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 Performances

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.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

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):