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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

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):