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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
08 Mar 2010
Brilliant Schubert programme: Matthias Goerne, Wigmore Hall
This second of two recitals of Schubert songs by Matthias Goerne and Helmut Deutsch at the Wigmore Hall, London was superb, the programme created with exceptional intelligence and insight into the inner dynamics of Schubert’s music.
Starting a recital with An die untergehende Sonne was daring. Immediately we’re thrown into darkness and the murky depths of inner consciousness. “Immer tiefer, immer leiser, immer ernster”. The text may be peaceful, but the dizzying descent in the piano part hints at something more unsettling. Without a break, Goerne launched into Der Tod und das Mädchen. The tolling prelude makes it clear this sleep is death. The poet is Matthias Claudius, but the concept goes right back to the Middle Ages, It permeates Schubert’s aesthetic.
The theme recurs in Die Rose and Viola. Note the contrast between the two poems and Schubert’s settings. Die Rose is a poem by Freidrich von Schlegel. It’s beautifully, concisely written. The first stanza in particular scans so tightly, it’s like music: no wonder Schubert was drawn to it. It’s such a good poem, it’s a joy to read and savour word by word. Schlegel covers a wide range of images in a few brief lines. Goerne respects each word, colouring and shading with nuance, so the rose comes alive in sound, before it slowly fades away.
In contrast Viola, is to a poem by Schubert’s rakish friend Franz von Schober. “Schneeglöcklein” runs the refrain. Six verses down the violet awakes. Seven stanzas later she flees “von der tiefsten Angst verfleischt”. The violet’s come out too soon and is caught by the frost. Silver bells, bridegrooms, flowers anthropomorphized so corny that even Disney might cringe. Even Schubert struggles to make sense of the endless verses. Both Schubert and von Schober would have known Goethe’s poem Das Vielchen, and probably Mozart’s setting of it. Strophic ballads don’t have to be maudlin. Goerne makes the song believable by singing without excess ornament. After Die Rose, it’s hard to take Viola. It’s a measure of Goerne’s skill that he can pull it off.
Another very intelligent pairing : Auf dem Wasser zu Singen and Der Zwerg. Both songs describe death on the water, but in sharp contrast. In the former, Schubert’s melody dances delicately, so you can almost see the “schimmernden Wellen” as the boat gently glides on the lake. Don’t be lulled. The little boat is a metaphor for the passing of time. The poem, by Friedrich Graf zu Stollberg-Stolberg ( double barreled prince) is altogether more sophisticated than the shock horror gothic in Der Zwerg which ends in suicide-murder.
Matthäus von Collin’s poem isn’t bad, though. Rather than being a subtle mood piece it’s a saga in miniature. The dwarf and the queen have a long, complex history. She willingly accepts being murdered, even absolving the killer. It’s pretty kinky. Schubert doesn’t exaggerate the lurid colours, though his setting is dramatic. This song is always a show stopper, it’s so good. Again, Goerne doesn’t give in to pathos, his singing giving the dwarf dignity and respect. That last line, “An keiner Küste” is so chillingly sung that Goerne hints that the real horror is yet to come. The dwarf might not escape in death, but be cursed to sail forever on the lake, trapped in time.
But as usual, Goethe gets the last word. Pairing An die Entfernte with Ganymed brings out another dynamic in this extremely well planned programme. The first ends with the plaintive call “O komm, Geliebete, mir zurück”, and the second contains the soaring phrase “Ich komme, ich komme ! Wohin? Ach, wohin?” Schubert emphasizes the significance of this phrase by setting it in high relief, pauses on either side to accentuate the arc in the line. And then, “hinab strebt’s ‘s hinauf!,” Goerne’s voice lifts upwards, impressively. He catches the impatience in the song - “Mir! Mir!” and “Aufwärts!”. The stillness that prevailed before is now blown away by urgency. The concert began with the downward spiral of the piano prelude of An die untergehende Sonne, but ended with energetic animation, thrusting upwards.