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

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Royal Symphony

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

Kiss Me, Kate: Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome

In 1964, 400 years after the birth of the Bard, the writer Anthony Burgess saw Cole Porter’s musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, a romping variation on The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s comedy, Burgess said, had a ‘good playhouse reek about it’, adding ‘the Bard might be regarded as closer to Cole Porter and Broadway razzmatazz’ than to the scholars who were ‘picking him raw’.

Beat Furrer FAMA - Hörtheater reaches London

Beat Furrer's FAMA came to London at last, with the London Sinfonietta. The piece was hailed as "a miracle" at its premiere at Donaueschingen in 2005 by Die Zeit: State of the Art New Music, recognized by mainstream media, which proves that there is a market for contemporary music lies with lively audiences

Franz Schreker : Die Gezeichneten (Les Stigmatizés). Lyon

Franz Schreker Die Gezeichneten from the Opéra de Lyon last year, now on arte.tv and Opera Platform. The translation, "The stigmatized", doesn't convey the impact of the original title, which is closer to"The Cursed".

The Anatomy of Melancholy

Semper Dowland, semper dolens (Always Dowland, always doleful) was the title chosen by John Dowland’s for one of his consort pieces and the motto that he took for himself. Twice rejected for the position of musician at the court of Queen Elizabeth, he is reputed to have been a difficult, embittered man. Melancholy songs were the fashion of the day, but Dowland clearly knew dark days of depression first hand.

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):