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 Performances

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.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

'Kullervo Goes to War' by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
30 Aug 2015

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: 'Kullervo Goes to War' by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

 

Sakari Oramo considers Kullervo “a masterpiece”, and, at Prom 58 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, conducted it with such conviction that there can be little doubt about its unique place in Sibelius’s output, and indeed in music history.

Kullervo is such a remarkable work, so shockingly original that Paavo Berglund revisited it fifteen years after his original recording. Neeme Järvi brought yet more new insights. There have been many other performances since, but Sakari Oramo creates an interpretation of great depth and perceptiveness.

From a hushed opening, the Allegro Moderato grew with ever increasing impatience, as if it were an Overture to an opera, for a quasi-opera this is. One cannot underestimate the impact of Wagner and his “forest murmurs”, though even at this early stage in his career, Sibelius was iconoclastic, deliberately seeking a new sound world. Unlike Wagner who re-imagined Norse legend, Sibelius heard living oral tradition at first hand. Kullervo comes alive with the rhythms of the Kalevala, with its strange, primitive pulse and shamanistic repetitions. Hence the short, sharp intervals in the brass and winds, and the driving pizzicato in the strings, creating a sense of tense, ritualized movement. Even to our ears accustomed to Stravinsky, Bartók and Janáček, Kullervo still sounds raw and primeval. Yet it was written twenty-one years before The Rite of Spring

I’ve often wondered if Sibelius himself realized how daring Kullervo was and, being a worrier, pulled back, as he might have pulled back from the enormity of his conception for the Eighth? Once, Sibelius performance history presented the composer in sub-Tchaikovsky terms, which really doesn’t do the composer justice. Kullervo resets the balance so we can think ahead to the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies and their audacity and inventiveness It is, unequivocally new and individual, the mark of a true genius.

In Kullervo, we can hear the origins of tone poems like Nightride into Sunrise and Lemminkäinen Suite. and reflect that the tone poems are much darker than mere portraits of Nature and myth. Thus the lucid detail of Oramo’s conductng, which emphasizes the sophistication that lies beneath the ostensible savagery in the piece. It’s not simply a folk tale for grand orchestra but an experimental approach to dynamics and relationships. The contrast between emotional extremes and the tight, staccato-like intervals creates abstract narrative tension. Oramo makes the orchestra “sing” as if we’re hearing Kullervo’s nervous heartbeat, pulsating with frustration.

Kullervo is also a musical act of defiance, written as it was at a time when Finland was resisting efforts by Russia to curb its freedoms. This adds context to the figure of Kullervo himself, a child born into suffering. One can appreciate Kullervo without knowing the Kalevala, but it does enhance meaning. Runes XXXI to XXXVI give Kullervo’s background. He’s cruelly mistreated by an uncle who stole his patrimony. He’s tortured and sold into slavery. When he meets the maiden, he rapes her because he wants what she represents, yet, raised in cruelty, he doesn’t have what we might call “social skills”. Dreams of his long-lost mother have kept him going , so when he discovers that the woman he has violated is his sister, he suffers such guilt that he must offer his own life in appeasement.

Johanna Rusanen-Kartano sang Kullervo’s sister. She’s a very good dramatic soprano, with the intensity to remind us that the girl, too, has had a traumatic past, lost in the woods while hunting for berries. Her story is as tragic as her brother’s. Rusanen-Kartano’s lines were rapid-fire tongue twisters, delivered with absolute precison and bite. Later her lines curve sensuously,but even in these beautiful moments, she retained a mysterious quality as if the girl had been led into the forest by evil spirits, represented perhaps in the clarinets and pumping woodwind around her. Waltteri Torikka sang the baritone part. He didn’t have quite the assurance of, say, Jorma Hynninen, but he can express the vulnerability that lurks behind Kullervo’s brutishness. If his voice didn’t project well, live, in the cavern that is the Royal Albert Hall it sounded better on broadcast. There’s potential in this voice.

In Kullervo, the choir (the Polytech Choir augmented by the men of the BBC Symphony Chorus) operate like a Greek Chorus commenting on proceedings and adding ballast to the orchestra. These choral parts are difficult, for the lines flow with little pause for breath, relentlessly moving the action forward. The Finnish language, too, poses problems. Every vowel sound must be articulated, and there are vowel sounds one after another in succesion, cut across with stinging sibillants. “Kullervo, Kalevon poika, sinisukka äijön lapsi,”. For the Polytech Choir from Helsinki, the lines flow seamlessly, yet are energized by high testosterone punchiness. We can hear the fast-moving sleigh, complete with bells as it rushes “noilla Väinön kankahilla, ammoin raatuilla ahoilla”. Yet these rhythms also suggest violence, the relentless course of fate, and lets face it a fairly explicit description of sex. I was fascinated by the way the choir varied their emphases, dropped to whispers and rose to full volume, and the variety of subtle expression.

In London, we hear the BBC Symphony Orchestra all the time, so we take them for granted, and forget how good they really are. The Alla marcia (Kellervo goes to war) isn’t difficult for players with these technical skills, but they played with energy and vigour. Oramo marked the end of the battle with a long silence, soon the voices of the male choirs returned, ghost-like. Muted large brass, tuba and trumpets muffled, bassoons sighing, clarinets rising like smoke on a battlefield. While Kullervo begins characterized by hard, angular sounds, and breaking off painfully into silence, the final movement, Kullervo’s Death, is an andante. The timpani were beaten in slow march, placed at a distance from the rest of the percussion, cradling the orchestra, perhaps, in the kind of embrace Kullervo never knew. Sibelius didn’t set the last lines of Rune XXXVI but he and his audiences would have known the moral with which the saga ends. It is a warning that children should not be abused or mistreated.

Starting with a very good En Saga (Op 9, 1892 rev 1902), this was by far the most-focused and well performed Sibelius this season, making up for a patchy, and diisappointing symphonic cycle in earlier Proms. .

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):