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!

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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).

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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!

alcina 2016, round 2

Back from my 21-hr journey and now have mixing in head a combination of jet-lag + too much caffein + fluid equations + alcina… I regretted not being able to stay until the last performance tomorrow due to a pressing conference.. Ideally I would like a sudden cancelation of conference now.. and a teleport machine to transfer me back to Vienna.. But as it is not the case, here we are, with a report from my 2nd attendance of Alcina, Wednesday, 26.Oct.2016. Please refer to Anik’s wonderful post of the same night’s experience here.
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We are going to start with Alcina :-). Way back in 2010, someone gave me an Alcina book for this production, with a very nice interview with A.Harteros who discussed about singing this role, about the character, ornamentations, and the six arias (here’s the original text and translation, much much thanks to Smorgy; the post just after that is Minkowski’s interview and translation). Listening to Harteros at the time, then many other Alcinas with “lighter” voices through the years, and now with Papatanasiu over 2 nights, I’m really developing an appreciation for the wide range of heft, sustained emotion, tessitura, and agility these six arias demanded. Last Sunday I was trying to understand M.Papatanasiu’s “Ombre pallide” and “Ma quando tornerai”, and I have them now figured out! Her voice fits this role (and my brain) like a glove! with enough darkness in the tone and an edge to it. Especially the ones which requires long sustained lines and emotion, e.g., “Sì, son quella“, “Ah! mio cor“, and “Mi restano le lagrime” . For “Dì, cor mio” , I know why I’m having difficulty: there is a disconnection between the mood in the text/music and the abrupt physical movements on the stage. It was less abrupt during this night.. Putting the “legendary” (<– I believe this is the right word) take of this scene by Harteros with Kasarova as her stage partner aside and judging this night performance as an independent entity, perhaps *much* less action is needed, if one can not move without disrupting the flow of the music. Here I’m talking entirely of Ruggiero’s movements. Apology for going a bit overboard, but Ruggiero’s “touches” on Alcina reminded me of someone looking for a lost key in the dark.. Another way to say this: perhaps it would have worked better (for the digestion) if I had closed my eyes and let the imagination fills in Alcina’s musical lines. Thus, i have not yet sorted out if this aria truly works for me with MP singing it, and wished I could have a 3rd night to experience. On this night, MP also pushed quite a bit harder (more emotion), but at the expense of less piani and pianissimi. It worked out GREAT for “Ombre pallide” and “Ma quando tornerai” ! These two arias are at times fast and furious, and perhaps requiring a bit of “heft” and “rage” at the expense of control, and the way she did it simply worked! In “Ma quando tornerai”, I was curious how she would maneuver the fast coloratura with the more “weight” she put on: The shake is back! 🙂 . With Harteros, as a certain reader might have noticed, i discussed discretely her “shake” in tune with the coloratura: it actually works quite well in transmitting perhaps a certain level of “rage” and emotion (?). MP brought her shoulder shake to the table this time along with more emotion and heft, GREAT! I absolutely loved it! And for “Ombre pallide”, i regret not having made any keep of her wonderful navigation up and down the vocal range and into her chest register! It is an art in itself how she does it, so wonderful for the (my) ears (I should mention her ascending into high notes are *really* wonderful and reveals she’s a soprano, i was hoping she could cover both soprano and mezzo ranges :-D)! I first noticed it during “se viver non degg’io” and more prominently in Semiramide, but this is serious plunging to great effect. Of particular note is the “sorder da me” to end “Ombre pallide”, no short cut, no navigating away, no easy way out, simply a strong presence and punctuation. *love*. For “Mi restano le lagrime”, i missed the piani and quiet (very short) pauses between the phrases, which she brought out more prominently during the Sunday’s performance. This is an aria of reflection, and I think a more internalized take could fit better (?) . But what these two nights have highlighted for me is an artist who is not afraid to bring all she has to the table, to be true to the character, and to adapt night to night the way the emotion flows. On any given night, the portrayal can be different from the last, but the true character is present in full flesh. That is something I search for and truly appreciate / cherish. Alcina is truly hers. Please keep this role in the repertoire!!
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Onto Ruggiero.. I read on Anik’s post’s comment section regarding voice type for this role, heavy versus light.. and through all of that, i think Rachel Frenkel is still on the extreme light side for this role. But then i caught myself thinking “hey, this could have been P.Jarrousky”, and that pretty much re-set the appreciation-o-meter (sorry, i insist a mezzo for Ruggiero!!). But it is true, on this night, her movements and actions are more with purposes, and that simply worked into the portrayal of the character. For “Mi lusinga il dolce affeto”, I’m still having difficulty: it still sounded somehow “too fast”. As I discussed with Anik, “fast” or “slow” is a relative perception: Even for identical tempo, if the singer can delve deeply into the emotional state, through the use of colors and intensity, we the audience almost pause in time to reflect with the character on the true meaning; however if you (the audience) don’t feel this reflection is happening but rather hearing an aria being sung, then it’s rushing by too fast. There, my analogy. Starting with “Verdi prati” i enjoyed her phrasing much more. This scene also has so much sincerity to it thanks to the now quite touching build-up of Ruggiero-Bradamante’s relationship, and I think she also took more time with the phrasing. And “sta nell’ircana” is a tour-de-force! Marc Minkowski and les Musiciens du Louvre marched along with her building up the tension, accentuate the “vocal swagger”, and put forth a highly charged take. Even her stage movements to start the aria are now more spontaneous: Ruggiero is now marching the stage ordering the troupe into form, the arm gestures are shorter but full of intention. As for her vocal heft, you’re welcome to have a glimpse with the trio “non e amor ne gelosia” , which is a good case to hear the contrast in voice heft because Alcina always makes the entrance in the long sustained line, with Ruggiero and Bradamante following suit. This year is the first time I heard Alcina’s line almost as “solo” and realized how much darker MP’s tone is compared to even Gritskova (and thus the reason I hear MP’s voice so well in general).

