November 30, 2005

Renée Fleming - PBS Great Performances

Tune in Wednesday, November 30 for the premiere of Renée Fleming: Sacred Songs & Carols on PBS' Great Performances

Recorded at Germany's historic Mainz Cathedral, Fleming performs a lush selection of sacred Christmas music, accompanied by the esteemed Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, conducted by Trevor Pinnock. The concert features selections from her new Sacred Songs CD including "Rejoice Greatly" from Handel's "Messiah", "Laudate Dominum" from Mozart's "Mass in C Minor," and "Simple Song" from "Leonard Bernstein's Mass."

Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

Elektra in Stuttgart

Konwitschny.jpg[MARKUS THIEL, Merkur-Online, 28 November 2005]

Schlachtplatte mit Whisky pur

Peter Konwitschny inszenierte "Elektra" für die Stuttgarter Staatsoper

Während das Orchester in die Zielgerade dröhnt, steht Orest auf halber Treppe, gehüllt in den schweren roten Mantel der Mutter. An seiner Seite Chrysothemis, unten, am rechten Bühnenrand, die tote Elektra. Und man ahnt, dass hier etwas Neues anbricht, eine Ära, nicht minder unerbittlich und ungerecht als die Klytämnestras. Für seine Münchner "Elektra" schuf Herbert Wernicke dieses starke Schlussbild. Was er als kaum konkretisierte Bedrohung inszenierte, zerrt nun Kollege Peter Konwitschny ins Schummerlicht der Stuttgarter Staatsopernbühne.

Posted by Gary at 9:57 AM

Schubert und Oper, das ist ein Konzert-Erlebnis

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 29 November 2005]

Die Zürcher Oper schickte Schuberts "Fierrabras" nach Wien. Konzertant. Das war die beste Regie.

Mit den Schubert-Opern ist das so eine Sache. Die Musik ist herrlich, zuweilen verdichtet sie sich auch zu beinah dramatisch zu nennenden Klangballungen. Im "Fierrabras" gilt das vor allem für den Mittelakt. Doch auch bei diesem Werk mangelt es in einer Weise an dramaturgischer Stringenz, dass am Ende nur noch das St. Pöltner Telefonbuch als Beispiel für Lektüre von vergleichbarer Spannung herangezogen werden kann.

Posted by Gary at 9:48 AM

Bold choices will open opera house

COC_4SeasonsCentre_small.jpgJOHN TERAUDS [Toronto Star, 30 November 2005]

Let no one accuse Canadian Opera Company general director Richard Bradshaw of making artistic compromises as the organization prepares to move into new premises next year.

Posted by Gary at 9:27 AM

Parsifal, Music Center, Los Angeles

By Allan Ulrich [Financial Times, 30 November 2005]

Four decades after its last staging in the City of the Angels, Wagner's final theatre work has returned to the boards in the alternately ravishing and infuriating Robert Wilson production, which, like the opera's eponymous protagonist, has wandered the globe, from Hamburg to Houston, for many years. When Wilson's hieratic Madama Butterfly was introduced here two seasons back, the LA Opera found itself with an improbable hit on its hands and a revival was arranged for this winter. And, because the tenor Plácido Domingo had never introduced his guileless fool to this company, which he serves as general director, the project seemed a natural for the 20th anniversary season.

Posted by Gary at 9:20 AM

ENO boss exits on a low note

doran.jpgBy Jack Malvern [Times Online, 30 November 2005]

Sean Doran's resignation after two years follows a series of embarrassments in the company

THE artistic director who introduced subtitles for operas in English and oversaw productions about lesbians and Colonel Gaddafi was forced out of his job at English National Opera last night.

Posted by Gary at 9:13 AM

November 29, 2005

BIZET: Carmen

First is an 8 October 1954 concert performance in the Large Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. This performance has previously surfaced on other labels specializing in “live” recordings, including Gala (GL 100.603). Andante’s new issue of this Carmen is the first authorized release of the master tapes, made by the American-operated radio station, Rot-Weiss-Rot.

The sound of the Gala issue is quite listenable. In fact, the presence and dynamic range are quite striking for an in-performance recording that is more than fifty years old. But the Andante release is far better, with sound that is warmer, better integrated, and more reflective of the Musikverein’s wonderful acoustic. Indeed, this Andante release is competitive in just about every way with commercial releases its era.

And the performance is stunning. I’ve always felt that Karajan’s best work, particularly in opera, took place in the 1950s. The technical brilliance of his later interpretations is very much in evidence. But Karajan’s opera conducting during the 50s has a fire and spontaneity missing from much of his post-50s work, especially in the recording studio. Performances like the amazing 1952 Bayreuth Tristan und Isolde with Ramon Vinay and Martha Mödl (available on several labels) and this Vienna Carmen represent opera conducting at the highest level.

Karajan’s pacing of this opera seems just about ideal. The lengthy opening scene preceding Carmen’s entrance—interminable in some other performances—has momentum, color, and a real sense of atmosphere. Throughout, Karajan works admirably with his singers, giving them ample room to make expressive points, but never at the expense of the opera’s inexorable progression to its tragic resolution. The climaxes are all judged for maximum effect—try, for example, the hair-raising conclusion to the opening of Act II. Karajan also elicits gorgeous playing from the Vienna Symphony, notable for its precision and admirable presentation of Bizet’s colorful orchestral palette.

The cast is first-rate as well. The Carmen, Giulietta Simionato, was at the height of her powers during these performances. The Italian mezzo is neither the most Gallic nor subtle of Carmens. But there is no denying the beauty, power, and absolute security of her voice. This is certainly one of the more impressively sung Carmens on disc. And there is more than enough dramatic involvement and character development by Simionato to make her Carmen of a very high level, indeed. Since Giulietta Simionato never made a commercial recording of Carmen, this release takes on even greater value.

The Don José is the Swedish tenor, Nicolai Gedda. Typical of this superb artist’s work, Gedda is a master of French diction and style. Gedda, twenty-nine at the time of this recording, is also in his freshest and most beautiful voice. But he has more than enough vocal heft and metal to do justice to José’s more dramatic moments, most notably the conclusions of Act III and IV. As much as I like Gedda’s Don Josés in the EMI recordings with de los Angeles and Callas, I give the nod to this Vienna performance for its almost ideal balance of vocal beauty and dramatic fire.

Soprano Hilde Güden is an absolutely exquisite Micaëla. Baritone Michel Roux is wonderful as the bullfighter Escamillo—virile, suave, and vocally assured. The various subsidiary roles, taken by highly accomplished and well-known singers of the era, add to the special quality of this Carmen.

The Vienna performance features Ernest Guiraud’s sung recitatives in place of the original spoken dialogue. Karajan inserts excerpts from Bizet’s incidental music to L’Arlesienne in the opera’s final act, I assume as ballet accompaniment. The CD booklet contains essays on the production, photos, track listings, and a French and English libretto. All in all, this is a superb Carmen that I’ve already listened to several times, and will return to often, I’m sure, with great pleasure.

carmen_myto.jpgOn 18 January 1955, Karajan again conducted Carmen, this time at the La Scala Opera House in Milan. In addition to Simionato’s Carmen, the Escamillo, Le Dancaire, Le Remendado, Moralès, Frasquita, and Mercédès are all alumni from the Vienna performance. Here, Karajan mixes spoken dialogue with the Guiraud sung recitatives.

I’ve previously heard this La Scala Carmen on a Music and Arts LP release. There, the sound was harsh, congested, and subject to distortion and pitch fluctuation. The MYTO CD issue does not seem much better—in fact, it may well be a transfer of the M&A LP set. The MYTO release includes no libretto, just a brief essay, track listings and a few photos. As a result of its packaging and fairly wretched sound, the La Scala Carmen will probably be of interest to the most tolerant collectors.

So, is there any reason to purchase the MYTO La Scala Carmen, particularly with the availability of the superb Vienna performance? Fans of the lovely Italian soprano Rosanna Carteri will welcome the opportunity to hear her well-sung and acted Micaëla. But the major asset of the La Scala performance is the Don José of Giuseppe di Stefano. By this stage of his career, di Stefano was branching out from the lyric repertoire to more spinto and dramatic roles, Don José included. Opera lovers will continue to debate forever whether di Stefano’s move to heavier repertoire hastened his vocal decline. But few will disagree that he gave some spellbinding performances in the more heroic roles.

This Don José is one of those performances. Di Stefano was always very much at home in French opera, both in terms of style and language. Here di Stefano is in his finest voice for the period, the middle of unsurpassed beauty and the upper register ringing and secure, if on occasion just a bit open and forced. But perhaps even more impressive than the basic vocal equipment is the way di Stefano employs it. As I listened to the tenor launch the soaring principal melody in the Act I duet with Micaëla, I could almost imagine that Bizet composed it specifically with di Stefano in mind.

Dramatically, di Stefano is an absolute master at depicting José’s path to ruin. The “Flower Song” is both gorgeously sung and a compelling portrait of José’s obsession with Carmen. The finales of Act III and Act IV are delivered with a frightening intensity (here, credit must be given to Simionato and Karajan as well). Overall, di Stefano’s interpretation of Don José is as persuasive as I’ve heard. In the final analysis, it may well justify purchase of this MYTO set, sonic warts and all.

Ken Meltzer

image_description=Georges Bizet: Carmen

product_title=Georges Bizet: Carmen
product_by=Giulietta Simionato, Nicolai Gedda, Hilde Gueden, Michel Roux, Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien, Wiener Symphoniker, Herbert von Karajan (cond.)
Andante Naïve AN3100 [2CDs]

Giulietta Simionato, Giuseppe di Stefano, Rosanna Carteri, Michel Roux, Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Herbert von Karajan (cond.)
MYTO 2 CD 052.H101 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

Michele Pertusi - Recital

If the dates in the liner notes are correct, it is difficult to imagine the singer is only nineteen years old at the time of this recital. His voice is richly colored, expressive, secure, with a smooth tone, and he displays the bravura of a seasoned performer. It is, for sure, an ambitious recital but Pertusi is not intimidated by the music, nor the public for whom he is singing. The recital includes selections by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, and songs by Tosti, Denza, de Curtis, Tagliaferri, Porter and Rodgers. For an encore the young singer chose songs by Bixio, and Falvo. He also reprises two previous selections: Verdi’s cabaletta from Attila, “Oltre quel limite,” and Denza’s song, “Vien!”

Though Pertusi has a well deserved reputation for his interpretations of Mozart and Rossini, in this recital he is at his best singing the four Verdi Arias, and in some of the songs.

In Ernani’s “Infelice, e tuo credevi,” Pertusi exhibits some of the flaws he mentions in the above quote, however, his overall delivery is emotional, and he executes an unexpected trill at the end of the aria. Don Carlo’s Filippo is not a role for a young bass, however, Pertusi sings “Ella giammai m’amò” as though he were much older. The listener feels the character’s pain through the pathos imbued by young Pertusi into his singing, and he ends the aria with a beautiful diminuendo which he floats over the faint, last notes coming from the cello. In “O tu Palermo” from Vespri Siciliani Pertusi faithfully follows the different emotions of the aria, and once again he ends the aria floating the seemingly endless final notes. In Attila’s “Mentre gonfiarse l’anima...Oltre quel limite...” Pertusi easily displays the melancholy in the aria with his lush, rich voice, and the soaring, fiery melody in the cabaletta. There is a well deserved call for “Bis,” several “Bravos” and long applause at the end of this piece.

Luigi Denza’s song “Vieni” and Tagliaferri’s “Passione,” reminiscent of Leoncavallo’s “Vesti la giuba” are filled with pathos and emotion which Pertusi easily provides in his interpretation.

English speaking audiences will delight in the singer’s rendition of Porter’s “So in Love” from Kiss me Kate, and Rodgers’ “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific.

The Parma Opera Ensemble ably provides accompaniment to the singer, at times sounding much larger than its ten members. The Ensemble has a solo, the “Sinfonia” to Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

The liner notes include a brief commentary by the singer and a candid interview with him, conducted by Stefano Olcese.

This recording, released twenty years after Pertusi made his operatic debut, is not for those who are seeking the mature singer, but for those who want a window into the singer’s early career. A delightful performance, for sure, where all is forgiven in exchange of the excitement and pleasure the young Pertusi provides the audience and CD listener, alike.

Daniel Pardo

image_description=Michele Pertusi - Recital

product_title=Michele Pertusi - Recital
product_by=Michele Pertusi, bass-baritone; Parma Opera Ensemble
product_id=Dynamic CDS490 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:18 AM

Strange Love — The Met’s weird new production bleeds the delicate chemistry out of Roméo et Juliette

romeo_juliet_met_small.jpg(Photo: Ken Howard / The Metropolitan Opera)

By Peter G. Davis [, 5 December 2005]

According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, there are more than 380 vocal theater works based on Shakespeare’s plays, but only a handful have any musical or dramatic worth. That seems rather severe, especially since Grove’s short list of worthy examples omits Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, now playing at the Metropolitan in a new production. Have we lost Roméo forever? Superior critics tend to get snippy when writing about this most fragrantly delicate of French romantic operas, and the refined vocal style the roles require, and which singers once cultivated as a matter of course, is no longer a priority. There are still very sound musical reasons why the work was so hugely popular in its day, particularly in New York during the 1890s when Roméo epitomized Met glamour at its most opulent and the company could engage casts that were truly spectacular.

Posted by Gary at 10:03 AM

Kozena and Daniels, Barbican Hall, London

Kozena_small.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 29 November 2005]

The Barbican has hit a winning streak with its "Great Performers" series. No doubt the combined pulling power of Magdalena Kozená - one of opera's hot young properties - and David Daniels could have filled more seats on Friday, but for their programme of mostly Handel this hall was quite big enough.

Posted by Gary at 9:49 AM

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Linbury Studio, London

keith_gillian_small.jpgTim Ashley [The Guardian, 28 November 2005]

"Which dreamed it?" asks Alice at the end of Through the Looking Glass. Many, I suspect, will be pondering the same question at the end of Olivia Fuchs's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which presents Benjamin Britten's opera as a series of interconnected dreamscapes, yet keeps us in suspense as to who the dreamers really are.

Posted by Gary at 9:41 AM

A Baritone and a Pianist in a Harmonious Conversation

immler_christian_small.jpgBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 29 November 2005]

The Frick Collection presented an uncommonly elegant young German baritone on Sunday afternoon. Singing Schumann, Ravel, Wolf and some other music you might not know, Christian Immler formed a satisfying partnership with his pianist, Silvia Fraser.

Posted by Gary at 9:32 AM

November 28, 2005

ROSSINI: Guillaume Tell

Perhaps the opera’s unflattering depiction of the Austrians as invaders and repressors of the Swiss people had something to do with the opera’s long absence from the Viennese repertoire. More likely, the extraordinary demands this epic work places upon the soloists, chorus, orchestra, and yes, the audience, were the main culprits. In any event, the Vienna Staatsoper did itself proud and Rossini’s masterwork justice with the 1998 revival. We are fortunate to have it documented in this recent Orfeo release.

Although the opera is named William Tell, the greatest challenge in staging the opera rests with the leading tenor role of Arnold. Written for the legendary French tenor Adolphe Nourrit, Arnold demands a singer who can sing with both heroic power and ardent tenderness, all the while negotiating a superhuman tessitura that seems to encompass countless high Cs. Arnold is, quite simply, one of the most difficult roles in the entire tenor repertoire.
In the Staatsoper production, Arnold is the Italian tenor Giuseppe Sabbatini. For the most part, he is superb. His French diction is quite excellent, the voice has both a penetrating and attractive timbre, and the many high notes are always brilliant, secure, and masterfully integrated with the rest of his vocal production. Sabbatini’s singing demonstrates an admirable combination of passion and elegant phrasing, as well as the ability to scale back dynamics to great musical and dramatic effect, as in the Act II duet with Mathilde and the second verse of his great aria, “Asil héréditaire.” On the negative side, Sabbatini often seems unable to maintain a true legato, substituting aspirates instead. And the voice lacks a basic heroic quality that I prefer in this role. But Sabbatini’s contribution, particularly in the context of the tightrope walk of an in-performance recording, is really quite extraordinary.

Likewise, Thomas Hampson’s William Tell is a great asset. As with Sabbatini, Hampson’s French is quite fine. Apart from some difficulty with the lower notes of Tell’s vocal writing, Hampson is in secure and impressive voice. I recommend this performance to those who view Hampson as an overly mannered singer. Here, he sings with the kind of directness and heroism that beautifully matches the character of the Swiss patriot. Hampson is also not afraid to abandon beautiful tonal production when the dramatic situation requires, as in the Act I duet with Arnold, or in his dispatch of the villain, Gessler. On the other hand, Hampson’s heartfelt and gorgeously sung “Sois immobile” is one of the highlights of the performance.

Soprano Nancy Gustafson sings with laudable vocal beauty and security. She also convincingly projects Mathilde’s tender, regal, and heroic aspects. Like Hampson, Gustafson is not totally secure in the lowest portions of the role. But overall, she is a major factor in the success of this production.

The many subsidiary roles are cast with strength. The contributions of the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra are outstanding, both in terms of precision and tonal beauty. The horn playing in particular is absolutely stunning.

No doubt much of the success of this William Tell rests with conductor Fabio Luisi, who leads a performance that has tremendous forward propulsion, but which never gives short shrift to this amazing score’s many details and beauties. Many have commented on how Rossini’s final opera paved the way for the course of much of 19th-century French and Italian opera. But the masterfully paced and brilliantly executed rendition of the opera’s stunning finale also brought to my mind (for the first time) the great symphonies of Anton Bruckner as well. What a remarkable work this is!

The in-performance recording features a superb balance between stage and pit, a wonderful sense of the hall’s ambience, as well as a fair amount of stage noise and well-deserved applause. All of this adds to the sense of a very special occasion, indeed.

The early-70s EMI studio recording with Gabriel Bacquier, Nicolai Gedda, and Montserrat Caballé, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, remains my preferred version of Guillaume Tell. I also have a weak spot for a 1979 Geneva performance in Italian, conducted by Anton Guadagno. It documents a fearless and hair-raising (if occasionally rough) performance of Arnold by Franco Bonisolli. It is available as highlights from Gala, and issued complete by the Opera Magic’s label.

The Orfeo release has no libretto, just a listing of cast and music tracks, an essay on the opera and Staatsoper production, and cast photos. Still, this performance has numerous qualities that make it a major addition to the Tell discography, despite cuts in this mammoth score. As a great fan of this opera, I’m sure I’ll return often to this Orfeo Guillaume Tell.

Ken Meltzer

image_description=Gioachino Rossini: Guillaume Tell

product_title=Gioachino Rossini: Guillaume Tell
product_by=Thomas Hampson, Giuseppe Sabbatini, Nancy Gustafson, Dawn Kotoski, Chorus and Orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper, Fabio Luisi (cond.)
product_id=Orfeo C 640 053 D [3CDs]

Posted by Gary at 2:49 PM

MACMILLAN: Seven Last Words from the Cross

In the next generation, the Scottish composer James MacMillan has emerged as a strong heir to this tradition, and in the present recording his “Seven last Words from the Cross,” “On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin,” and “Te Deum” are striking examples of the ways in which this is so.

“The Seven Last Words” is a large-scale work, commissioned by the BBC in 1994. Its overall power and control of scale may remind one of Pärt’s Passio, but where Pärt is intensely minimalistic, MacMillan employs strong contrasts and juxtapositon to address the drama of the Crucifixion. Often haunting, the score takes one into the reflective inner depths that surround the words of Jesus on the cross, while at the same time immersing one in the dramatic progression of events on Golgotha. The dynamic interplay of dramatic progression and inner reflection is, of course, familiar from works like the Bach Passions, but there it is a textual division of duty—alternating prose narrative and poetic reflection—that elicits and brings order to the interplay; MacMillan’s texts, on the other hand, are the scriptural words from the cross with various liturgical texts from Holy Week (mostly Good Friday), and their weave is generally a smooth one: the interplay is unitive and organic—not bi-modal. Chant-like formulas, voluminous climaxes, medieval evocations of early counterpoint, English pastoral string writing, angular aggression—all of these are employed by MacMillan in a way that animates both the drama and the reflection in a powerfully integrated composition, with voice and orchestra sharing equal portions of the expressive burden.

I was struck by this same sense of integration in the setting of the Te Deum, as well. The opening (“We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord . . .”) juxtaposes slow-moving, low, male chordal declamations—reminiscent of Russian liturgical music—with a rhapsodic soprano line. The chordal texture seems to describe and narrate—“we praise”—while the soprano lyricism enacts the praise.

The choir Polyphony is admirably well suited to the demands of MacMillan’s challenging scores. Their leanness of tone and pliancy of sound position them to bring a high degree of control to their singing, and while their softness is perhaps most notable, the powerful, free resonance of their loud passages is memorable indeed. This is music-making of a very high order, and MacMillan’s extraordinary vision surely deserves nothing less.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross

product_title=James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross
product_by=Polyphony; the Britten Sinfonia, Stephen Layton (cond.)
product_id=Hyperion CDA67460 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 2:36 PM

LANGGAARD: Antikrist

And until the gentle readers of Opera Today avail themselves of the experience of viewing Rued Langgaard’s Antikrist, they will have no idea how strange it is.

It is very, very strange. But more importantly — it fascinates on a deeper level than mere stunned incomprehension could ever effect.

The production comes from 2002, from the Royal Danish Opera and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. An American citizen has the right to let his mind reel contemplating the Metropolitan Opera and PBS putting on a similar show…

Briefly, Langgaard created a “religious mystery opera,” an allegory of the Antikrist wreaking havoc in the despoiled realm of modern society. Many a singer has a Rodolfo or Mimi or Marcello on his/her resume. How many have “The Mouth Speaking Great Things” or “Spirit of Mystery.” Camilla Nylund takes on the demanding role of “The Great Whore.” Before this production perhaps no other soprano had ever ventured this role on stage. How many have assayed it offstage is a very different matter.

The accompanying booklet has two extensive, well-written essays. Bendt Vinholt Nielsen’s introduction gives the sources and inspiration for Langgaard’s work, and Jorgen I. Jensen offers a more analytical approach to the work and its meaning. Your reviewer read these AFTER viewing the DVD, and can vouch that they both clarify some matters, but that the opera as performed here works well on its own, on its own very, very odd terms.

Nielsen succinctly describes the opera’s form: “There are no recurrent characters, there is no plot in the traditional sense, and the opera consists to a great extent of monologues.” Almost an oratorio? But an oratorio, with a row of singers in tidy eveningwear, would belie the composer’s vision. This production, with a fine cast of actor/singers, lands us in his surreal landscape from the first moment and keeps us there, willing prisoners, until the end. At the very least, the repeated references to our modern world as “the church- ruin of noise” provides a useful epithet for flinging at the TV when watching the nightly news.

Not much set is required. The bare stage suggests the austere interior of a Protestant church, and the singers at first look dressed for Sunday service. Sten Bryiel’s wild-eyed Lucifer calls forth the antichrist, and off we go. No film director is listed, so perhaps stage director Staffan Valdemar Holm decided to include a roving on-stage cameraperson (unseen), who zooms in for close-ups and follows the stage action closely. This heightens the immediacy of the production, not to mention its oddness.

And the music? One might think the score would be some harsh, modernistic screech-and -scream affair. Not at all. Langgaard’s textures are thick and at times streaked through with bi- or polytonality. For the most part, however, the music is recognizably tonal, but driven and nervous, hardly starting off on one theme before scattering off onto another idea. It makes for brilliant, unsettling listening, and Thomas Dausgaard leads the Danish Symphony orchestra with confidence, as if this were another “Turandot” or possibly “Salome.” The hall might have been unfriendly to voices, or the orchestration; for one or both of those reasons, the singers have been provided with unobtrusive microphones. The sound suffers a bit, therefore, from a lack of real focus as to origin. But better to have heard the music than to have it swallowed up by the acoustics.

So who should seek out this DVD? Obviously, fans of twentieth century should consider this an essential purchase. But at only 95 minutes, the opera has something for even those usually averse to more progressive works. At the very least, they will be able to say they have seen “The Great Whore” on DVD.

But who hasn’t?

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Rued Langgaard: Antikrist

product_title=Rued Langgaard: Antikrist
product_by=Sten Byriel, Anne Margrethe Dahl, Poul Elming, Helene Gjerris, Johnny van Hal, Jon Ketilsson, John Lundgren, Susanne Resmark, Morten Suurballe. Danish National Symphony Orchestra / DR, Thomas Dausgaard (cond.)
product_id=Dacapo 2.110402 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 2:11 PM

Thomas Hampson in Recital

Hampson, whose roots are in eastern Washington, was donating his time to benefit the renovation of the theater, an art-deco palace with magnificent acoustics that recently escaped demolition when acquired by the Spokane Symphony. Since vocal recitals by international stars are rare in my own city of Seattle, I decided to make the trip across the state to hear this one, and it was well worth the trip.

Not until shortly before I left the hotel for the theater did it occur to me to check Hampson’s extensive web site for the program, and I ultimately wished that I had done so much earlier. Hampson had chosen to present a selection of Schumann lieder with which I was not familiar, a set of Mahler lieder related to “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” texts, and eight American art songs, most of which I knew or had heard. But the printed program supplied nothing beyond the song titles, composers, and poets, and the singer’s biography. This lack was partially made up as Hampson talked to the audience at some length between the sets of songs, summarizing the texts of the German songs (and referring the audience to his web site for full texts—which I did find, although not the translations, having to follow his link to for those).

Despite using his voice for all this talking (he began by using a microphone, but as the recital continued he stopped bothering to walk over to it and just spoke to the audience), his singing voice held up well. He opened with “Lust der Sturmnacht”, followed by three settings of German texts after slightly disconcerting Danish poems by Hans Christian Anderson. Hampson presented these with an expressive range of vocal color, from his full operatic sound in the martial “Der Soldat” to intimate stillness at the end of “Der Spielmann”. Impressed as I was by Hampson’s singing, I found myself even more astonished by the accompanist’s ability to make incredible sound in the postlude to “Muttertraum” on the Kawai grand. It was clear that this was no ordinary accompanist, and indeed at the break between the Schumann and Mahler songs, Hampson apologized for having also failed to supply the bio of his accompanist for the program. He introduced Wolfram Rieger, originally from Munich and now teaching in Berlin, with whom he has collaborated for eleven years, and who has also collaborated with Brigitte Fassbaender and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, among others.

The juxtaposition of happiness with loss that had pervaded the Schumann song texts continued in the Mahler set. “Ablösung im Sommer” led the set, taken at a quick tempo. Hampson’s diction and involvement with the song were fine, although I do have to say that the spots where the singer imitates the sound of the cuckoo is more effective in the soprano of, say, Lucia Popp. I would find it hard to imagine a more heartfelt and effective performance of “Ging’ heut Morgen über’s Feld” than the one that followed. In his introduction to this set, he had described how the songs of Mahler had resonated for him from his earliest experience with them as a young singer, and “have guided me through many times since”. In singing this song he used a remarkable range of facial expression and vocal color to evoke first the joy of the external world and eventually the intense grief at the realization that the singer’s emotional landscape will never match that of the beautiful spring day. This song was followed by “Aus! Aus!” and “Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz’ “, (the latter introduced by Hampson as “one of the most beautiful songs Mahler wrote“), echoing the dark attitude toward war of Schumann’s “Der Soldat”.

Without intermission, Hampson then took a sip from a mug that he had stashed behind the piano, and invited the audience to stand up and turn around once to warm up, as the theater’s noisy heating system had been turned off during the performance (something that will presumably be fixed by the renovation). He then spoke of how he had begun his 15-20 year-long study of American art songs searching for the American Schubert or Mahler, only to decide it was a waste of time to take that approach. Instead he sees this song literature as a forum in which Americans can look at ourselves, examining what it has been to become “America”. In his view, the “quiet cultured thinking” of America’s philosophers and poets, which these songs capture, is regrettably not as well known as some of the more commercial American products that have pervaded the world. He spoke with warmth and enthusiasm of his current project with the Library of Congress to bring some of the library’s vast collection of American song before the public through his current recital tour. He mentioned Stephen Foster’s project as wanting “to write the Thomas Moore ballads all over again” in an American context. and recounted the work of Arthur Farwell with the Wa-Wan press, which sought to make serious American music available to Americans. Despite the fact that much of this discussion was delivered between songs, without aid of the microphone, Hampson continued to sing beautifully a representative selection of the undeservedly obscure American art songs that he has championed for some years.

The section began with two rather dark texts about shipwreck: Charles Griffes’ “An Old Song Re-sung” and Edward MacDowell’s “The Sea”. After these we heard “Grief”, by the African-American composer William Grant Still, which ends with the exhortation to the weeping angel to “raise your head from your hands” to see “the white dove, Promise.” In this last song in particular, the magic in the accompaniment was matched at the end by that of the pianissimo in the voice. This song was followed by Arthur Farwell’s “The old man’s love song”, based upon an Omaha Indian melody. In John Duke’s setting of “Richard Corey,” Hampson at first returned us to the mundane world in which the title character moved, the accompaniment’s illustration of how he “glittered when he walked” so apt as to prompt giggles from the audience, until the final line when he “put a bullet through his head.” The next song on the program had clear relevance to the occasion, as Hampson evoked his early memories of excitement at hearing music in the very theater in which we sat by singing “Memories”, by Charles Ives. The first section was taken so quickly that at first the singer and accompanist seemed to race against each other, but it had settled into a dead heat by the time Hampson gave a robust performance of the whistled sections, and ended when the accompanist announced “Curtain!”, at which point they shifted to the “rather sad” memories of a bygone era and family member. We returned to the world of ships and the water in the final two programmed songs, first an arrangement by Stephen White of the folk song “Shenandoah” with a majestic accompaniment that was matched by Hampson’s full heroic voice in the first verse and the tenderest of pianissimo in the “I love your daughter” verse, which was sustained through the end of the piece, at which point the accompanist launched immediately into Aaron Copland’s energetic “Boatman’s Dance.” In the master class that Hampson gave the following day, he repudiated critics’ use of the term “vocal coloring”, saying that singers do not have “a crayon box for color”, but rather that if the singer is truly expressing the emotion of the song, the sound quality will vary accordingly. Well, whatever accounts for it, there was throughout this recital a satisfying spectrum of sound, providing sufficient sonic variety and surprise to create in the audience a range of emotion beyond that which was clearly already there in welcoming a favorite son who had achieved international stardom back into the historic theater where he had first been inspired by live classical music performed by the Spokane Symphony.

