Archive | February, 2013

Final Royal Ballet curtain call for Tamara Rojo – 21 February 2013

22 Feb
Tamara Rojo with Carlos Acosta and Sergei Polunin
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After a moving Marguerite and Armand we were treated to prolonged diva worship of la Rojo. The performance itself was such an evocation of the original to make it truly unforgettable. Tamara and Sergei channelled Margot and Rudolf to an intoxicating degree.

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Northern triple / Otello + La Voix Humaine + Dido and Aeneas / Opera North / Leeds Grand Theatre – 16 + 17 February 2013

21 Feb

Opera North tripleThis was my second long weekend away to attend some performances by Opera North. This time the overall quality and breadth of repertoire was a mix of the accomplished, the dull and the dubious.

My personal highlight was Lesley Garrett’s return to the operatic stage after over a decade in Poulenc’s take on Jean Cocteau’s one woman drama. She apparently proposed the project to Opera North and in many ways the subject matter of the piece seems to resonate with Garrett’s career and life trajectory, she is like Elle a performer past her prime and at 57 not an artist most critics would take seriously. Especially after having spent the last fifteen years singing amplified musicals and appearing in TV reality shows. She committed the cardinal sin in opera circles, she dared to be a popular entertainer when her ENO soubrette parts starting to dry out. Many called her career moves desperate and blamed her for disgracing her operatic training and the genre. Even very recently she sang a dreadfully mannered God Save the Queen for the award ceremony of the Tour de France to Bradley Wiggins.

But have to give her full credit for the performance and for the choice of work. Voix is an unflinching monologue and in Aletta Collins’ direction she appears facing the audience for the first ten minutes through what appears to be a dressing room mirror, lined with lit up bulbs. Her anguished expression the only introduction to the piece till the chilling opening chords, quickly followed by the humorous xylophone produced telephone ring tone. When the stage front disappeared we were left with a mirror image of her dressing room with the mirror and objects behind her. From my box I could constantly see the reflection of the conductor in the mirror, adding an extra dimension to the piece…at least till her lover appeared at the back of the two-way mirror a few minutes later. The faded dressing room had a folding bed on the left and a shower cubicle on the right. Garrett moved between the two during the phone conversation with her unfaithful lover in a state of rising hysteria. The emotional development through the 45 minutes of its duration was masterful and with crystal clear diction she sold every word. She avoided the usual pitfall of over-sentimentalising or over-dramatising the finale. Her sense of anguish and imminent loss were communicated with subtle hushed lines addressed to herself while the receiver lied on the bed or her chest. Collins’ direction had her most of the duration of the piece in a black negligee with a plunging neckline giving Garrett literally no place to hide. Her voice and projection were more than adequate for the part which has few sustained sections but no one can accuse of lacking stage presence. She owned the part of the terrified scorned lover with such authority that it was deeply impressive.

The performance by the orchestra under Wyn Davies was exemplary, bringing the mid-century sound of the piece alive and with an unmistakable Gallic tartness. Many feminist writers find La Voix indefensible and a sure sign of commodification of female grief, presented as an entertainment vehicle put together by two gay men. But having Aletta Collins and Garrett work on it, they added their own distinctive  take on the work. It did not make us all feel voyeuristic in the slightest, it was more a confession by a dear friend of their innermost feelings. We watched on as she fell apart and contemplated suicide. The great concluding touch was to have a double for the dishevelled Garrett in front of the mirror (and her back to the audience) while she showed up behind the mirror wearing the red sequined dress that was still hanging from one of the dressing room lights.

The work is also an interesting comment on the nature of performance and the attitude of an ageing performer to the knocks along the way. That very allusion to her own career path and its twists and turns made for a fascinating reading of the piece. Cocteau’s play is all about imperfect technology (the still unreliable telephone service heavily reliant on operators and compromised by crossed lines) and how it mirrors the imperfection of human relationships. Like a cruel phone calls stops Elle on her tracks, so we were left to mull over Garrett’s life and career in the public eye.

