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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lucy Crowe [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt Limited]
06 Jul 2014

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Lucy Crowe [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt Limited]

 

Sibelius’ musical responses to the Finnish folk legend Kalevala are diverse in idiom and form, and they were pivotal in the development of the composer’s musical language and identity. Kullervo (a symphonic poem for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra) and the orchestral suite, Lemminkäinen (which includes the ever-popular The Swan of Tuonela are well-known, but few will be familiar with Luonnotar (1913), a tone poem for soprano and orchestra, which the Sibelius arranged for voice and piano in 1915. Luonnotar is the Spirit of Nature and Mother of the Seas and the text, from the first part of the Kalevala, tells of the creation of the world and the oceans.

Tilbrook’s quiet, rapid oscillations opened the work, creating an air of anticipation suggestive of a tense, poised moment before creation, as Luonnotar, the ‘maiden of the air’, floats alone in the ‘vast plains of the sky’. Crowe’s first entry lies low in the voice, but it was rich and strong, rising powerfully and with clarity, supported by simple, middle-register held chords; it was an ancient incantation, an expression of the goddess’s loneliness as she soars aloft. Luonnotar then descends into the fertile sea and — exploiting the open vowel sounds of the Finnish text, which she articulated convincingly — Crowe’s arcing, yearning lines were paradoxically both achingly beautifully and laden with anxiety as Luonnotar drifts in the turbulent waters, the latter evoked by Tilbrook’s sensitively graded rippling accompaniment.

Crowe mastered the fiendishly difficult, often very suddent, changes of register and, pronouncing the mythical spirit’s words of self-pity and fear, she whispered the eerily sighing vocal line with absolutely true intonation, the wide gap between the climbing soprano line and Tilbrook’s dark resonant bass intimating her alienation and despair. The hushed tremblings of the subsequent piano interlude were wonderfully controlled and veiled, before the re-entry of the voice initiated a sense of release: a bird appears, seeking the shores upon which to build its nest, and Crowe’s expansive line seemed suspended in the air as it built to the bird’s climactic other-worldly cries, ‘Ei! Ei!’ (No! No!), expressing the bird’s distress and exhaustion. Crowe’s breath control was incredibly impressive as she maintained a focused tone while grading the dynamic peaks and lows with sensitivity and skill.

After an astonishingly tumultuous piano commentary, the ensuing calm was deeply poignant: the Water Mother lifts her knee from the seas, upon which the bird can make its nest. Crowe’s variant of the lyrical phrases which had previously depicted Luonnotar’s regrets now assumed a more mysterious air, Tilbrook’s low fifths quietly but sonorously echoing far below. When the nest falls into the waters and the egg is broken into fragments, the essence of the sky and firmaments are released, and here the performers retreated almost to nothing, creating an ethereal tranquillity, Tilbrook’s ever-widening tessitura conjuring the limitless cosmos as Crowe’s final melody climbed with the crystalline exquisiteness of a star in the sky: a mystical close, but one whose sense of scarcely comprehensible vastness was also suggestive of the bleak horrors of the First World War.

Despite the enormous stamina demanded by Sibelius’s epic chronicle, Crowe had plenty in reserve for Berg’s Sieben Frühe Lieder which followed. Written in 1905-08, when the composer was still under the tutelage of Arnold Schönberg, the songs look back to the late Romantic musical worlds of Strauss, Mahler and Wolf, sideways to the compositional rigour of his teacher and at times — as in the whole-tone scales of the first song, ‘Nacht’ — to the harmonic palette of Debussy, and forwards to the expressive richness of Berg’s own later writing for the voice. ‘Die Nachtigall’ (The Nightingale, a setting of Theodor Storm) was powerfully direct, Crowe’s ecstatic exclamation, ‘Die Rosen aufgesprungen’ (The roses have sprung up) an outpouring of optimistic fervour.

‘Schilflied’ (Reed song) was wonderfully lyrica:,’ Crowe’s account of a lover’s journey along a secret forest path whose reedy borders symbolise the traveller’s inner emotions — passion and despair — was imbued with Romantic longing. The broad melodic gestures of ‘Traumgekrönt (Crowned with dreams) were confident and exuberant, while ‘Im Zimmer’ (In this room) demonstrated a more focused approach to the nuances of the text. The affecting harmonic nuances, and the voice’s semitonal fall, in the closing phrase of ‘Liebesode’ (Ode to love) wonderfully captured the indissoluble blend of Romantic joy and suffering. ‘Sommertage’ (Summer days) shone with gleaming brightness.

