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

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Graham [Photo by Dario Acosta courtesy of IMG Artists]
02 Jul 2012

Susan Graham, Wigmore Hall

Embodying a range of iconic female characters from history, literature and song — both the ‘good’ and the ‘not-so-good’ — Susan Graham delivered a wonderfully suave and entertaining performance before a delighted Wigmore Hall audience.

Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Malcolm Martineau, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Friday 29 June 2012.

Above: Susan Graham [Photo by Dario Acosta courtesy of IMG Artists]

 

Much of the success, both musical and theatrical, was surely due to the finely-tuned partnership between Graham and her frequent collaborator, pianist Malcolm Martineau. The ease with which Martineau moved between idioms, the naturalness and fluency of the dialogue he shaped between piano and voice, and his sensitive gradation of dynamics and timbre all contributed immensely to the superb, sustained quality of the recital.

Graham did, however, take a little while to get into her stride. Beginning in ‘beatific’ mode, suitably attired in a white, floating frock, she appropriately restrained from unleashing the full warmth of her richly lyrical timbre in the opening song, Purcell’s ‘Tell me, some pitying angel’ (which presents Mary’s prayer upon finding the twelve-year-old Jesus missing, when he remains behind to talk to the elders in the temple). But, while elegant, with clarity of tone and line, the phrases felt a little constrained, the persona not so readily communicated, as if this particular ‘costume’ didn’t quite fit. This is a dramatic, recitative-like aria, almost operatic in intensity, the virtuosic vocal line reflecting Mary’s rapidly changing emotions, and Graham built up the tension effectively, her increasingly desperate questions underpinned by Martineau’s pointedly intense harmonies. After the meandering movement of Mary’s anxious “How shall my soul its motions guide?” and the dense chromaticism which conveys her “lab'ring thoughts”, at the song’s close, “but oh! I fear the child”, Graham demonstrated the whispered, but crystal-clear pianissimo which touched the heart-strings many times during the evening.

More comfortable ‘inhabiting’ Shakespeare’s Ophelia, and perfectly attuned to the French idiom and language, Graham gave a tender rendition of Hector Berlioz's song ‘La mort d'Ophélie’. Inspired by the young composer’s infatuation for Harriet Smithson, the Irish Shakespearean actress, this song is gently lyrical rather than agonisingly tragic, and the softly oscillating piano introduction perfectly established a fitting mood. Graham can control the smallest nuances equally well at both ends of her register, casting a womanly glow in the lower range, while floating ethereally at the top. Martineau beautifully shaped and sustained the narrative in the in-between-verse interludes, demonstrating the genuine empathy shared by the performers.

Next came Goethe: since her first manifestation in his novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (“Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship”) countless composers have been fascinated and inspired by Mignon’s mystery and ambiguity. Graham presented German lieder by Schubert, Schumann and Wolf, as well as less well-known settings by Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Henri Duparc. Schubert’s ‘Heiß mich nicht reden’ is a poignant poem for the enigmatic Mignon, contrasting her stoical suffering with more comforting hopes, a juxtaposition delicately reflected in the sensitive modulations between major and minor modes. Graham expertly shaped the emotional movement, using dynamics, harmonic colour and vocal timbre to express Mignon’s faith that “the hard rock opens up its bosom,/ does not begrudge earth its deeply hidden springs”. A brief piano postlude, cadencing in the tonic major, provided a quiet moment of consolation.

Schumann's ‘So laßt mich scheinen’ followed, in which Martineau created a more animated drama through the polyphonic energy of the accompaniment lines. Graham’s final cry, encompassing a dramatic vocal leap, ‘Too early I grew old with grief -/ make me forever young again!’ was affecting, but it was not until Liszt’s ‘Mignon Lied’ that she was able to settle securely into the lustrous Romantic idiom which allows her to demonstrate both the silky sheen and airy translucency for which she is renowned. Leaping melodic contours were handsomely crafted and together with the increasingly fragmented accompaniment drove the music forward with questioning urgency, culminating in a breath-taking final pianissimo which movingly, but without sentimentality, conveyed Mignon’s frailty.

An adept linguist, Graham now moved further eastwards, finding a dark beauty in Tchaikovsky’s sensuous melodies in ‘Nyet, tolko tot, kto, znal’ (‘None but the lonely heart’), in which Martineau’s pulsing syncopations reinforced the expressive power of the voice. Henri Duparc's ‘Romance de Mignon’ was radiant and sweet, culminating with a deep piano postlude suggestive of the lovers’ passion. And the mini-series rose to its heights with Wolf's ‘Kennst du das Land’; the most operatic of these Mignon settings, Wolf’s soaring lines allowed Graham to fully reveal the power, control and Straussian splendour of her instrument.

Swapping her virginal white for a slinky black number, Graham returned after the interval in a rather less sombre mood, beginning the second half with a rhetorical, highly dramatic performance of Joseph Horowitz’s scena, ‘Lady Macbeth’. The restless ambition of the ruthless queen’s spirit was perfectly captured by Graham as she moved seamlessly between parlando, recitative and arioso, supported by Martineau’s imposingly agitated accompaniment.

In Poulenc's song cycle ‘Fiancailles pour rire’ (‘Lighthearted Betrothal’) Graham demonstrated her eye/ear for subtle nuance and detail, and for story-telling. Ranging from an almost sacred purity (as at the opening of ‘Dans l’herbe’) to the informal knowingness of ‘La dame d’André’, from tender pathos (at the close of ‘Mon cadaver est doux comme un gant’) to the insouciant swagger of ‘Violon’, this was a superbly fashioned and assured performance, in which Graham was not afraid to take risks but never crossed the line into hyperbole or melodrama.

Things began to loosen up with a carefree rendering of Messager’s ‘J’ai deux amants’ and from here on Graham was in cabaret mode, exchanging relaxed, witty repartee with her pianist and audience, and treating us to some light numbers by Cole Porter and Vernon Duke, before rounding things off with Ben Moore’s ‘Sexy Lady’, a specially commissioned song which —with apt illustrative musical quotation —regales us with the ups and downs of the mezzo-soprano’s lot —a life spent en travesti fending off competition from the currently in-fashion crop of countertenors! Such satirical self-reflection engendered more than a little self-indulgence, but if Graham showed her diva credentials, the hamming-up felt just right and the humour was genuine and sharp.

The audience seemed reluctant to let Graham go, but fortunately she and Martineau were obviously having as much fun as we were, and were happy to oblige with three encores which, in microcosm, displayed the full range of Graham’s deeply impressive talents.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Purcell: Tell me, some pitying angel (The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation)
Berlioz: La mort d’Ophélie
Schubert: Heiß mich nicht reden
Schumann: So laßt mich scheinen
Liszt: Mignons Lied (Kennst du das Land)
Tchaikovsky: None but the lonely heart
Duparc: Romance de Mignon
Wolf: Kennst du das Land
Horovitz: Lady Macbeth - a Scena
Poulenc: Fiançailles pour rire
Messager: J’ai deux amants from ‘L’amour masqué’
Porter: The Physician
Vernon Duke: Ages Ago (arr. Roger Vignoles)
Moore: Sexy Lady

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):