Don Giovanni at Théâtre des Champs Elysées, 5/Dec/2016

Reporting from the white-shirt flat on 6th floor in the 11th arrondissement in Paris, with Dehggi writing from the other bed. After an excursion to chinatown to my favorite Vietnamese food joint*** and getting stuck in the touristic pre-Noël’s madness near the Ferris wheel, we barely made it to Théâtre des Champs Elysées 4 minutes before lights out. Upon running upstairs huffing and puffing, the usher, to our delight and MUCH more relaxed than the stiff-neck counterpart at the Wiener Staatsoper, were all smiling and telling us we still had time.

I actually don’t know Don Giovanni well at all! and have only recently (as in starting this past May) listening to it, after discovering Myrtò Papatanasiu and sorting out the difference between Donna Elvira and Donna Anna.. Since then I have listened to primarily two live performances to get things started: one for the very intriguing staging from Amsterdam with Papatanasiu as Donna Anna and one with the exceptional singing from the entire cast and of Antonacci as Donna Elvira in the Wien 1999 production. So this “review” will be heavily based on these two roles, and a little bit on Zerlina, whose music I discovered via Kasarova’s existing radio broadcasts. Our seats were up on the 3rd balcony directly above the orchestra for optimal view into the pit and sound from the singers (?). The first impression was the massive sound coming up during the overture and well into the first part of the singing. For me the whole show didn’t settle musically until the scene of in the morgue with Donna Anna in (goooooorgeous) suit recognizing DonG as her father killer and recounting the faithful night

“Non dubitate più: gli ultimi accenti che l’empio proferì tutta la voce richiamar nel cor mio di quell’indegno che nel mio appartamento…”

If I wasn’t a fan of Papatanasiu’s singing before, I would have become one last night. I’m extremely prone to detailed recitative phrasing (and low notes), and to my ears she was *the* star last night in phrasing, starting from every recit. She was already phrasing when on the floor clutching to DonnaA’s father’s dead body, but at that time the orchestra was way too loud and not leaving her space to express. During this passage, however, it was exquisite to hear: Each single sentence was expressed with full dynamics. I really think she was the only one using a full range of soft to loud and shaping/sculpting each sentence to draw us in, regardless of whether we understand Italian (or french surtitle) or not. The voice, again hearing live, this time from way above, I have to say it clicks with my ears very well: quite voluminous and distinctive from everyone else on stage such that it provides very nice contrast in trio/duet or solo (to not so loud orchestration). I would not categorize her voice as “beautiful”, and that’s not what I look for. Rather it’s the texture that works with vocal expression. Her voice, however, seems to not click well for Dehggi’s ears, but that is all good, each of us hear different things :-). Her “Non mi dir” was a show-stopper for me. Not in a “fancy” over decorated way, but in a time-stopping hold-your-breath while transitioning along in time with Donna Anna’s thought and pain. As I said, if I was not a fan before, definitely would become one last night. Also, whoever put her in a suit, that is simply BRILIANT! We’ll discuss how it fits in the staging in a bit.. but JA! (Also, since sitting there, with the orchestra fully visible, i did wish for a time-reversal machine back to February with Emmanuelle Haïm in the pit and Sifare and Aspasia on stage..)

Just an example then, on exactly what I hear when it comes to phrasing of recitative. This is purely a 2 minute passage, but through it, you feel every little note, pain, anguish, defiance in Donna Elvira. I think when recitative are not done in this way, it is “rushed” through and you will simply hear it being “said”, prior to the singer launching or easing into the main aria. By then, one would need to try to sort through what the aria is about, in addition to the musical lines. That is also a summary of what I heard from Donna Elvira last night, that it was singing, though Dehggi said she was very good. The other bit of music i GREATLY enjoyed was the orchestration to “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto”. Absolutely gorgeous flute and cello lines! And the finale trio “Don Giovanni! a cenar teco m’invitasti, e son venuto…” with moments when ALL woodwinds and brass (and all strings) were playing, quite goose-bump inducing.

