Recently in Reviews
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.
In the first of pianist Julius Drake’s three-part series,
‘Perspectives’, our gaze was directed at Gustav Mahler’s eclectic musical
responses to human experiences: from the trauma and distress of anguished love
to the sweet contentment of true friendship, from the agonised introspection of
the artist to the diverse dramas of human interaction.
The Los Angeles opera company marketed its spring production of Rossini's La Cenerentola as Cinderella though there is no opera by that name. The libretto of La Cenerentola is not the Cinderella story we know.
The Paris Opéra has not staged a full Ring Cycle since 1957, but its current season will conclude with a correction of this grand operatic gap.
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