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Mama’s talkin’ loud

Rêve divin! Heureux délire!Sleep soundly tonight, Kasper Holten: your Vêpres Siciliennes casting problem has just been solved!

203 comments

  • PetertheModest says:

    Here’s a version by Marina Rebeka:

    • semira mide says:

      Marina performed this in Pesaro at the Rossini Opera Festival this last summer as part of the concert honoring Verdi.

      It’s a shame the quality of the recording isn’t better. She was wonderful in person and lovely of her to agree to do the concert between her appearances in William Tell.

  • Bianca Castafiore says:

    You know who I wish I had heard/seen as Norma? Gorchakova, whom we were just discussing the other day…

    • Camille says:

      She sang it in San Diego about, oh seven or eight years ago — I was hoping against hope that it would be her comeback but it was instead Das Ende.
      Great talent.

      • Bianca Castafiore says:

        Yes, she was favolosa in the Don Carlo at the Met when I saw her…

      • Bianca Castafiore says:

        And how I wish Racette or Matos could sing Norma… Well, that might still happen…

        • steveac10 says:

          I think Racette has earned her place on the operatic a-list for a number of reasons, but I have no desire to hear her in bel canto -- especially Norma. The line and tonal glamour just aren’t there and I think she knows it. Let her stick to the potboilers of Puccini and Janacek where her gifts are put to better use.

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            You’re totally right. Her Norma would be intensely acted and heartbreaking, but certainly not the voice for the part. As I’ve said it before, the Met thinks she’s a Leonora in Trovatore, a part she sang there many times (which was totally wrong for her, but Norma would have been worse). I wasn’t saying I wish she would do Norma but simply considering how it might happen considering all the other casting debacles out there.

  • Bianca Castafiore says:

    Has Penda sung Norma yet?

    Here’s her Adalgisa, madness as usual:

    • MontyNostry says:

      I’m pretty sure I saw Penda(tchanska) in the foyer at Covent Garden this evening. She was on her own and I almost felt like going up and saying hello!

      I sort of wished she had been singing instead of Haroutounian, whom I found a bit disappointing. Nice sound, but not very ‘present’ -- certainly too soft-grained for a role like Elena -- and she is not charismatic, though somehow sympathetic. She sang her arias well (even ‘Merci … etc), but not memorably. Her French, though, is surprisingly occluded for a soprano trained in Paris.

      • Camille says:

        Oh, so that is why you are up so late, Monsieur Monty! Anything to say about the Herheim and the gentlemen. I believe you are probably about right on Haroutounian being rather too ‘soft’ for the role. It requires a Norma-like intensity and technique.

        • MontyNostry says:

          Dear Camille, I’m afraid that, by the final act, I just wanted it to be over.

          The production soon outstayed its welcome. My feeling is that, if you are directing a flawed, but complex work like Vepres/Vespri, you don’t just ironise it all the way through. It’s a cop-out, frankly. (Some of the direction was really not very much better than Pelly’s execrable Robert le Diable -- a work that has less to give.)

          Yes, the libretto is clunky; yes, the characters never quite come alive, and, yes, some of it doesn’t even sound like Verdi, but the great man was trying to create something worthwhile, and some of the music is really fascinating and original -- and points the way towards Don Carlo(s), Aida and even Otello. I really could have done without ballerinas and a child super prancing around noisily during Montfort’s aria, which has some wonderful things in it.

          And clever-clever ideas are all very well, but at least try and do something with the characters beyond the stockest of stock gesturing. Of the singers, Hymel gave by far the best vocal performance -- with a real line and clear diction. Volle sounded like Beckmesser (quavery line and little core to the tone) and Schrott was just awful. He sounded like he had something fat in his mouth all evening -- barely a word was comprehensible and most of the voice is woolly and lacking in resonance. Still, he looked pretty in his black crinoline with red spangles in the final scene as he speared people with a flagpole. (Yes, really.) Actually, the costumes generally were the highpoint. The chorus was excellent (better diction than at least 50% of the principals) and Pappano seemed to make less of an impact than usual, but maybe that was because I was occasionally losing the will to live!