Gritskova turned in a very honest Bradamante’s portrayal. Everything was more spontaneous during this performance, and with that, we have Bradamante instead of a singer trying to portray Bradamante. You know Gritskova is fully embodying the character when she plowed over the chair without any concern (Anik mentioned this) or especially during “Verdi prati” when she “forgot” to (follow the routine to) take off her sword before lying down on the “grass” field listening to Ruggiero. Vocally I quite like her darker tone, which sounded natural to my ears. And even for the B-section in “Vorei vendicarmi” where it’s a bit low for her, there is such an honesty in the vocal details and delivery you can feel Bradamante’s pain. Another thing I really enjoyed was when she took off the Richardo’s “mask” in the form of changing into the dress: there’s a little expression of intial self “joy”, then a slight reaction to the surrounded crowd of “this is actually who i am”, then an uplifted subtle “delight” with the vocal delivery filling in the gap. These gestures and reactions are so small, and yet they yielded a wonderful effect that many of the “grand” postures and large gestures can not bring.

With these three singers leading the way, the night was much more rewarding than on Sunday where I thought Papatanasiu carried the show (she still did, but now with Ruggiero and Bradamante participating). I truly wished I could have stayed for the last performance to see how everything fits together once more..

Some very last notes then: Now that I have finally paid attention to the staging, I have a lot of questions. For example, why was there an old guy showing up during Oberto’s aria (can’t remember which one, when he was playing tickling with Alcina, that was a cute scene 🙂 ), which prompted Oberto to hide behind Alcina’s back and her given him a glare? Also, who exactly is Ruggiero in this case? The Dutchess’ lady friend? Was she longing for an excursion before reverting back to the norm?

