The Baroque Maenad takes London / Anne Sofie von Otter / Wigmore Hall – 21 April 2011

23 Apr


Sinfonia from ‘Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria’
Di misera regina from ‘Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria’
In questo basso mondo from ‘Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria’
Cantata: Che si può fare
Sí dolce è’l tormento
Squarciato appena havea


Mio ben, teco il tormento
Quel prix de mon amour from ‘Médée’
From silent shades
Where’er you walk from ‘Semele’
Passacaglia in G minor for violin and cello
Ogni vento from ‘Agrippina’

What can I really say about any concert by Anne Sofie von Otter than hasn’t been written before?

It was the third concert of a very live music heavy week and in my heart it was a rare treat as we do not get to enjoy her gifts too frequently in London. This concert at the Wigmore Hall was the perfect fit of venue and performers, the intimate space allowing both for actual conversation with Anne Sofie and for the period instruments of Capella Mediterranea to be clearly audible in the usual warm acoustic of the Hall.

The opening sinfonia got us all warmed up for what was to follow and gave ASvO time to sit down enjoy and to get into character. The orchestra’s playing was instantly warm to the point of bringing back memories of provincial Greek weddings (in the best possible sense, I’ll have you know). Very much the polar opposite of most very poised period instrument musical ensembles that stay immobile, Capella Mediterranea were swaying and really getting physically to grips with Monteverdi. And when she joined them for Penelope’s lament she was both subdued as appropriate to the part and commanding. The narrative passages were pretty much treated to how ancient Greek epic poets like Homer would have sang along while playing the lyre. In a vibrant but not overacted engagement. It made for a very effective vehicle for her expressed sorrow and longing for the return of Ulysses.  In questo baso mondo provided a nice closing to this first Monteverdi section with the two violin players joining in as the Phoenicians alongside their musical director from behind the harpsichord. At that point ASvO took the opportunity to point out a couple of inaccuracies in the printed text in the programme, including the shortened version of the Monteverdi arietta with only three verses instead of the five that they performed at larger venues with a choir.  It was beautiful and decorous and surely no preparation for what was to come next!

ASvO gave a perky little speech about the background of Provenzale’s piece, the involvement of Queen Christina of Sweden and him losing out on a job to Scarlatti. We all expected an ironic scena, but what we got was ASvO having a drum and a set of maracas! The scene alternates from pseudo sadness to exhilaration, she acted both moods with aplomb, danced along and had a great time with the musicians even encouraging the audience to join in for the finale. A very lively way to end the first half which was dotted with pain, abandonment and… maracas! As my companion noted it was refreshing to have an artist of that stature being able to have fun with the music and the audience and not to take herself too seriously. As I Tweeted at the time it was Stevie Nicks meets the Baroque.

After the interval we were treated two a beautiful coupling of Rossi and Charpentier. The first used the higher end of her tessitura to a beautiful effect, after all the upper registers of her voice are where the money notes tend to reside. Her tone was smooth taut and ardent, one couldn’t really ask for more. Her  Médée was much more subdued than her recorded version which I thought it was slightly disappointing, I would have like a bit more venom, a bit more darkness. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait for too long as her rendition of  From silent shades was almost a miniature opera in depicting an unhinged mental state. Particularly helped by the solo harpsichord the emotional punch of the piece was much stronger than expected. And again her talent as a character maker came through, her Bess of Bedlam was beautifully acted and voiced with the most silvery mezza voce imaginable. The Handel section was a rare treat from ASvO as she tends to not perform as much of his work as she used to in the past, possibly a reflection of the possibilities open by more mature roles that French Baroque can offer. But this time round she became Jupiter and serenaded Semele to a great effect. This was a voice and attitude that has been honed in long Handelian service, full of experience and seer unadulterated love for the repertoire. Of course closing the concert with Ogni Vento it was just the perfect coda to the evening. And we all waited for the encores after possibly one of the loudest and most insistent applauses I have ever heard at The Wigmore. She accepted the love of the audience with restraint and almost coquettish sweetness.


Both encores were greeted with rapturous applause and she joked about The Dark is my Delight (a consort song by an Anonymous composer with a text dating back to 1615) not being the best text there is. But the way she wove the words and the music it became as good and interesting as anything she sang that night. She imbued all the lines with a childlike delicacy and sense of wonder. If there were any singers in the audience I’m sure they would have found it an empowering example.

Here are the words:

The dark is my delight:
So ’tis the nightingale’s.
My music’s in the night;
So is the nightingale’s.
My body is but little;
So is the nightingale’s.
I love to sleep against the prickle;
So doth the nightingale.

After that confection and with all of us and her laughing out loud she wished us all a good evening and hoped her aria from L’Incoronazione di Poppea (Arnalta’s lullaby Adagati, Poppea ) would safely accompany us to bed. Her total mastery of Baroque music was shown off to its extremity, von Otter’s silvery delivery almost described the scene in the peaceful garden that Arnalta is comforting Poppea. Her last two lines : E pur vedete, pur vedete, E pur vedete addormentato il sole were possible some of the best singing I have ever heard live. The way she sustained the melodic line and wove Monteverdi’s magic spell across the auditorium,  with such simplicity and yet amazing musicality was stunning. It was one of those rare sublime moments in live performance where the audience became one with the performer, her sustained final note was so beautiful that I am hoping it will accompany me for the rest of my life.

Here’s an interactive presentation of the shots from her curtain call (requires Silverlight in order to view it): Click!

4 Responses to “The Baroque Maenad takes London / Anne Sofie von Otter / Wigmore Hall – 21 April 2011”

  1. Definitely the Opera 23 April 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Love it
    Love it
    Love it
    Love it

    Anon., 2011

  2. Euterpe 25 April 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Oh! I think I don’t know the Capella Mediterranea… An interesting program. I have seen a concert in London, at the Lincoln Center, the St. Mathew Passion with Thomaner and Tölzer, that was in 2009.
    If you click on my name you find my music blog, I hope you like it.
    Best wishes.

  3. Euterpe 25 April 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Oh sorry, I mean “Barbican Center”! Hihihihihi!

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