Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Jiří Bělohlávek : new editions of Janáček Glagolitic Mass, Sinfonietta

From Decca, Janáček classics with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Given that Bělohlávek died in May 2017, all these recordings are relatively recent, not re-issues, and include performances of two new critical editions of the Glagolitic Mass and the Sinfonietta.

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

23 May 2005

DONIZETTI: Maria Stuarda

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.

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

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):