Guest Review by Ellen Godfrey:
Last night at St. John’s Church in the Village, the genius of Richard Wagner’s music abounded in the pairing of the Wesendonck Lieder with two selections from his passionate opera, Tristan und Isolde.
In 1849, Wagner had to escape from Dresden to Switzerland with his wife Minna, to avoid being arrested as a rebel. He was invited to live in a small cottage on the estate of one of his patrons, Otto Wesendonck, and his wife Mathilde. While the Wagner’s were there, Mathilde wrote a cycle of five poems for women which Wagner set to music. The cycle became known as the Wesendonck Lieder. The song cycle was composed between 1857 and 1858. There were unconfirmed rumors that Wagner and Mathilde were having a love affair.
Wagner was two thirds of the way through composing his unmatched 4-opera Ring Cycle, when he took a 12 year break after almost completing Siegfried, the third opera of the cycle. Wagner was very interested in finding new expression in music and drama. He became very interested in the 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who wrote a book called The World as Will and Repression. He started to compose a new opera, Tristan und Isolde, which pointed to a new kind of music which eventually led composition into the 20th century.
The highly gifted soprano Julianna Milin performed both the Wesendonck Lieder, and, after a brief intermission, two selections from Tristan und Isolde, no easy task. In the first part of the program, Miss Millin used her beautiful, big voice in a lighter vein, as is befitting a lieder singer. In the second half of the program, she let her voice rip, with a much bigger sound and beautiful high notes and deep low notes. Her accompanist was the talented Juan Jose Lazaro, who has performed in many major symphonic halls. He has also accompanied many singers in masterclasses. He was a very supportive partner throughout the two part program.
Ms. Milin sang the first poem “Der Engel “(The Angel) very softly and ended it on a very quiet note. This song has several musical references to Das Rheingold, the first opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In the second song "Stehe Still “(Be still), the pianist sailed easily through the difficult very fast moving music, like the rushing wheel of time, which is the first line of the song. Ms Milin was equally adept in her performance.
Wagner was using two of the Wesendonck songs as a draft for a new opera Tristan und Isolde which he had started working on. In the third song “Im Treibhaus" (In the Green House) Wagner used the music as part of the prelude to Act 3 of Tristan und Isolde. It started off with a beautifully played piano introduction by Mr. Lazaro as Ms. Milin started slowly and softly along with him. The ending of the song was quiet, with both the pianist and the singer feeling the music very deeply. In the fourth song “Schmerzen"( Sorrows) Ms. Milin was able to show off her deep low notes, expressing the sorrow of the song.
The fifth and final song is the most beautiful of the cycle--“Traume” (Dreams,) and was used by Wagner in the Act 2 love duet of Tristan und Isolde. Ms. Milin sang a beautiful introduction to the song with much feeling and a good. understanding of the music. It was really her most beautiful singing of the cycle. Mr. Lazaro accompanied her with great understanding and feeling.
What was missing from Ms. Milin’s performance of these 5 wonderful songs, was communication with the audience. She too often looked at the music on her nearby music stand rather than relating to the audience. Hopefully, by the next time she performs this music, she will no longer need the score.
After the intermission Ms. Milin returned to the stage to sing Isolde’s curse from the first act of Tristan und Isolde. Here she was a different singer She used her big bright voice to great effect for this highly dramatic music, and sang with great feeling when called for. In the long narrative, Isolde spews out her rage against Tristan, with whom she is secretly in love, but who is escorting her to marry King Mark. Her singing in this portion was very exciting and she poured out wonderful high notes as she curses Tristan. Juan Jose Lazaro played with anger when needed but never overshadowed her singing.
The evening concluded with the beautiful "Liebestod " (love/death). The music began quietly with both pianist and singer. Ms. Millin sang with great feeling with perfect accompaniment by Mr. Lazaro. She had a beautiful pianissimo at the end and Mr. Lazaro finished on a quiet note. As the program ended, the audience cheered the performances of both artists. It was a lovely evening of music and thoughtfully demonstrated the relationship between Wagner's song cycle and subsequent opera.
© meche kroop