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

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

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

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.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

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):