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

Irish soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

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.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Rusalka in San Francisco

It must be a dream. Though really it is a nightmare. The water sprite Rusalka tortures herself if she is telling the story, or tortures the man who has imagined her if he is telling the story. Either way the bizarrely construed confusion of Czech fairy tales has no easily apparent meaning or message.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Elisabeth Kulman, Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican Hall
10 Nov 2017

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Elisabeth Kulman, Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Elisabeth Kulman, with the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Sir Mark Elder

Photo credit: Mark Allan

 

Though this accident was ‘freakish’ (she suffered a blow to the throat), the consequences led Kulman to reassess the opera singer’s professional, personal and financial lot: she launched a campaign against the practice of not paying singers for rehearsals - meaning that illness or indisposition could result in a singer being financially unrewarded for their hard work and even, taking in accommodation and other costs, potentially facing substantial losses - and established Art But Fair, a lobby group for fair play. Kulman declared, ‘The opera business is an enormous enterprise. The individual’s room to move is relatively small. As an artist what concerns me is individual creativity, personal expression, individuality. Personally, I have discovered for myself that I am best able to develop my creative potential when I am able to work according to my own rules and not have to subordinate myself to other structures. It is not, therefore, a general criticism of the current opera business but rather recognition of the incompatibility of my personality’s makeup.’ ( translation from the German by Martin Snell).

Prior to this concert given by the Britten Sinfonia under Sir Mark Elder, at the Barbican Hall, I had not previously heard Kulman perform, in opera or concert. Her performance of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder - a work which she presented with Elder and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in September 2016 - was immaculate: her tone was even across the registers, the phrases were gracefully sculptured, the tone suggested the pliant plushness of the softest velvet. Refinement, delicacy, intimacy were the words which most readily sprang to mind.

But, despite the vocal polish and allure, this was a very ‘polite’ performance. I missed the range of emotions - which might be communicated through a varying timbre, for example - in the sequence of Rückert poems (not really a ‘cycle’), and Kulman did not communicate a sense of her personal connection to the texts, though the diction was pristine. There was peace but not passion: ‘Um Mitternacht’ (At midnight) surely traverses wider emotional terrain.

That said, Sir Mark Elder did exquisitely balance the intimate conversations within the small chamber orchestra, as at the start of ‘Blicker mir nicht in die Lieder!’ (Do not look into my songs!) when muted cello, clarinet oscillations, and flickering oboe and flute acciaccaturas formed a rarefied interplay, and the prominent, lyrical horn beautifully complemented the vocal line. ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ (I breathed a gentle fragrance) floated on an airy bed of spare viola and violin meandering which allowed the woodwind motifs to sweetly make their mark, and the harp and celeste offered an ethereal closing flourish, evoking the heady piquancy of the ‘fragrance of line’.

Muted strings and the low-lying vocal line evoked a calm acceptance which might have shimmered with greater potential intensity at the start of ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (I am lost to the world). Kulman seemed to add vocal weight and fullness, though, to ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ (If you love for beauty), as if reaching out from a world of quiet intimacy. But, ‘Um Mitternacht’ (At midnight) needed to scale more glistening vocal heights, to provide a counter-weight for the stirring bassoon contributions, the deliciously dark chromatic tuba and horn descents, and the heart-stirring rumbles of tuba, double bassoon and timpani towards the close. Kulman seemed oddly impassive amid such orchestral frissons: there was undeniable vocal beauty and taste, but where was the ardour, or even the animation?

This concert marked the start of a four-year project during which Elder and the Britten Sinfonia will explore the symphonies of Johannes Brahms (though, strictly, the opening of this series took place the previous evening in Norwich); alongside a Brahms symphony, a song-cycle by Mahler and a work by a British composer will throw Brahms’ ‘sound-world’ - which, in a podcast on the Britten Sinfonia website, Elder describes as warm but not thick, lithe but not bombastically heroic - into relief.

The second half of the concert thus comprised Brahms’ First Symphony, which Elder has not previously conducted. This was a delicate reading which foregrounded the woodwinds’ soothing, pure lyricism and subtle expressive gestures and in which the strings (at 10, 10, 8, 8, 4, perhaps not exactly ‘Classical’ in dimension) played with judicious use of vibrato and thoughtful phrasing. Indeed, there was a prevailing sense of ‘care’ and consideration, as Elder moved from a slightly unsettled first movement, through the contemplative middle movements, to well-judged ‘arrival’ and ‘resolution’ in the concluding, Allegro no troppo, ma con brio. There was an exciting and uplifting sense of joy in the final movement without the sound ever becoming self-indulgently or weightily pompous; and, one could sense the players’ intellectual and emotional engagement with the arguments that they were being asked to consider, explore and articulate.

Elder described (in the aforementioned podcast) the first half of the programme as a ‘Mahler sandwich’, and the concert began with Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the second movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony, titled What the Wild Flowers Tell Me. Britten essentially reduced the extension orchestration of the original to a delicate chamber-like dialogue. In this performance, lyricism was complemented by rhythmic alertness, but the overall effect was one of restraint and Elder did not really establish a strong musical mien - though perhaps this is because this single emblem of Mahler’s monumental, magnificent work feels a little ‘adrift’ from its symphonic moorings.

As someone who believes that anything composed by Gerald Finzi is worth hearing, I was pleased to have the opportunity to enjoy the composer’s orchestral elegy, The Fall of the Leaf, written - like so many of Finzi’s works - over a period of many years, and first published in piano-duet form. Finzi’s close friend, composer Howard Ferguson, developed Finzi’s orchestral drafts, completing the ‘gaps’ left within the basic architectural form. Characteristically, Finzi communicates a restrained nostalgia and a melancholic poignancy that is at once lovely in its tenderness and heart-rending in its pathos. The initial flute solo was wonderfully pure - the expressiveness was equalled by the oboe’s subsequent dolefulness - but from these clean beginnings Elder drew ever greater warmth and soul. Despite my sympathetic leanings, I was not entirely convinced that the work has a structural ‘direction’, but the Britten Sinfonia injected colour - rich brass, shining cymbals - and rhythmic athleticism, through displacement and emphatic stresses. A heavy sadness lingered after the final dull thuds of quiet low strings, harp and bass drum had faded.

The reprise of this programme, in Saffron Waldon, will be broadcast on Radio 3 on 14th November .

Claire Seymour

Elisabeth Kulman (mezzo-soprano), Sir Mark Elder (conductor), Britten Sinfonia.

Mahler - (arr. Britten) What the Wild Flowers tell me; Finzi - The Fall of the Leaf Op.20; Mahler - Rückert-Lieder, Brahms - Symphony No.1 in C minor Op.68

Barbican Hall, London; Thursday 9th November 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):