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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ann Murray, DBE [Photo by Sian Trenberth]
22 Jan 2014

Songlives: Johannes Brahms

This recital, part of an inventive series overseen by pianist Malcolm Martineau, did exactly what it said on the tin: it journeyed the length of Brahms’ creative life as a composer of songs, from his earliest adolescent essays, through the early years of expansion and experiment, to the period of maturity and confidence as the composer established himself in Vienna, concluding with the moving, nuanced testaments of Brahms’ final years.

Songlives: Johannes Brahms

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ann Murray, DBE [Photo by Sian Trenberth]

 

Taking us along these autobiographical paths were bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann and, standing in for the indisposed Bernada Fink, soprano Ann Murray. Both singers adopted a wonderfully sincere and direct approach: nothing was exaggerated or overstated but the vocal lines were allowed to blossom in response to heightened emotion or drama in an unaffected but thoughtful and well-considered fashion.

Müller-Brachmann commenced ‘The early years’ with the unusually brief ‘Heimkehr’ (Homecoming). Described by Susan Youens in her detailed programme notes as ’21 bars of agitated, rapturous emotion’, the song presents an impetuous lover’s appeal to the natural world not to come to an apocalyptic end until he has hastened to his beloved’s side! Despite its brevity, the song enabled Müller-Brachmann to exhibit the admirable qualities which would be on display throughout the evening: a powerful intensity matched by an eloquent and controlled delivery, the text crystal clear, the dramatic and emotional focus encapsulated without undue exaggeration. ‘Die Überläufer’ (The deserter) revealed the bass-baritone’s full, burnished lower register, complementing the darkly erotic imagery of the anonymous text; as the poet-narrator expresses wonder ‘Daß mein Schatz so falsch könnt’ sein’ (that my darling could be so false) a delicate enhancement of ‘so falsch könnt’ neatly conveyed the protagonist’s anguish.

In this part of the programme, Murray and Müller-Brachmann alternated, Murray’s renditions of ‘In der Fremde’ (In a foreign land) and ‘Liebestreu’ (True love) interwoven between the bass-baritone’s numbers. In the former, Murray displayed a serene composure and sweet pianissimo to evoke the wistfulness of Eichendorff’s text; the glowing lustre of the voice may be more restrained than of former years, but there is no doubting the expressive beauty of the soprano’s innately well-crafted melodic lines. At the piano, Martineau contributed enormously to the communicative power of these songs: in ‘Liebstrau’, as so often throughout the evening, the engaging interplay between voice and accompaniment, and the particularly impressive clarity of the left hand figures and counter-melodies, was notable.

‘New Paths’ was the title of an article published by Robert Schumann in October 1853 in which he expressed his admiration for the music of the then 20-year-old Brahms. Müller-Brachmann’s ‘Ständchen’ (Serenade) combined a gentle vocal restraint with tight rhythms in the accompaniment and very effective use of rubato, especially in the piano postlude, creating both lightness of spirit and depth of feeling. The forward momentum quickened in ‘Der Ganz zum Lieben’ (The walk to the beloved), the lilting motifs sweeping onwards as the lover hurried towards his loved one’s home, before another could steal her love. In contrast, the initial focused tranquillity of Murray’s ‘An eine Äolsharfe’ gave way to moments of dramatic intensity, the recitative-like vocal melody of the opening expanding lyrically above a bed of rich major harmonies. The performers’ appreciation of the spacious structure of this song, the first of Brahms’ truly ambitious songs, was impressive.

Müller-Brachmann led the sequence of songs of ‘First Maturity’. ‘Wehe, so willst du mich wieder’ (Alas, would you one again) was characterised by an ardent tone and energised repetitions of the text; ‘Wie bist du, meine Königin’ (How blissful, my queen) adopted a more relaxed, intimate air, before flourishing with the enraptured lines, ‘Ach, über alles was da blüht,/ Ist deine , woonevoll!’ (Ah! More blissful than all that blooms is your blissful bloom). The warm, openness of the assonant vowels beautifully conveyed the poet’s passion. In ‘Keinen hat es noch gereut’ (No man has yet rued) - the first of two texts from the echt medieval romance, Die schöne Magelone - the bass-baritone brought added weight to the voice, authoritatively communicated the narrative of the knight Peter of Provence’s search for fame and love. Here and in the subsequent ‘Sind es Schmerzen’ (Are these sorrows), Müller-Brachmann established a compelling stage presence, his touching lyricism and even, focused tone - as steady at the top of the voice as at the bottom - conveying the tale with naturalism and ease. Once again the clarity and definition of Martineau’s accompanying textures, and the precision of the rhythmic and harmonic ostinatos, contributed greatly to the story-telling.

In ‘Am Sonntag Morgen’ (On Sunday morning) and ‘Die Mainacht’ (May night), Murray demonstrated a persuasive emotional range, richness and transparency alternating in the former - in which the poet-narrator hides his melancholy from the public world - while pianist and soprano built to a climactic intensity in the latter; as ‘die ensame Träne/ Bebt mir heißer die Wang’ herab’ (the lonely tear quivers more ardently down my cheek), the harmonic and timbral variety of the piano postlude embodied the desperate flow of the poet’s tears. The dialogue between a young maid and her sweetheart in ‘Von weiger Liebe’ (Eternal love) was full of drama, the dark colours of the introduction and the opening stanza creating an air of anticipation and changes of tempi and mode pointedly conveying the twists and turns of the lovers’ interaction, the piano left hand serving both as a directional guide and a melodic commentator.

