Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

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):