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

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Angelika Kirchschlager [Photo © Nikolaus Karlinsky courtesy of Askonas Holt]
09 Jul 2012

‘Ancient & Modern’ with Angelika Kirchschlager and Ian Bostridge

Ian Bostridge’s thought-provoking ‘Ancient and Modern’ project at the Wigmore Hall is drawing to a close and this penultimate instalment brought together Renaissance sensuality and Neo-classical restraint in a meticulously executed performance.

‘Ancient & Modern’ with Angelika Kirchschlager and Ian Bostridge

Angelika Kirchschlager: mezzo-soprano; Ian Bostridge: tenor. The English Concert. Harry Bicket: director, harpsichord. Julia Doyle: soprano; Rebecca Outram: soprano; Caroline Trevor: contralto; Matthew Long: tenor. Wigmore Hall, London, Saturday 7th July 2012.

Above: Angelika Kirchschlager [Photo © Nikolaus Karlinsky courtesy of Askonas Holt]

 

Yet, despite the indisputable musical finesse and sensitivity to the text of all involved, the end result lacked a certain frisson: a little more unpredictability or even capriciousness might have heightened the emotional and dramatic impact.

Claudio Monteverdi moved to Venice in 1613, to take up the position of maestro di capella at St. Mark’s. Although he continued to provide music until the early 1620s for his former employer, Duke Gonzaga of Mantua, the composer now found himself no longer an Italian prince’s private ‘servant’ but rather a freelance musician who could accept commissions in and out of Venice, and he found a ready market for concertante style works, combining voices and instruments, which provided popular entertainment at musical evenings in the homes of the city’s wealthy elite.

The seventh of Monteverdi’s eight books of madrigals, published in 1619, contains a miscellany of such concertante pieces, madrigals ‘proper’ and other types of song. ‘Tempro La Cetra’ (‘I temper my lyre’) is a setting of a sensual sonnet by Giambattisto Marino in which the singer initially declares that he has come to praise Mars, the god of war, but then finds himself distracted by thoughts of Love. It is essentially a strophic aria recalling the formal model of the Prologue to Orfeo: following an introductory sinfonia, the four verses are supported by a repeating bass pattern with slight variations, and a ritornello à 5 drawn from the opening of the sinfonia is interspersed between the verses.

As might be expected, Ian Bostridge was typically attentive to the composer’s response to the nuances of the text, finding sweetness, frustration, assertion, imperiousness and rejoicing in Marino’s Petrarchianisms, and communicating these sentiments through a rich palette of vocal colours. Moreover, he crafted the increasingly ornate expressive decorations with fluency and naturalness, perfectly complementing Marino’s evolving extended metaphors. The players of the English Concert brought energy and joy to the concluding dance passage, confirming the singer’s elated celebration of Love.

Thematically and stylistically ‘Tempro La Cetra’ is certainly a fitting preface to ‘Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda’, a through-composed dramatic work published in 1638 in Monteverdi’s eighth book of madrigals, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi. ‘Combattimento’ was included among the warlike numbers but had in fact been commissioned by wealthy Venetian, Girolamo Mocinego, in the 1620s for the marriage of his daughter in 1624, thus underlining the metaphoric relationship between war and love. It presents — “in genere rappresentativo” — an episode from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberate recounting a military encounter between the crusading Tancredi and his former inamorata, the Saracen Clorinda, whom he does not recognise in her battle armour and whom he slays, her dying words being a request the he might say a Christian prayer for her soul.

Monteverdi prefaced the work not only with very precise instructions as to how the work should be performed — the two combatants are armed, Tancredi arrives on horseback, the conflict is to be depicted in gesture and movement which corresponds to the text — but also with an account of his own aesthetics: that is, his desire to depict all three of the ‘passions of the mind’ — anger (musically to be conveyed through agitation), temperance (softness) and humility (moderation), the first of these, so he believed, never before having been satisfactorily embodied in music.

This imitative ambition was to be achieved primarily through rhythm and articulation; it was not merely the emotions of conflict but also the real hostilities of war which were to be depicted. The string players of the English Concert proved adept at responding to the rapidly changing emotions of the text and conveying the precise pictorial gestures in the score — the clacking trot of the horses’ hooves, the stinging pizzicato clashes of the combatants’ swords, the triadic fanfare flourishes. With controlled, detailed ensemble playing, the spontaneity of battle was evoked by sudden changes of dynamic and abrupt transitions from agitation to calm.

