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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.
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.
21 Sep 2005
WEILL: The Firebrand of Florence
When I was a young child, my mother purchased a blouse and brought it home to the acclaim of my aunts and older sisters. "Oh, that's smart!" they pronounced, cooing and stepping back to admire the thing. Not a little bit jealous, I was taken aback.
Later, I cornered the thing in the closet: "If you're so smart, what's 2 plus 2?" The blouse sat there mute and insolent. I tried all the equations my four-year old mind knew: 3 plus 3, 4 plus 4, and the tricky 5 plus 5. Not a word in response. "You're not so smart!" I triumphed and quit the field victorious.
My four-year old mind was incapable of making the distinction between the two meanings of the term current at that time: smart as in intelligent and smart as in looking like the acme of style. This smartly dressed "Broadway Operetta" by Weill strikes one as firmly inscibed in the latter; its status in terms of the former, however, is questionable.
The fault lies principally with the libretto, which reputes to be about Benvenutto Cellini, but from the onset substitutes a cardboard character — the shallowest of Broadway portraits — for its namesake. The subject matter has (as well evidenced elsewhere) operatic potential; its realization here is a travesty — Cellini as a "regular guy," as they said in Weill's day. The result might challenged the average four-year old mind, but above that seems merely tedious.
Not that Weill doesn't try to salvage the proceedings: there are some fleeting moments of very good writing. But nothing comes across as truly exceptional, along the standards of Weill's other work.
The audience, accordingly, voted with their feet. After an investment of a quarter of a million dollars, the thing flopped to a standstill on its fourty-third performance.
To the historian, the operetta will be of critical interest. Weill's work in the 1940's shows his considerable ability when confronted with the tastes and genres of wartime New York, and thus Weill scholars will want to compare this score with his other work. Perhaps more importantly, however, the genre of "Broadway Operetta" is suggestive and needs examination. It may be an essential component (if in large part only by its failures) in assessing the aesthetics of North American musical theater at mid century. (Which is a polite way of saying that all in all the work is not a complete write off: feed it to the scholars.)
There are redeeming features. The notes by Joel Galand are excellent. His appraisal of the work's genesis and of its failures is exemplary criticism. Galand edited the scholarly edition, and thus he is perhaps the most familiar with the work. (The recording here is based on a pre-publication version of the score.)
The recording is done live, a concert version presented by the BBC Symphony under Andrew Davis in early 2000. If the voices are largely undistinguished, they are enthusiastic, which unfortunately merely adds to the incongruity. One has the sense of everyone looking the other way while a crime is being perpetrated.
It has been proven again and again that most operas survive in spite of the best efforts of their librettists. Let us say that here the librettist got the upper hand. When this happens with a lesser composer, we are prepared to write the thing off. When this happens with a composer of the caliber of Weill, well, ouch that smarts!
University of Ottawa