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).

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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…

music to bridge Wed-Thur

clip from a channel called “Barock’n roll”, very appropriate! I have been quite curious for a while where this aria fits in, especially because E.Haïm seems to cut it in all her versions… here it is, along with the growling (in low notes) and finger pointing! Bonus: Mezzo in glasses and lots of female players in the orchestra.


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Händel Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno; Disinganno’s aria (translation text also thanks to the poster).

Chi già fu del biondo crine
consigliero, al suol cadrà.

Soffra pur le sue ruine,
se sovente egli compose
con i gigli e con le rose
tanti inganni alla beltà

He who was once the counsellor of
blond tresses shall fall to the ground.

Let him indeed suffer ruin,
since so often he devised,
with lilies and roses,
so many deceits for beauty.

music for late night thursday

(i think we had an idea once, that she’d conduct her own Ariodante show with her orchestra, and sing Polinesso at the same time! She can tour it, with all our fav Ariodantes! and on occasions she can also swap out with Prina for Polinesso! jeah!)

(and we also have candidates for Ginevra and Dalinda!)

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!

Alcina at Boston Conservatory, round 2

Last Saturday, I returned for another round of Alcina (here’s the program), this time with four friends, three of whom had never seen an opera live before. (not sure if they had sat through a taped version either…) During dinner time, we discussed when to nap in case of needs ;-). The evening verdict: everyone was awake and greatly enjoyed the show, with two asking for more future excursions! I’m aware that taking newbies to operas can be a hit or miss, especially in repertoire that is so non-mainstream. But I think it depends on one’s judgement. For example, for me, Händel’s Alcina is a GREAT opera to get started (so is Agrippina..), especially if you have a good orchestra (conductor) and engaging staging. I can’t say if good singing helps unless it is absolutely earth shattering, because, according to friends they can’t tell at all… (more later!) In any case, in addition to them, I also had a really great time, and would have come for the 3rd round if i was still in town. On all front it was a superb night of music and with effective staging to engage both newbies and old-bies. And I realize it’s always a great performance when you start asking questions about the actual meaning of the tempo and phrasing choices to check-mark the long list of puzzles you’ve pocketed, and to be able to compare them rather than worrying about the various issues such as dragging and being disengaged due to dusty + stuffy interpretations.

Oberto, Oronte, Morgana, conductor, Alcina, Ruggiero, Bradamante, Melisso

Oberto, Oronte, Morgana, conductor, Alcina, Ruggiero, Bradamante, Melisso

On that note, below is then a short report of my impressions with more detailed questions on choice of phrasing/tempo, as well as how to bring in new audience.

First up, the singing. The cast was entirely new compared to Friday night’s. And after experiencing various Alcinas, I have it now *almost* figured out! Remember I questioned the effectiveness of the B-section in “Ah, mio cor” and the aria “Ma quando tornerai” on Friday? Isabelle Zeledón completely solved it! First, she has the gaze: very immobile in the body, but the air along line of sight is sizzling and steaming! And she solved the long split-dress and how to move well in it. The singing bit: for these, along with “Ombre pallide”, there needs to be some level of “anger”, “rage”, “disappointment”, just about anything but “coolness” I believe, and Zeledón excelled in that. The recitative leading up to “Ombre pallide” was absolutely riveting! Actually anytime she showed up at the edge of the scene, one could feel the lid is about to come off.. In this staging, “Alcina” can be viewed as somewhat unpredictable, which is also great! why not. But, back to the rest of “Ah mio cor” a little bit (as well as in “Sì, son quella”): here, i thought she could make use of much more piano (she rarely used it, everything was almost in the volume range 5-11 on the 0-10 scale). There were 2 things that occasionally disrupts the flow (in my brain): singing/ascending to ff at times when I don’t quite understand why, and non-shaping at the end of the phrase where the (music) line was simply dropped rather than giving it “shaping”. Overall, for the arias/sections that require soft singing, it would work wonderfully if there’s a merge between how Bizhou Chang employed in the previous night and Zeledón’s approach this night. Oh, i should also mention, both her voice and Bizhou Chang’s, i’d put them on the heavier side, which works great for me! But I had the idea perhaps it’s a conscious choice of casting to go with this type of voice for Alcina, and a much lighter version for Morgana.

