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

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

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):