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Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

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The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

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Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

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Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

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Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

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Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,



13 Feb 2005

DONIZETTI: L’elisir D’amore

Of today’s opera stars, tenor Rolando Villazón may be the “hottest” (if readers will allow that Entertainment Tonight term). He has gone from being an Operalia winner a few years back to assuming leading roles in the major houses of Europe and the U.S. His second major label recital disc has just been released to even higher praise than his first received, which appeared on many “best of the year lists” for 2004. Wherever he appears, major profiles and interviews appear in the local papers. He’s so hot he may be contributing to global warming.

Gaetano Donizetti: L'elisir D'amore

Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro de Bellas Artes, Jose Arean, conductor
Premiere Opera DVD 5060

Of today's opera stars, tenor Rolando Villazón may be the "hottest" (if readers will allow that Entertainment Tonight term). He has gone from being an Operalia winner a few years back to assuming leading roles in the major houses of Europe and the U.S. His second major label recital disc has just been released to even higher praise than his first received, which appeared on many "best of the year lists" for 2004. Wherever he appears, major profiles and interviews appear in the local papers. He's so hot he may be contributing to global warming.

As of early 2005, however, fans of opera on DVD have nothing from the major outlets that allows them to view the Villazón phenomenon as well as hear it. Ah, but Premiere Opera comes to the rescue: a 2001 performance, apparently televised, from Mexico of Donizetti's beloved comic masterpiece L'elisir D'amore, featuring one of the very greatest tenor arias, "Una furtiva lagrima." True devotees of great contemporary singing will want this document of Villazón at the start of his career, despite the variable video quality (probably not reproduced from an original source).

The occasional darkness of the picture makes evaluating the physical production problematic. From what can be discerned, painted backdrops constitute most of the sets. Props are few. A huge metal contraption brews up Dulcamara's potion, and a long table appears for the festival scene. A painted drop descends for some scenes played at the lip of the stage while modest set changes occur behind. Costumes are vaguely Tyrolean, with Villazón's rustic wear so impeccably pressed and clean that he might well be suspected of never actually getting down to working. But he's so busy moping over Adina, the fields will just have to wait.

Although what can be seen of the sets may not impress, the singers are up front most of the time, and the picture captures them very well. And that's important with Villazón, a born stage performer whose gestures, expressions, and sheer enthusiasm draw the viewer's eyes. His Nemorino manages to be goofy enough that Adina's initial rejection doesn't turn the audience away from her, and yet endearing enough that her eventual capitulation is heartwarmingly inevitable.

Most importantly, his fresh tenor fits this role perfectly. He has no fear of the high notes, and the warm, velvety texture of his middle range never fails to please. He does a creditable job with some of the faster runs in Donizetti's bel canto writing, but the highlight is the "Una Furtiva lagrima." which the besotted Mexican audience insists be encored. Yes, painted backdrops and a bis for the big tenor aria: it's that kind of gloriously old-fashioned performance. And from 2001!

And Villazón is not the only singer of interest. In a NYCO broadcast of Boheme a few years back, Villazón's Rodolfo horsed around with the Marcello of Alfredo Daza. Daza is the Belcore here, and though his vocal instrument doesn't have the charisma of Villazón's, his is a characterful baritone, and he is nearly as good an actor. It's easy to ham up the role of the ludicrously self-loving Belcore, and Daza manages to bring comic flair to the role without becoming annoying. His curtain call in character is cherishable.

Mikhail Svetlov Krutikov's Dulcamara appears in vaguely Arabian genie costume, the exotic flavor complemented by his Russian accent. He's entertaining, as is Ana Luis Mendez in the small role of Gianetta.

Which leaves the Adina, Eugenia Garza Prieto. Some may well find her as pleasing and attractive as an Adina should be - Kathleen Battle seemed perfect for the role in a Met broadcast with Pavarotti of some years back. For this viewer, Prieto is satisfactory is the faster music, but anything slower highlights a shrill quality, especially up top. And with Villazón on stage, her basic lack of charm really hinders her attempts to bring the character to life.

Jose Arean leads the orchestra in a lively, well-detailed performance (the audio is very good). The violinists' bows, by the way, can briefly be seen tapping their music stands at the beginning of the ovation for the first of Villazón's "Furtiva" renditions.

As what may be a special bonus for some viewers, Premiere Opera has included a weird animated sequence in the intermission, apparently for the broadcast channel, in which some almost nude Aztec warriors in clay models do some military exercises. PBS might pick up some more viewers with such imaginative intermission programming.

As a final reminder, if the reader insists on a perfect picture, this DVD will not please. Once or twice the picture froze or skipped on your reviewer's DVD player. Thin blurry streaks cross the screen. Near the end, for a few seconds the warning "AUTO PICTURE" flashes across the screen. Some may also regret the lack of English subtitles (Spanish ones on the screen cannot be removed). With an opera such as Elisir, however, surely a basic familiarity with the story will suffice.

For the growing number of Villazón fans, however, this DVD may be indispensable, if for nothing more than those ten minutes when Villazón comes to the front of the stage to sing "Una furtive lagrima" twice. The place goes nuts, and the look on Villazón's face is priceless. No flaws in the video can interfere with the perfection of a great opera moment such as that.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

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