Minding “Mitridate”: 3 1/2 weeks

[Completely uncasual reminder that in 3 1/2 weeks, we’ll hold a Brussels “Mitridate” stream-blogging event (likely, on May 25th). – “Mitridate” at La Monnaie opens next week; the Monnaie’s FB page as well as the production page keep you covered with visual spoilers. I still remain hung up on the visuals above, and the fact that I really did love that height difference. – As per usual, Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) and Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) in Mozart’s “Mitridate”, Paris 2016.]

later WSM 3

I really did love that height difference…

later WSM

…and its reversal.

(I will stop talking about this show eventually. Presumably. …maybe? – But I am such trash for it.)

64 thoughts on “Minding “Mitridate”: 3 1/2 weeks”

    1. perhaps that happens when I set an image as “featured”? It does not show in the post body any longer then?

      Have a good flight!

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        1. yeeees, it is! (like a Burne-Jones, in that “pure pose” kind of way)

          …and there are at least 3 more Fridays to come! 😀

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          1. (sprinting to finishing line fighting with character counts + figure margins… and making sure i don’t accidentally incorporate this “figure” into proposal 😉 )

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            1. would this figure increase or decrease chances of acceptance? (probably not conducive to cool temperatures, is it)

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            2. just done reviewing the 200+ page rule book and i have decided even if it increases chances i wouldn’t include it: some figures are ours to keep, period. (although if increasing chance for funding for our papers! yes! 🙂 )

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    1. And the transmission to gesture – the whole scene is full of missed touches/withdrawn attempts to connect that only the audience sees (Sifare does not).

      (if it were fanfic, I would call it “angst”!)

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    2. ps- Agathe, i just saw your comment on the 4 1/2 wk post re. MP + AH. it was on one of those M a n e b sites that got wiped out. i managed a version… and really love the singing + acting from MP & AH & the orchestra take. check your mailbox.
      le lab has a nice photo of Sifare peeking in on Mitridate heckling Aspasia…

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      1. Le lab has quite a bit – not sold yet on romance across the cleaning cart, but with Mozart, I’ll likely buy anything. It is intersting though how the general feel is so different, just from the political setting.

        >

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        1. i like the look more than these bloody military settings i’ve seen in the past i must admit… quite looking forward to it actually, given now that i’ve seen enough of MP’s acting and curious to see more 🙂

          the missed touches / withdrawn hands: it’s the first thing i noticed in #3 too.. and actually was thinking about it while watching duet in Semiramide.. and rethinking how marvelous PP really is, she’s non-comparable in these subtle looks..

          oh, and i thought about something else too between PP and MP: the fact that PP is “throwing herself” into the role / MP’s arms, while lovely, is very interesting to watch, in the sense that actually MP has no option except to prepare to catch her from all angles every time! and yes, it _is_ the catch that also makes this pairing special/unique, in that it’s sensual, with care, not “macho straight back, i got you, just launch at me” attitude/acting.

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          1. Throw and Catch — a other good point, and the more I think about it, the more impressed I am with how the direction really nixed everything macho (I don’t think it just happened, we see some moments of Sifare, especially towards Farnace, where he shown claiming and marking space) between those two. That, I and I am conviced that Petibon could act the theory of relativity without needing subtitles. (then again, E = mc^2 comes pretty close to what she does in term of energy and mass…)

            Like you, I’m looking forward to Brussels with curiosity, to compare acting choices and musical choices, but I’m not swooning in rapture at the first screenshots.

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            1. yes yes i agree about direction nixing macho, i was just thinking more how great PP is in committing to the acting fully, which i think helps the dynamics tremendously… i kept thinking of the VK + K.Hammarström interaction in Wien and was always so puzzled what it was that made it so “awkward” , and i always had the theory that b/c they were just not clicking on this same level (or same level VK + Harteros were)…

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            2. With Petibon, I marvel at how much she can simply do away with self-acting and just do the part (or perhaps she integrates that commitment into the self-acting?).

              And I don’t mean it in a Method way (opera is anything but method), but on a contrary in a sense that every acting is a code, and it’s about how much you go for that code, and leave behind the normal social self-performance (that we all do, constantly).

