Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

The Metropolitan Opera to cancel its Live in HD transmission of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer scheduled for this fall

 

Anna Prohaska, one of Europe’s most promising sopranos

Anna Prohaska sings Sister Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House. In the same month, she’s also in London to sing a recital with Eric Schneider at the Wigmore Hall, and to sing Henze with Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall.

Garsington Opera’s 25th anniversary unites its past with its future

Garsington Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Annapolis Opera’s 26th Annual Vocal Competitions

Baritone Brandon Coleman’s mother, Linda, knew that 3-year old Brandon would be a great singer when a stranger who had heard him, predicted it.

Barbiere Comes to Sin City

Professional opera returns to the Las Vegas Valley June 6th and 8th with performances of one of the best-known comic operas of all time, Gioachino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Jean-Paul Scarpitta in Montpellier

I met with the embattled artistic director of the Opéra et Orchestre National de Montepellier not to talk about his battles. I simply wanted to know the man who had cast and staged a truly extraordinary Mozart/DaPonte trilogy.

Interview: Tenor Saimir Pirgu — From Albania to Italy to LA

Maria Nockin interviews tenor Saimir Pirgu.

Claudio Abbado, Italian conductor, dies aged 80

Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, former principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, has died aged 80

Matthew Polenzani — Des Grieux, Manon, Royal Opera House

Matthew Polenzani reprises the role of the Chevalier des Grieux in Jules Massenet’s Manon at the Royal Opera House. “I love coming back to London”, he says, “It’s a very good house and they take care of you as a singer. And the level of music making is unbelievably high”.

Season 2014 at San Diego Opera

On Saturday evening January 25, San Diego Opera opens its 2014 season with Ruggero Leoncavallo’s verismo blockbuster Pagliacci (Clowns).

Maestro Joseph Rescigno Discusses The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman is a transitional piece because Wagner was only beginning to establish his style. He took some aspects from Carl Maria von Weber and others from Italian composers like Vincenzo Bellini.

Royal Opera House Announces Digital Theatre

The Royal Opera House has its own DVD arm, Opus Arte, and is developing quite a global following with its cinema broadcasts.

Patricia Racette on Dolores Claiborne

On a personal level, I feel that Dolores is almost like Emmeline grown up. Their circumstances are not exactly parallel, but they are both women at very different points in their lives whose stories involve dilemmas with life-changing outcomes.

Tobias Picker Talks About His New Opera Dolores Claiborne

With the help of Andrew Welch, a London theatrical producer who had adapted several of King’s works for the stage, including this one, I got the rights to both Dolores Claiborne and Misery.

Dolora Zajick on New Opera Written for Her

On September 18, 2013, San Francisco Opera will present the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s opera, Dolores Claiborne, which has a libretto by J. D. McClatchy based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.

Ermonela Jaho — Singing and Character

Ermonela Jaho caused a sensation at Covent Garden in London five years ago, when she took over Violetta at short notice from Anna Netrebko.

Ignite at Wigmore Hall

What do you get if you cross Benjamin Britten, ‘one-page scores’, an innovative performing ensemble and ‘Wigmore Learning’ — the Wigmore Hall’s imaginative outreach programme which aims to provide access to chamber music and song through innovative creative programmes, online resources and events?

Marseille, Capital of European Culture

Marseille woke up this past January 11 stunned to find itself number two on the New York Times list of 46 places you should visit in 2013 (Rio was number one, Paris just made the list at number 46).

Rossini Maometto Secondo at Garsington Opera - David Parry speaks

Garsington Opera at Wormsley is producing the British premiere of Giacomo Rossini´s Maometto Secondo. Garsington Opera is well-known for its role in reviving Rossini rarities in Britain. Since 1994, there have been 14 productions of 12 Rossini operas, and David Parry has conducted eleven since 2002. He´s very enthusiastic about Maometto Secondo.