Unfortunately the productions of Otello and Dido and Aeneas did not grip me in the same way. Otello being transferred by Tim Albery to an american military base did not really offer much. Despite the beautifully functional set and costumes by Leslie Travers the staging did not really speak to me. The terribly old fashioned and heavily upholstered take by Moshinsky at Covent Garden packs,  to my great surprise, more of an emotional punch. The orchestra sounded much rougher with Verdi’s frequent use of grand gestures punctuated by brass. The rather open orchestra pit of the Grand Theatre possibly amplified the musical issues, making me wish for more fire and direction.

But the excellence of the cast cannot be under estimated, Ronald Samm was uneven (it seems he was suffering with a persistent cold) but sang with great affinity with the material and especially in his duets with Desdemona he was rather affecting, just a shame that their seminal duet in Act Two took place between two reversed pieces of set that had all the refined look of a public toilet, killing the dramatic impact of their confrontation.

David Kempster’s Iago was a rather cunning, calculating human being. His Era la notte, Cassio dormia was beautifully coloured with a sense of underlying malice. He was the one singer that was vocally constant and brought depth to the production.

The Desdemona of Elena Kelessidi was on the lighter side but brought beautifully spun phrases and was very focused in Act Four. I just did not believe much of the characterisation and that would be the fault of the director not finding a true personality for his main female protagonist. Usually like a much more dramatic soprano singing the part but Kelessidi delivered some gorgeous singing making the best of her resources. The extended chorus was near deafening in the opening scene and continued with much punch and bounce.

Dido and Aeneas was an over produced and under thought mess. When one is reduced to counting how many Didos are on stage (final count was 9)…you know you have a problem. My main issue for being rather bored with this bedroom set performance was how short it was on magic. The dancing itself was very beautiful and nuanced but once all the secondary characters (the witches, the spirit etc) started arriving as doppelgänger of Dido my heart started to sink. I am sorry to report that despite some excellent singing (with just enough vibrato to annoy the period performance sticklers) from Pamela Helen Stephen who gave a rather heart wrenching finale the evening failed to be truly engaging. Notable also were Phillip Rhodes and Jake Arditti who made their Opera North debut in sparkling fashion. The beautifully bright timbre of Nicholas Watts was a glimmer of light in an already sunk production.

Try to catch them while they are touring, forget what you’ve read in the papers about Garrett and book to see Voix it really is very, very good!

Opera North triple list

The shine of the blade / Medea / English National Opera – 13 February 2013 (dress rehearsal)

15 Feb

ENO MedeaSeeing David McVicar slowly metamorphosing into the new Zeffirelli at the Met Opera in the last couple of years, I was a little bit weary about how idea rich his take on Charpentier’s Medea could be.  French Baroque thrives on dance and spectacle and a director that comes up short can sink a production. I was hoping for some of  the verve and invention from his Glyndebourne production of Giulio Cesare in Egitto than the stale Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda of late. But one thing I was sure about was the excellent fit of Sarah Connolly for the title role, last November she gave a captivating rendition of Quel Prix in concert but nothing could have prepared me for the outstanding quality of this production.

I know a lot of people don’t like reports based on the dress rehearsal but as I am seeing it twice more later in the run I promise to update if any other observations creep in that make revision imperative.

The performance lasts near 3 hours and 20 minutes, as McVicar and Curnyn decided (wisely in my view) to cut the half hour prelude in praise of the Sun King. After the short and punchy overture we are thrown straight into the torments of (the newly arrived in Corinth) Medea. The setting is a wartime 1940s panelled interior, the set slightly angled at 70 degrees with a raked mirrored floor. Three tall grazed French doors (oh the English terminology comes handy in context) are leading into a peripheral corridor that is used for myriad entries and exits throughout the evening. A simple unfussy but sophisticated backdrop, its faded neoclassicism a subtle allusion to the original period of the work. Straight from the start the smooth changeover from waiting room to an officer’s mess room (complete with uniformed cocktail waiter) is handled with great care, with stage hands dressed in tuxedos befitting the stately setting of the work. With the restrictions that an Edwardian theatre like the Coliseum imposes on each director McVicar showed his class as a world renowned specialist in the field. The set even though static till the last few minutes of this production, constantly changes with subtle cues, the spotlights in the corners of the room move in to make a more intimate atmosphere or to spotlight the King while lying on the floor beaten by Medea’s magical powers in Act Four. The large glazed doors acquire opaque panes and the wall sconces acquire lit candles in the last Act. By extinguishing them before the final scene the smell of wax travels across the auditorium adding an olfactory element to this production.