Finally, an amusement.  As “Mi restano le lagrime” ended, I always needed a bit of time to recover. As a result, the sight of Papatanasiu with the javelin took a little bit of time to register! And as we joked the contrast of a “heavy-weight javelin” in Harteros case versus “feather-weight” for MP’s, I wanted to mention again how well she strikes the balance with the javelin. As none of us here are olympic athletes (?), being given a javelin (or sword..) can reveal our imbalance unfavorably.. and Papatanasiu really held it with such great balance you can feel a sense of threat / aim (and indeed it’s so in balance i initially thought it was the ballet dancer who was holding it). This really expanded to a more general case of her stage presence, where a movement or a look is never wasted but has a strong purpose, a case when someone glares at something with such intensity that causes the entire room full of people to trace the back-end of it, as an example. I know I have talked about her quite a bit in this post and the last, but I have come to realize it’s quite rare to find an artist with such high technical level of singing and acting commitment, and an intensed focus to bring truth to the character, and I am very glad to have discovered her.

With that, the Alcina 2016 excitement ended for me, but I will be camping over at Anik‘s for a report on tomorrow’s performance.  Below is the curtain call. please excuse the shaking. Also, some of the zoomings were outside my control (i swear)! As soon as people started moving in front the zoom suddenly took a life of its own…

alcina at the wiener staatsoper (2016)

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Almost exactly 6 years after the premiere, and after some unexpected (personal schedule) delay, Alcina has finally arrived. Unlike in the original run where I was alone at the queue and sending reports out, this round was extra special with Anik‘s accompaniment. To say we were a tad anxious was about perhaps not quite descriptive enough ;-). Already the night before at Armide I was searching up and down for (what i expected full-wall-sized) announcement of Alcina. We arrived rather early in the standing room ticket queue anxiously going through the various scenarios of bad dreams, Anik’s being “kicked to the back of the queue, show canceled, show replaced..” while mine was more a big paste over of the main singer’s name with a REPLACEMENT.. Thank goodness, nothing happened (yet) as we rushed up the stairs to another door, with tickets in hands, only to wait another half hour as Les Musiciens du Louvre (lMdL) tuned their instruments and ran through the first bit of the overture and finale chorus. Yes, dear readers, to say I have a photographic memory of this staging as well as an imprinted-in-head replay of every character’s music + aria (led by Minkowski and lMdL) is an understatement. Since my discovery of Händel in 2010, this has been _the_ Alcina for me, starting from the bell ringing to the opening overture. I have heard countless other Alcinas, however, if your first ever *three* live performances were that of the Alcina run in 2010, it is simply a part of your life 🙂 .

By the time we finished putting on the scarf to mark our spots, only meekly 15min remained to take care of any last minute needs. The anxious wait has ended. Here I was again, stehplatz parterre, just 3 spots to the left of where I was in 20.Nov.2010, looking into the pit with theorbo arriving. As the curtain raised to the familiar scene, the memory has come full circle. My reasons for coming to _this_ Alcina are very specific. I was trying to rank them, and through impossible as it is, it has to be: Alcina with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre, AND Myrtò Papatanasiu as Alcina. Yes, I would say if it’s only the first two, I might not have gone completely out of my way to get here. And to put into perspective, these combinations, for example, would prompt me to immediately clear schedule: Harteros as Alcina, Antonacci (!!) as *any* character, Kasarova as Ruggiero, Sara Mingardo as Bradamante, Nathalie Stutzmann or E.Haïm or R.Jacobs and their orchestras in the pit, or Minkowski+lMdL+Papatanasiu. On the flight over I was debating a bit why I was quite drawn to Papatanasiu’s singing, especially because of all the singers I love listening to, her voice is the most difficult for me. Well, let’s proceed with Alcina shall we!

squealing (stealing photo from Anik's)

squealing (stealing photo from Anik’s)

Just as the overture start, Alcina is already on scene to greet her various friends and family. Yes, perhaps when we do enjoy seeing/hearing a performer, there is a certain level “obsession” as to why we can not take our eyes/ears off of them? But let us flip the question around: why does a certain singer/performer demand your attention? In general, and for Papatanasiu’s case, I have to mention her subtlety and intensity in body angle and gesture and foremost facial expression and eye angles: The key to “less is more”. The moment she’s on scene she demands our attention, and this is even before she sings a note.

