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

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Gaetano Donizetti: Elvida
14 Jun 2005

DONIZETTI: Elvida

It is an unfortunate fact that operas outside of the common repertory have in the past been deemed less worthy than those included in what amounts to a popular "play list" of works that consistently draw audiences.

Gaetano Donizetti: Elvida

Pietro Spagnoli (Amur); Jennifer Lamore (Zeidar); Annick Massis (Elvida); Bruce Ford (Alfonso); Anne-Marie Gibbons (Zulma); Ashley Gatling (Ramiro). Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Antonello Allemandi (cond.).

Opera Rara ORC 29 [CD]

 

Gaetano Donizetti's Elvida, recently issued by Opera Rara, is a perfect example. The composer's only one-act seria work has been criticized for its plot, and its score, especially the vocal lines, has been attacked as overly florid. Why, then, would a recording company with such dutiful care to historical integrity spend its time and money reviving it?

One can only be thankful that such a company exists, else gems like Elvida would lie amid the archival dust unperformed. A brief look at the opera's history (and the composer's career at the time of its composition) is instructive. Donizetti, still in the beginnings of his career, had come to Naples in 1822 just as Rossini was on his way to Vienna (unbeknownst to those in the Neapolitan arena, he had no plans to return). Donizetti was made director of one of the theaters and, although he accepted commissions from opera houses throughout Italy, Naples was to be the center of his compositional activities for nearly two decades. In the winter of 1826, just months before Elvida's July premiere, he had returned to Naples after a frustrating stint at the Teatro Carolina in Palermo, the second seat of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. All of his "mature" works lay ahead.

An understanding of Elvida's commission is important, too. The one-act work was to be part of the celebrations of the birthday of Maria Isabella, wife of King Francesco I. At no time would Donizetti have assumed that the work would (or should) have had a future beyond the four performances — all part of the celebrations — it received. Thus, modern-day writers who have based their opinions of the work on the number of performances it received have missed the point. The only way for Donizetti to ensure a future for the work would have been to disassemble it and employ numbers in subsequent compositions (which he did — but for quite a different purpose). Elvida, a royal occasion piece, had served its purpose, which, by the way, was exactly the same as Rossini's spectacular Viaggio a Reims had just one year earlier for the coronation of Charles X of France.

And what of the libretto? One critic called it "hopeless" — "another dose of Moors in Spain." Its purpose, however, ably suggested in the Opera Rara liner notes, was an hommage to Maria Isabella. These were the Spanish Bourbons whose ancestors had vanquished the Moors. What better way to celebrate their heritage, especially at a time when revolution was a constant undercurrent in their reign, than to recall their glorious past? And what of that overly florid vocal style? In honor of the Neapolitan royals, some of the greatest singers in Italy were engaged for this production (again, exactly what Rossini did with Viaggio). Henriette Méric-Lalande (who would premiere four roles for Bellini) sang Elvida, the great Luigi Lablache performed Amur, and one of the most amazing tenors of the early nineteenth century, Giovanni Battista Rubini, created the role of Alfonso. Thus, the amazing pyrotechnics in the score were created specifically for them. Composers, of course, did that all the time during this period, but would one give any less to the monarchs in whose theaters one was hoping to remain active?

For the 1827 Naples premiere of his opera Le convenienze teatrali, Donizetti alluded to Elvida by having the opera company portrayed in the piece rehearse a work called Romolo and Ersilia; not only did the title resemble Elvida but so did the music. Again, critics assumed that Donizetti did it as a joke, in essence belittling what he must have thought an inferior piece; this would have been extraordinarily foolish since the Bourbons were still in power (indeed, the "birthday girl" Maria Isabella, then the Queen Mother, lived until 1848). Rather it was intended as an "in" reference which only Neapolitan audiences would have enjoyed for, by rights of the occasion for which it was composed, Elvida belonged to them.

Despite what twentieth-century writers thought of Elvida, the opera is a diminutive gem more than worthy of the treatment Opera Rara has given it. As usual, the Opera Rara cast (a familiar one) is excellent. Annick Massis as Elvida and Bruce Ford as Alfonso deal ably with the music composed with Méric-Lalande and Rubini in mind. Equally splendid are Jennifer Larmore in the "breeches" role as Zeidar, son of Amur, sung by Pietro Spagnoli. Supporting the main players are Anne-Marie Gibbons as Zulma and Ashley Catling as Ramiro. Antonello Allemandi's direction of the London Philharmonic is masterful. Although the entire recording is well worth the time to listen, certain cuts deserve attention. Massis' interpretation of the aria "A che me vuoi? che brami" is among them, as is the stretta in Massis and Larmore's duet "Sì grave è il tormento." Excellent ensembles include the trio "Invan, superba, invano" (Massis, Larmore, and Spagnoli) and the two-movement quartet "Deh! ti placa... Amur, mi rendi" and "L'empio cor che chiudi in petto" (Ford, Massis, Larmore, and Spagnoli). Massis and Ford's precision and exuberance in the work's final number, the rondo "Il cielo, in pria sdegnato" is breathtaking.

The score for Elvida was prepared by Christopher Moss (one might wish that the liner notes had identified his source, but we can assume it is the autograph in the archives of Naples' Teatro San Carlo, where the work premiered). Kudos to Opera Rara for the courage to continue shattering all of those prejudices that had previously excluded works like Elvida from revival.

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):