02 Mar 2016
Heroique flashes at Wigmore Hall
Bryan Hymel, Irene Roberts & Julius Drake at Rosenblatt Recitals
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
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.