Händel Aci Galatea e Polifemo at Wigmore Hall


These mid-week concerts often require quite a bit of rope jumping to navigate schedules.. but after catching Sonia Prina and Roberta Mameli together on the radio last year in that gorgeous Orfeo ed Eurydice, then subsequently Mameli’s Aminta and Vitellia also on the radio (we reallllly realllly love the team Mameli + Sardeli), it waas a no brainer that as soon as we saw Wigmore Hall schedule released we’d get the tickets and sort out work later! Even more lucky, we saw the schedule release of the Enescu festival and a possible broadcast to listen and keep <3. After brewing over that in anticipation for 1 full week, Agathe and I arrived in London (with even a fun train race) to Dehggi's WS hub, with enough time to relax before the show (hopefully I’ll find time to write about that “accidental” DonG at the Royal Opera haus). Wigmore Hall has since a while now a special place in my heart, primarily for its superb acoustics and intimate atmosphere, along with the memory of hearing beloved contralto (Sara Mingardo) in such a setting. In fact a couple of us (deep female voice lovers) knew of Händel's "Aci, Galatea e Polifemo" via our beloved contraltos and I admit to never quite have paid proper attention to Aci and/or Polifemo as I (may be?) should.

Händel Aci, Galatea e Polifemo
Wigmore Hall, 26.09.2019
Aci: Roberta Mameli
Galatea: Sonia Prina
Polifemo: Luigi De Donato
Oboist: Nicola Barbagli
laBarocca
Ruben Jais conducting

Though rather short in length, ~90min, this work is packed with drama and loaded with arias for all characters, all of which covers quite a deep range of emotion, to lighter orchestration than Händel’s later works (Alcina for example). Since our discovery of Roberta Mameli we have been very much looking forward to her take on Aci. I have to admit I can hear such depth in Aci’s music with her that I have not been aware of before. Her voice, as I have noted in Stockholm, has this warmth and heft that really covers the whole reception range of the (my) ear. It’s really a marvel just to enjoy this particular color she has. Actually, if I can compare, I once mistook her voice (as Nerone, on audio) for Anna Caterina Antonacci’s , though I would say ACA’s has more richness.., but at times, especially in Monteverdi, I’ve gotten them mixed up.. And on the note of comparison, if I can go further to discuss “range” and the low notes for a second.. I am not sure where the breaks in their (ACA and Mameli) voices are, but I can hear extremely well the attractiveness of their tones as they descend and land solidly on the low notes. I think to express the full range of emotions, a singer should have the ability to land solidly in the low range because it offers such a wide range of possibility for expression, color, and shaping to bring out different mood in the music within that range. And yes, not only me, but Agathe has also commented on how well she could hear Mameli’s low notes and depth as Aci. And no, we’re not talking (yet) about those incredibly low Vitellia’s notes (that’s for another discussion), Aci’s lows are quite high in comparison i think (?), but that “color” she manges whenever she swings by these notes are irresistibly attractive to my brain. ❤

But enough with the low notes, Aci has quite a few arias, 2 duets, and 1 trio, and a loooot of recits. Along with them a range of emotion: carefree joy in “Sorge il dì“, high charge defiance in “Che non può la gelosia“, low charge defiance in “Dell’aquila l’artigli“, reaching its max swinging with hope (“Qui l’augel da pianta in pianta“, every time I hear such an upswing tune Marc Minkowski’s voice “give it a ray of hope” is in my head), only to tragically end on this heart-breaking free-style recitative-like “Verso già l’alma col sangue”.. Too tragic, with Galatea’s hand reaching out for a last touch 😥 . That is just not fair…

Actually i confess I’m judging the mood of the arias by how i hear Mameli communicating the music, and have not seen the translation, so i could be very wrong!! And yes, through the entire range of vocal expression, we could hear her changing from positive assurance in the tone early on to nearly full-on piano as Aci’s last breath drew near. What a masterful display of voice control and emotive delivery. I can only say I’m extremely glad I caught her Aminta right at the beginning of this year (on radio, and various clips by Teatro la Fenice, that is how you promote, YES!) and able to sort out schedule just in time to catch her recent Ginevra and now this.

