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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ailish Tynan [Photo courtesy of Intermusica]
11 Apr 2010

Ailish Tynan, Wigmore Hall

Thoughtfully devised by Iain Burnside, this recital juxtaposed ballad with art song, pastoral with love lyric, dark with light, mournful with carefree. An imaginative sequence of songs, woven together according to linking themes, confirmed that Ireland truly is a ‘land of song’.

Ailish Tynan, Wigmore Hall

Ailish Tynan, soprano; Iain Burnside, piano. Wigmore Hall, London. Friday 9th April 2010.

Programme: Celtic Woman:
Prologue: Tread Softly
Lovers, Mothers, Sisters
Joyce’s Women
With Your Guns and Drums
Journeys
Epilogue: The Blind Man he can See

 

A Prologue, ‘Tread Softly’, opened the door to the Irish imagination. Thomas Dunhill’s ‘The cloths of heaven’, a presentation of Yeats’ oft-set poem, skilfully captures the depth of the poet’s passion and the fragility of his dreams, in gently tolling chords and a delicately meandering vocal line. Immediately apparent was Burnside’s instinctive sensitivity to the rhythms and colours of Irish lyric poetry, quietly evoking both the shining ‘golden and silver light’ of heavens’ cloths and the ‘dim and [the] dark’ shadows of night.

Indeed, throughout the recital the piano played an integral part in the narrative: shaping and pacing the drama as in ‘The bard of Armagh (arranged Herbert Hughes); establishing the emotional ambience as in the cascading ripples and swirls which open Frank Bridge’s ‘Goldenhair’, with its delicate piano postlude, or the sweeping modal scales which convey the tempestuous deluge of Herbert Howell’s ‘The Flood’; drawing forth a particular poetic nuance, as at the close of Hughes’ ‘She weeps over Rahoon’, where the trickling piano descent perfectly evoked the ‘muttering rain’ which succumbed to raging flood in the subsequent song. Surprisingly, considering that she was on ‘home territory’, Ailish Tynan was initially less comfortable; her intonation was insecure in the opening song and took some time to settle, and she seemed ill at ease throughout the first half of the recital. Tynan’s voice is a powerful instrument and she worked hard to capture the pianissimo restraint of the tender lyrics, but her worthy concern to interpret and colour the text occasionally led her to over-emphasise a particular word or phrase producing an inelegant interruption to the melodic line, and at times threatening to enlarge textual nuances into disproportionate melodrama. Fortunately, Edmund Pendleton’s ‘Bid adieu’, which closed the first half, signalled a change in confidence and control: here Tynan relished the upward flourish of ‘Happy love is come to woo’ and evoked the warm, tender eroticism of ‘Begin thou softly to unzone/ Thy girlish bosom unto him’. She returned after the interval in a more relaxed mode, delighting in the characterisations and narratives, moving smoothly from energetic declaration to sweet yearning.

The first sequence of songs, ‘Lovers, Mother, Sisters’, opened with a slightly tentative rendering of one of Benjamin Britten’s most well-known and accomplished arrangements – his poignant setting of Yeats’ ‘The Salley Gardens’. Britten returned in the second half, ‘Avenging and bright’ and ‘The last rose of summer’ forming part of the ‘With your Guns and Drums’ selection. Both songs are characterised by the composer’s striking attention to detail, and in the former Burnside enjoyed the defiant flourishes, the running bass line and contrapuntal energy, which accompany the history of Conor, King of Ulster, whose treachery in putting to death the three sons of Usna is considered one of the greatest of tragic Irish tales. ‘The last rose of summer’, a setting of Thomas Moore, was one of the highlights of the evening: Britten’s ‘Screw-like’ harmonies evoke the unsettling loneliness of lover languishing after the death of her soldier-lover, and subtle changes of tempo and dynamic were expertly controlled by Burnside and Tynan.