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At this point perhaps I should warn you, dear readers, that the post might get quite long and I might not get around to talk about any other singers :-). As I’m so used to hearing Minkowski’s take of the overture, it was simply time well-spent to enjoy the body gestures and movements on stage. We will come back to Bradamante and Morgana in a bit, but let’s start with the ballet! Even during my flight, while pondering if the main singer might need to cancel, I concluded I would still have a great time basking myself in the ballet music and dancing (more ballet music below). As much as I tried, there was inevitably always going to be some comparison to the 2010 run, namely the two main singers then and now. Perhaps on this coming Wednesday I’ll try to keep a more open mind, but the contrast of “slowly building of the momentum” and “sensual movements from the core” between Harteros and Kasarova and the sometimes rather abrupt movements between Papatanasiu and Frenkel were rather strong, and as my brain has always processed this aria in the sensual-approach, it took a bit of time to adjust to. Hearing live, vocally, Papatanasiu’s voice is quite bigger than I had expected, with none of the tightness I experienced hearing via recording (except when she has to sing very fast some recitative parts), but rather with an edge which I do enjoy very much. The voice is quite rich, expressive, and her phrasing really makes sense to my brain. Again, I have talked about this before, I have no idea how it works, but I would compare her phrasing to Antonacci’s phrasing when it comes to “making sense”. I do think there is a universal way humans communicate aurally to deliver the phrase. For lack of vocabulary, I’d categorize it as via the musical path and the shaping-of-the-language path (to my musically uneducated brain). And in this home-made language, I’d put Kasarova and Harteros in the intense shaping of music regardless of language, and Antonacci, Mingardo, and Papatanasiu in the accentuation of the phrase from the language vantage in parallel with the music.

(more ballet)

This is a long way of saying as soon as Papatanasiu started singing “Di cor mio”, i was thinking perhaps I should rearrange my flight to stay until the last performance next sunday. Right, then some stuff happening on stage, and Alcina made her return to the stopping-breathing “Si son quella”. Tear-inducing dear readers, such an honesty, raw emotion, combining with very subtle acting and movement. It is simply very hard (for me) to understand in this staging how this sympathetic Alcina can be a sorceress. But we already knew that from 2010 when I openly questioned how anyone can abandon Alcina. As she slowly drifted out of sight, I was left thinking again of the psychological build-up of Alcina. (Perhaps this is the right spot to mention Papatansiu is quite effective in portraying troubled powerful female character. She left me thinking for months about Semiramide!) Some more singing went on and finally “ah mio cor” was upon us. The recitative leading into both this and “Si son quella”…, riiiight, Please, dear Ms. Papatanasiu, if you ever chance upon reading this, please sing some Monteverdi!! Emotionally filled recitative, how I *ADORE* ❤ ❤ . While i was intensively drawn to the military drive from the pit (<– do click on the link), Alcina had collapsed to the floor, from which an internalized “ah! mio cor..” rose. For a brief moment, I was thinking perhaps she was pushing a bit too hard. But if there is a moment for an all-out, this is it: the wheels just came off Alcina’s wagon. And for every fff “traditore! t’amotanto“, she always pulled back to a piano “puoi lascarmi sola in pianto“. As detailed in Anik’s post of her take on Lungi da te, I would put this down as a very specific choice of how she wants to phrase the music to draw in internally this question in the text.

