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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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