciate her approach of doing things without “worrying” about social pressure to behave certain ways. Interestingly, one of my friends said she had a hard time hearing Prina because she (Prina) was “turning away from the mic at times”!! To which i was astonished and reiterated that there were NO amplification!! (to my friend’s complete surprise ?!) And that “fading in and out” is not fading! it is dynamical variation of a phrase instead of shouting at the same intensity. Through more talking I realized my friends are used to seeing things at the MET where LOUD is the prerequisite I believe (?).

Onto Joyce DiDonato! And I have a confession as well: one of my very favorite sections is Ariodante’s melancholy entrance. It highlights very well the singer’s ability to phrase the line to convey the emotion.

Quì d’amor nel suo linguaggio parla il rio, l’erbetta, e’l faggio al mio core innamorato.

One can spot an (subjectively) exceptional Ariodante right at this entrance. If (s)he stops you on track , perks up your ears, draws in your dreamy wide-eyes, you’re set for the next 3 hours! And to confess up until now I have always been very drawn to V. Kasarova’s entrance. And Joyce, she gave the same response: breathing halted, the toothpick (if it were there) falling off the (open) mouth. Ahhhh, I love that entrance ❤ .

“Con l'ali di costanza" came, with the orchestra going at about 50\% volume (which is also nice, i love that light touch), and Joyce going at somewhat also quite under-control volume. The good news is that thanks to the soft orchestra one can hear Joyce's expressions very well up there, though it was going at quite fast speed and I'd say she spent quite a bit of time looking down to the music sheets. This, and Karg's Ginevra's aria just before that, "Volate, amori, di due bei cori“, judging by how fast they were and how much both of them were looking down the music sheets, I was curious if it’s necessary because Bicket was behind their back instead of in front and thus they had to make sure to keep together with the band? In any case, I also got curious if this was Joyce’s dynamical range (quite mild in volume range) and wondered if I have been having a mis-informed opinion about her ff (more later). On the subject of volume, Mary Bevan’s sound came out the the most rounded and apt for this hall 3rd balcony. I’d even put her at a bit on the larger voice side and just a tad less flexible than Karg’s ? Though she had no issues with Dalinda’s arias (and yes, she was at all time under the attention of the Duke 😉 ).

Speaking of attention, the first act, it appeared as if only S.Prina was acting (and abandoning the sheets) while everyone else was gluing to their positions. I became wishful if they could just abandon that approach in favor of a more “semi-staging” take. Pleasantly so, starting with act II :-). Ah right, but before Act II, the tenor’s voice came up just fine. I’m always more picky about the bass for this role, because most of the time I find the voice (all of them to my ears) muddy (blurry). The best King of Scotts so far for me was the one with the clan in Aix.

Now, a quick note about Ariodante in general. This is a very challenging opera for non-Händelian (non early music) fans I have always thought. It’s got this two solid hours of *very* slow music in the middle. Sort of like a symphony with the *very* slow 2nd movement that can cause audience falling by the wayside. Without knowing the music or having some singers to focus on, I think it is too much to ask of anyone’s attention span. As you know, I often bring people to the operas with me, and already had a feeling they were going to drift. Several people left after the 2nd intermissions in fact, with more laments nearby of it being “too long”. One thing i can say though: if we were sitting in a smaller hall, you’d feel much more connected with the singers and can hear well their characters’ anguish, and perhaps can stay connected. At our distance, it’s like hearing someone a mile away lamenting on and on and on: First Ariodante, then more Ariodante, then the king, then Ginevra, then Dalinda, then Ginevra, then the tenor, then the king, then more Ginevra…

In my case, I knew what was coming! So was fully prepared. Sadly, allergy and the AC in Carnegie Hall had robbed me of my nose in the most inopportune moments, namely “scherza infida” and “Il mio crudel martoro” such that I could not hear much except for the constant struggle to breath. Such a shame. I was so hoping to hear these, judging by the receptions from the audience. In any case, the bits that i heard was that goooooorgeous B-section in “Tu preparati a morire” duo with Polinesso (ohhhhh, what a sight!!! aaaaaahhhhhhh, i wish there were more of these throughout the opera… here, have some very blurry short curtain call instead, of their wonderful friendship)

Se la bella m’ha ingannato, disperato io morirò.

aaah the floating notes and long lines Joyce carried… It was also clear that Joyce raised up a notch in volume (and hence dynamical range) starting with the 2nd Act, before letting it ripped in the 3rd. For a voice to be expressive one must allow for these occasions!

