March 31, 2005

BRAHMS: Lieder, Complete Edition, Vol. 8

Johannes Brahms, Lieder, Complete Edition, Vol. 8
Juliane Banse (soprano), Andreas Schmidt (baritone), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
cpo 999 448-2 [CD]

This latest release in the collaborative project to record the complete songs of Johannes Brahms focuses on four opus numbers, among the last groups of Lieder to be so designated by Brahms. The present recording represents typical songs from the so-called mature composer, most of these having been written between 1883-88. Each of the opus numbers includes a mix of texts drawn from the works of contemporary, well known poets and from the milieu of popular folk-songs. As an example of this mix, the songs from op. 97 comprise settings of poems by Reinhold, Alexis, and Groth, as well as two songs for which the source is simply given as Volkslied. As in most of the previous releases of this project, the singers Juliane Banse and Andreas Schmidt divide the repertoire and are accompanied by the pianist Helmut Deutsch.

The first group of songs from op. 95 focuses on popular songs adapted from Serbian and on texts by the poet Friedrich Halm. Common to both groups as set by Brahms are modulations or changes in tempo in the final part of individual songs. The two vocalists in this recording show an especially sensitive awareness at communicating such shifts in mood. In the first song of op. 95, "Das Mädchen" ("The Maiden") — designated as "Serbian song" — a young woman reflects on the possibilities of being kissed by an older or younger man. In the last section of the piece the tempo increases as she vows to cover her face with rose-water in anticipation of a younger suitor. Banse conveys the excitement of the young woman through a brighter tone toward the close as well as a subtle yet increasing aspiration, both matched by the accompanist in attentive support of the singer. In the third song from this same group, "Beim Abschied" ("At Parting") based on a text by Halm, Andreas Schmidt achieves a similar effect by following an opposite interpretive move. The lyrical voice in this song had endured many tedious individuals among his acquaintance if only for the chance of a fleeting moment with the beloved. As his thoughts dwell on her in the final two verses, the tempo slows noticeably starting at the words "nur die Eine" ("just that one"); Schmidt and the accompanist Deutsch imitate the lingering sentiments of the man and underscore the commitment to "that one" as opposed to indifference for the others. Through his use of distended vowels in these verses Schmidt emphasizes the mood of expectancy, resulting in a feigned patience for the "die anderen" ("the others").

Three of the four songs from op. 96 derive from poems by Heinrich Heine, all of which are here sung by the baritone. Schmidt brings to these songs a sense of the dichotomy present in Brahms's own musical interpretations of Heine's poems. In "Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht" ("Death, it is the cool night"), op. 96, no.1, an opposition is set up from the initial verses between death/night and life/day. The lyrical voice is first identified in the transition between day and night, as twilight takes over and the voice begins to fall into a dreamy sleep. From these elements Schmidt uses his voice to render an interpretive version of the song which suits the ambivalence of Brahms's setting. His voice rises upward on "Nacht" ("night"), yet "Tag" ("day") takes on the tone established for death at the start of the song. Once the voice moves in transition toward the dream, Schmidt invokes the word "Tag" differently, and his farewell to the mundane allows for the vision of love in the second strophe. Here love is indeed celebrated — and proclaimed with varying, joyful intonations as Schmidt recalls the nightingale — until the realization, in closing with a decreasing tempo, that his vision occurs only in a dream. These same oppositions predominate in "Es schauen die Blumen" ("All the flowers gaze") op.96, no.3, also based on a text by Heine. The generalizing word "alle" is used twice in rhyme during the first strophe to indicate the natural habits of flowers and streams. Yet the third instance of "alle," proclaimed in resounding elation by Schmidt at the second strophe, refers to love-songs and human emotions, which filter back to the beloved. This hopefulness causes the final word "trüb" ("gloomy") to be sung on a higher, softer note, as though the voice wishes to communicate sadness yet determination in the expectation of love.

The late songs of Brahms have often been typified as overly sentimental: such judgement being indeed an oversimplification, as this collection clearly shows. In addition to the examples discussed above, the last two opus numbers included in this recording — opp. 97 and 105 — show the mature composer continuing to treat sentiment in a sophisticated, independent style. From op. 105 the song "Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer" ("Ever fainter grows my slumber"), based on a poem by Hermann von Lingg, depicts a woman aware of her impending death yet preoccupied with thoughts of a beloved. During the initial description of sorrow and care the accompanist supports the soprano Banse in her reflective state. Once the thought of dreams begins in this strophe, the woman slips into a reverie of hearing her lover call outside the door. As the text indicates that no one is able to open her door for the man, the accompaniment changes to a separate voice of impending frustration for the woman; together with this instrumental contrast, Banse uses her own voice to indicate varying shifts in mood ranging from expectancy to disappointment. Although the dream ends at this point, the second strophe elucidates a continuing spectrum of emotions. A final cry, "o komme bald!" ("O come soon") is expressed in both rising tones of hope and the quiet mood of resignation.

The song repertoire of Brahms is both rich and varied, as evident from the four groups of Lieder in this recording. Because of the degree of character and mood portrayal, the decision to use several singers is well taken. Such thoughtful and dramatic performances by Banse, Schmidt, and Deutsch will surely encourage further listening of the larger corpus of songs composed by Brahms.

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 5:42 PM

The Ring of the Nibelung in Chicago

Scene from Siegfried (Photo: Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Lyric's solid-gold 'Ring' dazzles in new revival

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 31 Mar 05]

Valhalla proved to be a failed paradise for Wotan and his band of doomed gods and goddesses in Wagner's epic set of four related operas, "The Ring of the Nibelung.'' But Lyric Opera of Chicago audiences are experiencing the real thing this week as the company opens the first of three weeklong revivals of its production of the "Ring'' unveiled in the 1990s.

With performances of "Das Rheingold'' and "Die Walkure'' on Monday and Tuesday behind them and "Siegfried'' and "Gotterdammerung'' to come on Thursday and Saturday, Lyric is offering its audiences an intoxicating, operatic paradise.

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Posted by Gary at 3:01 PM

Raimondi, Kirchschlager and Newcomers in Wiener Staatsoper's Le nozze di Figaro

Scene from Le nozze di Figaro (Photo: Wiener Staatsoper)

Der Graf zu demokratisch, die Gräfin zu reif

VON WALTER WEIDRINGER [Die Presse, 31 Mar 05]

Schrott, Tezier, Anger, Keszei: Erfreuliche Rollendebüts ohne Sensationen in Mozarts "Le Nozze di Figaro".

Schlecht war der erste Eindruck. Einen ganzen Akt lang häuften sich nur Probleme, Missverständnisse und verpuffte Pointen. Ein neuer Figaro mit Höhenproblemen, ein Hausdebütant als Graf, der ständig Gefahr lief, über sein Kostüm zu stolpern - und das ganze Ensemble immer wieder ehrlich überrascht von Jun Märkls Tempi und Zäsuren. Dass die Sänger desto besser wirkten, je länger und genauer sie Ponnelles bald 30 Jahre dienende Inszenierung bereits kannten, stellte der Probensituation an der Staatsoper wahrlich kein gutes Zeugnis aus.

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Posted by Gary at 5:01 AM

March 30, 2005

LAURIDSEN: Lux aeterna

Morton Lauridsen: Lux aeterna
Polyphony with Britten Sinfonia, Pauline Lowbury, leader, Stephen Layton, conductor.
Hyperion CDA67449 [CD]

The title piece, Lux aeterna (light eternal), a five-movement work by American composer Morton Lauridsen (b.1943), is intended to be an "intimate work of quiet serenity." The composer's quest for texts that express "hope, reassurance, faith and illumination in all of its manifestations," results in a free compilation from various liturgical observances or feasts: the Introit from the Requiem; select verses of the Te Deum, sung at the end of Matins on Sunday or in thanksgiving for a special blessing, interpolated with a verse from the Beatus vir (Ps. 111:4); verses from O nata lux, the Lauds hymn for the feast of the Transfiguration; Veni sancte spiritus, the sequence for Pentecost; and the Agnus Dei and Communio from the Mass for the Dead with an "Alleluia" tag added by the composer. Admittedly, the work is non-liturgical. Still, the fashioning of these texts causes the work to be viewed by some as a "Requiem" or quasi "German Requiem." Indeed, it is neither a Requiem nor a Mass for the Dead, in spite of the opening and closing movements. As a meditation on "light eternal," texts other than those from the Requiem could have been used. One need only read the Exsultet, which overflows with the symbols and imagery of "the Light" that conquers death, and which dispels darkness. Further, the theme of the texts used in the three inner movements is more Trinitarian (Te Deum = God the Father; O nata lux = God the Son; Veni sancte spiritus = God the Holy Spirit). Unfortunately, their importance and strength is reduced to the occurrence of the word "light" in their verse. That being said, the texts are not what the ear remembers in this work; it is the music. The words are merely the vehicle for the vocalists.

An emotionally charged work, the title itself causes the air to teem with monastic modalities and incense. Clearly educated in the manner and madrigalisms of the early masters, Lauridsen neither replicates nor imitates, but defines and speaks his own musical mind: a single recurring chord (D-major triad with an added E), that re-creates itself throughout the work, becoming "the harmonic symbol of the luminous." A composer with the heart of a Humanist, who heeded Leopold Mozart's counsel--to read poetry aloud in order to understand the lyricism of music--Lauridsen's masterful lyricism is a result of his "passion for poetry." The harmonic style, chromaticisms, dissonances and divisi writing reveal his contemporary soul. When looking at the work in its entirety, text and music, it appears to be more of a cycle, referencing a particular theme, than an extended motet. Composed for Paul Salamunovich and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Lux aeterna premiered 13 April 1997. The first recording of this work (RCM 19705) by the Master Chorale, while a solid performance, is surpassed by the intensity and passion offered by Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia.

Madrigali: Six 'Fire Songs' on Italian Renaissance Poems (1987) stands in stark contrast to Lux aeterna. Inspired by the madrigals of Gesualdo and Monteverdi, Lauridsen effectively explores the darker, earthy terrains of human emotion. The listener again hears what may be somewhat of a hallmark for Lauridsen--the use of a single chord with an added second--as the unifying element within the work. In this case, it is a B-flat minor chord with an added C, which the composer calls the "fire-chord." This collection of six Italian love poems is set in an extended "arch form," climaxing with the fourth lament Io piango (I weep), which begins innocently enough in unison and moves to a tantalizing, biting dissonance on the word piango. This interplay between consonance and dissonance reaches its moment of torment and the apex of the "arch" on the phrase Sorte fiera e inaudita (what cruel, unheard-of-fate). Everything after that is falling motion. Within the vocal lines of these madrigali one can audibly "see" the "eye music" which Renaissance composers often used for the visual appeal, enjoyment and inspiration of the performer. The vocal ensemble Polyphony, under the direction of Stephen Layton, navigates the harmonic complexities with ease and skill; what is difficult on the page, sounds effortless to the ear; Polyphony's sense of ensemble is beyond reproach.

The concluding three motets, Ave Maria (1997), Ubi caritas et amor (1999), and O magnum mysterium (1994) return the listener to the spiritual plane. The Ave Maria is an indulgence in vocal sonorities cast in the double choir style of Venice. The vocal writing for the inner voices is particularly appealing. Ubi caritas, an antiphon for Maundy Thursday, states the chant tune in the sensuous rendering of the male chorus, which is ten ornamented with tone clusters, creating a tonal shimmer that would best be appreciated in the appropriate acoustical space. If when listening to the third motet, O magnum mysterium, one feels caught in a cycle of Lux aeterna, the ear has not deceived. O magnum mysterium, which sings with similar sonorities of the Lux aeterna, pre-dates Lauridsen's contemplation of the larger work. This motet is the composer's "affirmation of God's grace to the meek... a quiet song of profound inner joy." Extended melodic lines, arching suspensions, and singing dissonances best characterize these three motets.

The choral work of Polyphony, under the direction of Stephen Layton, is solid and inspiring throughout the CD, but it is in the a capella performances where their true musicianship, impeccable intonation and sense of ensemble is most appreciated and at its best. They truly sing with one heart. The choral sound, for the most part, is warm and rich. At times however, the straight tones of the sopranos are rather piercing. One may reason that this as one of the drawbacks of hearing these works recorded as opposed to a live performance. The texture, sound and harmonic sensibilities of Lauridsen are at their best in a live performance. This music demands an acoustical space that is a performing partner, as with the choral tradition of Venice, where overtones spin their own galaxy of harmonies. Polyphony, Stephen Layton, Britten Sinfonia and Pauline Lowbury recorded this CD in 2003, along with the composer at the Temple Church in London. The only thing that is better than this recording is a live performance.

Geraldine M. Rohling

Posted by Gary at 10:42 PM

Philippe Jordan at the Met

Philippe Jordan (Photo: Arve Dinda)

A Conductor of Rare Sensitivity


On Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera began another run of Mozart's "Don Giovanni," but without music director James Levine in the pit. He was at Carnegie Hall, directing his new band, the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Conducting at the Met was Philippe Jordan, the sensational young Swiss. He is the son of the esteemed maestro Armin Jordan; indeed, they are the most noted father-son conducting pair since the Kleibers. But Philippe will far outpace Armin. That is the safe betting, at least.

Two years ago, young Mr. Jordan made a splash at the Mostly Mozart Festival. He was alert, commanding, very, very musical. And he has already become a conductorial hero at the Salzburg Festival.

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Posted by Gary at 10:28 PM

Gassmann's A Gas

Florian Leopold Gassmann

L'Opera Seria, Nationale Reisopera

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 29 Mar 05]

Florian Leopold Gassmann must have been a gas. There is nothing funny about his other 21 operas but L'Opera Seria is a scream. Everything is lampooned, from squabbling stage mammas to brainless tenors. We know little about the piece's 1769 premiere, but the audience at Vienna's Burgtheater must have hyperventilated.

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Posted by Gary at 9:51 PM

Aprile Millo in Philadelphia

Aprile Millo

A transcendent soprano returns to town she loves

By David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 30 Mar 05]

NEW YORK - Few cosmic mistakes have ever been so glaring: Soprano Aprile Millo, who embodies the traditional operatic values that Philadelphians hold dear, hasn't sung here in nearly 20 years.

Among current singers, her warm, vibrato-rich voice is the one most likely to reaffirm memories of the late, great Renata Tebaldi, who is an unofficial patron saint in the narrow streets of South Philadelphia. But since a 1986 concert performance of Verdi's I Lombardi, she's been virtually absent — until Sunday, when she heads the Academy of Vocal Arts gala at the Kimmel Center, and then April 21, for a recital presented by Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.

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Posted by Gary at 9:28 PM

March 29, 2005

VERDI: Falstaff

Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
Donald Gramm, Kay Griffel, Benjamin Luxon, Nucci Condo, Elizabeth Gale, Max René Cosotti,
Reni Penkova, Ugo Trama, Bernard Dickerson, John Fryatt
The London Philharmonic and The Glyndebourne Chorus, John Pritchard, conductor
ArtHaus 101 083 [DVD]

Years ago I remember reading a commentary on Verdi by a respected critic — Conrad L. Osborne — to the effect that most of early Verdi could have been written by Donizetti except for the first great success, Nabucco, that could have been written by Rossini. If one accepts that proposal, it would mean that Rossinian operas bracketed Verdi's career, for surely Falstaff, at the very end, reflects the energy, elegance, joyousness and sophistication of Rossini from one end to the other.

ArtHaus Musik has released on one DVD a 1976 performance of Falstaff from the Glyndebourne Festival in a Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production conducted by John Pritchard. This opera has led something of a charmed life on recordings from various eras largely, I suspect, because its unique requirements and attractions have kept it in a kind of "festival" category of the repertory. Companies generally don't approach Falstaff unless they have something special to contribute to its performance history. Hallmarks of the Glyndebourne production style have always included an ensemble approach to casting along with admirable musical and dramatic values--exactly the conditions under which Falstaff blossoms.

Ponnelle's production is restrained and tends to downplay much of the traditional Falstaff "shtick." There aren't a great many props, furniture is kept to a minimum (there's not the bourgeois display of wealth chez Ford that is the actual attraction for Falstaff) and he doesn't encourage "comic bits" from his cast. Humor, and there's much of it indeed, grows out of the situation at any given moment and the characters' honest reactions to it.

The women are dressed almost exclusively in white. Quickly gets a black overdress, perhaps to indicate she's widowed, while the younger women wear stylized fifteenth century gowns and wimples in pure white. The men are more detailed and more eclectic as to period. Dr. Caius sports a King Henry V haircut, Fenton looks far more early Tudor, while Ford alone sometimes suggests the late Elizabethan period in which Shakespeare set the story. Sir John himself often resembles an Edwardian gentleman, but that may well reflect the casting as much as the design choices.

Donald Gramm was surely among the suavest of Falstaffs vocally and physically. His phrasing is both elegant and refined, and he hasn't been tricked out in too egregious a "fat suit." He appears plump but far lighter in weight than several contemporary tenors and baritones seen on- or off-stage. In fact, this Falstaff for once seems a credible suitor to the ladies of Winsor, a genuine threat to Ford, and above all a nobleman in much more than mere title. That Gramm was really a bass is demonstrated clearly at the end of the "Honor" monolog when he takes an unexpected low option, but throughout he actually sings the role beautifully in a way that few ever have. The Gramm/Ponnelle Falstaff is unconventional and may put off some who love the traditionally disreputable crusty old rogue; but taken on its own terms it's a successful alternate take on the character that's most convincingly performed. British baritone Ben Luxon is handsome of both voice and bearing as Ford. Max René Cosotti is visibly more than a decade or so older than Fenton, the full dark beard not assisting the illusion of a teen-ager, but he sings quite nicely in a well-controlled, high and clear, slightly reedy tenor. . Ugo Trama is a solid Pistola; Bernard Dickerson a younger than normal, almost handsome but satisfyingly skuzzy Bardolph; and John Fryatt an appropriately annoying Dr. Caius.

The women are beautifully matched, their several ensembles flying along light as air. Kay Griffel's Alice sets the tone with a richly colored full lyric soprano and winning personality. Reni Penkova does what can be done with Meg, and Nucci Condo, known as a comprimaria on a number of audio recordings from the period, turns in a ripely sung and acted Quickly with solid contralto underpinnings. For a modern audience, her noticeable resemblance to Nathan Lane may distract from — or possibly enhance — her most enjoyable performance. Elizabeth Gale is an enchanting Nanetta, lacking only a truly magical floated high piano to place her at the very top of recorded heap in the role.

Distinguished conductor John Pritchard has the lightness of touch required and draws strong work from the London Philharmonic, but he neglects to let the score breathe occasionally. Speed and precision seem to be his main goals and these are not irrelevant to Verdi's score by any means. But there needs to be some contrast — Pritchard pushes ahead, at times almost mercilessly as when the "Pizzica, pizzica, pizzica, stuzzica" section of the scene tormenting Falstaff falls apart before it can even begin, because the women simply can't get any more breath. It's a very good job by any standards, but amid all the chiaro, there is some important scuro in Falstaff and Pritchard doesn't always find it.

TV director Dave Heather's video shots are among the finest I have encountered — a lovely mix of close-ups (avoiding a tiresome parade of "tonsil shots") and pull-backs. He clearly understands that it's important to allow two or three people to play a scene together in the frame without restlessly shifting from one to another constantly. You can elect subtitles in five languages and see clips from other Glyndebourne operas, a ballet and some orchestral concerts as a promotional bonus at the end of the program. This is a most attractive and very nicely produced Falstaff, an all too rare souvenir of the prematurely deceased Gramm in performance and at the very top of his form.

William Fregosi

Posted by Gary at 11:30 PM

Maria Callas — Living and Dying for Art and Love

Maria Callas — Living and Dying for Art and Love

The legend of Maria Callas has transcended her death, and after more than twenty five years, titans of opera still proclaim her the ultimate Diva: artist, actress, musician, lover and woman. Iambic Productions and BBC's 2004 DVD, Maria Callas: Living and Dying for Art and Love, is a fascinating look at the life of Callas from the perspective of her final role and performance at Covent Garden, Tosca.

Callas once said, "An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I've left the opera house." Never did a role epitomize the life of Callas than Floria Tosca. Her interpretation of Tosca was a reflection how she viewed herself, a beautiful, fresh woman, brimming with passion for her love and art. For Callas, she saw the love she lived and died for, Aristotle Onassis, as her personal Scarpia, a man so magnetic, yet so hurtful and deceiving.

This fresh take on Callas's biography includes many captivating interviews featuring Grace Bumbry, John Copley, Judi Dench, Plácido Domingo, Nicholas Gage, Tito Gobbi, Antonio Pappano, Alan Sievewright, David Webster, and Franco Zeffirelli. The film also highlights many interviews with Callas, focusing on her thoughts of the role and her interpretation of Puccini and his music. The musical excerpts feature Callas' live video-taping of "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore", as well as ensemble excerpts, "Tre sbirri... Una carrozza..." and "E qual via scegliete?" with Tito Gobbi and Renato Cioni.

Gobbi once said of Callas, "She shone for all too brief a while in the world of opera, like a vivid flame attracting the attention of the whole world, and she had a strange magic which was all her own. I always thought she was immortal-and she is." Iambic and BBC's biography allows us to once again bask in the glow of this Diva, experiencing for the first time or remembering once again the power of such a performer.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 11:10 PM

Three Renderings of Faust in New York

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Faust as Scientist

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 29 Mar 05]

Knowledge and the unknowable are the keys needed to unlock the 19th-century perception of the Faust myth. The modern idea of a deal with the devil for financial or carnal supremacy is completely irrelevant, and speaks volumes about the difference between 20th-century thought and that of its antecedents. In breaking free of the restrictions of formalism and established religion, however, the Romantics in literature incorporated some cautions of their own.

Characters who were daring enough to challenge man's previous limits were inevitably brought up short when they ventured to go too far. Dr. Frankenstein, called the new Prometheus by his own creator, Mary Shelley, is forced to realize the evil nature of his imperfect creation. Captain Ahab causes his own death and the destruction of all but one of his crew when he dares to approach the white whale too closely. And Goethe's magician, Faust, makes his deal with the devil in order to acquire not only youth but also the ability to aspire. His one demand of the demon is that he will leave him forever unsatisfied.

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Posted by Gary at 2:09 PM

Where's Bryn?

Bryn Terfel

BBC keep viewers in the dark over cancelled opera

By Stephen Ward [Daily Telegraph, 29 Mar 05]

The BBC broadcast the first act of Wagner's The Valkyrie live last night without telling viewers that the rest would be blacked out because the star, Bryn Terfel, had a sore throat.

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Posted by Gary at 5:01 AM

Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans in Washington

Piotr Tchaikovsky

Joan of Arc Rendered in Russian

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 28 Mar 05]

WASHINGTON, March 27 - "The Maid of Orleans" was to have been Tchaikovsky's international coming-out party. The Russian landscapes of his previous operas were left behind. His subject would be Joan of Arc. Tragic romance and history would circle each other in the grand French tradition of Meyerbeer.

"The Maid of Orleans" enjoyed a brief but telling success in 1881, but then fell victim to the assassination of Czar Alexander II and the cultural freeze that followed. It has not had good luck since. Saturday night it returned to the Washington National Opera for the first of six performances at the Kennedy Center.

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'Maid of Orleans' opera is rewarding - yet curious

BY CLARKE BUSTARD [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 28 Mar 05]

WASHINGTON Mirella Freni, the esteemed Italian opera singer, turned 70 last month. That's an advanced age for a soprano to be taking on a major theatrical role.

She chose wisely in portraying Joan of Arc in Tchaikovsky's "The Maid of Orleans." The role lies low in the soprano register (in fact, it was introduced by a mezzo-soprano), is generally dark in tone color and calls for more reverence and wonder than passionate histrionics.

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Posted by Gary at 4:44 AM

Le Monde Profiles Rolando Villazon

Rolando Villazon

Rolando Villazon, la vie à pleine voix

Marie-Aude Roux [Le Monde, 29 Mar 05]

Rolando Villazon est un ténor à sang chaud. Ce fils de Mexico est capable de vous attendre sur une place venteuse de Vienne, par une après-midi teigneuse, tete et mains nues, dans le grand froid qui tient encore la capitale autrichienne en cette mi-mars. La veille au soir, il incarnait avec une grâce incroyable un fragile et magnifique Roméo dans le Roméo et Juliette de Gounod, monté à la Wiener Staatsoper.

Front bouclé et oeil noir de taurillon, voix claironnante de jeune homme à longues enjambées, Rolando Villazon fend ce reste tenace d'hiver comme il traverse la scène : avec une présence superlative. On peinerait presque à le suivre jusqu'à l'appartement qu'il occupe chez Placido Domingo, à qui on l'a si souvent comparé depuis qu'il a raflé trois prix au concours Operalia, organisé par le grand ténor espagnol, en 1999

Posted by Gary at 4:39 AM

Bach's St. Matthew Passion at the Barbican

St. Matthew

St Matthew Passion

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 28 Mar 05]

Like any masterpiece, Bach's St Matthew Passion can be approached in different ways. Interpretations have varied from austere meditations on the crucifixion to music dramas of almost tragic implacability. Richard Hickox's Good Friday performance with the City of London Sinfonia and the BBC Singers veered towards the latter, presenting us with an almost operatic experience, characterised by wide emotional fluctuations rather than contemplative homogeneity.

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St Mathew Passion

Neil Fisher [Times Online, 29 Mar 05]

YES, performing in Bach's Matthew Passion must be an inspiring, soul-searing event. And knowing that the man who plays the all-important Evangelist is visibly moved by the music around him, and engaged by the awesome story that he's telling, can and should add to its sum emotional effect.

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Posted by Gary at 4:30 AM

More Degradation from Calixto Bieito

Calixto Bieito (Photo: Antonio Moreno)

Cavalleria Rusticana/ I Pagliacci Staatsoper Hannover

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 28 Mar 05]

Rape, alcohol abuse, lesbianism and gratuitous violence: these are the themes of both Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, as Calixto Bieito sees it. Odd. They were also the themes of the last opera he staged. And the one before. Can it be coincidence or did Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Mozart and Verdi all write operas featuring fisting?

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Posted by Gary at 4:21 AM

March 28, 2005


Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio — Vienna State Opera 1944 & 1953
1. Performance of 5-7 February 1944: Neralic, Schöffler, Ralf, Konetzi, Alsen, Seefried, Klein, Gallos, Schweiger.
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper conducted by Karl Böhm.
2. Performance of 12 October 1953: Poell, Edelmann, Windgassen, Mödl, Frick, Jurinac, Schock, Hendrks, Bierbach.
Chor und orchester der Wiener Staatsoper conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler
Andante AN 3090 [4CDs]

I grew up during the Age of LP and compared with CD's the size had its disadvantages but there were some distinct gains as well, especially in the field of artwork. Collectors may have the same set on CD but they will rarely separate from those glorious RCA-Soria recordings like Carmen (Price, Corelli) or Otello (Vickers, Gobbi) with their lavish booklets. Though there are no colour photographs in this set under review I nevertheless was reminded of those old glories. This 4Cd-set is so wonderfully packed and designed into what looks like a small hard cover book that just paging in it gives one already some joy. Of course, neither performance is a great discovery for the collector. The Böhm-set already appeared twice on LP and twice on CD. The Furtwängler only has one LP- and one CD-reissue, which is quite understandable as the conductor led exactly the same cast the same year for a commercial recording on HMV (3 LP's) and with all spoken dialogues cut as if producer Legge didn't trust the singers to speak their lines. At the time he was not alone in this false belief. The next commercial Fidelio (Fricsay) came out on DG with actors for the dialogues; an even more ridiculous solution as one could clearly hear the differences in timbre between actors and singers.

A surprise awaits the listener if he doesn't directly plunge into playing. Though there is no essay on the differences in interpretation between Böhm and Furtwängler, someone clever at Andante has just put the timings of tracks next to each other and there goes one's prejudices and expectations. Take "Gott, welch Dunkel hier". One is tempted to think Böhm will be a little bit more incisive, a bit more lively maybe stressing Florestan's defiance while one presumes Furtwängler to linger a little bit more on the prisoner's sad fate. And then there are the sober figures stating that Furtwängler is indeed exactly ...ten seconds slower than Böhm in a scene that takes 12 minutes. And in the aria itself the differences of tempi are almost imperceptible. The same happens in the long Leonore III overture that at the time was still played just before the final scene: twenty seconds Furtwängler comes behind Böhm in an almost 16 minutes track. And one really ponders on the real influence of those giant conductors and slowly but inexorably one has the feeling that as much as those conductors lead they are led too by the same orchestra with its own traditions and long proof tempi.

