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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

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 Symphony Orchestra

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.

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):