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 🙂 .


photo for the week

Roberta Mameli (Alinda), Sara Mingardo (Statira), Lucia Cirillo (Oronte). Vivaldi’s L’incoronazione di Dario, Turin, Apr 2017. Photo credi: Ramella&Giannese

squealing. there’s a whole album of some 56 photos too, if you have fb. they all seem to have a ball. look so fun! Oh, there’s another contralto too:

Veronica Cangemi (Arpago, kneeling), Delphine Galou (Argene). Vivaldi’s L’incoronazione di Dario, Turin, Apr 2017. photo credit:Ramella&Giannese.

baroque tuesday

Romina Basso as Nicodemo, Sara Mingardo as Maria, Anna Simboli as San Giovanni, Alessandro Scarlatti "La vergine dei dolori" © Ingrid von Wantoch Rekowski

Romina Basso as Nicodemo, Sara Mingardo as Maria, Anna Simboli as San Giovanni, Alessandro Scarlatti “La vergine dei dolori”
© Ingrid von Wantoch Rekowski

After drooling over at Anik’s site reading up on Romina Basso, I went digging a bit and found this above photo. There’s an official album from the production site! and a live recording! How about a contralto to trumpet to continue Tuesday (or start Wednesday, depending on where you are globally):

Part 2.

Alcina at Boston Conservatory, round 2

Last Saturday, I returned for another round of Alcina (here’s the program), this time with four friends, three of whom had never seen an opera live before. (not sure if they had sat through a taped version either…) During dinner time, we discussed when to nap in case of needs ;-). The evening verdict: everyone was awake and greatly enjoyed the show, with two asking for more future excursions! I’m aware that taking newbies to operas can be a hit or miss, especially in repertoire that is so non-mainstream. But I think it depends on one’s judgement. For example, for me, Händel’s Alcina is a GREAT opera to get started (so is Agrippina..), especially if you have a good orchestra (conductor) and engaging staging. I can’t say if good singing helps unless it is absolutely earth shattering, because, according to friends they can’t tell at all… (more later!) In any case, in addition to them, I also had a really great time, and would have come for the 3rd round if i was still in town. On all front it was a superb night of music and with effective staging to engage both newbies and old-bies. And I realize it’s always a great performance when you start asking questions about the actual meaning of the tempo and phrasing choices to check-mark the long list of puzzles you’ve pocketed, and to be able to compare them rather than worrying about the various issues such as dragging and being disengaged due to dusty + stuffy interpretations.

Oberto, Oronte, Morgana, conductor, Alcina, Ruggiero, Bradamante, Melisso

Oberto, Oronte, Morgana, conductor, Alcina, Ruggiero, Bradamante, Melisso

On that note, below is then a short report of my impressions with more detailed questions on choice of phrasing/tempo, as well as how to bring in new audience.

First up, the singing. The cast was entirely new compared to Friday night’s. And after experiencing various Alcinas, I have it now *almost* figured out! Remember I questioned the effectiveness of the B-section in “Ah, mio cor” and the aria “Ma quando tornerai” on Friday? Isabelle Zeledón completely solved it! First, she has the gaze: very immobile in the body, but the air along line of sight is sizzling and steaming! And she solved the long split-dress and how to move well in it. The singing bit: for these, along with “Ombre pallide”, there needs to be some level of “anger”, “rage”, “disappointment”, just about anything but “coolness” I believe, and Zeledón excelled in that. The recitative leading up to “Ombre pallide” was absolutely riveting! Actually anytime she showed up at the edge of the scene, one could feel the lid is about to come off.. In this staging, “Alcina” can be viewed as somewhat unpredictable, which is also great! why not. But, back to the rest of “Ah mio cor” a little bit (as well as in “Sì, son quella”): here, i thought she could make use of much more piano (she rarely used it, everything was almost in the volume range 5-11 on the 0-10 scale). There were 2 things that occasionally disrupts the flow (in my brain): singing/ascending to ff at times when I don’t quite understand why, and non-shaping at the end of the phrase where the (music) line was simply dropped rather than giving it “shaping”. Overall, for the arias/sections that require soft singing, it would work wonderfully if there’s a merge between how Bizhou Chang employed in the previous night and Zeledón’s approach this night. Oh, i should also mention, both her voice and Bizhou Chang’s, i’d put them on the heavier side, which works great for me! But I had the idea perhaps it’s a conscious choice of casting to go with this type of voice for Alcina, and a much lighter version for Morgana.



