Juditha Triumphans at Carnegie Hall, 7/Feb/2017

Silke Gäng, Francesca Ascioti, Delphine Galou, Mary Ellen Nesi, Ann Hallenberg

Yeah i know, this is 7 months late.. and memory is fading, and I didn’t take any notes, so this is all from memory, likely in bullet point format. But I wanted to write about it to perhaps self analyze what exactly one hears. And a warning: this will likly turn into an Ann Hallenberg swooning post. In fact, so much swooning that we (Stray and I) spontaneously made friend with (a very surely White SHirt) friend who was sandwiched between our seats and had to hear our opinions hurling back and forth, and proceeded to discuss with said friend and her other friend for more than 1 hour after the concert.. and it wasn’t until near midnight that I realized I *forgot* my laptop at Carnegie Hall coat check stall, with a flight out at 5am the next morning… That was an interesting experience trying to break into the hall*. But let’s get to the concert.

Tuesday 7/Feb/2017, Carnegie Hall
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Andrea Marcon, Music Director and Conductor
Delphine Galou, Contralto (Juditha)
Mary-Ellen Nesi, Mezzo-Soprano (Holofernes)
Ann Hallenberg, Mezzo-Soprano (Vagaus)
Francesca Ascioti, Contralto (Ozias)
Silke Gäng, Mezzo-Soprano (Abra)
TENET (female chorus)

Edit: This is part of a series, with Dehggi’s take at the Barbican here, and Anik’s take at theater an der Wien here.

Am not sure why they scheduled it on a Tuesday evening, which made trips from out of town very difficult to arrange without possibly losing nearly 2 days of work. But yes, Tuesday evening. Which means yours truly already arrived to the concert hall after some crazy-early-hour flight and fighting through NY metro signs to navigate into Manhattan. The absolute best thing for these kinds of hectic planning is to meet up with fellow equally (or even more?) enthusiastic fan/friend (Stray), who can immediately chill you down and talk real business (singers swooning, for their voices of course.. ). We booked a little bit late way back last year and got tickets on the extreme right side *behind* the singers. The only thing i could say was great was we got a superb view of Ann Hallenberg boots, and wonderful manteau, and swagger. Also on our side was Mary-Ellen Nesi’s swaggering Holofernes. Oh, and a nice view of the Theorbo ensemble!

First up, the Venice Baroque Orchestra (and Andrea Marcon). You know this immense feeling you sometimes have when things are just so *right* your inner cells are dancing with joys and your (missing) apple are coming up in your throat? That’s the feeling I got hearing the VBO playing Juditha. Those who have read my blog in the past might recall my first traumatic Juditha experience. Enough for me to sit there in Carnegie Hall thinking: “jeah, this, they know what they’re doing! They “feel” the flow, it’s in their beings. They Jive with it, they live it, they toss each other little phrases, challenge each other with an extra dose of energy and strumming, jeah, take that, you return something better! wink. .” And they smile widely while being challenged and together bring forth the music. I think there’s a huge difference between having “baroque” in your blood (drink?) versus “following” instruction on what one is supposed to do… And Andrea Marcon conducting Juditha? it’s like water flowing: no matter the course, water will “naturally” meander and flow downhill after trickling in every little extra corner to explore if such space has a path forward. And the contrast between this and having the feeling “why is this conductor forcing the water to go up this uniform ramp, across these strange steps? why are these steps chosen? was it because the conductor thought: hmm, not sure where this is going, let me draw up some steps, and tell my troupe to follow me”.. Enough dig, but yeah. SWOONING. (But a small note, as you can see by our seats, we were *behind* the orchestra. The sound was not good. Carnegie Hall is huge, and likely the stage too I think. Such that a small band like the VBO fitted tightly at the center and seats to the side will not get the warm baroque/focus sound. After intermission i climbed my way 5 seats in and that was what needed to catch Ann Hallenberg at her best.)

Onto the singers. Juditha the role I think is quite a difficult one. If you have a voice with enough colors perhaps you can shade her various (altogether rather somber) moods well? This was the first time I heard D. Galou live, and she has the disadvantage of being on the very far side at almost a 15-20 deg angle to my seat, with her voice projecting out at 90deg angle.

I might have mentioned D.Galou’s narrow-beam focus (to my ears) elsewhere. And admittedly at this extremely unfavorably angle, I’d also say somehow her color is quite uniform. Enough such that at times I did scratch my head thinking “hmm.. Juditha music is long”. I think for this type of music, this particular role, you really need someone who can shape things in 3-D (Please wait patiently, i might have more hand-drawn pix for Ann Hallenberg vocal shaping.). M.-E. Nesi was closer to us. Also, I think her voice is “warmer” and is a bit more in volume than Galou’s. But still a little bit on the similar-in-color-throughout family. Hearing both of them, I kept thinking of the voice tone being trapped inside a circular steel pipe that could not go beyond that narrow solid boundary to add more dynamics, colors, and texture (More precisely: that my ears need that wall to be more like cloth/bamboo, not steel). In any case, beyond all that.. what was suuuuuuuuuuuper enjoyable was how D.Galou joiceously (i made that word up) scaled up and down Juditha’s music without *any* hinderance. AAHHHHHH the beauty of having a contralto singing this role ❤ . She and M.-L. Nesi’s Holofernes also had a nice exchange with the champagne glasses. Too cute.