Prolonged standing applause followed the conclusion of the Copland, and there were several encores. In the first, Hampson invited the audience to sing along, and when we realized he was singing Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” many of us did join as he conducted us, but we gradually dropped out, as most of us acknowledged it was in fact Hampson we had all paid to hear, and by the second verse it was likely that no one knew the words anyway. His second encore was given in response to a request, “Roses of Picardy”, by Haydn Wood. The third encore, “Don’t Fence Me In,” was a tip of the hat to another local celebrity, Bing Crosby, and Hampson’s personality, never retiring, opened up still further with an appropriate cowboy accent and walk. In the final encore, Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You”, apparently dedicated to the audience as representative of a treasured community in which this international star has his roots and sees the values expressed in American song, it began to be evident that the animated talking in the underheated auditorium was starting to take its toll on his lowest notes, and this time he allowed the stage hand to continue to raise the hand-painted original fire curtain that had served as backdrop, as he and Wolfram Rieger bid us good night and retired behind it.

Barbara Miller

image_description=Thomas Hampson (Photo: Johannes Ifkovits)

Posted by Gary at 1:45 PM

Is a Free Tuition in Music Worthwhile? An Argument For

Scholar.gifBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 28 November 2005]

The news that anonymous donors had promised the Yale School of Music $100 million came too late for Stephanie Teply, a violinist who graduated from the school with a master of music degree in 2003. The gift, announced this month, will enable the school to offer free tuition to all students starting next year.

Posted by Gary at 8:07 AM

November 27, 2005

It's the eternal triangle, if you don't count the beast

[The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 November 2005]

Finding a spot for a sea monster in a tale of feuding families is the kind of challenge this chamber group loves, writes Sunanda Creagh.

Posted by Gary at 8:29 PM

Operetta with two left feet

Fledermaus_Langer_small.jpgMartin Ball [The Australian, 28 November 2005]

IT'S hard to go past Die Fledermaus for a good night's diversion in the theatre. There are entertaining characters, good tunes and a witty story that keeps you laughing through three sparkling acts.

Posted by Gary at 8:22 PM

How the son of Mozart is finally finding a voice

Bonney_100x100.jpgKENNETH WALTON [The Scotsman, 28 November 2005]

'I'M JUST a stupid blonde singer," says Barbara Bonney. I can think of a few divas who measure up to that description, but Bonney is certainly not one of them. The American-born soprano has thrilled opera-house and concert-hall audiences around the world for more than a quarter of a century, particularly through the fresh definition and effortless fluidity she brings to her trademark Mozart interpretations. With 400 songs in her repertoire, almost 100 discs to her name, and 100 concerts to fit into her hectic schedule each year, she remains firmly at the top of a tough profession. This weekend, she brings her engaging style to Edinburgh's Usher Hall.

Posted by Gary at 8:12 PM

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio — Munich 1978

Music by Ludwig van Beethoven. Libretto by Josef Sonnleithner, based on a French libretto by Jean Nicolas Bouilly

First performance: 23 May 1814 at the k.k. Hoftheater nächst dem Kärnthnerthor, Vienna

Principal Characters:
Florestan, a Spanish nobleman Tenor
Leonora, his wife, in male attire known as "Fidelio" Soprano
Don Fernando, the Prime Minister Bass
Don Pizarro, Governor of the prison Bass-Baritone
Rocco, chief jailer Bass
Marzellina, his daughter Soprano
Jaquino, his assistant Tenor

Time and Place:

Seville, 18th Century


Act I

Don Pizarro, the despotic governor of a state prison near Seville, is in the habit of holding his political enemies prisoner at his mercy. One of these enemies is Don Florestan, who has publicly accused the governor of abusing the power of his position. Leonore, Florestan's wife, suspects that her husband is being held prisoner by Pizarro and so, disguised as a man and calling herself Fidelio, she gets a job as assistant to Rocco, the chief jailer.

Marzelline, Rocco's daughter, has fallen in love with Fidelio and rejects the suit of Jaquino, the jailer who has been courting her for years. Rocco also now seems to prefer the idea of Fidelio, who is much cleverer than the simple Jaquino, as a son-in-law and gives his approval of his daughter's decision.

Pizarro receives an anonymous letter warning him that the King's minister, Don Fernando, plans to come and inspect the prison. It has come to his ears that political prisoners are being unlawfully held there. Pizarro immediately posts a trumpeter to keep watch and warn him of the minister's approach so that he has time to do away with Florestan before the minister arrives at the prison. Pizarro instructs Rocco to kill Florestan, but the latter refuses and the governor determines to do the job himself, ordering Rocco to dig a grave in Florestan's cell.

Leonore, who has overheard this conversation between Pizarro and Rocco, is determined to rescue Florestan; she plans to search for him among the prisoners and set him free. She pleads with Rocco to allow the prisoners to take exercise in the prison yard but is unable to discover her husband among them. She then persuades Rocco to take her with him into the dungeons, where the suspects Florestan is being held. Pizzaro appears and angrily orders the prisoners to be hustled back to their cells but refrains from punishing Rocco for acting without orders because of the latter's involvement in the plot to murder Florestan.

Act II

Florestan is bewailing his fate in a dungeon and on the verge of hallucination, so to speak, as he sees the image of Leonore in his mind's eye.

Rocco, followed by Leonore, comes in to dig the grave. Horrified, she recognises her husband. When Rocco gives the agreed signal, Pizarro arrives to kill Florestan. Leonore reveals herself as Florestan's wife and is able to prevent the murder by courageously stepping between her husband and Pizarro as he draws his dagger, just as the trumpeter gives the signal announcing the arrival of the minister.

Don Fernando, who has believed his friend Florestan dead, sets him and all the other prisoners free and Pizarro, the tyrant, is arrested to await his just punishment.

Courtesy of the Bayerische Staatsoper. Translation: Susan Bollinger

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=Ludwig van Beethoven

first_audio_name=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio

product_title=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
product_by=Nikolaus Hillebrand (Don Fernando), Donald McIntyre (Don Pizarro), James King (Florestan), Hildegard Behrens (Leonore/Fidelio), Kurt Moll (Rocco), Lucia Popp (Marzellina), Norbert Orth (Jaquino). Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Karl Böhm (cond.). Live performance 30 January 1978.
Recording and license to stream provided by Bayerische Staatsoper.

Posted by Gary at 3:13 PM

November 26, 2005

GINASTERA: Musica de camera y Canciones

Colorful and attractive, this choice does make for a reductive picture of Ginastera, whose composing career took him from music of national character to more modern techniques. This Orfeo recording has a cello/piano sonata from 1979. By this time the composer had decided to bring modern composition techniques into play with some of the material from his earlier period. By no means harsh or aggressively challenging, the piece provides a nice contrast to the rest of the disc’s music, which does call to mind some of the archetypal Argentinean imagery described above.

Soprano Ofelia Sala sings on 7 of the disc’s 16 tracks, all early works of warmth and indigenous atmosphere. Brief songs for voice and piano, they take up barely 15 minutes of the disc’s running time. Ginastera composed three operas, almost mostly unknown to Northern hemisphere stages, but this music here doesn’t give mush of a sense of his operatic style. The music for Dos Canciones and Cinco canciones populares argentines doesn’t require Ms. Sala to stretch her slender, attractive instrument. Tuneful, with fairly simple accompaniment, these attractive pieces make for pleasant but not especially memorable listening. The Cancion a la luna lunanca of the Dos canciones, however, has a sweet endearing simplicity, calling to mind Victoria de los Angeles’s classic recordings of Spanish songs and Sala sings it with touching tenderness.

A keyboard suite, Danzas argentines, and two other chamber pieces, Pampeana #1 and #2, complete the disc. For collectors of this composer, this disc of chamber music in intimate, stylish performances should be quite rewarding. Newcomers to Ginastera’s music might wish to look for a disc containing a suite from his Stravinsky-inspired music for the ballet Estancia. David Robertson leads the Lyon national orchestra in a solid performance on the Naïve label from a year or two ago – it might still be found (!).

Orfeo provides texts in Spanish and English for the Cinco canciones populares argentines, but only Spanish for Dos Canciones. Perhaps a new recording of one of Ginastera’s operas will come along one day. Until then, this disc offers at least a sampling of his vocal music. And some nice gaucho photos.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Alberto Ginastera: Musica de camera y Canciones

product_title=Alberto Ginastera: Musica de camera y Canciones
product_by=Ofelia Sala, soprano; Donald Sulzen, piano; Henri Raudales, violin; Gerhard Zank, cello
product_id=Orfeo C 181 051 A

Posted by Gary at 10:19 PM

Lock, stock and baritone

JONATHAN TREW [The Scotsman, 27 November 2005]

THE Bill, bikinis and drug busts are not normally ingredients associated with a Glyndebourne opera, yet they have all gone into the touring production of Tangier Tattoo, an "operatic thriller" which rolls into Edinburgh next month as part of Glyndebourne on Tour.

Posted by Gary at 10:14 PM

The heart of their music

Collaborating on a work about love, the Liebersons show their own

By Lawrence A. Johnson [Boston Globe, 25 November 2005]

There can be few things in life more irritating than the happy love affairs of other people. But even the most jaded cynic might be captivated by an hour spent with Peter Lieberson and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.

Posted by Gary at 10:11 PM

A Guided Tour Through the Ruin of 'Oberon'

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 27 November 2005]

GERMAN civilization has had a lot to answer for in the last 200 years, but Exhibit A in its defense might be Carl Maria von Weber. No one else's music could be purer of heart and yet so unmistakably German. People confuse moral behavior and art at their peril, but Weber's last opera, "Oberon," like so much of his music, tempts us to do just that. It emits an uncomplicated humanity: an implied goodness that in our more cynical time is received with undeserved wariness.

Posted by Gary at 10:07 PM

November 25, 2005

At Eclectic Zankel Hall, One Thing Rarely Varies

zankel_hall_small.jpgBy DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 25 November 2005]

Two and a half seasons into the life of Zankel Hall, the evidence is in. One of the newest auditoriums in New York, built into the bedrock below Carnegie Hall, has added a dose of richness to the concert scene.

Posted by Gary at 1:41 PM

A Powerful Young Voice Slays the MTA

Check_Jennifer_small.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 25 November 2005]

Imagine if, rather than Siegfried, it was Brunnhilde that was sent to slay the dragon and you will have some idea of the atmosphere surrounding the debut recital of Jennifer Check Tuesday evening. Ms. Check, a former member of the Metropolitan Opera's Young Artist Development Program, won a contest given by the Young Concert Artists organization, the prize for which partially consisted of the opportunity to give a concert at Zankel Hall. But the promoters of this event might have filled more seats had they labeled the evening "Jennifer Versus the MTA!"

Posted by Gary at 1:33 PM

Saul — Town Hall, Leeds

handel2_small.jpgAlfred Hickling [The Guardian, 25 November 2005]

Handel turned to oratorio when the bottom fell out of the market for Italian opera. Opera North has turned to oratorio while the roof has temporarily come off its theatre. But as the company's base gets an overhaul, it's a perfect opportunity to explore works that occupy the hinterland between dramatic and concert performance.

Posted by Gary at 1:23 PM

Xerxes, London Coliseum

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 25 November 2005]

The wit and wisdom of this production remain as fresh as on the day it was new. No wonder the young director of 1985 - Nicholas Hytner - went on to greater things, not least the artistic directorship of the National Theatre.

Posted by Gary at 1:18 PM

VERDI: La Traviata

The cast in this performance, recorded live on November 18, 2004, is as excellent as the names would indicate: Patrizia Ciofi, Roberto Saccà and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Hvorostovsky, who has been singing Germont since 2002, continues to surpass himself in this role every time one hears him. Though difficult to imagine Hvorostovsky as an elder man, he nonetheless gives credence to the role of Germont through his straightforward, yet elegant style of singing and acting. Hvorostvsky’s subtle coloring of his voice, his innate sense of drama and musicianship give him the edge over any other baritone available–be he younger or older. In Act II, when Germont confronts Violetta, Hvorostovsky is vocally stern without being offensive to his son’s mistress, and later in the scene when Germont lets his guard down, the singer is able to project a comforting fatherly image to the woman who is “the ruin” of Alfredo and his family. Not one to ever have been an overly dramatic actor, Hvorostovsky is blessed with a voice overflowing with sentiment and emotion, which does all the acting for the singer, and which caresses the listener’s ears like silk on bare flesh. In “Di Provenza, il mar, il suol/The sea and soil of Provence...” rather than taking the usual admonishing tone, Hvorostovsky sings the aria as one would imagine Verdi wrote it: a plea from a desperate father caught within the social restrictions of the times. Here is a man who sets his pride aside to deal directly with a woman from a lower social status than his, and later to beg his son to remember his responsibility to his family and his social position.

Highly acclaimed as one of Europe’s rising lyric tenors, Roberto Saccà, is an effective interpreter whose voice is sincere, gentle, and with a likeable timbre. In the “Brindisi” Saccà sings effortlessly, as well as in Act II “De’ miei bollenti spiriti/My passionate spirit...” and “Oh mio rimorso/Oh! My remorse!” and with vigor when necessary as in “Questa donna conoscete/Do you know this woman?”

Saccà is also a good actor and, in spite of some of the awkward stage directions, he easily followed the story line: at times infatuated and immature, at times in love, at times hurt and vengeful, and in general portraying Alfredo as the young man he is, in reality (though Saccà looks a bit older).

Patrizia Ciofi is deserving of every accolade. Here is one singer who has matured into one of the most capable artists of her generation. Her acting is as superb and believable in all the key scenes in the opera, but in particular, the prelude, where she appears to be re-living distant memories; in Act II Scene I in the exchange with Germont, and later in Scene II with Alfredo. Act III is a tour de force, and a challenge Ciofi welcomes. From the opening bars, where she is groveling on the floor, to “Tenenste la promessa...Addio del passato/You kept your promise...Farewell to by gone days...,” to the final moments of the opera Ciofi is the consummate singing actress, never once stepping out of character even in the most florid moments; never once betraying the singing for dramatic effect, but always in unison. Throughout the opera Ciofi says more with one raised eyebrow, than others in two hours of singing. Luckily, Ciofi is blessed with striking looks, and a figure which would be the envy of many a teenager–and in this production, good looks are as necessary as the singer’s qualifications, if not more. Ciofi’s singing is even more impressive. Her coloratura in the first act is flawless, as is her dramatic and lyric renditions in the subsequent acts. Ciofi’s interaction with Germont has all the right dramatic touches; indignant at first when he accuses her of taking Alfredo’s money, and lady like with a touch of pride when she demonstrates that it is Alfredo who has lived off her generosity; fearful when Germont asks her for a “sacrifice.” Ciofi displays the right amount of drama in “Amami Alfredo.” She sings the line as though she were living the moment, with conviction and without exaggerated overtones.

The supporting cast is very ably sung, too, and Lorin Maazel clearly knows the score.

Much has been written on the fiasco that was the opera on opening night, March 6, 1853, and the reasons for the failure: contemporary sets and costumes, a heavy set soprano, a hoarse tenor, and a baritone, unhappy with the small size of his role. Verdi wrote to Ricordi, warning him about the failure of the opera, “...I can’t conceal the truth from you. Traviata was a fiasco...,” and to Angelo Mariani, “...what is worse, they laughed.” The reviews were not so pessimistic. One reviewer had some small praise, but refused any details until he heard a completely well sung performance. Another, Tommaso Locatelli, went on to say, that Verdi had been called out several times and that the soprano, Salvini, “ravished the public.”

The opera is supposed to have been a success the following season when it was given in a revised version at the San Benedetto in Venice. The cuts Verdi made to the score, and to the libretto did not constitute major, or drastic changes to justify the success of the revised work, versus the failure of the original score. In fact the cuts to the original score are minimal, which is almost indistinguishable form the revised version.

Whatever the truth about the premiere of the opera, one thing is true: Verdi’s attraction to Dumas’ play, La Dame aux Camélias, was more than theatrical interest, it was also very personal. The composer had been involved as early as 1849 with a woman who had two illegitimate children; she had been the mistress of the manager at La Scala, among others, and society would never welcome her for she was considered “undesirable.”

The play, La dame aux camellias, is based on Dumas’ novel by the same name, which in turn, was based on the author’s ill fated relationship with Alphonsine Marie Duplessis, a well known Parisian courtesan. In the play, Dumas fictionalizes his infatuation with Duplessies who died at age twenty three, and who in real life was an arrogant, and self serving liar, and turns her into the loving, self sacrificing Marguerite Gautier. It is possible that Verdi, by now openly living with Giuseppina Strepponi, had known of Duplessis or had at least seen the play while in Paris in 1852. In either case, Verdi jumped at the chance to set the story to music, and Piave faithfully followed the action and prose of the play in his libretto, with the exception of unnecessary scenes and characters.

Verdi’s living arrangements were too close to the play’s theme for comfort. Nevertheless, he wanted to present Traviata as a contemporary story and in contemporary dress. It is “a subject of the times.” The composer wrote to his friend Cesare de Sanctis on January 1, 1853. Verdi, not one to shy away from a strong, if controversial plot, continues, “Others would not have done it because of the conventions, the epoch and for a thousand other stupid scruples.” La dame aux camellias gave the composer the ideal vehicle to ridicule the double standard set up by the very people in the higher echelons of society, who, like the members of the Jockey Club in Paris, would have affairs behind closed doors but at the same time chastise their victims, or those who chose not to follow the strict rules of convention. More importantly for Verdi, the opera would give him a direct opportunity to protest the treatment Strepponi and he, had received, in particular from the small minded people in Busetto where Verdi and Strepponi lived. Even Verdi’s benefactor, and one time father in law, Antonio Barezzi, wrote to the composer regarding his living arrangements with Strepponi—reminiscent of Germont’s Act II scene with Alfredo.

In a long and detailed letter Verdi wrote back from Paris on January 21, 1852 “... you live in a neighborhood that has the bad habit of frequently butting into other people’s affairs and disapproving of everything that doesn’t square with its own way of looking at things. I am not accustomed to interfere in other people’s business, unless I am asked to, because I demand that no one interfere in mine. Hence the gossip, the grumbling prattle, the disapproval...What harm is it if I keep apart, if I see fit not to visit titled people?...I have nothing to hide. In my house there lives a free, independent lady who loves seclusion as I do, and possesses a fortune...Neither she nor I owe any accounts of our action to anyone...Indeed, I tell you that in my house she is paid the same or rather greater respect than I am, and no one is allowed to fail in that regard for any reason whatsoever, and finally, she has every right to it, as much for her dignity as for her intelligence and her unfailing graciousness to others...I demand my freedom of action, because all people have a right to it and because my whole being rebels against conforming to other people...”

Traviata is not biographical as some have suggested. However, Verdi could not have escaped seeing himself in Dumas, and more importantly, seeing Strepponi in the principal character of the opera, the composer gave Violetta sublime, sympathetic music. With a libretto that closely followed the play, Verdi was able to maintain the sense of intimacy, and pathos in the story, while giving prominence to Violetta’s (ie: Strepponi’s) good nature, her worthiness, and her redemption.

Verdi sets it up musically: in the first act, the ever-present dance music symbolizing the carefree courtesan lifestyle, is always one step, or more, removed from Violetta, indicating that she is not a part of the demi-monde as appearances would indicate. Violetta does not initiate, but rather steps in and out of the musical situations. During the “Brindisi,” Violetta joins Alfredo in alternating stanzas, “Tra voi saprò dividere.../With you I would share my days of happiness...,” as a way of conveying that she is in agreement. Violetta is also saying that she does, or could, have feelings for him—or at least for what Alfredo represents: stability of affection, and social respectability. Further in the scene, the frivolous dance music in the background stops as though indicating that the rest of the party is as interested as Violetta is in hearing Alfredo tell her that he has been in love with her “Ah si, da un anno/For one year.” For Violetta, this break in the music is symbolic of her detachment from the demi-monde, and her determination to escape that lifestyle. The spell is not broken until Gastone walks in on them, “Ebben, che diavol fate?/Well, what the devil are you up to?” and the frivolous music starts where it had left off, before. Still, she hopes, and gives Alfredo a flower to return when it has faded. “È strano, è strano... Ah, fors’è lui.../Strange...those words are carved in my heart...Perhaps this is the man...” with its melancholy line is Violetta’s acknowledgment of her true feelings. This is her longed for opportunity to love, to be loved, and to escape a situation which is contrary to what she wants for herself, but for whatever reason, she has to endure. Violetta vacillates between her supposed life course as a courtesan and her wish to love and be deeply loved. In Violetta’s case, as with most human beings in the same situation, she seemingly dismisses Alfredo, but his off stage song, momentarily, brings her back to face her demons, and her love for him. Violetta vacillates once more, and she appears to have resigned herself to her destiny as a courtesan, “Follie! Follie!.../It is madness....” On face value, this is Violetta’s rebuttal to her inner feelings and to Alfredo’s love, but in truth the aria has a subtle air of nervous energy about it which confirms Violetta’s subconscious acceptance that she has fallen “in love.”

There is no dance music in the first scene of Act II, further cementing her detachment from her previous life. In Act II, scene II, Violetta is never the originator, nor a participant, as the dance music and the dance sequence take place before Violetta’s arrival at the party. In Act III Violetta is completely detached from her previous lifestyle. Upon hearing the carefree singing coming in through the windows, and not recognizing it, she asks whether it is a festive day, to which Annina replies, that all of Paris has gone mad, it is Carnival. Violetta, by this point is so far removed from her previous life style that the music does not stir any longing in her.

This new production at La Fenice, by the otherwise talented, Canadian, Robert Carson, is a misguided attempt to follow Verdi’s original intentions: “A subject of the times.” It appears the production team has used Marie Duplessies, instead of Verdi’s inspiration, Marguerite Gautier, as the basis for the production, and making this Violetta not a likeable character. In spite of its air of glamour, and public spectacle, Verdi created a very intimate work, a chamber piece to be savored by the audience through their participation and association with Violetta, instead of disdain or detached observation. Verdi’s music imbues the character with pathos, melancholy and sincerity which are at odds with the character in this production. This Violetta, unlike the character in the play, and Verdi’s opera, is bent on self-destruction, greed, avarice, and one is happy to be rid of her.

Judging from the costumes and hair design, the action could take place any time between the 60s to the present. When the curtain rises during the overture, Violetta, wearing black bra and panties, is in her studio apartment, with a king-sized bed (Carsen’s obsession) in the middle-back of the room. There is an image of trees in the background, and sparse furnishings scattered about. Several men come in and hand her money, as though in payment for her sexual favors–a metaphor for her profession? Are the trees a possible metaphor for her life? This would be over-stating the obvious, with one objection: Violetta is not a call girl, but a courtesan (mistress), and there is a difference between the two. In order to make the story more contemporary, this production uses oversized, one dollar bills to demonstrate the “evil” of wealth, and indirectly, transferring the action from Paris to the U.S.A. Does this mean that prostitution, wealth and corruption only exists in the U.S.A. and does not exist in Europe, or that Verdi, too, was evil? After all, it is the composer’s face, instead of George Washington’s, which appears on the paper money being flung all over the stage. One wonders why Mr. Carson, a Canadian, did not use the image of his country’s currency. Perhaps he did not want to insult his countrymen, just as he did not want to further insult La Fenice’s audience dressed in French and Italian couture, and who paid up to the equivalent of $1,200 per seat, by using the image of the European Union’s currency, the Euro.

As the opera progresses people, some dressed in “sloppy chic,” barge into the room. Alfredo, a photography aficionado, casually dressed in black jeans, black shirt, and black leather jacket with a camera dangling from his neck (Is wearing all black still considered “chic,” and who goes to a party with a camera?), accompanies himself at the piano during the “Brindisi” (Does the score call for a piano?). Later Alfredo cries out his love for Violetta, and magically produces several extra large (16" x 24") photos that he has taken of her, in Garbo-like poses. Violetta, a heroin junkie, obsessed, too, with these photos, is undecided as to what Alfredo’s attention can mean, and after further evidence that she is greedy, selfish, immature and self-centered, the scene ends with Baron Duphol, a sexually repressed Mafioso, who has returned to the room after the guests parted, “buying” once again Violetta’s favors.

Ignoring some of the lines in the libretto, and the action in the story, Act II, Scene I, takes place in a forest, or what could be the gardens of Violetta’s country house. The scenery consists entirely of the image of the trees from Act I. Dollar bills falling like leaves cover the ground six inches deep (Does Mr. Carsen not realize Violetta has sold her carriages and horses to make ends meet? And what is it with these trees, perhaps a metaphor for the evil in Violetta’s life and her inevitable end?) . Since there is no furniture, or a place to sit, the singers have no choice but to spend an inordinate amount of time between lying on the floor and getting up.

Alfredo, wearing the same clothing as in the party scene three months prior, and the ever present camera hanging from his neck, sings “De’ miei bollenti spiriti/My passionate spirit...” rolling on the floor, or on his back. Heartless Germont, looking more like body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger, is so delighted that Violetta has given up on Alfredo, that he offers her money in reward for her sacrifice. How convenient, too, that Violetta thought of bringing her expense account, her reading material, and her writing supplies and “ball point” pen with her, just in case she needed to prove her worthiness, hide an invitation, or write a “Dear John” letter to her unsuspecting lover. A further, not so obvious connection to Marie Duplessis is the use of her favorite novel, Manon Lescaut, as a prop (Violetta puts the invitation to Flora’s party in the book). Coincidentally, Alfredo is also engrossed in this book and he proceeds to read it while his father, Germont, pours his heart out to his son in, “Dunque invano trovato t’avrò?/Then I have found you in vain?” and before Alfredo catches a glimpse of the invitation, revealing where Violetta is going to be that evening. Without a break between the two scenes, the scenery begins to change as Alfredo runs off stage in search of Violetta. A stage rolls out, a mirror ball from the Disco days of “Studio 54" drops from the ceiling, the guests start bringing in furniture and Germont is left standing there as Flora’s party begins.

At Flora’s house there is a stage in the middle of the room. The curtain opens to reveal, the image of trees, and, not the Spanish dancers/gypsies as the music indicates, but gold lamé clad Las Vegas cowgirls and cowboys wearing lamé vests and chaps over unrealistically padded crotches. The choreography is just as passé with superfluous hip grinding, and cheesy sexual connotations such as the cowboys humping the cowgirls. Later in the same act, during Alfredo’s most dramatic moment in the scene, “Ogni suo aver tal femmina/For me this woman lost all she possessed...,” the same curtain magically opens in time for Germont, to make, what was intended to be a grand, dramatic entrance through the stage, and admonish his son for his rude behavior “Di sprezzo degno/A man who offends a woman...” In effect, Germont’s entrance turned out to be ridiculously comical as though he were Moses who had come to part the Red Sea of sinners in the room.

Act III reveals Violetta’s apartment, which appears to be in the midst of being redecorated; there is scaffolding in the back of the room, with white curtains behind it. Next to the scaffolding there is a piece of furniture covered in plastic; nearby on the floor there is a television monitor, indicating that Violetta fell asleep and forgot to turn it off. To the right, there are saw horses with a temporary table top holding endless containers of paint. Could it be that the ever fashion conscious, social climbing, consumptive woman is spending money she does not have redecorating her flat? Or, is this another metaphor to indicate that someone else in the same profession will, soon, occupy the same room–thereby implying what little value there is in being a kept woman? Let the viewer decide.

Meanwhile, Violetta, destitute, has no bed, and is sleeping on the floor wearing a simple black slip and her black patent leather, ankle strapped, six inch stiletto heels; she has nothing to shield her from the cold except her mink coat. Dr. Grenvil, once again, injects Violetta with a drug, (heroin?) which later when the revelers sing “Largo al quadrupede/Make way for the quadruped...,” induces her to hallucinate them marching into the room and tearing down the white curtain in the back of the room, to reveal, for a fourth time, the image of the trees now torn as an indication of Violetta’s demise.

But all is well that ends well. Alfredo, now a respectable member of society and dressed in the appropriate pin striped suit, just like his father, returns to take Violetta away from Paris; Germont also returns to ask forgiveness, but Violetta pays for her evil ways and dies of consumption. Annina, who up to this moment had been the dutiful maid, but now tired of being at the mercy of this thankless sinner, takes revenge by stealing the mink coat as soon as Violetta expires. To add a touch of irony, the workmen, completely ignoring the dramatic situation playing out in front of them, arrive to finish painting the room and to hang wallpaper.

Too bad Violetta did not live to see the finished product.

The lighting in this production, meant to emphasize the dark side of prostitution is not effective, either. The people on stage are, at times, in half shadows on one side, with harsh, bright lights on the other, producing unflattering visuals and making the production look cheap. Some of this could be the fault of the film director. At times, there are some unflattering close-ups. Why these and other shots were not edited is anyone’s guess.

Of course, none of this would have been an issue had the production team not taken Verdi’s comment, “A subject of the times,” quite literally, instead of how Verdi meant it: a mirror to his personal ordeals at the time, in 1853. True, the story reflects an important facet of today, but prostitution, social mores, and the difference between the classes will continue to be a point of difference among humans, as it has been since man first walked the earth. This does not mean that La Traviata, or any opera, should not be presented in an updated version. What it means is that productions should not introduce a multitude of unnecessary elements which distract the viewer away from the music and the drama being played out on the stage and orchestra pit. A production should reflect what the librettist and the composer intended, instead of a projection of the production team’s notion of the opera; a work which tells more about them than the work they are given to produce.

