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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

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):