il ritorno d’Ulisse (e di Penelope) in Hamburg, re-run 2019

Zürich, May 2014

Back in 2014 the Boston Early Music Festival put out an announcement that they would stage The Monteverdi’s Trio, Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea for their 2015 summer festival. Until that point, I have to admit I had never listened to Monteverdi except for this lamentation (of course Kasarova sang it, and as a VK worshiper I sampled all, but thought it was realllllly slow music and somber). About the same time I also discovered Sara Mingardo.. and it was quite obvious that she was not singing Rossini or Mozart (which were VK’s main rep) but rather singing a lot of Vivaldi and Monteverdi! So, Monteverdi was on the list to be discovered! On my travel plan for early 2014, i searched around and found that Sara Mingardo was to sing the role Penelope in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria in Zürich! Without knowing even the storyline I rerouted my trip for a stop there. Not surprisingly I didn’t digest much of Penelope’s music.. Though looking back, can we locate already exactly which part of the music she’s rehearsing here*? What i distinctively remembered from that event was (a) Penelope’s music was realllly sad! , (b) the orchestra was SUPERB (I LOOOOOVE the music), and (c) I LOOOOVE the staging! Give me an empty stage with suits and ties in black and white any day!

Fast forward to 2017 when they finally brought it to Hamburg. The air was buzzing as supposedly the stage director was a big name… But not big enough for any kind of video streaming or capturing sadly, even if we were very fortunate to have the radio broadcast (thanks Stray!). By this time of course I have become much more acquainted with Monteverdi’s music and style, with ears especially tuned to catching S.Mingardo’s phrasing. So when they made the announcement for a re-run, yes, yours truly booked tickets to the entire run.

Is there anything more self indulgent than being locked in a room with Sara Mingardo phrasing Monterverdi? Perhaps, but opportunities like these don’t come very often. And since I’ve talked extensively already about her phrasing and how it simply worked for my brain, let’s use this space to discuss about the production, the characters, the combinations of singers and musicians, to perhaps bring across why it was worth witnessing every single time**.

What pleasantly surprises me is, perhaps aside for the actual fancy premier where we looked like we did not belong amongst the very fancily decked up crowd, the reception was positively honest and rapturous. Especially in the last performance, last Friday 2/Feb/2019, during the final scene, I took just a moment to realize how special it was to be completely transported into the imaginary world as Penelope made a turn and slowly approached Ulisse. Unreal.As she collapsed into Ulisse’s arms, there were members in the front and side audience removing glasses to wipe tears, with sound of soft nose blowing a couple of rows behind. The strange thing is you can not just see the final scene in itself to feel this transportation. One must go through the entire journey to experience how (realistically)

Penelope had years after years in loneliness thwarted approaches and temptations, and how Ulisse had suffered along his journey. The pains in Telemaco’s and Ericlea’s faces (and music) documented the toll of witnessing the years of Penelope’s anguish. Only then that one can understand the poignant moment of

Hor sì ti riconosco,
hor sì ti credo

and the weight that dropped along with her shoulder, her body, as she was finally able to shed the armor and façade, along with the loneliness.

This post is getting long, but we’re going to start from the beginning, on the effectiveness of the staging in telling the story! i encourage you to check out the wonderful interview Operatraveler conducted with Sara Mingardo, ( ❤ ❤ , click on the image on the left to go to the interview). I love it that they (Italians) read about Penelope already in middle school in Italy! Not where I grew up. But perhaps the equivalence for us of the Trưng_Sisters, who we learned about since first grade and well identify with and might know how to portray. But yes, the staging. As perhaps you have seen from the various trailers (Zürich, Hamburg), it’s an extended empty space on which all things unfolded. There were occasional tables in the back serving as transport devices for the gods and goddesses, such as when they brought Telemaco back on the paper airplane wings. The gods and goddesses dress in blue while humans in black and white. Journeys such as when Ulisse was brought back took place on the deserted space. Meetings between Eumete and Ulisse, or Ulisse and his son Telemaco took place with one already at center stage and the other transiting or being transported in. Here the space was open. The opposite is the case for Penelope’s scenes where the boundaries of the white dish serve as confinement. She’s locked in, center staged languishing or being forced to the tables as the suitors and parasite wrecked havoc days after days. Every attempt she made to escape was cut off by all participants. Even when offstage she’s being hounded, as often when she comes on running front with the crowd chasing behind.  Often the only space she has as refuge was at the edge of the dish.

