March 31, 2006

RACHMANINOV: Piano concerti nos. 1 and 2

Andsnes is an interesting interpreter of Rachmaninov’s piano concertos, and brings a vitality and freshness to the solo aspects of these works. But what is even more exciting about this recording, is that there is a bonus encore track available to anyone that purchases this CD. By going to the website, and inserting this CD into your computer drive, you get access to a secret area of the website that features a bonus track from Andsnes’s new solo CD named “Horizons,” where you can listen to his interpretation of Shostakovich’s Polka from L’age d’or. In addition, you get access to wallpaper for your computer and other goodies—something that made listening to this music even more refreshing and new. More recording companies should promo and feature their performers in this manner, as well as reward customers for buying their products.

Overall, this is an excellent recording featuring one of the newcomers in the piano repertoire.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas


product_title=Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano concerti nos. 1 and no. 2
product_by=Leif Ove Andsnes, piano; Berlin Philharmonic, Antonio Pappano (cond.)
product_id=EMI Classics 0946 3 44011 9 7 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 4:23 PM

Ian Bostridge, Middle Temple Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 30 March 2006]

A hallowed air of Art hangs over Middle Temple Hall, where Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night had its first performance. It seems unarguable that music and drama should always belong here and that is evidently what the organisers of the Temple Song series thought.

Posted by Gary at 3:22 PM


Most releases tend to be live sets, with starry casts on the major labels, such as the recent Traviata with Villazon and Netrebko. Not long ago Decca offered Richard Strauss’s Daphne, a work rarely seen on stage, in a live recording with their biggest star, Renée Fleming, and an admirable cast. Semyon Bychkov, revitalizing his career, led the proceedings.

Now Dynamic, a small but wonderful label with an emphasis on rarer repertoire, dares toddle into the wake of Decca’s release with its own Daphne, another live recording, this from La Fenice in Venice, recorded in June 2005.

So is Strauss’s opera verging on a major revival? Probably not. At under 100 minutes, Daphne could have earned itself a place alongside the much earlier Elektra as a powerful reinterpretation of a Greek legend or myth, with its compact storytelling producing an exultant, and yes, cathartic climax. But Elektra, adapted from a great stage drama, feels contemporary, relevant, timeless. Daphne, despite much beauty and some intriguing touches, never comes together as a story with a basis in human experience. The myth overwhelms the humanity. Daphne, a committed tree-hugger, teases her admirer Leukippos; and, when she appears receptive to the attentions of the god Apollo, Leukippos provokes a quarrel that ends with the god slaying him. Daphne’s mournful reaction prompts Apollo to grant her immortality as a tree. Slender stuff, and staging a soprano becoming a tree hasn’t endeared the work to many directors.

Recordings may be the optimal way to enjoy the best of Strauss’s score, so another set can possess its own merits to justify its existence. This Dynamic version may not hit the starry heights of the Fleming one, but the cast performs with a consistent skill and commitment, and conductor Stefan Anton Reck does a fine job with the mixture of Straussian bravado and finely detailed lyricism.

The opera’s conclusion, an aria for Daphne in her transformation, evolving into an orchestral postlude, lifts the work into another realm. Strauss and the soprano voice, in ecstatic contemplation—that’s an unbeatable combination. June Anderson sings it beautifully, if without that extra plushness that Renée Fleming can offer.

Anderson’s two tenor co-workers, Roberto Sacca and Scott MacAllister, handle Strauss’s demands with some effort, but never so much as to mar the performance.

However, for both the Decca and Dynamic releases, one earlier live recording sets a standard neither can hope to match. Strauss dedicated the opera to conductor Karl Böhm, and in 1964 Deutsche Grammophon recorded the conductor leading Hilde Gueden, Fritz Wunderlich, and James King in a Vienna performance [DG 445 322-2]. Although cut by a few minutes, this performance offers the best possible presentation of Strauss’s intentions. The set will probably take some skillful Internet sleuthing to unearth, but the search will have been worth it.

For those who will want that set for its supremacy and another to know the entire score, either the Decca or this Dynamic set should serve quite well.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Richard Strauss: Daphne

product_title=Richard Strauss: Daphne
product_by=June Anderson, Roberto Saccà, Scott MacAllister, Daniel Lewis Williams, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, Stefan Anton Reck (cond.)
product_id=Dynamic CDS 499/1-2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 12:42 PM

Retired opera star returns to Iowa

Milnes2.jpgby Matt Kelley [Radio Iowa, 30 March 2006]

A retired opera star who won international fame during his long career returns to his alma mater in central Iowa today (Thursday) with the goal of further motivating the next generation of singers. Seventy-one-year-old Sherrill Milnes grew up on a family dairy farm in Illinois and won global acclaim as a baritone after getting his B.A. and master's degrees from Drake University in the 1950s. Milnes says he's coming back to Des Moines to provide something to budding vocalists: "a route, a glimmer of hope, certainly inspiration to these singers and hopefully, a lot of knowledge."

Posted by Gary at 9:43 AM

March 30, 2006

OFFENBACH: La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein

Those who attended the performances without any knowledge of the operetta (retitled The Grand Duchess) probably left hoping to have no further acquaintance. Crass, manic, forced—many an antonym for “funny” serve to describe Marshall’s effort, despite the efforts of a more than capable cast (Frederica von Stade, Paul Groves, Rod Gilfrey).

Your reviewer abandoned his subscription seat at intermission. Now comes a DVD of Offenbach’s work recorded in December 2004, from Laurent Pelly and Jean-Pierre Brossmann, the team that produced the brilliant production of La Belle Helene which delighted audiences in Santa Fe two seasons ago and provided Susan Graham with a star turn encompassing all her gifts. While this Grand Duchesse doesn’t reach the same giddy heights as that Helene, as compared to the Los Angeles production, it soars on fresh breezes of true wit and charm.

The production begins with a slight miscalculation—a dully-colored battlefield with dead soldiers strewn about. As the overture begins to bop along with cheerful spirit, the ostensible corpses rise, pour some wine, and begin to exhibit the liveliness that will dominate the rest of the evening. So with that nod to “seriousness” out of the way, the creators can go on to revel in the silliness of the operetta without trying to suggest that a true anti-war satire lies at the heart of the piece. Perhaps a more colorful set could have brought even more cheer to the goings-on, but considering the abuse of primary colors the Los Angeles Opera production perpetrated, erring on the side of plainness is acceptable.

Pelly’s handsome costumes for the Duchess offer the most visual impact, as she is frequently the only character swathed in color. Felicity Lott lacks Susan Graham’s physical beauty and sweet-toned vocalism; she has her own charisma, however. She offers a more comically pointed performance, portraying a hard-drinking, even lonesome Duchess desperate for male companionship—well, younger, studly male companionship.

Yann Beuron, the Duchess’s object of misdirected passion, doesn’t exactly cut a studly figure but his lovely light tenor makes him attractive enough. Sandrine Piau sings Wanda, his true love, and this rising star is so appealing in every way that no doubt exists about Fritz giving into the Duchess’s demands. Not with Piau’s Wanda around.

Three comic characters complicate the plot: a baron, a prince, and a general. Frank Leguerinel’s Baron Puck steals the show, with his flamboyant hand gestures and bizarre hair: think of pigtails sticking out of either side of his head. Veteran François le Roux, who was also in the Santa Fe Helene, gives the pompous General Boum all the comic flair required, and Eric Huchet sacrifices his dignity for an almost frighteningly fey prince Paul.

Marc Minkowski has the full command of Offenbach’s demands for a feather-light approach to the jaunty rhythms and tuneful patter. He loves singers too, and they reward him with impeccable performances. Act two begins with a lovely quartet for four female assistants to the duchess, and the singers effect a most lovely diminuendo toward the end. Such classy touches add sparkle to the entire performance.

Virgin Classics skimps on the packaging in one respect, with a slim booklet that merely repeats the credits already on the back, although it offers a few more photos. On the other hand, the company spreads the opera over two discs. Buyers beware: don’t pull out the first disc visible when opening the case and pop it into your player—that’s acts two and three. Disc One hides waiting beneath the booklet.

Here’s hoping for more Offenbach from Pelly and Minkowski. Their Helene and Duchesse make clear that Offenbach’s hits can still hold the stage and entertain the heck out of a contemporary audience. But keep Garry Marshall away…

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Jacques Offenbach: La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein

product_title=Jacques Offenbach: La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein
product_by=Felicity Lott, Sandrine Piau, Yann Beuron, Franck Leguérinel, Eric Huchet, François Le Roux, Boris Grappe, Alain Gabriel, Maryline Fallot, Blandine Staskiewicz, Aurélia Legay, Christophe Grapperon, Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, Chœur des Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski (dir.)
product_id=Virgin Classics 310239 9 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 5:06 PM

A soprano stands tall while others sicken and fall

slack_karen_small.jpgBy David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 March 2006]

Young singers don't generally choose their triumphs; they instead are chosen. For Philadelphia soprano Karen Slack, the choosing came on Saturday's Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Verdi's Luisa Miller in a nationwide introduction that was a triumph amid the ruins.

Posted by Gary at 4:53 PM

Jumalaa kiittää sieluni—Hymns in Finnish

Soprano Soile Isokoski, whose recent disc of Strauss orchestral songs came as a revelation to many, participated in this project, along with her accompanist Marita Viitasalo, both artists drawing upon their childhood and professional experience with church music to record over forty hymns together. Twenty of them compose the program on this Ondine disc.

There is no question that these hymns are sung and played beautifully. However, it is in the nature of hymns that they are written to be sung by everyone in a congregation, so ranges tend to be limited and melodies, while often quite beautiful, are usually simple enough to be grasped in the course of a few verses by untrained singers. This does not leave much room for Isokoski to dazzle us with vocal technique, even assuming that she wanted to do so. Quoting from Isokoski’s remarks in the CD booklet: “Singing hymns makes you feel small and humble. It is really difficult, because it is so open and exposed. There is nothing but that simple melody that you have to sing purely.”

She lives up to this commitment to purity, lovingly spinning out each phrase with even tonal coloring and subtle dynamic variation. Viitasalo’s accompaniment, varying among the hymns between piano and harmonium, supports the vocal line with the same purity and subtlety. Occasionally there are interesting interludes, but often the accompaniment simply provides harmonizing chords underneath the main vocal melody, as is fitting for this kind of music.

The difficulty for non-Finnish speakers (and that, regrettably, is most of us) is that, while the texts of the hymns are all reproduced in the CD booklet, they are only printed in Finnish. (About three pages of notes about the recording and artist bios are also translated into English.) The sole clue as to content that we draw right away from the pure singing style is a generalized feeling of heartfelt reverence, although it is also clear that Isokoski knows exactly what she is singing and really cares about it. I was not familiar with any of these hymns, although most of them sound familiar enough, being generally from the same northern European tradition as the Presbyterian church hymns I grew up with. (Lutherans may recognize more of them than I do.) An exception is the short “Ilta on tullut luojani”, which is sung a capella, emphasizing the somewhat exotic nature of the melody itself. (The information about each hymn is supplied in Finnish only, so I can only guess at this hymn’s history, but its presentation is evocative of folk song, rather than a standard Protestant hymn).

So the result is a beautifully performed program that may not be able to hold the undivided attention of the non-Finnophone classical music listener for its entire 62-minute duration. For most, the choice to acquire this disc will most likely depend upon one’s individual listening habits, appreciation for hymns in general or for the sound of Soile Isokoski’s voice, and/or familiarity with the Finnish language. But I expect that, if one even partially fits the profile of Finnophone lover of sacred music performed with devotion and integrity by a fine interpretive duo of classical song, this disc will be a welcome addition.

Barbara Miller

image_description=Jumalaa kiittää sieluni—Hymns in Finnish

product_title=Jumalaa kiittää sieluni—Hymns in Finnish
product_by=Soile Isokoski, soprano, Marita Viitasalo piano and harmonium
product_id=Ondine ODE 1070-2 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 4:28 PM

Mara Lanfranchi

Lanfranchi_small.jpg[The Stage Online, 30 March 2006]
An exciting summer for a young soprano - Mara Lanfranchi has been offered the role of Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore for the new season at Verona’s annual opera festival this July and August.

Posted by Gary at 9:24 AM

More Offenbach, more often

Lott_small.jpgSoprano Felicity Lott and director Laurent Pelly talk to Rupert Christiansen about their French import
[Daily Telegraph, 30 March 2006]

Although they were hugely popular in the 1960s when English National Opera was still based at Sadler's Wells, Offenbach's operettas haven't lately had much luck this side of the Channel.

Posted by Gary at 7:26 AM

Otto Schenk, Opera Director, Says 'Don Pasquale' Is His Last Met Production

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 30 March 2006]

"I'm doing this from the Beyond," said the elderly man in the overcoat.

With his quiet voice and lilting, slightly slurred diction, Otto Schenk did indeed project an aura of world-weariness, like one of the benevolent spirits sent down in old Hollywood films to bring pat, shuffling clarity to the lives of average mortals.

Posted by Gary at 7:19 AM

Darkling by American Opera Projects

Behind this façade and through sets of double doors is a dark, intimate theatre with seating on three sides of an open performance area. The stage, which is really just the space in the center of the room, is completely surrounded by translucent screens onto which Hardy’s poem is projected. In this dim, almost secret space, American Opera Projects, Inc. is doing great things. Recently at the East Thirteenth Street Theatre AOP presented Darkling, a new opera that is so multi-layered it defies description.

Anna Rabinowitz’s response to coming into possession of some family letters and postcards dating from the Holocaust was to write the long poem Darkling (2001). Rabinowitz used Thomas Hardy’s poem of 1 January 1900 “The Darkling Thrush” to guide her in the writing of her own poem—specifically, Rabinowitz’s Darkling is a loose acrostic based on Hardy’s poem. In addition to the acrostic, the Hardy poem also inspired the somber mood of Darkling, as well as its moments of brightness.

Director Michael Comlish adapted Darkling to the opera stage, creating a new, multi-media work based completely on Rabinowitz’s poem. At an after-performance Q and A panel with the creators of Darkling, Comlish emphasized that every word was Rabinowitz’s including the aria-like sections, the words spoken by the actor-singers, the texts projected onto the walls of the theatre, and the texts performed on the taped “soundscape.” Through these media, nearly all the lines of the poem Darkling were expressed somewhere in the opera. Comlish worked closely with composer Stefan Weisman and a host of designers to realize his vision for this multi-media event.

Weisman looked to the setting of Hardy’s poem by Lee Hoiby, a song that has been popularized by such luminaries as Leontyne Price and Jean Stapleton. The entire work was concluded with a straightforward performance the Hoiby setting, allowing the audience to access both the musical and poetic works that inspired the various creators of Darkling.

The thirteen performers of Darkling had the difficult task of capturing the audience’s imaginations and hearts without the safeguard of a plot, and they succeed in this admirably. Neither the poem nor the opera has clear narrative thread; rather, according to Rabinowitz, the fragmented nature of the opera reflects the fragmented nature of her poem, which in turn points toward the history told by the letters, postcards, photos, and other documents from her family’s experiences in the Holocaust. The opera, like the letters, allows us to glimpse a small piece of history—the histories of particular individuals and of a war.

In 80 minutes of intense visual and aural stimulation, Darkling achieves moments of powerful emotion. At times I felt moved to tears, though I cannot quite explain all the details that contributed to that because so much was happening simultaneously.

A postcard advertising Darkling features a line from Rabinowitz’s poem, asking “who will acknowledge things of darkness as their own?” Indeed, the work places the onus of understanding and acknowledging on the audience. Through lighting, projection, stage effects, and choreography, the creators of Darkling make the audience a part of the performance, demanding one’s attention at all times.

At the Q and A session, one of the creators on the panel mentioned that Darkling makes abstract ideas and music accessible, to which an audience member replied, and I paraphrase, ‘not really.’ I don’t think this gentleman was criticizing the opera—indeed, it seemed that everyone who stayed to hear the panel really enjoyed it—I think that he was pointing out that the unfamiliarity of the form of the work was disconcerting or disorienting. I suspect that this disorientation was planned all along because by not presenting the story in a linear fashion or filling in any pragmatic details, Darkling requires the listener to engage in some contemplation. The listener gets out of the opera what she or he put into engaging with the material.

There is an optimistic message to be found Darkling. Rabinowitz pointed out at the Q and A that in the Hardy poem the darkling thrush of the title chooses to sing despite the bleakness all around. In Darkling, the Jewish couple whose fate we are following survives the Holocaust almost by accident when they come to America. There is gloom all around them in the form of their loveless marriage and poverty in the United States, but I sense that in a way, this very production is possible only because they struggled on.

Clearly, this is only one reading of an intensely complicated work of art. Bravo to AOP for supporting such controversial and ultimately important work, and to the creative minds that fitted it all together in a thought-provoking way.

Megan Jenkins
The Graduate Center – CUNY

image_description=Cover image of Darkling: A Poem by Anna Rabinowitz (2001, Tupelo Press)

Posted by Gary at 6:30 AM

March 29, 2006

Franz Schubert: The Trout • The Greatest Love and The Greatest Sorrow

Recognizing the enormous talent of the relatively unknown musicians (at the time), in the first film, Nupen documented the rehearsals and an inspired performance of a young chamber ensemble as they discover the enormous musical potential of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. The ensemble comprised of Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Jacqueline du Pré, and Zubin Mehta clearly demonstrated through their enlightened interactions and mutual respect for each other’s abilities why each is now regarded as a musical giant of their generation.

From watching their fun-loving bantering, one truly gets the sense that this chamber ensemble brought together by Barenboim is made up of the best of friends, and that this video recording represents an enormously joyous time in their lives. Audiences today are fortunate at having this glimpse at their personal and professional lives while they express such delight in putting together Schubert’s most famous piano quintet. Unbeknownst to any of the performers at the time, this film was destined to be one of the most frequently broadcast classical music performances of the twentieth century. In a lot of ways, some of the highly artistic moments represented by the performers in this documentary mirror Schubert’s own talents as a composer who possessed enormous musical maturity at such a young age when he composed the Trout, as well as a endless devotion towards his family and friends.

As the personalities of the players unfold in the first film of the recording, so does that of Schubert in the second film, The Greatest Love and the Greatest Sorrow. Although Schubert only reached the age of 31, while his life was short in years, it was abundantly rich in accomplishments with close to a thousand known works to his credit. It seems Nupen produced this film with the intent to lay bare Schubert’s life so that modern-day listeners can truly appreciate the remarkable undertakings of this prodigious musician of humble means. Rather than offering the usual historical narrative one would expect from a biographical documentary, Nupen shares with audiences Schubert’s intimate letters to his family and friends, his poetry, even a dream Schubert had written down. As the film progresses, audiences begin to understand Franz Schubert the human being, his motivations and inspirations, and on some level, get to know him for the gentle soul made transparent through his writings. Christopher Nupen has in essence revived Schubert through a well-crafted audio/visual medium.

Recommended to all musicians and music lovers, it is important to note that the music itself is a fundamental element of the two films that make up this commendable video recording. While audiences today recognize the significant value of Schubert’s intellectual output, it is equally important when discussing this film to recognize the ingenious vision of Christopher Nupen, and the talents of the performers whose conscientious interpretations honor the composer’s legacy. Bass-baritone Andreas Schmidt was featured several times throughout the film, interpreting Schubert’s songs with appropriate drama and meticulous phrasing. His rich tone seemed added a profundity to his interpretations that reflected Schubert’s musical substance.

Nathalie Hristov
Music Librarian
University of Tennessee

image_description=Franz Schubert: The Trout ● The Greatest Love & The Greatest Sorrow

product_title=Franz Schubert: The Trout ● The Greatest Love & The Greatest Sorrow
product_by=Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Jacqueline du Pré, Pinchas Zukerman, Zubin Mehta, Andreas Schmidt, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Michael Sanderling, Antje Weithaas, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/ Wolfgang Sawallisch
product_id=Opus Arte OACN0903D [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 4:11 PM

The Jessye Norman Collection from Philips

Thankfully some care has been taken to bring together recordings of compatible repertoire, whether it be a set of live recitals, another focusing on stark modernism (Schoenberg and Stravinsky), or two of her Christmas holiday extravaganzas. The singer’s ample gifts are on display on every set—but whether one has the appetite to devour a heaping platter of 5 of the sets in succession really depends on a strong preference for her voice of dark chocolate laced with honey. In the right amounts, what a stunning treat. In excess—an unhealthy wallow.

Each of the sets presents the original cover art for the CDs (except for A Wagner Collection, the second CD of which contains a compilation of excerpts from complete opera recordings). The original liner notes accompany a biographical note, reprinted in every set, which details Ms. Norman’s concert appearances in recent years and many honors bestowed on her. The prose here wanders fearfully close to obituary mode, but then an air of a “career achievement” retrospective covers the whole enterprise.

Of the five sets under review, your reviewer found the Live at Hohenems & Salzburg Recital set most enjoyable. The amount of applause recorded on the former could have been cut back, but tolerance wins the day, as the singer is in exemplary voice, in repertoire starting with Handel, working up to a large Schubert sampling, and ending with spirituals as encores. Few will want to hear Lascia ch’io pianga always sung with this ostentatious gorgeousness, but why not once in a while? Norman makes a substantial case for giving into temptation.

The second disc, with James Levine in impeccable accompaniment, has very disciplined but lively Wolf lieder, broken up with 5 satisfying dollops of Debussy.

The studio lieder sets (Schubert & Mahler Lieder) can’t be faulted for not possessing the extra aura of vitality a live recording bestows, but a sense of formality and restraint comes over both recordings at times.

The Wagner set has a first disc of rather short duration, with Colin Davis leading the LSO in the Tristan und Isolde prelude before Norman’s self-conscious but exquisite love death. A fine performance of the Wesendonk lieder follows. On the second disc, the excerpts from Parsifal, Lohengrin, and Die Walkure partner Norman with Placido Domingo for the first two and Gary Lakes for the last. The Norman voice exhibits its full power here—in company with a certain remoteness from the drama. Perhaps she is not helped her by a tentative quality in Domingo and Lakes’s adequate but uninspiring contribution.

Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex has never come close to giving the Firebird or Le Sacre du Printemps any competition as one of the composer’s most popular pieces, but those who respond to the work can surely find much to value in Seiji Ozawa's recording, with Peter Schreier in the title role and a young Bryn Terfel as Creon. Norman’s refulgent tone here offers some aural compensation for those unenamored of Stravinsky’s dry approach. The second disc has Norman’s offering similar virtues to Schoenberg’s Erwartung, 25 minutes of a woman losing her mind in atonal agony. Many will sympathize. Several of the composer’s cabaret songs end the set with a sense of humor and style Schoenberg not too frequently allowed himself. Or us.

The last of these five sets will separate the Norman besotted from the Norman tolerant. Disc one, Christmastide, will fill the former with a grand, exuberant expression of the holiday spirit. The latter will cringe in pain and moan in despair at the lugubrious ballads and manic up-tempo numbers. And Philips has to release a larger version of that cover photo, for the perversely curious. What is going on with the singer’s hair? The Bride of Frankenstein would look askance. In the Spirit, the second disc, thankfully redeems the first (or supplements it beautifully, for those fans). Here the arrangements have taste and restraint, and Norman’s singing revels in the finer music, truly offering reason to be grateful.

Philips has several more of these two-disc sets, including Norman’s luxuriant Strauss and a compilation of her forays into spirituals. The best singing on the sets has an incomparable grandeur and beauty, so new comers to her art have many a treat in store for them. Her fans probably have most if not all of these already, and for those indifferent to the pleasures of releasing oneself into the all-encompassing embrace of her immense gift—they can skip these collections as they did the first time. Many great singers engender such a wide-range of responses, and Jessye Norman’s huge career deserves this generously proportioned celebration.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=The Jessye Norman Collection

product_title=The Jessye Norman Collection
product_by=A Christmas Collection
Philips 00289 475 6398

Live at Hohenems & Salzburg Recital
Philips 00289 475 6389

Schubert & Mahler Lieder
Philips 00289 475 6392

Schoenberg “Erwartung” & Stravinsky “Oedipus Rex”
Philips 00289 475 6395

A Wagner Collection
Philips 00289 475 7154
price=$15.98 each

Posted by Gary at 3:45 PM

Hit and miss in Amsterdam’s Cavalleria and Pagliacci

As productions of these operas go nowadays, it is almost impossible to find an eternal twin that is not intermingled. It has become almost a law unto itself that the players of Pagliacci have to be present during the performance of Cavalleria looking at a tragedy in the same place at the same time where they too, unknowingly, will suffer. That was the way the operas were directed some years ago at De Munt in Brussels and that’s the cliché Joosten cannot do without. Well, it would be more or less acceptable if there would be any consistency in his production; but that’s the one feature that’s conspicuously lacking.

