Recently in Recordings
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.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
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.
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’.
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.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
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.
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.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
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 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.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
27 Aug 2005
I had never heard of the Italian composer Domenico Alaleona (1891-1928) when a recording of his opera Mirra arrived in the mail. Baker's gives him a respectable 22 lines, but says "his importance lies in his theoretical writings," not this opera or various collections of songs, instrumental works, and a Requiem. If you've ever come across the term "dodecaphony," well, Alaleona coined it (in Italian, of course).
Mirra (1920, Rome) is a setting of the final two acts of a tragedy by Count Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803). Alfieri was a major figure in the development of Italian literature. His fame rests on twenty-two tragedies, among them an Agamemnon, a Saul, and an Anthony and Cleopatra. He was also a spiritual godfather of the Risorgimento by way of the condemnations of tyranny that he put into the mouths of his characters. He enjoyed a long liaison with the wife of Charles Edward Stuart (Not-So-Bonnie Prince Charlie; he was really a big reprobate); after Stuart's death, they lived together, unwed, although, as one Catholic reference puts it, his "religious feelings ... always appeared strong and sincere"! Alfieri's works influenced early Italian translations of Shakespeare; Verdi wrote to Piave during their work on Macbeth that the "the lines [between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth before Banquo's murder], especially at the end of the recitative, should be strong and concise, in the manner of Alfieri."
Mirra was based on one of Ovid's Metamorphses, wherein Mirra (there spelt Myrrha) harbors an incestuous passion for her father, Ciniro (Cinyras), king of Cypress. In Ovid, Myrrha 's father fixation is conjured up by Venus, who gets ticked off because Myrrha 's mother boasts that her daughter is more beautiful than the goddess. Deities are so sensitive. In that telling of the story, Myrrha conceives a child by her father: Adonis. You'll remember what happens to him when he grows up (it involves Venus). When Cinyras discovers that it wasn't his wife in his bed, he tries to kill Myrrha. The other gods figure they'd better resolve another of Venus's dirty tricks gone awry, so they turn Myrrha into the myrrh tree.
In Alfieri's version, Mirra is to be married to Prince Pereo, but like many brides, she gets cold feet, blames it on the furies if not a desire to see Arizona, and backs out at the altar. Her mother tries to comfort her, but Mirra says she loathes her. The entire last act is basically one long scene between Mirra and her father, angry because the prince has killed himself, so all the flowers and catering will definitely go to waste. When she finally breaks down and admits that he is the object of her infatuation, she grabs his sword and kills herself.
Alaleona stays pretty faithful to the last two acts of Alfieri's drama. Unfortunately, textual fidelity doesn't always make for exciting music drama. (Othmar Schoeck was a little more successful in his truncated setting of the last part of Kleist's Penthesilea.) The static first act for the most part just portrays long, drawn-out moping on Mirra's part, interrupted only by the wedding and her change of heart. It plays more as an oratorio than as an opera. The second act between Mirra and her father packs more dramatic oomph, though we doesn't find out until about five minutes from the end what she's been upset about the whole time, followed swiftly by her suicide and death. I'm afraid many listeners will shake their heads when the CD goes off and say, "So the whole thing is about a screwed-up offspring-parent infatuation?" Afraid so; if the dog barks at the mailman right when Mirra makes her big confession, you might miss that and still be confused. It ain't no Phaedra.
The music, which clocks in at a little under an hour and a half, for the most part matches the static quality of the text, though one phrase sung by the chorus sounds like it was lifted for Phantom of the Opera. Large sections of the first act resemble late Verdi; other passages nod toward Puccini, who reportedly admired Alaleona, as did Mascagni and Toscanini. The most interesting bit is the interlude at the opening of act 2, which would make an admirable concert excerpt. Here Alaleona used an instrument he called the "pentaphonic harmonium"--replaced in this recording by a celesta--that divided the octave into five equal intervals. Listening to the recording, most listeners probably won't realize that something funky is going on, just that the music is lushly late Romantic (which reminded me of Zemlinsky for some reason). The second act contains a few passages with added melodic pizzazz that go beyond the conversational style that characterizes much of the score.
This recording is characterized by excellent musicianship all around. The young Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha moves the score along without letting it drag and bringing out the beauty of the act 2 interlude. Italian soprano Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni handles the rigors of Mirra's role well and manages to infuse her with pathos rather than making her sound pathetic. Tenor Mario Malagnini comes across as strident, but of course, the prince himself is strident once he's been dumped. Best of all is French baritone Franck Ferrari, who conveys a father's concern for his daughter, his anger at her behavior, and finally his horror at her misplaced feelings. The notes give an admirable analysis of Alaleona's style. This certainly isn't an opera that will ever be performed regularly, but it deserves the attention of lovers of Italian opera.