May 31, 2005

GOMES: Salvator Rosa

Antonio Carlos Gomes: Salvator Rosa
Francesco Ellero D'Artegna (duca); Francesca Scaini (Isabella); Mauro Pagano (Salvator Rosa); Gianfranco Cappelluti (Masaniello); Sofiya Solovey (Gennariello); Leonardo Gramegna (Conte); Salvatore Cordella (Fernandez); Volodymir Deyneka (Corcelli); Analisa Carbonara (Bianca); Tiziana Spagnoletta (Ines); Emil Zhelev (Lorenzo)
Coro da camera di Bratislava and orchestra Internazionale d'Italia, Maurizio Benini (cond.)
Dynamic 472/1-2 [2CDs]

One of the nice features of art in former times was the care-free way artists took in mining the same sources over and over again. Contents and quality were held in higher esteem than an "original" idea. Auber's La Muette de Portici was still in full swing in many theatres when Antonio Ghislanzoni of Aida-fame concocted a libretto on the same subject: the rising of Naples led by the fisherman Tomas Aniello against the Spanish viceroy in 1647. (Incidentally, it is a legend that La Muette triggered the separatist mutiny that ended the united Netherlands in 1830.) And in 1953 composer Jacopo Napoli won third prize in the Verdi composition competition with another Mas'aniello which was duly performed at La Scala. As they couldn't find a tenor, they asked a youngster, thanked him profusely after the job was done and sent him back home for another two years: Carlo Bergonzi.

The real hero in Ghislanzoni's story however is the painter Salvator Rosa who assists Masaniello in the uprising. To the best of my knowledge the real painter was in Florence during the uprising and in any case lived another 26 years; a feat one would not surmise when one hears his desires for early death in this opera if he cannot have the girl. Well, I will not poke fun too much at the libretto but Ghislanzoni didn't take too much pains. The painter is hopelessly in love with a girl he has seen once (so are Fernand in La Favorite and especially Raoul in Les Huguenots; this ploy is still used in Fred Raymond's popular operetta Maske in Blau). She is of course the daughter of Rosa's bitterest enemy (Donizetti's Duca d'Alba) In the second act we get a song on the conquest of Naples with a Pim!Pom! text (Marcel's Pif!Paf! in Les Huguenots).

The same eclecticism can more or less be said of Gomes' music. One irresistibly thinks of a mixture of late Donizetti, middle Verdi and early Ponchielli, though the melodies of Gomes are just pleasing and do not get under the skin like Verdi's best ones. Nevertheless Gomes could write a tune like the still famous bass aria and the magnificent song Mia peccerella, though some Caruso fans will be surprised that the aria is meant to be sung by a soprano instead of a tenor (did ever a soprano record E lucevan le stele or la donna è mobile?). The opera is a long one (2 hours and 40 minutes) and Gomes' inspiration starts to flag somewhat in the last two acts though the music never degenerates into nondescript noise.

This is the third and very much the best recording of the opera. The 1977 live recording from Sao Paulo only gave a faint impression of the opera due to the bad sound. A new one from Dorset opera had some cuts and a lot of singers for whom 19th Century Italian opera was somewhat strange territory. The set under review was culled from performances in July 2004 at the wonderful Festival della Valle d'Itria in Martina Franca where so many operas are resuscitated and at the same time recorded by Dynamic (La Reine de Saba, Polyeucte). This year we get Marchetti's Romeo e Giulietta and if the music is half as good as his Ruy Blas, we are in for a treat. The artistic director is Sergio Segalini (now the boss at La Fenice, too) who was for many years the editor of France's best known magazine Opéra International. He invariably passed his summers as a jury member in any singing competition that offered good fare and a nice hotel. But, in that way he got to know a lot of young aspiring and promising singers who afterwards could be hired rather cheaply for the Festival and with a recording as a little extra.

The find on this recording is soprano Francesca Scaini; a wonderful spinto with a personal, somewhat smoky and sensual sound, who sings with passion and fire without chopping up phrases. And when she opens up she can drown anybody on the stage. A pity that Gomes had lost some steam by the moment he composed her big aria. For the moment, she is singing most of the time in Germany (and in Bieito's productions as well). I hope her career will not be hampered by the fact that some directors think she has not enough "le fysique du role".

The title role is sung by tenor Mauro Pagano, winner of the Gigli-competition in 2000. During the actual performances it was announced he suffered from laryngitis but this is not noticeable on the recording. We hear a firm, full and richly coloured tenor, not too subtle but with charm. He gives the impression the voice comes from rather deep in the throat without sounding ugly but he overcomes the long killer role very well.

Sofiya Solovey, a young Ukrainian soprano, is an outstanding Gennariello with a fresh spontaneous well schooled voice who gives us Mia peccerella with a real lilt in the voice. Baritone Gianfranco Cappelluti is somewhat the weak link; a rather rough and ready sound without any original colour in the voice and only a good top as an asset.

Bass Francesco Ellero d'Artegna is the only international star in the cast and, though he has one of the best tunes (Di sposo, di padre), he strikes me as a little bit bland, a little bit impersonal. Maybe the voice doesn't record too well as I remember him as a compelling singer with an impressive sound in the flesh.

Conductor Maurizio Benini believes in the work he is conducting and he is joyous, sentimental or furious without ever exaggerating tempi. Only his Bratislava chorus (probably cheaper than Italian choruses) sounds a little thin.

The sound of the recording is fine and there are only a few extraneous noises. The recording comes with an Italian-English libretto.

All in all, a most rewarding experience and a must for those among you who can by now sing every Verdi from start to finish and vice-versa.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 10:29 PM

May 30, 2005


The work is an extraordinary curiosity; a child of the heady days just before the French Revolution, Tarare is the famous French writer's only opera and one of the Italian composer's rare French scores. First and most strikingly a work of social and political commentary, Tarare is also an entertaining work of theatre. Salieri's music supports these aims admirably and offers a few memorable moments of its own. As an opera form, Tarare defies easy categorization; it may be best described as a comedic satire dressed in the clothes of a sprawling 5 act lyric tragedy, complete with Prologue and a grand divertissement with dance.

This performance, from the Schwetzinger Festspiele in 1988, is a co-production of the Badishe Staatstheatre Karlsruhe and the Théatre National Opéra de Paris, and makes an impressive case for the work as a lively comedy. The production is remarkably well cast, directed with great imagination by Jean-Louis Martinoty, and energetically performed by Jean-Claude Malgoire and the Deutsche Händel Solisten. There are several cuts made, the only disconcerting one being the elimination of most, but not all of the overture between the Prologue and Act I.

The Prologue is the most unusual part of the opera. It poses certain theatrical challenges that do not seem well met in this production, however. Interestingly, the opera opens with a storm scene. The stage is here filled with emblems of the nations of the world and their emperors, each struck down in slow motion by an allegorical figure wielding death's scythe. It would have been preferable to have recreated, with the dance company, the pantomime of winds unchained described in the original stage directions, and to see them gradually calmed, the clouds dispersed, and a daytime countryside revealed, all in response to the musical score. What follows is a lengthy discourse between La Nature (Gabrielle Rossmanith) and the Le Genie de Feu (Klaus Kirchner) over the fates of each of the characters in the opera, whose shadows appear before them and whose souls they are about to awake. The discourse is convoluted, but filled with allusions to equality, class and power, science, character, and the creator.

Happily, from the first notes of Act I, we are in a world of action, where the author's philosophical point of view, though heavy handed, is made in lively metaphor. The setting is an Asiatic kingdom, where Atar, the king, (Jean-Philippe LaFont) is frustrated by the adulation his people confer upon the heroic soldier Tarare (Howard Crook). Atar conspires with the high priest of Brama, Arthénée (Nicolas Rivenq) and the priest's son Altamort (Hannu Niemelä) to abduct Tarare's wife Astasie (Zehava Gal), whom the king desires, and to get rid of Tarare. It sounds like the stuff of dramatic opera, but from the very beginning it is hilarious. This hilarity is aided considerably by the two European servants in the court — the eunuch Calpigi (Eberhard Lorenz), and his wife Spinette (Anna Caleb), who are, appropriately, dressed as Harlequins in surroundings of Asiatic exoticism (stage design by Heinz Balthes and costumes by Daniel Ogier). There may be in the libretto a little more threatening evil to Atar's character, but LaFont's comedic talents and his singing are delightful. Howard Crook seems exactly right as the earnest hero Tarare, and his 'Astasie est une Déesse' is an air both arresting and beautiful. Eberhard Lorenz helps carry the drama forward with brilliant and athletic humor as he manipulates circumstances to Tarare's advantage. The third act is primarily an extended divertissement, choreographed by Ann Jacoby. The wonderful conceit of this is that the 'exotic' elements are the Europeans, and it is very funny to see Atar and the long mustached Middle-Eastern soldiers trying to imitate a provincial French pastorale. The scene ends with a tuneful strophic Italian song sung by Calpigi that is cleverly and dramatically interrupted by the appearance of Tarare. At this point the work begins to take on the trappings of a rescue opera. The fourth act provides two musical moments worth mentioning — Astasie's passionate air, alternating with recitative, "O mort, termine mes douleurs", and a compelling duo reflecting the humorous emotional confusion of a scene of mistaken identity between Tarare and Spinette. In Act 5, Atar's plans fall to pieces. The subjugated Tarare is loyal to the monarchy to the end, however, despite the king's perfidy, but the soldier is still the object of the people's affections. Humiliated, the king then ends his own life, and the people, led by Urson, the captain of the guards, (Jean Francois Gardeil) give the crown to Tarare, which he reluctantly accepts. The final chorus hammers the moral home; "Mortals,.....your greatness comes not from your rank, but from your character."

The theatre at the Schwetzinger Festspiele is an intimate one, and it is a bit odd not to feel a greater presence of the audience and orchestra in the filming of this production. We wish to be laughing with the audience at this live performance, and to see the orchestra and conductor at work. Having eliminated the overture and thus the natural place to film the orchestra, the only time the camera focuses on the musicians is when the action happens to be brought to the edge of the stage. This is of course a small complaint in a welcome production of a fascinating opera that clearly reflects the ideas of its time. As Beaumarchais played a crucial role in financing the American Revolution, and Tarare was written on the eve of the Constitutional Convention, his social commentary will likely resonate with Americans, and we look forward to staging in this country soon.

Ryan Brown

image_description=Antonio Salieri: Tarare

product_title=Antonio Salieri: Tarare
product_by=Howard Crook, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Anna Caleb, Eberhard Lorenz. Deutsche Händel Solisten, Jean-Claude Malgoire (cond.).
product_id=Arthaus-Musik 100 557 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 3:28 PM

Cherubini's Medea at Toulouse

(Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863))


Antonacci, Médée de légende

Caroline Alexander [Le Journal des Spectacles, 25 May 05]

L'événement du mois, sinon de la saison, vient d'avoir lieu à Toulouse avec la nouvelle production d'un chef d'œuvre trop rarement joué : Medea de Luigi Cherubini. Avec, pour défendre le role-titre, l'éblouissante performance d'Anna Caterina Antonacci, couronnant une réalisation de tout premier plan, tant au niveau de l'Orchestre National du Capitole dirigé par Evelino Pido, qu'à celui des mises en scène, décors et costumes signés Yannis Kokkos. Une réussite exemplaire dont il ne faudra pas rater la reprise au Châtelet de Paris dans le cadre de son annuel festival des régions.* Compositeur majeur, à la fois contemporain de Mozart - il était son cadet de quatre ans - et de Beethoven - né dix ans après lui -, injustement boudé par divers oukases de ces modes qui se suivent puis se démodent, il était l'homme de la maestria absolue, héritier de Gluck, mozartien dans l'air du temps, adepte de la rigueur classique et annonciateur visionnaire du romantisme. Autant d'éléments et de formes qui émaillent son œuvre prolifique (opéras, cantates, messes, sublime musique de chambre) comme Les Cailloux du Petit Poucet. Berlioz le railla, l'admira, l'imita...

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Posted by Gary at 3:00 PM

Falstaff in LA

Bryn Terfel as Falstaff (Photo: LA Opera)

Scoundrel? Nay, a Boon Drinking Companion

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 30 May 05]

LOS ANGELES, May 29 - Portraying the title role of Verdi's "Falstaff," which opened at the Los Angeles Opera on Saturday, the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel is so irascible, nimble on his feet and altogether charming that he almost makes you forget how splendidly he sings the music. Yes, this Falstaff is a blowhard, a bald and broken-down knight, and a shameless moocher.

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Posted by Gary at 1:13 PM

May 29, 2005

Mozart and Gluck in London

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Cosi Fan Tutte

Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 28 May 05]

Did Mozart really think Cosi Fan Tutte was a comedy? Matthew Warchus didn't seem sure when he created his ENO staging three years ago; but, even if Steven Stead's revival doesn't milk every gag in Jeremy Sams' wonderfully witty translation of Da Ponte's libretto, there are enough laughs to make you think he might have done.

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La Clemenza di Tito

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 28 May 05]

La Clemenza di Tito seems to be everywhere this year, but this concert performance, given by the Classical Opera Company as part of the Lufthansa Baroque Festival, was distinctly different. For this was not the opera seria composed by Mozart in the last few months of his life, but Gluck's work on the same subject, first performed in Naples in 1752 and never heard in Britain until now.

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Posted by Gary at 11:34 PM

Voigt and Heppner at Cincinnati's May Festival

Deborah Voigt

'Tristan and Isolde' spectacular

By Janelle Gelfand [Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 May 05]

Friday will go down in the annals as one of the most spectacular opera evenings ever at the May Festival.

Two of the world's greatest Wagnerian singers, soprano Deborah Voigt and tenor Ben Heppner, came together for the first time in Act II of "Tristan und Isolde," a concert performance under the baton of James Conlon in Music Hall. It was one of those rare moments of music making that one feels lucky to witness, and the hall erupted in cheers for nearly 10 minutes at its conclusion.

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Posted by Gary at 11:04 PM

Replacing David Gockley

David Gockley

Houston Grand Opera gets a dressing-down

By CHARLES WARD [Houston Chronicle, 28 May 05]

Edward G. Wallace Jr., an oilman, has observed and supported the arts in Houston for several decades.

His great passion is opera, especially bel canto opera.

He got involved in the arts in Houston around 1970, when HGO general director David Gockley came to the company as business manager. Wallace has served on HGO's executive committee and was a founder of HGO's endowment fund. He contributed to the construction of the Wortham Theater Center -- HGO's library bears his name -- and still sits in Box No. 14 in the Wortham's Brown Theater.

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Posted by Gary at 10:59 PM

TCHAIKOVSKY: Eugene Onegin

Peter Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
Maria Gavrilova (Tatyana), Vladimir Redkin (Eugene Onegin), Nikolay Baskov (Lensky), Aik Martirosyan (Prince Gremin), Yelena Novak (Olga), Urina Udalova (Larina), Alexander Arkhipov (Triquet)
Orchestra and Chrus of the Bolshoi Theatre, Mark Ermler (cond.)

Recently released by TDK, this version of a Tchaikovsky classic was recorded at the Bolshoi Theater in October 2000. Directed by Boris Pokrovsky and conducted by Mark Ermler, the production features Maria Gavrilova as Tatiana, Nikolai Baskov as Lensky, Vladimir Redkin as Onegin, Yelena Novak as Olga, and Aik Martirosyan as Gremin. It is very much a live recording, complete with curtain calls and screaming fans who cheer their favorites after practically every number (to the performers' credit, there are no encores!).

Billed as a remake of the 1944 Bolshoi production (conducted by Alexander Melik-Pashaev, it is currently available on CD from Naxos), this is perhaps the most traditional of the four Onegin DVDs that will be available this year. Sets and costumes of the duel scene in particular may remind some viewers of the old black-and-white photographs that feature Kozlovsky as the tenor lead. Boris Pokrovsky's work is typical of this director: his Onegin is a realistic costumed drama with lively crowd scenes and plenty of stage business. There are some nice touches: for instance, in the opening scene, Madame Larina, all aflutter at the arrival of unexpected guests, pretends to read a book while holding it upside down, which Olga promptly corrects. Very few directing ideas are what one would consider revisionist. The only significant one occurs at the end of the duel scene, when Lensky appears to make a gesture of reconciliation, walking toward his opponent with his arms outstretched; Onegin, without noticing, fires the fatal shot.

Overall, Onegin's coldness and indifference are perhaps over-emphasized throughout Acts 1 and 2 (after his "sermon" to Tatiana in Tableau 3 he looks positively smug), which makes his sudden transformation into a passionate lover in the final scenes rather unconvincing. The fault may not lie with the director here, however: Redkin's stage presence is stiff and reserved, while the voice is adequate but hardly memorable. Gavrilova's Tatiana is more likable. Her voice is pleasant, with clear, pure tone in the high register; projection is sometimes an issue in the middle and low ones. On stage, the singer seems more comfortable as the dignified and refined St Petersburg socialite of Act 3 than as the shy country girl of the opening tableaux. In the latter, her repetitive gestures and perpetually ecstatic facial expression tend to get tiresome, although there are some nice moments with the Nurse just before the Letter Scene.

Novak's Olga and Baskin's Lensky sing well and look their parts. Novak is young, blond, coquettish, and carefree; her strong, deep contralto is as surprising a contradiction to her image now as it must have been at the opera's 1879 premiere. Baskin is striking, mannered, and just a touch melodramatic, which Lensky's music frankly invites. One only wishes that in the ball scene the singer would refrain from smiling so sweetly at his audience as he complains about his girlfriend's betraying him with his best friend. Martirosyan as Prince Gremin shines in his single aria in Tableau 6. Other minor characters support the ensemble well, although the acting varies from stereotypical but acceptable (Udalova's Larina) to truly atrocious (Borisova's Nurse).

In a recent and most unfortunate Bolshoi tradition, the orchestral sound is heavy and loud, with the musicians occasionally finding it hard to stay in tune and in time. Equally predictably, the choristers seem constantly on the lookout both for each other and the beat. The ballet is as fine as ever; in the 4th-tableau ball sequence, Pokrovsky does a nice job mixing the corps with the singing characters, which provides lively action, albeit mostly by way of comic relief.

As for the technical aspects of the release, the DVD features include an easy-to-navigate menu with a select-a-scene option, a choice of different sound formats, and subtitles in multiple languages. Overall, this is a decent enough traditional introduction to Tchaikovsky's opera for those unfamiliar with it (say, for a class of college students); for a connoisseur, I would suggest checking out the new version with Dyadkova and Leiferkus, which will be out on Kultur label later this month.

Olga Haldey
University of Missouri at Columbia

Posted by Gary at 10:32 PM

May 28, 2005

Alberto Vilar Arrested

Alberto Vilar


By RICHARD WILNER [NY Post, 28 May 05]

Alberto Vilar, a hotshot millionaire money manager and the Metropolitan Opera's largest benefactor, was hauled before a federal judge yesterday on charges he stole $5 million from a client -- and then used part of the money to make a donation to his alma mater.

Vilar, 64, was nabbed by U.S. postal inspectors at 8:15 p.m. Thursday after stepping off a plane at Newark Airport. His business partner, Gary Tanaka, 62, was also arrested as he relaxed at an East Side hotel.

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Posted by Gary at 9:58 PM

Teatro Colon — Where The House Is The Show

Teatro Colon is something to sing about

Refurbished opera house in Buenos Aires is work of art

By Richard O'Mara [Batlimore Sun, 29 May 05]

Most people go to the opera to see the show. In Buenos Aires, many go just to see the opera house.

Recently refurbished, the Teatro Colon offers guided tours through what is one of the world's truly great houses of music. These tours are a hot attraction, especially for the tourists flooding the Argentine capital these days, where the dollar still has muscle. The tours are in Spanish, English, Portuguese and other languages.

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Posted by Gary at 7:22 PM

A Profile of Valery Gergiev

Valery Gergiev (Photo: Mariinsky Theatre)

Valery Gergiev: Last of the great autocrats

The Kirov could easily have dispersed or gone bankrupt but Gergiev, through titanic effort, held it together

By Ian Irvine [The Independent, 28 May 05]

What makes Valery Gergiev run? When the announcement came last week that he was to take over from Sir Colin Davis as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, it was obvious what the LSO got from the deal. It confirmed them as one of the world's leading orchestras, able to attract (Sir Simon Rattle possibly excepted) the most talented and charismatic conductor of his generation. For Gergiev, however, it was just another high-profile post to add to his already prodigious workload.

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Posted by Gary at 7:17 PM

BELLINI: I Puritani

Vincenzo Bellini: I Puritani
Edita Gruberova (Elvira), José Bros (Arturo), Carlos àlvarez (Riccardo), Simón Orfila (Giorgio), Konstantin Gorny (Gualtiero), Vicenç Esteve Madrid (Bruno), Raquel Pierotti (Enrichetta)
Orquestra Simfonica i Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Friedrich Haider (cond.)

Bellini's last opera has had its share of classic performances on stage and in studio, but it has not truly challenged the prominence of the reigning work of this bel canto master, Norma. The Druid princess remains such an attraction both for sopranos who aspire to greatness and to audiences who relish its dramatic power that it alone of all Bellini's works maintains a firm position in the standard repertory.

Musically, surely it would be hard to argue that Puritani has a weaker score — the quartet that begins with the tenor's luscious A te, o cara can send as many chills down the spine as a well-performed Casta diva, and Elvira's mad scene contains some of Bellini's most inspired music. The mature operas of Verdi are visible on the horizon over and over again as the orchestra textures take on a color and depth beyond any of Bellini's previous achievements.

Why then the relative neglect — though far from total — of I Puritani? A recent DVD release of a February 2001 Liceu production, staged by Andrei Serban, suggests some possible answers, but nothing definite. Ultimately, the performance has too many liabilities to draw any conclusions, except that even in these sadly qualified circumstances, the greatness of the score endures.

The production Serban directs presents most of the problems. First, its muted color scheme — dull earth tones of brown and gray — dulls the senses fairly quickly. Second, odd bits of business intrude — some by accident and some by design. The DVD captures a stage accident — a rifle falls off a rack to the floor early on, making quite a racket. The director — clumsy throughout the performance — won't allow us to forget the mishap, but instead focuses on a singer replacing the rifle on the rack! Perhaps putting a rickety stand of firearms mid-stage as soldiers troop by made the accident inevitable, however, which points to the director.

Probably it was also director Serban's idea to have Elvira's wedding dress trotted back and forth across the stage hanging from a broomstick, like some sort of spooky effigy. Since it seems to take two people to carry it, all one can say is, Elvira must be a strong girl.

Edita Gruberova has made for herself a European-based career of such distinction that her fame extends beyond the continental borders, although she herself rarely if ever seems to leave them. Recently her Adele in Fledermaus, on a DVD of a Vienna performance, showed her in her youth, singing with amazing skill, real warmth and character.

