Ariodante at Drottningholm, 5/Aug/2019


After missing out on hearing Roberta Mameli live earlier this year as Aminta (I was in europe at that time! could have taken a flight to Venice! sigh) and Vitellia a month later, I was quite excited to finally catch her in this tour-de-force role Ginevra. As I might have mentioned a couple of years ago, Ariodante is, in my opinion, quite more a challenging piece than Händel’s other famous works, especially that notorious 2nd Act bridging into half of the 3rd Act where you need singers with descriptive vocal expressions (and a good conductor) to sustain the tension.

Händel Ariodante
Drottningholms Slottsteater
Ariodante: Ann Hallenberg
Ginevra: Roberta Mameli
Dalinda: Francesca Aspromonte
Polinesso: Christophe Dumaux
King of Scotland: Johannes Weisser
Lurcanio:Martin Vanberg
Edoardo: Olof Lilja
Ian Page, conducting the Drottningholm Theatre Orchestra

We (Dehggi and I) were greeted with superb weather as we arrived several hours early thinking it would have been a long trip like going to Glyndebourne. The first stop was of course to scout out the theater before enjoying the surroundings.

But finally it was time! And Ian Page got us started with a refreshing sound from the orchestra. That overture has a lot of mood, if you ever have a chance to just sit through it a few time on repeat! But sure sure, I was already distracted with singers and dancers right in front of us (the teater is really intimate and small, enough for you to hear the singers taking deep breath prior to attacking the next phrase). My first impression, as Ginevra being the first character to sing, was how lovely warm and yet solid, earthly, and focus Roberta Mameli’s sound is. Hearing live up close it’s quite more warm and dynamic than in either stream/radio broadcasts or recording. I have heard her live before of course as Alinda in L’incoronazione di Dario, but I think that role is not offering as much dynamic as Ginevra’s.

We are still trying to understand the staging: full costumes and jerky motions (being puppets pulled on strings) in the first, onto peeling off more layers in 2nd Act (wigs off) , to fully in boxers and underwear (bare?) in the 3rd. What truly works at ALL times though is Ginevra duetting with Ariodante. We were really in for a treat as to how Ann Hallenberg’s and Mameli’s voices meshed and intertwined, phrase by phrase, wonderful volume and finer detail adjustments to fit into each other like gloves, really a marvel to hear up close ❤ .

Ann Hallenberg and Roberta Mameli. ©Mats Backer

One often comes to Ariodante for Ariodante’s music. But to me, this staging builds it into a Ginevra’s story. And why not? Her story is often never told, such that for the longest time I wonder what the problem was with all the whining and lament that one has to prepare for once the cheery music in Act 1 finished. And often one does not come to Ariodante for Ginevra (?) .. As a refresher, the guys overheard that Ginevra was going to cheat, then saw through some blurry fence of someone looking like Ginevra flirting with Polinesso. No-one bothered to ask Ginevra herself any questions, it was decided she was an “impudica” (whore, as the translation goes in that Ariodante I saw at the London Händel’s festival 2 years ago). She was immediately condemned to imprisonment (death?) suffered in isolation and darkness, through internal turmoil and hallucination (and even self reconciliation that she forgave those who had wronged her). On the outside, they went on and on making decisions without her, and at the end, just opened the door for release without explanation! And there she’s to be very happy and grateful to be exonerated and resume her happy time with Ariodante…

With the exception in Aix, Dehggi and I discussed that none of the stagings come close to depicting Ginevra’s plight. So I’m happy to see one putting the injustice in more focus. I feel very lucky to have Roberta Mameli as the central character here, as she was fully committed in the acting and able to sustain the tension in the music throughout the entire last two acts. The most effective scene that leaves a long lasting image is “il mio crudel martoro”:

Roberta Mameli as Ginevra. ©Mats Backer

when upon being accused, Ginevra collapsed onto the ground uttering the word “impudica!”, convulsed, and overcome by “darkness” as dancers dressing in black surrounded and carried her into isolation. There a tiny bed, signifying perhaps conformity, is awaiting. She was to lie nicely and smily in it, any hint of struggle was addressed by the mass of shadowy bodies pulling her arms and legs, walling her in, and sitting on her if needed, to straighten her out and force a serene smile and calm expression as per snow-white lying in the casket. Quite tragically effective.

Vocally, her voice was a delight to the ears. Ginevra’s music can potentially tempt over-emoting in combination with over-acting to bring out her suffering. Not in this case. I think already by the end of the 1st act I was looking forward to hearing Ginevra’s music being expressed by Mameli. Her voice is extremely descriptive, with slight varying in dynamics, colors, texture, and many places of pulling into piano to balance out sections of forte, one feels the journey of the character instead of hearing a singer portraying it. Such a delight I find myself smiling on the inside at the arrival of the sound 😇 .

