February 28, 2006

Fabulous Mister Fat Belly

[The Guardian, 28 February 2006]

Vaughan Williams was fully aware of the challenge that faced him when he set out to write Sir John in Love. "To write another opera about Falstaff might seem the height of impertinence," he wrote. "One appears in so doing to be entering into competition with three great men - Shakespeare, Verdi and Holst." Of course, many reading that now would be surprised by his mention of Holst, whose Falstaff opera, At the Boar's Head (to which Sir John in Love was intended as a sequel), was greeted with incomprehension at its 1925 premiere, and is still disliked by some critics. But Vaughn Williams' statement is also startling for what it omits. He avoids mention of Elgar's "symphonic study" Falstaff, composed in 1913, and of another opera he much admired: Otto Nicolai's Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor, first performed in 1849.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Ralph Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love (ENO)

Posted by Gary at 3:29 PM

Les Violons du Roy and Magdalena Kožená at Carnegie Hall

One of the Starrier Singers Among Us

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 28 February 2006]

Magdalena Kozena has been a busy Czech mezzo in New York lately. She has appeared at the Met, singing Dorabella in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." In Carnegie Hall, she has sung Mahler with the Berlin Philharmonic, and Mussorgsky and Lutoslawski with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And, on Sunday night, she sang Rameau and Gluck in Zankel Hall, the downstairs (and sometimes down-market) venue at Carnegie.

Click here for remainder of article.

Unfussy French Baroque, With Arias of Gentle Drama

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 28 February 2006]

Now that the early-music movement is so ubiquitous as to have penetrated even Carnegie Hall, where Zankel Hall is offering a "Baroque Unlimited" series this season, there are a host of ways to approach the repertory. Les Violons du Roy, a Canadian ensemble, has opted to use the muscle of modern instruments with the style, and bowings, of Baroque ones. The result, as demonstrated at Zankel on Sunday night, is powerful, invigorating, not always completely clean, not at all fussy and very enjoyable.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Magdalena Kožená

Posted by Gary at 3:23 PM

Shoe Box Memories Travel to the Opera Stage

Darkling1684cut_small.jpg(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
BY GARY SHAPIRO [NY Sun 28 February 2006]

"All this material haunted me for years," said poet Anna Rabinowitz, about finding a shoe box in her father's closet containing a small packet of photos and letters written in Polish and Yiddish. She was speaking at a panel discussion following the preview of a multimedia theater piece that brings those fragments to life. American Opera Projects presents its world premiere of "Darkling" tonight at the East 13th Street Theatre. "I wanted to find a way to retrieve these people, bring them back to life for a moment," she said about the people in the photos and referred to in letters. But Ms. Rabinowitz still knew few details about her parents' extended family members, nearly all of whom perished in the Holocaust.

Posted by Gary at 3:10 PM

Orfeo ed Euridice, Lyric Opera of Chicago

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 28 February 2006]

It is foolish to argue that countertenors have a more valid claim on castrato roles than mezzo-sopranos. But countertenors have largely appropriated the title role of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in its original version. For one thing, mezzos nowadays generally favour the plusher, more expansive French revision (as rearranged by Berlioz). And the radical simplicity of the no-frills original makes the disembodied sound of the countertenor especially apt.

Posted by Gary at 3:05 PM

Wozzeck, Royal Opera House, London

Wozzeck_ROH.jpg(Photo: Bill Cooper)
By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 28 February 2006]

The moral comes across loud and clear: this Wozzeck is a living experiment in how low a human being can fall. He ends his days drowned in a tank of water like one of the specimens in the doctor’s laboratory – or is he pickled in his own juices like a Damien Hirst sculpture?

Posted by Gary at 2:26 PM

Meeting the Challenge in an India of Fantasy

gutierrez-eglise_small.gifBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 28 February 2006]

"Lakmé" is another operatic triumph of unquenchable melody over theatrical forgettability. The "Bell Song" is an Olympic event for coloratura sopranos. The Lakmé-Mallika duet has sung itself into the hearts of even the most anti-opera television viewer: once a manifestation of Oriental languor, now a commercial jingle exhorting the easy joys of air travel.

Posted by Gary at 2:19 PM

BACH: Works for Trumpet

Although none of the pieces was originally conceived to take advantage of the instrument, they do require the trumpet player to understand that the virtuosity needed must also be balanced with the chamber-like partnerships demanded of Baroque concerti and vocal-type lyricism. Alison Balsom is a rising star on both Baroque and modern trumpets, and her recent debuts have many composers writing and dedicating compositions for her to perform.

Featured compositions include the Concerto in D (after Vivaldi) BWV 972; the Sarabande and Gigue from the Cello Suite No. 2 BWV 1008; the Aria variata in A minor (Italian Variations) BWV 989; the Gigue from the Violin Partita No. 3 BWV 1006; the Trio Sonata in C BWV 529; the Concerto in C minor (after Marcello) BWV 974; Bist du bei mir from the Anna Magdalena Notebook BWV 508; the Concerto in C BWV 1055; the Badinerie from the Orchestral Suite No. 2 BWV 1067; and the Agnus Dei from the Mass in B minor BWV 232. Each of these pieces is performed with remarkable agility, and the small ensemble that accompanies Ms. Balsom provides crisp and exact continuo accompaniment that focuses attention on the trumpet. Overall, this is a very nice recording of Baroque trumpet music featuring compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Johann Sebastian Bach: Works for trumpet

product_title=Johann Sebastian Bach: Works for trumpet
product_by=Alison Balsom, trumpet, accompanied by Colm Cary, organ; Alina Ibragimova, violin; Alistair Ross, harpsichord and chamber organ; and Mark Caudle, viola da gamba.
product_id= EMI Classics 7243 5 58047 2 3 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:10 AM

The shocking death of Thomas Becket is brought to life in an opera

henry.jpgBy Michael Church [The Independent, 28 February 2006]

The courtier is talented and loyal. Promoted to chancellor, he ruthlessly implements his master's will. But, when given a top religious job as well, he unexpectedly resigns his secular one and changes overnight from hedonist to ascetic: now he's the people's hero and the scourge of the rich. His master explodes in fury; the two men, once bosom pals, effect a partial reconciliation, but the former courtier's new-found principles provoke another row. The enraged master berates his henchmen for letting this upstart run riot: they confront the upstart at his workplace, and kill him.

Posted by Gary at 9:33 AM

Australian composer takes over as director of Edinburgh festival

mills_jonathan.jpgCharlotte Higgins [The Guardian, 28 February 2006]

In a surprise move, an Australian composer has been appointed to what many see as the plum job in British arts - artistic director of the Edinburgh festival.

Posted by Gary at 9:13 AM

Death in Venice, Frankfurt Opera

britten_small.gifBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 28 February 2006]

It comes as a shock. The familiar Venice skyline appears inverted, the Piazza San Marco's towers now spears descending heavily to envelop the stage in blackness. Frankfurt Opera's new Death in Venice will be remembered for its closing image, if at all.

Posted by Gary at 9:06 AM

Ewa Podles in New York — Two Reviews

Almost Bringing the House Down With a Rarely Heard Rossini

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 28 February 2006]

Ewa Podles can certainly excite an audience. When Ms. Podles, a Polish-born contralto, finished her electrifying performance of a rarely heard Rossini solo cantata, "Joan of Arc," on Sunday afternoon, people throughout Avery Fisher Hall burst into frenzied applause and lusty bravos. There was so much foot-stomping the walls seemed to shake. One feared that the scheduled gutting and renovation of the auditorium were about to get an early start.

Click here for remainder of article.

A Heavenly, Rarely Heard Voice

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 28 February 206]

In the 2003-04 New York season, when I heard Renee Fleming sing the "Song to the Moon" during Dvoryak's "Rusalka" at the Metropolitan Opera, the most impressive vocal effort was still the Ulrica of Ewa Podles. In a concert version of Verdi's "Un ballo in maschera," Ms. Podles reminded once again that she is actually either a creature from another planet where singing is revered as the highest art or a time traveler sent from the golden age of Ernestine Schumann-Heink. I have a good friend in the Collegiate Chorale, and she told me that Ms. Podles's entrance took them all by surprise. In an otherwise wooden ensemble performance, this larger than life superstar slithered (there is no other word for what she did) out onto the Carnegie Hall stage with a facial expression right out of D.W. Griffith. Even before she opened her mouth, she electrified the entire audience (and the singers as well, as I found out after the fact). Once she intoned her first resonating contralto note, everyone else might just as well have gone home. We only had ears for her.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_descripton=Ewa Podles

Posted by Gary at 8:37 AM

February 25, 2006

La Bohème at Royal Albert Hall

George Hall [The Guardian, 25 February 2006]

Given the intimacy of its outer acts, Puccini's tale of love and death among impoverished artists ought not to work in such a vast space as the Albert Hall. But much of Francesca Zambello's in-the-round arena production does succeed, with the spareness of Peter J Davison's freezing garret brilliantly lit by Andrew Bridge and the irresponsible laddishness of the four flatmates is nicely suggested.

Posted by Gary at 11:46 AM

The Kirov Delivers a Requiem Full of Life

By Philip Kennicott [Washington Post, 25 February 2006]

Verdi's Requiem Mass, the product of a man who was publicly agnostic and privately atheist, isn't really a religious work, but it raises all the problems for which religion purports to have the answers.

Posted by Gary at 11:36 AM

February 24, 2006

What Opera Owes to Dance

BY JOEL LOBENTHAL [NY Sun, 24 February 2006]

Sometimes lost amid critical appraisals of opera is the art form's movement quotient, which involves both set-piece ballets and the ways that directors and singers use movement to interpret character and situation. It was de rigueur in most 19thcentury grand operas for at least one, and frequently multiple ballets to be interpolated into the evening's pageantry. Today these ballets are often considered gratuitous and cut, but a case can be made that they have a vital role to play in the operas for which they were composed.

Posted by Gary at 7:42 PM

When the Lyrics Are Fragmentary and the Melodies Elusive

milosz.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 23 February 2006]

The challenge for a composer in selecting texts for musical setting is to find words that are meaningful and intriguing on their own terms but also invite music. John Harbison chose well in fashioning 10 poems by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Czeslaw Milosz into a text for "Milosz Songs," his 30-minute work for soprano and orchestra, which was given its premiere on Thursday night by the soprano Dawn Upshaw, for whom it was written, and the New York Philharmonic, which commissioned it. The piece was conducted by Robert Spano on a program including works by Bartok and Bernstein.

Posted by Gary at 5:31 PM

February 23, 2006

A Journey With Schubert From Restraint to Passion

Castagner_small.jpg(Photo: Lisa Kohler)
By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 23 February 2006]

Philippe Castagner, a tenor who won the Young Concert Artists auditions last year, has popped onto the radar in other connections as well. He has sung small roles at the Metropolitan Opera (having won the company's National Council Auditions in 2002), and in recent months he gave good accounts of himself in a chamber concert with Richard Goode and in Handel's "Messiah" at Carnegie Hall. On Tuesday evening, as part of his Young Concert Artists prize, he made his New York recital debut at Zankel Hall.

Posted by Gary at 1:53 PM

The Kirov's 'Parsifal': Russo-Profundo

parsifal_fantin_small.jpgBy Joe Banno [Washington Post, 23 February 2006]

If "Die Meistersinger" is the Wagner opera for non-Wagnerians, "Parsifal" is the one for true believers. Uninitiated opera-goers can find "Parsifal's" daunting length and glacial pace, its half-digested Buddhism and quasi-Christian sanctimony a form of unspeakable torture. But those under the composer's spell understand the work's hypnotic pull and cathartic power -- not to mention its sheer gorgeousness.

Posted by Gary at 9:19 AM

The Score — Met Opera Auditions

BY CHRISTOPHER DELAURENTI [The Stranger, 23 February 2006]

Decades before the advent of American Idol, New York's Metropolitan Opera, perhaps America's most prestigious (and overrated) opera company, has held annual auditions to flush out promising singers. Although everyone bitches about "the Met," it remains an essential milestone for anyone wishing to follow in the footsteps of the great opera singers even non-opera lovers know: Domingo, Pavarotti, Callas, Nilsson, and so on.

Posted by Gary at 9:04 AM

Opera feels the shock of the new

Dove_J.jpgJonathan Dove is writing works as topical as the classics once were, writes Matthew Westwood

[The Australian, 24 February 2006]

JONATHAN Dove's Flight is possibly the first and only opera to be set in an airport departure lounge. And, perhaps because of that, it has travelled widely since its premiere at Britain's Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1998: to continental Europe, to North America and, next month, to Australia. When so many new operas have their first performance and are then promptly forgotten, this is an opera with legs - if not wings.

Posted by Gary at 8:55 AM

Domingo Re-Ups With Washington, L.A. Operas

domingo.jpg(Photo: AP)
By Tim Page [Washington Post, 22 February 2006]

Placido Domingo will sign on for an additional five years as general director of both the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera through the 2010-11 seasons, it was learned yesterday. His contracts with both troupes had been scheduled to expire this year.

Posted by Gary at 8:31 AM

Macbeth — Royal Opera House, London

verdi_scarf_small.jpgMartin Kettle [The Guardian, 23 February 2006]

Even today, Macbeth too often fails to win the critical respect lavished on Verdi's two later and more finished Shakespeare operas. But neither does it quite hold a place in the public's affection that is granted to the other peaks of his early and middle period output. Admittedly, without Boito as librettist, Macbeth is a more pragmatic and less ambitious opera than Otello or Falstaff, while the 1865 revision we normally hear is an occasionally clunky reworking of the searingly original 1847 version.

Posted by Gary at 8:04 AM

La Forza del Destino at the Met — Four Reviews

A Conductor's Date With Destiny

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 22 February 2006]

One of Verdi's best operas is now playing at the Met: "La Forza del Destino," a stew of arias, duets, choruses, and drama that makes a near-perfect operatic feast. If you don't like "Forza," you don't like Verdi. And you probably don't like the Italian repertoire. I won't go so far as to say you don't like life.

Click here for remainder of article.

The Marquis's Daughter and the Inca Prince Who Loves Her

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 22 February 2006]

The economics of opera being what they are, there are reasons to worry about a production that the Metropolitan Opera files away immediately after its premiere and leaves in storage for a decade. When it finally returns, it looks as if the company is holding its finger to the wind, trying to sneak it past an audience that either missed or has forgotten the original run, and hoping it's safe to slip it into the repertory.

Click here for remainder of article.

La forza del destino, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 22 February 2006]

It looked so promising on paper. La forza del destino, virtually uncut, was returning to the mighty Met on Monday after a decade's absence, with a cast that seemed elite by current standards. Reality, alas, did not reinforce expectations. For at least one observer this was a sad night at the opera.

Click here for remainder of article.

'La Forza' may not be with you at the Met

BY MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG [Newsday, 23 February 2006]

Seas of anguish surrounding islands of bitter humor, lit by the faintest glimmers of grace: Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" (1869) is volcanic, giddy, pious and among the hardest operas to perform well. The composer had a special fondness for this novelistic work, which he deemed one of his "modern" operas and repeatedly withheld from performance unless an exacting conductor and a theatrically sharp ensemble could be assembled.

Click here for remainder of review.

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi

Posted by Gary at 7:56 AM

February 22, 2006

VIVALDI: Concerti con molti strumenti, vol. 2

He struck up a lifelong relationship with its Kapellmeister Johann Georg Pisendel, then the most promising young German violinist of his day. The relationship proved advantageous for both: Pisendel learned the new Italian style of violin technique that focused on the higher positions rather than the lower, and Vivaldi was exposed to the new colors and nuances available through wind instruments as yet unknown in Venice. The result was the Concerto in F major (RV 569) for solo violin, two oboes, two horns, bassoon, and strings; and the Concerto in D major (RV 562a) for ten instruments, both featured on this recording. Vivaldi was very good at discarding antiquated musical forms and experimenting with newer compositional methods well before his contemporaries, often setting trends and models that were followed by everyone else, as is well known in Bach’s case.

Also featured on this recording is the Concerto in D minor for two violins, two flutes, two oboes, and bassoon (RV 566), written around 1720; and the Concerto in D minor for viola d’amore and lute (RV 540), one of Vivaldi’s last works, written in 1740 in homage, it is thought, to his pupil Anna Maria. In addition, three works were inspired by the female musicians of the Dresden wind ensemble, and most probably written for them between 1720-25: the Concerto in B-flat major for four violins (RV 553), the Concerto in C major for violin and two cellos (RV 561), and the Concerto for cello in G major (RV 413).

All of the works on this recording feature a number of Vivaldi’s innovations: moving Largos, extraordinary wind composition and polyphonic intertwinings with string accompaniments, and virtuosic instrumental solos and imitative pairings. This is a wonderful recording, and I highly recommend it.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Antonio Vivaldi: Concerti con molti strumenti, vol. 2

product_title=Antonio Vivaldi: Concerti con molti strumenti, vol. 2
Concertos for various instruments: RV 413, 540, 553, 561, 562a, 566, 569.
product_by=Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi (cond.)
product_id=Virgin Classics 7243 5 45723 2 6 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:10 PM

Soprano Bullock Smashes Piano Ahead of Cutthroat ROH Debut

bullock_susan_small.jpg(Photo: Sussie Ahlburg)

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- ``It's like a velvet cushion with a sharp edge,'' says soprano Susan Bullock when asked to describe her voice. ``Sort of warm and enveloping, but with a glint of steel.''

She needs that steely edge. Bullock is one of a small number of sopranos who can sing the crazy-lady roles of Brunnhilde, Isolde and Elektra. These challenging characters demand huge reserves of vocal power and emotional stamina. Performers who can sing them as well as Bullock are rare.

Posted by Gary at 10:03 PM

Pauline Viardot: The forgotten diva

viardot-garcia_small.jpgPauline Viardot inspired Brahms, Berlioz and Turgenev, so why is she forgotten?
By Jessica Duchen [The Independent, 21 February 2006]

Pauline Viardot-Garcia was more than just the greatest diva of the 19th century. The Spanish-born mezzo-soprano transformed 19th-century opera and song, inspiring everyone from Berlioz to Brahms, and Clara Schumann to the young Fauré. Yet her own compositions have been virtually forgotten since her death in 1910.

Posted by Gary at 10:42 AM

Dmitri Hvorostovsky — Barbican, London

Dmitri_Hvorostovsky_small.jpgErica Jeal [The Guardian, 22 February 2006]

It's often a mistake to assume that you know how one of Dmitri Hvorostovsky's concerts will pan out. But with this programme, the unpredictable baritone surpassed even himself.

Posted by Gary at 10:33 AM

In Tiny Quarters, Pomp and a Grandness of Spirit

amato_aida_backdrop.jpgBy ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 22 February 2006]

Opera inspires a rare kind of fanatical love. There are many small theater companies in New York, but I know of none solely devoted to producing, say, the works of Shakespeare in lovingly homemade productions. Yet there is a long tradition in this city of a genre a friend of mine has dubbed "garage opera," meaning opera produced in very small spaces by people who love it so much they have determined to find a way to make it themselves.

Posted by Gary at 10:22 AM

SCHÜTZ: Symphoniae Sacrae III

His Kleine geistliche Konzerte feature concertos for one or a few solo singers with basso continuo, a move admittedly in keeping with the fashion for solo singing that marked the first part of the seventeenth century, but in this case also a practical necessity, born of the wartime depletion of resources. However, with the Peace of Westphalia and the cessation of fighting in 1648, Schütz was able once again to engage music on a grand scale in Dresden, and this takes published form in the third book of Symphoniae Sacrae (1650). These concertos in part echo the polychoral splendor of his Psalmen Davids of 1619, works that themselves bore the stamp of Schütz’s enthusiastic study in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli. (One of the 1650 concertos, “Siehe, wie fein und lieblich ists,” is, in fact, a work written in 1619 for the wedding of the composer’s brother.) But much of the 1650 collection also explores the concerted interplay of solo singing with virtuosic instrumental passagework. This, too, echoes earlier Venetian influences—Schütz had also studied in Venice with Monteverdi, as the first book of Symphoniae Sacrae attests—and this more modern influence is a clear strand in the 1650 collection.

Thus, this collection that celebrates the return of peace is also one that stylistically celebrates the composer’s Italian roots, both in its grand scale and in its concerted writing. In other ways, the collection seems also interestingly attuned to a sense of music drama. The range of text types is broad: parables, psalms, Gospel exhortations, and dialogues. The dialogues, such as the famous scene of the conversion of St. Paul (“Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?”), the appearance of the angel to the Holy Family, warning them to flee to Egypt (“Siehe, es erschien der Engel”), or the Holy Family’s anxious discovery of the young Jesus in the Temple (“Mein Sohn, warum hast Du uns das getan?”) become in Schütz’s hands engaging dramatic scenes, rich in characterization and generically close to the oratorio.

