Martinů: Three Fragments from the Opera Juliette; Juliette – Orchestral Suite

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COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: Three Fragments from the Opera Juliette; Juliette – Orchestral Suite
CATALOGUE NO: SU 39942

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Julietta sums up so much of what Martinů valued during his years in France from the early 1920s to the outbreak of war: a fascination with surrealist drama, lively characterisation, admiration for Debussy and Stravinsky, and a confident command of his own particular brand of tonal harmony. The composer’s adaptation of Neveux’s drama secured the author’s wholehearted approval and Julietta remains one of the composer’s most popular operas.

Here Sir Charles Mackerras, the distinguished Czech specialist and winner of Disc of the Year in this 2009’s BBC Music Magazine Awards, conducts the first recording of three French-texted, as opposed to Czech, excerpts from the opera originally prepared by Martinů for French radio. It is also Sir Charles’s last public appearance with the Czech Philharmonic.

The most substantial excerpt is the love-scene from the second act, one of the most peculiar in operatic history: the lover Michel full of fond memory; Julietta, excited by his attentions, but with none of her own.

Nevertheless, the ardour of the exchanges are superbly captured by Mackerras and his instrumentalists. Magdalena Kožená is magnificent as the volatile Julietta and is excellently matched by Steve Davislim’s Michel. Davislim is also terrific in the opera’s almost unbearably poignant finale.

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Along with three orchestral excerpts, including the opera’s prelude, these fragments provide a fitting tribute to Mackerras’s profound understanding of Martinů’s musical character. Altogether, a tempting introduction to this magical score.