Maria Tauberová (soprano)
Ivo Zidek (tenor) Michel
Antonín Zlesák (baritone) Inspector
Véra Soukupová (mezzo soprano) Fortune
Chorus and Orchestra of the National Theatre, Prague cond. Jaroslav
Martinu was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century, working
in all the main genres, including opera. He wrote fourteen operas in all,
and they are well worth exploring. While The Greek Passion is more
frequently performed outside the Czech Republic, it is Julietta (1938)
that can lay the strongest claim to being Martinu's operatic masterpiece.
Martinu spent the majority of his career working away from his homeland.
From the early 1920s he was based in Paris for nearly 20 years; then following
the outbreak of war he fled to America, black-listed by the Nazis. Unwilling
to return to a Communist Czechoslovakia, he spent his last years in Europe,
befriended by the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher.
Julietta is based on a play by Georges Neveux, whom Martinu had encountered
in Paris. The subject is exploratory: the relationship between reality, dreams
and memory. Therefore the musical style is far from conventional, relying
particularly on the atmosphere created by the inventive and impressive orchestral
textures. Krombholc's performance from the Prague National Theatre (Prague
was the city where Julietta was first performed) can be counted among
Supraphon's most successful recordings, truthfully capturing the opera's
sound-world in a well-balanced yet immediate perspective. This CD transfer
is particularly good, bringing new life to a 1964 recording which always
sounded its age on the original LPs.
The central character is the tenor Michel (splendidly sung by Ivo Zidek),
who is the only character possessed of a memory. Julietta is his ideal woman,
and in this performance the soprano Maria Tauberová is sympathetic
both vocally and dramatically. The music has various moods and shadings of
expressive intensity, because Krombholc's experienced hand guides us through
the ebb and flow of tension and relaxation in a way which is wholly sympathetic
to the special qualities of the score.
Although the two central characters attract most of our attention, in truth
there is a long cast list and the opera demands a repertory performance rather
than star singers. Therefore the Prague National Theatre was the ideal company
to make a recording. Martinu's style generates some haunting music, such
as when the mysterious 'Man in the Window' plays his accordion, and the musical
flow allows for little formality in the way of structural breaks between
recitative and aria.
The supporting booklet information is substantial and well documented, but
the presentation gives the impression of being little more than a
photo-reduction. The print is so small and the pages so poorly designed,
that reading becomes something of a struggle. But at least a full libretto
with translation is provided, and because of the often conversational nature
of the opera, there is a lot of text involved. There are three acts, and
each is allocated its own disc; with different editing, two well-filled discs
would have been perfectly possible, and therefore so would a lower selling
price. However, from most points of view, particularly as far as the performance
itself is concerned, this set is highly successful and can be given an