Prom 47: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Bělohlávek - Royal Albert Hall, 21 August 2008
This was a disappointing evening in many ways, with the sense of an opportunity squandered. One of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances makes an agreeable encore; a stack of eight, particularly when executed with the sort of knackered resignation that was all the BBCSO could muster last night, is about as thrilling as Olympic archery.
But I was more interested in the second half of the programme, a concert version of Janáček's rarely heard opera Osud. Although the programme credited someone for 'concert staging', this seemed to consist only of singers leaving the stage when they weren't required. Otherwise it was largely backs straight, noses in the score, in time-honoured concert performance style.
Just as well really - a large TV screen in the centre of the Arena, facing the performers, blocked a lot of the view for the large number of prommers behind it. I'm not sure why they've suddenly decided they need this for vocal performances at the RAH - there are other (large) screens showing the conductor at the sides, and I've never seen anything similar elsewhere. I'm hoping they'll manage to do without it for the rest of the season - there are enough tall people blocking the view without that to contend with as well.
Osud is an opera with an inconclusive ending about a composer who writes an opera without a last act about a composer whose life mirrors his own. Its drama is elliptical and its libretto often bizarre, but it is redeemed by music as vivid and original as anything else Janáček wrote.
Štefan Margita largely measured up to the technical challenges of the central role of the composer Živny. But there was some wavering and strain at the top, and it needed a voice with more heft and weight than Margita's light and pleasant lyric tenor.
Rosalind Plowright, as her crazed mother, was a great improvement - commandingly loud and convincingly bonkers.
The smaller roles, mostly doubled or tripled up, were competently taken, but only Martina Bauerová as Ms Pacovska, Fanča and Souckova really stood out. It struck me that with her native's command of Czech and a clear, resonant tone that easily rode Janáček's extravagant orchestrations, she might have made a better Mila than Roocroft.
The ubiquitous George Longworth, London opera's treble of choice for the past couple of years, took the small part of the child, Doubek - very movingly - but a couple of cracks suggested that this phase of his career may be nearing an end. Still, singers like Peter Auty, Bejun Mehta and even Simon Keenlyside started their singing careers in the short-trousered roles, so there's hope for George yet.