Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Gioachino Rossini: Maometto Secondo
21 Mar 2006

ROSSINI: Maometto Secondo

Before you watch this DVD, the best thing you can do is read the sleeve notes. They are brief but to the point; and they succinctly tell you the differences between this Venice version and the traditional one.

Gioachino Rossini: Maometto Secondo

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

Dynamic 33492 [2DVDs]

$39.58  Click to buy

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

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):