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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Magdalena Kozená [Photo by Mathias Bothor / Deutsche Grammophon]
06 Feb 2011

Magdalena Kozená, Wigmore Hall

It’s a rare recital that can be at one and the same time intensely intimate and extravagantly exuberant, but that’s just what Magdalena Kozená and the eight-piece Austrian ensemble Private Musicke achieved in this fascinating and exhilarating concert, which brought a thrill of passion, spontaneity and excitement to the usually more restrained and rarified atmosphere of the Wigmore Hall.

Magdalena Kozená, Wigmore Hall

Magdalena Kozená, mezzo-soprano; Private Musicke. Wigmore Hall, London,

Above: Magdalena Kozená [Photo by Mathias Bothor / Deutsche Grammophon]

 

Wandering nonchalantly on the Wigmore Hall stage, as they strummed and struck the opening bars of Filippo’s Vitali’s fiery ‘O bel lumi’ (‘O beautiful eyes’), Private Musicke resembled a band of medieval minstrels, relaxed troubadours enjoying and celebrating their art. They and Kozená proceeded to entertain, surprise and seduce us with a performance of seventeenth-century songs and instrumental works by Monteverdi and his lesser known contemporaries. Variations of tone and colour, pace and texture — created as much by Kozená’s vocal variety as by the ever-changing, inventively-enriching combinations of violone, guitar, colascione, theorbo, harp, lira da gamba and myriad percussion — delineated all possible shades of passion, pleasure, poignancy and pain. The love of which these ‘letters’ speak is multifaceted and protean, transmuting from religious to maternal, from fraternal to amatory, from unrequited to erotic; moreover, Kozená relished the exploration of the boundaries where affection modulates to disdain or obsessive desire turns to vengeful hatred.

Many of these songs possess both a sweet simplicity and more troubling complexity, none more so than Tarquino Merula’s ‘Canzonetta spirituale sopra all nanna’, ostensibly a gentle lullaby sung by the Virgin Mary, but, as it evolves into a anguished lament, revealing disturbing fear of impending loss and dark portents of death and despair. Dissonant semitones which rustle the sparse serenity of the opening grow to become insistent hammer blows in the bass, evoking both the mother’s racking sobs and the alarmingly violent rocking of the cradle: ‘Ah, in your divine breast/ my sweet love and delight,/ a cruel, treacherous spear/ will strike a fatal blow.’ As the mother’s distress overwhelms her, so the accompaniment texture is augmented, taking on a distinctly Moorish colouring; the refrain, ‘My beloved, my love’, echoes through the song, increasingly imploring and inconsolable. Surprising dynamic surges inject further unrest, but in the final lines — ‘what shall I do?/ I shall gaze on my love:/ I shall stay with my head bowed/ as long as my Baby sleeps.’ — the translucency of Kozená’s upper register brings about an uneasy peace.

These songs may not be technically ‘difficult’, but Kozená is able to explore their textual and emotional intricacy, and one senses that the ‘meaning’ she finds is often personal. However, pain and poignancy are certainly balanced by pleasure and joy, and if there is much aggrieved reflection there is also excitement and energy, not least because of the way that the songs segued into one another. Thus, the exclamatory tone and rhythmic vitality of Caccini’s lover’s lament, ‘Odi, Euterpe’ (‘Hear, Euterpe’), culminated in a joyous cry which overspilled into the boisterous instrumental ‘Caravanda Ciacona’ by Luis de Briçeño; and, Giovanni de Macque’s ‘Capriccio stravagante’ formed a seamless link with the subsequent ‘Aurilla mia’ (‘My Aurilla’) by Girolamo Kapsberger, triplets and syncopations effortlessly creating forward momentum.

Renowned for her rich, resonant beauty of tone and seamless legato phrasing, Kozená is not afraid to experiment, and to place sincerity of expression above ‘mere’ vocal loveliness. And, there could be no doubting the pain experienced by the poet-speaker of Sigismondo D’India’s ‘Cruda Amarylli’, as the soprano swelled sharply through the opening syllable, ‘Cruda’ (‘cruel’), and injected a bitter irony as she described Amaryllis, ‘purer and more lovely/ than a snow-white flower’. Twists to the minor tonality, enhanced by vocal emphasis, suggested the elusiveness of the ‘unhearing viper’, and surprising harmonic diversions brought drama and rhetoric to the singer’s provocative and self-defining assertion, ‘I’ mi morrò tacendo’ (‘In silence I shall die’).

