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 🙂 .

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L’incoronazione di Dario, Torino

I can’t remember the last time i bursted giggling out of control at the opera before. This production is just hilarious. Or you could say the storyline is, in combination with good acting. I’d refer the reader to three posts for the background plot and thoughts: (1) by Anik from 2013, _the_ introduction to this work for me, (2) Giulia’s review from several days ago, and (3) Dehggi’s review (whenever it comes in, she’s writing next to me.). This is a quick write-up on the staging idea and acting (and singing). (please excuse the grammar issues, run-on sentences, blah blah.. no time to check, we’re off for some more city touring 🙂 .)

Vivaldi L’incoronazione di Dario
Teatro Regio di Torino
Sara Mingardo: Statira
Delphine Galou: Argene
Lucia Cirillo: Oronte
Roberta Mameli: Alinda
Riccardo Novaro: Niceno
Carlo Allemano: Dario
Veronica Cangemi: Arpago
Ottavio Dantone conducting

I have to start with a short summary of the plot, because everything revolves around Statira, who is gullible and slow, to say gently, and yet by birth right seems to have everything going for her in term of (fake and true) love toward and title (princess, soon to be queen). Some samples of her reasoning include: “He was mean to me, but now he said he’s sorry, i believe him”, “you want my lips and hands? no thanks, that’s not love if you want to cut these off from me”, “your heart aches for me? how can it be that a heart can talk and ache?” All five other characters revolves around her, with the exception of the strong-minded and insistent Alinda. And all five of them have agenda, either the throne or to be the queen. With such a storyline, it can get a bit silly, have too much cariature or forced comedy. Not so in this production where they manage to keep everything light and fun with superb acting, especially from Mingardo and Galou.

Some of the most memorable scenes definitely involve Statira and Argene, Statira for being just out there in her la-la-la land (superbly acted) and Argene in her frustration and all the rebuff and failed schemes (also very well acted). Their comic timings are just off the chart. For Sara Mingardo in particular, her acting and on-point phrasing simply brings out the best in the character and the music. A prime example is in this scene, to the aria “Sentirò fra ramo e ramo”, pictured below, where yours truly risked giggling beyond control and disturbing the surrounding (which was also filled with giggling):

Sara Mingardo (Statira), Novaro (Niceno), Delphine Galou (Argene), Romina Tomasoni (Flora). © Ramella&Giannese


After many failed attempts, Argene (Delphine Galou) has decided it’s time to get rid of the sister (Statira, Mingardo), with the help of the two co-conspirators Niceno (Novaro) and Flora (Tomasoni). Statira, however, is “overwhelmed” with nature and the birds and repeatedly broke off her forced-exit, running back toward the audience to express how beaaautiful it is to hear the birds singing. S.Mingardo must be having a ball playing this role, mimicking the bird, returning the sound, listening, echoing, dancing, exchanging with the solo violin. One doesn’t want her to stop! (I was so (wrongly) disappointed when the B section ended and Niceno and Flora seemed to have dragged her off, but nope, you could hear her frantic footsteps as she waged the blue flowing dress running full semicircle round the staging back to the front to pick up the second A, just out there in staging idea and fun). Many other scenes worth mentioning including her recital of Niceno’s love poem (all touchy, then blurted out: this makes no sense, how can a heart speak?), or when she offered her hands to both Arpago and Oronte. Vocally, it was pure joy listening to Sara Mingardo in this work. Her solo aria to the solo viola da gamba aches with beauty. Her “L’occhio, il labbro, il seno, il core” was a nice mix of (honest yet nonsense) anger and great rhythm/tune, along with the wagging finger “na na na na, non fa per me”.

Carlo Allemano (Dario), Delphine Galou (Argene). ©Ramella&Giannese


In parallel with the “innocent” and slow Statira is Argene and her plots to take over. In a way, her character is a little bit more 1-dimensional. But perhaps during her time (whichever time this is) clever women were reduced to such? because it’s nearly impossible to understand how *EVERYBODY* was chasing after Statira. Sure, there’s the power hunger crowd, though we were unsure if, for example, Niceno was also after the throne? Being completely overlooked, she’s reduced to “draping” herself over Dario to seduce him (D.Galou is having a ball acting this, and Carlo Allemano is doing a great job being somehow “not” getting it), or when things go awry to pull out the gun and getting the whole army behind ready to shoot the whole kingdom into submission. In this staging, the ending did her a dis-service by reducing her great aria to an afterthought it feels. I would have liked it to be staged in a stronger scene than simply her pointed gun being disarmed very easily (Dario just walked up and took it, pfff), then everyone walked away as she collapsed “speaking” angrily to herself. There was an anouncement that Galou was sick yesterday, and probably it was this aria we felt it the most. Not in her very flexible coloratura run but in the power, as she was quite overpowered by the orchestra.

