Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

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

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

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

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

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

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

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

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

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

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

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

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

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

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

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

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

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

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

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

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

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

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

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

Elder conducts Lohengrin

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

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

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

A Verlaine Songbook

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

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

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

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

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

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

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

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928): Rasputin, Opera in Three Acts
18 Dec 2005

RAUTAVAARA: Rasputin

In fall 2003, Los Angeles Opera opened its season with Deborah Dratell’s Nicholas and Alexandra, with libretto by Nicholas von Hoffman. At that time, company director Placido Domingo, who took on the juicy role of Rasputin, announced that the production would be filmed and prepared for eventual DVD release.

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

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.)

Ondine ODV 4003 NTSC [DVD]

33.00 €  Click to buy

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

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):