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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

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):