The costumes are exquisite with great attention to detail. The 1940s atmosphere staying strong with the tailored nature of all the womenswear and the officers’ uniforms. The glamour of the robe (here changing into a rather eye-catching gold lamé evening dress) as Connolly reveals it in her travelling trunk in the first few minutes on stage, also closes the opera three hours later having been poisoned by her and worn by Creuse who dies a painful (if beautifully sung) death. This being baroque opera, amongst all the tragedy we get a lot of dancing. And I am delighted to report that McVicar’s mix of romp and camp works so well it truly adds interest and makes the dances feel more integrated than during ENO’s last foray with Castor and Pollux where the dances seemed disconnected and throwaway. As originally planned for the French court the dances add amusement and atmosphere and slight relief from the tragedy at the centre of the work. The very first example is with the dancers donning RAF uniforms in a dark blue colour, their vibrant routine surely caused a raucous applause and added some light relief to a very sombre beginning. The six male and six female dancers appear in many guises, zombie-like denizens of the underworld (following the cross dressing personifications of Vengeance and Jealousy) to spirits of beautiful women. The biggest tableaux using the dancers is the “party scene” with the appearance of Aoife O’Sullivan as Cupid with black glittery wings aboard a Spitfire covered in pink glitter (standing in for Cupid’s chariot), surely the campest prop to grace a stage for some time! On the side of the pink plane there’s  a large stylised fan on a podium with a period microphone awaiting in a jazz siren style for an Italian captive of love (Sophie Junker) to sing Chi teme d’amore Il grato martire (left in the original Italian here).

It would be impossible to overstate how towering Sarah Connolly’s performance was. She dispatched this difficult role with such elegance and stamina. I was totally blown away. Her unwavering intensity while singing in the original soprano key was spectacular. A few times she sacrificed the beauty of the line for the sake of expression, especially when addressing Creon and Jason but it added such variety and pathos I don’t think even the most narrow-minded critic will find fault. When William Christie gave her the CD set of his recording and told Connolly this was the role for her, he was absolutely right. Once she hits the floor in Act Three and sings her pivotal aria Quel Prix de mon Amour the transformation from wronged wife to a woman driven by pain looking for revenge  is unavoidable. Soon after she discards both her jacket and skirt to continue the scene in a black negligee and evoke the spirits of hades to help her. McVicar uses the stage lift as the pit where smoke and her demonic assistants come through. It was a huge relief that he chose such a standard way to introduce them instead of trying to reinvent the wheel needlessly. At this point she is armed with a large kitchen knife that is her companion for the rest of the production as she closes in to her final act of vengeance against Jason. Fittingly the last coup de théâtre belongs to Medea, when the corner of the set comes apart and she sings her final words to Jason and then she is elevated and flies away. This was another example of the Director not trying to re-invent the action but followed on the steps of both Charpentier and Euripides in the Greek original. Also another telling approach that looks back at the performance practises of ancient Greek drama, was how the dead bodies of Creon and Orontes are presented. They appear on trolleys under the cover of blood splattered sheets. A very similar device to how the dead would be wheeled on an Ekkyklema a practise maybe not that familiar to British audiences but anyone with any background in the Classics would instantly recognise it.

As you can tell by now, I am very happy with the staging and it all came together so beautifully to make up one of the best opera evenings I’ve ever attended. Connolly gives a definitive interpretation, surely a highlight of her illustrious career so far. The rest of the cast get somewhat overshadowed by her presence but some great singing comes from Katherine Manley especially in her duets with Jason and Medea revealing a voice of great flexibility and a characterful actress. Jeffrey Francis give a very potent performance with voice to spare. The slightly goofy personenregie for Orontes does benefit by the lightness of touch that Roderick Williams brings to it. Brindley Sherratt brought gravitas and made for a great opponent to Medea, but crucially relaxed when left with Creusa away from his public function. Aoife O’Sullivan, Oliver Dunn and Rhian Lois give performances full of gusto and promise.

