Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

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

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

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

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

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

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

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

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

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

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

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

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

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

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

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

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

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

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

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):