On the subject of the orchestra, it started very loud to our ears. I was quite worried because throughout the first part, Donna Anna’s voice was quite masked out, DonG and Leporello were singing very loud, and Donna Elvira, with a quite large voice, was the only one making it above the orchestra to our ears unscathed. It was a huge relief for me when suddenly the orchestra quiet down as Leporello started “Madamina, il catalogo è questo”, and completely was cleared out for Donna Anna’s phrasing. Al told us that the orchestra is entirely composed of baroque instruments (the woodwinds and brass we could see, but violins we were not sure until being informed). This the the largest orchestra I have seen of my 3 times here (2x Tancredi, then N.Stutzmann’s own orchestra). I can’t remember if they were using baroque bows in 2014 because at that time i thought the orchestra was great with fine details. Last night they were using modern bows, which we assume because they needed a more robust sound for Don Giovanni ? In any case, it was blasting at the start and took a bit of time to let the singers express freely.

Some quick notes on the staging. The opening scene already featured 2 young women in very short skirts draping themselves over DonG and Leporello. As the stage rotated, we were first provided a visual of Donna Anna expressing pleasure while receiving oral treatment from DonG. She then “woke” up and being coerced by him in various poses on the bed… This theme continues with Donna Elvira touching self in bed to “Ah! chi mi dice mai” . Leporello then revealed a doll puppet to which he undressed and fantasizing over. This continued onto the next Masetto & Zerlina wedding scene with full draping of the female chorus in wedding gown on their male counterparts. Yes, the opera is disturbing. On top of it, I think much of the staging is feasting on it to provide eye-candies and further treat female bodies as fantasizing tools being put on display. Perhaps that’s why the whole show also didn’t settle for me until Donna Anna appeared in a black (very fine) suit! It’s an unusual move, and actually put into perspective the independence of Donna Anna’s. Al also mentioned it captures her entrapment in formality (or something like that, I did not get this point though and would love to hear more). What I do like is that she is often discussing and keeping herself balanced, and Don Ottavio is often seen as the one approaching her space and constantly wanting to keep the pair “appearance”. I’m still trying to understand Donna Elvira’s mindset. We first saw her fantasizing on bed, while often I had the vision of Cecilia Bartoli’s fist clenching and seething approach. Either is fine I think as long as we could see how she evolves.. in this case I can not quite tell anything about her. She is seen smoking through the windows while DonG is scheming and switching with Leporello during “Deh, vieni alla finestra” (the mandolin is sooooo cute!!!), then proceeded to sleep with DonG double without even knowing so.. She can been seen defiant at times, such as during the trio with DonnaA and DonO, or when pointing fingers at Leporello after “Mi tradì, quell’alma ingrata” , or when she arrived to snatch Zerlina away from DonG, or intruding into his conversation with DonnaA+DonO (which led to the trio). Surprisingly her duet with DonnaA at the end was omitted! But all in all, I am not sure what personality or resolve she has, and whether she’s simply running after DonG for the flesh. Even Leporello is a bit quick to switch, so he’s as much enjoying doing what DonG does when given the chance, given how quickly he embodied the seducer’s move without any hint of conflict/struggle. I really enjoyed Zerlina’s last aria, something neither Dehggi nor I have ever heard before! She was in a scene with only Leporello (and with a shaving knife), but her phrasing to start was just gorgeous. I did get her confused at that point with DonnaE simply because of the context (even though their voices are quite different). DonO is really seen as a needy guy constantly trying to close the space between him and DonnaA. Finally, the Commendatore, I’m sorry, but we really need a bass! His clear “high” notes in the final showdown “Don Giovanni” was floating ABOVE the orchestra! (while i was expecting it to line the base and providing rumble). His thin voice was completely masked out when the orchestra went full strength during the final passage, so the famous duet/trio because a solo with DonG singing to the orchestra prior to being pushed into the furnace.

