Ariodante at Carnegie Hall

View from row G slight right, 3rd balcony, Carnegie Hall

I will start the report with the photo of our view, to give the reader an idea how far up we were, because most of what I discuss will be entirely dependent on it. I once wrote about my experience listening to Bach Matthäuspassion in the large Boston Symphony Hall, and I think much of it is applicable here. I think for Händel music (baroque, early) it is crucial to hear the voice well because these singers are known for their descriptive singing. Thus to assess it as “i can hear her” is not sufficient and would be a dis-service. Based on this, I think the 3rd Balcony in the Carnegie Hall is too far for this type of intimate music, and relately, I think the acoustic is also not the best. Either that or the orchestra needs to be much more quiet if one can hope to hear the singer’s piano lines (can you?) . You can hear the singers quite well, yes. But at the descriptive level befitting their attention/effort, I am not sure.

Carnegie Hall, 30/Apr/2017
Händel Ariodante
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
Ariodante: Joyce DiDonato
Ginevra: Christiane Karg
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Dalinda: Mary Bevan
King of Scotland: Matthew Brook
Lurcanio: David Portillo
Odoardo: Tyson Miller

So, with that much pretext, let us have a go at my first ever live Prina-extravaganza and 2nd live JDD (1st was Barber of Seville in LA opera waaaay back in 2008(?) when i didn’t know who she was or what I want). This is also my first experience hearing Christiane Karg live, along with the rest of them. The first Act was a little bit “mild” as heard from waaaay above. It’s as if everyone was testing out the sound of the hall and didn’t want to overdo it? The orchestra was soft (as it should be, for a smaller hall) and detailed. Karg started out with a veeeeeerry nice and warm voice! I really love it! I have been more used to hearing sopranos with quite a bit more “ping” (piercing sound) in this role, which might have worked better this far up? She was singing while looking down into the music sheet quite a bit, which somewhat limited the sound projection. From up there, you can hear the significant difference when a singer is not singing into the music sheet.

To my surprise, Sonia Prina voice came up very well and detailed. I think it’s primarily because she did not look into the music sheet but was “acting” and projecting her voice into the hall. Also her voice has quite a bit of (just the right kind of to make it up) heft. If one is not aware of how well she can be descriptive in her recit, this will convert one on the spot! I’m a biiiiiig fan. But i have been a big fan for a while now, thanks to Agathe and Dehggi who “converted” me. The “conversion” part was really just me hearing more from her, and additionally getting used to her way of doing the coloratura. That and the fact that she is fully 3-D, not just always singing and acting the “same” way. She does it, though with her particular flamboyant way, but completely appropriate (of course 😉 ) to the musical content and not for showing off. And one has to appreciate her approach of doing things without “worrying” about social pressure to behave certain ways. Interestingly, one of my friends said she had a hard time hearing Prina because she (Prina) was “turning away from the mic at times”!! To which i was astonished and reiterated that there were NO amplification!! (to my friend’s complete surprise ?!) And that “fading in and out” is not fading! it is dynamical variation of a phrase instead of shouting at the same intensity. Through more talking I realized my friends are used to seeing things at the MET where LOUD is the prerequisite I believe (?).

Onto Joyce DiDonato! And I have a confession as well: one of my very favorite sections is Ariodante’s melancholy entrance. It highlights very well the singer’s ability to phrase the line to convey the emotion.

Quì d’amor nel suo linguaggio parla il rio, l’erbetta, e’l faggio al mio core innamorato.

One can spot an (subjectively) exceptional Ariodante right at this entrance. If (s)he stops you on track , perks up your ears, draws in your dreamy wide-eyes, you’re set for the next 3 hours! And to confess up until now I have always been very drawn to V. Kasarova’s entrance. And Joyce, she gave the same response: breathing halted, the toothpick (if it were there) falling off the (open) mouth. Ahhhh, I love that entrance ❤ .

“Con l'ali di costanza" came, with the orchestra going at about 50\% volume (which is also nice, i love that light touch), and Joyce going at somewhat also quite under-control volume. The good news is that thanks to the soft orchestra one can hear Joyce's expressions very well up there, though it was going at quite fast speed and I'd say she spent quite a bit of time looking down to the music sheets. This, and Karg's Ginevra's aria just before that, "Volate, amori, di due bei cori“, judging by how fast they were and how much both of them were looking down the music sheets, I was curious if it’s necessary because Bicket was behind their back instead of in front and thus they had to make sure to keep together with the band? In any case, I also got curious if this was Joyce’s dynamical range (quite mild in volume range) and wondered if I have been having a mis-informed opinion about her ff (more later). On the subject of volume, Mary Bevan’s sound came out the the most rounded and apt for this hall 3rd balcony. I’d even put her at a bit on the larger voice side and just a tad less flexible than Karg’s ? Though she had no issues with Dalinda’s arias (and yes, she was at all time under the attention of the Duke 😉 ).

Speaking of attention, the first act, it appeared as if only S.Prina was acting (and abandoning the sheets) while everyone else was gluing to their positions. I became wishful if they could just abandon that approach in favor of a more “semi-staging” take. Pleasantly so, starting with act II :-). Ah right, but before Act II, the tenor’s voice came up just fine. I’m always more picky about the bass for this role, because most of the time I find the voice (all of them to my ears) muddy (blurry). The best King of Scotts so far for me was the one with the clan in Aix.

