Recently in Performances
Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company
co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on
Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War
For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.
There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham
Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.
Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.
Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel
One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander
Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several,
recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred
Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was
first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic
under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart,
based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney
at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at
Netherlands Opera earlier that year).
I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most
appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques
Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.
This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .
During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.
Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.
The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a
last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance
at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna
Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.
With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the
10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered
the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is
designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the
composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to
‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest
cornerstones of our civilisation’.
Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.
The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.
When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés
out of our misery?
Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.
Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.
‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.
It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.
For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.
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
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
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.