Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

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):