Juan Diego Flόrez’s fifth Rosenblatt Recital took place at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. His program included mainstream Tenor set pieces, such as “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz,” “Be My Love,” and “De' miei bollenti spiriti,” as well as a series of lesser known bel canto and 20th Century Spanish material.
The first two offerings came from Bellini’s Il Pirata. The Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn, under the baton of Alessandro Vitiello, set the tenor of the evening with their energetic rendition of the Overture of the opera. Flόrez then came to the stage, greeted with rapturous applause, and regaled us with “Nel furor delle tempeste.” His clear, diamond voice launched into the aria, which called for 7 A4’s, a B4 and a D5! All this in the first aria! When approaching the D5, Flόrez had that perfect alignment of body and voice which is essential when a Tenor rises above the High C’s! His phrasing on the line “io l’amo, e peno” was particularly beautiful.
To follow Bellini, we were served Rossini! The orchestra powered through the Overture to La Scala di Seta. Special praise must go to the double basses for their expert playing of the more thunderous parts of the piece. From the same opera, Flόrez gave us “Vedrò qual sommo incanto.” The warmth of the first verse was followed by the virtuosity of the second, where Flόrez had a magnificent coloratura run, starting at Bb4 and returning right back again, and a C5 as ornamentation, both of which were handled masterfully. Verdi was also on the menu, with the Sinfonia from Luisa Miller showing off the talents of the fabulous clarinettist, and Flόrez on top form with “De' miei bollenti spiriti” from La Traviata.
After the interval we were treated to three Spanish composers. The first was from his Amadeo Vives’ zarzuela, Doña Francisquita: the famous second act aria "Por el humo se sabe." Flόrez’s dramatic, desperate outburst on the phrase “Se me entra por los ojos y a veces sueño que ya la adoro” with its alternating Ab4/G4 scoring, was very powerful. The second piece was a playful ditty called “El mismo rey del moro” from José Serrano’s La algería del batallόn. Finally we heard the Intermezzo from Gerόnima Giménez’s La boda de Luis Alonso. The vitality with which the orchestra executed the piece was palpable, with committed, aggressive violins, and a sensational performance by the brass section.
With Lehár’s “Dein is mein ganzes Herz” and Brodzsky’s “Be My Love” Flόrez reminded us why the tenor voice has such beautiful melodies composed for it. The emotional delivery of the Lehár was infectious, and much credit should be given to the orchestra for judging correctly the level of sentimentality required. His delivery of “Be My Love” brought a tear to the eyes of a few of the audience members sitting around me. A few people around me were singing it to themselves as we waited for the final aria on the program.
Flόrez introduced the next piece, “Allegro io son” from Donizetti’s Rita, telling us that it was about a man who had lost his wife. Though it was no great loss as he didn’t want her anyway! There were several octave leaps up to B4, plus an octave jump up to C5. The high notes were effortless, amazingly so given the arias he had performed thus far. Flόrez’s humour shone through as he sang his “Tra la la la la”lines. It earned him whistles from the arena. A wave of foot-stomping went through the crowd as we waited to see what encores we would be getting.
Flόrez’s signature piece, “Ah, mes amis” from La fille du regiment was the first encore. The nine C5’s penetrating the Hall like a laser, on pitch and cutting straight through the orchestra. Next up, we had “La donna è mobile,” from Rigoletto. Flόrez's tempo slower than usual, showing off his astounding breath control and beautiful legato singing. He crowned the aria with a magnificent C5. The last piece, Granada, was a perfect ending. Flόrez created a wonderful texture to the phrases, and the Morish triplets at the end sent shivers down my spine.
The concert was an overwhelming success for Flόrez, and for Ian Rosenblatt’s Recital Series.
© James Edward Hughes 2012
Huw Smith, a regular reader of Show Me Something Interesting, went to see Gerald Barry's new opera, The Importance of Being Earnest, at the Barbican, and kindly penned a review for the blog. So, without further ado, here are his musings.
Gerald Barry, composer
The Importance of Being Ernest - the opera by Gerald Barry
Of all the plays to choose! How do you make the dialogue count, convey the verbal sparring, and retain the sparkling wit…how? You DON’T!
This isn’t entirely true, but Barry shreds, and I mean shreds the text. How much is discarded…two thirds? Well that’s pretty standard for an adaptation and no bad thing if you’re writing an opera. And in the end isn’t it the music that counts? Isn’t it?
The text is ravaged, cut to pieces, and reduced to its brutal essentials. Barry puts the wild in Wilde or perhaps reveals the wild in Wilde and his well made play, that is if you could decipher the sung text. Yes, there were surtitles but having arrived at the hall without the correct glasses, I gave up attempting to read them and concluded it was far more fun without them. The words were there - (sung very fast, very slow, words dissected, phrases sung across the natural rhythms) - but once you surrendered to the sound and simply accepted what little meaning you could catch, you relaxed, sighed, and enjoyed the ride (and when was the last time you could say that of a contemporary opera?).
