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<<  -- 4 --  Roderic Dunnett    FEMALE INSURGENCE

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Wyn Pencarreg, an emerging young baritone with a memorable performance as the Count in Figaro (for Mid Wales Opera) among his scalps, brought some authority though not quite sufficient tone (he has it, in ladles) outdoors to the ruler-by-marriage, Premysl, who has succeeded the dead Libuse (to whom he owed his throne). The feel of a nebulous mediæval court felt more vitally captured than in Garsington's Genoveva a few seasons back : here, with the ceremonial processions, you got the feeling Ingrams's team could almost carry off a Tannhauser.

A state in turmoil : the arrival of Sárka (Susan Stacey) and her female warriors in Act 1 of Garsington Opera's 2002 production of 'Sárka'. Photo: Keith Saunders
A state in turmoil : the arrival of Sárka (Susan Stacey) and her female warriors
in Act 1 of Garsington Opera's 2002 production of 'Sárka'. Photo: Keith Saunders

The women's music (for the red-clad Bacchante followers of the rebellious Sárka, swarming over the Garsington roof tiles uttering their woes -- "beda"s -- with inevitable shades of Frankie Howerd) ranges closer to Foerster or Fibich; the oboe, for her forbidden lover Ctirad's prayer (the effectively idiomatic Slovak tenor Ludovit Ludha), again suggests quite late Janácek. Susan Stacey delivered her Sárka ('Vlasta's warrior') in a suitably forceful and cutting voice. The woodland music, and the orchestra's subsequent soft doubling of Ctirad's declaration of love, was particularly affecting.

A sword-bearing Sárka (Susan Stacey in the title role) emerges from the tomb of Queen Libuse in Act 3 of Janacek's 'Sárka'. Photo: Keith Saunders
A sword-bearing Sárka (Susan Stacey in the title role) emerges from the tomb of Queen Libuse in Act 3 of Janacek's 'Sárka'.
Photo: Keith Saunders

Sárka needs a good chorus, and got it -- both the female ranting and the male chorus's noble devotion, led by a fine solo choregus and some remarkably pleasing tenors, as they build the funeral pyre for the dead hero which prefaces Sárka's self-immolation : a popular theme in Czech opera and melodrama, from Vanda (Dvorák) and Hippodameia (Fibich) to Eva (Foerster), with obvious mainstream precedents in Norma and Brünnhilde. Skilled lighting by Bruno Poet helped make this entombment scene -- led by the noble intoning of Premysl and Lumir (Lorenzo Carola) and brought alive by the sibyl-like epiphany of Sárka, looking like the dead Libuse, bearing the symbolic sword of Trut -- both impressive and involving.

Ludovit Ludha (Ctirad) in Garsington Opera's production of 'Sárka'. Photo: Keith Saunders
Ludovit Ludha (Ctirad) in Garsington Opera's production of 'Sárka'.
Photo: Keith Saunders

Amid this ritual offering, with the doomed lovers Ctirad and Sárka cast as a kind of Adonis-cum-Persephone, everyone seems to have come to their senses : reconciliation is in the air, as the women's adoption of men's black, and the men's of the women's red, symbolises. The final chorus was stupendous. Statuesque opera this may be, but there is a dramatic genre here (Smetana's Libuse and Liszt's occasionally staged Legend of St Elizabeth fall within the category); and in its own way, this was not a bad example of it.

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Copyright © 4 October 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

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