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

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

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):