Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



Gustav Mahler
12 Jul 2011

Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago Commemorates Gustav Mahler

To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra gave in early July two performances of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde featuring the vocal soloists Alexandra Petersamer and Christian Elsner.

Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde; Witold Lutosławski: Musique Funebre

Grant Park Orchestra. Carlos Kalmar, Conductor. Alexandra Petersamer, Mezzo-Soprano. Christian Elsner, Tenor.

Above: Gustav Mahler


The work by Mahler was preceded, fittingly, by the Musique funèbre of Witold Lutoslawski, which had originally been composed for the anniversary of Bartok’s death and first performed in 1958. In its performance of the latter work written for string orchestra the Grant Park Orchestra under Kalmar gave a seamless account of the score. The somber introduction for cellos is followed by the gradual introduction of other string groups. A foremost impression left by these performances is the sense of symmetry in Lutoslawski’s “memorial tribute” as the cello ensemble returns to close the piece in an audible mirror of its opening. The four parts of the work entitled Introduction, Metamorphoses, Apogee, Epilogue draw on varying sound palettes for individual and groups of sting players. After the cellos are joined by the remaining strings, tempos increase and allow for declarative statements performed forte. This technique used in the two middle segments of the piece is varied by sections played piano, where the basses used gentle bowing to touching effect. In much the same way, fragments of melodies were played by individual groups, the full melodies then growing into a perceptible unit as tempos accelerated forcefully. A lush, neo-Romantic transition formed the bridge to the conclusion, or Epilogue, as Kalmar led his players toward a dignified statement of tribute with the individual strings dissolving into the inexorable return of the cellos.

The performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde followed this memorial piece without intermission. In the first of the six vocal parts, “Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” (“Drinking Song of Earth’s Misery”), Mr. Elsner sang with lyrical and dramatic force from the start, as he gave appropriate intonation to the word “klingen” (“resound”). In the delineation of the “Lied vom Kummer” (“song of care”) Elsner’s emotional line was matched by the distinctive solo for oboe. Decoration was taken here as marked with the tenor’s melisma sung on “Fülle” (“abundance”), so that the word as performed reflected its meaning. Starting at this point the English horn solo in this performance lent a complementary sense of melancholy to both the voice and recurrent notes of the oboe. The concept of eternity, which recurs memorably in the final part of Das Lied, is here broached, as the tenor contrasts duration and mortality in “Firmament” and “Der Mensch” (“the heavens,” “You, o mortal”). Here Elsner’s pitch was less distinctive, as the attack on “Mondschein” (“moonlight”) and “Gräbern” (“graves”) was sung with greater force than suitable.

The second song, “Der einsame im Herbst” (“The Solitary one in Autumn”), introduced the performance of Alexandra Petersamer. From the start, the security of the singer’s range assured poignant delivery of lines such as “Vom Reif bezogen stehen alle Gräser” (“The blades of grass stand covered with frost”). Here Petersamer’s voice rose from stirring low notes to a bright top with focus on “Gräser” and, with parallel approach at the close of the strophe, on “ausgestreut” (“scattered about”). When Petersamer began the penultimate strophe in this brief segment, she sang the line “Mein Herz ist müde” (“My heart is weary”) with the pitch toward flat as an illustration of this emotional state. In “Ich hab’ Erquickung not!” (“I need refreshment!”) she engaged in what approached a dialogue with the low strings. As a final statement of yearning “Sonne der Liebe” (“Sun of love”) was delivered by Petersamer with full and convincingly emotional declaration.

In the two vocal parts at the center of Das Lied both singers and orchestra responded to the challenges of tempo in their accomplished performances. In “Von der Jugend” (“On Youth”) Elsner showed skillful modulation as he wrapped the vocal line around accelerated playing. Just as Kalmar’s masterful direction eased the orchestra’s pace at “Wunderlich im Spiegelbilde” (“Wonderfully in the reflection”), the singer’s voice showed a matching deceleration, only to conclude this song by reversing the technique. In her medial song, “Von der Schönheit” (“On Beauty”), Petersamer was equally impressive as her voice imitated the “caressing gestures” of “Schmeichelkosen” as well as the sounds of youths riding their steeds through branches along the river’s bank. In her approach to the last strophe of this segment she used exquisite lyrical phrasing and piano shading to communicate the yearning of the fairest maiden looking after the youth as he galloped away. With tasteful decoration placed on “Sehnsucht” (“longing”) and “ihres Herzens” (“of her heart”) a secret melancholy brought the segment to its moving conclusion.

In his last selection, “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (“The drunkard in Spring”), Elsner contrasted the emotional opposites of toil and torment with the happy “cheerful day” (“lieben Tag”). After sorting through issues of volume in the initial strophe Elsner came into his own at the line “Mir ist als wie im Traum” (“It seems to me like a dream”). At the words “schwarzen Firmament (“dark heavens”) and “betrunken sein” (“remain drunk”) Elsner released powerful forte notes directly on pitch to emphasize his persona’s resolve.

As the final and longest of the six parts of Das Lied Petersamer sang “Der Abschied” (“Farewell”) with touching clarity of tone. After the orchestral opening during which oboe, English horn and flute hint at departure, Petersamer’s singing merged with the instrumental soloists to echo and to enhance their mood. Her pure, high notes on “nieder” (“downward”) and “Schatten” (“shadows”) emphasized the words’ true meanings by contrast of vocal line. The ghostly pitches applied to “Hinter den dunkeln Fichten!” (“Behind the dark pines!”) evoked an evening’s solitude in nature coupled with a desire for companionship. While delineating the atmosphere in the forest her lowest notes were fully audible as the orchestral texture mimicked the sounds of birds. At this point Petersamer’s diminuendo on “hocken still” (“crouch silently”) effectively capped the emotive setting in nature. As her declarations on beauty echoed earlier sentiments, an orchestral interlude extended the atmosphere with notable contributions from the woodwinds and low strings. Petersamer’s singing concluded the piece as the “Trunk des Abschieds” (“Cup of Farewell”) began the future thematic wandering of the departing friend. The singer’s elaborate, meaningful decoration executed on “einsam Herz” (“solitary heart”) illustrated along with the concluding intonations on the repeated “ewig” (“eternally”) that this was a performance of Das Lied von der Erde in which text and music are ideally joined, where poetry and song receive their due when performed with such significance.

Salvatore Calomino

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):