          I have seen the piece twice before (in quite dreary productions) and enjoyed it -- and I also enjoyed broadcasts of it from the Met and Vienna. For what it’s worth, the woman sitting next to me didn’t enjoy the show either.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Not quite sure why the ROH is so obsessed with bass-baritones in evening gowns -- McVicar put Bryn and Pape in one in Faust, and now we have Herheim giving Schrott and off-the-shoulder number. I mean, it’s not as if they’re Tory MPs.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              Interestingly (in context of Herheim’s man in a gown, not necessarily in and of itself), Christof Loy in the same opera had his Hélène in male drag for the early acts, putting an odd slant on the Frenchmen’s ogling her and calling her a beauty at her first appearance. She got more traditionally feminine-looking in her clothes and styling over the course of the opera.

            • La Cieca says:

              Yes, a superficially similar effect was used twice in about a decade, which by the opera queen’s definition equates to lock-step unanimity.

            • Su Traditor says:

              Not sure if you’ll be pleased to hear that ROH are doing Freischutz in a production by … Stefan Herheim

            • MontyNostry says:

              Well, maybe Freischuetz will be better suited to Herheim’s eclectic approach -- I saw his Rheingold and thought it was great fun, if a bit silly and inconsistent. But there is a comic-strip element to Rheingold and, of course, a dark fairy-tale element to Freischuetz, while Verdi is essentially built around real (albeit heightened) emotions and dilemmas. But perhaps I am slightly persona non grata for not worshipping at the altar of Stefan.

            • oedipe says:

              Freischutz in a production by … Stefan Herheim

              Now, THAT sounds to me like a fab fit!

            • MontyNostry says:

              At least Hymel’s words were clear, and he managed to make them quite eloquent. Volle’s were too, though undoubtedly coming out of a German mouth. Haroutounian’s were mushy. Schrott’s French was execrable. Maybe one word in seven was comprehensible, but perhaps that was because he is having to work so hard at getting the sound out in the first place. Another huffer and puffer.

          • Camille says:

            Oh dear, I am so, SO sorry. And I understand a lot of your reservations. It certainly is an unruly and uneven work and difficult to bring alive, but the ironic, dapertutto, is not a solution. Neither is Schrott in a ball gown.

            This is one I missed that I don’t regret much. For a brief moment I romanced the idea of attending it but had I, I would have been had!

            I am glad you did have a good impression of M. Hymel, as most opinions have not been that positive and he does have good diction and he does what he does well, so.

            Better luck on the next round….

            • MontyNostry says:

              Well, I thought Hymel was the best thing in Robert le Diable too. His isn’t a voice I would especially want to hear in, say, Puccini, but I feel that in this French/Frenchish stuff from the mid-19th century he sounds really at home. He could maybe be good in early 19th century German rep too -- perhaps Max?

            • MontyNostry says:

              … and, at the moment, I feel like giving up on Verdi at the ROH, though the Boccanegra wasn’t bad earlier this year -- apart from the Boccanegra himself. But the production of Don C was not up to the generally high standard of the singing.

              Maybe the house will redeem itself when I go and see Wozzeck with Keenlyside and Mattila next week (and the seat is at a super-duper cut price -- £25 for a seat that would usually cost at least £80).

            • Krunoslav says:

              Bryan Hymel sang Max in a 2007 concert at AVA and was very good; his Agathe, cool but stunningly voiced, was Angela Meade-- the best “pure singing” I have heard from her.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Kruno -- Thank you for that reference. I had no idea he had sung Max, especially as no one seems to put on Freischuetz any more, surprising when you consider what an important and interesting piece it is.
              grimoaldo, the two productions I saw were at ENO in the early 1980s -- all I can remember about it was that it was monochrome and in period — and at La Scala (Muti era) in 1990, which was completely straightforward.
              Porgy -- that is interesting, and Helene is really quite a feisty gal in the earlier part of the opera, a direct descendant of Abigaille and Odabella. But at least Loy was making a larger point there, while Herheim wasn’t doing much more than the kind of thing you see in Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry where the angelic and demonic incarnations of, say, Sylvester pop up on either side of his head and start exhorting/admonishing him.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              [Vespri] at La Scala (Muti era) in 1990, which was completely straightforward

              I suspected that was one of the bores. It is not one of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s career highlights, and none of the performers in the version I have seen (Studer, Merritt, Zancanaro, Furlanetto) does much on stage, so one misses nothing by just listening.

