Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.



Anne Schwanewilms [Photo courtesy of Haydn Rawstron Limited]
21 Jun 2010

Anne Schwanewilms in Recital at Wigmore Hall

This recital was the last in a series of five put together by Roger Vignoles to celebrate the lieder of Richard Strauss — a series which, comprising 85 of Strauss’ songs, has highlighted the composer’s role as heir to the nineteenth-century German lieder masters and reminded us of the ravishing beauty and varied emotional range of these unjustly neglected songs.

Anne Schwanewilms in Recital at Wigmore Hall

Anne Schwanewilms, soprano; Roger Vignoles, piano.

Richard Strauss: ‘Ach Lieb, ich muß nun scheiden’; ‘All’ mein Gedanken’; ‘Nachtgang’; ‘Geduld’; ‘Drei Lieder der Ophelia’; ‘Winterweihe’; ‘Wiegenliedchen’; ‘Wer lieben will, muss leiden’; ‘Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen’; ‘Blindenklage’; ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’; ‘Schlagende Herzen’; ‘O wärst du mein’; ‘Waldseligkeit’. Schoenberg: 4 Lieder Op. 2.Wigmore Hall, London. Wednesday 16th June 2010.


Anne Schwanewilms was the perfect partner for Vignoles in this culminating concert. Increasingly renowned for her interpretations of Wagner and Strauss, the German lyric soprano’s recent Hyperion recording of these lieder has won astonishing accolades, and in this recital she emphatically demonstrated why she is fast becoming one of the leading Strauss singers of the new generation.

Poised, authoritative and superbly assured, from the opening song, ‘Ach Lieb, ich muß nun scheiden’ (‘Ah, my love, I must leave you now’), Schwanewilms spun a seamless legato, now luminous and shimmering, now radiant and sumptuous. Each phrase was shaped with innate musicality, and while she may not have the widest range of tonal colour, she subtly shaded particular notes to draw attention to the darker emotional hues of some of these songs. Thus, while in this first lied Schwanewilms employed a generally restrained vibrato, a controlled intensification — ‘Die Erlen und die Weiden vor Schmerz in Tränen stehn’ (The alders and willows weep with pain’) — economically and intelligently pinpointed the emotional centre of this lament.

The first four lieder aptly demonstrate the oft-unacknowledged expressive range of Strauss’ songs. Moving from the swift, light Cherubino-esque effervescence of ‘All’ mein Gedanken’ (‘All my thoughts’), through the ethereal stratospheres of the floating, prosaic lines of ‘Nachtgang’ (‘A walk at night’), arriving at the sonorous, subdued depths of ‘Geduld’ (‘Patience’), with its dark nadirs — ‘hourly a funeral bell demands/the last fare of tears for the grave’ — Schwanewilms and Vignoles encompassed the dramatic and emotional variety with naturalism and ease. Schwanewilms’ pianissimo was characterised by fragile sheen and innocence; yet such delicacy was matched by a bright, radiant forte. ‘Geduld’ demonstrated Vignoles’ wonderful appreciation of both overall dramatic structure and detailed nuance, as the swinging compound rhythms suspended over low pedals gave way to a more airy texture — ‘“Patience”, you say, and lower your eyelids’ — before the resumption of the original pendulous rocking led to an intensifying accelerando and rise in tessitura, culminating in a final assertive cadence, ‘But for loving and kissing I have/ only one spring like the rose bush’.

The inclusion of Arnold Schoenberg’s name on the programme may have caused a twinge of anxiety among the Wigmore Hall regulars and traditionalists, but the ‘Four Lieder Op.2’ amply illustrated the natural development of a German lyric idiom as the certainties of the nineteenth century gave way to the modern tensions of the twentieth. First performed in 1900, these songs capture the equivocation between satisfying expressive resolution and emotional unrest and revolution, an ambiguity — conveyed through chromatic nuance, melodic unpredictability, textural variety and rhapsodic outbursts which Schwanewilms and Vignoles relished.

In the first song, ‘Ertwartung’, ‘Expectation’, the piano’s high, rippling figuration and unsettling chromaticism perfectly captured the lunar gleams eerily playing on the surface of the ‘sea-green pond’. Schwanewilms negotiated the melodic challenges with ease. Her suspended high notes created a mood of effortless rapture and indulgence — as ‘Three opals glimmer’ — before she subsided to a more blanched, reserved tone for the equivocal closing phrase, ‘a woman’s pale hand/ waves to him …’. Vignoles’ piano postlude poignantly and effectively concluded and answered the questions posed by the ellipsis.

