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 Performances

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

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.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

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 Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

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.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘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.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

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. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

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.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

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.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Christopher Maltman [Photo courtesy of IMG Artists]
23 Apr 2010

Christopher Maltman, Wigmore Hall, London

The abiding elegance and beauty of Christopher Maltman’s baritone, complemented by the interpretative wisdom and experience of Graham Johnson, one of the finest vocal accompanists of recent times, made this an evening of assured musicianship and expressive poise.

Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang

Christopher Maltman, baritone; Graham Johnson, piano. Wigmore Hall, London. Tuesday 20th April 2010.

Above: Christopher Maltman [Photo courtesy of IMG Artists]

 

The fourteen songs which comprise Schwanengesang (‘Swan Song’) were composed by Schubert in the year of his death, 1828. They do not form a unified sequence: there is no continuous narrative or singular mood. But, that is in many ways the strength of the ‘cycle’; for it is the variety of emotions and situations, often juxtaposed in surprising sequences, which accounts for the unsettling power of these lieder, many of which are themselves characterised by striking inner contrasts. Dark despair is followed by hesitant optimism; cynical irony by tentative hope. Maltman and Johnson did not always distinguish the full range of subtle emotional tones and shades contained herein, but their control of form — crafted melodic lines, flexible rhythms and well-judged tempi - coupled with impressive technical assurance, more than compensated for an occasionally limited dramatic palette. Opting principally for either a veiled, hesitant pianissimo or a bitter angry forte, Maltman’s reading of these songs was one of disquiet and despair.

Maltman’s tone is particularly beautiful in the upper ranges, and his focused, sweet lyricism was immediately evident in the opening song, ‘Liebesbotschaft’ (‘Love’s message’). Words were breathed rather than intoned, vigour and passion reserved for a sudden surge of emotion as the protagonist recollects the ‘crimson glow’ of the beloved’s roses. The baritone’s large range was immediately revealed in the following song, an authoritative reading of ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ (Warrior’s Foreboding’), where Maltman plumbed rich vocal depths to convey the horror of the death-laden battlefield. Johnson’s appreciation of musical drama was also revealed: the flowing ardour of the rippling brook of the opening song was here replaced by a tense, sprung, rhythmic dynamism, subtle rubati and acceleration highlighting the modulations between major and minor tonality which enhance the poignant and ironic contrast between celebrations of earthly love and recognition of inescapable death.

Similar masterly control of pace was evident in ‘Frühlings Sehnsucht’ (‘Spring Longing’), where the stanzas’ culminating questions - ‘But where?’, ‘But why?’ - unsettled the calm assurance of the preceding romantic visions of the natural world. A highlight of the Rellstab settings which form the first half of the sequence was ‘In der Ferne’ (‘Far away’), where the piano’s haunting introduction and subsequent echoes of the vocal line suggested an isolation and alienation which cannot be alleviated by the poem’s somewhat convention romantic imagery. ‘Abschied’ ends the Rellstab sequence, a surprisingly light-hearted ‘farewell’ to the protagonist’s home town as he sets out on his quest; the emotive inferences of Johnson’s between-verse phrases and, once again, the contrast of major and minor modes, undermined the spirit of optimism and prepared for the subsequent Heine settings, with their greater psychological complexity and unease.

In ‘Der Atlas’ (Atlas) the lonely bitterness of rejection was forcefully conveyed by the imposing strength of Maltman’s tone, laden with massive despair, and the frustrated undercurrents in the piano’s introduction and postlude. After such turbulence, ‘Ihr Bild’ (‘Her likeness’) presented a contrasting moment of oppressive stillness, although melancholy and loss remained paramount: sparse unison textures evoked the poet-speaker’s self-tormenting ‘dark dreams’, oscillating with the warm richer harmonies as the ‘wonderful smile played about her lips’. Such consolation was however tinged with woe and proved transient. Here Maltman’s control of the text was superb: the words floated into the ether, revealing the fragility of his hopes and visions. The light, barcarolle-like ‘Das Fischermädchen’ (The fishermaiden’) offered only a short-lived respite before the gothic hallucinations of ‘Die Stadt’ (‘The town’) and the sorrowful seascape of ‘Am Meer’ (‘By the sea’) engulfed us once again. Most impressive in these bleak, through-composed dramas was Maltman’s alertness to Schubert’s power of suggestion, and the performers’ recognition of an inferred narrative in Heine’s sequence; for instance, the harmonic progression which connects the bare low C at the close of ‘Die Stadt’ to the harmonic transition at the start of ‘Am Meer’ was skilfully controlled. The ‘narrative’ culminates in the extraordinary, harrowing song, ‘Der Doppelgänger’ where Johnson’s ominous repeating bass line and startling modulations provided an eerie bed for Maltman’s agonized free declamations, as the poet-speaker is forced to face the embodiment of his own misery and anguish.

The light-weight joviality of Seidl’s ‘Taubenpost’ (‘Pigeon-Post’), appended to the sequence by Schubert’s Viennese publisher, the enterprising Tobias Haslinger, makes for an odd conclusion; perhaps it was intended to provide symmetry — seven songs in each ‘half’ — or to alleviate the distress of the despairing ‘Doppelgängeer’, much as ‘Abschied’ (with which it shares rhythmic motifs and mood) lightened the distant shadows of ‘In der Ferne’? Whatever the reason for its placement, Maltman found scant genuine cheer and consolation in ‘Taubenpost’: clear in diction, sweet in tone, but emotionally reticent, Maltman’s light baritone suggested the insubstantiality of the protagonist’s certainty and hope.

Maltman’s intelligent performance was technically immaculate. Striving for extreme, unsettling contrasts, perhaps he and Johnson did not always capture the full range of emotional nuance; but this was a masterly and convincing reading.

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):