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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
09 Mar 2011
Luca Pisaroni at the Wigmore Hall, London
After hearing his stunning Leporello at Glyndebourne and his Figaro at Salzburg, there was no way I was going to miss Luca Pisaroni’s concert with Wolfram Rieger at the Wigmore Hall, London. But I was delighted by how wonderful he sounded close up in recital.
Extremely erudite choice of programme too. When Pisaroni started singing, it fell into place. He’s primarily an opera singer and a specialist in Italian repertoire, Mozart and baroque. He even grew up in Busseto, Verdi’s birthplace, so he could coast to the top “to the manner born”.
So the fact that he chose an unusually intelligent programme says a lot about his versatility and musical instinct. He’s also smart enough to have figured out the Wigmore Hall ethos. Although the auditorium wasn’t full, those who were there were the real cognoscenti, serious listeners who really appreciate good singing (and good programmes). Some of them are getting on in years and don’t get out as much as they used to, so the fact that they were there is a huge compliment to Pisaroni.
And Pisaroni delivered! Schubert wrote several operas in Italian, but instead of singing “bleeding chunks”, Pisaroni picked Drei Gesänge D902 (Metastasio, 1827), which look like excerpts but were written as stand-alones. This integrity brings them closer to Schubert’s song repertoire. They’re Italianate but Schubert’s Austrian aesthetic is clearly distinct. Pisaroni placed the last song in the group first, Il modo di prender moglie (How to choose a wife — for money!), which was a good idea. It’s a strophic comic ballad which doesn’t make great demands — lulls you into forgetting who the composer might be. Then, the first song L’incanto degli occhi (The magic of eyes) where the true Schubertian voice is unmistakable. What a witty juxtaposition! Pisaroni not only has an amazingly good voice, but musical intelligence, too. Then you appreciate the humour in Il traditor deluso (The deluded traitor) which isn’t morbid, despite the title. When Pisaroni sang “Ove son io?” (Where am I?), he repeated it cryptically, I had a vivid mental image of Schubert, frustrated by having too little success in a genre he needed to master if he’d compete with changing fashions.
Hence, Rossini. Again, Pisaroni chose songs rather than bits from popular operas, to connect better with Schubert. Pisaroni is a bass baritone, so the darker timbres were extremely beautiful, but the voice is agile and flexible, so the transits upwards come with ease. Truly a gorgeous voice, full of nuance and colour.
Franz Liszt wrote transcriptions of Schubert’s songs which are still popular today, though they sound much more Lisztian than Schubertian. They’re florid, as if Liszt can’t quite get the Lieder aesthetic and submerges it in too many notes. That’s fine, they’re different composers. Liszt also knew Schumann, the “new music” of the 1840’s. There are well over 70 Liszt songs for voice and piano, but Pisaroni again chose thoughtfully. Two settings of Heine, one of which, Im Rhein im schönen Strome is indelibly associated with Dichterliebe and Schumann. Liszt’s S272 (1855) is a more studied piece, reflecting a different approach to song, which is quite distinct, though the text in the last verse demands similarly strong phrasing.
Pisaroni and Rieger followed with three songs Schumann didn’t set, to emphasize Liszt’s unique style. There are vaguely Schumannesque passages in the piano parts, though Liszt doesn’t write extended preludes and postludes. Der Vätergruft (1844, Uhland) displays Liszt’s gifts as dramatist. The ghost of a knight joins his ancestors in their tomb. “Die Geisterlaute verhallten, da mocht es gar stille sein” (Ghostly sounds fade and silence reigns again). This could almost be a song without words, it’s so effective.
This extremely well planned recital ended with Liszt’s Tre sonetti di Petrarca S270 in the version for baritone and piano. Liszt as pianist triumphs. This isn’t Germanic Lieder by any means but completely unique. Reiger played with great delicacy, matched by Pisaroni’s sensitive modulation. His Benedetto sia’l giorno is truly a love song. He lingers gently on the words “E i sospiri e le lagrime” so they feel like a gentle caress. An exquiste recital wonderfully realized. Next time Pisaroni appears, there should be queues around the block. He’s singing Argante in Handel’s Rinaldo at Glyndebourne this summer with Sandrine Piau, who did fascinating programme of Schubert transcriptions last week. (See review here) So we’ve heard both Pisaroni and Piau in two unusual recitals in the same week at the Wigmore Hall. Brilliant!