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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Arnold Schönberg: Blaues Selbstportrait, 1910 [Source: Wikipedia]
10 Mar 2014

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

Arnold Schoenberg, Pierrot lunaire, op.21, with works by Dallapiccola, Nono, and Gerhard

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Arnold Schönberg: Blaues Selbstportrait, 1910 [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Whether that be a matter of travelling to Leipzig to see the brilliant triple-bill of Schoenberg’s one-act operas, ‘Moderne Menschen’, or missing out on Leif Ove Andsnes playing Beethoven a couple of miles away at the Barbican, Schoenberg tends to exert a special call. Whether I should have been better off ignoring the call on this occasion remains unclear. Certainly if the standard of the first half of the concert had been repeated in the second, I should have been far better off staying at home. But then a good Pierrot lunaire more or less managed to save the day.

Jane Manning remains a force of nature, having given her first broadcast performance with Pierrot almost fifty years ago, in 1965. No one is ever likely to agree — even with his or her own thoughts, let alone anyone else’s — about how this work ‘should’ be performed. It is far better to allow that different performers bring different qualities to it on different occasions. If truth be told, Manning was probably wise to downplay the sung element in her recitation. The moments, relatively few, when she moved towards song suggested, not surprisingly, a voice that had known better days. And yet, her vast experience — not just of this, but of more than 350 (!) world premieres, a good number of which would have taken inspiration from Schoenberg in one way or another — shone through nevertheless. The words and their possibilities she clearly knew backwards. (Now there is an idea for another Pierrot-ensemble piece.) She knew, in a way composers such as Luigi Nono or Helmut Lachenmann would surely have appreciated, how to make the most of vowels, consonants, the journeys between them. Above all, she appreciated and communicated the strong element of cabaret. Manning’s was in every sense a performance, and all the better for it.

Not, of course, that the reciter is all there is to Pierrot, far from it. Giora Bernstein led a highly musical account from an excellent bunch of players. Perhaps balance was tilted a little too much away from the ensemble, but we have a host of other performances in which we can savour still more strongly what Stravinsky quite rightly considered an instrumental masterpiece. There were virtues aplenty, nevertheless. The passacaglia registered as such as strongly as I can recall, Night eventually obscuring in more than one sense. Dance rhythms made their Viennese impressions without exaggeration, the ‘Heimfahrt’ an especially fine example. Benjamin Baker’s violin and viola playing was perhaps particularly impressive, perfectly attuned to shifting mood and context, but the ensemble as a whole, including Julian Jacobson’s piano, such a relief after the first half, had no weak links.

As for that first half, well… Doubtless Alberto Portugheis’s heart was in the right place. The concert seems to have been his project; he was listed as ‘curator’. But sadly, it marked a triumph of ambition over even rudimentary technical ability; this was piano-playing that would have disgraced many an amateur performance, and may well have been the worst I have heard in a professional context. The opening Zemlinsky’s 1891 Three Pieces for cello and piano would most likely have done the composer no favours in a stronger account. Apparently rediscovered recently by Raphael Wallfisch — I am placing my trust in a programme note which, in many respects, proved otherwise highly fallible — they are at best apprentice works, straining towards, yet never coming remotely close to Brahms. Here, Portugheis and, much to my surprise, Rohan de Saram sounded as if they were sight-reading. There was little or no sense of musical collaboration; indeed, the players fell noticeably out of sync on more than one occasion. De Saram fared better in Dallapiccola’s Ciaccona, Intermezzo, and Adagio, though even when playing solo, it took him a while to get into his stride, the chaconne initially hesitant. At least, though, the performance offered some sense of the stature of the piece, its dodecaphonic lyricism and structural integrity a wonderful introduction to this appallingly neglected composer.

Nono’s ¿Donde estás, hermano? was provoked — the composer spoke of his need for such a ‘provocation’ to compose, to bear witness — by the ‘disappearances’ in Argentina. The music comes from Quando stanno morendo, Diario Polacco, no.2, but here without electronics. (Not that one would have known from the programme, which bathetically informed us that Nono had ‘strongly-held political views’.) The vocal quartet — Marie Jaermann, Seljan Nasibili, Katie Coventry, and Anna Migalios — seemed excellent. Alas, their performance was compromised by Portugheis’s insistence on conducting; they would surely have better off without. Plodding and without technique, Portugheis’s contribution was summed up by his score falling off the music stand towards the end. As for his solo rendition of Gerhard’s Don Quixote dances, the first opened quite strongly. At last, I thought, we might hear something from him equating to a real performance. I should not have tempted fate. Much of the rest sounded closer to a bumbling amateur’s initial read-through. From time to time, some sense of rhythm or pulse emerged, only roundly to be defeated.

Sadly, then, I was reminded of Boulez’s observation about the self-defeating nature of the occasional performances of music by the Second Viennese School in his youth. The technical standard had been so poor that they did more harm than good, an incitement to him to mount his own performances, leading to the foundation of the Domaine musical. If only, if only…

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Jane Manning (reciter); Marie Jaermann, Seljan Nasibili (sopranos); Katie Coventry (mezzo-soprano); Anna Migalios (contralto); Benjamin Baker (violin/viola); Rohan de Saram (cello); Susan Milan (flute/piccolo); David Campbell (clarinets); Julian Jacobson, Alberto Portugheis (piano); Giora Bernstein (conductor). Hall One, Kings Place, London, Tuesday 4 March 2014.

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):