Next up is Ruggiero, sung by Abigail Dock. Overall, i really like her color! It’s on the bright side, but with enough heft, and a “ping” to it to carry above in any kind of duet/trio, as well as being warmer and less thin than CT’s Giron the night before. On phrasing, my favorite was “Col celarvi a chi v’ama un momento” to start Act 2. She suddenly got very soulful and reallly brought out the uncertainty in this “recitative” part, even my newbie friends noticed it. “Mi lusinga il dolce affetto” was quite heart breaking, though it felt there were too much movements at times. Indeed it was insightful to see the contrast between her movements and Giron’s the night before. Prior to this aria, Bradamante was frustrated with Ruggiero’s blindness in not even recognizing his own fiancé and launched into “Vorrei vendicarmi”. Scenically, Bradamante had picked up all the hunting arrows, symbolically plunging them (as a group) into her chest, then dumped all except the last one which she broke in half and sent down at Ruggiero’s feet while stomping out. This left Ruggiero hurt and confused.. and the opening music set in, and one (audience) is already feeling teary. Ruggiero then kneeled down, flanked by Alcina’s toy-girls and boys, picking up slowly the broken arrow, trying to put it back together, before handing it off in waves into the air (during “che m’inganni, amando ancor”). I interpreted the flying away of the single arrow as carrying hope. Here I find the picking of the arrows from the ground to be quite distracting: we can see the symbolic gesture with just one of two attempts to patch up the arrows instead of 20 times: this is a very slow and soul-searching aria, and too much motion takes away that effect/focus (and even the focus on phrasing). In contrast, Giron did just the opposite: he picked up the arrows only twice or so, and in simple gestures we understood what he wanted to do, and the rest of the time was spend caressing the phrase, to a higher level of effectiveness (at least for me).



This same level of movements also seems to work better (for me) with Giron following Bradamante’s footstep and raising the sword during “Sta nell’ircana”, as opposed to “playfully” imitating the sword level in Dock’s case. I get it that the staging is asking them to do X and Y, but I think the small details on how one carries out the movements play into how the character is portrayed. And for Sta nell’ircana, I would assume Ruggiero should be flexing a bit rather than pulling out the marbles and running behind Bradamante playfully. Overall, this set of Ruggiero/Bradamante seemed to be doing a bit more play-acting than facing with the real danger, which the cast from the previous night displayed.

On the same note of comparison, the first Act, Dock was more effective because she actually moved and phrased “Di te mi rido semplice stolto” and “la bocca vaga” much more. I still am very puzzled by the chosen tempo for “Di te mi rido”. Enough that I ended up searching through the tube for some 8 versions as well as reading up on the translation. Here’s Vivica Genaux’ take as I continue to type, with recit for the flow:

The only one that approached the tempo and phrasing here was with S.Graham, (she has something that i believe is even smoother in the recording with W.Christie), which I must admit somehow gave me the feeling Ruggiero is taking a stroll in the park … The other samples have faster tempo as well as being delivered with an “edge”: Ruggiero is edgy at this point afterall, so I anticipate to see him mocking + being a bit irritated rather than taking a light nap in the hammock while sending out words (that’s how it felt the 1st night, the 2nd night was an improvement but still way too smooth in singing and slow and “jolly” in tempo). In any case, after being bugged for 1,5day, i’m satisfied now with my (perhaps biased) findings. (for disclosure, i listened to: M.Beaumont, V.Kasarova 2004, V.Kasarova 2010 (she’s approaching heckling level, jeah!), A.Hallenberg, V.Genaux (see above), T.Berganza, and J.Larmore).



Next up: Bradamante! sung by Ann Fogler. She was great! Technically I would even say she has the most flexible voice of the entire 2 casts, as well as very warm and pleasantly dark color (similar in color to Wolz from the night before). Stance-wise I’d take them both, which implies it was good directing in combination with good acting. For “E gelosia”, i particularly like her acting and the soft singing of the B-section. It’s actually the first time i realized soft singing for Bradamante is effective here instead of needing to send off all sorts of fireworks. As both Bradamante carried so well the pose and the acting, it made me wonder whether it is the director’s choice to contrast them as strongly to Ruggiero’s more “internalized” (the night before) or “light-feet”. Ah, also another important note: Because of the cut in Alcina’s arias (B+A gone in “Sì, son quella” and “Ma quando tornerai”, and complete stripping of her last aria, Alcina the character became much less developed and we had Bradamante on equal footing in stage-time and even stronger than all in strength.

