Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

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.

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

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.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

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.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

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!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

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.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

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.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

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.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

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’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

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.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

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.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

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.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

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: Notturno

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.



14 Jun 2005

RESPIGHI: La Campana sommersa

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is known best in the United States for his tone poems, including the Pines of Rome, the Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals, and, perhaps for some of his suites of early music, like the sets of Ancient Airs and Dances that reflect his detailed orchestrations. During his lifetime, however, his operas were known, and they include Re Enzo (1905); Semirama (1910); Belfagor (1921-22); La bella dormente nel bosco (1916-21); La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell) (1923-27); Maria Egiziaca (1929-31); La Fiamma (1931-33); Lucrezia (1935). It is unfortunate that recordings of these works are somewhat rare, but that is quickly remedied by the recent issue of La campana sommersa on the Accord label.

Ottorino Respighi: La Campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell)
Laura Aikin (soprano), John Daszak (tenor), Rodericke Earle (bass), Kevin Conners (tenor).
Orchestre National de Montpellier et Choeur Opéra Junior, Friedemann Layer (cond.).
Accord 2 CD 476 1884 [3CDs]

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is known best in the United States for his tone poems, including the Pines of Rome, the Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals, and, perhaps for some of his suites of early music, like the sets of Ancient Airs and Dances that reflect his detailed orchestrations. During his lifetime, however, his operas were known, and they include Re Enzo (1905); Semirama (1910); Belfagor (1921-22); La bella dormente nel bosco (1916-21); La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell) (1923-27); Maria Egiziaca (1929-31); La Fiamma (1931-33); Lucrezia (1935). It is unfortunate that recordings of these works are somewhat rare, but that is quickly remedied by the recent issue of La campana sommersa on the Accord label.

This opera is a mature work of Respighi, and it contains the unmistakable orchestral writing that is familiar in his instrumental works. From the outset, the style is clear, with gestures that can only be attributed to Respighi. When the voices enter, the instrumental element gives way to the voices, which are supported by the full orchestra and never obscured. The vocal lines are nonetheless idiomatic and reflect the Verismo style of the period, echoing, perhaps, some of the motivically oriented style found in Puccini's Turandot. La campana sommersa is also paced well, and the scenes succeed fluidly, with each act following the other satisfactorily. There is never a perfunctory moment or stilted passage. Rather, the musical logic takes the listener through the work, with the musical narrative supporting the libretto seamlessly.

As to the story, La campana sommersa refers to the sunken bell at the crux of the plot that hinges upon the intersection of worlds of humans and fairies. The bell-maker Enrico's magnificent creation is at a certain point submerged in a lake, and this element forces the dénouement of the work. In facing the decision to choose between his wife, Magda and the elf Rautendelein, Enrico makes a decision that changes his life and the world around them. The libretto is a fable that resembles, in some ways, Dvorak's Russalka, where the power of love must overcome the differences that separate entire worlds of being. Either story may be regarded as a fable, and each also involves fairy-tale elements that create surrealistic settings.

The similarity between those two operas differs, though, since Respighi used some of the conventions of Verismo to set the text. The convention of set-pieces is absent from this score, as is the use of recitative to convey dialogue. As occurs in many traditional Verismo operas, the musical line is continuous, yet never completely declarmatory in its presentation of the sung text. Likewise, the orchestra does not merely accompany the work, but it helps in setting various scenes, as occurs at the beginning of the opera, which is supposed to occur in a meadow. In the next scene, when the bell-maker Enrico is lost, the orchestral passage before he sings "O buona gente" helps to depict the situation, with its repeated, unresolved motives preceding the character's declaration of being lost.

Yet the aesthetic idiom of Verismo, with its ideal of presenting true-to-life drama in contrast to the unrealistic idiom that became the domain of opera in the late nineteenth century, exists at odds with the Maeterlinck-like story of La campana sommersa. If nothing else, Respighi's use of some conventions of Verismo opera helps to convey a contemporary sensibility to the work. In doing so, Respighi is looking backward at a "Once upon a time," but suggests a contemporary setting, as Puccini did in this opera Le Villy, another work that involves the tragic consequences when humans encounter the world of the fairies.

As to the music itself, no distinctive pieces emerge from the score as particularly noteworthy in the sense of some of Puccini's more famous numbers, like "Vissi d'arte" or "Nessum dorma." Those kinds of pieces can create points of reference within an opera yet they are not entirely necessary With La campana somersa, no such popular numbers survive. Yet it is worth hearing some of the sustained pieces like the second-act scene of the elfin character Rautendelein "Tu me piaci," in which she reveals something about her nature to human Enrico, whom she loves. Like the music with Enrico mentioned above ("O buona gente"), Rautendelein's scene is one of the points in the libretto that is structurally more a soliloquy than dialogue, and here Respighi uses the opportunity to great effect, since he creates a sympathetic otherworldly sense that makes it possible to understand Enrico's attraction for the elf.

Other aspects of the score deserve attention, not the least of which is the contrast that exists between the accepted paradigm of the modern world and the attraction for what may be termed the irrational, the fanciful, the old pagan beliefs in elves and other supernatural beings. This may be interpreted by some in Jungian terms, but it also provides a talented composer like Respighi with the opportunity to create a work that may be interpreted at different levels. The score is as convincing as any of Puccini's, and it reflects the kind of rich score that Respighi's contemporary Erich Wolfgang Korngold created in a work like Die Wunder der Heliane.

While it is unlikely that La campana sommersa may ever displace some of the existing pieces of Verismo literature, this recording makes accessible another work from the period and an excellent example of Respighi's craft as an opera composer. The live performance is vivid and intense, and the singers handle their roles convincingly. Laura Aikin is notable as Rautendelein, a role which involves some demanding technical work. She sings the role with ease and deft musicality. In conducting Respighi's sometimes full orchestrations, Friedemann Layer contributes balance and paces the work well. In all, La campana sommersa is a twentieth-century opera that deserves not only to be heard, but, as indicated by this fine performance, enjoyed.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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):