Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Probing Bernstein and MacMillan double bill in Amsterdam

The Opera Forward Festival (OFF) in Amsterdam is about new things: new compositions, rediscovered works and new faces. This year’s program included a double bill produced by Dutch National Opera’s talent development wing. Leonard Bernstein’s portrait of a miserable marriage in affluent suburbia, Trouble in Tahiti, was the contrasting companion piece to James McMillan’s Clemency, a study of the sinister side of religious belief.

Macbeth in Lyon

A revival of the Opéra de Lyon’s 2012 Occupy Wall St. production of Verdi’s 1865 Macbeth, transforming naive commentary into strange irony, some high art included.

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.



24 Sep 2015

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series - Boesch and Joihnson

A review by Anne Ozorio



The Wigmore Hall's unique reputation springs from "the experience of music made by supremely gifted musicians for listeners open to what they may have to say", to quote John Gilhooly, the Wigmore Hall's Artistic Director. Simple words, but radical words in the current cultural climate where compromise means more than quality. The real way ahead for serious music is to treat it seriously. Excellence is by definition, "elitist" or it wouldn't be "excellent". But that basic ideal is simple. "The intensity of emotions, the concentration, the joy, the spiritual highs and lows, and the sheer vitality of what happens at the Wigmore Hall", Gilhooly continues, "all combine to create a sense of living art, renewed and refreshed in the moment of every performance".

"Don't let the song recital become an endangered species", Gilhooly writes in Classical Music magazine (August 2015). Great as it will be, the Schubert series is only part of the 96 song recitals this season. Head-on, Gilhooly confronts the fashion for marketing Lieder other than on its own terms. "If your experience of a song recital is of someone bluffing their way through pieces they barely know, why should you go back for more?" Lieder is fascinating because it connects to sources deep in European culture. Perhaps it's not an easy sell in a non-intellectual age, but the Wigmore Hall meets these challenges by providing the best, aiming to "open minds to this vast imaginary world", the ocean of creative experience unleashed by the Romantic revolution. Capital "R", Romanticism, not lower case.

This inaugural concert featured Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson, both icons in Lieder circles. It also started with a rarity to pique the interest of the Wigmore Hall's core Lieder audience, who were out in force. This was Schubert's Lebenstraum D1a, a fragment written without text, only recently and somewhat controversially identified with Lebenstraum D39. Here we heard a version created for performance by Reinhard Van Hoorickx. Johnson played the original part for piano, followed by the new arrangement based on the poem by Gabriele von Baumberg, which formed the basis of the later song. Bear in mind that the fragment was writen in 1810, when Schubert was 13. Boesch and Johnson followed this with a set of Goethe songs from 1815, Der Fischer D225, Erster Verlust D226 and Der Gott und die Bayajadere D 254. The first two displayed Schubert's fascination with driven, repeating rhythms, the last with his fondness for long declamatory ballads, both styles he would continue to explore.

Boesch and Johnson then moved to a set of songs from 1816 to poems by Johann Georg Jacobi (1740-1814), a theologian, jurist and academic. These were perhaps the treasures of this recital, since they are relatively underperformed. An Chloen D 462 and Hochzeit-Lied D 463 were delivered with graceful purity, the masculinity of Boesch's voice gently modulated to bring out their charms. The greater depth of In der Mitternacht D464 and Trauer der Liebe D 465 suited Boesch's characteristic timbre. Trauer der Liebe was particularly effective, as it's a very good poem. Although Jacobi employs typically Romantic images like mourning doves, dark forest foliage and whispering winds, the poem deals with unsentimental emotional strength. "Freiden gibt den treuen Herzen nur ein künftig Paradies" (Happiness is given to loyal hearts only in a future Paradise) Boesch sang with pointed dignity, suggesting the intellectual rigour in Jacobi's poetry. In Die Perle D 466, the text refers to a man who can't see the joys of Springtime because he's lost a pearl he found on a pilgrimage in distant lands. Schubert's music is jolly enough, invoking "Birke, Buch' unde Erle" (birch, beech and alder) but Jacobi's punchline is altogether more understated. "Was mir gebricht", sang Boesch quietly, "ist mehr als eines Perle".

The Jacobi set concluded with Lied des Orpheus, als er in die Hölle ging D 474. Johnson played the long piano introduction, so it felt like an overture to a miniature drama. Schubert chose to set only the section of the very long poem, in which Orpheus battles flames, monsters and shadows to enter Hades. Almost schizoid frenzy contrasts with eerie stillness. Jacobi and Schubert knew full well what the story of Orpheus symbolizes. Orpheus doesn't interact much with other characters, so the drama is, by its very nature, an inner monologue rather than a narrative. Orpheus doesn't save Eurydice but in the process, discovers the power of creative art.

oesch and Johnson continued with three settings of poems by Matthias Claudius, An die Nachtigall D497 1816, Der Tod und das Mädchen D531 (1817) and Täglich zu singen D533, 1817), then five songs to texts by Schubert's strange companion, Johann Baptist Mayrhofer Der Schiffer D 536 1817, Memnon D 541 1817, Auf der Donau D553 1817, Aus Heliopolis 1 D 753 1822 and Aus Heliopolis II D 754 1822. Mayrhofer's poems reference Classical Antiquity to mask the inner demons the poet faced. How he must have dreamed of an "unbewölktes Leben" (a life without clouds) To some extent, Schubert may have intuited what lay beneath the shimmering surface calm.

Then, on to Der blind Knabe D833 1825, and Totengräbers heimweh D842 1825 (Jacob Nikolaus Craigher de Jachelutta), the latter performed so well that it set off spontaneous applause - genuine applause, totally sincere, not daft "audience participation". Boesch beamed with appreciation. It's a marvellous song, and was done so well! Then, back to "Happy Schubert", Das Lied im Grünem D 917, 1827, (Johann Anton Friedrich Reil). Schubert and Reil, an actor, were friends, so the song may be a memory of good times in the countryside, in the past. We know , now, that Schubert was already ill with the disease that killed him 16 months later, but Schubert didn't, and nor did Reil. It is enough that we can enjoy this lovely song for itself and revel in its freshness.

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):