Recently in Recordings
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
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.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
24 Apr 2005
BIZET: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
Les Pêcheurs de Perles is not a terribly major opera. Ned Rorem once memorably described it as “harmless” concerning the occasion on which it shared a double bill with the world premiere of Poulenc’s Les Mammeles De Tiresias. But for a competent early work by a promising composer who went on to greater things (well, one greater thing, given his tragically early death), Pecheurs has been given an enormous amount of attention both on stage and in the recording studio. An attractive work of conventional Second Empire French oriental exotica, it’s blessed to contain two beloved numbers that have won the hearts of opera lovers whose loyalty keeps it before the public with some frequency.
Georges Bizet: Les Pecheurs de Perles
Annick Massis, Yasu Nakajima, Luca Grassi, Luigi De Donato
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro La Fenice, Marcello Viotti, conductor
Dynamic 33459 [DVD]
Les Pecheurs de Perles is not a terribly major opera. Ned Rorem once memorably described it as "harmless" concerning the occasion on which it shared a double bill with the world premiere of Poulenc's Les Mammeles De Tiresias. But for a competent early work by a promising composer who went on to greater things (well, one greater thing, given his tragically early death), Pecheurs has been given an enormous amount of attention both on stage and in the recording studio. An attractive work of conventional Second Empire French oriental exotica, it's blessed to contain two beloved numbers that have won the hearts of opera lovers whose loyalty keeps it before the public with some frequency.
One of those numbers does not appear on this Dynamic video in its familiar form. The Teatro La Fenice production presents the composer's original 1863 score, without the cuts and touch-ups provided by Benjamin Godard who restructured the beloved duet "Au fond du temple saint" into the form known popularly today. He threw out the C section, repeating the A section to create a da capo structure concluding the duet with the most famous music in the opera--generally to thunderous applause. Heard here in Bizet's original form the C section takes Nadir and Zurga into a gentle martial rhythm that prefigures the Carlos-Roderigo duet in Verdi's Don Carlos four years in the future. There are various other differences, particularly in act 3.where the standard Choudens edition truncates the final scene. Nadir has a solo in the opening chorus, followed by a duet with Leila in the original. Zurga is not struck down for treason by Nourabad in this edition either, but lives on to watch the lovers depart, mourning his lost love and friendship with each of them.
The production was designed and directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi in warm earth tones highlighted by saffron and gold. Pizzi frequently has dancers enacting scenes from the past upstage in pools of light as they're being remembered downstage, most aggressively in a semi-aerial ballet by a dancer as Leila during the famed duet. The action takes place on a gently curved platform, whose ends rise at either side, in front of a temple in the form of a gilded stupa at the top of black lacquered steps up center. For some scenes a gilded Hindu stature provides the only backing. Pizzi places his chorus in traditional groupings that allow video director Tiziano Mancini to linger over the beautiful and characterful faces of the Fenice's sopranos and mezzos in particular. Choreographer/chief male dancer Gheorghe Iancu's dances are in the graceful calisthenics style that's relatively common now, creating an occasional grouping with arms and legs in the "now we're going to become a statue of Kali" mode. It's all decorative, unchallenging and, well, "harmless."
The major problem with this performance, one that may bother me more than it will some, is the scarcity of French singing style among the principles. Beyond the estimable Annick Massis, who is in very good form here, there are few head tones to be heard or floating high passages where the score really demands them. . The men all display a certain amount of vocal health combined with the thickened upper middle and top registers of singers who have pushed for power in more dramatic material. Tenor Yasu Nakajima, ideally youthful and handsome for Nadir, tries hard but cannot muster the elegant, finely shaded delivery to make a memorable impression in "Je crois entendre encore." It becomes just another aria competently sung in the prevailing international vocal style. Much the same can be said for Luca Grassi as Zurga. The clarity of vocal production with words far forward and floating on the tone that marks the best French singing is not his to give, although his solid, virile baritone and keen dramatic involvement offer rewards of their own. Young Luigi de Donato's bass is a work in development, although Nourabad is a small enough role that no particular harm is done.
Mme. Massis carries the vocal honors here in a stylish performance that wins the biggest audience response. Not a conventionally beautiful woman, her strikingly angular features and physical grace support a beautifully sung, highly expressive performance. Marcello Viotti takes the score seriously, bringing out its lyricism and supporting his singers. The chorus does well with Bizet's frequent choral episodes, particularly the big anthem that ends act two (here performed without any break into the short final act).
Subtitles are available in six languages including Chinese and Japanese. The sound is clear if just a shade distant at times. On the other hand, microphones aren't stuck down the singers' throats. This is an attractive release of a sweet little opera that will give some real pleasure unless you insist on absolutely authentic French vocal style. Whether the original version is an advantage or not will be up to each purchaser individually.