Tuesday 22 July 2014

Sophie of the moment

That's not our Sophe, La Sarina, who is ALWAYS of the moment (read her very moving latest blogpost about how her father's fellow Swedish woodsmen chipped in to fund the annual trachoma operations she organises in rural Mali), but the latest singer stepping in to portray Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Mamsell Sophie Anna Barbara Faninal. Louise Alder*, pictured as Clomiri in Imeneo for the London Handel Festival, wouldn't quite dress like that for the demure but spirited teenager, unless of course Richard Jones had wanted to go one stage further for her on-the-table humiliation in a male chauvinist bidding war.

Louise has only just graduated from the very Royal College of Music where I'm talking very soon (at 4.45, to be precise, to be edited for the interval on BBC Radio 3) with Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Hugo Shirley before the Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier hits the Proms in a semi-staged performance. She stunned us in the cover performances of the Presentation of the Rose and the Trio in the Study Day I had the joy to take part in down at the house. It's a shame that Teodora Gheorghiu is indisposed but, lovely actress though she was, I fear the voice might have been a size too small for the Albert Hall. Let's have another shot of Gheorghiu in the show with Tara Erraught before the wig change (the audience tonight will see what a lovely colleen Erraught really is). More on the Marianne Leitmetzerin in a moment. Both Glyndebourne production photos by Bill Cooper.

La Alder will shine tonight, be sure of that, like I've seen Lucy Crowe, Lisa Milne and Marie Arnet do before her. Crowe and Arnet actually stole the show in the full performances I saw, or rather alongside Peter Rose's Ochs in LC's case.

There's another replacement: Lars Woldt, a superlative Ochs, is also indisposed and so today superseded by another, Franz Hawlata (pictured below in what I thought was a Rosenkav production picture, but the fashion-magazine advertisement behind him makes me wonder). He was so effortlessly commanding in the Birmingham concert performance that he can't fail to amuse tonight given a bit more directorial help.

I feel sorry that Woldt doesn't get another shot at captivating a large audience, as he did, of course, in the livestreamed film. Here he is once more with Kate Royal's Marschallin in Dietrich mode.

Does it sound disloyal of me to say I wish Royal's cover, too, could have a shot at the Marschallin tonight? Miranda Keys, again on the evidence of the cover performance, would make an opulent Prima Donna. She manages her moment in the sun as the Duenna, too (that's her on the left in the picture further up). She may pop along to the talk, which is good of her, and I hope she'll help us field any more boring Taragate questions (no, audience, please don't).

Finally, another Sophie - a real one, this time, Austrian Sophie Rennert, who stole the show with her interpretation, in flawless English, of Dido's Lament at the Europe Day Concert organised by J (and programmed, to an extent, by me, though this wasn't one of my suggestions for the Greek theme, as Greek it ain't) . Now that it's out on CD, we were able to confirm that there actually isn't a more poised and stylish version anywhere, though since the piece tests the personality of the singer, there are quite a few as good in their own ways. But of course we're talking Baker, Norman, von Otter, so for a young singer to be in that league is really something. Dominic Wheeler, also my suggestion, draws wondrously beautiful and authentic-sounding playing from the European Community Youth Orchestra, too.

Postlude: I've scattered remarks about the results of the Proms Rosenkavalier around the comments, but let's just say that it was very hard work to home in on the fine detail from where I was sitting. The Albert Hall may be good for Wagnerian epic, but not for Straussian comedy done at Ticciati's and Jones's level of sophistication. The real problem was that they chose to reheat a very tight production instead of adapting completely to a Proms semi-staging (as used to happen with Glyndebourne's annual visits).

Though the voices which carried best were Michael Kraus as Faninal and Andrej Dunaev's Italian tenor, Erraught and Royal were splendidly energised, Hawlata went through his own paces which seemed to bear no relation to anyone else's - he was relaxed, but I sorely missed Woldt - and Alder began a bit nervously but went on to make wonderful sounds towards the end. Here she is in one of Chris Christodoulou's photos being 'horse-dealt' chez Faninal to the aghastness of Erraught's Octavian as well as the indifference of both Sir Henry Wood and Ochs's bastard son Leopold (Joseph Bader).

