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

the mezzo-contralto love medley

Time for discovery…

Dorilla: Romina Basso, mezzo-soprano
Elmiro: Serena Malfi, mezzo-soprano
Nomio: Marina de Liso, mezzo-soprano
Filindo: Lucia Cirillo, mezzo-soprano
Eudamia: Sonia Prina, contralto
Admeto: Christian Senn, baritone

In case you’re not convinced yet, how about the 1-liner description of each character (copied from the description of the youtube video link below):

Dorilla (Romina Basso, mezzo-soprano): daughter of Admeto, in ❤ with Elmiro (mezzo)
Elmiro (Serena Malfi, mezzo-soprano): a shepherd, in ❤ with Dorilla (mezzo)
Nomio (Marina de Liso, mezzo-soprano): god Apollo disguised as a shepherd, in ❤ with Dorilla (mezzo)
Filindo (Lucia Cirillo, mezzo-soprano): in ❤ with Eudamia (contralto)
Eudamia (Sonia Prina, contralto): a nymph, in ❤ with Elmiro (mezzo)

not sure what the bass does in here.. and some other minor details:
I Barocchisti (on period instruments), conducted by Diego Fasolis.

what are we waiting for?!

.
.
(possibly we’re waiting for a live show of this with this similar kind of line up)
(ha!! Vivaldi’s Four Season excerpt is in the opening chorus!!
Btw, actually it sounds like Vivadi’s Juditha Triumphan music actually, that chorus..)

Sonia Prina radio alert

Edit: you can re-listen here.
—-
now, from Wigmore hall, here.

(her English is very charming 🙂 . She’s now talking about singing “Il pianto di Maria” )

(annoyingly i’ll have to leave in 1/2 hour, likely just when she starts singing.. due to a telecon meeting (meaning i can’t capture the music either), but will come back..)

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 Medici.tv 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

link

From Aix-en-Provence festival, NOW, 1500h EST, 2100h local time, 12/jul/2014.
cast:
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

ariodante

(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

update:
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!