Thursday, 18 February 2010

Cosi fan tutte ROH

Photo credits: Richard H Smith at

Così fan tutte
Friday, February 12, 2010
Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist : Lorenzo da Ponte
Director Jonathan Miller

Conductor Julia Jones
Ferrando Charles Castronovo
Guglielmo Troy Cook
Don Alfonso William Shimell
Fiordiligi Sally Matthews
Dorabella Nino Surguladze
Despina Helene Schneiderman

I am indeed hopeless in providing some opinion about shows before the run is actually over, still as everyone who saw it realised, it was just what the doctor ordered against any “wintery” depression, wet-weather and all kinds of other types of frustration ;-)

I used to run away from this particular Mozart piece like the pest as it was invariably boringly staged and delivered in a way that did not allow for any true character distinction between the couples or the individuals as such. It felt to a certain point like a nondescript sequence of arias, duos, trios, more duos, more arias, all neatly and very predictably following each other. All peppered with unbelievable costuming and too much moralistic self-importance.

Ok, we still have OTT costuming ;-) but unlike it being the purpose of the transformation here it clearly is just the pretext for outrageous behaviour. Which seems to me what Mozart and of course, Mr da Ponte ;-) would have really intended, after all like many others of his works this one is profoundly human, deeply ironic and more contemporary in its subject than most operas. I don’t think his intension is ever to moralise and preach, on the contrary, he seems to relish in reminding us that beyond rules and in spite of conventions, humans are imperfect, flawed and that some of the fun, but also some suffering and learning in life comes from these very weaknesses. So his Fiordiligi and Dorabella, Guglielmo and Ferrando embark on a journey of discovery about themselves and their relationships.

Of course you may ask, do they really not recognise their lovers under the disguise? Maybe yes, maybe not, but I think the temptation here lies in the new, the unknown, the different. They are the same men, but behaving very differently, which actually makes the women chose in the “strangers” the exact opposite of their “real” lovers. And although a first glance it is the women who give into temptation and the work is called “cosi fan tutte”, at a second look at the libretto it becomes obvious the men are no saints either. After all they willingly and delightfully engage in the game and Guglielmo’s vivid complaint about women’s character also unveils his own :” Io vo' bene al sesso vostro, /Lo sapete, ognun lo sa: /Ogni giorno ve lo mostro, /Vi dò segno d'amistà;” yes, friendship… riiiiiiiight…..

Jonathan Mller’s production is a witty delight! It is incredibly natural and easy to relate to and he deserves extra credit for having Ferrando play “air-guitar” on Mozart and the 4 of them dance to the old tunes ;-) It is funny, but not at all out of place. There wasn’t a moment in the whole production where I wished something was made differently, or where I got distracted by anything in the staging or choreography. The character definition is very well managed and with a cast that is young, fun and handsome it glues you to the story. He seized the opportunity to show Mozart&daPonte’s talent for good theatre and gave it a modern twist by highlighting, rather than hiding the irony behind the music. The ambiguity is continued to the last bars where we are left wondering who will stay with whom and if at all. And I have rarely seen a production better married to the music; an excellent example of how modern opera productions can be done!

But the harmony works and the piece entertains without falling on the bitter side because of the music and the singing. It is the altogether harmonious and very good cast that keeps the light touch on the evening and makes the audience smile and laugh time and time again. Conducting, playing and singing are of such a quality that everything seems as natural as speech. You never stop to think about a breath badly placed, about a note that might go amiss, about a dangerous line, the flow of the music never ever gets interrupted. And continuity and pace are essential to good Mozart! Recitatives and arias meld naturally into each other , with particularly brilliant diction from Castronovo’s Ferrando and Helene Schneiderman’s Despina, which is one of the best I have ever heard live.

