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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.
05 Mar 2010
Matthias Goerne at Wigmore Hall, London
In this, the first of two recitals with pianist Helmut Deutsch, baritone Matthias Goerne continued his very personal journey through the landscape of Schubert’s lieder, a passage which is currently being preserved on an outstanding series of discs by Harmonia Mundi.
The paths on this occasion carried him largely to sombre, meditative places, the domains being defined by a series of mainly minor poets - friends and acquaintances of the composer, and with whom he performed, conversed and relaxed in the Viennese salons of the 1820s.
‘Der Jüngling und der Tod’ (‘The youth and death’), with a text by Schubert’s early champion, Josef von Spaun, opened the recital, firmly establishing the literary and emotional tone; for here, Youth cries out for the ‘calm embrace’ of Death, yearning to be led to ‘dreamed-of’ lands far from the torments of life. Deutsch’s dramatically dark piano postlude presented a stark contrast with the subsequent gentle grace of the strophic ‘Das Lied im Grünen’ (‘Songs in the open air’); but despite the apparent sense of ease, a tremulous disquiet troubled the surface as the speaker looks ahead to the days when life is ‘no longer green’.
Songs by Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis followed. The introspective text of ‘Die Herbstnacht’ (‘Autumn night’) allowed Goerne to settle into the seamless, legato stream of sound - seductively sustained, yet coloured by delicate emotive shadings - for which he is revered. Indeed, the understated melancholy and brooding might have become a little too pervasive, particularly given the performers’ propensity for performing the songs with scarcely a break, and the more agitated contours and sentiments of ‘An mein Herz’ provided a welcome contrast.
Despite the attempts of Richard Stokes, in the programme notes, to bolster the merits of these lesser lights of German Romantic verse (“If Schubert composed some 150 songs to the minor verse of his friends and acquaintances, that does not imply a lack of literary awareness, but rather a gift of friendship”), it was a setting of Friedrich von Schlegel, ‘The Wanderer’, which proved to be the highlight of the first half. Deutsch’s aural impression of the ‘moon’s light’ perfectly captured in rare harmonic nuance the silvery gleam; and, the more sophisticated relationship between voice and accompaniment drew an added depth from the performers - a seriousness which was sustained through the anonymous ‘Klage’ (‘Lament’) and Schober’s ‘Am Bach im Frühling’ (‘By the stream in spring’), where the sudden wanings of colour and weight in the voice revealed the omnipresence of death.
After the interval, Goerne and Deutsch seemed even more in harmony, embraced by a shared aesthetic vision. The second half began with upwardly curving ripples from the keyboard, signalling a rare moment of lightness. In ‘An die Laute’ (‘To the lute’) the serenading lover urges his instrument to be tender and soft - not to win his loved one’s heart, but rather so that the jealous neighbours are not disturbed. After settings of Freiherr von Schlechta and Johann Baptist Mayrhofer, it was again perhaps telling that it was the more stellar figures of Rückert and von Schober who had so obviously had inspired Schubert to expressive heights. The former’s ‘Du bist die Ruh’ (‘You are repose’) was exquisitely shaped, the second climax approached and wrought with remarkably controlled passion. In the concluding lines, Goerne created a quiet stillness of remarkable and touching delicacy. In contrast, the satisfyingly familiar ‘An die Musik’ revealed the darker colours in Goerne’s baritone range, and the dialogue between voice and piano left hand enabled Deutsch to enter into the conversation as both accompanist and equal.
The final two songs, ‘Abschied von der Harfe’(‘Farewell to the harp’) and ‘Liebesend’ (‘Song’s end’) lowered a sombre curtain on the evening’s proceedings. The performers offered no hint of consolation, Goerne sustaining the embedded melancholy until the dying strains, as ‘From a cold heart/ the magic of song now steals away,/ and ever closer step/ transience and the grave.’ As throughout the recital, there were no melodramatic gestures, no exaggerated mannerisms, just a heartfelt sincerity communicated by the most controlled and often understated musical means.
What was most striking about this recital was Goerne’s ability not only to present the material with consummate mastery, but also to convey a genuine sense of inhabiting the experience of these songs; to balance introspection with direct communication, all the while sustaining a mood of intimacy worthy of the Schubertiaden itself.