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Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
04 Feb 2006
TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake
This 2005 release was filmed at a performance in La Scala’s temporary home, Milan’s Teatro degli Arcimboldi, in April 2004. It is based on the Burmeister version of the ballet of some 50 years ago, first introduced in the West by the Paris Opera.
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