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

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

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):