Photo credits: Richard H Smith at

Shimell’s Alfonso is imposing, but never evil and his voice carries that extra weight showing who is in charge through music. Sally Matthews’ flexible and powerful voice carries the torment and antics naturally and gives us a “Come scoglio” to remember :-) Troy Cook and Nino Surguladze make a very credible second pairing, both finding in voice and acting a light playfulness that stays convincingly on the cheeky side. And it is Charles Castronovo’s mellifluous tenor who brings the necessary sweet romantic touch and reminder that “love does hurt” sometimes ;-))) Especially on the second night I saw he delivered an “aura amorosa” full of warmth and feeling and easily displayed the contrast in the cavatina between “Tradito, schernito” and the defeated “Quest'alma l'adora, /Io sento per essa /Le voci d'amor” (which deservedly earned him another round of applause). And there is something decidedly charming about his darker shaded voice pulling off Mozartian lines with agility and character.

I’ve seen it twice and really wish I could have seen it again! Good news for the ones who have missed it this time, they will get another chance in 2012 when we might get another revival.

I’ve searched a while to try and bring you “Un aura amorosa” with CC, but no such luck …. In lieu here is more about love and laughter from Castronovo and Siurina ;-)

Una Parola, o Adina (Castronovo & Siurina)

thanks for the video tenorgoodfella

And one more…..

Prendi l'anel ti dono (Castronovo & Siurina)

thanks for the video tenorgoodfella

An the last one, which has nothing to do with the above, but is from a more recent concert and shows that Mr Castronovo has some amazingly good Spanish pronunciation, a que si?

No puede ser (Castronovo)

thanks for the video tenorgoodfella

PS Oh, and thanks to everyone for bringing Cosi fan tutte back in my favours ;-))))

PPS My only regret is not finding out how they go about painting the guys with those tattoos???? Semi-permanent? Do they do it every evening anew… they are beautiful if such were the case, I really wished I could have seen them from closer up ;-)

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Werther Jonas Kaufmann on France Musique tonight

If you would like to listen again, there is tonight's radio broadcast on France Musique:

19:05 CET , 18:05 UK time

Listen by either clicking on the main page linked above where it says in the left hand side menu:
écouter le direct

or by clicking on this LINK (will play in your Windows Media Player)


Soirée lyrique
par Jérémie Rousseau
Jules Massenet, Werther

Opéra en quatre actes et cinq tableaux, sur un livret d'Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet et Georges Hartmannd'après Johann Wolfgang von Goethe en langue française

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Listening to lieder (ctnd from insomnia below ;-))

King's Place Photo and here more details about the design :-)
I left things half way through the last week and now I am running behind again! (ie both Cosi fan tutte and Konigskinder have happened since then… but first things first as I am determined to try and capture everything in the right order! Besides, there is no chance I could forget any of these two anytime soon, so no worries there.

I mentioned that I had been to two evenings of song during the same week, years and years and years apart : from pieces written mostly between the two world wars to canzone written some 300 years ago.

In song in general I am on a very “hungry” discovery route, trying out many things that come my way. In a way if well done they are easier to relate to and allow instant focus and intimate connection at the same time. In an opera all your senses are called upon and you have to take in so many elements at the same time! It’s not exactly hard work to sit and listen, but it does require a lot of energy, which sometimes you physically just don’t have. In those cases I find it’s easier to seek refuge in song, it’s more delicate and in a way more generous, it gives more than it asks of you. In a way it creates that kind of a personal space and dialogue that you can find nowhere else in music. It is like reading a good book, like looking at a painting, or a photograph on your own, like speaking to a good friend.

In an opera you can choose what to listen to or what to look at or on which level to get involved. There is not much of a choice when only one person and one instrument are singing to you, you either listen or you go away. And I personally love to listen to stories, thoughts and feelings put to rime (or not) and music. I’ll always disagree with those who think this is an occasion to explore how exquisite a certain note can be sung , If that is all what it is, then I would rather watch and listen to a singer warm up their voice, its bound to reveal more interesting things about vocal technique.;-) Personally, I’d rather see the song as an occasion to discover a story , “hand in hand” with the singer. I’d like them to tell us what the poem means to them and see if I can follow along the same path. The times I liked it most, it was so vivid that i could almost see the images appearing in my mind.

