April 19th, 2016



It was my first trip to the Royal Festival Hall yesterday, for a concert performance of Janáček's opera Jenůfa. It seems an odd venue now; not really as convincingly or edgily brutalist as the National Theatre next door, but not particularly attractive either. The lower levels, with their 1960s carpets, made me think of a bowling alley; the interior of the concert hall was a more roomy version of the Barbican, with a similar "nuclear bunker decorated by Ikea" look.

The acoustic was superb, though, and Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic gave a fine performance, as did all the soloists; perhaps Adriana Kohútková and Karita Mattila deserve particular credit. There were technical problems with the surtitles, at least during the first act, though as a non-Czech speaker listening to a new work, how well they matched the libretto was perhaps a moot point anyway. The synopsis plus the tone of the music was sufficient for the most part. It's a dark work, with a central European peasant feeling, far more proletarian than Wagner and bleaker than the eras of Mozart or Johann Strauss, with a measure of justice that barely resolves the tragedy. Janáček has a very distinctive sound world, which was frequently apparent here, though there were also hints of Mahler and, towards the end, Bruckner.