Her Elvira here, however, will please unreservedly only her most besotted fans — many of whom seem to have been in the Liceu for the filming. Sensitivities to pitch fluctuations tend to be subjective, but your reviewer found her to be consistently just slightly under pitch through much of act one. Her high notes in the desperate climax of the act show her finding her best voice, and perhaps that is why she is rewarded for the scena with an ovation for which she breaks character twice to bask in the audience's devotion (and the same thing occurs after her big act two aria). Perhaps a faulty production needs more dramatic conviction and focus, not less.

José Bros, Elvira's love who seemingly betrays her before their wedding (in a little Lucia twist) has an attractive face and a handsome head of hair, although beyond that a rather typical tenor physique — short and stout. Any Arturo had better have some personal magnetism, as he gets arguably the most stunningly romantic entrance in all opera, A te, o cara. Here Serban utilizes the elevated walkway and a descending ramp to bring some very dramatic impact to the scene.

Bellini's music for Arturo famously makes extraordinary demands, and Bros's secure, highly placed tenor meets them well. But he lacks both the physical stature (maybe the chorus's line that Arturo "stands most tall" should be omitted from the titles) and vocal charisma to carry off a role that is barely a character sketch.

Carlos àlvarez looks and sounds slightly uncomfortable as Sir Riccardo Forth, sweating under the lights as he tries to sing out Bellini's long lines. The last two acts find him in more relaxed voice. As often happens, he is a more dashing figure on stage than his tenor rival. More impressive vocally is Simón Orfila as Elvira's uncle; his handsome deep register dominates the early part of act two. Raquel Pierotti as Charles II's widow, and the crux to what plot there is, makes one thankful for her character's brief appearance, due to her unpleasant timbre.

Conductor Friedrich Haider chooses brisk tempos and forceful accents, causing some damage to Bellini's great score. However, when the music of act three comes closer to anticipating the dramatic energy of Verdi, Haider comes through. Maybe Trovatore would be more his style.

Act three's over-the-top melodrama, with a quite abrupt dues ex machine finish and hymn to Cromwell, may convince some that Puritani's main problem is its antiquated dramaturgy. Surely Serban struggled with how to make the piece an effective drama on stage, and his struggles are memorialized on this DVD.

Nonetheless, the best moments here serve as potent evidence that the opera simply contains too much great music to be dismissed. Those of us with a special place in our opera-loving hearts for Vincenzo Bellini's art can only hope that Puritani will find itself on DVD again, and soon, in a production and with a cast up to its challenges. This Liceu performance, flawed as it is, will have to serve till then.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

Posted by Gary at 7:09 PM

García Opera Buffa Found

Manuel García (1775-1832) as Otello

Redescubren ópera bufa sobre Don Quijote de hace casi 200 anos

[Terra Actualidad, 27 May 05]

Una ópera bufa sobre Don Quijote, escrita hace 180 anos, ha sido redescubierta en Espana el ano del IV Centenario de la obra que la inspiró y posiblemente sea reestrenada, afirmó a EFE el director musical Juan de Udaeta.

La pieza, del compositor sevillano Manuel García (1775-1832), fue 'exhumada' por De Udaeta del Archivo Histórico de Madrid y un fragmento fue presentado al publico por primera vez en el marco del XVI Coloquio Cervantino Internacional, que se desarrolla en la ciudad colonial de Guanajuato, en el centro de México.

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Posted by Gary at 6:37 PM

May 27, 2005

Arabella at Châtelet

Karita Mattila (Arabella)

Strauss version luxe

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 27 May 05]

Il y a trois ans, l'Arabella de Richard Strauss mise en scène par Peter Mussbach avait été l'un des points culminants de la saison du Châtelet, mais avait divisé les esprits : certains avaient taxé de froideur le décor étonnant d'Erich Wonder, regrettant sans doute le rococo viennois. C'était oublier que le livret, laissé inachevé par Hofmannsthal, mort d'une apoplexie alors qu'il mettait son chapeau pour se rendre à l'enterrement de son fils, n'a strictement plus rien des stucs du Chevalier à la rose, mais éclaire avec cruauté le monde moderne des années 20 et sa décomposition sociale. Tout cela, ce hall de grand magasin avec ses escalators à l'endroit et à l'envers, le dit aussi bien que des personnages dont le rang social s'effrite sous l'assaut des névroses. Non seulement le spectacle n'a pas vieilli, mais il a gagné en concentration.

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Posted by Gary at 9:12 PM

Fisting Macbeth in Frankfurt

Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth (Photo: Jörg Landsberg)

Macbeth, Frankfurt Opera

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 27 May 05]

It doesn't matter who sings what. At some point, someone's fist is up someone else's rectum. Some of us were not even sure this was anatomically possible until the nihilistic Catalan director Calixto Bieito took up opera. Now it's routine.

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Posted by Gary at 8:47 PM

PURCELL: Dido and Aeneas and The Masque of Cupid and Bacchus
GAILLIARD: Pan and Syrinx

Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
Nicola Wemyss (Dido), Matthew Baker (Aeneas). Francine van der Heijden (Belinda)

John Ernest Galliard: Pan and Syrinx
Johannette Zomer (Syrinx), Marc Pantus (Pan), Nicola Wemyss (Diana), Mitchell Sandler (Sylvan), Richard Zook (Nymph)

Henry Purcell: The Masque of Cupid and Bacchus
Penni Clarke (Cupid), Marc Pantus (Bacchus)

Musica ad Rhenum, Jed Wentz (cond.)
Brilliant Classics 92464 [2CDs]

This 2-disc recording contains three mid-Baroque English operas, two of them by Purcell. Dido and Aeneas is the well-known ancient Greek story of the widowed Carthaginian queen Dido and her doomed love for the wandering Aeneas, with its most famous aria built on a descending ground bass. The Masque of Cupid and Bacchus is a light-hearted comparison of the joys of love and drunkenness. Pan and Syrinx is a through-sung, one-act English opera on an original text by Lewis Theobald. It premiered at London's Lincoln's Inns Fields Theatre in 1718. London's opera scene was dominated by Italian opera at this time, and it was very successful as an English-language opera. It is the story of the woodland god Pan, who falls for a cold-hearted nymph named Syrinx. Typical of maidens who are about to be ravished when they don't want to be, Syrinx calls to the gods as Pan attempts to grab her, and she is transformed into a bunch of reeds, from which Pan makes his panpipe, in order to sing her eternal praise and lament her death.

Musica ad Rhenum attempts to avoid the anachronisms of style of eighteenth-century opera by using the rhetoric and aesthetics of that time in its performances. The recording is light and fresh, full of vigor and Baroque tone quality. This recording is quite enjoyable and enlightening.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Posted by Gary at 8:32 PM

Die Zauberflöte at Baden-Baden

Christoph Strehl (Tamino) and the Three Ladies of the Queen of the Night (Photo: KREMPER)

Die Zauberflöte, Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 25 May 05]

In an age where youth and haste are prized, this is anachronistic: Claudio Abbado, at the age of 72, is conducting his first Magic Flute. Paradoxically, it would be hard to imagine the piece sounding fresher, more limber or agile.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:36 AM

May 26, 2005

MOZART: Lucio Silla

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Lucio Silla, Dramma per musica in tre atti, K 135.
Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (Lucio Silla); Lella Cuberli (Giunia); Ann Murray (Cecilio); Britt-Marie Aruhn (Cinna); Christine Barbaux (Celia); Ad van Baasbank (Aufidio)
Orchestre et Choeurs du Theatre Royal de la Monnaie, Sylvain Cambreling (cond.)
Brilliant Classics 92343 [3CDs]

In December 1772, Mozart completed Lucio Silla on commission for Milan's Teatro Regio Ducale — his second opera for Milan, after Mitridate. This opera seria is placed in ancient Rome, where Lucio Silla is the absolute dictator. Silla wishes to marry Giunia, the wife of the Roman senator Cecilio, whom he had exiled. After an attempt to assassinate Silla is thwarted, Cecilio is condemned to die. Silla eventually renounces the dictatorship, pardons Cecilio, frees all political prisoners, and gives freedom to the Roman people.

This is a recording of a live performance given in 1985 at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie (aka DeMunt) in Brussels. This is yet another reissue of the recording, now on the Brilliant Classics label. This 3-disc set includes a booklet that provides the opera's synopsis, the contents of each disc, and the libretto in Italian. There is no biographical information provided on the soloists, and there is no information provided on the orchestra and chorus. This is not a historically informed performance in that the sound quality is more Romantic than Classical in nature. It is also a live recording, which means that the listener can hear all of the audience's movements and sounds throughout.

While the performance, as recorded live, is of a good quality for its time, Teldec's recording with Peter Schreier, Edita Gruberova, Cecilia Bartoli, Dawn Upshaw, Yvonne Kenny, and Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Concentus Musicus Wien, is preferable.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Posted by Gary at 8:48 PM

Paul Kildea Resigns from Wigmore Hall

Paul Kildea

Paul Kildea to leave Wigmore Hall to concentrate on his conducting career

Having successfully completed the transition since William Lyne's retirement, Paul Kildea has decided to concentrate on his freelance career as a conductor. Over the past two years Paul has combined his musical career with his artistic role at Wigmore Hall, devoting nine months of the year to planning and attending the Hall's concerts and the remainder to his own performing. Sir John Tusa, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, commented

While continuing to maintain its great artistic tradition, Paul Kildea has given the Hall a fresh approach to programming, building and creating an imaginative series including new and established artists since the refurbishment last October. The Board of Trustees wishes him every possible success for his future career.

Prior to Paul Kildea's appointment, the position of Director of Wigmore Hall was split into separate artistic and executive functions, when John Gilhooly was appointed Executive Director in Autumn 2000. As Executive Director John Gilhooly leads on business and strategic planning as well as the management of all staff and departmental heads in the operational, marketing, fundraising, financial, educational and administrative areas. He has also driven the recent #3 million capital project and the new CD label. The board is grateful that John Gilhooly has agreed to take on the artistic responsibilities at Wigmore Hall, on an interim basis until Spring 2006, in addition to his role as Executive Director. In the meantime, the Trustees will consider the best way ahead for Wigmore Hall.

Paul Kildea:

Although hectic and a real balancing act, the last two years have been a wonderful time for me, Paul Kildea said. I've programmed in the best traditions of this great hall, but I've also nurtured many new artists and composers, and have had the privilege of working with a remarkable team and Board, all of which makes me very proud of the role Wigmore Hall fulfils in our culture today. But this period has also coincided with an intensifying of my own performing career, and with operas at Aldeburgh, the Hamburg Staatsoper and Perth in the immediate future, with concert work in Paris, London and Australia, and with a new book commission, I have reached the point where it is impossible to sustain both lives. I know there is never an ideal time to leave such a job, but with my 2005/6 season having just been released and with great planks of 2006/7 and 2007/8 in place, I think that now is as good a time as any.

Wigmore Hall Press Release

Posted by Gary at 8:15 PM

Internationales Schubert Festival Steyr Begins

Ildiko Raimondi

Musikfestival: Zwischendurch die Forelle

Liebevoll und sinnvoll: Das Schubert-Festival in Steyr.

[Die Presse, 25 May 05]

Die Festspielzeit beginnt. Besonders liebevoll programmiert ist das Schubert-Festival im zauberhaften Ambiente von Steyr. Intendantin Elke Albrecht setzte zur Eröffnung auf Musik, die Schubert in Steyr oder für Auftraggeber aus der Stadt geschrieben hat. Ergebnis: eine rechte Schubertiade. Wann hört man schon Klaviersonaten, Lieder und Kammermusik in sinnvoller Abfolge nebeneinander? Ellen van Lier war sogar bereit, den Lieder-Teil des Konzerts in der Schlossgalerie unterbrechen zu lassen, um vor der Aufführung des "Forellenquintetts" noch das entsprechende Lied zu singen.

Click here for remainder of article

Posted by Gary at 3:25 AM

Rigoletto at Teatro de la Ciudad

Genaro Sulvarán (Rigoletto)

Estrenan la ópera "Rigoletto"

Como en Nueva York

Norberto Angel [Diario de México, 25 May 05]

Por primera vez en México y con una producción fastuosa como se ha presentado en Nueva York se presentará en el Teatro de la Ciudad la ópera "Rigoletto" de Giuseppe Verdi.

Contará con la participación del barítono Genaro Sulvarán y la soprano Rosa Elvira Sierra y se presentará los días 19, 21, 23 y 26 de junio. En conferencia de prensa, se explicó, que también participará la companía independiente Opera de México, con jóvenes cantantes como Josue Cerón, Belén Rodríguez y Gerardo Reinoso.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:19 AM

Rigoletto in St. Louis

Chen-Ye Yuan (Rigoletto)

Duke of Hazard

Opera Theatre comes out swinging with Rigoletto

By Lew Prince [RiverFrontTimes, 25 May 05]

Rigoletto was condemned by the governor of Venice as a deplorable, repugnant, obscene triviality. We live in more enlightened times: Compared to Desperate Housewives, Giuseppe Verdi's tale of seduction, vengeance, corruption and murder is a walk in the park.

When Verdi was hired to write a new work for the 1850-'51 season of Venice's La Fenice theater, he decided to turn Victor Hugo's play The King's Amusements into an opera. It was nearly banned before it was written. The problem was, the play showed the king as a degenerate skirt chaser whose life revolved around bedding the wives, mistresses and daughters of everyone over whom his position gave him authority. The depiction of the deep corruption of power didn't amuse the local authorities. By the time a compromise with the royal censors was worked out, Verdi had 40 days to write an opera.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:51 AM

Maximillian Schell Directs Der Rosenkavalier at LA

Der Rosenkavalier (Artwork: Gottfried Helnwein)

Out of his Schell

Actor Maximilian Schell brings a new, exacting sensibility to L.A. Opera staging of 'Der Rosenkavalier'

By David Mermelstein [U-Daily News, 24 May 05]

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - Comparing Maximilian Schell to one of those purportedly extinct jungle species makes perfect sense. Those who have never observed Schell working will be forgiven doubting the continued existence of such a creature. And those who have are unlikely ever to forget it.

The Vienna-born Schell is best-known to Americans as a film actor. He won an Oscar as best actor in 1962 for playing an attorney defending Nazi war criminals in Stanley Kramer's "Judgment at Nuremburg," and the Academy nominated him twice more in the 1970s, for "The Man in the Glass Booth" and "Julia."

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:41 AM

Valery Gergiev to Move to LSO

Valery Gergiev

Gergiev Post at London Symphony

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 24 May 05]

Could the conducting volcano that is Valery Gergiev be quieting down, at least in the near future?

The London Symphony Orchestra announced yesterday that Mr. Gergiev will become its principal conductor in January 2007. Mr. Gergiev, famous for his intensely busy schedule, comes to the end of two major commitments the following season.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:31 AM

May 25, 2005

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 14 & 15

J. S. Bach: Cantatas, vol. 14.
Deborah York, Annette Markert, Lisa Larsson - Soprano
Bogna Bartosz, Franziska Gottwald - Alto
Jörg Dürmüller, Christoph Prégardien, Paul Agnew - Tenor
Klaus Mertens - Bass
The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, Ton Koopman.
Antoine Marchand CC72214 [3CDs]

Click image for contents.

J. S. Bach: Cantatas, vol. 15.
Deborah York, Sandrine Piau, Johannette Zomer, Sibylla Rubens - Soprano
Bogna Bartosz - Alto
Jörg Dürmüller, Christoph Prégardien, Paul Agnew, James Gilchrist - Tenor
Klaus Mertens - Bass
The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, Ton Koopman.
Antoine Marchand CC72215 [3CDs]

Click image for contents.

These two sets of three CDs each are the current installment in Ton Koopman's monumental complete cycle of J.S. Bach's cantatas, performed by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, and produced by his wife, Tini Mathot. The cycle started out in 1995 on the Erato label, but only twelve volumes had been published when Erato was disbanded by its parent company, Time Warner. After searching for another label that would take over his cycle project, Koopman finally applied for a loan and started his own label, Antoine Marchand, which is distributed by Challenge Classics and Allegro. Koopman's cycle has loosely followed Bach's original chronological order of performance for the volumes appearing so far (vol. 1-13.) Appearing after a gap of two years since vol. 13, the current two volumes cover cantatas from Bach's second to third yearly cycles of cantatas for Leipzig (chorale cantatas.)

There are three other Bach cantata cycles out there, many of which are now out of print. The earliest was Harnoncourt and Leonhardt's series on Teldec, which used only boys and men as vocalists and an orchestra of period instruments (Koopman actually played organ on some of these). What we would now call the "early music" style was employed in these recordings, and in fact was at least in part probably gelled by these sessions. Helmut Rilling's more or less contemporaneous series on Hänssler Classic used a mixed chorus and soloists of adult women and men with less attention to the "early music" style. Sir John Eliot Gardiner's newer series on Deutsche Grammophon, now on his own label Soli Deo Gloria, again uses a mixed chorus and soloists of adults singing in "early music" style and a period instrument orchestra. For practical reasons, Koopman also uses adult women and men choristers and soloists singing in "early music" with a period instrument orchestra.

Unlike the early volumes in this cycle, which were pitched at a very high A of 465 cycles per second (modern concert pitch is at A=440 cps), these two volumes employ the more usual early-music standard of A=415 cps. The chorus of 18 men and women sings cleanly and stylistically for the most part, except for a few spots where vibrato stands out in the soprano section. Choral trills are clean, diction is good, and the blend very nice. The large group of soloists is for the most very good, although there is some struggling on the part of tenor Jörg Dürmüller, and the lowered pitch adversely affects the low notes of bass Klaus Mertens. All of the soloists have agile and clear voices and exquisite diction. The orchestra of period instruments sounds very good, and the occasional organ solos by Koopman are wonderful.

Each volume includes appendices with alternate versions of movements or entire cantatas. Brief program notes by Bach scholar, Christoph Wolff (who also consulted with Koopman on score sources), provide background information for each cantata, and accurate translations from the original German to English and French are provided. All in all, this series (as published so far, anyway) provides a wonderful rendition of Bach's cantata cycle in historically aware performances.

Betty Woerner

Posted by Gary at 1:43 AM

May 24, 2005

Teresa Berganza: The Spanish Soul

Teresa Berganza: The Spanish Soul
Brilliant Classics 6990 [3CDs]

Brilliant Classics' Teresa Berganza: The Spanish Soul is an outstanding compilation of Spanish songs and cycles by prolific Spanish and Latin American composers, including de Falla, Granados, Turina, Guridi, Toldra, Villa-Lobos, Braga, and Guastavino. The very beauty of this recording is the innate sense of energy in the Spanish style, which both Berganza and pianist Juan Antonio Alvarez Parejo seem to execute effortlessly. Once more, such an extensive collection of well-known compositions alongside rare jewels creates an essential recording.

The major highlights of this 3-CD recording include Joaquin Turina's Poema en forma de Canciones and six song selections of Villa-Lobos. Turina's "Nunca olvida" provides a powerful interplay between piano and voice, with both voices sweeping across the dynamic spectrum. Parejo and Berganza intertwine themselves and their lines in the complex current of the Latin rhythm, creating a serene yet breathtaking experience. Villa-Lobos' songs are a favorite, encompassing the varied Latin dance rhythms while creating specific vignettes in each piece. "Adeus Ema" is performed with such beauty, simplicity, with a touch of a folk element, that one hardly notices its simple structure.

With the renaissance of the song recital, many of these pieces are beautiful, intriguing additions for American performances. This compilation would make a wonderful resource if it included extensive liner notes, specifically with English translations of the Spanish texts, as well as a small bio of each composer and their output. Sadly, it does not. Yet, Berganza is a wondrous performer, allowing the listener to enter her world colored by the diverse timbres and rhythms of Spanish song.

"A recital is a supreme trial to the genuine voice. The singer offers to the best of audiences the best results to their search for genuine beauty. A recital is the essence of beauty." — Teresa Berganza

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 4:48 PM

Ivan Kozlovsky: The Great Russian Tenor

Ivan Kozlovsky: The Great Russian Tenor
Pearl GEM 0221

This new release from Pearl presents an anthology of Russian selections, primarily operatic, performed by tenor Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993). Kozlovsky was one of the giants of the Russian operatic stage during its glory days in the 1940s and 50s; he recorded extensively with Melodiya, both Russian and Western repertoire. Surprisingly, however, there has apparently never been a Kozlovsky Russian anthology available prior to this release (Myto Records released a collection of the singer's Western operatic hits in 2000). It is gratifying to see it finally here.

The singer is featured in some of his signature roles: Berendei (Rimsky-Korsakov, Snow Maiden), Sinodal (Rubinstein, Demon), Levko (Rimsky-Korsakov, May Night), Vladimir Igorevich (Borodin, Prince Igor), Bayan (Glinka, Ruslan and Liudmila), Indian Guest (Rimsky-Korsakov, Sadko), Prince (Dargomïaut;zhsky, Rusalka), Vladimir (Napravnik, Dubrovsky), and of course Lensky (Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin) and the Holy Fool (Mussorgsky, Boris Godunov). A rendition of Rachmaninov's popular art song "Ne poi krasavitsa" ("Oh cease thy singing, maiden fair," op. 4 no. 4), and the same composer's rarely heard setting of Pimen's monologue from Pushkin's Boris Godunov are also included.

The recordings are beautifully remastered, and date from ca. 1947-1953, when the singer was at the height of his vocal power, his fame, and his great rivalry with his colleague at the Bolshoi, Sergei Lemeshev. Perhaps the most overwhelming first impression is Kozlovsky's sound — beautifully lush, full, and rich in overtones, its endless lyrical flow rendered with astonishing flexibility and control, despite occasional tension in the upper register. His diction and phrasing are impeccable. Musical purists should not expect a meticulous approach to the score, however — tempo fluctuations, dramatic rests, and other examples of the old-style operatic "editorializing" abound. For traditional "white tenor" roles represented on Pearl's recording, see primarily the two popular selections from Eugene Onegin, "I love you" and "Whither, whither," as well as a cavatina from Rusalka and an aria from May Night.

Perhaps the most recognizable quality of Kozlovsky's timbre is its slightly narrow, almost reed-like quality, with an ever-present vibrato. An object of unkind jokes late in his life, on these early recordings this tone color is more of an idiosyncrasy that makes for some truly unique interpretations. It is particularly noticeable in the "oriental" selections the singer performs — arias and art songs that evoke an image of exotic "Asian" Russia through gently undulating harmonies, rich ornamentation, and yes, the sound of the solo reeds — oboe, bassoon, and English horn. Look especially for the "Song of the Indian Guest" extolling the treasures of the mysterious East, the aria of young Vladimir Igorevich luxuriating in love with a Polovtsian beauty, the exotic romance of Prince Sinodal, and a passionate appeal to a Georgian maiden by Rachmaninov's unnamed protagonist.

