Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

Glyndebourne Opera Cup 2018: semi-finalists announced

The semi-finalists for the first Glyndebourne Opera Cup have been announced. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 singers aged 21-28 have been chosen to compete in the semi-final at Glyndebourne on 22 March.

ENO announces Studio Live casts and three new Harewood Artists

English National Opera (ENO) has announced the casts for Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan, 2018’s two ENO Studio Live productions. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Handel in London: 2018 London Handel Festival

The 2018 London Handel Festival explores Handel’s relationship with the city. Running from 17 March to 16 April 2018, the Festival offers four weeks of concerts, talks, walks & film screenings explore masterpieces by Handel, from semi-staged operas to grand oratorio and lunchtime recitals.

Dartington International Summer School & Festival: 70th anniversary programme

Internationally-renowned Dartington Summer School & Festival has released the course programme for its 70th Anniversary Summer School and Festival, curated by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, that will run from 28th July to 25th of August 2018.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

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):