Therefore differences will mostly depend on sound and individual singers. As to sound the Böhm-version has the slighter margin. By that time in the war it was impossible to broadcast directly as the possibility of an air attack was very real and then the whole Reich would have heard a mad scrambling for safety: bad for morale. Therefore Böhm and his singers went into a radio studio and recorded the opera during two days (not that they were safe from air attack over there) and it shows in the clearer and warmer sound (though the modern engineers did a wonderful job too when I compare this performance with some other recordings made in those war studio's where one immediately hears orchestral discrepancies while the impression here is one of the good mono-recordings of the early fifties). The Furtwängler was really recorded in the house (not the still to be re-built Opera itself but in the fine Theater an der Wien so famous for its many operetta premières). Though the singers sound as fine with Böhm as with Furtwängler the latter's orchestra suffers slightly as it sounds somewhat harsher, more metallic. And of course there are a few scenic sounds: doors opening and closing, feet running away but nothing really disturbing and in return one gets applause at the appropriate places, a feature this reviewer maybe somewhat strangely misses on studio-recorded recordings.

Now why should one go for these recordings apart from the formidable atmosphere in the Furtwängler: well, mostly for the singers (There are or were five Böhms and four Furtwänglers available). The discovery of Böhms' set is soprano Hilde Konetzy. There is little available of this stalwart of the Vienna Opera: some roles when she had become a seconda donna (Chénier with Corelli, Tebaldi) and in her best days an Otello (Böhm, Ralf) while the first and only complete live performance ever recorded with Tauber (Bartered Bride Covent Garden 1939) suffers from a mike that had difficulty getting her outbursts on acetate. On this performance she already had a career of 15 years of strenuous roles and some of the youth had gone out of the voice. But in its place came a more rounded and warmer tone and several extra decibels. The voice never sounds overtaxed and demonstrates a good legato that doesn't show any German bark at all. The voice has Italianate colour in it. Only a small flatness at the top betrays her. Her competitor if one can Mödl call so as there is no question of " best buy" is her usual fascinating self: fine recognizable timbre, clear enunciation and somewhat careful above the staff where she prefers mezza-voce because after a career of barely ten years she was already in slightly heavy vocal weather (The Met never heard her in her prime as she made her début three years later). But the usual intensity is there, the impressive amount of vocal colours which remind one of Callas (not the same voice, but the same total immersion). From time to time she goes flat as in the duet with Rocco but in "O Namenlose Freude' she is simply marvellous, changing from one moment to another from a heavenly pianissimo to a jubilant forte and that's where Konetzy, good on her own, is a little bland in comparison. That's the place too where one hears Windgassen strain for volume and still being drowned under the weight of Mödl's voice. The men in both sets are indeed definitely not of the same weight: Swedish Torsten Ralf is one of the best Florestans on record as he has it all: volume, beauty in the voice, a good top, excellent enunciation and stylish singing. Wolfgang Windgassen in the Furtwängler is not in the same league. He was and always remained a lyric tenor, struggling with a part too heavy, often aspirating and chopping up phrases. He tries to compensate with a lot of mezza-voce and a few well chosen pianissimi but has to shout in the cabaletta to "Gott ! Welch dunkel". That is one of the reasons this reviewer likes live-sets so much. Engineers cannot tamper with the balance between voices and Mödl clearly sings Windgassen away. The rest of the cast is very fine in both sets. Paul Schöffler with Böhme has more volume while Edelmann in the other set is somewhat more refined but both men characterize well. Gottlob Frick has a slight edge on Herbert Alsen (Furtwängler) as the voice is simply more beautiful and far easily recognizable. I cannot chose between Irmgard Seefried (Böhm) or Sena Jurinac (Furtwängler): both so youthfully fresh and exuberant. Furtwängler of course enjoys the services of Rudolf Schock as Jacquino who has the better and more interesting voice than Peter Klein. Both Poell (Furtwängler) and Neralic (Böhm) are warmhearted. Now the nice thing of this set is that for once one has not to choose between two versions as one gets them both. Warmly recommended.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 9:10 PM

WEAVER & PUCCINI: The Puccini Companion

Perhaps best of all, it does this through a selection of writings from some top scholars, who are also, blessedly, skilled and communicative writers. Occasionally some repetition creeps in, and conflicting assertions are offered (the story that a performance of Aida set Puccini off on the path of opera composition is both repeated and debunked). Any such arguable weakness aside, this Companion is much more than a shortcut to a basic grasp of the issues arising from the art of this indispensable composer. Any doubter of the worth of Puccini's operas should have moved away from that stance by the book's last page; here is a mine of glittering ore in the social, cultural and aesthetic history of 20th century opera.

As one might guess, editor Puccini has close ties to the composer; she is his granddaughter. The book begins with her biographical sketch of the family history and Puccini's early years. Puccini gave evidence in the schoolroom of what today would be labeled "attention-deficit disorder." His sister Ramelde is quoted explaining Giacomo's lack of any "interest in any kind of study" as being due to his "vitality and restlessness of character." Not so long ago Puccini's views on and depiction of women served as a meaty repast for his more ravenous critics. One has to wonder if they considered his family. His father passed at an early age, and Puccini grew up surrounded by a gaggle of sisters with the most wonderful names: Oilia, Tomaide, Temi, Maria, Iginia, Ramelde, and Macrina. A younger brother, Michele, tried to find a place for himself in his brother's shadow, and died sadly while seeking that place in South America.

After the granddaughter's family history, the larger part of the book consists of essays that focus on the operas in chronological order. The choice of texts, collaboration with librettists, and reception of each opera gets full attention, and along the way the changing opera scene comes into view. Verdi hears of the young Puccini's early success with Le Villi, as recounted in Julian Budden's essay, and the essayist offers a thorough discussion of the whole topic of the supposedly 'symphonic" nature of Puccini's composition (in more strict terms, Puccini's raising of the orchestra to prominence in balance with the vocal line). Michael Elphinstone continues this discussion and offers an amusing anecdote of that still restless student in his literature class, required at the conservatory: "Alas!!!...Oh, God!...It's too much; bye, Professor,...I'm dying!"

Editor Weaver then moves to Manon Lescaut, developing an argument as to the commonalities and variances in Puccini's leading soprano roles. At one point Weaver proposes that there is more variety than most sopranos recognize in the portrayals, critiquing a certain "generic Puccinian pathos" that has crept into performance practice. A point for debate, but Weaver won over this reviewer by curtly dismissing the lazy criticism of Suor Angelica by describing the opera as "one of Puccini's subtlest accomplishments."

Continuing the discussion of the female roles, Harvey Sachs brings in a fascinating contrast in the wonderfully titled "Manon, Mimi, and Artu." Artu, as in Arturo Toscanini, a conductor with whom Puccini had a love/hate relationship. The story of La Boheme's premiere offers another one of those insights that puts into perspective one of the most contentious issues in opera performance, transpositions. For the chosen Rodolfo, Evan Gorga (they had names then!), could not handle the tessitura, and the role had to be transposed down. In fact, for every Puccini rave for a singer, there seem to be two assessments of grudging acceptance and another two of dire displeasure. Every age, it seems, has its share of Evan Gorga's.

Fedele D'Amico elaborates on the creation of Boheme, referring to its "decapitated romanticism." That phrase, perhaps better applied to Turandot (!), could have used some elaboration. Venturing into deeper, psychological waters, Franco Serpa has some fascinating things to say about nihilism and Tosca; it's doubtful that a serious reader of this essay would allow anyone to get by with that tired slag, "a shabby little shocker." This reviewer is also thankful to Serpa for making a distinction between Puccini and verismo composers such as Mascagni.

Madama Butterfly is the focus of Arthur Gross' "Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton." Gross covers the various changes that followed the tumultuous 1904 premiere, and the exposition reveals what a completely original creation the opera is, despite its nature as an adaptation.

The eventual blazing success of Butterfly somehow could not remove from Puccini the sting of that brutal first performance. He himself wrote of a desire to make progress away from his "sugary music," and Mary Jane Phillips-Matz tells the story of how that compulsion led to the brilliantly composed Fanciulla del West. The incredible media attention the Met premiere provoked suggests the kind of publicity firestorm that erupts over a blockbuster movie today. Sadly, Fanciulla could not sustain its initial ecstatic reception, but Puccini remained confident in the artistic success of his accomplishment (and rightly so). Leonardo Pinzauti details the next step forward for Puccini - the three one-acts called Il Triticco. Here Il Tabarro receives a great deal of deserved attention, although Pinzauti's description of Michele as a "victim" could have been further developed, or even explained.

William Ashbrook makes a valiant try to make La Rondine something other than a misstep, but the struggle drains away the strength of the argument. Finally, as far as the operas go, Turandot is covered by Jurgen Maehder, who strangely fills in very little of the story of Puccini's illness and death. Those details are available in an appendix, but they do seem to be relevant to a death-haunted opera such as Turandot is.

The last major essay, by David Hamilton, reviews the early recordings of Puccini's music and tries to posit a performance tradition. Fascinating stuff, but once again, the chief conclusion to be drawn seems to be that much talk of the "Golden Age" is from those unable to distinguish the precious metal from the fool's version.

The book closes with various appendices and a bibliography of major works on Puccini. One wonderful quote offered there has Puccini venting against a conductor's slack tempi, which "enervates everything." That quote should be printed boldface in large type and placed at the front of every score placed before every conductor of the master's operas.

With its many choice photos and handsome layout, The Puccini Companion does honor to the co-editor Simonetta's grandfather, the greatest 20th century opera composer and a man without whose art, very possibly, the world of opera could not continue to exist. The convinced and the unconvinced should both find much of interest in this fine book.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

image_description=The Puccini Companion — Essays on Puccini's life and music

product_title=The Puccini Companion — Essays on Puccini's life and music
product_by=Edited by William Weaver and Simonetta Puccini. New York: W.W. Norton, paper, 352 pages
product_id=ISBN 0-393-32052-9

Posted by Gary at 7:44 PM

SALAZAR: Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Señora

Juan García de Salazar: Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Senora
Capilla Penaflorida; Ministriles de Marsias; Josep Cabré (cond.)
NAXOS 8.555907 [CD]

Sacred music from the Spanish Baroque deserves to be held up next to the finest Italian examples of the same period. Equally celebratory in nature, the music written for use in Catholic Vespers services on this recording is an example of the mixed concertante style developed in Venice. While not as monumental as Claudio Monteverdi's conglomerate Vespers of 1610, the Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Senora by Juan Garcia de Salazar (1639-1710) contrasts polyphonic and homophonic choruses with plainchant, monody, instrumental pieces, and organ improvisation.

This disc intends to establish a coherent musical sequence for the service without attempting an exact liturgical reconstruction. The layout of the Vespers revolves around the five psalms of the office: 109, Dixit Dominus, 121, Laetatus Sum, 147, Lauda Jerusalem, 112, Laudate pueri, and 126, Nisi Dominus, and the Magnificat. The various antiphons, introit, responsories, and prayers, as well as psalms 112 and 126 are sung in plainchant. Psalms 109, 121, and 147, and the Magnificat, however, are complex choral works with intricate polyphony, doubling instruments, and declamatory homophony. In addition, hymns and motets for solo voices and chorus and short organ and instrumental interludes are interspersed throughout the service making for incredible variety of music.

The performers on this recording seem to carry each contrasting style in their blood. The men sing the plainchant cleanly and effortlessly in perfect unison. The motets engage the soloists and chorus in a call and response role. Accompanied by the strumming theorbo and festive brass they could be mistaken for a madrigal at a feast. The choruses are performed with stunning sensitivity to both the complex polyphony and the passionate text painting. The instruments, while often doubling the voice parts, add a pure and intense color both joyous and reflective.

The conductor and baritone Josep Cabré extracts an intensity and excitement from the chorus, Capilla Penaflorida, and early music band, Ministrales de Marsias. Despite an occasional rough intonation spot in the melismas of the polyphonic pslams, the chorus sings with a fervent joy. The Ministrales of Marsias provide an ebullient opening Entrada which is appropriately tapered down when accompanying the Capilla. Overall, this disc provides a remarkable example of the glory of Spanish music at the height of the Baroque in all its variety, excitement, and sensitivity.

Adam Luebke

Posted by Gary at 7:27 PM

BACH: St. John's Passion

J. S. Bach: St. John Passion, BWV 245
The Netherlands Bach Society; Jos van Veldhoven (cond.)
Gerd Türk (Evangelist); Stephan Mac Leod (Jesus); Caroline Stam;
Peter de Groot; Charles Daniels; Bas Ramselaar
Channel Classics CCS-SA- 22005

The explosion of research into the music of J. S. Bach allows for innumerable interpretations of his works. Scholars meticulously study the musical source material, letters and writings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and anything else that could possibly lead to an insight into Bach's musical practice. Invariably, each interpreter achieves new conclusions and raises new questions forming their own distinctive ideal. In the last decade and a half, the dialogue over Bach's choral music has been particularly active and fierce with proponents of massive romantic proportions and those who prefer single singers and instrumentalists on a part.

This recording of J. S. Bach's St. John Passion by Jos van Veldhoven and the Netherlands Bach Society leans toward the "single singer" position with mild modification. In the liner notes, Van Veldhoven puts forth a convincing case to use solo singers, the 'concertists,' supplemented by one additional 'ripienist' per part for the choral sections. This small ensemble allows for a single instrumentalist on a part as well. The only mild limitation of the small choir is the inability to truly convey the integral link between text and music that Bach creates so vividly in the chorales.

Another interesting contention van Veldhoven makes is that Bach added flutes in later revisions of the work. As a reconstruction of the first performance in 1724, the only wind instruments on this recording are an oboe and oboe d'amore. The immediate result of this omission is a monochromatic sound dominated by strings. The loss of color is most notable in the movements when the flutes provide obbligato to the soprano soloist. In "Ich folge dir gleichfalls," the solo instrumental line is taken by a violin which seems to work quite well. However, in "Zerfliesse," the coupling of an oboe on the flute part with the oboe d'more makes a thick reedy sound through which the soprano Caroline Stam has a little difficulty singing.

Overall the musical quality of the recording is superb. The small ensemble plays and sings the piece like chamber music with a communal connection and sensitivity to one another. Gerd Türk admirably narrates the story as the Evangelist and Stephan MacLeod's Jesus maintains a restrained peace throughout the Passion. Carolyn Stam and the other soloists, Peter de Groot, alto, Charles Daniels, tenor, and Bas Remselaar, bass, all sing with beautiful clarity and emotion. Remselaar's "Eilt" is the highlight of the recording as he navigates the brisk octave and half runs and florid melismas with a frightening intensity juxtaposed against the calm serenity of the chorus' chorale.

A final note of praise should extend to van Veldhoven and the recording's producers. The liner notes are contained in a two hundred page hard bound book with scholarly background information on the Gospel of John's telling of the Passion story, the sources of Bach's musical setting, and Veldhoven's interpretation. Also included are beautiful reproductions of Dutch artwork spanning the 11th through 20th centuries capturing moments in the Passion story. The spacing of this artwork at its corresponding place in text of the work highlights the scholarly intentions of this project. Van Veldhoven's fine recording captures a vision of the St. John Passion shaped by years of musical, historical, and cultural research.

Adam Luebke

Posted by Gary at 6:49 PM

Krassimira Stoyanova at the Rousse Festival

Krassimira Stoyanova

Krassimira Stoyanova In Recital At The 45th March Music Days
Rousse, Bulgaria, 24 March 2005

Her occasional home-coming always turns into a music event in her native Bulgaria. This time Krassimira Stoyanova appeared at the Rousse March Music days in a recital including twenty melodies and songs by opera composers: Gounod, Donizetti, Puccini in the first part and Tchaikovsky and Rahmaninov in the second plus two "encores" by Bulgarian composers Dobri Hristov and Liubomir Pipkov. She performed this same recital at Carnegie Hall on January 18, 2005, accompanied by Yelena Kurdina.

French and Italian opera repertoire is the strong point of this fine Bulgarian soprano who, since 1999, has been a regular at the Vienna National opera on which stage Stoyanova can be seen between April 2 and May, 16 in "La Bohème," "Simone Boccanegra," "Falstaff" and "Les Contes d'Hoffman."

Krassimira Stoyanova is a "sparkly" performer who "catches" the audience from the beginning, making it experience all the drama of the works. From the most dramatic fullness of sorrow and despair like Donizetti's "La mère et l'enfant" through Gounod's "A une jeune fille," Tchaikovsky's "Ni slovo, o moi drug," "Snovo kak prezhde, odin" and Rachmaninov's "Poliubila ya pechal svoiu," "Ne poi krassavitsa..." to the radiant "Ma belle rebelle" et "Venise" (Gounod), Puccini's baroque-like "Salve Regina," "Terra e mare," "Storiella d'amore," "Sole e amore" and Rachmaninov's "Vessennie void," Stoyanova suggests all the range of emotions with her moving vibrato, lighter in the French melodies and darker in the rest of the songs, large amplitude and subtlety of singing. Some Russian performers could take lessons from her approach to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov: dynamic phrasing, clear diction, observed measure of emotion, sincerity and naturalness, as well as pleasure of singing. Both Donizeti's songs "La Sultana" and "Ah! Rammenta o bella Irene" (genuine arias), Rachmaninov's "Ne poi krassavitsa..." and all five Tchaikovsky's songs were of her best. On the other hand, the variety of the program and, perhaps, because of some problems with the acoustics, some vowels in the French melodies seemed lacking in control of pronunciation.

Both Bulgarian "encores" "Devoiche" by Dobri Hristov and "Lullaby" by Liubomir Pipkov were polar opposites from the point of view of dynamics of phrasing and emotions. The first one was performed with much humor and vitality that thrilled the audience; and the second with great control of the voice and heavenly floated pianissimi.

Maria Prinz was an expressive and careful accompanist who demonstrated a good knowledge of all the three different styles of music, although sometimes her tone sounded a bit loud and hard perhaps due to the peculiarity of the acoustics. Nevertheless, this evening was a great experience for both performers and audience at Rousse, Bulgaria.

Posted by Gary at 3:14 AM

Chicago's Ring

Three `Ring' circus

The Lyric Opera makes a trek up Wagner's summit -- all 16 glorious, daunting hours of it

By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 27 Mar 05]

Ringheads, rejoice! The end of the world is nigh.

So, for that matter, are the flying Valkyries, swimming Rhinemaidens, spinning Norns, fearless heroes, empowered heroines and all the other mythic characters that make Richard Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" ("The Ring of the Nibelung") the greatest, most monumental fairy tale ever composed.

Click here for remainder of article.

The timeless appeal of Wagner's epic

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun Times, 27 Mar 05]

"We're getting jazzed," said a top Lyric staffer last week about the company's upcoming immersion in Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung.''

They aren't the only ones. Music lovers throughout the world have been getting jazzed, or the linguistic equivalent appropriate to their era, about Wagner's four-opera saga since its premiere as a complete cycle in the Franconian town of Bayreuth, Germany, in August 1876.

Loosely based on Nordic mythology, the first "Ring'' cycles were presented in a brand-new theater built to Wagner's specifications. Among the audiences in 1876 were Kaiser Wilhelm, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Saint-Saens, Liszt and a tribe of 60 international music critics, including critics for London's Daily Telegraph and the New York Times.

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Posted by Gary at 2:48 AM

Deborah Voigt: The Comeback Kid

Deborah Voigt

Gastric surgery brings career revival for the soprano rejected by Covent Garden

Opera singer loses 7st after having her stomach stapled

Richard Jinman [The Guardian, 28 Mar 05]

When the soprano Deborah Voigt was dropped from a Covent Garden production of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos last year she claimed it was her inability to fit into a sleek black dress that prompted her dismissal.

Click here for remainder of article.

With Surgery, Soprano Sheds a Brünnhilde Body

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 27 Mar 05]

Deborah Voigt, arguably the leading dramatic soprano singing today, has a gleaming voice that easily soars over the largest Wagnerian orchestra. But big voices tend to come in big bodies, and Ms. Voigt, to her dismay, long fit the stereotype of the oversize opera singer.

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Posted by Gary at 2:28 AM

Offenbach's Whittington

Jacques Offenbach

South Seas romp for desert island Dick

[Daily Telegraph, 26 Mar 05]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Whittington at the Bloomsbury Theatre

Here is a splendid curiosity - a three-act operetta by Offenbach, written as the 1874 Christmas panto blockbuster for the famous Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square and never subsequently staged in its original form. All credit to the tirelessly exploratory semi-professional University College Opera for its worthwhile revival.

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Posted by Gary at 1:44 AM

Mozart's C Minor Mass Reconstructed

Robert Levin

Kritik Osterklang: So logisch klingen nun Trompeten und Pauken im Credo

VON WALTER WEIDRINGER [Die Press, 26 Mar 05]

Mozarts c-Moll-Messe, von Robert Levin rekonstruiert und vervollständigt: Gediegen und frisch musiziert unter Helmuth Rilling.

"Die spart (Partitur, Anm.) von der hälfte einer Messe, welche noch in der besten hoffnung da liegt", erwähnt Mozart 1783 in einem Brief an seinen Vater. Bei der Hoffnung sollte es bleiben: Sein rätselhaftes Gelöbnis, die c-Moll-Messe zu vollenden, hat Mozart nicht gehalten. Das ehrgeizige Projekt einer umfangreichen Kantatenmesse im Stile von Bachs Schwesterwerk in h-Moll blieb ein Torso. Nur Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus und Benedictus hat Mozart abgeschlossen, nicht alles davon ist jedoch in zweifelsfreier Form erhalten. Vom zentralen Credo existieren gar nur zwei Sätze, noch dazu voller offensichtlicher Instrumentationslücken.

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Posted by Gary at 1:38 AM

March 26, 2005

Surprises at Wigmore Hall

Susan Bullock

Susan Bullock

Wigmore Hall, London

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 26 Mar 05]

Susan Bullock is widely regarded as the finest dramatic soprano to have emerged in the UK for some years. She is an exceptional Wagnerian and many would question why she is not singing Brünnhilde in one of the Rings-in-progress at Covent Garden or English National Opera, particularly since she is already established as an interpreter of the role abroad.

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Strauss, Britten, Wagner, Debussy, Rorem: Susan Bullock (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) Wigmore hall, 23 March, 2005

Anne Ozorio [Seen & Heard]

The Wigmore Hall's reputation is based, in part, on presenting carefully chosen new performers. Its famously well-informed audience sets it apart from "any other venue" and gives it a cutting edge. For this concert, the Hall was packed, filled with familiar faces: a sign that this canny audience knew something interesting was afoot.

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Posted by Gary at 6:56 PM

Leaving the "Audience Clamoring for More"

Kendra Colton

Handel chills thanks to soprano's cool

By Richard Dyer [Boston Globe, 26 Mar 05]

Handel had his troubles with sopranos as people. There's a story that he once grew so enraged he tried to throw one of his divas out the window. On the other hand, no composer has written more knowledgeably and lovingly for the soprano voice than Handel did.

Conductor Grant Llewellyn and the Handel & Haydn Society came up with the idea of a program built around some of the arias he wrote for a few of his favorite soprano voices. The much-recorded Canadian early-music singer Nancy Argenta was supposed to come to sing them, but she canceled about 10 days ago. Boston-based soprano Kendra Colton agreed to step in. A few adjustments were made in the program so that Colton could sing arias that were already in her repertoire, and everything went off without a hitch.

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Posted by Gary at 4:58 PM

A Long Night at the Royal Danish Opera

The New Opera House at Copenhagen

The Protocols of Going to the Danish Opera (and Going Home)

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 26 Mar 05]

For a New Yorker accustomed to watching the madcap dash to the exits that typically ensues as soon as a performance ends at the Metropolitan Opera, the relaxed pace and genteel protocols of opera-going in Copenhagen were a balm.

Of course, maybe my recent experience was not typical. The citizens are still abuzz about the new $441 million home of the Royal Danish Opera, which opened in January. Arguments continue about the architectural quality of the imposing structure. But over all the city could not be more excited about its new house.

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In Copenhagen, There's Music in the Air

Erika Lorentzsen [Washington Post, 27 Mar 05]

Months before its completion, it was clear that something intriguing was taking shape at Copenhagen's former Royal Naval Dockyard. A huge glass sphere topped by a flat roof, the evolving structure became a standout in a city known for its innovative architecture and design.

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Posted by Gary at 4:47 PM

Rape of Lucretia

Rape of Lucretia
(After Guido Cagnacci)

Rape of Lucretia

Hilary Finch at St John's, Smith Square [Times Online, 26 Mar 05]

NO BETTER time than Easter to plead the cause of Benjamin Britten's chamber opera. Forged in the same white fire of creative energy as Peter Grimes, Lucretia can remain problematic because of the apparent moralising of the framing Chorus. But watching this play of passion in a week of Passions certainly put things into context.

Peter Hoare's robust tenor, and Geraldine McGreevy's serene soprano, as Male and Female Chorus, urged us to see "through eyes which have wept with Christ's own tears". And, for those with ears to hear, Britten is not Christianising so much as providing an archetype of the eternal redemptive man of sorrows.

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Posted by Gary at 4:16 AM

The Independent Interviews Angela Gheorghiu

Angela Gheorghiu

Angela Gheorghiu: Born to sing of suffering

Angela Gheorghiu, the diva of the age, has a special affinity for the tragic heroines of Puccini's operas. 'I, too, have tears in my voice,' the soprano tells Lynne Walker

[The Independent, 25 Mar 05]

"If Puccini were alive today, I'd be in love with him. I am sure of it. He knew how to write for sopranos: he really loved them," says Angela Gheorghiu. And this soprano knows Puccini's heroines well, having most of them in her repertoire or in her plans. On her latest CD, a handsomely packaged set from EMI, she steps into the shoes of all his major soprano characters, with the exception of the adulterous Giorgetta in Puccini's most impressionistic score, Il Tabarro.

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Posted by Gary at 3:53 AM

A Delicate Drama at Merkin Hall

Degas: Singer in Green

You've Never Heard Wagner Like This

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 25 Mar 05]

When opera singers reach a certain level of fame and stature, they almost invariably express the desire to present song recitals as well. Often the problem is that they have little training in this specialized art and too much practice in their own stylistic niche. As a result, many highly publicized evenings at Carnegie or Alice Tully turn out to be woeful disappointments, proving only the lack of adaptability of many of our best singers.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to New York Sun required).

Posted by Gary at 3:45 AM

Is it curtains for Muti?

Riccardo Muti (Photo: Theresia Linke)

Maestro in a maelstrom

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 25 ar 05]

Leaflets distributed this week outside La Scala opera house in Milan announced the world premiere of "an opera of a few minutes (because that's enough)", composed by the theatre's audience. The music consisted of loud heckling whenever members of La Scala's orchestra appeared. The libretto was curt: "Don't touch the maestro. Riccardo Muti belongs to art. He belongs to us!"

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 3:33 AM

March 25, 2005

Handel's Sosarme at Theater St. Gallen

Christophe Dumaux (Sosarme)


Familienaufstellung in der Barockoper: Händels "Sosarme" am Theater St. Gallen

Vital und virtuos lässt Alan Curtis mit seinem Barockensemble Händels vergessene Oper "Sosarme" in der Schweizer Erstaufführung am Theater St. Gallen wiederauferstehen. Die Regie jedoch spart mit Fleisch und Blut.

Bettina Kugler [St. Galler Tagblatt, 25 Mar 05]

Mit noblem Herrschergestus rückt der feine junge Herr im weissen Anzug fürs Schlusstableau die Opernwirklichkeit zurecht. Unvermittelt angeschmachtet von der Liebsten und scheinbar ohne Rücksicht auf den eben ausgefochtenen tragischen Höhepunkt des Familienzwists, von dem hier im Heldenton einer Opera Seria drei Stunden lang die Rede war, darf Fernando alias Sosarme die Totgeglaubten wieder aufrichten und dann, ganz cleverer Familientherapeut, die Sache mit einer zeitgeistigen Aufstellung zu Ende bringen.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:56 AM

Moscow Celebrates the Golden Mask Festival

Scene from The Mariinsky's production of The Nose (nominated for best opera production)

Going Behind the Mask

Once again, Moscow's yearly drama extravaganza features the best drama from all over Russia.

By John Freedman [Moscow Times, 25 Mar 05]

In all the years of its existence, the Golden Mask Festival has been nothing if not a study in contrasts -- no other Russian festival embraces as fully the multiplicity of the performing arts. Once a year, for just over two weeks in the spring, the best Russian opera singers, ballet dancers, dramatic actors, directors, conductors, puppeteers and other sundry performing artists gather to show their stuff and compete for the coveted Golden Mask award.

