Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
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ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
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It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
21 Nov 2005
RAMEAU: Les Indes galantes
Jean-Philippe Rameau is usually remembered today (when he is remembered at all) as an important musical theorist. This limited reputation is unfortunate, because Rameau was a masterful composer known for his sumptuous melodies and colorful harmonies.
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.
Editor, Journal of Musicological Research
University of Northern Colorado