Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

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):