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

On Trial in Saint Louis

That Opera Theatre of Saint Louis fearlessly embraces the cutting edge is once again evidenced by their compelling American premiere of The Trial.

A Traditional Rigoletto in Las Vegas

On June 9, 2017, Opera Las Vegas presented a traditional production of Verdi’s Rigoletto conducted by Music Director Gregory Buchalter with a cast headed by veteran baritone Michael Chioldi. A most convincing Rigoletto, Chioldi was a man in psychological pain from the begining of the opera. His fear and his vulnerability to the whims of the nobility were evident in every meaty, well-colored phrase he sang.

Thumbprint, An Amazing Woman Leaves an Indelible Mark

Thumbprint is the story of the young, innocent and illiterate Mukhtar Mai who was assaulted by a group of powerful men. Following the attack, Mukhtar, having supposedly been disgraced, was expected to commit suicide. Instead, she amazed everyone who knew her by going to the police and calling for the arrest of her attackers.

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Einojuhani Rautavaara [Photo by Heikki Tuuli]
02 Jun 2014

Gerald Finley, Wigmore Hall

For the final recital in his three-concert residency at the Wigmore Hall, Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley offered the familiar and the new in striking juxtaposition, Franz Schubert’s posthumously published Schwanengesang enclosing Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Rubáiyát, which was written specially for Finley.

Gerald Finley, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Einojuhani Rautavaara [Photo by Heikki Tuuli]

 

Schubert’s seven settings of Ludwig Rellstab, which form the first part of Schwanengesang, frequently evoke the murmuring brooks and whispering breezes so common to the Romantic landscape, and pianist Julius Drake can deftly paint an aural soundscape, the rippling, rustling motifs always even, clear and subtly supporting the voice. But, what was noticeable through this first sequence of songs was how often Drake was the driving force shaping the songs’ narrative and architecture. The baritonal register at times shifted the accompaniment into deep realms, and as the dark bass lines articulated the progressions, at times poised, then pacing forwards with composure, it was as if the pianist’s left hand was sketching the underlying structure while the figurations and melodic interjections and dialogue above coloured in the details of these vignettes of unrequited love.

Above this sure foundation, Finley was relaxed and eloquent in ‘Liebesbotschaft’ (Love’s message) and ‘Frühlings-Sehnsucht’ (Spring longing). He produced intensity within the quietness of the former, rising gently to convey the poet-speaker’s affectionate appeal to the brook to ‘Rausche sie murmelnd/ in süße Ruh’ (Murmur her into sweet repose). Finley was not afraid to delay and emphasise the anxious questions — ‘Wohin?’, ‘Warum?’ — which close each stanza of ‘Frühlings-Sehnsucht’, while Drake ensured that the ceaseless breeze swept up each hesitant pause into the subsequent verse. The minor tonality of the final verse and the singer’s more agitated, earnest tone communicated the poet-speaker’s growing unrest, and Finley’s closing avowal that ‘Nur Du!’ (only you!) could set free the yearning in his heart was earnest and dignified.

‘Ständchen’ (Serenade) was warm and hopeful, although the telling alternations of major and minor were an affecting reminder that the courting singer is denied the vision of his beloved he desires, and Finley’s concluding phrase, ‘Komm’, beglücke mich!’ (Come, make me happy!), suggested his fear that she may not even hear his song. Fear grew to anguish in ‘Aufenthalt’ (Resting place), Drake’s pounding triplet-quavers, with their chromatic harmonic twists, confirming the baritone’s assertion that his grief remains, ever-unchanging. The emphatic diminished chords which open ‘Kriegers Ahnunhg’ (Warrior’s foreboding) were similarly unsettling, and the separate verses of the ballad progressively intensified the soldier’s turmoil, from his dreamy recollections to turbulent intimations of the battle ahead. Finley soared smoothly in the more expansive, arcing lines of the ultimate stanza, and the open tone of his farewell, ‘Gute Nacht!’, resting on the dominant above the final cadence, captured the poignant irony of the tender address.

The highlight of the Rellstab sequence was ‘In der Ferne’ (Far away), Drake’s theatrical prelude and inter-verse commentaries bursting forth, then retreating, creating a sense of high drama. The baritone’s wonderful pianissimo at the bottom of the voice, at the close of the first verse, unnervingly evoked the fleeing fugitive, forsaking family and friends; a shift to the major key, and the firm rocking octaves in the piano left hand, suggested faith that the lover’s message would be carried by the wind home to his beloved, but Drake’s furious ending pitilessly shattered hope, the minor cadence a sustained, brutal cry of denial. The departure in ‘Abschied’ (Farewell) is less melancholic, and Finley brought a warm lyricism to the repeated valedictions, ‘Ade’, while using the minor inflections in the closing verse to convey regret.

