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

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

From left to right: James Newby, Alessandro Fisher, Bianca Andrew and Ashok Gupta [Photo by Robert Piwko]
02 May 2016

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: From left to right: James Newby, Alessandro Fisher, Bianca Andrew and Ashok Gupta [Photo by Robert Piwko]

 

Indeed, at the Cadogan Hall Gemma Lois Summerfield, the 2015 Ferrier winner, had impressed with her poise and expressive richness, as Berenice in Jommelli’s opera; and, Jennifer France, winner of the Song Prize in the 2014 Awards, had demonstrated great maturity, a confident stage presence and bright, alert tone. There is every evidence that the six singers participating in the Finals of this year’s competition, and many of those who competed in the earlier rounds, will equal their forerunners’ successes.

Chinese-born soprano He Wu, a Young Artist at the National Opera Studio, had the difficult job of getting proceedings underway and, understandably, she seemed a little nervous in Massenet’s ‘Frère, voyez! … Du gai soleil’ (Werther), struggling to control the intonation and producing a hard edge to the tone. Schubert’s ‘Nachtviolen’ also suffered from thin tone and vocal tension: the melody felt perilously perched and lacked the soft-scented radiance that it requires to support its modest nature, though pianist Ben-San Lau provided an airy accompaniment and as the song progressed the interplay between voice and piano suggested unity and warmth.

Richard Strauss’s ‘Amor’ played to the 26-year-old’s strengths, and she demonstrated considerable power and agility, although there remained a tendency to shrillness at the top which diminished the silvery delicacy of the melody. I felt, too, that Lau could have taken a more insouciant approach to the lazy rhythms of Strauss’s triplets and spread chords. An overly wide vibrato marred Frank Bridge’s ‘Come to me in my dreams’ and Matthew Arnold’s text was not always intelligible, though the piano postlude was affecting. Wolf’s ‘Auch kleine Dinge’ was unevenly phrased, but He Wu was at her best in the final item, Puccini’s ‘Chi il bel sogno’ (La rondine) in which her lustre, long-breathed phrasing and vocal strength suggested she will be a terrific Mimi.

27-year-old Alessandro Fisher, who studied the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is currently singing with Glyndebourne Festival Opera, began his programme with Lalo’s ‘Vainement, ma bien-aimée’, the aubade from Act 3 of the composer’s opera Le roi d’Ys, in which Mylio, a young warrior, tries to convince Rozenn, his bride-to-be, to leave the protection of her handmaidens and join him in the wedding procession. Fisher was an engaging story-teller, relaxed of voice, singing with sensitive phrasing and good appreciation of the French idiom. The final pianissimo high A — ‘Je vais, hélas! mourir, hélas!’ — was floated with finesse.

Rachmaninov’s ‘The morn of life’ (Sey den’ ya pomnyu) presented an austere contrast to the subsequent repertoire staple, ‘Ach so fromm’ by Flotow (Martha), in which Fisher used his light, bright tenor to good effect, soaring gracefully and silkily. Ashok Gupta was a splendid accompanist in Schubert’s ‘Die böse Farbe’ (Die Schöne Müllerin); the delicate arpeggiated chords were beautifully crisp and the repeated tolling note, which strike the wandering miller with the devastating reality that the girl he loves does not love him in return, rang with unalleviated sadness.

Michael Head’s ‘A Blackbird Singing’ was infused with an equal poignancy. Fisher’s enunciation of the text was clear but unmannered, and the simplicity of the strophic form — and the lilting honesty of the folk-like melody, with its hopefully rising octave followed by waning, falling thirds and the simplicity of the final statement — offered little consolation: ‘A blackbird singing I hear in my troubled mind.’ Fisher’s tenor was sweet and dreamy, but never unfocused, perfectly conveying the mystery and pathos of loss.

Two songs from Reynaldo Hahn’s cycle Venetia closed the tenor’s sequence, and they were sung with tenderness and touching import. Hahn wrote these songs in 1900 when visiting Venice with his lover Marcel Proust. If the composer himself was reputed to have ‘a slim thread of a voice’, which he muted further by singing with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Fisher sculpted the lines beautifully and with nuanced rubato, matching the easy rocking of the piano accompaniments — he seemed to be inviting, ‘step into my gondola and let me transport you elsewhere’. ‘Sopra l’acqua indormenzada’ possessed a hint of wit and charm, and the tenor rose easily to its vocal challenges; ‘L’avertimento’ was vivid and firmer of tone. Again, Gupta created telling drama even in the quietest sways and ripples of the accompaniment.

