April 30, 2006

HANDEL: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

First Performance: 20 February 1724, King's Theatre, London.

Principal Characters:

Giulio Cesare (Julius Cæsar), first Emperor of the Romans Male Alto
Curio (Curius), Tribune of Rome Bass
Cornelia, Wife to Pompey Contralto
Sesto Pompeo (Sestus), Son to Pompey and Cornelia Soprano
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt Soprano
Tolomeo (Ptolomey), King of Egypt and Brother to Cleopatra Male Alto
Achilla, General and Counsellor to Ptolomey Bass
Nireno (Nirenus), Friend to Ptolomey and Cleopatra Male Alto

Time and Place: Circa 48 B.C.E. in Egypt.

The Argument (Argomento):

JULIUS CÆSAR Dictator, having subdued the Gauls, and not being able thro’ the Interest of Curius, a Tribune, to obtain the Consulship, carried so far his Resentment to the Subversion of the Latine Liberty, that he shew’d himself more like an Enemy than a Citizen of Rome. The Senate being apprehensive of his growing Power, in order to check it, sent the Great Pompey against him with a numerous Army, which was defeated by Cæsar in the Pharsalian Fields. Pompey after this Rout, remembering the good Services he had done to the House of Ptolomey, thought it best to shelter himself there with Nornelia his Wife, and his Son Sestus; in the very time that Cleopatra and Ptolomey (the young ambitious and licentious King) forgetting their Affinity of Blood, were like inveterate Foes, arm’d against each other in Contention for the Crown. Cicero was made Prisoner, the good Cato kill’d himself in Utica, and Scipio with the poor Remains of the Roman Legions wandered Fugitive in Arabia. Cæsar being sensible, that nothing but the entire Destruction of Pompey could establish him Emperor of Rome, pursued him even into Egypt. Ptolomey naturally cruel and void of Honour, in hopes to ingratiate himself with Cæsar, and procure his Assistance against Cleopatra, presented him with the Head of Pompey, whom he had murdered at the Instigation of Achilla. Cæsar wept at the horrid Sight, taxing Ptolomey of Treachery and Barbarity; who not long after, a the Insinuation of the same wicked Counsellor, infringing upon the Sacred Laws of Hospitality, attempted privately to take away his Life; which Cæsar narrowly escap’d by throwing himself from the Palace into the Water, where he saved himself by swimming; upon this, arm’d with Fury and Resentment, he turn’d his Forces against the bloody Tyrant, who was soon after kill’d in the Heat of Battle. Cæsar falling in Love with Cleopatra, plac’d her upon the Throne of Egypt, he being at that time Master of the World, and first Emperor of Rome.

These Facts are taken from the Comment. of Cæsar, lib. 3. & 4. Dion. Lib. xiij. Plut. in the Life of Pompey and Cæsar; which Authors affirm, that Ptolomey was vanquish’d by Cæsar, and slain in Battle; but how, was uncertain.

Whereupon it was thought necessary in the present Drama to make Sestus the Instrument of Ptolomey’s Death in Revenge for his Father’s Murder, varying from History only in Circumstances of Action.

GIULIO CESARE In Egitto. DRAMA Da Rappresentarsi Nel REGGIO TEATRO di HAY-MARKET, per La Reale Accademia di Musica, 3-4 (London: Tomaso Wood nella Piccola Bretagna, 1724).


Act One

The victorious general Julius Cæsar is welcomed with jubilation. He accords Cornelia, Pompey's wife, and their son Sestus, his respect, and is prepared to make peace with his opponent.

In order to win Cæsar's favour, the Egyptian king Ptolemy sends his general Achilla to present Cæsar with the head of Pompey who has been murdered. Cæsar is outraged by this deed.

Cornelia laments the death of her husband; Sestus swears to avenge his father's murder.

Cleopatra, Ptolemy's sister, as first-born child considers herself to be the legitimate ruler of Egypt. She is intent on winning Cæsar's affections in order to gain the throne.

Achilla tells Ptolemy of Cæsar's anger over Pompey's murder. He is prepared to murder Cæsar as well on condition that he be allowed to wed Cornelia. Ptolemy agrees to the bargain.

Prompted by Pompey's death, Cæsar reflects on the pointlessness of life and fame. At this moment Cleopatra appears. She pretends to be Lidia, one of Cleopatra's servants, and asks Cæsar for support against Ptolemy. Cæsar is fascinated by her and promises help.

Cornelia is mourning the loss of her husband. Sestus wrests from her the sword with which she intends to kill Ptolemy. He considers this act of vengeance to be his right alone. Cleopatra has overheard their plans and promises to help them gain entry into the palace.

Cæsar meets Ptolemy. He reproaches the Egyptian for the murder of Pompey. Although Ptolemy appears to be hospitable, Cæsar senses danger and withdraws. Accompanied by his mother, Sestus has entered the palace and challenges Ptolemy to a duel, which the latter refuses to accept. Instead he condemns Cornelia to serve in his harem. Achilla promises her and her son freedom if she agrees to become his wife. Both indignantly reject this offer. Lamenting their fate, they part.

Act Two

Cleopatra has instructed her confidant Nirenus to bring Cæsar to her chambers, where she receives him, still in the guise of Lidia.

Cæsar appears and is overwhelmed by her beauty.

Achilla asks Cornelia once again for her hand, but is rejected.

Ptolemy is also enchanted by Cornelia's beauty and desires to marry her. When she indignantly repudiates her husband's murderer, he threatens to use force. Cornelia is on the point of ending her own life, but Sestus holds her back. Nirenus promises Sestus that he will bring him to Ptolemy. Sestus again swears to avenge his father's murder.

Cleopatra is expecting Cæsar; she asks the goddess of love to help her seduce him. Cæsar promses Cleopatra marriage.

At this moment Curio enters to warn Cæsar of murderers that Ptolemy has dispatched. Cleopatra reveals her true identity to Cæsar and offers him protection. Cæsar, however, is undaunted and departs to do battle, leaving Cleopatra distraught and fearing for the life of her beloved.

Act Three

In the battle between Cleapatra's troops and those of Ptolemy, the latter are victorious. He has his sister taken prisoner. Cleopatra laments her fate and curses her brother.

Cæsar has managed to escape drowning at sea and hopes that he can once again turn fate to his own advantage.

Sestus has been unable to find Ptolemy on the battlefield. He and Nirenus discover Achilla mortally wounded. He admits to having instigated Pompey's murder in order to win Cornelia, to have planned the plot against Cæsar, and to have betrayed Ptolemy, by whom he believes to have been deceived. For this he must now pay the price of death. As he dies, he gives Sestus a seal. Whoever possesses the seal can command one hundred armed men who are concealed nearby. Cæsar, who has been listening to the conversation, demands that he be given the seal and departs with Sestus in order to liberate Cleopatra and Cornelia.

The captive Cleopatra is expecting to be killed and bids farewell to her companions. Cæsar frees her.

Ptolemy tries once again to force his attentions on Cornelia. As she draws a sword against him, Sestus steps between them. He throws himself on Ptolemy and kills him. His father has finally been avenged.

Cæsar embraces Sestus as a friend and declares Cleopatra Queen of Egypt.

[Synopsis: Bayerische Staatsoper (translation: Christopher Balme)]

Click here for complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/caesar_bust.jpg image_description=Julius Cæsar audio=yes first_audio_name=Georg Friedrich Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Cesare.m3u product=yes product_title=Georg Friedrich Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto product_by=Walter Berry (Giulio Cesare), Christa Ludwig (Cornelia), Fritz Wunderlich (Sestus), Lucia Popp (Cleopatra), Hans Bruno Ernst (Curio), Karl Christian Kohn (Tolomeo), Hans Günther Nöcker (Achilla), Max Pröbstl (Nireno), Bavarian Radio Chorus & Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Ferdinand Leitner (cond.).
Live recording, 1-5 July 1965, Munich. Sung in German.
Posted by Gary at 1:00 PM

April 29, 2006

Review: Bartók, 'Bluebeard' a haunting duo

bartok2_small.jpgBy Catherine R. Newton [The Salt Lake Tribune, 29 April 2006]

In a real coup for the orchestra, this weekend marks the world premiere of Péter Bartók's new edition of his father's score. (The younger Bartók attended Friday's performance and gave a preconcert lecture to the lucky patrons who arrived early.)

Posted by Gary at 2:09 PM

Sacred music of Mozart makes for blissful evening

BY ROB HUBBARD [Pioneer Press, 29 April 2006]

Perhaps you feel that you've maxed out on Mozart, especially if you started celebrating his 250th birthday back in January. And there has been an abundance of the 18th century master's music emanating from local concert halls and churches in recent months, perhaps climaxing in the four-week Mozart Festival the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is currently presenting.

Posted by Gary at 2:04 PM

An Illustrated History of Wagner's Ring at the Royal Opera House

Wagner's Ring at the Royal Opera House
Dominic McHugh [musicOMH.com, April 2006]

Few works of art divide us quite as much as Wagner's Ring Cycle - and few are as open to frequent reinterpretation.

This is widely apparent in a new study of the performance history of the Ring at the Royal Opera House by John Snelson.

Posted by Gary at 1:51 PM

World Premiere of Miss Lonelyhearts at Juilliard

A Nathanael West Novel Gets Its Turn on the Opera Stage

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 28 April 2006]

The operafication of American literature goes on. On Wednesday evening the Juilliard Opera Center offered the premiere of “Miss Lonelyhearts,” composed by Lowell Liebermann to a libretto by J. D. McClatchy on a commission honoring the centennial of the Juilliard School.

Click here for remainder of article.

An Absorbing Premiere

By JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 28 April 2006]

New York saw the premiere of a new opera on Wednesday night — “Miss Lonelyhearts,” by Lowell Liebermann. Mr. Liebermann and his librettist, J.D. McClatchy, have achieved a success: an opera that is worth seeing, hearing, and absorbing.

Click here for remainder of article.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Miss_Lonelyhearts.jpg image_description=Miss Lonelyhearts
Posted by Gary at 1:08 PM

Music for the Virgin Mary—Celebrating 300 Years of Charpentier

The Concerto delle Donne specializes in the Italian vocal repertoire of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The three principal sopranos that perform in the group, all early music experts, collaborate with six other sopranos, as well as the organ mentioned above, to present various Office motets and antiphons composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Nicholas-Antoine Lebegue (c. 1631-1702), and Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers (c. 1632-1714), all composed for various feasts and services related to the Virgin Mary. The 16 pieces on the CD are subdivided into various topics, such as Queen of Heaven, The Birth of the Virgin, The Salutation, The Nativity of Christ, A Prayer to the Virgin, The Passion, The Resurrection, and The Coronation of the Virgin.

The sequence "Stabat mater pour les religieuses" by Charpentier was especially exquisite in its polyphonic rendering. This contrasted nicely with some of the motets, such as "Sicut spina rosam" and "Gaude felix Anna," where only two sopranos would perform.

The sound quality on this CD is absolutely fantastic, as is the singing. The organ continuo on some of the pieces provides a spectacular effect that can only be produced in a cathedral-performance setting. Lovers of French Baroque music will need to include this CD in their collection.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/VirginMary.jpg image_description=Music for the Virgin Mary—Celebrating 300 Years of Charpentier product=yes product_title=Music for the Virgin Mary—Celebrating 300 Years of Charpentier product_by=Concerto delle Donne, Donna Deam (soprano), Faye Newton (soprano), Gill Ross (soprano), with sopranos Miriam Allan, Caroline Ashton, Rachel Bevan, Jennie Cassidy, Charlotte Fairbairn, Ana Gabriela Schwedhelm, directed by Alastair Ross (organ). product_id=Signum Classics SIGCD073 [CD] price=$14.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=789265&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 11:40 AM

Conducting Mahler / I Have Lost Touch with the World

Some videos offer some footage related to rehearsals, as with the bonus disc that is part of the recent release of Bernstein’s performances of the entire cycle of Mahler’s symphonies. On rare occasions, it is possible to find some films that offer more than filmed concerts, such as Jason Starr’s DVD about Third Symphony, which includes some background on that work. In contrast, the present DVD contains two films about the reception of Mahler’s music by the internationally recognized director Frank Scheffer, Conducting Mahler and I Have Lost Touch with the World.

The first of the two films, Conducting Mahler, documents the work of several world-renowned conductors at a festival of the composer’s music that was held in Amsterdam in 1995. In Conducting Mahler Scheffer focuses on the performers who participated, specifically Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, Sir Simon Rattle, and Riccardo Muti, along with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Scheffer wisely used his opportunity to document the music in this vivid way and in this release a decade after the event, the intensity of these musicians emerges convincingly in film.

In an effective combination of materials from rehearsals, performances, and conversations, Scheffer draws from his subjects a sense of the personal involvement that draws these conductors to Mahler’s music. Beyond any factual revelations that might occur in a project like this, Scheffer captures various aspects of the conductors’ emotional relationship to their task of conveying Mahler’s score. At times the interview segments may seem stilted, since the film includes what appear to be responses to questions from an absent interviewer. (The liner notes mention the British Mahler specialist Donald Mitchell interviewed Muti, and it can be inferred that he also spoke with the others.)

While it is not difficult to reason out the questions, the lack of a persona on screen to interact with the conductors puts a different slant on the scenes. Since the settings for the interviews are often well-appointed spaces in various halls, the sometimes personal nature of various responses seems out of place in such open places. This kind of approach certainly points to the inferred intimacy that can exist when the camera captures the interview interacting with the subject, and the rapport that underlies such a scene. Nevertheless, the conversations with the conductors form, essentially, one layer of Conducting Mahler, and function as the springboard for approaching the scenes from various rehearsals in which conductors give shape the music.

No doubt, the performers were aware that the documentary was being made, so that the rehearsals may seem, at times, a bit artificial. Head shots of conductors are more common than views that capture various sections of the orchestra, and that accentuates the message of the title Conducting Mahler. While the spoken part of the film is primarily in English, it is important to note the various places where the various conductors use German and other languages to convey their instructions. Beyond the various rehearsal segments, some passages are illustrated by behind-the-scene shots of musicians carrying instruments and the various preparations for the festival. This “social heart” of the film, as Scheffer apparently intended to show, helps to enhance the perspectives he brings to this video, which ultimately captures a sense of the 1995 Festival.