Fun? Did I say ‘fun’? A contemporary opera that’s ‘fun’? Well yes astounding though it may seem, it’s an absolute hoot both funny and exhilarating and without conceit though somehow lavished with it. So, what is it that makes Barry’s Importance… something to be revisited? Well for a start its sheer energy and exuberance and scatter-gun approach – there’s little time to grow bored with one thing as along comes the next and the next.
Did I say scatter-gun?
A highlight was the verbal exchange between Gwendolen and Cecily; an exchange conducted by megaphones, which intensified via scoring for how many smashed dinner plates?(48?), (in strict time), to scoring for jackboots and duel by pistols. Perhaps you had to be there.
I leant forward in my seat.
I rarely lean forward and only when the entertainment reaches out and sucks me in. I was sucked in and totally, completely, irrevocably, won over by Mr. Barry. I must admit that I’d admired his Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, but this, this was altogether a far more even-flavoured soup; and nothing less than an avant-garde-ist soup at that of ‘twenties London, Paris, Berlin and Moscow …and probably of Buenos Aires too thrown in for good measure. Barry mentions the fake surrealism he uses at the start but frankly it’s a kitchen sink assemblage of every musical "ism"of the twentieth-century you’ve ever heard and probably some you haven’t with a little G. & S. pattering for good measure. I loved it.
Special mention to Thomas Ades who’s conducting was a masterclass in controlled intensity; it kept drawing me from the rest of the performance but then there were so many things to savour – the opera needs to be experienced more than once.
The different parts of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (three cheers for smaller orchestras) also seemed to revel in having something challenging to work with as did the singers who were to a man equally committed and I believe won over by the writing, fiendish though it must have been at times. In particular Peter Tantsits’ barely contained punk-ish mania and the stratospheric zapping by Barbara Hannigan.
Barry’s subversive cross-cutting decimation of the text became an added orchestral textural flourish - can I be championing this mashing syncopation? Oh yes I can. Barry’s Importance… simply uses Wilde’s sublime Importance… to create a reassuringly old fashioned musical revolution of an entertainment. There was nothing new here but how refreshing the result. I left with a smile on my face and not the fixed one I expected to be wearing as I exited the Barbican Hall.
Too late now to hear it in the concert hall. See if you can catch it on iPlayer, Radio 3, and write to ENO demanding that it be given a run sooner rather than later.
© Huw Smith 2012
So, that was Huw's take on the opera. Take a look at the Barbican brochure
, and have a listen to Stephen Fry, Fiona Shaw, Thomas Adès and Gerald Barry discussing the work in the video below (thank you to the Barbican for uploading it!) if his review has sparked your interest.
Sergei Prokofiev, composer
Yesterday evening, I attended a concert which I found very interesting, and which I would like share with you. The piece I’m writing is an overview which I hope gives you a flavour of what I experienced. It is not in the same style as my usual posts, which tend to be more analytical, as I am not familiar with Prokofiev’s music, having immersed myself in the Baroque and Classical periods for so many years.
As part of artistic director and conductor Vladimir Jurowski
's Prokofiev: Man of the people?
season, the Royal Festival Hall hosted two rarely heard pieces of music by the Russian composer. The first piece, Egyptian Nights
, was originally a “theatrical experiment...that brought together scenes from Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra and the 1828 poem Cleopatra by Alexander Pushkin
.” The reason for the combination of the Shaw and Shakespeare plays was explained by Prokofiev himself: “Shaw depicted Cleopatra in the bloom of her youth; and Shakespeare, at the moment of her decline
The second piece was the world première of Levon Atovmyan’s oratorio arrangement of the music by Prokofiev to accompany Sergei Eizenshtein’s film Ivan the Terrible
. Lost to the world for almost 50 years, the score of the oratorio came to light when Nelly Kravetz went to visit Atovmyan’s daughter, Svetlana Levonovna, in the House of Composers in Moscow. She gave the score to Kravetz, telling her to “Do something to prevent [my father’s] name from being forever confined to oblivion.
” Atovmyan arrangement of the film music included changes to the order of the action from that in the film, minor changes to Prokofiev’s scoring, composition and libretto, and “significant alterations to the choral score
In the first piece, Egyptian Nights
, the narrative passages were performed by two very gifted actors: Simon Callow
CBE, and BAFTA award winning actress Miranda Richardson
. Both actors had to play multiple roles, with Callow having to play both an aging Caesar and a virile Mark Anthony. His ability to move between contrasting characters with versatility and integrity made for an excellent performance. His heavily Irish-accented fig-seller, who was to sell the fatal asp to Cleopatra, was comic genius. Richardson’s Cleopatra was an excellent developmental exploration of the changes that occurred as the young queen grew into maturity. Her girlish innocence in her scenes with Caesar at the Sphinx contrasted with the warmer, more seductive tones displayed towards the end of the piece.
Musically, while slightly bitty, the score produced some wonderful moments. Prokofiev has a knack of writing beautiful music for the lower strings, particularly the viola and the double bass. It was lovely to hear one of the melodies start in the lower reaches of the cello section, only to find its culmination with the violas. In the scene with solo harp, harpist Rachel Masters produced a languid sound that was both captivating and mournful. Following this was the exquisite humming chorus, which had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. We also received our first hearing of Baritone Andrey Breus
, who would hear again later on.
