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

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

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):