Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

Agrippina at the Bavarian State Opera

And still they come. The opera world’s obsession with Handel’s operas shows no sign of abating. The Bavarian State Opera has, since Peter Jonas’s Intendancy, stood at the forefront of Handel staging; this new production of Agrippina was dedicated to him. As ever, I was pleased to see one of these operas for the first time in the theatre – how could I not be pleased to see almost anything in Munich’s wonderful Prinzregententheater – but again, as ever, I was left unable ever quite to put to one side the dramaturgical difficulties/problems/flaws/inadequacies. (Call them what you will.)

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):