Another notable trait of Kozlovsky's talent is its remarkable versatility in handling not only lyrical, but also character parts. This comes across particularly well in an anthology of excerpts from Russian operas in which, after all, a tenor is rarely the leading man. The singer creates memorable images of old sages — the ancient bard Bayan in Ruslan, and the wise sun-worshipper Tsar Berendei in the Snow Maiden (represented, unfortunately, by his second, less interesting cavatina). The Holy Fool in Boris Godunov is perhaps Kozlovsky's most internationally acclaimed role; Pearl includes an excerpt from the St Basil Scene, complete with the choruses and an appearance by Alexander Pirogov as Boris. For those taken with this selection, the complete recording of the opera (with Nikolai Golovanov conducting) is available from Opera D'oro; Vera Stroeva's 1954 outstanding film version with the same cast is currently out on DVD.

All in all, fans of Kozlovsky's art and connoisseurs of traditional bel canto singing style will no doubt be delighted with the new recording. I would particularly encourage those who are only familiar with the singer's late records, on which his previously incredible control is weakened, while the notorious vibrato is more pronounced, to hear the Pearl selections. A truly great tenor waits to be rediscovered.

Olga Haldey
University of Missouri at Columbia

Posted by Gary at 4:16 PM

Arie del ‘700 Italiano (Italian arias of the 18th century)

Arie del '700 Italiano (Italian arias of the 18th century)
Mónika González, soprano, with the Savaria Baroque Orchestra, Fabio Pirona (cond.)
Hungaroton HCD 32253 [CD]

Featuring nine arias from various eighteenth-century operas and composers, this recording contains a wide variety of dramatic songs, three of which are the recitative and aria "Se cerca, se dice: "I'amico dov'e?" and "Ha keres, ha kerdez: a baratom hol van?" from the opera L'Olimpiade, set by three different composers. Accompanied on period instruments by the Savaria Baroque Orchestra, Mónika González does a magnificent job with each of the arias on this disc. She is a former winner of the International "Toti dal Monte" singing competition, and has studied by personal invitation with Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge at their home in Montreaux.

The three settings of the same recitative and aria from L'Olimpiade are the focal point of this recording. The composers are Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), Giovanni Paisiello (1741-1816), and Niccolo Vito Piccinni (1728-1800). Pergolesi's version, which premiered in Rome in 1733, was based on a libretto of Metastasio, which was considered a masterpiece, so much so that over fifty different composers set this libretto to music during the eighteenth century. While Pergolesi's version was considered a failure at its premiere, it went on to be performed consistently throughout the eighteenth century, and inspired much admiration. It is now considered to be one of Pergolesi's masterpieces, along with his La serva padrona.

Other composers and operas that appear on this disc include arias from Niccolo Jommelli's (1714-1774) Armida abbandonata, Leonardo Leo's (1694-1744) Catone in Utica, Pergolesi's Adriano in Siria, Antonio Sacchini's (1730-1786) L'eroe cinese, Baldassare Galuppi's (1706-1785/9) Antigona, and an aria from a missing opera by Tommaso Traetta (1727-1779). Overall, this is an excellent recording of eighteenth-century opera arias, with a nice comparison/contrast of three different settings of the same aria to music.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Posted by Gary at 3:46 PM

ADAM: Si J’etais Roi
LEHÁR: Rose de Noël

Adolphe Adam: Si J'etais Roi
Soloists; Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire
Richard Blareau, conductor
Accord Opérette 476 2104 [2CDs]

Franz Lehár: Rose de Noel
Soloists; orchestra and chorus
Felix Nuvulone, conductor
Accord Opérette 472 871-2 [2CDs]

Accord has gone back to the vaults for an attractively packaged series called "Opérette." On the evidence of two of the sets, these releases feature recordings made in the late 1950s and early '60s. The booklets are entirely in French (and offer no librettos whatsoever), but even a French-challenged persons such as your reviewer can understand the inside front cover, which appears to explain that the recordings are the efforts of "L'Academie Nationale de l'Opérette." This organization appears to have as its rationale — all right, raison d'etre — the preservation, if not resuscitation, of the great French tradition of light musical entertainments. With bold, bright colors decorating the packaging, the sets come across as delectable candy boxes — but how much sweetness one will enjoy when partaking of the series does depend on a taste for the bouncy, frivolous world of operetta.

The Lehár set, titled Rose de Noel, is a bit of a curiosity. No such title would be found in a catalog of Lehár's works. A Professor Rekai and Paul Bonneau adapted the music from a number of Lehár's German operettas [see Editor's Note below], and a Raymond Vincy concocted the French libretto with a new story line. As such, the end product calls to mind some Opera Rara sets of adapted Offenbach, such as Christopher Columbus. Opera Rara, in that set, offered an index of which numbers had been appropriated from which Offenbach operetta; Accord does not offer this helpful information. A couple of the tunes do sound familiar, but as operetta music tends to always sounds familiar, even when first encountered, no specific conclusions can be deducted from that fact.

At any rate, the set is quite short — on two discs just barely over 80 minutes total time, and of course, that includes quite a bit of dialogue. The performances have wonderful Gallic flair, and for Lehár fans, the appeal of hearing the music without a Teutonic tone may have great appeal. For others — the 80 minutes may feel much, much longer.

The Adam presents quite another story — though still somewhat short and dialogue heavy, especially on disc two. Here is a delightful series of tunes from a composer all but forgotten, except for his ballet score Giselle and the great but sadly over played Oh Holy Night. In fact, some music in act two (Pour le royal banquet) shares the same snappy rhythm as Adam's tremendous tenor showpiece from the opera of the same name, Der Postillon von Lonjumeau (as recorded on Capriccio 60-040-2). Adam offers a greater variety of mood and tempo than Lehár does, although it would be stretching the truth to claim that the music suggests a long-lost gem. The entertainment quotient, however, is very high.

For fans of French tenor head voice, Andre Mallabrera puts on quite a display. His light soprano counterpart, Liliane Breton, warbles a bit more than one would accept from even a beloved canary. The chief counterweight to these high, sweet voices is the graceful baritone of Rene Bianco. Richard Blareau's direction manages the neat trick of keeping the soufflé fresh and never in risk of deflation for 90+ minutes.

The inside covers feature numerous pictures of other titles in this Opérette series, perhaps the most well known title being Offenbach's La Belle Helene. If that set has the native tang and flair of these two sets, it might be quite a pleasure.

It might take the online shopper some time to find from where these sets can be ordered, and of course, reading French will allow for at least a basic understanding of the plots, as a synopsis is provided. For a colorful, tuneful glimpse at a world long gone, the Opérette series looks to have a wonderful viewing platform to offer.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

[Editor's Note: The Accord Opérette series is available in the U.S. through Premiere Music Distributors and in Europe through and other vendors.

A question has arisen as to the source of Lehar's music for Rose de Noel. The music for Rose de Noel was based on 17 unpublished airs found in the Budapest Conservatory by Professor Rekaïaut;. These were for a new unpublished and unperformed work that was to be titled Premier battement de coeur (First beating of the heart), the scenario for which was by journalist Karl Kristof. Permission to use the airs was obtained from Mme. Paphazaïaut;, sister and sole heir to Lehar.

Bonneau realized the score because Rekaïaut; had trouble getting out of Hungary, although he eventually did, and Vincy wrote the livret. It was well received and given 415 consecutive performances at Maurice Lehmann's Châtelet.

Click here for additional details and citations to source materials.]

Posted by Gary at 12:50 AM

May 23, 2005

DONIZETTI: Maria Stuarda

Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda (sung in English)
Dame Janet Baker (Mary Stuart); Pauline Tinsley (Queen Elizabeth I); Keith Erwen (Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester); Don Garrard (George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury); Christian Du Plessis (Sir William Cecil); Audrey Gunn (Hannah Kennedy)
The English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras
Live recording London, 13 December 1973
Ponto 1031 [2CDs]

One of the more interesting debates in arts politics in England last century centered on the language in which operas should be performed. While some staunchly favored opera in the original, others maintained that librettos should be translated into the vernacular. The latter side felt strongly that opera in English would nurture a national style of operatic presentation; a more chauvinistic argument suggested that if native composers heard opera in English, they would be more likely to attempt to set original English librettos (which, of course, would come from the pens of similarly inspired writers). Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden's Peter Grimes (1945) might be interpreted as representative of such a strategy. In addition, the mounting of vernacular performances also would inspire British performers (and discourage foreign singers who would be less likely to want to relearn a role in a new language). The debate eventually led to the division of operatic labor, with Covent Garden (soon to be renamed The Royal Opera) to perform works in their original languages and Sadler's Wells (renamed the English National Opera after its move to the Coliseum, where it remains today) to produce works in translation. Thus, it was left up to audiences to decide which they preferred--or, better yet, to enjoy them both.

The Ponto label is presently in the process of issuing recordings of operas starring the great English mezzo Dame Janet Baker. The third in this series is her performance as Mary Stuart in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda in the 1973 English National Opera production (other Baker recordings issued by Ponto include Handel's Admetus in English and Gluck's Alceste in French). This recording merits note for a variety of reasons. First, it serves as an example of the aims of the aestheticians who deemed opera in translation a necessity in mid-twentieth century England. As translations go--and some can be dead wrong--this libretto stays well within the meaning of Giuseppe Bardari's original text. One might wish that the program booklet included the translator's name, but perhaps it was unknown even to the Ponto producers. In addition to significance, the selected vocabulary also matches well with the melodic line; hence, instead of awkward patches of sounds one often hears in performances employing translated librettos (English or otherwise), the sung text flows well with the music.

In the context of the opera's history, this recording also proves of interest. Donizetti composed the opera for Naples and specifically for one of his favorite sopranos, Giuseppina Ronzi De Begnis. The Bourbon censors, however, were always touchy about tales that suggested political coups or the death of a monarch, so the subject was rejected as written. Donizetti reworked the opera as Buondelmonte, which premiered at the San Carlo in 1834. Enter the legendary Maria Malibran, who wanted to perform the opera as it had been composed. Censors in Milan were no more enthusiastic about the tale than were their colleagues in Naples, but Malibran skirted their orders and sung the work without revision, resulting in a ban against the work. A heavily-censored score was employed for subsequent performances. Early twentieth-century performances, including the one on this recording, are based on revised versions of the score. Only in the late 1980s when Donizetti's autograph manuscript was discovered in Sweden was the opera returned to its original two-act form, now published in the critical edition of the composer's works.

This recording is a prime example of Baker's artistry. Indeed, this version of the score, which Donizetti lowered for Malibran's own mezzo voice, suits her perfectly. Baker's ability to create dramatic portrayals is apparent as well, especially in scenes with Keith Erwen (Leicester) and especially in the final numbers of Act III such as "Death hovers near me, so take my pardon" ("D'un cor che muore reca il perdono" in the original). Soprano Pauline Tinsley, another classic of this golden age of the ENO, performs ably as Elizabeth, but her voice (perhaps as captured in this live recording) is often less brilliant and less skilled than Baker's. Indeed, in "May the light of wisdom and justice" ("Ah! del ciel discenda un raggio"), she clings for dear life to the dangerously high penultimate note of the cadenza. Dramatically, however, she matches Baker in scenes in which the rival half-sisters (also rivals for Leicester's affections) meet head on. Erwen has a pleasant and lyrical tone, but his interpretation is somewhat stereotypical of a bel canto tenor. Of even greater concern is a questionable sense of pitch; he tends to sit on the flat side of a pitch, a trait particularly noticeable in his duets with Baker and Tinsley, who to their credit fail to allow him to pull them down off the correct note. Credible interpretations are turned in by bass Don Garrard as Talbot, baritone Christian Du Plessis as Cecil, and mezzo Audrey Gunn as Hannah. Although all are not British, all are native English speakers (Garrard is Canadian and Plessis, South African); hence, all fit the image of the singers whom vernacular advocates were promoting.

The CD includes a list of the tracks and liner notes (by Andrew Palmer) but no printed libretto. Although the cast members carefully enunciate, in strettas like "My arrogant rival has long sought to rob me" ("Sul crin la rivale la man mi stendea") the text simply is sung too quickly for comprehension. If issuing more of Baker's (or anyone's) performances in English is intended, this might be something Ponto could keep in mind.

Aside from the usual blemishes of a live recording - applause, coughs, singers' footsteps as they trod the stage - this Maria Stuarda documents an important stage in the mature compositions of one of the dramatic masters of the Ottocento, an equally important part of the narrative of English opera in the twentieth century, and one of England's greatest voices.

Denise Gallo

Posted by Gary at 11:56 PM

Geistliche arien des norddeutschen Barock (Sacred Baroque arias from North Germany)

Geistliche arien des norddeutschen Barock (Sacred Baroque arias from North Germany)
Ruth Ziesak, soprano, with the Berliner Barock-Compagney.
Capriccio 67125 [CD]

This disc features nine compositions by eight composers located in the area of northern Germany from the sixteenth to the early seventeenth centuries. Despite the title, this recording presents sets of sacred compositions for soprano voice and instruments separated by purely instrumental pieces. The disc begins and ends with compositions by Christian Geist (ca. 1640-1711); otherwise, there is a variety of composers and compositions represented here.

All of the composers experienced the results and consequences of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), either directly or indirectly. They also saw the flourishing of the bourgeoisie in the Hanseatic League's major trading centers, particularly Hamburg, Lübeck, Stralsund, Halle, and Copenhagen. Two pieces by Geist, "Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel" and "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern," are for soprano, two violins, viola da gamba, and basso continuo, and they frame the other compositions on the disc. Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) is represented by his Sonata in B-flat major (Bux WV 255) for violin, viola da gamba, and basso continuo. A well-done version of Samuel Ebart's (1655-1684) "Miserere, Christe, mei" for soprano, violin, viola da gamba, and basso continuo, follows the Buxtehude composition. Johann Vierdank (ca. 1605-1646) is represented by his Passemezzo e la sua Gagliarda for two violins and basso continuo. A piece for soprano and four viols "Ach Herr, las deine lieben Engelein" by Franz Tunder (1614-1667) is next, followed by a Suite in A major for two violins, viola da gamba, and basso continuo by Johann Adam Reincken (1623-1722). Christoph Bernhard's (1628-1692) "Aus der Tiefe rufe ich zu dir" for soprano, two violins, and basso continuo leads into Thomas Baltzar's (ca. 1630/31-1663) Airs for solo violin in four movements.

Ruth Ziesak is the featured soprano on the disc. Her portrayal of Pamina in Mozart's The Magic Flute at the 1991 Salzburg Festival was the beginning of a long and successful career that includes numerous operas, song recitals, concerts, and recordings. Her voice blends in well with the authentic period instruments used in this recording, which include viola da gamba and lute. Overall, this is a worthy recording of Baroque sacred arias and instrumental compositions.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Posted by Gary at 9:22 PM

La Cenerentola at Glyndebourne

Vladimir Jurowski (Photo: Glyndebourne Festival)

La Cenerentola

Robert Thicknesse at Glyndebourne [Times Online, 23 May 05]

IT IS 35 years since Sir Peter Hall's first Glyndebourne production, 21 since he became director of productions and 15 since he stormed out. Two of his productions are playing this year, including this curtainraiser; it makes you wonder what is going on there.

Once it was about great casting, getting the right directors and conductors, doing things, in the house's own phrase, as well as they could be done. That sounds hollow after last year's moronic Magic Flute, now being revived alongside this Rossini, another notable misfire. The season's hopes now rest on the wobbly sands of a new David McVicar production of Giulio Cesare and a revival of Jonathan Dove 's brilliant Flight, a 1998 commission and a reminder of days when Glyndebourne had direction.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:26 PM

Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

Scene from Magic Flute (Photo: Glyndebourne Festival)

Die Zauberflöte

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 23 May 05]

Conductor Charles Mackerras is 80 later this year, a fact he is seemingly already celebrating with multiple performances of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Hard on the heels of a revival at Covent Garden and a new recording for Chandos comes a second revival at Glyndebourne, which, purely in terms of conducting and playing, is well nigh exemplary. Mackerras's interpretation of Zauberflöte has always combined serenity with great wit, and his deployment here of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment adds an extra emotional dimension, with the darker sound of period instruments creating a mood of spiritual austerity that offsets the score's humour and humane warmth.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:40 PM

May 22, 2005

I Masnadieri at Liège, 21 May 2005

Amarilli Nizza (Amalia) and Misha Didyk (Carlo Moor) (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)

I never "got" I Masnadieri; not even in the wonderful Bergonzi-Caballé recording I bought the moment it appeared in 1975. I had a feeling that for once Verdi had lost his unbelievable magic as a tune-smith. Corsaro, Giorno di Regno, Battaglia, Alzira etc. all sounded familiar after a few playings but Masnadieri never got under my skin with the exception of the rousing tenor cabaletta and the soprano's aria. I was in good company as even Budden in his well-known analysis of the opera speaks of "a seemingly backward step." Well, the good news is that Verdi of course knew it better and that the opera really works in a professional production with acceptable singers.

Not that the Liège production (originating in Lübeck) by the Swiss director Dieter Kaegi with sets and costumes by Stefanie Pasterkamp was stunningly revealing. You cannot pin a definite time-frame on it though it definitely looks post World War II. The first scene in the first act has Carlo singing in a magnificent library instead of the outside of a tavern on the frontier and the masnadieri literally push their way in through the library walls destroying a lot of books while their destroyed pages will stay on the scene till the end of the opera; probably a symbol for tenor Carlo's lost academic career.

From the second scene on we are in the castle of the Moor family where we'll stay for the remaining three acts as well though the castle becomes more and more of a waste. So there is no forest and one wonders why Amalia on her flight for Carlo's utterly bad baritone brother Francesco is running around in the same place where the bad guy tried to have his way with her.

Another "modern" touch was having father Massimiliano pushed around by Amalia in a wheelchair on a platform above two forbidding stairs. Now it's not a bad idea to have poor old and sick Massimiliano creep down those stairs but there was some tittering in the house the moment the soprano started her aria while at the same time trying to push the wheelchair (luckily without the bass in it) downstairs.

A better idea was the end of the opera. After Carlo has killed Amalia (which is in the libretto) his bunch of bandits kill him (not in the libretto) to punish him for his back-pedalling on his oath or because they cannot enjoy the girl. Anyway it made for strong theatre. All in all, the production was not outrageous or didn't make the singers life miserable but neither did it much to help us forget the libretto's weaknesses.

The musical side was very strong with one exception. Honour should go to Jean-Pierre Haeck and his orchestra. He clearly believed in the score and didn't rush the cabaletti to get over with them as quickly as possible. He supported his singers very well and allowed them the acuti Verdi didn't write or the cadenza's the composer left to the imagination of the singers (as a practical guy he knew that creator Jenny Lind would improvise her own anyway, so why lose energy on writing them). Haeck succeeded very well in mounting the tension of the opera and by the third and fourth act the whole house was in thrall of a musical drama which they would probably find ridiculous if they read it beforehand. Haeck integrated the rum-ti-tum chorus passages well, making these waltzes even threatening.

The best singing of the evening came from bass Enzo Capuano. This veteran is always a joy to watch and to hear. His voice is not overly big or distinguished though there is a certain nobility in the timbre but he is clearly steeped in the great Verdian tradition, knows how to emphasize a phrase and has the legato necessary for those long rolling utterances.

Less Verdian was Ukrainian tenor Misha Didyk. Mezza-voce and piano are not his strongest features and he has a lisp in the best Corelli-tradition. But the voice is a real tenor, with a lot of metal, ring and squillo in it and he made some exciting sounds in the cabaletta "Nell'argile" while in the last act he rose to the tragic situation. The voice is almost a copy of the sound of youthful Galouzin before that darkened so heavily.

Amarilli Nizza has some fine qualities. She is beautiful and slender and has a real Italian rich voice, especially in the upper middle register. Above the staff however the voice at times (which she seemingly cannot always control herself) often becomes either thin or somewhat shrill.

The musical fly in the ointment was baritone Marcel Vanaud. Of course it is the duty of the Walloon opera to give chances to Walloon singers but Vanaud has been singing here for 30 years and it was never a thing of beauty. The voice is big, still can sail to a G but is unacceptably throaty and has some really ugly patches. Francesco may be a villain but that doesn't mean that pure noise without any smoothness or a hint of legato will do. So I think it's more than time for Mr. Vanaud to retire (and next season he is back as father Miller, a role which really asks for belcanto singing) and leave his place to younger and far better Walloon Verdi baritones as Lionel Lhote who is this season's favourite baritone in the Flemish opera.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 11:50 PM

G&S at Opera Australia

HMS Pinafore/Trial by Jury (Graphic: Opera Australia)

HMS Pinafore, Trial By Jury

John Slavin [The Age, 23 May 05]

When the irascible W.S. Gilbert was directing this break-through operetta, he admonished a soprano: "This is not Italian opera. It is only a low burlesque of the worst possible kind."

It is impossible to tell whether Gilbert was serious or whether this was an example of his refined sense of mockery of everything in British life that took itself too seriously.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 11:33 PM

Caruso Love Letters To Become Public

Enrico Caruso

Caruso love letters reveal passion behind a life of epic operatic drama

Hoard of 2,000 documents ranges from the mundane to the intimate

John Hooper in Rome [The Guardian, 23 May 05]

More than a thousand previously unknown letters, said to have been written by the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso, are to be made available to the public next month, according to a report published yesterday.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 11:24 PM

May 21, 2005

On Vanity Productions

Lorin Maazel (Photo: Andrew Garn)

Vanity fare

Self-executed, self-funded projects challenge established institutions and garner praise along with ridicule


On Sept. 29, 1855, the Brooklyn Daily Times ran an unsigned and startlingly exuberant review of a thoroughly obscure book of poetry. The anonymous critic quivered with admiration for the poet, as well as the verse. "Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect, free from taint top to toe," he wrote.

The article did not mention that this lyric superman had printed the book himself and delivered the clothbound volumes to the only two bookstores that would take it, where they spent months moldering in stacks. He also omitted that he was using the newspaper to review his own book.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:18 PM

Don Giovanni at Marseille

Yevgeny Nikitin (Photo: Mariinsky Theatre)

Don Giovanni, Opéra de Marseille

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 20 May 05]

There are two reasons the rising Russian superstar Evgeny Nikitin should not sing Don Giovanni. One is his obfuscated, typically Slav diction in Italian, the other the difficulty his impressive voice has in spinning exposed Mozartian line. Both defects would disqualify him on a recording but, in the magical world of live opera, Nikitin's animal magnetism helps us understand what the fuss is all about.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:14 PM

GOEHRING: Three modes of perception in Mozart — the philosophical, pastoral, and comic in Così fan tutte

Così fan tutte has been studied extensively, despite the broad assertion stated in the book. What the author of this study brings to the reader, which others have not, is a detailed examination of the philosophical, pastoral, and comic background of the libretto, characters, and music of the opera. New perspectives on text and tone in the opera, the subtle use of the pastoral mode, and the tension and balance between philosophy and comedy are what the author brings to the study of this work. In addition, the author does an intensely close reading of the primary sources of the opera, in order to support his theories and statements.