In ‘Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm’ (‘Give me your golden comb’), the soaring melodic arches, coupled with the piano’s rapt harmonies, evoked the glorious yet troubling relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, at once ecstatic and dangerous, depicted by Dehmel’s troubling verses. In these songs, Vignoles was in complete command of the emotional landscape, as evidenced by the piano’s controlled after-phrases in ‘Erhebung’ (‘Exlatation’) where the cathartic release of tumultuous emotions was deeply affecting but never uncontrolled. In ‘Waldsonne’ (‘Sun in the forest’) Schwanesilms achieved an effortless clarity in the leaps between vocal registers; while Vignoles, descending through the registers, created a powerful narrative from different harmonic interpretations of the repeating melodic motif.

The first half concluded with Strauss’s three ‘Ophelia songs’. These are extraordinary, quasi-operatic songs, quirky syncopations, melodic twists and unsettling dissonances conveying Ophelia’s incumbent madness. The protagonist is both childlike in her innocence and world-weary in despair. Thus, in ‘Guten morgen, ’s ist Sankt Valentinstag’ (‘Good morning, it’s St Valentine’s Day’) the off-beats and staccato articulation destablised an insouciant text. And, the final song, ‘Sie Traugen ihn auf der Bahre bloß’ (‘They carried him naked on the bier’), was marked by extreme contrasts which reveal Ophelia’s mental distress: the flowing melodic continuity of the piano’s legato lines and flowing right hand figuration, and the soaring vocal phrases (‘Fahr’ wohl, meing Taube!’ (‘Farewell, farewell, my dove’)), give way to angry melancholy and the unstable tempo of the final stanzas, thereby revealing Ophelia’s mental distress and intimating the forthcoming tragedy. In these Shakespearean ‘tableaux’, the contrast between the purity of Schwanewilms’ intonation and the intimations of imminent mental collapse was deeply touching.

The second half of the recital allowed Vignoles to demonstrate his mastery of Strauss’ ‘orchestral’ writing for the piano. ‘Winterweihe’ (‘Winter consecration’) was notable for the warmth and richness of the sonorous piano bass, which set in relief the exquisite delicacy of Schwanewilms’ soaring avowal to ‘dedicate day and night to blissful love’. In ‘Wiegenliedchen’ (‘A little lullaby’) the performers’ alert but never exaggerated attention to musical and dramatic detail was in evidence, swooping vocal descents — ‘Süßes Gesicht’ (‘you with the lovely face’) — sweetly matching the translucent ripples of the piano — as the ‘Little spider, little spider,/ shimmers in the sunshine’.

Strauss’ setting of Curt Mündel’s ‘Ach was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen’ uses sly chromatic twisting motifs to underpin the humour of the text: and Schwanewilms’ wry smiles winks, and flighty, joyful vocal leaps, invited the audience’s complicity, reinforcing what an innately dramatic performer she is.

Through this recital, Vignoles’ had complete command of the textural and formal complexity of these songs, complemented by an ability to convey an astonishing variety of colour and mood — from the delicate fragility of the rippling figuration in ‘Wiegenliedchen’ to the gentle, low undulations of ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’ (‘Dream into dusk’).

As the programme drew to a close, ‘O wärst du mein!’ (‘Ah, were you mine!’) re-established the mood of romantic rapture, the dominant resolution in the bass reached by a tantalising rising chromatic movement. The final song, ‘Woodland rapture’ (‘Waldseligkeit’), succinctly paraphrased the expressive power of Strauss’ lieder: with its suspended high notes, surprising harmonic shifts, and contrast of major and minor tonalities, the apparently simple text was transformed into a more complex narrative — as the performers reminded us of the dark volk roots of this musico-dramatic repertory.

As an encore, aptly holding a floral bouquet, Schwanewilms gave a graceful, relaxed rendition of ‘Das Rosenband’. Inexplicably, some patrons had been seen to depart at the interval, but judging from the applause most of the audience could have listened to this music all night. Both performers were ever alert to both the musical beauty and dramatic potential of these songs. Quite simply, this was magnificent singing and playing: genuinely shared empathy and wonderful artistry.

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):