The excerpts from the music are essentially presented in chronological order, with the earlier works occurring first, and later ones toward the end of the film. While the various clips are, by necessity, out of context, they are useful in reinforcing the point of Scheffer’s film, Mahler’s music. Excerpts like these are sometimes difficult to assess, yet they do contains some memorable moments. The attention that Chailly devoted to chorus in Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is certainly worth noting. Likewise, Haitink’s approach to the Adagio Mahler composed for his Tenth Symphony is moving and the esteem the Orchestra accorded him in rehearsal is preserved this film. Ultimately, it is the music that dominates the film, with its selection of a number of memorable passages and informed commentary. Conducting Mahler may persuade those interested in the works to listen further to the recordings and, perhaps, use the scores, to explore the works that have created the personal commitments of the fine conductors and other musicians documented in this film.

The second of Scheffer’s films on this DVD, Gustav Mahler — I Have Lost Touch with the World is an exploration of the composer’s late works, specifically the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde. Those familiar with Mahler’s music may find in its title a paraphrase of one of the composer’s settings of Rückert’s poems, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. In either case, the phrase suggests a sort of departure, an idea that inevitably emerges in various considerations of Mahler’s late works, and which the biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange challenges convincingly in the commentary he offers in this film.

Of Mahler’s major works, two were completed in full score yet were not performed until after their composer’s death in 1911, Das Lied von der Erde and the Ninth Symphony. Unveiled posthumously, the two compositions have always had a sort of mystique, like a message left unsent for years and only later discovered. As La Grange points out, it has become difficult to dissociate Mahler’s life from his music, and his death influences the interpretations of both of those two works, thus creating the myth of the dying composer when, in fact, Mahler was not obsessed with his own passing. This film provides an opportunity to contemplate the music from a different perspective, which not only benefits from La Grange’s informed comments, but also the rehearsals of Riccardo Chailly and the Concertgebouw.

The explanation of Mahler’s emotional stated after the death of his elder daughter is an important point in establishing the context for the work he pursued afterward. In paying particular attention to the last movement of Das Lied von der Erde, the extended orchestral song “Der Abschied,” La Grange expresses its relationship to Mahler’s life. Yet the artistic accomplishment that a composer of Mahler’s stature can bring to any kind of personal catharsis is to create a work that stands apart from his own circumstances and serve to arouse other associations in performances. In this regard, the personal involvement of the composer does not create a kind of program music that forces the music into a biographical mode, but a creative work that can be understood on its own terms. Das Lied von der Erde is memorable for evoking such universal associations that its meanings do not hinge off any single fact for audiences to appreciate the music.

Beyond the orientalism that is brought into discussions of the aesthetics of the text of “Der Abschied” and the other songs in the cycle, its text is the product of a German poet whose work attracted the attention of Mahler. And Mahler, in turn, revised the text to suit his needs. Those who take the time to compare the source with Mahler’s poetry may find that the composer shaped some of the more memorable passages of the text, which he then used in setting the music. This is, in a sense, one of the more heightened examples of romanticism because of Mahler’s thorough absorption with the material he used as his point of inspiration, and it is, perhaps this very involvement that allowed him to create a piece that stands apart from any commentaries and succeeds in various interpretations through its continuing relevance to audiences.

As part of Ideale-Internationale’s series of Juxtapositions, this DVD makes available two related films that reflect the reception of Mahler’s music by such a noted filmmaker as Frank Scheffer. In dealing with the performances surrounding a festival of the composer’s work that took place in 1995, Conducting Mahler preserves some aspects of the intensity of the performances and the personal stake each conductor has in interpreting the music. The other film, I Have Lost Touch with the World is connected to Chailly’s own departure from the Concertgebouw, and it was an opportunity to focus on the intriguing final works. Beyond the inevitable associations that are made between the music and Mahler’s life, the latter film offers some glimpses into the level of performance that Chailly brought to the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Split between the interview with La Grange and the rehearsals, the film offers various perspectives that may persuade viewers into spending time with either aspect of the video. In both cases, the personal dimension that Scheffer brings to his subject emerges clearer in the films, and it should help those interested in Mahler’s music to become immersed more deeply into it.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Conducting_Mahler.gif image_description=Conducting Mahler / I Have Lost Touch with the World product=yes product_title=Conducting Mahler / I Have Lost Touch with the World product_by=Conducting Mahler: Directed by Frank Scheffer with Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle.

I Have Lost Touch with the World : Directed by Frank Scheffer with Riccardo Chailly and Henry-Louis de la Grange. product_id=Juxtapositions DVD9DS11 [DVD] price=$28.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0899132000114&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 11:10 AM


But why would anyone want to replace his CD’s on LO taken from this same performance? Just play the prologue and the answer is right there. The LO CD’s originated with an excellently taped radio broadcast. This new Bongiovanni-issue uses the original RAI-tapes and I am still surprised at the difference in sonics. The sound picture is so much clearer, so much more incisive and this results in more than just sound. I’ve never had problems with complete recordings of the early electric age like Pampanini’s, Arangi-Lombardi’s, Merli’s or Pertile’s complete sets; but these were always recordings of bread and butter operas that I already knew by heart the moment the historical recordings entered my home. This I Lituani is different. Apart from a few historical shellac solos, I knew nothing of the opera when I purchased the LO version some ten years ago in Boston. I played it several times and enjoyed it, though considering it more or less a first attempt that would finally result in the beauties of La Gioconda that premièred two years later (and which I’ll finally see once again in the Walloon opera, 26 years later after a Ghent performance). Lituani seemed to be well-crafted music but not much more than that. Ponchielli’s melodic genius clearly had to mature a few extra years. A recording in perfect sound changed my perception. The composer was 39 when I Lituani premièred in 1874 and he clearly already knew how to write a good tune. Granted there is no aria worthy of “Cielo e mar” or a ballet like the Dance of the Hours (but which other opera has a ballet on this level of inspiration?). Yet, there is more than just a generalized humming possibility, especially some of the many choruses, which are just as fine, if not better, than in Gioconda.

The cast has some strong singers. Baritone Alessandro Cassis will be a name that only vaguely rings a bell, though he is in several important productions like the French Jérusalem (Carreras, Ricciarelli), the Boito Nerone or the Adriana Lecouvreur DVD from La Scala with Freni. Cassis had quite a career, though he mostly limited his appearances to the Italian peninsula, singing in all important houses while in the summer he was busy in Verona and Caracalla. The sound is noble and has the burnished brown of the real Italian baritone. Indeed he maybe is the nearest thing to Bastianini I have heard; and it says a lot on the decline of Italy and the reputation of its singers in the operatic world that he is not better known.

Next comes Yasuko Hayashi. An earlier generation would maybe have Italianized her name but it is always something of a surprise to hear this lirico-spinto. She could be any good Italian singer as the technique is fine, the voice sounds appropriately Italian and she knows how to ride an orchestral climax. If one didn’t know better, she could easily be taken for one of those fine Italian sopranos that still abounded at that time—someone like Rita Orlandi, Luisa Maragliano or Orianna Santunione—honest artists with good vocal endowments maybe just lacking a very personal and intrinsic beautiful sound.

Bass Carlo De Bortoli brings an appropriate black voice and years of experience with Verdi roles to his part.

There remains the problem of the title role. Now Ottavio Garaventa is something of a case. He started out as a baritone singing as Silvio in the same Pagliacci that saw the début of Bruno Prevedi, not as Canio but as Tonio. Garaventa later promoted himself to lyric tenor. I heard him a few times and I cannot say I was very impressed. It was straight singing without much insight or musical phrasing. Moreover, I thought the voice made a finer (and especially a bigger) impression on record than in the flesh, where it sounded more tight and squeezed. He did make the rounds of Italy and some European and South American theatres; but contrary to what is said on his live solo album, he never made it to the Met and for good reason. When this recording was made he had been singing for 24 years. The voice sounds clearly more robust but thicker as well; and the finer qualities of the timbre are less noticeable. What is especially galling is this insouciant singing of notes without any attempt to use some dynamics or to phrase. As a result his brindisi and his romanza go for nothing; and one is sure that even an older Bergonzi would have made so much more of this music such that one would immediately have grasped its tunefulness. A pity, as Gianandrea Gavazzeni was not a conductor who would throw away his gifts on an unimportant score. The way he sculpts the many choral moments and the concertati (already a Ponchielli feature) proves that he believed in a revival of the opera.

Another advantage of this recording is the libretto in Italian and English—LO has Italian only—with a fine introductory article by Fernando Battaglia. Any opera lover of the ottocento who has become somewhat tired of his too well-known Verdi recordings should not hesitate to buy this set.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/I_Lituani.jpg image_description=Amilcare Ponchielli: I Lituani product=yes product_title=Amilcare Ponchielli: I Lituani product_by=Alessandro Cassis (Arnoldo), Yasuko Hayashi (Aldona), Carlo De Bortoli (Albano), Ottavio Garaventa (Walter/Corrado), Ambrogio Riva (Vitoldo), Susanna Ghione (un menestrello). Orchestra sinfonico e coro di Torino della RAI conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni.
RAI performance of May the 6th 1979 product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2390/91-2 [2CDs] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=682498&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 10:38 AM

April 27, 2006

AUBER: Fra Diavolo
DONIZETTI: La Figlia del Reggimento

The company had built itself a solid reputation with its collaboration with La Scala and some of the best singers and musicians around (Bergonzi, Cossotto, Stella, Bastianini, Serafin, Karajan) and now it went for a provincial house and provincial singers as well. Moreover, by that time, unless one worked strictly for a specific home market, operas were recorded in their original language and here all at once one reverted to Italian translations. But worst of all were the scores used by Basile, which clearly came from the deepest Italian provinces. Decca and Bonynge had accustomed record buyers to full versions and other companies had followed. DG itself for instance was the first company to give us the five act Don Carlos. And now that same company reverted to editions one no longer knew were still in existence.

Fra Diavolo suffers worse: 66 minutes and the recording is over. This is less than half the music that the real Italian version contains (142 minutes), which was recorded at the Festival di Martina Franca and conducted by Alberto Zedda (available on Cetra). La Fille du Régiment fares somewhat better as it has only lost half an hour of music. Originally these recordings were offered as a 3-LP album and there was no talk at all of highlights, which indeed they are not—truncated versions may be a better definition as some arias and concertati are simply cut in half. Forty years ago these versions disappeared almost the moment they were available as if someone realized at DG what a travesty this was. The mystery remains why these recordings were ever issued. There was talk of a big coup for DG by alluring Renata Tebaldi away from Decca. And, as a confidence building measure her lover got to conduct a few recordings; but this story was never substantiated. Therefore I still fail to see why DG has decided to bring these versions once more on the market. And yet, and yet there may be a reason some opera lovers would want to buy these budget sets (though I’m sure nobody at DG has ever thought of that reason). At the time together with the rise of consumer society and as one of its consequences, a magnificent opera tradition was slowly dying in Italy. Very few young people were still interested or thought of making a career in opera, even if they were talented. There were other well paid and far safer jobs to be found and it is no coincidence Decca would advertise Pavarotti’s records with the slogan “the one great tenor to come out of Italy for a whole generation”.

But in the sixties there were still a lot of singers who had made their début just after the war and who earned a living in small houses, grateful for some engagements abroad. Those are the ones well-known with all collectors by the proverbial saying: “if signor X or signora Y had sung nowadays, etc..” I heard a lot of them as at Flemish Public Radio, where I started my career, there were often opera and belcanto concerts. No real stars were engaged—too expensive; but the provincial Italians came and went several times a year. Indeed, with the exception of Giuseppe Campora who had a well-publicized Met and Scala career, all singers on these recordings often performed at the legendary Studio 4 in the Radio Building in the city of Elsene. Some of these singers even are above the epithet “provincial,” the foremost among them being Ugo Benelli. He was simply born too early. Everybody who heard him in his prime (like in this recording) will attest to the fact that they rarely heard a better “tenore di grazia,” all sweetness, charm and technically proficient but with a hint of steel in his fine top notes. In short and I have heard both of them in the flesh, I’m not sure at all Juan Diego Florez is the superior singer. A pity, therefore, that Benelli’s role in one of his rare recordings was butchered. This is the aria with 3 instead of 9 high C’s. And his “Pour me rapprocher de Marie” is cut entirely. Another better than common singer is bass-baritone Alfredo Mariotti with his beautiful rounded sound and fine coloratura facility. Speaking of coloratura, both Cecilia Fusco (Zerline) and Anna Maccianti (Marie) do well. They are both still deeply steeped in tradition; and they never skip a high note when there is a possibility at the horizon. Both have a somewhat sharp sound with a hard edge whenever they sail upwards; but they plunge with abandon into their roles. Maccianti especially may not have the beauty of Joan Sutherland in her classic assumption; but there is a lot to be said for the “joie de vivre,” the spontaneity and the lightness of touch the Italian soprano brings to her role. But I doubt that will be enough to sell this recording.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Daniel François Esprit Auber : Fra Diavolo

product_title=Daniel François Esprit Auber : Fra Diavolo

Gaetano Donizetti: La Figlia del Reggimento
product_by=Giuseppe Campora (Fra Diavolo), Cecilia Fusco (Zerline),Romolo Grigolo ( Lorenzo), Vito Susca (Mathéo), Alfredo Mariotti (Giacomo), Marco Stecchi (Lord Kokbourg), Margaret Simoncini (Lady Paméla)

Ugo Benelli (Tonio), Anna Maccianti (Marie), Alfredo Mariotti (Sulpice), Flora Raffanelli (Marquise de Berkenfield)

Orchestra Filarmonico en Coro del Teatro Communale Giuseppe Verdi, Trieste. Conducted by Arturo Basile.
product_id=DG 477 562-8 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 4:25 PM

A Mezzo-Soprano in Paradise

borodina2_small.jpgBy FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun 27 April 2006]

It was with great anticipation that I headed to Carnegie Hall in May 2001 for a recital by Olga Borodina.At the time, the Russian mezzo-soprano was fast becoming a fan favorite up the street at the Metropolitan Opera, and I expected a huge crowd for this glittering event.

Posted by Gary at 3:59 PM

Am Ende vergibt Titus allen alles

Brunner_Heidi_small.jpgMozarts "Clemenza di Tito": solide und mit Rollendebüts, darunter Heidi Brunner als Vitellia.
[Die Presse, 28 April 2006]

1997 hatte dieser "Titus" auf Deutsch Premiere, jetzt singt man ihn wieder, zum 23. Mal und auf Italienisch. Das Dekor ist geblieben, die Intentionen von Regisseur Nicolas Brieger sind stark verwässert. Was sich einst in den Hallen aus Faschismus-Architektur abspielte, ist einem braven szenischen Ablauf gewichen. Am Ende darf sich der von so viel Milde und eigener Schuld erdrückte Sextus immer noch erdolchen. Es wirkt noch ein bisserl unmotivierter als früher. Aber was soll's: Dieser Titus war nie ein Meilenstein der szenischen Mozart-Exegese.

