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

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

Emmerich Kálmán: Ein Herbstmanöver

Brilliant Emmerich Kálmán’s Ein Herbstmanöver from the Stadttheater, Giessen in 2018, conducted by Michael Hofstetter now on Oehms Classics, in a performing version by Balázs Kovalik.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Les Salons de Pauline Viardot</em> Sabine Devieilhe (soprano) and Anne Le Bozec (piano) at Wigmore Hall
07 May 2018

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot Sabine Devieilhe (soprano) and Anne Le Bozec (piano) at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sabine Devieilhe

Molina Visual

 

It was a pity that the uncharacteristically tropical temperatures which have blessed this holiday weekend probably meant that fewer lovers of lieder grasped the opportunity to enjoy what was a discerning and elegant recital - as the sunshine took precedence over ‘la salon’.

I first encountered Devieilhe - whose initial studies focused on the cello and musicology - when reviewing the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016, in which Devieilhe took the role of Bellazza. I wrote that she ‘dazzles in Handel’s glittering cascades, uses ornamentation with exquisite expressiveness, and displays an astonishing agility, leaping cleanly to the stratosphere and back with startling ease. At times, Deveilhe is surprisingly fierce, snarling through the upward appoggiaturas, flashing sparks at the top, but in the Part 2 aria in which she comes to her fate-sealing decision to spurn Piacere she exhibits a paradoxical and touching combination of emotional fragility and sincerity which conveys through impressive strength of tone and control of line.’

Not surprisingly, I excitedly anticipated her arrival on the Covent Garden stage as the Queen of the Night in the sixth revival of David McVicar’s 2003 Die Zauberflöte last autumn, and I was not disappointed. This recital was similarly characterised by a balance of composure and intensity, by vocal purity and precision and impassioned expression, with a sustained sensitivity to text. To put it in a way which may seem facile, Devieihle’s gleaming soprano is beguilingly easy to listen to … but the ways in which it seduces those susceptible to vocal beauty are diverse, inventive and masterful. I was also enormously impressed by the lucidity and sensitivity of Anne Le Bozec’s invaluable contribution to an aesthetic which accommodated frissons of colour and fervency with a prevailing self-possession and control.

Daughter of the Spanish tenor Manuel García, sister of esteemed mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran and of baritone Manuel García junior, who is credited with the invention of the first laryngoscope, Pauline Viardot was a leading social and artistic figure of her day: a talented pianist and composer, celebrated singer and mistress of a salon to which venerable artists such as Berlioz and Bizet, Liszt and Rubinstein, as well as new kids on the block including Debussy and Reynaldo Hahn, flocked. After her farewell performance in Paris in April 1863, Pauline and her husband Louis Viardot settled in Baden-Baden, and it was here that she initiated the salon that would attract musicians, composers, artists and writers from across Europe.

Devieilhe’s first sequence of songs focused on the French connection, and she and Le Bozec needed no time to get into their stride. The piano introduction to Berlioz’s ‘Villanelle’ from Les nuits d’ été (1840) was deliciously cogent and clear - lightly articulated quavers were supported by an eloquent bass line, creating a cleansing freshness as the new season drives away the cold winter and the lovers enter the wood to gather lillies-of-the-valley - while Devieilhe’s youthful sweetness acquired frissons of incipient passion as the vocal line rose and fell. The predominant sentiment was one of carefree confidence and burgeoning, yet contained, ardour. The narrative simplicity of La mort d’Ophélie (1848) was immensely touching, against which Le Bozec provided emotional complexity and anguish, blooming richly into the third stanza’s account of Ophelia’s drowning. Dialectical motifs in the piano conveyed the airy ballooning of the young girl’s attire and the eddying force of the water that supports her, as Devieilhe’s increased vocal intensity wrung notes of anguish from Ophelia’s dying song. The close - as Ophelia’s dress dragged her down to the depths - was poignant, infused with sweetness and sadness.

Two songs by Bizet offered character and colour. ‘Pastoral’ (1868) was tenderly bucolic: the gentle siciliano lilt carried us with ‘Colin’ through the valley as he sang to his shepherdess, and Devieihle’s pertly confident replies to his wooing acquired a mischievous esprit. A touch of the ‘exotic’ tinged ‘Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe’ (1866): Le Bozec injected judicious sensuousness into her pulsing, repeating rhythm, avoiding wry parody, while Devieilhe saved the sultriness to the end as the daughter of the desert’s exhortation to the ‘handsome young white traveller’ rang with lingering fervency: ‘Hélas! Adieu! bel étranger! Souviens-toi!’ (Alas! Farewell, fair stranger! Remember!)

