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

Mahler Songs : Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

James Bowman
27 May 2011

James Bowman, The Last London Recital

It’s easy to slip into platitudes when eulogising the last London recital performance of a singer commonly lauded as the outstanding countertenor of his generation.

James Bowman, The Last London Recital

James Bowman, countertenor; Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord. Wigmore Hall, London, Saturday 21st May 2011.

Above: James Bowman

 

After more than forty years of superlative music-making in the opera houses and concert halls of the world, on Saturday evening at the Wigmore Hall James Bowman bid a fond farewell to London audiences, who first witnessed his supreme artistry, musicianship and generosity in 1967 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – a year which also saw him first perform the role of Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the English Opera Group, a work with which he has had a long and distinguished association.

The excitement and sense of ‘occasion’ which buzzed in the foyer was more than matched by the joy and warmth of the reception which greeted Bowman’s appearance on the platform. But, there was no sense of cliché or routine about the evening’s performance, in no small part due to the presence of the young Iranian harpsichordist, Mahan Esfahani, who is quickly establishing himself as the leading harpsichordist of his generation.

Esfahani opened the recital with a vibrant, even effervescent, performance of J.S. Bach’s ‘Ouvertüre nach französischer Art’, sweeping through the successive dances – Courante, Gavottes, Passpieds, Sarabande, Bourrées and Gigue – with a rhythmic muscularity that was both shocking and exhilarating. He relished the drama of this music, emphasising the rhetorical flourishes of the Courante, while also bringing control and clarity to the more intricate cadences of the Passpieds. Esfahani is physically involved with his instrument, delighting in the sounds of its mechanism; rising from his seat as if his whole body is contributing to the production of sound, he positively foregrounds the instrument’s mechanism. Never does technique, albeit astonishing, outshine the music: an astounding array of tones and shades was matched by an attention to the expressivity of the dense counterpoint, and a concern to convey the power of harmonic tension and release. Ornamentation provided both decorative elegance and forward momentum, as Esfahani revealed his mastery of the architecture of the form, injecting a relentless energy into the streams of even, running semi-quavers and triplets to convey a sense of the composer’s effortless creative outpouring.

After the interval, Esfahani explored the rich resonances and full textures of Bach’s Adagio in G (BWV 968), presenting the repeating rhythmic motifs with weight and majesty, and eloquently declaiming the delicate cadential features. The Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 984) gave new meaning to the cliché, tour de force. The relentless unravelling of the ceaseless passage work was not marred by a single hesitation or stumble, yet there was no sense of perfunctory note-spinning, and every contrapuntal dialogue was crystal clear – a true conversation of musical voices. It was as if Esfahani believed that the composer had presented him with an entity, a musical ‘being’, which must be both intellectually and physically overcome and mastered. The major cadences which concluded both Prelude and Fugue were both triumphal and celebratory.

Despite such glories, the spotlight shone firmly on James Bowman. Bowman’s first ever performance on the Wigmore Hall stage took place in November 1967, during an audition as a member of David Munrow’s ‘Early Music Consort’, before the legendary agent, Emmie Tillett. The ensemble went on to become one of the most ground-breaking and inspiring groups among the early music specialists, leading the way in the revival of period performance. Thus, three settings by Henry Purcell were a fitting choice with which to begin. Although he took a little time to settle, and the intonation was not always reliable (several upwardly resolving appoggiaturas had just a little too much ‘piquancy’), Bowman still possesses a remarkable vocal instrument: for range of colour, sheer beauty of sound, and flexibility between registers there are surely few who can match him. In ‘The Queen’s Epicedium’, whose Latin text laments the death of the ‘Queen of Arcadia’ which has silenced the lyres and poets of the land, his manipulation of chromatic inflection demonstrated his real involvement with the text and the sheer beauty of the lyrical enunciations and melismas conveyed the sincere grief that cannot be expressed ‘by lamenting breast’s/ Unrelenting sobbing’. The final vision of ‘Her star, immovable,/ [which] Shines on in the heavens’ powerfully expressed a bright optimism. Throughout Esfahani’s accompaniment provided understated but perfectly judged support, punctuating and enhancing the textual nuances through pointed alternation of major and minor modes, as in the rhetorical declaration, ‘The Queen, alas,/ The Queen of Arcadia is gone forever’.

Bowman’s diction was crisper in the subsequent English settings ‘Fairest Isle’ and ‘Thrice Happy Lovers’. In the former, the ringing tones delighting in the fact that ‘Venus here will choose her dwelling’ were equalled by the quiet tenderness of Dryden’s concluding lines, ‘And as these excel in beauty,/ Those shall be renown’d for love.’ Despite his years, Bowman embodied youthful enchantment in ‘Thrice Happy Lovers’, with its more elaborately melismatic style and telling interplay between voice and harpsichord.

The first countertenor to sing at Glyndebourne (in Cavalli’s La Calisto in 1971), there is scarcely an opera house in the world in which Bowman has not appeared. He concluded the recital with Handel, demonstrating an effortless legato in ‘Tacerò, pur che fedele’ from Agrippini, placing precisely nuanced weight on particular syllables to enhance the affekt. A sequence of three recitatives and arias followed, confirming Bowman’s innate feeling for the rhythm and form of dramatic texts, and his music range, both technical and expressive. ‘In un folto bosco ombroso’ was notable for controlled phrasing, while the pastoral calm, enriched with erotic intensity, in ‘Camminando lei pian piano’ was truly breath-taking. Intervallic leaps were effortlessly articulated and assumed intense affective meaning. Vocal agility was on display in the concluding ‘Rise Eurilla, Rise Amore’, the decorations adding thrill and excitement to the da capo form.

The audience’s reception was rapturous and heartfelt. Though a rising star himself, Esfahani was clearly moved and honoured to be part of such a stirring musical occasion. We were permitted one encore, which Bowman prefaced with the typically playful quip: “If you don’t recognise this one you shouldn’t be here.” What could be more fitting than Purcell’s ‘Evening Hymn’ to end the proceedings; threading a remarkable tapestry of diverse colours, Bowman’s final word was a fitting one: ‘Hallelujah!’

Claire Seymour

Programme

J.S. Bach: Ouvertüre nach französischer Art, BWV 831
Henry Purcell: The Queen’s Epicedium, Fairest Isle, Thrice Happy Lovers
J.S. Bach: Adagio in G Major, BWV 968, Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 984
George Frideric Handel: ‘Tacerò, pur che fedele’, from Agrippini, HWV 6, ‘Vedendo amor’ HWV 175

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):