Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christ carrying the cross by El Greco (1600-05)
16 Sep 2010

Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch at Wigmore Hall

In this recital of thirty-four songs selected from Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch, Ian Bostridge and Angelika Kirchschlager revealed the profound emotional intensity of Wolf’s art; the concentrated ardour of their performance intimated the heightened passion and expressive angst which, as well as driving Wolf’s creative spirit, also led to persistent depression and resulted in insanity and finally death in mental asylum at the age of 42.

Hugo Wolf: Spanisches Liederbuch

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Angelika Kirchschlager, soprano; Julius Drake, piano. Wigmore Hall, London. Monday 13th September.

Above: Christ carrying the cross by El Greco (1600-05)

 

Religious fervour and sexual ecstasy are almost indistinguishable in these songs. Wolf was introduced to Emanuel Geibel’s and Paul Heyse’s translations of Spanish poetry in 1888, an encounter which unleashed a frenzy of creative inspiration, and which guided his musical style and techniques in surprising new directions. Vocal lines are more melodic, less declamatory, than his earlier settings of Eichendorff, Mörike and Goethe; in these Spanish songs, Wolf seems to have paid less attention to the exact intonations and rhythms of the words and instead to have submerged himself in the elated atmosphere of the poems.

The collection is divided into sacred and secular. We began with ten of the devotional songs, songs which are remarkably consistent in terms of mood, pace and texture — chordal accompaniments, processional rhythms, repeating slowly and incessantly — and which accumulate to embody the over-wrought, obsessive sentiments of the texts.

Bostridge_2010.gifIan Bostridge [Photo by Ben Ealovega]

Ian Bostridge is musically and physically suited to this repertoire. His highly nuanced style of delivery, which can at times seem over-mannered, here perfectly conveyed the mood of agonizing guilt, self-chastisement and martyrdom. Moving between pained earnestness and glorious rapture, Bostridge made effective use of his powerfully focused high timbre, subtle inflections suggesting a strained desperation, and the rich resources of a more baritonal range. Ever alert to the piquant dissonances in the accompaniment — the inexorable chromatic rises, the unexpectedly momentary clarity and light offered by a major-key resolution — his diction was precise. Tall and pale, physically responsive to the texts, he seemed to epitomise the combination mystical reverence and delight in intensely real detail so characteristic of Spanish baroque art.

‘Ach, wie lang die Seele schlummert’ (‘Ah, how long the soul has slumbered’) was particularly impressive. A tritone fall in the piano bass and the sparseness of the accompaniment at the opening of the song create a deathly, muted ambience; Bostridge’s voice sank into its lower regions, then rose and warmed startlingly in a glorious imitation of real and figurative illumination as ‘the longed-for light/breaks through and dazzles [my soul’s] eyes’. The troubled questions of ‘Herr, was trägt der Boden hier’ (‘Lord, what will grow in this soil’) were given musical shape by the piano’s rhetorical gestures, while the tenor line acquired an intense focus in reply, ‘Thorns, dear heart, for me,/ and for you a wreath of flowers’. Unease gently disturbed the surface calm, until burst forth in an explicit outburst of anxiety, ‘O my Lord, for whose head are these wreaths woven, say?’ One was reminded of the expressionist outpourings of El Greco.

Kirschlager_Angelika_2010.gifAngelika Kirchschlager [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]

Bostridge was partnered in this recital by Angelika Kirchschlager. The soprano seemed ill at ease initially, and given that she had cancelled a recital just two days before, we might assume that she was suffering from a bad cold; for her voice seemed dry and constricted at times, and her breathing laboured. ‘Mühvoll komm’ich und beladen’ (‘In toil I come, and heavy-laden’) is a tortured emotional drama, the dissonant bass-register chords of the piano’s opening capturing the despairing weariness of the opening lines, ‘In toil I come and heavy-laden,/ receive me, O haven of mercy!’ However, Kirchschlager struggled to control her intonation during the biting dissonances which permeate the song. She seemed more comfortable in the only serene, contented song in the sequence, the gentle ‘Ach, des Knaben Augen’ (‘Ah, the infant’s eyes’), where she found a warm, restful tone to convey the radiance of the mother’s love, reflected also by the major tonality and soothing consonance of the song.

The secular followed the sacred — twenty-four songs about romantic and erotic love. After the sombre stillness of so many of the sacred songs, the immediate change of style and pace was surprising: the whirling semi-quavers and exuberant trills of the triple time ‘Kinge, klinge, mein Pandero’ (‘Sound, tambourine, sound’) immediately whisking us off into another world, one of joy, desire, coquetry and mockery. If anything, it felt as if we were journeying a little too fast, as successive songs tumbled into one another with scarcely a pause; at times the singers barely had time to rise from their seats, so rapidly had pianist Julius Drake launched himself into the next song.

Many of these songs are playfully ironic and tempt the singer to indulge in some teasing play-acting; Kirchschlager clearly enjoyed the mischievousness, but in fact she was musically more at home in the more simple euphoric songs, such as ‘Bedeckt mich mit Blumen’ (‘Cover me with flowers’); meanwhile Bostridge’s sometimes exaggerated vocal gestures aptly suggested the dark ironies of these poems. ‘Auf dem grünen Balkon’ (‘On the green balcony’) was superbly sung: the tenor savoured the self-mockery of the poet-narrator who describes women’s guiles, always ‘mixing a drop of sadness into pleasure:/ with her eyes she leads me on,/ but her finger tells me: No!’ — the slightest rhythmic hesitation wonderfully imitating the satirical effect of the punctuation here.

Julius Drake relished the complexities and variety of the piano accompaniments. Bostridge and Drake know each other well; typically, the rubatos in ‘Wer sein holdes Live verloren’ (‘He who has lost his loved one’) and the changes of pace in ‘Herz, verzage nicht geschwind’ (Heart, do not despair too soon’) were perfectly co-ordinated. Yet Kirchschlager seemed a little rushed, as at times Drake allowed the admittedly soloistic writing for the piano to encourage him to dominate and lead, when the suffering soprano might have been pleased to have a little more time to breathe.

It was not until the twentieth century that the true significance of El Greco’s dramatic art was appreciated and understood. Wolf is more fortunate in having singers of this calibre and conviction to remind us what a startlingly original composer of lieder he was.

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):