Kozená goes from strength to strength in a recital of admirable dramatic versatility. Here she shows, that she possesses a full, firm, creamy voice, ideal for Classical-period music, and a keen sense of how to characterise it dramatically. Altogether a splendid disc, with, I might add, first-rate support from Swierczewski and the Prague orchestra.
Record Review /
Gramophone (London) / 01. March 2003
Poised between soprano and mezzo, Magdalena Kozená's richly coloured voice combines fullness and warmth with the bloom and freshness of youth. Add to this a perfect technique -- seamless legato, dazzling coloratura, smooth negotiation of wide intervals -- and a vivid musical imagination and you have a recipe for an exceptional classical recital.
Record Review /
BBC Music Magazine (London) / 01. March 2003
Kozenás hoch zentrierter zum Sopran tendierender Mezzo scheint dabei schier endlos wandlungsfähig - Kozenás bei Live-Auftritten faszinierende Fähigkeit, schon mit ganz wenigen Tönen einen Charakter und eine ganz spezifische Gemütslage zu vermitteln, teilt sich auch via CD mit.
Record Review /
Opernwelt (Berlin) / 01. July 2002
Magdalena Kožená or the Beauty of Transformation
Cautious without being hesitant, self-confident with no trace of presumption, she's become a star in the briefest time with her "exceptionally musical mezzo-soprano, sweet and tangy in its timbre" (said the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel). Music is her world, singing her language. Magdalena Kožená, Deutsche Grammophon's beautiful exclusive artist, is already being confronted with the torments of having to choose - both in the international opera and concert scene and in the studios of the Yellow Label. She began her recording career in 1997 with Bach arias, followed it in 2000 with an album of songs by her compatriots Dvorák, Janácek and Martinu - which recently received the coveted Gramophone Award - and one of Handel's Italian cantatas, and now she's set herself on the trail of a late-18th-century Bohemian composer with the tongue-twisting name of Myslivecek. "Czech music lovers know Myslivecek's symphonies very well indeed. And musicologists have even unearthed his long-forgotten operas. Of course, he's nowhere near as popular as Mozart," Magdalena Kožená adds, "but there have already been performances at the National Theatre in Prague and the Brno Opera!"
Myslivecek is therefore celebrating a sort of modern premiere outside his native land in Magdalena Kožená's latest album. And that's saying something: the Bohemian composer who lived in Italy, and whose music stands clearly between Gluck and Mozart, could hardly have wished for a more committed advocate than the Czech mezzo. "With all their italianità, one hears Slavic echoes in his melodies. At a time when most composers wrote à la mode, that lent him a special distinction and earned him the nickname Il divino boemo." And that is just how he sounds - divine, with a hint of Bohemia about him. "But in comparison with the other two composers on the new album - Gluck and Mozart - he naturally has the most traditional style," the singer concedes, "although, like the other two, he made a real contribution to the reform of Baroque opera."
Mozart, Gluck, Myslivecek: the three composers brought together here weren't just contemporaries; they also shared in Prague a geographical point of reference. Myslivecek and Gluck studied in the "Golden City" on the Moldau, and Mozart celebrated some of his greatest triumphs there. There were also personal connections, for example the moving story of Mozart's visit to the sickbed of Myslivecek in a Munich sanatorium, about which he wrote to his father in such consternation. In fact, Myslivecek is mentioned frequently in Mozart's correspondence, and he was a close friend of Wolfgang Amadeus and Leopold Mozart for many years, ever since their first encounter in Bologna in 1770. (Myslivecek's oratorio Abramo ed Isacco was even attributed to Mozart by scholars at one time!) Gluck and Mozart not only both spent their final years in Vienna, but also set - some 40 years apart - the same text by the famous librettist Metastasio: La clemenza di Tito. Magdalena Kozená compares Mozart's opera, which incidentally had its premiere in 1791 at the National Theatre in Prague, with Gluck's version, now utterly and unjustly neglected; and - lo and behold! - Gluck passes the exam with highest honours.
