Cecilia Bartoli and Freiburger Barockorchester in Lisbon

The 11th of February 2006 I went to Lisbon to attend a particularly fine concert with Cecilia Bartoli. It took place in the concert hall of the cultural center and museum Fondação Calouste Gulbenkian in the middle of the city reminding a dane very much of the museum Louisiana North of Copenhagen. The institution is probably the most active part in the cultural life of Lisbon and has its own orchestra. The hall is very beautiful with its simple architecture and dark wood.
The programme of the evening was almost exclusively taken from Bartoli’s latest cd “Opera proibita” containing moralising/religious and mostly unknown music by Scarlatti, Caldara and Händel. The orchestra of the recording had been replaced by the brilliant Freiburger Barockorchester and they played wonderfully. Especially the woodwind section was marvelous and the first violin Petra Müllejans was enchanting and had a vital collaboration with the soloist.
I have attended a Cecilia Bartoli concert once before a couple of years ago and she certainly hadn’t worsened in the meantime. On the contrary I found her to have become more subtle and that suited her voice. This was of course mainly in the quieter arias like Caldara’s ”Vanne pentita a piangere” from Il trionfo dell’Innocenza where the orchestra also gave us all they had of condensed and elastic sound sometimes tending on a frailty that made you just want to purr loudly.
In more agitated arias like Händel’s ”Disseratevi, o porte d’Averno” from La resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo we saw the good old Cecilia with wind in her curly hair and an energy level seemingly threatening on causing inner bleeding! And this combined with a joy of music so contagious that you oughtn’t be in a seat but on a dance floor. In these cascading pieces she had made a small invention that I had never experienced before: she conducted the orchestra. There was no conductor and I think her tempo indications were given by the orchestra’s need of following her and her own need to express herself physically.

The overwhelmingness of a Cecilia Bartoli concert is the joy floating so generously from the stage. Her joy in singing gives the listener a uninhibited feeling of happiness. You oscillate between wanting to express yourself with her (hence the dance floor) and wanting to sink deep into yourself. The quiet arias and the warm colours of the concert hall gave me a sensation of safety and beauty that I will never forget. In Händel’s “Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa” (known primarily as “Lascia ch’io pianga”) the volume was slowly decreased into the quietest pianissimo creating a meditative atmosphere.

The joy of music gave us four encores. Among them one of my favourite arias from Händel’s Giulio Cesare; Cleopatra’s “Da tempeste”. A somewhat different Cleopatra than Inger Dam-Jensen of the Copenhagen production of said opera. But not a less enchanting personification.
Another encore was Scarlatti’s “Che dolce simpatia” that could only awake sympathy with its humorous ping-pong between singer and sopranino recorder.
And then she sang “Ombra mai fu” but on another tune than the usual. I have asked wiser people than me and they think it may be from Giovanni Bononcini’s opera Xerxes (which inspired Händel to write his opera based on the same libretto).

Cecilia Bartoli, Ceciliona, already had a seat in my heart, but now she has to share that seat with the Freiburger Barockorchester – it was pure enjoyment listening to this overly competent orchestra. Not least the ouverture and the concerto grosso they played on their own.

A wonderful evening!

/anna

February 28, 2006. Opera, Reviews, Travels. 1 comment.

Hammerheads

Marie and I have for some time now been collecting pictures of hammerhead people. That is – pictures of persons with an extreme width between their eyes thus reminding you of the shark Sphyrna zygaena or hammerhead.

The width should preferably be larger than the width of the eye.

Often being a hammerhead gives the person a certain cuteness and it is definitely better than too close-set eyes.

People with very large eyes are often confused with hammerheads, and even we sometimes think a person is a hammerhead while he/she actually just has large eyes. Below you can see our all-time top ten of hammerhead. There is no specific order – one hammerhead is as good as the other. Except perhaps for the first:

Jackie
Jackie O. is probably the most hammerheadded person ever to have breathed. We salute you Jackie!