Of the other characters, Roberta Mameli’s Alinda has a couple of slow moving aria, with the last one while being hand-cuffed to be killed off was quite moving. Her tone is quite focused, and yet the voice is warm and quite expressive. I already remembered her well from Dalinda in Bucharest’s Ariodante and Nerone in L’incolorazione di Poppea. Pairing with her is Lucia Cirillo’s Oronte whose voice is also focused and descriptive. The two of them worked well together as a torn couple, all the way to the part when Oronte simply could not go through with killing her even if it means a (false) promise of the throne with/by Argene. Here L.Cirillo also did a nice job showing the human side of Oronte rather than flip/flopping on switch command.

Lucia Cirillo (Oronte), Roberta Mameli (Alinda). © Ramella&Giannese

Riccardo Novaro seemed to have a ball with the acting as well, love the little details of him running his fingers on the ground trying to touch Statira as the two of them sitting nearly side-by-side and Statira reciting his love poem to her
There was also some inconsistencies in his character: First he professed love to Statira, then was quick to join Argene’s team to break up the Dario-Statira couple (which makes sense if he’s really after Statira), and yet he was strangely quick to turn monster (attempted rape and kill?, he was growling while forcefully jumping on top of Statira) once finding himself alone with her in the woods. The character Flora, sung by Romina Tomasoni, is also a little bit 1-D, tilting where the wind blows. But one can understand her: if you don’t have power, better align yourself with those who you think can, especially if the one you’re serving is that slow and clueless. Dario played along well. One almost wonders who is slower between him and Statira. How did these people find each other in the first place?! The character that has the least thing to say seems to be Arpago, who, i would say even vocally, is not as strong, and scenically, even though supposed to be the head of the army, was quite quick to be kicked to the side and disarmed/dismissed.

Riccardo Novaro (Niceno), Sara Mingardo (Statira), © Ramella&Giannese

Vocally, since i was drooling at Sara Mingardo’s sound, we’ll keep it at that for now. Dehggi and I had a discussion, on how if we were talking about light, Sara Mingardo’s voice would warm a whole room whereas D.Galou’s would be along narrow beams. She has a really lovely tone but it is quite tight and most prone to being overpowered by the light orchestration Dantone ran. Though to be fair, she was also under the weather, so I can’t tell how she would sound in the house at full strength. I can really see why I love R. Mameli as Nerone in Poppea and remember her very well as Dalinda. Here she really had room to express on the rare single slow-burning aria. Dantone kept the orchestra very soft, never overpowering the singers (we experienced something in the complete opposite just 2 nights before in London so it was very pleasant to see how a knowledgeable conductor can take care of the singers while also carrying the music.) I can’t figure out if I didn’t pay as much attention to the orchestra, whether because the singers were superb, or whether the orchestra was playing its detailed way but not standing out to the point of taking away one’s attention. Either way, it was light, at times descriptive, but you spend more time enjoying the beautiful vocal lines and funny as hell silly staging.

Oh, a few last notes. As Giulia mentioned in her review, it is a warm touch in how Sara Mingardo portrayed Statira, in that she’s slow but has a good-heart nature. “Hit him but don’t hurt him too much” toward Niceno even though he nearly killed her just moment before, “he seems honest, is his offer a good deal? i’ll take it” to both Arpago and Oronte, putting Oronte and Alinda back together (it’s against her nature to see people sad it seems), or “let me handle it my way, he seems remorseful and seems to love me” to Dario. These flip/flops can be a bit too 1-D if you don’t take care to give the character a bit more depth. Was simply a joy to watch and listen. Honorable mention is the all-female entourage in trousers, and their various poses. Altogether, a greaat outing at the opera, and we can’t wait for a second round coming up in a few hours!

All-female entourage, exhibit #1. © Ramella&Giannese


All-female entourage, exhibit #2. © Ramella&Giannese

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ps– oh a complaint! the staging is too deep! there’s no point putting baroque singers that deep in when you have nearly 2 meter extra at the front before the orchestra!
ps2– but , the opera house staff is really sweat and relaxed.. we printed the wrong form for the tickets, but no problem, they printed the tix for you with a smile. ❤ .
ps3– oh, we saw two VERY HIGH TECH cameras filming it!!! fingers crossed for a TV broadcast or DVD!