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

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

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):