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”.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
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.