This time, having reached its 11th year, the festival has gone to great lengths to reach the outer limits of large and small.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:28 AM

An Interview with Peter Schreier

Peter Schreier

Von Bach kann die Kirche lernen

Zur Matthäus-Passion: Gespräch mit Peter Schreier

[Merkur Online, 25 Mar 05]

"200 oder 300" Matthäus-Passionen hat Peter Schreier (69) schon hinter sich, als Sänger, seit den 80er-Jahren in der Doppelfunktion als dirigierender Evangelist. So auch an diesem Karfreitag im Gasteig, wenn er das Opus mit dem Münchener Bach-Chor aufführt (14.30 Uhr, Live-übertragung auf Bayern 4). Und damit wohl zum letzten Mal hier zu hören sein wird: Zum Jahresende will Schreier, einer der grössten Bach-, Mozart- und Schubert-Interpreten unserer Zeit, seine Gesangskarriere beenden.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:15 AM

March 24, 2005

Operatic Detritus

John Harbison

Wrestling With a 'Lolita' Opera and Losing

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 24 Mar 05]

In an introduction to the score for his "Darkbloom: Overture for an Imagined Opera," which will have its premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra tonight, John Harbison calls the piece the remnant of a misguided project, an "unproduceable" opera based on a "famous and infamous" American novel.

What made it unproduceable, at least in part, was the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal involving priests and minors, Mr. Harbison said in an interview this week. The novel was Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita," a work about a man's passion for an adolescent girl.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:59 PM

U Carmen E Khayelitsha Premieres

Scene from U Carmen E Khayelitsha

Changing SA's townships through opera

By Nick Miles [BBC News, 24 Mar 05]

As the limousines arrive at the premiere of an award winning film version of Carmen, U Carmen E Khayelitsha, they have to slow down for a group of barefooted children pushing shopping trolleys filled with scrap metal across the road.

Welcome to a movie premiere in a South African township.

Outside the venue for the premiere - a converted sports hall in the impoverished former township of Khayelitsha - life is hard, rows of shacks with corrugated iron roofs stretch into the distance.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:11 PM

Trouble at the Bolshoi

Leonid Desyatnikov (Composer)Vladimir Sorokin (Libretto)


MOSCOW, March 2 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian State Duma has ordered its committee for culture to check the information about the staging of the opera Rosenthal's Children after Vladimir Sorokin's libretto in the new building of the Bolshoi Theater.

A relevant decision was made at the Wednesday plenary session. All in all, 226 deputies voted for this decision, 12 deputies voted against and nobody abstained from voting.

This was an initiative of State Duma deputy Sergei Neverov (United Russia faction).

Speaking at the plenary session, Mr. Neverov said it was necessary to urgently specify and inform the MPs about the supposed performance. The opera's premiere is scheduled for March 23.

"We should prevent the staging of Mr. Sorokin's vulgar plays in the theater which is a symbol of Russian culture. Otherwise, this pornography will be discussed all over Russia," Mr. Neverov stressed.

Click here for remainder of article.

Bolshoi embroiled in row over 'pornographic' opera

Tom Parfitt in Moscow [The Guardian, 4 Mar 05]

A scandal has engulfed the Bolshoi Theatre after pro-Kremlin MPs ordered an investigation into an opera which they claim is "vulgar and pornographic".

Rosenthal's Children, which features a godlike figure who creates clones of famous composers, was to open later this month.

The libretto was written by Vladimir Sorokin, a controversial postmodernist author, whose novel Blue Lard caused outrage in Russia with scenes of homosexual liaisons between the Soviet leaders Stalin and Khrushchev.

Click here for remainder of article.

L'Opéra Bolchoïaut; de Moscou dénonce le retour de la censure

[Le Monde, 10 Mar 05]

Les députés ont exigé une "vérification" de la moralité d'un opéra.

Moscou correspondance

Le temps de la censure artistique est-il en train de revenir en Russie ? Le Bolchoïaut; risque de faire les frais de ce retour. Mercredi 2 mars, un député de la Douma, Sergueïaut; Neverov, a fait voter par l'assemblée une résolution demandant la "vérification" par la commission de la culture de la moralité d'un opéra, Les Enfants de Rosenthal, dont les représentations devaient commencer le 23 mars (Le Monde du 5 mars). Première commande musicale passée par l'Opéra moscovite depuis vingt-cinq ans, l'œuvre a été élaborée par l'écrivain Vladimir Sorokine et le compositeur Leonid Dessiatnikov.

Click here for remainder of article.

Genetically modified Mozart

A new opera about clones is raising hell at the Bolshoi - and it hasn't even opened yet. Vadim Prokhorov reports

[The Guardian, 16 Mar 05]

It's rare for a new opera to get the kind of controversial publicity associated with rap artists and Hollywood movies. But that's what's happening at the Bolshoi. As soon as it was announced, three years ago, that the Bolshoi was going to produce its first Russian contemporary opera in a quarter of a century, all hell broke loose. The shadowy anti-communist youth group, Moving Together, whose members wear T-shirts featuring Vladimir Putin as a sign of their support for the Russian president, began staging noisy demonstrations in front of the theatre and the residence of Alexander Vedernikov, the music director.

Click here for remainder of article.

Under Siege

As the Bolshoi prepares for the debut of "Rosenthal's Children," composer Leonid Desyatnikov discusses his controversial creation.

By Raymond Stults [Moscow Times, 18 Mar 05]

New operas by Russian and Soviet composers once played a prominent part in the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theater. But nearly 26 years have passed since the theater last produced an operatic world premiere. On Wednesday, the long drought will finally end with the staging of "Rosenthal's Children," a work fresh from the pens of composer Leonid Desyatnikov and writer Vladimir Sorokin.

Click here for remainder of article.

Protests over Bolshoi 'porn' opera

[CNN, 23 Mar 05]

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russia's Bolshoi Theater has sparked outrage by putting on an opera that some lawmakers and a pro-Kremlin youth group say is pornographic.

The opera, "Rosenthal's Children," is about a scientist who clones five great classical composers -- Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Wagner, Mussorgsky and Verdi.

The scientist then dies, and the cloned musicians -- unprepared for life on their own in the 1990s -- end up on the street.

Click here for remainder of article.

Protests fail to halt Russian opera

Tom Parfitt in Moscow [The Guardian, 24 Mar 05]

Rosenthal's Children, the opera branded "pornographic" by Russian MPs, premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow last night despite noisy protests outside and opprobrium from its detractors.

More than 200 protesters from the pro-Kremlin youth movement Moving Together gathered outside the theatre, shouting: "Sorokin - out of the Bolshoi."

Click here for remainder of article.

"Les enfants de Rosenthal", opéra au parfum de scandale, triomphe au Bolchoïaut;

[AFP, 24 Mar 05]

MOSCOU (AFP) - "Les enfants de Rosenthal", nouvelle production du Bolchoïaut; au coeur d'une controverse entre défenseurs de l'ordre moral et tenants de la liberté artistique, a reçu un accueil triomphal du public pour sa première représentation mercredi soir.

"Formidable, remarquable, très contemporain, nous pensons que c'est une victoire pour ce théâtre", s'enthousiasme un groupe de mélomanes dès la fermeture du rideau.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:19 PM

Sometimes It's The Little Things

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Acoustical Tales: What Concert Halls Get Wrong

By BARBARA JEPSON [Wall Street Journal, 24 Mar 05]

A new wave of distinctive 21st-century concert halls is changing the look and feel of classical music performance in the U.S. These halls have impressive architectural pedigrees and price tags -- Frank Gehry designed the $275 million Disney Hall in Los Angeles; Rafael Vinoly, the $265 million Kimmel Center in Philadelphia; Santiago Calatrava, the coming $300 million Atlanta Symphony Center. Most of them, like architect William Rawn's $99 million Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Md., shun the gilded, red-velvet opulence of traditional European models in favor of Modernist simplicity. They also strive for heightened spatial intimacy between audience and performer: Disney Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has terraced seating areas surrounding the stage.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Wall Street Journal online required).

Posted by Gary at 2:12 PM

Four Operas at the Budapest Spring Festival

Budapest Opera House

Four cheers for opera

By Kevin Shopland [Budapest Sun, 24 Mar 05]

FOUR operas, more than four reasons to go. The operas: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Péter Eötvös's The Balcony, Wagner's Parsifal, and Handel's Semele.The reasons to go: great music, top performers, the best conductors, inventive directors, and two truly excellent performance spaces.

All four operas are being given within the framework of the Budapest Spring Festival. Lady Macbeth and Parsifal will be given at the Hungarian State Opera, one of the most opulent, beautiful and human-scaled opera houses anywhere.

The Balcony and Semele will be given in the brand new Festival Theater in the just christened Palace of Arts, a world class building that has all the critics talking.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:46 AM

Leontyne Price & Samuel Barber: Historic Performances (1938 - 1953)

This CD preserves a landmark recital in which Barber accompanied Price in a program of art songs at the Library of Congress, which was given on 30 October 1953 in honor of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Part of that recital was the premiere of Barber's Hermit Songs, op. 29, a work commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation of the Library of Congress.

This recital was broadcast at the time and some may know the performance of the Hermit Songs found on this release from its earlier release on CD (RCA Victor Gold Seal 61983). Yet the concert is available in its entirety only with this recording, which includes the other music Price and Barber performed then: Quatre Poèmes de Paul Eluard by Francis Poulenc, La Voyante by Henri Sauget, along with several other songs by Poulenc, Fauré, and Barber. The choice of music for the recital is excellent, with Sauget's La Voyante ("the medium," which evokes Menotti's opera of the same name) emerging as a particularly memorable cycle. In 1953 American modernism had not yet taken its cues as strongly from serialism as would occur in the next decade. At this point, modern American composers like Barber benefited from their strong association with French modernism as embodied by the composers found in this program.

The recording shows the young Price as a nuanced interpreter of song. Those who know Price from her work in opera should appreciate the details she brings to this recital of almost chamber-music intensity. The evenness of register and clarity of line, two qualities of Price's voice throughout her career, are clearly present in this relatively early recital. At this early in her career Price approached the music for this recital with assuredness and finesse, which adds to the attraction of this CD. At the same time, Barber shows himself to be a fine interpreter of his own music and also a memorable accompanist. Barber does not merely attend to the details of his own works at the expense of the others, but rather treats the other composers in the program in the same meticulous way.

In addition to Leontyne Price's recital, this recording includes a program of songs that was broadcast on 26 December 1938 (through the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia) in which Barber accompanies himself. This recital shows the composer's own voice well, as he performs six folk songs and six Lieder, roughly half an hour of music. As much as a recording like this may be regarded as a curiosity of sorts with the composer as performer, the fine singing and playing by Barber shows the high-level of musicianship he conveyed.

This CD is a wonderful addition to the series of Great Performances from the Library of Congress. The series already includes some remarkable chamber music, as found in the first CD in the series, a program by the Budapest String Quartet with George Szell as pianist and other memorable performances. The prospect of other such releases makes this a series worth watching. For now, this release of these performances by Price and Barber merits interest as an historic recording and also for the high quality of performance it preserves.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Leontyne Price & Samuel Barber: Historic Performances (1938 & 1953)

product_title=Leontyne Price & Samuel Barber: Historic Performances (1938 & 1953)
Great Performances from the Library of Congress, Vol. 19
product_by=Leontyne Price (soprano) and Samuel Barber (baritone and piano)
product_id=Bridge 9156 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 5:17 AM

Parsifal Gets Poor Reception in Berlin

Hanno Müller-Brachmann as Amfortas (Photo: Monika Rittershaus)

Kein Gral weit und breit

Buhkonzert in der Staatsoper: Bernd Eichingers Bühnendebüt "Parsifal" ist müdes Stehtheater

Von Klaus Geitel [Berliner Morgenpost, 21 Mar 05]

Noch nie gab es im Entrée zur Staatsoper ein derartiges Photographengedrängel. Die Kameraleute boxten sich beinahe um die besseren Positionen. Und das alles bei der Premiere des "Parsifal". Es war, als habe unversehens Hollywood die Produktion übernommen. Dabei war doch bloss die Erstlingsregie von Bernd Eichinger in den heiligen Hallen der Oper angesagt.

Click here for remainder of article.

Punk Parsifal provokes outrage in Berlin

Krysia Diver in Stuttgart [The Guardian, 22 Mar 05]

It is one of the world's great opera houses, used to being filled by some of music's finest voices.

But the sound ringing around the Staatsoper in Berlin last weekend was of a different sort.

Click here for remainder of article.

Brust, Bauch, Helm, Speer

Von Eleonore Bünning [FAZ, 21 Mar 05]

21. März 2005 Als "Winterbayreuth" hat sich die Lindenoper in Berlin schon oft verkleidet, nicht erst seit den grossen Kupfer-Barenboim-Wagnerfestivals der neunziger Jahre. An diesem Abend trägt sie den Titel zu Recht. Die neue "Parsifal"-Produktion, die fortan im Spielplan die zwar langweilige, aber regiehandwerklich superkorrekte Inszenierung von Harry Kupfer aus dem Jahr 1992 ersetzen soll, tritt auf wie ein Gegenentwurf zur schrillen Bayreuther "Parsifal"Premiere des vorigen Sommers.

Click here for remainder of article.

They booed? That's great!

[The Guardian, 23 Mar 05]

A controversial new production of Wagner's "punk" Parsifal, by Bernd Eichinger, film-maker and writer of Downfall, provoked outrage when it was premiered in Berlin last Saturday. Here he defends his production.

A lot of critics complained that it was staged too close to the orchestra. But that is not a failure - that is exactly what I wanted to do. In a Wagner opera, you have to understand that there are more than 100 musicians; it is a big orchestra, big music. In order that the singers can really be appreciated you have to bring the action forward, closer to the audience. If you put them too far away in the distance of the stage you hear less.

Click here for remainder of article.

Parsifal, Staatsoper, Berlin

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 22 Mar 05]

"Can we have your liver?" the Knights of the Holy Grail ask Amfortas. "But I'm using it!" the king protests. To no avail. Resigned, he reaches into his torso and produces a palpitating organ. Just in time for Mass!

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:07 AM

Der Rosenkavalier at the Met

Richard Strauss

Lushly Lamenting the Wages of Time and a Lost Golden Age

By JEREMY EICHLER [NY Times, 15 Mar 05]

Some operas sound out universal themes, while others capture the precise fears and longings of the worlds from which they were born. Strauss's "Rosenkavalier" does both, through the vehicle of a romantic comedy with a rapturous score that has been cherished by opera lovers since its premiere in 1911. It made a successful return to the Metropolitan Opera repertory on Friday in Nathaniel Merrill's popular production, conducted by Donald Runnicles.

Click here for remainder of article.

Der Rosenkavalier, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer, Richard Fairman and Brendan Lemon [Financial Times, 23 Mar 05]

The Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier is supposed to be no older than 32 - sensitive, sensual and emphatically sensible. Richard Strauss told us so. She is seldom played that way. Over the decades, the role has become the specialty of well-upholstered divas of a certain age who stress regal pathos at the expense of erotic allure. It wasn't like that, however, on Friday at the Met, where Angela Denoke basked in revisionist revelation.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:03 AM

March 23, 2005

New Digs for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Conservatory celebrates progress on swanky new home

David Wiegand [SF Chronicle, 23 Mar 05]

A month shy of the halfway point in the 26-month construction of its new Civic Center home, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music started the party early last week with a ceremony to "top out" the new building on Oak Street.

Conservatory President Colin Murdoch, students, faculty members, architects, builders, former Mayor Willie Brown, the all-important money- givers and others were on hand to sign a white-painted steel beam that was raised into place atop the framework of the $80 million project, which will open in fall 2006.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:13 PM

Orlando Furioso at New York City Opera

Antonio Vivaldi

The Lost Rigors of the Baroque

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 21 Mar 05]

Jorge Luis Borges used to teach that there were only five or six basic stories in all of world literature. A fan of Baroque opera might be forgiven for thinking that there were only a few actual stories, and that "Orlando Furioso" was the primary one. Soon after Vivaldi composed two operas on the subject, George Friedrich Handel fashioned three. The first in the trilogy, 1733's "Orlando," was premiered on Sunday afternoon in a new production at City Opera.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to New York Sun required).

Trading the Dangers of War for the Perils of Love

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 22 Mar 05]

For the new production of Handel's remarkable opera "Orlando" that opened on Sunday afternoon, the New York City Opera has assembled a splendid cast, headed by the exciting countertenor Bejun Mehta in the title role. Still, if a Handel opera is not to seem like a stagy succession of da capo arias in which characters simply posture themselves and proclaim emotions, a production must help the singers penetrate the beguiling musical surface to tap the dramatic subtext. The director Chas Rader-Shieber's enchanting production, introduced two years ago at the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., does this and more.

Click here for remainder of article.

Making a good case for making war, not love

BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON [Newsday, 23 Mar 05]

Handel's opera "Orlando" is a seductive broadside against love, and New York City Opera's new production makes this distaste for romance seem irresistible for a while.

When the titular knight goes soft, the magician Zoroastro intervenes to warn him away from the vagaries of passion. Better, he counsels, to stick to such sensible, manly stuff as vengeance, mayhem and murder: Make war, not love.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:01 PM

Madama Butterfly at Covent Garden

Cristina Gallardo-Domâs (Photo:

Madama Butterfly

John Allison at Covent Garden [Times Online, 23 Mar 05]

IT'S STRANGE that such a basically fine performance can leave so many question marks, but that is perhaps the peculiarity of Madama Butterfly. Puccini's shabby little shogun shocker contains some of the composer's greatest music, yet it is put to such shallow, manipulative ends that anyone who likes their opera to be more than a high-class musical is likely to come away feeling unsatisfied. At least the Royal Opera's latest revival is musically rewarding, and boasts one of today's leading interpreters of the title role, but the picture-book production shows little willingness to tackle the problem.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:49 PM

Tosca at the Met

Maria Guleghina as Tosca (Photo:

The Bells of Castel Sant'Angelo


To this day, many sophisticated music lovers dismiss Puccini as a panderer or even a hack. But his supreme craftsmanship is the best refutation of this position. So dedicated was he to creating just the right effect for "Tosca" that he came before dawn one morning to the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome and faithfully recorded the actual pitches of all of the church bells that can be heard there throughout the early hours, including those of the Basilica of Saint Peter's.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to New York Sun required).

Salvatore Licitra as Cavaradossi

Last-Minute Hero Revisits the Scene of His Triumph

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 23 Mar 05]

Originally, the Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra's performance in Puccini's "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night was to have been his Met debut. Being a behemoth international company, the Met must make casting plans years in advance and this performance had long been on the books.

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Posted by Gary at 5:25 PM

March 22, 2005

An Eye On The Prize

Susanna Phillips

Ex-Huntsville resident wows Metropolitan Opera for $15K prize

By HOWARD MILLER [Huntsville Times, 22 Mar 05]

Susanna Phillips one of four eligible for Met's program

Soprano Susanna Phillips, a former Huntsville resident, is among the four top winners picked Sunday in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York.

Phillips won $15,000 toward her studies and eligibility to be considered for the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.

Click here for remainder of article.

In a Contest of Young Voices, a Battle Over What May Be

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 22 Mar 05]

Having gone through more than 1,500 entries, 22 regional winners, 9 finalists ending with 4 grand prizes, another year of Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions are done. The final nine sang at the Metropolitan Opera House on Sunday afternoon, and to show how well auditions and apprentice programs work (and to give judges time to make up their minds), four singing alumni of the Met programs rounded out the afternoon.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:06 PM

A Symphony for Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen

Stories that make music

Hans Christian Andersen was fascinated by musicians, and his fairy tales, in turn, have inspired 10 Danish composers to write in his honour

By Jessica Duchen [The Independent, 21 Mar 05]

The words of Symphonic Fairytales are not by a musician, but by one of the 19th century's most extraordinary writers: Hans Christian Andersen. The Danish fairy-tale author's bicentenary falls on 2 April this year and a worldwide project is under way to celebrate him in music. Ten Danish composers have been commissioned to write pieces based on his stories; as part of this, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Chorus and Youth Chorus has achieved quite a coup with a new work from Per Norgard, Denmark's musical éminence grise, which they will premiere on Andersen's birthday at Symphony Hall.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:52 PM

Handel's Ezio at the London Handel Festival

Countertenor Tim Mead (Ezio)


Britten Theatre, London

Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 17 Mar 05]

Ditched after five performances following its 1732 London premiere, and only occasionally dusted off since, Handel's opera Ezio hasn't been staged in Britain for a quarter of a century - which makes it prime material for exhumation by this year's London Handel Festival.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for program information regarding the London Handel Festival.


Robert Thicknesse at Britten Theatre, SW7 [Times Online, 21 Mar. 05]

THE curtain rises on Black-adder-land -- epicene monarch, black-clad baddie, hooped ladies and preening hero -- and you think, hmm, three hours of trying to turn opera seria into comedy could be a bit wearing. Worst fears aren't entirely realised, but if you don't trust Handel to hold an audience with a serious exploration of relationship and motivation, why bother?

The London Handel Festival has brought us some notable rarities from among the man's operas, and this one too has seldom been seen; but if the performance falls short, it's not because the piece is rubbish.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:40 PM

Peter Grimes in Salzburg

Benjamin Britten

Die alten bösen Bilder

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 21 Mar 05]

Brittens "Peter Grimes" wie aus der Gemäldegalerie.

Salzburg zur Osterzeit steht heuer ganz im Zeichen Benjamin Brittens. Nun ist "Peter Grimes", die Festspiel oper Anno 2005, auch schon 60 Jahre alt, aber von einer Verankerung im internationalen Repertoire kann, wenn überhaupt, erst in allerjüngster Zeit die Rede sein. Jetzt, da das Stück von der Tragödie des Individuums in der Zeit der Vermassung aktueller denn je scheint, setzen es die meisten grossen Häuser auf den Spielplan. Zeit also, bei einem Festival ein mustergültige Produktion zu präsentieren, scheint das Kalkül Simon Rattles gewesen zu sein, der damit den Festspielgedanken so unzeitgemäss wie richtig interpretiert. Zumindest in der Theorie. Man muss vielleicht ein bisschen weiter ausholen, um zu definieren, warum eine Inszenierung, wie sie Trevor Nunn im grossen Festspielhaus vorgestellt hat, in diesem Fall ein wenig zu kurz greift.

Click here for remainder of article.

Peter Grimes

Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 22 Mar 05]

The swish of expensive fabric, the chatter of the great and good, the click of paparazzi cameras - the Salzburg Easter festival is here again, and the foyer of the Grosses Festspielhaus is a stage in itself. Glyndebourne may appear posh, but at least there you don't end up apologising for treading on somebody's train.

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Salzbourg, l'heure anglaise

Salzbourg : de notre envoyé spécial Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 22 mar 05]

Simon Rattle met les rives de la Salzach à l'heure anglaise, en faisant de Benjamin Britten le noyau de la programmation du Festival de Pâques de Salzbourg 2005.

Si étonnant que cela puisse paraître, Peter Grimes, pourtant solidement ancré au répertoire international depuis sa création en 1945, n'avait jamais été joué à Salzbourg.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:35 PM

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Performs Pergolesi and Rossi

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Baroque, but Swelling and Fading Into Another Era's Style

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 22 Mar 05]

As a seasonal concert, with a mildly ecumenical touch, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra played a concert of sacred music in the Medieval Sculpture Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday evening (with a repeat tonight). The principal offering was Pergolesi's dramatic, deeply emotional setting of the Stabat Mater. It was preceded by string arrangements of six pieces by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish composer who worked in Mantua, Italy, around the same time as Monteverdi, and wrote Hebrew Psalm and prayer settings in a lively madrigal style.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:26 PM

Rossini's Il turco in Italia in Hamburg

Scene from Il turco in Italia

Die Tigerin ist verschnurrt: Rossinis Oper "Türke in Italien" in Hamburg

von Manuel Brug [Die Welt, 22 Mar 05]

"Es werde Lichter", sprach der Libretto-Dichter und liess die Buffa-Puppen tanzen. Keine Charakter, sondern Typen, irgendwie geboren im ganz normalen Uraufführungswahnsinn italienischer Opernhäuser im frühen 19. Jahrhundert; fest am Faden hängend und ganz nach Bedarf herumgeschoben von ihren Schöpfern. Dieser Poeta in Gioachino Rossinis "Türke in Italien", der sich und seine Erfindungsnöte vorlaut zum Thema einer komischen Oper macht, ist ein ziemlich einmaliger Fall. Und deshalb immer öfter ein gefundenen Fressen als Alter Ergo für seine Regisseure.

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Posted by Gary at 2:59 AM

Simon Rattle Stirs Things Up At Salzburg

Simon Rattle

Was wird aus Osterfestspielen?

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 22 Mar 05]

Britten, Debussy und ein "Ring" aus Aix. Simon Rattle wirft in Salzburg alle alten Bräuche über den Haufen.

Da ist einmal das quirlige künstleri sche Ego des neuen Mannes: Si mon Rattle, als Nachfolger Clau dio Abbados bei den Berliner Philharmoniker sozusagen naturgemäss auch Chef der Salzburger Osterfestspiele, ist schon von seinem Selbstverständnis her das Gegenteil des Festivalgründers Karajan. Der hatte 1967 die Idee, Richard Wagners Gesamtkunstwerk mit seinen Berliner Philharmonikern im Orchestergraben auf mustergültige Weise zu präsentieren, in eigenen Inszenierungen; eine Tragödie, ganz aus dem Geiste der Musik geboren, sozusagen.

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Posted by Gary at 2:47 AM

Götterdämmerung at Chicago Lyric

Jane Eaglen

Gods' twilight burns brightly at Lyric

By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 20 Mar 05]

The world ended at around 10:45 p.m. WST (Wagner Standard Time) Saturday night at the Civic Opera House, where gods and mortals perished in a stylized apocalypse of fire and flood.

The self-sacrificing Brünnhilde (Jane Eaglen) delivered her moving eulogy to the hero Siegfried (John Treleaven) atop his funeral bier. The Rhinemaidens reclaimed their stolen gold. A sumptuous flood of sound welled up from the orchestra pit, signaling the impending rebirth of a world redeemed by love.

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All participants are winners in 'Ring' marathon

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun Times, 21 Mar 05]

Lyric Opera has been a tease this season. It's now offering a preview of the delights that will be available March 28, when the company revisits one of opera's most daunting challenges, Wagner's cycle of four interrelated works, "The Ring of the Nibelung," in three cycles through mid-April.

In the fall, Lyric presented "Das Rheingold,'' the first "Ring'' opera, as part of its 2004-05 subscription season. On Saturday, the company gave the first of two nonsubscription performances of "Gotterdammerung,'' the cycle's final opera. Judging from Saturday's performance, starring Jane Eaglen as Brunnhilde and British tenor John Treleavan as Siegfried, Lyric's upcoming "Ring'' cycles will close with resounding success.

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Posted by Gary at 2:39 AM

BACH: Weinen, Klagen — Cantatas BWV 12, 38 & 75

J. S. Bach: Weinen, Klagen — Cantatas BWV 12, 38 & 75
Carolyn Sampson (soprano); Daniel Taylor (counter-tenor); Mark Padmore (tenor); Peter Kooy (baritone); Collegium Vocale, Philippe Herreweghe
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901843 [CD]

One of the greatest challenges in compiling a recording of J. S. Bach's cantatas must be choosing which cantatas to group together. For his Harmonia Mundi release, Weinen, Klagen..., Philippe Herreweghe selects three cantatas that represent the human experience of "desolation and comfort." These two themes are so central to Lutheran theology they could in fact be found in any number of Bach's cantatas. Nevertheless, the three cantatas on this recording reflect the variety across Bach's output. "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen" BWV 12, comes from Bach's period in Weimar, the double cantata, "Die Elend sollen essen" BWV 75, was the first work Bach presented at his new post in Leipzig, and "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" BWV 38 is based strictly on the chorale tune throughout the entire work. Despite their differences, all of these works make the theological transition from earthly desolation to eternal comfort.

Avid Bach listeners have favorite performers and interpreters of his works. Some prefer a romantic fuller sound, while another trend embraces single-part speed demons. Philippe Herreweghe helps carry out the resurgence of historically informed performance with this disc, finding clarity and integrity in both music and text without embracing an extreme. His chorus, soloists, and instrumentalists perform as equals within an almost chamber-like ensemble. Herreweghe capably leads this group crafting virtuosic playing and singing into a fresh emotional vision of God's saving grace from human sorrow.

The soloists on this disc, Carolyn Simpson, Daniel Taylor, Mark Padmore, and Peter Kooy are all early music specialists with a strong handle on Baroque style and practice. Padmore leads the group with his strong tenor and ability to capture the pathos of Bach's text setting. He contrasts excruciating inflection on the "pain" melismas with an assured conviction of the closing statement of truth in "Sei getreu" of BWV 12. Soprano Carolyn Simpson also demonstrates a sure and flexible voice. Her lucid sixteenth note triplet and thirty-second note runs in the "Ich nehmen mein Leiden" aria of BWV 75 burst with a rapturous, florid joy.

