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

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Franz Schubert
19 Sep 2013

Schubert : Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

Scarcely had Julius Drake seated himself, when the piano’s turbulent stream of relentless semiquavers precipitously announced the opening of Schubert’s ‘Der Strom’ (The river), the opening song in Ian Bostridge’s recital series, Schubert Lieder.

Franz Schubert Songs

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Franz Schubert

 

During the next two years, the programme tells us, Bostridge plans to ‘chart the expressive depths, lyrical inflections and psychological insights of the composer’s work’.

Certainly this recital confirmed the seemingly unlimited expressive range of Schubert’s songs. The stormy energy of ‘Der Strom’ - in which Drake’s wonderfully light and even touch conveyed the barely contained power of the river as it rears and plunges - was followed by three songs by Johann Baptist Mayrhofer which spanned the emotional gamut from despondent pessimism, through elevated love and trust, to peaceful rest.

The tenderness of the sweet barcarolle with which ‘Auf der Donau’ (On the Danube) commences was challenged by the focused intensity which Bostridge injected into the opening vocal melody, as the boat glides past castles which ‘soar heavenward’ and pine-forests which ‘stir like ghosts’, the voice accompanied by tremulous right hand whispers. Ominous left hand trills punctuated the singer’s dark recollections of fallen heroes and shattered monuments of former glories, the tenor’s lower register rich with enigmatic shadows. A slight hiatus before the final verse heightened the mood of desolate resignation, as the voice plummeted through dark, hushed chromatic waters: ‘Wird uns bang -/ Wellen droh’n, wie Zeiten,/ Unterhang’ (we grow afraid -/ waves, like times, threaten/destruction).

With barely a pause, the rippling piano chords and hymn-like melodiousness of ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ (Seafarer’s song to the Dioscuri) eased the mood of despair, the tenor’s voice gleaming as the twin stars lit the way and provided consolation. Bostridge found a radiant weightlessness as the seafarer gazed heavenwards with wonder, before the music of the opening verse returned and the journey resumed, Drake’s busy accompaniment never over-powering the vocal line but embodying the pull of the tide which impedes the sailor’s homebound voyage.

Drake’s polyphonic chromatic rovings at the start of ‘Nachtstück’ (Nocturne) served to underline the import of the aged harp-player’s song of farewell. Bostridge expertly crafted the expansive melody, heightening the minstrel’s urgent cry for the sleep that shall free him from affliction, injecting a quiet pathos when the forest of the night offers reassurance - ‘Die Gräser lispein wankend fort,/ Wie decken seinen Ruheort;’ (the swaying grass will whisper:/ we will cover his resting-place’) - the pathos intensified by the accompaniments dense, mysterious modulations.

Further Mayrhofer settings concluded the first half of the recital. Bostridge’s thoughtful enrichment of the opening lines of ‘Abendstern’ (Evening star), as the poet-narrator anxiously questions the single star whose isolation reflects his own loneliness, spilled naturally into the piano’s after-phrase. Voicing the star’s humble resignation, Bostridge’s tenor was beautifully distant and this almost translucent aloofness was complemented by the piano’s gentle closing chords, tempered by a brief shimmer of drama in the final cadence.

The propelling rocking rhythms of ‘Gondelfahrer’ (The gondolier) then swept us forward, an eerie inflection in the voice emphasising the presence of fleeting nocturnal spirits and momentarily clouding the piano’s enchanting dance. Twelve rolling chords tolled the midnight hour; Drake’s deep bass accompaniment, far beneath the voice, conveyed the profundity of both water and sleep, but while Venice slumbers the boatman sails on, and Bostridge’s final word, ‘Wacht’ (only the boatman is awake), was beautifully extended and sustained. After such motionlessness came the tumult of ‘Auflösung’ (Dissolution), Drake’s explosive introduction heralding Bostridge’s commanding address to the sun. Despite the rhetorical grandeur of the opening, the tenor turned the focus inward - ‘Quillen doch aus allen Falten/ Meiner Seele liebliche Gewalten;’ (For sweet powers well up/ from every recess of my soul) - impressively negotiating the relentless vocal line which offers few opportunities for breath, before stabbing bass rumbles dissolved into the silence of echoing ‘ethereal choirs’.

