23 Oct 2013
Angel Blue, Wigmore Hall
Having impressed UK audiences in La Boheme (for ENO) and American Lulu (for the Opera Group/Scottish Opera),
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
Having impressed UK audiences in La Boheme (for ENO) and American Lulu (for the Opera Group/Scottish Opera),
Californian soprano Angel Blue made her much anticipated recital debut at the Wigmore Hall for Rosenblatt Recitals on Monday 21 October 2013. Accompanied by pianist Catherine Miller, Angel Blue sang a programme which opened with the Alleluia from Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, continued with songs by Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninov, then moved into the opera arias by Gershwin, Chapi, Puccini, Wagner, Cilea, and Verdi.
Judging by her repertoire and recent roles (Musetta, Lulu, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata ) I had assumed that Angel Blue would have a voice which was in the lyric/soubrette/coloratura range but not a bit. She has a bright, vibrant voice which is admirably even throughout the range including a fine upper extension and she combines easy facility and flexibility with remarkable power. This was a voice which, when she opened up, filled the Wigmore Hall. Her inclusion of Dich teure Halle from Wagner's Tannhäuser made complete sense in the context of her vocal capacity. And I certainly agree with those who have compared her to a young Leontyne Price.
I have to confess that I found it felt a bit odd, starting the programme with the final movement of Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, that said Angel Blue sang it with a nice freedom and evenness in the passagework and some beautifully integrated acuti. It made me regret that she didn't give us the whole motet.
Next came a group of Richard Strauss songs. In Heimliche Aufforderung she sounded radiant, displaying a warm personality in the way she brought out the narrative character of the piece and rising to a vibrantly rapturous climax. Die Nacht received a nicely intent performance with beautifully floated top notes, all sung with poise. There was a naturalness to her delivery of Allerseelen which brought out the conversational nature of the song. Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten came over with great charm and delightful characterisation. The final song in the group, Befreit, she dedicated to the memory of her father. The gave the song an intense and serious performance with a nice melodic sweep.
In all the songs, Angel Blue's performance was highly characterised and she has great charm on stage, though sometimes when she allowed her voice to open up the songs veered as little towards the operatic. All were sung with a lovely surface beauty and gleaming tone, but I did find that said that her German sounded rather occluded.
Her final group of songs in the first half were all by Sergei Rachmaninov. Here the composer's rather more heart on sleeve style seemed to suit Angel Blue's generous performing style and she seemed really at home in these songs in a way that she hadn't in the Strauss. In Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Oh, do not sing, by beauty, to me) we had the haunting melancholy of the song offset by the beauty and rich vibrancy of her voice, with lovely hints of the exotic both in the melody and in Catherine Miller's accompaniment.
Rachmaninov's Vocalise showed the full beauty of Angel Blue's voice, combining a nice evenness of line with a fine upper register. Zdes’khorosho (How peaceful it is here) was a charming piece, with Angel Blue giving the song a strong narrative feel combined with some lovely high notes. Finally Vesenniye vodi (Spring Waters), again with a strong narrative sense, lovely vibrant, gleaming tones and rapture at the climaxes.
After the interval Angel Blue reappeared with a new dress, a new hairstyle and something of a new attitude; here her delivery relaxed as she clearly enjoyed the opportunities that these operatic arias gave her. Each aria was a little dramatic scena and Angel Blue's delight and charm radiated the performances.
Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was poised and perfect, the way she slid into the first note of the piece was a complete delight. This was a very affecting and captivating performance, full of personality. This sense of personality continued with Las Carceleras (The Prisoners' Song) from Ruperto Chapi's zarzuela Las hijas del Zebedeo (The Daughters of Zebedee). This was something of a tour de force, charming and sexy and brilliantly put over.
We changed pace somewhat with the next two items, both of which allowed us to hear the dramatic potential in Angel Blue's voice. In Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca she combined a strong feeling for the words with a lovely vibrant and full vocal line. The was a very involving performance, but beautifully controlled without any the bulges in the line. The climax was thrilling, with a finely controlled diminuendo and whilst you the role does not seem to feature on her cv, it does not sound too much of a stretch for her voice. She followed this with a thrilling and gleaming account of Dich teure Halle from Wagner's Tannhäuser. It is hopefully a few years yet before she sings this role on stage, but oh boy are we in for a treat. The combination of her vibrant toned voice, vivid characterisation and sense that she was enjoying herself made for a fine account of the aria, though here again her German was not ideal.
Io son l’umile ancella from act one of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur was just perfect, with a full vibrant line and singing which certainly brought a tingle to the spine. Angel Blue managed to both thrill and to make the aria touching, fining her voice down beautifully at the end. She closed with Violetta's Ah, fors’è lui Sempre libera from act one of Verdi's La Traviata. This was a very affecting performance, combining neat passagework with striking portamenti and some powerful climaxes.
Throughout the recital Angel Blue was supported by Catherine Miller's fine pianism. Their performance rightly drew a strong reaction from the capacity audience and we were treated to two encores, a gospel number King Jesus and I could have danced all night from The King and I.
Mozart: Alleluia — Exsultate Jubilate
Richard Strauss: Heimliche Aufforderung
Richard Strauss: Die Nacht
Richard Strauss: Allerseelen
Richard Strauss: Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten
Richard Strauss: Befreit
Sergei Rachmaninov: Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne
Sergei Rachmaninov: Vocalise
Sergei Rachmaninov: Zdes’khorosho
Sergei Rachmaninov: Vesenniye vodi
George Gershwin: Summertime — Porgy and Bess
Ruperto Chapi: Las Carceleras — Las hijas del Zebedeo
Giacomo Puccini: Vissi d'arte — Tosca
Richard Wagner: Dich teure Halle —Tannhäuser
Cilea: Io son l’umile ancella — Adriana Lecouvreur
Giuseppe Verdi: É strano!... Ah, fors’è lui Sempre libera — La traviata
Angel Blue (soprano); Catherine Miller (piano). Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall, London, 21 October 2013