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

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Through Life and Love</em>, Louise Alder sings lieder by Richard Strauss
11 Aug 2017

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Through Life and Love, Louise Alder sings lieder by Richard Strauss

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Louise Alder

Photograph, courtesy of Askonas Holt

 

As well as acclaimed performances as Sophie von Faninel in WNO’s Der Rosenkavalier (which OT reviewers admired in Cardiff and Birmingham ), Alder has sung Marzelline in the BBC Philharmonic’s Fidelio at the BBC Proms , performed with the Academy of Ancient Music in Monteverdi’s Vespers at the Barbican Hall in June, and contributed to the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, participating in an unusual programme of songs for female vocal ensemble, ‘Schubert and Women's Voices’.

Despite this hectic schedule, Alder even managed to find the time and energy to step into the breach at the Wigmore Hall, when travel problems scuppered baritone Andrei Bondarenko’s planned recital at the end of July, and presented at short notice a concert of songs by Hahn, Debussy, Liszt, Poulenc, R. Strauss and Britten. Interestingly, a performance by Alder of the latter’s On this Island, which closed this Wigmore Hall programme, had previously impressed me on the occasion when I first heard the soprano sing at the Hall in April 2014 , leading me to declare that the ‘demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch’.

Both that 2014 recital and this July’s concert with pianist Gary Matthewman included songs by Richard Strauss, some of which have found their way onto Alder’s debut album, Through Life and Love , which was released last month on the Orchid Classics label. The disc presents a life’s progress through song - from Youth (Das Mädchen), through Longing (Sehnsucht), Passions (Leidenschaft), Partnership (Liebe), Motherhood (Mutterschaft) and Loss (Verlust), to Release (Befreiung). And, although the songs in each section do not represent a chronology of Strauss’s career, the recording is in effect a survey in miniature of a life’s work, for Strauss composed over 200 songs, from the early ‘Weihnachtslied’ written when he was just six-years-old to the Four Last Songs which were his final musical utterance, published posthumously by his friend Ernst Roth in 1950.

Through Life and Love.jpg

Alder’s soprano is crystalline and has a thrilling shine. Although the colour palette is not extensive, the purity of sound is startlingly beautiful, and Alder can make the sparkle still brighter, or diminish the fullness to a fine thread, at will and with discernment. The German is well-enunciated - her experience with Frankfurt Opera no doubt informs her excellent diction - though I am less enamoured of her tendency to heavily roll the ‘r’s, sometimes quite markedly (particularly in the middle of words, which can disrupt the sweet sound). It’s a pity, too, that the song texts are not included in the accompanying booklet. Pianist Joseph Middleton plays with an elegance that can be stylishly urbane or delicately reflective, and communicates the narratives of these songs with sensitivity and insight.

There are two settings of poems by the expressionist poet Richard Dehmel. Alder negotiates the uncertainty and economy of ‘Leises Lied’ (Soft Song, Op.39 No.1) with lyricism and focus: the vocal leaps are flawlessly executed and tuned, and ‘Glänzt mir im Herzen immer’ really does ‘shine’ with radiant youthful ardour. Middleton’s upper register quavers hover inscrutably, finally ‘resolving’ onto an ambiguous second-inversion triad. In contrast, the harmonic saturation and flowing melodism of ‘Befreit’ (from the same Opus and included in the section entitled ‘Loss’), allow us to enjoy the glowing bloom of Alder’s soaring lines as she floats through the extended arcs. Strauss wrote in his diary on 1 June 1898, ‘Composed song Befreit by Dehmel very beautifully’; one feels he would add, ‘and sung with exquisite and subtle beauty it was on this occasion’. Alder and Middleton - who ensures every detail is heard but remains in a hinter-world between reality and dreams - adeptly suggest that the emotional intensity is contained within the singer’s heart: what we hear is the imagined embodiment of a soul’s bliss.

The piano’s restless rippling in ‘Ständchen’ (Serenade, Op.17 No.2), first scintillatingly glittering then dipping down into darker realms, perfectly captures the youthful excitement in Alder’s voice as she urges her beloved to creep softly from his bed and join her amid the twilight magic of the flowers, lindens and nightingales. The harmonic shift of the final stanza, ‘Sitz nieder, hier dämmert's geheimnisvoll’ (Sit, here it darkens mysteriously), is accompanied by an enchanting retreat to a hushed pianissimo, the deepening harmonic colours suggesting incipient true passion beneath the adolescent eagerness. ‘Breit’ über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar’ (Spread over my head your black hair, Op.19 No.2) - like ‘Ständchen’ a setting of the poetry of Adolf Friedrich von Schack - showcases the plush gleam of Alder’s soaring soprano, as rich and flowing as the imagined streaming black locks, which shines still brighter against the deeper hues of Middleton’s noble chords.

