The Ghent 2011 “Semiramide” (Rossini) Liveblogging Thread

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Welcome to the White Shirt live comment thread for Rossini’s Semiramide from Ghent (2011), staged by Nigel Lowery and under the baton of Alberto Zedda.

The cast features Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide), Ann Hallenberg (Arsace), Josef Wagner (Assur), Robert McPherson (Idreno), Igor Bakan (Oroe), Julianne Gearhart (Azema), Eduardo Santamaria (Mitrane) and Charles Dekeyser (The Ghost of Nino).

The production is not officially available online (there is a BR DVD, though): leave a comment if you want to join. The libretto for this very show, in Italian and English side by side, is available via Dynamic/Naxos in pdf format (now that is customer service!).

472 thoughts on “The Ghent 2011 “Semiramide” (Rossini) Liveblogging Thread”

      1. Thanks! Still at the closet organizing section of the room-readying. Recent discoveries include: a sailor uniform, a film DSLR and a case of wine!

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  1. piccolo❤
    and the strings..
    he really gets me started with this whole opera. When you start the orchestra like this one is hooked for the next 4 hours! (the green blond does not hurt!😉 )

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    1. despite the green and blond…!

      And all the ladies in the orchestra! It’s when I see a pit like this that I remember how much is still missing on other bands.

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  2. Sometimes you think “Meh, overture…” but this, you really don’t want to end in that interpretation. My favorite part is how keeps it so slender, never getting pompous

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    1. (i should watch/hear him more in other operas… that “905 views” on tube, 200 of those must have been mine.. i was practically camping there on repeat re-listening on repeat the last few months…)

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      1. oh yes!
        (It seems we are all – well, you and I – finding solace in watching dear performances in the current political upheaval – I’ve head stuck in my head all day the end of the intro to the Brussels Lungi and that bit of squared shoulders and walking right into the hurt.)

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        1. I’ve been meaning to re-investigate Brussels.. I think i’m working at a slower speed than you and need more repeat on her other Sifare.. and Semiramide.. and Rusalka.. I wonder how everyone will see her Violetta.. as i’m majorly more drawn to the first-mentioned 3 roles above and Alcina..

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          1. …as am I. Though I guess it is not as much her as it is the piece, and the traditional directions thereof. (There was an interesting tidbut though, through the Greek National Opera Twitter, a link to a news article on all the 4 sopranos who will sing Violetta in the current Athens run, about their approaches. Mind you, I have no Greek, so I only had GoogleTranslate, but Papatanasiu said something about ‘having to live it’, which reminded me of Petibon’s Vienna remarks on ‘bearing being a vessel’: put yourself in to reach an honesty that people can connect to.)

            And I guess there is more freedom to arrive at an interpretation without an enormous amount of baggage in something less-known and less-played, like Mitridate or Alcina, than in the flagbearing, champage-touting, tbc-ing covergirl warhorse of opera at large😉

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          2. …other than that it is damn good work she did there?😉 But yes, watching it sure felt like more freedom – look at how those shows resonated with us where mainstream often won’t, unless it is very well staged.

            (shouldn’t you be half on our way to “Alcina” already…?)

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          3. have fun!

            Looking forward to your thoughts on tonight (and Alcina is a good start to convert newbies – I have a few Alcina toasters😉 )

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          4. thank you for the link to the article! i like her approach and answer, nothing ties to old/new/classic/modern but rather the flow/progress of a person living in the situation. perhaps we can link this also to today’s liveblog as it’s quite appropriate? and should give me some insight into seeing how she portrayed the character.. (and suddenly i’m curious how PP would have approach this role! with Py of course! MP might also benefit from working with Py!)

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    1. I ALWAYS ask myself the same question at this point (he is a prince from a neighboring kingdom, not from Norse countries) – is this Rheingold? Ah, no, it isn’t…

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  3. ah, i see, she’s holding the flame for someone else while he’s catching on to her? (or he has already seen her before and now coming with the hammer hoping to build his castle here?)

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    1. Me tenor walhalla, you Jane?

