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 Reviews

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.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

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.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

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.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

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.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 57, BBCSO conducted by Semyon Bychkov
30 Aug 2016

Prom 57: Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBCSO

Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.

Prom 57, BBCSO conducted by Semyon Bychkov

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Elisabeth Kulman

Photo credit: Julia Wesely.

 

Larcher does not consider it a piece of programme music, though, and there seems no reason to doubt him. Or, to put it another way, if we can consider Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, the third work on the night’s programme, as a symphony, there is no reason why we should not this.

It certainly felt like a symphony, not just on account of its four movements, but also their character and their relationship to one another. The first movement opened with a sense of pent-up energy being released, in very fast, highly rhythmic music, that material alternating with slower passages, in which tension is maintained, perhaps even increased, by various means including bass pedals. Without being ‘process music’, musical processes were very much to the fore, both, it seemed in the work, and in the excellent performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Bychkov. Distorted - and sometimes not distorted - tonalities mapped out its space; they were not, perhaps, without nostalgia, but a nostalgia that did not shade into pastiche. A huge orchestral cry of agony - it was difficult not to think of the opening Adagio to Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, both with respect to similarity and difference - made its point, whether ‘programmatic’ or not. Henze, coincidentally or otherwise, sometimes came to mind too. A final descent left us wondering into what we were descending. The chorale-like opening to the succeeding Adagio inevitably brought Austro-German tradition once again to mind; for this really did feel like something akin to a ‘traditional’ slow movement, with a ‘traditional’ symphonic dialectic. Accordion and wind were often prominent, there seeming something to be fundamental about their timbres to the work. Vibraphone and piano duetting also caught the ear’s attention, likewise percussion more generally (as indeed in the first movement). Scalic movement in both directions was a particular concern too.

The third movement sounded not entirely unlike a post-Brahmsian scherzo, with a touch of Stravinskian rhythmic insistence (although not always). The strange repetition of a chord - heard 140 times, apparently! - paradoxically seemed to increase tension, as much as any increase in volume and/or tempo. Then, at the end, a strange little Austrian dance fragment (a Ländler?) suggested neo-Mahlerian affinity to and alienation from Nature. The slow introduction to the finale seemed both connected to and yet something that had moved on from the world of the slow movement. Chorale music again soon flowered. The fast ‘main’ section showed an analogous (perhaps) affinity with the first movement. Again, it proved highly rhythmical and especially concerned with musical process; perhaps even the material itself was similar. In essence, this was a ‘traditional’ moto perpetuo, which then dissolved into a slow coda, which clearly spoke of sadness, shading into desolation. Apparent resolution (disconcertingly close, to my ears, to the world of Arvo Pärt, bells and all) was, mercifully, questioned at the last.

Having spent the previous week or so in Bayreuth, I had the opportunity with the Wesendonck-Lieder, here in Felix Mottl’s familiar orchestration, to begin to ween myself off Wagner for a little while. There is nothing wrong with Mottl’s version, but I could not help wishing that Henze’s had instead been chosen; on the other hand, Mottl’s intimations of Strauss had their own logic in this particular context. Making her Proms debut, Elisabeth Kulman, always an admirable artist, proved a fine choice as soloist: the ‘instrumental’ quality to her voice adding, in a typically Wagnerian dialectic, to the blend of words and music.

‘Der Engel’, opening, sounded very much as a Lied, as it should, even if one with undeniable ‘operatic’ connections. Tristan und Isolde was inescapably close at times, but not repressively so. Kulman’s word-led approach here and elsewhere reminded us of Wagner’s priorities here (not so in Tristan, of course). The angelic, almost Straussian quality to the orchestra was judged to perfection by Bychkov and his players. ‘Stehe still!’ had a different character: more dramatic, with vocal delivery taking us closer to the world of Die Walküre, never more so than in the first half of the final stanza, eye drinking blissfully from eye, and so forth. (Think of Wotan and Brünnhilde, if you will.) Bychkov took his time, quite rightly, and the conclusion proved properly radiant. ‘Im Treibhaus’ took us to Tristan-land proper, yet still with an element of distance; this is a song with its own concerns, not an excerpt. Kulman’s vocal colouring proved just the thing, very much with its own instrumental quality, as mentioned above. There was some especially wonderful viola playing - both solo and as a section - to enjoy too, likewise woodwind playing of Tristan-esque malevolence. ‘Schmerzen’ had a not un-Straussian autumnal glow to it, albeit on a smaller scale. Finally, ‘Träume’ returned us from autumn to a summer evening, its opening pregnant with Tristan-esque possibility, disciplined by the words and their implied structuring capability. Balm and eroticism proved two sides of the same Wagnerian coin.

Strauss’s giant symphonic poem had the second half to itself. Bychkov’s reading flowed beautifully, sometimes quickly indeed; at the same time, he was not remotely afraid to hold back where necessary. If the opening sections were perhaps a little too closely defined in themselves, that should not be exaggerated. The Night in which the work opens was clear, directed: no lazy murkiness here. The BBC SO’s strings sounded voluptuous indeed as our journey gathered pace. Off-stage, Tannhäuser-plus horns thrilled: not just ‘materially’, but with a Nietzschean sense that that materiality might also too be spiritual. This is a symphony, after all, for the Anti-Christ. The forest proved darkly inviting, Bychkov alert to the detail of its beauties, without ever lapsing into pedantry. A post-Mozartian grace to the meadows was especially welcome, offering both contrast to and context for the Zarathustra-like grandeur and ambiguity to the greatest climax of all. As darkness began to fall, before the storm itself, tension could be felt, just as, or almost as, in ‘real life’. So too could the force of the storm, albeit with the detachment of an audience member rather than an actual participant. It was, inevitably, though the Epilogue (Karajan once claimed to conduct the work for this alone) that brought tears to the eyes, exquisite woodwind playing an especial joy. It lingered, as it must: never quite enough, for Strauss is just as sure a dramatist here as in his operas. After which, the darkness into which his world was falling, as is ours.

Mark Berry

Prom 57: Thomas Larcher: Symphony No.2, ‘Cenotaph’ (UK premiere); Wagner (orch. Felix Mottl): Wesendonck-Lieder; Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie, Op.64. Elisabeth Kulman (mezzo-soprano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Semyon Bychkov (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, Sunday 28 August.

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):