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

Juditha triumphans in Amsterdam

After Semiramide, we have been waiting anxiously for this opportunity to hear Iervolino swaggering on stage as smooth silky Holofernes. I confess when first seeing the cast yesterday of frowning upon seeing Gaëlle Arquez’s name as Juditha. I have heard her as Armide in Wien and did not having much impression.. Well, can we say we have found a Juditha for the next 10+ years?!

Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans
Dutch Nationale Opera
Juditha: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Abra: Polly Leech
Ozias: Francesca Ascioti
La Cetra Barockorchester
Andrea Marcon
Saturday 26/Jan/2019

So, this whole blog post might be about Juditha.. Let’s see how it goes.. With the militarish staging I was not sure which way it would go.. sometimes with modern staging suits and ties are more up my alley.. But, from the get go we were greeted with a very toxic Vagaus, the type singling out women to taunt and escalate the brutality.. it did set the stage quite well for Juditha’s desperation. Though the orchestra was SUPERB (and Marcon) I have to confess I think it was too “loud” for Holofernes first aria. That, combining with a staging that put Iervolino quite deep (in a huge stage) facing “IN” away from the audience at times, made it quite more difficult to hear her well rounded tone in “Nil arma, nil bella” . Even Vagaus’s first aria, to my ears, the orchestra was too loud.. though Dehggi and Agathe reported excellent hearing of Vasilisa Berzhanskaya’s singing, I confess also not hearing her too well either… The mood changed with the arrival of Juditha, to this tune:

As I have written last year at Carnegie Hall, Juditha is a very difficult role. Her music is somber, dense, intense, all elements that require a lot of phrasing, color, dynamics, and the subtle ability to sustain the tension. Of the many things I have seen Gaëlle Arquez in, mostly on youtube, and once live as Armide, nothing prepared me for her intense and subtle stance to convey the vulnerability of Juditha. Just her presence on stage while the orchestra building up the suspense was worth re-watching. Then the phrasing started, w.o.w. … it’s quite a revelation to finally get someone who can reveal the gorgeous lines in Juditha’s music.. In particular, I love her timbre, it’s a mezzo voice with enough heft and solid tone to sustain a line distinctive from the orchestra such that it does not get covered as easily. The key thing is the subtle change in the music line that brings out vulnerability: She came to request help for her people, but was fully at the mercy of Holofernes and Vagaus. Things could have gone either way during the first meeting.. I think here we come back to the acting: for me it’s best when one achieves a stance and expresses music, with very subtle movements to convey the situation, without any need of overdoing.. in fact with Juditha’s music I find her approach of less moving but expressive yet subtle body angle and musical phrasing extremely effective. What can I say, after so many years of frustration1. I think we have found a Juditha who can do justice to the music (and acting chop to portray the character)! And she has many many arias solo with exotic instruments. Actually this is to Arquez’s great advantage as she can cover the full range (in notes) while being expressive and not at all being covered by large number of violins (which is unfortunately not the case for Vagaus and Holofernes).

Since Juditha’s acting and singing was so on point, everything seemed to work. Here we also comment highly Vasilisa Berzhanskaya’s acting in making Vagaus (and Holofernes’s side) to be so unlikeable and violent such that Juditha saw no other way to escape. The staging has Holofernes to be quite more humane (as oppose to Vagaus) and at times opposed violence against women (which was the behavior of his troops throughout the two hours of the opera). The staging was also quite effective in bringing out the different mood in the music, for example during “Veni me seguere fida”, a very solemn aria when Juditha and Abra sat by the burial of their countrymen and communicated tender private lines about their past and fate. This came right after their conversation with Holofernes, with the stage turning to show the constant torment and why Juditha must (somewhat) follow through with a (not-fully) plan.

In the end, all of Juditha’s mood, conflict, and conviction were well portrayed both vocally and through acting, both through seduction and torment and in the end madness as triumphant music returned to glorify the beheading act.

Perhaps some mentions here of the rest of the characters 🙂 . Holofernes is sooooooooo smooth and silky in “Nox obscura tenebrosa” and “Noli, o cara”. Actually after the intermission Holofernes music were also more mellow and required less accompaniment, which allowed for Iervolino’s gooooorgeous voice to shine without needing to compete with the violins. And Iervolino’s acting (partnered with Arquez’s) was spot on and convincing. The beheading scene was very effective 🙂 . Abra was quite nicely portrayed as someone clearly following and loyal to Juditha but not as skillful and intelligent.. Vocally she was good. I also like her acting, especially in the first aria when they both have just arrived and met Vagaus and the brute troops, who quickly tossed Juditha around. Here Abra took over in a flirtatious way (a very courageous move it seems to protect Juditha) to distract the troops and gather their attention away from Juditha. As for Vagaus, I progressively heard her better as the evening grew, but might leave it to Dehggi (and Agathe) to write/comment more as I’m no expert in fast and furious arias, and especially when my ears are just not well tuned to hearing well her voice type (she has a on-the-softer side tone, something like Connoly’s tone, which simply didn’t make it well to my ears in general when there’s orchestra playing at the same time..)

Altogether, it was a very rewarding experience to see a staging that makes sense and strong singers (and actresses) to bring the storyline fully forward. We are still discussing it, with the trip back listening to the entire Juditha again (with Mingardo) to recall how the story evolved.. if you have a chance do come check out the goooooorgeous music and some very fine Vivaldi singers, excellent orchestra and chorus.. I hope the orchestra will not cover the singers as much in the rest of the run.. For the record we sat on the left side second balcony, where possibly the violins might have come up directly and too strong.. but it’s a huge stage, and with singers being put quite a bit deep in, I think the orchestra can be a bit less loud… And we hope to see this pair of Juditha-Holofernes (Arquez-Iervolino) for many years to come.

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Edit

1. We all got into Juditha a little bit too late to catch the wave of S.Prina or S.Mingardo or A.Hallenberg touring alternately as Juditha.. Speaking for myself what I have heard up until this performance left me between uninspired to confused about the character, with occasional frustration..

mezzo soprano romeo

what do you think of the youngster’s WS (wearing) skill?

one can also listen of course . i got there via a search “mezzo soprano romeo”. The tempo is a bit slow and too regular.. but it’s just not fair that i always have VK’s Dresden’s Romeo in my head. Though perhaps a sword can make things more spontaneous :-).

duet to start the week

(in case more swagger is desired, click here. I’ve had it stashed for the last 10 years and have been going back to it from time to time..)

(oh, also, the synopsis! teehee. the overture does contain everything! I love how they use English in parallel, got to reach out to those fans from out of town.)

a new Sesto for sunday

Continuing with mezzo/contralto in trousers (i can make this a series!), here is Lucia Cirillo as Sesto. She does some reallly nice things to the lines/phrase, i would like to see her in this!

Edit:
That poster didn’t allow viewing embed videos so you’ll have to view on tube. I really love her singing Mozart, in particular this aria (Ah, perfido, which opera? La Finta?), veeeeeery sensitive, i’d very much like to see her more in Mozart!!

And of course, per usual, we would like to learn a little bit how she got into singing… a professional classical guitarist before switching to singing at 20! From this cool short interview.

Edit2: oh, hihi, i reread, it’s Beethoven! which opera is it? Fidelio? whatever it is, i’d like to hear her live singing it, and the aria (Ah, perfido).

music for wednesday

Edit:
ooof, in case we are curious about the countess after the above clip, we can see her more here. Not quite Malena Ernman’s cartwheel flip and push-up but .. stretch is important!

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…