Weimar VoicesDate: Wednesday 27 January
Time: 19:30

Part of From Vienna to Weimar

Christian Immler baritone
Helmut Deutsch piano


Das feurige Männlein
Und wie mag die Liebe

Gál - Five Songs op.33
Der Wiesenbach
Vöglein Schwermut
Drei Prinzessinen
Abend auf dem Fluss

Goldschmidt - Two Morgenstern Songs op.27
Ein Rosenzweig

Eisler - from Galgenlieder (Gallows Songs)
Die zwei Wurzeln
Die beiden Trichter

Korngold - Songs of the Clown op.29
Come away death
O Mistress Mine
Adieu, Good Man Devil
Hey Robin
For the rain, it raineth every day

Krenek - from Reisebuch aus den oesterreichischen Alpen
(Travelbook from the Austrian Alps) op.62
Unser Wein

Zemlinsky - from Twelve Songs op.27
Der Wind des Herbstes
Gib ein Lied mir wieder
Afrikanischer Tanz

Eisler - from Book of Ballades op.18
Ballade von der Krüppelgarde
Ballade vom Nigger Jim

Grosz - from Bänkel und Balladen op.31
Die Ballade vom Sammy Lee

The evening with Christian Immler and Helmut Deutsch at King’s Place had a totally novelty effect. The hall, which I am guessing is one of the smaller ones in the centre, is beautiful and provided with its set up hat extra “pleasing” bit. It must be quite new and not too frequently used, for the wood that covers all surfaces still had that freshly cut smell. Not the chemical cover smell, but the natural one of logs that have just been split from the tree. Just like the perfume of new paper of an unopened book, it’s instantly recognisable and comforting. The lighting was almost seductive in a shady tone of violet and it obscured us the public almost completely while focusing the light on the stage. Probably a bit unusual for a liederabend as I guess it totally obscured us to the singer and pianist. Adding I guess an extra element of discomfort, above the fact that there were barely 20 of us in the hall, none of us having heard any of the pieces before and both artist and pianist never having performed any of the songs before. Add to that the fact that most texts were in German; we were provided with a nicely printed translation in quality paper, that unfortunately proved a pain to flick and made quite some noise. Looked like quite a challenge in terms of text, which I guess only made some members of the audience more suspicious about the musical “delights” on offer. I expect with all their curiosity, most expected their ears to be put through at least some discomfort ;-)

The evening started and things settled very quickly from weary attention to relaxed enjoyment! It became evident that the artists had done quite a bit of homework and were more than up to the challenge. From the very first piece the harmony between the two was natural and the interpretation refined enough to easily cross the language barrier. I have to say I haven’t read the translation and with Immler’s diction being very good I quickly put away the chunky papers myself. But it must have been a good translation, as smiles, puffs and other reactions came spot on at the right times during the whole evening. The songs themselves carried nothing of the suspected dangers of atonality or aggression in their notes. On the contrary, they were playful and flowed elegantly, texts were engaging and the dialogue between the lyrics and notes, more vivid than in classical repertoire. Where the music was recognisably romantic, the text broke down the known framework by mocking he notes and vice-versa. Throughout the program lyrics and score, singer and pianist engaged in ironic play and often very alert bickering.

Here are for you some highlights of the evening, showing in abundance I think why it was so worth experiencing!!


It just proved that songs can be enjoyed a bit less reverently and that we are allowed to have fun with it as well. And what pleasure to discover Helmut Deutsch accompanying not only with delicacy and empathy as always, but also with impressive pizhaz!

Dankeschon to both!! And when can we do this again????
Two days later it was back to the more familiar grounds of the Wigmore Hall for an evening of canzone d’amore with an equally well matched musical “couple”. Joyce DiDonato and David Zobel gift us time and time again with wonderful recitals at he Wigmore and I hope they will keep coming to visit. Whether you are familiar with the repertory or not (more likely to be my case with Joyce’s picks ;-)) you will always leave there amazed at DiDonato’s and Zobel’s commitment to what they do. You just know beyond a shadow of a doubt that each note, each word has been thought of, worked on and will be delivered to the highest of their abilities.

