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 Reviews

The 2019 Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

This year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance offered a veritable operatic smörgåsbord, presenting sizable excerpts from operas ranging from Gluck to Saint-Saëns, from Mozart to Debussy, by way of some Italian masterpieces, courtesy of Rossini and Verdi.

Cilea's L'arlesiana at Opera Holland Park

In a rank order of suicidal depressives, Federico - the Provençal peasant besotted with ‘the woman from Arles’, L’arlesiana, who yearns to break free from his mother’s claustrophobic grasp, who seeks solace from betrayal and disillusionment in the arms of a patient childhood sweetheart, but who is ultimately broken by deluded dreams and unrequited passion - would surely give many a Thomas Hardy protagonist a run for their money.

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Werner Güra
03 Feb 2012

Werner Güra Sings Schubert, Wigmore Hall

Each year, the Wigmore Hall commemorates Franz Schubert’s birthday with a high profile recital. This year, Werner Güra and Roger Vignoles presented a recital which was a timely reminder of what Lieder performance should be.

Werner Güra Sings Schubert

Werner Güra, tenor; Roger Vignoles, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, 31st January 2012.

Above: Werner Güra

 

There always will be more opera fans than Lieder fans, and operatic performance is easier to relate to than the more introverted values of art song. So perhaps in a few years the true art of Lieder will be obliterated. But Lieder and opera are different genres, with different values. Lieder is a Germanic tradition which has its roots not in entertainment so much as in the communication of ideas closer to philosophy and spirituality. Significantly, many great Lieder singers come from a background in Bach. Lieder is an inward art of contemplation, where the action isn’t in a role or external plot but takes place in the soul.

Werner Güra first appeared at the Wigmore Hall many years ago, when William Lyne discovered him through Peter Schreier, Güra’s mentor. Superlative recommendations. I remember that concert, when young Güra was so overawed by the formidable reputation of the Wigmore Hall that he tried too hard to please, and didn’t put enough of himself into his performance, though one could hear why Schreier and Lyne were so impressed. Lieder is not about pleasing anyone. It’s about emotional integrity and finding a way into each song that’s uncompromisingly from within. Years later, Güra’s vigorous shock of hair has turned grey, but reflects how he has matured as an artist. Güra and Vignoles chose popular Schubert songs but presented them with intelligence.

Schubert writes so lyrically that’s it’s easy to miss the depths of irony in his music. The lilting melody in Alinde (D904, 1827) is deceptive. Utter sweetness of tone, which Güra sang with exquisite grace. Schubert respects the poet’s device, where the protagonist asks the same question of people he meets, lulling the listener into thinking this is no more than strophic convention. But each answer is evasive. The answer only comes when the protagonist confronts himself: “Von allen Lebend’gen irr ich allein, bang und beklommen”. Vignoles’s playing captured the idea of piano as lute, but this song is no serenade. Güra doesn’t need to exaggerate the twist in the song, other than by shading his voice at the critical word “Da” in the last verse.

In the early Der Fischer (D225, 1815, Goethe) Schubert’s rippling notes describe the sparkling surface of the waters by which the fisherman sits, waiting for a catch. Then a watersprite emerges, scolding him for not respecting her realm. When the rippling melody begins again, Güra lowers his voice so you can “hear” the fisherman, willingly being drawn into the waters and what they symbolize. Again and again, this is a theme in Romantic poetry, which Schubert understands so well — waters as metaphor for the unconscious, for creative renewal beneath surface glitter.

Goethe was Schubert’s favourite poet but he set almost as many poems by Johann Mayrhofer. Schubert’s strange, difficult friend’s text of Der Schiffer (D536, 1817(?)) shows another aspect of Mayrhofer’s style. This time, the boatman is sailing through a storm, but he’s defiant, though soaked to the bone, alert to the dangers of whirlpool and reef. Vignoles evokes the waves vividly, so Güra’s voice rises confidently above the tumult. “Ich hasse ein Leben behaglich entrollt”, he sings (I hate a snuggly enfolding life) and later sings with firm resolve, “Dem Sturme zu trotzen mit männlicher brust” (to brave the storm with a manly heart).

Der Wanderer (D493,1816, Georg Schmidt von Lübeck) is one of the most iconic Lieder of all. The wanderer is an existential loner. “Ich bin ein Fremdling überall”. Psychic emptiness evoked in the dark opening chords, then searching, straining legato. “Wo bist du, wo bist du, mein geliebtes Land?” Güra sang the changing moods with heartfelt sincerity. That floating “immer wo”! There are many superlative performances of this song, but this ranked with the best, for Güra expressed the devastating inner landscape so well. “Dort, wo du nicht bist, dort ist das Glück!”. (there, where you are not, is happiness). Nothing theatrical, but tinged with the dignified pain of experience.

Schubert was one of the first composers to discover Heinrich Heine, and Heine’s ironies inspired some of his finest work. Güra and Vignoles surpassed themselves in the six Heine Lieder from Schwanengesang (D957, 1828). Heine’s Fischermädchen turns the fisherman/nature spirit concept upside down. Perhaps this time the fisherwoman is discovering sensual delights. The charm of the song lies in its purity which Güra sang with genial warmth. Die Stadt was luminously beautiful, yet chilling, for the vision the poet sees is surreal. What waters are those he’s sailing? Where is he heading? Schubert’s setting is nebulous, as if sea and horizon are blurred, as is memory. Güra and Vignoles captured the emotional heart of this song, so nebulous and ambiguous it could almost have been written today.

Big, dramatic songs like Der Atlas and Der Doppelgänger lend themselves to overstatement, and heavy voices need exaggeration to kick them into life, but that doesn’t mean it’s idiomatic. The true horror in these songs, which lies in their psychological truth. The Doppelgänger isn’t a character, he’s a vampire only in spirit. “Still ist die Nacht” sang Güra, sibilants sharply sinister, consonants cutting. Stillness is fundamental to this song, whose interpretation depends on sensitive observation. Güra’s voice curls menacingly, to emphasize the protagonist’s psychic dislocation. Güra shapes the climaxes so they feel like stifled cries of agony, too awful to face. Hence the fragmenting personality, and the significance of the pauses between notes, which Vignoles brought out so well. Schubert’s insight is amazing. Only the shallow hear shallow in Schubert. Güra spits out the words “Du, Doppelgänger!” as if confronting the apparition, “du bleicher Geselle!”. But it’s the final line that really counts, whispered almost sotto voce, “so manche Nacht, in alter Zeit”. With subtle tenderness, Güra reminds us that the protagonist once had a human past, so its annihilation is all the more terrifying.

Anne Ozorio

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):