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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Sara Mingardo and Francesca Biliotti at Wigmore Hall

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

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

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

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

Girolamo Frescobaldi(1583-1643)
Toccata nona

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

Giovanni Kapsberger(c.1580-1651)
Canzone prima

Claudio Monteverdi
Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti

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

music for the night


.
.
Monteverdi “Voglio di vita uscir” (I want to depart this life)

Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano
Quest’ossa in polve e queste membra in cenere,
E che i singulti miei tra l’ombre vadano,
Già che quel piè ch’ingemma l’herbe tenere
Sempre fugge da me, ne lo trattengono
I lacci, ohimè, del bel fanciul di Venere.

Vo che gl’abissi il mio cordoglio vedano,
E l’aspro mio martir le furie piangano,
E che i dannati al mio tormento cedano.
A Dio crudel, gl’orgogli tuoi rimangano
A incrudelir con gl’altri. A te rinuncio,
Né vo’ più che mie speme in te si frangano.

S’apre la tomba, il mio morir t’annuncio.
Una lagrima spargi, et alfin donami
Di tua tarda pietade un solo nuncio,
E s’amando t’offesi, homai perdonami.

I want to depart this life, I want my bones
to fall into dust, and my limbs into ashes,
and my sobs to disappear among the shadows,
since those feet, which adorn the tender grasses,
are always fleeing from me; nor are they restrained,
alas, by the bonds of the lovely son of Venus.

I want the depths of hell to see my sorrow,
and the Furies to weep for my harsh agony,
and the damned to acknowledge my torment.
Farewell, cruel one, let your pride remain
to torture others; I renounce you!
I no longer want you to dash my hopes to pieces.

The tomb opens: my death is at hand.
Shed but one tear, and at the last give me
a single sign of your pity (now too late);
and if my love has offended you, forgive me now!

(now i’m hoping to eventually get a clip of her singing “lasciatemi morire” …)

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.)


il ritorno d’Ulisse, round 2

It has been well documented chez thadieu that often the 2nd round is better than the first, especially with singers who are in their elements. Prior to tonight’s performance it was brought to my attention that a certain critic writing for some big name newspaper in Hamburg only spent the last paragraph of a long review with first mentions of Sara Mingardo on way to writing she was not heard well*. Granted that three of us were at the theater on the opening night and complaining about the loud harpsichord.. yet all heard her very well, I was quite puzzled to hear this report (so was Dehggi). Especially because we were distributed in the hall enough to avoid potential bias due to preferential seatings. Why do I start a report on such a negative note? Because, by the end of this evening’s performance, I’m pretty sure whoever the critic was likely is in need of an ear- and reality-check**.

This report, I’m afraid, might turn into a big Sara Mingardo’s post. The opera of course started out with the fragile human being tormented by the gods and goddesses. Christophe Dumaux had some very delicate phrasings. Soon though, the evening took a quiet and somber turn as drums sprinkled, theorbos lightly strummed, to Penelope staged at center in dark dress, dark glasses, dark veil. Besides the timeless sweeping by Ericlea, all movements ceased. Then a dark voice rose. Personally, I find this entrance significantly more effective when it is done in a more quiet and evolving manner than full-on lament. And that’s what we had tonight. sprinkles of theorbos, and Sara Mingardo phrasing (pining) Monteverdi. Time truly stopped. It was a true marvel hearing how the mood evolves with her, as if she’s doing it on the fly, based on how she/Penelope felt at each evolving moment. Only occasionally i realized “oh, she’s approached the chair here, like last time”, or “oh, she’s throwing the chair there” . Even the simple moment of throwing the chair was spontaneous: Penelope grabbing on, twisting fingers as she built up the tension in the phrasing, then snapped, with the bouncing echo on the floor. The running away from the center, approaching the edge, hand gestures, leaning onto Ericlea, sitting down rocking sadly and melancholically, with a soft painful smile, to

Torna il tranquillo al mare,
torna il zeffiro al prato,
l’aurora mentre al sol fa dolce invito
a un ritorno del dì che è pria partito.
.

