October 31, 2005

Big ambitions in a small town

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 31 October 2005]

When the curtain fell on Carlisle Floyd's Susannah in the southern Irish town of Wexford last week, it was hard to predict the embattled heroine's future. Despite her poor background Susannah was attractive enough to stand out in any crowd. But by refusing to conform to small-town standards, she was exposing herself to all sorts of risk. Had she doomed herself to a life of struggle - or opened the gate of opportunity? Floyd, an American who composed the opera 50 years ago, deliberately left the question open.

Posted by Gary at 4:00 PM

A Singing Hiker Who Scales the Heights of Mozart Opera

salzburg_nebel_small.jpgBy EDWARD ROTHSTEIN [NY Times, 31 October 2005]

SALZBURG, Austria - Standing in the Barmstein mountains, not far from Salzburg, I am listening to a fourth-generation Salzburger sing Mozart in the woods. It is not exactly on a scale with next year's plans to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, this city's most famous native son. Those events will dominate the musical life of Salzburg and Vienna. Mozart's complete operas are to be performed at next summer's Salzburg Festival; Robert Wilson is designing what is bound to be a strange installation in the building where Mozart was born; multiday Mozart biking tours are planned for those who want to follow in his coach tracks; musicians will make pilgrimages to perform and audiences to listen.

Posted by Gary at 3:08 PM

Tremendous Foreboding in the Air

Elizabeth_Futral_small.jpgBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 31 October 2005]

Elizabeth Futral, a soprano from New Orleans, is one of the best singing actresses we have. She has proved as much before New York audiences in recent seasons. Last fall, she was Strauss's Daphne, at City Opera. Earlier this month, she starred in Ricky Ian Gordon's "Orpheus and Euridice," a presentation of Great Performers at Lincoln Center. And on Thursday night, she was Lucia, at the Metropolitan Opera. The Met has again revived what may be the quintessential bel canto opera, Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."

Posted by Gary at 3:00 PM

October 30, 2005

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila

While the overture has always been a perennial concert favorite, and the symphony has always been admired, the opera has had an unfair share of detractors and critics, even during the composer’s lifetime. The opera, conceived in 1867, was premiered at Weimar in 1877, through the influence of Saint-Saëns’ friend, Liszt, and it would not be staged in the composer’s homeland until 1890. Upon closer scrutiny into the composer, one can see that the opera mirrors Saint-Saëns’ personal situation and the political struggle in France during the composer’s youth. In addition, the character of Dalila is a composite of three very influential, at times detrimental, women in the composer’s life: his mother Mme. Saint-Saëns, the singer Pauline Viardot to whom the opera is dedicated, and Augusta Holmes.

In Samson et Dalila, Saint-Saëns presents a tightly woven and seamless score from which not one note can be spared, not one instrument or voice is miscast, and no situation in the libretto not perfectly matched to the score. Saint-Saëns’ music is at times heroic, seductive, compassionate, and spiritual. The Bacchanale, the most criticized part of the work, is an orgy of sound and decadence mixed with Samson’s cry for redemption—a fitting end to the opera.

This two CD set is a budget re-issue originally recorded in July 1979, following a performance at the Théátre Antique National d’Orange. There are many worthy moments in this recording as well as some minor flaws, and the three principals, Domingo, Obraztsova, and Bruson, give a valiant and exciting performance.

Domingo, who still sings this role, had not yet developed the excessive nasal tone which would later plague him, and at the time of this recording he gave the leading character a youthful vigor and naiveté not usually found in other interpreters. Most appealing is his Act II interaction with Dalila, “En ces lieux, malgré moi…” and the Act III prayer like “Vois ma misère, hèlas.”

Unlike Voltaire’s character for Rameau’s opera on the same subject, Fernand Lemaire’s Dalila does not lust for the Biblical hero; instead, she uses her sex and allure as a weapon against the weaker Samson. This Dalila is strong, determined, and vengeful. As such, Russian mezzo-soprano Obraztsova, among her many roles, an excellent Amneris and
Azucena, would at first glance seem a good choice for this opera; her instrument is sharp without being edgy, at times careless without being unpleasant, and always exciting, but as Dalila, not always parallel to the sensuality in the music. Her rendition of “Printemps qui commence... ” is very deliberate rather than seductive or alluring; and in the opening monologue of Act II, “Samson, recherchant ma presence…” her diminuendo and chest notes are ineffective and out of character. These minor pecadillos are later redeemed in her scenes with the High Priest, “J’ai gravi la montagne…oui…déjá par troi fois…” and with Samson, “En ces lieux, malgré moi…Mon cœr s’ouvre a ta voix…Mais! Non! Que dis-je, hélas…,” and later in Act III, “Salut! Salut au juge d’Israël…Glorie à Dagon vainqueur…” following the Bacchanale.

Of the three principals, Bruson seems the least comfortable singing in French (followed by Obraztsova) but the unmistakable sound of his instrument redeems him, in particular during the scene with Dalila Act II, “J’ai gravi la montagne…Oui déjà par trios fois…,” and in Act III “Salut! Salut au juge d’Israël…Glorie à Dagon vainqueur…

The chorus, essential to this opera, is credible—the voices always in unison, well-rehearsed, and excellently handled by Oldham. Of the supporting cast, Pierre Thau, as Abimélech, and Rober Lloyd as the Old Hebrew make the best of their respective roles, though they both sound rather detached.

The Orchestre de Paris is in top form, and is served well by Argentinean conductor Daniel Barenboim. He lavishes attention to the score, and treats every instrument as a soloist with the desired effect of the listener being able to individually, and continually hear all the notes and subtleties in the music, including those in the more complex ensembles. The deliberate pauses in the score are faithfully adhered to, and further emphasize the drama in the music. One minor comment to Barenboim’s conducting is his slow approach in several key passages, which shifts the emphasis of the music and the singing from religious fervor to a “lullaby” (Dieu! Dieu d’Israël), and from seductive to “elegant” (Printemps qui commence, Danse des prétresses de Dagon)—robbing the listener from an otherwise careful, energetic and flawless performance. Likewise, the interlude prior to Dalila shearing Samson’s hair is chillingly effective, as is Dalila’s “Mon cœr s’ouvre a ta voix,” the introduction to, and Samson’s Act III aria, “Vois ma misère, hèlas,” the much maligned Bacchanale, and others.

Overall this is a good recording to own. However, one word of caution: the budget reissue does not provide a libretto, and the breaks between the tracks are, more than once, sufficiently noticeable to be unpleasant.

Daniel Pardo 2005

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Posted by Gary at 10:30 PM

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut

The opera had a somewhat tortured genesis, with five librettists eventually having a hand in it, including composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo and Puccini’s team-of-the-future Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Perhaps there are hints of this in the final product which stand between Manon Lescaut and warhorse status. Yet watching the opera from beginning to end in this handsome production from La Scala with its pair of charismatic leads, I couldn’t help but see in this opera the very same Puccini that we know and love.

There are departures. Some feel that the final act is dramatically weak by Puccinian standards. The composer nakedly stakes out “modern” territory by borrowing the musical language of Tristan und Isolde for his Intermezzo, while some of the big choral moments in the first act have a distinctly old-fashioned feel about them. And even though it is no longer than several of the other Puccini operas, Manon Lescaut has a bit of a sprawling feel to it which separates it from the laser-like focus Puccini exhibits in later titles.

Yet when the muse strikes, Puccini is as potent as anywhere. Des Grieux’s wooing of the lovely Manon in act one, the lover’s exchanges in act two, the gorgeous Intermezzo, the stunning parade of fallen women in act three, and the pair’s cries of desperation in the final act are all as affecting as any such passages in the Puccini canon.

But maybe the biggest departure is in the title character herself. Mimi, Tosca, Butterfly, Minnie, Angelica, and Liu are all easy to love. They themselves love with selfless devotion. They are simple and good. They don’t deserve the cruel hand which fate deals them. Not so with Manon. Our heroine is immature, selfish, and unfaithful. Even after being given a second chance by the heartbroken Des Grieux, when they desperately need to flee from her wealthy, elderly lover’s estate, she takes extra time to gather up jewelry and various treasures with which she cannot bear to part.

But for me, all these faults in some ways makes Manon all the more compelling, because they make her seem real. I love Cio-cio-san, but how many fifteen year-olds do you know with that amazing level of maturity? The teenaged girls I know are a lot closer to Manon!

This particular representation of the opera has just about everything going for it. The production, filmed at La Scala in 1998, is a lavish period staging with costumes as beautiful as museum pieces, and sets which bring the story vividly to life.

But even more important are the leads. One could hardly imagine a more handsome Des Grieux than Jose Cura or a more beautiful Manon that Maria Guleghina. They are picture-book leads. Neither gives a cookie-cutter performance, and these are not cookie-cutter voices. Cura’s tenor sounds more like a baritone with (great) high notes, and his vocal mannerisms—most which don’t bother me—are very much in evidence. Guleghina is shown at her best here. She is a singer with a huge voice, but one which, at times, can seem to spin out of control. Here she keeps it tamed for the most part. It is always a voice which sounded mature in comparison with her youthful appearance, with a fairly wide vibrato, especially in loud passages. Maybe that angelic face here distracted me. But if it did, so be it! Marco Berti, now a regular lead at the Metropolitan Opera, sings the small role of Edmondo in the first act. Lescaut is sung by Lucio Gallo, and Geronte is well sung and acted by Luigi Roni. Riccardo Muti leads the orchestra in a very fine reading of the score.

The DVD’s presentation is stylish and useful. The menu is very attractive, with a montage of scenes from the opera being acted out accompanied by music from the Intermezzo. One may select subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian, and may select a particular act, or go directly to specific scenes within that act which are all labeled with titles from the Italian text.

I have no doubt that when Puccini sat down at his desk to write Manon Lescaut and pictured the scenes of the opera, he must have imagined them very much like this.


Eric D. Anderson

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Posted by Gary at 10:28 PM

Ewa Podleś — Rossini Gala

Podleś is one of those singers whose versatile instrument is as comfortable singing Tancredi, in the opera by the same name, Isabella (L’Italiana in Algieri), Rosina (Barbiere di Siviglia), Adalgisa (Norma), Eboli (Don Carlo), or La Haine in Gluck’s Armida. In fact, this singer can tackle any role she desires, and do it successfully. Her voice is dramatic, and she possesses an extraordinary technique which enables her to show off an impressive range spanning three octaves. She is a remarkable artist whose effortless singing comes through in her emotionally charged performances.

The timbre in her voice is warm, bronzed and pleasant to the ear; her ability to switch registers with great ease is well demonstrated, as in Arsace’s aria,“ A quel giorno,” springing from the depths of her being, and ending with crystal clear soprano-like high note; and the reverse is also true as in the finale of “Non temer d’un basso affetto” from Maometto II. She displays a firm, secure, staccato with short, rapidly sung notes, which Bernard Holland (New York Times, May 5, 2005) has likened to “bayonet charges.” When listening to this CD, other singers come to mind, not as a point of comparison, but as a compliment to her artistry and her ability to convey the drama, emotions, and the “Bel Canto” of what she is singing. Podleś delivers a rock solid performance—close to sixty minutes of non-stop singing, in what must have been an electrifying concert.

Podleś’ is clearly not one to please every listener—like any other singer she has her “own” mannerisms, some which are more noticeable in live performances; but the qualities of her instrument and her artistry cannot be denied. The contralto was in powerful form for this concert, and after listening to this CD her detractors will also come out her most ardent fans.

The Leopoldinum Chamber Orchestra, under conductor Wojciech Michniewski, is very effective in accompanying Podleś. This CD also includes one solo selection for the orchestra, the overture to Rossini’s Il Babiere di Siviglia.

Daniel Pardo 2005

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Posted by Gary at 10:05 PM

Software idea could benefit opera

screenshot1_small.pngBy Marta Hummel [News-Record.com, 29 October 2005]

Opera, the highest of high art, is decidedly low-tech, at least as far as how a production is managed. Stage crews build sets without knowing an actor's height and weight. And rebuild them when Juliet turns out to be 250 pounds instead of 150.

Stage managers and bevies of assistants photocopy hundreds of pages of scores with hand-scribbled directions for lighting and sound and re-copy them when the directions change. Actors generally work from memory and hand written notes about their stage directions.

Posted by Gary at 10:41 AM

Barbarians as a compelling chorus

glass_philip.jpg
[Sydney Morning Herald, 31 October 2005]

Philip Glass's latest work is presented as a powerful morality play, writes John Carmody.

J.M. Coetzee's novel Waiting for the Barbarians is a literary masterpiece, multi-layered, rich in metaphor, allusive yet fierce in its ethical concerns.

But because of that very delicacy in its texture and, in particular, the importance for its artistic structure of the troubled dreaming of its central character, the narrating Magistrate, I was sceptical whether the librettist Christopher Hampton and the composer Philip Glass could really transform it into an opera, despite their enormous theatrical experience.

Posted by Gary at 10:25 AM

Tangier Tattoo, Glyndebourne Opera House, Glyndebourne

By Anna Picard [The Independent, 30 October 2005]

Like the package holidays that serve as its backdrop, John Lunn's operatic thriller Tangier Tattoo is aimed at 18 to 30 year olds. "Which 18 to 30 year olds?" I hear you ask. Let's set that question aside for now. First, a disclaimer. Having cordoned off its target audience by age, Tangier Tattoo is effectively critic-proofed. It follows, therefore, that whatever I might dislike about it can be dismissed as a by-product of my relative wrinkliness; though while we're on the subject of lost youth, it seems fair to point out that I was 30 more recently than Glyndebourne's creative team, not to mention Derek Laud of Big Brother, who was, with his younger housemate Eugene Sully, shipped down to Sussex to lend last Saturday's premiere some tabloid pizzazz.

Posted by Gary at 10:20 AM

October 29, 2005

GIORDANO: Fedora

Principal Characters:

Princess Fedora Romazov Soprano
Countess Olga Sukarev Soprano
Count Loris Ipanov Tenor
De Siriex Baritone


Synopsis

Act One

Setting: A winter night, 1881. The salon of Vladimiro Andrejevich in St. Petersburg.

Princess Fedora is waiting for Vladimiro, whom she is to marry that day. A police officer and De Siriex suddenly appear carrying Vladimiro. He has been shot. The police officer, Inspector Gretch, questions the servants. Fedora learns that Vladimiro was found wounded in a pavillion and that a man had been seen running away after the shots. The pavillion had been rented by an old woman who delivered a letter to Vladimiro earlier in the day. But that letter is nowhere to be found. Fedora swears to avenge Vladimiro’s death. Suspicions turn to Loris Ipanov, a friend of the nihilists (anarchists) and whose apartment is near the place of the shooting.

Act Two

Setting: Paris

Fedora follows Loris Ipanov to Paris to avenge Vladimiro. She holds a reception in her home, which Loris attends. Loris declares his love to Fedora; but, she appears to reject him. She informs him that she intends to return to Russia. Having been exiled, Loris cannot return with her. Desperate, Loris admits that he killed Vladimiro. She begs him to return after the reception to tell her the entire story. In the meantime, she writes a letter to Vladimiro’s father, the Russian Imperial Chief of Police, accusing Loris of the murder of Vladimiro. Loris returns later and explains that he had caught Vladimiro having an affair with his wife. Vladimiro shot him and Loris returned fire, mortally wounding Vladimiro. Fedora realizes that he was defending his honor and that Vladimiro was a cad. She convinces Loris to remain with her that night.

Act Three

Setting: A villa in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland.

Loris and Fedora are happily in love. De Siriex arrives and informs Fedora that the brother of Loris had been arrested as a result of her letter. He dies in prison and, after hearing of his death, his mother dies of heartbreak. Stunned, Fedora realizes that she is the cause of their deaths. Loris receives letters from Russia with news of his brother and mother. A woman in Paris had apparently reported him. Fedora confesses her guilt and begs his forgiveness. He curses her. Fedora ingests poison hidden in her Byzantine cross. She dies in his arms.

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Posted by Gary at 11:07 PM

The Paris Opera Scene

Cardillac3.jpgBy Frank Cadenhead [Opera Today, 29 October 2005]
The city-funded Théâtre du Châtelet, an operatic David to Paris Opera’s Goliath, managed to make the biggest artistic splash of the new season. Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre, which opened October 21, following Das Rheingold by two days, was generally well cast, surely conducted and, as staged by Robert Wilson, brimming with theatrical interest. The two final operas will follow in November/December with two complete cycles offered in April.

Posted by Gary at 9:45 AM

The Paris Opera Scene

With a budget many times smaller that the Paris Opera, it squeezed the Orchestre de Paris into the pit and ambitiously set off to do the entire Ring under the baton of their music director, Christoph Eschenbach. The Robert Wilson co-production has been seen in Zurich but is a welcome large-vision effort in a time when the second season of Gerard Mortier at the Paris Opera seems to be floundering.

This is the final season of Jean-Pierre Brossmann as the theater’s director, and this Ring makes a nice bookend to his first season where Robert Wilson did an impressive diptych of the operas of Gluck, Alceste and Orphée conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. Gardiner, a regular at Châtelet, also conducted Les Troyens of Berlioz, hogging most of the critical praise last season.

American audience are missing out with Robert Wilson making his career mostly in Europe. His familiar stagings — the kabuki-like stage movement, solid blue background, foreground figures in severe black, a follow-spot illuminating the head - at their best have a haunting beauty. The severe costumes by Frida Parmeggiani were striking and, despite the “abstract” stage pictures, all the Ring symbols were present: sword in tree, gold, giants, etc.

After seeing the first two operas of the Covent Garden Ring, I recently passed on an opportunity to see the third. The stage is decorated with odd metal bits, flea market furniture, garish lights and costumes looking like they were pulled from a trunk at random. The real false notes, however, came from attempts flesh out the characters. Brunnhilde as a rebellious adolescent and the over-long father-daughter kiss at Wotan’s farewell added a gratuitous Jerry Springer moment to a story already full of them. Robert Wilson views the Ring as more ritual than drama and his slow pace meshes well with Wagner’s extended, grandiloquent statements.

With a notable exception the cast was solid. The first act signaled the arrival of a first class Wagnerian soprano, Petra-Maria Schnitzer, whose high-voltage voice, a touch edgy, was also able to project the tender yearnings of her character. As Seigmund, Peter Seiffert already has his fans due to his Tannhäuser at Châtelet last season and he did not disappoint them with warm, unforced singing. A stunning performance from Mihiko Fujimura as Fricka was the most polished of the night and Stephen Milling was also outstanding as Hunding. Linda Watson, as Brünnhilde, was proceeded by so much buzz that she might have been first night nerves. Her grand entrance was unsteady but her later work suggested a fine Helden-soprano in training. In Rheingold, the Alberich was taken on by the noted baritone Sergei Leiferkus who made a substantial impact in this important role. Baritone Jukka Rasilainen was a pale Wotan and the weakest link in the cast.

Christoph Eschenbach disproves the old story that the Wagnerian orchestra must always overwhelm the singers and his restrained volume, leisurely pacing, and clear textures were a pleasure to hear The Orchestre de Paris, an often unruly bunch, was clearly aware that this was something special and played with uncommon skill. Eschenbach’s forward momentum was, however, not always felt, keeping both operas slightly off-balance.

At the Paris Opera-Bastille, a revival of Paul Hindemith’s 1926 opera, Cardillac, seen September 24, was the offering to show off Mortier’s Year Two artistic vision. Picking an opera about a serial killer has a certain attraction and the music of young Hindemith is some of his best. What it did show was a search for a “hit” more than a vision and also proved a fundamental weakness in his leadership.

Mortier made an early decision not to appoint a musical director for the opera and this task was divided between seven conductors, most of whom conduct only one opera a year and are not likely consulted about musical matters. Any full-time musical director might early on had a different opinion about where to present Cardillac. It is scored for a half-size orchestra and yet was staged, by Andre Engel, for the large stage at Bastille and not the smaller Palais Garnier. The chamber-sized music (one of the delicious interludes is for two flutes) is out of place there.

The first scene, for example, was a magnificent spectacle on stage but saw sub-par playing by the orchestra. It would be hard to fault conductor Kent Nagano — one of the seven — for the failures of the orchestra and the poor coordination of chorus and pit. Few, if any, conductors in the world have his Twentieth Century opera credentials.

The orchestra has tricky, syncopated rhythms for the entire first act and the chorus is tightly interwoven into this thorny fabric. But the staging has the chorus — full size — in such constant flowing motion, back and forth, that there are two choreographers listed in the program. As a consequence, the contributions of the chorus were consistently off-cue and the orchestra, under-rehearsed, simply glided over the syncopation.

The stage pictures were designed to please. The first act was in a handsome grand art-deco hotel but subsequent images, including one on the roofs of Paris, veered close to cliché. The story of a goldsmith who kills his clients, the opera does not have a plum central role but the ensemble of singers gathered were first rate. Baritone Alan Held was a convincing in the title role and the splendid soprano Angela Denoke sang the pallid role of the Daughter.

It was a laudable effort to return this little-heard opera to the stage and it is a grand production with epic sweep, designed to make the best case for the drama. The only area not effectively presented was the music but that, unfortunately, should be the central reason for hearing this work.

Frank Cadenhead
Paris

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Posted by Gary at 9:24 AM

October 28, 2005

Volksoper: Das weiße Licht des Todes

Sophies_Choice_Volksoper_small.jpg[Photo: Volksoper Wien/Dimo Dimov]
VON WALTER WEIDRINGER [Die Presse, 28 October 2005]

"Sophie's Choice" - hervorragend besetzt, das Orchester fulminant, und dennoch gibt es Langeweile.

Zugegeben: Es war ein einhelliger Er folg, den die versammelte Opern- Gemeinde am Nationalfeiertag in der Wiener Volksoper erjubelte, den man allen Beteiligten auch gönnen mochte - der Besetzung, an der Spitze Angelika Kirchschlager in ihrer wohl besten Rolle, dem Regieteam um Markus Bothe, Leopold Hager, der einen glänzenden Einstand als Chefdirigent feiern durfte, sowie dem Komponisten Nicholas Maw. Und die zentrale Szene, in der Sophie vom unsagbar grausamen Lagerarzt von Auschwitz gezwungen wird, eines ihrer beiden Kinder in die Gaskammer zu schicken, wirkt wirklich erschütternd und erzeugt Gänsehaut der unwohligsten Sorte. Doch in den drei Stunden, die bis dahin abzusitzen waren, hatte man sich gelangweilt. Und das, obwohl die Wiener Fassung, als Koproduktion mit der Deutschen Oper Berlin entstanden, von Hager im Einvernehmen mit dem Komponisten um eine gute Stunde gekürzt war.

Posted by Gary at 9:52 AM

Guaranteed to raise the roof

valencia_opera.jpg[Times Online, 28 October 2005] Valencia now has the largest performing arts centre in Spain, reports Neil Fisher

The new opera house in Valencia has some fantastical beasts for company. The coastal city’s science museum, all shiny white teeth and sharp, bony lines, lunges out of the River Turia. The flawless curves of the city’s new IMAX enclose a glistening hemisphere whose perfect reflection in the water creates a giant alien eyeball.

Posted by Gary at 9:22 AM

Why the fat ladies sing

Treleaven_Siegfried_Wien_small.jpgWarwick Thompson [Times Online, 28 October 2005]

Singing predisposes the body to put on weight, research suggests

The idea of fat sopranos — and let’s not be sexist, fat tenors as well — has been causing mirth for years. Where else but in opera could you find an athletic young warrior portrayed by a man whose love-handles flew south long ago? Or see a delicate geisha who looks as if she does sumo wrestling?

Posted by Gary at 9:15 AM

Toby Spence/Julian Milford at Wigmore Hall, London

Spence_small.jpgTim Ashley [The Guardian, 28 October 2005]

It has been a good year for Toby Spence. The handsome young tenor became something of a star at this summer's Edinburgh festival with a startling performance in Benjamin Britten's Curlew River. He delivered an equally brilliant Tamino in Mozart's Magic Flute for English National Opera. Finally, we have this Wigmore Hall recital, which also marks him out as an idiosyncratic, if forceful, interpreter of Brahms and Mahler.

Posted by Gary at 9:08 AM

Brisk and bracing march through some preposterous plotting

wexford_2005.jpg[Daily Telegraph, 28 October 2005]

Rupert Christiansen reviews the Wexford Festival Opera

Here in Wexford it's the best of times, the worst of times. The best, inasmuch as the opera festival's new artistic director, the American conductor-administrator David Agler, looks like a thoroughly good thing, with a determination to incorporate native talent and sensibly broad ideas on repertory and casting. Agler's first programme gives one of the best seasons for years, and with the complete reconstruction of the old Theatre Royal likely to start sometime in 2006, the long-term outlook is optimistic.

Posted by Gary at 8:50 AM

October 27, 2005

ROSSINI: La Cenerentola

Naxos recorded this Cenerentola in November 2004 at the Rossini in Wildbad festival. While not as punchy or pristine as a studio recording, the sound presents a good balance between vocalists and orchestra, and stage noise, often a significant detriment of live recordings, does not significantly mar the audio.

Right from the overture, however, an inexplicable dampness sets in – the electric charge which many live recordings boast remains stubbornly absent. Conductor Alberto Zedda, whose excellent booklet essay speaks to his commitment and authority, captures some fine detail, but the SWR Radio Orchestra seems to simply lack the flair and innate enthusiasm that brings out the best in Rossini’s charming score. Rossini specialists, however, will appreciate the opportunity to hear some alternative music that Zedda has identified and chosen to include in this performance

The CD cover photo suggests the primary attraction of this recording: rising star Joyce DiDonato’s sweet, agile voice. She delivers her act two canzone, Una volta c’era un re, with the grace and skill of a mature artist, all of which also characterizes her contribution to the sextet. She alone, however, can’t bring up the energy level to one that would make the whole performance take flight.

Juan Diego Florez reigns as Don Ramiro on the world’s stages now. Jose Manuel Zapata takes the role here, and though his voice doesn’t suggest he approaches Florez’s stature, he has a pleasant voice not strained at all by the role’s demands. Bruno Pratico’s Don Magnifico has some rough edges that might have been more effective as part of the theater experience; other than that, he inhabits the role with humorously gruff authority.

Naxos provides a link to an online libretto, with a note on the booklet informing us that this economy measure helps Naxos remain the “leader in the budget-priced market.”

All fine and good, but a Cenerentola that doesn’t sparkle and bounce makes for a less than appealing audio-only experience. Perhaps the staging, if captured for DVD, might have revealed more charm than this recording offers.

If Decca gets around to re-releasing at less than full price the Bartoli studio recording of a few years’ back, budget price alone won’t make this Naxos set competitive. Only as a record of Joyce DiDonato, still early in her career, can it be recommended. The more exciting prospect would be a DVD of DiDonato and Florez in a fine production of the opera. Perhaps the fairy Godmother, or Don Magnifico, of the opera world can make it come true, and soon.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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image_description=Gioachino Rossini: La Cenerentola

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product_title=Gioachino Rossini: La Cenerentola
Jacopo Ferretti, libretto
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Posted by Gary at 6:03 PM

ALBRIGHT: Berlioz's Semi-Operas

In most of his large-scale works, Berlioz usually followed traditional forms and genres; in these two semi-operas, as the author calls them, experimentation with form and presentation are much more obvious, and this book assists the reader in following the literary and musical adaptations through history of these two texts by Shakespeare and Goethe, illustrating how Berlioz followed and built upon the composers and authors who set these two texts prior to his own compositional settings.

The author realizes that the term semi-opera refers to English opera of the later seventeenth century (according to Henry Purcell’s contemporary Roger North), but there just doesn’t seem to be another genre-term that comes closest to Berlioz’s style in these two compositions: drama that has been wrestled into music, through a strange array of disconnected scenes, where the composer has taken parts of the literary text that stimulated his creative thought and set them to music either vocally or as orchestral pieces. Berlioz, and the French public as well, had a hard time with Shakespearean and German drama. Berlioz was willing to experiment with the challenges of dramatically moving these texts into French theatre and opera, and as a result produced a kind of hybrid music drama that perhaps comes closer to the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk than even Wagner was able to do.

The book takes three chapters each to examine the histories and settings of these two texts. Romeo and Juliet is explored first, looking at Shakespeare’s background and inspiration for this text; the work is then discussed in relation to its expression from the time of Shakespeare up until the nineteenth century; finally the text is discussed in relation to Berlioz’s dramatic manifestation and musical composition. Goethe’s Faust is approached in the same way, from its creation, through the time period up until the nineteenth century, and then Berlioz’s realization of the text through music and drama.

This is a wonderful, concise, and compact discussion of two interesting and complex musical works of the Romantic period, exploring the historical and dramatic backgrounds of two of the more popular literary stories in human history. While written from the scholarly perspective, this book is easy to read and not overly technical in its presentation.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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image_description=Daniel Albright. Berlioz’s semi-operas

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Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

“La Muette de Portici” : a small revolt in Ghent

The small lies are “Holland,” which in reality is not a country but the most Western and richest part of the Netherlands. Belgium didn’t exist in 1830. It was the southern part of the United Netherlands and was often called the Southern or Catholic Netherlands. Afterwards the name Belgium really came into its own and it is derived from the Latin “Belgica” which means “low or nether lands.” Therefore historical continuity was respected. And of course a lot of people in Belgium, now and then, call that revolution a separatist mutiny. But the big lie is the fact that the Brussels performance of La Muette didn’t cause the uprising.

