Recently in Performances
“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.
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.
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.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
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.
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
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.