Posted by Gary at 3:32 PM

Der Fliegende Holländer, Aalto Music Theatre, Essen

Hollander_aalto_detail.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 27 April 2006]

Senta slits the Flying Dutchman’s throat with a razor. After all, she vowed to stay faithful unto death. Better, surely, than flinging herself over a cliff. He gets his longed-for freedom, she finally gets to assert herself.

Posted by Gary at 3:12 PM

April 26, 2006

Frankfurt `Parsifal' Boasts Heroic Tenor, Suits, Plastic Armor

By Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 26 April 2006]

April 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Frankfurt Opera's new ``Parsifal'' is remarkable in a German context: a detailed staging that tells the story as it is written.

Posted by Gary at 4:33 PM

Après les travaux, l'Odéon reste inchangé

odeon_ag.jpg(Photo: Laure Vasconi D.R.)
Emmanuel de Roux [Le Monde, 25 April 2006]

Plus connu sous sa vieille appellation d'Odéon, le Théâtre de l'Europe est réinauguré lundi 3 avril après plus de deux ans de travaux conduits par l'Emoc, l'entreprise de maîtrise d'ouvrage du ministère de la culture. Le chantier aura coûté 34 millions d'euros. Le public ne retrouvera la salle que le 27 avril, pour les premières représentations d'Hamlet, de Shakespeare, mis en scène par Georges Lavaudant.

Click here for Le Monde's supplement on the restoration of the Odéon.

Posted by Gary at 4:21 PM

Maltman/Johnson — Wigmore Hall, London

Erica Jeal [Guardian, 26 April 2006]

It is hardly surprising that Goethe, the quintessential German Romantic, should have inspired Schumann to some sublime song settings. But one revealing aspect of this recital, which brought baritone Christopher Maltman and pianist Graham Johnson together for the third in Johnson's mini-series looking at Schumann's poets and contemporaries, was that it took some of his less celebrated, less consistent colleagues to even greater heights.

Posted by Gary at 4:07 PM

Der Rosenkavalier, Komische Oper, Berlin

Rosenkavalier_Berlin.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 26 April 2006]

Berlin’s opera houses, ordered to scrimp and shave a further €16m off their budgets by 2009, called a conference earlier this month to admit that it will not work. No matter what is eliminated, what is amalgamated, and who is sacked, nothing will make the numbers add up.

Posted by Gary at 4:00 PM

Borodina/Abdrazakov, Carnegie Hall, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 26 April 2006]

It was all – until encore time – very poetic, very melancholy, very Russian. Olga Borodina, stellar mezzo-soprano from St Petersburg, joined Ildar Abdrazakov, rising basso from Ufa, for a programme spanning nearly everything from Balakirev to Tchaikovsky. Forget borscht and nuts.

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

April 25, 2006

Lawrence Brownlee Wins Tenor Award

[AP, 25 April 2006]

NEW YORK (AP) -- Lawrence Brownlee, the 33-year-old tenor who makes his Metropolitan Opera debut next year, has won the 2006 Richard Tucker Award, worth $30,000.

Posted by Gary at 2:48 PM

Copenhagen Opera Mounts New `Ring' as Modern Danish Family Saga

By Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 25 April 2006]

April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Although this is his sixth year in the job, 33-year-old Kasper Bech Holten is still the youngest person to be running a major European opera house. He is also the first to stage Wagner's ``Ring'' cycle in Copenhagen since 1912.

Posted by Gary at 10:36 AM

Shopping, Singing, Laughing: Anna Netrebko Talks About Herself

By Robert Hilferty [Bloomberg.com, 25 April 2006]

April 25 (Bloomberg) -- When we first see Anna Netrebko in ``Don Pasquale,'' currently at the Metropolitan Opera, she's lounging around her terrace perusing a trashy romance novel. As Norina, she preens, prances and brags about her ability to manipulate men. We have every reason to believe her.

Posted by Gary at 10:30 AM

Spoleto offers eclectic array for its 30th year

spoleto_2006.jpg[Times and Democrat, 25 April 2006]

CHARLESTON — Spoleto Festival USA has slated its 2006 festival for May 26 to June 11 and promises performances from around the globe.

Posted by Gary at 10:04 AM

Void left in School of Music

Joshi,-Georgina3_small.jpg[Left: Georgina Joshi piloted the plane]
All 5 students who died in plane crash were heavily involved

by Chip Cutter [Indiana Daily Student, 25 April 2006]

They graced the stage with their music, spirit and talent.

Now Jacobs School of Music officials say they are faced with the task of finding a way to fill the void left by the students who died in a plane crash late Thursday night.

Click here for biographical information and other details relating to these students.

Posted by Gary at 9:40 AM

April 24, 2006

Matthias Goerne — Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Andrew Clements [Guardian, 24 April 2006]

Some of the great Lieder cycles are regularly sung by both men and women - Mahler's Ruckert Songs and his Kindertotenlieder, for example - but others are more gender specific. Schumann's Dichterliebe, and Schubert's Winterreise and Schöne Müllerin are rarely tackled by women, while the voice embodied in both Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben and Wagner's Wesendonck Songs is so unambiguously female that few men attempt them. By including both of these in his latest recital, then, the baritone Matthias Goerne was clearly sending out a message, though its meaning was hard to define.

Posted by Gary at 1:51 PM

Semiramide, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris

pendatchanska_detail_small.jpgBy Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 24 April 2006]

Warrior queen Semiramide murdered her husband years ago but his ghost has come back to haunt her and her accomplice, Assur. This new production is haunted too, by the ghosts of superlative performers who gave one of Rossini’s most exacting scores the luxury treatment it requires. That was 25 years ago in this same theatre and the singers were Montserrat Caballe, Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey.

Posted by Gary at 1:46 PM

Deborah Voigt as Tosca

Tosca "is based on a play by Sardou, which was written for the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. Sardou crafted melodrama rather well, and Puccini’s librettists distilled the play’s main attributes of action, sex, love, lust, politics, art and religion into one of the most popular operas of the verismo style." Tosca is now playing at the Met with Deborah Voigt in the title role. Here are two reviews.

Posted by Gary at 1:34 PM

Deborah Voigt as Tosca

Deborah Voigt and Her Tosca Dream Come True
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [24 April 2006]

The soprano Deborah Voigt had wanted to sing the title role of Puccini's "Tosca" long before she tried it out for the first time with the Florida Grand Opera in 2001. She adored the role and felt it was a good vocal fit. But, as she has recently explained, she was too uncomfortable with her considerable weight back then to make Puccini's character, an acclaimed prima donna in Rome of 1800 and a great beauty, part of her repertory.

Click here for remainder of article.

Thrown to the Lions

By FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun 24 April 2006]

Although "Tosca" is set specifically in 19th-century Rome, it felt more like the second century at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday night, when soprano Deborah Voigt was thrown to the lions for her New York debut in the role. Until recently the darling of fans and critics, Ms.Voigt has rapidly fallen from grace with some mystifyingly equivocal performances. Thus it was hard not to get caught up in the drama of whether she would receive the thumbs up or down from this notoriously fickle crowd.

Click here for remainder of article.


Posted by Gary at 1:07 PM

April 23, 2006

René Pape, Bass From on High, Adept at Cameos and Star Turns

pape_rene_small.jpgBy MATTHEW GUREWITSCH [New York Times, 23 April 2006]

THE meeting place was a restaurant popular with performers, tucked away in a middle-class residential area handy to several theaters, unknown to the fashionable set. The German bass René Pape was reading reviews of a new production of Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" at the Staatsoper. At the premiere, two nights before, he had made his debut in the title role of the conscience-stricken czar.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 PM

April 22, 2006

Tönet, ihr Pauken!

A more inclusive image of Bach not only reflects historical reality, but also reminds us of the fragility of the sacred-secular boundary in Bach’s day, a boundary that he traversed with ease, if he recognized it at all. Günther Stiller has made the case that for an eighteenth-century Orthodox Lutheran the divisions of sacred and secular are ill-fitting, for the Orthodox believer would have sought to consecrate those things that we too quickly see as mundane. In this light, then, a recording of celebratory secular cantatas offers not so much a different side of Bach as much as a variation on a unified theme: music for any occasion, crafted with consummate skill and inspiration worthily reflects the divine. And it is in this way, too, that we can begin to understand the easy flow of musical materials across the divisions of sacred and secular. In one of the cantatas here, “Tönet, ihr Pauken,” BWV 214, several movements later appear in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, where their presence raises not even the remotest scintilla of stylistic impropriety.

Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocal Gent have a long-standing tradition of Bach performance, and the two cantatas performed here, “Tönet, ihr Pauken” and “Vereinigte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten,” BWV 207, are rendered with a style-consciousness and technical mastery that must surely define “state of the art.” Both cantatas are festive, commemorative works: “Vereinigte Zwietracht” salutes the appointment of a young professor, Gottlieb Kortte, at the University of Leipzig (1726); “Tönet, ihr Pauken” is a birthday offering for the Electress of Saxony, Maria Josepha (1733). Both cantatas either borrow from other Bach works or are the source of future borrowings—“Vereinigte Zwietracht,” for instance, gives a rollicking choral version of the third movement of the first Brandenburg Concerto, and there is much delight in meeting an old, familiar friend in this less familiar garb! Both cantatas are allegorical: Diligence, Honor, Gratitude and Happiness voice the praises of the Professor, whereas in the Electoral salute it is Peace, War, and Fame who sing, embodied in the mythological goddesses Irene, Bellona, and Fama. And finally, both cantatas reveal how short the distance is from secular to sacred.

Herreweghe’s performances are rooted in dance-like elegance and contoured shapeliness of line and motive. The celebrative nature of the works is clear both in the festive trumpetings, admirably executed by Guy Ferber, and in the energetic flurry of melismata that so frequently abounds here. Characteristically, Herreweghe responds with an exuberance that never threatens to get out of hand. Shapelieness, contour, and elegance all reign without rival. Even the opening timpani motive of “Tönet, ihr Pauken” is a model of verbally-based inflection!

Much of the duty falls to the solo ensemble of Carolyn Sampson, soprano, Ingeborg Danz, alto, Mark Padmore, tenor, and Peter Kooy, bass, all of whom seem well attuned to Herreweghe’s stylistic model, particularly as they dance through their florid passage work. Padmore and Sampson both have wonderfully free high registers; the lower voices of Danz and Kooy claim a richer resonance, though never at the cost of agility or focus. The choral forces of Collegium Vocale Gent are wonderfully flexible and articulative. If any issue seems to arise at all, it is that they are, in fact, choral forces. The case for Bach’s choir being one of solo voices—at least in church music—is well rehearsed by now, with a number of devout adherents. Herreweghe’s use of a choir reminds that the debate remains open-ended, and becomes also a compelling example of how effective choral forces can be.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/901860_G.jpg image_description=Tönet, ihr Pauken! product=yes product_title=Tönet, ihr Pauken!
J. S. Bach Cantates profanes BWV 207 and 214 product_by=Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Ingeborg Danz, alto, Mark Padmore, tenor, Peter Kooy, bass; Collegium Vocale Gent, Philippe Herreweghe, Director product_id=Harmonia Mundi France HMC 901860 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=607718&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 9:44 PM

Victoria de los Angeles—Profile in Music

It takes half a minute watching this issue before one succumbs to the charm of the lady and the beauty of the voice. In the past, I’ve been somewhat immune towards some of her recordings, especially in repertoire where the voice is stretched and not very suitable, like in the heavier parts of Butterfly and that ill-advised Cavalleria where she is completely overwhelmed by Corelli. But the combination of looks and voice as here is to be seen is simply irresistible.

The concert starts with three popular lieder, Gerald Moore his virtuosic self as an accompanist. The voice is so warm, charming and exuberant that one forgets all carping. Her German is quite good, though not in the league of Schwarzkopf or Dieskau; but maybe that’s de los Angeles’ strength. One simply and immediately forgets that here is high Art with a capital "A" and realizes that Lieder can be performed just to enjoy them. Fifty years afterwards it strikes me (in her recordings as well) that de los Angeles is far more timeless and therefore more modern than her great German contemporaries, as she is not chewing on consonants or looking for hidden meanings. Of course, she is incomparable in Falla’s famous Jota and how she enjoys singing El retablo de Isabela by Vives. A song it is, but it could come straightforward out of one of the maestro’s magnificent zarzuelas like Dona Francisquita, Bohemios, Maruxa or La Generala.

The second part of this DVD consists of a BBC Profile in Music with opera arias and one song. De los Angeles starts out with Salud’s monologue from Vida breve and one almost shivers with emotion, knowing the sad fate that was awaiting the soprano herself only shortly afterwards. In Barbiere she is pure magic: the voice warm, playful and always with a smile in it. And the way she acts, it ought to be seen. This is a Rosina of one’s dreams. Maybe she is a little overparted in Tannhäuser, but it still is a treat to get Wagner sung in this almost lilting way. And as Cio Cio San she is heart breaking. The sets she is acting in are discreet but sufficient. One doesn’t see the orchestra and nevertheless wonders if the singing was done indirectly. Probably not as she has a lot of talking to do between arias; but then it only proves she was already highly proficient at synchronized lipping. A John Freeman is the conceited and very irritating interviewer throwing away opportunity after opportunity with his stupid questions e.g.: "whom do you like best to work with? Germans, Italians, English?" and a prime example of imbecility "are you interested in public affairs? in Spanish politics?" This at a time when Franco still had opponents during the civil war shot. De los Angeles stays calm, always smiling and laughing and speaking a rich American English with that beautiful speaking voice. With historical hindsight, we know that soon tragedy will unfold and the laughing Vicky (as she was lovingly called by her fans) will turn into herself, always friendly but aloof, never speaking her mind anymore. (Her husband cheated all the time on her while gambling away all her money and indebting her severely. She became pregnant again and her son suffered from diabetes. Her second son was born with the Down's syndrome. Though losing her voice, she had to perform into her seventies to survive. She could finally get a divorce but had to bury her eldest son. She died almost destitute.)