Michele Mariotti conducts La donna del lago

Rossini’s La donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House boasts a superstar cast. Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez are perhaps the best in these roles in the business at this time. Yet the conductor Michele Mariotti is also hot news.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Ian Bostridge
01 Sep 2006

The Bostridge Phenomenon

The curious phenomenon of British tenor manqué, Ian Bostridge, continues to astound, as his concert and even operatic dates, primarily in Europe, mount; his recordings increase, and his appeal to a certain section of the classical audience (they would likely call themselves, “cognoscenti”) endures. I have to wonder why?

All this came sharply to mind as I finally got round to listening to a CD issued several seasons back, EMI’s “The Noël Coward Songbook,” with Bostridge assisted by modest soprano Sophie Daneman and sparkling Jeffrey Tate at the piano (EMI 57374). The musicians offer 19 selections from the 1920s and 1930s, covering just a bit over one hour of playing time. It seemed a generous serving.

Let me explain. First of all, one is accustomed to faux voices singing Coward. The enchanting Gertrude Lawrence went from little voice, to less voice, to, alas, no voice at all during her stage and recordings career, during which she nevertheless gave much pleasure. The master himself, Sir Noël, was the most wispy of popular vocalists – a pale tenor of little quality that could not carry without amplification. Coward never made any bones about it, and I always assumed his enormous verbal wit and cunning emphasis on words and their projection were to a degree in compensation for his lack of vocal quality. In any case, it worked. If Bostridge comes from the same school, as one might argue, there is just one hitch – he has not got the genuine style, not the way with words, in the Coward sense, and seemingly has little or no ability to create sentimental effect. Such is very hard to do, when one is as self-conscious as Bostridge. Oddly enough, and contrary to expectations, he has plenty of voice for this repertory. Though an undistinguished, rather monochromatic tenor, it’s an honest one, with adequate support and projection.

So what’s the rub? Let’s take our cue from Bostridge’s own short introductory paragraph written for this collection: “My first concern while contemplating a disc of Noël Coward songs was finding a voice for them.” The voice he seems to have found is not Coward’s and surely it would always have been a search in vain – there is a Coward voice, so why look further than the master himself?

Affected, manipulated vowels (perhaps intended to sound upper-class or maybe just campy, or who knows what?); patter-song rapidity; little dynamic swells or sighs or diminuendos; self-conscious ‘phrasing,’ the god-awful need to do something with what is already well-wrought, – these do not constitute ‘style’ or the Coward ‘voice.’ I’ll be terribly blunt – they don’t amount to anything but blathering affectation, a song that is always for the singer, or to use an old-fashioned term, “fruity.” One quickly tires of Bostridge singing Bostridge in the guise of Noel Coward.

Consider the introduction to a duet scene from Bitter Sweet,

“Though there may be beauty in this land of yours,
Skies are very often dull and grey,
If I could but take that little hand of yours,
Just to lead you secretly away....” etc.
The mood set by Bostridge is strictly solipsistic: it does not project beyond the end of his nose. Yet, he is singing to his young lady and soon will move with her into the celebrated duet “I’ll See You Again,” in an arch, over arranged version that does not convince – in part because the tenor does not seem to be singing to her. Can one run off to Vienna with oneself? Ummm....interesting thought!

A little later in Bitter Sweet, the lead-in for “Ziguener,” that starts, “Many years ago,” becomes, “Many years aguh....” illustrating one of the singer’s most consistent annoyances – manipulating the natural ‘o/oh’ vowel into something oddly akin to, “aguh.” Coward’s most popular song (Winston Churchill listened to it frequently, demanded it at parties), “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” in a cutesy- kitschy, re-harmonized arrangement with sound-effects (don’t ask), is a travesty in these meddling hands. If nothing else, maestro Jeffrey Tate should have known better than to soil his reputation participating in these pathetic maneuverings. If there is one lesson to be learnt here it is this: Coward’s songs are all about words, largely in natural conversational style; if you treat them otherwise, they don’t work. Make his music honestly, for it is that to begin with!

J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):