Staging-wise, aside from all the eye-candies and not quite developed characters above, I really like the usage of the stage space, to narrow things, efficiently shifts between scenes, and the use of the morgue bed. To me Papatanasiu’s singing (and subtle body balance) stood out because she gave a layer to DonnaA’s character. We had glimpses into her mindset, her struggle with her father’s loss, and perhaps what appeared to be her independence. She made decision on her own, using her own head, and body angles / postures / gestures. Interestingly Al made a note that her body gestures are quite similar to Anja Harteros’! Which got me thinking when i first saw her coming up on the grass field in Alcina half of the time i had the image of Harteros’ in head!

So that’s a wrap up, in extreme rambling fashion, of an opera I don’t know much about, but highlighting what draws my attention the most. Here’s the curtain call of the opening night, and more chance to see that fine fine suit! Off to Antonacci we go for my last night here!

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alcina 2016, round 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

alcina at the wiener staatsoper (2016)

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Almost exactly 6 years after the premiere, and after some unexpected (personal schedule) delay, Alcina has finally arrived. Unlike in the original run where I was alone at the queue and sending reports out, this round was extra special with Anik‘s accompaniment. To say we were a tad anxious was about perhaps not quite descriptive enough ;-). Already the night before at Armide I was searching up and down for (what i expected full-wall-sized) announcement of Alcina. We arrived rather early in the standing room ticket queue anxiously going through the various scenarios of bad dreams, Anik’s being “kicked to the back of the queue, show canceled, show replaced..” while mine was more a big paste over of the main singer’s name with a REPLACEMENT.. Thank goodness, nothing happened (yet) as we rushed up the stairs to another door, with tickets in hands, only to wait another half hour as Les Musiciens du Louvre (lMdL) tuned their instruments and ran through the first bit of the overture and finale chorus. Yes, dear readers, to say I have a photographic memory of this staging as well as an imprinted-in-head replay of every character’s music + aria (led by Minkowski and lMdL) is an understatement. Since my discovery of Händel in 2010, this has been _the_ Alcina for me, starting from the bell ringing to the opening overture. I have heard countless other Alcinas, however, if your first ever *three* live performances were that of the Alcina run in 2010, it is simply a part of your life 🙂 .

By the time we finished putting on the scarf to mark our spots, only meekly 15min remained to take care of any last minute needs. The anxious wait has ended. Here I was again, stehplatz parterre, just 3 spots to the left of where I was in 20.Nov.2010, looking into the pit with theorbo arriving. As the curtain raised to the familiar scene, the memory has come full circle. My reasons for coming to _this_ Alcina are very specific. I was trying to rank them, and through impossible as it is, it has to be: Alcina with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre, AND Myrtò Papatanasiu as Alcina. Yes, I would say if it’s only the first two, I might not have gone completely out of my way to get here. And to put into perspective, these combinations, for example, would prompt me to immediately clear schedule: Harteros as Alcina, Antonacci (!!) as *any* character, Kasarova as Ruggiero, Sara Mingardo as Bradamante, Nathalie Stutzmann or E.Haïm or R.Jacobs and their orchestras in the pit, or Minkowski+lMdL+Papatanasiu. On the flight over I was debating a bit why I was quite drawn to Papatanasiu’s singing, especially because of all the singers I love listening to, her voice is the most difficult for me. Well, let’s proceed with Alcina shall we!

squealing (stealing photo from Anik's)

squealing (stealing photo from Anik’s)

Just as the overture start, Alcina is already on scene to greet her various friends and family. Yes, perhaps when we do enjoy seeing/hearing a performer, there is a certain level “obsession” as to why we can not take our eyes/ears off of them? But let us flip the question around: why does a certain singer/performer demand your attention? In general, and for Papatanasiu’s case, I have to mention her subtlety and intensity in body angle and gesture and foremost facial expression and eye angles: The key to “less is more”. The moment she’s on scene she demands our attention, and this is even before she sings a note.

