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

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Janáček, The Makropulos Case, Bavarian State Opera

Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gareth Brynmor John - Baritone [Photo courtesy of the artist]
21 May 2013

Gareth John, Wigmore Hall

Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

Gareth John, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Gareth Brynmor John - Baritone [Photo courtesy of the artist]

 

This Wigmore Hall recital, with pianist Matthew Fletcher, presented a varied programme and revealed a confident and technically accomplished performer.

We began with Schubert, four settings of Mayrhofer and one by Heine which share a ‘watery’ theme. Fletcher’s exuberant opening hurled us straight into the wind and storm of ‘Der Schiffer’ (‘The Skipper’) as the protagonist battles with the teaming rain and lashing waves. John’s strong voice was a more than equal match for the turbulent weather and waves; the tone was, however, rather unyielding at times and it took a little while for the intonation to settle. In ‘Der Strom’ (‘The Stream’), the baritone used the text effectively, the expression ardent and moving. Best of the bunch was ‘Wie Ulfru fischt’ (‘How Ulfru fishes’); here John found a wider tonal palette which he used to inject drama into the battle of wits between man and fish. Some intelligent, controlled rubato in the final stanza initiated a more meditative mood, as the poet-speaker reflects on the brevity and unpredictability of life: “Die Erde ist gewaltig schön,/ Doch sicher ist sie nicht” (“The world is certainly beautiful/, But safe, it is not”).

Fletcher was alert to textural details and the accompaniment enhanced both the mood and the narrative of the poetry. In ‘Auf der Donau’ the rapid left-hand motifs were deftly articulated, imitating the rippling waves, while at the close a more lyrical mood captured the prevailing melancholy and vulnerability.

A well-shaped performance of ‘Nachtstck’ (‘Nocturne’) concluded the Schubert sequence, throughout which John’s accurate delivery of the text was exemplary. He produced a consistently clear vocal line too. It’s a big voice, and a warm one, with a very full, rich sound; the tone is evenly sustained across the range, with exceptionally focused lower register. Now, more diversity of tone, colour and weight would add even greater nuance and depth.

An earnest, urgent reading of ‘Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze!’ (‘How lovely to love in spring!’) initiated a series of songs by Johannes Brahms. The powerful assertion of this opening song contrasted with the poignant softness of the yearning lover’s reflection, “Keine Ferne kann es heilen,/ Nu rein holder Blick von dir” (“No distance can heal it,/ Only a loving glance from you”) in ‘And den Mond’ (‘To the moon’), where the rich shimmering accompaniment effectively delineated the silvery, shimmering rays of the moon.

‘Minnelied’ (‘Love Song’) and ‘Willst du, daß ich geh’?’ (‘Do you want me to go?’) were both characterised by fervour and passion, the vocal phrases well-crafted, the accompaniment full of drama and energy. In contrast, ‘Geheimnis’ (‘Secret’) was wonderfully tender, John using registral contrasts to exploit different colours which were complemented by the arpeggiated accompaniment. The performers captured the folk-like simplicity of ‘Sonntag’ (‘Sunday’), making much of the brief, pianissimo twist to the minor mode. The final stanza of ‘Da unten im Tale’ was similarly poignant and contemplative, as the poet-speaker poignantly wishes his former love farewell: “Un I wünsch, daß dir’s anderswo/ Besser mag gehn” (“And wish that elsewhere/ You might fare better”).

The second half of the recital moved from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, beginning with Maurice Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, a set of three songs (‘Chanson romanesque’, ‘chanson épique’ and ‘chanson à boire’). This was the last work that Ravel completed before his death in 1937. Each song employs a different Spanish dance rhythm to portray Don Quixote as first a noble lover, then a devout soldier and finally a raucous, rabble-rousing drinker. Fletcher’s accompaniment was full of Iberian fluidity and charm, although John’s French was less idiomatic than his flawless German and his voice a little too weighty and unbending to capture the spontaneity and impulsiveness of the madcap Quixote.

John’s rendering of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel was a noteworthy element of his winning Kathleen Ferrier Award performance, and to conclude the programme he offered an incisive and vigorous account of these R.L. Stevenson settings, one which consistently emphasised the freshness of the texts. ‘The Vagabond’ established a driving momentum, but in ‘Let Beauty Awake’ John’s vocal line unfolded more gently above the piano’s arabesques. The final verse of ‘The Roadside Fire’ was delightfully expansive, as the traveller reflects on the private moments that he and his beloved will share: “And this shall be for music when no one else is near,/ The fine song for singing, the rare song tor hear.”

An uplifting airiness characterised ‘The Infinite Shining Heavens’, the supple undulations of the accompaniment creating a magical soundscape suggesting the “Uncountable angel stars/ Showering sorrow and light”. John conveyed a true sense of enchantment and wonder in the final lines: “Til lo! I looked in the dusk / And a star had come down to me.” The strophic repetitions of ‘Wither Must I Wander?’ reminded us of the headlong march of the opening song, but here the journey onwards was tinged with sadness in recognition that while “Spring shall come, come again”, for the traveller the past will never be re-visited: “But I go for ever and come again no more.” John countered this sorrow in the following ‘Bright’, the declamation of the title word ringing with hope and positivity. The concluding ‘I have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope’, with its arioso recollections of fragments of the preceding songs, brought the recital to an affecting, moving close.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Schubert: ‘Der Schiffer’, ‘Auf der Donau’, ‘Der Strom’, ‘Das Dischermädchen’, ‘Wie Ulfru fischt’, ‘Nachtstück’; Brahms: Fünf Gesänge Op.71, ‘Sonntag’, selection from 49 Deutsche Volkslieder; Ravel: Don Quichotte à Dulcinée; Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel. Gareth John, baritone; Matthew Fletcher piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday, 16th May 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):