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

Shortlist Announced for 2017 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition

Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.

Over 180 perform in action-packed new work: Silver Birch

Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

Garsington Opera For All

Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

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 Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

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.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

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.

The Royal Opera House announces its 2017/18 season

Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

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.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

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.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

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.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Kathryn Rudge at the Wigmore Hall
13 Feb 2017

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

Kathryn Rudge at the Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Kathryn Rudge

Photo credit: Sussie Ahlberg

 

The dark clouds of WWI made their presence felt: this was a conflict that ended the expressive creativity of so many English poets and musicians, sending some to their deaths at Gallipoli (William Denis Browne) and others to the lingering ‘death’ of mental ill health (Ivor Gurney). It is no wonder that composers seemingly sought to ‘escape’ through art; nor that such expressive ‘retreats’ sometimes proved elusive, bitter, ironic or disenchanting.

Kathryn Rudge, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, demonstrated her ability to capture both the hope and the resignation that so many of these songs display. Always sincere and direct - although sometimes the text was less than clearly declaimed - Rudge exhibited a firm mezzo-soprano which is well-centred, secure and consistent across the register: rich at the bottom and glossy the top, but occasionally a little sturdy. James Baillieu showed why he is the heir apparent to such luminaries of the world of ‘accompanists’ (an unforgivably insufficient term!) as Graham Johnson, Malcolm Martineau, Julius Drake … even with the piano lid fully raised Baillieu never once over-powered his soloist, yet there was not a gesture that was not defined with crystalline eloquence and when he took the opportunity to indulge in powerful expressive utterance, it was always with the utmost taste and composure.

Herbert Howells’ ‘Come Sing and Dance’ opened the programme, establishing a link to the past: the text comes from folk sources, an old carol, and Rudge displayed a sure sense of line which conveyed the confidence and assurance of times past. The mezzo’s vibrato was quite wide but also controlled, and she was alert to the nuanced harmonic twists and turns. Later, Howells’ Peacock Pie - settings of Walter de la Mare - took us to more ambiguous territory. The sparse irony of ‘Tired Tim’, the humorous bite of ‘Alas, alack!’ - Baillieu’s pinching accents embodied the spluttering fat of the ‘fish that talks in the frying pan’ - and the balladeer’s fluency of ‘Mrs MacQueen’ placed de la Mare’s apparent naïve simplicity under the spotlight of war’s acerbity.

‘The dunce’ lurched with delicious asymmetry; Baillieu maintained a teasing balance between regularity and stagger in the left hand, while the right hand picked out, with ironic snatches of brilliant precision, an acidic complement to the vocal line. The accompaniment of ‘Full moon’ sparkled with flashes of celestial gleam, a delightful complement to the drowsy loops of the voice.

Ivor Gurney’s ‘Sleep’ is probably the best-known of the five songs written to Elizabethan texts that the then undergraduate penned in 1914. I loved the hint of rubato in the piano introduction - as if the singer was rousing him/herself from torpor - and Rudge’s communicative colours made the sentiments tell, though I felt that she did not always craft the arching lines with absolute fluency, breathing where I would have wished for continuity. Gurney’s ‘Most Holy Night’, written when the composer was being treated in a mental asylum, was powerfully eloquent, though at times the words were lost. A slow tempo was adopted for ‘By a bierside’ but this gave the song a poignant gravitas. The concluding episode - an effulgent expansion and release for the piano, followed by major/minor nuances, and harmonic sequences leading to final plunging gestures - was unsettlingly stirring.

Three Roger Quilter’s songs permitted a gentle English whimsy to penetrate the Wigmore Hall. ‘Go, lovely rose’ confirmed Baillieu’s delicate vocalism - the ‘playout’ was seductively tender. ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’ demonstrated Rudge’s consistency across registers: ‘The fire-fly wakens’ gleamed and glistened vibrantly; and the plea, ‘waken thou with me’, was penetrating and pointed.

In William Denis Browne’s ‘To Gratiana dancing and singing’, Rudge might have employed a more flamboyant, joyous rhetoric; but the final stanza was tellingly recounted, not least because Baillieu’s intently deliberated right hand, doubling the voice, was effectively deployed against deep bass chords and ripples.

The recital concluded with Frank Bridge’s ‘Three songs with viola’ of 1903-06. Guy Pomeroy has a beautifully relaxed and characterful tone, but he still could not always project through the busy accompaniment and well-defined vocal lines of ‘Far, far from each other’ (Matthew Arnold), although he did capture the roving, improvisatory air of the viola’s explorations, as the stringed instrument wrapped itself around the vocal line, slipped below and rose again with brightness.

In ‘Where is it that our soul doth go?’ Pomeroy offered both an embodiment of the voice’s anxiety and an, albeit ambiguous, response to its dilemmas. ‘Music, when soft voices die’ saw the viola, fittingly, take a more assertive role. The strumming assurance of the final tierce de Picardie was consoling.

Claire Seymour

Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano), James Baillieu (piano), Guy Pomeroy (viola)

Herbert Howells: ‘Come sing and dance’; Roger Quilter: ‘Go, lovely Rose’ Op.24 No.3 . ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’ Op.3 No.2, ‘Music, when soft voices die’ Op.25 No.5; William Denis Browne - ‘To Gratiana dancing and singing’; Herbert Howells - Peacock Pie; Ivor Gurney - ‘Sleep’, ‘Most Holy Night’, ‘The fields are full’, ‘By a Bierside’; Frank Bridge - ‘Three songs for voice, viola and piano.

Wigmore Hall, London; 13th February 2017.

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):