Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

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):