09 Jun 2011
Andreas Scholl, Wigmore Hall
A capacity crowd at the Wigmore Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin on the platform on Tuesday evening.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
A capacity crowd at the Wigmore Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin on the platform on Tuesday evening.
A capacity crowd at the Wigmore Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin on the platform on Tuesday evening. Given the famed serene beauty of Scholl’s countertenor, the programme of mostly slow, contemplative songs from sixteenth- and seventeenth- century England, followed by simple canzonettas by Haydn and folksong arrangements by Brahms, promised great delights
However, Scholl took some time to settle down. Purcell has formed a staple element of his concert programmes and recordings of recent years, and he is renowned for the quiet, controlled restraint which so much of this repertoire demands; yet, the opening two songs suffered from a rather constricted, thin tone and a few problems with intonation. ‘Music for a while’ epitomises the composer’s deep, reflective style, characterised by a controlled simplicity which calls for clarity of line and carefully, flowing phrases. One would expect Scholl to effortlessly deliver the goods, but in contrast to the dark, expressive elaborations of Israeli harpsichord Tamar Halperin’s introductory harpsichord realisation, the vocal line rather lacked shape and focus, the phrases disrupted by exaggerated by over-emphasis on textual repetitions.
Scholl’s diction was also quite poor with consonants and vowels all sounding rather similar. Although it did improve as the evening progressed, he did not ever quite capture the subtleties of the texts, the rich suggestions latent in its metaphors and understatements — as in, for example, Johnson’s ‘Have you seen the bright lily grow/ Before rude hands have touched it?’ The exclamatory flourishes of ‘Sweeter than roses’ did, however, demonstrate his theatricality as the striking textual images triggered rapidly changing vocal moods, complemented by varied accompanying textures.
The first instrumental item completed this Purcellian group. Halperin’s rendering of ‘Round O’ was delicate and restrained; thoughtful ritenuti in the variations made the restatements of the theme seem relaxed and inevitable. Later, the slow movement of Handel’s F Major suite was similarly affective; the repeated middle-register chords above which the ornate stream of melody unfolds were evenly and carefully placed, a ceaseless, sustained bed of sound for the decorative figurations above. One longed for several more movements from this work.
Scholl continued with repertory by lutenists associated with the Elizabethan and Stuart courts — John Dowland, Robert Johnson and Thomas Campion. Here there was more attention to the small details in the texts: in ‘Sorrow, stay’, Scholl’s gentle tone brought out the quiet despair of phrases such as ‘Mark me not to endless pain’, and some simple word-painting was made more pungent by oppositions of major and minor tonalities. The energy and optimism of ‘Say, Love, if ever thou didst find’ introduced a welcome contrast to the melancholy mood. Campion’s ‘I care not for these ladies’ was the most bright and fresh of these songs, as Scholl really engaged with the narrative, subtly changing tempo, pausing or altering emphases to convey the wit and humour of the text. The cry — ‘forsooth: let go!’ — of the girl who is courted and kissed by the poet-speaker, was at first one of denial, then lacked conviction, and finally seemed decidedly inviting!
A return to Purcell brought the first half to a close, and the sensuous sentiments of ‘O solitude’ brought forth a greater range of colour from Scholl, as he shaped the wide ranging phrases effectively, making expressive use of his dark-hued lower register.
After the interval, Scholl seemed more relaxed and the songs by Haydn and Brahms were eloquently delivered. The simplicity of Haydn’s three canzonettas was enlivened by the light, playful accompanying gestures which Halperin, now seated at the piano, introduced, and she demonstrated a similar understated restraint and firm appreciation of classical balance and form in the composer’s Sonata in A, the movements propelling ceaselessly forward into one coherent whole. In the ornate triplets of the Andante, Halperin sustained the evenness of the continuous flowing line while shaping individual motifs with grace. Subtle manipulation of the tempo deepened the expressive power of the minor key Trio in the Minuet, before a rapid alleviating of mood in the jovial Finale.
Scholl seemed most at home in four folksongs selected from Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder. In ‘Guten Abend’ he effectively conveyed the tension between the two voices, ‘Er’ and ‘Sie’, engaged in an awkward discussion about love. A similar opposition in ‘Es ging ein Maidlein zarte’ (A tender maid went out’) was further enhanced by the contrasting accompanying textures, rich chords conveying the natural world in which the ‘cheerful healthy maiden’ delighted, being juxtaposed with low halting, hollow octaves. Halperin brought much insight to these rich accompaniments, and also showed great invention in the improvisatory accompaniments to the three English folk-songs which concluded the recital. Now fully at ease, Scholl’s warmer and more relaxed tone led to increased textual clarity, which in turn helped him develop a closer relationship with the audience.
Indeed, throughout the performance Scholl sought to engage directly with his listeners, frequently prefacing the songs with explanations and introductions. Occasionally this destroyed the continuity of mood that the music itself established, however; and, similarly, there was rather too much to-ing and fro-ing between items, as the performers left and re-entered the stage when they were not themselves performing.
There was even some audience participation — not a regular occurrence at the Wigmore Hall! — when, before the interval, Scholl invited us to join in with the refrain of Purcell's ‘Man is for the Woman Made’, in which he himself deployed his conventional tenor register. According to his preamble, Purcell intended the song to provide some light relief for the original theatre audiences. A little surprised, but delighted by the invitation, the Hall proved in fine voice. Indeed, the recital had begun rather unconventionally when one rather exuberant member of the audience greeted the appearance of their ‘idol’ with football-crowd style whooping — possibly the first time such ‘unmusical’ sounds had been heard inside the hallowed walls of the Hall? The more familiar appreciative cries of ‘Bravo’ brought the evening to a warm conclusion.
Purcell: Music for a while; Sweeter than roses; Round O
Dowland: Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears; I saw my lady weep; Say, Love, if ever thou didst find
Handel: Two movements from Suite No.2 in F
Johnson: Have you seen the bright lily grow?
Campion: I care not for these ladies
Purcell: O solitude, my sweetest choice; Man is for the woman made
Haydn: Two English Canzonettas; Sonata in A HXVI:12
Brahms: Four folksongs arranged from the Deutsche Volkslieder
Three Traditional Folksongs: I will give my love an apple; O waly waly; My love is like a red, red rose