Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Julietta - A Dream-Book (1936-7)
Lyrical Opera in three acts
libretto by Martinů after play by Georges Neveux (1900-1983)

Maria Tauberová (Julietta)
Ivo Žídek (Michel)

Antonín Zlesák (Inspector, Postman)
Zdenĕk Otava (man with helmet)
Vaclav Bednár (man in window)
Ivana Mixová (Little Arab)
Vladimir Jedenáctík (Old Arab)
Jaroslava Prochazková (Bird-seller)
Ludmila Hanzaliková (Fishmonger)
Miloslava Fidlerová (Gentleman)
Eva Zikmundová (Gentleman)
Eva Hlobilová (Gentleman)
Jaroslav Horáček (Old Man Youth)
Karel Kalaš (Grandfather)
Milada Čadikovičová (Grandmother)

Stĕpánka Jelínková (Old Lady)
Vĕra Soukupová (Palmist)
Jindřich Jindrák (Memory-dealer)

Jaroslav Veverka (Old sailor)
Zdenĕk Švehla (young sailor)
Antonín Zlesák (Forest warden)
Marcela Lemariová (Errand-boy)
Karel Berman (Beggar)
Dalibor Jedlička (Convict)

Antonín Votava (Clerk)
Jaroslav Stříška (Engine-Driver)

Bohumír Lalák (Night watchman)
Chorus of the National Theatre, Prague/Milan Malý
Orchestra of the National Theatre, Prague/Jaroslav Krombholc
rec Domovina Studio, Prague, 2-8 Jan 1964, AAD
SUPRAPHON 10 8176-2 613 [3CDs: 44.14; 60.36; 39.55]


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Martinů saw the surrealist play Juliette où La clé des songes by Georges Neveux (1900-1983) in Paris in 1932. This was two years after it had been written and only one year after Martinů had married Charlotte Quenehen. The composer's interest was well and truly engaged by this strange story with its dreamlike treatment. Following the same pattern he had for parts of the Plays of Mary and later for The Greek Passion (based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis; also recorded by Supraphon in a version conducted by Charles Mackerras) and Ariadne, Martinů wrote his own libretto. This he did with Neveux's permission.

The oneiromantic plot defies the usual operatic conventions combining elements which we may recognise from Debussy's Pélléas et Mélisande, Havergal Brian's The Tigers and Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet. Michel (sung by Ivo Žídek) longs for Julietta (sung by Maria Tauberová). The 'story' takes place in a world where everyone including Julietta lacks memory, conscience or logical thought. Everything is here-and-now and transient. There is no sense of the past among the characters ... apart, that is, from Michel who has all the faculties conspicuously absent from the others. It is typical that of the long dramatis personae there is a 'Memory-dealer' - here sung by Jindřich Jindrák.

The mature Martinů of the symphonies can be heard. Stravinsky is however a clear influence - especially Petrushka. This is evident at the start of the first two acts. The Russian's hard edges are drizzled and misted in Martinů’s hands although in tr 4 CD2, Act II scene IX we hear a blend of The Rite of Spring and Ravel's Rhapsodie Espagnole with the aggressive forward drive fully engaged. The music in general has the luminosity and buoyancy we associate with the last three symphonies. Several stretches of dialogue are delivered spoken rather than sung. The voices of the characters are well differentiated. From time to time an accordion saunters into focus and fades away playing a nostalgic street tune. Stravinskian edginess is nowhere to be heard in scene III of Act III. Instead we have an auburn-toned long-limbed string song unusual in Martinů. The final two scenes of Act III have that feeling of trying to walk up a staircase that keeps moving downwards. Michael can hear his Julietta who declares that she is 'yours, only yours!'. When he opens the door to reach Julietta she is not there. Židek superbly projects the torment of the unattainable in the final scene (scene 8, tr. 5, CD3) with its harkings back to the shudders of The Rite.

Stereo separation is well defined (CD1 tr. 2) and the analogue technology (AAD not ADD) is smooth, strong and sharply defined.

The opera is extravagantly distributed across three CDs when its total playing time of 144.45 could have been commodiously placed on two discs. The advantage is that there is one disc for each act. The tracking is laid out with one track per scene in Act I. There are six in Act I. There are 13 scenes in Act II but these are grouped into only four tracks and the eight scenes of Act III are in 5 tracks. The tracks are subdivided into index points but since indexing is not a common feature among CD players it is to be hoped that Supraphon will, if they reissue the recording, provide a track for each scene.

The Supraphon presentation is really very good indeed. There are colour plates of both Polička (Martinů's birthplace) and an even rarer one of Martinů himself, perhaps in his early fifties, with carnations(?) in the background. It is unusual to see a colour photograph of this composer and even if the colour is a bit livid it is a delight to have. There are about fifteen monochrome pictures from a production of Julietta. One slight irritant is the failure of Supraphon to list the registers of each singer.

The booklet is in Czech, English, German and French; similarly the libretto gives the sung Czech with the other languages printed in three columns side by side. The 200 page booklet is very substantial. This together with the double width case goes into a card slip-box carrying a painting (by František Musika) of one of the opera's original stage sets.

Before his death of stomach cancer in Liestal, Martinů was at work with the Julietta score trying to translate the Czech libretto back into French. This opera meant a great deal to him and the booklet reminds us that his final symphony (No. 6), significantly called Fantaisies Symphoniques, quotes from Julietta.

This is not an opera for those who must have Puccinian drama and emotion. However for those who relate to a Delian continuum and surrealism lightened and illuminated by Martinů's gorgeous palette and rhythmic snap this will be irresistible. Be warned though: this is the poetic Martinů of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies rather than the dramatic Martinů of the Third and Fourth Symphonies.

Rob Barnett

See also review by Terry Barfoot


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