To paraphrase Martin Bernheimer, “The innovators obviously did not care to brush up their [Dumas], much less their [Verdi].”

Luckily the DVD offers an option for sound only, and this is the real merit of this DVD: the singers are at their best, as is the orchestra, chorus, and the conductor.

Daniel Pardo 2005

Production Information:

Violetta Valéry Patrizia Ciofi
Alfredo Germont Roberto Saccà
Giorgio Germont Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Flora Bervoix Eufemia Tufano
Annina Elisabetta Martorana
Gastone Salvatore Cordella
Il barone Duphol Andrea Porta
Il dottore Grenvil Federico Sacchi
Il marchese d’Obigny Vito Priante
Giuseppe Luca Favaron
Un domestico Salvatore Giacalone
Un commissionario Antonio Casagrande
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Chorus Master: Pietro Monti
Conductor, Lorin Maazel
Directed for stage by Robert Carsen
Sets & Costumes: Patrick Kinmonth
Dramatic Advisor: Ian Burton
Choreography: Philippe Giraudeau
Lighting Design: Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet
Directed for TV and Video by Patrizia Carmine


Verdi: the man in his letters
Franz Werfel and Paul Stefan
© 1942 L. B. Fischer Publishing Corp.
Renewal Copyright © 1970 by Anna Mahler
Vienna House, New York

The Opera News Book of “Traviata”
Edited by Frank Merkling

© 1970 The Metropolitan Opera Guild, Inc.
Dodd, Mead & Company, New York

The Complete Operas of Verdi
© 1969 Charles Osborne

1973 Pan Books Ltd., London
A Book of Operas
Henry Edward Krehbiel
© 1937 The Macmillan Co., New York

Financial Times
Martin Bernheimer
© November 16, 2005

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
product_by= Patrizia Ciofi, Roberto Saccà, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Lorin Maazel (cond.). Stage Director: Robert Carsen
product_id=TDK DV-OPLTLF [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 1:03 PM

November 24, 2005

Maria Callas Performs Lady Macbeth

1. "Nel dì della vittoria . . . Vien! t'Affretta! . . . Or tutti sorgete" from Act I, Scene 2:

(Atrio nel castello di Macbeth che mette in altre stanze. Lady Macbeth leggendo una lettera.)

"Nel dì della vittoria io le incontrai...
Stupito io n'era per le udite cose;
Quando i nunzi del Re mi salutaro
Sir di Caudore, vaticinio uscito
Dalle veggenti stesse
Che predissero un serto al capo mio.
Racchiudi in cor questo segreto. Addio."
Ambizioso spirto
Tu sei Macbetto... Alla grandezza aneli,
Ma sarai tu malvagio?
Pien di misfatti È il calle
Della potenza, e mal per lui che il piede
Dubitoso vi pone, e retrocede!

Vieni t'affretta! Accendere
Ti vo' quel freddo core!
L'audace impresa a compiere
Io ti darò valore;
Di Scozia a te promettono
Le profetesse il trono...
Che tardi? Accetta il dono,
Ascendivi a regnar. . . . .

(Un servo e la precedente.)

Al cader della sera il Re qui giunge.

Che di'? Macbetto È seco?

Ei l'accompagna.
La nuova, o donna, è certa.

Trovi accoglienza quale un re si merta.

(Il servo parte)

Duncano sarà qui?...qui? qui la notte?...
Or tutti sorgete, - ministri infernali,
Che al sangue incorate,- spingete i mortali!
Tu, notte, ne avvolgi - di tenebre immota;
Qual petto percota - non vegga il pugnal.

2. "La luce langue" from Act II, Scene 1 (1865 version):

La luce langue, il faro spegnesi
Ch'eterno corre per gli ampi cieli!
Notte desiata provvida veli
La man colpevole che ferirà.
Nuovo delitto! E' necessario!
Compiersi debbe l'opra fatale.
Ai trapassati regnar non cale;
A loro un requiem, l'eternità.
(con trasporto)
O voluttà del soglio!
O scettro, alfin sei mio!
Ogni mortal desio
Tace e s'acqueta in te.
Cadrà fra poco esanime
Chi fu predetto re.

3. "Una macchia è qui tuttora" from Act IV, Scene 2:

(Lady depone il lume e si frega le mani, facendo l'atto di cancellare qulche cosa.)

Perch‚ sfrega le man?

Lavarsi crede!

Una macchia è qui tuttora...
Via, ti dico, o maledetta!...
Una... Due... gli è questa l'ora!
Tremi tu?... non osi entrar?
Un guerrier così codardo?
Oh vergogna!... orsù, t'affretta!...
Chi poteva in quel vegiardo
Tanto sangue immaginar?

Che parlò?...

Di Fiffe il Sire
Sposo e padre or or non era?...
Che n'avvenne?...
(Si guarda le mani.)
E mai pulire queste mani io non saprò?...

Oh terror!...

Di sangue umano
Sa qui sempre... Arabia intera
Rimondar sì piccol mano
Co' suoi balsami non può.


I panni indossa
Della notte... Or via, ti sbratta!...
Banco è spento, e dalla fossa
Chi morì non surse ancor.

Questo ancor?...

A letto, a letto...
Sfar non puoi la cosa fatta...
Batte alcuno!... andiam, Macbetto,
Non t'accusi il tuo pallor.

Ah, di lei pietà, Signor!

Supporting Cast: Attilio Barbesi (Servo), Dario Caselli (Medico), Angela Vercelli (Dama)

image_description=Maria Callas

first_audio_name=Maria Callas Performs Lady Macbeth

Posted by Gary at 3:07 PM

A Soprano Who Is Immersed in Schumann and Strauss

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 24 November 2005]

Here's the bottom line of any music recital: Is the artist actually saying anything, and do you want to hear him again? There are a number of ways to quantify the answers to these questions: two key distinguishing characteristics, in voice, are technique and expression.

Posted by Gary at 1:53 PM

November 23, 2005

Cosi Fan Tutte — Komische Oper, Berlin

Cosi_Berlin_small.jpgTim Ashley [The Guardian, 23 November 2005]

Peter Konwitschny's new production of Cosi Fan Tutte examines sex as an eruptive force of nature that needs to be accepted as such if we are ever to live with it. "I seem to have Vesuvius in my breast," Dorabella sings, as her growing desire for Guglielmo sweeps thoughts of Ferrando from her mind. Nature, of which she is a part, convulses appropriately with her words: she and Guglielmo snaffle round each other like animals, as steam hisses through the floor and lava trickles round their feet.

Posted by Gary at 2:17 PM

Harley, Zurich Opera

OZ_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 23 November 2005]

Every opera house should be doing this. Munich's Bavarian State Opera and the Zurich Opera joined forces five years ago to found an opera competition for young composers. Six finalists wrote six short operas for both cities.

Posted by Gary at 2:06 PM

Opera tenor James King dies at 80

[BBC News, 23 November 2005]

US opera singer James King has died at the age of 80.

The Kansas-born tenor, whose powerful voice made him a popular leading man in operas around the world, died in Florida after suffering a heart attack.

Posted by Gary at 1:56 PM

November 22, 2005

Lamento — Arias, Cantatas and Scenes by the Bach Family

No, for the accolade rings true, not least because of the similarity of repertoire; the first disc was devoted entirely to music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the latest, Lamento, features his work as well as that of some of his sons and a cantata by one Francesco Bartelemo Conti. And the singing from the soloist rivals the beauty on display on the disc’s cover.

All but the most baroque-allergic should find Lamento a marvelous listen. Although the title may suggest a morose tone, the laments here express themselves as pained but beautiful cries of the heart: “my beloved makes me happy to die,” Kozena sings in the Conti cantata. The beloved is Jesus, of course, but the last two pieces on the disc, Selma by CPE Bach and Die Amerikanerin (yes, The American Woman) venture into more familiar romantic territory. The latter selection, composed by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, promises a more intriguing text than it delivers; the music’s appeal more than compensates.

The pieces have also been selected with an ear for musical variety, and Goebel and his excellent musicians illuminate colors and textures with great skill. But this is a Magdalena Kozena disc. Only Goebel and three others of his musicians earn the right to join Kozena in one of the booklet’s numerous photographs.

Kozena’s impeccable taste and attractive tone by themselves make her a special singer, but she also has a subtle dramatic sense that pulls one into the texts without reaching for effects. The recordings fairly capture the size of her voice; a Kozena Amneris remains a distinctly unlikely occurrence. At times she almost blends into the musical fabric too well, and a sharper profile could be to her advantage. That aside, singing of this caliber more than justifies the glamour shots of the CD package.

In a better musical world, a CD such as Lamento would be sampled regularly on our classical radio stations, and Kozena would have a hit record on her hands. That seems unlikely in the current depressed classical recording industry, but for those who add the disc to their collection, much pleasure is in store.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy


product_title=Lamento — Arias, Cantatas and Scenes by the Bach Family
product_by=Magdalena Kožená, Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel
product_id=Archive 474 194-2 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 4:52 PM

Soprano Deborah Voigt comes back with her familiar, splendid sound intact

Joshua Kosman [SF Chronicle, 22 November 2005]

Talk about your before and after snapshots.

Soprano Deborah Voigt returned to the Bay Area on Sunday afternoon with a recital program almost identical to the one she performed here a year and a half ago. The vocal results were generally similar, too -- Voigt's potent, gleaming sound, her effortless precision and her winning, expressive stage demeanor all remain gloriously intact.

Posted by Gary at 12:37 PM

Los Angeles Opera overcomes musket misfires, unsettling sets

Urmana_Tosca_LA_small.jpgBy John Farrell [Long Beach Press-Telegram, 22 November 2005]

LOS ANGELES Opera opened a revival of its production of Puccini's "Tosca" Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the performance was one for the history books.

Probably the cast would have preferred it otherwise.

Posted by Gary at 9:19 AM

Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Stemme_small.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 22 November 2005]

How delightful that a government paper recommending a rise in the retirement age to 67 should be made public on the very day that Charles Mackerras was celebrating his 80th birthday, hard at work in the pit at the Royal Opera House. Somebody in the pensions business has a sense of humour.

Posted by Gary at 9:05 AM

Dresden's heart reclaimed from the ashes

frauenkirche_small.jpg[Photo: Wiederaufbau Frauenkirche Dresden]
By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 22 November 2005]

Two weeks after its official reopening, visitors still wait patiently in the sleet for a glimpse of the new baroque interior of Dresden's reconstructed Frauenkirche. There is a smattering of tourists, but it is mostly locals who come, to gaze with a wonder that recalls the first Nativity. Unto us a church is born. Again.

Posted by Gary at 8:54 AM

A Delicious Recital, Coughs and All

kirchschlager2_small.jpgBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 22 November 2005]

Angelika Kirchschlager, one of the most appetizing singers in the world, gave a recital at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday afternoon.The Austrian mezzo-soprano stands out in both opera and song.With Susan Graham, she is probably the leading Octavian ("Der Rosenkavalier") in the business, and she is known for the Mozart roles as well. In recital, she sometimes appears with the baritone Simon Keenlyside, and she sometimes collaborates with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the first-class pianist who likes to perform with singers (Renee Fleming is another of his partners). Miss Kirchschlager has shaped an admirable career.

Posted by Gary at 8:42 AM

Liszt, Haydn and Brahms, With a Touch of the Nightclub

kirchschlager_small.jpgBy ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 22 November 2005]

It was clear early in Angelika Kirchschlager's recital at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday afternoon that something was not quite right. This Austrian mezzo-soprano's tone, usually warm and supple, seemed off its center in an opening group of Haydn songs. The reason became apparent just before the last piece in the set, which she preceded with a cough that sounded serious. Later, when the audience's coughing covered the end of a Liszt song, occasioning a torrent of shushing, Ms. Kirchschlager empathized with the coughers, announcing, "I have a cough, too."

Posted by Gary at 8:28 AM

November 21, 2005

Bayerische Staatsoper on the Death of James King

James King verstarb am 21. November 2005

Wie heute bekannt wurde, verstarb der am 22. Mai 1925 in Kansas geborene Tenor James King am 25. November 2005 im Alter von 80 Jahren. Nach seinem Debüt 1961 in der Rolle des italienischen Sängers im Rosenkavalier in San Francisco, begann James King mit der Übernahme seiner ersten Wagner-Partie, dem Lohengrin, an der Deutschen Oper Berlin 1963 seine glanzvolle Karriere als Wagner- und Heldentenor. Es folgten Gastspiele an allen führenden Opernhäusern und bei den bedeutendsten Festivals.

Die Bayerische Staatsoper, der er lange Jahre verbunden war, verdankt ihm zahlreiche legendäre Aufführungen. Unvergessen sind seine großartigen Erfolge als Kaiser (Frau ohne Schatten, NI 1972), Siegmund (Die Walküre), die Titelrolle in Parsifal (NI 1973), Bacchus (Ariadne auf Naxos, NI 1969) und Florestan (Fidelio NI 1974 und 1978).

Posted by Gary at 2:17 PM

RAMEAU: Les Indes galantes

These qualities are abundant his operas, which transcend stereotypes of static opera seria through their descriptive orchestral writing, their lyrical airs, and a style of recitative that follows the natural flow and music of the French language, without devolving into dry recitation.

Rameau was 50 when his first opéra tragique (tragic opera), Hippolyte et Aricie, debuted on the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique in 1733. With this work, Rameau was treading on familiar operatic ground, but many in the audience were baffled by Rameau’s daring realization of opéra tragique, a genre established by the still-beloved Lully (1632-1687). Les Indes galantes (1735) belongs to a different operatic genre, the opéra-ballet, which featured independent—but loosely connected—plots separated into several entrées. As the genre’s name suggests, dance played an important part in the opéra-ballet, and Les Indes galantes is no exception; each entrée closes with a divertissement, a collection of dance movements and dance songs that tie into the plot of the entrée.

At its premiere in 1735, Les Indes galantes consisted of a prologue and three entrées: “Le Turc généreux” (The Generous Turk), “Les Incas du Pérou” (The Incas of Peru), and “Les Fleurs” (The Flowers); soon after the premiere, Rameau added a fourth entrée, “Les Sauvages” (The Savages). Each entrée is set in a different exotic location—Turkey, Peru, Persia, and America. The librettist, Louis Fuzelier, indicated the sources of inspiration for these locales in his published preface to the libretto: The plot of “Le Turc généreux” was inspired by a news report in the journal Mercure de France, while both “Les Incas du Pérou” and “Les Fleurs” reflect popular contemporary travel literature. The source of the setting of “Les Sauvages” is a 1725 visit to Paris by two native Americans from France’s new colony in Louisiana; Rameau’s set of harpsichord pieces entitled Les Sauvages were inspired by the dances performed by the two visitors, and served as the basis for the divertissement of the final entrée of Les Indes galantes. The entrées are strung loosely together by a common thread introduced in the Prologue, in which the Hébé, the goddess of youth, laments the seduction of idle youths by Bellone, the goddess of war, who promises them glory in battle. Hébé calls on Cupid to send his winged followers throughout the world to search for true love.

The musical performances in this production are superb—everything that one can expect from Les Arts Florissants and its director, William Christie. The soloists all have clear, agile voices, and are accomplished actors. In particular, the air “Viens, hymen, viens m’unir au vainqueur que j’adore” (Come, Hymen, to unite me with the conqueror whom I love) in “Les Incas du Pérou” and the quartet “Tendre amour, que pour nous ta chaîne” (Tender love, may you enchain us) are meltingly lovely.

On the other hand, the staging by Andrei Serban is uneven. Certainly the genre of opéra-ballet is lighter than opéra tragique, but the director seems determined to find humor everywhere, from a “goddess” of war in drag, to a slinky Indian maiden singing of the “innocence” of love. To my mind, only the mistaken identity in the plot of the Persian entrée (“Les Fleurs”) is clearly humorous, as it foreshadows comic theatrical devices that came to fruition in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. The director’s stated goal was to provide an imaginative feast for the eyes, but the quest for visual brilliance and comedy often threatens to descend into meaningless antics. Serban does not seem comfortable with letting the music carry the action; a number of gentle airs are overshadowed by stage business that seems to have no purpose, from a simple procession of people in the background, to a recurring acrobatic act that culminates in the pair dangling from the fly space à la Cirque du Soliel. The use of supernumeraries in large head-masks was probably meant to be whimsical, but to me the human minarets populating “Le turc généreux,” the dancers wearing huge flower pots in “Les Fleurs,” and the life-size Hopi Kachina dolls cavorting in “Les Sauvages” were just silly.

Because of the large amount of music for dance in the opéra-ballet, the choreographer plays an important role in the staging, but Blanca Li is as inconsistent as the director. In the prologue, the dancers’ steps are clearly based on authentic Baroque dance, but the choreographer has inserted odd body and arm positions that come straight out of modern classical dance. Although most of the dance seems in the style of Martha Graham, we see sailors executing moves from On the Town in “Le turc généroux” and flower pots dancing the Charleston and the “Swim” in “Les Fleurs.” On the whole, the director does not seem to give Rameau enough credit to be able to hold the audience through the music, but feels compelled to keep his audience visually entertained instead.

Deborah Kauffman
Editor, Journal of Musicological Research
University of Northern Colorado

image_description=Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Indes galantes

product_title=Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Indes galantes
Opera in 5 Acts. Sung in French
product_by=Danielle de Niese, Anna Maria Panzarella, Paul Agnew, Nathan Berg, Jaël Azzaretti, Richard Croft, Gaële Le Roi, Malin Hartelius, Nicolas Rivenq, Patricia Petibon. Les Arts Florissants Orchestra and Chorus, William Christie (cond.). From the Opéra National de Paris, 2003
product_id=Opus Arte OA 0923 D [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 11:30 AM

Un Ballo In Maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Flaws in the execution
By Edward Seckerson [The Independent, 21 November 2005]

The title page of the programme was discreetly etched with balloons. On the inside pages, greetings from the great and the good of classical music displayed an almost competitive enthusiasm. Sir Charles Mackerras - the musicians' musician - is 80, and he chose to spend the evening of the big day in his rightful place, on the podium of the Royal Opera House, conducting Verdi's Un ballo in maschera with an urgency that had nothing to do with the vanishing years and everything to do with dramatic imperative.

Posted by Gary at 11:13 AM

A Strong Dose Of Gallic Charm For This Juliet

BY GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Sun, 21 November 2005]

The premiere of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" a week ago was a palatable affair even without its star soprano, Natalie Dessay, who was laid low by a cold. Maureen O'Flynn gave a perfectly creditable performance in her stead, but there is no denying the artistic boost Ms. Dessay gave the enterprise when she joined the cast at the second performance on Thursday evening.

Posted by Gary at 11:08 AM

Lyric's 'Marriage' lovely but so confusing

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 21 November 2005]

There are several compelling reasons to head over to the Civic Opera House and buy a ticket for Lyric Opera of Chicago's first-ever performance of Sir Michael Tippett's 1955 opera, "The Midsummer Marriage.''

Posted by Gary at 10:54 AM

Marta Eggerth, Legendary Soprano, Talks About Vienna, Career

eggerth_martha.jpgBy Manuela Hoelterhoff [Bloomberg, 21 November 2005]

In a picture-filled house in leafy Rye, a half-hour outside Manhattan, an attractive, very lively blonde in pumps, red jacket, black skirt and gold earrings begins to sing.

I know the song: It's the showpiece in Franz Lehar's eternally popular 1905 operetta, ``The Merry Widow.'' But I've never heard it sung by a soprano who was adored by the composer himself and has a huge photo of the waltzmeister on her grand piano in a silver frame to prove it: Marta Eggerth.

Posted by Gary at 10:50 AM

US-Tenor James King 80-jährig verstorben

king_james_small.jpgSN/APA [21 November 2005]

Der US-Tenor James King ist am Sonntag 80-jährig verstorben. King, Kammersänger und Ehrenmitglied der Wiener Staatsoper, wurde in seiner in den 1960ern begonnenen internationalen Sangeskarriere einer der gefragtesten Heldentenöre und sang an allen großen Opernhäusern der Welt.

Posted by Gary at 10:08 AM

November 20, 2005

Verdi's Macbeth — The Critical Edition

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play about hallucinations, and there is a certain ghostly quality about this edition of the opera as well: the text, though stated with triumphant clarity, is surrounded by a penumbra of variants: first thoughts, second thoughts, restored erasures and cross-outs, smudges unsmudged where possible, alternative versions proposed by censors, stage directors, conductors, scholars, and fools. Indeed to read the critical notes is to follow with amazing detail Verdi’s creative process, as he charges along—carelessly notating his ideas, writing on the wrong stave—then reconsiders. But the reconsiderations themselves tend to be imperfectly written, so the text of the opera, especially in certain details of phrasing and slurring and accentuation, remains to some extent liquid. Even a score edited with Prof. Lawton’s scrupulous intelligence remains a score rather than the score: if Lady Macbeth wished to sing a strange chromatic run during her first-act duet (at lo direbbe l’invitto che fu, chi mai? , in the 1847 version), an ossia printed in the notes (Critical Commentary, p. 253) invites her to do so. Prof. Lawton notes (Full score, p. xli) that in I masnadieri, Verdi didn’t even bother to write out one of the cadenzas, but merely noted the extremes of range, so that Jenny Lind could provide anything she wanted. Opera scores are always hypertexts and hypotexts, incomplete and overcomplete, demanding the performer’s whim, and subject to the performer’s whim even against the composer’s wishes; but here we have, it seems, every possibility that Verdi considered, from the solidly determinate to the conjectural and rejected. Various Macbeths peer out from beneath the score’s main image, like the sortileges of kings that recede from Banquo, who holds a mirror, because we always stare at our own image whenever we stare at a score.

The major alternative to the 1865 Paris Macbeth that we all know, and many of us love, is of course the 1847 original. Prof. Lawton is aware that this edition, with the variant 1847 versions presented in the appendix, may help to spur performances of the 1847 text, which differs in many ways: no La luce langue, no duet for the Macbeths at the end of the third act, no final hymn of victory, a completely different Patria oppressa chorus for the Scottish refugees at the beginning of the last act, as well as some important changes in the first-act duet and the apparition scene. A great deal of information on the 1847 has been readily available, from the Dynamic and Opera Rara recordings and from Verdi’s “Macbeth,” ed. David Rosen and Andrew Porter, the indispensable companion, which prints long excerpts from the 1847 vocal score, along with source studies and reception history. Prof. Lawton is generous in praising this book as the source for his own source study, but he corrects some of its errors: for example, recent transcripts of Verdi’s letters reveal that Verdi’s famous insult to the librettist Piave (“I wouldn’t take your drama for all the gold in the world”) was actually an expression of sympathy: “I wouldn’t wish you injury for all the gold in the world”—Verdi wrote danno, not dramma (Full score, p. xiii). Now, with this critical edition, we can take Piave’s 1847 drama whenever we wish, if we have $400 or so of the world’s gold.

In Verdi’s day the 1847 version was a hit, the 1865 much less so; for much of the last century the opera has often been performed in a slightly mixed version, mostly 1865, but with Macbeth’s 1847 death solo Mal per me spliced into the last act. But there is a case to be made for acquainting audiences with both of the pure versions, and I hope that the fortunes of the earlier text prosper under this new stimulus. The 1865 version is more spacious, sprawling, operatic: the Parisian ballet-pantomime for Hecate offers a glimpse at fate’s control mechanisms; the new chorus for the Scottish refugees has a greater emotional amplitude; and Lady Macbeth’s La luce langue is one of Verdi’s great arias, a show-stopper. If mixed-mode dramaturgy, opportunities for histrionic display, are Shakespearean, then 1865 is more Shakespearean than its predecessor. But—you may feel that the show ought not to be stopped, for applauding the soprano or for any other reason. If you feel that Macbeth is a claustrophobic, punishingly thrusting, maniacal thing, a drama in which the walls keep closing around, a study of folie à deux, a play of pit and pendulum, then 1847 is the more Shakespearean: the noose always feels tighter. This difference is exactly comparable to that between Gluck’s original Orfeo ed Euridice of 1762 and its looser, longer, more recognizably operatic revision, Orphée et Eurydice; and I think that Macbeth, like Orfeo, is one of the great reform operas.

The greater economy of the 1847 version can be seen in many ways, in matters both large and small. For an example of a large matter, there is the substitution of La luce langue (Light thickens) for Trionfai! (I have triumphed) near the beginning of the second act—Trionfai! is full of wide leaps, cackles and gloats, as if Lady Macbeth were herself playing the role of a witch. She notes that the murder of Duncan is meaningless unless the throne is secured by more crimes: the most salient line is la regal corona è nulla, se può in capo vacillar! (the royal crown is nothing if it totters on the head). Verdi went to some effort to illustrate this line as exactly as possible: the last syllable of vacillar vacillates wildly into staccato coloratura; and the word nulla is given astonishing stress, losing its balance over a minor second, or plunging down a fifth or seventh, or sustained for two and half loud bars. Here the nullity at the heart of Lady’s triumph is graphic. In the 1865 revised version, Verdi replaced Trionfai! with a far more memorable aria, La luce langue, but there is a case to made for retaining Trionfai!: its very vulgarity aligns Lady with the “trivial” witches-Verdi called the witches triviali, ma stravaganti ed originali (vulgar, but bizarre but original). Trionfai! suggests the coarseness of sin and the untenability of vicious success; and the drugged, effortful, queasy quality of La luce langue may suggest an elderly duchess with a hangover more than a medieval queen lusting for more blood. The singer of La luce langue is already baffled, almost sleepwalking through her own victory; the hollowness is too explicit here.

For an example of a small but telling matter, I turn to a short passage in the great first-act duet. In both versions, Lady Macbeth mocks her husband by quoting his own tune back at him: Macbeth tells her of the voice that accuses him of murdering sleep, avrai per guanciali sol vepri, o Macbetto (you will have only thorns for a pillow, O Macbeth), and Lady Macbeth suggests that the phantom voice was really saying Sei vano, o Macbetto, ma privo d’ardire (you are vain, O Macbeth, but not bold enough); Lady recasts Macbeth’s B-flat minor phrase in a garishly cheerful B-flat major-a parody that displays the effect of psychic intimacy that Lady is trying to achieve, as if she were a second point of view inside Macbeth’s skull, offering alternative interpretations for the same event. But in 1865 Verdi altered Lady Macbeth’s vocal line to make the quotation freer, more flamboyant, less recognizable; in 1847 Lady Macbeth repeated her husband’s tune with very little alteration, as if she were little more than a transposing parrot. In the earlier version the Macbeths have little distance from one another; the stultifying psychic closeness of the murderers is more apparent. It is clearer that they are playing a mirroring game with one another, just as Otello and Iago play in Otello:

Iago. Dassenno? (Indeed?)
Otello. Sì, dassenno. Nel credi onesto? (Do you think her honest?)
Iago. Onesto?
Otello. Che ascondi nel tuo core? (What are you hiding in your heart?)
Iago. Che ascondo in cor, signore? (What am I hiding in my heart, lord?)
Otello. “Che ascondo in cor, signore?”

From onesto on, these phrases all begin with the same three notes—it is not easy to tell which is the singing coach and which the slow-witted pupil, but the audience knows that Iago, usurping Otello’s voice, is calling the tune. Temptation scenes play in Verdi’s head as a form of echolalia.

For another example of the special pleasures of 1847, I turn to the famous little phrase Tutto è finito! After Macbeth kills Duncan, he returns to his wife, “as if choking,” he announces Tutto è finito! (All done!) to a simple minor-second figure (often scale degrees ^5-flat^6-^5, but sometimes transposed to the tonic or the mediant), at the threshold of recognition as an epigram. As many critics (starting with Abramo Basevi in 1859) have noticed, Verdi will construct a number of important figures along identical lines: we can hear Tutto è finito in Macbeth’s description of the voice that says Macbeth doth murder sleep (Allor questa voce); in the opening of the great choral lament in the finale to the first act (Schiudi, inferno): and the first three bars of the prelude to the second act, obviously recalling Tutto è finito, note for note; and even the words Una macchia (a stain) in the sleepwalking scene, a subtle recollection. In the 1865 version, the accompaniment to the chorus of Scottish refugees, Patria oppressa, is full of intricate traceries of such figures. Gary Tomlinson offers an exceptionally full catalogue of these Tutto è finitos of the 1865 text in his Metaphysical Song: An Essay on Opera, pp. 96-99.

But the1847 version is still more obsessed with the Tutto è finito epigram: for example, in the first setting of Patria oppressa the vocal line was itself based on a rhythmically charged figure (scale degrees ^3-^4-^4-^3), dripping the same sort of blood as the previous examples. The apotheosis of the Tutto è finito epigram occurs in the final scene of the 1847 version, Macbeth’s death solo Mal per me, in which the orchestra turns the scale-degree ^5-flat^ 6-^5 figure into a hangman’s continuous drum-roll—the development of the epigram-figure, at once subtle and abrupt, anticipates certain procedures of Otello, written long afterward. This little figure is the music-icon of the stain that can’t be washed out-and since in a tragedy falling minor seconds, the basic figure of desolation since the days of Monteverdi’s stile molle, are likely to be everywhere, Verdi teaches us to read them as an omnipresence of blood. Verdi spatters his score with incriminating spots.

Lurking in the small print of the critical edition there can be found Macbeths beyond either official version. Prof. Lawton is fascinated by the alterations imposed by censors, and one of the delights of reading his notes is his quotation of mutant libretti. We don’t hear much about the Non-regicidal Macbeth of Palermo, in which Macbeth murders a “very rich Scottish nobleman,” Count Walfred (Verdi’s “Macbeth,” p. 356), but we are offered several delectable samples of the Namby-pamby Macbeth created to conform to the censorship of Rome: the Roman authorities, concerned about the impiety of witchcraft, changed the witches into a band of gypsies who tell fortunes with cards (Trar per Banco l’Asse io vo- For Banquo I’m going to draw an ace—Critical Commentary, p. 55). Later (p. 158) Prof. Lawton quotes the passage where the gypsies brew in their cauldron “an all-purpose potion … for an amorous young virgin, a gambler, and a young warrior.” Perhaps we are fortunate that the gypsies in the Rome Macbeth were not shown picking Macbeth’s pocket or stealing a chicken. The witches have always jostled for space in production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and have often endured a certain repression; and the beardless, castrated witches of Rome represent a limit in shackling their power.

