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

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

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):