Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Ravel’s Magical Glimpses into the World of Children

This is the fifth CD in a series devoted to Ravel’s orchestral works.

About an enfant: Ravel’s Opera about Childhood and Debussy’s Prodigal Son

This recording of Ravel’s second (and last) one-act opera was made during a concert, and -somewhat daringly - with rather close microphone placement. As it turns out, everything went smoothly.

Halévy’s Magnificent La reine de Chypre (1841) Gets Its Long-Awaited World Premiere Recording

Halévy’s La reine de Chypre (The Queen of Cyprus) is the 17th opera to be released in the impressively prolific “French Opera” series of recordings produced by the Center for French Romantic Music, a scholarly organization located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice. (Other recent offerings have included Saint-Saëns’s richly characterized Proserpine, Benjamin Godard’s fascinating Dante--which contains scenes set in Heaven and Hell--and Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs, an opéra-comique that had a particularly long life in the international operatic repertoire.)

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Leos Janacek: Missa Glagolitica

From Decca, Janáček classics with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Given that Bělohlávek died in May 2017, all these recordings are relatively recent, not re-issues, and include performances of two new critical editions of the Glagolitic Mass and the Sinfonietta.

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

06 Mar 2005

PUCCINI: La Bohème

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.

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
TDK DV-OPBOH [DVD]

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

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):