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At this point perhaps I should warn you, dear readers, that the post might get quite long and I might not get around to talk about any other singers :-). As I’m so used to hearing Minkowski’s take of the overture, it was simply time well-spent to enjoy the body gestures and movements on stage. We will come back to Bradamante and Morgana in a bit, but let’s start with the ballet! Even during my flight, while pondering if the main singer might need to cancel, I concluded I would still have a great time basking myself in the ballet music and dancing (more ballet music below). As much as I tried, there was inevitably always going to be some comparison to the 2010 run, namely the two main singers then and now. Perhaps on this coming Wednesday I’ll try to keep a more open mind, but the contrast of “slowly building of the momentum” and “sensual movements from the core” between Harteros and Kasarova and the sometimes rather abrupt movements between Papatanasiu and Frenkel were rather strong, and as my brain has always processed this aria in the sensual-approach, it took a bit of time to adjust to. Hearing live, vocally, Papatanasiu’s voice is quite bigger than I had expected, with none of the tightness I experienced hearing via recording (except when she has to sing very fast some recitative parts), but rather with an edge which I do enjoy very much. The voice is quite rich, expressive, and her phrasing really makes sense to my brain. Again, I have talked about this before, I have no idea how it works, but I would compare her phrasing to Antonacci’s phrasing when it comes to “making sense”. I do think there is a universal way humans communicate aurally to deliver the phrase. For lack of vocabulary, I’d categorize it as via the musical path and the shaping-of-the-language path (to my musically uneducated brain). And in this home-made language, I’d put Kasarova and Harteros in the intense shaping of music regardless of language, and Antonacci, Mingardo, and Papatanasiu in the accentuation of the phrase from the language vantage in parallel with the music.

(more ballet)

This is a long way of saying as soon as Papatanasiu started singing “Di cor mio”, i was thinking perhaps I should rearrange my flight to stay until the last performance next sunday. Right, then some stuff happening on stage, and Alcina made her return to the stopping-breathing “Si son quella”. Tear-inducing dear readers, such an honesty, raw emotion, combining with very subtle acting and movement. It is simply very hard (for me) to understand in this staging how this sympathetic Alcina can be a sorceress. But we already knew that from 2010 when I openly questioned how anyone can abandon Alcina. As she slowly drifted out of sight, I was left thinking again of the psychological build-up of Alcina. (Perhaps this is the right spot to mention Papatansiu is quite effective in portraying troubled powerful female character. She left me thinking for months about Semiramide!) Some more singing went on and finally “ah mio cor” was upon us. The recitative leading into both this and “Si son quella”…, riiiight, Please, dear Ms. Papatanasiu, if you ever chance upon reading this, please sing some Monteverdi!! Emotionally filled recitative, how I *ADORE* ❤ ❤ . While i was intensively drawn to the military drive from the pit (<– do click on the link), Alcina had collapsed to the floor, from which an internalized “ah! mio cor..” rose. For a brief moment, I was thinking perhaps she was pushing a bit too hard. But if there is a moment for an all-out, this is it: the wheels just came off Alcina’s wagon. And for every fff “traditore! t’amotanto“, she always pulled back to a piano “puoi lascarmi sola in pianto“. As detailed in Anik’s post of her take on Lungi da te, I would put this down as a very specific choice of how she wants to phrase the music to draw in internally this question in the text.

