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

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

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):