JAN¡?EK: Osud

On the present occasion, it was the phenomenal virtuoso
composition that is Osud that was delivered with panache and
confidence by B?lohlavek and his forces. B?lohlavek had clearly lavished
much attention on the score, for passages that could so easily have become
jumbled, such as the complex choral opening of the final act, were models of

Sir Charles Mackerras brought Osud to the attention of non-Czech
audiences with his 1989 ground-breaking English-language Chandos recording
(CHAN3029). The story is a fascinating one, featuring three main
protagonists. The composer éivn˝ has a complex relationship, and a child,
with MÌla. At the opening of Act One, they are estranged, and éivn˝ has
begun to compose an opera in which he therapeutically attempts to write out
his jealousies and frustrations; by the end of Act One, they have effected a
reconciliation. The third major character is MÌlaís mother, who descends
into insanity in Act Two, an act that ends in a double tragedy. The third act
centres on éivn˝ís attempts to finish his opera (due for imminent
performance). Tragedy again strikes.

Jan·?ekís music includes the polar extremes of unbearably poignancy
and the bright-sunshine, carefree life of the opening scene (the latter set
on the promenade of a spa resort). The composerís ability to effect
quicksilver emotional changes in a fraction of the blink of an eye needs
equivalent quicksilver responses from the orchestra, and B?lohlavek indeed
ensured that his was the case. The opera lasts around the 80-minute mark, and
yet is still split into three acts (called, ënovelesque scenesí ó the
breaks between these were minimal).

The soprano Amanda Roocroft, who took the essential role of MÌla, was
simply stunning, both visually and aurally. Her voice tone can be meltingly
gorgeous, while always suggesting the youth and emotional impetuosity of her
character. The (relatively) long eleventh scene of Act One is a duet between
Mila and éivn˝, and despite ätefan Margitaís clear affinity with his
role (he has actually recorded it), it was Roocroft who was the clear star.
Still, Margita found a real vein of lyricism in the first scene of Act 2,
coupling this with expert pitching and remarkably clean slurs.

Talking of stars, the name of Rosalind Plowright seems like a stellar
blast from the past. Plowright has lost none of her hypnotic stage presence.
Her voice could be huge, with a wobble that was more impressive than
off-putting, a cutting edge that was never unpleasant and a delivery of the
key word ëFatumí that was positively spine-tingling.

There were other stars of the evening, too. Verva (baritone Aleö Jenis)
gave a memorable imitation of a childís voice, his inverted commas as he
did so never in doubt, while Ailish Tynan as Miss Stuhl· confirmed the
positive impressions she left after Gergievís Mahler Eighth Symphony at St
Paulís Cathedral recently. Aleö Briscein was a confident Dr Suda.

The chorus (BBC Singers) was impeccably drilled, as were the many soloists
culled therefrom (eleven named parts, plus sundry schoolgirls and

The first part of the concert consisted of the complete set of Op. 46
Slavonic Dances by Dvo?·k. Infectious music, to be sure, but a
sequence of eight dances in a row seemed a tad too much of a good thing, too
many bon-bons in one sitting to be good for the digestion.

Colin Clarke

image_description=Leoö Jan·?ek
product_title=Leoö Jan·?ek: Osud [Fate]
product_by=ätefan Margita (éivn˝), Amanda Roocroft (Mila V·lkov·), Rosalind Plowright (Milaís Mother), Aleö Briscein (Dr Suda), Aleö Jenis (Lhotsk˝/Verva), Owen Gilhooly (Kone?n˝), Ailish Tynan (Miss Stuhl·), Martina Bauerov· (Miss Pacovsk·/Sou?kov·); George Longworth (Doubek as a boy); BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ji?Ì B?lohlavek (conductor).
Royal Albert Hall, London, 21 August 2008