*Recent news: Louise was the recipient of this year's John Christie Award. As predecessors include her Marschallin, Kate Royal, Gerald Finley and Allan Clayton, she's deservedly in very good company


Susan Scheid said...

Still offline more than on, in a bid to catch up with myself and sort through all the photographs from our trip, but have now listened to the terrific talk about Der Rosenkav you note here, which I commend to all for a listen. Among my favorite moments (though there were many) was your description of Joyce's Leopold Bloom as a point of comparison with Strauss. And to think I have in my hand Europe Day Concert CD that includes Dido's Lament (I'm listening now). So many treasures!

David said...

Welcome home to the Hudson, Sue. Did you get the whole opera or just the interval talk? Would be very interested to know how it worked on the radio. It felt a very long way away in the hall, though one adjusted. More beauties in the orchestral playing, but I think it was a mistake just to reheat the production, which had gone soft round the edges - I suspect Richard J wouldn't have liked what happened - with no real attempt to adapt for the space in question. But as my colleague Kimon on The Arts Desk points out, Wagner is one thing in the RAH, Straussian comedy, especially one made as intimate as this, another. The affecting moments were, as always, the quietest, and for me the biggest frisson was the chiming clock echoing the Marschallin's stopping thereof.

Louise Alder took time to settle but did wonderful things in the final scene. Hawlata did his shtick but inevitably wasn't anywhere near as funny as Lars Woldt in the original production. Royal was affecting again, Erraught very definite in her/his spiritedness, Ticciati is a great conductor.

Susan Scheid said...

I was only able to listen to the talk. All spare time right now is spent (so it seems) in sorting photographs. There are issues attendant to the digital age, but I'm not complaining, as I'm enjoying so much reliving our adventures abroad. I love this observation of yours, that "The affecting moments were, as always, the quietest, and for me the biggest frisson was the chiming clock echoing the Marschallin's stopping thereof." I'll have to look for that next time I listen/watch, and I'll definitely keep an eye out for Ticciati--not to mention Erraught. Speaking of conductors, the Edu-Mate had to go down to the city yesterday, and who did she meet on the train? Our wonderful young conductor David Bloom! I would've given my right arm to be in her position and to have heard from him what it was like to conduct the first movement of Sibelius 2.

David said...

Loved to hear about the serendipitous train meeting. I had one too, yesterday, having been driven to Chiusi from La Foce by the fabulous sculptor granddaughter of the great Iris Origo: as I stepped on to the 10.57 to Florence, whom should I meet but the violinist and cellist of the previous night's Bartok quartets epic, Nicholas Kitchen and Yeesun Kim of the Borromeo Quartet and their son Christopher.

It was like a masterclass in the study of Beethoven manuscripts. Nicholas is a passionate communicator with real technical savvy (the quartet play with screens showing the full score, sometimes the m/ses) and amazed me with fresh - to me, to most people - news about how Beethoven has five markings in the m/ses for different grades of piano and pianissimo. How I love these festival set-ups!

Susan Scheid said...

What serendipity! Interesting about Beethoven's markings. And what a wonderful idea to display the score, and sometimes the manuscripts (I'm assuming m/ses is an abbreviation for that). Even for those of us with limited score reading skills, something can be gained, particularly in tandem with watching/listening to the performance.

David said...

I realised just as I put that up that the observation about the computer imaging was open to misinterpretation. What I should have made clear is that each player has an iBook on a music stand and turns the pages by foot pedal. It's not so audience-didactic, though Nick arranged a big-screen fusion of Bartok's folk recordings and the notation of the music which adapted them for the interval.

wanderer said...

You've been to La Foce? How fabulous, and escorted too, you lucky not jaded thing. Summer is well advanced I suppose, but still lovely. I can't hardly wait (as they say!) to hear and see more. I harbour a collection of Origomania, including Monte's video, and the latest a lovely glossy by Bernadetta et al, and of course Images and Shadows and War in Val d'Orcia.

