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

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

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):