Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

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):