Yes, there’s Ariodante! sung by Ann Hallenberg!! You know the last time i heard her live up close her wizardry left me so intoxicated I left my work laptop at Carnegie Hall?! (that was a panic..) I think with Hallenberg, you can only just smile when the sound arrives at your ears. What I found puzzling was the staging putting her way in the back, simply criminal. There’s no story really to tell from back there that can’t be told from closer to the front!!! Especially when the difference is huge when it comes to sound projection! (ok, we’re VERY greedy, we ended up in 2nd row and if you get to experience her sound at that distance you ALWAYS want it at that!! but it’s true there’s a significant change in sound projection for all singers when they were put way in the back..). Character-wise, I’m still unsure what to make of Ariodante. Ok, the character is a bit of an airhead (by our feminist standard?).. what with not asking your beloved directly but trusting some shady characters and making foolish decisions committing suicide (geez) only to come back and acting like nothing had ever happened to Ginevra (boiling..). In this staging, Ariodante came as noble as ever in the first act (gosh, that duet is drooling in its deliciousness) and the music (Con l’ali di costanza) flowed with joys (especially to our ears). The tension for “Scherza infida” was somehow not quite built right.. I wonder if it has to do again with the orchestra right in front of us and Ann Hallenberg being way in the back and the sound balance is just not right.. I’ll check it again today.. but yes, I think if the recitative leading into it is along with the leading music not creating a good balance, it can be difficult to sustain the emotion through the aria.. It is through this, perhaps peeling the pride off oneself?, that Ariodante slowly removed the “costume”.. Ah, I might have got it: then when (s)he came back from the attempted suicide, now cleansed (?), the last layer of clothes are removed and Ariodante is bare? It could have been now at the bare level they (all characters) can just communicate to each other directly and skip the pretentious formality? I’ll have to report again how “Cieca notte” fit in, because by the time “Dopo notte” came around Ginevra was still lying in isolation (right in front of us 🙂 ) and everything was somewhat in disarray…

I can’t remember yet whether the backdoor of the stage finally opened to let all light in during Dopo notte or after Ginevra has woken up and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.. But yes, apparently the door opened, and many characters now headed toward the back as if to have finally the cage-door released and they could escape? Ginevra very much wanted to leave, but her multiple attempts (through “Bramo aver mille cori” and the final chorus) to “will” Ariodante to come with her was faced with hesitation. She left through the door at the end while Ariodante still lingered, perhaps in the only conformed world (s)he had ever known?

Yes, I know, this is getting to be a very long ramble.. but Dalinda! First, I will have to get used to hearing her in such a voice size of Francesca Aspromonte.. I have heard her (Aspromonte) live twice before, as Angelica in the Venice’s Orlando (that was a discovery, super love her vocal expression instantly) and as the full-of-swagger Alceste in Halle (do check out that photo!!) which I absolutely loved. But perhaps I’m so used to hear Dalinda through singers with slender voices (?) that the brain is still adjusting.. will sort it (brain) out again on the next performance. The jerkiness of her movements (part of the staging) is still quite a confuse for me.. I can’t tell if Dalinda the character was left room to develop in this staging.. The strongest impression I had was when she took Ginevra’s wig to give to Polinesso (and expecting returned affection for doing what Polinesso had asked) and got the wig thrown directly back in her face (on the floor, not face), and at that moment she had realized it was a scam to both her heart and that of Ginevra (that moment supposedly Paul (or whichever apostle) had after lying about/to Jesus and got 3 coins thrown at his feet?).

As for Polinesso, as you might (or not) have known, I knew of this character through many beloved contraltos, and missed terribly the low notes.. In my opinion, the missing of the low notes translates to missing half of the character, specifically the half that can do seductive phrasing with tremendous warmth.. Left with the high-end I think the character becomes a tiring one-dimension, which seems to be the trend in the recent monopolizing of the role through what i find as gender-stuck casting.. (semi done ranting..)

ok, this post has gotten VERY long.. let me just wrap it up.. sorry, i don’t yet have impressions on Lurcanio or the King of Scotland… hey, one has only so much in one’s attention span! And they don’t get a lot of points for treating Ginevra so terribly.. But hopefully more to come after my second round!

ps- oh jes, the “technology”! I absolutely loved the “low tech” aspect of it.. reminded me a lot of what they did with Orlando in Venice: you don’t need very expensive special effects as the brain is fully capable of extrapolate and put oneself immediately into the “sea” or “forest” with just some changes .. we were curious about the material, but judging by this cute goat, i think they were/are made of wood!

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About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

4 Responses to Ariodante at Drottningholm, 5/Aug/2019

  1. dehggial says:

    nest time they should hire the goat for Polinesso. Nobody’s going to know it’s not an actual CT 😉 yes, the door was opened during Dopo notte. And the less said about Lurcanio, the better.

  2. Agathe says:

    That’s a beautiful report, T., thanks a lot! Aww, and hearing them from that close distance! It does sound like a staging that made an effort to not mellow out the nasty aspects of the story, very interesting. (I feel with you about AH singing for the back, such things can be so aggravating)

  3. qlorgnette says:

    Thank you for this!
    (Now rereading)

  4. FierceRev says:

    Late to this but wonderfully descriptive!

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