il ritorno d’Ulisse (e di Penelope) in Hamburg, re-run 2019

Zürich, May 2014

Back in 2014 the Boston Early Music Festival put out an announcement that they would stage The Monteverdi’s Trio, Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea for their 2015 summer festival. Until that point, I have to admit I had never listened to Monteverdi except for this lamentation (of course Kasarova sang it, and as a VK worshiper I sampled all, but thought it was realllllly slow music and somber). About the same time I also discovered Sara Mingardo.. and it was quite obvious that she was not singing Rossini or Mozart (which were VK’s main rep) but rather singing a lot of Vivaldi and Monteverdi! So, Monteverdi was on the list to be discovered! On my travel plan for early 2014, i searched around and found that Sara Mingardo was to sing the role Penelope in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria in Zürich! Without knowing even the storyline I rerouted my trip for a stop there. Not surprisingly I didn’t digest much of Penelope’s music.. Though looking back, can we locate already exactly which part of the music she’s rehearsing here*? What i distinctively remembered from that event was (a) Penelope’s music was realllly sad! , (b) the orchestra was SUPERB (I LOOOOOVE the music), and (c) I LOOOOVE the staging! Give me an empty stage with suits and ties in black and white any day!

Fast forward to 2017 when they finally brought it to Hamburg. The air was buzzing as supposedly the stage director was a big name… But not big enough for any kind of video streaming or capturing sadly, even if we were very fortunate to have the radio broadcast (thanks Stray!). By this time of course I have become much more acquainted with Monteverdi’s music and style, with ears especially tuned to catching S.Mingardo’s phrasing. So when they made the announcement for a re-run, yes, yours truly booked tickets to the entire run.

Is there anything more self indulgent than being locked in a room with Sara Mingardo phrasing Monterverdi? Perhaps, but opportunities like these don’t come very often. And since I’ve talked extensively already about her phrasing and how it simply worked for my brain, let’s use this space to discuss about the production, the characters, the combinations of singers and musicians, to perhaps bring across why it was worth witnessing every single time**.

What pleasantly surprises me is, perhaps aside for the actual fancy premier where we looked like we did not belong amongst the very fancily decked up crowd, the reception was positively honest and rapturous. Especially in the last performance, last Friday 2/Feb/2019, during the final scene, I took just a moment to realize how special it was to be completely transported into the imaginary world as Penelope made a turn and slowly approached Ulisse. Unreal.As she collapsed into Ulisse’s arms, there were members in the front and side audience removing glasses to wipe tears, with sound of soft nose blowing a couple of rows behind. The strange thing is you can not just see the final scene in itself to feel this transportation. One must go through the entire journey to experience how (realistically)

Penelope had years after years in loneliness thwarted approaches and temptations, and how Ulisse had suffered along his journey. The pains in Telemaco’s and Ericlea’s faces (and music) documented the toll of witnessing the years of Penelope’s anguish. Only then that one can understand the poignant moment of

Hor sì ti riconosco,
hor sì ti credo

and the weight that dropped along with her shoulder, her body, as she was finally able to shed the armor and façade, along with the loneliness.

This post is getting long, but we’re going to start from the beginning, on the effectiveness of the staging in telling the story! i encourage you to check out the wonderful interview Operatraveler conducted with Sara Mingardo, ( ❤ ❤ , click on the image on the left to go to the interview). I love it that they (Italians) read about Penelope already in middle school in Italy! Not where I grew up. But perhaps the equivalence for us of the Trưng_Sisters, who we learned about since first grade and well identify with and might know how to portray. But yes, the staging. As perhaps you have seen from the various trailers (Zürich, Hamburg), it’s an extended empty space on which all things unfolded. There were occasional tables in the back serving as transport devices for the gods and goddesses, such as when they brought Telemaco back on the paper airplane wings. The gods and goddesses dress in blue while humans in black and white. Journeys such as when Ulisse was brought back took place on the deserted space. Meetings between Eumete and Ulisse, or Ulisse and his son Telemaco took place with one already at center stage and the other transiting or being transported in. Here the space was open. The opposite is the case for Penelope’s scenes where the boundaries of the white dish serve as confinement. She’s locked in, center staged languishing or being forced to the tables as the suitors and parasite wrecked havoc days after days. Every attempt she made to escape was cut off by all participants. Even when offstage she’s being hounded, as often when she comes on running front with the crowd chasing behind.  Often the only space she has as refuge was at the edge of the dish.

The staging calls for everyone involved to be on scene nearly at all time during all the partying scenes. One of my favorites is the scene between Melanto and Penelope, with Melanto pushing the envelope and Penelope pulling stops, first to the rushing tune (Marion Tassou (2017) as Melanto)

Un bel viso fa guerra,
il guerriero costume al morto spiace,
che con cercan gli estinti altro che pace.
Langue sotto i rigori
de’ tuoi sciapiti amori
la più fiorita età,
ma vedova beltà
de te si duole,
che dentro ai lunghi pianti
mostri sempre in acquario un sí bel sole.
A face marked by inner struggle
displeases the dead,
for those who have expired seek only peace.
Under the rigours
of your renunciation
the time of your greatest bloom languishes;
your beauty
suffers in widowhood,
for through continual weeping,
you show a lovely sun behind a veil of water.

where with each beat in music the crowd gathered from the far side taunting and closing in to eventually engulfing Penelope with their invading hands and bodies

In split seconds, the crowd dispersed to the edge of the dish as it spin to the next melancholy tune (Marion Tassou (2017) as Melanto)

Ama dunque, che d’Amore
dolce amica è la beltà.
Dal piacer il tuo dolore
saettato caderà.
So love; for Cupid’s
sweet companion is beauty.
In pleasure will your grief
fall before his arrows.

