09 Nov 2009
Philip Langridge at Wigmore Hall
As an interpreter of Benjamin Britten, Philip Langridge has long been esteemed as the natural successor to Peter Pears;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
As an interpreter of Benjamin Britten, Philip Langridge has long been esteemed as the natural successor to Peter Pears;
his long-standing commitment to the work of Harrison Birtwistle has served the composer admirably; and as a sensitive, skilful communicator of the nuances of narrative through music and words, Langridge’s performances of Vaughan Williams and Schubert are justly revered. This carefully chosen programme clearly had great personal meaning to Langridge; and the Wigmore Hall was a fitting venue to celebrate both his 70th birthday and the achievements and joy of a life in music.
Framing the recital with Schubert — excerpts from Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise — was a brave decision; as ever, Langridge’s diction was superb, but while he embraced the German language with ease and assurance, his voice no longer has the depth of tone and secure focus of old. Lyricism was exchanged for emotional intensity: the dynamics fluctuated rather wildly, as the tenor frequently resorted to a wispy head voice in the upper registers, an overly dramatic effect perhaps for these intimate songs. A few cracked high notes revealed the strain but, although the voice perhaps now lacks the bright flexibility of youth, there was no doubting Langridge’s emotional and dramatic engagement with the songs’ mournful narrative. Most successful were the sentimental, more restrained songs: in ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ (‘Thanksgiving to the Brook’) pianist David Owen Norris’s delicate but assertive rippling motif literally conjured the natural world and metaphorically tormented the young miller with its ambiguous murmurings. Owen Norris was a thoughtful, responsive partner throughout this recital, ever alert to subtle nuances, enhancing — through dynamic gradations, rubati and ever-changing textures and articulation — the melodic narrative. Occasionally the dynamic contrasts may have been a little too sudden or exaggerated, the sforzandi a touch strident, but the accompaniment matched the drama of Langridge’s delivery. Fittingly, a haunting delivery of ‘Der Leiermann’ brought the recital to a close; here, the subtle variations of tempi produced a tension between the rigidity of the piano’s droning, bare fifths, the coiling right-hand and the plaintive melancholy of the voice.
Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge found Langridge in more comfortable and relaxed mode. This was a bracing interpretation perfectly suited to the folksong derivation and ambience of Vaughan Williams’ striking Housman settings. Tempi were perfectly judged. The brisk eponymous opening song was propelled by the string tremolos and dynamic, rocking piano motif which launches the cycle, and this momentum was sustained in ‘From far, from eve and morning’. Alternations of instrumentation — first voice and piano, now strings, then full ensemble — introduced a note of poignancy into the third song, ‘Is my team ploughing?’, most apt for a song that reflects with gentle nostalgia on loss and love. The members of the Doric Quartet enjoyed the narrative role played by the instrumental lines, the elongated triplets of the inner strings enhancing the mood of yearning tinged with resignation. ‘Bredon Hill’ is the emotional centre of the work: with crystal clear intonation, the strings’ slowly rocking, divisi chords created a remarkable, icy serenity, capturing the stillness and transparency of the bleached landscape as piano bells echoed through the emptiness. The ensemble gradually built up to a frightening intensity and Langridge, bitterly defying the tolling bells, spat out the final words of the closing verse, ‘I hear you, I will come’. This was superb ensemble playing, as Owen Norris and the Doric Quartet magnificently supported and complemented Langridge’s varied palette of colours.
Langridge has a long association with Birtwistle’s music: in 1986 he created the title role the opera The Mask of Orpheus and also starred in the 2008 premiere of Minotaur. ‘From Vanitas’ was specially commissioned by the Wigmore Hall; a miniature for voice and piano, Birtwistle’s sparse, delicately crafted score follows the long, drawn-out lines and accumulating images of the text by David Harsent, his long-term librettist. Langridge’s sensitivity to the sinuous, unfolding poetic lines was superlative; voice and piano intricately interweave, as a rocking figure played by the piano grows ever more urgent, reaching a tempestuous climax before sinking to a deathly silence: ‘the window a mirror perhaps, the room a wilderness.’
Britten’s Who are these children? demonstrated why Langridge is considered a master of English song. The riddling rhymes of William Soutar’s poems, with their Scots dialect and angular rhythms, are not inherently ‘musical’ but Langridge brought melody and coherence to these lines. He doesn’t project the text at the expense of the musical line — there are no ugly exaggerations or distracting mannerisms; rather, a relaxed unfolding in which musical and dramatic narratives are truly one.
The deeply appreciative audience at the Wigmore Hall were not likely to let Langridge go without some ‘extras’. The first encore was a brief mock-tragedy, delivered with mischievous insouciance; this was followed by a boisterous rendering of a ditty from G&S’s ‘Utopia Limited’, oozing ease and charm and demonstrating why Langridge is such a natural on the operatic stage. Both performers clearly enjoyed themselves. This concert may have celebrated the passing years, but Langridge possesses the energy and spirit of a young man, and such musicianship and generosity was justly cherished by the warm, admiring audience.
Schubert — Die schöne Müllerin (selection)
Vaughan Williams — On Wenlock Edge
Birtwistle — From Vanitas (world premiere)
Britten — Who are these Children?
Schubert — Winterreise (selection)