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Raimondi
It was opera singer Ruggero Raimondi who first drew our attention to the phenomenon. In this picture he is explaining the art of being a hammerhead. Serious business.

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Minelli
Liza Minelli is a rare combination of hammerheaddedess and large eyedness.

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Andersen
Danish actress Lotte Andersen is Jackie Kennedy’s main rival. Wonderful.

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Warren
Little Karle Warren has a bright future in the hammerhead society. May she prosper.

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Kirby
Also Kathleen Beller (best known for her performance as Kirby in the soap Dynasty) features a marvelous combination of large eyes and width between them. She also has a remarkable capacity of opening those eyes wide.

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Barroso
Hammerheads are everywhere, also in the political spheres. Here president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. You may think that this is a case of confusing eye-width with the width between them, but believe me – when you see him on the news there is no doubt.

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Kjer
One of my personal favourites. And not only because she is a hammerhead. Danish actress Bodil Kjer who some of you will remember from the film Babette’s Feast.

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Collins
Joan Collins has been flashing those hammerhead eyes for many years. She has a sure seat in the pantheon of hammerheads.

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Sid
You can be an animal and a hammerhead without actually being one. Sid here is a perfect example of that. We do not know his species but those eyes just want to be in different corners of the earth.

/anna

February 27, 2006. Hammersharks, Lists. 16 comments.

You know you’re an opera freak, when…

Yet another list that Anna and I started in an internet forum. The contributions we’ve chosen to bring here are, again, all made by the two of us, but we’d love to hear your contributions as well. Just press “add comment” and release your inner opera freak. You know you want to…

You know you’re an opera freak when:

– You change between having “Caro nome” and Fafner and Fasolt’s theme as your cell phone ring tone.

– You warm up before going out on weekend nights by listening to “Questa o quella” and “Finch’han dal vino”.

– You know exactly how many women Don Giovanni has seduced in Germany.

– You exclaim “Agameeeeeeeemnon!” or “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen!” when you are feeling particularly bitter.

– You think “Don’t worry, no one noticed!” when a singer invents a word because he can’t remember the lyrics.

– You exclaim a plaintive “Perché?!” when you’re riding your bike through the snow and the sleet.

– You think “La povera mia cena fu interrotta” when looking at a Dutch still-life.

– You name your cat Rosina.

– You get really snappy if someone mentions The Phantom of the Opera when you tell them that you like opera music. Or any time someone mentions it, for that matter.

– You’re throwing a party and panic, because you realize that the most contemporary music in your collection is Benjamin Britten.

– You’ve got a very clear attitude to the question of how many times and at which points the tenor should sob during “E lucevan le stelle”.

– You feel disturbed by, but then also bizarrely attracted to men who offer you Spanish wine.

February 26, 2006. Lists, Opera. 1 comment.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from operas, it’s…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from opera it is that:

– if you get a daughter and you wanted a son, it’s not really that much of a problem. You can easily dress up the girl as a boy all of her life without anyone noticing.

– if you plan to kill yourself or, possibly, others, you shouldn’t hold the knife up too high above you before stabbing. Because someone is likely to come up behind you and grab your hand and prevent you from completing your motion.

– it’s the wisest thing not to kiss or talk to another person in the dark. It is bound to be someone other than you think.

– if I meet a man who claims to Albanian, he is without doubt my fiancé.

– you can get rid of rivals by stuffing them with coffee, chocolate, wine, and ham.

– blondes are friendly and brunettes are faithful.

– tuberculosis is not a turn-off for men.

– it’s a really bad idea to marry your fiancé’s dad.

– it’s a really bad idea to harass people at work. Worst case scenario, someone might kidnap and rape your teenaged daughter.

– The duke of Mantova? He’s Just Not That Into You. Sorry. And neither is Don Giovanni. And they’re not going to be, either.

– A square is not round.

February 26, 2006. Lists, Opera. Leave a comment.

How to Direct Opera the German way

This wonderful piece of satire in list form (our favourite form!) was posted in an internet forum by the manager of Copenhagen Opera. I tried to get him to tell me who wrote the list, but he didn’t seem to want to reveal his source. I like to think that he actually wrote it himself to piss off some of his German colleagues. In any case, thank you, Kasper!

