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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’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
12 May 2009
Janáček: Jenůfa and Kátya Kabanová
Recorded four years apart, these two classic recordings of Leos Janáček's dramatic masterpieces now reappear in Decca's The Originals series, thankfully still with full librettos and excellent booklet essays.
Charles Mackerras continues to reign as the supreme conductor of Janáček’s music, and these sets provide further evidence of that, not least by filling up the second discs with other pieces. The Jenůfa set includes the final scene in the revised orchestration that introduced the opera to most of the world, before Mackerras led the return to Janáček’s original score, and the set concludes with an overture considered for the opera but never used. Janáček ‘s Concertino and Capriccio close the Kátya Kabanová set, both in witty performances conducted by David Atherton. The mood of those pieces is quite a bit different from that of the opera, it should be said.
Both sets feature informative essays by John Tyrrell, which give not only detailed background on Janáček’s compositions, including almost academic musical analysis, but also ample information on the original works behind the operas. In the Kabanová booklet Tyrrell’s essay is followed by a note from Mackerras, relating his first exposure to the composer who would become such a large part of his career.
The Kabanová set came in 1978, and its sound world is quite different from that of Jenůfa, composed many years before. The later work comes from the composer’s mature period, and it combines the exciting rhythms and naturalistic declamation found in the earlier work with a richer orchestral fabric, somewhat resembling the textures of his Taras Bulba. However, it seems to be the earlier opera that has established itself as the more performed of the two, undoubtedly due to the power of its story and characters. Both stories deal mainly in pain and distress, but Jenůfa ends with a gorgeous duet of redemptive love, whereas Kabanová’s heroine throws herself into a river, unable to find a way to live a new life or return to her old one. Nonetheless, as pure listening experience, your reviewer finds Kátya Kabanová a more entrancing score to listen to, with its greater variety of tone and mood. Jenůfa, on the other hand, works best on stage, where its characters come to full life, and can break the hearts of most any audience.
Elisabeth Soderstrom stars on both sets, her warm, womanly sound appropriate for both characters, and her command of the idiom as sound as her conductor’s. Peter Dvorsky gets to portray both the handsome but weak Steva of Jenůfa and the handsome but weak Boris in the Kabanová. He does so handsomely, with no weakness. Wieslaw Ochman earns his redemption as Laca with urgent, masculine passion. The Kostelnička, Eva Randova, has a full, secure voice, whereas on stage the role is often taken by a veteran singer whose voice may be worn but who can embody the character convincingly. The counterpart role in Kabanová, Kátya’s mother-in-law, is sung with fierce relish by Nadězda Kniplová.
For any opera lover who somehow never managed to acquire these sets in the long years when they were only available at full-price, now is the time to search them out and add them to your collection. Indispensable.