Konrad Junghänel’s performance with Cantus Cölln and the wind band, Concerto Palatino, is a spirited and stylish account. The best of the singing is found in the rapid passagework, rendered with notable clarity, ease, and ornamental flair. And the purity of treble sound in works like “O süsser Jesu Christ” or “O Jesu süss” is hauntingly memorable. The instrumental playing, especially that of the cornetts and trombones, is generally of two natures, both handled superbly here. Sometimes the winds function as voices, and the shapeliness of phrase and the exquisite blend of Concerto Palatino defy one to find a seam between voice and instrument. (This is most memorably evident in the concerto “Wo der Herr nicht bauet.) In other cases, the winds (and violins, too) display impressive levels of virtuosity, with the cornetts adding an added measure of accomplishment in so deftly scaling the high registers of the instrument.

On occasion one might wish for a less soloistic vocal sound in the tutti sections, particularly in the lower voices, but this is a relatively minor concern in context of the whole. It is also somewhat ironic that this performance directed by one of the great lutenists of the day, eschews lute continuo altogether, in favor of the unvaried use of the organ. A more diverse continuo palette would be a welcome touch, especially in the concertos of a more dramatic nature.

It is easy to perceive the aura of celebration in Schütz’s 1650 collection. With this recording, the high level of performance gives us a reason to celebrate, as well.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Heinrich Schütz: Symphoniae Sacrae III

product_title=Heinrich Schütz: Symphoniae Sacrae III
product_by=Cantus Cölln; Concerto Palatino; Konrad Junghänel (dir.)
product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMC901850.51 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:19 AM

February 21, 2006

Difficult Verdi Opera Gets Rare Revival

By MIKE SILVERMAN [AP, 21 February 2006]

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dark and sprawling - some would call it downright messy - Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" is a difficult opera to stage without performers able to sing at full throttle throughout a long evening.

Posted by Gary at 2:40 PM

ARIOSTI: “The Flowering and Fading of Love”

And indeed it is A Good Thing to have the opportunity to listen to a cycle of six Italian cantatas, since most examples of the genre available in modern recordings are single works.

But Ariosti? In the program booklet, Keith Anderson argues for the artistic significance of Ariosti, tracing his career as a viola performer and composer throughout Europe, and building an especially convincing connection with England and Handel. And indeed, Ariosti is certainly relevant among a number of skilled musicians who took advantage of the English fashion for Italian music in the first quarter of the 1700s, serving especially the Hanoverian court and its circles. But these six cantatas, while historically interesting, are not especially riveting music; and regrettably, the performance at hand doesn’t do much to “sell” the trans-historical worth of this remarkable violist’s compositions.

The scoring of the cantatas opens up a problem right away: the combination of baroque flute and baroque violin can be jarring given their very different timbres, and in this recording this reviewer finds it not especially pleasant. Reviol has a lovely tone (especially in the long notes), but her Italian pronunciation is awkward, the enunciation of words is sometimes blurred (especially in the arias), and her choice of breaths within a phrase is sometimes puzzling. van der Poel also has a somewhat tentative pronunciation, though her voice is rich and her delivery is more convincing.

Calling a harpsichord tinkly might seem analogous to calling coal black; but the instrument chosen for this recording is especially sewing-machine-like, and the phrasing and articulation used does not improve the situation (this harshness is especially noticeable in Cantata 5, “The Shipwreck”, but it does not seem to be a programmatic choice). However, the other continuo player – lutenist and theorbist Toshimoro Ozaki – plays with sensitivity and nuance, and the second cantata (“Honest Love”), in which he is joined by Robert Nikolayczik on gamba, is the most lovely of the bunch.

Filling in the remainder of the CD are two trio-sonatas, one by Locatelli and one by Vivaldi; flute and violin, now alone, seem better matched, but the harpsichord is still annoyingly tinkly – it would have been interesting for this reviewer to hear how Ozaki’s theorbo might have provided variety in the basso continuo realization. Still, these two works seem more an afterthought than a true match for the Ariosti cycle.

A note in the booklet indicates that texts for the recording are available online on the Naxos site as .pdf files. This is a rather ingenious solution to the high costs of booklet reproduction, but those who acquire the CD will have to resign themselves to keeping the texts separate from the CD itself, which might turn out to be annoying.

I am very glad that this recording was made, and I will ask my university library to acquire it. It provides a rare teaching example of a style that brings the baroque idiom to a simplicity that foreshadows the gallant approach which would soon land on and conquer British shores. But perhaps characterizing this as a crucial teaching recording for musicologists is damning praise indeed.

Andrew Dell’Antonio
The University of Texas at Austin

image_description=Attilio Ariosti: “The Flowering and Fading of Love”

product_title=Attilio Ariosti: “The Flowering and Fading of Love”
product_by=Musica Solare: Laurie Reviol, soprano; Truike van der Pol, contralto; Darja Grossheide, transverse flute; Gabriele Nussberger, baroque violin; Robert Nikolayczik, viola da gamba and cello; Toshimoro Ozaki, theorbo and baroque guitar.
product_id=Naxos 8.557573 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 11:06 AM

VIVALDI: Concerti e Cantate da Camera III

This disc combines three cantatas for mezzo-soprano with concerti for wind instruments and small accompanying ens. The match-up is interesting, since Laura Polverelli’s voice has a richness that resonates well with the baroque winds that are featured in the “concerti da camera”. In other ways the combination is incongruous; the concerti are oriented around the fascinating interplay between the different sonorities of the various soloists (recorder and oboe; flute, oboe, bassoon; recorder, oboe, bassoon) while the cantatas are relatively monochromatic (even though two of them have obbligato strings, these are entirely subsidiary to the vocalist).

Polverelli’s biography in the CD booklet lists a number of roles in baroque stage and sacred music, but her strengths are clearly in Rossini and Mozart operatic roles, and this comes across quite clearly: the ornamentation in the da capo sections of the arias is vaguely Rossinian – which is initially disconcerting, but ultimately interesting if one is willing to suspend a little bit of stylistic disbelief. After all, Vivaldi always aimed at showing off his singers’ abilities, and Polverelli’s ornamentation chops clearly lie in the graceful agility of the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century coloratura world – so why not take expressive advantage of this strength? This approach in general characterizes the recordings in the “Vivaldi edition”, and while some might see it as an anachronistic flaw, this reviewer is impressed enough with the richness and expressive flair of Polverelli’s delivery to go along with the rationale. Polverelli’s skill with the arias, however, does not translate quite as well in the recitatives, which seem alternately over-dramatized and hurried and “let’s-get-this-over-with”-ish. This is not a fatal flaw, since very few performers seem to know exactly what to do with Vivaldian recitative; but it is more noticeable in the conciseness of a cantata than it would be in the grander sweep of an operatic performance.

The concerti are remarkable partly because they are clearly interpreted as chamber pieces; each element of the texture is subtly woven in, and even the basso continuo is performed as an equal participant. One of the featured works is a chamber version of the “tempesta di mare” (which exists in several versions with varying scorings); most listeners are likely to be more familiar with the version for larger ensemble including full strings. L’Astrée manages to make this work a tempest in a teapot, in the best possible sense of the word: intimate, and yet intense, and evocative of a very different “tempest” – a more internal one – than performances of the larger scoring tend to conjure up. The ensemble is very well balanced, and the combination of harpsichord and theorbo for the continuo is subtle and varied.

This is not a recording that will change anyone’s mind about Vivaldi, nor does it present entirely new and uncharted musical territory; rather, it’s another fine pearl in the increasingly longer string with which the Vivaldi Edition is showcasing the extraordinarily versatility of the Red Priest.

Andrew Dell’Antonio
The University of Texas at Austin

image_description=Antonio Vivaldi: Concerti e Cantate da Camera III;

product_title=Antonio Vivaldi: Concerti e Cantate da Camera III
product_by= Laura Polverelli, mezzosoprano; L’Astrée, Giorgio Tabacco (dir.)
product_id=Naïve OP 30381 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:55 AM

'It's not the Holy Grail'

zambello.jpgWhy is one of the world's top opera directors going into musicals? Francesca Zambello reveals all to Emma John

[The Guardian, 21 February 2006]

Francesca Zambello is worked up about the state of theatre. Or rather, the state of theatres. "So many look terrible inside, they look depressing," she says, sitting in a West End flat minutes from the threadbare venues she's berating. "If people don't go to the theatre a lot, it has to be an experience that means something, and that means also the building. It's boring, but it's important: making people realise what special places they are."

Posted by Gary at 10:49 AM

Macbeth, Royal Opera House, London

By RICHARD FAIRMAN [Financial Times, 21 February 2006]

It was only seeing it for the third time that the meaning of this production became clear. The strange, dark brown set, divided into bite-sized squares, is not meant to be a giant chocolate bar at all, but a kind of asylum - a place where Macbeth is locked up with only his nightmares for company.

Posted by Gary at 10:45 AM

A Most Familiar Tale, Told in a New Mix of Sounds

bird_anne-carolyn_small.jpg(Photo:Kevin Clark)
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 21 February 2006]

The composer Osvaldo Golijov fervently believes that a "new era of integration in music is beginning," as he writes in the program note to the festival of his works that Lincoln Center has been presenting. He sees an overdue dialog taking place between the past and the present, the popular and the serious, and, most important, between disparate international cultures. He has been an admirable instigator of that dialog.

Posted by Gary at 10:39 AM

Encores Wanted and a Smorgasbord Served

cutler_small.jpgBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 21 February 2006]

Eric Cutler, an Iowan, is an up-andcoming tenor. Actually, he has perhaps up and come, given his appearances at the Metropolitan Opera - in Mozart's "Magic Flute," for example - and his recital on Friday night. That event took place in Weill Recital Hall, the pretty upstairs annex at Carnegie.

Posted by Gary at 10:32 AM

Scots tycoon saves English opera

Richard Brooks [Times Online, 19 February 2006]

ONE of Scotland’s richest men, the businessman Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, is to come to the rescue of the troubled English National Opera with a donation of £2m.

Posted by Gary at 8:38 AM

February 20, 2006

'Our Town' opera by Ned Rorem to debut at IU

rorem2.gifHoosier's work to be produced elsewhere soon
By Whitney Smith [IndyStar, 19 February 2006]

When "Our Town" opened on Broadway in 1938, playwright Thornton Wilder surprised American theatergoers with innovations including the absence of a set, and a stage manager who spoke to the audience.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 PM

Love conquers all — even one-eyed monsters

antoine_plante.jpgBy CHARLES WARD [Houston Chronicle, 19 February 2006]

It was a big bad brute who did in Acis and Galatea in Handel's chamber opera.

Acis and Galatea was the composer's first dramatic piece in English and the work most frequently performed during his lifetime. Mercury Baroque showed why in its zestful performance Saturday at the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall.

Posted by Gary at 10:36 AM

WNO's The Flying Dutchman — Three Reviews

Der fliegende Holländer, Millennium Centre, Cardiff

By ANDREW CLARK [Financial Times, 20 February 2006]

It is ironic that the most hyped shows often turn into the most hollow successes. That certainly applies to Welsh National Opera's new "Dutchman".

Click here for remainder of article.

The Flying Dutchman

Richard Morrison at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff [Times Online, 20 February 2006]

WITH a cast of turbo-charged voices led by Bryn Terfel, making a rare operatic return to the land of his fathers, this is the must-hear show of the season.

Click here for remainder of article.

Triumphant Terfel flies in to the rescue

Ismene Brown reviews The Flying Dutchman at the Wales Millennium Centre

[Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2006]

Welsh National Opera’s new Flying Dutchman comes loaded with promise, directed by David Pountney and starring the Welsh opera divinity Bryn Terfel, making his debut in a role that he seems born to play.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Bryn Terfel

Posted by Gary at 10:06 AM

Falstaff, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg

Kirill_Serebrennikov.jpg[Financial Times, 20 February 2006]

At the end of the Mariinsky Theatre's new production of Falstaff, a neon Coca-Cola logo appears blaring "Tutto nel mondo è burla", the text of the joyous closing fugue ("All the world is a joke"). Is it telling the fat knight to change his drinking habits? Perhaps it's too late, for he collapses and is left for dead while the others gleefully traipse off - a bizarre end to a production by the up-and- coming Moscow director Kiril Serebrennikov with more shock value than insight into Verdi's flawless comedy. One scene (sets by Nikolai Simonov) takes place in an upscale fitness centre, another in a dress shop (costumes by Olga Reznichenko).

Posted by Gary at 9:55 AM

February 19, 2006

On America's most-wanted list — Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham is mesmerizing

Susan_Graham_small.jpg(Photo: Mitch Jenkins)
By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 19 February 2006]

"Can you take the corners off my eyes a bit?" Susan Graham asks the makeup person as she prepares for round one of her Chicago media blitz.

It's Graham's day off from Lyric Opera performances of Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" and she has submitted to a round of "diva moments" that will soon have her wrapping her chocolate-creme mezzo-soprano around "Someone to Watch Over Me" on television and turning at least one caller to Milt Rosenberg's WGN radio show into an instant opera convert.

Posted by Gary at 4:04 PM

Sorry, I'm a bit tied up

Anthony Holden: For its Mozart birthday festivities, Welsh National Opera puts on Figaro and opens some bubble wrap

[The Observer, 19 February 2006]

Figaro here, Figaro there... the famous complaint of Rossini's barber rings true in Mozart's 250th birthday year on a scale his creator, French playwright Caron de Beaumarchais, could never have dreamed of. Between David McVicar's recent new staging at Covent Garden and an imminent Opera North revival, Welsh National has joined the party with its gift-wrapped version of The Marriage of Figaro.

Posted by Gary at 8:30 AM

In Act III, the Chairman Quits

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 19 February 2006]

London — The Lord High Executioner took his place here recently, on opening night of a revival of Jonathan Miller's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Mikado" at the English National Opera. He had a little list, you see: those "society offenders" who never would be missed.

Posted by Gary at 8:21 AM

February 18, 2006

WEBER: Der Freischütz

First Performance: 18 June 1821, at the Königliches Schauspielhaus, Berlin

Principal Characters:

Ottokar, böhmischer FürstBaritone
Kuno, fürstlicher ErbförsterBass
Agathe, seine TochterSoprano
Ännchen, eine junge VerwandteSoprano
Kaspar, erster JägerburscheBass
Max, zweiter JägerburscheTenor
Ein EremitBass
Kilian, ein reicher BauerBass
Samiel, der schwarze JägerSprechrolle
Erster, zweiter und dritter fürstlicher JägerSprechrollen

Time and Place: Bohemia following the 30 Years' War.


Act I

The young ranger Max loves Agatha and is to become the successor to Kuno, the head ranger. A test of skill in marksmanship is requisite, the trial to be held the following day. The target shooting. Max has failed in the test, and the young peasant Kilian is proclaimed "King of marksmen." (Chorus: "Victory, long live the master"; and the good-naturedly mocking song of Kilian: "Let him gaze on me as king.")

As Max has had ill-luck for several days he easily falls under the influence of Caspar, who also loves Agatha, and persuades Max to cast some magic bullets to be used in the contest. Caspar, whose soul on the morrow is to be forfeited to the devil, by the sacrifice of Max, hopes to obtain three more years of grace. (Trio, Kuno, Caspar, Max and chorus: "O the sun, fearsomely it rises.")

Left alone, Max, at the thought of losing Agatha through failure at the shooting contest, sinks into deep melancholy. (Aria: "Through woods and fields.") Caspar with weird incantations tries to imbue him with courage. (Song: "Here in this vale of tears.")

He hands him his gun loaded with one of the magic bullets, and to his own astonishment Max kills an eagle soaring at a great height. He resolves to go with Caspar at midnight to the terrible wolf’s gorge to cast the magic bullets in order to win the prize. Caspar, left alone, triumphs. (Aria: "Silence, let no one him warn.")

Act II

Agatha’s chamber. Agatha is filled with sad forebodings. She sings of her meeting with a hermit in the forest, who told her that in some danger which menaced her, she would be protected by her bridal wreath. At the moment when Max shoots the magic bullet, the picture of Agatha’s ancestor hanging against the wall falls to the floor, slightly wounding her. The lively Ännchen replaces it. (Duet "Rogue, hold fast, I will teach you.") Agatha is still more disturbed, but Ännchen endeavours to cheer her with jests. (Arietta: "Comes a pretty boy this path.")

Agatha left alone awaits Max with the news of his success, which she decides to interpret as a favourable omen. (Recitative: "My eyelids droop in slumber"; Prayer: "Low, low, sacred words"; Scene: "All have long since gone to rest"; and Aria: "All my pulses beat.")

Max arrives; he acknowledges that he has not been the victor, but explains that he has killed a deer, which he will bring this evening from the wolf’s gorge. Notwithstanding the prayers of Agatha and Ännchen, Max departs. (Trio: "What, oh horror! there in the wolf’s gorge?")

Change of scene: The wolf’s gorge at night. Caspar calls upon the black ranger for assistance, and prepares the casting of the magic bullets. Max arrives and is warned by the spirit of his mother to abandon the project. Samiel conjures up the shape of Agatha, representing her as drowning herself in despair at Max’s ill success, whereupon he plunges into the gorge and with demoniacal noise the casting of the bullets is begun.


Agatha’s chamber. Agatha in prayer. (Aria: "Through clouds obscure still shines the sun in radiant sky.") Her doubts have returned, owing to a dream of ill omen, but Ännchen again cheers her with laughter and song. (Romance and aria, subsequently added by Weber: "My deceased cousin had a dream.") The bridesmaids arrive with the bridal wreath. (Song: "We wind round thee the bridal wreath.") When Ännchen opens the box, however, she finds within a funeral wreath, which still further increases Agatha’s misgivings. She is somewhat comforted by the memory of the hermit’s promise that she shall be protected by her bridal wreath.

Change of scene: Meeting of the marksmen. Max has discharged six of his bullets successfully and Caspar is triumphant, knowing that the course of the seventh will be guided by the Evil One.

Change of scene: The prize shooting. Duke Ottokar awaits Max at his tent. (Chorus of foresters: "What excels the pleasures of the chase.") Max is now to shoot a dove. As he takes aim, Samiel, the black huntsman, appears to guide the bullet, and causes Max to fire at Agatha, who is apparently wounded. (Finale: "See, oh see, he shoots his bride.") Her bridal wreath turns the bullet aside and she revives. Caspar, seeing a holy hermit by her side, realises that he has failed. Samiel grasps him instead of Max, whereupon Caspar expires with a curse upon his lips. Duke Ottokar orders the corpse to be thrown into the wolf’s gorge, receives the explanation of Max, and touched by his repentance and the prayers of the hermit ("Who puts on him this dreadful ban"), inflicts upon him but a slight penalty. A year of trial is imposed, the prize shooting abolished and a promise given that at the expiration of the time of probation the duke himself will place the hand of Agatha in that of Max.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto. [Libretto source: Digitale Bibliothek]

Click here for an English translation of the libretto.

iTunes Users: Right click here and save playlist. Then import to iTunes.

image_description=Carl Maria von Weber

first_audio_name=Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz

product_title=Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz
product_by=Elfriede Trötschel, Irma Beilke, Bernd Aldenhoff, Kurt Böhme, Werner Faulhaber, Karl Paul, Heinz Kraemer, Karl-Heinz Thomas, Hannes Haegele, Staatskapelle Dresden, Rudolf Kempe (cond.).
Dresden, October 1949

Posted by Gary at 6:57 PM

Please sir, more millions

[Globe & Mail, 18 February 2006]

Private donors have poured almost half a billion dollars into the rebuilding of Toronto's Big Six cultural institutions. Well, sorry, that's not enough. VAL ROSS reports on the dwindling dollars, impending deadlines, an absent government and one last shot at the money

Posted by Gary at 8:30 AM

Handel & Haydn Society presents musical salute to Mozart at 250

gauvin_karina_small.jpg(Photo: Michael Slobodian)
By Keith Powers [Boston Herald, 18 February 2006]

Mozart birthday celebrations are everywhere - have you heard?

This year marks the 250th celebration of his birth. While most groups are satisfied to trot out a concerto or a wind trio to celebrate, the Handel & Haydn Society decided to do it right last night at Symphony Hall, with an all-Mozart program of arias and choruses from his operas “Idomeneo” and “Magic Flute,” as well as incidental music from “Thamos, King of Egypt” and a modern-day premiere of music from a lost ballet, “Ascanio in Alba.”

Posted by Gary at 8:00 AM

February 17, 2006

VIVALDI: Arie d’Opera

Unlike some of the releases in that continuing venture, which are lovely but perhaps not essential to those who are not working on a complete Vivaldi library, this is truly a volume of “greatest hits”, and deserves consideration even as the single recording to acquire from this spectacular venture. (Indeed, it might just be the CD that makes you a Vivaldi aficionado.)

Histories of the Italian operatic tradition in the generations surrounding Vivaldi always dwell on the phenomenon of the “suitcase aria”, a commonplace in a period dominated by superstar singers. In essence, the story goes as follows: star singers brought along favorite arias (in their “suitcase”, as it were) when hired for an operatic season, demanding that the composer integrate “their aria” in any new operatic production. While the phenomenon was likely not as blatant as some have portrayed it, it also made perfect sense within the system of the time: audiences paid to hear specific singers, and singers relied on arias that could display their vocal agility and expressive talents. There is little evidence that composers resented this situation; in fact, they were very sensitive to the fact that their own reputations rested on their ability to furnish singers with arias that could draw audiences in time and time again.

