Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



Mark Padmore [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
20 Sep 2009

Die schöne Müllerin by Mark Padmore, Wigmore Hall

Schubert’s first song-cycle is a perfect choice with which to open a new concert season, and the Wigmore Hall was packed on Friday evening in anticipation of this recital by tenor Mark Padmore, much admired for the focus and concentration of his ‘story-telling’, and Paul Lewis, one of the most expressive and poetic of pianists today.

Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

Mark Padmore tenor, Paul Lewis piano
Wigmore Hall, London. 12 September 2009

Above: Mark Padmore [Photo by Marco Borggreve]


In the event, this was a controlled and precise rendition of Die schöne Müllerin, thoughtfully conceived and executed with commitment and integrity. The contrasts and juxtapositions of the text — as the wanderer fluctuates between hope and desperation — were conveyed by skilfully controlled oppositions of dynamic, tonality and tempo. Thus, a perfectly paced and well-structured whole was enriched by carefully considered gestures: for example, small hesitations — before Padmore’s exquisite pianissimo of ‘Das Wasser’ in ‘Das Wandern’ (‘Journeying’), or preceding the piano’s shift to the minor key half-way through ‘Wohin?’ (‘Where to?’), to name but two of many such subtleties — enhanced the fluctuations between excitement and longing, between optimism and despair. Similarly, the energy of Lewis’s introduction to ‘Halt’ (‘Halt!’) captured the young man’s eager exhilaration; while, the final, weighty, assertive chords of ‘Ungeld’ (‘Impatience’) and ‘Mein!’ (‘Mine!’) conveyed the surety, and misguidedness, of his conviction that “Dein ist mein Herz, und sol les ewig bleiben” (“My heart is yours, and shall be forever!”). Moreover, a sudden accelerando at the concluding line of ‘Die böse farbe’ (‘The hateful colour’) communicated the agony felt at departure, underlying the impassioned cry, “Zum Abschied deine Hand!” (“give me your hand in parting!)

Indeed, in many ways the performers seemed to have exchanged their conventional roles: from the rich assertive gestures of the opening bars of ‘Das Wandern’, it was evident that it was Lewis’s accompaniment that would propel the musical and dramatic continuity. The piano was both scene-setter and protagonist: rippling with the recurring arpeggiac echoes of the brook, Lewis’s accompaniment both depicted the scenes and source of the tragedy and embodied the inner turmoil of the wanderer’s mind as he struggles with the fickle ‘murmuring friend’ which lulls him to his Fate - a fusion of inner and outer, of man and the natural environment which is truly Romantic.

In contrast, Padmore seemed less implicated, more objective, a teller of a tale. Making frequent use of a fragile, haunting head voice, he may have kept his distance from the young lover’s turmoil, but that is not to imply that sang inexpressively. The tenor’s restraint in the final lines of ‘Pause’ — “Ist es der Nachklang meiner Liebespein/Sol les das Vorspiel neuer Lieder sein?” (“Is this the echo of my love’s torment/Or the prelude to new songs?”) — evoked the bitter-sweet nature of the young man’s love, and his growing self-knowledge. The octave rise on “Leibesnot”, (“Anguish’), in ‘Die liebe Farbe’ (‘The beloved colour’), the touching intensification and colouring of “mein Herz” in ‘Ungeduld’, the guileless tenderness of the timorous, pained questions “Wie welk, wie blaβ? … Wovon so naβ?” (“Why faded, why pale? … What makes you wet?”) in ‘Trockne Blumen’ (‘Withered Flowers’) similarly demonstrated an impressive and coherent attention to detail.

Yet, one could not help feeling that Padmore’s delivery was rather limited in tonal range, and thus in emotional variety. Over-use of a withdrawn, plaintive timbre, together with a marked absence of vibrato throughout, resulted in a weakening of dramatic impact, as familiarity weakened the meaning and effect. Padmore’s diction, however, was excellent, even in the ‘busier’ numbers, such as ‘Der Jäger’ (‘The Hunter’) where the pace and energetic accompaniment were no hindrance to clarity. But, both performers seemed more at ease in the quieter, tranquil songs, and here the ensemble was outstanding. Lewis’s understated repeating rhythmic patterns in the closing two songs created an air of inevitability as the distant call of the brook itself lured the wanderer, and the audience, to its depths.

This was a genuinely unified conception and performance. One may like one’s Schubert more fervent, more wrought or more turbulent, but Padmore and Lewis offered a reading of clarity and cohesion, shaping and sustaining the emotional and narrative journey, and creating moments of great sadness, serenity and beauty along the way.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):