Cavalleria is, of course I almost say, not played in a village but in a Sicilian city market place with dozens of apartments in the background. It clearly plays at the end of the sixties or during the seventies as there are playbills for a movie by Fellini. Moreover all men and women are clothed in black, a phenomenon now almost completely gone from Sicily. But at the same time those men and women make a series of lewd gestures telling Alfio he is a cuckold during his aria, which no Sicilian woman in those days would ever have dared to think of. Alfio is clearly too dumb to understand these clear implications and has to wait another half hour before Santuzza tells him what fifty others have graphically showed him earlier.

Pagliacci is performed in the same venues, still with the Fellini playbill. Nevertheless, during the foolery in the second act, Nedda lies stretched on a table with Beppe climbing on her and mothers speeding their children away. Until a few years ago, any wandering troupe performing these acts in Sicily would have been in jail in the shortest time. I howled with delight when Joosten had someone cycling on the scene. There are people with bicycles in Sicily preparing for competition; but I have yet to see the first Sicilian riding a bike as if he is in Amsterdam. Then anybody vaguely familiar with Italy knows all too well the balcony scenes that always take place. Still, while murder and adultery is taking place in front of all those balconies, nobody is ever watching. Joosten, who is as Flemish as this reviewer, may be an unbeliever (as is this reviewer). But, as all Flemings, he has a catholic background and, therefore, he shouldn’t ask the whole chorus to kneel down when the statue of Our Lady is carried along in procession. Catholics indeed kneel, but only at the moment the priest appears with the Sacrament.

Allow me some leeway as recently there was a long discussion on a well-known operatic forum on Santuzza’s twice-repeated phrase, “I’m ex-communicated”. The reason for ex-communication may be twofold but a first one is highly improbable. I cannot imagine the Church officially repudiating Santuzza so that she may not receive sacraments unless she repents and is once again accepted. A young peasant girl is too unimportant for such treatment. A more reasonable explanation is the fact that in Mascagni’s time catholic theology made a clear distinction between daily and deathly sins (if you died unexpectedly you went straight to hell). Such a heavy sinner was not allowed to receive the Holy Communion unless he or she had confessed and received absolution. Sex before marriage was such a deathly sin—though in Sicily men easily got away with it while women were really damned. Even if nobody knew about it, the sinner herself knew it and, therefore, couldn’t receive communion as that would only have made her position worse in the eyes of God. Santuzza cannot hide from her problems as it is Easter and that is the only time in the year a Catholic has to receive communion or otherwise he/she adds another deathly sin to his tab. “Povera Santa” thus really feels utterly desolate and betrayed. Of course, she may confess; but there is a fat chance that the priest will refuse absolution as in his Mediterranean view women are always at fault. She doesn’t want to cheat and receive communion and thinks herself ex-communicated. And that’s another problem with updating Cavalleria. During Mascagni’s time people really suffered when they thought they had sinned and refusal of redemption was a modern theme. My grandmother and her whole generation had those horrible fears of hell and damnation but by the seventies, even in Italy, youngsters of Santuzza’s age (around 20) already thought hell was risible.

Back to Joosten’s ideas. Judging by her dress, Santuzza is four or five months pregnant, without all those sharp ladies and gents noting it. But the absolute innovation of this production is the “grande finale.” While Turiddu acknowledges his mistakes, he clearly announces he will kill Alfio “come un cane (like a dog)” as he has to look after “povera Santa.” And how does Turiddu punish Alfio? He voluntary hands over his knife to the cuckolded husband and then falls upon it with Alfio’s looking sheepishly at Turiddu’s suicide. At least in Pagliacci we were spared such innovative directing and the opera ran its normal traditional course.

The musical aspect clearly showed some parallels with the production. Carol Vaness (sorry to say, but looking her age) still has a fine medium but wobbles and shrieks the moment she has to sing above the staff. The real fly in the ointment was Zoran Todorovich. He consistently sang flat with big beefy tones utterly devoid of beauty. The show had to be saved by baritone Zeljko Lucic, who had a good stage presence and the dark brown voice, though slightly underpowered, that belong to the role. Dutch Tania Kross was a splendid, sensuous (voice and figure)Lola and veteran Livia Budai a convincing mamma Lucia. Carlo Rizzi conducted the fine Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest. Rizzi is very popular in Amsterdam while he is very adept at choosing correct tempi and he never tries to drown his singers. Still there were a few moments when pit and stage were not coordinated.

Baritone Zelkjo Lucic was even better as Tonio and Joosten allowed him to sing the Prologue before the curtain, a now almost defunct tradition that nevertheless proved its worth. The voice was by far fuller and had splendid high notes. Canio was sung very professionally by Dennis O’Neill. The Welsh tenor has now been singing for 34 years and the voice slowly changed from an almost tenore di grazia into a big lyric. On record the least one can say is that the voice is not much kissed by the mike and his Dick Johnson must be one of the worst recordings around. In the flesh, however, I was surprised by the fresh sound he produces. He is now 58 and his breath has become somewhat short. Therefore his “Vesti la giubba” was more impressive than “No, Pagliacci o non son” where he often had to break the line. He is very small and very fat and though this may be somewhat cruel he completely looks the part. Riccardo Botta made the most of the role of Beppe.

And then there were the redeeming features of this performance. Several years ago I first heard Ana María Martínez on German TV when she and another artist gave a big open air concert, Placido Domingo conducting. I was dumb-struck by the beauty of the voice in several zarzuela pieces. Not since young Pilar Lorengar had anybody sung so beautiful in that wonderful music. For a few years, it seemed as if this Puerto Rican lady wouldn’t make it to the big leagues but this, too, has changed. For her Met début, Naxos has brought out her first CD, already recorded 6 years ago. But the voice is now far richer and colourful. In the medium, it is probably the most beautiful sound around. Though she has good high notes as well, I hope she will succeed in enlarging somewhat the volume above the staff without damaging the rest of the voice. And yes she can act, too. Her duet with Silvio was one of the best experiences I had in opera for many years. And Rizzi and Martínez opened the cut in “Nedda ! Silvio!” and one wonders why those few beautiful bars for soprano are always left out. My luck went even further because young American Kyle Pfortmiller proved himself to be a find, too. A young slender man with a big booming, but very lyric and smooth, baritone should go far. Maybe some will find his vibrato a little bit exaggerated but not this reviewer. In a few years time this is a voice that could give us a father Germont and other lyric roles in the great American baritone tradition of Robert Merrill.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci at DNO

Posted by Gary at 3:12 PM

Fink, Vignoles and Cooper, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

fink_bernarda_small.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 29 March 2006]

It takes a leap of faith in the grey concrete Queen Elizabeth Hall to imagine we are in a 19th-century Biedermeier drawing-room, but never mind. Put the flowers on the table, lower the lights and dream on.

Posted by Gary at 1:53 PM

Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Monnaie, Théâtre National, Brussels

paisello.jpgShirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 29 March 2006]

Thirty-four years before Rossini wrote his Barber of Seville, Paisiello penned a sanitised version of Beaumarchais’ play for the court of St Petersburg. Charming, direct and uncontroversial, his opera was so popular that Rossini initially chose a different title (Almaviva, ossia l’inutile precauzione), fearing to be overshadowed.

Posted by Gary at 1:46 PM

March 28, 2006

"Lysistrata, Or the Nude Goddess" at NYC Opera

Truncating this newly refurbished edition of Aristophane’s play, it turns out, had not ruined my understanding or appreciation of the performance. Luckily this production, which was completely stripped of its traditional Greek chorus and all but three scenes, was not a complicated affair. Lyricist and composer, Mark Adamo had presented us with a Lysistrata 2.0 that cut to the humorous core of the original play while inserting myriads of anachronistic expressions, quips, and one-liners, as well as the occasional jab at Greek mythology into the opera. This was a valiant effort and a remarkable opera that has provided a necessary shock of life into an ever predictable routine.

Following the women (which at times reminded me of some wonderfully deranged Sixties girl group, notably the Spartans), the next item that came to my attention was Lysistrata’s set. This was severely uncomplicated and lacked many of the ornate and over-the-top pieces that often clutter the stage. The simplicity of Lysistrata’s set guaranteed that the talent would not up upstaged by it. The only misguidance was the backdrop displaying Athenian ruins. Clearly, in their golden age, the acropolis had not yet crumbled. Whether intentional or not, this elicited laughter from the reviewer and if anything served as one of the many visual jokes present. A rotating centerpiece served as a utilitarian device as each scene shifted almost effortlessly into the next. Several unit structures and steps proved to be useful places for the cast to perform. At one point, the performers were aligned as if perfect Greek figurines on the stage. This was just as pleasing to the eye as had been all of the blocking: the performers covered the stage at various times in a variety of poses, gestures and movements.

The beauty of Mr. Adamo’s adaptation was that the audience lived for the next song, or off-kilter one liner that resulted in uproarious laughter. In this play, where the plot merely consists of Athenian and Spartan wives conspiring to end war by refusing sex to their husbands and lovers one is not concerned with depth of the characters or storyline. The slapstick and overall fatuous spectacle earned the audience’s attention whereas with many operas one is galvanized purely through song. Though, this did not diminish one from respecting the vocal prowess and sublime craft that this stellar cast exuded.

Musically, the first act caught my attention as it sprouted hyper rhythms and percussion that burst and popped almost magically into the theatre. The room was full of colorful and rich palette of sounds that was not merely sodden with strings or conglomeration of masculine horns. In the exuberance of quick trills and rushes on the temple blocks I was reminded of the music of Frank Zappa. They ushered in a playful mood and atmosphere which brilliantly accompanied the performers. There was a refreshing nature to the music as its cheerful poignancy sometimes almost intermingled with the actors but never upstaged them. There were also cherished moments where the singers and orchestra performed in syncopation. It was a shame that this urgency was not sustained throughout the entire performance though.

Strangely, halfway through Lysistrata, we were confronted with a change of pace. The songs slowed as the author focused our attention to Lysia’s (played by a fiery Emily Pulley) soul searching or the confounded love of Nico and Lysia. In comparison to the first half, the music seemed slurred. Where irreverent humor and quick rhythms once ran amok in unison now was followed by character development and heartfelt songs. The audience, having been engaged in a certain fashion for the first half, possibly wasn’t ready for this change of pace. This loss of momentum was truly the only downer of Lysistrata.

Similarly, like Zappa, Mr. Adamo created a simulacrum of a language that was perverse to the ear. The Spartan women sang with additional w’s and z’s inserted into words, e.g., ‘cwotches’. It sounded slightly deranged and not unlike a bad impersonation that yielded raucous laughter many times over. Like Zappa, I can imagine that Mr. Adamo was aiming purely for entertainment value and neither for intellectual or scatological purposes. The crowd, thankfully, found this comical device funny too.

Despite the slackening of the second act, Lysistrata pulled gallantly through to the approval of the audience. Refreshing and creative, bold and energetic, this was a performance and show to remember. Lysistrata peeled away at that gossamer veil between what some consider high and low art forms. In the end, those engaged could decide whether they wanted to take home with them more than just a night of comedy.

Blair Fraipont


Posted by Gary at 10:23 AM

Big demand for classical downloads is music to ears of record industry

Digitised back catalogues offer new opportunities for labels and collectors

Charlotte Higgins [The Guardian, 28 March 2006]

There are stirrings of a gold rush in the world of classical music, and it comes from an unexpected quarter: the web. In a market whose consumers have been written off as so doddering they have barely got over the loss of 78s, the statistics are striking. Proportionately, classical sells better digitally than on CD. Whereas classical accounts for about 3%-4% of total sales of music in shops, on iTunes it accounts for 12% of sales.

Posted by Gary at 9:50 AM

Legal Jams

steal_this_music.jpgBy Scott McLemee [Inside Higher Ed, 22 March 2006]

Over the past few days, as perhaps you have heard, it has become more or less impossible to get hold of a copy of “Ready to Die” (1994) — the classic (and prophetically named) debut album by the Notorious B.I.G., a gangster rapper killed in a shooting in 1997.

Posted by Gary at 9:44 AM

A Lukewarm Descent Into the Eternal Flames

schaldenbrand_small.jpgBy FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 28 March 2006]

Although Beethoven considered "The Magic Flute" to be the greatest opera ever written, many devotees, including Sigmund Freud, reserve that honor for "Don Giovanni." A unique combination of opera seria and opera buffa, it expresses the most elemental of human emotions more profoundly than any other musical work.

Posted by Gary at 9:21 AM

Grand Finals Concert at the Met Shows Variety in 5 Young Singers

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 28 March 2006]

The Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert is partly a showcase for promising young singers and partly the end of a competition that has its early rounds all over the country. This year, in the 52nd such competition, 24 winners of regional rounds came to New York for the semifinals, and 9 made it to the Metropolitan Opera stage to sing two arias each at the finals concert on Sunday afternoon.

Posted by Gary at 9:08 AM

La beauté classique

scott_small.jpgJean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 24 March 2006]

Lyrique. Fondé sur un roman de Walter Scott, Lucia di Lammermoor est un des plus beaux fleurons du bel canto. Le livret de Salvatore Cammarano simplifie l'histoire tout en maintenant sa force ; la musique et la virtuosité vocale ne sont que les tuteurs de la progression dramatique.

Posted by Gary at 9:00 AM

On This Day: 28 March

PREMIERES Nevěsta messinská Zdeněk Fibich; Prague, National Theatre, 28 March 1884. Nozze istriane Antonio Smareglia; Trieste, Comunale, 28 March 1895. Andrea Chénier Umberto Giordano; Milano, Teatro alla Scala, 28 March 1896. Violanta Erich Wolfgang Korngold; Munich, Staatsoper, 28 March 1916.

Posted by Gary at 12:01 AM

March 27, 2006

Milano - Teatro alla Scala: Lucia di Lammermoor

ciofi_lucia_la_scala_small.jpg[Danilo Boaretto, Operaclick, 27 March 2006]

Dopo aver proposto due spettacoli di ottimo livello complessivo, quali Evgenij Onegin e Kát'a Kabanová, fra i quali va senza dubbio ricordata la messa in scena del Rigoletto impreziosito dalla presenza di due artisti del calibro di Leo Nucci, Marcelo Alvarez oltre all’apprezzato ritorno sul podio scaligero del M° Riccardo Chailly, siamo costretti a riportare le cronache di uno spettacolo decisamente più modesto.

Posted by Gary at 2:04 PM


aristophanes.gifBy CLIVE BARNES [NY Post, 27 March 2006]

MAKE love, not war may well have been her slogan - but Lysistrata pre dated the hippies by about 2,000 years.

The Greek heroine of Aristophanes' play, first produced in 411 B.C., is also the star (albeit renamed Lisia) of Mark Adamo's new opera, "Lysistrata," which New York City Opera premiered in New York last week.

Posted by Gary at 9:03 AM

A 'Rheingold' That Stands on Its Principals

hawkins_small.jpgBy Tim Page [Washington Post, 27 March 2006]

The best way to approach Washington National Opera's new production of Richard Wagner's "Das Rheingold," which opened Saturday night at the Kennedy Center, is as a solid, abstract and sometimes very attractive updating of a classic.

Posted by Gary at 8:55 AM

What's so great about eunuchs?

Thousands of boys were mutilated to satisfy 18th-century Europe's obsession with castrati singers. Meurig Bowen on a terrible trade

[Guardian, 27 March 2006]

Two and a half centuries ago, as he travelled through Italy, the French writer Charles de Brosses found his eye drawn to some of the men. Most, he noted, "become big and fat like capons, their mouths, their rumps, arms, breasts and neck rounded and chubby like women. When you meet them in a gathering you are completely taken aback on hearing these colossal men speak with a tiny, childlike voice."

Posted by Gary at 8:36 AM

March 26, 2006

Aix-en-Provence Festival's New Boss Aims to Create Opera `Hub'

Aix_logo.gifBy Farah Nayeri [, 27 March, 2006]

March 27 (Bloomberg) -- Bernard Foccroulle, the 52-year-old Belgian recently named to head France's Aix-en-Provence opera festival, said he wants Aix to have international appeal and focus on Mozart as well as on baroque and contemporary music.

Posted by Gary at 8:33 PM

Festival finds itself among a newly altered landscape

KENNETH WALTON [, 27 March 2006]

TAKEN on its own merit, this year's Perth Festival of the Arts is much the same as it has always been - a successful, tried-and-tested ten-day formula in May that combines cosy classics, comfortable comedy, a good bit of theatre and dance and a smattering of celebrity artists, padded out with some homespun contributions from local school bands.

Posted by Gary at 8:27 PM

Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera House, London

By Anna Picard [Independent, 26 March 2006]

Steven Pimlott's production of Eugene Onegin opens with a single image: Hippolyte Flandrin's Jeune homme nu assis au bord de la mer. Widely reproduced on greetings-cards, this nude is an unthreatening ideal of masculine beauty. His genitals are hidden, and for all we know the area between his muscular thighs and toned stomach could be as sexless as that of Barbie's boyfriend, Ken. For the girls at my school who were too cool to cover their study notice-boards with pictures of Simon Le Bon, this Neo-Classical calendar boy was the pin-up of choice. Only later did I learn that he was also a homoerotic icon, and that some of the boys whose looks we compared so unfavourably to his might well have been lusting after the same figure.

Posted by Gary at 8:19 PM

Classical, Now Without the 300-Year Delay

By BARBARA JEPSON [NY Times, 26 March 2006]

REMEMBER that Mozart concert you wanted to get to last month? No, not that one. (Or that one. Or those other 10 or 12.) The one with Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic in the last three symphonies at Avery Fisher Hall.

Posted by Gary at 8:07 PM

SMETANA: Die verkaufte Braut

First Performance: 30 May 1866 at the Provisional Theatre, Prague (definitive version 25 September 1870 at same)

Principal Characters:

Krušina, a farmer Baritone
Ludmila, his wife Soprano
Mařenka their daughter Soprano
Mícha, a wealthy landowner Bass
Háta, his wife Mezzo-Soprano
Vašek, their son Tenor
Jeník, Mícha’s son from his first marriage Tenor
Kecal, a village marriage-broker Bass
Circus Master Tenor
Esmeralda, circus artist Soprano
Indian circus artist Bass

Time and Place: A small village during Spring Festival.


Act I

In a Bohemian village during Spring Festival, the beautiful Marenka is sad. She loves Jenik; but her parents have promised her to another boy, Vašek, the son of the rich landowner Mícha. The marriage broker, Kecal, arrives to finalize the contract. Krušina, Marenka's father, remarks that he has always heard that Mícha has two sons, but has never met either one. He asks Kecal to tell him about both sons, but Kecal insists that Vašek is just the man for Marenka and that no one knows what has happened to Mícha 's eldest son. Marenka joins them and tells her parents that she already has a sweetheart she has promised to wed. As the square fills with villagers celebrating the festival with their traditional dances, Kecal plots to find out who Marenka's sweetheart is and to offer him money to leave her.

Act II

During festivities near a country inn, Vašek finally appears. He has just learned that parents are about to marry him off. Marenka draws near him. Not knowing that she is his possible bride, Marenka relates to him that the girl is a horrid person and convinces him to give up her. Meanwhile, Kecal approaches Jenik. They negotiate a contract that provides that Jenik will relinquish his claim to the young girl for three hundred florins but, per Jenik’s stipulation, only to the “child of Tobiaš Mícha.” The villagers are utterly disgusted by Jenik’s actions.


A company of acrobats arrive at the village square to give a show. Vašek is approached by the dancer, Esmeralda, who convinces him to take the place of an absent dancer and perform the part of the dancing bear. Inspired by this adventure, Vašek refuses the hand of Marenka. Marenka, in the meantime, learns that she has been sold. She is so offended and humiliated, that she declares to Jenik that she is ready to marry the rich child of Mícha. When the marriage contract is concluded, Jenik reveals himself. He is the stepbrother of Vašek, the offspring of Mícha’s first marriage. He had been cast out of house by his stepmother, Hata, when he was child. He has thus sold Marenka to himself. The young girl understands the joke and renews her love for Jenik. Jenik’s father is happy to see his child once again. Only the mother of Vašek resists the marriage. But when she sees Vašek get out of a bearskin to the derision by all those present, she concedes that Vašek’s union with Marenka is impossible. Marenka and Jenik are then married and all are in celebration.

Click here for the complete libretto (German).

image= image_description=Bedřich Smetana audio=yes first_audio_name=Bedřich Smetana: Die verkaufte Braut
Windows Media Player first_audio_link= second_audio_name=Bedřich Smetana: Die verkaufte Braut
Alternate stream second_audio_link= product=yes product_title=Bedřich Smetana: Die verkaufte Braut product_by=Hilde Konetzni, Richard Tauber, Heinrich Tessmer, Marko Rothmüller, Arnold Matters, Gerhard Hinze, Stella Andreva, Sabine Kalter, Mary Jarrod, Graham Clifford, Fritz Krenn, Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Beecham (cond.)
Live radio broadcast, 1 May 1939, London
Posted by Gary at 7:33 PM

March 24, 2006

PUCCINI: Turandot

David Pountney’s production offers a succession of amazing stage pictures, but despite the best efforts of a partisan booklet essay writer and Mr. Pountney himself, interviewed in an extra feature, none of his intentions convincingly illuminate Puccini’s opera. Pountney sees Turandot as a depiction of the anti-humanistic world of the ‘20s and ‘30s, but instead of throwing light on the action, his random flashes of inspiration confuse the eye and mind. Trying to view this Turandot as a valid version of the opera becomes an increasingly frustrating exercise. Just sit back and enjoy the pretty pictures.

And what pictures. Turandot appears inside a huge bronze-like head, which cracks open to reveal her standing as if 50 feet tall, inside a golden gown cascading down to the floor. Later, when Calaf solves the third riddle, she collapses and leaves the gown behind, spending the rest of the opera in a nightgown. The citizens of the city go through mechanical motions in row after row of barred cells, as of a prison. In act three, the bronze head has split into two and fallen to the floor, and the characters clamber over its sloping sides.

Why don’t these brilliant tableaus add up to a successful production? Arguably, Pountney has misinterpreted the opera. He even denies, in the interview, that Turandot is a fairy tale, although the first booklet essay lays out its origins as one concisely. He also shrugs off a question about the kitsch element of the opera with a sly grin, which suggests he believes—he comes close to saying so—that kitsch sums up Turandot. Without true faith in the worth of the opera, no wonder Pountney’s flash can’t produce any light.

Pountney also needs to consider the value of movement—despite the visual imagination, too often the singers have little to do. Direction means much more than coming up with brilliant rationales for outrageous stage designs. Sometimes the singers need to be told how to behave and why.

A problematic cast struggles to bring this concept to life. In the extra-feature interview, Gabriele Schnaut looks attractive and speaks with intelligence. Unfortunately, as made-up and costumed here, she makes for a scary, unappealing Princess. Her top notes, always controversial, fly out like pitchless shrieks—neither flat nor sharp, just indeterminate notes in siren mode.

Calaf apparently holds no interest for Pountney—Johan Botha, wandering the set with no particular aim, sings the entire role in a dull gray suit (of considerable size). Botha moves well most of the time, although after climbing on top of the broken bronze head he can be seen gingerly finding his way down. He has ample voice and range for this challenging role—but no beauty. The “Nessun dorma” gets no reception at all, perhaps partly due to the direction, or Gergiev’s momentum, but surely a dynamic rendition would have earned the tenor an ovation.

Cristina Gallardo-Domas takes the signing honors, but Lius so often do. Her petite frame emphasizes the character’s pathos, though it makes one wonder about the wisdom of her attraction to her hefty Calaf. Liu’s devotion to Paata Burchuladze’s Timur also needs some explanation, as his shaggy bass makes for a less than appealing figure.

Some may be drawn to this DVD for its status as the only complete version of Turandot with the recent Berio completion, replacing the Alfano. It may still be early to make firm declarations about the fate of this revised ending; in Pountney’s mise en scene, the eeriness and sparseness of Berio’s work works well enough. For your reviewer, the shift away from Puccini’s exquisitely melodic opulence to the arid world of late 20th-Century composition will probably always remain an unpleasant metamorphosis.

Gergiev’s conducts brilliantly, shifting gears from passion and bombast to lyricism and beauty. With a better cast, one could darken the screen and listen to the DVD with appreciation for Gergiev’s and the Vienna Phil’s contribution.

Sound off or picture off? Not an attractive dilemma. Lovers of this opera should search out another DVD version.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Turandot

product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Turandot
Act III completion by Luciano Berio
product_by=Gabriele Schnaut, Johan Botha, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Paata Burchuladze, Wiener Philharmoniker, Staatsopernchor, Tolzer Knabenchor, Valery Gergiev (cond.)
product_id=Opus Arte DVUS-OPTURSFR

Posted by Gary at 3:17 PM

Boston Opera Co. Director Caldwell Dies

caldwell_time_mag_small.jpgBy CLARKE CANFIELD [Associated Press, 24 March 2006]

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- Sarah Caldwell, hailed as the first lady of opera for her adventurous productions as longtime director of the Opera Company of Boston, died of heart failure. She was 82.

