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 Reviews

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has been a regular favourite at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam since 1996. Her verastile concerts are always carefully constructed and delivered with irrepressible energy and artistic commitment.

Cav/Pag at Royal Opera

When Italian director Damiano Michieletto visited Covent Garden in June this year, he spiced Rossini’s Guillaume Tell with a graphic and, many felt, gratuitous rape scene that caused outrage and protest.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

17 Dec 2012

Courageous Winterreise : Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall, London

Wintery weather in London for Florian Boesch's Schubert Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall. But what bliss to hear an austere interpretation that challenged assumptions !

Franz Schubert : Winterreise

Floran Boesch, Roger Vignoles

Wigmore Hall, London, 12th December 2012

 

This wasn't "easy listening", for Boesch doesn't do superficial charm. But true Lieder devotees know their Schubert so well that they can appreciate new perspectives. Boesch and Roger Vignoles took an original, courageous approach which proved just how much there is yet to find in this well known cycle.

Boesch made his point from the very first word, "Fremd", projecting it forcefully so there was no mistaking that what was to come would be comfortable. Schubert sets the word twice for emphasis. Boesch and Vignoles separate it from the rest of the phrase with the tiniest pause, so subtle you might miss it, but the chill lingers through the following images of May, love and flowers. "Nun", Boesch continues. But is this just a journey through landscape ? "Nicht wählen mit der Zeit, Muß selbst den Weg mir weisen In dieser Dunkelheit". By emphasizing key words, like "Fremd" and "Was", Boesch establishes a thrust that intensifies the chilling, cutting edge in the music, often muffled by the impressionistic "snow" imagery in the piano part.

Later on the journey, the protagonist addresses crows, trees and metereological phenomena. In some interpretations, this is a sign of madness. Perhaps even the old beggar is a hallucination. Boesch, however, is more humanistic, drawing his ideas from psychological theory. Wilhelm Müller, the poet, saw battle in the wars against Napoleon. He'd also overcome an unhappy love affair. A sensitive reading of his texts shows how purposeful this journey might be. "Die Liebe liebt das Wandern, Gott hat sie so gemacht". It's not an aberration, but natural development. Boesch's almost conversational style is understated and direct. Lieder singing turns the listener inward, identifying with the performer rather than observing from outside. For Boesch, there are no histrionics, no exaggerated operatic mad scenes. If the protagonist is indeed insane, then so are we.

Boesch's direct, conversational style suggests a rational, though very intense, man who is working things out from different angles. When Boesch sings of the girl he's leaving, the tenderness in his voice suggests that she was a real person with whom he's had a genuine relationship. His anger is quite appropriate. In "Estarrung", the numbness the poet feeels is suggested by the quiet desparation in Boesch's voice. He listens to Vignoles play the prelude to "Der Lindenbaum", and the mood changes. In this performance, Boesch took longer pauses than he does in his recording of Winterreise last year with Malcolm Martineau. This creates a more contemplative effect, as if the protagonist is actively assessing the world around him and considering his options. Although the music flows between songs, Schubert purposefully changes the mood in each song. The poet cannot wallow but must keep moving forwards, pulled ahead by the piano. ""Es war zu kalt zum Stehen".

In true Romantic fashion, Boesch's protagonist responds to Nature. "Irrlicht" was taken with such a sense of wonder that you could imagine the unearthly halo that illuminates the marsh spirits. The "Blumen in Winter" shone with deftly defined lyricism. Because Boesch listens carefully and enunciates his words with deliberation, we too listen to how the images in this text recur, in different guises as the journet progress. The friendly will o' the wisp reveals itself as delusion, Village dogs bark no less than three times in this text, but eventually the Leiermann shows that they can be ignored.

Often it's assumed that Winterreise ends in death. But is death the only alternative to the values of the village ? The Romantic spirit focussed on the individual, and on persoal enlightenment. The protagonist in Winterreise is setting out on a road "die noch Keiner ging zurück" but that could mean that he's not the man he was before he set forth. In "Das Wirthaus" the piano part suggests a tolling death knell, but the wreaths here are for other travellers. This protagonist cannot rest. Boesch sings "Mut" defiantly. Already we hear Vignoles's playing evoke the folksy sound of a hurdy-gurdy, as the poet resolves to mock the wind and weather. The phrase "Will kein Gott auf Erden sein, sind wir selber Götter", was enunciated with deliberation.

The whole winter's journey has been leading to the final song, "Der Leiermann". How carefully Boesch describes the old man, barefoot in the snow, "mit starren Fingern dreht er was er kann". Perhaps the Leiermann is an apparition, since few people might survive is such conditions. But the very fact that the Leiermann continues playing against all odds is what makes him a "Wunderlicher Alte". Boesch intones the words as if they were strange prophecy. In summer the Leiermann might play at village dances, but in winter he somehow continues to play, as if driven. The instrument itself is simple, droning as its handle is moved in a circular motion. It's music in a very basic form, but music nonetheless.

The protagonist wonders if he should follow. "Willst du meinen Liederen deine Leier drehn?". Boesch articulates so you clearly hear the connection between "Lieder" and "Leier". Perhaps in some circles, outsiders like the Leiermann might seem "mad" because they don't conform to convention. Romantic period sensibilities would, however, have identified the Leiermann with the image of an artist who persists with what he believes in, however isolated he is from society. Boesch and Vignoles gave us at the Wigmore Hall much to contemplate. We cannot dismiss this Leiermann as mad or irrelevant any more than we can dismiss the role of Art itself.

Please also see this interview, where Boesch speaks about his unorthodox approach to Die Schöne Müllerin. Read what he says carefully, because he's extremely perceptive. His performance at the Oxford Lieder Festival was a great artistic experience. Boesch's ideas apply even more to Winterreise,and were, at the Wigmore Hall, expressed with great emotional conviction.

Anne Ozorio

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):