After the interval came the second piece, the oratorio Ivan the Terrible
. The opening of the oratorio had the strings powering up and down a series of semi-quaver runs, while the brass came to the fore with Ivan’s theme. The first chorus, A Black Cloud
, was well performed, and gave us an inkling of what was to come. Contralto Ewa Podles
’ first outing came with the second piece, the Song of the Beaver
. Here she portrayed boyarina Yevfrosinya Staritskaya, who is explaining to her son how she plans to depose Ivan, and place him on the throne instead. Podles’ dark contralto was superbly macabre, as she sang the low, chilling phrases. Her black and gold outfit was perfect for the role.
The third piece of the drama was the most brilliant. Here, baritone Andrey Breus took the role of Fyodor Basmanov in the song of the Oprichiniki, the mercenaries of the Tzar. Breus’ voice took the high phrases magnificently, every inch a warrior. His strong voice never became abrasive, and his interplay with the chorus was perfect. He was in a virgin-blue top with oriental trimmings, and knee-length boots. It was a rousing, engaging piece, and as Doundou Tchil of the blog Classical Iconoclast
put it: “One should feel fear and revulsion. But the music is so infectious; you're almost drawn into it, which is rather worrying. But then, that's what mobs are like
.” The next two pieces, Swan
, relate to Anastasia’s marriage to Ivan, and to her poisoning respectively, and were masterfully performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir.
In the sixth piece, Ocean-Sea
, Ewa Podles returns as Ivan’s elderly nursemaid, who recounts the murder of Ivan’s mother, the regent Elena Glinskaya
. Podles’ voice ebbed and flowed like the waters in this most nebulous of arias. Her final dark utterance on the words “Russian Sea
” was like hearing the voice of Neptune rise from the cavernous depths of the ocean. The final two pieces, The Capture of Kazan
, both had moments of fire and glory which filled the hall with fierce energy. The use of the double bass, tuba, contra-bassoon and other bass instruments to portray the cannon at the walls of Kazan was a magnificent piece of orchestration.
It was a fantastic evening, one which has opened my eyes to the music of Prokofiev, and which has inspired me to explore more of his work in the future.
The December Rosenblatt Recital featured Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak
performing a recital of diverse music, from little known Slovenian Lieder through Puccini and Strauss, to Stolz and Lehár. In her recent performances of Britten’s War Requiem
, she received rave reviews, such as from Classical Source who described her voice as “floating effortlessly above [the chorus] as she sang
”, and the New York Times who said that “Cvilak brought a lustrous soprano voice and guileless sincerity to her singing
.” Indeed, it was the dual qualities of an effortless, floating upper register and sincere, idiomatic characterisation which defined her performance.
The Recital started with pianist Iain Burnside announcing a change in the performance order: the first three songs, all in the Slovene language, were to be performed in reverse order. Thus, the concert started with the haunting Nocoj pa, ah, nocoj
by Marijan Lipovšek. Cvilak’s mesmeric performance captured perfectly the forlorn lament of a girl whose lover is to be lost to the army, her gently lilting dynamics interplaying languidly with the accompaniment. Next was Franz Seraphin Vilhar’s Nezakonska mati
, a deeply emotional song about a mother and her illegitimate child, abandoned by her family. Finally we had the more upbeat Ciciban
, by Ciril Pregelj, set to a piece of Slovenian children’s poetry.
The five songs of the Hölderlin Leider
, performed without interruption, comprised of poems by German lyric poet Fredrich Hölderlin set to music by Josef Matthias Hauer. The second song, Hyperions Schicksalsleid
, contained some tragically beautiful music, and Cvilak’s superbly supported pianissimo in the high register was astonishing. Vanini
, the fourth of the songs, was a powerful ode to Lucilio Vanini, a heretic who was condemned to death by the Inquisition. Cvilak performed the song with a fiery intensity, encapsulating the anger and indignation of the poem in her fierce delivery. In stark contrast was Lebenslauf
, the last of the songs, which had Cvilak at her most ethereal, her voice tender yet strong, like a gossamer thread.
One of the benefits of attending multiple concerts in a recital series is that one is more than likely to hear Lieder from Richard Strauss: Cvilak was not one to buck the trend! The first, Allerseelen
, was gracefully performed by Cvilak, with the beautiful melody stunningly sung. Cvilak’s performance was truly moving, and without a doubt one of the best interpretations of this song I have heard. In Zueignung
, Cvilak gave a commanding performance, with a stunning fortissimo
A5 towards the end. Her beautiful phrasing in Morgen
was a delight to hear, her voice seeming to float effortlessly on the breath.
