Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

Capriccio at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Although performances of Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio have increased in recent time, Lyric Opera of Chicago has not experienced the “Konversationsstück für Musik” during the past twenty odd years.

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

Un ballo in maschera in San Francisco

The subject is regicide, a hot topic during the Italian risorgimento when the Italian peninsula was in the grip of the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, the House of Savoy and the Pontiff of the Catholic Church.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

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):