              In most cases, it may not even be a conscious choice to maintain a stronger self-performance – it is so ingrained that we generally cannot move past it. Even in stage performance, and especially in interacting, there are borders we usually don’t cross and I think much of a committed performance is hoe you negotiate these borders. Not necessarily crossing them, but blurring them into a credible space. And there are some singers, like VK or Petibon, who excel at that. (that is just one element I would call out in their stage performances, there are of course other aspects at play, too)

              (and I know this is not a train of thought helpful for performers, but it makes for a good analytical tool)

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            3. Having your comment in mind I would love to see Petibon in an evil, bitchy or physically ugly role to see how she navigates that and am quite sure she wouldn’t mind being “unattractive” on stage. Come to that, there are not many of such roles for coloratura soprano, she didn’t do the Queen of the night on stage as far as operabase informs us.

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            4. Her Lulu springs to mind (I’ve been meaning to write a post about that for a while)

              >

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            5. Oh yes do write about Lulu. I don’t know your personal criteria for “physical unattractiveness” but having a first look at it on YT I guess this Lulu must be problematic in a different way.

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            6. not unattractive, but not striving to be attractive in a contained way, either. But many things that could be described as “evil and bitchy”, only to end up asking, “from whose perspective”? (I must find some time for this, but really want to write it)

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            7. after reading this 5 times i must confess i don’t understand what you say here Anik 🙂 . I think the terminology, e.g., “self-acting”, “code”, “social self-performance”, etc. that i don’t have a grasp yet what you mean… but altogether, i spent my day re-listening to Mitridate and have now uploaded Lungi da te as well, the long version with all the recit since i thought the acting were so outstanding that it needs to be part of.. (audio is from radio broadcast, hopefully not so badly mismatched w/ video..) . and while we’re talking about PP’s acting here, after so many days sitting through Semiramide i must say i’m *really* impressed with MP’s acting and to me incredible singing in this Lungi da te ben mio!
              They’re starting today! i saw on D.Hansen’s fb site a photo w/ him and MP, not quite the energy as in Paris.. hope the opening night goes well!

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            8. I am sorry – too much work thoughts these days… let me try again.

              What I mean is that being convincing at acting does not only depend on what you can “switch on” onstage, but also on what you can “switch off” from your offstage life.

              Identity, as I see it, is a series of performances, both conscious and unconscious. We all know automatically how to walk, how to talk in certain situations, how close to stand to other people, how much to raise our voices, where and how it is appropriate to touch others, depending on how well we know them. In all that, we are performing ourselves, all the time – usually including our culture, our gender, our class, our age, our beliefs.

              Now put a person on stage, as a different person: another age, another gender, another class…. The person now is expected to perform these new patterns, BUT the person also has to LET GO OFF the patterns they usually perform in their everyday life. And that is a point that is often difficult for performers.

              My favorite example for this are always bad soap opera actresses who have to play gay, but who fail beause they are more concerned with performing their offstage straightness than with performing their role: e.g. what the audience sees is a woman who is uncomfortable with being close to another woman – she does not succeed in “switching off” her offstage behavior, nevermind “switching on” the role she is actually supposed to perform.

              Even in opera, you can observe this very well when it comes to romance: there are body parts you do not touch on another person who is not actually your lover (offstage). Look at more or less any “Si, cor mio” (with the exception of Coote and Naglestad, perhaps): it is always an artful choreography of using a “code” that is is supposed to mean romance/attraction, but it’s usually careful to avoid touching any crotches/breasts/etc., even though that is *precisely* what would likely happen in an actual love scene. That’s what I mean by “codes”: you perform an element that is recognized and that represents the whole thing to an audience. And the audience is also familiar with the code of “which-touch-repesents-what” and “which-touches-are-not-appropriate-on-a-stage”. And in opera, you have to add to that “body positions that must/must not happen to be able to SING a part”.

              Of course a performer does not “become” another person onstage (unless you look at it from a performer’s perspective: some performers describe it that way, which is why I say this kind of analyzing I do here is not helpful for performers, the same way thinking about the physiological/scientific aspects of singing is not helpful for singers): they simply suppress some patterns (=their daily behavior) to a certain degree, and adapt others (=behavior of the stage role) to a certain degree.

              And I think that this *degree* of being able to slip out of one’s own patterns and focus on your stage persona plays a HUGE part in being good and convincing at acting. I mentioned Naglestad above, and I think Petibon falls into the same category, of going “Nevermind who I am offstage, what is this role about? I will commit to it, I don’t care about looking weird or ugly.”