The fifteen years between 1815 and 1830, when all the Netherlands were once more reunited after a separation of almost 250 years (remember Don Carlos), were not a very happy time due to a rather bad economic situation. The Dutch speaking part of the Southern Netherlands (nowadays Flanders) suffered a lot. Most people lived on small farms barely earning enough to survive and almost everybody produced home spun textiles for sale. With the collapse of the French empire that market was closed while on the other hand cheap British textile arrived in abundance. A lot of people fled to the cities where they started working at ever lower wages in textile plants that began to proliferate, thus eliminating all competition from home spun yard. Add to that several bad harvests and a restless Roman Catholic clergy that tirelessly preached all difficulties were God’s punishment. The Catholic Church in the South resisted Protestant equality and, in the process, incited the people against the King.

During the summer of 1830, there was one incident after another as poor people flocked to the towns to look for a job or simply to have something to eat. August was especially dangerous as the old and bad harvest had almost gone and the new one had not arrived yet and didn’t look too promising. At the Brussels Grote Markt and the Muntplein small clusters of unemployed people were causing troubles. But the bourgeoisie wasn’t very happy either. King William was interested in economics (a remarkable exception among most royal morons) and did much to stimulate the economy. But, he remained a 18th century despot. There was no liberty of press, of religion (the king controlled the appointment of bishops) or meeting. And then there was a lot of French intrigue as France had not digested the loss of the Southern Netherlands, which it had incorporated in 1794, and France detested a strong state on its northern frontier. On the 25th of August 1830 a performance of La Muette de Portici was going on at De Muntschouwburg (though at the time most called it Théatre de la Monnaie). Afterwards some spectators incited all those unemployed people hanging around the theatre to look for plunder in the houses of some collaborators of the king. The riots soon spilled over to other parts of the Southern Netherlands and even to Germany. People started smashing machines, which killed employment. The bourgeoisie didn’t like things running out of hand and started taking control of some cities. Things calmed down for a few weeks and everything would have calmed down as King William was prepared to compromise.

This, however, didn’t solve the problems of the working class as food became scarcer, as prices were steep and as bread prices rose due to a new harvest that was still partly in the fields. Unemployment rose even higher and now there went no day without incidents. The clinching event was the King’s decision not to wait for the arrival of the harvest but to send an army to calm things down by force. There was quite a battle in Brussels which was lost by the army, as the crown prince commanding it didn’t want to destroy one of his capitals (and moreover dreamed to usurp his father’s place and become king of the Southern Netherlands). The army fled and all over the South the administration collapsed.

Though there was never a general vote, it is clear that most people wanted to destroy the Union and preferred returning to the old well-known Southern Netherlands, though under the name of Belgium. Of course this was no longer the old confederation that had governed itself in the 17th and 18th century, but a strongly centralized state in the French mould. The young state came into the hands of a French speaking bourgoisie that found its strength in the French speaking part (Wallonia) where the industrial revolution was already well on its way. Agrarian Flanders was very poor and was discriminated against in all possible ways, economically and culturally — Justice was often handed out in French only and Flemings who could only speak Dutch were sometimes not allowed to defend themselves in their own language. That discrimination only ended in the 1960s when the multinationals once more made Flanders the far richest part of the country and some laws made an end to the preponderance of French over Dutch. Nevertheless some Flemings have never accepted the breaking up of the Dutch speaking peoples and they still hate every Belgian celebration even when it is an opera.

During the first half of the 19th century many people still knew what had really happened and there was much bitterness towards the bourgoisie. They had taken power in their hands and had reserved the vote for exactly 0.5% of the population. Almost nobody who died during the successful revolt would have gotten the vote had he lived. The new masters didn’t want to be reminded of the true origins of the revolt and they much preferred and encouraged the myth that the singing of the duet “Amour sacré de la patrie” made the revolution happen. After all, opera was their favored art and for them it made a far more interesting story than the revolt of unemployed people. The world of opera of course helped to propagate the myth. The last performances of the opera in this country were 100 years later in 1930 at De Munt with Fernand Ansseau and Ernest Tilkin-Servais. During the 22 performances the audience always rose at the singing of “Amour sacré”. Fifty years later in 1980 there would be a new performance in Brussels with José van Dam as Pietro. Everything went smoothly till the day of the performance. Then it became known that hundreds of radical Flemings had not forgotten the “separatist mutiny” and intended to demonstrate during the performance. It was cancelled.

And so to 2005. In Ghent there is a private organization run by one man, John Boeren, which performs operas no longer in the repertory as directors and general managers hate operas they cannot kill with an “innovative concept”. Boeren receives almost no subsidies and when somebody suggested that he could get some money at last by inserting a performance as a kind of celebration for 175 year of Belgium he gladly accepted the idea. Originally he wanted to perform Manon but the idea of getting a meager 2.500 Euros was enough to change his mind. That’s when this writer starts to play a role. I got an anonymous mail telling me that once more some radical Flemings were going to kill that Muette. I have a column in the biggest radical Flemish weekly — Yes, I too much prefer an independent Flemish republic — and I wondered why radical Flemings share the same stupid myth with the most backward followers of unitary Belgium. Moreover I told them to demonstrate before and after the performance but to leave the opera itself in peace, as I don’t want to be reminded of the thirties when some people in Germany disturbed opera performances conducted by Bruno Walter. The radicals were almost hysterical and deluged my (and their) weekly with mail but as their plans were now clear for everybody to see they compromised. They had bought 50 tickets and they made an agreement with the police, the mayor and John Boeren that they would interrupt for 5 minutes exactly and then leave the theatre. As could be expected they awaited the start of “Amour sacré” and then sang the Flemish national hymn, cried slogans in favor of the United Netherlands once more and left exactly as they had promised. Everyone was happy: the spectators, who remained very calm, were glad that they didn’t miss a single note; the demonstrators were on television and John Boeren for the first time got formidable free publicity (and nothing else as he didn’t receive a single promised Euro subsidy).

And, oh yes, there was a performance. La Muette was not given in the opera but in the concert auditorium of the Bijloke, a magnificent medieval abbey in the heart of Ghent. The auditorium is very well apt for a lieder recital or a chamber orchestra but in the rather small space a real orchestra sounds somewhat too noisy with the brass section especially drowning out everybody else. A pity as Jean Pierre Haeck, a conductor from Liège, really likes this repertory and succeeds in breathing life in it. The amateur chorus moreover sang as good as any professional body. John Boeren can put 30,000 Euro down for orchestra, chorus, singers, box office and hire of the auditorium. Still he succeeded well. Tenor Tiemin Wang (a member of the De Munt chorus) sang with style and a hint of steel that reminded one here and there of Tony Poncet. Young Flemish tenor Ludwig van Gyseghem has some promising material and was a very fresh voiced Alphonse who has only to strengthen his high register. Best was Liège soprano Amaryllis Grégoire: a good supple voice with excellent diction, clear bell-like high notes. Only baritone Patrick Delcour (usually a comprimario at the Liège opera) was a little too rough as Pietro. So there is quite some life left in the old war horse and many an opera house could do worse than produce La Muette de Portici. I’m sure it will make an even more stronger impression on the boards and I even put forward the heresy that it wouldn’t suffer from some updating in a brilliant director’s concept.

Jan Neckers
Keerbergen, Flanders

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Posted by Gary at 2:21 PM

October 26, 2005

Great Operatic Arias, Vol. 17 — Christine Brewer

The singer Christine Brewer and the music deserve that, and not the often awkward translations and occasionally sub-par conducting and recording supplied by producer Chandos for the Moores Foundation’s English series [Chandos 3127].

Let me get my own bias, if that’s the term, out of the way up front: I find it hard to enjoy German, French or other languages translated into English for operatic performance. I’ll never forget an English National Opera production in the 1970s, of the French Manon with Valerie Masterson and Alberto Remedios, which should have been stunning, but was reduced to near-Gilbert and Sullivan in the English vernacular. But, hark! All is not lost, for just as soon as Brewer has delivered an impressive, if Englished, “Ocean Thou Mighty Monster” (Weber) on this disc, than she turns to Arthur Sullivan’s cantata, The Golden Legend for the big soprano/choral scene, “The Night is Calm and Cloudless” – a big dramatic scene in best Victorian style – that proves quite effective in its native English. I rest my case. Native lingo is best, for the language is part of the music.

With that caveat, how does La Brewer do with her big dramatic pieces mixed in with a few show tunes in this new arias disc? Swimmingly in the classical numbers, a bit less idiomatically in the translated operetta pieces by Lehar and Kalman, but fine in tunes of Richard Rodgers and Bob Merrill. Where there are problems, they seem to come from David Parry and the Philharmonia Orchestra and a choir. The lead-in to Countess Maritza’s entrance aria is a real bog – not only slow, but dragged down tonally and out of synch between orchestra and a slightly rough chorus. Better rehearsed, put back into German and speeded up it would be just fine. Brewer’s mellow low and mid-voice rendition of Rodger’s immortal “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is big league; it may well be remembered as a touchstone performance. Rossini’s Stabat Mater is dropped into the middle of these light songs, and the “Inflammatus” rings with resounding soprano tones just in case we’ve forgotten Brewer is one of the most luxurious big voices of our time. Three out of a dozen selections are in their original English, and they are entirely comfortable. The juicy Kalman operetta aria “Meine lippen sie kussen so heiss,” here “On my lips ev’ry kiss is like wine” (see what I mean?), is sung elegantly, if without the lilt and flirt of the German text. Beethoven’s concert aria, “Ah Perfido,” to my ear the best performance on this CD, is sandwiched between Lehar and Bob Merrill (his lovely Lili’s song ‘Mira’ from Carnival) creating a peculiar ambience if one listens straight through the disc, which is not recommended. But the Beethoven is superb, sung with much feeling and poise, and with ravishing tone, Brewer at her best. But who set the order of these selections? It’s wiser to make one’s own.

Finally, I do have to carp a little about the sonics: Heaven knows Brewer needs no help with pitch or amplitude. But the engineers have fiddled with the position of the voice, often too close, and have added resonance, which can sometimes create a ragged release or blurred detail, as in the smudged, rushed orchestral opening in Elisabeth’s Act II aria from Tannhauser, and the occasional forte high note can blast. Brewer sings “Mira – Can you imagine that,” so sweetly and simply, it is one of her finest numbers; but here it is set in a resonance too big and imposing. Even so: yum!

Most of all I wish conductor David Parry had worked his musical forces into a better fused whole, and achieved more graceful and consistent tempos. At times he is too cautious and can seem to hold back the soloist.

In sum: a mixed blessing, but worth its price due to the many beauties of Christine Brewer and quality of the music she sings. This is a good documentation of her distinguished talents, caught in top form over three days in March 2005.

J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Posted by Gary at 10:25 PM

BACH: Cantatas, vol. 18

This volume contains 6 cantatas, 3 each for the third and fourth Sundays after Easter. Despite the unimaginable number of difficulties in coordinating the series (differing pitch of various organs, very limited rehearsal time, changes in personnel, travel arrangements for some 40 musicians and a crew of other people) that such a project entails, this disc ranks in quality with the finest in modern Baroque performances.

From the titles of the cantatas for Jubilate Sunday, the first group of three, we might gather that the works provide a lugubrious mood: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, Wailing, Fretting, Fearing), BWV 12; Ihr werdet weinen und heulen (Ye shall weep and lament), BWV 103; and Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen (We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God), BWV 146. (As the reader may note, Richard Stokes’s English translations, provided in the accompanying booklet, can be quite inelegant, even though they were not devised to match the German text syllable for syllable so that they could be sung without altering the music.)

The mournful feeling is reflected in the first two numbers of BWV 12: a sinfonia with a slow, plaintive, and beautifully played oboe solo (are there ever slow, non-plaintive oboe solos?), followed by a choral movement that Bach later adapted for the Crucifixus of the Mass in B minor to portray the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. Gardiner terms each of the first four words “a heart-rending sob” that may be thought of in connection with the “four hammer blows nailing Christ’s flesh to the wood of the cross.” The image takes on credibility when one realizes that the corresponding syllables in the Mass are Cru-ci-fi-xus, He was crucified.

The words of the alto recitative that follows, Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal from Acts 14:22, would later find their way into the title and opening chorus of BWV 146. The mood brightens considerably in successive arias for bass and tenor, both with a trumpet obbligato playing the melody of the Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my delight), and the closing chorale is positively joyful: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does is well done).

The Cantata BWV 103 follows a somewhat similar trajectory: weeping, lamentation, and transgression are the subjects of the first three movements, although Bach plays a little trick on listeners. The opening orchestral introduction sounds quite jolly, but when the solo voices enter, we realize that “the festive instrumental theme represents not the disciples’ joy at Christ’s resurrection but the skeptics’ riotous laughter at their discomfort” (Gardiner). Then an alto recitative begins to turn things around, trusting “that my sadness shall be turned into joy”; a rapturous tenor aria declares that Jesus will reappear; and the happy and uplifting chorale at the end of the work is a verse from Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh’ allzeit (What my God wants, that will always happen), stating that brief pain shall turn to joy.

Finally, in the third cantata for Jubilate, BWV 146, we hear an opening sinfonia that sounds suspiciously like the first movement of the D minor Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1052a) with an organ playing the solo part. Well, that is exactly what it is, and the opening chorus that follows, Weinen, Klagen, equals the second movement of the concerto with added choral parts. The now-familiar turn to happier matters occurs more gradually through the middle movements, and the cantata ends with a verse from the chorale Werde munter, mein Gemüte (Become enlivened, my spirit).

Disc 2 of this set includes three works composed for Cantate Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Easter, including Wo gehest du hin? (Whither goest thou), BWV 166; Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe (It is expedient[!] for you that I go away), BWV 108; and Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut (Give laud and praise to the highest good), BWV 117. I will let the listener enjoy the disc without comment, except to point out a single cut: the dramatic and sensitive performance of the closing chorale of BWV 166, Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende (Who knows how near my end is). It is Gardiner and his group at their very best.


Michael Ochs

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Posted by Gary at 3:58 PM

SZYMANOWSKI: Piano Music

Anderszewski’s performances of these works are compelling for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his fine sense of style the composer’s style that he conveys so clearly. This is an important contribution that merits attention to both the performer and the literature he interprets so well.

For some Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is the proverbial watershed between late nineteenth-century Romanticism and twentieth-century modernism, especially when it comes to musical developments in Poland. Szymanowski composed music for piano throughout his career, and the three pieces that Piotr Anderszewski recorded on this collection emerge from a three-year period between 1915 and 1917, and they look both backward and forward in the composer’s oeuvre.

Some of Szymanowski’s earlier compositions use traditional forms, albeit imbued with his unique content, and only later did he take inspiration from program music and impressionism. Along these lines, while the Third Piano Sonata is traditional in structure, the other two pieces contain extramusical elements that suggest images rather reach beyond music, with references to women from Homer’s Odyssey in Métopes and fictional personas like Sheherazade, Tristan, and Don Juan in Masques.

As character pieces, each of the Masques possesses an individuality that belongs to the descriptive title. The playfulness of the second piece, “Tantris le bouffon” (“Tantris [Tristan] the clown”) calls to mind the legendary episodes when Tristan reversed the syllables of his name and disguised himself as a clown so that he could return to King Mark’s court to catch a glimpse of Isolde. Not a literal retelling of the Tristan story, the title offers a clue to interpreting the music, which resembles a Scherzo in style and proportion – it is half the length of the more serious “Schéhérazade” that precedes it.

The image of Schéhérazade evokes various characterizations, from the romantic depiction of the storyteller’s persona by Rimsky-Korsakov in his four-movement symphonic poem to Ravel’s extended setting for voice and piano that subtly evokes the exotic – the other – and our attraction to it. In his “Schéhérazade” Szymanowski uses the solo piano to explore those exotic aspects of the character by developing various motifs and fragments throughout the piece. Starting with relatively brief elements, the composer arrives at increasingly longer themes that are the subjective, in turn, of further development in the central section of the piece. Once he has given those ideas shape, he allows the music to dissolve into shorter fragments that call to mind the way the piece began.

The music of “Schéhérazade” has a parallel in the last of his Masques, the piece entitled “Sérénade de Don Juan.” Again, this calls to mind the various depictions of the Don and, overtly, suggests the strumming of a guitar. This approach frames his rondo-like form of the pieces that returns to the same theme. If a programmatic association must be given, it is the insistent return to the same theme, which can be likened to Don Juan’s incorrigible nature. More than program music, the “Sérénade” demands a solid interpretation, which Anderszewski provides in his fine performance this piece and the others in the set.

Similarly evocative, the Métopes also consist of three pieces, each referring to women in The Odyssey. The architectural term “métope” refers to the spaces between the triglyphs on a Doric frieze and implies something significant in the linkages. While Szymanowski is nowhere explicit about his use of the term, he offers points of departure in the descriptive titles for the three pieces in this set. The first, “L’île des sirenes” evokes French impressionism with its use of whole-tone sonorities and goes even further with passages that are polytonal. Its subtlety and ambiguity makes the piece attractive; and it not only reflects some of the music of Debussy, but also looks forward to some stylistic traits associated with Messiaen. In “Calypso” Szymanowski makes use of non-traditional tonality, but instead of the short ideas that permeate “L’île des sirenes” he uses longer themes in “Calypso” that recur as refrains. Of the three pieces, “Nausicaa” offers a clearer sense of form and less dissonant idiom. Nevertheless, Szymanowski makes use of colorful dissonances within the structure of this satisfying conclusion to Métopes.

Szymanowski’s Piano Sonata no. 3, op. 36, is a more abstract work in four movements. It contains no programmatic association, and is, instead, more formal in orientation. It is the latest of the three works on this CD, and in it Szymanowski evokes a kind of timeless modernism. The first movement is a traditional sonata that makes use of colorfully dissonant sonorities and extremes of register, while the second is a slow movement with continually full sonorities at various dynamic levels that require a sensitive performer to execute well. The third movement is essentially a Scherzo that puts other demands on the player with its mercurial themes and repeated-note figures. As a final movement, Szymanowski creates a modernist fugue that forms a satisfying conclusion to the Sonata. At times the music evokes the kind of sardonic style that would be later associated with Shostakovich. It is immediately engaging, and those unfamiliar with Szymanowski’s music may wish to start with this movement, which is one of the composer’s finest pieces.

As with his style in general, the musical idiom that Szymanowski uses for all three of the works included on this CD is rooted in tonality, but his mode of expression involves expressive dissonances, ostinatos, and other devices associated with early twentieth-century modernism. Szymanowski did not endorse any single technique in his music, but used various elements to create an individual idiom that reflects, at times, some aspects of French impressionism. At times, though, his use of percussive dissonances suggests some aspects of eastern European composers, like Béla Bartók. Formally, Szymanowski is rooted and tradition, and while he may blur the sectional divisions that would have been less ambiguous for a composer of the previous generation, the overall structure is nonetheless traditional. As innovative as it can be, Szymanowski’s music nonetheless accessible, albeit demanding for both the listener and performer.

In this recording the young Polish music Piotr Anderszewski (b. 1969) gives a convincing reading of all three pieces, which calls to mind the incisive style found in his other performances of more traditional repertoire, like Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and selected repertoire by Chopin. For those unfamiliar with Anderszewski’s playing, his recent recording of a selection of Chopin’s ballades, mazurkas, and polonaises (Virgin Classics CD 7243-5-45620-2) has much to recommend, including an incisive reading of the well-know Polonaise no. 6 in A-flat major, op. 53. The clarity that Anderszewski commands in the performance of this “Polonaise héroique” contributes to his effective interpretation of later recording of Szymanowski’s music. Yet his fascinating interpretation of Szymanowski’s stands apart, for its masterful approach to literate that clearly deserves to be heard more often in recitals. With this recording of Szymanowski’s music, Anderszewski has shown himself to be a performer who has much to offer.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 2:28 PM

Has the fat lady sung for Italian opera?

opera.singer.gifBy Peter Popham in Rome [The Independent, 26 October 2005]

Italy is the home of opera so it may come as some surprise that its demise is being predicted.

Curtains for La Scala? The culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, has warned of the possible "death of opera" as the nation's 13 deeply indebted opera houses try to find ways to survive a 30 per cent cut in government subsidies, announced in the new budget.

Posted by Gary at 9:56 AM

Wagner's `Ring' Features Eschenbach, Singing Zombies in Paris

Walkure_Paris.jpg
[Photo: M.N. Robert]
By Jorg von Uthmann [Bloomberg.com, 26 October 2005]

Richard Wagner hated the Parisians because they had humiliated him in 1861 with noisy demonstrations against "Tannhauser.'' His opera had to be withdrawn after three performances.

Since then, the Parisians have made up for their poor behavior. While the Opera Bastille is reviving last year's production of ``Tristan und Isolde,'' the Theatre du Chatelet has just started a new "Ring des Nibelungen'' — only 11 years after its last production of the tetralogy.

Posted by Gary at 9:41 AM

The Mines of Sulphur, New York City Opera

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 26 October 2005]

The stage is bleak, shadowy, scary. The orchestral writing, quite massive, is dissonant, descriptive, percussive. The vocal lines are wide-ranging and awkward yet poignant. The plot examines the wages of murder, retribution and guilt.

Posted by Gary at 9:19 AM

When a Sex Slave Makes Her Escape, Revenge Is in the Supernatural Air

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 25 October 2005]

The New York City Opera, sensibly enough, regards its large repertory of standard works in efficient, mostly traditional stagings as its box-office bread and butter. But if you think back over the company's productions of the last 15 years, contemporary works - Zimmermann's "Soldaten," Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler," Carlisle Floyd's "Of Mice and Men" and Hugo Weisgall's "Esther" among them - have been the clear highlights. They have typically had short runs and they rarely return, but they are the soul of this company.

Posted by Gary at 9:09 AM

October 25, 2005

Loud and clear — Yvonne Kenny wants to break down barriers between the "amplified" generation and opera lovers

kenny.jpgBy Robin Usher [The Age, 26 October 2005]

There is something remarkable about the voice of soprano Yvonne Kenny, Australia's best-selling classical artist and a favourite with live audiences. But she believes the way to ensure that people keep going to classical concerts is to break down barriers between the art form and the younger generation.

Posted by Gary at 2:03 PM

Opera babes — Glyndebourne is reaching out to twentysomethings with its new operatic thriller Tangier Tattoo. What did post-punk rockers the Suffrajets make of it?

Tangier_Tatoo_small.jpgBy Tom Service [The Guardian, 25 October 2005]

Glyndebourne Touring Opera had a big idea for this autumn: the world premiere of an opera for what they describe as the "lost generation" of 18- to 30-year-olds. "Lost", that is, to the opera house, since twentysomethings make up only a tiny percentage of the average operatic crowd, which is still dominated by a greying, elderly population. This is the third youth opera that Glyndebourne have put on in the past few years, after Misper (written specifically for young teenagers), and Zoë (an opera on cloning), for sixth-formers. They've used the same creative team of writer Stephen Plaice and composer John Lunn for the new piece, Tangier Tattoo. It is billed not as a boring old "opera" but an "operatic thriller", and it's a tale of drugs, sex, terrorism and skin decoration, subjects that emerged from focus groups as the most likely to turn on the target audience.

Posted by Gary at 1:50 PM

Before being put to death, Norma would like to say a few words -- and sing her heart out

bellini_small.jpgSteven Winn, [SF Chronicle, 25 October 2005]

Moments after the heroine's hushed confession, in the final scene of "Norma" at the War Memorial Opera House, the chorus murmurs a heartsick response: "Our blood runs cold." The audience feels it right along with them. Here, in a San Francisco Opera production that has some substantial liabilities to overcome, the power of Bellini's 1831 masterpiece shines through in all its ravishing, blood-chilling complexity.

Posted by Gary at 1:44 PM

An Opera Without Melodies

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 25 October 2005]

Imagine that Shakespeare had titled that play "The Murder of Gonzago" rather than "Hamlet" and you will have a good notion of the conceit of Richard Rodney Bennett's "The Mines of Sulphur," which had its City Opera premiere on Sunday afternoon.

Posted by Gary at 1:41 PM

Opera Company unmasks a 'Ballo' in excellent voice

By David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 25 October 2005]

The opera gods giveth and taketh singers with merciless capriciousness. And certainly they tooketh the Opera Company of Philadelphia's last season of well-laid plans demolished by cancellations. Yet at Sunday's opening production of the new season, Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera arrived with the gods rewarding us for our patience.

Posted by Gary at 1:37 PM

October 24, 2005

PUCCINI: Tosca

Principal Characters:

Floria Tosca, a famous singer Soprano
Mario Cavaradossi, painter Tenor
Il Barone Scarpia, Chief of Police Baritone
Cesar Angelotti, a political prisoner Bass
Il Sagrestano (the sacristan) Baritone
Spoletta, a police agent Tenor
Sciarrone, a gendarme Bass
Un Carceriere (a jailer) Bass
Un Pastore (a shepherd) Boy soprano

Time and Place

June 1800, Rome

Summary

Act One

Setting: Inside the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome.

Angelotti, a political prisoner, enters furtively, having just escaped from the Castel Sant'Angelo through the help of his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, who has left him some clothes in the church and the key to the Attavanti Chapel, where he can hide and disguise himself. When Angelotti is hidden, the painter Mario Cavaradossi comes in to resume work on a Maria Maddalena. The sacristan points out a resemblance between the Maria Maddalena and a strange lady who has been coming to the church frequently of late (the Marchesa). Mario contemplates the harmony of the stranger's beauty with that of his beloved, Tosca. Angelotti reappears and recognizes his old friend, Mario. Mario promises to help, but they are interrupted by the appearance of Tosca. Angelotti hides, which leads Tosca to become jealously suspicious. Mario allays her suspicions they agree to meet that evening. After Tosca leaves, Angelotti reemerges and Mario takes him to his villa outside the city.

The sacristan returns to announce the defeat of Napoleon but finds Mario has left. Choristers and acolytes prepare the Te Deum to celebrate the victory of the royalists; however, they are silenced when Scarpia enters. He has tracked Angelotti to the church and Mario's lunch basket is found in the chapel. Mario now becomes the target of his suspicions. Using the Marchesa's fan to arouse Tosca's jealousy, she flees the church and is followed by Scarpia's men. Scarpia relishes the thought of having Mario executed and possessing Tosca.

Act Two

Setting: Scarpia's apartments in the Palazzo Farnese.

As the Queen of Naples celebrates the victory in another part of the building, Spoletta arrives to report that Angelotti could not be found at Mario's villa. Mario has been brought in for questioning, but he stands silent. Tosca arrives. Mario urges her not to say anything. She nevertheless reveals Angelotti's whereabouts as Mario is being tortured. Mario rebukes her; however, he is overjoyed when Sciarrone arrives to inform Scarpia that Napoleon has won the battle at Marengo. Scarpia orders Mario to be executed at dawn. Tosca pleas for mercy. Spoletta returns with news that Angelotti has killed himself, rather than be captured. Scarpia offers to hold a mock execution of Mario in exchange for Tosca's love. She agrees. As he writes out the safe-conduct, Tosca grabs a knife on the table. When Scarpia approaches to claim his prize, she stabs him.

Act Three

Setting: Dawn atop the Castel Sant'Angelo.

While a shepherd sings in the distance, Mario is brought up to his place of execution. Alone he contemplates Tosca and his life. Tosca arrives withnews of the mock execution. She admits that she has killed Scarpia. The execution is ordered. Mario falls. Tosca approaches and urges him to rise only to find that he is dead. Spoletta then rushes in to arrest her for the murder of Scarpia. Tosca jumps from the parapet to her death.

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Posted by Gary at 8:26 PM

King Arthur - the first musical?

Flimm’s magical and creative stage direction seldom flags, and Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus Wien drives the whole mad, not to say occasionally maddening, pantechnicon along at a great pace and with admirable musical sensibility.

The pain came with equal regularity however. An interesting point about these last great flowerings of young Henry Purcell’s genius, so soon to be snuffed out, is that they were almost an anachronism when they first reached the stage of the Queens Theatre, Dorset Garden, London in 1691. Italian opera was approaching as if on a flood tide. Today it is difficult for an audience raised on either that later opera seria or mainstream romantic opera to grasp either the idiom of English music theatre in the 1690s or accept its artistic context - such as might be gleaned from a quote in the Gentleman’s Journal of 1692 “…experience hath taught us that our English genius will not relish that perpetual Singing,” Those said Gentlemen preferred what we might call today “mixed media” with plots that were not only true to life but sported humour, slapstick and sensational effects. And this Salzburg production, in the final analysis, whilst trying to achieve relevance and an understandable context by updating this template from the 1690’s, is let down by artistic incoherence and muddle. The fun, the spirit and the comedy of what Harnoncourt has described as the “first musical in history” doesn’t quite make up for some pretty dire interpretative decisions.

So if not an “opera” at all, then or now, what is it? It’s a play, with words by Dryden, which has musical tableaux which intersperse the main blocks of story-telling dialogue. The drama, acted and spoken by professional actors, tells the story of enemy kings Arthur and Oswald, fighting for English power and the heart of a princess, Emmeline, who happens to be blind. Each is supported by their own “magical helpers” - Merlin (a slightly ineffectual English dandy) and Grimbald (a most unpleasant piece of work) - and accompanying spirits. There is no doubt who are the “goodies” and “baddies” and which side this jingoistic libretto takes. It also just so happens that the music that was written to accompany the piece at the theatre was some of the best truly indigenous English song writing ever to bloom on a London stage, even to this day. And as in Purcell’s time, both the actors and singers are on stage together and often “duplicate” each other with matching costumes - an idea that one soon assimilates without too much trouble, although the camera close ups of the DVD obviously make this deliberate deceit entirely transparent.