The book is divided into four major sections. Chapter 1 looks at the poetics of Così fan tutte, examining the history of the word/music relations in the opera, then in relation to postmodern poetics, and the reception of the opera itself in the eighteenth century. The author then puts forward his hypothesis that, rather than continue the long-standing tradition of the musical and textual incompatibility of the opera, he will prove that this rift between text and music is a distinctive and indeed important union that is unparalleled in any other Mozart opera. To illustrate this, some portions of recitative contained in the opera, as well as the overture and the song "Tutti accusan le donne," are provided with explanation and as musical examples.

Chapter 2 examines the philosophical mode of Così fan tutte. The author specifically focuses on the character of Don Alfonso, discussing his various aspects and attributes that appear throughout the opera, including the old man, poet, cynic, and comic philosopher. The author relates these archetypes to various eighteenth-century readings, concepts, and popular understandings at the time of the opera. Other philosopher-type characters in eighteenth-century operas are mentioned, Paisiello's Il Socrate immaginario in particular.

The pastoral mode of the opera, along with the character of Despina, comprises the content of Chapter 3. Here, the author examines Despina's musical and textual authority, discusses the theory and practice of the pastoral mode, how the pastoral setting was sentimentalized in the eighteenth century, and links to Epicureanism. Specific Despina musical numbers, such as "In uomini, in soldati" and "Una donna a quindici anni," are provided with in-depth analysis and commentary.

The comic mode in Così fan tutte is the topic of Chapter 4. Various characters in the opera fit into the sentimental comedian role, such as Don Alfonso, Fiordiligi, and Ferrando. The origins of sentimental comedy are discussed, and this opera as anti-sentimental opera is presented. Some interesting research on heroic and martial images of love in the soldiers, and the seduction duets, is provided.

Finally, in the epilogue, the author points out that Così fan tutte, as an artificial comedy, enjoyed a brief period of popularity before it lost favor with the opera-going public, especially in the nineteenth century. It is an opera that looked back to older theatrical and operatic traditions for inspiration, and therefore never really found a place in the oeuvre, nor in the favor of the opera-going public. Overall, this is a well-documented and researched scholarly study of Mozart's least-understood opera.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Edmund J. Goehring: Three modes of perception in Mozart — the philosophical, pastoral, and comic in Così fan tutte

product_title=Edmund J. Goehring: Three modes of perception in Mozart — the philosophical, pastoral, and comic in Così fan tutte
Cambridge studies in opera
product_by=Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xvii, 301 pp.
product_id=ISBN 0-521-83881-9

Posted by Gary at 12:47 PM

May 20, 2005

TRIBO: Annals 1847-1897 del Gran Teatre del Liceu

With the sesquicentenary of the theatre in 1997, a project was initiated to publish annals for the first 150 years, 50 years per volume. The first, which appeared in 1997 covered the years from 1947 to 1997. This is the second, and covers the first 50 years (1847 to 1897). The remaining 50 years (1897 to 1947) are still "in progress", and will, hopefully, see the light of day within a few years. In the last few decades, model chronologies of opera houses have become the norm, with many of these eclipsing previous volumes on the theatres being documented. This is easily the case with Tribo's book. It more or less follows the style initiated with Pau Nadal's volume covering the years from 1947 to 1997, but improves on it in many ways.

However, it should be noted that, especially during the early years, the theatre was also used for plays, ballets, and non-operatic musical performances. These are included, with operas being highlighted by having the titles written in bold-face. Plays are indicated by the letter (t), ballets by (b), zarzuelas by (s), oratorios by (pc) and operettas by (op).

While the book does contain a brief introduction, the great bulk comprises the chronology (with the indexes 327 of 357 pages). Thus, this is quite comprehensive, listing all the operas performed, chronologically by season, with full casts and all the dates that the piece was given. When there are cast changes, the dates (months, if appropriate) that the changes took place are also indicated, as is the language used for French and German works (almost invariably given in Italian during these 50 years). World premieres are indicated by (eA), Barcelona premieres by (eB) and Liceu premieres by (eL). In those cases (especially benefit performances) where selections from other works are included, these are also given.

This is a model book, which can be recommended in the strongest terms.

Tom Kaufman

[Editor's Note: This book may be purchased through ópera Actual.]

image_description=Jaume Tribo: Annals 1847-1897 del Gran Teatre del Liceu

product_title=Jaume Tribo: Annals 1847-1897 del Gran Teatre del Liceu
product_by=Barcelona: Amics del Liceu, 2004, 357 pages

Posted by Gary at 10:13 PM

MAY: Decoding Wagner — An Invitation to His World of Music Drama

After an introductory chapter dealing with the significance of Wagner in political, philosophical, and cultural debates for both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, May begins his analysis of influences on the young composer and those early interests that shaped Wagner's progressive development. The 1830s are depicted as a time of apprenticeship for Wagner, during which he had not yet found "his authentic musical voice." (18) The compositional maturity here suggested starts with Der fliegende Holländer [The Flying Dutchman] (1841), for May the first musical and dramatic work by Wagner that does not rely extensively on convention.

Holländer is then used as a musical springboard into Wagner's oeuvre: the chapter devoted to this work is entitled "Navigating a Way into Wagner," and the first recorded example on the Discs presents the overture to this work. Although one may argue convincingly for an artistic "leap" (24) achieved in the composition of Holländer, those works completed by Wagner in the previous decade could profit from a more balanced treatment. Since May points out that Rienzi enjoyed remarkable popularity, starting with its 1842 premiere and continuing to the close of the nineteenth century, it would be appropriate to offer a sample of its music or a selection from the earlier Die Feen. In this way the audience of the book could appreciate — or assess — more readily the thesis put forth by May that Wagner's work starting first with Holländer shows a clear sense of individual style. In his comments on Holländer the author demonstrates the method or focus taken in each of the subsequent chapters of his handbook. The experience or literary model which first drew Wagner to an individual topic is complemented by reference to Wagner's own comments or theoretical writings. A discussion of individual character types in each opera and their major arias or musical numbers shows May providing both dramatic and musical insights. Finally, May integrates into his commentary musical references from the discs, so that readers might follow a recorded example while following the specific analysis for each opera.

The author's segments on Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, both operas rooted in medieval legendary material, attempt to draw parallels in theme and character to later works of the composer's maturity. May credits Samuel Lehrs, a friend of Wagner during his Paris years, with sparking the young composer's interest in medieval lore and myth. Already here we can appreciate — as May points out with sufficient example — Wagner's approach to using various strands of myth and weaving these into a new creation that would be guided by his musical vision. For Tannhäuser this "motley collection of sources" (40) contains the story of the German crusader who forsakes his goal to spend time in the realm of Venus; the contest of Minnesänger in the Wartburg palace; and lastly, the idealization of the heroine Elisabeth, representing both love and self-sacrifice in her attempts to redeem the goals of her knight-suitor. The mixture of both themes and figures from medieval legend are examined by May in his explication of the lengthy overture as well as individual scenes in the opera. He demonstrates how Wagner worked to intermingle his various sources while maintaining a personal vision of the hero as "outsider." In his chapter on Lohengrin May again treats Wagner's transformation of a medieval story and argues in this example for both greater consistency and success. May points to the popularity of Lohengrin during the nineteenth century and to its satisfaction of the Romantic imagination for the medieval period. At the same time, it is argued that Wagner's depiction of featured characters is here raised to a more sophisticated level than in earlier works. In both the dramatic presentation of characters and their musical delineation — as well as Wagner's ability to synthesize the two — May sees a decided "artistic advance." (57) When discussing the point of view accorded to Ortrud in Act II and her portrayal as a force of negation, May focuses justifiably on Wagner's creative depiction. These scenes from Act II could, however, be examined further as an extension of archetypes of evil already present in those medieval sources which May shows to have been transformed by Wagner. The discussion of musical excerpts from Lohengrin included on the first Disc, especially here May's analysis of "In fernem Lande," is effective in guiding both first and return listeners through the significant moments of this piece.

It is hardly a coincidence that Wagner's earliest inspirations and sketches for his Ring derive from the period toward the close of his work on Lohengrin in the late 1840s. This continued reading of medieval texts and artistic extrapolation from topics in Germanic mythology is underscored by May in his essay on the gestation of Wagner's Ring. May devotes five chapters, an "Overview" on beginnings and one for each of the operas, to the cycle which he defines as the "turning point in [Wagner's] artistic development." (116). In each of these segments May begins his musical analysis early, and he refers consistently to the examples on disc 2 in order to highlight a significant instrumental and vocal confluence with its corresponding dramatic action. He cites regularly both noted scholars and critics of the Ring, among these Dahlhaus, Donington, and George Bernard Shaw. In this way, May grounds his own remarks on leitmotif and musical narrative in those of previous commentators who have attempted overall assessments of this extended compositional achievement. May wisely chooses his recorded examples from one series of Ring performances, those featuring the Staatskapelle Dresden conducted by Marek Janowski. Providing examples from one such larger undertaking yields an overall consistency for the listener/reader who wishes to consider the Ring -- both opera and commentary -- as a multi-faceted whole.

In his additional chapters on Tristan und Isolde, Meistersinger, and Parsifal May follows his established method for "decoding" the music drama. Since May quotes intermittently from other writers on Wagner, it would be helpful to be given specific references — even to the translations here used — for those who would like to read further background and interpretive possibilities. These might then offer complementary approaches to the biographical and political/philosophical emphases which surface, at times, in May's discussion of Wagner's inspiration and its guiding forces.

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Thomas May: Decoding Wagner — An Invitation to His World of Music Drama

product_title=Thomas May: Decoding Wagner — An Invitation to His World of Music Drama
product_by=Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, 2004. 224 pp, includes 2 music CDs
product_id=ISBN: 1-57467-097-2

Posted by Gary at 9:47 PM

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs - 1 — Au bord de l’eau

Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs - 1 — Au bord de l'eau
Felicity Lott (Soprano), Jennifer Smith (Soprano), Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Stella Doufexis (Soprano), John Mark Ainsley (Tenor), Christopher Maltman (Baritone), Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano).
Hyperion A67333 [CD]

The songs of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) are some of the finest works examples of the genre and they represent the mature French mélodie in the hands of a composer who knew both the voice and the piano quite well. This release is the first of four discs that include all of Fauré's songs for voice and piano within Hyperion's series of French Song editions. Like those other collections from Hyperion, this volume of the Fauré set involves excellent performers who know the literature well.

By using a variety of singers, Hyperion creates the impression that performing Fauré's music is not limited to selected personalities, but rather is music that a number of performers do well. Such a stance automatically makes the works more accessible to a wide audience. Unlike the limitations that might be perceived for a particular Wagner tenor or Verdi soprano, Fauré's music lends itself to good musicianship, rather than a specific, unique voice type, and this is demonstrated clearly in the recording through the talents of several fine performers. The singers on this disc vary from those who have a depth of experience with the genre as a whole, like Felicity Lott, as well as other performers whose repertoire is more focused. Lott's interpretation of Fauré's Cinq melodies is masterful for its appropriate tone she gives the music and the text, as required by settings of Verlaine. Of the women involved with the recording, Jennifer Smith provides a fine reading of a late song, C'est la pax (Op. 114), and the duet "Tarantelle" (Op. 10, no. 2) benefits from the crisp and well-matched voices of Geraldine McGreevy and Stella Doufexis, their only piece on the disc.

For those who know "Les berceaux" (op. 23, no. 1) and "Au cimetière" (op. 51, no. 2) from the frequent appearance of those songs on recital programs, the performances by Ainsley and Christopher Maltman are anything but routine. It is also refreshing to hear the impassioned "Chanson du pécheur" (op. 4, no. 1), which Fauré composed earlier in his life. The latter song is performed on this recording by Maltman, whose rich voice is particularly notable in this selection. Likewise, the "Barcarolle" (Op. 7, no. 3) contains elements Fauré would take up in some of his later songs, with its subtly crafted accompaniment that Graham Johnson executes effectively. Again, the unorthodox arrangement of this disc, with its recital-like focus on theme, offers listeners the opportunity to explore this repertoire from a new perspective and, thus, to hear the music with fresh ears.

While Hyperion's other vocal collections often present music in chronological order, the songs of Fauré are organized thematically. This first volume takes its title from the song Au bord de l'eau ("At the water's edge") and collects songs that deal with water or have aquatic settings. In addition to individual songs, this disc features several entire sets of mélodies, including Fauré's Cinq melodies, op. 58, Mirage, op. 113, and L'horizon chimérique, op. 118, and the pieces selected for this recording are presented in chronological order, from early to later works. While the arrangement by theme may seem unorthodox, if not somewhat arbitrary, it is an effective concept for showing how an idea inspired the composer throughout his career. After all, other similar approaches have been used for years to present traditional German Lieder and other kinds of vocal music.

As to Hyperion's efforts to preserve the complete songs of Fauré, the other volumes of this projected set include "Un paysage choisi" (vol. 2), "Chanson d'amour" (vol. 3), and "Les jardins de la nuit" (vol. 4). One hopes to find the singers included in the first disc on the rest of the set, so that the spirit and musicianship so evident in this volume may continue through all the music. For those who know Fauré's works, this "edition intégrale" of his songs is a welcome event which makes his body of work accessible to a broad audience. Those less familiar with this repertoire may find this first volume to be a fine introduction to them.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 9:18 PM

Susan Graham in Paris

La Clemenza di Tito
(Graphic: Opéra National de Paris)

Susan Graham, la libre expression

Jean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 17 May 05]

Blouson vert pomme, jeans bleus, corsage fuchsia, cheveux courts et roux couronnant une taille imposante, Susan Graham joue sans affectation l'Américaine à Paris dans les couloirs austères et académiques de l'Opéra Garnier. Dans quelques jours, elle interprétera le role de Sesto (Sextus) de La Clémence de Titus dans une mise en scène déjà représentée à Salzbourg en 1994 ou elle était alors Annio (Annius). "J'ai eu la chance d'avoir de grands professeurs pour cet opéra, explique-t-elle, puisque j'ai tenu trois fois le role d'Annio alors que Sesto était chanté par Tatiana Troyanos, Ann Murray et Frederica von Stade. J'ai toujours dans l'oreille les inflexions et l'intensité de Tatiana. C'était ma première apparition professionnelle à Chicago, en 1989..."

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L'amour de Sextus

La critique de Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 21 May 05]

évidemment, le terme "nouvelle production" n'est pas le plus approprié : nouvelle à Paris certes, cette Clémence de Titus vue par les époux Herrmann a déjà vingt-trois ans d'âge. Elle marqua en 1982 le début du renouvellement entrepris par Gérard Mortier à la Monnaie de Bruxelles, et dix ans après, en 1992, la meme mise en scène symbolisa sa reprise en main du Festival de Salzbourg : fil rouge d'une carrière, il n'était guère étonnant que cette production soit reprise à Paris dès la première saison de Mortier. Dans un décor nu, d'une blancheur rendue tour à tour éclatante et terne par des lumières remarquablement pensées, la mise en scène a les qualités et les défauts typiques des travaux de Karl-Ernst et Ursel Herrmann : une intelligence confondante, mais qui a tendance à verrouiller toute interprétation. L'Antiquité n'est présente que sous une forme néoclassique : celle de superbes arcades débouchant sur une statue d'ange dont les ailes prennent feu, celle aussi de la colonne brisée en meme temps que le pouvoir de Titus. Les costumes sont de toutes les époques et d'aucune, avec un coté très napoléonien pour l'empereur romain.

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Posted by Gary at 12:00 PM

May 19, 2005

Paul McCreesh Directs Bach's B Minor Mass

Paul McCreesh

B minor Mass

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 19 May 05]

Paul McCreesh's approach to Bach's last major choral work is about as far removed as possible from traditional heavyweight performances of the B minor Mass, and distinctly different from the approach of many of his period-instrument peers as well. For this superbly energised account, the Gabrieli Consort consisted of just 10 singers, divided equally into a ripieno, which provided the soloists, and a consort, which joined in for the large-scale numbers. The orchestra was just over twice that size. This minimalist approach produced gains in equality between voices and orchestras, and marvellous clarity in the contrapuntal writing. It also enabled McCreesh to adopt tempi that would have had a larger choir tied in knots.

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Posted by Gary at 10:20 PM

Der Ring at the Mariinsky

Valery Gergiev (Photo: The Mariinsky)

Ring Masters

The Mariinsky returns to Moscow with a program that includes a complete staging of Wagner's "Ring" cycle.

By Raymond Stults [Moscow Times, 20 May 05]

Hot on the heels of their marathon appearance at the Moscow Easter Festival, the artistic forces of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater are preparing for a return visit to Moscow. Starting Monday, they take to the main stage of the Bolshoi Theater with three evenings of ballet and a complete performance of Richard Wagner's four-part operatic cycle "The Ring of the Nibelung."

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Posted by Gary at 10:12 PM

Marilyn Horne Gives a Master Class

Marilyn Horne

City teenager performs at a diva's 'master class'

Marilyn Horne advised him: "Just sing beautifully. Don't worry about singing loud, loud, loud."

By Susan Snyder [Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 May 05]

Soon after meeting opera diva Marilyn Horne before his big performance, Justin D. Gonzalez told her to spare him nothing.

"Tear me to shreds. Do me the honor," the 17-year-old Philadelphia high school senior invited before taking the stage Tuesday night at the Academy of Vocal Arts for his "master class" performance.

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Posted by Gary at 10:00 PM

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at COT

Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Photo: Chicago Opera Theater)

COT team embraces Britten's ambivalent 'Dream'

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 15 May 05]

At first glance, Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream'' is a frothy tale, a story of youthful romance going charmingly awry.

True, Tatania, the fairy queen, feuds fiercely with her husband, Fairy King Oberon, over custody of a boy prince the Queen of India has given her. But the course of true love ne'er did run smooth, and Shakespeare's beleaguered lovers triumph in the end.

For most of us, Mendelssohn's airy music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," composed for an 1843 production of the play in Berlin and now a concert hall staple, sums up the play's atmosphere. Its sprightly Wedding March has sped countless brides and grooms out the church doors into their newly married lives.

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Britten's 'Midsummer' a dream

Chicago Opera Theater's cast and edgy staging do Shakespeare proud

By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 19 May 05]
Tribune music critic

The operas of Benjamin Britten have been a veritable talisman for Chicago Opera Theater since the company's early years. The city's second opera company is ending a winning season with a stage awash in the wit and wonderment of Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The only puzzling thing about director Andrei Serban's exhilarating new production, which opened Wednesday in the Harris Theater, is why one of the composer's most important stage works had to wait 45 years to receive a professional staging in Chicago. Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, cut Shakespeare's dark fairyland comedy by about half, clarifying the plot complexities while retaining the Bard's evocative poetry. In so doing they created a world--or, rather, three distinct worlds, those of the fairies, mortals and rustics--that can hold its own with the original.

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Posted by Gary at 9:47 PM

A Reunion at Cincinnati

Cincinnati May Festival

May Festival excitement reaches reunion-like pitch

Janelle Gelfand [Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 May 05]

For May Festival music director James Conlon, this season is all about old friends. The starry May Festival season, a two-week, five-concert festival opening tonight, includes a return of two of opera's most celebrated singers, Deborah Voigt and Ben Heppner, with whom Conlon has worked since the early 1990s.

It is also an historic reunion between Conlon and former music director James Levine, who led the festival from 1974 to 1978.

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Posted by Gary at 9:42 PM

May 18, 2005

On The Rise and Fall of Comic Opera

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)

La seriedad de lo cómico

Una reflexión sobre la historia de la ópera bufa a propósito del las representaciones de 'L'elisir d'amore', de Donizetti, en el Liceu

MIQUEL DESCLOT [La Vanguardia, 18 May 05]

La ópera propiamente dicha nació seria, muy seria. Al fin y al cabo, a finales del siglo XVI, los selectos miembros de la aristocrática Camerata dei Bardi, en Florencia, imaginaban estar recreando nada más y nada menos que la tragedia griega. Pero, de forma paralela, y en el mismo contexto cultural, el madrigal dramático italiano estaba alcanzando su madurez con obras abiertamente cómicas. De modo que, mientras en Florencia, en 1597, Jacopo Peri producía su Dafne, considerada la primera ópera de la historia, el fraile bolonés Adriano Banchieri escribía su célebre comedia madrigalesca La pazzia senile (publicada en Venecia, en 1598), considerada a menudo como la primera ópera cómica, o por lo menos como el germen del género bufo. La seriedad aristocratizante de la ópera ya nacía, pues, amenazada de cerca por la comicidad demótica, burguesa, de la comedia madrigalesca. Era fatal que la segunda acabara minando a la primera. Y lo curioso es que no tardó nada en hacerlo. Al desplazarse el epicentro de la ópera a Venecia, con Monteverdi, el terreno quedó listo para la hibridación. Así, las óperas de Francesco Cavalli, colaborador y sucesor del gran maestro cremonés, ya presentan una barroca mezcolanza de elementos serios y elementos cómicos muy característica de la idiosincrasia veneciana, en la que la pasión se auna naturalmente con lo carnavalesco, aun sin alcanzar la cohesión shakespeariana. Sin embargo, la reacción de la seriedad arrancó de la propia Venecia, a principios del siglo XVIII, de la mano del escritor y libretista Apostolo Zeno, quien inició una reforma encaminada a restaurar la calidad literaria del libreto y una progresiva eliminación de los elementos cómicos, en la línea de los clásicos requerimientos aristotélicos. Así nacía la ópera seria setecentista, que culminaría en la obra del sucesor de Zeno como poeta áulico en la corte de Viena, Pietro Metastasio, autor de la mayoría de libretos operísticos del segundo tercio del siglo XVIII.

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Posted by Gary at 10:03 PM

Sarah Connolly at Weill Hall

Sarah Connolly (Photo: Peter Warren)

A Good Month's Work


On Monday night at Weill Recital Hall -- the lovely space upstairs at Carnegie -- Sarah Connolly gave us one of the most satisfying events of the season. The English mezzo-soprano sang a diverse recital, offering Haydn, Brahms, Hahn, Korngold, and Weill (Weill at Weill!). This followed her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, as Annio in Mozart's "Clemenza di Tito." All in all, Ms. Connolly put in a very good month's work in New York.

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A Step Away From Opera, Executed With Grace

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 18 May 05]

New Yorkers have mostly heard the English mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly singing Handel and Bellini at the New York City Opera and, in recent weeks, Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera. With the Met's "Clemenza di Tito" freshly behind her -- the run ended on Saturday -- Ms. Connolly spent Monday evening showing what else she can do.

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Posted by Gary at 1:27 PM

Lucio Silla at Wiener Festwochen

(Photo: Armin Bardel)

Lucio Silla

Juri Giannini [Il giornale della musica, 17 May 05]

Nelle sue ultime dichiarazioni il nuovo sovrintendente della Scala Lissner ha spesso accennato, senza fare nomi, a cinque direttori d'orchestra, da lui ritenuti i migliori del mondo. Non siamo in grado di dire se Harnoncourt faccia parte di questa rosa, ma non esiteremmo ad affermare che nell'ambito dell'opera mozartiana il direttore austriaco abbia introdotto nuovi canoni interpretativi. Tra palco e buca, infatti, l'intesa è simbiosi. Il Concentus Musicus ha dimostrato di essere non solo ottimo complesso strumentale, ma anche eccelso apparato operistico. Harnoncourt dirige l'orchestra ascoltando le voci, senza mai coprirle, anzi assecondandone le virtu e sfocandone le debolezze, in un alternare continuo di livelli dinamici e sfumature timbriche. Tre ore e mezza di musica che non conoscono cali di tensione.