              Porgy — that is interesting, and Helene is really quite a feisty gal in the earlier part of the opera, a direct descendant of Abigaille and Odabella. But at least Loy was making a larger point there

              Yes. She dresses in a way that seems both an act of defiance/protest and a concealing method in a Vêpres where there is even more violence (often sexualized) against women than is outlined in the libretto. I had mixed feelings about that production, hating things like Hélène going into labor during the Bolero, the chorus women midwifing it, but I respected elements. The performances he gets from his cast members (even a lump like Burkhard Fritz) are much better than in the above Scala.

            • MontyNostry says:

              When I saw it at La Scala I was lucky enough to be in one of the ‘avant-scène’ boxes (don’t know what they are called in Italian), which meant I was virtually looking down the singers’ throats. That, and being at La Scala for the first (and, so far, only) time was enough to make the evening for me! Oh yes, and it was quite exciting to see how the audience would react when Chris Merritt went for his top D in the last act. Actually, Hymel sort of fudged that last night, which was a bit surprising, since he’s a pretty fearless singer. Listening last night, I am amazed that Studer ever sang Elena, though she got through it respectably at the time.

            • grimoaldo says:

              Trailer for the DVD of the Loy version:

              One of the comments says “Une mise en scene désastreuse et un laideur que je n’ai jamais vu dans ma vie.”

              Another bit:

            • Regina delle fate says:

              Camille -- Hymel is well-regarded in London, although some complain at the slightly nasal timbre. All of his assignments at Covent Garden have been tough roles -- debut Don José (subbing for Haddock) Prince in Rusalka (replacing Beczala), Énée (Kaufmann) and Robert (which was originally intended for Florez before he looked at the score). It is hard to think of any singers -- Gedda perhaps -- who have tackled such a wide variety of styles in so short a time-span. And, as you say, his diction is excellent. His was the best French in Vepres. I thought he was marvellous in the LIve in HD Troyens from the Met, a marked improvement on the RO performance i heard. He’s still very much a developing talent and I gather he wants to sing more bel canto before concentrating on heavy roles. I’m going to try to see him in the Munich Guillaume Tell next summer. You can go for four days and see Nebsy’s Lady M, the new Frau ohne Schatten and Frau Harteros in recital as well. :)

            • oedipe says:

              His was the best French in Vepres.

              In the land of the blind…

            • Belfagor says:

              If we’re talking tenorial top D’s, on the first night of Vespri, I figured that Hymel did his own alternative -- instead of hitting the D, he sang a B natural -- ducking under the top very stentorian top C’s instead of over it.

              HOWEVER, I looked up a copy of the French vocal score, and Hymel did exactly what is written in that edition. The top D is in the Italian version only -- which somehow strikes me as peculiar, as one more readily associates those stratospheric tenor notes in the mid 19th century with the French style of singing. In Italy, it is more an earlier bel canto technique that Verdi seemed to supersede. And it is without precedent in Verdi’s oeuvre. One wonders why he put a higher note in the Italian version -- any scholars know the answer?

              When Chris Merritt did it with Muti at La Scala, (Italian version with D) it was falsetto, and there were very vocal jibes from the audience about his manhood -- it was a live broadcast, I recall. I seem to remember the young Domingo does it pretty well on the old Levine recording, a sort of mixed head voice.

              Even though Hymel did the lower French version, I was surprised that he belted it out, given that the dynamics in the whole section are all pianos and pianissimi. Does this mean he does not possess a falsetto, or a head voice in extremis……….

            • Camille says:

              Mr. Belfagor!

              Is that French version of Les Vêpres online, if you please?

              I am quite surprised by the fact the D acute is not included in that version and rather in the Italian, as you stated somewhere above.

              Perhaps I can download it? Last week I downloaded an ancient copy of La Vestale, much to my joy, and it would be wonderful to have this one as well.

              Thank you again and always for your marvelous information.

            • Camille says:

              Régine des fées!

              Do I understand that as an INVITATION by you to attend the Münchner FunFest next Sommer? If so, I gladly accept and will buy you a luncheon in the Feldmarschallin’s SommerBrunchGarten!