Alcina

Alcina

Next up is Ruggiero, sung by Abigail Dock. Overall, i really like her color! It’s on the bright side, but with enough heft, and a “ping” to it to carry above in any kind of duet/trio, as well as being warmer and less thin than CT’s Giron the night before. On phrasing, my favorite was “Col celarvi a chi v’ama un momento” to start Act 2. She suddenly got very soulful and reallly brought out the uncertainty in this “recitative” part, even my newbie friends noticed it. “Mi lusinga il dolce affetto” was quite heart breaking, though it felt there were too much movements at times. Indeed it was insightful to see the contrast between her movements and Giron’s the night before. Prior to this aria, Bradamante was frustrated with Ruggiero’s blindness in not even recognizing his own fiancé and launched into “Vorrei vendicarmi”. Scenically, Bradamante had picked up all the hunting arrows, symbolically plunging them (as a group) into her chest, then dumped all except the last one which she broke in half and sent down at Ruggiero’s feet while stomping out. This left Ruggiero hurt and confused.. and the opening music set in, and one (audience) is already feeling teary. Ruggiero then kneeled down, flanked by Alcina’s toy-girls and boys, picking up slowly the broken arrow, trying to put it back together, before handing it off in waves into the air (during “che m’inganni, amando ancor”). I interpreted the flying away of the single arrow as carrying hope. Here I find the picking of the arrows from the ground to be quite distracting: we can see the symbolic gesture with just one of two attempts to patch up the arrows instead of 20 times: this is a very slow and soul-searching aria, and too much motion takes away that effect/focus (and even the focus on phrasing). In contrast, Giron did just the opposite: he picked up the arrows only twice or so, and in simple gestures we understood what he wanted to do, and the rest of the time was spend caressing the phrase, to a higher level of effectiveness (at least for me).

Ruggiero

Ruggiero

This same level of movements also seems to work better (for me) with Giron following Bradamante’s footstep and raising the sword during “Sta nell’ircana”, as opposed to “playfully” imitating the sword level in Dock’s case. I get it that the staging is asking them to do X and Y, but I think the small details on how one carries out the movements play into how the character is portrayed. And for Sta nell’ircana, I would assume Ruggiero should be flexing a bit rather than pulling out the marbles and running behind Bradamante playfully. Overall, this set of Ruggiero/Bradamante seemed to be doing a bit more play-acting than facing with the real danger, which the cast from the previous night displayed.

On the same note of comparison, the first Act, Dock was more effective because she actually moved and phrased “Di te mi rido semplice stolto” and “la bocca vaga” much more. I still am very puzzled by the chosen tempo for “Di te mi rido”. Enough that I ended up searching through the tube for some 8 versions as well as reading up on the translation. Here’s Vivica Genaux’ take as I continue to type, with recit for the flow:

The only one that approached the tempo and phrasing here was with S.Graham, (she has something that i believe is even smoother in the recording with W.Christie), which I must admit somehow gave me the feeling Ruggiero is taking a stroll in the park … The other samples have faster tempo as well as being delivered with an “edge”: Ruggiero is edgy at this point afterall, so I anticipate to see him mocking + being a bit irritated rather than taking a light nap in the hammock while sending out words (that’s how it felt the 1st night, the 2nd night was an improvement but still way too smooth in singing and slow and “jolly” in tempo). In any case, after being bugged for 1,5day, i’m satisfied now with my (perhaps biased) findings. (for disclosure, i listened to: M.Beaumont, V.Kasarova 2004, V.Kasarova 2010 (she’s approaching heckling level, jeah!), A.Hallenberg, V.Genaux (see above), T.Berganza, and J.Larmore).

p1030775a

Bradamante

Next up: Bradamante! sung by Ann Fogler. She was great! Technically I would even say she has the most flexible voice of the entire 2 casts, as well as very warm and pleasantly dark color (similar in color to Wolz from the night before). Stance-wise I’d take them both, which implies it was good directing in combination with good acting. For “E gelosia”, i particularly like her acting and the soft singing of the B-section. It’s actually the first time i realized soft singing for Bradamante is effective here instead of needing to send off all sorts of fireworks. As both Bradamante carried so well the pose and the acting, it made me wonder whether it is the director’s choice to contrast them as strongly to Ruggiero’s more “internalized” (the night before) or “light-feet”. Ah, also another important note: Because of the cut in Alcina’s arias (B+A gone in “Sì, son quella” and “Ma quando tornerai”, and complete stripping of her last aria, Alcina the character became much less developed and we had Bradamante on equal footing in stage-time and even stronger than all in strength.

Morgana was sung by Jennifer Soloway. I really have a feeling they (the casting) were aiming for “near identical” voice types in the 2 sets! Even the vibrato was similar, though I’d put Soloway in the lesser polished phrasing compared to N.Logan. She has a rather large voice, I was even thinking whether her focus was more 19th century but was simply casted for this “lighter” role. There were (quite often) times she went fff and masked out the solo instruments that accompanied during “Ama sospira”. However, it was an absolute delight to hear the sensitive phrasing in “Credete al mio dolore”. Her extra “grunt” after discovering Ruggiero and Bradamante walking hand in hand was priceless!! In fact it seems Morgana was given more room to build as a character compared to the “strong, powerful” but not well developed Alcina (due to cuts). The switch from ditching Oronte to suddenly being extremely soulful in “Credete al mio dolore” was a bit too sharp though and left the audience (me) not quite understanding if Morgana being so-quick-to-switch-to-deep-emotion is a true trait or a tear show (in the staging).

