07 Nov 2010
Angelika Kirchschlager, German Lieder 1830-40 Wigmore Hall
Angelika Kirchschlager and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall showed what real Lieder singing should be.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
Angelika Kirchschlager and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall showed what real Lieder singing should be.
Of course Lieder can be enjoyed on a superficial level as pure sound, but it’s infinitely more rewarding when intelligent interpretation brings out true depth.
There are celebrities of whom it’s said that opera fans think they’re Lieder singers, and Lieder fans think they’re opera singers. But not of Kirchschlager, who is superlative in both genres.
This was an unusual programme, far more difficult to carry off than might seem in theory. Instead of going for surefire hit material, Kirchschlager and Martineau chose material that showed how fertile German song writing was in the decade 1830-40. These are most certainly not “Victorian parlour songs” as they were written for sophisticated and intellectual audiences who knew the composers and poets well. Fanny Mendelssohn gave regular recitals at home, which were attended by the best minds in Berlin, and were so popular that the house was extended to cope with guests. Salons like these were the way artistic people converged. The Schubertiades were by no means unique.
Felix Mendelssohn’s songs about Spring are gloriously ecstatic, “Frühlingstrunknen Blumen”, (spring-intoxicated flowers) are not merely decorative but a metaphor for new life after hard times. Kirchschlager’s voice rises lithely, then dips sensuously round words like “Nun muss sich alles, alles wenden” (All things must change) Winter will return, but Mendelssohn embraces the moment of energy. Kirchschlager’s perception brought out the link between the Spring songs and the second set of Mendelssohn songs. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges(op 34/2), for example, is sensual. Then a real stroke of good programme planning. In Neue Liebe(op 19a/4), the queen of the elves appears and smiles enigmatically. Is it new love, or death?
This reinforces the meaning of Franz Paul Lachner’s Die badende Elfe. Most people have heard of Lachner in connection with Richard Wagner, who ousted him from Munich. Lachner’s song cycle Sängerfahrt op 33 dates from 1831-2 when he still lived in Vienna. While he was influenced by Schubert, whom he knew personally, Lachner’s songs evoke earlier traditions, for example the songs of Carl Zelter, who introduced Goethe to young Felix Mendelssohn.
There are some wonderful songs in Lachner’s Sängerfahrt, though Kirchschlager sang only four, probably wisely as some don’t suit female voice. But how she made a case for them ! Die badende Elfe came vividly to life, Martineau playing arpeggiations that sparkled as delicately as water and light. Kirchschlager’s timbre was clear, bright, almost trembling with excitement. A man spies a water nymph bathing in the moonlight. Since the poem is by Heine, expect deeper meanings. Kirchschlager shapes the phrase “Arm und Nacken, weiss und lieblich” sensually. What’s turning the poet on is implicit, especially since Lachner wrote the songs for his bride-to-be. Pure, chaste,but erotic.
it’s hard to forget Schumann’s Dichterliebe settings of Im Mai and Eine Liebe, but Kirchschlager did Lachner more than justice. I’ve heard three versions of these songs and thought I knew them well, but Kirchschlager’s a revelation. Her lucidity eclipses all else. Martineau’s playing, too, convinced me that modern piano isn’t necessarily a bar to freeing the energy in these songs. The explicitly Schubertian elements in Die einsame Träne might sound derivative, but Kirchschlager sings with conviction. The “falling tears” in the piano part work well because Martineau is light of hand and pedal.
Three of the Fanny Mendelssohn songs heard here come from her Op 1. They’re not early works, but the first published, which was a daring act for a woman of her status at that time. She was a pianist rather than a singer, so her songs give Martineau a chance to bring out their best qualities. In Schwanenlied,(op 1/1) for example, slow, graceful movement, and the ending dissolves mysteriously. The poet’s Heine, whom Fanny met and disliked, but the song captures the foreboding behind the shining surface. On the other hand, in Warum sind denn, die Rosen so blass, (op1/3) she replaces Heine’s “Leichenduft”(stink of a rotting corpse) with the word “Blümenduft”. (scent of flowers).
Kirchschlager and Martineau also chose Carl Loewe’s op 60 setting of the Chamisso poems Schumann made immortal in Frauenliebe und Leben. Here, Kirchschlager filled lines like “die Quelle der Freudigkeit” with such warmth that even the most fervent feminist could not doubt its sincerity. Martineau made much of the almost Brahmsian richness in the piano part, particularly lovely in An meinen Herzen. Since Brahms was at the time only three years old, it’s an indication of how significant Loewe was, and why the music of this decade, 1830-40 needs further assessment.
Loewe’s songs are vivid and imaginative. Two songs from his Vier Fabbelieder op 64 (1837) gave Kirchschlager a chance to show what a vivid character singer she can be, combining her opera experience with true Lieder singing. Der Kuckkuck uses the same Wunderhorn text that Mahler would set fifty years later. Thanks to Kirchschlager, Loewe’s cuckoo is funnier, even if the donkey cry, “Ija ! Ija!” isn’t quite so obvious. More of a challenge was the long strophic ballad, Der verliebte Maikäfer (Glow worm in Love). A foppish glow worm courts a fly but is too vain to see she can’t stand him. Nice growling sounds to create the lumpen bug, light sharp sounds for the fly. The punchline comes at the end, when the story changes - two (human) lovers are about to fool around at night. The story’s complicated, but Kirchschlager’s diction is so clear that meaning comes through even if you don’t know German. This is where her experience shows. She acts through her voice, expressively, never losing the sharp wit beneath the charm.
This concert was being recorded for future broadcast. If it’s released on CD, it will be a must for anyone seriously interested in Lieder.