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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
08 Jan 2014

Matthias Goerne — Mahler and Shostakovich, Wigmore Hall

At the Wigmore Hall, London, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes performed Mahler in a unique programme built around Shostakovich's Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, op 145 (1974).

Matthias Goerne — Mahler and Shostakovich, Wigmore Hall

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]

 

Who but Goerne would dare such an eclectic juxtaposition, framing six songs from Shostakovich's eleven song cycle with songs drawn from Mahler's entire output, each of which presents formidable challenges?

Most singers would pale at the very prospect of singing songs from the Rückert Lieder, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Kindertotenlieder, and transcriptions from the symphonies, but by throwing Shostakovich into the mix, Goerne drew out new perspectives in both Mahler and Shostakovich. This was a daring, even shocking programme, and technically a formidable undertaking, but Goerne carried it off with conviction and superlative artistry.

The Mahler anniversary year brought forth Mahlerkugeln, commercially palatable but poisonous to art. Goerne's Mahler isn't like that, but as uncompromising and demanding as the composer himself. He's been singing Mahler for nearly 20 years, his interpretations enhanced with an intuitive appreciation of the music as a whole. I've seen him sneak into the audience after singing, and watched him listening intensely to the orchestra and conductor he'd just worked with playing symphonies with no vocal part. This in itself is an insight: song infuses all of Mahler's music and vice versa. Mahler's songs aren't really made for celebrity showcases, but for those who care about the idiom as a whole.

Hearing Mahler on equal terms with Shostakovich broadens the equation, shedding light on Shostakovich and his admiration for Mahler. Goerne has made a speciality of Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti op 145, 1974. Here he did the piano and voice original with Andsnes, but the memory of the much richer, more complex orchestral version hung over it inaudibly, much in the way that knowing Mahler's orchestral music enhances appreciation of his songs.

The programme was divided in themes based around each of the Shostakovich songs. in Utro (Morning), the poet describes his lover's golden tresses, garlanded by flowers. The mood is sensual, perfumed with the promise of love. Goerne began with the most delicate of Rückert songs, Ich atmet' einen Linden Duft, where the music sways like an invisible fragrance. Melancholy infuses Shostakovich's song, as if in the moment of embrace he can foresee parting. Seamlessly, Goerne and Andsnes flowed into Wo die schõnen Trompeten blasen, where the woman thinks her lover has returned. But he's an illusion, foretelling death. These songs aren't to be taken at face values. Goerne's hushed tones suggested sadness, quietly understated.

The expansive long lines in Razluka (Separation) express distances, in time and in space. The poet cannot live without love, and dies, leaving the memory of his devotion as a pledge. Michelangelo, being an artist, lives eternally in the works he left behind. Goerne followed Razluka with Es sungen drei Engel einen súßen Gesang, the transcription for solo voice and piano of the Wunderhorn song that appears in Mahler's Symphony no 3. In the symphony, the youthful chorus sounds innocent, but the song deals with life after death. Similarly, in Das irdische Leben the child dies because its needs are unfulfilled. Goerne emphasized the word "Totenbahr" to drive home the point.

Two songs from Kindertotenlieder followed, Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen and Wenn dien Mütterlein, where Rückert describes seeing the images of his dead children. "Was dir nur Augen sind in diesen Tagen" sang Goerne, purposefully, "in künft'gen Nächten sind es dir nur Sterne". Death is just one of those "separations" (Razluka) that will be overcome. Yet again, Goerne and Andsnes performed the piano/voice transcription of Urlicht from Mahler's Symphony no 2. We don't need to hear the mezzo and the choir, but we remember them and the part the song plays in the symphony, extending the "borrowed landscape" of the song.

In Noch, Michelangelo describes a marble angel that breathes, both a work of man and of God. Shostakovich wrote this cycle as he approached his own death, possibly anxious that once he was dead, the Soviets might suppress his music, so the connections to Rückert and to Mahler are clear. "Ich bin gestorben" sang Goerne with quiet dignity, rising to forceful restraint "In meinem Himmel, in meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied". Ich bin der Welt Abhandedn gekommen as a song of protest? In this performance, totally convincing.

Hence Goerne and Andsnes launched without a break into Shostakovich Bessmertiye (Immortality). with its defiant capriciousness. "No ya ne myortv, khot i opushchen v zemlyu" (I am not dead, though I lie in the earth). The critical line rises gloriously, agilely upward "I am alive in the hearts of all who love" Andnes played the "shining" motif evoking a balalaika, a folk instrument that can't be suppressed, but in this performance, the Mahler images of light and "Urlicht" were more dominant than in performances with a true Russian bass like Dmitri Hvorostovsky. But deep basses can't quite manage the agility needed for Mahler.

In Dante, Shostakovich unleashed the pent-up savagery he must have felt, living in a repressed society. Dante's writings, the text reminds us, were "regarded with scorn by the general mob", bur Michelangelo would prefer to suffer than deny art. Ya b luchshey doli v mire ne zhelal!" sang "I could wish for no finer earthly life". Goerne has spoken Russian since childhood. He was young enough to receive the benefits of a DDR education without suffering hardship, but any sensitive person can identify with the idea of art overcoming obstacles. One has only to think of Masur and the Leipziger Gewandhaus Orchester in the tense times of 1989.

Hearing Mahler's Revelge in this context makes the song much more pointed than a mere ghost story. The dead soldiers march through the town at night, singing "tralalee, tralalay, tralala" but the words were sung with a hollow mechanical edge. Entirely appropriate because in war, men are turned into machine fodder. The point might have been made even more savagely if Goerne and Andnes had included Shostakovich's Gnev (Anger) which specifically pins the blame on the abuse of power. "For Rome is a forest full of murderers". However, I suspect that would have shifted the balance too far from Mahler.

Instead, we had Smert (Death), whose slow, sinking lines move in penitential procession. The strings of Andsnes's piano were suppressed to create a sense of hollowness, like footsteps treading implacably towards death. Shostakovich's full cycle ends on an upbeat, light motifs skipping into eternity. This performance ended with Mahler's Der Tamboursg'sell, where the drummer might seem unconcerned about his imminent execution. He says goodbye to the military, rank by rank, but we don't know what he's done to deserve being killed. Perhaps, to interpret this song, we need to consider other sources,the times and even the context. When we listen to anything, we hear more than what's immediately before us. This recital had such an impact on me that I was thinking about how Mahler and Shostakovich fitted into a wider musical scheme of things. Goerne and Andsnes sang Beethoven An die Hoffnung Op 94 for an encore, with the glorious, "O Hoffnung", glowing with hope and the references to angels, midnight and transcendence, I could almost visualize composers moving in succession : Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Shostakovich and many more, and think of performers, performances and music other than song. The recital was over, but still having an impact on me.

Anne Ozorio

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):