      Not sure whether he’s supposed to be in love with her since before the overture?

      (Azema does kind of look like Tarzan’s Jane here…)

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  4. Props to josef Wagner’s Assur for pulling off that hideous costume with something approaching Atze Schröder 70s charm. That takes some attitude!

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  5. This choir bit always throws me because that is the melody line of the “Canzonetta spagnuola” and I expect a mezzo showing up to flirt the hell out of a painter’s model.

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    1. again, thanks to the pit keeping it light and I think that is one of the key points of allowing her as a lyrical voice to pull this off – often you get heavier voices for Semiramide who plow through a bigger orchestra sound.

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      1. of course, Semiramide has since reconsidered and now wants to marry the mezzo (who unfortunately is in love with another soprano)

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    1. *snort* yes. the lightning is none to gentle there.

      I still don’t get whether it’s supposed to be a statement on the the fakeness of Semiramide’s life, or whether someone is not as thrown of as I am by severely mismatched hair and eyebrows.

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          1. Trying to picture you in lime blond. Failing. (Then again, you can pull off far more hairstyles taht I ever could!)

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          2. haha.
            but actually i was quite surprised by your reaction (and Towanda’s) to the blond wig.. and i wonder if it’s actually a pattern: we’re much more critical to the things we’re used to because we can see all the inconsistencies. For example, for me, the only thing i see is blond 😉 , it’s so screaming for attention, and am not bothered at all by mismatching. On the other hand, i was having the utmost difficulty reconciling with A.Netrebko with the black wig, or VK also with the black wig (singing Isabella in Spain), with the latter case so much I couldn’t even follow her singing and acting!

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          3. Or perhaps towanda and I are simply not into blond😉

            I do know I pay a lot of attention to wigs, perhaps more than necessary.

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          4. While you are perfectly able to tell one Greek soprano from another in a .0002 sec reaction span.

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      1. I will need to describe that moment in more detail at some point, but I need to think up adequate words first. As in think and not ‘my brain just stopped functioning and yet I keep trying to talk’

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  6. basically, all the guys use Semiramide for politics and/or want to marry her, yet they’re all in love with the younger soprano.

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  7. no matter how many times I look at this, I don’t get the Autumn Leaves choreography of the choir. – Eurhythmics?!

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        1. That’s the message from the oracle about “the gods will be happy with you if there’s a marriage involving Arsace”

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  8. watching this, I kind of want to stick it to the people who insist that for trouser roles you need to be super young/super trained – Hallenberg does a mixture of youthful insecurity and enthusiasm and pride and is, to me, very convincing with very little effort.

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    1. yes, to comment on this.. it’s really interesting how Hallenberg carried it off with such style and subtly. Again, none of that macho-ness, just removal of feminine movements. And she’s really good with eye expression and little twitches on the face, just enough, not overacting.. and then the detailed singing fills out the rest.

      (Even with MP it’s the same for me: that her phrasing is already working (for me), and combining with just enough facial/body expressions, nothing overdone, and things come across as very moving and sincere)

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  9. it’s also a nice change to see a young male character who is happily confident in his girlfriend’s affections and doesn’t doubt her as soon as a bass makes insinuations (looking at you, Tancredi)

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    1. get yourself a tea meanhwile?
      The tenor is a curious case – very light, somewhat disembodies timbre, agility checks out, but the color remains somewhat uniform.

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      1. but i like it that at least he’s trying to express the music.. i ran into this other tenor on the Bruxelles’ 2000 (or 2003, the one on radio with Podles and Takova) that truly got me cursing
        (yes, time to get breakfast..)

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        1. Overall through, this is an impressive showing – it was a coproduction, I think? Ghent is not that big (also as a player), and the results here are remarkable.