The staging calls for everyone involved to be on scene nearly at all time during all the partying scenes. One of my favorites is the scene between Melanto and Penelope, with Melanto pushing the envelope and Penelope pulling stops, first to the rushing tune (Marion Tassou (2017) as Melanto)

Un bel viso fa guerra,
il guerriero costume al morto spiace,
che con cercan gli estinti altro che pace.
Langue sotto i rigori
de’ tuoi sciapiti amori
la più fiorita età,
ma vedova beltà
de te si duole,
che dentro ai lunghi pianti
mostri sempre in acquario un sí bel sole.
A face marked by inner struggle
displeases the dead,
for those who have expired seek only peace.
Under the rigours
of your renunciation
the time of your greatest bloom languishes;
your beauty
suffers in widowhood,
for through continual weeping,
you show a lovely sun behind a veil of water.

where with each beat in music the crowd gathered from the far side taunting and closing in to eventually engulfing Penelope with their invading hands and bodies

In split seconds, the crowd dispersed to the edge of the dish as it spin to the next melancholy tune (Marion Tassou (2017) as Melanto)

Ama dunque, che d’Amore
dolce amica è la beltà.
Dal piacer il tuo dolore
saettato caderà.
So love; for Cupid’s
sweet companion is beauty.
In pleasure will your grief
fall before his arrows.

There’s something very effective about spinning in time and space to such an almost ironic tune. Though Penelope fought with all her reasoning and strength, there was simply no escape even after seeking refuge off the edge of the confinement

 

It really was a great use of the far-field/near-field and timeless/spaceless combination of effects.

Argh, look at the time! i must get to work.. I might have to wrap this up, argh! Perhaps to mention I quite like our new Melanto (Katharina Konradi), she’s more “musical” than Marion Tassou, and that helped bring out the music very nicely. The new Telemaco (Fabio Trümpy), I tremendously enjoyed his acting, especially in the scene with him holding the flower reminiscing Ulisse and pondering his return, actually brought me to tears twice! Though I admit something in his phrasing did not quite work for me during Telemaco’s opening phrase: It’s a very melancholy tune again, and for me Dovlet Nurgeldiyev from last year brought out the music more in this entrance. Dorottya Lang as Minerva was a ball! And I like her Monteverdi’s phrasing a lot! The same can be said about Katja Pieweck’s Ericlea, she kept her singing so fresh every time, along with vocal and visual acting! And last but not least, I must mention Kurt Streit in the title role ( 🙂 ) . He was very generous and had exceptional care for partner. The last scene of Ulisse and Penelope, for me, ranks up there as one of the most emotional scenes in opera when done right. I simply can not see how (yet) other staging and another pair can bring out more the real emotion like this. There was standing ovations all around us, along with very enthusiastic applause and response from the audience. Quite an unforgettable experience.

My only major complaint is that they (Hamburg, and partly Zürich) failed miserably to capture this great staging with this set of singers, and of particular with Sara Mingardo as Penelope. My only hope is that they will somehow stage it ever again, either in France or Italy where there are hopes of having cameras to capture for release.. Unfortunately if that ever happened it would be without Kurt Streit, as it was announced that last Friday was his last professional performance on world opera stage. I wish him the best, it was a privilege to see his acting and generosity. (Sorry about the bad quality, the camera has great difficulty gaining focus when at same level with the stage..)

 

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** Of course we’re not going to discuss that she sang nearly 15 performances during that Zürich run.. as it was too new I don’t think I would have absorbed much, all things need time.

ps- While you are at Operatraveller’s site, do also check out the review for the performance Sunday 27/Jan. Actually it was a performance I missed as coming back from Juditha to a very early performance of Ulisse was just not realistic..