The story is a gift for any creative director with the full panoply of 21st century stage effects at his disposal, and Flimm makes admirable use of the unique setting: the Summer Riding School in Salzburg, with its baroque form and intriguing balustraded arcades, built in 1693. The excellent orchestra is housed in a sunken area around which the stage continues, allowing the actors and singers to occasionally encompass the musicians and, from time to time, even draw them and their conductor into proceedings. This allows nice little comic business: the rather august head of Nikolaus Harnoncourt being carefully wrapped in a woolly bobble cap against the cold of the Frost Scene; a terrified fairy seeks shelter amongst the bassoons… and so on. Video screens in the “sky”, flying lines for the fairy spirits, trap-doors for the almost Wagnerian evil-doers on the Saxon side - it’s all there, and you’d have to be a very miserable person not to respond with a smile, at least once per scene.

However, as was reported at the time of the stage premier, the successes must be weighed against some unfortunate decisions. Dryden’s story may not be exactly great drama - it’s been described as “tub-thumpingly patriotic” and you’d be hard pushed to deny that. But, and it’s a big but, the language he used to do the tub-thumping was elegant, witty and often beautiful. Here, presumably for the sake of Salzburg success, all the English drama is translated into German, with almost entirely German or Austrian actors. What was wit with a lighter touch becomes heavily obvious; what was English seaside-style slapstick becomes Bavarian bier-keller. Vowel-curdling diction in mock-mittel-european-horror-flick style does Dryden no favours, and it is with huge relief that one hears the first melodic lines of English when the singers (excellent in name, if uneven in performance on this showing) take the stage.

One is reminded of a kind of “beauty and the beast” scenario. On the DVD, of course, one has the convenience of subtitles - so at least the viewer at home can have the story explained in English, or whichever language is preferred. Not that this helps particularly with all the local in-jokes and modern Austro/German political references which attempt to make relevant some of the original humour - always high risk for an internationally-released production.

Yet, happily, it is the music of Purcell that saves the day every time - tune after tune delights the ear and kindles memories from a hundred earlier hearings in different, incomplete contexts: “First Act Tune”, “How blest are shepherds”, the “Chaconne”, “’Tis Love” and “Trumpet Tune”, the list goes on and on. To at last hear them in the way that London audiences did in 1691 is a treat indeed.

The voices are certainly starry: Barbara Bonney, Michael Shade, Isabel Rey, Oliver Widmer and Birgit Remmert and you have to applaud the way they throw themselves (sometimes literally) into the story even if some are hard pressed to produce their best sounds in some difficult situations and eccentric costumes. The sight of a well-built Michael Shade throwing himself around the stage, stand- mic clasped to mouth, legs akimbo, in a hilarious spoof on an ageing rocker howling out “Your hay, it’s mowed” in the form of a torch song to his adoring fans, won’t be easily forgotten.

Less successful was Bonney’s rendition of the lovely, seraphic “Fairest Isle, all Isles Excelling” towards the end of the performance - not approaching the silvery perfection of her CD recording and somewhat rushed and uncomfortable in execution. The famous “Frost Scene” was played for humour with a chorus of neatly-choreographed penguins (what else?) in support, even if Oliver Widmer’s rather clunky baritone made heavy arctic weather of the famously-extreme stuttering notes.

Yet, despite this and an overall problem with maintaining all the disparate threads of action, chorus, music, song, video and stage machinery, “King Arthur” is still a brave attempt to re-vivify the largely lost art form of English Restoration music-drama in something like its original concept - and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves the music of Purcell, as long as they have a capacity to forgive as well as to applaud.

© Sue Loder 2005

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Posted by Greg at 7:15 PM

The Karajan Collection—Wagner Orchestral Music

Among the volumes in the set is a collection of orchestral music from Wagner’s operas, which stems several concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic between the end of September and early October in 1974. (Originally released in 1975, the selections were remastered in 2001.) Since Karajan was noted as an interpreter of Wagner’s music, and his work with the Berlin Philharmonic is well known, this recording preserves several fine pieces that are rarely played with such consistent intensity, and one can imagine the immediate impact on the audience.

The Overture to Tannhaüser, the longest selection on this CD, makes use of the Paris version of the score, and it includes the chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, rather than the exclusively orchestra rendering something found on recordings of excerpts from Wagner’s operas. The balance between chorus and orchestra is effective, just as the shifts in orchestral color that are part of the Overture are achieved with smoothly. The solid string textures form a rich foundation for the sometimes exposed woodwind and brass playing in this piece, and the result is as vibrant as it was thirty years ago, when Karajan recorded it.

Likewise, the full string sounds with which the Prelude to Lohengrin opens are difficult to match. While some may quibble with Karajan’s tempos, which can be a little quicker than some would like, this performance is hardly willful: Karajan shows a clear direction as the piece grows in intensity and orchestral color before it subsides in the rich string sounds found in the opening measures. Such masterful direction is borne out in the Prelude to the third act of the same opera, where the prominent brass sonorities offer the kind of polished sound usually associated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Georg Solti.

At the center of this recording is the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, a work for which Karajan was respected in the opera house. Karajan’s performance of the Prelude is among his finest, as he renders the details of the score precisely and elicits the emotional pitch that this piece must have. The only caveat about this performance is the attaca that connects the orchestral version of Isolde’s “Liebestod” to the end of the Prelude to the first act. While this may work in concert, the banding on a CD should reflect the discrete pieces. With the two pieces connected in this way, the pathos that is essential to the Prelude maps directly onto the “Liebestod” from the end of the third act. Even without including the voice in this performance, Karajan draws the appropriate emotion from the instruments in his cantabile approach to this piece.

It is difficult to follow the music from Tristan und Isolde in this collection, except with something different, and the Overture to Der fliegende Holländer offers sufficient contrast. This selection is, again, a solid performance that evokes the mood of the opera itself. As with the other pieces on this CD the sound vividly captures the fine playing. Karjan’s tempos are compelling, and fit not only the score as Wagner left it, but also the level of playing of the Berlin Philharmonic. Nothing is out of place in this performance, with every detail sounding in place, as though the Orchestra were a single instrument – an achievement of “das Wunder Karajan.” Yet in the final piece on this recording, Karajan builds somewhat on tradition to offer a more paced and majestic reading of the Overture to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In this in this performance, the work even slows a bit near the ending to bring out the fanfares and string accompaniments that are often blurred on other recordings. As the tempos slow toward the final passages, the intensity of the playing increases, with dynamic, resonant sounds that culminate in the well-spaced chords at the conclusion of the Overture.

This recording is a fine collection on its own merits, but it even more impressive as part of EMI’s “Karajan Collection.” The liner notes by Richard Osborne give a synopsis of Karajan’s work with Wagner’s music, but could be enhanced with a discography of the conductor’s recordings. The distinctive look of the CD packaging identifies the volumes in this series, with a black-and-white photo presumably from the time of the recording against a brown-tan background. While a list of the CDs in the set is not part of this recording, those interested might consult the website www.emiclassics.com. It is a fine release on its own merits, and all the more impressive as part of the set being issue by EMI.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 2:06 PM

The Karajan Collection—Philharmonia Promenade Concert

Karajan also conducted the Philharmonia at various Promenade concerts at Kingsway Hall, and the selections found on this collection are from performances from January 1958, January 1959, and November 1960. These concerts featured what some term “light classics,” and the somewhat popular pieces chosen for these concerts stand out because of the fine playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra and precise conducting of Karajan.

In a sense, these selections from three different times form a hybrid Promenade concert and give a sense of the kind of music chosen. Moreover, the quality of the performances under Karajan shows how attractive these pieces are. Some of the dances chosen, “Les Patineurs” – “The skaters” – by Waldteufel, the “Tritsch-Tratsch” polka and “Unter Donner und Blitz” polka of Johann Strauss II – have their charms. Likewise, the orchestral excerpts from the operas are a staple of concerts like these and bring some fine music to a popular audience. At the same time, the musical exactitude that Karajan demanded of all music, including these somewhat lighter, well-known works, conveys his strong sense of music-making the audiences of his day and to modern audiences through this recording.

Those familiar with Karajan’s broadcasts of the New Year’s concerts from Vienna will recognize some of the other literature found on this recording, like the “Die leichte Kavallerie” Overture by von Suppé, the “Le Carnaval romain” Overture by Berlioz, and the overture to Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers. Karajan brought a wonderful freshness to these familiar works, and shows a deft hand with the French works. Indeed, the Berlioz selection is one of the more impressive pieces in this collection.

Yet other pieces are also noteworthy, particularly the excerpts from operas. The famous Intermezzo from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci demonstrates well Karajan’s ability to shape the somewhat complex orchestration of this sometimes passed-over moment in the opera. At the same time, he captures the earnest light-heartedness of the “Polka and Fugue” from Weinberger’s fairy-tale opera Schwanda the Bagpiper. Karajan also brings a sense of authority to the piece, which would have existed, even had not conducted some of the earliest performances of Weinberger’s opera.

Of all the pieces from operas, though, most impressive are the two excerpts of the “Polovtsian Dances” from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. Karajan brings out a buoyant quality that is essential to an effective performance of these pieces, which offer some contrast within the opera itself. The music demands attention to detail if it is to be effective, and thus the dynamic shifts, solo lines, and other elements of Borodin’s score sound remarkably natural in this recording. The “Polovtsian Dances” represent the fine working relationship that Karajan achieved with the Philharmonia Orchestra, an ensemble that has had a tradition of excellence under various conductors.

If EMI’s series “The Karajan Collection” may be regarded as a sound portrait of the conductor, it is important to include this fine selection of more popular music alongside the other releases in this projected twenty-five CD set. The selections included in these Promenade Concerts from the late 1950s are as much part of Karajan’s legacy as the fine performances from his later Easter Festival in Salzburg that began in the late 1960s. In this context, this recording contributes yet another dimension to our appreciation of Karajan’s position as one of the outstanding conductors of the twentieth century.

As with other releases in EMI’s Karajan Collection, the liner notes by Richard Osborne provide concise information about the contents of the CD. The packaging is similar to others in the series, with a photograph of Karajan from the time he recorded the music on a brown and tan background. This kind of presentation certainly conveys the uniformity intended with the set. It is a solid release that contributes to an understanding of Karajan’s legacy in recorded sound.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 1:54 PM

DVOŘÁK: Tone Poems

Perhaps it takes a deep-rooted understanding of Bohemian culture to understand why Dvořák would choose such grim fairy tales of death and misery as his theme for a form of composition quite new to the otherwise prolific composer. Quite possibly, it is the somber mood emanating from these poems that make them so ideal for musical expression. Whatever the reason, Dvořák waited until the end of his career to explore a musical form that by definition, transforms composer into story teller.

Simon Rattle’s lyrical qualities are ideally suited for leading a performance that paints pictures of innocence, love, greed, corruption, and grief. In this Berlin Philharmonic production, the different sections of the orchestra took advantage of the opportunity to showcase their mastery of musical phrasing essential to program music. Certainly, the long legato lines were executed with careful attention to phrasing, and with an impressive sweetness to the sound. The only quality that could arguably be said to be lacking in this performance is the roughness and/or ugliness of sound during particular moments that depict horror. However, it is just as valid to say that any exaggeration in the performance would detract from the storyline.

The first of these poems, “The Golden Spinning-Wheel,” warns audiences of the terrible consequences brought by deception and greed. In this particular “wicked step-sister” tale, a king falls in love with a beautiful girl whom he intends to marry. Out of greed and jealousy, the girl’s step-sister and step-mother kill the girl and attempt to disguise the step-sister as the girl – the disillusioned king marries the step-sister. Fortunately, the girl is revived by a mysterious man who finds her body. When the deception is revealed to the king, he has the step-sister and her mother thrown to the wolves for their treachery. Dvořák composed music to express this poem phrase by phrase, and Rattle impressively paces the orchestra so that the music comes through like a poetry reading. A notable feature worth mentioning is the solo violin playing the role of the beautiful girl, the king’s love interest. The Concertmaster delivers a stunning performance using an expressive and varied vibrato. The orchestra contrasts this beauty through disturbingly mysterious passages in the cellos and basses.

Continuing with the theme of malice, “The Wood Dove” describes the guilt-ridden conscience of a young woman who murdered her husband so she would be free to marry her true love. Eventually, her guilt denies her any happiness in her new marriage and she is drawn to suicide. Beginning with a funeral march, this poem seems less structured than the first with an almost “stream of consciousness” quality. Rather than remaining completely faithful to the text, it seems Dvořák chose to convey the emotions, guilt, and conflict of the tormented widow. The horns and bassoons, and later the cellos and basses, commendably communicated the underlying “guilt” theme that seemed inescapable.

The “Noonday Witch” retells the story of a frustrated mother who threatens her restless child with the wrath of the Noonday Witch. As the mother verbalizes the threat, the noonday witch appears, delivering a lethal blow to the poor child. Filled with regret, the mother loses consciousness after the ordeal, only to be revived by her husband, who at the realization of the tragedy expresses his own anguish. A dramatic transformation can be heard from the initial themes of a playful child and stern mother, to the ugly and horrid themes of the merciless Witch, to the heart-wrenching grief of the mourning parents depicted by a fortissimo roar from the orchestra.

In “The Water Goblin,” a young girl takes a stroll by a stream against her mother’s advice. As she nears the stream, the Water-Goblin, ruler of an underwater world, abducts the girl and forces her to marry him and together they produce a child. After time passes and the girl shares her longing to be with her mother, the Water-Goblin allows her to visit her home on the surface as long as she promised to return. To insure that she would return, the Water-Goblin insists that the child remain with him. When the girl is reunited with her mother, the mother locks her in the house so that she does not return to the stream. Angry at the girl’s betrayal, the Water-Goblin murders his own child and throws the body to the surface to punish the girl. The motives expressing the Water-Goblins rage are undeniable and forcibly interjected in otherwise serene passages.

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic honored Erben and Dvořák by remaining true to the stories so that the poet and composer’s intentions were realized. Having become familiar with the poems prior to listening, it was quite easy to form a mental story board filled with the images described musically by such a commanding orchestra and conductor.

Nathalie Hristov
Music Librarian
University of Tennessee

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Posted by Gary at 11:35 AM

Why Mozart Is Always Welcome at the Met

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 24 October 2005]

As you may know, 2006 is a Mozart year - the 250th anniversary of his birth. But every year's a Mozart year, just as it is a Beethoven year, or a Brahms year. In any case, the Metropolitan Opera is having a pretty Mozartean fall: On Friday night, they opened a run of "Cosi fan tutte," and on November 2 they will open a run of "The Marriage of Figaro." In January, they'll start "The Magic Flute" - but we'll have so much Mozart next year, you may even begin to resent the guy.

Posted by Gary at 10:30 AM

Victorien Sardou — A Tale of Two Operas

This style is generally referred to as “well-made plays.” He was seated at the Academy in 1878. His initial efforts were poorly received. Through the connections of his wife, Pauline Virginie Dejazet began to perform his plays that enabled her to perform youthful roles even at the age of 65. Sardou then began writing plays for Sarah Bernhardt, which include Fédora (1882) and La Tosca (1887). Sardou’s close connection with Bernhardt has been criticized:

[T]he career of one of the very best endowed theatrical composers of the nineteenth century, the late Victorien Sardou, has been molded and restricted for all time by the talents of a single star performer, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt. Under the influence of Eugene Scribe, Sardou began his career at the Theatre Francais with a wide range of well-made plays, varying in scope from the social satire of Nos Intimes and the farcical intrigue of Les Pattes de Mouche (known to us in English as The Scrap of Paper) to the tremendous historic panorama of Patrie. When Sarah Bernhardt left the Comedie Francaise, Sardou followed in her footsteps, and afterwards devoted most of his energy to preparing a series of melodramas to serve successively as vehicles for her. Now, Sarah Bernhardt is an actress of marked abilities, and limitations likewise marked. In sheer perfection of technique she surpasses all performers of her time. She is the acme of histrionic dexterity; all that she does upon the stage is, in sheer effectiveness, superb. But in her work she has no soul; she lacks the sensitive sweet lure of Duse, the serene and starlit poetry of Modjeska. Three things she does supremely well. She can be seductive, with a cooing voice; she can be vindictive, with a cawing voice; and, voiceless, she can die. Hence the formula of Sardou's melodramas.

His heroines are almost always Sarah Bernhardts,-luring, tremendous, doomed to die. Fedora, Gismonda, La Tosca, Zoraya, are but a single woman who transmigrates from play to play. We find her in different countries and in different times; but she always lures and fascinates a man, storms against insuperable circumstance, coos and caws, and in the outcome dies. One of Sardou's latest efforts, La Sorciere, presents the dry bones of the formula without the flesh and blood of life. Zoraya appears first shimmering in moonlight upon the hills of Spain,-dovelike in voice, serpentining in seductiveness. Next, she is allowed to hypnotise the audience while she is hypnotising the daughter of the governor. She is loved and she is lost. She curses the high tribunal of the Inquisition,-a dove no longer now. And she dies upon cathedral steps, to organ music. The Sorceress is but a lifeless piece of mechanism; and when it was performed in English by Mrs. Patrick Campbell, it failed to lure or to thrill. But Sarah Bernhardt, because as an actress she is Zoraya, contrived to lift it into life. Justly we may say that, in a certain sense, this is Sarah Bernhardt's drama instead of Victorien Sardou's. With her, it is a play; without her, it is nothing but a formula. The young author of Patrie promised better things than this. Had he chosen, he might have climbed to nobler heights. But he chose instead to write, year after year, a vehicle for the Muse of Melodrama, and sold his laurel crown for gate-receipts.
[Clayton Hamilton, The Theory of the Theatre and Other Principles of Dramatic Criticism, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1910]

His later plays tended to have an historical setting. La Tosca, for example, takes place in Rome while the Battle of Marengo (14 June 1800) is being fought in the Piedmont between Napoleon and the Austrians.

Sardou’s plays were highly sought after as librettos for operas. The two operas chosen here are Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca and Umberto Giordano’s Fedora. They have been chosen not merely to illustrate how two composers approached Sardou’s well-made plays, but to show how one succeeds masterfully while the other achieves at best mixed results.

Related Links:

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Posted by Gary at 10:17 AM

October 23, 2005

The twists and trysts of Tosca

As remarkable as her comments seemed at the time, since Tosca has hardly left the stage in the hundred years since its premiere, it later dawned on me that the first audiences of Sardou's play La Tosca (which opened in 1887, starring its dedicatée Sarah Bernhardt) and Puccini's opera, were probably just as dumbfounded.

The shocking aspects of Tosca 's plot do more than simply surprise, however; the story plumbs profound currents of sex, power and violence After all, when Tosca stabs her would-be rapist, she penetrates him instead, turning the tables on her aggressor and reclaiming control (she thinks) of the situation. This type of turnabout is strong stuff, and Tosca - custom-made for Bernhardt’s provocative powers - provoked primal emotions in many members of the "premiere" audiences. The writer Pierre Louÿs, after seeing the first production of La Tosca with Bernhardt, gushed, "Ah, Sarah! Sarah! Sarah is grace, youth, divinity! I am beside myself. My god, what a woman!…When shall I see you again, my Sarah? I tremble, I grow mad!, I love you!" The American author Willa Cather, after seeing Bernhardt in the play in Omaha (!) wrote: "Art is Bernhardt's dissipation, a sort of Bacchic orgy." Even Puccini himself succumbed to the opera's sex appeal and kept for himself a pornographic version of a line of text in a sketch for Tosca's phrase, "Oh, come la sai bene / l'arte di farti amare!" (Oh, how well you know the art of making yourself loved!): one expletive-deleted rendering of his private lyric might read, "Oh, how well you know the art of getting in my pants!"

Although the Tosca of the opera is properly horrified at Scarpia's suggestion that she trade her virtue for Cavaradossi's life, in the original play, Floria jokes flirtatiously with the policeman when they meet at a court fête - an interchange that can be seen both as an ironic foreshadowing of what is to come, and also as a playful version of deeper, more serious sexual fantasies. In that scene, Scarpia notes that Tosca is wearing a bracelet of diamonds, rubies and sapphires, which together constitute a sort of French "tricolor" (an illegal symbol) and laughingly states that he could arrest her for wearing it:

Scarpia: It would be such a pleasure to have you for a prisoner.
Tosca, gaily: In a dungeon?
Scarpia, likewise: And under triple lock, to prevent your escape.
Tosca: And torture also, perhaps?
Scarpia: Until you love me.

As if taking a cue from this dangerously suggestive encounter, the writer Paola Capriolo, in her novel Vissi d'Amore created a fantasy trope on the opera. In her version, which takes the form of Scarpia's diary, the policeman goes to hear Tosca at the opera house, spies on the diva through a window while she is making love with Cavaradossi, and, in short, becomes completely obsessed by the singer. Then, in a stunning upset of power, Tosca appears to succumb to Scarpia’s desires and makes passionate love to him inside his torture chamber (while voluntarily shackled to the wall) thus bringing into reality his most exciting sexual fantasies. But, in a twist worthy of Sardou, she then tortures HIM by simply refusing to repeat the experience.

Scarpia's shocking murder, with its many sexual undercurrents, can be seen as just a small part of a larger pattern of plot reversals, however. Sudden plot twists have great dramatic power because they violate the audience's expectations; they create sudden change and increase intensity. It is Sardou's breathtaking panoply of reversals that raises the level of excitement. For example, the first audiences of Tosca did not expect an escaped convict to appear in a church setting at the outset of the play, nor did they anticipate Tosca's defiant suicide at the end. Reversals also surprise the characters themselves and result in plot complications. A case in point would be the early opening of the church for the celebratory Te Deum, which forces Angelotti to flee sooner than planned: this necessitates his requesting help from Cavaradossi, who then becomes implicated in a crime himself.

Of course the greatest reversal is accomplished by Napoleon, who in June 1800 won the Battle of Marengo after having appeared to have lost it. In the opera, it is this stunning news that inspires Cavaradossi to exclaim "Vittoria!" and degrade his criminal status from accomplice to true enemy of the state. But in the spoken play, Sardou uses the announcement of this reversal to abruptly halt the Palazzo Farnese gala at which the enraged Tosca is about to perform: after the Queen faints from the news in mid-sentence, Tosca (and the actress portraying her) is saved from actually having to sing. Sardou's audiences would have been waiting anxiously to discover if (and how well) Sarah Bernhardt would sing, and he played upon their curiosity.

Tosca: But I can't! As though I felt like it now…I am in a wonderful state to sing!…Can I sing?
Scarpia: Badly or well makes no difference…but the cantata, if you please, the cantata.

It is these reversals that form the main plot line: Tosca believes her betrayal of Angelotti's hiding place will free Cavaradossi; but instead, both she and her lover are more doomed than before. The final reversal - that of Cavaradossi's "simulated" execution - is given added suspense in the play by a "red herring" reversal: the soldiers want to remove Cavaradossi's body and Tosca, still believing her lover is alive, wants to keep hold of it. The first audiences were not yet sure that she had been misled:

Tosca, to the soldiers: Where are you going?…What do you want?
The Sergeant: To take the body away.
Tosca, alarmed, barring their way: You cannot take him! He is mine!…Scarpia gave him to me!…Didn't the captain say anything to you about it?…
The Sergeant: Nothing!
Tosca: Call for him…Find him…

Of course Tosca soon learns the truth, and defiantly leaps into the void — a final and fatal attempt to gain power over her life.

Puccini’s score also holds many surprises, following the twists and turns of the drama by suddenly shifting mode, meter, harmony, rhythm, and more. Swift musical contrasts are nothing new, but if we consider even the first two scenes of Tosca, we can see the extremes to which Puccini has taken the idea. When the escaped prisoner Angelotti appears, we hear very dissonant harmonies and chromatic melodies, set in variable phrase lengths with unstable dynamics - a perfect musical depiction of terror. Now the Sacristan enters. His non-threatening, jovial and comedic nature is immediately telegraphed to the audience by the musical accompaniment in C Major, with regular meter (6/8), and a diatonic (non-chromatic) melody. Puccini has even indicated spots in the score for the Sacristan to show a funny, nervous tic.

Later in Act I, Cavaradossi tries to calm Tosca by explaining that he had seen the Marquise Attavanti only by chance: accordingly, his words are set in an ingratiating G major. Tosca is not convinced however, and her suspicions are illustrated by the highly chromatic passage that follows. (In fact all twelve tones of the chromatic scale are heard here.) But perhaps the greatest musical contrast of the first act occurs at Scarpia’s entrance. Prior to that, the church of Sant'Andrea has become filled with noisy children, singers, priests and other clerics (in short, chaos descends), and the music follows suit. In this section, the tempo is fast and the harmony changes from A major to C major to E major to D major to F major to E major, back to A major, and then to B-flat major. The crowd is chaotic yet happy, and thus Puccini supplies harmony that is unstable yet always diatonic. However when Baron Scarpia enters, all the dramatic and musical action freezes: in a stately yet threatening andante sostenuto, we hear the three chords that have been associated with this villain. These chords, B-flat major, A-flat major and E major, destroy the diatonic syntax, since together they belong to no one key: they are based on the whole-tone scale and the upper notes (D, E-flat and E) rise chromatically. One does not need to know music theory to get the message here: the party is over.

Tosca’s twists and turns remain fresh today, a testament to the skill with which it was created. Even if one has seen the opera many times before, the lightning quick dramatic and musical reversals retain their electrifying power. If turnabout is fair play, then it also makes for great opera.


Deborah Burton

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Posted by Gary at 5:58 PM

PUCCINI: Tutti Libretti d'Opera

Each booklet contains the original libretto, along with commonly used variants, if any. In addition, pertinent biographical data, a summary of the plot, and explanatory notes are included. All text is in Italian. Nevertheless, this is a valuable reference work for even the most linguistically challenged. It is difficult to find outside the European Union. For readers in North America, contact Joseph Patelson Music House in New York to special order it for you.

Gary Hoffman

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image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Tutti Libretti d'Opera

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product_id=LB 139097, ISBN 88-7592-768-5
price=€39.00

Posted by Gary at 3:21 PM

October 22, 2005

Opera Boston gives new life to 'The Consul'

porackova_small.jpgBy Richard Dyer [Boston Globe, 22 October 2005]

Since the triumphant premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's ''The Consul" on Broadway in 1950, the opera has been repeatedly staged all over the world. In Opera Boston's adventurous season, it stands as the old fashioned repertory piece, and the company did pretty well by it last night.

Posted by Gary at 10:07 PM

Opera, singers shine despite distractions

By KEN WINTERS [The Globe and Mail, 22 October 2005]

A Handel opera is still sufficiently rare that one looks forward to it immoderately. If it is one of the great ones, such as Rodelinda, it is not to be missed.

Posted by Gary at 10:01 PM

A Composer Happily Returns to 'The Mines'

bennett_small.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 21 October 2005]

THE history of opera is filled with stories of great works that were received indifferently at their premieres and then slipped into oblivion, only to receive their due many years later. But this was not the case with "The Mines of Sulphur."

Posted by Gary at 9:55 PM

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Mozart and Salieri

Characters

Salieri, bass

Mozart, tenor

Synopsis

Scene One

Salieri describes his struggle “through unremitting, concentrated effort” to achieve a high position in art, upon which Fame smiled.

And did I envy then my colleague’s works,
Their triumphs in that wondrous art? No, never!
When Piccini charmed the Paris mob,
When I first heard the opening of Gluck’s
Great Iphigenia, could any man
Have called the proud Salieri envious . . .
No, none! But now — it’s I who say it — now
I’m envious. I feel the most profound,
Tormenting envy. God in Heaven! Where
Is justice, when the sacred gift, undying
Genius, is granted not for labour,
Not for burning love, self-sacrifice,
Devotion, prayer — but illuminates
A madman’s head, an idle waster? Mozart!
Mozart!

Salieri invites Mozart to supper where he will poison him.

What is the point, if Mozart should live on,
And rise to even more exalted heights?
Will he then elevate our art? No, no —
When once he disappears, it will decline
Again, since he will leave no heirs. . .

Scene Two

Mozart and Salieri dine at a private room in an inn. Mozart appears depressed. He explains that his Requiem is troubling him, a work commissioned by a strange man in black. Mozart even imagines his presence at their table. Salieri quotes Beaumarchais:

’Friend Salieri, listen — if a dark
Mood should descend on you, then just uncork
A bottle of champagne, or else re-read
My Figaro

Mozart observes that Salieri and Beaumarchais were good friends. He then asks, “But is it true that . . . Beaumarchais once poisoned someone?”

I mean, the man’s a genius,
As are you and I. And surely genius
And villainy are incompatible?

Salieri pours the poison into Mozart’s glass. They toast and Mozart drinks. Mozart goes to the piano and begins to play. He sees Salieri weeping. Salieri encourages him to play on. But Mozart feels unwell and leaves. Salieri bids au revoir.

You’ll sleep for long
Enough now, Mozart! What if he is right,
Though, and I’m not a genius? Genius
And villainy are incompatible?
Not true — just think of Michelangelo;
Or is that just a fable by the stupid,
Mindless mob? And wasn’t the designer
Of the Vatican a vile assassin?

