December 30, 2005

Washington Opera to Perform Wagner Series

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2005(AP) An Americanized version of Richard Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung," a series that long has been a symbol of German nationalism, will open March 25 with the Washington National Opera's production of "Das Rheingold."

Posted by Gary at 8:48 AM

Berg's Wozzeck at the Met — Three Reviews

An Expressionist Fervor, Illuminated by Levine

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 29 December 2005]

If James Levine could zap himself back in time and conduct the premiere of any opera in history, what among his favorites might he choose? Perhaps the Vienna premiere of Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro." Or the Milan premiere of Verdi's "Otello." How about the Munich premiere of Wagner's "Meistersinger," a work he conducts magnificently? I love the idea of Mr. Levine's giving a sublime account of this humane comedy and forcing the anti-Semitic composer to confront his twisted prejudices.

Click here for remainder of article.

Levine's Fine Judgment

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 29 December 2005]

James Levine did what he was expected to do on Tuesday night: conduct a superb performance of Berg's "Wozzeck." The Metropolitan Opera has revived Mark Lamos's production of 1997.

Click her for remainder of article.

Wozzeck, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 29 December 2005]

'Tis the season to be jolly. But no one seems to have told that to the masterminds at the murky and quirky Metropolitan Opera. Apart from a few flighty Fledermice and loony Lucias, the final weeks of 2005 are dominated by bleakness and gore. Nearing the end of its premiere run, Tobias Picker's sordid An American Tragedy served as a matinee-broadcast vehicle on Christmas Eve. Tuesday night Alban Berg's eternally grim Wozzeck returned in preparation for transmission on the afternoon of New Year's Eve. Luckily it is a very good Wozzeck.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Alban Berg

Posted by Gary at 8:41 AM

December 29, 2005

Mario Del Monaco at the Bolshoi

More than official Decca sets, where voices often were somewhat equalized, it shows the power of the tenor’s voice which often overwhelms most of the others on the scene. Pavel Lisitsian, who is a bit of a cult figure among Western collectors as he was so rarely allowed to leave the Soviet Union — one Met-performance in an untypical Amonasro-role — shows a fine though very idiosyncratically coloured voice; but it is clear from this recording that the voice is less powerful than on records. And one notes too that though the top is brilliant there are almost no low notes and his voice is simply not at ease in this role which better suits a bass-baritone. Irina Maslennikova as Micaëla has a rather small shrill lower middle voice and is dwarfed by Del Monaco but gets stronger the higher she sings. The only person on the scene who could give Del Monaco tit for tat is the formidable Irina Archipova, though as a result she sometimes forces the voice and becomes rather vulgar.

By 1960 decades of isolation resulted in Soviet singers more and more going for noise than for musicality. Lemeshev, Kozlovsky, Obukova all studied before the war; often with teachers who themselves had lived through extensive contacts in the West. By the time Archipova studied most of those teachers were deceased and almost no Western records were available. An exception to that rule were the movies by Mario Lanza and Mario Del Monaco, as Soviet censure considered them to be completely harmless. And a lot of Soviet singers took their clues from these examples.

And it was not the La Scala visit of 1964 with Carlo Bergonzi that changed Russian perception on Western singing. After all only members of the party’s nomenclatura got tickets for those much heralded performances; but ordinary Russians didn’t go crazy for Bergonzi, as he was just another tenor and not a star like Mario Del Monaco who had played the title role in Italy’s answer to Lanza’s The Great Caruso (in reality he only lent his voice) and in those popular movies on Verdi , Mascagni and that German pot boiler “Schlussakkord”. Therefore the coming of Del Monaco to Moscow was a major event in 1959 and the tenor met all expectations as he gave them what they thought was the one essential element of tenor singing: strong top notes, kept on as long as possible.

Del Monaco must have felt he was returning to his early days. At that time every high note in the Italian province theatre was still roundly applauded, if necessary in the middle of an aria or a duet and the Muscovites can easily compete with many an Italian theatre. As a result Del Monaco, who even at his best behaviour was always milking for applause, feels no restraint at all. There is of course no denying the richness of the sound, the formidable beauty when he remembers to sing like he did in some of his best moments with strong conductors. But time and again the coarseness takes over and he often uses an ugly glottal stop. In the second act he really has a field day, changing from Italian to French and vice versa whatever part of the role he remembers best in one of these languages. And that fine conductor Melik Pashaev has the great honour to accompany the tenor and keep the orchestra in check so that it patiently waits for the moment Del Monaco has finished his note and it can proceed further. Anyway, the Russians at the time were wildly happy as proven by the well-known video-recording of this performance (2nd and 4th act only).

The Pagliacci of a week later is stylistically better as he can sing in his own language in a role that will accept some sobs. And sob he does whenever he has the opportunity. And once again he is above all showing off his volume and his top notes. “Vesti la giubba” starts off really well, showing the intrinsic beauty of the voice in his last year of grace as all real Del Monacistis will agree with. But then, just after his “Ridi Pagliaccio” he breaks the line in “sul tua amore infranto” by taking a deep breath between “amore” and “infranto” just to score an extra-decibel on that last word. His “No, Pagliaccio non son” starts well and even a little bit restrained; but in the middle section of “Sperai, tanto il delirio” he simply reverts to shouting. The end of the opera is well worth hearing. Del Monaco has decided to improve the score and correct Leoncavallo’s forgetfulness. After “La commedia è finite” his shouts of Nedda followed by magnificent sobs repeated for half a minute probably led to her resurrection. This time Leocadia (and not Irina) Maslennikova has the honour of assisting the tenor and she has a metallic strong voice. The Tonio, Alex Ivanov, was probably a KGB-informer as I see no other reason why he got this role. He is wretchedly bad, more speaking in a dry tone, than singing.

The bonus is spread over two CD’s and is a recital Del Monaco recorded for Melodia on a ten-inch record. The arias from Otello, Tosca and Pagliacci are fine though he has sung them better for Decca; especially the Pagliacci-prologue but I’m sure Del Monaco-lovers will definitely enjoy the Moscow-version with a big “hahahaha” in the middle of the aria. And I’m surprised that Myto, always looking for the best sound possible, couldn’t find a better copy of that record as there is a giant tick in the middle of the recording that makes you sit up.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Mario Del Monaco at the Bolshoi

product_title=Mario Del Monaco at the Bolshoi
(1) Georges Bizet: Carmen
(2) Ruggero Leoncavallo: Pagliacci
product_by=(1) Mario del Monaco; Irina Archipova; Irina Maslennicova; Pavel Lisitian, Orchestra e Coro dell’Opera Bolshoi di Mosca, Alexandr Melik Pashayev (cond.) Live recording: Moscow, June 13, 1959.
(2) Mario del Monaco; Leocadia Maslennicova; Alex Ivanov; Orchestra e Coro dell’Opera Bolshoi di Moscow, Basiliev Tieskovini (cond.). Live recording: Moscow, June 20, 1959.
product_id=Myto 3MCD053311 [3CDs]

Posted by Gary at 10:15 AM

Macabre, magical and magnificent

[Daily Telegraph, 29 December 2005]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Hansel and Gretel at the Leeds Town Hall

With its gruesome fascination for the evils of starvation and gluttony, not to mention its rampant depiction of child abuse, Hansel and Gretel ranks among the more macabre of Christmas pantomimes.

Posted by Gary at 9:52 AM

ENO changes tune on music director

Caetani.jpg· Caetani may have been limited to six weeks a year
· Questions raised over 'coronation' appointments

Charlotte Higgins [The Guardian, 29 December 2005]

Things could not get much worse for English National Opera. But having lost its artistic director a month ago, and its chairman a week ago, yesterday the company managed to lose its music director - before he had even taken up his job.

Posted by Gary at 9:29 AM

Barenboim hints at La Scala encore

barenboim.jpg· Conductor fuels rumours he will be musical director
· Milan in raptures over his Christmas concert

John Hooper in Rome [The Guardian, 29 December 2005]

Speculation is rife in the Italian music world that Daniel Barenboim intends to crown his career by becoming musical director of the world's most famous opera house, La Scala in Milan.

Posted by Gary at 9:20 AM

SCHREKER: Christophorus oder “Die Vision einer Oper”

How easy it might be to overlook this lesser-known Schreker opera, composed in 1928 and dedicated to Schreker’s good friend Arnold Schoenberg, here in its recorded debut. It has a quite curious libretto, complex and multilayered, and Schreker moves between what are at times quite disparate styles. The whole thing comes off at first blush like a kind of soup made of the leftovers of earlier post-romantic and expressionist idoms, and were it not for our warming sympathies on repeated listening, we might have happily consigned it to the dustbin of history.

Repeated listenings have not been sufficient to entirely sort out the improbable libretto. The story, set in large part in a sort of composer’s atelier, concerns three principal characters, Anselm, Lisa, and Christoph. Anselm is at work upon an opera about the legend of St. Christopher, in which Anselm himself, Lisa, and Christoph, a fellow composition apprentice, are all to play roles. Christopher, Christoph, fiction, real life–the thing’s a narrative muddle, from the dramatic Prelude on. The story comes off like a befuddled Pirandello: half a dozen characters, having found a librettist, now desperately in search of a composer.

Despite the curious nature of the narrative–no let’s get this straight, indeed uninhibited by the narrative–Schreker is in close to full form here. The score is well turned, moments of Berg’s Wozzeck blended with the later Strauss–Ariadne or Arabella . The characters are probable, believable in a kind of irritating way, since they demand a better story line. Anselm’s character, in its developing anger and cynicism, is a model of modernism, and his impassioned interactions with Lisa in Act I are very good operatic duets.

The opera is in two short acts, the first act and its dramatic prelude running just shy of an hour, the second running on 40 minutes. The latter is the tighter of the two: it contains several scenes of good drama and the run away characterizations of the first act settle down here into real persona. Throughout the opera, there is an unusual amount of dialogue, much of it accompanied–a sort of modernist melodrama, where spoken lines are cushioned by a lush, often quietly dissonant orchestral pad. In the whole of Act II, in fact, there is really only one “number,” per se, Scene 3 (track 4), Rosita’s lied. This is Schreker’s portrait of jazz (worthy of comparison with jazz portraits by Weill and Stravinsky), with lisping saxophones and a limpid barrelhouse piano. The lied, in fact, is structured like a duet, and set to a divided stage, on one side Rosita, on the other Christoph in a kind of evaporated opium dream that gradually takes over the stage. Elsewhere operatic “numbers” make an initial appearance, seem to hesitate, and then morph into something else. Now this is nothing new; in German opera, it has been going on at least since Weber’s Euryanthe . But Schreker turns it to his own modernist advantage. Scenes 5 and 6 constitute a lengthy operatic conjuring with a half a dozen characters (and what sounds like a theramin [but may be only a musical saw] and a creepy mandolin obligato) that, in its intensity, harkens back to Weber’s Freischutz Wolfglen scene. And there is a tiny Kinderlied (scene 8), reminiscent of Wozzeck , as well as a lengthier song for child’s voice in the Epilogue, responding in similar fashion to a hazy lied-like passage for Christoph (tracks 14 and 15).

The orchestral writing throughout the work is nothing short of excellent. Orchestral interludes, motivated or not, crop up repeatedly, and beg symphonic treatment. One of the longest of these extends from the end of scene 8 into scene 9 and then moves smoothly into a curious orchestral recitative of a selection from Lao Tzu, before moving into the conclusion of the opera.

On the whole the performance is smooth and competent, if the voices are mostly unexceptional. Hans Georg Ahrens does a most sympathetic Anselm, Susan Bernhard an occasionally uneven Lisa, and Joerg Sabrowski a rather cardboard Christoph. Two voices stand out as very good: Roland Holz, in a speaking role as the critic Starkmann, spoken with a lovely Berliner nasal, gritty and nicely irritating; and Hans Georg Ahrens, bass, as the composition master Johann, with a deep, noble resonance. The live recording is sensitive, with a minimum of boots clumping around on stage and a good set of microphones in the pit.

The booklet is of good use here, explaining the opera’s misfortunes in terms of the years after the First World War, Schreker’s career, the stylistic turns of fortune in which the opera got caught up, and a nice excurse on the stylistic politics of the day. For good measure, the booklet reproduces an “Introduction” penned by the composer, which would seem to explain the need for this twisted narrative (sometimes in unabashedly personal terms), but instead merely adds to the confusion. Schreker’s introduction reads like an apology, but in truth the only thing to be regretted here is the storyline.

It would be a shame to make this work simply an historical artifact, a product, warted, of its day and its composer’s traumas. There is enough good writing here, however, to make the opera worthy of our admiration without recourse to history. What we need now (now that most of Schreker’s opera are available in modern scores and good recordings) is a critical overview. It would be good to compare Christophorus with the “hits,” the better known Schreker operas such as Der ferne Klang , Die Gezeichneten , and Der Schatzgräber , not merely in historical terms (a subject interesting in their own right) but as possible entries into the canon of twentieth-century opera.

This recording stems from a three-part Schrecker cycle at the Kiel Opera from 2001 to 2003, under the artistic director, Kirsten Harms, the other two operas being the premier in full score of Die Flammen , Schreker’s first opera, and Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin from 1913, perhaps the moment at which Schreker’s career was in fullest flower. The latter two operas are also available on the CPO label.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

image_description=Christophorus oder “Die Vision einer Oper”

product_title=Franz Schreker: Christophorus oder “Die Vision einer Oper"
product_by=Ahrens, Bernhard, Sabrowski, Chafin, Klein, Gebhardt, Schöpflin, Pauly, Arnold, Kieler Opernchor, Kieler Philharmoniker, Ulrich Windfuhr (cond.)
product_id=cpo 999-903-2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 8:53 AM

December 28, 2005

SPITZER & ZASLAW: The Birth of the Orchestra — History of an Institution, 1650-1815

The Birth of the Orchestra — History of an Institution, 1650-1815 by Spitzer and Zaslaw is an outstanding study of the origins of one of the defining ensembles for serious music. As the authors summarize the various elements that play into the evolution of the orchestra succinctly:

Besides the instruments and performers in the pit or on the stage, the process [that culminated in the modern orchestra] involved repertories, performance practices, administrative structures, system for training players, techniques of scoring and orchestra, the acoustics of theater and concert halls, and many other things. Finally, the birth of the orchestra as a matter of people’s beliefs – what people thought orchestras were and what orchestras meant. (p. 531)

In light of the rich traditions that combine in the modern orchestra, those beliefs mean a lot and evoke much fine music. The evolution of the orchestra into the ensemble as it is known today is part of a tradition that continues, and this book is evidence of its persistence in culture. At the same time, this book addresses a need in music history to trace the evolution of the orchestra from the seventeenth century to the early nineteenth, as this grouping took shape for various kinds of music in multiple venues. At the same time the study benefits both from fine research and excellent writing, two aspects of scholarship that do not always coincide as well as they do in this volume.

While the focus of the book is the period identified in the subtitle, the authors have wisely chosen to begin with a consideration of the idea of the “orchestra” as ensembles were envisaged as part of opera at the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Taking as a point of departure various operas that dealt with the Greek myth of Orpheus and Euridice, Spitzer and Zaslaw identified the scope and size of the instrumental ensembles involved, from the relatively smaller forces associated with Peri’s Euridice (1600) to a slightly larger grouping for Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607). In moving through the seventeenth century, composers returned to the story to create their version of the story in opera and in doing so involved increasingly larger and diverse ensembles to accompany their works. Thus, the orchestra that Lully required for Le ballet des muses (1666) presumes a more clearly defined core of string instruments, the sound of which would be enhanced by winds, brass and percussion for Haydn’s opera Anima del filosofo (1791) – the forces required for the latter work resembling more the sound associated with the so-called classical orchestra.

This exploration of the nature of the orchestra begs the questions that authors address about what to call the earlier ensembles that functioned in the manner of a modern orchestra. The historical perspective that emerges from this discussion is important for distinguishing between the groups of instrumentalists that were used to accompany opera and discussing in substantively the nature of the orchestra as it became understood in the Common Practice Era. At the same time, the discussion of the word “orchestra” offers some insights into its meaning, as the ensemble took shape as a vehicle for music performance that also served as a focal point for a critical body of music literature.

The authors also discuss the transition to the formal orchestra in the chapter on “Pre-orchestral Ensembles,” a deftly written article on the growing place of instrumental performance from the late-sixteenth century to the late seventeenth. This chapter offers a masterful perspective on the stylistic choices that helped to shape the evolving orchestra, as decisions about performing the music influenced the literature that also took shape at the time. While the annotations document the information, they should also point the reader to exploring the volume of research on this topic.

In the subsequent chapters, Spitzer and Zaslaw discuss the various ways in which both composers and conductors dealt with orchestras. After discussing the role of two major figures, Lully and Corelli, the authors review the various national styles one by one, so that the reader gains a sense of the treatment of the orchestra in Italy alongside the function of the ensemble in France. The chapter on Germany is notable for the distinctions the authors make about the circumstances in the orchestra found its place in the German courts and principalities as the various groups changed from emblems of modernity based on Italian and French models to increasingly strong components of native German culture. The strength of their influence was such that by the late eighteenth century the German orchestras were a model for the rest of Europe.

Likewise, the discussion of the orchestra in England offers some insights into the cultural milieu in which it gained ascendancy as part of the country’s contribution to music-making. The inclusion of references to the state of orchestras in the colonies is welcome, as it shows the ways in which music arrived in North America. Such connections are known, but not often expressed well enough to suggest the continuity which existed as the arts took root in the new world. The situation resembles that which exists in South America, where opera took root from the Iberian colonization and developed quickly in that soil. At the same time, the discussion of festival orchestras and their place in the musical culture of England and on the Continent is another element of this study.

At the center of the book, the authors expound upon makeup of the classical orchestra (pp. 306-42) which is supported by several chapters that deal, in turn, with seating arrangements and acoustics (pp. 343-60), performance practices (pp. 370-97), the role of the orchestral musician in the eighteenth century (pp. 398-435), and the technique of orchestration (pp. 436-506). This section of the book stands apart form other studies for the clarity which guides the writing. While some might quibble with a few details, the exploration offers a sound treatment of the topic that should be a model for other, similar studies.

In addition to the tables and graphs that support the research, the authors have selected some excellent illustrations to reinforce the points that they make in their texts. Their comments about the various plates offer some guidance toward understanding the images, especially the ones that have some telling iconography about the placement and relative size of ensembles (a useful point occurs on pp. 345-46). In fact, it is laudable that Oxford University Press used a relatively larger size for this book than some of its other monographs, since it afford a more comfortable presentation of the various illustrations in the book.

The music examples are equally well-chosen and reflect the focus that occurs elsewhere in the book. Eschewing some recent tendencies to publish extensive passages in monographs and articles, the authors use the examples to fine effect. It is laudable when the examples invite further exploration of the very points that the authors want to make. The authors and the Press wisely chose to have the examples set uniformly, thus making them immediately legible. Again, they avoid the temptation of inserting facsimiles of historical prints that represent a variety of hands and styles. With the uniform presentation that occurs here, the examples comfortably support the text and the points that they authors want to make.

Further, the bibliography (pp. 553-91) is significant for the depth of scholarship it represents. The literature represents some of the finest research on the orchestra for the period discussed, including some classic articles by such figures as Emanuel Winternitz, Thurston Dart, Mary Cyr, Henry Prunières, and others, along with some fine recent writers as Luca Della Libera and Kate Van Orden. As lengthy as the references are, the authors wisely choice to avoid segmenting the information into what are ultimately arbitrary categories. Thus, readers will find in the bibliography literature from the period, like Charles Burney, Samuel Pepys, Johann Mattheson, Leopold Mozart, alongside more modern sources. In some cases there citations refer not to only primary and secondary literature, but also, editions, like the oeuvres of Arcangelo Corelli. Those intrigued by this book may want to explore the bibliography to become acquainted further with other research and materials on the topic covered in this volume.

All in all, this fine study should be of interest to scholars, performers, and anyone interested in understanding more about the origins of the orchestra and the way it evolved. Thoroughly documented, with much information in tabular form, the scholarship is highly accessible. As valuable as this work is as an exemplary piece of scholarship, its accessibility makes it useful to anyone interested in the orchestra as a cultural institution. To see the directions that intersected in Western culture as the orchestra took shape gives a glimpse at the incredibly rich traditions that tie together generations of lives, inestimable talent, social and political forces, and other elements. Besides the extraordinary literature that it produced, the strong tradition of orchestral performance is a crucial part of culture. It is fortunate, indeed that Neal Zaslaw and John Spitzer devoted years to distill that sense in this important new book.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=The Birth of the Orchestra — History of an Institution, 1650-1815

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product_id=ISBN13: 9780195189551 | ISBN10: 0195189558

Posted by Gary at 9:45 PM


First performance: 19 March 1859 at Théatre-Lyrique, Paris

Principal characters

Mr SiébelSoprano


Act I

Faust's cabinet.

The philosopher Faust is profoundly depressed by his inaptitude to reach fulfillment through knowledge and thinks of committing suicide. He pours the contents of a poison phial in a cup, but stops suddenly drinking the deadly liquid when he hears a pastoral choir. He damns happiness, science and faith and calls on Satan to guide him. Méphistophélès appears (duet: " Me voici "). Faust confesses to him that he looks for youth, more than wealth, glory and power. Méphistophélès agrees to fulfill the wishes of the philosopher, in exchange for his services in the infernal regions. As Faust hesitates to accept this condition, Méphistophélès has Marguerite appear to him sitting at her spinning wheel. Faust signs then the document and is transformed into a noble young person.

Act II

The carnival at the city gates. One sees a cabaret on the left.

The curtain rises on a joyful choir of students, soldiers, bourgeois, girls and stout women (choir: " Vin ou Bière "). Valentin enters, holdin in his hand a medal which his sister Marguerite gave to him; he is about to leave for war, and is giving instructions to his friends, notably to Wagner and Siébel, so that they take care of her. They sit down to take a last glass. Méphistophélès appears suddenly, and amuses them with a song on the golden veal (round dance: " Le veau d'or "). Valentin gets angry when Méphistophélès talks lightly about his sister, but his sword breaks in the air before reaching its target. Confronted with a supernatural power, Valentin and his companions brandish crossshaped knobs of their swords in front of the devil (choir: " De l'enfer "). Méphistophélès remains alone, soon joined by Faust and by a group of village waltzers (waltz and choir: " Ainsi que la brise légère "). When Marguerite appears among them, Faust offers her his arm; she refuses with modesty and goes away deftly.


Marguerite's garden.

Siébel is in love with Marguerite and sets down a bouquet for her (stanzae: " Faites-lui mes aveux "). Faust and Méphistophélès enter the garden; while the devil is in charge of finding a present for Marguerite, Faust shouts out to Marguerite's house and to the defending embrace of nature (cavatina: " Salut, demeure chaste et pure "). Méphistophélès returns and sets down a casket with jewels for the girl. Marguerite arrives, wondering who was the young gentleman who approached her earlier. She sings a ballad on the king of Thulé, discovers the bouquet and the casket of jewels and, quite incited, tries earrings and necklace (scene and air: " Il était un roi de Thulé "). Marthe, Marguerite's governess, tells her that these jewels have to be the present of an admirer. Méphistophélès and Faust join the two women; the first tries to seduce Marthe, while Faust converses with Marguerite, who shows herself still very reserved (quartet: " Prenez mon bras "). While Faust and Marguerite disappear for a moment, Méphistophélès casts a fate to the flowers of the garden. Marguerite and Faust return and she allows Faust to kiss her (duet: " Laisse-moi, laisse-moi, contempler ton visage"); however, she steps back suddenly and asks him to go away. Convinced of the insignificance of his efforts, Faust is resolved to abandon his project altogether. He is stopped by Méphistophélès, who orders him to listen to Marguerite at her window. When hearing that she hopes for his quick return, Faust shows himself and takes her hand; as she drops her head on Faust's shoulder, Méphistophélès cannot refrain from laughing.

Act IV

Marguerite's room.

Marguerite has given birth to Faust's child and is ostracised by girls in the street. Saddened because Faust abandoned her, she sits down at her spinning wheel (air: " Il ne revient pas "). Siébel, always faithful, try to encourage her. A square. The return of Valentin is announced with soldiers' walking, and it becomes clear that things are going to deteriorate. Having heard Siébel's evasive answers to the questions he asked about his sister, Valentin rushes furiously in the house. While he is inside, Méphistophélès satirically plays the role of lover, giving a serenade under Marguerite's window (serenade: " Vous qui êtes l'endormie"). Valentin reappears and demands who took his sister's innocence. Faust pulls his sword; during the ensuing duel, Valentin is lethally wounded. As he dies, he throws back all responsibility on Marguerite and damns her for the eternity. A cathedral. Marguerite tries to pray, but is prevented from it by,first, the voice of Méphistophélès, then by a devils' choir. She finally succeeds in finishing her prayer, but faints when Méphistophélès releases a last curse.

Act V

The mountains of the Harz. The night of Walpurgis.

One hears a choir of will o' the wisps when Méphistophélès and Faust appear. They are quickly surrounded by witches (choir: "Un, deux et trois"). Faust tries to run away, but Méphistophélès hurries to take him somewhere else. A decorated, populated cave of queens and courtesans of the Antiquity. In the middle of luxurious banquet, Faust sees Marguerite's image and demands for her. While Méphistophélès and Faust leave, the mountain closes and the witches return. The inside of a prison. Marguerite is imprisoned for killing her child, but, thanks to Méphistophélès's help, Faust obtains the keys of her cell. Marguerite wakes to the sound of Faust's voice; they sing a duet of love (duet: "Oui, c'est toi que j'aime") and Faust asks her to run away with him. Méphistophélès appears and begs Faust and Marguerite to follow him. Marguerite resists and calls for divine protection. Desperate, Faust watches and falls to his knees in prayer, while Marguerite's soul rises towards heaven (highlight: "Christ est ressuscité").

Synopsis courtesy of Charles Gounod — His life, his works.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=Charles Gounod by Henri Lehmann, 1841

first_audio_name=Charles Gounod: Faust

product_title=Charles Gounod: Faust
product_by=Nicolai Gedda, Heather Harper, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Robert Massard, Africa De Retes, Luisa Bartoletti, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Colon, Gianandrea Favazzeni. Live performance 8 May 1971, Buenos Aires.

Posted by Gary at 9:24 PM

Review: 'Wozzeck' Works for the Holidays

By RONALD BLUM [Associated Press, 28 December 2005]

NEW YORK - Berg's "Wozzeck" does not fit with the frothy and festive fare many classical music institutions regularly offer during the holiday season.

Posted by Gary at 5:55 PM

ENO woes continue with new sacking and strike

By Jack Malvern [Times Online, 28 December 2005]

English National Opera received a double blow today when its newly appointed music director was sacked weeks before he was due to start and its staff voted overwhelmingly to go on strike.

Posted by Gary at 5:50 PM

Celebrating a Quarter-Millennium of Mozart

Mozart_Kugeln.jpgGaby Reucher (jen) (Deutsche Welle, 28 December 2005)

2006 is the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birth, and classical Europe is looking to party. A look at one of the geniuses of the German-speaking world.

Posted by Gary at 9:06 AM

Unhappy birthday? It's his 250th anniversary, but Mozart is too 'chocolate-boxy' for Radio 3

By Ciar Byrne [The Independent, 27 December 2005]

For lovers of Bach, Radio 3's decision to play the composer's entire works was a stroke of genius, garnering glowing responses from listeners and critical acclaim.

Posted by Gary at 8:43 AM

Music writers put an ear to the ground

By FT music critics [Financial Times, 27 December 2005]

The mighty Metropolitan
By Martin Bernheimer

A new year beckons, a year rife, no doubt, with joy and rapture, disappointment and disenchantment. It is always like that in the wonderful, irrational world of opera.

Posted by Gary at 8:33 AM

December 27, 2005

SCHUBERT: Winterreise

Those familiar with René Kollo’s work might associate him more with opera, but he has recorded other kinds of works as well. This release is Schubert’s Winterreise is a recent effort that was created for and released by Oehms in 2004. Kollo recorded it between 17 and 19 February. His statement about the performance is included in the booklet that accompanies the CD, and in it he calls attention to his perspective of the music. As he states,

With my interpretation of Winterreise, I hope to present listeners with a new view of Schubert’s Lied cycle. For me, Winterreise is not primarily a story of farewell and the longing for death. I see it much more as the wrathful flight of a man, who – beset by the realities of class differences – must leave the one he loves. He fails in the face of social tensions; the rich girl is unattainable for him. . . . At the end, I sing of a beginning – not of a standstill. In the person of the hurdy-gurdy grinder, the search finds one who has certainly traveled a similarly fateful path. He now sings his songs with him. The mood is lighter and tends slightly towards optimism. . . .

Yet in concluding his remarks, Kollo acknowledges that the CD is expressly intended as a fund-raiser for the Deutsche Kinderhilfe Direkt (the German Direct Children’s Aid Association). The purpose is stated on the cover of the CD, and the first thing that one finds inside is the statement by Georg Ehrmann that the purchase of the recording is intended to benefit German Children’s Aid, with the address, contact information and even Konto codes for further donations. As a means of calling attention to a cause, this is certainly a unique involvement of the arts, which are often concerned with raising money for their own purposes.

Notwithstanding the reasons for the recording, it merits attention for the mature and well-thought perspective that Kollo brings to a familiar work. This is a sound approach to the work that the performers have borne out well in this recording. As a studio recording, the performance is lacks hall noise and other distractions that sometimes occur, even in the best of circumstances. Yet the sound levels are sometimes extremely close to the voice, thus missing the ambiance that comes from having some distance between the performances and the microphones. The kind of resonance that has been preserved in some other recordings of Schubert’s Lieder is not easy to find on this CD, and it is sometimes difficult to hear the accompaniment blend with the voice.

As to the accompaniment, the performance on this recording suggests that Oliver Pohl has much to offer in the area of Lieder. The nuances that Pohl brings into the fourth song, “Erstarrung,” the one which Kollo holds to be the turning point in the cycle, is effective. This stands in contrast to the sometimes relentless execution he gives to the first three songs, the ones that Kollo states depict the angry flight [zornige Flucht] of the protagonist. The lighter tone that the performers introduce after the first songs culminates in an exceptionally thoughtful conclusion, with the final song “Der Leiermann” fading away in a manner that fully contrasts the opening pieces. Pohl is responsible for this convincing dénouement, and he has clearly worked out the interpretation with Kollo. Overall Pohl supports Kollo solidly, matching the tenor’s intensity with similarly strong playing, which is evident in the exposed passages for piano, like the one in the center of “Der Lindenbaum.”