Now, a quick note about Ariodante in general. This is a very challenging opera for non-Händelian (non early music) fans I have always thought. It’s got this two solid hours of *very* slow music in the middle. Sort of like a symphony with the *very* slow 2nd movement that can cause audience falling by the wayside. Without knowing the music or having some singers to focus on, I think it is too much to ask of anyone’s attention span. As you know, I often bring people to the operas with me, and already had a feeling they were going to drift. Several people left after the 2nd intermissions in fact, with more laments nearby of it being “too long”. One thing i can say though: if we were sitting in a smaller hall, you’d feel much more connected with the singers and can hear well their characters’ anguish, and perhaps can stay connected. At our distance, it’s like hearing someone a mile away lamenting on and on and on: First Ariodante, then more Ariodante, then the king, then Ginevra, then Dalinda, then Ginevra, then the tenor, then the king, then more Ginevra…

In my case, I knew what was coming! So was fully prepared. Sadly, allergy and the AC in Carnegie Hall had robbed me of my nose in the most inopportune moments, namely “scherza infida” and “Il mio crudel martoro” such that I could not hear much except for the constant struggle to breath. Such a shame. I was so hoping to hear these, judging by the receptions from the audience. In any case, the bits that i heard was that goooooorgeous B-section in “Tu preparati a morire” duo with Polinesso (ohhhhh, what a sight!!! aaaaaahhhhhhh, i wish there were more of these throughout the opera… here, have some very blurry short curtain call instead, of their wonderful friendship)

Se la bella m’ha ingannato, disperato io morirò.

aaah the floating notes and long lines Joyce carried… It was also clear that Joyce raised up a notch in volume (and hence dynamical range) starting with the 2nd Act, before letting it ripped in the 3rd. For a voice to be expressive one must allow for these occasions!

Right, let us talked a little bit more about Polinesso! Actually, what is there to talk about except dropping the jaw and enjoying the Sonia Prina live experience? I don’t know what else I could say. She set the stage on fire with her angle-of-sight. The acting was intense and spot on, along with vocal description. She really was the prime example of vocal acting as well as physical (ahem). You know this ABA format? She provides you with so much details nothing is a repeat. In fact I would go as far as saying the contrast between what she and the tenor did was quite clear: in one case you don’t want her to stop 🙂 , in the other, you realize there’s another A-section coming. Again, this is perhaps due to us being so far away as to not seeing / hearing any finer details, so whatever it is needed to transmit the distance was lost, and you do/don’t realize the repeat is coming based on what is presented to you.. I was quite heart-broken the fighting scene was criminally short and instead of being escorted to the chair Prina was removed from the stage (nooooooo). Musically, perhaps she made so much sense of Polinesso there’s not much to discuss because it just works! (and I take it for granted. In fact, sometimes i go on and on only because i can’t wrap my head around it..)

It’s also worth noting that the males carried on celebrating (ohhhhh ja, i was tapping feet majorily in the 3rd Act to Dopo Notte) without anyone bothering to inform Ginevra they have forgiven her for the sh*tty death-warranted crime they accused her of. Thus even after Dopo Notte we still get a bit more lamentation from Ginevra (which I enjoyed, she has such a warm voice!!) This is all before the King performed a memory-erasing moment so that the finale duet can take place. AAAAAHHHHHHH i looooove that duet!! Ariodante and Ginevra voices were sooo wonderfully intertwined to such an addictive tune. Again, the small occasions when Joyce sang low the orchestra covered her. But what music. It would have been nice if Karg was somehow not so “shy”.. she repeatedly thwarted any of Joyce’s come-hither attempt. (in fact she reminded me of myself treating water and warning people to stay clear just so I MYSELF don’t drown, or ice skating just so I myself don’t fall and take them all down..) Then the music to the finale chorus, my ring tone of course. Please call me, i want to hear this tune day and night. It is also my alarm tone for waking up.

So, that summarizes the experience. Hard to go into details about individual voices, or music analyses. A bit more the overall picture. I did occasionally paid attention to the really wonderful and detailed orchestra. Those horns are fabulous! and the occasions when the woodwinds perked up your ears. I also promise myself next time for these kinds of works I’d only go with people who know the music and sit closer (Stray! we would have had great fun! I also spotted several white-shirters in the crowd who knew how to appreciate Händel 😉 ). So, that’s a quick write up. I now have the replay (thanks Brigitte!) to listen to for comparison, as well as reading up on Dehggi’s latest blog post via the experience (and now just saw Anik’s latest screencap extravaganza; while there, also check out our international liveblog of the event). Signing off to let the nose recover, and until the next adventure. I still owe the reader a post on Juditha Triumphans in New York, as well as a Torino’s impression (blending in with 2nd Dario) experience.

ariodante online stream alert


From Aix-en-Provence festival, NOW, 1500h EST, 2100h local time, 12/jul/2014.
Ariodante: Sarah Connolly
Ginevra: Patricia Petibon
Dalinda: Sandrine Piau
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
Il Re di Scozia: Luca Tittoto*
Odoardo: Christopher Diffey
Chorus: English Voices
Orchestra: Freiburger Barockorchester
Musical direction: Andrea Marcon


(ps- there was a radio recording of the same opera 2 days ago too that i missed…)

music to start the week

a weekend of 20+ hrs awake followed by 10+ hrs sleeping, and here we are, wiiide awake at 10am to start the week . I lied about writing up on Orfeo after all, did spend all of my weekend working (and sleeping) instead (it usually takes up a bit of time for me to write…) but pretty much was summed up in my 2 line impressions… and I did re-listen to it 4x, really like the orchestra!

anyhow, during the weekend, i saw this clip again

and thought i should really catch on to Simone Kermes, coz generally whatever I heard from her I like… and it turned out she was on radio live earlier today, duetting with Sonia Prina, still available for re-listen the next 7 days at Ö1-radio

Done with radio concert, the last aria was great fun, the audience joined in clapping mad. So i now off to search for her on YT singing Mozart and Handel, here’s mozart live, and handel, like!