Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,



An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther
17 Nov 2005

An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther

For anyone who is remotely familiar with opera, the first question would be, “What is the need for a recording like this?” Of course, not being familiar with the CD justifies the question, but once it has been played, the realization sets in that the answer was there all along.

An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther
Opera Explained series

David Timson, reader

Naxos 8.558173 [CD]


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

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):