02 Mar 2016
Heroique flashes at Wigmore Hall
Bryan Hymel, Irene Roberts & Julius Drake at Rosenblatt Recitals
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
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.