The contrast with Harteros' take is stark: Harteros' Alcina is an imposing figure raging the stage in the B-section claiming vengence and stood defiantly to the end. Papatanasiu's take is a devastating one, both in her phrasing and the physical portrayal: from the stumbling collapse, to slowly coming off the chair falling by the sideway. Even in her defiant moment grabbing the bystander by the collar as she abruptly declared "Ma! (che fà gemendo Alcina?)“, Alcina’s vulnerability is still fully on display. Unlike Harteros’, I am unsure if Papatanasiu’s Alcina is capable of being vindictive. This is not a statement that one is better than the other, but rather an analysis of how both are devastatingly effective. Slowly, Alcina rising to her feet, stars (and time) slowly coming down, train of (baroque) strings plunging into the abyss, curtain coming close.. and I (we), left frozen in space and time, drifted to the floor in exhaustion.
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Given that I was unable to move for the next 10min dear readers, we settled on the spot to discuss “things”. There were questions to me regarding how I managed to block out the live performances I have experienced in 2010 when it comes to this new cast + take. To summarize, with Alcina, it worked for me from the start. Papatanasiu’s portrayal was simply real, raw, emotional, and much more importantly, musically intense, such that one does not need to revert to any previous experience for comparison. And i only mentioned Harteros often above to simply point out how the characters were portrayed and why they were so effective. (But to be very honest, I think it is much more difficult to cast Ruggiero, and yes, it’s a curse if your first ever Ruggiero is Kasarova and you are into that type of vocal expression…)

After intermission, I was wondering how one can recover from “ah mio cor”.. “ombre pallide” came a bit too soon. And again, i immensely enjoyed her recitative take before waving the magic wand. Let me listen once more on Wednesday before commenting on this, as I admit to being a bit distracted by the arms wand 😉 , as well as her lovely low notes. Yes, she did some lovely plunging into the chest register. Those low notes are quite distracting. “Ma quando tornerai” was taken *quite* faster than what I’m used to! Let me work again on Wednesday to sort out how it fits. By now, of course, Alcina has almost resigned to the fact Ruggiero is a goner, any last minute attempt to rekindle is long gone. The trio “non e amor e gelosia” was taken even faster than my brain could digest, really need a couple more days to sort out how this fits in. As the dust settle in the Lioness’ den, the dim light has returned to “mi restano le lagrime”, with Alcina reminiscing her good time with Ruggiero, a timid hand-hug, a polite bow, a soft smile.. heart break.. sniff… yes, that sitting in on the chair, candle flickering, pouring self a scotch. Poor poor Alcina. (side track: this scene somehow brings back memory of Kasarova’s soft smile in the tomb in Capuleti, sniff..)

(yes, even more ballet, to hope)

Dear readers, I think I might just end here, too heart broken to go on. There needs to be a radio recording of Papatanasiu singing this role, with a baroque specialist in the pit who cares for her phrasing and work together to make such music possible for us the audience to enjoy. We left rather slowly while recovering from the evening. But yes, we did attempt to swing by the stage door aftward. Similar to the lack of any kind of promotion posters for Alcina in the Metro, I was surprised to see not too many waiting there to talk to her. I guess that is the norm here at Wiener Staatsoper to only promote premiere and bury all others under some rugs. I’m unsure how aware Papatanasiu is of her more expanded fanbase in western europe and even the US in response to the recent broadcasts of her Mitridate. I will be on the look out for her performances, especially if she’s singing with these fantastic orchestras and conductors and in early music. And as usual, we all hope singers keep an updated schedule far enough in advance on their sites for fans to manage schedule/flight to attend. I’d say for me, she’s a very unique performer with the capability to transport the music (early?) and in combination with her acting, leaving a very strong impression, enough for one to travel 1/2 way around the globe to hear.

here’s a short curtain call. i missed the roar she received on the first walk out, too busy clapping! please excuse the lack of discussion for the orchestra, but with enough music excerpts of the ballets + overture, i hope to convince you of my obsession for M.Minkowski’s take with lMdL of this Alcina.

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(ps- I might return at some point to write about the rest of the performance and singers in a separate post…)

monday earworm

(otherwise known as more Semiramide and a certain soprano obsession…)
I spent the weekend (listening to Semiramide and) flipping the schedule since waking up at 6pm is just not very productive.. and currently sporting wake-up time of 2am (very proper for listening to music in europe!) Not sure if i want to move it since I found waking up between 11pm – 2am to be the _most_ productive of all schedule variations. Second most productive is up-time = 2pm. (Absolute-worst is up at 8am, what a waste of 24hr!)