Throughout, Tilbrook was a communicative, thoughtful accompanist. The dark postlude to ‘Nacht’ was a portentous representation of the singer’s closing admonition, ‘O gib acht!’ (O take heed!), as the stars shine in the silent night above the gloom of the deep valley. In ‘Die Nachtigall’, the gentle, staccato syncopations in the central section of the song injection a subtle tension which propelled the music forward. Overall, a spirit of elation tinged with wistfulness was perfectly sustained throughout the sequence.

European Romanticism was superseded by the English folk tradition in the second half of the recital. First came four songs by Michael Head. The performers brought discerning drama to ‘Nocturne’, from the recitative-like opening, depicting the solitude of the moonlit scene, to the more urgent anguish of the abandoned lover’s recollections of love in the central verse. The much-loved ‘The ships of Arcady’ was serene, Crowe’s melody conveying the onlooker’s nostalgia for his vision of the passing ship, while ‘Beloved’ was a more impassioned representation of music’s erotic power.

Traditional folk songs, arranged variously by Britten and Phyllis Tate, highlighted the sweet purity of Crowe’s soprano, but also the intelligent way that she uses the voice to communicate an expressive narrative — the unaccompanied Irish ballad, ‘She moved thro’ the fair’, was particularly engaging. United by their repeated searches for lost love amid a natural world whose birds, flowers and fauna simultaneously embody, salve and agitate the singer’s emotions, these songs revisited — though in less anguished form — the Romantic vistas of the first half of the evening. In particular, the simple canon of ‘The ash grove’ was almost Schubertian, and while Crowe’s beautiful melody in ‘The Salley Gardens’ evoked a simpler mood, depth was added by Tilbrook’s attentiveness to the harmonic complexities of the accompaniment; the final lines, ‘But I was young and foolish/ And now am full of tears’ were discreetly moving. Much technical skill and vocal control is required to make these songs so effortlessly appealing and enthralling.

Walton’s virtuosic song-cycle A song for the Lord Mayor’s Table brought the concert to a rousing and impressive conclusion. Commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths for the Festival of the City of London in 1962, the songs encapsulate the striking, absorbing juxtapositions of London life, presenting resounding church bells and street cries. Crowe sang with commanding vitality, injecting energy into the vocal lines, the tone lustrous and the intonation well-centred. The entrancing melody of ‘Glide Gently’, a setting of Wordsworth, was utterly beguiling and the concluding song, ‘Gay go up and gay go down’ (Text: anon.) particularly lovely.

There was much to admire and enjoy in this recital. However, the opening four songs by Schubert were disappointing; Crowe did not seem comfortable with the idiom and her tone was somewhat withdrawn. While Tilbrook’s introduction to ‘Der Fluss’ (The river) was eloquent and the accompaniment full of diverse colours, Crowe’s melody was rather unobtrusive; ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ (To be sung on the water) was similarly unfocused, although there were some judicious expressive rubatos. ‘Am den Mond’ (To the moon) found the soprano in brighter voice, and in ‘Nacht und Träume’ (Night and dreams) Crowe’s characteristic elegant lyricism was evident in the delicately articulated opening phrase, ‘Heil’ge Nacht, du sinkest nieder’ (Holy night, you float down). Sadly, in general in these lieder consonants were barely audible and vowels inaccurately shaped. Thankfully, Crowe quickly got into her stride, and we enjoyed an unusually diverse programme, communicated with directness and passion, concluding with a relaxed encore, ‘Summertime’.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Lucy Crowe, soprano; Anna Tilbrook, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday, 3rd July 2014.

Schubert, ‘Der Fluss’, ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’, ‘An den Mond’, ‘Nacht und Träume’; Sibelius, Luonnotar; Berg, Sieben frühe Lieder; Head, ‘Nocturne’, ‘On the wings of the wind’, ‘The ships of Arcady’, ‘Beloved’; Folksongs from the British Isles: ‘The Ash Grove’ (arr. Britten), ‘The Salley Gardens’ (arr. Britten), ‘The lark in the clear air’ (arr. Tate), ‘She moved thro’ the fair’ (Trad/ Irish), ‘She’s like the swallow’ (arr. Britten); Walton, A Song for the Lord Mayor’s table.

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):