The third part of this DVD is devoted to a recital of well-known Spanish songs at Besançon. By 1967, the voice had thinned and the top was more problematic than ever but in this repertoire she can still sing with that rich middle voice and one hardly notices the decline. The bonus is a song recorded with the composer at the piano, filmed in fine colours. The picture quality is not perfect at first and when the camera has to move from medium to close there is some abruptness. But the quality soon improves (somewhat strange as it is the same kinescope) and, when we have reached Brahms, everything is as perfect as can be expected from those broadcasts. The sound, too, is perfect; and no admirer of vocal art can do without this issue.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/vicky_d.jpg image_description=Victoria de los Angeles—Profile in Music product=yes product_title=Victoria de los Angeles—Profile in Music
Songs by Schubert, Brahms, Falla, Vives, Granados, Montsalvage, Nin, Mompou. Arias by Falla, Rossini, Wagner, Puccini. product_by=Victoria de los Angeles, Gerald Moore, Patrick Harvey, Georges Prêtre, Felix Zanetti, Frederico Mompou product_id=EMI Classics 0946 3 10203 9 1 [DVD] price=$24.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0094631020391&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 9:23 PM

MOZART: Don Giovanni

In almost any other area of American life this reputation would make him a candidate for fame and success, but opera in the US has other ideas, and so none of Bieito's productions has made it to our shores.

Now one has — on DVD, a career breakthrough version of Don Giovanni premiered at English National Opera.This performance comes from December 2002 at the Liceu in Barcelona.

Bieito updates the story to recent times, in some sort of rough, middle-class, vaguely criminal neighborhood. After an urgent, even explosive overture under the baton of Bertrand de Billy, Leporello crawls out of a late model black Mercedes sedan, in the backseat of which the Don is energetically pounding Donna Anna. Clad in a tacky track-suit, Leporello (the excellent Kwanchul Youn) sings of his resentment of his "master," who in Bieito's vision is not of a hereditary nobility, but rather a good-looking, well-built thug whose sexual power gives him all the power that a title would have in da Ponte's day. Unsurprisingly, Bieito goes for the "Donna Anna wanted it" angle, but in the context of the director's misanthropic vision, this makes sense for once. Regina Schorg, unattractively dressed in a too-tight leopard-skin skirt and low-cut top, doesn't have a voice of such beauty as to remind us of the supposed nobility of her character, and so the portrayal works well. As for Wojtek Drabowicz's Don Giovanni, he has the look, and a capable voice, but that aura of true sexual charisma eludes him. He is mean enough, however, as he takes a screwdriver to slash open the Commendatore,who, in an open shirt and ostentatious gold necklaces, looks like a character from The Sopranos. Anatoly Kocherga needs some more heft down low for this role, especially in the final scene.

Veronique Gens delivers the most brilliant performance, as a truly broken Donna Elvira, clad in unappealing denim and carrying tacky plastic shopping bags. Gens manages to make her character deranged and yet still sympathetic, and her exemplary singing plays a big role in that achievement. The Zerilina and Masetto (Marisa Martins and Felipe Bou) are less-distinguished vocally, but strong actors. Probably in no other production has "Batti, batti" not only made more sense, but been absolutely essential.

Finally, Bieito and costume designer Merce Paloma confront Don Ottavio's wimpishness with a master stroke — from the end of act one on, he wears a Superman T-shirt with sculptured muscles, emphasizing his wimpishness. Since this is the Prague version, Marcel Reijans has no "Dalla sua pace," but as he is at best a pleasant tenor, the loss doesn't sting.

Alfons Flores's set design consists of a basic black box, with key props (a long bar, pool table, sofa and TV). Bieito knows how to create vivid stage pictures with well-coordinated movement and imaginative details (those tiny dancing dolls!). Some directors barely have one thing happening at a time; Bieito has several, yet he mostly has the action timed so well that the distraction element is low.

So Bieito's theatrical skills should not be disregarded. For many, however, the sex and violence — although milder here than reports of his latest productions suggests — will be too much to allow for appreciation of the director's talent. When the Don attempts to rape Zerlina, she winds up with a bloody nose that drenches her nightgown. The Don, disguised as Leporello, smashes Masetto's head into the bar, and soon Zerilna's boyfriend is covered in blood as well. And in a final twist, the Don breaks free of the Commendatore's grip at the end, takes up a knife and resumes slashing the poor old man. Finally the "victorious" revenger's tie the Don to a chair and use the knife on him, each getting his or her turn (though Donna Elvira has to be manipulated into giving the killing stroke).

As for sex, after that opening hump-a-thon, Bieito mostly lays on the oral action. Despite the shock value here, it also seems as if Bieito sees oral sex as an act of self-abasement, and thus a crucial part of his dark, cynical view of human relations.

Mozart's score works surprisingly well in this setting with so little "giocoso." Of course the darker textures come to predominate, but even the lighter moments, such as the aforementioned "Batti, batti," have a contextual rightness. Conductor de Billy's urgent reading certainly deserves much credit here, but Bieito has obviously given the music as much thought as he has to when he can next insert some oral favors into the action. For instance, the Don sings his second act serenade alone, on the phone, trying for a "hook-up," and at the end he starts to sob — a lonely man who doesn't have the courage to change.

Not all viewers will find that moment effective, but the second act defeats many a director, as the story goes into neutral until the big climax. Several years on from its premiere, Bieito's Don Giovanni may not be as shocking as it was at it premiere, but probably many an unwary viewer of this DVD will end up turning it off in a fury and using the discs for coasters, while others will find Mozart and da Ponte's opera more alive and exciting than ever. No matter how many sins Bieito may commit, he avoids the worst of all — he is not dull.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy
image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/OA0921D.gif image_description=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni product=yes product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni product_by=Wojtek Drabowicz, Regina Schorg, Veronique Gens, Kwanchul Youn, Orchestra Academy of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Chamber Choir of the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Bertrand de Billy, conductor product_id=Opus Arte OA 0921 D [DVD] price=$41.38 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0809478009214&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 8:58 PM

Drei Damen für Figaro

Harteros_Anja2_small.jpg(Photo: Markus Tordik)
VON WALTER WEIDRINGER [Die Presse, 22 April 2006]
Staatsoper. Debütanten-Reigen unter Riccardo Muti.

Und wenn die Vorstellung eine hal be Stunde später begonnen hätte? Oder wenigstens die Ouvertüre quasi alla Fidelio vor dem Schlussbild nachgereicht worden wäre? Denn anfangs tönte es noch reichlich schludrig, verhaspelt und lustlos aus dem Graben. Es kann nämlich, auch wenn das Repertoire von einem Riccardo Muti betreut wird, fast einen Akt lang dauern, bis sich dort alle Konzentration gesammelt hat. Dafür staunte man nach dem ersten Naserümpfen doppelt, zu welch duftig ziselierten, auf federnder Genauigkeit schwingenden, nicht zuletzt innig ausgekosteten Phrasen das spielende wie singende Ensemble sich vom geradezu leutselig-lockeren Maestro in diesem selbstverständlich wieder strichlos gegebenen Figaro animieren ließ.

Posted by Gary at 11:08 AM

The Sixteen/Christophers, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

CP6LeafletCoverSide.gifBy Lynne Walker [Independent, 21 April 2006]

Showing no signs at all of the weariness of a traveller, The Sixteen is still on the first leg of its annual choral pilgrimage around British cathedrals and concert halls before venturing abroad. Its quest this year is to explore the music of the greatest composer of the Spanish Renaissance, Tomas Luis de Victoria.

Posted by Gary at 10:44 AM

Diva Voigt Takes Off Weight, Puts on Tosca's Tiara at the Met

By Manuela Hoelterhoff [Bloomberg.com, 22 April 2006]

April 22 (Bloomberg) -- Bidding goodbye to her press manager and awaiting the arrival of her wig, soprano Deborah Voigt looks composed, even wryly cheerful for someone who will step onto the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in 50 minutes for a dress rehearsal of ``Tosca.''

Posted by Gary at 10:37 AM

April 20, 2006

BELLINI: I puritani

Music composed by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835). Libretto by Carlo Pepoli from Têtes rondes et Cavaliers (1833) by Jacques Ancelot and Xavier Saintine.

First Performance: 24 January 1835 at Théâtre Italien, Paris.

Principal Roles
Lord Gualtiero Walton, Governor General of the fortress Bass
Sir Giorgio, brother of Lord Walton, retired Puritan colonel Bass
Lord Arturo Talbo, Cavalier, Stuart sympathizer Tenor
Sir Riccardo Forth, Puritan colonel Baritone
Sir Bruno Robertson, Puritan officer Tenor
Enrichetta di Francia [Queen Henrietta Maria], widow of Charles I Mezzo-Soprano
Elvira, daughter of Lord Walton Soprano

Time and Place: Near Plymouth, England, during the Second English Civil War after the execution of Charles I (30 January 1649)


Act One

Riccardo, a follower of Cromwell and his Puritans, and Arturo, a staunch Cavalier who supports the Stuart cause, are both in love with Elvira, the daughter of Lord Walton. Walton had originally promised Riccardo his daughter’s hand in marriage but subsequently relented, not wishing to disregard the feelings of his daughter, who is in love with Arturo. The preparations for the nuptuals of Elvira and Arturo are in full swing.

Elvira as yet knows nothing of her good fortune. Her uncle, Giorgio, informs her that he has interceded on her behalf with his brother, her father, who has now agreed to her marrying Arturo.

Arturo arrives for the festivities. On discovering that a prisoner in the fortress under sentence of death is, in fact, Queen Enrichetta, the widow of Charles I of England, he enables her to escape by disguising her in Elvira's bridal veil. Elvira interprets this as desertion and loses her reason.

Act Two

The English parliament has sentenced Arturo to death, and Elvira no longer sees any sense in her life.

Giorgio hopes that a sudden piece of good news will cure Elvira and restore her to reason, and what better news than that Aturo should be pardoned. Giorgio persuades Riccardo to spare Arturo, if the latter does not fight on the side of the Royalists in Cromwell's impending battle against the Cavalier followers of the Stuarts.

Act Three

Arturo has returned to the fortress secretly to seek out Elvira and convince her of his continued devotion. Cromwell's soldiers apprehend him and threaten him with execution. At this very moment Elvira suddenly becomes aware of the situation and pleads, in vain, for Arturo's life. At the very last moment a messenger arrives with the news of Cromwell’s defeat of the Stuart followers. Cromwell has issued a pardon for all prisoners. Arturo is freed and there is now nothing to prevent the lovers from marrying.

[Synopsis: Bayerische Staatsoper (translation: Susan Bollinger)]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Charles_I.jpg image_description=Charles I in three positions - multiple portrait by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) audio=yes first_audio_name=Vincenzo Bellini: I puritani first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Puritani.m3u product=yes product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: I puritani product_by=Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Piero Campolonghi, Robert Silva, Tanis Lugo, Ignacio Rufino, Rosa Rimoch, Orchestra e Coro del Palacio de las Bellas Artes, Guido Picco (cond.)
Live recording, 29 May 1952, Mexico City
Posted by Gary at 8:58 PM

Alex Ross on Adriana Mater

by Alex Ross [New Yorker, 24 April 2006]

Kaija Saariaho, whose new opera, “Adriana Mater,” had its première in Paris earlier this month, once said that she likes to explore the boundary between music and noise. Many of her large-scale works, “Adriana” included, begin with a great, heaving expanse of intermingled timbres, like a landscape turned molten, or an ocean boiling. Instruments cry out at high or low extremes; pitches are bent or broken apart; violins are bowed with such intensity that they groan; flutes are blown until they emit an asthmatic rasp. It’s the kind of sound that boxes the ears and maxes out the brain; information pours in on all frequencies. But Saariaho is something other than a sonic terrorist out to shock whatever remains of the bourgeoisie. She makes her eruptions of noise seem like natural phenomena, the aftermath of some seismic break. Shapes emerge from the chaos, and the shapes begin to sing. The latter sections of her pieces often bring apparitions of rare, pure beauty—plain intervals that sound like harmony reborn, liminal melodies that disappear the moment they are heard. They are like the wildflowers that bloom in Death Valley, their colors intensified by the nothingness around them.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Kaija Saariaho

Posted by Gary at 7:17 PM

Tristan und Isolde, Staatsoper unter den Linden, Berlin

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 20 April 2006]

What if Brangäne forgot to switch the vials? For a moment it looks as if Tristan and Isolde have quaffed poison after all. Blood pours from their mouths. This could be a surprisingly short evening.

Posted by Gary at 7:11 PM

Placido Domingo: A new success under his nose

The man dubbed 'the greatest operatic artist of modern times' is about to open in a little-known version of Cyrano de Bergerac. Placido Domingo tells Jessica Duchen why, at 65, he sings on
[Independent, 21 April 2006]

In New York, a headline dubbed it "The Schnozz". But Franco Alfano's opera Cyrano de Bergerac is about more than the super-sized snout that the unfortunate hero declares "precedes me by 15 minutes": it presents an unusual and thrilling challenge for its starring tenor. When it opens at Covent Garden next week - a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where it has been highly acclaimed - the role of Cyrano is played by a singer who must be its perfect protagonist: Placido Domingo.

Posted by Gary at 7:06 PM

Easter Feast

The fifth Moscow Easter Festival offers a packed schedule of diverse musical performances over the next few weeks.
By Peter Morley [Moscow Times, 21 April 2006]

Valery Gergiev, the artistic director of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, kicks off his annual Moscow Easter Festival this weekend. Sunday's opening concert will be followed by more than a fortnight of performances divided into six separate programs.

Posted by Gary at 5:32 PM

An alluring, narcotic Wagner

BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON [Newsday, 20 April 2006]

"Lohengrin" is long. It is not incidentally long, not long just because it has so much territory to cover or characters to plumb. It has no plot to speak of: The opera's core riddle is like the question about Grant's tomb: What is the name of the title character in "Lohengrin"?

Posted by Gary at 5:27 PM

Enescu: Oedipe

Composition began as early as 1914 but it was only in 1936 that it was eventually premiered. During that time other works that can compare with Oedipe appeared, namely Honegger's Le Roi David, Berg's Wozzeck and most obviously Stravinsky’s own treatment of the story Oedipus Rex.

This Naxos recording comes from a performance at the Vienna State Opera in 1997 and can be recommended alongside the only other generally available recording, a studio production with José van Dam as Oedipus. The sound, apart from including a fair amount stage noise, is wonderfully clear and, because it captures an actual performance is more powerful in the key scenes involving the Sphinx, Jocasta's death and Oedipus's blinding.

The recording is a testimonial too to the late Monte Pederson who sings Oedipus. With a rich baritone voice and obviously keen sense of drama, Pederson died at only 43 and judging by this performance his loss is a great one.