Posted by Gary at 3:08 PM

Holzmair/Vignoles — Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Holzmair_Wolfgang_small.jpgErica Jeal [The Guardian, 24 March 2006]

Opera has always taken second place to lieder for the Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair. He seems to find more of an outlet for dramatic expression on the concert platform than many do on stage, and his devoted admirers won't have been disappointed by the communicative energy he brought to bear on this programme of songs by Clara and Robert Schumann. They might, however, have had to admit that his voice itself was sounding a little worn, and that Holzmair might now be better heard in halls with warmer, more singer-friendly acoustics.

Posted by Gary at 10:17 AM

March 23, 2006

Il Rè pastore au Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

Piau_Sandrine_small.jpgJean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 23 March 2006]

Musique. Le public du Théâtre des Champs-Élysées était autant venu, lundi soir, pour écouter Sandrine Piau que découvrir Il Rè pastore, opéra séria du jeune Mozart, créé en avril 1775, à Salzbourg.

Posted by Gary at 11:01 PM

Il dissoluto assolto, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon

Corghi_Azio_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 23 March 2006]

It was to have been La Scala’s world premiere, but Milan’s loss was Lisbon’s gain. The Teatro Nacional resolved to stage its own production of Azio Corghi’s opera, not least because the librettist was the Portugese literary icon José Saramago.

Posted by Gary at 10:43 PM

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs 3 — Chanson d’amour.

While the center piece of the collection is the cycle La bonne chanson, op. 61, a series of nine songs with texts by Paul Verlaine, the CD includes a number of impressive pieces. As with the other volumes in this series, the selections involve songs from various parts of the composer’s career, from pieces that date to his youth, like “Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre,” a charming effort performed engagingly by John Mark Ainsley. As much as that setting of Victor Hugo is admirable, the next song in this collection, “Tristesse d’Olympie,” reflects a more mature approach by the composer in this more extended setting of a demanding text. Stephen Varcoe offers an ardent performance of “Tristesse d’Olympie,” which fits his voice well. Yet the relatively early three-song cycle Poème d’un jour reflects another aspect of Fauré’s facility at song. The three pieces in that work echo some of the stylistic devices associated with Lieder, with accompaniments that resemble those of Schumann or Brahms in their interaction with the vocal line. From “Rencontre” (“Meeting”) to “Toujours” (“Always”) and “Adieu” (“Farewell”), Fauré concisely portrays the life cycle of relationships, and in doing so avoids anything sardonic or, worse overtly saccharine. Ainsley’s reading is appropriately touching and sensitive, with a delicacy that is almost expected of such a seasoned musician.

It is difficult, though, to discuss Poème d’un jour without invoking the later cycle La bonne chanson, and the latter work stands apart from the other pieces in this recording because of its length and intensity. Performed by the baritone Christopher Maltman, La bonne chanson may be regarded as the epitome of Fauré’s efforts in solo song. It is acknowledged as an intense work, with the harmonic idiom and thematic connections between the various songs much more complex than his other efforts in this genre. While excellent liner notes by Graham Johnson help to establish an historic context for the reception of the work, Maltman’s performance demonstrates the attraction of this work. This is, perhaps, one of the more attractive performances of the cycle because of the sensitive phrasing in each of the pieces, as well as the delicacy that helps to capture the meaning of the texts. This recording shows both the voice and piano at their best, with an excellent balance in tone, as well as a fine give-and-take in tempo that suggests the attraction of the cycle for its arrangement with string quintet in piano – the textures that Fauré used evoke chamber music in the best sense. This is quite evident in the intensity of the second song in the cycle, “Puisque l’aube grandit” (“Since day breaks”).

When Fauré offers a self-conscious comment on the text of “J’allais par des chemins perfides”(“I go along treacherous ways”) with its pointed chromaticism, Maltman and Johnson give a fine reading of the sometimes chain of sustained dissonances that ultimately resolve on the utterance of the final word: “joie.” This text and the others by Verlaine dance around the topic of love in a piece associated with Fauré’s beloved Emma Bardac, who was also its first interpreter. Culminating in the song “L’hiver a cessé” (“Winter is over”), a fittingly complex piece that brings together the various elements of the cycle, this piece is a tour-de-force for any singer, and Maltman offers a convincing reading that is difficult to match for its musicality and effective presentation.

Of the other pieces in this recording, the music of the French playwright Edmond Haraucourt’s Shylock, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice offers a glimpse of the composer’s efforts at writing incidental music. Of the six pieces in the suite from Shylock, only two are vocal, the others being instrumental pieces arranged for piano duet. Not a literal translation of Shakespeare’s play, Haraucourt reworked the Merchant of Venice to create an idiomatic drama, and Fauré’s music suggests the tone of the new work. The pieces are engaging in themselves, and the notes that accompany the recording provide the appropriate cues that create the context for each of them as part of the stage business. While this kind of music is not encountered in recordings of French song, it is quite appropriate here, where the instrumental pieces help to establish the context for “Prélude et Chanson” and the song simply entitled “Madrigal.” Jean-Paul Fouchécourt’s pure, clear tenor voice stands out in this recording for its gentle and effective rendering of the music. Fouchécourt recorded two other pieces found on this CD, and his approach to Fauré’s is convincing.

With “Nell,” Fouchécourt delivers an ardent love song that embodies many characteristics of Fauré’s efforts in the genre. The text itself is a translation of Robert Burns’ familiar poem that begins “My love is like a red, red rose,” and in this French version, some of images differ from the English original to intensify the meaning conveyed. Fauré’s music captures the turns of phrase, which emerge clearly in this sensitive performance.

While many of the pieces in this collection are sung by men, the women offer equally effective performances. Felicity Lott is impressive in her interpretations of “Notre amour” and “Le secret,” two pieces in Fauré’s opus. 23 set. A masterful performer, Lott contributes an intensity that seems natural to both her voice and the music chosen. Likewise, Jennifer Smith has the final word in this recording with a late song, “Le don silencieux” (“The silent gift”). As Graham Johnson observed in the notes about this song, the piece shows Fauré composing in a somewhat different style. It is relatively more declamatory than some of his other songs, but the style chosen serves the text well and that is, perhaps, the key to appreciating Fauré’s songs, especially the ones that have texts which deal with various aspects of love.

Chanson d’amour is another fine volume in the four-CD set issued by Hyperion, and those who do not know this recording should find much in it to admire. It is consistent with the other releases in the set with regard to format and presentation, as well as the quality of performance. With the release of the fourth volume, Dans un parfum de roses, the set will be complete, and it should stand well for years as a standard for French song and the music of Fauré.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Gabriel Faure: The Complete Songs 3 — Chanson d’amour

product_title=Gabriel Faure: The Complete Songs 3 — Chanson d’amour
product_by=Felicity Lott (Soprano), Jennifer Smith (Soprano), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Tenor), John Mark Ainsley (Tenor), Christopher Maltman (Baritone), Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano), with Ronan O’Hora (Piano).
product_id=Hyperion CDA67335 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 10:15 PM

DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale

First Performance: 3 January 1843 at Théâtre Italien, Paris.

Principal Characters:

Don Pasquale, an elderly bachelor Bass
Dr. Malatesta, his physician Baritone
Ernesto, his nephew Tenor
Norina (Sofronia), a youthful widow and Ernesto’s beloved Soprano
A Notary, Malatesta’s cousin, Carlino Bass

Time and Place: Mid-19th Century Rome at Don Pasquale’s villa and adjacent garden.


Act I

Don Pasquale is an elderly and rich landowner. His nephew, Ernesto, will be his heir, if he marries a woman chosen by Don Pasquale. But Ernesto loves Norina, a young, attractive and vivacious widow, who is anything but rich. Ernesto refuses to obey to his uncle, who decides to disinherit him and to find a wife for himself so that he may sire an heir. Doctor Malatesta, Don Pasquale's friend, devises a plan to help the two young people. He suggests to Don Pasquale his sister, Sofronia, as a wife, expounding upon her dowry. Don Pasquale is elated and immediately ejects Ernesto from his house. Meanwhile, Malatesta instructs Norina to impersonate Sofronia and to marry Don Pasquale in a mock wedding ceremony. She is then to turn into a virago, thereby reducing Don Pasquale to desperation.

Act II

Ernesto, unaware of the plan of Malatesta, is desperate. He resolves to leave for foreign parts. Malatesta and Norina (wearing a veil to disguise herself as Sofronia) arrive. Don Pasquale is immediately enamored, which only increases when she lifts the veil. They sign a marriage contract before Malatesta's cousin posing as a notary. The agreement gives her half of Don Pasquale's possessions. Ernesto arrives and is appalled; but, Malatesta draws him aside and explains things. Sofronia, until then timid and docile, changes her behavior. She becomes arrogant and temperamental; and, she orders extravagant expenditures that terrorize Don Pasquale.


Sofronia increases her tantrums. When she slaps Don Pasquale, he demands a divorce. She then connives to make him believe she has a lover. Exasperated, Don Pasquale asks Malatesta to help him. Malatesta puts his scheme to Ernesto, who is to pose as the lover of Sofronia. That evening in Don Pasquale's garden, Ernesto arrives and sings a serenade to Sofronia. They then both sing a love duet. Seeing this from a distance, Don Pasquale erupts. At the suggestion of Malatesta, he declares that Ernesto will marry Norina, who will thereupon become the mistress of the household. Don Pasquale is convinced by Malatesta that this will result in Sofronia leaving his household. At this point, the plot is revealed. Relieved that he is not married to the diabolical Sofronia, Don Pasquale forgives all and consents to the marriage of Ernesto and Norina.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image= image_description=Gaetano Donizetti audio=yes first_audio_name=Gaetano Donizetti; Don Pasquale first_audio_link= product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti; Don Pasquale product_by=Ernesto Badini, Tito Schipa, Afro Poli, Adelaide Saraceni, Giordano Callegari, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Carlo Sabajno (cond.)
Recorded 1932
Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

March 22, 2006

Edinburgh festival: round the world in three weeks

edinburgh_castle.jpgBy Ian MacKenzie [Reuters, 22 March 2006]

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The Edinburgh International Festival unveiled its 2006 program on Wednesday including a topical Shakespearean play on political corruption along with theater, music and dance offerings from around the world.

Posted by Gary at 1:27 PM

Mozart on Beer Bottles, Paris Opera Roughs Up `Figaro'

By Jorg von Uthmann [, 22 March 2006]

March 22 (Bloomberg) -- Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto and Mozart's music for ``Le Nozze di Figaro'' (1786) transformed stock characters of the opera buffa tradition into human beings, making it one of the most sophisticated operas.

Posted by Gary at 12:41 PM

Electric Carmen

vizin_viktoria_small.jpgMezzo-soprano's odyssey from Hungary to Aurora suggests she was born to play the Gypsy femme fatale

By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 22 March 2006]

Many opera plots contain riddles, but here's an intriguing new one: How did a virtually unknown young singer from Eastern Europe via west suburban Aurora land the coveted title role in "Carmen" at Lyric Opera of Chicago?

Posted by Gary at 12:16 PM

Lysistrata, New York City Opera

pulley_small.jpgBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 22 March 2006]

Lysistrata, a.k.a. The Nude Goddess, was first performed, to acclaim, in Houston last March. On Tuesday, this sentimental variation on Aristophanes arrived at Lincoln Center, evoking – in one observer, at least – considerable disappointment.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 PM

The Show Must Go On

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 22 March 2006]

Attentive readers of this newspaper may remember a piece published in early January. In it, I glanced at the rest of the classical-music season, suggesting some highlights. I said that, if there was one experience not to miss, it was James Levine's "Fidelio," at the Metropolitan Opera. If you could spend your money on only one thing - spend it on that.

Posted by Gary at 11:58 AM

A Modern Gloss on 'Fidelio' at the Metropolitan Opera

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 22 March 2006]

Earlier this month, when James Levine announced that he had to withdraw from the rest of this season at the Metropolitan Opera because of a serious shoulder injury, Joseph Volpe, the company's intrepid general manager, hit the phones to line up replacements. Somehow he did it. He found suitable conductors to take over all 25 performances that Mr. Levine was scheduled to conduct at the house through May.

Posted by Gary at 11:52 AM

Cyrano de Bergerac, Opéra de Montpellier

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 21 March 2006]

Health bulletin: Roberto Alagna is back from illness and singing in French with style. The top may sound a little frayed but his easy diction and mastery of line are as good as ever.

Posted by Gary at 8:00 AM

WHITACRE: Cloudburst and other choral works

In fact, the exacting singing of Polyphony, under the direction of Stephen Layton, gives the world a better sense of Whitacre’s music than many American performances.

Most of Whitacre’s music can be described as tone poems. He paints with sound, moving to specific chords at just the precise moment to evoke the spirituality and sensuousness within the text. While words may not be set to specific colors, the overall sound and direction of the piece rely on a deep understanding of the poetry. Whitacre builds dense textures of sound that ebb and flow. He uses large cluster chords as structural pillars that develop from a sparse texture to a layered wall of sound.

With Polyphony’s accurate intonation, the clusters and clouds of sound shimmer with clarity. The music’s billowing and unique color shifts waft and settle in the ensemble’s perfect evenness of tone. Additionally, having been recorded in a large reverberant church, the music’s spaciousness is allowed to unfold into the air. Luckily, the words, the inspiration for such tone painting, are not lost in the dense texture because of the group’s crisp, clean diction.

While an entire compact disc of Eric Whitacre may seem monochromatic at times, Layton’s arrangement of the selections provides the greatest possible variety between the music’s emotional and spiritual centers. He precedes and follows many of the weightier works with lighter, simple pieces. The trauma, torment, and massive grief expressed in When David Heard are preceded by the elegantly simple Go, Lovely Rose, which conveys the opening of a flower. The disc’s title piece, Cloudburst, is arguably the most virtuosic and interesting selection. Polyphony’s incisive singing wonderfully evokes the many senses and sounds of a cloud bubbling with pressure and rupturing into rainfall.

When it comes to American choral music, sometimes there can be much to learn by allowing others to wrestle with it. The English sound and the Whitacre sonic universe form a happy union on this CD. The flawless intonation and clear, selfless tone quality of Polyphony, under their director Stephen Layton, bring a profound clarity and light to the dense flowing tonality of Eric Whitacre’s choral music.

Adam Luebke

image_description=Eric Whitacre: Cloudburst and other choral works

product_title=Eric Whitacre: Cloudburst and other choral works
product_by=Polyphony, Stephen Layton (cond.), with Robert Millet, percussion, and Stephen Betteridge, piano
product_id=Hyperion CDA67543 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 7:57 AM

March 21, 2006

ROSSINI: Maometto Secondo

Not that you have much choice. As far as I know this DVD is the only version available in the commercial market at the moment. But, you may be the owner of one of the four previous commercial recordings and maybe you will wonder what happened to the half-hour long trio (you really thought Wagner introduced those interminable features?) that is the core of the original first act. In Venice they were less patient than in Naples and Rossini cut it into two separate numbers. There is a nice little outline that sums it all up—strangely enough, only in Italian and English though the rest of the notes are in French and German too.

As productions go nowadays this is not a bad one. Director Pier Luigi Pizzi as usual is also responsible for sets and costumes. He respects Rossini’s 1470 setting as the action takes place in Negroponte (nowadays Chalki) on the isle of Euboea not far from Athens. It was a Venetian colony from where the Venetians hoped to harass Mehmet (or Maometto), who seventeen years before had conquered Byzantium. The Ottoman Sultan nevertheless appeared with such an overwhelming amount of force that he soon captured the Venetian stronghold.

In the original score the heroine commits suicide at the moment of conquest; but for Venice this reminder of one of the biggest blows the city ever suffered wouldn’t do. Blissfully and wilfully ignorant of history, La Fenice asked Rossini to end the opera with Maometto’s defeat. The composer duly complied and lifted the nowadays well known concluding rondo “Tanti affetti” out of La donna del lago (it had already served the same purpose in Bianco e Falliero).

Pizzi has designed a splendid and convincing set of broken pillars and some good cellars. The costumes of the chorus are somewhat monotonous white-grey and the only colour comes from the lead singers with red, as is usual nowadays, reserved for the villain of the piece: Maometto.

As to acting, one has to admit that there is little Pizzi could ask. Singers have long and sometimes difficult arias or duets to sing in which they tell—sometimes interminably so—of their woes and hopes but there is almost no action. Therefore the director could give us some action in the background, which would surely distract us from the music; or he could ask his singers to use a few stock gestures and concentrate on their singing. Pizzi wisely chooses for the second solution as Rossini and his librettist didn’t give him many tools to work with, though the composer would have been surprised to see an audience bravely staying in their seats for the whole performance instead of visiting each other to chat during the “less interesting” moments of the opera.

Therefore, this is mainly a concert in costume and we should concentrate on the singers and a good lot it there is. The opera goes off to a shaky start with “contraltista” Nicola Marchesini as General Condulmiero. In the original version, this was a tenor; but for Venice, the composer gave the role to a bass without taking pains of lowering the score in his reworking. The sleeve notes rightly note that a high baritone is maybe the best solution for this Rossinian joke and right they are as Mr. Marchesini has a shrill voice that very much grates on the nerves. Why artistic director Sergio Segalini chose a male contralto is not clear but luckily the singer disappears after one aria. Nevertheless there is unintentional comic relief when the next general appears and this happens to be a real mezzo-soprano. Luckily for us, as the role is a big one, Anna Rita Gemmabella has a fine high and smooth voice that surmounts all difficulties; but she never looks like anything other than a rather well-fed lady in trousers with a sword.

Tenor Maxim Mironov, towering above anybody else, is a find. The voice is clear, even and strong in the high register. There is indeed some resemblance to Florez’ and casting directors who cannot lay their hands upon the expensive Peruvian would do well to engage this fine singer, who can easily compete with Raul Gimenez in his best days and whose sound is so much superior to Blake’s.

Lorenzo Regazzo is a fine Maometto and the only one who succeeds in putting down a character because the bad guy always has the better lines. He sings with a dark, somewhat grainy voice with excellent coloratura. On the lower notes his bass loses strength and focus; but he is very good with some soft notes.

Maometto gave his name to the opera but it is the soprano who has the principal role. Carmen Giannattasio as Anna looks lovely and, more importantly, has a voice to match. The legato is fine; the coloratura are sharply defined but above else the voice has warmth—that quality the Italians call “morbidezza”. The only weak link in her arsenal is the high register, which is often hit and well-rounded or miss and to be more exact somewhat shrill above the staff.

Still, with the exception of Russian tenor Mironov, the whole opera is cast with younger promising Italian singers; and it says something on the decline of Italy as an operatic country that most of us have barely heard the name of these singers, who definitely deserve a career outside the peninsula. Moreover they are well led by veteran conductor Claudio Scimone, who is well-acquainted with the score, as he conducted the first official recording for Philips 23 years ago.

Scimone still knows how to conduct Rossini. He doesn’t drag the music the way Alberto Zedda sometimes does; but he breathes with his singers and he doesn’t make himself and his orchestra more important by hurrying the Rossinian crescendo. All in all, a good version of a rarity.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Gioachino Rossini: Maometto Secondo

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product_by=Lorenzo Regazzo, Federico Lepre, Maxim Mironov, Carmen Giannattasio, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Nicola Marchesini. Orchestra e Coro del teatro La Fenice di Venezia, Claudio Scimone (cond.).
Stage director: Pier Luigi Pizzi; TV and Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
product_id=Dynamic 33492 [2DVDs]

Posted by Gary at 8:22 PM

VERDI: La forza del destino

Recorded in 1981 and broadcast by the BBC two years later, the performance features Martina Arroyo as Leonora, Kenneth Collins as Don Alvaro, Peter Glossop as Don Carlo, and Janet Coster as Preziosilla. This “original” Forza, proposed as such first by the BBC (although no score or source is identified in the recording), replicates the first version of the opera written for the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1862. It differs in several ways from the traditionally-performed revision made for La Scala some seven years later. First, it features a preludio, more concise than the familiar overture but based on the same themes that foreshadow the action. Furthermore, the order of events in Act 3 is different, but the most significant contrast between the Russian and Italian Forzas involves the three deaths at the opera’s conclusion. Perhaps more brutal but clearly more in line with the Spanish drama that served as the libretto’s source was the initial version’s onstage demise of all three main characters (Alvaro mortally wounds Carlo, who in turn stabs Leonora, his own sister. A distraught Alvaro then throws himself off a cliff). However, claiming that one is hearing the “original” Forza is a bit more complicated than simply pointing out how versions differ.

Verdi began to revise his score even while he was in St. Petersburg; these materials were (and still are) located in the archives of the Mariinsky Theatre.* It is these sources (along with a piano/vocal score, as this author was told in a visit to the archive) that furnished the version produced at the Mariinsky and recorded by Valery Gergiev. The publication of the long-awaited scholarly edition of Forza, done under the auspices of The University of Chicago and Ricordi’s The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, is imminent, though, so it soon will be possible to see precisely how true to the original this BBC production (and indeed Gergiev’s) was.

The remastering of the BBC’s production results in an impressive recording. The singers, however, were all “of an age” when it was made and unfortunately, this shows. Arroyo’s Leonora is strong, vibrant and rich in tone. Equally pairing her is Collins, who sings with a pure, clear voice. The disappointment is Glossop. This legendary performer seems beyond the point of performing a role like Carlo; indeed his rendering of the “student” aria, “Son Pereda, son ricco d’onore” is outright implausible. His pairing with Collins in “Amici in vita e in morte” sounds more like a father-and-son duet rather than one sung by two friends. Coster is notable as Preziosilla, although she seems to have a problem with some of the lower pitches in the “Rataplan.” The rest of the cast, including Derek Hammond-Stroud as Fra Melitone, is impressive and right on the mark. The BBC Chorus, as usual, is perfection, but one wonders if the BBC Orchestra, under the direction of John Matheson, did not use a little too much “fire power.” At times, it has more “forza” than the Petersburg orchestra certainly would have had. Although it ably builds the atmosphere and excitement of this dynamic score, it often overwhelms. Of course, the recordings—both the original and the remastering—were not aimed at authentic practice but at representing an “original” masterpiece.

Denise Gallo**

*Those interested in reading about these revisions are referred to William C. Holmes’ article “The Earliest Revisions of La forza del destino” in Studi Verdiani, Vol. 6, 1990.

**Author: Opera: The Basics (New York and London: Routledge, 2006)

image_description=Verdi: La forza del destino

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product_by=Roderwick Kennedy, Martina Arroyo, Alison Truefitt, Kenneth Collins, Philip O’Reilly, Peter Glossop, Kenneth Bowen, Janet Coster, Derek Hammond-Stroud, Don Garrard, David Fieldsend. BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, John Matheson (cond.).
product_id=Opera Rara ORCV 304 [3CDs]

Posted by Gary at 7:50 PM

MOZART: Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte

While they are performed in two different years (2000 and 2001, respectively), they are tied together in that they are performed by the Zurich Opera House conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and that the two female leads in the operas are performed by Cecilia Bartoli. The compilation includes 4 DVDs (2 for each opera) as well as a booklet for each opera, containing information on the composer and his work, on the opera itself, on the performance and the plot, and short biographies of the performers.

Both performances are exquisite in their presentations. The scenery, costumes, pageantry, and props are detailed and luxurious, while the singing and acting bring out the subtlety and complexity of the ensembles and the drama. Harnoncourt is well-known for his attention to detail and depth in his performances, and these two are no exception. The backdrop of the Zurich Opera House is glimpsed in the opening credits and when the camera zooms out to include the entire stage. Bartoli shines in these two performances, and this is her debut in the role of Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte. These are two well-performed Mozart operas by one of the greatest modern mezzo-sopranos, conducted by one of the undoubtedly greatest modern conductors.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte

product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte
product_by=Cosi fan tutte: Cecilia Bartoli, Liliana Nikiteanu, Agnes Baltsa, Roberto Saccà, Oliver Widmer, Carlos Chausson
Don Giovanni: Rodney Gilfrey, László Polgár, Isabel Rey, Cecilia Bartoli, Roberto Saccà, Liliana Nikiteanu, Oliver Widmer, Matti Salminen
Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (cond.)
product_id=ArtHaus Musik 100 971 [4DVDs]

Posted by Gary at 4:34 PM

Kasarova Seduces in Weak Donizetti Staging With Clumps of Monks

Kasarova_Favorite_Zurich_detail.jpg(Photo: Opernhaus Zürich)
By Shirley Apthorp [, 21 March 2006]

March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Vesselina Kasarova makes a fine adulterer. As Leonor de Guzman, mistress of King Alphonse and bride of ex-monk Fernand, she holds center stage in Zurich Opera's new ``La Favorite.''

Posted by Gary at 3:53 PM

La Rondine

Geoff Brown at the Alhambra, Bradford [Times Online, 21 March 2006]

Among the world’s migrating swallows, Puccini’s lyric comedy La Rondine is always a welcome visitor, well able to enchant despite critical carping ever since its debut in 1917. Puccini’s biographer Mosco Carner mentioned “a bird with half-broken wings”; but when a production hits the spot like Francesca Zambello’s 1994 creation for Opera North, this hybrid opera-operetta flies perfectly well.

