Recently in Performances
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
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.