Morgana was sung by Jennifer Soloway. I really have a feeling they (the casting) were aiming for “near identical” voice types in the 2 sets! Even the vibrato was similar, though I’d put Soloway in the lesser polished phrasing compared to N.Logan. She has a rather large voice, I was even thinking whether her focus was more 19th century but was simply casted for this “lighter” role. There were (quite often) times she went fff and masked out the solo instruments that accompanied during “Ama sospira”. However, it was an absolute delight to hear the sensitive phrasing in “Credete al mio dolore”. Her extra “grunt” after discovering Ruggiero and Bradamante walking hand in hand was priceless!! In fact it seems Morgana was given more room to build as a character compared to the “strong, powerful” but not well developed Alcina (due to cuts). The switch from ditching Oronte to suddenly being extremely soulful in “Credete al mio dolore” was a bit too sharp though and left the audience (me) not quite understanding if Morgana being so-quick-to-switch-to-deep-emotion is a true trait or a tear show (in the staging).

Oronte is sung by Quinn Bernegger. I quite like his approach more than the version from the previous night! The direction seems to be: be brute at the beginning, scheming during “Semplicetto! A donna credi?”, and soulful during “un momento di contento..” . I don’t know whether it was a choice or simply a general approach, but Bernegger’s more passive approach made Oronte appeared more thoughtful as he search for “what is right”, “when is right”, “who should i trust”, “how should I approach”. In particular, he delivered a *very* soft “un momento di contento…” . While i wonder if in a bigger theater he could be heard if that’s the way he sings, here it really worked as almost a self-assuring therapy (and I always have Marc Minkowski’s voice in head : “give it hope”) . Oberto was sung by Brianna Meese. It depends on how you want to develop this character perhaps? Anik just linked a post to Josy Santos who sang Oberto this month in Stuttgart, where you can see from a different angle Oberto’s mindset. The version staged here was of a very young Oberto, I’d say around 8-10 year old and still playing with his toy boat. As such I think a level of “lightness” in the voice to carry the “innocence” is welcomed, and both Meese and especially Peng from the night before kept it light. Any anguish he has, however, was cut short with a trimmed “Chi mi insegna il caro padre”. For his joyous aria, i’d have loved to hear the extended version, simply because it is such pleasure to the ears, one can tap the feet the whole night.

So, that’s quite a bit of rambling. But onto to some notes on the staging! As two of my friends (newbies) mentioned: they really enjoyed because it’s engaging and modern. To that, I’d also add it had an arc rooted in deep thinking on how to bring out the characters’ mindset and fit to the flow/storyline. The power Bradamante is provided for example, or the soulful thoughts of Ruggiero as (s)he sat on the column during “Col celarvi a chi v’ama un momento”, or the reflection during “verdi prati”, or the sending up of hope in the shape of the arrows in “mi lusinga..” . The comedy was built in naturally to the flow rather than forced. The tension in Alcina is again built in with clear movements or positions on stage. Even the extras were well used to illustrate the support Alcina had and lost through time, or the heart-beat to start “Ah mio cor”. The use of the opaque (symbolic) mirror is a nice touch, though I’d like to read up a little more on its meaning as well as the meaning of the mirror-holder who repeated after Alcina in “Ah mio cor”. An ambiguity which I quite like is the reversal of the music at the end (at least when comparing to Vienna): First the curse was dispelled, the finale choir rejoined. THEN, the instrument line (this line here, the first part) is played out as Alcina sat in her chair, with Morgana holding a broken mirror as her sole company as the light dimmed on an empty island. Ah, and during the chorus, we also saw a hint that Ruggiero was standing close to Alcina. With Giron I had the feeling Ruggiero was really still torn from leaving Alcina.. whereas with Dock, one had the thought (as my friend said: I thought she was going to be killed!). And we left the theater with “what happened to Alcina?” by one of the newbies. Which is a really good indication that the staging is so engaging they are now talking about the storyline! And that, in addition to all my questions and self-answers on phrasing and characters, really highlight this excellent production. My friends asked how many times I’ve seen “Alcina” live, and were surprised to hear that including this evening it was only “7”. This is to show how rare we get to see it here in the US (the other 5 were of course of the same staging spanning 6 years apart in Wien…). I would mention also that it was engaging because we sat in row F of a very intimate 325-seat theater. This of course is one of the great ways to bring in new audience, and why I chose Händel as the intro to this group of friends in this theater.

