Recently in Performances
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.
One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle
Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement”
for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and
anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the
emotions and reason of the audience.
Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal,
Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its
focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy
and with a clever twist,
Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner
productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and
Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it
comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
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.
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
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
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