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 Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Christoph Prégardien [Photo © Marco Borggreve]
18 Jul 2012

Christoph Prégardien, Wigmore Hall

Seriousness, elegance and insight characterised this recital of nineteenth-century German song in which Christoph Prégardien and his accompanist, Julius Drake, conducted a moving musical dialogue, perfectly matching each other in the depiction of unbending obsession and unfulfilled aspiration.

Christoph Prégardien, tenor; Julius Drake, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 17 July 2012.

Above: Christoph Prégardien [Photo © Marco Borggreve]

 

The sequence had been carefully chosen to form a circular progression of emotions, from pained lamentation to delusory hope, returning to bittersweet despair; and the songs were delivered with a sure sense of musical relationships and overall form to create a naturally flowing narrative and musical whole.

Drake’s role in shaping the pace and overall form was not inconsiderable. This was apparent from the opening bars of Schubert’s graveside lament, ‘Tiefes Lied’ (‘Deep Sorrow’), in which the squalling roars of wind which gust through the piano texture, suggesting the speaker’s turbulent soul, were tempered by soothing diminuendos bringing calm at the end of each verse.

The six texts by the tormented, unstable Ernst Konrad Schulze explore the poet’s unrequited passion for two sisters, Adelheid and Cäcilie Tyshcen; they may employ many a poetic cliché to depict Schulze’s self-absorbed longing and delusions, but Schubert’s responses are often anything but predictable.

Roaring winds also burst “across the pine slopes” in ‘Über Wildemann’ (‘Over-looking Wildemann’), the voice now in octaves with the bass, ominously dark and suggesting a repressed violence within. Desperation turns to rueful consolation, as the poet regards the beauty of the mountain landscape, and Drake and Prégardien shaped a thrilling climax, the tenor’s forthright, ringing line ecstatically declaring his fleeting elation, “O love, O love,/ O breath of May!”

The contrast with the tenor’s soft, dreamy tone at the conclusion of the preceding ‘Um Mitternacht’ (‘At Midnight’) — as the singer calls for the “Sweet echo” of his beloved’s words to lull his head to gentle rest” — was startling, and made still more dramatic by the unceasing movement from Drake’s tender postlude into the opening bars of the next song. Rhythmic nuance was also used to expressive effect, the apparent simplicity of the sentiments and idiom deepened by the subtle rhythmic variations of the main melodic motif, shared by voice and piano, at times calm and stable, then enlivened, even agitated.

Even the poetic limitations of ‘An mein Herz’ (‘To my heart’) were overcome by Drake’s fierce chain of restless ostinato chords, first loud then soft, with major and minor tonalities interchanging, to suggest the futility of Romantic obsession. Initially echoing this reckless agitation, the singer finally turns to a quieter introspection, and here Prégardien employed a wonderful half-voice to suggest brief, if illusory, solace — “Let us bravely endure/ as long as tears still flow”.

The Schulze texts concluded with ‘Auf der Brücke’ (‘On the bridge’), Drake’s moto perpetuo and a sequential rising motif in left hand providing forward momentum as the poet-speaker’s horse gallops “briskly on without restraint”, away from his beloved, through darkness towards the “bright eye of longing”. With an exhilarated tone, Prégardien conveyed the protagonist’s initial bold confidence, before doubt entered and a momentary shadow veiled the close.

Schumann’s settings of Nikolaus Lenau deepened the melancholic mood still further, only the opening ‘Lied eines Schmiedes’ (‘Blacksmith’s song’) portraying peace and contentment; here, Drake conjured a suitable brassy tone to evoke both the clang of the anvil and the rhythms of the “little steed’s” journey, while Prégardien brought a soft sweetness to the peaceful closing ruminations.

The control and modulation of sentiment which both performers achieved was striking, both between and within songs, perhaps most remarkably in ‘Requiem’, where Prégardien’s dramatic projection of the poet’s elation, “when he beholds his Lord/ in Heavenly glory”, faded moments later to a more subdued quietude as he hears the “lovely song” of the angel’s harps.

