Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

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. In recent days,

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.

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

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.

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Amore e Tormento

Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’ 



11 Sep 2005


First impressions are important. For instance, one expects certain things from Bang on a Can and their four-year-old record label Cantaloupe – there are graphics, ideas, names, and especially musical styles that have become predictably associated with the New York...

Iva Bittová: Elida

Performed by the composer with the Bang on a Can All-Stars – Robert Black, bass; David Cossin, percussion; Lisa Moore, piano; Mark Stewart, guitars; Wendy Sutter, cello; Evan Ziporyn, clarinets.

Cantaloupe CA21027 [CD]


First impressions are important. For instance, one expects certain things from Bang on a Can and their four-year-old record label Cantaloupe – there are graphics, ideas, names, and especially musical styles that have become predictably associated with the New York festival/coterie since its inception in 1987. The cover of Elida manages to confound those expectations – it looks like a restrained library edition, or perhaps the documentation of an old live performance, using a single color (deep turquoise) and classic fonts. In fact, in a pleasant if not arresting postmodern twist, the coolly antiquarian fonts are perhaps the clearest indication that this is a ‘new’ work.

As for my first impression of the music, it was even more memorable. A lovely wash of piano and violin that suggests a marriage of Victorian parlor music and eastern European busking is shattered by a voice that sounds as though it belongs to an otherworldly descendant of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and for that matter one that is having a rather blithe nervous breakdown. With more time to absorb and reflect, the listener becomes acclimatized to this odd and not unpleasant universe – many of the sounds would be familiar to devotees of romanticism, others would fit well in a klezmer band, and many passages suggest gestures derived from a constellation of minimalism, new age, and folk ballads. In fact, the overall aesthetic concept seems most like that of progressive rock, or fusion jazz – a set of gestures freely assembled from a variety of styles and references that hold together mostly because of their mutual amiability, as though several different musical genres could build up good-humored, easy-going relationships over long acquaintance.

As a matter of fact, Elida is a collection of tracks by a Czech violinist/vocalist who has a background in classical, folk and various kinds of community performances. Bittová openly presents her personal life in her music, as well as in her publicity material; one has the impression she would be pleasant to make music with, and pleasant to know – in her biography she focuses on her country home, on growing up with music and dance, and on what appears to be a deeply integrated approach to living and playing. She seems, in fact, to be a skilled, flexible performer who has moved into composition – which is perhaps why the compositional side of this record, though competent, is not particularly innovative, nor does it outline a completely distinctive musical persona. In fact, after that startling first track, the rest of the CD settles down into a series of milder, less remarkable hybrids – at times I thought of Jane Siberry, at others Kate Bush, but when those singers came to mind it was with a certain longing to go hear their work instead.

Aside from that, this album is not like most of the music that comes out of the Bang on a Can composers and their circle. This is in fact a loose collection of songs, based on short, private lyric poems by Richard Müller and Vera Chase – it might be useful to think of Elida as a gentler, more popular version of one of those Kurtág song cycles, with their charged female musings and comparably spare textures. Unfortunately the poems themselves are rather adolescent and clichéd, except for the last lines of Müller’s ‘Painters in Paris’. As for Bang on a Can, although it was founded as an all-inclusive contemporary music festival (I was lucky enough to live in New York for several months the year it began, and still remember with pleasure the odd mixture of uptown and downtown styles that was so radical at the time, along with a gorgeous piece by Lois V Vierk performed by accordionist Guy Klucevsek), it has in the long run drifted towards something more predictable, and distinctly more limited. Bang on a Can has, in fact, settled down to a particular kind of post-minimalism that runs smack in the middle of the now very, very wide stream of musical works produced by the many clones of Louis Andriessen. I had expected Elida to be somewhat like Lost Objects (2001), the collaborative post-minimalist opera by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang on a Can’s three founders; although Lost Objects is not as consistently interesting as, say, most of John Adams’ stage works, it nevertheless includes some solo-with-chorus sections that remain for me, even after numerous rehearings, disturbingly beautiful.

This is not, however, That Kind Of Thing. Bittová is undoubtedly talented and pleasant as a violinist and as a singer, with a flexible voice that employs several strongly contrasted colors – although it would be nice if she could bring more body and depth up into her high ‘chipmunk’ range, which becomes less enjoyable after one hears it for a while. And Elida is also pleasant, interesting at times, and always very musical – it is clear that this is a record made by good musicians who are doing the kinds of things they enjoy. Given all that, it may be mean of me to point out the limitations of the work; but, frankly, I have heard so many varieties of post-minimalism, hybridity, folk integrated with contemporary and popular, and playful vocalization, that it seems only fair to expect something more remarkable than this. Perhaps I’ve gotten jaded, as it seems that the postmodern styles I used to love continue to run and run, without growing or developing beyond boundaries that were too familiar ten years ago. But, let’s face it: so many people are engaged in all of these stylistic tropes these days, including many of my university students, that it doesn’t seem unfair to expect that a well-hyped new work produced in New York and featuring well-known names should have something, well, surprising about it. Unless, given that many contemporary musicians seem to have been marking time since the millennium, waiting until the next Big Idea pops up, while busily digging up grants, corporate sponsors, and trendy connections with formerly distant cultures, that is simply too much to ask?

Paul G. Attinello, Ph.D.
University of Newcastle upon Tyne

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):