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

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Henri Duparc
25 Apr 2014

Songlives: Henri Duparc

The latest recital in the Songlives series at the Wigmore Hall turned the spotlight on a figure whose short compositional career and small oeuvre might have been expected to confine him to the margins of musical history, but whose name has in fact become almost synonymous with a whole genre of song: mélodie.

Songlives: Henri Duparc

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Henri Duparc

 

Henri Duparc was born in Paris in 1848 into a wealthy, aristocratic family. He studied piano, and later composition, with César Franck; his earliest compositions, dating from the 1860s, include Six reveries and Feuilles volantes for piano, and a sonata for cello and piano. But in 1885, aged just 37 years old and with a burgeoning career as a successful song-writer ahead of him, Duparc stopped composing. Always highly sensitive and nervous, mental illness which was diagnosed as neurasthenia was accompanied by increasing vision loss, eventually leading to total blindness.

Ever the perfectionist, in later years Duparc destroyed most of his music, leaving few works to posterity; but his seventeen extant songs epitomise the qualities of mélodie: clarity and intensity of expression, diversity of mood, and sophisticated, cultivated union of music and word. Mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly and baritone Hank Neven performed a programme devised by pianist Malcolm Martineau, taking us on a chronological journey through the songs which assured Duparc’s immortality and revealing the astonishing talent which was so sadly curtailed.

Connolly’s sumptuous tone and lyricism are ideally suited to the expressive richness of these songs. In the earliest of them, ‘Chanson Triste’, the gentle, well-shaped melody, reminiscent of Gounod, rested calmly on the warm ripples of the accompaniment, as the poet-speaker bathes in memories of his departed beloved. The voice brightened with a joyful outburst of hope that his inner peace might be restored by such ruminations, and this thread of light suffused the tranquil piano postlude.

‘Romance de Mignon’ was originally suppressed by Duparc as falling short of his exacting standards; it is fairly unsophisticated in terms of its expressive chromaticism but the dark dissonances and the wide expanse of the accompaniment contribute to an operatic rhetoric which Connolly and Martineau dramatically exploited.

‘Au pays où se fait la guerre’ pays melodic homage to Schubert’s ‘Der Erlkönig’. From the ringing opening motif to the angry growl of the final stanza, Martineau’s ever-changing, often strikingly contrapuntal accompaniment lines and textures, created precise moods complementing the word-painting in the vocal line. The song is thought to have been derived from material for a discarded opera; Connolly certainly revealed the range of emotions present in Théophile Gautier’s text, from ecstasy to despair. The growing intensity and sophistication of Duparc’s language and form was evident in ‘L’invitation au voyage’, a setting from Baudelaire’s Fleur du mal, which was composed while the composer was serving in the garrison during the Prussian siege in the winter of 1870—71. The performers masterfully crafted the whole, creating urgent movement forwards; the calm composure of the vision of the loved one’s eyes where dwell ‘order et beauté/ Luxe, calme et volupté’ (order and beauty/ abundance, calm and sensuous delight), subsequently exploded in glittering piano cascades, voice and accompaniment luminous and impassioned.

Connolly opened the second half of the recital with ‘Élégie’ and ‘Extase’ (Rapture), both of which have a Wagnerian flavour. The boldness and colour of Martineau’s accompaniment brought depth of character to the former, while the latter was particularly exquisite, a delicate unfolding of profound emotion. ‘Lamento’, another Gautier setting and dedicated to Fauré, possessed a charming, easy grace; here, Connolly made much of the words, sensitive to Duparc’s sometimes unusual verbal emphases. The mezzo soprano’s gorgeous lower register brought dramatic intensity to ‘Testament’, overcoming the flimsiness of Armand Silvestre’s text.

Unfortunately, baritone Hank Neven could not quite match Connolly’s refinement of technique or interpretation, finding it a challenge to capture Duparc’s expressive register — with its fusion of raw passion and elegant finesse — or the mélodie’s majestic sweep. While the dying final line of ‘Soupir’ (Sigh) was wonderfully tender, the weaknesses in Neven’s pronunciation marred the overall effect, for the expressive ambience depends considerably upon the French-specific features such as elision. ‘Sérénade’ was less tentative, the melodic arcs more robust, but as in ‘Le galop’, with its agitated pounding accompaniment and vigorous vocal line, it all felt a little heavy-handed, and there were some problems with intonation, particularly at the top.

Neven seemed more comfortable with the bold forthrightness of ‘La vague et la cloche’ (The wave and the bell); the low unison of voice and accompaniment — ‘Puis, tout changea … la mer et sa noire mêlée/ Sombrèrent’ (Then everything changed. The sea and its black tumult subsided’) — was chillingly ominous, and above Martineau’s tolling ostinato, the baritone assumed a convincing declamatory mode. And, in the second half ‘Sérénade’ florentine’ and ‘Phidylé’ were also more successful, the former especially lyrical and stylish, its gentle sentiments far from the violence and suffering of many of the other songs.

‘Phidylé’ is perhaps Duparc’s greatest song, and Neven and Martineau’s wonderfully unhurried gradation was enchanting, the piano’s tranquil postlude particularly beautiful. The first half of the evening had ending with Duparc’s rarely sung duet, ‘La fuite’ (Escape), providing an opportunity for the singers to tap their operatic vein; but Neven closed the recital alone, with a sensitive rendition of the composer’s final song, ‘La vie antérieure’ (A previous life), quietly capturing Baudelaire’s yearning and nostalgia.

This was an evening of great interest and delight. The performers consummately confirmed Duparc’s own description of his songs: ‘they come from the heart and speak to the heart’.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Sarah Connolly, mezzo soprano; Hank Neven, baritone; Malcolm Martineau, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday 23rd April 2014.

Duparc: ‘Chanson Triste’, ‘Soupir’, ‘Romance de Mignon’, ‘Sérénade’, ‘Le galop’, ‘Au pays où se fait la guerre’, ‘L’invitation au voyage’, ‘La vague et la cloche’, ‘La fuite’, ‘Élégie’, ‘Extase’, ‘Le manoir de Rosemonde’, ‘Sérénade’ florentine’, ‘Phidylé’, ‘Lamento’, ‘Testament’, ‘La vie antérieure’.

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):