Posted by Gary at 12:10 PM

Synthesiser creates a fight at the opera

moog_synthesizer_small.jpgBy Marina Bradbury in Paris [Independent, 21 March 2006]

A daring new production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro has provoked outrage amongst Parisian opera-goers.

A synthesiser replaces the clavicord. A musician moves on to the stage dressed as a tramp, blowing into beer bottles and quietly singing.

Posted by Gary at 12:03 PM

Henze premiere/Hallé/De Ridder

Alfred Hickling [The Guardian, 21 March 2006]

Fun is not a word you immediately associate with Hans Werner Henze. Profundity, yes; genius, certainly. But having fun never seemed to figure much on this composer's scale.

Posted by Gary at 11:52 AM

In search of the lost golden age

grand_staircase_great_catherine_palace_small.jpgBy Clement Crisp [Financial Times, 20 March 2006]

It is still very cold in St Petersburg, but at the start of the Mariinsky’s Ballet Festival the sun was brilliantly reflected on snow and on the amber and almond-green of those noble façades, and at Tsarskoe Selo the sky matched the vivid blue of Catherine’s palace.

Posted by Gary at 11:42 AM

The Growth of a Tenor Voice Made Plain in Handel Works

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 21 March 2006]

However often you see him, the tenor Ian Bostridge remains a startling figure on the concert stage: tall and beanpole-skinny, like a Giacometti sculpture come to life, with the presence of an Oxford don. Some singers, when they use a music stand, try to detach themselves from the printed page. Mr. Bostridge, singing Handel arias with the Orchestra of St. Luke's on Sunday afternoon, seemed willingly to read from the music, like a professor giving a lecture, as if telling the audience about coloratura runs rather than, completely, showing them.

Posted by Gary at 11:31 AM

City Opera’s Production of The Most Happy Fella

The question of whether Fella is a musical or an opera has long been discussed: while it was premiered as a Broadway production (and revived there in 1979), in many ways the score is more complex than your average musical, indeed, more complex than even Loesser’s other hit musicals, including his beloved Guys and Dolls. Fella director Philip McKinley chose to reinstate two of Marie’s arias that had been cut from the 1956 production, a decision lauded by Loesser’s widow and advocate Jo Sullivan Loesser. The added character development and emotional content that was the result of this decision—not to mention the greater length of the production—certainly supports the arguments on the “opera” side of the debate.

In the end, though Fella offers all the best of Braodway musicals: rousing ensembles, sentimental love songs, and big, exciting dance pieces. Especially appealing about Fella is the way that Loesser, who wrote both the music and the book, interweaves dialogue and singing without any awkwardness; the words do not take a backseat to the music at any point during Fella, which keeps the drama moving.

At its heart, Fella—like most musicals—is a love story: it is a tale of how an older Italian immigrant living in the Napa Valley (Tony) falls in love with and seduces a young waitress from San Francisco (Rosabella—her real name is Amy, but no one calls her that). Tony and his Rosabella fall in love twice—once through a pen pal correspondence and once after they had been married already. Like all love stories, the lovers have to work through a number of obstacles, and this pair has more than their fair share. As the show unfolds they conquer the wide gap in their ages, a case of mistaken identity, a near fatal car accident, the machinations of Tony’s spinster sister, and the fallout from a one-night affair, which includes an unplanned-for pregnancy as well as hurt feelings.

The media leading up to the production focused on the highly anticipated performance of Paul Sorvino as Tony. Sorvino is a well-known actor with extensive film and television credits, and a Tony nominee for his performance in That Championship Season. Much the media buzz focused on whether Sorvino really can sing, and he shows in Fella that he certainly can. Additionally, Sorvino seduced his audience with his sweet portrayal of a sometimes bumbling bachelor, and he elicited much laughter from the audience with his impeccable timing in delivering lines. It is a role that could easily be cloying—Tony is just such a nice, lovable guy—but Sorvino creates the character so adeptly that one can understand why he is so adored by all the other characters. Any nervousness that Tommasini may have noticed in his review of the premier had vanished by the middle of the run.
The entire cast was energetic and appealing, but none more so in my opinion than Leah Hocking who played a relatively minor role as Rosabella’s co-worker and friend Cleo. Hocking was a delight to watch every time she came on stage, and her confidence and charisma started the production off on the right foot in the comical solo “Ooh! My Feet!” She also lit up the large ensemble and dance number “Big D,” and provided much needed comic relief throughout the second act with her beau Herman, played by John Scherer.

The sets, designed by Michael Anania for a 1991 production, were delightful with their rich colors and a homey feel in all the Napa Valley scenes. The stage was further brightened by the fun and costumes by Ann Hould Ward, which looked especially charming in the big dances scenes. Peggy Hickey was responsible for choreography that worked particularly well in the faster, more exuberant pieces; she also includes a more balletic number in the second act, which is beautiful, but slows down the story without providing much drama or interest—a rare moment in this delightful recreation of a classic.

New York City Opera’s Most Happy Fella continues through this weekend, the final show is March 25.

Megan Jenkins
The Graduate Center – CUNY

image_description=Frank Loesser

Posted by Gary at 8:21 AM

March 20, 2006

GOUNOD: Roméo et Juliette

First performance: 27 April 1867 at Théâtre Lyrique, Paris.

Principal characters:

Juliette [Juliet] Soprano
Roméo [Romeo] son of Montaigu [Montague] Tenor
Frère Laurent [Friar Laurence] Bass
Mercutio friend to Romeo Baritone
Stéphano page to Romeo Soprano
Capulet Bass
Tybalt, nephew of Lady Capulet Tenor
Gertrude, nurse to Juliet Mezzo-Soprano
The Duke Bass
Paris, a young count Baritone
Grégorio [Gregory] servant to Capulet Baritone
Benvolio nephew of Montague Tenor
Frère Jean [Friar John] Bass

Time and Place: Renaissance Verona


Act I

After a stormy orchestral introduction, depicting the hostility which reigns between the Capulet and the Montaigu, the curtain rises on a declaimed choral prologue summarizing the tragedy. Act I. A masked ball in the palace of the Capulet. The guests sing the pleasures which await them this evening (introduction: "L'heure s'envole"). Young noble Pâris is amazed at the magnificence of the ball, but Tybalt, nephew of Capulet, assures him that he will forget this magnificence, when he sees the magnificent Juliette, daughter of Capulet. When Capulet leads his daughter in the room, she becomes indeed the centre of attention. Capulet invites cheerfully the guests to dance in the nearby rooms and is delighted to leave Pâris to escort Juliette. When the stage is empty, masked Roméo Montaigu and his friends Mercutio and Benvolio come out of their hiding place. Due to their disguise, they were able to enter the rival house without being recognized. Roméo has now reserves on their outing and wishes to leave. He explains that he recently had a dream that filled him with somber premonitions as to their adventure. Mercutio frivolously brushes aside his premonitions, saying they are the work of the queen Mab (ballad of the queen Mab: "Mab, la reine des mensonges"). Roméo is comforted by this ballad, but suddenly sees Juliette through an open door. He falls in love with her in an instant. Enchanted, Roméo is pushed outside by his friends as Juliette enters, with her nanny, Gertrude. Gertrude sings Pâris's praises to her, as a future husband. Juliette, for her part, protests her lack of interest for this marriage (ariette: "Je veux vivre"). The nanny goes away and, while Juliette gets ready to return to the dance, Roméo comes out of a corner of the room. After some words, they realize that their destinies are bound (madrigal: "Ange adorable!"). In the exchange which follows, Roméo discovers that he fell in love with a Capulet. Although Roméo has his mask back on, Tybalt manages to identify him. After Roméo's hasty departure, Tybalt reveals to Juliette that she spoke with a hated Montaigu. The guests return in the centre of the scene: Roméo and his friends are among them. Mercutio thinks that they were noticed and the Montaigu operate a hasty retreat. Capulet does not authorize Tybalt to follow them and encourages his guests to pursue festivities.

Act II

The garden of Capulet at night. To the left, the window and Juliette's balcony. Roméo left his friends and came back like a thief in the garden of the Capulet. He shouts out to Juliette as to a rising sun (cavatina: "Ah! Lève-toi, soleil"). Shortly after, she appears on the balcony and Roméo reveals his presence. She asks him for a declaration of love and allegiance which he gives her enthusiastically. Their soft words are for a moment interrupted by Grégorio and other servants of the Capulet, who roam the garden in search of a page of Montaigu seen in the area (scene and choir: "Personne! Le page aura fui"). When peace returns, Roméo springs out of his hiding place (duet: "O nuit divine"). Juliette confirms that she is ready to marry him at the time of his choice and Roméo repeats his oath. They are again interrupted, this time by Gertrude, who calls Juliette in the house. The two lovers part reluctantly.


Brother Laurent's cell. At dawn. In the wings, a monks' choir can be heard. Brother Laurent enters with a basket filled with plants and flowers, which he is going to use to make secret potions. He sings the miracles of nature (choir and cavatina: "Breceau de tous les êtres"). Roméo rides up and tells him about his love for Juliette Capulet. Juliette follows him soon with Gertrude. The two lovers ask brother Laurent to unite them. Convinced of the force of their affection, he performs the ceremony (trio and quartet: "Dieu qui fis l'homme à ton image"). A street in front of the house of Capulet. Roméo's page, Stéphano, is mocking the Capulet with a song speaking about a white dove prisoner in a nest of vultures (song: "Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?"). This scene attracts Grégorio and other servants of the Capulet outside (finale: "Ah! Voici nos gens!"). Stéphano resumes at once the tune of his song in their presence, and challenges Grégorio to a duel. Mercutio is indignant to see Grégorio fight a duel with a simple child. Tybalt warns Mercutio to pay attention to his words, and they also get involved in a duel. When Roméo arrives, Tybalt turns around at once to face him. Roméo keeps his head and asks Tybalt to forget the days of hatred between the two families. It is Mercutio who decides to defend Roméo's honor. He resumes the duel with Tybalt, and is wounded when Roméo throws himself between the two duellists. Roméo, suddenly in anger, tries to obtain vengeance; he fights with Tybalt and gives him a mortal blow. A brass band and a marching troop announce the arrival of Duke. The partisans of both houses shout for justice and, having learnt what happened, the Duke exiles Roméo away from Vérona. Before the drop of the curtain, the members of the two houses renew their resentful curses.

Act IV

Juliette's room in the early hours. Juliette forgives Roméo for killing one of her relatives (duet: "Va! Je t'ai pardonné"). They sing both their love during the wedding night. Roméo suddenly loosens his embrace when he hears the lark announcing the day. Juliette refuses at first to believe it, but she then becomes aware of reality. They know they have to part before being discovered. After the departure of Roméo, Capulet, Gertrude and brother Laurent enter the room (quartet: "Juliette! Ah, le ciel soit loué!"). Capulet announces to Juliette that the last wish of Tybalt was to see Juliette marrying Pâris, and that this marriage is already arranged. Juliette is in despair. When her father leaves her room, she says to brother Laurent that she would prefer to die rather than to marry Pâris. He suggests a trick by which she will be able to escape with Roméo. She should drink a narcotic which will give her the appearance of death. Capulet will transport the body to the family grave, where Roméo will find her. Juliette accepts this plan. She appeals to all her courage (air: "Dieu! Quel frisson court dans les veines!"). A vision of the bloodstained Tybalt makes her hesitate, but she empties finally the phial. A magnificent room at the Capulet's. Juliette enters to the sound of a wedding march . The guests present her their best wishes and offer her wedding presents, but as Capulet takes her arm to lead her into the chapel, she collapses. In the general horror, Capulet exclaims that his daughter has died.

Act V

A subterranean crypt at the Capulet's. Juliette is laying on a grave. Brother Laurent learns from another monk, brother Jean, that Roméo did not receive the letter explaining the trick to him, because his page was attacked. Brother Laurent asks Jean to find another messenger. After an instrumental interlude intended to depict Juliette's state, Roméo appears. Believing Juliette dead ; he drinks the poison he carried with him. At that moment, she wakes up and they sing their love. Roméo tells her that he has just absorbed a fatal poison. While he weakens, Juliette reveals a dagger hidden in her clothes and stabs herself. In a monumental final effort, Roméo and Juliette ask for divine leniency before dying.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Live, 14 April 1964
Posted by Gary at 1:14 PM

A classy 'Carmen'

carmen_s_diego_small.jpgHeralded mezzo-soprano Marina Domashenko preps for her local debut, a role she loves
By Valerie Scher [San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 March 2006]

With flashing eyes and an ever-so-revealing dress, mezzo-soprano Marina Domashenko peers from the 25-by-30-foot banner hanging outside downtown's Civic Theatre, where she'll make her local debut Saturday in San Diego Opera's new production of Bizet's “Carmen.”

Posted by Gary at 12:08 PM

SCHUBERT: Symphony no. 9

Robert Schumann discovered the manuscript in 1838, and it was premiered with Mendelssohn conducting the work on March 21, 1839.

Schubert began this symphony in 1825, when he was suffering most from cyclopthymia, a quick-moving form of manic-depression fueled by his wild and promiscuous lifestyle. A trip into the lakes and mountains of upper Austria inspired Schubert with its idyllic settings and wonderful landscapes, and shows up in this work. With this symphony, Schubert stands next to Beethoven and is able to come close to his genius. Although it is Romantic in its temperament, it has also been called the last great Classical Symphony. The motific formula used throughout reminds listeners of Beethoven’s Fifth, yet the long, melodic phrases betray Schubert’s genius in his Lied and vocal works.

This is an excellent modern recording of a monumental Romantic symphony.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Franz Schubert: Symphony no. 9 in C, D944 (“The Great”)

product_title=Franz Schubert: Symphony no. 9 in C, D944 (“The Great”)
product_by=Berlin Philharmonic, Simon Rattle (cond.).
product=id=EMI Classics 0946 3 39382 2 9 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 11:47 AM


All three have been recently released as DVD’s, and with the 1997 L’Orfeo, Audi and company offer a provocative performance of Monteverdi’s earliest and also perhaps his most familiar stage work. L’Orfeo comes laden with historical significance. Not the first opera—several works by Peri, Caccini, and Cavalieri have prior claim—L’Orfeo is nevertheless the earliest opera to have captured modern ears; it is where opera seems to begin for the modern audience. It is also something of an icon of the modern historical performance movement, as well. In the late 1960s, few early music groups could claim the visibility and influence of the Concentus Musicus Wien, an ensemble whose 1969 recording of L’Orfeo (Telefunken) was an eye-opening overture to many things that would follow in the decades ahead.

Musically this present Amsterdam L’Orfeo is stunning. John Mark Ainsley’s Orpheus is dynamic and, at times, dramatically urgent in a way that leaves little doubt of either Orpheus’s exalted status as a singer or his impassioned state. Ainsley negotiates the famous Act III vocal challenges with great skill and conviction—ornamentation, articulation, and rapid passage work are all unquestionably and impressively secure. But what raises the level of his Orpheus is his vocal command of the passions themselves. This, too, is the dynamic that must also inform the messenger scene in Act II--in fact, to an even greater degree, because here the messenger has little but the intensity of the passions with which to animate the scene. Brigitte Balleys’s Messenger is impressive, bringing the tragic news of Eurydice’s death with a dramatic range that is rich in inflection. Some may find the occasional prominence of her chest voice problematic, but in context she uses it to intensify and charge the moment, and that decision is one well made.

There are some vocal surprises in the production, to be sure. Countertenors take on the roles of La Musica and La Speranza, to strong effect, both for the masterful singing of David Cordier and Michael Chance and for the defamiliarization that the casting affords. Monteverdi’s performance in 1607 employed the castrato Giovanni Gualberto Magli in these roles, and the countertenor casting here may be something of an echo of the historical record. But, in fact, all the principal female roles were likely sung by males—Eurydice probably by a priest, Girolamo Bacchini and Persephone by Magli—causing one to wonder why the historical echo stopped where it did. But musically there is little about which to complain throughout the opera. Musical director, Stephen Stubbs, is an insightful and ever sure hand in this style, and the combined forces of Tragicomedia and Concerto Palatino are gloriously rich in the fluency they bring to Monteverdi’s score. It is a stunning rendition by all the musicians.

The stage concept is stunning, too, though in nature and approach it seems oddly suited to Monteverdi and L’Orfeo. Audi’s set is minimalistic and symbolic; placed on a vastly spacious stage, the minimalism seems even more hauntingly spare. While the musical score is complex in its variety of aesthetic claims—much of it is sparely recitative, while other parts revel in tuneful and decorative grace—that Orpheus and Apollo take as their signature musical device a language of virtuosic ornamentation places the music and visual presentation on strikingly different planes at important moments. The vastness of the stage itself is a significant interpretative element, and one decidedly different from the intimate venue in which Monteverdi first presented the opera. The huge space endows this present L’Orfeo with an epic, universal quality, but in the end, one wonders if a smaller, more intimate scale would not generally bring greater resonance to the expression of such personally intense affections.

The acting style is unflaggingly interesting, though like the set, curious in context. Orpheus, whose famed vocal abilities would surely enshrine the ultimate in beauty and grace, spends rather a lot of time stretched out on the stage floor, reminding us more of the serpent who killed Eurydice than the offspring of Apollo. On the other hand, in that the musical style is often premised on the notion that musical rules are breakable for the purposes of serving the text, there is a sense here that the postures and gestures, in breaking the bounds of Apollonian dignity, also may do so in the service of the dramatic moment. Thus, both styles—seemingly far removed from the other—seem variations on common artistic priorities.

It is not unusual in modern productions to find historical practice only selectively applied. The music may be richly informed by period style, whereas much else may tend to offer the contrast of intentional anachronism. The anachronisms are often engagingly creative and moving, as is the case here—and that is no bad thing—but in the end, one may wish for productions with a more fully integrated performance practice . . . and that Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo will be the frequent subject of such endeavors!

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Claudio Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

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product_by=John Mark Ainsley, Juanita Lascarro, Michael Chance, David Cordier, Mario Luperi, Brigitte Balleys; Tragicomedia and Concerto Palatino; Stephen Stubbs (Musical Director); Pierre Audi (Stage Director).
product_id=Opus Arte OA 0929 D [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 11:26 AM

Maria Callas — Three Remastered Releases from EMI

There are those who can say they saw her perform live; then there are those, not even born when Callas died in 1977, who continue to idolize her through recordings. Either group will delight in three digitally-remastered releases by EMI. One is a single disc—a reissue of one of Callas’ first two albums. The other two are sets, one featuring three discs and the other a collection of eight, clearly enough Callas to keep young and old fans content.

Callas_Lyric.jpgThe single disc, issued as one of EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century series, is one of Callas’ first two solo albums, recorded with Tullio Serafin and the Philharmonia Orchestra (four additional tracks have been added to the original nine, these also conducted by Serafin but featuring the Orchestra of La Scala). All made in the mid-1950s, the tracks feature Callas at her prime. She performs (recording for the first but not the last time) arias for which she would become famous: “Io son l’umile ancella,” from Adriana Lecouvreur, “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from La Wally, and “Dov’è l’indiana bruna from Lakmé. The additional Scala tracks include areas from Medea, a role many felt (and still feel) she was born to sing, and from La vestale. If Callas ever performed with a conductor with whom she was in perfect sync, it was Serafin, who partnered her in these recordings with respect and care. Take, for example, the tempo Serafin sets for “Una voce poco fa,” allowing Callas all the time she wants for embellishing the vocal line. Listeners can compare a second example of Callas singing this piece on the eight-disc collection. Conducted by Nicola Rescigno, the tempo is quickened and it is Callas who must keep up, which she does ably, resulting in a far more exciting performance.

The three-disc set, Maria Callas: The Platinum Collection, includes a handful of the tracks that appear on Lyric & Coloratura Arias as well as arias from Callas’ second solo album recorded with Serafin and the Philharmonia: Puccini Arias (which EMI has re-released in its Great Artists of the Century series). These selections, recorded between the mid-1950s and 1960s, present Callas with a variety of conductors and fellow artists, including Giuseppe Di Stefano, the tenor with whom she would make her final tour during 1973-74. Her powerful and agile voice left memorable interpretations of characters like Norma, Manon (both Massenet’s and Puccini’s heroines), Donna Elvira, Gioconda, and Aida. Furthermore, following traditions started in late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, Callas appropriated repertory from both mezzo- and tenor roles. Her versions of arias for Eboli, Dalila, and Carmen demonstrate the rich colors of her lower range. Her rendition of Orphée’s “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” is an exquisite treatment of Gluck’s lyricism.

Callas_Live.jpgThe eight discs in Maria Callas Live are fare for those who would hear the soprano in real-time performances on both the dramatic and concert stages. Complete with the applause and shouts of enthusiastic audiences, these recordings again come from the peak period of Callas’ career. The first six discs present excerpts from Norma (Covent Garden, 1952), Il pirata (Carnegie Hall, 1959), La sonnambula (La Scala, 1955), Lucia di Lammermoor (Berlin Opera, 1955), Medea (La Scala, 1953), Anna Bolena (La Scala, 1957), Ifigenia in Tauride (La Scala, 1957), Poliuto (La Scala, 1960), Un ballo in maschera (La Scala, 1957), La traviata (La Scala, 1955), Aida (Mexico City, 1951), Macbeth (La Scala, 1952), Tosca (Covent Garden, 1964), and Andrea Chenier (La Scala, 1955). The concerts were performed in Rome (1952), San Remo (1954), Milan (1956), Athens (1957), Stuttgart, Amsterdam, and London (all 1959), London (1962), and Paris (1963). Despite the digital remastering, these live performances, as one might expect, are less acoustically satisfying than the studio albums. Nevertheless, they offer wonderful examples to hear Callas at her dramatic best. Interesting in this collection is her concert version of the “Liebestod” in Italian.

As real fans will agree, one can never have enough Callas, but these three re-issues make a good start.

Denise Gallo*

*Author: Opera: The Basics (New York and London: Routledge, 2006)

image_description=Maria Callas as Norma

product_title=Maria Callas: Lyric & Coloratura Arias, EMI Classics 4 76843 2 [CD]
Maria Callas: The Platinum Collection, EMI Classics 3 32246 2 [3CDs]
Maria Callas Live, EMI Classics 3 31461 2 [8CDs]

Posted by Gary at 10:30 AM

Onward and Upward With the Opera

WNO 'Golden Gala' Hits the High Notes

By Tim Page [Washington Post, 20 March 2006]

It is almost half a century since the troupe now known as the Washington National Opera presented its first performance, and almost 10 since Placido Domingo, tenor extraordinaire and lately WNO's general director, came to the company. A celebration was clearly in order and -- last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House -- a cast of great singers, a bespangled audience and no fewer than three Supreme Court justices were on hand to make it happen.

Posted by Gary at 10:26 AM


[New Yorker, 27 March 2006]

In July, 1945, Benjamin Britten accompanied the violinist Yehudi Menuhin on a brief tour of defeated Germany. One day, the two men visited the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, and performed works by Mozart and others for a silent but intent crowd of former inmates. Stupefied by what he had seen, Britten went home to the East Anglian coast and set to music the most spiritually scouring poetry that he could find—the Holy Sonnets of John Donne. He composed nine songs at feverish speed, beginning, on August 2nd, with “Oh my blacke Soule!,” and ending, on August 19th, with “Death be not proud.” While he wrote, Death had more to celebrate: several hundred thousand people were vaporized by the detonation of two atomic bombs over Japan. On August 6th, the day of Hiroshima, Britten set Sonnet XIV, which begins, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God.” There was an eerie coincidence at work here, for Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the American nuclear program, was spellbound by the same poem, and had it in mind when he named the site of the first atomic test Trinity.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Benjamin Britten

Posted by Gary at 10:12 AM

Apollo and Hyacinthus

Rian Evans [The Guardian, 20 March 2006]

Of all the Mozart anniversary celebrations, this production by the Classical Opera Company of his very first opera may well turn out to be one of the most meaningful. Written when he was 11 years old, Apollo and Hyacinthus affords a better perspective on Mozart's extraordinary musical sensibilities than any historical account of the parading of his prodigious talent round the courts of Europe. It is not simply the fluency and stylistic flair that is astonishing, but the degree to which he is already able to create real characters and feelings. Logic would dictate that a boy could not possess the emotional maturity for such insights.

Posted by Gary at 10:05 AM

A Song Cycle Intimately Journeys From Hope to Despair

schubert_small.jpgBy ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 20 March 2006]

Probably the last thing a listener wants to think about, in considering a performance of Schubert's "Schöne Müllerin" by a brilliant singer like the bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, is the tension between art and commerce. But hearing Mr. Quasthoff sing this 20-song cycle in Carnegie Hall on Saturday evening, it was hard not to.

Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

Being Prepared for a Worst That Never Shows Up

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 20 March 2006]

At this point, the Metropolitan Opera's production of Verdi's "Forza del Destino," now in the final week of its run, is like a piñata: everyone has taken a swing at it. And while the conventional wisdom about each individual performer has covered the entire spectrum of opinion, the aggregate has shaded toward "disastrous." So it seemed reasonable, on Saturday night, to brace for a train wreck.

