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

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé wins the 2017 Guildhall School Gold Medal

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has announced baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé as the winner of this year’s Gold Medal, the School’s most prestigious prize for outstanding soloists. The prize is awarded to singers and instrumentalists in alternate years and this year was the turn of the singers.

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

Glyndebourne Festival 2018 programme announced

The UK’s first professional production of Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer prize-winning opera Vanessa takes place at Glyndebourne Festival 2018. One of the great American operas, Vanessa was hailed as a triumph at its premiere in 1958 but quickly fell out of the repertoire and has only been staged intermittently since.

Major new international singing competition launched by Glyndebourne

The Glyndebourne Opera Cup - the international competition for opera singers is designed to discover and spotlight the best young singers from around the world, offering a top prize of £15,000 and a platform for launching an international opera career.

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):