Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera



James Gilchrist [Photo by Jim Four courtesy of Hazard Chase]
19 Jan 2011

James Gilchrist, Wigmore Hall

Arms swinging loosely at his side, a relaxed smile and bright eyes conveying his confident ease, James Gilchrist’s young wanderer bounded nimbly onto the stage at the Wigmore Hall, radiating and embodying the fresh optimism of spring, at the start of this technically assured and dramatically coherent performance of Schubert’s song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin.

Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

James Gilchrist, tenor; Anna Tilbrook, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday

Above: James Gilchrist [Photo by Jim Four courtesy of Hazard Chase]


But such sanguinity was almost immediately disturbed and ultimately dispelled. Although never melodramatic (there was little of the painfully intense brooding and wrought self-examination of Bostridge, Padmore or Scholl), Gilchrist and his accompanist, Anna Tilbrook, shaped the narrative effectively, subtly pointing the changes of mood: thus, shifts from hope to despair, from introspection to anger, seemed inevitable, never exaggerated, as the psychology of the drama unfolded in a controlled, naturalistic manner. The naïve enthusiasm of the opening gave way to a resigned weariness and deeply expressive poignancy at the close of the cycle; the sustained and penetrating stillness and quietude which following the final cadence, revealed that the audience, almost unconsciously swept along on the journey which began so hopefully, truly shared the protagonist’s surprise at his ultimate failure and disappointment.

Gilchrist’s light tenor and distinct diction (all well-shaped vowels and crisp consonants but never mannered) perfectly conveyed the ebullient mood of ‘Das Wandern’ (‘Journeying’). Assertive, dynamic playing by Anna Tilbrook conjured a lively brook, the precise and springy rhythms aptly conjuring the bubbling, restless water. Throughout Tilbrook took an active role in the narrative: the regularity and clarity of the whirling cycles of the mill in ‘Halt!’ and ‘Am Feierabend’ (‘When the work is done’), suggested both the literal power of the mechanism and the figurative fixedness of the forces that the young wanderer must face. Indeed, despite the happy ambience of the opening song, one might have intimated a subtle but insistent menace in the incisiveness of the brook’s tireless energy, which here positively supports the wanderer’s song but which later becomes an insistent tremor — the ‘murmuring friend’ in ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ (‘Thanksgiving to the brook’) — and finally a threatening ‘roar’ (in ‘Mein’) which haunts, undermines and overcomes him.

Despite possessing a naturally light-grained voice, Gilchrist subtly used tone and colour to indicate the wanderer’s psychological journeying and wavering. Thus, the light headiness of ‘Wohin?’ (‘Where to?’) expressed his excited anticipation, while in ‘Halt’ Gilchrist adopted a more resonant timbre upon arriving at the mill. Similarly, the subdued, introspective questioning of ‘Der Neugierige’ (‘The inquisitive one’) — “tell me, brooklet, does she love me?” — gave way first to an sudden, excited outburst when he is sure of the mill girl’s love — “the maid of the mill I love is mein!”; the persistence of the repeated phrase hinted at the young man’s growing self-delusion. Replaced by a harder, more urgent tone in ‘Tränenregen’ (‘Rain of tears’), the vocal colours modulated into bitterness in ‘Die böse Farbe’ (‘The hateful colour’) . Confident and comfortable across all registers, Gilchrist was particularly controlled at the height of his tessitura, in the superbly sustained arcs of ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ and in the more angry protestations of ‘Der Jäger’ (‘The Hunter’).

Rhythm and pace were handled with similar expertise; slight rallentandi at the close of songs permitted a fluent progression to the next, effectively sustaining the narrative momentum. Pauses were meticulously judged — as in ‘Der Neugierige’, where expressive dissonances and inconclusive melodic lines were skilfully crafted to convey impending meditative melancholy: “one little word is ‘yes’,/ the other is ‘no’/ by these two little words/my whole world is bounded.” In the penultimate song, ‘Der Müller und die Bach’ (‘The miller and the brook’), Gilchrist’s almost imperceptible hesitations suggested that the wanderer was lost in his own disillusion; detached from reality, he now dwells in imaginary realms and suicide is the only possible closure.

Tilbrook subtly pointed the oscillations between major and minor modes — the transition to the darker minor at the conclusion of ‘Mein!’ was stunningly affective — so that they served as an aural metaphor for the ironic contrast between the verdant beauty and freshness of the surrounding countryside and the wanderer’s growing disappointment as he recognises the falsity of the land’s promise.

Gilchrist’s musical intelligence is considerable, and this was a thoughtfully conceived and uniformly captivating whole. The paired songs, ‘Die liebe Farbe’ and ‘Die böse Farbe’, in which the rich greenery is first a ‘beloved’ and then a ‘hateful’ colour, were an emotional and expressive highpoint; astonishingly, while the voice almost disappeared in a pianissimo whisper, the words and their sentiment were presented with deep impact. But it was the touching simplicity of the final three songs which was most remarkable — and surprising, after the emotional troughs and peaks of the preceding songs. The pale, gentleness of the voice, defenceless against steady presence of the brook was extraordinary poignant: the significance of Tilbrook’s initial assertiveness was now apparent, the brook’s indifference to the wanderer’s deathly lullaby revealed.

Gilchrist and Tilbrook released a highly acclaimed recording of Die schöne Müllerin in 2009 on the Orchid label. That this audience was deeply affected by this live rendering of the wanderer’s tale, was attested by the long, resonant silence which followed the final cadence.

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):