[All quotations from Alexander Pushkin, Boris Godunov — The Little Tragedies, trans. Stephen Mulrine (London: Oberon Books, 2002)]

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image_description=Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov by Valentin Serov, 1898

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Posted by Gary at 5:35 PM

October 21, 2005

The Queen of Excess

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 21 October 2005]

The phenomenon that is Cecilia Bartoli blew into Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, kicking up the usual fuss. With a Swiss original-instruments group, the Italian mezzo-soprano performed a program of Caldara, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Handel.

Posted by Gary at 4:28 PM

La Cenerentola at Glyndebourne

rossini_young_small.jpgErica Jeal [The Guardian, 21 October 2005]

Peter Hall's production of Rossini's darkly comic take on Cinderella divided opinion at Glyndebourne this summer. Perhaps its detractors were roused by the fact that Hall had laid out some of his intentions in a programme note - something directors do at their peril. His interpretation may not push many theatrical envelopes, however, as revived by Lynne Hockney for Glyndebourne on Tour, what emerges is something timeless, and old-fashioned in the best sense. Crucially, the music sparkles thanks to Edward Gardner's detailed and vivid conducting.

Posted by Gary at 3:45 PM

Salome, London Coliseum

Salome Dancing Before Herod (Moreau, 1874)detail-Salome Tattooed_small.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 21 October 2005]

In the age of reality television it is easy to assume we have become blasé about domestic sex and violence, but a visit to Salome offers a sharp corrective. As portrayed by Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss, an evening spent in the company of Herod and family really is something else.

Posted by Gary at 3:39 PM

When Opera Was Forced Under the Radar

opera_proibita.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 21 October 2005]

Even the most ardent fans of the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli must sometimes question whether she is making full use of her remarkable gifts and extraordinary popularity. By the late 1990's, the opera world wondered what she would do next. Expand her operatic repertory and take on touchstone soprano roles in Bellini operas? There was talk that Debussy's Mélisande might become a signature part.

Posted by Gary at 3:30 PM

Somber 'Affair' features top-notch acting, music

heggie_small.jpgBy Mike Murray [Daily Herald, 21 October 2005]

SEATTLE - "The End of the Affair," Jake Heggie's contemporary opera about love, loss and faith set during the London Blitz, is performed in English.

Posted by Gary at 3:16 PM

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8

Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony is the last orchestral piece the composer completed, and it is one of his strongest contributions to the genre. This Symphony lends itself well to memorable performances, among them the enduring recording by Herbert von Karajan that some regard as the finest yet recorded. (Karajan recorded Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic in November 1988, and it was released in 1989 by Deutsche Grammophon as CD 427611-2 [2-CD set]). Like Karajan, Haitink has captured both the intensity of Bruckner’s music and also its vigor. A vibrant, affirming work, Bruckner’s Eighth requires the masterful technique of a conductor who knows its style and performers who can respond to such leadership.

Bruckner completed his Eighth Symphony in 1887, and revised it in 1890 and 1892. The score was altered by various individuals, with the Haas edition, something regarded as a compromise, as the version many conductors in the twentieth century have chosen to perform. In contrast to those the conductors who prefer the Nowak edition (1955), Haitink previously recorded the Haas version, which is the score used for the new RCO recording.

From the outset, Haitink’s recent performance is compelling, with the veritable catalogue of motives with which Bruckner opens the first movement connected through both tempo and, at times, timbre. As the conclusion of a single sonority hangs in the air, the next follows, like the threads of narrative and characterization in the early part of a novel by Dickens. At the core of the movement is Haitink’s treatment of the strings, which resonate richly, to serve as a foil for the wind and brass timbres. Nowhere does the brass section overwhelm the balance with its intensity, but rather, the timpani, woodwinds, and other instruments are present in the complex sonorities that are integral to this movement. Thus, as Bruckner develops his ideas thematically and refines their timbre, Haitink conveys an organic unity to the movement.

The solid interpretation found in the first movement is consistently present in this live recording, and that is one of the attractions of this CD. At the same time, Haitink paces the performance to allow details to emerge clearly. If Haitink differs from other conductors in his approach to Bruckner, it is his more cantabile style with the various themes that sets him apart. This is evident in the Scherzo, which lacks the often punctuated– and sometimes percussive – chords in the brass. When comparing this performance of Haitink to Karajan’s Deutsche Grammophon recording, the differences are apparent. Karajan’s recording has, perhaps, more resonance in the concert hall because of the more aggressive style it contains.

Yet with the contrasting sections that comprise it, the Scherzo is demanding for any conductor, and Haitink’s conception of the movement not only prevents the music from seeming disjointed, but also creates an audible sense of the structure. It is in the details, like the crescendo of the timpani that leads to the final portion of the Scherzo, that Haitink shows his mastery of the score. The recurring brass chords with which the movement begins are also a point of arrival at the end of the Scherzo, where Haitink brings out that figure to create an apt conclusion to Bruckner’s structure.

In the Adagio, Haitink elicits a rich and warm tone from the strings at the beginning that serves as a solid foundation for the various parts of the orchestra that follow. This demonstrates the cohesive ensemble that is a tradition with the Concertgebouw and which sets this particular recording apart from others. Haitink lingers over some phrases, while he also uses silence to create space between others, and as a result, his interpretation of this movement has a well-defined shape. One feature of the movement is the way that Bruckner allowed a variety of textures to underscore the musical form, and that aspect of the Adagio emerges clearly in this performance. It is a thoughtful, mature interpretation, which is has much to recommend for its dramatic balance.

With the Finale, Haitink opens aggressively, to propel the movement forward, and when he shapes the more lyrical theme groups to evoke momentarily the lush quality he gave the Adagio. With such a lengthy final movement as this, pacing is crucial, and this is not lost on Haitink in this performance. Each structural element falls into place, like the elements of a sound drama, and the pauses that introduce silence into the score are effective foils for the full sounds in which Bruckner indulged. At the same time, solo passages and chamber-like sections resonate well in this performance that moves elegantly to its conclusion.

This is an excellent recording that captures well the Concertgebouw in a work that is often associated with it. Likewise, Haitink’s legacy is enriched by this recording, which shows him at the height of his interpretative powers. This CD captures the immediacy of the performances on which it is based and offers a fine addition to the discography of this late work of Bruckner. If anything could be improved, though, it would be the second disc, which contains the final movement only (approximately 25 minutes). With the Concertgebouw having control of its releases, the Orchestra could have included on the second CD some extra, perhaps a rehearsal or part of an historic performance to enhance this already fine recording. Nevertheless, those who enjoy Haitink’s previous recordings of Bruckner’s music, including the Eighth Symphony, will appreciate the performance; at the same time, those who may be less familiar with Haitink’s approach to Bruckner should find this to be an excellent starting point.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 1:22 PM

Walisische Lieder sind eine Entdeckung wert

So wundert es nicht, daß die ersten CD's des weltberühmten walisischen Bass-Baritons Bryn Terfel unter diesem Label entstanden sind. 1988, das Jahr, in dem Bryn Terfel das Kathleen-Ferrier-Memorial Stipendium erhalten hatte, erschien seine erste CD. Sein Operndebüt stand ihm noch bevor, und die Zusammenstellung der CD wirkt etwas wie die unzusammenhängende Aneinanderreihung von Vorsingarien. Neben walisischen Liedern von Idris Lewis, R. Vaughan Williams, Eric Jones, Vincent Davies, W. Mathews Williams, Osborne Roberts, W. Bradwen Jones und 2 traditionellen Liedern arrangiert von der Pianistin Annette Bryn Parri finden sich Schuberts "Fischermädchen", Mozarts "Non più andrai", Gounods "Vous qui faites l'endormie", Händels "But who may abide the day of his coming?", Tostis "Ideale" und Franco Leonis "Tally-Ho!". Das mag dramaturgisch seltsam sein, zeigt aber auch die große Bandbreite des jungen am Anfang seiner Karriere stehenden Sängers. Die wunderschöne, kernige und technisch mühelose Stimme klingt auf dieser CD bisweilen etwas erschöpft oder noch nicht ganz ausgereift, was aber den Hörgenuß nicht mindert. Das Booklet ist sehr sparsam gehalten, mit kurzer Beschreibung der Lieder in englisch. Über die teilweise nicht sehr bekannten walisischen Komponisten erfährt man hier nichts.

1990 erschien wieder unter dem Label SAIN die zweite CD von Bryn Terfel mit dem Titel "Cyfrol2-Volume2". Das Booklet ist noch spärlicher als bei dem Debütalbum. Die Herausgeber haben sich teilweise nicht die Mühe gemacht, die Komponisten der einzelnen Stücke zu nennen. Die Zusammenstellung ist ähnlich beliebig wie bei der ersten CD. So finden wir hier die bekannte Arie aus "The Fiddler on the Roof" in walisischer Sprache, drei wunderschöne walisische Lieder von Meirion Williams, Schuberts "Ständchen", eine Arie aus dem Musical "South Pacific", eine Händel-Arie aus "Judas Maccabäus" mit Klavierbegleitung - von Bryn Terfel wunderbar gesungen! -, Lieder von William Davies, W. Albert Williams, John Ireland, Mansel Treharne Thomas und Richard Samuel Hughes, eine Kanzonette von Haydn, die Mantel-Arie aus "La Bohème", Don Giovannis "Serenade" - alles mit Klavierbegleitung. Bryn Terfels Stimme ist wunderschön, in seiner eigenen Sprache vollkommen locker, frei und leicht. Auch die Opernarien lassen die Weltkarriere des großartigen Sängers voraushören. Die walisischen Lieder sind eine Entdeckung wert. Man würde diesen unbekannten Kompositionen nur ein ausführlicheres Booklet wünschen.

Im Jahr darauf, 1991, nahm SAIN mit Bryn Terfel und dem inzwischen weltbekannten Liedbegleiter Malcolm Martineau Schuberts "Schwanengesang" auf. Die Aufnahme ist stimmlich, technisch und musikalisch hervorragend. Bryn Terfel verfügt über eine wunderschön dahinströmende Stimme mit scheinbar unendlichem Atem und müheloser Höhe. Seine Aussprache der deutschen Vokale und Konsonanten ist sehr von der italienischen Vokalfärbung geprägt und bisweilen etwas irritierend. Durch diese seltsame Vokalfärbung bekommt jedes Wort eine große Bedeutung, und es fehlen bisweilen die Zwischentöne und feinen Sprachabstufungen, die wahrscheinlich nur einem Muttersprachler möglich sind. Am Auffälligsten ist dies beim "Abschied", wo das Augenzwinkern oder eine Zweideutigkeit, die man z.B. von Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau kennt, fehlen und Bryn Terfel ausschließlich leidet. Jedes "Ade" singt er sehr bedeutungsschwer. Auch die "Taubenpost" singt er ähnlich schwerfällig und leidend. Wunderschön gelingen Bryn Terfel "Kriegers Ahnung", "Aufenthalt", "Der Atlas" und "Die Stadt". Dort kommt seine schöne kraftvolle Bass-Baritonstimme herrlich zur Geltung. Diese Lieder kommen auch seinem Bedürfnis, in diesem Zyklus ausschließlich zu leiden, sehr entgegen. Das Booklet ist dreisprachig in walisisch, englisch und deutsch und ausführlicher als bei den ersten beiden CD's.

1993 brachte SAIN die CD "Un Canu Caneuon" mit Liedern des walisischen Komponisten Meirion Williams, gesungen von Bryn Terfel, am Klavier Annette Bryn Parri, heraus. Meirion Williams lebte von 1901-1976 und war einer der Verantwortlichen für die Umgestaltung des klassischen walisischen Liedes. Er legte großen Wert auf die Sprache und benutzte die Begleitung als Überhöhung der Worte und Ausdruck des Gefühls. Diese CD enthält Kompositionen von ihm aus 40 Jahren, darunter in Wales sehr bekannte Lieder, die Meirion Williams als junger Mann komponierte, und am Ende den Zyklus "Adlewych", den er als Auftragswerk für den BBC Wales als fast 70-jähriger komponierte. Stilistisch ist Meirion Williams noch ganz von der Spätromantik geprägt. Entwicklungen wie die 12-Ton-Technik sind an ihm vorübergegangen. Das schmälert aber keinesfalls die Kompositionen. Die Kompositionen sind wunderschön und leidenschaftlich und eine Entdeckung und Verbreitung außerhalb Wales' wert! Die Waliser lieben ihr Land und ihre Landschaft und davon handeln ihre Lieder in der walisischen, sehr sangbaren Sprache. Die Lieder sind in wunderschönen Melismen sehr homogen für die Sprache und menschliche Stimme geschrieben. Die Kombination Bryn Terfel / Meirion Williams ist ideal! Bryn Terfels wundervoll kernige Stimme fließt in großen Atembögen dahin, und es ist ein Genuß zuzuhören. Das Booklet ist dieses Mal sehr ausführlich in walisisch und englisch und läßt hoffen, daß möglichst viele Hörer die Lieder von Meirion Williams kennenlernen werden.

Neben den CD's von Bryn Terfel hat Sain 2004 das zweite Solo-Album des jungen walisischen Tenors Rhys Meirion herausgebracht. Rhys Meirion, der Ensemblemitglied der Frankfurter Oper war, singt in diesem Jahr Rodolfo in Sydney und Roméo in Melbourne und wird vom Label mit Bryn Terfel, mit dem er auch schon im Duett gesungen hat, verglichen. Rhys Meirion - ein sehr heller, leichter Tenor mit etwas Luft auf der Stimme - hat sich mit der Auswahl auf dieser CD keinen Gefallen getan. Schön und für seine Stimme geeignet sind die lyrischen walisischen Lieder von Dilys Elwyn Edwards, R. Lowry und Meirion Williams mit Klavierbegleitung. Auch sehr musikalisch und schön singt er "Caro Mio Ben" von Giuseppe Giordani. Leider wurde für einige Lieder und Arien Keyboard- statt Orchesterbegleitung gewählt. Der Klang des Keyboards ist so grauenvoll und irritierend, daß der Gesamtklang der Kompositionen verfälscht wird. Hinzu kommt, daß Rhys Meirion drei Kompositionen des ihm befreundeten Komponisten Robat Arwyn - mit Keyboard- und Chorbegleitung - ausgewählt hat, die musikalisch und textlich unglaublich banal sind. In den italienischen Arien "Torna a Surriento" von Curtis und "Core 'Ngrato" von Cardillo ist das Keyboard so störend, daß es schwerfällt, dem Sänger zuzuhören. Wenn man sich an Rhys Meirions hellen Klang gewöhnt hat, singt er sehr musikalisch, wobei man als Hörer erleichtert ist, wenn er die Höhe als schwer erklimmbaren Gipfel erreicht hat. Beim "Ave Maria" von Schubert - wieder mit Keyboardbegleitung - leidet der Zuhörer mit dem Sänger mit, ob wohl der Atem für die langen Bögen reicht. Das Schlußstück "Ombra Mai Fu" von Händel wurde von der Pianistin Annette Bryn Parri - aus welchem Grund auch immer - arrangiert für Keyboard, Chor und Tenor und dadurch nur banalisiert. Nach Hören dieser CD wünsche ich dem Sänger und dem Label bei der Zusammenstellung des nächsten Programms ein glücklicheres Händchen und Ohr.

Wiebke Hoogklimmer

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Posted by Gary at 1:08 PM

Welsh songs worth discovering

So it is not surprising that the first CD's of the world famous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel were produced by this label. His first CD was released in 1988, when Bryn Terfel was the winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship. This was before his opera debut, and the compilation on this CD seems like an unconnected collection of casting arias. Besides Welsh songs of Idris Lewis, R. Vaughan Williams, Eric Jones, Vincent Davies, W. Mathews Williams, Osborne Roberts, W. Bradwen Jones, and two traditional songs arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri, you will find Schubert’s "Fischermädchen", Mozart’s "Non più andrai", Gounod’s "Vous qui faites l'endormie", Händel’s "But who may abide the day of his coming?", Tosti’s "Ideale" and Franco Leoni’s "Tally-Ho!". This may be dramaturgically strange, but it shows the great variety of the young singer at the beginning of his career. Terfel’s wonderful voice is powerful and technically effortless, but sometimes sounds on this CD a little exhausted or not quite mature. This does, however, not reduce the listening enjoyment. The booklet is sparse with only short descriptions of the songs in English, and contains nothing about Welsh composers, some of whom are not well known.

In 1990 the second Bryn Terfel CD was released with the title "Cyfrol2-Volume2", again under the label SAIN. The booklet is even more meagre than that of the debut album: the publisher did not take the trouble to name the composers of some of the pieces. The collection seems similarly arbitrary as that of the first CD. Thus we find here the well known aria from "The Fiddler on the Roof" in Welsh, three beautiful Welsh songs by Meirion Williams, Schubert’s "Ständchen", an aria from the musical "South Pacific", an aria by Handel from "Judas Maccabäus" with piano accompaniment - marvelously sung by Bryn Terfel! -, songs by William Davies, W. Albert Williams, John Ireland, Mansel Treharne Thomas and Richard Samuel Hughes, a canzonet by Haydn, the Coat aria from "La Bohème", Don Giovanni's "Serenade" - all arias with piano accompaniment. Bryn Terfel's voice is beautiful, in his own language completely free and easy. But also listening to the opera arias one can anticipate the world career of this great singer. The Welsh songs are worth discovering. One wishes for a more detailed booklet about these unknown compositions.

A year later, 1991, SAIN recorded with Bryn Terfel singing Schubert's „Schwanengesang“ with the well known pianist Malcolm Martineau. The quality of the recording is technically and musically excellent. Bryn Terfel has a beautiful flowing voice with apparently infinite breath and easy height. However his pronounciation of the German vowels and consonants is shaped by the Italian vowel sound and thus sometimes irritating to a German ear. Through this strange vowel sound each German word has a great importance, and sometimes the intermediate tones are missing; perhaps only a native speaker can produce these. This is remarkably apparent in "Abschied", where the ambiguity which one knows from Fischer-Dieskau is missing and Bryn Terfel is suffering exclusively. Every "Ade" he sings with great importance. Also the "Taubenpost" he sings similarily ponderous and suffering. However, Bryn Terfel sings "Kriegers Ahnung", "Aufenthalt", "Der Atlas" and "Die Stadt" in a wonderful way. Here his powerful bass-baritone voice and his great strength is especially effective. The booklet is in Welsh, English and German and in more detail than the ones included in the first two CD's.

1993 SAIN released the CD "Un Canu Caneuon" with songs by the Welsh composer Meirion Williams, sung by Bryn Terfel, with Annette Bryn Parri at the piano. Meirion Williams lived from 1901-1976 and was one of the composers mainly responsible for transforming Welsh classical song-writing. He always took great care to make sure that the words he used were appropriate for the expression of feelings. This CD contains the compositions of 40 years, including well known Welsh songs that Meirion Williams composed as a young man, and at the end the cycle "Adlewych", which he composed for BBC Wales when he was almost 70 years old. Meirion Williams' style is influenced by late romanticism. Developments like the twelve-tone technique have passed him by. This by no means diminishes the compositions: they are wonderful and passionate, and should be known outside Wales! Williams’ songs are about the love of country and landscape, and Welsh is a very singable language. The songs have wonderful melodies for the language and voice. The combination Bryn Terfel / Meirion Williams is ideal! Bryn Terfel's vigorous voice flows with infinite breath, and it is a joy to listen to him. This time the booklet is very detailed in Welsh and English, and one hopes that many listeners will get to know the songs of Meirion Williams.

Besides the CD's of Bryn Terfel, SAIN released the second solo album of the young Welsh tenor Rhys Meirion in 2004. Rhys Meirion was member of the Frankfurter Opera and this year sings "Rodolfo" in Sydney and "Roméo" in Melbourne. The label compares him with Bryn Terfel, with whom he has also sung duets. Rhys Meirion - a bright light tenor - has not made a good choice with the selection of all the songs for this CD. The lyric Welsh songs by Bilys Elwyn Edwards, R Lowry and Meirion Williams with piano accompaniment are beautiful and appropiate for his voice. Also very musical and beautiful are his version of "Caro Mio Ben" by Guiseppe Giordini. Unfortunately, for some songs and arias keyboard instead of orchestra accompaniment was chosen, and the keyboard playing falsifies the total sound of the compositions. In addition, Rhys Meirion has chosen 3 compositions by a friend of his, the composer Robat Arwyn, with keyboard and choir accompaniment, which are indescribable trivial. In the Italian arias "Torna a Surriento" by Curtis and "Core 'Ngrato" by Cadillo the keyboard sound seems inconvenient to the extent that it is difficult to listen to the singer`s voice. When one gets accustomed to Rhys Meirion`s bright voice he sings very musically, but one is relieved as a listener when he manages to reach the high notes. In "Ave Maria" by Schubert - again with keyboard accompaniment - one wonders painfully whether Meiron’s breath will be enough for the long phrases. The final piece, "Ombra Mai Fu" by Handel was - for whatever reasons - arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri for keyboard, choir and tenor, which can seem banal. After listening to this CD I wish this young singer and the label more luck and a sensible ear in the compilation of the next program.

Wiebke Hoogklimmer

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image_description=Bryn Terfel: Schwanengesang

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  • Bryn Terfel (Vol. 1)
    SAIN SCD9032
  • Bryn Terfel (Vol. 2)
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  • Bryn Terfel: Schwanengesang
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  • Bryn Terfel: Un Canu Caneuon
    SAIN SCD2013
  • Rhys Meirion: Pedair Oed
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Posted by Gary at 12:38 PM

October 20, 2005

With Lyric and Dramatic Powers, and Buff to Boot

Maltman.jpgBy DAVID MERMELSTEIN [NY Times, 20 October 2005]

English singers are often seen as vulnerable and even frail. The contralto Kathleen Ferrier and the tenors Peter Pears and Ian Bostridge come to mind. But the notion does not hold for the latest generation of English baritones.

Posted by Gary at 9:03 PM

Dido and Aeneas, Majestic Theatre, Boston

aeneas_dido(daumier)_small.jpg[Aeneas und Dido by Honoré Daumier, 1842]
By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 20 October 2005]

The three witches sport slinky mermaid dresses and carry pink buckets and spades. The chorus has beach balls; the First Sailor splashes in with a surfboard. The stage is one vast, shimmering pool. Dido, alone on her craggy island, broods her way towards inevitable tragedy.

Posted by Gary at 8:53 PM

Acclaimed opera soprano Carol Vaness to join voice faculty at IU School of Music

vaness_small.jpgBLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Carol Vaness, one of the most sought-after opera sopranos in the world, is set to join one of the world's pre-eminent voice programs.

Posted by Gary at 8:48 PM

This 'Peer Gynt' throws the focus on the music

grieg.jpgMichael Anthony [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 19 October 2005]

As a large-scale season-opener, VocalEssence presented a concert version of Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" by the National Opera of Norway in honor of the 100th anniversary of that country's independence from Sweden, for a two-night run at the Ordway Center. For the second of the two performances, Wednesday night, Norway's Crown Prince Haakon was in the audience

Posted by Gary at 8:42 PM

Bartoli again makes foray into rare music

Ronald Blum [Associated Press, 20 October 2005]

NEW YORK - When Cecilia Bartoli sings, notes don't just float out of her mouth. Her body shakes during her coloratura fireworks, as if each sound bubbled up, like lava escaping a volcano.

Posted by Gary at 8:40 PM

October 19, 2005

Dr. Atomic—An opera about the moral complexities of Hiroshima

By Daniel J. Kevles [Slate, 19 October 2005]

Dr. Atomic, the transfixing new opera by the composer John Adams in collaboration with the director and librettist Peter Sellars, calls to mind William Carlos Williams' lines in Asphodel, That Greeny Flower: "It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there." The opera, which had its premiere in San Francisco on Oct. 1 (and closes Oct. 22), centers on the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer at the culmination of his leadership of the laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M., that designed and constructed the first atomic bombs. It is set at Los Alamos, at the end of June 1945, several weeks before the first nuclear explosive was tested at Alamogordo, N.M., and then at the test site during the anxious, rainstormy hours preceding the detonation at 5:30 a.m. on July 16, 1945.

Posted by Gary at 8:15 PM

Cleveland: The Hungarian connection

welser-most_-_credit_-_Mastroianni2_small.jpg[Photo: Roger Mastroianni]

By Kevin Shopland [Budapest Sun, 20 October 2005]

THE Cleveland Orchestra is considered not only one of the best orchestras in America, but in the world as well. It is coming to Budapest on Sunday, Oct 30 to play a concert of Brahms and Ives at the Palace of Arts.

Posted by Gary at 8:09 PM

Variety spices the life of a star soprano

julianne_baird_small.jpgBy David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 October 2005]

Though she moves in the seemingly civilized, congenial world of baroque music, soprano Julianne Baird has faced vehement booing in Belgium, helped change the history of Bach performance in Boston, and landed behind bars in Maryland. At age 50, this blond, sunny warrior from the front lines of the Handel opera revival discusses these things laughingly.

Posted by Gary at 8:03 PM

Alcina at Hackney Empire, London

handel_small.jpgErica Jeal [The Guardian, 19 October 2005]

English Touring Opera has had success with Handel in recent years, but that doesn't mean the composer's operas travel well. Take Alcina: suggesting we are on an enchanted island ruled by the eponymous sorceress, who has a habit of turning discarded lovers into stones, waves and trees, is tricky with a lavish permanent set, let alone something that has to fit on a variety of stages and be dismantled before bedtime.

Posted by Gary at 4:43 PM

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov

Principal Characters

Boris GodunovBaritone
Fyodor, his sonMezzo-soprano
Xenia, his daughterSoprano
Xenia's nurseLow mezzo-soprano
Prince Vasiliĭ Ivanovič ShuĭskiĭTenor
Andreĭ Ščelkalov, council secretaryBaritone
Pimen, chronicler, anchoriteBass
Pretender (False Dimitriĭ, Grigoriĭ)Tenor
Marina Mnishek, daughter of the governor of SandomirMezzo-soprano or dramatic soprano
Rangoni, conspiratorial JesuitBass
Varlaam, itinerant monkBass
Misail, itinerant monkTenor
Hostess of the innMezzo-soprano
Simpleton (Yurodivyĭ)Tenor
Mikitič, police officerBass

Time and Place

1598-1605, Russia and Poland

Summary

Boris Godunov, the regent of the young Tsar Fyodor, has arranged the assasination of the Tsar's half-brother and heir Dimitriĭ, in order to seize power. When the Tsar himself dies Boris pretends to decline the crown, but his agents incite the Muscovite crowd to acclaim him as the new Tsar. Though racked with guilt, Boris is crowned. In the monastery of Chudov an old monk Pimen is writing a chronicle of Russia. He tells his novice Grigoriĭ of the history surrounding Boris, and Grigoriĭ resolves to avenge the murdered Dimitriĭ. Leaving the monastery Grigoriĭ claims to be the dead Tsarevich and with two vagabond friars Varlaam and Misail escapes across the border into Lithuania. In his Kremlin rooms Boris learns of the pretender. His councillor Shuĭskiĭ aims to reassure him by recounting the murder of Dimitriĭ but this throws Boris into a state of hallucination.

In Poland, Grigoriĭ's lover Marina dreams of becoming tsarina and her Jesuit confessor Rangoni exhorts her to support the Catholic cause. Marina joins Grigoriĭ in a moonlit rendezvous and she drives him forward with his ambitions.

In the Kromy forest the people are in disordered revolt against Boris but rally behind Grigoriĭ's call to follow him to Moscow. A simpleton is left behind bewailing the fate of the Russian people. The boyars hold an emergency meeting in the council hall in Moscow and Shuĭskiĭ describes the Tsar's unstable mental state, confirmed when Boris enters. Pimen arrives to describe a miraculous cure performed at the tomb of Dimitriĭ, causing the Tsar to collapse. Boris bids farewell to his son, prays for Russia, and dies.

Schematic (Rimsky-Korsakov Edition, 1908)

Prologue
Scene 1.At the Novodeviči Cloister
Chorus of Wandering Holy Beggars
Scene 2.Kremlin. Coronation
Act I
Scene 1.Monk's Cell. Night
Scene 2.Inn near the Lithuanian Border
Hostess' Song
Varlaam's Song
Act II
In Boris' Apartment
Song about the Gnat
Clapping Game
Boris' Recitative and Aria
Chiming Clock
Act III
Scene 1.Marina's Boudoir. Chorus of Girls of Sandomir
Marina's Aria
Scene 2.Night, Garden, Fountain
Polonaise with Chorus
Duet
Act IV
Scene 1.Near Kromy
Scene 2.Session of the Council of Boyars. Death of Boris
Pimen's Narrative

Additional Resources

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/mussorgsky.jpg image_description=Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) audio=yes first_audio_name=Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Boris1.m3u product=yes product_title=Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov product_by=Nicolai Ghiaurov, Olivera Miljakovic, Nadejda Dobrianowa, Nikolai Gjuselev, Sena Jurinac. Ballett der Salzburger Festspiele, Kammerchor der Salzburger Festspiele, Chorus of the Croatian National Opera Zagreb, Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan (cond.)
Live performance circa 1965.
Click here for complete cast information.
Posted by Gary at 3:35 PM

October 18, 2005

BERKELEY: Ruth

The composer wrote music in a broad range of genres, including four operas, only one of which—his 1954 opera Nelson—is a full length work. Ruth, his third, was commissioned by Britten’s English Opera Group after their successful premiere of his second opera, the comedic A Dinner Engagement. The libretto was provided by Britten collaborator Eric Crozier, and the role of Boaz was sung by Peter Pears.

Ruth premiered in October 1956, paired with seventeenth-century composer John Blow’s Venus and Adonis. Like all works performed by the English Opera Group, Ruth was scored for very small forces—two flutes, horn, piano, timpani, and eleven string players.

