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

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

A Prom of Transformation and Transcendence: Renée Fleming and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

This Prom was all about places: geographical, physical, pictorial, poetic, psychological. And, as we journeyed through these landscapes of the mind, there was plenty of reminiscence and nostalgia too, not least in Samuel Barber’s depiction of early twentieth-century Tennessee - Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

The Queen's Lace Handkerchief: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

Billed as the ‘First British Performance’ - though it had had a prior, quasi-private outing at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe in July - Opera della Luna’s production of Johann Strauss Jnr’s The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief (Das Spitzentuch der Königin) at Wilton’s Music Hall began to sound pretty familiar half-way through the overture (which was played with spark and elegance by conductor Toby Purser’s twelve-piece orchestra).

Glyndebourne perform La clemenza di Tito at the Proms

The advantage of Glyndebourne Opera’s performances at the BBC Proms is that they give us a chance to concentrate on the music making. And there was plenty of high-quality music-making on offer at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 28 August 2017 when Glyndebourne Opera performed Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito.

Rossini’s Torvaldo e Dorliska in Pesaro

The rare and somewhat interesting Rossini! Torvaldo e Dorliska (1815) comes just after Elisabetta, Regina di Ingleterra (the first of his nineteen operas for Naples) — a huge success, and just before Il barbiere di Siviglia in Rome — a failure.

Jakub Hrůša : Bohemian Reformation Prom

At Prom 56, Jakub Hrůša conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme on the theme of the Hussite Wars and their place in Bohemian culture showing how the Hussite hymn was incorporated into music by Smetana, Martinů, Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk.

Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival

South African actor, artist, multimedia artist, film and theater, now opera director William Kentridge has taken the world by storm over the past few years. In my experience The Magic Flute in Brussels, The Return of Ulysses (puppets) in San Francisco, The Nose in Aix, Lulu at the Met, Die Winterreise and his “One Man Show” in Aix. And now Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival.

Lear at the Salzburg Festival

Undaunted by the bloody majesty of this 1606 Shakespeare tragedy, German composer Aribert Reimann embraced the challenge back in the cold-war era (1970’s). Its Munich premiere was in 1978, a Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production that then traveled to San Francisco in 1981. Of the Munich cast only Helga Dernesch as Goneril appeared in San Francisco.

Ariodante at the Salzburg Ferstival

From time to time felicitous circumstances create impromptu masterpieces, like the Salzburg 2017 Whitsun Festival production of Handel's Ariodante that has continued just now into the 2017 summer festival.

Glimmerglass Being Judgmental

There was a sense of event about the closing performance of Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsberg for days in advance.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze (1789-1817) by Ernst Riepenhausen [Source: Wikipedia]
27 May 2014

Schubert Liederabende, Wigmore Hall

In this Schubert Liederabende — the second in Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake’s planned series of four recitals at the Wigmore Hall — dark, sombre worlds evoking the romantic turbulence of Death and the Maiden were only briefly alleviated by radiance and light.

Schubert Liederabende, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze (1789-1817) by Ernst Riepenhausen [Source: Wikipedia]

 

We began with five settings of Ernst Konrad Schulze. A tormented dreamer, Schulze delved into the world of folklore and fairy tales, reportedly remarking of himself, “I lived in a fantasy world and was on the way to becoming a complete obsessive.” The same might be said of his unrequited devotion to the sisters Adelheid and Cäcilie Tyschen which inspired the hundred poems of the Poetisches Tagebuch (Verse Diary), in which the volatile Schulze poured out his passion.

The impact of the early death of Cäcilie can perhaps be felt in ‘Im Frühling’ which depicts the poet-speaker’s love for an unattainable beloved. The hushed opening — Drake’s gentle quavers delivered with the merest touch of hesitant restraint — established a whimsical air, fitting for the nostalgic recollections which followed. Bostridge sang with tender fluency, but there was an ever-present intimation of unrest — moments of earnestness in stanza three when the poet imagines plucking a flower from a branch from which she has picked a bud, urgent off-beats in the minor key stanza, slightly unsettling rhythmic asymmetry in the final verse — which could not be quite assuaged by the beautiful shine that the tenor brought to the concluding wistful reminiscence: ‘Den ganzen Sommer lang.’

