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 Performances

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.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

A life-affirming Vixen at the Royal Academy of Music

‘It will be a dream, a fairy tale that will warm your heart’: so promised a preview article in Moravské noviny designed to whet the appetite of the Brno public before the first performance of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the town’s Na hradbách Theatre on 6th November 1924.

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ian Bostridge
18 Sep 2018

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Ian Bostridge (tenor) and Thomas Adès (piano) at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ian Bostridge

Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke

 

Just one of the interpretations of Schubert’s Winterreise offered by Ian Bostridge in an article in the Guardian at the time of the publication of the tenor’s award-winning book, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession , but one which at times must have felt so relevant to the singer’s own experience of the work. Bostridge has been studying and performing Schubert’s cycle of 24 settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller, which the composer told his friends had ‘cost me more effort than any of my other songs’, for more than 30 years. In more than 100 performances, he has been partnered by many different pianists, sung the work in venues both intimate and vast, made a film of the cycle (directed by David Alden, in 1994), and taken it onto the stage in performances of Hans Zender’s ’composed interpretation’ of Winterreise (1993), complemented by Netia Jones’s video designs, The Dark Mirror .

It is surely a work that Bostridge has ‘lived’, and certainly which he re-lives, physically, psychologically, emotionally, with every fresh performance. And, ‘fresh’ is an apt word, for while Bostridge’s vocal and expressive ‘identity’ is distinctive and striking, his performances of Winterreise traverse a wide emotional spectrum which embraces existential despair, self-lacerating irony, gentle wistfulness and wild delusion with varying degrees of emphasis. I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard Bostridge perform Winterreise. Certainly, I remember, as a student, attending his first solo recital at Wigmore Hall in February 1995, and I have enjoyed countless lieder recitals by the tenor in the subsequent 23 years. Returning to the Hall last night to hear him sing Winterreise once again, partnered by Thomas Adès, I reflected that I too might stand accused of being afflicted by the mesmeric potency of this music and voice.

This performance of Winterreise was a remarkable symbiosis of the familiar and the revelatory. And, the subtle, pining beauties that Adès coaxed from the piano part played no small part in creating a journey which ventured at times into deeply introspective terrain, but which was always richly imaginative. I have heard Adès perform Winterreise with Bostridge several times, writing reviews of their performances at the Barbican Hall in 2015 and, the previous year, at the Aldeburgh Festival in Snape Maltings . Perhaps the expressive diversities and differences between those two performances, just six months apart, should have prepared me for the invention and spontaneity of this recital at Wigmore Hall. It was an enactment of human desolation which was strange, terrifying and captivating in equal measure, and which held me spellbound.

Thomas Ades 2 - Credit Brian Voce.jpgThomas Adès. Photo Credit: Brian Voce.

I don’t think I’ve attended a performance of Winterreise in which I have been so aware of the pianist’s presence - participating in, contributing to, depicting, inciting, reflecting on the wanderer’s psycho-physical journey. I noted, of the duo’s Barbican Hall performance, that ‘the generally restrained dynamics, particularly from Adès, asked us to listen with discernment to the gestural minutiae’, and in the intimacy of Wigmore Hall Adès dared to retreat still further, playing with an astonishingly delicate touch, shaping every utterance with exquisite suppleness.

The wanderer did not so much as step out with a purposeful tread in ‘Gute Nachte’ as float, carried by dreams and memories through the bleak iciness to which he seemed insensible. The piano’s accents were but tender emphases, as if the traveller’s foot had sunk into soft snow, and Adès’s sweet pianissimo faded still further in the second stanza as darkness enveloped the world. Bostridge was at one with this ethereal landscape, his whispered ‘Gute Nacht’ a farewell not just to his beloved, but also to recognisable realities. But, in ‘Die Wetterfahne’ the traveller’s unpredictability immediately revealed itself in the flash of fire with which Bostridge scorned the weather-vane, ‘Da dacht’ ich schon in meinem Wahner,/ Sie pfiff’ den armen Flüchtling aus’ (In my folly I thought it mocked the wretched fugitive). There was a terrible, unhinged quality to the anger.

In song after song, Adès surprised me with the emotive suggestiveness of the slightest of gestures. The pinpoint delicacy of the frozen tears which fall unnoticed in ‘Gefrorne Tränen’ conjured a painful innocence when the traveller realises that he has been weeping; and here, the darkness of Bostridge’s confused low murmuring, ‘Ei Tränen, meine Tränen’, was shocking, all the more so in the light of the deceptive lyricism of the final stanza. This warmth, though, was immediately numbed by the rapid curtailment of the piano’s brief swellings in the introduction to ‘Erstarrung’, and Bostridge’s oscillation between heated avowals and insubstantial musings. The fourth stanza of this song perfectly exemplified Adès’s engagement with the poet-narrator’s journey, the quiet, even circling of the right-hand being underpinned by a sharply defined bass line in which a triplet figure came to the fore, as if literally pushing the wanderer onwards.

