Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



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):