Recently in Reviews
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
30 Aug 2009
Gustav Mahler: Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Following from the fine collaboration between Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles on an ambitious collection of various sets of Mahler’s Lieder (Hyperion CD 67392), which includes some of the composer’s early settings of poetry from the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the present recording contains thirteen later settings from that source.
Some of the most familiar of Mahler’s Wunderhorn Lieder, these are also among the most challenging. From the opening piece, Mahler’s setting of Revelge, the dynamic interaction between the two performers is evident. This is a vibrant rendering of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn in the versions for voice and piano, a setting which requires the idiomatic approach Vignoles uses for the accompaniment and the nuanced tone Genz uses to evoke a sense of chamber music. Lacking the sonorous orchestral accompaniment, the singer is more exposed, and this allows Genz to display his vocal finesse well.
If the opening selection in this recording, Revelge, can be stentorian in some performances of the orchestral version, it requires the full-bodied intensity Genz uses to evoke the military music evoked in this setting. Here Vignoles’ lively approach to the accompaniment support’s the musical structure well, especially in the use of crisp articulation to suggest the percussive aspect of Mahler’s musical gestures. In contrast to this more extroverted song, the interpretation of Rheinlegendchen is wonderfully subtle, and Genz’s phrasing of certain lines is memorable for the nuances he brings to a song which deserves such attention to detail.
Vignoles makes use of a similar subtlety in Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen, a setting which benefits from the restraint the accompanist evinces, so that the vocal line can accumulate intensity in its execution. Here Genz’s sustained pitches are quite affective, and his sometimes hesitate approach to various lines is something difficult to achieve well with the full orchestra on stage. In the close ensemble with Vignoles, details like these emerge easily and to the benefit of literature that needs to be heard in performances like these. The delicacy Genz uses in the lines “Bein meinem Herzallerlieble” and “O Lieb auf grüner Erden” is touching, as is the warm intensity he brings to the sequential passage at the phrase “Sie reicht ihm auch die Schneeweiße Hand.” At the end Vignoles aptly bring out the reference to the folksong “Bruder Martin,” a reference wholly Mahlerian and yet absent from some performances of the piece.
Such synergy occurs in the Erlkönig-like setting of the poem “Verspätung” as Das irdische Leben (the counterpart of Das himmlische Leben, which became the Song-Finale of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony) With its perpetuum mobile accompaniment, Mahler brings out the reversal at the end, where the persistent child succumbs to the hunger its mother will not sate. In this performance Vignoles allows the accompaniment to bring details to the song, and thus supports Genz well. A similar kind of accompanying figure is part of the structure of the following song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt, and the gesture in this piece reinforces the text in reference to recalcitrant audience of unrepentant fish, the metaphor for humanity’s failure to heed even the sermons of saints. In this performance the tempos are slightly slower than some take, and this allows a welcome clarity to come to the fore in the accompaniment - the vocal line benefits from the clear enunciation of the text, so necessary to bring out the irony of the piece.
Vignoles and Genz approach Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? in a similar way, and in their execution effect some fine accelerandos that accentuate the text and culminate in an exemplarily clear and even rendering of the vocal line that brings the piece to its conclusion. The use of tempo modifications emerges nicely in Trost im Unglück in which Vignoles and Genz demonstrate a solid interplay necessary for the song. Tempo also affects the way in which Vignoles makes the dissonant tones of the accompaniment figures of Verlorene Müh’ serve as a kind of commentary on the text, which Genz, in turn, intones with appropriate earnestness. Genz’s vocality culminates in a persuasive reading of Urlicht. Removed from the context of Mahler’s Second Symphony, where it serves as a vocal prelude to final movement, *Urlicht *can be challenging. Yet this performance by Genz and Vignoles is a strong reading of the piece, which shows both performers well.
The sound quality of this Hyperion recording serves the performances well, especially in rendering the range of dynamics and articulations Vignoles achieves on the piano. The sometimes close recording sometimes catches a breath from Genz, but it also serves to bring out his fine diction and nicely sustained pitches. It is a solid contribution which deserves attention. As to the presentation itself, Vignoles notes are reminiscent of the informative ones he contributed to his set of the complete chansons of Gabriel Faure. It is good to see his reference to Goethe’s comments about Des Knaben Wunderhorn, an essay which connects the anthology to the generations before Mahler who enjoyed its contents. The texts of the songs are reproduced with translation in English, as found in the previous release of Mahler’s Lieder by these performers on this label.
James L. Zychowicz