              Well, I did notice a few complaining reviews on Hymel, posted here somewhere on parterre, and I have personally heard prissy pursing of lips as well about the “timbre”. I cannot understand such quibbles as I think he accomplishes what he does excellently and one may not expect the same warmth and/or amplitude of voice of, say, Mario Lanza or the like, when singing the French repertoire he does. It is a different conception of singing and a different “timbre” altogether, but the public is largely accustomed to the italianate style of singing, I reckon.

              What he accomplished here in our Les Troyens was just a wonderful thing, coming in as he did fresh from another taxing role and with very, very little rehearsal, if any. I am firmly in his camp and hope we will see and hear him again sometime in something other than the B.F. {F.B., for you, Régine!) Pinkerton he has been shoved into sometime later in this season. Guessing that there was an opening in the schedule and nothing more appropriate was on the horizon

              Come to think of it, however, our own Rowna reported from Pittsburgh that she heard him sing Pinkerton there and he made a very good job of it.

              I wish him well. He was quite the best thing about that yin-wearying production of dreary dames and suicidal queens.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              Grim: The bottom of those two YouTubes of the Loy Vêpres is a trailer for the Opus Arte DVD, but the top one is not. It seems to be from when the production traveled to Geneva; I guess there was a broadcast to explain this footage? The only cast member still in his role from the Netherlands cast (on the DVD) is Balint Szabo, the Procida.

          • grimoaldo says:

            Was one of the “dreary productions” the Dexter/Svoboda one, just a giant staircase basically that changes position, which is the only production the Met has ever given and was also the one sued by ENO years and years ago (and I think has been in Paris and other places).I thought that production was very good, it does not distract from the actual work with a lot of superfluous decoration and extraneous flim-flam, it moves things along briskly with no pauses for set changes, for me it focused the attention on the musical drama, which is where it should be imo.

            • grimoaldo says:

              * the one “used” by ENO, not “sued”.

            • Regina delle fate says:

              Grim -- it was very effective and the cast was excellent by then ENO standards. One of Plowright’s best showings in London, plus Ken Collins, Neil Howlett and Richard Van Allan, all of them preferable, I suspect, to the current RO cast. Long before I saw the production live, I remember pix of it in London Times reviews from Paris with Arroyo and Caballé at the Met. Caballé looked gorgeous in those costumes.

            • MontyNostry says:

              grimoaldo -- let’s face it, opera is nearly always a shameful extravagance, but I do feel that money was quite blatantly thrown at this production (and there were probably three sets of soprano fees being paid on Tuesday night to Haroutounian, Poplavskaya and Pendatchanska) and I somehow doubt it will ever be revived: there were plenty of empty seats on Tuesday night and, as we know, it is not the easiest piece to cast.

            • Bianca Castafiore says:

              Wait, do we know for a fact that Penda is going on as Helene? For the broadcast, I guess?

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              I think we know for a fact that Penda is now not going on at all.

            • Bianca Castafiore says:

              So what is she doing in London??????

            • pobrediablo says:

              Counting her money at the hotel while humming Merci, malades sopranos :D

          • Regina delle fate says:

            Did the scenery slot into place effortlessly last night? The night I went it all looked a bit of an effort for the techies. The production is a disappointment, but maybe that’s because the opera is far from sure-fire, and I am not sure why Herheim was so keen to direct it, unless it was the only show available at Covent Garden. Actually Freischütz, if it’s true, could suit him a lot better. Of the Herheim productions I’ve seen, the Parsifal still ranks as the finest, followed by Rusalka and Lulu, but with Salome, Meistersinger and Vepres much lower down the scale. The usually enthusiastic German press seems to have gone cool on him, although Manuel Brug, who disliked the Meistersinger, seems to have loved Vepres. But I also thought this Vepres was eerily reminiscent of the McVicar Faust -- and not only because of the bass wearing a frock -- although far more ambitious as a piece of stagecraft. I think Herheim should be cut a bit of slack as Vepres is far from an easy piece to bring off, especially with uncertainty about the soprano etc. Couldn’t agree more about Schrott, although the night I went, you’d have thought he was the star of the show from the applause at the curtain calls. Curieux!

