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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

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):