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

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anne Schwanewilms [Photo by Johanna Peine courtesy of VMC]
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.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

Anne Schwanewilms, soprano; Charles Spencer, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 8th December 2011.

Above: Anne Schwanewilms [Photo by Johanna Peine courtesy of VMC]

 

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 caresses’.

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 vulnerable whisper.

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.

Claire Seymour

Programme

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 Loreley.

Mahler — From Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Scheiden und Meiden; Lob des hohen Verstandes; Rheinlegendchen; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. Five Rückert Lieder.

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):