Murray presented the first and last of the songs which marked Brahms’ years ‘Established in Vienna’. The effortless arcs of the soprano lines in ‘Auf dem See’ (On the lake) wonderfully depicted the graceful progress of the rocking boat, and were enhanced by tender enhancements of details, such as the thrilling shimmer of the mountains ‘weiß im reinen Schnee’ (white in pure snow) and the well-proportioned emphasis on ‘Glück und Friede’ (happiness and peace) which the poet-narrator’s heart absorbs from the heavenly image before him. Martineau’s postlude to ‘Meine Liebe ist grün’ was full of excitement and grandeur - reportedly, Clara Schumann rejoiced that she loved to play it ‘over and over again’!

The songs of ‘The Last Twenty Years’ began with ‘Therese’, Murray insouciantly playing the older woman who is attracted to the younger man but cannot resist teasing him. Martineau’s flourish of fluid triplets introduced the soprano’s quasi-arioso melody which gradually awakens and blooms, before subsiding in the slow final verse where once again voice and accompaniment conversed harmoniously - the vocal melody enhancing the piano’s restatement of the original theme, the off-beat interjections in the bass adding to the air of mystery. In ‘Sapphische Ode’ (Sapphic Ode) the pulsing syncopations in the accompaniment enriched Murray’s warm timbre, especially in the second stanza; similarly the off-beat propulsion in the bass of ‘Schön war, das ich dir weihte’ (Fair was my gift to you) thoughtfully supported the vocal line. Murray’s rising phrase, ‘Süß war der Laute Ton’ (sweet was the sound of the lute), was charmingly beautiful.

Müller-Brachmann has all the required technical and interpretative qualities for ‘Mit vierzig Jahren’ (At forty), one of Brahms’s most sensitive and moving songs, in which a young man looks back to his childhood and forward to death. The performers’ drew forth every ounce of meaning suggested by the unsettled, sometimes sinister, harmonies and melodies intervals, before finding a calm resignation at the close. Likewise, the conclusion to ‘Auf dem Kirchhofe’ (In the churchyard) wonderfully captured the sense of revelation and affirmation, in the healing repetition of the chorale-like piano chords. In contrast, in the surprisingly terse ‘Kein Haus, keine Heimat’ (No house, no homeland), the bass-baritone replaced sonorous tone with austerity and sombreness.

The singers came together for the final three folksongs of this section. In the impetuous ‘Wie komm’ ich den zur Tür herein’ (How shall I get in at the door), the rhythmically lithe piano part suggested the lovers’ eagerness to deceive the maiden’s vigilant mother. The dramatic development in the strophic ‘So wünsch ich ihr ein’ gute Nacht’ (So I bid her goodnight) was conveyed with flowing ease, enhanced by Martineau’s contrapuntal dialogues. The more plaintive ‘Schwesterlein’ made for a subdued close and, after the urgency and haste of the central section, as the young man presses his little sister to join him in a dance, the gradual rallentando was skilfully managed.

‘At the end’ comprised two songs from Vier ernster Gesänge Op.121, both settings of biblical texts. The first, ‘Denn es gehet dem Menschen’ (For that which befalleth the sons of men), with its stirring low tessitura, repeating bass motifs and sudden changes of tempo, was skilfully crafted by Müller-Brachmann and Martineau, communicating the insistent affirmation of the value of a man’s work in the piano’s almost violent final chords. In contrast, ‘Wenn ich mit Menschen’ (Though I speak with the tongues of men) brought the recital to a more peaceful conclusion. Two short encores sent the audience home replete with the quiet joy of ‘Gute Abend, Gute Nacht’.

So many of these songs seem, at first glance or hearing, fairly straightforward settings whose melodies have a folk-like simplicity and whose strophic forms indulge in little text repetition. Yet, this very brevity and economy often underpins their deep expressive power: the slightest inflections of harmony, the subtlest of rhythmic tensions, a sudden rise and fall of melodic contour, a surprising dynamic change - all these elements combine to communicate a deeply felt sensibility with immediacy and impact. In the hands of these three performers, the sensitive, proportionate eloquence of ‘Brahms the song writer’ was unfailingly and movingly evident.

Claire Seymour


Performers and Programme:

Ann Murray DBE mezzo-soprano, Hanno Müller-Brachmann bass-baritone, Malcolm Martineau, piano. Wigmore Hall, LondonMonday 13th January 2014.

The early years: ‘Heimkehr’, ‘In der Fremde’, ‘Der Überläufer’, ‘Liebestreu’

New Paths: ‘Ständchen’, ‘An eine Äolsharfe’, ‘Der Gang zum Liebchen’

First Maturity: ‘Wehe, so willst du mich wieder’, ‘Wie bist du, meine Königin’, ‘Keinen hat es noch gereut’, ‘Sind es Schmerzen’, ‘Am Sonntag Morgen’, Die Mainacht’, ‘An die Nachtigall’, ‘Von ewiger Liebe’

Established in Vienna: ‘Auf dem See’, ‘Regenlied’, ‘Ach, wende diesen Blick’, ‘Meine Liebe ist grün’

The last twenty years: ‘Therese’, ‘Mit vierzig Jahren’, ‘Sapphische Ode’, ‘Kein Haus, keine Heimat’, ‘Schön war, das ich dir weihte’, ‘Auf dem Kirchhofe’, ‘Mäddchenlied’, ‘Wie komm’ ich den zur Tür herein’, ‘So wünsch’ ich ihr ein’gute Nacht’, ‘Schwesterlein’

At the End: ‘Denn es gehet dem Menschen’, ‘Wenn ich mit Menschen’

The next recital in the Songlives series takes place on Sunday 26 January 2014 at 4pm: Songlives: Rachmaninov, Katherine Broderick soprano; Andrei Bondarenko baritone; Malcolm Martineau piano

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):