The “suitcase aria” story has centered on singers; but this CD gives us a peek into Vivaldi’s own suitcase. In the booklet, musicologist Frederic Delaméa speculates that the collection of arias from the Foà archive (from which these works are drawn) was a compendium of favorite works for various voices and instrumentations – Vivaldi’s own “greatest hits” compilation – that the composer assembled as he was preparing to travel throughout Europe in the early 1720s. Perhaps these were favorite arias that could be incorporated in their entirety in a new opera, or modified to suit a specific singer, as Vivaldi established his reputation as a composer and impresario away from home; or perhaps they could have been copied out for sale to amateurs, or as presents to important patrons. Whatever their purpose, it does seem clear that this collection was purposefully assembled by Vivaldi as representative, in some way, of his best work to date.

Diversity is extraodinary in this subset of 16 of the 47 arias from Vivaldi’s “suitcase collection”. The instrumental forces for the arias range from relatively straightforward string ensemble to extraordinary “special effect” scorings (two concertante harpsichords in one case). Sardelli notes in his comments on the scorings that he added doubling oboes and bassoon to a couple of the arias in the collection that did not otherwise specify those instruments; this reviewer regrets the decision, not out of a sense of historical purity or authenticity – there is certainly 18th century evidence for the creative doubling of parts when extra instruments were available – but because of the lost opportunity to hear a yet greater variety of scorings. Sometimes less can be at least as interesting as more, especially in a collection that highlights its variety of musical effects. But this is a minor point; Modo Antiquo are a remarkably tight ensemble, and their interaction with the vocalists is simultaneously subtle and powerful.

Diversity is also evident in the choice of singers who are charged with conveying Vivaldi’s Greatest Hits (this creative choice of singers has been, and continues to be, one of the remarkable strengths of the Vivaldi Collection). Soprano Sandrine Piau displays sensational expressive energy, especially in the first track (“Certo timor”) and the onomatopoetic “Zeffiretti che sussurrate”, where her breathy delivery conveys the whispering zephyrs to a “T”. Precision and flexibility seem completely second-nature to her, and she reliably provides new fireworks in the ornamentation for the da capo. The richness of mezzosoprano Ann Hallenberg’s tone color is a perfect contrast to Piau’s incisiveness, and while her flexibility is less spectacularly in evidence, the aria with obbligato sopranino recorder “Io son fra l’onde” is a real show-stopper and a perfect last track on the CD. Guillemette Laurens, long an outstanding presence in early music, only has a cameo in the lovely but atypical strophic arias from Tito Manlio, in alternation then in counterpoint with Hallenberg; the color of their voices is very similar, and there is a great deal of unison in these arias, so the effect is less striking than this reviewer might have wished. It seems churlish to find fault with Paul Agnew, who is one of the great tenors in pre-Mozart repertory; but this reviewer finds his voice less successful in this Vivaldi recording than it has been in other contexts (especially eighteenth-century French music, for which he is an absolute haut-contre superstar); at issue is not the clarity and flexibility, which Agnew has in spades, but rather the (sometimes almost manic) energy which explodes from these Vivaldian arias, and which both Piau and Hallenberg convey in a way that this reviewer found more deeply satisfying.

It would be too much to expect unbroken greatness even from a “greatest hits” collection, and the variety of the arias in this collection will ensure that at least one comes across as trivial or unconvincing to each listener who encounters the CD. The same can be said of the performances, and this reviewer could spend some time listing the ones he thought were more or less remarkable. But the beauty of such a “greatest hits” compilation is its diversity, and I have no doubt that others will find much to love even in those arias that I personally have taken out of my I-Pod’s “favorites” playlist. And since many of these are newly recorded works, it is a delight to open Vivaldi’s suitcase and have the opportunity to hear his own choice of works presented by such a strong ensemble.

Andrew Dell’Antonio
The University of Texas at Austin

Related Link:

VIVALDI: Orlando Furioso

image_description=Antonio Vivaldi: Arie d’Opera dal Fondo Foà 28

product_title=Antonio Vivaldi: Arie d’Opera dal Fondo Foà 28
product_by=Sandrine Piau, Soprano; Ann Hallenberg, mezzosoprano; Paul Agnew, tenor; Guillemette Laurens, mezzosoprano; Modo Antiquo, dir. Federico Maria Sardelli
product_id=Naïve OP 30411 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 2:18 PM

What won’t Dan dare?

By Richard Morrison [Times Online, 17 February 2006]

After La Scala, Covent Garden holds no fears for Daniel Harding

The stage-door staff at Covent Garden don’t recognise him. Nor, it seems, does the man from the Royal Opera press office. A slightly awkward moment, because this callow-looking kid is about to conduct the Royal Opera in Berg’s Wozzeck. And also because, after winning thunderous acclaim for rescuing the first night of La Scala’s season, the 30-year-old Daniel Harding is suddenly one of the hottest properties in classical music.

Posted by Gary at 2:03 PM

Sexual healing

Richard Wagner's personal life was as dramatic as the epic romances of his operas. Ed Vulliamy on Wagner the Dutchman and his real-life Senta

[The Guardian, 17 February 2006]

'The pink panties are ready, I hope?" gasped Richard Wagner in a letter to one of his many sweethearts, Mathilde Maier, as he prepared to return to a residence she had arranged for him. "See to my study - and spray it with perfume!"

Posted by Gary at 1:58 PM

February 16, 2006

LA Times: A sense of adventure lost. And found.

By Mark Swed [LA Times, 15 February 2006]

New evidence that the opera world is fickle is about as shocking as a revelation that politicians lie or that divas hate (or at least used to hate) to diet. Still, topsy-turvy is news, and topsy-turvy opera is.

Wasn't it just yesterday that San Francisco Opera went from brain dead and irrelevant to brainy and meaningful, that Los Angeles Opera was ready to sample every wonderful new flavor under the sun (and invent a few of its own), that Chicago Lyric Opera put America first and that the Metropolitan Opera was a big, fat, plush red velvet 19th century cocoon where the rich could beam at a chandelier that goes up and down, ooh and ah over sets that looked like living rooms even they couldn't afford, and dine elegantly in the Met restaurant no longer named for disgraced former donor Alberto Vilar?

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=The Metropolitan Opera

Posted by Gary at 9:44 AM

Dull, sleepy 'Padlock' gives way to dandy 'Dido'

dido_047.jpg(Photo: Chicago Opera Theater)
By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribun, 16 February 2006]

Lillian Groag is back at Chicago Opera Theater, once more proving that old opera can, in the right hands, deliver a bracing shock of the new.

COT opened its season Wednesday night at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with the director's inventive staging of two early English operas—Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" and Charles Dibdin's "The Padlock."

Posted by Gary at 9:32 AM

The Guardian Interviews Violeta Urmana: 'My voice decides what's good for me'

[The Guardian, 14 February 2006]

In the early months of 2004, the soprano Violeta Urmana was asked to stand as a presidential candidate in her native Lithuania. "The day they asked, I laughed so much," she says, dissolving into a fit of giggles in her dressing room backstage at the Royal Opera House. "It was in a period when we had some problems." The Lithuanian government was in the process of impeaching President Rolandas Paksas following allegations of links to organised crime. "I said, 'Are you kidding? I don't belong to a party, either social democrat or liberal.' 'Oh, that's better,' they said. 'But what about my singing?' 'You can sing, probably one or two times a year.' My husband couldn't sleep at night - he thought I shouldn't do it - but just for one day, I was thinking, 'Oh, for Lithuania, maybe I should.'"

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Violeta Urmana

Posted by Gary at 9:19 AM

Hercules in Brooklyn — Two Reviews

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is presenting Handel's Hercules with Les Arts Florissants, conducted by William Christie and directed by Luc Bondy. Here are two reviews.

Posted by Gary at 9:14 AM

Preview: Macbeth, Royal Opera House, London

Macbeth_ROH.jpgA stab at the Scottish opera

By Michael Church [Independent, 16 February 2006]

When Joseph Calleja sings Macduff in the revival of Phyllida Lloyd's production of Verdi's Macbeth, he will be revisiting a part he first sang in the Astra theatre on the tiny Maltese island of Gozo. It will be great to do it again, he says, "and fingers crossed for my one big aria". As the acclaimed possessor of a uniquely sweet and even tone, this young tenor need have no fears, but how he got to where he is now makes a discreetly remarkable tale.

Posted by Gary at 9:07 AM

Hercules in Brooklyn — Two Reviews

Hercules' Last Travail: Domestic Spat

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 16 February 2006]

Audiences were baffled when Handel's "Hercules" was first presented in 1745 at the King's Theater in London. The work wasn't an opera, yet it didn't seem to be an oratorio either, though it was performed in concert. It failed to catch on even after Handel's death, despite being one of Handel's most complex and penetrating scores.

Click here for remainder of article.

Ah, Those Greeks!

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 16 February 2006]

Now, children, this is a little confusing, so please listen carefully. Near the end of his career, George Frederic Handel renounced the opera form, sensing that audiences were no longer intrigued by its fusion of classical stories and live dramatic action. He moved on, processing his creative impulses into the oratorio - essentially the same type of music, but without sets or costumes. In 1744, he had a change of heart, composing one of his strongest pieces, "Hercules," as an opera. But practicalities caused him to mount the production not as a staged endeavor but as an oratorio; he conducted only five performances in London.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Joyce DiDonato (Photo: Sheila Rock Photography)

Posted by Gary at 8:38 AM

February 15, 2006

ROSSINI: Armida — Venice 1970

Music composed by Gioacchino Rossini. Libretto by Giovanni Federico Schmidt based on Gerusalemme liberata by Torquato Tasso.

First Performance: 11 November 1817 at Teatro San Carlos, Naples.

Principal Characters:
Goffredo Tenor
Rindaldo Tenor
Idraote Bass
Armida Soprano
Gernando Tenor
Eustazio Tenor
Ubaldo Tenor
Carlo Tenor
Astarotte Bass

Time and Place: Near Jerusalem during the First Crusade, c. 1099.


Act I

A battlefield not far from Jerusalem.

The supreme commanding officer Goffredo, together with Eustazio and the paladins are about to elect a successor for the deceased Dudone, when a noblewoman enters—Armida. She is crying and has a large retinue, including Idraote, disguised as a dignitary. She has come to ask for the help of ten soldiers to save her from Idraote who has usurped the throne of Damascus and has threatened to kill her. Obviously, this is a ruse; the enchantress wants to remove the strongest soldiers from the battlefield, above all Rinaldo, who had slipped through her hands once before. After much hesitation, Goffredo gives in to Armida's request and promises her ten soldiers. First, however, he elects Dudone's successor who shall then choose the ten. Once Goffredo has left, Eustazio and the paladins elect Rinaldo much to the chagrin of Gernando, who hoped to be chosen in his place. Thereupon, Armida and Rinaldo meet. The enchantress is able to awaken his love for her. Seeing them together, Gernando insults Rinaldo who then kills his adversary in a brief duel. Rinaldo flees to escape Goffredo's wrath who wants to punish him. He follows Armida. Thus, the enchantress has obtained exactly what she wanted.

Act II

A frightening forest.

Astarotte and the demons come out of the kingdom of inferno and offer Armida their services. The enchantress appears with Rinaldo. The soldier is fascinated by the wonders worked by Armida. With a simple nod, she transforms the forest into the interior of a magnificent palace where nymphs, dwarfs and cupids are dancing, weaving symbolic figurations, including that of a young soldier being seduced by the nymphs and entrapped in the arms of love. It is Rinaldo sitting next to Armida while the dancing continues.


A forest.

The paladins reach Ubaldo and Carlo—a celestial mission has been sent to save Rinaldo. Using a gold bar, they make the nymphs flee as they try to get closer to them. Hidden in a thicket they hear the words of love exchanged between Armida and Rinaldo. But, when the enchantress leaves, they come out into the open; using Rinaldo's reflection in their adamantine shield, they show him how disgraceful and deplorable it is for him to be enslaved by Armida. Rinaldo is ashamed of himself and decides to return to the battlefield. Goffredo has promised to forgive him. A beautiful beach. The enchantress reaches the three soldiers who are leaving and tries to hold Rinaldo back in every possible way. But now, Rinaldo's sense of honor and pride are stronger that any magical power. Rinaldo follows his comrades leaving Armida unconscious. When she comes round, she fights with herself and cries; but revenge is stronger. Armida mounts her carriage drawn by dragons and, in the midst of smoke and flames, chooses vengeance.

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the complete text of Gerusalemme liberata.

Click here for an English language summary of Gerusalemme liberata.

Click here for Rinaldo and Armida by Anthony van Dyck, 1628-1629

Click here for Rinaldo and Armida by François Boucher, 1734

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/armida_detail.jpg image_description=Detail from Rinaldo and Armida by Anthony Van Dyck, 1628-1629. audio=yes first_audio_name=Gioacchino Rossini: Armida first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Armida2.m3u product=yes product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: Armida product_by=Cristina Deutekom, Pietro Bottazzo, Edoardo Gimenez, Ottavio Garaventa, Berardino Trotta, Giovanni Antonini, Alessandro Maddalena, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Carlo Franci (cond.).
Live recording, 3 April 1970, Venice.
Posted by Gary at 1:40 PM

BARRY: The Intelligence Park

It’s pure emotion” (in an interview with Ian Hewitt on telegraph.co.uk). Indeed, this sentiment is audible in his first opera, The Intelligence Park, now available on a 2-disc set from the NMC label.

The Intelligence Park is in some ways a quintessentially operatic tale; the libretto by Vincent Deane is replete with greed, betrayal, unrequited love, conflict between private love and public duty, and of course, homosexuals. Unlike operas of previous centuries that leave issues of same-sex love to be guessed at by the listener, The Intelligence Park features two sets of long-term “companions” whose relationships are destroyed through the course of the opera.

Set in Dublin in 1753, The Intelligence Park’s protagonist, Robert Paradies, is a composer of opera seria struggling with writer’s block. As Paradies is reminded by his long-time companion D’Esperaudieu, he is required to marry the none-too-talented Jerusha, daughter of the wealthy magistrate Sir Joshua Cramer in order to inherit wealth that will allow him to dedicate himself solely to composing opera. At a party held in order to cement the engagement between Paradies and Jerusha, Paradies meets and becomes obsessed with the castrato Serafino. The barriers between Paradies and the object of his affections include not only his relationship with D’Esperaudieu and his engagement to Jerusha, but also Serfino’s long-time companion Faranesi and Serafino’s love for Jerusha, his music student.

Paradies finds enough inspiration for his stalled opera in his obsession for Serafino to start composing scenes for “Wattle” and “Daub.” These scenes as they are imagined by Paradies are manifest on the stage with Serafino and Jerusha acting and singing the parts of the Italian opera seria as Paradies sets them down on paper. In addition to these six “actual” characters and two imaginary ones, the score also calls for a chorus of “dummies” and boy soprano—both heard offstage. In this recording the chorus consists of the taped voices of the six soloists, and the boy soprano is also on tape.

The plot of The Intelligence Park contains references to some events that actually occurred in 1753: there was a solar eclipse and a famous castrato did elope with a wealthy young woman. Despite these true events, The Intelligence Park for the most part exemplifies the “coolness and bizarre artificiality” that first drew Barry to Deane’s libretto. Barry’s music is extremely compelling in its portrayal of the emotions of the characters throughout the opera. Barry succeeds in portraying old familiarity between Paradies and D’Esperaudieu, as well the anxiety and anger that are blocking Paradies’ creative output.

Barry uses a host of musical techniques, including pastiche (of Baroque styles), pointillistic textures, lyricism, deftly executed contrapuntal sections, and contrasting orchestral colors, to express the depths of human emotions from love to anger to self-pity to madness, and more. Barry also uses of repeated music within the opera to excellent effect. While the narrative seems a bit disjointed when one considers the libretto, the listener will not feel lost because of Barry’s deftness at manipulating the many sudden changes of mood inherent in the text.

The Intelligence Park was composed between 1981 and 1990, and it was commissioned for the MusICA Series at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Unfortunately, the opera has not been staged as a production again since its 1990 premiere. This may be in part because of the technical requirements of the soloists and the orchestra to mount such a work. In face of criticism of the virtuosic nature of music of his music, Barry defends himself saying, “All I want is to get to the heart of the text in the most direct way possible” (in interview with Hewitt about his third opera The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant). Although there is no doubt that The Intelligence Park is a challenging work for both performer and listener, the time spent is well worth it.

Megan Jenkins
The Graduate Center – CUNY

image_description=Gerald Barry: The Intelligence Park

product_title=Gerald Barry: The Intelligence Park
product_by=Richard Jackson, Paul Harrhy, Stephen Richardson, Angela Tunstall, Nicholas Clapton, Buddug Verona James, Almeida Ensemble, Robert Houlihan (cond.)
product_id=NMC D122 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 10:25 AM

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Finnish National Opera

Die_Frau_Finland_detail.jpgBy George Loomis [Financial Times, 15 February 2006]

The Woman Without a Shadow can stir an audience like no other Strauss opera, even Der Rosenkavalier. A mix of the grand and the grandiose, it attracts those who want to chew on something of Wagnerian proportions, and Hofmannstal's mysterious, symbol-laden libretto adds richness. In the end, Frau is surprisingly optimistic in celebrating humanity, which may be one reason Strauss lavished on it some of his most opulent and heartfelt music in late-romantic vein.

Click image for larger view.

Posted by Gary at 9:58 AM

The Consummate Vocal Recitalist

FelicityLott_byTLeighton_small.jpg(Photo: Trevor Leighton)
BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 15 February 2006]

Dame Felicity Lott came to Zankel Hall on Monday night, to give a recital. Her recital had a theme - indeed, a title: "Fallen Women and Virtuous Wives."Theme or no theme, title or no title, this was a program of almost 30 disparate songs (including encores), by about 20 different composers. And the program was consummately sung by one of the consummate singers of our time.

Posted by Gary at 9:56 AM

Opera & Society

JIH.jpgThe current and forthcoming issues of The Journal of Interdisciplinary History examine opera and society. According to the Journal's editor, Theodore Rabb of Princeton:

The interactions between operas and the societies in which they were composed and first heard are of interest to both historians and musicologists, especially because operas since the seventeenth century have had significant connections with political and social change. The essays in this special double issue of the journal, entitled "Opera and History," pursue the connection in six settings: seventeenth-century Venice; Handel's London; Revolutionary Europe from 1790 to 1830; Restoration and Risorgimento Italy; Europe during the birth of Modernism from 1890 to 1930; and twentieth-century America.
The Journal is accessible on a subscription basis only. However, one article by Ellen Rosand, Commentary: Seventeenth-Century Venetian Opera as Fondamente nuove , is freely available. Click here for access.

Posted by Gary at 9:40 AM

The Lewds and the Prudes Offer Much to Sing About

felicity_lott_small.jpgBy ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 15 February 2006]

Felicity Lott's recitals tend to be livelier than most, probably because she doesn't worry much about keeping composers, eras, styles or even languages sorted into strictly defined groups. Her concern, instead, is with larger themes, assembled with songs of all stripes — serious and comic, from the heart of the classical repertory or the periphery. And her programming signature is her way of weaving subsidiary themes through the evening.

Posted by Gary at 9:26 AM

Mozart's `Garden Girl' Has Mad Love, Harnoncourt in Zurich

By Shirley Apthorp

Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- There is no doubt that ``La Finta Giardiniera,'' written by the 19-year-old Mozart, is weaker than his mature operas like ``Cosi fan Tutte'' or ``Don Giovanni.'' The libretto rambles, the plot is absurd, the arias are full of repeats. So why bother?

Posted by Gary at 12:01 AM

February 14, 2006

The Metropolitan Opera Announces Ambitious New Artistic Plans

In bold moves to reconnect with a broader public, The Met will increase new productions, launch a groundbreaking commissioning program with Lincoln Center Theater, inaugurate high definition transmissions into movie theaters, and increase its commitment to contemporary music

February 13, 2006

Details of future seasons and productions revealed by General Manager Elect Peter Gelb and Music Director James Levine

2006-2007 season to open with Anthony Minghella’s Madama Butterfly, the first new production featured on Opening Night in twenty years

Posted by Gary at 1:46 PM

Language tricky for passionless lead actors in 'Roméo and Juliet'

 Laura PedersenPrincipals passionless, French tricky in 'Roméo'
Donald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 14 February 2006]

Cleveland Opera appears to be in artistic limbo. The company's first two productions of the season showed it to be moving to a new, vibrant level of operatic achievement.

Posted by Gary at 8:34 AM

Uraufführung: Henze komponiert nur für Berlin

henze_small.jpgDie geplante Doppel-Uraufführung der neuen Oper Hans Werner Henzes in Wien und München kommt nicht zustande.

