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

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Kristin Sampson as Sarka [Photo by James Martindale]
05 Mar 2009

Janáček's Šárka at Dicapo Opera

There is a visceral pleasure in hearing so many healthy sets of young lungs tearing into this music, and they do sing, they do not bellow.

Leoš Janácek: Šárka

Šárka: Kristin Sampson; Ctirad: Erik Nelson Werner; Přemysl: Zarab Ninua; Lumir: Sanjay Merchant. Conducted by Oliver Gooch. Dicapo Opera Theatre, performance of February 19.

Above: Kristin Sampson as Šárka [Photo by James Martindale]

 

Wagner made folklore respectable on the lyric stage, and after the premiere of the Ring in 1876, every nationality in Europe (many of them not legal nations yet) aspired to a national music, including a national opera based on all-but-forgotten national legend or quasi-historical incident. To this efflorescence belong Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas of Slavic myth, such as The Invisible City of Kitezh and Snegouroutchka, Sibelius’s tone poems from the Kalevala (he never risked an opera), Rutland Boughton’s operas of Irish myth, and a whole school of Czech operas, beginning with Smetana’s Libuše, an operatic treatment of the prophetess who founded Prague and (with her husband, Přesmysl), the first Czech dynasty, the Přemyslids. The Přemyslids were looking mighty good to the Czechs after three hundred years of the Germanic Habsburgs.

Those who know Libuše (or who have pondered the murals depicting it on the walls of Prague’s National Theater) may be curious about its sequels, for the legend goes on, as legends will. Janáček’s first opera, Šárka (1887-8), some fifteen years before Jenufa, concerns the attempt of an army of Czech Amazons to seize power after Queen Libuše’s death, and their ultimate defeat by the patriarchal Přemysl. Šárka, a warrior maiden, seduces the doughty Ctirad when he is sent to capture magic weapons and destroy her; she lures him to his destruction, then kills herself in remorse - surefire operatic material, with bits of Dalila, Odabella, Brunnhilde and Armida. It’s a bit stagy, though. Janáček was not at his best dealing with legendary archetypes - his gift was for transforming ordinary people (or ordinary foxes, like his Vixen Sharpears) into such archetypes. But in 1887, he didn’t know that yet, and neither did anyone else - mythic opera was the fashionable thing. (It is curious how few of those dozens of expertly written, proto-Wagnerian legendary operas do endure in today’s repertory. Hansel und Gretel may be the only genuinely popular successor the Ring ever had.)

The reason one wants to hear Šárka, of course, is to study the roots of the later, greater operas of this highly original master, little known in his own time but an international favorite now. Certainly the orchestration is skillful if rumbustious (cut down for the Dicapo forces and not as tight on opening night as it will no doubt become by the last), and the singing is mostly declamation following the rhythms of the Czech libretto - a translation might have dissipated the effect (though I have heard superb English-language performances of other Janáček operas). The result is indubitably nationalistic and gives distinctive shape to Janáček’s melodies, as idiosyncratic within the western idiom as all those damned Czech diacriticals are to spelling names like Šárka and Janáček in the Roman alphabet. Indeed, to the composer’s great discouragement, it took a generation for the (usually German-speaking) masters of music in the Czech lands to agree to present his operas at all and another for the works to begin to catch on internationally.

The reason not to hear Šárka too often, though, is that Janáček’s skill lay in the humanity he found, and made musically real to us, even in such startling figures as the desperate Kostelnička in Jenufa and the haunted Elena Makropoulos. Such feeling is not to be found in Šárka’s mythic characters, despite their proclamation of mighty emotion. They do not live in our world and share our emotions - therefore their sensations and deeds do not shatter us, as Kostelnička’s and Elena’s do. Janáček’s genius (to which his musical skills were the brilliant partner) lay in making ordinary emotions mythic - not in making mythic figures human, Wagner’s specialty. It is no accident that the greatest emotional catharsis in Janáček is the arrival of the police to arrest Kostelnička: so ordinary, so real, with resonance beyond any daily event, illustrated in music that peaks just as the drama does.

One may sense some of Jenufa’s self-knowledge and resignation in Šárka’s final aria of renunciation, but Jenufa’s wisdom, her vision of hope beyond despair, is too human for Šárka - both the woman and the opera. Kristin Sampson sang and acted the role powerfully; the music lacked the punch in the guts of a good Jenufa, but it was hardly for want of melodrama. (Like Dicapo, I’ve always pictured Amazon warriors in scarlet tea gowns with spike-heeled boots, haven’t you?) All four solo singers were extraordinary - at least in the confines of the intimate but handsome theater in the basement of St. Jean Baptiste Church on 76th Street and Lexington Avenue - but, not knowing the work, it was impossible to tell if the unsubtle force of all four was required by the composer or their Wagnerian response to the legends on offer. There is a visceral pleasure in hearing so many healthy sets of young lungs tearing into this music, and they sing, they do not bellow - but in later Janáček operas, soft singing for softer emotions tends to be part of the emotional palette.

The production cleverly makes use of projections, lighting effects and screens, for example, to show Ctirad invading a spooky tomb to carry off magical weapons, or to permit the Amazons to burn their suicidal queen before our eyes, but I found the prevailing Japanese motifs a little difficult to parse - my guess is the designer found it easier to get samurai swords than barbarian maces in New York costume shops. There was quite a variety of edged utensil on view, but barbarian warriors no doubt make do with whatever is loose about the kitchen.

Performances continue through March 4. Check the Dicapo Opera Theatre Web site for details.

John Yohalem

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):