Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13
24 Sep 2005

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 13 ("Babi Yar")

Audiences accustomed to hearing the grandeur of Shostakovich’s early symphonies may initially be disillusioned when listening to his Thirteenth Symphony for the first time.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 ("Babi Yar")

Sergei Aleksashkin, bass; Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Mariss Jansons (cond.)

EMI Classics 7243 5 57902 2 4 [CD]

 

Lacking the bold thematic statements characteristic of his other works, the Thirteenth, both in music and text, is riddled with subtleties and innuendos designed to expose the musical oppression posed by the Soviet regime through a series of cleverly disguised understatements. The simplicity through which these ideas are realized is a compliment to Shostakovich’s pensive and mature style. If well-executed, a thoughtful interpretation would reveal the heart of what Shostakovich so desperately needed to express.

Shostakovich chose a collection of poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko as the text. The title of the most notable of these poems, “Babi Yar,” is often used as a distinctive title for the whole symphony. Originally, the poem described the death and suffering of Ukrainian Jews by the hands of the Nazi Fascists. However, pressure from the government necessitated revisions that glorified the role of the Soviets in defeating the Nazi threat. Even though Yevtushenko adamantly denied having succumbed to the government pressure when revising the text of “Babi Yar,” outside of the Soviet Union, Yevtushenko was known to have reverted back to the original text.

As expected, Mariss Jansons led the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfinks in a faithful and insightful delivery of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13.The opening Adagio begins in a hauntingly steady tempo. As indicated, the fluctuations in dynamics are gradual, and amazingly controlled in this recording. A carefully articulated chromatic motive sets the stage for the entrance of the chorus of male voices in a low register. The bass soloist, Sergei Aleksashkin, certainly captures the mood of the movement by echoing the somber style established by the orchestra and chorus. Later in the movement, moments of mounting tension characterized by painstakingly slow-moving crescendos add a sense of rising tension, ending suddenly through abrupt subito pianos.

The second movement is set to one of Yevtushenko’s more witty poems entitled, “Humor.” The text of this poem seems to imply the farcical nature of governments (in the general sense, not of specific governments), boasting that the powers in authority may control many aspects in the lives of people, but that they were impotent against humor. The lightest of all the other movements, the Allegretto tempo is a hair on the fast side which actually adds to the levity. A violin solo masterfully played expresses the playful style of this movement, which seems to poke fun at oppressive governments.

“In the Store,” a movement honoring the strength and courage of Russian women, can only be described as utterly respectful. The melodic lines are predominantly in the lowest registers, and are never rushed. It takes enormous patience and control to keep from rushing or inserting superfluous gestures into a movement that should be defined by rich harmonic textures. Kudos to Mariss Jansons for a demonstrating infinite patience and control to provide a performance that never once seemed hurried or exasperated. The bass soloist also proved his incredible versatility through changes in the color and timbre of his voice necessitated by the commanding score.
Appropriately named, “Fears,” the fourth movement of this symphony, fully lives up to its title. If listening to this movement in isolation without any of the background information, it would be easy to assume that the movement was part of a requiem mass. In actuality, the text urges the audience to remember their fears and fight complacent tendencies. It is no wonder the Soviet government may have been fearful of a work that encouraged outspokenness in the face of adversity. Once again, Aleksashkin portrays the severity of Yevtushenko’s poem with great facility. His voice was powerful and unwavering in a way that would please Shostakovich.

The final movement, “A Career,” opens with a refreshing statement from the flutes. In this coy Allegretto, Yevtushenko and Shostakovich threw caution to wind with a text that explicitly defies the pressure that would have them shape their careers through conformity and resignation. A credit to the performers, the untamed spirit of this movement was vividly illustrated on all levels. Certainly, EMI Classics has done a great service by releasing this authoritative recording of a brilliantly executed masterpiece.

Nathalie Hristov
Music Librarian
University of Tennessee

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):