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

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017 - Winner Announced

Bampton Classical Opera is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and the runner-up is tenor Wagner Moreira. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category this year, is Keval Shah.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

26 Jul 2014

Janáček’s 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.

Leos Janáček : Glagolitic Mass, Brahms : Piano Concerto no 1, BBC Prom 9 Royal Albert Hall, London, 24th July 2014

A review by Claire Seymour

 

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.

Were these changes a result of practical expediency? Too few rehearsals to work out solutions to performance problems; sopranos who could not sustain the high Bbs in the original ending to the Sanctus; instrumental players who found the unconventional, asymmetrical cross rhythms unfathomable in the Kyrie? Too few bars, perhaps, for the clarinettists to get off stage! Or, do they reflect Janáček’s revised, and final, musical judgement? For example, the composer added brass to the ending of the Sinfonietta for the reason that it was not possible to create the necessary climaxes without additional forces, and the same decision may have been taken in the case of the Mass.

Pre-occupied immediately afterwards with the composition of From the House of the Dead, Janáček reputedly declared that he was not inclined to concern himself with the score of the Glagolitic Mass. So, are the difficulties of the original performances still problems today? And, which version of the work best represents the composer’s intentions?

There are no unequivocal answers to these questions, but at the Royal Albert Hall we were offered the opportunity to hear the ‘raw’ Glagolitic Mass - startlingly imaginative, defiantly rhetorical, unquestionably ‘modern’ - when a reconstruction of the original 1926 score by Janáček scholar Paul Wingfield was performed by the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under the baton of Valery Gergiev.

This was certainly a rousing rendition, as Gergiev drew energised, committed playing and singing from the forces massed before him, and created expectancy and excitement from the alternations of brass, chorus and vocal soloists. The fanfares of the Intrada were vibrant and invigorating, while in the instrumental Uvod Gergiev allowed air between the varied instrumental voices.

The entry of the chorus in the Kyrie (Gospodi pomiluj) had the quiet simplicity of an unaffected prayer and this mood of sincere devotion was given added fervour by the entry of soprano Mlada Khudoley whose breath-taking power and projection did not in any way diminish the sumptuous beauty of her soaring lines. In common with all the soloists, Khudoley genuinely and fully appreciated the composer’s unique ‘operatic’ idiom.

In the Gloria (Slava) the chorus reached ecstatic heights, while the long Credo (Věruju) allowed Gergiev to find a diversity of moods and colours: the vocal solos and choral interjections were impassioned - tenor Mikhail Vekua’s proclamations shook the RAH rafters - but there was also some consoling sweetness during the gentle orchestral interlude. The Agnus Dei (Agneče Božij) was dark of hue, a moment of deep reflection before Thomas Trotter’s invigorated organ solo in which flamboyant technical proficiency was blended with a sense of the composer’s vehemence and zeal.

Janáček wrote: ‘I hear in the tenor solo a kind of high priest, in the soprano solo a maiden angel, in the chorus our people. The candles are high fir trees in the wood, lit up by stars; and somewhere in the ritual see a vision of the princely St Wenceslas. And the language is that of the missionaries Cyril and Methodius.’ Gergiev and the LSO and Chorus were true to this pantheistic spirit.

Barry Douglas first came to prominence in 1986 when he won the Tchaikovsky Competition. Currently mid-way through a monumental project to record the complete works for solo piano of both Brahms and Schubert, in the first half of the programme Douglas performed Brahms’s First Piano Concerto - and there was something of the introspection of the solo piano music about Douglas’s first entry, which was resigned and consciously removed from the orchestral tumult. This deliberation, focus and intense concentration contrasted markedly with the forthright vigour and rhetoric that Gergiev encouraged from the LSO in the dramatic orchestral opening passage.

Perhaps it was just where I was seated, or maybe the RAH acoustic is not suited to the symphonic blend of soloist and orchestra which Brahms crafts, but I found the LSO’s playing disappointingly heavy, the rhythms lacking bite, the textures dense, especially in the third movement Rondo. Conducting without a baton, Gergiev fluttered his hands and fingers incessantly but there was little that flickered lightly in the orchestral sound that these twitchings brought forth.

That’s not to say that there was not some fine instrumental playing. In the second movement, the clarinets and oboes played with poetry and pathos, and the demanding writing for horns and timpani was executed with great accomplishment throughout. But, I found myself focusing on Douglas’s solo voice: the warmth of the hymn-like chordal second subject in the first movement was wonderfully soothing and throughout Douglas’s virtuosity was wonderfully integrated within the eloquent communication of the spirit of Brahms’ music.

Claire Seymour


All BBC Proms can be heard online, internationally for 30 days after broadcast

Cast and production information:

Barry Douglas, piano. Mlada Khudoley, soprano; Yulia Mattochkina, mezzo soprano; Mikhail Vekua, tenor; Yuri Vorobiev, bass; Thomas Trotter, organ; Valery Gergiev, conductor; London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus.

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):