Ariodante / Murray, Rogers, Garrett et al. / English National Opera (2)

[Part one is here.]

As I said, there is some music in this opera. This is a very good performance of Ariodante. The DVD under discussion here is well and stylishly done and there is plenty to enjoy in it, but in terms of voices and interpretation and general dramatic heft, this ENO one is bigger and more interesting.

This is a fully staged performance, but there are no audience noises or applause – it was probably recorded in an empty hall. You can hear this in the accoustic sometimes, too, in the way anything above a certain volume and pitch echoes: e.g. in “On wings of true devotion” in Act I or “night of blindness” / “cieca notte” in Act III.

The tempos are quite quick. I noticed this beginning with the overture, and this is fairly consistent throughout the whole performance. Some parts even sound rushed, e.g. Ariodante and Ginevra’s duet “Take me, take me, this hand I offer” / “Prendi da questa mano.” Ann Murray (Ariodante) and Joan Rodgers (Ginevra) do not have what I would call an ideal blend of voices, either. The same is true in the “if my heart conveys to you” / “se rinasce nel mio cor” duet near the end of Act I.

However. Murray and Lesley Garrett (Dalinda) are probably the vocal standouts here. The tempo turns some sections of “On wings of true devotion” / “Con l’ali di costanza” into something that resembles those fast runs of Bradamante’s “vorrei vindicarmi” in Alcina. Murray has no trouble at all with this. The tempo in “take your pleasure” / “scherza infida” was much slower than I expected. The recording places the bassoon and the plucked strings very far forward, which I liked. I am not completely on board with every aspect of the acting, and I do find some aspects of the translation here a little irritating, but the singing is enjoyable. When it comes to expressive phrasing, particularly soft expressive phrasing, e.g. at 3.24 and later in the repeat of “take your pleasure” at 6.27, Murray has it.

Between “scherza infida” and the next scene with Dalinda and Polinesso (Garrett’s if I can love my lord / se tanto piace il cor is very nice), we get a bit of interpretive help from our friends at the ENO, in the form of a screen that says, basically “meanwhile, Polinesso has brutally seduced Dalinda.” While I think that ‘brutally seduced’ is pretty much bang on, what happens in the next scene makes the brutal seduction clear enough that I wondered why we needed the extra ‘just in case you forgot what is happening’ screen. Particularly since the screen itself has subtitles. The screen, let me reiterate, is already in English. These little ‘by the way’ screens appear between several of the scenes in this production, I guess just to make sure everyone feels comfortable and no one gets lost.

When I heard Polinesso for the first time, my reaction was, one, that this is a specific and immediately recognizable category of countertenor sound. It’s sort of hooty and felty and the singer sometimes seems to be at the edge of either his voice or his technique or both. My second reaction was — wait, this sounds like Unulfo in that DVD of Rodelinda that we all know and love. Actually, that sounds a lot like Unulfo. And what do you know, it is: Christopher Robson is his name. Robson is a good actor, and vocally he has some nice moments, e.g. in “help me O lovely eyes.” The voice itself, though, isn’t a sound I really enjoyed.

It is a bit of a Rodelinda party in this production. Our Lurcanio is Paul Nilon, who was Grimoaldo in Rodelinda. (By the time I caught sight of Nilon, I was sort of hoping that Felicity Palmer would show up too, but alas, no such luck.) Nilon has a very fast, fluttery vibrato that seems almost to obscure his voice. He is good at longing glances, though.

This is turning into more of a list than a substantive argument, but since I appear to be making a list, I will note that I had no issues with Joan Rodgers’ Ginevra. This is a tough role to make interesting. While there is a lot at stake for our heroine, none of it is her doing, and none of it is really within her power to alter. Rodgers’ Ginevra is sometimes slightly off, in an interesting way – in “my heart is racing” / “mi palpita il cor” in Act II, where Ginevra has a feeling of foreboding, it’s almost Cassandra-like: there is something sort of weird about this girl (Ginevra, not Rodgers).

Musically, this is a good performance. What initially caught my attention about this DVD, though, was all those Amazon reviews that said things along the lines of “this made me very uncomfortable” or “this production destroys Handel’s opera!” Watching it I was almost disappointed, in that I found the production itself reasonably straightforward. There are some odd touches, but taken as a whole it makes sense. So. More about that later.

10 thoughts on “Ariodante / Murray, Rogers, Garrett et al. / English National Opera (2)

  1. i fighting an invisible force for scherza infida in english…….. all it takes is a push of the button……. you even made it easy by embedding the clip…… noo….i.c.a.n.t….

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      1. Come to the dark side, Luke . . . . .

        But in all seriousness, the force is strong with Murray in this aria. It sounds good. I was ignoring the English in some places. That said, I think it would have been even better — the whole thing would have been even better — had it been in the original language. So, I don’t blame you if you don’t push the button.

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    1. back, with button pushed, and an opinion 🙂
      besides the first 3 words which changed quite drastically the meaning at the beginning of the aria, i was wondering since it sounds like a lot of effort when she has to sing the very high notes that perhaps it’s a problem of the language: some words/vowels work in the italian text because the text ends at the high notes for example, and yet in English she has to sing up-along-over-down the note because of the wording (i have vision of a high-jumper in head with the bar = high notes, and instead of just jumping up vertical to touch in italian, the singer now has to jump over the bar; did i mention i can’t read music?). Related is the issue with timing… I actually noticed it too in a completely different aria “o mon fernand” which sounds GREAT in french but not quite in “o mio Fernando” mainly because words end at the right note to emphasize the phrasing in the french version…
      It’s also quite slower than most versions, wonder if it has to do with translation again?
      Other than that, i did make a conscious effort to ignore the “english”, which makes it enjoyable hearing her soft singing and phrasing.

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      1. I think you may be on to something here. When I listened to this I noticed that the vibrato got wider and more effortful-sounding with higher pitches/volume levels (the softer parts of this I thought sounded much better) – I didn’t immediately think this was a direct effect of the text, but it could be. It certainly changes the emphasis of a lot of the phrases.

        I think this Ariodante pretty much proves conclusively that even with good singers and an interesting production, translating Italian opera into English causes more problems than it solves.

        The ‘o mon Fernand’ is from Donizetti’s La Favorite, right? I’ve only ever heard it in Italian, but I do know that there’s a version with Kasarova and Vargas and something tells me this is one you know about 🙂 I should hear it in French – it’s been ages since I listened to it.

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      2. ah, you notice the vibrato too at the high notes? that’s where i thought she has to use lots of effort, same with word emphasis as you said more accurately.
        and may i offer o mon fernand 🙂 . i heard it once on vivalavoce and it immediately worked for my brain. After that, the italian version is not cutting it… and vivalavoce will host it again toward end of this month where i’ll again tune in.

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