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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
20 Sep 2009
Goerne sings Schubert at the Wigmore Hall
When Matthias Goerne sings, it’s never superficial. Lieder is a genre that needs almost as much engagement from listeners as from performers. “It's like a church in there”, someone said to me about the Wigmore Hall. “They’re really listening”.
Schubert’s settings of Mayrhofer filled the first part of the recital. Mayrhofer was an unstable personality who dramatically drowned himself. That happened years after these songs were written, but even his youth Mayrhofer had an unhealthy fascination with death, with water, stars and death, extreme even by the standards of early 19th century Romanticism. How much Schubert sensed Mayrhofer’s problems, we’ll never know as he broke off their friendship soon after the songs were written. But in these settings there’s a distinct sense of unnatural calm.
Steady, undulating rhythms evoke waves, whether on the Danube or in Venice. The effect is almost hypnotic, revealing Mayrhofer’s obsessional fixations. Water images occur frequently in Schubert’s music, but rarely as unnervingly as in these songs. “Die Erde ist gewaltig schön doch sicher ist sie nicht” (“Wie Ulfru fischt”, D 525) No wonder the poet envies the fish hidden in the depths, and the stars in the sky above.
The incessant rocking rhythms of the waters are matched by delicate triplets which evoke the twinkling of distant stars. “Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren” (D 360) is relatively calm, for it describes a sailor already on his journey to death, guided and comforted by the stars.
In performance, sometimes the loveliness of these songs distracts from true meaning, but a singer like Goerne understands their inner portent. His voice is capable of great force and fire, but in these songs he tempered power with extreme restraint, true to the spirit of Mayrhofer who was desperately keeping his demons under control.
Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister poems lend themselves to much greater dramatic intensity .As he enters his forties, Goerne’s voice has grown with maturity. There’s no one singing now who can match the gravitas of his lower register, but what’s even more impressive is the fluidity with which he can phrase and color words within lines with precise nuance.
These songs allow moments of great power. “Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß” (D 840) culminates in crescendi of anguish, which Goerne expresses with surges, not of volume alone, but of emotional depth. Eric Schneider has been playing with Goerne for about 15 years, but now he’s playing with more articulation and maturity. In the Mayrhofer settings his “star” and “water” passages were eerily acute. In the Harper songs, he made the piano sing like a harp, not a huge concert hall harp, but the smaller, more intimate harp a wandering minstrel like Wilhelm Meister would have played: it was uncannily vivid, very haunting.
“An Mignon” (D 161) refers to Mignon, whose frail innocence is tested by tragedy. In many ways, Goerne’s agility in lighter, higher passages is even more impressive, for dark timbred voices don’t easily lend themselves to such gentleness. Fast paced songs also test a deep baritone, so the frisky “Der Fischer” (D225) truly tested the agility of Goerne’s pacing. When he sings the words of the girl in the poem he doesn’t even try to mimic a female voice, instead making the transition by brightening and sharpening the tone.
Good technique makes such singing possible, but what makes Goerne’s musicianship so interesting is the emotional depths he can reach. “Ich denke dein” he sings in “Nähe des Geliebten” (D 62), warmed with heartfelt ardor. But the beloved isn’t actually near but far away. So the voice swells, open-throated, matching the expansive motifs in the piano part.
This was the first of two Schubert recitals taking place at the Wigmore Hall in London. The second will also appear here in Opera Today.