David said...

Glad you love the La Foce set-up, wanderer, though you're more than usually oblique: have you been? What is 'Monte's video'? What is the 'glossy'?

Yes, I had the garden tour, solus, accompanied by the wonderful Benedetta (Iris and Antonio's daughter; it's her son, cellist Antonio Lysy, who is the driving force behind the festival, as surely you know). Profoundly moving chamber concert from Israeli Jews and Palestinians of Nazareth's Polyphony Foundation in the beautiful small theatre of an absolute gem of a town, Citta della Pieve. All to be written up in two instalments for The Arts Desk: 1) an interview with the fabulous Ashkar brothers next Saturday, 2) the full La Foce report the week after.

If you haven't been, book in to one of the La Foce farmhouses for next year's Incontri in Terra di Siena.

wanderer said...

Monty Don's (BBC) Italian gardens DVD includes La Foce. No, never been. The 'glossy' is a very beautiful coffee table style pictorial by Benadetta simply called La Foce.

You may have missed Maja Jaggy on Polyphony Conservatory in the Guardian July 26 if you've been away. I wont link to it; not hard to find.

Next year might just work; a wonderful idea.

David said...

Curiously, I've just heard from the wonderful woman who produced that series, Kerry Richardson. Always slightly afraid of her at university - she was a great actress, her 'What would you do?' as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret had us in tears every night - but now she's a good friend.

I heard that Maja had been out there. That was such a wonderful interview I had with the inspiring brothers Saleem and Nabeel (SA is one of the world's best pianists, as a disc of Mendelssohn concertos with Chailly just proved).

Next year in La Foce.. Just about to send you pictures from the site of our first meeting two Junes back, the Villa Gimpel-York.

Susan Scheid said...

Oh, yes, I see, about the score on iPad. It did occur to me after writing, too, to wonder how it could be done for the audience without proving too big a distraction from the performance. Now, all is clear!

David Damant said...

Harewood ( Kobbe) says of Dido's lament

" 'When I am laid in earth' , one of the greatest moments in all opera.... in it Purcell shifts the emphasis of the tragedy from the particular to the universal at the same time as he provides a uniquely beautiful ending to his opera "

David said...

Yes, but what about Sophie Rennert's performance?

David Damant said...

It fully accords with Purcell's genius. The acting with the voice is wonderful

Normally I would prefer a slightly richer voice ( especially for the high notes)( will that come with age?) but the pathos in this rendering renders that unimportant.

Anonymous said...

David, the time difference works in my favor. I see that David Damant has written his thoughts on Sophie Rennert's performance, while I've been sleeping and thinking. The two of you make excellent observations about her voice and this piece. Her acting conveys all of what Virgil and Purcell intended, surely; and, of course, her voice is beautiful and so clear. I have gone and listened to the other performers you mention, and this is where I am glad to read confirmation in David D.'s remark.

I don't really know, and can't find, what age poor Dido was supposed to be, by the time she had gone through everything leading up to this point; but it seems she would be rather older and that her voice would sound more .. world-weary, perhaps. There's no doubt that, with time, the sound of Sophie's voice will allow a more mature rendering, but even now its pure beauty, and her sensitive interpretation, give her a place among the others. Thanks for drawing me back to this piece! I very much like Purcell, but am far from familiar with his whole body of work. -- Elizabeth

David said...

You mean acting with the voice, I'm assuming, Elizabeth, since sadly this year's Europe Day wasn't filmed as well as released on CD. Dido's age is a moot point, and I haven't read my Virgil for years now, but I don't see why she need be old - just regal and authoritative. I'm just glad there are so many alternatives.

Frankly I find the rest of Dido a bit of a drag, likewise a lot of The Fairy Queen, but again that has such colossal highlights (I love Lorraine Hunt (Lieberson)in 'The Plaint', a later addition, on the Norrington recording, and I think OUR Sophie's favourite number of all time is Winter's song). In the church choir I sang in as a treble, one of our favourite anthems was Purcell's 'Hear my Prayer, O Lord', amazingly chromatic for its time. A sombre counterpoint to the lovely 'Bell' Anthem, 'Rejoice in the Lord Alway'.