Most affecting of the Lenau songs were ‘Meine Rose’ (‘My rose’) and ‘Der schwere Abend’ (‘The oppressive evening’). In the former, Schumann’s doleful chromaticisms and appoggiaturas, and unpredictable harmonic progressions, prompted thoughtful and deeply expressive responses from singer and pianist. The sudden change of harmonic direction at the close of the first stanza of ‘Meine Rose’ — evoking the sombre mysteries of the ‘deep, dark well’ from which the poet draws water to revive the waning flower — were enhanced by Drake’s eloquent shaping of the piano’s falling motif; similarly, Prégardien’s restrained, introspection deepened the poignant longing of the repetition of the opening verse.

The Eb Minor tonality, dark register and repetitive circular motif of ‘Der schwere Abend’ conveyed the brooding insularity of the poet’s (and perhaps the composer’s) depression, punctuated only by the singer’s rhetorical exclamations. The culminating angry cry, “I wished us both dead/ in the anguish of my heart”, and the sustained tolling of the final piano chord, left one in no doubt of the self-destructive fury and despair of the poet-speaker.

After the interval came Dichterliebe. The performers moved swiftly from song to song, creating excitement and energy but also intimacy. Prégardien’s attention to the details of the text was superb, from the fragile dissolution of the voice in the final lines of each stanza in the opening ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’ (‘In the wondrous month of May’), to the pointing of individual words. Thus a rich, earnest timbre highlighted the unique perfection of she who is “small, fine, pure and rare” (“Die Kleine, die Feine, die Reine, die Eine”) in ‘Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube’ (‘Rose, Lily, Dove’); while the tenor’s dark cloudy tone at the conclusion of ‘When ich in deine Augen seh’ (‘When I look into your eyes’), underpinned by the following tumbling piano gestures, conveyed the poet’s torment: “but when you say: I love you!/ I must weep bitter tears.”

Prégardien revealed a round baritonal warmth in ‘Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome’ (‘In the Rhine, the holy river’) to evoke his sincere fervour, as sacred and sexual love coalesce - the eyes, lips and cheeks of the cathedral’s beloved Lady becoming “the image of my love’s”. A simple clarity, complemented by Drake’s sparse accompaniment, characterised “Hör ich das Kiedchen klingen” (‘When I hear the little song’), perfectly capturing the unaffected nature of the remembered song, and the unmovable, unalleviated grief which ultimately erupts in a profound piano postlude.

The performers’ focus and control never wavered, but in ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’ (‘I wept in my dreams’) heights of expressive affect were reached. Nearing the end of the cycle, after a consequential pause Prégardien restrainedly commenced the unaccompanied opening line, the steadily controlled monotone darkened by a semitonal ‘sob’, the poet’s almost suffocating grief intimated by Drake’s dry punctuating chords. The repetitions of the refrain and the confined contours of the almost drone-like melodic line stress the self-consuming nature of the poet’s obsession; and the piano languorously echoed the voice in the interlude between stanzas two and three, Drake movingly heightening the repeating plagal cadences, thereby weakening any hint of solace that the poet’s dream of continuing love may offer. In the final stanza, Prégardien allowed the vocal line to dissolve, his fragmented repetitions of a single pitch disturbed by restless dissonant harmony.

Self-regarding obsession, disillusionment and self-delusion may have remained unrelieved at the end of this recital, but such an intelligent interpretation by a perfectly attuned partnership, performing with such eloquent beauty, was more than enough recompense.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Schubert

Tiefes Leid (Im Jänner 1817)
An mein Herz
Um Mitternacht
Über Wildemann
Im Frühling
Auf der Brücke

Schumann

Lied eines Schmiedes
Meine Rose
Kommen und Scheiden
Die Sennin
Einsamkeit
Der schwere Abend
Requiem
Dichterliebe

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):