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

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

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):