David Damant said...

David, can you - or anyone - say what, definitely, was the original status of Belinda? In some commentaries she is said to be a lady in waiting, in others she is Dido's sister, in which case her role in encouraging Dido to accept Aeneas must look very suspicious, since presumably she is Dido's heir?

The drama of the opera is recorded in the music with sensational brilliance. "The feeling for dramatic expression" as Harewood says.

David said...

I'd need to check my Virgil, but of course there's no Belinda, I think I'm right in saying, in classical texts. Berlioz has the much more interesting sister Anna. TBH I don't think Purcell gives anyone interesting music other than Dido. And those witches - if I hear them hammed up again I'll scream.

David Damant said...

When I put on Dido at a Club ( with Jean Rigby as Dido) we engaged the top boy soprano from Westminster Abbey as the Imp "in form of Mercury himself". But in rehearsal he WOULD keep looking at the Director ( as he would at the director of music at the Abbey) and NOT at Aeneas. Well we got it right in the end. Also the Aeneas Father A) wooed Dido so intensely and realistically that one could hardly believe he was gay. A powerful and dramatic piece throughout, David, even though its tremendous greatness does admittedly rest on the Lament

I had the further problem that on the night the boy turned up with a mother, father and grandmother. Put my budget for the dinner completely out

David said...

Your opinion, Sir David, and we all get much closer to a piece when we work on it (of course that's patronising, and it can work in another way, that one assesses the true worth of a piece better by being in it or directing it). My feeling is that it's got some good recits and a great lament, and the rest is quite ordinary. Now Les Troyens a Carthage is quite a different matter.

David said...

Yes, Geo., I knew as I walked away that I'd said the wrong name of the Josef Strauss waltz. So easy to do when one speaks off the top of one's head. And of course, in tit for tat, I think you've mixed up young Alder with much older Winter, a mezzo who I believe is making a comeback now (think she was a Glyndebourne chorus protegee too).

Everyone was a bit OTT at the Proms. Assuming you refer to that rather than the livescreening which is so much better, not least because it has THE Ochs. Backstage gossip suggests that Hawlata was as boorish as his character, got a lot wrong and had no interest in relating to anyone. It showed. Woldt was truly loveable. And in person, too, on the bus, ,he seemed like a very nice chap.

No doubt in my mind about Ticciati being ready - he's astonishingly mature and serious and if occasionally his ambition outstretches his experience, that was not so with the seven weeks of preparation here. He's the real thing and you're right, he puts the music first, keeps the orchestra down and the textures clear and the pace practical for the singers and the drama.

I should maybe add a comment about the Prom from my perspective, and a photo.

Geo. said...

Fair point; tripped over my own Louises there. I saw that both Louise Alder and Kate Royal are set to be in Glyndebourne's Rape of Lucretia for next season. Sorry that FH was such a jerk backstage, according to the gossip. But if nothing else, maybe there will be word to the higher-ups never to invite him to Glyndebourne, ever (or ever again, if he's been there before).

Speaking of Strauss and this anniversary year, it's curious that Santa Fe Opera, a "Strauss house" in the USA if ever there was one, didn't stage any RS this year. However, they will be staging Salome next year, with David Robertson on the podium and Alex Penda in the title role.

David said...

Don't think I'll be going near that Lucretia again in the main season, geo. It nearly turned me off the piece itself, which certainly does has its problems (at least the pro to that con is that I came to love, or at least to be stunned by, Owen Wingrave at Aldeburgh. I urge anyone who's in Edinburgh to go and see that production there this weekend).

Hawlata wasn't actually at Glyndebourne for that Rosenkav - only for the Prom. I'm trying to remember if I ever saw him there - and, without checking, it may have been as Kecal in The Bartered Bride. Respect, though, for his Ochs in Carsen's Salzburg DVD: that director certainly wouldn't have let him do his own thing.