Thursday 28 January 2010 - 7:30 PM

Joyce DiDonato mezzo-soprano
David Zobel piano


Durante Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile
Pergolesi Se tu m'ami
Caccini Amarilli mia bella
Rossi Mio ben, teco il tormento
Paisiello Nel cor piu non mi sento
Rontani Or ch'io non sequo più

Hoffnung Op. 82 No. 1
Liebes-Klage Op. 82 No. 2
L’amante impatiente Op. 82 No. 3
L’amante impatiente Op. 82 No. 4
La partenza WoO124

Rossini Willow Song from 'Otello'

Encore Rossini , Maometto Secondo, “Giusto ciel”

L'assiolo canta
Alba di luna sul bosco
Tristezza crepuscolare

Pizzetti Ocsuro è il ciel
Toselli Serentata
Donaudy O del mio amato bene

La Pastorella

Buzzi-Peccia Lolita, Serenata Spagnola
Leoncavallo Serenata Francese
Giuranna Canto Arabo
Di Chiara La Spagnola

Mozart, Nozze, “Voi che sapete”
Rossini, La donna del lago, “Tanti affetti”

Even if you will not become an big fan of the night’s songs you will always be awed by what she can do. Or at least I’d love to hear her, even if she was singing the phone book up and down! And even I will admit that “Amarilli mia bella” or the Beethoven are much better choices;-))) Actually, I really liked the little Beethoven cycle. But deep down I am more of an 18t- century-onwards kind of girl, so it is rather a good thing I didn’t live in the times these little pieces were used to serenade the ladies….. Few of these would have managed to wake me and entice me onto a balcony and further on I’m afraid ;-)) Overall I liked Furore more I think (God, I am actually saying I like Handel… somebody pinch me!! Fast!!!!)… or more accurately, I like Joyce’s Handel more. But Joyce is an amazingly generous artist! It will never be a 6-8 piece night with her and often her encores are even better than the rest of the program. And if I like her Handel, her Rossini and Mozart I am undyingly in love with!!! As you can see 3 altogether, one more beautiful than the other! Just listen to La donna del lago:

La donna del lago:

What I like about her encores is that they are always so characteristic of who she is as an artist and come alive like they do with few other singers singing the same pieces. So this night, like the last one when I heard her sing made me look forward to the next and the one after that and so on…. And also made me hope that one day I’ll be lucky enough to hear her sing again the one piece that will always remind me of the first time I heard her live , a song that was so “Joyce” .. “The man I love” :-)

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

I'll sleep when i'm dead!

Merci beaucoup Esti pour cette extraordinaire video!!!

Reading the title you will either have a tune bouncing around your ears….or you’ll be clueless and then I guess you’ll just have to read this boring post till the end to find out what that is all about :-)

Last week ended last night and the title should be reversed, if I don’t get some proper sleep soon I might as well be dead!

I couldn’t resist temptation and I have started this post predictably with yet more Werther! No I don’t feel guilty about it and if you feel you’ve overdosed, then look away... I dare you! (But you should know that the above video is the “Pourquoi me reveiller” from the 29th, filmed from the side of the stage itself by Esti and it was so far the best performance of the run according to people present live :-)… )

Ok, so the reason why there wasn’t much going on around here this week is not because I have drowned my sorrow in absinth, whisky or tea (not even chocolate!) but… my venom of choice was .. music :-) Loads and loads of it. Seeing as I was unexpectedly bound to London this week, much more than initially planned as gaps were filled by the generosity of a friend who shifted onto me a number of Barenboim tickets. So proceedings went something like this:

Monday … my body craving sleep, my heart still in Paris, my mind hard at work, basically preparing for Tuesday;
Tuesday – battling with internet connection for smudges of sound of Werther broadcast (we shall not speak about the work bit from here on as the week only ended on a zero balance due to induction of high positive doses of music)
Wednesday – visit to new place – King’s Place in fact, Weimar Voices, Helmut Deutsch and Christian Immler- as I will explain in a bit more detail a most fulfilling, entertaining and puzzling evening of song, brilliant! Outside the Werther by far the best bit of the week!
Thursday – Wigmore, Joyce DiDonato, David Zobel and canzone d’amore – I’m finding myself more and more often drawn to the Wigmore for the gems they have on offer
Friday – Royal Festival Hall, Barenboim and Berlin Staatskapelle first take and the most amazing almost full moon over the Thames at Southbank!
Saturday – ROH, yay.. let the new year finally begin! I swear I had a trickle of emotion going for the first time this year through those revolving doors…. That was until I stopped in shock at the display window of the ROH shop! Ah by the way, the piece was Rake’s Progress.
Sunday- take two on Barenboim, Berlin Staatskapelle, Beethoven and Schoenberg. And an amazing full moon over the bridge which is becoming kind of a theme, it was full moon when I was there last and I keep having these moments on that bridge where I just have to stop, breath in the wind, wonder at the clear night and feel lucky because it isn’t raining and because I am in London!! Strange déjà vu, but of the very pleasant kind; I’ve promised myself that I will go back during the summer and just sit on the Southbank terrace with music and a book and enjoy the place properly rather than steeling a moment of the night.