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Posted by Gary at 1:35 AM

May 17, 2005

Verdi's I Masnadieri in Lüttich/Liège

Léonard Graus (Moser) and Marcel Vanaud (Francesco Moor) (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)

Tödlicher Bruderzwist zu herrlicher Musik

[, 17 May 05]

Für Jean-Pierre Haeck war es eine gelungene Premiere. Für das Publikum war der Abend die Begegnung mit einem Höhepunkt des verdischen Belcanto, einer Oper, die zu unrecht ein wenig in Vergessenheit geraten ist.

Bei der Lütticher Aufführung von " I Masnadieri" (Die Räuber) in einer Inszenierung von Dieter Kaegi führte der Welkenraedter Jean-Pierre Haeck erstmals den Stab bei einer Verdi-Oper. Nach der Aufführung gab sich der junge Dirigent zufrieden: "Ich wollte schon immer mal eine komplette Verdi-Oper musikalisch leiten.

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Posted by Gary at 5:27 PM

Jenufa at El Liceu

Nina Stemme

El Liceu recupera 'Jenufa', un gran drama de Janacek

Nina Stemme y Eva Marton protagonizan una cruda historia de amor, celos, culpa y perdón

MARTA CERVERA [El Periódico, 17 May 05]

El Liceu estrena esta noche Jenufa, una gran ópera del compositor checo Leos Janacek, con libreto de Gabriella Preissova, en una producción de la ópera de Hamburgo que se ha visto en el Covent Garden y el Metropolitan.

Este drama de amor, celos, culpa y perdón llega con una puesta en escena de Olivier Tambosi basada en una escenografía muy simbólica que gira alrededor de una gran piedra que va cambiando de forma.

"La musica de Janacek va directa al corazón", declara Tambosi respecto al unico título del compositor moldavo que ha montado. Lo mismo opina Peter Schneider, que dirige a la Orquesta del Gran Teatre del Liceu, para quien el estilo de Janacek se caracteriza por la perfecta comunión entre musica y texto. En este sentido, Tambosi ha intentado "no danar el mensaje de la obra sino contribuir a abrir una ventana al alma humana".

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Posted by Gary at 4:12 PM

Celebrating Mirella Freni

Mirella Freni

Modena's Favorite Soprano


Sunday was Mirella Freni Day at the Metropolitan Opera. Fifty years ago, the Italian soprano made her operatic debut, and 40 years ago, she made her Met debut. The company celebrated these facts with a gala on Sunday afternoon, a fairly emotional show featuring six singers, plus Miss Freni herself.

A little well-known history: Miss Freni was born in Modena, the same town as Luciano Pavarotti. The most famous trivial fact in opera is that the two of them shared a wet nurse. "You can see who got all of the milk," she is quoted as saying. She quickly became an international star, a singer known for technique, purity, and refinement. She was a wonderful Mimi (in "La Boheme"), and excelled in many other roles as well. In recent years, she has sung a good bit of Russian repertory, Tchaikovsky in particular.

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Bowing to Honesty as Icing on a Diva's Cake

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 17 May 05]

Veneration of one's elders is not a concept that holds much water these days, although grand opera may be an exception. Broken voices with glorious pasts regularly enjoy the whoops and yells of opera fanatics celebrating some milestone or tribute. Yet in the case of Mirella Freni on Sunday afternoon they were confronting a working singer, not just a legend in bodily form.

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Posted by Gary at 1:37 PM

Cyrano at the Met

At the Met's 'Cyrano,' Domingo Fills the Bill

By Philip Kennicott [Washington Post, 15 May 05]

NEW YORK -- There's a line in Act 2 of Franco Alfano's rarely heard opera "Cyrano de Bergerac" that marks a critical turning point in the sad story of a poet's unrequited love: "The Tiger's awakening." It's said to Cyrano, the artist with a short temper, a fast sword and an excruciatingly big nose. But it might well stand for the effect tenor Placido Domingo had on audiences Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera when he sang the title role, a new role and the 121st of his exceptionally long and productive career.

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Sprinkled With Fairy Dust


The rule at the Metropolitan Opera seems to be, "Whatever Placido wants, Placido gets." It has been that way for many years. The rule - if it is a rule - is a good one: The opera-going public has been the beneficiary. Three seasons ago, Mr. Domingo brought "Sly" to the Met, in a production fashioned by his wife, Marta. "Sly" is an opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and it's not an immortal one, but they don't all have to be, and "Sly" proved worth knowing.

On Friday night, Mr. Domingo starred in Alfano's "Cyrano de Bergerac," which was receiving its U.S. premiere. It, too, is worth knowing, and has provided Mr. Domingo - and others - a bona fide hit.

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Long-Nosed but Handy With a Pen and a Song

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 16 May 05]

Music historians who have been poised to rewrite, if necessary, the chronicle of 20th-century opera, can relax. The Metropolitan Opera's first production of Franco Alfano's "Cyrano de Bergerac," which the company asserts is the North American premiere of this almost unknown 1936 work, opened on Friday night. It is no unjustly neglected masterpiece. It is not even an especially good opera.

But thanks to a vibrant production by the director Francesca Zambello, an admirable cast and, especially, the impassioned portrayal of the title role by Plácido Domingo, "Cyrano de Bergerac" does prove an engaging entertainment. The Met agreed to present this opera, a co-production with Covent Garden in London, at the behest of Mr. Domingo, who wanted to make Cyrano the 121st role of his career.

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Cyrano de Bergerac, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 16 May 05]

You know the old refrain. "Whatever Pláci wants, Pláci gets . . ." Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera, Plácido Domingo got to rhapsodise through an inflated proboscis, pine for an elusive love, swagger, stagger and die always beautifully on behalf of good old, self-sacrificing Cyrano de Bergerac. The esoteric vehicle, completed by Franco Alfano in 1936 and, it is claimed, never before performed in North America, was exhumed for the overachieving tenorissimo at the twilight of his singing career. Now 64 (iconoclasts still debate the official statistic), he will no doubt flourish as impresario, conductor and badness knows what else long after his vocal cords have rusted.

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In twilight, Domingo has a nose for glory


"Panache" is the last word uttered by Cyrano de Bergerac in Edmond Rostand's play and Franco Alfano's opera. Usually understood as "verve" or "theatricality," it derives from terms denoting both a writer's quill and the plumes on a cavalier's hat, hinting at the self-referential sophistication of the tale of the long-nosed swordsman and poet.

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Posted by Gary at 12:32 PM

BROWNE: Music from the Eton Choirbook

John Browne: Music from the Eton Choirbook
The Tallis Scholars, dir. Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM 036 [CD]

For more than a quarter century, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars have achieved great distinction in the performance of sixteenth-century polyphony, bringing to that repertory interpretations of engaging directness, rhythmic vitality, and fullness of tone. These are qualities that are admirably well suited to the music of the Eton Choirbook and one of its most representative composers, John Browne, the subject of this recent recording.

The founding of the "King's College of Our Lady of Eton by Windsor" by Henry VI in 1440 was a patronal act of enduring significance. And one of its richest legacies is the sumptuous body of Marian antiphons that are collected in the Eton Choirbook, an anthology compiled in the first years of the sixteenth century. The Marian emphasis was resonant with the dedication of the College and its chapel, reinforced visually by the Flemish-styled paintings of the miracles of the Virgin Mary on the north walls of the Chapel, and liturgically in the statutory daily singing of Marian antiphons at the close of day.

Browne's antiphons well represent the florid English style of the late fifteenth century. Most striking of its traits is likely the expanded range, which regularly sees five and six parts cover a full three-octave compass, and in so doing, exploits stratospheric, soaring treble lines. The appeal to a love of sonority is unmistakable. That same love of sonority is sometimes gratified by opposite means, as well. If the majority of Browne's works on this recording feature an expanded range, one antiphon, Stabat iuxti, compresses six voice parts into the tenor-bass registers, where the closeness of the harmonies make the sound unusually rich.

Typically the antiphons alternate between intricate, highly decorated counterpoint for a few voices and grand blocks of tutti sound. And throughout, the rhythmic flow is gracefully animated by cross rhythms at various mensural levels and a propensity to fill up the rhythmic space — much as the harmonic space has been filled up — with frequent off-beat motion.

The Tallis Scholars approach this music with a fluency born of their long experience with this repertory, and it is out of that natural fluency that they are able to offer performances of these works that show both an impressive command of foreground detail and at the same time performances that unfold with a gratifying sense of the architectural whole — ever spacious and ever engaging.

With a compositional style that is reasonably uniform, it is perhaps difficult to single out one piece over another. However, pride of place in the Choirbook itself is given to Browne's "O Maria salvatoris," an eight-voice antiphon that is the first in the collection. Its text is Marian in familiar ways though with an Oxonian accent — there are invocations to both Saint Frideswide (the patron saint of Oxford) and St. Catherine of Alexandria (the patron saint of students, known for her besting of fifty philosophers!). Browne was likely in the service of the Earl of Oxford, which would explain this connection, and the collegiate overtones seem nicely adapted to the Eton context, as well. And to my ear, the most memorable parts of the antiphon are its splendid opening and closing sections. The opening is a rich acclamation on the words "O Maria"; the closing an equally rich melismatic effusion on the word "melodia." It would be difficult to imagine anything more satisfyingly emblematic of the collection as a whole.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

Posted by Gary at 1:28 AM

Pavarotti Bids Adieu

Luciano Pavarotti

La triste révérence de Pavarotti

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 16 May 05]

Une page se tourne. Demain, à Bercy, la tournée d'adieux entreprise depuis quelques mois par Luciano Pavarotti permettra au public français d'entendre une dernière fois le tenorissimo. A une encablure de son soixante-dixième anniversaire, "Big Luciano", en choisissant de se retirer, clot l'un des plus glorieux chapitres de l'histoire de l'opéra. Celui qui a grandi à Modène en buvant le lait de la meme nourrice que Mirella Freni (leurs mères, collègues à la manufacture de tabac, ne pouvaient allaiter), avait pourtant de quoi etre paralysé par l'enjeu : au moment ou il fit ses débuts de ténor, la place était occupée par Corelli, del Monaco, di Stefano et Bergonzi ! Après ses débuts dans La Bohème à Reggio Emilia en 1961 (Rodolphe restera toujours l'un de ses roles fétiches), les choses semblent s'emballer : il remplace di Stefano à Covent Garden en 1962, chante le Requiem de Verdi avec Karajan en 1964, débute à la Scala en 1965 et au Met en 1968.

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"L'opéra aura toujours quelque chose à nous dire"

Modène (Italie) de notre envoyée spéciale [Le Monde, 16 May 05]

Abientot 70 ans, le célébrissime ténor italien Luciano Pavarotti a décidé de mettre un terme à sa carrière. Depuis le mois d'avril, il a entrepris une tournée d'adieux, de l'Afrique du Sud à la Chine, en passant par l'Europe, les Etats-Unis et l'Australie. Il sera en récital à Paris, au Palais omnisports de Bercy, le 17 mai, mais n'assurera pas le deuxième concert prévu le 15 juillet aux Arènes de Nîmes pour raisons de santé. Le Monde l'a rencontré alors qu'il prenait quelques jours de repos dans sa ville natale de Modène.

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Posted by Gary at 1:14 AM

May 16, 2005

Gheorghiu Sings Puccini at Festival Hall

Angela Gheorghiu

Angela Gheorghiu

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 14 May 05]

This strange effort was billed as a Celebratory Gala Concert: Angela Gheorghiu Sings Puccini. Just what we were meant to be celebrating was unclear. But what we got was Gheorghiu singing eight Puccini arias, plus his Salve Regina, together with a couple of encores.

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Posted by Gary at 3:49 AM

Der Rosenkavalier at the Wiener Staatsoper

Scene from Der Rosenkavalier (Photo: Wiener Staatsoper)

Der Sänger im Mittelpunkt

[Die Presse, 14 May 05]

Philippe Jordan leitete eine musikalische Neueinstudierung des "Rosenkavalier" mit Johan Botha als überraschungsgast.

Ganz auf kammermusikalische Finesse hatte Philippe Jordan diesen Strauss angelegt. Freilich führte er das makellos, mit kostbaren Soli aufspielende Staatsopernorchester meist so straff, dass selbst die Walzerpassagen sich selten zu brillantem Glanz aufschwangen.

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Posted by Gary at 3:39 AM

Jeptha at ENO

(Photo: English National Opera)


Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 14 May 05]

Katie Mitchell's staging of Handel's last original oratorio was widely admired when presented by Welsh National Opera two years ago. Transported from Cardiff's New Theatre to the Coliseum for English National Opera's share of the production, whatever dramatic and musical force it had originally has been dissipated. That may be partly the result of the transfer to a much larger auditorium, but the real problems seem more deeply rooted in the production itself.

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Posted by Gary at 3:25 AM

May 13, 2005

Premiere of Hildegard


Richard Morrison at Norwich Cathedral [Times Online, 13 May 05]

I DON'T say that James Wood's new opera about everyone's favourite 12th-century abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, broke the Trade Descriptions Act. But I imagine that many Norfolk and Norwich Festival patrons, lured by the promise of "a spectacle of sound and light", thought that they were going to get one of those grandiose cathedral son et lumière shows, with the voice of someone like Donald Sinden doing a lugubrious narration while stained-glass windows gently light up.

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Posted by Gary at 4:07 PM

Rigoletto at the Mariinsky

Scene from Rigoletto (Photo: Mariinsky Theatre)

Rigo mortis

By Galina Stolyarova [St. Petersburg Times, 13 May 05]

Verdi's "Rigoletto," a long-standing audience favorite, received languid treatment from Italian director Walter Le Moli, whose interpretation of the opera premiered at the Mariinsky Theater on May 6 and 7.

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Posted by Gary at 3:49 PM

Prokofiev at the Helikon

Sergei Prokofiev

Real-Life Hero

An assortment of patriotic music by Sergei Prokofiev is creatively staged in a new production at Helikon Opera.

By Raymond Stults [Moscow Times, 13 May 05]

For its first new production since May of last year, Helikon Opera chose to honor the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe with the premiere last Saturday of "Fallen from the Sky," a operatic pastiche based on two war-related works by Sergei Prokofiev.

Most of the music, as well as the story, of "Fallen from the Sky" comes from the last of Prokofiev's eight operas, "The Story of a Real Man." Interspersed in the drama are various choruses and the mournful mezzo-soprano solo from the composer's score for Sergei Eisenstein's epic film "Alexander Nevsky." The result is a worthy tribute to Soviet heroism, although one likely to find real resonance only among those who have lived their lives immersed in the lore of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War.

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Posted by Gary at 1:56 PM

The Future of Glyndebourne and Bayreuth

Domestic dramas

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 13 May 05]

Glyndebourne and Bayreuth are the world's two highest-profile private opera companies. Both are run by third-generation descendants of the founder. Each showcases the talents of well-known singers, conductors and directors. From the visionary template laid down by their founders, they have developed into complex modern organisms employing hundreds of people. Yet their character is defined by family: for these are still family businesses - the Christies at Glyndebourne, the Wagners at Bayreuth.

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Posted by Gary at 1:34 PM

May 12, 2005

Angela Gheorghiu at Festival Hall

Angela Gheorghiu

Driven wild by a shameless diva

[Daily Telegraph, 12 May 05]

Ivan Hewett reviews Angela Gheorghiu at the Festival Hall

There are sopranos, and there are divas. Angela Gheorghiu is definitely one of the latter. You know straight away from watching her stride on to the stage why this woman wins her battles with directors and conductors.

She's just released an album of Puccini favourites, and this concert was a clearly a stop on the album tour, containing nine of Puccini's most heart-wrenching arias. This was fewer than the album, but one thing Gheorghiu knows well is how to keep her rarity value, even when she's giving a concert.

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Posted by Gary at 2:30 PM

Koch Entertainment Acquired

ROW Acquires Koch Entertainment For $80 Mil

By Ed Christman [, 10 May 05]

ROW Entertainment Income Fund, the Canadian firm that owns the 100-unit CD Plus retail chain, has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Koch Entertainment for about $80 million. ROW also owns wholesalers Record On wheels, Zing Distribution and Video One.

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[Editor's Note: Koch Entertainment is the U.S. distributor of Chandos, ASV, MDG, Ondine, Pearl and other labels of interest to opera lovers.]

Posted by Gary at 2:20 PM

Opera North Triumphs Over ROH in Opera/Music Theater Category

Awards hat-trick for Opera House

London's Royal Opera House and conductor Sir Charles Mackerras have taken the top prizes at the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) awards.

Sir Charles received the RPS Gold Medal and BBC Radio 3 Listeners Award at the event honouring live classical music.

The opera house won the conductor award for music director Antonio Pappano and the singer award for Ben Heppner.

Composer Thomas Ades took the large-scale composition prize for the opera house production of The Tempest.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:19 PM

May 11, 2005

Britten's War Requiem at Royal Festival Hall, London

Benjamin Britten

War Requiem

Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 11 May 05]

Flag-waving celebrations may have been the order of the day across the river, but a far more thoughtful marking of the VE Day anniversary was to be found in the London Philharmonic's tribute, which almost inevitably took the form of Britten's War Requiem. What wasn't inevitable was that it should be led by the orchestra's chief conductor, who spent VE day as a teenage German soldier in an Allied prisoner-of-war camp. However, it seemed right that Kurt Masur was there.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 10:26 PM

Il Corsaro in Genoa

Scene from Il Corsaro (Photo: Fondazione Teatro Carlo Felice)

Il Corsaro, Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 11 May 05]

It would be easy to say that the best thing about Il Corsaro is its brevity. There isn't one item in the young Verdi's compositional bag of tricks that he didn't brandish with greater flair elsewhere. Written when the composer was Paris-based and exploring new artistic directions, it suffers from a sense that he was going through the motions. But the Teatro Carlo Felice accords Il Corsaro the respect it would any other Verdi opera, and the rewards are substantial.

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Posted by Gary at 10:21 PM

BØRRESEN: The Royal Guest

Hakon Børresen: The Royal Guest (Den kongelige Gaest)
Tina Kiberg (Emmy Høyer), Stig Fogh Andersen (Arnold Høyer), Guido Paevatalu (the guest), Edith Guillaume (Ane), Lise-Lotte Nielsen (the servant girl)
Odense Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tamás Vetö
DACAPO 8.226020 [CD]

When this CD arrived, I had never heard of Danish composer Hakon Børresen (1876-1954). Baker's gives him only a few lines, and a Google search didn't turn up much information until I found a Danish site ( with interesting biographical details to supplement the little biography in the CD notes. When I put the CD on and sat back to listen, I suddenly realized I had heard, if not heard of, Børresen before. It's Richard Strauss! Or maybe Edward Elgar. The composer seems to have remained firmly rooted in the nineteenth century (or maybe Hans Pfitzner) until his death, three years after that of Arnold Schoenberg. That he retained his leadership of the Danish Composers' Society during the Nazi occupation until he was ousted in 1948 may say something about his conservative nature as well.

This little conversation piece, first performed in 1919, adapts a story by Henrik Pontoppidan, another of those Nobel laureates in literature whom taste and history have forgotten. The story isn't terribly original: during Carnival, just before Ash Wednesday, a middle-aged couple is expecting guests for the holiday when a telegram arrives with the news that they won't be coming. After some brief annoyance, the couple settles back into their comfortable routine, from which passion and excitement disappeared long ago. Suddenly sleigh bells announce the arrival of a guest. An unknown man appears, claiming to be a friend of the town pastor, and begs the couple's hospitality for the evening. The lady of the house is more reluctant than her husband, but both are astonished when the strange guest asks to keep his identity anonymous, going by the name "Prince Carnival." He leaves to change into formal wear and encourages the couple to dress for dinner as well, for the first time in a long while.

Returning to the dining room first, the guest directs the servants to light all the candles and strew violets all around the room. The husband and wife quickly fall under his spell as he praises love and speaks whimsically of his adventures with cupids and satyrs and an encounter with the god Pan. As the wife begins to fall under his spell, her husband grows alarmed. The mysterious guest senses this, and announces that it is time for him to leave. Once he is gone, the husband jealously accuses his wife of unseemly behavior. He quickly regrets the accusation, however, and they make up, realizing that the evening has relit the flickering candle of their relationship. As they exit into the bedroom, sleigh bells are heard in the distance.

Børresen composed his opera a few years before Strauss wrote Intermezzo, but his conservatism keeps it from being a complete success. The opera opens with a long prelude à la Rosenkavalier. It ends with a skittering violin postlude à la Rosenkavalier. And all the music in between sounds like, well, Rosenkavalier. Børresen didn't realize that his usual symphonic, through-composed style wasn't appropriate for a conversation piece with a lot of dialogue but few set pieces, aside from the guest's song in praise of Eros. Too many scenes, particularly towards the beginning, drag on a bit long. On the other hand, the composer's gift for melody suits the magical guest and the spell of enchantment he conjures up. It is one of the most often performed operas in Denmark, though even there performances have dwindled since the death of its principal exponent.

The orchestra outshines the singers in this recording. As conducted by Tamás Vetö, the Odensee Symphony Orchestra captures all the brilliant orchestral color in Børresen's lush symphonic score. Although the singers aren't bad, some of the wit is missing that's needed to bring off this Faschingsschwank aus Copenhagen. Well-known soprano Tina Kiberg captures the wife's transformation, but tenor Stig Fogh Andersen relies on bluster for the husband, and baritone Guido Paevatalu doesn't bring enough colors in his singing to the charming magician. This recording is well worth adding to CD collections, and college opera theaters might consider this little piece as an alternative to the usual Cavs and Pags.

David Anderson

Posted by Gary at 5:14 PM


Dave Brubeck: Songs
John De Haan, tenor; Jane Giering-De Haan, soprano; Dave Brubeck, Cliff Jackson, piano.
Naxos 8.559220 [CD]

This problematic recording is another in Naxos's "American Classics" series, an important body of releases that demonstrates the broad reach of American music across two centuries. While some of the recordings are decidedly novelties, they are welcome as such. William Henry Fry's "Santa Claus" Symphony, for instance, deserves to be heard as well as mentioned in textbooks. The songs of Dave Brubeck, however, are certainly more than novelties, despite their not being as well known or as widely heard as the music of his justly famous quartet.