The highlight of this recording is the Collegium Vocale Ghent. The consort of seventeen voices sings with intention and conviction. The sound is full enough to match the colorful timbres of oboes, trombones, and trumpets, but facile enough to negotiate the complex Baroque musical lines. The clear warm tone is equal across all parts helped by the mixture of male and female voices singing alto. From the dripping torment of "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen," to the empty despair of "Aus tiefer Not," and the simple confidence of the chorale "Was Gott tut" in both BWV 12 and 75, the chorus easily spans the gamut of human emotions between desolation and comfort.

Adam Luebke

Posted by Gary at 2:31 AM

March 21, 2005

Les Ours du Scorff at Mino and Other Children Festivals

Cecilia Beaux: Study of Two Breton Women, Concameau, France (1888)

Les chansons à tiroir des Bretons Les Ours du Scorff

Bruno Lesprit [Le Monde, 21 Mar 05]

Sous le nom des Ours du Scorff, un quintette breton spécialisé dans les airs folkloriques destinés aux enfants de 4 ans et plus. En douze ans d'existence, cette formation est devenue une référence de la chanson jeune public, régulièrement invitée par les festivals spécialisés (Mino et, samedi 19 mars, celui de Magny-les-Hameaux, dans les Yvelines). L'explication de cette réussite tient en un mot : tradition. Non comme forme de réaction, mais comme désir de transmission.

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Posted by Gary at 3:14 PM

Bach Restored in Japan

Joshua Rifkin

Une cantate de Bach ressuscitée au Japon en première mondiale

AFP [21 Mar 05]

TOKYO (AFP) - Une cantate profane longtemps perdue de Jean-Sébastien Bach a été ressuscitée ce week-end à Tokyo, en première mondiale, sous l'inspiration et la direction du chef américain Joshua Rifkin.

La "Cantate du Mariage BWV216" a été retrouvée il y a un an, complètement par hasard, dans les papiers d'une pianiste japonaise, Chieko Hara. Décédée en décembre 2001 à l'âge de 86 ans, Mme Hara avait fait une grande partie de sa carrière en Europe.

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Posted by Gary at 2:38 PM

Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Recital

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Photo: Pavel Antonov)

Enchanted Evenings


Dmitri Hvorostovsky is one of the finest singers we have, whether in opera, in song, or in oratorio. (Instead of oratorio, I should say Russian liturgical music - that is one of his real strengths.) We even hear Mr. Hvorostovsky in Italian popular songs. They're not especially Italian, but they're enjoyable.

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Posted by Gary at 2:25 PM

Kafka's Trial Premieres in Copenhagen

Franz Kafka

Kafka's Trial, Operaen, Copenhagen

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 15 Mar 05]

Five years ago the Danish composer Poul Ruders scored quite a hit with his first opera, The Handmaid's Tale. The acclaim in Denmark was enough to send the opera flying off on the international circuit, touching down with a flop in London, but buoying itself up for further success elsewhere.

Quick to seize the initiative, the Royal Danish Opera commissioned Ruders to write a second opera for the opening season of its new opera house and the result is Kafka's Trial -more of the same, you might say, as both the original novels deal with societies in the grip of totalitarian regimes, but there is a twist to come.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Kafka on Trial, Opera Fans in Heaven

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 14 Mar 05]

COPENHAGEN, March 13 - The inaugural production at the new $441 million home of the Royal Danish Opera was a traditional staging of Verdi's "Aida," which opened in late January. This conventional choice was mandated by the 91-year-old Maersk McKinney Moller, Denmark's wealthiest man, who footed the bill for the complex and, more controversially, inserted himself into its design.

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Kafka's Trial

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 15 Mar 05]

Copenhagen has a new opera house: a handsome, imposing building on a reclaimed docklands site a short walk and a five-minute boat ride away from the theatre the Danish Royal Opera used to call home. The house opened last month with Verdi's Aïaut;da, but the company has wasted no time in getting a specially commissioned opera into the building, with the premiere of Poul Ruders' Proces Kafka, or Kafka's Trial.

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by ALEX ROSS [The New Yorker, 28 Mar 05]

Two new operas: Ruders's "Kafka's Trial," Adamo's "Lysistrata."

The Danish composer Poul Ruders is one of contemporary music's free agents--a lover of sweet melodies with a yen for dark chords, a comedian with a flair for apocalypse. His previous opera, "The Handmaid's Tale," made sonic thunder out of Margaret Atwood's novel of a dystopian America ruled by Christian fundamentalists. His major orchestral pieces--"Thus Saw Saint John," the "Solar Trilogy," a First Symphony subtitled "Rejoicing from the Heavens, Grieving Unto Death"--unfold hypnotically wayward narratives that reel from antic joy to frozen despair. (There are excellent recordings on the Bridge and Da Capo labels.) Ruders has a special knack for reinventing familiar tonal harmonies and styles; he uses them sometimes to mourn lost worlds, sometimes to suggest otherworldly innocence, sometimes to convey the banality of evil. All these devices are hurled at the audience in his latest work, "Kafka's Trial," which had its première on March 12th at the Royal Danish Theatre.

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Posted by Gary at 2:01 PM

Maria Cebotari sings Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Strauß and Gounod

Maria Cebotari sings Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Strauss and Gounod
Living Voices Series
Hänssler Classic 94502 [CD]

So often we get wrapped up in today's world of great performers that we forget the performers of the past who, directly or indirectly, influenced these performers and shaped the characters they play. Not one singer today can boast working side by side with Richard Strauss or living in Puccini's heyday, but Maria Cebotari (1910-1949) could. Thanks to a brilliant re-mastered recording by Hänssler Classic, we are now able to take part in signature performances of a woman who is known as the "predecessor" to Maria Callas.

Born in Russia-Bessarabia, Cebotari discovered a singing voice at the age of four, and began singing solos in the church choir and entered the local conservatory at the age of fourteen. Discovered by Count Alexander Virubov, an actor and manager of a Moscow touring theater company, he and Cebotari fell in love and married in Paris. After only three months of intensive vocal study with Oscar Daniel, Cebotari received a three-year contract in Dresden with Fritz Busch. At the age of twenty-one, she debuted at the Semperoper as Mimi in La Bohème in 1931. She also performed in modern operas and created roles in operas by d'Albert, Lothar, Heger and Sutermeister. Her most important creation was Aminta in Richard Strauss' Die Schweigsame Frau, as the composer was a great admirer of the young singer.

Like her whirlwind debut, Cebotari reined the opera world for only eighteen years, dying of liver cancer in 1949. Surprisingly, most of the arias chosen for the Hänssler Classic CD are those recorded near her death. Thomas Voigt asks, "Can one listen to those lines in Maria Cebotari's recording of Ariadne's monologue without being moved by the fact that the soprano died of cancer at the age of 39, especially if one knows that the recording was made only months before her death?"

Cebotari's voice is an amazingly flexible instrument, displaying florid virtuosity and bell-like tone in Konstanze's "Martern aller Arten" while also executing powerful drama and vocal range in Ariadne's "Es gibt ein Reich." Her rendition of Cio-Cio-San's "Un bel di vedremo" is an extremely sensitive and moving interpretation. Unlike meatier sopranos, Cebotari has a slightly lighter weight for Puccini and Verdi, yet this allows for a more buoyant line and freedom to execute an expressive range with florid portamenti. Both Mozart's Countess Almaviva and Konstanze are jewels for her lyric voice. Her dynamics run along a smooth continuum of warm, honeyed tone and excited breath, which proves for a flawless performance both vocally and expressively.

Hänssler Classic's "Maria Cebotari" is an excellent way to broaden your library, adding yet another interpretation which is that much closer to the original performance of the opera or aria. This recording might even inspire you to reevaluate your favorite performers of the twentieth century!

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 3:51 AM

The Irreplaceable Beverly Sills

Wanted: A New Cheerleader for Opera

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 20 Mar 05]

OF all the times Beverly Sills was host of the "Tonight" show, her favorite was in 1977, when her guests were three of her closest confidantes: the comedian Carol Burnett, the perky singer and television host Dinah Shore and the pop chanteuse Eydie Gorme. The women got into a spat over who was whose best friend, then kidded the wholesome Ms. Shore about her current beau, the heartthrob actor Burt Reynolds.

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Posted by Gary at 3:41 AM

James Levine on Opera in Concert

James Levine

Return music to center of opera, panelists say

By Richard Dyer [Boston Globe, 20 Mar 05]

CAMBRIDGE -- James Levine doesn't like pushy producers and stage directors any more than most opera lovers do.

In a panel discussion at Harvard last Monday centered on the BSO's recent performances of Wagner's ''The Flying Dutchman," the music director spoke about the advantages of opera in concert.

''What I stage in my head gives me more pleasure than what I encounter sometimes," Levine admitted. ''And while you are losing a theater in a concert performance, and that's important, there is often a new level of expression in the singing and the playing. And for me 70 to 80 percent of the success of an opera depends on how expressively it is sung."

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Posted by Gary at 3:12 AM

March 20, 2005

Dvorák's Requiem in Munich

Antonín Dvorák

Seufzer und Sehnsüchte

Herkulessaal: Antonín Dvoráks Requiem mit Mariss Jansons

[Merkur Online, 20 Mar 05]

Schön ist, dass sich das Werk Einordnungen entzieht. Monumentalen Aufgipfelungen wie im "Tuba mirum" steht ein opernhafter Gestus gegenüber, volkstümliche Ausgelassenheit ("Quam olim Abrahae") kontrastiert zu einem charakteristischen, herbstlich verhangenen Tonfall. Und verklammert wird alles durch ein immer wiederkehrendes, kurzes Motiv. Eine Umspielung des Tones "F", Seufzer und sehnsuchtsvolle Gebärde zugleich.

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Posted by Gary at 2:51 AM

The Opera That Changed a Career

Dmitry Shostakovich

A Russian's Quiet Composition

BY MARILYN ALVA [Investor's Business Daily, 21 Mar 05]

He was the toast of the new Russian Communist regime, a young composer who had captivated audiences under the banner of the emerging cultural revolution.

But in 1936, Dmitry Shostakovich's reputation plummeted after Stalin attended his immensely popular opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk, at the Bolshoi Theater.

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Posted by Gary at 2:37 AM

Giordano's Andrea Chenier in Glasgow

Andrea Chenier, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

CONRAD WILSON [The Herald, 16 Mar 05]

GIORDANO'S advice to aspiring Italian composers was simple. "Find a good song and then build an opera around it," he told them. In his own Andrea Chenier, he proved his point. It may not be nineteenth-century Italy's greatest opera, but it does contain a good song. Indeed, it contains more than that. Luigi Illica, Puccini's favourite librettist, wrote the words. The French Revolution provides an inspirational context. The doomed lovers give it romantic focus. There is a passionate, complex villain who repents too late. The secondary roles are clearly etched, and the chorus is allotted some stirring music.

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Fact and fiction in glorious collision

Live Classical By Frank Carroll [The Herald, 20 Mar 05]

IN this splendid concert version of Giordano's most widely performed opera, Sir Richard Armstrong, the orchestra and chorus of Scottish Opera and an outstanding team of soloists provided some of the best moments of operatic verismo I have heard in an age.

A concert performance of a late 19th century grand opera may seem a bit of a contradiction in terms, but the torrid intensity of Giordano's score was played and sung with such commitment that as the drama developed, sets, lighting and costumes in the end were hardly missed, while the music itself was heard in perhaps a more concentrated, closely focused form. It is quite remarkable that the members of the chorus (who are soon to lose their jobs), can sing at all, let alone muster so much enthusiasm for their work.

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Posted by Gary at 2:28 AM

Muti: Going, Going, Gone? — Bring on Pappano

Conductor downs baton at La Scala

John Hooper in Rome [The Guardian, 14 Mar 05]

The opera house La Scala was in crisis last night after its musical director, Riccardo Muti, said he would no longer conduct the orchestra, and the chairman of the board proposed handing the running of the theatre to government-placed commissioners.

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The public and Muti see opera differently

By David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 16 Mar 05]

Former Philadelphia Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti has walked out so visibly and famously on major operatic institutions in the past that even credible news sources are assuming he's on the verge of doing the same amid the escalating turbulence at his artistic home of 20 years, the legendary La Scala opera company.

Muti has, at this point, canceled performances only with Filarmonica alla Scala, the concert incarnation of the opera company's pit ensemble. "At the moment," reads a Muti statement from earlier this week, "there are not the conditions for us to play music together." Note the "at the moment" part.

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"Muti si è dimesso". Ma la Scala smentisce

Dall'assemblea sindacale era arrivato stamane un invito quasi unanime a lasciare. Poi l'attacco al sindaco Albertini e al cda
I lavoratori della Scala votano per chiedere le dimissioni di Muti e Meli (Emmevì)

[Corriere della Sera, 16 Mar 05]

MILANO - La situazione della Scala, il piu famoso teatro del mondo, è sempre piu critica. In un'altra giornata di tensione, sono circolate voci insistenti di una ddio del maestro Riccardo Muti. Secondo fonti sindacali le dimissioni erano state già presentate. Poi la Scala ha smentito: Riccardo Muti resta al suo posto di direttore artistico. Ma resta il fatto che le tensioni accumulate dopo il licenziamento di Carlo Fontana e l'arrivo di Mauro Meli al suo posto, sono giunte ormai al culmine. E che la Scala si trova in una situazione di pericoloso stallo, con lavoratori e sindacati schierati contro Meli e, di conseguenza, anche contro Muti che l'ha voluto. Il rischio è la paralisi. E inevitabilmente il caso-Scala è un caso politico ormai non piu soltanto locale. Dopo il consiglio comunale di lunedì scorso e le dichiarazioni del sindaco Gabriele Albertini (che li ha accusati di "voler affondare il vascello del teatro" e ha mosso critiche pesanti a Fontana), i lavoratori stamattina hanno chiesto le dimissioni di Muti e del nuovo sovrintendente Mauro Meli con una mozione votata dalla quasi unanimità dei presenti (tre contrari, due astenuti). Albertini accusa la sinistra di voler logorare Muti

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Scala, giallo sulle dimissioni di Muti
Prima l'annuncio, poi la smentita

In mattinata la voce che il maestro aveva deciso di andarsene

[La Repubblica, 16 Mar 05]

MILANO - Giallo intorno alle dimissioni di Riccardo Muti. Stamani erano corse voci insistenti secondo cui il direttore musicale della Scala avrebbe rassegnato le dimissioni dopo l'assemblea dei lavoratori che aveva chiesto la sua testa e quella del sovrintendente Mauro Meli nominato appena un mese fa. Ma nel pomeriggio, il teatro ha smentito ufficialmente.

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Scala di Milano, dimissioni
di Muti tra voci e smentite

Lavoratori in rivolta: via tutti

[La Stampa, 16 Mar 05]

MILANO. L'assemblea del lavoratori della Scala ha chiesto oggi le dimissioni del direttore musicale Riccardo Muti e del nuovo sovrintendente, Mauro Meli. L'atto di sfiducia è stato votato sostanzialmente all'unanimità, tra i circa settecento presenti all'assemblea alla Scala. Due i contrari, tre gli astenuti, tutti gli lavoratori favorevoli. L'esito della votazione è stato accolto con un applauso.

Se ne vadano i vertici del teatro, a cominciare dal maestro Riccardo Muti. Così l'assemblea dei lavoratori della Scala ha deciso stamani approvando una mozione di sfiducia fra gli applausi. Nel documento si chiede al cda di dimettersi solo dopo aver "azzerato" le proprie decisioni "a partire" dalla nomina del nuovo sovrintendente Mauro Meli. Per il direttore musicale, Riccardo Muti, la richiesta è di "rassegnare le dimissioni dal proprio incarico".

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Operatic Battle at La Scala Calls for Muti's Head

By Jane Barrett [Reuters, 16 Mar 05]

MILAN (Reuters) - An operatic feud at Milan's La Scala came to a head on Wednesday when hundreds of workers called for music director Riccardo Muti to resign from the house he has run with an iron baton for almost 20 years.

From backstage hands and bassoonists to baritones and ballerinas, the people behind La Scala's glamorous image added mutiny to the theatrical ego battles and off-stage maneuvering that have shaken the famed opera house over the past weeks.

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Antonio Pappano

Can a British baton charge restore order at La Scala?

From Richard Owen in Rome [Times Online, 19 Mar 05]

THE opera world is eyeing two British-based conductors as potential saviours of La Scala opera house, which has cancelled this month's programme amid a bitter power struggle and staff revolt.

Staff voted overwhelmingly at an emergency meeting this week for the removal of La Scala's charismatic but allegedly dictatorial director of music. Barely three months after renovations costing O60 million (#43 million) were completed, the conductor, Riccardo Muti, has cancelled performances and told his rebellious musicians: "The conditions no longer exist for us to make music together."

Click here for remainder of article.

Riccardo Muti: The monster of Milan

By David Mellor [The Independent, 20 Mar 05]

The opera has seen its fair share of prima donnas. But generally they appear on the stage, not in front of it wielding a baton. And few can match the tantrums, demands and vanity of the conductor of La Scala, whose behaviour led to a walk-out last week by the entire house. Franco Zeffirelli described him as 'drunk on himself' and accuses him of debasing his art. And that's not the half of it...

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Posted by Gary at 2:23 AM

Edinburgh International Festival — 2005
Gets Off to a Rough Start

Hijack opera in Edinburgh line-up

A controversial opera about terrorism is one of the highlights at this year's Edinburgh International Festival.

[BBC News, 17 Mar 05]

Scottish Opera will perform The Death of Klinghoffer - a work inspired by the 1984 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.

The festival - which runs from 14 August to 4 September - will feature music, drama, ballet and music from around the globe.

Click here for remainder of article.

Curtain rises on feast of Festival attractions

BRIAN FERGUSON [The Scotsman, 17 Mar 05]

Highlights include
* Nuts CocoNuts, an English-language version of Jordi Milan's Spanish hit
* The works of Irish playwright JM Synge performed in a single day
* Scottish Opera's The Death of Klinghoffer, based on a cruise ship hijacking murder;
* Blackbird, a "darkly intense" new play by Scot David Harrower;
* Swan Lake, touted as the pick of the dance programme;
* The BBC SSO's opening gala performance of Verdi's Requiem

Key quote:
"Commissioning and creating our own work, and bringing together international artists and companies to work in new ways, ensures that the Festival remains the essential destination for everyone interested in the arts, whether from Tokyo, Los Angeles, or just around the corner." Brian McMaster, festival director.

Click here for remainder of article.

Classical parings

KENNETH WALTON [The Scotsman, 19 Mar 05]

THE ALARM BELLS SOUNDED A FEW weeks ago when Edinburgh International Festival director Brian McMaster put out the plea for a rescue package. Not only were there to be no late-night #5 concerts at this year's festival - a series he has always said is politically desirable but financially extravagant - but he needed an additional six-figure sum simply to make the bare bones break even. That, essentially, is what he has given us in this year's music programme - one main evening concert a night, three staged operas, and the usual daily diet of Queen's Hall midday recitals.

If quantity was the benchmark, there might be something to complain about. After all, this formula takes us back almost a decade, to the days before McMaster added distinctive flavouring to the festive menu: first, with early evening aperitifs (the Wolf Lieder series, for example) and occasional late-night cocktails; then such geographically exciting picnics as the walkabout "Music of the Millennium" or "Organs of Edinburgh" series; then, finally, the fixed-price five-pounders that have transformed the past two festivals with their offbeat programming and younger appeal.

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Posted by Gary at 2:19 AM

Madama Butterfly at New York City Opera

Lori Phillips

The Sharp Clarity of a Romantic Obsession

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Time, 19 Mar 05]

The central image in Mark Lamos's production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" is a traditional Japanese house, magnified to the size of the New York City Opera stage. With its sliding doors, clean lines and open spaces, this set, designed by Michael Yeargan, is the very picture of clarity. And for Butterfly, everything within it - her life with Pinkerton, then the memory of that life and the promise of its resumption - is entirely clear. It's the more complicated world outside that has turned murky, and by avoiding the clutter that often accrues to a "Butterfly" staging, Mr. Lamos has emphasized that tragic delusion.

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Posted by Gary at 2:04 AM

March 19, 2005

Parsifal at La Fenice

Richard Wagner

A Venise, la quete mystique d'un Parsifal magistralement chorégraphié par Denis Krief</strong.

Nouvelle production du chef-d'œuvre wagnérien à La Fenice.

Venise de notre envoyée spéciale [Le Monde, 18 Mar 05]

Une tristesse flottait sur Venise en ce jour de la première de Parsifal à La Fenice, nouvelle production du chef-d'œuvre wagnérien depuis celle de Pier Luigi Pizzi en 1983. Temps instable au-dehors, vent de la révolte à l'intérieur : le syndicat autonome Libersind et les personnels du théâtre appelaient à la grève générale, le mardi 15 mars, pour protester contre leurs conditions de travail.

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Posted by Gary at 3:42 PM

March 17, 2005

The Itinerant Mozart

W. A. Mozart


Music Director Louis Langrée Leads 11 Concerts with the
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra

Guest Artists Include Emanuel Ax, Emma Bell, Joshua Bell, Till Fellner, Renée Fleming, James Galway, Stephen Hough, Louis Lortie, Garrick Ohlsson, Gil Shaham, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet


  • Opening Live From Lincoln Center PBS telecast led by Maestro Langrée
  • First Mostly Mozart programs in the new Rose Theater feature Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in Peter Sellars' acclaimed staging of Bach Cantatas
  • U.S. debut of the Russian Patriarchate Choir with Anatoly Grindenko
  • U.S. debut of period ensemble Concert d'Astrée led by Emmanuelle Haim
  • Expanded "A Little Night Music" late-night concert series features Emanuel Ax, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Gil and Orli Shaham, and others
  • Mark Morris Dance Group in Handel masterpiece
  • Music on Film: Great Violinists Play Mostly Mozart

March 16, 2005, New York, NY-The 39th season of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts' Mostly Mozart Festival, which runs from July 28 to August 27, was announced today by Jane S. Moss, Vice President for Programming, and Music Director Louis Langrée. Now in his third season as Music Director, Maestro Langrée conducts the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra (MMFO) in 11 concerts of seven different programs during the Festival. This summer's Festival will have a special focus on Mozart's travels and influence in Paris, Prague, London, Italy, and Russia, which will be explored through MMFO concerts, programs with visiting ensembles, late-night concerts, and pre-concert events. Mostly Mozart will begin on Thursday, July 28 with Louis Langrée leading the MMFO in a performance featuring soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Stephen Hough at Avery Fisher Hall. This performance will be broadcast on Lincoln Center's Emmy Award-winning series, Live From Lincoln Center.

The Mostly Mozart Festival is sponsored by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation and The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation. The Festival's corporate sponsor is Bank of America.

"Mostly Mozart continues to evolve its programmatic vision with each new season, and this summer we continue to move the Festival in expanded directions with our focus on Mozart's travels," said Jane S. Moss, Vice President for Programming. "We look forward to offering our audiences the musically rich and multi-layered Festival that we have created for this summer."

Mostly Mozart Music Director Louis Langrée said, "I greatly look forward to my third season working with the MMFO, and to the other programs we have assembled for this Festival. The impact of Mozart's travels on his own music, as well as that of his contemporaries, is a musical subject that has fascinated me for a long time. I am very pleased that we are able to explore this important dimension of Mozart's life and musical development, and reveal to audiences a larger context for his genius."


This year's Mostly Mozart Festival will include a focus on Mozart's extensive European travels-both as a child prodigy and later in life. The Festival will explore how those experiences in Paris, London, Prague, and Italy influenced Mozart's work, and how, in turn, his music inspired composers in countries as far away as Russia, subsequent to his lifetime. In addition to music by Mozart written in or associated with these musical capitals, these themed concerts will feature music that Mozart was exposed to during his travels. With Russia, where Mozart did not travel, programs will feature later generations of composers for whom Mozart was a significant influence. The travels theme will span MMFO concerts, programs by visiting ensembles, late-night concerts, and pre-concert recitals. A series of pre-concert lectures will also explore 18th-century European concert life and travel. (See additional document on Mozart's travels for corresponding Mostly Mozart programs.)

Mostly Mozart 2005 offers more than 40 events in four weeks performed by over 55 celebrated artists and ensembles, in addition to numerous pre-concert lectures and recitals. The Festival begins with a concert and Live From Lincoln Center PBS telecast conducted by Maestro Langrée on July 28, and continues through August 27 with orchestral and chamber music performances by both modern and period-instrument ensembles; dance; a film series showcasing great violinists playing Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven; and an expansion of last season's new series of intimate "A Little Night Music" late-night concerts in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse.

[Source: Mostly Mozart Press Festival Release]

Posted by Gary at 9:07 PM

Festival Aix-en-Provence — 2005

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Patrice Chéreau revient à l'opéra à Aix-en-Provence

[Le Monde, 17 Mar 05]

Le directeur du Festival international d'art lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence, Stéphane Lissner, a dévoilé, mardi 15 mars, à Paris, le programme de la manifestation, qui aura lieu du 9 au 30 juillet.

Quatre nouvelles productions sont annoncées. Notamment un Cosi fan tutte, de Mozart, mis en scène par Patrice Chéreau - il n'avait plus touché à l'opéra depuis 1984 - avec Daniel Harding à la tete de son Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Lukas Hemleb mettra en scène La Clemenza di Tito, de Mozart, avec le Mahler Chamber Orchestra, dirigé par Paul Daniel. Le Barbier de Séville, de Rossini, sera monté par le Tchèque David Radok, dirigé par Daniele Gatti, avec l'Orchestre du Teatro comunale de Bologne.

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Posted by Gary at 8:16 PM

Faust at Opéra de Lille

"Faust" mieux joué que chanté

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 17 Mar 05]

Dans le Faust à l'affiche de l'Opéra de Lille, le véritable diable, c'est le metteur en scène écossais David McVicar. Grâce à son habileté méphistophélique, sa production peut plaire à tout le monde : à ceux qui revent de voir l'histoire racontée comme au bon vieux temps, sans relecture conceptuelle, et à ceux qui pensent qu'un tel morceau de patrimoine a besoin du second degré pour ne pas basculer dans le kitsch. Car dès le début de sa mise en scène, l'ironie règne en maître, meme si l'on n'en prend conscience qu'à mesure que son bel univers se dérègle. Une loge de l'Opéra de Paris fait face à une tribune d'orgue d'église gothique : nous sommes bel et bien au théâtre, et si Méphisto a effectivement "la plume au chapeau et l'épée au coté", il les réajuste devant un miroir en pied avant de jouer ses tours. Des sortilèges qu'il extrait d'une malle à accessoires, tandis que Faust change d'aspect dans sa loge, face à une coiffeuse éclairée par des ampoules.

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Posted by Gary at 7:56 PM

Martin's Golgotha in Vienna

Frank Martin

Kritik Konzert: Wer mag die andere Passion hören?

Frank Martins selten gespieltes, rätselhaft irisierendes Oratorium "Golgotha" im Musikverein.

Zuerst viele Jahre lang Schweigen. Dann einige Aufführungen hintereinander: Frank Martins Schicksal ist symptomatisch für die Repertoire-Restriktionen in Wien. Immer dieselben Dinge verkaufen sich. Bei einem Werk wie Martins Passions-Oratorium "Golgotha" verlassen Abonnenten den Goldenen Musikvereinssaal bei erster Satzpausen-Gelegenheit. Die Bereitschaft, sich zur gegebenen Zeit mit anderem als den Bach-Passionen auseinander zu setzen, ist enden wollend.

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Posted by Gary at 7:42 PM

Cincinnati Opera Full Speed Ahead

Aprile Millo

'Nixon,' 'Tales' and 'Tosca'
Opera announces lineups for '06-'07

By Mary Ellyn Hutton [Cincinnati Post, 17 Mar 05]

Cincinnati Opera, on the move for the past half-dozen years, is not slowing down. Quite the opposite. The nation's second oldest opera company appears to be speeding up.

Just announced were the company's next two summer festivals.

The 2006 and 2007 seasons boast a star-studded lineup including the Cincinnati premiere of John Adams' "Nixon in China," famed soprano April Millo in the title role of Puccini's "Tosca," bass James Morris as the Four Villains in Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann," celebrated tenor Richard Leech as Faust in Gounod's "Faust" and the Midwest premiere of Emmanuel Chabrier's 1877 operetta "L'Etoile" ("The Star").