Was it all worth it? Definitely and I would do it again. Because it is not often that I get to be in London to enjoy a lot of what is on offer. So, even if I have to catch up on sleep during weeks to come, there is a lot I learned this week and thus a lot to be thankful for:-)

Less and less surprisingly to myself I really like 20th century music. I know I can’t throw everything in a pot, but I like the structure in destructuring, the wittiness and irony that runs through much of it, the surprise element that keeps you on your toes and challenges you to listen carefully and unlock the riddles. A bit like solving math problems back in school, as crazy as this may sound. I’m not sure it is the kind of music I would listen to again and again and again in my own time, because it doesn’t really provide the escapist element one sometimes craves when delving into music, but live it can provide a much more inspiring evening than quite a few better known tunes. I think what I am trying to say is that I need and enjoy both, I need my Massenet, Verdi, Wagner, etc but I also need Stravinsky, Korngold, Messiaen, Schonberg, etc. I find they kind of make each others qualities and uniqueness stand out more and you return to the others with a refreshed ear and mind :-) Because I listen to all, each time I come back to one of them I fall in love all over again.

Let’s start by the end, the Barenboim concerts:

Royal Festival Hall
Daniel Barenboim with Berlin Staatskapelle
Friday 29 January 2010
Ludwig Van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.1
Arnold Schoenberg: Pelléas et Mélisande
Sunday 31 January 2010
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5 (Emperor)

Hands down for me on both nights Schoenberg wins over Beethoven, at least in this interpretation. It’s where I think the true colours of the Staatskapelle shined though as well as Barenboim’s talents as a conductor. The two Schoenberg pieces could not more different, one powerful and overwhelming (Pelléas et Mélisande) and the other almost delicate. And still in both excellent and very effective play with dynamics was obvious. In fact the ebbs and explosions in Pelléas et Mélisande reminded very much of recent vocal performances I had heard…. It’s a pity on the second night they decided to install cameras in several places in the Hall and I had the unfortunate “pleasure” of sitting high up in the hall and having one fanning at my back, quite loudly. Probably this concert will figure on a future documentary, but I think they should have checked the noise level before installing them there. There were moments where the fans were literally louder than the orchestra sound!

The Beethoven concertos very enjoyable and quite original in interpretation, but I wouldn't really say they were memorable. It simply does work better in terms of harmony when conductor and pianist are not the same, especially because a conductor not busy playing the piano might have accommodated the inspiration of the pianist even better :-) I am really glad I went because the Schoenberg is a rare treat, especially treated with such care and attention. But I am left wondering about the general reaction of the public: how much reflected the impact of what was heard on the night and how much did the “fame” element come into play? Do people applaud the Beethoven concerto no5 because it is a well know, exquisite piece of music or because they like this particular version they have just heard? In some respect the reaction of the audience on Friday when Schoenberg ended the concert on a high seemed to be more tuned into the performance than the once on Sunday. It’s also true that the Beethoven played with a downsized orchestra would have been maybe more enjoyable from closer to the stage, whereas the Schoenberg , even the delicate pieces flowed freely and expanded into the hall :-)

In any case you will be able to enjoy them yourself and make up your own minds as BBC3 will air the concerts this week.

