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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

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):