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            9. many many thanks for the elaboration Anik! much appreciated! examples help perfectly to make connection with the vocabulary as well. I’ll catch on to what you said at the end:

              “Nevermind who i am offstage, what is this role about?… I don’t care about looking weird or ugly” .

              Yes, yes, yes! and not being afraid to “sound” ugly as well if needed. Since Mitridate, I kept thinking how really impressed and lucky we are to see these artists live on stage!

              And on the point of “code”, now that i understand it, this is where subtly goes a long way (in my opinion): a simple glance can be as powerful as a coded touch to express desire for example, and it’s what separating the exceptional singing actresses from the good singers. Regarding my gif and PP’s eyes + facial expressions, again in my naïve assumption, i always thought those are also instincts and some can really expresses better than others.. but then I thought about what you said that one can also train as in acting.. but wouldn’t you say it’s more difficult when it comes to subtly and facial display?

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            10. The funny thing is when a singer will perform an ugly or mean etc. role in a really convincing way, which would include “not caring about being ugly”, it usually won’t make her/him an unattractive person to the audience, at least for me it wouldn’t work that way. Not caring about sounding ugly is also an important point because a voice that’s always only perfect and beautiful will also be ‘lacking’ something. For example, with Christiane Karg I remember finding her voice not so remarkable at first, despite of very nice sound and perfect technique but then, just sometimes, she does some kind of special phrasing (sorry I can’t really describe it), where you are like “Oh dear, what was that?”, and for me, it’s that what makes me want to hear more of her.
              As for Si, cor mio, can I add in favour of more ‘reserved’ approaches, that, since this love scene takes place in front of guests/staff in Alcina’s palace sexual touching would actually not be the ‘realistic’ behaviour unless the approach is precisely that Alcina won’t care about breaking such conventions (like with Nagelstad/Coote or the Aix production).

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            11. ugly or not ugly: that might be the very debate on beauty between keeping proper form, or keeping commitment/”authenticity” (yes, please, Door No. 2!)

              I dearly hope to finally hear Karg live next season, I really want to think some more about that. I have the impression of her as a very intelligent singer, and am really curious about how she navigates phrasing in a hall.

              “Sì, cor mio”: o, if only it ever were “Darling, not in front of the staff and my exes!” (although I don’t think Alcina would care), but that is never the message I get. The message I get is usually “uhm, this is a little awkward” and that’s not what should happen. Whether more subdued or not: it’s an aria about great sex that was had. I’m not necessarily in favor of stagings that involve ripping off clothes, since that usually creates awkwardness, too (part of the Aix Alcina’s issue is, I believe, that the concept was smart, but the delivery and reception was too awkward – and even Petibon alone could not save that). Nobody needs to touch anyone at all, but there needs to be a spirit for the aria. And a good performer can do that with just a look, too – just think about Petibon looking at “Sifare” dressing up at the beginning of the Paris “Mitridate” (“Shirt Aria”). Actually, all the throwing of BDSM equipment at Alcina in Aix kind of ruined one of Petibon’s best features, which is precisely communicating states of mind over looks and small expressions.

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            12. Yes I get your point about Si cor mio. So if you want to have it without a placative display of sex this can of course only work with singers able -and willing- of convincingly expressing passion by looks/microexpressions or subtle touches. As you said, quite a waste of PP’s potential in Aix, the look she gives Ruggiero when going over to the bed would have said everything (although it can’t really be called ‘subtle’ anymore). Interesting, what you say about the concept, it was clearly to much for my taste but maybe it was also most singers seeming so uneasy with it what really made it awkward. And it must be much more difficult to do potentially ’embarassing’ things on stage when you are not convinced of the director’s concept. (But I actually was impressed with Alcina’s ‘sex staff’ for delivering their weird parts with these extremely bland facial expressions, maybe they were trained actors?). In general, I am not in favour of any extreme actions (sex, violence, strange props, effects…) whatsoever that would cause too much distraction from the essence of the music (like in the Geneva Alcina where, as many here pointed out, the director didn’t trust the work itself to be interesting/gripping enough). In my view, Carsen is someone who has a good feeling for how to make a story feel modern and fun in some scenes but also to step back in others to leave room for the music/singers where further action would just be distracting, maybe that’s why he is so successful. Sorry, now I have drifted away from the main discussion…
              Christiane Karg life: Maybe in Ariodante? (that one is really tempting me…).

