Tag Archives: Anne Sofie von Otter

Even goddesses falter / Anne Sofie von Otter + Michael Tilson Thomas + London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 2 February 2012

10 Feb

It has taken me a full week to process the disappointment of last Thursday’s LSO + Anne Sofie von Otter and Michael Tilson Thomas concert at the Barbican. I was expecting intense pleasure and jagged angular mid-war sonorities. Unfortunately what we got was a badly amplified performance, by a conductor that has all the finicky attention of a control freak and yet not a  natural ear for this music. The programming alone was a strange combination, with a rather starchy first piece and La Mer as the conclusion.

Singing Kurt Weill song cycles in a large auditorium like the Barbican ,with a fairly dry acoustic, is unforgiving. Those songs were meant for smaller venues where the amplification would be unnecessary or at least more subtle. At the Barbican the amplification of ASvO’s voice was hidden under a blanket of mushy, unfocused sound and her holding of the mic made it more so. It distorted every phrase and took away any possibility of jagged phrasing and honed gravel precision in the spirit of Lotte Lenya.

Her voice was as usual a mine of beauty, unfortunately that was only allowed to be shown when she would snarl phrases across to the audience without the microphone, in those brief moments she relayed, shame, confidence, strength and sex appeal. The main issue throughout was the non idiomatic approach of Tilson Thomas.

This band of wonderful musicians should be able to convey Weill’s intentions but sadly fell very short. Especially for the first three songs, the playing was lacking in authority and brightness. It sounded more like a dull ABBA sing-along (a favourite past time for ASvO) than a Berlin cabaret. It was hugely disappointing and led me to not stay for La Mer, a piece that can so easily slip into being a semi comatose  conductor auto pilot vehicle, with no sense of direction and structure.

At least she gave us a wonderful encore that was a glorious glimpse of what it could have been…alluring, warm, dangerous…listen to it and see what you think:

A few tweets from the evening


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My top 11 discoveries / realisations of 2011

19 Dec

This was a pretty intense year and thought it would be good to make a list of inspirational mainly operatic highs of 2011

1 Twitter

It was the first full year that I’ve used the network as a great resource for news and also as direct communication on matters operatic and not. Met some great people through it and started some very interesting conversations.

2 Beverly Sills

This year I immersed myself in the recorded output of the diva from Brooklyn. A great artist with an intriguing personality to boot. Surely one of the finest coloratura sopranos of the 20th century and worth going back to her for renewal and inspiration.

3 Veronique Gens

The year (almost) started with her magisterial Niobe at Covent Garden and finished with her fantastic  recital at Wigmore Hall. A diva cut off the old cloth of greatness.

4 Allan Clayton

First noticed him this year in a small part in Britten’s Dream, then I saw him triumph in Castor and Pollux and L’Enfance du Christ. A loud voice for the future, hope ENO and RO will give him more substantial roles to sink his teeth into.

5 Iestyn Davis

Never one for countertenors, but his performance in Britten’s Dream was magnetic and his Niobe contribution very substantial. A young British voice to shake up the world of opera and early music.

6 LSO

Have always loved the London Symphony Orchestra but this year they have been stunning. Also one of the most adept to Twitter orchestras on the planet. A band all Londoners should be proud of and should patronise with frequency.

7 Anne Sophie von Otter

Like a well aged Claret, ASvO is a European treasure. Her captivating Wigmore Hall recital was intoxicating to the max. Greatness without the hollow diva attitude. Looking forward to her LSO collaboration early in  February 2012.

8 Alice Coote

Listened to her sing Les nuits d’été years ago at the Proms and was terribly impressed, her triumphantly sulky Prince Charmant in Cendrillon was breathtaking. Her upcoming Winterreise  at Wigmore Hall will be an early highlight of 2012 (there are still a few tickets left, grab them quickly!)

9 Joyce DiDonato

The Yankeediva is a charismatic performer that elevated Cendrillon to stratospheric heights, her Ariodante was to die for, despite the awful orchestra and still a fun Twitter person to have disagreements and banter with.

10 Mark-Anthony Turnage

He gave us Anna Nicole, which was plethoric in its gay abandon and a great showcase for the considerable gifts of Eva Maria Westbroek, the darkness of Twice Through the Heart with the excellent Sarah Connolly and his remarkable music for Undance.

11 Sylvie Guillem

Managed to see her new mixed bill evening at Sadler’s Wells in its two outings back in early July and late September. She was absolutely wonderful both times. A rare dance treat. She continues to be the measure of all dancers, a standard for excellence.

If you had an epiphany of an artistic nature in 2011, feel free to add your top whatever in the comment section and Merry Xmas 😉

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

23 Apr

Programme

Monteverdi
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’
Strozzi
Cantata: Che si può fare
Monteverdi
Sí dolce è’l tormento
Provenzale
Squarciato appena havea

Interval

Rossi
Mio ben, teco il tormento
Charpentier
Quel prix de mon amour from ‘Médée’
Purcell
From silent shades
Handel
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.

Encores

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!

Today is the day

21 Apr

A musically intense week continues with a hopefully amazing concert by Anne Sofie von Otter. After seeing Natalie Dessay the other night, von Otter is another long term favourite of mine. I can’t believe the last time our diaries synchronised was back at the Proms over 4-5 years ago! (missed out on her Terezín/Theresienstadt concert in 2009 clashed with my holidays). I have admired her for her working ethos and her wonderful performances  on record (how can you not adore her Ariodante or her Weill songs). A singer of true versatility and impeccable taste.

Here’s the programme to whet you appetite, I’ll do my best to write a review for you perusal ASAP!

Monteverdi
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’
Strozzi
Cantata: Che si può fare
Monteverdi
Sí dolce è’l tormento
Provenzale
Squarciato appena havea
Rossi
Mio ben, teco il tormento
Charpentier
Quel prix de mon amour from ‘Médée’
Weldon (attrib. Purcell)
Dry those eyes from ‘The Tempest’
Purcell
From silent shades
Handel
Where’er you walk from ‘Semele’
Passacaglia in G minor for violin and cello
Ogni vento from ‘Agrippina’

Here’s an interactive presentation of the shots from her curtain call: Click!

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