Berkeley was a lifelong Christian, converting to Catholicism in 1929, and his opera Ruth is clearly a statement of faith. The story, for the most part, sticks to the biblical narrative which tells how the Israelite woman Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law return to Bethlehem after the deaths of Naomi’s Moabite husband, and her two sons. Crozier and Berkeley make a point of the fact that Moab was an enemy of Israel, and thus Ruth is treated as a feared outsider by the Israelites.

The 78-minute opera is divided into three scenes. In the first, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are nearing Bethlehem. Naomi is anxious about how she will be received, and urges her two daughters-in-law to return to the homes of their mothers. Orpah eventually obeys, but Ruth insists that she will stay with Naomi, singing an aria which enlarges on the famous biblical text:

Whither thou goest, I will go.
Where thou lodgest, I will lodge.
Where thou diest, I will die
and there I will be buried...
Thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God!

Naomi and Ruth are destitute, and in the second scene Ruth tries to follow an Israelite custom which allows poor women to glean in the barley fields following the harvesters. But in Berkeley’s telling, the Israelites cruelly attempt to exclude Ruth as an enemy and a witch. The field’s owner, Boaz, intervenes, and scolds the harvesters for their inhospitality. Ruth is gracious, and urges Boaz not to judge his people harshly, as they merely “hate what they cannot understand”.

In the final scene, Naomi urges Ruth offer herself as a wife to Boaz, though the colorful biblical episode of Ruth lying down at the Boaz’s feet while he sleeps is absent. Boaz is surprised, but acquiesces. He presents his new wife to the people, and everyone rejoices, predicting that Ruth’s womb shall “bring forth kings” (Ruth was the foremother of both David and Jesus), and praising God.

Ruth is probably not an opera for those who define the form through their love of the warhorses that appear at their local opera house. This isn’t Tosca or Tristan. The music is not easy to describe. It is emotionally cool, reminiscent of Stravinsky and Britten, yet it is also rich in it’s sensuous orchestral timbres, reminding one perhaps of Ravel, a composer whom Berkeley had gone to for advice as a youth. For the most part it lacks any sense of naturalistic drama—seeming at times rather like a biblical pageant. Yet at others, it does gain a certain emotional momentum. The first scene seems especially dramatically detached—yet it’s mournful, astringent harmonies are affecting. The confrontation between Ruth and the reapers struck me as trying too hard for modern applicability (racial prejudice, etc.), yet the following exchange between Ruth and Boaz, though not exactly a love duet, is none-the-less poignant and touching. As the story develops, the chorus takes on a large role, and here the choral writing frequently reminded me of the much younger British choral composer John Rutter. Was Rutter an admirer of Berkeley, or did they both look to an earlier model? At times, recitative-like passages are accompanied only by the piano.

With Ruth, Chandos has released a characteristically fine product. The opera is attractively packaged, has excellent sound, and contains an informative booklet with full libretto translated into French and German. The soloists are fine, with mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby singing an affecting Ruth with her large, dark voice, and tenor Mark Tucker as Boaz—who I expect I would prefer in the role to Peter Pears—makes one curious to hear him in more familiar repertory. As Naomi, soprano Yvonne Kenny sings with a rather wide vibrato that gives her a more matronly sound, but considering the role, this is wholly appropriate. Richard Hickox leads the City of London Sinfonia in a performance of exquisite subtlety, which is exactly what this music requires.

All in all, for the adventurous opera lover who isn’t wholly repelled by the twentieth century musical language that developed after romanticism, Ruth offers many pleasures.

Eric D. Anderson

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/ruth.jpg
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Posted by Gary at 6:23 PM

XL—Œuvres pour grand chœur

Second, read in merchandizing code, the “XL” also points to “extra large,” the size of the Rundfunkchor Berlin, whose sixty some voices certainly exceed Renaissance norms and also the norms of many ensembles performing modern music. Happily, I would suggest a third reference, as well, and that is that “XL” is also emblematic of the excellence of the program and much of its execution.

Conductor Simon Halsey’s theme here is a tightly constructed one: he has compellingly mated pre-modern works with contemporary compositions that in some fashion transform them, and the cumulative effect is stunning. While savoring the familiarity of long-established pillars in the repertory—the Tallis “Spem in alium,” Purcell’s “Hear My Prayer, O Lord,” the first Contrapunctus from Bach’s Art of Fugue, Bach’s chorale, “Komm, süsser Tod, and the chant “Veni, creator spiritus”—one marvels at the transformations by Dieter Schnebel, Jonathan Harvey, Knut Nystedt, Sven-David Sandström, and Antony Pitts. And the ebb and flow between old and new creates a gratifying rhythm as the program unfolds.

The transformations are of varied sorts. Schnebel, for instance, arranges the Bach Contrapunctus in a verbatim manner: all of the notes are there in their original sequence, but by dividing the notes between various vocal lines and varying the singers’ vowel configurations, he re-contextualizes the work in a way that gives it a decidedly new and spatial dimension. Harvey and Nystedt, by contrast, create soundscapes with haunting harmonies, aleatoric and undulating effects, that set the sound ashimmer and provide a decidedly new envelope in which to place the pre-existent material (“Veni, Creator” and “Komm süsser Tod”). Sandström adopts more the technique of paraphrase, developing themes and contours from Purcell’s emotionally charged orginal. And Pitts carves out a relation with “Spem in alium” in a way that evokes and salutes the original without, however, taking on elements of its specific content.

Oddly thrown into the mix, as well is Kodaly’s Laudes Organi, a large-scale work, whose connection to the programmatic theme is decidedly looser—its text is a twelfth-century hymn in praise of the organ and Guido of Arezzo. Thus, while it can claim ties to an earlier epoch, they are largely verbal, not musical. Moreover, Kodaly’s compositional language is of a decidedly conservative bent, which further separates the work from the more markedly modern idioms of the other composers.

The performances are accomplished and highly polished. The choir’s sound is reedy and sinewy in the older pieces, which serves them well, although close placement of the microphones gives a solo cast to some of the works—the Tallis in particular—that undermines what one suspects would be a satisfying ensemble cohesion heard in the hall. The newer pieces find the choir much at home, dynamically alive to the range of effects and techniques, and unflaggingly expressive in their rendition.

We have long admired the sixteenth century’s propensity and ability to adapt pre-existent material to new ends, heard in the large quantities of parody and paraphrase masses that characterize the late Renaissance. In “XL,” we see that a kindred spirit is alive in our own day, as well, with results that engage and satisfy in moving ways, indeed.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/XL.jpg
image_description=XL. Choral Works

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product_by=Rundfunkchor Berlin, Simon Halsey, Dir.
product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMC 801873 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 4:56 PM

Van Opera kicks off season with Turandot

stottler.jpgBy Graeme McRanor [24 Hours, 18 October 2005]

Soccer fans worldwide are acquainted with the aria Nessun dorma, the global anthem popularized by tenor Luciano Pavarotti, a fan of the game. But far fewer of the on-voice stadium crowds have an inkling that the lyrical work is from Puccini's Turandot, Vancouver Opera's season-opener.

Posted by Gary at 3:45 PM

Bach's Algebraic Purity

By Fred Kirshnit [NY Sun, 18 October 2005]

If Johann Sebastian Bach could be resurrected 255 years after his death and walk the streets of Leipzig today, what would impress him most would not be airplanes or computers but rather that his music is still being performed. Highly influenced by the laws of mathematics, Old Bach plied his formulas with the care of a researcher but did not think that the finished product was anything special. He didn't even bother to preserve much of his immense output, and tossed off a brilliant sacred cantata every Sunday for his boys to perform as part of their general duties at St. Thomas's Church (he was also in charge of bussing tables there). There were well over 300 of these isochronous assignments and not a bad one in the bunch, judging from the approximately 200 that are extant.

Posted by Gary at 3:40 PM

Finland's Rich Bounty of Musicians

By Richard B. Woodward [The Seoul Times, 19 October 2005]

WHEN you live in a country of only 5.2 million people and your native tongue is unintelligible to virtually everyone outside your borders, you'd better learn to converse with the rest of the world if you don't want to end up talking to yourself.

Posted by Gary at 3:35 PM

Standing Room Only for New Music, Fierce and Quiet Alike

tenri_logo.gifBy Bernard Holland [NY Times, 18 October 2005]

Pessimists about the future of classical music may be looking in the wrong places. There were empty seats at the Metropolitan Opera's estimable "Aida" on Friday night, but on Saturday, "Powerhouse Pianists" filled the Tenri Cultural Institute to its gills, with standees crowding the rim of this small West Village gallery and hopeful ticket buyers stretching out onto 13th Street.

Posted by Gary at 3:27 PM

I'm Making it as an Opera Singer

wolfson.jpgby Mary Beth Franklin [Kiplinger's Personal Finance, 18 October 2005]

Sarah Wolfson, 28, has performed in opera companies around the U.S. She makes her Lincoln Center debut this fall.

I was 12 when I made my entree into opera. I auditioned for -- and sang in -- the children's chorus of the Washington National Opera in Puccini's La Bohème. I loved being part of the music, the singing, the performance and the costumes. That's when I realized it was possible to make a career of music.

Posted by Gary at 3:11 PM

October 17, 2005

Alex Ross on City Opera’s fall season

The company was then part of City Center, on West Fifty-fifth Street, which now concentrates on dance and musical theatre. The composer-critic Deems Taylor called the City Center Opera “democracy in action, a democracy realizing the work of the individual.” Tickets started at eighty-five cents—nine and a half dollars, in today’s currency—and topped out at $2.20. These days, you have to pay quite a bit more to get through the doors of what LaGuardia dubbed “the people’s opera company.” Tickets go up to a hundred and twenty dollars, which is more than most orchestra seats for “Spamalot.”

Click here for remainder of article.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/NYCO_logo.gif
image_description=NYCO Logo

Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

In the Land of Verdi, Where Egyptians Are Italian

salvatore_licitra_small.jpgBy Bernard Holland [NY Times, 17 October 2005]

Leave social relevance at home. File away those updates. Please, no metaphors for the human condition in 2005.

Verdi's "Aida" returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night: big, loud and happy to flex its muscles - in other words, very much itself. Sonja Frisell and Gianni Quaranta designed and executed this grand grand-opera production 18 years ago, and this year's revival breathes nicely with Zoe Pappas's judicious stage direction and James Conlon's vivid conducting.

Posted by Gary at 9:45 AM

Soprano Taking Chances as a Feisty Wood Nymph

By Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 17 October 2005]

For all her self-confidence and career success, Renée Fleming has mostly shied away from the touchstone roles of the operatic repertory, especially its Verdi and Puccini wing. She has said more than once that she has been hiding for years behind unfamiliar repertory.

Posted by Gary at 9:42 AM

A Revival That Can Hold Its Own

By George Loomis [NY Sun, 17 October 2005]

Twenty years ago, "La Boheme" surpassed "Aida" as the opera most often performed by the Metropolitan Opera. Shorter and easier to cast, the Puccini opera also benefited from Franco Zeffirelli's enduring production, then only three years old. But despite a widely acknowledged shortage of Verdi singers, "Aida" has held its own at the Met in recent years, and big voices were on stage in requisite numbers when the opera made a solid seasonal debut on Friday night.

Posted by Gary at 9:38 AM

Poise & Mastery

By Jay Nordlinger [NY Sun, 17 October 2005]

Fans of Richard Strauss have had a good autumn in New York: The Metropolitan Opera has staged "Ariadne auf Naxos"; City Opera has staged "Capriccio"; Lorin Maazel has programmed tone poems and such at the New York Philharmonic. I am reliably told that, somewhere in the world, a Strauss opera is being put on every night. Richard Strauss is never out of season.

Posted by Gary at 9:33 AM

The Last of the Opera Buffa Genre

By Fred Kirshnit [NY Sun, 17 October 2005]

Ah, Rossini! He never wrote a melody that he didn't use over and over again. A bit of a thieving magpie, he borrowed freely from his own work and anyone else whom he admired. The overture to "The Barber of Seville," which began its current run on Saturday night at City Opera, had been used at least twice before; the famous trio "Zitti Zitti" comes from Haydn; and, of course, "Una voce poco fa" is stolen from "Citizen Kane."

Posted by Gary at 9:30 AM

October 16, 2005

Tchaikovsky classic revered by director, conductor of piece

onegin_cleveland.jpg[Original artwork by Barry Downard; Photo by Media Arts Group; Model Mark Tomasic]

Donald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 16 October 2005]

Composers aren't always totally smitten with their own music, which can be a good thing. Take Brahms, who threw out many of his early works, deeming them unworthy. Or Verdi, who revised several of his operas before he was satisfied.

Posted by Gary at 4:35 PM

Le Figaro Interviews Christoph Eschenbach

eschenbach_small.jpgEschenbach : «Je suis dans les griffes de Wagner»

Propos recueillis par Jean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 15 octobre 2005]

L'ÈRE de Jean-Pierre Brossmann à la tête du Châtelet s'achève comme elle avait commencé avec Robert Wilson qui avait réalisé Orphée et Alceste de Gluck lors de son arrivée et qui met en scène L'Anneau des Niebelungen de Wagner pour son départ. Cette production sera dirigée par Christoph Eschenbach à la tête de l'Orchestre de Paris. Paris accueille donc cette année l'oeuvre en quatre opéras de Richard Wagner. Un événement attendu en raison de la personnalité du metteur en scène qui a déjà montré à Zurich sa proximité avec l'esthétique wagnérienne.

Posted by Gary at 4:25 PM

Opera: Le nozze di Figaro

Beaumarchais_small.jpgHilary Finch at the Glyndebourne [Times Online, 14 October 2005]

Glyndebourne is trucking once again. And the pantechnicon on this autumn’s tour will have to make room for the three collapsible gauzy rooms, the pillars and the radiators that furnish Jacopo Spirei’s revival of Graham Vick’s 2000 production of Le nozze di Figaro.

Posted by Gary at 4:12 PM

October 15, 2005

Cecilia Bartoli's Alarming Passions

bartoli_small_2.jpgBy ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 16 October 2005]

THERE are few truly distinctive voices on the opera scene today, voices you recognize after merely a few notes. Luciano Pavarotti was one. Cecilia Bartoli is another.

This is not a qualitative judgment. But it does help explain the Bartoli phenomenon: why a mezzo-soprano of average vocal means and, at best, unusual technique, singing little-known repertory of the Baroque era, has become a greater icon than most other classical stars.

Posted by Gary at 9:54 PM

The Future of Opera on Disc (If It's to Have One)

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 16 October 2005]

FOR several months before releasing its new recording of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," EMI Classics, in tones both momentous and ominous, stoked stories in the news media that it could well be the last studio recording of a major opera ever made. At least EMI refrained from affixing a label to that effect on the packaging of this deluxe release.

Posted by Gary at 9:49 PM

TCHAIKOVSKY: Eugene Onegin

Characters

Larina, who owns an estateMezzo-soprano
Tatiana, one of her daughtersSoprano
Olga, one of her daughtersAlto
Filippyevna, a waitressMezzo-soprano
Eugene OneginBaritone
LenskiTenor
Prince GreminBaritone
A CaptainBass
Zaretski Bass
Triquet, a FrenchmanTenor

Synopsis

Act I

Scene One

With her devoted servant Filippyevna, the widowed Madame Larina sits in the garden of her country estate. Her daughters, Olga and Tatiana, sing a love song that reminds the older women of days gone by. Peasants coming from the fields bring freshly cut hay for their mistress and celebrate the completion of the harvest with songs and dances. Olga taunts Tatiana for failing to enjoy the festivities. Pale and shy, Tatiana remains pensive and apart, wrapped in the fantasy of her beloved novels. As the peasants leave, the poet Lenski, Olga's suitor, and his worldly friend Eugene Onegin arrive. When Madame Larina and Filippyevna enter the house, the four young people mingle, awkwardly at first. Then Lenski pours forth his love to Olga. Onegin, strolling with Tatiana, asks if she does not tire of her bucolic existence. Visibly upset by the handsome stranger, the girl answers with difficulty. As night falls, the two couples go in for dinner.

Scene Two

In her bedroom, Tatiana persuades Filippyevna to speak of her first love and marriage. Filippyevna notices that the girl's mind is wandering and asks if she is ill. Tatiana declares she is in love and begs to be left alone. Resolved to reveal her passion to Onegin, Tatiana sits up the entire night and writes to him, full of fear and shame. She closes by pleading for his mercy and understanding. When day breaks, she gives the letter to Filippyevna for her grandson to deliver.

Scene Three

As they work to pass the time, a group of women gathered in Madame Larina's garden sing about flirting with boys. When they leave, Tatiana hurries in, soon followed by Onegin, who asks that she hear him out. He admits he was touched by her letter but adds he would tire quickly of marriage. Though she has all the virtues he might wish in a wife, the most he can offer is a brother's love. He advises more emotional control, lest another man fail to respect her innocence. Crushed, Tatiana rushes away.

Act II

Scene One

Some months later in Madame Larina's house, a party is under way in honor of Tatiana's name day. As young couples glide merrily across the floor, the older guests sit watching and gossiping. Onegin dances with Tatiana but clearly is bored with these country people and their provincial sensibilities. To get back at Lenski for dragging him there, he dances with Olga, who is attracted momentarily and responds to his advances. Onegin's game is interrupted by Triquet, an elderly French tutor, who serenades Tatiana with a song he has written in her honor. When dancing resumes, Lenski jealously confronts Onegin. The merrymaking stops. Madame Larina implores them not to quarrel in her house; Lenski is remorseful but cannot contain his rage at Onegin, who accepts his challenge to a duel.

Scene Two

At dawn on the banks of a stream near an old mill, Lenski and his second, Zaretski, await Onegin. Reflecting on the folly of his brief life, and saddened by its now unalterable course, the young poet imagines his beloved Olga visiting his grave. Onegin arrives with his second. The two men, standing apart and without looking at one another, sing a cannon in which each admits privately that they have acted rashly — that they would rather laugh together than fight — but pride and impulsiveness prevail. The duel is fought and Lenski is fatally shot.

Act III

Scene One

Several years later, in a hall of a palace in St. Petersburg, a magnificent ball is in progress. Onegin has traveled widely, seeking to alleviate his boredom and give his life meaning. With bitterness he says his search has led him tonight to a monotonous social event. Suddenly he recognizes Tatiana across the room, but she is no longer the girl he knew: sumptuously gowned, she walks with poise and dignity. Questioning his cousin, Prince Gremin, he learns that Tatiana is now Gremin's wife. The older man tells of his marriage two years earlier and describes Tatiana as his life's salvation. When Gremin introduces Onegin, Tatiana maintains her composure, excusing herself after a few words of polite conversation. Captivated, Onegin dashes from the palace.

Scene Two

In the Gremins' town house, Tatiana receives Onegin in answer to an impassioned letter he has written. When he falls at her feet, she remains controlled. Now that she has a rich and noble husband, she asks, does he desire her position or her shame? She recalls the days when they might have been happy; now he can bring her only grief. As Onegin's pleas grow more ardent Tatiana prays for courage. Suddenly finding strength, she rushes out, leaving the distraught Onegin behind.

[Synopsis courtesy of Royal Opera Canada]

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Posted by Gary at 5:26 PM

The German connection

rimsky-korsakov_small.jpgBy Galina Stolyarova [St. Petersburg Times, 14 October 2005]

BONN, Germany — Next year’s Beethoven Festival in Bonn will take Russia as its theme in a move that reflects growing German interest in Russia’s contribution to the world of classical music.

Posted by Gary at 3:51 PM

Revisions, revisions: Latest version of 'End of the Affair' debuts at Seattle Opera

graham_greene_small.jpgBy R.M. CAMPBELL [SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, 14 October 2005]

Seattle Opera has a spotty record when it comes to new work, but this weekend its history will be jump-started with the West Coast premiere of Jake Heggie's "The End of the Affair," based on Graham Greene's novel.

Posted by Gary at 3:37 PM

East Village Opera: Verdi in leather pants

east_village_opera_small.gifBy Colleen Long [The Associated Press, 15 October 2005]

NEW YORK — The East Village Opera Company channels both Mozart and Freddy Mercury when they perform. And that's not a bad thing.

The 11-person group rearranges opera arias and overtures to add electric guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and leather pants. The result is a hybrid of '70s arena rock and classical music.

Posted by Gary at 3:27 PM

The Mikado: Lyric Opera San Diego

mikado_small.jpgReview by David Gregson [SanDiego.com, 15 October 2005]

Few press fanfares have played longer and louder than those celebrating the establishment of the Stephen & Mary Birch North Park Theatre on the San Diego cultural map. The hoopla – and the gradual transmogrification of a nearly forgotten 1928 movie and vaudeville house into a little jewel of a performing arts center-- has been going on for five and a half years now. The prime mover of this project, in concert with the City of San Diego and developer Bud Fischer, has been Lyric Opera San Diego, always destined to make the theatre its home. With Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, last night’s inaugural production in Lyric Opera’s new house, the San Diego arts scene enters a new era. It was a modest show, hardly an atom blast of an opener, but a rich fallout of blessings is certain to affect all those who love theater, dance and music.

Posted by Gary at 3:20 PM

October 14, 2005

Director sets stage for `Dido'

purcell_small.jpgBy T.J. Medrek [Boston Herald, 14 October 2005]

Grant Llewellyn is starting his fifth and final season as music director of the Handel and Haydn Society in a big way: leading the period instrument orchestra and chorus in a staged production of Henry Purcell's 1689 opera ``Dido and Aeneas'' by Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng at the Cutler Majestic Theatre this weekend.

Posted by Gary at 1:56 PM

Le Nozze di Figaro

Lorenzo_da_Ponte_by_Pekino.jpgTom Service [The Guardian, 14 October 2005]

At the end of Glyndebourne Touring Opera's production of The Marriage of Figaro - a revival of Graham Vick's 2000 staging, directed here by Jacopo Spirei - there is an unforgettable image. After the Count's plea for forgiveness from the radiant Countess of Kate Royal, the hurtling bustle of the final chorus ends with Royal being laid on the ground and swaddled in a white sheet and flowers. It's a strange, pagan-looking ritual of virginal purity that also looks like a funerary rite. I have never been more sure that, far from a resolution to the drama, the events of Da Ponte's crazy day are doomed only to repeat themselves, at the cost of the Countess's sanity.

Posted by Gary at 1:45 PM

Unsingable Maybe, Yet 'Daphne' Blooms

strauss_richard_small.jpgBy Anne Midgett [NY Times, 14 October 2005]

"Daphne" is the story of a woman who turns into a tree. Dramatic? Indubitably. Operatic? It depends on your outlook. After all, what you're left with, after the coup de théâtre, is a singing tree, which cannot but strike some listeners as a wee bit static. "Aida" it's not.

Posted by Gary at 1:39 PM

Fidelio, Barbican Hall, London

beethoven_small.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 13 October 2005]

His 80th birthday celebrations are imminent, promising everything from a week-long festival of radio broadcasts to magazine tributes and an anniversary set of rare recordings. But will Charles Mackerras have time to sit down and enjoy any of it?

Posted by Gary at 1:33 PM

MARSCHNER: Hans Heiling

First is the repertory item itself. Heinrich Marschner’s career bloomed in the years between Beethoven and Wagner. Mendelssohn dominated this time; in fact, the libretto for Hans Heiling was offered to Mendelssohn before it came to Marschner. Premiered in 1833, the opera succeeded, but Marschner’s career dimmed afterward, and this and Das Vampyr remain beguiling curiosities.

Pier Luigi Pizzi designed and directed this production for the Teatro Lirico di Caligari. As captured by Dynamic’s cameras, the sets most effectively capture the underworld origin of the title character, a half-human, half-supernatural being who lives with his mother, the Queen of the Gnomes. Painted backdrops serve to both establish the geographical reference and to place the work in a romantic, non-naturalistic frame, entirely appropriate for the work. The main physical setting looks like a cooled lava-overflow; later scenes, set in the human world, rely more on the backdrops than on props.

Heiling opens the opera bored with his underworld existence and pining for a woman. His mother warns him to stay with his own kind, but Heiling leaves to romance Anna, a young woman whose mother is most impressed by Heiling’s wealth. Unfortunately, Anna already loves a local boy, Konrad. Pressed by her mother, she agrees to marry Heiling, but when the gnome realizes that her heart belongs to another, he lashes out at his rival. Finally he realizes that he could never be accepted into the human world and descends to his home and mother, leaving Anna and Konrad to temporal bliss.

How the opening scene must have struck Wagner, who surely saw the opera. A sort of funhouse mirror reflection of Alberich in Rheingold, Heiling is bored with the treasures of the gnomes and feels that only an amorous connection with a human female can make him happy. Eduard Devrient’s libretto prefers long monologues delineating states of mind to conventional story telling, and a static, even awkward narrative probably presents the real stumbling block to Marschner’s opera finding a home in today’s opera houses. Brief spoken dialogue links some of the set pieces.

But the music! The opening scene’s eerie children’s chorus of gnomes establishes Marschner’s command of mood, and though none of the melodies remain long in one’s head, they have an originality and complexity of development that more than compensates.

And Dynamic has assembled a worthy cast to give the music the performance it deserves. Markus Werba is youthful and attractive both in appearance and voice, and his Heiling presents a charismatic figure in the depressed-bad-boy mode. In fact, many a viewer may wonder what Anna Caterina Antonacci’s Anna sees in the bland, chubby Konrad of Herbert Lippert. However, Werba is done no favors by the red tights of the opening scene. He makes a more impressive figure in a white suit donned for his visit to the surface world.

Anna Caterina Antonacci’s career appears to be taking off, and here is great evidence for why. A truly striking woman, she sings with great precision and control, although the top can be tentative. Her long scene that opens act two is almost worth acquiring this set by itself, as Antonacci delineates the confused emotions of Anna. The character, unfortunately, grows more conventional as the opera proceeds, but Antonacci has the ability to hold our interest even when she is not singing.

The rest of the cast do well enough, though Gabriele Fontana’s Konigin suggests that immortality inflicts some wear and tear on the voice.

The final reward of this set is the strong leadership of Renato Palumbo. He infuses the score with passion and color, indicating the strengths that have just led to his appointment as replacement to Christian Thielmann at Deutsche Oper Berlin. Still relatively youthful, this conductor looks to be set on a remarkable career.

So for the opera itself, the two leads, and the conductor, Dynamic deserves our thanks for this Hans Heiling. Now how about Das Vampyr?

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/heiling.jpg
image_description=Heinrich Marschner: Hans Heiling

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Libretto by Eduard Devrient.
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product_id=Dynamic 33467 [2DVDs]

Posted by Gary at 1:17 PM

October 13, 2005

HAYDN: Missa Cellensis
MOZART: Credo Messe
PARADISI GLORIA: Psalms
PARADISI GLORIA: Stabat Mater

The other two discs, Psalms and Stabat Mater, are part of the Paradisi Gloria series, begun in 2000 as a concert series of the Munich Radio Orchestra in cooperation with the catholic archdiocese of Munich and Freising. The goal of the series is to perform and record excellent 20th- century sacred choral works that have not enjoyed the benefit of many repeated hearings. The eight pieces chosen for inclusion on the two recordings cover a period of eight decades—from Ernest Bloch’s setting of the twenty second Psalm to Wolfgang Rihm’s Stabat Mater, which he composed at the close of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, the musical styles represented go far to summing up the diversity of 20th-century musical language.

If one’s acquaintance with Haydn has been mostly through his symphonies, the music in his dozen Masses, composed over much of his creative life, may come as a delightful surprise to the listener. While Haydn transferred some of his orchestral techniques to the composition of some of his Masses, it would be a mistake to think of the latter as little choral symphonies, for they have lives of their own. Neither are they sacred operas even though the trappings of the opera aria are often present. One can argue that certain compositional practices turn the Masses into concert pieces and negate their use in the celebration of the Eucharist. In these Masses, for example, Haydn and Mozart both give the beginning words of the Gloria and Credo movements to the chorus, rather than reserving them for the celebrant as church rules dictated. As a result, these Masses—and others similar to them—may not have survived with their original intent intact—as musical enhancement to the celebration of the Eucharist—but they come down to us as splendid examples of choral writing.

The Neue Hofkapelle and the Orpheus Choir, both of Munich, have set a high standard for the performance of Haydn’s Missa Cellensis in this recording. The choral singing and the four soloists are uniformly excellent as is the playing of the Neue Hofkapelle, the whole crafted into a superb musical ensemble conducted by Gerd Guglhor. Much of the music and its performance unfold as a series of captivating dances: light and buoyant; exuberant and driving; graceful and elegant; rapturous and almost hypnotic. This is equally true of the presentations of chorus, soloists, and orchestra. The fugal movements and sections—more of them here than in any other Haydn Mass—are never ponderous academic exercises: this group invests them with the appropriate dignity when that is called for and with a rhythmic energy that has an inexorable drive to it that beautifully illustrates the sense of internal rhythm that is the major ingredient in the success of this performance. All in all, this is a sublime experience for the listener.