But, despite the compelling impetus a pause did come, in a strange vision of the linden-tree which seemed to carry Bostridge away from the present, his voice becoming blanched and eerie as the dangerous rustling branches beseeched, ‘Komm her zu mir, Geselle, Hier findst du Ruh’!’ (Come to me, my friend, here you shall find rest!). The arrival of the cold wind woke us all from such mysteries, and as Bostridge declared, ‘Ich wendete mich nicht’ (I did not look back), the piano seemed almost to disappear. From my seat in the Hall, I could appreciate how closely Adès watched, followed, responded to Bostridge in ‘Wasserflut’ (Flood), in which the tenor emphasised the traveller’s instability and volatility, through startling tonal contrasts. And, again, there was that telling detail from Adès: in the third stanza he seemed to emphasise the difference between the piano’s dotted rhythm and the singer’s triplets (a discrepancy which has been subject to much, unresolved critical debate), lagging behind the vocal line and sharpening the poignancy of the traveller’s address to the snow, ‘Folge nach nur meinen Tränen,/ Nimmt dich bald das Bächlein auf’ (You’ve only to follow my tears and the stream will bear you away).

The languor of some songs created a heavy, wretched woefulness, as when the wanderer confronts the motionless, ice-crusted stream in ‘Auf dem Flusse’ (On the river), and here the indignation of Bostridge’s rhetorical outburst - as the poet-narrator imagines that beneath the stillness a torrent rages, like that in his own heart - was complemented by the tautness of the piano bass trills, the left hand being somehow both melodious and discomforting. The piano emerged slyly from the shadows at the start of ‘Irrlicht’ (Will-o’-the-wisp), and though the poet-speaker declares himself calm, as he makes his way down the dry bed of the mountain stream, there was fear in the rising vocal portamenti of the last stanza and in the piano’s final whispered taunt.

In contrast, I scribbled the word ‘deranged’ in my programme alongside the text of ‘Rückblick’ (A backward glance), and I think that says it all: this traveller seemed to have become detached from the real, and the corporeal, existing ‘somewhere else’ in a world of his own tortured imaginings. In ‘Rast’ (Rest) the juxtaposition of Bostridge’s light head-voice, as he drove on without rest through the storm, and the dense piano left-hand chords deepened this sense of ‘lostness’ still further, and the final pang of anguish which afflicts the traveller’s heart was viciously tense. By ‘Frülingstraum’ (Dream of Spring), both pianist and singer had submitted to an almost psychotic unsoundness, deviating alarmingly between frenzy, desolation and dreaminess. The slowing at the end of this song, which emphasised the clarity of the low piano bass line, seemed to prepare for the weary weight and torpor of ‘Einsamkeit’ (Loneliness); here, single words, ‘Einsam’, ‘Leben’, seemed almost detached from any semantic context, and Bostridge’s voice was bleached of all colour in the wanderer’s concluding reflection on a past when he was not so wretched.

The arrival of the mail-coach brought no promise or joy, Adès’s poundings ringing with indifference: ‘Die Post bringt keinen Brief für dich’ (There will be no letter for you). There was a further pained paring of emotional connectedness in the unisons of ‘Der greise Kopf’ (The hoary head), in the cold simplicity of the piano’s arpeggio-triplets in the prelude to ‘Die Krahe’ (The crow) - as even as a child’s music-box - and in Bostridge’s fragmented address to the ‘wunderliches Tier’, strange creature, whose overhead circling casts a perturbing shade. At the close of the song, Bostridge turned his back on the audience, gazing into the belly of the piano, lost in terrifying absurdity and unease.

It didn’t seem possible that we could descend any further into existential desolation, but we did, and by the time we had travelled from impetuous last hopes (‘Letzte Hoffnung’), through the taunting barking of dogs and rattling of chains in the village (‘Im Dorfe’) and into pure delusion (‘Täuschung’) what was most chilling was the way the supreme control executed by singer and pianist served a seemingly irredeemable irrationality. The proverbial hopelessness of trying to argue with a madman was palpable.

And so it seemed oddly but wonderfully ‘wrong’ that we could admire Adès’s lovely voice-leading in ‘Der Wegweiser’, especially as the sign-post led us only to the essence of human isolation: the slowing, fading declaration of acceptance that the wanderer must travel the one road from which no man has ever returned (‘Eine Strasse muss ich gehen,/ Die noch Keiner ging zurück’). And, that Bostridge, in ‘Das Wirtshaus’ (The inn), could colour so tenderly the traveller’s acknowledgement that the graveyard is to be his place of rest. Adès did not conjure defiance at the start of ‘Mut!’ (Courage!) so much as half-hearted self-encouragement, though there was fierce anger in the final two chords, which almost whipped us with their bitter accents.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Bostridge sing ‘Die Nebensonnen’ more beautifully, the eloquent decorations of Adès’s introductory phrase inspiring a lyrical gentility which made nihilist submission to darkness and death seem almost consoling. But, should we have been tempted by apparent intimations of solace, Adès revealed our foolishness at the start of ‘Der Leiermann’: the left hand’s upward acciaccatura, which resolves to form the bare fifth of the hurdy-gurdy man’s dirge, here crunched onto the beat, an aggressive and disturbing intrusion - and this was, for once, no pianissimo, but a forceful, sustained expression of contempt and pain. The clanging dissonance of these first two bars, though not stated again, lingered and cast an acerbic shadow over the song, draining the traveller of a life-pulse, even as he marvelled at the organ-grinder’s steadfastness - ‘Dreht, und seine Leier/Steht ihm nimmer still.’ (He turns the handle, his hurdy-gurdy’s never still). The silence - both relief and horror - which engulfed the traveller was absolute.

Claire Seymour

Schubert: Winterreise D911

Ian Bostridge (tenor), Thomas Adès (piano)
Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 17th September 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):