Spain L. Janacek: Sarka, P. Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana, Seville’s Symphony Orchestra, Maestranza Chorus, Santiago Serrate (conductor). Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza, 5.2.2013 (JMI)
Sarka: Christina Carvin
Ctirad: Roman Sadnik
Premsyl: Mark S.Doss
Lumir: José Manuel Montero
Santuzza: Dolora Zajick
Turiddu: José Ferrero
Alfio: Mark S. Doss
Lola: Alexandra Rivas
Mamma Lucia: Viorica Cortez
Production: Teatro de la Fenice
Direction: Ermanno Olmi (original)
Barbara Pessina (revival)
Sets: Arnaldo Pomodoro
Costumes: Maurizio Millenotti
Lighting: Juan Manuel Guerra
Seville opened the season with an interesting double bill, consisting of Leos Janacek’s Sarka and Cavalleria Rusticana, by Pietro Mascagni. The focus was primarily on the first of the two operas as it was receiving its premiere in Spain.
Janacek is one of the great composers of 20th century and, for me, he and Benjamin Britten are the main operatic discoveries of recent times. Despite his popularity today, success did not come to Janacek until he turned 50 when Jenufa was premiered in 1904. His first opera was, however, Sarka, composed in 1887 to a libretto by Julius Zeyer, who had first offered it to Dvorak. Janacek composed the opera without the permission of Zeyer, convinced that there would be no problem with this. He was wrong and the librettist refused to grant him the relevant authorization, so Sarka was shelved and forgotten until 1917, when Zeyer was dead and Janacek was famous. The opera was finally premiered in Brno in 1925, celebrating the 70th birthday of Janacek. It was well received, but soon fell into oblivion, with only occasional revivals afterwards.
The opera takes place in a mythological Czech world, something which appealed to the nationalist Janacek, and it deals with the confrontation between women and men after the death of Queen Libuse. The leader of the women warriors is Sarka, while Ctirad leads the men. With a clever trick Sarka gets her enemy to release her from an oak tree, to which her warriors have tied her, so that she could kill him. They fall in love, which does not prevent Sarka from keeping her promise to kill Ctirad. In the last act Sarka, overwhelmed by love and guilt, throws herself on Ctirad’s funeral pyre.
The music is attractive, with rich orchestration, but it lacks the inspiration of other Janacek operas. It is not a masterpiece, but it is good music, although the libretto is far from believable.
The production is Ermanno Olmi’s from La Fenice in 2009. The set is simple, with a two-level stage, closed by side walls. On the lower level we find Libuse’s tomb, while the warriors are on the upper level, where there is a big oak tree.
Sarka was sung by German soprano Christina Carvin, who was convincing both vocally and as an actress. I have the impression, however, that the character might benefit from a more dramatic voice than hers.
Roman Sadnik was Ctirad and he was not quite up to Ms Carvin’s standard.
American baritone Mark S.Doss was acceptable in the part of Przemysl, the widower of Queen Libuse. Tenor José Manuel Montero was Lumir and while his voice was not that attractive he had excellent projection.
In Cavalleria Rusticana we had a minimalist stage, with two small piles at the sides. There was no church or tavern, only a large cross – without Christ – that rose in the center of the stage during Regina Coeli.
The stage direction was rather poor.
Dolora Zajick was the true protagonist of the opera as Santuzza. This artist has never been a particularly great actress, but she has been one of the most important voices of the past 30 years. At nearly 61, Dolora Zajick’s voice is a miracle. Her voice has a freshness and power difficult to believe from a person of her age and she continues to be a great singer. She was by far the best singer of the night.
José Ferrero was Turiddu, a character he sang with some success at the Liceu a couple of years ago. There was an announcement that he was indisposed, although this wasn’t apparent during the first part of the opera. Problems began to appear during the Brindis and we suffered with him.
Mark S. Doss was a correct Alfio, without being too interesting. Alexandra Rivas was believable as Lola. Veteran Viorica Cortez (77) was Mamma Lucia and even if she is not up to large vocal performances she can give lessons in diction and stage presence to many singers.
Stefano Ranzani was originally due to conduct, but he canceled and was replaced by Santiago Serrate, whose work has been promising, with good control of stage and pit.
Maestranza was at about 85 % of capacity. The audience gave a warm reception to the artists, dedicating a deserved triumph to Dolora Zajick and, to a lesser extent, to Christina Carvin.
José Mª Irurzun