Mozart is represented here not only by the Mass in C, K. 257 but by five other shorter choral pieces as well, including the “old chestnut,” Ave verum corpus. Had this Mass, which bears the subtitle Credo Messe, been composed by anyone other than Mozart, it probably would have remained a historical curiosity. The Mozart name, of course, carries with it much weight, a weight disproportionate to the music of this Mass. Nevertheless, Mozart being Mozart, it is interesting to hear the relatively young composer in something other than the more mature Masses and Symphonies. The Credo Mass, so-called because of the many repetitions of the word “Credo” in that movement, is one of the few early Mozart Masses to go beyond the scope of the Missa brevis type. Its instrumentation of chorus, a quartet of soloists, two oboes, two trumpets, three trombones, and kettledrums lend it a festive air; its succinctness probably pleased the Archbishop, a man not always pleased with Mozart and one with whom the composer frequently crossed swords. The four soloists acquit themselves well with the tenor, however, brighter and more penetrating than his colleagues—a quality that is not always pleasing. The Laudate Dominum; Te Deum laudamus; and Alma Redemptoris, all composed before Mozart was in his mid- twenties, are all performed well. The very familiar Ave verum corpus that Mozart composed in the last year of his life, has become a staple item of church choirs, whose numbers are countless and whose abilities cover a wide range. To this listener the piece never loses its mystery and its freshness in spite of what some choirs do to it. Its hushed reverence and deceptive simplicity mark it as something that only a mature Mozart could have composed.

Klaus Knubben, conductor, the four soloists, the Limburger Domsingknaben, and the Gürzenich Kammerorchestra of Cologne have prepared a lovely recording of this music. Anyone buying this recording for Thomas Quasthoff’s performance on it, however, will be disappointed because his participation is limited to short segments in the Mass.

The Stabat Mater, a thirteenth-century devotional poem generally attributed to Jacopone da Todi,was the fifth and last sequence that the Roman Catholic Church allowed into the liturgy. A meditation on the sorrows of the Virgin Mary at the Crucifixion, this sequence is appointed to be sung on Friday in Passion Week and the on the third Sunday in September. The poignant words of Mary (“At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus at the last”) have inspired musical settings by most of the major composers in the history of music, including Josquin des Prez, Palestrina, Pergolesi, Haydn,. Rossini, Verdi, Dvorak, and Stanford. Karol Szymanowski, Francis Poulenc, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Wolfgang Rihm are among the composers who expanded this list in the twentieth century, with Rihm’s setting straddling both twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The four settings of the Stabat Mater given here, present the listener with four different worlds of music, ranging from the poignancy of Poulenc’s musical language; to the folk-inspired setting of Szymanowski; to the musical eclecticism of Penderecki’s Stabat Mater (taken from his St. Luke Passion); to the sparse and tense musical speech of Wolfgang Rihm.

At the death in 1950 of his good friend, Christian Bèrard, Francis Poulenc was moved to compose “a prayer of intercession, and the heart-rending words of the Stabat Mater seemed to me completely right for confiding the soul of dear Bèrard to Our Lady of Rocamadour.” [Liner notes]. Wit and irony, trademarks of Poulenc’s early musical language, are largely missing from his works after he returned to the Catholic Church on the death of another friend in 1935. And so it is with this deeply moving setting of the Stabat Mater whose musical language is one largely of gentleness and poignant lyricism. The reflective mood of the piece is established at the outset with the exquisite Stabat mater dolorosa. (Très calme) Here, the orchestra intones a lovely ostinato pattern (a figure that Poulenc will depend upon often in his 1956 opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites). One of the problems with such intense lyricism is the danger of its over-use. Sentiment can rapidly descend into sentimentality and bathos. Music needs both the lyrical and its dramatic contrast and Poulenc gives us those contrasts precisely at the right moments. One need only point to the juxtapositions of the “very calm” mood of the opening Stabat Mater and the following Cujus animam gementem section with its tempo marking of allegro, très violent, or to the fiery, rhythmically propulsive Quis est homo portion that separates the charming, light fourth movement, where Poulenc is at his most accessible, from the Vidit suum movement, with its lovely soprano solo.

It would be a pity if Poulenc’s Stabat Mater didn’t receive its proper due as the gem of choral writing that it is. It belongs in the standard repertoire of twentieth-century choral and orchestral music.

The Münchner Rundfunkorchester and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks present a sterling performance of this piece. Their conductor, Marcello Viotti, brings impressive sensitivity to his interpretation of the score. The performance of soprano soloist, Georgina von Benza, is absolutely superb. She possesses a rich, warm voice that adds immeasurably to the success of this performance. Regrettably, the program notes give neither biographical information about any of the soloists nor a translation of the Stabat Mater text. In the first place, it would be nice to know something about these fine soloists, especially since their performances are uniformly excellent In the second place, the listener new to the Stabat Mater would, I think, find a translation helpful.

Karol Szymanowski’s setting of the Stabat Mater is in Polish—a Stala Matka. He wrote of the work: “this simple, immortal hymn has gained in immediacy for me, has become something, painted in familiar, plausible colours—in contrast to the archaic, line drawing of the original.” Composed in 1925 and 1926, the work, while clearly tonal, has a more contemporary sound than the Poulenc, composed a quarter of a century later. Its more contemporary sound owes much to the composer’s synthesis of compositional techniques from the west and his exploration of some of the styles of Polish folk music. As Stravinsky, Bartok, and Vaughan Williams created their own styles out of similar syntheses, so it is with Szymanowski. And, as with all of these composers, Szymanowski has absorbed the native materials so completely that it is difficult to point to specific pieces of folk music in the score. They are there and they flavor the composition in a way that marks it as Szymanowski’s.

From its almost ominous sounding introductory Stabat Mater dolorosa that unfolds over a pedal point, to the concluding movement in which the exquisite loveliness of Szymanowski’s music reflects “When my body dies, let my soul be granted the glory of Paradise. Amen,” the composer gives the listener a tremendous amount of variety of timbre. Szymanowski’s setting is often of chamber music proportions: women’s choir; baritone solo with French horn accompaniment; soprano solo over a woodwind backdrop; soprano solo with clarinet partner; unaccompanied women’s choir, joined soon by tenors and basses. Because these chamber-music like portions, those set for full orchestra (the Quis est homo and most of the Virgo virginum praeclara movements) become even more powerful than they otherwise might have sounded. The whole presents an impression of sheer loveliness juxtaposed against driving force.

Why this performance is in Latin, rather than the composer’s original Polish is not explained in the program notes. Again, the choristers acquit themselves nobly with an ensemble and balance that are enviable. Georgina von Benza’s soprano solos are marked by richness and warmth and intelligence. How fortunate Maestro Viotti is to have such a soloist for this recording. The solos of Fabio Previata, baritone, and of Birgit Remmert, alto, are equally convincing.

Krzysztof Penderecki, one of the leading Polish composers in the twentieth century, originally composed his Stabat Mater for three unaccompanied choirs. Three years later in 1965/66, he folded the work into his St. Luke Passion. Penderecki’s musical language in the Stabat Mater is an eclectic one, embracing such varieties of style as the opening (and subsequent) sections given over to Gregorian chant-like intonations of the words—ancient sounding music that becomes a partner with the antiquity of the text; the music acts like an anchor in the swirling sea of forthcoming pitches in tone clusters—pitches that unfold from a single unison pitch as a flower blossoms from a bud—and spoken portions, startling in the context of pitched sounds. Then, surprisingly, given the context in which it occurs, the whole ends with the choir singing a thunderous “Gloria” on an unadorned major triad.

The Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, conducted here by the composer, beautifully negotiates all of the twists and turns of his treacherous score, turning what might otherwise have been a series of disparate sections into a cohesive whole, so that the juxtapositions of styles seem perfectly normal; even the conclusion on the major triad, while surprising, does not sound out of place.

To help celebrate the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, the International Bach Academy of Stuttgart commissioned four composers to write new settings of the Passion. Wolfgang Rihm fulfilled his commission in 1999/2000 with his setting of part of the words of the Stabat Mater that he included in his Deus Passion—Passion Pieces After Luke. Rihm’s setting ends with words of both desolation and triumph: “For the sin of His own nation, saw Him hang in desolation, Till His spirit forth He sent.” Composed for two female singers and chamber ensemble, the music is often spare and appropriately mournful as Rihm. Helmut Rilling conducts the chamber group drawn from the Münchner Rundfunkorchester and two soloists, to whom credit is not given. Their voices are lovely and especially rich as they work their way through Rihm’s thorny passages.

Three musical traditions are represented in the four settings of various Psalms: the bloom of late Romanticism in Zemlinsky and Korngold’s scores; the thornier side of more contemporary musical language in Igor Markevitch’s setting; and the “Jewish coloring” of Ernest Bloch’s music—a sound characterized by late Romanticism without many of the trappings of twentieth-century music.

If Alexander Zemlinsky is known at all today, it is primarily as Arnold Schoenberg’s father-in-law. During his lifetime, however, he was a noted conductor and composer, greatly revered by the Viennese musical world at the beginning of the twentieth century and a considerable influence on composers coming of age in the first decade of that century. Schoenberg and Alban Berg were only two of the many composers who admired Zemlinsky’s abilities as musician and teacher.

Zemlinsky composed this setting of Psalm 13 in 1935, but the political situation in Germany made it impossible for the work to be heard at that time. It was not until 1971, nearly three decades after the death of the composer, that Psalm 13 was first performed. Beginning with a highly chromatic and impassioned setting of the lamentation of the opening words, “How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me for ever?”, the music moves through an animated middle section with its undercurrent of urgency, to a triumphant and glorious rejoicing in the Lord’s salvation, accompanied by trumpet fanfare and bells. Stepping away for a moment of reflection, the music of affirmation then returns with “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” Here, all forces crescendo to a second choral and orchestral fanfare in a musical moment where Gustav Mahler’s presence is not far away.

Peter Ruzicka conducts the Rundfunkchor Berlin and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester in this convincing performance. In the more grandiose moments of Psalm 13, a choir less musical than this one and under a less able conductor might easily be tempted to over-sing. That this is not the case here is a credit to the choristers as well as to conductor Ruzicka, who blends choir and orchestra into impressive ensembles by themselves and in concert with one another. Here is an intelligent, always musical, performance of a piece that should be heard more often than it is. Timidity dictates programming decisions too often. What a treat it would be if conductors were to include this Zemlinsky—music of obvious high quality—on a program rather than repeating the old choral warhorses so often.

Igor Markevitch’s Psaume—Tehillim draws its text from several Psalms, rather than being from a single Psalm. Composed in 1933 for soprano solo and orchestra, Psaume—Tehillim is marked by a sense of urgency for much of its course. This is true of each of the three sections into which the piece is divided. Beginning with a propulsive rhythmic movement, Stravinsky-like in its sound, the piece moves to a quiet middle section marked by declamatory singing, “regular” singing, and Sprechstimme, all of which are accompanied by a chamber-music ensemble. The third, and final, movement, marked Con fuoco is a long, impassioned movement of repeated orchestral outbursts and ostinati patterns, coupled with the singer’s own ostinati, sequenced, and repeated a number of times. Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps is close by. Having said that, however, the Stravinsky sound disappears in the last third of the movement, a section of absolute contrast to the rest of the movement. Here, the mood turns hypnotic with Markevitch’s vocal writing at its most lyrical. There is a reflective, introspective, fragile quality to the sound—quiet soprano solo with slender accompaniment, all ending with the soprano’s hushed “Amen,” followed by three plucked unison notes in the strings. The urgency has been replaced by resolution into what? Acceptance? Resignation? It is difficult to say, for no text is given and, without a score in front of one, it is difficult to know what exactly is going on. The program notes describe Psaume—Tehillim as a “musical summing-up expressing the contradictions of an intemperate way of life” [Liner notes]—of speaking to the opium addiction the composer had overcome. Those words, together with the urgent— and then reflective—sound of the music can lead the listener to all sorts of wild speculations about the piece.

Psaume—Tehillim is music marked by power, intensity, lyricism, and hypnotic-like utterance—music that demands a soprano soloist of considerable musical ability, intelligence, and versatility to interpret it convincingly. There is no question that Elena Prokina is an ideal performer of this music. Prokina handles the many “roles” required of her with authority. Peter Rundel is her very capable collaborator as conductor of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester. It is a shame that Psaume—Tehillim will probably have few live performances because of its specialized character. A piano transcription of the orchestral parts, thereby increasing the possibility of live performance, would only be an inadequate substitution, for orchestral instruments are crucial in the unfolding of this piece. The persons who decided on the music to be included on the Paradisi Gloria series must be commended for including Psaume—Tehillim. It is absolutely first-rate music, here interpreted by a gifted soprano and sensitive orchestral accompaniment, all under the leadership of Peter Rundel.

My first response to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Passover Psalm, Op. 30, was one of awe at Korngold’s amazing abilities as a composer and orchestrator. Here is music of considerable drama, composed in 1941 at the height of Korngold’s career as a Hollywood film composer. This piece and a Prayer are Korngold’s only sacred works, both commissioned by Rabbi Jakob Sonderling, chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Los Angeles.

The orchestation of Passover Psalm is reminiscent of what one finds in much of Korngold’s music that he composed for Hollywood, beginning in the mid-1930s. All of the trappings are here—of piano and organ; harp glissandos; solo violin coming out of the orchestral fabric, cymbal crashes; lush writing for the French horn— techniques that he used repeatedly as one of the most successful composers of movie music. It all works. And yet, while Korngold’s Passover Psalm knocks one sideways on first hearing, little is discovered upon repeated hearings. Music of the highest order seems never to divulge all its secrets from the beginning; rather, it leaves something yet to be discovered with frequent hearings. This is not true of the Korngold. Perhaps part of the problem is the sacred text. Korngold’s movie scores succeed on one level because the music relies on untexted sound to reinforce dramatic movements. Korngold’s music as a servant of words, of sacred text, however, doesn’t seem convincing at rehearing. The music here can sound repetitive, formulaic, less than convincing—bordering, at times, on the trivial. Is it because Korngold’s passionate musical statements are at odds with the kind of passion expressed in the psalm?

Despite any reservations I have about the piece, it has a “goose-bumpy” conclusion that “works” even upon repeated hearings. As a composer of film scores and of concert pieces, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was the arch- Romantic in an age when Romanticism in music was anachronistic. Be that as it may, Korngold came to Hollywood at precisely the moment when studios and movies needed a music “sound.” Korngold provided that “sound” in score after score. It was to his credit that he never “differentiated between my music for the films and that for the operas and concert pieces. Just as I do for the operatic stage, I try to give to the motion pictures dramatically melodious music, sonic development, and variation of the themes.” [David Raksin, 1995].

The Münchner Rundfunkorchester and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, both conducted by Marcello Viotti, and Emily Magee, the soprano soloist recreate the Korngold with love and passion. Magee sings with an impressive spirit that matches the music—she is involved in the music. It is regrettable that the listener is left knowing nothing about Magee because biographical information is completely lacking for the soloists.

Composers seek to express themselves through their own style—in a sound that readily identifies them and their music. Sometimes that style will take on a nationalistic or regional tone, as in the music of Vaughan Williams or Ives or Copland. It is no less the case with Ernest Bloch, who was “intrigued by the Jewish soul, that mysterious, passionate, emotional soul whose palpable presence I feel throughout the Bible.” [Liner notes]. Bloch gave voice to a Jewish idiom in his music throughout his creative life, beginning especially in the musical settings of the Psalms that he made between 1912 and 1914. This “Jewish colouring” has little to do with the actual quotation of specific Jewish musical elements; in working with that material, Bloch has absorbed it so thoroughly that his own musical language is beyond quotation—it has become one with his sources. One need only point to the “Englishry” of Vaughan Williams or to the “American” sound of Copland for parallel examples.

Psalm 22, composed between September 1913 and April 1914, is for baritone and orchestra. Here, the psalmist’s words receive an impassioned musical setting that reflects the initial fear of being abandoned by God: “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why are thou so far from helping me? I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”

Notwithstanding what confronts him—“dogs [that] are round about me [and] a company of evildoers encircle me,”—the psalmist finds assurance and comfort in his belief in God and praises Him in the “midst of the congregation,” knowing that the Lord “has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted.” The drama in this psalm has the ring of an operatic scene. Here, however, there are no costumes, no scenery, no physical action. Bloch persuades the listener of the psalmist’s drama strictly through musical means—in the convincing, dramatic music he writes for the baritone soloist and the orchestral accompaniment .

A work of this length—more than eight and a half minutes long--and one that is limited in its variations of timbre depends upon a baritone soloist who can keep the listener’s attention and interest. Vincent Le Texler, who delivers an impassioned performance here, is not the baritone soloist who can, at this point in his career, meet that challenge. There are moments when one hears what Le Texler must have sounded like at an earlier age, when his vibrato was less prominent, and wishes that there were more such moments.

Marcello Viotti conducts the München Rundfunkorchester in this performance, recorded live in June, 2003 in the Herz-Jesu-Kirche in Munich.

The München Rundfunkorchester, its principal conductor Marcello Viotti, and the archdiocese of Munich and Freising are to be commended for their vision in supporting and performing twentieth-century sacred music, performing it so very well, and for presenting the listener with such fine recordings of these performances. It is easy to carp about the lack of biographical information or the absence of translations. Those are decidedly minor points that do not detract from the value of what are, in most cases, excellent performances of neglected sacred choral treasures.

Clayton Henderson
Saint Mary’s College
Notre Dame, Indiana

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image_description=Haydn: Missa Cellensis

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  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mass in C major, K 257 "Credo." Thomas Quasthoff (Bass Baritone), Clemens Bieber (Tenor), Barbara Schlick (Soprano), Erika Schmidt-Valentin (Alto), Thomas Quasthoff (Baritone). Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra, Limburg Cathedral Boys Choir, Klaus Knubben (cond.). Profil 4013[CD]
  • Paradisi Gloria - Stabat Mater. Works by Francis Poulenc, Karol Szymanowski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wolfgang Rihm. Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Orchestra. Marcello Viotti, Krzysztof Penderecki, Helmuth Rilling, conducting. Profil 4035 [CD]
  • Paradisi Gloria - Psalms. Works by Alexander von Zemlinsky, Ernest Bloch, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus. Peter Ruzicka, Marcello Viotti, Peter Rundel, conducting. Profil 4036 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 4:51 PM

Programming dances of death

By Kevin Shopland [Budapest Sun, 13 October 2005]

THE Palace of Arts is hosting two concerts this week that promise to be excellent and feature some very smart programming. On Friday, October 14 the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo, led by Vladimir Ashkenazy will perform music from Europe and Japan, while on Tuesday, October 18 András Ligeti will conduct the Hungarian Telekom Symphony Orchestra in Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death, featuring bass László Polgár, and Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Both concerts begin at 7:30pm.

Posted by Gary at 3:38 PM

Soprano Renee Fleming is fit for the gods — Coloratura singer tackles title role in Richard Strauss' take on tale of Greek mythology

By Lawrence B. Johnson [Detroit News, 13 October 2005]

Soprano Renee Fleming sits in an enviable position in the opera world -- on top of it. It's probably not possible to overstate either the magnitude of her stardom or her actual artistic accomplishment. She is today's most acclaimed voice in the ornamental art of singing known as coloratura.

Posted by Gary at 3:31 PM

Arias on the Street — The Bolshoi's new "Magic Flute" features sprayed-on graffiti and a Volga car.

By Raymond Stults [Moscow Times, 14 October 2005]

In an early bow toward next year's 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Bolshoi premiered a new production of the composer's last opera, "The Magic Flute," at its New Stage last Friday. The modern-dress staging was created in collaboration with a British team led by Graham Vick, the artistic director of Birmingham Opera Company.

Posted by Gary at 3:19 PM

Haydn's Creation at St David's Hall, Cardiff

Rian Evans [The Guardian, 12 October 2005]

There are too few occasions when proper homage is paid to Joseph Haydn, but this performance of the Creation - arguably his greatest masterpiece - felt just that. In a work in which Haydn's representation of the radiant outburst of light on earth is such a symbolic moment, it was auspicious that Thierry Fischer, principal conductor designate of the BBC Orchestra of Wales, was intent on illuminating the score's highly imaginative and original aspects.

Posted by Gary at 3:11 PM

Anna Christy in Recital

The first half of her recital was devoted to German lieder. She began with a set of three familiar works by Schubert: “Die Forelle,” “Du bist die Ruh” and “Heidenroeslein.” She approached these with appropriate restraint, emphasizing the text, phrasing and vocal placement.

This was followed by Schubert’s trio, “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen,” op. 129, for soprano, piano and clarinet. One of Schubert’s last works, this piece fluctuates from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair, ostensibly expressing Schubert’s thoughts of his own mortality. The musicians performed with near abandon, reaching a crescendo at “Je weiter meine Stimme dringt, je weiter die Stimme dringt, je heller, je heller sie wieder klingt” (“The further my voice penetrates, the further the voice penetrates, the lighter, the more brightly it sounds again”), which called for stunning vocal gymnastics.

The first half closed with five of the six lieder from op. 68 (the so-called “Brentano Lieder”) by Richard Strauss. Devilishly difficult, these pieces required perfect intonation, control and placement, all of which Christy performed with seeming ease. The last of this set, “Amor,” portrayed Christy’s coquettish side, a fitting preview of her upcoming performance of Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos) at La Scala later this season.

The second half was devoted to American music. Premiered by Eleanor Steber and more recently championed by the likes of Dawn Upshaw, Barber’s “Knoxville Summer of 1915,” op. 24, has become a standard amongst American singers. When performed with piano accompaniment, the range of stylistic choices made by Barber is starkly revealed, which demonstrates Barber’s lyrical best to percussive rhythms àla Prokofiev or Bartok. The challenges to the performers are daunting. As throughout the recital, Christy performed with precision as to phrasing and dynamics. Her tone was at all times focused, bright and ringing. Well done.

Christy then concluded the second half with two works by William Bolcom — “Amor” from volume 1 of his Cabaret Songs and “Muffin’s aria” from his opera, A Wedding, which she premiered at the Chicago Lyric. As with the Strauss, “Amor” showed her as the classic femme fatale. “Muffin’s aria,” on the other hand, showed her introspective side.

She segued from “Muffin’s Aria” to her encore, Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi), by explaining that she recently married in Italy and planned to sing this on the bridge in Florence but “chickened out.” In a word, marvelous.

Christy was accompanied by pianist Kelly Kuo and, in "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen," by clarinetist John Klinghammer. Kuo was a true musical partner throughout the program. And, Klinghammer performed his role with aplomb.

At all times, Christy appeared at ease, as if she were in her natural element. While recitals do not call for dramatic action, it is clear that she is a singing actress of the first order.

Gary Hoffman

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/christy.jpg
image_description=Anna Christy

Posted by Gary at 10:30 AM

October 12, 2005

Goodness triumphs again

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg [Newsday, 12 October 2005]

For all its ravishing melodies, delectably tart orchestral writing and across-the-board happy endings, Rossini's "La Cenerentola" remains a tricky opera to stage.

Posted by Gary at 9:00 AM

October 11, 2005

High-Quality Music Making

pita.jpgBy Fred Kirshnit [NY Sun, 11 October 2005]

It is astonishing how many current opera reviews state that everyone in the cast was good. Either I have been attending all the wrong performances or my colleagues are simply not being discriminating enough. But Sunday afternoon at the New York City Opera, each cast member of the season premiere of Puccini's "Tosca" was actually in fine voice and blended expertly in thespian style.

Posted by Gary at 2:37 PM

Pelléas et Mélisande in Glasgow

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 11 October 2005]

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has a new music director, the 33-year-old Frenchman Stéphane Denève, and this season's programmes have a certain freshness, with Denève's imprint clear to see. He is certainly putting his French connections to good use: a predominantly French-speaking cast had been assembled for this performance, including Natalie Dessay, who was singing the role of Mélisande for the first time.

Posted by Gary at 2:26 PM

The Barber of Seville at Millennium Centre, Cardiff

barber_wno.jpgRian Evans [The Guardian, 11 October 2005]

The rickety scaffolding, platforms and steep open staircases that constitute this wooden staging - ostensibly assembled in haste by an 18th-century touring company in an Italian piazza - always looked as if they would be pushed to last a season. In fact, Giles Havergal's Barber of Seville is 21 years old and has done the rounds with Welsh National Opera and others.

Posted by Gary at 2:21 PM

Ariane et Barbe-bleue, State Theater, New York

dukas.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 11 October 2005]

Nearly a century after its premiere it's time we wised up to the modernity of Paul Dukas's only opera. Here is a work that suggests most people are unwilling to think for themselves; they prefer to be subordinated. Only the intrepid Ariane, the sixth of Bluebeard's wives, risks fearful liberty in place of familiar captivity. The opera of women's lib? Not really. The first five wives are a poor advertisement for the fair sex. As she leaves them to nurse their captor, Ariane concludes that one can only liberate oneself - and that's a message for all mankind, including those Americans inclined to trust George W. Bush.

Posted by Gary at 2:10 PM

OFFENBACH: Les Fées du Rhin (Die Rheinnixen)

Composed originally for a Vienna premiere in 1864 the present version of Les Fées du Rhin, or Die Rheinnixen, was published in the last few years as part of the critical edition of the complete works of Offenbach through Boosey & Hawkes / Bote & Bock. In keeping with the earliest performances for Vienna, the production here featured is based on the German text, Die Rheinnixen. Those fairies or Nixen of the title, although foreshadowed early in the work, appear as a vocal soloist and chorus only in Act III, while the preceding dramatic development draws on fascinating political and territorial ideals of Offenbach’s own time. The topics here represented draw on varying aspects of Germanic mythology and literature and their reception by Offenbach and his contemporaries.

From the opening juncture of woodwinds and strings in the overture, the listener will recognize Offenbach’s famous bacarolle, which he used again later in Les Contes d’Hofmann. Here the piece is integrated into a fuller orchestration and varied such that the familiar melody recurs while functioning thematically as part of a larger composition. The sentiment emphasized in the overture, here played with lush fullness by the Orchestre National de Montpellier, leads directly into the first choral setting of Act I. Groups of peasants, returning from their work in the vineyards near Bingen on the Rhein, sing of the blessed fertility of their lands. One of the leaders from the region, Gottfried, directs the peasants in a strophic prayer of thanksgiving, as they approach the house of Hedwig. Here — while the workers pause from their labor — both Gottfried and Hedwig confirm the sufferings endured by many farms in their vicinity. Despite attempts to appear cheerful in her welcome, Hedwig confesses to Gottfried that she fears for the safety of their lands: hoards of rowdies and marauding troops now cross regularly through their regions. Hedwig is further troubled because of her daughter Armgard, whose melancholy seems to be endless. Hedwig declares that, in order to still her grief, Armgard “never stops singing.” Offenbach clearly saw the operatic advantage of this motif and conceived Armgard’s role as a lyric soprano with great facility for coloratura effect. In this performance Regina Schörg draws on floating tones and skillful decoration to create an exquisite and believable portrait of the saddened heroine. Her ballad on the saga of the fair young women who sang too much accelerates as she attempts to distract her own care in song. By refusing to leave off from singing, she gives her mother cause to worry that she too will succumb like the spirits described in her ballad. As emotions of the other characters are revealed, Gottfried declares his love for Armgard, an attachment supported by her mother Hedwig. Armgard is, however, unable to accept this devotion. The true cause for her melancholy surfaces in a trio sung by the principals at this early stage of the drama. In the roles of suitor and mother Peter Klaveness and Nora Gubisch offer a strong complement to the heroine, each delineating a part with nuance while blending into the larger ensemble of emotions. The actual beloved of Armgard, Franz, has joined a troop of soldiers and left indefinitely. Both Gottfried and Hedwig empathize with Armgard’s lament, Gottfried even abandoning his suit and offering selflessly to help bring Franz back to the countryside near Bingen. Such plans are cut short by the announcement that plundering mercenaries have overrun the adjacent fields near the Rhine.

Until the close of the first act the remaining dramatic conflicts and principal characters of the opera are introduced, their functions both reiterating and extending the earlier dramatic development. A band of invading troops is led by Conrad von Wenckheim who has received assurance of military support from the Landgraves of Hessen, Trier, and the Palatinate for his plan to storm the local Ebernburg palace. The baritone role of Conrad is taken by Dalibor Jenis, who modulates his approach to show, at first, great facility in the bawdy drinking song and later true menace in his instructions to the troops. Before the entrance of Franz a conversation among the soldiers reveals that he has lost his memory due to a blow to the head. Although he was born in the area, Franz appears on stage in a muddle, perceiving only glimmers of his previous life and commitments. In his aria expressing the struggle to sort out his emotions [“Überall Stille!” (“Silence everywhere!”)] Piotr Beczala as Franz directs his voice to reflect numerous corners of the psyche, in order to emphasize the pathos in his attempts at self-recognition. Here we can especially appreciate the intentions of the composer to use the voice as a medium to portray internal psychological tumult. Beczala’s performance of the isolated aria remains not only convincing, but also contrasts ideally in this recording with the surrounding pieces directed at more external topics. In the extensive finale to Act I Conrad torments the family when he discovers that his troops have arrived on the feast day of Armgard. A song is demanded as the price for sparing her life as Conrad brandishes his sword in a threatening gesture. When Schörg begins an effecting performance of Armgard’s “Du liebes Land / Du schönes, großes deutsches Vaterland!” [“You dear land / You fair, great German fatherland!”], she reacts with increasing coloratura frenzy as she sees Franz in the crowd of soldiers. Schörg emphasizes specific words to show Armgard’s attempts at awakening Franz into recognition of his surroundings. The use of song as a dramatic tool succeeds in her emotional outpouring, in which Schörg captures a wide spectrum of emotional nuance. Yet Franz becomes aware of his emotional and geographic past — at the close of Act I — only as Armgard falls into a swoon, having depleted her energies in fulfillment of Hedwig’s earlier warnings.