New Zealand mezzo-soprano Bianca Andrew (26), who is currently a student of Yvonne Kenny on the Opera Studies course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, made a strong impression in Meyebeer’s ‘Nobles seigneurs, salut!’ from Les Huguenots, singing the bright recitative with striking character and colour. Against the backdrop of the St. Bartholomew Massacre, the page Urbain asks the hero Raoul to meet with Queen Margaret, who wants to arrange a political marriage; Andrew’s sumptuous directness suggested that she would make a striking impact on stage.

Dylan Perez’s rippling arpeggios made an attention-calling opening to Richard Strauss’s ebullient love song ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’, which Andrew sang with fervour and freshness. Her mezzo was sweet, the line fluent and Perez’s accompaniment was well wedded to the vocal nuances. Hahn’s ‘Phyllis’ was one of the highlights of the evening, endearingly characterised by elegant phrasing, variegated tints, a burnished lower register and touching pianissimos. The mezzo-soprano captured the gentle intimacy of this song and seemed fully aware of the relationship between vocal colour and meaning.

Cherubino’s ‘Non so più’ was full of breathless excitement, but Andrews’ mezzo is a tad too fruity for the adolescent page. She was on more comfortable and fitting territory in Ben Moore’s ‘Sexy Lady’. An encore piece written originally for Susan Graham, the song is a comic complaint of a star mezzo-soprano trapped en travesti — as Mozart’s lovesick adolescents, Handel’s dysfunctional knights — and it was quite a risky choice, prioritising dramatic presence over vocal technique, but Andrew pulled it off with aplomb, aided by the deadpan gravity of her accompanist.

28-year-old Anna Rajah, a graduate of GSMD and RCM, opened the post-interval sequence with Bellini’s ‘Eccomi in lieta vesta … O quante volte’ from I Capuletti e I Montecchi, revealing an impressive grasp of phrase structure and a vocal intensity which enlivened even the finest unaccompanied melodic threads, although the tuning was not always rock steady. In Fauré’s ‘Clair de lune’ Rajah showed her appreciation of the suggestive intimations of the composer’s restrained melodic utterances and through-composed structure; the gentle reticence of the song suited the rather small magnitude of her soprano. Debussy’s ‘La romance d’Ariel’ was meltingly sweet throughout the challenging coloratura of the elf’s pyrotechnics, but I found Rajah oddly detached and cold in Pamina’s ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’: her vibrato was quite tight and there was little sense of the fluidity of line — Pamina is, after all, no Ice-Queen. Fortunately, there was copious and consoling joy and warmth in Roger Quilter’s ‘Love’s Philosophy’.

Baritone James Newby, currently in his last year of study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, was the youngest of the finalists at 23 years-of-age but he showed impressive maturity in a diverse programme. Papageno’s ‘Papagena! Weibchen! Täubchen!’ wasn’t the easiest number to start with, as more usually we have had three hours to understand and empathise with the bird-catcher’s idiosyncratic, infuriating and endearing qualities; but, Newby demonstrated care, thoughtfulness and clarity in the shaping of Mozart’s phrases, suggesting that he will make a charming and lovable semi-rogue. Finalists are required to balance song with opera and in the aria’s brief spoken episodes Newby suggested that he will have dramatic presence to match his appealing vocal tone. Pianist Panaretos Kyriatzidis was attentive to the details and the duo effected a beguiling transition to the more animated closing episode.

Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’ was exciting: fast, vibrant and emotionally febrile. Again, Kyriatzidis impressed, his galloping accompaniment persuasively tempestuous, and Newby embodied all four protagonists with striking directness. Massenet’s ‘Danse macabre’ revealed also a rich lower register and a telling way with the text.

Britten’s ‘Look, through the port comes the moonshine astray’ (Billy Budd) began with a flow of sensuous anticipation. Newby’s free vocal line was beautifully lyrical and expertly phrased, with well-controlled breathing and dynamics, and a teasing pianissimo. As the aria developed, the tenor conveyed Billy’s vigour forcefully, but the sentiments were never over-staged, as Newby sang with stylishness and vitality. The vocal lines had smoothness and continuity, the many and slight ritardandos were impressively negotiated, sustained high notes were vehement but not forced, and the coda was explosive but always controlled. Butterworth’s ‘Is my team ploughing’ offered a poignant contrast which communicated powerfully to the audience in the Hall.