Marjana Lipovšek is another great artist and too infrequently recorded. She dominated the EMI recording in the brief but stunning scene as the Sphinx. Here she contributes a somewhat Freudian double-act, again singing the Sphinx, the harbinger of destruction, as well as singing Jocasta, the partial cause of the tragedy. Lipovšek's Sphinx is even better this time around. The brief scene [9 minutes into Disc 1 track 7] is so spectacularly written, with its short jagged and jabbing vocal line and final death cry accompanied by, of all things, a musical saw. Lipovšek's Jocasta is equally powerful.

The conductor Michael Gielen is also a composer with a great reputation for Mahler. He obviously acknowledges and even relishes Enescu's creativity throughout the performance. Enescu sets the entire story, unlike Stravinsky, Orff or latterly Mark Anthony Turnage (in his setting of Steven Berkoff's irreverent Greek) but the whole opera lasts just over two hours. Musically, it is a late Romantic inspiration standing somewhere between Richard Strauss and Karol Szymanovski. But at this price, to have Lipovšek at her peak and a memento of a fine baritone, it is well worth investigating.

Michael Magnusson

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/oedipe.gif image_description=George Enescu, Oedipe, Op. 23 product=yes product_title=George Enescu, Oedipe, Op. 23 product_by=Monte Pederson (bass baritone), Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo soprano), Chorus and orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Michael Gielen, conductor. product_id=Naxos 8.660163-64 [2CDs] price=$13.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=684132&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 3:02 PM

MASCAGNI: In Filanda

And lo and behold, the Bolognese firm of Bongiovanni, itself celebrating its 100th anniversary, has been so nice to record a performance given a few years ago that to my best knowledge had not found its way in the pirate circuit.

The liner notes (Italian/English) tell in great detail the genesis of the work and are well worth reading. They omit, however, the story that young Mascagni thought himself a genius à la Mozart who had nothing more to learn. He dedicated the piece to Amilcare Ponchielli and happily accepted the elder composer’s invitation to come to Milan. To his dismay, Mascagni found out that nobody was eagerly awaiting for the appearance of an Italian equivalent of Wagner, Beethoven and Weber in one person. Though Ponchielli, a professor at the conservatory, acknowledged Mascagni’s talent, he was not ready to introduce him to music publishers, but had only thought of enrolling the young man in his alma mater. Within a few months, a disillusioned Mascagni went home only to return half a year later, ready after all to go the long hard way and start with his formal studies.

The reason for Mascagni’s conceit was that In Filanda that had been performed in his home town Livorno (Leghorn) with resounding success, probably helped a lot by the generous financing of his uncle Stefano. Would Bongiovanni have thought of resuscitating this 47-minute cantata if the composer had been called Bizelli, Bossi, Brero, Bucceri or other worthies who once tried to compose operas without any success? Probably not, as this is clearly a work by a talented young man but not more. Is there anything distinctly Mascagnian to the score? Yes, the young man already knows how to write a tune that vaguely hints at post-Cavalleria operas like the still unjustly neglected masterpieces, Zanetto and Silvano. Interesting, too, are the fine chorus for the workers that points a little to the famous “Gli aranci olezzano” and two preludes that are intermezzi in reality. The big tenor solo was the most successful part at the time of the première; but it sounds a little too laboured to me. And the finale concertato is just bombast. Contrary to Puccini, Mascagni was very young when he saw a lot of performances in the local opera houses (courtesy of his uncle too) and, though he somewhat later called Wagner the pope of all composers, it is clear he was far more influenced by some Verdi (end of the second act of Traviata) and Ponchielli concertati (end of the third act of Gioconda). Years later Mascagni would use some of this music for a first opera, Pinotta, that went unperformed until almost fifty years later when old Mascagni, despised by his modernist rivals and without inspiration, sent the opera on its unsuccessful way. Therefore, not a masterwork or even an important piece of work; but, as with everything from young Mascagni, worth hearing as the composer is never boring.

Orchestra and conductor are fine and so are soprano and baritone. Tenor Antonio De Palma though won’t be to everybody’s taste. He clearly has a big, somewhat beefy, voice with strong top notes that happen to flatten now and then. But, unless you are an adamant fan of verismo-tenors like Nicola Zerola, Giovanni Chiaia or Vittorio Lois, I fear De Palma’s rough style will make you less than happy. This is evidently not Bongiovanni’s fault. Many of their worthwhile sets with real discoveries in the verismo repertory are hampered by singers who are not equal to the role; but, nowadays, the very few singers who can cope with this repertory won’t think of studying difficult parts for a single performance that is almost a world première at a fee that mostly consists in honour only. So the Bolognese firm often has to take whomever is willing to sing it.

As 47 minutes is short shrift, there are two bonuses. The first one is the magnificent, melodious intermezzo from Mascagni’s second opera, Guglielmo Ratcliff (premièred, however, several years after Cavalleria) and it proves how much the composer had refined his art in the two and a half years at the conservatory. It was his undoing, too, as conductor Franco Faccio was much impressed with the score and wanted to perform it during a La Scala concert. Students had to ask permission at the conservatory to have their music performed unless they chose a pseudonym (Pigmeo Sarcanti was Mascagni’s ridiculous choice for some of his café compositions). But Faccio insisted on the real name, the conservatory refused permission and Mascagni left for good in a towering rage to start his wandering years. A second bonus is one of the composer’s finest pieces: intermezzo and tenor aria from Silvano, once only known in the truncated version by Enzo De Muro Lomanto; but currently available in a complete recording of the opera. It is a hauntingly beautiful melody that would have been in any tenor’s repertory if the opera had become more popular; and I fear that Mr. De Palma’s somewhat rough style doesn’t fit completely with the unearthly melancholy.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/In_filanda.jpg image_description=Pietro Mascagni: In Filanda product=yes product_title=Pietro Mascagni: In Filanda product_by=Rossella Redoglia (Ninetta); Massimiliano Fichera (Capo fabbrica); Antonio De Palma (Beppo). Orchestra e Coro I solisti di Napoli conducted by Susanna Pescetti.
Recorded live at Teatro Mercadante Napoli on the 6th of April 2003. product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2374-2 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=682481&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 2:52 PM

BRITTEN: Death in Venice

The tenor lead, Gustav von Aschenbach, sings a series of recitatives reflecting on the events as they unfold around him. The first of these, “I have always kept a close watch over my development as a writer..,” occurring in the opening scene in which he makes the first of his many wrong decisions, was cut at the premiere and the recording on Decca/London. The broadcast tape from the second ever performance on 22 June 1973 (available on Opera D'Oro OPD-1418) omits the passage as well. This new recording conducted by Richard Hickox is welcome in that it includes the passage as well providing the first re-examination of the opera in thirty years.

Britten's last major work, Death in Venice is an intense opera but more intellectually than dramatically so. As drama it plays awkwardly. The appearance of Apollo in the first act, for example, is an unexplained fantasy unlike his reappearance with Dionysus in act two as part of Aschenbach's dream, which makes more sense. Death in Venice is also a drama of inaction. Aschenbach never speaks to the boy Tadzio who so obsesses him. In fact the only thing that seems to do something is the cholera epidemic that infects and kills Aschenbach. But musically, Britten's score is alive with drama; and this recording captures the musical characterizations of people, places and events that, as Aschenbach learns, mere words cannot express. Chandos also offers sharper and more detailed sound, the individual instruments clearly defined and adding character to the storytelling. One example is the percussion (brushes scraped across the timpani) that ingeniously create the sound of the steamer transporting Aschenbach and the Elderly Fop across the water into Venice. Another is the Venetian overture in scene 2 [track 5] that begins with a watery barcarolle leading into fanfares echoing Venice's golden age. Other themes, which are allocated to specific instruments that signify characters and events (like the vibraphone for the non-singing Tadzio or the sinister tuba theme depicting the spreading epidemic), are highlighted.

Vocally, the opera must be dominated by the tenor singing Aschenbach and by the virtuoso baritone who undertakes the seven roles that figure in Aschenbach's intellectual, moral and physical death. As Aschenbach, Philip Langridge (who at 66 was actually 2 years older than the role's creator Peter Pears was when he recorded his interpretation in 1974) has a fresher and freer voice than his recorded predecessor. His interpretation is also more involved. Right from the start, Langridge sounds as though he feels his various predicaments. Slightly stressing the word 'on' in the opera's opening words “My mind beats on,” he similarly colours each phrase to suggest a confused, distressed and eventually pain-wracked man. This naturally makes his Aschenbach more passionate such that the few moments when he nearly addresses Tadzio throb with intensity. Alan Opie's Fop is less caricatured than John Shirley Quirk on the previous recordings; but the percussion, as mentioned, almost doubles for the Fop's wheezing and sneering innuendo during this scene. Opie's is a dark voice and he sings the various characters Aschenbach meets with equal restraint. All less grotesque but no less sinister than is customary.

The most obvious difference is the advance in recording technology since 1974. Hickox is emerging as the new champion Britten conductor and the Chandos recording shows up the stunning orchestral clarity he ensures in performances and recordings allowing the listener to appreciate Britten's musical scene painting even more.

Michael Magnusson

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/death_venice.jpg image_description=Benjamin Britten: Death in Venice product=yes product_title=Benjamin Britten: Death in Venice product_by=Philip Langridge (tenor), Alan Opie (baritone), Michael Chance (counter tenor), BBC Singers, City of London Sinfonietta. Richard Hickox, conductor. product_id=Chandos 10280(2) [2CDs] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=546717&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 2:16 PM

“l’heure exquise”

Hahn, perhaps a lesser musical genius, but ever sensitive and courteous to his guests, sees to it that each one’s contribution is noted and echoed in his own offerings.

The first group, Sept Chansons de Clément Marot, by the Romanian-born George Enescu, sets a tone of wit and tenderness, evoking the sixteenth-century world of the poet with occasional trills and rolled chords, yet never surrendering its own style. Each song evokes a moment of wit or of sentiment, describing gifts between lovers, chastising damoyselles who are too lazy to write to their friends, or abruptly changing the subject from love to praise for the pruning-knife and its contribution to vine-growing, and hence to wine-fueled partying. Not heavy thoughts, by any means, but well suited to the intimacy of the gathering, and especially welcome by virtue of the fact that these songs are neither heard nor recorded as often as they deserve to be.

Our host responds with several of his best-known mélodies, all settings of poems by Paul Verlaine, who had heard them performed in 1893 at just such a salon, and is reported to have wept upon hearing them. While the poet’s words are more sensuous and emotional than Marot’s, Hahn’s music evokes these qualities without straying from boundaries of taste and scale appropriate to the salon. After the wistful “D’une prison” and the tender “L’heure exquise,” Enescu’s look at the past is echoed in Hahn’s lively “Fêtes Galantes,” setting Verlaine’s gently ironic poem peopled by the figures of Watteau’s paintings.

The next guest, Ernest Chausson, who has spent some time at Bayreuth, introduces a philosophical element with some of his less-frequently heard settings of Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire, opening the emotional and sonic landscape with their Wagner-influenced harmonies. One of these songs, “Apaisement,” sets the same deeply contented text as Hahn’s “L’heure exquise”, but other songs present allegories of the Poet as a soaring albatross caught and forced to walk clumsily on earth, and of Misfortune as a knight whose lance destroys the poet’s old heart but gives rise to a new, more heroic one. The set closes with “La chanson bien douce”, which praises the discreet, delicate voice that veils its own sadness and seeks to make other souls less sorrowful. Through this delicacy and discretion the philosophic composer finds his way back to the polite world of the salon.

This testament to kindness from the more sérieux composer, emboldens Hahn to return with his own “Offrande”, another salon-scaled Verlaine setting offering gifts and the poet’s heart, with the request that the recipient not destroy them. It is interesting to compare the opening measures of “Offrande” with those of Chausson’s “Apaisement”, as both create their moods using repeated chords of half notes. Hahn’s more open chords in a rising pattern plead gently; Chausson’s more chromatic chords in a downward pattern intimately invite. In his previous set Hahn had evoked the past through Verlaine’s ironic text; in this set’s next song he reaches back textually and musically toward the time of Marot by setting a text by seventeenth-century poet Théophile de Viau over a chaconne-like ground in the delightful “À Chloris.” Hahn’s set concludes with “Five Little Songs”, to texts from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses. Lemieux chooses to sing them in English, although they were published with singable French translations. I enjoyed hearing these songs, from the lovely melody in “My ship and I” to the accompaniments evocative of the swinging motion in “The Swing,” the galloping horse in “Windy Nights,” and the sense of dazzling celestial movement in “The Stars”. The set closes with a straightforward song expressing the child’s happy sense of accomplishment at having spent an entire day being good.

This is a bit too much for the remaining guest, Claude Debussy, who returns to the poetry of Verlaine with his masterly set of Fêtes Galantes II. Listening to these dreamy but disillusioned texts declaimed in expert settings over reinforcing impressionistic accompaniments, we can visualize the good little boy growing into one of the voyeurs in “Les ingénues,” a “melancholy pilgrim” resting to tambourine music under the sardonic eye of “Le faune,” or, worst of all, one of the ghosts endlessly strolling the icy landscape trying to remember or forget lost passion in “Colloque sentimental.”

But our host will not leave us encumbered by this dark vision of life and afterlife. The program closes with two settings of Victor Hugo separated by one of the composer’s friend Alphonse Daudet. The Daudet setting “Trois jours de vendange”, acknowledges mortality as the verses progress. In the first, lively music depicts a robustly sensuous young girl; funereal chords at the end of the final verse underscore the fate of the vine that had “too many grapes”. However, the other two songs stick a Romantic thumb in death’s eye. In “Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre” the poet proclaims that love has given his soul the power to withstand the devastation of time. The magnificent final song, “Quand la nuit n’est pas étoilée,” equates the image of a totally dark night with that of an eternity whose mystery can be fathomed by “your forsaken heart.” This is a bold challenge, but Hahn’s setting, which transcends the salon-appropriate scale of most of his songs, is just grand enough to make it believable, the postlude carrying on the brave spirit of the text until it pauses for one shivering chord before settling into its final cadence.