The second half opened with two big hitters from Puccini: “Sì, mi chiamano Mimi
” from La Bohème
, and “Senza mamma
” from Suor Angelica
. Being one of the defining arias of a Lyric soprano, “Sì, mi chiamano Mimi
” can be rather difficult to listen to without automatically comparing with past giants of the opera world. From the onset, however, Cvilak made the aria her own. Her undulating dynamics and flawlessly executed phrasing, combined with her own unassuming character, gave the aria a new life which it can sometimes lack, being so regularly performed. In the Suor Angelica
aria, Cvilak’s opening phrase, “Senza mamma, bimbo, tu sei morto
”, was chilling in its desperation, and her pianissimo
A5 at the end of the phrase “Parlami, amore, amore, amor!
” was electric.
Of the three songs by Robert Stolz, it was the final “Spiel auf deiner Geige
” from Venus in Seide
which most caught my attention. The aria was a vehicle for Cvilak to showcase her dark, smoky chest register juxtaposed against the bright, powerful phrases placed high in the voice. With the “Vilya Lied
” from Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow
, Cvilak returned to the mystical world in which she started the recital. The gentle inflections of the music, and her idiomatic grasp of the text, made the aria all the more alluring, yet delicate also. The traditionally interpolated pianissimo
B5 was like a tinkling bell, bright and clear. Her two encores were “Ecco: Respiro Appena
” from Adriana Lecouvreur
and “O mio babbino caro
” from Gianni Schicchi
. Both were beautifully performed, and very well received.
Not only was I impressed by Cvilak's elegant and refined performance, but also by her humility and graciousness, reflected in her advice to aspiring young singers in her recent “in conversation with…”
interview with Rosenblatt Recitals: “[B]e sincere and hard working. Don't chase results - they will come from effort and personality. Sometimes failure means happiness and better opportunities later on. Just don't stop trying
.” Cvilak will be performing Strauss’ Four Last Songs
in Turkey this December, and will be performing across the globe in 2012. I think this is definitely a singer to watch.
“A remarkable man…His intelligence was perfectly clear, but his soul was mad
.” Tarik O’Regan
’s atmospheric representation of Joseph Conrad’s intense and still controversial novel is a “powerful tale [that] explores themes of exploitation and brutality in the oppressive atmosphere of the equatorial rain forest
”. Through the intelligent characterisation, and O’Regan’s expressive score, he explores why one would sometimes rather tell - even believe - a lie, than to give voice to an unsavoury truth. In an attempt to produce a “form of psychodrama
”, O’Regan’s first opera (he is only 33) is a mature representation of a difficult theme, which is both engaging and disturbing, though never dull. Tarik O’Regan’s opera began life as part of OperaGenesis
when it was work-shopped there in 2008. More information on the Genesis Foundation’s website
Photo by Catherine Ashmore
The role of Marlow was taken by Alan Oke
, whose precision and vocal control enabled him to produce an exciting characterisation of the man who has “played his part in maintaining the secrecies of the horror he finds so abhorrent
.” His acting was spot on, so fully immersed was he in the character, that every move and mannerism reflected the internal struggle relayed in the libretto. His tormented decision to lie to the fiancée of the departed Kurtz was particularly moving. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the enjoyable “Rivets
” scene was humorous and energetic, and the onstage use of the box of rivets as part of the percussion was an excellent decision.
Kurtz himself, the fever ridden, delirious ivory trader, was played by the remarkable Danish bass Morten Lassenius Kramp
. The 39 year old had an arresting stage presence, which he used to great effect during his first solo, the raving “I’m glad
”. The tessitura of the aria was focused very low in the voice, but Kramp’s lower register was more than able to cope with the demands of this Profundo role. The part of Kurtz was a remarkable one, scored from E2 to E4, and making full use of the whole two octave range. Kramp was a perfect choice, with a rich sonorous sound from the nadir to the apex of the voice. His very lowest notes, on the phrase “the horror, the horror
” at the death of his character, were perfectly audible throughout the Linbury Studio. Kramp is definitely someone to watch in the future.
The interchange between Oke and Kramp was impressively enacted, with the Tenor and Bass performing at either end of the vocal spectrum, and there was a lovely chorus for all the male characters performed a cappella, which was beautifully scored. Tenor Jaewoo Kim portrayed the Harlequin with an energetic mix of the humorous and the sinister, leaping about the crates as he spoke to Marlow. As he told Marlow of Kurtz’s greatness, the scoring suddenly moved from dissonance to consonance: a startling musical device which gave extra force to the Harlequin’s words.
Soprano Gweneth-Ann Jeffers
took the dual role of Kurtz’s Belgian fiancée and the African “River Woman”. The touching naivety with which she portrayed Kurtz’s fiancée was contrasted with the raw, often ethereal quality she exuded as the “River Woman”. In this role, her wordless melismas, taking her the full length of the range, were beautifully executed, with her pianissimo notes above the stave particularly haunting. The astral effect was enhanced by the projection of watery patterns onto the wall behind her, and the fluidic, rippling accompaniment, with the tubular bells and the celesta being particularly mesmeric.
The music itself was perfectly conceived for the theme of the opera. The percussion and harp were used to good effect to build atmosphere and tension, and there was a wonderful passage scored for lower strings. The two violins were using harmonics which added to the tension and suspense, though this device was used sparingly to avoid it becoming too invasive. I liked the interesting use of the bass guitar at the end of the opera, where guitarist Stewart French banged it into his legs whilst turning the speaker up to full volume, creating an unnerving, uncomfortable sound.