Apology for not many words about Silke Gäng’s Abras.. she did not leave me with much impression.. But Francesca Ascioti!!! JEAH!! She has the “authority” in the tone. First, a mention about the role itself (let’s listen to R.Basso while we check out the fuss about heft and the role as I type):

Feel the scowling? the growling? and in the marching sound in the music? jeah! I don’t care about technique at this point (not that I know any), but what I absolutely loved was Ascioti’s authority in tone and the feeling “she means what she’s singing”. I did wonder about having her as Juditha, whether the role might be too low for her? but I responded much better to her dynamics than to both the two prior mentioned singers. Altogether though, sorry to sound like i’m whining, because it’s nonsense. It was a GREAT evening in the presence of this level of deep female voice. ❤ ❤ ❤ .

Then Ann Hallenberg stepped up. I’ve only heard her in recording on youtube before.. I am telling you, there is NO preparation for hearing her live in this Vagaus role. Actually I’m very convinced I’d greatly enjoyed her in the role of Juditha too, or Holofernes. Let me resort to my hand-drawn pix again, for an attempt to demonstrate how her vocal expression blossomed / exploded / flourished in my brain. No, actually, let’s go with this image I found on the net:

Ann Hallenberg’s sound wave and dynamics, as registered in thadieu’s brain. © unknown

Or here’s another screen cap of my search on the internet. Because it seems that’s what my brain was responding to her incoming sound. Post concert, Stray and I sat there asking out-loud: how did she do it? HOW?? Let me attempt with some hand-waving words.. First, the dynamical range, and the speed at which she can do it: Range: ppp to fff. speed: ranging from an explosion to a steady ramping up, and same in reverse. I think there are few occasions in music where you need to have this “tool” to express. I know i talk about ACA a lot, but it is also this tool, a burst/pull of it, *just* at the right time, to convey the *exact* milisecond of a reaction. Also: color. I think a voice with a “ping” as an asset can be very effective for this kind of “explosion”. Like that which should be used in Ostinati (e tal sarà) in Romeo’s entrance aria. Let it rip as I think of it. It should be used very rarely, but have it at one’s disposal. This is different than when such tools are not accessible to one’s voice, and the singer might then utilize a different approach to the phrasing for that moment, for a different effect in the listener’s brain. And then, the rest: just the technique (now you hear comparison to how i heard M.Papatanasiu in Alcina, the things that she did, which I always thought you just do it, like how VK had done it for decades.. but it was explained to me it’s technique. And know when to use it.) Ann Hallenberg’s voice is not the most powerful. I mean as far as categories go, I suspect she fits in the “thinner” side as we might box? But that is the basis. What is available at her disposal was this tremendous bag of assets. Just listening to her recit alone was an experience. Actually, one can compare a little bit hers to the recent brain-opening experience I had listening to Alice Coote’s Vitellia phrasing. If anything, besides all that have been described, I’d say for me Alice Coote has more “heft” in her toolbox and because of that she can pull more shades if/when needed. Something a more thinner voice wouldn’t be able to pull through because there’s not enough heft to begin with to scale back.

Anyway, her Umbrae Carae was a hypnotizing display at expert level. I thought of attempting to do something about the sound intake but selfishly opted for just letting the jaw dropped and experienced that live moment. Sadly there wasn’t enough of her fans in the hall to capture the piece, sigh. So you’ll just have to take my words for it. and Here’s the rest of the photos, and a tiny curtain call video:



more boots!

Galou’s smile

* if you forget things at Carnegie hall in the middle of the night and desperately need to gain access, don’t try to climb on the gate, go behind the hall, next to the dumpster, there is a security door. It’s locked, but knock on it, there is someone sitting there 24hr/7days to help you out. Many thanks to Stray who was accommodating me on my trek back and strange attempts at midnight to gain access.. I was also secretly hoping to catch Ann Hallenberg coming out at that hour 🙂 .


About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

214 Responses to Juditha Triumphans at Carnegie Hall, 7/Feb/2017

  1. dehggial says:

    ❤ thank you! As soon as I saw the Hallenberg graph I knew what you meant. I agree it's a smaller voice and very light (though I think she's got some heft since the younger days) but, yea, what she can do and her dialogue with the orchestra (which I think is more natural in Baroque music from the way it's written) is fabulous. I still remember my brain scrambling during Armatae face… because there was so much going on and all of it was just right.

    I think we also found out in Torino that Galou is best experienced frontally. I agree with you that Juditha is a tricky role, based on my live experience, also on various Judithas heard online, your experience here and what Anik wrote about hers. Have you heard the Juditha version with Prina in the title role? I was listening to it yesterday and it’s quite different from others I’ve heard.

