Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christoph Prégardien
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.

Between Life and Death: Songs and Arias

Christoph Prégardien, tenor; Michael Gees, piano. Wigmore Hall, London. Friday 16 April, 2010.

Above: Christoph Prégardien

 

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 life’.

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.

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):