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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Renée Fleming [Photo by Andrew Eccles courtesy of Decca]
14 Dec 2012

Vienna: the window to modernity

This recital, which focused on a narrowly specific time and place — 1888-1933 Vienna — paradoxically illuminated not only the musical scope and richness of that epoch but also, as Renée Fleming notes in her prefatory programme article, the extraordinary extent of the diversity, transformation and flux, both historical and cultural, that characterised the era.

Vienna: the window to modernity

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Renée Fleming [Photo by Andrew Eccles courtesy of Decca]

 

Selecting five composers “whose tracks were closely linked” — personally, musically and influentially — Fleming began with Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler, both born in 1860 and students of Robert Fuchs at the Vienna Academy of Music, but whose music developed in divergent ways.

Wolf’s Goethe Lieder began quite conservatively, though relaxed and discursive in delivery. Although a little subdued and restrained, Fleming conjured a pastoral sweetness in ‘Frühlings übers Jahr’ (‘Spring all year round’) and ‘Gleich und gleich’ (‘Like to like’). Her trademark generous legato helped to establish an easy ambience, strolling through meadows where ‘snow-white snowdrop bells are swaying’ and ‘crocuses unfold their intense glow’; yet while the elision of consonants may have aided the luxurious tone and silky sinuousness, occasionally the trademark portamenti took one liberty too many.

Pianist Maciej Pikulski’s understated accompaniment — delicate, suggestive, airy — was surprisingly effective in complementing the rhythmic freedom and tonal blossoming of the voice; this was particularly noticeable in ‘Die Bekehrte’ (‘The repentant shepherdess’), where Pikulski’s unassuming yet sensitive traceries contributed much to the mood of modest ruefulness. In ‘Anakreons Grab’ (‘Anacreaon’s grave’) the performers communicated an affecting meditative tranquillity.

Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder followed. In these songs we see the Mahler who looks within himself for answers to twentieth-century crises — personal, musical, social and political; and Fleming’s approach - more concerned for the overall musical line than in small nuances of text — is well-suited to music which offers a full and intense expression of personality. Growing from the delicate whisperings of ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft!’ (‘I breathed a gentle scent’), Fleming gradually extended her range of colour; in ‘Mitternacht’ she vividly invested the repetitions of the title with deeply evocative hues. Voice and piano, both remarkably restrained, conversed intimately in ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (‘I am lost to the world’), and produced a disquieting ‘peace’ in the final verse, the sound palely dissolving with the line ‘Und ruh’ in einem stillen Gebiet!’ (‘And I rest in a quiet realm’).

I had not been convinced during the Wolf and Mahler that the expanse of the Barbican Hall, even when bathed in a glossy pink glow, was truly the most appropriate venue for these intimate lieder. However, in the second half of the recital, which began with Schoenberg and moved on to Zemlinsky and Korngold, the spaciousness was filled with Fleming’s blooming gleam, the size of the venue granting her the amplitude and resonance required to commit fully to the music’s grandiose emotional outbursts.

Fleming offered helpful introductions to the sometimes challenging music offered, engaging her audience directly, although Schoenberg’s Erwartung, Op.2 No.1 (not to be confused with the later melodrama of the same title), a setting of a Richard Dehmel poem describing the sexual anticipation of two lovers, and Jane Grey Op.12, an ardent ballad telling of the fate of the young woman who ruled England for just nine days in 1553, needed no ‘justification’. This is music of pained intensity, and Fleming conveyed the narratives directly and with emotional freedom. Pikulski contributed considerably to the melancholic poise which tempered the animation of the emotional tales.

Zemlinsky’s Fünf Lieder auf Texte von Richard Dehmel are more enigmatic, but Fleming’s legato sheen did much to bring coherence to these ambiguous fragments. Bitterly chromatic and characterised by unexpected harmonic twists, these songs, unpublished in the composer’s lifetime, seem determined to retain their secrets; they may have been prompted by Zemlinsky’s disquiet at the affair between his sister Mathilde, who was married to Schoenberg, and the painter Richard Gerstl, who later committed suicide when Mathilde returned to her husband in 1908. Fleming’s confident, accurate rendering offered a route to understanding while never destroying their mystery.

Fleming concluded her Viennese sojourn with the music Erich Korngold. The broadly elegiac chromaticisms of ‘Sterbelied’, a setting of Christina Rossetti’s ‘When I am Dead’ — but, why did the programme present a rather lifeless re-translation of the German version of the original, rather than Rossetti’s original poem? — blossomed into the spacious lines of ‘Was du mir bist?’ (‘What are you to me?’), where Fleming’s expansiveness at the top was finally indulged in astonishing blooms of wonderful sound, a paradox of weight and ethereality. Here, Fleming demonstrated how she can release the fullness of her voice at the moment when the text demands but, like an emotional ambush, still catch us unawares. Concluding the Korngold sequence, the composer’s take on Johann Strauss II’s waltz, ‘Frag mich off’ (‘I often wonder’), allowed Fleming to indulge her kitschier, melodramatic instincts.

The omission of Fleming’s beloved Richard Strauss was remedied in the first of three encores, ‘Zueignung’, which was effortlessly gleaming and luminous. Delibes’ ‘Les Filles de Cadix’ was, Fleming declared, designed as a sorbet to refresh the palette after “too much sachertorte”. The trills were perhaps less tight and tremulous than of old, but the elevated vocalism just as winning: embarking upon the wrong verse text, Fleming offered a nonchalant shrug, set off again and won a round of applause! Korngold’s ‘Mariettas lied’ from Die tote Stadt signed off a consummate display of musical artistry and eloquent communication. Pikulski’s playing in the closing bars was exquisitely graceful and charmingly tender.

So much for the music; glorious as it was, at times it was at risk of being over-shadowed by ‘The Diva’. The avidly warm welcoming reception, the statuesque frocks — an extravagant golden silk confection garnered the pseudo-apology, ‘I wanted you to get the Klimt connection’ — the insouciant banter and the rapturous standing ovation all indicated that a ‘star’ had alighted.

But, she deserved the adulation and the rapturous standing ovation: it was clear that she could ask her voice to do whatever she willed, confident that the result would be technically masterful yet seem effortlessly articulated.

Just one tiny, humble, suggestion: if your feet can’t be seen beneath the taffeta fanfares, there’s no point crippling yourself in tottering, un-walkable Louboutins — when you sing this gloriously, flat pumps will do!

Claire Seymour

Click here for the programme and other information relating to this recital

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):