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..)

 

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** 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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Juditha triumphans in Amsterdam

After Semiramide, we have been waiting anxiously for this opportunity to hear Iervolino swaggering on stage as smooth silky Holofernes. I confess when first seeing the cast yesterday of frowning upon seeing Gaëlle Arquez’s name as Juditha. I have heard her as Armide in Wien and did not having much impression.. Well, can we say we have found a Juditha for the next 10+ years?!

Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans
Dutch Nationale Opera
Juditha: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Abra: Polly Leech
Ozias: Francesca Ascioti
La Cetra Barockorchester
Andrea Marcon
Saturday 26/Jan/2019

So, this whole blog post might be about Juditha.. Let’s see how it goes.. With the militarish staging I was not sure which way it would go.. sometimes with modern staging suits and ties are more up my alley.. But, from the get go we were greeted with a very toxic Vagaus, the type singling out women to taunt and escalate the brutality.. it did set the stage quite well for Juditha’s desperation. Though the orchestra was SUPERB (and Marcon) I have to confess I think it was too “loud” for Holofernes first aria. That, combining with a staging that put Iervolino quite deep (in a huge stage) facing “IN” away from the audience at times, made it quite more difficult to hear her well rounded tone in “Nil arma, nil bella” . Even Vagaus’s first aria, to my ears, the orchestra was too loud.. though Dehggi and Agathe reported excellent hearing of Vasilisa Berzhanskaya’s singing, I confess also not hearing her too well either… The mood changed with the arrival of Juditha, to this tune:

As I have written last year at Carnegie Hall, Juditha is a very difficult role. Her music is somber, dense, intense, all elements that require a lot of phrasing, color, dynamics, and the subtle ability to sustain the tension. Of the many things I have seen Gaëlle Arquez in, mostly on youtube, and once live as Armide, nothing prepared me for her intense and subtle stance to convey the vulnerability of Juditha. Just her presence on stage while the orchestra building up the suspense was worth re-watching. Then the phrasing started, w.o.w. … it’s quite a revelation to finally get someone who can reveal the gorgeous lines in Juditha’s music.. In particular, I love her timbre, it’s a mezzo voice with enough heft and solid tone to sustain a line distinctive from the orchestra such that it does not get covered as easily. The key thing is the subtle change in the music line that brings out vulnerability: She came to request help for her people, but was fully at the mercy of Holofernes and Vagaus. Things could have gone either way during the first meeting.. I think here we come back to the acting: for me it’s best when one achieves a stance and expresses music, with very subtle movements to convey the situation, without any need of overdoing.. in fact with Juditha’s music I find her approach of less moving but expressive yet subtle body angle and musical phrasing extremely effective. What can I say, after so many years of frustration1. I think we have found a Juditha who can do justice to the music (and acting chop to portray the character)! And she has many many arias solo with exotic instruments. Actually this is to Arquez’s great advantage as she can cover the full range (in notes) while being expressive and not at all being covered by large number of violins (which is unfortunately not the case for Vagaus and Holofernes).

Since Juditha’s acting and singing was so on point, everything seemed to work. Here we also comment highly Vasilisa Berzhanskaya’s acting in making Vagaus (and Holofernes’s side) to be so unlikeable and violent such that Juditha saw no other way to escape. The staging has Holofernes to be quite more humane (as oppose to Vagaus) and at times opposed violence against women (which was the behavior of his troops throughout the two hours of the opera). The staging was also quite effective in bringing out the different mood in the music, for example during “Veni me seguere fida”, a very solemn aria when Juditha and Abra sat by the burial of their countrymen and communicated tender private lines about their past and fate. This came right after their conversation with Holofernes, with the stage turning to show the constant torment and why Juditha must (somewhat) follow through with a (not-fully) plan.

In the end, all of Juditha’s mood, conflict, and conviction were well portrayed both vocally and through acting, both through seduction and torment and in the end madness as triumphant music returned to glorify the beheading act.

Perhaps some mentions here of the rest of the characters 🙂 . Holofernes is sooooooooo smooth and silky in “Nox obscura tenebrosa” and “Noli, o cara”. Actually after the intermission Holofernes music were also more mellow and required less accompaniment, which allowed for Iervolino’s gooooorgeous voice to shine without needing to compete with the violins. And Iervolino’s acting (partnered with Arquez’s) was spot on and convincing. The beheading scene was very effective 🙂 . Abra was quite nicely portrayed as someone clearly following and loyal to Juditha but not as skillful and intelligent.. Vocally she was good. I also like her acting, especially in the first aria when they both have just arrived and met Vagaus and the brute troops, who quickly tossed Juditha around. Here Abra took over in a flirtatious way (a very courageous move it seems to protect Juditha) to distract the troops and gather their attention away from Juditha. As for Vagaus, I progressively heard her better as the evening grew, but might leave it to Dehggi (and Agathe) to write/comment more as I’m no expert in fast and furious arias, and especially when my ears are just not well tuned to hearing well her voice type (she has a on-the-softer side tone, something like Connoly’s tone, which simply didn’t make it well to my ears in general when there’s orchestra playing at the same time..)

