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

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.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

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

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

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

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

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

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

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

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

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

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

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Operatunity Winners
08 Jan 2006

Operatunity Winners — Denise Leigh and Jane Gilchrist

When asked if I had any interest in reviewing the discs of “the Operatunity finalists,” I admit I was so ignorant of what Operatunity was that I had to make a quick web search to find out.

(1) Operatunity Winners
(2) Pie Jesu

(1) Denise Leigh & Jane Gilchrist, sopranos, Orchestra of English National Opera, Paul Daniel (cond,)
(2) Denise Leigh, soprano, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Leo Siberski (cond.)

(1) EMI Classics 7243 5 5759 4 2 [CD]
(2) EMI Classics 7243 5 57866 2 3 [CD]

 

Having learned from the PBS website that it was a project by the English National Opera to find “undiscovered” opera talent among the average Joes and Janes of the U.K., with the finalist(s) winning a chance for coaching and training leading up to performing a lead role in an ENO production, my reaction was mixed. On the one hand, I am all in favor of making opera more interesting and accessible to the public, and a contest like this is a good way to capture the public imagination as people see someone whose everyday life is like their own being raised to the glamorous world of grand opera. On the other hand, while my own vague dreams of having an operatic career were pragmatically shortlived, I have spent enough time in opera workshops and among semiprofessional singers who aspire to professional classical careers to know that the world is already full of very talented artists who will never get that level of recognition, despite years of solid training and sacrifice. I don’t count myself among those aspirants, so I listened to the two discs I was sent with interest and as much objectivity as I could.

The “Operatunity Winners” disc is a compilation of the two finalists, sopranos Denise Leigh and Jane Gilchrist, singing famous operatic arias and duets that are for the most part suited to their lyric voices, both light enough to handle coloratura comfortably, although Jane Gilchrist’s is enough heavier that she sings the Countess to Denise Leigh’s Susanna in the selections from Le Nozze di Figaro (including the famous letter duet, as well as “Porgi amor”, “Dove sono” and “Deh vieni, non tardar”). Since both finalists split the role of Gilda in ENO’s Rigoletto, there are tracks of each of them singing “Caro nome”, although they are separated from each other by the Mozart, as well as some other very familiar and beautiful pieces, such as the flower duet from Lakme, and arias ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Poor Wandering One” to “Casta Diva”.

I will say I was more impressed by the singing than I had expected to be. Reading the bios of the two finalists made it clear why: both have had either classical vocal training or performance experience, or both, in the past, and they received several months of additional training and coaching as part of the contest. So, while they have not had the years of preparation that most operatic professionals receive, they are not exactly people whose singing has moved directly from the shower to the big stage.

Pragmatically listening to this disc, I am fairly convinced that the target audience is not the seasoned opera lover looking for exciting new artists. None of the recitatives are included with the arias, which allows us to get right to the hit tunes, but omits the crucial aspect of operatic performance in which the artist is required to express the thought leading up to the aria in a language that is often not the singer’s native one, without the support of the melody to carry the message. It was also rather startling to hear Denise Leigh’s very light, pure voice launch into “Casta Diva”. It made for an unusually youthful and vulnerable sounding Norma, which we of course never hear because to sing the entire role requires so much more artistic experience and sheer vocal power than a singer would be likely to have at this point in their career. Both women are capable of singing all the notes they are given with good sound, breath control and intonation, but I miss some of the subtleties of dynamic range and, dare I say it, the ability to communicate through the music that comes from years of immersion in the language and the style of the particular composer. In short, I doubt that any of these performances will make you forget that of your favorite great diva in the role.

But there is enough to like on these discs of two gifted women singing some of the most deservedly celebrated music in the lyric soprano repertoire, that I can see value in them. I look at the phenomenon of Andrea Bocelli, who achieved spectacular fame on the basis of a style of singing that was not exactly operatic, but close enough that he could sing opera arias to pop audiences to great acclaim. I admit I only listened to one of the arias on his Verdi disc before deciding that he had taken enough liberties with the note values that I couldn’t really consider it a performance of the aria, but rather of his interpretation of it as a pop artist. Still, I imagine that there must be listeners who first experienced the beauty of opera arias by hearing him sing them, and then became interested in hearing and learning more. Likewise, I can imagine the human interest story of the Operatunity contest drawing the attention of music lovers who didn’t think they cared that much for opera, and if they first experience its riches by listening to some of its greatest hits in the voices of singers who can at the very least get their lovely voices around the notes that the composers wrote, that seems to me like a gain for opera in general.

pie_jesu_leigh.jpgThe solo disc by Denise Leigh, “Pie Jesu”, continues in the same vein, with some more of the great hits of the lyric/coloratura repertoire blended with some sacred music (the “Pie Jesu” is that of John Rutter, not Fauré, by the way), operetta and traditional music, most of which is well suited to her voice. I have to say that I found the parts of “Mi chiamano Mimi” where the voice should blossom, rather too sharp and piercing. The quality of her voice which makes it special is its ethereal clarity, which comes across well in the Bach and Handel, and especially in the traditional lullaby “Suo Gan”, where I am just as glad not to be hearing a heavier operatic voice. This purity with presence, which some may associate with angel voices, together with the fact that she appears to be able to connect and communicate with audiences despite being legally blind, leads me to believe that we may hear more of her in the future, perhaps more in concerts and on recordings than, say, on the stage of the Met.

I am tempted to say that these discs could make good gifts for friends or relatives who are not deeply familiar with opera but could be drawn in. The trouble is that the liners offer little more than bios of the artists; there are only explanatory notes about the pieces being performed, no texts or translations. The hook would be purely the beauty of the music and the voices, but, in the end, that should not be underestimated.

Barbara Miller

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):