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

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

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):