/marie

1) The director is the most important personality involved in the production. His vision must supercede the needs of the composer, librettist, singers and especially the audience, those overfed fools who want to be entertained and moved.

2) The second most important personality is the set designer.

3) Comedy is verboten, except when unintentional. Wit is for TV watching idiots.

4) Great acting is hyperintensity, with much rolling on the ground, groping the wall and sitting on a bare floor.

5) The audience’s attention must be on anything except the person who is singing. A solo aria, outmoded even in the last century, must be accompanied by extraneous characters expressing their angst in trivial ways near, on or about the person singing the aria.

6) Storytelling is anathema to the modern director, like realistic “photographic” painting is to the abstract painter. Don’t tell the story, COMMENT on it! Even better, UNDERMINE IT!

7) When singing high notes, the singer must be crumpled over, lying down or facing the back of the stage.

8) The music must stop once in awhile for intense, obscure miming.

9) Sexual scenes must be charmless and aggressive. Rolling on the floor a must here.

10) Unmotivated homosexual behavior must be introduced a few times during the evening.

11) Happy endings are intellectually bankrupt. Play the opposite. Insert a sudden murder if at all possible.

12) Avoid entertaining the audience at all costs. If they boo, you have succeeded.

13) Rehearse it until it’s dead. Very important.

14) Any suggestion of the beauty and mystery of nature must be avoided at all costs! The set must be trivial, contemporary and decrepit! Don’t forget the fluorescent lights! (Klieg lights also acceptable.)

15) The audience must not know when to applaud or when the scene/act ends.

16) Historical atrocities such as the Holocaust or the AIDS epidemic must be incorporated and exploited as much as possible. Also the lifestyle of the audience must be mocked.

17) Colors are culinary. Black, white and gray only!

18) The chorus must be bald, sexless, faceless and in trench coats.

19) If the audience is bored, this is art.

20) Props are items of junk piled in a corner of the set. They must be overused pointlessly, then dropped on the floor, hopefully when the music is soft. Be careful to keep dangerous objects at the lip of the stage so the blindfolded dancers can kick them into the pit.

21) All asides must be sung next to the person who is not supposed to hear them.

22) The leading performers faces must be painted as a white mask to ensure no individuality or variety of expressions, as opera singers can’t act anyway. They just want to pose and make pretty sounds.

23) Preparation is important. Try to read the libretto in advance to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your staging ideas. Not much harm in listening to the CD once, though that’s not really your job.

24) Make the conductor feel useful, though he’s really a literal minded hack.

25) The stage director must avoid any idea that is not his own, though that idea will surely be on this list already.

26) A costume must serve at least two of the following criteria: a) Make the singer look unattractive b) Obscure his vision c) Make hearing the orchestra difficult d) Impede movement d) Contradict the period in which the opera is set (hardly worth mentioning) —–

February 26, 2006. Lists. Leave a comment.

Ten Commandments for Concert-goers

Found this in a forum. If only the world would listen!

