Magazine article Musical Times

Cock and Bride

Magazine article Musical Times

Cock and Bride

Article excerpt

Survival is in the air. At least that was the message which seemed to be coming from the stage of the new Sadler's Wells, where the Royal Opera has taken up residence for a season. The previous autumn, Verdi in Edinburgh had a certain mournful magnificence about it: the Don Carlos impressed widely and deeply, but a cloud descended with an almost palpable intimation that this was a last reminder of glory passing then and shortly to be beyond recall. At Sadler's Wells we looked to the future. The productions of The bartered bride and The golden cockerel were not masterpieces; enough was right and enough wrong to make them normal nights at the opera, with plenty to enjoy and plenty to talk about critically afterwards. But they were the work of a live company, one that had set itself a standard and meant to come through.

This sense of a company with confidence in itself derived primarily from the work of orchestra and chorus. In The bartered bride the orchestra were playing under, and for, Sir Bernard Haitink, so nearly lost to them and so enthusiastically welcomed back. The exhilaration of the overture's first bars showed them in top form: I doubt whether any opera orchestra in the world could play with more spirit, style and precision. At the premiere of The golden cockerel the news that Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was ill naturally caused disappointment, but Vladimir Jurowski stepped in, as he had been scheduled to do for later performances, and the richly coloured scoring remained the source of most acute and consistent pleasure throughout the evening. The chorus's achievement was equally remarkable. On the one night they sang in Czech, on the second in Russian, and though it would be beyond my competence to comment on the authenticity of their pronunciation, I can vouch for it that there was no smudging: the words came out brightly, clearly, and with every sign of being understood. The members are reduced in number to the absolute minimum (10-10-8 to a part), but it is clear that every one of them feels the responsibility and makes an artistic opportunity out of this strange role of mass-individuality

Many who went to Islington for The bartered bride had been attracted there by the prospect of seeing Ian Bostridge as the stuttering Vasek. Wide-eyed and toothy, long-legged and gawking, he cut an endearing figure, and at the end everybody wished him luck as the circus's new dancing bear. The voice itself makes a less distinctive impression than in the concert-hall. In fact it was the other tenor, the Jenik of Jorma Silvasti, who should have drawn the crowds, for his is indeed a remarkable voice, lyrical with a touch of the heroic about it (he sings Parsifal and von Stolzing, and could, one imagines, make a good Lohengrin), firm but gaining zest and character from a close-spun vibrato. His duet with Kecal (a slightly indisposed Franz Hawlata) was delightful, still more so those with the fresh-voiced and utterly charming Marenka, Soile Isokoski. Robert Tear made a grand effect as the Circus Master, getting his tongue round the hoops and trapeze-stunts of quickfire Czech salestalk, and forming a commandingly genial focal point with his red cloak and white beard.

The circus came to town in fine style and was generally voted the highpoint of the production: Francesca Zambello's, and probably not one of her best, or, for that matter, her worst. …

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