Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

A life-affirming Vixen at the Royal Academy of Music

‘It will be a dream, a fairy tale that will warm your heart’: so promised a preview article in Moravské noviny designed to whet the appetite of the Brno public before the first performance of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the town’s Na hradbách Theatre on 6th November 1924.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Marie-Nicole Lemieux [Photo by Manuel Cohen]
02 Mar 2015

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Marie-Nicole Lemieux [Photo by Manuel Cohen]

 

This recital of French mélodies with accompanist Roger Vignoles — which comprised some material from this recording alongside other Gallic chansons — was certainly sensuous and heady, but the soft languor of Fauré, Lekeu and Hahn was balanced by the wit of Charles Koechlin and the poignancy of Duparc.

006057.jpg

The gratifying lyricism of Fauré’s Cinq melodies ‘de Venise’ made an engaging opening, and allowed Lemieux to demonstrate her secure technique, the extraordinary range of her tonal palette and the wide compass of her voice, which she can extend down to a full contralto and up to blooming mezzo heights, passing through the registers smoothly and evenly. A native of Québec, Lemieux’s diction was, unsurprisingly, idiomatic. But, Fauré’s settings often prioritise the musical line above the prosody, resulting in occasional misplaced accents and emphasis, and Lemieux was skilful in highlighting textual details and drawing the listener into the song.

Thus, in ‘Mandoline’ the curving melisma with which the composer characterises the serenaders’ ‘tender’ songs was beautifully shaped. And, describing the fair listeners with ‘Leurs longue robes à queues,/ Leur élégance, leur joie/ Et leurs molles ombres bleues’ (their long trailing gowns, their elegance, their joy, and their soft blue shadows), the contralto adopted a breathy conspiratorial tone which contrasted with the bright playfulness of the opening portrait of the lovers exchanging ‘sweet nothings’. This teasing mood had been established by Roger Vignoles’ chirpy, staccato introductory bars and Vignoles’ accompaniments were supportive and attentive throughout, adding splashes of colour and interest — such as the running semi-quavers which ‘shiver’ like the breeze in ‘Mandoline’.

‘En sourdine’ (Muted) was more dreamy, Vignoles’ wave-like arpeggios and Lemieux’s dark tone conjuring the hazy headiness of the calm twilight. Lemieux’s superb control of dynamic extremes was demonstrated at the end of the song, her voice ringing passionately yet forebodingly as evening fell, but fading into sweet softness for the closing consolation, ‘Le rossignol chantera’ (the nightingale will sing). There were flashes of vocal power in ‘Green’, too, judiciously enriching the musical line, and particularly impressive was the way Vignoles used the semi-quaver movement in the inner voices both to colour the piano’s repeating quavers and engage with the voice.

A similar sense of unity was achieved at the opening of ‘C’est l’extase’ (It is rapture), the piano’s rising motif sparkling deliciously to conclude the singer’s slow opening line, ‘C’est l’extase langoureuse’ (It is languorous rapture). In this song, Lemieux moved fluently from high to low and back again, the voice even and lovely across the registers. The highlight of the Fauré songs was ‘A Clymène’: the lucid gentility of the opening captured the mesmerising mystery of Verlaine’s poetry, the moments of power evoked the intoxicating richness of the beloved’s ‘rare scent’, while the floating beauty of the final line, ‘Ainsi soit-il!’, supported by Vignoles quiet, upwards-sweeping triplets, confirmed the lover’s submission to his desire.

Guillaume Lekeu’s settings of his own texts, ‘Trois Poèmes’, reveal the influence of the composer’s worshipful admiration for his teacher, César Franck. The sobriety of ‘Sur une tombe’ (On a tomb) was established by the quiet melancholy of the piano’s opening phrase and the gravity was sustained by the composure and precision — rhythmic, dynamic — of the expressive vocal line. The clouds and shadows were lifted by the clear textures of Vignoles’ insouciant introduction to ‘Ronde’ (The dance), and in this song Lemieux demonstrated the easy flexibility of her voice, most especially in the declamatory second stanza with its temporal ebbs, flows and elongations which mimic ‘Les murmures d’amour de ce beau soir d’été’ (love murmuring on this beautiful summer evening). At times she employed a full vibrato to intensify a note or phrase, most effectively in the final stanza, the voice shimmering glossily through the translucent moonlight painted by Vignoles high, crystalline line. In ‘Nocturne’ Lemieux’s vocal line unfolded sweetly and mellifluously above the piano’s busy accompaniment.

The suspended, rocking chords which open ‘Offrande’ (Offering) by Reynaldo Hahn transported us to a world far removed from Fauré’s ‘Green’, which sets the same Verlaine text — and reminded us of the predilection for the exotic and oriental in late-nineteenth-century France. Lemieux’s melody was wonderfully focused and well-shaped, particularly in the final stanza, ‘Sur votre jeune sein laissez rouler ma tête’ (On your young breast let me cradle my head); and the delicacy of Vignoles’ placing of the oscillating chords, and of the low bass G which finally intimates resolution, was incredibly moving. ‘L’heure exquise’ (Exquisite hour) sparkled tremulously, with Lemieux once again injecting a dash of the moon’s precious gleam. ‘Fêtes galantes’ offered another opportunity to compare Hahn’s approach to text setting with that of Fauré in ‘Mandoline’. Here, the piano’s rippling chords and high right-hand circling motif created a sense of the serenaders’ festive excitement, and this was enhanced by Lemieux’s elegant execution of the extravagant, ornamented leaps which depict the listeners’ luxurious attire.

