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

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

James Gilchrist [Photo courtesy of Buxton Festival]
30 Jul 2013

Schubert’s Winterreise, Wigmore Hall

When faced with the illustrious Winterreises of the past and the renowned, and often highly original, interpretations of present-day performers, how is a tenor to approach Schubert’s setting of Wilhelm Müller’s pessimistic exploration of a mind spinning into disillusion and despair?

Schubert’s Winterreise, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: James Gilchrist [Photo courtesy of Buxton Festival]

 

James Gilchrist’s wandering poet-narrator is not a tormented nor angst-laden Romantic hero, rather an introverted, sincere individual, struggling to understand the wiles of the world in which he lives. Gilchrist’s presentation of the rejected beloved of Schubert’s celebrated song-cycle is characterized not by excessive solipsistic anguish or ardent emotional unrest; instead, restrained introspective sorrow and self-honesty, punctuated by brief eruptions of misery and resentment in the face of a hostile fate, mark his progress through an unremittingly unsympathetic landscape.

Gilchrist’s technique is assured and his command of Schubert’s expressive elements intelligent and well-considered. A seamless lyricism and even tonal palette establish a focused emotional ambience, and the diction is unfailingly clear while never mannered. His tenor has a baritonal quality - a richly expressive middle range complemented by a lighter upper register - although the lower passages sometimes lack support and weight. A tendency to use a quasi-falsetto at moments of quiet poignancy is affecting but, upon repetition, the weightless, floating delivery became less effective. Gilchrist’s tone is beautiful and the projection easeful, but at times the voice is rather ‘breathy’ at the top, as what might be an expressive gesture seems to be a technical compensation. But, an unfussy attention to detail, and a quiet intensity and pensive intimacy characterised this warmly received Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall.

Pianist Anna Tilbrook began ‘Gute Nacht’ with a purposeful tread, self-contained but resolute; and Gilchrist’s beguiling legato and fluid phrasing established a dreamy air and ensured our sympathy and compassion. Moments of rhetorical anger - ‘Was soll ich länger weilen,/ Daß man mich treib’ hinaus’ (Why should I wait any longer/ for them to drive me out’) - were heightened but not exaggerated, and ceded to more resigned delicacy, ‘Gott has sie so gemacht … Fein Liebchen, gute Nacht’ (God has made it so … my sweetest love, good night’). Subtle rubatos conveyed both indecision and hope.

Gilchrist employed a wide dynamic range and interesting vocal timbres. At the conclusion of ‘Gefrorne Tränen’, his eerie low tenor erupted dramatically as the poet-narrator imagines his beloved as a fierce heat that will spring from his heart and melt the winter ice, the contrasting vocal shades and dynamics underscoring the painful depths of such fiery passion felt amid the wintry chill of the frozen landscape. ‘Wasserflut’ (Flood) was the epitome of well-considered musicianship, full of movement and unrest but the jarring contrasts of emotion crafted and controlled. The falling octaves of the opening lines were sweetly anguished, and Gilchrist found an angry, burnished colour to underscore the contrast between the cold flakes of snow and the poet-narrator’s burning agony. The beautiful, soft stillness of the closing lines was vividly swept aside by the acceleration and crescendo of the final assertion, ‘Fühlst du meine Tränen glühen,/ Da ist meiner Liebsten Haus’ (when you feel my tears burning, that will be my loved-one’s house).

A similarly surprising outburst marked the conclusion of ‘Auf dem Flusse’ (On the river). Gilchrist’s tenor was wonderfully contained and focused as the poet-narrator etches his beloved’s name upon the frozen surface of the silent stream, before turning his exasperation inwards, challenging his own heart, ‘Ob’s unter seiner Rinde/ Wohl auch so reißend schwillt?’ (is there such a raging torrent beneath its surface too?). And, this fury and momentum swept forth into the subsequent ‘Rückblick’ (A backward glance), where the animated piano figuration and alternating major and minor modes suggested the inner turmoil of the rushing, stumbling poet-narrator.

The perfectly coordinated vision of singer and pianist was apparent throughout. In ‘Die Wetterfahne’ (The Weather-vane) Tilbrook responded perceptively to the pictorial elements - the introductory flourishes mockingly conjuring the play of the wind - bringing gestures intermittently to the fore, then sensitively retreating. The turbulent introduction to ‘Erstarrung’ (Numbness) was wonderfully even, depicting the wanderer’s frustration and emotional torment; the merest pause preceded the question, ‘Wo find’ ich eine Blüte,/ Wo find’ ich grünes Gras?’ (Where shall I find a flower, where shall I find green grass?), giving the line added poignancy. The piano’s echoing motif which penetrates ‘Die Lindenbaum’ (The linden tree) was clearly articulated, integrated into the song’s narrative but never overpowering the voice.

‘Irrlicht’ (Will-o’-the-wisp) had a spookily improvisatory quality; but in the following ‘Rast’ (Rest), Gilchrist’s enriched his tone - although to convey the wanderer’s weary distraction, he diminished to a wistful pianissimo floating gesture - the voice contrasting tellingly with the dry, mocking ambience of the piano accompaniment. Changes of tempo were perfectly controlled in ‘Frühlingstraum’ (Dream of Spring), the sweet lightness of the nocturnal visions of springtime undermined by the piano’s Gothic rumblings, as the crowing cock and screaming ravens interrupt the idyll of the dream.

Only in the central sequence of songs, which share the same slow tempo, was there a slight loss of momentum and energy. A moment of pause at the conclusion of the introverted ‘Einsamkeit’ (Loneliness) conveyed the poet-narrator’s despair in the face of a seemingly indifferent natural beauty, but the steady tread of the subsequent songs occasionally lacked impetus. ‘Der greise Kopf’ (The hoary head) was, however, noteworthy for Gilchrist’s legato phrasing and the nuanced colours of Tilbrook’s accompanying chords, while in ‘Letzte Hoffnung’ (Last hope) the performers created a delicate, transparent texture, Gilchrist bringing deep sentiment to the drooping suspensions of the close: ‘Fall’ ich selber mit zu Boden,/ Wein’ auf meiner Hoffnung Grab’ (I too fall to the ground, weep on my hope’s grave).

Forward motion was regained in the concluding songs. Gilchrist revealed a commanding sense of the shape of the vocal phrases in ‘Der Wegweiser’ (The sign-post), the pulsing piano gesture suggesting an unobtrusive but immovable fate, symbolised by the sign-posts which direct the wanderer as he staggers on and on, in search of rest. In ‘Mut!’ (Courage!), the tenor’s bitterly determined tone was enhanced by vigorous dotted rhythms, and complemented by Tilbrook’s repeated rubato which conveyed the desperate effort required to battle onwards against the hostile snow.

The poignant tenderness of ‘Die Nebensonnen’ (Phantom suns) was deeply affecting, as Gilchrist modulated his well-supported mezza voce from initial dreamy illusion to more fervent assertion. ‘Die Leiermann’ (The organ-grinder) followed on without a pause, the slow pace and simple, unaffected vocal line conveying the poet-narrator’s utter exposure.

A long silence followed the final fading chords; indeed, it seemed a shame to break the mood of fragile vulnerability that the performers had so skilfully and sensitively crafted. But, Gilchrist and Tilbrook undoubtedly deserved the immensely appreciative applause which inevitably ensued, for this was a dignified and discerning Winterreise.

Claire Seymour


James Gilchrist, tenor; Anna Tilbrook, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Friday, 26th July 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):