I confess when first discovering the contralto range I was not listening to a lot of clips from Sonia Prina because I stumbled on Sara Mingardo first (just recently really, 2014).. But that was really *the* only stubborn hurdle. With Agathe’s help, I’m growing ever more attached to her descriptive phrasing, especially in recitative, along with having a somewhat addiction for her slow arias.. SLOW because she does so much with it, it’s incredible! and yet if one can imagine, it was even more incredible last night with the acoustic at Wigmore Hall, where ALL the fine details reached my ears, these small variation and various softness within a single line that draws you very deep into Galatea’s mind state. And it is now also established that one *must* see her live, not only for these nuances that somehow is not well captured at times through recordings, but also for her intense commitment to acting. Those glaring exchanges with Polifemo were PRICELESS. What I loved also was how generous she is with sharing the stage with her colleagues, warm touches and smiles, and how much at ease and in tune she is with the flow. A Sonia Prina experience must be live for one to fully appreciate her artistry and dedication. (The fast arias are also gorgeous when heard live but i’ve in love with her melancholy phrasings..) OK, that was a lot of gushing, Here’s an example of her sensitive phrasing, starting from, as always, must start from, recitative.

There’s also Polifemo of course! I will need to read up on the story to find out exactly what happened.. all I know is he’s a brute, jealous, and Aci got killed.. 😥 .. But Polifemo’s music is actually *very* deep and dark in places, and Luigi De Donato delivered some very serious phrasing (those piano ascents) and solid sustained lines of lows that reverberated in the hall in “Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori“. But I have liked his deep voice since his Nettune in Hamburg in that great staging, dangling his legs off the circular dish having fun with the fragile humans.. His voice also provides a VERY nice contrast in the trios:

I must also mention the superb play by members of laBarocca, especially woodwind player Nicola Barbagli who superbly duetted with all singers. May be when i have time I’d come back to add more about the orchestra and Ruben Jais’ take.. though am not sure what else to say besides they were really great, leaving lots of rooms for the singers, filled in all the spaces with wonderful musical lines and dynamics, everything worked just perfect!

Post concert we did make our way backstage to say hi to everyone and sending our deep appreciation for their dedicated musical communication. This has been such a tremendous experience, it’s ashamed to be so short and ends so quickly (only 2 shows, though we’re lucky to have seen one and have the other being broadcast). One can’t help but hope to see this staged somewhere, with this wonderful trio, given how well they work together ❤ . Am not sure if we could also wish for the band to be included given that most houses have their own band? But please make it happened somehow, we VERY much would make the effort to clear our schedules to attend multiple shows!

Below is the curtain call. I’m still reliving the playlist and hoping to get to hear Mameli and Prina more, together please, we also love that Orfeo ed Eurydice! (But i admit Aci Galatea e Polifemo is more balanced for the singers..). Altogether, it has been such a wonderful experience, getting to hang out and share this with dearest WS friends and all. ❤

ps- we’ve been keeping track of the number of arias Händel borrowed from himself, “Sibilar l’angui d’Aletto” is the same as in Rinaldo as D reminded me, and the begin of and bits of “S’agita in mezzo all’onde” were later lifted for Poppea in Agrippina…

ps2- I wanted to make a note on the usage of AC in concert halls and opera houses: I simply don’t understand the ignorance and insistence for its usage, given that we’ve heard so many singers pointing out how much it affects their throats. Especially when they’re vulnerable on stage where one cannot simply use a scarf to wrap around to protect their instrument. That, and the other problem (I always worry) that singers might catch a cold because they’re working hard and sweating and now having the damn cold air blowing at them without the ability to simply cover themselves up. I still remember reading Kasarova’s interview when she was in the dead summer heat in NY sweating buckets but explained to the interviewer she would never turn on the AC in her own apartment on the day off.. to the story of Papatanasiu somehow miraculously managed to convince the entire Dallas Opera haus to shut the AC off so she could preserve her voice.. But jeah, it used to be a problem only in the US, but sadly recently many cities in Europe (and UK) appear to also follow this madness trend, very infuriating

Ariodante at Drottningholm, round 2

Not having yet enough, we returned for round two last night. The weather has been so gorgeous here we decided to walk across the bridge to enjoy the scenery and breeze instead of being snuffed in the bus. This post is not really a post, just more random thoughts on horns, Ginevra, Ariodante, the staging, and perhaps the meaning of “life” 🙂 .