[Die Presse, 14 February 2006]

Wiens Opernchef Ioan Holender ist traurig über die Tatsache, dass sich ein ehrgeiziges Projekt nicht realisieren ließ: Mit dem designierten Intendanten der Münchner Staatsoper, Christoph Albrecht, war sich Holender einig: Die nächste Oper aus der Feder von Altmeister Hans Werner Henze, der im Juli seinen 80. Geburtstag feiert, sollte in München und Wien - wie früher etwa bei Pfitzner- oder Schreker-Novitäten - an zwei aufeinanderfolgenden Tagen aus der Taufe gehoben werden.

Posted by Gary at 8:10 AM

February 13, 2006

WAGNER: Parsifal

Lehnhoff lays out a provocative, if encumbered reading of Parsifal that explores three peculiar notions, explained in the DVD’s accompanying notes and in the course of Reiner Moritz’s accompanying documentary Parsifal’s Progress. First, Lehnhoff has an unorthodox view of Gurnemanz, whom he characterizes not as the sacerdotal father-figure familiar from conventional productions, but as a reactionary, unhinged authoritarian bereft of genuine human feeling. Second, Lehnhoff finds that if there is any redemptive message in Parsifal, it describes an enlightened humankind that has discarded impotent, atavistic religious ritual and doctrine. This notion is leveraged upon his view of Gurnemanz. Third, Lehnhoff assigns Kundry the role of redeemer.

From Moritz’s film we know that Lehnhoff believes Parsifal is essentially a utopian work, where utopia is a dynamic principle that has nothing to do with religious tribalism or any other fixed identity. Lehnhoff advocates this notion of utopia in several ways. Most strikingly, he dampens Kundry’s act 3 reconciliation with the Christian god through her baptism and death: she does not die, nor does her baptism bind her to the Grail or its acolytes. Instead, she finds in herself the strength to rescue Parsifal, and all humankind, from the thrall of that pernicious fetish object. Subtle adjustments to Kundry’s behavior in act 3 hint at her evolved capacities. Wagner left to his successors the task of resolving the troubled dialectic of male and female in Parsifal, and Lehndoff takes up the challenge, claiming that Kundry “revokes the unnatural separation between men and women.” (Another interesting attempt to engage this problem is found in Hans Jürgen Syberberg’s 1982 Parsifal, where the sexual dialectic is embodied in a divided male and female impersonation of the role of Parsifal.) A kiss that Wagner instructs Parsifal to place on Kundry’s forehead is followed by the pair’s unauthorized cathartic embrace. Moreover, Kundry dispenses quickly with the servility that Wagner conferred on her in act 3, that trope of feminine submission summarily expressed by Wagner in her muttered “dienen” (“to serve”). At the end, her gaze as she observes the Grail knights and Parsifal is not passive, but reflective and critical. Much earlier, Kundry’s act 2 verse “Oh! – Sehnen – Sehnen!” is delivered by Meier with uncanny calm and self-consciousness, so that her longing is partly erotic, partly spiritual, but self-aware, not hysterical. To authorize all this, Lehndoff appeals to Goethe: Kundry is das Weiblich, the feminine force celebrated at the close of Faust Part II, the creative energy that impels human progress. This new Kundry is a counterpoise to the new Gurnemanz, and she brings about an unexpected turn of events at the end of the opera, whereby Parsifal abdicates his kingship to follow her into an alternate, Grail-free redemption.

The set of act 1, scene 1, is a minimalist courtyard dominated by a whitewashed rear wall of stone, the battlement of Monsalvat. Pockmarks, fissures, and seeping piles of rubble record a long history of assault. Right of center, a boulder or—as the DVD notes tell us—meteor, has impacted the wall and remains lodged in it. This meteor is a memorable device but nevertheless forgotten in the subsequent acts; Meier fishes for its meaning in her filmed interview, but even being on stage doesn’t help her find it. A visually interesting, if unintelligible use of the meteor is its slow spiraling during the transformation scene, when it has become detached from the fortress wall and courses once more through space on its axis. Recalling the medieval tradition that the Grail was a stone I’d almost hoped the meteor was this production’s Grail, but it was not. The transformation scene is altogether an early disappointment: perhaps set on restraining effects (or costs), the transformation music, one of the glories of nineteenth-century orchestral writing, is accompanied by Gurnemanz’s and Parsifal’s ungainly swaying in place, to which the camera adds the insult of loitering at angles that betray the already weak illusion. Salminen’s and Ventris’ earnest, slightly deranged facial expressions can’t hide the incongruity of sublime music and deficient mis-en-scène.

The Grail ritual of Act 1 takes place on a concave, twilight dreamscape dotted with unoccupied chairs placed on the sharp, inaccessible vertical slope of the rear stage. The stage offers egress only through the two apertures from which the Grail knights threaten to pour onstage. They arrive, augmenting Amfortas’ distress, in disciplined military filings. Wagner’s heretical musings on the Eucharist are sung with militancy and certitude, but the production neatly underscores the chasm between the knights’ chorale and the women’s unwelcome Augustinian discourse on sin: the knights’ discipline is momentarily shattered by the chromatic female sounds, and they cast about nervously for their source. The point is effectively made: male and female, salvation and sin, are musically and visually in conflict, and this Grail community is frightened of women.

In act 2, Klingsor’s magic garden is situated on the same flexed stage as the Grail ceremony, which suggests the coexistence rather than alienation of the two ethical worlds of Gurnemanz and Klingsor. Even some of the mysteriously unoccupied chairs remain on the rear slope. (Who was meant to sit on those chairs, which are never occupied?) The coup de théâtre at Klingsor’s defeat is modest but effective: the law of gravity, suspended in the Grail ceremony and in the magic garden, is instantly restored, the precarious chairs of the rear slope crash to the ground, and the cinders of some unseen ruined canopy rain down on the stage.

The stage of act 3 is punctured by a large rectangular cutout through which train tracks emerge and curve downstage. The track bed is the path along which Parsifal finds his way back to the Grail, and the path he, Kundry, and others will take to leave it. Kundry had evidently used the tracks to find her way back earlier; she lies at their end in a heap, concealed by a white shroud when Gurnemanz wakes her.

Andrea Schmidt-Futterer’s costumes suggest Asian inspirations: the monochromatic, pallid squires and knights of act 1 evoke the terracotta warriors of Xi’an. Klingsor and the Parsifal of act 3 both seem inspired by shogun armorial design. Act 3 affirms the Xi’an allusion: a shallow pit is occupied by child-sized clay figures representing long-dead knights. During the orchestral interlude preceding Titurel’s funeral a camera lingers close up on the clay figures, like a fragment from a Last Judgment altar.

Offstage light plays an important role in the proceedings. Full-spectrum light cast from off-stage is used to suggest the peace of the lake where Amfortas will bathe, and later in act 1, spokes of light activate the transformation scene. Yellow light reflects from the skeletal Titurel’s blood spattered armor. Only an opened slat of blinding white light indicates the presence of the Grail in act 1. And the emotional temper of act 2 is measured by the same rectangle of light. Instead of white light, pink and purple hues of Kundry’s seductions give way to piercing yellow as Parsifal experiences anguish and guilt. Significantly, the Grail-light is missing from the act 3 liturgy, when another distant light draws Kundry and Parsifal away from the stage.

Kundry and Parsifal enter act 1 as a riot of sylvan color, wearing organic, primitive costumes of feathers, wood, and cloth, like figures from a Renaissance woodcut of New World Indians, though Parsifal, crouching with his little bow and arrow, might have wandered from pages of James Fenimore Cooper. Kundry’s avian costume sports wings, so the squires’ sighting of her horse is absurd. Kundry’s wings remain a prominent motif. In act 2, she appears behind the Flower maidens concealed in a chrysalis; when she emerges from this she is clad liked a winged insect. She loses those wings in the course of Parsifal’s rejection, and with them her stiff arthropod body spasms.

Overall, singing and acting in this production are more than admirable. Matti Salminen seems to have understood Lehnhoff’s conception of Gurnemanz, and a viewer may grow uneasy watching and hearing him on this account. Salminen’s eyes betray roiling fanaticism, his posture suggests reservoirs of anger, and his first act narrations are delivered in accents better fitting an inquisitor than a lofty historian of the Grail. The listener will detect this in, among other passages, his angry “Jeder ist’s verwehrt” and his anguished “O, wunden-wundervoller heiliger Speer!” Gurnemanz’s single-minded obsession seems to sustain his character through act 3. He does not really decay like the rest of the Grail community, despite his self-description as “tief gebeugt” by age and sorrow. Salminen’s Gurnemanz always seems preoccupied; he delivers his long narratives not in long musical arches, but in halting, painfully remembers phrases.

Christopher Ventis is a fine, if not ideal Parsifal. His portrayal of innocence is ham fisted (this hopeless part of the role is almost always unwatchable, with even sexagenarian singers cavorting as the lanky adolescent), but atoned by his more convincing portrayal of Parsifal in third-act maturity. He is not inspiring as a Grail king, though, and we are not as surprised or disappointed as we ought to be when he surrenders the crown in the end. He can be frustrating to watch, as when he ignores Waltraud Meier’s most volcanic looks in act 2 and stares determinedly toward the conductor or prompter. Distractingly, he habitually heaves his body to the music’s rhythms, almost bouncing to dotted-rhythms.

Waltraud Meier proves an exceptional Kundry. Her acting shows disciplined devotion to the production’s intentions. She is always captivating, and does not lapse into the commonplaces of operatic stage acting—she acts with the camera in mind. Only as she begins her act 2 seduction of Parsifal do her blandishments briefly fall flat for lack of a convincing maternal tone. As the scene progresses and she asks Parsifal for compassion for her own suffering and promises him godly knowledge, her passion becomes sweeping. Her bodily gestures are never superfluous. Especially balletic is her pantomime of the seduction of Amfortas as Parsifal imagines it in his hallucinatory outburst “Ja, dies Stimme! So rief sie ihm.” (Lehnhoff takes Wagner’s stage instructions here very seriously.) Meier works earnestly with the director’s conception of her as an insect in act 2, and gives meaning to an otherwise unpromising costume. She eschews melodramatic cliché in favor of a more pathological rendition of Kundry. She is puppet-like in acts 1 and 2, her limbs pulled into improbably gestures by the sound of a meaningful word. Her convulsions climax in act 2, when she is most dehumanized. In act 3, she acquires for the first time a human, even classical bearing.

Thomas Hampson’s Amfortas is not, as would be customary, an object of mixed reverence and pity, but he is relentlessly pursued and harassed by his desperate knights. He never enters in solemn procession, but always in full flight from his own followers, frantic to evade their demand that he celebrate their liturgy. This Amfortas must have the strength to run. Accordingly, Hampson’s Amfortas is less prostrate, less helpless, and more histrionic and physical than most. Wild-eyed in some close-ups, there is sometimes more than a whiff of Norma Desmond. When he collapses, it is more from fear and despair than from his wound; his ailment is more psychological than physical. As the curtain falls on act 1, Lehnhoff leaves us with a pietà of Gurnemanz supporting the fallen Amfortas, a rare and well posed moment of pathos. Hampson is more vocally forceful than many Amfortas interpreters, but his singing is predominantly refined and lyrical, apart from his last phrases in act 3, when he begins to shout.

Tom Fox’s Klingsor is suspended, mid-air, in the center of a scrim of an enormous and menacing pelvic bone that suggests his ossified sexual fixations. His poise and gestures suggest a spider. Fox’s acting and singing are both good. The production dispenses with his usual necromancer bric-a-brac.

The singers all suffer in Moritz’s long and unhelpful film Parsifal’s Progress, which fills over an hour, of which no more than four or five minutes contain insight and the rest interminable excerpts from the production available on the very same disk. What these intelligent musicians might have said has been distilled into banality, and they seem at pains to help us understand things that are entirely obvious or that the production ought to have made clear on its own. A twenty-minute round table conversation led by the excruciatingly articulate Lehnhoff would have been more useful.

The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Kent Nagano’s direction sounds good, very good at times. At its best moments, hushed string passages glow like burning coals touched by a breeze. But woodwind and brass sounds are sometimes anemic or lack subtlety, as in the act 3 prelude. The string section sounds chilly when compared with other benchmark performances, like Knappertsbusch’s 1962 Bayreuth Festival recording for Philips, whose strings are recorded as rich and deeply textured. Tempi are sometimes too fast, as in the knights’ choruses and patches of Gurnemanz’s narrations. The orchestral postlude to the act 1 Grail ceremony is angular and hurried. The first statements of the main theme of the act 3 Good Friday music could use more breathing space; here they are rushed and muddled. The choruses, men and women, sound well enough, but again, comparison of the final chorus of act 3 and the concluding orchestral statements of the “love” motive seem monochrome, and lack the contrapuntal detail and variegated colors of Knappertsbusch’s performance.

In act 1, Grail knights in medieval armor marched in place as they as they sang “Nehmet vom Wein, wandelt ihn neu zu Lebens feurigem Blute” with warrior esprit. Their survivors struggle onto the stage in act 3 for the funeral of Titurel defeated and harrowed, wearing disheveled World War I uniforms complete with gas masks. The anachronism has an important purpose, and a disruptive effect. The historical displacement underscores the temporal distance between act 1 and 3, but in doing so attenuates the opera’s mythic temporality, and overdetermines the work’s meaning. We are plunged against our will into old, external debates that do not clarify, but distract from the Goethean premise of the production: does Titurel’s corpse now denote the death of Hindenburg, and is his funeral attended by an embittered generation of Nazi recruits? Does Gurnemanz’s anointing of Parsifal as Grail king glance at Hitler? Do the Christological overtones of Parsifal’s return and the Good Friday music collaborate with these political acts, or contest them? Does Parsifal’s abdication symbolize an alternate history that never was, or a potential future choice? The production wakes these questions with a jarring crash, and too late.

Lehnhoff’s production struggles against currents not only in Wagner’s vision of the staged work, but also against the manifestly restorative and ritual impulses of his music. The director’s grafting of Goethean laurels to the trunk of Wagner’s opera does not take well: his attempt to divert the final choral formula “Erlösung dem Erlöser!” and the orchestra’s rhapsodic iterations of the “love” motive from their association with the restored cult is neither visually nor aurally convincing. Despite this fundamental problem, the production is still rich with very fine performances by its soloists and some very fresh, lucid orchestral playing, and is worth seeing and hearing alongside other outstanding recordings. As an interpretation of Wagner’s last work, it lacks the depths of allusion and symbolism and sheer beauty accessible in Syberberg’s film (which in my view remains in a class of its own, the best among filmed Wagner interpretations), but it is a thoughtful inquiry into questions that Wagner, at his most embittered and astonishing, thrusts upon us with this work.

Anthony Barone
Manhattan School of Music

image_description=Richard Wagner: Parsifal

product_title=Richard Wagner: Parsifal
product_by=Christopher Ventris, Waltraud Meier, Matti Salminen, Tom Fox, Thomas Hampson, Baden-Baden Festival Choir, Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano (cond.)
product_id=Opus Arte OA0915D [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 6:51 PM

Albert Herring, Gotham Chamber Opera, New York

herring.jpgBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 13 February 2006]

Albert Herring, Benjamin Britten's sweetly satirical examination of provincial smugness and personal liberation in turn-of-the-century England, has not been staged professionally in New York for 30 years. Under the circumstances, one approached the production in the Harry de Jur Playhouse on Thursday with optimism. It did not last long.

Posted by Gary at 9:06 AM

The Marriage of Figaro

Richard Morrison at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff [Times Online, 13 February 2006]

THERE are plenty of Figaros around in this Mozart anniversary year, but only one in which the stage is draped, for some mysterious reason, in brown wrapping paper. When Neil Armfield’s production was new, a few seasons back, my distinguished former colleague Rodney Milnes hated every overblown minute of it. I share a little of his pain. To say that Armfield’s humour is broad is like saying that the Atlantic is wet. Hardly a scene goes by without a character grabbing his own crotch or somebody else’s.

Posted by Gary at 9:02 AM

A Gaudy Biblical Pageant

domashencko_small.jpgBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 13 February 2006]

First, a word about who wasn't there. I'm talking about the Metropolitan Opera's "Samson et Dalila," which revived on Friday night. (This is the opera by Camille Saint-Saens, and the Met has a spiffy, weird, compelling production by Elijah Moshinsky, which debuted in 1998.)

Posted by Gary at 8:55 AM

At the Met: Big Plans for Living Composers

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 13 February 2006]

When the appointment of Peter Gelb as the next general manager of the Metropolitan Opera was announced in 2004, die-hard opera buffs who knew of him as a crossover king in the recording industry were predictably dismayed. What would he do at the Met? Commission an opera from James ("Titanic") Horner? Cast Charlotte Church as Lucia di Lammermoor?

Posted by Gary at 8:44 AM

February 12, 2006

Opera Today and iTunes

itunes.jpgStarting with Euryanthe, Opera Today is making available an entire opera in a format suitable for playing on iTunes. Windows users: right click here and save the playlist. Then import the playlist into your iTunes player. Enjoy!

Click here if you don't have iTunes.

Posted by Gary at 10:41 PM

Rigoletto, Coliseum, London

A Rigoletto that won't be silenced
By Edward Seckerson [Independent, 13 February 2006]

Since the announcement that Jonathan Miller's feisty mafioso staging of Verdi's Rigoletto was finally to slip into well-earned retirement, it has played more performances than Cher has given farewell tours. Positively one last revival, they said, and still it's going strong.

Posted by Gary at 9:37 PM

WEBER: Euryanthe

First Performance: 25 October 1823, Kärntnertortheater, Vienna

Principal Characters:

König Ludwig VIBass
Adolar, Graf von NeversTenor
Euryanthe von Savoyen, Adolars BrautSoprano
Rudolf, ein RitterTenor
Lysiart, Graf von ForestBaritone
Eglantine von Puiset, eine Gefangene, Tochter eines EmpörersMezzo-soprano
Bertha, ein LandmädchenSoprano

Time and Place: France about 1110, after the peace with England


Act I

Palace of the King.

Count Adolar chants the beauty and virtue of his betrothed, Euryanthe. Count Lysiart sneers and boasts that he can lead her astray. The two noblemen stake their possessions upon the result.

Garden of the Palace of Nevers. Euryanthe sings of her longing for Adolar. Eglantine, the daughter of a rebellious subject who, made a prisoner, has, on Euryanthe’s plea, been allowed the freedom of the domain, is in love with Adolar. She has sensed that Euryanthe and her lover guard a secret. Hoping to estrange Adolar from her, she seeks to gain Euryanthe’s confidence and only too successfully. For Euryanthe confides to her that Adolar's dead sister, who lies in the lonely tomb in the garden, has appeared to Adolar and herself and confessed that, her lover having been slain in battle, she has killed herself by drinking poison from her ring; nor can her soul find rest until some one, innocently accused, shall wet the ring with tears. To hold this secret inviolate has been imposed upon Euryanthe by Adolar as a sacred duty. Too late she repents of having communicated it to Eglantine who, on her part, is filled with malicious glee. Lysiart arrives to conduct Adolar’s betrothed to the royal palace.

Act II

Lysiart despairs of accomplishing his fell purpose when Eglantine emerges from the tomb with the ring and reveals to him its secret. In the royal palace, before a brilliant assembly, Lysiart claims to have won his wager, and, in proof, produces the ring, the secret of which he claims Euryanthe has communicated to him. She protests her innonence, but in vain. Adolar renounces his rank and estates with which Lysiart is forthwith invested and endowed, and, dragging Euryanthe after him, rushed into the forest where he intends to kill her and then himself.


In a rocky mountain gorge Adolar draws his sword and is about to slay Euryanthe, who in vain protests her innocence. At that moment a huge serpent appears. Euryanthe throws herself between it and Adolar in order to save him. He fights the serpent and kills it; then, although Euryanthe vows she would rather he slew her than not love her, he goes his way leaving her to heaven’s protection. She is discovered by the King, who credits her story and promises to vindicate her, when she tells him that it was through Eglantine, to whom she disclosed the secret of the tomb, that Lysiart obtained possession of the ring.

Gardens of Nevers, where preparations are making for the wedding of Lysiart and Eglantine. Adolar enters in black armour with visor down. Eglantine, still madly in love with him and dreading her union with Lysiart, is so affected by the significance of the complete silence with which the assembled villagers and others watch her pass, that, half out of her mind, she raves about the unjust degradation she has brought upon Euryanthe.

Adolar, disclosing his identity, challenges Lysiart to combat. But before they can draw, the King appears. In order to punish Adolar for his lack of faith in Euryanthe, he tells him that she is dead. Savagely triumphant over her rival’s end, Eglantine now makes known the entire plot and is slain by Lysiart. At that moment Euryanthe rushes into Adolar’s arms. Lysiart is led off a captive. Adolar’s sister finds eternal rest in her tomb because the ring has been bedewed by the tears wept by the innocent Euryanthe.