As for the production, the staging was excellent. The rigging and decking, which remained throughout the opera, was visually both evocative and unobtrusive, while the onstage costume changes and moving of scenery were effected professionally. The lighting was excellent, both the electric and the flaming torches and candle. But the most interesting thing was the slowly rising water level. By the time the opera was finished, the decking was saturated with water, just as Kurtz’s fever had risen to its inevitable, deadly conclusion.
© James Edward Hughes 2011
Today the Wigmore Hall once again played host to the sultry voice of Venetian Contralto Sara Mingardo. The theme of the concert was a songbook of Ancient Italian Airs, compiled by Alessandro Parisotti, with a couple of interlopers such as an aria from Handel’s Alcina. The song book includes an air attributed to Giovanni Pergolesi, “Se tu m’ami
”, which is now believed to have been composed by Parisotti himself. The song book, called Arie antiche: ad una voce per canto e pianoforte
and published in 1890, was Parisotti’s major claim to fame.
Performing with Mingardo were Benjamin Bayl
, harpsichord, and Richard Sweeney
, theorbo. Benjamin Bayl is usually seen in the role of conductor having taken part in productions such as Il parnaso confuso
at London’s South Bank Centre and a critically acclaimed Ariodante with
English Touring Opera. Richard Sweeney has extensive performance experience, having played with renowned ensembles including The Kings Consort, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, and Les Talens Lyriques.
The first composer selected by Mingardo was the Neapolitan Andrea Falconieri. Of the two song chosen it was the second, “O bellissimi capelli
”, which made the greatest impression. Mingardo’s lilting, smooth voice flowed through the verses, while the intuitive accompaniment from Bayl and Sweeney ensured the light dynamic of the piece was well supported. Next was Antonio Lotti, a composer hailing from Mingardo’s native Venice, who thought to have influenced Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederic Handel. The air chosen, “Pur dicesti, O Bocca bella
”, was tenderly sung, with some beautifully light touches on the arpeggios.Two more Venetians followed on from Lotti. “Sebben crudele”, by Antonio Caldara, is a famous piece, sung by most singers of all fach at one point in their careers. It was performed with dramatic flair by Mingardo, whose ardent, lyrical presentation, and intelligent ornamentation, communicated perfectly the emotion of the piece. Vivaldi’s “Un certo non so che” was next, and it was here that Mingardo moved to a more “operatic” execution.
The melancholic “Quella fiamma che m’accende”, by Benedetto Marcello, provided the first opportunity for Mingardo to show off her rich, powerful lower register. The dives into the chest voice were both fierce yet controlled, with Mingardo in complete control of her instrument. The disputed “Se tu m’ami” was as emotive, yet it was more intimate, almost conversational in its delivery.
Mingardo and Bayl then left the stage, leaving Richard Sweeney to perform Alessandro Piccinini’s beautiful Toccata IV for theorbo. Sweeney’s playing bought out the lilting nature of the piece, and it reminded me of being on a long train journey, through the countryside, watching the landscape out of the window.
Mingardo and Bayl returned to finish the concert with four contrasting songs. The first, “Intorno all’idol mio” by Antonio Cesti, saw Mingardo’s warm, rich tone project powerfully through the hall. After this came Handel’s “Ah, mio cor, schernito sei” from the opera Alcina, which was the highlight of the concert. The dark, passionate phrases were beautifully handed, and there was a lovely resonance in Mingardo’s lower register.
Another opera aria, “Se il ciel mi divide” from Niccolò Piccinni’s Alessandro nell'Indie, was the penultimate offering from the trio, with Mingardo at her most aggressive, modulating the dynamic spectacularly in the syncopated sections. The last piece was “Nel cor più non mi sento” by Giovanni Paisiello. Mingardo managed to make the wistful, dreamy music engaging, imparting the nostalgic remembrances of an older person remembering the fires of youth.
The encore was the delightful “'Si dolce e'l tormento” by Claudio Monteverdi. It was an excellent way to end the concert, with each of the trio bringing an educated understanding to this frequently performed song. The last verse was so tender, that one was left with a lightness of being which lasted past the end of the fading chords. It was a delightful concert and another elegant triumph for Mingardo.
© James Edward Hughes 2011
Lucio Gallo, baritone
Tonight’s Rosenblatt Recital saw Baritone Lucio Gallo
perform songs and arias by composer Sir Paolo Tosti. Gallo has performed in many of the major opera houses in the world, in roles such as Don Pizarro, Falstaff, Don Giovanni, and Iago, which Gallo believes to be “one of the most interesting roles written for a baritone
.” It was, however, at the recent performance of Puccini’s Il Trittico
that I first became aware of Gallo’s talents.