The liner notes for the CD include the full text of the song cycle, but without any translations. With a familiar work like this, the lack of a translation is not a problem, but it points, perhaps, to the intended audience of the CD in Germany or, at least, in German-speaking countries. In fact, the note by Pohl appended to his biography reinforces the intention of the performers’ support of the Deutsche Kinderhilfe Direkt, and this leads into Kollo’s statement about the interpretation of the cycle.

All in all, this recording has much to recommend, not the least of which is the overtly divergent approach that Kollo offers. In a mature, polished singer conveys his well-considered approach to familiar music. Enthusiasts of Lieder and specifically Schubert’s music may find this recording of interest. At the same time, those familiar with Kollo as an opera singer may want to hear him in the context of this fine recording of Schubert’s Winterreise.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Franz Schubert: Winterreise, D. 911

product_title=Franz Schubert: Winterreise, D. 911
product_by=René Kollo, tenor, Oliver Pohl, piano.
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Posted by Gary at 2:23 PM

A Trio of New Year's Concerts

For many years now people have been laughing with the queer and often unintended humorous translations in the interesting issues produced by Bongiovanni; but their records are made on a shoestring budget. La Scala has more means, witness the designer cassette this DVD is wrapped in, but money for good translators still seems to be scarce. The English text of the booklet consequently uses the word “symphony” when an “overture” is meant (sinfonia is either overture or symphony in Italian). The booklet, too, reproduces a photo of the playbill of the evening which clearly proves whose show it is. The name of conductor Riccardo Muti is printed in exactly five times the size Freni and the other singers get. And of course the camera is fixed for lots of time on the face, hands and body language of the conductor; and I cannot say it is a sight I much enjoy. Not that Muti collapses in hysterics or throws tantrums; just that I think he strikes poses. I don’t believe in conductors who in a concert of separate arias, overtures and choruses act as if they have reached another world, even another cosmos where they are deciphering the innermost secrets of the human condition. Looking at Muti who often conducts with his eyes closed reminds me too much of Karajan who introduced this kind of close-up.

LSB0056043_LaScala50th.jpgMuti was at the height of his powers (as a conductor and theatre boss) when this concert was recorded nine years ago. He is more than ably assisted by orchestra and chorus who play at their best; and La Scala at its best is indeed outstanding. When one hears the chorus singing as if each of its members is a great soloist in its own right and yet blending the sound, one realizes how less exciting and musically strong most other opera choruses are. In this aspect the La Scala Chorus (and probably its orchestra as well) is its own worst enemy as the unions have always been asking for so much money that most gramophone companies preferred cheaper help and we are all the poorer for it.

As the title tells this concert is something of a re-enactment of the famous re-opening in 1946 after allied bombs had destroyed the house three years earlier. That concert is now more famous for the legendary discovery of a young new exciting soprano, Renata Tebaldi, than for the return of Toscanini. He placed the soprano who had to sing “voice of heaven” during a rehearsal of the Te Deum at the top of the chorus because “ I want this voice of an angel to truly descend from heaven”. Thus was born the still continuing legend that Toscanini said Tebaldi had the voice of an angel.

Muti, the booklet tells us, gives us the same programme with one exception. He replaced the “La Gazza ladra” by the William Tell overture, no reason is given, though I have an inkling the conductor feels it is a better vehicle for a star of the first magnitude like himself. Anyway it must be admitted that it is a fine and spirited performance. Nevertheless there are far bigger differences with the original concert. Toscanini didn’t give “La vergine degli angeli” from Forza as Muti does and the older conductor had the whole of act 3 of Manon Lescaut performed after the intermezzo from the same opera. That act is deleted here and the ubiquitous intermezzo is followed by one aria, the “In quelle trine morbide” from the second act. This may make this DVD somewhat more interesting as it gives the real star of this evening more to sing. Mirella Freni looks decidedly somewhat old in a not very flattering gown but the 61year old soprano is in fabulous voice singing all soprano parts (in 1946 apart from Tebaldi there was Mafaldo Favero) except those few angel-phrases. There is not a hint of breathiness and the famous silvery sound is there from bottom to top, easily riding the concertato in the Mosé prayer and dominating the Forza scene with chorus and bass. Sam Ramey is a fine Mefistofele in the prologue in a role he always performed well. The wobble that so marred many of his later performances was absent and he cuts a convincing figure as well.

This DVD originally was a TV registration and by now we already know that directors either can read a score or have an assistant next to them who points out which instrument is coming on so that everything runs smoothly without abrupt changes or pointless zooms.

The Venice DVD has somewhat more to look at but my first thought went to the music and I wonder why conductors show so little fantasy in some of these galas. Of course they need not play Alban Berg in a New Years’s Concert but even in those surroundings it could be possible to have something else than once again the Manon Lescaut intermezzo or the “Va pensiero”. The star of the evening is 80+ French conductor Georges Prêtre who even starts the DVD by playing a few phrases from an operetta he wrote 50 years ago. But for the rest, Prêtre seems to be an older Muti; he too looks like he is trying to resolve all human mysteries while conducting arias and intermezzi he has probably conducted hundreds of times and which can be played by the orchestra as well without any conductor at all. At the same time the TV director has no problem giving us a shot of the tenor’s back during most of “Nessun dorma.”

In Europe it has now been a tradition for more than 40 years that on the first of January all public TV-stations broadcast the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert with mostly Strauss-music. This has slowly become big business and, where for many decades Willy Boskovsky, the orchestra’s Concertmeister, conducted his colleagues, some twenty years ago famous conductors started to kill for the honour and the exposure of conducting this concert (Maazel, Muti, Harnoncourt etc). From simple music making, this show has now become an opportunity to show clips with ballet and Vienna tourist traps while the orchestra plays on. And now the Viennese have some competition from the Venetians who use the same tricks — some shots of the city and three nice and very traditional ballet items mostly danced in the splendid building of the restored La Fenice, while an Asian girl dances on her own with the chorus humming along in the Butterfly “coro a bocca chiusa.” The sung pieces are somewhat rare: a rather provincial “Nessun dorma” by Albanian tenor Gipali and a better Butterfly aria by soprano Annalisa Raspagliosi. And then we go for a half-hour of popular orchestral opera pieces before everything ends with the inevitable “Libiamo” from Traviata. Then the 60 minutes of this concert are over and the happy few who assisted (and are sometimes taking photographs from their boxes) can run to the reception. Probably I’m a little too severe as it is a nice souvenir of the theatre and the orchestra and chorus and the picture quality is excellent.

Gala Concert in St. Petersburg.jpgBut it is understandable that in a world of clichés the St. Petersburg concerto comes somewhat as a relief. The people in the Philharmonic Hall don’t wear gowns or tuxedos and their dresses, faces and bodies show that most of them do not belong to the jet set. The principal conductor behaves like a normal being, concentrating on his music without pulling strange faces. He lustily applauds with everybody else after a good solo and when he only gets one kiss from Netrebko he almost bows double to get a second one. All the time the sphere is very relaxed and conductor and soloists laugh, make small jokes and amuse themselves and there is less stiffness on the scene than in the clean but sceptic Western concerts. Still there is a lot of good music-making and, though it is not exactly unhackneyed repertoire, it is somewhat refreshing after the Italian perennial favourites. Victor Tretyakov plays a fine Saint-Saëns piece and Elisso Virsaladze proves that her left hand is not her weakest in the Ravel concerto. But it is violoncellist Mischa Maisky who really steals the show with some warm and inspired tone in Respighi and Bruch. And of course there are some singers as well. Anna Netrebko looks far more like a (beautiful) young Russian with less than perfect skin than in the babe-like video registrations from the West. And she wears the same outfit before and after the intermission. The voice is clear, sweet and bell-like and resembles young Mirella Freni a lot, as it is a brilliant lirico with coloratura facility. A pity for us she only sings Italian arias, though maybe her Russian public appreciates this more than we do. I like the small mistake at the end of the first strophe of “quando rapito” as it proves there is no tampering with the recording as some stars nowadays routinely demand in a commercial registration. The voice of Hvorostovsky is becoming more dramatic and voluminous as I noted myself a few years ago in Antwerp. The sound is less youthful but completely homogeneous; and there is a new depth in the lower register so that this fine Onegin has no problems with the bass aria of Prince Gremin. The duet between Silvio and Nedda is passionately sung and acted as well. All in all a nice concert to while away two hours.

Jan Neckers

image_description=New Years’ Concert 2005 in Venice

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(2) La Scala 50th Anniversary Concert
(3) Gala from St. Petersburg
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(3) St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov (cond.) with Anna Netrebko, Dimitri Hvorostovsky, Mischa Maisky, Eliso Virsaladze, Viktor Tretjakov
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(2)La Scala LSB56043 [DVD]
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Posted by Gary at 1:17 PM

December 25, 2005

BERLIOZ: La damnation de Faust

First performance: 6 December 1846 at Opéra-Comique, Paris

Principal characters

MéphistophélèsBass or baritone


Part One

Faust, alone on a plain at sunrise, praises the awakening spring day, nature's renewal and his own life in solitude, far from the madding crowd. In a nearby village, merry country people celebrate spring with singing and dancing while an army equipped for battle marches by. Faust withdraws untouched by all.

Part Two

Having returned to his study pensive and unhappy, Faust sinks into profound melancholy and pessimism. Intent on suicide, he is about to drink a cup of poison when from outside he hears the Easter hymn. Faust remembers the purity and piety of his childhood. His faith is reawakened and he reaffirms his commitment to life.

Suddenly Méphistophélès appears and, scorning Faust's sentimentality, suggests that he go out into the world rather than dwell in philosophical speculation. He promises Faust, who is mistrustful at first, to fulfill his most extravagant desires. Faust follows this diabolical companion.

The first stop is Auerbach's Cellar in Leipzig. Faust dislikes the drinkers' raucous singing, Brander's coarse song about the "Rat in the Cellar," and Méphistophélès' cynical reply with his "Song of the Flea." He insists they leave without delay.

Méphistophélès next leads him to the banks of the Elbe and sends him to sleep on a bed of roses. Méphistophélès concocts seductive dreams that beguile Faust, showing him a picture of his mistress-to-be, Marguerite. On awakening, Faust demands to be taken to the girl. Méphistophélès promises to arrange it. He advises Faust to join the soldiers and students going into town and to follow them to Marguerite's house.

Part Three

In Marguerites' room, Faust is filled with a sweet premonition of his romantic adventure. When Marguerite appears, he conceals himself. Marguerite has already seen her lover-to-be in a dream. She sings the ballad of "The King of Thule," in which she gives expression to her longing. As soon as Marguerite has fallen asleep, Méphistophélès appears. His band of beguiling spirits seduce and lead Marguerite to her destruction. With a sarcastic song, Méphistophélès delights in his certain victory.

Faust and Marguerite meet and declare their love for one another. They are interrupted by Méphistophélès who urges Faust to flee as the neighbors have become suspicious and want to warn Marguerite's mother. Méphistophélès assures them that they can meet again the following evening.

Part Four

Marguerite has been jilted by Faust. She longs for his return but senses that he will not come back. The singing of the students and soldiers can be heard from the street below. This makes Marguerite even more conscious of her loneliness.

Meanwhile, Faust finds renewed strength in the midst of nature.

He learns from Méphistophélès that Marguerite is in prison awaiting execution for killing her mother — a crime for which Faust is responsible. Faust implores Méphistophélès to rescue Marguerite. He is prepared to do this on condition that Faust seals their pact with his signature. Faust walks into the trap. They charge off on Méphistophélès' magic horses, but not to Marguerite's dungeon. Instead they descend into the depths of hell amidst earthquakes, thunder, and bloody rain, where diabolical spirits are awaiting their arrival. Faust, dammed until eternity, is thrown into the flames; Méphistophélès is triumphant.

In heaven the angels welcome Marguerite who has been absolved of her sins.

Synopsis courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=Méphistophélès dans les airs by Eugène Delacroix, 1828

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Live performance, Rome, 11 January 1969.

Posted by Gary at 10:32 PM

Great News! It's the Dawning of the Atomic Age

copenhagen_operahus.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times 25 December 2005]

IT'S easy to fault the major institutions in classical music for being stodgy and averse to risk. Yet music lovers count on the leading opera companies and orchestras to be custodians of the repertory. Take the Metropolitan Opera. Recalling the first half of this season, among many rewarding nights, I'll remember James Levine's buoyant and insightful performance of Mozart's "Così Fan Tutte," with a splendid youngish cast that gave you hope for the future of Mozart singing.

Posted by Gary at 7:05 PM

December 24, 2005

Review 2005: opera

ROH_small.jpgSuccessful productions failed to hide organisational crisis, says Rupert Christiansen

[Daily Telegraph, 24 December 2005]

Earlier this week, Martin Smith stepped down from his ill-starred chairmanship of English National Opera - a decision greeted with widespread relief in the arts world. Now that he's gone, I can't help dreaming of a wholly new management and leadership for the company, spearheaded by a team of enlightened young musicians and theatre practitioners, supported by some wise old heads skilled in administration and fund-raising.

Posted by Gary at 2:28 PM

December 23, 2005

The Year in Music

bolshoi_small.jpgBy Raymond Stults [Moscow Times, 23 December 2005]

Best Operas: Though Helikon Opera, Novaya Opera and the Pokrovsky Chamber Musical Theater all came up with one new production apiece of more than routine interest and merit this year, it was the Bolshoi Theater that produced the real fireworks of 2005 on the local operatic front.

Posted by Gary at 7:58 AM

Soprano Cancels Carnegie Recital Debut

netrebko2_small.jpgNEW YORK Dec 22, 2005 — Anna Netrebko, the glamorous young Russian soprano, has canceled her debut recital at Carnegie Hall, saying she's not ready to perform a solo concert there.

Posted by Gary at 7:51 AM

The Order in the Chaos of 'Wozzeck'

berg_small.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 23 December 2005]

Alban Berg realized that he and his mentor Arnold Schonberg were in the process of revolutionizing music, and so, when he came to write "Wozzeck," he clung steadfastly to the late 19th-century Romantic tradition still holding sway in the first quarter of the 20th, incorporating many devices from the most beloved operas. This organization creates grounding for the ear in an otherwise phantasmagoric musical world.

Posted by Gary at 7:43 AM


rameau_jean-philippe_small.jpgBy Olivier Rouvière. Translated by Marcia Hadjimarkos [Goldberg No. 28]

Jean-Philippe Rameau’s (1683-1764) first opera was staged when he was fifty years old; his last, written when he was over eighty, was not given until the twentieth-century.

Rameau’s aesthetics are thus characterised by maturity, density, homogeneity, and chronological clarity. His early works were already accomplished to a high degree and his operas occupied the French stage for more than thirty years, only to disappear after his death. To quote Girdlestone’s incisive summing up, Rameau wrote “more than ninety acts of dramatic music” - that is, three acts, or tableaux, a year - during the last third of his life.

Posted by Gary at 7:30 AM

December 22, 2005

Tragic Indeed — An American Tragedy is yet another contemporary-opera-by-the-numbers rehash

dreiser_small.jpgBy Peter G. Davis [New York Magazine, 26 December 2005]

The Lit 101 school of American opera continues to proliferate. Little Women, Of Mice and Men, The House of the Seven Gables, Sophie’s Choice, The Last of the Mohicans, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Rappaccini’s Daughter—the list of ambitious operas based on all those classic novels you read in school (or were supposed to) goes on, even if the success rate has been marginal. Right now, the Metropolitan is presenting the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, adapted from the 1925 novel by Theodore Dreiser. Not that long ago we were debating the merits of John Harbison’s operatic version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Can a Met production about a great white whale be far off?

Posted by Gary at 9:09 AM

OPERA HOT — The Met’s fall season

by ALEX ROSS [New Yorker, 26 December 2005]

Joseph Volpe, whose sixteen-year tenure as the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera ends this season, may be remembered as a man who stayed true to his title: he managed. Performances went off with maximum efficiency, seven each week. World-class singers showed up in mostly suitable roles, and if they misbehaved they were shown the door, or at least treated brusquely. James Levine was kept happy. Electronic subtitles appeared on the backs of the seats. Modest efforts were made in the direction of fresh production styles, novel repertory, and premières—Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy” bowed this month—but not enough to ruffle anyone’s feather boa. Through various crises—a singer dying onstage, a bloated superstar cancelling, attendance figures falling in the wake of September 11th, a Cuban billionaire patron turning out to be neither a billionaire nor a Cuban—Volpe kept the great old house trundling along. Was he a visionary? No. Did rival American companies—particularly the San Francisco Opera, with its history-making productions of Messiaen’s “Saint Francis” and John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic”—challenge the Met’s preëminence? Yes. But the chaos that has surrounded many big houses elsewhere has been absent from the Met, and in this business the absence of chaos is a considerable achievement.

Posted by Gary at 8:59 AM

LUTOSLAWSKI: Twenty Polish Christmas Carols

It is based on the collection of twenty Christmas carols for voice and piano that Lutosławski arranged in 1946, a time when the politics dictated that the arts create works like this for the people. Only someone as steeped in Polish culture as Lutosławski could approach arrangements of these carols with the aplomb that they deserve and, at the same time, introduce elements that do not make them caricatures. The collection is as reminiscent of some of the folksong settings of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the appeal of the music resides in the masterful settings that he gave each piece.

While some of the melodies may be familiar, others are more insular in nature. The carol entitled “Hurrying to Bethlehem” The delicate timbres and floating harmonies of “Lullaby, Jesus” is one of the outstanding selections on this recording. Likewise angular melody of “This is our Lord’s birthday” evokes a Slavic idiom that hints at the kind of choral number a composer like Prokofiev have used in one of his cantatas, while Lutosławski’s orchestration suggests Shostakovich’s style. The wind colors used in “Shepherds, can you tell?” is engaging, especially when they occur with the interplay between solo voice and choral writing. The arrangements by Lutosławski make some wonderful Polish carols available to a broader audience.

This masterful combination of the familiar with a modern touch makes the collection attractive not only as a recording, but also for performances during the Christmas season. The performance preserved on this recording is taken from concerts given on 5 December 2001. In fact, the other pieces on the CD were part of another concert, which was given on 15 January 1997) and include Lutsławski’s Lacrimosa for soprano, choir, and orchestra, as well as his Five Songs for female voice the 30 solo instruments.

The Lacrimosa is one of two settings from the Requiem completed in 1937 by Lutosławski, and as a fragment it offers a glimpse at the composer early in his career. The melody given to the soprano is reminiscent of some of the music Ginastera used in his Bachianas Brasilieras. The overt simplicity that Lutosławski uses in this piece is part of its attraction. As much as it is unmistakably modern, the Lacrimosa is also engaging in its clear presentation of the text, and masterful use of solo voice in contrast to choral passages, all of which are supported by a carefully composed accompaniment. It is unfortunate that the other setting from the Requiem was destroyed and that Lutosławski did not pursue the setting of the entire piece. Those unfamiliar with the work will find this performance to be extremely effective.

Another work that deserves further attention is the set of Five Songs to texts by the contemporary poet Kazmimiera Iłłakowicz (1892-1983). The only nominally secular pieces on this CD, the Five Songs are essentially revisions of children’s verses that have a modern slant, and Lutosławski’s music accentuates that aspect of the texts. Composed in 1957, the Five Songs are a product of a time when Lutosławski benefited from the cultural openness that occurred after Stalin’s regime ended. As with the other pieces collected in this recording, the performance is convincing and conveys the spirit of the music well.

This and the other pieces are performed by the Polish Radio Chorus, Kraców, and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice) conducted by Anoni Wit. The soprano for the set of Twenty Polish Christmas Carols and the Lacrimosa is Olga Pasichnyk, with the alto Jadwiga Rappé serving as soloist for the Five Songs. The diction is clear and serves the texts well, but it is unfortunate that the texts and translations are not provided with the recording. With the exception of Lutosławski’s Five Songs, the texts are available at the Naxos website (, the publication of the materials with the CD makes a difference. At the same time it would also be useful at least to have the titles of the pieces and their components in the original language and also in translation. Nevertheless, this recording makes available some fine music and in turn, it shows yet another side of one of the most important Polish composers of the twentieth century.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Witold Lutosławski: Twenty Polish Christmas Carols; Lacrimosa; Five Songs

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Posted by Gary at 7:40 AM

December 21, 2005

Christmas with Renée and Bryn

She judiciously mixed some of these songs with specific Christmas items and made it a bestselling classical album. Since that time all major singers have recorded recitals of “canti sacri.” Depending upon the number of carols, these were sometimes presented as Christmas albums, though even then there was usually no escaping the two Ave Marias, Louis Niedermeyer’s Pieta Signore, Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Händel’s ode to the shade of a tree and a few Mozart or Bach items — none of which has anything to do with Christmas. Decca’s marketing division and Renée Fleming have decided that it’s better to split these things more rigorously and so together with these “sacred songs” she recorded a “carol album only,” which corresponds with her current concert tour.

Fleming’s repertoire on this CD is almost wholly traditional, while Terfel is more adventurous, though it nevertheless roams along in the same sphere. And there is indeed no escaping Bach/Gounod, César Franck or Amazing Grace on both records. So why did I feel such a marked difference when listening to those two great vocalists? It starts with the title of their albums. I don’t think there is anything sacred to Humperdinck’s Hänsel and a lot of the other items on Fleming’s CD were definitely written by their composers to catch some not very sacred money. Therefore a less pretentious title like “Songs of Faith and Devotion” would maybe have been a better idea. Though “The Lord” and “God” is as much present on Terfel’s CD, his “Simple Gifts” someway makes a more sympathetic impression. Then there are the sleeve photographs: just Terfel looking earnestly into the camera while Fleming is photographed with eyes closed into what looks far more to be an orgasmic moment than a prayer of faith; and I have a feeling that some of the less enthusiastic reactions to Fleming’s CD were initiated by title and photo.

But of course Fleming got a lot of flack on her singing as well. Some comments on those venomous opera-forums spoke of Händel à la Duke Ellington. This is simply not fair as she doesn’t glide or scoop. True, she uses all kinds of allowable vocal tricks like rubato and a good trill, which are arms not all sopranos have. The first impression after her first tracks Ave Maria and Jesus bleibet is one of “how exquisite, how refined” and then first weariness and finally boredom makes its entrance. So what’s wrong in a CD-recital that would not have been boring on 78-records? Well, by the third track one realizes that she is not going to use her full voice and that she will never sing out; that everything will stop at mezza-voce while in that half voice she tries hard to unveil all hidden meanings in each word, if necessary in each syllable by voice inflexions. Moreover as she is nowadays the female star of the label, she suffers from what I’d call Kohnanization, though Domingo and Eugene Kohn are not the only perpetrators. Classical stars nowadays prefer to bring either their own maestros with them or otherwise want to be indulged by the conductor whom they honour by allowing him to have their name as well on their records. So Andreas Delfs nicely follows Fleming but definitely was not engaged to tell her some truths and to bring some vitality to the recording sessions. Once upon a time, Karajan conducted the Price Christmas recital, Gavazzeni led Bergonzi in his début recording and Molinari-Pradelli put the fear of the gods in Sutherland and no singer would have got away with these kind of easy tempi. Levine, Solti, Mackerras, Eschenbach, Tate were the conductors of Fleming’s many successful earlier recordings; and in retrospect one realizes that they were sympathetic to the artist without sapping all rhythmic liveliness from the CD, indulging every whim of the singer (and you didn’t need a looking glass to find their names on the sleeve).

That too is one of the differences with the Terfel recording. Barry Wordsworth may not be a big name either as a conductor but he doesn’t linger on and at least gets his photograph in the booklet (or Terfel himself has a far better sense of tempi). Not that everything is perfect in this record as it shows some serious vocal problems. The bass-baritone who came in second after Dmitry Hvorostovsky in the Cardiff competition in 1989 has made some far fetching decisions. Though the voice has the tessitura of a real bass-baritone (I heard him do a fine Dulcamara in Amsterdam a few years ago), Terfel was blessed with good top notes and he couldn’t keep his hands off real baritone territory. His Amsterdam outing as Scarpia was not really a success. Moreover he has now stepped into heavy Wagner with some successes in Rheingold and Walküre but recently he withdrew as Wanderer in Siegfried. The low and middle register are still very beautiful but the voice really makes a clearly unmusical jump which sometimes almost becomes a shout to reach an F; and, as he does it several times on this record, it is clear he has somewhat damaged his vocal means.

Terfel doesn’t have Fleming’s intrinsic beauty of voice, indeed his timbre is somewhat indistinct, but his sense of phrasing and words is far greater. His Sondheim-song is particularly impressive. He too sings a lot in warm toned pianissimo but realizes that parts of some songs demand full voice. And then there is the repertoire: maybe not very adventurous but still known to most opera buffs who collect drawing room songs and ballads by Crooks, Kullmann and friends; and one can easily savour Terfel’s fine English pronunciation without his losing the vocal line. The CD offers us two duets with baritone-colleague, Simon Keenlyside, who clearly makes a bigger noise than Terfel (on record at least), though the voice has nothing of the beauty and the subtlety of the Welsh singer. Clearly I could easily have done without his part; but it is a nice reminder that Terfel, notwithstanding some vocal problems, is still a great artist.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Renée Fleming: Sacred Songs

product_title=(1)Renée Fleming: Sacred Songs
(2)Bryn Terfel: Simple Gifts
product_by=(1)Renée Fleming, with Susan Graham and Mark O’Connor, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andreas Delfs (cond.).
(2) Bryn Terfel, with Simon Keenlyside, John Williams and Aled Jones, London Symphony Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth (cond.).
product_id=(1) Decca 475 7177 (US and Australia); 475 6925 (Int'l) [CD]
(2) DG 477 5563 (Int'l) 4775919 (UK)

Posted by Gary at 6:15 PM

RACHMANINOV: The Miserly Knight

Each of these productions has been released separately on DVD; though the operas themselves are less than 70 minutes long, each DVD also features bonus material, including interviews with conductor, director, and stars. Even at less than full price, the 95-minute long The Miserly Knight DVD may not seem like a bargain, but for an outstanding performance of a rare repertory piece, it offers good value indeed.

In the first of three short scenes, all apparently only slightly adapted from the original source material by Rachmaninov, we meet a young knight plagued by debts. A moneylender suggests that he arrange for the murder of his father, a baron (the eponymous character) who hoards his fortune and keeps his profligate son on a tight budget. The young knight refuses, and decides to protest his case to the Duke. The second scene, a long dramatic monologue for the father, has no action whatsoever. Then, in the confrontation before the Duke, the father accuses the son of desiring his death. The son denies it (and is carted away by the Duke’s men in this production), and then the father collapses and dies.

Not exactly a narrative arc of Puccinian drama and characterization. Undoubtedly the challenges of staging the work have contributed to its neglect. Rachmaninov would go on to write one more one-act opera, Francesca di Rimini, and along with the earlier Aleko, all three works reflect his mastery of orchestral texture and drama, and give some evidence of his melodic genius. And yet none really quite makes a case for itself as a total success. Recordings led by Neeme Jarvi of all three have recently been released on the DG “Trio’ series, and they make for fascinating listening.

But seeing The Miserly Knight in this Glyndebourne production, directed by Annabel Arden, makes one wish more opera companies would search out interesting one-act operas to be paired with the more successful ones, as Glyndebourne did by presenting the Rachmaninov with Puccini’s classic. Director Arden has fully bought into the tormented drama of Rachmaninov’s score, and the dark, monochromatic sets effectively partner the excellent acting of the cast.

Arden’s riskiest move, and a brilliant success, involves an "aerialist” (Matilda Leyser), who dangles from ropes and clambers around the multi-level sets. An androgynous figure, with the skin and hair of an old man but the youthful, impish face of a youth, this figure appears briefly at the start and then throughout scene two, managing to enhance the long monologue, so brilliantly delivered by Leiferkus, without distracting from the focus on the knight. A booklet explaining the links between the two productions describes the aerialist as “the spirit of greed, the Baron’s conscience and death itself…” One can experience this supernatural figure on that level, or one can simply revel in the eerie effect created by Leyser’s amazing physical dexterity and truly astounding facial expressions.

Richard Berkeley-Steele, a fairly good Siegmund in the recent Barcelona Ring DVD set, does even better here, sounding comfortable with both the language and tessitura of the role. As the Duke, Albert Schagidullin creates a character in a few short lines, a self-satisfied, cold-hearted ruler who adopts a pose of fairness to cover his own avaricious nature (Arden has him claiming the Baron’s wealth after his death). Viacheslav Voynarovskiy sings with appropriate unctuousness as the Moneylender, a role that in the unexpurgated original apparently veers into anti-Semitic characterization (this according to a recent Gramophone review of a Chandos recording of the opera). Here, he is just one more loathsome figure in a misanthrope’s daydream…or nightmare.

Vladimir Jurowski, clearly relishing both the score and his own youthful, handsome self (those tresses are something else), leads the LPO in a riveting performance.

Glyndebourne by reputation is seldom an easy ticket to acquire, even if one happens to be taking the summer in the UK. To have a new production from last year available on DVD is wonderful in itself, and when it is the quality of this particular one, then generosity can be said to be at the heart of this Miserly Knight.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Sergei Rachmaninov: The Miserly Knight

product_title=Sergei Rachmaninov: The Miserly Knight
product_by=Sergei Leiferkus, Richard Berkeley-Steele, Maxim Mikhailov, Viacheslav Voynarovskiy, Albert Schagidullin, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski (cond.), Annabel Arden (stage dir.).
product_id=Opus Arte OA 0919 D [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 5:48 PM

An Enjoyable Farce of an Operetta

radvanovsky_small.jpg( Photo: Deluxe Photography, Nigel Dickson)
BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 21 December 2005]

If it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - and New Year's Eve - it must be "Die Fledermaus" time. And so it is, at the Metropolitan Opera. On Monday night, the company started up a run of Johann Strauss Jr.'s classic operetta, in the marvelous Otto Schenk production (1986). This production has the dialogue in English, and the singing in the original German - a smart arrangement. Rarely do you have so much fun in an opera house, as when you imbibe the Schenk "Fledermaus."

Posted by Gary at 2:24 PM

National Opera chairman quits

By Sherna Noah, PA [The Independent, 21 December 2005]

The chairman of the English National Opera, Martin Smith, has quit his post following a flood of calls for his resignation.

Posted by Gary at 2:21 PM

This Barber is a cut above

rossini_drg_small.jpg[Daily Telegraph, 21 December 2005]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Royal Opera in Covent Garden

The Royal Opera's cheerful and colourful new production of Rossini's most popular work is a copper-bottomed hit. Its principal virtue is Mark Elder's superb conducting. For wit and polish, his interpretation is on the level of Beecham's or Abbado's, though in other respects his approach is radically different from theirs.