Samling Artist Nardus Williams (25) brought the Finals to a close. Accompanied by Welsh pianist Jâms Coleman, she presented a challenging programme which gave ample opportunity for us to appreciate her superbly controlled, sensuous soprano which has sheen and shimmer as well as real focus of tone.

Williams recently became the first singer to win the Trinity Laban Gold Medal Competition at Kings Place, fulfilling the promise that she had shown as an undergraduate when she was awarded the Audrey Strange Memorial Prize for Most Promising Young Singer in the 62nd Royal Over-seas League Competition. She is a 2015/16 Park Lane Group Artist and is currently continuing her studies at the Royal Academy of Music with Lillian Watson and Ingrid Surgenor.

Williams opened her programme with a bold choice, Walton’s lively ‘The Lord Mayor’s Table’, which she sang with good pitch and gentle humour, enunciating the words clearly. The Wagnerian opulence of Duparc’s ‘Extase’ was well-controlled, the gentle rises and falls creating a dreamy detachment while the sentiments remained sincere. Perhaps Donna Elvira’s ‘Ah! chi mi dice mai’ didn’t have quite enough bite, and I found Williams’ vibrato too heavy for Brahms’s ‘Unbewegte laue Luft’ (Motionless mild air), which revived the Tristan­-like ambience of the Duparc’s mélodie, but the passionate imploring of the text was direct and heartfelt, and the diminishment into nothingness at the close beautifully nuanced. Cameron’s accompaniment established a sighing slumber, his delicate trills evoking the fitful fall of the fountain which alone disturbs the garden’s gloom.

Rachmaninov’s ‘Spring torrents’ was a powerful and compelling conclusion; the sweeping triplets and sextuplets of the piano accompaniment conveyed the enthusiasm and need which greets the return of spring, and the joyful power of Williams’s soprano built to a triumphal piano postlude.

The women may have dominated the programme but it was the men who walked off with the honours. For only the second time in the 61-year history of the Awards, First Prize was shared by Alessandro Fisher and James Newby, with no Second Prize awarded. Bianca Andrew won the Ferrier Loveday Song Prize for her rendition of songs by Alvén and Wolf in her semi-final programme, while Ashok Gupta was awarded the Help Musicians UK Accompanists Prize.

Claire Seymour


He Wu, soprano: Massenet, ‘Frère, voyez! … Du gai soleil (Werther), Schubert — ‘Nachtviolen’, R. Strauss — ‘Amor’, Wolf — ‘Auch kleine Dinge’ (Italienisches Liederbuch), Bridge — ‘Come to me in my dreams’, Puccini, ‘Chi il bel sogno’ (La rondine).

Alessandro Fisher, tenor: Lalo, ‘Vainement, ma bien-aimée’ (Le roi d’Ys), Rachmaninov — ‘The morn of life’, Flotow — ‘Ach so fromm’ (Martha), Schubert — ‘Die böse Farbe’ ( Die Schöne Mçüllerin), Head — ‘A Blackbird Singing’, Hahn — ‘Sopra l’acqua indormenzada; L’avertimento’ (Venezia)

Bianca Andrew, mezzo-soprano: Meyebeer — ‘Nobles seigneurs, salut!’ (Les Huguenots), R. Strauss — ‘Heimlicher Aufforderung’, Hahn — ‘Phyllis (Études Latines), Mozart — ‘Non so più, cosa son, coas faccio’ ( Le nozze di Figaro), Ben Moore — Sexy Lady.

Anna Rajah, soprano: Bellini — ‘Eccomi in lieta vesta … O quante volte’ (I Capuletti e I Montecchi), Fauré — ‘Clair de lune’, Debussy — ‘La romance d’Ariel’, Mozart — ‘Ach, ich fühl’s ( Die Zauberflöte), Quilter — ‘Love’s Philosophy’.

James Newby, baritone: Mozart — ‘Papagena! Weibchen! Täubchen! (Die Zauberflöte), Schubert — Erlkönig’, Saint-Saëns — ‘Danse macabre’, Massenet — ‘Vision fugitive’ (Hérodiade), Butterworth — ‘Is my team ploughing? (A Shropshire Lad).

Nardus Williams, soprano: Walton — ‘The Lord Mayor’s Table’, Duparc — ‘Extase’, Mozart — ‘Ah! chi mi dice mai’ (Don Giovanni), Brahms — ‘Unbewegte laue Luft’, Rachmaninov — ‘Spring torrents’.

Wigmore Hall, London, Friday 29th April 2016

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):