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Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. 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.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful
producers of opera.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
19 Apr 2010
Christoph Prégardien, London
‘Come sweet death … for I am weary of the world’: thus,
the opening lines of Bach’s aria, ‘Komm Süßer Tod’, from the
Schemelli Liederbuch, led us into the realms of the afterlife, and
encapsulated the central sentiment of this evening of songs meditating on, and
calling for, release from toilsome human cares.
In the programme notes, Christoph Prégardien calls for a more realistic and
trusting attitude towards death: “Today death has been pushed out of our
life almost completely … this is the reason we have compiled our
programme: so that people become a little more aware that death is always in
our midst. That we cannot ignore it, but have to accept it.” If one
feared that this programme — comprising a striking variety of styles and
attitudes — ranging from the baroque certainties of Bach to the dark
dreaming of the Romantics, from the hinteryears’ resignation of Brahms
and Mahler to the existential Gothic terrors of Loewe and Weber — would
be a melancholy and bleak affair, such concerns were allayed by Prégardien and
his pianist, Michael Gees, for their commitment, consistency and composure
throughout this recital was in itself consoling and reassuring. Through this
meticulously constructed sequence of lyric songs, narrative ballads and
operatic melodramas which ensued, the performers (who have spent two years
selecting the songs which best portray man’s ‘quest for the
infinite’) offered a unified and supremely controlled exploration of
contrasting psychologies, situations and dramas of human existence.
Prégardien immediately established a mood of confident certainty in
Bach’s aforementioned aria; his total control of line and nuance,
complemented by a warm, secure tone, perfectly conveying the unshakeable
convictions of the baroque age. The veiled quality of the second verse,
delicately ornamented by the piano, suggested the composer’s awe and love
in the face of the majesty of heaven; indeed, one of Prégardien’s most
absorbing qualities is the gentle warmth of his pianissimo utterances
— in particular, his tender but tangible mezza voce—which never stray
into affectation or whimsy.
The Romantics had a very different relationship with death: and following
such certainty of salvation came spiritual transcendence, in the form of
Mahler’s ‘Urlicht’ (‘Primordial Light’) from
Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and symbolised by the quiet clarity of
Prégardien’s pianissimo floating octave arcs which suggest the
desire for heavenly rest, where God ‘will light my way to eternal blessed
For the wanderers who populate the songs of Schumann and Schubert, death is
often not a welcome meeting with one’s God, but rather a blessed release
from the unrequited torments of earthly love. Schubert’s
‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Swan Song’) allowed us to appreciate
the rich baritonal range of Prégardien’s voice, while
‘Auflösung’ (‘Dissolution’) offered Gees the
opportunity to explore turbulent realms in disturbing, deep arpeggio sweeps,
underpinning the earnest colourings in the vocal line with which the tenor
emphasised the ‘fires of rapture’ and bitter disappointment of the
protagonist. ‘Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud’!’ (‘Die,
love and joy!’) by Robert Schumann, tells of a young man’s anguish
as his loved one chooses the hand of Christ over his own mortal hand; here
Prégardien and Gees impressively inhabited the speaker’s spirit: the
flowing regularity of the accompaniment disrupted by surprising modulations;
the destruction of dreams conveyed by poignant contrasts between upper and
lower registers; rubatos and syncopations revealing the painful yearning and
despair of the speaker.
In contrast, Brahms’s ‘Feldeinsamkeit’ (‘Alone in
the Fields’) presents a more soothing acceptance of human mortality.
However, the same composer’s’ ‘Wie rafft ich mich auf in der
Nacht’ (‘How I leapt up in the night’) reminds us that such
tranquillity is the preserve of those who are unburdened by guilt — and
here the piano and voice were true partners in the drama, for although
Prégardien tenderly reassured us with a vision of the white clouds serenely
passing across the ‘deep blue, like lovely silent dreams’
(‘Durchs tiefe Blau, wie schöne stille Träume’), Gees’s
between-verse paraphrases powerfully conveyed the torment of the troubled soul.
The enlarged dramatic canvas in this song initiated a passionate sequence which
closed the first half, in which the sheer terror and ‘nothingness’
present in Loewe’s ‘Edward’ and Max’s recitative and
aria from Weber’s Der Freischütz, which followed on without a
breath, brutally swept aside the certitudes of salvation with which we had
begun. Gees relished the challenge of capturing the orchestral sound-scape,
producing a kaleidoscope of textures and timbres; and while Prégardien
powerfully conveyed the tense anger of the protagonists, the more focused
context, and his own intense concentrated delivery, prevented these Gothic
dramas from straying into melodrama or bombast.
In the second half of the recital the figure of Death itself stepped onto
the stage, summoned perhaps by the piano’s tolling invitation in the
introduction to Hugo Wolf’s ‘Denk es, I Seele!’ (‘O
soul, remember!). At first, all was calm and reassuring; Gees describes
Wolf’s setting of Goethe, ‘Anakreon’s Grab’
(‘Anacreon’s Grave’) as ‘the heavy made light, in the
simplicity of a serenade’ — and indeed, his gentle piano postlude
echoed the touching sweetness of Prégardien’s evocation of the
‘turtle-dove calls, where the cricket rejoices’. Similarly, in
‘Der Jüngling under der Tod’ (‘The youth and death’)
and ‘Das Tod und das Mädchen’ (‘Death and the Maiden’),
Schubert envisages Death as an authoritative but gentle presence; but here the
deep baritonal monotone of Prégardien’s enticement, ‘Give me your
hand, you lovely, tender creature’’ inferred the ominous gravity of
the invitation, and perhaps suggested the repressed violence which was abruptly
released in Loewe’s ‘Erlkönig’ (‘The Erlking’).
In Loewe’s dark, disturbing song, the performers enacted a truly Gothic
visitation by a malevolent force which snatches life from its powerless victim:
the final lines, describing the swift homeward journey of a bereaved father,
his child ‘dead in his arms’, were simultaneously emotively nuanced
in detail and chillingly dispassionate in stance.
Another dramatic triptych closed the second half. An impassioned rendering
of Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin was followed by
Schubert’s ‘Kreiger’s Ahnung’ (‘Warrior’s
foreboding’). The emotional tension of the latter was poignantly
revealed: for while the dead warrior yearns for the imagined comfort of his
lover’s arms—his earnest conviction ably conveyed by the deep
resonances of Prégardien’s lower range — Gees, hesitantly
manipulating the cadences, tellingly emphasising the final ponderous rhythms,
intimated the ambiguity which underlies the apparent certitudes of the
text’s conclusion. It was Mahler who was allotted the final word:
‘Revelge’ (‘Reveille’) from Des Knaben
Wunderhorn presents a desperate charge to an end which brings no
redemption, transcendence or consolation — in the words of Gees,
‘This is real death, when no one recognises you any more’.
Twenty-two visions of death might seem a dispiriting and emotionally
exhausting concept. But the masterful control of pace and mood, colour and
nuance exhibited here by Prégardien and Gees, made this an evening to rejoice
in human creativity and artistry, not to despair at its transience.