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

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

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):