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

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

11 Sep 2018

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Florian Boesch (baritone) and Malcolm Martineau (piano), Wigmore Hall, 8th September 2018

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Florian Boesch

Photo credit: Lukas Beck

 

The re-commencement of cultural calendars and customs can be reassuring. But, in fact this recital was far from a routine affair, not least because I doubt that many in the capacity audience were familiar with the lieder of Robert Franz (1815-1892), nine of whose songs opened this concert in which the work of Robert Schumann served as a landing light. Moreover, one of the intriguing aspects of this thoughtful programme was the opportunity that it provided to compare settings of the same text by different composers, either as presented side-by-side, or as recalled from oft-visited memories. And, the relationships intimated by the programme were in no way arbitrary. Franz, who by 1842 had become director of the Singakademie in Halle, where he organised choral festivals, sent his first book of songs to Schumann, who published it in 1843 having written a detailed and favourable review of the edition in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Franz Liszt, who was later one of Franz’s influential supporters, published his own book about Franz in 1872.

The lied was the sole outlet for Franz’s compositional creativity. Born in Halle in 1815, he composed more than 300 songs. If the nine songs presented here are a good benchmark, then Franz’s predominantly strophic songs don’t run a gamut of emotions and moods. Indeed, the composer himself professed, ‘My Lieder are not meant to create excitement but rather peace and calm’. But, they display consummate crafting of small-scale poetic canvases, never melodramatic, always discretely appropriate to the sentiments of the text.

And, the songs have a compelling fluency, which Boesch and Martineau emphasised by flowing briskly segue through the songs. Perhaps, in fact, it might have been nice occasionally to have had a little time to pause and take in the perfume of each individual song; and, a similar forward impetus characterised the whole recital, Schumann’s ‘Belsazar’ closing the first half almost as an appendix to the final song of the Liszt sequence, ‘Loreley’, and Leiderkreis racing onwards from the six songs by Schumann that commenced the second half. Even within songs, there was infrequently room for ponderance upon changes of emotional direction; we were carried on a magic carpet that offered vistas of diverse terrain but did not rest to take in the view of the fluctuating Romantic landscapes.

But, to return to Franz’s lied, these were delivered from the first with striking directness, definition and focus. Boesch’s baritone is a mighty beast, but when the poet-speaker reflected, “Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’,/ So schwindet all mein Leid und Weh’ (When I look into your eyes, all my pain and sorrow vanish), it sank low in wonder and diminished to a spine-tingling breath-whisper; Martineau, unfailingly refined, relayed the urgency of ‘Ich will meine Selle tauchen’ (Let me bathe my soul) with a wonderfully light touch. ‘Im Rhein’, shone with nobility and reverence, while ‘Am leuchtenden’ (One bright summer morning) evinced, first, breezy relaxation, then, as Boesch made expressive use of his head voice, the pathos of nature which weeps at man’s foolishness. Martineau’s piano accompaniment was an eerie Will-o’-the-wisp in ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’ (I wept in my dream), and in this song much was made of dynamic contrasts and of the drama supplied by the motivic drama.

Not surprisingly there was greater sensuous and impassioned rhetoric in the sequence of lieder by Liszt. The bitterness of ‘Vergiftet sind meine Lieder’ (My songs are filled with poison) was quite shocking, the bizarre twistings of the piano playout adding further painful contortions to the singer’s angry, declamatory sneer, somehow simultaneously ironic and honest: ‘Ich trage im Herzen viel Schlagen,/ Und dich, Geliebte mein’ (Many serpents dwell in my heart,/ and you, beloved, too). In contrast, ‘Ein Fichten baum steht einsam’ (A spruce tree stands lonely) sank low in contemplative inscrutability, while the unusual melodic perambulations of ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ (You are like a flower) were sung pianissimo as if transfixed. This song whetted the appetite for Schumann’s setting of this song, which would follow the interval. Indeed, both the Franz and Liszt sequences were punctuated at the close with a song by Schumann, serving as signposts to the second half of the recital when the composer would be placed exclusively in the spotlight. Appropriately, ‘Abends am Strond’ (Evening by the sea) was sung with carefully measured sentimentality while, later, ‘Belsazar’ rang with dramatic colour and clamour, the text made vivid, almost ‘tactile’ in its terror, the piano accompanied tumbling riotously.