The orchestra gave a vibrant reading of the score with a few raw edges that will disappear before the first night. Like with Castor and Pollux Christian Curnyn manages to coax some idiomatic playing from the players while taking them out of their comfort zone.  The chorus sings beautifully through the evening, sometimes in military uniform and others in evening dress from stage and pit. Navigates Charpentier’s deceptively subtle but fiendishly difficult melodies with skill and obvious affection.

If you’ve read this far, I congratulate you and also implore you to go and see this truly wonderful production, do not be put off by the translation or the lack of “period instruments” this is an occasion to treasure and an all too rare chance to see this masterpiece of the French Baroque in London. This is one of those performances you will be telling friends about twenty years from now…GO!

ENO Medea list

Some Tweets from the evening

Twitter - OperaCreep- Woa McVicar #ENOmedea

Twitter - OperaCreep- Oh dress rehearsal audience ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- If this is not a career highlight ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- To the people that don't get ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- It was lovely having the chance ...

Shoot the doppelgänger / Eugene Onegin / Royal Opera House – 11 February 2013

15 Feb

ROH OneginIt was a catalogue of misfortunes that added to an overall uneven and at times unjustifiably flat performance of Yevgeny Onegin (the Royal Opera not too keen to use that title it seems). The non operational surtitles during the first half was not the best advert for the ROH but surely they have well practised tannoy apologies and they delivered it twice to the amusement of everyone occupying the cheap seats. Glad to report a pensioner’s riot and occupation of the Amphitheatre was averted at the last minute and a few photocopies of the synopsis later.

Let me start from the positives, the set and costumes were rather elegant. The set comprises a four doored frontage is turn of the century plasterwork and mouldings. All in an off white colour heavily influenced by Vilhelm Hammershøi‘s melancholic interiors and the backdrops behind were modelled on Gerhard Richter‘s painfully beautiful and trendy abstracted photorealism rendered in video animation. Visually it was a potent mix that had an equal amount of suggestion and representation. The respectively red and blue palette used for Tatyana and Yevgeny creating a stark contrast against the rest of the colour choices (pistachio for Olga, beige and powder blue for Lensky, black for the chorus) and making them pop. The set was particularly successful as a setting when the doors closed and the front of the stage became surprisingly intimate. But somehow the parallel nature of the set made it look like something designed for Holten’s previous employer, the Royal Danish Opera, where they do scene changes by moving sets sideways. Spent most of the evening expecting the set to slide sideways, but to no avail since the ROH does not have such a facility the set stayed put. With Madame Larina’s ballroom looking as wide as a goods lift it barely inspired. Things did get better in the last act when Prince Gremin’s ballroom extended to a further room doubling the space and the perspectival play was very effective coupled with some well done choreography.

Unfortunately the orchestra under Robin Ticciati did not seem to find its way through the lyrical score, with notable lack of balance at times and off pacing. Particularly the letter scene and the finale stood out too much with the orchestra playing too loudly and in total contrast to the earlier slack tempi that sent many a pensioner to sleep.

The insurmountable obstacle that stops me from loving this interpretation is Holten’s use of doppelgänger dancers of their young selves  idea for Tatyana and Yevgeny, it is both inconsistent (they only appear in a handful of scenes) and it is distracting that the singers acknowledge their presence. Had they been treated as memories and thus remained untouchable it may have worked. In this case it seemed like the director lost confidence in the singers to express emotion through their acting and needed the use of two dancers to mime instead. Another thought that passed my mind was the possibility that the Director walked into the rehearsal room and thought ‘oh my, they both look too old for the characters’ and brought in the dancers to embody them in Act One.

The doppelgänger idea falls totally flat in the letter scene where Stoyanova is left just pacing on the stage while the “young Tatyana” rithed and contorted her way, draped herself on the chair and just sucked out the oxygen from such an accomplished singer, especially when she sang with such assurance and feeling.