But perhaps the most intriguing of all revisionist versions is the Operatized Macbeth that Léon Escudier, the impresario of 1865, hoped to coax Verdi into writing. It was clear from the beginning that Macbeth was singularly unsuited to become an opera because it lacked a plausible role for a romantic tenor; throughout his life Verdi insisted that the lead tenor, Macduff, was not to be considered an important role. But Escudier was determined to find some way of justifying the attentions of an expensive tenor. He exercised his considerable resources of politesse in trying to persuade Verdi to augment Macduff’s role by letting him (instead of Lady) sing a stanza of the brindisi; while Verdi was equally determined to relegate the sane Macduff to the edges of the opera (Verdi’s “Macbeth,” pp. 97, 101, 114-16). Eventually Escudier actually ordered, without Verdi’s knowledge, a change in the fourth-act cabaletta sung by Macduff, Malcolm, and the chorus, turning it into a solo for Macduff; earlier tenors, starting in 1850, had already augmented the role of Macduff by replacing this cabaletta with a solo cabaletta from Alzira concerning a disruption of a wedding (Full score, p. xxxix). But it is Escudier’s proposed alteration of the brindisi, the toast to the guests just before Banco’s ghost appears in the second-act banquet scene, that most encourages speculation. If Verdi had capitulated, the next step (as I try to imagine the Macbeth opera that Escudier really wanted) would have been to reconstruct the brindisi as a duet for Lady and Macduff, with a sketch of an embrace at the end; next, Lady and Macduff could exchange significant glances when Macbeth sees Banco’s ghost. The end of the Escudierization of Macbeth would require new music, a love duet in which soprano and tenor swear to be true to one another, after the crackpot husband—the normal inconvenient baritone—has been eliminated. Such a movement toward the rhythms of the erotic would demote the supernatural scenes to bad dreams; but in Macbeth the whole foreground is governed by the chronology of nightmare, and Macbeth had to be a sort of anti-opera in order to exist on the musical stage at all.

I’m not sure whether a performance (of either version) based on the critical edition would sound much different from the score that we’re used to. Prof. Lawton tells in detail how errors crept into the score, but there seem to be few places where he’s confident that his version will be audibly superior to the old ones. One occurs in the sleepwalking scene, measure 119: “In the passage leading up to the high b[-flat]”, two notes and the turn were omitted in all MS score copies … and every subsequent edition contains this mistake. V[erdi]’s notation is not only as clear as can be, but the effect of the music gains enormously from following it” (Critical Commentary, pp. 225-26). But clarity of text, like clarity of whim, is important in performing an opera, and I would very much like to hear a Macbeth based on this score. Prof. Lawton has contributed significantly to one of the most distinguished series in the history of music publishing.

Daniel Albright
Harvard University

image_description=Macbeth by Rafal Olbinski (1999)

product_title=Giuseppe Verdi, Macbeth: Melodramma in Four Acts. Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.
product_by=Edited by David Lawton. 612 p., Three-volume set. Score (two volumes cloth): 1040 p., 10-1/2 x 14-1/2; Commentary (one volume cloth): 304p., 6-3/4 x 9-1/2. 10-1/2 x 14-1/2 2005 Series: (WGV-O) The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, Series I: Operas. The University of Chicago Press (Chicago and London) and Ricordi (Milan), 2005.
product_id=ISBN 0-226-85320-9

Posted by Gary at 9:10 PM

Verdi Songs

Sloppy musicianship cannot be hidden behind rubato, as one might conceivably be able to do in a Puccini aria, and, if the rest is missing, the piece will not come to life as it should.

Last year, when Norah Amsellem sang Gilda in the Seattle Opera Company’s production of Rigoletto, I did not have this checklist explicitly in mind, but I do remember thinking during “Caro Nome” that, while her voice was not as big as might be desired for the Verdi dramatic soprano roles, as Gilda she had the range of color and dynamics needed to keep the aria alive throughout. On this CD devoted completely to Verdi’s smaller scale Composizione da Camera, the piano accompaniment puts fewer volume demands on the voice, while at the same time depending even more upon vocal color and dynamic range, since the full orchestra is not there to provide sonic variety.

It would follow that this disc would be a great showpiece for Amsellem’s talents, which in many ways it is. And yet, when I listened to it as a program from start to finish, it was not completely satisfying to me. It has been hard to pin down exactly why this is, as I could not fault the artists’ musicianship, and beyond that, whenever I looked for performance examples that I could responsibly criticize, I would hear other examples in which Amsellem beautifully did what I had set out to say that she did not do. “Ad una stella” is, to my ear, a fine example of Verdi singing: smooth legato, dynamic swells in all the right places, and an exquisite skip up a seventh on “sera” in the final verse. Similarly, “Perduto ho la pace”, which is an Italian translation of the scene in Goethe’s Faust where the erotically agitated Gretchen sits at the spinning wheel, is beautifully sung and phrased, and, while the music lacks Schubert’s unforgettable evocation of the moving wheel echoing the girl’s turbulent emotions, we hear a more subdued, but palpable, shiver in the piano part before the resumption of a ghostly quiet verse.

In the pieces that demand more coloratura, such as “La Zingara” and, to some extent “Lo spazzacamin”, the singing is less satisfying, perhaps because Amsellem brings too much weight into the sound. “La Zingara”, in particular, loses dynamic contrast and the notes at the bottom of the challenging skips are in some places virtually inaudible. And yet, in “L’abandonée”, which closes the program, the coloratura is clear and the ornamentation much lighter, which leads me to wonder whether the fact that the piece is in French is freeing Amsellem from a perceived requirement to force her voice into a spinto weight. In fact, throughout the disc, the places where I find myself less pleased with the sound I hear tend to be at the louder end of the dynamic range, as if, in an effort to make a larger sound, she is pushing her voice into a wider vibrato than is comfortable.

The only other quibble I might have with these performances is that in some places they could show more character. In many of the songs the emotion is expressed by the music itself, and here Amsellem’s bel canto proficiency shines, but “Stornello” and “Lo spazzacamin” cry out for some more imaginative character portrayal than she provides. Likewise, in “Nell orror del notte oscura”, it is hard to imagine that a character who is really thinking about the meaning of the word “maledetta” would perform Verdi’s repetitions of it in such a straightforward way, without injecting a marked emotion into at least one of its appearances.

I have focused on these details largely to make peace with my concerns about what is overall a fine sampling of the most significant of Verdi’s songs. They are presented in an order that attempts to provide an interesting musical progression and contrast. To understand where the individual songs fall chronologically and with respect to the rest of Verdi’s works, one reads the liner notes, which are provided in English and French. The texts are provided in Italian, English and French, and the liner is rounded out by biographies of Amsellem and Lydia Jardon, the pianist, as well as a summary of Amsellem’s career highlights to date.

Barbara Miller

image_description=Verdi Songs

product_title=Verdi Songs
product_by=Norah Amsellem, soprano; Lydia Jardon, piano.
product_id=Ar Re-Se AR 2004-8 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 8:46 PM

VERDI: Macbeth

First performance: 14 March 1847 at Teatro La Pergola, Florence.

First performance (revised version): 21 April 1865 at Théâtre Lyrique Impériale, Paris.

Principal Characters

Duncano, Re di Scozia Silent
Macbeth, Generali dell'esercito del Re Duncano Baritone
Banco Bass
Lady Macbeth, moglie di Macbeth Soprano
Dama di Lady Macbeth Mezzo-soprano
Macduff, nobile scozzese Signore Fiff Tenor
Malcolm, figlio di Duncano Tenor
Fleanzio, figlio di Banco Silent
Domestico di Macbeth Bass
Medico Bass
Sicario Bass


Act I

In a wood amid thunder and lightning a group of witches discuss the mischief they have perpetrated. Macbeth and Banco enter, generals in King Duncano's army: by way of prophecy, the witches greet Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland, and Banco as the father of kings. They are disturbed, especially Banco, who is horrified by the veracity of the witches' predictions when the King's messengers announce that Macbeth has been made Thane of Cawdor.

In the castle Lady Macbeth reads the letter in which her husband tells her of his meeting with the witches, and she reflects that, in order for the prophecy to come true, King Duncano will have to be killed. She incites Macbeth to commit the crime, although he is the victim of terrifying visions. Duncano, spending the night in the castle as a guest, is assassinated. In the morning Macduff goes to wake Duncano and comes back horrified by what he has found. Everyone rushes to the scene to condemn the act of treason.

Act II

Since the witches predicted that Banco would be the father of kings, Macbeth, seeing this as an obstacle to his own ambitious plan to rise to power, decides to kill his friend together with his son Fleanzio. He entrusts the task to a group of murderers who ambush them while they are going through a wood, but they are only partially successful: Banco is killed and Fleanzio manages to escape.

Meanwhile in Macbeth's castle a banquet is being held, whose festive atmosphere is interrupted by the arrival of a murderer with blood on hs face. When he recounts what has happened, Macbeth is alarmed and starts to rave: Banco's ghost appears before him, his hair soaked in blood. He speaks wildly to it, denying his guilt, to the terror of the guests; Lady Macbeth exhorts him to compose himself, but shortly after the ghost reappears. Macbeth resolves to go and question the witches again.


In a dark cavern the witches are gathered around a cauldron. Macbeth arrives to question them and they call up a series of apparitions. The first tells Macbeth to beware of Macduff, the second that no man of woman born will harm him, the third pronounces him invincible until he sees Birnam Wood moving towards him. Then eight kings file past, Banco's offspring who will rule: Macbeth tries to attack them, then faints. Witches and aerial spirits revive him and he spurs himself on to increase his power.

Act IV

On the borders of Scotland and England the Scottish refugees lament the fate of their country now that it is at the mercy of a bloodthirsty tyrant. The victims of Macbeth's latest massacre are Macduff's wife and children. Malcolm and Macduff prepare the revolt against Macbeth: every soldier will advance towards the castle with a branch in his hand.

Inside the castle Lady Macbeth, watched over by a doctor and a lady-in-waiting, reveals her crisis of conscience every night by reliving the brutal deeds in her sleep and trying obsessively to wash the blood from her hands.

The enemy troops are attacking Macbeth's castle when the Queen's death is announced. Even this news does not shake him, but when he learns that Birnam Wood is moving towards him he shouts that he has been deceived and, seizing sword and dagger, confronts Macduff declaring he has no fear of him. Macduff tells him that he was not born, but untimely ripped from his mother's womb. Macbeth is mortally wounded and dies.

Click here for the complete libretto (Italian).

Click here for the complete libretto (English translation).

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi

first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth

product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
product_by=Piero Cappuccilli, Shirley Verrett, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Franco Tagliavini, Stefania Malagù, Nicola Martinucci, Carlo Zardo, Alfredo Mariotti, Antonio Zerbini, La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, Claudio Abbado (cond.). Live performance, Milan, 7 December 1975.

Posted by Gary at 3:14 PM

Falsetto castrati enjoyed rock-star status

farinelli.jpgBy Jeremy Lovell [Reuters, 19 November 2005]

LONDON (Reuters) - They were the superstar singers of their day, able to charge astronomical fees and attract hordes of female admirers.

Posted by Gary at 8:08 AM

Mastered Mozart, Preached Janacek, Schmoozed Shostakovich

By MICHAEL WHITE [NY Times, 20 November 2005]


ASKED to imagine how we might spend our 80th birthday, most of us would say: taking it easy. But conductors tend to be of tougher mettle. Pierre Boulez turned 80 this year with scarcely a change in his working schedule. And on Thursday evening, if all went as planned at press time, Charles Mackerras did the same, marking the event by slipping quietly into the pit of the Royal Opera House as he has done countless times during the last half-century, to conduct a revival; in this case, Verdi's "Ballo in Maschera."

Posted by Gary at 7:58 AM

November 19, 2005


I filled my Lakmé-longings with a selection from this recording and have recordings of the Met Lakmé with Pons and Tokatyan, the 1976 Decca Lakmé with Sutherland and Vanzo, a Ruffini-Morino-version and Sumi Jo and Zhang in Amsterdam. Of course I possess a full Robin-version, though it is the French Radio performance of 1955 with Charles Richard. So I was in for quite a surprise and I am now wondering why I didn’t go for this version under review long time ago when I acquired the highlights-LP.

Old hands will remember the days when Decca bombed everybody with their ffrr (full frequency range recording) ads in the days before stereo. There is something nostalgic in hearing those sonics when singers where so clearly audible and not swamped by a lush orchestra. Yes, it’s true that the sound perhaps made eagles of sparrows but that is still the case with modern recording techniques; witness Bartoli who sounds like Simionato and Cossotto and has difficulty filling the Brussels Munt with its 1200 seats.

But the main selling point of this set are the singers. All of them started their careers at a time when Lakmé was part of the iron repertoire; when it was performed in France with a frequency that nowadays can only be compared with the numerous and unstoppable performances of Bohème at the Met. The whole performance sounds so natural, so convincing, so seamless that one almost forgets this is a recording; an artificial memo and not a wonderful once in fifty years direct radio performance. While playing it I never had the feeling for one moment that there was even a conductor, just that everybody was making great music and maybe this is the highest praise one can give Georges Sebastian.

And then there is the one and only Mado Robin. Of her several recorded Lakmé’s this is surely the best as after all corrections could be made. I was too young to have heard her in the flesh though I remember well the stunning news when the radio announced her gruesome death at 40 years of age. So I really don’t know how the voice came over in a big auditorium. But on records it is a miracle and not only in Lakmé (her “souvenirs de la belle époque” are one of my all-time favourites). The voice is so fresh, so scintillating and so slender that this is the Lakmé of one’s dreams. Sorry, all other competitors sound somewhat clumsy and old compared to Robin who gives an unforgettable impression of an Indian teenager. And yes, the stunning high notes are there too without losing focus or beauty of tone or sounding thinner as happened to Erna Sack. On video I have Robin singing several of these arias on camera in a time when shameful editing à la Placido Domingo was not possible: proof that there was nothing artificial to this unforgettable crystalline voice.

Her partners are not completely on the same level though they come close. Jean Borthayre as Nikalantha was still one of the best French baritones at the time of the recording when he was nearing fifty. The voice is a little bit gruff as suits the role and the style and pronunciation are flawless though Ernest Blanc combines rage, tenderness and sorrow even better in the highlights-selection with D’Angelo-Gedda I always held tenor Libero De Luca in not too high an esteem though this was more the result of bad casting by Decca (he is not a great Don José on their first Carmen with Juyol) than his own fault. His Gérald is another winner. Granted he is not so smooth and charming as young Alain Vanzo in his 1960-higlights-recording with Doria (on the 1976 Decca the voice is already too blowsy). Yes, the voice of De Luca is a little unwieldy and his pianissimo in Fantaisie aux divins mensonges are not on par with young Vanzo’s but he is manly, passionate and tender at the same time in the great tradition of Micheletti, Villabella and especially Charles Friant whose voice he mostly resembles. And De Luca was one of the many adopted French singers (like Endrèze) as he was born in the German part of Switzerland. Agnès Disney (what a name to make a career) is a charming authentic Melika in that beautiful duet that did much to restore the opera into favour as at a certain moment several big brands used it in their commercials in Europe (and maybe the States?). In short, if you like this masterpiece of tuneful music, this is probably the cheapest and the best version.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Léo Delibes: Lakmé

product_title=Léo Delibes: Lakmé
product_by=Mado Robin (Lakmé); Libero De Luca (Gérald); Jacques Jansen (Frédéric); Jean Borthayre (Nikalantha); Agnès Disney (Malika). Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique, Georges Sebastian (cond.) Recorded 1952.
product_id=Decca 00289 475 6793 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 6:31 PM

KRENEK: Lieder

When you listen to a piece, or watch a movie, or go to a play or opera, shouldn’t you think about it afterward, if it’s to have some significance for you? For instance, the other night I watched the movie Stage Beauty, about an actor who played women’s roles right during the English Restoration when all of a sudden Charles II decreed that women could perform on stage. No more work for him. In spite of a rather formulaic plot, lots of interesting dialogue was bantered around about “the artist” and gender roles. I’ve been thinking about the film since, and repeating some of the bon mots (“Whenever we’re about to do something truly horrible, we say that the French have been doing it for a long time”). Memory and repetition.

Now, if a piece of music can be said to make an impact on you, beyond just thinking about it, shouldn’t you also be humming snatches? Or at least approximating a “la la la” when you’re telling a neighbor why you liked it? For millennia music was passed along orally. Homer’s tales went from storyteller to storyteller. Plays were passed from actor to actor. If people couldn’t tell their neighbor a couple of the best lines in something they’d just heard or seen, then the Joneses surely must have wondered if it was really all that hot. Memory and repetition.

Twentieth-century classical vocal music, on the other hand, doesn’t tend to be very hummable. Not like something by Rodgers or Kern or Berlin or Sondheim (well, generally hummable). How many college freshmen run in and tell their roommate, “I just heard this great piece! Pierrot lunaire!” “Can you hum a few bars?” It may make an impact, but if we can’t reproduce any of it, how significant is it to us? We can’t all sing “Di quella pira,” but most of us can la la la la-la-la-la-la the opening line. Do we have to be able to hum a few bars for a piece to be significant? Perhaps this decline and fall of hummability is one reason for the current abyss between the public and classical music. Memory but not repetition.

Ravel is hummable. And Poulenc. Is hummability in modern music one of those truly horrible characteristics of French composers? Britten is hummable only some of the time: “O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness ...” Still thinking about the gender roles, apparently. Berg: we don’t usually think of him as a hummable composer, but his early setting of “Schliesse mir die Augen beide” sticks in my resonators for some reason. Othmar Schoeck, the very under-appreciated Swiss composer of many beautiful songs: I can hum almost all of his Hesse setting “Im Nebel.” Maybe because the words mean something to me, in addition to my liking their musical setting. There’s another setting of the same poem by the Austrian Gottfried von Einem, but I can’t hum that one; it’s tonal, but it just isn’t as significant to me.

So now to Krenek. I can hum one snippet of Krenek, from his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf. But Krenek moved on from his jazz style to a more expressionist style, heard in the two cycles in this recording, to serialism, then to an individualistic post-serialist style. Passages of these songs are very Romantic, in the style of, say, Berg, but Krenek puts his study of Schoenberg to good use; the vocal lines tend to be angular, and triads are the new dissonances.

The other issue with these songs, and with all songs, is the text. The first set are based on poems by Karl Kraus, the voice of early-twentieth-century Vienna through his editorship of the journal Die Fackel. Kraus was very influential on other literary and artistic types at the time and for a decade or two following, but he seems awfully dated nowadays, more so than Wilhelm Mueller’s poems when we hear them sung to Schubert’s music. Krenek wrote his own poems for the second set: “the artist” again, the dark night of the soul, etc., etc. I’m not going to argue that it helps in remembering and repeating a song if it’s happy (“Im Nebel” gives the lie to that argument), but, God, so many twentieth-century songs are so dreary! Lorenz Hart may have been a cynic, but then we are “Bewitched.” And it’s always a danger when a composer thinks he or she should write both words and music (Richard Rodgers didn’t have much luck with this). It encourages them to say in 45 minutes what they should have said in 15.

So, taking this admonition about prolixity to heart, I will urge devotees of the twentieth-century lied to add this disc to their collections, even though you probably won’t be able to hum the best bits later. If you know Krenek’s operas of the twenties, these songs show how he made his way to his later important works like the opera Karl V, the ravishing choral work Lamentation Jeremiae Prophetae, or the later piano sonatas, championed by Glenn Gould. The performances are first rate by all concerned; soprano Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir brings a particularly beautiful voice to the first set of songs. I may not be able to hum my favorite passage, but I certainly would be inclined to listen to her performance again. Maybe in this post-oral-transmission age, that’s the best we can hope for nowadays from memory and repetition.

David E. Anderson

image_description=Ernst Krenek: Lieder

product_title=Ernst Krenek: Lieder
product_by=Liat Himmelheber (mezzo soprano), Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir (soprano), Axel Bauni (piano), Isabel Fernholz (piano)
product_id=Orfeo C 123 041 A [CD]

Posted by Gary at 5:51 PM

GLASS: Orion

Later I got a recording of Akhnaten, which I thought was interesting but didn’t do much for me. Then I saw Glass and his Ensemble in performance, but curiously, it must not have made much of an impression, because I can’t tell you now what they played or even where I saw the performance. I do remember the premiere of his chamber opera The Fall of the House of Usher, which the time I thought was one of the worst things I’d ever seen or heard.

Then a couple years ago I saw The Hours—fortunately on DVD, not at the local multiplex, because I was an emotional wreck at the end. I found Glass’s score breathtakingly moving (though reportedly studio boss Harvey Weinstein hated it). I also was excited by his score for The Truman Show, which was well-suited to that parable of celebrity. Perhaps here’s the place to add that I did a telephone interview with Glass one time. He was a very nice fellow and gave thoughtful answers to some of my questions (mainly about his compositional process) that I knew wouldn’t interest my readers, or even make it into the final review.

So, I hadn’t heard much Glass in a while, apart from The Hours, and I was curious what this new piece Orion was all about. It was commissioned for the Olympics in Athens and premiered there in June 2004. The movements cover the continents: Australia, China, Canada, The Gambia, Brazil, India, and Greece (no march of the penguins to represent Antarctica), with three short interludes. Glass recruited regional musicians to collaborate with him on the various movements. The program insert describes them as composer/performers, but we don’t get any clue as to how much of the music they composed, or whether they merely guided Glass in composing for their instruments. The title Orion refers to the constellation, which can be seen from both hemispheres.

The opening movement, Australia, features Mark Atkins, who plays the didgeridoo. The didgeridoo is a type of cylindrical hardwood drone pipe, played by the native peoples of Australia. You get one note, which can be sustained for as long as 40 minutes using “circular breathing”: players inhale through their nose while they exhale into the didgeridoo using their cheeks and tongue. Here the drone gives Glass’s opening a kind of Also sprach Zarathustra/2001–Rheingold feel. It also caught my akita’s ear, who kept looking at the speakers.

The “China” movement showcases Wu Man on the more familiar pipa, a four-stringed, pear-shaped lute. Also an ancient instrument like the didgeridoo, the pipa allows Glass a little more “melodic” flexibility. But, what, one might ask, could Glass find to characterize Canada? A good Irish violin (= Irish immigrants). I might have suggested some French dances, but platinum-selling violinist Ashley MacIsaac can certainly get your toes to tapping.

Foday Musa Suso, a griot in the West African Mandigo culture, plays the kora in the “Gambia” section. The kora is another harp-lute, and another instrument of ancient origins. You’d probably recognize it if you saw it: it has a large hemispherical body with a long neck and two planes with 11 and 10 strings running in notches at the sides of an upright bridge. “Brazil” features the ensemble UAKTI from that country; their particular niche is using all manner of materials to construct their instruments. The booklet doesn’t tell us what they cobbled together for this performance.

“India” has Gaurav Mazumdar playing the familiar sitar. According to the program notes, it seems that Ravi Shankar had a hand in the composition of this section, though, here again, Glass is being vague about who composed what. All of the artists collaborate in the final section, “Greece,” joined by soprano Eleftheria Arvanitaki in Glass’s arrangement of a traditional song, “Tzivaeri.”

And, so, a reviewer ultimately is required to (or supposed to) give his or her assessment of a performance, however much they try to wiggle out of it by giving lots of background material. Glass’s collaborators give quite accomplished performances, though I’m not qualified to say how good the didgeridoo Johnny-One-Note is. As to Glass, well, as much as I’m always inclined to like his music, this 90 minutes’ worth sounds awfully repetitious. (Yes, thank you, I know that’s a hallmark of minimalism.) Both repeating itself and repeating other compositions of his. It seems almost glib; nothing caught my ear to make me look at the speakers.

Is it art or is it craftsmanship? I’m inclined to nod toward the latter for this score. I was just reading a book on American music in West Germany after World War II; the author reports one observer writing in the 1970s and 1980s that Glass’s music “approached pop music” and that it didn’t have “socially-critical content.” Well, listeners certainly don’t want socially-critical content crammed down their throats at every concert (and the Germans were wild over John Cage; go figure). But I think this is why I like Glass’s film music more than his scores like Orion: his music seems to better suit the pop culture of films, even when they do have socially-critical content, like The Truman Show.

Fans of Glass will want to pick up this set. It’s certainly very listenable, and Glass’s collaborators add a lot to the mix, both in their performances and in their contributions (however much) to the actual composition. Even though this piece didn’t do much for me, I’m looking forward to hearing whatever Glass comes out with next. Maybe I’ll even wag my tail.

David E. Anderson

image_description=Philip Glass: Orion

product_title=Philip Glass: Orion
product_by=Philip Glass, Philip Glass Ensemble, Eleftheria Arvanitaki, Mark Atkins, Ashley MacIsaac, Wu Man, Gaurav Mazumdar, Foday Musa Suso, UAKTI. Michale Riesman (cond.)
product_id=Orange Mountain Music omm0021 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 5:39 PM

Heroic Tenors

During the sixties and seventies they were regularly broadcasted and duly taped by German collectors who send them to their foreign correspondents. The concerts were proof of the German ‘Wirtschafswunder’ (Economic miracle) when money started to flow once more and they were generous indeed. Some of them found their way unto CD like the Olivero-Labo evening and the Bergonzi-Kabaivanska-Cappuccilli gala. James King was a regular who participated for many years.

The recordings on this CD were broadcast between 1968 and 1979 and are therefore testimony to the tenor’s stamina and vocal longevity; but they also show the slow deterioration of the voice. As is normal, the 1968-1970 recordings (Lohengrin, Parsifal, Frau) are the best. The raw power of the voice is there and tells us why people were stunned when he made his Met début in 1966 and his first “Gott” shook the walls. There was never great love between him and the Met (he was rejected five times during auditions) and after some good initial seasons he would only return in the eighties. King was a real heroic tenor in the old-fashioned way Melchior so much liked: he started as a baritone before becoming a heldentenor. He shows off a good stylish big voice majestically rolling along with a good free top. There is bronze in the sound and his legato is exemplary in the difficult Frau aria. A real beautiful pianissimo he hasn’t which is obvious in his Lohengrin aria where it’s remarkable how he has copied his interpretation from Konya’s classic performance (No coincidence. His career took off while substituting time and again for the Hungarian tenor). The difference with the 1977 and 1979-pieces however is striking. By that time the 54 year old tenor still had an awful amount of voice left, though there were now some chinks in his vocal harness. In the Fidelio aria the top sounds more constricted and he uses a lot of glottal attacks. He also cuts some corners by eschewing consonants. The Prize Song which was never meant to be sung by a baritonal tenor lies clearly somewhat too high. One hears him using great gulps of air and pushing the voice. The four big Otello pieces are sung well; indeed very well for a man his age but he cannot compete with another Konzert given ten years earlier (which appeared on Bella Voce 107.107) where he sings exactly the same Otello extracts with fresher tone and a more free top. Anyway this is a worthy testimony of the now 80-year old tenor who was much underrated during his best days. Time too to celebrate him by publishing his lieder- and especially his operetta-recital.

There is a marked difference with the Botha recital. The South-African tenor is not a Heldentenor but a big lirico; maybe a shade too light for Die Walküre (though Georges Thill is one of the best and most musical Siegmunds on record). I fear the recording doesn’t help either. I’ve heard Botha in the flesh and he sings broader and more voluminous in reality than in this piece where the voice sounds a bit too slender, without heft. In all the other arias and duets he is splendid, using his means for the best. He has made formidable progress since his first recordings 10 years ago. His Wagner singing is much helped by the many hours of work he put into his Italian roles. I heard him sing an exquisite messa di voce in Celeste Aida (he had worked on it for years, he told me) and this pays off. Take his Am stillen Herd: very sensitive singing and no barking. Both the Meistersinger Prize Song and the Lohengrin narrative start with a soft lovely tone spinning out the music in a very poetic manner. The way he caresses “eine Taube” equals Konya’s classic recording. Botha even adds the coda to the aria, cut by Wagner though reinstated on the Konya-Amara-recording. Here too it only proves that Wagner knew this was worthless and I’d much have preferred Botha recording “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater”. So what is the catch? Well there is one and it’s something Botha cannot do much about. The basic material of the voice is not very rich, not very distinguished, not very personal. In the house this may pass but on record one is too much aware of his lack of outstanding God-given means. Nevertheless I and a lot of other people would be mighty happy to have him in a house-performance of one of the more lyrical Wagner parts as he has so improved musically. Compared with his Italian recital of four years ago (on Arte Nova, which he financed half himself he said) he has once more markedly refined his art and there are few tenors who can boast about such a feat once they have scored their first big successes. Botha is ably partnered by his sopranos and the orchestra, though I don’t like Simone Young sometimes stopping for a second to make a musical point.

Jan Neckers

image_description=James King — Recital

product_title=James King: arias and duets from Fidelio, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Die Meistersinger, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Otello. With Hildegard Behrens and Peter Glossop. Münchner Rundfunkorchester conducted by Kurt Eichhorn and Heinz Wallberg.
Orfeo CD C557051B [CD]

Johan Botha: arias and duets from Die Meistersinger, Der Fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Parsifal. With Regina Schörg and Michaela Schuster. Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simone Young.
Oehms Classic CD OC 346 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 5:28 PM

Puccini's Western almost golden

459_small.jpgBy Lawrence A. Johnson [, 19 November 2005]

Five-card draw, Wells Fargo robberies, gunplay and necktie parties are curios more often glimpsed on a John Wayne late show than encountered on the opera house stage.

