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

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 45: Leoš Janáček, <em>The Makropulos Affair</em>
22 Aug 2016

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Prom 45: Leoš Janáček, The Makropulos Affair

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Karita Mattila as Emilia Marty

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

For Emilia Marty is much more than a diva. She's the embodiment of a universal life force that transcends time and place. Emilia Marty is one of Janáček's Dangerous Women (read more here) who live life to the full and change those around them, and who symbolize freedom. Yet, ultimately, freedom comes at a price.

Prom 45_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_6.pngBass-baritone Gustáv Beláček (Dr Kolenatý) at the BBC Proms 2016. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou


The Overture opens like an expansive panorama. Belohlávek's generous style suggested warm, glowing colours, adding richness to Janáček's energetic rhythms, underlining the contrast with the claustrophobic litigation that's drained the Prus and Gregor clans for centuries. Tense, jerky figures in the orchestra. The lines of Dr Kolenatý (Gustáv Beláček) are long and ponderous; Mattila's timbre is lustrous, but she's astute enough to make Emilia Marty's short, sharp lines bristle, but suddenly softens gently. She knows more about the forebears of Albert Gregor (Aleš Briscein) than he does. Mattila's emotional range is as extensive as her vocal range: her singing was extraordinarily subtle. In the Second Act, Mattila manages to convey even more complex feelings. She's tender towards Baron Prus (Svatopluk Sem) and his son Janek (Aleš Vorácek). She understands what Emilia Marty must have felt when she sees how Kristina (Eva Šterbová), the aspiring young singer, fancies Janek. But there's still something in EM that drives men mad. "Ha ha ha", she laughs, as if she didn't care.

Prom 45_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_8.png Tenor Jan Ježek as Count Hauk-Šendorf at the BBC Proms 2016. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou


The point cannot have been lost on Janáček himself. whose best years came late. Significantly, Count Hauk-Šendorf (Jan Ježek) is written for the same Fach as the protagonist in The Diary of One who Disappeared, which marked the composer's true creative breakthrough. Hauk thinks Emilia Marty is the girl he loved 50 years before, a gypsy, an outsider beyond the pale of polite society. "I left everything behind, everything with her". The song cycle, the opera and the composer's private life are thus linked. Kamila Stösslová, Janáček's muse but not mistress, was also a "chula negra" (a dusky beauty). Hauk sings "It's an ugly business, being old" and wants to run off to Spain with Emilia, since making love keeps you young. Emilia packs her bags, but Hauk's doctor intervenes. Hauk's been insane since he lost his gypsy. Like Emilia, he laughs in hollow, mechanical tones, more tragic than funny.

This throws sinister light on the scene in which EM reveals her past, as Elian Macgregor, as Eugenia Montez, as Ekaterina Myshkin and as Elina Makropulos, whose father invented the potion that's kept her young for 337 years. That's the "Věc Makropulos", the formula that disrupts the natural cycle of life. The opera ends with a kind of Mad Scene, where Janáček's music explodes into manic, yet oddly logical frenzy. To EM, the explanation makes perfect sense. Trumpets blare, the tuba howls, the strings whizz like demons. Emilia blasphemes. "You believe in humanity, in greatness, in love!", she sings, "There's nothing more we could wish for!". A small chorus (the men of the BBC Singers) appeared, singing responses in a parody of a Mass. Mattila's too good to screech but manages to show how EM unwinds, like a broken toy. She wants Kristina to take the formula, and be famous. But Kristina is much too down to earth to fall for it.

Jirí Belohlávek was Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for many years, concurrently with his role as Chief of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which he brought to London earlier this year for Janáček Jenůfa. (Read my review here.)

Prom 45_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_9.png(L-R) Eva Štĕrbová, Jan Vacík, Gustáv Beláček, Kartia Mattila, Aleš Briscein and Svatopluk Sem perform under the direction of Jiří Bĕlohlávek at the BBC Proms 2016. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

The BBC SO rose to the occasion for this Prom, welcoming Belohlávek with wonderfully lively playing. They learned much in their "Belohlávek Years" and haven't forgotten. His rapport with his singers and players was almost palpable. None of us will make age 337, but the message, as such, is not so much how long you live but how well you live. As Janáček wrote to Stösslová, after attending the Karel Čapek play on which the opera is based, "We are happy because we know that our life isn't long. So it's necessary to make use of every moment, to use it properly". Belohlávek is looking frail these days, though his conducting is still full of fire. As I watched, I thought how wonderful it was to be able to hear him again. I hope he realizes how much he's appreciated!

Anne Ozorio

BBC Prom 45 - Leoš Janáček: The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos)

Emilia Marty, Karita Mattila (soprano); Albert Gregor, Aleš Briscein (tenor); Dr Kolenatý, Gustáv Belácek (bass-baritone); Vítek, Jan Vacík (tenor); Kristina, Vitek's daughter, Eva Šterbová (soprano); Baron Jaroslav Prus, Svatopluk Sem (baritone); Janek, Aleš Vorácek (tenor); Count Hauk-Šendorf, Jan Ježek (tenor); Stage Technician, Jiri Klecker (baritone); Cleaning Woman, Yvona Škvárová (contralto); Chambermaid, Jana Hrochová-Wallingerová (contralto); Jirí Belohlávek, conductor; Kenneth Richardson, stage director; BBC Singers (men's voices), BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Royal Albert Hall, London, 19th August 2016.

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):