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Posted by Gary at 7:09 PM

Les Travailleurs De La Mer: Ancient songs from a small island

Les Travailleurs De La Mer: Ancient songs from a small island
The Harp Consort
Andrew Lawrence-King
Paul Hillier, bar.
HMU 907330 [CD]

Cast off the shores of Normandy, the tiny isle of Guernsey lies isolated between the two European powers of England and France. Guernsey, however, has remained independent since 1204, and its government, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, comprises the inhabited islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou and Lihou. Rich in an abundant culture and history, Guernsey is well-known for its sea ports, mystic pagan rituals, potent cider, and poetry.

While in political exile on the isle of Guernsey, Victor Hugo (1802-1885) wrote two pieces de resistance, Les Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea) and Les Misérables. He also stimulated a movement of local poets to write in Guernesiais, a mutation of medieval Norman-French and a traditionally unwritten tongue. Among these inspired poets was Georges Métivier (1790-1881), who "discovered" the folk poetry of Guernsey. He promises in his first book of poems, Rimes Guernesiaises, "popular legends, proverbs, sayings, allusions to ancient usages, even to popular mythology, local names, place names, traces of the ancient French language... for the learned man and the man of taste can re-discover a rich mine of memories..." Though the island's poets were educated men, their songs are saturated in the isle's folk-culture, encompassing themes such as morality, beauty of nature, love of the island, distrust of the clergy, and beautiful women.

Though some tunes survived from the medieval periods and other local music is clearly linked to 16th-century ballads and ground basses, there are some instances where no island melody survives. Here Andrew Lawrence-King, founder of The Harp Consort, began researching the folk traditions of Normandy and Brittany, to English ballads and French dances, in order to fuse together an appropriate synthesis of music and text.

Les Travailleurs de la Mer: Ancient songs from a small island featuring The Harp Consort and produced by Harmonia Mundi, is a unique jewel of a recording. Each piece is like looking through a window into Guernsey's mystic past, while being immersed in the beauty and drama of their rough language. The instrumental consort is amazingly free and unpredictable in its interpretation, moving easily from percussive, driving rhythms to flowing sonorities and fluid ornamentation. Even the sounds of the shawm and chifournie emulate Celtic drones and reedy timbres.

Normandy soprano, Clara Sanabras, reveals a stunning connection to the pure sonorities and naïaut;ve themes in these songs. With effortless vocal ornamentation and an easy phrasing, she completely captures all that is beautiful. Sanabras' voice, however, is not limited to purity of tone, but also displays a meatiness and fullness in several selections. "Les Filles du Câté" is one example where she infuses a masculine quality in the character. English baritone, Paul Hillier, successfully executes many of the more brazen character pieces. His broad interpretations stretch from the almost sleazy parlant recitative style in "Les filles des parreisses" to the meditative in "Seul et content".

A particularly marvelous recording, blending the unknown repertoire of Guernsey with superior performers, this is a must for any early music or folk enthusiast.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 3:03 AM

March 16, 2005

Per Questa Bella Mano at the Barbican

Constanze Mozart


Barbican, London

Tom Service [The Guardian, 15 Mar 05]

You don't expect absurdity in a concert of Mozart arias and instrumental music, but in bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff's concert with the period-instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the highlight was a work of Pythonesque weirdness.

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Posted by Gary at 7:29 PM

A Changing of the Guard at the Bayerische Staatsoper

Peter Jonas

Finale nach 13 Jahren

Die letzte Staatsopern-Saison von Peter Jonas

Zum Start eine Strauss-Oper unter Kent Nagano, ein Rossini-Zyklus mit Ivor Bolton am Pult, eine deutliche Erweiterung des Sänger-Ensembles: Das alles wird erst ab 2006/ 07 passieren, ab der ära Christoph Albrecht also. Doch zuvor erleben Münchens Opernfans die letzte Spielzeit unter der ägide von Sir Peter Jonas, die insgesamt 13., eine "lucky number", wie der Intendant findet.

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Posted by Gary at 7:13 PM

On Tour with William Christie

William Christie

Le Jardin des Voix

Robert Thicknesse at the Barbican [Times Online, 10 Mar 05]

HOW refreshing, you think, as Les Arts Florissants bounds on stage, to see an early-music combo whose contracts appear to contain no clauses forbidding visits to hairdresser, shoe-shop and dressing-table, no injunctions to wear nothing but sacking and zit cream. How delightful, how French. With William Christie's band, as Emcee in Cabaret might say, "Even ze orgestra is beaudiful."

Curious, then, to emerge a couple of hours later surfeited, not to say haggard, with the Frenchness of it all, like a prisoner forced to watch Jules et Jim rather more than he might wish. After this frenetic capering and winsomeness, all you long for is to see some chaste English performance, lowered eyes, bashful body-language and a level of feyness short of the plutonial.

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Les Arts Florissants, Barbican Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 10 Mar 05]

William Christie leads a double life - as founder and conductor of the period instrument group Les Arts Florissants, and as a horticulturist. The garden of his house outside Paris is said to be his pride and joy. When he comes to London, it is as likely to be for the Chelsea Flower Show as to conduct a concert. But, having honed his skills with plants, Christie has taken to cultivating young singers and this week saw the first appearance in the UK of his spin-off educational project, "Le Jardin des Voix".

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

A Baroque Boot Camp for Singers With a Gift

By AMANDA HOLLOWAY [NY Times, 15 Mar 05]

CAEN, France - The conductor William Christie's garden is a legend in the world of classical music. Those who are invited to visit his 16th-century chateau in the Vendée region of France come away rhapsodizing about the immaculate hedges, the velvet lawns, the charming bell tower and the rough stone dovecote. All is evidently in exquisite taste, not a blade out of place.

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Posted by Gary at 3:29 PM

March 15, 2005

Taking Risks in Montreal

Emmanuel Chabrier at Piano

Montreal Opera to Mount 3 Works It's Not Yet Done

By ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN [Globe and Mail, 15 Mar 03]

Toronto -- L'Opéra de Montréal plans to break with routine next year by presenting three operas the company has never done before.

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Posted by Gary at 10:47 PM

Carmen with a South African Twist

NYCO Poster of Carmen

Carmen clicks in Cape Town

[Daily Telegraph, 15 Mar 05]

British director Mark Dornford-May's daring transposition of Bizet's opera to a South African township has landed him a major film award - and a new wife. He talks to Jasper Rees

Last month, Mark Dornford-May stood on the stage of the Berlinale Palast at the climax of the Berlin Film Festival to accept the prestigious Golden Bear award. He is not the first British stage director to make an impact on his debut behind the lens. But he is easily the most improbable.

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Posted by Gary at 4:52 PM

Wiener Staatsoper — The Cost of Doing Business

Wiener Staatsoper

Debatte: Wie teuer darf denn Oper sein?

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 15 Mar 05]

Grosse Aufregung herrscht um die Anhebung der Kartenpreise in der Wiener Oper.

Die Wiener Staatsoper hat ihre Abonnement-Preise erhöht. Zum Teil so kräftig, dass Musikfreunde nun für ihre Karten beinahe doppelt so viel bezahlen müssen wie bisher. Ein Proteststurm war die Folge, der auch viel Kritik an der künstlerischen Gebarung des Hauses einschloss. Direktor Ioan Holender wollte diese im Zuge der Debatte über die Preiserhöhungen nicht kommentieren, sondern verwies an seinen Geschäftsführer, Thomas Platzer.

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Posted by Gary at 2:51 AM

Countertenors Victorious in Copenhagen

Copenhagen Opera House

High Flying Singing: Copenhagen's Baroque Feast

Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera's revival of Francisco Negrin's production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of "Rodelinda") is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, "Ich Habe Genug", reviewed elsewhere.

This taking over of Copenhagen by the men who sing high was augmented by two others: Chris Robson, also reprising his acting tour de force in the role of Tolomeo alongside Scholl, and a fascinating newcomer to the European opera scene in the form of young Michael Maniaci, a true male soprano in the small but pivotal role of Nireno. He was one of only two cast members new to the production, the other being John Lundgren as Curio. Once again, Lars Ulrik Mortensen conducted the baroque orchestra Concerto Copenhagen, this time more fully equipped in the horn section and sounding more comfortable in the most demanding of Handel's intricacies.

From a box-office point of view, this was a revival to ensure good returns on a known success story and it did not fail to come up with the goods in that department. Vocally too, the entire returning cast of Scholl, Inger Dam Jensen (Cleopatra), Randi Stene (Cornelia), Tuva Semmingsen (Sesto), Palle Knudsen (Achilla) all sounded far more in concert with both staging and each other, and many of the first-run lacunae have been filled or re-jigged to work more smoothly. However, it was also obvious that this staging still has its limitations and oddities that strike an uncomfortable note - the dead shark's appearance to loud audience laughter just prior to the emotionally-draining aria from an imprisoned Cornelia is still a dramatic disaster, whilst some of the more obvious visual jokes pall quickly.

Vocally, the stand outs were Semmingsen and Scholl. The young mezzo has matured vocally and dramatically and now makes a stunningly effective Sesto, showing great understanding of Handelian sensibilities yet also displaying confident cadenzas and ornaments all her own. She is lucky to have the build and features that adapt well to this part, and should be able to take this role almost anywhere in the world, should she wish to. Scholl's many fans were not disappointed by his performances during the first week - his renowned tone and technique, not to mention upstanding physique, fit this role extremely well, and there were some glorious moments once he had warmed up. If his "Aure, deh per pieta" lacked a little in legato silkiness compared to the first run, his singing in "Se Infiorito", the "duet" with the violinist on stage, was particularly elegant, charming and effortlessly virtuosic and also showed that he is now, at this stage of his career, beginning to feel more comfortable on the opera stage. A slight tendency to wave the hands around in moments of high emotion remains, but overall this was a much more satisfying dramatic performance than three years ago.

One young singer who will not have any such concerns on the dramatic front is Michael Maniaci - at 28 years old he is already showing an amazing ability to hold the eye whilst doing virtually nothing on the stage, coupled with an exciting strong true male soprano voice that promises much in roles written for the higher castratos of Handel's time. He has already had significant successes in such roles and as Monteverdi's Nerone in the United States (Wolf Trap, Glimmerglass, Chicago Opera Theatre ) as well as a much-discussed Cherubino at Pittsburg, and this was his European debut in a large house. Unlike in the original production three years ago, Nireno's one aria in Act 2 "Chi pede un momento" has been restored for Maniaci to sing, and he took full advantage of this opportunity. If the voice was still a little unfocused and uncontrolled from time to time, he showed excellent intonation, strength and true colour. One could look forward to hearing him in the title role of a major production Xerxes one day, and certainly as Sesto in the near future. Could this voice be the next big thing on the baroque opera scene, in the way that Daniels was a decade ago? Certainly it is an exciting prospect to whet the appetite of aficionados of the genre.

© Sue Loder 2005

Posted by Gary at 2:36 AM

March 13, 2005

Bernstein's On the Town at ENO

Leonard Bernstein

On the town

Robert Thicknesse [Times Online, 11 Mar 05]

IT IS easy to sniff at English National Opera's decision to stage Leonard Bernstein's first, unashamedly Broadway musical. Unlike some of his later work it has no "operatic" pretensions. But the Broadway musical was a continuation of opera by other means, and Bernstein maintained to the end of his life that, if opera had a future (which he doubted), it would be intimately tied up with the Broadway idiom that he helped to create.

The question with On the Town was what ENO thought that it could bring to the party with 17 performances which, say, a nine-month run in the West End could not.

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Posted by Gary at 2:34 PM

Leo Slezak sings arias by Wagner, Verdi and Meyerbeer

Leo Slezak sings arias by Wagner, Verdi and Meyerbeer
Living Voices Series
Hänssler Classic 94505 [CD]

Leo Slezak is generally regarded as a German tenor, although he was actually born in what is now the Czech Republic. But, Moravia, where he is from, was Austrian at the time, and had a significant German speaking population, with German the dominant language of the middle and upper classes. He made his debut in Brno (then Brunn), at a time when most opera performances were sung in German, and, to the best of my knowledge, all of his recordings were in that language or Italian (the great majority being in German). He made over 400 records from a wide repertory of German, Italian and French operas, as well as many Lieder and some operetta. His two published discographies list no records from Czech operas. The arias he recorded most frequently include 11 versions each of the Preislied and "Celeste Aida", nine of the "Ah, fuyez douce image" and seven of the "Roi du ciel" from Le prophète. His stage repertory could probably be divided into four more or less equal parts. Verdi predominated, with 133 performances of Radames, 130 of Otello, 91 of Manrico, and at least 41 of Riccardo. He also sang Ernani and the Duke in Rigoletto. Wagner and grand opera (comprising Elèazar, Raoul, Jean in Le prophète and Assad), were probably tied for second and third, with other composers, including Mozart, Boieldieu, Gounod, Puccini, etc. coming in fourth. His career was largely centered on Vienna, but also included an important stint at the Met, some stays in Brno, Breslau and Berlin during his youth, and guest appearances in many other centers. He has been described as everything from a "Heldentenor" (in many sources) to a large voiced lyric tenor (by Michael Scott, in his books on great singers). I would split the difference, calling him the German equivalent of a French "fort tenor", who could sing everything from Mozart to the lighter Wagner roles, and did.

My initial reaction on seeing the selections on the CD was a disappointment in that I felt that the "Heldentenor" aspects of his "fach" were over represented, with Wagner taking up more than half the playing time of the CD. But the Wagner excerpts chosen are so beautifully sung that all can be considered as being among the best recorded versions of each selection. Slezak was gifted with an outstandingly beautiful tenor voice (he was often called the German Caruso), which he used with great sensitivity, and a ringing top. His 1926 recording of the Rome narrative with Theo Scheidl demonstrates just what a wonderful Tannhäuser he must have been, as he was a great Stolzing and Lohengrin. His greatness in these roles is amply demonstrated by recordings of the "Am stillen Herd" and the "Preislied" from Meistersinger as well as his four excerpts from Lohengrin.

I am less enthusiastic about the "Ora e per sempre addio" which is greatly rushed, especially in the dramatic recitative. That, and the "Niun mi tema", sung at a more reasonable speed, are both in Italian. The other Italian arias are also better, although they suffer from the awesome competition of Italian tenors like Caruso, Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Martinelli and others.

On the other hand, I am disappointed by the sparsity of excerpts from the other main leg of his repertory: Grand opera. There is nothing from La juive (Eléazar was his fourth most frequently performed opera), or Die Königin von Saba and only two excerpts from Les Huguenots (one of which really is only the tenor half of the first movement of Raoul's duet with the Queen). Worse, the chosen version of "Roi du ciel", considered by many to be one of the tenor's most heroic records, is in rather poor sound.

My biggest complaint about this CD has nothing to do with Slezak's singing, but with the selection of excerpts. I would have retained all the Wagner, but would have dropped some of the Verdi, especially the "Ora e per sempre addio". In their place, I would have added his "Rachel quand du Seigneur", his magnificent "Komm o holde Dame" from La Dame blanche, and his equally beautiful "Magische Töne" from Die Königin von Saba. The result of omitting the last two, or possibly some of his Mozart arias, is that this CD fails to give a balanced picture of all of Slezak's abilities, including his outstanding mezza voce in a greatly varied repertory. Instead it seems to paint him as primarily a "Heldentenor", which is only a part of what he really was.

The above quibbles notwithstanding, I can recommend this CD in the strongest terms, and only express the wish that a more complete sampling of the tenor's work be made available to the general public.

Tom Kaufman

[N.B.: Many thanks to Francois Nouvion for his valuable help on Slezak's career, especially in Vienna.]

Posted by Gary at 2:38 AM

March 12, 2005

St. Matthew's Passion at Notre Dame

Dorothee Mields (Photo: Hanna Lippmann)

Bach et le disjoncteur

La critique de Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 12 Mar 05]

Il existe des appartements ou vous ne pouvez brancher à la fois la machine à laver, le téléviseur et le sèche-cheveux sans faire tout disjoncter. C'est un peu l'impression que l'on avait jeudi soir à Notre-Dame, pour la Passion selon saint Matthieu, dirigée par John Nelson. A peine le chef avait-il salué le public, que les projecteurs s'éteignirent soudain. Il fallut une demi-heure pour les rallumer un par un, et lorsqu'à 20 h 33, le dernier spot fut enfin rétabli, le courant sauta derechef ! Ce n'est qu'à 20 h 40 que le grandiose double choeur introductif put faire résonner les colonnes de Notre-Dame. On n'a pu qu'admirer le sang-froid des artistes, restés en scène tout du long, soumis à une pression que certains exorcisaient en plaisantant, d'autres en maintenant leur instrument au chaud ou en se concentrant.

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Posted by Gary at 6:43 PM

As Muti Suffers the Slings and Arrows

La Scala

Turbulenzen an der Scala: Wie Riccardo Muti in Bedrängnis gerät

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 12 Mar 05]

Der Maestro, bis dato unangefochtener Herrscher des Mailänder Opernhauses, kämpft auch mit politischen Problemen.

Die empörten Stimmen in Mailand scheinen voll und ganz in die hef tige Polemik einzustimmen, die der Dirigent und musikalische Leiter der Mailänder Scala, Riccardo Muti, via Offenen Brief gegen die Belegschaft seines Hauses gerichtet hat. Orchester und Chor streiken seit Tagen aus Protest gegen die von Muti betriebene Ablöse des Scala-Intendanten Carlo Fontana. Deshalb musste am vergangenen Donnerstag die Premiere der neuen Oper "Il dissoluto assolto" aus der Feder des italienischen Komponisten Azio Corghi abgesagt werden. Die Aufführung dieses auf einem Text von Literatur-Nobelpreisträger Jose Saramago basierenden Stückes wäre die erste Uraufführung gewesen, die Riccardo Muti seit seinem Amtsantritt 1986 dirigiert hätte.

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Posted by Gary at 4:39 PM

Something Alien in Baltimore

W. Somerset Maugham

Operatic issues flow in 'Alien Corn'

Premiere of work by Peabody pair

By Tim Smith [Baltimore Sun, 12 Mar 05]

Nearly a century ago, the great pianist and intriguing composer Ferruccio Busoni declared that the duty of the performer is to liberate music "from the deadness of the printed page and bring it to life again."

In The Alien Corn, an opera based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham and premiered Wednesday night at the Peabody Conservatory, a would-be musician faces the dreadful realization that no amount of study will enable him to conquer that deadness - "Not in a thousand years." All he can aspire to, he learns after playing for an eminent pianist, is to be "an accomplished amateur."

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Posted by Gary at 3:55 PM

Stravinsky's The Nightingale in Toronto

Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky genius and a great TSO

JOHN TERAUDS [Toronto Star, 10 Mar 05]

If you're going to attend one Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert this year, make it this one. There's nothing like leaving Roy Thomson Hall with your feet six inches off the ground -- especially when it's snowing.

It was an all-Stravinsky program the TSO presented last night, under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda, a young, patrician Milanese-born conductor who held the music and musicians in absolute control. The concert repeats tonight, offering Torontonians another earful of Stravinsky's genius, as expressed in his short, three-act opera The Nightingale (premiered in Paris in 1914) and the Symphony in Three Movements (debuted in New York, in 1946).

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From Rusia with Love and Harmony

ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN [The Globe and Mail, 12 Mar 05]

The Russian aristocracy's fondness for fairy-tale theatre must have seemed bitterly apt to the hard-headed Soviet regime that followed. But the czarist taste for the marvellous gave us the Tchaikovsky ballets, several fantastical operas by Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky's Firebird.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra revived a rare specimen from that era on Wednesday and Thursday, in two performances of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol. This pocket-sized opera, based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor and the Nightingale, drew a large and curious crowd of musicians, Russian émigrés and thrill-seeking listeners under 30.

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Posted by Gary at 2:38 PM

March 11, 2005

BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra

Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra
Philip Langridge, tenor; Frank Lloyd, horn; Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano
Northern Sinfonia; English Chamber Orchestra
Stuart Bedford, conductor
NAXOS 8.557199 [CD]

A spare and yet splendid masterpiece, Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings doesn't seem to make it into concert halls as often as it deserves. In the recording studio, however, it has fared well. Besides the classic recordings from the composer and his partner Peter Pears, esteemed versions from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Robert Tear, Ian Bostridge, and others have a place in the catalogue.

Naxos has resurrected a 1994 release from Collins Classics, featuring Philip Langridge and Frank Lloyd in the Serenade, with Langridge also singing the later Nocturne, and Ann Murray as Phaedra in a translation by Robert Lowell (perhaps for copyright reasons, the latter's text alone is not provided). A highly regarded Peter Grimes of recent years, Langridge has a knowledge and comfort with Britten's music that makes this an essential version for lovers of the Serenade, and with fine versions of the other pieces and at Naxos' very affordable cost, none should resist.

Stuart Bedford and the English Chamber Orchestra must be commended as well. Every detail of Britten's scoring must be sensitively rendered. In the bare, ghostly space Britten creates, any inadvertent scrape or miscue would tell, and harshly. Recorded in atmospheric, natural sound, a palpable chill sets in with the horn's initial tired, lamenting call. The strings perfectly render the glittery dew effect in the Tennyson "Nocturne" of the Serenade ("The splendor falls on castle walls..."). And when the "Dirge" begins to grow harsh, almost manic in its insistent rhythm, the orchestra has the tightly reined power called for.

Langridge doesn't force for effects. One listener may detect a slight irony in the dry pronunciation of "a mighty polypheme" at the end of a stanza in the Serenade's "Pastoral," but another may not hear that at all. Perhaps the vibrato widens a tad too much near the top, but the mood remains undisturbed. No one performer can inhabit all the moods and subtleties of such a masterpiece, but Langridge's version earns the highest distinction: it must be heard.

The two other works on the disc also receive first-class performances. The Nocturne of 1958 may not match the Serenade as an achievement, but it cannot be slighted. Naxos might have done well, however, to place Murray's Phaedra in the middle rather than at the end, at least for tonal variety. A very late piece - 1975 - Phaedra's spectral scoring and eerie effects - including a harpsichord - come across with insidious vitality.

Naxos deserves our thanks for reviving this fine recording, but we need other companies to step forward and record some of the other fine tenors of today in the Serenade. Just thinking of English-speaking singers, Michael Shade could well give a fine performance, as could another tenor making a name as Grimes, Anthony Dean Griffey. Or if the recording companies aren't interested, shouldn't the various symphonies and philharmonics be? Surely something other than the Four Sea Interludes, for example, can represent the work of this great composer in our concert halls.

In the meanwhile, the home concert hall of the lover of Britten's music can echo with the haunting music of this splendid disc.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

Posted by Gary at 1:40 PM

Tale of Tsar Saltan at the Mariinsky

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Archaic charm

By Galina Stolyarova [St. Petersburg Times, 11 Mar 05]

The new production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Tale Of Tsar Saltan, which premiered at the Mariinsky Theater on Tuesday, is like a happy child's dream: placid, multi-colored, entertaining - and it has a happy ending.

Three fair maidens late one night, sat and spun by candle-light, reads a line from Alexander Pushkin's 1832 poem upon which the opera is based. It tells the story of a beautiful girl, Militrisa, who marries Tsar Saltan and gives birth to a son. But her two envious and less fortunate sisters, ill-advised by an old woman named Barbarikha, deceive the Tsar, telling him that his wife has delivered a monster. The Tsar orders the mother and the baby to be put in a cask and thrown to the sea.

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Posted by Gary at 3:23 AM

Cav and Pag in Cardiff

Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Rian Evans [The Guardian, 10 Mar 05]

The Mascagni and Leoncavallo double bill was the very first staging ever undertaken by Welsh National Opera in 1946 and sentiment decreed that it should be played in the company's inaugural season at its new home. Elijah Moshinsky's production was created for WNO's jubilee and has done sterling duty. It has proved a glorious vehicle for both chorus and orchestra. And the moment when the battered truck that brings Pagliaccio's touring troupe on to the stage is emblematic.

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Posted by Gary at 12:27 AM

March 10, 2005

Bernstein's Candide in New York

(Photo: Dan Rest for Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Python parallel makes 'Candide' fun

By BOB HEISLER [NY Daily News, 10 Mar 05]

Anna Christy plays Cunegonde in NYC Opera's 'Candide.'
Monty Python fans waiting for "Spamalot" tickets can warm up happily at "Candide," City Opera's spring season opener at Lincoln Center.

If you can put aside any opera aversion, you'll find out it's not so completely different.

The orchestra is bigger, and the singers are stronger and louder. And the singing - in English - of what some consider Leonard Bernstein's greatest theater music, is compelling.

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In Best of Possible Worlds, House Could Be Smaller

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 10 Mar 05]

Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" opened on Broadway in 1956 at the 1,300-seat Martin Beck Theater. Watching the New York City Opera's production that opened on Tuesday night, a revival of the acclaimed 1982 staging by Harold Prince last seen at the company more than 15 years ago, I only wished that this mostly delightful production of Bernstein's richest musical theater work, with a book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler, could be played in a much smaller auditorium than the 2,700-seat New York State Theater.

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Review: Candide at Lincoln Center

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg [Newsday, 10 Mar 05]

Irony of fate: Two music dramas involving Grand Inquisitors and public executions are playing at Lincoln Center. In the Met's "Don Carlos," Verdi thunders and weeps, blessing the Inquisition's victims with a heavenly voice. In New York City Opera's "Candide," Leonard Bernstein spins a giddy, sardonic chorus: "Oh what a day/ for an auto-da-fé!" Hooded, abused prisoners stagger across the stage in both shows. Is someone trying to tell us something?

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Posted by Gary at 8:03 PM

This Year's Events at Ravinia

Chicago Skyline

Ravinia Festival breaks the silence

More than 130 events include banned works

By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 10 Mar 05]

Marching into its second century, the Ravinia Festival will surround James Conlon's first season as music director with more than 130 events, from the season opener on June 7 to the finale on Sept. 11.

Along with conducting the resident Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 12 of its 22 concerts, Conlon will launch multiyear surveys of Mahler and Mozart and the rediscovered works of composers whose music was suppressed by the Third Reich and remained forgotten for decades after World War II.

The American conductor, a major force in the modern revival of works banned by the Nazi regime, will inaugurate Ravinia's new Breaking the Silence series with a focus on Viktor Ullmann. The gifted German-Czech composer, who wrote more than 20 works in the Terezin concentration camp before dying in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, will be represented by his chamber opera "The Emperor of Atlantis," Symphony No. 2, Piano Concerto, String Quartet No. 3 and more.

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Posted by Gary at 7:44 PM

KÁLMÁN: Die Csárdásfürstin

Emmerich Kálmán: Die Csárdásfürstin
Yvonne Kenny (Sylva), Michael Roider (Edwin), Mojca Erdmann (Countess Stasi), Marko Kathol (Count Boni), Karl-Michael Ebner (Feri/Notary), Hellmuth Klumpp (General Rohnsdorff), Heinz Holecek (Prince), Yvonne Kálmán (Princess)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and Slovak Philharmonic Chorus, Richard Bonynge (cond.)
Naxos 8.660105-06 [2CDs]

Emmerich Kálmán's name may be familiar primarily to music lovers d'un certain âge, but between the world wars his operettas were as popular as those of Léhar and Strauss on both sides of the Atlantic. Die Csárdásfürstin (The Gypsy [or Czardas] Princess), which premiered in Vienna in 1915, is his best known, and for good reason. Its book by Leo Stein and Béla Jenbach sparkles and delights, but with reversals of fortune that leave the audience wondering until the last minute how love's complications will be resolved. The Budapest-born Kálmán (1882-1953; his fellow composition students included Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály) apparently was weaned on his homeland's melodies and czardas, which he mixes generously with Austrian waltzes to create a glorious portrait of the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The piece played the New Amsterdam Theater in New York in 1917 as The Riviera Girl, with a new book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse and added numbers by Jerome Kern.

The story is almost a cliché, but the librettists transform it into a tightly constructed plot that Hofmannsthal might have envied (and probably did, but would never admit it). Prince Edwin loves Sylva, a young cabaret singer. Of course, as in such stories, his family disapproves and wants him to marry a countess. Sylva is about to embark on an American tour with her manager, Boni. (She's a very successful young cabaret singer!) Edwin signs a document promising to marry Sylva in eight weeks. In those eight weeks he will almost marry the countess, Sylva and Boni try to trick him with a sham marriage, Sylva tears up the document and releases him from his promise, and all is finally resolved by means of -- heredity.

Heredity was popular with the Nazis, of course. The Jewish Kálmán was offered honorary Aryan citizenship, but he had the good sense to move first to Paris, then to America; he returned to Europe after the Second World War. The Nazis in the beginning years of their regime showed flexibility on what constituted "degenerate art" if it suited their purposes. A film version of Die Csárdásfürstin was a smash hit when it was released in 1934 by UFA, Germany's MGM. Nazi motion pictures chief Joseph Goebbels, who envisioned himself as Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg rolled into one, was known for his own affairs with actresses, one of which required Hitler's intervention when Goebbels's wife threatened to divorce him and the actress's irate husband reportedly roughed up the Propaganda Minister (a news item that didn't make it into the Völkischer Beobachter). But after the film's release, performances of Kálmán's works were banned.

