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

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Piotr Beczała [Photo by Johannes Ifkovits]
28 Oct 2018

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Piotr Beczała, Helmut Deutsch, Polish and Italian art songs, Wigmore Hall, London, 22nd October 2018

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Piotr Beczała [Photo by Johannes Ifkovits]

 

The two parts of the programme reflected two aspects of Beczała's artistic persona. As an opera singer, he has sung in Italian, German, French, Russian, Czech and Polish. The Italian songs he chose for this occasion showed the dramatic possibilities in art song - art song for opera singers, vehicles for technique and expressiveness. The programme began with three songs from 36 Arie di stile antico by Stefano Donaudy (1879-1925), a Sicilian contemporary of Puccini's, which were taken up soon after publication by singers like Caruso and Tito Schipa. Beczała's crisp diction made Freschi luoghi, prati aulenti sparkle, contrasting well with the darker O del mio amato ben. Followed by four songs from 8 rispetti by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948). Although Ottorino Respighi wrote operas, he also composed a substantial body of orchestral and chamber music. The songs on this programme thus represent an approach to art song which favours the more private, personal medium of voice and piano. The songs of Paolo Tosti (1846-1916)served as a bridge between Donaudy and Wolf-Ferrari and Respighi.

The second part of the programme focused on Beczała's Polish roots. Throughout his career, he has made a point of promoting Poland's rich musical heritage. He sang The Shepherd in Karol Szymanowski's Król Roger in the 2003 Warsaw production, and has also done many of the composer’s songs for male voice. For this Wigmore Hall recital Beczała chose Szymanowski's Sześć pieśni (Six Songs), his op 2, completed when he was still a student, aged 18. Significantly, all are also settings of living poets, contemporaries of the composer. Although Szymanowski was to make his name as a cosmopolitan sophisticate, these songs show that his Polish identity went deep. The texts here were by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer (1860-1940) . Przerwa-Tetmajer was both a nationalist and modernist, given that Secessionism and Symbolism were forces for renewal, all over Europe. Each of these poems is brief, but the imagery is so concentrated that meaning is left deliberately elusive. The first two songs, in a minor key, are autumnal, but the strong piano part suggests resolve. In both songs, rise the image of a woman who may no longer exist. With the third song, We mgłach (In the Mist) the vocal line curves mysteriously, like the mists and streams in the evening cool. What's happening ? "Bez dna, bez dna! bez granic!" sings Majzner, (No bottom, no bottom, without borders!). In dreams, the poet hears mysterious voices calling . In the last song, Pielgrzym, the line rises, swelling with hope. "Gdziekolwiek zwrócę krok, wszędzie mi jedno, na północ pójdę, czyli na południe", (Everywhere I turn, from the north I will go south) Immediately one thinks of the Persian Song of the Night in Szymanowski’s Symphony no 3 and in the Shepherd in the opera Król Roger whose singing changes the King's life.

Mieczław Karłowicz (1876-1909) and Szymanowski were influenced by the Young Poland movement, a literary and artistic aesthetic not dissimilar to the Secession in Munich and Vienna, but with specifically nationalist elements. Pointedly, Beczała and Deutsch paired the early Szymanowski songs with Karłowicz's settings of poems by the same Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer . Indeed, both set the same text, Czasem, gdy długo na pół sennie marżę (Sometimes when long I drowsily dream) which describes a strange, disembodied voice, heard in a dream. "I do not know if this is love, or death, that sings" . The piano part in Karłowicz's version is particularly sophisticated, suggesting perhaps Liszt or Chopin, though the style is distinctively fin de siècle. In Na spokojnnym, ciemnym morzu (On the calm, dark sea) (op3 no 4 1896) the poet imagines sinking into oblivion. "Let me revel in Nothingness". In recitals, reading the text while listening is not a good idea. You might get the words, but you cut yourself off from nuance and musical truth. Much, much better to concentrate on singer and pianist and use your intuition. Because Beczała and Deutsch are so very good at what they do, intuitive listening was surprisingly accurate. The moody piano part suggested strange dissonance, and the edge in Beczała's voice suggested psychic anomie. The stillness in W wieczorną ciszę (In the calm of the evening) (op3 no 8) is ominous. Again, the poet disassociates from the world. perishing "in the dark emptiness". The Przerwa-Tetmajer texts are so surreal that they evoke very fine expression from Karłowicz. Ironically, the composer died young, killed while skiing in the mountains.

Also from Karłowicz's op 3 are the songs Przed nocą wieczną (Before eternal night) and Zaczarowana królewna (The Enchanted Princess) settings respectively of Zygmunt Krasinski and Adam Asnyk, receiving relatively more straightforward treatment from the composer, but as evocatively performed by Beczała and Deutsch. Beczała has appeared in several Polish operas, including Stanisław Monicuisko's Halka and Straszny dwór (The Haunted Manor) - please read about that here. After the intensity of the very beautiful Karłowicz songs, the Monicuisko songs were rather more down to earth. Monicuisko (1819-1872) reflected an earlier aesthetic than that of Karłowicz : more nationalistic, closer to Smetana than to the world at the turn of the 20th century. Thus robust songs about sweethearts and spinning wheels, complete with atmospheric piano figures, and Polna różyczka so vividly sung by Beczała that it was instantly recognizable as a setting of Goethe's Heidenröslein, without needing translation. Then Monicuisko's Krawkowiaczek (The Krakow Boy) who fools around but loves only Halka. For an encore, another wonderful Karłowicz song The Golden years of Childhood. "It's my favourite" said Beczała : almost as well crafted as the Przerwa-Tetmajer songs but warmer and cheerier.

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):