Posted by Gary at 2:15 PM

Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music

capturing_sound.gifMark Katz, a professor at the Peabody Conservatory of Music at The Johns Hopkins University, discussed his book, "Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music." The event was sponsored by the Library's John W. Kluge Center, the Music Division and the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. According to Katz, who teaches in the Department of Musicology at the Peabody, there is more to sound recording than just recording sound. Not just a tool for the preservation of music, the technology is a catalyst for change. In "Capturing Sound," Katz writes a wide-ranging, informative and entertaining history of recording's profound impact on the musical life of the past century, from Edison to the Internet.

Posted by Gary at 1:03 PM

Beethoven: The Universal Composer

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris discussed his new book, "Beethoven: The Universal Composer." The Library's Music Division cosponsored the event with the Center for the Book. Morris, a classically trained pianist, has studied Beethoven and his music for 40 years. "Of all the great composers, Beethoven is the most enduring in his appeal to dilettantes and intellectuals alike," Morris writes. "What draws them is Beethoven's universality, his ability to embrace the whole range of human emotion, from dread of death to love of life--and the metaphysics beyond--reconciling all doubts and conflicts in a catharsis of sound."

Posted by Gary at 12:55 PM

Internet encyclopaedias go head to head — Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries, a Nature investigation finds

wikipedia_logo.jpgJim Giles [, 14 December 2005]

One of the extraordinary stories of the Internet age is that of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit. This radical and rapidly growing publication, which includes close to 4 million entries, is now a much-used resource. But it is also controversial: if anyone can edit entries, how do users know if Wikipedia is as accurate as established sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica?

Posted by Gary at 9:26 AM

Giulini Conducts Mozart and Mahler

Among those recordings is the release in February 2005 of a concert Giulini led on 2 August 1987 at the Salzburg Festspiel. According to the notes that accompany this CD, it is the last recording the conductor approved for release.

Because of its length performances of Mahler’s song cycle Das Lied von der Erde sometimes preclude the inclusion of other works with it either in concert or on recordings, and the pairing with Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor reflects the programming used in Salzburg. Yet it is what Giulini chose for the particular concert, a rare opportunity for the conductor to lead the Vienna Philharmonic. As a highly esteemed interpreter of both Mozart and Mahler, Giulini offers strong performances of the two works. At a time when Mozart’s works were being performed with a bow to historic practice, Giulini chose to use a fuller orchestra than other conductors might employ. This reflects tacitly the tradition in which Giulini worked, where an earlier composer like Mozart did not have to be rediscovered through reviving older performing traditions. Rather, Giulini had been performing Mozart’s work throughout his career, having played under such conductors as Toscanini. Mozart’s music was part of the living tradition of the day.

In approaching a familiar work by Mozart with a relatively large orchestra, Giulini used relatively slower tempos, particularly in the outer movements. Yet tempo is only one dimension of this music. The clarity of line that emerges in the first movement is characteristic of this particular recording. Giulini achieves this quality not only with a modest pacing, but he allows lines to end, with points of silence that help to delineate the phrasing. He allows the slow movement (Andante) to linger and in doing so brings out some of the ensemble passages that the Vienna Philharmonic executes well. With the third movement, Giulini’s pacing contributes an almost solemn character to the stylized minuet. Within the string textures that Giulini uses well in this performance, the winds are notable for the careful and delicate timbres they create. Details like these emerge in the final movement (Allegro assai), which is taken at a modest pace. Inflections of modality are clearly apparent in this recording, in which Giulini brings out sonorities that may be passed over when the movement is taken at faster tempos than those found in this dignified performance.

In interpreting Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Giulini’s tempos are similarly conservative in an evidently thoughtfully conceived interpretation of this monumental work. His soloists were the mezzo soprano Brigitte Fassbaender and the tenor Francisco Araiza, two fine singers who bring wonderful technique and facility to this demanding work. Both Fassbaender and Araiza offer compelling performances that complement Giulini’s leadership.

Araiza offers some fine performances of the three pieces for tenor and orchestra. As demanding as each can be, his makes maintains a fluid tone that conveys a sense of ease and comfort with the music. He delivers well the sustained opening piece “Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” is engaging in the third song, “Von der Jugend.” With “Der Trunkene im Frühling” Araiza maintains the level of intensity that he used to excellent effect in first song, always evoking a fresh and ringing tone.

Fassbaender was at the height of her career for this performance, with a wonderful control of the various nuances required for expressing this piece effectively. With “Der Einsame im Herbst,” Fassbaender brings approaches the piece with a subtlety that brings out the details that are essential to the text. Her voice moves well within the orchestral accompaniment, which is Giulini has shaped well. Fassbaender maintains the intensity of this piece well, and the silence at its end is tribute to her command of the audience. With “Von der Schönheit,” Fassbaender colors her voice well, and Giulini’s pacing allows details to emerge comfortably. Some problems arise in the orchestra, though, when the tempo increases, and while the performers recover, it mars the result. Nevertheless Fassbaender never seems to lose her vocal composure in bringing the song to its conclusion.

“Der Abschied” is one of Mahler’s most demanding pieces, and this is a fine rendering of the music. The opening chimes resonate deeply to suggest to a break between the world of the first five songs and their counterpart in this single extended movement for voice and orchestra. The spacious tempos that Giulini chose for this performance create some extraordinarily moving passages that other conductors do not always achieve. From the start, Fassbaender is in good form as she shapes the vocal line with Giulini working well with her. The orchestral interlude before the second part, just prior to the passage “Ich stieg vom Pferd” is particularly effective, and from that point, the conductor and soloist never seem to relent in their intensity as they bring the music to its inevitably ambiguous conclusion. Fassbaender’s nuanced sound lingers on the repeated “ewig” at the end of “Der Abschied” and blends into the somewhat extended silence before the enthusiastic applause with which the recording ends.

All in all, the sound on this release is not as vibrant as can occur with studio recordings, and is reminiscent of some fine radio broadcasts. In addition to applause at the end of Mozart’s Symphony in G minor, some audience sounds occur at various points, although they are not entirely distracting. The voices benefit from the microphone placement, and while the orchestral sound is never blurred, at times the balance is off. As to the release itself, it is a rare live concert conducted by Giulini late in his career, and his masterful approach to both the Mozart Symphony and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde is laudable. Yet the existence of some gaffs in the orchestra show what can happen in live performances, even with such exceptional performers. Nevertheless, it is a fine souvenir of Giulini at the Salzburg Festspiel that captures both Fassbaender and Araiza at a fine time in their careers. While Das Lied von der Erde lends itself well to studio recordings, this is a memorable live performance.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Giulini Conducts Mozart and Mahler

product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor KV 550; Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
product_by=Brigitte Fassbaender, mezzo; Francisco Araiza, tenor; Wiener Philharmoniker; Carlo Maria Giulini (cond.).
Live recording: Großes Festspielhaus, August 2, 1987
product_id=Orfeo d'Or 654052 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 9:08 AM

Two Super Audio CD re-releases of Elly Ameling performances for Philips

(Oh, all right, I admit it, the convenience of CD’s has long outweighed any attachment I could possibly have to the benefits some audiophiles hear in analog, and I have kept my vinyl collection around, to the despair of those who have had to help pack and move my belongings, to hear performances that aren’t available on CD or that I can’t justify buying again on CD. True audiophiles, and you know who you are, will probably have to read another review to find out just how good the sound quality of these SACD’s is or isn’t—although if you read on, I can give you some clues.)

So when I put the Mozart concert arias into the CD player and heard once again the radiance of Ameling’s performance with the English Chamber orchestra, there were two of me listening to it: my mature self determined to make an objective assessment, and my much younger self, falling in love all over again with Mozart’s arias through a voice that at the time I thought of as the “definitive” lyric soprano. Years later, having sung (after a fashion) most of these pieces in voice lessons and opera workshops, I still can’t help thinking of her performances “Yes, that’s how they should be sung.” My more experienced ears tell me that there are more intrinsically gorgeous voices around, but the diction, phrasing, and breath control are all admirable, along with a grace and elegance that, for me, really bring this beautiful music to life. The Mozart selection includes many of the most familiar arias of Zerlina, Cherubino, and Susanna, from Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, along with “Come Scoglio” from Così fan tutte, the difficult runs and skips of which she navigates very competently. The concert arias include the tour de force “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” with Dalton Baldwin providing the thrilling piano obbligato that Mozart wrote for himself to play as Nancy Storace, for whom the aria was written, bid farewell to Vienna. The rest of this disk consists of music Franz Schubert wrote for various projects for the stage that never were very successful. Ameling’s performance of them with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra make it clear that the projects’ failure to enter the repertoire was not due to the music. While the two pieces from Goethe’s Claudine von Villa Bella are better known as lieder in their piano transcriptions, there are also some more substantial arias, and all of this music shares the disc with Mozart’s arias very comfortably.

Ameling_schubert_schumann.jpgThe second SACD that I heard also combines a re-released favorite of mine, entitled Lieder für Gretchen, Ellen and Suleika, with Schumann’s Frauenliebe- und Leben, of which I’ve probably heard more performances than I would have chosen to, because it makes its way onto compilation discs that I buy for other reasons. I guess for each of us there are is a masterpiece or two that we just cannot find it in ourselves to love, and I have long resisted this one because of the text. I had wondered why great artists kept performing and recording it, until, in listening to this aria with the care that a review requires, I realized, of course, that it is really wonderful music. The program on the original Frauenliebe und -Leben LP was split up so that this cycle could be combined with a set of Schubert Lieder that also take the point of view of female characters: Goethe’s Gretchen from Faust, the Suleika texts he lifted from his friend Marianne von Willemer to include in his West-östlicher Divan, and Sir Walter Scott’s Ellen, from The Lady of the Lake, as well as Craigher’s “Die junge Nonne”, which the liner notes misleadingly imply is part of Goethe’s Faust set. The listener can compare Schumann’s interpretation of the kind of domestic drama that he was about to enter when he wrote the cycle in the year of his marriage, with the decidedly undomestic emotions of the young women that Schubert presents. Ameling and Baldwin perform all of these songs with their characteristic high standard of musicianship and technical achievement.

Conscience required me to at least try to evaluate the audio quality of these discs, which are Hybrid Super Audio Compact Discs, playable either on standard CD players or on multiple channel equipment with which I was, frankly, unfamiliar. Apparently the original analog recordings were quadraphonic, although, according to the liner notes, “it turned out to be almost impossible to reproduce the major increase in quality on the gramophone record of the time in combination with the sound systems used by consumers in their homes.” Hence my vinyl copies were released as “stereo” or “deluxe”, and it is only recently that multi-channel reproduction systems have made enough inroads into the consumer market to make it worthwhile to release these recordings with the original four distinct channels of sound. So, on a snowy weekday morning when I figured business was likely to be slow, I took the discs to my local high-end audio establishment, Magnolia Audio-Video, figuring they’d have the equipment if anyone would. They were kind enough to set me up in their plush home theater room, where I was treated to some of my favorite music sung by one of my favorite singers on a carefully prepared recording through about $50,000 worth of McIntosh audio equipment. Needless to say, it was heaven while it lasted.

Not being a true audiophile, I am not expert enough to say where these discs fit in the spectrum of high-quality audio, or even, to tell the truth, to say for sure whether the discs succeed at what they set out to do. Did I feel like I was in the space where the performances were taking place? Yes, for the most part (except I’ve never yet sat in a leather lounge chair in a concert hall). I did notice that, when a track began, rather than hearing dead silence before the music started, I could hear a bit of the noise from the original analog recording. At the climax of “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (“und ach…sein Küss”) I couldn’t tell for sure, but I thought there was some sound that was not actually the vibrato in her voice. I would hesitate to call it distortion without knowing for sure and had no one at hand to ask about it. And, although I was listening on a system that included “effects speakers” all around me, I did not in fact hear much coming from behind me, which is what would be expected if one were sitting in a hall where the performance was coming from the stage and there was absolutely no coughing or fidgeting in the audience, or there was no audience at all (which was presumably the case when the recordings were made).

I asked what would be the lowest end equipment one could own on which the special audio characteristics of these discs could be heard and was told that the “theater in a box” systems that can be had for about $350 would pick up all the channels. It would not sound the way I had heard it, of course, but it would be an option.

At the other end of the spectrum, I needed to do some serious multi-tasking while preparing both to celebrate the holidays and to write this review, so I downloaded the lieder tracks onto my Palm Zire to rehear as MP3 tracks through ear buds. It was in this format that I found myself most deeply aware of the clarity of the recording and of Ameling’s diction, as not a word was lost.

So if your family clamors for a theater-in-a-box this Christmas to better enjoy the special effects on today’s movie DVD’s, you might want to pick up one or more of these discs too. Then, if you are fortunate enough to find a moment when you can have the sound system to yourself, treat yourself to this music. My personal choice for several minutes of pure transcendence would be the coda of “Ch’io mi scordi di te”, where Mozart builds the virtuosic voice and piano parts together to a spectacular conclusion. But if you seek even more peaceful transcendence, you may prefer “Ave Maria”, which closes the lieder disc. Either way, you will rise from your chair renewed.

The liner notes include information about the recording process itself and notes about the songs and arias in English, German, and French, as well as texts and English translations of the works. For those who, like me, have some or all of these tracks on vinyl and might be trying to figure out which CDs might replace which LPs, the Arias disc includes all of Philips LP 6500 544 (Mozart Opera and Concert Arias) and the pieces from Philips 9500 170 (Schubert on Stage) in which Elly Ameling performs solo. The lieder disk includes all of Philips LP 9500 169 (Songs for Gretchen, Ellen, and Suleika), except for D126 (“Scene from Faust”), which was not a solo, and the “Frauenliebe und -leben” from Philips 6500 706 (Frauenliebe und -leben). The remainder of the songs from Philips 6500 706 are on the third SACD in this series (PentaTone 5186 132: Schubert Lieder), along with more songs by Schubert, originally from Philips 6500 704 (Schubert 16 Lieder).

Barbara Miller

image_description= WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART/FRANZ SCHUBERT: Opera & Concert Arias

product_title=(1) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert: Opera & Concert Artias
(2) Robert Schumann: Frauenliebe- und Leben, Op. 42; Franz Schubert: Lieder für Gretchen
product_by=(1) English Chamber Orchestra (Mozart); Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (Schubert); conducted by Edo de Waart; Elly Ameling, Sopran; Dalton Baldwin, piano
(2) Elly Ameling, Sopran; Dalton Baldwin, piano
product_id=(1) PentaTone PTC 5186 133 [SACD]
(2) PentaTone PTC 5186 131 [SACD]

Posted by Gary at 8:21 AM

December 20, 2005

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe himself as a musical hero: The case of Lehár’s Friederike

The idea of a “Singspiel” about young Goethe arose with one of Lehár’s best librettists, Dr. Fritz Löhner (or Beda). He would tragically die in an extermination camp, hoping till his last moments that Lehár would use his influence. The composer didn’t dare to help him as his wife too was Jewish and it was only Lehár’s quick (and chancy) call to Himmler, who was in his office, that saved his wife from Löhner’s fate when two Gestapo-men appeared to arrest her.

Löhner did his utmost best to introduce historical reality, though some operetta conventions had to be respected. “Friederike” tells the story of one of young Goethe’s great loves and the inspiration she offered him. The first act takes place in an Alsatian village where the father of Salomea (20) and Friederike Brion (17) is a vicar. The fiancée of Salomea is the historically correct Friedrich Weyland, a student at Strasbourg University — Strasbourg had recently been conquered by Louis XIV but everybody still spoke German while the courses at its university were in Latin, of course. Weyland often visits his future in-laws and has brought with him his fellow students Johann Goethe (at the time without the “von”) and Jakob Lenz (another famous German poet). Goethe and Friederike are clearly in love and at the end of the act he first kisses her.

The second act takes place in Strasbourg a few months later. There is a big party going on at the place of Friederike’s aunt. She and Goethe once more declare their love and he intends to marry her and leave for Weimar where the Grand-Duke has offered him a splendid position. But the duke’s deputy tells Weyland that only an unmarried man may take it. Weyland convinces Friederike to give up her dreams and she starts to flirt outrageously with Lenz. Goethe is angry and leaves immediately for Weimar with the duke’s diplomat.

In the short third act Goethe and the Grand-Duke pass through Sesenheim eight years later. In the meantime Jakob Lenz has tried in vain for years to marry Friederike but as she explains “nobody who has ever loved Goethe can forget that experience and marry another.” During his short stay Goethe reminiscences upon his youthful love and takes his definitive farewell from Friederike before leaving for Switzerland with the Grand-Duke.

There are of course some deviations from historical reality. The first act corresponds with the real situation but in the second act operetta and opera are looking around the corner. In reality Goethe had more or less tired of Friederike whom he found utterly charming in her village but somewhat unsophisticated in his Strasbourg surroundings. Father Goethe who had heard about his son’s infatuation didn’t like an early marriage and recalled Goethe to Frankfurt. Goethe immediately obeyed his father’s wish, maybe even somewhat relieved as he didn’t even take the pains of saying a decent farewell. But in the meantime he had written some of his best poems. Friederike sacrificing herself is pure musical theatre convention as Goethe in reality only left for Weimar 4 years later. They never met again but it is true that after Goethe’s flight that other great poet Jakob Lenz tried in vain to marry Friederike. She would never marry and lived after the death of her parents with her sister Salomea and Weyland. She died in 1813, 59 years of age and a short time after Goethe had published his warm-hearted memories of her. Due to the European war at the time, she escaped attention but shortly afterwards people started to come and visit her grave on a pilgrimage. It is somewhat strange that “von Goethe” (enobled by the Grand-Duke) who thought Friederike a little bit too unsophisticated took up shop with a working class girl in 1790 who gave him a son and whom he would marry 16 years later.

The reaction in academic Germany when it became known that Lehár would compose an operetta on this topic was one of horror. Official Germany had never liked the many operas composed on themes by Goethe. Gounod’s Faust immediately got changed into “Margarethe” as it was considered a blasphemy to the original poem (Provincial theatres which perform in German still use that title). Mignon was considered sentimental nonsense, which had nothing to do in reality with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. Of course, like elsewhere, the opera-loving world and the singers couldn’t care less and loved those operas so much that at a certain moment the Vienna Opera was called the “Faustspielhaus”.

Still this wasn’t on the ocean deep level of having Germany’s greatest poet singing love songs on the scene. And that young Goethe himself had written some sentimental “Singspiele” in his youth was unimportant. Lehár and Löhner didn’t let them be deterred by this adverse criticism which was often inspired by the main German Lehár-hater, Richard Strauss who was almost insanely jealous of Lehár’s (financial) success. The Singspiel (Lehár never called it an operetta) had its successful première in October 1928 and became a staple of the German operetta theatre in the decades that followed, though from 1933 till 1945 the name of the librettist was no longer printed in the theatre programme.

In the seventies, Friederike gradually disappeared from the repertoire as did most operettas; a real loss as it is a masterpiece. For the moment there are some selections available and one complete recording on EMI with Austrian (actually Italian, as Italy was allowed to conquer a piece of purely Austrian land) tenor Adolf Dallapozza and Texas soprano Helen Donath as Goethe and Friederike. The 1981 recording is a very good one.

Yes, I love Friederike and if I had to take one Lehár show to the legendary desert island that would be the one. That is not to say it is perfect as there are three flaws in it. The first one is of course Löhner’s doing: the reality of Goethe tiring of his love and leaving without a word or even a small letter probably suits our jaded cynical time far better than the flirting nonsense Löhner concocted. But the public of the twenties and thirties wouldn’t have accepted such callous behaviour from the hero and loved that kind of sacrifice by the poor heroine. The second flaw is Lehár’s. He purposely did away with some of the clichés of operetta. There is no second couple that takes care of our comic relief and has some pop melodies to sing in contrast to the more operatic fare of the tenor and soprano. But even here Lehár cannot do without the obligatory short third act where nothing of musical substance happens. And the third flaw is nobody’s fault. The first Goethe was Richard Tauber (“I don’t sing operetta, I sing Lehár”) and he often co-composed his arias together with the man he called his brother without the blood tie. They are so well-tailored to Tauber’s voice and the tenor himself was such a giant of belcanto that it is almost impossible to follow in his tracks. Some of these melodies are so etched in our memory with Tauber’s voice that even the best of his successors sound a little bit out of place when they try to sing Friederike.

Still there is almost an embarrassment of melodic ideas in the score. In the first act there is the wonderful first aria of Friederike (“Gott gab einen schönen Tag” (God gave a beautiful day)) celebrating springtime. Then the students enter and with them the real Goethe as they sing his poem “Mit Mädchen sich vertragen” (Meeting girls), already composed by Van Beethoven, though less lustily. Then the theatre Goethe makes his appearance as by that time the original public was probably already clamouring for Richard Tauber. He too has a fine and inspired slow waltz to sing “O so schön, wie wunderschön” (Ah, how beautiful), which is an ode to nature and the idyllic surroundings of Sesenheim (Werther’s entrance aria “O nature” in Massenet’s opera tells the same story).

Then there is a short love duet between tenor and soprano inspired by another of the great German’s poems. But the great challenge for Lehár was the composition, word for word, of the famous Goethe-poem Heideröslein. Every educated German knew by heart the famous rendition of Franz Schubert. But Lehár succeeds triumphantly in finding authentic melodic inspiration which can easily compete with Schubert’s. It is no co-incidence that this second aria for Tauber was picked up for recording by other tenors as well. After some introductory music it is time for the big moment in every second act of Lehár’s later output: the Tauberlied (the famous “You are my heart’s delight”) often composed in narrow collaboration with the tenor himself. This “O mädchen, my mädchen” (Oh maiden, my maiden) is one of Lehár’s very best: an unforgettable memorable tune in 6/8 without any cheap tricks and the leitmotiv of the work. Tauber’s famous record is unsurpassed; but the melody is so irresistible that many a great tenor (Konya, Wunderlich among others) have recorded it and failed honourably. Moreover the text is derived from an authentic love song for Friederike Brion: the sixth strophe of Goethe’s “Mailied” (Maysong). But the soprano has her big moment, too, with the magnificent (operatic) aria “Warum hast du mich wachgeküsst” (Why did you kiss me awake). Of the many recordings none can compare in beauty and passion with Lucia Popp’s 1988 version. The lover’s quarrel starts with a broken E-major chord and the duet goes over in yet another Tauber aria “Liebe seliger traum” (Love, wonderful dream) that ends in despair with “Oh! Geh nicht von mir” (Don’t leave me).

The third act has a short solo for Friederike, a lovely duet between Lenz and Salomea and a few sentences by Goethe. I’ve always regretted that Lehár didn’t keep that moving second tenor aria in the second act for the final of Friederike. Now the piece ends with a violin slowly repeating “O Mädchen, mein Mädchen” before the curtain falls on a fortissimo chord in C-major.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Posted by Gary at 10:01 AM

Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner — Cadogan Hall, London

bach_small.jpgGeorge Hall [The Guardian, 20 December 2005]

It's not often one has the chance to hear a new work by Bach, but the centrepiece of this programme by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists under John Eliot Gardiner was the UK premiere of a much-heralded recent discovery. In May, researcher Michael Maul came across a short unknown aria in the composer's hand in a Weimar archive. It sets a poem celebrating the 52nd birthday in 1713 of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Bach's then employer. The text alludes to the Duke's motto, "All things with God, and naught without him," which forms the title of the piece. Cut down from the original 12 stanzas to a more manageable three, this minor work nevertheless proved a charmer; melodically graceful and expertly crafted. Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas sang it with flawless tone and perfect diction.

Posted by Gary at 9:18 AM

God Is in the Music

Christmas_Tree_Creche.jpgBy FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun 20 December 2005]

One of the many unsolicited press releases that I received this month reassured me that although their client's concert had the word "Christmas" in its title, the event itself was completely devoid of religious content and therefore suitable for the entire family. This missive was quickly filed where it belonged,but piqued my thirst for a good, old-fashioned Christmas concert combining the sacred and the festive. On Sunday night, at the Metropolitan Museum, that particular itch was scratched.

Posted by Gary at 9:11 AM

Acoustics first, then architecture

1miejsce.jpgBy George Loomis [Financial Times, 20 December 2005]

The city of Wroclaw has had several names in its 1,000-year existence and the current one helps disguise its past. When the borders of Poland were shifted westwards at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 the German city of Breslau ceased to exist. Much was already gone, thanks to Hitler and the Red Army. As a final gesture, the city was entirely repopulated. What was left of its German population was expelled, and residents of the Polish city of Lvov, which ended up in Ukraine, were ordered to move to Wroclaw.

Posted by Gary at 9:02 AM

How's That Again? An Echoing Refrain

Acoust.jpgBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 20 December 2005]

Echo is the musical gift that keeps on giving, sometimes longer than you wish it did. We get a lot of echo this time of year. Christmas music belongs in churches, and the big ones are bighearted enough to make sure we hear a single performance not once but a number of times in quick succession.

In the space of a second, light moves 186,000 miles. In the meantime, sound has limped about, say, 1,100 feet. Think of fireworks in the distance. We see them; the sound arrives later. Creating music indoors is like throwing a number of balls around a four-sided handball court and waiting for them to come back to you. If the balls are of different sizes and thrown at different speeds, your ears, so to speak, will have their hands full.

Posted by Gary at 8:51 AM

December 19, 2005

Voices of doom at the Coliseum

Anthony Holden [The Guardian, 18 December 2005]

The year ended with English National Opera back in turmoil, as the abrupt departure of its artistic director and chief executive, Sean Doran, led to calls for that of its chairman, Martin Smith. Despite box-office successes with Jude Kelly's On The Town and Anthony Minghella's Madam Butterfly, and a fine Clemenza di Tito from David McVicar, ENO has never settled back into artistic self-confidence since Smith fired the country's most reliable man-about-opera, Nicholas Payne, in 2002. As it prepares for further strife over sur-titles above opera in English, amid huge financial problems and staff muttering, the company's future must now be declared uncertain.

Posted by Gary at 9:04 PM

December 18, 2005

WAGNER, S.: Der Heidenkönig

No wonder, then, that Siegfried Wagner first decided on a career in architecture. Had he stuck with that resolve, he would likely have gotten a lot more professional respect than he did as a composer. Yet seventy-five years after the death of the junior Wagner, more and more of his operas are making their way into the catalogue—most recently his 1914 opus Der Heidenkönig (The Heathen King), a work that never made it to the stage during its composer’s lifetime.

Listening to Siegfried Wagner’s music, it isn’t hard to understand both phenomena: the lack of respect, and the growing interest. Of course it is unfair to compare Siegfried’s operas to Richard’s—as unfair as it is inevitable. There is much pleasure to be found in Der Heidenkönig. The younger Wagner, who studied with Engelbert Humperdinck, was clearly a well trained and sophisticated composer, despite an approach which must have been considered old fashioned for a composer born midway between Richard Strauss and Arnold Schönberg.

The opera’s musical texture is filled with many delightful details, both harmonic and orchestral. That being said, and despite the clear influence of father upon son, the music only very intermittently reminds one of Richard Wagner’s titanic music dramas. It is rather closer in spirit to the work of his teacher Humperdinck, though perhaps less melodically inspired. Missing from Heidenkönig are so many of the things we expect from a “Wagner opera”—the big musical ideas, the vast philosophical pretensions, the almost careless confidence in his own genius.

Richard Wagner’s operas rarely contain a great deal of action or incident, but rather move in a deliberate manner though the mental and spiritual states of their protagonists. Der Heidenkönig, based not on mythology, but rather on a rather strange and complex episode in central European history, is jam packed with plot detail. It concerns the resistance of the Wends (a slavic tribe that lived in Prussia) to forced Christianization at the hands of the Poles.

The hero of the story is Radomar, whom the Wends have chosen to be secretly crowned their new king (the “Heathen King” of the title). But both a Christian monk and Radomar’s wife Ellida warn him not to accept the crown, which she dreams is poisoned. Ellida had once been unfaithful to Radomar, and, as the story progresses, the Polish general Jaroslav blackmails her into betraying Radomar once again, both sexually, and by revealing the plans for the secret coronation. But in the end, in a page out of the Wagner family playbook, she sacrifices her life to redeem her love.

Overall, Christianity is presented as triumphant, as the traditionalist Wends are portrayed as lying schemers, who perpetuate belief in their gods through trickery. But the Christian Poles are hardly whitewashed either, as Jaroslav’s blackmail of Ellida demonstrates. The noble Radomar and his love Ellida stand between the two camps.

Sadly, it is very difficult to wholly judge Der Heidenkönig as drama, because Marco Polo has not included the libretto in its booklet. This is especially unfortunate, as I could find no evidence that the libretto is available elsewhere—at least in translation. Perhaps a better introduction for those curious about Siegfried Wagner’s operas would be Die heilige Linde on the wonderful CPO label, which makes a practice of including translated libretti in their operatic releases.

Both sets share the wonderful soprano Dagmar Schellenberger, who here sings the role of Ellida. I was not familiar with most of the other singers, such as tenor Thorsten Scharnke as the Radomar and baritone Adam Kruzel as Jaroslav. All aquit themselves satisfactorily. Hiroshi Kodama leads the Solingen-Remscheid Symphony Orchestra with conviction.

For fans of Siegfried Wagner, Der Heidenkönig will be a welcome and worthy addition to the growing list of the composer’s available titles. For others, who don’t know the music of the junior Wagner, they may find considerable enjoyment in this set, provided they approach it without the expectations generated by that famous surname.

Eric D. Anderson

image_description=Siegfried Wagner, Der Heidenkonig (The Heathen King)

product_title=Siegfried Wagner, Der Heidenkonig (The Heathen King)
product_by=Andres Heichlinger, Mechthild Georg, Thorsteen Scharnke, Dagmar Schellenberger, Rebecca Broberg, Volker Horn, Andre Wenhold, Karl Schneider, Adam Kruzel, Joachim Hochbauer, Beate Maria Muller, Achim Hoffmann, Christine Maier, Philipp Hoferichter, Solingen-Remscheid Symphony Orchestra, Hiroshi Kodama (cond.).
product_id=Marco Polo 8.225301-03 [3CDs]

Posted by Gary at 8:07 PM

The legendary Magda Olivero

OK, let’s call a spade a spade. Some 15 years ago I produced a TV-show for Flanders and the Netherlands on the decline of Italian singing and I asked a mutual friend who knew Tebaldi and Olivero very well to ask for their cooperation. Both ladies agreed to receive me a few weeks before shooting would start but my friend warned me that making an exact appointment would be difficult as Tebaldi was not one to be pinpointed on a date. So I started calling the great prima-donna and of course got her assistant Tina who kindly asked me to phone back tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, next week etc. till La Signora had made up her mind. At last we agreed I should come to Italy and try from there and Tina was sure La Signora would receive me.