I
Thou shalt hearken unto the music with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and all thy mind, to aid thee in thine endeavor. Study thou thy programme notes and hereby be sore fully prepared to garner the blessings of the inspired melodies which are about to be sounded.
II
Thou shalt not arrive late, for the stir of thy coming disturbeth those who did come in due season; neither shalt thou rush forth as a great wind at intermission time or before the end of the programme; nor shalt thou trample to thy left nor thy right the ushers or the doormen or the multitudes that are about thee.
III
Thou shalt keep in check thy coughings and thy sneezings for they are an abomination, and they shall bring forth evil execrations upon thee and upon thy household, even unto the third and fourth generations.
IV
Thou shalt not rustle thy programme, for the noise thereof is not as the murmur of the leaves of the forest but brash and raucous and soothest not.
V
Thou shalt not yahoo unto thy relatives, nor unto thy friends, nor unto any member of thy club or of thy household, nor unto any of thy neighbours.
VI
Thou shalt not whisper, for thy mouthings, howsoever hushed they may be, bring discord to the ear of those who sit about thee.
VII
Thou shalt not chew with great show of sound or motion. Remember that thou art not as the kine of the meadow who do chew the cud in the pastoral serenity which is vouchsafed them.
VIII
Thou shalt not direct thy index finger at persons of public note and say unto thy neighbour, “Yonder goeth so and so,” but reflect that some day thou shalt perchance be a celebrity, and thou shalt be in great discomfort when thou art pointed at and thou shalt not be pleased one jot or tittle thereby.
IX
Thou shalt not slumber, for in thy stupor thou hast ears and heareth not; peradventure thou possesseth a rumbling obbligato when thou sleepeth and, verily, the rabble may be aroused thereby to do thee grievous harm.
X
Thou shalt not become a self-ordained music critic and with booming voice comment garrulously about the players or the playing; neither shalt thou hum, or tap thy foot; for thou hast come as a listener and a lover of music, not as a critic nor as a performer, and remember that none among the multitudes has paid to hear thy hummings or thy tappings or to listen unto thine opinions.

February 25, 2006. Lists. 4 comments.

Così fan tutte in Aix-en-Provence

In July 2005 I went to Aix-en-Provence to attend two opera performances: Così fan tutte and Il barbiere di Siviglia. Here is a review I did for an internet forum on the Così fan tutte performance.

The opera was directed by Patrice Chéreau and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Arnold Schoenberg choir were conducted by Daniel Harding. It was taking place in the courtyard of the Arch Bishop’s palace downtown Aix – a most beautiful location spiced up with a warm, quiet July night featuring a rising moon behind the stage.

I think it was a splendid production with one of the best directions of the piece I have ever seen. The opening scene where the wager is established between Don Alfonso (Ruggero Raimondi), Ferrando (Shawn Mathey) and Guglielmo (Stéphane Degout) was brillant and original. I have never seen it done as a real fight where Don Alfonso actually fears for his life. Raimondi did a great job in portraying an old man standing firm on his principles and beliefs but also afraid of these two fops who are not carrying their swords as toys. Very interesting idea that Don Alfonso is not really master of the situation. In all it was a very serious and dark interpretation which I liked, since I often find Così fan tutte to be interpreted rather too lightly.

The scenography was quite harmless in my eyes. It didn’t provoke me and it didn’t awake much interest either. I am sure there was a lot of thought behind it but it is not clear to me what about. It was the back stage of a modern theatre. Was it because we are seing the back of the persons’ feelings – the dark side? Or because we witness also what takes place behind the scenes? I don’t think I am concluding the right things which is, I believe, a problem. If I can’t understand the staging something is not working. I am not a professional but I have seen a lot of opera and theatre and I have almost completed my 7 year study in the humanities (art history) – so I feel capable in terms of interpreting staging and direction. Excuse me, this is not meant as an egotism, just to say that if I don’t get it a lot of my co-audience is not getting it either.

The singers were very good. Especially Elina Garanca (Dorabella) and Shawn Mathey will stay in my memory for a long time. Normally I prefer barytones (surprise, surprise…) but this young american tenor made me listen so very carefully to every syllable. He gave us “Un’aura amorosa” so that 1500 people held their breath. I think this got to be the most wonderful performance of a tenor aria I have ever heard.
And Raimondi? He was much better than I expected. I had told myself that I was going to hear a man well past 60, trying to put down my expectations. But he was very good. Of course he has been better but there was not a single minimally embarrassing moment (as there can be with singers even ten years younger the he) just nice singing and perfect acting.
I made a wonderful mistake in the first act: I found my seat ”H22” which was a much better seat than I expected having bought a student ticket (where you cannot choose your seat) but having experienced something similar in Salzburg I didn’t think more of it. As the lights went out and we expected the conductor three italians ran in to be seated in the last moment. It turned out that I had taken one of their seats! But as the opera was about to begin there was no time to realize that and the two women sat besides me and the man found another (good) seat some metres off. In the break it turned out that there were two ”H22” and that my seat was in the balcony not on the floor. The italians were furious and not even my most humble excuses in their own tongue made them more cheerful. BUT! I think there was some sort of poetic justice in the whole story. They were very late and I, a poor opera loving student, got a seat just next to Ruggero Raimondi singing the opening scene! I was there waiting for the singers to enter and from behind I hear feet running down the steps just next to me. My first thought was (knowing the opera) ”here comes Raimondi” and yes indeed – the next moment he is standing in front of me. Value for money;-)

