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 Performances

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Miah Persson [Photo by Monika Rittershaus]
26 Jun 2012

Miah Persson, Wigmore Hall

At the Wigmore Hall, there’s long been a tradition of Swedish song. We’ve heard many of the greats, Anne Sofie von Otter, Barbara Bonney and others. Miah Persson and Roger Vignoles are in this constellation.

Songs by Emil Sjögren, Peter Illych Tchaikovsky, Gösta Nystroem, Lars-Erik Larsson, Edvard Grieg

Miah Persson, soprano; Roger Vignoles, piano.Wigmore Hall London, 19th June 2012.

Above: Miah Persson [Photo by Monika Rittershaus]

 

One of their earliest London concerts was built around their 2003 recording Soul and Landscape (Hyperion). Since then, Miah Persson has become one of the most significant lyric sopranos in this country. The pair have been back many times at the Wigmore Hall, but it was still a pleasure to hear them, particularly in repertoire that is “new” to English audiences.

Persson and Vignoles began their programme with Emil Sjögren’s Sechs Lieder aus Julius Wollf’s Tannhäuser, (1884). Not Wagner’s Tannhäuser but a setting of an epic poem written in 1880. As Geoffrey Norris writes in his knowledgeable programme notes, Wollf (1834-1910) liked subjects “of a mythical past…described somewhat derogatorily as Butzenzenscheibenpoesie, a Butzenscheibe being an old form of archery target”, like those round fake-archaic window panes we see in mock-historic pubs. Although I hadn’t read Norris’s notes until I started writing this piece, that’s exactly how I felt about the songs. Sjögren, (1853-1918) chooses sections that deal with love, and are sweet rather than dramatic. Don’t even dream of Wagner. These are songs that evoke late 19th century middle class values. “Ich möchte schweben über Tal und Hügel “ let Perssons sing very quietly. This Tannhäuser (or Elizabeth) is a gentle soul.

Tchaikovsky songs of the same period brought out Persson’s abilities as dramatist. In “Sred’ shumnovo bala” (At the Ball, op 38/3 1878), Tchaikovsky pains dance rhytms into the piano part, and pathos into the voice. The ball is cheerful, but the beloved eyes are sad. It’s a secretive song, but Perssons makes you notice the subtle ciontrasts of mood. “Solovey” (op 60/4 1886) stressed Persson’s voice slightly, but in “Cradle Song” (op 16/1 1872) she managed to convey the strange darkness behind this lullaby with images of eagles.

Five songs by Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986) to words by Hjalmar Gullberg followed. Larsson and Gullberg worked together frequently and their cantata “Förklädd gud” (God in disguise) is a staple in Swedish choral singing circles. (It’s even on YouTube). Larsson worked in broadcasting, so he appreciated music that would have broad popular appeal, even though he studied with Alban Berg and was the first Swedish composer to experiment with serialism. These songs, here transcribed for voice and piano, have charm, rollicking piano, and contrasting cleanly arching vocal lines. “Skyn, blomman och en lärka” (The cloud, the flower and the lark) was lit up by Persson’s ability to smile into her singing, adding warm tone. In “Kyssande vind” (the kiss of the wind), the piano rolls up a storm. Someone is stealing a kiss, disguised as the wind. The song ends with a flourish, and Persson sings with such happiness that you know the kiss is welcome.

More familiar songs by Edvard Grieg, in which Persson excels. “En svane” (op 252 1876) had the right hint of melancholy. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf’s recording, in German, is hauntingly beautiful, but the song is even lovelier in Norwegian. “Mens jeg venter” (On the water, op 60/3 1893-4) was particularly beautiful. Vignoles playing sparkled : you could visualize light shining off the ocean waves. “Bro, bro, brille” goes the refrain, and Perssons makes it joyous.

The highlight of this recital, for me, anyway, were the songs from Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966). Nystreom is one of the finest Swedish composers, whose “Sånger vid havet” (Songs by the sea), “På reveln” (At the reef) and “Själ och landskap” (Soul and landscape) are a part of the repertoire of any female Swedish singer. Miah Persson of course does those for soprano : Nystroem inspired her first major recording nearly 10 years ago. Here she chose two songs from Nystroem’s incidental music to “The Tempest” (1946). Give Nystroem’s fascination with oceans, it’s hardly surprising that the orchestral parts of this music are wildly turbulent, complete with wordless chorus. The two sings Persson and Vignoles pick refect the magical side of the story, “Where the Bee sucks” and “Come unto these yellow sands” (in Swedish) are exquisitely lyrical, capturing the strange magic that Shakespeare conures. The refrain “Hark! Hark! Bow-wow” becomes “Hallå, Hallå, Å”, whuch gives Nystroem a chance to write exotic ulullation, which Persson sings with clear, bright tones. Later, the refrain “Ding dong bell” becomes “Bing, bång, farväl”, and Persson’s voice rings like a silvery bell.

Perhaps one of the most famous of Gösta Nystroem’s works is his “Sinfonia del Mare” (1946-8) a magnificent symphonic poem with a song in its midst, to a poem by Ebba Linqvist. Arising from the wild ocean intensity of the music, the song seems almost supernatural. “Just as one flees the beloved, not bearing to be consumed”, goes the poem, “So I have fled the sea”. But just as life without love is in vain, the poet must leave sunny days in the forst, drawn back to “a sigh of the wind from the sea”. Persson and Vignoles do an arrangement for piano and voice, so the emphasis is on the second strophe. “I must return, and sit by the sea and know. That is all there is on earth”. This is the title of the poem, and its meaning.

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):