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 Performances

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

A Prom of Transformation and Transcendence: Renée Fleming and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

This Prom was all about places: geographical, physical, pictorial, poetic, psychological. And, as we journeyed through these landscapes of the mind, there was plenty of reminiscence and nostalgia too, not least in Samuel Barber’s depiction of early twentieth-century Tennessee - Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

The Queen's Lace Handkerchief: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

Billed as the ‘First British Performance’ - though it had had a prior, quasi-private outing at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe in July - Opera della Luna’s production of Johann Strauss Jnr’s The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief (Das Spitzentuch der Königin) at Wilton’s Music Hall began to sound pretty familiar half-way through the overture (which was played with spark and elegance by conductor Toby Purser’s twelve-piece orchestra).

Glyndebourne perform La clemenza di Tito at the Proms

The advantage of Glyndebourne Opera’s performances at the BBC Proms is that they give us a chance to concentrate on the music making. And there was plenty of high-quality music-making on offer at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 28 August 2017 when Glyndebourne Opera performed Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito.

Rossini’s Torvaldo e Dorliska in Pesaro

The rare and somewhat interesting Rossini! Torvaldo e Dorliska (1815) comes just after Elisabetta, Regina di Ingleterra (the first of his nineteen operas for Naples) — a huge success, and just before Il barbiere di Siviglia in Rome — a failure.

Jakub Hrůša : Bohemian Reformation Prom

At Prom 56, Jakub Hrůša conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme on the theme of the Hussite Wars and their place in Bohemian culture showing how the Hussite hymn was incorporated into music by Smetana, Martinů, Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):