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

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

08 Mar 2005

VERDI: Les Vêpres Siciliennes

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 Vêpres 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.

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

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):