Altogether, it was a very rewarding experience to see a staging that makes sense and strong singers (and actresses) to bring the storyline fully forward. We are still discussing it, with the trip back listening to the entire Juditha again (with Mingardo) to recall how the story evolved.. if you have a chance do come check out the goooooorgeous music and some very fine Vivaldi singers, excellent orchestra and chorus.. I hope the orchestra will not cover the singers as much in the rest of the run.. For the record we sat on the left side second balcony, where possibly the violins might have come up directly and too strong.. but it’s a huge stage, and with singers being put quite a bit deep in, I think the orchestra can be a bit less loud… And we hope to see this pair of Juditha-Holofernes (Arquez-Iervolino) for many years to come.

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Edit

1. We all got into Juditha a little bit too late to catch the wave of S.Prina or S.Mingardo or A.Hallenberg touring alternately as Juditha.. Speaking for myself what I have heard up until this performance left me between uninspired to confused about the character, with occasional frustration..

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…)

Mingardo and Invernizzi radio alert

link

It was earlier today from Amsterdam, luckily still available for relistening, very lovely, Scalatti’s Stabat Mater. Don’t miss the (waaaaay too short) very charming interview at intermission to both Roberta Invernizzi and Sara Mingardo. Too bad, because it was in English, there wasn’t much the singers could say… but still quite lovely to “hear” how these two singers interact.. and the funny thing that they have to travel all the way to Amsterdam to sing this lovely piece.

The orchestral piece during intermission is also super lovely, by the same orchestra Cappella Neapolitana led by Antonio Florio.

I now on 3rd repeat.. but will continue to the end, for Veneziano – La passione secondo Giovanni.
(i quit, couldn’t handel their voice for too long.. and excerpts include two CTs in very small voices.. whatever.. please listen to the excerpt below for why I’d like to hear more mezzos/contraltos in Bach… and please, when will i ever get to hear SM singing it?!)

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While there, you can also check out Ton Koopman’s conducing Bach Matthäus Passion today, with a contralto (Wiebke Lehmkuhl) . It’s even quite rare now to find a mezzo/contralto singing Bach Matthäus and St. John Passion! So i’m listening with open ears. And I’ve already liked Klaus Mertens , in his previous recording with Koopman.

J.S. Bach – Matthäus Passion BWV 244
Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest
Ton Koopman, dirigent
Tilman Lichdi, tenor (Evangelist)
Manuel Walser, bas (Christus)
Christine Landshamer, sopraan
Wiebke Lehmkuhl, alt
Mauro Peter, tenor
Klaus Mertens, bas
Amsterdam Baroque Choir
Nederlands Kamerkoor
Nationaal Kinderkoor

ah yes, veeeery warm and nice tone, and a nice bounce to this lovely aria:
Buß und Reu (alto)

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of course, i should take an opportunity to mention the last time i saw these two singers together…

more monteverdi snippet

ok, so i’ve just found out that more people are now taping “live” S.Mingardo’s performances, yay. Wish this thing below is in full.. but snippet is what we’ll settle for now. There’s also this other full thing which I’ve already posted in some comment section, but it never hurts to share again the goodie, and along with it a lovely write up (based on translation).

(Note the video below: the volume is by default mute, you just have to switch it on. also on mobile the vid doesn’t show up, so it’s now linked to the picture above.)


tube vault

more music from the tube vault. yesh, still with Sara Mingardo. She sang a lot of roles in the past, and it’s really just a matter of luck to find the right ones it seems. Am still sooooooo hopeful to find one of her Rinaldo or Cesare, especially when we realize that her voice back in the 90s has quite a ping! it’s quite intense/compact compared to the super warm version now it seems. At first i wonder if it’s an artifact of VHS quality.. but i think we can hear the baroque violins here ok. (Oh, and i found this by search for her name and “Cavalli”).


.

I might have to download the whole thing at some point to re-sync the sound.. There’s a whole playlist here. One can also spot a super young Andrea Marcon, Laura Polverelli, and Ivano Zanenghi (theorbo, one of the founders of the Venice Baroque Orchestra if i’m correct…)

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Edit: Success! took a while to merge the thing.. here it is, much less disruption.

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:

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boots!

more boots!

Galou’s smile

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* 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 🙂 .