Recently in Reviews
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.
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’.
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.
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.)
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
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.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
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.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
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).
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’.
25 Mar 2009
Jenůfa — English National Opera, London Coliseum
Janáček enthusiasts in London have been spoiled this month: opening the day before English Touring Opera’s Katya Kabanova, David Alden’s staging of Jenůfa made a welcome return to the Coliseum following its original double Olivier Award-winning run in 2006.
One of the awards on that occasion was for Amanda Roocroft’s
assumption of the title role, and it was thus a luxury to have her back here
for the revival, heading a cast which was otherwise largely new. Clad neatly in
bright blue, this sunny golden-haired Jenůfa is, from the outset, a
contrast both with Charles Edwards’s Act 1 set, dominated by an ugly grey
workshop against a pale sky, and with the gaudy immodesty of
Števa’s hangers-on. Such is the impression made by her initial
good cheer that it is all too painful to follow the effect of the series of
personal tragedies that befall her. One would never think at the outset that
this was a girl who would end up getting married in a plain black dress
(against which her dead child’s red knitted cap is thrown into
particularly poignant relief).
Roocroft’s singing, too, is full of light at the outset, but by the
final curtain has given way to a measured, introverted luminosity. And in
between — well, after hearing of the death of baby Števuška
her voice is as drained and forlorn as the drab wallpaper in the
Kostelnička’s living-room. She had a strong partner in the
Norwegian conductor Elvind Gullberg Jensen — in his ENO debut — who
showed unfailing sensitivity in these moments of personal reflection, even if
he had a tendency to lose the shape of the music in the bigger, public
Jenůfa’s initial sunniness presents just as sharp a contrast
with the Kostelnička, sung by the American mezzo Michaela Martens; though
her singing was powerful and at times gut-wrenchingly intense, barely a word of
the English translation (by Otakar Kraus and Edward Downes) was decipherable,
and her tone had a tendency to spread out at the height of the second-act
monologue. This production makes her rather severe; it is a shame we
didn’t see more of the internal struggle with her own human nature as the
realisation dawns that only she has the means to dispose of
Robert Brubaker’s Laca is quite outstanding, so alive with repressed
anger and frustration that he seldom even stands still. There was a wildness to
some of the louder moments which concerned me slightly at the time, but which
in hindsight I’m convinced must have been an intentional part of his
characterisation; in the final moments of Act 3, his passionate declaration of
love for Jenůfa was delivered in a full-blooded, secure, radiant
fortissimo — and with both feet firmly on the ground. Thomas Randle was
equally ideal as the irresponsible Števa, looking every inch the alpha
male, his bright, cocksure tenor making every note count.
Tom Randle as Steva Buryja and Mairead Buicke as Karolka
Iain Paterson (the only survivor other than Roocroft of the original 2006
run) was quite outstanding as the Foreman, every word delivered with precision
and sensitivity — and Susan Gorton made much of Grandma Buryjovka, her
wordless but telling reaction to the crass insensitivity of Karolka and family
supplying a rare but welcome moment of comic relief in Act 3.
David Alden’s staging has a few incongruous details; neither the
motorcycle on which Števa makes his first entrance, nor the
colourfully-clad village girls who dance for Jenufa prior to her wedding, seem
appropriate to the time and place. And the production bothered me more second
time around than it did when new. In the dreary surroundings of a small
industrial plant in the 1940s or thereabouts, the insistent staccato of the
opening orchestral theme is accompanied by flashes of light from welding tools
rather than the turning of a mill-wheel. The indoor setting of the second and
third acts is no more attractive, with slabs of old cardboard keeping out the
world in the place of closed shutters. Is the sadness, frustration and violence
in these people’s lives an inevitable result of miserable surroundings,
and not a product of their personal circumstances? It’s a valid
interpretation, if not one that makes for visually striking stage pictures.
Ruth Elleson © 2009