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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

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):