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

Late Schumann in context - Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

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):