I have said little about the performers so far, because, even if they were much less accomplished than they are, the program would still be well worth hearing. Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s contralto is clear and warm, with an appropriate emotional connection to the varied tones and styles of the songs. Pianist Daniel Blumenthal brings clarity and sonority to the richly evocative accompaniments. The result will be consistently aesthetically pleasing and moving to most listeners, although some purists may be put off by Lemieux’s device of withdrawing support slightly during phrases to underscore the emotional atmosphere (I’ve heard Cecilia Bartoli do the same kind of thing). Since Lemieux’s voice is so warm, this technique reinforces the sense of the salon’s intimacy, but does not noticeably alter the sound into pop territory. Nevertheless, when I compared her performance of Chausson’s “La chanson bien douce” with that of another contralto, Natalie Stutzmann, the latter gave an effective performance with a much more consistently pointed sound. (But it should be noted that, on a recording given over entirely to the mélodies of Chausson, this is the only one of Lemieux’s Chausson selections to appear.)

At the very fine detail level, I was so taken with “Quand la nuit n’est pas étoilée” that I took a look at it myself and discovered that Hahn wrote in some rather unusual dynamics, most notably a diminuendo over the climactic phrase “où sont les anges”. Musical instinct would say to build the sound still further instead, which is what Lemieux does. Hahn’s dynamic would certainly reinforce the sense of receding mystery of the dark void, but I couldn’t help wondering whether it is even humanly possible to sing it the way he wrote it. So I compared Susan Graham’s performance on her recent Hahn recital disc, and she does come closer to Hahn’s dynamic, perhaps because she is using a purer operatic technique that allows for more controlled piano sounds in the higher registers. Listeners who prefer this kind of sound and are primarily interested in the Hahn songs may like Graham’s performance of them better.

But the real strength of this disc is in the variety of compositional styles tied together by similar textual themes, and in the fact that it contains performances of songs that are rare or nonexistent elsewhere on recording. The fact that the performances are as fine and rewarding to hear as they are makes the disc that much more special. The stylishly produced booklet contains notes, texts and translations in English and French. Audio samples and additional information are available on the web here.

Barbara Miller

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Naive_V5022-medcover.jpg image_description=L'Heure Exquise product=yes product_title=“l’heure exquise” product_by=Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto, Daniel Blumenthal, piano product_id=Naïve Classics V5022 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=605247&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 10:44 AM


Even in the sixties, his operas were played all over the German-speaking countries, while nowadays one has to look carefully to find a performance. The reasons are twofold. “Das Regie-Theater” has little attraction for Lortzing’s well-crafted, very romantic “Spielopern”— too civilized, too polite, too simple, not enough blood and adultery so that one can shock spectators. Nowadays, as directors dictate what a general manager may or may not put on the boards, there is no place for him. Secondly, a cynical age such as ours, with cynical people all over the place, no longer has room for the gentle characters of Lortzing or for operas that are deeply drenched in the days of late feudal customs and small German states.

For most of his life, Lortzing lived in abject poverty—while everywhere his operas were enthusiastically performed in those days without author’s rights—he had to stoop to his audiences and to perform what they liked or thought decent. This Undine is a fine example. It’s almost the same story as Dvořák’s better-known Rusalka, which is largely based on the Undine story. But Rusalka premièred in 1901, 56 years after Lortzing’s opera, in an age when artistic freedom had already some real meaning and author’s rights were a source of income. So, Dvořák could keep the legend intact and have his prince kiss the water nymph whereupon he dies. Lortzing, too, preferred such a finale for his opera; but his audiences wanted a happy ending. Therefore, the composer acquiesced to their wishes and Undine ends with a rather sugary end: the prince kisses the nymph and accompanies his love for eternity into her water world.

The performance under review was recorded for a radio performance on the classical German music channel and appeared not long after on the Capriccio label in full price version. This less expensive reissue, however, has no libretto, just a short summary. This recording has only one rival, recorded exactly forty-years ago; but what a competitor it is. The cast of the EMI recording speaks for itself: Gedda, Rothenberg, Prey, Schreier, Frick. To be somewhat blunt, almost none of the singers on this issue are on the same level as their elders. This is especially true in the soprano department. Both ladies here sing well, but without much charm or individuality. Both are a little bit shrill and one has constantly to look at the sleeve notes to know who is exactly singing. Pütz and Rothenberger have better and more distinct voices on the EMI-recording.

The gentlemen fare somewhat better. Protschka has a good lyric voice, seeminlgy destined to become the great German lyric tenor that somehow has never materialized. But, he almost matches Nicolai Gedda’s Ritter Hugo on EMI. His voice is not on the same level. Yet, there is the feeling for this kind of music he probably knew well from his youth that is somewhat lacking in the Swede's interpretation, who probably recorded while looking for the first time at his score. Incidentally, there is a story that Gedda was flown in at the last moment as a substitute for Fritz Wunderlich who had recorded a magnificent Der Wildschütz by the same composer. Only his tragic death prevented him from recording Undine. This is not true. The EMI-recording was finished on the 6th of September 1966, while Wunderlich died exactly 11 days later. On the Capriccio recording, baritone John Janssen sings a noble and convincing water ghost Kühleborn, and he yields nothing to EMI’s Hermann Prey—high praise indeed. Undine has one common trait with Giordano’s La Cena delle Beffe—the best known aria, a wonderful melodious tenor piece, belongs to the second tenor. On record no one equals Wunderlich’s interpretation in a solo album; but neither Peter Schreier (EMI) nor Heinz Kruse (Capriccio) is mellifluous enough. Andreas Schmidt and Günter Wewel do well, but who can nowadays compete with Gotlob Frick?

This performance has one big advantage: its completeness. It contains some extra choruses lacking on the EMI, it gives us, finally, the fine ballet and it provides some additional dialogue as well. Conductor Kurt Eichhorn is one of the last maestri who can honour this kind of romantic piece and he succeeds in giving us a fine interpretation, never pushing his singers but not indulging in sentimentality either.

If you want to leave Verdi and Puccini for a while and discover a wonderful melodious score, you would do well to purchase this issue. Maybe Lortzing is old fashioned in the theatre, but on records he still holds his own. In the meantime, you will discover that Engelbert Humperdinck and Siegfried Wagner found a lot of inspiration from him. Should you be able to read German, I can only advise to buy Lortzing—Gaukler und Musiker by Jürgen Lodemann (Steidl Verlag, Göttingen). It is one of the best researched biographies of a composer I have ever read. It tells us a lot about the horrible artistic conditions Lortzing had to live with and it illustrates in great detail how miserable, poor, honest and caring for his wife and his eleven children Lortzing was—he buried 5 of them. He himself died only at 50-years of age, a composer, who until the seventies, was the most performed operatic genius in Germany after Verdi and Mozart.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/undine.jpg image_description=Albert Lortzing: Undine product=yes product_title=Albert Lortzing: Undine
Romantische Zauberoper in vier Aufzügen product_by=Monika Krause (Undine), Josef Protschka (Ritter Hugo), Heinz Kruse (Veit), John Janssen (Kühleborn), Christiane Hampe (Bertalda), Andreas Schmidt (Hans), Ingeborg Most (Marthe), Klaus Häger (Tobias), Günter Wewel (Pater Heilmann), Dirk Schortemeier (Ein Bote). WDR Rundfunkchor Köln and WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln conducted by Kurt Eichhorn
Recorded Köln Funkhaus, November—December 1990 product_id=Capriccio 51195 [2CDs] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=606665&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 10:05 AM

Tristan und Isolde, Mariinsky Theatre, Moscow

golden_mask_small.gifBy George Loomis [Financial Times, 19 April 2006]

The Golden Mask Festival, an Oscar-like event that brings stage productions from across the former Soviet Union to Moscow every spring, confronted the city with the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre’s latest excursion into the Wagnerian realm: a Tristan und Isolde new in St Petersburg last year.

Posted by Gary at 8:50 AM

April 19, 2006

Vienna's Mozarthaus Offers Visitors Tacky Trinkets, Boring Tape

mozarthaus_wien_small.jpgBy Larry L. Lash [Bloomberg.com, 19 April 2006]

April 19 (Bloomberg) -- The scaffolding, clouds of dust and hype, and even the initial barrage of tourists have disappeared from Domgasse 5. Finally, after more than two centuries, Vienna has renovated the house where Mozart dwelled during the gestation of ``The Marriage of Figaro'' in the fecund years between 1784 and 1787.

Posted by Gary at 1:31 PM

A disappointing Ring that just goes round in circles

Brünnhilde_small.jpgRupert Christiansen reviews Götterdämmerung at the Royal Opera in Covent Garden [Daily Telegraph, 19 April 2006]

The drop curtain for this dismayingly bad production of Götterdämmerung depicts a blackboard swirling with a scribbled mass of equations, formulae and jottings. It represents, I feel, the inside of Keith Warner's head as he confronted the massive challenge of directing Wagner's Ring cycle, of which this opera is the culmination.

Posted by Gary at 1:13 PM

Gotterdammerung, Royal Opera House, London

Rhinemaidens_small.jpgA sensational final instalment
By Edward Seckerson [Independent, 19 April 2006]

The Royal Opera's new Ring cycle comes full circle, its heroes briefly immortalised in gold like outsized Oscar statuettes, its heroine duly lighting the touch-paper for the eradication of one era and the beginning of another. And as Wagner's "redemption of love" motif finally finds serenity in the strings, there is hope, too, that new beginnings may bring better endings.

Posted by Gary at 1:08 PM

Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera House, London

Rhine_small.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 18 April 2006]

At curtain-down on Monday the Royal Opera passed the virility test of any self-respecting opera ensemble: it completed a new Ring, the first in its renovated Covent Garden home. It was a cause for minor rejoicing, not just because the evening was more successful than the three previous instalments of the Antonio Pappano-Keith Warner production, but because we can now look forward to the first integrated cycle of Wagner’s tetralogy in London for a decade. Unlike English National Opera’s recent attempt, which foundered through lack of funds and willpower, the Royal Opera promises three complete Ring cycles in 18 months’ time, and is already marketing them.

Posted by Gary at 12:50 PM

In Opera, a Different Kind of Less Is More: 'Handel and the Castrati'

By ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 19 April 2006]

LONDON, April 13 — More than most art forms, opera demands a suspension of disbelief. For a long time this included accepting that a man could sing with the voice of a woman. It was not a natural gift, but the results often drove audiences wild: castrati, as they were known, were among the rulers of the 18th-century opera stage.

Posted by Gary at 12:46 PM

In 'Lohengrin,' Robert Wilson Paints Wagner's Realm With an Abstract Palette

lohengrin_small.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 19 April 2006]

It stands to reason that a high-concept new production at the Metropolitan Opera might take time to settle in and refine itself. The best example in recent years is Robert Wilson's staging of Wagner's "Lohengrin."

Posted by Gary at 12:38 PM

A Night to Remember: Placido Domingo & Mstislav Rostropovich

On this DVD we get a recent photograph of the tenor. Moreover the sleeve notes mention that “despite his advanced age, the cellist’s control is exemplary” as if 79-year old Rostropovich recorded this DVD some months ago. Both gentlemen, however, look splendid, more youthful than their advanced age would tell you. I’m sorry to report this has nothing to do with a miraculous youth cure but more with the fact that one quick look into Domingo’s performing career revealed he gave this concert on July 17, 1991. And, this date probably solves another small mystery. For a few minutes I was slightly amazed the recording firm would send a review copy with less than perfect picture quality till I remembered the concert date (not to be found in the sleeve notes). There’s always some haziness and the colours are a little bit whitewashed. But as a former TV producer, I remember too well the decade between the late seventies and the late eighties. We no longer used kinescope to record live performances as we had switched to an amazing amount of video recording means. When we watched them a few years later, this turned out to be a small disaster. Whereas film, and even kinescope, kept their full colour glory, a lot of recordings on video were almost beyond repair. By the nineties the technique once more had improved beyond recognition; but I fear that this DVD is one of the last testimonies of those early video years.

I’m a little bit sceptical concerning the programme. I wonder how many admirers of Rostropovich want to hear Domingo. Vice versa, how many Domingistes are interested in a Haydn concerto well-played though it is? This was a big open air concert and therefore pot boilers like the Tchaikovsky and the Verdi overtures were maybe necessary to sell tickets, but I seriously doubt there will be many people thirsting for a Domingo conducted Forza. The tenor is in good voice though, as often with Domingo, there is that generalized beautiful sound in the middle register without much characterizing and some pushing over the staff. For such concerts, he always carefully selected arias and duets that didn’t reach high B, which by that time was already beyond his means. The duet with Borodina is generously sung and is one of the first documents of the later star mezzo. And one has to admit, especially if one cannot comment on Domingo’s mastery of Russian, that rarely Lensky aria will have sounded better. But the best piece is the fine Massenet Élégie, which he sings more beautifully than old Gigli or younger Corelli. This time the colours in his voice are hauntingly plangent and Domingo himself plays the piano with Rostropovich at the cello. I wish both gentlemen had chosen more of such pieces. And I think that 58 minutes is rather short value.

Jan Neckers

image_description=A Night to Remember: Placido Domingo & Mstislav Rostropovich

product_title=A Night to Remember: Placido Domingo & Mstislav Rostropovich
product_by=Placido Domingo, Mstislav Rostropovich, Olga Borodina, Kirov Orchestra
product_id=Immortal IMM 9600009 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 10:18 AM

Song of America: Music from the Library of Congress

If you already own these discs, there is nothing new here besides the notes and the program order, but since two of the discs are no longer in the active catalogue, this new release offers a good sampling of the fruits of Hampson’s championship of American art song while providing a souvenir CD for his recital tour.

For Hampson disc collectors wishing to cut to the chase, eight songs are taken from An Old Song Resung, a 1990 recital of “American Concert Songs”, six first appeared on From the Soul, Hampson’s sung and recited 1997 tribute to the poetry of Walt Whitman, and the remaining six are from American Dreamer, a 1992 collection of Stephen Foster songs arranged for his voice and an old-time music ensemble of violin, guitar and piano (this is the disc that is still in the active catalogue). The songs are interspersed, although most of the Whitman songs are heard near or at the end of the program (the exception being Ned Rorem’s “As Adam Early in the Morning”, which opens it). Thus, most of the Stephen Foster songs are in the company of ballads like Haydn Wood’s “Roses of Picardy” (which is actually an English song but was widely sung in the US after World War I) and Walter Damrosch’s catchy, martial setting of Rudyard Kipling’s “Danny Deever”, which was apparently Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite song. Concert songs dominate the middle of the program, with Charles Griffes’ “An Old Song Resung,” telling of a catastrophic shipwreck, echoed just a bit later in the traditional “The E-ri-e Canal”, which humorously uses shipwreck language to tell of an ill-fated canal trip, at the end of which “the crew are all in jail, and I’m the only sea-cook son that’s left to tell the tale.”

