il ritorno d’Ulisse, round 2

It has been well documented chez thadieu that often the 2nd round is better than the first, especially with singers who are in their elements. Prior to tonight’s performance it was brought to my attention that a certain critic writing for some big name newspaper in Hamburg only spent the last paragraph of a long review with first mentions of Sara Mingardo on way to writing she was not heard well*. Granted that three of us were at the theater on the opening night and complaining about the loud harpsichord.. yet all heard her very well, I was quite puzzled to hear this report (so was Dehggi). Especially because we were distributed in the hall enough to avoid potential bias due to preferential seatings. Why do I start a report on such a negative note? Because, by the end of this evening’s performance, I’m pretty sure whoever the critic was likely is in need of an ear- and reality-check**.

This report, I’m afraid, might turn into a big Sara Mingardo’s post. The opera of course started out with the fragile human being tormented by the gods and goddesses. Christophe Dumaux had some very delicate phrasings. Soon though, the evening took a quiet and somber turn as drums sprinkled, theorbos lightly strummed, to Penelope staged at center in dark dress, dark glasses, dark veil. Besides the timeless sweeping by Ericlea, all movements ceased. Then a dark voice rose. Personally, I find this entrance significantly more effective when it is done in a more quiet and evolving manner than full-on lament. And that’s what we had tonight. sprinkles of theorbos, and Sara Mingardo phrasing (pining) Monteverdi. Time truly stopped. It was a true marvel hearing how the mood evolves with her, as if she’s doing it on the fly, based on how she/Penelope felt at each evolving moment. Only occasionally i realized “oh, she’s approached the chair here, like last time”, or “oh, she’s throwing the chair there” . Even the simple moment of throwing the chair was spontaneous: Penelope grabbing on, twisting fingers as she built up the tension in the phrasing, then snapped, with the bouncing echo on the floor. The running away from the center, approaching the edge, hand gestures, leaning onto Ericlea, sitting down rocking sadly and melancholically, with a soft painful smile, to

Torna il tranquillo al mare,
torna il zeffiro al prato,
l’aurora mentre al sol fa dolce invito
a un ritorno del dì che è pria partito.

😥 .

And the soft pianissimo we were hoping to hear last Sunday? In full display; trailing and ascending ever so slightly as Penelope drifted into the background to the dancing. sniff. It was that kind of an evening. Yours truly was a bit shaken. But the opera does not end with Penelope’s lament. One should not miss it. But if somehow one accidentally did, it’s still completely worth the effort simply to hear the rest of her phrasing. I have it worked out that this is what she does, and if this works for you, it will never go wrong 🙂 . To the critic who apparently couldn’t hear her, i can rebuff today, from row 8, she was heard extremely well. And judging by the loud screams she received during curtain call, the rest of the theater also heard her well.
Interestingly she was exceptionally well heard when standing on the take singing down to us. As far as beam-story goes, that might have been it! I had all her music mentally marked down in head through the evening, every movements now registered, as if to create a long-lasting memory when i replay the radio broadcast.

A final note on Penelope then, before I might proceed to talk about other singers (or not.. it’s getting late and i have to get up at 4am…) The final collapse. My heart did fully dropped, let out an audible gasp with simultaneous jolt. Even when knowing a collapse was coming i was taken by complete surprise when she did. Something about the so precise moment and yet unpredictable. And with it the cascading spill of emotion, to the soft and yet still slightly pained smile

Gli augelletti, cantando,
i rivi mormorando or si rallegrino!


I regret not having another chance to hear her in this production. it’s currently pouring rain outside and i hope she is not catching a cold from it! because if you’re in town and want to hear one of the world’s best contraltos breathing Monteverdi, you should go hear her live. I have already discussed the orchestra sparingly elsewhere and just wanted to add today, either they had reduced volume greatly during her singing, or perhaps sitting in the floor section blocked out the harpsichord, but i think it (the harpsichord) has toned down significantly.. not sure if this is a welcome trend or that it might pick up again during the weekend.. Also I’m still working my way through Vaclav Luks’s conducting. Personally I prefer a little bit more “rhythm” / pace change to help things flow a tiny bit more musically. Yes yes i know this is Monteverdi, but the continuous similarities can even make this semi hard-core Monteverdi fan flagged at time.. Also, there’s still something about their “thick” accompany that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.. and a tiny note that i prefer Ian Bostridge’s way of phrasing significantly more than Kurt Streit’s.

Edit: curtain call:

-ps anotehr curtain call coming at some point…
* i can’t voucher yet since it was translatedly summarized to me, and translation can also be rather subjective as it can also highlight the person’s personal intake..
** or rather, as Dehggi and Agathe put it, get the ears trained on contraltos.

About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

32 Responses to il ritorno d’Ulisse, round 2

  1. Agathe says:

    ❤ this is so lovely to start the day with! Very happy for you that it worked out that well! (and excited about the acoustics in more central seating). Have a good journey, hope the navigation lady directed you all right to find the airport this morning ;-)?