So I went because by that time I was sure this would not be a journey for nothing as I had also placed a call to La Olivero. I had stated my business to her assistant and within a minute Olivero herself took the call, looked at her agenda and gave me a date and an hour at her apartment. On the exact date and hour I arrived and she herself opened the door. She offered a drink and as she was a little (really only a little) shaky I wanted to pour out myself a cup of tea. I’ll never forget Olivero charmingly taking my hand and friendly but firmly saying: “So sorry but it is my duty and honour to serve you!” Of course she always was a member of the rich bourgeoisie. (Yes, I finally succeeded in meeting Tebaldi as well).

Now to the record. The title gives the impression that here we’ve got all of Olivero’s official solo-records but this isn’t so and it’s a pity the firm didn’t produce a second CD with the lacking titles (the Cherry duet with Tagliavini; Amami Alfredo from Traviata; Amor, celeste ebrezza from Loreley; Panteismo and Triste est la steppe). That would have been short value but they could re-issue as well her only solo LP-album with songs of Faith and Devotion from 1970.

Of course we are not lacking in Olivero-issues as she herself said to me “I’m the queen of pirate recordings” (Leyla Gencer makes the same claim) and proudly showed a recent issue of her Mefistofele from Rio with Siepi and Labo which a fan had sent her for approval. Still not all of these many recordings were produced in excellent conditions and sometimes the sound picture is not a thing of beauty. I’m sorry to report that the sound on this CD is not always pristine as well. Two items were run through an echo chamber for I don’t know what reasons and the producers definitely didn’t use the original matrixes or tapes but used some less than mint 78’s as from time to time a small crackle pops up.

Now what can be said of the actual singing that has not been already said so many times before? Olivero is something of an acquired taste and she succeeds with means that could be called limited. The voice was not big but immensely well projected. It has an obtrusive vibrato, somewhat more in the pre- than in the post-war-recordings. Now for vibrato lovers like me that is a plus but in the Anglo-Saxon world that didn’t help her career. A score is not a sacrosanct object to revere but a means to construe a character and, if for that aim note values have to be lengthened or shortened, so be it. Sighs, sobs and growls are fine as long as it helps to define the heroine’s problems, though there are no such weird sounds to be found on these records that can compete with a lot of her live recordings where she pulls out all stops. And of course she is the queen too of the “fil de voce”, spinning out a phrase eternally to an almost whisper before swelling the tone once again to a forte. Everything is so exaggerated, so blown up that once more camp becomes pure art.

During my re-listening for the n-th time to these recordings I especially concentrated on the difference between her 1940 and her 1953 recordings and there is almost none. As is well-known, she didn’t sing in opera between 1941 and 1951 (desperately trying to get children) though she often performed in concerts and there is not the slightest wear. The only difference seems to be in the style where the sobs are more obtrusive, preparing the ground for her triumphs of the late fifties and sixties. In short Olivero’s solo-arias are a must in every vocal buffs collection. And by the way, in her big Traviata scene she is assisted by a nice tenor whose name is never mentioned on any re-issue. He is the completely forgotten Muzio Giovagnoli.

Jan Neckers

image_description=The legendary Magda Olivero

product_title=The legendary Magda Olivero
product_by=Magda Olivero, soprano
product_id=IDIS 6474 [CD]
price=€ 12.00

Posted by Gary at 10:41 AM


That didn’t happen, perhaps, if one may dare to assume, because Nicholas and Alexandra received such scathing reviews. But a DVD has appeared with the central characters of the czar, czarina, and the Mad Monk, in an opera that premiered at almost exactly the same time as the Dratell work. Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Rasputin, performed at the Finnish National Opera, doesn’t have to be compared to the woe-begotten Nicholas and Alexandra to merit praise. The DVD captures an intense, riveting evening of dramatic musical theater and a performance by Matti Salminen in the lead role that manages to capture all the seedy charisma and ecstatic lechery of this fascinating figure. If opera-lovers sadly cannot expect a world-tour of this great artist performing in a fine opera written with him in mind, they must at least obtain the DVD and settle in to experience Salminen’s brilliant work in a operatic stage work of genuine achievement.

The opera only covers Rasputin’s life from the time he entered the life of Russian royal family as they desperately sought relief for their hemophiliac son. He is seen as a dangerous influence by the established order, represented in the opera by two men seeking to marry the czar’s daughter Irina — Dimitri and Felix, whose rivalry is muted by the fact of their own homosexual relationship. As Rasputin’s influence grows, desperation sets in, and finally the Monk’s enemies can find no other option than to poison, stab, and shoot him to death. The conflagration to come reveals itself in a dream of the czar’s, as flames fill the stage.

Rautavaara’s opera, therefore, takes its place in the Faustian tradition as an innovative portrait of a malevolent but charismatic figure and the havoc he wreaks in a society of false piety. And like Mephistopheles, Rasputin makes for a great role for a deep, resonant voice (Domingo’s in the Dratell work was, of course, set higher — if not in true tenor range).

Salminen revels in the both the role’s musical challenges and the character’s schizophrenic nature. For like all truly great characters, Rasputin isn’t faking either his religious ecstasy or degrading himself with his libidinous rampages — they are integral parts of his Falstaffian nature, the ying and yang of a life force beyond understanding or control. The character’s first set piece – a long, dark meditation translated as Evil will sink in the water — quickly establishes Rasputin’s ominously attractive personality, and Rautavaara’s music, while not conventionally melodic, makes for a trance-inducing lullaby, and the audience falls under the Monk’s spell just as the Czarina and her ailing son do.

Like the best opera composers, Rautavaara sees to it that all the major roles get their time in the limelight. Lilli Paasikivi’s czarina begins the opera with a desperate plea for someone to save her son’s life, recalling in its minor key drama Butterfly’s final aria to her “piccolo iddio.” Jorma Hynninen’s Nicholas comes across as a weak man but a loving father, concerned that his daughter Irina might be about to marry one of two very wrong men, while allowing his wife to have her way in terms of Rasputin’s growing influence. Jyrki Anttila (Felix) and Gabriel Suovanen (Dimitri) both exude proper amounts of elegant sleaze as lovers who see Irina as a ticket to power, and Rasputin as the greatest threat to their ambition.

In three acts, the opera runs about 2 and half hours, so with two intermissions probably required, it would be a substantial, and probably expensive, proposition to stage. But this original production has much to recommend it, as smoothly moving walls slide into formulations to quickly signify shifting locations, and the lighting and costuming are of consistently high standards. Hannu Lindholm designed the production and Vilppu Kiljunen directed.

The production of new operas seems to be increasing, which, while healthy by most any measure, also means that some good works can be swept away by the next tide of newer works. Opera houses the world over would do very well to check out this Ondine release and realize that here is a new opera of potent drama and searing musicality, and if Matti Salminen is available, what more could be wanted? Anyone without the patience — formidable, indeed — to await that development should acquire this Ondine DVD soon.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928): Rasputin, Opera in Three Acts

product_title=Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928): Rasputin, Opera in Three Acts
product_by=Matti Salminen, Lilli Paasikivi, Jorma Hynninen, Jyrki Anttila, Jyrki Korhonen, Riikka Rantanen, Gabriel Suovanen, Lassi Virtanen, Sauli Tiilikainen, Aki Alamikkotervo, Jaakko Hietikko, Finnish National Opera Orchestra, Finnish National Opera Chorus, Mikko Franck (cond.)
product_id=Ondine ODV 4003 NTSC [DVD]
price=33.00 €

Posted by Gary at 10:06 AM

Making waves as the tide goes out at Scottish Opera

hokusai_wave_1.jpgSARAH JONES [Scotland on Sunday, 18 December 2005]

THIS year was not for those with a nervous disposition, particularly if you like opera. Indeed, the tide of names washing in and out of the Scottish classical scene was enough to make even those used to arts-world shenanigans feel a little sea-sick.

Posted by Gary at 9:43 AM

Katarina Karneus — Wigmore Hall, London

kkarneus_small.jpg(Photo: Robert Walker)
Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 17 December 2005]

A few winners of the Cardiff Singer of the World competition have shot to stardom, but most have built their careers more steadily - including the Swedish mezzo Katarina Karneus, who took home the trophy a decade ago. This recital was one of Radio 3's lunchtime series, broadcast live, in which one often finds the more interesting up-and-coming singers in the Wigmore Hall's calendar. In the case of a singer as accomplished as Karneus, currently making an impression as ENO's Xerxes, it is perhaps a surprise that she hasn't already become more of an evening fixture at this venue. At the same time, there was a feeling of restraint, even nervousness, to her performance that made one wonder if, at the moment, she might feel more at home on the operatic stage.

Posted by Gary at 9:35 AM

Push to Rescue Met Recordings

microphone.gifBy DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 16 December 2005]

In a Metropolitan Opera House studio jumbled with tapes and 16-inch lacquer discs one day last week, nine of the most famous high C's ever sung shot out from the throat of Luciano Pavarotti. It was the recording of a live, broadcast performance of Donizetti's "Fille du Régiment," at the Met on Jan. 6, 1973.

Posted by Gary at 9:30 AM

December 16, 2005

Irresistibly moving — Billy Budd, Coliseum

KeenlysideBBA.jpg[The Spectator, 17 December 2005]

English National Opera’s production of Billy Budd originated in Wales seven years ago, and is also shared with Opera Australia. Neil Armfield is the producer, and the set design is by Brian Thomson. It is an hydraulic platform, which in Cardiff occupied the whole stage, but at the Coliseum leaves a lot of surrounding space unused, and induces less claustrophobia in the audience, though it could well, in its restless heaving, cause motion sickness.

Posted by Gary at 2:48 PM

BOITO: Mefistofele

First performance: 5 March 1868 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan (second version: 4 October 1875 at Teatro Comunale, Bologna)

Principal Characters
Mefistofele Bass
Faust Tenor
Margherita Soprano
Marta Alto
Wagner Tenor
Elena Soprano
Pantalis Alto
Nereo Tenor


In Heaven Mefistofele offers God a wager: he says that he can succeed in seducing the learned Faust onto the paths of evil and that he will gain possession of his soul. God accepts.

Act I

Mefistofele travels to Frankfurt disguised as a Franciscan monk. He enters Faust’s study and convinces him to sign a contract.

Act II

Mefistofele and Faust are in a garden with Margherita and Marta, her neighbour. Faust converses with Margherita and seduces her. To prevent their being disturbed, he gives Margherita a powerful sleeping-draught for her mother. Mefistofele and Faust travel to a witches’ sabbath on a mountain top. Faust beholds a vision of Margherita, pale as death with a blood-red rope around her neck. He hears Mefistofele's curse upon the world.


Margherita is in prison awaiting her execution. She has been accused of having killed her child and poisoned her mother. Faust attempts to convince her to flee with him, but she refuses. She recognises Mefistofele as the devil and prays for forgiveness. Choirs of angels announce the salvation of her soul.

Act IV

On the banks of the Peneios in ancient Greece, young girls perform a dance in honour of the full moon. Helen of Troy and her companion Pantalis lament the fate of Troy. Mefistofele and Faust appear. Faust professes his love for Helen and they withdraw to a cave.


Faust sits in his study in Frankfurt. He has grown old and thinks back upon all he has experienced. He realises that his life has been mere vanity. He dies with the Bible in his hand, without giving in to the last temptations sent by Mefistofele. Faust is welcomed by the angelic host into Heaven.

Click here for the complete libretto. image= image_description=Boris Christoff as Mefistofele audio=yes first_audio_name=Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele first_audio_link= product=yes product_title=Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele product_by=Boris Christoff, Giacinto Prandelli, Orietta Moscucci, Amalia Pini, Piero de Palma, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, Vittorio Gui (cond.). Recorded in London, 1955. (Version with Act IV omitted.)
Posted by Gary at 12:56 PM

Pick of 2005: Opera

GC_Glyndebourne.jpg(Photo: Mike Hoban)
By Ian Irvine [New Statesman, 19 December 2005]

Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne (and at the Proms)

A star was born. David McVicar's enormously enjoyable production of Handel's showpiece (set in an imperial imagerie d'Epinal version of Egypt) was distinguished by the British debut of the beautiful young Australian soprano Danielle de Niese. Not only did her voice easily surpass the rigorous requirements of the role of Cleopatra, but she gave, in Kenneth Tynan's term, a high-definition performance - sexy, witty, compelling - at a level rarely seen on an opera stage. The outstanding cast also featured Sarah Connolly as Caesar and a harrowing Angelika Kirchschlager as Sesto. Praise God, it's being revived next summer, when a DVD will also appear.

Posted by Gary at 10:42 AM

Met Opera Slashing Budget

Old_Met_small.jpgBy RONALD BLUM [Associated Press, 15 December 2005]

NEW YORK (AP) -- The latest tune at the Metropolitan Opera is the box-office blues.

Because of a slump in ticket sales, Met general manager Joseph Volpe wants to cut operating expenses for the company's current fiscal year by 5 percent.

Posted by Gary at 9:48 AM

Singer's perfect storm — Soprano Dawn Upshaw's sense of adventure draws her to 'El Nino'

By David Mermelstein [LA Daily News, 16 December 2005]

It's been some time since Schoenberg's scowling mien or Boulez's hard gaze represented the face of new music. The standard-bearers today have softer countenances, like John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Simon Rattle. Yet even they fall short of warm and fuzzy.

Posted by Gary at 9:39 AM

Bryn Terfel — Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Rian Evans [The Guardian, 16 December 2005]

Not everyone who came to Cardiff last weekend was searching for Oasis. A couple of thousand were making the pilgrimage to see Bryn Terfel - and for them Christmas arrived early.

Posted by Gary at 9:34 AM

Singing A to Z on the cusp of stardom

diDonato_small.jpg(PHOTO: David Michaud)
By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 16 December 2005]

Wherever Joyce DiDonato makes a debut she creeps in at the back door and leaves by the front. "And when I get invited back," she says, "I come in the front door to a great welcome."

Posted by Gary at 7:59 AM

December 15, 2005

Malena Ernman, Simon Rattle and OAE at the Barbican — Three Reviews

OAE/Rattle/Ernman — Barbican, London
Tom Service [The Guardian, 13 December 2005]

It was billed as the chance to hear the doyen of British conductors in musical harmony with his new partner: classical music's glamour couple Simon Rattle and mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, in concert with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. But anybody wanting to sample the musical chemistry between these two icons of the classical scene would have been disappointed. Kozena had to pull out, to be replaced by the Swedish mezzo, Malena Ernman.

Click here for remainder of article.

OAE/Rattle/Malena Ernman, Barbican, London
By Robert Maycock [The Independent, 13 December 2005]

Deputising as half of classical music's charmed couple has to be the one-night chance of a lifetime. When Magdalena Kozena sent in a sick note the day before her concert with Sir Simon Rattle, the window of opportunity opened for the Swedish mezzo Malena Ernman. She made her mark at Glyndebourne two seasons ago, the same year as Kozena. Most of the audience were initially busy being disappointed at the no-show, but it was clear that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment had warmed to her, and by the end everybody knew why.

Click here for remainder of article.

Geoff Brown at the Barbican [Times Online, 13 December 2005]

Simon Rattle conducting Mozart and Haydn with the Czech wonder and light of his life, Magdalena Kozená: Friday’s Great Performers concert at the Barbican was a dream ticket for music lovers and gossips alike.

But life isn’t like vintage Hollywood, and dreams don’t always come true; Kozená fell ill, and at barely more than a day’s notice the young and lively Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman bravely agreed to stand in her place, with a rejigged programme.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Malena Ernman

Posted by Gary at 11:10 AM

Christmas surprise

By Kevin Shopland [The Budapest Sun, 15 December 2005]

THE Palace of Arts has been host to two brilliant concerts recently, one by Les Arts Florissants on Dec 7, the other by the Budapest Festival Orchestra on Nov 25.

The French period-instruments orchestra and chorus Les Arts Florissants, led by American conductor William Christie (pictured), gave a semi-staged performance of Rameau's opera Les Paladins. Though the audience was comparatively small (I guess Rameau will never draw in the crowds the way Beethoven does), it ate up the perfect enactment of this wonderfully charming work, leaving off its enthusiastic cheering only when the orchestra finally walked off stage after numerous curtain calls by the soloists.

Posted by Gary at 8:48 AM

Sensitive autocrat in a season of content

John Carmody [The Australian, 16 December 2005]

THE young woman at the ticket office of Hamburg State Opera in northern Germany has no mixed feelings about the new music director. "We all love Frau Young," she says, handing over the tickets.

When this is mentioned to Simone Young a few days later, the conductor giggles, and adds with a dash of Australian irony: "I should hope so. I'm her boss."

Posted by Gary at 8:34 AM

The Dream of Gerontius — Barbican, London

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 15 December 2005]

For many, Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius represents the pinnacle of the late Victorian choral tradition. The composer's contemporaries, however, saw it somewhat differently. The overtly Catholic subject matter caused disquiet in Protestant establishment circles, while Elgar's style was deemed overly Wagnerian. At the time of the work's premiere some considered it to be a natural successor to Parsifal, and consequently dangerous and inherently modernistic.

Posted by Gary at 8:13 AM

Rigoletto at the Met — Three Reviews

The local censors took great exception to “the disgusting immorality and obscene triviality” of the plot and to the depiction of the hunchback Rigoletto. But Verdi refused to make the changes they demanded, and the opera (including “Caro nome” and “La donna e mobile”) has remained firmly at the top of the list of popular operas since then – not just with audiences, but even more so with the greatest singers. [Source: The Metropolitan Opera]

A Glamorous Twosome Fills an Opera House

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 12 December 2005]

Like the behemoth it is, the Metropolitan Opera moves slowly. Because seasons are planned years in advance, it finds it hard to accommodate sudden phenomena in the opera world, like the vocal partnership of Anna Netrebko, the gorgeous and immensely gifted Russian coloratura soprano, and Rolando Villazón, the dashing and ardent Mexican tenor.

Click here for remainder of article.

An Uneven Night for the Hottest Singers in Opera

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 12 December 2005]

If you'll pardon the celebrity-world language, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon are probably the hottest singers in opera.They appeared in Verdi's "Rigoletto" at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday night. She is a Russian soprano, and he is a Mexican tenor.They are paired together in opera houses around the world, in such operas as "Romeo et Juliette" (Gounod) and "La Traviata" (Verdi again). Last summer at the Salzburg Festival, they sang in this latter opera, and caused a sensation. They were virtually the talk of the Continent.

Click here for remainder of article.

Verdi's 'unending string' breaks at the Met
BY MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG [Newsday, 14 December 2005]

Verdi left behind little commentary on his operas, content to let his work speak for itself. In the case of "Rigoletto," though, he was explicit, saying that he conceived the opera as "an unending string of duets."

Click here for remainder of article.


Posted by Gary at 8:02 AM

December 14, 2005

Sherrill Milnes - An All Star Gala

Producer: You know we have Burt Lancaster as a host? What set are we going to use?

Director: Censure just gave a movie free that is called Carrousel. Typically American. Wasn’t Lancaster an acrobat?

Producer: Yeah and a carrousel somewhat resembles a circus! And we can put him and a few of the artists on the wooden horses and we can build a small stage next to it to use for Pagliacci.

Director: Fine. Have you already written the script?

Producer: Well, there’s a snatch. Lancaster is rather expensive and we can have him only for a day. There are a lot of fragments to be introduced and his memory is not what it used to be.

Director: You know? In the West they have autocue-machines

Producer: Yeah, but we don’t. You know what we can do. We give Lancaster his cues for a few presentations and we ask him to make a general statement which we can insert everywhere. And when he’s tired or has gone we can always ask Sherill to introduce an aria himself. And I’ve heard from my Flemish colleague Jan Neckers who once produced a Domingo-special that the tenor presented himself on camera for him in Dutch. And that took Domingo 5 minutes to learn. And here he can do it in English if Lancaster is gone.

Director: OK with me. By the way, did you get that call from the Stasi?

Producer: Yeah; they want an East-German artist to perform as well, preferably in those fine sets we all admired in Esther Williams-movies. And it seems the singer has to be Peter Schreier. Well, Sherill told me he has no German roles in his repertoire but he is willing to conduct that Wunderlich-surrogate and we can use some old footage from Sherill beating a stick for a few seconds. What do you think?

Director: Wunderbar!

OK friends? That’s enough fun for now but this gives you a fair idea what to expect. I’d like to add that the whole show is dubbed but the artists all know their job and they do it rather well though every opera lover knows that no singer can open his mouth as aesthetically correct as they do here when they go for a strenuous high note. During the show I had one moment that had me really looking up: the duet from Don Carlos (truncated) with Domingo. The sounds the Spanish tenor uttered didn’t belong to him anymore in 1985 and as there is no line in the accompanying booklet telling you who was the conductor I had to wait for the credits. And look and behold next to some East-German luminaries there stood the name of Anton Guadagno proving that the two gentlemen play-acted their recording from 14 years earlier. The rest of the show was clearly recorded for the show and there are some minuses and plusses. Milnes always was a controversial artist, even at the Met. A lot of opera fans thought the voice somewhat unexceptional without an abundance of colour in it though he had a formidable almost tenor top which sat somewhat loosely on the rest of the voice. Moreover, opera stars are often becoming a small household word in the wider world the moment their salad days in the opera house are gone but this is the time television finally picks up and we have to be glad with what we get. And this is surely the case here. In Pagliacci Milnes is chopping up the line, not singing really fluently though proving he can act believably.

Almost worth the purchase of the DVD is the duet from La Traviata (however not including the cabaletta) with Mirella Freni. The soprano (50 at the time) not only looks half her age but sounds half that age as well. She has brilliantly mastered the role in all its nuances and the voice has broadened without losing its magnificent silvery shine. She made a fine TV-recording in 1973 with Bonisolli but she is even better here, vocally and as a convincing actress. Milnes is not on a par with her. The voice has not much weight in the lower register and the sound in the middle register, never his biggest asset, is simply not rich and broad enough to compete with Freni. The baritone was never known as a lieder singer and purists will shrink when they hear him singing a Brahms-song in a kind of language that shows some relationship with German. Yet, it reminds me of Carlo Bergonzi singing a Beethoven and a Schumann lied. You smile when you hear the atrocious German coming from those mouths but after some seconds you are resigned and you just concentrate on the big and beautiful sounds coming. I’ve got an inkling that some of those composers wouldn’t have minded major voices in the Italian repertory singing their lieder, how bad the pronunciation may be. And Milnes brings with him more than the usual heft of voice in this lied. He ends it with a very fine falsetto. Milnes does a fine Jago too as he can use his still estimable vocal means in an aria where legato is not the first requisite. The Schreier aria from Cosi in a kitschy set that ought to be seen to be believed is a strange and superfluous interlude. The best of the show is the fine duet with small but sensuously voiced Migenes in the Romberg piece. Maybe the music here too lies a little bit low for Milnes but he and Migenes sing with utter conviction and charm proving how fine this music is. A pity nobody thought of asking those two artists for a whole show of classical American operettas and musicals. As far as I know this is the only DVD figuring the American baritone in a solo recital and therefore indispensable for his fans and for those of Freni and Migenes.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Sherrill Milnes - An All Star Gala

product_title=Sherrill Milnes - An All Star Gala
product_by=Sherill Milnes, with Julia Migenes, Peter Schreier, Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo. Hosted by Burt Lancaster. Recorded in 1985.
product_id= VAI DVD 4355

Posted by Gary at 7:43 PM

Rising star may yet call the tune for Scottish Opera

Gardner_small.jpgROWENA SMITH [The Herald, 14 December 2005]

In an Edinburgh Festival memorable for its controversial performances (Arab-Israeli youth orchestras, new plays dealing with the subject of paedophilia) Scottish Opera's production of The Death of Klinghoffer led the field. The Festival's decision to give the long-overdue UK stage premiere of the opera by John Adams based on the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise liner by Palestinian terrorists, attracted a good deal of criticism from certain quarters from the moment it was announced. Further interest was generated when details of the production – the storming of the ship from the body of the theatre – were revealed, and by talk of a distinct lack of tendresse between director Anthony Neilson and what remained of Scottish Opera Chorus (now, of course, no more).

Posted by Gary at 9:03 AM

Divas and dabblers — The lesson of the crisis in English opera is that we have to overhaul how the arts are governed

Charlotte Higgins [The Guardian, 14 December 2005]

If Martin Smith, chairman of English National Opera, survives the week in his post, it will be a miracle. The opera company, once more famous for theatrical invention and fearlessness than for cock-ups, is in meltdown. The sacking of artistic director Seán Doran two weeks ago can only mean that the rumours which have been wafting out of the London Coliseum about financial troubles (despite an £11m Arts Council England bailout in 2003) are true. The council has condemned the coronation of Doran's successors - tantamount to a withdrawal of support from Smith. He, meanwhile, has self-deludingly posted a letter on the ENO website about the company's "genuine and very exciting renaissance". The words Nero, fiddling and Rome spring to mind.

Posted by Gary at 8:56 AM

Follower of the main story

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 14 December 2005]

"There is no swan," says the Australian director Barrie Kosky. That is no surprise. Kosky, at his ease in Vienna's gloomy Café Sperl, sports silver rings, numerous piercings, and dark red nail polish. At his feet sits a cocker spaniel. Neither of them looks the type to take Wagner at face value.

Posted by Gary at 8:48 AM

December 13, 2005

Stravinsky in San Francisco — Two Reviews

A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff directs Oedipus Rex, based on Sophocles's classic tragedy. It features an international cast of vocal soloists and British film, stage, and television actor Roger Rees. The magical fairy tale The Nightingale, directed by Patricia Birch, showcases an array of vocal soloists, actors, dancers, and members of the "avant-cabaret" Vau de Vire Society. Michael Tilson Thomas, one of the world's foremost interpreters of Stravinsky, leads both works. [Source: San Francisco Symphony]

Le Rossignol/Oedipus Rex, San Francisco
By Allan Ulrich [Financial Times, 13 December 2005]

Michael Tilson Thomas's annual forays into semi- staged opera have reaped revelatory results during his 11-year tenure at the San Francisco Symphony. The conductor's infrequent visits to the formal world of opera do not signify an antipathy to lyric theatre, but confirm his unfashionable belief that, in this collaborative venture, the music must nevertheless take priority over mise-en-scène.

Click here for remainder of article.

Stagings draw out Stravinsky's theatrical verve
Joshua Kosman [SF Chronicle, 10 December 2005]

Stravinsky's music all sounds different, and it all sounds fundamentally alike.

The two stage works that Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony undertook for Thursday's fascinating program in Davies Symphony Hall -- the shimmery fairy tale "The Nightingale" and the starkly neoclassical "Oedipus Rex" -- encompass wide leaps in style. Yet there's no mistaking the guiding sensibility at work behind every measure.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Set of The Nightingale (San Francisco Symphony)

Posted by Gary at 9:35 AM

A Song Cycle With Bells On

pregardien2_small.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 13 December 2005]

There are four distinct types of song recitals. The most popular are those mounted by opera singers, who are often woefully untrained to sing lieder; the song portion of the evening tends to be short at these events, and everyone waits for the encores, which will consist of opera highlights. Recitals can also be crazyquilts of individual songs with little rhyme or reason to their juxtapositioning. Then, of course, there are the programs wherein an actual lieder singer comes to perform. And then there are presentations of a much more substantial menu that impresses with a unified structure designed by its composer: the song cycle.

Posted by Gary at 9:29 AM

An Intrepid Tenor Faces Un-Schubertian Obstacles

pregardien_small.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times 13 December 2005]

Ideally, Schubert's "Winterreise" should be performed without a break. The 24 songs in this 70-minute cycle trace the harrowing narrative of a young man, delirious with anguish over a lost love as he wanders amid winter weather in the outskirts of the village where the woman who rejected him lives.

Posted by Gary at 9:21 AM

Sir John's passion

[The Guardian, 12 December 2005]

John Eliot Gardiner, one of the world's foremost interpreters of Bach, tells Alan Rusbridger why he embarked on a 'pilgrimage' to record every one of the composer's 200 cantatas

There is a famous painting of Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann which graces the front cover of Christoph Wolff's recent biography. Bach is portrayed displaying an extremely complex piece of contrapuntal writing. It is a portrait of a master at the height of his craft - self-confident, even a bit arrogant.

Posted by Gary at 9:11 AM

December 12, 2005

GAY: The Beggar’s Opera

Thus, there is little surprise in his taking on a modern realization of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, an undertaking that, as Philip Brett observed, “signifies the culmination of a process of self-conscious rapprochement with history and national identity, part of what Britten thought necessary, as a newly connected and ‘located’ artist, to fulfill his role.” Certainly The Beggar’s Opera claims a special place in the English musical legacy. First performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in January, 1728, its satirical volley aimed at Walpole’s administration, the aristocracy, and the Italian opera struck a responsive chord in London audiences—audiences that could have seen it performed an impressive sixty-two times during its first year alone! And London audiences would find it performed annually throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century. The best-known “ballad opera,” The Beggar’s Opera combines spoken dialogue and popular tunes drawn from English ballads, Irish, Scottish, and French airs, and melodies from composers like Purcell, Handel, and Bononcini, all intertwined in a tale of “low life.”

The musical content was originally skeletal—melodies with bass lines devised by Johann Pepusch. Britten’s realization gives the tunes a content-rich accompaniment, employing harmonies, effects, and inflections far-removed from the eighteenth century. Pepusch is left behind here, and what emerges is not a dressed-up neo-classicism—Pepusch with modern spice—but rather a fresh re-imaging of the melodies’ harmonic and dramatic propensities.

Britten created his Beggar’s Opera for performances by the English Opera Group in 1948, the year after its founding by Britten, the artist, John Piper, and librettist-director, Eric Crozier. This present CD offers a digitalized recording made from acetates of the 1948 production. Peter Pears takes the role of Captain Macheath, and it is wonderful to savor his voice in moments of lightness and ease, as in the second act air, “The first time at the looking-glass.” But by and large, the biggest presence on the recording seems to be Britten himself. The radical transformation of the airs through such highly inflected accompaniment transforms the nature of the work itself. In part this has to do with the manner of performance. The amount of “information” in the orchestra goes hand-in-hand with a necessary slowing of the airs, and as a result, one misses their often-times lilting quality. But additionally, the sophistication of the accompaniments and their amount of information transforms the aesthetic from one of engaging popular simplicity to a more complex, multi-layered affair, seemingly rich with meaning and inflection. In short, the eighteenth-century ballad opera has here taken on the language of opera, that which it had originally lampooned.

