Tag Archives: Karita Matilla


Karita MattilaSan Francisco Opera’s performance of Jenufa by Leos Janacek was spectacular, June 28, at the SF Opera House. There will be one more performance of this powerful, emotion grabbing, musically fascinating work. It’s Friday, July 1; don’t miss it. The SF Opera Orchestra, conducted by Jiri Belohavek, has never played better. The voices of the singers  were stunning. Not content with making beautiful sound, the singers made their sound perfectly fit the characters they presented. Karita Mattila, pictured above, performed the role of Kostelnicka Buryjovka. From the first moment she is seen onstage, her presence becomes the tragic center of action. Her voice, suffused with knowledge and emotion, reaches into every listener. A brilliant opera star, this is her onstage debut in this role (she performed it in concert with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jiri Belohavek, in April). She has made it her own.

JanacekCzech composer Janacek began work on Jenufa, in 1895. It was premiered in 1904, in Brno, and in Prague in 1916. Janecek came from a village much like the one in his opera. He collected and studied music and songs from Moravia, his home region, as well as its speech patterns and expressions. In Jenufa, the characters live in a tightly knit community, isolated from outside culture. Jenufa is a young woman who loves Steva, a handsome man who owns the mill and is also a drunk and a flirt. At the beginning of the opera, she reveals that she is pregnant and prays that Steva will not be drafted but will marry her, saving her reputation and her life. Laca, another villager, has loved her all his life, but she is blind to him, especially now. The village does not offer a lot of options for an intelligent young woman. She teaches others how to read, but she cannot read the facts that Steva will only bring her trouble.

_B5A6096-SSteva brags to his friends that all the girls want him. Tenor Scott Quinn as Steva was both completely self-centered and too frightened of responsibility to have anything to do with Jenufa and her problem. In excellent voice, he  performed splendidly enough to earn boos at the curtain call. He was also frightened of the Kostelnicka, village sacristan, who demanded he spend one year sober before she could let him marry Jenufa, her stepdaughter.  At a loss for what to do, Jenufa hides in her stepmother’s home to have her child. Only 8 days after the birth, her stepmother has invited Steva to visit in order to convince him to marry. He refuses. In a fit of jealousy, Laca cut Jenufa’s face. She is less beautiful now and has a baby. He will marry the Mayor’s daughter instead. Laca visits and declares his love again. Desperate, the Stepmother finds a way to make this match work.

_B5A6412-MLovely Soprano Malin Bystrom, making her debut in the role as Jenufa, experiences changes through the events of the opera. An international star, she certainly must keep Jenufa in her repertory; she was exquisite. When she enters in Act I, she is a vision of happy youth. Her movements suggest a sought after young woman whose love is fulfilled. She enters through the bright sunlight of the upstage image of ripe grain. However, the set is built so that two high walls nearly connect to each other at the point where the outside world is seen. Production Designer Frank Phillipp Schlossmann did a wonderful job of creating the enclosed, separate world of the villagers. He also uses the visual theme of stones to match the frequent mention of stones in the text. There is a possible millstone, mysterious and extra large, on stage in Act I. In Act II a stone takes up the entire interior of the Stepmother’s home. When we see Jenufa after the birth, she is weak, frightened of what will become of her, and yet loves her baby.  The world of the opera might seem as distant and peculiar to 21st century San Franciscans as life on Mars. Public shame and hopelessness, real and powerfully portrayed, are the future for Kostelnicka, Jenufa and the baby.

LacaLaca agrees to marry Jenufa. Sung with great success by tenor William Burden, Laca also goes through changes from angry, violent outcast, to pacified, hopeful helpmate. This is where the internet tradition of “spoiler alert” should appear in this Hedgehog Highlight. Terrifying events will occur: the Kostelnicka confesses to her crime, the crowd tries to stone Jenufa using Designer Schlossmann’s very believable, rugged decor. Out of this terror, there is something nearly like a happy ending. In classical theater, it’s a comedy if it ends with a marriage. Order and harmony return that way. While commentators have noted that the Kostelnicka confesses in order to spare her beloved stepdaughter and because she recognizes that she acted as much for herself as for Jenufa, for this observer it is necessary to note that none of the tranquility that is achieved for Laca and Jenufa could have happened without the actions of the suffering Kostelnicka. The cast was wonderful. It was a great night for music, a triumph for theater. Do not wait; buy your tickets now.

BlessingJenLacThe loving sinner Stepmother, blesses the nearly happy couple before the truths are found out. For another Hedgehog observation of Karita Matilla, please go to  http://www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=758  Ms Matilla made her debut with the San Francisco Symphony, in the Beethoven Festival, June 17, 2015, singing Ah! Perfido Scene and Aria, Op. 65. In this Jenufa post, photos except the unattributed ones of Ms. Matilla and Janacek, are ©Cory Weaver/SF Opera.

