Ariodante at Drottningholm, round 2

Not having yet enough, we returned for round two last night. The weather has been so gorgeous here we decided to walk across the bridge to enjoy the scenery and breeze instead of being snuffed in the bus. This post is not really a post, just more random thoughts on horns, Ginevra, Ariodante, the staging, and perhaps the meaning of “life” 🙂 .


The first great news is of the announcement of a radio broadcast, i believe on 17/Aug. And more importantly, the radio bus was here! which means the broadcast will be of last night performance, unless they recorded twice to gauge the sound? With all the mics set up (at the front, as well as mounted on nearly all instruments in the pit) everyone brought their A-game. To our relief, the row just in front was empty of 2 seats, and with us sitting behind some really tall Swedes, we decisively upgraded just as the ushers closed the doors. And look who we found right opposite ❤ (more later)..

I can’t say I understand more the staging. If anything, I now know where to put my focus, and on this day it was to see if I could understand Ariodante’s story better as well as that of Dalinda’s. I can’t tell if it’s the switching of side that resulted in us hearing Ann Hallenberg’s better (?), but it was a very clear case that she was in top form. Hearing her really made me appreciate how wonderful a human voice can be, as well as marvel what it (she) can do.
I’m no closer to figuring out what/who Ariodante is, but made a decision last night that I don’t care. With that level of pulsative joy and argony being expressed live, let us live and enjoy life! And as a lover of dancing, i confess all dancers were completely overlooked last night when Ariodante and/or Ginevra were on stage! Beside their symbolic oppression in association with Ginevra, I find them superfluous and at times a distraction. But why distraction in the first place? Because again we do not understand the staging very well, except again when it comes to Ginevra. With the radio mic placed up front, i find any flow/hint to the staging were squashed as often the singers, most noticeably the male singers, planted in front and sang statically, and a lot of ornamentations were added at the expense of drama.

No new info can be extracted for Dalinda’s storyline either (from me). My original theory of the staging with puppets being pulled around (by Polinesso as Degghi observed) in the first Act.. and supposedly gone by the 3rd when everyone was bare.. was smashed.. because Dalinda was still in her jerky motion all through 2nd and 3rd Acts. Thus it becomes a little bit of a “concert” performance. AHHH, i think i might have gotten it! especially now that I recall seeing Dalinda, after singing the duet with Lurcanio, simply got up and walked out the door where the bright light entered: The story is sort of like in that movie “Dark City” (in case you haven’t seen, one of my favs) , where humans were being pulled on strings by the aliens who had invaded the earth and used them (humans) for memory experiment to understand certain level of emotions they can not achieve. The entire movie is in the dark as each day humans’ memory were swapped and allowed to wake up only at night to interact with total strangers who were suddenly now their family members.. and in the final scene, after a battle and conscience discussion, a ray of light finally emerged on the horizon and with it humans can be themselves again:

In this setting, even those black-body dancers can be put into context, as they were indeed the one pulling strings, and embedded within them the “made up story” where humans would further inflict pains among themselves, with Ginevra being the chosen victim? Here Ariodante could be seen as traveling somewhat in “parallel” to Ginevra existence (hence they never touched) , with some close encounters (their wonderful duets) and supposed pains felt by Ariodante through “Scherza infida”? Anyhow, I’m definitely thinking a bit too much into this, as you can clearly see how confused we are with this staging..

In any case, I can now tell you definitively which section in the opera has horn in it! WONDERFUL horns. The poor king and his famous “Voli colla sua la tromba” was in no contest as the horns had my/our FULL attention. Suuuuuuuuuch a lazy (in the best complimentary way) sound, the kind you feel warm in the heart and know it can never overwhelm your hearing except to compliment ❤ ❤ ❤ . If you don't know how serious the 2nd Act is yet, now you do: Händel removed all horns until the 3rd Act. They joined in again both to signify the triumph of Ginevra (when she is finally awaken and let out), as well as complimenting the final chorus, alternating between the dual voices of Ginevra and Ariodante and the rest.

