19 May 2010
Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall
At the Wigmore Hall, performers can chose daring repertoire, because audiences there are unusually receptive.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
At the Wigmore Hall, performers can chose daring repertoire, because audiences there are unusually receptive.
Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau presented Schubert and Hugo Wolf with Zemlinsky and Ernst Krenek.
Florian Boesch is very well regarded and a regular at the Wigmore Hall. Malcolm Martineau’s even more of a fixture, as his mother was page turner there years ago — his connections go back a long way. Together they are a draw you don’t miss, but this programme was something special.
Two versions of Goethe’s Prometheus, for example, Schubert D 674 from 1819 and Hugo Wolf, from1889. Both are naturally full of foreboding, for Prometheus defied the gods and was doomed to suffer for eternity. Yet both reflect the times in which they were written. Schubert’s version is powerful, but classically elegant. Wolf’s version could only have been written after Richard Wagner changed the way the world hears dramatic music. Wolf’s passionate outbursts sound almost demented, Boesch’s voice ringing with frenzy, Martineau pounding the keys in suppressed fury, less heavy on the pedal than he’d been in Schubert, but better for that.
Between the two versions of Prometheus, Boesch and Martineau pitted Schubert’s Gesange des Harfners songs (D 478, 480 and 479) with Wolf’s *Three Lieder to texts by Michelangelo *(1897). The latter are amongst the darkest pieces Wolf wrote, worlds away from the airy Mörike songs. Relatively few singers excel in them, for conversely, they need a certain lightness of touch to heighten the shadows. Boesch doesn’t have quite the same richness of colour Goerne can bring to these songs, but he’s reasonably flexible. The phrase, “Alles endet, was entstehet” was quietly sung, with delicacy.
Pairing Alexander Zemlinsky with Ernst Krenek was interesting, too. Zemlinsky composed a great many Lieder, and indeed may have polished Alma Mahler’s Lieder with her. His songs,though, don’t generally reach the imaginative heights of The Lyric Symphony. Die schlanke Wasserlilie, In der Ferne and Wand’l ich in dem Wald des Abends are among the best known. Had Boesch and Martineau paired Zemlinsky’s *Waldegesprache *with the version by Robert Schumann, the difference would have been telling. Few performances make Zemlinsky’s songs much more than pleasant, but it’s not necessarily for lack of trying.
The highlight of the evening were seven songs from Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen op 62 (1929). This is a remarkable cycle of 20 songs, a seminal work of the 20th century. Krenek’s opera Jonny Spielt Auf was notoriously modern, featuring jazz tunes and a black saxophonist: definitely “degenerate music” which horrified many at the time, including Julius Korngold, the arch-conservative critic.
Austria was now no longer a colourful polyglot Empire, but a truncated rump of German speakers, who weren’t German. This identity crisis was further compounded by modern change, new technology and new values. Thus Krenek left Vienna for the Alps, to find, if he could, the Austrian soul. “Ich reise aus, meine Heimat zu entdecken”. Throughout the cycle, there are references to “Technik Sklaven” (slaves to technology) to hardship, vulgar capitalism, dirty politics and the evils of war.
Krenek coats his songs with sarcasm, for the cycle is a savage indictment of modern society. Alpenbewohner, for example refers to “wilden Nomaden”, ie German daytrippers who tear around rural Austria on their motorbikes, drunkenly offending the locals. But the locals are poor, they need the income tourists bring and are powerless to resist. Krenek didn’t know, in 1929, how prophetic his observations would prove.
The final song, Epilog, is relatively upbeat. Krenek sees an old saying carved on a sign above a door, a very Austrian touch. We may not know when or how our lives may end but somehow we’re happy, it suggests. Krenek seems to conclude that change is inevitable, and must be faced, but doesn’t necessarily preclude happiness.
On their own, the seven songs from the cycle don’t really convey the full impact of the full Reisebuch, though they have been produced as a group in the past. Boesch and Martineau performed them very well, but it would have helped greatly if the programme notes had been up to the usual high standards one expects from the Wigmore Hall.