Yet these ingredients are currently on vibrant display at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, where Puccini's La fanciulla del West is running through Nov. 26. Florida Grand Opera has opened its 65th season with a rambunctious production of Puccini's operatic Western love story, its first staging of The Girl of the Golden West in 28 years.

Posted by Gary at 9:02 AM

The Star It Was Made For Returns to Opera at the Met

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 19 November 2005]

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" opened on Monday without the star for whom it was created: the French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay, who was to sing Juliette but was sidelined with a bad cold.

Posted by Gary at 8:47 AM

November 18, 2005

SULLIVAN: The Rose of Persia

After the D’Oyly Carte productions made Sullivan’s name synonymous with Gilbert’s, and in turn with English musical comedies, even Sullivan felt the need to break away on his own, and following some difficult times with Gilbert, the two went their separate ways. Not that the “Gilbert & Sullivan” collaborative works were unpopular, or unsuccessful, but Sullivan sensing the need to expand his horizons had grown skeptical of Gilbert’s biting, and at times ridiculing, satire. Gilbert, too, was unhappy with his collaborator as their personal interaction, characterized by criticism, envy, and distrust was never the match to their professional relationship. The break came in 1889 as a result of a dispute over finances. After a brief separation, they reunited for two more works, but they both knew their time had passed. Their last collaboration, The Grand Duke, was in 1896.

The libretto for The Rose of Persia by Basil Hood, is sharp, witty, and with prose that fits Sullivan’s style, and musical comedy. The writing and the humor are easily understood, and often with a sequence of short words which can be rapidly sung, making for great comedic effect. The individual situations are simple, though when put together, the plot is not. Combining episodes from Tales of the Arabian Nights, Hood’s libretto is rich in contrast with protagonists who are: wealthy or poor, greedy or generous, honest or dishonest, powerful or powerless, simple or wise, free or enslaved. There is a bit of harmless satire and criticism in the libretto related to the fin de siècle society, and Victorian consumerism; the Sultan’s “Let the satirist enumerate a catalogue of crimes;” “Our shallow modern times....;” and Yussuf’s “I care not if the cup I hold.” Hood also jabs Victorian England’s double standards; (Hassan) “When my father sent me to Ispahan,” and (Sultan) “You’ll understand that now and then, eccentric and peculiar men, though undetected by their wives, have led respected double lives.” There is also subtle criticism of political issues, at the time, between England and some of her “colonies.” All in all, however, Hood’s poking fun at society is tame in comparison to Gilbert’s treatment of similar situations.

The score for The Rose of Persia is more in keeping with Sullivan’s musical language and more effective than Ivanhoe (1890). Where the latter is more complex, monotonous and somewhat somber, the former is upbeat, melodic, and colored with shades of local atmosphere, which Sullivan picked up in Egypt in 1882. The Rose of Persia overflows with arias, ensembles, brilliant chorus numbers, easily remembered tunes, and sophisticated musical comedy. At times the music harks back to the “Gilbert & Sullivan” sound of previous years, The Mikado in particular, but dare one say, this one is better. In Rose of Persia Sullivan wrote some of his best music for soprano and contralto.

The 1890s had brought Sullivan a number of setbacks, and much was riding on the production of this opera. Sullivan conducted the premiere; afterwards he confided to his diary that everything about the evening was as usual, except that the opera was a success, which in itself, was unusual. Rose of Persia was an instant success. Playing well over two hundred performances, it became the most profitable production of the decade for producer Richard D’Oyly Carte.

The short overture has a march-like opening and quickly turns to the more sentimental musical themes in the opera, which in turn, lead directly to the opening chorus of Hassan’s “five and twenty” wives. The women bemoan the neighbors calling him “Mad Hassan,” to which the wise and wealthy philanthropist replies, “...I am neither sick nor sad: a most contented man, though foolish persons think me mad!” Hassan also demonstrates his wisdom by explaining why he only has twenty-five wives. Richard Stuart has a pleasant, lighter baritone voice which combines all the elements essential to make the character come alive. Stuart can be gentle, sensitive, and humorous in the higher end of his range, or stern when he sings in the lower range. Stuart also shines in, “When my father sent me to Ispahan,” and “There was once a small street Arab.”

All of the characters have an opportunity to reveal their true intentions and personalities: Jonathan Veira as Abdallah, the Priest, solemnly sings of the gates of “Right and Wrong” with sentiment in his beautifully expressive baritone voice. Hassan’s greedy first wife, Dancing Sunbeam, who schemes with Abdallah, sings of her longing for the treasures she is forbidden to have, “O golden key...could I make use of changed my life and song.” Marcia Bellamy, as Dancing Sunbeam, has a flexible mezzo-soprano voice which she uses very well to convey the range of emotions. In “O golden key...” she sings with convincing pathos, and one would believe her deprived, though knowing she is, simply a social climber.

There follows a short, but very amusing trio, “If a sudden stroke of fate your Hassan eliminate,” between Abdallah, Sunbean and Blush (another wife) in which the characters, not too subtly, express their ability and willingness to let “time [and Hassan’s money] soften every blow.” Sullivan uses a simple, yet effective musical structure in this passage to emphasize the same intention of the characters: Abdallah, Sunbeam and Blush independently sing their different emotions to the same music, and following every third line, they sing in unison, “Time will soften every blow–that is a cheerful thing to know!” Sullivan repeats this musical structure several times in the opera, with equal success.

Three alleged slaves from the Sultan’s palace (Rose in Bloom, Scent of Lilies and Heart’s Desire), delight at, and ponder on the dangers of being caught outside the palace walls in the trio “If you ask me to advise you.” Rose in Bloom, who in reality is the Sultana, next, compares her life of boredom and luxury within the palace walls, to that of a bird in a gilded cage, “Shall the cage-bird leave her prison, golden though her prison bars?” The coloratura passage in this aria is difficult, and though a bit sharp in the last notes, soprano Sally Harrison has ample opportunity to show off her golden toned instrument and flawless stacatto.

Yussuf, the story teller, is sung by tenor Ivan Sharpe whose lyric voice beautifully blends a hint of wickedness to his youthful sound. He is particularly effective in the spirited satire, “I care not if the cup I hold,” and in the poignant, “Our tale is told.”

Word by word the Sultan’s “Let a satirist enumerate a catalogue of crimes” could easily apply to our times, as well as to Sullivan’s era, and before. Richard Morrison, as the Sultan, is an appealing baritone, injecting humor into his voice without betraying his station.

The Vizier, Executioner, Sultan’s Physician, the wives and slaves are all well interpreted by the individual singers, and Sullivan gives them the music with which to shine.

Throughout the opera, Sullivan uses the chorus, well, to introduce a character, transition the action, or to hold the action on their own. “Tramps and scamps” is sung by a group of thieves disguised as beggars who try to scam Hassan, while the wives, singing to the same musical line as the thieves, express their concern over what the neighbors will say. “Musical maidens are we” with its fairy like opening serves as a prelude to Honey’s dance sequence; “With martial gait” is a regal march for the Sultan’s guards, who tell of their not so regal endeavors, and “From Morning Prayer the Sultan of Persia comes!” is the classic Sullivan tune which stays in one’s head long after the sound has faded.

There are some delightful duets, trios, octets, and lively ensembles as well, “I’m the Sultan’s vigilant Visier,” “Attended by these Palace Warders,” the closing of Act I “O luckless hour,” and “In the heart of my hearts I’ve always known.” There is an amusing scene and duet, “Peace be upon this house,” between Abdallah, who has come to Hassan’s house to make some arrests, and Hassan who cleverly replies, to the same music, in contradiction to what the Priest is singing. Yussuf and Heart’s Desire sing a heartfelt duet, “Oh, what is love,” and their subsequent quartet with Scent of Lilies and Honey of Life, “If you or I should tell the truth.” “Suppose–I say suppose” a duet between Rose in Bloom and the Sultan is a gem to be savored. Underneath its seemingly simply music is the clever marriage of librettist and composer. Sullivan’s music softly holds the lighter words without interference; Hood’s clever use of the language taking precedence. Likewise, when the mood changes, the sublime music soars and becomes one with the words.

Sullivan’s Persian overtones are original, appropriately injected and easily transitioned to the more conventional music. “I am the Sultan’s vigilant Vizier” “Tramps and scamps,” and Honey-of-Life’s dance and are but three of the many examples.

It is difficult to separate the words from the music. Sullivan, with thorough understanding of the subtleties in Hood’s lyrics, has wedded his music so effectively to the words that it is difficult to pick any one particular moment in the opera as better than another. Each moment is closely followed by another wonderful moment, be it an aria, duet or chorus. This in turn is followed by another number which is just as engaging, charming, sentimental, or riotously hilarious. There are marches, fairy tale music, pompously amusing impersonations, love themes, and overall an endless well of music that grasps the listener and won’t let go. Rose of Persia is a must for any Sullivan admirer, and to those who never took the time, or who find him less than a serious composer, go out, get this opera, and enjoy the discovery.

This cpo recording is a reissue of the original released in 1999, in the May issue of BBC Music Magazine. In addition to the complete opera, the set includes the overtures to Pinafore, Pirates, Iolanthe, Mikado, Yeomen, Di Ballo and Macbeth.

Tom Higgins conducts The Hannover Band with vigor, humor and knowledge of the score. The Southwark Voices lends good company to the rest of the cast.

This is an all around excellent recording. All the singers are well suited for their roles in the best musical comedy tradition; the voices blend well in the ensembles, the chorus and above all, Sullivan’s music is at its best. The one element which has kept Gilbert & Sullivan’s works in the background for many years, mainly Gilbert’s deeply esoteric ridicule of Victorian Society in England, in the 1890s, does not limit Hood’s libretto. Hopefully this will allow Rose of Persia to gain the popularity it deserves.

“. . . I am terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music will be put on records forever.” This often mentioned quote of Sullivan’s certainly does not apply to Rose of Persia.

Daniel Pardo 2005



Liner Notes: The Rose of Persia
Meinhard Saremba
© 2005 cpo

Down under in the 19th Century

Arthur Sullivan

image_description=Sir Arthur Sullivan: The Rose of Persia

product_title=Sir Arthur Sullivan: The Rose of Persia
product_by=Richard Morrison, Richard Stuart, Ivan Sharpe, Ian Caddy, Sally Harrison, Alison Roddy, Marilyn Hill Smith, Marcia Bellamy, Claire Pendleton, Southwark Voices, The Hanover Band, Tom Higgins (cond.).
product_id=cpo 777 074-2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 2:42 PM

IU School of Music receives $40.6 million gift

IU_school_music_small.jpgWorld-renowned school to be known as the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

Nov. 17, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University President Adam W. Herbert announced Thursday (Nov. 17) the naming of the IU School of Music in honor of the late David H. Jacobs and his wife, Barbara, of Cleveland. The school will be known as the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in recognition of Barbara and David Jacobs' long history of leadership and service to Indiana University and to the IU Foundation, as well as their gift of $40.6 million for the school.

Posted by Gary at 2:13 PM

Emotional Torment, With Impulsive Volatility

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 18 November 2005]

For all its scenes of dancing fairies, woodland revels and hapless rustic mortals who fancy themselves tragedians, Britten's "Midsummer Night's Dream" is a disturbing opera. Britten makes you confront the twisted conflicts that lurk just below the surface of Shakespeare's fantastical play.

Posted by Gary at 8:25 AM

November 17, 2005

An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther

For sure, not a CD which most people would play every day, and though, Thomson Smillie has not re-invented the wheel, therein lies the beauty. Most opera aficionados do not know the little secrets Smillie so casually and cleverly points out. Who would have thought that Meyerbeer, Halevy, Herold or Auber did not start the trend later known as Grand Opéra? Who would have thought that French “musical style,” as uniquely French as Champagne, is not really French? And the food? Of course don’t ask a Frenchman.

This overview, as written by Smillie, is clever, instructive, humorous, detailed, extremely interesting, and though fact filled, it is not boring. Smillie takes the listener from the beginning of opera, in Florence Italy, to the present. Different phases of the art form are touched upon, and the author provides plenty of examples of different operas, and vocal, or instrumental snippets to pique one’s interest.

Smillie goes on to explain the sequence and relationship between the different French composers (some of whom were not born in France!) finally settling on Massenet, and his opera, Werther. The author provides background information on Goethe, and how he came to write The Sorrows of Young Werther, upon which the opera is based. Prior to detailing the plot of the opera, Smillie provides some information on other Massenet operas and his progress as a composer.

From the opening chords in the overture to the last note of the opera, Smillie explains the important, and not so important details in the story and in the music, along with other interesting bits of information. Again, the listener is treated to many musical examples that directly relate to the explanation of the work, and of the musical moments being discussed. By the end of the CD, the listener feels as familiar with Werther, as one who has listened to the opera countless times.

Thomson Smillie, better known for his involvement with Wexford Festival, the Opera Company of Boston, and the Kentucky Opera, has written the “Opera Explained” series for Naxos, which includes two dozen titles.

Side by side with Smillie is the “voice” of the story, David Timson, who narrates the “Opera Explained” series. Timson studied acting and singing, and has taken part in several successful stage and television presentations, in addition to recording a series of audio books for Naxos. Timson’s unique voice is well suited for this kind of platform; he has a slight “English” accent which is never pompous, or difficult to understand; he has a fantastic sense of timing; his diction is impeccable, and his pronunciation of “foreign words” is accurate, but never affected. The timbre in his voice is quite pleasant, and it adds enough sophistication to the recording to make it, in addition to Smillie’s text, well worth listening to the complete CD.

The musical excerpts of Werther are from a Naxos recording of the opera (Werther-Naxos 8.660072-73) with Marcus Haddock, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, and René Massis leading the cast.

Even though there is never too much information, this CD is not for those who live and breathe opera. This series, “Opera Explained” is the ideal vehicle for someone who is starting to develop a taste for opera, or for those who would not venture to buy an opera recording without knowing anything about it, or simply, when wanting to have some general background information on a composer, or a particular work.

The liner notes are informative, and provide a synopsis of the opera.

Daniel Pardo 2005


Liner notes by Thomson Smillie
© 2005 Naxos

image_description=An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther

product_title=An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther
Opera Explained series
product_by=David Timson, reader
product_id=Naxos 8.558173 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 9:23 PM

Soprano Songs and Arias

Ana María Martínez debuts at the Metropolitan Opera on November 19 performing the role of Micaela in Carmen, an occasion with which this release by Naxos is intended to coincide. This collection consists of eleven pieces by eight composers that range from the familiar to the obscure. Of the familiar, she has selected three arias by Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi), “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” ( La Rondine) and “Un bel dì vedremo” (Madama Butterfly). Then there are Gounod’s “Je veux vivre” (Roméo et Juliette), Lehár’s “Vilja-Lied” (Die lustige Witwe), Delibes’ “Les filles de Cadix,” Canteloube’s “Baïlèro” (Chants d’Auvergne) and “Aria (Cantilena)” from Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas-Brasileiras No. 5 for voice and eight cellos. Finally, there are Pablo Luna’s “De España vengo” (El Niño Judio), Francis López’s “Violetas imperiales” and “Dança (Martelo)” from Bachianas-Brasileiras No. 5. A wide range, indeed, of musical styles, vocal color and emotional expression that Martínez navigates with ease.

Martínez possesses an instrument of astonishing range, flexibility and ringing top that is ideally suited to the Romantic and Post-Romantic musical literature presented here. There is no doubt, moreover, that her precise phrasing, intonation and dynamics all contribute to a most satisfactory musical result. In many respects, her voice is reminiscent of that of Bidú Sayão, albeit with a tad more weight, power and opacity. There are no mannerisms apparent in this recording. At times her slurs border on portamento, but always with the requisite dramatic effect. It is a pity that works by Handel, Mozart or Strauss are not included to give the listener a complete sample of her musicality. There is one caveat. This recording was made in August 2000. So it is likely that her voice has matured to some degree during the past five years.

Steven Mercurio conducts the Prague Philharmonia with aplomb. The engineers have done well to achieve optimal balance between the soloist and the orchestra.

This recording is highly recommended. Let us hope that many more are forthcoming.

Gary Hoffman

image_description=Soprano Songs and Arias

product_title=Soprano Songs and Arias
product_by=Ana María Martínez, soprano; Prague Philharmonia, Steven Mercurio (cond.).
product_id=Naxos 8.557827 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 3:27 PM

Inauguration de la salle Garnier-Opéra de Monte-Carlo restaurée

La_Salle_Garnier_Monaco.jpg[Photo: AFP Pascal Guyot]
[AFP, 17 November 2005]

MONACO (AFP) - Le prince Albert II de Monaco a inauguré mercredi la salle Garnier-Opéra de Monte-Carlo fermée depuis 2000 et dont la restauration, un chantier de deux années, a coûté près de 26,5 millions d'euros.

Posted by Gary at 10:52 AM

Death, transcendence, beauty

Krista_River_small.jpgMezzo-soprano Krista River brings a fresh interpretation to Dvorak in the Florida Orchestra's premiere of the composer's Requiem.

By ROBERT HICKS [St. Petersburg Times, 17 November 2005]

Mezzo-soprano Krista River loves Dvorak.

"I love the sound of the Eastern European influence in his music," she said over the phone from Boston. "I really like his Requiem because I think he depicts a transcendence of death. During some of the most horrific sections of the piece, there is another layer of beauty."

Posted by Gary at 10:36 AM

Big-time singer who dreams of a smaller voice

StemmeNina_small.jpg[Daily Telegraph, 17 November 2005]

Nina Stemme has emerged as one of the great dramatic sopranos of her generation. She talks to Rupert Christiansen

You might think that the slightly built, neatly groomed figure standing at the Royal Opera House's stage door was someone sensible in senior management.

Posted by Gary at 10:05 AM

Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame, L'Esplanade, St-Etienne

massenet_small.jpgBy Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 16 November 2005]

The Massenet Festival, held in the composer's home town, proves that not everyone in France ignores the breadth and depth of her musical heritage. By dipping into well over 20 neglected operas, Jean-Louis Pichon, director, also shows there is more to Massenet than Manon or Werther.

Posted by Gary at 9:41 AM

Roméo et Juliette, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 16 November 2005]

It was not just a muddle. It was a dismal muddle.

On Monday the Metropolitan mustered its first new production of Roméo et Juliette in 38 years. The result was cold. Gounod's ultra-Gallic, artificially sweetened, potentially poignant indulgence emerged as a surreal distortion, thanks to the Belgian director Guy Joosten and his German designing-accomplice, Johannes Leiacker.

Posted by Gary at 9:33 AM

November 16, 2005

Decca Classic Recitals

The second thought however is less kind. It’s fine to have them all back but it nevertheless smacks a little too much as if someone at Decca thought of plundering the rewarding back catalogue without having to go to some extra pains. It’s fine with me that everything is published in the original form, photographs and sleeve notes included but I still think Decca should have given us a little bit more, be it in an aside. A good vocal historian should have had access to contracts, notes and reports at Decca and if possible have asked the singers themselves why they recorded these pieces. At the same time some false information could have been avoided. The Bergonzi issue in this series (not reviewed here) still incorrectly states that his début was in 1948 in Lecce instead of 1947 in Varedo. And wouldn’t it not have been interesting to know something on the sales figures? A missed opportunity. Moreover, I wonder who is interested in these issues as several of them were already available in a more generous selection on CD.

Another and more positive observation can be made when looking at the recorded tracks. Some of those recitals were definitely unhackneyed at the time, especially the Scotto-Freni and the Tourangeau-issues and one marvelled at the bravery of the singers, the producer and the conductors. Thirty years later there is only Balfe’s Ildegonda that to the best of my knowledge is not to be found in a complete recording in either a commercial catalogue or in one of those awe-inspiring lists that are circulating among collectors on the net. Maybe all is not glorious for the moment in the classical industry, but there have been enormous gains as well and a lot of brave and small companies filled the gap when the majors no longer recorded complete operas. A last remark: once more I’m struck by the sound quality of the recordings. Indeed the Decca engineers have always been known for their brilliant recording techniques which often made a voice somewhat richer on record than in reality. But even the oldest record (Siepi 1954) has the voice in all its splendour and well balanced with the orchestra. Di Stefano sounds like he was recorded yesterday. No small praise for recordings made a half century ago.

One of the reasons I ask for some historical comment is the fact that I remember too well some of the reactions when these issues first appeared and perception of these recordings have sometimes severely changed. Take the Di Stefano record. The tenor had recently switched to the Decca/RCA labels and he would never record another complete opera again for EMI. His arrival at Decca first ended in disaster as he was so badly in vocal trouble he had to cancel his remaining sessions during the recording of Mefistofele (Del Monaco took over). In the summer of 1958 Di Stefano redeemed his reputation somewhat by recording 18 traditional and Italian songs. Twelve were put on the record under review in question. All six remaining songs appeared in the US on a London recital together with six numbers from this classic recital. So I would have preferred a less “classical” re-issue but one that gave us all 18 songs recorded in July and August 1958 with an orchestra conducted by Dino Oliviero. By the way, buyers of the 2 CD-set with Di Stefano (called Torna a Suriento and still in the Decca catalogue) have them all combined with a later recital. I know this CD is medium priced but 35 minutes of music is not what one expects from a CD in 2005 and even with these six additional songs this would have been a short programme. The LP-recital had a distinctive trait: on one side one found traditional Sicilian songs while the commercial songs were put on the second side. It’s one of the things that makes a CD sometimes more run-of-the-mill as one is not obliged anymore to leave one’s seat and reflect on what one has heard. Two of the traditionals the tenor had already recorded for EMI in 1947 while the four other songs came on RCA three years later. In 1958 the well-known Dutch collector and critic Leo Riemens wrote that the new Decca recording was as fine as the earlier ones and that’s an opinion few would share nowadays. The decline of Di Stefano is well known and well illustrated by this recital: too open singing, spreading the voice under pressure and thickening of sound above the stave. Still, I wouldn’t be without this classic recital. Notwithstanding the vocal decline and the rough edges appearing, this is still a major voice singing lustily. Di Stefano shows why even late in his career he had such a fanatical following. He (together with Gigli) had what the Italians call “la gioia di cantare” in their eyes. They enjoyed singing. For them it was more than hard work and this shows in every track on this CD. Every song is caressed and sung with love and devotion. Especially fine are “Munasterio ‘e Santa Chiara” and “Parlami d’amore.” Di Stefano has few rivals in this kind of recital but the few ones are formidable competitors. Gigli’s “A canzone é Napule” is definitely better as the older tenor uses his honeyed pianissimo to sketch the anguish of the Neapolitan migrant while Di Stefano just sings on. And fine as Di Stefano’s “Firenze sogna” is, the version by that most popular singer in all Italy’s history, Carlo Buti, is more refined and introspective.

The Freni-Scotto re-issue is simply a must for every vocal buff. It starts out with a formidable duet from Mercadante’s Le Due Illustri Rivali; a masterpiece more deserving a recording by Opera Rara than the same composer’s Emma d’Antiochia (Yes I know, I know. I’ve got the 1970 pirate recording with Papantoniou, Parada and Zambon and it’s a very fine performance). Immediately one is captured by the fine blending of the two voices, which were still at their best when the recording was made in 1978. Freni would only promote herself to lirico-spinto two years later when she accepted Karajan’s proposal to sing Aida. Scotto had already a 26-year career behind her back and the voice had become bigger though it was still a lirico and the record was made just before she went for the real heavies at the Met (Don Carlos 1979, Francesca 1984, Macbeth 1982, Tosca 1981, Gioconda 1979). There is of course already a hint of shrillness in the voice but that had always been there as is proven by her older records or her many live performances I attended at the Verona arena (Traviata with Bergonzi in 1970, Bohème with Pavarotti in 1973). That shrillness which often gave a dramatic and emotional touch to her singing nevertheless was not grating on the nerves as it would do one decade later when the voice was in tatters. For a time both ladies shared the same repertoire and competed with the same roles in the record market. Still this competition brings out the best in them on this recording where no one is trying to outsing the other though it was probably conductor Leone Magiera’s (by that time Freni’s former husband) task to see that no one tried to best the other. The ladies are formidable in Mercadante and Bellini: in the big Norma-duet one has at last a young lyric Adalgisa as Bellini intended and not some older female heavyweight. The technical execution of all vocal difficulties is not as perfect as with the Sutherland-Caballe set but the more youthful sound coming from Freni-Scotto is so much more convincing dramatically. The short Mozart duet is a winner too. Freni was a well-known Susanna and the duet with Scotto as the Countess is irresistible. This reviewer has always wanted more blood and guts in Mozart than the internationally streamlined, almost sexless, way of singing has been giving us for such a long time. With Scotto and Freni one probably gets Mozart as the composer would have wished it. Oh, to have a Don Giovanni with Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Bastianini. The only set that comes near is the wonderful Cosi with Tucker and Steber.

Two arias from Don Giovanni are Tom Krause’s first contribution on his classic recital which gives short value too for its money. Decca could have added his Sibelius songs from 1967. Krause is not a very subtle singer. The voice itself is not directly a thing of beauty: somewhat gruff and not always very smooth. But this makes for an interesting Don Giovanni; more sexual animal and less slick Latin lover. He sings a convincing French Guillaume Tell without plumbing the depths of a father’s anguish like Gobbi does in his classic recording. Krause’s voice however is well adapted to Rodolfo’s outburst in the other Bohème. But it is in the Wagner pieces where his familiarity with Italian and French opera pays off: a brilliant Holländer with passion while keeping a fine legato. And his Prince Igor is exemplary as could be expected from a Fin.

Leontyne Price’s Verdi recital is somewhat the fly in the ointment in these series and more than with the other recordings one would want to know why Decca recorded it as late as July 1980 or why Madame Price consented doing it. It cannot have been to fill a gap in the repertoire (though maybe it filled a hole in Decca’s catalogue). Price had already and gloriously recorded the arias of Aida in her famous “blue” début recital with RCA. She had recorded them in her first 1962 complete Aida and her second somewhat less glorious recording in 1969. She had recorded a complete Ballo and Ernani 14 and 13 years before this recital and the big Otello scene was already on the famous first record of her Prima Donna series in 1965. The reviews at the time simply said that Price couldn’t rival with the recordings of that formidable competitor…….the younger Leontyne Price and, when listening to the record 25 years later, these statements are still valid. The voice itself is not bad and is still easily recognizable and not that smoky sound of Ella Fitzgerald imitating Leontyne Price as one critic cruelly said of her last operatic performances five years later. But time and again one is reminded of that fresh soaring line the younger soprano had and then these somewhat pedestrian heavy-footed performances won’t do.

Cesare Siepi’s classic recital from 1954 isn’t exactly new on CD either. It already appeared with some other tracks in the Grandi Voci series and it is still available on Myto with a lot of extra stuff (and there you will find his more elusive LP of Cole Porter songs as well). It is a perfect illustration of the singer’s strong points: a big beautiful voice, just rolling and rolling along. That means he is at his very best in these lyric cantilena utterances of Nabucco or Simon Boccanegra. The moment the music reveals some deeper truths as in the best portrait any man (all historians included) has ever sketched of the Castilian King Philip, then Siepi’s belcanto approach remains somewhat bland and he cannot quite compete with Christoff, even as the Bulgarian bass chops up the line and is not afraid to introduce some half sobs. His two French arias are worth hearing, beautifully sung but once more without deep insight into the possibilities of the roles. Ghiaurov gives us a more incisive Huguenots which makes Marcel’s fanaticism more believable and Siepi’s Robert le diable is neither the sinister forceful devil of Ezio Pinza nor the refined cynic of Pol Plançon.

The French-Canadian Huguette Tourangeau succeeded in surpassing Callas in one aspect: controversy. I’ve never met someone who didn’t have an opinion heavily pro or badly contra. There is no denying she utters some of the strangest noises on records by any singer. Her chest tones sometimes descend into growls or sounds one more associates with stomach trouble. The contrast with the slender middle voice is stunning while the top notes easily sail to high C and seem to belong to a good lirico. She reminds me of only one other singer and that lady is not particularly known for her operatic repertoire: Yma Sumac and I’m almost sure she would have sung opera in Tourangeau’s way. And yes I belong to the Tourangeau-addicts who like her very idiosyncratic singing. Moreover there is the repertoire which even now is somewhat daring with arias from Vaccai, Auber or lesser known Bizet or Donizetti, which she almost furiously defends. Thirty years ago she was often derided as belonging to that strange menagerie (Opthof, Duval, Vrenios etc.) Bonynge had collected to show off Sutherland’s voice the better; but she is definitely a cut above the average and don’t forget young Pavarotti belonged to that zoo as well. Decca would do well in re-issuing Tourangeau’s fine recital of Massenet songs.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Freni - Scotto in Duet

product_title=Decca Classic Recitals

  • Giuseppe Di Stefano — Italy: Nota di lavanmari – A la vallelunghisa – Mutteti – Abbalati – Cantu a Timuni – Firenze sogna – A canzone e Napule – Chitarra Romana – Parlami d’amore – Munasterio ‘e Santa Chiara – Ti voglio tante bene
    Decca 475 6813 1 DM [CD]
  • Freni-Scotto in Duet: Le Due Illustre Rivale – Bianca e Fernando – Le Nozze di Figaro – Norma
    Decca 475 6811 7 DM [CD]
  • Tom Krause : Don Giovanni – Guillaume Tell – La Bohème – Andrea Chénier – Prince Igor – Tannhäuser – Der Fliegende Holländer
    Decca 475 6814 8 DM [CD]
  • Leontyne Price : Aida – Un Ballo in Maschera – Otello – Ernani
    Decca 475 6810 0 DM [CD]
  • Cesare Siepi : Don Carlo – Nabucco – Ernani – Salvator Rosa – Simon Boccanegra – Les Huguenots – Robert le Diable – La Juive
    Decca 475 6815 5 DM [CD]
  • Huguette Tourangeau : Ildegonda – Djamileh – L’ Assedio di Calais – Le Cheval de Bronze – Hérodiade – Oberto – Giulietta e Romeo – Les Dragons de Villars
    Decca 475 6812 4 DM [CD]

Posted by Gary at 11:40 AM

November 15, 2005

Met Rarity: Barcarolle Simulated for a Movie

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 15 November 2005]

"Picture up!" went the shout, and the plaintive sounds of the Barcarolle from Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman" floated into the Metropolitan Opera House. In the pit, bows moved and a flutist bobbed her instrument. Hands wagged in vibrato motion on cello fingerboards, and fingers gave big pizzicato plucks on double basses.