One final thought then. This past month, seeing Alcina 4 times live really gave me a great exposure to “phrasing” and how to bring out the emotion in the music. And I will end the post with Myrtò Papatanasiu’s “Ah mio cor” again. I heard her live just 3 weeks ago and was very captivated by her delivery, though perhaps at that time not knowing exactly why. One always wonders if one has a “fixated” way of thinking/hearing how a particular aria “must” be delivered in order to make sense. But my recent experience has confirmed that no, it’s not the case (at least not 95\% of the time). Sitting through “Ah mio cor” in particular, I realized there is no limit to how one can phrase it since you have to repeat the lines quite a few times and it is all within your reach to express it the way you intend! Thus, however subjective it can be, the only thing is to “make sense” of the emotion. Here, “make sense” or not is a case of whether when a line is delivered, be it the actual written music or the theme-and-variation type, the only reference we have is whether a “loud” or “soft” or “arc” reflects an intended emotion instead of being simply done for the decorative effect. I’d say this is why I can easily “switch” quickly between hearing different singers, and that the only time i start questioning is when the music is “not quite” making sense. On that note, a toast to great music and Händel, and to the great production from the Boston Conservatory. They have made 4 new fans of operas!

a highly enjoyable “Alcina” at Boston Conservatory

This is a brief write-up of the performance on Friday night with cast #2. On Saturday i’m coming back with a group of friends/new-comers to operas for cast #1, with a mezzo Ruggiero. First, a link to Sta nell’ircana to listen along as I continue to type:

Having just come back from the Alcina in Wien, the first 10-20 minutes were a little bit of adjustments in the head to the difference between full professional and a *very good* student-based production. That being said, I’m most happy to report the orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Altenbach (musical director of Opera for the Boston Conservatory), was superb! For such a production one could say the conductor is the most important person: his precise direction in the orchestra as well as care for the singers were a great joy to listen/watch. Several of the tempo choices, I wonder, were perhaps adapted to put the singers in the best situations to shine. For about 3/5 of the arias, part B & A-repeat were omitted. I think this is justified considering the (a) duration, (b) high level + focus on singing, and (c) non full-professional acting. The staging is minimal and made sense, and almost reminded me of the Carsen’s Alcina in several scenes. I will write more about the staging perhaps after tomorrow. Here is more a focus on the singing.


Bizhou Chang sang a very convincing Alcina. Her voice is quite warm and large (Verdi?!) which allows her to vary quite a bit in intensity and even shades/colors, even during the recitative part! The only part that didn’t quite work for me was the B-section in “Ah mio cor”, where it was a bit too “smooth” (almost swinging) in the tempo! I’d have liked it a bit more “vicious” or “faster” and delivered with more emotion, which I think she could do, but for some reason the tempo was just a bit too much “in harmony”. Perhaps there is a point there, sarcastic?, which I might have missed.. “Mi restano le lagrime” was skipped! as well as the B+A part for “Ma quando tornerai”. Actually, for “Ma quando tornerai”, i think a certain amount of “shaking” in the body is a requisite! 🙂 . No, really, either that, or more vocal expressions are needed (in general, from any singers I’ve heard), otherwise it’s a bit too smooth and doesn’t quite express the mood. Having been listening a lot to Alcina lately, I have also now a theory for “Sì, son quella”: the most important work required for this aria is in the recitative leading up to it! otherwise it will not set the mood correctly, e.g., if Alcina rushes through the recit for example, or if the Ruggiero/Alcina dynamics are not set properly, and thus will result in a “jump” from rush to a sudden huge drop in emotion. I remember liking her “Sì, son quella” but enjoying also her “Di, cor mio”. This one, being an “interactive” aria of simultaneous acting between Alcina and Ruggiero (as it seems to be the case for many stagings?) and musical phrasing of Alcina, it works well if the acting is not “hindering” the phrasing. Here the only minor quibble I had was with Ruggiero’s (lack of) facial expression..