    Marcon and the orchestra as well – I’ve listened to the online version but until you’re there you don’t realise just how good they are and how thoughtout and idiomatic his decisions are. Since then I immediately trust them for Vivaldi.

    How did the choir do?

    Liked by 1 person

    • thả diều says:

      Prina!! a radio braodcast? could u share? no i havent heard… only Mingardo 🙂

      problem with our seats is that we get frontal theorbos + gambas ❤ but lost the choir. i mean, A.Hallenberg's boots were above my head 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • thả diều says:

      brain scrambling during Armatae face
      jeah, that s when she pulled out the explosion and the ping

      Liked by 1 person

      • dehggial says:

        very sneaky, at the end when everyone else is either tired or has sung their best pieces! I think Vivaldi liked Vagaus. But I’ve heard others (like Invernizzi) sing it and she had more “actual” anger/bite but the complexity wasn’t on the same level. That’s what’s amazing about Hallenberg, the complexity and how she manages to fit all those dynamics so fast and make them work so well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • thả diều says:

          jeah, Invernizzi’s approach is an all out avalanche. This is more like a wizard pulling out a very targetted storm with high precision, with precision not done for “clean” effect put most deadly, force per unit brain cell per second 😀

          Liked by 1 person

    • Agathe says:

      I wasn’t aware of the Prina broadcast either, but YES, there is one with Dantone on YT! Is that the one you were referring to?
      (Yes, should be totally different from Hallenbergs)


      • dehggial says:

        that’s the one 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • thả diều says:

          tehee, just got to Juditha’s entrance. she’s very much ready for action,
          Juditha: hello, why stop at the door , let me invite myself in. 😉
          Abra: JEAH, LET. ‘s. g.e.t. i.n. (rapping)

          Interestingly, i half of the time thought D.Galou’s voice was M-E. Nesi’s . theirs are quite similar i find!
          I really like S.Prina as Juditha. She gives the character a lot of dimension. Her voice is very natural over the range, so it’s “suddenly switching gears” . And she puts in a lot of phrasing and colors/shades. It’s a huuuuuge welcome, esp. when one compares to what’s avail. with M.Custer, whose voice i just had trouble with on so many levels, but primarily because of the lack of color and the very “flat” switch in voice right at her transition. I’d say if I had heard Prina as Juditha i’d significantly enjoy.

          Regarding tempo: I find it interesting that Dantone is keeping it very brisk for Juditha, in contrast to quite a wider range of Fasolis’s with Mingardo.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Anik LaChev says:

    Wait, way wasn’t I aware that this contains not just Hallenberg and Galou, but also Nesi and Ascioti? I would have nagged you far more for this over the past 7 months! 😉
    But yeeees, it’s finally here! *now off to actually read it*

    Liked by 1 person

    • thả diều says:

      sorry i didnt write much about Nesi :-). I think my ability has its limitation such that i cant say much after wowing over the warm tone and fantastic timbre… I wonder whether if the roles were swapped, Ascioti as Holofernes and Nesi as the high priest that i would hear similar thing, i.e., more dynamics with Nesi and less the Ascioti? that is to say whether it is the role rather than the vocal expression… but i still think i hear Ascioti better..


      • Anik LaChev says:

        I was happy to get to read some of both (but, of course, overall more prevalent matters, like boots…) – and this reminds me that I still have a Nesi piece stalled, probably also bordering on 7 month soon, of that Germanico. Perhaps after I wrap up my next paper and bath some more in all this Juditha glory.


        • thả diều says:

          (ps- they are not just the boots, there are some really lovely prints on them, as both Stray and I got closer views. i left the photos in original resolution for the zoom-in purpose 😉 )

          Liked by 1 person

          • Anik LaChev says:

            I am torn between the boots and that smile! But I also love the sound sierra graphic.
            Thank you for the detailed write-up and all the thoughts on how we listen and how that could be described beyond the abstract terms of technique – more what happens inside the listener as a measurement of sound than what happens on an generalized scale of rules. I will reread this a few more times!


  3. stray says:

    Yeah that Umbrae carae was as breathtaking as they come.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Agathe says:

    Thank you, I love this, and all the extras, brain waves artwork (!), seat positioning, plus late-night break in… Maybe writing the review quite late is good for sorting out the most impressive aspects and the general atmosphere of an evening even better?
    I can highly relate to everything you write about AH’s voice, I tend to grin sheepishly on hearing her, but then, I’ve never heard her live, must be extremely effective for hearing the finer nuances of her voices! (checking her schedule right now…)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. stray says:

    I know I’m supposed to be out buying cat litter and beer at this hour of a Friday night, but doing Serse brush-up on youtube prior to review writing I’ve gotten sucked into AH et al Dresden y2k. There is some boss singing in that joint.

    In related news, digging out list of Serses on the various hard drives around here leads to Dallas newspaper review from the (now somewhat water-logged) Houston Grand Opera’s 2010 production, You may be interested to know that SP was considered “promising”.

    Liked by 2 people

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