[Synopsis Source: Music with Ease]

Click here for the complete libretto. [Libretto source: Digitale Bibliothek]

image_description=Carl Maria von Weber

first_audio_name=Carl Maria von Weber: Euryanthe

product_title=Carl Maria von Weber: Euryanthe
product_by=Joan Sutherland, Marianne Schech, Franz Vroons, Otokar Kraus, Kurt Böhme, BBC Chorus & Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry (cond.).
Live recording, London, 1955.

Posted by Gary at 5:34 PM

February 11, 2006

Bonney/Martineau — St George's, Bristol

Bonney_small.jpgRian Evans [The Guardian, 11 February 2006]

Soprano Barbara Bonney's mastery of the art of lieder has always been much acclaimed, her interpretative instincts matched by a natural, unforced personality and repertoire carefully chosen to offer new perspectives. This recital with pianist Malcolm Martineau had all these facets, so that Bonney fans could have their fix, even if acknowledging that the pure tone that has been her prime characteristic occasionally eluded her.

Posted by Gary at 11:21 AM

Rigoletto — Coliseum, London

opie_small.jpg(Photo: Michael Cooper)
Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 11 February 2006]

At ENO it is almost as if the past two decades never happened. Less than a week after dusting off their smoking jackets for Jonathan Miller's 20-year-old Mikado, here the men of the chorus were again, back in their mafioso henchman suits in the Duke's cocktail bar for another revival of Miller's enduring 1982 staging of Rigoletto.

Posted by Gary at 11:12 AM

Baritone Sings to His Strong Suit of English Art Songs

meglioranza.jpgBy JEREMY EICHLER [NY Times, 11 February 2006]

When the baritone Thomas Meglioranza made his Weill Recital Hall debut in 2003, he gave fine performances of Schumann and Debussy, but the works that best conveyed his strengths were the English-language songs by Jorge Martín and Marc Blitzstein. Mr. Meglioranza sang these pieces not only with a warm and clear tone, but also with a crystalline diction that afforded the listener a rare directness of contact with the chosen poems and lyrics.

Posted by Gary at 11:07 AM

As Audience Shrinks, the Met Gets Daring

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 11 February 2006]

Revolution is afoot at the Metropolitan Opera, the world's largest opera house, which has been plagued in recent years by declining attendance and budget woes.

Posted by Gary at 11:00 AM

GÓRECKI: Symphony no. 3

The various extant releases of this work have made the piece available to a broad audience which might not otherwise encounter this Symphony. Given its availability, the question may be raised about the need for yet another recording of this well-known work.

Paired with an earlier work by Górecki, his Canticum graduum, op. 27 (1969), the Third Symphony is available in a moving performance conducted by Alain Altinoglu, who brings his own insights to the music. In fact, the pairing with the earlier work demonstrates vividly Górecki’s roots as a modernist, with the single-movement Canticum graduum, a piece that reflects some aspects of Krzyztof Penderecki’s music. In the notes that accompany the recording, Adrian Thomas, author of Polish Music since Szymanowski (Cambridge University Press, 2005) mentions the comparisons that can be made between the music of Górecki and Penderecki, and this is evident in the sound masses that occur at the opening of the Canticum graduum. More than emulation, Górecki gave his work its own style, which shows a different sense of musical narrative than Penderecki would pursue in works like Fluoresces and music he composed at the time. At the same time Górecki’s meditative Canticum graduum anticipates some aspects of the so-called minimalist composers would pursue in the following decades. It is a fine work that is well played by the Sinfonia Varsovia, a performance that Altinoglu made effective through his sensitivity to the details of the score and the intensity the piece requires for a successful performance.

It is such intensity that characterizes Górecki’s later Symphony no. 3, a three-movement work for soprano and orchestra. The Symphony is comprised entirely of slow movements, each with a text that deals in some way with a feminine response to loss and suffering. In the first movement, Górecki set a fifteenth-century lament of the Virgin Mary; the second is a prayer to the Blessed Virgin that a young woman wrote on the wall of a Gestapo prison in 1944; the third, a folksong connected with political strife in Silesia around 1920 that deals specifically with a mother mourning for her son. Parallels exist between the outer movements, with what began with the divine in the image of the Pieta in the opening is revisited at the end in very human terms at the conclusion with the evocation of popular lyrics. The central movement is poignant for various reasons, especially the context in which the text was transmitted. With the prayer to the Virgin contextualized in a Gestapo prison, Górcecki created connotations that enhance the perceived meaning of the work. At the same time, the reinforcement of the text in the outer movements also transmutes the composer’s message to the human condition. It is, perhaps, this aspect of the work that contributes to its attraction for modern audiences.

Likewise, Górecki reflects in some ways the music of Gustav Mahler, who made orchestral slow movement into one of the more dynamic aspects of his own music. At the same time, a wholly vocal symphony has a precedent in Mahler’s symphonic song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde. In that work, Mahler took oriental elements from Hans Bethge’s interpretations of Chinese poetry in the collection Die chinesische Flöte and fashioned from them a work that is ultimately a meditation on the transitory nature of human existence.

In performing Górecki’s powerful work, Altinoglu creates such a seamless ensemble that the work sounds like chamber music. Unlike chamber music that sometimes pushes the boundaries of the genre in its execution, this orchestral work plays off the subtle intricacies scoring and articulation that contribute to its meditative nature. The intensity of sound makes the first movement, a piece that is about twenty-five minutes long, resembles a slow movement by Bruckner in its meditative nature. With the second movement, Górecki used the same diatonic harmonic idiom as found in the outer movements. This straightforward setting of the simple prayer from the Zakopone prison is appropriately austere. The music supports the vocal line, but never overshadows it, and in this recording the Polish soprano Ingrid Perruche offers an effective interpretation of the work. It is difficult to draw comparison with other performances, notably the famous one with Dawn Upshaw, but this recording is notable for its fine balance between the singer and the orchestra. In some ways Perruche matches the intensity of the string textures with her own resonant sounds. She uses vibrato to support some of the higher passages, but that coloring is never excessive. For passages where the voice must move with the harmonic rhythm, a sensitive, intimate ensemble is evident, and accompaniment fades into the background at the repetition of the please to the Blessed Virgin at the end of the piece, with the phrase Zdrowaś Mario, laskiś pelna (“Hail Mary, full of grace,” the first line of the traditional Latin Ave Maria).

The last movement of the Symphony is akin the first in length, and the ostinato figures become a plaintive element in this performance, as if the orchestra were a chorus supporting the solo voice. Altinoglu keeps the ensemble from dulling the repeated figures by keeping the various attacks solid and clear. At the same time, the orchestra timbre remains resonant throughout the piece and always supports the voice when she enters. It is a fine performance that adds to the number of solid recordings of the piece that are already available. Those who know this work may want to hear this performance, which has the added benefit of the Canticum graduum; and those who may not be familiar with Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs will find an effective performance of the piece in this recording.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Henryk Mikołaj Górecki: Symphony no. 3

product_title=Henryk Mikołaj Górecki: Symphony no. 3
product_by=Ingrid Perruche (soprano), Sinfonia Varsovia, Alain Altinoglu (cond.)
product_id=Näive CDV 5019 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:44 AM

CIMAROSA: Il Matrimonio Segreto

Mozart’s operas temporarily fell out of favor, but their greatness could not lie dormant forever. As they found new admirers, Cimarosa’s opera slid back into obscurity, and despite occasional revivals, it has never reclaimed the success it first enjoyed.

In 1986 a Cologne Opera production came to the Schwetzinger Festival, and the performance was broadcast for television. EuroArts now makes this available as a DVD. Those with a love of classical era operas, or just a boundless appetite for rarities, can experience what Vienna fell for in 1792.

A resemblance to Mozart and Da Ponte’s Nozze di Figaro may not be what enamored Vienna, but it is there. Whereas Figaro and Susanna are about to marry, Paolino (a clerk, not a servant) and Carolina (a merchant’s daughter) have already married in secret - thus, the title. Geronimo, Carolina’s father, has arranged for his eldest daughter, Elisetta, to marry a Count, so as to bring his family greater stature. But the Count falls for Carolina, while Geronimo’s widowed sister (Fidalma) has her sights set on Paolino. In the end, the young lovers must admit to their elopement (with a suggestion in this production that Carolina is pregnant). The Count graciously recognizes that he cannot destroy the true partnership of the young couple and agrees to marry the older daughter. Forgiveness is granted by all for the preceding hysterics and bad behavior, which comes in a joyful finale.

Perhaps it is needless to say that Cimarosa’s opera does not shine in comparison to Mozart’s masterpiece. The characters lack the complexity of those of Nozze, and though the music never fails to charm, it lacks the poignancy and edge Mozart could provide. Nevertheless, Il Matrimonio Segreto has its fine moments, including a wildly lascivious first act for Fidalma about the pleasures of a husband, and a touching aria for Carolina in the last act when she thinks Paolino has betrayed her. The first act, however, feels a little long for its dramatic material, while the second act fairly zips along.

This 1986 production doesn’t offer much eye appeal. The Rokokotheater looks as if it seats much fewer than 1,000 people, and the stage is correspondingly tiny. The uni-set design manages to serve the story well enough, as the setting never wanders from Geronimo’s house. Nonetheless, some visual variety would have been much appreciated. The costumes also tend to off-whites and beiges, creating a wearisome monochrome effect.

All the cast inhabits their roles with comic relish; not much of the singing, however, ingratiates the ear. David Kuebler brings skill and control but no beauty of tone, and while Claudio Nicolai gives a first-rate acting performance as the Count, his dry baritone saps some of the fun from his character (especially in the riotous aria where he tries to convince Elisetta that he is a scoundrel).

The ladies do somewhat better, especially Georgine Resick as Carolina; her sweet, light soprano makes us forgive her character’s tendency to weepy moping. Marta Szirmay tears into Fidalma’s matronly lewdness with abandon, and Barbara Daniels, as the spoiled older daughter, also goes over the top in a most entertaining fashion.

The Drottningholm Court Theatre orchestra puts on a lively performance under Hilary Griffiths, although certain exposed instrumental moments indicate that this is not one of the top opera house ensembles.

Cimarosa’s big hit may never reclaim its initial success, but this DVD does a decent job of presenting its modest attractions. Perhaps a more colorful production with more entrancing voices will find its way to DVD; but until then, this EuroArts set deserves a look and listen.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto

product_title=Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto
product_by=David Kuebler, Georgine Resick, Claudio Nicolai, Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra, Hilary Griffiths (cond.)
product_id=EuroArts 2054548 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 10:25 AM

February 10, 2006

Remembering Schumann

Smitten with Schumann

[The Guardian, 10 February 2006]

Julius Drake first discovered the German composer at age 12. It was the start of an obsession that opened up a whole new world for the pianist

The music of Robert Schumann is very close to my heart. Playing his piano parts I often feel as though I'm improvising them - inventing the music as I go along. I'm sure thousands of others do too: this is the astonishing power of the music. It's as vivid, fresh and vital now as when he wrote it, more than 150 years ago. But then that's a pretty good definition of all great art - it doesn't age. Even so, with Schumann it's the improvisatory quality of the music that is so inspiring. He was, more than anything else, an improviser, and the piano was his instrument.

Click here for remainder of article.

There's madness in his music

By Neil Fisher [Times Online, 10 February 2006]

It's Schumann's anniversary this year, too. Our correspondent profiles the sensitive composer who died destitute in a lunatic asylum

In their anniversary years we idolise Mozart for his fluency; we struggle with Shostakovich for his tussles with Stalin. But how best to mark 150 years since the death of Robert Schumann? Delve into the tragic demise of Schumann, at the age of 46, and you hit the blank, unromantic wall of mental illness: the composer died of self-starvation after two years in a German mental asylum.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Robert Schumann

Posted by Gary at 9:18 PM

LEE: The Great Instrumental Works

Not only does the author, MET opera broadcaster M. Owen Lee, guide the reader through the lives and music of some of the greatest composers of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern eras, but recorded copies of some of the music discussed is included in two CDs in the back of the book. Lee begins by relating the various forms and genres of instrumental music since the late seventeenth century, with a focus on chamber music, the concerto, and the symphony. He then divides composers by nationality, beginning with Italians, the Germanic Canon, More Germans, Parisians, Masters of Opera, Slavs, Late Romantics, More Parisians, and the Twentieth Century. A glossary of terms, and complete listing of the contents of the CDs, is provided at the back of the book.

Lee takes the reader through approximately fifty different composers, provides a short biographical paragraph, then jumps immediately into a description of the musical pieces that he feels are important to provide some explanation about. Lee’s approach is geared towards a simple explanation and focus on the music itself, with very descriptive and subjective language related to his own feelings and understandings of the piece(s) in question. The two CDs contain sections of sixteen works, all from the mid-Baroque to the early twentieth century. In that respect, the music does not encompass the entire span of time or periods which the author discusses, especially the later twentieth century. In fact, Rachmaninoff is the only twentieth-century composer whose music is provided, yet he is really a late Romanticist in style. It would have been nice to have included more representative music related to the number of composers and pieces whose music is described in this book, but the constraints of copyright restrictions were probably the reason for this. Otherwise, it is a nice book for anyone wanting a general guidebook for choosing a general purpose CD collection in classical instrumental music.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=M. Owen Lee: The great instrumental works

product_title=M. Owen Lee: The great instrumental works
Unlocking the masters series, vol. 7
product_by=Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, 2005. xiv, 266 pp. Includes 2 CDs.
product_id=ISBN 1-57467-117-0

Posted by Gary at 10:58 AM

Soprano Sylvia McNair switches from opera to cabaret

mcnair_small.jpg(Photo: Jamie Cohen)
By TOM DI NARDO [Philadelphia Daily News, 10 February 2006]

American soprano Sylvia McNair soared to stardom 15 years ago through major operatic appearances in Salzburg, London, Paris and at the Met. She has remained one of America's great sopranos and appeared at the opening of the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater in 2001.

Posted by Gary at 10:22 AM

Operatic gold dust

shore_andrew.jpgRupert Christiansen meets the opera star who looks like a bank manager but sings like a dream
[Daily Telegraph, 9 February 2006]

Andrew Shore is regarded in the opera business as gold dust - a true singing actor, who never seems out of dramatic focus on stage.

Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

Child's Opera According to Sendak: Send In the Bullies and Milk

sendak_small.jpgBy CHARLES McGRATH [NY Times, 10 February 2006]

If the life of Maurice Sendak were a Maurice Sendak picture book, it would open with a busy two-page spread, done in the dark, crosshatched style he has sometimes used, of a sickly, unhappy Brooklyn childhood: brooding parents, a World War II recruiting poster, a scary image of Hitler and, over in the corner, a pair of burglars scuttling away with the Lindbergh baby — an image that haunted Mr. Sendak in his early years. In Disney style, which the very young Sendak used to imitate, the kidnappers wear great big shoes with little white squares to indicate a shine.

Posted by Gary at 9:54 AM

February 9, 2006

BYRD: The Great Service

Thus, while the extremes of Mary Tudor’s Romanism on the one hand and Puritan reform on the other would leave a heavy footprint of contention and strife, some seemed successfully to “live and move” in the middle. Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel Royal is one of the more obvious cases in point. Answerable only to the monarch, the Chapel Royal under Elizabeth featured a ceremonial richness at odds with the Puritanism that rose after the death of Queen Mary, but at the same time one that would stay politically distant from Rome. The ceremonial richness was naturally enough also a musical one, as contemporary comment by foreign ambassadors enthusiastically observes.

Without question one of the brightest jewels in the Chapel was William Byrd. Byrd became a Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal in 1570 upon the tragic drowning accident of his predecessor, Robert Parsons, and would hold this appointment for over fifty years. His “Great Service,” large-scale settings of liturgical texts for Matins and Evensong, was in all likelihood a Chapel Royal piece. Its sophistication and the large forces required—an impressive ten voices—make it an unlikely work for almost anywhere else.

With a ten-part ensemble, Byrd has ample choices for varied configurations, and he scores these works with an ear to dramatic contrasts: the contrasts of the right and left sides of the choir, the contrasts of counterpoint and chordal writing, the contrasts of registers, the contrasts of soli and tutti. It is an intricacy of kaleidoscopic sound that engages the ear and dazzles in the process. Unsurprisingly, some of the varied textures are created to enhance the structure and meaning of the text. In the Creed, for instance, the antiphonal division of “God of Gods” and “Light of Light” leads to an impressively united “Very God of very God,” resolving the tension created by the to-and-fro antiphony and underscoring the dynamic climax inherent in the text itself.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey under the direction of James O’Donnell renders these works with vigor. I find here that their singing tends to be more full and direct rather than shapely and suave. This serves the climactic and more rhythmicized sections well, but elsewhere the approach can be somewhat overbearing. Hearing the Choir sing with this degree of fullness in the Abbey itself, where reverberation and distance play a large part in how the sound is perceived, is rather different from this same volume close-at-hand via the microphone, and in this light, one might wish for more of the Abbey’s acoustic ambience in the recording. This reservation aside, most of the recording will amply satisfy. Here and there some infelicities of pitch surface in treble solos, but by and large, this is one of England’s great choirs in fine form, indeed.

There are a number of ancillary items on the recording, including familiar anthems like the exuberant “Sing Joyfully” and the sumptuous “O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth,” this latter ending with one of the most memorable “Amens” in the repertory. Particularly welcome are two voluntaries from “My Lady Nevell’s Booke,” played with a high sense of period style by Robert Quinney, and the verse anthem, “Christ rising again,” performed with its ecclesiastical organ accompaniment rather than the often heard domestic consort of viols.

The frontispiece to Byrd’s Psalmes, Sonets & Songs of Sadnes and Pietie (1588) rehearse a number of reasons why one should learn to sing, concluding with the couplet:

Since singing is so good a thing
I wish all men would learne to sing.
With this recent recording from the Choir of Westminster Abbey, we can be grateful that James O’Donnell and his charges seem enthusiastically under the sway of the same view.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Byrd. The Great Service

product_title=William Byrd: The Great Service
product_by=The Choir of Westminster Abbey, James O’Donnell, conductor; Robert Quinney, organ
product_id=Hyperion CDA67533 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 2:08 PM

LSO Live's Falstaff Wins Grammy

LSO_Falstaff.jpgLSO Live's recording of Verdi's Falstaff has been awarded a Grammy for Best Opera Recording. The cast includes: Michele Pertusi (Sir John Falstaff), Carlos Alvarez (Ford), Bülent Bezdüz (Fenton), Alasdair Elliott (Dr Caius), Peter Hoare (Bardolfo), Darren Jeffrey (Pistola), Ana Ibarra (Alice Ford), Maria Josè Moreno (Nannetta), Jane Henschel (Mistress Quickly), Marina Domashenko (Meg Page), London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis (conductor). Audio samples are available here.

Posted by Gary at 10:59 AM

Philadelphia Orchestra/Rattle, Carnegie Hall, NY

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 9 February 2006]

Simon Rattle may be something of a controversial figure on the podium of the Berlin Philharmonic. Stubborn traditionalists apparently resent the fact that he is not Herbert von Karajan, or even Claudio Abbado. But everyone seems to adore Rattle in Philadelphia.

Posted by Gary at 9:00 AM

New York Philharmonic to Make Concerts Available for Digital Downloading

apollo_small.jpgBy DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 9 February 2006]

The New York Philharmonic, not known for its quick-stepping ways, is entering the new world of digital downloading under a three-year recording deal with Deutsche Grammophon, the orchestra announced yesterday.

Posted by Gary at 8:43 AM

February 8, 2006

In Search of Mozart

By Sandra Hall [Syndney Morning Herald, 8 February 2006]

Truth is not always stranger than fiction. Storytellers just wish it was. And sometimes they do more than wish. They try to make it happen by lacing the facts with liberal doses of fiction.

Posted by Gary at 10:12 AM

Mozart's added horse-power

Michael Shmith spends a week on the Mozart opera trail. [The Age, 7 February 2006]

MOZART operas have been unavoidable on his home turf of Salzburg and Vienna. Later this year, Salzburg's summer festival is offering all 22 of the stage works - from Apollo et Hyazinthus (1767) to La Clemenza di Tito (1791) - and Mozart-lovers are being positively Wagnerian in booking early for the lot.

Posted by Gary at 10:03 AM

The truth about Shostakovich in his centenary year

Or is there a deeper, coded critique of the tyranny he endured? A hundred years after the composer's birth, Sholto Byrnes travels to St Petersburg in an attempt to uncover the truth

On the corner of Nevsky Prospect, by the banks of the River Moyka in St Petersburg, hoardings conceal what used to be the Barricade Cinema. Here, as a young man, Dmitry Shostakovich played the piano to accompany silent movies. It's just one of the cinemas where he earned much-needed roubles in the 1920s, when times were so hard that his family had to sell their own piano in order to survive.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Dmitry Shostakovich

Posted by Gary at 9:48 AM

Faustus, The Last Night, Staatsoper, Berlin

faustus_the_last_night.jpg(Photo: Ruth Walz)
By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 8 February 2006]

Time is a strange thing. Pascal Dusapin's new opera for Berlin's Staatsoper tackles the problem bravely but ultimately there are no revelations. The 90-minute apocalypse of Faustus, The Last Night concludes with the observation that "There is . . . nothing!".

