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

02 Apr 2005

Verdi Gala

As a live occasion, the gala format allows for a festive atmosphere — a variety of singers trot back and forth across the stage, usually performing a series of “opera’s greatest hits” with no distractions, if one may, in the way of costume, set, or dramatic context. Recorded for posterity, such gala events can lose, for many viewers, the attractions of the live atmosphere and become rather labored exercises.

Verdi Gala
Soloists, including Placido Domingo, Barbara Frittoli, Jose Carreras
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Chorus del Festival Verdi
Zubin Mehta, conductor
Euroarts DVD 2051057

As a live occasion, the gala format allows for a festive atmosphere — a variety of singers trot back and forth across the stage, usually performing a series of "opera's greatest hits" with no distractions, if one may, in the way of costume, set, or dramatic context. Recorded for posterity, such gala events can lose, for many viewers, the attractions of the live atmosphere and become rather labored exercises.

The DVD of a 2001 concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of Verdi's death, Verdi Gala, may escape such a judgment for many. The title reveals why: this concert focuses on one composer, and offers a comprehensive overview of the career of the master's art. Spread over two discs, with a total timing of almost three hours, the program starts with the famous chorus from Nabucco, offers some glimpses of other early Verdi (Jerusalem, the French version of I Lombardi, and Il Corsaro). From there, a leap is taken to the great mid-career masterpieces of Rigoletto, Traviata, and Trovatore, and the disc proceeds to cover the most popular of Verdi's later operas, before concluding with a reprise of the Nabucco chorus.

The DVD package cover features a blurb boasting of a "behind the scenes slide show" and "spoken introduction by the artists." The slide show? A dozen or so photographs of the artists in rehearsal, with no captions. The "spoken introductions"? They consist of brief biographical sketches of Verdi and some perfunctory setting of the scenes for the excerpted scenes. Delivered in Italian by the singers themselves, holding scripts, these introductions may prove informative and entertaining to some. Others, such as your reviewer, found them so consistently cringe-inducing that, in order to postpone the day when a Botox injection might be taken into consideration, frequent use of the "skip scene" button on the DVD remote became required. Fortunately, all these introductions are separately tracked.

Inevitably, the value of this DVD comes down to the individual singers, and how many of them overcome the "gala" format to deliver truly musical, dramatic performances. A couple do accomplish this feat, but thankfully, none are truly defeated.

Of the two highlights for this reviewer, Mariella Devia's rendition of Violetta's act one closing scene appears first. Accompanied off-stage by Marcelo Alvarez, Devia has the vocal goods for this challenging music, and though not a strikingly attractive woman, she has an air of class and self-possession that projects Violetta's character very well.

Late in the evening Placido Domingo, looking a bit tired and all of his years, takes on the closing scene of Otello, with Daniela Dessi as his Desdemona. In the longest excerpt of the night (over 20 minutes), Domingo manages the rare feat of finding his character so deeply that the gala trappings - the tuxedo and seated orchestra - cannot distract the viewer. His Nium mi tema must rank with any of his staged performances for tragic depth and pathos, and Dessi's committed Desdemona deserves admiration as well.

To see Carreras on stage singing opera in 2001, one admires the man's art and passion, and of course his triumphant personal story, though the beauty that propelled him to a world-class career has long gone. He manages Riccardo's death scene fairly well, but is more impressive in lesser-known music from Jerusalem and Il Corsaro, the latter sung with an able Elisabete Matos. Younger tenors Jose Cura and Marcelo Alvarez do well for themselves, though this reviewer wouldn't mind hearing the smoother beauty of Alvarez's voice in the more dynamic dramatic persona of Cura.

Frittoli surprises with a very convincing Ritorna vincitor; the other key soprano solo comes from Dessi as the Forza Leonora. Her Pace, pace finds her at the outer edge of her range, but not distressingly so.

Veterans Leo Nucci and Ruggero Raimondi cover the baritone/bass sections admirably. The mezzos are not as satisfying. Luciana D'Intino's Eboli hits all the notes but feels manufactured, and Gloria Scalchi's Azucena, in the closing scene of Trovatore, delivers her part well without making any greater claims on our interest.

The Parma audience is all dressed up and seemingly enthusiastic, though most audience shots seem to find a few grumpy, unenthused guests. Andrea Bocelli, many will be glad to know, makes only a brief appearance, near the end — he is in the audience.

One major quibble must be dealt with: the subtitles in English insist on capitalizing the first word of every line, even if said line is only the continuation of a previous thought. Distracting.

Finally, Mehta holds the evening together, and by the latter half, really gets some fine performing from his orchestra. He is also to be endlessly thanked for refusing to let audience applause keep him from conducting the last beat of the final Nabucco chorus. He turns and puts his hands out in the universal plea for "stop!" and then, all smiles, gets that final note in. Bless him.

So if one has a great personal affection for gala evenings, and especially for Verdi, this Verdi Gala could be fine entertainment value. If, however, errant capitalization or insipid narration, let alone inconsistent artistic endeavor, dismay one, look for these artists in complete recordings of opera on DVD.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

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):