Gallo is no stranger to the Rosenblatt Recitals series as he performed there in June 2009. Then, he presented a range of composers, including Mozart, Verdi and Tosti. This time, Gallo will be showcasing Tosti’s arias and songs. Gallo had this to say about the program:
“I have always liked the music of Tosti but in the past I always made a point of singing music by several composers in my recitals, apart from lieder cycles of course. Then after my Rosenblatt recital in 2009, I had a long talk with Ian Rosenblatt about doing another recital and when he expressed his passion for Tosti, I suggested doing an entire concert of his music.”
Tosti had an interesting and varied career. After showing early promise as a student teacher, Tosti fell ill, and had to leave his post as student teacher. When Tosti moved to Rome, his fortunes changed. Giovanni Sgambati, who became his patron, introduced him to the future Queen of Italy, who appointed him as her singing professor. Tosti moved to England in 1875, where he became singing master to the royal family, and later became a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. He became a British Citizen in 1906, and was knighted by King Edward VII in 1908. He died in Rome in 1916.
One of the problems with presenting a recital with only one composer represented is that the style and emotional content can become repetitive. With Gallo and Tosti, this was most definitely not the case. Gallo’s dramatic and engaging style perfectly complemented Tosti’s expressive songs. Tosti’s works display both a full knowledge of the emotional spectrum and an excellent understanding of the vocal instrument.
The recital began with the Due piccolo notturni
, of which the second, “O falce di luna calante
”, was the most engaging. Gallo’s voice opened wonderfully on the high phrase “non canto, non grido”, while fading away to almost nothing on the final “chiarore qua giù
This was followed by the Tre Romanze
, three songs with words by Rocco Emanuele Pagliara. Gallo’s forte
optional G4 on the final “fugge l’amore!
” contrasted wonderfully with the ppp
C3’s on the final phrase. The most powerful song in this set was the beautiful Malia
which, with a range of just one octave, showcased Gallo’s superb acting skills. Due Melodie francesi
can next, and contained an absolute gem of a song: “Ninon
”. The duplet quavers which appeared thought the 6/8 piece gave it a pensive, introspective feel, while the understated piano accompaniment added to the atmosphere of the song. The passage “Ouvrez-vous, jeunes fleurs…si vous avez aimé
” was powerfully sung by Gallo, while the following phrase, “Et vous aurez vecu…
” was performed with haunting tenderness.
The Due Romanza
which followed featured the Melodic “Non t’amo più
”, was originally dedicated to Gladys, Countess of Lonsdale. Again, Gallo’s ability to produce an almost falsetto-like piano made for a heartrending ending. His ability to play with the words brought the text to life, allowing his audience to grasp fully the meaning of the text.
The last two arias in the first half were both in English. The first, “Ask me no more
”, was full of passion and emotion, with Gallo giving full reign to his voice. The second, “Forever and Forever
”, was one of the “hit songs of the Victorian era
”, and one can see why. Beautifully melodious, the words of the song are taken from a poem by Baroness Currie (Violet Fane). Gallo’s animated performance gave vent to the frustration and yearning of the lyrics.
We returned from the interval to hear the highlight of the program: the Quattro Canzoni d’Amaranta
. The second of the four songs, “L’alba sepàra dalla luce l’ombra
”, was a real rollercoaster, with a very fierce ending. The interpolated A4 at the end of the song was perfectly held, with a full, rich tone. The last in the set, “Che dici, o parola del Saggio?
”, was wonderfully animated, intense performance. The phrase “L’amante che ha no me Domani
”, was particularly moving.
The next two songs were from the Canzoni-stornelli.
The first,“La Serenata
”, was light with touches of humour, especially in the rather suggestive “Ah! La
” phrases. The wonderful pianissimo ending was perfectly placed and supported. In the second song, “L’ultima Conzone
”, Gallo once more opened his voice to the full, with a long held interpolated high note on the phrase “Nina, rammenta
”, and again displayed his vocal security combined with his emotive delivery.
The final three songs were from the Tre Canzoni napoletane.
The second of these, “Comme va?
”, was the most vibrant: a dynamic piece with plenty of drama, which Gallo provides so effortlessly. The final song, “Marechiare
”, is a true Neapolitan song. Gallo really feels the piece, playing with the words, giving each gesture and movement a meaning.
As an encore, Gallo performed three pieces. The first was a marvellous rendition of the Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni
. The second was a scene from Il Tabarro
, which Gallo managed to imbue with as much, if not more, passion than when on stage at the Royal Opera House a few weeks ago which I attended. After getting a standing ovation for the Il Tabarro
scene, Gallo came back to sing the dreamy Moon River
, which seemed to be a favourite of Mr Rosenblatt himself.
The next Rosenblatt Recital will be on Thursday 24th November, featuring the Tenor Fabio Armiliato
© James Edward Hughes 2011
Ewa Podles as Madame de la Haltière
As the poor person charged by the ROH to deliver bad news arrived onstage, we all knew something was wrong. “Joyce DiDonato has a cold” she announced. An audible gasp came from the audience. “But,” the announcer continued “she has agreed to sing tonight, and asks for your understanding if the effects of the cold become apparent”. The audience, visibly and audibly relieved, gave a burst of applause, before settling down to Massenet’s opera: Cendrillon.
