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

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

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.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

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.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

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.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Handel's Partenope: surrealism and sensuality at English National Opera

Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a lesson in Patience

A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.

Tara Erraught: mezzo and clarinet in partnership at the Wigmore Hall

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.

Opera Across the Waves

This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful producers of opera.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

A Winter's Tale: a world premiere at English National Opera

The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.

Wexford Festival Opera announces details of 2017 Festival

Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

Oxford Lieder Festival 2017: Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna

Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

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):