At the work's premiere in 1915, some critics clamored that it was unpatriotic (probably Kálmán's being Jewish would make anything he wrote unpatriotic in their eyes), since it depicted a prince of the blood romancing an actress. Let's review the Hapsburg family's support of the arts for a moment. Even Emperor Franz Josef himself had something of a reputation for waiting around for the girls upstairs. The actress Katharina Schratt, "the illegitimate Empress of Austria" as pianist and wag Moriz Rosenthal called her, had been appointed Vorleserin (Reader) to Franz Josef and his wife so that the appearance of the Emperor's mistress at Schönbrunn or his summer villa at Bad Ischl would be "proper." Among the Emperor's three grandsons, the third, Otto, father of the final Emperor, Karl I, was notorious for being a stage-door Johnny. So, although being realistic is often at odds with being patriotic, Die Csárdásfürstin was definitely realistic in its reflection of social life at the center of the Empire.

Die Csárdásfürstin has seen two previous complete recordings: a heavyweight recording with Anna Moffo and René Kollo, conducted by Bert Grund, on Eurodisc, and one with Erika Köth and Benno Kusche, conducted by Franz Marszalek, on Acanta. Lotte Rysanek and Rudolf Christ recorded a generous selection of excerpts on MasterTone, and Thomas Hampson and Placido Domingo have recorded arias. The Moffo-Kollo recording includes much more dialogue than the new one, but that recording has a 101 Strings sound (and instruments prominently featured that I didn't hear on the new recording) that some listeners may not care for. The Rysanek recording is distinguished by Herbert Prikopa, who plays Boni as a Hungarian Maurice Chevalier.

Unless listeners are looking for most of the spoken dialogue on a recording, this new release is the one to buy. Tenor Michael Roider's voice isn't terribly attractive, but Yvonne Kenny brings a velvety warmness to Sylva, and Marko Kathol and Mojca Erdmann as Sylva's manager and the countess (think Max and the Baroness in The Sound of Music; one wonders if Lindsay and Crouse modeled them on these characters) mold the comic relief and soubrette roles into well-rounded characters. Most notable, however, is conductor Richard Bonynge, who brings such amazing familiarity with this style to Kálmán's Hungarian rhythms and melodies that the listener feels like throwing another handful of paprika in the Gulaschsuppe and shouting éljen!

In addition to Die Csárdásfürstin, the second disc holds selections from other Kálmán operettas: Der Zigeunerprimás (The Gypsy Violinist, which the composer considered his finest score), Die Faschingsfee (The Fasching [Carnaval] Fairy), Das Hollandweibchen (The Little Dutch Wife), and Der Teufelsreiter (The Devil's Rider).

The accompanying booklet includes a detailed synopsis of the operetta along with informative short descriptions of the other works. Both German and English librettos with track numbers are found on the Naxos web site, a commendable practice. This formerly popular mélange, with its well-written and still quite humorous book topped off by a frothy Schlag of waltz and czardas melodies, deserves a look by university opera theaters and smaller companies.

David Anderson

Posted by Gary at 2:04 AM

March 8, 2005

Ring des Nibelungen at the Wiener Staatsoper

Das Rheingold
at the Wiener Staatsoper

Ring-Interpretationen: Weltmärchen von Bayreuth bis Erl

[Die Presse, 08 Mar 05]

Bechtolf wird in Wien, Dorst auf dem Grünen Hügel inszenieren.

An der Wiener Staatsoper ist Wagners "Ring des Nibelungen" derzeit in der Inszenierung von Adolf Dresen zu sehen - das nächste Mal am 12., 17., 24. April und am 1. Mai unter der musikalischen Leitung der Australierin Simone Young. Wer der altbacken und teilweise lächerlich wirkenden Produktion überdrüssig ist, muss bis 2007 warten: Am 2. Dezember hat Sven-Eric Bechtolfs Neuproduktion der "Walküre" in Wien Premiere, am Pult steht Franz Welser-Möst. Die beiden sind ein eingespieltes Team. Bis 2009 wird der Regisseur, der am Burgtheater den "Reigen", "Cyrano de Bergerac" und "Leonce und Lena" inszeniert hat, auch die drei anderen Teile der Tetralogie in Szene setzen. Zu seinem Konzept wollte er noch nicht viel verraten. Er sehe Wotan aber nicht "mit Aktenkoffer" über die Bühne wandern und kann sich auch Walhall "nicht als Grossraumbüro" vorstellen. Bechtolf spielte damit auf die heftig gescholtene Bayreuther Ring-Inszenierung von Jürgen Flimm an, die im August 2004 das letzte Mal über die Bühne gegangen war.

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Posted by Gary at 8:25 PM

Muti Responds

Ricardo Muti

Defending La Scala At The Orchestra's Side

[Corriere della Sera, 8 Mar 05]

In a letter to the Corriere della Sera, Riccardo Muti comments publicly on the trouble-racked opera house after the controversial replacement of the superintendent, which provoked a strike and the cancellation of the current season's premieres. The conductor explains that for 20 years, he has been committed to promoting La Scala's artistic growth and defending its music.

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Posted by Gary at 8:11 PM

Die Walküre at Covent Garden

Die Walküre

Royal Opera House, London

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 7 Mar 05]

Any production of Wagner's Ring cycle needs some kind of coherence, so it is logical for a staging of Die Walküre to continue where the previous instalment, Das Rheingold, left off. In the case of the Royal Opera's new production, though, that turns out to be not such a good thing at all.

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Bryn Terfel's First Wotan as Horns and Hounds Bay

By PAUL GRIFFITHS [NY Times, 7 Mar 05]

LONDON, March 6 - The new Covent Garden production of Wagner's "Ring" revolved Saturday night into its second quadrant, with a performance of "Die Walküre" every bit as exciting as the "Rheingold" in December. Once again, the excitement was thoroughly and fundamentally musical, its dual sources in the singing and in the pit, where the company's music director, Antonio Pappano, made the score consistently intense and animated.

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Wo sich Wotan die Finger verbrennt

VON PETRA HAIDERER [Die Presse, 08 Mar 05]

Covent Garden präsentiert eine neue "Walküre" - Vorhang auf zum Sammelsurium lächerlicher Einfälle!

Der "erste Tag" von Wagners Büh nenfestspiel knüpft optisch direkt am "Vorabend" - Rheingold (Pre miere Dezember 2004) - an. Hunding hat offenbar den Göttern die Möbel abgekauft (Bühnenbild: Stefanos Lazaridis). Er ist bekanntlich ein rauer Bursche, die Ledersessel sind aufgeschlitzt, die raumhohe Terrassentür ist zerbrochen. Schmächtig statt "mächtig" haben die Wurzeln der Esche Platz. Den schönen Marmortisch der Götter hat der Haudegen unversehrt gelassen. Ein Glück, denn über den kullert Siegmund abgehetzt ins Zimmer. Sieglindes Gemach hängt schräg im Raum, einige Stufen führen hinauf. An der Decke surrt leise ein grosser silberner Ventilator.

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Royal season centrepiece leaves much to be desired

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 7 Mar 05]

After a decade of famine, London is feasting on Richard Wagner's four-part epic Der Ring des Nibelungen.

The longest and most ambitious work ever completed for the opera stage is packing in the crowds not just at the Royal Opera House, where Die Walküre opened on Saturday, but at the Coliseum, where The Twilight of the Gods will next month complete English National Opera's long-gestated Ring.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Amid the nonsense, a towering Terfel fulfils his destiny

[Daily Telegraph, 8 Mar 05]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Die Walküre at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden

No opera begins with more tense expectancy than Die Walküre, as Wagner's orchestra depicts the fugitive Siegmund running desperately through a storm.

Illustrating this breathtakingly dramatic music with strobe lighting is the first of many shallow theatrical clichés that mar Keith Warner's new staging - an infuriating mixture of the corny and chic, littered with gimmicky special effects (some of which went horribly wrong) to the detriment of grandeur and credibility.

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Posted by Gary at 8:00 PM

BRITTEN: Canticles I–V, The Heart of the Matter

Benjamin Britten: Canticles I-V, The Heart of the Matter
Philip Langridge, tenor; Jean Rigby, alto; Derek Lee Ragin, countertenor; Gerald Finley, baritone; Dame Judi Dench, speaker; Steuart Bedford, piano; Osian Ellis, harp
Naxos 8.557202 [CD]

Benjamin Britten is usually thought of as a musical dramatist on a large, operatic scale, but the instinct (or perhaps the inner necessity) to capture psychological conflict in music burst through in his smaller musical forms as well. His five canticles (not to be confused with the church parables) mirror Britten's artistic growth in his operas and other large-scale works from the late 1940s until shortly before his death.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "canticle" as "A song, properly a little song; a hymn" and secondarily as a hymn used on a recurring basis in church services. Britten didn't draw upon the Scriptures for the texts of his canticles, which resemble cantatas more than church hymns in scale and structure, but an intense religious spirit pervades them all.

Canticle I, My Beloved Is Mine, sets a text by the early-seventeenth-century Royalist poet Francis Quarles for tenor (originally composed for Britten's partner Peter Pears, of course) and piano. An interesting aspect of this canticle is the singer's references to a male lover ("So I my best beloved's am, So he is mine!" -- these words taken from the Song of Solomon). It has been assumed that Britten was expressing his feelings for Pears (publicly in 1947!) through the piece, especially its lovely ending, with the singer confident of his place in his lover's heart.

Britten biographer Humphrey Carpenter (who passed away recently) notes that Britten composed some of the canticles immediately after completion of an opera--in the case of Canticle I, Albert Herring -- forming an epilogue to the opera. The first scene of Herring has text taken from the same chapter of the Bible as Quarles drew upon, and of course Albert's sexual anxieties are relieved by the end of the opera, much as Britten's seem to be here. I think these pieces should more correctly be called pendants (quoting the OED again: "An additional statement, consideration, etc., which completes or complements another"; a companion piece) to the operas that precede them.

Canticle II, Abraham and Isaac, for tenor, alto (premiered by Kathleen Ferrier), and piano, is probably the most familiar of the set, as Britten reused parts of it in his War Requiem. Britten drew upon the Chester Miracle Play version of the story and turns the confrontation between Abraham and God into a true operatic scena. God (sung in a high union by the tenor and alto) and man are far apart here -- God in the key of E-flat, Abraham in the key of A -- but by the end God and man are reconciled in a hushed Be-still-and know-that-I-am-God E-flat major. Carpenter suggests that Canticle II forms a companion piece to the recently completed Billy Budd, as Melville's novella compares Vere's feeling for Billy to Abraham's for Isaac when he is commanded to sacrifice him.

Canticle III, Still Falls the Rain, sets a poem by Dame Edith Sitwell, "The Raids 1940. Night and Dawn," for tenor, horn, and piano. The most overtly religious text among the five canticles, this piece, achingly beautiful in its anguish, followed closely upon the completion of The Turn of the Screw and uses a similar twelve-note theme and variation technique. Britten set this canticle into a larger-scale work for the 1956 Aldeburgh Festival that he called The Heart of the Matter. In this adaptation, recorded here for the first time in a revision by Pears after the composer's death, Britten surrounds the canticle with readings from other Sitwell works (read here by Dame Judi Dench) and a sung prologue, song ("We Are the Darkness in the Heat of Day"), and sung epilogue. The additional musical numbers can't be said to stand up against most of the songs in Britten's oeuvre, but they are attractive in context here.

Canticle IV, The Journey of the Magi, breaks new ground in the canticles by using three voices: countertenor, tenor, and baritone, with piano. A setting of the T. S. Eliot poem, it echoes the themes of religious questioning in the previous two canticles as the wise men, years after their journey to Bethlehem, ponder the significance of what they had seen there. In this recording the exquisite Derek Lee Ragin sings the countertenor part; one can't imagine a more perfectly realized performance. The magical ending, as the three voices weave aethereal harmonies, must be much like what Prospero heard as Ariel kept watch over his island.

In the fifth canticle, The Death of Saint Narcissus, Britten returned to Eliot, this time a very early work of his aesthetic period. Here again we have a pendant to a just completed opera, Death in Venice. Narcissus is a "dancer before God"; of course, dance plays an important structural role in Britten's opera. Like Aschenbach, Narcissus is obsessed with beauty (namely, his own) and seeks out death. In this last of the canticles, Britten relies on harp accompaniment for the tenor, though it is more a harp commentary than an accompaniment.

Other recordings of the complete canticles precede this one, including one by Britten and Pears for Decca, one with Ian Bostridge (David Daniels singing Isaac in Canticle II) on Virgin Classics, and one with Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Michael Chance singing Isaac) on Hyperion. The new recording is notable on several counts, not least the elegant singing of Philip Langridge. The texts for the two Eliot poems aren't included, but they are hardly needed in Canticle V, Langridge's diction is so superb. Accompanists should never be slighted: Steuart Bedford and Osian Ellis (who premiered Canticle V) are first-rate partners, as are Dench, Ragin, alto Jean Rigby, and baritone Gerald Finley. This recording is the one to buy if you don't already own a recording of the canticles (and one to buy even if you do): most of all for the superb performances, but also the performance of Canticle II with a female alto as Britten conceived it and the expanded setting of Canticle III.

David Anderson

Posted by Gary at 7:08 PM

The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen

The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen
Anonymous 4
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907327 [CD]

This last in the contributions of Anonymous 4 to the performance of medieval music is a selection of thematically related texts - most by Hildegard von Bingen - dealing with a spiritual or religious fire. Those renditions of traditional hymns, such as "Veni Creator Spiritus" and "Veni Spiritus eternorum alme," are interspersed with works of Hildegard's composition. Some of these are based on her prose visions, e.g. "Et ego homo non calens," identified topically as "The fire of creation," a depiction of which is also used for the cover illustration. The prose texts are provided with musical adaptations of plainsong by Anonymous 4. "The fire of creation" was performed using plainchant, and Hildegard's vision "The fiery spirit" was adapted to a two-voice lection tone from Christmas matins of Polish origin.

A number of works by Hildegard chosen for performance here reflect both text and music by the author. These are made up, for the most part, of antiphons, sequences, responsories, and hymns. Some of these works are of a more general character and not typical of specific liturgical feast days. The antiphon, "O quam mirabilis est," sung here in a seamless performance of ascending melodic surges with effective melismatic decoration, concentrates on praise of God as the creator of mankind. Because of Hildegard's association of creation with fire elsewhere, the inclusion of such related texts here is certainly appropriate.

Perhaps some of the most interesting of Hildegard's compositions featured here deal with the Holy Spirit in varying depictions. The lengthy sequence, "O ignis spiritus paracliti," sees the Paraclete associated with fire and as the origin of all life. In this work the hope of humankind rests with the Spirit as defender, and the military imagery is especially striking ("O breastplate of life"). This metaphor is continued as the Spirit is called upon to defend those in the power of the enemy and to free those bound prisoners destined to be saved by divine sanction. The sequence concludes with an evocation of the Spirit granting light. The compelling performance here of the work by Anonymous 4 suggests praise of the Spirit which pervades the entire sequence while conceding - at the same time - the power of the divinity.

In keeping with this tone of military power for the Spirit, Anonymous 4 has chosen another of Hildegard's large-scale works on the Holy Spirit, the hymn "O ignee spiritus" ("O fiery spirit"). In this work the praise of the Paraclete is at first primarily suggestive of spiritual and intellectual support. The power of the Spirit suddenly rises up wielding a sword and declared ready to cut off the threat of evil. Again and again the spirit confronts these dark forces and helps to support reason which may have succumbed to them. As a reminder of this power inherent in the Spirit the hymn finally invokes the lost angel whose tower of pride was cast into hell.

The recorded legacy of Anonymous 4 is an especially rich panorama of both secular and sacred medieval music ranging from love songs to saints' lives. Their work has done much to rekindle interest in certain neglected aspects of early music performance. With the present recording of Hildegard's music and visions her works have been made more accessible and can be appreciated through such carefully planned and executed performances.

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 6:54 PM

VERDI: Les Vêpres Siciliennes

Giuseppe Verdi: Les Vepres Siciliennes
Neilson Taylor (baritone), Jean Bonhomme (tenor), Jacqueline Brumaire (soprano), Ayhan Baran (bass), Stafford Dean (bass), Neil Howlett (bass), Pamela Bowden (contralto), Bernard Dickerson (tenor), Gerald English (tenor), Michael Rippon (baritone), Nigel Rogers (tenor), BBC Chorus, BBC Concert Orchestra, Mario Rossi (cond.), Ashley Lawrence (cond. for ballet music).
Opera Rara CV 303 [3CDs]

In 1847, Giuseppe Verdi revised his opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843) into a work for the Parisian stage. This "new" composition, featuring extensive plot changes, new music, and the requisite ballet, is considered better than the original upon which it was based. A reverse fate awaited Verdi's next work for Paris, the grand opéra Les Vepres Siciliennes, which premiered at the Opéra in 1855. Although it was performed there, with minor changes, until 1863, attempts to get the work past censors in Italy failed, for tales of successful revolutions simply were not permitted on the Risorgimento stage. After a poor translation of the opera entitled Giovanna de Guzman made the circuits, Verdi revisited the score in 1856, and, removing the ballet, created I vespri sicilani. This inferior version, which employs much of Giovanna de Guzman's text, is unfortunately the one that has remained in the repertory.

Les Vepres Siciliennes is the latest in the Opera Rara series Verdi Originals. Previous issues include Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra, with promises of La forza del destino and Don Carlos to come. This issue is a recording of the original French version as performed at London's Camden Theatre on 10 May 1969 and subsequently broadcast by the BBC on 15 February 1970. The CD, digitally remastered by Oliver Davis, is a superb rendering, for it lacks the usual vacant spatial sounds so often present in older live performances. As a result, Opera Rara presents a noteworthy representation of a work that expands the opera-goer's knowledge of this portion of Verdi's compositional history.

This five-act version is rarely performed. Because of its extended length and considerable vocal forces, productions are expensive undertakings. Furthermore, all but die-hard admirers come to hear Verdi the "Italian"; therefore, this work tends to fare poorly in the common repertory. For these reasons alone, this recording is significant, for it offers a fascinating picture of what came before and what would follow in the composer's canon. The quality of this performance (and the recording) is so consistently excellent that it is difficult to focus on specifics; nevertheless, the principals, tenor Jean Bonhomme (Henri), soprano Jacqueline Brumaire (Hélène), baritone Neilson Taylor (Montfort), and bass Ayhan Baran (Procida) deserve special mention for certain numbers. Bonhomme and Taylor are perhaps at their dramatic best in the their Act III Scene and Duet, the main melody of which is among those Verdi previewed in the opera's extensive Overture. Baran's interpretation of "Et toi, Palerme," Procida's entrance aria (and one of the most popular selections from the opera in its own day) demonstrates his melodic ability. Throughout the performance, Brumaire excells, but perhaps her florid mastery in "Merci, jeunes amis" in Act V is one of her strongest points in this performance.

Because of the position of this work in the Verdi canon, certain numbers are of special interest. In the Act IV quartet "Adieu, mon pays," one hears how the composer applied the skills learned from Rigoletto. Moreover, the setting of the "De profundis clamavi" is clearly reminiscent of the composer's use of the "Miserere" in Il trovatore, and the falling "sigh" figures in the string accompaniment as Hélène and Procida sing "Mon pays" is a clear allusion to the third act of La traviata. Looking forward, one can foresee the musical energy and character development that will again appear in La forza del destino, Don Carlos, Aida, and, of course, Otello. What amazes about this version, something lost in the Italian Vespri, is Verdi's able handling of all of the elements of grand opera, including the Act III Ballet of the Four seasons, well conducted, by the way, by Ashley Lawrence, who for the ballet, takes the baton from Mario Rossi. One needs to note Maestro Rossi's able handling of the score (perhaps retouched in the remastering?); the balance between the singers and the orchestra is perfect. In this complex score when so much melodic activity rests in the accompaniment, the singers are never overwhelmed. The BBC Chorus ably supports the singers, but, at times, one suspects that their forte is really choral music and not opera choruses. If one has the opportunity to see Les Vepres Siciliennes on stage, one should, of course, do so. In lieu of a live performance — or even to enhance it — Opera Rara's recording is a must.

Denise Gallo

Posted by Gary at 6:41 PM

Handel's Il trionfo at the Barbican

Emmanuelle Haïaut;m

Il trionfo

Richard Morrison at the Barbican [Times Online, 8 Mar 05]

GROUCHO MARX once quipped: "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin." Bizarrely, that flashed through my mind as I was gripped, ravished and finally moved to tears by this early Handel oratorio. Here was George Frideric before he became, if not a virgin, then something even more pious: the stately, sedate cheerleader for the Hanoverian dynasty.

He was 21 when he wrote Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The triumph of Time and Enlightenment). And its dazzling cascade of arias and duets, each more exhilarating and quirkily concocted than the one before, suggests a young German intent on making a big splash in sophisticated Rome. Indeed, at one point Handel suspends the story so that he can slip in an organ concerto, simply to show off his own keyboard prowess.

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Posted by Gary at 4:17 AM

March 7, 2005

EVERETT: The Musical — A Research and Information Guide

Yet within academic circles, and musicology in particular, the musical has been one of the last genres to break free from marginalization, even within the once marginalized field of American music. Until recently, scholars who wrote on issues pertaining to musicals came from other areas of research, most often from the more "legitimate" world of Western art music. No one was a scholar specializing in musical theater. All this has changed, however, and the last five to eight years have seen the emergence of new dissertations on varied aspects of American musical theater from, among other places, Princeton (the mega-musical of the 1980s), the University of California, Berkeley (Stephen Sondheim), the University of Illinois (Jerome Kern), and The Ohio State University (Rodgers and Hammerstein), and established musicologists such as Raymond Knapp and Tim Carter, for instance, have committed themselves to exciting new work in this area. All this suggests that, as these new scholars turn to teaching and advising, they in turn will be overseeing new work that will continue to expand the horizons of research on the American musical.

This research will be aided by William A. Everett's much needed and highly valuable volume The Musical: A Research and Information Guide. This work provides a wonderful first stop for the researcher, regardless of level, and its user-friendly style suggests that the first stop will not be the last.

After a brief introduction in which Everett deals with the differences between musicals and operas, and between musicals for the stage and film musicals, the book is laid out in areas of increasing detail. Beginning with a listing of general histories of musical and theatrical genres, Everett moves to works specific to the musical. This second section is the longest, and its listing of dictionaries, encyclopedias, chronologies, and theoretical, analytical, sociological, and generic studies of the genre is inclusive. A relatively short section on the film musical follows, after which Everett lists books and, especially, articles about individual musicals. This is the section that will doubtless cause the most disappointment in users, if only because such a list must be, by its nature, somewhat subjective and cannot be all-inclusive. Everett acknowledges this in his introduction, however, and adds that, even if the user does not find a particular musical listed, the resources for finding material on that musical are included, thus expediting the search. Sections on creators - composers, wordsmiths, orchestrators, choreographers, and directors - performers, and aspects of performance follow.

The final five sections list periodicals that publish musical theater-related articles -- as of the finish date of 2003, Everett notes, there was still not "a scholarly journal devoted exclusively to the musical theater" (201) - sets of series of printed material, a discography, recorded anthologies, and other searchable resources, the latter containing a partial list of reliable websites. These final sections are good places to start if the reader wishes to pursue study of a particular work not listed in Everett's fourth section ("Works"). The listings are followed by a thorough index.

Everett is known as a scholar on the musical theater - he is co-editor, with Paul R. Laird, of The Cambridge Companion to the Musical and is working on a critical biography of Sigmund Romberg - as well as an experienced musical director. His affection for the genre is as notable as his dedication to helping new scholars in the field, and to this latter end his current work is exemplary. While the current rate of new scholarship means that the book is already missing several important entries, it is nonetheless timely and needed. Everett notes, at the end of his introduction, "My sincere hope is that this book will be a useful entryway for discovering the complex and stimulating world of the musical" (4). It is that, and more. It will undoubtedly remain the standard, essential bibliography for some time to come.

Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University

image_description=William A. Everett: The Musical — A Research and Information Guide

product_title=William A. Everett: The Musical — A Research and Information Guide
Routledge Music Bibliographies
product_by=New York & London: Routledge, 2004, 320 pages
product_id=ISBN 0415942950

Posted by Gary at 8:57 PM

STRAUSS: Die Fledermaus

Johann Strauss: Die Fledermaus
Lucia Popp (Rosalinde, Edita Gruberova (Adele), Brigitte Fassbaender (Prinz Orlofsky), Bernd Weikl (Eisenstein), Walter Berry (Dr. Falke), Joseph Hopferwieser (Alfred), Erich Kunz (Frank), Helmut Lohner (Frosch), Katrin Göttling (Ida), Karl Caslavsky (Iwan)
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Theodor Guschlbauer (cond.)

Film freezes time and even serves to transport an enrapt viewer into its temporal world. Viewers of the recent DVD release of a December 1980 performance of Strauss' operetta classic, Die Fledermaus, may not be quite as ecstatic as the local audience, but resistance is futile. Have some champagne ready for the curtain calls. Lovers of this art form will rejoice, and even the operetta-resistant (of which your reviewer is one) must succumb to the energy, star power, and sheer good will of all involved.

The camera pans the gleeful, expectant audience, and then a lanky young man with hair and glasses that proclaim, "The '70s are still with us!" sweeps into the orchestra pit. He is Theodor Guschlbauer, and he will prompt the orchestra to a consistently lively, stylishly inflected performance. This is all the more to be commended, as director Otto Schenk, with partner Peter Weiser, have revised the dialogue and more importantly, apparently kept or even increased the total amount. Guschlbauer has to reinspire his troops throughout the evening as they return to their instruments after another hiatus for chatter.

By the time of this performance, Schenk may have known the opera better than Strauss himself, and his love radiates throughout the evening. The sets have the opulent traditionalism he is known for, and the singers/actors have been directed right up to the point of cartoonish caricature, with only the briefest slips over the line.

And what a cast. Bernd Weikl, if fine voice and manic mood, splays his long legs all over. At one point, in the riotous dance than concludes act two, he even resembles John Cleese in his Ministry of Silly Walks skit. More importantly, Weikl is able to let us laugh at the self-important Eisenstein and not get too annoyed with his boorishness, so that his concluding apology can have at least some of its intended effect.

His wife, irrationally ignored, is Lucia Popp. Her act two czardas may not be the last word in Hungarian affectation, but like all her singing throughout the show, it is the purest, sweetest cream.

Moving on to the men, we have the title-referenced pranskter, Dr. Falke, in the person of Walter Berry. He sounds a bit worn in his act two singing, but otherwise contributes greatly to masking the mean-spiritedness behind some of the plot with his enthusiasm. The absurd tenor, Alfred, has surely been sung by more appealing voices than Joseph Hopferwieser's, but with his puffed-out chest and gloriously self-infatuated air, no complaint should register.

Of the major singing roles, that leaves two truly outstanding performances. Brigitte Fassbaender's Prinz Orlovsky must be the standard. Boyish and yet even more pleasingly ambiguous, she sings with such smooth tone and high spirit that one regrets that the character has so little to do in act three.

Finally, in a bit of a coup, Edita Gruberova's Adele seems to have blossomed into one of the leading roles. Something about the role inspires Gruberova to comic greatness, but even better, her agile, luscious voice, here in its prime, makes every solo a highlight. Even a scream in act two comes out as a pearly high note that many another soprano would die for.

Many will find the DVD, and of course the work itself, a laugh riot. Despite all the wonderful attributes described above, your reviewer has to admit with being impatient at times and even mildly put-out with some of the goings-on. The laborious "funny French" scene in act two seems to stretch on forever. And the Frosch, an amazingly limber Helmut Lohner, gets through all the "funny drunk" business with flair and expert timing. But it's still "funny drunk" business.

In a couple of longuers, supposedly comic, your reviewer's mind wandered to thoughts about the incipient alcoholism many of the character's seem to exhibit, and the faintly nasty social stratification, with Adele's chambermaid position being alternately a source of embarrassment and an opportunity for exploitation (as both the Prinz and Frank offer to take her on as a "protégé.")

Well, the only answer is to join the singers at curtain call in downing some champagne. The TV director, by the way, shows all the curtain calls, including the solo bows, until it's time for Weikl and Popp to emerge. Then the cameras swing to the balconies.