Posted by Gary at 4:25 PM

The Real Bach at Leipzig

BY STUART ISACOFF [NY Sun, 15 November 2005]

"Bach at Leipzig," Itamar Moses's farce about an 18th-century contest among seven musicians vying for a post in Leipzig left open by the death of Johann Kuhnau - a position eventually filled by Johann Sebastian Bach - brings to mind a cartoon drawing I saw several years ago. In it, the venerable Bach is attempting to compose at home amid the ruckus of children chasing each other around the room and a wife screaming from the kitchen, "Johann - take out the garbage!"

Posted by Gary at 4:11 PM


Traditionally, the composer’s Vier letzte Lieder and the set of Neun Lieder, op. 10, have been associated with female voices, even though Strauss did not assign a gender to those pieces. For a male singer to confront this tradition may be regarded by some as a risk. Yet the deft touch and nuanced coloring that is part of many fine performances are found in the performances of Jarnot and Deutsch on this CD.

This recording opens with the familiar Strauss song, “Zueignung” (op. 10, no. 1), and it is clear from the start that this music fits Jarnot’s supple baritone voice. He approaches this song with a rich, sweet sound that is approach to Strauss’s setting of the text by Hermann von Gilm, and the recurring phrase “Habe Dank” is connected well to the lines that precede it. Jarnot gives appropriate vigor and energy to the second song, “Nichts,” and shows restraint in his interpretation of the following one, “Die Nacht.” In the last song, Jarnot demonstrates his ability to sustain the long phrases that are part of much of Strauss’s vocal music, not only in the Lieder, but also in the operas. In giving full measure to the longer phrases found in that piece and others in this set, Jarnot uses a resonant, ringing tone that fits the style of the music quite naturally. While some of the lighter aspects of Jarnot’s baritone voice are apparent in his recent recording of Mahler’s Lieder, it is in these works by Strauss that shows some of the fuller sounds that he can produce, as in “Die Georgine.” This recording is notable for its inclusion of “Wer hat’s getan?”, a song that Strauss withdrew from the op. 10 set when it was published. While the song has been recorded before, it works well for Jarnot’s voice.

His approach to the Vier Lieder, op. 27 is similarly effective. “Ruhe, meine Seele! (op. 27, no. 1) is notable for the perceptive interpretation that Jarnot contributes to this song and the others in the set. “Cäcilie” benefits from an aggressive approach, and Jarnot conveys the text particularly well, especially in those passages that are almost employ declamatory style. The ringing tone he brings to this song and “Heimlisches Aufforderung” is welcome, since this music demands the vigor he brings to these songs.

Of the music on this recording, perhaps the known best are the Vier letzte Lieder, which are usually performed by a female singer and often with orchestral accompaniment. Given the current performance tradition that includes memorable recordings by such outstanding interpreters as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Jessye Norman, Renee Fleming, and other women, Jarnot’s decision to sing these pieces – as a baritone and with piano accompaniment – calls attention to the timbre associated with this work. From the outset, the deeper voice type is apparent, and Jarnot’s sensitivity to the character of the music in this set is clearly present in “Frühling,” a piece that requires the attention he has given to its details. Jarmpt colors his voice appropriately in the second song, “September,” to allow the text to emerge persuasively. Throughout that song and the others in the set Deutsch’s accompaniment is notable for being present without overtaking the performance. The fuller textures that sometimes occur are played in context. In some extended passages, as in “Beim Schlafengehen,” Deutsch takes the lead so that the full-voiced piano and the extroverted baritone timbre create a memorable performance. In this song and the final one of the set, “Im Abendrot,” Jarnot and Deutsch are at their best. The extended vocal line in “Im Abendrot” that is, at times, punctuated by figures in the accompaniment demonstrates how these songs can work well with piano.

With the Vier letzte Lieder and the other selections on this recording, Jarnot offers some fine performances of Strauss. Whether he chooses Lieder traditionally associated with women’s voices is immaterial when he can bring a fine interpretation to the music. Jarnot’s approach to Strauss is sound and would be effective with many other selections from the composer’s oeuvre. Some would debate this choice, but the finesse he brings to the recording is laudable. In fact the notes that accompany the CD include the baritone’s comments about the selections:

. . . I am very interested in recording music I have a real opinion about. I think that the Four Last Songs can gain more meaning through a performance with a deep masculine voice. . . . I sing the Four Last Songs because I love them and because I think that the result can be a good one. . . .

Jarnot’s comments suggest something crucial to effective performances: the stake the musicians have in pursuing music that truly moves them. His passion for Strauss emerges in this effective recording and reveals something about his own artistic disposition.

This is fine recording of Lieder from various parts of Strauss’s career merits attention, and those who enjoy this repertoire should appreciate Jarnot’s presentation of the music. The sound is nicely balanced and serves the music well. Those who enjoy Strauss’s Lieder should find much of interest in this recording, which represents yet another excellent contribution by the young baritone Conrad Jarnot.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Richard Strauss: Lieder

product_title=Richard Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder, Vier Lieder, op. 27, and Neun Lieder, op. 10.
product_by=Konrad Jarnot, baritone, Helmut Deutsch, piano.
product_id=Oehms Classics OC 518 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 12:55 PM

ROSSINI: William Tell (Two Reviews)

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 15 November 2005]

For a moment I wondered whether to take my blanket and pillow to Carnegie Hall on Sunday evening for the Opera Orchestra of New York presentation of a concert version of "William Tell" by Gioacchino Rossini. "Tell" can be a long go, as versions exist in three, four, and five acts, at the corresponding number of hours.

Click here for remainder of article.

That Rossini Could Swash Buckles With the Best of Them

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 15 November 2005]

At 11:25 on Sunday night, there was still one scene to go in Eve Queler's concert performance of Rossini's seldom-heard "William Tell" with her Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall. You might have expected the audience to be restless, as the performance approached the four-hour mark. But after the Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, singing the treacherous role of the tormented Swiss patriot Arnold, gave a fearless account of the cabaletta "Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance," his rallying cry to vanquish the Austrian occupiers of 13th-century Switzerland, soaring over the orchestra with clarion top notes and thrilling high C's, the audience threatened to stop the show with a frenzied ovation. So with a nod from Ms. Queler, Mr. Giordani sang the aria again.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Gioacchino Rossini

Posted by Gary at 12:46 PM

Blind Operatunity Star Has Super Naughty Xmas

denise_leigh_small.jpgby Caroline Ansdell [Whatsonstage, 15 November 2005]

Denise Leigh Blind amateur opera singer Denise Leigh . . . will star in a festive dark comedy at east London’s Wilton’s Music Hall. The singer, who gained notoriety as one of the winners of Channel 4’s Operatunity, will appear in The Super Naughty Xxxmas Story from 5 to 31 December 2005 (previews from 29 November).

Posted by Gary at 12:40 PM

Symphony and Opera take different paths to getting new behinds into those velvet seats

One of the things they're worried about is where the next generation of audiences is going to come from, and how they're going to be enticed into the concert hall and opera house.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=SF Symphony

Posted by Gary at 12:36 PM

Un ballo in maschera, Leipzig Opera

un_ballo_leipzig.gifBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 15 November 2005]

The Governor fancies his best friend's wife. An honourable man, he dies saying "I did not have sexual relations with that woman", or the 19th-century equivalent. Usually the attraction between Riccardo and Ameila is the main point of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. But in Leipzig on Saturday it was not.

Posted by Gary at 12:10 PM

A Mozart Clan: Nice Sounds Veiled by One Celestial Note

Franz_Xaver_Mozart_(Wolfgang_Jr)_1825_small.jpgBy JEREMY EICHLER [NY Times, 15 November 2005]

It can't be easy for the children and grandchildren of famous composers. Avoid music and you're somehow shirking destiny; try it out and you're haunted by legacy. Anna Mahler was a sculptor; Ronald Schoenberg became a judge; Gabriel Prokofiev is a D.J. working in Britain.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 PM

November 14, 2005

Diva in a Verismo Rarity, Chewing Imaginary Scenery

farrar_small.jpgBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 14 November 2005]

"Zazà" is a lesser known but not a lesser Leoncavallo opera. Toscanini conducted the premiere in 1900, but the piece did not arrive in New York until 1920. The soprano Geraldine Farrar quickly commandeered the title role. The Metropolitan Opera gave it some 20 performances in the next three seasons; and when Farrar said goodbye to the part in 1922, "Zazà" left New York with her.

Posted by Gary at 7:31 AM

A Hummable Treat for All Ages

portman_rachel.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 14 November 2005]

Apparently I am the only person of my generation who has never read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince." I am not quite sure whether that is a good or a bad thing, but at least I am better able to judge Rachel Portman's opera, which premiered on Saturday at the New York State Theater, on its own merits.

Posted by Gary at 7:25 AM

A Beautiful Singer, a Virtuoso Violinist & an Intrusive Train

Miah_Perrson_small.jpgBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 14 November 2005]

The Swedish soprano Miah Persson is a pretty big deal in Europe, but not very well-known on these shores. That should change in a hurry. Salzburg audiences not only know her, but adore her. For example, she was a smash in last summer's production of "Mitridate" (Mozart). And she was fairly smashing in her recital at Weill Recital Hall on Friday night.

Posted by Gary at 7:15 AM

November 13, 2005

STRAVINSKY : The Rake’s Progress

Indeed, it was the visual that inspired Stravinsky in the first place. During a visit to the Chicago Art Institute in 1947, Stravinsky saw Hogarth’s eight copper engravings. He saw the potential of using the formality of early, classical opera to structure a moral fable that defies time and convention. The libretto, by W H Auden and Chester Kallman, would follow. Their libretto respected Stravinsky’s instructions to adhere to a stylised model. The syntax may be archaic, but this serves to highlight Stravinsky’s fundamental modernism. Like A Soldier’s Tale, structure belies content. Basic ideas break through as universal.

This production, designed by David Hockney, leaps in and out of one dimensional space. First we see a stage in simple black and white, like the Hogarth engravings, crudely etched in lines and cross hatching. Perspectives aren’t quite right, as in the originals. Then figures appear, their costumes reflecting the graphics. Film technology being what it is, lines flicker as the eye adjusts. Unintentionally, this serves only to underline the surreal effect of old film and old print. The further the narrative descends into inner madness, the more striking Hockney’s designs. In the auction scene the characters are shown in muted neutrals, wigs and clothes like paper cartoons. Only the auctioneer is fully coloured, for his is the role of observer. Even more striking is the remarkable staging of the madhouse scene. The asylum’s inhabitants pop in and out of boxes, like typepieces in typographers’ trays. Boundaries between real and surreal are overturned, just as the music subverts its formal constraints. Remarkably, this staging makes the voices in the chorus surprisingly human and personal, adding another element of insight.

Performances, as one would expect, are very good. Felicity Lott makes Ann Trulove memorable, slight and sentimental as the role may be. She even manages to express a parody of the role in her aria in the asylum. Leo Goeke convinces as a wholesome wastrel, but less so as a ravaged rake. Nonetheless, the plot isn’t actually “about” him so much as his inability to withstand the temptations of the world. Looking bemused is a valid part of the characterisation. The really dominant figure is Nick Shadow. Sam Ramey brings truly venomous richness to the part, his voice almost hypnotic with colour and menace. His acting is magnetic, and evocative. In the scene where he confronts Tom in the graveyard, I was powerfully reminded of his Don Giovanni. When he turns to speak to the audience, stepping out of the play into “reality”, he comes over as much more sympathetic than the thwarted lovers. Rosalind Elias, as Baba the Turk, almost steals the show. Her singing and acting are superb, and she fills the role with manic joie de vivre. She is an invention of almost divine inspiration, adding further layers of surrealism to the plot. She comes from the world of theatre where illusion rules. She’s a woman with a beard after all, whose sexual allure is supposed to make men melt. She collects the weird and wonderful with genuine gusto, while her husband has no gusto for anything. He abuses her by covering her up and trying to sell her. Symbolically, though, she revives and turns the tables. It’s not a big role in terms of time on stage, but a pivotally important one. The crowd scenes, too, are sensitively choreographed, and extremely well sung, as one would expect from Glyndebourne.

This is an extremely robust and intellectually satisfying performance. With Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, there is very fine playing. The trumpet solo at the beginning of Act Three, accompanying Lott on her wanderings is especially evocative. But it is the marriage of music and visual imagery that makes this film such a treat. The grid patterns and lines in Hogarth’s drawings seem to come to life in the staging. The play of reality and unreality on many levels brings out the dynamic interplay between classical form and modernism in Stravinsky’s score. After this apotheosis, it’s not surprising that he didn’t feel a need to top this with more of the same.

Anne Ozorio

image_description=Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress

product_title=Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress
From the Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1975
Opera in Three Acts; Sung in English
product_by=Leo Goeke, Felicity Lott, Samuel Ramey, Richard Van Allan, Rosalind Elias. The Glyndebourne Chorus, The London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (cond.).
product_id=Arthaus Musik 101 093 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 8:47 PM

Opera downsizes as Italy's divas go on hunger strike

Silvio_Berlusconi.jpgSingers and staff take drastic action in protest at budget cuts

Barbara McMahon in Rome [The Observer, 13 November 2005]

Opera lovers in Italy this season may notice something different about the performers. Many of them are looking distinctly svelte after going on hunger strike to protest about proposed cuts to the country's arts budget. Living on only water, fruit juice and coffee, singers' weights have shrunk.

Posted by Gary at 5:29 PM

On the Move: Ana Maria Martinez

Martinez_Anna_Maria_small.jpg[Photo: IMG Artists]
by Maria Nockin [The Classical Singer, November 2005]

Lyric soprano Ana Maria Martinez traces her roots to Puerto Rico and is notably the only Latina soprano at her career level. A Juilliard graduate, Operalia winner, and national finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Ms. Martinez toured the world with Plácido Domingo, and collaborated with him on the Latin Grammy award-winning recording of Albéniz’ Merlin.

Posted by Gary at 3:29 PM

VERDI: Stiffelio

At the time of recording (June 1979) he was at the height of his powers; a mere two years before early deterioration first slowly but soon rather quickly set in many years before his bout with illness. No, he doesn’t sob like Del Monaco and he keeps a firm line unless Limarilli but he pushes his voice without mercy in a role a shade too heavy. Less charitable souls would call it yelling from time to time as he sings as if he’s permanently overexcited. Maybe it wouldn’t matter less if there would be flashes of insight, memorable phrases with an unexpected pianissimo here and there but it remains most of the time a very beautiful voice rolling along rather musically. One regrets that Philips didn’t ask Carlo Bergonzi to record the role. True by 1979 there was no way the 55-year old tenor could have hidden the permanent flatness above the stave but even in his 1983 Oberto-recording he gave every other tenor an object lesson in noble Verdi-phrasing.

The female lead is sung by another early burn-out: Sylvia Sass; the difference with Carreras in this recording being twofold. First the 28-year old soprano is in splendid voice and contrary to the tenor there are no warning signs she is singing a role less suited to her means and secondly she brings the role of Lina to live with appropriate musical means. Though never making an ugly sound she phrases deliciously in her aria and her duets with baritone and tenor convincingly portraying the anguish and hopes in great flights of sound or mere whispers. Matteo Manuguerra is a distinguished Stankar. His is not the most beautiful or smooth voice but the voice has character and the unmistakeable brown sound of the true Italian Verdi baritone. The voice is homogeneous and manly though he too can be a little bland in his phrasing. The big aria could have done with a little more anguish and the cabaletta with a little more fury. Giulio Fioravanti on the Del Monaco-recording has a slightly better grasp on the agonies of Lina’s father. By the time of the recording Vladimiro Ganzarolli, once one of the great hopes of La Scala, was already reduced to a small bit player but he has still voice enough to be an impressive Jorg. Ezio Di Cesare sings well in probably the most ungrateful Verdi-tenor-part; neither a comprimario nor a title role.

The sound is still fine and the Vienna Radio Orchestra doesn’t have to feel inferior to their more famous Wiener Symphoniker-brethren. Lamberto Gardelli was for many years a stalwart in the conducting business of less known Verdi-operas. And more than once he was reviled as being pedestrian (Carlo Rizzi nowadays suffers the same fate most of the time). Well, I cannot hear anything pedestrian in his sure-footed approach; his respect for Verdi’s markings and his assisting his singers without unduly hurrying them for effect. All in all, a satisfying recording of an opera that grows more and more on you the more you play it. And once you know this once almost forgotten score, you’ll be eager to see a production as a Stiffelio-performance (I saw productions in Amsterdam and Liège) is immensely rewarding in the theatre.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Stiffelio

product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Stiffelio
product_by=José Carreras (Stiffelio); Sylvia Sass (Lina); Matteo Manuguerra (Stankar); Wladimiro Ganzarolli (Jorg); Ezio Di Cesare (Raffaele); Maria Venuti (Dorotea); Thomas More (Federico). ORF Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Vienna, Lamberto Gardelli (cond.).
product_id=Philips 00289 475 6775 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 2:22 PM

November 12, 2005

Happy birthday to the wizard of Oz

[Times Online, 11 November 2005]
He's been wielding a baton for half a century. Richard Morrison salutes Sir Charles Mackerras
Nobody would have expected anything else. On his 80th birthday, on Thursday, Sir Charles Mackerras will be doing what he has done supremely well for six decades. Conducting something. As it happens, it will be Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at Covent Garden, where he first waved his baton 50 years ago. But if it hadn’t been that, it would have been Janácek in New York, or Mozart in Berlin. “My wife says I’m only happy standing in front of an orchestra,” he says. “It’s a bit of an exaggeration. But I don’t know how much longer I’ve got.”

Posted by Gary at 9:36 PM


by Sam Hurwitt [SF Chronicle, 13 November 2005]

On its face, "Brundibar," the children's opera adapted by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner, is a simple, charming tale about standing up to bullies and overcoming adversity, with a little help from your friends.

In reality, the opera has its roots in the Holocaust.

Posted by Gary at 9:27 PM

The End of the Great Big American Voice

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 13 November 2005]

IN March, Jennifer Wilson, an unknown 39-year-old soprano, suddenly burst onto the international opera scene by jumping in for Jane Eaglen as Brünnhilde in Wagner's "Götterdämmerung" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, just a day after singing the same character in a rehearsal of "Die Walküre." Artistry aside, this is a stunning athletic feat. Few people today have the vocal heft and stamina to get through even one of these roles, let alone take on both back to back.

Posted by Gary at 9:20 PM

Juliette Has Fun (Before She Dies, of Course)

By MATTHEW GUREWITSCH [NY Times, 13 November 2005]

IN late October, several levels below the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House, chorus and dancers in Renaissance masks and motley rehearsal clothes were getting up to speed for the ball in Guy Joosten's new production of Charles Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette," which opens Monday. Off to one side, barely noticed, a tiny creature knelt on the floor clutching a dagger in both hands. Suddenly, she plunged it into the pit of her stomach - then again and again and again, with fierce concentration, stifling a gasp each time.

Posted by Gary at 9:03 PM

STRAUSS: Die Fledermaus


Rosalinda von Eisenstein, Gabriel's wife Soprano
Gabriel von Eisenstein, Rosalinda's husband Baritone (or tenor)
Adele, Rosalinda's chambermaid Soprano
Alfred, an Italian tenor Tenor
Dr. Falke, Gabriel's friend Baritone
Prince Orlovsky, a Russian prince Mezzo-soprano (or counter-tenor)
Blind, a lawyer Tenor
Frank, the prison warden Baritone
Ida, Adele's sister Speaking role


Vienna in the late 19th Century.


Act I

Through the windows of the Eisenstein home floats the serenade of Alfred, a tenor still in love with his old flame Rosalinde, now the wife of Gabriel von Eisenstein. Adele, a chambermaid, saunters in reading an invitation to a masked ball; Rosalinde, bedeviled by a headache and believing she has heard Alfred's voice, enters but finds only Adele. The maid asks for the evening off to visit a "sick aunt," a plea her mistress dismisses. Alfred steps into the room and begins to woo Rosalinde, who resists his verbal blandishments but melts on hearing his high A. The suitor leaves as Eisenstein and his lawyer, Blind, arrive from a session in court: Eisenstein has been sentenced to a fortnight in jail for a civil offense. No sooner does he dismiss the incompetent advocate than his friend Falke comes to invite Eisenstein to a masquerade, suggesting he bring along his repeater stop-watch, which charms all the ladies, so he can accumulate pleasant memories to sustain him during his confinement in jail. Rosalinde joins Adele in a bittersweet farewell to Eisenstein before he goes off to prison, got up, to his wife's surprise, in full evening dress. Sending Adele to her "aunt," Rosalinde receives the ardent Alfred. Their tête-à-tête is interrupted by the warden Frank, who mistakes Alfred for the man he has come to arrest. Rosalinde persuades Alfred to save her name by posing as her husband, and Frank carts him off to jail.

Act II

In an antechamber at the palace of Prince Orlofsky, the nobleman's guests, Adele and her cousin Ida among them, await the arrival of their host. Orlofsky enters, quite bored — even with Falke's promise of a comedy of errors. The prince proclaims his guests free to do anything that suits their fancy — "Chacun à son gout." Adele, dressed in one of Rosalinde's most elegant gowns, laughs off Eisenstein's suggestion that she resembles his wife's chambermaid. Frank enters, and Rosalinde, also invited by Falke, arrives disguised as a temperamental Hungarian countess; she is soon wooed by her own reeling husband, whose pocket watch she steals to hold as proof of his philandering. Rosalinde agrees to sing a song about her "native" land, a spirited czardas, after which the guests move on to a magnificent dining area to toast the joys of wine, good fellowship and love. Champagne flows, and the guests dance wildly until dawn. When the clock strikes six, Eisenstein staggers off to keep his appointment at the jail.


Moments later at the prison, Frosch, a drunken jailer, tries to keep order among the inmates, who are unable to sleep because of Alfred's singing. Frank arrives, still giddy with champagne, followed shortly by Ida and Adele, who, thinking him a theatrical agent, believes he might further her stage aspirations. Frank, hearing someone at the door, hides the girls in a cell and then admits Eisenstein, who has come to begin his sentence. The new prisoner is surprised to learn his cell is already occupied by a man who claims to be Eisenstein and who was found supping with Rosalinde; to obtain an explanation from the impostor, Eisenstein snatches a legal robe and wig from his astonished lawyer. No sooner is he disguised than Rosalinde hurries in to secure Alfred's release and press divorce charges against her errant husband. With her would-be paramour, she confides her flirtation to the "lawyer." Enraged, Eisenstein removes his disguise and accuses his wife of promiscuity, at which Rosalinde whips forth the watch she took from him at the ball. Orlofsky and his guests arrive to celebrate the reconciliation of Rosalinde and Eisenstein, singing a final toast as Eisenstein is taken away.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=Die Fledermaus (Fritz Langer)

first_audio_name=Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus
Windows Media Player
second_audio_name=Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus
Alternate stream

product_title=Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus
product_by=Lucia Popp, Bernd Weikl, Janet Perry, Wolfgang Brendel, Brigitte Fassbaender, Benno Kusche, Josef Hopferwieser, Ferry Gruber, Irene Steinbeisser, Franz Muxenede. Bayerische Staatsoper, Carlos Kleiber (cond.). Live performance at Nationaltheater, München, 31 December 1983.

Posted by Gary at 6:06 PM

November 11, 2005

'Fidelio' holds you captive ... but not in a good way

Joshua Kosman [SF Chronicle, 11 November 2005]

Opera doesn't get much timelier or more topical than Wednesday's opening performance of Beethoven's "Fidelio" at the San Francisco Opera. Here, as if plucked from that day's headlines, were the grim cell blocks and torture chambers where government figures pursue their secret agendas without oversight or accountability.

Sound familiar? I thought so.

Posted by Gary at 1:59 PM

A Sure Thing, Though Not On the High B

heppner_small.jpg[Photo: Marty Umans]
BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 11 November 2005]

It was a blockbuster concert, a box-office sure thing: the soprano Deborah Voigt and the tenor Ben Heppner, singing arias and duets. What arias and duets? German ones, of course, for Miss Voigt and Mr. Heppner are two of the most celebrated "German" singers - Wagner singers, more specifically - in the world. (She is an American, he a Canadian.) The concert took place on Wednesday night at Avery Fisher Hall, and the singers' backup band was the Orchestra of St. Luke's, conducted by Asher Fisch, an Israeli who is particularly known for opera.

Posted by Gary at 1:48 PM

A Gala With a Difference: Music as the Main Course

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 11 November 2005]

Gala concerts are typically festive affairs offering fancy dinners for select ticket buyers and lighter musical fare for the main portion of the evening. Lincoln Center's Fall Gala concert on Wednesday night at Avery Fisher Hall was another story.

Posted by Gary at 1:43 PM

Florida Grand Opera opens season with Puccini's torrid Old West love triangle

fanciulla_small.jpgBy Lawrence A. Johnson [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 10 November 2005]

On Dec. 10, 1910, the Metropolitan Opera unveiled a new work by the most celebrated of living opera composers, Giacomo Puccini. The composer's first opera in six years since his hit Madama Butterfly boasted a starry production with Arturo Toscanini conducting and Enrico Caruso, soprano Emmy Destinn and baritone Pasquale Amato heading the cast.

Posted by Gary at 1:31 PM

FeedBlitz Subscribers

For those who are subscribers to FeedBlitz, please take notice that changes have been made to the settings to correct certain errors. Subscribers to Opera Today (All Articles) will receive articles but no news headlines. Subscribers who want both articles and news should also subscribe to Opera Today (News). Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience.

Posted by Gary at 12:56 PM

November 10, 2005

Un Wagner élégant et sans boursouflures

Salonen_small.jpgMarie-Aude Roux [Le Monde, 9 November 2005]

LeTristan de Wagner mis en scène par Peter Sellars avec le concours du vidéaste Bill Viola, sous la direction d'Esa-Pekka Salonen, en avril, avait été l'un des événements majeurs de la première saison de Gérard Mortier (Le Monde du 14 avril). Ce 8 novembre le patron de l'Opéra de Paris relevait le gant de la reprise. A son passif, une distribution moins époustouflante que la première ­ - hypothèse confirmée ; à son actif, la descente dans la fosse d'une baguette antithétique de celle de Salonen, celle du chef russe, Valery Gergiev.

Posted by Gary at 1:22 PM

Andreas Scholl, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

by Roderic Dunnett [The Independent, 9 November 2005]

Since Alfred Deller restored the countertenor voice to the concert stage, male singers have readily assayed roles once the preserve of the castrato. Farinelli, Guadagni, Rauzzini: these singers lorded it in Baroque opera. Tenducci was a firm favourite in Georgian England, but it was Senesino (Francesco Bernadi) who proved the unchallenged Handel interpreter in the early 1730s.

Posted by Gary at 1:09 PM

A Man Doing a Woman's Job

mathilde_wesendonck.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 10 November 2005]

For those who think that classical music is fit only for the drawing rooms of ancient ladies, it may be a surprise to learn that some of the greatest works in the medium received their inspiration from steamy, passionate encounters. The Belgian composer Cesar Franck, for example, wrote a chamber piece - the Piano Quintet - so whitehot in its carnal intensity that his wife walked out of the premiere performance, understanding by its naked sensuality that it had to have been inspired by his mistress.

Posted by Gary at 12:48 PM

November 9, 2005

TCHAIKOVSKY: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty is based on the baroque fairy tale La belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood) by Charles Perrault (1628-1703). Perrault wrote his fairy tales for the amusement of Louis XIV and the Sun King’s court, who were amused by tales of the simple folk. Marius Petipa (181-1910), the ballet master who choreographed Tchaikovsky’s score, staged it in the style of Louis XIV court, constructing marvelous stage sets made from painted gauze veils and movable walls, as well as lavish costumes from the 17th century French style. Although the ballet had a lukewarm reception at its premiere, it took on a life of its own in the 20th century, with many imitators and devotees of Petipa attempting to produce the original performance and choreography. Act Three is the crux and highlight of the ballet, the marriage of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire, where all of the characters from Perrault’s fairy tales come to life and appear in the ballroom. Puss-in-Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Cinderella; a whole menagerie from Perrault’s well-known Tales of Mother Goose appears throughout the production.

The version of the production in the DVD is the one choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich in 1973. Grigorovich does not try to recreate Petipa’s style; rather, he incorporates Petipa’s legacy of “symphonizing the dance.” This involves traditional classical numbers with several demi-character or related numbers, which fit within the overall visual framework yet follow the musical flow. The performance is truly a delight and feast for the eyes, with all of the various fairy tale characters and dance pieces that remind one of The Nutcracker and its many visual and musical pieces. The Bolshoi Ballet does a wonderful job performing and costuming the various dancers, and the music is done quite well.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty

product_title=Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty
Ballet in three acts and a prologue.
product_by= Princess Aurora, Nina Semizorova; Prince Desire, Aleksei Fadeyechev; Lilac Fairy, Nina Speranskaya; Carabosse, Yuri Vetrov; Bluebird, Aleksandr Vetrov; Princess Florine, Maria Bilova; King Florestin, Andrei Sitnikov; Queen, Irina Nesterova. Choreography by Marius Petipa. Libretto by Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Marius Petipa. Based on the Tales of Charles Perrault. Staged by Yuri Grigorovich. Performed by The Bolshoi Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet Theatre Orchestra, Aleksandr Kopilov, conductor. Recorded at the Bolshoi Ballet 1989.
product_id=ArtHaus Musik 101 113 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 10:02 PM


This assessment agrees with a long established bit of common wisdom: that Strauss wrote a great string of masterpieces early on—Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos—all of which quickly took their place in the central repertory, but that his later years were filled with “note-spinning” and inspirational sterility. This attitude is certainly reflected in his opera’s performance histories. There is a wealth of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts of the above titles dating back to the broadcast’s early years. But Daphne, which was first staged in 1938, had its New York stage premiere just last season, and not at the Met.