Semiramide_bel_raggio_lusinghier6

Semiramide occupied with own imagination

In any case, unlike with Mayr, Semiramide has been stuck in my head at various parts.. You could say Rossini is indeed the expert at planting earworms! Especially those arias with chorus joining in (Perché turba la calma!) As referred to in the previous post (even though at that time I was very unfamiliar with the opera), the thing to notice between this performance and any previous is the “details”. So I’ve gotten around to somewhat figure out what I mean, hence the earworm: Semiramide’s entrance aria “Bel raggio lusinghier”. Between not knowing the music and the pace, it didn’t quite appear to my ears orginally as a typical “Rossini’s entrance aria”. But it does contain some really sticky (to the ear) passages that makes one (<– me) return repeatly. So I finally went ytubing and discovered almost all other versions I've heard are within 8m20s±20s and 1 version with the same conductor at 9m55s .
This one clocks in at just under 11min: 00:00-01:55 orchestra; 01:55-03:43 chorus; 03:43-05:35 recit; 05:35-07:20 slow; 07:20-10:50 fast.

M.Papatanasiu–Bel raggio lusinghier

That’s a difference of nearly 150 (1 case 60) seconds extra! There were a couple of moments in the fast secion where I thought M.Papatanasiu ran short of breath (? also because of the heft she put on) and wondered whether because of the tempo. Yet there’s also a question as to whether the tempo was deliberately set to let the singers express the music to very thinned-out orchestration (which I quite like)? This was what giving me the impression of a baroque version of Rossini last week, e.g., great detailed singings to much less robust orchestration and show-stopper coloratura runs (Vivaldi+Händel have plenty of those but they’re very different than Rossini, as i finally now hear the difference). I haven’t clocked A.Hallenberg’s Arsace’s entrance aria but it sounded to me she also has PLENTY of time to express, and she absolutely rocks it, again not in the powerhouse Rossini sense but in letting you pause to understand feeling and individual phrase.

Semiramide_bel_raggio_lusinghier2

with the chorus looking on

Back to the earworm, I/Anik/theinkbrain have also found out this morning co-dependently that this version is available in full on tube at this channel, so you can sample if would like. But while watching M.Papatanasiu I thought perhaps I was distracted by the visuals, hence the vocal extraction here only, to gorgeous all-female chorus, to carefully hear her phrasing. And this is one of the examples I’d give for the way she expresses the music which I really enjoy. I keep thinking of her as a musician, not just a singer, in term of having a feeling for the music flow and carrying of a phrase. Some of the ornamentations are a bit disruptive.. but wait until you hear some of the powerhouse links below :-). Also, the screencaps! As I have also mentioned how I enjoyed her acting: this is a visual to the picolo in the opening orchestral music of the aria, each with Semiramide smiling by herself. It’s not a simple smile, as noticed by the chorus in the zoom out. If there’s a way to softly smile and yet reveal a troubled mind, this is it. Very nicely acted. (Until she started singing, then I thought after 5 rounds I better extract the audio to “hear” more properly 🙂 ).

So, who are my the powerhouses? Let’s start with La Antonacci (8m25s)! follows by the ninja Nelly Miricioiu (8m20s), one of my favorite Amenaides Darina Takova (9m55s), and ends with Joyce DiDonato (<8m30s)! This last one has the music so one can really see the "so many notes in such a short time-span" as one of the reviewers put it. The comment section also confirms what I suspected: that the music is indeed lower than for a typical coloratura soprano. I think when the aria is fast you hear it as an aria rather than hearing what it's about? Yet I can't imagine hearing Romeo's entrance aria 60-150sec slower! I guess it's a "blessing" to start with a "weird" one first! I also read somewhere that this role demands both a flexible (coloratura) and "dramatic" voice. No idea why the 2nd requirement or what it means, but I guess there is a reason it is not often sung?

