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

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

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):