If one’s interest lies in The Beggar’s Opera itself, the Britten 1948 version will be of only tangential interest, I suspect. But, if one’s interest lies in Britten and his ability to transform and create within the constraints of pre-existent material, this is a rich sample, indeed, and a valuable historical artifact of English musical life in the early years after World War II.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera

product_title=John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera
A Musical Version Realised from the Original Airs by Benjamin Britten.
product_by=Original 1948 Cast, including Peter Pears, Nancy Evans, Jennifer Vyvyan, and Otakar Kraus. The English Opera Group Orchestra; Benjamin Britten, conducting.
product_id=Pearl GEM 0225 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 9:42 PM

Frederica Von Stade, With Verve and Vitality

Frederica_von_Stade_small.jpg(Photo: Lieberman Photography)
By Tim Page [Washington Post, 12 December 2005]

Some great musicians are revered, others are loved; the mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade is both. The capacity audience that greeted her Vocal Arts Society-sponsored recital at the Terrace Theater on Saturday night would happily have listened to her for hours -- and then cheered for more.

Posted by Gary at 11:38 AM

War and Peace opens in Moscow, survives scandal

By Meg Clothier [Reuters, 12 December 2005]

MOSCOW (Reuters) - When Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre postponed its new production of "War and Peace" after the conductor walked out, critics sharpened their pencils expecting the opera to be an embarrassing failure.

Posted by Gary at 11:33 AM

The Marriage, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

mussorgsky_bw.jpgBy RICHARD FAIRMAN [Financial Times, 12 December 2005]

Somebody at the Philharmonia Orchestra must have a sense of humour. It was a nice idea to turn a concert into a speed-dating event, but is Musorgsky's unfinished comic opera The Marriage really the right work to fill young hearts with romance?

Posted by Gary at 10:43 AM

Savoring the Season of Comfort & Joy

tallis.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 12 December 2005]

Imagine how difficult it must be to hold a position as an official church composer when your country changes religions. Now imagine that there were three such changes in your lifetime, and you will have some idea of the trials and tribulations of Thomas Tallis, whose 500th birthday was celebrated Saturday evening at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. For Tallis to have kept his head - both literally and figuratively - is a testimony to his subtle compositional skills and his natural penchant for humble quietude.

Posted by Gary at 10:40 AM

December 11, 2005

Grammy Award Nominees — Classical Vocal Music

Best Opera Recording
(Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.)

death_venice2.jpg Britten: Death In Venice
Richard Hickox, conductor; Michael Chance, Philip Langridge and Alan Opie; Brian Couzens, producer (BBC Singers; City Of London Sinfonia)
[Chandos Records Ltd]
conradi.jpg Conradi: Ariadne
Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Barbara Borden, Karina Gauvin, Ellen Hargis, Jan Kobow, Julian Podger, Marek Rzepka, James Taylor & Matthew White; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chorus; Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra)
daphne2.jpg Strauss, R.: Daphne
Semyon Bychkov,conductor; Johan Botha, Renée Fleming, Anna Larsson, Michael Schade and Kwanchul Youn; Michael Haas, producer (West German Radio Symphony Orchestra (Köln))
falstaff.jpg Verdi: Falstaff
Sir Colin Davis, conductor; Carlos Alvarez, Bülent Bezdüz, Marina Domashenko, Jane Henschel, Ana Ibarra, Maria Josè Moreno & Michele Pertusi; James Mallinson,producer (London Symphony Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra)
[LSO Live]
bajazet2.gif Vivaldi: Bajazet
Fabio Biondi, conductor; Patrizia Ciofi, David Daniels, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Elina Garanca,Vivica Genaux & Marijana Mijanovic; Nicolas Bartholomée, producer (Europa Galante)
[Virgin Classics]
Best Choral Performance
(Award to the Choral Conductor, and to the Orchestra Conductor if an Orchestra is on the recording, and to the Choral Director or Chorus Master if applicable.)
bernstein_mass.jpg Bernstein: Mass
Kent Nagano, conductor; Simon Halsey & Kai-Uwe Jirka, choir directors;
Richard Grant and Lynne Morrow, chorus masters (Julian Frischling & Jerry Hadley; Rundfunkchor Berlin,
Staats-Und Domchor Berlin & Soloists Of The Pacific Mozart Ensemble; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin)
[Harmonia Mundi]
bolcom_songs_innocence.gif Bolcom: Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience
Leonard Slatkin,conductor; Jerry Blackstone, William Hammer, Jason Harris, Christopher Kiver, Carole Ott and Mary Alice Stollak, choir directors (Christine Brewer, Measha Brueggergosman, Ilana Davidson, Nmon Ford, Linda Hohenfeld, Joan Morris, Carmen
Pelton, Marietta Simpson and Thomas Young; Michigan State University Children's Choir, University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir and University Musical Society Choral Union; University Of Michigan School Of Music Symphony Orchestra)
lauridsen.jpg Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna
Stephen Layton, conductor (Polyphony; Britten Sinfonia)
penderecki.gif Penderecki: A Polish Requiem
Antoni Wit, conductor; Henryk Wojnarowski, chorus master (Izabela Klosinska, Ryszard Minkiewicz, Piotr Nowacki & Jadwiga Rappé; Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir; Warsaw
National Philharmonic Orchestra)
schoenberg_accentus2.jpg Schoenberg: Accentus
Laurence Equilbey, choir director (Jonathan Nott; Accentus; Ensemble Intercontemporain)
Best Classical Vocal Performance(Award to the Vocal Soloist(s).)
bach_quasthoff.jpg Bach: Cantatas
Thomas Quasthoff (Rainer Kussmaul; Members Of The RIAS Chamber Choir; Berlin Baroque Soloists)
[Deutsche Grammophon]
bolcom_song.gif Bolcom: Songs
Carole Farley (William Bolcom)
gounod-massenet_arias.gif Gounod - Massenet: Arias
RolandoVillazón (Evelino Pido; Orchestre Philharmonique De Radio France)
[Virgin Classics]
opera_proibita2.jpg Opera Proibita
Cecilia Bartoli (Marc Minkowski; Les Musiciens Du Louvre)
amor.gif Strauss: Amor
Natalie Dessay (Antonio Pappano; Orchestra Of The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden)
[Virgin Classics]

Source: image= image_description=Britten: Death in Venice
Posted by Gary at 8:13 PM

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

First performance: 10 November 1862 at the Imperial Theatre, St. Petersburg.

Principal Characters:

Il Marchese di Calatrava Basso
Donna Leonora, figlia del Marchese Soprano
Don Carlo di Vargas, figlio del Marchese Baritone
Don Alvaro Tenor
Preziosilla, giovane zingara Mezzo-soprano
Il Padre Guardiano Bass
Fra Melitone Baritone
Curra, cameriera di Leonora Mezzo-soprano
Un Alcade Bass
Mastro Trabuco, mulattiere, poi rivendugliolo Tenor
Un Chirurgo, militare spagnolo Tenor

Time and Place

Spain and Italy about the mid-18th Century.


Act I

A room in the country house of the Marchese of Calatrava

The Marchese bids his daughter Leonora an affectionate goodnight, assuring her that the country air will help her to forget the unworthy stranger (who has aspired to her hand). Leonora, on the point of eloping with Don Alvaro, the stranger, is seized with remorse, thinking mournfully of her life when parted forever from her country and her family, while her maid Curra tries to encourage her to pack, warning her of the fate which attends Alvaro if she were to yield to the temptation of confessing to her father. When Alvaro arrives, she is still reluctant to leave, asking him to delay by one day, so she can see her father again; but when Alvaro accuses her of not loving him, she responds to his passion and prepares to elope. But they are surprised by the Marchese and servants. Swearing that Leonora is pure, Alvaro offers his breast to the Marchese, who disdains to kill one he considers beneath him. Alvaro throws his pistol to the floor and it goes off, killing the Marchese, who dies cursing his daughter. Leonora and Alvaro flee.

Act II

Scene 1. The inn of the village of Hornachuelos

Arriving at the inn disguised as a man, Leonora hides when she sees her brother, Don Carlo, among the crowd waiting for supper. Don Carlo, disguised as a student, begins to interrogate the muleteer Trabuco about the identity of the person he brought to the inn (Leonora), but is interrupted by the arrival of the gypsy Preziosilla on her way to join the Spanish army fighting in Italy. After a rousing call to arms, she offers to tell fortunes, and sees misfortune in Carlo's hand, and also makes it clear that she knows he is not what he says he is. A procession of pilgrims passes on its way to the monastery of Hornachuelos and the company joins in the prayer. Carlo continues to question Trabuco about the sex of the traveller, and even suggests painting a moustache on his face as he sleeps, until restrained by the mayor, who asks him to account for himself. His name is Pereda, he answers, a student from Salamanca, who had accompanied his friend Don Carlo di Vargas in search of his sister and her foreign lover who had killed their father; Carlo has gone to (South) America and he will return to his studies. All go to bed.

Scene 2. Outside the monastery of Hornachuelos in the mountains

Leonora reaches her goal, the monastery, terrified to have recognised her brother and heard him tell her story. She also heard him say that Don Alvaro, whom she had thought killed in the confusion on the night of the failed elopement, is alive and has gone to South America; and believes that he has deserted her. She rings the bell and manages to convince the reluctant porter, brother Melitone, of her urgent need to see the Padre Guardiano. To the Padre Guardiano she reveals her identity. She had been sent to him by her confessor, as she wishes to follow the example of another woman and live as a hermit in a cave not far from the monastery. After some reluctance, he consents and calls the monks to prayer, to give her his blessing and state to her and the brothers (who do not know she is a woman) the conditions of her future life: she is to see no one and remain undisturbed; he will leave food for her and only in extreme danger or at the hour of her death is she to ring a bell to summon him.


Scene 1. In Italy, near Velletri during the War of the Austrian Succession

As soldiers carouse in the background, Don Alvaro reveals in a soliloquy that he is the son of a Spaniard who had married the daughter of the last of the Incas and tried to free Peru from Spanish rule. His parents had been defeated, put in prison, where Alvaro was born, and executed, while he was brought up in the wilderness. Unaware that Leonora is still alive, he prays to her to look down on him from heaven. Disturbed by sounds of quarrelling and a cry for help, he rescues Don Carlo from the consequences of a quarrel over a game of cards. Excusing himself for being in such low company, on the grounds that he is but recently arrived, Carlo identifies himself as Don Felice de Bornos, aide-de-camp to the general, and Alvaro gives in reply the name he has assumed, Don Federico, Herreros, captain of grenadiers and, as Carlo exclaims in delight, the pride of the army. The two swear eternal friendship and go into battle together. Alvaro is wounded and Carlo exhorts the surgeon to save him, promising Alvaro the order of Calatrava for his bravery. Feeling death near, Alvaro begs Carlo to burn unopened a packet of documents he will find among his possessions, and Carlo swears to obey; but while the surgeon is operating, doubts occur, spurred by Alvaro's horrified reaction to the name of Calatrava. He is tempted to open the packet, but his sense of honor restrains him. But near the packet he finds a portrait of Leonora and his suspicions are confirmed, and he receives with joy the news that Alvaro will live — so that he can kill him.

Scene 2. The camp near Velletri

The sun rises on bustling camp activity. Among those present is Preziosilla, telling fortunes, Trabuco, trafficking with the soldiers, and Melitone, reproving everyone for pagan goings-on on Sunday. When the soldiers turn on him, Preziosilla averts their wrath by embarking on a rousing rataplan.

Act IV

Scene 1. The courtyard of the monastery of Hornachuelos five years later

Brother Melitone is dispensing food to the poor, complaining as he does so, so that they compare him unfavourably with the charitable Father Raffaele. When they have gone he discusses Father Raffaele with the Father Superior, explaining that he seems more like the devil than a member of a monastic order. Don Carlo knocks at the gate asking for Father Raffaele (Alvaro) and when they are alone confronts him, wishing to resume the interrupted duel — he has even brought two swords. But Alvaro has withdrawn from the world and tries to avoid the conflict. Rising to Carlo's taunt on his ancestry, he gains control of himself, but a blow cannot be overlooked and they run off to fight to the death.

Scene 2. A mountain gorge near a cave in the vicinity of the monastery

Leonora, dressed as a hermit, appears from the cave, praying for peace of mind: she has been unable to forget Don Alvaro. The sound of fighting disturbs her and she calls an imprecation on the heads of those disturbing her holy refuge. But the voice of the dying Carlo is heard calling for confession and Alvaro comes to beg the hermit to give him the last rites. They recognise one another and Alvaro tells her her brother lies dying. She goes to him, but he stabs her as he dies. As she reappears, supported by the Padre Guardiano, Alvaro curses his fate and heaven, but is reproved by the Padre Guardiano, and Leonora assures him that heaven will pardon him. As she dies, Alvaro laments that he, the guilty one, lives on.

Click here for the complete libretto. image= image_description=Giuseppe Verdi audio=yes first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino
Windows Media Player first_audio_link= second_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino
Alternate stream second_audio_link= product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino product_by=Franco Calabrese, Leyla Gencer, Aldo Protti, Giuseppe di Stefano, Gabriella Carturan, Cesare Siepi, Enrico Campi, Stefania Malagú, Alfredo Giacomotti, Franco Ricciardi, Angelo Mercuriali, Franco Piva, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Antonio Votto (cond.).
Recorded live at Köln, 5 July 1957
Posted by Gary at 6:22 PM

Gwyneth Jones - In Concert

But while I wrote, produced and presented a weekly historical show, I always got the complaints of my directors when I wanted them to use footage from the late seventies and the eighties that recorded events for archival purposes. They sighed that even B/W kinescope was better than the colour video of those ten years. When one looked at it in the nineties the picture was always somewhat murky and the colours already partly whitewashed. Therefore I don’t think buyers of this DVD should lay their complaints with VAI for a less than perfect picture. They probably made the best of it and it’s not that this issue is not acceptable; only that we are now used to perfect razor sharpness. On the other hand the sound is full and fine; no mean feat if one has ever had the experience of working in a big church with the sound reverberating from all kind of unsuspected corners.

At the time of the recording Dame Gwyneth was 52 years of age with a career of 26 years behind her. She was still known to be an exciting performer who didn’t care too much for musical accuracy as the voice could be somewhat wild after many years of the most strenuous roles in the repertoire. In those years I heard her several times at her motherhouse, the ROH Covent Garden, where she indeed made a fine impression and where she had an extraordinary group of diehard fans (not only for musical reasons; “contrary to some aloof singers, she is so chatty” one of them told me). Jones starts her recital with the well-known Tannhäuser and immediately one is struck by two features: a big wobble (not a vibrato) in the voice and a high register that goes badly flat from high B on. The first problem gradually declines as the voice warms up (and one gets a little bit used to it too) but the second one is by that time a fixed feature of the voice and Dame Gwyneth simply takes it as a fact of life and doesn’t let that limitation be an obstacle in her choice of repertoire.

Next she sails on to the Lady’s entrance, one of the great voice-wreckers with its leaps, jagged rhythms and a climbing sequence that dwarfs almost all other soprano solos. But by that time the voice is far more steadfast and as there are no long legato phrases Jones comes through with flying colours. She doesn’t stop with the aria itself but adds the cabaletta as well. By the time she deals with “Pace, pace, mio Dio” the voice is pure and strong though in this piece it becomes clear she no longer has a real pianissimo or even mezza-voce: mezza-forte is the most she can throttle the engine down into. Tosca is sung rather indifferently but she really comes into her own in “In questa reggia.” There she gives her all and as the aria includes the part of Calaf as well (played by the orchestra alone) she has often time for a good deep breath so that she gushes out a new phrase with house rattling amplitude. The church comes down.

Singers are often in love with a piece of music that suits their voices not at all. After an aria where she wins all hearts with a show of pure brutal strength she wants her programme to end with one that demands all kinds of qualities she no longer has: a fine lovingly spun out legato and a sound that varies between whisper and a short forte. Jones tries to tune the voice down for Lehár’s Vilja-Lied but doesn’t succeed. When she tries there are some sharp overtones and there is no sensuousness in the voice at all. But as always she gives full value: no shortened version most singers use in recital but the two full stanzas.

Her encore is the hit of that moment: Memory from Cats and one is surprised to hear her struggle with the piece. She often simply and not very well says the words as the tessitura of the song lies to low for her and she is not able to reach the high notes if she transposes it upwards. All in all, not an absolute winner but still an interesting DVD that has the great advantage of being a real concert, including warts and all but — o happiness — no dubbing.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Gwyneth Jones - In Concert

product_title=Gwyneth Jones - In Concert
product_by=Gwyneth Jones, Orchestre Symphonic de Québec, Simon Streatfeild (cond.)
product_id= VAI DVD 4344

Posted by Gary at 3:27 PM

Edita Gruberová — The Queen of Belcanto Volume I

The former have no real value, other than to provide a cult vehicle for sycophants, the latter contribute greatly to the lasting importance of their artistry, and their art. Edita Gruberová belongs to the latter group of artists, and the public is fortunate she has been active at a time when it has been possible to leave volumes of commercially recorded CDs, DVDs, radio and television broadcasts, and the ever important “pirate” recordings.

Born on December 23, 1946, in Bratislava, Slovakia, Gruberová studied with Mária Medvecká at the Bratislava Conservatory, and later at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After singing with the Lúnica Folk Ensemble and participating in several Slovak National Theatre productions, Gruberová made her operatic debut in 1968, in her home town, as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Three years later she defected to the west when was engaged by the Vienna State Opera. The rest, as the phrase goes, is history. Gruberová’s international career was assured following her debut performance in Vienna as Mozart’s Queen of the Night.

The operas highlighted in this CD are well known and, therefore, it is easy to think of other singers interpreting these roles. However, be they one’s least or most favorite diva, the thought never becomes anything more than that. Gruberová makes each role her own, be it through her stratospheric singing, seemingly endless pianissimi, or impressive messa di voce and forte which seem to come out of nowhere. One thing is clear, Gruberovabá’s timbre is perfectly suited to interpret these bel canto “mad” characters; her technique, musical instinct, and her choice of perfectly placed embellishments have earned her the love and respect of fans and colleagues alike. Other than through her recordings, Gruberová is virtually little known in the U.S.A., but in Europe she has a legendary goddess stature, a true Diva, and her performances are always sold out. She is well deserving of the title “Queen of Belcanto.”

Typical of Gruberová’s style, the take of each track in this CD is slower than most other interpreters’ renditions of the same arias. Gruberová’s interpretations, tinged with the appropriate emotions, provide a different aspect of madness: these are not mature, tortured women gone over the edge; these are pouting, deceived, melancholy teenagers hurt and brokenhearted for the first time in their lives. To them there is no hope, no bright future, no possible explanation for their loss, and no redemption–not even the thought of vengeance to appease them. At a time when women were considered “property” and had nothing but their word and their chastity, madness and death are their only escape. Gruberová plays well on this psychological and historical aspect of the characters: Lucia is introspective with sporadic bursts of anger, and in spite of a sharp note at the end, Gruberová’s “duet” with the flute is one of the most effective on record. In Anna Bolena, as the impetuous young queen falsely accused, the singer is child-like in recalling her first love; in the subsequent cavattina, she is regal, realizing the madness of her immature ambition to be queen. Amina in Sonnambula is pure innocence misunderstood. Gruberová is superb in expressing the character’s sadness and grief: one can feel the tears in her voice in “Il pianto mio recarti...” leading to “Non credea mirarti” where she ironically compares the wilted flowers to Elvino’s love. This sad moment quickly turns to joy in “Ah! non giunge uman pensiero.” As Elvira, in Puritani, Gruberová vocal technique is put to the test with the character’s vacillation between madness and temporary sanity. The singer’s use of portamento is exquisite to indicate Elvira’s betrayal, despair, and mental state. Later, the pathos turns to temporary joy in “Vien, diletto, è in ciel la luna...”

This recording is coloratura at its best.

There is only one criticism of this disk: four mad scenes do not represent the wide scope of Bel Canto. Nightingale Classics, Gruberová’s recording company, has chosen to follow EMI’s lead in rehashing its one star’s recorded legacy as though it were a newly discovered masterpiece–all the tracks in this CD are taken from previously, or recently released complete opera recordings. Gruberova who, through deliberate and intelligent choices, has sung mostly Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi, has recorded other CDs (“Donizetti Portraits,” and “Belcanto Duets”) more appropriate of the moniker given the present recording. There is another CD in the singer’s discography, titled “Mad Scenes,” which the present recording would have served well as a deserving follow up, and better titled as “Mad Scenes II”

This is a minor comment on an otherwise excellent vehicle for Gruberová, who approaching sixty years of age, is still riding high on the wave of success.

Daniel Pardo 2005



Liner Notes
Great Bel Canto Scenes
Giorgio Migliavacca
© Nightingale Classics

Interview by Xavier Nicolás

image_description=Edita Gruberová — The Queen of Belcanto Volume I

product_title=Edita Gruberová — The Queen of Belcanto Volume I
product_by= Edita Gruberova; Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Friedrich Haider; Choir & Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio & TV, Elio Boncompagni; Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Marcello Viotti; Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Fabio Luisi.
product_id=Nightingale Classics NC 190193-2 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 2:55 PM

On Christmas Day

For many amateur choirs, the musically sophisticated director’s attempt to introduce something satisfyingly novel in the form of contemporary music, or even contemporary arrangements of very old music, becomes the bane of the choir members’ existence as they desperately try to hear the music in the strange vocal lines and harmonies that they are asked to sing, often to unfamiliar texts in Latin or some earlier version of English. And yet music is such an integral part of the celebration of Christmas, that we seek new pieces that will somehow speak the language of the season to us, even as we enjoy rehearing the standards, be they “Silent Night” or Handel’s Messiah, that recall Christmas Past, either our own past or the imagined past of our culture. And we can be sure that, while at some point we will find ourselves sitting and listening to a presentation of “Christmas Music” in a holiday program or church service, there will be other times when the music will be in the background, at best gently reviving our warm feelings of the season, but possibly simply annoying us, as we go about the many tasks that the season brings with it.

My own collection of favorite Christmas music is eclectic, but heavily favors classical music, and I am a member of a reasonably adventurous church choir, so I listened with interest to this collection of carols that have been commissioned, one each year since 1983, from major contemporary composers, by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, for their annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. One impression emerged very quickly: while this music is expertly performed by a choir whose stock in trade is a very pure, beautiful sound, most of this music is challenging enough that only for a party of the most sophisticated contemporary music lovers would you consider using this as background music. Even in the meditative atmosphere of the service for which they were written, they presumably provided a modern contrast with the more traditional music that surrounded them. On first listening, I would say the most readily accessible carols are Arvo Pärt’s folklike setting of part of the Orthodox Liturgy, the Bob Chilcott “Shepherd’s Carol”, written for the 2000 Carols from Kings televised service, and “What Sweeter Music”, commissioned in 1987 from that mainstay of the modern church choir, John Rutter. But I think most of the music could be appreciated by the listener who is willing to spend some meditative time with the twenty-two works presented on two discs. It is very helpful to follow the texts which, while mostly in English, are in many cases settings of medieval or 17th-century metaphysical poetry, and some include interpolations in Latin or Hebrew.

The carols are largely performed a capella by the choir of men’s and boys’ voices, with organ accompanying a few, or a flute providing a winter wind and birdsong in Giles Swayne’s “Winter Solstice Carol”. In many cases the composers worked with the choir and director in rehearsal, even taking into consideration the altered sound quality of the chapel when filled to capacity for the service. The roster of composers includes some very distinguished names (not being someone who spends a lot of time with contemporary music, I figure they are very distinguished names if I’ve heard of them) such as Pärt, Richard Rodney Bennett, Lennox Berkeley, and Peter Maxwell Davies, but since each composer is represented only once, and there are twenty-two tracks in all, this CD can also serve as an introduction to a wide range of contemporary composers. For true contemporary music lovers, this release may well be important in that, from what I could tell from composers’ web pages that I checked to learn more about them, many of these carols do not appear among the composers’ published works.

The carols are presented in an order calculated to provide an interesting and varied program, rather than chronologically. The track listing in the booklet provides the year of first performance for each carol, along with texts (and translations of foreign phrases and footnotes for obsolete English words, although a little familiarity with Middle English will probably make the texts a bit easier to grasp), and an informative essay by choir director Stephen Cleobury describing how he came to commission these works for the choir, and how it has worked over the years.

Barbara Miller

image_description=On Christmas Day

product_title=On Christmas Day
product_by=Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury (cond.)
product_id=EMI Classics 7243 5 58070 2 1 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 2:34 PM

STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; The Nightingale

Due in part to the commotion caused by the work’s premiere and its subsequent performances in the following weeks, but more because of wartime privations affecting musical performances all over Europe, it was not until the 1920s that audiences began to hear and appreciate the score of The Rite in concert form. Its subsequent rapid ascent to “classic” status is now a fact of history, and the number of respectable recorded performances available are well into the double digits.

Naxos’ project of releasing CDs of all of Stravinsky’s works, conducted by Robert Craft, is a huge and noble one, and the present disc represents a significant addition to the recorded Stravinsky legacy. This particular Rite was released by Koch International Classics in 1995; the overall sound and balance of the new release reflect the complex score superbly. The playing of the London Symphony comes as close to perfection as one could ever expect in bringing this score accurately and vibrantly to life, no small complement given the strength and size of the recorded competition. The players and the engineers deserve particular credit for allowing listeners to hear inner voices and subtle rhythmic and sonority features often absent from other recordings. This manifests itself both in the quieter pages of the score, (e.g., the “Introduction” of Part One) as well as in the heavier passages (e.g., the “Procession of the Sage,” also in Part One).

Despite such important and deserved kudos, the performance here does not exude the frenzy and daring excitement that one hears in such recordings as the one by the Kirov Orchestra under Valery Gergiev for Philips. If perfection in realization of the composer’s notated intentions is the purchaser’s goal, one can arguably do no better than this recording, particularly in view of Craft’s capabilities and vast experience with the composer personally as well as with his works. However, someone preferring a bit more risk-taking by performers and conductor might not find this performance quite up to par.

The remainder of this disc is given over to a 1997 MusicMasters recording of Stravinsky’s one-act opera, The Nightingale. Stravinsky actually began composing this sonically gorgeous work in 1908, not finishing it until after the premiere of The Rite, when a performance opportunity presented by Diaghilev and his stage director Alexander Sanin provided the composer with the necessary impetus. Paris was again the site of the premiere, on May 26, 1914, almost exactly a year after the premier of The Rite. Less than an hour in length, The Nightingale shared double-billing with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le coq d’or in its initial presentations.

While fully two-thirds of the opera was completed after Stravinsky composed The Rite, the musical language is much closer to that of Firebird, with more than a few pages bringing the sounds of Debussy to mind as well. The experience of scoring both Petrushka and The Rite had developed Stravinsky’s orchestral pallet significantly, however, with the result that the latter parts of this work have some of the richest and most imaginative sonorities to be find anywhere in the composer’s output. Certainly, this can be credited in part to the setting (in China) of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale as well as to the fantastic nature of the story and the role of the nightingale as a central character.

The Philharmonia Orchestra serves both composer and conductor well in this performance. The technical difficulties of the score are handled with aplomb, and the oriental atmosphere is created with sensitivity and a lightness of touch that are perfectly suited to the nature of the story. Both the “real” and the mechanical nightingale in the story fairly leap from the disc with a brilliant realism. The orchestra bears much responsibility for this sonorous beauty, of course, but the singers are equally up to their tasks. The highly demanding role of the Nightingale is virtually tossed off by Olga Trifonova, whose thrilling voice amazes with its agility and range. Likewise, Robert Tear brings his usual lyricism and focused sound to the important role of the Fisherman. Pippa Longworth as the Cook, Paul Whelan as the Emperor, and Sally Burgess as Death stand out among other vocalists, as do the London Voices under Terry Edwards’ guidance.

This is a performance that has been prepared with considerable care and understanding. The Nightingale deserves wider exposure, both for its own virtues and because of what it displays about Stravinsky’s developing style and technique. This valuable (and inexpensive!) recording should go far in increasing that exposure.

Roy J. Guenther
Professor of Music
The George Washington University

image_description=Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps); The Nightingale (Le rossignol)

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product_id=Naxos 8.557501 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 2:16 PM

The Art of Gérard Souzay

This was that kind of singing at its very best: each syllable and of course each word perfectly enunciated while not once chopping up the line and keeping perfect legato; a noble and warm timbre with a fresh, round and very attractive small vibrato. Then doubt would have set in as the voice was somewhat higher-lying with an even more homogenous sound than Vanni-Marcoux had. In short this was Gérard Souzay at the height of his powers; a legendary baritone whom nobody French nowadays even approaches. Maybe José van Dam during the seventies, early eighties came somewhat near though the very impressive voice of the Walloon never had that utter beauty. And Souzay didn’t solely rely on his sound but employed it to tell a story with all its shades and corners in the two mélodies and the one opera aria that was broadcast in 1955. The kinescope picture is black and white and clear but with this kind of singing one would have even accepted murkiness.

Eleven years later Souzay once more appeared on Québec Television with a far longer programme. Though still in black and white television had taken some strides and such a thing as a simple registration from a lieder and melodies-recital wasn’t good enough anymore: imagine that some viewers “watching the show” would be bored so a director made it somewhat jollier. Thus Souzay recorded several opera arias and then acted them on camera in costume and with the aid of a few sets while his dubbed sound ran on. And those scenes were inserted between a recital of well-known mélodies so that a little action was served. At the end of the recital the director even had some more clever ideas. A traditional song was illustrated with arty photographs that had no whatsoever relationship with the text of the song Souzay sang. To my delight I even saw a picture of a boy reading “L’Etoile Mystérieuse”, an adventure of comic hero Tintin produced during the war, all anti-Semitic illustrations carefully deleted in the album the boy had in his hands. Meanwhile Souzay was enumerating all kinds of birds in May. And why the great singer consented to have his voice used as an echo during the famous “Baïlero” is anyone’s guess.
Anyway one can grumble as much as one wants but it’s not as if VAI had a choice and one can only be grateful for this issue which may well be commercially less rewarding than another tenor disc.