There’s something very effective about spinning in time and space to such an almost ironic tune. Though Penelope fought with all her reasoning and strength, there was simply no escape even after seeking refuge off the edge of the confinement

 

It really was a great use of the far-field/near-field and timeless/spaceless combination of effects.

Argh, look at the time! i must get to work.. I might have to wrap this up, argh! Perhaps to mention I quite like our new Melanto (Katharina Konradi), she’s more “musical” than Marion Tassou, and that helped bring out the music very nicely. The new Telemaco (Fabio Trümpy), I tremendously enjoyed his acting, especially in the scene with him holding the flower reminiscing Ulisse and pondering his return, actually brought me to tears twice! Though I admit something in his phrasing did not quite work for me during Telemaco’s opening phrase: It’s a very melancholy tune again, and for me Dovlet Nurgeldiyev from last year brought out the music more in this entrance. Dorottya Lang as Minerva was a ball! And I like her Monteverdi’s phrasing a lot! The same can be said about Katja Pieweck’s Ericlea, she kept her singing so fresh every time, along with vocal and visual acting! And last but not least, I must mention Kurt Streit in the title role ( 🙂 ) . He was very generous and had exceptional care for partner. The last scene of Ulisse and Penelope, for me, ranks up there as one of the most emotional scenes in opera when done right. I simply can not see how (yet) other staging and another pair can bring out more the real emotion like this. There was standing ovations all around us, along with very enthusiastic applause and response from the audience. Quite an unforgettable experience.

My only major complaint is that they (Hamburg, and partly Zürich) failed miserably to capture this great staging with this set of singers, and of particular with Sara Mingardo as Penelope. My only hope is that they will somehow stage it ever again, either in France or Italy where there are hopes of having cameras to capture for release.. Unfortunately if that ever happened it would be without Kurt Streit, as it was announced that last Friday was his last professional performance on world opera stage. I wish him the best, it was a privilege to see his acting and generosity. (Sorry about the bad quality, the camera has great difficulty gaining focus when at same level with the stage..)

 

————————–
** Of course we’re not going to discuss that she sang nearly 15 performances during that Zürich run.. as it was too new I don’t think I would have absorbed much, all things need time.

ps- While you are at Operatraveller’s site, do also check out the review for the performance Sunday 27/Jan. Actually it was a performance I missed as coming back from Juditha to a very early performance of Ulisse was just not realistic..

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About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

12 Responses to il ritorno d’Ulisse (e di Penelope) in Hamburg, re-run 2019

  1. dehggial says:

    But perhaps the equivalence for us of the Trưng_Sisters, who we learned about since first grade and well identify with and might know how to portray.

    respect to the Trưng_Sisters! You guys had feminism way back when 😀

  2. Agathe says:

    “Is there anything more self indulgent than being locked in a room with Sara Mingardo phrasing Monterverdi?” Exactly, a true privilege to have experienced this in depth! I love your observations about the use of space, I guess I’m someone who usually experiences this side of a staging more unconsciously, but I can totally see this after your description.

    • thả diều says:

      jeah i think you only feel this space effect when sitting on the ground level on the slight right side, because of the distance you can immediately feel she was up fromt with the crowd closing in. The spinning also has the effect of making the malancholy tune fading in and become more prominent, very nice dynamically. i really love the symmetry and anti-symmetry, along with mirror vs rotational effect.

      • Agathe says:

        Wow, very detailed, I have to process that. Really too bad there is no video for demonstration, because of course you only remember what you were aware of at the time of watching…

        • thả diều says:

          ps- dont forget to check out that nice interview and the nice review. She loves Hamburg 🙂 , as well as the staging which she said allows for spontaneity

          • Agathe says:

            I wonder if by “educated” she means “stiff and arrogant”? Though they were not like that in this second run, a much livelier, more enthusiastic audience. I guess everyone who would see it for prestige or because it is “what you do” had already been there at the first run.

          • thả diều says:

            No, i think she might have meant they’re knowledgeable of the music (though note that this word “educated” was translated from her original Italian). She said similar things about the audience in Paris, that they are there to absorb the music, they know the style, and they come with open minds. I think the crowd in some places can be a bit rough with some coming purposely to boo people… I remember she mentioned that in the Paris’s interview i believe, this one.

            Je travaille toujours très volontiers à Paris. Le public français est un peu spécial. Tous les chanteurs qui voyagent le disent. c’est un public très ouvert. Il écoute et puis il remercie, toujours, inévitablement. J’ai entendu des choses pas vraiment extraordinaires, et pourtant… Je ne dis pas que c’est un public qui prend tout sans y regarder, mais il prend toujours le bon côté de ce qu’il entend. c’est agréable d’y chanter, car on sait que les gens viennent pour écouter et non pour juger. J’ai entendu des sifflets, bien sûr, mais nous pouvons avoir des mauvaises soirées, des maux de gorges trop légers pour nous permettre de les faire annoncer au public mais qui nous empêchent pourtant de donner le meilleur de nous-mêmes, alors que le public n’est pas au courant. Parfois, dans d’autres pays, il arrive que les gens viennent seulement pour critiquer?

          • Agathe says:

            Ah, OK, yes, I don’t think I have ever heard booing in Hamburg.
            Premieres in Hamburg might really be different from general performances, that dressing-up business was not the case anymore after the premiere. But I told you, I was quite shocked by people dressing up their kids to extremes for Zauberflöte.

          • thả diều says:

            you have not been to the opera in part of the US… they show up in ball gown on a random thur night at mid run…

          • stray says:

            At the Met that’s how you spot the rookies.

  3. qlorgnette says:

    just beautiful (and thoughtful) – thank you for sharing.

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