Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

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

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

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

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

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

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

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

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

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Camille Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila
30 Oct 2005

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy, musicologist, astronomer, archeologist, poet, writer, teacher, and one of the most important and prolific composers of his generation. Yet, Saint-Saëns’ reputation has, for some time, mainly rested on his instrumental works the “Organ” Symphony, the overture Carnival of the Animals and his oratorio turned opera, Samson et Dalila.

Camille Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila

Placido Domingo, Elena Obraztsova, Renato Bruson, Pierre Thau, Chœers de l’Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim (cond.)

DG 477 560-2 [2CDs]

 

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

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):