Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

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):