Well, I love Solti, but I think his assessment of Strauss is all wet! For me, Daphne is exhibit A. It is a richly imagined, extravagantly scored work which combines bits of the turbulent, hyper-imaginative Strauss of the early operas with the soaring, lyrical flights found in Rosenkavalier, Arabella, and later, Capriccio. And at only about 100 minutes in length, Daphne doesn’t sprawl in the same way that some of the composer’s longer operas do. It is a work of concise and sublime beauty.

Daphne was a sentimental favorite of its composer, who in his later years repeatedly played the opera’s finale on the piano for his own amusement. He referred to it as his Magic Fire Music (the famous finale of Wagner’s Die Walküre). When a documentarian appeared after the “securing” of Strauss’s home in Garmisch by allied soldiers during World War II, Strauss surprised him by not playing selections from Rosenkavalier or one of his famous symphonic poems, but rather—you guessed it—the Daphne finale. Strauss’s beloved but sometimes cantankerous wife Pauline, who had in the past compared her husband’s music unfavorably to that of Massenet, was delighted by Daphne, and famously gave conductor Karl Böhm a kiss after the premiere.

Sadly, the second-tier status of Strauss’s late operas has also meant relatively few outings in the recording studio. While there are several live monaural accounts of Daphne from various decades, including one under dedicatee Böhm, and featuring Hilde Güden, Fritz Wunderlich, James King, Decca’s new recording with soprano mega-star Renée Fleming singing the title role is the only modern stereo recording commercially available. The EMI set under Bernard Haitink featuring the wonderful Lucia Popp, isn’t currently in the catalogue.

The opera starts with a simple melody played by the oboe, and joined by a chorus of woodwinds. At sunset, shepherds lead their sheep to drink at a stream. In a sublime moment, as they depart, their voices rise in chorus, bidding farewell to the day. Their song is joined by the voice of Daphne, begging the day not to end in her beautiful aria “O bleib, geliebter tag!” Daphne is then hailed by her childhood playmate, the shepherd Leukippos, who has fallen in love with her. But when she realizes his intentions, she rebuffs him.

In a passage which must contain some of the lowest notes ever penned for a female singer (including an E-flat below middle C), Daphne’s mother, the earth goddess Gaea, counsels her daughter that one day she must turn to love. A group of maidens arrive, exited about that evening’s feast of Bacchus. They compare their finery, but note that Daphne has rejected her beautiful gown and jewels. They come upon Leukippos, and hearing his tale of woe, they urge him to dress as a woman so that he can be near Daphne at the feast.

As Daphne’s parents (her father is the river-god Peneios) and shepherds discuss the last glowing of sunlight on the peak of Olympus, the sun god himself appears in the guise of a cowherd. Daphne is impressed by the newcomer, and offers him a cup of water. Apollo is entranced, and asks Daphne to be his sister. After an increasingly impassioned duet, in which Apollo drops many hints as to his real identity, he kisses Daphne. As the orchestra quietly paints with extravagant tones both strange and ravishing, Daphne reacts with confusion. How could her brother kiss her so? Apollo plainly states his love, but Daphne is angered by his deception.

The feast of Bacchus begins. Leukippos appears in female garb, and dances with Daphne. A fight breaks out between Apollo and the shepherds. But when Apollo raises his bow above his head, a rumble of thunder is heard, and the shepherds flee in terror. Apollo accuses Leukippos of trying to deprive him of Daphne. Leukippos admits his true identity, and boldly declares his love. Apollo counters, in a triumphant aria, by revealing that he is the sun god, and in a climax of remarkable power, he strikes Leukippos dead with a lightening bolt.

Gripped with overwhelming grief, Daphne mourns over the body of her childhood friend, singing another long, heartbreakingly beautiful aria. She now regrets having rejected the love of Leukippos, and vows to stay there by his body until she is taken by the same hand. Apollo is shamed, and admits his wrong. He performs an incantation, wishing that all Daphne’s wishes should be fulfilled, and that as a laurel tree she should stand forever beautiful, and that her branches would be used to crown heroes.

Daphne rises and cries to her brothers the trees that she is coming to greet them, that she feels the sap rising inside her. She is then slowly transformed into a laurel tree, and the opera closes in wave upon wave of beautiful orchestral tracery, embellishing the first theme of the opera and eventually joined by Daphne’s wordless voice emanating from the tree.

Daphne is a great paean to the soprano voice by a composer famous for his beautiful soprano roles. And in so brief an opera, Daphne’s lengthy arias must take up more than twenty percent of its running length. Yet though Strauss equally has a reputation of hostility to the tenor voice, here he crafts two wonderful tenor roles as well, although like many of his others tenor roles, the role of Apollo requires both heroic heft and a strong upper register.

Under conductor Semyon Bychkov, the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln plays beautifully. All the soloists sing well, though largely they fail to best those found in the EMI set under Haitink. Clearly this recording was made because of Renée Fleming and as with nearly all her many recordings, her face smiles benignly from its cover. Fleming clearly has a very beautiful voice. But sometimes I feel that she attempts to be over-expressive, to add to what the composer wrote, as if not sufficiently trusting in the score’s efficacy. In “O blieb, geliebter tag!”, meant to be the enthusiastic outburst of an innocent young girl, Fleming darkens her tone and shapes the notes too carefully. What might be fine for Strauss’s Four Last Songs or the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier is here too studied, too mature. Johann Botha as Apollo sounds great, although he might have made more of some of the climactic moments (though the orchestral competition is fierce!). Michael Schade’s Leukippos is beautifully sung, and the Gaea of Anna Larsson is effective, though those basement-bottom notes can’t be easy for even the deepest voiced contraltos.

This set has the full German libretto translated into English along with an essay on the opera’s composition in a substantial booklet. For those who have never experienced the wonders of Daphne, both musical and dramatic, this set is an easy recommendation.

Eric D. Anderson

image_description=Richard Strauss: Daphne

product_title=Richard Strauss: Daphne
product_by= Renée Fleming, Johan Botha, Michael Schade, Kwanchul Youn, Anna Larsson, Eike Wilm Schulte, Cosmin Ifrim, Gregory Reinhart, Carsten Mittmoser, Julia Kleiter, Twyla Robinson. Orchestra and Chorus of West Deutscher Rundfunk, Semyon Bychkov (cond.).
product_id=Decca 475 6926 8 DH2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 9:51 PM


Early in 1950, he was allowed to travel to Italy with a Soviet delegation, where he was inspired by the Roman Coliseum to compose a ballet on the life of Spartacus. Working with the author and critic Nikolai D. Volkov (1894-1965), Khachaturian assisted in the construction of a libretto that was based on two main sources, which had also been consulted by Karl Marx: the Roman civil war history by the Alexandrian civil servant and barrister Appian (2 A.D.), and the biography of Crassus by Plutarch (1 A.D.). These two sources described the story of a Thracian prisoner of war who led an uprising out of a gladiator school in 73 B.C., raised an army of peasants and other marginal societal groups, and defeated nine Roman legions and generals before finally being defeated by Roman general Crassus. Volkov gave Spartacus a fictional lover named Phrygia, and Crassus a fictional lover named Aegina. Aegina embodies the moral depravity of the Roman Empire, while Phrygia stands for the freedom and good of the common people. Khachaturian finished the score in 1954, but the original has never been performed. At its premiere in 1956 in the Kirov Theatre, the choreographer Leonid Jacobson (1904-1975) cut the work into a series of friezes, using a pantomime-like style of movement similar to the Isadora Duncan school. The production staged by Igor Moiseyev in 1958 with a huge ballet corps and three extra scenes won Khachaturian the Lenin Prize in 1959. The staging most often used for performances today is the one by Yuri Grigorovich in 1968, and it is the one performed on this DVD.

The ballet is divided into three major acts. The first act has 20 scenes, and centers around the introduction of Crassus, Spartacus, Phrygia, and Aegina as the main characters. The plot focuses on the slave market, where Phrygia and Spartacus are separated and sold. Act 1 ends with Spartacus initiating the revolt in the gladiator’s barracks, and the oath they all take to fight the Romans. Act 2 centers around one of the two major battle scenes in the ballet, where Crassus and Spartacus fight each other, but both survive the encounter. Spartacus’s election as the revolt leader, and Aegina’s depravity towards the revolution, are also depicted. Act 3 is the huge final battle scene between Spartacus and Crassus, where Aegina is able to seduce some of Spartacus’s lieutenants and discover his battle plans. At the end of the ballet, Spartacus is killed and there is a huge victory celebration for Crassus in Rome.

The performance on the DVD was magnificent. The costumes, staging, scenery and dancing were wonderful to watch. Given that most people remember the excellent movie version of this story which starred Kirk Douglas, this ballet version is also a visual experience and adventure. The four main dancers/characters kept the attention and focus of the drama, supported by the supporting cast of dancers. It is a dramatic retelling of an actual historical event, recreated by a Soviet composer which attempts to depict the continual trials and repression of the common people by bureaucratic and depraved governments.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Aram Khachaturian: Spartacus

product_title=Aram Khachaturian: Spartacus
Ballet in three acts.
product_by=Spartacus, Irek Mukhamedov; Crassus, Aleksandr Vetrov; Phrygia, Lyudmilla Semenyaka; Aegina, Maria Bilova; Gladiator, Gediminas Taranda. Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich. Scenario by Nikolai Volkov. Performed by The Bolshoi Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet Theatre Orchestra, Algis Zhuraitis, conductor. Recorded at the Bolshoi Ballet 1990.
product_id=ArtHaus Musik 101 115 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 9:22 PM

A Classical Star's Frequent Cancellations Raise Concern

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 9 November 2005]

The first mention of problems came on Jan. 19, a month after she sang with the New York Philharmonic.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of the day, had been hospitalized for a lower back injury, Carnegie Hall announced, and would not be performing with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra on Jan. 23.

Posted by Gary at 1:05 PM

Il diluvio universale, Theatre Royal, London

Schmid_Patric_small.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 9 November 2005]

An ill-fated star hung over this event, the latest in a line of bel canto revivals promoted by Patric Schmid of Opera Rara. Just before it started Schmid collapsed and died backstage. The show went on and presumably the recording will too, but Opera Rara has lost the driving force behind its 35-year run. Schmid was not just an enthusiast; he was a connoisseur with a way of making things work.

Posted by Gary at 12:53 PM

November 8, 2005

The dedicated art of opera recording

GEORGIA SMITH, [Paris International Herald Tribune, 8 November 2005]

In London on Nov. 6, the Theater Royal Drury Lane will present a concert version of "Il Diluvio Universale," by Gaetano Donizetti. You might recognize the name Donizetti. But what is that title?

It's "The Universal Flood," one of many Donizetti operas that no one performs anymore. It renders the story of Noah with a melodramatic armory of clashing tribes, pagan curses, betrayal, passion and, of course, rain. Plus florid singing: trills and cadenzas, roller-coaster scales and breathtaking high and low notes.

Posted by Gary at 1:26 PM

From the Opera Company, a 'Barber' to bravo

By David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 November 2005]

The Barber of Seville is the kind of classic that makes some opera lovers cringe in anticipation. So many times, it goes so wrong with such shticky comedy that you laugh, because not doing so compounds the embarrassment.

Posted by Gary at 1:22 PM

Manon, Royal Opera House, London (Royal Ballet)

by Zoë Anderson [The Independent, 8 November 2005]

Zenaida Yanowsky is a different kind of Manon. For a start, she's taller - Kenneth MacMillan's 1974 ballet was made for a small dancer - but her originality reflects the character. Every step, every decision, looks new-minted.

Posted by Gary at 1:12 PM

Orfeo, Opera de Lille

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 8 November 2005]

"Abandon all hope, you who enter" is the warning at the entrance to Plutone's kingdom, but it could equally apply to the testing title role of Monteverdi's first opera. Its tessitura lies awkwardly between tenor and baritone registers, too low for the former, especially at baroque pitch, and high for baritones who don't shine at the top.

Posted by Gary at 12:59 PM

Hear My Prayer

The recording’s program is wide ranging, and includes classics like Mendelssohn’s demanding “Hear My Prayer,” Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” and the “Pie Jesu” from Faure’s Requiem, chestnuts like Malotte’s “Lord’s Prayer,” Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” a number of lesser known works like Michael Head’s Christmas jewel, “The Little Road to Bethlehem,” or Fred Cowan’s “The Children’s Home”--Victoriana at its most Victorian--and even a pop song or two, for good measure. The program is an old-fashioned one, decidedly lacking in musical sophistication, but remarkably well suited to display the musical gift of a then remarkable young boy.

Jones’ sound is an engaging one, more soloistic than choral, with a vibrato that surprises at first hearing, but that grows increasingly congenial with repeated hearings. He sings with commanding confidence, expressive flair, and a mature sense of line and contoured phrasing, all of which underscore his giftedness. Particularly memorable here is his exquisite rendition of the Faure “Pie Jesu” (unusual in a Welsh translation) and his “Hear My Prayer,” a performance that is dramatic and dynamic, as well as a considerable test of endurance . . . a test he amply survives.

There are problems here and there. Most notable perhaps is that all of the pieces tend to sound stylistically the same—the style is uniformly “Aled.” And that, as I have noted, is engaging and impressive, but the uniformity of style seems to underscore the youthfulness of the endeavor. Two of the pieces, the title anthem and the Mozart “Laudate Dominum” are with choir and organ. And here, ensemble coordination is problematic, with the organ conspicuously out of synch on occasion, and the choir from time to time overly robust in its enthusiasm.

Today Jones is prominent in the UK as both a singer and a broadcaster with the BBC. His days of cassock and ruff and the first row of the choir are long past, but one can only suspect that they have served him well. Certainly he was a boy treble of great distinction.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Hear My Prayer

product_title=Hear My Prayer
product_by=Aled Jones, treble
product_id=Sain SCD 2426 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 11:51 AM

November 7, 2005

Glossy triumph of empty style

[Daily Telegraph, 7 November 2005]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Madam Butterfly at the Coliseum

Being a great admirer of his films, I had high hopes of the director Anthony Minghella's first foray into opera. And how can anyone seriously fail with a drama as hard-hitting as Puccini's Madam Butterfly, one of the most culturally influential masterpieces of the 20th-century?

Posted by Gary at 2:13 PM

Madam Butterfly at Coliseum, London

Tom Service [The Guardian, 7 November 2005]

Anyone expecting images of cinematic brilliance from Anthony Minghella's new production of Puccini's Madam Butterfly for English National Opera will not be disappointed. He stages the end of the first act, the love duet between Mary Plazas's frail Butterfly and Gwyn Hughes Jones's passionate Pinkerton, as an elaborate ballet with Japanese lanterns and an entire orchard of pink cherry blossom. It's an image worthy of the hype that has surrounded Minghella's debut as an opera director.

Posted by Gary at 2:09 PM

Why Shouldn't Men Sing Romantic Drivel, Too?

m_goerne.jpgBy MATTHEW GUREWITSCH [NY Times, 6 November 2005]

CLASSICAL song recitals are, for the most part, a world of equal opportunity. Male or female, artists may perform what they like. Then there are the special cases: Schubert's cycles "Die Schöne Müllerin" ("The Miller's Fair Daughter") and "Winterreise" ("Winter Journey"), for instance, or Schumann's "Dichterliebe" ("A Poet's Love"). In each, the "I" of the verse presupposes a man's voice. Women occasionally take over, though never without raising questions of congruity.

Posted by Gary at 2:06 PM

La Forza del Destino War Memorial, San Francisco

By Allan Ulrich [Financial Times, 7 November 2005]

Under its departing director Pamela Rosenberg, the San Francisco Opera has conquered the most problematic of Verdi's mature works with a gripping production. The producer Ron Daniels's scheme generally shuns realistic detail and embraces the inherent crudities and catchpenny coincidences of Francisco Piave's libretto, transforming them into an epic of cosmic absurdity.

Posted by Gary at 2:02 PM

Madam Butterfly English National Opera London

david_parry.jpgBy ANDREW CLARK [Financial Times, 7 November 2005]

The first thing to say about English National Opera's new Puccini production is that it is stunningly pretty. The second thing to say is that, well, it is stunningly pretty. And the third thing . . .

Posted by Gary at 2:01 PM

Méthodes & Traités, series II: France 1800-1860 (Les grandes méthodes romantiques de chant), Vol. IV

This practice became particularly popular during the Age of Enlightenment when treatises were produced for a growing market of dilettantes who wished to learn the rudiments of singing and playing instruments. Famous examples include Leopold Mozart Violinschule (1756) and J.S. Bach’s son Carl Philip Emanuel’s Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (1753 and 1762). Musical treatises took on new significance in the nineteenth century; with the rise of the rise of the conservatory and the increasing emphasis on musical performance in the middle-class home, famous performers who became noted teachers put pen to paper to share their techniques with an ever-increasing market of literate amateurs. Hence, it was possible to partake of a conservatory experience without ever leaving the comfort of one’s own parlor or salon.

Fuzeau Editions has published several series of these treatises in facsimile, gathering volumes of various categories so that they can be consulted together. One such series is a compilation of voice treatises and methods written by important virtuosi and pedagogues of the Romantic Age (although the title suggests a timeline from 1800-1860, the earliest volume dates from 1804 and the latest, 1870); among the authors included are Girolamo Crescentini, both Manual Garcias (father and son), Gioachino Rossini, Gilbert Louis Duprez, Luigi Lablache, and François-Joseph Fétis. Each of the seven volumes contains two or three methods at, as Fuzeau proclaims, reasonable costs. If purchased in toto, the series can be had for 424,000 euros, a savings of 116 euros were each book bought separately. The individual volumes range from 44 to 84 euros (roughly 50 to $100). Purchasers initially might think the publications costly, but compared to the price of a trip to a major research institution to consult the originals, it seems more palatable.

Volume IV of the series includes three important mid-century works, listed here as they appear: Manual Garcia, fils’ Traité complet de l’art du chant (1847), Laure Cinti-Damoreau’s Méthode de chant (1849), and Joseph (Giuseppe) Concone’s Introduction à l’art de bien chanter (c. 1845). Garcia, son of the singer who premiered the role of the Count in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, abandoned his own career as a baritone when he exhibited vocal woes while performing in New York. Far more important was his work as a teacher; among his students were his own sisters, Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot, and Jenny Lind, Erminia Frezzolini, Mathilde Marchesi, and Julius Stockhausen. His main significance, however, comes from his scientific study of the construction of the vocal apparatus; his experiments with the laryngoscope, a small mirror with which the vocal mechanism could be viewed, brought the art of singing into the world of science. Cinti-Damoreau had a highly successful career as a soprano at both the Opéra and the Thêátre-italien. Imitating the techniques she heard from her Italian colleagues, she is remembered as a Rossinian soprano, having premiered roles in his Le Siège de Corinthe, Moïse, Le comte Ory, and Guillaume Tell. She taught at the Paris Conservatoire for 23 years; the lessons and exercises that comprise her Méthode were approved as a text for that institution’s vocal curriculum. After a brief career as a singer, Concone taught in Paris, overlapping Cinti-Damoreau’s teaching career by one year; holding her art in high esteem, he dedicated his own book to her as an “expression of recognition and admiration.” Indeed, the network of influence among all the authors in this series is noteworthy. Concone notes as well that he drew his exercises from Rossini’s Gogheggi e solfeggi (1827; see Volume III of this series; Cinti-Damoreau shares cadenzas she performed in roles in Cenerentola, Il barbiere, and Le comte Ory, among others. Garcia’s method, save for his own pioneering work in the study of the human voice, derives from his father’s Exercices pour la voix (c. 1835; also in Volume III).

Of course, facsimiles have their pros and cons. In their favor, such publications exactly replicate the content and appearance of works as they were published initially. Hence, there is no chance that textual passages or accompanying musical examples would be accidentally eliminated. The job of the series editor is to locate the sources to be included; the Chant series editor, Jeanne Roudet, notes that the provenance of the originals came from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the British Library. Thus, readers and researchers can consult a duplication of the original work rather than an actual edited text. One obvious problem, though, is language; a reader must be fluent in the writer’s tongue to understand the work (of the seventeen methods in the series, fifteen are in French and two in Italian). Although some of these works are available in translation, one is then always at the mercy of someone else’s interpretation. Since a fair portion of these methods includes musical examples and exercises, however, it is almost worth investing in a good language dictionary and having a go at the original text. In truth, one could study the various techniques simply by performing the exercises in ornamentation, vocalization, and etudes that drew on the vocal music of the day. Fortunately, the language of music is universally understood.

One slight drawback of this series is the physical size of the volumes. Printed on fine but heavy stock, the large volumes (9¼ by 13 inches) have a soft cover, making them awkward to use. The size, of course, approximates that of the originals; printed separately, they were manageable books with hard covers. Two or three bound together makes for an unwieldy volume. Anyone considering one or more of the series with the intention of serious usage would do well to invest in making them hardbound. A quick note on page numbers: each facsimile bears continuous pagination at the bottom center of each page while the original page numbers appear at the top verso and recto.

Singers (both students and pedagogues) who aim for an informed performance of the French and Italian repertories from this time period will want to consult (or even own) these facsimiles. If music libraries do not automatically subscribe to the Fuzeau Fac-similes, they would be wise to purchase the entire series because the cost of originals, if they even can be located on the rare book market, is decidedly more. Opera lovers who read music will enjoy glancing through method books like those of Garcia, Cinti-Damoreau and Concone, for they explain from the inside out how singers once learned their craft.

Denise Gallo

image_description=Méthodes & Traités, series II: France 1800-1860 (Les grandes méthodes romantiques de chant)

product_title=Chant: Garcia (fils) - Cinti-Damoreau - Concone. Méthodes & Traités, series II: France 1800-1860 (Les grandes méthodes romantiques de chant), Vol. IV.
product_by=Jeanne Roudet, editor. Fac-simile Jean-Marc Fuzeau, 2005. 381 p. (24 x 33 cm)
product_id=ISMN: M 2306 5894 2

Posted by Gary at 1:37 PM

November 6, 2005

Opernfreuden im Retourgang

von Peter Vujica [Der Standard, 6 November 2005]

Mit einem Konzert­marathon erinnerte die Wiener Staats­oper über­wiegend hörens­wert, wenn auch etwas einfalls­arm an ihre Wieder­er­öffn

Posted by Gary at 10:02 PM

RIGHINI: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)

It was for this troupe that Righini started writing music, and his first opera, Il convitato di pietra, in 1776. Italian by birth and musical training, Vincenzo Righini, could be called German. The term of his career, with the exception of a few early years in Italy, was spent in Austria and Germany where he became a respected singing teacher and composer. In 1780 he was appointed director of the Italian Opera in Vienna, and in 1787, Kapellmeister in Mainz. In 1793, Berlin beckoned him and Righini became court Kapellmeister and director of the Italian Opera until its disbandment in 1806. So well liked was Righini that he was asked to stay on, and in 1811 he was appointed Kapellmeister of the court theatre. Righini, a simple and unpretentious man, returned to Bologna where, as result of surgery, he died on August 19, 1812.

His output includes 15 operas: Il convitato di pietra (1776), La bottega del café (1778), La vedova scaltra (1778), Armida (1782), L’incontro inaspettato (1785), Il Demogorgone (1786), Antigono (1788), Alcide al bivio (1790), Vasco di Gama (1792), Enea nel Lazio (1793), Il trionfo d’Arianna (1793), Atlante e Meleagro (1797), La Gerusalemme liberata (1799), Trigrane (1800), and La selva incantata (1803); he also wrote assorted sacred music and instrumental works including an oratorio, Der Tod Jesu, a Missa solemnis, Op. 59, Oboe concerto in C major, and over two hundred songs, one of which, Venni amore, Beethoven used as the bases for his variations for piano in D major (WoO 65).

Like many composers, Righini joined the ranks of Piccini, Mayr, Keiser, Apolloni, Mercadante, etc. when posterity put them in oblivion only to be resurrected by later generations, and returned to their proper place in musical history. Righini, as Mayr would do in Italy, reformed the concept of Italian Opera with his use of German craftsmanship in his orchestration; he paid particular attention to the blending of dramatic and comedic elements, he introduced complex ensembles and elaborate ballets to his operas, he paid particular attention to dramatic insight, and he anticipated many of the reforms which Spontini and Cherubini would later exemplify.

In 1871, Haydn produced his own version of Il Convitato di pietra at Esterháza. The Prague manuscript used for the premiere of Righini’s opera is not available for comparison, but Haydn reduced the original three act version to two acts. As a result, it is not known how much of the original music remains or how much, if any, of Haydn’s own music is in the Esterháza manuscript. The Belcanto Festival Dordrech (Holland) used the recently discovered Haydn version for this production and live recording of Righini’s Il convitato di pietra.

Act I

After a short but spirited overture with musical themes that will later re-appear, the opera opens with Elisa and Ombrino calling on their friends to help pull two drowning men (Don Giovanni and his manservant, Arlechino) out of the sea. Immediately Don Giovanni pursues Elisa and prays a thunderbolt strike him to hell should his intentions prove dishonest.

Don Alfonso, brings news to the Commendatore that the King wishes to marry his nephew, Don Ottavio, to the Commendatore’s daughter, Donna Anna.

Later Don Alfonso receives the order to arrest Don Giovanni who has fled to Castille after seducing Donna Isabella. Back at the Commendatore’s house, Don Giovanni breaks into Donna Anna’s rooms in an effort to abduct her. Her father enters and Don Giovanni fatally wounds the Commendatore. Donna Anna swears vengeance.

Act II

Don Giovanni wants to continue his escape but not before dining. While Arlechino is making dinner arrangements, Don Giovanni falls asleep in the cemetery where Donna Anna finds him. She is ready to strike him dead when Don Giovanni wakes up and professes his innocence and undying love for her. At long last Arlechino announces that dinner is ready, and Don Giovanni urges him to invite the statue of the Commendatore to dine with them. To Don Giovanni’s distress, the statue accepts.

Don Alfonso learns from Donna Anna the whereabouts of Don Giovanni. Donna Isabella has also been in contact with Don Alfonso.

Back at the inn, the festivities continue. Arlechino is putting into practice what he has learned from his master, and sings a parody to opera seria to distract him. Suddenly, the laughter stops when Il convitato di pietra enters and invites Don Giovanni to dine with him, not here at the inn, but at a place of the Commendatore’s choosing.

The opera ends with Don Giovanni being tortured in Hell by the Furies, while the rest of the cast sings a hymn of happiness. Don Giovanni’s fate brings to mind his words to the Commendatore, “He who makes his bed, so he must lie on it.”

There are some very good singers in this recording, especially in the minor roles: Soprano So-Young Shin is very effective as the young Elisa, and makes the best of her only appearance in the opera in her aria “Se voi mio caro” where she declares her eternal love in exchange for Don Giovanni’s faithfulness [!]. Donna Anna’s maid, Lisetta, is sung by mezzo-soprano Veronica Soldera. She cleverly combines her fears that someone (Don Giovanni) is in the room with her nervous comedic flair in the aria, “Mi sento venire meno.” Yoon-Jin Song, Donna Isabella, sings “Chi mai in quell core figurar si potea…È folle chi crede,” a simple reflective recitative and aria in which she laments the foolishness of those who, like herself, believed that goods looks in a man equate with a truthful heart. She also mocks the foolishness of those who believe “that the heart of a liar could turn to be sincere.” The clever character of Corallina, innkeeper and Arlechino’s love interest, is sung by Soprano, Gonnie van Heugten. She has a light, pleasant soprano voice which she displays well in the ensembles, duets, and her aria, “In quell tuo visetto.” Bass Mauro Corna capably sings the two roles of Ombrino and Tribulzio.

Somewhat disappointing is tenor Sang Man Lee as the Commendatore; his voice is pleasant but uninteresting. In the aria, “Solo dal mio volere,” the Commendatore tells Donna Anna that her fate is in his hands and that “she who quarrels with me will no longer be my daughter.” Lee starts well enough, but has difficulty at the end of the aria, and generally does not infuse any sentiment into the words. He is much better in “Dalle squarciate vene,” after the Commendatore’s duel with Don Giovanni.

Baritone Maurizio Leoni is very a capable Don Alfonso. Offended by Don Giovanni’s lack of social graces and un-gentlemanly behavior, he sings “Come in un nobil petto.” His singing is forceful and believable, and his dark voice dips into rage when he wishes that the “unworthy, coward perjurer tremble…” Leoni is equally indignant in “Come un nobil petto.”

Arlechino, Don Giovani’s man-servant, is a good counterbalance to his master. Don Giovanni thinks he is, but Arlechino is clever, acknowledging that, with regard to his master: “If there was not me, who, with my wisdom, could moderate his wild temper…” Tenor Augusto Valença sings with conviction, and is ideal for this buffo role. He has a pleasant, flexible voice, and comedic timing to spare in “Conservati fedele…,” and the subsequent duet with Don Giovanni, “Per esempio se il nemico.” In “Padre…Figlia” he entertains his employer by impersonating the male and female characters in an imaginary opera, singing the male role with a false bass voice, and the female, in falsetto. In “Eich bleibe ich stez ergeben” he parodies the German language as spoken by an Italian.

This recording would benefit with a more interesting singer in the role of Don Giovanni. Bartolo Musil, described in the liner notes as a bari-tenor, does not have the instrument to convey the narcissistic, careless, impudent, self-excusing, blame-projecting personality, tinged with the alluring masculinity essential to the character of Don Giovanni. Musil’s voice never manages to leave the back of his throat, and this limits him in showcasing the character’s virility in “No, non mi inganno…Dell’onda sdegnata.” Musil’s efforts are commendable in Act II Recitativo accompagnato “Don Giovanni che fai?” and the subsequent aria “Perché dal Cielo un fulmine…” (in which Don Giovanni bemoans his fate, fearful at the realization that the Commendatore will win in the end), however, here as before, Musil fails to reach the desired effect.