The latter is the last song in the ‘Longing’ section which opens, appropriately, with ‘Sehnsucht’ (Op.32 No.2). Like so many of Strauss’s lieder, this song was dedicated to his wife Pauline, and it was also the composer’s first setting of the poet Detlev von Liliencron. Here, Alder shapes the enigmatic fragments thoughtfully: her low voice is even and poised, but surges with colour when the vision of the road ahead appears before the protagonist. The fierceness of the avowal ‘If you directed your eye to me coldly, I would resist, my maiden’ (Und richtest du dein Auge kalt auf mich,/Ich trotze Mädchen dir) is startling, but short-lived, as the image of the beloved’s eye - ‘Wie eine Sonne mir in schwerer Nacht’ (like a sun to me in the heavenly night) - weakens the resistance. Alder floats to a heavenly top A which captures the soul-piercing beauty of the burning sun and lover’s gaze. No phrase so purely demonstrates the sheer beauty of Alder’s soprano, and her technical control, than the final, sustained declaration, ‘Ich liebe dich’.

The two songs of ‘Motherhood’ form an effective, complementary pair. Alder’s soprano slips lightly through the confident exuberance of the adoring mother’s praise for her infant’s golden curly locks, blue eyes and rosy cheeks in ‘Muttertänderlei’ (Mother-chatter, Op.43. No.2), Middleton’s accompaniment wryly thickening as she admires his perfect plumpness - ‘fatter than a fat snail’! There is pride, awe and joy in Alder’s voice as she captures the mother’s unconditional love, as embodied in the smoothly descending melisma, ‘so lieben’. In contrast, ‘Meinem Kinde’ (Op.37 No.3) is redolent with soft tenderness as the mother leans over her sleeping child’s crib, Middleton’s swaying cross-rhythms conveying the lilt of the rocking cradle.

Songs from Strauss’s first published collection, ‘8 Gedichte aus Letzte Blätter’ Op.10 (1885, settings of poems by the Austrian Hermann von Gilm), both open and close the 23-song sequence. The first song of ‘Youth’, ‘Nichts’ (Nothing), opens with a playfully leaping accompaniment - Strauss instructs the pianist to play ‘mit Laune’ (with humour) - and Alder’s crisp vocal line has a conversational ease. However, the broadening of the phrasing and the irresistible ascent of the vocal melody for the question, ‘Ist die Sonne nicht die Quelle/Alles Lebens, alles Lichts? (Is not the sun the source of all life and all light?), takes us into the reflective sentiment of the operas. In ‘Die Nacht’ (The Night) Middleton’s skill in evoking - through the piano’s unceasing, gradually enriching, pulsing quavers - the unstoppable shadow of the night which creeps from the woods and extinguishes all the lights of the land, is matched by the tinge of awe which Alder introduces into her vibrato-light melody. The sense of disturbing transformation is wonderfully captured through the change of harmonic colour with the line ‘Alles nimmt sie, was nur hold’ (It takes everything that is dear), while the growing strength of Alder’s vocal climbing vocal line suggest both fear and wonder at the night’s power to take the silver from the stream and the gold from the cathedral roof, dismissive both of nature and of man’s gods.

‘Zeuignung’ (Devotion), placed at the start of ‘Release’, confirms Alder’s and Middleton’s ability to encompass both delicate tenderness and blissful exultation within a song lasting less than two minutes. Middleton, in particular, seems able to discern the precise moment in the song where Strauss infuses the flowing triplet accompaniment with an over-spilling joy, leading into the final stanza with a finely shaped rubato then enriching the dense chords with power and passion. The disc ends with the final song in the Op.10 set, ‘Allerseelen’ (All Soul’s Day), in which Middleton’s sensuous syncopations suggest the underlying emotional tumult of the recently bereaved protagonist as she strives to relive past moments of joy. The woman’s delusion is intimated by the harmonic chasm which opens when she imagines that she is reunited with her beloved, ‘Gib mir nur einen deiner süßen Blicke,/ Wie einst im Mai (Just give me your sweet gaze, as once you did in May), and Alder and Middleton push on compellingly, making the climactic Ab declaration that she holds him close to her again even more tragic and ephemeral. Then, the mask skips: arpeggiations and rhythmic doubt infiltrate the accompaniment once more, and the self-assurance of Alder’s final ‘Wie einst im Mai’ is undermined by the falling seventh and by the overly earnest weight of the soprano’s low register.

Alder will resume her engagement with Frankfurt Oper later this autumn where she will sing Despina, Sophie (Werther) and, in March 2018, Clorinda (La Cenerentola). Before that, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy Alder’s performances in the UK, when she helps Classical Opera launch their new venture, 'The Mozartists’ at the Wigmore Hall in September, travels to Scotland to join the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Glasgow and Perth in September, returns to the Barbican in early October for a semi-staged performance of Purcell’s King Arthur with the Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr, and then heads north again to Newcastle for a performance of Mendelssohn’s Second Symphony with Paul McCreesh and the Royal Northern Sinfonia at the Sage Gateshead . Clearly, Alder has no intention of resting on her laurels: her star remains surely and brightly in the firmament.

Claire Seymour

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):