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

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.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ian Bostridge [Photo by Ben Ealovega]
30 May 2011

Ian Bostridge, Wigmore Hall

“Music, music for a while/ Shall all your cares beguile,” vowed Ian Bostridge at the opening of this recital with his regular accompanist, Julius Drake.

Ian Bostridge, Wigmore Hall

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Julius Drake. piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 23rd May 2011.

Above: Ian Bostridge [Photo by Ben Ealovega]

 

But despite the promise of the text, and the rapt lyricism of Tippett’s arrangement of Henry Purcell’s compelling air, the evening’s intriguing sequence of songs in the English language seemed, on the contrary, to demonstrate music’s power to dramatise the darkest, despairing aspect of human life.

Indeed, much of the selected repertoire drew upon the shadier regions of the low tenor register, and it was interesting to hear Bostridge calling on a grainier, rougher-hued tone at times. The contrast between weighty lows and bright high phrases emphasised the sudden changes of mood in Tippett’s setting. The intricate interplay and imitation between voice and accompaniment was sensitively delivered, suspensions subtly emphasised by Drake, scalic passages flowing smoothly.

Even in this opening song Bostridge’s delivery and physical manner conveyed dramatic tension and angst which, as the recital proceeded, rose at times to a quite disturbing intensity. Always fully committed — musically, dramatically and physically — here one feared for his well-being! With frowns and contortions, he tensed his body, twisted and almost stumbled across the stage, gripping the piano as if quite literally in need of physical support.

Such mannerisms aptly matched the astounding rhetorical force of Britten’s arrangement of Purcell’s ‘The Queen’s Epicedium’. Just two days previously, the Wigmore Hall audience had been stirred by James Bowman’s moving rendition of Purcell’s original elegy. Britten’s setting is much more overtly theatrical and pained. The emotional range is vast, and calls for a far wider array of vividly expressive gestures, from the melismatic flourish of the opening challenge, “do you require a song?”, to the gentle dotted rhythms of the image of quiet pastoral mourning — “See, see how ev’ry nymph and swain/ hand down their pensive heads” — to almost hysterical cry of desolation, “The Queen! the Queen of Arcadie is gone!”, enhanced by piquant switches between major and minor. Bostridge emphasised the physical effort required to express such sorrow, seeming at times to have to force the words from his body, while Drake flamboyantly offered a glimpse of the eternal in the song’s astonishing final cadence: “her star is fixt, and shines beyond the skies.”

The poems by William Soutar which form Britten’s last song cycle, Who are these Children? recall the fierce juxtapositions of violence and innocence found in William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’. However, the four songs chosen by Bostridge and Drake focus not on the purity of the child’s word, but rather expose the transience of childhood tranquillity and joy as the purity of youth, and youthful imagination, is corrupted by an unforgiving adult world. The spare linearity of much of the writing, coupled with surprising muscular rhythms, reminds us of the composer’s interest in Purcell’s approach to word-setting. Drake discerned much meaning in the harmonic subtleties and melodic nuances, from the eerie right hand line of the first song, ‘Nightmare’, to the ambiguous close of ‘Slaughter’: “The phantoms of the dead remain/ And from our faces show.” Elsewhere he evoked a terrifying and unstoppable force as, relentlessly, “Death rides upon an iron beast/ And tramples cities down”. Bostridge’s bitter rage in ‘Who are these Children?’ where “A wound which everywhere/ Corrupts the hearts of men: The blood of children corrupts the hearts of men” was frightening in its intensity, made sharper still by the deafening silence which followed. In this song, which depicts children watching a gentrified fox hunt, Britten’s ability to conjure a precisely drawn world through musical means was powerfully demonstrated, the staggering rhythms recalling the syncopated lurchings of Tarquinius’ night-time ride to the home of the virtuous Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia.

The following Whitman settings by Kurt Weill did little to dismiss the lingering sense that “The earth is darkened with a darkening stain”. Although there is much irony in Weill’s use of jazz idioms and pastiche, it is a black humour — the cynical wryness found in Britten’s own Cabaret Songs — and Bostridge and Drake conveyed the incongruity between style and sentiment perfectly through their control of rubato and dynamics in the lament, ‘Oh Captain! My Captain!’ There was some relief, however, in the tender ache of the closing lines of ‘Come up from the fields Father’ — in which a mother receives news of her son’s death in battle — and the warm opening of ‘Dirge for Two Veterans’, as the last rays of sun and hours of summer pass to silvery autumnal evening.

In the first half, the titles of Haydn’s ‘Five English Canzonettas’ seemed to promise some lightening of heart, but the gloom was only partially allayed, for after the rollicking ‘Sailor’s song’, a boisterous glorification of the British navy , the Shakespearean text of ‘She never told her love’ returned us more to a mood of wounded renunciation, most poignantly conveyed by Drake’s expressive introduction and postlude. ‘The wanderer’, in both text and idiom, is the closest of these songs to the spirit of Schubert’s lieder, and it is not surprising that this drew the most affecting performance from Bostridge. But, it was J.S. Bach’s ‘Five Spiritual Songs’ which presented the most consoling moments of the evening, for even though they speak of death, it is the eternal peace of the Christian soul which is portrayed not the throbbing agony of human loss.

‘Come soothing death, come sweet repose’ Bach declares: a major key cadence concludes this song as the poet’s “eyelids close, come sweet repose!”, both confirming Bach’s own faith and reassuring the listener of the possibility of transcendence. However, while Bostridge and Drake certainly convinced the audience that music has remarkable expressive potential, there were few demonstrations of its power to beguile human woes and terrors on this occasion.

Claire Seymour

Programme:

Purcell/Tippett: Music for a while
Bach/Britten: Five Spiritual Songs
Haydn: Content; Sailor’s song; She never told her love; The wanderer; Fidelity
Purcell/Britten: The Queen’s Epicedium
Britten: From Who are these Children? Op. 84; Nightmare; Slaughter; Who are these Children?; The Children
Weill: Beat! Beat! Drums!; O captain! My captain!; Come up from the fields, father; Dirge for two veterans

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):