Brubeck's wide expressive reach is evident here. Some of the songs recall his study with Darius Milhaud and the influence of early-to-mid-twentieth-century French music in general. "The Things You Never Remember" is one of these, as is "There'll Be No Tomorrow," an exceptionally beautiful song that begins with a Chopin-inspired introduction and displays its Romantic roots unashamedly. Other songs, such as "So Lonely," reveal the depth of Brubeck's harmonic versatility. "So Lonely" is a truly amazing song, in fact. Set to a simple lyric by Iola Brubeck, the composer's wife and frequent lyricist, its chromatic, wandering melody perfectly reflects the neurotic denial of the text. It offers much for a sensitive interpreter. The four songs to texts by Langston Hughes are art songs influenced by, but well outside, the style of jazz for which Brubeck is best known. And yet "Strange Meadowlark," perhaps the best-known selection on the CD, is well known from the instrumental version on the legendary Time Out CD, and later from a sung recording by the inimitable Carmen McRae. In other words, this is a jazz classic as well as a finely crafted and expressive song.

So, with all this extraordinary musical material, why is the recording problematic? The question begs several, more fundamental questions. Why is nearly every American singer trained in art song and / or operatic repertory incapable of singing convincingly in vernacular American English? Why are these singers incapable of successfully singing in any popular music-influenced style, let alone singing popular music? Why, when American music has in large part been a fusion of what American musicologist H. Wiley Hitchcock has called our "vernacular" and "cultivated" traditions, can American concert singers only sing in the "cultivated" style, or what has come to be accepted as such? And, finally, if these singers cannot sing this music, why do they insist on doing it anyway?

This is not the place to argue the success of some singers who have been critically lauded for their "crossover" recordings or performances. (I would argue that none have been successful, but I'm not arguing.) However, this recording is a demonstration of how badly a project can backfire if the singer is not at one with the repertoire and instead approaches it as if it were something it is not.

Are these songs "art"? Decidedly yes. They are art songs drawing from wide stylistic sources, and they are all perfectly and sometimes profoundly expressive of their texts. Does that mean, however, that they must be performed in such a wooden, inexpressive manner? John De Haan has a somewhat attractive tenor voice, but he seems clueless as to what he is singing. In the song "So Lonely," mentioned above, he merely skates over the top of the song's emotional content, providing no sense of emotion and suggesting no interpretive ability at all. Since Dave Brubeck is himself brilliantly and sensitively playing the piano for half these performances, we are left to wonder if this is how he imagines the songs being sung. Surely not. In "Strange Meadowlark," De Haan crosses the line and sounds genuinely parodistic of an "art song" singer performing a jazz-pop song. If anyone can listen to him sing the phrases "To be singing oh so sweetly in the park tonight" or "You can sing your song until the dawn brings light" and not laugh out loud, he or she is of stronger stuff than I. De Haan performs as if he is doing the music a favor by "elevating" it to the status of art. What he doesn't seem to realize is that it already is art. Carmen McRae signing "Strange Meadowlark" is art; De Haan singing it is pretentious.

De Haan does have some less troublesome moments, however. His performance of "Tao," a setting for unaccompanied voice of lines from the Tao te Ching, is quite effective. Here, he seems to sing without his usual pose, and even his diction relaxes, allowing the singer to find the beauty in the sounds of the words as well as in their meaning. And the four songs to texts by Langston Hughes (which are not included in the accompanying booklet, presumably due to copyright restrictions), because they are composed in a style more demonstrative of what we might think of as "art songs," do not seem as stilted or stiff as the other songs. Jane Giering-De Haan joins Mr. De Haan on some of these songs; her diction suggests that she, too, should stay away from the jazz influenced material, although her performance on these particular songs is fine.

Ultimately, this is not a recording I shall ever listen to again. I am happy to have discovered many of these songs, and I kept thinking of other singers I'd like to hear sing them. "So Lovely" would be devastating performed by Ute Lemper, for instance, and young African-American soprano Angela Brown could do lovely things with the Langston Hughes songs. What seemed to me to be the inappropriateness of Mr. De Haan's style, however, made it a chore to get through the entire CD in one sitting. Whether you treasure the intellectual jazz of Dave Brubeck and the sensitive cool that comes through in so many of his quartet's legendary recordings, or if you prefer his ambitious serious works like The Light in the Wilderness, this recording will disappoint. Because, unlike this composer, or many other American composers, who have so deftly fused the "vernacular" and "cultivated" traits in American music to create something unique, the principal singer of this set has no idea how to fuse anything. The stylistic imperative of "serious" singing prevents much of the singing from being taken very seriously at all, and it certainly prevents the singing from being appropriate.

Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University

Posted by Gary at 2:09 PM

May 10, 2005

Ernani at Parma

Festival Verdi
2005 (Graphic: Fondazione Teatro Regio di Parma)

Ernani, Festival Verdi, Parma

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 10 May 05]

No city is more closely identified with Verdi than Parma - the urban centre closest to the composer's rural home - and it polishes its image with an annual Verdi festival. As Parma is also home to the National Institute of Verdi Studies, scholarly gatherings play a role, and several visiting orchestras appear. But the festival's mainstay rests in the Teatro Regio with two new opera productions.

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Posted by Gary at 9:42 PM

Mara Zampieri: A Tribute to Verdi

Mara Zampieri: A Tribute to Verdi
Mara Zampieri (sopranao) sings arias from Nabucco, Ernani, Giovanna D'Arco, Attila, Stiffelio, Aida, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Froza del Destino
Myto 052.H102 [CD]

A recurring practice in classical recording studios is "re-mastering" recordings of a legendary artist, sometimes focusing on those artists well known but not frequently recorded. Soprano Mara Zampieri is one of those veteran performers, who appears in a relatively short list of commercial recordings and a few personal compilations. Myto's new release, Mara Zampieri: A Tribute to Verdi, is proof why this singer has not been recorded more frequently.

Born in Padua in 1951, she received her musical training at the Padua Conservatoire. She made her debut at 21 in the Fraschini Theatre in Pavia. She also was the winner of many prestigious international awards early on, including the AS.LI.CO of Milan. It seems, however, that this premature push in her music career led to a faltering technique, which is evident on practically every track on this recording, not to mention creates an unstable ground from which to perform Verdi.

The disc contains selections from Verdi's most popular heroines, Abigaille, Elvira, Givanna D'Arco, Odabella, Lina, Leonora, Violetta, Amelai, Leonora, and Aida. Unfortunately, Zampieri handles each role differently vocally speaking, not being consistent in her voice production or in her sensitivity and attention to detail in the music. Indeed, the sound can be very imposing, but the quality stays in the throat and doesn't bloom into the hall, which gives her timbre that "boy soprano" characteristic.

Some selections included are captivating, such as Odabella's "Liberamente or piangi... O nel fuggente nuvolo" from Attila. Zampieri exhibits sensitive phrasing and a sensible light and flowing vocal timbre. If only she performed in this way consistently in the rest of the disc!

Alas, one gem of an aria does not a recording make. Foolishly the recording's producers buried her best work in the middle of the disc, and exposed probably her worst work at the beginning. Zampieri's Abigaille is atrocious, particularly "Ben io t'invenni o fatal scritto." The dramatically disjunctive Verdian recitative, moving quickly from extreme high to low, takes her out of her best vocal core and into pinched high notes and tottery chest notes. She loses all grace in the line, something she mastered in the Attila. Her coloratura is also varied in tempo, from the sporadic in "Tutto sprezzo che d'Ernani" to outright rushing in Violetta's "Sempre libera."

There are many lyric sopranos performing on world stages today that would be able to undertake a recording such as this and execute each role, each aria with more musical competency. Not recommended.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 8:59 PM

Rossini's Il Barbiere at Münchner Rundfunkorchester


Posted by Gary at 8:56 PM

Shostakovich's Moscow, Moscow at the Wiener Kammeroper

Moscow, Moscow
(Photo: Wiener Kammeroper)

Operette im Plattenbau

VON GERHARD KRAMER [Die Presse, 10 May 05]

"Moskau, Moskau" von Schostakowitsch.

Sascha und Mascha, jung verheiratet, treffen einander einmal täglich ir gendwo in Moskau und träumen von einer eigenen Wohnung. Semjon Semjonowitsch Baburow und seine Tochter sind obdachlos geworden - das alte Haus in der "Warmen Seitengasse" ist eingestürzt. Der Sprengstoffexperte und "Dissident" Boris möchte nach Jahren fern von Moskau hier seine grosse Liebe finden. Und da sind dann noch Sergej und seine angebetete, stramm linientreue Bauarbeiterin Ljusja, auch auf der Suche nach einer Bleibe.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:36 PM

Tales of Hoffmann at Seattle

Under the illusion of rose-colored glasses, a love-struck Hoffmann (John Uhlenhopp) woos the affections of Olympia (Julianne Gearhart), unaware that she is, in fact, a doll. (Rozarii Lynch Photo)

For Seattle Opera, 'Hoffmann' is a tale of triumph

By R.M. CAMPBELL [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9 May 05]

Jacques Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann" has to be one of the most problematic and untidy operas in the international repertory.

Nearly 125 years after its premiere at the Opera-Comique in Paris, the opera is still subject to alterations and adjustments of whatever impresario is producing the show. Different editions abound -- since the score was unfinished at the time of the composer's death -- as well as different opinions, almost by definition, about what should and should not be included in any performing edition.

Click here for remainder of article.

Alternate "Hoffman" cast features new singers, different vibes

By Melinda Bargreen [Seattle Times, 10 May 05]

It's always a revelation to see how different an opera production looks and sounds when new leading singers step in. Saturday's opening performance of "The Tales of Hoffmann," the exciting new production at Seattle Opera, featured such a terrific ensemble cast that Sunday's alternate cast (introducing five new singers) had very big shoes to fill. But Sunday afternoon's first performance, a completely new show, generally worked well on its own terms.

First of all, tenor John Uhlenhopp makes a commendable Hoffmann, with a bright timbre, good high notes and strong dramatic skills. He clearly connects with his inamoratas. Linda Pavelka, as his Muse and constant companion, gave all her scenes a dramatic urgency, showing a real command of the role's vocal requirements.

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Posted by Gary at 8:25 PM

May 9, 2005

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo in London

The Grand Tour (Graphic: Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music)

Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

George Hall [The Guardian, 9 May 05]

The Grand Tour, whereby wealthy Britons travelled through Europe, in particular Italy, imbibing culture at its fountainhead, is the theme of this year's Lufthansa Baroque Festival. The opening concert focused on Handel, whose reasons for going to Italy were professional, and whose route was unusual. German-born and trained, Handel spent four years in Italy in his early 20s, learning everything he needed to know about the Italian style, and particularly how to write Italian opera. Moving to London, he became its leading purveyor to English audiences for 30 years.

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Posted by Gary at 7:42 PM

Der Ring Along the Amazon

Teatro Amazonas

Adventures in Opera: A 'Ring' in the Rain Forest

By LARRY ROHTER [NY Times, 9 May 05]

MANAUS, Brazil, May 8 - Richard Wagner set his fantastical world of Valkyries, gnomes and giants along the Rhine, not the Amazon. But this is a city with a long history of thinking large and even outlandishly, which is how the Amazonas Opera Festival here has ended up staging Wagner's sprawling four-part "Ring of the Nibelungen" cycle in the heart of the world's biggest rain forest.

Adding to the grandeur and novelty of the occasion is the fact that the site chosen for the performances is the celebrated Teatro Amazonas, a short stroll from the river. In Werner Herzog's film "Fitzcarraldo," the title character undertakes a mad journey across the Amazon in hopes of reaching Manaus in time to see Caruso sing at the lavish opera house that the local rubber barons have built to entertain themselves.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:34 PM

Margaret Garner Premiere

Margaret Garner (Graphic: Detroit Opera House)

Giving New Voice to Former Slave's Tale of Sacrifice

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 9 May 05]

DETROIT, May 8 - Grand opera is happiest when the issues are big and little neutral ground stands between good and evil. What better topic than American slavery and its aftermath? The Michigan Opera Theater's premiere performance of "Margaret Garner" on Saturday night had heated the passions, stirred guilt and broken a lot of hearts before a word or a note was written.

"Margaret Garner," moreover, is history, literature and now theater. Garner was a runaway slave who in 1856 killed a daughter rather than return her to slavery. She became the high-profile defendant in a trial arguing the crime involved: murder or destruction of property? More recently, she is the source of the novel "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, who wrote the libretto for this opera.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for an interview of Angela Brown.

Posted by Gary at 7:23 PM

WEILL: Die sieben Todsünden

Kurt Weill: Die sieben Todsünden; Quodlibet op. 9 from the Pantomime "Zaubernacht" op. 4
Anja Silja, Julius Pfeifer, Alexander Yudenkov, Bernhard Hartmann, Torsten Müller,
SWR RO Kaiserslautern, Nowak
Hänssler Classic 93109 [CD]

A new recording of Kurt Weill's (1900 - 1950) ballet chanté, Die 7 Todsünden (1933) featuring Anja Silja and the SWR Rundfunkorchestra Kaiserslautern and conducted by Grzegorz Nowak, has recently been made available in the U.S. on the Hänssler Classic label. Also included on the CD is Weill's Quodlibet, opus 9 (1923) — an orchestral arrangement taken from his 1922 children's pantomime, Zaubernacht.

Die 7 Todsünden is the product of Weill's forced collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, from whom he had been estranged for nearly three years by the time the ballet was commissioned. Die 7 Todsünden is unusual in that it features prominently a vocalist and a dancer as two parts of the protagonist's personality, as well as a male quartet and small dance roles. The ballet relates the adventures of the protagonist, a young woman named Anna, who must leave her home in provincial Louisiana to seek employment in the major cities of the U.S. in order to finance the building of a house for her family.

In the prologue we learn that Anna has a split personality, the practical side of which is portrayed by the singer (Anna I), while the more fanciful side of Anna — the part of her that dabbles in the seven deadly sins — is portrayed by a dancer (Anna II), who also has a few spoken line in the production. Anna's family at home in Louisiana is represented by the male quartet, which in this recording is staffed by tenors Julius Pfeifer and Alexander Yudenkov, baritone Berhard Hartmann, and bass Torsten Müller.

Throughout the nine movements of the work — one for each deadly sin plus a prologue and an epilogue — we follow Anna's struggles with sin and witness her family express their concern over her ability to avoid sinfulness. Ironically, neither Anna nor her family seem to worry about the seven deadly sins for religious or moral reasons; rather, the theme of the family's arguments is that only by adhering to "the law" will Anna be able to earn a substantial amount of money. The libretto blatantly mocks bourgeois family values, and Weill's musical settings of the text emphasize the hypocrisy of Anna's family. For example, in the movement titled "Gluttony," the male quartet sings a capella homophonic harmonies, imitating the sound of Lutheran chorales. Rather than conveying a message of avoiding gluttony in order to achieve moral soundness or entry in to Heaven, the family warns Anna not to be gluttonous, lest she gain weight and therefore lose her contract as a solo dancer in Philadelphia. Two men with revolvers, ostensibly at the behest of her employers, "help" Anna to maintain her weight at 110 pounds despite her fondness for muffins, cutlets, asparagus, chicken, and little yellow honey-buns.

Die 7 Todsünden was written for and premiered by Weill's off-and-on-again wife Lotte Lenya in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. In a1955 recording of Die 7 Todsünden Lenya sings each of her movements down a fourth from their original pitch level — a musical decision made apparently without ever having discussed it with Weill. Lenya's recording, part of an attempt to capture all Weill's songs on record, set a precedent for later performances of Die 7 Todsünden so that in its published format, the score contains an appendix of Anna's songs "for low voice," this despite the composer's lack of involvement in any such version.

Although she made this recording after a singing career of nearly five decades Silja gives a convincing performance as the young Anna I and Anna II, and she does so in the register at which Weill originally composed Anna's songs. While a few notes at the top of her register seem to give Silja some trouble, her overall portrayal of the Annas is delightful. In interviews Silja has indicated that acting is as important to her as vocal technique, a philosophy that is apparent even on CD: this recording is full of energy and drama from the optimistic beginning all the way to the sardonic "Ja, Anna" at the end. Silja is ably supported by the male quartet whose performance highlight the pretentious nature of Anna's family; this is especially true in "Covetousness," a movement in which the family expresses their that Anna will not appear greedy to the extent that she ceases to exact money from her admirers. The quartet's articulation is clear so no word is lost, and the hypocrisy of their concerns is immediately comprehensible.

In addition to the moving performances by the singers and the orchestra, the SWR recording can be recommended for its excellent sound quality. The warmth of Silja's voice and the colors of the orchestra can be heard clearly throughout. The CD booklet contains notes in German that are (dubiously) translated into English, as well as the complete lyrics in both German and English and short bios for each of the performers.

Weill's Die 7 Todsünden is just one of many modern works that deserves wider hearing. Quality recordings such as this Hänssler Classic CD will make access to these pieces easier and more enjoyable.

Megan Jenkins
CUNY The Graduate Center

Posted by Gary at 3:38 AM

ZANDONAI: Francesca da Rimini

Riccardo Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini
Magda Olivero (Francesca); Pinuccia Perotti (Samaritana); Enrico Campi (Ostasio); Giampiero Malaspina (Giovanni la sciancato); Maro Del Monaco (Paolo il bello); Piero De Palma (Malatestino dall'occhio); Lydia Marimpietri (Biancofiore); Edda Vicenzi (Garsenda); Bianca Maria Casoni (Altichiara); Anna Maria Rota (Donella); Gabriella Carturan 4smaragdi); Angelo Mercuriali (Ser Toldo Berardengo); Dino Mantovani (Il giullare); Athos Cesarini (Il balestriere); Giuseppe Morresi (Il torrigiano); Rinaldo Pellizoni (un prigoniero)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano
Direttore: Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Live registration: 4th of June 1959
Myto 2MCD 051.303 [2CDs]

Strange to think that Magda Olivero has to thank Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas for two of her best known live recordings. Tebaldi cancelled the famous Adriana Lecouvreur performances in Naples 1958 (Corelli, Bastianini, Simionato) and La Scala originally wanted Callas as Francesca da Rimini. Twice Olivero substituted and made the role so much her own that whenever one of these operas pops up in a conversation so does Olivero's name. Contrary to Adriana, Francesca was not a staple in the soprano's repertoire. She sang a few performances with Alessandro Ziliano and Tullio Serafin in Torino in 1940 and only returned to the role 19 years later for her second and last run of Francescas.

Nine years later she recorded three duets with Del Monaco for Decca/London; probably because there was some studio time left after their Fedora. Though the sound of the studio recording is far better (and there is no prompter as in the live La Scala) it cannot really compete with the live recording. The main difference is the marked deterioration of Del Monaco's voice and style. But Decca's Moritz Rosengarten was convinced that Del Monaco was the better seller than Carlo Bergonzi (for the 1968 Wally) or Bruno Prevedi (Norma of 1967 and Fedora of 1969). In the short term he was probably right but in the long term these Del Monaco-recordings are not the best money-makers in the back catalogue.

Even in 1959 most critics were not convinced that Del Monaco's muscular style was right for Paolo the beautiful but this is without taking into account Zandonai's heavy orchestration that often overwhelms a tenor like Prandelli in the Cetra-set. Moreover Del Monaco is here on his best behaviour. He respects the cantilenas and doesn't chop up the line. There is no denying the intrinsic beauty and nobility of the voice and he almost leaves behind his disturbing sobbing habits which in his case resembled somewhat the whinnying of a horse (happens only once). He proves he can soften the mighty volume and shows in the duets how beautiful and tender he could phrase a mezza-voce when he wanted to. And the moment the music takes real heat there is of course that mighty column of sound. In short, this is probably one of his very best recordings together with Decca's Fanciulla and the wonderful live Forza of 1953.

Nobody resembles Olivero so much as Magda Olivero. When one listens to her many live recordings ("Sono la regina dei pirate," she once told me, though of course Gencer is a strong competitor), one is struck by the same tricks every time in every role; be it Francesca, Tosca, Minnie or Adriana. And of course the wonder of it is that she nevertheless gets away with it, convincing one half of opera lovers that this is among the greatest singing ever heard while the other half thinks that these are only cheap verismo mutterings. This reviewer belongs to the first category and he cannot have enough of the lady's mannerisms: the strong vibrato when the voice is under pressure, the reducing of the voice to the extremely long held fil di voce, a mere thread of a voice, almost whispering; the emotional outbreaks, the excessive moans and sobs. But, and this is a big but, contrary to a lot of other verismo sopranos Olivero's tricks are a means of expression, not technical deficiencies which must be hidden by vocal trickery. And, therefore, though one knows what to expect, one falls again under her magic spell from the moment Francesca appears. The voice moreover is at it's most fresh as the lady at the moment of performances was only....49.

For those who think she always exaggerates her singing, there is a healthy reminder in the interesting four bonus tracks. At La Scala, national and international critics were to be found and, therefore, she always reined in; but, in a smaller provincial theatre like Modena in 1971, she could freely sing out, though maybe singing is not the correct word. In Medea we hear between sung notes some of the weirdest sounds I have ever heard: screaming, sobbing and a lugubrious kind of sprechgesang I never heard any singer use. It's fascinating stuff for Olivero-lovers but I can imagine that most will think of it as over the hill.

Baritone Giampiero Malaspina (not the husband of Rita Orlandi Malaspina, that was bass Massimo) is a rather rough and ready Gianciotto, just employing a gruff big voice. The rest of the cast, however, is magnificent with tenor Piero De Palma as a fine menacing and threatening Malatestino. This is one of the most difficult roles for second tenor; but in the hands of a skilled performer, it can make a tremendous impression in the house and Di Palma uses his voluminous, though charmless, voice extremely well to characterize this unsympathetic toad.

La Scala casted all of the smaller female roles with singers who would go far like Lydia Marimpietra or Bianca Maria Casoni. The men are excellent too and they almost made up a roll call of those fine comprimario singers we all remember from many glorious EMI and Decca recordings in the fifties and sixties.

Gianandrea Gavazzeni and his marvellous orchestra is a little bit handicapped by the less than pristine sound which favours the singers. Therefore a lot of Zandonai's formidable orchestration cannot be appreciated at its full value. As a consequence, some parts of the opera sound a little bit more boring than they actually are. But part of the blame lies with the authors (Zandonai and librettist Tito Ricordi), who were so intimidated by the fact they had the honour (very expensively bought) of using the divine Gabriele D'Annunzio's poem, they had not the courage to delete a lot of superficial stuff. Zandonai played his score for the poet who was not very enthusiastic and who never attended one performance in the theatre. He missed a lot because Francesca da Rimini works far better in an opera house than on records. There are only seven recordings available and this is the best in my opinion, but the Spartan way it is presented in doesn't make listening easier or more enjoyable. There is no libretto and it is a recording that needs one. There are no photographs of still existing buildings in Rimini and the fine castle of Gradara where the action unfolds (and where the erudite guide nevertheless didn't know the opera when I visited).