Right, let us talked a little bit more about Polinesso! Actually, what is there to talk about except dropping the jaw and enjoying the Sonia Prina live experience? I don’t know what else I could say. She set the stage on fire with her angle-of-sight. The acting was intense and spot on, along with vocal description. She really was the prime example of vocal acting as well as physical (ahem). You know this ABA format? She provides you with so much details nothing is a repeat. In fact I would go as far as saying the contrast between what she and the tenor did was quite clear: in one case you don’t want her to stop 🙂 , in the other, you realize there’s another A-section coming. Again, this is perhaps due to us being so far away as to not seeing / hearing any finer details, so whatever it is needed to transmit the distance was lost, and you do/don’t realize the repeat is coming based on what is presented to you.. I was quite heart-broken the fighting scene was criminally short and instead of being escorted to the chair Prina was removed from the stage (nooooooo). Musically, perhaps she made so much sense of Polinesso there’s not much to discuss because it just works! (and I take it for granted. In fact, sometimes i go on and on only because i can’t wrap my head around it..)

It’s also worth noting that the males carried on celebrating (ohhhhh ja, i was tapping feet majorily in the 3rd Act to Dopo Notte) without anyone bothering to inform Ginevra they have forgiven her for the sh*tty death-warranted crime they accused her of. Thus even after Dopo Notte we still get a bit more lamentation from Ginevra (which I enjoyed, she has such a warm voice!!) This is all before the King performed a memory-erasing moment so that the finale duet can take place. AAAAAHHHHHHH i looooove that duet!! Ariodante and Ginevra voices were sooo wonderfully intertwined to such an addictive tune. Again, the small occasions when Joyce sang low the orchestra covered her. But what music. It would have been nice if Karg was somehow not so “shy”.. she repeatedly thwarted any of Joyce’s come-hither attempt. (in fact she reminded me of myself treating water and warning people to stay clear just so I MYSELF don’t drown, or ice skating just so I myself don’t fall and take them all down..) Then the music to the finale chorus, my ring tone of course. Please call me, i want to hear this tune day and night. It is also my alarm tone for waking up.

So, that summarizes the experience. Hard to go into details about individual voices, or music analyses. A bit more the overall picture. I did occasionally paid attention to the really wonderful and detailed orchestra. Those horns are fabulous! and the occasions when the woodwinds perked up your ears. I also promise myself next time for these kinds of works I’d only go with people who know the music and sit closer (Stray! we would have had great fun! I also spotted several white-shirters in the crowd who knew how to appreciate Händel 😉 ). So, that’s a quick write up. I now have the replay (thanks Brigitte!) to listen to for comparison, as well as reading up on Dehggi’s latest blog post via the experience (and now just saw Anik’s latest screencap extravaganza; while there, also check out our international liveblog of the event). Signing off to let the nose recover, and until the next adventure. I still owe the reader a post on Juditha Triumphans in New York, as well as a Torino’s impression (blending in with 2nd Dario) experience.


About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

45 Responses to Ariodante at Carnegie Hall

  1. stray says:

    Okay next time at Carnegie we club in and get a box for the lot of us and whatever ailments we’re bringing with us.

    fwiw I am consoling myself for missing it by buying tix to La Resurrezione with Gauvin.

    • stray says:

      oh and would you be willing to take a look at the results of the technical trials? I need a Power User to evaluate my choice of settings.

