Recently in Performances
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.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
25 Jan 2012
Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall
Hugo Wolf is a hard sell. Technical expertise isn't enough. The secret to singing Wolf is expressing the unique personality in each song. Wolf, perhaps more than any other composer, creates miniatures that open out into mini-operas when performed well.
Christoph Prégardien started off the Wigmore Hall’s new series of Hugo Wolf Songbooks with Lieder to texts by Mörike and Goethe. Prégardien is one of the best Wolf singers around, with the right combination of timbre and individuality. At his best, he’s brilliant. For whatever reason, on this occasion, he wasn’t his usual self, the voice sounding tired and occluded. Nonetheless, he has years of experience to fall back on. Intelligent phrasing, the right emphases in the right places, accurate intonation. Yet not the luminous, transcendent tones he’s capable of, which lift his performance way above most everyone else. Still, proof that mastery of technique pulls one through. His Feuerreiter was suitably dramatic, though not quite at the demonic level he and some can reach. But he brought real drama to Ritter Kurts Brautfahrt, a strophic ballad that can fall flat in the wrong hands (voice). In Sankt Nepomuks Vorabend, one could hear glimmers of Prégardien’s natural translucence, reflecting his youth as a choirboy. “Lichtlein, schwimmen auf dem Strom”
Listen to Prégardien’s most recent recording of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch which came out in Spring 2011 on the small label Channel Classics. The soprano on that disc was Julia Kleiter, a fellow Limburger, good for the ensemble work so crucial to the Italian Songbook. But the Mörike and Goethe are much more sharply defined and need great personality. When we heard that Kelier was being replaced ar minimal notice by a singer born in 1990, our hearts dropped. What could any singer that young bring to Hugo Wolf?
Yet Anna Lucia Richter turned out to be the surprise of the evening. Obviously someone aged 21 isn’t going to sound polished but Richter turned her youth to advantage. In Nixe Binsefuß, bright, almost staccato notes sparkle like sharp icicles. But this Nixe is a water sprite with attitude who would like to slash the fisherman’s nets and liberate the fish. Richter’s voice is pure, but has a wild edge totally in keeping with the Nixe’s free spirited anarchy. Then, when she sings about the fisherman’s daughter, her voice warms. Icicles no more! And so the Nixe flies away as the day breaks.
It’s difficult to combine the technical demands of Elfenlied with a true sense of innocence, but Richter manages well. Her elf is genuinely naïve and she describes his accident with droll humour. Similarly, Richter’s Begegnung is turbulent, like the wind and the emotions the young girl experiences. I don’t know how long Richter had to prepare, as the programme was printed before she was hired, but she threw herself into the songs with unselfconscious enthusiasm, so they come over extremely well.
No-one at Richter’s age, or even ten years older, is going to have finesse, but that will come with experience. It’s much better that a singer starts out with enthusiasm, and engages with what she sings, as Richter does. Her voice has colour and range, so she has plenty of potential. Definitely someone to follow. She has dramatic instincts, leaping into some songs in the second part of the programme as an opera singer might, so she will have many options. She’s still studying at the Cologne Conservatory but is scheduled to join the company of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf from 2012-13. She’s also worked with Prégardien before and recorded Schumann with him.
“We’d better give the poor girl some help” said Julius Drake before the encore (a Mendelssohn duet). He played gloriously, but part of a song pianist’s brief is to work with singers, especially the young.