Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

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. 

Verdi at the Old MET

With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s major opera houses today.

Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions. 

Così fan tutte from DG

Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790. 

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.

Adriana Lecouvreur from Decca

Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.

Lawrence Brownlee’s Spiritual Sketches

It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.

Great Wagner Conductors from DG

As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive archives.

Great Wagner Singers from DG

There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled Great Wagner Singers.

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Richard Strauss: Capriccio
16 Jan 2006

STRAUSS: Capriccio

It is not uncommon for opera on DVD to have credits for two directors. In the case of this Paris Capriccio, a new production from June 2004, the credits list Robert Carsen as the stage director and Francois Roussillon as directing for TV and video.

Richard Strauss: Capriccio

Renée Fleming, Dietrich Henschel, Rainer Trost, Gerald Finely, Franz Hawlata, Anne Sofie von Otter, Robert Tear, Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris, Ulf Schirmer (cond.).

TDK DVWW-OPCAPR [DVD]

 

Carsen’s work focuses on bringing energy and movement to this static work, a parlor debate about the primacy of music or words, especially in opera. A brother and sister of nobility act as patrons for a new work, and the young composer and librettist not only vie artistically for primacy, but also to be the Countess’ first choice as paramour (while her brother the Count pursues Clairon, an actress). Meanwhile the proposed director frets that his role is bring slighted, and in a long monologue proposes that without his guiding genius, neither music nor words would come to life. Finally all step aside to get to work, and then the Countess reenters to soliloquize on the glorious unresolved nature of the debate.

The set Carsen works with mirrors the great Paris hall the performance takes place in, with its ornate, golden columns. Although the libretto retains its many references to Gluck as a contemporary opera composer of note, the costumes reflect the era in which Strauss wrote the opera. Dark-clad Nazi officers stray through the set at one point, with no particular purpose in mind.

Now, video director Roussillon had the clever idea of directing a sort of preamble in which Renée Fleming glides through the lobby of the theater, so that all DVD viewers can understand the set’s significance, even if the viewers have never attended an opera in that house. Fine enough.

However, at opera’s end, a very distracting filmed sequence has the cast – including Miss Fleming – taking box seats in the theater to enjoy the Countess’ final monologue. The number of “meaningful glances” exchanged here far exceeds the limit that should be placed on any director, and a coy, artificial feeling that has dogged the entire performance finally overcomes the senses, to an unfortunate degree spoiling the effect of that lovely postlude.

The final stage coup, however, with all the scenery pulling away to reveal the bare interior of the stage, makes for a compensatory climax.

Capriccio is a fragile piece, and without being able to place blame in one exact area, something false about the production hampers and deadens the affair. Perhaps Carsen overdirected, as the performers all work just a bit too hard to have fun. Especially noteworthy here are the cartoonish Italian singers, with some unfunny slapstick. In the huge ensemble section, a compositional miracle from Strauss, the chaotic action distracts from the music’s effect, rather than supporting it.

Carsen certainly has a notable cast to work with. Apart from a couple of tight high notes, Fleming glories in the role, and her dramatic restraint, amidst all the other cavortings, is most welcome. Dietrich Henschel, looking remarkably like the American satirist Harry Shearer, may not be a plausible brother to Fleming but sings well. Rainer Trost and Gerald Finley both appear a little foolish a little too often, which is not their fault, but they have the vocal goods for the roles.

Franz Hawlata makes a huge meal out of his solo, but there is no real character there, in this production. Similarly, Anne Sofie von Otter’s Clarion is all caricature, though she is in good vocal shape and always a charismatic performer. Robert Tear’s little solo scene as the prompter, with the head servant (well played by Petri Lindroos), suffers also from a cartoonish spin. And as mentioned above, Barry Banks and Annamaria Dell’Oste really have to make monkeys of themselves. Yes, they are figures of satire, but as overplayed here, a mean edge creeps in that the creators probably did not intend. Furthermore, as Banks seems to be made up to look a bit like Carlo Bergonzi, those of us who revere the great tenor may find some offense there as well.

No, for Capriccio, surely first choice remains the 1993 San Francisco opera production, with Kiri te Kanawa leading an exemplary cast, including Tatiana Troyanos as a truly stunning and funny Clairon, caught not long before her untimely death. Donald Runnicles leads that performance. Ulf Schirmer and his fine orchestra cannot be faulted at all in this Paris production.

One last cavil – the odd acoustic. On one hand, the voices have perfect placement and any audience present makes not a single cough or rustle. On the other hand, one wonders after a while if the sound picture shouldn’t change a bit when a singer turns his back or moves from stage rear to the front. It does not. Your reviewer almost suspects that this performance was not filmed before a live audience. Although applause greets the end of the performance, no audience is ever shown, and the sense of a performance caught in pristine conditions comes through. The DVD case has no date for the recording, only “June 2004.”

Yes, the cast is great, the music well performed, the sets and costumes imaginative and detailed – but somehow this Capriccio is much, much less than the sum of its considerable parts.

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):