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

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

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):