The predominant motif and eventual role of the elves or Nixen is developed gradually in Acts II and III of Offenbach’s score. All the characters from the preceding act converge through plan or coincidence at the Elfenstein (“Elfstone”) in the forest. In keeping with her understanding of the legend, Hedwig presumes that her daughter’s shadow will disappear after dark to join the elves at the magical stone; while muttering hints of a great personal secret, she rushes off with the hope of finding Armgard in the wood. Conrad and Franz, the latter still responding to a sense of military duty, force Gottfried to guide them toward the Ebernburg palace for a planned attack; Gottfried leads them astray to the Elfenstein. After the male principals comment on this scene during — in this performance — a carefully paced trio, the final words of Act II are left to Armgard: at nightfall she glides on her own, as if in a trance, toward the Elfenstein in the forest. The elves sing first through the medium of a solo fairy, then as a chorus, to set the mood at the start of Act III, where all will meet in the forest. The song of the fairy shimmers in the approach taken by Gaële Le Roi, whose admirable legato suggests the arching branches of trees surrounding the stone. Before Hedwig followed by Armgard arrive from opposite directions, an extended dance — termed by Offenbach “Ballet et grande valse” — is performed by the elves in the forest. Under Friedemann Layer’s direction the Orchestre gives a spirited account of this ballet in the tradition of grand opera, while integrating its rhythms into the surrounding composition. After conclusion of the dance the audience of this live performance gives a hearty ovation, the only such interruption occurring during an act in the entire recording. Focus shifts afterward to the humans once again as Armgard attempts to convince her mother to return home and not anticipate further contact unless divine will allows. The men arrive expecting to find the palace; instead, they realize that they have been duped by Gottfried who is fettered and held for execution on the following day. Throughout the finale of this act the voice of Nora Gubisch as Hedwig soars while urging the elves to act as a protective force. Although she senses now a familiar note in the voice of Conrad, his identity as a former lover and the unexpected father of Armgard is revealed only in the final, fourth act. For the present, Hedwig’s wishes are answered as Conrad is lulled into a trance by the song of the elves, while she calls for “Rache, Rache Dir!” (“Revenge, revenge upon you!”).

The final act contains two predominant duets sung by two pairs of lovers, present and past. In the first of these Armagard and Franz are reconciled in their love described as “Wonne” [“joy”]. Initially Franz threatens suicide until he sees the figure of Armgard whom he presumes to be a shade. She begs him to heed her declarations that their sufferings were only a dream. The successful transformation of their pain into renewed love is evoked through expressive piano singing by Schörg, capped by a dramatic trill at the close of their duet. The result of the second duet — that of the recognition between Hedwig and Conrad — is a shift in the latter’s plan to attack and destroy the Ebernburg. At a critical moment the Nixen execute a final benevolent gesture: they surround the unsuspecting troops and draw some, as if bewitched, into a ravine while the remaining soldiers disappear into a nearby valley. The palace, the citizens, and — as reiterated — the local fatherland are collectively saved.

In this outstanding, first modern performance of the complete Die Rheinnixen the blurring of contemporary historical reality and the world of Germanic mythology is mitigated through the medium of Offenbach’s music. As such, the project and research involved are also of interest to scholars of both Germanic literature and culture as well as to musicologists dealing with these topics represented in the broad range of nineteenth-century music and opera. The principal singers and chorus not only respond well to the numerous challenges of the score, they also interact ideally in a clear synthesis of music and drama. The recorded sound of this performance from July 2002 shows the finest technology in reproducing the music as performed with appropriately placed reaction from the audience. The accompanying, extensive notes by both the supervising editor of the Offenbach Critical Edition and a representative of Boosey & Hawkes / Bote & Bock are enlightening and add considerably to our understanding of Die Rheinnixen within the context of musical, cultural, and operatic literature of the 1860s. The essays clarify further a number of misunderstandings concerning the reception of Offenbach’s “Romantic grand opera” at its premiere and its continued success in those years afterward.

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

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image_description=Jacques Offenbach: Les Fées du Rhin (Die Rheinnixen)

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product_title=Jacques Offenbach: Les Fées du Rhin (Die Rheinnixen).
product_by=Regina Schörg, Nora Gubisch, Piotr Beczala, Dalibor Jenis, Peter Klaveness, Uwe Pepper, Gaële Le Roi. Orchestre National de Montpellier. Choeur de la Radio lettone. Friedemann Layer, cond. World Premiere recording based on new critical edition through Boosey & Hawkes / Bote & Bock.
product_id=Accord 472 920-2 [3CDs]

Posted by Gary at 1:52 PM

Puccini's Familiar Tale, but Peering Into the Dark Future

hanson.jpgBy Jeremy Eichler [NY Times, 11 October 2005]

An adventurous fall is under way at the New York City Opera, with new productions of seldom-heard works like Paul Dukas's "Ariane et Barbe-bleue" and, later this month, Richard Rodney Bennett's "Mines of Sulphur." But as is the case with the major classical record labels, risk-taking is typically balanced by a steady stream of dependable staples. In that spirit, "Tosca" returned on Sunday afternoon, with John DeMain conducting and Carla Thelen Hanson making her company debut in the title role.

Posted by Gary at 8:26 AM

October 10, 2005

The Operatic Pushkin

In or about 1820, he turned to writing fiction and history, which proved to be highly influential upon later writers such as Tolstoy and Turgenev. Of his later output, the best known works are Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse, Boris Godunov, an historical play, and The Queen of Spades (or Pique Dame), a gothic short story.

Outside of Russia, Pushkin is best known from operas based on his works. The following is a list of such operas prepared by Stephany Gould Plecker.

Operas Based on Works of Pushkin

Verse Works

The Triumph of Bacchus...............Aleksandr Dargomyzhskii (1848)
Ruslan and Liudmila.....................Mikhail Glinka (1842)
Eugene Onegin.............................Piotr Chaikovskii (1879)
Mazeppa [Based on Poltava]............Piotr Chaikovskii (1884)
Rusalka.......................................Aleksandr Dargomyzhkii (1856)
The Captive of the Caucasus............Cesar Cui (1883)
Aleko [Based on "The Gypsies"]........Sergei Rakhmaninov (1893)
Mavra [Based on "The Little House at Komna"].........Igor Stravinskii (1922)

Fairy Tales

The Tale of Tsar Saltan.......... Nikolai Rimskii-Korsakov (1900)
The Golden Cockerel............. Nikolai Rimskii-Korsakov (1909)

Little Tragedies

The Stone Guest.......................Aleksandr Dargomyzhskii (1872)
Mozart and Salieri....................Nikolai Rimskii-Korsakov (1898)
A Feast in the Time of Plaque......Cesar Cui (1901)
The Covetous Knight.................Sergei Rakhmaninov (1906)

The Big Tragedy

Boris Godunov...................Modest Musorgskii (1869)

Prose Works

La Dame du pique....................Fromental Halévy (1850)
Pique dame............................ Franz von Suppe (1865)
The Queen of Spades.................Piotr Chaikovskii (1890)
The Captain's Daughter.............Cesar Cui (1911)
Dubrovskii..............................Eduard Napravnik (1895)
Winter Night [Based on "The Snowstorm"]............Ivan Dzerzhinskii (1946)
Lizinka [Based on "Mistress into Maid"].................Ivan Zajc (1878)

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Posted by Gary at 5:37 PM

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Queen of Spades

Characters

Lisa, the Countess’ grandaughterSoprano
Gherman (or Herman), an army engineerTenor
Prince Yeletsky, an officer, Lisa’s fiancéBaritone
Count Tomsky, an officerBaritone
The Countess, called the Queen of SpadesSoprano or Mezzo-Soprano
Polina (or Paulina), Lisa’s friendMezzo-Soprano

Synopsis

Act One

Scene One

Herman is considered to be an outsider by the circle of officers around Tomsky, Sourin and Tchekalinsky. For some time now he has spent night after night at the gambling table, merely watching what is going on in silence. He tells Tomsky in confidence that he has fallen in love with a beautiful young noblewoman, but does not know her name. As Herman is poor and below her in station, he fears that she will prove to be beyond his reach. Prince Yeletsky introduces Tomsky and his friends Sourin and Tchekalinsky to his fiancée, Lisa. Herman recognises her as his own beloved. The old Countess, Lisa's grandmother, and Lisa herself both exclaim when they catch sight of Herman.

Prince Yeletsky, Tomsky and Herman are also struck by an inexplicable fear.
Prince Yeletsky moves away with the ladies and Tomsky tells his friends the rumours surrounding the old Countess. The Countess was a beauty when she was young and lived in Paris, where she was referred to as the "Venus from Moscow". One day she lost all her money at the gambling table. The Count Saint-Germain offered to reveal to her the secret of the three cards with which she could win back her fortune if she would grant him a rendezvous and she agreed. She subsequently passed on the secret of the three cards to two other people but now she guards it carefully. She was warned in a dream that she would die at the hands of the third man who tried desperately to win the secret of the three cards from her. Herman is fascinated by the story. He sees how he can acquire money and respect and then win Lisa.

Scene Two

Lisa's friends are celebrating her engagement to Prince Yeletsky in the Countess’s house, but Lisa is sad and thoughtful. Ever since she first met Herman she has felt irresistably attracted to him. When Lisa's friends have left, Herman appears in her room and declares his love for her. Lisa is desperately torn between her sense of duty and her inclination. When Herman threatens to kill himself if she spurns him she feels duty-bound to admit that she loves him.

Act Two

Scene Three

At the ball Prince Yeletsky begs Lisa to tell him what is troubling her. He assures her of his love but at the same time is aware of a great feeling of strangeness between them.

Lisa sends Herman a note in which she asks him to meet her after the performance of the pastoral The Faithful Shepherdess. In this intermezzo, Chloe has to choose between two men, Daphnis, a poor shepherd, and Plutus, a rich merchant. She decides in favour of her love for Daphnis, although it will mean a meagre existence in future. After the performance Lisa gives Herman a key with which he will be able to gain access to her own apartments through the bedroom of the Countess. Herman interprets this as a sign; he is now determined to get the secret of the three cards from the Countess at all cost.

Scene Four

Herman hides in the Countess's bedroom. The Countess herself comes in with her maids and attendants, whom she soon sends away. Herman approaches her and begs her to tell him the secret of the three cards. When she remains silent, Herman threatens her with a pistol in his desperation, and the Countess dies of shock at the sight of the weapon. Lisa appears on the scene and is forced to realise that Herman has only come because of the cards and not because of her. She also believes that he has killed her grandmother.

Act Three

Scene Five

Lisa has sent Herman a letter in which she forgives him and asks him to meet her at midnight. Herman is obsessed by memories of the Countess's funeral. Suddenly the ghost of his victim appears and reveals the secret of the three cards: Three, Seven, Ace.

Scene Six

Lisa is prepared to elope with Herman. When he finally appears, the only thing he can think of is going to the gaming-house. In his obsession he pushes Lisa aside, not even recognising her any longer, and goes off. Lisa can see no other way out and commits suicide.

Scene Seven

The mood is boisterous in the gaming-house. Prince Yeletsky tells Tomsky that his engagement to Lisa has been broken and that he is seeking revenge on his rival, Herman. Herman arrives and immediately begins to play for high stakes. He wins with his first card, the three, and also with his second, the seven. In the third game only Prince Yeletsky dares to play against him and Herman stakes all the money he has won on the third card, the ace. It is, however, not an ace but the Queen of Spades which he turns over. Again he sees the ghost of the old Countess, whose smile seems to be mocking at him, and kills himself. With his dying breath he asks for the Prince's pardon and sees Lisa's ghost, who forgives him.

[Synopsis courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here or here for the complete text of Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades.

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Posted by Gary at 5:15 PM

In Search of a Maiden With One Bare Foot

By Allan Kozinn [NY Times, 10 October 2005]

The charms of "La Cenerentola," Rossini's telling of the Cinderella story, were apparent to European audiences at the opera's premiere, in 1817, and it did well in its first New York performances less than a decade later. But the work has been a rarity at the Met, which didn't stage it until 1997. Its Cesare Lievi production, with comic-book sets and costumes by Maurizio Balò, hasn't been seen much since then, either: its return to the repertory on Saturday evening, now under the direction of Sharon Thomas, was the work's 24th Met performance.

Posted by Gary at 12:27 PM

HANDEL: Teseo

Why odd? Well, for one thing it is something of a throwback to an earlier French dramatic form, having a full five Acts (rather than the more usual three) wherein the major characters often sing arias or ariosi back to back. Also unusual is the complete lack of a significant bass-baritone or tenor role: all six protagonists are within the range of countertenor, mezzo-soprano or soprano — both male and female varieties. A single lower male voice appears in the very last scene as the convenient “deus ex machina” to neatly solve the lovers’ tangled situations — although the singer doesn’t appear to get a credit on this DVD recording.

This is a televised version of the original performances at the Halle festival in 2003, and of a later tour to the UK in 2004, although the singers are, with two exceptions, from the later performances. Having seen the London performance last year, this DVD certainly enhanced many aspects of the production that had failed to engage at the time — notably the acting of male soprano Jacek Laszczkowski in the title role and the production dynamic of the “Furies” scenes — both very much lacking that evening.

Overall though, the production for the camera is frustratingly mediocre — too many chances missed by the director to enhance the viewer’s sense of the drama going on before their eyes, too many meaningless close ups and sometimes it’s almost “cutaways by numbers” — someone sings about their hands, you get a shot of their hands….and so on. However, more successful are the low-key but efficient sets, (sliding panels, reflective materials) and colourful “textbook mythic Greece with added camp” costumes which help to create and maintain an atmosphere of rising passions and threatening danger from the Underworld.

Here the “wicked witch” figure of Medea is ravishingly played by Maria Riccarda Wesseling who certainly takes the honours for full-on acting and, together with Laszczkowski and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir as the woman that, in true Handel/Haym style, two men love, dominates in vocal distinction too. Unfortunately, there is a wide gap in quality between the high male voices: the Polish male soprano is here very secure and effective, sounding amazingly clear-toned even up at his highest reaches (and he sings remarkably high), and he does it all with admirable dramatic commitment. However, young Thomas Diestler’s alto (as Arcane) suffers until the latest Acts with that unfortunate, but all too common, affliction of the nervous or inexperienced CT: the “yodelling” tone that barely hides the root baritone below. Interestingly, this almost disappears, and you hear what he could sound like, in a faster, more assertive aria in Act Four, “Benche tuonie l’etra avvampi” so perhaps there is better to come. In London we had Johnny Maldonado as the weedy King Egeo, but here it is the less successful Martin Wolfel — a pale and rather unmemorable CT voice and a singer who looks uncomfortable on the stage. If Wesseling shows her vocal and dramatic experience as the conniving Medea, relishing the coloratura throughout, then she is matched in vocal dexterity and appeal by Rostorf-Zamir singing the role of the heroine Agilea. The role of second female lover, Clizia, is accurately and sweetly sung by a young Miriam Meyer.

Despite the vocal unevenness, and occasionally exasperating TV direction, this production is still one to recommend to all Handel enthusiasts: one feels that everyone is batting for the same side, the music is paramount (in spite of the almost de rigueur current European delight in adding superfluous sex scenes) and the composer is well served by an excellent period band under Katschner. It may not convince anyone that “Teseo” is the next “Rodelinda”, “Rinaldo” or “Guilio Cesare”, but at least we have another Handelian opera safely into the modern visual catalogue.

© Sue Loder 2005

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Posted by Gary at 12:02 PM

A Short Bernstein Opera on a Troubled Marriage

By Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 10 October 2005]

KATONAH, N.Y., Oct. 9 - Leonard Bernstein was on his honeymoon in 1951 when he began composing his one-act opera "Trouble in Tahiti," a curious time, you would think, for a young man to write a wry, jazzy and jaundiced portrait of a troubled suburban marriage. In introducing a production of "Trouble in Tahiti," presented in the Music Room of the House Museum at Caramoor on Saturday night, Michael Barrett, the chief executive and general director of this center for music and the arts, said that the work could be seen as a bittersweet look at the troubled marriage of Bernstein's parents.

Posted by Gary at 11:11 AM

October 8, 2005

MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Fünf Rückert-Lieder

Jarnot’s baritone sound is supple and flexible, with a fine upper register that matches the middle and lower ranges. Because of this, the higher notes that occur in “Ging heut morgen übers Feld” (the second of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) emerge comfortably and without any hint of head tones. He uses this register well in the subsequent song, “Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer,” to convey the passion that is essential to its meaning. As to the first and last songs, Jarnot’s performance is effective. In “Die zwei blauen Augen” he treats the songs with an appropriate lightness that suggests the wistfulness conveyed in the text. The sustained phrases in this song resemble the way Jarnot treats the long vocal lines in the first piece in the cycle, “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht.”

In this performance, the accompaniment supports the voice well, with the kind of nuanced playing that Helmut Deutsch reliably offers. He makes the music in this scoring sound appropriate and full, as is evident in the final song in the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Elsewhere, the clarity of various figures contributes to the careful evident throughout his interpretations of this piece. In this recording Deutsch’s performance suggests chamber music in the best sense.The full sound that he commands from the piano supports Jarnot’s voice well, and points to the effective use of the instrument in accompanying this cycle, which also exists with an orchestral accompaniment.

The set of Fünf Rückert-Lieder are delivered well, and the light baritone sound of Jarnot allows him to express the lines fluidly. The softer tones sometimes merge with the piano, to create some fine effects. When the music requires a more extroverted approach, Jarnot responds accordingly to make a song like “Liebst du um Schönheit” distinctively subtle. The performance of that particular song suggests some of the Lieder of Richard Strauss that were composed at the turn of the century. Yet one of the telling songs for any vocalist who approaches Mahler is the quintessential “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.” This song suffers, at times, from being oversung when vocalists impose too much emotion onto the music and fail to allow the vocal line and accompaniment to intersect. When performers treat this song, in particular, as chamber music for voice and piano, it is possible to hear the piano respond to the voice and, at times, take the line forward instrumentally to the singer’s next utterance of the text. Such is the case with Jarnot and Deutsch, who perform “Ich bin der Welt” well together in a thoughtful performance that is followed by an equally impressive interpretation of “Um Mitternacht.” “Um Mitternacht” is effective here because of the restraint with which Jarnot and Deutsch treat the first part of the song, so that it can build naturally to its anthem-like conclusion. Controlled, rather than contrived, the performers create the emotional pitch to make the song meaningful. It is, after all, a moment out of time, a reflection that becomes clearer upon consideration, as denoted in the text. In some ways the accompaniment suggests an orchestral milieu through the cascading chords with which it concludes and almost covers the voice.

The surprise on this recording is the inclusion of one further song, “Der Abschied,” the final piece in the cycle Das Lied von der Erde. In recent years baritones and basses have taken up the part that is often sung by the contralto, as found in recordings of the entire piece by such singers as Thomas Hampson and Bo Skovhus. Less common is the excerpting of “Der Abschied” from the cycle, but it can be done successfully, as Stephanie Blythe has already done, albeit in a reduced orchestration.

Those considerations aside, the inclusion of this piece with the other vocal music by Mahler is a fine addition to the recording. Jarnot offers a solid treatment of this song, which is actually a combination of two poems from Hans Bethge’s Chinesische Flöte. Comparisons with some of the fine contraltos are unnecessary this performance, which differs from the orchestral versions that have involved such fine musicians as Dame Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Waltraud Meier, Michelle de Young, and others. Jarnot approaches this piece convincingly, always keeping the musical line focused and clear, and Deutsch conveys the musical meaning well through its range of tones, dynamics, articulations, and, above all, technique. While “Der Abschied” is optimally heard in the context of the entire cycle Das Lied von der Erde, this performance is highly effective. This music is removed from the style Mahler used Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, with “Der Abschied” showing, at times, some expressive tendencies that would emerge more distinctively in the vocal music of Alban Berg. This performance of “Der Abschied” is an excellent contribution to recent Mahler recordings, and its shows Jarnot to be a reliable interpreter of the composer’s music.

This recording by Oehms is fine, but the sound overall, perhaps, a little more forward in the recording of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen than in the other selections. With the rest of the music, the piano and voice seem to blend more naturally. At times one could ask for more resonance to enhance the performances, but that is a minor quibble. Likewise, it would be useful for Oehms to publish the texts and translations of vocal music, and if space were needed, dispense with the thumbnail sketch of the composer, which does not offer much that cannot be found elsewhere. Nevertheless, the liner notes include some good information about the performers, especially Jarnot, who has recorded some other music for Oehms. As a relatively young performer, Jarnot offers some convincing interpretations that will, no doubt, be followed with other fine ones. This recording has much to offer, and those who know Mahler’s music should appreciate this fine addition to the discography of his Lieder.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 11:21 AM

Don Carlo at Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse

dessi_small.jpgUn "Don Carlo" de luxe qui oscille entre réalisme et expressionnisme
[Le Monde, 8 October 2005]


Voilà une belle soirée pour les amateurs d'opéra ! Le Don Carlo de Verdi donné en ouverture de la nouvelle saison du Capitole possède tous les ingrédients requis : un véritable drame musical (d'après Schiller), une mise en scène claire et rationnelle, des chanteurs qui ont des voix et de la présence. De plus, cette nouvelle production parvient trois heures durant à maintenir une tension qui ne cesse de gagner en puissance dramatique et en intensité d'émotion, jusqu'au dénouement brutal. Voilà aussi une belle soirée pour les amateurs de théâtre.

Posted by Gary at 11:07 AM

The Carmelites at ENO

Poulenc_small.jpgBy Robert Thicknesse at Coliseum [Times Online, 7 October 2005]


Nearly 50 years on, Francis Poulenc’s great opera of faith, fear and death is still the most recent in the regular rep but it has already gained undreamt-of resonances: religious martyrdom no longer seems so innocent as in Georges Bernanos’s anti-Robespierrean play.

Posted by Gary at 10:49 AM

Bluebeard and His Wives in the Age of Empowerment

dukas_small.jpgBy Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 8 October 2005]

Pity Paul Dukas. He seems fated to be remembered only for his miraculous and ubiquitous 1897 score, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," immortalized in Disney's "Fantasia." But in his day Dukas, who died in 1935 in Paris, was a highly respected composer, teacher and critic, though his catalog of completed works is inexplicably meager.

Posted by Gary at 10:40 AM

'Carmen' With an Unexpected Gypsy

herrera_small.jpgBy Anne Midgette [NY Times, 8 October 2005]


Opera's classic Cinderella story was reversed in the Metropolitan Opera's "Carmen" on Thursday night. Instead of an artist making her debut when the scheduled singer falls ill, it was the scheduled debut that was canceled when Milena Kitic, who was to sing the title role, had to withdraw. She was replaced by Nancy Fabiola Herrera, who already made her Met debut last year as Suzuki.

Posted by Gary at 10:34 AM

October 6, 2005

ORFF: Carmina Burana

In the absence of a stage presence, the performers must strive to pointedly depict the illustrative tales portrayed in love songs, drinking songs, and fantasies that together form the rich tapestry that is Carmina Burana.

In this work, Carl Orff thoughtfully selected twenty-five Goliardic poems from the thirteenth-century Benektbeuren manuscript to set to music. The mood of each poem is so remarkably distinctive that in creating a musical setting, each required a drastically different approach. Through this wide-ranging contrast, Orff was able to demonstrate his amazing versatility as a composer. Likewise, Günter Wand and the musicians of the NDR Sinfonieorchester and Chorus commendably mirrored Orff’s talents.

The opening “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi,” radiated the necessary strength and power to rival the most prominent of ensembles. “O Fortuna” lends itself to images of greatness, and this performance never diminishes the desired outcome. On the contrary, the strength of the chorus, the carefully balanced orchestra, and the well-articulated unison passages, all added to the percussive effect to create a feeling of imposing dominance.

In contrast to the bold statements in this first section, the “Primo Vere,” a section devoted to Spring, was lyrical and well-phrased, reinforcing the diversity of the piece and its interpreters. Baritone Peter Binder showcased his talents as well through his smooth voice and relaxed delivery. The springtime feeling continued in “Uf dem Anger” (On the Lawn) where the strings interjected playfully syncopated melodies that where delightfully light and care-free.

“In Taberna” (In the Tavern), a colorful section opening with Baritone Peter Binder and featuring Tenor Ulf Kenklies, was among the more dramatic (in the Thespian-sense), in that the inebriation referred to in the text certainly came across in the soloists’ voices. Ulf Kenklies noticeably exaggerates the intoxicated inflections in a quite entertaining way, depicting images of swan resigned to its miserable fate, as described in the text.

The love songs of the “Cour D’Amour” are characterized by lilting voices in the chorus and Soprano Maria Venuti, as well as seductive calls from the tenor and bass soloists. The songs range from playful, to mischievous, to utterly romantic. Maria Venuti is simply amazing in “Dulcissime,” the last song of the section, showing off with her unwavering tone and power in a register-taxing, cadenza-like passage.

The restatement of the “O Fortuna” is as impressive in the closing frame of the work as in the opening. The variety of styles and themes that come together to form such a complex entity tend to leave audiences fully satisfied. Carmina Burana fans won’t want to miss out on this extraordinary performance that exceeds the already high expectations generally attributed to this monumental work.

Nathalie Hristov
Music Librarian
University of Tennessee

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Posted by Gary at 1:15 PM

Sarah Connolly, St John's, Smith Square, London

Connolly_Sarah_small.jpgBy Edward Seckerson [The Independent, 6 October 2005]

There are some voices, some artists - and Sarah Connolly is one - that bring a little bit of the theatre with them when they perform. In Connolly's case, the voice has its own atmosphere. It comes to us from somewhere deep within; there's a concentration, a stillness. She does the heartache well - lost love, love unrequited - and can convey numbness in a sound utterly drained of colour. And there was plenty of opportunity for all that and more in her recital at St John's, Smith Square.

Posted by Gary at 10:03 AM

Celebrated soprano delivers onstage and in the classroom

upshaw_small.jpgBy Geoff Edgers [Boston Globe, 6 October 2005]

Downtown, the red carpet had been rolled out in anticipation of opening night at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. But Dawn Upshaw, the celebrated soprano, wouldn't be able to attend. At the moment, she was about an hour west in a college auditorium. Dressed casually in black slacks and a multicolored blouse, she listened as a 19-year-old singer sweated her way through Faure's ''Les Berceaux."

Posted by Gary at 9:53 AM

Shear delight
A Rossini revival enlivens the State Opera repertoire

Rossini_small.jpgBy Frank Kuznik [Prague Post, 5 October 2005]

A staging of Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) is always cause for celebration. The most popular comic opera ever written, Il Barbiere brims with light, lively music, showcase arias and madcap plot turns — all performed at such a rapid clip that there's no time to do anything but laugh at the puns and enjoy the melodies.

Posted by Gary at 9:46 AM

October 5, 2005

Anna im Repertoire

netrebko3_small.jpg(Photo: Giorgio Balmelli) [Die Presse, 5 October 2005]

Die Netrebko mit neuem Partner in Donizettis Liebestrank.


Einen Akt lang gärte es noch, stand eher Sturm als ausgereifter Bordeaux auf der Weinkarte: Dirigent Pier Giorgio Morandi hatte sich am Montagabend zwar mit den Sängern gut ins Vernehmen gesetzt, und aus dem Graben tönten schöne, empfindsame Bläsersoli, doch häuften sich gleichzeitig instrumentale Fehleinsätze, gab es hart konkurrierende Ansichten zwischen Chor und Orchester, wo denn nun die Eins sei.

Posted by Gary at 9:55 PM

Joy and sorrow abound in classic

romeo_juliet_sydney.jpgMurray Black [The Australian, 6 October 2005]

HAVING the renowned Joan Sutherland in the audience would put pressure on any soprano, but if Emma Matthews had opening night nerves she didn't show them.

Posted by Gary at 9:43 PM

The Merry Widow at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff

garrett_small.jpgRian Evans [The Guardian, 5 October 2005]

There's no particular shame in an opera company taking operetta and tarting it up. The best houses in the world do The Merry Widow, its tale of the attempt to save the crumbling state of Pontevedro by securing the wealth of a mega-rich widow has always been popular. Welsh National Opera mark the piece's centenary with this production, but the honour done to its composer, Franz Lehar, would have been rather greater had they concerned themselves less with the title role and more with ensuring good singers in the rest of the cast.

Posted by Gary at 9:30 PM

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut

Introduction

It may be difficult to believe, but in 1889 there was serious doubt whether Giacomo Puccini would succeed as a composer of operas. The premiere of Edgar met a cool, if not hostile, reception. It was cancelled after three performances. In its original form — it was revised numerous times without success — Edgar followed the style of grand opera, a style that would be obliterated the following year with the performance of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, the first verismo opera. Further, Puccini was drawn to musical developments in Germany, particularly those of Wagner, the reception of which in Italy was mixed at best.

Puccini, with the backing of his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, pressed on. He proposed two operas — one based on Prévost’s novel Manon Lescaut and another on Sardou’s play Tosca. Sardou was unwilling to license his work to an unestablished composer; and Ricordi was reluctant to underwrite Manon Lescaut given the wide success of Massenet’s Manon that premiered in 1884. In any event, Puccini moved forward with the project. There were many difficulties in producing a libretto that met Puccini’s standards. Many hands contributed to the libretto, including Domenico Oliva, Marco Praga, Giulio Ricordi and Ruggero Leoncavallo. It was the introduction of Luigi Illica to the team that rescued the libretto.

