Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



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):