the chorus

Ruggiero was sung by counter-tenor Rudy Giron. I was quite puzzled by the tempo set for “Di te mi rido” , again being strangely “swingy” and “smooth” and on the slow side, enough for me to be confused about the flow and needing to read up the translation. On that same note, “la bocca vaga” was a bit “too nice”. Need stalking! After the first intermission, I moved up to row B (from row F, in a very intimate 325-seat theater and caught up with Giron’s facial expression. He seemed to finally expressed the torment in Ruggiero in his face and thus one can make connection to the phrasing. “Mi lusinga il dolce affetto” was quite beautifully delivered. And this is the first time *ever* i actually understand “verdi prati” !! the staging finally made sense for this, with a bit of “reflection” as Ruggiero stood in an empty spot looking at a small now-stripped flower-branch reminiscing his time with Alcina. I’ll make more notes and report next time… “Mio ben tesoro” was skipped.. and we were delighted to hear the horns to start Sta nell’ircana. His delivery of this aria was great! I particularly liked how he treated the coloratura run. And the voice somehow fits this aria very well: not light, not smooth, but with a nice texture + color. As we have discussed before, just like for Alcina, Ruggiero’s various arias call for a range of colors and flexibility and sensitivity, and some voices fit certain arias better than others. His acting, though on the minimal side, was actually a delight starting in Act 2, in that Ruggiero was not swaggering across (Bradamante took charge instead!) but was more on the internalizing of the conflict and guilt. He even spent some time by Alcina’s side after all was set and done.. and it was Bradamante who return during “Sta nell’ircana” with 2 swords in hand taking charge. Thus Ruggiero’s internal conflict was more on display and at times one forgets whether it was a male or female singer who was delivering. Regarding the clip above, I’m quite amazed to re-listen to Vivica Genaux and realizing how much “heft” and superb low-notes she has! (Side note: could we also have her as Ruggiero for one of Papatanasiu’s future Alcina?)


Oberto, Oronto, Morgana, Alcina, Ruggiero, Bradamante, Melisso

The best acting of the night went to Natalie Logan’s Morgana. Her timing for acting + phrasing is quite spot on. And the absolute best comedy moment as well: just before “Tornami a vagheggiar” when she flipped her magic to close the doors and trapped Bradamante in the room. This aria was very well delivered, and was the first time I noticed she started phrasing and using different colors. The rest of the evening follows with increasingly more delightful phrasing. She had the two highly sensitive arias with solo viola da gamba and violin, and W.O.W. the soloists in the pit!!! SUPERB phrasing (and conducting). Back to Logan, her voice is a bit on the “getting used to” for my ears.. not sure if i could ever get used to it, but she was right behind Alcina in vocal expression. The sisters ruled! (and they stick together at the end when everyone else abandoning the island!)

Bradamante was sung by Michaela Wolz. She might take over Ruggiero sometimes with the nice stance! Her acting contrasts quite nicely with Ruggiero’s sensitive version. It’s a bit hard to comment on Bradamante’s arias: they are fast and furious, and unless they set the theater on fire you will simply go with them as are.. I quite like the tempo for “All’alma fedel”, and in parallel with the acting, showing how Bradamante was the stabilizer of all relationships and possibly the only one with a head to think properly. In fact this might be the first staging I’ve seen (and perhaps having to do with Wolz’s acting) where Bradamante seems to fully take control, knowing what she wants and how to get it.


Oberto, Oronto, Morgana, conductor, Alcina, Ruggiero, Bradamante, Melisso

Of the minor roles, I quite enjoy the singing of Haichen Peng as Oberto. I must emphasize though the superb job Altenbach did in leading the orchestra to highlight the music, lead the story, and fully paying attention to all his singers. The acting took a bit to warm up but everything fell into places as the night went on, and with the superb music and Händel, it ended up a highly enjoyable evening! Fingers crossed the orchestra and conductor keeping up the high energy tomorrow; everything comes from the pit! and I’m ready for a mezzo Ruggiero!

