Magazine article The Spectator

Perfect Teamwork

Magazine article The Spectator

Perfect Teamwork

Article excerpt

Osud; Le Villi Vienna State Opera Don Carlos Welsh National Opera, Oxford

I don't usually associate the Vienna State Opera with adventurous programming, but staying in the city for a few days last week I was able, by chance, to catch the première of a double bill of two quite exceptionally rare operas, one of which largely deserves its fate, the other certainly doesn't. They were performed in the wrong order -- if one of a double bill is notably inferior to the other, clearly it should be done first. As it was, we began with Janacek's Osud, perhaps the rarest of his operas, in a quite brilliant production by David Pountney, who is an old hand at this piece. I can't remember much about his ENO production of it in 1984, but I don't think it was much like this one. At his insistence the work was performed in German, which seems a sensible idea. Surtitles, in German and English, were available, on Osud is so extremely bizarre that it's both a good thing and almost a tragedy that its music is consistently so wonderful. It is characteristic of the composer from the opening bar onwards, streaming and jagged string lyricism accompanied by pounding timpani and alternating with ebullient brass. It's almost possible to take it as 'abstract', and in view of the unrewarding complexities of the plot very tempting to.

As usual with him, the states of mind of the characters and their relationships are weird, but for every prosaic incident on stage he seems to be ever more stimulated to transfiguring music in the pit, while the characters semi-declaim and indulge in strange repetitions. If one weren't feeling sympathetic to the composer in the first place, Osud might be a strong if relatively brief provocation to acute irritation.

Fortunately, the music was in the safe hands of Simone Young, with the orchestra of the State Opera (largely constituted of the Vienna Philharmonic) sounding more untamed than they sometimes have in their Janacek recordings. And the casting was ideal, Jorma Silvasti as the composer Zivny who is having severe problems on both the artistic and personal fronts, his beloved Mila played by Cornelia Salje, and the apparently immortal Anja Silja as Mila's mother, an amazing performance, though as always with this artist a piece of perfect teamwork -- it's just that as soon as she appears on the stage, even, later on, as a corpse, it is hard to concentrate on anyone else. Pountney had the action taking place on a particularly restless revolve, but that both imparted a sense of the harassed, tumultuous nature of the drama and clarified it as far as possible -- the staging is by Stefanos Lazaridis. …

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