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 Performances

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve for harmonia mundi]
26 Apr 2012

Matthias Goerne, Los Angeles

Los Angeles lieder lovers were treated to two extraordinary Schubertian journeys on April 16th and 18th when bass-baritone Matthias Goerne partnered with Christian Eschenbach performed the song cycles, Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s celebration of the composer’s 215th birthday.

Sublime Schubert

Matthias Goerne, baritone; Christian Eschenbach, piano. Walt Disney Concert Hall. Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin April 16, 2012. Franz Schubert: Winterreise April 18, 2012.

Above: Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve for harmonia mundi]

 

But then any performance by Goerne is sure to be extraordinary. The German singer has taken every aspect of the performance of lieder far beyond what it was when lieder recordings of an earlier generation of singers; Gerhard Husch, Friedrich Schorr, Lotte Lehman, became available to international audiences. His physical and vocal presentations have offered fresh insights and set new standards for the two generations of lieder aficionados nurtured by the voluminous recordings (at least twelve of Winterreise alone) and world-wide performances of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Goerne was in fact, considered Fischer-Dieskau’s anointed heir. Not only had he studied with him, as well as with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, but Fischer-Dieskau had recommended his young student as a replacement for himself when he retired in 1993. Goerne, however, considers the most important teacher in his life to have been Hans-Joachim Beyer, an assistant at the Mendelssohn Hochschule in Communist East Germany (he is cited on the singer’s web page) with whom he studied for two years. For an hour and a half a day, according to Goerne, ‘‘we only did exercises, no singing. Lots of la-la-la-la, ne-ne-ne-ne.’’

I first heard Goerne sing Winterreise at his Carnegie Hall debut in 1999 and was mesmerized by the intensity of his singing, a kind of innigkeit that few singers could achieve. He had burst on to the international musical scene several years earlier, much heralded for his youth, and for the warmth of a dark voice capable of floating the most tender pianissimo phrases. He was thirty-two in 1999, and accompanied by sixty-eight year old Alfred Brendel, long associated with Fischer-Dieskau and now drawn back to the world of lieder by Goerne’s voice and talent. Goerne was clearly nervous. He was dressed unconventionally, repeatedly moved his body, touched his hand to his nose obsessively, and his early pianissimi were not always audible. Yet he seemed in a world of his own into which his flexible voice drew a willing audience. Clearly, since then he has made journeys of his own. Though his appearance and his (what to some seem excessive) movements remain essentially unchanged, his voice has filled out and darkened, as has his view of both Winterreise and Die schöne Müllerin. In the intervening years he has performed and recorded an extensive German repertoire with many pianists, but in Christian Eschenbach, with whom he is currently recording Schubert songs for Harmonia Mundi, he seems to have found a musician intimately attuned to his own view of these works.

Both song cycles are based on poems by Wilhelm Müller, almost exactly Schubert’s contemporary. Both tell the story of young men, who having loved and lost, are driven to darkest despair, and both reflect the highly romantic age in which they were created. Romantic, not only because they speak of love - but of unattainable, unrequited love (opera lovers, think Werther) - and because the romantic era was characterized by a new awareness and intimacy with nature. In Müller’s poetry every reference to a tree, a flower, a cloud, a drop of water, every adjective describing a tree, a flower, a dog, a bird, assumes a far deeper meaning. When Schubert added his lyrical gifts and musical onomatopoeia to this fevered mix, he created a medium in which every syllable of every sung word – every note on the piano, is not merely itself, but may foretell, recall, reflect on any shade of human destiny. Die schöne Müllerin consists of twenty songs, Winterreise of twenty-four, sung without interruption. To construct the cycle, each song, with its own story, its own mood, in its own key and rhythm, must fit in its place as neatly and properly as a stone in an arch. The highly compressed world of lieder is an art form that sorely tests singers and their pianists.