The delightful mezzo, predisposed equally to reflection and laughter, makes no bones, however, about expressing her preference. "If I had to chose between the three, I'd give Mozart the crown! Mozart is and will always be my favourite, even though nowadays, of course, everyone wants to sing his music and it's much more exciting to surprise the musical world with brand new finds like arias by Myslivecek. After all, I went down into the archives for that purpose and examined ancient, unpublished manuscripts and yards of microfilm," she states, recalling the beginnings of her Myslivecek research. "But as you can hear, it was worth it!" And she adds, not without a touch of pride: "Of course it's really also my duty as a Czech to present a composer like Myslivecek outside of my homeland. I do feel myself to be a kind of musical ambassador of my country. And I'm glad to be one, because there's still so much more to discover!"
Above all and once again, there is an impressive young singer to discover, one who's been enrapturing audiences from Paris to Prague and eliciting hymns of praise from veteran critics. "Warm, silvery brilliance, radiant timbre, captivating, incredibly beautiful, crystalline" read some of the attributes compiled in the opera journal Das Opernglas. Orphée in Paris, Sesto in Edinburgh, Paride in Stockholm, Idamante in Antwerp and Cherubino in Aix-en-Provence - the roles speak for themselves. On stage this tall, willowy, lovely woman is usually turned into an attractive young man. "As a young mezzo one can hardly avoid trouser roles. And inevitably most of the arias on the new album are from trouser roles. It's by no means so easy for a woman to enact the part of a man, and no doubt for that reason in the Baroque era male characters tended to be more interesting and provided with stronger music. And because of that, I'm glad from time to time to play the man!"
Magdalena Koená sings Arias by Mozart, Gluck and Myslivecek
The names Christoph Willibald Gluck, Josef Myslivecek and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are
closely bound up with the immensely dynamic developments which opera underwent during the second half of the 18th century. During a time of conflict between the supporters of Gluck and Piccinni, and despite the fact that they belonged to different generations, these three composers were responsible for the unique interweaving of European musical cultures - Italian, German, French and Czech - which were a mutual source of inspiration, and all three were closely connected with Bohemia which had a great influence on Viennese Classicism. All three composers took the Italian opera as their starting point, setting texts by Pietro Metastasio (among others), the most famous librettist of grand opera seria in the Baroque era; all three composed an opera entitled La clemenza di Tito, for example. Each of the three underwent to varying extents a development which resulted in a modern, more realistic style of composition.
Gluck, who originally came from Erasbach in the Upper Palatinate, lived as from the age of three in Liberec (Reichenberg) and other places in Bohemia; his name even appeared in the matriculation register of Prague University in 1731. Where else other than in Bohemia could Gluck have received his musical education? In the mid-1730s Gluck travelled from Bohemia to Vienna in the services of Prince Lobkowitz; he furthered his musical knowledge in Milan, where, in 1741, he gave a performance of his first opera Artaserse, composed to a libretto by Metastasio. Present at the first performances in Prague of his operas Ezio (1750) and Issipile (1752), given by Locatelli's opera company, was Josef Myslivecek, who himself directed a performance of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice in the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1773. Gluck initially wrote traditional Italian operas and oratorios for the Viennese court but in the mid-1750s he turned his attention to the entertaining French opéra comique. Of decisive importance was his cooperation with the librettist Calzabigi whose new ideas about opera, published as from 1755, were taken up by Gluck. "Semplicità, verità, naturalezza" - simplicity, truth, and naturalness were the bywords for the reform of opera and printed in the preface of Gluck's Alceste dated 1767. It was not only the call for true and intense emotions but also the doing away with castrati and the introduction of ballet and choruses which caused a break with Italian operatic traditions.
Gluck composed his opera La clemenza di Tito in 1752 for the Neapolitan court's Teatro San Carlo shortly after Issipile, composed for the carnival season. In the second act, Tito's friend Sesto accuses Vitellia, Tito's sweetheart, of ingratitude, leaving her perplexed and filled with despair. The melody of his aria "Se mai senti spirarti sul volto" was used once more by the composer in his opera Iphigénie en Tauride (1779). Paride ed Elena, along with Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste, are counted among Gluck's Italian "reform" operas. The five-act work, written to a libretto by Calzabigi which tells the love story of Paris and Helena before the Trojan war, was first performed in Vienna's Burgtheater in 1770.