Oh, one last note: it seems the singers had mic running up their sleeves (or back..) This was taped for dvd/blue-something so I guess that's more valid than having the camera + audio recording in the back of the hall like Alcina in Wien? In in-haus reviews there were no complaining at all regarding (lack-of) hearing from the singers.. And I remember also noticing mic running up ACA's back-neck in that Maria Stuarda's recording with her and M.Devia, so it happens sometimes? a lot of times?

screencaps for the weekend

Ann Hallenberg (Arsace), Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide), Vlaamse Opera, Dec 2010--Jan 2011

Ann Hallenberg (Arsace), Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide), Vlaamse Opera, Dec 2010–Jan 2011

There are reasons to not know the story when listening to operas! Now that my (dreaming) bubbles have been bursted, I’m quite pissed at the ridiculous storyline that prevents these caps from having meaningful effect.. you can check out the story of Rossini’s Semiramide if desire.. or just go with the flow here.. I must admit i’m very impressed with M.Papatanasiu’s phrasing in this, as well as her acting. After scanning the first round a few days ago I thought it was the proper time to re-acquaint the ears with the power-house. WOW! talk about bringing the haus down! Ewa Podles! But while I have been a (secret) admirer of Darina Takova’s singing since that gorgeous Amenaide in Tancredi, here i thought somehow she left me out cold… (i even re-listened a couple of times to make sure i didn’t miss it…) and that brings us to this duet! The difference in this live recording (A.Hallenberg and MP) compared to that one with Takova and Podles (same conductor, same haus!) I think, among other things, is the pace: with the power-house singing the music was significantly more robust. In this one it’s very interesting to hear how much more details but much less showcasing of the voice: one would be tempted to just ignore the “Rossini’s (flashy) effect” because it’s more about the drama (it is showcasing but in a different way, here, see if you can hear the difference both in the orchestra and in the singing details in A.Hallenberg’s version of the same aria E.Podles sang). I must admit I came in quite skeptical of MP’s singing of this role (not that I know it at all, but I was not sure if she has the heft, the high sustained notes exposed to little orchestration, the coloratura…). What is most pleasant to discover is that Semiramide’s music is quite low (I think! compared to Mozart) and thus she shines with her strong low notes as well as with some impressive long legato lines where her musical phrasing came through wonderfully. On 2nd round of listening I also enjoyed A.Hallenberg’s detailed singing much more (after blocking out the powerhouse Rossini’s aspect…), and their voices mesh very lovely in this duet (ahh.. one can only dream..madre=[step-]mother)

Arsace-Semiramide

In any case, here’s one last cap for “my” night. And a review that really says it much clearer than what I wrote here. Too bad A.Hallenberg was not present for that reviewed performance. So there, Semiramide, I’ll listen again when up. Oh, and I’m still searching for her Iphigénie, and accidentally ran into this fb post instead: that’s what it takes to achieve “diva” status in the US, by simply asking for the most basic thing 😀 . I’m impressed she managed it though, and I’d have come to hear her Traviata just because the AC was off! It’s not easy to pull that off in the US!
Arsace_Semiramide02

the night continues with Ginevra

Edit: Clear the deck y’all, here comes the duet! à la “Lasciarmi” in Tancredi!

