Kaspar Hauser, RSAMD, Glasgow
RORY Boyle’s first full opera, Kaspar Hauser, about a lost and found and lost again young man, had a considerable dramatic impact at its premiere on Saturday in an impressive performance by a host of vocal, acting and instrumental talents from the RSAMD.
The sheer clarity of delivery of text and music by the young singers and musicians was almost of benchmark quality: will we ever tell the naked truth about how much is lost in attempting to elucidate and articulate opera?
Everything in Kaspar Hauser, from its textual construction to Boyle’s dark, wonderfully-detailed scoring, especially for the woodwinds, which was intelligently
balanced and atmospherically-wrought, was evocative and effective.
Not everything in the characterisation was equally transparent: why did The Man in Black seem thin and nebulous, particularly compared to the cameo of Marga the Mesmerist, which was vivid and terrifying? Was it the stage presence of actress Jemma Brown or the writing?
These are nuts and bolts and I’m being picky: the huge cast of student singers and the brilliant instrumental ensemble in the sensitive hands of conductor Derek Clark did the opera and its composer proud.
And the performance of Owain Browne in the title role, particularly as poor Kaspar’s phoney world imploded and he disgraced himself in public, evoked a genuine emotional response and was deeply moving.
The bleak, bare-staged, darkly-lit setting of the opera, together with Fredrick Wake-Walker’s economical deployment of his large cast, gave the work a space and atmosphere appropriate to its subject.
This exercise in creating work for emergent talent in the academy has enormous potential for development. More performances tonight, Wednesday and Thursday.
BBC SSO, City Hall, Glasgow
THERE were really two reasons for being at the Donald Runnicles concert with the BBC SSO on Thursday night, which was packed out. One was to have a rare glimpse of this renowned Wagnerian conductor in action in music that will be second nature to him in his Deutsche Oper job in Berlin but to which we will have little, if any, exposure. That said, we should perhaps live in hope, following his incandescent account of the Venusberg music from Tannhauser, that he might, during his tenure in Scotland, fetch over a soprano and tenor and give us an account of one of the great Wagnerian set pieces.
At least, in addition to a solid, robust and driving Beethoven Seven, Runnicles did bring us on Thursday the astounding American soprano Christine Brewer, whose unpretentious voice, at once armour-plated and heart-breakingly tender, wrought emotional havoc among many listeners (and at least one silly critic who forgot to bring enough tissues).
The Strauss classics she sang (including the finest, most weightlessly-accompanied Wiegenlied I have heard in concert) were musical and emotional wonders; but her encore, of the greatest of all songs, Morgen, with SSO guest leader Marcia Crayford’s bewitching solo caressing the heart of the song was, I’m afraid, more than tear ducts and tissues could resist.
After the official concert, Runnicles, on piano, and Brewer performed Burns, Britten and Bernstein in an informal set that teased the mind and broke the heart.
SCO, City Hall, Glasgow
SUPREME sophistication in music, to my ears, is usually compounded of a select number of elements, the technical excellence of the playing apart.
These will almost certainly include understatement and restraint: nobody can be sophisticated while shouting or showing off; and extravagance usually torpedoes the possibility of suavity.
This is not a think-piece, but these notions rose in my mind early on during the SCO’s wonderfully-sophisticated concert on Friday night with Finnish conductor Okko Kamu and pianist Steven Osborne. By the end of the night they had not been budged by the music which had unfolded.
Okko Kamu is a treasure. He only does what he wants to do, I understand, and thus has a certain rarity value. But even if it’s once in a blue moon the SCO can get him, it’s worth the wait.
The poise, eloquence, measured pacing and control with which he and the SCO in super-polished form delivered Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony was an indictment of the myriad conductors and orchestras who chuck it off like a throwaway starter.
Exactly the same principles applied in Kamu’s stunning reading of Haydn’s Oxford Symphony, where neither he nor the SCO fell for any of the obvious tricks. The style, craftsmanship and uninterrupted genius of the inspiration were the more evident because the performance did not heavily underline them.
And precisely these characteristics marked Steven Osborne’s ultra-refined performance of Mozart’s last Piano Concerto, which seemed to me luminous from start to close, with Osborne probing way beneath the surface of the music, deep in its spirit, and revealing, in the sublime slow movement, levels of purity that are rare in music.