In the second part of the DVD the singer was eleven years older and was now slowly on the way back. The voice is still beautiful but the 48 year old baritone had been on the scene for more than 20 years and some of the velvet had gone. The top still rings free and clear but in the lower register there is some huskiness. The timbre is less warm because the vibrato has somewhat gone out of the voice. These beautiful overtones, typically for the sheen on all youthful voices, have now gone. The pianissimo is still beautiful but the honeyed sound is less remarkable. This is still a magnificent voice and what artistry but he cannot completely compete with his unique younger self. Of course he has lost nothing from his interpretative powers. His diction remains impeccable and one listens in awe to the opera arias where there are far more competitors. Such beautiful French and such fine legato and one doesn’t think for one second of French as a nasal and difficult language; a complaint one always get from less talented singers. His German is fine too and for this reviewer he is even helped by the fact he is not a native speaker so that he doesn’t fall in the trap of Dieskau- or Schwarzkopf-mannerisms. It is good to see his legendary accompanist Dalton Baldwin too, who, as always, makes a perfect team with the baritone. In short, this DVD is a must.

Jan Neckers

image_description=The Art of Gérard Souzay

product_title=The Art of Gérard Souzay
product_by=Gérard Souzay, baritone/baryton. Telecasts of February 3, 1955 and March 3, 1966. Orchestre de Radio-Canada, Roland Leduc & Jean Beaudet, conductors. Dalton Baldwin, piano.
product_id= VAI DVD 4312

Posted by Gary at 2:04 PM

DONIZETTI: Il Diluvio Universale

Shortly after the première of Olivo e Pascuale in Rome, on January 7, 1827, Donizetti returned to Naples to negotiate a contract with Domenico Barbaja, manager of the three most prestigious theaters in that city. The terms of the contract called for Donizetti to compose twelve operas over the next two years. Two of these operas, L’Esule di Roma (January 1, 1828), and Gianni di Calais (August 2, 1828) so impressed Barbaja that he extended Donizetti’s contract to include the composition of two more operas, and he offered the composer the position of Director of Music of the Royal Theaters of Naples—a position Donizetti did not want, but nonetheless accepted.

One of the new operas called for under the terms of the extended contract was to be staged during the Lent season in 1830. After much research and, perhaps, as a catharsis for the premature loss of his infant child, and his wife’s subsequent illness, the composer set his aims on the Biblical passage of Noah and the flood. Donizetti asked Domenico Gilardoni to write a libretto based on the volumes of notes and information the composer had gathered for his new work, the oratorio, Il diluvio universale.

Because of the feast’s religious overtones there was to be no dance music or ballet presented on stage. In a letter to his father, Donizetti tells of composing an opera “in a completely new style,” and to this effect the composer eliminated the cabaletta, and adhered to a more precise dramatic structure.

There is little information on the original production other than some notations by the composer to indicate “scene changes,” but what these scenes were, or costumes, is anyone’s guess. One thing is clear, though; by the time the “oratorio” was presented in Genoa (1834), and Paris (1837) the work had become an “azione tragica-sacra.” Like Rossini, with Mosé (1818) and its Paris version, Moïse et Pharaon, Donizetti had used a Biblical character to suit his operatic needs by adding a love triangle, the sacrifice of one of the main characters, and both operas end with God’s wrath on sinners and their eventual salvation as interpreted by the orchestra.

Act I

Noé and his family kneel in prayer before the Ark. Sela, wife of Cadmo, the Chief Satrap, has incurred her husband’s wrath for her faith, and for protecting Noé. Artoo and the Satraps come to burn the Ark, but Noé and Sela stop them. Artoo warns Sela that Cadmo will not forgive her for interfering with his orders.

In Cadmo’s house, Sela’s handmaiden and supposed friend, Ada muses on her passion for Cadmo, and learning of Sela’s intervention against Artoo, she seizes the opportunity to advance her plans. Ada tells Cadmo of Sela’s aid to Noé. To further her cause, she lies, telling him that Sela is in love with Noé’s son, Jafet (Ah perfida!...a me spergiura). Cadmo is torn between his love for Sela and his hatred for the Israelites.

In Noé’s camp, the Satraps secretly await Cadmo. Sela, fearful of being discovered by her husband, comes to warn Noé of Cadmo’s intentions to destroy him, his family, his religion and the Ark. Noé is firm in his convictions and offers Sela and her son salvation from Jehova’s wrath, but she hesitates. Jafet comes with news of Cadmo’s approach. Ada is with him. In the ensuing ensemble the four main characters confront each other. Having captured Noé’s family, Artoo and the Satraps reveal themselves. Sela implores Cadmo’s mercy, while Noé sings of impending doom (Volgi quel pianto al Cielo).

Act II

Ada expresses her wishes to replace Sela in Cadmo’s heart and throne (Ah, non tacermi in core). Cadmo enters and announces that Ada will become his wife as soon as Sela is executed for what he believes to be her treachery. Sela is brought in and Cadmo reproaches her (Eri primiera e sola). Guiltless of Cadmo’s accusations Sela does not ask for pardon, but requests to see their son, which Cadmo refuses. He tells Sela that after her execution he will marry Ada, and threatens to tell their son of Sela’s supposed sins. At the thought of having lost all, Sela begs God for mercy (Tradita dall’amica), while her husband mocks her God.

Noé meditates (Gli empii’l circondano) while his family prays. Escorted by guards, Sela tells Noé that Cadmo has sentenced him to death. Noé prays (Dio tremendo, onnipossente) and reveals that the sky will grow dark, the sun will hide, the oceans will rise and all will be destroyed. Noé leads his family to the Ark.

At the court of Senààr all celebrate the upcoming wedding between Ada and Cadmo, and his triumph over Noé and his God (Stirpe angelica, ti bea). Sela breaks in imploring Cadmo to permit her once again to see their son. The God of Noé has failed her and she will now gladly go to her death (Senza colpi mi scacciasti). Cadmo promises to take her back if she would publicly curse her God. She hesitates and at the moment when she pronounces the words, “Sia maledetto,” she falls dead. A storm breaks out, and as the confused people rush about in search of a way out, all are drowned by the rising waters. The dark clouds part to reveal the Ark as it floats to safety.

Very much like its predecessor, Rossini’s Mosé, the plot for Donizetti’s Il diluvio universale is a conventional operatic story, and the libretto. does not provide complex situations. What it does provide is the opportunity for ensembles, and arias best suited to the composer’s style, and Donizetti, aware of his reputation for “tossing off pleasing melodies,” welcomed the dramatic opportunity provided by the religious theme to improve his image as a composer. Rehearsals for the oratorio started in mid February, and the premiere took place at the Teatro San Carlo a few days later on February 28, 1830.

Donizetti remained attached to Diluvio universale, even after the success of Anna Bolena made him internationally famous. In 1833 the composer revised the oratorio for performance in Genoa the following year. To minimize the “religious” aspect of the score Donizetti took music from his failed 1828 Il Paria, for new choral and orchestral passages, and added arias and cabalettas, turning the piece into an “azione tragica-sacra.” The composer gave Noé and his followers solem, elegant music mostly in the form of ensembles, with Noé singing few solos. In contrast, the pagans/Satraps sing the more florid passages; Sela, the only one in the story to “belong” to both camps, sings in both styles. The story centers around a love triangle and its consequences rather than on Noé’s Biblical importance and, as in Samson et Dalila, and Mosé, there is no indication of the pending doom until the last notes in the final scene, when Sela denies the God of Abraham. Unlike the sublime ending of the more famous Mosé, Donizetti’s music is impressionistic in its portrayal of God’s wrath and the flood He unleashes to wipe out the pagan sinners. After the 1834 run in Genoa, the opera played in Paris in 1837, never to be staged again for one hundred and forty-seven years.

With the added benefit of hindsight it is difficult to understand why Diluvio universale was left in obscurity for so long. Starting with the overture, the listener is always aware of the composer’s genius, detecting passages which will, in later operas, flourish into more famous musical moments. The most obvious examples are Noé’s “Sì, quell’arca” and the Act II introduction to the chorus “Stirpe angelica, ti bea.” The former re-appears in La fille du régiment as Marie’s march, “Chacun le sait, chacun le dit;” the latter becomes Orsini’s drinking song in Lucrezia Borgia. Anna Bolena, Favorite, Poliuto, Roberto Devereux and others also bear indirect traces of Diluvio.

Conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni introduced the idea of reviving the opera to musicologist Rubino Profeta. At first, there was no way to reconsile the different available versions of the opera to the composer’s wishes, until Giuseppe Patane found a “partitura” in Paris. Profeta set to work on the project which resulted in the performances which took place in Genoa in January, 1985. This recording reflects the performance of January 22, 1985.

Italian bass Bonaldo Giaotti, as Noé, leads the cast in this revival. The opening ensemble, “Oh, Dio di pietà,” sets the tone of Giaotti’s character: noble, determined, and compassionate. Giaotti is ideally suited to this role, never menacing, but singing with the authority expected from the Biblical character. At the time of this performance, and twenty-eight years after making his professional debut at the Teatro Nuovo, in Milan, Giaotti is, still, in complete control of his instrument. His clear, warm voice is easily heard over the rest of the cast in the many ensembles, and duets. In the more personal, solo numbers, Giaotti imbues his singing with the necessary pathos and authority to make the character of Noé more dimensional and believable. Though the bass does not have the darkest instrument in his category, Giaotti’s lower range is very impressive. He is specially effective in the fatherly duet with Sela “Quel che del ciel...,” and in the prayer “Dio tremendo, onnipossente.”

Sela is sung by Japanese soprano Yasuko Hayashi. Little known in this country, but for a couple of pirated recordings, and a DVD/VHS of Madama Butterfly, Hayashi had a very successful career in Europe, and now teaches in Tokyo, where she also judges for several singing competitions. Born on July 19, 1943, Hayshi made her La Scala debut in 1971, and was still performing as late as 2003. Her extraordinary voice is as comfortable in the lyric repertoire as in any other. As displayed in this recording, Hayashi’s breath control is superb, as are her brilliant high notes, delicate pianissimi, and more importantly, her dramatic interpretation. More than just a beautiful voice, Hayashi is a consummate actress, and perfectly cast in the role of Sela, whose music ranges from lyrical passages to more intense dramatic moments, to coloratura.

In the cavatina “Mentre il core abbandonava” and the show stopping cabaletta “Perché nell’alma,” Hayashi is impressive in the use of messa di voce, as well as managing the fioritura and dramatic undertones in the music. Hayashi holds her own in the duet with Noé, “Ed io potrei mai vivere.” The scene with Cadmo, “Non profferir parola,” and the duet, “Non vengo al tuo cospetto,” that follows is intensely dramatic and peppered with runs and high notes, which both singers excel in their delivery. Hayashi in particular soars easily and endlessly over the orchestra.

Few tenors can compare to the scope and breath of Ottavio Garaventa’s career. Since his debut in 1955, the tenor has sung over one hundred different roles in operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Boito, Ponchielli, Catalani, Bellini, Verdi, Puccini, etc, and spanning the Baroque to Verismo. Garaventa possesses a naturally pleasant, if not beautiful voice; he is blessed with endless ease of singing, natural projection, and with a definite, almost heroic, ring.

Garaventa sings a valiant duet with Ada “...e i numi, e la natura...” followed by “Con mio dolor rammento.” The latter has high tessitura, and is well sung by both singers. Musical phrases from this duet will later appear as music for Pollione in Bellini’s Norma (1831), and in Donizetti’s own, Imelda de Lambertazzi (1830).

Well known for her interpretations in a variety of bel canto operas, French mezzo Martine Dupuy adds the right amount of bravura to the role of Ada. Born in Marseilles on December 10, 1952, Dupuy made her operatic debut in 1975, and is the winner of several singing competitions. Characteristically of Dupuy, her singing is never forced; instead it is always well placed and evenly expressive. Her coloratura, though not excessively florid, is without aspirates and her secure technique has enabled her to sing roles as varied as Sesto, Eboli, Arsace, Charlotte and Romeo, among others.

The solemn chords which serve to open Act II set the tone for Ada’s recitative “Non mi tradir, speranza,” and aria “A non tacermi in core,” in which she recalls her love for Cadmo, and the joy Sela’s death will bring her. Donizetti loaded this aria with embellishments which Dupuy valiantly executes.

The chorus, well served by the members of the Coro del Teatro Cumunale, is an important member of the cast, and it is in almost every scene of the opera. Some of the most memorable moments are “Il tuo sposo, il nostro re,” “Ebro di stolto ardir,” “Sela! Ah tu non la vedesti,” and “Franco inoltatri il piè.”

There are many ensembles, too. Noé’s family sings a melancholy prayer in the opening scene of the opera, the aforementioned “Oh Dio di pietà,” and “Gli empi’l circondano” in Act II. The final ensemble in act one is a long melody, which builds upon itself in typical Donizetti fashion till all the main characters have expressed their feelings. Dramatically, this quintet is a worthy precursor to the more famous and finely tuned sextet in Lucia.

All the secondary roles are well sung, and Jan Latham Kenig leads the finely tuned orchestra.

This live recording was probably never intended for commercial release. The microphones are somewhat close to the orchestra, and at times this interferes with the overall effect, the few times when the singers are not stage front—all in all, not enough reason to not get this gem.

Daniel Pardo 2005


Liner Notes Diluvio Universale
Rubino Profeta
© 1985
© 2005 Bongiovanni

Liner Notes Diluvio Universale
Bill Collins
© 1985 Voce

The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia
Edited by David Hamilton
© 1987 Metropolitan Opera Guild
Simon and Shuster, New York

© 1963 Herbert Weinstock
Pantheon Books (Random House)
New York

Min On Concert Association

Madama Butterfly

Classical Almanac

image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Il Diluvio Universale

product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Il Diluvio Universale
product_by=Bonaldo Giaotti, Yasuko Hayashi, Ottavio Garaventa, Bruno dal Monte, Martine Dupuy, Manlio Rocchi, Aldo Botion, Nicola Pagliucci, Annunziata Lia Lantieri, Daniella Broganelli, Gloria Scalchi Savino, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale dell’Opera di Genova. Maestro del Coro: Dante Ghersi. Direttore Jan Latham Koenig.
Recorded live, in Genoa, at the Teatro Magherita on January 22, 1985
product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2386/87-2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 1:17 PM

LEHÁR: Das Land des Lächelns

There were several reasons. Many German-language operetta stories took place in Austria-Hungary and the knowledge and familiarity with its history, its social mores and its nobility were quickly going away so that it all became old-fashioned and stale. Many operetta librettos were silly, though not sillier than most opera stories — the big difference being that impossible reunions, incredible coincidences are often skipped over in recitative in opera while in operetta they are mercilessly exposed in minutes of spoken dialogue. And, of course, the waltz no longer reigned supreme in an age where the onslaught of rock killed so many marvellous and inspired melodies.

During the sixties and early seventies, German television regularly broadcast its own productions of classic operettas, usually on New Year’s Eve and regrettably with first class singers doubled by actors. I remember Sandor Konya singing Paganini, though not acting it. And recently, a CD appeared with another and more purist Land des Lächelns with Fritz Wunderlich (who never sang an operetta on screen) while another operetta tenor, Gerhard Riedmann, acted the part. When colour came to the European continent at the end of the sixties, TV-operetta became showier, often taking clues from American musical movies with a dim view of those arias and duets that slowed the show, while open throated singing didn’t make for flashy pictures. Therefore producers and directors thought for a short time that distorting the story, cutting the music or even inserting numbers from other works (sometimes not even by the same composer) could salvage something from the wreck of changing taste. In the end it didn’t help much and operetta is now very low on the scale of merit. Strangely enough a lot of music remains known, sometimes even on a somewhat subconscious level, and when it pops up one is always amazed at the melodic richness.

Franz Lehár is still the best known name in the business and with good reason. He churned out one memorable tune after another and Land des Lächelns is especially memorable. In retrospect the score in this DVD is rather faithfully respected, though there are two barbaric cuts (only half of “Bei einem Tee à deux” and “Es ist nicht das erste Mal”). As the producer had engaged the Korean Court Ballet, one had to find employ for these girls and some probably authentic Korean music is inserted into Lehár’s score which makes twice for a rather distorting effect during the performance.

One is grateful that at least the singers act their parts themselves. René Kollo is a convincing and restrained Sou-Chong who sings better than I remember from memory when I watched the broadcast some 30 years ago. Kollo, the son and grandson of popular operetta composers, could probably already sing the score back to front at the time of the recording though he would wait till he was almost 60 (in 1996) before he played the role in the theatre. (Incidentally, his memoirs “Die Kunst, das Leben” are among the most brutally honest I have ever read and they really deserve translation.) At the time of the recording the 36-year old tenor already had numerous Parsifals, Eriks and even Walters von Stolzing under his belt; but the sound is clear, pure and beautiful. He knows how to make a pianissimo and he is superb after the break with his Western wife. Kollo never was a king of the high C and the voice thickens somewhat in the high register and he cuts notes short when the score goes too high. What is lacking most is charm, sweetness and a kind of freedom with the score that Tauber brought to it.

The echt -Wienerische operetta diva, Birgit Sarata, is Lisa. At the time it was still possible to be a stunning blonde, concentrate a career on operetta and have a voice as well. It is a rather small not unattractive soprano, becoming a little bit shrill above the stave.

Dagmar Koller is the fine spirited Mi, proving she once was a dancer and showing a lot of legs though one can hardly take her serious as an Asian princess. Most non-Europeans will know her name as the partner on recordings of Lehár’s Zarewitsch and Land des Lächelns with Giuseppe Di Stefano.

Heinz Zednik is a far better than average Gustl. Of course he cannot compete with Erich Kunz on the first EMI-recording but he really sings the role which is often more or less voicelessly said by so-called buffo’s in other recordings. As this is not a theatre production there is a slight though clearly noticeable synchronic difference. The picture quality is good for the times.

If you don’t know the original version you won’t be disturbed by some of the director’s many alterations. Indeed I admit that a lot of them make sense —decisions I utterly and somewhat unjustly rejected so many years ago. He has lifted the action out of China which is acceptable as the original writers still thought China was a Buddhist country which it isn’t. But I still don’t like the transposition towards the imaginary island of Buratonga. As a consequence the phrase “wir Chinezen” in Sou-Chongs first aria “Immer nur Lächeln” becomes the somewhat ridiculous “wir Asiaten”. And in the same number Sou-Chong no longer thinks that Lisa is intoxicating “wie Hasjisj”. Princess Mi doesn’t make her appearance in the second act as in the original but is already match-making for her brother in the first act and this makes her short affair with Gustl far more believable as both youngsters already know each other when they once more meet in ….well Buratonga.

The idea of having Sou-Chong recalled from Vienna to quell an uprising and succeeding his murdered brother is a good one, better than the original too where he becomes prime-minister. Therefore I was disillusioned that in the second act one of the most original and most impressive scenes is simply deleted. Though the music is mostly kept in place it only serves to show us the return of Lisa to her husband after a trip to the mountains. Originally this is where the ceremony of “Die Gelbe Jacke” (the yellow coat) takes place; the handing over of the coat as a symbol of the office and the original title of the first version of the operetta before Lehár reworked it for Tauber. A symbolic coat suits a hereditary ruler far better than a prime-minister and I sorely miss the combination of impressive music and the original idea.

In this version under review Sou-Chong and Lisa are at least married and are even somewhat desperate they are still childless after one year and this too is a dramatic improvement on many earlier versions. In the Tauber-movie the Chinese prince meets Lisa and they both go to see the operetta that proves that East and West will never meet. So they decide that marriage is not for them. Thus, a short marriage (and the implicit idea of sex) and an irregular divorce —things that could hurt the sensitivities of the public in the thirties — were avoided. All in all, this German TV-production is quite an acceptable proposal for those who want to hear and see one of Lehár’s masterpieces. For those who prefer to be their own directors and can substitute the soundtrack, Tauber’s movie is indispensable.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Franz Lehár: Das Land des Lächelns

product_title=Franz Lehár: Das Land des Lächelns
product_by=René Kollo, Birgit Pitsch-Sarata, Dagmar Koller, Heinz Zednik, Fred Liewehr, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Wolfgang Ebert (cond.). Directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 073 405-6 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 12:46 PM

December 10, 2005

Students Who Can Sing Like the Pros

vaughan_williams.gifBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 9 December 2005]

The Manhattan School of Music offers many interesting evenings in the course of the academic year, but none are as eagerly awaited as their signature traversals of operatic rarities. For many years, the MSM has enjoyed a reputation as the most innovative company in town, and I have especially fond memories of a "Le Comte Ory" one season, and a double bill of Gustav Holst's "Savitri" and Leonard Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti" in another.

Posted by Gary at 2:07 PM

Cecilia Bartoli - Barbican, London

bartoli.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 9 December 2005]

There is no better way to draw an audience than to tell people the show was previously banned. Never mind that these "prohibited operas" go back 300 years - they still have that air of suppressed naughtiness hanging over them.

Posted by Gary at 1:57 PM

'Hansel and Gretel' a delicious holiday treat

humperdinck.jpgBY ROB HUBBARD [Pioneer Press, 10 December 2005]

While the Minnesota Orchestra has been celebrating the Christmas season with Handel's "Messiah" for decades and more recently added Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to the mix, there was something missing from the programming: a sense of childlike wonder at the magic and mystery that the season brings.

Posted by Gary at 1:52 PM

La Scala after the storm is battered but still beautiful

davislim.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 9 December 2005]

In his great act two aria "Fuor del mar" (Free of the sea) Idomeneo reflects on his escape from the clutches of Neptune - only to recognise that the price of survival is a more dreadful storm, this time moral and psycho-logical. The aria, handsomely sung on Wednesday by the Australian tenor Steve Davislim at the opening of the 2005-06 season at La Scala Milan, comes at halfway point in Mozart's Idomeneo, by which time you know whether you are in a good performance or a bad one.

Posted by Gary at 1:45 PM

A Time of Tristans

Over the recent period, EMI Classics have issued the much noted “final studio opera recording” (probably not true), of Tristan conducted by Anthony Pappano with Placido Domingo and Nina Stemme in the title roles, chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Shortly before this issue, Deutsche Grammophon released a Wiener Staatsoper-produced recording of T&I taken from live performances in May of 2003, conducted by Christian Thielemann, with Thomas Moser and Deborah Voigt in the lead roles, and broadcast on Austrian Radio. Pappano’s London studio effort dates from sessions of November 2004 and January 2005.

A third fairly recent Tristan is said by informed sources to be coming from Warner Classics, that being from BBC broadcasts of several years ago, featuring John Treleaven and Christine Brewer in the title roles, Donald Runnicles conducting forces at the Barbican Center, London — essentially for radio broadcast, one act over each of three occasions. Warner is expected to issue this in 2006.

A curious coincidence among these three recordings is they feature several major performers’ first efforts in the monumental Wagnerian romantic roles. Vienna was hearing Voigt’s first Isolde and Moser’s first Tristan; London was hearing Brewer’s first Isolde and the EMI CDs present Domingo’s first and probably only Tristan, a role he has not sung live and at this point in his career, presumably will not. The Metropolitan Opera currently has scheduled Voigt’s first New York Isoldes in 2006, and San Francisco Opera will present Brewer’s first fully staged Isolde in Autumn 2006. I’ll mention the obvious: it is quite unusual for a singer to record his or her very first experience with such stellar parts and it is risky to do so, as comparisons are bound to be made with subsequent performances that benefit from further study and experience. Brewer, for example, was still reading her role from a score when her broadcast recording was made.

We cannot review the BBC/Brewer recording since it is not yet officially issued, but I have heard test discs from the BBC Barbican broadcasts and they represent a remarkable vocalization of Isolde by debutante Brewer, most likely the best equipped soprano in vocal terms of any essaying the role at present. Runnicles is a capable Wagner conductor and Treleaven a competent English tenor, not usually associated, however, with heroic repertory. More on that recording when it is in hand.

I see that Opera Today has not reviewed the Thielemann issue, and I cannot here, save for a few words of comparison to the Pappano/Domingo recording, the real subject of this article. In sum, I was pleasantly surprised by both Pappano and Domingo in their collaboration on Wagner for EMI microphones. Their studio Tristan is a true ‘performance,’ with cogency, its own style, much beautiful, precise orchestral sound and individual instrumental playing, and mainly adequate or better singing.

Domingo is the reason this recording exists and he sings with warm tone, dramatic conviction and good energy. He is obviously not a stage Tristan — but he’s a good one here. I agree with many, that his German vowels are sometimes not idiomatic, yet he generally sounds comfortable in the language and the value of his distinctive, mellifluous tone is beyond price. How many tenors have we suffered through ‘barking’ this part — too many! Domingo sings it, sometimes a bit flat out, but honorably. He is well partnered by the young Swedish soprano Nina Stemme who brings many strengths to her Isolde. She sang the part at Glyndebourne and she is assured in her work. I feel she is a bit over-parted, especially in the long sustained narrative passages of Act I, when the upper mid-range voice can turn a bit cloudy under pressure; however when it’s time for climactic highs she has them. She also has good German and strong emotional command of the Irish princess’s moods and passions. Mihoko Fujimura, the mezzo soprano Brangane, is of Japanese origin, but spent years training in European houses and has sung Wagner widely, including at Bayreuth. The voice can turn a shade hooty when pressured, but her over all contribution is valid, and more. All principals are tested by the big duet scene of Act II — but the virtue of studio production is proven: however many retakes later, the result is satisfactory.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the EMI Tristan und Isolde is the orchestra, its sound and conductor. The wide dynamics and colors of Wagner’s rich score are beautifully captured; the English musicians out-do themselves in instrumental perfection, and the American-born Tony Pappano has his point-of-view with this music.

It is often very slow, especially in the opening pages of the prelude and in other mainly orchestral passages; how long can you draw it out before it breaks? This is the kind of thing James Levine does with aplomb in Wagner performances at the Met, but the post-modern approach to molecularizing scores is not to everyone’s taste. One has to be patient with this and wait for the resolution; ultimately it comes, and as Act I ended I felt I had heard a true performance and a good one. Tristan abounds in unresolved longing, in prolonged and sustained mood, all intended to heighten the effect of final resolution when at last it comes. Brian Magee in his brilliant study, The Tristan Chord, makes it clear that “the music is the drama” for Wagner — and indeed so. Just how much one cares to play the waiting game is a matter of personal taste.

I would, however, refer readers to Thielemann’s live-in-theatre performance on DGG to catch a better whiff of the real temporal dynamics in Wagner’s theatrical score. No matter how much Magee and, perhaps Pappano might argue their case, T&I is a theatre piece, and it has to live in theatre time. I suppose it’s a lot easier to sizzle in the opera house than in the studio. But I am happy to put Pappano’s recording beside those in my library of von Karajan, Böhm and Levine. Vienna’s lead singers do not provide the interest of Domingo and Stemme. Voigt’s Isolde was a work in progress in May 2003, and she was not in best form. Her top notes here are bight and reliable; alas, the working voice, the all-important middle range, can go into and out of tune, and often does. If I am not mistaken, the Vienna performances were shortly before Voigt’s much publicized bariatric surgery, a situation from which she has only recently emerged with a less than satisfactorily supported voice — so far. One grows bored with her flatting and fudging in all but the topmost register. Voigt has always shown best in the high-flying Richard Strauss parts, always had to compromise a bit with the lower-ranging Wagner parts she has sung. This Isolde is no exception, only here the under pitched, slightly uncomfortable tones are inscribed for posterity. Is Isolde really a role for Voigt? Thomas Moser’s first Tristan shows a voice in tune, of good power and range — with no particular color or interest. I don’t know where a good Tristan is nowadays. Let’s wait for a listen to Brewer and Treleaven. (Meanwhile Melchior and Flagstad are out there on CD.)

Not to slight secondary singers in the Pappano recording, for Rene Pape as King Mark is vocally beautiful and touching, while EMI has rather shamelessly cast “name” artists in two lesser parts, Rolando Villazon as the young sailor, Ian Bostridge as a shepherd, to no special effect. Olaf Bar is Kurwenal, Jared Holt is Melot, and Matthew Rose is the steersman — all competent.

J. A. Van Sant © 2005
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Related Links:


Brian Robins [Goldberg No. 35]

Giulio Cesare in Egitto was the fifth of the full-length operas composed by Handel for London’s Royal Academy of Music, the opera company founded in 1719 by a group of noblemen with the objective of staging Italian opera seria.

From the outset the grandeur and scale of Giulio Cesare, first given at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket on 20 February 1724, ensured a popular success reflected not only by London revivals in January 1725, January 1730 and February 1732, but by the opera rapidly being taken up in Germany, where it was performed in a number of centres including Brunswick (August 1725) and Hamburg (November 1725).

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=G. F. Handel

Posted by Gary at 10:26 AM

December 8, 2005

A Fresh Look at Giulia Grisi

not only in terms of the brilliance of her career and the roles she created, but also in terms of the roles created by others that she later assumed and made her own.1 Yet, while there is at least one book devoted to both her and her common law husband, the tenor Mario, there is still apparently no full length biography, devoted exclusively to her life and artistry 2 . This is a curious fact, especially if one considers the very large number of books written about her contempories, Malibran and Lind, and numerous others about Sontag, Pasta, Viardot, and Alboni, all active on the lyric stage during the same or overlapping periods in the nineteenth century.

Henry Pleasants, writing in his book The Great Singers3 offers what may be a partial explanation:
Giulia Grisi's contributions to operatic history, ie in the form of enduring roles written for or created by her, were confined to the early years of her career, overlooking, of course, the hardly epochal role of Norina in Don Pasquale. She sang the first Adalgisa to Pasta's Norma in Milan in 1831, and she was in the premiere casts of I puritani and I Capuleti ed i Montecchi 4 . For the rest, her best parts were those forever identified with Pasta: Semiramis and Ann Boleyn - from whom she took them over, and upon whose interpretations she modelled her own. She was a memorable Lucrezia Borgia , and she excelled in lighter roles — Rosina, Norina, Susanna, Pamina and Elisetta (in Il matrimonio segreto) — but so also, surprisingly, had Pasta.

