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 Reviews

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

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.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]
03 Apr 2011

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau gave the finest recital so far in the Wigmore Hall’s decade by decade series of German Song.

German Song Decade by Decade 1870-80

Florian Boresch, Malcolm Martineau. Wigmore Hall, London, 30th March 2011

Above: Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]

 

This time the focus was on songs written between 1870 and 1880. It’s a transitional period, dominated not by the unification of Germany but by Richard Wagner. Wagner’s impact was overwhelming. Intensely loved or loathed, his influence redefined the terms of art song. Boesch and Martineau chose a programme based on Brahms, Liszt and Hugo Wolf, to illustrate different responses to Wagner’s presence.

Brahms was an intimate of Eduard Hanslick, so he was somewhat immune. Yet one might be tempted to read Wagner’s hothouse passions into Brahms’s 8 Lieder und Gesänge op 57, as Susan Youens mentions in her programme notes. “All of these poems”, she writes, “are intensely erotic, and some of Brahms’s prissier contemporaries were offended…But the red thread we trace through these 8 songs is that of a lover who must contain his sexual desire without ever knowing whether his patience will be rewarded”.

In “Unbewegte laue luft”, (op 57/8) the heaving bosoms in the text indicate what “heavenly satisfactions” are in store, but the music itself is more restrained. Brahms seems more interested in somnolent Nocturne than erotic excess. The piano part develops like slow footsteps, each third chord in downward tread. Brahms depicts the fountain’s ripples and increases the tempo as the poet speaks of meeting his beloved. Fischer-Dieskau’s version of this song is decidedly chaste. Boesch infuses it with more personal intimacy, but the mood is still much deeper than lust.

What Wagner might have made of these poems by Georg Friedrich Daumer! In “Die Schnur, die Perl’ and Perle” (op 57/7) a pearl necklace “weigt sie sich so fröhlich”, rocks happily on the breast denied to the lover. Brahms doesn’t overextend his hand, so to speak. Boesch is discreet, warming the words gently, without exaggeration. Indeed, the most “Brahmsian” of these songs is “Es träumte mir” (op 57/3) almost a miniature, so delicate is its mood. Boesch almost whispers the repeat “Es sei ein Traum”, and Martineau’s piano expresses what words cannot say.

Boesch and Martineau also performed a mixed group of Brahms songs which enhanced Brahms’s aesthetic restraint. “Mondenschein” (op 85/2, Heine) came over with the reverence of a prayer. Brahms’s God resided in nature. More images of coolness, stillness and depth. In “Dein blaues Auge” (op 59/8) the beloved’s eyes are “as limpid as a lake, and like a lake so cool”. Boesch sings with such lucidity that the chill feels calm and sane. Not Tristan und Isolde. In “O kühler Wald “(op 72/3), “in Schmerzen schlief der Widerhall, die Lieder sind verweht”. Even an echo falls silent, and songs have blown away. Brahms could not have created Seigfried, talking to the birds.

Liszt’s connection to Wagner was obviously more complex. For a composer who was by instinct a pianist, Liszt makes great efforts to engage with words rather than succumb to pianist flourish. Gebet (S331) is a prayer, half spoken, the vocal part undecorated. As the penitent submits himself to God, the piano introduces a change of mood. At the end, Boesch sings “Mir wird so leicht, so leicht”, each phrase separated for emphasis. It’s as if he’s connecting to a spiritual presence we cannot see.

Hugo Wolf worshipped Wagner, and indeed managed to get into Wagner’s hotel to meet his hero, the way teenage rock star groupies might do. Boesch and Martineau chose Wolf’s earliest published songs, to texts by Heine, written when he was around 17. The poems offer dramatic possibilities - ships with great black sails in stormy seas, a shadow stalking a party, Hussars blowing trumpets. Already you can detect the germ of Wolf’s later vignettes. Not for nothing was Wolf called “The Wagner of the Lied”. Because these songs are so early, they need to be performed with particular care, and often don’t get the treatment they deserve. Boesch and Martineau take them seriously, and make them wholly convincing.

Two other composers were included in this programme. Zdeněk Fibich, much influenced by Wagner and the German side of his upbringing, wrote the opera Šárka which still sometimes surfaces in performance. In this recital, he was represented by Loreley a song to Heine’s text. It’s set dramatically, welling waves and wild, almost contrapuntal crescendo — a melodrama in miniature.

Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916) is much less familiar. Apparently he had connections to Brahms, and wrote mainly non-vocal music. Boesch and Martineau chose two songs (also Heine), Es war ein alte König and Es fällt ein Sterne herunter. Both attempt to dramatize the songs to a great degree — falling starlight figures in the piano part, for example. Martineau, however, stops them from feeling heavy handed, and Boesch stresses the lilt in words like “Apfelbaume” to liven the mood.

Intelligent encores, too, with a nod to the future of Lieder. Wolf’s Anakreon’s Grab (1890) and Brahms’s Da Unter im Tal (1894), proof yet again that simplicity and restraint can be exquisite.

The concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 online and on demand, later this Spring. If you hear strange ringing on the recording, it’s a mobile phone which rang at least four times. Accidents happen, so I won’t get irate. But it’s a reminder to switch off and double check every time without fail.

Anne Ozorio

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):