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

Cilea's L'arlesiana at Opera Holland Park

In a rank order of suicidal depressives, Federico - the Provençal peasant besotted with ‘the woman from Arles’, L’arlesiana, who yearns to break free from his mother’s claustrophobic grasp, who seeks solace from betrayal and disillusionment in the arms of a patient childhood sweetheart, but who is ultimately broken by deluded dreams and unrequited passion - would surely give many a Thomas Hardy protagonist a run for their money.

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

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):