            • MontyNostry says:

              The production seemed to be fine technically (though I was in a restricted view seat, so didn’t see everything). It was certainly good to look at in Phantom of the Opera kindofaway. The no doubt very expensive costumes were particularly impressive.
              OK, it’s not Verdi’s most gripping or insightful opera (libretto and format have a lot to answer for), but he took things seriously and was trying new things in it – some of the music is really very sophisticated; it points the way to his future works, even if – dramatically – it’s a step back from the immediately preceding Big Three. It’s no good ducking the issue by ironising the entire piece using an overextended theatrical metaphor, which left us none the wiser by the end about any of the characters of the situations they face in the course of the piece. The Personenregie seemed largely absent -- resorting to stock gestures and lots of pacing about. It was pretty dispiriting by the end of the evening.

            • Belfagor says:

              Well I enjoyed it a little more than you did Monty -- and while the production, for me, had limitations and redundancies, I enjoyed it in a sub-Fellini sort of way. Basically I feel the libretto is a pile of stale poo, and the only interest and justification for the piece is the intermittently blazing music that Verdi pours onto it, and that’s what gives the characters -- again -- intermittent -- emotional life. By bypassing the dodgy logic of Scribe I did get more emotional lift from the atmosphere created by the stage pictures and the somewhat far out posturings, and I did feel that Herheim’s response was to put the music first, and quite often disregard the rest…..mais, chacun a son gout!

            • MontyNostry says:

              I know we usually agree on things, Belfy, but I really hated it by the end of the evening! I don’t think much respect was paid to Verdi by having f***ing ballerinas clunking around during the best bits of Montfort’s aria, which is a rather weird and wonderful piece -- and then all that flapping about of the bridal sheet during the Bolero which, if not profound, is a gorgeous number. I’m afraid I got the impression that Herheim thought both libretto and music were a pile of poo.

            • grimoaldo says:

              MontyNostry said
              “It was certainly good to look at in Phantom of the Opera kindofaway. The no doubt very expensive costumes were particularly impressive.”

              Phantom of the Opera of course has very impressive and no doubt very expensive sets whizzing around. This production of Vespri must have cost millions. Dare I question if this is a sensible use of public money at a time when there is real economic hardship in Britain? Is it perhaps a bit unwise or arrogant to throw money around like that on lavish sets and costumes at such a time? Would not a more modest, in every way, production like the “giant staircase” Vespri used at ENO with a great cast of singers years ago have been more appropriate? The Met gets rich people to cough up for the occasional folie de grandeur, Covent Garden is financed through taking money out of tax paid by people many of whom have no access to the ROH because they live far from London, or have no interest in opera at all.

              “Some British people can’t afford to heat their food. Aren’t we ashamed?….
              aren’t we ashamed that people who need emergency food handouts are eating cold beans and stewed steak from the tin, or handing it back, because they can’t even heat it up.”
              http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/29/british-cant-afford-heat-food-big-six-energy-jack-monroe

            • armerjacquino says:

              grim- careful of falling into the oldest right-wing trap of them all. Every pound spent on the Arts in the UK generates more than £2 for the treasury. The poverty and food banks are a national scandal, but they’re nothing to do with arts funding.

              Anyway, if all funding to the ROH were cut instantly, you can bet this government would NOT invest that money in the poorest in society.

            • grimoaldo says:

              I’m not advocating arts funding to be cut or eliminated aj, I just think it should be used carefully and with respect, not wantonly thrown around on what is to me only a secondary aspect of opera or theatre, decoration and spectacle.

            • armerjacquino says:

              You make Herheim sound like Zeffirelli…

              There will have been a budget set by the House for the design of this production. Surely if a director and designer stay within this budget it’s up to them how they choose to spend it?

            • Camille says:

              Then, all the funds for the ROH come from taxes? I am entirely ignorant of the source of funding so please explain some more.

              I assumed it came from the Queen’s coffers, as it is, well, Royal. Or at least the Prince of Wales, for the fellow does love les beaux arts. Or the rich aristos and peer equivalents to the wealthy lords of the Met 400.

              Most people can not afford to go to the opera at the prices there — well excepting Intermezzo’s “Deals”, which I have noted. Perhaps there are many more who would like to attend a show once and again, but have paid too many taxes for the opera so they are left with insufficient funds to actually attend?