Cendrillon premiered in Paris at the Opéra-Comique on 24 May 1899, and “was intended as one of the highlights of the season.” Massenet ingeniously uses different styles of music to illustrate the various characters and emotions: references to the court music of Lully and Rameau, for instance, in the ball scene, and for Madame de la Haltière; a nod to Wagner in the ethereal love scene at the magic oak; and a feeling of Strauss or Humperdinck in the music of La Fée. Cendrillon is, arguably, Massenet at his most musically intellectual.
Massenet’s intelligence was well matched by the interpretation given by the performers. Ewa Podleś, the legendary Polish contralto, and a favourite here at Show Me Something Interesting, was fabulous as the haughty and arrogant Madame de la Haltière. Her comic timing, facial expressions, gesticulations and magnificently upholstered derrière stole the show, and earned her a rousing applause and a number of cheers. She even added a wonderful Eb3 on her final “ce coir” at the end of act I scene III, while her exasperated cry at not being allowed her chance to try on the slipper was sheer perfection.
Alice Coote was very strong in the role of Prince Charming. Sitting on the floor, sulking at the prospect of a tedious ball filled with well marketed marriage material, she was fully in character. Her dark voice perfectly displayed the qualities of the Falcon, the intermediate soprano fach that the French so valued in Massenet’s time. The love duet with DiDonato in the enchanted forest scene was particularly moving, with Coote’s lush voice giving a very convincing portrayal of a young ardent male declaring his love.
When it comes to Joyce DiDonato’s Cendrillon, I shall quote a lady I spoke to during the interval: “If I could sing like that with a cold, I would be a very happy woman!” DiDonato’s grasp of the role was consummate, moving through the unfolding psychological development of her character with intelligence and an emotional involvement that can sometimes be found wanting in such demanding roles. Her high pianissimo, wielded on more than one occasion, was stable and clear, and the high tessitura of this soprano role was no problem for the American mezzo.
The magic and fairy dust was provided by Eglise Gutiérrez, the Cuban-American coloratura soprano. As La Fée (the Fairy Godmother), Gutiérrez was there to provide the magic stardust in vocal form. Trills and arpeggios abound in this most difficult role lying, like that of the Queen of the Night, very high in the voice. The full range required is from B3 to Eb6, and Gutiérrez was able to navigate this with ease. Her final high Db6 at the end of the third act was spectacular, especially as she turned on her heel, and walked towards the back of the stage, holding the note all the while without any loss of pitch or dynamic.
The music itself “never really gets there” as a friend of mine aptly put it. Massenet’s music is both beautiful and engaging, yet it never really reaches a climax. Instead, it ebbs and flows like a tide, ethereal like the moonlight. Perhaps this was Massenet’s intention: the dream-state of Cendrillon, and the fairy-magic of La Fée, is written indelibly into the music. So, while we listen, we too are in that dream-like state. It is only when the music finishes that we wake up, and that reality takes over. In real life, we have endings, grief, death and mortality. In Cendrillon, we live happily ever after.
Perhaps Massenet was allowing us to take our piece of “happy ever after” with us when the curtain goes down, the lights go up, and we go home; to our lives, our endings, and our new beginnings.
© James Edward Hughes 2011
Vuyani Mlinde, bass-baritone
The latest singer to perform as part of the acclaimed Rosenblatt Recitals series was bass-baritone Vuyani Mlinde. The South African won a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music on 2004, and has been going from strength to strength ever since. He has performed roles such as Leporello and Commendatore in Don Giovanni
, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte
, and Seneca in L'incoronazione di Poppea
. A full biography can be found here
The recital commenced with three Mozart arias. The first, "Se vuol ballare
" from Le Nozze di Figaro
, was a nice, gentle way to start the evening, leading smoothly to the next offering: "Madamina il catalogo è questo
" from Don Giovanni.
The last Mozart piece, the concert aria "Così dunque tradisci
", was the most impressive in this first section, with Mlinde keeping an even tone throughout the piece, which ranged from D2 to F4. Mozart's calling card in his virtuoso arias is the ascending one and a half octave leap, this time from B2 to F4, which Mlinde navigated with ease.
While the Mozart was performed admirably, it was with the Tchaikovsky that Mlinde really came alive. The passion of the Russian composer's work more suited the strong, powerful quality of Mlinde's voice. The second piece, "Gospod’ moj, esli gresen ja
", starts with a phrase marked "a piena voce molto espr.
", and this was exactly how Mlinde interpreted it. The first phrase, rising and falling like a wave, was imbued with fierce emotion. Towards the end of the aria, his F4 was so full and rounded, he sounded more like a full baritone than a bass-baritone, while the resonance on his unaccompanied F2 was strong, rich and dark.
The next piece was the first of three Verdi opera arias, and for me was the highlight of the evening. Mlinde himself states that Verdi is his "favourite composer
", and his performance of Banquo's aria from Macbeth shows just how fully he connects with that composers work. The ominous tone of Mlinde's voice is perfect in first phrases, where Banquo tells his son about the murder of Duncan. At the conclusion of the aria, Mlinde's fortissimo E4 on the phrase "e di terror
" rang out through the hall. There was more Verdi to come after the interval, as Mlinde sang Silva's aria from Ernani.