There were no horses or battle-dress on the Wigmore Hall platform, but even with such accoutrements the work is far from operatic and, given that the action is in effect related rather than enacted, it is not even very dramatic. The Narrator, accompanied principally by the continuo alone, recites events in a largely declamatory style; here Bostridge and Kirchschlager shared the role, a rather odd decision given that essentially it is the Narrator who unites the various elements, binding together the instrumental commentary and the direct speech of the two protagonists. However, despite the rather restricted melodic range and almost total absence of coloratura, both Bostridge and Kirchschlager proved equally penetrating in using emphasis and pronunciation to observe the passions of the text. Kirchschlager’s rich mezzo is not ideally suited to this repertoire, but her intense, burnished lower register did bring urgency to the conclusion of the tale; the more expansive melodic contours of the passage depicting night — “who has hidden in her dark breast/ and consigned to oblivion this magnificent action, memorable deed, worthy of the dazzling sun,/ worthy of the great stage” — were expressively crafted. One problem of the work is that the direct speech for the sparring pair is rather brief, and thus their emotions are not really directly expressed; only in the Narrator’s final explication can there be any expansion of human emotion. However, Matthew Long was a confident Tancredi, his warm, nimble tenor conveying the crusader’s heated passions, and the final blessing of Julia Doyle’s Clorinda, “The heavens open; I go in peace”, was fittingly pure and crystalline.

After the interval, Long and Doyle were joined by Rebecca Outram and Caroline Trevor for three madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo. ‘Dolcissima mia vita’ (‘Sweetest life’) presents the familiar Renaissance metaphor of love/death, Gesualdo’s piquant harmonies conveying the extreme emotions of the text in which bliss and anguish are inseparable. The vocalists were always alert to the rhetorical effects, producing a perfectly blended timbre while decorously highlighting textual details, both collective and individual. Perfect intonation characterised the sustained chromatic contortions of ‘Beltà, poi che t’assenti’ (‘Beauty, though you are gone’), as the voices lament the loss of Beauty — “you carry with you his heart, his torments” — and the startling harmonic twists at the climactic cry, “I am the one who should weep”, in ‘Asciugate i belgi occhi’ (‘Dry your fair eyes’). However, it also seemed rather too well-mannered and demure. In these madrigals, Gesualdo presents not flowing drama but static, extreme, abstract emotions: chromaticisms overflow in a continuous stream, no longer a pictorial device but rather the embodiment of the ecstatic fusion of contradictory feelings. The overall effect should surely be one of both exhilaration and exhaustion, even hallucinatory in its affective power; here, the impeccable technical mastery was just a little too self-controlled and polite.

Self-possession and moderation were more fittingly deployed in the concluding work, Stravinsky’s Cantata — a setting of anonymous fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English texts which Stravinsky selected “not only for their great beauty and their compelling syllabification, but for their construction which suggests musical construction”. The nine verses of ‘A Lyke-Wake Dirge’, a prayer for the dead sung by the chorus, are interspersed with two arias, one each for soprano and tenor, the two soloists later joining together in an intensely imitative duet setting of the secular text, ‘Westron Wind’. Scored for a mixed ensemble similar to the wind-based groups of the pastoral scenes in The Rake’s Progress, the architectural symmetry of the form enabled Stravinsky to explore and experiment with temporal structures.

Kirchschlager blended beautifully with the contrapuntal woodwind lines in the first aria, ‘The maidens come’, before her recitative-like prayer descended to a rich, contemplative warmth for the entreaty, “After ther liff grant them/ A place eternally to sing”. In the long central carol, ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’, players (flutes, oboes and cello) and singer mastered the intricate series of canonical devices and increasingly intense dissonances, with lucidity and precision, the at times unblended instrumental timbres underpinning Bostridge’s beautifully decorated cantilena lines. Despite the harmonic and structural complexities, the music remained at heart melodic; the polyphony was never overly urgent and the overall effect one of calm control. In contrast, the duet was stormy and impetuous, before composure was restored in a postlude which concluded with a haunting restatement of the opening of the dirge.

This impressive performance presented intriguing musical matter for the mind but was not entirely up-lifting for the spirit.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Biago Marini Passacaglio à 3 & à 4 from Diversi generi di sonate Op.22
Claudio Monteverdi: ‘Tempro la cetra’; ‘Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda’
Carlo Gesualdo: Three madrigals
Igor Stravinsky: Cantata

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):