Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

28 May 2005

BELLINI: I Puritani

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.

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.)
TDK DVUS-OPIP [DVD]

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

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):