Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
16 Dec 2011
Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall
Combining innate musicianship and superb technique, Anne Schwanewilms showed once again that she can run the emotional gamut from light-hearted joy to deep anguish in this flawless performance with pianist, Charles Spencer.
The songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn offered
Schwanewilms the opportunity to demonstrate a great range of characterisation
and dramatic situation, embracing intimacy and exuberance. She garnered a
surprising and delightful drollery in the opening ‘Um schlimme Kinder artig
zu machen’ (‘How to make naughty children behave’), her insouciant
‘cu-cuckoo’ ringing clear as a bell. Charles Spencer delivered the
accompaniment’s piquant chromatic inflections with a deft touch. The simple
folk-like ambience was sustained in the bucolic ‘Verlorne Müh’ (‘Wasted
effort’), as the shepherdess attempts to lure her mate, offering first to go
walking, then a ‘morsel’ from her basket and finally her heart. A glossy
tone and seamless, bel canto legato prevailed. I wondered whether that
this effortlessly fluency at times affected the clarity of diction; but the
German speaker accompanying me reassured me that Schwanewilms’ use of the
text was subtle but clear, and undoubtedly idiomatic.
In ‘Ablösung im Sommer’ (‘The changing of the summer guard’), the
cuckoo returned, this time evoked by the piano whose perpetuum mobile
signifies the evolutionary progression of the seasons — as the cuckoo sings
himself ‘to death’ and the nightingale assumes the mantle of summer’s
song-bearer. Both here and in the following ‘Ich ging mit Lust’ (‘I
walked joyfully’), Schwanewilms’ breath control was superb, enabling her to
shape extended rhapsodic lines; her velvet tone is a cloth of many colours, and
she captured the myriad hues of the natural world - the verdant softness of
the ‘green wood’, the silky sheen of the moon’s’ charming, sweet
Liszt’s setting of Hugo’s ‘Oh! Quand je dors’ permitted a brief
excursion into the French language, and Schwanewilms expressively and
convincingly responded to the text, before returning to her native tongue for
lieder from Schiler’s Wilhelm Tell, songs in which Liszt evokes the
Alpine landscape with grandeur and passion. The grassy lake in ‘Der
Fischerknabe’ (‘The fisherboy’) shimmered stilly, but as the waters lap
around his breast and call from the depth, increasingly impetuous scalic runs
in the piano conveyed the potency of his ‘bliss of delight’. ‘Horn
calls’ discreetly underpinned the beautifully resonant vocal line in ‘Der
Hirt’ (‘The shepherd’), and the juxtapositions of major and minor
tonalities enhanced the warm, tender ache in the voice. The more tempestuous
‘Der Alpenjäger’ (‘The alpine hunstman’), in which thunderous
tremblings accumulate, climaxed with a striking piano postlude. An intense and
impassioned setting of Heine’s ‘Loreley’ brought the Lisztian sequence to
a close, and enabled Schwanewilms once again to demonstrate her consummately
controlled delivery of narrative.
Four more songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn followed after the
interval. ‘Scheiden und Meiden’ (‘Farewell and Parting’) presents a
broader emotional and dramatic canvas; the first stanza depicts the breathless,
theatrical departure of three horsemen who gallop through the gate beneath the
beloved’s watchful gaze, while second strikes a more poignant note, exploring
the pain and finality of departure and death. The power and precision of
Schwanewilms’s climactic high notes in the first part contrasted with the
final farewells, 'Ade! Ade!’, which she delivered in a loving, almost
The cuckoo and nightingale both returned for ‘Lob des hohen Verstandes’
(‘In praise of high intellect’), this time competing to be the prize
songster in a musical contest adjudicated by a donkey. Schwanewilms relished
the individual ‘voices’ given to each ‘character’, and concluded with
an alarmingly realistic ass’s bray! After the gentle ‘Rheinlegendechen’
(‘Little Rhine Legend’), in which the atmospheric rocking of the piano
accompaniment perfectly captured the lapping waters as they flow timelessly to
the ocean, in the final song from the sequence, ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten
blasen’(‘Where the splendid trumpets sound’) Schwanewilms displayed her
lustrous, rich tone to full effect, signifying a transition from the whimsical
naivety of Mahler’s early songs to the complex emotional profundities of the
composer’s five Rückert Lieder.
Here, Schwanewilms and her accompanist rose to majestic heights of
musicianship. The contemplative intimacy of ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’
(‘If you love for beauty’) was particularly stunning. Schwanewilms can
produce an effortless, floating line, spinning out a high thread of sound,
endlessly and ethereally until, almost weightlessly, the thrillingly tender
pianissimo disperses into the air. She balances eloquence and grace
with deep affective insight, as was supremely apparent in a spell-binding
rendition of ‘Um Mitternacht’ (‘At midnight’). Here, the sustained
focus of her lower range was in evidence, the controlled and crafted phrases
indicating the valiant endurance of the protagonist. The final song, ‘Ich bin
der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (‘I am lost to the world) probed expressive
depths, closing with a spine-chilling piano coda; the long silence which
subsequently embraced performers and audience alike was a testament to the epic
scale of the emotions evoked and communicated.
Schwanewilms seem to have it all: unfailingly precise intonation, a
polished, gleaming sound, almost superhuman breath control. She also has
considerable stage presence and self-assurance: utterly in command of the voice
and the material, she revealed a profound understanding of these songs while
retaining a sense of freshness and spontaneity. The communication between
singer and pianist, and with the audience, was sincere and generous. No wonder
the applause was rapturous.
Mahler — From Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Um schlimme Kinder artig zu
machen; Verlorne Müh; Ablösung im Sommer; Ich ging mit Lust.
Liszt — Oh! quand je dors; Lieder aus Schillers ‘Wilhelm Tell’; Die
Mahler — From Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Scheiden und Meiden; Lob des
hohen Verstandes; Rheinlegendchen; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. Five