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

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Tara Erraught, James Baillieu and Ulrich Pluta at the Wigmore Hall
11 Mar 2017

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.

Tara Erraught, James Baillieu and Ulrich Pluta at the Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Tara Erraught

Photo credit: Christian Kaufmann

 

Once the slight, and forgivable, tension of the opening couple of items had been banished, Erraught revealed a full, gleaming mezzo which was bright at the top, honeyed in the middle and strong and characterful at the bottom. She moved easily between and across the registers, slipping silkily through coloratura passages, soaring warmly in more expansive episodes, and nailing every leap, twist, turn and flourish that was required of her.

In the concert arias with obliggato clarinet, however, she was matched, and on occasion outshone, by Pluta. A former principal clarinettist with the Staatskapelle Dresden and guest principal with many orchestras including the Bayerische Staatsope, Pluta’s innate musicality was winningly beguiling.

The use of obbligato - usually wind - instruments to complement and converse with the voice was a common practice in the oratorios and operas of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the obbligato instrument moved from the orchestra ranks and took its place in the concert aria and it was four of the latter that were presented here.

Louis Spohr’s Sechs Deutsche Lieder Op.103 were first performed in 1838; the solo part was written for the virtuoso instrumentalist Johann Simon Hermstedt, who asked Spohr to composer the work at the request of Princess Sondershausen. Piano and clarinet painted a bucolic mood-picture at the opening of ‘Zwiegesang’ (Duet song), conjuring the sweet scents and sounds of dusk: ‘In a lilac bush sat a little bird/ in the quiet, lovely May night.’ Erraught’s German diction was precise though her diligent attention to the text resulted at times in a lack of strong character-painting. However, the revelation that ‘Von Frühlingssonne da Vöglein saß/ Von Liebeswonne das Mägdelein’ (Of spring sunshine sang the little bird,/of love’s delight sang the young girl) was winsomely conspiratorial in tone, and her mezzo blossomed beautifully with the last line, ‘Vergeß ich nimmer mein Lebelang’ (I shall never forget my whole life long). The second Op.103 song, ‘Das heimliche Lied’ (The secret song), began with a clarinet flourish - a wincing spasm of pained lament which Baillieu transformed magically at the close into a gentle vision of hope and love.

Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen played a large part in the elevation of the obbligato to the concert platform, but the composer’s disciples, including Franz Paul Lachner, were not slow to follow his example. The piano’s propulsive accompaniment at the opening of Lachner’s ‘Wach auf’ (Awaken!) were a rallying cry to live and act: ‘Was stehst du bange/ Und sinnest nach?’ (Why do you stand there/ brooding with fear?) sang Erraught, her dark lower register urgent and compelling. The second of two songs from Lacher’s Frauenliebe und Leben Op.82, ‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’ (Since I saw him), was similarly fervent; here, though, the rich and energised accompanying parts occasionally overwhelmed the vocal line when it fell to lower realms. The instrumentalists’ wonderfully modulated rallentando at the close was beautifully delicate.

Erraught seemed to shift up a gear in Schubert’s Der Hilt auf dem Felsen, relishing the operatic dimensions of this more substantial, and more accomplished, composition and its progression through intense emotions. She really engaged with the audience here, creating an absorbing characterisation. The tense drama of the instrumental introduction - the piano’s subtle rubato, the slightest of expressive delays on the first of the repeated chords, and a sleepy clarinet fermata - issued a challenge to the voice, to match the openness and smoothness of the clarinet’s opening melody, but Erraught equalled Pluta for mellifluous allure, evincing both power and clarity through the undulating phrases. The repeating triplets of Baillieu’s accompaniment were, as ever, judiciously weighed, and both instrumentalists were simultaneously dramatic and sensitive. The tempo of the minor-key central section of the aria, in which the shepherd reflects on his grief and loneliness, seemed quite deliberate and slow, but this only served to highlight the steady, icy flow of tears in the piano’s right hand and the quiet pain of Erraught’s gently decorated plaint, ‘Ich hier so einsam bin’ (I am so alone here). Soon, though, the exuberant final section, in which the protagonist celebrates the spring to come, chased away wintering melancholy.

