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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Werner Güra
27 Nov 2013

Werner Güra Lieder recital, Wigmore Hall

German tenor Werner Güra, who has made a speciality of the German lieder repertoire, opened this recital at the Wigmore Hall with Beethoven’s An Die Ferne Geliebte, the composer’s only song cycle and the first significant example of the form.

Werner Güra, Christoph Berner, Wigmore Hall, London 19th November 2013

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Werner Güra

 

The poems are united into a coherent whole by their varied presentations of the theme of love, as expressed through imagery of the natural world, and by the continuity of the musical form - each song moving to the next without a break, creating an integrated, progressive structure.

Güra, accompanied by his frequent partner, pianist Christoph Berner, is an affable, relaxed performer. He did not sing from memory, but was poised and by no means bound to the score. Yet, despite his unperturbed manner, clean delivery and good projection, the opening songs of Beethoven’s cycle were not fully assured. The tone was somewhat unfocused, the intonation occasionally imprecise, especially as he moved to a higher register, and at times he struggling to sustain a smooth melodic line. There was certainly a clear response to the text of the opening song, ‘Auf dem Hügel sitz ich’ (I sit on the hill): ‘Wo ich dich, Geliebte, fand’ (where, my love, I first found you) was sweetly floated, there was urgency in the line, ‘Weit bin ich von dir geschieden’ (Now I’m far from you), and a sensitive rubato elongated ‘Die dir klagen meine Pein!’ ([songs] that speak to you of my distress). But, Güra’s diction was not always as crisp as might have been expected from a native German speaker. Berner effectively shaped the inter-verse commentaries, finding a range of colours and moods.

The eerie monotone in the middle of the subsequent song, ‘Wo die Berge so blau’ (Where the blue mountains) was more steady, however; hushed and full of longing, the tenor’s whispered phrases preceded the fresh energy and accelerando which embodied the poet-speaker’s rising passion at the close of the song.

Berner’s dancing triplet semiquavers captured the lightness of the airborne clouds in ‘Leichte Segler in den Höhen’ (Light clouds sailing on high); and, the performers controlled the varying tempi effectively to convey both the fleetness of the soft west winds and the rippling brook and the mournful lassitude of the poet’s melancholy.

The ornamental flourishes in the accompaniment to ‘Es kehret der Maien’ were similarly buoyant and playful, crisply articulating the babblings of the brook and the dips and arcs of the swallow’s sweeping flight. But, here and in the following song, ‘Nimm sie hin den, diese Lieder’ (Accept, then, these songs), Güra’s intonation was again a little wayward, and while in the baritonal region the tone was pleasing, focused and warm, as the voice moved across registers the fluency of the melodic lines was sometimes disrupted by changes of tonal colour, the tendency to over-emphasise particular words, and by occasionally uneven breath control.

Things settled down a bit in the following sequence of individual Beethoven songs. Güra captured some of the simple lyricism of ‘An die Hoffnung’ (Op.32, To Hope), particularly in the final stanza, the minor 6th rising delicately and poignantly as the poet-speaker describes the upward gaze of the protagonist who, in the twilight of his days, glances up and sees the gleam of celestial comforts. It was a pity, therefore, that too often the ends of phrases were ‘thrown away’, rather than carefully shaped. The lower register of ‘Lied aus der Ferne’ (Song from afar) suited Güra, and the opening had an fitting earnestness and presence, which built slowly through the song erupting in a passionate, impetuous outburst at the close, as the poet-speaker calls to his beloved to make of his home a temple of rapture, ‘die Göttin sei du!’ (and be its goddess!).

The drooping appoggiaturas of ‘Resignation’ were tenderly outlined. This song was a highlight of the first half, the urgency of the dramatic pounding chords between the two verses, contrasting vocal dynamics and strange intervallic leaps conveying the intensity of the self-consuming flame, and culminating in commanding repetitions, ‘lisch aus’(go out, my light!). In ‘Adelaide’ Güra demonstrated his dramatic insight and sense of theatre, the voice never overwhelmed by the formidable energy of the piano part. The folky brightness of ‘Der Kuß’ brought the Beethoven sequence to a carefree, light-hearted close; Güra at last settled fully into the song, and showed that he can spin a tale, producing an air of muted surprise - ‘Ich wagt es doch und küßte sie’ (But I dared and kissed her) - comically mimicking Chloe’s disgruntled scream, and insouciantly relishing the cheek of his actions in the pianissimo repetitions of ‘Doch’: ‘Doch lange hinterher’ - she screamed, ‘but not until long after’!

Things were more even and assured after the interval. In Henri Duparc’s ‘Phidylé’, Güra captured the calm melancholy of Leconte de Lisle’s verse, the air of restraint in the vocal line conveying the hesitant but burgeoning sensuality of the lover who watches the sleeping Phidylé and anticipates her awakening. Berner’s opening chords were tranquil, almost hypnotic; Introspection returned in ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’ as Güra enriched his tone to suggest the headiness of the fragrant breeze and flowers. In a touching rendition of ‘Chanson Triste’ (Song of Sadness) the performers made much of the contrasts between high and low registers, and engaged in complex counterpoint and conversation, embodying the interchanges between man and nature, between the lover and moon. A tender head voice, ill-fitting in the Beethoven songs, here perfectly captured the poet-speaker’s fragile hopes, ‘Que peut-être je guérirai’ (that perhaps I shall be healed). After the incisive rhythms of ‘The manoir de Rosamonde’, ‘Extase’ (Rapture) vividly but gracefully conveyed the eroticism of Jean Lahor’s text.

In Schumann’s Liederkreis (Op.24) Güra was more responsive to the meaning of the texts (Heine) than he had been earlier in the evening. ‘Morgens steh' ich auf und frage’ (Every morning I wake and ask) began purposefully, before drifting to a more wistful air of reverie. ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’ was similarly introspective; Güra displayed the ability to modulate his tone engagingly, lightening his voice when the poet-speaker’s old dreams returned to disturb his grief -‘Da kam da alte Träumem’ - and employing a darker, veiled quality to express the sadness and solitude of the final line, ‘Ich aber niemandem trau’ (I trust no one).

The fragmented, stabbing chords of the piano accompaniment in ‘Lieb Liebchen, leg’s Händchen’ (Lay you hand on my heart, my love) grimly suggested both the lover’s heart beat and the hammering of the coffin-maker. There was an airy eeriness about the final stanza culminating in an effectively fragmented, tense close, ‘Damit ich balde schlafen kann’ (so that I soon might sleep). The rocking rhythms of ‘Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden’ (Lovely cradle of my sorrows) and the strange harmonies of the central verses suggested a mind propelled to madness; a weary stillness marked the final stanza, Berner’s eloquent postlude depicting the fatal resignation of the text.

In contrast, ‘Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann’ (Wait, O wait, wild sailor) opened with a wild cry, establishing a restless, almost violent mood that was enhanced by the piano’s pounding octaves. Ominous chords opened the final song, ‘Anfangs wollt’ ich fast verzagen’ (At first I almost lost heart), but the poet’s fear that he ‘could not bear it’ gave way to a tentative hope - ‘Und ich hab’es doch getragen’ (and yet I have borne it -), before expectancy diffused into ambiguity and elusiveness.

Güra and Berner performed with a directness which was much appreciated by the Wigmore Hall audience. But, there are a few technical matters to be considered if the full emotional impact of these lieder is to be expressed and experienced.

Claire Seymour


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):