Vocal winners at the Wigmore

Friday, 27th December 2019 — By Michael White

Tara Erraught and Simon Keenlyside

Tara Erraught and Simon Keenlyside

The week or so after Christmas is when musicians go to ground – especially the singers, who will be recovering from a surfeit of Messiahs – and there’s frankly not much happening in terms of live performance. Not even in London.

But that said, there are two interesting vocal concerts coming up that Londoners should know about. The first – this Sunday 29th at 7.30pm, Wigmore Hall – is from the Irish mezzo Tara Erraught, who was catapulted to a fame she hadn’t bargained for in 2014 when she was cast in the gender-bending role of Octavian for Glyndebourne’s new Der Rosenkavalier and the reviews (not mine, I hasten to say) got more agitated about her size than her singing. It became a media issue – christened “Chubbygate” – and raised some searching questions about what a critic should or shouldn’t pay attention to on stage.

My own view is that opera is theatre as well as music: so visual aspects DO matter, and I can’t pretend she was visually convincing as the adolescent boy Octavian is meant to be. But that said, opera has always privileged voice over appearance, and what some of my colleagues said about her was uncalled for if not downright cruel. So they deserved the comeback.

And the happy ending is that Erraught, who was previously not well known, is now recognised for what she is: a singer of distinction. As you’ll hear if you go to the Wigmore on Sunday for her programme of songs by Mahler and Loewe.

A singer of still greater distinction is the baritone Simon Keenlyside who has been having problems recently but seems to be back on form and is also at the Wigmore – 7.30pm, Thursday January 2. He brings a mixed programme of Poulenc, Schumann and Britten. But for my money the key part of it will be Britten’s cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.

For anyone who has seen the impressive Blake exhibition running currently at Tate Britain (it continues until February 2) this should be a useful add-on to the dazzling experience of Blake’s creative genius. Britten’s settings can be fierce and dark but, in their way, illuminating. And Keenlyside has both the voice and disposition to deliver them memorably.

If you’re interested in Britten, you might want to know that there’s a BBC Radio 3 broadcast this Saturday of his final opera Death in Venice, taken from the handsome production that recently opened at Covent Garden – with Mark Padmore and Gerald Finley both on top form in the lead roles. Tune in at 6.30pm on the 28th.

And looking ahead for still more Britten, the truly fabulous tenor Allan Clayton sings his Thomas Hardy cycle Winter Words at the Wigmore on Saturday January 4. 7.30pm. Unmissable.


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