Posted by Gary at 9:35 AM

A Legitimate Rival to the Colossus

zemlinsky_small.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 8 February 2006]

Alexander von Zemlinsky was the composition teacher and most probably one of the lovers of Alma Schindler, who married Gustav Mahler, the nucleus of the Viennese musical atom. It was, in fact, Alma's study of Bach with Zemlinsky that led Mahler to revise his compositional style back toward the more traditional, instrumentally based weltanschauung that produced Symphonies No. 5, 6, and 7. (His wife's closeness to her mentor certainly led Mahler to mount two Zemlinsky works for the stage during his tenure at the Hofoper.)

Posted by Gary at 9:23 AM

February 7, 2006

At andante.com, the finale

After five years, the classical music website draws the curtain.

By Scott Timberg [LA Times, 3 February 2006]

Andante.com — a website devoted to classical music that combined a news service with a record label with streaming music from symphony orchestras — shut down this week after its French owner decided it was unable to sustain the site's costs.

Posted by Gary at 1:43 PM

Andante Slips Away

andantelogo.gifBy Richard Scheinin [Mercury News, 3 February 2006]

If you (like me) have grown dependent on your daily fix of andante.com, you are probably confused or in mourning. In recent weeks, the classical music Web site has been up, down, back up, static -- and now it's gone. After nearly five years of operation, Andante has ended, the plug pulled by its owners at Naive, the French record label group. Wednesday, Feb. 1, was its last day.

Posted by Gary at 1:32 PM

Verdi's Poisoned Doge Receives Fascistic Staging in Hamburg

Simone_Boccanegra_detail.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- In 1363, Simone Boccanegra was fatally poisoned at one of his own banquets, gleefully watched by his political rivals. The first Doge of Genoa was a commoner, hated by the nobility, with a tenuous hold on power and plenty of enemies.

Posted by Gary at 10:13 AM

The Mikado — Coliseum, London

Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 7 February 2006]

The very appearance of The Mikado in ENO's current season is a topsy-turvy substitution Gilbert himself would have relished. You can just hear the conversation at English National Opera a few months ago. What, you mean our hard-hitting new opera by Asian Dub Foundation's Chandrasonic exploring Colonel Gadafy's influence on the Middle East conflict won't be ready until September? Never mind, let's roll out a spot of Gilbert and Sullivan instead.

Posted by Gary at 9:51 AM

La clemenza di Tito Oper, Frankfurt

titus_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 7 February 2006]

The glamour of ruling is at best superficial. There are few more lonely jobs, and none where you can be less sure of your friends. Mozart makes all this painfully clear in La clemenza di Tito, his bittersweet final opera seria. The crowds praise the emperor's clemency, but you can hear Titus's rage and melancholy in every bar.

Posted by Gary at 8:44 AM

February 6, 2006

Alceste, Stuttgart State Opera

Gluck_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 6 February 2006]

Gluck's Alceste has a tenuous existence in a world of strict and joyless faith. Her decision to sacrifice her own life in order to save her husband is not one that makes anybody happy.

Posted by Gary at 10:54 AM

A Violetta to Conquer the Scenery

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 6 February 2006]

The Metropolitan Opera had Angela Gheorghiu in mind when it put together its present production of "La Traviata" eight years ago. Franco Zeffirelli was brought in to do one of his opulent designer jobs on the Verdi favorite, but in rehearsals what operatic diplomats like to call "artistic differences" sent Ms. Gheorghiu on her way. Replacement strategies were visited by bad health and bad luck, and in the end this "Traviata" was sent out into the world resembling (as I wrote at the time) the aftermath of a neutron bomb attack: the gorgeous structures intact but not much human action going on inside them.

Posted by Gary at 10:50 AM

With Soaring Reputation, a Young Tenor Has More to Prove

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 6 February 2006]

When Rolando Villazón made his debut at the Metropolitan Museum in October 2004, his first recital anywhere, he was still a rising young tenor. On Friday evening he returned to the Met's Temple of Dendur as a star, part of a new operatic dream duo with the even more hyped soprano Anna Netrebko, a sellout attraction not only at the other Met, across town, but from Los Angeles to Salzburg.

Posted by Gary at 10:46 AM

Verdi Would Be Proud

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 6 February 2006]

On Saturday night, the Metropolitan Opera staged one of the most anticipated cultural events of the season: Verdi's "La Traviata," in the Franco Zeffirelli production. What's the big deal about that? The Met stages this production every other day. Yes, but Angela Gheorghiu has assumed the title role - for the first time ever at the Met. It was in this role that the Romanian soprano had her world breakthrough in 1994: She sang it at Covent Garden, under Sir George Solti.

Posted by Gary at 10:40 AM

'Rosenkavalier' melds comedy, truth

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 6 February 2006]

The concept of "emotional truth'' has taken a beating in recent weeks.

Granted, it's not all the truth necessary for a piece of so-called nonfiction like James Frey's "memoir,'' A Million Little Pieces, but it is the heart and soul of a work of art. Why else do we look at a Degas painting, go to a Mary Zimmerman-directed play or listen to Mozart if not to learn something about ourselves and the world that mere facts can't begin to reveal?

Posted by Gary at 10:24 AM

February 5, 2006

An epic tale of lost chords found

Amanda Holloway on how a Shostakovich film score lived again [Times Online, 3 February 2006]

One film that certainly wouldn’t have been up for the Best Foreign Picture Oscar (had there been one) in 1931 was a spectacular Soviet drama called Odna (Alone). Audiences were moved to tears by the story of the plucky heroine played by Yelena Kuzmina trying to bring communist ideals to a feudal Siberian village, but the film was withdrawn by the Soviet authorities for being offmessage. Far from being propaganda extolling the Soviet system, it seems, Odna was full of veiled digs at its ideology and its leaders.

Posted by Gary at 8:41 PM


mikado2_100.jpgHilary Finch at the London Coliseum [Times Online, 6 February 2006]

THE way that heads have been rolling at English National Opera, you’d think there was a Lord High Executioner in residence. Well, now we know there is. And, although his Little List stops short at naming names, Ko-Ko informs his hushed and eager audience that there is, indeed, an ENO board with its knickers in a twist; the chairman’s on his list; and, yes, they’ll none of them be missed.

Posted by Gary at 8:36 PM

MAHLER: Symphonies 1-10 • Das Lied von der Erde

While he held various posts in his career, Bertini was noted for the contributions he made as general music director of the Frankfurt Opera and principal conductor of the Cologne Radio Symphony, and it was with the latter ensemble, that he recorded this cycle of Mahler’s symphonies.

This set includes Mahler’s ten numbered symphonies that were already released by EMI, including the Adagio of the Tenth, along with the symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. For these recordings, Bertini involved various soloists for the vocal parts, including some of the finest singers available at the time. As to the specific performers for each work, the Second Symphony has Krisztina Laki and Florence Quivar; the Third, Gwendolyn Killebrew; the Fourth, Lucia Popp; the Eighth, Julia Varady, Marianne Haggander, Maria Venuti, Florence Quivar, Ann Howells, Paul Frey, Alan Titus, and Siegfried Vogel; Das Lied, Marjana Lipovšek and Ben Heppner. While this EMI set is a recent compilation, most the recordings dating from 1990-91; the recordings of the Third, Fourth, and Sixth Symphonies were made earlier, in 1984, 1987, and 1984, respectively. Yet with a single conductor leading the same ensemble in such a short period, it is possible obtain relative consistency in this cycle of Mahler’s symphonies.

While Bertini nowhere stated his credo about performing Mahler’s music, the commentator Kyo Mitsutoshi ventures into some comparisons with other conductors in “On Bertini and Mahler: A Personal Note,” the retrospective essay he contributed to the booklet that accompanies the set. Mitsutoshi establishes a dichotomy between more emotional conductors, like Mengelberg, and Klemperer, who he views a relatively “dry and inorganic.” Mitsutoshi goes on characterize Solti’s recordings as reflecting the power of Mahler’s scores, Bernstein, their emotional pitch, and Tennstedt’s ability to explore some of the “irredeemably dark” aspects of the music. While such judgments are subjective, Mitsutoshi uses them to distinguish the “florid beauty” that Bertini brought to his recordings as “a pinnacle of Mahler interpretation.” He goes on to describe Bertini’s performances as manifesting “a fine balance that might almost be descried as classical. The brass may roar, but their roaring is always meticulously controlled and there is no sense of out-and-out violence.” Putting those comments in perspective, it seems that the clarity of Bertini’s recordings that attracts Mitsutoshi, and it is this aspect of the performances that emerges throughout the set.

Bertini’s tempos are at times a bit brisk, as with the Scherzo of the First Symphony, which also benefits from his attention to the tempo markings in the score. By attending to such a detail, Bertini avoids becoming self-indulgent with the music and reflects, instead, a laudable respect for the composer’s scores. Such an approach to tempo allows Bertini to contribute an appropriate pace to the opening of the slow movement of the Fourth Symphony so that he can explore Mahler’s detailed markings in a memorable performance of the piece. In this interpretation of the third movement of Fourth Symphony, Bertini brings out in its coda the thematic connections that exist with the Adagietto of the Fifth.

Likewise, Bertini’s interpretation of the Scherzo movements of the Second and Seventh Symphonies betray a similar approach at the outset of each, as the composer establishes the rhythm through percussive sounds and fragmentary themes that take shape as each of the movements proceed. With the Second Symphony, the pacing of the various sections of the Scherzo reflects the overall breadth Bertini gives his interpretation of this work. By accentuating the lyrical character of the central section of the movement, Bertini sets up, in a sense the reprise of the Scherzo theme and thus creates a highly dramatic effect. At this point, the intensity of this performance builds, with the setting of “Urlicht” in the fourth movement providing a vocal interlude that anticipates in several ways the expansive Finale of the work. Never exaggerating the grand gestures that Mahler used in its structure, Bertini delivers a convincing performance of the fifth movement, a work in which Mahler employs cantata-like elements into its symphonic framework.

With the symphonies like the Second, that include choral forces, Bertini is particularly effective in his ability to arrive at a reasonable tempo for the text to be presented clearly and yet, he allows the musical structure to lag. His ability to elicit some exceptional responses from voices is evident in Bertini’s other work as a conductor. In fact earlier in his career he recorded Mahler’s score for Weber’s Die drei Pintos, an opera which requires a deft touch, especially in the choral passages. Thus, Bertini’s approach to the massive forces in the Eighth Symphony is convincing for the control he wields in this score. While the apparently close proximity of the microphones to the solo voices may not be to everyone’s taste, the resulting clarity helps those lines from blurring into the chorus and orchestra in various passages that involve the full ensemble.

The clarity of line that Bertini exhibited in his other performances of Mahler’s works is apparent in the first part of the Eighth, with the lyrical line prominent. This is particularly evident in the “Veni creator spiritus,” with its rich counterpoint and overlapping voices. In the second part, Mahler’s setting of the final scene from Goethe’s Faust Bertini delivers a Moreover, that recording is carefully banded so that it is possible to move easily between individual sections in both parts of the work, as found in the recording of the final movement of the Second Symphony. As a live performance, Bertini’s recording of the Eighth offers a solid reading of the work that conveys the intensity of the concert hall.

Bertini achieves a similar effect in his studio recordings, and this is especially apparent in the recording of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, which presents a convincing interpretation of this challenging score. The details of this score are essential to a successful execution, and this aspect of the work was not lost on Bertini, whose clarity allowed the various nuances to emerge. His attention to the details of the score is apparent at the opening of the Scherzo, where the shadowy style that Mahler prescribed may be found in the intricate balancing of the various instruments with which the movement begins. In the second section, Bertini introduces rubato to bring out the popular-sounding themes that occur in the brass, while maintaining a full and resonant string texture, which is a sonic underpinning of the piece. Critics often discuss the problems in making the Rondo-Finale of the Seventh convincing, but it is important not to underestimate the function of the Scherzo in the structure of the work, where it counterpoises the outer movements of the work and, in a sense, sets up the Rondo-Finale. When it comes to the final movement, though, Bertini avoided overstating the opening figure in the timpani in lieu to establishing a crisp tempo that he can then adapt to fit the character of the sections that follow. In this way he allows the piece to build gradually, as ideas emerge in the various sections that comprise the movement. Even as he brings the movement to its conclusion, the brass never overwhelm, but blend into the full sound that a thoughtful conductor must maintain through the final measures that bring this work to a persuasive conclusion.

Mahler’s music is sufficiently resilient to succeed with multiple interpretations, and as much as preferences may exist between enthusiasts, it is important to keep in mind the attentiveness that Bertini contributed with his EMI recordings of the composer’s symphonies. If it is possible to use the comments of Mitsutoshi in the pejorative, Bertini did not have the Chicago Symphony at his disposal, as Solti did for his Mahler cycle, and Bertini may not have accentuated the emotional content in the way the Bernstein did when he conducted Mahler’s works. Yet it is his faithful attention to the details of the scores that allowed Bertini to create a set of memorable recordings that are uniformly convincing in their interpretation and execution. While individuals may have some preferences to one or another of the performances that Bertini contributed to this set, it is difficult to find a particularly strong or unusually weak recording among them.

At the same time, it is laudable for Bertini to include Das Lied von der Erde in this cycle, since the composer himself called it a symphony, even with its assimilation of elements from the song cycle into the genre. For those who want to learn Bertini’s approach to Mahler, the performance of Das Lied has much to recommend. Ben Heppner and Marjana Lipovšek offer some solid performances in their respective movements, and under Bertini’s direction each singer complements the other well. At the same time, the sonic balance of orchestral forces that is critical for this work is handled masterfully by Bertini, which is vivid and engaging. With “Der Abschied,” the instrumental passages never fade into mere accompaniment, but become another voice with which the mezzo can interact. Without as deep a voice that is sometimes used in this work, like that of Brigitte Fassbaender, Lipovšek’s clear mezzo is nonetheless effective in delivering the text well within the poignant melodic line. “Der Abschied” itself is a demanding work for those who attempt it, and this performance stands well with various other memorable ones. It is telling at the end of the movement, where Lipovšek’s voice blends into the orchestral timbre, without lingering too long in a passage that epitomizes the idea of morendo in music.

In recent years various conductors have taken up the challenging of conducting and also recording the cycle of Mahler’s symphonies. It is in a sense of right of passage, a gesture that presumes a certain level of musicianship and, perhaps, orchestral leadership. It is as though the conductor has then met the challenges posed by this series of works and then leaves his mark on the repertoire. The concept of the cycle is not required by the composer, though, and the results can be varied. Leonard Bernstein’s famous set of Mahler’s symphonies with the New York Philharmonic set the standard for other cycles, like that of George Solti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and in subsequent years, other conductors proceeded with their own cycles, including such individuals as Eliahu Inbal, Michael Gielen, Riccardo Chailly and, of course, Bertini himself. Aficionados of Mahler’s music sometimes express demanding standards for individual recordings, though, and it is difficult to find consensus about finding a completely acceptable set of Mahler’s symphonies. The reality is that differences exist, and preferences may differ. The approach one fine conductor takes for Mahler’s Third Symphony may differ from another, whose divergent thought may surprise or even appall some of the audience. It is difficult to conceive of one set that is completely acceptable, just as the idea of finding a single acceptable performance is tantamount to an affront to music itself, where different interpretations can exist side by side. Thus, while some may quibble with Bertini’s interpretation of some movements, other may be delighted to hear his approach in the context of others. Preferences may differ, but that is what makes music appealing, especially Mahler’s works, which endure varying approaches and emphases. That aside, Bertini’s offer an even-handed approach that is attractive for its fine musicality.

Moreover, Bertini’s cycle of Mahler’s symphonies with the Cologne Radio-Symphony Orchestra is a fitting tribute to the conductor’s contribution as a thoughtful and ardent interpreter of the composer’s music. Conveniently available as a single set, it is something that stands well alongside the cycles by other famous conductors. In addition to Mr. Mitsutoshi’s encomium on Bertini, the booklet that accompanies the recordings contains the German texts of all the vocal music, that is, the Second through Fourth Symphonies, as well as the Eighth and Das Lied von der Erde, along with translations into French and English. (In fact, each of the texts are carefully tracked to the specific bands in which they occur.) Such a booklet could have been augmented with a discography of Bertini’s other recordings of Mahler’s music and, perhaps, those of other composers, so as to help put into perspective this highly integrated cycle of Mahler’s symphonies, which remain at the core of the conductor’s career. A set like this will serve for years as testimony to Gary Bertini’s fine contributions to Mahler’s music.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Mahler: Symphonies 1-10 • Das Lied von der Erde

product_title=Mahler: Symphonies 1-10 • Das Lied von der Erde
product_by=Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Gary Bertini (cond.)
product_id=EMI 0946 3 40238 2-5 [11CDs]

Posted by Gary at 4:39 PM

Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri

iolanthe_small.jpg[Zan Buckner, musicOMH.com]

Nothing much has changed in the world of politics. That is one striking point brought home by watching Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe

Nashville Opera Artistic Director, John Hoomes, calls it "...the best operetta you'll ever see that blends dancing woodland fairies and the British Parliament."

Posted by Gary at 2:16 PM

Review: Gheorghiu Triumphs in 'Traviata'

By RONALD BLUM [Associated Press, 5 February 2006]

NEW YORK -- Angela Gheorghiu sang the first note of "Sempre libera" and off she went, like a sprinter spurting ahead of the field, leaving conductor Marco Armiliato and the orchestra to chase

Posted by Gary at 2:11 PM

Body and Soul - A New “Poppea” in London

Known as “Il Corpo Cantante” or, less felicitous in English, “the Singing Body”, this project is the brainchild of Ashley Stafford who combines his experience as singer, teacher and osteopath to explore and give singers “a clearer insight into the specific ways in which the physical nature of singing relates to the whole body …. and to explore the links between our imaginative feel for music and the body’s way of transforming that desire …..into creative expressive reality.”

Today’s professional opera houses demand an ever-higher synthesis of both vocal and dramatic artistry - and young singers ignore this at their peril. So the project also aims to give young singers with ambitions as soloists a chance to experience and become better aware of the links between the physical, mental and emotional demands of singing at a professional level. This latter goal was much in evidence at the group’s “Poppea” where the demands of the small but elegant space at the Dutch Church, Austin Friars, London were obvious. The singers had to adapt to low stage just feet from the audience, with only a wooden pulpit structure behind them to be climbed to give occasional height when required by the drama. They also had to enter and exit down the sides in full view of the hall’s packed seats. Some of the singers coped better than others with this rather exposed situation. The excellent small ensemble of 8 musicians, led incisively and elegantly from the harpsichord by the experienced Marco Ozbic, musical director and fellow-creator of the project, were centred at the front of the main aisle - close enough to enable study of both their music and bowing technique by some patrons. Noticeable for his eloquent playing was cellist Simon Wallfisch, and first violin Emma Parker also impressed with a sympathetic ear for the idiosyncrasies of this music.

Marco Ozbic also approached the well-known problem of paucity of orchestration left to us by an ageing Monteverdi (or his assistants) in a positive way. The enigma of the sparse instrumental music in “Poppea” is one of the major difficulties that modern interpreters face as, apart from some unspecified ritornelli, nearly all solo vocal parts are accompanied only by continuo. Ozbic thinks this seems at odds with the colourful instrumentation found in Monteverdi’s earlier operas, and so has compromised very successfully by adding instrumental lines in suitable places that helped produce a most lively and dynamic support for the singers and dramatic action.

However, it became obvious very quickly that there was a significant variation in levels of opera performance experience among the singers; some like Helen Court (sop. Poppea) and Andrew Tortise (tenor, Lucano, soldier and Seneca’s friend) showed that experience by an easy confidence on stage coupled with expressive and technically assured singing. Court in particular was impressive in her characterisation of the conniving Poppea - just the right degree of knowing manipulation without undue over-emphasis.

Others, less experienced but seemingly with plenty of stage confidence already coupled with real vocal talent, such as Charlotte Tetley (mezzo-sop, Ottavia), Revital Raviv (sop.Virtu/Drusilla), James Armitage (ct, Arnalta) and Daniel Keating-Roberts (ct, Amor) seemed to relish the dramatic opportunities that Monteverdi offers. Tetley in particular has both a dramatic soprano voice and stage presence to match. Keating-Roberts has an unusually strong and characterful countertenor which, coupled with an eye for comedy, gave indications of a natural talent in the manner of a Visse or Robson.

Of the less experienced performers, Calvin Wells’ performance as Nerone caught the eye. It is rare for a countertenor, even a high one, to sing this role at pitch, as the composer wrote it; there is much above the staff and it imposes some quite tricky technical demands. It is in fact more of a “male soprano” role, but Wells certainly had the vocal resources to match it, and as he grew out of his understandable nerves and into the character of the emperor in the second and third Acts, one began to hear more clearly what a promising talent he is, given that he will absorb more stagecraft with experience.

