Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Vincenzo Bellini: La Sonnambula
06 Jan 2006

BELLINI: La Sonnambula

What to do, what to do, with Bellini and Romani’s bel canto masterpiece, La Sonnambula? The exquisite music demands to be performed, so the opera continues to have an existence on the fringes of the standard repertory.

Vincenzo Bellini: La Sonnambula

Eva Mei, Jose Bros, Gemma Bertagnolli, Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Daniel Oren (cond.).

TDK DVWW - OPSON [DVD]

 

The Royal Opera staged it a few years back, with Juan Diego Florez, (a reason for any bel canto revival) as Elvino. Santa Fe Opera put it on in 2004, for Natalie Dessay. And TDK has just released on DVD a January 2004 performance from Florence, with Eva Mei and Jose Bros.

Having seen the clumsy, occasionally ludicrous Sante Fe production, your reviewer can state that this Florence staging is better, but what a low standard to start from. Can the opera itself bear the blame? In the DVD booklet, Bellini is quoted as describing the audience at the opera’s premiere as not having a dry eye. Well, almost 175 years later, tears are unlikely to be produced by Romani’s depiction of an innocent young lady whose engagement to her beloved farmer/fiancé is threatened by her habit of sleepwalking. While Bellini’s music soars and sighs with the inner passions of the characters, the actual drama tends to psychologically naïve characterization and perfunctory plot complications (why does the Count have to pretend not to be the count?). No doubt, the opera poses many a challenge to stage directors.

Federico Tiezzi, director, and Pier Paolo Bisleri, set design, have created a visually arresting production, and the singers do their best to bring life to their characters. In the end, it doesn’t add up to much a success, but the effort can be appreciated.

A vivid green lawn and a house façade dominate act one. During the overture, Amina appears, curled up in a glaringly red sofa chair, which then disappears until the end of the opera, when Amina can safely curl up in it again for another nap. Has it all been a dream? Thankfully, that tired and ludicrous concept is not explicitly presented. Costumes for the ladies are of linen, for the most part, evoking an upper crust, early 20th century setting. Elvino, the gentleman farmer, and the Count, wear fine suits.

Somehow the beautiful spring or summer of act one regresses to a snowy cold winter scene for act two, and when Amina must suddenly appear for her narcoleptic foray, a metallic catwalk descends. So the production never comes together, with an idea here and another there that never add up to much, and with only the vaguest sense of time and place evoked. One innovation of this DVD set comes with the titles under the start of the overture, running across a series of illustrations based on the production, in the style of movie credits. Charming.

But bel canto should focus on canto, so how is this Sonnambula? The best performance in many ways comes from Gemma Bertagnolli as Lisa, the instigator and former love of Elvino whose jealousy of Amina propels the plot. A warm mezzo, Bertagnolli also has the gift of creating character by mean of her expressive face. Sadly, this production cuts Lisa’s aria, and the opera itself has no confrontation scene or true dramatic conclusion for the character.

Eva Mei meets the requirements of the role of Amina with a solid technique. She cannot do much to make Amina more than a rather tiring goody-two-shoes, but at least she doesn’t overdo the histrionics. Her big aria, Ah non credea mirarti, never takes flight, but never risks falling apart, either.

Jose Bros, the Elvino, seems to be the man to go to for these high-flying Bellini tenor roles; he also stars in the recent Puritani DVD with Gruberova. His acidic tone, though of a citric nature that may appeal to some, has a distinctive tang and easily cuts through ensembles. A simple but effective actor, he may not be an obvious choice for a man who has had the two beauties of the town fall for him, but it is a small village, after all.

Unfortunately, Giacomo Prestia as the Count has a vibrato-laden instrument without much attractive about it even when steady.

With few easily available alternatives, this Sonnambula will have its place for those burning with a desire to see the opera. For those with more patience, hold out hope that Dessay and Florez team up somewhere and that version makes it to market.

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):