The driving excitement of the opening of ‘Der Atlas’ — the first of the Heine settings, which followed the interval — signalled a new tension and economy of expression, the poet’s sparser lines inspiring Schubert, and the performers, to greater intensity. Finley’s power, control and range were much in evidence, in the bitter blast of sorrow that wounds the poet-speaker’s heart and in the hushed pain of his wretchedness. Similarly, while the restrained unison which commences ‘Ihr Bild’ (Her likeness) was bleak and mournful, there was a gentle release as the beloved’s smile was recollected, before Drake mercilessly drove home the poet-speaker’s realisation of loss in the postlude.

‘Das Fischermädchen’ provided some emotional steadiness, before ‘Die Stadt’ (The town) rang with tremulous intensity. Drake’s eerie octave oscillations and upper register interjections created a strange, hallucinatory air which lent a dark hue to the poet-speaker’s view of his home, an unease which burst forth in urgent despair, Finley moving from stark restraint to passionate despair as the sun rose to illuminate ‘jene Stelle,/ Wo ich das Liebste verlor’ (the place where I lost what I loved most). I was impressed not only by the performers’ alertness to Schubert’s pictorial details, but also by their sure sense of scale and structure in ‘Am Meer’ (By the sea), from the chorale-like piano melody which embraced the singer’s voice at start, suggesting the gleaming surface of the sea, to the brooding chords of the conclusion.

Adopting a deathly tempo for ‘Der Doppelgänger’ (The wraith), Drake’s Hadean, circling ground bass, and the repetitive returns of Finley’s declamatory melody possessed the sombre ring of mortality, the baritone imbuing anguish with beauty. The shift to the seemingly lighter-spirited ‘Die Taubenpost’ (Pigeon post) — the last song that Schubert composed — can be difficult to accomplish, but the drifting quality of the question which closes the preceding song, ineffably released some of the tension, while there was no lessening of the sensitivity to textural and harmonic nuance thereby making ‘Die Taubenpost’ a fitting conclusion to an ongoing narrative of yearning: ‘Sie heißt — die Sehnsucht!/ Kennt ihr sie?’ (her name is — Longing! Do you know her?)

Separating Schubert’s two poets was a new work by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, which sets Edward FitzGerald’s English translation of Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám. Rautavaara’s characteristic sound-worlds — by turns mystical, meditative, rhapsodic — are a fitting complement to Khayyám’s lyric quatrains which, rather than delineating a narrative, present the profound feelings and philosophical reflections of the poet on subjects such as religion, love and death.

Originally composed for baritone and orchestra, the composer has prepared a version for piano. He explains in a programme note that each song continues into the subsequent instrumental interlude, which prepares the song to follow (although the songs can be performed separately). In ‘Awake!’, Drake’s rippling harp-like cascades, intimating their orchestral origins, presented a rich Romantic vista of an emergent dawn. The baritone’s broad phrases soared powerfully, the sumptuous dark tone glowing, the text clearly articulated and inflected.

‘And Lately’ was preceded by a thoughtful stillness, the close middle-range lines gradually expanding, exploring harmonic shades and melodic pathways, the hands ever more distant. The Britten-esque vitality of the text setting in this song — Finley’s diction was superb throughout — brought energy and interest. ‘Here with a loaf of bread’ seemed less successful in terms of its rhythmic engagement with the text; and, this brought to attention a recurring ‘weakness’, namely the repetitive nature of the melodic development — perpetually roving stepwise motion, in uniform rhythmic values, which, despite Finley’s sensitivity and lovely sustained, even voice, failed to make a lasting impression. ‘We are no other than a moving row’ introduced more dynamic conflict, in the contrast between the voice’s meandering and the piano’s repeating notes, and the performers built passionately to the song’s climax before a subdued close, underpinned by wavering piano gestures.

The improvisatory piano interlude preceding ‘Oh, make haste!’ gave way to a grander, swinging rhythmic momentum in the opening stanza, reminiscent of the muscularity of some of Vaughan Williams’ songs, before the rippling runs of the opening returned, creating a fervent intensity for the work’s conclusion: ‘The Stars are setting and the Caravan/ Starts for the Dawn of Nothing — Oh, make haste!’

Rautavaara has said that he advises his composition students, “Don't ever try to force your music, because music is very wise and it has its own will. It knows where to go. You have to listen to it, to listen your material which you have chosen. Start with that and then the material will dictate where it wants to go. It's much wiser than you are. Don't push yourself, but try to find out what the music wants to become.” (Interview with Bruce Duffie, http://www.bruceduffie.com/rautavaara.html).

Certainly, this rhapsodic sequence had a roaming, sinuous quality, as if the melodies were searching for their form. Perhaps this is in keeping with the spirit of Khayyám’s philosophy for a rubáiyát is a collection of quatrains which may be re-arranged depending upon one’s interpretation of the poet’s meaning. The result is an appealing work — with diverse timbral and harmonic colours and a vocal melody which soars ardently — but one which is ultimately not very memorable. But, it was, as was this entire programme, performed with generous commitment by Finley and Drake.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Gerald Finley, bass-baritone; Julius Drake, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Saturday 31st May 2014.

Schubert: Schwanengesang; Einojuhani Rautavaara: Rubáiyát (world première).

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):