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.

======================================

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..

Advertisements

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…)

contraltos Ruggiero & Medoro ftw

for those getting a headache this past week in Venice from Medoro, let me offer a solution that works on so many levels, or as I say it, music written for contraltos sung by contraltos, ❤

do take a moment (or five) just to hear how WARM the sound is!!! as well as the acting!!

And while we are at it, please feel absolutely free to imagine Lucia Cirillo’s Alcina to this Ruggiero…

to jog our memory, at about here, Alcina is caressing Ruggiero on top of the steps…

while the adorable hippogriff kneeling to Bradamante…

the mezzo-contralto love medley

Time for discovery…

Dorilla: Romina Basso, mezzo-soprano
Elmiro: Serena Malfi, mezzo-soprano
Nomio: Marina de Liso, mezzo-soprano
Filindo: Lucia Cirillo, mezzo-soprano
Eudamia: Sonia Prina, contralto
Admeto: Christian Senn, baritone

In case you’re not convinced yet, how about the 1-liner description of each character (copied from the description of the youtube video link below):

Dorilla (Romina Basso, mezzo-soprano): daughter of Admeto, in ❤ with Elmiro (mezzo)
Elmiro (Serena Malfi, mezzo-soprano): a shepherd, in ❤ with Dorilla (mezzo)
Nomio (Marina de Liso, mezzo-soprano): god Apollo disguised as a shepherd, in ❤ with Dorilla (mezzo)
Filindo (Lucia Cirillo, mezzo-soprano): in ❤ with Eudamia (contralto)
Eudamia (Sonia Prina, contralto): a nymph, in ❤ with Elmiro (mezzo)

not sure what the bass does in here.. and some other minor details:
I Barocchisti (on period instruments), conducted by Diego Fasolis.

what are we waiting for?!

.
.
(possibly we’re waiting for a live show of this with this similar kind of line up)
(ha!! Vivaldi’s Four Season excerpt is in the opening chorus!!
Btw, actually it sounds like Vivadi’s Juditha Triumphan music actually, that chorus..)

music to bridge Wed-Thur

clip from a channel called “Barock’n roll”, very appropriate! I have been quite curious for a while where this aria fits in, especially because E.Haïm seems to cut it in all her versions… here it is, along with the growling (in low notes) and finger pointing! Bonus: Mezzo in glasses and lots of female players in the orchestra.


.
.
Händel Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno; Disinganno’s aria (translation text also thanks to the poster).

Chi già fu del biondo crine
consigliero, al suol cadrà.

Soffra pur le sue ruine,
se sovente egli compose
con i gigli e con le rose
tanti inganni alla beltà

He who was once the counsellor of
blond tresses shall fall to the ground.

Let him indeed suffer ruin,
since so often he devised,
with lilies and roses,
so many deceits for beauty.

music for Dorilla debugging


.
.

Ah, ch’infelice sempre
mi vuol Dorilla ingrata,
ah, sempre più spietata m’astringe a lagrimar.

Per me non v’è ristoro,
per me non v’è più spene.
E il fier martoro e le mie pene,
solo la morte può consolar.

Ah, ungrateful Dorilla
wants me to continue suffering;
ah, always more unmercifully she induces my tears.

For me there is no cure,
for me no more hope.
Only death will quench my pain and sadness.

contralto through the night

juditha_venise

A bit late… i knew about this broadcast already last month but was up North. Click on the image to go directly to cuturebox, (s)he clocks in at either 17.30 if you like to hear the recit, else jump directly to the aria (and some swagger) starting at 18.25 .