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

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

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):