Hampson’s powerful and expressive voice brings these songs to life, but, with his extensive experience with German Lieder and other European art song he is equally at home with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s tender “Tomorrow (When you are Gone)”, and John Duke’s slightly spooky “Luke Havergal” (which has been a favorite of mine since I acquired the disc on which it first appeared). Hampson says he began studying American art song in hope of identifying the American Mahler or Schubert, but has come to see in the entire genre a kind of conversation among poets and composers of what it is to be making “America”. Thus, he approaches all the songs with directness and unpretentiousness, which he considers an important quality of American song. So, while Hampson can bring to Leonard Bernstein’s complex “To What You Said” the full artistry with which he approaches Mahler’s songs, he is also fully at home with the fiddle, piano, and backup vocals of long-time “roots music” performers Jay Ungar and Molly Mason as they present arrangements of Stephen Foster’s ballads, in which Hampson sees an attempt to create an American version of Thomas Moore’s Irish ballads. (Foster’s livelier, and possibly more controversial, minstrel songs are not a part of this program, so we hear “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”, but not “Oh Susannah” or “De Camptown Races”, which figure in instrumental medleys on the American Dreamer disc.)

The program closes with settings of Walt Whitman poems about the Civil War, including songs by Kurt Weill and Charles Naginski, and concluding with “Ethiopia Saluting The Colors,” as set by African-American composer Henry Thacker Burleigh. Nowhere is Hampson’s view of the project of American song more focused than in these songs, in which serious composers of varied ethnic backgrounds set words in which the father of American poetry engages with the fundamental episode in America’s development of its identity as a nation.

Information on American Art song in general and the remaining recitals in the Library of Congress series can be found on Thomas Hampson’s website and that of the Library of Congress.

Barbara Miller

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/song_america.jpg image_description=Song of America: Music from the Library of Congress product=yes product_title=Song of America: Music from the Library of Congress product_by=Thomas Hampson, baritone. Accompaniments by Craig Rutenberg, Armen Guzelimian and the ensemble of Jay Ungar, Molly Mason and David Alpher (with Michael Parloff, Flute). product_id=EMI Classics 0-946-3-41645-2 8 price=$14.98 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=610434&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 9:34 AM

April 18, 2006

Alfredo Kraus and Renata Scotto: Villancicos

[They really exist. I know at least one charming, well-known American lady.] The sleeve notes tell us the CD was recorded in 1991. At the time Kraus was 64 and Scotto 58. The tenor’s voice is clearly in better shape than the soprano’s. Still, if one knows the young tenor’s many recordings on his own label, Carillon (now mostly available at Bongiovanni), it is clear that the voice has become far drier and a little bit wooden. Nevertheless it still impressively shows how a good technique and careful husbanding of one’s means keep a great voice in shape after a career of 37 years. Kraus kept his splendid top notes till the very end of his life, which he was not shy of showing off, and this is one of the disturbing things on this CD. Several times he interpolates or ends with blazing high C’s where the flow of the music goes completely the other way. Even a shameless top note hunter like myself thinks a high C too much and rather unmusical at the end of Adeste fidelis (Come all you faithful) or the disguised Agnus Dei of Bizet’s Arlésienne that no tenor can leave in peace. Kraus is at his best in a few simple Spanish Christmas ditties that follow well-known paths but his Ave Maria’s or Brahm’s Wiegenlied are not records for eternity unless one wants to hear the tenor sing in German.

Still, compared to Scotto this is more than decent singing. The soprano’s voice was in shreds by the nineties. She is, of course, an old pro and tries to hide it as much as possible. One way she does it is by transposing so heavily that she has to go to the bottom of her voice and then resorts to a kind of growl. Almost all the time she sings in the lower middle of the voice where there is still roundness of sound. But sometimes she has to sing a weeny teeny bit higher and then trouble starts. Most of the time for a few measures she uses crooning or a thin piano and when that is not allowed as in Adam’s Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night) she gives a small shriek (mercifully, one verse only). She, too, introduces some lesser known carols; but one is too much fixed on the remains of a once great voice to pay attention to the repertory. As I said, strictly for those who want any note recorded by one of these singers.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Villancicos.jpg image_description=Alfredo Kraus and Renata Scotto: Villancicos product=yes product_title=Alfredo Kraus and Renata Scotto: Villancicos
Religious arias and Christmas Songs product_by=Alfredo Kraus, Renata Scotto, Chamber Orchestra of Bratislava and Chorus Conservatorio de Badajoz, Erich Binder (cond.) product_id=RTVE Musica 65018 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=788703&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 5:28 PM

The Rake's Progress at Opera Australia

This was the famous, and now even historic, production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. First staged in 1975, the year before Patrice Chereau's centenary production at Bayreuth of the Ring heralded the era of scandalous opera production, this quirky little treat has been greeted at its many revivals and debuts at other houses like a puppy on Christmas morning. Produced by John Cox with costumes and sets by the English artist David Hockney, The Rake’s Progress has notched up thirty years continuous service, making it one of the longest serving opera productions on the circuit.

As a producer Cox never courted controversy like his contemporaries David Poultney, David Freeman or Tim Albury. In fact commentators, like singer turned critic Tom Sutcliffe, even describe him as 'discreet'. As for Hockney, as it was for Stravinsky and his librettist W.H. Auden, it was a first foray into opera. Stravinsky had written operatically styled works before but the Rake was his first true and full length opera. Auden too had one libretto to his credit, for Benjamin Britten’s quasi-opera Paul Bunyan in 1941 (that few people ever heard again when Britten withdrew it after a week and forbade further performances until 1976).

“I suppose, if you’re asking me,” you’re wanting something a bit out of the ordinary.” was Hockney's reply when Cox approached him to design The Rake’s Progress. Despite only one previous theatre design Hockney turned out to be a natural. Being an opera lover, he absorbed himself with the libretto and music. Hockney’s preferred working method was to actually design directly to music, listening to it on his Walkman. Sadly increasing deafness has ended his designing this way.

The 'discreet' Cox was hoping that as “an artist established in his own right (Hockney) would come in and use the opera as an inspiration. Naturally the director is supreme arbiter of all questions about what is seen and done, but when you invite someone like David Hockney to team up with you, you know you will surrender much of your autonomy,” he admitted.

Auden’s text had been styled on 18th century libretti and Stravinsky had used 18th century musical forms. As the original idea had come to him after seeing the paintings of the same name by the artist William Hogarth, it was only logical that Hockney re-introduce the original visual inspiration. So he began a close study of Hogarth. Cox was enthusiastic about adopting Hogarth's engraving style. “Being a 20th century utilization of an 18th century technique, it coincided exactly with the sources of Stravinsky's own musical inspiration,” he said. “In a way, it was even more exact, for Stravinsky's harmonies have an acid-etched quality, yet the first idea for the opera came from the oil paintings of A Rake’s Progress. “Stravinsky’s music,” Hockney says, “was a pastiche of Mozart and my design was a pastiche of Hogarth.” Stravinsky, incidentally, conceded only reluctantly that his score was pastiche. “The Rake’s Progress,” he wrote, “seemed to have been created for journalistic debates concerning a) the historical accuracy of the approach and b) whether I am guilty of imitation and pastiche…of Mozart, as had been said.”

Cox and Hockney's finished product is as cohesive as Stravinsky's music. Stravinsky used motifs, quoting them throughout the score as references to other characters and events as well as developing them into new situations. In the same way Hockney also links major events. The brothel scene in act one and the final scene in Bedlam are closely related as places where the hero Tom Rakewell loses, firstly, his innocence and, lastly, his reason. Similarly the room in Tom's house which figures three times, is transformed each time by significant events in his downfall. The first time it is all elegance and orderliness dominated by pink, blue and green German printer's ink colours. In the second appearance it is dominated with the black and white cross hatched junk that his wife, Baba the Turk, brings with her. Finally, when he and Baba are bankrupt and their possessions are being auctioned, it is drained of colour save for Baba's, Anne's and the Auctioneer's costumes. Hockney indicating, as Cox recalls, “that as Tom's misfortunes increase, so colour departs.”

The only major criticism against the production were the ones leveled against it in 1975. Glyndebourne historian Spike Hugues recalled “the grotesque and evil side of the opera was missing ...(and)…the scene in Bedlam was a little bewildering. The composer and librettists wrote a scene that was closely based on the horror of Hogarth’s picture, and expected it to look like it…the chorus, dressed in black with a variety of white masks, occupied a kind of egg-box (or jury-box?) which stretched from wall to wall of the set. The figures popped up into view from time to time, sang and popped down again. It was all very symmetrical and clinical, and was, I think, all going on in Tom Rakewell’s head…It certainly wasn’t in the composer’s, because he had also included a minuet in this scene to which he hoped the chorus of lunatics would dance before Tom ‘with mocking gestures’. Nobody danced …there wasn’t room.” Tom Sutcliffe pointed out that the stark black and white sets and costumes, both heavily crossed hatched to resemble engravings, hindered the performers ability to communicate or even be noticed, they “melted into the environment rather than standing out from it.”

Thirty years on the décor is now the main attraction and the eye soon adjusts to everything being cross-hatched — right down to the pebbles that Nick Shadow uses to demonstrate the bogus bread machine. And with a few minor alterations, the obvious one being the name of the conductor, Richard Hickox, painted over the spot where Bernard Haitink's once was. The sets register well, even in a bigger theatre than the old Glyndebourne. Hockney's insistence on spacing the cross-hatching correctly actually improves the look from further back. Even the garish colours aren’t showing their age. The only drawback is in the scene changes — thirty years on it is uncommon to encounter 4-minute scene changes.

This Rake’s Progress is not a difficult score to sing, play or listen to anymore and this production was originally the vehicle for some auspicious early appearances. Jill Gomez and Felicity Lott both made their Glyndebourne debuts in the soprano lead of Anne Trulove within a year of making their official debuts on any stage. Anne is still a terrific role debut, this time for Australian soprano Leanne Kenneally. Anne's big 'scene' in Act I and beautiful lullaby in the last scene are superb moments, beautifully done by Kenneally. Its a pity Tom's music is not as catchy as Anne’s and that Nick Shadow, like Don Giovanni, has hardly anything in the way of an aria proper. But Shadow is an actor-singer's role and Tom's is an all round challenge. This makes the performances by John Heuzenroeder as Tom and Joshua Bloom as Shadow ideal calling cards as they continue to establish themselves internationally.

It is the designs, however, that are best remembered; and, considering that the opera was inspired by a visual source, to be remembered for its visual appeal seems only logical.

Michael Magnusson

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Rakes_Progress_OperaAustralia2006.jpg image_description=Rake's Progress at Opera Australia, 2006 (Photo: Branco Gaica)
Posted by Gary at 4:30 PM

Truck-Driving Soprano, Opera-Mad Husband Seek to Seduce London

Scheherazade_Pesante_small.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 18 April 2006]

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- The redheaded Puerto Rican soprano Scheherazade Pesante makes art out of nude pictures of herself.

Posted by Gary at 3:49 PM

Götterdämmerung—Royal Opera House, London

gasteen_small.jpgTom Service [Guardian, 18 April 2006]

The final image of Keith Warner's production of Wagner's Götterdämmerung sums up his occasionally illuminating but mostly baffling staging of the Ring cycle. It's been nearly a year and a half since it all began with Das Rheingold, and many of the visual cues in Stefanos Lazaridis's designs for the earlier operas went up in smoke along with Lisa Gasteen's Brünnhilde.

Posted by Gary at 3:21 PM

Handel's Oratorio 'Solomon' at Alice Tully Hall

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 18 April 2006]

For musicians interested in jumping from solo careers to conducting, early music seems to be the big equal-opportunity employer right now. Conductors of conventional orchestras have been drawn — with a few notable exceptions — mostly from the ranks of pianists and violinists. But if harpsichordists and fiddlers dominate period-instrument conducting, several of today's most inspired leaders come from odder corners. Think of Frans Brüggen, the recorder virtuoso; Jaap ter Linden, the gambist; and René Jacobs, a star countertenor who, as a conductor, has made spectacular recordings of music as early as Monteverdi and as late as Mozart.

Posted by Gary at 3:14 PM

Acis and Galatea at NYCO

An Entertaining Opera Lost in Electronic Goo
By FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 18 April 2006]

When Georg Frideric Handel was born in 1685, one of the world's most inspired composers was hard at work transcribing the story of "Acis and Galatea" from the dactylic hexameter of Ovid to the stately dances and long recitatives of his own art. That composer was Jean-Baptiste Lully, and his version of the story was quite different from the Handel opera that premiered Sunday afternoon at City Opera.

Click here for remainder of article.

Handel's 'Acis and Galatea' at City Opera: Pastorale as Picnic

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 18 April 2006]

Handel's "Acis and Galatea," a regular little Easter Bunny of an opera, distributed its basket of charms at the New York City Opera on Sunday afternoon. Handel's early-18th-century career was heavy on operas in Italian intended for the commercial theater. "Acis" is in English and meant for private consumption in a noble house. It is the mark of the composer that a light-footed pastorale could be carried off with such exquisite care and imagination.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Acis and Galatea

Posted by Gary at 2:32 PM

Lawrence Brownlee: Lieder & Song Recital

Indeed, Lawrence Brownlee’s beautiful voice and astonishing ease of delivery in the vocally challenging role of Ramiro made it clear why he was already scheduled to make his debut at La Scala later that year. Bel canto lovers who haven’t caught him yet there or at the Met, or at any of the many other venues where he has sung since then, can now hear him courtesy of EMI Classics “Debut” series.

The program consists of songs in Italian by the familiar figures: Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, and Rossini, along with four Italian songs written by Franz Schubert several years after studying with Antonio Salieri. According to Brownlee’s comments in the CD booklet, he and accompanying pianist Martin Katz chose these songs to “work programmatically, be enjoyable for the listener, and be meaningful for us to perform”. Cutting the swath that they do through the heartland of Brownlee’s home repertoire, they also serve as a fine showcase for the tenor’s outstanding quality: the ringing, forward delivery of beautifully phrased Italian that just doesn’t quit, whether he is soaring above the staff, spinning a long legato line or lightly skipping through a coloratura passage.

Any of these tracks can serve as a textbook example of how well-produced bel canto singing is at once exciting and relaxing for the listener—the sound flows so easily, no matter where the musical line goes with respect to the staff, or how many notes the phrase contains, that we can simply allow ourselves to be carried along with it. What I find missing here are the pianissimo passages that add a meltingly beautiful contrast to the bright ring, creating the paradox of even deeper emotion in the hush than in the exclamation. (I don’t remember noticing this lack when I heard him before, and I can’t help wondering whether the experience he has had singing in larger houses since then has pushed him toward making a larger sound overall.) The result is that the recital as a whole is not as interesting to listen to as it could be, although there is certainly a lot to admire in its performance.

