Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
06 Jun 2010
Bostridge and Pappano at Wigmore Hall
Bringing their recent recording of Schubert’s late songs to the concert stage, Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano swept through a sequence which ranged from bitter-sweet regret to angry self-reproach, from hesitant hope to turbulent despair, in this the second of two performances at the Wigmore Hall.
Serious, earnest, meticulous, intense
such qualities we have come to expect of any Bostridge performance. Some may find his cool, even severe, stage presence and arch gestures, occasionally distracting or overly mannered; but there is no doubting his commitment to the music and, equally, to the emotional drama of the texts. As ever, his diction was crisp and clear; the desire to convey every nuance of the poetry at times took precedence over pure vocal beauty or melodic lyricism, but was evidence of absolute dramatic integrity.
Although there was no continuous ‘narrative’ running through this recital, which was performed without an interval, two archetypal Romantic themes to which the texts repeatedly returned provided unity — unattainable love and alienation. The opening song, ‘Widerschein’ (‘Reflection’), established a subdued mood. Coloured by the lower registers of piano and voice, a halting, melodic line tells of the fisherman who waits ‘sullenly’ on the bridge for his absent love; as he dreams, a radiant vision is reflected in the water — a fitting metaphor for the unfulfilled yearning revealed in so many of the songs that followed. Here, Bostridge’s placement of the faltering vocal line was precise and controlled, but in ‘Der Winterabend’ (‘The winter evening’), his tone was more melancholic above restless semi-quavers in the right hand of the accompaniment. The melismatic close, ‘Seufze still, und sinne und sinne’ (‘Sign in silence, and muse and muse’), plaintively conveyed the old man’s ceaseless meditations as he awaits the coming of night and death. It is such attention to textual and musical detail that reveals Bostridge’s immersion and genuine involvement in the world of each song.
‘Die Sterne’ (‘The stars’) was more assertive, driven by the piano’s dactylic rhythm which mimics the stars’ heavenly shining. At times, however, Pappano’s boisterous accompaniment overwhelmed the voice; indeed, throughout the recital his playing, while undoubtedly committed, often lacked discretion and restraint, and was marked by over-use of the sustaining pedal and some cloudiness of texture.
‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Swan Song’), gathered into a collection — and shrewdly titled — by the Viennese publisher, Tobias Haslinger, comprises seven settings of Rellstab and six of Heine. This was an anguished account: not a ‘story’, rather variations on the theme of emotional vulnerability. Extreme contrasts characterise the Rellstab songs. The subtly shifting modulations of ‘Liebesbotschaft’ (‘Love’s message’), matched by a perfectly understated dialogue between the voice and the inner lines of the accompaniment, were followed by Pappano’s turbulent drum rhythms at the opening and close of ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ (‘Warrior’s foreboding’), where dreams of his beloved disturb the soldier’s intimations of imminent death. Bostridge and Pappano highlighted the inner contrasts too, underlining affective harmonic movements, drawing out the lyricism of the soldier’s bitter-sweet recollections, “How often have I dreamt sweet dreams/ resting on her warm breast!” Such melancholy brooding was deftly swept away by the feverish questioning of ‘Frühlings-Sehnsucht’ (‘Spring longing’); Pappano’s tremulous triplets precipitated a frenetic rush to the poet’s last passionate plea, “Who shall finally quell my longing?” The answer, “Nur Du!”, (“only you!”) was an exhausted cry of despair.
‘Ständchen’ (‘Serenade’) was fittingly more restrained; and here Pappano did sustain a deft staccato throughout, underpinning the gentle nocturnal imploring of the poet’s song, which rise to a suggestive final call, “Komm, beglücke mich!” (“Come — make me happy!”). ‘In der Ferne’ (‘Far away’) was a sombre rendition of the Romantic wanderer’s alienation: the voice sank to its lowest registers, a desolate pianissimo revealing that “alas, no blessing follows him/ on his way!” Bostridge balanced detailed attention to individual words — “Nirgend verweilender” (“you who never linger”) — with carefully shaped melodic arches, bringing a fleeting warmth to the protagonist’s memories of whispering breezes and sunbeams. ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’) was a jauntily ironic conclusion, with its tripping accompaniment rhythms and deceptively nonchalant “Farewells!”
The Heine songs are more concentrated in their intensity, and as the performers moved swiftly from one song to the next, there was a disturbing accumulation of dramatic tension. The misery and self-pity of ‘Der Atlas’ (‘Atlas’) was shocking in its honesty; the oppressiveness of ‘Die Stadt’ (‘’The town’) — with its diminished harmonies and bare, profound close — overwhelming. Bostridge brought a gentle tenderness to the major-key second verse of ‘Ihr Bild’ (“Her likeness”), striking after the cold unisons of the opening, and dashed away by the forceful admission in the last line, “I have lost you!” The stillness at the opening of ‘Am Meer’ (“By the sea”) seemed to offer the hint of some repose and consolation, but rapidly declined into a pained and angry revelation of a woman’s betrayal. But it was the closing song, ‘Der Doppelgänger’ (‘The wraith’), that brought forth the most remarkable display of emotional catharsis, building from veiled beginnings to tormented self-castigations. With astonishing courage, Bostridge relished the free declamations, interpreting every detail, fully becoming the man “wracked with pain” in both voice and body.
Seidl's 'Die Taubenpost' was performed as a brief encore, momentarily alleviating the anguish but not fully dispelling the darkness as we exited the Hall, into the fading evening light.