Posted by Gary at 9:56 AM

Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera House, London

pushkin_small.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 19 March 2006]

Thought, dream, reality: where does one end and the other begin? It’s a question the Royal Opera’s new production of Eugene Onegin constantly poses as it follows Tatyana from the naïve open steppes of the Larina estate to the fur- coated sophistication of St Petersburg. Past, present and future are strung together on the thread of the wish running through them – the wish of romantic fulfilment. Reminiscence and anticipation haunt Pushkin’s tale as they do Tchaikovsky’s music, both poised between a past they recapitulate and a future they foretell.

Posted by Gary at 9:47 AM

Snip judgment

[Daily Telegraph, 18 March 2006]

Some years ago, while my waking thoughts focused on a book I was writing about the history of opera singers, I had a dream in which I heard the voice of a castrato intoning Handel's "Ombra mai fu". I cannot properly describe the heavenly sound I heard, though I remember it vividly as something between the bellowing of a foghorn, a banshee wail and Kathleen Ferrier.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Carlo Broschi (Farinelli)

Posted by Gary at 9:00 AM

March 17, 2006

My Name is Barbara

In English she has recorded two volumes of Purcell songs, as well as a lovely recital for Decca in 1998 of American art songs: Sallie Chisum remembers Billy the Kid, which included works by Copland, Barber, and Argento, and the title work commissioned from André Previn, who accompanied her on that disc. Her recent recital disc with Malcolm Martineau, My Name is Barbara, could be considered a follow-on to that disc, in that it also includes works by Barber and Copland, Quilter’s “Seven Elizabethan Lyrics” (echoing the “Six Elizabethan Songs” of Argento on the earlier disc), and a work by a composer who has also made a name as a conductor, in this case Leonard Bernstein. To these are added sets by Griffes and Britten, offering a satisfying selection of major composers of English-language art songs from the first half of the twentieth century.

The most striking contrast between the 1998 recital and this one is that the delicate clarity of Bonney’s voice has given way to a sound with a richer vibrato (heard somewhat in the Barber Hermit Songs on the earlier disc), which serves her very well here in the sonorous colors of Griffes’ Three Poems of Fiona Macleod, the word-painting in Aaron Copland’s Four Early Songs, and the Op. 13 songs of Samuel Barber. Particular admirers of that more bell-like sound are most likely to miss it in the coloratura passage of Britten’s “Let the florid music praise,” which is performed with perfectly good breath control, intonation, articulation, and energy, but has a warmer sound in which some of the detail is not as readily apparent. Another notable difference is that Bonney’s English diction has evolved such that some diphthongs (for instance in “clouds”) sound distorted to me. With the increased vibrato it can also be a little harder to understand the texts than it was on the earlier disc, where every word was crystal-clear, so the texts included in the CD booklet are welcome.

The program itself has a satisfying symmetry and progression. In each half of the recital a set of songs by a British composer is followed by two sets by American composers. The order is roughly chronological by date of composition, although Bernstein’s 1943 I Hate Music precedes Barber’s 1940 Four songs, op. 13. The first three sets date from the first quarter of the twentieth century, while the last three sets were all composed in or within a few years of 1940. We are drawn in gently by Roger Quilter’s skillfully tasteful and harmonically rich settings of seven Elizabethan poems, mostly anonymous and fairly simple in their language. Bonney’s performance of these songs is quite effective, bringing out the simple and gently haunting melody of “The faithless shepherdess” and beautifully floating the more complex phrases of “By a fountainside.” With Charles Griffes’ Three poems of Fiona Macleod, we move at once to a more primitive past evoked by the texts, a product of the early twentieth-century Celtic Renaissance movement, and a more complex musical future informed by Impressionism. In addition to the warm sonority mentioned above, I found an almost hollow sound in her low register particularly effective in “The rose of the night”. Like Griffes, the composer of the next set, Aaron Copland, studied in Europe, but even these four early songs of his sound more American than those of Griffes, although two of the texts have a kind of parallel exoticism. “My heart is in the East”, by the composer’s friend, Aaron Schaffer, is in the voice of a Sephardic Jew exiled from the Promised Land, and regretting the fact that it is under “Arab’s bond”. This is followed by “Alone”, which is a translation of a text written in Arabic by the Scotsman John Duncan, who went to live among Arab nomads to escape an unhappy love affair, and wrote love poetry in Arabic to the Arab woman he eventually married.

From here we make a clear step into the modern with Britten’s On this island, which sets five rather unsettling poems by W. H. Auden. I particularly like “Nocturne”, with extended phrases that alternate ascending arpeggios and gradual coasting back down to the starting pitch, rather like the slow breathing of a sleeper. Bonney’s voice moves smoothly up and down the registers in this song, resting solidly in the low register as on a single pitch the dangers to the sleeper are enumerated (from “traction engine” to “revolting succubus”). I only wish that the high pitch at the climax of the final up-and-down pattern could float more exquisitely (instead it just seems to grow thinner).

We recross the Atlantic to the simpler texts and tricky rhythms of Bernstein’s I Hate Music, a piece that is often given to young singers with good musicianship and vivacious personalities. Bonney’s richer sound adds an interesting maturity to this set, in which the ten-year old person speaking (after announcing that “my name is Barbara”) makes the discovery that she is “a person too”. The final set of songs is Barber’s Opus 13, which includes the very famous “Sure on this Shining Night” and ends with a “Nocturne”, to a completely different text from the “Nocturne” in the Britten set, with a restless accompaniment which, rather than imitating sleep itself, evokes a night of sleepless energy.

More information, including sample excerpts and purchasable MP3 downloads, can be found on the Onyx classics website here.

Barbara Miller

image_description=My Name is Barbara

product_title=My Name is Barbara
product_by=Barbara Bonney, soprano, and Malcolm Martineau, piano.
product_id=Onyx Classics ONYX4003 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 1:44 PM

ENO Directors Admit Past Mistakes, Plan to Stay Put: Commentary

By Warwick Thompson [, 17 March 2006]

March 17 (Bloomberg) -- Opera companies usually need to plan their seasons four years in advance. English National Opera said yesterday that until December, it didn't even have any confirmed plans for the 2006-2007 season.

Posted by Gary at 10:50 AM

Hercules, Barbican, London

Hercules (HWV 60) was first performed on 5 January 1745 at King's Theatre, Haymarket, London. Categorized as a drama, it traditionally has been performed in the oratorio style (i.e., a concert performance). Following its performance as an opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, this production by William Christie now appears at the Barbican in London. "This extraordinary opera recounts the tragic tale of a hero literally poisoned by the jealousy of his misguided wife. In this modern-dress production, punctuated by Greek references, the action takes place on a sand-covered, amphitheatre-style arena where the chorus is used as Handel originally intended, to embody the people of Trachis and comment on the action." Here are five reviews.

Posted by Gary at 10:46 AM

Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky Faces Demons in London `Onegin'

By Warwick Thompson [, 17 March 2006]

March 17 (Bloomberg) -- Dmitri Hvorostovsky, 43, is a Russian- born baritone with a dark, throbbing voice and cool sexual magnetism. Ideal, you'd think, for the role of Eugene Onegin in Tchaikovsky's opera of the same name.

Posted by Gary at 10:18 AM

Hercules at the Barbican — Five Reviews

Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 16 March 2006]

Now we know why Hercules is so little performed. A hybrid of opera and oratorio, Greek tragedy and psychological study, it occupies a dramatic no-man’s-land, with nothing to leaven Handel’s formulaic music save a stupendous mad scene. That is not much to show for four hours in the theatre, and this production, originating at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2004, does little to persuade us otherwise.

Click here for remainder of article.

Tim Ashley [Guardian, 17 March 2006]

Handel's Hercules is something of a conundrum. First performed in 1745, it's technically a secular oratorio and was never intended for the stage, yet it has a dramatic coherence far superior to many works written for the theatre. Dealing with the death and apotheosis of the eponymous strong man, it derives from plays by Sophocles and Seneca, and, unusually for Handel, has something of the relentless force and rhetorical flavour of classical tragedy.

Click here for remainder of article.

Hilary Finch [Times Online, 17 March 2006]

Sand, sculpture and orange pressée. As the blue silk curtain rises, you could almost imagine yourself in Aix-en-Provence, where Luc Bondy’s production of Handel’s Hercules began. And the promise of a William Christie/Les Arts Florissants show, fully staged, has made this the hottest of hot tickets.

Click here for remainder of article.

Ringing clarity in a cold bunker

[Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph, 17 March 2006]

It is peculiarly difficult for modern productions to hit the right note when tackling a work such as Handel's Hercules: neither purely serious nor comic, neither opera nor oratorio, it is a slyly sophisticated and ironic artefact, mixing farcical elements with high Protestant earnestness and the classical tragedy of noble personages trapped in intense emotional dilemmas.

Click here for remainder of article.

Michael Church [Independent, 17 March 2006]

We think we know Handel these days, but he's still full of surprises: the rarely performed Hercules sheds unexpected light on his mercurial genius. This "musical drama" didn't get much of an audience when it was premiered in 1744, but the cognoscenti recognised its quality: it offered a startling new take on the death of a legendary hero, and it reflected morbid psychology through music in a way far ahead of its time.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Joyce DiDonato

Posted by Gary at 9:58 AM

March 16, 2006

Songs for Ariel

Now in his mid-sixties, he has had a career of some four decades that ranges from early repertories with David Munrow and the Early Music Consort to baroque opera (especially Handel and Cavalli) to a significant number of modern roles in operas by Britten, Maxwell Davies, and Tippett, among others. This present recording, “Songs for Ariel,” presents a recital of mostly English pieces that acknowledge both the range of his career and its deep-rootedness in the English tradition. Far from a retrospective recording, however, “Songs for Ariel” is a vibrant performance that amply demonstrates the continuing vitality and beauty of Bowman’s voice.

The characteristic trademarks that made Bowman’s sound distinctive forty years ago remain distinctive now, and familiarity has in no way lessened its appeal. Bowman offers a generously resonant sound that he maneuvers with an unusually graceful flexibility, especially prominent in the way notes connect one with another and in the elegant contours he lavishes on individual notes and phrases. His sound moves like a fine skater skates: sometimes the tones move with propulsion; other times the tones are released in order to glide and float. A rich expressive palette, indeed.

The program here is well chosen: an unaccompanied plainsong, an Elizabethan lute song by Dowland, some Purcell ayres, a Handel aria or two, and songs and opera excerpts by Rubbra, Britten, Warlock, Vaughan Williams, Tippett, Howells, and Andrew Gant. The unaccompanied plainsong, “Salve Regina,” is something of an emblematic beginning for the recording as a whole, for it presents the beauty of Bowman’s sound without the distractions of accompaniment or musical complexity. And it is that beauty of sound that forms the connective thread throughout the various styles. In that light, it is the simpler, more tuneful pieces that seem the most memorable—Purcell’s “Fairest Isle,” and Britten’s “Down by the Sally Gardens” are fine examples—though certainly in the more technically demanding pieces, Bowman also meets the challenges with commanding confidence, as in Handel’s cantata “Ho fuggito amore,” where the intricacy of figuration is negotiated with admirable ease.

There are a few issues here and there. Occasionally the highest notes will show a degree of strain, as in the Vaughan Williams “Woodcutter’s Song” or Warlock’s “The Night,” and there are some oddities in the accompaniment, as well. The Dowland lute song, for instance, is accompanied on the ottavino, an octave spinet sounding up an octave, which seems ill-suited to the full resonance of Bowman’s voice. In a similar way, the harpsichord interlude in “Fairest Isle,” played in the four-foot register, as well, is something of a stylistic jolt. That said, however, the playing of Kenneth Weiss is richly collaborative and convincing, making him a full and interesting partner in this music making of the highest order.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=“Songs for Ariel”

product_title="Songs for Ariel"
product_by=James Bowman, countertenor; Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord and piano
product_id=Satirino SR052 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 3:08 PM

The three tenors (act 2): opera's next generation invade charts

vittorio_grigolo_small.jpgBy Cahal Milmo [Independent, 16 March 2006]

Once it was a genre restricted to the likes of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras belting out "Nessun Dorma" for football fans. But the rise of "crossover opera", where Puccini meets the pop charts, is set to achieve new heights with three more tenors.

Posted by Gary at 2:06 PM

Thérèse Raquin

Tim Ashley [Guardian, 16 March 2006]

The Tobias Picker phenomenon is puzzling. Born in New York in 1954, the composer is popular in the US, where companies such as the Los Angeles Opera and the Met have regularly commissioned and premiered his work. In the UK, however, he remains something of an unknown quantity, a fact that the newly formed Opera-te (Opera Theatre Europe) is aiming to correct with the British premiere of Picker's third opera.

Posted by Gary at 1:56 PM

Polyeucte, Grand Théâtre Massenet, Saint-Etienne

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times 16 March 2006]

They are doing Carry on Christians in Saint-Etienne, a dizzy Technicolor show that is as camp as Christmas. Alexandre Heyraud’s interlocking series of red colonnades is simple and practical but management should have taken the costume designer Frédéric Pineau aside and stopped him spending the entire municipal budget at the local fabric warehouse. Pineau’s riotous pastel togas and headdresses are right out of a 1950s time-warp.

Posted by Gary at 1:49 PM

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker

The great Marius Petipa was charged with choreographing the ballet. Unfortunately, he fell ill and the task fell upon his assistant Lev Ivanov. Nonetheless, having been restaged and rehashed countless times, many argue that little of the original Ivanov choreography remains.

Based on the E.T.A. Hoffmann story, The Nutcracker is about a young girl, Clara, who receives a Nutcracker doll as a Christmas gift from her Godfather Drosselmeyer. After the party she sneaks back into the living room when everyone is asleep to get her doll and falls asleep under the tree. In her dreams, her doll turns into a handsome prince who leads an army of toy soldiers to defeat the Mouse King and his minions. The Prince then escorts Clara through magical lands, culminating in the Kingdom of Sweets.

There have been many versions of this tale. In the New York City Ballet version choreographed by George Balanchine, Clara is replaced by Marie, though the main story line remains the same. Balanchine also utilizes many children, something not consistent in all Nutcracker versions. In American Ballet Theatre’s version, choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Clara is the central character and the sugar plum fairy is omitted. This version has many undertones, and it becomes a sort of coming of age story for Clara.

In The Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker, the cast is made up of adults playing children’s parts, and Clara dances the Sugar Plum Fairy’s variation. Out on DVD as part of The Bolshoi Ballet at the Bolshoi series, the 1989 performance features Natalya Arkhipova as Clara, Irek Mukhamedov as The Nutcracker Prince, and Yuri Vetrov as Drosselmeyer. Directed for video by Matoko Sakaguchi, this video is straightforward with a full view of the stage. This is particularly good for scenes with a large corps de ballet because close-ups and odd camera angles often take away from a myriad of patterns that the choreography was meant to show.

The ballet begins with a magical opening, with snow falling on guests on their way to the party. Our first glimpse of Drosselmeyer shows us that he is not ominous or scary as he is usually portrayed. In this version, he is sans cape and with his mask and hat he looks almost comical. Even the Nutcracker doll looks like an oversized stuffed toy rather than a wooden Nutcracker. Early on in the first act, I realized that the problem with watching the DVD versus a live performance is that on video you can clearly see the adult faces. In a ballet where adults are supposed to play children, this was distracting. Fortunately the dancing, particularly Natalya Arkhipova’s intricate footwork, more than makes up for this. Irek Mukhamedov also did not disappoint, with his athleticism evident in the way he attacked his leaps and pirouettes.

The major corps productions, particularly the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers are where the company really shines through. The precision and uniformity of the movements were astounding. The quality of the dancing was excellent, the large Bolshoi stage serving the choreography of Yuri Grigovich well.

The colors of the lighting and the sets translated well in this video. The sets, particularly in the Kingdom of Sweets were in wonderful hues of red and copper. This is a deviation from the usual candy colored pastels many seem to favor. There was something Byzantine about them, reminiscent of Baskt’s Ballet Russe sets.

The costumes were inventive and almost post modern. It worked extremely well with the sets to give this production of The Nutcracker a revitalized feel.
The sound quality and picture quality of this video are excellent. However if you are looking for special features like behind the scenes footage, you will be disappointed. This is a no-nonsense DVD—all you get is a performance. On the other hand, the ability to see the spectacle that is the Bolshoi today, with a full cast and larger than life sets, more than makes up for it.

Cherish García

image_description=Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

product_title=Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker
product_by=Natalya Arkhipova, Irek Mukhamedow, Yuri Vetrov, Andrei Sitnikov, Ilze Liepa, The Bolshoi Ballet, The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, Alexandr Kopilov (cond.).
Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich based on the original choreography by Lev Ivanov.
product_id=ArtHaus 101119 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 9:33 AM

MAHLER: Symphony no. 4
BERG: Sieben Frühe Lieder

While Mahler worked on the Symphony between 1899 and 1900 (and given its premiere in 1901), he drew on an even earlier piece, the orchestral song Das himmlische Leben, for its Finale. Even that introduced something familiar to the Fourth Symphony, since the song had been performed at various times since its composition in 1892. Already in his Third Symphony Mahler quoted music from Das himmlische Leben in Es sungen drei Engel, the fifth and penultimate movement of the Third, and audiences who knew that work would have noticed the connection between the two songs.

By evoking the familiar Mahler introduced a level of expectation into his music which takes the form of various predictable gestures that offset those passages which are truly different. Such dialectic supports the concept of Durchbruch that Adorno found useful in delineating some aspects of Mahler’s style. Thus, the traditional gestures that are part of the opening themes set up such expectations for the beginning of the first movement, which he then counters with the new and dramatic ideas that emerge in the development section. By treating the thematic content in such a dialectic manner Mahler manipulated the structure for expressive purposes.

Likewise, he infused the more traditional Scherzo into something unique by allowing the various sections in the work to serve as points of development. Such intentions are expressed in the surviving sketches for the movement, in which he combined both section labels (A, Aa, B Bb, etc.) with notes to himself about varying and combining ideas. While it may be in the purview of the commentator Donald Mitchell to describe the Scherzo as a series of dances (as found in the liner notes that accompany the recording) such a perspective fails to convey the high degree of unity that actually exists in the movement. That aside, by maintaining such a level of thematic unity Mahler, again, played on the juxtaposition of the familiar with the new in the Scherzo.

Even the slow movement may be viewed in this way, since it begins with something quite familiar, the quotation of the opening phrase of the famous quartet from Beethoven’s Fidelio, “Mir ist so wunderbar,” which suggests, in turn, Mahler’s comment on his own conception. The citation of Beethoven’s music offers a familiar beginning to a movement in which Mahler would explore various ideas in what he himself regarded as one of his finer efforts at variations. All the while, some of the ideas introduced in this movement and the others that precede it contain increasingly explicit thematic fragments connected to Das himmlische Leben, such that the Finale seems familiar. Such a response sets off the novelty of his use of a vocal piece as the conclusion of a four-movement symphony.

From this perspective, the expression of familiar music and the manipulation of expectations is critical element in executing this work. Yet in this performance, the mannered approach that Abbado sometimes falls short, when variations in tempo should be more subtle and enhancing the expression of the piece. Technically, it is well played, but the mannerisms regarding tempo are noticeable at times because they call attention to themselves, rather than serve the musical structure. Variations in tempo are effective when subtle, especially in a work by Mahler, in which the composer himself has included such details in the score. At the same time, the full dynamic ranges found in the score and essentially to the expression of the themes is lacking at times. In the first movement some of the passages marked for crescendos are played at the same dynamic level, while the softer passages in the windows sometimes overshadow the strings. This is not to say that the movement is not well played, but those nuances that Abbado can draw out so well are essential to the execution of this movement.

One of the appealing aspects of the Scherzo is the engaging solo violin performed by Guy Braunstein, who makes meets the challenges of the scordatura tuning amiably. The interaction between the soloist and the other strings, is striking, especially when Mahler contrasts that section against the winds and brass in a movement that involves some of his more kaleidoscopic orchestration. In disintegrating the various motives and cells as he develops his ideas, Mahler also juxtaposes various timbres throughout the movement. It is a challenging piece for the ensemble-playing required, and the Berlin Philharmonic demonstrates sensitivity to this aspect of the music.

Yet the enthusiasm that comes from the Scherzo may be seen to impinge on the slow movement, which opens with a somewhat quicker tempo than some conductors use. Abbado eventually settles into the piece but, as in the first movement, his reading is sometimes mannered. In some passages the lines are emerge with a clarity that some conductors do not achieve. At the same time, there are places where the movement loses focus because the timbres do not seem balanced. It is indeed a difficult movement because of the chamber-music sonorities that are essential to its interpretation. Likewise, the dynamics must support the structure of the movement so that tone colors merge with the various lines in the variations. While some of the passages work well, the recording can seem, at times, episodic. Also, the recording volume that helps to clarify some of the quieter sounds at the end of the variations seems to have limited the perceived intensity of the orchestral outburst at the beginning of the coda that almost reaches forward, to the Song-Finale. Abbado does, however, shape well the latter part of the coda, with its foreshadowing within a few measures the timbres and motives that would become essential to the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, is quite impressive as it serves as a segue to Das himmlische Leben.

With the Song-Finale Das himmlische Leben, Renée Fleming is the soloist, and she contributes a somewhat different texture to the movement with a voice that is, perhaps a more dramatic than some associate with the movement. Certainly her accomplishments speak for themselves, and her engaging performances reach large audiences successfully. With Das himmlische Leben Fleming is sometimes idiosyncratic in her interpretation of the piece. At times her enunciation of the text sometimes merges into the rhythmic patterns of the song, which is not in itself undesirable. Yet in the execution of the second strophe is treated by the conductor and soloist in a rather sing-song manner, that is not always done, and it sounds, perhaps, more comical than the composer intended. Such an approach may seem like the imitation of a child, but it if this is undertaken, it is important to recall the composer’s marking at the beginning of the movement to refrain parody. With the third strophe, the interpretation returns to more conventional gestures that do not distract from the text as much as the previous one. At some fleeting moments the tempos seems to be a little quick for the required diction, but the ensemble never escapes the overall tempo. The final strophe, the one in which Mahler sets the text, “Kein Musik ist ja nicht auf Erden,” requires an effortless execution. Yet it is here that the some of the darker shadings of Fleming’s voice emerge. At the same time, the periodic slowing of tempo for several measures preempts the morendo effect that is crucial to the ending of the movement.

Those familiar with the discography of Mahler’s works may recall that Abbado had already recorded the Fourth Symphony. The earlier release is with the Vienna Philharmonic (also on Deutsche Grammophon), with Frederica von Stade as the soloist. It is unfair to draw comparisons when the earlier recording is separated from the present one by about twenty-five years. The new release with the Berlin Philharmonic is part of a series of new recordings of Mahler’s symphonies that have been issued in recent years, which include fine performances of the Third and Sixth Symphonies.

Also included on the present recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder in which Fleming’s performance offers some insights into those works. Composed between 1905-8, this set of songs includes Nacht (Carl Hauptmann), Schilflied (Nicholaus Lenau), Die Nachtigall (Theodor Storm), Trangekrönt (Rainer Maria Rilke), Im Zimmer (Johannes Schlaf), Liebesode (Otto Erich Hartleben), and Sommertage (Paul Hohenberg). No cycle, like Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder or Das Lied von der Erde, the latter being composed at about the same time, Berg’s set of songs. Berg’s set of songs for voice and orchestra is a modernist contribution to the nineteenth-century traditional of orchestral song. Unlike Mahler’s contributions, though, Berg’s songs do not form a cycle in the traditional sense, since the texts that occur do not comprise a sequence of connected ideas. Rather, the poems that Berg chose reflect a variety of moods and images to which he responded with some intense and powerful music.

In balancing the voice and orchestral Abbado allows the texts to emerge clearly, so that the verses are as prominent as the accompaniment that serves as a commentary on them. Each of the songs has its own charm, but the setting of Hartleben’s Liebesode is particularly noteworthy for its intensive performance on this recording. For all the traditional love songs set to music, this is a surrealist one, with the music that is suited aptly to the passionate text. Other songs are memorable for various reasons, including Traumgekrönt, with its poignant dissonances that underscore the text incisively. The entire set bears hearing as well for the masterful performance of the Berlin Philharmonic that makes the music that was once new sound familiar and natural. Beyond the fine performance of this set of orchestral songs, the inclusion of Berg’s relatively early work with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony demonstrates the various musical explorations that were being undertaken in the first years of the twentieth century, when late-romantic and expressionist tendencies could exist simultaneously, both enriching the culture which produced them.