It was the less familiar voices, however, who offered the real treasures in this programme. Herbert Hughes was a founder member of the Irish Folk Song Society of London in 1903, and he was represented here by both boisterous and tender settings of traditional Irish melodies. Unfortunately, although she conveyed the animation of the unruly sailor in Hughes’ lively arrangement of the ‘Marry me now’, Tynan forgot the words in the final verse, omitting four lines and thereby causing the lusty sailor to sound even more desperate in his final pleas for wedlock! Hughes’ setting of ‘The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby’ is a sad, sombre night-song, and here Tynan employed a warm lower register, conveying the darkness of the solemn evening and creating an effective contrast with the piano’s otherworldly evocation of the ghostly ‘rings of fog’ which wreath ‘the Green Man’s thorn’.

Hughes was also liberally represented in the second half of the programme, where a more relaxed Tynan powerfully captured both the bitterness of the drama of ‘Johnny I hardly knew ye!’ and the quiet despair of ‘Johnny Doyle’, the latter conveyed by secure and controlled octave unisons with the piano at the close: ‘You’ll send for Johnny Doyle, mother, but I fear it is too late,/ For death it is coming and sad is my fate.’ Three further Hughes’ arrangements ended the recital: ‘When through life unblessed we rove’, ‘I know where I’m goin’’, whose open-ended harmonic sequences suggest the certitude of the singer’s journey to her loved one, and the light-hearted ‘Tigaree torum orum’.

The Anglo-Irish composer, writer, collector and arranger, E.J. Moeran, spent the spring of 1948 living with a group of tinkers in south-west Ireland, assembling his collection Songs from County Kerry. The haunting harmonies and melancholy lyricism of ‘The lost lover’ are typical of his touching idiom, and in ‘The Roving Dingle boy, Tynan achieved a flowing naturalism.

Alongside these ‘conventional’ arrangements and song, Burnside had some surprises in store. The programme notes reminded us that Samuel Barber had a lifelong interest in Irish poetry, including the work of Joyce and Yeats; his Ten Hermit Songs set words translated from anonymous Irish texts from the early Middle Ages – thoughts, observations and poem which were jotted down on the margins of manuscripts by scholars and monks. The enlarged, ‘operatic’ scope of the third of these songs, ‘St Ita’s Vision’, appealed to Tynan’s sense of drama, and she effectively conveyed the forceful passion of St Ita, Bride of Munster, in her quasi-recitative declaration that she will accept nothing less than a baby to nurse. Both singer and pianist captured both the passion of St Ita’s commitment and the transcendence of the vision, Tynan’s sweetness – ‘Infant Jesus, at my breast,/ By my heart every night,’ – complemented by Burnside’s concluding suggestion of an ethereal choir of heavenly lyres. Similarly, the last song in the cycle, ‘The desire for hermitage’, offers an expansive emotional canvas, one which the performers exploited effectively. Even more unusual, and thought-provoking, was Burnside’s inclusion of John Cage’s setting of lines adapted from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, ‘The wonderful widow of eighteen springs’, which, characteristically, involved some rearranging and preparation of the piano. The spare, still melody, enlivened by occasional leaps of a fifth, was accompanied by rhythmic tapping on different parts of the closed piano, producing a haunting ambience which successfully suggested the fragmentary reminiscences of the text.

Where does arrangement end and composition begin? This is a question Burnside asks in the programme notes, prompted by the inclusion of Hughes’ original composition, ‘She weeps over Rahoon’ – an intense setting of Joyce’s spare and stark evocation of the bleak rain plaintively falling on Ireland’s western coast. Composers may, like Hughes, seek to render these melodies faithfully as they have been heard for hundreds of years; or they may, like Britten for example, establish their own stamp on a familiar melody. For the performer, surely the same questions arise: how to engage with, and respect, a tradition, while offering something personal and new. Though a little unsure of her path at the start of the evening, Tynan had, by the end, found her way home, and her encore, a simple but fresh rendering of the traditional melody, ‘Marble Halls’, sent us all home happy.

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):