The contrast with Harteros' take is stark: Harteros' Alcina is an imposing figure raging the stage in the B-section claiming vengence and stood defiantly to the end. Papatanasiu's take is a devastating one, both in her phrasing and the physical portrayal: from the stumbling collapse, to slowly coming off the chair falling by the sideway. Even in her defiant moment grabbing the bystander by the collar as she abruptly declared "Ma! (che fà gemendo Alcina?)“, Alcina’s vulnerability is still fully on display. Unlike Harteros’, I am unsure if Papatanasiu’s Alcina is capable of being vindictive. This is not a statement that one is better than the other, but rather an analysis of how both are devastatingly effective. Slowly, Alcina rising to her feet, stars (and time) slowly coming down, train of (baroque) strings plunging into the abyss, curtain coming close.. and I (we), left frozen in space and time, drifted to the floor in exhaustion.
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Given that I was unable to move for the next 10min dear readers, we settled on the spot to discuss “things”. There were questions to me regarding how I managed to block out the live performances I have experienced in 2010 when it comes to this new cast + take. To summarize, with Alcina, it worked for me from the start. Papatanasiu’s portrayal was simply real, raw, emotional, and much more importantly, musically intense, such that one does not need to revert to any previous experience for comparison. And i only mentioned Harteros often above to simply point out how the characters were portrayed and why they were so effective. (But to be very honest, I think it is much more difficult to cast Ruggiero, and yes, it’s a curse if your first ever Ruggiero is Kasarova and you are into that type of vocal expression…)

After intermission, I was wondering how one can recover from “ah mio cor”.. “ombre pallide” came a bit too soon. And again, i immensely enjoyed her recitative take before waving the magic wand. Let me listen once more on Wednesday before commenting on this, as I admit to being a bit distracted by the arms wand 😉 , as well as her lovely low notes. Yes, she did some lovely plunging into the chest register. Those low notes are quite distracting. “Ma quando tornerai” was taken *quite* faster than what I’m used to! Let me work again on Wednesday to sort out how it fits. By now, of course, Alcina has almost resigned to the fact Ruggiero is a goner, any last minute attempt to rekindle is long gone. The trio “non e amor e gelosia” was taken even faster than my brain could digest, really need a couple more days to sort out how this fits in. As the dust settle in the Lioness’ den, the dim light has returned to “mi restano le lagrime”, with Alcina reminiscing her good time with Ruggiero, a timid hand-hug, a polite bow, a soft smile.. heart break.. sniff… yes, that sitting in on the chair, candle flickering, pouring self a scotch. Poor poor Alcina. (side track: this scene somehow brings back memory of Kasarova’s soft smile in the tomb in Capuleti, sniff..)

(yes, even more ballet, to hope)

Dear readers, I think I might just end here, too heart broken to go on. There needs to be a radio recording of Papatanasiu singing this role, with a baroque specialist in the pit who cares for her phrasing and work together to make such music possible for us the audience to enjoy. We left rather slowly while recovering from the evening. But yes, we did attempt to swing by the stage door aftward. Similar to the lack of any kind of promotion posters for Alcina in the Metro, I was surprised to see not too many waiting there to talk to her. I guess that is the norm here at Wiener Staatsoper to only promote premiere and bury all others under some rugs. I’m unsure how aware Papatanasiu is of her more expanded fanbase in western europe and even the US in response to the recent broadcasts of her Mitridate. I will be on the look out for her performances, especially if she’s singing with these fantastic orchestras and conductors and in early music. And as usual, we all hope singers keep an updated schedule far enough in advance on their sites for fans to manage schedule/flight to attend. I’d say for me, she’s a very unique performer with the capability to transport the music (early?) and in combination with her acting, leaving a very strong impression, enough for one to travel 1/2 way around the globe to hear.

here’s a short curtain call. i missed the roar she received on the first walk out, too busy clapping! please excuse the lack of discussion for the orchestra, but with enough music excerpts of the ballets + overture, i hope to convince you of my obsession for M.Minkowski’s take with lMdL of this Alcina.

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(ps- I might return at some point to write about the rest of the performance and singers in a separate post…)

music to start monday

i always have a soft spot for this duet, courtesy of the generous NPO Radio 4 youtube channel, much much love what they’re sharing ❤ . Also check out the ratio of female musicians in the orchestra!

Paula Murrihy, mezzosopraan, King Solomon
Dominique Labelle, Sopraan, Queen (but she’s not the Queen of Sheba!)