More polished, if lacking a little in volume and “bite”, was countertenor Andrew Pickett’s noble and affecting Ottone, well drawn and sympathetic. Timothy Dickinson’s warm and rounded bass-baritone dealt with Seneca’s sonorous low passages with ease although like Wells, he was lacking somewhat in actorly technique at this stage of his career. Lucy Page, Thomas Herford, Gregory Hallam and Elizabeth Graham all acquitted themselves well in the smaller roles with Page switching roles very effectively between Fortuna and a page boy.

A full house gave warm applause to an ambitious production that achieved its goals on all levels.

© S.C. Loder 2006.

image_description=Claudio Monteverdi

Posted by Gary at 1:57 PM

February 4, 2006


Burmeister, while returning to Tchaikovsky’s original score and dance sequences, also injected his own dramatic interpretation, showing Rothbart’s transformation of Odette into a swan during the Prologue, and then using her re-transformation to human form as the springboard for an unambiguously happy ending as the lovers are thus reunited. Rothbart also figures more prominently in Act III during the national dance sequence, and the jester too has a greater role to play here as Siegfried’s friend and ally. While some could quibble with such “tampering” — and who hasn’t tampered with Swan Lake over the years? — the Burmeister version has maintained its popularity with a variety of companies for over half a century, and it is preserved well in this handsome production.

Visually stunning, the staging of the La Scala Swan provides a realistically effective and supportive backdrop for the dancers throughout. The ethereal scenes with the swans, the Corps de ballet, are particularly well-served in this regard, and their exquisite coordination of form and movement are one of the highlights of this DVD. As one would expect, of course, the real highlight is the chance to see the remarkable Svetlana Zakharova in her dual role as Odette/Odile. Her graceful athleticism and her careful and quite apparent dramatic contrast between her two characters (which the camera work helps emphasize) make it clear why her interpretation has become so well known — its preservation here is certainly to be applauded.

Zakharova’s supporting cast should not be overlooked in considering this recorded version among its competitors. Robert Bolle is a perfectly matched Siegfried, and both Gianni Ghisleni as Rothbart and Antonino Sutera as the jester carry off their acting and dancing roles with distinction. Sutera is particularly entertaining to watch; even if one finds his expanded role in the ballet a bit intrusive at times, Sutera projects Burmeister’s conception wonderfully.

As to Tchaikovsky’s marvelous score, the La Scala orchestra provides a uniformly competent if not always fully committed reading. Worthy of particular mention is the Act III divertissement, where the players bring out all the verve and brilliance the various dances require. Conductor James Tuggle does a largely creditable job with the always difficult task of coordinating phrasing, cadences, and the like with the dancers’ subtle poses and gestures. Here and there the brass may seem a bit lacking in focus and blend; however, the many important and prominent woodwind and violin solos are beautifully and characteristically played. It is curious that, while the dancers unfold the story with suitably high drama throughout, the dramatic climaxes in the orchestra occasionally do not reach quite the same heights, particularly in the second act. On the other hand, the Act III Pas de deux is another matter entirely in this regard, as the thrilling dancing is matched perfectly by the orchestra beginning to end. On balance, relatively minor caveats aside, the music comes across with the energy, romantic sweep, and rhythmic flexibility that have made it so popular with ballet and concert audiences alike over the years.

The recorded sound, available in Stereo, Digital and Digital Surround, is superb in tone and presence, with careful microphone placement for the solo instruments that brings the score clarity without disturbing overall balance. The wide-screen format reveals color that is rich and highly contrasted, aided in part by the skillful stage lighting. The numerous camera angles employed allow viewers to see interesting acting nuances that would not be as visible to a live audience. On occasion, the shot selections do seem a bit strange, as the focus moves to parts of the stage where little is happening, almost as if to prove that there were a variety of close-ups available rather than using that capability to highlight the action or the more important dancing taking place at the time.

As an added bonus on a DVD that already has so much to recommend it, there is a brief film, “The Rehearsal,” which features an interview with director Frédéric Olivieri alternating with random shots of dancers rehearsing for the production. Oliveri’s remarks (subtitled in a variety of languages) help clarify both his overall conception and the unique aspects of the Burmeister version used as the basis for it.

Roy J. Guenther
The George Washington University

image_description=Piotr I. Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake

product_title=Piotr I. Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, ballet in one prologue and four acts.
product_by=Choreography by Vladimir Burmeister and Lev Ivanov (Act II). Stage Direction by Florence Clerc and Frédéric Olivieri. Odette/Odile, Svetlana Zakharova; Prince Siegfried, Roberto Bolle; Jester, Antonino Sutera; Rothbart, Gianni Ghisleni; Princess, Sabrina Brazzo; Queen, Flavia Vallone; Pas de quatre, Beatrice Carbone, Alessandro Grillo, Maria F. Garritano, Mick Zeni. Ballet and Orchestra of La Scala, James Tuggle, conductor.
product_id=TDK DVWW-BLSL [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 9:57 AM

Le Nozze di Figaro at ROH — Four Reviews

Le Nozze di Figaro

Richard Morrison at Covent Garden [Times Online, 2 February 2006]

Few of the trillion Mozart celebrations this year will match David McVicar’s new Royal Opera staging of Figaro for insight or passion. It isn’t a perfect show. Act IV sags, and seems untidily staged in comparison with the meticulously observed domestic warfare that has gone before. Dorothea Röschmann sings the Countess’s despairing arias with touching intensity, but also intermittent waywardness.

Click here for remainder of article.

Cleverness with a hole in it

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 2 February 2006]

No one could possibly object. The Royal Opera's new Figaro, directed by David McVicar, looks good and sounds good. The set-changes are breathtakingly clever. The costumes seem vaguely in period (1820s actually). The conducting is fluent, the casting strong. Everyone can go home satisfied, then, can't they? Not really. There is a hole at the heart of this Figaro, a gaping void of ideas, a mentality that puts surface-dressing above interpretation. We get no flavour of why the work had such incendiary implications for its day, or what it might say to us now. What Covent Garden is marketing here is reproduction opera.

Click here for remainder of article.

Le Nozze di Figaro

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 2 February 2006]

David McVicar's new production transposes Mozart's comedy from its usual 18th century setting to a French chateau on the eve of the July 1830 revolution that saw the restored Bourbon monarchy replaced by the liberal bourgeois era of Louis Philippe. The events of that summer were famously commemorated by Delacroix in Liberty Leading the People. The production charts the transformation of Figaro, gloriously incarnated by Erwin Schrott, from naive, liveried flunky to a politically engaged figure who belongs on Delacroix's barricades.

Click here for remainder of article.

For Better or Worse, a Bourgeois 'Figaro' in London

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 4 February 2006]

LONDON, Feb. 3 — In this European musical capital, the highest-profile homage to Mozart during his anniversary year came about with surprising casualness.

"We have strong productions of 'Così Fan Tutte,' 'Don Giovanni,' " said Antonio Pappano, the music director of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, "as well as 'The Magic Flute.' " But the existing version of "Le Nozze di Figaro" had been put to rest, and it was time to bring the opera back.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799)

Posted by Gary at 9:23 AM

February 3, 2006

Rodelinda, Barbican, London

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 3 February 2006]

My first encounter with the work of Alan Curtis, the US Handel scholar and harpsichordist, was at the Piccola Scala, Milan, in 1982, when he conducted Ariodante. I have not forgotten his ability to set the right tempo, the way he understood the music's inner rhythmic life, the fact that nothing was overdrilled or in your face. Listening to his Rodelinda on Wednesday made me realise afresh what a treasure he is, and how underrated. His own ensemble, Il Complesso Barocco, has kept him young: Rodelinda suggested a symbiotic relationship, rather than the leadership- by-personality of so many baroque ensembles. Curtis does not need to impose his personality. His authority and integrity speak for themselves.

Posted by Gary at 11:18 AM

Concertos, Yes, but a Mozart Never Far From His Operatic Impulse

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 3 February 2006]

The second installment of the New York Philharmonic's three-week "Magic of Mozart" minifestival is all about concertos. In the first half of the program, on Thursday evening at Avery Fisher Hall, Jeffrey Kahane, a conductor who began his career as a pianist, played two of Mozart's meatier piano concertos — No. 17 in G and No. 20 in D minor — leading the orchestra from the keyboard. After the intermission, he moved to the podium and presided over the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, with Michelle Kim and Rebecca Young as soloists.

Posted by Gary at 11:12 AM

Change or die

mahler_small.jpgComposers must be willing to eat, sleep and breathe with an orchestra if contemporary classical music is to survive, says Stephen McNeff. Here, he argues for a new approach

[The Guardian, 3 February 2006]

Hard on the heels of Radio 3's highly successful Beethoven Experience and Bach Christmas, last week saw the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, which triggered worldwide celebrations that will continue throughout the year. Naturally, it's a cause for rejoicing to see the work of the great masters celebrated. But where does all this leave today's music?

Posted by Gary at 11:04 AM

Pirates: It Takes One to Know One

pirates.jpg[Associated Press, 2 February 2006]

Music executives love to blame illegal downloading for their industry's woes. But, based on the results of a new nationwide poll, they might want to look in the mirror.

Eighty percent of the respondents consider it stealing to download music for free without the copyright holder's permission, and 92 percent say they've never done it, according to the poll conducted for The Associated Press and Rolling Stone magazine.

Posted by Gary at 10:52 AM

WAGNER: Der Ring des Nibelungen

Videos of the production have been available for many years, and certain details—such as the hydroelectric dam which functions as the setting for the Rhinemaidens’ scenes in Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung—have become almost legendary. Few, if any, of those who purchase this DVD set will be shocked by its contents, and there might be a tendency to regard this recent re-release as simply another re-packaging of familiar material. And yet it is this very familiarity that is so significant. If 1976 marks the appearance of the postmodern Ring, 2006 marks a different moment, in which post-modernism itself becomes historical.

In the most general sense, Chéreau’s production of the Ring can be called “neo-Shavian.” Like Bernard Shaw in The Perfect Wagnerite, Chéreau interprets the Ring not so much as an amalgam of Nordic mythology and medieval legend, but as a parable about industrialism. From the plush costumes of the gods in the second scene of Das Rheingold to the oversized iron flywheel that haunts the first act of Siegfried, Chéreau’s production is replete with references to the nineteenth century. These references operate powerfully on the contemporary viewer/listener. Unlike what we can call the “neo-realist” materials of the Otto Schenk/Günther Schneider-Siemssen production (which has dominated the stage at the Metropolitan for two decades), the detritus of nineteenth-century industrialism is still a part of our visual environment: the references therefore seem both historical and contemporary. Through his collage-like use of these visual materials Chéreau simultaneously locates the Ring in the nineteenth century and in our own time.

rheingold_boulez.jpgThis vision seems clearest in Das Rheingold. Chéreau takes full advantage of Wagner’s “anvil music” in the Nibelheim scene. Alberich’s minions look as if their bodies have been distorted by inhuman work in underground mines. The gods in the second and fourth scenes look not so much costumed as upholstered. If there is any problem with their appearance, it is that they look too decadent, too ripe for destruction. Only Donald McIntyre’s Wotan asserts the tragic dignity of the gods’ situation. Resisting the urge to let the voice fully bloom in the majestic music that opens the second scene (“Vollendet, das ewige Werk . . “), McIntyre presents a Wotan that—from his first appearance—is deeply conflicted. His lower range may lack some of James Morris’s authority, but McIntyre is a skillful singer and a consummate actor who fully inhabits his role. He carries Das Rheingold, and much of the rest of the Ring as well.

walkure_boulez.jpgThe first act of Die Walküre preserves the voice of Peter Hofmann (as Siegmund) before his rapid vocal decline. His undeniable beauty and physical vigor make him a charismatic presence, even if his singing lacks some of the nuance that other tenors have brought to the role. By casting Hunding as a wealthy nineteenth-century merchant, and having him enter with an intimidating group of retainers, Chéreau underscores the danger that Siegmund faces. Indeed, Matti Salminen’s Hunding is so menacing that it is hard to imagine that Siegmund—even with the help of his magic sword—will stand a chance against him. Hofmann also seems to be overshadowed by the Jeannine Altmeyer’s Sieglinde. Altmeyer’s voice is absolutely radiant, and she brings a sense of urgency to the role that at times borders on frenzy. In part because of her energy, the first act of Walküre is perhaps the most successful part of the Boulez/Chéreau Ring, in which musical and dramatic values completely support each other.

The production loses much of its clarity by the third act of Walküre. In the liner notes, the monolith that Chéreau uses for Brünnhilde’s rock is likened to one of the ruins that appear in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. But to this reviewer, its seems more closely linked to Böcklin’s famous “Isle of the Dead.” It seems disconnected from the quasi-industrial visual vocabulary that Chéreau uses for Rheingold: almost like a throwback to the pre-war designs of Emil Preetorius. Brünnhilde’s rock in Chéreau’s production is not merely a symbolic failure, but a dramatic one as well: flattening out the stage and restricting the possibilities for dramatic action. Chéreau seens to recover some of his ground in the first act of Siegfried, where Mime’s workshop gives ample opportunity to recoup the industrial imagery of Rheingold. The forging song, in which Siegfried uses a massive steam press to forge Nothung, is particularly effective. Chéreau also finds a good solution for the second-act dragon, which appears in this production as a clanking steel-plate behemoth rolled around by industrial workers. But like so many other directors, Chéreau seems befuddled by the “fairy-tale” aspects of the plot such as the “Forest Murmurs” and the Woodbird. Perhaps Chéreau lost confidence in his neo-Shavian interpretation of the Ring (this is hard to believe), or perhaps Wagner’s work is simply too diverse to be adequately encompassed by a single directorial idea. In any case, Chéreau’s hand seems to rest more lightly on the final two operas in Wagner’s tetralogy. Our attention is more keenly focused on the singers themselves, on whose abilities the success of the drama ultimately depends.

siegfried_boulez.jpgPerhaps the most welcome departure from the conventions of the Ring has to do with the presentation of Alberich. Unlike so many other interpreters of the role, Hermann Becht for the most part eschews the “Bayreuth bark,” and actually sings the role. His portrayal strengthens the drama immeasurably, highlighting all of those many places in the Ring in which we understand the gods and the Nibelungs as two aspects of the same psychic reality. In this production, more than any other, Wotan’s description of himself (in the Mime/Wanderer scene in the first act of Siegfried) as “Licht-Alberich” rings absolutely true. In the second act of Siegfried, Chéreau underscores the symmetry between Wotan and Alberich by costuming them in nearly identical ways. In the dim light that surrounds Fafner’s cave, the borders between gods, dwarves and men disappear.

Siegfried—perhaps the most challenging role in the entire tenor repertoire—is admirably sung by Manfred Jung. Jung brings to this role not only tremendous vocal stamina, but also keen intelligence. Shepherding his resources, he is able to master even the most difficult sections (such as the long narration immediately before his death in Götterdämmerung). Jung is not afraid to let Siegfried be unsympathetic and unheroic. He is not a particularly subtle singer, but for this interpretation of the role, he doesn’t need to be. Indeed, it is precisely because Jung creates such a brutal, coarse, unformed Siegfried in the third opera of the Ring that his transformation in Götterdämmerung is so powerful and compelling. In Jung’s interpretation, we understand Siegfried as a kind of elemental force similar to the Rheingold itself. He stands for human potential, morally neutral until transfigured by love.

gotterdammerung_boulez.jpgChéreau’s set for most of Götterdämmerung is sparse and not particularly compelling: here the Gibichung court is visually represented more through costuming than set design. In a wonderful touch, Gunther appears in a tuxedo. Hagen is in a rumpled business suit and Gutrune in a slinky white gown. Casting Jeannine Altmeyer again in this role has the effect of drawing attention to interesting symmetries and conventions in the Ring. When in the first act of Götterdämmerung she hands Siegfried a welcoming drink, we inevitably think of the refreshment that Altmeyer offered to another tenor in the first act of Die Walküre. As in the earlier opera, the beauty of Altmeyer’s singing has the effect of elevating the importance of the role that she portrays. This is particularly true because Fritz Hübner, the Hagen in this production, fails to dominate the opera. His acting is overshadowed by that of Franz Mazura (the Gunther of this Götterdämmerung), and his singing is rather monochromatic. This reviewer wishes that Boulez and Chéreau had brought back Matti Salminen (the Hunding of Die Walküre and the Fasolt of Rheingold) to sing this role (as he does in the Metropolitan opera video from the late 1980s).

Brünnhilde is portrayed by Gwyneth Jones, one of the most important Wagnerian sopranos of the twentieth century. Jones’s voice has a steely, hard-edged quality that foregrounds her occasional pitch problems and detracts, in many places, from a “purely musical” appreciation of Wagner’s work (as if such an appreciation were really possible!). Jones is least effective in those passages such as “Brünnhilde’s Awakening” in the last act of Siegfried (“Heil dir, Sonne”), in which her voice cannot completely flower into sonic beauty. But Jones is a consummate singing actor, and the video format, with its frequent close-ups, suits her well. Her performance in Götterdämmerung is absolutely magnificent. Here the edginess of her voice works for her rather than against her. She is a terrifying and formidable woman: Hagen’s call to the vassals—in which he describes approaching enemies and dire consequences for the Gibichung house—seems completely warranted in this production. And yet Jones is also intent on showing us Brünnhilde’s weakness and vulnerability. Her second-act entrance is particularly stunning. Bent over, white against the black formality of Gunther’s tuxedo, shrouded by her own hair, she embodies all the tragedy engendered by the lust for power and wealth.

Chéreau’s visual materials have become so famous that they have at least partially obscured the musical values that this production presents. As we might imagine, Boulez’s conducting stands in opposition to that of Levine’s which—at least to this reviewer—all too often lapses into self-indulgent languor. And yet many of Boulez’s tempi seem equally idiosyncratic. The Giants’ motive in the second scene of Das Rheingold, for instance, is played so quickly that it sounds almost like a limping can-can: Fafner and Fasolt do not lumber so much as shuffle their way into the presence of the gods. Perhaps the greatest disappointment—in musical terms—is Wotan’s Abschied. The magic fire motive sounds dry and mechanical: Loge’s mischievous energy reduced to the monotony of a typewriter. We may understand, and even sympathize with Boulez’s desire to bring more transparency to the score, and one is often grateful that he thins out the wash of orchestral sound that frequently overwhelms singers in other productions of Wagner’s works. The Boulez interpretation is always clear, and under his baton the singers are able to sing the most delicate piannissimi without danger of being lost. Donald McIntyre, in particular, uses this potential in order to bring a wonderful depth to his portrayal of Wotan. But the orchestral chestnuts of the Ring: the Ride of the Valkyries; Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Funderal Music, are likely to disappoint. In sections such as these, Boulez does not seem to fully trust the score. Unwilling either to press forward or to broaden the tempo. Boulez all too often settles into a tepid and lifeless interpretation. Great mid-century conductors such as Furtwängler and Stokowski were able to use tempo variation in order to convey the grand sweep of the music. Their interpretations are occasionally “sloppy,” but they always have a sense of direction and purpose. Boulez’s interpretation frequently loses this sense of direction. The supposed “clarity” of Boulez’s Ring; its stricter tempi and reduced orchestral sound, ironically have the effect of making the Ring less clear.

Boulez’s conducting is at its best in those sections that frequently present the most challenges to listeners (and perhaps to conductors as well): namely, those long discursive sections such as the Norns’ scene at the beginning of Götterdämmerung, or the two long Wotan/Brünnhilde duets in Die Walküre, in which Wagner’s Melos seems to press closest to recitative. Here Boulez’s metronomic approach to the score serves him well, lending the drama a sense of urgency and meaning. Boulez’s musical leadership, in short, has a defamiliarizing effect on the score: foregrounding certain motives, sections, and relationships awhile causing others to recede, forcing us to hear Wagner’s work in radically different ways.

Included along with the four operas of the cycle is a special documentary “The Making of the Ring,” that gives an account of the 1982 filming of the production recorded in this set of DVDs. The material in this hour-long documentary is not particularly well organized, but it includes some fascinating footage of earlier Bayreuth productions. One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is the sections in which we see and hear Brian Large, the chief videographer for the Boulez/Chéreau Ring. In much of his other work, Large seems to take on a largely “transparent” role: letting in the television/video audience maintain the illusion, perhaps, that they are actually watching a stage performance of an opera. In this Boulez/Chérea Ring, however, Large takes on a more active role, not merely in the more-or less conventional camera work and fadeouts, but also in unusual effects such as those that we see during the “Descent to Nibelheim” music (described above), or “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey.” During this latter segment, se see Brünnhilde’s rock shrinking slowly against a black background, until it appears as nothing more than a glowing square in the middle of the screen. It is a simple, but highly effective idea, symbolizing both the physical and the psychic distance that is opening up between Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Large is clearly committed to the aesthetic values articulated by Chéreau and Boulez, and deserves credit as along with them as one of the co-interpreters of this production.

The flaws of the production are many, but it is deeply felt and passionately argued interpretation with tremendous significance. All serious Wagnerians should have access to this release. Although it documents a period, namely the late 1970s and 1980s, that has passed into history, it stands as a living testament to the power of reimagining Wagner’s works, and the imperative that we all share: to make them perpetually new.