      • thả diều says:

        i’ll do that! and compress to smaller size (video) for you if needed! (video same size but smaller in storage size)

      • thả diều says:

        I’m confused, Stray, you just left a comment here? i saw in my mailbox but not here! i think WP swallowed it! hope you’re recovering ok from the flu!

        • stray says:

          Probably the one below? Flu’s gone, cough is still here. Had to walk out of a concert half way through last night. Urgh.

          • thả diều says:

            argh. was it the concert with Gauvin? you didn’t come with a bag of tangerine? that’s what i did in Detroit + DC when following NS + Mingardo… (ja, i found your comment in the trash, then rescue = in the spam, more rescue = out here. not sure why it needed approval…)

          • stray says:

            Fortunately it wasn’t Gauvin, that will be at BEMF — hoping this thing is gone by that time! If it isn’t, I will totally try your bag of tangerines strategy.

            And thanks for the comment rescue 🙂 Clearly WordPress feels the need to show who’s boss once in a while.

    • dehggial says:

      they’ll yellow tape the door to your box 😀

  2. Anik LaChev says:

    Thank you for the detailed in-haus report – and so fast despite allergy ailments!
    Really interesting to compare to audience reach via the telecast close-ups. I didn’t think about the score-watching at all, only a fleeting thought with Prina that she probably doesn’t need it at this point.
    Also interesting that Karg’s sound seems to carry very similarly.

    • thả diều says:

      interestingly, for a few short moments she (Karg) reminded me of MP! the way she opened the word at the end of a phrase.. i’ll have to check the libretto for where exactly.. also over a certain range of her voice (up there)
      [brain went like this: hey you, wake up, you know that sound, that way of wording, oh ja, Alcina!!! pietà! ]

  3. Agathe says:

    I love this, thadieu, had to burst out laughing several times! And will reply more later!

  4. dehggial says:

    you’ve seen/listened to this one, right? So much fun 😀

    in the other, you realize there’s another A-section coming


    now I really wish my post were consistent, yours pushed quite a bit of traffic my way. So in the words of Statira, I concur with what you wrote above 😉

    I am a bit surprised JDD had to look at the score, she’s sung this role plenty.

    I was thinking Handel did win at the slow arias better with Alcina. Ginevra’s role is sort of similar in moodiness to Alcina’s but a lot harder to carry because the music isn’t on par. Act II is definitely a trial for non-fans. I also agree with the “feminist” decision the Aix direction took, the men were rubbish to Ginevra when she did nothing to merit it. It’ squite upsetting to see her continue to lament when everybody else is celebrating (in her name, even!). It’s like they lost the key to her cell. Anyway, enough about my issues with the libretto 😉 great to hear from your end!

    (also, if you’re still lacking for time, just post the “curtain call” for Juditha, that “you’re going to get a cold” dress Galoumisù is wearing is very nice 😉 ).

    ps: looks like Karg got a few fans with this performance! I was so impressed myself. Even that she was “shy” with JDD, Ginevra and Ariodante seem like the kind of couple who first have sex on their wedding night 😉

    • thả diều says:

      1st link: ja, i listened to the entire thing before, twice 😉

      your post: i thought you had a typical run-through like your Alcina’s or that Poppea in Bucharest. I didn’t read it prior to posting mine so as not to be tainted with opinions 😉 , but was quite “disappointed” to see only 1 screen cap 🙂 . But the traffic is warranted, everyone should read your Dario post with birds and bees!

      • dehggial says:

        I honestly didn’t know what else to say beside everything was great. Also it’s hard to write anything after liveblogging. I posted so much there I’m still kicked out by Anik’s blog. I tried 3 different browsers and nothing works. I want to go Anon but I am also kinda curious how long this “ban” will take.

        sadly the traffic is interested in Aridodante rather than Dario. It’s interesting what things will get traffic, I have been often surprised in the past.

        • Agathe says:

          There’s a facebook link to the Carnegie hall/medici file and it says 89 606 views, so no wonder the attention…

    • Agathe says:

      I just notice that, when we talked about Karg singing Händel, we all forgot to mention her Mythologica album with Basso, which really is very good!