Unfortunate, that, but the greater part of the direction is excellent. This series of DVDs, with the insignia "Wiener Staatsoper Live," continues to provide treasures. Opera Today eagerly awaits the next.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

Posted by Gary at 8:18 PM

New Music in Boston

Kaija Saariaho (Photo: Maarit Kytoharju)

Ensemble infuses works with color

By Richard Dyer [Boston Globe, 7 Mar 05]

The Fromm Music Foundation has been a resident at Harvard for 32 years, commissioning new works and underwriting new-music activity in several venues, including Tanglewood.

Last year, the Foundation decided to consolidate the activities it has sponsored at Harvard into a thematically organized twoconcert festival.

This season's concerts were coordinated by the Australian composer Elliott Gyger, and the theme was "Multiple Voices." Friday night's program of the Fromm Players at Harvard brought early works by Steve Reich and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and midcareer works by Kaija Saariaho (37 when she composed "Grammaire des reves") and Elliott Carter (70 when he wrote "Syringa," but with more than 25 years of active music-making ahead of him).

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:38 PM

HGO Premieres Adamo's Lysistrata

Mark Adamo

Make love, not war, in ancient Greece

In the opera Lysistrata, the women are holding out for peace to prove sex is mightier than the sword

By CHARLES WARD [Houston Chronicle, 25 Feb 05]

The memory was delicious: Women withholding sex to end a war. Surely, thought composer Mark Adamo, an opera lurked in that idea.

Fresh from the success of Little Women, which Houston Grand Opera premiered in 1998, he was looking for new material. But when he returned to Lysistrata, the Aristophanes play that premiered in 414 B.C., he found his memory richer than reality.

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With Chastity as a Sword, Women Take Up Arms

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 7 Mar 05]

HOUSTON, March 5 - The career of Mark Adamo is a small work of art in itself. Mr. Adamo is relatively young, presentable, a writer of imagination and intelligence with enough charm and personal wherewithal to convince substantial companies not only to produce his operas but to televise them nationally. His new piece, "Lysistrata, or the Nude Goddess," had its first performance at the Houston Grand Opera at the Cullen Theater in the Wortham Center on Friday. It will later be taken up by its co-producers, the New York City Opera and Opera Columbus in Ohio.

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Lost in Greek translation

Despite fine music, Mark Adamo's new opera can't reconcile farce and philosophy.

By Lawrence A. Johnson [Sun-Sentinel, 7 Mar 05]

HOUSTON . There is probably no opera composer currently before the public who can match Mark Adamo for cleverness or flexibility. Adamo, 42, scored a huge success with his first stage work, Little Women, in which he also displayed a deft hand as librettist, reducing the episodic Alcott novel to a taut, dramatically effective two hours.

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Posted by Gary at 7:26 PM

Don Carlo at the Met

Sondra Radvanovsky (Photo: Deluxe Photography, Nigel Dickson)

Can't Make Up His Mind, Just Like That Other Prince


"Don Carlo" is Verdi's "Hamlet." It's always an event when the Metropolitan Opera brings back John Dexter's striking 1979 production of this long, complex, musically profound and psychologically perceptive work, based on Schiller's play about the indecisive young crown prince Don Carlo and his brutish father, Philip II of Spain, during the madness that was the Inquisition.

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Soprano wields power in Met's 'Don Carlo'

BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON [Newsday, 7 Mar 05]

The operatic equivalent of the out-of-town tryout is the first act of opening night; Act II serves in lieu of Broadway's six weeks of previews, and a good opera production hits its stride after intermission. Fortunately, Verdi's "Don Carlo" is a very long piece, and after some initial flapping and gasping at the Met Thursday night, the performance finally plunged into marvelousness and remained immersed to the end.

A few minutes in, the title character, the crown prince of Spain, wanders away from his father's diplomatic mission to France and into the wintry forest of Fontainebleau.

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Posted by Gary at 7:22 PM

Harnoncourt's Poppea in London

L'incoronazione di Poppea

Richard Morrison at the Festival Hall [Times Online, 5 Mar 05]

PRACTICALLY my first assignment as a cub critic was to review Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Zurich Opera's production of The Coronation of Poppea. That was in 1978, but I still recall the elation I felt at hearing this great Baroque pioneer sweep centuries of dust from Monteverdi's masterpiece.

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L'Incoronazione di Poppea

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 7 Mar 05]

There is no conductor alive today with longer experience of performing Monteverdi operas than Nikolaus Harnoncourt. When he was a cellist in the 1950s he played in a performance of Orfeo conducted by Paul Hindemith, and the cycle of all three operas he conducted in stagings by Jean-Pierre Ponelle at the Zurich Opera in the early 1970s played a crucial part in establishing the works in the repertory. Now Harnoncourt has gone back to Zurich for a new production of L'Incoronazione di Poppea. It opened there two weeks ago, and came as a one-off concert performance to the Festival Hall.

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Posted by Gary at 5:02 PM

The New Tenors

Joseph Calleja

The Tenors of Our Times

Latin singers lead an invasion of world-class lyric voices.

By Lawrence A. Johnson [Sun-Sentinel, 6 Mar 05]

It was not so very long ago that the opera world seemed to be facing a cavernous void of world-class tenors. True, there were a handful of gifted artists such as Roberto Alagna and Ben Heppner. Yet the public image of the operatic tenor was largely dominated by the studio-simonized "popera" of Andrea Bocelli, and the increasingly uninspired Three Tenors spectacles.

The last two years, however, have seen an explosion of remarkable tenorial talent, with recordings by top-flight singers from Malta to China. The richness of this pool can be judged by the fact that even South Florida's opera companies, for whom casting has been variable, managed to field fine tenors for this season's productions.

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Posted by Gary at 12:24 AM

Manon Lescaut in Essen

Karine Babajanian (Photo: Gerhard Noll)

"Manon Lescaut": Hier ist das Flittchen der Hit

Das Essener Aalto-Theater führt Giacomo Puccinis Jugendwerk "Manon Lescaut" auf, das gegen Massenets gleichnamiges Werk deutlich abfällt.

[Westdeutsche Zeitung Online, 7 Mar 05]

Essen. Es ist keine Sternstunde für das erfolgsverwöhnte Essener Aalto-Theater. Warum Generalmusikdirektor Stefan Soltesz Giacomo Puccinis Jugendwerk "Manon Lescaut" ins Programm hob, ist rätselhaft. Denn es liegt mit der gleichnamigen Oper des französischen Komponisten Jules Massenet ein qualitativ weitaus anspruchsvolleres Werk vor. Und hätte er den Mut zur Gegenwart gehabt, hätte sich Hans-Werner Henzes "Boulevard Solitude" angeboten. Ob dies erklärt, dass Soltesz bei der Premiere gleich der 1. Akt zum verhetzten Parforce-Ritt missriet? Immerhin wusste er im weiteren Verlauf den Essener Philharmonikern doch noch die feineren Harmonien zu entlocken, an denen es hier ja nun nicht völlig mangelt.

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Posted by Gary at 12:04 AM

March 6, 2005

A Minimalist Entführung aus dem Serail

Entführung aus dem Serail
at Letztes erfreuliches Operntheater, Wien

Wenn der Bassa zum Hamlet wird

[Die Presse, 07 Mar 05]

Eine minimalistische "Entführung aus dem Serail" im Wiener L.E.O.

Die zwei Pärchen in Mozarts "Entführung aus dem Serail" haben ohnehin genug Schwierigkeiten zu überwinden, bis sie endlich auf ihrem Schinakel gen Westen fahren dürfen. Vor dem mutigen Versuch des "Letzten Erfreulichen Operntheaters", das Singspiel nur mit Klavier, Oboe und Flöte instrumentiert auf ihre Kellerbühne zu stellen, türmte sich bei der zweiten Vorstellung ein weiteres Hindernis auf: die Grippe-bedingte Absage des Osmin-Darstellers. Gerade aus dem dadurch nötigen Provisorium erwuchsen dem Abend aber die besten Momente.

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Posted by Gary at 11:45 PM

A Preview of Un ballo in maschera in Kansas City

Behind the mask

As the Lyric prepares a Verdi opera, real-life parallels emerge

By PAUL HORSLEY [The Kansas City Star, 6 Mar 05]

In the resonant, garishly lighted basement of Trinity United Methodist Church, art is imitating life.

A tall, rugged baritone with reddish-blond hair and goatee is in agony. A rehearsal pianist pounds out tortured harmonies. A conductor and stage director watch, alert.

Bystanders also watch, almost embarrassed, as Jeffrey Kneebone exposes his soul.

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Posted by Gary at 2:46 PM

Nozze in Baltimore

Le Nozze di Figaro by J Martinez

A beautiful 'Marriage' with lots of heart

Classical Music; Baltimore Opera will stage Mozart's brilliant 'Figaro'

By Tim Smith [Baltimore Sun, 6 Mar 05]

Human beings will always be good for a laugh, especially when they're in full pursuit of sex.

This makes them a continual subject for low, lower and lowest-brow entertainment — check out almost any TV sitcom today for a demonstration. More brain cell-active studies of this behavior can, of course, produce valuable insights alongside the chuckles. Occasionally, as in the comedies of Shakespeare, an observer of these mortal fools will even fashion from their foibles the stuff of real art.

And once in a great, great while - only once in the past 219 years, I would argue — the human condition can inspire the creation of something not just amusing, but profoundly rewarding and impossibly beautiful. Something called The Marriage of Figaro.

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Posted by Gary at 2:28 PM

PUCCINI: La Bohème

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
Cristina Gallardo-Domâs (Mimì), Hei-Kyung Hong (Musetta) Marcelo álvarez (Rodolfo), Roberto Servile (Marcello), Natale de Carolis (Schaunard), Giovanni Battista Parodi (Colline),
Matteo Peirone (Benoit), Angelo Romero (Alcindoro), Alberto Fraschina (Parpignol), Ernesto Panariello (Sergente dei doganieri), Tino Nava (Un doganiere), Antonio Novello (Un venditore)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Bruno Bartoletti (cond.), Franco Zeffirelli (stage dir.)
Recorded February 2003

Even for a jaded reviewer like this one who has seen innumerable Bohème's all over the world, there comes a moment in the third act when music and production simply take precedence over intellectual curiosity: the old magic works again and one is moved by the fate of these youngsters. High praise indeed for the famous Zeffirelli-production, born in 1963 at La Scala together with a juicy scandal when Di Stefano was ousted and replaced by Gianni Raimondi.

This is of course the most traditional Bohème one can imagine and this has its advantages. Nowadays Bohème is mostly updated and people often read surtitles with only half an eye. But on an LCD or Plasma screen titles are a real help and have to be taken seriously. I've known several discussions on the net whereby updated productions were defended because Bohème isn't specifically dated. Nonsense of course; the singers refer to their king Luigi Filippi (Louis Philippe of France, king 1830-1848) and there is the custom house at the Paris Barrière d'Enfer in the third act. Custom houses were not around anymore by 1870. I remember a fine production at De Munt in Brussels where the Gare du Nord replaced the custom house and modern policemen were looking into plastic milk bottles (for what ? drugs maybe ?). This production has now served for three generations and has become somewhat of an institution. Indeed all of the principal singers on this DVD were not yet born when it first unfolded. In an extra feature Franco Zeffirelli himself ardently demands the use of a timeframe as planned by the composer. He tells us too that his famous Metropolitan production is just a spin-off, adapted to the somewhat more modern New York technology but basically with the same ideas. Well, it still works magnificently on screen; maybe even better than in the house. In barns such as La Scala and the Met the focus on the intimate aspects of the story sometimes doesn't come across too well but a good tv-director like Carlo Battistoni concentrates his cameras on the love story without neglecting some of the more spectacular showy moments. Maybe that's the one complaint I have. Sometimes these close-ups of an actual performance are a little too close for comfort; especially when Cristina Gallardo-Domâs opens her very wide mouth or juts forward her prominent chin. At that moment one forgets the story and is fearfully reminded of the mechanics of singing. Still that is much to be preferred over badly synchronized voices or tv-performances where the audience is requested to keep silent as not to disturb the flow of the music. The generous applause after arias is included and so it ought to be.

All singers act well and convincingly and I was once more struck that the role of Schaunard, so unimportant in a mere recording, has so more flesh on the scene when sung and acted by a good singer like Natalis de Carolis (I remember how Mark Oswald too succeeded in making the role more important than it actually is in several Met Bohème's I saw). Gallardo-Domâs and álvarez look suitably young and act accordingly; álvarez , being the first tenor whom I saw cheerfully eating real food (chicken) during the supper in the second act. Roberto Servile as Marcello or Hey-Kyung Hong (not very well made-up) look both a little bit too old in close-ups though in exuberance they lack nothing.

This DVD from La Scala, actually shot at the Teatro degli Arcimboldi during a (or a run of) performance (s) in February 2003, has one drawback: the singing. Mind you, everybody sings musically and convincingly but what is lacking is the individual touch. Take Marcelo álvarez : the voice is firm and smooth though without real morbidezza for the role. The volume is not lacking but the small individual tender utterances that make a Rodolfo great are. That first dialogue with Mimi with tender phrases like "che bella bambina" which is so unforgettable by Gigli, Di Stefano or Bergonzi goes for nothing: just sung in a run-of-the mill way without any special honeyed tone. Or take the moving "bella come un aurora" when Rodolfo tells Mimi she is still beautiful in the last act. No emphasis, just plainly sung. Gallardo-Domâs fares somewhat better though there is a little bit of a harsh edge to the upper voice; still it is a clean and nice portrait (the Donde lieta usci is indeed moving) but not a great one: the voice lacks distinction and colour and is a little bit bland. And the moment Hong makes her entrance, you've got the real Puccini-phrasing. Hong's voice has the richer sound too though the voice is maybe a shade less fresh than a few years ago. This reviewer nevertheless thinks the two female singers ought to have reversed their roles. Roberto Servile sings well but he too without the individual touch that can make Marcello a real person instead of just a cipher. One remembers too well Bastianini's "ah la miseria" or Gobbi's phrasing in that moving third act duet. La Scala's Orchestra probably can play the score without one single mistake without a conductor and maybe that wouldn't have been a severe handicap. Most of the time Bruno Bartoletti choses simple tried tempi but now and then he has a tendency of lingering and over sentimentalising the score: "O soave fanciulla" almost comes to a standstill and in "Quando m'en vo" a little more drive would be appreciated.

All in all a rewarding DVD and a fine introduction to the opera for newcomers though old hands may still prefer the same production in the Karajan-version where Freni, Raimondi and Panerai sing in a higher vocal class. There is only one extra: a long rambling talk from Zeffirelli that every minute goes in black for a few seconds when a question is clearly put forward which for one or another reason may not be heard. This becomes ridiculous when he is talking of a queen among sopranos who never sang the role on the scene. It slowly dawns upon the viewer that he is talking of Callas without mentioning her name as that was already given in the (cut) question. Still there is one nugget: it will surprise quite a lot of fans to learn that this director with so many wonderful and sometimes less wonderful productions is not able to read one note of music. In the Italian-language interview one finds the one ridiculous mistake in the English subtitles (as they couldn't be copied from the many libretti). While Zeffirelli clearly speaks of Rosa Ponselle the titles name the soprano Rosa Melba Ponselle.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 2:50 AM

Fidelio at Carnegie Hall

Deborah Voigt

A Soprano's Plainclothes Star Turn as Fidelio

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 5 Mar 05]

Beethoven's "Fidelio" is an opera about freedom that is shackled by a limited libretto. A great performance can unlock its treasures. A mediocre one can feel like prison, as the Collegiate Chorale's performance on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall underlined. It was a long and murky night, although there were many glints of bright light that tantalizingly shone through.

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Posted by Gary at 2:31 AM

March 5, 2005

ZEMLINSKY: Une Tragédie Florentine

Alexander von Zemlinsky: Une Tragédie Florentine [Eine Florentinische Tragödie]
Iris Vermillion, Viktor Lutsiuk, Albert Dohmen
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Armin Jordan (cond.)
Recorded live 13 September 2003
Naïaut;ve V4987 [CD]

The operas of the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) continue to fascinate audiences with their combination of carefully composed music and well-selected librettos. After using fairy-tale elements in his early operas, such as Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (1900), and Der Traumgörge (1905-6), Zemlinsky turned to Renaissance settings for Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) and Der Zwerg (1922). In fact, Zemlinsky's Florentinische Tragödie is based the dramatic fragment A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde, whose works intrigued other composers of the time. Beyond the provocative drama Salome set by Richard Strauss, Franz Schreker used a story by Wilde as the basis for his ballet Die Geburtstag der Infantin (1908).

With his Florentinische Tragödie, Zemlinsky dealt with an incomplete text by creating a one-act opera. The drama revolves around an assignation between Bianca and her lover Guido Bardi, upon which Bianca's husband Simone intrudes. Ultimately Simone murders Guido, and the scene ends with the couple responding to each other by acknowledging their attributes. The final lines find Simone realizing Bianca's beauty, and Bianca commenting on her husband's strength. Whether that infers renewed love on the part of Simone or suggests fear on the part of Bianca is a moot point, since Wilde went no further. Critics have speculated about what Wilde might have written in the first scene (only the second scene survives), and the fragmentary text itself begs the question of where Wilde would have taken the drama. As a play, it is a drama in medias res, and the challenge facing a composer like Zemlinsky is to arrive at a whole which, in turn, the performers must convey to the audience in a convincing way.

In responding to that challenge, this latest of the three recent recordings offers a finely executed performance. One of Zemlinsky's most important tools in giving shape to this fragment is his use of music and especially the orchestration to punctuate the drama and to contribute some sonic points of references for understanding the text, and the conductor Armin Jordam treats this aspect of work with a deft hand. Likewise, the cast is well-suited to the piece, with Iris Vermillion singing the part of Bianca, Viktor Lutsiuk as Guido, and Albert Dohmen as Simone. In fact, both Vermillion and Dohmen sang the same roles in the earlier recording of the opera with Riccardo Chailly conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (in the series "Entartete Musik" released on London/Decca as CD 455112). This recording is somewhat shorter than the one by James Conlon on EMI Classics (released in 1997, with Debra Voigt as Bianca).

As an opera, this work is compressed as if it were a miniature, with every gesture carefully weighted. The music rises and falls as the characters comment to each other portentously. At times, the silences in the orchestra are striking and suggest similar places in the score of Debussy's Pelléas et Melisande, a work with the kind of responsive conducting Jordan evinces in this recording.

In this reading, the work builds almost obsessively, as the characters begin to understand each other. In fact, the penultimate number, the interchange between Guido and Simone that begins "Simone, jetzt muss ich nach Hause gehn!" is tellingly intense in leading to the dénouement in the finale trio. The impassioned singing of Lutsiuk as he is murdered is powerful, just as the subdued tones of Dohmen as reflects on what he just did sounds convincing as the orchestral accompaniment underscores his plaintive realization of Bianca's beauty. The music that Zemlinsky composed to bring this work to a close is, in a sense, a commentary on the libretto, and Jordan's handling of the final measures gives the work the kind of closure that makes the score effective.

This is the latest of three CDs of Die florentische Tragödie in current release, and it is an excellent choice for those who might want only one recording in their personal collection. A further strength is the fine essay by François-Gildas Tual, which is included in the booklet that accompanies the CD. In fact, Tual's comments about the relationship of this opera to Berg's later work on Wozzeck and Lulu are noteworthy. The booklet includes the full German text, along with translations in French and English.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 6:40 PM

Celebrating Lorin Maazel

Lorin Maazel

Von der Leichtigkeit

[Die Presse, 05 Mar 05]

Lorin Maazel feiert seinen 75er - nach dem Neujahrskonzert als Komponist in New York und London.

Wien ist zwar Stätte vieler seiner künstlerischen Triumphe - und doch auch des vielleicht bitters ten Wermutstropfens in einer formidablen Karriere: Lorin Maazel, der am Sonntag 75 Jahre alt wird, war einer der kürzestdienenden Direktoren der Staatsoper, kapitulierte nach nur zwei Spielzeiten, weil die Angriffe gegen ihn unerträglich geworden waren und die Kulturpolitik, verbündet mit den Angreifern, versagte. Immerhin: Das so genannte "Blocksystem", eine Spielplangestaltung in "kleinen Serien", wie sie der Nachfolger Maazels dann nannte, gab zwar den Ausschlag für eine Kampagne gegen den dirigierenden Direktor, doch pflegt die Staatsoper es bis heute.

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Lorin Maazel Celebrates Himself by Conducting His Own Music


Since taking over the New York Philharmonic in 2002, Lorin Maazel has conducted a wide array of contemporary scores, and conducted them very well. But until Tuesday night he had never performed a work of his own with the Philharmonic. Though it's hard to think of Mr. Maazel as being shy about anything, he has been reluctant to show this side to New York concertgoers.

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Posted by Gary at 3:39 AM

SCHOENBERG: Gurrelieder

Arnold Schoenberg: Gurrelieder
David Wilson-Johnson (Bass), Stephen O'Mara (Tenor), Melanie Diener (Soprano), Jennifer Lane (Mezzo Soprano), Ernst Haefliger (Spoken Vocals), Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Philharmonia Orchestra, Simon Joly Chorus, Robert Craft (cond.)
NAXOS 8.557518-19 [2CDs]

Schoenberg for lovers. Sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact there is enough passion in the too seldom heard Gurrelieder to make even Valentine blush. We know Schoenberg largely from the atonal and dodecaphonic later works (and most listeners know of these mostly by inaccurate rumor). But we forget all too often the fact that Schoenberg had an early period, much of which is readily accessible to conservative tastes. Gurrelieder is the sort of diamond in the crown of this period, a long cantata-like adventure, some two hours in full. Scored for an enormous orchestra, four choirs, and speaker, and five soloists, the work is the logical conclusion of the nineteenth-century penchant for Texas-style excess when it comes to orchestration: you can't get any bigger than this without havin' to build a second story.

Fortunately the recording engineers were wide awake on this one, notably so for Naxos. The balance overall is quite good, and this gives the work a kind of live presence, especially with the choirs. They have managed to create a depth that under good headphones rivals $200 seats in leading auditoriums. The strings in particular have a good silky sound appropriate to the work, and the low winds bubble along nicely.

This recording is a side foray by Robert Craft, an adjunct to the Naxos-ticketed recording of the Stravinsky complete oeuvre (see my review of Oedipus and Les Noces elsewhere on this site). Curiously his performance is much stronger here. Perhaps he is more at home with deeply romantic works (which might explain some of the controversy over his recordings of post-romantic works during his controversial career), or perhaps he simply has an affinity for this score. The result rivals (in both quality and price) its nearest competitor, the Ozawa Boston Symphony recording, on Philips (464-040-2). The voices on the Ozawa (McCracken, Norman, Troyanos) are a cut above those here, but tenor Stephen O'Mara and soprano Melanie Diener have a lot to offer the work, and the Philharmonia, a familiar London band, identifies well with the score.

The German text to the work is available on the Naxos website, under the libretti folder, which is a bit of an inconvenience, but understandable since it does run on in length and might have bulked too large in the CD booklet. Unfortunately, only the German text is provided there, no English. A very literal translation of the text is available at It should be noted that this recording was previously released on the Koch International Classics label.

The text, by a Danish native-son poet Jens Peter Jacobsen, is a kind of death-and-transfiguration ode suitable to northern climates with long winters and sudden springs. Passion moves slowly but, like icebergs, runs deep. This massive emotion-in-large-chunks scenario suited the awakening expressionist in Schoenberg to a tee, and he rises to the occasion. Only in the readily comparable orchestral tone poem Pelleas und Mellisande do we see as clearly Schoenberg's apparently innate ability to squeeze the last drops out of an orchestra.

So, although its too late for Valentines, it's not too late to toss a log on the fire, crack open a bottle of finest, grab your squeeze, and head for the couch, saying, "Hey honey, let's kick back with a little Schoenberg." Just watch the eyes light up.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

Posted by Gary at 3:16 AM

March 4, 2005

A Profile of Brenda Harris

Brenda Harris (Photo: Lisa Kohler)

Versatile soprano Brenda Harris has a distinctively American career

Michael Anthony [Star Tribune, 4 Mar 05]

Singing offbeat, nontraditional roles can be a path to oblivion for an opera singer. For Brenda Harris, that road has led to fame, fortune and as much work as she can handle.

It also means that Harris often is learning new roles.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:03 PM

Stiffelio at Sarasota Opera

Sarasota Opera

Forgiveness easier said than done

By JAY HANDELMAN [, 18 Feb 05]

SARASOTA -- Many operas are all about the music, but in "Stiffelio" composer Giuseppe Verdi paid a lot more attention than usual to the words.

Click here for remainder of article.

Stiffelio, Sarasota Opera, Florida

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 4 Mar 05]

The Sarasota Opera plans to renovate its stage and orchestra pit, and the improvements could alter the looks of the artistic product. This well-run company's 1,000-seat theatre, built in the 1920s, is an agreeable place for opera and gives the lie to the notion that economic realities require American opera houses to seat thousands. But its stage has practically no depth, a defect especially conspicuous as the company continues its traversal of the Verdi canon, due for completion in 2013.

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Posted by Gary at 5:44 PM

Opera Colorado Announces New Season

Opera Colorado launches 2005-2006 season in a new opera house

DENVER, CO--President and General Director Peter Russell and Artistic Director James Robinson announced today the company's 2005-2006 season as the company prepares to move to its new state-of-the-art home, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. For Opera Colorado patrons, the new opera house will offer unprecedented patron services: increased legroom, more restrooms, spacious lobbies, premium sightlines from all seating locations, superb acoustics, and an exclusive donor lounge. The move allows Opera Colorado to add performances and spread out its three annual productions over the course of a traditional season.

Denyce Graves


Opera Colorado's first season in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House kicks off with five spectacular performances of Carmen starring international superstar Denyce Graves in the title role. Stephen Lord will conduct. James Robinson will direct. The production of Carmen is a co-production with Seattle Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera and Florida Grand Opera.

Opera Colorado season ticket-holders will be among the first to hear Ms. Graves perform her signature role in Denver. "Few Carmens bring such beauty and unselfconscious sensuality to the role," raved a critic from The New York Times. Graves has become an international phenomenon with multiple recordings to her credit and many featured appearances on television programs as diverse as "60 Minutes," "Sesame Street" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show." "Denyce Graves had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand," read a recent Boston Globe review. "Graves is a gorgeous creature with a wonderful natural instrument. She is a born performer...a natural wonder."

The sterling cast also includes Australian tenor Julian Gavin as Don José. Mr. Gavin appeared to great acclaim as Cavaradossi in Opera Colorado's 2002 production of Tosca and will return to Denver this spring as The Duke in Rigoletto. Bass-baritone David Pittsinger, last seen at Opera Colorado in the title role of Don Giovanni, returns to sing the role of the toreador Escamillo. And soprano Pamela Armstrong returns to sing Micäela after her triumphant performances here as Mimì in 2004's La Bohème. (Ms. Armstrong will perform the role at all eight performances.) Carmen will kick off with a spectacular opening night gala, "An Evening in Seville," featuring cocktails and dinner before the performance and dessert and champagne after the opera. The opening night gala will be chaired by Opera Colorado Board Member Kalleen Malone.

Opera Colorado will also present three additional performances of Carmen with an alternate cast for a total of eight exquisite evenings to start our season in the new opera house. Praised for her "robust, luminous and penetrating" mezzo (Opera Now) and her "noble, attractive presence" (Opera News), American mezzo soprano Beth Clayton has been recognized for her commanding vocalism, compelling stage presence and superb musicality. Ms. Clayton makes her Opera Colorado debut this spring as Maddalena in Rigoletto and returns to Denver next fall to sing the title role in Carmen at three performances. Tenor Roger Honeywell will make his Opera Colorado debut as Don José. Mr. Honeywell is an alumni of both the Canadian Opera Company's and Lyric Opera of Chicago's studio programs. This season he made his debut at New York City Opera and will sing in the world premiere of Margaret Garner at Michigan Opera Theatre. Baritone Timothy Mix makes his debut at Opera Colorado in the role of Escamillo.


Bellini's epic drama Norma has rarely been performed in the Rocky Mountain region. Regarded by many as the operatic equivalent of Hamlet, the title role in this opera is one of the most challenging, demanding, and beautiful roles in all of opera. Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian will take on this awesome title role for four performances in February 2006. Mezzo soprano Irina Mishura reunites with Ms. Papian to sing the role of Adalgisa, roles both singers performed before at The Washington National Opera to rare critical acclaim.

"Miss Papian's vocal range is astounding," wrote T.L. Ponick of The Washington Times. "Alternating throughout the opera between raging and quietly pleading, Norma is a role that plumbs musical and emotional peaks and valleys. Miss Papian's crystalline voice guided the audience through each nuance with an apparent ease that belied the hard work required to make it happen. It was a breathtaking, heartbreaking, memorable performance." Ms. Mishura's credits include major performances with the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper and Italy's renowned Arena di Verona among many others. Stephen Lord will return to conduct. James Robinson will direct.

