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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

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):