Josef Myslivecek, a miller's son, grew up in Prague and enjoyed a musical background. With the support of the Benedictines, the Cistercians, and Count Vincenz von Waldstein he left Bohemia in 1763 to study composition in Italy. Myslivecek, had, how-ever, already become acquainted with the Italian style while in Prague; among his teachers there was Joseph Seger, a pupil of Cernohorsky, who had spent ten years in Italy. Myslivecek's reputation grew in Venice and Florence, and in the 1770s
"Il Boemo" (The Bohemian) as he was known was counted among Italy's ten most successful opera composers. He was also admitted to Bologna's renowned Accademia Filarmonica. Further proof of his fame is provided by the fact that envoys from the Portuguese court had calligraphic copies made of his operas in Naples and Genoa for the collection at the Ajuda library and for performances of his works in Lisbon: with 18 different titles, the library possesses the largest collection of his operatic scores to this day. Myslivecek, died a pauper in 1781. His sole worldly goods, left behind in a rented room in Rome, amounted to a port manteau containing old clothes, "diverse carte di musica" (various sheets of manuscript paper) and eight pawn tickets.
Throughout his life Myslivecek, remained true in his compositional style to the traditions of opera seria and the oratorio. On 26 December 1773, the overture to the opera Antigona, to a libretto by Roccaforte, opened the carnival season at the Turin Royal Theatre. The second act closes with a da capo aria sung by the raging Creon (originally written for tenor) "Sarò qual è il torrente" with an onomatopoeic glissando on the word "torrente".
The Neapolitan Gazzetta universale of 10 November 1778 reported on the premiere in the Teatro San Carlo of L'Olimpiade by Myslivecek, "named Il Boemo, which the audience accorded a remarkable ovation". Metatasio's libretto is based on an intricate love story. Argene, a Cretan woman, arrives in Olympia disguised as a shepherdess in order to win back her beloved Lycidas. She unburdens her distress over her lover's faithlessness to Aminta, Lycidas's tutor, and to the gods.
Myslivecek took Gluck's opera reforms to their very bounds in his oratorio Abramo ed Isacco, which he composed in 1776 in Florence, and which was at one time attributed to Mozart. By now he was al-ready a very sick man and he never recovered his health. The anguished recitative and aria of the mother, Sarah, at the beginning of the second act constitutes one of the dramatic climaxes of the work: "Ah, l'innocente già spirò forse l'alma in man del padre ...".
Mozart's connection with the city of Prague was filled with happy events. His opera Le nozze di Figaro was received with far greater enthusiasm there in 1786 than in Vienna, and the following year he triumphed with the extremely successful premiere of Don Giovanni. Four years later he was commissioned to compose La clemenza di Tito for the Prague National Theatre.
Mozart's operas cover a very wide range - from the Italian opera seria to the German singspiel. On 26 December 1772 Milan saw the premiere of Lucio Silla, a fiery opera seria. Leopold Mozart wrote to his wife in Salzburg about the first performance of his son's masterpiece: "The theatre had already filled up by six o'clock but one had to await the arrival of the Archduke. Only at eight o'clock - by which time the audience had become very impatient - could the performance begin, which lasted until two in the morning."
At the end of 1774 Mozart composed the first opera buffa of his mature period, La finta giardiniera, as the result of a commission from the Elector of Munich. In the third act, Ramiro, the rejected lover of Arminda, is prepared to die: "Va' pure ad altri in braccio".
Another opera written for the Elector of Munich was Idomeneo, re di Creta in which Mozart was influenced by Gluck's opera reforms. The story takes place during the Trojan war and was first performed on 29 January 1781, six days before Myslivecek's death in Rome. In Munich, where "Il Boemo" had once vainly promised Mozart that he would recommend him to the Naples theatre, Idomeneus's son Idamante now sings a heart-rending aria "Il padre adorato ritrovo, e lo perdo" in which he bewails his father's rejection.
Le nozze di Figaro brought a whole series of lifelike characters from all walks of life, social and political, on to the stage of the Burgtheater in 1786; its complexity constituted a tremendous stride in the development of opera buffa. Cherubino the page, who is in love with the Countess, sings a wonderful, youthful song to her in act two: "Voi che sapete che cosa è amor".
Mozart's opera La clemenza di Tito, composed for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II, was given its first performance on 6 September 1791 under the composer's direction. Although this work, written and rehearsed in a remarkably short time, meant a return to a libretto by Metastasio (re-worked by Caterino Mazzolà) and to the opera seria, Mozart's free and highly imaginative treatment of the genre cannot be overlooked.
It is quite typical for Mozart that at almost the same time he wrote Die Zauberflöte, a work sui generis, which appears to defy generic categorization.