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Edit: 2 links I wanted to post, which are now finally up:
1. Vivica Genaux sings Dido with C.Rousset conducting, from France Musique, link.
2. Blog post from the Opera house in Hamburg, of Anna Caterina Antonacci’s debut in the role Iphigénie (I can’t believe she hasn’t sung there until now!). I reaaaaaly love the photo from the blog post!

vintage pg-30 poppea from paris

This past whole month, while fighting deadlines, i had gotten myself seriously obsessive with this production, the one that has been the subject of the last 4 posts. And I have been pondering a bit whether to keep harping on** it.. but have come to a conclusion: it is one I’d always reference for its near perfect execution. Everything simply works!

Monteverdi L’incoronazione di Poppea
Paris 2004 TCE
Nerone: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Poppea: Patrizia Ciofi
Ottavia: Anne Sofie von Otter
Ottone: Laurence Zazzo
Seneca: Antonio Abete
Amore: Amel Brahim-Djelloul
Drusilla: Carla di Censo
Nutrice: Dominique Visse
Arnalta: Tom Allen
Lucano: Finnur Bjarnason
René Jacobs, Concerto Vocale

I’ll use a clip of probably 7th or 8th most important character to start the discussion (note the various instruments throughout):

This is likely the *most* glamorous any of the characters gets. The idea and type of staging is almost a set up for overacting / cariature . Amazingly, this cast managed glorious phrasing while keeping things very much within the storyline, which itself flows like a river (in continuity). In this run, Thomas Allen sang the role Arnalta particularly well, highlighted by his absolutely gorgeous lullaby to Poppea (*highly* recommended, simply GORGEOUS singing). From the clip one can also notice how René Jacobs is conducting: he called for ALL variation of instruments and tempi to bring out emotion, highlight points, connecting lines. Never on top of the singers, always fully complimenting them. I just read an interesting point Dehggi made regarding AlexPen and how she benefits from guidance of conductors such as Jacobs. Looking at the cast above, many of them surely can carry the music and phrasing on their own, but when combining with Jacobs’ idea, it truly made for a special event.

So, before going into the main couple, let’s have a look now at probably the 6th most important character! What i hope to achieve in these two first clips (there will only be 4 total!) is again to show how Rene Jacobs helped shaping the music to completely complement his singers. And for this particular night, the singers were all up to task in a combined effort to play their part both acting- and singing-wise:

The fun/tricky thing about Monteverdi you could say, is the near-complete recitative format. Here, it was so well phrased you don’t really need to know the libretto to follow. In fact, this is a bit of a funny concept on its own: the true meaning of the libretto! 🙂 Do you ever have the experience where people standing right in front telling you something, but you simply don’t get it. Yet, a little subtly movement in the body, the melody of tone, their eyes, and even before a single word exchanged you understand each other? Now that I have listened to quite a few selections of this work, i don’t see why you wouldn’t take advantage of the free form (liberty of using instruments) to aid the painting the story, even if/when you have superb singers, i.e., the Rene Jacobs’ way.

From the 2nd clip, you should now get an idea of the staging already: hip? too modern? too chic? not at all, in my opinion. Look at the story! It simply fits when seen as a whole. D.McVicar made use very well of the TCE’s open space. There’s a very large curtain in the back, the absolutely absurdly luxurious dragon-tail couch where all kinds of people can gather and gang up on any outlier, a “coffin” on which Nerone had an intimate Brokeback-Mountain moment (more from 2 posts ago!) or sniffed his white powder, and a mirror to reflect the luxury/shaddow/people. With this “simple” setup, every scene flows into the next connected. One gets immediately the point without feeling “lost”, often due to the so-many characters popping in and out after scene change. Here, they just all sit on that couch taking turn.

This brings me to Nerone (it’s h(er)is couch!). I have mentioned before I like Anna Caterina Antonacci. Her voice, it simply works for my brain in many cases. Much more importantly, her phrasing and characterization, often she lets you (me) see the “inner” side, so you come out after 3-hour having constructive thoughts on what such and such could be. Vulnerability perhaps, but why not. For me a trouser role should still be about humanity, not macho with overt flirting/draping in combination with grin/smirk/packing.. The primary reason I love Kasarova’s characters is that when she plays them, she gives you a hint how the character is processing information (the engine is cranking, not i-know-it-all). For Antonacci, it’s similar, though I don’t always get her interpretation (she was majorly flailing for some reason as Rodelinda!). The few times that I did, am simply in awe with brain neuron firing all sorts of imagination (those dreadlocks, please come help if 1 year from now am still talking about them…)

