Recently in Reviews
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent. Holten connects Der fliegende Holländer to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even to Parsifal by bringing out sub-texts on artistic creativity and metaphysics. And what amazing theatre this is, too, and very sensitive to the abstract cues in the music. .
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
24 Mar 2012
Florian Boesch at Wigmore Hall
The performance at the Wigmore Hall of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin by Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau was outstanding. Over several decades, I’ve heard hundreds of performances, but this was exceptionally perceptive.
This was a wholly original, perceptive reading, informed by great insight. In Die schöne Müllerin the brook speaks through the piano. A brook flows forth with force. This isn’t a pretty little Bachlein, even if the protagonist is fooled. It powers a large commercial millwheel. This master miller employs many staff, and the brook keeps them all in work. The millwheel crushes grain into flour. The brook also controls the miller lad’s mind and crushes him with overwhelming force.
From the outset, it was clear that Malcolm Martineau understood why Schubert wrote such pounding, repetitive rhythms into the piano part. They are so shocking tthat most pianists soften them to make them more “musical”, but when they’re heard with this force, you realize that the brook is a personality. That’s certainly how the miller’s lad sees it. “Vom Wasser haben wir’s gelent, vom Wasser”. Right from the start, he’s doing what the brook tells him. The energy in the piano part is compulsive rather than merely compelling, so Martineau’s approach is psychologically right. The poem, too, reflects this hard-driven quality, with words repeated at the end of sentences, for emphasis. Boesch sings them purposefully, “Das Wandern”, ““Das Wasser” and “und wandern” yet again. Piano and voice in harmony, but it’s the unison of goosestep march.
Also perceptive was the way Boesch and Martineau revealed the jarring contrasts between each song. The hard-driven march gives way to more seductive rolling patterns, then voice and piano diverge. The miller has spotted the mill. Boesch’s voice warms with hope, “War es also gemeint?”, but Martneau’s dark pedaling tells us no. “Am Feierabend” is often sung gemütlich, for the miller’s lad now feels part of a community.. But the imagery includes the millwheel, still grinding when the workers are at rest. Martineau is ferocious, for the brook is, and will become ever more jealous. Later, the young miller will obey, but for the moment, he’s still contemplating love. Significantly, the voice is relatively unaccompanied at the start of “Der Neugierige”, and Boesch’s voice finds lyrical stillness. But the brook attacks again in “Ungeduld”, with its manic pace. Seldom have these mood swings seemed so bi-polar. In “Mein!” Boesch sings as if he’s won the girl. Martineau’s playing reminds us that the brook might think quite something else. Emphatic, brutal last note, no quibbling.
Many years ago, Matthias Goerne’s first recording of Die schöne Müllerin revealed the young miller as emotionally disturbed, living in schizoid fantasy. It’s a perfectly valid interpretation, though Goerne was to adopt a more conventional but superlative approach in his recording with Christoph Eschenbach. Boesch, however, makes the young miller sympathetic. Because it’s easier to identify with a miller created with such warmth, the brook’s vindictive pursuit seems all the more tragic. Boesch’s rich timbre and faint Austrian burr makes him plausibly masculine, so the rivalry between the miller and the huntsman isn’t entirely one-sided. No less than six songs in this 20 song cycle deal with the miller, the huntsman and the girl, with music and the colour green and all that signifies. The songs were performed without a break, since they’re a last interlude, when the miller still inhabits the real world.
With the minor key “Trockne Blumen”, the young miller enters the death zone. Boesch sings quietly but it’s an unnatural calm. His last cry “Der Mai ist kommen, der Winter is aus!” was a last backwards look at happier times. Martineau makes the last chords resonate into silence. The miller will not live to see Spring. The brook now “speaks” through the text, as well as through the piano. Miller and brook are becoming one again, the miller’s soul absorbed by the brook. This is surreal, even by the Gothic norms of Romantic poetry. Boesch makes interesting connections. His hands may clasp involuntarily, but the stillness of his singing suggests quasi-religious sacrifice. Did the poet Wilhelm Müller think of pre-Christian fertility rites, or to primeval myths of female water spirits luring men to their doom? It hardly matters. Boesch’s eerie calm is disconcerting. It’s as if the miller is willingly hypnotized.
The last song, “Das Baches Weigenlied” is a lullaby but most certainly not serene or comforting. Rolling rhythms again, but now the piano part falls into gentle repose. The brook is now speaking through the voice part and through the miller. It’s not the miller who is now at peace. He’s dead. The brook has consumed him and no longer needs to rage. Schubert sets the song lyrically, but it’s the culmination of a nightmare, straight out of the aesthetic that gave rise to Erlkönig (and indeed to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) As I’ve said many times before, only the shallow hear shallow in Schubert, but it needs to be said if we are to learn from him. This recital shows us what real Lieder singing is about. It’s uncompromising psychological truth.