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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written - 1968 - a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protestors, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

20 Aug 2019

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.

Proms at … Cadogan Hall 5

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Louise Alder

Photo credit: Gerard Collett

 

Alder’s programme had me reflecting on the challenges of devising a sequence of song for a fairly short mid-day recital. Does one take a theme and offer the audience contrasting responses from a variety of composers? Is homogeneity of idiom and period preferable to diversity? At first glance, this programme looked fairly conventional: a chronological progression from Schubert, through the Mendelssohn siblings, and on to Liszt and Chopin - complemented by a geographical movement from central Europe, then further eastwards, though with a nod towards Paris.

But closer inspection revealed a slight idiosyncrasy in the programme, for two of the three Schubert songs and the five songs by Liszt were to be performed in ‘versions’ less well known to audiences. And to Alder herself: during a brief word after the recital, the soprano commented that there had been a lot of ‘new’ music to learn, and that it was a challenge to sing the ‘variants’ of songs whose more familiar incarnation was so present in one’s musical memory.

Not that there was any sign of this ‘challenge’ during a performance that was characterised by relaxed affability, even playfulness at times, and confident, easeful musicianship. Alder is a natural ‘actor’, and she brought the varied contexts and protagonists of the lieder immediately to life, aided by Matthewman’s discrete but superlatively attentive accompaniments. The clarity of Matthewman’s voicing, the gentleness and precision of the quietest episodes, the fine definition of motive and pattern, the lively coloristic touches: all such made for an impressively sensitive complement to Alder’s vocal line.

Matthewman’s mastery of both tiny motif and broader canvas, and the relationship between the two, was exemplified in the opening song, ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, in which the piano’s murmuring wheel gained almost imperceptible momentum as the abandoned Gretchen’s yearning grew and the visions of her lover intensified, resuming its spinning with wonderful hesitancy then determination after the climactic memory of his kiss, a peak that Alder’s passion pushed a little off kilter - a rare, small lapse, but entirely forgivable at such an early stage in the recital as she settled into her stride. The second version of ‘Nacht und Träume’ (published in 1823 as Op.43 No.2) followed. Matthewman’s soft pedalling conjured a sleepy mood, the piano sinking low, and Alder’s soprano acquired a floaty dreaminess as she longed for the spirit of the night to return. My first impression was that the tempo was rather slow, weakening the ‘pull’ of some of the harmonic progressions. But a subsequent glance at the two versions revealed that in 1823 Schubert did indeed add ‘sehr’ to the ‘langsam’ instruction of the first version! The performers had been true to his intended languid reflectiveness after all.

Alder closed the Schubert sequence with ‘Die Forelle’, in its fifth version (1821). She performed this song during the Song Prize Final of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, and the beguiling vivacity and drama that she brought to her Cadogan Hall performance made it clear why she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize in 2017 and prompted Gerald Finley to remark “she is born for that stage”!

Three songs by Felix Mendelssohn preceded three by his sister Fanny, and here Alder’s soprano seemed freer, more fluid in the upper register and more focused in the middle. Matthewman’s rippling arpeggios sparkled in ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’, while after the delicacy of the roses’ delicate scented whispers, Alder allowed the blissful dreams to bloom at the close. The rocking syncopations of the brief ‘Der Mond’ throbbed with a passion which burst vibrantly forth in the second stanza, with the poet’s plea to the shining moon for a single glance brimming with heavenly peace, while ‘Neue Liebe’ found Mendelssohn in ‘fairy mode’ and the duo tripping precisely, fleetly and with a feverish frisson through the racing night journey.

Fanny Hensel’s ‘Bergeslust’ seems to offer a joyful vision of nature, with the woods and mountains stretching up to the heaven, but Alder and Matthewman used the brief modulation to the minor mode to subtly intimate graver thoughts. Lovely rubatos imbued ‘Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass?’ with a tender wistfulness; in contrast, ‘Nach Süden’ was as exuberant and purposeful as the birds flying southwards, ‘into the eternal blossoming’, that the poet-speaker eulogises.

It was the five songs by Liszt, though, that were both most substantial and most impressive. The major-minor dialectic of the piano’s introduction pulsed through ‘Freudvoll und Leidvoll’, which trembled with anguish and surged with love. Alder was fully in tune with the poetic sentiments which she and Matthewman communicated with genuineness and creative inflection. ‘S’il est un charmant gazon’ was delightfully fresh, joyous and spontaneous; ‘Oh! Quand je dors’ billowed wonderfully, with Alder drawing every nuance from the text - the lover’s passing breath and the transformation of woman into angel made tangible by the coaxing vocal delivery. Best of all was ‘O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst’, in which natural simplicity gave way to more artful expression, as Alder’s beautiful soprano soared through the ever more impassioned arcs. Matthewman’s harmonies roved, breaking beyond the ordered confines of the opening of the song and pushing the voice towards impassioned declamation which overflowed with feeling, until, with wonderful control, soprano and pianist drew the emotions which had so richly flamed back within their hearts.

After such heights of Romantic sensibility, a relaxation into a more folky spirit was welcome, and Chopin’s lilting ‘Życzenie’ (The Maiden’s Wish) swept us into a more carefree world. Alder may have required the score for these Polish songs, but - while I’m not in a position to judge the authenticity of her Polish - she didn’t seem to glance down at it very often! ‘Śliczny chłopiec’ (Handsome lad) was similarly winsome and full of playfulness, preparing us for the smouldering and teasing of Rossini’s ‘Canzonetta spagnuola’ which accelerated with gleeful confidence and devil-may-care abandon, as Alder raced through the vocal ripples.

As they accepted the spirited applause of the capacity Cadogan Hall audience, Alder thanked Matthewman with a warm hug. The performers obviously enjoyed themselves as much as we did.

This recital is available on BBC Radio 3 iPlayer for 28 days.

Claire Seymour

Proms at … Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder (soprano), Gary Matthewman (piano)

Schubert - ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, ‘Nacht und Träume’, ‘Die Forelle’; Mendelssohn - ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’, ‘Der Mond’, ‘Neue Liebe’; Fanny Hensel - ‘Bergeslust’, ‘Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass’, ‘Nach Süden’; Liszt - ‘Freudvoll und leidvoll’, ‘O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst’, ‘S'il est un charmant gazon’, ‘Ah! quand je dors’, ‘Comment, disaient-ils’; Chopin - ‘Życzenie’, ‘Śliczny chłopiec’; Rossini - ‘Canzonetta spagnuola’.

Cadogan Hall, London; Monday 19th 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):