In the four operatic numbers that comprised the second half of the programme, Erraught revealed the extent of her expressive range and a stalwart technique. She seemed more comfortable in this dramatic mode, more naturally accommodating her large mezzo to the intimate Wigmore Hall while hiding none of its power and palette.

Erraught captured all of Sifare’s pathos and hauteur in ‘Soffre il mio cor con pace’ (My heart endures calmly) from the adolescent Mozart’s opera seria, Mitridate, re di Ponto, nailing, in the opening phrase, the sustained note that expresses Sifare’s forbearance and the wide leaps that convey his inner agitation. With Mitridate away fighting a war against Pompey the Great, his two sons, Farnace and Sifare battle for the love of their father’s new bride, Aspasia. She, afraid of Farnace’s passionate advances, issues a despairing appeal to Sifare and he, after agreeing to protect her, exclaims in this aria that while he can withstand a woman’s beauty, a man’s pride cannot be abided - thereby offering Mozart two opposing emotions to comply with the conventions and structure of the da capo form.

Mozart’s vocal writing is demanding: the fifteen-year-old relied more on coloratura flamboyance than the emotional mood-painting of his mature operas to capture the wild ups and downs of love. Erraught was untroubled by the wide leaps, flourishes and extensive scalic runs that traverse the full range of the voice. The sudden transitions were convincing, and the lyricism of the slow, triple time ‘b’ section offered a quiet anguish to counter the statuesque indignation of the opening section.

Adolescent ardour and self-belief of a different kind were on display in Cherubino’s ‘Voi che sapete’ from Le nozze di Figaro, where the richness of the plummeting final phrases suggested the young page’s candidness and incipient maturity.

Erraught offered two rarely heard works by Rossini to close the programme. Rosina’s frequently cut ‘alternative’ aria, ‘Ah se è ver che in tal momento’ (Ah, if it is the truth), from Il barbiere di Siviglia -that Rossini composed for the soprano Josephine Fodor Mainvielle - was impressive for the delicacy of the coloratura, which leapt lightly and fully captured the vulnerable Rosina’s fears that Lindoro has betrayed her. The floating lyricism of ‘Ah se è ver’ was effectively balanced by the later bravura, as Rosina declares her faith in Lindoro’s innocence and rejoices in his ‘compassionate love’.

Erraught’s technical security was similarly impressive in the composer’s solo cantata Giovanna d’Arco (Joan of Arc). The first recitative, in which the protagonist reflects on the mission before him, is followed by an aria devoted to her mother. The second part interrupts such reflections with thoughts of war and the summons of an angel of death. Erraught conveyed Joan’s extraordinary emotional capacity, from the force of the protagonist’s patriotic fervour - ‘O patria! O re! Novella un’aita verrà’ (O my country! My king! A new source of help will come) - to the lilting grace of maternal adoration. She effectively controlled and shaped the growing intensity, culminating in the proud rhetoric and majesty pride in the second part of the cantata, which was heightened by Baillieu’s characterful accompaniment.

The Wigmore Hall audience was warmly appreciative, and Erraught was keen to encore. I felt, though, that Sesto’s ‘Parto, parto’ from La clemenza di Tito, Mozart’s final opera seria, might have been included as a conclusion to the ‘main programme’; a substantial work - and finely performed by Pluta and Erraught - it seemed to demand a ‘full billing’, and it would have neatly complemented the opening work. Two more short encores followed - Percy French’s ‘Long, long ago in the woods of Gornamona’ and Aaron Copland’s ‘Long time ago’ - which allowed us to appreciate the gentle sweetness of Erraught’s mezzo but which seemed unnecessary adjuncts to what was a rewarding, thoughtful and well-conceived programme.

Claire Seymour

Tara Erraught (mezzo-soprano), James Baillieu (piano), Ulrich Pluta (clarinet)

Louis Spohr: ‘Zwiegesang’ Op.103 No.2, ‘Das heimliche Lied’ Op.103 No.5, ‘Wach auf’ Op.103 No.6; Franz Paul Lachner: ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’, ‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’ Op.82; Franz Schubert:Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D965; Mozart:Mitridate, re di Ponto K87 - ‘Soffre il mio cor con pace’, Le nozze di Figaro K492 - ‘Voi che sapete che cosa e amor’; Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia - ‘Ah s'e ver’, ‘Giovanna d’Arco’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 6th March 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):