Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

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):