02 Mar 2016
Heroique flashes at Wigmore Hall
Bryan Hymel, Irene Roberts & Julius Drake at Rosenblatt Recitals
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
Bryan Hymel, Irene Roberts & Julius Drake at Rosenblatt Recitals
Last night's Rosenblatt Recital (25 February 2016) at theWigmore Hall was shared by the American tenor Bryan Hymel (known for his performances as Aeneas in Berlioz' Les Troyens at Covent Garden and his disc Heroique of French 19th century heroic opera arias), and the young American mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts (who will be singing the title role in Bizet's Carmen with San Francisco Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin this year). The two singers were accompanied in a programme of RVW, Wagner, Gounod, Mascagni, Berlioz and Bizet by pianist Julius Drake. The programme opened with Bryan Hymel singing RVW's Four Hymns for Tenor, when he and Drake were joined by viola player Krzysztof Chorzelski , then Irene Roberts sang four of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. Bryan Hymel then gave us Ah! leve-toi, soleil! from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette and Mamma, quel vino e generoso from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, with two excerpts from Bizet's Carmen to conclude the programme.
One of the fascinating things about Rosenblatt Recitals is the way the series places opera singers in a concert context, and showcases their repertoire choices when moving away from operatic drama. Bryan Hymel's choice of RVW's Four Hymns for Tenor was an intriguing choice indeed. The work is an early one, written in 1911 shortly after the Five Mystical Songs and partaking of the same aura of mystical rapture. We are used to hearing the work sung by classic English lyric tenor voices but Hymel has shown that his voice has the refreshingly old-fashion combination of narrow-focus power with remarkable flexibility. For all the big bright sound in at the opening, Hymel was able to bring his tone down and give us moments of lower key intimacy. This was quite a big boned performance, and Hymel was finely matched by viola player Krzysztof Chorzelski and pianist Julius Drake. However Hymel's performance seemed a little constrained and score-bound (it was the only work of the evening where he sang from the score), and it perhaps was not the ideal work to open the programme. For all the inward quality which he brought to it, the performance did rather miss the sense of mysticism that these songs need. However Hymel did give the music a very intense presence.
Irene Roberts [Photo by Kristin Hoebermann]
Next, Irene Roberts sang four of Wagner's Fünf Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme (Wesendonck Lieder); she missed off Im Treibhaus, one of the two songs which Wagner labelled 'Studie zu Tristan und Isolde' (studies for Tristan and Isolde). The five songs should probably not be regarded as a song cycle, Wagner wrote them over the period of a year (1857-1858) and the present order of the songs was only fixed by the publishers, Schott, in 1862. However it was a shame that we missed the perfumed Tristan-esque exoticism of Im Treibhaus, and thankfully we were treated to it as an encore at the end of the recital.
Irene Roberts has a big, bold, dark-hued mezzo-soprano voice and is already singing Kundry in Parsifal and you suspect that other large dramatic mezzo-soprano roles will come into her repertoire. At this stage in her career though, she seemed to need something of a guiding hand from a director, as her performance of the Wagner songs was impressive and finely correct without really exploring the spark of erotic romantic languor. You felt that Roberts needed to relax somewhat and revel a little more in the wonderfully rich sound she was making. Instead this was a performance which impressed rather than seduced. Der Engel was beautifully done but too literal, and needed to be a bit steamier. Stehe still! was intense and vibrant, though Roberts sound occasionally verged on the wild. You sensed that with the right direction she could be a really exciting performer and in Schmerzen she brought a lovely dark tone to bear. For the opening of Träume Julius Drake gave us an object lesson in how to bring out the Tristan-esque subtlety of this music, playing with flexibility and seductiveness, with great care of the space between the notes. Roberts performance however, though intense and inward, was a bit too soberly serious.
Bryan Hymel opened the second half with Romeo's Ah! leve-toi, soleil from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. Romeo is nowadays a role sung mainly by tenor with voices of a more lyric cast, but in the 19th century the great Polish tenor Jean de Reske used to perform Romeo and Tristan in the same season. Hymel sang without music and seemed far more relaxed, and at ease than in the first half, and this showed in his performance. He demonstrated that it is perfectly possible, bringing his flexible yet big bright sound to bear on Gounod's music and showing us how the lyricism of the aria can be combined with a thrilling sound, concluding with a fabulous top note.
He followed this with more conventional dramatic tenor repertoire, Mamma, quel vino e generoso, Turiddu's emotional leave-taking from his mother in Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana. In a vibrantly upfront performance of classic Italian verismo repertoire we notice the relative narrow focus of Hymel's voice compared to more recent Italian tenors. But this also meant that the performance had a lovely intensity and flexibility, combined with a strong sense of character and superb tone quality.
Irene Roberts sang Marguerite's D'amour l'ardente flammme from Berlioz's La damnation de Faust. Roberts showed a fine sense of control in a powerfully intense performance. Her French was nicely correct but she didn't really make enough of the words and in the more passionate moments her diction slipped. Overall I really wanted a little more sense of risk and a suppleness in her account of the role.
Finally we had two extracts from Bizet's Carmen. First Bryan Hymel sang La fleur que to m'avais jetee from Act Two, in which he demonstrated how ideal he is in this type of repertoire. Singing with finely expressive French and allowing the language to colour his tone in a way that most Italian-trained singers do not. He combined power and suppleness in ideal proportions. This and the Gounod made me wish that Hymel's repertoire choices for the recital had perhaps focussed on this area more.
Finally Hymel and Roberts gave us the whole of the final scene from Carmen. Granted we missed the off-stage chorus somewhat, but Julius Drake's piano went a long way to supplying that element of the drama. In this scene the dark intensity of Roberts voice really came into its own, and that strong, sober intensity made Carmen's 'Non, je ne t'aime plus!' really count. And she was finely contrasted with Hymel's wonderfully ardent and brightly intense Don Jose. I have to confess that I had been hoping for something a little more unusual in the recital, but this scene demonstrated a fine sense of style combined with powerful drama.
Finding an encore to follow that scene was inevitably difficult so Irene Roberts sang Im Treibhaus from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder which Julius Drake segued straight into Bryan Hymel singing Nessun dorma from Puccini's Turandot.
Programme and performers:
Vaughan Williams, Wagner, Gounod, Berlioz, Bizet
Bryan Hymel, tenor; Irene Roberts, mezzo-soprano; Krzysztof Chorzelski, viola; Julius Drake, piano. Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall, 25 February 2016.