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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Roderick Williams [Photo courtesy of Ingpen & William]
06 Mar 2011

Roderick Williams, Wigmore Hall

Relaxed, confident and composed, baritone Roderick Williams, accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch, gave a polished and performance before a warmly appreciative Wigmore Hall audience, performing an interesting selection of songs by Wolf, Korngold, Mahler and Schumann.

Roderick Williams, Wigmore Hall

Roderick Williams, baritone; Helmut Deutsch, piano. Wigmore Hall, London,

Above: Roderick Williams [Photo courtesy of Ingpen & William]

 

Williams opened with an intimate presentation of six songs from Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch, conveying both the simplicity and immediacy of the emotions expressed in these miniature outpourings of love. ‘Gesegnet sei, durch den die Welt entstund’ (‘Blessed be he, who created the world’) displayed Williams’ assurance and control, as he diminished from a striking fortimisso to a delicate pianissimo, as the poet-speaker blesses the one who ‘made beauty and your face’ in a hushed whisper of awe and devotion. Rhythmic energy characterises ‘Schon streckt’ich aus im Bett’ (‘I’d already stretched my tired limbs’), and Deutsch’s flexible playing underlined the exuberance of the poet who, dreaming of his love, leaps from his bed to roam the streets serenading his beloved. Williams’s gentle tone conveyed the heartfelt sensuality here, but was aptly replaced by a more declamatory style in ‘Geselle, wollin wir uns in Kutten hüllen’ (‘Comrade, shall we disguise ourselves in cowls’), and by an earnest directness, supported by Deutsch’s rippling spread chords, in ‘Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen’ (‘And if you would see your lover die’). The vision of his lover’s golden hair leaves the poet almost speechless (‘the hair is beautiful, beautiful she that wears it!/ Golden threads, silken threads without number —’), and Willams achieved a tremulous sense of wonder and incredulity, floating the phrase ‘Schön Sind die Haare’ (‘the hair is beautiful’) with superb grace, while Deutsch more than matched this expressivity in the harmonically rich postlude.

The upper register of Williams’ voice is secure and focused, but the lower register is no less interesting, and in ‘Sterb ‘ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder’ (‘If I should die, then shroud my limbs in flowers’) he strove for a veiled quality which complemented the low accompanying pedal, before rising to a transcendent, ethereal conclusion, ‘Ich sterbe lieblich, sterb’ ich deinetwegen’ (I’ll die happy if I die for your sake’). Deutsch launched into the final song, ‘Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen kam ich her’ (‘I have come here to sing a serenade’), with an energetic staccato and the performers romped through to the insouciant close. Above all, it was the ease with which Williams moved between moods, registers and timbres which was most impressive.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is best known for his film scores, and perhaps for the opera Die tote Stadt, but interest in his music has grown in recent years (with recordings made of the Violin Concerto, Symphony and string quartets), and the Vier Lieder des Abschieds Op.14 (4 Songs of Farewell) certainly deserve to be heard more often. Composed in 1919, when Korngold was 23-years-old, they present different types of farewell, and employ a Straussian Romantic idiom enriched by increasingly complex chromaticism, wide vocal intervals, and other effects such as glissandi; indeed, the precision of the composer’s instructions is almost overwhelming, only 2 of the 200 bars being free of detailed performance markings.

‘Sterbelied’, a translation of Christina Rossetti’s famous sonnet, ‘Remember’, enabled Williams once again to demonstrate the flexibility of his voice, as he moved effortlessly between registers in the line, ‘Und wenn du willst, vergiß’ (‘and, if you will, forget’), and effectively employed a head voice towards the wistful close. Deutsch captured the emotional weight of ‘Dies eine kann mein Sehnen nimmer fassen’ (‘This one thing my longer can never grasp’), and the performers shaped the song superbly, climaxing with the final frightening image of the poet’s fate — ‘the boundless depths of its darkness’. Ernst Lothar provided the text for the final two songs, ‘Gefaßter Abshied’ (‘Resigned farewell’) and ‘Mond, so gehst du wieder auf’ (‘Moon, thus you rise once more’) where Williams presented an array of colours to convey the fierceness of the poet’s painful grief: ‘Das Herz, das sich mußt’ trennen,/ Wird ohne Ende brennen’ (‘the heart that has suffered separation/ will burn eternally’).