      • thả diều says:

        linking to my own post from 2013, when i first knew of C.Karg. Have you read that interview? i found it very insightful.

        We also talked about Karg before when I had this “Lungi da te” listening excercise :-). And i remember I had a hard time hearing the nuances in her singing (we talked about this, what i can / cannot hear in term of contrast for certain voice type…)

        I watched the broadcast last night, the 1st act. And i was surprised at Karg’s voice.. I found in the hall her voice is quite warmer than on the recording! (Also, did any of you hear saturation? Brigitte kindly sent me the capture and Karg was saturated so i wonder if that affected how i hear her on the broadcast..) On that same note, I was surprised how “small” Bevan’s voice sounded on the recording. Hers was very round and bloomed in the hall.

        • Agathe says:

          On the medici file, JDD is sometimes saturated at her top notes, but I didn’t explicitly notice it with Karg. So, I’m now very interested in how she will sound live in Hamburg.
          No, I didn’t know that interview, will have a look!

          • thả diều says:

            just to confirmed: i now have the medicitv clip, Karg’s voice is thoroughly saturated in her first aria, that explains the sharpness i hear compared to in the hall. Bevan’s voice is also saturated.. i’m guessing they re-tuned the dynamic range a bit later in the broadcast.. because it’s much more noticeable at the beginning (i think).

          • Anik LaChev says:

            will have to check back – that would explain a lot.

  5. dehggial says:

    ps2: you know with Polinesso, he’s quite a typical villain, but I am so glad she doesn’t overdo the creepiness and instead just goes the “bad boy good girls fear and less good girls find irresistible” route.

    • thả diều says:

      ja, it’s calculated, not 1-d like how we saw in London. I think it’s much easier to just have a 1-d character, but much more finesse to build a believable character (but i like the sneaky Polinesso à la Mingardo too, with the gloves and mis-matching socks, and goatee 😉 )

      • dehggial says:

        to be fair, it was students and the poor CT got stuck with a similar direction angle this year as well (another contralto role, too).

    • Agathe says:

      What are you implying, that I’m not a good girl?

      • dehggial says:

        😉 hanging out at Anik’s kinda seals the deal on that!

        • Anik LaChev says:

          he, I heard that!
          (…have to agree, though)

          • dehggial says:


            but did you hear the one about how your blog blocked me out? sorry I didn’t say goodnight on Sunday but I think WP/the blog was tired of my comments already 😉

          • thả diều says:

            i think this is something similar to that time i could not comment on your blog, D. i solved it by deleting all cache and logging in again to WP. quitting the browser alone didnt seem to help, and neither was switching browser. this tells u something creepy is going on about how our laptops keep track of out movements.

          • dehggial says:

            could be! I’ll try that.

          • Anik LaChev says:

            Bad blog! No cookies for you!
            (I had wondered where you had gone off to, but figured you’d had something on the stove)

  6. Agathe says:

    Hi, it’s me again, reading your review a second time. Agree, agree, agree, especially on the magic of both Prina’s an JDD’s voices. Ariodante’s entrance, yes, absolutely, it was wonderful and JDD singing Händel, especially in the more quiet pieces, for me just repeatedly has those moments when you feel defenselessly shaken to the verge of tears. And what a pity you couldn’t well hear some of the more piano parts. It is a problem in big houses when singers have to bring up some effort to be heard because, as you say, it does take away from the more subtle nuances and colours of interpretation ( i.e. I think it is a problem in Teatro Real, even if I still very much appreciate their recent Händel productions :-)) So, even if it results in sometimes getting drowned by the orchestra it is probably better than than have the singers pushing. I’m very curious how it will work out with the Elbphilharmonie accoustics on 14th, which is supposed to be very clear, but also unforgiving, should in principle be very well suited for this. On Prina, I think I wrote a while ago, that Polinesso isn’t the role I vocally appreciate most, since it doesn’t give her so many opportunities to show off all the sensitivity and beautiful vocal colouring she is capable of. That said, the amount of diversity anjd dynamics she get’s out of the part here is spectacular, I think she even excelled her Aix/Amsterdam performances here. And I’m very glad we got you converted by repeating listening exposure, haha (maybe, now you want to jump into a plane and meet me on 4th of June for an all Händel SP solo concert in Halle? :-)).
    Reg. acting, I don’t need to tell you how much I appreciate SP’s performance, but I think it is also fair to say, with the closer (video-)view, that there was a lot of very good acting by the others as well, especially by Bevan and, of course, JDD. But I guess your impression from high up does tell a lot about the strong physicality of Prina’s Polinesso, while in comparison, the others were more working with facial expressions, also, in part owned to their less extravagant characters.

