Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

Jac van Steen in Conversation

Last year’s Strauss anniversary year — 150 years since his birth — offered, at least in the United Kingdom, a typical number of opportunities and frustrations.

Jonathan Dove’s Flight, Opera Holland Park

On 6 June, Jonathan Dove’s Flight touches down in Kensington, west London. Opera Holland Park is to stage the first London production of Dove’s operatic presentation of the real-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian exile who, lacking residency rights or refugee status, was forced to live in the departure lounge of Terminal One at Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards, Wigmore Hall

Kathleen Ferrier may have been one of the world’s finest contraltos but this year’s Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final, held at the Wigmore Hall, was all about lyric sopranos.

World Premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain at Santa Fe Opera this August

East Coast Premiere at Opera Philadelphia next season. Performances from Cold Mountain at the Guggenheim in New York this Monday, March 30.

Winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Announced

Five Young Singers Named Winners of the 2015 Met National Council Auditions, America’s Most Prestigious Vocal Competition

A Chat with Julia Noulin-Mérat

Julia Noulin-Mérat is the principal designer for the Noulin-Merat Studio, an intrepid New York City production design firm that works in theater, film, and television, but emphasizes opera and immersive site-specific theatre.

Mirabai: New opera, holograms and eternal love

A brand new opera — especially one that is groundbreaking— can really put an opera company on the map. British composer Barry Seaman’s stunning new work, Mirabai, which explores the story of the free thinking, mystic 16th century Hindu princess, Mira, is ambitious on many levels — artistically, technically and creatively.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2015

Bampton Classical Opera has announced that applications are now open for the company’s Young Singers’ Competition 2015. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate Bampton Classical Opera’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

A Chat with Anita Rachvelishvili

Anita Rachvelishvili recently performed the title role in Carmen broadcast by The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. Here she drops by for a little chat with our Maria Nockin.

On The Death of Klinghoffer

This is a revised version of my review of the Sept 5th 1991American premiere of The Death of Klinghoffer, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The opera was first performed at Brussels’ La Monnaie the previous spring.

Dolora Zajick about her Institute for Young Dramatic Voices

"Although there are now more people on this planet than there have ever been before, there are fewer dramatic voices. Something is wrong with that equation. I thought there needs to be some sort of helping hand so that dramatic voices don’t fall through the cracks in the system as they advance through their various stages of development."

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

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):