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

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Mark Padmore in conversation
14 Sep 2017

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Mark Padmore in conversation

An interview with Claire Seymour

Above: Mark Padmore

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

 

Regional music and arts festivals continue to proliferate, so I ask Padmore what it is that makes the four-day festival at Tetbury distinctive, and rewarding for a performer. He explains that he welcomes the opportunity to perform in a beautiful venue, the Georgian Gothic Paris Church of St Mary the Virgin whose magnificent spire dominates the town’s skyline: a venue which, being outside the mainstream of music-making, does not bring with it any particular expectations or conventions, and which will be filled with those who are perhaps not regular concert-goers but are eager for new musical experiences.

Alongside the festival’s four concerts, audiences can enjoy pre-concert interviews and lectures, and prior to Padmore’s recital Dr Natasha Loges, Assistant Head of Programmes at the Royal College of Music, will present a lecture entitled ‘The Hidden Magic of Lieder’. I wonder whether the magic of lieder is really ‘hidden’, and whether it’s especially important to communicate this ‘magic’ to new audiences. Padmore considers that lieder can sometimes be problematic for English audiences, partly because of the language, and recognises the importance of performing in a venue where it’s possible to reach the audience and communicate the meaning of what is often complex poetry - performing Winterreise in the Barbican Hall would be an odd experience, far removed from the context in which Schubert’s cycle was first experienced. He notes that even at the Wigmore Hall, which presents more lieder recitals than any other venue in the world, there seems to be little overlap between those attending chamber music - string quartet concerts, say - and those attending recitals of song; mixed programmes comprising both chamber music and lieder have not always proved popular with audiences.

Perhaps, he reflects, one of the challenges is that with lieder it’s not the voice, or the singer, that is paramount, but the text; and it is not just the voice that communicates that text but the piano also. Padmore feels that this is particularly true in the case of Schumann, whoseDichterliebe he will sing at Tetbury. In Dichterliebe, it is often not the voice that is carrying the melody line - conveying the composer’s messages to his beloved Clara - but the piano, which often rises above the singer (who is essentially supplying the text) and articulates its own arguments. Padmore suggests that there are places where it would be possible, or inviting, to add text to the piano part: that lieder is a ‘speaking art form’.

It is the tenor’s respect for and sensitivity to the text which make him such a superb interpreter of the music of J.S. Bach, and his performances as the Evangelist in Bach’s Passions so compelling - not least in Peter Sellars’s staging, or ‘ritualisation’, of the St Matthew Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle which was first seen in 2010 in Salzburg and Berlin and has acquired ‘legendary’ status. Padmore will perform the St Matthew Passion at the Royal Festival Hall in March next year, when he reunites with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. I note that he is listed as both Evangelist and ‘director’, but he explains that this denotes ‘musical’ director: he will lead rehearsals, encouraging the performers to explore the work, to really listen to each other, so that they can present the Passion without a conductor. This is fundamental to Padmore’s understanding and experience of the Passions. They are chamber music and it is essential that performances are a three-way conversation - between the text, the performers and the audience - in which all three participants are equally engaged. It is not necessary - in fact it can be obstructive - to have a conductor, serving as a source of ‘interpretation’; instead, the empty space which a conductor would usually fill opens up a conduit of communication so that the singers can convey the emotions of the text, and the emotions they feel, directly to the listeners.

Padmore reflects that because the Passions are so well known we have become somewhat inured to listening to Bach. We forget that it is religious music: a recent encounter with a Bach chorus being pumped out as a sort of ecclesiastical muzak in a parish church is one example he cites of its ‘misuse’. We consume the music passively and Padmore wants to break through this passivity: to make the music dynamic and urgent, to make it mean something to the audience, to make them experience the choral cry, ‘Barrabam!’, as a response to Peter’s denial. The word he returns to is ‘attentiveness’: performers and audiences should be attentive, at all times. He comments that Sellars demanded attentiveness to the text at all moments, even visiting the tenor in his dressing room before a performance to talk through the text.

There will be more ‘story-telling’ when Padmore returns to Berlin this season, as Artist in Residence with the Berlin Philharmonic. He will perform Haydn’s Creation in the opening concert of the season and, subsequently, Robert Schumann’s secular oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri, as well as chamber music concerts with members of the Berlin Philharmonic and students of the Karajan Academy. This follows Padmore’s residency with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra last season and the tenor clearly relishes the opportunity to form a ‘proper relationship’ with an orchestra. He knows the Berliners well and is looking forward to meeting, working and building relationships with the players, developing a communal expression and aiming for performances that are rooted in how we communicate. He will feel ‘at home’; something that, he reflects ruefully, the international system - and perhaps celebrity and success - doesn’t really allow.

Padmore’s season will also include some new compositions. Marking the London Sinfonietta’s 50th anniversary, in June next year the tenor will perform a new chamber piece by Tansy Davies, Cave, written in collaboration with librettist Nick Drake following their 2015 opera Between Worlds. Then, he will take part in a new opera by Thomas Larcher, whose A Padmore Cycle - settings of poems by Hans Aschenwald and Alois Hotschnig - was written for the tenor in 2011.

His performances in Glyndebourne’s 2013 Billy Budd and in George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at the ROH earlier this year were highly acclaimed, and I ask Padmore, such a powerful ‘story-teller’, why he hasn’t been a more frequent visitor to the operatic stage. He explains that, while he loves theatre, he does not feel that there are a lot of roles which are ideal for his voice - before pre-empting my next question by commenting that Aschenbach, in Britten’s Death in Venice is on the horizon! Janáček’s operas are also appealing …

But, before that there is Schubert and Schumann. Audiences in Tetbury, Norwich, Oxford, and overseas can anticipate some compelling musical conversations.

The Tetbury Music Festival runs from 28th September to 1st October.

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):