Dividing the Mayrhofer poems was Franz von Schober’s ‘Viola’ (Violet), and it was this song more than any other that confirmed Bostridge’s willingness to look afresh at every nuance of text and music, to surprise us, to manipulate our expectations. The opening tempo was slow, Drake deliciously lightening the second of his paired introductory chords, before Bostridge heralded the arrival of spring with a firm brightness accompanied by the piano’s crisp, sprightly staccato. Throughout the ballad, tempo, texture and tonality were thoughtfully interpreted and their ‘meaning’ communicated; never was the rondo structure allowed to lull us into complacency, and the dialogue between voice and piano was probing. The violet’s urgent terror when she realizes her isolation was chillingly contrasted with a moment of stillness; her fretful torment was coolly, disconcertingly swept aside by the return of the sweet refrain. An accelerando towards the close was halted by a pause before the final statement of the refrain, and the return of the slow tempo of the opening made a requiem of the closing verse.

Following the interval, ‘Widerschein’ (Reflection) saw Bostridge casually leaning on the piano, the brooding fisherman awaiting his tardy beloved, whose belatedness was neatly reflected in the merest of delays which the tenor occasionally inserted - most tellingly, holding back the final line, as the fisherman, infused by the sweet radiance of his lover whose face is reflected in the water, grips the rail, ‘Sonst - zieht’s ihn hinein’ (for fear of falling in). The folky rhythms which open the nocturnal serenade ‘Alinde’ (Alinde) were interrupted by the tenor’s urgent search for his love, the unassuming melodic shapes given weight and form, each cry of ‘Alinde’ tinted with a different hue, as the simple elements were built into a dramatic whole.

The first of three Goethe settings, ‘Rastlose Liebe’ (Restless love), was an impetuous whirlwind of passion and pain, suffering and exultation. The incessant driving accompaniment, with its challenging combination of legato right hand semiquavers and a staccato scalic bass, powered the music forward. The declamatory force of the first verse gave way to introspection in the second, as the poet-narrator seeks respite from the forces of nature; in the final verse he is transported back to a moment of love, and the rhetorical impact of his cry, ‘Alles vergebens!’ (All in vain!), was unnerving. ‘Geheimes’ (A secret) was delivered with coy elegance, Drake’s repetitive sighing motif wonderfully controlled, the major/minor fluctuation of ‘Weiß recht gut was das bedeute’ prepared by a guileful lull, the harmonic vacillations of the close sweetly flirtatious, the final diminuendo fading with wistful longing into the imagined future ‘sweet hour’.

An energetic reading of ‘Versunken’ (Immersed) - in which Drake demonstrated his technical assurance in mastering Schubert’s fiendish, unbending accompaniment - was followed by a lengthy pause before ‘Der Winterabend’ (The winter evening), the first of two settings of Karl Gottfried von Leitner, in which the mystery of the midwinter dusk gradually unfolded, Drake’s gentle patterings as soft as the snow which drapes the streets. This was an exquisitely understated performance by Bostridge, as he welcomed the moonlight into his chamber, the most delicate of emphases intimating the intensity of feeling: ‘Freut’s ihn nimmer, so geht er fort’ (If the pleasure palls, it can move on). In ‘Die Sterne’ (The stars) Drake’s dactylic rhythm was wonderfully fluid, inflected with subtle rubato. In the final song, ‘Strophe aus “die Götter Griechenlands”’ (Verse from ‘The Gods of Greece’ (Schiller)), we were tantalised with a trace of the magical land of song, while all that remained for us was the dry staccato of ‘deserted fields’ and godless shadows.

So many of Schubert’s perennial preoccupations were here: water, the night, stars, dreams. Bostridge knows this repertoire inside out; he does not simply interpret these songs, he lives and breathes them - here, sympathetically and suggestively accompanied by Drake’s intelligent support and interchange. This recital was recorded for release under the Wigmore Live label; and, concerts in this series will continue in May 2014 and during the 2014-15. Don’t miss them.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Julius Drake, piano; Schubert - ‘Der Strom’, ‘Auf der Donau’, ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’, ‘Nachtstück’, ‘Viola’, ‘Abendstern’, ‘Gondelfahrer’, ‘Auflösung’, ‘Widerschein’, ‘Alinde’, ‘Rastlose Liebe’, ‘Geheimes’, ‘Versunken’, ‘Der Winterabend’, ‘Die Sterne’, ‘Strophe aus “die Götter Griechenlands”’

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):