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

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Prom 56: Jakub Hrůša with the BBC Symphony Orchestra
28 Aug 2017

Jakub Hrůša : Bohemian Reformation Prom

At Prom 56, Jakub Hrůša conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme on the theme of the Hussite Wars and their place in Bohemian culture showing how the Hussite hymn was incorporated into music by Smetana, Martinů, Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk.

Prom 56: Jakub Hrůša, Svatopluk Sem, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers - Hussite Hymn, Smetana, Martinů, Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk. Royal Albert Hall, London, 25th August 2017

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Jakub Hrůša

Photo credit: Pavel Henjý

 

Hrůša started with the Hussite hymn Ktož jsú boží bojovníci (Ye Who Are Warriors of God), the men of the BBC Singers singing without accompaniment. Though we rarely hear the hymn as hymn, its tune is familiar. Smetana used it in Má vlast, quoting it in the section Tábor which we heard here, the town of Tábor being a Hussite fortress. Thus the quiet, tense introduction, developed through brass and timpani, which grows bolder as the hymn emerges. Triumphant climaxes and the hymn theme surges. But the Hussites were annihilated. Thus Blaník depicts the even earlier legend that St Wenceslaus, patron saint of Bohemia, will return to defend the nation. Smetana, writing at a time when Bohemia was ruled by the Hapsburgs, drew connections between the tenth-century saint and the Hussites. The strong angular themes in Tábor return in even greater glory in Blaník: massive drum rolls and crashing cymbals

In 1938, Czechoslovakia was annexed by Germany, with the implicit approval of Britain in 1938. Bohuslav Martinů's Polní mše, H. 279 Field Mass (1939) was written for Czech exiles fighting with the French against the Germans. Thus the strange instrumentation, with brass and percussion employed to suggest the idea of performance in battlefield conditions. Drum rolls, marching rhythms, trumpet calls and a chorus of male voices. But also piano and harmonium and a part for baritone soloist beyond the scope of an average amateur. Fortunately, in Svatopluk Sem, we heard one of the most distinctive voices in the repertoire. Sem is a stalwart of the National Theatre in Prague, well known to British audiences for his work with Jiří Bělohlávek who transformed the way Czech music is heard in this country. Sem delivered with great authority, imbuing the words with almost biblical portent. His text is based on poetry by Jiří Mucha, who was soon to marry Vítezslava Kaprálová. Her Military Sinfonietta (1937) would have worked well in this programme, though it doesn't include a part for choir.

In Martinů's Field Mass, the choir acts as foil to the soloist, voices in hushed unison, mass (in every sense supporting the individual. Though their music is relatively straightforward Miserere, Kyrie and psalm, this simplicity enhances the idea of mutual support, reflecting the relationship between piano with harmonium, voices and soloists surrounded by atmospheric percussion and brass. The version we heard at this Prom is the new edition by Paul Wingfield.

Somewhat less spartan instrumentation for Dvořák's Hussite Overture O67 (1883) though the hymnal purity of the anthem rings through clearly. The rough hewn faith of the Hussites doesn't support exaggeration. Full crescendos and running figures, (piccolo and flutes) flying free from the fierce "hammerblows"of the hymn. A glowing finale, from the BBC SO in full flow. The pounding rhythms of the Hussite hymn come to the fore in the Song of the Hussites from the opera The Excursions of Mr. Brouček to the Moon and to the 15th Century. Here the reference to the hymn is used for satire, contrasting the morality of the Hussites with the depravity of modern life, represented by the feckless, drunken Mr Brouček. To conclude this huge, ambitious programme,

Josef Suk's Prague op 26 (1904), in a tribute to Jiří Bělohlávek who made the BBC SO one of the finest Czech orchestras outside Czechia. The same goes for the BBC Singers who sing Czech pretty well. The piece was written at a dark time in Suk's life, after the death of his wife Ottilie and father-in-law Antonin Dvořàk. It connects to Suk's Asrael Symphony (op 27, 1905) and even to The Ripening (op 34, 1912-7). All three pieces deal with death, made almost bearable by faith, despite extreme grief.In Suk's Prague, the Hussite hymn makes an appearance as a symbol of something that lives on beyond temporal restraints., Suk seems to be surveying the city he loved, contrasting its history of struggle with his present. Perhaps, as he looked out on the castle, cathedral and the Rudolfinium, he could position his sorrow in a wider context. People die, but cultures remain. That's why I feel so strongly that the BBC Marketing term "Bohemian Reformation" is a crock. There''s a lot more to heritage than simplistic nationalism. Hrůša conducted Suk's Prague with such intensity, that the performance eclipsed all else in an evening filled with high points.

Jakub Hrůša's belated Proms debut but he is one of the most exciting conductors around, full of character and individuality. Though he's young, he's extremely experienced, and at a high level. In the UK, he's conducted at Glyndebourne and with the BBC SO and the Philharmonia, where he becomes Chief Guest Conductor next season. He is a natural in Czech repertoire, and a possible successor to Bělohlávek, whose memorial he conducted in Prague, but he's also very good in other material. Definitely a conductor to follow

Anne Ozorio

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):