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

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.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

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.

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):