By far the star of this recording is soprano Francesca Lanza in the role of Donna Anna. Lanza’s crystal clear voice, beautiful timbre, and solid approach compliment her multi-faceted instrument. She can easily adapt to the different and contradicting emotions of her character: she is at once the dutiful, albeit defiant daughter (Faccia il mio Padre tutto quello che sa…) who indulges in the luxury of having feelings for the scheming and worthless Don Giovanni; and she expresses grief and anger in “Eccoci, o Genitor…” where she laments the Commendatore’s death and reproaches his killer. This in turn leads to open rage in the aria “Tutte le furie unite,” which foretells Queen of the Night’s “Der Hölle Rache Kocht in meinem Herzen.” Lanza is remorseful and supplicating in “Ombra del Padre amato,” a beautiful pensive aria with a valiant finale. In “Geme, la tortorella,” where Donna Anna compares herself to a turtledove, and Don Giovanni to a snake, Lanza displays her vocal dexterity with easily executed cadenzas, detailed staccato, and secure high notes.

Fabio Maestri securely leads the International Belcanto Orchestra, with attention to detail, and the singer’s capabilities. The string section, so essential to the opera, is superb.

Righini’s music is at times dramatic, amusing, simple, or elegant when required. It accurately portrays the action in the story, and it is always engaging. At times he effectively uses the same music to describe different emotions as in “Giusto Diel cos’ho veduto” where the chorus laments the Commendatore’s death. Arlechino joins in with a comical description of his heartbeat, “E ticche ticche tocche…” which brings to mind the final scene in Act I of Rossini’s Italiana in Algieri, “Va sossopra il mio cervello…Nella testa ho un campanello.”

There is a charming Quartetto in Act II, where the crescendo slowly builds, as each voice enters on alternating beats. The Chorus of Furies, “Fra bere furie orribile,” has a similar structure; all the voices blend at the point of Don Giovanni’s “gods of hell, appease your anger,” which leads to a final quartet between Donna Anna, Corallina, Arlechino, and Don Alfonso. This short pastoral arietta celebrates the joy after the storm.

Nunziato Porta’s libretto is credible, witty, fast paced, and unpretentious.

Bongiovanni has recorded two of Righini’s operas. One hopes the other thirteen will soon follow.

Daniel Pardo 2005


Il convitato di pietra
Michael Aspinal
©2005 Bongiovanni
Bologna, Italy

The New Penguin Opera Guide
© 2001 Amanda Holden
Penguin Books
New York

Biographical description of Vincenzo Righini, Louis Spohr and Dominick Argento
1995 Darlyn Bradford
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana

image_description=Vincenzo Righini: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)

product_title=Vincenzo Righini: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)
product_by=Bartolo Musil, Augusto Valença, Francesca Lanza, Sang Man Lee, Maurizio Leoni, Yoon-Jin Song, Veronica Soldera, Mauro Corna, So-Young Shin, Gonnie van Heugten, International Belcanto Orchestra, Fabio Maestri (cond.).
product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2384/85-2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 9:26 PM

November 5, 2005

Vienna State Opera marks postwar reopening

Wiener_staatsoper_interior_new_small.jpgGEORGE JAHN [Associated Press, 5 November 2005]

VIENNA, Austria - The Vienna State Opera will step back half a century Saturday with gala concert excerpts of its first six premieres after World War II.

Some of the world's greatest singers and conductors take to the stage and orchestra pit for the 50th anniversary of the opera's postwar reopening, including Placido Domingo, Bryn Terfel, Zubin Mehta and Christian Thielemann.

Posted by Gary at 5:36 PM

Und täglich geht der Vorhang hoch ...

[Der Standard, 4 November 2005]

Vor genau 50 Jahren, am 5. November 1955, wurde die im Weltkrieg schwer beschädigte Staatsoper wiederer­öffnet: Das Haus am Ring feiert das Jubiläum mit einer Gala

Posted by Gary at 5:28 PM

Staatsoper: Wenn der Herr Direktor Würstel ausgibt

Wiener_staatsoper_small.gifVON DANIELA TOMASOVSKY UND WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 5 November 2005]

50 Jahre WIedereröffnung. Die Staatsoper gedenkt des 5. November 1955 mit einem Gala-Konzert.

Damals, im November 1955, teilten Karl Böhm und einige Sänger ei genhändig heiße Würstel an die Wartenden aus. Tage- und nächtelang stellten sich Opernfreunde am Kassenschalter an, um noch Billetts für die Eröffnungspremiere, sie galt Beethovens "Fidelio" unter Böhms Leitung, zu ergattern. Schließlich hatte der Leiter der Bundestheaterverwaltung, Ernst Marboe, doch noch Mitleid und öffnete die Schalter 24 Stunden früher als vorgesehen.

Posted by Gary at 5:20 PM

The Opera We Never Tire Of

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 4 November 2005]

In a way, you don't envy Mark Wigglesworth, the British conductor who is leading "The Marriage of Figaro" at the Metropolitan Opera.The company's music director, James Levine, is also currently leading a Mozart opera - "Cosi fan tutte." Mr.Levine is one of the best Mozart conductors we've ever seen.And "The Marriage of Figaro" has always been his domain. But Mr. Levine can't conduct everything, and Mr. Wigglesworth had a chance to make his Met debut, when "Figaro" was revived on Wednesday night. In the end, he acquitted himself well.

Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

A 'Figaro' From a World Unhinged

By JEREMY EICHLER [NY Times, 4 November 2005]

Jonathan Miller's tasteful production of "Le Nozze di Figaro" at the Metropolitan Opera remains a laid-back endeavor that wisely affords Mozart's comedy ample room to move and breathe amid Peter Davison's spacious and mostly realistic sets. Now directed by Robin Guarino, it returned on Wednesday with nary a heavy-handed interpretation in sight.

Posted by Gary at 5:00 PM

November 4, 2005

Larger than life — Diminutive soprano Tracy Dahl must tap her inner diva to star in Boston Lyric Opera's 'Lucie de Lammermoor'

dahl_tracy_small.jpgBy David Weininger [Boston Globe, 4 November 2005]

A white ramp emerges from stage right at the Shubert Theatre, and a woman in a white dress walks slowly down it, silently, until she reaches the stage. In her arms she cradles rose petals, which fall carelessly around her as she walks. She looks disheveled and ghostly. There are figures standing nearby, seemingly frozen to their spots, watching her intently. They may as well be part of the set, for the woman in white absorbs all the light in the dark theater.

Posted by Gary at 4:19 PM

Opera's exhilarating conducting puts a human face on world at war

Andrea_Gruber_small.jpgJoshua Kosman [SF Chronicle, 4 November 2005]

Two things happen in Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," which opened at the San Francisco Opera on Wednesday night in a new and distracted production. An aristocratic Spanish family is torn apart by love, racism and sheer bad luck, and the European countryside is ravaged by war.

Posted by Gary at 4:16 PM

The diva who conquered America

[Daily Telegraph, 3 November 2005]

On the eve of a rare UK appearance, superstar Renée Fleming talks to Rupert Christiansen about fame, neurosis and why there's no opera on 'Oprah'

Renée Fleming is unstoppable. Ten years ago you wouldn't have guessed it - she looked like just another attractive American lyric soprano, with a sterling professionalism that would probably ensure her a medium-paced, medium-profile career. But in 1995 she suddenly changed the pace.

Posted by Gary at 4:11 PM

Royal/Lepper at Wigmore Hall, London

royal_kate_small.jpgTim Ashley [The Guardian, 4 November 2005]

Kate Royal is well on her way to establishing herself as one of the finest sopranos to have emerged in Britain for some years. We tend to think of her primarily as a Mozartian: her performances of some of the concert arias at this year's Proms and as Zaide at the Edinburgh festival linger in the memory as being startlingly beautiful; her Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro for Gyndebourne on Tour has been received with enthusiasm. For her recital with pianist Simon Lepper, however, she turned away from Mozart to Brahms, Schumann and Debussy, with equally impressive results.

Posted by Gary at 4:05 PM

Restless talent

mackerras_charles_small.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 4 November 2005]

Think of four conductors in their late seventies: Kurt Masur, Bernard Haitink, Colin Davis, Charles Mackerras. All four are still very much part of the international music scene. All command huge respect. Who is the odd one out?

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

Le Nozze di Figaro, Metropolitan Opera, New York

Mozart_Verona_small.jpgBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 4 November 2005]

The Met opened its season last September with a “gala” comprising isolated segments of three dissimilar operas. A striking curtainraiser involved act one of Le Nozze di Figaro with a stellar cast led by Bryn Terfel, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Susan Graham. James Levine exuded sympathy while enforcing stylish propulsion in the pit. Cock- eared optimists assumed this was a preview of coming seasonal attractions. When Figaro returned on Wednesday, however, standards had changed drastically. So had the conductor and ensemble.

Posted by Gary at 3:50 PM

November 3, 2005

Lyric meets challenges of 'Manon Lescaut'

manon_death2_small.jpgBY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 2 November 2005]

If more than a few seasons go by without hearing from two of Puccini's most beloved heroines, Tosca and Mimi, opera lovers the world over complain to their local opera companies. His Manon Lescaut, though hardly less alluring than the fragile seamstress of "La Boheme" or the self-assured Tosca, is another matter.

Posted by Gary at 9:34 AM

Stellar combo helps Lyric deliver winner

manon_deportation_small.jpgBy John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 2 November 2005]

"Manon Lescaut" is, first and foremost, a vehicle for two great singers. The general dearth of performers who can do justice to the formidable leading roles is the chief reason why Lyric Opera has not mounted Puccini's earliest success for 28 years.

For the handsome new production that opened Monday at the Civic Opera House, the Lyric has come up with opera's version of the classic one-two punch, casting two leading luminaries, Karita Mattila and Vladimir Galouzine, as the eponymous heroine and her lover, the Chevalier Des Grieux.

Posted by Gary at 9:26 AM

Midsummer Marriage

Robert Thicknesse at Covent Garden [Times Online, 2 November 2005]

Covent Garden finally hauls itself aboard the Tippett centenary bandwagon with painful reluctance, but I really wish it hadn’t bothered. The Midsummer Marriage may not be the greatest opera, but it can’t possibly be as bad as this revival of Graham Vick’s 1996 production makes it look.

Posted by Gary at 9:13 AM

November 2, 2005

Echoes of the superstar castrato

Andreas_Scholl_small.jpg[Daily Telegraph, 2 November 2005]

Andreas Scholl tells Peter Culshaw how he has been inspired by Handel's favourite singer

It seems Andreas Scholl is no longer a minority taste. For many years now, fans of Baroque music have adored his wonderfully pure counter-tenor voice and outstanding interpretations. But with his appearance at the Last Night of the Proms this year, and the release of a new CD, his appeal appears to have gone mainstream.

Posted by Gary at 9:10 PM

Audiences Love a Minimalist 'Ring' Cycle; Critics Aren't Sure

By ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 2 November 2005]

PARIS, Nov. 1 - Productions of Wagner's "Ring des Nibelungen" have one thing in common: rarely do director, designer, conductor, orchestra and singers all emerge unscathed. The reason is simple. Audiences and critics often embark on this four-opera cycle with firm views on how its immense musical and mythical universe should look and sound.

Posted by Gary at 8:59 PM

ROSSINI: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Barbiere di Siviglia)

Beaumarchais, too, had presented his own play as an opéra-comique, adding several songs between the verses; but Paisiello’s version, which premiered in St. Petersburg on September 26, 1782, was by far, and for many years, the most popular.

Rossini did not use Petrosellini’s libretto for Paisiello’s opera. Instead, Duca Francesco Sforza-Cesarini, the owner-impresario of the Teatro Argentina, and the person who commissioned the work, gave the arduous task of writing a new libretto to Cesare Sterbini. Rossini was already familiar with Sterbini, a poet fluent in several languages, who had written the libretto for Rossini’s previous opera, Torvaldo e Dorliska. The poet accepted the challenge and within eleven days he presented Rossini the completed libretto. In an effort to further avoid comparisons with Paisiello’s work, the title of the opera was changed to Almaviva, Ossia l’inutile precauzione.

Different title or not, the Paisiello faction was not pleased, and on opening night, February 20, 1816, the cacophony of noise coming from the audience made it difficult for the singers on stage to hear the music in the orchestra pit. In addition to the audience’s negative reaction, several mishaps on and off stage added to the carnival like atmosphere, and to the complete failure of the opera. The second performance gave the soon to be twenty-four-year-old composer reason to smile, and though the opera would not play Rome again for five years, Il Barbiere di Siviglia quickly became, and has remained, the best known and most popular comedy in the operatic repertoire.

This Bavarian State Opera production is one of the first German opera telecasts, and it is now also available on DVD. This performance, sung in German, has the “standard” cuts of the 50s, but that does not diminish the quality, or enjoyment of the opera. The stellar cast is a veritable “Who’s Who” of opera, and one to be envied today. This is ensemble singing at its best, and it is evident throughout the performance that the singers are enjoying themselves participating in the pranks and mad cap situations of the libretto, as one is delighted to be listening to the recording.

Hermann Prey (July 11, 1929/July 22, 1998), probably better known for Lieder, was just as popular and successful singing opera, as this interpretation of Figaro will attest. His voice has been categorized as “lyric baritone” or “bass-baritone,” but whatever category one chooses for him, his mastery over his instrument, his perfect musicality, his phrasing, and the warmth of his voice cannot be denied.

In his introductory aria, “Ich bin das Faktotum/Largo al factotum” Prey displays his virtuosity, agility, and his overall ability to interpret and to keep up with Rossini’s fast paced music and intricate vocal writing, while showcasing all the diverse dynamics of the character: amusing, self assured, arrogant, and shy but not so humble barber and jack of all trades. At a time when other singers would have been tired, Prey ends his monologue as energetically as he started it. He shines as well in “Strathlt auf mich der Blitz des Goldes/La dolce idea del oro” with Graf Almaviva, and in the ensembles “Wünsche Ihnen wohl zu ruhen/Buona sera mio signore” when Figaro, Almaviva, Rosine and Doktor Bartolo convince Don Basilio that he is deathly ill, and later in the Terzetto, “Ist er’s wirklich? Ah! Qual colpo inaspettato!” with Almaviva and Rosine.

Graf Almaviva has had few interpreters as Fritz Wunderlich (Sept. 26, 1930/Sept. 17, 1966). The best German Lyric tenor of his generation and of the post war era, Wunderlich was a master technician, stylist, and as Fischer-Dieskau called him, a “superlative musician.”

In Act I, “Sieh Schon die Morgenröte/Ecco ridente,” Wunderlich is the ideal love-struck youth; his smooth, expressive, clear voice ending the aria with a supplicating note. His flawless and flexible instrument easily adapts to the different situations in the libretto as in: the exchange with Doktor Bartolo in “He, ihr Leute hier vom Hause/Ehi di casa…buona gente…,” where he frolics in a supposed drunken stupor and in Act II, in “Friede und Freudesei mit Ihnen/Ma vedi il mio destino…Pace e gioa sia con voi…” pretending to be the saintly Don Alonso; the more calculating moments with Figaro, “Strathlt auf mich der Blitz des Goldes/La dolce idea del oro” followed by “Si vediamo…che invenzione prelibata,” leading to the end of the scene; and in his more romantic moments with Rosine, “Wollet Ihr meinen Namen Jetzt kennen/ Se il mio nome saper voi branate,” His sudden and tragic death at age 36 cut short a career which would have reached the highest pinnacles. Luckily his voice has been preserved in many recordings.

In spite of Rossini having scored the female lead for a mezzo-soprano, he may as well have done so with coloratura Erika Köth (Sept. 15, 1927/Feb. 29, 1989) in mind. From her debut at age twenty-one, to her retirement, Köth never ceased to amaze. She possessed a clear voice with an expressive timbre, which enabled her to excel in a variety of roles ranging from Queen of the Night, Lucia, and Gilda, to Mimi, Musetta, lighter Strauss, Lortzing, Nicolai, and operetta.

Köth’s comedic timing is perfect for Rossini, as she so ably demonstrates in the coquettish coloratura exchange with Figaro, “Also ich! Glaubst es wirkin! /Dunque son io” to end of duet, or with Bartolo in “Mir fällt ein Stein vom Herzen/Insomma, colle buone...” where she ridicules him in her reply, “…mi parlo…qual biglietto?...” She excels in the ensembles too, and in the Terzetto, “Ist er’s wirklich?/ Ah! Qual colpo inaspettato!” where the blending of the voices is sublime, Köth is at her best. The soprano is as believable an interpreter as ever found, never sounding older than the age of the character. Köth’s musical intelligence, and effortless high notes are demonstrated in “Una voce poco fa.” The interpolated notes are tasteful, never out of place, and Köth tosses an F as easily as others would recite a prayer. Her singing is expressive and smooth, though there is some strain at the end of the aria. Her singing with Graf Almaviva in “O diese Glut in Blicken/Contro un cor che accende amore” is passionate and sensitive, and turns spectacular towards the end of the number. Köth’s breath control is impressive, as is her ability to produce, what appear to be, endless high notes.

Bass Max Proebstl (Sept-24-1913/Nov. 19, 1979) portrays the likeable anti-hero of the story, Doktor Bartolo. Proebstl performance is superb from his first to last note. In “Einen Doktor meinesgleichen/A un dottor della mia sorte” he is the quintessential lustful guardian/tutor seeking to deceive his younger ward. Proebstl is quick to keep up with the music while exaggerating some of the words to give more weight to their meaning, and at times giggling under his breath to add emphasis. His singing is solid with great shading in his voice to match the different tones of the aria. Proebstl is very amusing in the two previously mentioned scenes with Graf Almaviva, “He, ihr Leute hier vom Hause/Ehi di casa…buona gente…,” and “Friede und Freudesei mit Ihnen/Ma vedi il mio destino…Pace e gioa sia con voi,” his expressive voice instantly becoming indignant at the pranks of Graf Almaviva. In “Schöne Stimme! Bravissima!/Bella voce! Bravissima!” Proebst turns sentimental as he mimics Caffariello’s aria.

Proebstl made his operatic debut in 1941, and in 1949 he was engaged by the Bavarian State Opera which was to become his home for the next twenty five years. His repertoire was extensive and covered a wide range of characters, though mainly in the German language. Proebstl was well known for his portrayal of Pogner, Falstaff, and Bartolo among others. He left a small but unique recording legacy.

Don Basilio is sung by Hans Hotter (Jan. 19, 1909/Dec. 8, 2003), the leading post-war Wagnerian bass baritone. Hotter’s interpretations of Wotan, Hans Sachs, and Dutchman were characterized as noble and imposing, which led to the sobriquet “The Aristocrat of Bass-Baritones.” He made his debut in 1930, he created roles in the premieres of three Strauss operas, and he retired from the stage in 1972 after a distinguished career. Though retired, Hotter continued to sing smaller roles as late as 1991.

If Hotter’s rendition of Don Basilio is any indication, it is unfortunate he did not take on more buffo roles. Hotter’s natural flair for comedy, his timing, and his melancholic voice gives this character a human, naive aspect. His rendition of “Die Verleumdung, sie ist ein Lüftchen/La calunnia è un venticello” is restrained and elegant with an undercurrent of wicked humor and hypocrisy. In “Wünsche Ihnen wohl zu ruhen/Buona sera mio signore…” during Basilio’s exit after being convinced by all that he is deathly ill, Hotter’s character takes on a mellow tone disguising he knows more than he is willing to acknowledge.

Tenor Karl Ostertag (Jan. 10, 1903/ Dec. 15, 1979) nearing the end of his career when this performance took place, sings the role of Fiorillo with great aplomb and the energy of one half his age. He makes the best of this small role and keeps up with Graf Almaviva in “Piano, pianissimo,” and the riotous “Gar zu gütig, Euer Gnaden!/Mille grazzie mio signor.”

Mezzo-soprano Ina Gerhein (Oct. 29, 1906/?) in the role of Marzeline (Berta) does not get enough opportunity to display her instrument as most of her role has been cut. When she does sing, her voice is pleasant, and restrained.

Better known for conducting Strauss and Wagner, Conductor Joseph Keilberth (April 19, 1908/July 20, 1968) is quite comfortable in this performance and leads the orchestra and chorus of the Bavarian State Opera with thorough knowledge of the score, and energetic support of the ensemble cast.

There is a Bonus track from a performance of Rossini’s “Barber” in Vienna with another stellar cast: Eberhard Wachter as Figaro, Reri Grist as Rosine, and Fritz Wunderlich as Graf Almaviva. The Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper is conducted by Karl Bohm, Vienna, and recorded live on April 28, 1966.

Rossini would have approved!

This two disc set is a live performance recording and as such there will be some insignificant background noise which does not affect the overall enjoyment of the performance; the audience participation, in the form of well deserved applause, is kept to a minimum. The sound is not in stereo, but it is good, with one exception on CD 1, track #13, where the volume becomes slightly higher. There are several pages of liner notes, but there is no libretto.

Daniel Pardo 2005

Rossini: a Biography
© 1968 Herbert Weistock
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Der Barbier von Sevilla
Liner Notes
© 2005 Gala

Dictionary-Catalogue of Operas & Operettas
Volume 1
John Towers
© 1967 Da Capo Press, New York

A Concise Biographical Dictionary of Singers
K.J. Kutsch/Leo Riemens
© 1969 Harry L. Jones
Chilton Book Company, Philadelphia


[Note: This recording is also available on Immortal DVD IMM 950015.]

image_description=Gioachino Rossini: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Barbiere di Siviglia)

product_title=Gioachino Rossini: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Barbiere di Siviglia)
product_by=Hermann Prey; Erika Koth; Fritz Wunderlich; Max Proebstl; Hans Hotter; Ina Gerhein; Karl Ostertag; Adolf Keil. Orchester und Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Joseph Keilberth (cond.). Live recording: München, Cuvilliéstheater, 1959.
Bonus: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Highlights in German). Eberhard Wachter; Reri Grist; Fritz Wunderlich; Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Karl Bohm (cond.). Live recording: Vienna, April 28, 1966.
product_id=Gala 100.759 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 4:31 PM

November 1, 2005

vilaine fille: Turandot

Certainly City Opera's glorious 2002 production of Il trittico and OONY's superb 2004 Fanciulla made me rethink my frosty relationship with brother Giacomo, but the thaw had started even earlier. I remember revisiting Tosca in the theatre seven or eight years ago and marvelling at its blessèd terseness: How refreshing, how professional, how *respectful* compared with the longueurs of, say, Don Carlos, Parsifal, or Cenerentola (all of which, mind you, I adore).

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Giacomo Puccini

Posted by Gary at 9:58 PM

A thrilling spectacle of Puccini's heroines

BY MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG [Newsday, 1 November 2005]

Philosopher and novelist Catherine Clément defined opera as a "spectacle thought up to adore, and also to kill, the feminine character." Puccini's "Turandot" (1926), one of the last operas to enter the standard repertory, stands as one of starkest and most seductive monuments to the form's misogynistic impulses.

Posted by Gary at 9:47 PM

BORODIN: Prince Igor (Highlights)

The first disc, of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, featured Dmitri Hvorostovsky in one of his signature roles, Prince Yeletsky, as well as Elena Obraztsova, and Sergei Larin. Despite this fairly successful disc, the series apparently suffered a quiet, ignored death.

Naxos may feel Delos had a good idea, as indicated by a recent release of studio-recorded highlights from Borodin’s Prince Igor. No star as glittery as Hvorostovsky headlines the cast, but the CD offers both the well-known selections (such as the overture and the Polovtsian Dances, here performed with chorus) and four arias.

But why only four arias? At 57 minutes, the CD has plenty of room for more music from the opera, and 7:32 of that total goes to a decent but not outstanding run through of Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia. Such stingy allotment of the opera’s music suggests that Naxos does not feel the opera has that much that can be considered a highlight.

The frustration suggested here derives from the enjoyment produced by the four arias as recorded. Taras Shtonda, a bass, puts across a wonderful comic aria, “I don’t like boredom,” a paean to the sentiment so well expressed once by Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be king!”

Angelina Shvachka’s ripe, very Slavic mezzo will not be to everyone’s taste, but her aria, “Daylight is fading,” showcases Borodin’s atmospheric way with melody. The similarly titled “Slowly the day was fading,” sung by tenor Dmytro Popov, is a seductive ballad, though Popov’s unrelenting volume might be more effective live.

Finally, the title character, sung by Mykola Koval, sings the great “There is neither sleep, nor rest.” Koyal’s vibrato is unrestrained, where restraint could well have been urged, and his top threatens to collapse on him, but he certainly delivers on the drama of this piece.

Naxos, for once, provides a bilingual libretto (Russian/English), but since only the four arias and the choral Polovtsian Dances require translation, no less should be expected, even at Naxos’s prices.

The singers mostly come from the Ukraine National Opera. Kuchar leads the Ukraine National Radio Symphony with authority, and the recorded sound has fine balance and clarity.

Again, surely additional music from the opera should have been included for this disc to be a true “highlights” disc. As it is, Naxos has provided, for modest cost, an enjoyable disc of music from an opera that remains an obscurity, despite the fame of the overture and the Polovtsian Dances. Better singing can be heard on the complete sets of the opera, which can be found by the diligent and dedicated. Otherwise, this Naxos disc will hopefully serve to introduce some listeners to a few of the other delights of the work.

And Naxos will, one hopes, continue in the effort to keep the embers of operatic studio recording aglow, even if it has to be this sadly abridged form.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Alexander Borodin: Prince Igor (Highlights) / In the Steppes of Central Asia

product_title=Alexander Borodin: Prince Igor (Highlights) / In the Steppes of Central Asia
product_by=Angelina Shvachka, Dmytro Popov, Mykola Koval, Taras Shtonda, Kiev Chamber Choir, Mykola Hobdych (choirmaster), Ukrainian National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Theodore Kuchar (conductor).
product_id=Naxos 8.557456 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 9:19 AM

BIBER: Missa Christi resurgentis

In many ways the image also seems iconic of Heinrich Biber’s Missa Christi resurgentis, recorded here by the English Concert under the direction of Andrew Manze. The Mass itself is for large forces—two vocal choirs, a wind choir of trumpets, cornetti, and trombones, and a choir of strings—all deployed in a rich antiphonal array. The Küsel engraving also documents the divided placement of musicians in the cathedral’s galleries, and certainly the Mass would seem well served by this model.

Biber spent the vast majority of his career in the service of Prince Bishops, first at Kremsier where the bishop, Karl, Count Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn of Olomouc, maintained a strong interest in music—the library there remains a rich trove of Biber’s works—and later at Salzburg, where Biber served the Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph, Count Khüenberg and his successors for over three decades.

The Missa Christi resurgentis likely dates from early in Biber’s time at Salzburg, with a possible performance in the Cathedral at Easter of 1674. The festal circumstance of the liturgical occasion naturally would prompt a splendid display, but equally so would the princely context of the bishopric itself. (The bent towards splendor is perhaps most dramatically seen in a slightly later work, the fifty-three-part Missa Salisburgensis, now thought to be most likely by Biber, and probably performed in 1682.) The Easter Mass presents big swaths of color in alternation with more figural, smaller textures, where instruments and voices are in dialogue among themselves, as well as with the larger textures. Reflecting Biber’s status as a great violin virtuoso, the instrumental parts are prominent here with extended interludes and also in counterpoint with the voice, as in the compellingly intertwined writing of the Benedictus. Moreover, the prominence of trumpets here underscores not only the celebrative nature of Easter, but additionally the courtly ethos of the bishopric. The effect is dazzling! As is the performance. The choir, an ensemble of soloists, leans towards color and vibrancy rather than homogeneity, and given the emphasis on splendor and variety, that priority seems well chosen. The instrumental playing is highly polished, attaining both a high degree of elegance and verve. There is the occasional stylistic oddity, however. For instance, the solo trumpets have an odd tendency to push weak beats into strong ones, and thus seem to undermine a characteristic rhythmic hierarchy. That said, the trumpet playing remains brilliant and glorious, with a fine command of high range, passage work, and ornamental detail.

The recording includes a large number of sonatas in addition to the mass. In part, this reflects Biber’s own instrumental interests, but it also reminds of the degree to which instrumental music figured in festal liturgies. Biber’s sonatas are well represented here, but perhaps the best of the lot is that by Heinrich Schmelzer, the twelfth sonata from his 1662 Sacro-profanus concentus musicus. With grand writing for winds, its sumptuous tuttis, toe-tapping dance figures, ornamental passage work, and forays into the high register are gratifyingly memorable.

Manze and the English Concert evoke the splendor of seventeenth-century Salzburg with great flair. And in so doing, they continue to confirm that the English Concert remains in the front rank of period ensembles.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Heinrich Ignaz Biber: Missa Christi resurgentis

product_title=Heinrich Ignaz Biber: Missa Christi resurgentis
product_by=The English Concert & the Choir of the English Concert, Andrew Manze (dir.)
product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMU 907397 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 8:59 AM

Königskinder, Bavarian State Opera, Munich

Farrar cameo_small.gifBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 1 November 2005]

Geraldine Farrar trained her own flock of geese for the 1910 premiere of Humperdinck's Königskinder at the Metropolitan Opera. The opera was a huge success. History does not relate what became of the geese.

Posted by Gary at 8:55 AM

Maria di Rohan, Theatre Royal, Wexford

donizetti_small.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times 1 November 2005]

The most interesting decade for Italian opera was not the 1820s, when Rossini was at his zenith, nor the 1850s, when Verdi became the dominant force. No, it was the 1840s, when the old decorative conventions gave way to a modern, through- composed type of drama. We owe it to the Wexford festival these past few years for profiling this trend.

Posted by Gary at 8:47 AM