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

40 minutes with Barbara Hannigan...in rehearsal

One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the ‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber music to orchestral rehearsals.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

James Gilchrist
18 Jul 2014

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: James Gilchrist

 

Indeed, it was Beethoven’s six songs (To the Distant Beloved) — settings of texts by the minor poet, Alois Jeitteles (1794-1858) which are united by the idea or motif of love filtered through images of the idealised pastoral — which were most imaginative and impressive, as Gilchrist and his accompanist Anna Tilbrook swept seamlessly through the sequence, conveying the impetuousness and naivety of the enamoured young poet-speaker and the all-encompassing nature of his obsession with his beloved.

In the opening song, Gilchrist’s light tone was just right for the young man’s nostalgic recollections of the distant meadows where he first met his loved one as well as the wistful sadness of their subsequent separation. The introspective yearning of the second song, in which the poet longs to be at his lover’s side was beautifully evoked. Tilbrook crafted a lovely melodic line in the second stanza, as the voice repeated a single note over several bars, perfectly embodying the sentiments of the text which paints an image of stillness and the quiet observation of nature: ‘Still die Primmel dort sinnt, /Weht so leise der Wind/ Möchte ich sein!’ (the primrose meditates in silence, and the wind blows so softly — there would I be!).

‘Leichter Segler in den Höhen’ (Light clouds sailing on high) was light of tread but had a rhythmic persuasiveness, and the move to the minor for the final stanzas was tellingly pointed; indeed, throughout the recital Tilbrook shaped the harmonic pathways with discernment. In this Beethoven sequence the varied, developing accompaniments were fresh and compelling, and transitions between songs fluently executed, with some well-judged pauses, relaxations and surges of tempo.

After the simplicity of the first five strophic forms, Gilchrist employed the through-composed structure of the final song to shape a convincing conclusion. In the slow opening line, ‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese lieder’ (Accept, then, these songs) the legato was disarming, and he made effective use of a hushed head voice as the sun’s rays faded ‘Hinter jener Bergeshöh’ (behind those mountain heights).

The smooth grace of Gilchrist’s tenor and his unmannered attentiveness to musical and verbal nuances seemed especially well-suited to these Beethoven song. Tilbrook, too, demonstrated a dexterous technique and thoughtful touch, creating fleeting textures to capture the ‘pure’ sounds of the romantic landscape.

Scubert’s Rellstab settings which opened the concert, though they share Beethoven’s theme of love for a distant beloved, were less settled and focused; despite Gilchrist’s close observance of detail and his mellifluous delivery, he didn’t quite capture the darker side of the spirit of ‘Sehnsucht’ which is innate to these songs. The most successful of the set were the final two, ‘In der Ferne’ (Far away) and ‘Abschied’ (Farewell), in which the colours and tempo perfectly matched the poetic sentiment.

There were some engaging individual readings too: ‘Kreigers Ahnung’ (Warrior’s foreboding) was slow and ominous of tempo, and Tilbrook created a sense of resounding expanse in the incisive rhythms and broad phrases. Gilchrist was unfailingly alert to the individual words and to the poem’s rapid fluctuations of mood, although occasionally such attentiveness resulted in a loss of naturalness: the line ‘Von Sehnsucht mir so heiß’ (so afire with longing) was deliberately heightened, not without effect, but its repetition was troubled by a wavering vibrato which weakened the melodic form — a problem that was not reserved for this song.

In ‘Ständchen’ (Serenade), Gilchrist displayed a soft gentleness ideal for embodying the nocturnal song and moonlit rustlings and whispers. And, in ‘Frühlings-Sehnsucht’ (Spring longing) he used vocal colour to create a searching air; the queries which end each stanza — ‘Wohin?’, ‘Warum?’, ‘Und Du?’ — were tentatively posed, rather than rhetorical, creating a touching vulnerability and pathos.

The Heine settings had more intensity and drama, not surprisingly as the poetry leaves behind Rellstab’s sighing breezes and rippling streams and enters bleaker realms of suffering and isolation. ‘Atlas’ was powerfully rhetorical, with Tilbrook’s accompaniment fittingly heavy and laboured, but Gilchrist still did not quite convince as one wholly wretched, who has the weight of the world, and its suffering, upon his shoulders. While ‘Ihr Bild’ (Her likeness) was beautifully restrained, ‘Das Fischermädchen’ (The fishermaiden) had a bright energy and warm optimism.

The performers shaped the emotional climax of ‘Die Stadt’ (The town) with skill. The cool distance of the opening, as the turrets of the town loom mistily on the remote horizon, built to a pained intensity in the final line, ‘Wo ich das Liebste verlor’ (where I lost what I loved most) as the sun-drenched vision of the poet-speaker’s painful memory gleamed forth. An adventurously wide dynamic range was employed to suggest the insidious presence and danger of the wraith which haunts the poet-speaker in the final song of the Heine sequence, ‘Der Doppelgänger’; and, once more, Gilchrist and Tilbrook graded the escalation of the speaker’s despair, the riskily slow tempo of the first stanza surging in the last, as the tone grew ever more fierce and piercing.

Throughout the programme, Gilchrist displayed an attractive, relaxed middle register, some interesting colours at the bottom and a dreamy head voice; but in the Schubert songs when the dynamic rose in the upper range the voice seemed somewhat tense. Tilbrook was alert to the word- and mood-painting in Schubert’s accompaniments but sometimes the pictorial gestures were a little too deliberate, as in ‘Liebesbotschaft’ (Love’s message) where the brook bubbled rather than murmured; and her use of rubato was at times overly conspicuous.

Unfailingly pleasing, this recital was meticulous in preparation and execution; perhaps too much so, in that Gilchrist never seemed to ‘inhabit’ the songs, rather to deliver them albeit with intelligence and skill; it all sounded rather too ‘nice’. But, that is scarcely a criticism — and perhaps a personal taste. For, while Gilchrist may not quite have the range of tones and shades to plummet the Romantic essence of these songs, he and Tilbrook demonstrated appreciable insight and care for the music.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

James Gilchrist, tenor; Anna Tilbrook, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 17th July 2014.

Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang D957; Ludwig van Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte Op.98

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):