Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Bullock [Photo by Anne-Marie Le Blé courtesy of HarrisonParrott]
19 Dec 2010

Susan Bullock, Wigmore Hall

It may have been five years since Susan Bullock last performed at the Wigmore Hall, as her prominence on the world operatic stage has taken her away from the recital hall, but she wasted no time getting into her stride in this charming and musically varied concert.

Susan Bullock, Wigmore Hall

Susan Bullock, soprano; Malcolm Martineau, piano. Wigmore Hall, London. Monday 13th December 2010

Above: Susan Bullock [Photo by Anne-Marie Le Blé courtesy of HarrisonParrott]

 

Performing works by diverse composers hailing from many countries, Bullock reminded us of her imposing and engaging stage presence, and that her musical and dramatic talents are just as suited to interpreting the song repertoire as to embodying the Wagnerian and Straussian heroines who have made her name of late.

Bullock and her accompanist, Malcolm Martineau, constructed a thoughtful programme containing many unfamiliar and intriguing offerings. ‘Banquo’s Buried’ by Australian composer, Alison Bauld, made a striking opening to the second half of the recital. Drawn from her ballad opera, Nelland, which comprises a series of what Bauld terms ‘dramatic scenas’ based on texts from Shakespeare’s plays, this piece revealed the composer’s sure theatrical instincts. Not surprisingly, Bullock relished the dramatic tension and operatic gestures. Bauld has commented on the origins of this setting of text from Lady Macbeth’s sleep-walking scene, which owes to the “memory of a powerful and idiosyncratic performance of the role by Sybil Thorndike. The manner was operatic and perhaps, even then, unfashionable, but there was a ‘go-for-broke’ spirit which made sense of the tragedy. The piece was conceived for all sopranos who enjoy a sense of theatre.” One cannot imagine a soprano better suited to the role than Bullock.

From Australia to France, and four songs by Henri Duparc. ‘Au pays où se fait la guerre’ (‘To the land where there is war’) is all that remains of Duparc’s long-held, and regretfully abandoned, ambitions for an opera based on Pushkin’s Rusalka. With its juxtaposition of expansive lyrical melody and recitative, the song combines traits of the operatic scena and French mélodie; Bullock effectively conveyed the dramatic heights of the closing section as the poet-speaker hopes to conquer the embracing darkness, sustained by “so many kisses and so much love/ that perhaps I shall be healed”.

Then, home to England, with Warlock, Bridge and Quilter all represented. Bullock’s diction was consistently clear in each of the languages she explored, but particularly so in Quilter’s rhapsodic ‘Fair house of joy’ and plaintive ‘Autumn evening’; in the latter, Martineau’s melancholy prelude compellingly haunted the song, before returning in full in the affecting, elegiac postlude.

Indeed, Martineau was a superb accompanist to Bullock’s dramatic presentations. Supportive and thoughtful, he enjoyed the piano’s own musical narratives, effectively entering the drama but never overwhelming the voice, as in the contrapuntal interweavings of the third stanza of Duparc’s ‘Chanson triste’ (‘Song of sadness’): “You will rest my poor head,/ ah! sometimes on your lap,/ and recite to it a ballad/ that will seem to speak of us.” Particularly touching was Martineau’s communication of harmonic nuance which intimated feeling and meaning, subtly but persuasively, as in Duparc’s ‘Romance de Mignon’ and, especially in Warlock’s ‘Pretty ring time’, an idiomatic setting of Shakespeare’s ‘It was a lover and her lass’. Moreover, in the composer’s freely structured ‘Phidylé’, it was the piano’s melodic refrain, rhythmic control and harmonic sureness, as the song passed through a myriad of tonal centres, that provided coherence through the emotional extremes.

It was however in the first half of the recital, with the songs by Grieg, Rimsky Korsakov and Brahms, that Bullock’s vocal control and relaxed confidence were most on display. Throughout these songs she used her strong, ample voice with sensitivity and restraint, only unleashing its full power in moments of real intensity and preferring to convey meaning through colour and the exuberance of her personality. Grieg’s ‘Sechs Lieder Op.48’ were dedicated to the Swedish soprano Ellen Gulbranson who, like Bullock, was a prominent performer in Wagnerian roles. ‘Dereinst, Gedanke mein’ (‘One day, my thoughts’) is complex both formally and harmonically, and the performers were perfectly united in their reading of the rich harmonic colourings of the song, framed as they are by the reflective stillness of the piano’s opening bars and the simple octave falls of the close. In contrast, ‘Lauf der Welt’ (‘The way of the world’) possesses a folksy energy and insouciance, and voice and accompanist coordinated delightfully throughout, playfully enjoying the rhythmic flexibilities. Bullock’s fresh open sound and unaffected shaping of the poetic phrases was outstanding in ‘Die verschwiegene Nachtigall’ (‘The secretive nightingale’) and ‘Ein Traum’ (‘A dream’) was characterised by a focused tone of real warmth and depth; while Martineau’s subtle syncopations endowed ‘Zur Rosenzelt’ (‘Time of roses’) with a suitably understated intensity and urgency, the delayed final cadence being particularly affecting.

Three songs by Rimsky Korsakov followed, moving from the lament-like shadows of ‘Na kholmakh Gruzii’ (‘The hills of Georgia’), with its ponderous piano pedals, to the explosive exuberance of ‘Zvonvhe zhavoronka penye’ (‘The lark sings louder’). But it was in six songs by Brahms that the real power and precision of Bullock’s voice became wonderfully evident. Both performers shaped the extreme contrasts within ‘Meine Liebe ist grün’ Op.63 No.5 (‘My love is green’) with consummate skill and sensitivity; Martineau relished the rhythmic complexities of ‘Simmer leiser wird mein Schlummer’ Op.105 No.2 (‘My sleep grows ever quieter’) while Bullock opened her voice to its expressive heights in the final cry, “If you would see me once again,/ come soon, some soon!” The control of dramatic tension in ‘O wüßt ich doch den Weg zurück’ Op. 63 No.8 (‘Ah! if I but knew the way back’) was outstanding: and, as the poet-speaker longs to regain his childhood’s vision – “not to see the times change,/ to be a child a second time” – Bullock’s lyricism was heart-melting. The gentle, easeful fluency of ‘Wir wandelten’ Op.96 No.2 (‘We were walking’) contrasted with the infectious vivacity of ‘Das Mädchen spricht’ Op. 107 No.3 (‘The maiden speaks’), whose sprightly, springing rhythms brought the first half of the recital to such a vibrant close.

The chilling evening frost and the lure of Christmas shopping may have accounted for the rather reduced audience numbers, but this was a real treat and one hopes that another five years do not pass before Bullock returns to the Wigmore Hall stage.

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):