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Galakonzert review - Právo Daily (Prague)
Musical Magic of Persian and Greek Nights
Young French chief conductor Guillaume Tourniaire has brought back concerts onto the stage of State Opera Prague, and has done it in remarkable quality of both dramaturgy and interpretation. In autumn he conducted Grieg’s complete scene music to Peer Gynt and now he has been the initiator and protagonist of a new premiere of the opera Hélène and song cycle Nuit Persane by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Last year Tourniaire recorded both pieces for Australian musical publishing house Melba Recordings and in Prague he preferred a concert performance instead of a scenic one. This was logical indeed, since the dramatic quality of Hélène by Saint-Saëns is fully contained in richly graded romantic music; the story of the opera in one act is told statically, not allowing for scenic amplification.
The first performance was the song cycle Nuit Persane composed for two solo singers, reciter, orchestra and chorus using Armand Renaud’s text, and it was a wonderful experience. The musical speech of the story of a hot Persian night when a young man escapes with a woman freed from a harem has a wide expression register, ranging between lyrical emotional quivers and ecstatic dramatic features.
Tourniaire has shaped the cycle together with the solo singers and the orchestra into remarkable sound plasticity, in which the individual solos (horns, cellos, etc.) could excel and which also yielded a dynamically changing and colourfully sounding unit. The sound of the chorus (in particular the male chorus) was slightly outvoiced by the orchestra, which was presumably also due to its position in the rear. Tenor singer Richard Samek showed his feeling for expressive differentiation of individual songs in Nuit Persane, his tenor was masterful in bright, dramatically solid voice as well as in pianissimo; however, when he sang Paris his voice showed fatigue and gradually lost certainty in high tones. Jana Sýkorová was dazzling especially in Nuit Persane with her sensuously dark alto; in the second part of the evening her Pallas Athena was a counterpoint to Pavla Vykopalová’s light lyrical soprano in the role of Venus. Christina Vasileva sang brilliantly in the demanding part of Hélène and deserved ovations from the audience. French spoken by the reciter Hélene Sapin was charming, only her persistent smile in the first part of Nuit Persane was rather dull.
State Opera Prague, which is the former seat of the New German Theatre and Opera of 5 May whose tradition it has artfully continued, has celebrated its 120th anniversary by the concert in a dignified manner. Chief conductor Guillaume Tourniaire is a clear gain for this opera house. His autumn Grieg and early spring Saint-Saëns have resounded the orchestra in previously unheard lustre in works that have significantly raised the prestige of State Opera Prague.