alcina 2016, round 2

Back from my 21-hr journey and now have mixing in head a combination of jet-lag + too much caffein + fluid equations + alcina… I regretted not being able to stay until the last performance tomorrow due to a pressing conference.. Ideally I would like a sudden cancelation of conference now.. and a teleport machine to transfer me back to Vienna.. But as it is not the case, here we are, with a report from my 2nd attendance of Alcina, Wednesday, 26.Oct.2016. Please refer to Anik’s wonderful post of the same night’s experience here.
We are going to start with Alcina :-). Way back in 2010, someone gave me an Alcina book for this production, with a very nice interview with A.Harteros who discussed about singing this role, about the character, ornamentations, and the six arias (here’s the original text and translation, much much thanks to Smorgy; the post just after that is Minkowski’s interview and translation). Listening to Harteros at the time, then many other Alcinas with “lighter” voices through the years, and now with Papatanasiu over 2 nights, I’m really developing an appreciation for the wide range of heft, sustained emotion, tessitura, and agility these six arias demanded. Last Sunday I was trying to understand M.Papatanasiu’s “Ombre pallide” and “Ma quando tornerai”, and I have them now figured out! Her voice fits this role (and my brain) like a glove! with enough darkness in the tone and an edge to it. Especially the ones which requires long sustained lines and emotion, e.g., “Sì, son quella“, “Ah! mio cor“, and “Mi restano le lagrime” . For “Dì, cor mio” , I know why I’m having difficulty: there is a disconnection between the mood in the text/music and the abrupt physical movements on the stage. It was less abrupt during this night.. Putting the “legendary” (<– I believe this is the right word) take of this scene by Harteros with Kasarova as her stage partner aside and judging this night performance as an independent entity, perhaps *much* less action is needed, if one can not move without disrupting the flow of the music. Here I’m talking entirely of Ruggiero’s movements. Apology for going a bit overboard, but Ruggiero’s “touches” on Alcina reminded me of someone looking for a lost key in the dark.. Another way to say this: perhaps it would have worked better (for the digestion) if I had closed my eyes and let the imagination fills in Alcina’s musical lines. Thus, i have not yet sorted out if this aria truly works for me with MP singing it, and wished I could have a 3rd night to experience. On this night, MP also pushed quite a bit harder (more emotion), but at the expense of less piani and pianissimi. It worked out GREAT for “Ombre pallide” and “Ma quando tornerai” ! These two arias are at times fast and furious, and perhaps requiring a bit of “heft” and “rage” at the expense of control, and the way she did it simply worked! In “Ma quando tornerai”, I was curious how she would maneuver the fast coloratura with the more “weight” she put on: The shake is back! 🙂 . With Harteros, as a certain reader might have noticed, i discussed discretely her “shake” in tune with the coloratura: it actually works quite well in transmitting perhaps a certain level of “rage” and emotion (?). MP brought her shoulder shake to the table this time along with more emotion and heft, GREAT! I absolutely loved it! And for “Ombre pallide”, i regret not having made any keep of her wonderful navigation up and down the vocal range and into her chest register! It is an art in itself how she does it, so wonderful for the (my) ears (I should mention her ascending into high notes are *really* wonderful and reveals she’s a soprano, i was hoping she could cover both soprano and mezzo ranges :-D)! I first noticed it during “se viver non degg’io” and more prominently in Semiramide, but this is serious plunging to great effect. Of particular note is the “sorder da me” to end “Ombre pallide”, no short cut, no navigating away, no easy way out, simply a strong presence and punctuation. *love*. For “Mi restano le lagrime”, i missed the piani and quiet (very short) pauses between the phrases, which she brought out more prominently during the Sunday’s performance. This is an aria of reflection, and I think a more internalized take could fit better (?) . But what these two nights have highlighted for me is an artist who is not afraid to bring all she has to the table, to be true to the character, and to adapt night to night the way the emotion flows. On any given night, the portrayal can be different from the last, but the true character is present in full flesh. That is something I search for and truly appreciate / cherish. Alcina is truly hers. Please keep this role in the repertoire!!
Onto Ruggiero.. I read on Anik’s post’s comment section regarding voice type for this role, heavy versus light.. and through all of that, i think Rachel Frenkel is still on the extreme light side for this role. But then i caught myself thinking “hey, this could have been P.Jarrousky”, and that pretty much re-set the appreciation-o-meter (sorry, i insist a mezzo for Ruggiero!!). But it is true, on this night, her movements and actions are more with purposes, and that simply worked into the portrayal of the character. For “Mi lusinga il dolce affeto”, I’m still having difficulty: it still sounded somehow “too fast”. As I discussed with Anik, “fast” or “slow” is a relative perception: Even for identical tempo, if the singer can delve deeply into the emotional state, through the use of colors and intensity, we the audience almost pause in time to reflect with the character on the true meaning; however if you (the audience) don’t feel this reflection is happening but rather hearing an aria being sung, then it’s rushing by too fast. There, my analogy. Starting with “Verdi prati” i enjoyed her phrasing much more. This scene also has so much sincerity to it thanks to the now quite touching build-up of Ruggiero-Bradamante’s relationship, and I think she also took more time with the phrasing. And “sta nell’ircana” is a tour-de-force! Marc Minkowski and les Musiciens du Louvre marched along with her building up the tension, accentuate the “vocal swagger”, and put forth a highly charged take. Even her stage movements to start the aria are now more spontaneous: Ruggiero is now marching the stage ordering the troupe into form, the arm gestures are shorter but full of intention. As for her vocal heft, you’re welcome to have a glimpse with the trio “non e amor ne gelosia” , which is a good case to hear the contrast in voice heft because Alcina always makes the entrance in the long sustained line, with Ruggiero and Bradamante following suit. This year is the first time I heard Alcina’s line almost as “solo” and realized how much darker MP’s tone is compared to even Gritskova (and thus the reason I hear MP’s voice so well in general).