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            13. yes, precisely that “Ariodante”!

              In general, I don’t mind restraint (like the Bayreuth Tristan by Müller) or excess (like some Bieito productions) as long as it is convincing and tells a story. I get annoyed by holding back for no other reason then decorum. I also get annoyed by adding things for shock value. Both are not about the story.

              With the Aix “Alcina”, I think you hit the core point: If singers are at unease (unable to switch off self-performance, unconvinced by the staging) and the audience cringes, it makes for an umcomfortable evening.
              I still find the core questions of the Alcina concept very relevant and interesting (“Do we use sex/transgressive physical action to connect to others? Does it work? Is it more about ourselves/narcissistic? What happens when emotion comes into play? Is connection even possible?”), but I think the way Mitchell tried to translate that into action did not work out.

              Carsen, I enjoy most of the time. Sometimes, he’s a bit too pretty for me (then it’s just pretty images on the surface, and that distracts from the story – or it is overall superficial and goes for more shallow effects, like the recent “Agrippina”), but usually, his work is solid. I would say he is also successful because he gnereally does not ruffle feathers, sometimes at the cost of more depth (then again – different tastes: the more, the merrier! I probably go for things that are a bit grittier at times)

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            14. Since we are discussing stagings now, if you find time for it, I would really be interested in your view on Giulio Cesare, Toulon, 2015 (and it’s OK to laugh at me for ‘stalking’ Sonia Prina) because I really don’t know what to make of that staging. They use these ‘body props’ e.g. Cleopatra and Tolomeo are shown ‘naked’ and I don’t mind those but I was not sure if the overall concept worked. Will also have to watch it a second time. Definately a superb cast (also including Bacelli and Daniela Pini), singing-wise so that alone is worth watching. If you can spare the time you can find the playlist here:
              https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ-6OvsG6NhRf_aO104zreg
              Oh and something else on our discussion about Countertenors, but I will post it here, since thadieu might read it: Recently I was randomly listening to a YT playlist, not looking at the interpreters, and there was an ‘Ombra mai fu’ where I was thinking’ Oh finally a really moving performance by a countertenor’, but looking up who it was, it turned out to be Nathalie Stutzmann :-)….

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            15. 😀

              thank you for the link, Agathe, I’ll download it tonight at home and try to get to it!
              (stalking Prina? a) perfectly understandable b) that’s not stalking c) as if *I* could possibly say anything to that, I am probably worse)

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            16. i lurking upon hearing Nathalie Stutzmann 😉
              it’s a bit frustrating not hearing her enough in performances, and i always wonder whether at the time she was singing they were just not interested in recording the show because her voice/appearance was not catchy enough?? or whether she was reallly not singing in staged operas that often?
              Indeed it was “Ombra mai fu” that got me hooked to her (the quite old version, not the decked up for france tv in which she was also superb): it’s a too often sung aria that one can get tired of quickly.. but i remember by her 2nd music line i was thinking wow, the phrasing! she put some depth the character and you immediately pause to intently listen to what she’s “saying” . that was the moment :-).
              and we talk extensively here about E.Haïm’s conducting, but i’m quite convinced that if we have heard NS conducting Mitridate we’d be very happy too. perhaps not the same way E.Haïm does as she’s sooooooo unique (<– i really want to write a post but not having enough vocab..) but NS's way of filling in the gap and making *every* instrument counts toward painting the music is truly amazing to hear/watch.

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            17. Stutzmann was signed with RCA for a while, but that must have been the early/mid 90s before Baroque opera took off to today’s extent, so perhaps she simply didn’t have enough repertory options as a really low contralto? I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a staged opera performance.

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            18. I just made it to “va tacito”: S.Prina has sooooo much strength in this aria, i really love it! Never mind the staging, i don’t know what’s going on yet :D, but very very strong singing. I especially like… what’s her name.. Cornelia! sung by the contralto who was Holofernes in the recent Juditha Triumphans from Venice, very expressive here (and she had fun with Juditha in that one! Also on that same staging, Paola Gardina sang a great Vagaus in kickass X-pants that made me wanting a same pair! I’ve been waiting forever but noone is uploading a clip so i might do the honor since i captured the entire thing.)
              (ps- i saw somewhere Agathe was also talking about L’incoronazione di Poppea with S.Connolly and Alder, i also have the entire thing captured in case you’d like to see the whole thing).

