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

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.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

23 Jun 2005

KRENEK: Three One Act Operas

Ernst Krenek is remembered primarily for one work, his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf, which irritated the cultural conservatives in Germany and Austria in the years between the wars and helped ensure his exile to America during the Nazi era. If an opera strewn with jazzy tunes and a romantic black hero wasn’t enough to tick off the right wing, he turned to serialism for his magnum opus, the anti-Nazi, pro-Austrian Karl V (Charles V, whom you’ll remember from Verdi’s Don Carlo).

Ernst Krenek: Der Diktator (The Dictator); Schwergewicht oder Die Ehre Der Nation (Heavyweight or The Nation's Honor); Das Geheime Königreich (The Secret Kingdom)

Urban Malmberg (The Dictator), Celina Lindsley (Charlotte), Robert Wörle (Officer), Gabriele Ronge (Maria); Roland Bracht (Adam Ochsenschwanz), Celina Lindsley (Evelyne)), Robert Wörle (Gaston), Urban Malmberg (Professor Himmelhuber), Bogna Bartosz (Anna Maria Himmelhuber), Daniel Kirch (Journalist), Markus Sandman (Government Official); Michale Kraus (King), Claudia Barainsky (Queen), Urban Malmberg (Fool), Pär Lindskog (Rebel), Celina Lindsley, Silvia Weiss, and Michelle Breed (3 Singing Ladies), Falko Maiwald (1st Revolutionary), Egbert Junghanns (2nd Revolutionary)

Deutsches-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and RIAS-Kammerchor, Marek Janowski (cond.)

Capriccio CAP60107 [2CDs]

Ernst Krenek is remembered primarily for one work, his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf, which irritated the cultural conservatives in Germany and Austria in the years between the wars and helped ensure his exile to America during the Nazi era. If an opera strewn with jazzy tunes and a romantic black hero wasn't enough to tick off the right wing, he turned to serialism for his magnum opus, the anti-Nazi, pro-Austrian Karl V (Charles V, whom you'll remember from Verdi's Don Carlo).

Krenek's first major operatic success in the early twenties, Der Sprung über den Schatten (The Leap over the Shadow), set the tone for many Zeitoper in its use of jazz elements (supposedly it was the first opera to use jazz), satire and parody, psychoanalysis, and a revolution in a minor Central European principality. He followed it with a turn to mythology in an opera on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. These two works prefigure almost all Krenek's later operatic works in both their plot elements and musical techniques, even those written in America when he turned to complex serial techniques and even wrote an opera for television (he lived until 1991).

The three works reviewed here saw a joint premiere in Wiesbaden in 1928, where Krenek was employed at the theater. The Dictator tells the story of a dictator, obviously based on Mussolini, who is staying at a Swiss spa with his rightfully jealous wife. Also staying there is one of his officers, who has been blinded in one of the dictator's many pointless wars, and his wife; together they are plotting to assassinate him. When the wife goes to shoot him in his office, however, she quickly succumbs to his charms. They are surprised by the dictator's wife, who grabs the gun and shoots--the officer's wife, who throws herself in front of the dictator to save him. Remember that in Jonny, the heroine falls for a womanizer too. One wonders what Krenek's romantic life was like.

The second piece, the shortest of the three, is more like Jonny in its use of jazz and broad parody and satire. The heavy-weight boxer Oxenschwanz (Oxtail, though Schwanz has another meaning that we can't go into on a G-rated site) is in training at his gym and catches his wife having an affair with her dancing instructor. He locks her up and sits down to a large breakfast at which he is interviewed by a newspaper reporter who takes his every grunt as a profound comment. Things don't change much, do they? An infatuated, nerdy young female student arrives, but she has to hide when her father, the professor, arrives as well. Through a broadly silly chain of events, she masquerades as a boxing dummy and gets pummeled by Oxtail, but loves it. Krenek's romantic life must have been interesting. The dancing instructor returns in disguise and hooks the boxer up to an electrified rowing machine that he can't stop, and escapes with Oxtail's wife. As the opera ends, a government official arrives to tell the boxer that the government is sending him to the Olympic Games as the "glory of the nation."

Krenek turns to the Schreker-Zemlinsky genre of ponderous operatic fairy tales in the last piece, The Secret Kingdom. Revolution has broken out in a Central European kingdom where the king is having an identity crisis. His fool tells him a riddle: "What is round and shiny and is on a head and contains a whole world?" The queen arrives, disgusted with her husband's behavior and ready to sell him out for the hunky rebel prisoner. The king, in despair, gives up his crown, but he gives it to his fool instead of the greedy queen, who with her ladies proceed to ply the fool with liquor and win the crown from him in a card game. However, the rebel wants just the crown, not the queen that goes with it, and chases her into an enchanted forest. As he is about to ravish her (he's changed his mind, seeing her naked) and seize the crown, she turns into a tree. Her husband wanders in, still in a funk. As he is about to string himself up from a limb on the queen-tree, she sings to him and comforts him. The king realizes that the answer to the fool's riddle is the eye of an animal reflecting nature. Krenek may have been hot at romance, but he wasn't so hot with riddles. The fool has the last word, as all fools do.

Krenek's music is pleasant enough in all three operas though not distinguished enough to warrant these pieces becoming regular repertoire pieces, by any means. The Dictator and Heavy-Weight would make fun pieces for college opera theaters, if the politically incorrect portrayal of women could be overlooked. The performances on this recording are all second-tier European opera house quality, though none of them are objectionable and all fill the needs of the music admirably. Any singers willing to learn works such as these that they probably won't ever get to perform again deserve listeners' thanks. Janowski conducts in his usual expert style, catching the jazzy and satirical tone of these Zeitoper. Krenek has other interesting unrecorded operas from his American career that we can hope Janowski turns his attention to next.

David Anderson

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):