Recently in Recordings
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
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Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
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Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
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Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
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Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
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to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
07 Dec 2004
VERDI: A Masked Ball
A Masked Ball Giuseppe Verdi, music and Antonio Somma, libretto English translation by Amanda Holden Chandos 3116 (2) London Philharmonic Orchestra David Parry, conductor In an era where major record companies seldom produce complete opera sets (and those they do...
A Masked Ball
Giuseppe Verdi, music and Antonio Somma, libretto
English translation by Amanda Holden
Chandos 3116 (2)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
David Parry, conductor
In an era where major record companies seldom produce complete opera sets (and those they do release tend to be recorded live), one company has found a market for studio recordings. Chandos now approaches its fiftieth complete opera set under the auspices of Peter Moore's Foundation support for opera in English (those last words also being the name of the Chandos series). Verdi's Un ballo in maschera recently emerged from this series, under the title A Masked Ball.
So should the recording-starved opera lover rejoice? That depends on what one is starved for. One person might hunger for Italian food and be satisfied with a bowl of Chef-Boyardee, steaming from the microwave. Many another might consider that an abomination.
This A Masked Ball, for these ears, comes tinned and heavy with watery tomato sauce. The first misfire is the orchestral performance under the unidiomatic conducting of David Parry. An experienced leader, Parry has many fine recordings of rare Italian opera available on Opera Rara. He knows the idiom. For whatever reason, here we have a flat, uninspired reading where the climaxes feel forced and the lyrical sections grow tired. The lifeless sound doesn't help — everyone performs in a squeaky-clean vacuum of an acoustic space, as if each individual musician and singer were recorded in dozens of locations and the results all spliced together later.
Then there's the cast. Fresh ingredients being key to a delicious Italian meal, perhaps Chandos could have looked elsewhere than to Dennis O'Neill and Susan Patterson for the leads. Both have had distinguished careers, but both voices sound tired, warbly, and effortful. Perhaps Amelia can sound strained, as the poor lady has hardly a single happy moment in the whole opera, but Gustavus III (Chandos uses the original setting, not the American substitute meant to satisfy nervous censors) should be full of life and passion. O'Neill's joyless performance pretty much takes this recording out of the running right from the get-go.
Anthony Michaels Moore has years of good singing left, although his baritone boasts rough edges that make his portrayal of Count Anckarstroem rather an obvious heavy upon his entrance. By act three, he is one scary Count. American Jill Grove does well enough by Ulrike, and Linda Richardson manages to keep Oscar bouncy and fun and not hyper and annoying.
However, for an opera of such rich Italian passion and melancholy, whether set in Sweden or the American new world, the English translation is all wrong. Tidy and well-mannered, it never captures the essence of the Somma text that inspired such glorious music from Verdi. Let one example suffice: the Count's third act aria, Eri tu, becomes Shame on you, who defiled my beloved. Very much Snidely Whiplash. Translator Holden seems to have channeled Henny Youngman at one point, when the Count declares (quite seriously), "Take my wife!" However, he doesn't add, "please!"
Not a few of the Opera in English releases have earned glowing reviews, and Rossini's A Thieving Magpie, released last year, deserved those it received, as a recent hearing attests. Unfortunately, this A Masked Ball raises all the old questions of why such a series is necessary when most any opera performance — whether a recording with libretto, a live one with surtitles, or a DVD with subtitles — can offer the glories of the original language and a translation that communicates the essence of the drama. But when a fine cast is singing, the issue is moot.
Sadly, the singing on this recording makes the issue very much alive. Better to honor Verdi's masterpiece by finding your favorite recording (one of mine happens to be the one with late Tebaldi and early Pavarotti) and treating oneself to the real Ballo. Like the best authentic Italian food, there is no substitute.