Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

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,

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Sir Arthur Sullivan: The Rose of Persia
18 Nov 2005

SULLIVAN: The Rose of Persia

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s legacy suffers from that common malaise that, once a good or bad reputation is made, it is very difficult to be remembered for anything else—be it better or worse.

Sir Arthur Sullivan: The Rose of Persia

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.).

cpo 777 074-2 [2CDs]

 

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 thee...how 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

Photos

Sources

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

Down under in the 19th Century

Arthur Sullivan

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):