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

Covent Garden’s Otello: Superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

Death in Venice at Deutsche Oper Berlin

This death in Venice is not the end, but the beginning.

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

06 Jun 2019

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

The Diary of One Who Disappeared: Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Wim van der Grijn, Ed Lyon and Marie Hamard

Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld

 

Though hard at work on his opera The Excursions of Mr. Broucek, which was first performed in 1920, when he returned to Brno Janáček immediately started sketching the first ten songs of what was to become a 22-song cycle for tenor, mezzo-soprano and piano, The Diary of One Who Disappeared. It set poems by Ozef Kalda that had been published in the Brno newspaper, Lidové noviny, on 14th and 21st May 1916, titled ‘From the pen of a self-made man’. The poems told the tale of a young Czech boy, Janíček, from ‘a good family’, who is seduced by ‘a dark Gypsy’, Zefka, and lured into the ‘free’ life of the traveller.

That Stösslová was the inspiration for The Diary is in no doubt: the composer wrote to her from Brno, on 10th August 1917: ‘Will you believe that I’ve not yet got out of the house? In the morning I potter around in the garden; regularly in the afternoon a few motifs occur to me for those beautiful little poems about that Gypsy love. Perhaps a nice little musical romance will come out of it - and a tiny bit of the Luhačovice mood would be in it.’ A year later, on 2nd September 1918, his mood was less optimistic: ‘It’s too bad my Gypsy girl can’t be called something like Kamilka. That’s why I also don’t want to go on with the piece. I can’t explain why you don’t write to me … I have nothing more than memories - when then, so I live in them.’

Janáček continued work on The Diary during the following two years, completing it in 1920. It was first heard at a private performance that year, and then premiered at the Reduta Theatre in Brno on 18 th April 1921. There is undoubtedly an ‘operatic’ dimension about the cycle, not least because, after the first eight songs in which the tenor recalls when he saw Zefka, songs nine to eleven act out that first meeting, as the composer turns indirect speech into direct interaction. Zefka enters at the end of song eight, and an offstage female chorus (like that which represents the soul of the Volga in Káťa Kabanová) sings the narrative of a seduction Janáček deliberately avoids portraying ‘on stage’.

In song nine, Zefka sings: “Welcome Janíček, welcome here in the wood. What happy coincidence brings you this way? What are you standing here like that for? So pale; so still; Why, are you perhaps afraid of me?” To which the young man replies, “I really have no cause to be afraid of anyone. I came here only to cut an axle-pin”, whereupon Zefka invites him to put aside his duties and to listen to her gypsy song. The remaining songs chart the aftermath of the seduction.

Van Hove ROH.jpg Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld.

Not surprisingly, there have been various dramatizations of The Diary - including Shadwell Opera’s Grimeborn production in 2017. Janáček himself is reported to have said that he wanted the cycle to be performed in ghostly half-lighting. That said, the drama is present in every note of the music. The Diary does not depend for its power on overt context, gesture or symbol. That over-prescription might in fact destroy the almost visceral intensity of the work was something that I felt very strongly during this staging of Ivo van Hove’s ‘interventionist’ staging at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre. Superimposing an autobiographical narrative on the tale told in poetry, and commissioning additional music and songs from the Belgian composer Annelies Van Parys which ‘allow us to see some of the story form Zefka’s perspective’, van Hove almost doubles the work’s length while significantly diluting its expressive immediacy.

Van Hove worked with two of his regular collaborators for this 2017 production for the Belgian company Muziektheater Transparant: set and lighting designer, Jan Versweyveld, and costume designer An d’Huys. Versweyveld’s set seems to shift us forward from the latter years of the First World War to the 1960s, and from nature to ‘civilisation’: specifically, to a photographic lab-cum-studio flat, comprising kitchen, dark room, office and bedroom, the patterned lighting effects intended, I assume, to evoke the landscape of the original woodland tryst. The confined space can, however, accommodate a grand piano. Janíček (tenor Ed Lyon) is now a photographer; rather than reliving his memories through music, he projects his remembered encounter - the gypsy’s name, an image of the Romany girl - onto the lab-apartment’s walls, assisted by an elderly man (Wim van der Grijn) who, we learn, is the composer himself.