The first great news is of the announcement of a radio broadcast, i believe on 17/Aug. And more importantly, the radio bus was here! which means the broadcast will be of last night performance, unless they recorded twice to gauge the sound? With all the mics set up (at the front, as well as mounted on nearly all instruments in the pit) everyone brought their A-game. To our relief, the row just in front was empty of 2 seats, and with us sitting behind some really tall Swedes, we decisively upgraded just as the ushers closed the doors. And look who we found right opposite ❤ (more later)..

I can’t say I understand more the staging. If anything, I now know where to put my focus, and on this day it was to see if I could understand Ariodante’s story better as well as that of Dalinda’s. I can’t tell if it’s the switching of side that resulted in us hearing Ann Hallenberg’s better (?), but it was a very clear case that she was in top form. Hearing her really made me appreciate how wonderful a human voice can be, as well as marvel what it (she) can do.
I’m no closer to figuring out what/who Ariodante is, but made a decision last night that I don’t care. With that level of pulsative joy and argony being expressed live, let us live and enjoy life! And as a lover of dancing, i confess all dancers were completely overlooked last night when Ariodante and/or Ginevra were on stage! Beside their symbolic oppression in association with Ginevra, I find them superfluous and at times a distraction. But why distraction in the first place? Because again we do not understand the staging very well, except again when it comes to Ginevra. With the radio mic placed up front, i find any flow/hint to the staging were squashed as often the singers, most noticeably the male singers, planted in front and sang statically, and a lot of ornamentations were added at the expense of drama.

No new info can be extracted for Dalinda’s storyline either (from me). My original theory of the staging with puppets being pulled around (by Polinesso as Degghi observed) in the first Act.. and supposedly gone by the 3rd when everyone was bare.. was smashed.. because Dalinda was still in her jerky motion all through 2nd and 3rd Acts. Thus it becomes a little bit of a “concert” performance. AHHH, i think i might have gotten it! especially now that I recall seeing Dalinda, after singing the duet with Lurcanio, simply got up and walked out the door where the bright light entered: The story is sort of like in that movie “Dark City” (in case you haven’t seen, one of my favs) , where humans were being pulled on strings by the aliens who had invaded the earth and used them (humans) for memory experiment to understand certain level of emotions they can not achieve. The entire movie is in the dark as each day humans’ memory were swapped and allowed to wake up only at night to interact with total strangers who were suddenly now their family members.. and in the final scene, after a battle and conscience discussion, a ray of light finally emerged on the horizon and with it humans can be themselves again:

In this setting, even those black-body dancers can be put into context, as they were indeed the one pulling strings, and embedded within them the “made up story” where humans would further inflict pains among themselves, with Ginevra being the chosen victim? Here Ariodante could be seen as traveling somewhat in “parallel” to Ginevra existence (hence they never touched) , with some close encounters (their wonderful duets) and supposed pains felt by Ariodante through “Scherza infida”? Anyhow, I’m definitely thinking a bit too much into this, as you can clearly see how confused we are with this staging..

In any case, I can now tell you definitively which section in the opera has horn in it! WONDERFUL horns. The poor king and his famous “Voli colla sua la tromba” was in no contest as the horns had my/our FULL attention. Suuuuuuuuuch a lazy (in the best complimentary way) sound, the kind you feel warm in the heart and know it can never overwhelm your hearing except to compliment ❤ ❤ ❤ . If you don't know how serious the 2nd Act is yet, now you do: Händel removed all horns until the 3rd Act. They joined in again both to signify the triumph of Ginevra (when she is finally awaken and let out), as well as complimenting the final chorus, alternating between the dual voices of Ginevra and Ariodante and the rest.