    • thả diều says:

      Yes, from my distance, i guess you can say Prina’s was a fully engaged version for all. I was surprised when Dehggi asked me first why i didn’t mention all of them acting (while i was in the hall making comments..) That was when i realized from the broadcast there was much more subtle facial and small gestures that no-way the distance can resolve.

  7. Thank you thadieu for your live report! I am so glad you liked Sonia Prina, I adore her. I realize it is a sort of perversion, but I really can’t get enough of her. I will be @Barbican (no JDD, alas!, but we get Alice Coote!) and I will write my usual review on my blog.

    I was a bit disappointed by JDD in Ariodante, at times (blasphemy! I know). In particular her Con l’ali di costanza for me didn’t cut it. I had the feeling she was not at ease, and I didn’t agree with her variations. The aria is fiendishly difficult, to be sure.

    The problem is also that for me there is only one Ariodante, and that is Sarah Connolly. Let’s see what Alice Coote comes up with!

    • thả diều says:

      I think Dehggi will also be at the Barbican, you two should convene and compare notes 🙂
      For me, each singer has her own strength. I was stuck on Kasarova as _the_ Ariodante for the longest time. It was quite useful to hear a live version in London last year, even if it was only a student’s take. The more I listen, the more i’m curious if JDD was, as Anik said, pacing herself. She sounded quite under-control, not fully going in like S.Prina, in the first Act. Things definitely sound much better (in the hall) starting with the 2nd Act. Even the orchestra became more alive. I’m a bit curious if all these “careful” approaches by both singers and the band was geared toward the TV / audio-capture audience. The orchestra was very light in the recording, and sounded quite control in the hall, especially during Con l’ali di costanza. Whichever way one does the interpretation, i think we will have to look at the whole rather than a single aria to judge i guess… i was trying to wrap my head around this “dreamy, soft-spoken” Ariodante.. You’re also right, that we’re not sure if this soft-spoken JDD is intended or perhaps something is limiting her.. i can’t tell. The audience went wild for her. My friend, who had never heard of any of these singers before, was very taken by JDD and wanted to see/hear more from her.

    • dehggial says:

      hey, we could meet at the Barbican if you’d like (though the Barbie is too big and annoying, I’ve “lost” people I knew in that auditorium/hallway).

      It’s interesting how everyone has their Ariodante. Mine is Hallenberg and since she’s also of the soft kind, I liked JDD’s a lot. Though I can see how someone would like a bit of a kick with ‘Costanza, the whole is well served by a “dreamier” approach.

  8. FierceRev says:

    catching up…don’t know if y’all saw that parterre was HORRID to Prina in their review, I really wanted to know what, for lack of a better term, our white-shirt-crew take would be. And my guess was right. 🙂

  9. Jelena Ciric says:

    How lucky all of you were to see the Carnegie/Barbican Ariodantes live!

    I watched the Carnegie rendition via Medici. And watched it again. And will watch again. And hope there’s going to be a generous soul to put it on YT for the future indulging.

    • thả diều says:

      Hello Jelena, thank you for stopping by! It was indeed a very rewarding experience hearing live! Only I saw it at Carnegie, but most of the rest of my various friends saw it, some even twice, in Europe when the tour returned there last week!
      Warm greetings. Yes, we’re talking about the show, and the music sheet smacking showdown between Ariodante and Polinesso :-).

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