Photographs Jan Versweyveld.jpg Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld.

At the start, all is silent. A woman in red (Marie Hamard) enters and is instructed by a recorded male voice to make a cup of tea, sit at the piano and tap out a scale, some snatches of melody. It feels clunky and awkward. Pianist Lada Valesova then takes her place at the keyboard; her playing is the linchpin of the performance, every gesture redolent with a clear vision of musical meaning and empathy for the composer’s emotive language. What a pity the piano lid remains closed throughout, though this does not prevent Valesova from conjuring emotional fire and frailty with equal insight and impact.

Lyon’s singing is fervent and precise, though there’s a lack of Slavic colour and passion, for all the rolling around on the carpet in which he and Hamard indulge. But, Lyon also conjures a telling sincerity and vulnerability which is countered by Hamard’s vocal strength. Van Parys’ music merges into Janáček’s songs with surprising persuasiveness, though I can’t help but feel that Janáček’s decision to allow the gypsy’s voice to be heard only in the central encounter strengthens the yearning and desire communicated by Janíček.

Kefka and Janicek.jpgMarie Hamard and Ed Lyon. Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld.

There’s nothing amiss with the ‘quality’ of the individual performances. But, the whole is strangely cold and clinical. One thing that is sadly missing is the exoticism of the ‘gypsy’; a red ‘business dress’ and hooped earrings don’t really compensate. Writing to Stösslova from Hukvaldy in July 1924, the composer declared, ‘And Kát’a, you know, that was you beside me. And that black Gypsy girl in my Diary of One Who Disappeared - that was especially you even more.’ Later, in April 1927, a year before his death Janáček wrote, ‘Wherever I am, I think to myself: you can’t want anything else in life if you’ve got this dear, cheerful, black little ‘Gypsy girl’ of yours’.

At the time of The Diary’s composition, there was considerable prejudice against the gypsy population in Moravia, and the cycle’s original text had included political comments about the need for a gypsy homeland (and indirect plea, perhaps, for a Czech homeland). Janáček scholar Michael Beckerman’s observations are instructive: ‘For centuries the Gypsies, hated and reviled, nonetheless furnished material for myriad erotic fantasies, becoming the dark tabula rasa on which all the base and sensual fantasies of white society were projected.’ In 1918 the new country of Czechoslovakia was formed, guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens - including 20,000 gypsies: ‘far from being a harsh, disturbing or sinister presence, the Gypsies at this time functioned as what we might call “orientalism from within”, an exotic symbol of freedom, passion and improvisation.’ Van Hove almost completely ignores, or destroys, this - surely fundamental - dimension of the work.

At the close of van Hove’s realisation, the seated figure of Wim van der Grijn reads and then burns his letters to Stösslova, dropping the flaming pages into a waste-paper bin. His unfulfilled dreams now ashes, he climbs into the small bed, presumably ready for death. But, The Diary ends in defiance and hope, not despair. Originally the vocal climax came in song 14, the height of Janíček’s desolation and hopelessness, “Oh what have I lost!” But, Janáček’s revisions shifted the emotional peak to the final song, which rises to a top C: “All that is left is for me to say goodbye forever.” And, with a farewell to his father, mother and little sister, “the apple of my eye”, Janíček departs: “Zefka is waiting for me with our son in her arms!”

Van Hove’s staging is refined where it could be raw; elegant where it could be elemental. He denies us intimacy, immediacy - an intensity, recalling the string quartets, which draws us into the stories the composer tells, whether fictional or autobiographical. And, he denies us the hope and consolation that Janáček’s final song exudes.

Claire Seymour

The Diary of One Who Disappeared : Leoš Janáček and Annelies Van Parys

Tenor - Ed Lyon, Zefka - Marie Hamard, Actor - Wim van der Grijn; Director - Ivo van Hove, Set/lighting designer - Jan Versweyveld, Costume designer - An d’Huys, Dramaturg - Krystian Lada.

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London; Wednesday 5th June 2019.

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):