Her genius — if that is not too strong a word — was imitative rather than creative. When it was expended in areas compatible with her voice and dramatic temperament, she approached and may have matched the achievements of her models. Her endowment of voice and personal beauty was superior to that of either Pasta or Malibran and her performances less likely to be blemished by effort or mishap. Simply because of the absence of any sense of hazard, they may also have been less exciting 5 .
Pleasants was by no means the first person to suggest that Grisi was little more than an imitator of Pasta. This accusation was made as early as 1850 by Pauline Viardot, who can be regarded as Grisi's bitter enemy. Viardot's hostility towards Grisi was probably due to the fact that Grisi's early success in London in 1834 had driven her older sister, Maria Malibran, out of King's Theatre that year. To quote Cox 6 : "That Grisi, therefore, for the time being, crushed Malibran, there can be no doubt; but that the 'Garcia' would have had her revenge is more than probable, since she was rapidly recovering her diminished position, when she was untowardly smitten by the hand of death at the Manchester Musical Festival of the year 1836." The accusation was repeated by Chorley in 1862 7 . It, too, is worthy of examination since he contradicts himself in his discussion of Grisi. He starts out by saying:
Madame Grisi has been remarkable for her cleverness in adopting the ideas of others more thoughtful and originally inventive than herself. With two exceptions, her most popular personations have followed those of other actresses. Her Norma, doubtless her grandest performance, was modelled on that of Madame Pasta - perhaps in some points was an improvement on the model 8 ....
This can only be interpreted as saying that all her roles except two were modelled on earlier interpreters. But is Norma an exception, or an example? It would seem to be an example, if not for the fact that Chorley later says:
On a level with her Norma was Madame Grisi's Lucretia Borgia, Lucrezia even more original as a conception, ripened and coloured into a superb and glowing picture as years went on 9 ...
This would imply that her Norma was also an original conception. If that were the case, then Chorley would be saying that all her major roles. with the exception of Norma and Lucrezia Borgia are copies. An impossibility, since she herself created Norina in Don Pasquale and Elvira in I puritani, and heard neither Pasta nor Malibran as Semiramide. Also, Anna Bolena was practically her only other major role, so that would make the imitation the exception rather than the rule.

Let us go on the assumption that Chorley intended to say that Norma was an example of her modelling her best roles on those of her predecessors, and investigate further.

A few years later, in 1872, Cox, who had heard her as far back as 1834 wrote his "recollections" and made similar remarks 10 :
When Mdme Viardot heard Pasta for the first time in her life, in her decay, she uttered a most forcible truth, saying "Now I know where Grisi got all her greatness." It was from Pasta that the original Adalgisa obtained the impression how the Norma and Anna Bolena should be rendered , as it was from Malibran that she gained an insight into the requirements necessary for the truthful delineation of the unhappy girl (this refers to Desdemona in Rossini's Otello) and as it likewise was many years afterwards that she learned what was to be made of Valentine in Meyerbeer's Les huguenots by having witnessed Mme. Viardot's perfect version of that interesting character 11 .
Chorley actually provides more details 12 , stating that Grisi appropriated the part, and with it, took as tradition some of her predecessor's inventions — especially those of listening terror, in the striking conspiracy scene 13 . On first reading both Cox and Chorley's descriptions of this incident, one is left with the impression that what we have here is a blatant case of Grisi's imitating Viardot. And this might have been true had the role of Valentine been an old favorite of Grisi's, which was already part of her repertory, and that she only learned what to make of, after hearing Viardot. But that does not jibe with the known facts. The truth is that Grisi never sang the role until May 1849, a year after hearing Viardot in it, at a time when Viardot was most probably singing in Paris 14 . For any actress of Grisi's proven ability not to have shown terror during this horrifying but highly dramatic scene strikes this writer as straining credulity. I might add that any number of prima donnas, including some famous actresses had sung Valentine in Paris before Viardot sang it in London 15 , and we have no way of knowing whether or not the "listening terror" had not already been invented by some other singer, perhaps Cornelie Falcon, who created the role, or Rosine Stoltz, who replaced her in it, before Viardot got around to it. While Grisi probably only heard Viardot sing the part in London, she had been engaged for many years at the Théâtre Italien in Paris while Huguenots was sung by others at the Opéra. Nor do we know what improvements Grisi later made to her interpretation of the role of Valentine.

When I first wrote this article for the Journal of the Donizetti Society in 1980, I did not realize the extent of the hostility that Viardot felt towards Grisi, the lengths to which.she would go to make her rival look bad, and the extent to which she was able to influence John Cox to accept her version of the story, and to present only Viardot's account of the story in his book. As it happened, I wrote an article on the relationship between Grisi and Viardot many years after the one for the Donizetti Society 16 , and the research for that article opened my eyes. I will discuss these aspects a little later.

The adverse criticisms of Grisi made by Chorley and Cox, were, so to speak. lost in a sea of adulation. While we do not know the basis of Pleasants' remarks, they seem to be derived from one or both of these sources, most probably Cox. Although some of his observations may be partly justified, they impress one as unfavourably biased, a bias which Pleasants seems to have inherited from Cox, who, in turn, was heavily influenced by Viardot. All of these comments and the question of whether or not Grisi was an imitator bear closer investigation, because they indicate an attitude that must have been prevalent for years. Handed down by musicologists of the past century who devoted much more attention to her contemporaries, they may have contributed to her neglect by biographers and as Pleasants' example shows, they have unduly or excessively influenced writers down to our times. .

Pleasants neglects to mention that her best role, and the one that she will forever be associated with was Norma. At the world premiere. Norma had been created by Giuditta Pasta, but as we will see, the role was later improved upon by Grisi. Pleasants does acknowledge that she was a memorable Lucretia Borgia, but neglects to point out the important fact that .she could not possibly have imitated anybody in that role, since she never heard the work in Italy, and herself created it in both Paris and London. He does state that her best parts were Semiramide and Anna Bolena, which she is reputed to have taken over from Pasta. There could have been some truth to that statement in the case of Anna Bolena, since she did hear Pasta in it. However, a review of her first London attempt at the role, actually compares her portrayal with that of Pasta, and gives the lie to Cox's suggestion that she was essentially imitating Pasta:
"While the deep and thrilling tones of Pasta were wanting to give its full expression to particular passages of the music, the freshness of Grisi's voice, and the purity of her intonation enabled us to enjoy portions of the opera, which we have formerly listened to almost with pain. Her wild and broken-hearted "Giudici! Ad Anna! carried the audience away with her, and was a genuine burst of inspiration, and her acting and singing, in the last scene, finished the performance triumphantly." 17
On the other hand Pleasants' statement could not possibly be true in regard to Semiramide, which Pasta only sang when Grisi was known to be performing somewhere else. So Grisi could not possibly have seen her in the role. Still, it would not have been an artistic crime for Grisi to have modelled two of her interpretations — Norma and Anna Bolena — on Pasta's, had she indeed done so: an assumption by no means sufficiently proven. On the contrary, it would have been unwise of her not to recognise the many qualities Pasta had brought to these roles and to ignore her contribution to the performing tradition in the making. It would be comparable to a composer's learning from his predecessors. To cite just one example, Verdi learned a great deal from Donizetti and Mercadante yet no one would call Verdi an imitator or consider him a lesser composer because he had anchored his creative genius in the artistic inheritance of the past.

We will confine our analysis of Grisi in opera seria, although she was an accomplished performer in lighter roles, specifically as Rosina, Norina, a role she created, Susanna, Amina, Elisetta, and the semi-seria role of Ninetta, a favourite of hers, which really came much closer to opera seria than opera buffa. Since we already have a comparison of the two ladies in Anna Bolena, it will not be necessary to compare Grisi and Pasta in all the roles that they both sang in order to substantiate that Grisi was much more than a mere imitator, although it must also be pointed out that Grisi never attempted many of Pasta's favourite roles, including Medea (in Mayr's opera, not Cherubini's or Pacini's), Tancredi, Romeo (in the works of two different composers) and a few others. We will, therefore, further confine our investigation to the most important of these roles in which Grisi would have been most tempted to imitate her mentor and rival, since she had been a participant at the premiere in a lesser role. This memorable opera is, of course, Norma. We are fortunate to have access to enough reviews of Grisi as Norma to demonstrate the fact that she did much more than imitate Pasta's creation, she built on it.

But first, a little history, some of which may be common knowledge to many readers, but which still bears repeating at this point as background material.

Pasta had created Norma at La Scala on December 26, 1831 with Grisi singing the lesser role of Adalgisa. At the time Grisi had expressed the desire to sing Norma some day, and while Bellini put down the idea, Pasta herself encouraged the young singer, saying that one day she would fill her shoes. Pasta also was the first Norma in London, creating the role for an English audience on June 20 1833 but never sang the role in Paris where it was created by Grisi on December 8, 1835. In the meantime, Grisi had made her Paris debut in late 1832, and her London debut in the spring of 1834. Norma was not given in London by the Italian company between 1833, with Pasta in the title role, and June 25, 1835, when Grisi sang it there for the first time. While there is a brief review in the Athenaeum, this provides no details. She sang it again in London on April 16, 1836, and repeated it in early 1837 as did a soprano named Blasis. Nor did she relinquish it to Pasta when the latter returned to London for a series of performances in the early summer of that year. Pasta only sang three roles at that time: Romeo in Zingarelli's opera, Tancredi in an abridged version of the work, and Medea. Pasta had made her reappearance on June 22, and on June 29 Anna Bolena was staged for Grisi with Pasta singing the abridged Tancredi later in the same program. It can be assumed from this that Grisi had already displaced Pasta as the prima donna assoluta by her fourth London season. The fourth soprano to attempt Norma in an Italian version in London was Tosi who sang it in the pre-Easter season of 1840 while Grisi was still in Paris, and did not create a particularly favourable impression. Between. 1841 and 1846, the role remained Grisi's at Her Majesty's Theatre, as it did at Covent Garden from 1847, when she switched to the rival house, until 1861. Lind attempted the role at Her Majesty's in 1847 but without critical success, Teresa Parodi fared somewhat better in 1849, Fiorentini sang it in 1850, Cruvelli succeeded in it in 1851 and 1852 and finally Titiens triumphed in it in 1859. Cruvelli could have become one of London's favourite Normas but chose marriage and semi-retirement in Nice instead. Thus only Titiens, who sang the role in almost every season until her premature death was a significant interpreter of the role in 19th Century London after Grisi.

As mentioned before, Grisi, having sung Norma for the first time in London in June, 1835, and again in Paris in December of that year, did not repeat it in London until April 16, 1836. Several days later this performance was reviewed by the Atheneum, but not in the same detail as later performances were to be reviewed by the Musical World. Nowhere does this review, quoted below, state that Grisi's interpretation was nothing more than a carbon copy of Pasta's:
Norma was revived this week, with Grisi as the priestess of Irminsul, Lablache. taking the part of Oroveso, and a Signora Assandri making her debut on an English stage in the part of Adalgisa. To criticise the composition of this Opera is unnecessary ... in offering an account of it is sufficient to speak of the acting and singing of the prima donna. In both, Grisi did more than justify our highest expectations; if she was not equal to Pasta in majesty of demeanor - if some of her attitudes were angular, and some of her motions a little too much hurried for the dignity which tragedy demands, she approached nearer to her predecessor than any other actress of the day could do — with the superior advantage, a voice altogether unrivalled in force, clearness and abandon of execution. Nothing could exceed her delivery of the trio in the finale of the first Act, or the alternate energy and delicacy with which she gave the duo in the second "Si fino all'ore estreme", in both she was most satisfactorily supported by the seconda donna ...
Now let us look at what the April 18, 1836 issue of The Times of London has to say about this performance:
Bellini's tragic opera of Norma was performed Saturday evening. The public is familiar with the great power displayed by Grisi in the representati of the principal character, which is the more striking from the close comparison with her Ninetta, in La gazza ladra, the opposite extreme of style. Yet she excels in both so wonderfully, that it requires a nice judgement to which of them the preference ought to be given. It would resolve itself, after all into a judgement of the music or the or the character, not of the performer, so closely does she identify herself with both. The music of Rossini is far better than that of Bellini, and the character of Ninetta dramatically more agreeable than than of Norma. It would be correct to say, therefore, that we prefer one to the other but not that Grisi displays greater talent in either. From her magnificent opening,. the invocation to the moon, the "Casta Diva" in the fourth scene, to the finale of the second act, in which she ascends the fatal pile, she bore up the composition as if it were by her own efforts, if efforts they could be called which evidently cost her nothing, and in some of the more striking passages communicated an effect on the audience almost electrical. One instance which occurred in the first scene where an ordinary performer would have thrown in a mere roulade, or flourish, but where Grisi merely sustained a long note diminished from her utmost force to its finest point, was one of the greatest refinements in her art ever exhibited. The simplicity and purity of the effect amounted almost to the sublime. It is needless to say, after this that her reception was of the most distinguished kind.
Grisi was to sing Norma again in London in the 1837, '38, ‘39, '41, '43, '44, '45 and '46 seasons, and actually made her re-entry in that role in two of these seasons 18 . In 1846, the Musical World was just as warm about her Norma as it had been previously:
On Tuesday, Norma was performed for the first time. Her Majesty and the Prince were present. The music of Bellini, like that of.Donizetti, though pale by the side of the dashing Rossini, is perfectly refreshing after the stale insipidities and heavy common-places of "young Verdi". We felt this in the Sonnambula, an opera profuse of melody and grace, albeit somewhat monotonous in character; felt it again in Norma, which, though scarcely as melodious as La sonnambula, is higher in attempt and involves many bursts of true passion; witness the trio in the last act, the melancholy opening of which is so delicious, and the climax so exciting. Grisi surpassed herself. She was beautiful, sublime, even terrible. No Siddons ever exceeded the dignity and passion of the last act. No Malibran ever went beyond the heart-rending pathos with which she sang the agitato in the mirror, when on her knees before Oroveso. No Rachel ever excelled the withering contempt which she threw into her acting in the duet with her profligate betrayer. The whole conception and execution of the part was perfection.
It was not until 1847 that she had a serious challenger in a role that had been her own for so many years. The challenge came from none less than Jenny Lind, and while it was easily shunted aside by Grisi, it does provide an opportunity to examine her conception of Norma more closely, and would provide further evidence that, in this role at least she was anything but an imitator of her predecessors, except that this review is too long to be quoted here. However, this review of Grisi's 1847 Norma, originally published in the Musical World, is also available in Donizetti Society Journal 4. 19

It would, of course, have been impossible both to examine and quote all the published reviews of Grisi in Norma, a role she sang countless times and in countless places. If any of them did suggest that she imitated Pasta in one aspect or another, they have not come to my attention. But then, the suggestion that Grisi was an interpretative plagiarist did not gain currency until three years later, when Viardot heard Pasta in scenes from Anna Bolena. Viardot's remark, which was previously quoted, was not widely publicized until after Grisi's death, when everybody, even some of Grisi's erstwhile staunchest admirers took it up. Yet, the fact that it was never as much as suggested in regard to Norma during the best years of Grisi's career lends little credibility to this accusation. Nor does the fact that Viardot was known to be a bitter enemy and jealous rival of both Grisi and Mario, add to its credibility. The latter subject is discussed in some depth in the winter 1997-98 issue of the Opera Quarterly, with some emphasis on Viardot's complaints about the behavior of Grisi and Mario 20 . Basically, there were five complaints, three of which dealt with indispositions on the part of the tenor Mario at critical points of Viardot's London career. These were discussed by Musical World in various issues, coming to the conclusion that the indispositions were probably genuine. Even tenors are allowed to get sick, but there is no proof one way or another. The other two charges against Grisi were essentially that she dared to sing the roles of Valentine and Fides (in Huguenots and Prophete) which Viardot had sung in London with great success, while the latter was engaged elsewhere.

This is how John Cox describes the first of Mario's indispositions when Viardot was counting on his support:
"A more cruel method of treatment than that resorted to towards that lady has rarely been adopted. The fact was that Grisi had been influenced by a sudden fit of jealousy and fear lest Malibran's only sister should achieve a success. Mario was to have been the lover; but at the last moment that wretched "stick" who answered to the name of Flavio, was thrust into the part, as if on purpose to mar everything by means of his incompetency. When the time came for Madame Viardot to dress, nothing was ready for her, and each of the costumes she had to wear was actually pinned upon her by the dresser allotted to her. It was no wonder that the audience was cold throughout the performance. Disappointed at the absence of Mario, and feeling that an insult had been offered to themselves, rather than to the lady who had been placed in so trying a position, they seemed inclined to vent their mortification upon her, and nearly. accomplished that which, without doubt, was intended to be of set purpose-a dead failure. Again and again Madame Viardot rose to the occasion, especially in the chamber-scene, and moved the icy coldness of the house into something akin to warmth; but she bided her time, and when the moment came for the finale to be sung, "went in" with such pluck and determination "to win", that she produced a furore that never before had been witnessed in the new Covent Garden Opera-house entirely defeating her opponents, but not thereby rendering them less malicious or vindictive. From that moment a spirit of rivalry was introduced into the new venture, out of which disastrous consequences afterwards arose; nor was Grisi satisfied until she had appropriated nearly all Mdme. Viardot's parts, in not one of which did she come within "a shadow of a shade" of the excellence of a lady, who was only her inferior with respect to voice, but who, as an artiste and a genius, towered above the more popular favourite with transcendent superiority..
We will never know for sure whether or not Mario was really ill that night. The rumours of his faking it were widely circulated, and rigorously denied in the press. But we do know that Cox's claim to the effect that Grisi appropriated nearly all of Viardot's parts at Covent Garden was a gross exaggeration, which casts doubt on many of the negative comments that Cox had made about her 21 . This point can be clearly made by examining Viardot's repertory in London, and seeing how many of these roles were "appropriated" by Grisi: In her debut season (1848), Viardot sang La Sonnambula, Bellini's Romeo, Donna Anna (which Grisi had already sung that year, and which both sang from time to time afterwards) Valentine, and an unidentified role in La prova d'un opera seria. In 1849 she added Fides, then, in 1850, Adina and , in 1851 she sang Papagena and Gounod's Sapho, which Viardot had created earlier in Paris. She did not return in 1852 or 1853, so Grisi sang Fides in the first of these two seasons. In 1854 she added Desdemona, while in 1855 she added Rosina and Azucena. Covent Garden was closed due to a fire in 1856 and 1857. Viardot did not return until years later, while Grisi left at the end of the 1861 season. Of all these parts, the only ones which Viardot's adherents could claim Grisi "appropriated" were Valentine and Fides, a far cry from Cox's claim of "nearly all" of her parts. Both of these were first sung by Grisi when Viardot was engaged elsewhere, which makes one wonder whether Viardot was so little of a team player that she expected operas to be dropped when she was not present to sing roles that she evidently considered her private property. If either of these two prima donnas had an attitude problem, it would seem to me that it was Viardot rather than Grisi, which makes it difficult for me to understand why Cox would go out of his way to take her side. Still, that is exactly what he did, doing untold harm to the reputation of a great singer, since his book on opera in mid-nineteenth century London has served as one of the prime reference works on the period for later writers.

It might also be worthwhile to discuss the issue of who owned a role, which seems so important to Viardot, who apparently felt that she had every right to sing any role once sung, or even created by some other prima donna, while anything that she ever sang automatically became hers for life. Still, Viardot's ideas on property rights (something like what is yours is mine and what is mine is mine) seem so outlandish as not to be worthy of further discussion.

Let me close by expressing the hope that Giulia Grisi's career will finally receive her due, perhaps in a full length biography of this great singer.

Tom Kaufman

1. This is a revised and expanded version of an article originally published in Journal 4 of the Donizetti Society, London, 1980 . Since the original version was first published some additional material on that and related subjects has come to light and will be taken into account. See Thomas G. Kaufman: Giulia Grisi — A Reevaluation, Donizetti Society Journal 4, London, 1980.
2. Mario and Grisi, by Elizabeth Forbes, was published in 1985, but, as the title states, deals with both singers.
3. Henry Pleasants: The Great Singers (New York): Simon and Schuster, 1966.
4. Pleasants credits her with an accomplishment that was not hers: the singing of Giulietta in the world premiere of I Capuleti ed i Montecchi which took place in Venice on March 12. 1830. At that time. Giulia Grisi was singing in Florence. Pleasants undoubtedly confuses her with the first Romeo. her sister Giuditta. She did eventually  sing the role of Giulietta in Paris, with her older sister as Romeo, but obviously did not create the part.
5. Pleasants:, p. 178
6. John Cox: Musical Recollections: London, 1872, Vol. I, p. 300
7. Henry F. Chorley: Thirty Years Musical Recollections; London, Hurst and Blackett, 1862; edited by Ernest Newman: New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1926.
8. Ibid. page 77
9. Ibid. page 78
10. Cox: page 292
11. This is a misleading statement, which helps show Cox's bias. It is a fact that Grisi had no difficulty learning what to make of roles such as Elvira in I puritani, Norina in Don Pasquale, both of which she created, or Lucrezia Borgia, which she created in both Paris and London. While it is true that Viardot had created the role of Valentine at Covent Garden, and regarded it as her property, she sang it there only during the 1848 season, with Grisi keeping it from 1849 until her temporary retirement in1861. I doubt if Grisi could have kept it that long were the management to have felt that Viardot was a better interpreter.
12. Chorley, page 234.
13. He is referring to the great scene for St. Bris, Nevers and the Catholics in Act IV where they are planning the St. Bartholomew's massacre. This scene is often referred to as the "Conjuration des poignards."
14. She did return to London in the spring of 1849 to create the role of Fides in Le prophète in that city.
15. There is no record of Viardot ever singing the role in Paris.
16. Tom Kaufman: The Grisi-Viardot Controversy, 1848-1852; The Opera Quarterly; Winter 1997/98
17. The Atheneum, London, Apr. 19, 1834, page 297.
18. Elvira in I puritani was chosen by Grisi as her re-entry role in six of her nine seasons in London from 1837 to 1846, suggesting that this, rather than Norma, may have been her favorite role at the time. Norma was chosen twice and Desdemona once.
19. Thomas G. Kaufman: Giulia Grisi a reevaluation; Donizetti Society Journal 4, pages 189-192.
20. Kaufman, Opera Quarterly Winter 1997/98 pages 7-22.
21. To be fair, Cox does devote quite a bit of space to Grisi's debut season (vol. I, pages 287-300) in which he also has quite a few kind things to say about her, particularly liking her Ninetta, Donna Anna, and Desdemona.
image= image_description=Giulia Grisi (1811-69) by Francois Bouchot, 1840
Posted by Gary at 12:00 PM

Philharmonia Orchestra/Sokiev, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

By Edward Seckerson [The Independent, 8 December 2005]

In a bid to attract younger punters to their concerts, the Philharmonia organised a speed-dating event before this one. And since the main attraction was a rare Mussorgsky opera entitled The Marriage, the marketing may have been desperate but at least the wit was still intact. In the event, the speed-dating proved only marginally speedier than the opera.

Posted by Gary at 9:21 AM

Harding applauded at La Scala opening

LaScala_small.jpgANTONIO CALANNI [Associated Press, 7 December 2005]

MILAN, Italy - Daniel Harding scored a personal triumph and a standing ovation Wednesday after conducting Mozart's "Idomeneo" at the season opening of the famed La Scala opera house - the first in 19 years without maestro Riccardo Muti.

Posted by Gary at 9:15 AM

Opera house's woes grow as staff threaten to strike

eno_logo.jpgBy Dalya Alberge [Times Online, 8 December 2005]

ENGLISH National Opera was plunged deeper into trouble yesterday after it discovered that it was facing a strike by its staff.

Technicians, front-of-house and production staff voted unanimously to ballot for action after condemning a 2.77 per cent pay offer as “hopelessly inadequate”. Productions in January would be halted by a strike of about 170 workers.

Posted by Gary at 9:04 AM

Making Artistic Trade-Offs at Glimmerglass Opera


Worried about offending moral sensibilities, Glimmerglass Opera has asked the creators of a new work coming next summer to take "whore" out of the title.

Officials of Glimmerglass, the summer festival in Cooperstown, N.Y., denied they were being prudish but said the word could have kept patrons away. The composer, Stephen Hartke, and the librettist, Philip Littell, acquiesced, and "Boule de Suif, or The Good Whore," is now being called "The Greater Good, or the Passion of Boule de Suif."

Posted by Gary at 8:25 AM

December 7, 2005

Export Young times it right

simone_young_small.jpgBy Andrew McCathie [The Age, 8 December 2005]

Simone Young says she has stopped setting goals for herself.

However, this week she became the first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in about 27 years when she stepped onto the podium of what many consider to be the world's greatest orchestra when Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons was forced to bow out because of flu.

Posted by Gary at 9:29 AM

Pamela Rosenberg's time at the Opera was as full of drama as any production. What are people saying about her now?

rosenberg_small.jpgSteven Winn [SF Chronicle, 7 December 2005]

Late last month, with her five-year tenure as general director of the San Francisco Opera winding down to its final weeks, Pamela Rosenberg spent a night in the orchestra pit during a performance of "Fidelio" at the War Memorial Opera House. The experience, as she described it, was at once thrilling and disorienting, heady and viscerally real.

Posted by Gary at 9:25 AM

Young conductor to open La Scala season

harding.jpgCBC Arts [6 December 2005]

A breath of fresh air will sweep through La Scala Wednesday when it welcomes the youngest conductor ever to the podium for the opening performance of its season.

Posted by Gary at 9:19 AM

I’m taking Tarantino to the opera

tangier_tattoo.jpgMICHAEL TUMELTY [The Herald, 7 December 2005]

John Lunn could be forgiven for feeling a bit sore. The 49-year-old Stirling-born composer's latest opera, Tangier Tattoo, which is being brought to Edinburgh next week by Glyndebourne Touring Opera, has been comprehensively duffed by the London opera critics.

Posted by Gary at 9:10 AM

L'Amour des trois oranges, Paris Opera

three_oranges_paris.gifBy Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 7 December 2005]

Gilbert Deflo and Gerard Mortier go back a long way but Deflo's new Christmas offering for Paris follows on from his Manon and Don Quichotte, staged during Hugues Gall's tenure: it is spectacular and expensive- looking, glossy and glacial.

Posted by Gary at 8:49 AM

December 6, 2005

ROSSINI: Moise et Pharaon

It is certainly grand in the French manner and it receives a grand presentation in TDK's version. It was presented at the Teatro Arcimboldi when La Scala was in the process of renovation. The set designed by Gianni Quaranta fills the stage. Everything is large. His work is eye catching and seems quite appropriate. The director Luca Ronconi moves his forces around with aplomb, but it is difficult to create dramatic action in a piece that is relatively static. Despite a large cast that performs well, there is often the feeling that one is viewing a padded oratorio.

The chorus sings well and in the scenes which involve the chorus and principals, one gets a sense of what was to come later with Giullame Tell, as well as Rossini's successors Donizetti and Verdi.

Riccardo Muti is the gifted master of an orchestra that plays more than well. Muti is superb at controlling his orchestra and getting the most out of a cast that is never less than very good.

The Moise is the Russian Ildar Abdrazakov. He is properly noble in his acting and looks a plausible Moses. Vocally, the voice is a high lying bass, somewhat baritonal in nature. He has no trouble with the middle voice, nor the upward extensions. A couple of notes in the nether reaches are thin, but in all he is fine.

Barbara Frittoli is exceptionally ardent as Anai. She sings with great accuracy. In this version, a good deal of the ornamentation for all the voices has given way to straight forward dramatic thrust and it suits Frittoli well.

Giuseppe Filianoti as Amenophis, Pharaon's son, lives up to all the good things one has heard about this young man. His is a beautiful lyric voice. It is used with taste and his acting is excellent. He presents a fine figure on stage. Let us hope he stays in the lyric repertoire until his voice ripens He is quite ready and able to make a splash as the Duke of Mantua, Alfredo and Edgardo in Lucia right now.

Erwin Schrott as Pharaon brings a lovely baritone to his role. He acts with appropriate majesty. He too should continue to rise in the ranks.

Sonia Ganassi is luxury casting as Sinaide, Pharaon's wife. She hasn't much to sing other than to participate in the large chorale scenes. What she does do, she does well.

Tomislav Muzek is Moise's brother Eliezer . His is a higher lying tenor that Filianoti's. A nice voice of his sort. I only wish the costumers had done a better job with his wig. It makes him look like a nerd.

Giorgio Giuseppini is appropriately stern and unyielding as Osiride the Egyptian High Priest and presnts a voice that reflects his character well.

Nino Surgaladze sings her small role as Moise's sister touchingly.

The cast is rounded out by Antonello Ceron as an Egytian officer and Maurizio Muraro as a mysterious voice.

The ballet, which opens Act III is entirely forgettable. It actually intrudes on the opera. I realize that Rossini was only providing what Paris convention demanded. In these days of DVD, one may skip through it at fast forward or skip it entirely.

Throughout, the chorus plays an important role in this opera. Bruno Casoni is the chorus master. He has done a superb job with his group.

It is unlikely that another version of this opera will appear on DVD. There really is no need for one. This is an excellent production, well conducted and beautifully sung. You may find fault with what Rossini did with his original opera, but there is no arguing that what Muti's forces have done, is other than first-rate.

Murray Schlanger

image_description=Gioachino Rossini: Moise et Pharaon

product_title=Gioachino Rossini: Moise et Pharaon
product_by=Barbara Frittoli, Sonia Ganassi, Ildar Abdrazakov, Erwin Schrott, Giuseppe Filianoti, Tomislav Muzek, Giorgio Giuseppini, Antonello Ceron, Nino Surguladze, Maurizio Muraro, Milan La Scala Chorus, Milan La Scala Orchestra, Milan La Scala Ballet, Ricardo Muti (cond.).
product_id=TDK DVWW-OPMEP [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 5:13 PM

La Scala Curtain Rises on More Than a New Season

la_scala_small.jpgBy REUTERS [6 December 2005]

MILAN (Reuters) - When the curtain rises at La Scala on Wednesday, it will unveil not just a new season but a new future for Milan's famed opera house.

Posted by Gary at 8:50 AM

A Sense of Moment for New Settings of Poems by 3 Poets

wagner_melinda_small.jpgBy ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 6 December 2005]

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was excited about its new piece. The program notes for its concert on Sunday afternoon included thoughts from Fred Sherry, the cellist, about playing a new work. Before the performance, Wu Han, one of the organization's artistic directors, spoke from the stage, invoking the most famous premiere of modern times, Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," in 1913. The audience, she suggested, would be able to say, "I was there when Melinda Wagner's piece 'Four Settings' had its New York premiere."

Posted by Gary at 8:45 AM

Lohengrin, Vienna State Opera

wagner_richard_bw_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 6 December 2005]

In place of a swan, we see a toy truck, fluorescent yellow in a world of relentless grey, forlornly abandoned by the side of a pond.

Posted by Gary at 8:36 AM

Now, for fine-tuning the Ellie — The opera house's woes, sound to signage, can be fixed or tolerated

ecoh.auditorium_small.jpgBy Kyle MacMillan [Denver Post, 4 December 2005]

Human beings can be a fickle lot.