Another terrible example was the duel between Lensky and Yevgeny, with the dancer getting possession of the gun while Keenlyside looks on and mirrors his movements pointlessly. The apogee of this emptiness in the staging comes when the dancer actually pulls the trigger. It saps all the energy from this macho confrontation scene and renders it weak and almost incidental. You can imagine what must be going through Keenlyside’s head when he is being marginalised to such a degree during such a crucial scene. He did do his best but unfortunately I paid more attention to the branch that Breslik carried in for the duel, than the singers.

Overall the singing was from very good to excellent, Keenlyside admittedly took a while to warm up but he was absolutely wonderful in the last Act. Stoyanova was wonderfully warm and paid unique attention to the libretto, also moved with elegance and when left to act (like in the last scene, where the doppelgänger has gone) she was captivating to watch. Peter Rose’s Gremin was as imperious as one would expect but also brought a vulnerability that made him much more believable than usual. Diana Montague, always a classy singer, delivered stage charisma in spades in the largely thankless role of Madame Larina. The audience’s favourite was Pavol Breslik who did sing with vim and longing and we all felt sorry for having to endure being dead on the ground for the last forty or so minutes. A ludicrous directorial decision that again added very little to the story and just made it much more difficult for him and his colleagues, who had to avoid stepping on him on a number of occasions. To be honest none of the clutter that made the front of the stage, from Tatyana’s strewn books to the harvested bunches of wheat, to the dead body ever got cleared. It was another comment on memory, but my goodness it made for sloppy looking staging and was rather too obvious.

It is beyond me why directors find Onegin such a fertile ground for silly experiments. Tchaikovsky’s opera couldn’t be more straightforward and the fact he entrusted its première to the students of the Conservatoire in Moscow makes that evident. I presume Holten thinks he has added another layer of interpretation, with his direction focusing on the nature of memory and looking back in retrospect with regret. Unfortunately in this case all he added was a distancing device that told us surprisingly little that is not already in the score. Seeing it two days after Konwitschny’s  Traviata and after the very successful Opera Holland Park production last summer it proved to be an evening of style over substance. This production did not seem to be happy to either go avant garde and offer a different concept or to be traditional. It occupied a middle ground that was neither very interesting or to the benefit of the material.

ROH Onegin list

 

The drapes of Paris / La Traviata / English National Opera – 9 February 2013

13 Feb

ENO TraviataThis production of Traviata is definitely a rather unique proposition. The set is reduced to the absolutely minimum, the three acts get compressed into one long stretch with cuts. On paper it seems like a hard sell but after seeing it, I am happy to report that  Konwitschny’s take opens up some new avenues for interpretation (not all of them happily realised) and tightens the drama.

The set is a series of red velvet curtains further accentuated by bright red lighting. They become less opaque the further upstage one looks. With opening and closing to reveal less and more depth they seem to become a symbol for society. A force that smothers the love of Alfredo and Violetta.
The only piece of furniture present is one bentwood chair and as an alias of a seat a pile of oversized books for bookish Alfredo to rest and think of his beloved.
Traviata being a bona fide melodrama at its very heart helps suspend disbelief and to not miss too much any naturalistic sets or more descriptive environments. The main framework for the storytelling, in contrast to much more upholstered and glitzy versions, are the characters. The singers come to the fore framed by a predatory chorus that encircles them like vultures. The party scenes are particularly well done with the chorus singing with great force (if not perfect diction) their aggressive attitude scraping away the veneers of respectability. This crowd is not made out of friends of Violetta’s they use her as their plaything, a distraction  Their enquiries in Act Two about the split up of the pair is coloured by envy. This almost Brechtian focusing on the drama away from any distractions

The Violetta of Corinne Winters (making her European debut) was endowed with a dark hued voice that was instantly charming and direct. She sang with great passion and dedication, hitting notes head on and being very physical. The fall off the chair while singing Sempre libera is a bit of an unconvincing oddity, accompanied by Alfredo singing from the front row of the Stalls. But overall the emotional journey was unwavering and not having the benefit of an interval and being almost constantly on stage, a tour de force. An interesting addition was that she wore a different wig for every Act but as a final gesture she took it off and died with her much longer hair actually on view. A moving gesture as a reference to the workings of theatrical artifice and a final dose of realism.

