30 May 2005
The appearance of a DVD of the Beaumarchais — Salieri Tarare is cause for celebration.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
The appearance of a DVD of the Beaumarchais — Salieri Tarare is cause for celebration.
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.