‘Über Wildemann’ was more turbulent, driven by obsessive love and the poet’s exuberant response to the mountain vista before him. The contained violence of Drake’s pulsing accompaniment was unnerving, left hand octaves and pounding triplets never overwhelming the voice. Bostridge made much of the contrast between the low register of the opening verse and the poet’s enraptured reflections on the natural beauty of his surroundings. Above Drake’s delicately shimmering starry reflections, the broad phrases of ‘Der liebliche Stern’ were wonderfully mellifluous and the pianissimo close magically floated, translating the poet deep into imaginative realms: ‘Dem lieblichen Sterne mich nah’n!’ (Let me draw near to that lovely star!)

‘I have lost all peace of mind’ (‘Ich bin von aller Ruh geschieden’) mourns the poet in ‘Tiefes Leid (Im Jänner 1817)’, and Bostridge did indeed seem almost overwhelmed by the depth of the speaker’s sorrow. The piano’s withdrawn dynamic at the start of the final verse created a troubled expectancy; the tenor used the text with characteristic rhetorical judiciousness to convey the chasm between the poet’s suffering and the beloved’s silence. Drake brought clarity and spaciousness to the moto perpetuo of ‘Auf der Brücke’, (On the bridge), and stylishly articulated the details embedded in the accompaniment, such as the low trill which hints at the young maidens’ twinkling eyes. Bostridge’s wide-ranging phrases spoke of the poet’s confidence although the climactic rise in the final verse suggested underlying disquiet and doubt.

Schubert’s settings of two of Johann Mayrhofer’s ‘Heliopolis’ poems followed. The low unison between voice and piano at the start of the first song perfectly captured the cold stillness of the ‘rauhen Norden’ (raw north), before a wonderfully consoling blossoming with the move to the major tonality upon the poet’s vision of the flower. Bostridge’s lyricism beautifully conveyed the speaker’s honest simplicity, supported by Drake’s steady crotchets, at times sensitively enriched. After the brief rhythmic fury and heroic energy of ‘Heliopolis II’, ‘Abendbilder’ (Nocturne) painted a broader dramatic canvas, from the gentle, breezy undulations of Drake’s opening triplets, to the elegance of the nocturnal raven’s flight through fragrant airs, to the rhapsodic outpouring of Philomel’s magic song. Drake led us through the night-time land, from tolling bells to starry skies; there was a certain weariness in the inevitable return to the opening melody, underpinned by the diminished harmony of the piano’s rocking triplets. Tenor and pianist mastered the technical and interpretative challenges of the final verse, Bostridge exhibiting impressive control through the extremely long lines and Drake convincingly delivering the declamatory postlude.

This haunting intimation of mortality at eventide was followed by just a single verse of the intimate ‘Ins stille Land’ (To the land of rest) which perfectly expressed the Sehnsucht that Schubert instructs. ‘Totengräbers Heimweh’ (Gravedigger’s longing) brought the first half to a close. Nicolaus Craigher de Jachelutta’s somewhat melodramatic poem describes a gravedigger increasingly seduced by the lure of the burial places he digs for others. But, while there was force and anger in Bostridge’s frustrated cries at the start, there was no undue exaggeration in the performer’s depiction of mental distress and decline. The weaving semiquavers of the second stanza were skilfully controlled, the mood first elegiac then more restless and exposed. Drake’s transition to the slower third stanza was eerie, an apt prelude to the mysterious, mournful unison which follows, the latter disturbed by the piano’s rustling ornaments. As the gravedigger’s energy gradually dissipated, Bostridge increasingly withdrew: indeed, so introspective was his longing for release — ‘O Heimat des Friedens,/ Der Seligen Land!’ (O homeland of peace, land of the blessed!) — that there was a rare rhythmic error which Drake subtly resolved. A remarkably hushed sense of heavenly yearning infused the arcing lines, the piano’s diminished harmonies suggesting an unearthly transmutation. Bostridge’s final cries had an uncanny, sweet lightness; the extreme registral contrasts of the piano postlude evoked the expanse between man and celestial realms.

