Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

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.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

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.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

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):