06 Mar 2011
Schubert Transcribed, Wigmore Hall
Schubert, but not quite as we know him. You can always rely on the Wigmore Hall to promote adventurous recitals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.
Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.
Schubert, but not quite as we know him. You can always rely on the Wigmore Hall to promote adventurous recitals.
This concert with Sandrine Piau, Antoine Tamestit and Markus Hadulla was very unusual indeed, shaking up assumptions about voice and instrument, styles and genres.
Sandrine Piau is an outstanding baroque specialist, renowned for her purity of her tone. A background in baroque develops clarity and precision, so her ventures into other repertoire build on these strengths. Her recordings of Debussy songs, for example, emphasize the transparent textures. It’s a very French aesthetic, lucidly beautiful. When Piau sings Schubert, her approach works well too. In An den Mond D 193 the lustrous sheen of her timbre evoked the moonlight, slowly traversing the landscape. The final strophe, “Dann, lieber Mond, dann nimm den Schleier wieder” was most effective, for her voice calls out, as if penetrating the darkness. Piau’s cool, abstract style sounds like a wind instrument, reinforcing the spirit of this unusual idiom-bending recital.
Nacht und Träume D.827 and Der Taubenpost D 965a are so famous as songs for voice and piano that it’s quite a surprise to hear them transcribed for viola, especially since the piano part remains much the same. It’s certainly not a question of what’s “better”, but more like hearing a completely alien “voice” with a unique personality. This was specially telling in the latter song where Tamestit’s viola catches the cheeky wit in the song, often missed when it’s performed as part of Schwanengesang. The viola does “sing”.
Then, Schubert as opera composer ! Romanze der Helene D 787 is an extract from Schubert’s Singspiele Die Verschworenen (The Conspirators). A recent performance in England was reviewed by Opera Today Schubert’s libretto is adapted from Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. This is the opening aria, expressing the heroine’s longing for her husband who is away at war. Piau sings it with such feeling that you’re won over, though the war in question was the Crusades which are normally romanticized in Christian Europe.
Die Verschworenen isn’t familiar except to Schubert devotees, but Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) D.965 is one of his best loved songs. It’s quite a shock to hear that evocative, curving introduction with viola instead of clarinet. Bowing instead of blowing ! But once you adjust, it’s fascinating. Then Piau starts to sing the swooping, elliptical lines that represent the way shepherds project their voices over mountains and valleys. In your imagination, you “hear” the way a bow glides back and forth across strings. Schubert, but not quite as we know him. You can always rely on the Wigmore Hall to promote adventurous recitals. This concert with Sandrine Piau, Antoine Tamestit and Markus Hadulla was very unusual indeed, shaking up assumptions about voice and instrument, styles and genres. Vocal glissandi. Uncanny, the way our senses can cross reference each other.
Keynote of this recital was Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata D.821. It’s seldom performed live as the arpeggione is an antique instrument few can play. It’s fretted like a guitar but bowed like a cello. The instrument was invented by a guitar maker in 1823, so when Schubert wrote the sonata in 1824, he was pioneering completely new territory. In his own time, Schubert was avant garde.
Nonetheless, Schubert’s affinity for the guitar was rooted fairly deep in his life. I’m not sure if he played the instrument, but it was popular in 19th century Austria and played in social situations. Hugo Wolf’s mother was a keen amateur guitar player, influencing Wolf’s music to a greater degree than is often realized. I don’t know if Schubert played the guitar, but he would have been familiar with it and the situations in which it was played. There have been notable transcriptions of Schubert works adapted for guitar, such as like Die schöne Müllerin D. 795, which work extremely well. No wonder he was attracted to the arpeggione.
The trouble is, the new instrument didn’t catch on and there’s almost nothing written for it in the repertoire. The Arpeggione Sonata is rarely heard except in transcription for cello. Antoine Tamestit’s transcription for viola is fascinating because the viola is smaller and lighter. Four strings instead of the apreggione’s six, but less body than a cello. I’m not sure what viola Tamestit was using, but he produces a lithe, flexible sound. Like guitars and presumably arpeggiones, violas are portable, so Tamestit’s freedom brightens the piece and makes it move, perhaps as Schubert might have imagined it.
This very unusual programme was compiled by Antoine Tamestit, a violist whose original transcriptions of various Schubert staples are now available on CD from the French label Naive. Sandrine Piau appears on the recording as well, so that singular Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) D.965D is preserved for all to enjoy.