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

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

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.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em> Jenůfa </em>, Grange Park Opera
19 Jun 2017

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Jenůfa, Grange Park Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Grange Park Opera, ensemble

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

Mitchell does away with the Czech village and its mill, and thus there is no sense of the external milieu - the living community whose disapproval and denunciation the Kostelnička so fears - to match the undeniable local colour in the score. More importantly, the religious oppression which stifles the protagonists’ lives is reduced to a token piece of iconography on a far wall. The result is that there it is not made clear how the actions and decisions, so often tragic, of the protagonists are inescapably driven by the context and community. In fact, the only hint of communal approbation comes when the Mayor’s wife (Hanna-Lisa Kirchen) dismisses Jenůfa’s understated, grey wedding-dress as unsuitably dour and inappropriate.

However, the confining walls of Mortimer’s austere 1930s kitchen certainly evoke a fitting claustrophobia, and the slanting ceiling seems further to crush down the inhabitants, much like the Kostelnička’s rigid authority. It has to be noted, though, that the lack of space inhibits the choreography of the ensemble scenes, such as Števa’s blustering arrival in Act 1 and the wedding celebrations in the final act. Act 2 tightens the psychological screw still further: hidden away by the Kostelnička, the new mother is condemned to a back room, a small black box, and the lack of decorative adornment focuses our attention on the emotional torment that afflicts all.

Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw first came to my attention when she won the 2012 Kathleen Ferrier Competition . Since then she her rise has been steady and sure; she was an excellent Liza in Opera Holland Park’s Queen of Spades in 2016, and during the same summer performed Tatyana in Garsington’s Eugene Onegin . One of my colleagues noted Romaniw’s ‘wonderful lyrical dramatic voice’ and the ‘real sense of vibrant passion’ that she brought to the latter role - ‘you constantly felt Tatyana’s presence, whether singing or not, without ever pulling focus’ - comments that would not be out of place here. There was astonishing warmth in Romaniw’s portrayal of the hesitant peasant girl and a true sense of feeling - the fullness of Jenůfa’s desires and hopes, the veracity of her fears and doubts. In the first Act, the tone occasionally had a slightly harsh edge as she sang through the Czech text, but as she relaxed so the sound enriched. Jenůfa’s tenderness for her child, and the essential goodness conveyed through her Act 2 prayer, made her visible shock when learning of her son’s death even more intolerably tragic: ‘So he died’, she says, simply, when the Kostelnička bluntly informs her that she has lost her son. And, her terrible bereavement, at first quietly accepted, resurges with terrifying force when the dead body of the child is discovered under the ice and she recognises the tiny red cap that she knitted for him. Never has such a small motif borne an emotional weight of greater poignancy.

Susan Bullock & Natalya Romaniw.jpg Susan Bullock (Kostelnička), Natalya Romaniw (Jenůfa). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Susan Bullock is making her role debut as the Kostelnička, but it’s clear that she has a piercing appreciation of her character’s essential qualities, and how to convey them through both voice and body. Bullock is utterly convincing in communicating the sextoness’s unbending moral will, but she shows too how her own life is just as tragically constricted as the lives of those she dominates. Her love for her step-daughter is never in doubt, and her sense of damnation is palpable as she begs for Jenůfa’s forgiveness in the final Act.

In Act II she used incisive vocal inflections to take us deep into the Kostelnička’s psyche, as she formulated the words she would use to confront Števa with his moral fecklessness. And, there was a terrible irony as she envisaged the accusations that the villagers would fling at her and Jenůfa should they discover the existence of the illegitimate child, her imaginings foreshadowing the denunciation and disgrace of the final act.

The theatre has an excellent acoustic and there were a few occasions when Nicky Spence, a brazenly irresponsible Števa, and Peter Hoare, a dark and tense Laca, might have held back just a little. But, the soaring strength of their vocal lines conveyed enormous passion. Spence’s slightly warmer expansiveness matched the carefree profligacy of the drunken businessman, while Hoare’s intense focus imbued the veristic arioso with a blend of bitterness and love which literally, as he twisted his hands and his body shrank inwards, seemed to wrack his frame, as if he was being eaten from within by his jealousy. The utter credibility of their relationship and conflict is perhaps not surprising given that the pair are building upon their superb performances in David Alden’s production of the opera at ENO last summer.

The smaller roles were no less accomplished. Jihoon Kim was a sympathetic Mayor, Anne Marie Owens delivered Grandmother Burya’s exhortations with style, and Harry Thatcher sang with tremendous directness and agility as the mill foreman, Stárek. Eleanor Garside’s exuberant Jana - one of the village girls whom Jenůfa teaches to read, hoping that they may attain a better life - brought a welcome brightness and liveliness into the bleakness. Heather Ireson (Karolka), Alexandra Lowe (Barena), Amy Lyddon (Pastuchyna) and Jessica Robinson (Tetka) completed the fine cast and joined together to sing a beautifully sincere wedding song in the final Act.

William Lacey made sure that the BBC Concert Orchestra painted a colourful, sometimes biting, musical soundscape and if occasionally one might have wished for a little more Slavic warmth and fire this was more than made up for by the range of timbre and ceaseless energy of the playing.

Looking at the photograph in the season programme book of the state of the building site with just 83 days to go before curtain-up, it seemed incredible that we were sitting in a theatre at all, let alone enjoying such a vivid and heart-tugging performance.

There was just one ‘wrong note’: the ending. In the 1970s, one reviewer of the opera, Lindsay Browne remarked that the ending brought to mind the work of Thomas Hardy or the King Lear-Cordelia reconciliation scene, ‘for the kind of aching swell of generosity which shines forth from J’s resolution of many sorrows (Australian Sun-Herald 28 July 1974), and this doesn’t seem an inappropriate account of the experience of the final apotheosis of the opera when Laca and Jenůfa are finally reconciled.

Mitchell adds a closing scene of her own: an angelic young boy - the dead baby? - stands amid a garden of flowers and waves ambiguously (at whom?). This is at odds with hard-hitting realism of the rest of Mitchell’s production, and with the rejection of such mysticism by both the composer and the writer, Gabriel Preissová, on whose play (Její pastorkyňa; Her Foster-daughter) the libretto is based. It’s a pity, too, since this Jenůfa presents some powerfully penetrating psychological portraits.

Jenůfa continues, alongside Tosca and Die Walküre, until 8 July: https://grangeparkopera.co.uk/

Claire Seymour

Leoš Janáček: Jenůfa

Jenůfa - Natalya Romaniw, Števa - Nicky Spence, Kostelnička - Susan Bullock, Laca - Peter Hoare, Mayor - Jihoon Kim, Grandmother - Anne-Marie Owens, Starek - Harry Thatcher, Mayor’s Wife - Hanna-Liisa Kirchin, Karolka - Heather Ireson, Barena - Alexandra Lowe, Jano - Eleanor Garside, Pastuchyna - Amy Lyddon; director - Katie Mitchell, revival director - Robin Tebbutt, conductor - William Lacey, designer - Vicki Mortimer, original lighting designer - Nigel Edwards, lighting designer - Paul Keogan, original choreographer - Struan Leslie, revival choreography - Lucy Cullingford, BBC Consort Orchestra.

Grange Park Opera, West Horsley; Saturday 17th June 2017.

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):