The high drama, though, never excluded subtlety, and the performers’ control of tone, timbre and dynamic was even more strongly felt in the later Schumann songs, dating from 1840-41 - a time in Schumann’s life when elation and despondency must have seemed his mutual friends, the ecstasy of his love for Clara competing with despair and frustration that her father would not allow them to marry. Martineau’s tender, touching playout to ‘Die beiden Grenadier’ (The Two Grenadiers; from Romanzen und Balladen II Op.49) was an eloquent, soulful statement of the French prisoner-of-war’s unwavering dedication to his Emperor and its delicacy prepared perfectly for the first flower-song of Myrten Op.25, ‘Die Lotosblume’. Here, though the melody is simple, Boesch found much nuance in the fragmented line, and the piano’s startling change of harmonic direction with the line ‘Der Mond, der is ihr Buhle’ (The moon is her lover) plunged us into nocturnal raptures. But, Schumann’s lachrymose inclinations returned until the ‘solitary tear’ of ‘Was will die einsame Träne?’ dissolved, a mere memory of disappointed love; and, the ironic wistfulness of ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’, contrasted starkly with the ethereal idealism of Liszt’s setting. The star of ‘Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht’ (There fell a frost one night in spring) sparkled with magical softness.

And, so, on to Liederkreis - the Op.24 set, heard less frequently than the Op.39 collection of Eichendorff settings that Schumann began four months later. The nine poems drawn from the ‘Junge Leiden’ (Youthful sorrows) section of Heine’s Buch der Lieder must have seemed to express the composer’s own longing for a lover who is just out of reach, and Boesch and Martineau conveyed every fluctuation of emotion felt by the poet-narrator, from his somnolent rising (‘Morgens steh’ ich auf und trage’) - the lazy rubato here was delicious authentic - through the shifting kaleidoscope of love’s dramas, to the tired stoicism of ‘Anfangs wollt’ ich fast verzagen’ (At first I almost lost heart).

The performers’ ability to keep the narrative pushing onwards, even when quietly taking us into their confidence at moments of intimacy, was notable. Thus, after the agitation of ‘Es treibt mich hin’ (I’m driven this way) had spilled into the angry piano postlude, the harmonic suspensions of ‘Ich wandelte under den Bläumen’ (I wandered among the trees) transported us into the melancholy of the mysteries which trouble the meandering poet, only for the piano’s dry hammerings in ‘Lieb Liebchen, leg’s Händchen’ (Lay your hand on my heart, my love) to snap us back to the grim reality of death as the carpenter fashions the poet’s coffin. Boesch’s wonderfully mellifluous rendition of ‘Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden’ did not neglect the almost insane wretchedness of thwarted love, a desperate anguish which overflowed into Martineau’s dark farewell, which was a veritable narrative in itself.

There was a lovely give-and-take within the rolling phrases of the barcarolle, ’Berg und Burgen schau’n herunter’ (Mountains and castles look down), which temporarily assuaged the violence of ‘Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann’ (Wait, O wait, wild sailor). And, a similar rhythmic flexibility captured the ambiguous oscillation between expectation and resignation of the final song, ‘Mit Myrten und Rosen’; here, Boesch’s tender head-voice - ‘Doch auf neu’ alte Glut sie belebt,/ Wenn der Liebe Geist einst über sie schwebt’ (But the old glow shall revive them again, when one day Love’s spirit floats over them) - trembled with the beauty of fragile hope, as if the poet barely dared to believe.

Finally, two encores, from Dichterliebe, offered a microcosm of the recital’s wonderfully persuasive wanderings amid the emotional extremes of a poet’s love: ‘Hör’ Ich das Liedchen klingen’, in which the beloved’s song makes the poet’s breast burst with ‘wild affliction’, and ‘Ein Jungling liebt ein Mädchen’, which dismissed Love’s capriciousness with a swift swipe of insouciant sarcasm.

Claire Seymour

Florian Boesch (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Robert Franz - ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’ Op.25 No.5, ‘Die Rose, die Lilie’ Op.34 No.5, ‘Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’’ Op.44 No.5, ‘Ich will meine Seele tauchen Op.43 No.4, ‘Im Rhein’ Op.18 No.2, ‘Hör ich das Liedchen klingen’ Op.5 No.11, ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’ Op.11 No.2, ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’ Op.25 No.3, ‘Allnächtlich im Traume’ Op.9 No.4; Robert Schumann - ‘Abends am Strand’ Op.45 No.3; Franz Liszt - ‘Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam’ S309, ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ S287, ‘Im Rhein, im schönen Strome’ S272/1, ‘Vergiftet sind meine Lieder’ S289, ‘Loreley’ S273; Robert Schumann - ‘Belsazar’ Op.57, ‘Die beiden Grenadiere’ Op.49 No.1, Three lieder from Myrthen Op.25 (‘Die Lotosblume’, ‘Was will die einsame Träne?’, ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’), ‘Tragödie’ Op.64 No.3, Liederkreis Op.24.

Wigmore Hall, London; Saturday 8th 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):