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the other Juditha

music for the the early schedule. I quite like waking up early enough to see early sunlight slowly creeping in before filling the entire living space, now that all the trees are leaf-free. and, some music of course, on the nice speakers, all before needing to pack and head for the office. I really like the “swinging” feeling in Mozart’s music, something we hear all the time especially in all his earlier operas. And it’s a treat hearing SM’s phrasing within it. This was from a radio broadcast a while back in Wien:
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(there are several more clips from the same broadcasts, all on operabaroque channel . I especially like “Del pari infeconda” also, and have downloaded it for the phone. Though strangely I don’t hear the Mozart swing as much in that as the one posted here.)

read to start the weekend

freshly published just 1 week ago, quite a cool read, cheese and contralto :-).
Excerpt

Music has been the inspiration behind most of the cheeses Scanlan makes at Andante. She typically comes up with the name first, and listens to or plays music that helps her work out how she will design the cheese. She thought about Contralto for about six years before she finally made it. The idea came to her at a concert in London, when she was deeply moved by the voice of contralto Sara Mingardo. “There was something gentle, with a hint of sorrow, a hint of loneliness, but still a female voice, and this unexpected texture of it.” Scanlan bought several of Mingardo’s CDs and frequently listened to her recording of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in particular. She ultimately created Contralto as a goat’s milk cheese, with a smooth, thick texture and rich but not overpowering taste, reflective of the voice that remained with her after the performance.

(I have been re-listening to Stabat Mater indeed, the past 2 days.. quite hyptonizing.., and addition to Bach.)

Sara Mingardo and Francesca Biliotti at Wigmore Hall

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

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

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

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

Girolamo Frescobaldi(1583-1643)
Toccata nona

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

Giovanni Kapsberger(c.1580-1651)
Canzone prima

Claudio Monteverdi
Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti

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

contraltos Ruggiero & Medoro ftw

for those getting a headache this past week in Venice from Medoro, let me offer a solution that works on so many levels, or as I say it, music written for contraltos sung by contraltos, ❤

do take a moment (or five) just to hear how WARM the sound is!!! as well as the acting!!

And while we are at it, please feel absolutely free to imagine Lucia Cirillo’s Alcina to this Ruggiero…

to jog our memory, at about here, Alcina is caressing Ruggiero on top of the steps…

while the adorable hippogriff kneeling to Bradamante…

Mingardo and Invernizzi radio alert

link

It was earlier today from Amsterdam, luckily still available for relistening, very lovely, Scalatti’s Stabat Mater. Don’t miss the (waaaaay too short) very charming interview at intermission to both Roberta Invernizzi and Sara Mingardo. Too bad, because it was in English, there wasn’t much the singers could say… but still quite lovely to “hear” how these two singers interact.. and the funny thing that they have to travel all the way to Amsterdam to sing this lovely piece.

The orchestral piece during intermission is also super lovely, by the same orchestra Cappella Neapolitana led by Antonio Florio.

I now on 3rd repeat.. but will continue to the end, for Veneziano – La passione secondo Giovanni.
(i quit, couldn’t handel their voice for too long.. and excerpts include two CTs in very small voices.. whatever.. please listen to the excerpt below for why I’d like to hear more mezzos/contraltos in Bach… and please, when will i ever get to hear SM singing it?!)

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While there, you can also check out Ton Koopman’s conducing Bach Matthäus Passion today, with a contralto (Wiebke Lehmkuhl) . It’s even quite rare now to find a mezzo/contralto singing Bach Matthäus and St. John Passion! So i’m listening with open ears. And I’ve already liked Klaus Mertens , in his previous recording with Koopman.

J.S. Bach – Matthäus Passion BWV 244
Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest
Ton Koopman, dirigent
Tilman Lichdi, tenor (Evangelist)
Manuel Walser, bas (Christus)
Christine Landshamer, sopraan
Wiebke Lehmkuhl, alt
Mauro Peter, tenor
Klaus Mertens, bas
Amsterdam Baroque Choir
Nederlands Kamerkoor
Nationaal Kinderkoor

ah yes, veeeery warm and nice tone, and a nice bounce to this lovely aria:
Buß und Reu (alto)

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of course, i should take an opportunity to mention the last time i saw these two singers together…

music for the night


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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