One part of this recording that seems out of place is the separate track for “applause.” Granted this is a live recording or, rather, a recording taken from live performances, but the inclusion of the “Applause” seems at odds with the nature of music found on the CD. Such a track might be more appropriate as part of a recording of a single concert, but it seems artificial when included with a compilation from several performances. This is, however, a small quibble only, and hardly relevant to some of the larger concerns that are involved with this recording. Despite any reservations about the performances, it is a recording that deserves attention, especially because of the enlightened pairing of Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 4 in G major

product_title=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 4 in G major
Alban Berg: Sieben Frühe Lieder
product_by=Renée Fleming, soprano; Claudio Abbado, conductor, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 477 5574 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 8:54 AM

A Composer Bypasses the Narrative for a Philosophical Vision of Faust

Dusapin_Pascal.jpg(Photo: Pascal Gely / RF)
By ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 16 March 2006]

LYON, France, March 10 — Endlessly revisited over the last five centuries, the legend of Faust and his pact with the Devil may not seem like a highly original subject for Pascal Dusapin's new opera, "Faustus, the Last Night." Indeed, in the 19th century alone, Faust inspired operas by Louis Spohr, Hector Berlioz, Charles-François Gounod and Arrigo Boito.

Posted by Gary at 8:06 AM

March 15, 2006

The high notes of living dangerously

Tenor Rolando Villazón almost became a priest, but the church’s loss is opera’s gain, says Neil Fisher
[Times Online, 11 March 2006]

I love you! I defy you! You’re a bastard!” Rolando Villazón may have spent the last hour of a long day in a Russian lesson, but there’s no denting his enthusiasm for his latest role on stage. The bushy eyebrows twitch with infectious energy, and even his richly coloured speaking voice seems to reach operatic heights when he starts to describe the emotional highs and lows of his latest role: the tragic poet Lensky in Tchaikovksy’s Eugene Onegin. “His life in the opera,” beams Villazón, “is just the way life should be.”

Posted by Gary at 9:38 AM

Jenufa/Tosca, Hackney Empire, London

Jenufa_ETO_small.jpgBy Roderic Dunnett [Independent, 15 March 2006]

It isn't easy to serve up two hits in succession, but with its new productions of Janacek's Jenufa and Puccini's Tosca, English Touring Opera comes remarkably close to achieving it.

Posted by Gary at 9:28 AM

A Cloudy Night for Stars, but Others Could Shine

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 15 March 2006]

"Oh, for a Mary Curtis-Verna," a friend of mine is fond of saying. His meaning: not every singer is a star, but some of the journeyman singers of yesteryear — like Ms. Curtis-Verna, a capable soprano — might stack up beautifully in comparison to some of the stars of today.

Posted by Gary at 9:16 AM

Who Needs Stars, Anyway?

Veronica_Villarroel_small.jpgBy FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 15 March 2006]

It has been the season of cancellations at the Metropolitan Opera. First, Placido Domingo canceled his appearance in a work dredged up from the depths especially for him, Franco Alfano's "Cyrano de Bergerac." Then Angela Gheorghiu opted out of some performances of "La Traviata" (and should have canceled the night that I attended). The big blow, of course, was the grounding for the remainder of the season of music director James Levine, still the heart and soul of the house.

Posted by Gary at 9:01 AM

March 14, 2006

Hip-hop meets Mozart

Glyndebourne is changing its image by offering a fresh take on 'Cosi fan tutte', mixing the opera with urban beats. Matilda Egere-Cooper chills with the cast

[Independent, 14 March 2006]

It's a common assumption that teenagers and classical music don't mix - but what if classical composers were given a remix? Glyndebourne Education, in a European co-production with Finnish National Opera, has made the bold move of celebrating Wolfgang Mozart's 250th birthday with a hip-hop-inspired adaptation of his opera Così fan tutte, dubbed School 4 Lovers - a Hip H'Opera.

Posted by Gary at 12:52 PM

At ease with a darker vision of the world

saariaho_small.gifBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 13 March 2006]

Spot the composer. A shock of red hair, ethereal pallor, willowy fragility, fierce reticence: Kaija Saariaho is instantly identifiable amid the bustle of a busy orchestral rehearsal.

Posted by Gary at 12:39 PM

Café Momus Gang Returns, Bidding Farewell to an Age of Innocence

kelly_kaduce3_small.jpgBy JEREMY EICHLER [NY Times, 14 March 2006]

Puccini's beloved bohemians returned to New York City Opera on Sunday afternoon, but this time with more on their minds than romance, poetry and the question of how to split a herring four ways on a cold Parisian night. For his production, introduced in 2001, James Robinson has punted "La Bohème" forward some 80 years, placing the action in the opening months of World War I. Soldiers parade past Café Momus, armed guards check papers in Act III, and the garret denizens drape their uniforms over Mimi to keep her warm on her deathbed.

Posted by Gary at 12:20 PM

A 'Boheme' for All Ages

By FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 14 March 2006]

NewYork City Opera has a beautiful and dramatically sound production of "La Boheme" in service at present.The sets are realistic when appropriate, fanciful when being poetic. There is snow and a gorgeous moon. Also, there is a palpable sense of the role of the settings in the drama itself. And its astoundingly shocking prolepsis in Act II (I won't reveal its specific coup de theatre) will send you out into the lobby in a cold sweat.

Posted by Gary at 12:11 PM


By stripping down the story to its bare bones, eschewing ballets, later additions and mock Grecian tunics, he takes us to the core of the work within seconds of the curtain rising. But then he has to keep us there: and with just a few sweeps of grey stones, a heaped grave (concealing both entrance and exit to the Underworld) and a lit cyclorama sky for much of the production — enlightened by superb lighting and occasional dramatic torches — that is a tall order. However, he has a trump card in the form of his acting singers. With complete faith in the abilities of David Daniels (Orfeo), Isabel Bayrakdarian (Euridice), and Ofelia Sala (Amor) to plumb depths of pathos with dignity and truth, and to hold the eye unwaveringly, he challenges the Chicago audience to go with him in this very singular and arresting vision of the ancient myth.

Not that the audience has much option — the entire opera lasts some ninety minutes only, but is given without intermission with just brief interludes between the acts. This has been something of a novelty for many in the audience, but they have responded with good manners and fulsome praise — and with virtually full houses both nights this writer attended, obviously the word was out that this was a production not to be missed. And, of course, all got out to their various transports somewhat earlier than normal — a bonus on freezing Lake Michigan nights.

Such intensity of drama and singing, with essentially just two major characters and a deux et machine to motivate the action, requires top class performers and the voice of American countertenor David Daniels in all its voluptuous beauty was the essential ingredient that balanced Carsen’s austere vision and the music’s serene elegance. He is on stage continuously, with but occasional vocal respite — and without doubt this must become one of his great roles. Total physical commitment, total integrity, and a fine vocal line that spun heartache and despair in a way that inspired awe at its consistent beauty and superb intonation. This was a fuller, more intensely lived performance than his earlier concert version at Covent Garden in 2002 and he was complemented by his colleagues throughout.

Bayrakdarian, when she appeared at last from the depths of Hades, in this case literally out from the grave, was a perfect match both vocally and dramatically. She is an elegant figure on stage who more than convinced with her mix of innocent anguish, confusion and despair. Her timbre and tone seemed perfect for this brief, but essential role as she had to quickly establish all the emotions required within minutes. At times in the climactic third act both characters were twisting, turning, almost engaging, then being torn apart again by Orfeo’s panic-driven attempts to abide by his instructions. Ofelia Sala’s Amor was a bright, sparkling, if essentially static, contrast to the more dramatic voices alongside her and her scenes with the despairing lover were memorable as she ably depicted the capricious, boyish Amor who sanguinely orders the night’s action. She is obviously a singer of wide dramatic capability; as her Tytania in the Liceu, Barcelona’s “Midsummer Nights Dream”, (also with Daniels and now on DVD) attests.

With this 1762 version of the opera, Glück was making an early attempt to put the brakes on the traditional indulgent opera forms of his predecessors, and both Carsen and Daniels follow through in every way. They create, and maintain, a steady, if ratcheting-up, dramatic growth. There is no showboating of the famous arias, each of these emerges naturally, on the breath, from within the music and the story and worked well when the audience was prepared to sit quietly and let this seamlessness just happen. One night they did, another they didn’t and burst into spontaneous applause — somewhat to the detriment of the magic.

Baroque expert Harry Bicket’s control of orchestra and chorus was neatly effective, if perhaps a mite less successful in period feel than his previous “Partenope” by Handel here — but nevertheless the Lyric orchestra offered some nice attack and articulation whilst not loitering too much in the plusher sections of the score. Alternating with “Rosenkavalier” at the end of a long season must have been particularly testing for them — how often do we audience give a thought to these hard-working musicians whose professionalism and multi-faceted skills are too easily taken for granted? Together with the excellently schooled Chorus — who had more than a usual amount of acting to get their teeth into in lieu of the more traditional ballet — this orchestra did the production proud, and helped create one of the most innovative, musically superb, and challenging “Orfeo’s” that has been seen in a long time. If only it could make the transition to DVD, and perhaps in a more sympathetic, smaller venue. Are you listening, Liceu? Munich? Glyndebourne? The production continues until March 26th.

© S.C. Loder 2006

image_description=Scene from Orfeo ed Euridice (Photo Credit: Robert Kusel)

Posted by Gary at 10:02 AM

March 13, 2006


Other sets are merely documents of a performance—of a particular night at the opera house when everything came together, or perhaps a monument to a particular singer's talent. A recently released recording of Giacomo Meyerbeer's 1859 opera Dinorah quite clearly falls into the latter category, as the label's moniker, Living Stage, perhaps suggests. I have never seen so sparsely documented a recording. A cast list and track list are included, but that's it—not a word about the opera, or even biographical sketches of the featured singers.

On the plus side, the set does feature a tour-de-force performance by soprano Luciana Serra, who sang the title role in the 1983 performance from Trieste that is here immortalized. Dinorah is the Italian title of the opera, which Meyerbeer christened Le pardon de Ploërmel for its Paris unveiling.

After a parade of vast, imposing dramas such as Robert le diable, Les Huguenots, and Le prophète which had made him rich, established his fame, and made his name synonymous with French grand opera of the grandest sort, Meyerbeer was clearly looking for a change of pace. Dinorah was Meyerbeer’s second straight opéra comique, and is a work of relatively modest length that features a simple (some might say "silly") plot in a pastoral setting. The opera was clearly intended to be a showpiece for coloratura sopranos, as Dinorah’s music is filled with complex passagework, trills, and all manner of vocal fireworks. Though originally written with passages of spoken dialogue, recitatives were eventually substituted.

Since his death, Meyerbeer has gone from being one of opera’s most performed composers to being one of its most neglected. He suffered greatly from post-Wagnerian criticism, which found his showy, entertaining operas wanting in comparison with the high-minded music dramas with intellectual aspirations that were favored by Wagner and his burgeoning band of disciples. Much of this criticism was unfair, as Meyerbeer was a composer of no small talent, and he invests Dinorah with an abundance of stirring, worthwhile music. Yet even Meyerbeer’s most ardent admirers would likely admit that with Dinorah’s libretto, the composer provided his critics a juicy target.

Meyerbeer and his librettists work mightily to stretch a rather brief tale, filled with logical and motivational problems, over three acts. The action takes place among superstitious peasants in rural Brittany. There are a number of subsidiary characters who briefly show their faces, but only three of any importance. The first two are Dinorah and her fiancé Höel, who were on their way to be married before a terrible storm intervened, destroying Dinorah’s cottage. There is no money to rebuild. Höel learns from a wizard that a supernatural treasure may be claimed by anyone who is willing to leave human society for a year. The catch? The first to touch the treasure will die. Höel works out a solution. He will find a gullible dupe, promise him half the treasure, and make sure that this poor fellow will be the first to touch the treasure! He leaves Dinorah without a word (Life lesson: How many problems might be avoided with a simple word of explanation!). Believing herself abandoned, she immediately embodies one of the most popular of nineteenth-century operatic clichés by going mad. She spends much of the opera’s length wandering around the countryside searching for her little goat Bellah, and alternately bewailing her abandonment and imagining that everything’s fine.

Höel finds his dupe in the person of our third character, the bagpiper Corentino. But his plot is complicated by Corentino’s limitless cowardice. The two share a number of slapstick scenes in which Höel harangues Corentino, tries to get him drunk, and repeatedly reminds him of the riches they’ll share in order convince him to join his quest. They also encounter Dinorah, but mistake her for the “Lady of the Meadows”, a malevolent fairy who coincidently also wanders the countryside in a wedding dress, and preys on single men.

In the second act, during a terrible nocturnal storm, Höel descends into a ravine where the treasure is supposed to be hidden while Corentino cowers above. Dinorah madly wanders by, singing a song which betrays the secret of the treasure’s curse. Höel’s plot is thus revealed to Corentino, who, while refusing to touch the treasure, hardly seems sufficiently disturbed by Höel’s plan to effectively murder him. Rather, he suggests they send the mad girl into the ravine to touch the treasure first (apparently chivalry isn’t one of Corentino’s principal virtues). When Dinorah pitches into the ravine while trying to follow Bellah across a fallen tree which has bridged it, Höel recognizes his abandoned love, and, stricken with guilt, follows, hoping to rescue her.

The brief third act opens with good-natured arias from a hunter, a reaper, and two female goat-herds. Höel enters holding an unconscious Dinorah in his arms. He fears that she is dead, but she awakens, and, seeing her beloved, regains her sanity. Fortunately, she also has no memory of all that has transpired. Inexplicably, Höel points out her house—now perfectly rebuilt (How did this happen? No explanation is given.). As pilgrims on their way to Ploërmel sing a noble chorus, the happy couple resumes their nuptial journey.

Having never seen Dinorah in the opera house, it is hard to judge it fairly in dramatic terms. The comic scenes with Höel and Corentino didn’t strike me as all that funny, especially since Höel’s sinister purpose undermines our sympathy for him. Corentino’s later willingness to lead a hapless girl to her death hardly makes him the most likeable fellow either. On the other hand, Dinorah herself is a charming and compelling figure in her own way, and goes some distance in redeeming the opera as a whole. She is an impossibly innocent, childlike figure who compels our sympathy with her faith in Höel and her devotion to her little Bellah, whose bell can be heard tinkling in the orchestra. Dinorah’s famous second act “Shadow Song” is remarkable, and the music as a whole was clearly a labor of love. Indeed, the final chorus wouldn’t sound out of place in Tannhäuser, well demonstrating the musical kinship the two composers shared (despite all Wagner’s protestations to the contrary).

In the end though, this particular set is about the singing, and the standard here is high. Serra is clearly the star of the show, but both Angelo Romero’s Höel and Max Rene Cosotti’s Corentino are also sung superbly. The sound is clear, if not particularly rich. Baldo Podic leads his orchestral forces with real energy. Fans of Serra will want to own this set. Others—especially those who want to know the opera as a whole—might be better served by this set’s chief rival, a fine performance on the Opera Rara label featuring soprano Deborah Cook, which includes full notes and a translated libretto (in the opera’s original French). Another recently released option is a DVD featuring soprano Isabelle Phillipe.

Eric D. Anderson

image_description=Giacomo Meyerbeer: Dinorah

product_title=Giacomo Meyerbeer: Dinorah
product_by=Luciana Serra; Angelo Romero; Max Rene Cossotti; Teatro Verdi di Triests/Bruno Podic
Live recording: February 8, 1983
product_id=Living Stage 1127 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 2:12 PM

Orest, Komische Oper, Berlin

feuerbach-iphigenie.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 12 March 2006]

Foreigners are not welcome. Iphigenie has an axe, and it’s her job to dispatch them.

Posted by Gary at 9:45 AM

An Inspired Requiem And a Gratifying Opera

bartok_small.jpgBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 13 March 2006]

Last week, Avery Fisher Hall turned into an opera house, for about an hour. The New York Philharmonic devoted the bulk of its subscription program to "Duke Bluebeard's Castle," Bartok's one-acter. Conducting was Christoph von Dohnanyi, the veteran German maestro. But isn't he Bartok's countryman, a Hungarian? No, his grandfather, the composer Ernst von Dohnanyi - or Erno Dohnanyi, if you prefer the pure Hungarian - was. Christoph is a Hamburger.

Posted by Gary at 9:39 AM

Opportunity Is Waiting at the Opera As Maestro Recovers From a Fall

levine_small.jpgBY GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Sun, 13 March 2006]

It's a case of arts imitating sports: Conductor James Levine will undergo surgery for a torn rotator cuff, an injury that will sideline him for the remainder of the Metropolitan Opera season. And just as when a star ball player lands on the injured list, the pressing question is: Who can step in?

Posted by Gary at 9:30 AM

Rags and Riches: Joplin's Flawed Masterpiece

BY GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Sun, 13 March 2006]

No one would argue that Scott Joplin's opera "Treemonisha" packs the dramatic punch of an opera byVerdi, who truly understood theater. The plot about former slaves who run a plantation abandoned by its white owners is slight, and the opera's message, that education is the key to black advancement, seems disconcertingly naive for an opera dating from 1911.

Posted by Gary at 9:26 AM

The Dearly Departed, Lingering This Side of Paradise

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 13 March 2006]

Requiems operate on one side of the grave or the other. Some celebrate arrival in another world. Others depict the difficulties in getting there. The deceased of Fauré's Requiem, for example, are already among the angels, singing sweetly, softly and almost with a sigh of relief. The Verdi Requiem, on the other hand, lingers this side of life and looks reluctantly over the brink.

Posted by Gary at 9:21 AM

March 12, 2006

CIMAROSA: Il Matrimonio Segreto

First Performance: 7 February 1792 at Burgtheater, Vienna.

Principal Characters:

Carolina, Geronimo's daughter Soprano
Elisetta, her sister Mezzo-Soprano
Paolino, young clerk to Geronimo Tenor
Geronimo, a rich merchant Bass
Fidalma, his sister Contralto
Count Robinson Bass

Time and Place: 18th Century Bologna at Geronimo's home


We are in the household of Geronimo, a wealthy citizen of Bologna; he has two daughters, Elisetta and Carolina, and a sister Fidalma, who runs the household. He also has a young secretary, Paolino, who is secretly married to the younger daughter, Carolina.

Act I

Paolino is working to arrange a marriage contract between Elisetta and his patron, Count Robinson, hoping that as soon as Geronimo's older daughter is well married, his marriage to the younger one will be acceptable. Count Robinson has written a letter expressing interest - tempted by Elisetta's substantial dowry - and Geronimo is thrilled to think that his daughter will be a Countess. Fidalma confesses to her niece that she is in love, too, but only reveals in an aside to the audience that she has her eye on Paolino.

When the Count arrives he is disappointed to find that it is not Carolina who has been offered to him. He tells Paolino that he will be content with a smaller dowry and sends him off to arrange the match. Carolina doesn't dare tell the count that she is married, so when she admits she has no lover it excites him further; she tries to convince him she has no desire or qualification to be a countess, but he continues to pursue her. Elisetta accuses them both of betraying her, and the commotion attracts Fidalma who joins Carolina in trying to calm Elisetta; everyone tries at once to explain his or her feelings to the confused and exasperated Geronimo.

Act II

Geronimo insists that the Count must honor his contract and marry Elisetta, but the Count refuses. When he offers to accept a smaller dowry with Carolina's hand instead, Geronimo is delighted to save face and money - as long as Elisetta agrees.

Paolino is distraught, and throws himself on Fidalma's mercy, but is stunned to find that she hopes to marry him; he faints, giving her the idea that she returns his emotion and making Carolina think she has been betrayed, but he promises that they will leave the house at dawn and take refuge in the house of a relative.

The Count tells Elisetta all his bad habits and physical defects, hoping she'll reject him, but she stands firm - and he finally confesses that he cannot abide her. Geronimo can't persuade her either. Fidalma suggests sending Carolina to a convent, and Geronimo agrees. Carolina is broken-hearted and tries to confess her predicament to the Count, but they are interrupted by her sister, her aunt and her father who are gleeful at having caught them together, and Geronimo sends Paolino off with a letter to the Mother Superior.

After a brilliant and farcical finale Paolino and Carolina finally confess they have been married for two months; Geronimo and Fidalma are furious, but the Count and Elisetta advise them to forgive the newlyweds, adding that they themselves will marry after all.

[Synopsis Source: Opera Theatre of St. Louis]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for large image of Hogarth's Marriage A-la-Mode: 1. The Marriage Settlement (National Gallery)

image= image_description=Detail from Marriage A-la-Mode: 1. The Marriage Settlement by William Hogarth (1697 - 1764), c. 1743 audio=yes first_audio_name=Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto first_audio_link= product=yes product_title=Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto product_by=Carolina: Alda Noni; Elisetta: Ornella Rovero; Fidalma: Giulietta Simionato; Geronimo: Sesto Bruscantini; Paolino: Cesare Valletti; Robinsone: Antonio Cassinelli. Orchester des Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Manno Wolf-Ferrari, conducting. Recorded 30 July 1950.
Posted by Gary at 7:12 PM

March 10, 2006

Anna Moffo, 73, Soprano and Arts Advocate, has Died

anna_moffo_small.jpg[Opera News, 10 March 2006]

Anna Moffo was blessed with beauty, brains and a shimmering, radiant soprano — all natural ingredients of the stardom she won when barely out of school. A native of Wayne, Pennsylvania, Moffo was given a full scholarship to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, where she studied with Madame Gregory, the sister of Dusolina and Vittorio Giannini. Upon graduation, the soprano won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Italy, where she made her opera debut as Cio-Cio-San in a television production of Madama Butterfly directed by Mario Lanfranchi, who would become her first husband, in 1957. She received favorable attention from her early European appearances — among them Norina in Spoleto in 1955 and Zerlina in the 1956 Aix-en-Provence festival — and by the end of the decade had sung at most of the principal theaters in Italy.

Posted by Gary at 6:52 PM

That Big Nose Is Back, and So Is the Voice That Goes With It

cyrano.jpgBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 10 March, 2006]

The hole in the middle of the Metropolitan Opera's recent revival of "Cyrano de Bergerac" has been filled. Franco Alfano's opera in Francesca Zambello's production was created last season as a vehicle meant to carry Plácido Domingo farther along his amazing route of twilight stardom. The title role sits well on his deepening tenor voice, and here was a chance to be a dashing swordsman, wear a long nose and act up a storm. A rarely performed piece with lovely music received exposure it is not used to.

Posted by Gary at 2:11 PM

Preview: Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera House, London

Steven_Pimlott.jpgSongs of Russians without love
By Michael Church [Independent, 10 March 2006]

As the Russian opera that everybody loves, Eugene Onegin might seem the easiest thing in the world to stage. But, as the director Steven Pimlott readies his production for take-off, he sounds a note of caution.

Posted by Gary at 1:54 PM

It ain’t over till the phat lady raps

school4lovers.jpgHip-hop and opera are set to collide. Which force will prevail, asks Richard Morrison

[Times Online, 10 March 2006]

What on earth is that bizarre thudding coming from the big rehearsal room at Glyndebourne? As you approach, it sounds rather like the aural warfare you might encounter in the Morrison household on a Saturday morning, with me pumping out Mozart through the living-room speakers, while the latest rap sensation blasts from the bedrooms of my offspring.

Posted by Gary at 1:44 PM

Nina Stemme, Wigmore Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 9 March 2006]

It was a good idea to invite Nina Stemme to the Wigmore Hall while the local health and safety officers still allow her to sing there. At the rate the Swedish soprano’s voice is growing, she will soon be able to blow the roof off.

Posted by Gary at 1:38 PM

Our Tenor Man

ian_bostridge_small.jpgBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 10 March 2006]

It was Benjamin Britten Night at Zankel Hall, as Ian Bostridge launched a five-concert series called "The Sound of Song." Mr. Bostridge is the brainy, pencil-thin, wildly admired tenor from England. His series will encompass the work of various composers. But he began on Wednesday night with a countryman.

Posted by Gary at 1:30 PM

Gabriela Montero — Piano Recital

In addition, a second CD is included where Gabriela Montero, both a classical pianist as well as an improviser in jazz and classical styles, displays her improvisation skills through twelve semi-inspired/semi-composed pieces.

The first CD has three compositions by Rachmaninov, four by Scriabin, one by de Falla, one by Granados, three by Ginastera, two by Chopin, and one by Liszt. Each of these is played with astonishing agility and virtuosity by Montero, herself only 36 years of age. Born in 1970 in Venezuela, she won the American Music Scholarship Association’s (AMSA) Young Artist International Piano Composition at age twelve. She has performed under numerous well-known conductors, and is scheduled to make her New York Philharmonic debut in March 2006.

