Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

28 Feb 2017

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.

Gustav Mahler Wunderhorn Songs and Das Anschied from Das ied von der Erde, Hanns Eisler : Songs from the Hollywood Liederbook :. Matthias Goerne, Marcus Hinterhäuser, Wigmore Hall London, 24th February 2017

A review by Anne Ozorio

Matthias Goerne, photo: Michael Kocyan

 

Goerne's programme was structured like a symphony, through which songs flowed in thoughtful combination, culminating in the Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde, revealed as a well-constructed miniature song cycle in its own right. Goerne is more than a superb singer. He's a true artist who illiuminates the musical logic that underlies Mahler's music.

Song is the voice of the human soul. With remarkable consistency, from beginning to end, Mahler's music poses questions about the purpose of human existence in the face of suffering and death, Nearly always, transcendance is found through creative renewal. Thus this programme began with Der Tamboursg'sell (1901), so well known that it symbolizes the whole Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection of songs. The drummer boy is young but he's being marched to the gallows, for reasons unknown. "Gute Nacht, Gute Nacht!" Goerne's tone rumbled with chilling darkness, as if haunted. Das irdische Leben (1892-3) followed, paired with Urlicht, in the piano song version, though it's better known as part of Mahler's Symphony no 2, sung by an alto. This was a thoughtful pairing. Das irdische Leben isn't just about child neglect, but opens onto wider issues like the nurturing of artists. In Urlicht, the protagonist refuses to be turned away, determined to reach its destiny. The song occurs at a critical point in the symphony, where the soul has passed through purgatory and is heading towards resurrection. In Goerne's programme, it is halted, temporarily, though we know there will be resolution. These first three songs thus form a kind of prologue for what is to follow.

Goerne has been singing Mahler for decades, though he hasn't recorded much, which is a loss to posterity as his Mahler is deeply thought through and perceptive. He's been singing Hanns Eisler even longer, since he grew up a child star in the DDR where Eisler's childrens' songs were well known He recorded Eisler's German Symphony op 50 (1957) with Lothar Zagrosek in 1995. Eisler's German Symphony is a song symphony, an "Anti-Fascist Cantata" setting poems by Brecht and Ignazio Silone. Goerne's recording of Eisler's Hollywood Songbook in 1998 is a masterpiece, easily eclipsing all others.and still remainsthe classic. At the Wigmore Hall, Goerne combined two specialities into a well-integrated whole, the Eialer songs functioning as middle movements expanding the themes in the Mahler songs.

Eisler wrote Hollywood Liederbuch while in exile in Hollywood, pondering on the nature of German culture and identity during the cataclysm that was the Third Reich. Although Eisler is often colonized by pop singers, these songs are serious art songs and include settings of Hölderlin and Heine and really need to be heard with singers like Goerne who can handle the tricky phrasing and vocal range with the understated finesse they need. These are songs of existential anguish, expressed obliquely because the pain they deal with is almost too hard to articulate. For this recital, Goerne chose songs set to some of Brecht's finest poetry, like Hotelzimmer 1942 where Brecht describes neatly arranged objects. But from a radio blare out "Die Seigesmeldungen meiner Feinde". Goerne flowed straight into An den kleinen Radioapparat, reinforcing the connection between the two songs so they flowed together as one larger piece. The piano parts are written with delicacy, suggesting the fragility of radio waves and the vulnerability of life itself.

Brecht, like Eisler, was a refugee, fleeing from persecution. After this first group of Eisler songs, Goerne placed Über den Selbstmord. The contrast was shocking. The mood changed from suppressed anxiety to outright horror. Goerne brought out the surreal malevolence, his voice rasping with menace. "Das ist gefährlich". The song is a deliberate reversal of Romantic imagery - bridges, moonlight, rivers - and sudden, unplanned suicide. Goerne sang the last phrase, letting his words hang, suspended "das uberträgliche Leben"....coming to a violent sudden end on the word "fort".

A brief respite when Goerne recited lines from Blaise Pascal, which Eisler set with minimal coloration to the Brecht Fünf Elegien, refined miniatures about daily life in Los Angeles, where everything seems normal. Three more songs of poisoned "normacly"- Ostersonntag, Automne californien and In die Frühe before a return to the grim reality of Der Sohn I and Die Heimkehr. Then again Brecht and Eisler overturn Romantic nostalgia. "Vor mir kommen die Bomber, Tödlicher Schwärme" and a horrific parody of a Homecoming hero. The songs in the Hollywood Liederbuch can be presented in any order, but Goerne arranged them here in a pattern which suggests deceptively light andantes cut short by brutal scherzi.

Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde progresses from frenzied denial to transfigured acceptance, expressed through a series of very distinctive songs. In this performance, context came from the songs that had come before, widening the panorama. Bethge's texts evoke China a thousand years past. Once again, many face what Brecht and Eisler went through. Hearing the Abschied in this context is uncomfortable, yet also uplifting, for it reminds us that the grass will grow again. Hearing the Abschied for piano also makes us focus on the structure of the song, and the way it, too, develops in a series of distinct stages, like a miniature song cycle, like Das Lied von der Erde itself, "wunderlich im Spiegelbilde".

The orchestral Das Lied von der Erde predicates on the tension between tenor and alto/mezzo, a typical Mahler contrast between unhappy man and redeeming female deity, but as a stand alone, the Abschied lends itself perfectly well to other voice types. Goerne thus resurrects the Abschied for baritones, connecting the songs of passage, whether they be passages through death or domicile. The message remains the same. The darker hues in Goerne's voice suggest strength and solidity, values which emphasize the earthiness of the imagery in the text. He sings gravitas yet the high notes are reached with grace and ease. At the moment he's singing particularly well, better even than when he recorded Eisler's Ernste Gesänge in 2013, also with songs from the Hollywood Songbook. Marcus Hinterhäuser's playing was exquisite, so elegant that he made the piano sound like pipa or erhu, revealing the refined, chamber music intimacy in the song that the orchestral versions don't often access. Although the piano/voice recording with Brigtte Fassbaender, Thomas Moser and Cyprien Katsaris has been around for years, there's no comparison whatsoever. At times I thought Hinterhäuser might be playing a new, cleaner edition of the score, since his playing was infinitely more beautiful and expressive. I suspect he's just a much better pianist, and he and Goerne have worked together a lot in recent years. As Hinterhäuser played the long non-vocal interludes, Goerne was visibly following the score, listening avidly. That's how good Lieder partnerships are made. As Goerne sang the last "Ewig....ewig...." I couldn't bear for the music to end.

Anne Ozorio

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):