Alwyn 'Miss Julie' Opera in Two Acts
"It is good to have this superb recording of William Alwyn's colourful and confident adaptation of Strindberg's play on CD. Alwyn, an outstanding film-composer, here consistently demonstrates his mastery of atmosphere and timing to bring out the chilling intensity of this story of Miss Julie's sudden infatuation for her father's manservant. The performance under Vilem Tausky is strong and forceful with superb singing from all the principals." Edward Greenfield, Gramophone *** PENGUIN GUIDE 2010
Of all the works I have heard by Alwyn, this is the strongest. In depth of conception and sheer dramatic grasp, it is a remarkable achievement. The score is enormously accessible and beautifully scored. In sheer lushness of sound it brings to mind Puccini… There are only four characters. Benjamin Luxon, in the opening scenes, sets out his qualities as a heroic baritone, declaiming Jean’s lines to great effect and coming across as superbly authoritative, bursting with confidence. Kristin (the cook) is taken by mezzo Della Jones. Jones is quite a light mezzo (entirely fitting for this part) who finds much expression in the melodies she is given. In Act II she plays the part of the suspicious, jealous lover with real venom.
Miss Julie’s first entrance comes in the form of a thrice-repeated call of the name ‘Kristin!’. It immediately invokes a much-recontextualised call of ‘Parsifal!’ by Kundry in Act II of Wagner’s music-drama; was such referencing conscious, I wonder?. When she enters, Jill Gomez projects the coquettish flirting of Miss Julie impishly while also portraying her as a character of some maturity. Her ‘aria’ at the close of Act I Scene 1 (‘Midsummer Night, O night of magic’, CD 1 track 12) is marvellously tender, mysterious and yearning. Alwyn’s spider’s web of a string accompaniment is breathtakingly beautiful. It opens out into a Puccinian climax for Jean and Miss Julie. Vilem Tausky paces this important scene to perfection, the lovers’ disappearance unutterably tender; Kristin’s discovery of the empty stage and her spitting of the word ‘Bitch!’, moving and yet in its own way amusing.… The Philharmonia throughout plays with the utmost intensity, alertly catching the frequently shifting moods. Each act fits snugly onto a single disc. There are two essays in the accompanying booklet to this release – excellent background to the opera from Rodney Milnes, and ‘Alwyn and Strindberg’ by Cecil Parrott. In addition, there are some reprints of Alwyn’s writings on opera in general and Miss Julie in particular, plus a detailed and useful synopsis.
The time is ripe for a re-evaluation of this opera. Interesting to note that two separate critical sources (Gramophone and the Good CD Guide) both referred to Miss Julie as ‘full-blooded’. Rightly so, though, for Alwyn in this work refuses to pull his punches. It is difficult to imagine a more focused or fervent performance than this one; now we just need to see it in one of our opera-houses! - Colin Clarke, musicweb international