12 May 2009
Kate Royal at Wigmore Hall
Soprano Kate Royal is reported to have said that singing at the Wigmore Hall is “like a religious experience”.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
Soprano Kate Royal is reported to have said that singing at the Wigmore Hall is “like a religious experience”.
The stimulating programme presented on 7 May, a sequence of 25 songs by Schumann and Brahms devised by the pianist, Graham Johnson, certainly established a cerebral, even ‘spiritual’ mood — ‘serious’ music-making indeed. Regrettably, in the event Johnson was indisposed but, while it took him a little time to become accustomed to the Wigmore Hall acoustic, Christopher Glynn was in no way a ‘second-best’ replacement. His innate empathy with this repertoire was immediately apparent, and his alert responsiveness to the nuances of the texts was sustained throughout the performance.
As the 2004 winner of both the Kathleen Ferrier and John Christie awards, photogenic and market-friendly, 30-year-old Royal has caught the discerning listening public’s ear and eye during the past five years, with acclaimed performances at Covent Garden, English National Opera and Glyndebourne. And yet, while the warm beauty of Royal’s tone and the serious, focused application of an impressive musical intellect were much in evidence during this recital, the end result, while technically skilful and at times emotionally touching, was rather ‘underwhelming’.
On this occasion Royal seemed to take a long time to get into her stride; perhaps this is new repertoire which she has not fully mastered emotionally or dramatically. The opening fours songs by Schumann, selected from his Op.107 set, certainly demonstrated the dark creaminess of the lower range of Royal’s voice, and on the whole the rendering was musically accurate (excepting some wobbles of intonation during dynamic crescendos or peaks); but Royal did not fully convey the full expressive range of the texts.
There is much turbulence in these songs of sadness and loss, which were composed in 1851 - a time when Schumann’s health was deteriorating as the pressures on the newly appointed municipal director of music in Düsseldorf accumulated. The composer’s own psychological instability and subsequent suicide are foreshadowed and embodied; in ‘Herzeleid’, downwards spiralling semiquavers evoke the insanity and death of Ophelia, while the unrequited passion and emotional distress of an unappreciated, overlooked servant girl is conveyed by the dark, descending bass line in ‘Die Fensterscheiber’. Unfortunately, at the start of the recital Royal was rather overpowered by the accompaniment; perhaps she was insufficiently warmed up, but she seemed to lack genuine engagement with these mini-dramas. Glynn tenderly conjured the escalating grief of ‘Die Spinnerin’ and the unsentimental loneliness of ‘Im Wald’, but it was not until ‘Abendlied’ — in which the poet, Kinkel, pleas from his prison cell for a cessation of human fear and misery - that Royal fully realised the despair and anguish in Schumann’s melodic and harmonic gestures. Here, the duo effectively controlled the structure of the song, creating momentum and continuity.
One weakness of the performance was Royal’s diction; consonants were shabbily neglected and there was no real evidence of insight into the texts despite the soprano’s obvious musical intelligence; at times the result was a limited emotional range and a detachment from the emotional core of these lieder. Neither character nor dramatic situation were convincingly conveyed in the Brahms lieder - ‘Liebestreu’, ‘Im der Fremde’, ‘Lied’ (Op.3 Nos.1,5 and 6), ‘Parole’, ‘Anklänge’ (Op.7 Nos.2 and 3) — which concluded the first half; indeed, despite the apparent ease with which Royal surmounted the technical obstacles, it was not until the final song before the interval, ‘Juchhe!’ [‘Hurrah’!] that she got into her stride and began to complement the joyful playfulness and exuberance of the piano’s energetic accompaniment.
Royal seemed more in tune with the emotional sentiments of Schumann’s ‘Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart’ [‘Poems of Mary, Queen of Scots’ (Op.135)], with which she commenced the second half of this recital. The focused, warm tone of her lower register perfectly communicated the sincere outpourings of the condemned Queen. For this listener, the musical and dramatic peak was attained in ‘Abschied von der Weit’ [‘Farewell to the world’] and ‘Gebet’ [‘Prayer’], where Royal’s controlled lyricism, accompanied by a greater clarity of diction, captured both the sombreness and poignancy of the queen’s last moments. It was an original and striking programming choice to ‘interrupt’ this regal sequence with Brahms’ boisterous ‘Murrays Ermordung’ [Op.14 No.3, ‘The bonnie Earl o’Moray’], a setting of a folk poem in which a queen mourns her clandestine and illicit lover. Again, Royal’s technical assurance fully justified the juxtaposition, as the soprano proved herself able to convey heartfelt regret through a range of idioms.
In the concluding songs by Brahms, Royal finally discovered a dramatic energy and colour which until now had been lacking; ‘Nachtigallen schwingen’ [Op.6 No.6 ‘Nightingales flutter’], ‘Der Frühling’ [Op.6 No.2 ‘Spring’] and ‘Die Trauernde’ [Op.7 Np.5 ‘The sad maiden’] demonstrated that she can produce a myriad of colours to match and enhance the dramatic mood, the effortless melodic sweep and the sheer beauty of her timbre perfectly conveying the lyrical sensuality of these songs. For a singer accustomed to the operatic stage, however, Royal’s lack of physical movement — she scarcely moved her arms throughout these songs, preferring to place the expressive burden solely on the voice — was a little disconcerting. This rather short recital concluded with a single encore, the traditional song, ‘Early one morning’.
So, although there was much to admire, a convincing personal response was not always in evidence during this performance. Royal can without doubt pass the vocal trials but she is not always the mistress of the musico-dramatic challenges.