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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Kát’a Kabanová</em>, Investec Opera Holland Park
17 Jul 2017

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

Kát’a Kabanová, Investec Opera Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Peter Hoare as Boris and Julia Sporsén as Káťa

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

Streaking shards of blue - the surging waters of the Volga that will engulf Kát’a, or perhaps the electric flashes of the storm which propels her fateful confession - shoot across the wide stage at Holland Park, as piercing as the timpani’s thumping fate motif.

A boardwalk weaves around a steel ‘cage’ housing some Edwardian furniture and a samovar - hinting that the oppressive hounding of the individual by communal conformity was just as prevalent in the early-twentieth-century West as it was in the nineteenth-century Russian village where Alexander Ostrovsky sets his realist play, The Storm, which is the source for the composer’s libretto. Fuchs’ ‘gentrification’ of the milieu might also be justified by Ostrovsky’s own setting of Kát’a hopeless plight as an indication of the power of the ruling merchant ‘autocracy’.

The wide span of the Holland Park theatre does not really lend itself to intense psychological drama but Fuchs’ direction is as economical as Janáček’s score, clearly and precisely charting the opera’s rapid progression from turbulence to tragedy. Just as the unbending bars of the cage on the left of the stage emphasise the ever-present binding grip of community and tradition, so the reed beds far right suggest the irresistible dream of escape which provides a dramatic counter-force.

KK chorus.jpg Members of the OHP Chorus. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

The chorus don’t have much to do, for Janáček - who was not really interested in presenting a social critique of the Russia of sixty years before - reverses Ostrovsky’s focus from the town onto Kát’a herself. Fuchs and movement director Clare Whistler effectively use stylised movement to suggest both the facelessness and the monotony of repression.

In the title role, Swedish soprano Julie Sporsén was perhaps more effective at conveying Kát’a’s later rhapsodic intoxication on dreams of passion and freedom, than she was at capturing her fragility and meekness in Act 1 in the face of Kabanicha’s cruel domination. I felt that a softer edge to the sound was required to evoke the young girl’s docility - after all, initially the tension is not between Kát’a and the community, for she shares the ‘values’ which Kabanicha and Dikój impose; and a singer needs to capture both Kát’a’s compliance and her self-scrutinising fear of transgression.

Julia Sporsén as Katya.jpg Julia Sporsén as Káťa and Clare Presland as Varvara Photo credit: Robert Workman.

But, in Kát’a’s monologue with Varvara, Sporsén convincingly suggested the nascent hysteria within Kát’a’ as she realises that her only hope is to prevent Tichon’s departure. And, in the double love scene in Act 2, her melodic lines swelled with limitless emotion, as if simply by singing without cease her revelation and love could be made to last forever. ‘Now observation that time is passing, as the night-watchman marks the hour.

Kabanicha and Dikoj.jpg Anne Mason as Kabanicha and Mikhail Svetlov as Dikój. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Anne Mason was superb as Kabanicha. Her mezzo was burnished and powerful, leaving no doubt of Kabanicha’s nastiness without descending into caricature. Her disparaging sneer, ‘Is he a lover you’re saying goodbye to’, at the end of Act 1 revealed her utter lack of compassion. Mason was a disturbing combination of frightening hostility and almost farcical hypocrisy - and Fuchs’ hint that Kabanicha and Dikój, sung with stentorian stature by Russian bass Mikhail Svetlov, are secret sadomasochists was uncomfortably credible.

Tichon.jpg Nicky Spence as Tichon. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Nicky Spence and Peter Hoare must be getting used to pairing up in Janáček’s operas having appeared together earlier this summer at Grange Park Opera in Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Jenůfa , reprising a partnership formed at ENO in David Alden’s production of the work last year. They were equally comfortable in their roles as Tichon, Kát’a’s weak-willed husband, and Boris, her impetuous lover, respectively.

Spence was utterly credible as the put-upon merchant who swigs surreptitiously from a hip flask to avoid the stresses of both his business and his mother’s bullying. It’s certainly the only spirit in him; but, it also makes him deaf to Kát’a’s pleas.

Boris.jpg Peter Hoare as Boris. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Hoare’s tenor soared with strength and passion, but Boris is no dark, brooding Laca, and Hoare’s characterisation brought out his irresponsibility and immaturity. Boris is an outsider in the community - Ostrovsky’s stage directions indicate that he should wear Western dress - and it is fitting that Fuchs makes Boris the first to dare to step from the restrictive wooden platform into the rushing Volga, coaxing Kát’a to follow him into the waters which represent, for her, both life and death.

Clare Presland was a charming, characterful Varvara, her strophic songs offering some much-needed, if temporary, relief from the prevailing tension. Presland used her full-toned mezzo to communicate Varvara’s free-spirited amorality: she believes that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t get found out. But, this was a rounded portrait and Presland did not suggest that Varvara was blameless. She and Paul Curievici’s personable, warm-voiced Kudrjaš might have been a little more impassioned in their Act 2 duet, but, then, the joy of the moment is merely a fragile peace.

Paul Curievici as Kudrja.jpg Paul Curievici as Kudrjaš and Clare Presland as Varvara. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Sian Edwards drew precise, taut playing from the City of London Sinfonia but I missed some of the ‘rawness’ of Janáček’s score: the contrast between the extreme juxtapositions of high and low, the almost suffocating mass of the whole ensemble. The chromatic turn figure which conveys the lovers’ anxious expectation should surely plague one’s heart like the twist of a knife; the troika should explode with almost feverish vigour, indicating and inflaming Tichon’s agitation. Perhaps Edwards was cautious so as not to overpower her cast, but a few more risks would have raised the psychological thermometer still further.

Fuchs controls the ending’s rapid denouement skilfully. Hypocrisy and injustice resonate with discomforting power. But, in fact, Kát’a is defeated by her own shame at having destroyed her moral values. She recognises that the ecstasy of religious fervour has been replaced by an erotic giddiness: the storm is, Dikój proclaims, a punishment from God. And she believes him. Overcome by her own conscience, she kills herself: which makes Kabanicha’s proud, self-righteous claim of ‘victory’ so brutally ironic and the final pounding of the timpani’s ‘inevitability’ motif so mocking. The only relief is the wordless chorus - the soul of the Volga - whose voices sweep Kát’a away.

Claire Seymour

Janáček: Kát’a Kabanová

Kát’a Kabanová - Julie Sporsén, Boris - Peter Hoare, Kabanicha - Anne Mason, Tichon - Nicky Spence, Varvara - Clare Presland, Kudrjaš - Paul Curievici, Dikój - Mikhail Svetlov, Glaša - Laura Woods, Fekluša - Polly Leech, Kuligin - Ross Ramgobin, Žena - Ayaka Tanimoto, Boatman - Michael Bradley; Director - Olivia Fuchs, Conductor - Sian Edwards, Designer - Yannis Thavoris, Lighting Designer - Colin Grenfell, Movement Director - Clare Whistler, City of London Sinfonia, Opera Holland Park Chorus.

Investec Opera Holland Park, London; Saturday 15th July 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):