Ariodante-Ginevra

—————-
(and Ariodante and Polinesso, AND the chorus)
I’m currently flip-floping between two Ginevras: the one from the previous post with Myrtò Papatanasiu in Mayr’s version and Patricia Petibon in the Genevre 2007 radio broadcast version, which turns out I have listened to before several times.. but now with finer-tuned ears…

It sounds like she (Ginevra) is being mis-treated all the same in both operas. In the Mayr’s version, given the opera is in her name, i thought perhaps she’d have more room to put her case to the front to defend herself.. but after making the sort-of entrance (sort-of because she doesn’t even have her own aria, fighting all the time with all the male roles..) at minute 10 or so… we barely hear from her again until the dust settles (end of Act1, Ariodante jumping off already!) to gorgeous solo-cello (then all the males enters + male chorus). I can hear how she (MP) can maneuver Violetta in Traviata the way she sings this. I’d categorize her voice as focused but has a particular pinch whenever she doesn’t take it soft on the high notes. An example is when she ascends softly at 01.30, 02.30, or 02.59 here, it sounds fantastic. Overall, the voice is indeed quite flexible and has an “edge” to it. I remember during Mitridate thinking she’s got a little of that “edge” that one hears in ACA but ACA’s voice is much more warm and has more body/volume.

Myrtò Papatanasiu, Ginevra Aria #2 (Act 1 Finale):

But what happened before all this? First, Polinesso and Ariodante got into a jaw-ing match belcanto style: (when i say belcanto, i mean it sounds to me like Bellini 🙂 )

Polinesso and Ariodante going at it:

Then, this is the closest we get to Scherza infida, only in the recitative format! But to lovely solo-flute. After that, Ariodante took a sprint à la long-jump-sprint off the cliff, OF COURSE with the chorus “cheering on” from behind: (the other female voice is Lucarnio)

Ariodante’s lament: Ariodante olympic-style sprint off the cliff:

What can we draw from all these so far: That Mayr loved choral music 🙂 . Moving on to Act 2.. I’m holding out hope to get a Ariodante-Ginevra duet! (and perhaps some more soft music for Ginevra?)

the other Ariodante

Anna Bonitatibus (Ariodante), Myrtò Papatanasiu (Ginevra) © Weinretter , Festsaal Ingolstadt, Festkonzert am 14.06.2013

Anna Bonitatibus (Ariodante), Myrtò Papatanasiu (Ginevra) © Weinretter , Festsaal Ingolstadt, Festkonzert am 14.06.2013

I have been on a bit of a hunt for Myrtò Papatanasiu’s Alcina after hearing a clip of her singing the role which I must say I quite enjoyed. Nothing turns up yet.., but what i found instead is this photo to the right.

Yes, you see it correct, that’s Anna Bonitatibus singing Ariodante, and yes, that’s Myrtò Papatanasiu to the right as her Ginevra!! i was about to run up and down the hall screaming for joy.. until i realized it’s Giovanni Simone Mayr’s version of the story entitled “Ginevra di Scozia”. Given he put Ginevra at the center, hopefully she won’t be languishing and packing her bags leaving town like in Händel’s version? Am not sure yet since I just made it to 1/5 of the broadcast. Anyhow, it’s belcanto. And sadly our favorite contralto role Polinesso is replaced by a tenor (bah). In place, Lurcanio is now a soprano! Or may be a mezzo? whoever she was her tone is not very focused I must admit. In any case, how about an introduction to a new Ariodante (and Ginevra) then?

Given the Belcanto style, Ariodante makes his entrance in grand style (à la Tancredi stepping off his ship):

Anna Bonitatibus, Ariodante:

Just before his (her) entrance was Ginevra’s:

Myrtò Papatanasiu, Ginevra:

Quite fine style, with lots of chorus singing which I like! They recorded it for cd release apparently, so the audience was quite mute after each aria. M.Papatanasiu’s voice is focused and she does phrasing quite nicely, but I must admit it has a particular tightness at the top that gives me headache if listening for too long.. though surprisingly not so much the case in Mitridate, and even much more surprisingly not in that clip of Alcina.. A.Bonitatibus, on the other hand :-), talk about warmth! yeah! i’d love to see her live in a staged version making this entrace. In any case, the libretto is here. And the above clips are from a radio broadcast back in 14.Jun.2013 . If there’s interest I can also put it up. Meanwhile, enjoy another photo here from a different performance, via this gbopera site, do go there for the fantastic high res versions!

© gbopera

© gbopera