17 Jun 2009
Die schöne Müllerin at Wigmore Hall
Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach unite in a Schöne Müllerin of searing intensity.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.
Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach unite in a Schöne Müllerin of searing intensity.
I first reviewed Goerne’s interpretation of Die schöne Müllerin in 2000, a revelatory experience in that his was the first version of this work which seemed to belong more to the world of Winterreise than to the gemütlichkeit with which Schubert’s first Müller song cycle is generally associated. In conversation a couple of years later on, he gave his view of the work — “All this naïveté — the boy walking through the trees finding love and all that, is not what the work is about; it is much, much more involved with what might be called ‘Sturm und Drang’” — and he regarded the songs after ‘Pause’ as ‘a descending spiral for which the only culmination is death by suicide.’ Judging by this evening’s performance, he has now decided that the descent begins much earlier than that.
Goerne has at times appeared to shop around for his accompanists, seemingly in a quest to find the one who most nearly comes close to his own unique concept of Lieder. Previously it was Eric Schneider who filled that role, but in Christoph Eschenbach he seems to have found the ‘Seelenfreund’ whose playing is, if anything, even more rapt, mesmerizingly slow and intense than his singing. If ever a singer and pianist were as one in their freedom from the constriction of the bar lines, then these two are.
This is the ultimate serious This is the ultimate serious Schöne Müllerin, barely leavened with a touch of lightness — all the humour is sardonic, all the beauty deceptive, all the tempi so slow as to seem at times in danger of standing still. Of course I loved every phrase, but I can quite see that for many, this is not “their” Schöne Müllerin — for that, you need to go to Quasthoff or just about any other Lieder singer around today. barely leavened with a touch of lightness — all the humour is sardonic, all the beauty deceptive, all the tempi so slow as to seem at times in danger of standing still. Of course I loved every phrase, but I can quite see that for many, this is not “their” Schöne Müllerin — for that, you need to go to Quasthoff or just about any other Lieder singer around today.
‘Das Wandern’ is not a jolly romp but prefigures what is to come — within the subtle variations of “vom Wasser” and “Wandern” we are made aware that this is not a frolicsome lad but one whose ultimate fate is to be in thrall to an illusion — the spirit of that other deceptive piece of “rural idyll” Tennyson’s ‘May Queen’ seems to hover over us throughout — “They say he’s dying all for love, but that can never be: / They say his heart is breaking, mother — what is that to me?” Goerne seems to have decided that the crucial turning point in the cycle comes much earlier than generally supposed — here, with the line “Ist das denn meine Strasse?” sung in tones of suppressed fear and anguish, we are virtually in suicide land with the second song.
The wonderful ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ is so often sung as pretty ditty, but here we had frank, straightforward questions about the speaker’s future, culminating in superficial yet ultimately doomed exuberance. I have never heard ‘Der Neugierige’ performed with such intensity — singer and pianist united as if in prayer, the little questioning phrases after “ob mich mein Herz belog” played almost in a reverie, “die ganze Welt mir ein” taken so slowly that it became a kind of litany. I need hardly add that the earth stood still as far as most of the audience were concerned, but I can quite see how some might find it a little, shall we say, over-wrought?
‘Eifersucht und Stolz’ like most of the more vigorous songs was taken at a cracking pace, the diction at “da steckt kein sittsam Kind den Kopf zum Fenster ‘naus” remarkably crisp despite the speed, and this was followed by a ‘Die liebe farbe’ only just short of psychotic — the amount of sheer hatred packed into the seemingly innocent line “mein Schatz hat’s Grün so gern” had to be heard to be believed.
The bleakness never really lets up, ‘Trockne Blumen’ touching new depths of the most profound sadness, no triumph at “der Mai ist kommen” instead only the sense that the coming of May is cruel in the same way as Eliot’s April is, because it brings the Spring and hope so welcome to all but the poet. The final “lullaby” was again taken at a “slow and stopping pace” and some of the words were a little mangled in the process — indeed, scrupulous though his concern for the language is, Goerne does have a tendency, alarming to those of nervous disposition, to be somewhat free with what goes where in a song. One could put this down to his fervent intensity getting the better of him, since it cannot surely be lack of familiarity with the text.
Goerne says that “People always think of Winterreise as being dark, gloomy, but the man does not die at the end, he goes on, unlike the youth” (in Die schöne Müllerin). Indeed, and the wanderer’s “Nun weiter denn, nur weiter” of the later work seems positively rosy-cheeked cheeriness compared to this miller lad’s desire to weep the green grass “ganz totenbleich.” One anticipates Wednesday’s Winterreise and Saturday’s Schwanengesang with eagerness tempered with apprehension — this first installment of Goerne and Eschenbach’s interpretation of these works (recorded on Harmonia Mundi, and soon to be followed by further discs) promises evenings of an intensity as troubling as it is breathtaking.
|Sehnsucht||An mein Herz||Die schöne Müllerin|