Oronte is sung by Quinn Bernegger. I quite like his approach more than the version from the previous night! The direction seems to be: be brute at the beginning, scheming during “Semplicetto! A donna credi?”, and soulful during “un momento di contento..” . I don’t know whether it was a choice or simply a general approach, but Bernegger’s more passive approach made Oronte appeared more thoughtful as he search for “what is right”, “when is right”, “who should i trust”, “how should I approach”. In particular, he delivered a *very* soft “un momento di contento…” . While i wonder if in a bigger theater he could be heard if that’s the way he sings, here it really worked as almost a self-assuring therapy (and I always have Marc Minkowski’s voice in head : “give it hope”) . Oberto was sung by Brianna Meese. It depends on how you want to develop this character perhaps? Anik just linked a post to Josy Santos who sang Oberto this month in Stuttgart, where you can see from a different angle Oberto’s mindset. The version staged here was of a very young Oberto, I’d say around 8-10 year old and still playing with his toy boat. As such I think a level of “lightness” in the voice to carry the “innocence” is welcomed, and both Meese and especially Peng from the night before kept it light. Any anguish he has, however, was cut short with a trimmed “Chi mi insegna il caro padre”. For his joyous aria, i’d have loved to hear the extended version, simply because it is such pleasure to the ears, one can tap the feet the whole night.

So, that’s quite a bit of rambling. But onto to some notes on the staging! As two of my friends (newbies) mentioned: they really enjoyed because it’s engaging and modern. To that, I’d also add it had an arc rooted in deep thinking on how to bring out the characters’ mindset and fit to the flow/storyline. The power Bradamante is provided for example, or the soulful thoughts of Ruggiero as (s)he sat on the column during “Col celarvi a chi v’ama un momento”, or the reflection during “verdi prati”, or the sending up of hope in the shape of the arrows in “mi lusinga..” . The comedy was built in naturally to the flow rather than forced. The tension in Alcina is again built in with clear movements or positions on stage. Even the extras were well used to illustrate the support Alcina had and lost through time, or the heart-beat to start “Ah mio cor”. The use of the opaque (symbolic) mirror is a nice touch, though I’d like to read up a little more on its meaning as well as the meaning of the mirror-holder who repeated after Alcina in “Ah mio cor”. An ambiguity which I quite like is the reversal of the music at the end (at least when comparing to Vienna): First the curse was dispelled, the finale choir rejoined. THEN, the instrument line (this line here, the first part) is played out as Alcina sat in her chair, with Morgana holding a broken mirror as her sole company as the light dimmed on an empty island. Ah, and during the chorus, we also saw a hint that Ruggiero was standing close to Alcina. With Giron I had the feeling Ruggiero was really still torn from leaving Alcina.. whereas with Dock, one had the thought (as my friend said: I thought she was going to be killed!). And we left the theater with “what happened to Alcina?” by one of the newbies. Which is a really good indication that the staging is so engaging they are now talking about the storyline! And that, in addition to all my questions and self-answers on phrasing and characters, really highlight this excellent production. My friends asked how many times I’ve seen “Alcina” live, and were surprised to hear that including this evening it was only “7”. This is to show how rare we get to see it here in the US (the other 5 were of course of the same staging spanning 6 years apart in Wien…). I would mention also that it was engaging because we sat in row F of a very intimate 325-seat theater. This of course is one of the great ways to bring in new audience, and why I chose Händel as the intro to this group of friends in this theater.

One final thought then. This past month, seeing Alcina 4 times live really gave me a great exposure to “phrasing” and how to bring out the emotion in the music. And I will end the post with Myrtò Papatanasiu’s “Ah mio cor” again. I heard her live just 3 weeks ago and was very captivated by her delivery, though perhaps at that time not knowing exactly why. One always wonders if one has a “fixated” way of thinking/hearing how a particular aria “must” be delivered in order to make sense. But my recent experience has confirmed that no, it’s not the case (at least not 95\% of the time). Sitting through “Ah mio cor” in particular, I realized there is no limit to how one can phrase it since you have to repeat the lines quite a few times and it is all within your reach to express it the way you intend! Thus, however subjective it can be, the only thing is to “make sense” of the emotion. Here, “make sense” or not is a case of whether when a line is delivered, be it the actual written music or the theme-and-variation type, the only reference we have is whether a “loud” or “soft” or “arc” reflects an intended emotion instead of being simply done for the decorative effect. I’d say this is why I can easily “switch” quickly between hearing different singers, and that the only time i start questioning is when the music is “not quite” making sense. On that note, a toast to great music and Händel, and to the great production from the Boston Conservatory. They have made 4 new fans of operas!