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 Reviews

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital

Audiences will have the chance to feel part of a new opera inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poems with an innovative 360-degree simulated experience of Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital from midday, Wednesday 8th November.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 68: Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Peter Illych Tchaikowsky, Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus, Royal Albert Hall, London, 3rd September 2017
04 Sep 2017

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.

Prom 68: Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Peter Illych Tchaikowsky, Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus, Royal Albert Hall, London, 3rd September 2017

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra and Mariinsky Chorus

 

Prokofiev's Cantata was dynamite in many ways. It's an explosion of sound so overwhelming that it needs to be detonated in a performance space as vast as the Royal Albert Hall for full effect. It was also dynamite because it was modern in musical terms, while purporting to celebrate increasingly regressive Soviet values. For a while, the Revolution espoused progressive ideas like futurism and modern art, Eisenstein was probably able to get away with radical innovation ten years after 1917. Twenty years later, Prokofiev was not so lucky. His Cantata was suppressed until Prokofiev and his nemesis Josef Stalin had died, ironically within days of one another. Now, a hundred years after the Revolution, we can perhaps assess its impact on Russia and the world. And with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra and Choir, we probably had the best possible interpreters.

Eisenstein's film, made ten years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, depicted ten critical days in the struggle, starting with the return of Lenin, culminating with the creation of a new Soviet government dedicated to ideals of peace and equality. Prokofiev's Cantata unfolds in ten sections, highlighting themes in the revolution, some with explicit texts, others in more cryptic orchestral form. Prokofiev prefaced the Prelude with a quote from Marx and Engels A Communist Manifesto, "A Spectre is haunting Europe, the Spectre of Communism". Marx and Engels, though, were writing in 1848 when communism was no more than theory. Prokofiev, on the other hand, had personal experience of what a communist revolution could mean. One wonders if he's praising the system or hinting at something darker.

In the second section, the choirs intone "Philosophers have simply explained the world in different ways. The point is to change it". Another equivocal statement that can be read in different ways. Perhaps the setting hides a clue to meaning. Male and female chorus members sing lines that overlap one another, propelled by strict rhythm like the pounding of machinery. Rising anthems in the orchestra suggest patriotic pride, but they're cut apart by an Interlude with jagged angles, and ominous crashing percussion. Perhaps we're in some huge, infernal machine. In the section titled "Marching in Closed Rank", the voices in jerky lockstep, the rhythms are even more pronounced, highlighted with crashing cymbals and brass. The text quotes Lenin "...we are singling ourselves out as a special group who have chosen the path of struggle, not the path of compromise".

Yet Prokofiev follows this with a tiny Interlude of haunting quietness before the voices return, the women apart from the men. The revolution has started but its outcome is by no means certain. Thus rushing, frantic figures, passages where the singing is so fast that, with less articulate voice, the line might collapse. Psychologically true: Trumpets call, metallic bells are beaten. We even hear the hint of ships' bells underlining the reference to "Kronstadt, Vyborg , Revel" (where the Navy mutinied). We even hear the wail of a klaxon - a touch of Edgard Varèse? Though it's probably a natural response to the images of machinery and violence. The suggestion of gunfire hangs heavily over the orchestra.

Victory, at last? The women's voices sing a serene hymn, whose sweeping lines mihght evoke traditional hymns of harvest. The men's voices join in. "The machinery of oppression has been toppled". Yet still Prokofiev paints mechanical processes into his music - the regular tread of machines and processes, the singers clapping their hands in joyless rhythm, the percussion section stamping their feet. A single voice rises from within the closed ranks of the men's choir. "We need the measured tread of the iron battalions of the proletariat". The combined choirs sing a secular hymn of unquestioning obedience to Lenin and his values. The words quote Stalin, whose loyalty to Lenin might not have been as pure as the text suggests.

A section marked "Symphony" follows - flying figures, trumpets and flutes leading forward, the suggestion of pipes and drums, then a semi-pastoral melody, the strings singing as if they were describing fields of corn and a bumper harvest. But grim ostinato intrudes: the timpani growl and the orchestra flies off again in frantic tension. Perhaps in this extended section, with its sophisticated textures and inventive contrasts, Prokofiev is expressing that which cannot be voiced in a totalitarian society. The choirs return, singing in unison, men alternating with women, singing a chorale to words by Stalin, praising the Constitution of the Soviet Union. But in a totalitarian state, constitutional procedures don't guarantee a thing. You could end up in a gulag, as Lina Prokofiev discovered.

So is Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution glorious propaganda? And, if so, for whom and for what purpose? In musical terms it's a lot more sophisticated and subtle than the blatantly crude texts suggest. Was Prokofiev playing a dangerous double game? We may never know, but the Cantata is a lot more than kitsch.

Prokofiev's Cantata received its first public performance in 1966. The following year, the Soviet Republic marked its 50th anniversary with a reissue of Eisenstein's October: Ten Days that Shook The World. A new soundtrack was added, specially written by Dimitri Shostakovich. It's thrilling stuff,. These thoughts absorbed me while listening to Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra perform Dimitri Shostakovich Symphony No.5 in D minor, written at the same time as Prokofiev's Cantata. This was a wildfire hit with the regime, rehabilitating him in their good books. Throughout his career, Shostakovich played cat and mouse with the system, not always in the best interests of his music. This performance was so good that Gergiev rehabilitated it for me: it's not usually my favourite, but this was good. Gergiev's also a champion of the music of Galina Ustvolskaya. Initially, she was in Shostakovich's inner circle but eventually their paths turned apart. Ustvolskaya's music was so uncompromising that it compromised her status in society. Who knows what Prokofiev would have made of her? The Prokofiev that might lurk within this Cantata, that is. Keeping Prokofiev and Shostakovich apart, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.3 in E flat major with soloist Denis Matsuev.

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):