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

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Leoš Janáček by Gustav Böhm, 1926
21 Aug 2008

Prom 40 – Boulez conducts Janáček

Contrary to popular assumption, Janáček wasn’t “folkloric” per se, much as he loved his Moravian heritage. Boulez’s perceptive approach shows how inventive and original Janáček’s music can be.

Leoš Janáček: Mša glagolskaja [Glagolitic Mass]

Jean-Efflam Bavourzet (piano), Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo), Simon O’Neill (tenor), Péter Fried (baritone), Simon Preston (organ) , BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra., London Symphony Chorus, Pierre Boulez (conductor).
Royal Albert Hall, London, 14 August 2008

 

After the revelatory From The House of the Dead in 2007, it will come as no surprise that Boulez has very special insights, which grow from studying what the composer actually wrote, rather than following received wisdom. No artist with integrity can copy, and what there is of tradition in Janáček is of very recent vintage. Boulez’s ideas are shaped by the music itself, in particular the creative explosion of Janáček’s final decade. Significantly, Boulez came to Janáček through reading the score of The Diary of One Who Disappeared, arguably the beginning of that surge of inspiration. The Diary is an extraordinary work. It blends magic, lyricism and explicit sexual menace, complete with otherworldly off stage voices. Like the tenor, Janáček was embarking into the unknown.

With its confident opening fanfare, the Sinfonietta is dramatic. In the Royal Albert Hall it was visually stunning, for the 13 brass players stood up in a row : trumpets and horns catching the light, glowing like gold. Yet what was striking about this performance was how subtly it was achieved. Noise alone doesn’t mean passion. Janáček played down extremes of volume for a reason. This brass was bright and lucid, not brutalist, leading naturally into sweeping “open spaces” heralded by the winds. This piece was written for athletes celebrating the birth of the new Republic, so this clean vernal playing beautifully captured the spirit of optimism. Boulez understood context. The sassy, punchy turns were there like echoes of a military band en fête. Not violent, but impudent and full of joy.

This combined well, with Capriccio, written for a left handed pianist and small ensemble. It’s as playful, lithe as a cat. The mock heroic passages in the second part, and the deadpan downbeat figures throughout were played with warmth: Boulez’s dry humour proved that there’s more to fun in music than belly laughs. Capriccio isn’t heard too often. Perhaps we need to reassess Janáček’s quiet wit.

The Proms specialise in spectaculars like the Glagolitic Mass, with over 200 choristers, a huge orchestra, 4 soloists, and organ. The Royal Albert Hall organ has 9999 pipes, 147 stops and a height of 32 feet. It’s the second biggest in the world. Janáček was himself an organist and would have been thrilled. In a small Moravian church, this Mass would have been claustrophobic, but Janáček, an atheist who knew all about playing in churches, said his cathedral was “the enormous grandeur of mountains beyond which stretched the open sky…the scent of moist forests my incense”. Parallels with Boulez’s teacher Olivier Messiaen are obvious.

Again, Boulez brings insight. With forces like these, any performance is monumental, hence the temptation is to let sheer scale dominate. Instead Boulez maintains clarity, so the complex textures remain bright and clean. Orchestral details count, despite the magnitude of the setting. The four soloists could easily be heard above the tumult, and the massed voices of the choirs were not muddied. Good singing too, especially Fried and O’Neill. In any Mass, there’s a tendency to focus on lush excess : after all the “story” is pretty big. But as Boulez, himself an unbeliever said before the Prom, the composer chose to set the words in ancient Slavonic which few people understood. This creates a sense of distance, allowing the listeners some freedom of imagination. Of course words like “Gospodi” and “Amin” have obvious meaning, but the words are signposts. The action is in the music and how we listen. Janáček is also creating a temporal distance, as if the piece was a throwback to ancient times and ancient communities that had ceased to exist even in his time.

The version used in this Prom was an edition by Paul Wingfield based on the original score, wilder than the more refined edition we’re used to. Boulez responded to this well, sculpting angular blocks of sound, respecting the jagged, wayward rhythms. This was echt Janáček, that old curmudgeon ! The movement for solo organ seemed almost sedate in comparison, but this being the mighty Willits, there was no way it sounded tame.

Anne Ozorio

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):