Take the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The $92 million theater, built inside the shell of the former Auditorium Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, opened Sept. 10 to enormous praise.

Posted by Gary at 8:21 AM

December 5, 2005

Scaling the Heights — Elizabeth Futral

futral2_small.jpgby Zoe Vandermeer [Classical Singer, December 2005]

Elizabeth Futral—whom a recent reviewer described as: “a real looker, with creamy skin and wild black hair”—continues to impress critics and audiences alike with her terrific theatricality and amazing coloratura abilities. “It’s the voice that smites—the rich, sensual coloratura sound ... ” wrote the same reviewer, describing her singing in the recent Lincoln Center premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s song cycle, Orpheus and Euridice. “Even if she were standing on her head, instead of just being steered around the stage by a corps of dancers, that voice would kill us.” (Marilyn Stacio, Variety)

Posted by Gary at 4:52 PM

Billy Budd at ENO — Two Reviews

The all-male cast sees Timothy Robinson making his role debut as Captain Vere, while the charismatic Simon Keenlyside sings the title role and Sir John Tomlinson appears as Claggart. With a sense of motion created through a cleverly abstract set, this Billy Budd is gripping theatre from start to finish.

[Click here for additional details.]

Billy Budd - London Coliseum
By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 5 December 2005]

Once again the company has bailed out the board. As in January 2003, when Khovanshchina signalled English National Opera's highest artistic intent at a time of crisis, Saturday's performance of Billy Budd set its latest problems in perspective. In spite of last week's bloodless coup, which saw Sean Doran, ENO's inexperienced artistic director, replaced by two of his deputies, the show went on - brilliantly. No opera company deserves two defenestrations in three years: it's an outrageously expensive way of dealing with chief executives. Vernon Ellis, ENO's vice-chairman, says he actually admires Doran, that there is no financial black hole and that we have reason to feel positive about the company's prospects. Why then did the board fail to support Doran when he most needed it, just as he was getting his feet under the job?

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Billy Budd

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 5 December 2005]

It has taken seven years for Neil Armfield's production of Britten's Billy Budd to reach London. Premiered in 1998 by Welsh National Opera at Cardiff's New Theatre, it was deemed definitive by many at the time. It's still staggering, though anyone who remembers those first performances may well consider it less than ideally suited to the Coliseum stage, and also notice that it has undergone a significant shift in emphasis now that it has been reworked for a new cast.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

image_description=Benjamin Britten

Posted by Gary at 11:52 AM

An American Tragedy — Three Reviews

The book also inspired the film A Place in the Sun with Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters and Elizabeth Taylor. Tobias Picker (whose previous operas include Emmeline, seen in New York in 1998, and Therese Raquin) and his librettist Gene Scheer have distilled the long novel into a fast-moving drama, with lyrical arias and sharply-etched portraits of the Griffiths family – especially of Clyde and the two women he falls for.

[Click here for additional information.]

An American Tragedy - Metropolitan Opera New York
By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 5 December 2005]

The Metropolitan Opera is celebrated for many things. Producing new works is not one of them. This company, after all, coddles a notoriously conservative public, subsists essentially on private funding, and wants to sell 4,000 tickets a performance. Still, adventure does rear its head occasionally. In 1999, the Met mustered the premiere of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby. On Friday Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy joined the lonely ranks.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Dreiser's Chilling Tale of Ambition and Its Price
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 5 December 2005]

For a company of such international standing, the Metropolitan Opera has had an inexcusably timid record of commissioning operas in recent decades. Consequently, when the Met presents a new work, the stakes are almost impossibly high.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Good Singing, and a Few Cliches

By JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 5 December 2005]

The Metropolitan Opera gave a premiere on Friday night, of a work it commissioned: "An American Tragedy," by Tobias Picker. This opera is probably not destined to enter any canon, but it is competent, not uninteresting, and worthy of consideration.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

image_description=Theodore Dreiser

Posted by Gary at 11:45 AM

December 4, 2005

Lissner's Tenure at La Scala Begins with Idomeneo

stephane_lissner.jpg[Jean-Louis Validire, Le Figaro, 3 December 2005]
La Scala entame l'ère Lissner
OPÉRA C'est par «Idoménée» de Mozart, sous la direction de Daniel Harding, dans une mise en scène de Luc Bondy, que s'ouvre mercredi prochain la saison de la célèbre maison d'opéra.

Posted by Gary at 10:54 PM

Waiting in the Wings, Singing to Themselves

varnay_small.jpgBy ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 4 December 2005]

IN 1941, Astrid Varnay, then 23, jumped in on a few hours' notice for an ailing Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in "Die Walküre" at the Metropolitan Opera; it was the start of a long and illustrious international career. In 1944, Regina Resnik, 22, was thrust onto the Met stage as Leonora in "Il Trovatore" when Zinka Milanov got sick; Ms. Resnik remained an operatic fixture for decades. In 2002, Salvatore Licitra, at 33, replaced Luciano Pavarotti at the 11th hour in a long-planned "Tosca" at the Met and gave patrons who had paid as much as $1,800 a ticket something to cheer about; Sony Classical rushed out a solo recording.

Posted by Gary at 10:39 PM

DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor

The inside CD cover of this Lucia di Lammermoor even presents an advertisement for a biography written by Niel Rishoi, who also provides a booklet essay on the opera.

Gruberova’s agility and plaintive tone make her an ideal bel canto exponent, and this Lucia captures the best of her artistry in the last act, especially the mad scene. Here her sharp articulation has few rivals, and the lachrymose quality of her voice suits the scene. The excitement generated by her expert maneuvering in the challenging runs has a gladiatorial aspect, heightened by an awareness that Gruberova is singing this role, and this well, at an age when many a soprano has retired. She can pump her fists, metaphorically speaking, at scene’s end — she is still champion.

However….act one leaves something to be desired. Gruberova’s Lucia early in the set sounds on the edge of a nervous breakdown already, and the air of desperation created by a tendency to slight intonation droops makes one wonder why her Edgardo is attracted to this frail Lucia. Not until the sextet does Gruberova start to hit her stride.

Jose Bros sings Edgardo. Your reviewer heard him live in the role two seasons ago in Los Angeles, opposite Anna Netrebko. He sang well that night until the tenor’s big scene at the climax, where a tentative approach led to a sad crack on a high note. Here, under studio conditions, he manages the scene with confidence. However, his voice is more pleasing live than on record, where a lack of tonal variety becomes more apparent. Unlike Gruberova, he is at his strongest earlier in the set.

Georg Tichy snarls a bit too much as Enrico; otherwise he sings acceptably. Friedrich Haider’s leads the Baden Baden forces in an energetic, propulsive performance.

Realistically, nothing about this CD set rivals the best of the many, many other Lucia sets available. The big qualifier, obviously, would be for the most ardent fans of Miss Gruberova, of whom there are many. For them, the Nightingale recording will be an obvious self-recommendation.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
product_by=Edita Gruberova, José Bros, Georg Tichy, Dan Paul Dumitrescu, Zandra McMaster, Ray M. Wade, Cesar Gutierrez, Vocalensemble Rastatt, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Friedrich Haider (cond.).
product_id=Nightingale Classics NC040214-2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 10:26 PM

FLOTOW: Martha — Berlin 1944

Principal Characters:

Lady Harriet Durham, Maid of Honor to Queen Anne Soprano
Nancy, her maid Alto
Lord Tristan Mickleford, her cousin Bass
Lyonel Tenor
Plumkett, a rich leaseholder Bass

Time and Place:

During the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). At the palace of Lady Harriet in Richmond.


Act I

Lady Harriet Durham, a maid-of-honour to Queen Anne, is so tired of Court life, and so sick of her many insipid admirers, she retires to the country. But she becomes bored so she decides to attend the fair at Richmond where girls hire themselves out as servants. For a laugh, she and her confidante Nancy masquerade as maidservants. Her foppish old cousin, Sir Tristan another admirer whom she terms a bore, accompanies them. Harriet manages to lose her escort, and then, she and Nancy stand in the line of girls waiting to be hired. Two young farmers, Lyonel and Plumkett, are looking for a couple of wenches to do their housework and being struck by the beauty and charm of the two masqueraders, proceed to hire them. Lady Harriet giving her name as Martha. The girls are soon dismayed to find they are legally bound to their new masters for a year. Sir Tristan is unable to retrieve them from their fate.

Act II

Quickly both farmers fall for their new maidservants — Lyonel for Harriet and Plumkett for Nancy. Harriet feels that Lyonel is of higher station than he appears. He is an orphan who was left with Plumkett's parents in early childhood. The new maids are totally inept at their tasks, which infuriates Plumkett. Finally, the new maids are told to go to bed, but escape through the window, with the aid of Sir Tristan. The young farmers are distressed and angry loss of their maids, and Lyonel's grief is so great that he falls into a melancholy state.


Wandering in the forest, Lyonel meets a royal hunting party and recognises Lady Harriet. He declares his love for her, but she rebuffs him. Lyonel reminds her of her contract to serve him for a year. She tells the party the young man is mad, and Sir Tristan supports her declaration. Orders are given to imprison the young man. Lyonel has a ring his father gave him, saying if he was ever in trouble he was to send the ring to the Queen. He begs his friend to take it to the court.

Act IV

The ring saves Lyonel. The Queen recognises it as that of a banished nobleman, whose innocence since been proved. Lady Harriet is now willing to accept his courtship as there is no longer a class difference to stand between them. She is filled with remorse for the way she has treated him. She reveals to him his true identity and tells him that his estate will be restored but he is blinded by anger with Harriet for the injustice she did him and refuses to accept her love. To win him back Harriet and Nancy return to the fair once again dressed as country wenches. When Plumkett brings Lyonel to the fair and points out the two pretty serving-maids, Lyonel realises he does love Harriet. He embraces her, and they agree to marry, as do Plumkett and Nancy.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=Friedrich von Flotow

first_audio_name=Friedrich von Flotow: Martha

product_title=Friedrich von Flotow: Martha
product_by=Peter Anders, Erna Berger, Else Tegethoff, Eugen Fuchs, Josef Greindl, Franz Sauer, Chor der Staatsoper Berlin, Staatskapelle Berlin, Johannes Schuler (cond.).
Radio recording 1944.

Posted by Gary at 10:03 PM

December 2, 2005

Zubin Mehta: Lightning conductor — At almost 70, the Indian maestro Zubin Mehta is still wowing audiences and dividing critics across the globe

[The Independent, 2 December 2005]

As I wait outside Zubin Mehta's office, Sir Peter Jonas, formerly the general director of the ENO and now Mehta's colleague at the Bavarian State Opera, tells me the maestro can still stand on his head. This is an impressive feat for a man of nearly 70. Life may have slowed down for some of his contemporaries, but not for this conductor.

Posted by Gary at 11:53 AM

Celebrity So Extraordinaire She Rivaled the Eiffel Tower

Bernhardt_small.jpgBy EDWARD ROTHSTEIN [NY Times, 2 December 2005]

The opening image in the fascinating exhibition that opens today at the Jewish Museum might at first seem to have very little to do with its main subject. The exhibition is devoted to the flamboyant 19th-century actress whose name was once invoked by mothers as a warning to melodramatic daughters, held up like a cross before Dracula: "Who do you think you are, Sarah Bernhardt?"

Posted by Gary at 11:31 AM

Rescue mission

Ru_vladikavkaz.gifBy Galina Stolyarova [St. Petersburg Times, 2 December 2005]

Not far from Beslan, the city of Vladikavkaz is struggling to maintain its opera and ballet company — with the help of friends from St. Petersburg.

Posted by Gary at 11:13 AM

How to set America to music

tobias_picker_small.jpgBy George Loomis [Financial Times, 2 December 2005]

Tobias Picker thinks it began in earnest with John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991.

Posted by Gary at 11:08 AM

Music is a life science — Opera aficionado Carolyn Abbate chose music over biology

abatte_small.jpgBy Steve Bradt [Harvard Gazette, 1 December 2005]

History is repeating itself in Carolyn Abbate's family. Some three decades ago, as a Yale University sophomore and an accomplished young pianist, she told her parents she intended to turn her back on molecular biology to pursue a career in music.

Posted by Gary at 10:56 AM

Annapolis Opera will celebrate Mozart's birthday 'by candlelight'

By Mary Johnson [Baltimore Sun, 2 December 2005]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 250th birthday isn't until Jan. 27, but by following a long-standing tradition, fans of the Annapolis Opera will get a head start Sunday on saluting the composer's milestone at the group's "Mozart by Candlelight" concert.

Posted by Gary at 10:54 AM

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs, Vol. 2

The performers found in the first volume are part of the second, with the same arrangement of selected songs from various parts of Fauré’s career, along with the complete cycle Le jardin clos, op 106 (1914). Just as Fauré drew inspiration from settings by bodies of water, as found in the chansons gather the first volume of this set, nature is another point of reference.

The highlight of this recording is Le jardin clos, a setting of ten poems by Charles Van Lerberghe, whose verse he also used in the cycle La chanson d’Éve. The expressive poetry of Can Lerberghe gave Fauré the opportunity to explore emotions within the “closed garden” of the title, and the shifting loci of this cycle are implied by the titles of the various songs that comprise it. The music itself reinforces the settings, as Fauré creates imagined spaces with these evocative texts. “Dans la nymphée” [“In the grotto”] is notable for its narrow melodic compass and limited harmonic idiom, elements that suggest the confined space of the title and the focus of the narrative in visualizing the beloved. A similarly selected vision is in the next song, “Dans la pénombre” [“In half-light”], which makes use of motoric rhythms to suggest the spinning wheel of Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” but in a more compressed way. These songs and the other ones in this cycle reflect a focus that exist in contrasts to the longer, sometimes soaring melodies found in Fauré’s earlier songs.

The “Sérenade toscane,” op. 3, no 2 [“Tuscan serenade”] from 1878 is an excellent example of an early song that stands in contrast to the more concise style that Fauré pursued later in his career. In this evocation of an Italian landscape, John Mark Ainsley delivers a particularly fine performance that soars across register breaks with a tone that remains fresh in some of the sustained passages that show his supple upper range. Some of the other songs from the early part of Fauré’s career are also part of this collection, especially some of the composer’s fine settings of Victor Hugo’s poetry. Given the poetic theme of this volume, they almost form a set within the recording. Yet just as it is possible apprehend the spectrum of Fauré’s vocal music in the first volume, this second recording reflects a similar range of styles and idioms that suggest the ingenuity the composer used in his remarkable songs.

All the performers deliver fine performances, and it is useful to hear a variety of voices perform this literature. Their experience with the repertoire is clear, and the nuanced approaches each of them takes is worth hearing. Geraldine McGreevy’s performances are a welcome part of this volume, and ringing tone provides just the right color for the songs assigned her. The tone of Felicity Lott’s “Claire de lune” [“Moonlight”], op. 46, no. 2 is appropriate to that song, a particularly effective setting of Verlaine that sounds, at times, like a conservative reaction to some of Debussy’s songs with texts by the same poet. That Verlaine can inspire such responses is testimony to the power of the verse and also the creativity of those two composers, along with the others who used his verse in their vocal music.

With this volume of “chosen landscapes,” the listener can enjoy yet another selection of Fauré’s songs, which also includes arrangements of some traditional French tunes, like the Christmas carol that he adapted in “Il est né, le divin enfant” [“His is born, the Holy Child”], which show the composer’s attention to the details of the accompaniment. Those accompaniments are handled magisterially by Graham Johnson, whose musicianship underlines all the songs in this comprehensive collection.

These are some of the finest works examples of the genre and they represent the mature French mélodie in the hands of a composer who knew both the voice and the piano quite well. This release is the first of four CDs that include all of Fauré’s songs for voice and piano within Hyperion’s series of French Song editions. Like those other collections from Hyperion, this volume of the Fauré set involves excellent performers who know the literature well.

By using a variety of singers, Hyperion creates the impression that performing Fauré’s music is not limited to selected personalities, but rather is music that a number of performers do well. Such a stance automatically makes the works more accessible to a wide audience. Unlike the limitations that might be perceived for a particular Wagner tenor or Verdi soprano, Fauré’s music lends itself to good musicianship, rather than a specific, unique voice type, and this is demonstrated clearly in the recording through the talents of several fine performers. The singers on this CD vary from those who have a depth of experience with the genre as a whole, like Felicity Lott, as well as other performers whose repertoire is more focused. Lott’s interpretation of Fauré’s Cinq melodies is masterful for its appropriate tone she gives the music and the text, as required by settings of Verlaine. Of the women involved with the recording, Jennifer Smith provides a fine reading of a late song, “C’est la pax” (Op. 1118), and the duet “Tarantelle” (Op. 10, no. 2) benefits from the crisp and well-matched voices of Geraldine McGreevy and Stella Doufexis, their only piece on the CD.

For those who know “Les berceaux” (op. 23, no. 1) and “Au cimetière” (op. 51, no. 2) from the frequent appearance of those songs on recital programs, the performances by Ainsley and Christopher Maltman are anything but routine. It is also refreshing to hear the impassioned “Chanson du pécheur” (op. 4, no. 1) which Fauré composed earlier in his life. The latter song is performed on this recording by Maltman, whose rich voice is particularly notable in this selection. Likewise, the “Barcarolle” (Op. 7, no. 3) contains elements Fauré would take up in some of his later songs, with its subtly crafted accompaniment, which Graham Johnson executes effectively. Again, the unorthodox arrangement of a CD release, with its recital-like focus on theme offers listeners the opportunity to explore this repertoire from a new perspective and, thus, to hear the music with fresh ears.

While Hyperion’s other vocal collections often present music in chronological order, the songs of Fauré are organized thematically. This first volume takes its title from the song Au bord de l’eau (“At the water’s edge”) and collects songs that deal with water or have aquatic settings. In addition to individual songs, this CD features several entire sets of mélodies, including Fauré’s Cinq melodies, op. 58, Mirage, op. 113, and L’horizon chimérique, op. 113, and the pieces selected for this recording are presented in chronological order, from early to later works. While the arrangement by theme may seem unorthodox, if not somewhat arbitrary, it is an effective concept for showing how an idea inspired the composer throughout his career. After all, other similar approaches have been used for years to present traditional German Lieder and other kinds of vocal music.

As to Hyperion’s efforts to preserve the complete songs of Fauré, the other volumes of this projected set include “Un paysage choisi” (vol. 2), “Chanson d’amour” (vol. 3), and “Les jardins de la nuit” (vol. 4). One hopes to find the singers included in the first CD on the rest of the set, so that the spirit and musicianship so evident in this volume may continue through all the music. For those who know Fauré’s works, this “edition intégrale” of his songs is a welcome event which makes his body of work accessible to a broad audience. Those less familiar with this repertoire may find this first volume to be a fine introduction to them.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs 2: Un paysage choisi

product_title=Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs 2: Un paysage choisi
product_by=Felicity Lott, Jennifer Smith, Geraldine McGreevy, Stella Doufexis, John Mark Ainsley, Christopher Maltman, Stephen Varcoe, Graham Johnson
product_id=Hyperion CDA67333 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:41 AM

PROKOFIEV: Ivan the Terrible

Yet in 1973 the composer Mikhail Chulaki and the choreographer Yuri Grigorovich drew on Prokofiev’s film score to create his ballet entitled Ivan the Terrible, which was given its premiere in 1975. Revised as an instrumental work, Prokofiev’s music has new life in this highly evocative ballet, which includes arrangements of music from some of the composer’s other works. This production of Grigorovich’s ballet was filmed in December 2003 for television, and the video was prepared in conjunction with Radio France.

A two-act work in 18 scenes, the ballet begins with the coronation of Ivan IV, who faces conflicts with his boyars from the start. While his defeat of the Tatars encourages the population, the boyars only scheme to ascend the throne when Ivan falls ill. Upon recovering from an illness, Ivan retrenches his power as the first act ends. In the second act, Ivan’s wife Anastasia is the target of a plot by the boyars. They play upon Ivan’s emotions when Anastasia’s former love Count Kurbsky is the one who presents her with the cup that contains the poison. The plot succeeds, and Kurbsky flees to Poland for refuge. Ivan consolidates power and assumes the title of tsar to confirm his supreme authority as the imperial ruler of Russia.

The plot of the ballet is essentially that of Eisenstein’s film, and thus establishes a new context for Prokofiev’s music. By placing the music in this setting, Grigorovich did not change Prokofiev’s original intentions, since it is used essentially to illustrate the same story. In creating this pastiche Chulaki adapted the film score by removing the vocal portions and incorporating instrumental music from other works by Prokofiev. Nevertheless, this reworking is faithful to the composer’s original score by virtue of the music being used to convey the same story. It differs from some nineteenth-century pastiches in which the intended meaning of music for one work changes when reused for as part of another score. In fact, Grigorovich’s efforts show how Prokofiev’s highly evocative score lends itself well to dance. While the images that connect the music differ between the film and the ballet, the associations are effective. This is an excellent example of how well a work can be taken from one medium to another.

At the same time, this recording captures the essence of the ballet, with the music recorded well for this medium. Moreover, the production was intended as a television broadcast, and thus benefits from camera angles and other techniques that set it apart films of ballets in which the cameras are trained onto the stage without necessarily directing the viewers’ attention to certain angles and perspectives. Moreover, the details are critical to this film, since it is an attempt to bring life to a difficult period in Russian history, which is clearly more than a solely political effort on the part of Ivan. Rather, the combination of cultural elements, so vividly suggested by the costumes and movement, seems to underscore his ultimate motivation to seize power rather than abide with what was previously the nominal position as Russia’s ruler.

As to the music itself, the sound is as polished, and the orchestral colors that are critical to the film score are a wonderful foil for the choreography. The tolling of bells with which the ballet opens becomes a physical image as young men heave the tethers in conjunction with the sounds. Such literal images are as much part of the choreography as more delicate movement, as the intimate scenes between Ivan and Anastasia, which benefit from the carefully planned movement in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

One of the more telling passages in the ballet is the depiction of Ivan’s efforts to control his country, as found in the “Oprichniks” scene in the second act. Beyond any prose description, the images in Grigorovich’s choreography depict Ivan’s mastering of his people through his secret police and ultimately, his control of the boyars. The ensemble works well in this intricately staged number that shows the cohesiveness of the company. At the same time, the film conveys the essence of the passage well, with wide images that capture the full stage, when necessary. Yet the camera also works in the opposite way to close in on the fitting expressions of Nicolas Le Riche, who truly acts the role of Ivan in this work. While the final section is entitled “The Triumph of the Russian People,” it is Ivan’s victory that is the focus of this ballet, and Nicolas Le Riche brings this off in his fine performance, down to the final, commanding gesture with which the works ends.

This is a fine DVD that makes this ballet available to a wider audience. Prokofiev’s music is fittingly used in this score, and the enthusiastic applause shows how it affected the audience. While it is not authentically a ballet that Prokofiev composed, it fits well with the composer’s other contributions to the genre. At the same time, this film demonstrates the quality of productions mounted by the Corps de Ballet of the Opéra National de Paris.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Sergei Prokofiev: Ivan the Terrible

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product_id=TDK DVWW-BLITT [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 10:14 AM

Songs of Vaughan Williams and Ives

Vaughan Williams created his own musical speech out of an amalgamation of nineteenth-century Romanticism and modally-inflected figures that marks it as uniquely his own. Ives, on the other hand, is known for the twentieth-century cast to his music in which free dissonance plays a large role. That said, however, Ives’s eclectic musical rhetoric goes well beyond this simple categorization to include past, present, and (though he may not have given it much thought at the time) future as well.

The songs in these two collections, however, link RVW with Ives, for both composers brought English and American art song into the twentieth century, forever breaking with the classical song traditions of their respective youths: Vaughan Williams from Edwardian England and Ives from the sentimental nineteenth-century American song. Most of the songs in these two recordings date from the first two decades of the twentieth century and illustrate well those changes.

That the songs of RVW are better known than those of Ives is not in doubt. Perhaps this is because many may not yet have heard baritone Gerald Finley’s recent recording of these Ives pieces. Audiences have rarely had the opportunity to hear such superb singing of Ives. Add to this the dynamic, always sensitive, accompanying of Julius Drake and the result is one of the finest recorded tributes ever paid to Charles Ives. The thirty one songs that Finley and Drake have included constitute about one-fifth of Ives’s output and cover an astonishing range of moods, subjects, and musical language. Eclectic is the perfect word for these songs. Here is music modeled on that of nineteenth-century German romantics, a song about a cowboy, a fiery evangelist, the reclusive Henry David Thoreau, the bittersweet memories of youth, and of an eagle and a vampire, to mention only a few. The Romantic Ives, evident in such songs as Feldeinsamkeit, Weil’ auf mir, and Ich grolle nicht will surprise those listeners who know Ives primarily from his thornier songs like The Cage and Where the Eagle. If one thinks only of a common image of Ives as a curmudgeonly old bearded man with a cane, the poignancy of words and matching music in Tom Sails Away and The Greatest Man will come as a revelation. The humorous Ives turns up in The Side Show, where a musical quotation from Tchaikovsky underlines the moment when “poor Mister Riley look[s] a bit like a Russian dance.” For sheer loveliness and gentleness, it is hard to beat The Housatonic at Stockbridge and Remembrance. Then there is General William Booth Enters Into Heaven—a song that is undoubtedly Ives’s masterpiece. Ives’s music and poet Vachel Lindsay’s words evoke the founder of the Salvation Army, this “great preacher of redemption” in what becomes an operatic scene in its dramatic juxtapositions of moods and emotions.

Ives_Songs.jpgGerald Finley is a master at capturing the many moods of these songs, his interpretations matching perfectly Ives’s music, from its quirky moments to those of incredible serenity and loveliness. Pianist Julius Drake’s performance complements Finley at every move. The combination of Finley, Drake, and Ives in A Song—For Anything. Songs by Charles Ives will surely succeed in bringing new audiences to the songs of Ives and in reaffirming to Ives’s aficionados his stature as a major vocal composer of the twentieth century. It is difficult to imagine a finer recording of this music. Finley and Drake have set a very high standard for future interpreters of Ives’s songs.

What Gerald Finley and Julius Drake do for Ives in A Song—For Anything, Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside accomplish on behalf of Ralph Vaughan their performance of twenty songs of this great English composer. The nine Songs of Travel, to texts by Robert Louis Stevenson and six of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poems in The House of Life scarcely need an introduction, having been recorded numerous times; this is equally true of the ever-lovely English folk song, Linden Lea. Williams and Burnside perform with such artistry in this recording for The English Song Series, however, that the songs sound fresh. Bright Is the Ring of Words and Silent Noon, for instance, recipients of too many hackneyed performances as staples of young singers’ repertoires, become magical once again to the listener; one hears them as if listening to them for the first time. I found myself surprised at how moving their magic can be in the magnificent voice of Roderick Williams and in the pianistic artistry of Iain Burnside.

Regrettably, the Four Poems by Fredegond Shove are not well known. They date from 1925—settings of words by the niece of RVW’s wife, Adeline. While the composer treats the texts to more word-painting than one finds in his settings of Stevenson and Rossetti, his musical language is one with that found in those earlier songs. These songs should be better known than they are.

Roderick Williams’s masterful performances of these twenty songs rank with the best of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s many interpreters.

Clayton Henderson
Saint Mary’s College
Notre Dame, Indiana

image_description=Ralph Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel / The House of Life

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2. Charles Ives: A Song — For Anything
product_by=1. Roderick Williams, baritone; Iain Burnside, piano
Naxos 8.557798 [CD]

2. Gerald Finley baritone, Julius Drake piano
Hyperion CDA67516 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 9:39 AM

December 1, 2005

PERGOLESI: La serva padrona


Serpina, a maidservant Soprano
Uberto, her master Bass
Vespone, a servant of Uberto Non-singing role


Intermezzo I

Dressing room.

Uberto, an elderly bachelor, is angry and impatient with his maidservant, Serpina, because she has not brought him his chocolate today. Serpina has become so arrogant that she thinks she is the mistress of the household. Indeed, when Uberto calls for his hat, wig and coat, Serpina forbids him from leaving the house, adding that from then on he will have to obey her orders. Uberto thereupon orders Vespone to find him a woman to marry so that he can rid himself of Serpina.

Intermezzo II

Same dressing room.

Serpina convinces Vespone to trick Uberto into marrying her. She informs Uberto that she is to marry a military man named Tempesta. She will be leaving his home and apologizes for her behavior. Vespone, disguised as Tempesta, arrives and, without saying a word, demands 4,000 crowns for a dowry. Uberto refuses to pay such a sum. Tempesta threatens him to either pay the dowry or marry the girl himself. Uberto agrees to marry Serpina. Serpina and Vespone reveal their trick; but Uberto realizes that he has loved the girl all along. They will marry after all; and Serpina will now be the true mistress of the household.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

first_audio_name=Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: La serva padrona
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second_audio_name=Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: La serva padrona
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product_title=Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: La serva padrona
product_by=Sesto Bruscantini, Angelica Tuccari, Orchestra Lirica della RAI di Milano, Alfredo Simonetto (cond.)
Recorded circa 1951

Posted by Gary at 3:26 PM

Boston Symphony/ Hunt Lieberson, Carnegie Hall

By Martin Bernheimer[Financial Times, 1 December 2005]

As James Levine begins his second season on the podium of the Boston Symphony, the signs of a happy honeymoon linger. The conductor, whose beat has shrunk to Monteux- Reiner proportions, seems content to lead the orchestra, not the audience. The results invariably soar with equal parts passion and precision.

Posted by Gary at 2:38 PM

Rich texture despite tight pocket

rameau.jpgJohn Grant [The Australian, 2 December 2005]

By Rameau. Pinchgut Opera. City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, November 30. Bookings: (02) 8256 2222. Until December 5.

THIS small but enterprising company, which mounts just one production a year, has taken on its biggest challenge in presenting this opera-entertainment by France's leading 18th-century composer. Rameau's refined motets, cantatas and keyboard music are better known than his stage works, but this opera, written in 1739 when the composer was a mature 56, is a good place to start.

Posted by Gary at 9:06 AM

South Africa's leading opera singer shot dead on family's wine estate

van-der-WALT-D.jpg— Father and son die in domestic tragedy
— Country mourns loss of first 'grand slam' tenor

Rory Carroll in Johannesburg [The Guardian, 1 December 2005]

South Africa was stunned yesterday after its most famous opera singer, Deon van der Walt, was found shot dead on his family's wine estate. The 47-year-old tenor was shot twice in the chest, apparently by his father, in a domestic tragedy that left the opera world distraught and baffled.

Posted by Gary at 8:51 AM