The libretto, while more faithful to Prévost than Massenet’s work, sentimentalizes Manon and Des Grieux. The first act closely resembles that of Massenet’s Manon. The second act reduces the magnitude of Manon’s infidelities as portrayed by Prévost, yet captures her avarice. Des Grieux remains a lovestruck sap. The third act, which begins with an intermezzo, is dark, undoubtedly influenced by Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, according to Julian Budden. The last act is a static setting that features only the final moments between Des Grieux and Manon.

Characters

Dancing-Mastertenor
Edmondo, a studenttenor
Geronte di Ravoir, Treasurer-Generalbass
Il cavaliere des Grieux, a studenttenor
Innkeeperbass
Lamplightertenor
Lescaut, Manon’s brother, Sergeant of the Royal Guardsbaritone
Manon Lescautsoprano
Naval Captainbass
Sergeant of the Royal Archersbass
Singermezzo-soprano

Synopsis

Act I

Young Manon Lescaut is very beautiful and attracts a great deal of attention. Des Grieux, a student, addresses her and falls in love with her. At first she is rather shy and withdrawn, as she is in the company of her brother. Geronte, a rich old man, also has his eye on her. He questions her brother, Lescaut, about the family circumstances and decides to abduct Manon. Des Grieux is warned by his friend Edmondo, who has overheard what Geronte is planning, and wastes no time in confessing to Manon that he is in love with her, a feeling which she reciprocates. The young couple flee. Lescaut comforts Geronte; he tells him that it will not be long before Manon comes to him as he knows how fond of luxury she is.

Act II

Lescaut’s plan has been successful. Manon has left Des Grieux, tired of living in modest circumstances, in favour of a more luxurious life with Geronte. In a conversation with her brother, however, she admits that in spite of her new-found wealth she has still not been able to find true happiness. When she meets Des Grieux again, the latter reproaches her for leaving him. She begs his forgiveness, entreating him to remember their love for each other. He again succumbs to her charms and Geronte returns to surprise the two lovers. Des Grieux urges Manon to flee with him immediately, but she lingers, wanting to keep some of Geronte’s wealth for herself. The couple learn from Lescaut that Geronte intends to have Manon arrested. Their attempt to escape fails.

Act III

Des Grieux and Lescaut have hatched a plan to rescue Manon from imprisonment, but the plan fails. Her disgrace is made public. Des Grieux remains loyal to her and stays at her side.

Act IV

Manon and Des Grieux remain alone. Manon dies.

[Synopsis courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Posted by Gary at 5:09 PM

Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut is a morality tale not dissimilar in purport to The Canterbury Tales or The Divine Comedy. The story is narrated by M. de Renoncour as related to him by Des Grieux.

[The public] will see, in M. Des Grieux’s conduct, a terrible example of the power of the passions. The portrait I have to paint is of a young man who, in his blindness, rejects happiness in order to plunge voluntarily into the uttermost depths of misfortune; who, possessing all the qualities that mark him out for brilliance and distinction, prefers, from choice, a life of obscurity and vagrancy to the advantages of fortune and nature; who foresees his own misfortunes without having the will to avoid them; who feels and is oppressed by them, without benefiting from the remedies that are continually offered him and which could at any moment end them; in short, an ambiguous character, a mixture of virtues and vices, a perpetual contrast between good impulses and bad actions.

While Des Grieux is the supposed subject of the story, it is Manon Lescaut who dominates it inasmuch as she is Des Grieux’s obsession. Yet at no point does Manon speak with her own voice; and, indeed, de Renoncour has but one brief encounter with Manon in Pacy when she is amongst a group of prostitutes being escorted to Le Havre for shipment to America — sentenced to “transportation” as the judges of the Old Bailey would phrase it.

Among the dozen prostitutes who stood chained together about the waist in groups of six, there as one whose air and cast of feature were so little in keeping with her present condition that in any other situation I would have taken her for a person of the first rank. Her sad expression and the filthy state of her linen and dress detracted so little from her beauty that the sight of her filled me with respect and compassion.
It is here that de Renoncour meets Des Grieux, who has followed the group since they left Paris. Taking pity on him, de Renoncour gives Des Grieux money that enables him to accompany his mistress to Le Havre.

Two years pass before de Renoncour meets Des Grieux again, at which juncture Des Grieux tells him his story. It begins at an inn in Amiens. Des Grieux is 17 years of age studying philosophy with a view toward going into the Church or becoming a knight of the Order of Malta, a religious and military order whose members take vows of chastity and obedience. By chance he sees a carriage arrive from whence Manon and her escort, an elderly man, disembark. “[I]nflamed all of a sudden to the point of rapture,” Des Grieux approaches. In the course of their conversation, he learns that Manon has been sent to Amiens to become a num, “no doubt,” according to Des Grieux, “to check that predisposition to pleasure which had already declared itself, and which has since been the cause of all her misfortunes and of mine.” He protests such tyranny and convinces her to escape. Being “of humble birth herself,” she was, of course, “flattered to have made the conquest of such a lover.”

They flee to Paris where they take a furnished apartment. Several weeks pass before Des Grieux notices that Manon has new and expensive sets of clothing. He soon suspects that their landlord is the benefactor. At dinner one evening, he sees Manon weeping. Then there is a knock at the door. Manon slips into the dressing-room and shuts herself in. Des Grieux answers the door and is immediately seized by three of his father’s footmen. He is taken to a carriage where his older brother is waiting and then promptly taken to the family home in Saint Denis. There he is imprisoned for several months to cure him of his passion for Manon.

In time, Des Grieux resolves to become a priest. With his friend, Tiberge, he returns to Paris to attend seminary at Saint-Sulpice. Nearly a year later he makes his first public exercise in disputation at the Sorbonne. He is called to a private apartment upon his return to Saint-Sulpice. Manon is there. She had attended the disputation. She expresses her remorse and in due course convinces him to leave Saint-Sulpice and join her. She will leave the landlord his furniture but take the jewels and nearly 60,000 francs that she has accumulated over the past two years.

They take a home in Chaillot but Manon insists that they also take an apartment in Paris. There he meets Lescaut’s brother, a guardsman, who “took upon himself to invite all his friends to our house in Chaillot and entertain them at our expense.” One day the maidservant arrives to inform him that the house in Chaillot has burned. Des Grieux goes to Chaillot and finds that the chest with their money has disappeared.

Facing poverty, Des Grieux turns to Lescaut for assistance. He advises Des Grieux to take up gambling and, with a loan arranged by his friend, Tiberge, Des Grieux does so with success. His success is short-lived when his servants steal all of their funds. Lescaut, Des Grieux and Manon then concoct a scheme to deceive a wealthy voluptuary (“G... M...”) of money and jewels using Manon as bait. The scheme succeeds in Manon being taken to the Hôpital and Des Grieux being imprisoned in Saint-Lazare.

While in prison, Des Grieux plots his escape with the aid of Lescaut. He uses a priest he has befriended as a human shield; but, he nevertheless manages to kill the jail porter in the process. Then again with Lescaut’s assistance, they rescue Manon through trickery and bribery. But, without warning, an enemy of Lescaut recognizes him and kills him.

Manon and Des Grieux move on to Chaillot where they are able to enjoy a few weeks of idle domesticity. An Italian prince notices Manon, but he is rejected. However, Manon soon takes up with the son of G... M... and returns to Paris as his mistress to partake of his wealth. Des Grieux pursues her and plots to have young G... M... waylaid so that he can spend a night with her. This plot proves disastrous. While both Manon and Des Grieux are sent to prison, Des Grieux is freed through the intercessions of his father. Manon is to be “shut up for the rest of her days, or sent to America.”

Des Grieux and Manon reach Le Havre. Des Grieux laments:

Although mine was the cruellest of fates, I found felicity in her glance and in the certainty of being loved by her. It is true I had lost everything that other men prize; but I ruled Manon’s heart, which was the only prize I cared about.

He expects a letter from Tiberge to be waiting for him in Le Havre with funds to secure Manon’s freedom; but, it has not yet arrived. Des Grieux sells what possessions he has and boards the ship to America with Manon. When they arrive in New Orleans, they are presented to the Governor, whose friendship they cultivated “assiduously.” Des Grieux eventually petitions the Governor for permission to marry Manon. To Des Grieux’s surprise, permission is refused. The Governor has other plans for Manon — he plans to give her to his nephew. Des Grieux thereupon confronts the Governor’s nephew. They “cross swords,” apparently resulting in the latter’s death. Des Grieux and Manon flee the city. After reaching five miles from the city, they collapse from exhaustion. At daybreak, Des Grieux discovers that Manon is dying. She expires later that day. He buries her lifeless body so that it would not be “exposed to the ravages of wild beasts.” He collapses on Manon’s grave.

Des Grieux is found there and brought back to the city. The Governor’s nephew, it seems, was not killed, not even dangerously wounded. The nobility of Des Grieux’s soul impresses the Governor. Des Grieux becomes a new man:

Heaven, after chastizing me so severely, intended that I should benefit from my punishments and misfortunes. It lightened my darkness, and reawakened in me ideas worthy of my birth and education.
Tiberge arrives in New Orleans several weeks later. They return to France, where Des Grieux intends to make his “way to the house of a gentleman-in-waiting to my parents, only a few miles outside the town.”

[Note: All quotations are taken from Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut, trans. Angela Scholar (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)]

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/manon_death2.jpg
image_description=Des Grieux Buries Manon

Posted by Gary at 1:32 PM

October 4, 2005

Verdi's Macbeth in Dresden

Marquita ListerKlaus Georg Koch [Berliner Zeitung, 5 October 2005]


Vier Wochen vor der Eröffnung der Frauenkirche kann man sich schon recht genau vorstellen, wie es dann in Dresden geht. Das Bauwerk selbst ist zu Ende gebaut, und auch wenn der Kirchenraum noch nicht geweiht und eröffnet ist, so drängen bereits zahlreiche Besucher gegen eine Gebühr von acht Euro auf die Aussichtsplattform auf der Kuppel und sehen Kirche, Stadt und Land von oben an. Der Platz um die Frauenkirche ist mit großen altertümlichen Steinen gepflastert, eine Statue von Martin Luther ist vor die Kirche gestellt. In unmittelbarer Nachbarschaft zur Frauenkirche stehen drei Luxushotels, zwei in Betrieb, eines in der Fertigstellung. Zwei Nächte dürfte der Aufenthalt in Dresden künftig dauern: Die Frauenkirche am Ankunftstag, abends Semperoper. Dann der Zwinger mit seinen Kunstsammlungen. Wer noch eine Nacht dranhängen will, bucht bei gutem Wetter eine Dampferfahrt die Elbe hinauf.

Posted by Gary at 4:48 PM

Opera lovers discovering Vivaldi's vigor
His many restless scores have burst onto the scene.

Vivaldi_small.jpgBy David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 October 2005]


Antonio Vivaldi's desperate final year was spent far from home, trying to establish himself in Vienna. He was banned from his artistic stronghold in Ferrara because word was out that this ordained priest had a longstanding relationship with his leading soprano.

Posted by Gary at 4:38 PM

Unchained Melody
The Met pulls out all the star power it can for the season debut—with (mostly) spectacular results.

Met_Opera_small.jpgBy Peter G. Davis [New York Magazine, 10 October 2005]


Toscanini once famously put a Met diva in her place by telling her that the only stars he knew were in heaven. He was wrong, of course. Stars have been a top priority at the Metropolitan Opera ever since the company opened for business in 1883, and the first weeks of the season are always a good time to scan the skies and see if there are still a few bright points of light left shining. Most critics would rank Marcelo Álvarez, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Susan Graham, Bryn Terfel, and Violeta Urmana among today’s operatic elite, and these seven étoiles have been adding whatever luster they can to the Met’s current performances. Whether they represent a new standard of golden-age singing or the feeble remnants of a tottering art form depends upon which opera fan you talk to.

Posted by Gary at 4:27 PM

Oppenheimer as a myth for our time

By Andrew Clark [4 October 2005]


The countdown was approaching zero. The audience at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House had sat through a 2½-hour collage of dialogue, dance, techno-speak, solo reverie and choral meditation, all pointing to the cataclysmic explosion that everyone knew would crown John Adams's new opera Doctor Atomic. Climax or anti-climax? How would America's leading classical composer deal with the nuclear option, which in 1945 changed the world? As the musical clock ticked towards the end, the moment had an inborn theatricality.

Posted by Gary at 4:13 PM

RAVEL: Shéhérezade
DUPARC: Mélodies

It is ambitious for a male singer to take on Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérazade, a cycle usually performed by a female singer. In fact, a number of fine recordings by women already exist to question the need for a male version of the piece. Yet Jarnot executes the music convincingly in what is listed as the “world premiere recording” of this piece performed by a baritone. The three songs that comprise Shéhérazade, “Asie!”, “La flute enchantée,” and “L’indifférent,” are sustained pieces that require the clear presentation that Jarnot and Helmut Deutsch offer. Jarnot’s subtle execution of “Indifférent” bears attention for its extended lines and fine phrasing of the text.

The pianist Helmut Deutsch offers just the proper level of accompaniment, which supports Jarnot well with its discreet entrances and genuinely soft tone. Deutsch’s deft touch sets an appropriate tone for Ravel’s music, especially in some of the more subtle passages. When he faces more extroverted music, as in the previous song, “La flute enchantée,” Deutsch is equally convincing as he reinforces Jarnot’s careful phrasing. Yet it is the opening piece that shows the pair at their best. Jarnot’s exposed lines are full and strong, as he gives Tristan Klingsor’s texts meaningful expression. The repeated cries of “Asie!” suggest the wonder and yearning that the poet attempts to express in this celebration of all those exotic things that make up this powerful song. This is a song that requires sensitivity to work well in a recital, and even more to come off well in a recording like this. It is the remote, the other in us, that makes “Asia” so evocative and Jarnot expresses this well, not only in his inflection of the text, but his nuanced tones.

Similarly, the twelve Mélodies by Henri Duparc are the ones usually performed by a male singer, and Jarnot offers a fine interpretation of these quintessentially French songs. Baudelaire’s text for the final song, “La vie antérieure” offers a fine parallel with Ravel’s “Asie,” the song which opens this recording. In fact, some lines of Baudelaire’s poem are an apt comment on the performance:

. . . Mêlaient d’une façon solennelle et mystique
Les tout puissants accords de leur riche musique . . . .

. . . in a solemn and mystical way, mingled
the powerful chords of their rich music . . .

The performers succeed in conveying the unique sense of each of Duparc’s songs. Through the tempos he has chosen, Jarnot is able to express the text effectively, which is crucial to the settings of verse by such poets as Gautier, Baudelaire, and others. The familiar “L’invitation au voyage” is a fine collaboration between Jarnot and Deutsch, with its sinuous lines evoking the seduction described in the text. In contrast, the more emotionally direct “La vague et la cloche” is masterfully performed, with its almost raucous evocation of the waves that almost overwhelm the song’s protagonist. Between these somewhat extreme expressions of emotion, Duparc’s Mélodies involve a variety of situations that demand much from the performers. Jarnot gives these songs with insight and precision, elements that Deutsch reinforces in his meticulous accompanying. This is music for mature singers, musicians whose expressiveness goes beyond the words on the page to unearth the deeper meanings of the text and the subtleties of the musical lines.

Jarnot delivers the Duparc Mélodies consistently well, which makes this recording noteworthy for anyone interested in this music. The sound of this Oehms recording solidly conveys the nuances of expression for both the voice and piano. Unlike some other Oehms recordings, like Jarnot’s collection of Mahler’s Lieder, there is no question in this CD of French music about the placement of the microphones, which seem too close in that earlier recording. In the present one, the ambiance is appropriate to the music and performers.

As to the CD itself, the booklet includes the original texts for all the pieces on it, along with translations in German and English. With such relatively unfamiliar music, having the texts available is preferable to having listeners find them on their own. Oehms may want to provide consistently texts for fine recordings of vocal music, like this one. Overall, this is an impressive recording that bodes well for future recordings by this promising baritone.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Duparc: Mélodies
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Posted by Gary at 10:14 AM

PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet
RESPHIGHI: Pini di Roma

Prokofiev and Respighi, moreover, sought to develop a populist musical style in many of their compositions and in this vein produced works of enduring appeal, two examples of which are offered on this recording.

Respighi’s Pines of Rome [Pini di Roma], which was completed in 1924, is perhaps the best known and most often performed of the composer’s works. Respighi conceived the piece as forming a trilogy together with his two other Rome-inspired orchestral compositions, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals. All three vividly evoke various aspects of Respighi’s beloved city; each of the four movements of Pines of Rome aurally depicts a different Roman locale, from the yells of children at the Villa Borghese to the somber sounds of the Roman catacombs to the triumphant march of the Roman army along the Appian Way. Much of the work’s popularity can be attributed to the fact that it is a pure orchestral showpiece, requiring a large orchestra (complete with recorded bird song at the conclusion of the third movement). The sheer orchestral force and vivid imagery of Respighi’s score (not to mention its unabashed celebration of Rome) even attracted the admiration of Mussolini.

Prokofiev finished the first version of his ballet Romeo and Juliet in 1936—a fateful year in many respects: in January, the composer made a permanent return to Soviet Russia just as the official denunciation of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth was published in Soviet newspapers, marking the beginning of an exceptionally oppressive period for Soviet composers. Prokofiev quickly learned much of the vagaries of the new Soviet system when he could not secure performances of Romeo and Juliet in Moscow or Leningrad (the official reason being that the music was too complex for the dancers to deal with.) The always-enterprising Prokofiev did not let this hurdle stand in his way and extracted two suites of music from the ballet score, both of which are featured in this recording (unfortunately, the fourth and sixth numbers of second suite are not included). Although the ballet version did finally receive its premiere in Brno in 1938, it was not performed in the USSR until 1940, only after Prokofiev had consented to significant revisions. Romeo and Juliet is one of the culminating works of Prokofiev’s efforts during the 1930s to develop a simpler and more direct musical language without compromising the quality of his compositions. In this respect, the ballet and the suites extracted from it are a stunning success, and today they rank among the composer’s most beloved works.

The performances on this disc—both reissues—date from the earlier days of Riccardo Muti’s tenure with The Philadelphia Orchestra (the Prokofiev was recorded in 1981 and the Respighi in 1984). As might be expected from such a venerable orchestra and director, the playing is first-rate. Muti’s interpretation, however, is not for the faint of heart: He draws massive sound from the orchestra, and both pieces are marked with dramatic dynamic contrasts. While always exciting, some may find Muti’s approach to these pieces (most notably in the Prokofiev) rather extroverted for their tastes. The recording is crystal-clear and generous on the bass end, but at times suffers from balance problems, with some of the brass sounding particularly distant while others are quite up-close and live. These, however, are minor detractions, and considering this is another release from EMI’s inexpensive “encore” label, the disc is a great option for those wanting to add these two classic works to their CD collection.

Kevin Michael Bartig
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Posted by Gary at 9:34 AM

October 3, 2005

Central City Opera's cry in wilderness

central_city.jpgBy Kyle MacMillan [Denver Post, 2 October 2005]


I recall sitting next to one of the country's more prominent opera critics at a dinner at the Santa Fe Opera a few years ago and asking her if she had ever attended the Central City Opera.


She answered, "No," and gave me a look that seemed to suggest, "Why would I want to go there?"

Posted by Gary at 9:10 PM

CONRADI: Die schöne und getreue Ariadne

Amply underscoring the internationalism of the Festival, the opera for 2003, Johann Georg Conradi’s Ariadne, was later recorded in Bremen in a collaboration between BEMF, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln, and Radio Bremen.

Conradi’s Ariadne (1691) is the earliest surviving opera from the Theater am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg, and its own diversity of national influences suggests a symbolic precursor of the modern collaborative sponsorship. George Buelow brought the score of Ariadne to light in the 1970s, and describes it as a “highly expressive and cosmopolitan mixture of Venetian, German, and French styles.” The Lullian echoes here are easily heard in the overture, the dance movements, and the divertissements—Act I concludes, for instance, with a scene for dancing and singing scissors grinders; Act III concludes with a lengthy Passacaille for Venus, the Graces, Bacchus, and a Satyr; both scenes recall the entertainments of tragedies en musique. (The dancing scissors grinders, as Terpsichorean tradesmen, seem “cousins,” as well, to the dancing tailors of Lully’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.) The Lullian influence derives in part from Conradi’s time as Kapellmeister at Ansbach in the 1680’s, where French opera was frequently performed and the orchestra included Johann Fischer, Lully’s one-time copyist.

Italian accents are clear in the airs and recitatives, but also in the comic character of Pamphilius, sung with imaginative flair here by Jan Kobow. Pamphilius has a philosophizing bent and a capacity for deflating the elevated feelings of his “betters” that one recognizes immediately in Monteverdi’s Iro from Il Ritorno Ulisse or later in Handel’s Elviro from Serse.

Conradi’s Ariadne, though a long work at around three hours, gives the impression of being fast-paced, with its many arias moving ahead without tarrying in lengthy development. And Christian Heinrich Postel’s libretto places the story of Ariadne in a rich weave of characters and circumstance that also helps propel things forward with interest. In the end, Ariadne’s emotionally textured third-act lament underscores that it is indeed her story that is the central one, but the love of her sister Phaedra for Theseus, the shame of their mother Pasiphæ in having conceived the monstrous Minotaur, and the love of Evanthes (Bacchus) for Ariadne are all compelling story-lines in their own right, and are given due attention in the opera. Through the modern prominence of works like Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna” we have come to see Arianna as something of a poster girl for abandonment. Significantly, in Conradi’s opera, the abandonment is given appropriate weight in Ariadne’s moving lament, but she in turn rather quickly abandons her lamentative state to unite happily with Bacchus. In the end, if she is to be a poster girl, it is in the cause of love’s ultimate fulfillment.

The performance is an unflaggingly gratifying one, sung by a uniformly accomplished cast. And significantly, the singers, though cohesive in ensemble, maintain an interesting interplay of vocal individuality that itself underscores the number of story-lines in the libretto. For example, Karina Gauvin brings to her Ariadne a vibrant sound and rhetorical flair, but also, especially in Act II’s “Ihr Augen die der Himmel zieret,” a strikingly flexible lightness. Barbara Borden’s lithe tone, contoured phrasing, and impressive articulation on rapid passage work are much to be savored in her Phaedra. And Ellen Hargis’ Pasiphæ gives wonderful evidence of both the elegance and power of her singing and the rare beauty of her finely controlled sound. The individuality of voice brings the richness of character to the fore, and it is one of the most gratifying aspects of this sterling performance. Surely the BEMF Ariadne is one that no one will want to abandon.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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Posted by Gary at 2:20 PM

Oper Graz Opens Season with Hoffmann and Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor

hoffmans_graz_small.jpgOper Graz: Mondschein, Sex und Parodie
von Harald Haslmayr [Die Presse, 4 October 2005]


Nein, man hört sie nicht mehr alle Tage, die einstige Erfolgsoper Otto Nicolais, und gerade auch deshalb ist die Grazer Neuproduktion der "Lustigen Weiber von Windsor" durchaus zu loben. Regisseur Michael Schilhahn gelingt eine sympathische, schlüssige und ansprechende Erzählung der intrikaten Komödienhandlung, nur in manchen Phasen etwas hausbacken und mit einigen (werkbedingten) zähen Längen. Richard Wien lässt das Orchester geschmeidig und quirlig musizieren, das Sängerensemble um Konstantin Sfiris als so rollendeckenden wie komischen Falstaff agiert homogen und lässt keine Wünsche offen.

Posted by Gary at 12:33 PM

Siegfried at the Royal Opera House

wagner_charicature.jpgTom Service [The Guardian, 3 October 2005]


The third act of the Royal Opera House's new production of Wagner's Siegfried, the third instalment of director Keith Warner's Ring cycle, is a victory for hollow style over substance, full of complex symbols but little emotional insight. Lisa Gasteen's Brünnhilde and John Treleaven's Siegfried fulfil their destinies together in the final scene as two gargantuan silhouettes on the revolving white square that has been a leitmotif since Die Walküre. This should be the climax of the evening, but Stefanos Lazaridis's designs and Wolfgang Göbbel's lighting take the focus away from Wagner's music.

Posted by Gary at 12:20 PM

Countdown to the Eve of Destruction

Robert OppenheimerBy Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 3 October 2005]


SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 2 - The last person to take a bow when John Adams's "Doctor Atomic" had its momentous premiere on Saturday night at the San Francisco Opera was not the composer but Pamela Rosenberg, the outgoing general director of the company. Though it is unorthodox for an opera house administrator to appear onstage for curtain calls, here it was warranted.

Posted by Gary at 12:12 PM

An Old Favorite Falls Short of the Mark

By Fred Kirshnit [NY Sun, 3 October 2005]


In 1897, the Vienna Opera needed to decide which version of "La Boheme" to mount, as two composers had published it relatively contemporaneously. Accordingly, they sent their music director-designate, Gustav Mahler, to Venice to hear each on consecutive nights. Mahler wrote back that "one bar of Puccini is worth more than the whole of Leoncavallo." The latter, however, had a stronger relationship with the administration of the time, and it was his "Boheme" that was presented the following season.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 AM

Ariadne auf Naxos, Metropolitan Opera, New York

damrau.jpgBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 3 October 2005]


They might as well have called the show — and I do mean show — Zerbinetta auf Naxos. The non-capacity crowd at the Met roared on Thursday for a pretty newcomer, Diana Damrau. Portraying Richard Strauss's eternal coquette, she sounded phenomenal. Apparently no one had told her that this is one of the most difficult challenges ever inflicted on a coloratura soprano. She found no ascent too high, no embellishment too complex, no test too long.

Posted by Gary at 11:53 AM

October 2, 2005

'Fortissimo' explores drama backstage at opera

fortissimo.jpgBy Wynne Delacoma [Chicago Sun-Times, 2 October 2005]

By any measure, the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, a training program launched in 1974 to give promising young opera singers professional-level training and stage experience, has hit its stride.

Posted by Gary at 8:58 AM

Cecilia Bartoli goes to the source: 'Forbidden Opera'

Bartoli_small.jpgCELEBRATED MEZZO-SOPRANO CHAMPIONS OFT-IGNORED MUSIC
By Richard Scheinin [Mercury News, 2 October 2005]

Cecilia Bartoli drives a bright red Fiat 500 through the streets of Rome, and will still dance flamenco, a passion from her teenage years, for her closest friends. It isn't a surprise to learn that much about the mezzo-soprano, whose public image is about equal parts glamour and passionate artistry.

Posted by Gary at 8:49 AM

Taking a Vacation From Valhalla

Voigt-Savio1-219_small.jpg[Photo: Photo © Joanne Savio]
By Anne Midgette [NY Times, 2 October 2005]

IT is a measure of how highly prized versatility has become in the vocal world that neither of America's two leading sopranos is clearly identified with a single musical area. Deborah Voigt has laid claim to Wagner and Verdi; Renée Fleming, to roles as disparate as Violetta (Verdi) and Rodelinda (Handel). And both, despite notably different voices, are perhaps best designated "Strauss sopranos": Ms. Voigt for her golden shine, Ms. Fleming for her silvery heights.

Posted by Gary at 8:40 AM

Imagining That Handel Had Known Mobsters

By Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 1 October 2005]

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 30 - It has become so common to present Handel operas in modern dress that when the director Stephen Wadsworth gave his production of "Rodelinda" at the Metropolitan Opera last season an elegant 18th-century look, the concept seemed a daring theatrical stroke.

Posted by Gary at 8:29 AM

October 1, 2005

"Pan" fait voler en éclats la culture de l'opéra

monnet.jpgLe Monde [1 October 2005]

Musica, le festival international des musiques d'aujourd'hui qui se tient à Strasbourg jusqu'au 8 octobre, a pour habitude de s'associer à l'Opéra national du Rhin pour donner en création un nouvel ouvrage lyrique. En attendant les débuts du jeune Bruno Mantovani, à l'affiche de 2006, dans le genre très controversé de l'opéra contemporain, c'est Marc Monnet, né en 1947, qui relance cette année le débat avec Pan. Et l'on entend des spectateurs s'interroger, le 30 septembre, avant même que ne commence la représentation : "Quels sont ces volatiles blancs qui arpentent la scène ?" Des paons pour Pan...

Posted by Gary at 4:47 PM

When a symphony could lead to Siberia

shostakovich.jpg[Daily Telegraph, 1 October 2005]


With Shostakovich's centenary approaching, Geoffrey Norris talks to two conductors about the composer's music and his difficult relationship with the Soviet authorities


Dmitry Shostakovich, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, has always excited controversy - no more so than during the three decades since his death in 1975, when there have been conflicting interpretations of his attitude towards the Communist system under which he lived.

Posted by Gary at 4:32 PM

The art of Glass

glass.jpgBy Stephanie Bunbury [The Age, 1 October 2005]


He's one of the world's best-known composers, but could Philip Glass' greatest achievement be the way he lives his life?


Somewhere in the middle of his musical education, Philip Glass started to look for a fork in the road. In the early 1960s, when he was studying composition in Paris, every cerebral young music student worth his salt was shaking with Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, the dust-dry maestros of 12-tone.

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

Carmen can sing, but can't dance

carmen_coc.pngBy Ken Winters [The Globe and Mail, 1 October 2005]

Georges Bizet's Carmen, one of the most popular operas ever written, returned to the Canadian Opera Company Thursday night, after an absence of 12 years, in an international co-production with Opéra de Montréal and the San Diego Opera. One can only wonder if this entirely admirable money-saving device backfired, turning into a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Posted by Gary at 3:39 PM