Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

13 Jan 2005

VERDI: Aida

Now, who needs another Aida? There are (or there have been) available 65 complete recordings (commercially available pirates included) and I don’t take into account the staggering amounts of non-commercial recording now widely circulating among collectors. Another Aida therefore can only interest buyers interested in specific singers. Happily, this set indeed fills a gap and it is not centered upon il divo himself, as the nice sleeve notes make clear. This set is for the admirers of Julia Varady, though not only for them. The Hungarian soprano has a reputation. As the fourth Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau she was undoubtedly helped in her career in the early seventies by this connection. But I presume this asset soon turned into a liability. Allow me to digress a few moments.

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Julia Varady, Luciano Pavarotti, Stefania Toczyska, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Matti Salminen, Harald Stamm, Ruthild Engert, Volker Horn.
Orchester und Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond.
Recorded live at Berlin, March 22, 1982
Ponto - 1028 (2 CDs)

Now, who needs another Aida? There are (or there have been) available 65 complete recordings (commercially available pirates included) and I don't take into account the staggering amounts of non-commercial recording now widely circulating among collectors. Another Aida therefore can only interest buyers interested in specific singers. Happily, this set indeed fills a gap and it is not centered upon il divo himself, as the nice sleeve notes make clear. This set is for the admirers of Julia Varady, though not only for them.

The Hungarian soprano has a reputation. As the fourth Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau, she was undoubtedly helped in her career in the early seventies by this connection. But I presume this asset soon turned into a liability. Allow me to digress a few moments.

There is a website by a devoted fan of Dieskau who followed her hero all over the globe. She tells the story of a rather aloof man, pretending to live in the artistic clouds, whose wife has to do all the dirty deeds (protesting a hotel room, wiping away the fans etc) to enable him to attain his artistic goals: somewhat like the story of Kleinchen and Lauritz Melchior, though I suspect the German baritone is far less naïaut;ve than the Danish heldentenor.

Of course this wheeling and dealing doesn't endear Varady to a lot of people. A few years ago she was to give two concerts in Antwerp and Ghent. Though everything went fine on rehearsal day, she became ill on the day of the first concert and cancelled the second one as well. She left and gave the management the cryptic message that "they needn't look any further for a substitute at short notice if ever they had problems with a soprano".

The enraged management, which had found no traces of illness, asked some discreet questions at her hotel and learned that she had received more and more frantic phone calls from a German speaking gentleman. So it dawned upon the concert organizer that Mr. Dieskau was in need of assistance and didn't want to be without his wife. Thus the alliance Dieskau-Varady has probably not helped her in her stage and recording career. Probably there had to be something for Dieter as well, like there always had to be something for Nicolai whenever one wanted to engage Freni.

Though, in his own admission, he was fully unsuited to anything less exalted than Schubert, he sang a ridiculously bad Peter Homonay on the Der Zigeunerbaron recording with his wife. And in this Aida, too, he succeeds in making a travesty of Amonasro. He hectors and shouts, though this has probably more to do with his age and shortness of breath than with bad style. Still, no provincial Italian baritone would dream of taking such liberties with note values. His high baritone had by 1982 lost all colour in the lower register and he sounds like another lover of Aida. Only now and then is there a fine phrase reminding us that he once was a good Verdian.

But, it's Varady who is the raison d'etre of this recording and she surely deserves it. Once more, was it Dieskau's fault or had most record producers hampered ears in the seventies and eighties? So many Verdi recordings are handicapped by less inspiring singing of Caballé or Millo and are downright worthless when Ricciarelli or Plowright sing roles far too heavy or too difficult for their instruments or technique. And all the while there was this formidable soprano who had to do with one Santuzza on a major label (Decca with Pavarotti) and nothing of Puccini and Verdi. First of all, there is the fine rounded and exciting sound of her voice; not an instrument of torrential power but nevertheless able to come through in all concertati. But she is a subtle artist as well. When the score asks for a piano or a mezza-voce she is almost as fine as the young Leontyne Price. Moreover the top is free and that soprano-terror, the high C in O patria mia, is no problem for her. In this live recording I was struck by the fact that the voice had a little bit more vibrato than on her official recordings. Nevertheless this is a set worth investing in just for this magnificent Aida.

But there is more. When I first heard Polish mezzo-soprano, Stefania Toczyska, I was sure she would have a world career. Well, she had a good career but a household word among collectors she has not become and listening to her magnificent singing I fail to see where it went wrong. The voice is magnificent: a cross between the bright shattering sound of Fiorenza Cossotto and the more sensual one of Agnes Baltsa. The top rings free. She succeeds in making us understand that Amneris loves deeply and has a right to be understood and sympathized with. She goes fearlessly into the Temple Scene and makes it one of the high points of this set.

And then there is the great man himself. He starts somewhat tentatively. The Celeste Aida is well sung though he takes the high B forte and if there was a tenor in his generation who could sing a messa di voce, it was Pavarotti. And that remains the problem for the rest of the evening. He is in fine ringing voice; indeed he sounds fresher and more involved than in his official Decca recording which was produced three years later and in this business three years can make a big difference. But he seldom goes down to a mezza-voce and misses opportunities where lesser voiced tenors as Bergonzi always scored: no hint of soft sung regret in La, tra le foreste vergine where Varady is at her most Milanov-like. He never sounds overtaxed by the role though he has not the guns of Corelli or even Domingo. Agreed, he was a lirico unlike Gigli who took Radames on when he was in his late forties as well, Pavarotti always had a hint of steel in the voice. Only in the last act does he use the fine pianissimo he has at his disposal. Still, Pavarotti fans will be glad with the recording for the sheer healthy amount of voice and the perfect (as always) enunciation.

Harald Stamm is a good king and Marti Salminen markedly improves through the evening: wobbly at first, steady in the Judgment scene. Daniel Barenboim has a nice grasp, though he sometimes mixes up quick tempi with excitement. The sound of the recording is very fine though it markedly favours the voices. I wonder at the source of this sound as it is so wonderfully clear. Was this meant to be a recording? I have the impression that the applause is not genuine and was mixed in afterwards. Anyway, apart from three formidable soloists, the recording has the advantage of 2 CDs instead of the usual three.

Jan Neckers

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):