Finally, let us (me) discuss more about Ginevra and her music! Ever since the first live performance I heard in London a couple years ago, I've gained an appreciation for the music (it really requires an investigation because on sound alone you might exclaim “oh no, not another sad section!”). This has allowed me to fully hear how Roberta Mameli brought it to life. I must repeat again the way she delivers the recitative gives me such a tremendous joy of feeling connected to the music and rhythm. As you might have known, I don't speak many other languages typically sung in operas. and can't read music. What this means is apparently i can "hear" what is communicated only via the weighting and shaping of the musical phrasing rather than perfectly pronounced words in whichever language. And it is truly a simple joy of being able to hear these types of phrasings, as they connect the dots and allow you to understand the characters without wrestling for 5000 words trying to figure out what they are singing about.. Mixing with this was her commitment to the acting to make Ginevra's story very believable: for nearly 30 min starting with her first appearance in Act 2 trapped amongst wire and dark pulling hands and hunched down behind the curtain fighting to launch forward (away from puppet pulling?), to the end of the delirium (end of Act 2, end of fighting with the dark force in bed), it was SERIOUS wrestling! We were exhausted just from watching (and curious how she managed the physical demand). And in between delivering "Il mio crudel martoro" with full force? FULL OF RESPECT! (Händel really made it hard for the sopranos here, with the countless "morte, dove sei tu" (at least 10x?? I think even more)..

Anyhow, I'd like to cap this endless rambling off by offering Ginevra's last two short arias (her first three were serious dark mood). I liked them a lot also for their change of pace. Here is the 2nd to last which, as she struggled in isolation (mentally and physically), the mood change gives her an outlet with the full orchestra (vicious violin) in behind in support!

Così mi lascia il padre? Oh cor, stà forte!
il minor de’ miei mali è sol la morte.

Sì, morrò; ma l’onor mio meco, oh! Dio!
Morir dovrà? Giusto Ciel, deh, pietà
del reggio onor!

And the last one, truly sorrowful recit 😥 , followed by triumphant horns (wonderful exchange of smile with our horn players as they stood up for this!)

Da dubbia infausta sorte,
quanto pender degg’io
incerta tra la vita, e tra la morte, senza conforto,
abbandonata e sola?
chi mi soccorre, oh Dei! chi mi consola?

Manca, oh Dei! la mia costanza,
mentre ha fine il mio dolor!
Nè mi resta la speranza di morir…

So, that’s a wrap to this session of rambling! Below is the quite-up-close curtain call. I might not get to the next, but if i do, we might explore Ginevra’s music some more! The rain has stopped, the sun has come out, it’s time to explore Stockholm again! Until next time.

Ariodante at Drottningholm, 5/Aug/2019


After missing out on hearing Roberta Mameli live earlier this year as Aminta (I was in europe at that time! could have taken a flight to Venice! sigh) and Vitellia a month later, I was quite excited to finally catch her in this tour-de-force role Ginevra. As I might have mentioned a couple of years ago, Ariodante is, in my opinion, quite more a challenging piece than Händel’s other famous works, especially that notorious 2nd Act bridging into half of the 3rd Act where you need singers with descriptive vocal expressions (and a good conductor) to sustain the tension.

Händel Ariodante
Drottningholms Slottsteater
Ariodante: Ann Hallenberg
Ginevra: Roberta Mameli
Dalinda: Francesca Aspromonte
Polinesso: Christophe Dumaux
King of Scotland: Johannes Weisser
Lurcanio:Martin Vanberg
Edoardo: Olof Lilja
Ian Page, conducting the Drottningholm Theatre Orchestra

We (Dehggi and I) were greeted with superb weather as we arrived several hours early thinking it would have been a long trip like going to Glyndebourne. The first stop was of course to scout out the theater before enjoying the surroundings.