The Alfredo of Ben Johnson was enveloped in gold vowels but unfortunately also the most hideous stage wardrobe ever imagined. Somehow I will never agree with the director that Alfredo is just a bookish outsider in a doomed relationship from the very start. This costuming and his sheepish attitude detracted from a more balanced conjunction between score and stage action. But his singing was beyond reproach and full of ardour.

Germont pere was performed with disarming darkness by Anthony Michaels-Moore and even managed to make a phantom daughter (Konwitschny’s addition) work in his confrontation scene with Violetta. Making the implied reason for asking Violetta to leave Alfredo (bringing disrepute to his family and thus making difficult for his daughter to marry) added a motive for the early surrender by our leading lady. I can imagine some people would find it unnecessary but with the way Michaels-Moore interacts with her it did work and took the heat off the sometimes too brutal interaction between him and Violetta.

The chorus wearing evening dress are a wonderfully overwhelming presence and even their exist after the curtain comes down (here literally the sets of curtains used to delineate space fall down) they are left to rhythmically scale across the stage as the foreboding overture for Act Three begins. A few people found it amateurish and not well thought out. but it does work signifying the fall of the predators in Violetta’s life and especially with the Giorgio left in the distance to survey the ruins of his son’s life. The orchestra’s playing was exceptionally dramatic in the hands of Michael Hofstetter who added even more energy from the pit serving admirably well the production.

The final scene where Violetta fades away is very intelligent in its simplicity. She is left alone on the empty stage to live her last moments. She is happily back together with Alfredo but her illness separates them. In a coup de théâtre Annina, Doctor Grenvil (a great in-joke to have him appear for the last visit to Violetta still covered in streamers and a shiny party hat, after all he has always been a joke of a doctor for the duration of the work) and Alfredo are by standers to her drama from the side of the audience. The orchestra pit becoming the chasm between life and death. Also instead of collapsing on a big plump bed, Winters walks to the blacked out back of stage after the remaining set of black curtains has parted. A simple but satisfying way to bring this austere production to a close.
Konwitschny’s vision can only rise to a satisfying evening on the back of  an exceptional cast as they are the unwavering focus of the direction. It seems that ENO managed to bring a trio of singers that work beautifully together and bring heart to this domestic melodrama. By not having an interval between Acts One and Two it does compromise the flow by not allowing for proper distance but the tautness we gain adds such a punch. The direction like the opera itself is unashamedly emotional and the cuts to the score paired with the sparse set creates a sense of isolation from the wider world, a reflection on the bubble of true love or maybe terminal illness.  One can get carried away looking for symbols and metaphors in every turn of this production, but that is the ultimate triumph of it, being a tabula rasa for the audience.  Making the story of loving the wrong person and being punished for it even more contemporary we could ever think it is. Go and see it even if you never been to ENO, it will surely make you think and hopefully move you!

ENO Traviata list

Artifice and astounding virtuosity / Joyce DiDonato, Drama Queens / Barbican Hall, 6 February 2013

10 Feb

Joyce - Drama QueensThe world of baroque opera is a much maligned milieu with detractors from many directions. Many people can’t bear the da capo arias others find the histrionics uncomfortable. And my own reservation is the lack of vibrato, and very frequently the academic lifelessness of “historically informed performance”. Despite my infinite love for the material, I have sat through some dreadfully dull performances that did not do justice to the glorious music or the ornate vocal style. Of course when one listens to Joyce DiDonato and Il Complesso Barocco’s Drama Queens album it is made obvious that it is a very special project. Not just another vanity vehicle so much loved by record companies but a labour of love and scholarly commitment. Unlike Diva/Divo which left me very cold, this album is a concentrated treatise on fierce signing and characterisation. My only reservation initially was a fear that she may over act and turn the whole concept into a cheap pantomime act.