Back to the other singers: Barbara Bonney was a disappointment. I have heard her live a couple of times and I love her voice, but as Despina she was not good. She lacked spirit and acted as she was casted for Ariadne or some other depressed figure. I think part of it was the direction, and I like the idea that Despina has had some bad experinces with men and therefore is without any illusions. But this angry and bitter character? I love it when Alfonso and Despina make an odd third couple, flirting and being in it together – none of that was to hope for with Bonney. And how much fun it would have been with Raimondi! Such a pity.

Well as she was the least important I went home with a feeling of absolute happiness. Musically it was a perfect evening with Daniel Harding conducting a fast and crisp version of Mozart (how I think it should be done) and the direction I liked very much. Coming from Copenhagen I am used to good directions and scenographies and singer teams where maybe half is very good and the rest in the middle, so I have learned to appreciate an evening with world class singers and orchestra. This was a wonderful experience!

/anna
CosifantutteAix

Stéphane Degout and Elina Garanca in a central scene where poor Dorabella is ruthlessly torn from her fiancée. (Not the gentleman standing behind her!). Beautiful costumes by the way…

February 19, 2006. Opera, Reviews, Travels. Leave a comment.

Giulio Cesare at The Royal Theatre of Copenhagen

I need to shout with joy! Squee!
Giulio Cesare at the Royal Theatre last night (March 7 2005) was fantastic. Really, it’s just about the best performance I’ve ever seen. All the time I had this feeling that the opera couldn’t possibly have been better directed, nor could the music have been played better or the parts been better sung. Quite outstanding.

Andreas Scholl… *swoon*… I am lost for words and have to contribute to the general Hans Christian Andersen-nausea and quote the grand old writer: “The Lord bless you here on earth, you are an angel from his Kingdom.” Scholl’s incredible! He has such a beautiful voice and then he makes such good use of it. Talk about controlling and taming Nature! In the cool way that doesn’t involve an unpleasant operation. And then it’s just nice to see a really tall, broad man on stage, who looks like he knows what he’s doing and seems well-balanced. It was great that he was able to drool overtly over Cleopatra, without losing the least bit of his authority in the process. That’s the way to go, men of the world! He was convincing as a ruler of nations as well as the heart of Cleopatra the Über-woman.

This naturally leads me to the subject of Inger Dam-Jensen (Cleopatra). Oh, how I love her voice. And how well she acts! She was thoroughly gorgeous as the sexy, seductive Cleopatra, and she emphasized the fact that Cleopatra went through a personal development in the course of the story – from the rather silly girl we met at the beginning of the opera, who couldn’t really figure out how to hold her sceptre and who teased her brother, into the serene woman who was standing erect and dignified by Giulio Cesare’s side in the last scene. To me, one of the most moving scenes of the performance was the scene with the (insanely beautiful) “Se pieta di me non senti” when she picked up Cesare’s jacket from the floor, held it tight, and then tossed it across tge floor in despair. One really felt how the entire world had been changed in one moment for Cleopatra, and it was almost anger she felt as she tossed Giulio’s metonymical jacket – the wonderful and angry realization that she loved Giulio and that thus she had become vulnerable; possibly for the first time in her life.

