Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

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):