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  10. perhaps Azema encountered Arsace during the autumn? (s)he also mentioned it after coming off the boat..
    (but i don’t get the bit Azema handing the tenor the pile of leaves though, and i don’t get what she’s saying either.. that’s like leading someone on no?)

    ohhhhhhh, hang on… here comes…

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    1. but my favorite part – while I still don’t figure out the staged, obvious movie poses – is the handling of everything closer to accompagnato because of her handling of text,

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    2. i was curious about your later comment re. breathing and now see the original here. on tge contrary i didnt think she was hindered by the dress. we ve already said she is pretty skinny in this production, but because of that i thought there the dresses were still lose! and the material doesnt look restricting, unlike some of the dresses i ve seen on ther singers (e.g., Harteros in Idomeneo in Salzburg or ACA in Rodelinda in Glenbourne, or Röschmann in Tito in Salzburg). Even the cut for this is pretty conservative compared to all these other dresses i just mentioned. And i wonder if the singer has any saying in the material or cuts?

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      1. Materials not as much, they are usually bought beforehand. Cut, at times – as far as fitting goes. This one, I don’t find it restrictive in material (like corsets), but just look at how revealing the material is, and then if you check the solar plexus, especially later with the belt, you can see how the breathing works – I looked after Agathe pointed it out. And you can see that it is done eith enough space to allow for breathing, but I’m not the pro here.

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  11. when your silent movie murder hair looks better than your current do, you should reconsider some of your life choices.

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  12. the staging works fine for me for the most part (also, Wagner, Hallenberg and Papatanasiu all offer good portrayals), but there are those bits where you squint at the screen and go “eeeh?” (Dead leaves, Eurythmics, chandeliers), and then you remember “Oh, right, it’s Nigel Lowery. Some squinting must be involved, be it creepy baby dolls, odd hats or autumn leaves.”

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    1. perhaps Arsace is into librarians?

      The dress looks like a pain, true. no breathing, and no dinner before the show, either. (you were right about the thin side part in this production)

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    1. Yes. And people say you cannot do belcanto psychologically and it would never make sense – look at this, it can!

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    1. really like this interpretation. It also works into the mindset of an overcompensating woman who is now not the most stable in the mind and resorting to drugs/pills to cope. at least in private, because in public she still commands the respect (at least based on what we see, that others are still obeying instead of simply doing it as formality and questioning her authority)

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      1. Yes, that age/haunted thing. And I keep wondering why she killed her (here very old) husband… how he treated her.

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    1. i read it more as she s not exactly stable due to the years of psychological torments and now even when tired of mustard will settle back into the comfort abused space, as soon as darkness comes

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      1. Yes, something like this. And obviously these two were attracted to each other at some point, and went through an extreme situation together, and have patterns from there. Also fits with the long-term tormented state.

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      1. yes, i really like the acting the the drama of that scene. This was actually my first impression of MP’s acting after 200x Mitridate.. (and Rusalka.. but i think here she has significantly more room to ∂emonstrate)

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        1. oh, i have been abandon my post there.. and thought i’d post the composite here.. but i still want to post that “Se viver..” duet and talk about orchestra + E.Haïm.. along with Ariodante.. hopefully before the end of the year😀

          (after re-reading all this… i’m now back to Semiramide again.. starting with Arsace’s stepping off the boat)

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  13. I’m sorry, but I’m falling asleep on my chair (really not this scene’s fault). So the second duet will have to wait for tomorrow alongside your comments. Good night and happy further swooning, it’s been fun as always!

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      1. Haha, seriously, I dreamt of going skiing with MP and Wagner. MP was in black skiing trousers with braces, Wagner of course remained in his mustard gear. Will try to find time today to finish the second part!

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          1. Oh yes, the one where he had accidentally killed his brother(?). Very Freudian, but in my defense: I had just booked the annual skiing trip yesterday.

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          2. Yes, that one! With the Dalí dream sequences! (usually people don’t know it, but it’s one of my favorites) Ski trip: did you hear that, thadieu? The one time of the year when we get to make the athletics jokes on Agathe’s count😉

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          3. Notorious! Another favorite! Grant/Bergmann have amazing chemistry (though in rewatching, I found the sexism hard to stomach – a general issue I get with Hitchcock)

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  14. (i mean if they really insist on skinniness they would have not gotten Hallenberg, .. as she has said she even got trouble getting cast because of size )
    it’s a disgrace we don’t get to see her more often on the stage
    (but for this one, it’s definitely Zedda who’s getting it to work for her heft, i’d even say it’s on the lighter side than MP’s ?)

