Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

The devil shares the good tunes: Chelsea Opera Group's Mefistofele

Every man ‘who burns with a thirst for knowledge and life and with curiosity about the nature of good and evil is Faust ... [everyone] who aspires to the Unknown, to the Ideal, is Faust’.

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Angelika Kirschlager
04 Feb 2008

Awesome Angelika Again

While I eagerly seized upon an opportunity to hear Angelika Kirschlager live for the first time, having written in very recent weeks about not one but two of the star mezzo’s current CD releases, I ventured to Frankfurt’s Alte Oper feeling a little bit like her stalker.

Above: Angelika Kirschlager

 

Appearances be damned, I simply could not pass up the chance to experience first hand a glorious voice deployed by an impeccable artist. I was the richer for the journey.

For this was not just any-old-concert of crowd pleasing arias by a much-recorded and marketed glam diva with a competent orchestra being paced by a conductor-as-time-beater. No, the program featured no less than Berlioz’ wonderfully complex and seldom-heard “Les nuits d’ete” and the band was none other than the luminous Kammerorchester Basel, led with insight and conviction by Paul McCreesh. This highly skilled musical ensemble proved a real partner in the total success of the program.

That Ms. Kirschlager is a treasurable recording artist with a rich and gorgeous tone was well known to me. Already an admirer, I was still not fully prepared for the scope of dynamic variations, the detailed musical observations, and the utterly secure vocal technique at both extremes of her range that she effortlessly commands. These six songs are anything but an “easy sing.” From the sprightly tune of the “Villanelle” to the moodiness of “Le spectre de la rose” and the haunting despair that creeps into “Au cimitiere” and “L’ile inconnue,” there is virtuoso singing (and playing) required throughout.

For not only the vocal line, but also instrumental solo lines are often fragmented, halting, and rangy in tessitura and volumes. It is a supreme challenge to make phrases, songs, and the whole shebang hang together, much less make it musical and meaningful. It is to the great credit of the singer, conductor, and the entire ensemble that they took us on a most compelling journey through each of these six pieces, by turns joyous, grief-stricken, questioning, and uplifting. Quite a range of shifting moods, that.

Everything about Ms. Kirschlager (save her exceptional talent) strikes me as untemperamental, unfussy, and unaffected. She appeared looking lovely in a modest black gown with little adornment, very light make-up, and a simple coiffure. She seems content to let the music emanate from within and provide all the glamor needed, indeed to be the evening’s raison-d’etre.

If she seemed ever so slightly uncomfortable on the platform at first, perhaps she was indisposed. Although never noticeable in her music-making, she turned upstage and let forth with some good throat-clearing coughs after songs three, four and five. And there was no hint of an encore to be offered.

She did use the music, which kept her eyes diverted to the music stand a fair amount of the time. While this did somewhat limit her contact with the audience, it did not really diminish her very real achievement communicating these musical jewels. For she was always totally in command of the material, scoring every musical and emotional moment. Surely she is going to either record these songs, or perform them again, or both. Her stylish rendition would be a most welcome addition to anyone’s CD collection.

Singing in clear, idiomatic French, I did sometimes wonder if it was wise to let final (unvoiced in normal speech) syllables go off the voice. Or to use an injected breathiness fairly frequently on selected syllables as a device for dramatic effect. Or to use the occasional backward-placed French “r.” I was seated very close and lost nothing, but I wondered how that might be telegraphing to the further reaches of the house.

But these are very very minor points that are mere blips in a wholly successful performance by a very major artist. In the flesh, Angelika Kirschlager exceeded all the high expectations that I had been promised by that first recital CD gift a friend sent me some years ago. I will assuredly not wait so long before I seek her out again.

The program framed the Berlioz with two staples of orchestral literature. The opening overture from Weber’s “Oberon” was as heady and jauntily played as I have ever heard it, while the second half consisted of the evergreen selections from Mendelssohn’s incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

I honestly thought about leaving at intermission, having been quite sated by the Berlioz, but damn if I’m not glad I stayed. These pieces are popular for a reason, and no recording could do justice to my first-ever live experience with them, in which I realized a whole palette of orchestral colors and minute detail I never noticed before.

The Kammerorchester Basel is a truly fine group of players, not only technically accomplished, but (are you seated?) they are a group of professional musicians who seem to radiate a joy of playing. They brought real freshness and delight to these oft-played warhorses, yes, even (maybe especially) the Wedding March, which was marked by expansive exuberance.

The audience responded in kind with a prolonged ovation that prompted an encore, the very short “Elf’s Dance” from the same composition. Maestro McCreesh was excellent throughout in coaxing results from his orchestra, but here he turned positively playful, and with the two “false endings” turned each time to the crowd with a look of “ya think it’s over?” and then quickly turning back to conduct again. In a final tweak, the violists sprung to their feet to saw away at their penultimate tremolo, and the whole evening concluded with panache.

On a side note: Even though it was a winter Monday, it was distressing to see the hall only half full at best. The large top ring was closed off entirely and unlit, but still this was a decidedly poor showing for artists of this caliber. Time was when this Pro Arte orchestra series was so heavily subscribed that it was hard to get in. Are times changing that much?

James Sohre

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):