Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
04 May 2013
Sarah Connolly: French Song at Wigmore Hall
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Beginning with three songs by Albert Roussel, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and pianist Malcolm Martineau revealed the pervasive influences on French music and chanson at this time - the impressionistic cascading textures and drifting harmonies of Debussy, and the provocative rhythms and piquant harmonic twists of the music of Spain. In ‘Le bachelier de Salamanque’ (The Salamanca student), Martineau’s dry ripples, which occasionally expanded into outburst of warmth and colour, propelled the music forward, building to a poignant glissando flourish at the close which highlighted the pathos of final lines.
Here, and in the following ‘Le jardin mouillé’ (The drenched garden), Connolly modulated her tone to suggest something tantalisingly in-between indifferent and erotic, the French exquisitely pronounced. The joyous chords which open ‘Nuit d’automne’ (Autumn night) conveyed the richness of the golden sunset described - “the golden trees it stains with red” - but contrasting with this effulgence, Connolly found a sweetness to suggest the tenderness of love: “The dusk, on the roses,/ is so pure, so calm and so sweet,/ that noto one of them has closed - / and I pick one for you”. The tranquil sensuality of the close was deeply stirring: “and is still so warm/ that you could fall asleep naked.”
Fauré’s 'Le jardin clos' (The closed garden) followed. ‘La Messagère’ (The Messenger) aptly conveyed fleetness and vigour, through the energised nimble accompaniment, reaching vocal heights with the discovery of the beloved, “and her flower eyes open,/ resplendent in golden laughter”. Connolly’s burnished lower register mingled with Martineau’s rich accompaniment in ‘Dans la Nymphée’ (In the Grotto) while ‘Dans la pènombre’ (In the half-light) presented an insouciant contrast. Martineau was a typically sensitive accompanist throughout, never overwhelming the mezzo-soprano, even in the more tumultuous ‘Il m’est cher, Amour, le bandeau’ (My Love, the blindfold is dear to me). The gentle modalism of ‘Inscription sur le sable’ (Inscription in the sand) was most affecting.
Ernest Chausson’s theatrical ‘Chanson perpétuelle’ (Song without end) closed the first half of the recital; Martineau and Connolly balanced a symphonic majesty with delicate exchanges and reserved intimacy.
Though performed with consummate artistry and technical assurance, one couldn’t help feeling that the repertoire of the first part of this French sojourn was a little lacking in both variety and expressive depth. This is perhaps because of the innate equanimity and serenity of the material; but, Honegger’s Petit cours de morale (A little course in morals) offered a welcome epigrammatic diversion. Connolly’s focused low register was put to good effect in ‘Jeanne’, while ‘Adèle’ revealed the performers’ ability to derive the utmost variety of mood within the miniature form. Martineau’s slithering pianissimo gestures lent an ironic nonchalance to ‘Cécile’; and Connolly enjoyed the jazz-enthused vibrancy of ‘Rosemonde’, the closing phrase suggesting a world of possibility: “If you wish to discover the world/ close your eyes, Rosemonde”.
Poulenc’s passion for the poetry of Federico García Lorca was heartfelt but the composer professed: “What difficulty I have in showing my passion for Lorca in music”, “these three songs are of little importance in my vocal work”. He was referring to his Trois chanson de Federico García Lorca. Despite this authorial dismissiveness, the performers brought a thoughtful coherence to the three songs: ‘L’enfant muet’ (The dumb child) was marked by fragile tentativeness, ‘Adelina à la promenade’ (Adelina out walking) by a restless energy, and ‘Chanson de l’oranger sec’ (Songs of the dried-up orange tree) by a resonant nobility and declamatory grandeur.
Martineau made much of the musico-drama of the piano introduction to André Caplet’s ‘La croix douloureuse’ (The cross of pain); Connolly’s languid tone suggested the effort required by the poet=speaker to articulate his distress. Caplet’s accompaniment exploits the deep resonances of the piano and the contrasts between sonic reverberation and sparse brittleness, and the performers made much of the hollow self-sacrifice of the martyred protagonist: “I bow my head and I accept
the cross with which you assail me”.
Eric Satie’s Trois poems d’amour are characteristically dry and detached; Connolly and Martineau did not attempt to inject overly mannered nuances, but found some expressive meaning in the small gestures - such as the animated rising octave at the end of a phrase, or the oddly fanciful piano interjection.
Joseph Turina’s 'Tres arias' brought the concert to a close. In ‘Romance’, Martineau’s incessantly dramatic accompaniment was notable for the astonishing evenness of touch as the bass drove the music forward with muscular energy. In ‘El pescador’ (The fisherman) Connolly found an exquisite serenity to convey the fisherman’s alluring call to the fishermaiden: “come down to the shore/ and listen with delight/ to my song of love”.
The performance was marked by scarcely a blemish. But, while the technical accomplishments on display were unequivocal, and there was much intriguing and infrequently encountered material to digest, there was also perhaps a sense that we had not experienced the heights of Gallic representation of this varied and troubled epoch.