Finally, let us (me) discuss more about Ginevra and her music! Ever since the first live performance I heard in London a couple years ago, I've gained an appreciation for the music (it really requires an investigation because on sound alone you might exclaim “oh no, not another sad section!”). This has allowed me to fully hear how Roberta Mameli brought it to life. I must repeat again the way she delivers the recitative gives me such a tremendous joy of feeling connected to the music and rhythm. As you might have known, I don't speak many other languages typically sung in operas. and can't read music. What this means is apparently i can "hear" what is communicated only via the weighting and shaping of the musical phrasing rather than perfectly pronounced words in whichever language. And it is truly a simple joy of being able to hear these types of phrasings, as they connect the dots and allow you to understand the characters without wrestling for 5000 words trying to figure out what they are singing about.. Mixing with this was her commitment to the acting to make Ginevra's story very believable: for nearly 30 min starting with her first appearance in Act 2 trapped amongst wire and dark pulling hands and hunched down behind the curtain fighting to launch forward (away from puppet pulling?), to the end of the delirium (end of Act 2, end of fighting with the dark force in bed), it was SERIOUS wrestling! We were exhausted just from watching (and curious how she managed the physical demand). And in between delivering "Il mio crudel martoro" with full force? FULL OF RESPECT! (Händel really made it hard for the sopranos here, with the countless "morte, dove sei tu" (at least 10x?? I think even more)..

Anyhow, I'd like to cap this endless rambling off by offering Ginevra's last two short arias (her first three were serious dark mood). I liked them a lot also for their change of pace. Here is the 2nd to last which, as she struggled in isolation (mentally and physically), the mood change gives her an outlet with the full orchestra (vicious violin) in behind in support!

Così mi lascia il padre? Oh cor, stà forte!
il minor de’ miei mali è sol la morte.

Sì, morrò; ma l’onor mio meco, oh! Dio!
Morir dovrà? Giusto Ciel, deh, pietà
del reggio onor!

And the last one, truly sorrowful recit 😥 , followed by triumphant horns (wonderful exchange of smile with our horn players as they stood up for this!)

Da dubbia infausta sorte,
quanto pender degg’io
incerta tra la vita, e tra la morte, senza conforto,
abbandonata e sola?
chi mi soccorre, oh Dei! chi mi consola?

Manca, oh Dei! la mia costanza,
mentre ha fine il mio dolor!
Nè mi resta la speranza di morir…

So, that’s a wrap to this session of rambling! Below is the quite-up-close curtain call. I might not get to the next, but if i do, we might explore Ginevra’s music some more! The rain has stopped, the sun has come out, it’s time to explore Stockholm again! Until next time.

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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!

more on Vivaldi (and Venice)

wonderful documentary, to start the mid-week, in case we would like to learn more about our (latest) favorite composer while reminiscing Venice. Perhaps we did cross one of Vivaldi’s houses?

music to start the weekend

this has been at the corner of my eyes for “years”, but somehow i have completely overlooked… her sculpting of the orchestra, *wow* , her superlative phrasing, double *wow*! this alone has my head FILLED with images of Alcina slowly collapsing onto the floor (Wien-induced)..

I wish she would consider singing this role! like transposing the whole music down, why not! and may be we can have a… humm, do we want to swap out our mezzos? no! OK, we stay with a mezzo-Ruggiero, a Contralto Alcina, a soprano Morgana, and another contralto Brandamante, ❤

(there's still that role Polinesso that we also would like to see her in..)

read to start the weekend

freshly published just 1 week ago, quite a cool read, cheese and contralto :-).
Excerpt

Music has been the inspiration behind most of the cheeses Scanlan makes at Andante. She typically comes up with the name first, and listens to or plays music that helps her work out how she will design the cheese. She thought about Contralto for about six years before she finally made it. The idea came to her at a concert in London, when she was deeply moved by the voice of contralto Sara Mingardo. “There was something gentle, with a hint of sorrow, a hint of loneliness, but still a female voice, and this unexpected texture of it.” Scanlan bought several of Mingardo’s CDs and frequently listened to her recording of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in particular. She ultimately created Contralto as a goat’s milk cheese, with a smooth, thick texture and rich but not overpowering taste, reflective of the voice that remained with her after the performance.

(I have been re-listening to Stabat Mater indeed, the past 2 days.. quite hyptonizing.., and addition to Bach.)

