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 Performances

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.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Vladimir Jurowski [Photo by Drew Kelley courtesy of IMG Artists]
06 Dec 2016

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Vladimir Jurowski [Photo by Drew Kelley courtesy of IMG Artists]

 

After a sensational Die Frau ohne Schatten, Vladimir Jurowski now returns with a Prokofiev masterpiece, of which he informed his audience this Soviet Opera “is the first time performed by a non-Russian orchestra and choir. The Dutch Radio Choir and the Flemish Radio Choir proved phenomenal, while a sprawling cast of Russian singers the best for these roles were brought in for this epic performance.

Not only did this afternoon’s programme provide a high point in the history of the NTR Saturday Matinee, but it was the most impressive opera concert of the last few seasons programmed in this serie. It was also the farewell after 33 years of casting director Mauricio Fernandez. He ended his reign with a bang.

Prokofiev wrote the quite clumsy libretto, basing it on Katayev's 1937 novel I, Son of Working People, in the style of the French grand opera. Set in 1918 at the end of the Great War, Kotko tells the story of Semyon returning from the front. He saved his superior Tkachenko’s life, and so he is promised his daughter Sofya for marriage. When he arrives in Akt I, things don’t go as planned.

After Mr. Jurowski transported the audience to Soviet times with the sweeping Overture, Semyon arrives on stage. Oleg Dolgov commands the stage with his burly physique, deeply sonorous voice, but warm hearted appearance. His vocal reach had no problem conquering the acoustics of the Great Hall. The First Act is also filled with comical town folks. Prokofiev includes sound effects with laughter from the audience as result. Prokofiev knows how to add wit to his drama. Especially with the bird calls.

Kotko includes three love couples: Semyon and Sofya; his sister Frosya and her Mikola; and Semyon’s sailor friend Tsaryov and his fiance Lyubka. With a little bit of focus, you could quickly discern who was who. Of the singers, there was not one who seemed out of place. Each reflected his or her character through the style of their singing.

Alexandra Kadurina dazzled as the slightly naive Frosya. Her nearly shrill, copper toned vibrato voice terrifically penetrant with relentless stamina. Her contrast to Lyubov Petrova added a resonance to each of their interweaving voices. Where Kadurina has a slightly restless tone in her voice, perhaps channelling Frosya’s girlhood insecurities, Petrova sang Sofya with a robust voice, determined by passionate love. She easily commanded the attention on stage and had terrific chemistry with Oleg Dolgov’s Semyon.

In Act II, Tkachenko still refuses Semyon and Sofya’s wishes to get married. Maxim Mikhailov intoned his bass voice with a stubborn air of a know-it-all. Irina Dolzhenko supplied Tkachenko’s wife Khivrya with a nervous fear. Prokofiev alternates the heavier confrontations with choir episodes. In the Second Act, a girls choir softly sings wedding songs. The choirs’ soothing clarity, soft-spokenness and innocence, offered the necessary contrast to the traitorous Tkachenko. Prokofiev neatly doses the nearly four hours in episodes of laughter, despair, hope, anger and fear.

After Jurowski led the magnificent Dutch Radio Philharmonic through the dreamy, pastoral overture of the Third Act, Tkachenko rats out the remaining Bolsheviks in the village to the Germans, including Tsaryov and Ivasenko, Semyon’s friends. The Germans arrest and hang them. Then Tsaryov’s fiance Lyubka is driven mad by grief.

As the Germans invade the town, some of Prokofiev’s most fearful music resonated through the Concertgebouw with lots of explosive, percussive sound effects. Together with the screeching strings that echoed Shostakovich, Prokofiev’s music got under your skin and left you with a cold sweat.

Instead of ending after Act III, Jurowski continued through to the first scene of the Fourth Act. Sung with great tragedy by the two choirs superbly prepared by Klaas Stok, here Jurowski ended with Taras Shevchenko’s Soviet poem “Testament” that Prokofiev placed central in the opera. The Russian poem describes the sorrows that came from the always returning violence in Ukraine. Haunting and thought-provoking.

In the last part of the Fourth Act, the village has been razed to the ground. Semyon and Mikola arm themselves to fight. They attack a church service with grenades. They are captured. But the Germans have to flee from the Red Army, leaving Tkachenko behind, who is then executed. Sofya and Semyon end up together, and everyone vows to keep Ukraine free.

In the present, as the war continues at the border between Russia and Ukraine. Jurowski’s emphasis on the “Testament” poem felt all the more significant. In Prokofiev’s time, after the Soviet-Nazi pact was made, the powers that be required the Soviet-Ukrainian composer to rewrite his original ending and replace the German enemies for Ukrainian nationalist ‘Haydamaks’. Jurowski arranged the poem to be repeated by the choirs at the end of the last Act, this time translated into Ukranian with deeply moving results. The lady next to me could not contain her tears.

From the depth of his lungs, Vladimir Ognev impressed with his deep bass as Remeniuk. Even supporting roles by Tim Kuipers as Von Wierhof, a high ranking German soldier, did not go by unnoticed. Prokofiev presented him as a fool, which his phrasing and intonation perfectly conveyed. The smaller roles all felt like they were filled with the strongest of voices.

Semyon Kotko contains many characters and themes: German nationalism, Bolshevik revolutionaries, Lyubka going mad, alongside massive choir scenes, all shaped into a massive Soviet Opera full of propagandistic Stalinist music by the then recently repatriated Prokofiev. The music sounds closer to Shostakovich’s fear-inducing War Symphonies, than to Prokofiev’s less accessible rhythmic and pulsating works like his symphonies that always seemed to have some hope hidden in them. Vladimir Jurowski proved himself a master at balancing all the singers, while stimulating the Radio Philharmonic to great musical heights.

David Pinedo

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):