Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

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):