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

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
05 Jul 2015

Late Schumann in context — Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels.

Robert Schumann, Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, Wigmore Hall, London 2nd July 2015

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]

 

Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Goerne and Pressler walked onto the Wigmore Hall platform arm in arm, because Pressler, at 91 years of age, needs a bit of support to walk. But there was no mistaking the warmth of their relationship. Although they’d planned to end their recital with Schumann Dichterliebe op 48, they made a last-minute decision to place it first, for reasons that became clear later.

Dichterliebe was Schumann’s gift of love to Clara, celebrating their marriage after years of opposition, which included civil litigation against her father. Hardly a “normal” courtship. It’s hardly surprising that music poured out of Schumann in a torrent of excited ecstasy. This Dichterliebe was decidedly individual. The pace was brisk, the songs flowing into each other, highlighting the sudden, extreme swings of mood from one song to another almost colliding. Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube felt almost manic. Goerne’s voice is flexible enough that the words tumbled out effortlessly even though the pace suggested tongue twister: “Die kleine, die Feine, die Reine die Eine”. On paper, Heine;’s poems are impressive, but Schumann’s settings add a filter which is highly individual, and not comfortable. They are big “R” Romantic, rather than coy, little “r” romantic. There’s a huge difference.

Pressler.pngMenahem Pressler

Goerne’s Ich grolle nicht chilled the heart. “I bear no grudge” the text insists, but Goerne’s growl in the word “grolle” grates with menace. The “s” and “z” sound in the phrase “und sahe die Schlang’, die dir am Herzen frißt.” bit with venom. It’s ironic that so many of the songs in this garland of love deal with grief and loss, the “dream” songs the most unsettling of all, with their intuitive grasp of subconscious forces. Pressler’s approach was unorthodox, but psychologically astute. Most Lieder fans have heard so many Dichterliebes in the past that this very singular interpretation was much more interesting than something safe or standard.

Picking up on the theme of dreams in Dichterliebe Pressler then played Schumann’s Variations on a theme in E flat WoO 24, the Geister Variations” (1854) Written a week before Schumannn tried to drown himself in the Rhine, the variations are based on a theme he had dreamed about, telling Clara that he’d heard it sung by angels, and telling a friend that it had been sent to him by Schubert. One thinks of the half-forgotten dream in Allnächtlich im Traume in Dichterliebe, with its phrase “....und’s Wort hab’ich vergessen”. The sombre hymn-like mood reflects that of Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome from Dichterliebe. Heine’s text links the image of the Virgin Mary with the idea of the poet’s lover. But Schumann’s setting is inexplicably dark and ponderous, describing the waves of the river as ominous forces. In the context of what was happening to Schumann when he wrote the Variations, the hypnotic pull of the waves in the song is chilling.

This theme of delusional grandeur also puts Schumann’s op 89 (1850), settings of poems by Wilfried von der Neun, “Wilfred of The Nine”, meaning the nine muses, no less. This was the glorified pseudonym, allegedly adopted in his early youth by Friedrich Wilhelm Traugott Schöpff (1826-1916) who made a living as a pastor in rural Saxony. The poems are pretty banal, far lower than the standards Schumann would have revered in his prime. However, bad poetry is no bar, per se, to music. As Eric Sams wrote “the inward and elated moods of the previous year mingle blur together in the new chromatic style in the absence of diatonic contrasts and tensions a new principle is needed. Schumann accordingly invents and applies the principle of thematic change....It is as if he had acquired a new cunning and his mind had lost an old one.”

Sams is the source to go for studying these songs, since he analyses them carefully, drawing connections in particular to Am leuchetenden Sommermorgen and Hör’ ich ein Liedchen klingen in Dichterliebe. Sams said “Schumann’s memory is playing him tricks”. By pairing these songs with the Geister Variations, Goerne and Pressler are making a powerful case for coming to terms with Schumann’s later work. Texts like Es stürmet am Abendhimmel lend themselves to dramatic treatment but it would be wrong to suggest that they should be performed as faux Wagner. Schumann knew very well who Wagner was, but he had his own ideas about musical drama. which we need to respect if we are to fully appreciate his place in music history. Goerne and Pressler know their Schumann well enough to let us hear Schumann as Schumann, without distortion or special pleading. These may not be Schumann’s finest moments, but they’re still authentic and personal. Because this performance was so good, and so sensitive to Schumann’s inner world, we could understand something, perhaps of what Schumann might have been going through in his long last illness. In Ins Freie, the poet cries out “Mir ist’s so eng allüberall!” He imagines he can escape “aus düstrer Mauern bangem Ring “ through songs. But the song ends with the same frustrated cry, which Goerne sang with heartfelt anguish, not play-acting histrionics, but sincere identification with the frustration Schumann might have felt as his mind closed in on him.

Schumann’s Poems of Nikolaus Lenau op 90 (1850) were written in August 1850, barely three months after the von der Neun set, but are altogether more accomplished, since the poetry of Lenau (1802- August 22nd 1850) was on a level to bring out the best in a composer extraordinarily responsive to good literature. The poems Schumann set were published in 1838, so Schumann would have known him as a contemporary and heard of the psychotic attack Lenau suffered in 1844, which led to his being incarcerated in an asylum for the rest of his short life. Promise, cut down too soon: rather uncomfortably close to Schumann’s own situation.

Die Sennin is beautifully lyrical,with lilting harmonies that evoke warm breezes and the freedom of nature. One can almost imagine cow bells. The girl sings so beautifully that even the Felsenseelen (the souls of mountain rocks) echo her song. One day she’ll be gone but her songs live on in the memory of the crags. In Eisamkeit, silence hangs over a forest, Herz (the poet’s) is alone. Pressler plays the circular forms in the piano so they cradle Goerne’s tenderly. “Deine Lieber Gott versteht”

Leaving Schumann’s Requiem which rounds off Op. 90 off the programme worked out well, as it concentrated attention on Dichterliebe and on its connections with the lesser-known late works, and on Schumann’s inner life. In any case, the text is not Lenau. Since the mid 19th century, we’ve learned more about mental illness and can be more understanding. I wish, however, that Goerne and Pressler had done Lied eines Schmeid (Op 90) A little horse never lets the blacksmith down. Its steady trudging rhythm may seem simple, but in its own charming way, it’s a hymn for the faithful. To a horse! In its sincerity, it would have been a happy coda to Goerne and Pressler’s sensitive approach to Schumann’s later years. The concert was being recorded. Goerne and Pressler will repeat it at the Verbier Festival on July 22nd.

Anne Ozorio

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):