16 Sep 2013
Thomas Hampson: Mahler Songs
Thomas Hampson “lives” Mahler. He's the greatest Mahler singer of our time, and a serious Mahler scholar as well.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Thomas Hampson “lives” Mahler. He's the greatest Mahler singer of our time, and a serious Mahler scholar as well.
You could almost say that what Hampson doesn't know about Mahler might not be worth knowing, but he still finds something fresh and new. So, even after all these years, it was good to hear Hampson and Wolfram Rieger perform Mahler at the Wigmore Hall.
Hampson and long-term collaborator Rieger began at the beginning, with some of Mahler’s earliest songs such as Scheiden und Meiden and Aus! Aus! from around 1888. They are significant because they represent Mahler’s earliest engagement with Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the collection of folk-derived poems published by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano in 1806/8. Their appeal to Mahler is obvious. He grew up in a small town with a military garrison. From childhood, he would have recognized the sound of marches and military bands and connected emotionally to the lives of soldiers, and to the simple townsfolk and huntsmen around him. Death was no stranger to Mahler even as a child. Indeed, his fascination with marches, funeral marches and resurrection stemmed from very deep sources in his psyche
Hampson has spoken out against war and gave a remarkable recital in which the Wunderhorn songs were perceptively presented by theme rather than as they appear in publication. Hampson called the Wunderhorn songs “negative love songs” for their protagonists retain sturdy defiance in adverse situations. Lied des Verfolgten im Turm (1898) refers to the picture by Moritz von Schwind. A man is imprisoned in a tower. Meanwhile a row of elves are busily trying to saw down the bars on the window to help him escape. “Gedanken sind Frei”, Hampson cried. Thoughts are free. As long as we can dream, we cannot be suppressed. Even now, that’s a revolutionary concept.
Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz, with its march rhythm just slightly off-beat, resolves in an evocation of trumpets and drums. The symphonist in Mahler was never far away, even when he was writing piano song. Revelge, that most nightmarish of songs is a masterpiece. If Hampson’s voice wasn’t, on this occasion, as rich and fluid as it can be, Rieger’s playing was manic, horrific. Rieger’s staccato ripped like a volley of machine-gun fire. As Hampson notes, the music evokes”Drang”, the Grim Reaper gone mad. With our modern ears, it’s like a forewarning of the slaughter of the trenches, and worse..”Tralali, tralaley, tralalera” is no lullaby here, but a bitter protest.
Although Alma would ridicule Alexander von Zemlinsky in her memoirs, the truth is more complex. Zemlinsky knew Alma’s songs years before they reached publication. Even though he was infatuated, he told her that her music was, like herself, “a warm, feminine sensitive opening but then of doodles, flourishes, unstylish passage work. Olbrich [a publisher] should have your songs performed by an artiste from the Barnum and Bailey (circus) company, wearing the customary black tails, and on his head, a dunce’s cap”. It is significant that Alma’s songs are orchestrated frequently by other composers, who want them to be more than they are.
The connections between Mahler, Zemlinsky, Strauss, Dehmel, Schoenberg and Webern are so well known they don’t need explanation. Hampson sang Zemlinksy’s Enbeitung, Alma’s Die stille Nacht.and three settings of Dehmel, two by Webern (Aufblick and Tief von fern, both 1901-4) and one by Strauss (Befreit, op 39/4 1898). In Befreit, the round vowel sounds resonated with warmth. “O Glück !” he sang, rising to a glowing crescendo. His family and friends were in the audience. Hampson’s feelings were touchingly sincere, though the poem itself is more equivocal.
The highlight of the evening was Schoenberg’s Erwartung op 2/1 1899), which pre-dates the monodrama op 17 (1909), and even Schoenberg’s meeting with Marie Pappenheim. The dedicatee was Zemlinsky, and the text by Richard Dehmel. It’s a cryptic poem where images are reversed. “Aus der meergrünen Tieche....schient der Mond”. A woman’s face appears under the water. A man throws a ring into the pond. Three opals sparkle. He kisses them, and in the sea-green depths “Ein Fenster tut sich auf”. Hampson sang, floating the words with eerie stillness. Then the punchline: “Aus der roten Villa neben den der toten Eiche” with which the poem began, a woman’s pale hand waves. Rieger played the circular figures so they felt obsessive, as if trapped in an endless mad dance. The similarities with the later Erwartung are obvious, but the song is fin-de- siècle symbolism and very early Expressionism rather than psychosis. In retrospect, it might seem eerily prophetic of the relationships between Mathilde Zemlinsky and Richard Gerstl, or indeed, Alma and Gropius.
Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder are so well known now that it’s sometimes forgotten - though not by Hampson - that they were originally published together with the Wunderhorn songs Revelge and Der Tambourg’sell. which weren’t included with the first Wunderhorn collections. In 1993, Hampson recorded an interesting collection of Wunderhorn-themed songs with Geoffrey Parsons, which included piano song versions of Urlicht and Es Sungen drei Engeln. This time, with Rieger at the Wigmore Hall, he separated the first four Rückert-Lieder with a Wunderhorn song (Erinnerung) and sang Liebst du um Schönheit as a finale, intensifying the underlying theme of the recital. “It’s a postcard”, said Hampson, “a message of love”. “If you love for beauty, youth or riches” runs the poem, “Do not love me. But if you love for the sake of love, Dich lieb’ ich immerdar”. The most beautiful, most tender song of the evening, straight from the heart.