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

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).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sophie Karthäuser [Photo © Alvaro Yanez]
02 Jul 2014

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sophie Karthäuser [Photo © Alvaro Yanez]

 

All these qualities were much in evidence in this diverse programme of songs by Mozart, Clara and Richard Schumann and Poulenc, in which Karthäuser was sympathetically accompanied by pianist Eugene Asti.

Classical poise and grace were the order of the day in the opening four songs by Mozart. However, Karthäuser did not fail to bring considerable dramatic energy to the small forms. In ‘Das Veilchen’ (The violet) the folk-like vivacity was superseded by darker shadows in the minor key central stanza — in which the violet, ripe for picking by the shepherdess, laments the transience of its beauty — the veiled pianissimo unison between voice and piano characteristic of the sensitive communication between the performers throughout the recital. A rasping ‘Ach’, as the unheeding shepherdess draw near, brought a note of humour and realism to Goethe’s Romantic imagery.

The languorous falling 6th which commences ‘An die Einsamkeit’ (Be my consolation) was expressively shaped, and the strophic melody delicately phrased; this song also offered a glimpse of the soprano’s impressively focused and plush lower register. In the more expansive and rhetorical ‘Abendempfindung’ (Evening thoughts), the performers switched readily between lyrical and dramatic moods. Asti’s piano postlude was particularly expressive, reflecting the sentimentality of Joachim Heinrich Campe’s text. In contrast, ‘Der Zauberer’ (The magician) sparkled from Asti’s initiating upwards sweeps, through the melodic chromatic twists, to the piano’s final impetuous, spiralling demisemiquaver descent. Karthäuser and Asti made a persuasive case for this neglected region of Mozart’s oeuvre.

The tempestuous opening of Clara Schumann’s ‘Er ist gekommen’ (He came in storm and rain) marked a striking shift to a world of Romantic turbulence, and Karthäuser took pains to inject an urgent thrill into her powerful soprano as the poet-speaker sings of her fervent communion with her beloved. Asti’s airy postlude perfectly captured both the mood of quiet resignation and the image of the fading figure of the lover as he journeys onwards.

Richard and Clara Schumann collaborated on settings of texts by Rückert in 1840 and Richard wrote to his publisher, Friedrich Kistner: ‘My wife has composed some very interesting songs, which have inspired me to compose a few more from Rückert’s Liebesfrühling. Together they should form a very nice whole, which we should like to publish in one book.’ These songs (Clara’s Op.12 and Richard’s Op.37) are deeply expressive of their love. Karthäuser does not have a naturally velvety tone, but in ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ (If you love for beauty) she controlled the lyrical lines with assurance and expressivity. The transparency and delicacy of ‘Die gute nacht’ (The good night) closed the sequence with poetic intimacy, but the best of the Clara Schumann songs was ‘Warum willst du and’re fragen’ (Why enquire of others), the piano introduction establishing a flowing momentum and Karthäuser showing meticulous care as she responded to the text. After the radiance of the rising, exclamatory assertion, ‘Sondern sieh die Augen an!’ (look at these eyes!), the third stanza began with a beautifully hushed whisper, ‘Schweigt die Lippe deinen Fragen’ (Are my lips silent to your questions), growing in intensity and with well-judged ritardando, ‘Oder zeugt sie gegen mich?’ (or do they testify against me?). This was singing of deep insight.

Richard Schumann’s Frauenliebe und —leben Op.42 (A Woman’s Love and Life) concluded the first half and again Karthäuser’s wide-ranging tessitura and rounded lower register enhanced the tenderness and elation of these songs. ‘Er, der Herrlichste von allen’ (He the most wonderful of all) was expansive, conveying a deep Romantic ardour, Asti’s repeating quavers quivering like a beating heart, and the well-crafted bass line providing a sure foundation for the voice’s outbursts of passion, while the dotted rhythms of the rising counter-melodies in the right hand engaged effectively with the voice. The changes of tempi and subtle rubatos of ‘Ich kann’s nicht fassen’ (I cannot grasp it). in which the woman exclaims her disbelief at having been chosen by her beloved. were skilfully handled; and the piano’s staccato chords help to generate excitement and restlessness, which were ultimately subdued by the closing major tonality cadence.

The low register of ‘Du Ring an meinem Finger’ (You ring on my finger) suggested the woman’s confidence and security, and the soprano unleashed her powerful instrument in avowing, ‘Ich will ihm dienen, ihm leben, ihm angehören ganz’ (I shall serve him, live for him, belong to him wholly). A brighter vocal tone conveyed the exuberance and joy of the wedding preparations enacted in ‘Helf mir, ihr Schwestern’ (Help me, O sisters), while the performers shaped ‘Süsser Freund’ (Sweet friend) with dexterity, driving towards the moment when she tells her new husband of her dream that one day she will awaken and find his visage gazing up at her. The lullaby ,‘An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust’ (On my heart, at my Breast), was perhaps less successful, Karthäuser’s voice less focused and the oscillating piano motif lacking absolute clarity; but, the sudden sweeping away of happiness in ‘Nun has du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’ (Now you have caused my first pain) was affecting, as both voice and piano steadily plummeted, as she bows over her now-dead husband, Asti’s eloquent postlude encapsulating the tragedy of this brief lyric.

