Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

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):