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

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Parks fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

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):