Gritskova turned in a very honest Bradamante’s portrayal. Everything was more spontaneous during this performance, and with that, we have Bradamante instead of a singer trying to portray Bradamante. You know Gritskova is fully embodying the character when she plowed over the chair without any concern (Anik mentioned this) or especially during “Verdi prati” when she “forgot” to (follow the routine to) take off her sword before lying down on the “grass” field listening to Ruggiero. Vocally I quite like her darker tone, which sounded natural to my ears. And even for the B-section in “Vorei vendicarmi” where it’s a bit low for her, there is such an honesty in the vocal details and delivery you can feel Bradamante’s pain. Another thing I really enjoyed was when she took off the Richardo’s “mask” in the form of changing into the dress: there’s a little expression of intial self “joy”, then a slight reaction to the surrounded crowd of “this is actually who i am”, then an uplifted subtle “delight” with the vocal delivery filling in the gap. These gestures and reactions are so small, and yet they yielded a wonderful effect that many of the “grand” postures and large gestures can not bring.

With these three singers leading the way, the night was much more rewarding than on Sunday where I thought Papatanasiu carried the show (she still did, but now with Ruggiero and Bradamante participating). I truly wished I could have stayed for the last performance to see how everything fits together once more..

Some very last notes then: Now that I have finally paid attention to the staging, I have a lot of questions. For example, why was there an old guy showing up during Oberto’s aria (can’t remember which one, when he was playing tickling with Alcina, that was a cute scene 🙂 ), which prompted Oberto to hide behind Alcina’s back and her given him a glare? Also, who exactly is Ruggiero in this case? The Dutchess’ lady friend? Was she longing for an excursion before reverting back to the norm?

Finally, an amusement.  As “Mi restano le lagrime” ended, I always needed a bit of time to recover. As a result, the sight of Papatanasiu with the javelin took a little bit of time to register! And as we joked the contrast of a “heavy-weight javelin” in Harteros case versus “feather-weight” for MP’s, I wanted to mention again how well she strikes the balance with the javelin. As none of us here are olympic athletes (?), being given a javelin (or sword..) can reveal our imbalance unfavorably.. and Papatanasiu really held it with such great balance you can feel a sense of threat / aim (and indeed it’s so in balance i initially thought it was the ballet dancer who was holding it). This really expanded to a more general case of her stage presence, where a movement or a look is never wasted but has a strong purpose, a case when someone glares at something with such intensity that causes the entire room full of people to trace the back-end of it, as an example. I know I have talked about her quite a bit in this post and the last, but I have come to realize it’s quite rare to find an artist with such high technical level of singing and acting commitment, and an intensed focus to bring truth to the character, and I am very glad to have discovered her.

With that, the Alcina 2016 excitement ended for me, but I will be camping over at Anik‘s for a report on tomorrow’s performance.  Below is the curtain call. please excuse the shaking. Also, some of the zoomings were outside my control (i swear)! As soon as people started moving in front the zoom suddenly took a life of its own…

music for the night

Nathalie Stutzmann conducting Orfeo55 and duetting with Emőke Baráth, all Händel i believe, GORGEOUS music!! this program was live 25.Aug.2016 (today/yesterday) and now available for re-viewing. Click on the photo or here for the loooovely gif, then go directly to culturebox via this link.

(ps- I really like E.Baráth’s voice, it’s on the warm side, she also sang the high-mezzo part of Mozart mass in c-minor.