Sara Mingardo and Francesca Biliotti at Wigmore Hall

Giorgio Dal Monte, Francesca Biliotti, Sara Mingardo, Giovanni Bellini

Three years after my first trip to Wigmore Hall to hear Sara Mingardo sing Italian laments and songs, she’s back, this time with Francesca Biliotti, another contralto under Sara Mingardo’s training wings (she’s been training a lot of the young generation to sing baroque, very endearing!) . Accompanying them is the young harpsichordist Giorgio Dal Monte who, if you follow Sara Mingardo, would recognize as the one in all of her masterclass photos (jeah, it’s getting to the point I now recognizing all younger singers and accompanists who collaborate often with SM 🙂 ), and another young theorbo player Giovanni Bellini, who i have not heard before (I’ve seen her often with Ivano Zanenghi, who I spotted in Venice) . The repertoire covers wonderful duets from Monteverdi. Thanks to Dehggi and her connection, we got row 4 !! from which i have to say how impressed i’m how powerful Sara Mingardo’s voice is, along with the amazing level of depth, details, colors, and resonance. We both had a feeling perhaps Biliotti was a bit to tight when things got started, while Mingardo was completely at ease — i breath Monteverdi in my sleep, [wink], [soft smile] (sigh). It’s also quite endearing the amount of contact she made to Biliotti at the end of each piece.

The first duet, I ‘d have to listen more to get used to as there was a lot of recit and “conversation”.. The bits not needing any re-listening to get used to is … o.m.g.. d.r.o.o.l.i.n.g… “Vorrei baciarti” . What i so love is also how into it S.Mingardo’s expression was, both vocally and physically in her body and facial expression. Actually here one could also distinguish that without knowing the words you can understand so much in SM’s depth compared to Biliotti, who I think will gain more expression with experience. Truly swoooooning… as soon as the piece finished i was already thinking: encore!! TWICE!! please!! This transitioned into “Voglio di vita uscir”, where, as you know, it’s got a fast tempo start, a very sharp turn into simply theorbo and S.Mingardo singing looong line of emotion and piani.. ahh… too precious.. The next two songs i’ll have to re-listen to catch on more details again.. The final being “Zefiro torna”, which D. apparently knew very well and reported having been waiting forever for mezzos/contraltos to sing in place of the only available CT version on tube.. well, this one was broadcast on bbc 3 radio, so yay! They were really having fun alternating their phrases, playful at times, so lovely to watch 🙂 . Imagine Yoda at a Monteverdi night club DJ-ing coloratora runs, jeah, that’s SM in this piece, with her knees bending, body swinging, and leaps in dynamics through those fast note runs. There were also 2 instrumental pieces, but you’ll have to excuse me as I didn’t really manage much, was all focusing on the luscious sound…

Claudio Monteverdi(1567-1643)
Settimo libro de madrigali
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core? ‘Romanesca’
Con che soavità, labbra odorate

Girolamo Frescobaldi(1583-1643)
Toccata nona

Claudio Monteverdi
Settimo libro de madrigali
Vorrei baciarti
Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano
Settimo libro de madrigali
Non è di gentil core
O come sei gentile

Giovanni Kapsberger(c.1580-1651)
Canzone prima

Claudio Monteverdi
Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti

The noon concert ended with Sara Mingardo hugging and landing warm kisses to her young colleague… ahh, too warm to handel… of course we went back stage to say hi to her, she’s sooooooooooo sweet 🙂 , i of course mentioned I heard her in Detroit and Washington DC (oooooh woooow she replied 😉 ), then Penelope in Hamburg, and of course pointing to Dehggi who joined in for mentioning us hearing her in Dario in Turin, to both she was very happy to hear. I mean we both looked a little bit youngsters who oozed enthusiasm for Monteverdi (to which she said “I love” (singing Monteverdi)) and we parted with her extending her hands out to shake mine and Dehggi’s ❤ ❤ ❤ . ahhh… oh jes, we did ask her for a photo, she was soooooooo charming , with big smile: sure, without my glasses (sooooooooo cute) and so we flanked her.. i snapped it… to our disappointment the camera malfunctioned so in the end it did not register the photo we all saw in the preview… but altogether, yours truly left with smushy knees (ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh) and the lovely exchange in the green room after such a lovely intimate noon concert. ❤ . (no i don't need help yet). you can relisten to the program here. (please excuse spelling and grammar errors.. am off to download that broadcast to re-listen…)

music for wednesday


(please also note the conductor and the band!! (Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre!) )