Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Aida, Opera Holland Park

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.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

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.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

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.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

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.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

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.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

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.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

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.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

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,
Glyndebourne

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.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

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.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

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.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

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.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

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.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

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.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

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’.

Il trittico, Opera Holland Park

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):