Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Karita Mattila (Photo by: Robert Millard )
01 Oct 2007

JANÁČEK: Jenůfa

Across the country from Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Opera has opened its 2007-08 season with big stars (Netrebko, Alagna, Dessay, Giordani) in juicy, melodic operas by Donizetti and Gounod.

Leoš Janáček: Jenůfa
Los Angeles Opera, 30 September 2007

Above: Karita Mattila (Photo by: Robert Millard)

 

But at the Dorothy Chandler, the Los Angeles Opera chose to commence their season with two unquestionable masterpieces of darker colors, less likely to be thought of as “crowd-pleasers.” Beethoven’s Fidelio premiered first, with a stunning cast of relatively new names (Anja Kampe and Klaus Florian Vogt).

On September 27th Janáček’s Jenůfa opened, with the great and glorious Karita Mattila in the lead. Seen at the second performance on Sunday, 30 September, Oliver Tambosi’s now well-traveled production provided a reliable if not exactly memorable staging for a high-powered musical success. Music Director James Conlon appeared again at the pre-lecture (as is very much his wont), to speak with revivalist passion about the merits of Janacek’s opera, now over a century old and yet still not quite beloved enough to make such urgent declarations of merit unnecessary. But as Conlon said, once the audience is in the house for a performance, the opera makes its own case, and better than any speaker can.

Sunday’s performance certainly won over the matinee crowd. At intermission some members spoke admiringly about the dramatic vocals, while wondering about the significance of Tambosi’s core concept: a boulder breaking through the ground in act one, crowding the stage in act two, and broken into rocks and stones for the final act. As the beautiful Jenůfa hides in her step-mother’s house, scarred by her frustrated admirer Laca and recovering from the delivery of the child she produced with the handsome scoundrel Števa, she cries out that she feels as if a stone is crushing her. Apparently that one line provided for Tambosi his entry into the heart of the drama, but when the boulder becomes the primary visual reference, the literal depiction of the metaphor reduces the complexity of the drama, rather than supporting it. The tension of act two, at any rate, certainly does not benefit from giving some of the less serious members of the audience the temptation to giggle, as characters feel their way around the huge boulder in their living room.

But the roar of adulation that greeted the singers and conductor Conlon at the end of the afternoon proved that even the questionable qualities of Tambosi’s setting could not lessen the impact of this performance. Mattila owns the title role, and she remains in her glorious prime. An athletic performer, she could subtly suggest Jenůfa’s youth just through her posture, while incautiously throwing herself around the stage in the dynamic second act. Then in the third, after her almost hysterical outburst at the discovery of the body of her child (murdered by her step-mother in a desperate bid to save her stepdaughter from a shamed and lonely life), Mattila projected a wise and loving forgiveness, even standing stock still. Her singing approached the flawless, with only one high climax finding her reaching up a bit tentatively. Tambosi’s set does have the virtue of high walls, intersecting at the rear, which projects the voices out into the huge space of the Dorothy Chandler. Mattila had the power when she needed it, and could pull back into shades of detail as needed. She is, quite simply, an astounding artist.

As the step-mother Kostelnička, Eva Urbanová came through where it mattered most, in the powerhouse histrionics of act two. Not the actress that Mattila is, Urbanová nevertheless has the sort of edgy, penetrating vocal production perfect for the role, and her commitment helped make the audience understand both the cruel reasoning behind her decision to kill her stepchild and the ability of Jenůfa to forgive her.

The plain but honest quality of Kim Begley’s voice perfectly suits the character of Laca, as does his masculine appearance, which contrasts well with the boyish but callow handsomeness of Jorma Silvasti’s Števa. Silvasti was a late replacement for the young tenor Joseph Kaiser, who took a prime assignment at the Metropolitan. Perhaps this change was just as well, as the trip of Mattila, Begley, and Silvasti made a convincing assembly of peers, all of approximately the same age and all well experienced in their roles.

The LAO orchestra has not played a Janáček score for well over a decade, and Conlon has some more work to do to make the players fully comfortable with the spiky idiom of the composer. With Conlon’s impassioned leadership, Sunday’s performance still had all the power needed, especially for the heart-tugging lyrical outburst at the climax. Act one, however, felt a bit tentative.

So after two very successful productions of Fidelio and this Jenůfa, LAO will return to the tried and true with productions of Don Giovanni and Puccini’s ubiquitous Bohemians, under other conductors. Conlon returns in the 2008 half of the season, with Tristan und Isolde, Otello, and this season’s edition of Conlon’s “Recovered Voices” series, a double-bill of Zemlinsky and Ullman one-acts. All in all, LAO can’t compete with the Met for star-power or technical innovation, but when it comes down to the actual performance, the company may never have been better.

Chris Mullins

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):