‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers: A Tribute to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
It must be both a privilege and a
daunting prospect to be asked to participate in a tribute concert to the
singer, who died from breast cancer in 2006; here three mezzo-sopranos stepped
up to the honour and the challenge, joining the Orchestra of the Age of
Enlightenment - with whom Hunt Lieberson collaborated closely at Glyndebourne
and on CD - celebrating three contrasting, full-blooded female roles from
Karine Deshayes (a late replacement for the indisposed Stéphanie
D’Oustrac) began and ended the evening with Sesto’s arias, ‘L’angue
offeso mai riposa’ (The offended serpent will not rest) and ‘Svegliatevi
nel core’ from Giulio Cesare respectively. Deshayes has a vibrant
voice, particularly at the top, and she nimbly negotiated the passage work.
But, while there was undoubted rage and impassioned purpose, she didn’t quite
capture the emotional depth and range of these arias, as Sesto vows vengeance
against Ptolemy for the assassination of his father.
Thus in Sesto’s first number in the opera, there was much bite in the
repetitions of ‘Svegliatevi’ (awaken) as Sesto determines to muster the
fury in his soul. Yet, in the central section of the da capo form, as Sesto’s
thoughts turn to the father he has lost only moments before, the heaviness in
his heart outweighs his impotent anger; there is vengeance but also grief.
William Christie drew a fittingly spare timbre from the accompanying OAE, but
Deshayes did not quite match the players’ melancholy, sombre weight.
‘Figlio’ (son) needs rather more plangent emphasis, as Sesto both implores
his father and imagines his paternal words of counsel and support.
In Glyndebourne’s 2006 production of Theodora, Hunt Lieberson
took the part of Irene, the protagonist’s devoted supporter. Irene’s arias
are intense, heartfelt statements of faith as her beloved friend, Theodora, an
early Christian, is persecuted and condemned by the Romans. Reviewing the live
recording of Peter Sellars’ acclaimed production, Rupert Christiansen
commented, ‘it is impossible to conceive of this character’s arias being
sung with more grave beauty or emotional commitment than [Hunt Lieberson]
brings to them’.
Quite a tall order, then, for Anna Stéphany, performing ‘Ah! Whither
should we fly’ and ‘Lord to Thee each night and day’. Stéphany combined
vocal beauty with convincing characterisation, Christie shaping the contrasting
tempos and textures with style but without undue mannerism. A gentle firmness
characterised the voice in ‘As with rosy steps’; Stéphany’s lower
register was rich and sonorous, and she dared to adopt a whispering
pianissimo to moving effect. In ‘Lord to thee’ Stéphany
introduced a startling change of character in the second part of the aria,
‘Though convulsive rocks the ground’, which served to make the profound
devotion of the da capo repeat yet more affecting.
‘Where Shall I Fly?’ from Hercules is a tour de force
of theatrical and histrionic drama and Renata Pokupić was almost equal to its
vocal demands. As Hercules’ jealous, fiery wife, she delivered Dejanira’s
desperate self-reproaches with an impressive combination of spontaneity and
control, but her lower range sometimes lacked power and penetration, and she
didn’t quite pierce the depths of Dejanira’s subconscious mind. Pokupić
encompassed the extensive melodic range of the virtuosic ‘Dopo Notte’
(After night), from Ariodante with skill, the registers more even
here, although the syncopated rhythms which drive the music forward sometimes
lacked precision. It was, however, a fine showcase for her communicative
panache; Ariodante’s exuberant joy at being reunited with his beloved Ginevra
was compellingly and upliftingly conveyed.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provided an animated, responsive
accompaniment to all three soloists, William Christie finding a perfect balance
of grace and power. The emphatic playing by the celli and double basses in the
overture to Giulio Cesare - perhaps encouraged by the explosive
stamp with which Christie commenced some of the instrumental numbers! - was
complemented by more reflective bass meanderings in the overture to
Theodora. In the two concerti grossi there was considerable variety of
both texture and mood, and the playing of the three soloists was crisp and
rhythmically exciting. The relationship between soloists and ripieno
was one based upon sharing and exchange, the flow seamless, the tempi
invigorating. As a closing tribute to Hunt Lieberson, Christie announced an
encore; the diverse sentiments of the ‘Musette’ from Concerto Grosso Op.6
No.6 were a perfect homage to the singer’s artistry and integrity.
Giulio Cesare - Overture; ‘L’angue offeso mai
riposa’; Theodora - ‘Ah! Whither should we fly As with rosy
steps the morn’; Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op.6 No.12; Hercules
- ‘Whither shall I fly?’; Theodora - Overture; Lord, to
‘Thee each night and day’; Ariodante - ‘Dopo notte’;
Concerto Grosso in B flat, Op.3 No.2; Giulio Cesare - Svegliatevi
nel core. Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, Monday 3rd