😥 .

And the soft pianissimo we were hoping to hear last Sunday? In full display; trailing and ascending ever so slightly as Penelope drifted into the background to the dancing. sniff. It was that kind of an evening. Yours truly was a bit shaken. But the opera does not end with Penelope’s lament. One should not miss it. But if somehow one accidentally did, it’s still completely worth the effort simply to hear the rest of her phrasing. I have it worked out that this is what she does, and if this works for you, it will never go wrong 🙂 . To the critic who apparently couldn’t hear her, i can rebuff today, from row 8, she was heard extremely well. And judging by the loud screams she received during curtain call, the rest of the theater also heard her well.
Interestingly she was exceptionally well heard when standing on the take singing down to us. As far as beam-story goes, that might have been it! I had all her music mentally marked down in head through the evening, every movements now registered, as if to create a long-lasting memory when i replay the radio broadcast.

A final note on Penelope then, before I might proceed to talk about other singers (or not.. it’s getting late and i have to get up at 4am…) The final collapse. My heart did fully dropped, let out an audible gasp with simultaneous jolt. Even when knowing a collapse was coming i was taken by complete surprise when she did. Something about the so precise moment and yet unpredictable. And with it the cascading spill of emotion, to the soft and yet still slightly pained smile

Gli augelletti, cantando,
i rivi mormorando or si rallegrino!


.

I regret not having another chance to hear her in this production. it’s currently pouring rain outside and i hope she is not catching a cold from it! because if you’re in town and want to hear one of the world’s best contraltos breathing Monteverdi, you should go hear her live. I have already discussed the orchestra sparingly elsewhere and just wanted to add today, either they had reduced volume greatly during her singing, or perhaps sitting in the floor section blocked out the harpsichord, but i think it (the harpsichord) has toned down significantly.. not sure if this is a welcome trend or that it might pick up again during the weekend.. Also I’m still working my way through Vaclav Luks’s conducting. Personally I prefer a little bit more “rhythm” / pace change to help things flow a tiny bit more musically. Yes yes i know this is Monteverdi, but the continuous similarities can even make this semi hard-core Monteverdi fan flagged at time.. Also, there’s still something about their “thick” accompany that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.. and a tiny note that i prefer Ian Bostridge’s way of phrasing significantly more than Kurt Streit’s.

Edit: curtain call:

——
-ps anotehr curtain call coming at some point…
* i can’t voucher yet since it was translatedly summarized to me, and translation can also be rather subjective as it can also highlight the person’s personal intake..
** or rather, as Dehggi and Agathe put it, get the ears trained on contraltos.

il ritorno d’Ulisse in Hamburg

©Monika Rittershaus

warming greetings from Hamburg! The WS vehicle, which Purity envisioned 8 years ago to follow mezzos (and contraltos) around Europe finally materialized as Agathe, thadieu, and Dehggi all piled into to a small 4-wheel device heading for Sara Mingardo.

the Mingardo soundtrack for the WS road


The anticipation was very high, given that the Hamburger Staatsoper withheld any rehearsal photos the entire week prior and we all arrived with heart-thumping worries of an announcement of a replacement. Even the conductor walking out was giving Agathe a heart-dropping moment, same worrying about more last minute announcement :-). But all was well, Sara Mingardo was listed, onstage right from the first scene. Not sure if Agathe recognized her in the ensemble, but of course I did, and so should Dehggi one floor higher up on our opposite side.

Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

Hamburg 29/Oct/2017
Sara Mingardo: Penelope

Kurt Streit: Ulisse
Katja Pieweck: Ericlea
Dorottya Láng: Minerva
Dovlet Nurgeldiyev: Telemaco
Christophe Dumaux: L’umana fragilità / Anfinomo
Denis Velev: Tempo / Antinoo
Luigi De Donato: Nettuno
Rainer Trost: Eumete
Marion Tassou: Melanto
Oleksiy Palchykov: Eurimaco
Alexander Kravets: Giove
Gabriele Rossmanith: Fortuna/Giunone
Peter Galliard: Iro
Viktor Rud: Pisandro

Vaclav Luks: musical director
Orchestra: Collegium 1704

I like this staging a lot! and have already seen it back in May/2015 when she had her month-long Zürich’s debut, though it’s true back then i had *no* clue about the composer/music/Penelope. Essentially the stage is a simple very large white sloping dish, on which Penelope was either being centered and isolated through her sorrow, or twirled around/cornered by the suiters / party-ers. The fragile human (Christophe Dumaux) was stripped to his boxer and tortured, with strings pulled in every which way by the gods and goddesses. Female characters were in generic dresses with heels** while male characters in suit and ties. The exceptions being Ulisse often being shirtless and the suiters with the “<3 Penelope” T-Shirts that ALL OF US (Dehggi, thadieu, Agathe) ALL WANT WANT WANT ❤ . We’ve discussed going to the Hamburg Opera’s shop to order/request.

© Monika Rittershaus

So, the verdict, actually, i’ll let Agathe say something about her impression in the comment section. As for self, ❤ <3. We sat on the right (in all senses) side with Sara Mingardo often ended up in our corner with Ericlea by her side while being chased. Postures! did I mention Mingardo’s postures before? in holding the bow, throwing the dresses.. jumping(!!) on and off tables (i can’t believe she’s doing all these, with helps of course, but on those heels!) . and vocally: ❤ . Actually Penelope has so much sad music to sing through, it was quite enjoyable the rare moments she has defiant music to push back (posture). Strangely enough, through her lamentation and almost the entire evening, the harpsichord (to the left of the conductor) was TOOO LOUD! we wondered if it was our seatings, but Dehggi reported the same thing from quite a different location in the haus. To our astonishment, the harpsichord went kaput in the final scene. And ALLLL ears were perked up to hear SMingardo’s phrasings during the final bit, starting with such a heart-felt collapse (snif). I’m quite prone to heartfelt/devastated collapses for some reasons, when they’re done just at the right moment and you feel the whole weight on Penelope (or Donna Anna in Paris) , snif..

We debated why we heard ALL of her range of emotion & tones & voice & expression so well in the finale, and wondered outloud if we had gotten used finally to the sound in the haus.. but NO, the harpsichord STOPPED! that was it. PLease, for the rest of the run, please turn down the harpsichord when she sings! She doesn’t need it at all, not at that volume that just trampled over her at times.

Ok, am finishing this off now to go hang out some more, so, mainly just starting this as a space for us to return later to discuss, about how much we enjoyed Minerva, both in blazer and in dress, and that we’d like to hear from more her (mezzo Dorottya Láng) . Above is the trailer, and below is the curtain call. It was quite nice seeing the warm reception the cast and orchestra received on the opening night. And oh yes, I’ll try to form some lines of thoughts about the orchestra. I quite like it! but somehow kept thinking how different they are in their phrasings (mainly Vaclav Luks’s way of phrasing) than Alessandrini and Anrea Marcon. Altogether, we’re still talking about it here through our various hopping between cities.. but will return soon to fill the space (i hope) with discussion, as well as enjoying Dehggi’s take whenever it comes.

signing off until the next excursion. please excuse the grammar/spelling errors.. i’m proceeding now to my fresh breakfast bread!

music for the working fighting-with-printer sunday

woke up with Poppea’s creamy tune in my head! and in anticipation of fighting with the big printer in a couple of hours… if successful, I’ll be happy with a gigantic 1,1m x 1,5m poster in hand, else will be doing some scrambling tomorrow in Berkeley, fingers crossed…

But yes, Poppea, creamy…

poor Ottone.