The second CD features improvisations by Montero. Some are based on well-known compositions, such as Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat (reminding me of some of Barry Manilow’s compositions where he begins with a classical inspiration, and then carries the listener into a totally different compositional style). Some of the improvisations are just inspired pieces centered around musical themes or motives, such as Improvisation in Blue and In the style of Bach.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable recording, one that showcases a performer’s unique skills and abilities over and above listeners’ tastes in a certain style of music. Ms. Montera’s abilities as both a classical and improvisational pianist make this recording a find for lovers of the piano, as it has both classical and jazz styles played by one talented performer.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Gabriela Montero — Piano Recital

product_title=Gabriela Montero: Piano works by Chopin, Ginastera, Granados, Liszt, Rachmaninov, and Scriabin.
product_by=Gabriela Montero, piano.
product_id=EMI Classics 7243 5 58039 2 4 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 1:04 PM

MOZART: Requiem

It is this version that is performed here. Mozart probably knew that Count Walsegg was the mysterious patron, and the inclusion of basset-horns in the composition means that he had specific players in mind for the performance. Sussmayr’s version was assisted by Joseph Eybler, a former pupil who added some instrumentation; Abbe Maximilian Stadler, who orchestrated the Domine Jesu; and Franz Jacob Freystadtler. The program notes include some interesting true-false questions regarding the composition of the Requiem and Mozart’s health and stability, many myths having been fanned by the movie itself.

It is nice to hear this piece performed by period instruments, and the smaller chamber-like orchestra more in line with the time period. The soloists include Barbara Bonney, soprano; Anne Sofie von Otter, contralto; Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor; and Willard White, bass. Although recorded in 1987, the crispness and clarity of the performance carries through the digital remastering. A very nice addition to anyone’s classical collection.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem K. 626

product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem K. 626
product_by=Barbara Bonney, Anne-Sofie Otter, Hans Peter Blochwitz, Willard White, The Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (cond.)
product_id=Philips 00289 475 7057 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 1:00 PM

VERDI: La Traviata

The talk of last year was the production at Salzburg with Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, and Thomas Hampson; a live recording has been released on CD, and a DVD may follow. Hampson’s Papa Germont can be seen on another 2005 Traviata, directed by Jurgen Flimm and filmed in Zurich by Felix Breisach. Eva Mei and Piotr Bezcala round out the cast of the DVD.

ArtHaus has gone to some expense with the packaging. There is a slipcover for a triple-fold-out, with vivid photos from the production on every face. The booklet essay runs through the basics of the creation of Verdi’s opera, while a note on the case assures us that Flimm’s production of “discreet sets” explores “the opera’s psychological landscapes…fully and effectively…”

On the screen, the production can be seen as “discreet,” but surely some viewers will find it barren, perhaps even cheap. The backdrop consists of a folding black wall, around and through which characters appear. Some tables serve as the furnishing for Violetta’s home in act one, while in act two some lawn furniture and a plot of dirt with a few flowers (they look like cabbages from the long view) indicate the country house. The wall folds out to form the party scene at Flora’s, and for the final act Violetta’s home is bare of everything except a bed and an anachronistic electric heater in the middle of the floor.

Costumes for some of the minor characters appear fairly traditional, but the three main roles have outfits of vague time period, with Mei’s Violetta in particular looking more modern than the men, with her attractive short cut and sleek wardrobe.

In other words, for those who want a traditional, even lavish production (for all but the last act, one hopes), this production will not do. On its own terms, Flimm’s design does serve the primary objective of putting the emphasis on the human drama, and he has three fine principals to bring life to the otherwise arid environment.

But that is not to say that the direction cannot be questioned. Starting with the men, the approach to Alfredo, very well sung by Piotr Bezcala, seems wrong-headed. He is a naïf in act one, even dopey, clutching a ridiculous bouquet of fake flowers and shyly hanging back like a junior high school boy at his first dance. Bezcala has the looks to entrance most any woman, but what Violetta sees in him, as directed here, may confuse some viewers. Later Bezcala scores some dramatic points, flying into a rage at Violetta’s abandonment and ecstatically embracing her at their reunion. He also takes the high option at the end of his second act cabaletta, and with fair success.

Hampson’s Giorgio Germont takes stiff and proper as the defining characteristics of the elder Germont, to the extent that one worries when he takes a seat that the imaginary stick inside him will snap and cause grave internal injury. His love for his son comes wrenchingly into view at the end of the second act country house scene, although some of the gasps and awkward shuffling may be overdone to some viewers. He also gets the cabaletta to “Di provenza,” and sings it well enough to make one regret its absence in other productions. However, it does require that the Alfredo spend many a minute anxiously clutching Violetta’s note in agony.

But the heart and soul of any Traviata is its Violetta, and Mei took this viewer by surprise. She has been effective in some RCA recordings, and she gives a very professional performance in a recent La Sonnambula DVD. Here, she has a role that employs both her impressive coloratura and the ease of her top, best displayed by a fine high E flat at the end of act one. Throughout, she sings with graceful command of her resources.

Her acting favors dignity over pathos. In a notable exception, when Alfredo on meeting her expresses his wish that a beauty such as hers should find “immortality,” the fleeting wince of Violetta’s face rends the heart. Overall, however, in act one she may be a bit too cool, with the cries of “joy” really feeling forced. Similarly, she seems to concede to Papa Germont with less pain than some other Violettas, and when she says she will accomplish the break with Alfredo by dying, her underplaying may not convince all viewers. Act three, however, finds her right in the heart of the role, with a tear-inducing final collapse. For completists, she also sings both verses to “Addio del passato.”

Welser-Most’s conducting starts off rather cheerless and over-emphatic, especially during the “Libiamo,” but perhaps he chose to emphasize some of Verdi’s anger at bourgeoisie morality. As the opera progresses, he offers fine support.

The titles have some odd phrases: Germont calls Violetta a “sublime victim” and Violetta urges Alfredo to marry a “chaste virgin.” Well, yes, it is nice to find a chaste one, but beggars can’t be choosers. As they say.

For passionate lovers of the opera, this should be part of the collection. It can’t be called an unqualified success, but with a riveting Violetta and two fine singers in the other leads (as well as an Annina, Irene Friedli, who for once doesn’t sound a 1,000 years old), quibbles about the production and direction can be put aside. Recommended.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
product_by=Eva Mei, Piotr Bezcala, Thomas Hampson, Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House, Franz Welser-Most (cond.)
Live from the Zurich Opera House 2005
product_id=ArtHaus 101 247 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 12:45 PM

March 9, 2006

Wagnerian Songs

Yet his own Wesendock Lieder (1857-58) reflect an attempt to compose some poignant music at a smaller scale than usually associated with him. Earlier in his career, around 1840, Wagner also attempted to set a series of poems by several French authors, including Victor Hugo, and while he finished many of them, some were unfinished. The Belgian composer Berthe di Vito-Delvaux completed the unfinished pieces, and they may be heard in this first recording of these rare works by Wagner as performed by the baritone Patrick Delcout, accompanied by the pianist Diane Andersen.

The French songs are unique to Wagner’s oeuvre and reflect a side of the composer that soon gave way to other impulses. The six songs involve settings of a text by Jean Reboul, “Tout n’est qu’images fugitives”; one by Pierre de Ronsard, “Mignonne”; three poems by Victor Hugo, “Extase,” “Attente,” and ”La tombe edit à rose,” along with the anonymous “Dors mon enfant.” At the time he wrote these songs, Wagner had not yet composed his more famous and, perhaps, idiomatic music, such as the opera Tannhaüser, which serves as a point of comparison for some of these settings in the article by Michèle Isaac published with the liner notes. The first of Wagner’s songs, “Tou n’est qu’images fugitives” includes some motives that resemble the opening gesture of Tannhaüser’s “Song to the Evening Star,” while others bear some stylistic affinities without necessarily having a parallel in the finished works. The opening figure “Dors, mon enfant” suggests the “Spinning song” in the first act of Der fliegende Holländer, but the resemblance stops at the point.

While it is difficult not to hear some the echoes of later music, the songs are best considered on their own merits. The pieces are not as distinctive as Wagner’s later Wesendonck-Lieder, yet reveal a further aspect of the composer’s early efforts in writing for voice. If at times the music sounds, perhaps, stilted, it may be because of the constraints of texts by others. Only later, when Wagner composed his own librettos did he achieve a more natural-sounding and, at the same time, familiar, result.

While the songs by Wagner are at the core of this recording, the other pieces included in this recording are of interest for giving access to composers who were influenced by their older colleague. Those familiar with the music of the late nineteenth century sometimes encounter the name of Sylvain Dupuis (1856-1933), but his music is not familiar. Those interested in the Wagnerism that pervaded the arts in the generation after the eponym’s death can apprehend his influence in the five songs by Dupuis included in this recording. Likewise, the pieces by Emile Mathieu (1844-132) reflect a French translation of some of the Lieder styles of the early nineteenth century. As a practitioner of the Belgian melodies, Mathieu contributed some fine songs to the French literature. His individuality emerges in the songs included in this recording, and those interested in a composer like Fauré may appreciate the music by Mathieu.

With Biarent, some of the parallelisms that he used in the piano parts of the songs collected here evoke the music of Debussy. Yet the declamatory character of the vocal part in “Des Ballades au hameau” suggests some songs by Mussorgsky. Sylvain Dupuis’s songs, published between 1881 and 1892, are, perhaps, less prone to such comparisons. The rich textures of a song like “Mon coeur sera joyeux!” are redolent of some of the mid-nineteenth century, but could also be regarded as part of that evasive term “post-Romanticism.” In some ways Dupuis’s songs seem destined for orchestral accompaniments, even though none exist.

All in all, the music collected on this CD is bears attention for being unique – French Wagnerian song is, after all, something that one does not encounter every day. The baritone Patrick Delcour has a pleasant baritone voice that is suitable for the repertoire on this recording. In fact, the biographical notes included with the recording indicate that Delcour has performed a number of works from the same period, including other music by Mathieu. In some pieces, the range can be a bit demanding, and he handles the demands of those pieces well. Likewise, the pianist Diane Andersen is wonderfully detailed in her execution of the accompaniments, with a fine precision and exactitude.

Both performers demonstrate their immersion in the pieces, with comfortable exchanges apparent in those places where voice and piano must interact with the other. The tempos are quite effective for understanding the text. The performances themselves reflect care and attention to detail, with a nice balance between the voice and piano. Yet something seems to have occurred in the recording process to render a narrow, monochromatic sound. While the recording was made between 11 and 13 August 2004, it sounds as if it were a transfer from LP recordings. Sometimes the voice sounds muffled, as occurs near the end of the first piece, Mathieu’s “Le roi des Aulnes,” and a similar situation may be found at the beginning of the second, “Le fidèle Eckart” by the same composer. With the songs by Wagner, the sound is a bit better, but voice seems unusually close to the microphone. Unfortunately it is impossible to get around this weakness but, as with any recording, the ear eventually adjusts to the mode of presentation.

For Wagner completists, this recording will merit attention, since it stands alongside some of the recently released recordings of Wagner’s settings from Faust. Yet those interested in the music should not miss the opportunity to hear the influence Wagner had on other composers, particularly these Gallic ones, who capture in their own music some of the same kinds of moods that are associated with Wagner. As always, it is useful to associate sounds with some of the names that are more readily found on lists of composers than in actual performance, and it is for this reason that the recording bears attention.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Wagnerian Songs

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Songs by Emile Mathieu, Sylvain Dupuis, Richard Wagner and Adolphe Biarent
product_by=Patrick Delcour, baritone, Diane Andersen, piano.
product_id=Etcetera KTC 1276 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 4:10 PM

DOVE: Flight

2006 saw the local premiere of a contemporary work that has, in the few years since its premiere, achieved the same degree of success as the Britten or Adams' works, Jonathan Dove’s three act opera Flight. Originally performed at Glyndebourne in 1998, Flight has been produced in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, twice in the USA and subsequently revived at Glyndebourne in 2005. The Adelaide performances feature the Glyndebourne production directed by Geoffrey Dolton recreating Richard Jones’ original direction.

The original idea for Flight came from the true-life report of Mehran Nasseri, who lived for eleven months within the Charles de Gaulle Airport, the same story that inspired the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal. Set in an airport terminal, Flight concerns two couples, a stateless and passportless refugee, two flight attendants and an older woman. One couple, Bill and Tina are about to re-kindle their flagging marriage with a second honeymoon and self-help book. The other couple is a diplomat and his pregnant wife who suddenly refuses to leave with him. The older woman, Sandra, is waiting for her latest fiancée to arrive, this one she met at a bar in Cabrera. A storm halts all flights and all are now stranded for the night. The proceedings are watched over and commented on by the Flight Controller from her observation tower. While the Refugee begs small change from the passengers, the women get drunk, the habitually promiscuous flight attendants have quickies in the elevator and later the male attendant seduces the equally promiscuous Bill.

Much has been said of the easy accessibility of Dove's score. Experiencing the opera in performance reveals a blending the dramatic possibilities of opera seria with popular music styles. Dove, for instance, describes the very ordinary departure lounge chatter like the holiday plans of the very ordinary Bill and Tina in jaunty Rhumba rhythms not unlike the Leonard Bernstein of Wonderful Town. The similarities between Flight and a top-drawer musical composer like Bernstein or Stephen Sondheim are apt.

In a recent interview the conductor of the Adelaide performances, Brad Cohen referred to Dove's compositional style at the time as “evolving” and that “it just seems right.” Dove’s sound world does have an instinctive feel and sounds like a melting pot of musical styles assembled with the same seeming ease Sondheim blended the fairy tale music of Tchaikovsky and Ravel with his own orchestral palette in Into the Woods or a good film composer transfers symphonic thought into visual support. Later he can refer to encroaching storms in a style not unlike the build up to the storm in Britten’s Peter Grimes. None of this is pastiche, however, just a couple of hours of constantly and refreshingly varied music. In purely orchestral passages the depictions of jets taking off and landing do in orchestral terms for aircraft what Honegger’s Pacific 231 did for steam trains. Dove, in fact, has recently drawn an orchestral suite from Flight called “Airport Scenes” which might well take its place along side Honegger's famous opus.

In the Festival theatre, the variety of the music was given full head by Cohen and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Not surprisingly for an Englishman Dove's word setting descends from Britten, particularly Britten's break with the older English preference for one note per syllable so that the high voices especially have exuberant melismas that take ‘flight’ as often as any of the aircraft in the opera. The opera's only really dramatic character, the Refugee, is written for a counter-tenor and in often dramatic arioso form making him sound foreign to the other characters and the overall jollity of their music. David Walker’s voice is full and resonant, highly dramatic, and at far remove from the usual ‘early music’ sounding counter-tenor. Mary Hegarty who sang the Flight Controller at the opera’s Belgian premiere seems perfectly at ease, her high soprano, reaching up to high F and, not just the staccato pips of a Queen of the Night, but sustained phrases.

Nuala Willis, who created the Older Woman in 1998, reprises her role here. Willis's voice is a plaintive contralto that gives the comic but sad character’s realization that her holiday romancing days are over an air of melancholy. This sad character is a descendant of the love-lorn contraltos in Gilbert and Sullivan opera easily transposed into the twentieth century where she can contribute to a Gilbertian about marital relationships

“I stuck to my ex-husband like religion…I should have stuck to religion.
We always called each other names…Bastard! Moron! Rotten Sod!”
Just as the Older Woman may have stepped out of a Gilbert and Sullivan, Bill and Tina (the Brad and Janet of the opera world) and the flight attendants are stalwarts of British farce with their ‘carry on abroad’ antics or frenzied pantomime sex scenes. The libretto by April de Angelis merges farce and drama, particularly towards the end where the Diplomat’s wife gives birth on stage and the Refugee’s true plight is revealed. Like the music the libretto draws parallels with those of musicals and popular theatre in suggesting an embittered modern world even in a light-hearted story. The characters through their close encounters with each other emerge with a new perspective on their lot and voice their own personal revelations rather than draw a homogeneous moral.

With over sixty performances worldwide, a compact disc recording and forthcoming DVD Flight seems likely to join the still thin ranks of contemporary operas that survive alongside the standard repertoire.

Michael Magnusson

Flight by Jonathan Dove
Adelaide Festival of Arts
Performance date 3 March 2006

image_description=Jonathan Dove (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Posted by Gary at 1:47 PM

La Voix Humaine and Send (Who Are You? I love you) — Audra McDonald Double Bill

audra_mcdonald_small.jpgZan Buckner [, 9 March 2006]

For her first foray into opera, Broadway soprano Audra McDonald takes on a world première as part of an ambitious one-woman double bill.

Posted by Gary at 9:27 AM

Placido Domingo Returns to the Stage

By VERENA DOBNIK (AP, 9 March 2006)

NEW YORK -- The Nose was back. And so was Placido Domingo.

On Wednesday, after the longest absence from the opera stage in his career _ three months _ the superstar tenor donned the big beezer of his character, Cyrano de Bergerac, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.

Posted by Gary at 9:12 AM

A Mostly Happy Revival

loesser.jpgBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 9 March 2006]

First off, let's get this out of the way: It is pointless to debate the relative merits of performing a Broadway revival at City Opera. So I will deal with Tuesday night's premiere of "The Most Happy Fella" on its own terms.

Posted by Gary at 9:00 AM

Tenor's overture for business to support classical music

calleja_joseph_small.jpgFiona Galea Debono [Times of Malta, 9 March 2006]

Just surfacing from a successful stint of Macbeth at the Royal Opera House in London, which ended last weekend, tenor Joseph Calleja does not need to pause for breath; he is on a roll and has been for a while.

Posted by Gary at 8:51 AM

A diva takes action

Jessye_Norman.gifBy Brenda Tremblay [City Newspaper, 8 March 2006]

Grammy Award-winning Jessye Norman flies to Rochester this week to sing a benefit concert for Action for a Better Community, a non-profit agency which helps local people in poverty. (It's headed by her brother, James Norman.) In an interview, Ms. Norman reflected on the Grammys, her family, and Saturday chores with the Metropolitan Opera.

Posted by Gary at 12:02 AM

March 8, 2006

A Generous Soul Celebrated in Almost Continual Music

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 8 March 2006]

Frank Loesser's music for "The Most Happy Fella" is more complex, varied and inventive than the scores of quite a few 20th-century works that proudly call themselves operas. Yet Loesser never thought of the show, which opened on Broadway 50 years ago, as an opera. "It's a musical, with a lot of music," he said. Actually, there is not just a lot, but almost continual music.

Posted by Gary at 12:03 PM

A Memento and a Harbinger: The Met Ponders a Crossroads

By Charles Michener [NY Observer, 13 March 2006]

Peter Gelb, who’s slated to take the helm at the Metropolitan Opera this summer, recently told a reporter that he wants to “reconnect it to the world.” A former top executive at Sony Music with a fondness for merging the divergent voices of classical, jazz and pop artists, Mr. Gelb plans to increase the number of new productions per season from four to seven; hire notable directors from film and theater to stage the novelties; commission new works from non-operatic composers; embrace new technology to transmit Met performances; and in general make the Met more sympathetic to the unwashed who are presumed to regard going to grand opera as the equivalent of a duty call on their grandmother.

Posted by Gary at 9:52 AM

Clara Schumann: The troubled career of the pianist

Clara Schumann resumed her piano career even as her husband Robert lay dying in an asylum. Devoted wife or damaged prodigy? Jessica Duchen investigates

[The Independent, 7 March 2006]

Robert Schumann, who died 150 years ago this year, would not have written much of his music without his wife, Clara. Muse to Brahms and Schumann, and mother of seven, she is revered as a musician and woman of historical significance. But does this image mask a darker truth about her personality?

Posted by Gary at 9:45 AM

Troubled opera company picks young conductor

Charlotte Higgins [The Guardian, 8 March 2006]

He's talented, hard-working and tough. Just as well, since British conductor Edward Gardner, 31, has just been appointed music director of the troubled English National Opera.

Posted by Gary at 9:38 AM

Karajan Performs Strauss Waltzes and Polkas

The Vienna Philharmonic has been one of the greatest promoters of the music of this talented family, going back all the way to 1924. Conductor Clemens Krauss continued the tradition through the New Year’s Eve concerts which he initiated in 1939, and for many people, ushering in the New Year just wouldn’t be the same without the Vienna Philharmonic concert of Strauss music. Herbert von Karajan continued this tradition, and the fifteen recordings of Strauss polkas and waltzes on this recording date from 1946-49.

Sprinkled among the ten Johann II compositions and the three Josef pieces are familiar favorites such as An der schonen, blauen Donau op. 314, the Kaiser-Walzer op. 437, and the Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka op. 214, to name a few. Although these recordings were done over fifty years ago, they represent part of the oeuvre of Karajan early in his career, and hence bring back the era when the conductor ruled over the orchestra. Karajan’s legacy as a conductor and interpreter of classical music is well represented by this series from EMI, and this particular recording illustrates his wealth of talent at the beginning of his career.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Johann Strauss II and Josef Strauss: Waltzes & Polkas

product_title=Johann Strauss II and Josef Strauss: Waltzes & Polkas
The Karajan collection
product_by=Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan (cond.)
product_id=EMI Classics 7243 4 76879 2 1 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 9:26 AM

VERDI: Ernani

If Il Trovatore famously “only” requires the four best singers in the world, Ernani substitutes a very dark bass for the later opera’s mezzo role (Silva for Azucena) and then can arguably make the same claim.

But the opera world will accept less than the best in a Trovatore cast in order to enjoy Verdi’s melodic gift at its romantic height. Ernani’s score cannot lay claim to the same wealth of immortal tunes, but Elvira’s “Ernani, involami” foreshadows the greatness to come, and the fresh, invigorating music retains great appeal.

Unfortunately, even more than Trovatore, as a story Ernani asks a modern audience to stretch its dramatic credulity two centuries back, to full-blooded Romantic melodrama. Narrow escapes, improbable disguises, conspiracies in subterranean crypts – all these and more sprinkle outrageous spices to a rich stew, which has as its main ingredient a rigid chivalric code of honor. In the overheated finale, that code requires the hero to kill himself on his wedding day. The aroma appeals but the stew may be hard to digest.

Staging Ernani must require, therefore, artistry of a high order that is not dependably lavished on rarer operas. But on a recording, the listener can ignore any dramatic indigestion and revel in the urgent passion of the music. The patient shopper can locate the RCA Price/Bergonzi set, the Pavarotti/Sutherland, or any number of live recordings on smaller labels.

Now Dynamic releases a live recording from May 2005, recorded at the Teatro Regio di Parma. The cast, though not exactly “star” material, features singers whose careers have progressed well. Taking a chauvinistic marker, the three leads (Berti, Neves, and Guelfi) have all sung at the Metropolitan Opera.

Under conductor Allemandi’s energetic baton, the prelude exudes the passion the opera requires, and the opening chorus rightfully earns an extended burst of applause from the Parma audience. Berti makes his entrance as Ernani, and expectations have to be adjusted. He certainly has talent; the middle range in particular has a pleasing rough-edged, masculine tone. But whenever he has to extend into the higher range, the tone falters and starts to spread. This effectively undermines the heroic nature of the character, and Ernani should be a voice that commands admiration, such as that of a Corelli or Del Monaco.

Neves has earned some very respectable notices for her Abigaille in Nabucco, and she too clearly sings with skill and commitment. Her big aria, however, simply lacks the charisma to make it the showpiece it can be. In ensembles, however, she seems to relax and let loose, often with exciting results.

As one older admirer of Elvira, Don Carlo, Carlo Guelfi manages to portray the self-centered desire of a powerful man, through his sometimes husky but well-controlled baritone. Giacomo Prestia sings Silva, the even older admirer of Elvira, and though his somewhat worn, harsh bass may serve the role of villain aptly, that makes it no more pleasant to listen to.

The photographs on the CD case and booklet reveal a very handsome, expensive-looking production. Dynamic has been releasing DVDs with greater frequency; it may well be that if this Ernani appears on DVD, the performance may make greater claims for success. Verdi and Piave’s impassioned creation (based on a Victor Hugo work) may not be a masterpiece on the order of Trovatore, but it has a vitality that excuses much of the melodramatic silliness of the plot. Thanks to Dynamic for giving the work some much needed fresh exposure.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani

product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani
product_by=Marco Berti, Susan Neves, Carlo Guelfi, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma, Antonello Allemandi (cond.)
product_id=Dynamic 496/1-2 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 9:18 AM

Mazeppa at the Met — Three Reviews

A Met Premiere With a Russian Twist

By FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 8 March 2006]

The last time anything called "Mazeppa" was performed at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1894, when listeners heard a Franz Liszt tone poem of the same name. As for the Tchaikovsky opera, it didn't receive its official Met debut until Monday evening, when it took the stage under the watchful ear of the Kirov's Valery Gergiev.

Click here for remainder of article.

From a Galaxy Far Far Away, Tchaikovsky's Ivan the Rebel

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 8 March 2006]

Though Tchaikovsky's "Mazeppa" is a staple of the Kirov Opera at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, it has made it only to the periphery of opera companies outside Russia. When the Kirov came to the Metropolitan Opera House in the spring of 1998 to present four Russian operas, "Mazeppa," the least well known, proved a stunning revelation. Conducted by Valery Gergiev, Tchaikovsky's epic about the 17th-century Ukrainian separatist Ivan Mazeppa seemed an anguished, probing and noble work.

Click here for remainder of article.

