Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
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.
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.
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.