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 3:24 AM

Lamentations and Messiah

The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
Timothy Brown, conductor
Brilliant Classics 92099 [DVD]

George Frederic Handel: Messiah
Lynne Dawson, Hillary Summers, John Mark Ainsley, Alastair Miles; The Choir of King's College Cambridge; Brandenburg Consort, Stephen Cleobury, conductor
Brilliant Classics DVD 92520 [DVD]

The Brilliant Classics label has been releasing budget priced recordings on CD for some time now, many to high praise. Complete symphony cycles (for example, of Shostakovich and Bruckner) have been favorably compared in some publications to those from major labels featuring star conductors and top orchestras.

Now the company appears ready to venture into the growing DVD market, and among the first releases are two DVDs featuring British choirs. The Lamentations disc features choral masterpieces from Palestrina's Stabat Mater to George Kirbye's Vox in Rama. The program reveals itself to be two separate groups of performances; the first filmed at Jesus College Chapel and the second, which gives its title to the entire program, filmed at All Saint's Church. Both come from 1996.

The Choir of Clare College is composed of fresh young souls with pure, sweet voices, and anyone with an appreciation for this music should find the performances enjoyable. Tallis, Byrd, Gesualdo — many of the great composers of choral music receive clean, disciplined performances under Timothy Brown's leadership.

Exactly what benefit the visual element brings to that enjoyment remains a question. The camerawork here is rudimentary. For your reviewer, a claustrophobic feeling grew, as the camera remains resolutely within the chapel with the choir, panning over the choir members' faces and then returning to a position behind Brown for group shots. Occasionally, the walls are panned. Devotees of British church drywall techniques may find that fascinating. Others may find something to focus on in the hair of one male choir member in the second section, who seems to be wearing a beret but in close up is revealed to have a mushroom-shaped coiffure of tight curls.

The review copy came with a booklet offering texts in English only, but very little other information. There are no subtitles.

Nor are there any on the Messiah disc, and here the review copy came without any booklet whatsoever. The performance was recorded in the Netherlands in 1991, and from the look of things, was quite a formal occasion: full dress for the men and tasteful gowns for the women, and an audience, albeit one that never breaks into applause, even at the end.

Cleobury leads the Brandenburg Consort in a historically-informed performance, and though many — well, at least your reviewer — may wish to run for the classic Beecham set to be reminded of the passion and excitement this music can evoke, others will surely find the intimacy and naturalness very appealing.

Every soloist offers fine singing, although the alto Hillary Summers may be an acquired taste, as she has a rather plumy sound that becomes monochromatic in extended singing. He was despised especially became rather tiresome. Dawson, Ainsley, and Miles, however, sing with great control and much beauty.

Once again, the visuals don't add much if anything to the performance's success. To break up the monotony, the director has inserted from time to time some etches of scenes corresponding to the story. Whether these enlighten the viewer or distract will be an individual response.

Presumably these DVDs will be offered at the same sort of budget price that Brilliant Classics offers for its CDs. If so, those with a special love for British choirs may find these two discs worth the expenditure. For others, surely the best performances on CD would be preferable.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

Posted by Gary at 3:10 AM


Francisco Escudero: Illeta (Funeral Oratorio)
Ricardo Salaberria, Baritone; Coral Andra Mari; Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Juan José Mena
NAXOS 8.557629 [CD]

The Basque region of Spain is known as a unique cultural enclave. Within its confines thrives a rich artistic heritage. Composer Francisco Escudero has become one of the most famous 20th century composers from the region. His avant-garde sound blends many eclectic styles with elements of traditional Basque music.

Escudero's funeral oratorio, Illeta chronicles a town's communal grief over the loss of a loved one. The narrative poem by Xabier Lizardi, Biotzean min dut, translated as My Heart is Broken, is a brooding tale of three days of mourning stretching through a wake, funeral, and burial. Like a Baroque passion setting, a soloist and chorus take up dramatic roles as narrator and townspeople.

The rich baritone soloist, large orchestra and massed chorus create somber tones and jarring colors conveying a deep spirituality. Escudero employs many descriptive musical devices to portray immense sorrow. Tolling bells signal death, strident stings are the citizens' cries of grief, and the sweeping orchestra scales create gusting winter wind. Escudero's avant-garde pallet also brilliantly evokes atmospheres of desolation, despair and consolation.

The musical language incorporates many eclectic modern styles within the religious nature of traditional Basque music. Recurring throughout the work is a five note motive reminiscent of the Dies Irae chant. The final section of the work, the funeral, begins with an exact quote of the Requiem Aeternam chant of the Requiem mass. These examples reflect the influence of Gregorian chant and the foundation of religion in Basque music and culture.

Juan José Mena leads the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and the Coral Andra Mari in a powerful performance. The orchestra color and tonal shading ranges from exquisite hollow piano shimmering to solemn percussion and brass led processions. The chorus and soloist sing their emotionally charged text with suitable drama. Their wailing high notes are wrenchingly sorrowful and their final words of sadness, "my heart is broken" are sung with an intense, quiet resignation. Baritone Ricardo Salaberria's dark warm color leads the chorus' heartfelt emotion. His superb strength and richness vividly narrate the events, despite the text being in Euskara.

This Naxos disc provides a wonderful glimpse into the insular Basque artistic oeuvre. Grounded in profound religious ideas, Francisco Escudero's Illeta is a stirring work of modern and traditional sounds. This recording powerfully portrays the depiction of an intense emotional ceremony in honor of a lost loved one.

Adam Luebke

Posted by Gary at 2:56 AM

May 7, 2005

Cavalli's La Calisto in Munich

La Calisto
(Graphic: Bayerischen Staatsoper)

Von der Arbeit besessen

Zur Opern-Premiere "La Calisto": David Alden im Gespräch

[Merkur Online, 6 May 05]

Das Amt des Hausregisseurs gibt es an der Bayerischen Staatsoper offiziell nicht. Wenn aber einem diese Funktion gebührt, dann ist es David Alden. über ein Dutzend Inszenierungen hat der New Yorker hier bereits herausgebracht. Seine aktuelle Regie: Francesco Cavallis Barock-Oper "La Calisto", die am Montag im Nationaltheater ihre Münchner Erstaufführung erlebt. Ivor Bolton dirigiert. Das Stück erzählt von der Nymphe Calisto, in die sich Jupiter verliebt. In Gestalt der Göttin Diana bandelt er mit ihr an - was die Gattin natürlich übel nimmt.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 9:55 PM

Missa Solemnis in London

Ludwig van Beethoven

Agony and ecstasy

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is notoriously difficult. Is Philippe Herreweghe crazy to try it?

By Stephen Everson [The Guardian, 6 May 05]

'The day on which a High Mass composed by me will be performed during the ceremonies solemnised for your imperial highness will be the most glorious day of my life," wrote Beethoven in 1819 to Archduke Rudolph, the youngest brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Franz I and his composition student. Rudolph had just been elected archbishop of Olmütz in Moravia, and Beethoven was to write a setting of the mass for the installation the following year. In the event, however, the Missa Solemnis would take Beethoven five years to write and would be one of the grandest and most complex works of his later years. It is also one of the hardest of all musical works to perform. When Harmonia Mundi produced a live recording of the piece, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, there were many who felt that this was the first time they had heard a performance that had the full measure of the work. This weekend he brings the same forces, the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées to perform it in London.

Click here for remainder of article.

Opium of the Mass

By Hilary Finch [Times Online, 6 May 05]

Philippe Herreweghe has revealed the original beauty of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

AN ABERRATION of genius, or the musical equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel? Until a decade or so ago, the jury was still out on Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. And then in February 1995 a live recording was made of a single performance given in Montreux by an orchestra barely five years old, conducted by a Belgian better known for his Bach. Overnight, it seemed, the Missa Solemnis had been reinstated as Beethoven's single most considerable achievement.

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Posted by Gary at 9:44 PM

Getting Steamy in LA

LA Opera Ad for Der Rosenkavalier (Artwork by Gottfried Helnwein)


That Risqué Opera Ad, Old School Trance Music

by Kristin Friedrich [LA Downtown News, 7 May 05]

The ad campaign for the L.A. Opera's upcoming Der Rosenkavalier has generated a lot of talk. Downtown artist Gottfried Helnwein, who is designing the production's costumes and sets, also came up with the poster — using two models, a little makeup, and the power of suggestion.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for press release.

Posted by Gary at 9:36 PM

May 6, 2005

La Wally in Düsseldorf

Alfredo Catalani

Opernpremiere in Düsseldorf: "La Wally" - Leidenschaft über dem Abgrund

Grosser Jubel für Solisten und Musiker: Alfredo Catalanis "La Wally" - inszeniert von Nicolas Joel - feierte in der Düsseldorfer Rheinoper Premiere.

[Westdeutsche Zeitung, 2 May 05]

Düsseldorf. Die "Geierwally" als Oper lässt ein Alpendrama mit deftigem Lokalkolorit vermuten. Die Düsseldorfer Erstinszenierung von Alfredo Catalanis "La Wally" bot stattdessen die Seelenstudie einer sexuell frustrierten Gesellschaftsdame, die mit ihrem Wohlstand nichts anzufangen weiss, weil sich ihr der Mann verweigert, den sie liebt. Das Premierenpublikum folgte dieser Umdeutung bereitwillig, jubelte ihr nicht ohne die Lust der Wiedererkennung begeistert zu.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:29 PM

Magic Flute in Brussels

Scene from Die Zauberflöte (Photo: Johan Jacobs)

Mozart sans magie

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 2 May 05]

Durant les riches années passées à la tete de la Monnaie de Bruxelles, Bernard Foccroulle aura élargi la palette de la mise en scène d'opéra, en faisant appel à des chorégraphes ou à des plasticiens. Ainsi, l'homme de théâtre et dessinateur, le Sud-Africain William Kentridge, grand inventeur d'images fixes et animées. Si l'alchimie se fait entre l'univers visuel du créateur et l'oeuvre qu'il met en scène, cela peut renouveler la question. Dans le cas contraire, on a l'impression de voir, pour paraphraser Godard, non pas "des images justes", mais "juste des images". C'est ce qui se passe avec La Flute enchantée vue par Kentridge.

Click here for remainder of article.

"La Flute..." version désenchantée, par William Kentridge

Bruxelles de notre envoyée spéciale [Le Monde, 6 May 05]

En confiant La Flute enchantée de Mozart à l'artiste sud-africain William Kentridge, le directeur de La Monnaie, Bernard Foccroulle, avait peut-etre d'autres intentions que l'inévitable logique de renouvellement de la mise en scène d'opéra qu'il met en oeuvre depuis moult années.

Kentridge est homme de théâtre et d'opéra, plasticien, dessinateur, cinéaste, réalisateur de courts-métrages d'animation. Depuis 1992, il est l'un des piliers du KunstFestivaldesArts de Bruxelles, ou il a réalisé des spectacles avec le Handspring Puppet Company (Woyzeck on the Highfield, Faustus in Africa) et, en 1998, une première incursion dans le domaine de l'opéra, avec une adaptation d'Il ritorno d'Ulisse de Monteverdi pour La Monnaie. Cela étant posé, on ne résoudra pas pour autant l'énigme de savoir pourquoi Kentridge et pas un autre.

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Posted by Gary at 1:57 PM

Soile Isokoski at New York's Zankel Hall

Soile Isokoski

Mozartian soprano widens her repertoire


With a voice at once silvery and dark, compact yet ripe with overtones, soprano Soile Isokoski is in increasing demand as a Wagner and Strauss interpreter. New York so far has heard her primarily in Mozart and French opera, most recently as an achingly poignant Rachel in Halévy's "La Juive" and as Marguerite in the Metropolitan Opera's glitzy new staging of Gounod's "Faust."

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for additional commentary by article's author.

Soile Isokoski, Zankel Hall, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 5 May 05]

Soile Isokoski, who chose a remarkably discerning programme for her first New York recital, is no garden-variety primadonna. The soprano from Posio, Finland, is too smart, too self-effacing, too reluctant to follow easy paths to success. Her Metropolitan Opera career began only 15 performances ago, in 2002, as an introspective Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. She returned the following year as a poignant Rachel in La Juive, and last month as a possibly miscast Marguerite in the controversial production of Faust. Gounod's faux-German heroine — sometimes lyrical, often dramatic, occasionally dazzling — represents a dangerous challenge for Isokoski's relatively fragile resources, and she ventured the role just a day before her Liederabend. No one could blame her if she seemed a bit tired. Her normally suave tone turned a bit shrill under pressure, especially at the outset, and her diction, especially in German, tended to favour vowels over consonants. In context, however, the flaws seemed minor. She always managed to explore subtext as well as text, sustaining energy even when immersed in subdued reflection. She rose to gentle climaxes with easy radiance. And, unlike many another operatic heroine alone on the concert platform, she avoided any trace of exaggeration, verbal, vocal or histrionic.

Click here for remainder of article (subscripton to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 1:48 PM

May 5, 2005

Un Ballo in Vancouver

Masked Ball
(Graphic: Vancouver Opera)

Masked Ball

By Alexander Varty [, 5 May 05]

By Giuseppe Verdi. A Vancouver Opera production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday and Saturday, May 5 and 7

Once upon a time, Masked Ball might have made sense. Back in the 1850s, when Giuseppe Verdi wrote it, he based his story on the assassination of Sweden's King Gustavus III. A despot, cuckold, and philanderer, Gustavus further alienated himself from his subjects by claiming the exclusive right to produce aquavit, and was shot by one Jacob Johan Anckarström at a costume party in 1792.

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Posted by Gary at 9:37 PM

The Very Best of Beverly Sills

The Very Best of Beverly Sills
Beverly Sills (soprano) sings arias from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia; Verdi's Rigoletto; Donizetti's Don Pasquale; Lehar's Merry Widow; Massenet's Thais; Rossini's L'assedio di Corinto; Verdi's La traviata.
The Very Best of the Singers series.
EMI Classics 863172 [2CDs]

EMI Classics' release of The Very Best of Bevery Sills is a mixed bag. Unlike similar EMI compilations of Maria Callas, Mirella Freni, or Lucia Popp, who all present an array of signature arias or art songs, this release should be re-titled Some of Beverly Sills' Opera Scenes and a Few Arias. Though Sills performs with an impressive cast, including Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Sherrill Milnes, and Samuel Ramey, this recording would be much more satisfying if is showcased more of signature Sills.

The CD is divided into a few of her famous roles, featuring an aria or two from each role as well as several pivotal scenes from the opera. Highlighted roles include Rosina of Il barbiere di Siviglia, Gilda of Rigoletto, Norina of Don Pasquale, and Violetta of La traviata. A few arias are randomly included on the second CD, such as "Vilia", "Dis-moi que je suis belle", and "Cielo! Che diverro?... Ah! Che spiegar."

If this recording's intention was to focus on bel canto repertoire, it has made a grave mistake forgetting Sill's premier roles in Lucia Di Lammermoor, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux. What about her excellent interpretation of French repertoire — Manon, Faust, La Fille Du Regiment, or The Tales of Hoffman? What about her world premier role Baby Doe? This is hardly The Best of Beverly Sills.

Despite faults in recording choices, Sills still exhibits vocal mastery and sensitive musicianship. The recordings span from 1972-1979, from the height of her career toward retirement. Changes in suppleness of her voice are apparent throughout the disc. Her Rosina and Violetta, recorded in 1975 and 1972 respectively, reveal a silvery line, crystalline tone, appropriate weight of the voice, and masterful phrasing. Her coloratura in "Una voce poco fa" is very impressive, especially when executing scalar runs from a well-endowed chest voice to the stratosphere. Everything from her La traviata excerpts is magnificent, from the buoyant line in "Sempre libre" to her audible distraught phrasing in "Ah! Dite alla giovine."

Recordings from the end of her career reveal reasons why the end was coming. Excerpts from Rigoletto expose a more brittle sound, wider vibrato, and a less brilliant top. However, her "Caro Nome" still stuns the listener with virtuosic trilling, masterful messa di voce, silky lyricism, and impeccable staccato. The vocal weight in this aria brings back memories of an earlier, more youthful Sills, and is entirely appropriate for the role of Gilda. Only in the final cadenza does she punch the coloratura and add too much weight.

There are many compilations of Beverly Sill's best recordings, and this is not one of them. Fortunately, EMI has a previous release entitled The Art of Beverly Sills which features all of her signature arias from the height of her career.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 4:14 PM

In the News: Future of La Scala; Die Fledermaus in Philly; La Clemenza di Tito in London; Reinaldo Arenas as Opera; The Undiscovered

La Scala leader seeks 'historic change'

By Alan Riding The New York Times [Int'l Herald Tribune, 5 May 05]

PARIS For all the poison and politics that accompanied the recent management meltdown at La Scala, Stéphane Lissner never hesitated last month when he was invited to become the first non-Italian in 227 years to run the legendary Milan opera house. Before accepting the job, though, he did call one old friend, the French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.

"He told me, 'A chance like this comes once in a lifetime,"' Lissner said with an unabashed smile.

Click here for remainder of article.

Die Fledermaus
(Graphic: Opera Company of Philadelphia)

'Die Fledermaus,' all in featherweight fun

David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 May 05]

The Opera Company of Philadelphia's biggest challenge of the season wasn't anything so grand as Aïaut;da, but Johann Strauss' featherweight Die Fledermaus, if only because of its many variables. Will the language be German, English or a mixture? Is the leading character tenor or baritone? What version of dialogue (there are many) and how many topical references will be used?

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La Clemenza di Tito

George Hall [The Guardian, 4 May 05]

Zurich Opera's latest flying visit to London brought a concert performance of Mozart's final opera seria, a work that has undergone significant revaluation in recent times. Once regarded as a throwback to a moribund tradition dashed off because Mozart needed the money, it is now viewed as the harbinger of a sparer style the composer didn't live to develop.

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Tracing the Life of a Gay Cuban Dissident

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 4 May 05]

American Opera Projects does the useful task of presenting workshop performances of new scores, often before the ink has dried. Last year, the company began offering glimpses of Jorge Martín's "Before Night Falls," an opera about the Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas, and on Monday evening at the Clark Studio Theater at Lincoln Center it presented scenes from the work's first act.

Click here for remainder of article.

Telemaco, Schwetzingen Festival

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 4 May 05]

In the process of apologising for ailing singers, Thomas Hengelbrock mentioned that there are some 40,000 still-unpublished opera manuscripts from the time before Mozart alone. The mind boggles. It puts the whole rediscovery business into perspective.

Connoisseurs know that Alessandro Scarlatti was different. He was influential and inventive, and his operas deserve disinterment. Not all 114 of them, perhaps. But certainly several.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 1:41 AM

May 4, 2005

BIZET: Carmen

Georges Bizet: Carmen

Elena Obraztsova, mezzo-soprano (Carmen), Placido Domingo, tenor (Don José), Yuri Mazurok, baritone, (Escamillo), Isobel Buchanan, soprano (Micaela).
Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Carlos Kleiber, Conductor.

I still remember the incredible excitement in the early 1970s when DGG issued recordings featuring the young conductor, Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004). Both the Weber Freischütz and Beethoven Fifth Symphony showcased the craft of an extraordinary talent, an artist capable of making even the most familiar music sound fresh, spontaneous, and new. Music lovers hoped that this son of the great conductor Erich Kleiber would be a constant presence, both in the concert hall and opera house.

Alas, it didn't quite work out that way. Kleiber — a recluse who demanded extraordinary amounts of rehearsal time — conducted all too infrequently. As a result, each Carlos Kleiber performance and recording has taken on a treasured status. Recently, DGG issued a number of Kleiber orchestral concerts on DVD, a set that belongs in every music lover's collection. And, TDK has done Kleiber fans a great service by releasing this 9 December 1978 Vienna State Opera performance of Bizet's Carmen.

I attended a Kleiber Metropolitan Opera Otello in 1990. I was amazed by the conductor's ability to achieve an absolutely ideal balance between the orchestra pit and stage. Each and every word emerged clearly, despite the fact that the Met Orchestra was playing with considerable force. Later, I had the opportunity to discuss this Otello with a friend of mine, a prominent executive in the symphony industry who had worked with Kleiber. He told me that Kleiber had gone through the score of Otello and adjusted the dynamics of each and every instrumental and vocal part to achieve precisely the effect I heard at the Met. Of course, it still takes someone with an extraordinary ear to achieve this ideal balance in the heat of performance. And Carlos Kleiber possessed that gift, in abundance.

This 1978 Vienna Carmen radiates a similar kind of magic, at least from the pit. Kleiber treats Bizet's score as a great orchestral work, which, in fact, it is. The Prelude and Entr'actes are given their full due, with ideal pacing, rhythmic precision, instrumental balance, and articulation. Indeed, these are qualities that apply to just about every measure of this performance. Just by way of example, the opening scene of Act I, up to the moment of Carmen's entrance, can often seem interminable. Here, with Kleiber's precise, lively, and ideally-paced reading, the opening whisks by.

The only exception to this level of excellence is the scene in Act I where the workers in the cigarette factory describe the fight between Carmen and Manuelita. Bizet's lightning-fast and complex writing for chorus does not fare well when presented with lots of stage action. Franco Zeffirelli opts for a "busy" approach, with predictably imprecise musical results. The rest, however, is about all one could hope for. Indeed, I can't recall a better-conducted performance of Carmen. It's fortunate that Zeffirelli, who directed both the stage production and this telecast, allows the viewer several glimpses of Kleiber's mesmerizing presence on the podium.

The singers are of more variable quality. Mezzo-soprano Elena Obraztsova brings a confident, relaxed stage presence and powerful voice to the title role. But Carmen is a part that requires a considerable amount of musical and acting nuance. Obraztsova provides little of either. The voice, which never had a particularly attractive basic quality, becomes even less so under pressure. Her occasional pitch difficulties and unidiomatic French don't help matters, either. To be fair, no other principal singer in this production would be mistaken for a native speaker. But the opera is named Carmen, after all, and the expectations for that character are (and should be) high. Obraztsova provides a generalized, heartily-sung big opera house Carmen, and not much more.

Much more compelling is the Don José of tenor Placido Domingo. Domingo has achieved remarkable career longevity through a careful and intelligent husbanding of resources. I have nothing but admiration for his accomplishments. Still, it's nice to be reminded of the tenor's far more abandoned and robust work in the 1960s and 70s that caused such a stir in the opera world, even when such great singers as Franco Corelli, Richard Tucker, and Carlo Bergonzi were still at or near their primes.

Here, Domingo is in rich and glorious voice, offering a Flower Song that, in tandem with Kleiber's inspired conducting, elicits an audience response that stops the performance for several minutes. Domingo also offers a convincing dramatic portrayal of a rather unassuming, naïaut;ve man, brought to ruin by his love for Carmen.

The Micaela of Soprano Isobel Buchanan is another great asset. She sings beautifully, and projects an innocence and charm (and, in Act III, courage) that elevate her Micaela to a level far more interesting than the norm. Yuri Mazurok is a handsome Escamillo with a vibrant, high baritone. However, he lacks both the authority in the lower register and ease with the French language to do justice to this relatively brief, but very demanding role.