              Opera was, initially, the sport of kings, princelings, and dukes, so perhaps nothing has ever really changed.

            • armerjacquino says:

              The ROH gets money from the Arts Council (public money), from private donors and from corporate sponsors.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              They get some state funding (taxes), as well as philanthropy, corporate sponsorship, ticket sales of course, lottery funding and arts council grants. I don’t think they get anything from the Royal family at all, other than the crest.

            • armerjacquino says:

              In 2014, the ROH will receive £25m from the Arts Council. With projected government spending of £719b, that’s around one twenty-eight thousandth of the spend.

            • Camille says:

              I see, and thank you, fellows.

              It is, like here, a pretty mixed bag of sources it would seem, so perhaps the accusations of public funding being abused is not appropriate.

              I do hope that once, before I go to that far shore, I will be able to see the wonderful Royal Opera House, which I know only from my VHS of the Domingo/Neblett Fanciulla, for it looks to me the way an opera house should, royally beautiful.

            • PetertheModest says:

              It would be interesting to have a breakdown of what each soprano was paid for doing what.

            • La Cieca says:

              not wantonly thrown around on what is to me

              Ah, I get it. You believe that public arts funding should be spent precisely according to your own private taste. Perhaps the next grant from the Arts Council can be devoted to doing over the wallpaper in your sitting room.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Wallpaper, like drying paint, is handled by the Arts Council’s structures for visual arts rather than music and opera, I believe.

            • kashania says:

              Grim: Yeah, that’s just what we arts administrators need when filling out a government arts grant (years in advance I should add): To commit to out exactly how each penny is being spent on which piece of scenery or costumes. Perhaps we should also spell out whether the sheet music will be rented or purchased. And what happens if we rent the music instead of buying it? Should we call up the government granting agency and file a report? Give me a f&*#ing break!!!!

            • PetertheModest says:

              But how about payment by results for opera singers ?

            • MontyNostry says:

              But at least all the quaint and culinary Sicilian costumes can be re-used when the ROH decides to mount a nice kitsch Cav to go with Zeffirelli’s multi-storey Pag, staged solus in 2003 and not seen here since.

            • MontyNostry says:

              But should singers get paid according to the number of minutes’ singing or the number of notes sung? If the latter, then the most florid bel canto roles could prove highly lucrative.

            • PetertheModest says:

              The period costumes must cost a fair bit for traditional productions. I suppose you can save a bit by contemporary settings, but there are so many complaints about updatings, along the lines of, It doesn’t work.

            • oedipe says:

              But how about payment by results for opera singers?

              Hey, that same topic was discussed not long ago on a French opera blog. Though no conclusion was arrived at… And what criteria should be used for measuring “results”?

            • PetertheModest says:

              It could be: how many notes sung; with what degree of accuracy; also, some money for acting ability. You could break it down, I guess; then tot up the points.

            • kashania says:

              Oedipe: It’s very simple.

              When filling out a report to the government agency on how the money was spent, they could add questions like:

              -- Did the soprano have a trill?

              -- Was the tenor refined in his phrasing?

              -- Did the mezzo display a good command of Verdian line?

              -- Did the conductor achieve the necessary Gestalt?

              -- Did the director deviate from the libretto?

              -- Was the production respectful to the composer’s intentions?

              The possibilities are endless. Why haven’t more granting agencies demanded this kind of rigour?

            • oedipe says:

              The possibilities are endless.

              Yea, but that’s the catch!

            • Porgy Amor says:

              Re:

              But should singers get paid according to the number of minutes’ singing or the number of notes sung? If the latter, then the most florid bel canto roles could prove highly lucrative.

              “She had to take on students to make ends meet, as she was only being asked to sing Agathe and Pamina.”

    • pobrediablo says:

      She said she doesn’t like Bellini.

  • MontyNostry says:

    Has this been posted here before? Pendatchanska, aged 17, singing Violetta -- and introduced by big Ghena.

  • PetertheModest says:

    And here’s a version by Olga Peretyatko:

  • Joe Conda says:

    Far worse, Gooeyghina even had the gaul to ornament the cabaletta.

  • MontyNostry says:

    Whoops, typo in ‘cabaletta’ there.