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      1. it took me some time to get used to hers compared to Barcellona or Podles of course. but yes i though if we were in the house we might not hear her that well.. in contrary i think MP’s voice might carry over better, of course with conductor such as Zedda who cared for her.

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    1. He could save himself the coloratura. Save your breath, honey, Hallenberg is your competition. Go have a coffee instead.

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  15. Na, I don’t think it was “casting for skinniness or else”, but look how they make use of it in MP’s case here. (a little too much!)

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    1. true. though i’m guessing they were not accounting for her ∂ because that’s not what they’re after.
      Again, i’m very impress with her commitment to acting, because the focus on skinniness is definitely on the extreme of “beautifully fit dress” and anyone could just run away with that.. here i really didn’t get that impression at rather spend a lot of time thinking about Semiramide’s mindset… (and the duet coming.. sniff.. or the final scene.. more coming up..)
      (trying to occupy myself with previous scenes while this tenor occupying time.. poor Azema)

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  16. Will I, within the next hour, finally understand the building blocks and the choir choreographies or will that go onto the creepy baby doll pile for good?

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          1. yeah, i saw this shot first and thought wow the difference to the performance’s appearance. But i love the acting here. The wooden “laptop” is great detail!

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          2. i saw it often enough to finally see the details yesterday: it was first in that big wooden case of secret things Nino left for his son: the secretive “laptop”, the crown, and the weapon. Apparently only Arsace has the key to open it? hence the exchange into, what’s his name.. from the Adam’s family , suitcase, prior to the duet Arsace-Assur

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        1. yes, rewind for this one too. i might be the only one obsessed the spinning and momentum when she took a step back in prep for Arsace’s forceful approach. But then after that, the switch of left hand from inside (being on the receiving end) to outside (taking control), nice moment showing the sensitivity of Semiramide, when she s in her full control in the mind. It s also very interesting to watch the equality of the “relationship” between her and Arsace

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      1. yes, after Mitridate (back in Apr) it was this one that really gave me the impression of her as an actress (she’s so good as Sifare but there’s PP there…) .
        Again, this is one of my fav , musically as well, starting from the pit. But the singing + acting..
        Since then, i’ve listened to quite a few Semiramide on repeat.. and i’d say her tone is actually very attractive for this role as it stands out in any kind of duet / ensemble.. (though i don’t know how she would sound when pairing with Podles for example, in term of balance)

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        1. Yes, good point. She’s not a belcanto powerhouse hinging on dramatic (much more about that lyrical gleam in the tone), but it just. Goes to show that with the. Right conductor and a smart approach, you can do many things (thinking of Margaret Price as Isolde! Which was a studio take, granted, but it was also Kleiber committing to her and Price calling upon her unique colors)

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        1. !!! Arsace: screw that mother plot. Actuallz that wedding dress is also kind of green? And it kind of kills the ∂rama here.

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          1. ps- i wonder about the meaning of the “green”, as it’s so prominent and only associated with Semiramide (and at least we should be very glad it’s not pink or some other eye-hurting colors).
            and i have always thought this is the nightgown.. but now i see it’s a wedding dress, given the suit.. for wedding gown she’s really tone down then! only wanting a simple civil union.. until Arsace started running off!

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    1. Finished the second duet, yes, this is extraordinary. Musically top, and these two voices fit so well together, all phrasing perfectly balanced, both absolutely in tune at all times.
      From the acting side, I find this scene the first to actually realistically address what may psychologically happen when you realize your lover is your child (a situation after all not so rare in opera but usually not addressed seriously): disbelief, rage and happiness close to each other, then a process of adaptation to the new situation, all the conflicting emotions are wonderfully displayed here. Very nice the insecurity of how to touch each other in the middle part when they had not grown into mother/son, and that got more secure in the end. I also liked how Semiramide, who is rigidly guilt-stricken at first, finally softens, also towards herself, at Arsace’s crying.
      I must revisit this next week when I’ll finally have some free time (alongside gay Utica with libretto!).

