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

Caspar David Friedrich : Mondaufgang
14 Mar 2018

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang D957—Florian Boesch, Malcolm Martineau, Wigmore Hall, London 9th March 2018

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Caspar David Friedrich : Mondaufgang

 

Since Schwanengesang is not a song cycle, there's no reason why song order can't be altered. Boesch and Martineau began with Liebesbotschaft, following it with Frühlingssensucht and Ständchen, forming a bouquet, where the songs complemented each other. This meant that Boesch could focus on emotional finesse. We're so used to good baritone performances that it's easy to underestimate the delicacy in these songs, but Boesch, despite the firmness in his timbre, achieves an almost tenor-like freshness, which is very moving. Martineau's opening notes in Ständchen floated gracefully : you could imagine the plucking of lute strings on a warm summer evening. Boesch has an uncanny ability to sound much younger than he is, without sacrificing the poise that comes with maturity, but what was most impressive here was the way he conveyed the innate intimacy in the songs. The words were shaded as if they were spontaneous, private exchanges. Nothing "troubadour" here. Real lovers, real feelings.

Then in flew Abschied. A farewell so early in the journey? The vigorous figures in the piano part suggest speed and forward thrust. But a clue is hidden in the last strophe. Not all the stars in heaven can replace "Der Fensterlein trübes, verschimmerndes Licht". Boesch shaped the phrase deliberately. Beneath the blustery surface, we glimpse once again the intimacy we heard in the first three songs, and feel the loss more strongly. When Boesch sang the first line of In der ferne, "Wehe, den Fliehenden, Welt hinaus ziehenden", my blood ran cold. Suddenly it hit me why that line spans two rhyming phrases. The two songs Abschied and In der Ferne form a pair, one pretending denial, the other unmasked grief. Thus the logic of grouping them with the turmoil of Aufenthalt and with Kreigers Ahnung, which in the Haslinger edition comes as the second song and here forms the end of the Rellstab settings. In Kreigers Ahnung, the poet is on a battlefield. He's afraid, his heart heavy with foreboding. And what thought gives him comfort ? "Herzliebe - gute Nacht!", sang Boesch, his voice ringing first with tenderness, then with a kind of haunted resignation, the song quietly fades, and the poet falls asleep.

Boesch and Martineau's re-ordering of the Rellstab songs makes sense, musically and in terms of meaning, bringing out depths in the material which can be overlooked in comparison with the more sophisticated Heine songs. No-one knows what Schubert might have done, had he lived longer. How much more of Heine would he have set ? And would more Heine have developed him as a composer, in the way that Schumann was shaped by Heine ? Boesch and Martineau paired Das Fischermädchen with Am Meer, but the connections are deeper than images of the sea, which in any case is a metaphor for emotion, which the Fischermädchen is right to fear. The lilting lyricism of the first song gives way to the more disturbing undercurrents of "Der Nebel stieg, das Wasser schwoll" in Am Meer. Boesch's voice rose for a moment before receding backwards, like the ebb and flow of a tide. The two pairs of strophes mirror one another. Am Meer thus flowed into Ihr Bild, with its dark piano chords and penitential pace. Ihr Bild flowed into Die Stadt. In both texts, the imagery is almost supernatural. In Die Stadt the piano line is almost impressionistic, a painting in sound. Only in the last verse does the mood lift, "leuchtend vom Boden empor", Boesch's voice is suddenly defiant, but the mists descend again.

Thus we were prepared for the final pairing, Der Doppelgänger and Der Atlas, first and last in the Haslinger Heine set and here heard in reverse order. The pattern of sombre pace and short-lived protest that has gone before returns in Der Doppelgänger but hearing Der Atlas last restores the balance in favour of protest. Martineau defined the piano part so it felt monumental, and Boesch's singing took on majesty. Like the Doppelgänger, Atlas has lost what made him happy, and is doomed to suffer for eternity. He is cursed, but he is strong and will not crumble. Boesch and Martineau's song order has musical and textual insight, and deserves great respect. This is a refreshing new way of listening to a group of songs that otherwise can sometimes, in less capable performances, seem uneven. Seeing microphones in the auditorium suggests that a recording will be in the offing, and well worth getting even if you already have rows of Schwanengesangs, or even the previous recording Boesch and Martineau made for Onyx a few years back. This unique performance is in an altogether different league than most.

In the intermission before the Rellstab and Heine songs Boesch and Martineau did Grenzen von Menschheit D 716, Meeres Stille D 216 and Der Fischer D225 - which also form a mini-cycle of their own amd fit in very well with the songs that make up Schwanengesang. At the very end, though, Boesch and Martineau found a way to incorporate Die Taubenpost, D 965 A, Schubert's setting of a poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl, which the publishers Haslinger added to Schwangesang but which has little connection, otherwise. Boesch's face lit up in a broad grin, and he danced a cheerful shimmy before he started to sing, banishing the ghosts of loss and despair. Yet again this made musical sense, since like Abschied, the carefree mood in Der Taubenpost belies its message : the dove's name is Sehnsucht, but, being a bird, it doesn't know what that means.

Anne Ozorio

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):