Beethoven Festival: San Francisco Symphony Celebrates

mtt_09-black_0598-5-120x67      Michael Tilson Thomas, the remarkable Music Director & Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, celebrates his 20th anniversary with the orchestra with a three week long Beethoven Festival, June 10-28, 2015. The gifted MTT has made a gift to the City–and anyone lucky enough to be visiting–of the great music and of one of his own many gifts: a genius for programming. Last night, June 17, the Hedgehogs and and an eager full-house audience heard Overture to the Ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43; Concerto No. 4 in G major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 52; Ah! Perfido, Scene and Aria, Op. 65; and Symphony No. 6, Op. 68, Pastoral. It was a blissful evening that moved from thrills to calm transcendence. 14708Beethoven’s Overture was brief and full of wonders. It especially intrigued this listener for its continual rhythmic invention. There is a swirling action of the music related to the introduction of human enlightenment in the sciences and the arts through the interventions of the gods. The story is not necessary, indeed, this Hedgehog had not read program notes which allowed the music to dance on its own. Once begun, the energy and magic of the music spins and lifts the listener to a momentary meeting on Parnassus. It ended quickly; the gods and their intertwining rhythms receded to the clouds.

Jonathan_Biss_171_credit_Benjamin_Ealovega-120x67Jonathan Biss is tall, slight, and has the long, graceful hands one imagines for an acclaimed pianist. He also has a magnetic presence onstage which was a perfect match for the SF Symphony in Concerto No. 4. It seemed to me to be unusual for the pianist to begin a Concerto, and it is. The piano offers its thoughts. The orchestra responds. The fascinating rhythms noticed in The Creatures of Prometheus were a good mental preparation for the variety of rhythmic creativity in this Concerto. At one moment, as the Symphony was busily having its say, one note from the piano appeared clearly as though breaking in while its partner had only one beat to catch its breath. Mr. Biss’s fan-like hands compress for the astonishing trills that punctuate the piano’s poetry as the piano leads the orchestra into another atmosphere. The Concerto is spritely and touching. It seems to cleanse the air all around it. The SF Symphony performed as though this Concerto were its own; Mr. Biss gave an inspiring performance, far beyond exact or correct, lifting us up into Beethoven’s world.

Karita_Mattila-Headshot-PhotoCredit-LauriEriksson-120x67Soprano Karita Mattila’s performance of Ah! perfido was her debut with the SFS. She is a much honored opera performer who added drama and character to the Festival evening. She is a statuesque blonde who used the clarity of her diction and technique to create powerful, expressive theater. The aria addresses a lover, the “perfidious, perjured, barbarous traitor,” who has left the singer. How is it possible that there could be an idiot who would leave Ms. Mattila’s character? She endowed her performance with all the anger, hurt, despair, and pain that could seize a goddess or even ten goddesses. “In pity’s name, do not say farewell,/for what, deprived of you, shall I do?” The aria was an interesting addition to the programming. It demonstrated the breadth of Beethoven’s reach into all forms of music. It arrested the attention of the audience with the power of the voice.

81914355And then, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. It brings us into harmony with the natural world. It offers tranquility. Like a walk through a lovely park, it never disappoints anyone willing to listen. There are commentaries from learned Beethoven specialists who either state simply that this symphony has a “program,” meaning it describes a particular scene and events, or who try to step around that a little, as music with a program may not be truly great music to them. This is truly great music. Beethoven loved to walk in park or wood. “No one can love the country as much as I do,” he wrote, “For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.” Yes, even rocks. There is a Shakespearian gathering of rough musicians which could be right out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They may be clumsy, but the author/composer loves them just as he values the rocks and trees. There is a terrible storm, but it passes over, and we are all safe together again. He captures the rhythms of putting one foot in front of another, of jumping over a brook, not a very big brook, of breathing air fresher than one’s usual air. It is steady and calm and beautiful. The SF Symphony’s superb performance captured the world changing beauty of the calm, easy breathing work. Would it be possible to convert those who deny the tragedy of climate change by having them listen to Beethoven’s 6th? It is a hard, closed heart  which could not hear the call in this music full of supposedly common wonders.

Tonight, June 18, The Hedgehogs hear the SF Symphony, Jonathan Biss, and the Symphony Chorus perform Sanctus, from the Mass in C maj., Choral Fantasy, op. 80; Fantasy in G Maj., op. 86; and Symphony No.5. I will look for Winston Churchill. I feel sure he will be there.

For tickets to the Beethoven Festival concerts: sfsymphony.org or call 415/864-6000.