    • dehggial says:

      the navigation lady is worth a mention 😀

    • thả diều says:

      she inspired me to finish it at 1am, not to wait for the raw emotion to dry out. Jeah on front view her sound was even fuller! and likely harpsichord blocked. wahh i am still feeling the effect…

      • Agathe says:

        Ohhh, can’t wait to compare seat positions for tackling the harpsicord…

        • thả diều says:

          the floor level should help you see this, don’t miss it Agathe, really heart breaking. to that tune i babbled about in the car
          Torna il tranquillo al mare,
          torna il zeffiro al prato,

          • Agathe says:

            Ah, now I know the tune, nice picture, will pay utmost attention! (excited already….)

          • thả diều says:

            just done listening to the entire broadcast again.. and am uploading 2 clips soon.. sort of want to upload the entire broadcast actually.

            on 3rd listening, quiet in the office, i like the conducting a lot more, especially after the opening scene.

          • thả diều says:

            you know i’m lurking, for impression 🙂

          • Agathe says:

            Hehe, I was busy with the kids and visitor and still am, so very quickly: A wonderful performance again and it is true the more central seating made quite difference for the orchestra/singer balance, so all of Mingardo’s vocal nuances could be heard in full quality and volume, sighhhh.. (and I was already emotionally wrecked by Dumaux’s beautifully beginning even before Penelope first appeared, sniff).
            It was also very nice to see how everyone seemed to play together a bit more smoothly, which, as Giulia said in the break, is probably the normal development in the course of a run. Staging-wise I could make more sense of it this time, had quite a lot of fun e.g. with the gods scheming after being primarily confused by all the action the first time. And, Oh yes, the fall, heartbreaking…

          • thả diều says:

            did you see the rocking to that tune?
            jeah, Dumaux has some really nice lines to start. i wondered if they really turned down the harpsichord.. but yeah, a rare opp to hear all her nuances in full strenght at something she is at her best. sigh. i was looking at flight tix to come back, hihi. no chance. next time…

            ah you also met ip with Giulia! i was majorly lurking on her twitter site but she twitted too little!! 🙂

          • Agathe says:

            You mean in the lamento? Yes! That was marvellous singing-acting. But as in the first performance I also extremely enjoyed the shifts and developments of mood in her later appearances, when her vocal parts fit with perfect timing to the action created around her. And funny how it is always a bit of a shock to hear her again in every new entrance.

          • thả diều says:

            oh i meant when she finished the 1st chunk of her singing and went to sit at the edge, and Ericlea sang her small part and sat next to her, then she leaned back, grabbing the mezzo’s hands, and the two rocked gently side to side as she continued with the little uplifting that i babbled about in the car

          • Agathe says:

            Yes, that scene, and Ericlea was also very good again, particularly in her scene prior to the finale.

          • thả diều says:

            ps- and jeah, i love it whenever she “stormed” back with with a herd of people following behind 🙂 . and the soprano has a reallly lovely/catchy tune (i’ll extract later) while trying to convince her to take on a suitor.. and when she was on the table, i was directly in her line-of-vocal-sight, superb! i really enjoyed her phrasing of Italian, places where she ends very abruptly, or “raise” voice a bit, or landed on trailing notes.. the throwing of earings + dress + shoes were very spontaneous too, everything was really reactive in parallel with the vocal expression, which in itself is really just following the mood. as i said, i really absorbed the whole thing into my brain scene by scene, line by line, movement by movement 🙂 .

            and the suitors were quite hilarious as seen from the ground floor too.

            Dumaux was really good in acting of attempting to pick up the bow from the ground.

          • Agathe says:

            I know exactly what you mean, she was immediately commanding the stage, even within this momentarily stricken character it was still clear she had the internalized authority of a queen or more important, great inner strength. I think I know which Soprano tune you mean, let’s check with your extract! The interaction with the suitors, most of all Dumaux was great fun!
            And, I may have mentioned it before, that smile in the final scene…

          • thả diều says:

            i tried to capture that pained smile for the latest clip (of finale) that i put up on tube. i also up Ericlea’s aria before the finale, a really good one and fantastic interaction with the orchestra!

            hehe, jeah, Dumaux, approached her , grabbing hand to lead away, the quickly gets very anxious (you can hear it in his vocal expression) and he pushed his way in before getting carried off.

            you know, because her voice is very different (with huge amount of depth) the ears perk up instantly. and the posture/stance.. jeah, sigh.. i am still not quite recovered… still listening to the braodcast… they should have really captured this for video: great staging, and Mingardo in absolute prime form..

          • Agathe says:

            Just checking on your channel, love the new entries and pictures!! I think the finale was especially brilliant the first evening. So glad there is the broadcast. And I have to find out more about Katia Pieweck’s work, the first evening I think I was overwhelmed by everything and so did not pay enough attention to her, she really deserves that own entry on you channel!
            (and I have been checking dates to see it a third time as well but most likely can’t make it, too bad one has to return to earth at one point)

  2. Anik LaChev says:

    ❤ ❤
    and free contralto classes for all! (in the end, we only have words for the voices we are used to hear, vocal representation is so important in that aspect)

  3. Anik LaChev says:

    …and thank you for sharing these personal thoughts and reactions. Treasured with respect!

  4. dehggial says:

    t, you’re get very lyrical 🙂 had you been there for three shows I think you’d have started to write your posts in verse…

    😉 (very nice!)

  5. dehggial says:

    ps: that augelletti line is really gorgeous.

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