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

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

29 Mar 2005

VERDI: Falstaff

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.

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

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):