      Oh and in general, thank you both so much for finally getting me into Rossini! I have no idea now why my 20 year old self didn’t like it so much, but I’m planning to catch up now!

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      1. When shall we convene for Ory, apropos? Next Sat? And then we need to find some gems longterm – a proper Tancredi, for starters.🙂

        Yes on this duet. All of it. (thadieu? Is there a mobile-friendly video clip version of it…?) I was thinking the same thing – it is a fairly common situation in opera and this is the first time I stopped and thought: yes. This is believable. The initial shock and shame/repulsion, and then the tenderness shifting, I could completely buy that. Really good acting – precise and relatable – by both of them. And the singing – DEAR GOD. Let me return to my video clip question…

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        1. Yes to Comte Ory next Saturday, but I have a special request: Can we start at 8:40 pm already? That would just fit the time window between children sleeping and my husband returning from a longer journey.

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          1. also, that’s very meta to watch an opera about husbands returning from a mission while waiting for your husband to return from a journey😉

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      2. I’m still heart broken about this duet…
        ah, thank you, you both, for noticing the situation and acting. I’m totally unaware that this is a not-so-rare situation in operas! As this was my first I simply was in awe with the acting / singing and didn’t notice it as first glimpse. But jes, this very edition was picked for many reasons and not just ∂ (🙂 ) . in fact it is simply not ∂ , as you said, it’s the “side” effect and we get to sing tunes to it.. but i would not bother at all with it if the acting / singing / conducting weren’t exceptionally compelling. If you have to get into Rossini I think something like this (or what Anik suggested) is the right path, unless you’re all for showboat powerhouse (even I’m not, it only goes so far.. i got into it precisely because of VK’s expressive singing — and that’s why i was camping on Romeo for eternity until VK retired that role…

        Yes, i was thinking a Tancredi must be on the list somewhere! and i’d vote for Barcellona + Takova! though i don’t have a copy of it…

        Next sat same time works great for me if it’s ok with everyone? I don’t have a copy but i think it’s at the usual source? and i dont’ know it AT ALL, so will be a first timer!

        oh, on the clip of MP+AH duet, Anik, we’ll make this our first joint ffmpeg excercise, as you’ll find out it takes about 5sec to make it! then perhaps 5min if we compress the videos to keep good quality but reduce size, which we will do, all while in queue for Alcina . Though if you’d like it sooner (i can understand why! i have the audio on my phone!) i can cut for you first and you can repeat the exercise later, all underground of course as i don’t want my channel to go missing…

        ps- i also really love the shyness in the first duet, they’re simply waaaay too cute together!

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      1. right, this is the time to mention back that duet w/ the bass in bed… she was very good dramatically.. and i was thinking singing from lying down position: good for upcoming Alcina!

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          1. She’s Semiramide’s warden, sort of? But that wouldn’t be anything Bartolo hasn’t tried to pull off before.

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        1. i subtle😉
          (in retrospect, i really love these outings we have, as it provides opportunities to read the libretto and seeing how all things fit in more… as well as hearing angles from y’all.)

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        1. No fixed date yet – still need to check next weekend with the gang. Will send you a note, though. Or I’ll simply tweet it at you😉

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    1. me either – not making sense of the Semiramide body double. (though I applaud the idea of actually Semiramide getting away! Is that is what it is? Puzzled!!) And I found the double unnecessary anyway. MP is good enough an actress to convey things without such crutches.
      On another note, it really is a shame we don’t get Hallenberg on stage more often, she is fabulous there.

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  17. okay, bedtime for me, too. – Thank you for your company! I am already looking forward to rereading our comments over breakfast tomorrow.

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  18. ah ha! i’ve listened to Zedda before and like!! he conducted VK in this production of L’Italiana in Algeri, which is currently being played on the left panel while i fight with sea surface on the right… (though the overall sound is a bit oscillating between mono and stereo.. but orchestra sound is really clear and detailed, and VK is great, the production was the subject of my vintage VK post a couple of years back..)

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