Stephen Meyer
Syracuse University

image_description=Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

product_title=Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

  • Das Rheingold
  • Die Walküre
  • Siegfried
  • Götterdämmerung
  • The Making of "The Ring"

product_by=Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele, Pierre Boulez (cond.). Staged by: Patrice Chéreau
product_id=DG 073 405-7 [8DVDs]

Posted by Gary at 9:29 AM

Opera Today Media Store Is Open

Eugene Onegin.gifThe Opera Today Media Store is open. Initially, we carry a variety of live performances that are difficult to find elsewhere. Tebaldi, Callas, Bjoerling — the great voices are there.

Posted by Gary at 8:34 AM

February 2, 2006

Dawn Upshaw — Still Rising, Still Shining

by Maria Nockin [Classical Singer, February 2006]

Dawn Upshaw is perhaps best known for her expressive performances of contemporary music—but the American soprano sings repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary, and from the recital hall to the operatic stage. Acclaimed for her honesty, her heart, and her deep commitment to the text—as well as her beautiful and elegant singing—Ms. Upshaw has been hailed as a maverick in the singing world.

Posted by Gary at 9:45 PM

BRUCKNER: Symphonie no. 6

Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is probably found most often in complete sets of Bruckner’s symphonies and less often released separately, as occurs with this CD. Issued by itself, this CD gives listeners an opportunity to appreciate this work on its own merits. While Bruckner’s Symphony no. 6 in A major (1881; first performed, 1883 [second and third movements only], with the entire work given its premiere in 1899, three year’s after Bruckner’s death) may not be as familiar as the ones that succeed it chronologically, it is an impressive work. Composed at the time when Anton Dvořák had just finished his own Sixth Symphony and Johannes Brahms his first two, Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is separated from the composer’s previous one by five years. During that time Bruckner had revised his Third Symphony between 1876-77, before proceeding to compose the Sixth between 1879 and 1881.

While Bruckner’s Fourth, Seventh, and Eighth Symphonies are, perhaps, better known to modern audiences, the strength of this performance of the Sixth makes a case for returning from time to time to this somewhat neglected work. It resembles the composer’s other symphonies, in that the Sixth is a four-movement work, with the overt structural weight placed on the outer movements. Beyond the distinct theme groups that Bruckner customarily uses in his treatment of the first movement, the Sixth possesses a driving that is the result of both harmonic motion and rhythmic activity. The shifts of mood that may be seen to characterize the first movement of the Fourth Symphony are less dramatically different in Sixth, where transitions are essentially to the musical narrative of the piece.

The second movement is an extensive Adagio, which commentators like David Tovey have praised. In constructing this movement, Bruckner sets it apart from his other slow movements by employing sonata form, instead of a simpler binary or ternary structure. This movement merits attention as an orchestral Adagio possesses its own drama. It has a weight of its own through its formal structure and length. In this sense the point Scherzo offers the contrast in its lighter and more playful character. Where more sustained timbres occurred in the Adagio, the Scherzo is full of contrasts in which Bruckner allows various groupings of winds and brass to intersect some of the powerful tuttti sections in this movement. It is, perhaps, a less weighty Scherzo than is convention associates with a symphony by Bruckner, but it also fits wholly into the overall structure of the Sixth.

With the final movement, Bruckner opens the movement in a somewhat restrained way, as fragmentary ideas occur before he moves to the more extended theme groups. Some of the passages anticipate in a sense the drama that Bruckner would contribute to the concluding movement of the Eighth Symphony. Yet the Finale of the Sixth possesses its own character. Modal inflections color the harmonic structure as Bruckner explores the tonal possibilities of the movement. At the same time, some of the thematic ideas are redolent of a composer who appreciated fully the music of Richard Wagner, with echoes of ideas from Tristan und Isolde juxtaposed with original themes that only Bruckner could conceive. As driving as the first movement, the Finale is wonderfully effective in this highly convincing work that stands well among the middle of its composer’s symphonies.

In this performance Kent Nagano makes a strong case for Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony with a reading that demonstrates the power and lyricism of the work. Fully in command of the Orchestra, Nagano gives a powerful reading of the score. It is, perhaps, the Adagio that stands out as particularly effective. In that movement Nagano manipulates the string textures to wonderful effect, allowing the various woodwind timbres to emerge subtly. Those interested in this work will appreciate the way Nagano allows the Adagio to unfold in what is as evocative a slow movement as the one Bruckner composed in his Eighth Symphony.

Likewise, the pacing of the concluding section of the Finale shows the conductor’s masterful approach to this work and his sensitivity to Bruckner’s style. The brass chords are buoyant and precise, with a tone that complements the strings instead of standing apart from it. Woodwinds, when prominent, blend well and idiomatic. In fact, these colors emerge with marked distinction at the beginning of the Finale and set up the tone of the Symphony’s conclusion. Not only drawing on the strength of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin for the characteristically Brucknerian fortes, Nagano also arrives at some intimate chamber-music sounds in the outer movements, just as he had in the Adagio. Like Nagano’s recent Harmonia Mundi recording of the original version of the Third Symphony with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi CD HMC 901817), this recording of the Sixth is another fine addition to recent recordings of Bruckner’s works.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Anton Bruckner: Symphonie no. 6

product_title=Anton Bruckner: Symphonie no. 6
product_by=Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano (cond.)
product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMC901901 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 9:06 PM

DAVIES & JAHN: Care of the Professional Voice

It is a concise, practical guide for anyone who is a professional singer, speaker, actor or voice teacher. All of the essential aspects of the care of the voice are discussed in a manner that is quite accessible, even to the singer/actor who may just be embarking on a professional career. Forewords to this edition by Bryn Terfel, James Morris and Sir Anthony Hopkins all are in agreement as to the value of this volume for both students and professionals alike.

In addition to a basic description of the anatomy and physiology of the voice, including laryngeal disorders and their diagnosis, treatment and prevention, this volume covers a much broader range of topics, including the physiological aspects of anxiety and artistic temperament and the effects of these and other factors on the voice. I used this edition as a supplement for my vocal pedagogy course and found many chapters to be filled with information that is not readily available elsewhere, including a great deal of information about a long list of common medications and their effects on the voice. There are also nineteen color illustrations, including photos from laryngoscopy of healthy and diseased tissue. Also included is a wonderful chapter detailing what every singer will undoubtedly face at some point in their career, a visit to the laryngologist. In addition to a step by step description of a visit, including a first visit, examination, techniques of laryngoscopy, this chapter also gives great insight to the singer who is searching out a laryngologist and what to look for when doing so. Several pages are also devoted to a number of surgeries of the vocal tract and a variety of surgical options open to the singer. Perhaps the most valuable of chapters for the seasoned performer is the chapter by Anat Keidar, Ph.D, Director of Vox Humana Voice Laboratory, entitled “A Singer’s Guide to Self-Diagnosis.” This chapter lists several symptoms and the possible reasons for the problem.

I would recommend this book to everyone who uses their voice in a professional manner on a daily basis – it is quite an invaluable tool for continued vocal health.

Brian Leeper
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

image_description=Care of the Professional Voice

product_title=D. Garfield Davies, Anthony F Jahn: Care of the Professional Voice A Guide to Voice Management for Singers, Actors and Professional Voice Users, 2nd Edition
product_by=A Theatre Arts Book, Routledge, 2004
164 p., 8 ½ x 5 ½, 19 color illustrations
product_id=ISBN: 0-87830-190-9

Posted by Gary at 7:38 PM

February 1, 2006

HANDEL: Radamisto

His next four operas for London were – by comparison – modest affairs; but his fifth, Radamisto, was probably conceived to outdo Rinaldo, so as to be the central attraction during the first, three-month season of the brand new Royal Academy of Musick. In May 1719 the governor of the academy had issued a warrant together with instructions, which empowered Handel to travel in order to engage the castrato Senesino for as long as possible and other voices for one season. Handel’s chief destination was Dresden, where he offered £500 to Margherita Durastante, who had portrayed Agrippina for him at Venice in 1709, and was to portray Radamisto in his new opera. While in Dresden he undoubtedly spoke also to the castratos Senesino and Berselli, the soprano Salvai, and the bass Boschi, all of whom came to London for the Royal Academy’s second season, for which Handel revised his successful Radamisto.

Its text was adapted in London (probably by Nicola Haym) from L’amor tirannico (Florence, 1712), which is based on Domenico Lalli’s L’amor tirannico (Venice, 1710), whose source was Georges de Scudéry’s L’amour tyrannique (Paris, 1639). Ordinarily, the text adaptor would sign (and profit from) the dedication in a libretto, but “George Frederic Handel” signed the dedication of Radamisto “to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.” The only prompt copy for any Handel opera known to be extant is for this production, and its annotations imply a lavish affair. There were ten female and perhaps sixteen male supernumeraries, who served as soldiers or companions. During a scene-change (I, viii-ix) accompanied by a sinfonia, at least eight pike-bearing soldiers charged over a practicable bridge. In addition, dancers performed the four-part balli placed at the end of each act. Act I ends in Bb, the key of the ensuing Marche and Rigadon I, which are followed by Rigadon II in the relative minor, then by an Air in Bb. Act II ends in A, the key of a huge Passacaille (21 statements of an 8-bar pattern: 12 in A, 6 in the relative minor, plus 3 more in A) and a binary Gigue. Act III ends in D with a substantial chorus in rondo form (which was presumably danced), a Passepied based on the choral refrain, a Rigadon in the relative minor, a da capo of the Passepied, and a da capo of the choral refrain. Strings, oboes and bassoons play the dance music after acts I and II; two French horns and two trumpets join them to provide a true climax at the end of act III. The only other London operas for which Handel wrote ballets were those of 1734-5, when Marie Sallé danced at Covent Garden. It therefore seems clear that Radamisto was imbued with “Most Excellent Majesty.”

Alan Curtis was doubtless aware of this when Radamisto became the sixth Handel opera in his recorded output. It followed Admeto (1978), a single-disc abridgement of Floridante (1990), Rodrigo (1997), Arminio (2000) and Deidamia (2002). His Lotario (2004) and Rodelinda (2005) have followed it, and two of his single discs have provided excerpts from Handel’s operas: La maga abbandonata (2002) has nine arias from three operas, while Amor e gelosia (2003) has one duet from each of twelve operas, plus two duets and two arias from Poro. Curtis is a meticulous scholar, who has edited (and sometimes published) the keyboard music he has recorded (ranging from Tarquinio Merula to Bach’s Goldberg Variations) as well as the operas he has produced (most notably Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea). He clearly iterated his “credo” with regard to Handel’s operas within the booklet accompanying his recording of Admeto: singing is “by far the most important aspect of the performance of any Baroque opera;” it must seriously try “to project the various affects of each aria;” ornaments must be added, “in middle sections as well as da capos, except where Handel’s densely active, complicated line would admit of no sensible alteration, much less ‘improvement;’” recitatives must be paced briskly, “singing less and declaiming more;” and the orchestra should be “constituted of specialists in Baroque performance techniques on authentic instruments.” It is noteworthy that his Radamisto orchestra – Il Complesso Barocco – includes 33 specialists: 18 strings (11 + 2 + 3 + 2), 4 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 flutes, 2 trumpets, 2 French horns, 1 theorbo and 2 harpsichords. It is remarkably similar to the orchestra employed during the first season of the Royal Academy. A list dated 15 February 1720 names 34 musicians and their instruments: 25 strings (17 + 2 + 4 + 2), 4 oboes (2 of whom doubled as flute players), 3 bassoons, 1 trumpet and 1 theorbo. For Radamisto, this group would have been supplemented by 1 trumpet, 2 French horns and 2 harpsichords.

When Radamisto was his “forthcoming recording,” Curtis was interviewed by David Vickers. He said that he chose to record the April 1720 version of the work for several reasons. Nicholas McGegan had already recorded the December 1720 version. (Note that Curtis replaced two of the April arias – in III: v and III: xi – with pieces from the December production.) He preferred arias for Radamisto, Tiridate and Polinessa at their original pitch level, rather than at the lower, transposed level found in Handel’s December version. He was presumably also displeased by the transpositions for Zenobia, which move her arias to a higher pitch level. He found that such transpositions resulted in “really awkward things” in the vocal lines, that Handel had left some of the viola parts unrevised, and that some excellent pieces were eliminated, such as Tiridate’s “sublime” “Stragi, morti, sangue ed armi” (I: iii). All of the act-ending balli were also deleted. Curtis also discussed his “principle of having as many Italians as possible” in each cast, so that a rendition “will feature good diction and good fast speaking recitatives.” But “reality means that usually if you have half Italians that is about as much as you can do,” which is true for Radamisto.

His recording clearly manifests his scholarly and musical concerns. The recitatives and even the arias are declaimed, so that the text and its meaning are always vibrant. The ornaments added for da capos almost always embellish rather than alter a written line. This contrasts sharply with McGegan’s approach, in which the singers often replace the written lines with jarring displays of virtuosity, e.g., with stratospheric scales. They can be heard in Zenobia’s “Son contenta,” “Troppo sofferse” and “Già che morir,” as well as in Polissena’s “Dopo l’orride procelle,” “Non sarà quest’alma mia” and “Sposo ingrato.” It seems highly unlikely that any such displays were heard in the April 1720 production, when these long-suffering wives were portrayed by two modest English women, Anastasia Robinson and Ann Turner Robinson. McGegan’s recording does, of course, represent the December 1720 production, when these spouses were instead portrayed by two Italians, Margherita Durastante and Maddalena Salvai, who presumably added more ornaments. Sometimes less is definitely more effective, as in the Curtis version of Radamisto’s incomparable “Ombra cara.” Curtis frequently adds tersely expressive cadenzas at the ends of middle sections and da capos. McGegan, on the other hand, sometimes adds lengthy cadenzas, e.g., those which end Radamisto’s “Cara sposa,” Farasmane’s “Son lievi le catene,” and Zenobia and Radamisto’s “Se teco vive il cor.” Perhaps McGegan added them because “Cara sposa” is the only aria in the score that is accompanied by only a bass line, “Son lievi” is Farasmane’s lone aria, and “Se teco vive” ends act II. Farasmane, the only bass in the April 1720 cast, is King of Thrace and father of Radamisto and Polissena; but he is a captive of Tiridate, Fraarte and Tigrane, and is to be slain as his son watches in I: iv-vii. His fearless aria, sung after a (temporary?) reprieve, is unfortunately reminiscent of “O ruddier than the cherry,” sung by Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea.

Late Baroque pieces are typically based on dance rhythms. The current website for McGegan begins by stressing the quality that is “central to his music-making: ... the rhythmic bounce, tempos that border on the reckless and the musical wit that bubbles up whenever appropriate.” This is most certainly true, and it contrasts sharply with the general perception of Curtis, who noted – when interviewed by Vickers – that “light music is not perceived as my specialty.” People “probably think about me as somebody who brings out the dramatic, intense, sombre and dark side of Handel. But I love the light side! I appreciate his sense of humor as much as anybody.” The customary opinions concerning these two conductors are not borne out by a comparison of the lengths of the 25 arias found on their recordings of Radamisto. Curtis is faster in 9, McGegan is faster in only 5, and they are virtually identical in 11. McGegan’s recording never borders on the “reckless,” and he has significantly slower tempos for three arias. They seem dramatically justified, because they stress the solemnity of Radamisto’s “Ombra cara” (47” longer) and “Dolce bene” (1’04”) as well as the dance-like features of Tigrane’s “La sorte, il ciel, Amor” (32”). Only for Radamisto’s closing aria of grief, “Qual nave smarrita,” does Curtis maintain a far slower tempo (2’ longer).

A dozen years ago, McGegan provided us with a lively rendition of the December 1720 version of Radamisto. The fact that it was recorded during live performances must explain why the singers often go “over the top” with virtuosic passagework, why they are occasionally “more or less” together with the accompanying instruments, and why they (especially the women) sometimes sound shrill, as if they were “right on top” of the microphones. Curtis has now provided a choice rendition of the April 1720 version. His singers decorate Handel’s lines circumspectly, and their voices sound sweet, which is bad only when their scales sound like nothing more than scales (as in Tiridate’s “Stragi, morti, sangue ed armi” and Tigrane’s “La sorte, il ciel, Amor”). Anyone seeking rumbling bass arias and a heroic countertenor should listen to McGegan’s performance. Anyone searching for women who have mastered their roles exquisitely should listen to the sopranos Dominique Labelle and Patrizia Ciofi and the mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato and Maite Beaumont, who sing 21 of the 28 arias and both of the duets on the Curtis recording. Even Labelle, who – as Fraarte – plays a minimal dramatic role, excels when thrice singing of love for Zenobia and when once vowing to fight his tyrannical brother. Fraarte was originally played by Benedetto Baldassari, the only castrato in the cast. Since he was not good (or masculine?) enough to portray either of the men with virile roles (Radamisto and Tiridate), yet was good enough to receive four excellent arias, it should be obvious that many such treasures await anyone who listens to this work, imbued with “Most Excellent Majesty.”

Sources: J. M. Knapp, “Handel, The Royal Academy of Music, and Its First Opera Season in London (1720),” Musical Quarterly, 45 (1959), 145-67; W. Dean and J. M. Knapp, Handel’s Operas, 1704-26 (1987), 324-67; J. Milhous and R. D. Hume, “New Light on Handel and the Royal Academy of Music in 1720,” Theatre Journal, 35 (1983), 149-67; Milhous and Hume, “A Prompt Copy of Handel’s ‘Radamisto’,” Musical Times, 127 (1986), 316-21; E. Harris, ed., The Librettos of Handel’s Operas (1989), III, 1-76 (the prompt copy for the April 1720 production), and IX, 121-99 (the text for the December 1720 production); T. Best, ed., Händel: Radamisto, Opera seria in tre atti, HWV 12a, HHA II, Band 9.1 (1997); “http://gfhandel.org/interviews/curtis.htm” and http://www.nicholasmcgegan.com/profile.htm

Comparison recording:

Handel: Radamisto. ... London, December 1720 – March 1721. Tiridate (Michel Dean, bass/baritone), Fraarte (Monika Frimmer, soprano), Polissena (Lisa Saffer, soprano), Farasmane (Nicolas Cavallier, bass), Radamisto (Ralf Popken, countertenor), Zenobia (Juliana Gondek, soprano) and Tigrane (Dana Hanchard, soprano), with the Freiburger Barockorchester, directed by Nicolas McGegan, 1993 Göttingen Festival Production.
Harmonia Mundi 907111.13 [3 CDs], 1994.

Lowell E. Lindgren, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

image_description=George Frederick Handel: Radamisto

product_title=George Frederick Handel: Radamisto
An opera, as it is perform’d at the King’s Theatre in the Hay-Market, for the Royal Academy of Musick, London, April – June 1720.
product_by=Joyce DiDonato, Patrizia Ciofi, Maite Beaumont, Dominique Labelle, Laura Cherici, Zachary Stains, Carlo Lepore, Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis (cond.).
product_id=Virgin Classics 7243 5 45673 2 2 [3CDs]

Posted by Gary at 9:15 PM

The Medium/The Impresario/ Second Movement, Covent Garden Film Studios, London

menotti_small.jpgBy Anna Picard [The Independent, 29 January 2006]

Advertisements in opera programmes tend to be for fancy restaurants, high-end holidays, luxury jewellery and private schools. In the programme for Second Movement's Mozart and Menotti double-bill, however, the sole advertisement was for a funeral parlour: not something you want to contemplate on your evening out, perhaps, but highly appropriate in the circumstances.

Posted by Gary at 8:50 PM

Turandot at Carnegie Hall

A New Ending For 'Turandot'

By GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Sun, 1 February 2006]

Few operas are perfect, but Puccini's first and last operas have shortcomings that are hard to overlook.They also have strengths, which is why the Collegiate Chorale presented the early "Le Villi" and the final, unfinished act of "Turandot" at Carnegie Hall on Monday evening. Juxtaposing the two gave an arresting glimpse of Puccini's stylistic progression in his wildly successful career.

Click here for remainder of article.

Le Villi/Turandot, Carnegie Hall, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 1 February 2006]

Robert Bass, who led a concert labelled Puccini: A Composer's Journey at Carnegie Hall on Monday, is an imaginative musician who knows his way around choruses. Unfortunately, he is not particularly persuasive as an opera-conductor. His tempos tend to be sluggish and his dynamic preferences loud. He engages stellar singers but, stationed on a podium behind his soloists, finds it hard to communicate with them.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Giacomo Puccini

Posted by Gary at 8:27 PM

Celebrating Mozart

By DONALD MORRISON [NY Times, 1 February 2006]

For a city of such studied formality — where women still wear dresses, a man wouldn't be caught dead in public without a tie, and strollers routinely greet each other with handshakes — Vienna sure knows how to party. The winter social calendar features nearly 300 all-night balls, bars and restaurants routinely stay open until the small hours, and a popular local specialty is the "katerfrühstück," or hangover breakfast.

Posted by Gary at 8:21 PM