The tranquillity of the opening of ‘D’une prison’ (From a prison) — written by Verlaine when he was imprisoned in Brussels after his attack on his lover Arthur Rimbaud in 1873 — created deep pathos, Vignoles’ dark bass line and superb pedalling creating momentum and direction. The poet-speaker’s rhetorical cry ,‘Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, la vie est là’ (My God, my God, life is there), was penetrating but still restrained and controlled, falling to a low monotonal murmur reflecting the peace of the world outside the prison walls. The piano’s eloquent rising flourish initiated the self-reflections and recriminations of the final verse. This was indeed a probing and insightful interpretation by the performers.

If we returned after the interval expecting more of the same — one danger of such a programme might be a lack of variety — five songs by Charles Koechlin quickly rectified any potential misconception. In ‘Menuet’ Vignoles’ understated pastiche dance seemed indifferent to the singer’s lamentations, until the final verse when Lemieux joined with the piano to dramatically exclaim her distress, ‘Ah! Comme vous broyez les coeurs’ (Ah! How you break hearts). The piano’s quiet ripples at the start of ‘Si tu le veux’ (If you so desire) created a propelling animation. And, Lemieux balanced tenderness and passion, conveying both the purity and sensuality of the poet-speaker’s desire, most seductively in the port de voix — a sweeping octave fall — which joins the image of the beloved, dishevelled by the wind, to the final line: ‘Si tu le veux, ô mon amour.’

Three songs from Sept Rondels Op.8 completed the Koechlin sequence. ‘La pêche’ (Fishing) moved persuasively between lightly articulated episodes, conveying the fisherman’s joy in his work, and surprisingly statuesque passages, with deliberately placed accents, which conjured both broad vistas and the abundant weight of the fisherman’s catch. The asymmetries of ‘La lune’ perfectly embodied the capriciousness of the moon with her frivolous ways. The piano’s trembling glissandi blew like a cold, dry gust of wintery air through ‘L’Hiver’, the monotone recitation and bare fifths in the left hand conveying the unalleviated uniformity of the snow-covered Bois de Boulogne.

It was a delight to hear these seldom performed songs by Hahn, Lekeu and Koechlin, but there was familiar fare on offer too, and Debussy’s Fêtes galantes Book II followed. Lemieux made much of the text in ‘Les ingénus’, her low voice silky and enticing. The gradual deceleration was well controlled and the fading of the evening light in the third stanza was enigmatic and magical; Vignoles’ delicate grace notes and ebbing augmented triads lent an air of strangeness to the final image of the lovers whose startled souls tremble eternally at the remembrance of the pretty girls’ dreamy ‘fair-seeming words’. In ‘La faun’ Lemieux unleashed all the smoky mystery of her full contralto colour while Vignoles’ distant low fifths, oscillating rhythmically, conjured the mercurial faun’s laughter and twirling dance. ‘Colloque sentimental’ (Lovers’ dialogue) was profoundly moving and the performers assailed the interpretive challenges superbly. Lemieux’s melody was emotive and expressive above the sparse accompaniment, yet details were never exaggerated and the tone was even and controlled. Her breath-control and phrasing were excellent, the syllabic setting never interfering with the flow of the vocal line. Even at the bottom of her range, the singer’s voice spoke clearly and truly, and the three ‘voices’ in the text were clearly distinguished.

Four songs by Henri Duparc concluded the recital. In ‘Invitation au voyage’ there was a captivating, sudden change at the moment when the lover imagines the destined place, ‘Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,/ Luxe, calme et volupté’ (There — nothing but order and beauty dwell, abundance, calm and delight), as the piano’s rapid semiquavers gave way to quiet, expansive chords, shimmering like a mirage, the simplicity of the vocal line evoking wonder and hope. The syncopated fluidity of the piano’s right hand line in ‘Sérénade florentine’ suggested the inscrutability of the night sky, giving way to increasing definition in the closing passages as the star assumes metaphoric presence, alighting on the sleeping beloved like a kiss, a white treasure which embodies their love. ‘Phidylé’ pulsed with controlled passion, the slow steady crotchets of the accompaniment evolving into triplets, then semiquavers, ever more invigorated as the performers created a compelling urgency. Most spell-binding of all was ‘La vie antérieure’ (A previous life). Lemieux’s tone was truly stunning in the solemn opening stanza, as Baudelaire’s poet-speaker describes his former life beneath vast colonnades that look in the evening light, like ‘grottes basaltiques’ (basalt caves). The poetic images were wonderfully captured in sound: hypnotic swaying cross-rhythms, driving forward, revealed ‘Les houles, en roulant les images de cieux’ (The sea-swells, mingling with the mirrored skies); grandiose and impassioned pounding quavers depicted ‘des esclave nus, tout imprégnés d’odeurs’ (naked slaves all drenched in perfume).

Reading these Parnassian poets, one might be tempted to concur with Fauré’s view that ‘their form, so elegant, pretty, and sonorous, resides entirely in the word — and because the word does not hide a single true thought … [the] verse is too full, too rich, too complete for music to be effectively adapted to it’. But, Lemieux and Vignoles made these settings endlessly fascinating and absorbing.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Gabriel Fauré — Cinq mélodies ‘de Venise’ Op. 58; Guillaume Lekeu —Trois Poèmes; Reynaldo Hahn —‘Offrande’, ‘D'une prison’, ‘L'Heure Exquise’, ‘Fêtes galantes’; Charles Koechlin — ‘Menuet’ and ‘Si tu le veux’ (from 5 mélodies Op.5), ‘La pêche’, ‘La lune’, ‘L’hiver’ (from 7 rondels Op. 8); Claude Debussy — Fêtes galantes Book II; Henri Duparc — ‘L'invitation au voyage’, ‘La vie antérieure ‘, ‘Sérénade florentine’, Phidylé

Marie-Nicole Lemieux contralto, Roger Vignoles piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Friday, 27 February 2015.

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):