Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

04 Oct 2012

Martinů : Julietta, ENO

The ENO gave the British premiere of Bohuslav Martinů's Julietta many years ago, so this new production was eagerly awaited. But what will audiences new to Martinů get from this production? It's a myth that the English language makes opera more accessible. That just means audiences focus on words, rather than really listening or understanding.

Bohuslav Martinů - Julietta

Julietta : Julia Sporsén, Michel : Peter Hoare, Police officer/Clerk/Forest Warden : Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Man in a helmet / Seller of memories / Convict : Andrew Shore, Man at window / Old man Youth / Beggar : Henry Waddington, Little arab / First gentleman / Errand-boy : Emilie Renard, Old arab / Grandfather / Old sailor : Gwynne Howell, Birdseller / Fortune teller : Susan Bickley, Fishmonger / Old woman / Grandmother: Valerie Reid, Young sailor : Anthony Gregory, 2nd Gentleman : Clare Presland, 3rd Gentleman : Samantha Price, Conductor : Edward Gardner, Director : Richard Jones, Designer : Antony McDonald, Associate Set Designer : Ricardo Pardo, Lighting Designer : Matthew Richardson, Choreographer : Philippe Giraudeau

English National Opera, The Coliseum, London, 17th September 2012

 

Martinů's Julietta is a highly conceptual opera, with deliberate ambiguities and mind games. Just as in dreams, there are clues and contradictions. If ever there was an opera where listeners had to keep alert and pay attention, this is it. The opera predicates on dream states, but sleepwalking through Martinů's Julietta isn't wise.

The production dates from 2002 when it was first seen in Paris. The Overture opens to images of sleeping figures floating in space (or amniotic fluid). One figure emerges, Michel Lepic (Peter Hoare), bookseller by day, dreamer by night. The main set is a giant mock up of an accordion, which also serves to suggest the walls of a house from whose windows various characters appear at critcial points in the opera. Musically, this is perceptive, for Martinů writes an evocative solo for accordion into the first act, and the mechanics of the instrument suggest "lungs" or breathing. Accordions also evoke folk music, and thus memories of the past. A horn player walks round, his music evoking other, more sophisticated memories, offereing hope to those who have lost the past.

In this strange dream village, no-one can remember anything of the past. Nothing connects. If this is a landlocked European village, why is there a ship? Where do the Old Arab (Gwynne Howell) and Young Arab (Emilie Renard) fit in? The implication is that without memory, we're eternally adrift. It is significant that Martinů returned to Julietta at the end of his life, after decades of wandering through Europe and the United States.This gives the opera emotional depth, and is important to interpretation. As a musician, Martinů was sensitive to the power of music, where small snippets awake vast rivers of memory, so the many references to other music are deliberate. Even if some are barely more than wisps, their embedded presence is part of the meaning.

The giant accordion turns and moves, but within the orchestra Martinů writes fragments for solo instruments or small units like 3 oboes. The vast world theatre, and the tiny individual. This theme runs through the opera on several levels. Michel is alone in the busy village, and in the Central Office of Dreams he can't beat the bureaucratic machine. In the last act, the Accorion turns over so it resembles a giant, hideous skull, its keys reesembling the keys of a piano, the working tool of most composers.

Apart from Michel himself, the characters appear in different forms, and the Three Gentlemen in Frock Coats (as described in the score) sing in unison. Even Julietta (Julia Sporsén) is illusory, and needs to create an articial past through the postcards the Seller of Memories (Andrew Shore) peddles to the unwary. Gradually Michel is drawn deeper into delusion. Who shoots Julietta? Did she, can she die? It doesn't matter. People in this cosmos have no attention span. But as an audience, we do, which is why small details count, however elusive.

Anarchic as dreams are, performance should be rigorous. Martinů writes lusciously lyrical figures which seduce the ear, magically. But the Third Act tells us quite categorically that one cannot escape into the luxury of reverie. Beneath this lovely score lies a bedrock of anxiety. Is Michel all that different from the other inhabitants of this dream? He sells books (fiction?) after all. The Convict and the Blind Beggar are fixated by the same dream that takes the form of a lovely, elusive woman. Tension, anxiety and claustrophobia are fundamental to this music. Sharp staccatos, like the ticking of a clock, alarm bells. Yet at the ENO this sense of impending cataclysm was defused. Edward Gardner's Julietta is a pretty, light hearted reverie, not nightmare. The defining extremes in this core are smoothed over, so the firm structure of the opera becomes fragmented.

The singers, even the better ones like Hoare, Shore, Howell, Susan Bickley, Henry Waddington, Emilie Renard and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts are solid rather than haunting. Martinů 's Julietta is not easy to stage but ironically the visuals (directed by Richard Jones, designed by Antony McDonald) were far more effective than the performance. We need to see this production because it's historic, and good. But anyone who wants to hear what the opera really should sound like should stick to the recordings. Krombholc (1964) is top recommendation, Mackerras conducts only fragments. When the complete new edition, recorded by Jiří Bělohlávek in 2009 is released, that will be the one to get. I've been listening to an aircheck of the broadcast. Even on an amateur quality tape, the true spirit of Martinů 's Julietta shines through, magical and manic in turns. There have been several stagings of Martinů's operas in recent years, and of course the full symphonic cycle, but Julietta is outstanding. This ENO performance doesn't begin to reach those heights. I can't blame anyone thinking that Martinů 's Julietta is mediocre if they haven't heard what it can sound like.

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):