Martinu

COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: The Greek Passion
PERFORMER: Singers: John Mitchinson, Helen Field, John Tomlinson; Prague Philharmonic Choir; Brno PO/Charles Mackerras; dir. Tomás Simerda (TV, 1999)
CATALOGUE NO: SU 7014-9
Martinu’s luminous setting of Kazantzakis’s novel, Christ Recrucified, is one of the glories of the mid 20th-century operatic repertoire. This DVD uses Charles Mackerras’s superb 1981 recording as the musical text, based in part on Welsh National Opera’s landmark staging of the opera. The vocal performances are without exception magnificent: John Mitchinson as Manolios and Helen Field as Katerina, respectively Christ and Mary Magdalen, deliver near definitive readings of their roles.

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The transfer to a realistic open air set with actors taking the vocal roles is not particularly successful. The concerted choral scenes, crucial in this opera, lack conviction and energy: symptomatic is the start of the work in which the music is full of the joy of Easter morning and yet what we see is puzzlingly low key. A major part of the problem in this transfer is that the kind of naturalistic, televisual acting employed here does not really suit the rhythmic ebb and flow of the original operatic recording. With damaging cuts made to fit the whole onto one DVD, this version does not do this glorious score many favours.

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Jan Smaczny