Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Amore e Tormento

Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’ 

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi. 



Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
18 Jan 2006

GERSHWIN: Porgy and Bess

So EMI has declared this 1988 Porgy and Bess to be one of the “Great Recordings of the Century.” That may settle the issue for many – but not all.

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess

Willard White, Cynthia Haymon, Damon Evans, London Philharmonic, Glyndebourne Chorus, Simon Rattle (cond.)

EMI 7243 4 76836 2 6 [3CDs]


The CD booklet essay (by Richard Osborne) describes the mid-80s as a time when Gershwin’s opera finally found widespread acceptance and acknowledgement of its greatness. The Metropolitan Opera presented its first production about this time, under James Levine, and Glyndebourne found a committed exponent in conductor Simon Rattle. After the success of the latter production, Rattle took most of the cast into the studio to record the opera.

No doubt, as a recording done with a committed, talented cast in modern sound, Rattle’s Porgy and Bess has much to recommend it. Willard White conveys Porgy’s passion and dignity with strength and taste. Harolyn Blackwell brings her luscious, evocative soprano to Clara, who sings the classic “Summertime.” Cynthia Haymon, a “discovery” of this production, does not possess the most distinctive voice, but her Bess retains our sympathy even as she gives into her past and abandons the man who rescued her from it.

On the other hand, Damon Evans’s Sporting Life overemphasizes the unappealing nature of the character with a tenor that tends to grate on the ear, especially as it extends above the staff. Furthermore, the more trained tinge to his voice works against his characterization.

However, few recordings, “great” or otherwise, have casts of unalloyed greatness in every role. Two issues regarding Rattle’s Porgy and Bess, one under his control and the other not, make your reviewer reluctant to agree to EMI’s marketing gambit for this re-issue.

The recorded sound, described on the CD case as remastered, presents an odd acoustic where voices and orchestral forces never seem to blend, and the chorus sounds even further removed. Perhaps this is partly due to the low levels set for playback, which meant for this listener that the volume had to be turned very high for satisfactory listening, and then climaxes came on much too strong. Besides being disappointing in itself, the sound quality affects the drama, making too much sound studiously theatrical rather than immediate and real.
Rattle himself poses the other problem. No man can – or should be able to – rise to the top music director position in classical music (Rattle heads the Berlin Philharmonic) without an amazing talent. This Porgy and Bess offers much evidence of that talent. Ensemble is immaculate, climaxes roar up out of the score like tidal waves, and individual details are lovingly presented.

However…and the listener’s bias may, admittedly, play a role here – nothing really sounds authentic. There is no hint of swing, especially in the moments that most clearly call for it. Tempos often feel just that tad too slow, producing a regrettable sense of drag. All your reviewer could think was, “Why didn’t Bernstein record this?”

A less than satisfactory recording cannot spoil Gershwin’s immortal score. For many people, however, that score’s existence remains in the supreme versions of individual numbers done by great popular singers through the decades. I couldn’t be without Sarah Vaughan’s Summertime or My Man’s Gone Now, and when I want to hear a lot of the score, the highlights recording from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald calls.

Acoustics, as well as an appreciation for certain conductors, tending to be a personal taste, there may well be many, many fans for whom Rattle’s Porgy and Bess truly deserves its appellation, “Great recording of the century.” For them, the reissue is here, in EMI’s fine packaging.

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):