Recently in Reviews
On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
21 May 2009
Lieder and Opera meet in Hugo Wolf
Lieder and opera are different worlds. But understanding the differences helps us appreciate what makes each form distinct. Hugo Wolf’s songs come close to bridging the genres. They’ve been described as “miniature operas” where dramas are distilled into compact form.
The Wigmore Hall is hallowed ground for Lieder. Built in 1901 for Bechstein,
it is one of the world’s great recital halls, where many great singers
have appeared, even though it seats only 450. It’s the ambience that
draws them. They’d make more money in a big arena, but the Wigmore Hall
is a special experience. It’s small enough that interaction between
performers and audience is direct and intimate. This is the ethos that makes
Lieder so special. It’s intensely personal and nuanced : song through a
microscope to speak, but imbued with warmth and feeling.
Christian Gerhaher is a favourite with the Wigmore Hall audience. On this
evening Anna Netrebko and Dimitri Hvorotovsky were scheduled to sing elsewhere
in town, impacting on sales, so the Wigmore Hall wasn’t sold out as
usual. Gerhaher was singing Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches
Liederbuch, with his regular pianist, Gerold Huber and a young soprano,
The 46 songs in the collection form a narrative, or even a cycle. Together,
they form a kaleidoscope of “Italian” life, romanticized through
Austro-German ears.. Hugo Wolf never fulfilled his dream of going to Italy, but
each song is full of vividly imagined incident. Dissolute monks seduce girls
whose mothers trust men in robes, a girl longs for “older men”
– aged 14!. Each song is like a moment in a larger story. Der schöne
Toni’s eating himself to death because Tonina has dumped him, and a
man’s heart jumps clean out of his chest, running off to see his
Plenty of drama, then, in these songs, which Wolf plays up exuberantly with
witty piano commentary. They lend themselves to more dramatic treatment than do
more introspective Lieder. Indeed, much of the impact would be lost if they
were performed without a lively sense of fun.
Gerhaher was in good form. His voice is richly resonant, yet flexible enough
that he takes Wolf’s tricky rhythms with ease. Yet these songs are still
fundamentally, Lieder, where the action is inward. Gerhaher was most impressive
in songs where the singer has to hint at deeper mysteries. For example, Schon
streck’t ich aus im Bett, where the lover jumps out of bed to play his
lute. Wolf sets the last stanzas with a strange, meandering lilt which evokes
the strumming of the lute but also the text which pointedly mentions that the
singers has walked away from many girls, his music “wafted away in the
wind”. It’s no serenade.
Lieder is private, almost silent expression. There’s no orchestra, set
or plot to compete with, so the dynamics are different. Mojca Erdmann is young,
who’s still having to prove herself with her voice, so naturally
she’s more inclined to a declamatory approach that highlights the
technical side of her singing. Her flourishes in ‘Ich hab’ in
Penna’ would sound impressive in the theatre, but overwhelm the balance
in the song. True, the song’s about a girl bragging about her many
admirers, but it’s more effective with a touch of subtlety.
As the first song in the set goes, ‘Auch kleine Dinge’,
“even small things can delight”. “Think only of the
rose”, it continues in delicate tones, “it’s small but smells