Though Die schöne Müllerin is a tale of lost love, it begins brightly with the sound of the rushing brook and turning of the wheels that propel the mill. (Ah, Schubert’s exquisite ability to portray sunshine on streams) Generations of singers have performed the cycle in a way that is sympathetic to the doomed youth. Early on Goerne viewed the protagonist as an emotionally disturbed man. His depiction of the rejected youth has darkened to the point where he considers him as madly self-centered, paranoid to the point of blaming everyone else for his troubles. “Mein”, generally treated as a joyous discovery of love, begins with the voice of the murmuring brook in the piano. Entering the scene, the boy tells the brook to stop its murmuring so that he can fill the world with his discovery that the müllerin loves him. However, Christian Eschenbach’s brook didn’t murmur, it thundered. And Matthias Goerne didn’t entreat it to silence, he commanded it. And for the repeated words “mein, mein, mein”, usually heard as a bright joyous syllable, Goerne reached into the depth of his voice for a “mein” that sounded almost villainous.

“Des Baches Wiegenlied” (“The Brook’s Lullaby”) the last song of the cycle completes the romantic cycle – the boy who has yearned for love, found it and lost it, now drowns himself in the brook. Goerne and Eschenbach performed this piece at an extremely slow pace. Astonishingly, as overtones hovered almost interminably between phrases and their resolution, neither singer nor pianist lost the melodic and harmonic threads of the piece. At its conclusion, Christian Eschenbach’s hands remained on the keyboard and Matthias Goerne, bent low, with his head almost in the body of the piano, commanded the audience to silence.

Eventually it erupted into applause.

The two artists looked exhausted.

The protagonist of Winterreise has already lost the girl when we meet him. He is traveling he knows not where, through the natural world at its most fearsome; in the winter - with snow, ice, blowing clouds, fierce winds. He is followed by a crow, dogs bark at him, his tears freeze, the brook freezes over. Though the overall mood of the cycle varies little, Schubert makes use of folk tunes throughout Winterreise, and an endless variety of subtleties are depicted in text and music: rhythmic and harmonic patterns describe tear drops, footsteps, hoof beats, rays of light, threatening clouds. There are few recollections in Winterreise. It is about the present. A man is telling us of the aimless day-to- day bleakness of his life. To sing for an hour and a half about despair in all its various shades and shapes, requires the highest degree of that innigkeit and intensity of which Goerne is a master. He and Eschenbach seemed as one in the coloring, pacing, and tempi of Winterreise. This was the angriest Winterreise I ever heard, yet it was sung as though fury was the only reaction available to the lost soul on the stage. “You have a voice that speaks to people....a way of focusing a listener’s attention,” Fischer-Dieskau is said to have told him.

“Der Leierman”, (“The Organ Grinder”), the touching concluding song is enigmatic. It depicts an impoverished old man, ignored by people, pursued by dogs, wandering barefoot through snow, constantly playing his tunes in the hope of a few cents. Does our unhappy young man follow him? And of so, into what? The constancy of hope and life? Or to certain death? We cannot know. We are left to make our own conclusion.

For the effect that Matthias Goerne’s voice has on the listener, I hope that readers of this review, particularly those not acquainted with German lieder, repeat a little experiment I just tried. Search “Der Leiermann” on “You tube” and listen to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Ian Bostridge, Peter Schreier, the superb Thomas Quasthoff, and any other great voice that you can find, then listen to Matthias Goerne. Beyond the question of interpretation, I think you will find a certain (without intending to be off-hand about it, I have to say) je ne sais pas in his voice. A depth? A gravelly quality? A slight vibrato? Whatever it is, I think it will find an echo in your own heart.

And what about Herr Goerne’s own journey as a singer? “Time and patience are the most important things,’’ he has said. ‘‘In every phase, whether you’re 21 or 31, you need to feel that this moment is the ne plus ultra. You can’t tell yourself that in five years you’ll do a piece differently or better. But five years later, you look back and you can see that you’re in a new place. It’s a sign that you’ve been working hard.’’

Estelle Gilson

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):