But finally it was time! And Ian Page got us started with a refreshing sound from the orchestra. That overture has a lot of mood, if you ever have a chance to just sit through it a few time on repeat! But sure sure, I was already distracted with singers and dancers right in front of us (the teater is really intimate and small, enough for you to hear the singers taking deep breath prior to attacking the next phrase). My first impression, as Ginevra being the first character to sing, was how lovely warm and yet solid, earthly, and focus Roberta Mameli’s sound is. Hearing live up close it’s quite more warm and dynamic than in either stream/radio broadcasts or recording. I have heard her live before of course as Alinda in L’incoronazione di Dario, but I think that role is not offering as much dynamic as Ginevra’s.

We are still trying to understand the staging: full costumes and jerky motions (being puppets pulled on strings) in the first, onto peeling off more layers in 2nd Act (wigs off) , to fully in boxers and underwear (bare?) in the 3rd. What truly works at ALL times though is Ginevra duetting with Ariodante. We were really in for a treat as to how Ann Hallenberg’s and Mameli’s voices meshed and intertwined, phrase by phrase, wonderful volume and finer detail adjustments to fit into each other like gloves, really a marvel to hear up close ❤ .

Ann Hallenberg and Roberta Mameli. ©Mats Backer

One often comes to Ariodante for Ariodante’s music. But to me, this staging builds it into a Ginevra’s story. And why not? Her story is often never told, such that for the longest time I wonder what the problem was with all the whining and lament that one has to prepare for once the cheery music in Act 1 finished. And often one does not come to Ariodante for Ginevra (?) .. As a refresher, the guys overheard that Ginevra was going to cheat, then saw through some blurry fence of someone looking like Ginevra flirting with Polinesso. No-one bothered to ask Ginevra herself any questions, it was decided she was an “impudica” (whore, as the translation goes in that Ariodante I saw at the London Händel’s festival 2 years ago). She was immediately condemned to imprisonment (death?) suffered in isolation and darkness, through internal turmoil and hallucination (and even self reconciliation that she forgave those who had wronged her). On the outside, they went on and on making decisions without her, and at the end, just opened the door for release without explanation! And there she’s to be very happy and grateful to be exonerated and resume her happy time with Ariodante…

With the exception in Aix, Dehggi and I discussed that none of the stagings come close to depicting Ginevra’s plight. So I’m happy to see one putting the injustice in more focus. I feel very lucky to have Roberta Mameli as the central character here, as she was fully committed in the acting and able to sustain the tension in the music throughout the entire last two acts. The most effective scene that leaves a long lasting image is “il mio crudel martoro”:

Roberta Mameli as Ginevra. ©Mats Backer

when upon being accused, Ginevra collapsed onto the ground uttering the word “impudica!”, convulsed, and overcome by “darkness” as dancers dressing in black surrounded and carried her into isolation. There a tiny bed, signifying perhaps conformity, is awaiting. She was to lie nicely and smily in it, any hint of struggle was addressed by the mass of shadowy bodies pulling her arms and legs, walling her in, and sitting on her if needed, to straighten her out and force a serene smile and calm expression as per snow-white lying in the casket. Quite tragically effective.

Vocally, her voice was a delight to the ears. Ginevra’s music can potentially tempt over-emoting in combination with over-acting to bring out her suffering. Not in this case. I think already by the end of the 1st act I was looking forward to hearing Ginevra’s music being expressed by Mameli. Her voice is extremely descriptive, with slight varying in dynamics, colors, texture, and many places of pulling into piano to balance out sections of forte, one feels the journey of the character instead of hearing a singer portraying it. Such a delight I find myself smiling on the inside at the arrival of the sound 😇 .

