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

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

03 Aug 2019

Prom 18: Das Lied von der Erde

Benjamin Britten’s early, brilliant Piano Concerto and Gustav Mahler’s late symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde might seem strange concert partners, but there are links between the two works. Both have an uncertainty of form, Britten’s concerto is almost a suite, whilst Mahler’s song-cycle is effectively a symphony. Also, both works were introduced into the UK by Sir Henry Wood. It is this latter connection which drew Britten’s Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde into Thursday night’s Prom as part of this year’s celebration the 150th anniversary of Sir Henry Wood’s birth.

Prom 18: BBCSO conducted by Edward Gardner

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Claudia Mahnke

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

For Prom 18, Edward Gardner conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Leif Ove Andsnes as the soloist in Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto, and tenor Stuart Skelton and mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke as soloists in Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

Sir Henry Wood commissioned Britten’s Piano Concerto in 1938 when the young composer (not yet 25) took the solo part at the work’s premiere at the Proms. It received a mixed reception, and in 1946 Britten introduced a revised version, which was that performed at tonight’s Prom. Leif Ove Andsnes made his Proms debut with the work in 1992.

The concerto is notable for the brilliance of the piano writing, and the sense of sardonic wit which flashes through the work particularly in the orchestra. Britten gave each movement a title, ‘Toccata’, ‘Waltz’, ‘Impromptu’, ‘March’.

For the ‘Toccata’ the brilliant piano part pits the soloist against the more sardonic orchestra. Edward Gardner drew some vivid playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Leif Ove Andsnes countered with contained virtuosity. The balance between piano and orchestra was not always ideal, and Andsnes seemed to want to show that there was more to the concerto than mere showy pianism. The second movement ‘Waltz’ started with a haunting and haunted theme in the orchestra, whilst the piano’s initial entry seemed to veer dangerously close to the café! That said, as this movement progressed, veering between the serious and the sardonic, I felt I wanted Andsnes to have a bit more fun. The ‘Impromptu’ started with a beautifully simply piano chorale, and it was the bitter-sweet nature of this which both orchestra and soloist developed. The final ‘March’ was described in the Proms programme book as bringing a military threat, but initially Edward Gardner and the orchestra made it feel more engaging, though a creepy sense of threat came in only to be brushed away by the sparkling wit of the solo part.

Britten’s Piano Concerto is perhaps not as well-known as his Violin Concerto, but here Leif Ove Andsnes, Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra made a strong case for the work, though I wished Andsnes playing had had a more demonstrative sense of fun. After all, this is the work of a young man.

Following the interval, the mood changed for Mahler’s late song cycle. Completed just under 30 years before Britten’s concerto, there is a world (and a world war) between them. Mahler writes for a large orchestra, but what was noticeable about Edward Gardner’s performance was the way things easily evaporated to just a few instruments. There was a transparency and sense of fine detail in the orchestra, a feeling of control that was almost classical for all the intense moments of high emotion.

Stuart Skelton Prom 18.JPGStuart Skelton, and the BBCSO conducted by Edward Gardner. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

The orchestral playing in ‘Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde’ had a brilliance to it which at times threatened to over-balance Stuart Skelton’s exuberant performance, which in later verses became wonderfully trenchant. The dark hues of Skelton’s voice suit the piece, though perhaps a brighter, more forward placed voice would have carried better over the orchestra. After a touching orchestra introduction to ‘Der Einsame in Herbst’, Claudia Mahnke had a lovely way of handling the exposed first entry. Mahnke took quite a straight, direct approach to the music, letting it speak for itself without the emotionalism of the performances I have been typically used to. Whilst she shaped the phrases expressively, her diction as somewhat occluded and we had difficulty following the words even with the printed crib. ‘Von der Jugend’ was light and perky, with Skelton taking engaging delight in the story-telling element here. There was a lively transparency in the orchestra in ‘Von der Schönheit’, though Mahnke’s performance felt a bit over careful, and in the latter sections she never quite matched the vibrancy and passion of the orchestral playing, making rather a sober interpretation. ‘Der Trunkene im Frühling’ started in lively fashion, albeit with moments of tenderness. Skelton was wonderfully involved in the story again, and we began to appreciate the sheer tirelessness of his performance. It is a long time since I have heard a tenor so apparently at east in Mahler’s often cruel tenor writing.

‘Der Abschied’ saw Mahnke finely controlled and quite straight in her phrasing, her understatement making the piece all the more moving. Gardner and the orchestra brought a lovely spaciousness to the long orchestral section before the final stanzas, though again this was not as overtly emotional as some performances. Mahnke brought moments of real intensity and a great sense of joy to the closing verses, with a touching fading away in ‘Ewig… ewig…’ This was a controlled, moving performance, but one which kept extreme emotions in check somewhat, so that it lacked the great sense of catharsis that some performers bring to the piece.

Robert Hugill

Benjamin Britten - Piano Concerto; Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Stuart Skelton (tenor), Claudia Mahnke (mezzo-soprano) Edward Gardner (conductor), BBC Symphony Orchestra

Royal Albert Hall, London; Thursday 1st August 2019

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):