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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):