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

In Parenthesis, Welsh National Opera in London

‘A century after the Somme, who still stands with Britain?’ So read a headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard on the eve of the centenary of the first day of that battle which, 141 days later, would grind to a halt with 1,200,000 British, French, German and Allied soldiers dead or injured.

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sergei Leiferkus [Photo: Askonas Holt]
18 Dec 2009

Sergei Leiferkus at Wigmore Hall

Exchanging the stage of The Royal Opera House — where he is currently performing the role of His Highness in Tchaikovsky’s fairy-tale opera, The Tsarina's Slippers

Schumann: Liederkreis (Op.39)
Musorgsky: The peep-show; Songs and Dances of Death; The Seminarist; Mefistopheles’ Song.

Sergei Leiferkus, baritone; Semyon Skigin, piano. Wigmore Hall, London. Tuesday 15 December 2009.

Above: Sergei Leiferkus [Photo: Askonas Holt]

 

for the more intimate setting of the Wigmore Hall, the veteran Russian baritone, Sergei Leiferkus, offered an intriguing programme of songs from his compatriot, Modest Musorgsky, coupled with Robert Schumann’s ecstatic, joyful cycle, Leiderkreis.

The programme booklet remarked the ‘considerable stylistic gulf’ between these two composers, and while it proposed a rationale behind this unusual pairing (that is, the influence on Russian composers of Musorgsky’s time of German lieder, in terms of how a vocal line and accompaniment ‘could be tailored to the expressive allusions of the text’), it was a gulf that Leiferkus was not entirely convincing in bridging.

Certainly, this was an imposing, confident performance from both baritone and pianist. Leiferkus’ voice is a powerful instrument and from the start it thundered to the far reaches of the hall. Yet, herein lay the problem: while an appropriate depth of passion and lyric ecstasy were evident in songs such as ‘In der Fremde’ and ‘Im Walde’, the performers did not grasp the opportunity to convey the contrasting moments of tenderness and yearning introspection which the texts surely offer.

That is not to suggest that there was no variety of colour or mood. Leiferkus’ diction was crisp and clear, and at times he showed sensitivity to textual details: the slow, reflective pace of ‘Mondnacht’ was further enhanced by the deep resonance of his profound bass in the opening lines, ‘It was as though Heaven/had softly kissed the Earth’; and the pointing of particular words — ‘Ein altes, schönes Lied […] Und zu dir eilig zieht’ - at the conclusion of ‘Intermezzo’ was touching and affective. Here, Skigin was a faultless partner, deftly complementing significant melodic gestures, flexible in rhythm, employing a wide range of dynamics, drawing out the contrasting resonances of major and minor keys. Skigin, Leiferkus’ frequent and long-term accompanist, shared the singer’s vision of these songs and matched his commanding presence, the accompaniment injecting much energy and turbulence, as in ‘Schöne Fremde’ where the ‘glittering stars gaze down on me,/fierily and full of love’.

However, the performers did not satisfactorily convey the moments of hushed awe and sublime stillness which complement the extravagant joy which blossoms through the sequence. There is a gradual movement from winter darkness to spring awakening, but there was little sense of nature’s delicate, inspiring presence. In particular, ‘Wehmut’, where ‘Nightingales, when spring/breezes play outside, sing/their song of longing …’, suffered from an overly assertive, full tone. Overall, Leiferkus’ rather stern sound seemed more suitable for the distinguished majesty of His Excellency over the road at Covent Garden than for the yearning romantic dreamer of Eichendorff’s tender verse. There were also some occasional tuning problems: chromatic indefinition marred the magical close of ‘Mondnacht’, while the octave unisons of ‘Auf einer Burg’ suffered from occasional lapses of intonation.

The second half of the concert was a wholly different musical and dramatic experience. Leiferkus found in Musorgsky’s songs a greater combination of musical colours, and here his voice, not ‘beautiful’ in a conventional sense, was truly expressive of the sentiments of the text, both tragic and comic. The latter vein was remarkably captured in ‘The peep-show’: Leiferkus articulated every syllable admirably, and the intensity of his dramatic characterization was enhanced by his ability to span a wide dynamic range in the space of a few bars. Here gestures which had seemed unsubtle and exaggerated in Schumann’s lieder became appropriately biting and incisive. The miniature dramas of ‘The Songs and Dances of Death’ were eloquent and deeply moving. The wonderfully dark tone of Leiferkus’ baritone conveyed a musical depth which perfectly matched a text which speaks of the figure of ‘light, merciful’ Death, who ‘sings his serenade’ to the mother cradling her sick child, to the drunken peasant stumbling in the snow-strewn field at night, to slaughtered troops who are commanded to parade before the triumphant ‘Field Marshal’. Skigin was again a responsive partner in these songs.

So, a rather mixed evening. I will certainly be exploring Leiderkus’ four-volume recording set of Musorgsky songs, but on the whole I prefer my Schumann a little less statuesque.

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):