Again: I don’t think there was one single weak link in the performance. Beautiful, noble Randi Stene (Cornelia) was, both with her acting and her voice a constant centre of the dolorously serious aspect of the opera, and as her son Sextus Tuva Semmingson carried conviction the same way as Elisabeth Jansson did as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro last season (although, naturally, with more severity). And I will never stop admiring her voice which Michael Bo from newspaper Politiken with a very apposite term usually defines as “velvet-like”.
Christopher Robson was a wonderfully disgusting villain in the part of Tolomeo, and Palle Knudsen was really touching as the clumsy Achilla who just wanted to kiss and hug Cornelia but who was about to squeeze her to death instead. I am full of admiration for Michael Maniaci (Nireno) – he could really move about on stage! He seemed nicely mysterious, and I loved it that he was a kind of genie who provoked the progress of the story, rather than just a servant. And I just really, really like John Lundgren with his harmonious, full baritone, and I enjoyed his Curio, a part he acted out well, too. A competent military man, it would seem, but he managed to show us more sides of Curio: I was moved when he tried to comfort the distraught Cornelia (I am totally going to write a fan-fic in which Curio and Cornelia hook up!), and it was great fun to see him standing about, obvioulsy on the verge of dropping his beret in admiration of Cleopatra’s cleavage.

The duet between Andreas Scholl and the 1st violinist was definitely a musical highlight of the evening – incredibly beautiful – but I have to admit that this was the one part of the directing that I didn’t like. Meta-directing does work sometimes – I loved it when the contrastingly blue curtain emerged behind the dark red and presented a performance within the performance which was “only for pleasure” (the motto of The Royal Theatre is “Not only for pleasure”) – but I don’t think it went very well with the staging that they had pulled up a musician from the orchestra pit and had her interacting with one of the otherwise perfectly rounded characters on stage. Well, I guess I do have a little too much of a grudge against meta-art, but I think that it often – possibly unwittingly – may send the message that one shouldn’t take the characters on stage all that seriously anyway. … ‘Is it really necessary to point so much to one self as a media?’ I wonder. I mean, we’ve all bought our tickets and placed ourselves in the plush seats – we are well aware of the fact that we have stepped out of Reality and into a realm of illusion. Would be nice to be allowed to just stay there.

…But I’m getting nitpicky here, and I really did love the directing with its neat mix of lightness and gravity which was so wonderfully underlined by genius conductor/cembalist Lars Ulrik Mortensen and the ConcertoCopenhagen orchestra.

Hurrah for Giulio! Thanks to everyone involved for a celestial experience.

/marie

Cesare
The cutest scene ever! Cleopatra seducing Giulio, leaving him completely enchanted. Aaaw!

February 19, 2006. Opera, Reviews. 1 comment.

Giving thanks and a confession…

Aww, thanks, Anna! I was just taking a break from my “S/Z”-studies (most difficult text EVER!), and while Roland Barthes was the last thing I wanted to see during my break, it was a great surprise. I, too, wish that I were in Morocco, although I did enjoy the icy, muddy walk with Anna in Kongens Have (look at those pictures from Anna’s link! Look how pretty it is in the summer! Little fountains and green leaves! Yay, summer! What’s keeping you? Komm, lieber Mai!) as well as the marvellous brunch and, above all, Anna’s pleasant company.

And since Anna is being so sweet, I feel that I should make a confession: I lied to Anna over brunch. I told her that I was planning to translate my review of Giulio Cesare at The Royal Theatre last year. The truth is, I already translated it, manic blogger and Queen of Displacement Activity that I am. And now that that’s out in the open, I will post the review right away!

 /marie

February 19, 2006. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Roland Barthes

I know that Marie, as we speak, is pining away at Roland Barthes. So I found this picture…and I think it should be her, not him, enjoying herself in Morocco. Or just somewhere other than this freezing, grey place. We had a walk in Kongens Have today and it was just a fight not to sink deep, deep into the mud and ice. And that is as you see normally a most wonderful place. Well, maybe Roland Barthes, indoors, is not that bad after all. And since we did have a marvelous brunch in the Cinematek (just eating for hours) life may indeed be forth it all.
/anna
BarthesMorocco
Roland having fun in Morocco, while we are…well, cold.

February 19, 2006. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

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