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

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Antonin Dvořák
08 Feb 2012

Dvořák’s The Jacobin, London

In advance of the new Rusalka at the Royal Opera House, the Barbican and the BBC Symphony Orchestra brought an electrifying performance of Dvořák's The Jacobin to London.

Antonin Dvořák: The Jacobin

Bohuš: Svatopluk Sem, Julie: Dana Burešová, Burgrave Filip: Jozef Benci, Benda: Jaroslav Březina, Terinka: Lucie Fišer Silkenová, Jiři: Aleš Voráček, Adolf: Jiři Hájek, Count Vilém: Jan Martinik, Lotinka: Lynette Alcantara. BBC Singers, Andrew Griffiths, concertmaster, Trinity Boys Choir, David Swinson, concertmaster, Old Palace Chamber Choir, Gareth Hemmings, concertmaster. Conductor: Jiři Bělohlávek, BBC Symphony Orchsdtra, Stage Director: Kenneth Richardson. Barbican Hall, London, 4th February 2012.

Above: Antonin Dvořák

 

While not really “rare” (a friend has seen 5 productions, including Prague). The Jacobin isn’t standard fare outside Czechoslovakia, but hearing it enhances Dvořák’s other works. This performance conducted by Jiři Bělohlávek was exceptionally vivid, almost eclipsing Jiři Pinkas’s acclaimed recording. When this gets broadcast and released on CD, it will set a new benchmark.

Right from the prelude, it was clear that Bělohlávek’s vision of the work is passionately inspired. Angular rhythms sharply defined, reflecting the pungent, sharp consonants of the Czech language. More significantly he doesn’t soften the wayward crosscurrents, but understands why they’re fundamental to the meaning of the opera. Its subject is radical — the overthrow of oppressive regimes. Even Pinkas had to be careful in 1970’s when his recording was made, under the communist regime. Now Bělohlávek can reveal The Jacobin in its true colours.

The opera is set in a Bohemian village where the local ruler controls all aspects of the peasants’ lives. Dvořák makes much of church and children’s choirs, for they represent the population, subservient to authority, acting as a group without independent thought. But it’s almost 1789, and far away in France, revolution is simmering. So the Jacobin is a threat to the cozy, paternalistic system, especially because he’s an outsider from far away. Or so the locals think. But he isn’t. The dangerous stranger is the son of Count Vilém, but the Count’s mind has been poisoned by Adolf, the usurper. Dvořák was writing at a time when Austria ruled Czechoslovakia, and nationalist sentiments were running high. So The Jacobin is inflammatory, with its suggestion that the natural order has been encroached upon. Under the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, “Adolf’s” name had to changed, but the same principle applied in Habsburg times. Bohuš, the Count’s only son, the maligned “Jacobin” is the next legitimate ruler.

Dvořák writes gloriously folkloristic colour in order to emphasize Bohemian identity. Indeed, it’s so vivid that the opera might easily be dismissed as bucolic fantasy. But Bělohlávek’s approach shows how much more there is to this music than quaintness. This is Dvořák, the composer who engaged with the New World, who connected to what was happening around him. Beneath the picturesque surface, life could be savage. the authorities acted arbitrarily. The Burgrave Filip threatens to have Jiři, his rival in love, conscripted. That wasn’t an empty threat as local authorities exercised that kind of power, which often meant death. Later, the Stranger (Bohuš in disguise) gets arrested and could easily have been disappeared forever. So the dark edge to Bělohlávek’s interpretation is absolutely perceptive, the dissonances and countermelodies expressing the turbulent upheaval essential to meaning.

Yet the energy Bělohlávek gets from his orchestra and singers also reflects the subversive humour in the opera. The subplot revolves around Benda, the music teacher, who is a failed composer, much more obsessed by getting his performances off the ground than in what’s really going on round him. He stops the Burgrave from conscripting Jiři, not because it’s a cruel abuse of authority but because he needs a tenor for his music! Wry self mockery on Dvořák’s part? This opera isn’t about the power of music as such, but how that power is used. Benda’s daughter Terinka is in love with young Jiři, so they have to hide their love by pretending to sing a duet. But when Benda looks at the sheet music, it’s clear they aren’t following the script. The Jacobin’s wife, Julie, uses music even more proactively. Her husband is in prison and could be killed at any time, so she sneaks into the castle and plays the harp and melts the Count’s heart. Bohuš isn’t a Jacobin, she says, but a Girondist on the run. That’s OK then, says the count, and father and son reunite. Adolf is ousted and the succession will go to Julie’s children “who have never known their native land”. Fabulous rousing finale!

The female roles in The Jacobin are crucial, for it’s the women who are proactive, not the men. We don’t know why Julie was such a threat that she was the reason the Count kicked out his son in the first place, but she’s the one who has saved Bohuš in exile and now saves him again, by pluckily hiding in the old Countess’s room (“where nothing has changed”) and plays the harp melody which melts the Count’s heart. Dana Burešová is a principal of the National Theatre in Prague, where Bělohlávek regularly works. She’s now familiar in London, because Bělohlávek has made it his mission to bring Czech repertoire to this country, and Burešová shows how much better it is when sung idiomatically, in its own language.

Indeed, Dvořák emphasized the female presence by adding the aria “In autumn’s hazel shrubs, love no longer gives glory”. It expands Terinka’s role in the plot immeasurably because it’s so beautiful, and lovingly sung by Lucie Fišer Silkenová. Even the old wet nurse, Lotinka (Lynette Alcantara) is pivotal, though she hasn’t much to sing.

Svatopluk Sem created a darkly brooding, assertive Bohuš. He, too, is a leading figure in Prague. Jaroslav Březina isn’t Benno Blachut, but then, no-one is, and Březina’s extensive experience created a Benda with real depth of character, very impressive. Jan Martinik’s Count Vilém covered a wide range, emotionally and musically, and Aleš Voráček’s Jiři was fresh and pert. Jiři Hájek’s Adolf was creepily sinister, not an exaggerated stage villain but a man of sly menace, true to the role. Jozef Benci’s Burgrave Filip was very good. Filip is ponderous, stupid and slime, but Benci shows he’s not fundamentally evil, just blinded by vanity and power, as so many apparatchiks are.

How fortunate we are in London to at last have a proper connection to Czech repertoire through Bělohlávek His role in promoting Janácek, Martinu, Smetana, Suk, and Dvořák is inestimable, because his approach is so idiomatic, non-anglicized and extremely perceptive. We’re into a whole new era of appreciating Czech music. The impact of this electrifying performance was enhanced by discreet semi-staging (Kenneth Richardson) who has worked closely with Bělohlávek many times before. The focus is thus on the music, not the “folklore”. In the finale, the choruses, very nearly fooled into denouncing the Jacobin, now praise him, waving Czech flags. “Slava! Slava!” they have been singing to the powers that be. This time, at last, Svoboda!

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):