19 May 2010
Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall
At the Wigmore Hall, performers can chose daring repertoire, because audiences there are unusually receptive.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
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.