Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

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.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

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.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

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: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘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.

Nabucco at Orange

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: Notturno

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.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

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.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

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.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

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.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

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.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘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.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

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?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

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):