Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

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):