The Abduction from the Seraglio

The 2005-2006 season concludes with four spring performances of Mozart's delightful comedy The Abduction from the Seraglio in a sparkling new co-production directed by James Robinson. Critics across the country have praised this light-hearted interpretation that moves the action from 18th-century Turkey to a fashionable French line of the Orient Express in the 1920s, a setting that offers plenty of opportunities for visual humor. "Dicey, suspenseful action un-spools in train compartments and hallways, where scenes are choreographed side-by-side as on a split television screen. Champagne flows freely and everyone is quick to light up a cigarette, lending the show the campy feel of an 'Upstairs, Downstairs' episode," wrote Cynthia Greenwood of the Houston Press.

Scott Terrell returns to Opera Colorado to conduct. James Robinson will direct. The cast includes Maria Kanyova as Konstanze (The Marriage of Figaro, 2005, Don Giovanni, 2003); Amanda Pabyan as Blonde (Santa Fe Opera, The Washington National Opera); Charles Castronovo as Belmonte (Royal Opera House Covent Garden); Scott Sculley as Pedrillo (Houston Grand Opera) and Dale Travis as Osmin (Don Giovanni, 2003)

The Abduction from the Seraglio is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Minnesota Opera, Opera Pacific and Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

Additional Information

For season ticket information and updates, watch your mailbox and the Opera Colorado website at or call Opera Colorado's Subscriber Services Office at 303-468-2030.

[Source: Opera Colorado Press Release]

Posted by Gary at 5:24 PM

Ravel and Poulenc at the Barbican

Maurice Ravel

L'heure espagnole & Les mamelles de Tirésias, Barbican, London

By David Murray [Financial Times, 4 Mar 05]

On paper, Ravel's mock-Spanish "comédie musicale" (1904) and Poulenc's mock-everything "opéra bouffe" (1944) should make a toothsome double bill. Less than an hour each, elegantly funny in quite different veins - and excellent for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for no heroic voices are required. But the team's Ravel proved a lame affair, and its Poulenc - sung in English, with the same director (Stephen Langridge) and conductor - a delight.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 5:15 PM

Handel's La Resurrezione in Chicago

Scene from La Resurrezione (Nathalie Paulin (Maddalena))

'Resurrezione' rises above its static roots

by John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 4 Mar 05]

Since Brian Dickie arrived as general director, Chicago Opera Theater has become the place to catch Handel's operas staged with a bold theatrical flair that's fresh and cutting-edge. The company began its 2005 season with a beautiful and inspiring production of a Handel rarity, "La Resurrezione," Wednesday night in the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park.

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Posted by Gary at 5:09 PM

March 3, 2005

Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall

J. S. Bach

Early Version of Magnificat

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 3 Mar 05]

Richard Westenburg led his 36-member Musica Sacra chorus and a small orchestra in works by Bach and Mozart at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening, and for the occasion, he revived one of the group's hits from the 1970's - the rarely heard early version of Bach's Magnificat (BWV 242a) [sic].

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Posted by Gary at 4:27 PM

Zeffirelli Takes On Muti

Franco Zeffirelli

Recriminations fly as crisis engulfs La Scala

'Dictator' musical director spoiling show, Zeffirelli tells the Guardian

John Hooper in Rome [The Guardian, 3 Mar 05]

It is the most fabled opera house in the world, whose reopening was lauded as one of the big events in music. Yet just three months later, La Scala is being paralysed by a crisis of Verdian theatricality that has led to rebellion and strikes, and is now prompting a head on clash between two of the titans of contemporary opera.

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Posted by Gary at 2:41 AM

Mozart? Maybe Not.

The Alleged Portrait of Mozart

Nicht Mozart, sondern ein Beamter

Von Renate Schostack [FAZ, 3 Mar 05]

01. März 2005 Ein Rokokoherr mittleren Alters, Frack, Spitzenjabot, gepudertes Haar - könnte das nicht Mozart sein? Niemand weiss, wie der Komponist wirklich ausgesehen hat.

So galt es denn als ,Weltsensation", als die Berliner Gemäldegalerie ihren bisherigen ,Herrn im grünen Frack" vor wenigen Wochen aufgrund einer computergestützten Analyse des Musikliebhabers Wolfgang Seiller als neu entdecktes Mozart-Porträt präsentierte. Gemalt hatte es der seinerzeit renommierte Münchner Porträtist Johann Georg Edlinger ,vor 1790", was aber nun auf ,um 1790" umfunktioniert wurde.

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Futterneid unter Bilderforschern

Aus München werden Zweifel an der Authentizität des Berliner Mozart-Porträts geäussert

von Manuel Brug [Die Welt, 3 Mar 05]

Das am meisten konsumierte Mozart-Bild ist nicht authentisch. Es ziert das Einwickelpapier der Mozart-Kugeln von Reber und wird noch vor dem Genuss zerknüllt. Aber auch Reber ist ja nicht authentisch. Die Firma sitzt in Bad Reichenhall, nicht in Salzburg. Welches ist also ein authentisches Mozart-Bild? Der rüpelige "Amadeus"-Mozart oder das verkannt sich zu Tode röchelnde Genie? Jeder hört Mozart anders - und sieht ihn auch verschieden. Vor seinem geistigen Auge. Dann gibt es noch die "gesicherten" Mozart-Porträts. Auf denen er stets anders aussieht.

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Posted by Gary at 2:18 AM

Villazón at the Wiener Staatsoper

Scene from Roméo et Juliette

Das war Leben!

VON PETRA HAIDERER [Die Presse, 1 Mar 05]

"Bei Gounod das Sinnliche ent- decken, bei Massenet das Spirituelle!" Rolando Villazón, am 1. März erstmals an der Staatsoper, über Oper, Lied und Leben. Ein Interview - oder doch schon eine Vorstellung?

Rolando Villazón singt an der Staatsoper den Romeo

Er ist ein Bühnenmensch. Durch und durch. Schon ein Interview mit ihm ist eine äusserst unterhaltsame Dar bietung: witzig, inspiriert und sprühend lebendig. "Ich wollte immer alles darstellen," sprudelt es aus dem 33-jährigen Mexikaner hervor. Mit Kindereien hat er sich dabei nicht aufgehalten. Bereits mit elf Jahren gehörte sein literarisches Interesse Camus und Kafka. "Die Figuren aus den Romanen waren für mich real, ich wollte so sein wie sie." Das hat er bisweilen im Extrem ausgelebt. Die Biografie Gandhis hat den Jugendlichen später so fasziniert, dass er mit runder Brille und Glatze zur Schule ging. Das überbordende Ausdrucksbedürfnis entdeckte auch bald den Gesang. Vorerst unter der Dusche, am liebsten die Songs von "Perhaps Love", Placido Domingos Cross-over-Album mit dem Popsänger John Denver - beide kann Villazón heute noch köstlich imitieren.

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Juanita Lascarro

Tenoritis am Wiener Ring

VON WALTER WEIDRINGER [Die Presse, 3 Mar 05]

Rolando Villazón ist der unangefochtene, umjubelte Star in Gounods "Roméo et Juliette".

Vergesst die Grippe. Und auch den schwächelnden Teenie-Starlet-Rummel, der im Raimundtheater die aktuelle Nachwuchsausgabe von Ken und Barbie, pardon: Romeo und Julia, umplätschert. Denn die Tenoritis ist ausgebrochen im Haus am Ring. Mit gutem Grund: Rolando Villazóns Debüt stellte sogar Patrick Woodroffes Lichtarchitektur in den Schatten, die Gounods Shakes-peare-Vertonung zum 24. Mal erhellte. Schon jetzt relativ dunkel und samtig timbriert, sprach Villazóns nicht grosser, aber expansionsfähiger Tenor in allen Lagen leicht an, besass sein Vortrag Geschmack, Eleganz und, ja: auch Feuer. Blühte die Höhe vielleicht nicht immer mit letztem Strahl auf, wurde sie doch ganz angstfrei produziert und so selbstverständlich in die Linie eingebunden, dass man sich fragte, warum man sich so oft mit gängigen tenoralen Unsitten zufrieden gibt.

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Posted by Gary at 2:10 AM

March 2, 2005

Is it Bach or is it Koopman?

Ton Koopman

Passende Transparenz

Markus-Passion im Münchner Herkulessaal

Am Anfang die Frage: Ist's Bach, ist's Koopman? Von Johann Sebastian Bachs Markus-Passion ist nur der Text erhalten geblieben. Der Holländer Ton Koopman hat nach einer gängigen Kompositionsmethode Bachs - der Wiederverwendung eigener Werke - die Arien und Choräle der Passion gesetzt und die Rezitative dazwischen neu komponiert. Man könnte sagen, einen handwerklich bearbeiteten Bach erschaffen. An dieses ganz besondere Stück wagte sich nun Philipp Amelung mit seinem Bach-Ensemble und bescherte damit dem Publikum im Münchner Herkulessaal einen äusserst spannenden Abend.

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Posted by Gary at 11:10 PM

Stravinsky's Les Noces and Oedipus Rex at the Barbican

Igor Stravinsky

Les Noces/ Oedipus Rex

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 28 Feb 05]

After opening its brief Barbican residency with Rimsky-Korsakov, the Mariinsky Theatre moved on to less regular territory for the company, with performances of Shostakovich's The Nose and a Stravinsky double bill. Although the two Stravinsky works — the "choreographic scenes" of Les Noces and the "opera-oratorio" Oedipus Rex — were first performed (both in Paris) just four years apart, in 1923 and 1927 respectively, they belong to different musical worlds, for Les Noces had been conceived much earlier, in the immediate aftermath of The Rite of Spring, and Stravinsky took a decade to perfect its formal shape and scoring.

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Stravinsky/Gergiev, Barbican Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 2 Mar 05]

Valery Gergiev should go into corporate public relations. Before he took up his post at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, how many people outside Russia could have described the company's style, or what it stood for, or could claim that they were familiar with its performances?

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

This is no masterpiece for a maestro

[Daily Telegraph, 28 Feb 05]

Rupert Christiansen reviews the Kirov Opera at the Barbican

Scholars have dubbed Rimsky-Korsakov's penultimate opera, Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, as "the Russian Parsifal", and I am surrounded, if not besieged, by people who believe it to be a masterpiece of the genre.

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Posted by Gary at 11:00 PM

James Levine and the 21st Century

James Levine

Good Conduct: The Metropolitan Opera, as Always, a Class Act

The Metropolitan Opera

Leighton Kerner [Village Voice, 1 Mar 05]

We're undeniably in the era of James Levine. The Cincinnati-born, 61-year-old conductor is right now art music's Great Enabler. As music director of the Metropolitan Opera for nearly the last 30 years and in the home stretch of his first season as chief conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his potential for goosing the possibilities of 21st-century classical music performance is unique.

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Posted by Gary at 10:53 PM

New York City Opera's 2005-6 Season

at New York City Opera (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

New Season at City Opera Leans Toward the Modern

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 2 Mar 05]

The New York City Opera said Tuesday that it would offer six new productions during its 2005-6 season, including two contemporary works: "The Little Prince" by Rachel Portman and "Lysistrata, or the Nude Goddess" by Mark Adamo.

In releasing details of the new season, City Opera said its offerings would skew toward the modern. New productions also include "The Mines of Sulphur," by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, which was given its premiere in London in 1965; Paul Dukas's "Ariane et Barbe-bleu" (1907); the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "Patience" (1881); and "Capriccio," the last opera by Richard Strauss, first performed in 1942.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 10:47 PM

TOMMASINI: The New York Times Essential Library: Opera — A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings

On the other hand I wonder if he/she will start out with six operas by Britten, four by Prokofiev or some masterpieces by Ruders, Weir or Weisgall. Therefore Mr. Tommasini had better called this selection : "My own subjective choice of 100 operas I like best at this moment; lots of unfamiliar and very modern stuff included ". Now such a very idiosyncratic choice may be interesting to widen the horizon of the experienced opera buff but then we could easily have done without Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Wagner.

Each opera is discussed "in depth" if I may say so on one page, sometimes even on two. On that page Mr. Tommasini crams in the contents of each opera, a discussion of the music and his reasoned choice of the best recordings on CD (he admits not liking DVD's). Now that's what I'd call a classic example of being all and everything to everybody and not succeeding in anything at all. One or two paragraphs on each opera's story make for the briefest outline and even the newcomer will barely know what the opera is all about: he/she still has to read in extenso the liners or the libretto. The musical discussion (can it be otherwise?) barely skims the surface; "Rossini folds the sensational arias, mellifluous duets, and gripping choral scenes into musical and dramatic structure of architectonic genius" writes Mr. Tommasini on Semiramide. Now, tell me how much more you understand Rossini's music after this batch of clichés ? As to the last part of each article, the discussion of "the best recordings," Mr. Tommasini especially (like most of us) prefers recordings with which he learned his trade many decades ago or recordings which are easily to grab up at the nearest Tower Records. He has to restrict himself to two or maximum three recordings at most at a rate of five lines per recording. Therefore don't expect any original thought, anything profound. On the contrary when Mr. Tommasini doesn't know the actual year of recording he simply jots down the re-issue date he found on his CD's: e.g. he dates Pavarotti's first Elisir from 1985 instead of the original 1971.

In short somebody at the Times looked at the list of subjects covered by their "Essential Library", saw Opera was still missing and said: "Ask Tony to write a few pages between the acts of one or another performance. The gap in our collection is closed and he can earn a few bucks extra." A pity, as Mr. Tommasini is an elegant writer with sometimes outspoken opinions who can explain them in clear simple language. If he had restricted himself to lesser known operas from all ages (especially concentrating on the 20th century) we would have had a very useful addition to those many reference works which already discuss stories, discography and music in detail of "the iron repertoire" but then it couldn't be published in "The Times Essential Library".

Jan Neckers

image_description=Anthony Tommasini: The New York Times Essential Library: Opera — A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings

product_title=Anthony Tommasini: The New York Times Essential Library: Opera — A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings
product_by=New York: Henry Holt and Co. Times Books, 336 pages, 25 b&w illustrations
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Posted by Gary at 1:21 AM

Opera Colorado Gala to Feature Jake Heggie Work For Renée Fleming

Renée Fleming

Fleming lends voice to new opera house

Star soprano will be joined by Morris and Lawrence at Sept. 10 debut of Caulkins venue

By Kyle MacMillan [Denver Post, 1 Mar 05]

Soprano Renée Fleming, one of opera's biggest names, heads a star-studded parade of 12 singers set to perform at the Sept. 10 gala opening of the $86 million Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Opera Colorado announced Monday.

The lineup could be the most important gathering of opera performers ever to appear in Denver. Also taking part will be bass-baritone James Morris, a regular at the Metropolitan Opera for more than 25 years, and leading soprano Cynthia Lawrence, a former Coloradan.

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Posted by Gary at 1:00 AM

March 1, 2005

Royal Holloway-British Library Lectures in Musicology

Pythagoras as Musician


A series of five public lectures from December 2004 to May 2005, given by CHRISTOPHER PAGE sponsored by the Department of Music, Royal Holloway, University of London, supported by the British Library

Lecture 4, Tuesday 8 March, from 6 pm to 7 pm at the British Library Conference Centre:


The elite civilisation of Europe in the central and later Middle ages is often spoken of as a 'courtly' one, where the 'courts' at issue include the households of secular magnates, bishops and abbots. Men and women of exalted station had always possessed courts in the West, since Roman imperial times, but after approximately 1050 writings from Western Europe refer with increasing frequency to a quality of 'courtliness', or curialitas. A music theorist of c1100, whom we know only by the name 'Johannes', is the first European writer to identify certain kinds of music as inherently 'courtly' (curialis) and therefore appropriate to courtliness. Since his treatise is a technical one, we can trace this courtliness in terms of actual musical procedures. We can also place him, with some confidence, exactly where other sources lead us to expect him, in the episcopal and indeed imperial milieux of 'Germany'.

Admission is free, without ticket.

For further details and directions to the venue please visit

Posted by Gary at 10:30 PM

Whither Classical Music?

Edward Elgar

Down the tubas: music is dying in our schools

Richard Morrison [Times Online, 25 Feb 05]

Serious music is under threat because it isn't taught, concertgoers are conservative and talented new composers ignored

EXACTLY 100 years ago Sir Edward Elgar delivered his first lecture at the University of Birmingham, where he had been persuaded to become the professor of music. With the Enigma Variations and Pomp and Circumstance Marches being played everywhere, the 47-year-old composer was at the pinnacle of his fame and creative powers. So anything he said was bound to resonate.

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Posted by Gary at 7:05 PM

Chabrier's Roi malgré lui in Lyon

Cast of Le Roi malgré lui (Photo: Gérard Amsellem)

Les pastiches exquis du "Roi malgré lui" passés à la moulinette burlesque

[Le Monde, 28 Feb 05]

A Lyon, une mise en scène pesante d'une œuvre rare d'Emmanuel Chabrier.

Lyon de notre envoyé spécial

Wagnérien passé à la postérité grâce à une espagnolade (Espana) représentative du brio orchestral français, Emmanuel Chabrier a suscité l'admiration de Ravel et de Stravinsky avec Le Roi malgré lui, dont l'Opéra de Lyon présente une nouvelle production. Pourtant, cet opéra-comique repose sur un livret que peu de commentateurs ont apprécié avec bienveillance. A commencer par le compositeur, aigri par les multiples remaniements du texte : "Une bouillabaisse de Najac et de Burani, que fait cuire Richepin et dans laquelle je colle quelques épices."

Au nombre déjà élevé des intermédiaires entre la source (un vaudeville d'Ancelot datant de 1836) et le produit dérivé (38 scènes réparties en 3 actes), il faut aujourd'hui ajouter Agathe Mélinand, qui signe une nouvelle version des dialogues parlés, à la fois concentrée et débridée.

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Posted by Gary at 6:45 PM

Bostridge and Uchida in Vienna

Franz Schubert

Selbstmord im Grossen Saal

[Die Presse, 02 Mar 05]

Ian Bostridge und Mitsuko Uchida mit Schuberts "Schöner Müllerin".

Einen Schubert-Liederabend im Grossen Musikvereins-Saal zu veranstalten, ist eigentlich eine Schnapsidee. Umso mehr, als ein so persönlicher und intimer Liedzyklus wie die "Schöne Müllerin" auf dem Programm stand, zu singen von Ian Bostridge mit seinem zarten, schlanken Tenor. Immerhin konnten dem Publikum auf diese Weise zwei Schubert-Experten auf einen Schlag präsentiert werden: Bostridge, der zuletzt mit seiner Einspielung der "Winterreise" für Aufsehen sorgte, und Mitsuko Uchida, sicher eine der führenden Schubert-Interpretinnen unter den Pianisten.

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Posted by Gary at 6:32 PM

Mosaic: African-American Spirituals

Mosaic: African-American Spirituals
Angela Brown, soprano, with Joseph Joubert (piano) and Tyron Cooper (guitar).
Albany Records TROY721 [CD]

Angela Brown has attracted the attention of those eager for the appearance of the next great Verdi soprano, and she continues to live up to the high expectations. Appearances with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as Leonara in Il Trovatore, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, and Strauss's Ariadne evoked high praise from local and national critics, and her recent debut as Aida at the Metropolitan Opera was well received. All have noted the powerful and richly expressive voice in early bloom as well as Brown's commanding stage presence. So this recent recording of spirituals, sung only with guitar or piano accompaniment (they all three contribute to the final "Ride Up in the Chariot"), is an interesting release. Brown is minimizing resources in search of what, in the liner notes, she calls an "intimate recording" of "songs of personal introspection." The results are a little more mixed than her operatic reception.

The sheer beauty of the voice is never in question. This is a remarkable and wisely used instrument. And Brown occasionally relaxes into her lower register and reveals a bluesy quality that makes the listener wish she would let down her guard more often. Indeed, that is a recurring wish as the disc plays on.

The program has an exuberant opening. "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit," co-arranged by Moses Hogan, Brown, and guitarist Tyron Cooper, introduces Brown in a relaxed yet rhythmically driven performance, the voice charged with energy and the guitar intricate but unobtrusive. The next selection, however, seems as if it is by another artist. The voice is heavy and the performance mannered, and Brown for the first time, but not the last, exhibits a tendency to sing a note under pitch until the last nanosecond before releasing it. "My Soul's Been Anchored" ends with some stunning vocal flourishes - the high notes are rich, clean, and motivated - but "City Called Heaven," which follows, again reveals a weightier and pitch-challenged sound. This quality persists in "Give Me Jesus" until Brown soars back into the stratosphere for some singing that is lighter and cleaner and highly effective. It is not until the eleventh selection, "Walk Together Children," that the energy and excitement of the opening track are recalled. Here, as at the top, the tempo and rhythmic demands don't allow Brown time to get in the way of the song, and the result is unadulterated joy. Much of the remaining performances are nothing special, but "Lord, How Come Me Here" is. This is performed - but never over performed - almost as a dramatic monologue. Brown gives the song-scene musical and dramatic shape, and she uses her voice better here than anywhere else on the recording. This is a singing actress at work, and the results are quite effective. Despite the swinging gospel feel of the guitar and piano on the final track ("Ride Up in the Chariot"), Brown sounds constricted in their company, and the final fadeout seems like a cheat. Perhaps Brown should have saved one of her previous big finishes for the last song.

Essentially a program of encores, this recording would benefit from shuffling. All the guitar collaborations are on the first half, and, after the opening number, they are all slow and contemplative. While Tyron Cooper plays with a wonderful breadth of style and beauty of tone and always provides sensitive collaboration for Brown, a little more variety would make a better program. The guitar-voice balance is always just right; both establish a close but comfortable presence. Pianist Joseph Joubert at first suffers from bad sound engineering - on "Come Down Angels" the piano sounds as if it were in a different room than the microphone -- and occasionally his arrangements sound perilously like supper club arrangements. On "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word" and "Lord, How Come Me Here," however, he is a dignified and complimentary partner to Brown, and his playing with Cooper on the last track is thrilling.

Angela Brown is to be applauded for recording a collection of spirituals in such interesting and often excellent settings. Her choice of guitar and piano in mostly small-scale arrangements is a refreshing nod towards the integrity this repertoire demands but doesn't always get. Incorporating blues and jazz elements into the arrangements adds to the cultural richness of songs already culturally rich. But sometimes it all sounds like work. Much of the time Brown sounds like an opera singer trying to scale down, working from the outside in, as it were. While she mentions, as noted above, that she thinks of these as "songs of personal introspection," not enough of these performances are introspective. The frequent lack of spontaneity precludes any introspection. This recording might be a labor of love for Ms. Brown, but it still too often sounds like a labor. Still, when it works, the soul soars.

Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University

Posted by Gary at 5:17 PM

VERDI: Falstaff

Giuseppe Verdi, Falstaff
Salzburg Festival 1937 & 1957
Andante AN3080 [4CDs]

Salzburg Festival, 9 August 1937

Mariano Stabile (baritone) - Sir John Falstaff
Virgilio Lazzari (bass) - Pistola
Augusta Oltrabella (soprano) - Nannetta
Angelica Cravcenco (mezzo-soprano) - Mrs. Quickly
Mita Vasari (mezzo-soprano) - Mrs. Meg Page
Franca Somigli (soprano) - Mrs. Alice Ford
Pietro Biasini (baritone) - Ford
Dino Borgioli (tenor) - Fenton
Alfredo Tedeschi (tenor) - Dr. Cajus
Giuseppe Nessi (tenor) - Bardolfo
Arturo Toscanini (conductor)
Chor der Wiener Staatsoper Wiener Philharmoniker

Salzburg Festival, 10 August 1957

Tito Gobbi (baritone) - Sir John Falstaff
Mario Petri (bass) - Pistola
Anna Moffo (soprano) - Nannetta
Giulietta Simionato (mezzo-soprano) - Mrs. Quickly
Anna Maria Canali (mezzo-soprano) - Mrs. Meg Page
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) - Mrs. Alice Ford
Rolando Panerai (baritone) - Ford
Luigi Alva (tenor) - Fenton
Tomaso Spataro (tenor) - Dr. Cajus
Renato Ercolani (tenor) - Bardolfo
Herbert von Karajan (conductor)
Chor der Wiener Staatsoper Wiener Philharmoniker

This Andante release is a marvelous compilation of two recordings of Verdi's Falstaff performed at the Salzburg festival, the first conducted by Arturo Toscanini in 1937, the second by Herbert Von Karajan in 1957. The juxtaposition and accompanying extensive program notes encourage the aficionado to compare, contrast and delight in the music through the lens of time. Falstaff was a favorite of the maestri and both took professional chances with it. Toscanini performed Falstaff during his first season at La Scala in 1898; Karajan perplexed his German-speaking audience by programming Falstaff in Aachen during his final season in 1941-2.

Karajan had plenty of access to Toscanini's genius, working as the Salzburg Festival's répétiteur during Toscanini's tenure there between 1934 and 1937. Of a production of Falstaff with Mariano Stabile, Karajan recalled:

"To be sure, Toscanini had employed a stage director; but basically the essential conception came from him. The agreement between the music and the stage performance was something totally inconceivable to us. Instead of people standing pointlessly around, here everything had a purpose."

Like Giulietta Masina and Fellini, Verdi viewed Toscanini as an artist who could bring to fruition his aesthetic. Toscanini played the cello in Verdi's La Scala orchestra for the premiere of Otello, where Verdi asked him to play a passage more loudly at one rehearsal. But one of Toscanini's earliest memories of Verdi was the composer advising the young boy to drink sugared water as a remedy for a pernicious cough. The maestro and composer embraced the Risorgimento, as fellow citizens of the Parma region, the belly of modern Italy, and Toscanini told his mother to get down on her knees after a performance of Otello and exclaim "Viva Verdi."

Viva Verdi, Toscanini and Karajan. These recordings are terrific. But how to listen to them historically? Start with perusing a score, perhaps from the local library. Study the orchestration, the unusual uses of the piccolo, the sforzandi and elided numbers. Verdi leaves little room for breathing in this swash of opera. Sweeping diatonic melodies alternate with divisive rests and accents. Unlike Wagner, the story is not in the music, but in the singing. Verdi is a dramatist at heart, and the drama is in the vocal line. Aria and recitative are of equal importance here, like a favorite singing teacher's melodic directives.

Listen to Karajan (1957), read the excellent notes that provide biographies for each singer and follow the libretto in the CD jacket. The opening is furious. Tito Gobbi's performance combines the silly and the sexy. Falstaff is a bumbler dressed in a luscious baritone. Secure, forthright and convincing, Stabile's voice is clear. The beguiling Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Giulietta Simionato join him as the equally scheming women. These voices meld nicely and are suited as supporting roles to Gobbi's star vehicle. Humor comes easily for all involved. Above all listen for Karajan's impeccable performance. The voices are clear, rhythmically precise and the orchestra is synched with the fine performances. In general, Karajan takes the tempi faster, and time starts and stops faster than it does with Toscanini. Some critics of Falstaff claim that the climax happens too quickly, with Falstaff tossed from the balcony already at the end of Act II. Karajan remedies the problem with enthusiastic Act III merriment and a thrilling Finale "Everything in the World is a Joke."

I would move to Toscanini's Falstaff Finale, for in it we can hear his genius in a nutshell. Toscanini's fugue is Bach and pastries, clear, metronomic and fast, frilly. Deliberate. Where Karajan takes time, Toscanini returns it. It is FAST. Even the interrupting soloists. The Finale is rigorous and virtuosic, in a way that the opera Falstaff is not. It ends in a breathtaking accelerando and we hear the audience clapping jubilantly. History moves in circles in these recordings and I suggest returning to Act I keeping in mind that Mariano Stabile sang the role close to 1,200 times!

If Toscanini is the voice of Verdi, then Stabile is that of Falstaff. It is as if the orchestra and voices are one, with quick shifts in tempo executed perfectly together under the maestro's baton. Stabile's voice is brash and exuberant. He too is accompanied by competent accomplices, Virgilio Lazzari's Pistol and Giuseppe Nessi's Bardolph. Toscanini's performance is raw and edgy; however, the quality of the recording is not as good as that from 1957, with occasional scratches and difficulties hearing offstage singing. But still nothing detracts from the laundry-basket scene. Here in the midst of an onslaught of melodic and dramatic nuances, Toscanini masterfully holds the whole thing together, so that no note, no accent is left to flutter in the wind.

Take an afternoon and reacquaint yourself with these historic renditions of Falstaff.

Nora Beck
Lewis & Clark College

Posted by Gary at 4:33 PM