Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Songs for Nancy: Bampton Classical Opera celebrate legendary soprano, Nancy Storace

Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert on 7th March at St John’s Smith Square to celebrate the legendary soprano Nancy Storace.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.



Hugo Wolf 1910 [Source: Wikipedia]
21 Feb 2013

Hugo Wolf, Wigmore Hall

Fun and Hugo Wolf ? Wolf's songs are the epitome of art song, due great reverence. But they're also vibrant with good-hearted wit. This latest concert in Julius Drake's ongoing "Perspectives" series at the Wigmore Hall brought together Sophie Daneman, Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake, all of whom have been working together for many years. The chemistry was almost palpable.

Hugo Wolf Songs

Ian Bostridge, Sophie Daneman, Julius Drake, Wigmore Hall, London 15th February 2013

Above: Hugo Wolf 1910 [Source: Wikipedia]


Given Wolf's exceptional feeling for poetry, any interpretations must be influenced by the texts he chose. In this recital, we heard songs by Eduard Mörike.and Goethe, each of which Wolf turns into a miniature opera distilled into purest form. Some of these songs are character studies like Abschied where a critic is kicked downstairs to mock waltzes and garishly manic melodies. There's so much action in this song that it could be expanded into monodrama, but Wolf doesn't overpower the simplicity of Mörike's text. Apart from the droll, and very pointed, reference to Viennese taste, Wolf writes with the precision of a Lieder composer. Even when Wolf sets more abstract texts, like Selbstgeständnis, a soliloquy where the single child considers a family dynamic different to his own, the focus is on the protagonist's inner life, and on the poem.

Wolf may have been prickly, but he was an acute observer of human life, and very empathic towards others. From Frank Walker's biography, still the best after 60 years, we get a much more rounded sense of his personality than accounts of his death might suggest. Perhaps his sensitivity to others might explain his respect for the individuality of the poets he set. Wolf's songs, be they settings of Mörike, Eichendorff, Goethe or Heyse, are informed by an interest in people and the siuations they get into. This good-hearted warmth runs throughout his work. This Wigmore Hall recital was a delight, because it connected to that fundamental humanity in Wolf's music.

Wolf creates character with great subtlety, In Agnes, for example, a young woman has a ribbon in her hat, which flutters gently in the wind. Daneman sang quietly, as a maiden might. The piano, however, expresses what a demure girl dare not say. Just as the ribbon flutters. the girl's heart beats wildly at the thought of the man who gave her the ribbon, who has now betrayed her. Often the postlude fades unnoticed, but Drake emphasizes the "fluttering" figures, reinforcing their impact by following Agnes with Lied vom Winde, where notes explode forcefully, "Sausewind, Brausewind, Dort von hier!". Drake reinforced the connection with the "fluttery" images before the final strophe. "Lieb ist wier Wind....... nicht immer beständig". This wind is capricious but not destructive. As it blows away, the words "Kindlien, Ade!" repeat three times, suggesting that winds, like love, can return. The connection was made again in An eine Äolsharfe where Drake played the postlude so beautifully that he evoked the magical world of nature spirits that inspired Eduard Mörike.

Like Wolf, Mörike had what we might today recognize as psychological issues, but he also had a jaunty sense of irreverence that gives so much of his work a defiant vitality, which Wolf picks up on. Abschied, for eample, touched on a painful subject for Wolf, who was a music critic as was Eduard Hanslick. Behind the slapstick humour in this song lies the suffering and frustration that would later drive Wolf insane. Sensitivity is important in an artist, so ill-intentioned nit-picking isn't constructive. Wolf and Mörike.suggest that an artist, being creative, will triumph over the venality around him. Bostridge's performance was superb, conveying bite as well as wit. Every consonant sharply enunciated, crisp, confident, even defiant.

Storchenbotshaft has long been a Bostridge/Drake speciality. The song is funny, and we join in the shepherd's shock as he learns he's become that father of twins. Yet the poem is Mörike, and there's an element of the supernatural. Wolf writes jerky, angular figures into the music which suggests the way storks move, but also conveys a heightened sense of excitement that borders on panic. "Ein Geistlein, ein Hexlein, so wustige Wicht", each phrase defined by just the right short gasp. Is the shepherd altogether happy? One of Bostridge's great strengths as an artist is his intuitive ability to access deep, often disturbing undercurrents in the music he sings. His Britten is exceptional. Over the years, his Wolf has developed true maturity.

In the Goethe songs, Daneman was charming. Her Blumengruß was lustrous, and her Cophtisches Lied I and II nicely articulated. Bostridge was frech und froh in the two Frech und Froh songs, and created Gutmann und Gutweib bringing out the riotous humour. For an encore, Daneman, Bostridge and Drake did an excellent Schubert Licht und Liebe (Matthäus von Collin). As duet, the words "süßes Licht" entwine deliciously.

The surprise of the evening, though, happened while Daneman sang Wolf's Epiphanias. The door behind the stage opened. In walked a boy dressed as a Wise Man, bearing a gift. He was followed by two other boys in costume, and then a little girl, dressed asd a fairy, waving a wand with a star at its apex!

The song was written on 27 December 1888, while Wolf was spending the holidays with the Köchert family. In Goethe's time and quite likely in late 19th century Vienna, household masques like this weren't unknown: indeed, Goethe staged a presentation of this very poem at Weimar in 1781. Moreover, people used to have processions door-to-door bearing a star. The parallel with Wagner's children serenading Cosima on her birthday wouldn't have been lost on Wolf if he'd known. Wolf had a long-term love affair with Melanie Köchert, with the tacit approval of her husband, Wolf's patron and friend. Evidently they all got on, so Wolf was able to rehearse the Köchert children and play the piano. The song was a gift of friendship, a love song in code. This time, at the Wigmore Hall, two of the children were Bostridges and the younger pair were Daneman's children. All four moved solemnly in time to the music, with great dignity. It was hilarious, and also magical. It showed Hugo Wolf as "family man", loving and loved. For years, I've dreamed of interpretations that would access this aspect of Wolf's idiom. Thanks to Drake, Bostridge and Daneman (and their kids), that dream is fulfilled.

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):