Saturday, in between the Barenboim concerts I went to the ROH –
The Rake's Progress
Saturday, 30 January 2010
Composer Igor Stravinsky
Director Robert Lepage
Revival Director Sybille Wilson

Set Designer Carl Fillion
Costume designs Francois Barbeau
Lighting Designer Etienne Boucher
Video Boris Firquet
Choreography Michael Keegan Dolan
Conductor Ingo Metzmacher
Trulove Jeremy White
Anne Trulove Rosemary Joshua
Tom Rakewell Toby Spence
Nick Shadow Kyle Ketelsen
Mother Goose Frances McCafferty
Baba the Turk Patricia Bardon
Sellem Graham Clark

This is a wonderfully constructed opera, with perfectly timed tension and I am grateful as a first time listener to have had the Insight lend a hand in additional understanding :-) Best thing by far on the night the witty and lively sound that came from the pit by the hands of Ingo Metzmacher! The score is so interesting and catching that I think I could easily listen to it without the singing, or at least on this night it felt a bit like it. I wish I had heard the cast to years ago to have some kind of comparison… I was almost tempted to say that judging by the other night English is a particularly difficult language to sing opera in… BUT, I would be wrong, as I have heard opera in English before and never had this impression. And also during the Insight evening I heard the same arias delivered with panache, total security and spot on articulation! Whereas on the night I was forced to glance to the surtitles many more times that I would have wished. This sounds to me like a highly entertaining but also highly difficult piece vocally and this case some lack of power in the voices was not helped by the production. Fun to look at sometimes, whoever the gags were not the brightest I thought and placing the singers mostly in the second back half of a deep stage did not help a bit, but rather made singing and especially hearing in the hall a challenge at times. (If I compare to the Tristan and Isolde, with more powerful voices by far and they were always brought towards the front and never left with a gaping empty space behind them for long…)

I understand about the desire of director to create visually flashy productions and make a statement, but I don’t like the feeling I am getting with Lepage that no matter how ingenious and gimmicky the production, it doesn’t really mould well over the music. And it favours big picture over character definition in my opinion too much, It did in this case by caricaturising a bit too much and in the Damnation from the Met I saw in the cinema there was no character definition to speak about (loads of visual effects with singers being tied to a two dimensional balcony/grid). I’m not saying the public did not enjoy it, but how many times can you see this production and enjoy it as much and what will distinguish one viewing from another? I like to remember revivals of productions also by the impact individual singers and their personalities left on the whole and I am not sure this is happening here. Anyway, matter of taste I guess.

Having said that the cast themselves got better during the evening and in the second half singing really started to come together with a unusual high point in the moralising quartet at the end (déjà vu Mozart anyone? ;-))))

Basically I really really liked the music and Anne’s I go to him! Is among my very favourite bits! I’d loooove to listen t this again, preferably not in this production, but it will do as well if no choice.

My return “home” to the ROH came with the obligatory detour by the shop and I did manage to come out empty-handed … but stopped dead at the sight of this in the display window!!! Now, I don’t care or mind which opera singers CD they display and definitely encourage the happy expectation of Rolando’s come back to the stage, hopefully to the ROH one as well.. BUT… what is the other thing doing there????? (and even with Rolando they could have displayed the latest CD…. Not that they are in the habit of doing that always… during the Don Carlo several of the singers had just had CD issued, but none where displayed there until much much later…. )

The issue I have is with singers being advertised there who have never sung on the ROH stage a whole role( or anywhere else as a matter of fact)…and with the combination having an air of publicity for a certain TV show which has nothing to do with this institution. I am disappointed to be honest… I may understand the monetary reasons, but one of the reasons why I myself support with my own money the ROH is because I admire and respect the high standards of the institution and it’s elegancy and style in public dealings with its own image. Having this in the display window is in my opinion not congruent with my expectations.

If that artist is worthy being advertised there I would expect to see the artist as part of future ROH schedules, and I have a suspicion this will not be the case anytime soon. And until this artist has an operatic career at the standards usually displayed by this institution I do not expect to see them advertised again within the building. As a friend of the ROH I do not support the decision to have this kind of publicity within it’s shop, money matters aside. Because at the ROH standards do matter, I still hope so.

So far for today, to be continued with more on the wonderful recitals (I’ve left the best for last :-))

Until then I will not keep the…”suspense” any longer about the title.. here they go:

Well, yes of course it is BON JOVI! And yes, i own almost all their CDs, it's not an isolated incident at all :-)