After such intensity, four songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn offered some lightness and humour, with Deutsch enjoying the mischievous rhythmic displacements and raucous postlude of ‘Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen’ (‘How to make naughty children behave’). In these songs, Williams was able to demonstrate his considerable skill at characterisation, here using his face and body most expressively to complement the jaunty rhythms that convey the arrival of the gentleman on horseback. The beauty of his upper register was again displayed in ‘Ich ging mit Lust’ (‘I walked joyfully’), and a dream-like quality was achieved in ‘Erinnerung’ (‘Recollection’) as the poet speaks of ‘The lips that dream of your ardent kisses’. In ‘Aus! Aus!’ (‘Out! Out!’), a young soldier reassures his lover that, although he is soon to march off to war, their love is far from over; she doubts him, and laments that she will enter a convent. Williams and Deutsch captured the irony in Mahler’s setting — which plays on the pun that ‘aus’ can mean both ‘out of town’ and ‘finished’ — the repeating refrain leaving us in no doubt of the young man’s immaturity and frivolousness.

After the interval we returned to the first half of the nineteenth-century, with Schumann’s 12 Kerner Lieder Op.35. There is an extraordinary range in both texts and musical style in these settings, perhaps indicative of the swings of mood that Schumann suffered throughout his life, but Williams and Deutsch shaped them into a coherent whole, carefully judging the passage between songs, emphasising both contrast and continuity. After the exhilaration of ‘Lust der Sturmnacht’, the performers established a mood of still solemnity in ‘Stirb, Lieb' und Freud!’ (‘Die, love and joy!’): Deutsch’s continuous, right-hand melody evoked a spiritual calm and was matched by Williams’ smooth lyricism. The young girl’s prayer to the Virgin Mary, ‘O Virgin pure!/ Let me be/ yours alone’, was delivered without vibrato, indication once again of the baritone’s technical control. A ghostly aura was created in ‘Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes’ (‘To the wine glass of a departed friend’), the unison phrases shared by piano and voice perfectly attuned and shaped. Williams suggested the contemplative depths of the poet-speaker’s realisation that friendship is eternal, an understanding which brought fresh movement and light into the closing stanzas of the song. ‘Wanderung’ (‘Wandering’) followed swiftly on, Deutsch’s rocking triplet rhythms conveying the traveller’s light-hearted spirit and springing step.

The final five songs are more ruminative and questioning. The piano’s role in creating ‘meaning’ was superbly demonstrated by Deutsch at the close of ‘Stille Liebe’ (‘Silent love’), where his delicately ornamented cadence wonderfully enhanced the mood of quiet regret. Williams’ breath control was splendid in ‘Stille Tränen’ (‘Silent tears’), where he made much of the chromatic rise which presents the image of a man who ‘will often weep out his sorrows’. We closed on a desolate note, the spare accompaniment of ‘Alte Laute’ (‘Sounds from the past’) reminding us of the emptiness of the present, as the poet-speaker laments that all joys have now passed, and ‘only an angel shall wake me’ (‘Weckt mich ein Engel nur’). Williams’ composure and control were outstanding as, slower and softer, the rather unemotive melody of the preceding song, ‘Wer macht dich so krank?’ (‘Who made you so ill?’) returned, drawing the cycle to a bleak conclusion.

The exuberant applause was much deserved for one cannot imagine these songs being better sung. Williams’ verbal clarity was excellent throughout; he genuinely understood the texts and conveyed their rich and diverse meanings with thoughtfulness and sincerity.

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):