Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Tristan und Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper

David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s seminal music drama runs aground on the Cornish coast.

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Scene from Semyon Kotko [Photo courtesy of Mariinsky Theatre]
24 Apr 2009

Prokofiev’s Semën Kotko Lands in Sardinia

The Teatro Lirico di Cagliari is a sparkling comparatively new building in what used to be a blighted area near to the city center.

Sergey Prokofiev: Semën Kotko [Semyon Kotko]

Semyon Kotko: Viktor Lutsiuk; Semyon’s mother: Ludmilla Filatova; Frosya: Olga Savov; Remeniuk: Viktor Chernomortsev; Chivrja: Ekaterina Solovieva; Sofya: Lyudmlla Kasianenko; Lyubka: Tatiana Pavlovskaya; Mikola: Vladimir Zhivopistsev. Teatro Lirico Orchestra and Chorus. Alexander Vedernikov, conductor. Yuri Alexandrov, director. Semyon Pastukh, set designs.

Above: Scene from Semyon Kotko

All photos courtesy of Mariinsky Theatre

 

It is the only proper opera house of Sardinia. Inaugurated slightly more than ten years ago, it has met the challenge of giving new life to the Sardinian capital’s musical life. Near to the theatre are a glittering modern hotel, a Church, a well-tended park and middle-class and upper middle-class housing developments. Opera is a wide, wild world that easily coexists with the “miracles” of urban planning and zoning regulations.

It is difficult to attract interest to an albeit elegant theatre in remote Sardinia. For the last ten years, the Cagliari Teatro Lirico has had a simple recipe: standard repertory (viz. Rigoletto, Bohème, Lucia) for most of the season but breaking news for the inauguration: an opera never previously performed in Italy (better still if seldom seen in the rest of the world) for a major opening to be scheduled in the Spring — not in December or January like in other Italian Opera Houses. The season’s inauguration coincides with the “Sant’Efision celebrations”, a local event that is nearly a national holiday (April 25th “Liberation Day” after the collapse of Nazism in Northern Italy). Thus, opera lovers flying to Cagliari can enjoy a little vacation and the late April sun on the lovely white sand beaches surrounding the town.

This year Semën Kotko [Semyon Kotko] by Sergey Prokofiev was chosen for the 2009 April event in a joint production with St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre. Until the mid-70s, Semën was little performed even in Russia. The opera was composed when Prokofiev, having returned to the Soviet Union after 17 years abroad, made an earnest attempt to develop a good relationship if not with Stalin himself, at least with his top bureaucracy. The plot is based on the then successful novel by Valentin Katayev — the star of popular Soviet writers. It deals with a brave young Bolshevik fighting in post-World War I Ukraine with horrid reactionary, stupid but sadistic Germans; the happy end is the arrival of the Red Army when all our “good folks” are about to be executed. Whilst the score was being composed, the brilliant stage director who had commissioned it, Vsevolod Meyerhold, fell out of Stalin’s favors and subsequently executed by firing squad. During rehearsal, the Russians and the Germans entered into the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the USSR), which led to the partition of Poland. Thus, the libretto had to be changed: the cruel Germans were replaced by the Czarist White Army. A few weeks later, Nazi troops invaded the USSR. Thus, a new change — to go back to the original libretto. In spite of all these efforts, and of successful première at the Moscow Stanislavsky Opera Theatre, the officialdom’s reaction was icy: the opera (and its author) were accused of “formalism”. Thus the patriotic music drama was withdrawn and was not staged until 1958 — not in the USSR or in any major western opera house, but in little Brno, Czechoslovakia. It appeared at the Bolshoi only in 1970

Semyon_Kotko04.gifScene from Semyon Kotko

The plot is puerile, but the score is intriguing. The vocal techniques range from pure speech (with rhythmic notation) to traditionally shaped melody, with every possible degree in between. There a Mussorgskian realism in the way voices overlap and different types of expressions are heard simultaneously. We are far away from Prokofiev’s nearly futuristic style, such as in The Love of Three Oranges or in The Gambler. The orchestration is rich. There is a strong, and apparently earnest, effort to follow “realistic socialism” aesthetics, which were incompatible with Prokofiev’s tendency toward innovation.

Semyon_Kotko02.gifScene from Act I

Does it work now? The Cagliari-Mariinsky production is, no doubt, an excellent effort: the stage direction is highly dramatic, acting is very good, a set of first-class tenors and basses (with a large gamut of varieties in their vocal specification), good conducting (Alexander Vedernikov), an intriguing stage set (Seymon Pastukh), and a stage direction (Yuri Alexandrov) that consists of 28 or so short scenes (post-World War I Ukraine looks like an immense garbage dump). In spite of these efforts, Semën Kotko fails because it is hampered by its inability to meet the demands of Bolshevist propaganda “despite [Prokofiev’s] best efforts . . . [to] bring it down to the level the Stalinist cultural establishment . . . required” [Richard Taruskin, Semyon Kotko, Grove Music Online ]. In light of the many attempts to please the powers-to-be and to experiment with a new mix of styles, it would have been well enough to have left this in the attic. Perhaps its principal significance is being a precursor to War and Peace, composed by Prokofiev a few years later.

Semyon_Kotko03.gifScene from Act II

Nonetheless, a trip to Cagliari is worth for the marvelous voices, especially of the tenors, rarely heard in the West.

Giuseppe Pennisi

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):