Mazeppa, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 7 March 2006]

Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa abounds in glorious melodies, thoughtful characterisations, rousing set-pieces, wrenching choruses and wondrous orchestral interludes, both snazzy and sombre. The ending, a mad scene for the gentle heroine culminating in a haunting lullaby, must rank among the composer’s finest inspirations. Still, US performances have been exceedingly rare (the first occurred in 1925), audiences scant. What do we know, after all, about Ukrainian separatists fighting Cossack landowners in the realm of Peter the Great?

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Posted by Gary at 8:42 AM

March 7, 2006

The Sixteen/Christophers

Choral_Pilgrimage.gifRichard Morrison at St Albans Cathedral [Times Online, 7 March 2006]

Some much-fêted rock bands would be thrilled to pull crowds of a size that Harry Christophers and his choir, the Sixteen, are attracting on their “Choral Pilgrimage” through Britain. Between now and November they perform the same programme in 18 cathedrals, abbeys and concert halls. (Next up is the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, on March 28.) And to judge from their glorious concert in St Albans on Saturday, it will be one of the year’s more memorable musical events, not least because it is devoted to a towering genius whose work hardly registers on the radar of normal musical life — the 16th-century Spanish composer, choirmaster and priest, Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Posted by Gary at 9:53 AM

Götterdämmerung, Operaen, Copenhagen

Theorin.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 6 March 2006]

Copenhagen’s new Ring cycle draws to an apocalyptic close at the city’s shiny new opera house with a conflagration of suitably Wagnerian proportions. Siegried’s pyre burns. Valhalla burns. The gods burn. Even Hagen, in his final plunge for the Ring, combusts. Just what the composer ordered. Or it would be, if he returned to earth as a feminist. Because Brünnhilde does not burn. Instead, as the score’s final bars herald a new dawn, she cradles a newborn child. A girl? One hopes so.

Posted by Gary at 9:47 AM

Discovering a Hidden Trove in a Little-Known Latin World

jordi.jpgBy ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 7 March 2006]

If your instrument is the viola da gamba, you are likely to discover composers and works that fell out of the repertory long before there was a standard canon. Jordi Savall has devoted himself to bringing this music back to life, both in his solo gamba recitals and in performances and recordings with his ensembles. On Saturday evening at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Mr. Savall led two of his groups — the robust chamber band, Hespèrion XXI, and the vocal ensemble, La Capella Reial de Catalunya — in a program of Spanish and Latin American Baroque works.

Posted by Gary at 9:41 AM

An opera's woes

Morrison_small.jpgBy David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 March 2006]

Almost as soon as the curtain came down on the Philadelphia premiere of Margaret Garner, word on the street was puzzled and puzzling. One after another, people described this eagerly anticipated Opera Company of Philadelphia commission as an experience quite different from mine last spring in Detroit, where Michigan Opera Theatre gave the world premiere.

Posted by Gary at 8:27 AM

March 6, 2006

Sir John In Love, Coliseum, London

By Edward Seckerson [The Independent, 6 March 2006]

Putting the "English" back into English National Opera is, in part, what the company should be doing, of course. And the first professional production of Vaughan Williams's Sir John in Love since 1958 might be considered a step in the right direction. Is the piece really worth reviving, though? And if so, doesn't flashing the words "includes the great British favourite 'Greensleeves'" across all the publicity smack just a little of desperation? Yes and no to both questions, I think.

Posted by Gary at 11:02 AM

Opera's Got A Brand-New Rag For One Night

joplin_small.jpgBy BARBARA HOFFMAN [NY Post, 6 March 2006]

SCOTT Joplin, the Ragtime King, wrote one opera - but, as far as success goes, it was no "Maple Leaf Rag."

Instead, "Treemonisha," a 1911 work about African-American slaves' emergence into the modern world, fell on deaf ears, which broke Joplin's heart and presumably hastened his death (in 1917).

Posted by Gary at 10:40 AM

March 5, 2006

HILLIARD ENSEMBLE: Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature — The Contemporary Perotin

In this environment, the composer Perotinus, along with the older Leoninus, cultivated polyphony and counterpoint in exciting new ways, extending music both vertically and horizontally, and at the same time pioneering new control of the temporal aspects of composition. The Ars Antiqua is by no means the birth of polyphony, but it is without a doubt a high point in its early cultivation. It is thus no surprise that Uli Aumüller’s fantasia on the theme of Perotin, “Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature,” is a film that is itself essentially “polyphonic.” Its polyphony is a variegated counterpoint of multiple “voices.” One voice is the music of Perotinus, sung with consummate style and grace by the Hilliard Ensemble, echoing the stunning beauty of their 1988 recording of Perotinus on ECM. A second voice is a choreographic one: two dancers, Simona Furlani and Tanja Oetterli, the choreographer, Johann Kresnik, and the cultural historian, Martin Burckhardt are shown in various stages of creating a dance that will interpret medieval views of the conception of Jesus, based on images in the texts that Perotinus sets. A third voice emerges in the presence of four scholars, discussing such issues as new concepts of time, performance practice, and the building of Gothic cathedrals. And a fourth voice is comprised of visual images from diverse paintings, architecture, etc. By no means consecutive variations on a theme—here’s the music, here’s the dance, here’s the scholar’s account—the film instead interweaves the “voices” in a contrapuntal fashion, moving from a bit of this to a bit of that and back to this again. Dizzying if you are looking for a tidy documentary account, but compellingly rhapsodic, if you are not.

Much is memorable here. One of the most successful scenes is countertenor David James’ solo rendition of “Beata viscera.” The performance takes place in the stark Church of St. Petri in Lübeck, whose bare walls become projection screens for fragmented images from Marian iconography. The fragmentation and repetition of images becomes itself a trope on the way parts relate to the whole, and given the polyphonic nature of the whole enterprise, it is a trope that seems strongly emblematic. Particularly engaging is the scene devoted to the imposing organum, “Viderunt.” A long work, its performance gives ample time for visual imagery to evolve, and it does so interestingly here. One of the themes of the film’s discussion is how the music of Perotinus reveals a new sense of time, resonant with the invention of the mechanical clock, an invention that allowed old, circular perceptions of time to be augmented by smaller modules of linear time. Thus, it is no surprise that during “Viderunt” we see clockwork imagery. Initially it appears iconic. That is, the imagery symbolizes the concept itself. But as things evolve, the clockwork becomes less iconic and more integral: the wheels and cogs moving at different speeds “choreograph” the motion of the notes and their interrelationships in a beautiful way.

One of the most memorable scenes is a tableau vivant, a stylized recreation of the Annunciation, breathtaking in its color, lighting, and mood. Surprisingly though, the visual inspiration here seems to be much more from the Renaissance than the Middle Ages, an anachronism that crops up in other places, as well. Also breathtaking is the long conductus, “Dum sigillum,” performed with projections of the dancers in a mystical whirl, the kind of moment where one feels—satisfyingly—that one has been awhirl oneself.

On the plus side, as well, are a number of extras in the production. A companion DVD offers a film record of a scholarly symposium on Perotinus—interesting in its substance, but also entertaining in the confrontations of personality and view—and a director’s commentary, “Perotinus Magnus: the Vision of a Film Project.” Additionally, there is also a CD soundtrack

There are some things with which to quibble. The film of the Hilliard Ensemble and the sound track are occasionally out of synch, something that surprises in a “music” film. And there is also a surprising confusion in the director’s mind about the “Immaculate Conception,” a doctrine that refers not to Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus, but rather to her own conception without original sin. As the conception of Jesus is one of the sharp focuses of the film, the misappropriation or confusion of terms is regrettable. But these are quibbles. A more substantial issue is the end product itself. “Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature” is a film that seeks to be bigger than the sum of its individual parts, and as a film, it needs to be. Here is where Aumüller faces his biggest challenge. All the “voices” here bear the imprint of the theme, but cohesion seems at times to be at risk. Given the number of intertwinings, one is not surprised that the “counterpoint” is complex, but in the end, it needs to be satisfyingly harmonious, as well. Twelfth-century enthusiasts will grant this to Aumüller’s work with a generous smile; others will likely find this quality a bit harder to find . . . but will smile, too.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature: The Contemporary Perotin

product_title=Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature: The Contemporary Perotin
product_by=A Film by Uli Aumüller, featuring the Hilliard Ensemble, Simona Furlani and Tanja Oetterli, dancers, Johann Kresnik, choreographer, with commentary by Martin Burckhardt, Rudolf Flotzinger, Christian Kaden, and Jürg Stenzl.
product_id=Art Haus Musik 100 695 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 8:08 PM

Sir John in Love, Coliseum, London

vaughan_williams_small.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 5 March 2006]

When Ralph Vaughan Williams decided in the 1920s to write a Falstaff opera, he knew that his senior compatriots Elgar and Holst had also recently completed Falstaff studies. He was familiar with Verdi’s opera, and probably Nicolai’s too. But he went ahead and composed Sir John in Love, regardless of the comparisons he would face. That he pursued the project to its conclusion is not only testimony to the endless fascination of Shakespeare’s fat knight, but also proof that Vaughan Williams had something to say. English National Opera’s production – only the third professional staging in the work’s history and the first for nearly 50 years – entirely vindicates his self-belief.

Posted by Gary at 1:12 PM

MOZART: The Magic Flute

This 2-CD set is performed in English and by an English cast, with Barry Banks as Tamino, Elizabeth Vidal as Queen of the Night, Rebecca Evans as Pamina, Simon Keenlyside as Papageno, Lesley Garrett as Papagena, and John Tomlinson as Sarastro. It is a studio performance, and hence acoustically controlled. In this particular interpretation, the conductor has cited historical references which indicate that the tempi for this opera were considerably faster than late twentieth-century traditional performances. Pamina’s aria “Now I know that love can vanish” (“Ach, ich fuhl’s”) is particularly faster than normal, as are other movements marked Larghetto, Adagio, Andantino, and Andante. They are conducted at two slow beats per bar, rather than four or six. This different pulse throughout the opera is especially noticeable at the opening of the Overture, the duet “A man in search of truth and beauty” (“Bei Mannern”), the Boys’ first trio, Tamino’s “Flute” aria, the chorus “O Isis and Osiris” and its following trio, the Boys’ trio and Pamino’s attempted suicide, and the chorale prelude featuring the Two Armed Men. Appoggiaturas are sung according to the practice of Mozart’s time, with occasional improvised ornaments.

This reviewer prefers to listen to opera in its composed language, especially Mozart, whose genius and creative use of the German language is overwhelmingly apparent in The Magic Flute. Listening to it translated into English just doesn’t do it justice. The tempi incorporated into this recording certainly help move the opera along, but they are very different from traditional performances of this opera. It will be interesting to see whether the increased tempi will become the new performance standard or not.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute

product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute
Chandos Opera in English series
product_by=Barry Banks, Elizabeth Vidal, Rebecca Evans, Majella Cullagh, Sarah Fox, Diana Montague, Simon Keenlyside, Lesley Garrett, John Tomlinson, John Graham-Hall, Christopher Purves, Peter Bronder, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, Sir Charles Mackerras (cond.).
product_id=Chandos CHAN 3121(2) [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 12:55 PM

GALLO: Opera — The Basics

In Opera: The Basics Denise Gallo accomplishes that goal by approaching opera with intelligence and style. In fact, it is part of Routledge’s new series of preparatory texts on various aspects of music. The expressed intention of the series is, as the author states, to “introduce broad subject areas, defining terminology and discussing important concepts to prepare readers for more in-depth studies” (p. xiii). Such texts are appropriate to various audiences, and Gallo singles out for this volume university students, singers, adult learners, and opera enthusiasts, and Opera: The Basics fills a need for a text that can make such a multi-leveled topic as opera approachable and inviting.

To approach the various dimensions of opera, Gallo has organized her ideas in exemplary fashion. The book is divided into two parts, with the first devoted to the various elements of opera. After establishing a context for opera through a brief history of its origins, Gallo uses the first seven chapters to explore the terminology involved with the artform; the relationships between text and music; professions involved with the production of opera; singers and voice types; “opera onstage and off”; and opera “as a mirror of society.” Such a taxonomic approach to the subject is useful in establishing a basic understanding of the concepts that she takes forward in the second part, which involves “Genres, Styles and Scores.” In the latter part of the book Gallo treats opera from a formal standpoint with chapters devoted to serious and semi-serious opera, comic opera and operetta, and vernacular opera, that is, works in English and other languages outside the Italian and French traditions. The final chapter concerns scores and editions, with the entire book complemented by a section entitled “resources,” which includes a select bibliography, worklist, and discography/videography.

In a sense, this is an ambitious book, but it succeeds because of the solid approach the author has taken to present ideas clearly, with examples taken from the repertory at hand. Not relying on definitions to exist in the abstract, Gallo cites works to illustrate her points so that those interested will have a firm grasp on the concepts. Likewise, the formalist approach that Gallo has taken to discuss the various forms of opera departs from the customary way that others have used in presenting the subject. This is, perhaps, a more sensible way to discuss opera, since it avoids unnecessary distinctions and qualifying them against broader considerations of style periods. Opera seria, for example, spans the eighteenth century and encompasses works by composers whose works can be discussed as either Baroque or Classic, and the resulting continuity is an important aspect of artform. Likewise, some of the more regional explorations of opera, as occurs with zarzuela and other Spanish forms related to the genre, do not easily fit into conventional periodization of music history and can be treated without the artificial limitations that draw lines of demarcation across the turn of the twentieth century.

Through the approach that Gallo takes it is possible to gain of sense of opera on its own terms in a book that meets or exceeds the intentions of the author. Her authorial voice is always balanced and even, without being arch or forcing an issue. Such a perspective is evidence of the solid expertise Gallo conveys to her audience in a book that those who already know opera can recommend to those with less familiarity. This is a book that should find a comfortable niche in various kinds of courses and which should be subject to regular updates, as the author refines the bibliography and web references in future years.

The chapter on musical terminology is concise without being superficial. The clear definitions bear careful reading for the nuances Gallo brings to the discussion. This section forms a sort of glossary that those learning about opera can use for reference from time to time, along with the chapter in which Gallo reviews the various voice types. The latter section benefits from some fine distinctions about voices that involves the terminology in Italian, French and German. Those interested in opera personnel other than singers should consult the chapter devoted to the various professions that enter into the preparation and execution of opera. That section offers a fine perspective on the various levels of production staff who make opera come alive in performance.

While most of the chapters are relatively short, that should be no means suggest superficiality. Again, Gallo’s thoughtful writing deserves a similar level of attention, since the details help to illustrate a text that is, by necessity, devoted to a large number of concepts. To add some perspective on the text, the author has included additional information in sidebars that intersperse the text. Those sidebars not only break up the text visually but also allow the author to use the presentation to convey various side comments.

All in all, in presenting an introductory text on opera, Gallo has had to make some choices about her subject. It is not a book about absolutely every aspect of the genre – no text geared to this audience can. In giving the text a focus, the author also works in certain self-imposed limitations. Thus, those who are enthusiastic about Russian opera will find references to specific works in this, but not necessarily extensive discussions of the national style. Puccini is presented in the context of his time and is not treated as the sole representative of verismo. At the same time early opera is presented well, with the accomplishments of Rameau and Gluck expressed in terms of the evolution of the artform as a synthesis that by necessity involves strong music and prominent drama.

Opera: The Basics is a welcome volume that many will find useful for their own study or as a text to use in their work. Those who teach courses on opera may want to adopt this book for their classes in order to have a reliable text to share with their students. Gallo’s perspective is constructive, with the depth of her knowledge evident in a subtle and nuanced book. It has much to recommend to those interested in opera at any level, and should serve as a fine introduction to the subject at a time when the growing audiences for the genre can benefit from such a text.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Denise Gallo: Opera — The Basics

product_title=Denise Gallo: Opera — The Basics
product_by=New York and London: Routledge (an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), 2006. xv + 207 pp.
product_id=ISBN: 0-415-97072-5 | 978-0-415-972072-3

Posted by Gary at 12:21 PM

March 4, 2006

Die Welt on the End of "des Regietheaters"

Das Ende der Opern-Revolution
[Die Welt, 5 March 2006]
Mit ihren Inszenierungen haben sie die Oper neu erfunden und manchmal sogar in die Luft gesprengt. Heute sind Regiestars wie Peter Konwitschny, Christoph Marthaler oder Calixto Bieito nur noch Schatten ihrer selbst. Das Zeitalter der Revolutionäre ist zu Ende, meint Axel Brüggemann

Posted by Gary at 11:08 PM

It's Italy in the Caribbean -- with a few snags

MSC_Opera.jpgWallace Immen samples a European cruise line offering new 'Italian signature' voyages, and finds la dolce vita doesn't always translate

[Globe and Mail, 4 March 2006]

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — I love Italy. The hospitality, the style, la dolce vita and the consistently wonderful food make just being there a delight. So when a new European cruise line started advertising ships that offer a "true Italian signature" and "premium-class cruises" in the Caribbean for a price as low as any mass-market competitor, it had my attention.

Posted by Gary at 8:53 AM

Viardot And Friends, Wigmore Hall, London

By Robert Maycock [Independent, 3 March 2006]

It was meant to be the evocation of a star from 19th-century Paris. Pauline Viardot, the Spanish-born mezzo-soprano, inspired the city's composers with her voice, and the writer Ivan Turgenev with her soul and whatever else it took to establish a ménage à trois alongside her accommodating husband. You can read histories of the period and scarcely be aware of her prowess as a composer. This concert aimed to set the record straight.

Posted by Gary at 8:36 AM

A Lion of Drama Lets His Operatic Soul Roar

sorvino_small.jpgBy KATHRYN SHATTUCK [NY Times, 4 March 2006]

It was something in the eyes.

Gone was the lethal half-lidded gaze leveled over a serving of lasagna by the Mafia captain Paul Cicero in "Goodfellas." Nor was the look the chillingly impenetrable lower-lid droop of the diplomat Henry Kissinger in "Nixon."

Posted by Gary at 8:26 AM

March 3, 2006

Opera: Sir John in Love

sirjohnpic_small.jpgRichard Morrison at the Coliseum [Times Online, 4 March 2006]

SINCE professional productions of Vaughan Williams’s Falstaff opera come round every 48 years or so, we should savour Ian Judge’s delightful new staging for English National Opera. Shifting Shakespeare’s merry wives to the Edwardian Home Counties of Vaughan Williams’s own era works well; it makes the dissolute old knight seem even more adrift amid the increasingly assertive middle-classes. John Gunter’s flexible wood-framed set also cleverly hops epochs. It is skeletonal enough to evoke both Tudor gables and mock-Tudor suburbia.

Posted by Gary at 10:11 PM

Euryanthe, Dresden Semperoper

CamillaNylund_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 2 March 2006]

There are reasons for the relative obscurity of Weber’s Euryanthe. The libretto is full of cringe-inducing rhymes and the story, which hinges on the imperative of feminine fidelity, is hard to like.

Vera Nemirova’s new production tackles the problems head on and triumphs. With Jun Märkl’s lean, intelligent conducting and a cast of stars, this is a landmark interpretation.

Posted by Gary at 4:46 PM

DOJ opens probe into online music pricing

usdoj_seal.jpgBy Sue Zeidler [Reuters, 3 March 2006]

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into possible anti-competitive pricing of online music by the world's major music labels.

Posted by Gary at 9:45 AM

March 2, 2006

WEBER: Oberon

First Performance: 12 April 1826 at Covent Garden, London

Principal Characters:

PuckMezzo Soprano
Sir Huon Of BordeauxTenor
FatimaMezzo Soprano
Two MermaidsMezzo Soprano
Droll, Caliph Haroun Al Rachid, Namouna, Babekan, Abdallah, Almanzor, Roshana and CharlemagneSpoken Roles

Time and Place: Ninth Century France, Persia and North Africa.


Oberon and Titania have quarrelled over the matter of male or female inconstancy and will be reconciled when a couple constant through misfortune can be found. The Emperor Charlemagne has ordered Sir Huon of Bordeaux to travel to Baghdad. There he must kill the man on the right hand of the Caliph and kiss and marry the Caliph's daughter. Sir Huon sees the Caliph's daughter, Reiza, in a dream, and is given by Oberon a magic horn to summon necessary aid and a magic goblet, that will burn the lips of the impure. By the Tigris Sir Huon saves the Saracen prince Babekan, betrothed to Reiza, from a lion. Babekan drinks from the goblet, his lips are burned and he attacks and is repelled by Sir Huon. In Haroun al Raschid's palace Reiza wants to avoid marriage to Babekan and has seen her rescuer in a dream. Sir Huon arrives. In the second act, in the Caliph's palace, Reiza is saved from marriage to Babekan, who is killed, while the court is paralysed by the sound of the magic horn. Sir Huon and Sherasmin, with Reiza and Fatima, escape by ship, which is wrecked. Reiza is abducted by pirates and Oberon tells Puck to take Huon, bound and unconscious, to the house of Ibrahim in Tunis, where the third act opens. Now Sir Huon, escaping from imminent execution through the blowing of the magic horn by his squire, rescues Reiza from the harem of the Emir. Their trials now over, the couple is transported to the palace of Charlemagne by Oberon and Titania and the opera ends with praise of the constant Sir Huon and Reiza.

[Synopsis Source: Naxos]

Click here for complete libretto (English).

Click here for complete libretto (German).

Click here for the score of the overture (Scorch plug-in required).

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

image_description=Carl Maria von Weber

first_audio_name=Carl Maria von Weber: Oberon

product_title=Carl Maria von Weber: Oberon
product_by=Peter Offermanns, Leonie Rysanek, Wilhelm Lückert, Horst Günter, Gisela Litz, Hanna Ludwig, Chor und Sinfonieorchester des Westdeutschen Rundfunks, Joseph Keilberth (cond.)
Live recording, Köln, September 1953

Posted by Gary at 11:02 PM

Preview: Sir John In Love, Coliseum, London

The crazy citizens of Windsor

By Michael Church [The Independent, 2 March 2006]

Stand by for an operatic rarity: Vaughan Williams's Sir John in Love, composed in 1928, last professionally performed in Britain in 1958, and now being brought out of the attic by that directorial rarity Ian Judge. He has been busy of late abroad: time was when he was much in demand at the RSC, and at sundry British opera companies including English National Opera.

Posted by Gary at 9:18 AM

Kate Royal

kate_royal_cr_sussie_ahlburg_small.jpg(Photo: Sussie Ahlburg)
Hilary Finch at Wigmore Hall [Times Online, 2 March 2006]

Things that go bump in the night, and the dark underside of the Romantic imagination: that’s what obsessed the poet Joseph von Eichendorff. And the musicality of his verse magicked the minds of composers such as Schumann, Brahms and Wolf, all of whom were on show in the recital by the soprano Kate Royal on Tuesday.

Posted by Gary at 9:10 AM

Operas announce collaboration

benedum_balcony.jpg[Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1 March 2006]

The Pittsburgh Opera and Opera Theater of Pittsburgh yesterday announced they have entered into an artistic and marketing collaboration beginning in the 2006-07 season. But they are not merging, a move that has been tried in the past.

Posted by Gary at 8:56 AM

March 1, 2006

Quirky and affectionate tribute to Mozart

[Galway Independent, 1 March 2006]

Modern myth and tabloids would have one believe that today's eleven-year-old boy is a crack smoking, car-jacking, father-of-several whose closest contact with music is an ear-bashing bootlegged download of Marilyn Manson. In the 'good old days' it was all so different, of course, and Opera Theatre Company bring an example of one particularly precocious pre-teen's pastimes to the Town Hall stage in a sprightly version of 'Apollo and Hyacinthus'.

Posted by Gary at 3:44 PM

Cri de Coeur

Tchaikovsky’s epic nationalist drama Mazeppa has its Met broadcast premiere this month. Does the opera offer clues about its composer’s own dark nights of the soul? GRANT HAYTER-MENZIES looks at the evidence.

[Opera News, 1 March 2006]

Mazeppa is, paradoxically, an opera rich with utter loss: a father loses a daughter, then his life; a woman loses her lover, then her reason; a patriot loses his country and the woman for whom he risked everything.

Posted by Gary at 3:34 PM

Musical marathon: A ten-minute guide to the ring cycle

As BBC Radio 3 prepares to broadcast all four operas in one day, Louise Jury tells you everything you wanted to know but were too scared to ask about classical music's most daunting work

By Mary Dejevsky [The Independent, 1 March 2006]

Every once in a while, the BBC decides to do something so stylish and so daring that you are reminded all over again why the national broadcaster remains the envy of the world. Broadcasting the complete works of Bach before Christmas was one such project. Radio 3's latest present to its listeners is to broadcast the whole of Wagner's Ring cycle on Easter Monday - 15 hours from overture to finale.

Posted by Gary at 3:28 PM

Juilliard Receives Music Manuscript Collection

grosse_fuge_small.jpg(Photo: Sotheby's)
By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 1 March 2006]

A publicity-shy billionaire and hedge fund manager who secretly amassed a trove of precious music manuscripts has donated them to the Juilliard School, Juilliard said yesterday. The gift is one of the largest of its kind by a private collector to an institution.

Posted by Gary at 2:18 PM