Similarly, D'India's ‘Ma Che? Squallido e Oscuro’ (‘Though you are Wretched’) is a rhetorical tour de force: major/minor oscillations, a declamatory style ornamented with melismatic flourishes (‘il furto e ‘l temerario ardire’ — ‘my bold desires and reckless daring’), enriching orchestrations (‘Che sì caldi sperai, vuo’ pur rapire’ — ‘the cold kisses that I hoped would be warm’) and startling chromaticism combined to communicate the lover’s agony at the impending death of his beloved. The astonishing contra-motion which concludes the song, the bass descending as the voice makes a winding chromatic ascent, was rendered even more astonishing as it was breathlessly followed by the lightness and joy of Kapsberger’s ‘Felici gl’animi’ (Happy the souls’) which, despite its rhythmic pleasure and animation, could not quite dispel the disquieting echoes of the former song.

Kozená rose to the peak of her powers in Barbara Strozzi's ‘L'Eraclito Amoroso’ (‘Amorous Heraclitus’) in which the ancient Greek philosopher’s sobs and sighs of anger and despair alternate alarmingly. Kozená exploited every dissonance, every textural or dynamic variation, every opportunity for rubato and flexibility, exaggerating and manipulating each element and using thrilling ornamentation to communicate the protagonist’s distress. An astonishing descent to the brooding, resonant depths of her register was frightening in its unalleviated melancholy: ‘Let all sorrow assail me,/ all grief last for ever,/ let all misfortune so afflict me/ tha tit kills and buries me.’

The instrumental dances which were interspersed throughout the programme did much more than simply vary the pace and mood. Led by guitarist Pierre Pitzl, the players missed no occasion to draw the tiny threads of the song to the surface of the accompaniment; one can only marvel at the patterns and motifs they located and exploited, improvising and inventing with effortless skill and insight — one sensed that they could go on spinning these songs for eternity.

In the CD note which accompanies the recent Deutsche Grammophon recording of these Lettere Amorose, Kozená reminds us that she “grew up with this music”, joining with a lutenist to perform these secular songs while studying at Brno University and revelling in the creative freedom the music, with its lack of strict notational instructions, allowed her. She and Private Musicke certainly achieve their intention to take us back to the popular origins of the songs: “It comes from a time when there was no equivalent to our divide between classical and pop music; it was simply the music everyone heard and sang.” Certainly, she and her colleagues convincingly conveyed the universality of the sentiments and the ‘naturalness’ of their expression. Indeed, at times, the emotional intensity combined with imaginative liberty was astonishingly reminiscent of the modern-day rock concert, as the music seemed to capture and, by turns, ease, intrigue and bewitch the souls of the listeners in the Wigmore Hall.

There are, of course, other ways of performing this repertoire — after all, Kozená stresses that they have deliberately made their own arrangements, freely exploring different instrumentations — and some may prefer less overt showmanship and a more reflective exploration of text and music. On occasion Kozená retreated to the rear of the platform, her voice one among many; but elsewhere she advanced to the very forefront of the centre stage, and occasionally her voice seemed almost too large for the performance space and context, as if her own performance threatened to take precedence over the material itself. However, the collaborators’ obvious delight in each other’s performances and in the collectivity of such music-making was infections. Kozená and Private Musicke presented a wholly committed and coherent vision, one which flourished and grew in a live, evolving exchange with the audience. And, in so doing, they released the latent drama in these small, intimate forms, in an astonishingly rich and rewarding performance.

Claire Seymour

Programme:

Vitali: ‘O bei lumi’
D’India: ‘Cruda Amarilli’
Caccini: ‘Odi, Euterpe, il dolce canto’
Briceno: Caravanda Ciacona
Merula: ‘Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nonna’
Sanz: Canarios
D’India: ‘Torna il sereno Zefiro’
Marini: ‘Con le stelle in ciel che mai’
Foscarini: Passamezzo
Monteverdi: ‘Sí dolce è’l tormento’
Macque: Capriccio stravagante
Kapsberger: ‘Aurilla mia’
D’India ‘Ma che? squallid'e oscuro’
Kapsberger: ‘Felici gl'animi’
Foscarini: Ciaccona
Strozzi: ‘L'Eraclito amoroso’
Ribayaz: Espanioletta
Merula: ‘Folle è ben che si crede’
Monteverdi: ‘Quel sguardo sdegnosetto’

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):