It was a hugely exciting prospect to see Joyce and her band perform many of the arias from the recording and I can say from the start the live experience overtook the studio performance by miles. Sitting at the front row exactly in front of her was an awesome sight. Being able to observe her technique and composure at such close proximity was much more fascinating than I could have expected. The way she paced herself through the programme and preserved stamina was a great lesson for the many singers in attendance. As was her spot-on jaw placement and strong support and projection. Like many great a singer she made it look effortless and yet enveloped a large auditorium in sinuous, flexible and resonant singing. No grotesque facial contortions or being ridiculously open mouthed. She delivered each aria with a strength and confidence that was unflagging.

Her first great moment was the aria from L’incoronazione di Poppea where she bellowed from despair to vengeance ending in total defeat but every inch a regal presence. But all delivered with insight and spot on deportment.  Her Merope aria was a great example of toned down ornamentation and weaving a narrative with a much more paired down interpretation with judicious use of her wonderful chest voice. The da capo section was a masterclass on how to deepen meaning and to ride the beautifully woven melody to different ends each time.  The final aria for the first half was the breathless Orlandini aria that opens the album. Pin sharp coloratura with a great legato line made for a fiery conclusion to the first half. I lost count how many ways she found to sing the repeated alma at the conclusion of every repeat, adding a different colour and nuance every time, seriously antagonising the bright scarlet couture creation by Vivienne Westwood that she was wearing in concert and of course in the album sleeve. The concept of the disc incarnated and made of cloth and thread.

The second half was even more mouth-watering and showing a great artist at the top of their game without much in the way of deference or vanity. The opening Hasse aria was a fast and furious intro to match the dress than now had the addition of a capacious underskirt and sleeves, she had metamorphosed into an 18th century aristocrat. A period that Westwood is well attuned to and has used as inspiration for many of her most famous creations. A great example being the Watteau dress in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The absolute highlight of the evening was her rendition of Piangerò which was short of miraculous. Having the privilege of sitting exactly in front of her gave us such a wonderful vantage point to see her get into Cleopatra. Growing in intensity and dramatic delivery as the aria continues. The da capo section was one of the most astonishing singing I have ever experienced live. The depth of feeling perfectly paired with thoughtful engagement with the text and beautiful ornamentation were stunning. The development of mood and expression of the character’s inner thinking is what baroque is all about and this performance was a masterful embodiment.
The more withdrawn aria from Porta’s Ifigenia in Aulide starting on a velvety sotto voce evocation of her mother accompanied with misty eyes was very moving. But ever the professional she never allowed the feelings to overwhelm her, instead they enriched the mood of the singing without compromising the sound or over-sentimentalising. Closing the concert with the triumphant aria from Alessandro was a great move to finish off on a ebullient mood.

The orchestral interludes were of an equal standing, the orchestra offering some spirited playing and Dmitri Sinkovsky’s bouncy showman personality was the perfect foil for DiDonato’s warm stage presence. For once we couldn’t accuse the singer of over-gesticulating, Sinkovsky filled that gap with his extravagant bowing (can imagine it could eclipse a lot of artists) here it added effervescence. Their Vivaldi concerto was dangerous and showy, exactly what is missing too frequently from opera recitals. Il Complesso Barocco even matched our diva’s outfit with their own red socks…a little touch that gave us all a bit of a giggle.

Three encores followed (Fredegunda : Lasciami Piangere + Berenice : Col Versar, Barbaro, Il Sangue + Armida : Vedi, Se T’amo… Odio, Furor, Dispetto) and responding to my interval tweet of my view of the stage she surprisingly asked who was the guy from the middle of the front row that was tweeting. I have to admit to been very surprised but totally charmed by getting a shout out by the lady herself. Next time we will see her in London she will show up submerged in a water filled museum case on the set of La Donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House and I surely can not wait.

Joyce - Drama Queens listSome Tweets from the evening

Twitter - OperaCreep- Drama Queens....I'm coming ... - EditedTwitter - OperaCreep- Watch out Joyce...grumpy Rupert ... - Edited

Twitter - OperaCreep- http---t.co-cFV366nd - Sitting ... - Edited

Twitter - OperaCreep- http---t.co-iqR0X0Nj - Here's ... - Edited

Twitter - OperaCreep- Big thanks to @JoyceDiDonato ... - Edited

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