We returned to the mountaintop after the interval, with ‘Auf der Riesenkoppe’ in which the poet Theodor Körner reflects with pride on the highest peak in the Riesengebirge range. Bostridge and Drake were suitably operatic in approach to the song’s dramatic contrasts of mood and manner, the concluding verse possessing an especially translucent beauty reflecting the ‘sacred longing’ with which the homeward-bearing poet is seized. Two Rückert settings, ‘Sei mir gegrüsst’ (I greet you!), and ‘Daß sie hier gewesen’ (That she was here), were among the highpoints of the evening. The soporific sway of Drake’s introduction to the first song built persuasively and progressively to the vehement yearning of the conclusion: ‘Ich halter dich dieses Arms Umschlusse’ (I hold you closely in my arms). The almost imperceptible pianissimo of the second song conveyed the pain of absence and elusiveness, while Bostridge’s eloquent declamation brought expressive structure to Schubert’s fragmented lines culminating in a soothingly warm cantabile at the reassuring ending.

The well-known ‘Die Forelle’ (The trout) had a delightfully swaggering lilt, while the strophic ‘Des Fischers Liebesglück’ (The fisherman’s luck in love) communicated the emotional complexity and range of Leitner’s verse, the successive verses moving from glimpses of hope to blissful fulfilment. Drake’s attention to detail did much to convey the narrative, while Bostridge demonstrated excellent control of breath and security at the top. ‘Fischerweise’ (Fisherman’s song) was a rare moment of unambiguous ease, the hearty energy of the counterpoint and busy accompaniment conveying the cheerful ebullience of the working fishermen.

‘Atys’, the first of three more Mayrhofer settings, returned us to more sombre territory. Inspired by Catullus, the poem depicts the tragedy of the eponymous shepherd who, abducted by the goddess Cybele longs to return to his homeland and, in despair, throws himself to his death from the top of Dindymus, the mountain of the goddess. Bostridge and Drake struck a plaintive note in this reticent song, the accompaniment dreamily rocking, the vocal line softly swooning. The recitative-like central section injected agitated drama; here Bostridge demonstrated his impressive vocal range, while the ensuing chromatic wanderings showed a sure intonation. Drake’s long postlude was a superb delineation of the composer’s intense emotional engagement with this strange myth. ‘Nachtviolen’ (Dame’s violets) possessed a more simple elegance; ‘Geheimnis’ (A secret) effortlessly passed through the evolving melodies, Drake’s ornamentations evoking a Mozartian grace.

The pictorial and prophetic vastness of Schubert’s setting of Friedrich von Schlegel’s ‘Im Walde’ brought the recital to an imposing end. Full of tension and surprise, the song was richly suggestive of the diversity of the forest’s mysteries, but always propelling forwards, swept onwards by Drake’s unceasing semiquaver flow. Bostridge revealed the operatic vivacity of Schubert’s writing for the voice, ever responsive to the nuances of the arioso qualities of the melody and the sensitive text-setting. The boldness of this song was thrilling. Often in this recital Bostridge’s voice took on a baritonal quality as the lieder roved through the lower realms of the tenor’s range; here the plummeting lines — ‘Tief in dunkler Waldesnacht’ (deep in the dark night of the forest) — matched the woodland’s shadowy depths. This most astonishing of Schubert's longer songs was a fitting conclusion to a programme of audaciousness and commitment.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Julius Drake, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 22nd May 2014.

Schubert: ‘Im Frühling’, ‘Über Wildemann’, ‘Der liebliche Stern’, ‘Tiefes Leid (Im Jänne 1817)’, ‘Auf der Brücke’, ‘Heliopolis I & II’, ‘Abendbilder’, ‘Lied (Ins stille Land)’, ‘Totengräbers Heimweh’, ‘Auf der Riesenkoppe’, ‘Sei mir gegrüsst’, ‘Daß sie hier gewesen’, ‘Die Forelle’, ‘Des Fischers Liebesglück’, ‘Fischerweise’, ‘Atys’, ‘Nachtviolen’, ‘Geheimnis’, ‘Im Walde’.

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):