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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jonathan McGovern [Photo by Benjamin Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists]
22 Dec 2011

Jonathan McGovern, Wigmore Hall

2011 has been a good year for baritone Jonathan McGovern: 2nd prize at the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, the Karaviotis Prise at the Les Azuriales Ozone Young Artists Competition, and the John Meikle Duo Prize at the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition are just some of the awards he has garnered.

Kirckman Concert Society Series

Jonathan McGovern, baritone; James Cheung, piano. Barbirolli Quartet: Rakhi

Above: Jonathan McGovern [Photo by Benjamin Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists]

 

Indeed, with such an illustrious ‘trophy cabinet’, it’s hard to believe that McGovern only graduated from the Royal Academy of Music this year (with a distinction and the ‘Queen’s Commendation for Excellence’).

He certainly brought youthful vigour and ebullience to the Wigmore Hall, bounding onto the platform to perform the seven Schubert lieder which opened this Kirckman Concert Society recital. ‘Die Einsame’ (‘The solitary man’) was suitably light and untroubled in spirit; in typical Romantic fashion, the protagonist finds solace in the natural world, delighting in his ‘quiet rusticity’ as the chirps of the cricket break the silence. Pianist James Cheung’s buoyant bass motifs captured the mood of cheerful ease, while McGovern’s baritone rang out strong and clear, conveying the unflustered confidence of the evening dreamer. ‘Der Strom’ (‘The river’) brought a sudden change: rapid figuration in the piano, shifting harmonies and a plunging, low vocal line suggesting the turbulence and yearning unfulfilment of both the surging river and the poetic imagination. McGovern found it harder, in this lower register, to match the shifting colours of the accompaniment’s tones and shades; while his bass notes have focus and pleasing warmth, the upper range of his voice has greater flexibility and variety of tone.

The simplicity and directness of ‘Minnelied’ (‘Love Song’) and ‘An den Mond’ (‘To the moon’), suited him better, the strophic form and the earnest, uncomplicated sentiments drawing forth an open, sincere sound and excellent pronunciation of the texts. Cheung made much of the dancing left hand rhythms of ‘An Sylvia’ (‘To Sylvia’), while in ‘Nachtviolen’ (‘Night violets’) he delicately crafted an intimate air for McGovern’s rapturous homage to the velvet flower’s “sublime and melancholy rays”. The sequence closed with ‘Bei dir allein’ (‘With you alone’); here McGovern certainly brought youthful zeal to the energetic, expanding vocal lines as the protagonist declares that “a youthful spirit swells within me/ [that] a joyful world/ surges through me”. Indeed, bursting impetuously back onto the stage to receive his applause, the beaming baritone seemed fully invigorated by the song’s elated sentiments.

A more sober, but no less charged and committed, performance of Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No.1 followed. The three upper strings of the Barbirolli Quartet serenely placed the thrillingly high chord clusters which commence the opening movement, beneath which cellist Ashok Klouda’s beautifully shaped and resonant pizzicato fragments rang out richly. The quartet created a satisfying drama of opposition — of tonality, texture and tempo; dynamic rhythmic episodes interjected between moments of harmonic stillness. The scherzo (marked by Britten ‘con slancio’ — literally ‘with a dash’) was fittingly reckless and spontaneous, the rhythmic articulation and attack crisp and incisive. In the slow movement, a free variation form in 5/4 time, viola player Alexandros Koustas projected a exquisitely poignant high melodic line above the euphonious, still thirds of the accompaniment. The dynamic counterpoint which launches the final movement was a true dialogue between equals. The sense of overall form was superb, both within and between movements, with the finale skilfully integrating and developing previous heard motifs. This was an accomplished and extremely mature performance of Britten’s youthful composition.

The second half of the programme brought baritone and quartet together in a performance of Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach, a setting of Matthew Arnold’s lament for the loss of Victorian certainty in the face of modern doubt and despair. McGovern established a more sombre presence now, imbuing the lyrical, unfolding vocal lines with emotional depth and sensitivity, while the quartet conjured the lapping, eddying movements and fluctuating hues of the sea. McGovern’s commitment to the text was sustained and intense, as he sought to do justice to the composer’s detailed word painting, without over-emphasis or undue theatricality.

Songs by Brahms and Wolf concluded the recital. Brahms’ brief ‘Es schauen die Blumen’ (‘All flowers look up’) established a melancholy which was deepened powerfully in ‘Verzangen’ (‘Despairing’), where Cheung’s tumultuous figuration complemented and enhanced the confusion of the protagonist’s heart. The piano also introduced the basic motif in ‘Über die Heide’ (‘Over the Moors’), commencing with three detached rising bass octaves, then a leaping descent, punctuated by low right hand chords - dramatically evoking the echoing footsteps which resound across the moor as the protagonist undertakes an autumnal journey into his memories.

‘Feldeinsamkeit’ (‘Solitude in an open field’) was a high point of the sequence, the beautiful and extraordinary second stanza depicting the thoughts of the dreamer lying in the grass, mood of transcendence and peace: “Mir ist, also ob ich längst gestorben bin/ Und ziehe selig mit durch ew’ge Räume.” (“I feel as if I had died long ago/ and I drift blissfully with them through eternal space.”). McGovern maintained a quiet intensity throughout, with only the briefest sweet swelling before the extended cadence at the end of each strophe. The performers crafted a controlled but troubling narrative of rootless nocturnal wandering in ‘Wie raffft ich mich’. (‘O how I sprang up’). The final landscape of these Brahms’ lieder was the graveyard scene of ‘Auf dem Kirchhofe’ (‘In the cemetery’): in the final stanza the ‘Gewesen’ (‘departed’) on every grave was wonderfully transformed into ‘Genesen’ (‘redeemed’). As the major tonality ‘reconciled’ the former minor mode, McGovern retained the poetic ambiguity: are the dead ‘healed’ because they have been granted eternal life, or because they no longer must suffer mortal life?

In four songs from Hugo Wolf’s Mörike Lieder, Cheung painted a tapestry of many colours: first the piano’s crisp, high trills evoked the weightless flight of the bee in ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’ (‘The boy and the little bee’), then deep tremolos sweeping upwards to high resonant chords underpinned the lover’s upwards gaze in the final verse of ‘An die Geliebte’ (‘To the beloved’) as he turns his eyes heavenward to witness the stars that smile upon him and kneels to absorb their ‘song of light’. McGovern achieved a rapt intensity here, the silvery tone of his upper range wonderfully capturing the shimmer of the glistening nocturnal sky. The aptly titled ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’) is the last of the Mörike Lieder and the high-spirited, waltz-like account of the unanticipated arrival and hasty departure of an over-eager critic restored the mood of celebration and joy with which the evening began.

Claire Seymour

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):