Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Petrenko Directs Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

The quick rise to prominence and thin catalog of recordings by Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko, outgoing General Music Director of the Bayerische Staatsoper and incoming chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, renders each of his forays into the classic repertoire significant. Last Sunday morning, the Bayerisches Staatsorchester gave the first of three performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis under his direction.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Faust in Marseille

We sat, bewildered, all of us, watching (enduring) Gounod’s sweet little tear jerker as a nasty drug trip. Except for the Australian Marguerite it was an all French cast and they all gamely played along, the sophisticated verse of Offenbach’s librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré clearly sailing out over an abrasive pit.

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

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):