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Patrizia Ciofi, Anna Caterina Antonacci

So, back to the character, Nerone’s music is *VERY* difficult to hear for me. It sits very high and simply gives headache unless when sung with a certain “color”/tone. But not just that, it’s how the combo of Jacobs+Antonacci brought it out in this production. It’s simply a joy to “feel” the phrasing and trying to fit it into context, all while Nerone’s engine is cranking. And on this topic, it’s time to appreciate Patrizia Ciofi’s phrasing. The opening duet was a bit off i find, but on the level of musicality, she and ACA matched each other’s extremely well. Again, for the purpose of singing about torment/flirting/love/hate etc, it’s not the obvious facial / large gesture that makes it work (for me). It’s all hidden within “hints”, subtle energy bubbles released by one that is quietly acknowledged/absorbed by the other with a “return” subtle ping (in the phrase, or body movement). Readers familiar with this “series” of analyses will recall the detailed discussion of exchange between Alcina and Ruggiero (and Bradamante) in Wien, Romeo and Giulietta in Munich, and Oktavian and Sofie (the hands!) in Zürich. We will now add this “Nerone and Poppea” to the collection.

What is to make of Nerone the character? (s)he reminded me completely of my 3-year-old nephew! and this is a huge compliment to ACA’s acting skill. (s)he is a bit “rough”, quickly to grab you by their hair, or crotch, how about stomping? short in attention span, must have that firetruck girl now! but mysteriously loyal to (her)his slick boys and has a “soft” inner pocket somewhere for Lucano.. Apparently (s)he’s not 100% enthusiastic with the idea of killing Ottavia, getting rid of her, sure! but *how*! So, in this 3rd clip, I offer what I found as a remarkable similarity to “Parto, ma tu ben mio”:

Poppea might not be holding that sharp dagger DR’s Vitellia has, but those inciting phrases, they’re the worst kind, psychological manipulation! That Tito Seneca is a gonner!

To conclude, we will now be introduced to Ottone, in a light sequel to Polenc’s La voix humaine? I’m very impressed with Lawrence Zazzo’s singing/phrasing. He’s moving around non-stop, but not for a single moment phrasing/care-for-music is neglected. Please note the use of horns!! There’s so much acting/movement/happening one forgets the pit is what’s keeping the machinary well oiled.

The only character not well mentioned in this discussion is Ottavia. But only because I’m trying to keep the discussion a bit short! I talk about her quite often because she comes in pretty early in the music in Act 1, right after the first duet + Poppea’s music. For long listening session, one must traverse her music. She’s the No.2 show-hinderer for me in the past (the 2 guards pouting being 1st, and 3rd being Amore’s chirping). Here, it’s VERY well sung by Anne Sophie von Otter. I read somewhere a review that says she might have been having a hard time following the director’s idea. I don’t think so! She fit in very well! *love* the book throwing fit. (that book is quite well featured here too, his best-seller :D). One last note on the conducting, as Jacobs keeping things very sharp, a sad moment REALLY stands out as sad. Especially in the last scene of Ottavia’s “Addio Roma”, the intro music is simply superb. The key though is to listen from the end of the prior scene to hear the contrast.

So, to wrap it up, by my standard of how things fit as a whole: great staging, superb singing, engaging acting without over-doing, amazing conducting, amazing music, everything simply fit that night. Highly recommended.

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[Def] “harp on”:
Dwell on; talk or write about to a tedious and excessive extent.

cantiam, Nerone!

Edit: Act1, Act2, Act3 , incredible singing+music all around. *fantastic* staging too.
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a Nerone for all genders.
❤ ❤ dreadlox triceps tattoo skin-tight T the phrasing

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+ A couple of lines from the libretto scene V was omitted to create the effect.
+ I currently in progress of discovering Nerone’s music…