Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bernarda Fink [Photo © Julia Wesely]
11 Feb 2013

Bernarda Fink Residency, Wigmore Hall

For the first of her two February recitals at the Wigmore Hall, the Argentinean mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink was joined by the Hugo Wolf Quartett in an eclectic, Italian-themed programme in which singer and instrumentalists sculpted diverse and beautiful musical vistas and communicated a remarkably coherent, shared vision.

Bernarda Fink Residency, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Bernarda Fink [Photo © Julia Wesely]

 

Ottorino Respighi’s Il tramonto (1914) for voice and string quartet is a setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem ‘The Sunset’, as translated by Roberto Ascoli, and describes a lovers’ moonlit walk and the woman’s subsequent life of endless mourning following the sudden death of her beloved. Fink wove flexibly between song, arioso and recitative recounting an engaging, touching narrative, the text clearly declaimed. While the accompaniment texture is impressionistic and at times quite sparse, there is yet a remarkable contrapuntal dynamism in the string lines, which the clean, crisp playing of the Hugo Wolf Quartett brought to the fore.

The performers adeptly conveyed the quiet intimacy of the work. After a theatrical string opening, a calm, lyrical episode describes one who ‘within whose subtle being […] Genius and death contended’; here Fink’s soprano was pure, light and floating, in keeping with the simplicity of the narrative and the ‘sweetness of the joy’ experienced, before swelling warmly to convey the passion felt by the lover for ‘the lady of his love’. There was a poignant weariness in the delicate arioso when the waking woman finds her lover dead. In contrast, Fink employed a warm melodious timbre to convey the feminine selflessness of the grieving woman, ‘Her gentleness and patience and sad smiles’.

Throughout, singer and quartet were fully integrated in narration and mood-painting. There was some superb playing from cellist Florian Berner, his opulently etched lines providing harmonic direction and structural cohesion, particularly in the section depicting the glories of the natural world and the hues of the sunset — ‘lines of gold/ Hung on the ashen cloud […] mingled with the shades of twilight’ — in which the players achieved an admirable motivic clarity. After depicting a life of self-denial and duty — a ‘kind of madness’ — Fink expressively announced the woman’s final appeal for peace, the beautiful violin solo with which the work closes tenderly reinforcing the mood of bitter-sweet desolation.

Il Tramonto was preceded by an original, and surprisingly repressed and intense, reading of Robert Schumann’s String Quartet in A Op.41 No.3. In his three Op.41 quartets, the composer turned from the narrative approach of his earlier orchestral works and sought inspiration from the classical masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and the Hugo Wolf Quartett were certainly concerned to create a sharply defined motivic texture, sometimes perhaps at the expense of fulsomeness of tone.

Their delicate, careful approach was, however, perfectly suited to the subtleties of the opening movement. Following a pensive introduction in which the principal motive — the sighing fall of a perfect fifth — was clearly engraved, the players established an elegant grazioso ambience, the transparency revealing the Beethovian density of Schumann’s motivic method and the intricacy of the rhythmic structures. The dislocated complexities of the main theme — in which the seemingly misaligned legato cello line juxtaposed with off-beat interjections from the other players — were wonderfully controlled.

The urgent, restless syncopations of the second movement, a theme and variations, culminated in a serene conclusion in the relative major mode, leading to a profound reading of the Adagio, in which the instrumentalists allowed themselves to indulge their more rhapsodic leanings, relishing the beautiful, song-like theme, and making much of the sudden and disturbing interruption of the repeated, march-like fragment which intrudes the relaxed lyricism.

The vigorous finale might have been even more boisterous, for Schumann’s robust, buoyant rhythms have a startling kinetic dynamism, but the four players effectively controlled the architectural arches of the rondo form, concluding with an extravagant coda.

After the interval, the focus was on Hugo Wolf’s musical response to the warm Italian South: ten songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch and the delightful Intermezzo. The latter — a rondo with richly diverse episodes and restatements — is quite radical in the way that the luscious opening melody is repeated interrupted by harmonically and rhythmically disruptive passages. The Hugo Wolf Quartett found subtle humour in the energetic vitality of the work, and presented a convincing account of this experimental work.

The Intermezzo was embraced by two sets of five songs from Wolf’s collection of forty-six translations of nameless Italian love poems, which depict the full range of emotions — passion and jealousy, ecstasy and despair — which characterise amorous relationships played out in everyday places: streets, marketplaces, churches. These rispetti from Tuscany are brief and mostly light-hearted, and the composer undoubtedly stamps his own personality on this anonymous collection; but Fink’s fluent and sleek delivery, captured the theatricality of the songs without being overly showy or self-dramatising.

Graceful and poised, Fink took us on a journey as man and woman fall, by turns, in and out of love. Fink can do ‘poised irony’ to a tee, as in ‘Wie lange schon’ (‘How I have yearned’) in which an artiste manqué longs for a ‘musician as a lover!’ who ‘with gentle mien … bows his head and plays upon the violin’. The members of the Hugo Wolf Quartett relished the musical wit, exaggerating first the lovelorn self-indulgence of the yearning would-be lover, then the inflated exuberance which greets the arrival of the long-for virtuoso, and finally the dreadful reality of the violinist’s pitiful technical aptitude.

Elsewhere Fink’s tone was intimate and personal, as in ‘Man sagt mir, deine Mutter wolle es nicht’ (‘They tell me your mother disapproves’); here Fink’s tone blossomed as she progressed from offended irritation to passionate avowal: “defy her, come more often than before!” At times, humour was to the fore, nowhere more so that in ‘Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich geladen’ (‘My sweethart invited me to dinner’); here the accompaniment is illustrative, the accents in the quartet lines clearly mimicking the futile chopping of the ‘rock hard’ bread with a ‘knife quite blunt’.

This was a refined performance of these eloquent miniatures. It was a pity that the programme notes revealed nothing of the decision to perform these songs accompanied by string quartet, rather than piano; one would have welcomed some account of the process of arrangement for what this might have revealed about the relationship between voice and accompaniment in these songs (although the notes did remark that the tender ‘Wohl kenn’ ich Euren Stand’ employs a ‘string quartet-like texture’) — at the very least it would seem courteous to acknowledge the arranger!

This was a song recital characterised by captivating, but understated mastery. Bernarda Fink returns to the Wigmore Hall on 25th February to re-visit the Italian landscape. Accompanied by the Academy of Ancient Music, Italian Passions will explore ‘the emotional extremes and the open-hearted Italian spirit’ through a performance of Veracini, Merula, Vivaldi, Albinoni and Ferrandini.

Claire Seymour


Robert Schumann, String Quartet in A Op.41 No.3; Ottorino Resphigi, Il tramonto; Hugo Wolf, Five Songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch (‘Nein, junger Herr’, ‘Wie lange schon’, ‘Ihr jungen Leute, die ihr zeiht ins Feld’, ‘Gesegnet sei das Grün’, ‘Wir haben beide lange Zeit geschwiegen’); Intermezzo; Five Songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch (‘Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich geladen’, ‘Wohl kenn’ ich Euren Stand’, ‘Man sagt mir, deine Mutter wolle es nicht’, ‘O wär’ dein Haus durchsichtig ein Glas’, ‘Wenn du, mein Liebster’)

Bernarda Fink, mezzo-soprano; Hugo Wolf Quartett: Sebastian Gürtler, violin; Régis Bringolf, violin; Gertrud Weinmeister, viola; Florian Berner, cello. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday 6th February, 2013.

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):