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            19. Oh, yes to Judiths and yes to the full Poppea, the clips left me wanting more.

              >

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            20. Thanks a lot for your links and files, thadieu! In the Giulio Cesare I also absolutely liked Teresa Iervolino and Monica Bacelli as mother/son couple. I’m a fan of Bacelli’s bright timbre anyway but found it especially well fitting in this role and in contrast to Cornelia. ‘Son nata a lagrimar’ is really beautiful and convincingly acted. In general, everyone in this production seems to have a lot of fun and playing very well together so that alone is worth watching.
              Oh, and thanks for improving my fashion vocabulary, now I know what X-pants are… I hope I find time to watch the Holofernes soon.

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            21. actually i learned about the “x-pants” from Dehggi, she’s the fashion person, i think my original terminology was “flowing pants” 😀

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            22. oh, so THOSE are x-pants?
              (I guess I am nto very fashion forward, either – I thought about those tango exercise pants that are tight again at the ankles… which letter are those?)

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            23. ok, i traced back to my convo w/ Dehggi: she called it “xwide-pants”, and i guess i call it “xpants” because it looks like an X the entire set trouser + top to the shoulders . may be x-pants mean different to the general public?

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            24. the general public knows far more about that than I ever would! 😉
              also, I was distracted by the shoulders on display in that outfit…

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            25. Re: THAT Ariodante: I just found out it’s also touring to Elbphilharmonie on 14.05., how cool is that! So I will read your review before and then enjoy the concert…Too bad it’s still one year to go.
              For the Mingardo fans: She will sing ‘Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno’ in Berlin in November (26th) and luckily this fits with my conference, so if anyone else happens to be there, tell me and we could meet up.

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            26. at least we have something to look forward to!

              I could use a Berlin conference, too, I am still hung up on my outstanding Wagner appointments. Plus pretty much anything Komische Oper puts on these days. My only November conference so far is Frankfurt; clearly I need to coordinate better.

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            27. I’ve seen both work – code as a subconsious set of instinct-level reaction, and as a consciously formed thing. I think it is difficult to do it consciously when it comes to micro expressions (those very small instinkt twitches and blinks), but a.g. people trained in film acting do exactly that and prove that you can control a lot of it with sufficient training.

              Opera has an extra layer because singing will always involve some extra facial expressions/”distortions”, sometimes little quirks that people have taken on that help them with producing sound. And that changes things again because it is a different code played over everything else (in line with movements that are okay/not okay if you still want to be able to sing).

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            28. oh, i forgot to mention: i meant when the singers are not singing when it comes to facial expression! while singing they can do whatever it works, i just have to get used to and understand that’s what it takes (hard to not get to this point if one listens to VK to start one’s opera path 😀 ). But the subtle acting i’m also thinking in term of partners: that as the one singing sending out a “phrase” it needs proper reception (facial, body, whatever) from partner to make the dynamics to work. Also i think there’re exceptional singers (e.g., VK, PP, ACA..) whose body gestures + subtle expressions “flow” with their phrasings that get us (me) completely hooked

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            29. acting while not speaking/singing – yes. depends on whether you have good acting teachers or an innate grasp on it, probably?
              (in the Mitridate, it was fun watching Dumaux, who is very good at nonchalant action, and next to him the younger Dubois, who is still trying to find his footing in this and did a really good job of it)
              (I think it is not as difficult as learning to manage micro-expressions, but it takes an effort, too.)

              Also, mediating reaction to what someone else says – SO important. Because, as you said, saying a thing is just half the game, the other half is the thing being received. – which brings us back to performers who are very perceptive and flexible in this and have a differnet outcome every night, and others who work with a set interpretation.

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            30. I did not react accordingly to your mention of Lungi da te – thank you for including the recit!