There series of three songs by different composers which followed allowed Mlinde to explore a more intimate emotional connection with the audience. Respighi's "Nebbie
" was composed during a period of depression, and the music reflects this quality with a repetitious chord rhythm, and long, dark phrases in the vocal line. Mlinde's rich, sombre voice was a perfect vehicle for the melancholic song. The last piece in this set was Gastaldon's "Musica Prohibita
". Mlinde was at his most ardent in this last song, as his interpretation of this Neapolitan ballad encompassed both the longing for love, and the seductive qualities of the young, passionate lover.
The final aria on the program, "Mentre gonfiarsi l'anima
", was again from Verdi, this time from his opera Attila
. Mlinde was full of awe and terror in the first half of the aria, his interpretation of the phrase "Di flagellar...il suol!
" was particularly moving. The second half of the aria saw Attila back to his normal self, full of fire and rage. Mlinde powered through the lines, ending on a spectacular F4. His encore was the drinking song Im tiefen Keller,
in English with a translation by John Oxenford. After showcasing his excellent high register, this song focused on his beautiful lower register, with some excellent tone displayed below the stave. It also gave us a chance to enjoy his wonderful sense of humour!
Vuyani Mlinde will be performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the London Symphony Orchestra on tour, and also, in November 2011, the role of Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte
for Opera Oviedo.
The next season of Rosenblatt Recitalists can be seen here
Please also check out this video about Mlinde and his music
© James Edward Hughes 2011
Daniil Shtoda, Tenor
Another fantastic recital at the Wigmore Hall, this time it was with Russian tenor Daniil Shtoda, with an all Russian program. Shtoda began studying the violin at the age of 4, joined the Chorus Institute of the Academic Cappella M.I.Glinka at the age of 6, and made his debut in the role of Feodor in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov
at the Mariinsky at the age of 13. No wonder he has been described as a
Shtoda has benefited from his association with Larissa Gergieva, who accompanied his recital. Gergieva has worked as a coach at such prestigious places as The Met, La Scala and the ROH, and is the Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers, where she was Shtoda's teacher. She describes Shtoda as a singer with "a strong personality and a most generous amount of charisma.
" Here is Gergieva's recollection of the moment she first met Shtoda:
"Daniil approached me with a big bouquet of white roses. He was a very young boy with big blue eyes looking for an audition. I asked him what he was going to sing. “Hermann’s aria” – he answered. I thought to myself it was quite a challenge, since Hermann is a very difficult role. I accompanied him at the piano and, after he finished singing Hermann’s aria...I immediately took him to the Academy, which opened a few days later. He has become one of my favourite pupils whom I love to work with
The concert started with three songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, the most beautiful of which was "The Nymph
". Gergieva's execution of Rimsky-Korsakov's watery accompaniment was matched perfectly Shtoda's rendering of the sinuous melody. Particularly touching was Shtoda's pianissimo, high in the head voice, on the final phrase: "but the nymph is in the reeds with her plaits loose.
" This high pianissimo seems to be Shtoda's calling card. The next composer, represented by four songs, was César Cui. In "The Lilacs
", Shtoda caresses and moulds the phrases tenderly yet ardently, giving less while making us want more. More subtle still was the dynamic with which Shtoda infused "The statue at Tsarskaya Selo
". The rubato on the phrase "the maiden sits eternally sorrowful
" was wonderfully performed, Shtoda's singing filled with aching pity.
Rachmaninov was the next offering, and a powerful one it was too! The fire in the short "It cannot be
" coruscated through the audience, with both Shtoda and Gergieva filling the Hall with passion. Even more powerful was the introspective "O fair maiden, do not sing before me
", from the same opus (#4) as "In the silence of the secret night
", which Dmitry Hvorotovsky performed in his Wigmore Hall recital
. It's climax is the phrase "I forget, seeing you, but then you sing
", reaching its zenith on a fortissimo A4, which Shtoda navigated with ease. It was, however, that high pianissimo, here on a slow chromatic saunter from A4 to C4 at the close of the song, which really took our breath away.
After the interval, we were treated to a whole series of songs by Tchaikovsky. In the haunting "Again, as before, I am alone
", Shtoda's elegant phrasing eerily shaped the opening piano A minor phrases, while his powerful upper register thundered the progression from E4 to G#4, before returning, pianissimo, to the opening phrases. In "The nightingale
", Shtoda's almost conversational phrasing was very moving, while the "Serenade
" injected a much welcomed piece of humour. "Amid the noise of the ball
" sits lower in the voice, and here Shtoda showed that he is as comfortable in the chest register as he is in the head. The pair gave three encores, in the last of which Shtoda held a very long pianissimo. I shall list them here once I have found out what they are called.
Most of the songs from the recital can be found on his album with Gergieva
, published on the EMI Classics
© James Edward Hughes 2011