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

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

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?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Jiri Belohlavek [Photo by Clive Barda]
30 Mar 2009

Magdalena Kožená shines in Martinů’s Juliette at the Barbican, London

Many works by Martinů will be performed in this year’s commemoration of the anniversary of his death, but it would be hard to equal the impact of this performance. Much of its success was due to Kožená, whose presence illuminated the whole opera, even though her moments on stage were fleeting.

Bohuslav Martinů : Juliette

William Burden (Michel), Magdalena Kožená (Juliette), Zdeněk Plech (Old Arab/old sailor), Anna Stéphany (Little Arab/1st man/bellhop) Rosalind Plowright (Bird seller/fortune teller), Frédéric Goncalvès (Man in chapska/Father Youth/convict), Roderick Williams (Man in hat/Seller of Memories/blind beggar/nightwatchman), Jean Rigby (Fish seller/grandmother/old lady), Andreas Jäggi (Police chief/postman/clerk), BBC Singers, Jiří Bělohlávek (conductor), BBC Symphony Orchestra

Above: Jiri Belohlavek [Photo by Clive Barda]

 

A man arrives in a strange village where nothing seems quite right. The villagers have no memories to bind them to reality, so things unfold without sense or connection. But what is reality? The opera’s subtitle is “The Key to Dreams”, which implies a search for meaning, whether or not it can be unlocked.

From the orchestra emerges a lovely, haunting melody. The man thinks he’s heard it before, connected to a vague memory - a beautiful woman ? He’s determined to pursue the dream which seems to fade as fast as it unfolds. The woman is Juliette, shining bright and golden, “like a star in the firmament”.

Deeper the man goes, into a dark forest, where he meets a Seller of Memories, who sells photographs of exotic places. The man buys into the images, convinced that they show his past with the woman he’s searching for. Eventually the man finds himself in The Central Office of Dreams which people enter and leave when they sleep. On ferme! warns the nightwatchman (who was also the Seller of Dreams). Wake or you’re forever trapped! But Juliette is such a powerful, seductive dream that the man would rather remain in eternal limbo than lose her.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Juliette materialized at the Barbican, London, in a new edition of the urtext, using the French version the composer wrote on his deathbed in 1959. He lived most of his creative life in France, so it’s perhaps poignant that he should return to his masterpiece in this way.

Hardly any staging was needed, for the action unfolds like a dream, utterly adrift from rules of cause and logic. Indeed, what narrative there is lurks in the music. The orchestral writing is densely vivid but at critical moments the density clears and a solo instrument takes centre stage. At first, it’s an accordion, then horn, clarinet and oboe, then a particularly evocative melody on piano which surrounds Juliette’s entries. It’s like in dreams where a single image comes into focus, like symbolic portent. Each time Juliette’s music returns, impressions deepen and become frustratingly familiar. Have we heard it before ? And where ? In dreams, the mind fixes on details and follows their trail. Martinů uses allusions from music as tantalizing clues. There’s a snippet from L’Histoire du Soldat, just before the Fortune teller scatters cards. Then, a quotation from L’Après-midi d’un Faune, evoking a mood of frustrated love and longing. Similarly, Martinů uses off stage noises and singing. Even when asleep, the mind hears what’s happening “outside” so to speak. At any moment the dreamer might be woken, the dream shattered. It’s psychologically astute, building dramatic tension into the very fabric of the music.

Jiří Bělohlávek has a specially sensitive feel for this elusive, mysterious music, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has heard his Janaček or Dvořák. This performance was as good as the superlative Excursions of Mr Brouček last year, which he conducted with the same forces, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers. This production was also directed by Kenneth Richardson, who made such magic with the concert staging of Mr Brouček. Richardson’s intelligent, subtle style achieves great things by simple means. The forest, for example, is created by light and shadow, yet feels impressively alive.

Kožená was outstanding. Visually and vocally she glowed. While all the cast was good, she was exceptional, for Juliette is in an altogether more exalted league than ordinary mortals. Kožená’s fees might normally exceed the other singers fees put together, but here she was utterly worth it, for her presence embodied all that Juliette stands for. The role is so important that the whole opera rests on how well it is realized. Kožená has long championed Martinů’s music, so this magnificent performance was a great tribute.

William Burden sings Michel, the protagonist. It’s a long, demanding role which he carries off with aplomb. Also familiar to those who loved Mr Brouček was Zdeněk Plech, who made the relatively small role of The Old Arab/Sailor so interesting that you wished the composer had developed it further. Roderick Williams sang no less than four roles, including the pivotal Seller of Memories. He acts as well as he sings, and is certainly one of the brightest young British stars of his generation. When will he get the profile he deserves ? Andreas Jäggi’s Clerk was suitably tense and manic.

There are only two available recordings of Julietta, and the classic version is nearly 50 years old. Let’s hope this performance, which was recorded by the BBC, will make it to CD/DVD. Bělohlávek’s recording of Mr Brouček won the Gramophone award for best Opera in 2008, so perhaps this new Juliette will do the same.

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):