              (will send you a properly swoonful reaction screenshot 😉 )

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            31. I’m happy you enjoy it! i was debating whether to include recit… and a couple of times thinking i’d cut it and go directly to the aria… but every time i sit through i thought noway! recit is so important in setting the scene (it is in fact part of the scene, this scene, with these 2 sopranos! 😉 , i found the chair throwing very moving actually), in fact that’s another post i want to write (only 2 sitting on my burner: E.Haïm/conducting and recit/Ariodante/jaw-line 😀 )

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            32. jawlines?

              You’ve got my attention.

              the recit has to go with the aria – the whole build-up happens there (I did another rewatch today and still discover new details)

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  1. Oh dear, I only just saw the FB pictures. Have they nicked the setting from TadW’s Aggripina?. I thinks it’s going to be fun, but yes, not very romantic at first sight and probably a lot less subtle looks/gestures….
    You discussed MPs wig already I think (you sure it’s a wig?), for me the long hair wouldn’t make sense in this setting and it looks good on her.
    And thanks again, thadieu for the Semiramide (in case I messed up the dropbox message, no real idea how it works but managed to download the file).

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    1. definitely a wig (not a bad fit, though, as short-haired wigs on long-haired people go). Isn’t it forbidden by law somewhere that established Traviatas chop their locks off…?

      Also, *LOL* at Agrippina – if this were a Handel, you bet that large table would see some less political action at some point or another. 😉

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      1. Stutzmann, who studied with Hans Hotter, sings a repertoire from Handel to Ravel: http://www.francemusique.fr/emission/les-vendredis-du-philhar/2015-2016/soiree-lyrique-l-enfant-et-les-sortileges-de-ravel-avec-sabine-devieilhe-04-15-2016
        Her RCA contract included a complete Schumann lieder project, which was cancelled after a number of albums had appeared. More recent albums are of Schubert, and her Winterreise is magnificent. So’s her Brahms. Baroque, and dramatic roles, seem to have occupied only part of her attention, but Heroes from the Shadows in 2014 collects Handel arias.
        Stalking? One has looked at her photos of her golf game.

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        1. yes, your are right.
          She has done a lot of romantic and post-romantic lied repertory; I remember Debussy/Poulenc from the mid-90s, carrying home a CD from the libary and copying it to tape, “C’est l’extase” — Yet I guess that the traditional lieder audience reacts to her voice with nervousness. Lots of nervousness. It may not fit their Schumann shoebox.

          But: opera repertory? Or even something in between the romantic song, and Early Music? Her voice type leaves her out of most of the mainstream opera repertory (with the exception of the occasional Third Lady).
          Today, I believe, she would have more succees; she would make more people nervous in a good way.

          Another aspect: she was an instrumentalist before she studied singing; she went into conducting later: all that suggests someone with a deeper investment in the structure of the music, and in making their own artistic choices. Possibly not a good fit for the streamlined recording industry?

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          1. I just found it very striking how much Stutzmann’s voice expresses qualities I would associate with CTs like this piercing evenness of sound but with so much more foundation and warmth. She probably would have more success today and even more if she were a man… From a wider point of view: Much of the success of CTs may be because of their biologically ‘right’ gender as we discussed before, but funnily enough anatomical issues (meaning the necessity of not mixing in breast voice) also seem to determine the limitations of their voices (and this is not about ‘Ha, you guys can’t do it’, rather a pity they can’t do it, e.g. I would totally fall for Dumaux if just his voice would have a bit more of a Nathalie Stutzmann).

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            1. Stutzmann today, as a man – yes, you are probably (sadly) right.

              Technically, though, counters DO have chest register they could use (Jarousskybdoes it for fun in encores sometimes) – there would just be a break in timbre that is not accepted today. It would be interesting if some male singers would try to work with that (beyond Marcello Lippi in La Calisto under Jacobs), but so am afraid that would kick women out of even more parts.

              >

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            2. Yes of course they have chest registers and, like you, I really would like to hear it in some cases but in my understanding they are not able to mix it with their falsetto voice. I’m no expert on the physiological side of singing theory, but my understanding is that a woman’s voice would usually comprise a mixture of both, head and chest register, with chest register becoming more dominant the deeper the voice goes and I think this mixing is physiologically not possible with falsetto. But that’s just the medic in me speaking, always trying to analyse things biologically…

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            3. You are right, they cannot blend – falsetto means part of the chords are “held still” – but they could work with a clear break. Like those early 19th century “contraltos”!

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