Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

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).



Frank Bridge
05 Oct 2012

Frank Bridge Song Focus

Frank Bridge (1879-1941) was a professional violinist and violist, a talented conductor, a versatile composer and skilled teacher; yet he remains something of an enigma and his music relatively unknown.

Frank Bridge Song Focus

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Frank Bridge


Bridge’s compositional career divided into two distinct parts: initially influenced by the expressive romanticism of Fauré and Brahms, in the mid-1920s he embraced the radicalism of the Second Viennese School - evidence of both his openness to new European musical developments and possibly of a loss of faith in the lyrical idiom of the past following the First World War.

Bridge songs, of which there are more than fifty, belong to the earlier period, two thirds being written before 1907; as evidenced in this charming and thoughtfully planned programme - the first of two recitals forming a ‘Frank Bridge Song Focus’ at the Wigmore Hall - the songs are affecting, memorable and varied in form and scope, revealing a sensitive if not overly demonstrative or dramatic approach to world-setting.

Pianist Iain Burnside, the curator of the two concerts, devised a wonderful programme, assembling Bridge’s songs into poetic groupings and interposing songs by other, predominantly British composers. The sequences unfolded organically, with seldom a break between songs, soprano Ailish Tynan and tenor Robert Murray moving in understated fashion, to the centre of the platform in turn - or even performing, seated, from the side. The effect was to create a coherent, natural progression, foregrounding the songs and their sentiments, revealing links, developing evolving narratives.

We began with poetry of the ‘English Romantics’, the rapid cascading accompaniment of ‘Go not, happy day’ (Tennyson) launching the poet-speaker’s mood of relaxed, joyful ebullience as he rejoices in his love, which suffuses the whole world with a rosy radiance. Robert Murray pinpointed the simple sentiment with clarity and immediacy; similarly, ‘The Devon maid’ (Keats), delivered from the side of the platform, possessed a gentle wit, a slight rallentando, “And we will sign in the daisy’s eye/ And kiss on the grass green pillow”, suggesting the singer’s bliss! Here, and throughout the evening, Murray’s diction was superb.

Ailish Tynan found a radiant tone for the poet-speaker’s declaration of love at the close of “Adoration” (Keats), in which Burnside’s subtly emphasised appoggiaturas delicately punctuated the still, quiet ambience. In Charles Parry’s ‘Bright Star’ and ‘La Belle dame sans merci’, Tynan painted the text beautifully, finding rhetorical force, “her eyes were wild”, and pathos in recalling the haggard knight-at-arms, “so woe-begone”. From the unison, folk-like beginning of the latter, the urgency of the narrative grew with the increasing tempo and complexity of texture, the piano both anticipating and echoing voice with haunting melancholy.

Murray opened the Heine sequence with ‘E’en as a lovely flower’, floating the opening line and finding a stirring change of colour to match the surprising harmonic shift as “sadness/ Comes stealing over my heart”, before closing in ethereal vein, with a vision of the loved one, “So lovely, pure and fair”. In contrast, ‘Whenever I hear the strain’ by Maude Valérie White, whirled with a wild energy, Murray injecting a disturbing, hostile resentment into the final lines, “Love tortures my heart and brain/ With many a bitter pang”. In the oft-set ‘Ich grolle nicht’, Murray drew on weighty, darker hues, while in the final short lyric, ‘All things that we clasp’, Tynan perfectly captured the ambiguity of the text.

Three Bridge settings of the little known Mary Coleridge formed ‘The Female Muse’. Burnside summoned an insouciant rhythmic lilt in ‘Thy hand in mine’, in which Tynan and Murray shared the stanzas, enhancing the symmetry of the lines, “They hand in mine … Thy heart in mine”. ‘Where she lies asleep’ is beautifully crafted and compelling, and Murray’s sweet pianissimo lured the listener into the intimate portrait of one who “sleeps so lightly”, before Burnside’s extrovert, declamatory accompaniment and the theatrical interchange between the singers in the subsequent ‘Love went a-riding’ brought the first half of the recital to a dramatic close.

We travelled to Ireland after the interval, and Tynan relished the rich resonances of ‘Goldenhair’ and the folky rubato of ‘So early in the morning’, the latter building through each verse to an exclamation of bright joy, before cadencing insouciantly. Murray used his head voice effective in ‘Mantle of blue’, the sparse texture and delicately sustained vocal line conjuring a lullaby-like luminosity.

The final sequence, ‘The Last Invocation’, rose to fresh expressive heights - perhaps ironically, for here the folksong settings of Benjamin Britten threatened to outshine the songs of his revered teacher, Bridge. Tynan was absolutely at home in the role of balladeer in ‘The trees they grow so high’, seated beside Burnside and spinning an effortless melody, poignantly telling of love and life and death. The complexity of Britten’s ‘The last rose of summer’ - a shimmering accompaniment ripple transforming into an alert, off-beat triplet, as the high melodic melisma gains rhythmic urgency and direction - reveals an imaginative, idiosyncratic approach to text setting which is absent from the more conventional Bridge settings. But, Murray and Burnside brought vigour and realism to Bridge’s ‘’Tis but a week’, with its trampling horses and gay blackbirds, tinged with the sadness of loss and times past. Similarly, the word-painting and imitative motifs of ‘Blow out, you bugles’ intensify the more abstract emotions of the latter part of Rupert Brooke’s sonnet, where Murray conveyed reverence, anguish and finally passionate sincerity.

Tynan’s tender rendition of the final song, Bridge’s ‘The last invocation’, indubitably confirmed the composer’s haunting imagination.

Claire Seymour


English Romantics

Bridge: Go not happy day; Adoration
Parry: Bright Star
Bridge: The Devon Maid
Stanford: La Belle Dame sans merci


Bridge: E’en as a lovely flower
Ives: Ich grolle nicht
Bridge: The Violets Blue
White: Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen
Bridge: All things that we clasp

The Female Muse

Mary Coleridge: Thy hand in mine; Where she lies asleep; Love went a-riding

The Orange And The Green

Bridge: Golden Hair; Mantle of blue; So early in the morning; When you are old

The Last Invocation

Britten: The trees they grow so high
Bridge: What shall I your true love tell?; ’Tis but a week
Britten: The last rose of summer
Bridge: Into her keeping; Blow out you bugles; The last invocation

Ailish Tynan, soprano; Robert Murray, tenor; Iain Burnside, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday, 26th September 2012.

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):