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..

music to start saturday

well.. i went to bed very late.. so indeed starting now…
As you recall from our concert at Wigmore Hall just a week ago… Francisca Biliotti was listed as Sara Mingardo’s pupil and that she has been picked by JEGardiner to sing in that Monteverdi 450 tour.. and of course I have actually heard her before here, when I sat through the whole thing about a year ago… but now with more “refined” ears for this, let’s have a listen again. Transitioning right after her also Penelope, check her now too (Lucile Richardot)!!!

(I recall hearing Katjia Pieweck singing this and thought it was lying a little low for a mezzo, so a contralto is just right! I still think she (Biliotti) will shape the words/music more, as how we heard Pieweck did it.. more feeling rather than strictly just sing such that if you don’t understand Italian then it’s not carrying as much emotion?)

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!