Yes, there’s Ariodante! sung by Ann Hallenberg!! You know the last time i heard her live up close her wizardry left me so intoxicated I left my work laptop at Carnegie Hall?! (that was a panic..) I think with Hallenberg, you can only just smile when the sound arrives at your ears. What I found puzzling was the staging putting her way in the back, simply criminal. There’s no story really to tell from back there that can’t be told from closer to the front!!! Especially when the difference is huge when it comes to sound projection! (ok, we’re VERY greedy, we ended up in 2nd row and if you get to experience her sound at that distance you ALWAYS want it at that!! but it’s true there’s a significant change in sound projection for all singers when they were put way in the back..). Character-wise, I’m still unsure what to make of Ariodante. Ok, the character is a bit of an airhead (by our feminist standard?).. what with not asking your beloved directly but trusting some shady characters and making foolish decisions committing suicide (geez) only to come back and acting like nothing had ever happened to Ginevra (boiling..). In this staging, Ariodante came as noble as ever in the first act (gosh, that duet is drooling in its deliciousness) and the music (Con l’ali di costanza) flowed with joys (especially to our ears). The tension for “Scherza infida” was somehow not quite built right.. I wonder if it has to do again with the orchestra right in front of us and Ann Hallenberg being way in the back and the sound balance is just not right.. I’ll check it again today.. but yes, I think if the recitative leading into it is along with the leading music not creating a good balance, it can be difficult to sustain the emotion through the aria.. It is through this, perhaps peeling the pride off oneself?, that Ariodante slowly removed the “costume”.. Ah, I might have got it: then when (s)he came back from the attempted suicide, now cleansed (?), the last layer of clothes are removed and Ariodante is bare? It could have been now at the bare level they (all characters) can just communicate to each other directly and skip the pretentious formality? I’ll have to report again how “Cieca notte” fit in, because by the time “Dopo notte” came around Ginevra was still lying in isolation (right in front of us 🙂 ) and everything was somewhat in disarray…

I can’t remember yet whether the backdoor of the stage finally opened to let all light in during Dopo notte or after Ginevra has woken up and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.. But yes, apparently the door opened, and many characters now headed toward the back as if to have finally the cage-door released and they could escape? Ginevra very much wanted to leave, but her multiple attempts (through “Bramo aver mille cori” and the final chorus) to “will” Ariodante to come with her was faced with hesitation. She left through the door at the end while Ariodante still lingered, perhaps in the only conformed world (s)he had ever known?

Yes, I know, this is getting to be a very long ramble.. but Dalinda! First, I will have to get used to hearing her in such a voice size of Francesca Aspromonte.. I have heard her (Aspromonte) live twice before, as Angelica in the Venice’s Orlando (that was a discovery, super love her vocal expression instantly) and as the full-of-swagger Alceste in Halle (do check out that photo!!) which I absolutely loved. But perhaps I’m so used to hear Dalinda through singers with slender voices (?) that the brain is still adjusting.. will sort it (brain) out again on the next performance. The jerkiness of her movements (part of the staging) is still quite a confuse for me.. I can’t tell if Dalinda the character was left room to develop in this staging.. The strongest impression I had was when she took Ginevra’s wig to give to Polinesso (and expecting returned affection for doing what Polinesso had asked) and got the wig thrown directly back in her face (on the floor, not face), and at that moment she had realized it was a scam to both her heart and that of Ginevra (that moment supposedly Paul (or whichever apostle) had after lying about/to Jesus and got 3 coins thrown at his feet?).

As for Polinesso, as you might (or not) have known, I knew of this character through many beloved contraltos, and missed terribly the low notes.. In my opinion, the missing of the low notes translates to missing half of the character, specifically the half that can do seductive phrasing with tremendous warmth.. Left with the high-end I think the character becomes a tiring one-dimension, which seems to be the trend in the recent monopolizing of the role through what i find as gender-stuck casting.. (semi done ranting..)

ok, this post has gotten VERY long.. let me just wrap it up.. sorry, i don’t yet have impressions on Lurcanio or the King of Scotland… hey, one has only so much in one’s attention span! And they don’t get a lot of points for treating Ginevra so terribly.. But hopefully more to come after my second round!

ps- oh jes, the “technology”! I absolutely loved the “low tech” aspect of it.. reminded me a lot of what they did with Orlando in Venice: you don’t need very expensive special effects as the brain is fully capable of extrapolate and put oneself immediately into the “sea” or “forest” with just some changes .. we were curious about the material, but judging by this cute goat, i think they were/are made of wood!

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!