Recently in Reviews
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.
One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle
Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement”
for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and
anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the
emotions and reason of the audience.
Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal,
Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its
focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy
and with a clever twist,
Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner
productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and
Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it
comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
29 Jul 2009
Schubert bounces along at Wigmore Hall
The performance of lieder is a partnership between singer and pianist. In May I heard Julius Drake redeem an indifferent recital by the sheer beauty of his playing. I’ve been listening to him for more than 15 years. He’s a favorite. So I was completely taken by surprise by this recital
The program was promising, an intelligent mix of much-loved Schubert staples with relative rarities which the Wigmore Hall’s specialist audience eagerly anticipated. By its very nature Lieder is more extreme than ordinary song. Good Lieder recitals shouldn’t be tame. But the reckless pace at which Drake was playing seemed to stem from something quite outside the music. His “tempi” were so fast that all sense of phrasing was lost. Drake has the technical facility to play at breakneck speeds without losing notes, but this relentless pressure distorted line and meaning. And Lieder without meaning aren’t Lieder.
Since each song is individual, its character needs to be respected. Drake lurched from one song to the next without a break, sometimes almost before the resonant echoes of the last had faded. Switching from the contemplative “Freiwilliges Versinken” (D 700), with its images of a pale moon and resignation, to the stormy “Der zürnenden Diana” (D 707b) might in some circumstances be dramatic, but when every song and every traverse is treated the same hurried way, the songs tumble into a jumble.
The audience was disregarded, too. Pauses between songs allow listeners to reflect on what they’ve heard, for Lieder is about making listeners think. Now there wasn’t even time to turn a page, or to cough to break tension. Only after the performance ended, did Drake take an extended break, claiming he couldn’t find the score for the encore, laughing as if it were a joke. Since the encore was “Die Forellen” (D 550), and everyone knew there’d be an encore, this seemed contrived.
When Drake wasn’t aiming for an Olympic speed record, his touch was heavy and dominant. “An mein Klavier” (D 342) refers to a fortepiano. The melody lilts, for it’s a “sanftes Klavier”. This clavier, instead, gave extra force to the term “Hammer”-klavier.
To Ian Bostridge’s credit, he managed to match Drake’s pace for the most part. In the last few years, he’s developed much greater control and depth. Indeed, a friend of mine heard this concert a few weeks ago at Schwarzenberg and said that, if anything Bostridge’s voice was in even better form this evening. My friend, who hears 50 or more Lieder recitals a year, hasn’t in the past been a big Bostridge fan, but has become convinced by the singer’s increasing poise and confidence,. Now that’s tinged with respect for the way Bostridge handled the wayward dynamics.
“Der Wanderer” (D 489, von Lübeck) showed how Bostridge can float legato with the fluidity of a clarinet, yet imbue words with great meaning. Lieder aren’t a medium for bland purity: a singer has to care about the words. This is one of Bostridge’s great strengths. He’s clearly thought through less well known songs like “Die Perle” (D 466, Jacobi) where the poet knows he’ll never find the pearl he’s searching for. A pity that the marking “schrietend “(at a walking pace) was so rushed that it pushed the poet to his death before giving him a chance to savor his predicament with true Romantic pathos.
Ballads like “Lied des Gefangenen Jägers” (D 843) and “Normans Gesang,” (D 846) both to texts by Sir Walter Scott, need vivid expression to create interest, which Bostridge’s emphasis on meaning provided. Then, in a burst of impassioned energy, he threw himself into the Mayrhofer song “An die Freude” (D 654), giving it greater portent than I’ve ever heard before. Mayrhofer, a neurotic with whom Schubert later fell out, contemplates death, when friends will bring flowers to his grave. “Rejoice,” sings the poet, “Dies alles ist dem Toten gliech” (“all this means nothing to me now”). Despite the turbulent piano, Bostridge had perspective, and sang with grace.
Wonderful program notes by Richard Stokes. Most program notes are ephemera, geared to the most basic readership. Stokes’s notes combine insight into the music and poems with knowledge of wider cultural background. He gives details even the astute Wigmore Hall audience might miss. For example, “Das Zügenglöcklein” (D 871) isn’t just any bell but one traditionally rung in Austrian villagers when parishioners lay dying, to prepare them for the next world. In our frantic modern times, we don’t reflect on simple, quiet things like that. Stokes makes us realize just how relevant Schubert is to us today.