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 Performances

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

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):