Camille Saint-Saëns had a lifelong friendship with Viardot, and it was he who introduced Gabriel Fauré to the Viardot salon in 1872: the latter was later briefly engaged to Pauline’s daughter Marianne and dedicated many songs to members of the family. We heard Fauré’s ‘Au bord de l’eau’, in which the duo created an entrancing lapping lilt to convey the flow of the stream and gliding clouds on the horizon.

The central sequence of songs turned to Germany. I cannot imagine a rendition of Clara Schumann’s ‘Ich stand in dunkeln Träunen’ (I stood in dark dreams) imbued with more simplicity and loveliness. Devieilhe captured the stillness and the stirrings of the rapt moment of reflection, while Le Bozec’s enrichening of the accompaniment conjured the deceptive animation of the portrait which springs mysteriously to life at the end of the first stanza. The final declaration, ‘ich kann nicht’s glauben,/ Dass ich dich verloren hab!’, was an utterly sincere and direct expression of grief: wonderfully but woefully captivating.

I am more used to hearing Robert Schumann’s Myrten Op.25 sung by a tenor voice, but Devieilhe lent a certain purity to the soaring lines depicting the image of the beloved as the ‘heaven … in which I float’ (Mein Himmel du, darein ich schwebe) which was immensely touching. And, if the soprano struggled a little to project some of the lower lying lines here and in the ensuing ‘Der Nussbaum’ (The walnut tree), then the tone was always clean, and the diction excellent. Mendelssohn’s ‘Neue Liebe’ shone with the thrill of wild nights and danger when, in a moonlit wood, sightings of ‘elves’ and forest fairies promise bliss, or death. Le Bozec scurried nimbly, à la Midsummer Night’s Dream, while in the first two stanzas Devieihle blossomed gloriously from intimation to imagined consummation. A momentary halting, in a fearful realisation of the abyss, was pushed aside by a winning brazen confidence at the close.

The final songs carried us to the end of the nineteenth century. Le Bozec’s accompaniment was laden with the aromatic scents and soul of Debussy’s ‘Romance’, as embodied by the ‘divine lilies’ gathered from the garden of a lover’s thoughts, while Devieilhe’s almost fairy-tale purity made me long to hear her sing the role of Mélisande. Reynaldo Hahn’s ‘Le printemps’ sparkled with freshness and happiness.

We were also treated to two songs by Viardot herself; she composed over 200 songs, made admired vocal arrangements of Chopin’s mazurkas, and produced a number of chamber works including a lovely salon operetta, Cinderella. That Viardot, in addition to her vocal talents, was both a fine accompanist, had a talent for musical characterisation and a sense of fun was evident in ‘Haï luli!’ (Willow-waly), the gentle minor-key complaint of anxious waiting giving way to the warmth of consoling self-reassurance as Devieilhe let phrase endings hover and linger with exquisite skill and judgement. Turbulence ensued, with fears of fickleness, and in this song the highs and lows of love and loneliness were superbly plundered by both Viardot and her interpreters. In contrast, ‘Aime-moi’ was replete with confident teasing.

My only small regret was that this was rather a short recital. With the sequence of songs over in less than 45 minutes, the audience’s vociferous appreciation drew a welcome encore - Debussy’s ‘Apparation’, a setting of Mallarmé, in which Devieihle’s soprano soared with crystalline lustre.

But, we wanted more! Viardot made a memorable impact on the composers and artists of her day; she was a singer of remarkable vocal, musical and dramatic range and depth, qualities to which Devieihle can rightly aspire.

This recital was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

Claire Seymour

Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Anne Le Bozec (piano)

Berlioz - ‘Villanelle’ from Les nuits d’été; Pauline Viardot - ‘Hai luli!’; Bizet - ‘Pastorale’ Op.21 No.9; Fauré - ‘Au bord de l’eau’ Op.8 No.1; Berlioz - La mort d’Ophélie; Bizet - ‘Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe’ Op. 21 No.4; Clara Schumann - ‘Ich stand in dunklen Träumen’ Op.13 No.1; Schumann - Myrthen Op.25 (No.1 ‘Widmung’, No.3 ‘Der Nussbaum’); Mendelssohn - ‘Neue Liebe’ Op.19a No.4; Pauline Viardot - ‘Aime-moi’; Debussy - ‘Romance’; Hahn - ‘Le printemps’

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 7th May 2018

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):