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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Bedřich  Smetana
04 May 2015

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Bedřich Smetana

 

Bělohlávek has done more than anyone to bring authentic Czech music to Britain, and to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, where he was Chief Conductor for many years. They’ve got the idiom under their skin, now, and for Bělohlávek they played with expressive vigour.

Smetana has been called “The Father of Czech Music”, for he was the first to embrace characteristic Czech folk style, fused with the bright, sharp syntax of the Czech language. Dalibor is a particularly important milestone, since it’s explicitly nationalistic. though disguised as folklore. The Habsburgs ruled Bohemia from Vienna, and after 1848 clamped down on what they saw as sedition. Dalibor took part in an uprising, destroying a castle and killing the burgrave. Although Smetana downplays the politics (to escape the censors) the message of Dalibor is loud and clear: Czechs love music, and with music they shall triumph over repression.

Dalibor is a hero: “Dalibor! Dalibor” the chorus (the BBC Singers) rings out with fervour, picked up wordlessly by the orchestra throughout the opera. Jitka, a country girl (Alžběta Poláčková) tells us how he saved her as an orphan. Already though, we have a hint of his otherworldly purity. She sings as though she’s describing a saint. Wonderful “processional” music marks the entry of Vladislav, the Czech King (Ivan Kusnjer). Bělohlávek has been bringing the top singers from the Prague National Theatre, which he’s been conducting for years, so these singers are now greeted in London as if they were familiar friends. Besides, they can sing Czech repertoire better than anyone else. Kusnjer’s voice rang with dignity. Like Pontius Pilate, this King doesn’t want to kill, but Milada the Burgrave’s sister wants revenge.

87fb88184ab1946ac7b6585c86225a263650b240.png

Dana Burešova sang Milada. She’s another much-loved regular visitor. She sang the female lead in The Jacobin, The Bartered Bride and most of Bělohlávek’s other London performances of Czech opera. Milada is a forceful lady, and Burešova’s magnificent singing does her justice. The part calls for great vocal control, for the lines ring out with the intensity of a trumpet call, though Milada’s femininity is underlined by lustrous harp. Later Milada disguises herself as a harp-playing minstrel to charm her way into the prison.

Dalibor himself (Richard Samek) is more of an enigma. He killed the Burgrave because the Burgrave killed his friend Zdenek, who doesn’t appear in the opera, but lingers, ghost-like, in the strings. Zdenek was a violinist, and Dalibor’s love for him is so great that he’d rather be dead than live without him. Nonetheless, when he meets Milada, his love suddenly switches to her (on Zdenek’s musical messages). Dalibor’s a violinist, too. We don’t hear him play but we hear the violins in the orchestra surround him in a halo of sound. The smooth legato in his part suggests a bow gliding over strings. Beneš the jailer ( Jan Stava), also a violinist, lets him have his old instrument to pass the time, which Milada delivers. The violin is thus the means by which Dalibor could escape from the dungeon. If he wished, of course, because he doesn’t. When he’s caught by Budivoj (Svatopluc Sem, another regular) and told he’s to be executed, he’s meekly accepting. Perhaps he knows that his real secret weapon isn’t his life but his music.

“We Czechs love music” the text explicitly states, so the whole opera is a coded protest, though the Habsburg Empire ended only with the end of the First World War. Dalibor is wildly popular in Czech-speaking areas but the message is universal. When Gustav Mahler conducted Dalibor in Vienna in 1892, he may also have been making a private statement. Mahler was a boy from small town Bohemia, where his father had followed the same profession as Smetana’s father had done nearly 100 years before. Unlike Smetana, Mahler made it to the capital of the Habsburg empire, chosen and protected by the Emperor himself. Much is made of Mahler’s use of Ländler, reflecting the sounds he would have grown up with in a German-speaking area in the provinces. Mahler had been writing since his teens on themes connected to Des Knaben Wunderhorn, even writing his own poems. Almost certainly he would have been aware of Smetana. In Dalibor, for example, Jitka and Vitek (Aleš Voráček) sing a love duet which could come straight out of Wunderhorn, though it’s clearly Czech. Dalibor is clearly inspired by Beethoven Fidelio, although musically it’s very different. But might Mahler have thought of Dalibor when he wrote Das Lied des Verfolgten im Turm with its passionate refrain, “Die Gedanken sind frei!”?

This concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 from 16th May, and will be available online internationally.

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):