(translated from the German)
Biography - Magdalena Kožená
Magdalena Kožená was born in Brno, Czech Republik. She studied at the Brno Conservatory and continued her studies with Eva Blahová at the Bratis-lava College of Performing Arts from where she graduated in 1995. She has won several major prizes at competitions in the Czech Republic and internatio-nally, culminating in the Sixth International Mozart Competition in Salzburg in 1995. She has sung both Mozart's Dorabella (Così fan tutte) and Rossini's Isabella (L'italiana in Algeri) for the Janácek Opera House in Brno and appears regularly at the Prague Spring and Concertus Moraviae Festivals. In 1996/97 she was a member of the Vienna Volksoper, and in 1998 she sang the role of Paride in Gluck's Paride ed Elena at the Drottningholm Festival in Sweden.
Magdalena Kožená's recent engagements have included several notable opera debuts: the title role of Gluck's Orphée at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris under John Eliot Gardiner; Nerone in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at the Vienna Festival and Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande at the Leipzig Opera, both conducted by Marc Minkowski; Sesto in Mozart's La clemenza di Tito at the Edinburgh Festival; and Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. She also appears regularly as a recitalist and has given concerts of Bach arias at the Wiener Konzerthaus, Prague Rudolfinum and Bratislava Primacialny Palace. She has sung Mahler's Fourth Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic conduc-ted by Libor Pesek and has appeared throughout Europe with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre.
An exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, Magdalena Kožená has released recordings of Bach arias, Handel's Roman Motets and Italian Cantatas with Marc Minkowski on the Archiv label, and her first solo recital disc of love songs by Dvorák, Janácek and Martinu with Graham Johnson on the Yellow label.
Biography - Michel Swierczewski
Michel Swierczewski was born in Paris in 1955. He studied under Jean-Claude Hartemann in Paris and Sir Charles Mackerras in Vienna and gave his conducting debut in 1976.
An enthusiast of 20th-century music, Michel Swierczewski directed the Ensemble Musique Oblique from 1981 to 1985, and became Pierre Boulez's assistant at the Ensemble Intercontemporain in 1983. From 1985 to 1986 he acquired international experience with Claudio Abbado at Milan's La Scala and with Georges Prêtre at the Paris Opera. He subsequently conducted numerous French orchestras including the Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Opéra de Lyon, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, and the Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Pays de la Loire National Orchestras.
Michel Swierczewski has also led many great orchestras outside France including London's and Stockholm's Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, the Oslo Philharmonic, the Bamberg and Berlin Sym-phony Orchestras, Vienna's Tonkünstler Orchester, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Flanders Royal Philharmonic, the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra and Leipzig's MDR Symphony Orchestra Leipzig with whom he has worked intensively for almost eight years. Most recently the conductor was asked unanimously by the artistic direction and musicians of the Prague Philharmonia to take up a permanent position.
Michel Swierczewski's participation at the Opera of the Imperial Theatre of Compiègne since 1991 has revived the public's interest in some of the most important French operas including Auber's Gustave III and Le Domino noir, Milhaud's Christophe Colomb, Monsigny's Le Déserteur, Chabrier's Une Education manquée, Thomas's Le Songe d'une nuit d'été, and Cherubini's Médée. He has also won international acclaim and several awards for his recordings with the Gulbenkian Orchestra.
Biography - Prague Philharmonia
The Prague Philharmonia is an ensemble which is made up of young musicians and was founded in August 1994 by Jiri Bûlohlávek who was appointed its chief conductor.
The orchestra is based on the classical Viennese ensemble, but can be reduced or supplemented as required. The ensemble not only performs works from the Classical and Romantic eras but also devotes itself to rarely played music of the 20th century, and new pieces by contemporary composers from the Czech Republic and elsewhere.
The Prague Philharmonia does not only work with numerous internationally acclaimed artists but also offers young prize-winners and music students the opportunity to appear with them in concert. The orchestra has participated in many renowned music festivals, including the Flanders Festival, Europhalia, Prague Spring, the Bratislava Musical Festivities, the Janácek May Festival in Ostrava, and the festivals in Berlin, Leipzig, Schleswig-Holstein and Brno, and has appeared in Europe - in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Spain and Italy -, Jordan, Japan and also on Czech television and radio.
L'Olimpiade - Dunque Licida ingrato - Più non si trovano