Kleiber opts for a mixture of the Opéra-Comique spoken dialogue and sung recitatives composed by Ernest Guiraud. Generally, I prefer a spoken dialogue version, but given the lack of native French singers in this production, it's probably not a bad compromise.

The picture and sound quality are both fine, allowing us to hear Kleiber's amazing work in great detail, and see Zeffirelli's larger-than-life production. The DVD features English, German, French, and Italian subtitles.

So, this Carmen is far from an ideal representation of Bizet's elusive masterpiece. Still, I think all fans of this opera and of great conducting will find it of interest, as it documents the work of an artist whose each and every performance was something to treasure.

Kenneth Meltzer

Posted by Gary at 6:47 PM

May 3, 2005

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino

Carlo Bergonzi (Don Alvaro); Ilva Ligabue (Donna Leonaora); Piero Cappuccilli (Don Carlo); Franca Mattiucci (Preziosilla); Agostino Ferrin (Padre Guardiano); Domenico Trimarchi (Fra Melitone); graziano Del Vivo (Marchese); Florindo Andreolli (Trabucco); Giovanni gusmaroli (Alcade); Chirurgo (Teodoro Rovetta); Una voce (Carla Bucci); Mirella Fiorentini (Curra)
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI conducted by Fernando Previtali
RAI Live Recording Torino 1971

"The policies of recording companies never fail to wonder me." I am often reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal's expression in the magazine, Opera, and I definitely had it in mind when I received this recording. Why would anyone bring out a set with two singers (Bergonzi and Cappuccilli) duplicating their roles of the classic EMI-recording of 1969; maybe still the best buy around? And yet, yet I'm not so sure anymore of the superfluousness of this set. There are two reasons for it. Number one is Carlo Bergonzi. I didn't think he would be able to surpass his formidable EMI-Alvaro and nevertheless he does. Bergonzi's voice was slowly changing in the early seventies. He had been singing the most strenuous roles of the repertoire for almost a quarter of a century and still the voice had not suffered. On the contrary, there were no traces of his baritone past anymore. The top was secure, though there never was much squillo and a high C usually became a high B. It was the middle voice that had changed most. It became honeyed, silvery in an almost Gigli-like way. Combined with his inexhaustible breath control, his legato and the way he could colour some small phrases and switch from forte to a heavenly pianissimo it slowly dawned upon many listeners that here was one of the greatest tenors of the century who maybe had been taken too much for granted.

I clearly remember two Verona Giocondas where he set the arena afire after a hauntingly beautiful "Cielo e mar", each time encoring that long aria and without any loss of sound launching himself into the duet with the mezzo. This "Indian summer" lasted for about 4 years until 1975, when it became clear that his notes above the staff had a tendency to go flat but while it lasted it was breathtaking. This is the Bergonzi we get in this concert performance of 1971 in Torino (I don't know why it is not mentioned in the sleeve notes that it was on the 11th of October). Though we have several magnificent renderings of the tenor in "La vita è infelice" this is a version that ought to be played and replayed for every singer wanting to know what belcanto means.

His performance doesn't stop there. Every note is sung with utter beauty, a sense of the Verdian line without lingering or without extravagantly sobbing. He sometimes had a tendency even in his best years of gliding to a top note and clinging to it for death, bringing it on pitch all the while but here the high register is completely free and he pins every note right on. And then there is a fly in the ointment. It may be Previtali's fault but I fear we have to look at Bergonzi. This paragon of tenors had an awful respect for Verdi's scores in a recording studio but he could as easily resort to the worst provincial butchery on the scene. In 1966 Dallas opera pleaded, asked, begged and threatened him in the hope he would consent to sing at least one verse of the Duke's cabaletta "Possente amor," which he had recorded for DG. He didn't budge an inch and absolutely refused to sing those extra three minutes. Surely in a concert performance he could give us the fine second Alvaro-Carlo duet "Ne gustare " which he recorded for EMI but the listener will have to live with this barbaric cut.

There is a second reason this set is so worthwhile: Ilva Ligabue. One wonders after hearing this assumption why record producers didn't run to get her signature under a contract. She recorded (together with stylish tenor Nicola Filacuridi) 3 MP's on a small label and Myto would do well to transfer them to CD. These were her only solo albums. RAI however used her a lot in less well known concert performances and one after another they found their way to CD (Boito's Nerone, Cherubini's Lodoiska). There are some Verdi's as well (I Masnadieri, Ernani, Otello) though not always in best sound. Her Alice Ford is well represented and indeed has her only official recording on Decca. And I've got fond memories of her Francesca, a radio France recording though with Olivero, Gencer and Kabaivanska the competition is stiff. And now at last there is one of the major Verdi's. This is clearly not another Tebaldi, Price or Stella as Ligabue has a somewhat lighter voice. Indeed during the Convent Scene I thought for a moment I was hearing a somewhat heavier version of Mirella Freni, combining that singer's beauty of timbre with Ligabue's own limpid sound and a hint of steel, riding easily over the orchestra though in the upper regions around high B Ligabue's voice tends to vibrate and loses a little bit of focus.

Another stalwart of RAI who never made the major labels is bass Agostino Ferrin. He doesn't have the decibels of Ghiaurov or the black timbre of Christoff; but the voice is attractive, noble and rolls along most musically.

Piero Cappuccilli was the baritone during many performances at De Munt in Brussels or the Verona arena. His voice has the brown colour and the volume one nowadays misses sorely in most Verdi performances. Still, and this may be very personal, he always remained a somewhat aloof singer in my opinion with a great voice that never excited me overmuch. He too is here at his EMI-best.

Mezzo Franca Mattiucci sings in a lower division. She sounds somewhat like a poor man's Cossotto. She has a bright though not too personal sound and the voice becomes shrill when she has to reach for the impossible high notes of Preziosilla. Domenico Trimarchi is a fine Melitone, actually singing the role instead of crooning or clowning like Corena used to do.

Fernando Previtali is a maestro di capella of the old school with his well measured conducting so much attuned to his singers' breathing. Forza poses a big problem for record producers when one has no choice but to accept a cut performance. It's still too long for 2 CD's but it gives short value on the third one. So what bonus to put on to convince prospective buyers? I cannot say Bongiovanni looked after an original solution. They give us part of a 1984 Bergonzi live concert (Italian and Neapolitan songs) which was already out completely on LP and is now part of their CD-catalogue. They do the same with a Cappuccilli LP-CD. I'm sure most opera lovers will have both issues. A pity as with a little bit of research they could easily have given us some unknown vintage Bergonzi-concerts of the sixties and early seventies with unhackneyed repertoire which make the rounds of collectors. Better still, while discussing conditions with RAI, they could have asked for Bergonzi's extremely rare but magnificent Inno delle Nazione, recorded for the commemoration of Toscanini's birthday in 1968.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 5:54 PM

VERDI: Ernani

Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani

Placido Domingo (Ernani); Raina Kabaivanska (Elvira); Nicolai Ghiaurov (Don Ruy Gomez da Silva); Carlo Meliciani (Don Carlo); Giovanna (Milena Pauli); Piero De Palma (Don Riccardo)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano conducted by Antonino Votto
Live Registation 7.12.1969
MYTO 051304 [2CDs]

"Few tenors today have his ringing top" and "his ringing, clear top" are not exactly qualities one associates with baritenor Placido Domingo, as he has been calling himself for the last ten years. Still, those were the exact words used by critic Peter Hoffer in his reports for Opera Magazine and Opera News on the opening of La Scala for the season 1969-1970. In all honesty, a ringing top à la Corelli is not exactly what one hears on this recording. But there is no hint of a pushed up baritone either. This is 28-year old fresh voiced Domingo with all the beauty and youthful freshness of the middle voice and quite an acceptable top always taking the higher option (A or B-flat) at the end of a solo or a duet. Mr. Domingo has been so long among us that one somewhat has forgotten how meltingly beautiful the young tenor sang, relying on his outstanding vocal gifts.

Original phrasing or deep musical insights (which are barely to be found in the score) never became Domingo's forte though at the time we still had hopes. Nevertheless this is fine singing in difficult circumstances. The year before La Scala had a difficult opening with extreme left demonstrators not shy to use violence. The opening of 1969-1970 was one with a lot of police in and around the house, no flowers in the theatre and no jewelry for the ladies. Moreover this was Domingo's Scala and role début. Inevitably, he was nervous and this shows in his aria where he is at loggerheads with Votto's tempi but he soon relaxes and gives us his golden tone from beginning to end.

His partner is Raina Kabaivanska, by that time a seasoned performer at La Scala who had made her début there 9 years earlier in Beatrice di Tenda. She often has the better of him; somewhat outsinging him during duets or trios. I heard both of them one year later during an impressive Manon Lescaut and he surely didn't have the smaller voice. So this must be a question of balance and I've got the feeling that Kabaivanska with her routine knew the better spots on La Scala's scene from where to hurl her voice into the house and the mikes. Her voice too is pretty, youthful and she always knew how to respect a Verdian line.

This is one of the few recordings with baritone Carlo Meliciani. Piero Cappuccilli had succumbed to flu and he was replaced by this La Scala stalwart (ten years older than Domingo) who often sang in second casts or modern operas. The sound is not to be despised however. Somewhat hesitatingly during the first act, he clearly comes into his own from "Vieni meco" on and gives a magnificent and stylish "O dei verd'anni miei". The voice resembles Benvenuto Franci's rich sound with quite the same vibrato (which I personally like) though without the elder baritone's strength on top (no ending on G). The recording once more teaches us a lesson on the difference between real and recorded sound: Meliciano's decibels are impressive and yet the same Opera News critic writes "a voice lacking in weight for this theatre", an opinion I can only concur with as he didn't make an unforgettable impression on me when I heard him two years later at the Verona arena.

One who has the voice in both the theatre and the studio is Nicolai Ghiaurov as Silva using his fine instrument in an impressive way showing off an exemplary legato. Conductor Antonino Votto doesn't let the music go slack and lets conductor purism not get the better of his judgment; therefore we get interpolated high notes and Silva's cabaletta "Infin che un brando vindice", rousingly sung by the bass even though it is suspected that Verdi was not the composer. Muti would never have allowed it and indeed had it cut out in his 1982 recording. In the official EMI-set, Domingo and especially Ghiaurov have lost some of the sheen on their voices and therefore admirers of both singers will do well to purchase this recording under review.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 5:39 PM

VERDI: Attila

Giuseppe Verdi: Attila

Samuel Ramey, bass (Attila), Giorgio Zancanaro, baritone (Ezio), Cheryl Studer, soprano, (Odabella), Kaludi Kaludov, tenor (Foresto), Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Riccardo Muti, Conductor.
Opus Arte OA LS3010 D [DVD]

This DVD release, taken from an RAI telecast, documents a 1991 La Scala performance of Verdi's 1846 opera, based on the life of Attila the Hun. I've always felt that early Verdi is one of Riccardo Muti's greatest strengths. When Muti was Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I was privileged to see their concert performances of Nabucco and Macbeth. Both featured breathtaking execution, intensity, and momentum.

Those same qualities may be found in this La Scala Attila. What a pleasure it is to hear an early Verdi score treated with the same respect as his later masterpieces. Verdi's incisive rhythms and dynamic contrasts — so necessary for maintaining the tension of these early, vibrant works — are given their full due. Muti also elicits a beautiful, singing tone from the La Scala Orchestra, and conducts with a flexibility that belies the "metronome" criticism often leveled at his work. Listen, for example, to the way Muti and tenor Kaludi Kaludov sculpt the grand, ascending phrases of Foresto's Prologue aria. That kind of gratifying collaborative work is evident throughout this performance.

Leading the cast is the superb American bass, Samuel Ramey, in the prime of his career. Atilla is a role that fit Ramey's powerful and gleaming, high bass like a glove. Here, he revels in the part, both vocally and histrionically. Whenever Ramey is on stage, he commands the center of attention, as well he should. A fine document of a great singer in one of his signature roles.

The rest of the singers are a bit more uneven, but each still offers many positive attributes. Cheryl Studer copes well with the fiendish dramatic coloratura of Odabella's music in the Prologue, although the soprano is much happier in the upper reaches of her voice than in the lower, which tends to lose support and focus. The remainder of the opera features more conventional soprano writing, and here, Studer acquits herself admirably. She also brings considerable stage presence to the part.

Giorgio Zancanaro was one of the few singers of his generation who possessed the style, incisive diction, vibrant tone, and free upper register so essential for the great Verdi baritone roles. I wish Zancanaro didn't so frequently resort to aspirates instead of maintaining a true legato, but overall, I can't imagine anyone from the past few decades performing the role of Ezio better. Both the Prologue duet with Attila and Ezio's Act II scene are among the highlights of this performance.

I previously mentioned tenor Kaludi Kaludov's fine singing in the Prologue. Throughout this performance, the tenor gives a well-sung and sensitive account of Foresto. I don't think the consistently bright timbre of his voice is ideal for the role (Carlo Bergonzi once said that a Verdi tenor's voice should have "the color of blood"). But Kuladov uses his resources well, and certainly never a liability.

The video and sound quality of this DVD release are both first-rate. The DVD menu offers the option of English subtitles. The booklet contains a synopsis and Italian libretto.

Recommended particularly for the work of Muti and Ramey. Admirers of the other performers, and of this opera, may purchase this DVD with confidence as well.

Kenneth Meltzer

Posted by Gary at 4:33 PM

An Interview with Angela Brown

Angela Brown

Plunged in the deep waters of a serious opera career, Angela Brown is ready for the challenge. "It happened when it needed's God's time; any earlier I wouldn't be prepared." After her pivotal substitution as Aida for the Metropolitan this fall, more companies and directors are taking notice. She now takes on the role of Cilla in Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner, premiering at the Michigan Opera Theater this May. Brown admits the increase in attention has been an adjustment, but her full schedule is old hat. "I have always been a very busy singer," says Brown, "I've been concentrating on covering [roles] a lot, but now I get to really do it!"

Brown began singing in her grandfather's Baptist church, moving onto musical theater and winning local awards with her only aria, Handel's "He shall feed his flock". When she first started Oakwood College, she had dreams of becoming a gospel singer or a singing evangelist. She became torn when, at the age of 21, she began learning the basics of music, becoming interested in classical singing. She found a hero in Leontyne Price, both women coming out of the church and focusing on the dramatic soprano roles of Verdi. Brown focused much of her work at Oakwood, and later at Indiana University, on studying Price, writing papers and poems on the soprano, even singing a concert modeled on Price's career.

But what has sustained Brown from her days at Oakwood and IU to her Metropolitan debut? "Passion!" she says, "I have never thought of doing anything else... if I can make a living off music, I'm going to keep doing it!" Brown has had an entrepreneurial sense with her singing since college, performing for prospective students in a recruitment group called "Positive Images." At IU the Dean of Music, Charles Webb, discovered her at a cattle call audition singing, "Vissi d'arte". She was invited to perform on a series of concerts and recitals with other members of the IU faculty, traveling throughout Indiana, California, and Africa. "The concerts were fun and free. I felt comfortable... I was able to throw in a new aria just to get a chance to perform it." Once out of school, she made opportunities for herself, starting by coaching the IU Soul Review. "I'm a business!" says Brown, "I love giving people joy from singing... it's a labor of love."

Brown now takes her "business" to the major houses of the United States, performing the big Verdi soprano roles as well as Tosca, Ariadne, and Morgana. Her current work on Margaret Garner, however, has been a considerably unique experience. The libretto, written by Toni Morrison, explores the story of Margaret Garner, a slave on a Kentucky plantation, who flees to Cincinnati for freedom. At the brink of her recapture, Garner kills her young daughter rather than see her child return to slavery.

Brown joins Denyce Graves and frequent colleague, Gregg Baker, in the role of Cilla, the mother of Margaret Garner. "This is one role I have worked with the conductor, composer and librettist," says Brown. "It's an opportunity to get it right the first time." Brown finds an affinity with the core requirements of the role. "[Cilla] is a strong black woman, spiritual, with a love of family and the Lord."

Yet Brown is insistent that the characters are portrayed in a non-stereotypical way. "It is more than slavery; it is about family, about the human right to have and raise a family, about love." She also trusts all mammyisms are gone from her portrayal of Cilla. "I want to be natural, to draw the audience into [the character], not just look at her... there must be purity and integrity because this is a true story."

Ms. Brown performs in the world premiere of Margaret Garner at the Michigan Opera Theatre Saturday, May 7 at 8:00 PM. Cincinnati Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia will also be hosting regional premieres of Margaret Garner. For a full listing of dates or to purchase tickets click here.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 2:29 PM

May 2, 2005

Der Ring at the Wiener Staatsoper

Sven-Eric Bechtolf

Wer ihn nicht hat, den sehre die Sorge

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 3 May 05]

Richard Wagners Tetralogie ,,Der Ring des Nibelungen" in Wien - "wie alles war, wie alles sein wird".

Beinahe ist die Geschichte zu Ende. Einen Durchlauf wird die Adolf-Dresen-Inszenierung von Wagners "Ring"— Tetralogie in der kommenden Spielzeit noch erleben, dann ist — nach der 25. Aufführung der "Götterdämmerung" — Schluss. Am 2. Dezember 2007 beginnt mit der Premiere der "Walküre" ein neues "Ring"-Projekt, inszeniert von Sven-Eric Bechtolf, dirigiert von Franz Welser-Möst. Dieses wird im Mai 2009 abgeschlossen sein, ziemlich genau ein halbes Jahrhundert nach dem ersten Wiener Nachkriegs — "Ring" Herbert von Karajans.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:25 PM

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse at Birmingham

Claudio Monteverdi

Ulysses Comes Home

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 2 May 05]

It's always sensible to arrive early for a show by Birmingham Opera Company, simply to locate the venue. After a marquee for Fidelio three years ago and an abandoned car workshop for Candide in 2003, the company's Monteverdi project, running since the beginning of last year, comes to a climax in a disused ice rink.

The effort is always worth it. Graham Vick's productions for the company he created are unique in British opera, not only a model of how to involve a local community in opera, but of how to work with a mixture of professional singers and amateurs (who, in this show, act but do not sing) without compromises. The theatrical results in this Ulysses are extraordinary, musical standards, with a period orchestra conducted by Robert Howarth, are exceptionally high and some of the solo performances are world class.

Click here for remainder of article.

Ulysses Comes Home

Robert Thicknesse at Planet Ice, Birmingham [Times Online, 2 May 05]

IT IS an opera company with a difference, working most of the time with community groups, but when Graham Vick's Birmingham Opera Company stages something big, it likes to confront the big issues. Using opera, you ask? Yes, indeed.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:15 PM

Rising Stars in Concert at Chicago


Opera's strong future shines at show

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 2 May 05]

A plenitude of sweet music was in the air Saturday night at the Civic Opera House. It arrived long before Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Serenade to Music," its Shakespearean text a paean to "sweet music,'' that closed the concert by members of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists.

There is something both sweet and bracing about Lyric's annual recital showcasing the dozen young singers who are finishing a year of hard work in the company's training program. Every year since 1974, young singers dreaming of careers in opera have come to Chicago bringing major competition prizes, diplomas from prestigious conservatories and, frequently, some respectable professional stage experience with them. They watch rehearsals and they perform, staying in the program for two, sometimes three years.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:58 PM

Clemenza di Tito at the Met

Scene from Clemenza di Tito (Photo: The Metropolitan Opera)

Late Mozart, Where Nothing Happens but Everything

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 2 May 05]

Operas like "Don Giovanni" or "Die Zauberflöte" today look like repudiations of the formal, almost motionless style that ruled Europe's musical theater for most of the 18th century. Yet Mozart was surrounded all his life by opera seria, and he wrote four of them, including the early "Idomeneo" and the late "Clemenza di Tito," which was heard Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:45 PM

May 1, 2005

La Forza in Frankfurt

Die Macht der Nummer

Verdis "La forza" in Frankfurt

VON BERNHARD USKE [Frankfurter Rundschau, 1 May 05]

Vielleicht ist es das beste, was dem krausen Opernschauerdrama passieren kann: Die Macht des Schicksals konzertant, vom ersten Schuss an, der sich von selbst aus der Pistole löst. Die Oper Frankfurt lässt das Werk in der Fassung von 1869 in der Alten Oper unter Leitung Paolo Carignanis hören und hat damit die Einschätzung Theodor W. Adornos angesichts einer Inszenierung des Stücks 1928 am gleichen Ort noch überboten. Die schicksalswütige Romantik des Forza-Buchs, so der damals 25-jährige Musikkritiker, "sei in sich bereits so welk, dass zu seiner Beurteilung Marionettendramaturgie allein zuständig wäre".

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:07 PM

Magic Flute in Ferrara

Claudio Abbado (Photo: Ludwig Schirmer)

Die Zauberflöte

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 30 Apr 05]

The power of the very greatest conductors to reinvent whatever they conduct is one of music's great mysteries. Claudio Abbado's conducting is not the only reason to catch the production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte being toured in Italy and Germany by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, but it is by a very long way the most important. Abbado's performance is, quite simply, mesmerising. It is so full of musical insight and operatic experience that every bar seems perfectly placed, every detail of the scoring perfectly illuminated.

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Posted by Gary at 2:33 PM

Pope Benedict XVI on Music and Liturgy

Pope Benedict XVI (Photo: The Holy See)

Habemus Pianist: The Pope on Music

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 1 May 05]

Pope Benedict XVI is a pianist with a penchant for Mozart, which he is said to find more manageable than Brahms, given the limited amount of time he has to practice. (Until his election, he was one of the busiest cardinals in his role as chief interpreter and enforcer of doctrine.) His brother, a priest, was a church Kapellmeister. The Ratzinger boys were born in the part of Bavaria long under the influence of Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace.

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Posted by Gary at 2:24 PM

La Bohème at the Florentine

Robin Follman (Mimi)

Florentine makes tragic tale of love sing

'La Bohème' captures audience with likable characters, beautiful music

By ELAINE SCHMIDT [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 30 Apr 05]

Bring a hankie, the Florentine just opened "La Bohème."

Puccini's opera, which combines likable characters, elements of verismo realism, poignantly beautiful music and a tragic tale of young love lost, is one of the world's best-loved operas. The Florentine Opera opened a strong production of the classic on Friday, in which director Lillian Groag found a balance between the story's humor and pathos.

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Posted by Gary at 2:07 PM

Figaro at the Beach

Marriage of Figaro (Graphic: Chicago Opera Theater)

Chicago Opera Theater gives 'Figaro' a contemporary look

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 1 May 05]

Monteverdi's "Orfeo" set in a chic apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte'' played out in a trendy club complete with burly, stone-faced doormen and a sleek VIP room.

Chicago Opera Theater has had some smashing successes with stage director Diane Paulus' contemporary take on centuries-old operas. She is back this spring, teamed once again with conductor Jane ver, her colleague on four previous COT productions, for a fresh look at another Mozart opera, the bittersweet "The Marriage of Figaro.'' A "Figaro'' set in Miami's South Beach, anyone?

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:47 PM