After the interval, Karthäuser and Asti presented a comprehensive selection of songs by Poulenc representing the full spectrum of the composer’s eclectic idioms and diverse forms — from flippancy to serenity, declamation to lyricism. However, the nine settings of the symbolist poet, Paul Éluard, which ‘Tel jour tell nuit’ (Such a day, such a night) are remarkably consistent in their mood of calm mystery, and from the opening song, ‘Bonne journée’ (A good day), Karthäuser’s appreciation of the relationship between the flowing contours of Poulenc’s idiosyncratic melodies and the harmonic twists and nuances which underscore the text setting was vividly apparent. Both this song and the subsequent ‘Une ruine coquille vide’ (A ruin empty shell) conveyed the elusiveness of Éluard’s imagery through the soprano’s limpid tone and the tranquillity of the accompaniment. The rippling accompaniment of ‘Le front comme un drapeau perdu’ (My forehead like a surrended flag) shattered the composure and built into a whirling agitation, and the brief song, ‘Une roulotte couverte entuiles’ (A tiled gypsy wagon) added to the unsettled mood, for Karthäuser’s low voice was focused but restrained, and the ending — ‘Ce melodrama nous arrache/ La raison du coeur’ (this melodrama rips from us the hearts’ sanity) — disturbingly abrupt.

‘A toutes brides’ (Riding full tilt) was full of brightness and spirit; the striking clarity of line in ‘Une herbe pauvre’ (A meagre blade of grass), and the placid high piano chords were reminiscent of the controlled aloofness of Satie. A brisk, intense account of ‘Je n'ai envie que de t'aimer’ (I long only to love you) was followed by ‘Figure de force brûlante et farouche’ (Image of force fiery and wild) which retreated from its initial passionate imagery of black hair tinted with gold and engulfed tainted stars, restoring the predominant serenity. In the closing lines — ‘Intraitable démesurée/ Inutie/ Cette santé bâtit une prison (obstinate immoderate/ useless/ this health build a prison) Karthäuser’s soprano assumed a cold steeliness, capturing the stiltedness of the text. She adroitly shaped the gradually intensifying melodies of the concluding ‘Nous avons fait la nuit (We have created night), rising to an ecstatic passion which was prolonged in Asti’s moving postlude.

The first of three mélodies to texts by Apollinaire, ‘Voyage à Paris’ — one of Poulenc’s more glib frivolities — was exuberant. In contrast ‘Montparnasse’ was introspective, conveying the self-reflective doubt of the poetry; Karthäuser’s elegant melodies possessed a nonchalant stillness, the falling vocal glissando at the close spilling into a dark, exploratory postlude suggestive of the beloved’s balloon-like eyes which float away haphazardly in the air. Completing this trio of songs conjuring images of Paris, the closing bars of the dreamy ‘Hôtel’ delicately evaporated like the speaker’s cigarette smoke, ‘Je ne veux pas travailler je veux fumer’ (I do not want to work I want to smoke).

The seven songs which form ‘La courte paille’ (The short straw), settings of Maurice Carême), were more whimsical and mischievous. The gentle lullaby-rocking of ‘Sommeil’ (Sleep) swelled in intensity as Karthäuser dramatically painted the dream landscape. ‘Quelle Aventure!’ (What goings-on!) and ‘La Reine de coeur’ are fairy-tale absurdities, the first depicting a flea in a carriage pulling along an elephant who is absentmindedly sucking up a pot of jam, and the second presenting a Queen who waves an almond blossom. Asti and Karthäuser were alert to the humorous chromaticisms and dissonances which add musical piquancy to the nonsensical texts; and the understated lyricism of the soprano’s undulating, asymmetrical melody in ‘La Reine’ were beautiful.

The juxtapositions of mood were clearly defined (often the performers made a significant pause between the songs). After the playful diversions of the sequence, the slow final song, ‘Lune d'Avril’ (April moon), re-established a subdued stillness; in the descending vocal melody of the final lines Karthäuser wonderfully captured the dreaminess of the imagery — ‘soleilleux de primevères, /On a brisé tous les fusils …’ (sumlit with primoses/ all the guns have been destroyed) — concluding with the repeated chant, ‘Belle lune, lune d’avril, Lune’.

In ‘A sa guitare’ (To his guitar), Asti’s trembling textures and overtones mimicked the poet-speaker’s beloved instrument, beneath a beautiful placid vocal line. ‘Les chemins de l’amour’ (The paths of love) journeyed into twilight worlds, an elusive pianissimo conjuring ‘the paths of memory’. Here, the smooth, stepwise vocal line, ornamented with expressive leaps, conversed with the piano’s entwining countermelodies and was supported by a steadily moving piano bass, wonderfully displaying the simple profundity of the composer’s means and message. Karthäuser and Asti left us no doubt of their appreciation of Poulenc’s expressive nuances, and lured us into his imaginative world.

Claire Seymour


Programme and performers:

Mozart: ‘Das Veilchen’, ‘An die Einsamkeit’, ‘Der Zauberer’, ‘Abendempfindung’; Clara Schumann: Four Lieder to texts by Rückert; Robert Schumann: Frauenliebe und —leben; Poulenc: Tel jour, telle nuit, ‘Voyage à Paris’, ‘Montparnasse’, ‘Hôtel’, La courte paille, ‘A sa guitare’ ‘Les chemins de l’amour’.

Sophie Karthäuser, soprano; Eugene Asti, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 30th June 2014.

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):