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

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom Chamber Music 6: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at Cadogan Hall
22 Aug 2017

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Prom Chamber Music 6: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at Cadogan Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Christiane Karg

Photo credit: Gisela Schenker

 

This was Karg’s Proms debut, and many of the songs performed - by Reynaldo Hahn, Charles Koechlin, Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc - were receiving their first performance at the Proms, although Karg’s programme is itself quite well-travelled: she’s performed similar programmes at the Wigmore Hall (with Wolfram Rieger in 2014) and in the US in 2016 with her Proms accompanist on this occasion, Malcolm Martineau.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, and familiarity with the repertoire no doubt contributed to the assurance and ease that she displayed, and to the precision and appropriateness of Karg’s interpretative nuances. As she tracked Hahn and Ravel in Greece, Koechlin in Persia and Poulenc in London, Karg offered authentic local flavour without mannerism or cliché, expertly and impressively maintaining a balance between imitation and integrity.

Henri Duparc’s Baudelaire setting, ‘L’invitation au voyage’ (1870), was a beguiling opener. Tempted by Martineau’s palpable lapping waves, Karg’s anticipation of the leisured land of her dreams, clothed by the sun in hyacinth and gold, was both tender and sensuous. She conveyed the submerged passion which adds a frisson to even the song’s quietest phrases, adding a flash of brightness to the image of tear-bright eyes and swelling almost imperceptibly when beckoned by ‘Luxe, calme et volupté’ (luxury, peace and sensuality). Martineau’s left-hand counter-melodies sang enticingly but it was a pity that the delicious diminuendo of the close was spoiled by some disruptive banging from outside the Hall, though this was fortunately short-lived.

Karg never slipped too deeply into languorous waters, using the flinty edge of her soprano to bring immediacy and life to her interpretation of the Seis Canciones Castellanas by Basque composer Jesús Guridi. Guridi studied in Paris, Brussels and Cologne and by the time of his death in Madrid in 1961, at the age of 74, he had composed a wide variety of music much of it derived from Basque themes; these six songs, dating from 1941, are based on Castilian folk melodies. Karg’s Spanish was idiomatic, her ornamentation judicious, and she and Martineau were wonderfully responsive to the wide range of seductive sights, sounds and scents that Gurudi depicts.

‘Allá arriba, en aquella montaña’ (Up there on the mountain) opened dreamily, but ‘¡Sereno!’ (Watchman!) burst into life, the piano’s slithery syncopations evoking the threat posed by the man, fast asleep under his cloak, clutching a silver dagger. The wide distance between low accompaniment and high voice suggested the woman’s over-wrought reaction to the intruder, which Martineau mocked with an abrupt, emphatic final chord which raised a chuckle. The pianist proved a master of Spanish gesture: in ‘Llámale con el pañuelo’ (Call him with your handkerchief), his sparse staccatos punctuated the melismatic coquettishness of Karg’s flirtatious cries to the toreador. In contrast, a cool simplicity characterised ‘No quiero tus avellanas’ (I don’t want your hazelnuts), in which the protagonist rejects her lover’s empty peace offerings. Best of the sequence was the final song, ‘Mañanita de San Juan’ (Early on St John’s Day), in which Karg’s soprano floated dreamily above Martineau’s evocation of the echoing depths of the sea.

Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques had plentiful charm. ‘Chanson de la mariée’ (Song of the bride-to-be) was infectiously eager and optimistic, while in ‘Là-bas, vers l’église’ (Down there by the church) the initial tone of mystery was imbued with reverence at the sight of the ‘infinite numbers’ of the ‘bravest people in the world’ buried beside the Church of St Constantine. The rhetoric of ‘Quel galant m’est comparable?’ (What gallant can compare with me?) swaggered conceitedly, Martineau offering a cocky, mischievous play-out which looked ahead to the ‘nonsense’ of the perky ‘Tout gai!’ (So merry), but it was the lovely vocal enrichment of the opening and close of ‘Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques’ which was most alluring.

A similar inner richness and elegance of phrasing characterised the three songs selected from Reynaldo Hahn’s Études latines in which Karg’s beautifully even legato swept us through Hahn’s settings of poems by Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle, emphasising their delicacy and grace. Inspired by Horace, the poet offers an aesthetic vision of Ancient Greece. Both Karg and Martineau offered detailed nuance: after the clean purity of ‘Lydé’, the lightness of ‘Vile potabis’ blossomed with the pain and pleasure of reminiscence in the concluding vision of the golden vines of the Formian hillside. A pastoral ease infused ‘Tyndaris’, as Martineau’s melody sang seamlessly over harp-like strumming and Karg captured the freshness and sunniness of youthful hopes.

Koechlin set thirteen poems from Tristan Klingsor’s Shéhérazadei, in two sets, and Karg prefaced two of the second Op.84 group (1922-23) with ‘Chanson d’Engaddi’ from the first Op.56 volume (1914-16). In the latter, the vocal ascents sparkled magically. However, the soprano lured us with a range of intoxicating vocal fragrances, and exhibited an impressive ability to glide effortlessly across the song’s wide tessitura, both here and in ‘Le voyage’.

After the headiness of these mélodies, the air was cleared by the playfulness of Poulenc. The composer suggested that his gravestone should announce, ‘Here lies Francis Poulenc, the musician of Apollinaire and Éluard’, and Karg and Martineau ended their recital with four settings of Apollinaire. They whisked us briskly back to the melodic charms of the Parisian musical hall after a sojourn in the dreary countryside (in ‘Voyage à Paris’ from Banalités), then charted the composer’s arrival in his adored ‘Montparnasse’ (the first of the Deux poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire), before dashing off to ‘Hyde Park’ with its soap-box orators and self-absorbed courting couples, and arriving finally in a smoky hotel room, where Martineau’s harmonies suggested a decadent sleaziness as Karg sang with lazy languor, ‘Je ne veux pas travailler je veux fumer’.

Karg seemed absolutely ‘at home’ in the Cadogan Hall and she related these French composer’s adventures ‘abroad’ with polished artistry. As Martineau whispered at the end of one sequence of songs, bravo!

Claire Seymour

Proms Chamber Music 6: Christiane Karg (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Henri Duparc - L’invitation au voyage; Jesús Guridi -Seis canciones castellanas; Maurice Ravel -Cinq melodies populaires grecques; Reynaldo Hahn - Études latines (‘Lydé’, ‘Vile potabis’, ‘Tyndaris’); Charles Koechlin - Shéhérazade (‘Chanson d'Engaddi’, ‘La chanson d’Ishak de Moussoul’, ‘Le voyage’), Francis Poulenc - Banalités (Voyage à Paris), Deux mélodies de Guillaume Apollinaire (‘Montparnasse’, ‘Hyde Park’), Banalités (Hôtel).

Cadogan Hall, London; Monday 21st August 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):