Richard Wigmore in the CD booklet describes the Vier Canzonen of Schubert as suggesting “Mozart filtered through Rossini”, and indeed I am reminded of “An Chloe” when I hear the passing of the melody between the piano and voice in “Da quel sembiante appresi.” These songs were written as exercise pieces for a Viennese singer to learn to sing in bel canto style, and any student would be well advised to listen for the care with which Brownlee pronounces every consonant (including the doubled ones) clearly while sustaining the legato line.

The Verdi set opens out the emotional landscape with its longer, more sweeping phrases, and introduces a buffo element in “Lo spazzacamin”, contrasting the sound of the chimney sweep calling out his trade to the public with the light, almost conversational description of the usefulness of what he does and how he will make one’s life better.

Donizetti’s representation is limited to two pieces, “L’amor funesto”, which reaches toward opera, and “Me voglio fa ‘na casa”, a perky song in Neapolitan dialect. The Bellini songs range from three of the Sei ariette, which most voice students will encounter sooner or later, to the delectable “La ricordanza”, in which the melody (familiar from “Qui la voce” in I puritani) is passed from piano introduction to vocal statement, and then back to the piano as the vocal line becomes declamation. In this piece Brownlee’s skill with Italian diction and phrasing, as well as his ability to shape a beautiful melodic phrase, can be very instructive to the student of bel canto who listens attentively.

The Rossini section begins right after this with “La danza”, demonstrating to the full Brownlee’s consistently forward diction in the nonstop barrage of Italian consonants and vowels, winding up with a series of ringing held notes that continue into upward phrases (on one breath, of course). The only reason to perform this piece is to impress (and possibly amuse) the audience, and, as far as I’m concerned, both Katz and Brownlee succeed admirably. This sets up the more lyrical “La lontananza” and “L’esule” , finishing with two of Rossini’s many settings of Metastasio’s “Mi lagnerò tacendo”, one in the style of an aria antica and the other an opportunity to display some long, smooth phrases in high tessitura, at which Brownlee excels.

The CD booklet contains notes by Richard Wigmore in English, French, and German, as well as comments by and a bio of the singer. Texts and English translations of the songs are available on the EMI Classics website.

Barbara Miller

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Brownlee_recital.jpg image_description=Lawrence Brownlee: Lieder & Song Recital product=yes product_title=Lawrence Brownlee: Lieder & Song Recital product_by=Lawrence Brownlee, tenor, Martin Katz, piano product_id=EMI Classics 7243 586503 2 [CD] price=$6.48 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=680368&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 11:33 AM

Samuel Barbers „Vanessa“ am Theater Altenburg-Gera

passow_small.jpgEine Rarität auf den Spielplänen der Opernhäuser [ABG-Info, 15 April 2006]

Wenn der Spielplan des Theaters Altenburg-Gera ein unbekanntes, selten gespieltes Werk des Musiktheaters ankündigt, darf sich das Publikum auf einen spannenden Opernabend freuen – zumal, wenn Matthias Oldag, designierter Intendant des Hauses, Regie führt. Diese Kombination von musikdramatischer Entdeckung und Oldags einfallsreicher, äußerst wirkungsvoller Regie gab es in Altenburg und Gera schon des Öfteren – unter anderem als dieser Korngolds „Tote Stadt“ oder, in der letzten Spielzeit, Janáèeks „Ausflüge des Herrn Brouèek“ inszenierte. Gerade diese Inszenierungen waren es, die bei Publikum und Kritik auch überregional Aufmerksamkeit erregten und das Theater immer wieder ins Gespräch brachten. Diesmal arbeiten der Regisseur und sein Team - Ausstattung Thomas Gruber; Kostüme Andrea Kannapee - an Samuel Barbers Oper „Vanessa“.

Click here for production photo.

Posted by Gary at 11:19 AM

Opera Pacific: These two are Verdi good

Opera Pacific's production of 'Aida' brings together a pair of big-voiced singers for the first time.

By TIMOTHY MANGAN [OC Register, 16 April 2006]

Although Angela Brown and Carl Tanner, who sing the roles of Aida and Radamès in Opera Pacific's production of Verdi's popular masterpiece this week, met only when rehearsals began a couple of weeks ago, they already get along swimmingly.

Posted by Gary at 11:17 AM

Il Re Pastore, Linbury, ROH, London

Little arrows everywhere
By Edward Seckerson [Independent, 17 April 2006]

Cupid's arrows are indistinguishable from the arrows of war, and they fly around the stage and auditorium of the Linbury, where the director/designer John Lloyd Davies makes much of the correlation in Il re pastore, the oldest of Mozart's "young" operas, premiered when he was 19.

Posted by Gary at 11:16 AM


orfeo_small.jpgRichard Morrison at the Coliseum [Times Online, 17 April 2006]

LIKE Orfeo, English National Opera has been to hell and back this season.

But this beguiling, beautiful production — in which East melds with West, dance merges with opera and timeless gestures interplay with subtle modern lighting — would be a wow coming from any company, any year.

Posted by Gary at 11:15 AM

Wagner, Who Wanted Merely Everything

wagner_richard_small.jpgBy JOSEPH HOROWITZ [NY Times, 16 April 2006]

THE relationship of music and drama, note and word, is a central quandary in opera. Which comes first? Richard Wagner, in his writings and stagings both, insisted on treating singing as a kind of heightened speech. He was not immune to beautiful tone, but it was not his main concern. For the first "Ring of the Nibelungs," at his 1876 Bayreuth Festival, his last advice to his singers included the charge: "Distinctness! The big notes will take care of themselves; the little notes and the text are the chief things."

Posted by Gary at 11:14 AM

April 17, 2006

BELLINI: Norma — Trieste 1953

Music composed by Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835). Libretto by Felice Romani, from Norma ou L’infanticide (1831) by Alexandre Soumet.

First Performance: 26 December 1831, Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

Principal Characters:

Pollione, Proconsole di Roma nelle Gallie Tenor
Oroveso, capo dei Druidi Bass
Norma, Druidessa, figlia di Oroveso Soprano
Adalgisa, giovine ministra del tempio d'Irminsul Soprano
Clotilde, confidente di Norma Mezzo-Soprano
Flavio, amico di Pollione Tenor
Due fanciulli, figli di Norma e di Pollione Silent roles

Time and Place: Ancient Gaul during the Roman conquest.


Act I

In a forest in Gaul, at the time of the Roman conquest, the head of the Druids, Oroveso, announces to his people that the priestess Norma, his daughter, is about to reveal the will of the god Irminsul: all are hoping that the time has come to rebel against their oppressors. Meanwhile the Roman proconsul Pollione confides to his friend Flavio that he no longer loves Norma, in spite of the two children she has borne him and who live hidden in Norma's house, their existence a secret, but loves Adalgisa, a young priestess in the temple of Irminsul. Pollione fears Norma's anger, and recounts a dream in which she slaughters their children. Rut the sound of the sacred gong is heard announcing Norma's arrival, and the two Romans disappear into the forest. Now all the Druids are gathered, eager to be given the signal to revolt; but Norma reveals that the time for war has not yet come, and by the light of the moon she performs the sacred rite of cutting the mistletoe, invoking peace — a peace that is necessary for her to consolidate her secret liaison with Pollione. When Adalgisa is left alone she anguishes over her illicit love; Pollione arrives and eventually persuades her to follow him to Rome.

In her dwelling Norma looks anxiously at her children: she knows that Pollione must leave, but she has received no message from him, and is afraid that he no longer loves her as he once did. Adalgisa arrives, and cannot conceal that she has betrayed her vocation as a priestess and yielded to love. Norma understands her and reassures her, and releasing her from her vows she encourages her to follow the man she loves. But what is his name? Adalgisa indicates Pollione, who is approaching at that moment. At this tragic revelation Norma threatens revenge, and Pollione vainly tries to defend himself. Adalgisa, who knew nothing of Pollione's former love for Norma, is deeply distressed, and reassures Norma with generous words that she will break off all relations with the faithless Roman.

Act II

In her despair, Norma wishes she could kill her children: she is afraid, they will be turned into slaves in Rome, and also wishes to make Pollione suffer terribly. But she cannot bring herself to carry out the mad deed. She calls Adalgisa, and asks her to agree to marry Pollione and to keep the children with her; but Adalgisa no longer loves the Roman, and undertakes instead to rekindle his love for Norma. In the forest the warriors are ready to attack the Romans and kill the proconsul, but Oroveso has to stop them: Norma continues to remain silent about the decisions of Irminsul.

In the temple of Irminsul Norma learns from her friend Clotilde that Adalgisa's attempt has failed, and that Pollione is planning to abduct the girl. Norma has an overwhelming desire for revenge, and calls all her people together: it is the signal for war. Pollione is immediately taken prisoner, guilty of having broken into the cloister of young priestesses. It, is Norma who will have to sacrifice him, but first she must interrogate him and asks to be left alone with the guilty man. Norma promises to save Pollione's life if he will give up Adalgisa, but Pollione refuses and invites Norma to kill him, urging her to have, mercy on Adalgisa. Norma summons back her people and announces that there is another culprit, a priestess who has broken her vows: after a moment's hesitation she does not say Adalgisa's name, but her own. Only now does Pollione understand the nobility of the woman he has betrayed, and feels that he loves her again. Norma entrusts her children to her father Oroveso, who tearfully forgives her, and she serenely mounts the pyre with Pollione.

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for an English translation of the libretto.

Click here for the vocal score.

image_description=Maria Callas as Norma

first_audio_name=Vincenzo Bellini: Norma

product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: Norma
product_by=Adalgisa: Elena Nicolai; Clotilde: Bruna Ronchini; Flavio: Raimondo Botteghelli; Norma: Maria Callas; Oroveso: Boris Christoff; Pollione: Franco Corelli. Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Verdi di Trieste. Antonino Votto, conducting. Live recording, 11 November 1953, Trieste.

Posted by Gary at 7:10 PM

April 15, 2006

Opera star Braun takes a turn for the worst in Figaro

braun_russell_small.jpg( Photo: Johannes Ifkovits)
By PAT ST. GERMAIN [Winnipeg Sun, 15 April 2006]

It takes a villain to make Mozart's comic opera The Marriage of Figaro sing.

And celebrated lyric baritone Russell Braun is just the man for the job in his Manitoba Opera debut tonight at the Centennial Concert Hall. His skirt-chasing scoundrel Count Almaviva sets out to seduce former barber Figaro's bride on her wedding day, but Braun says his count is not such a bad buy once you get to know him -- he's a lecher, for sure, but he has mitigating historical depth.

Posted by Gary at 3:21 PM

An Opera For Our Times

suprynowicz_small.jpgSam Hurwitt [SF Chronicle, 16 April 2006]

It's a classic scene, like something out of an etching: The composer sits at his instrument playing what he thinks to be the last few minutes of his opera while the librettist stands staring intently at the score over his shoulder. If you're picturing them huddled over a harpsichord in powdered wigs, your mental image of opera could use an update.

Posted by Gary at 3:06 PM

Four- Hundred-Year-Old Music on Today's Music Charts

Peter Zimmermann [Deutsche Welle, 15 April 2006]

While the whole world is celebrating Mozart this year, a Berlin classical music festival took a different approach: Organizers chronicled everything from early German vocal music to Brahms' famous "Requiem."

The 10-day early music festival saw performances of the first German ever opera libretto as well as world premieres of avant-garde music. Nigel North, Hopkinson Smith and Paul O’Dette -- the best lutenists in the world -- played music by the greatest lute player and composer of all time: John Dowland.

Posted by Gary at 3:01 PM

Wagner's women

wagner_richard_small.jpgCan it be that the great egoist of opera had a feminist streak? Is Brünnhilde the true heroine of the Ring? The truth lies in the music, argues Natasha Walter

[Guardian, 15 April 2006]

If I ever thought about Wagner before I first saw a performance of one of his operas, a certain image sprang to mind. A stage full of blond singers, perhaps including a monumental soprano with plaits and a helmet, but certainly centering on the triumph of an Aryan hero, accompanied by blaring music full of brass and percussion. There was something macho about the whole scenario, and I had no interest in it at all.

Posted by Gary at 2:50 PM

Beneath the underworld

monteverdi_small.jpgBy David Jays [Financial Times, 14 April 2006]

This weekend, English National Opera premieres a new production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, the first real opera, at the London Coliseum. A 400-year-old chamber piece originally written for an Italian ducal palace must fill the largest theatre in London. It’s a big event - for the ENO and for all those involved. So what happens in the run-up to the opening night? How does the creative team communicate such an old piece to a contemporary audience and how do an incomplete score and the director’s imagination reach the stage?

Posted by Gary at 1:14 PM

April 13, 2006

Salonen Bemoans Strikes, Critics; Welcomes Cindy Crawford's Bra

Cindy-Crawford_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 14 April 2006]

April 14 (Bloomberg) -- Paris's St. Germain basks in spring sunshine on a day when, just two blocks west, rioting students have overturned a car and beaten up the driver. As riot police arrive, sirens blazing, lunchers stretch their legs at pavement tables and tip their faces to the sun.

Posted by Gary at 7:13 PM

London's `Il Re Pastore' Has Shepherds, Alexander, Pretensions

mozart_wolfgang_small.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 13 April 2006]

April 13 (Bloomberg) -- Mozart's early opera ``Il re pastore'' (``The Shepherd King'') isn't performed often. I have a horrible feeling that its popularity won't increase much after John Lloyd Davies's pretentious production in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House.

Posted by Gary at 9:42 AM

At Merkin Hall, Music With the Theme of Women as Patrons

moravec_paul.jpgBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 13 April 2006]

The New York Festival of Song returned to Merkin Concert Hall on Tuesday night with another bundle of vocal music wrapped in an idea. The theme was women as patrons of the arts, or put another way, the composer as protégé. The program tripped happily through history, naming those who helped the musically important and letting us hear the responses they got.

Posted by Gary at 9:28 AM

Andreas Scholl at Zankel Hall

From the late Middle Ages in Germany, we jump to the early 17th century in Italy and England, where we linger for a while to sample Purcell’s songs and some of Haydn’s London songs to words by a British bluestocking. We end the first half with a beautifully stratospheric Mozart aria and one of his few but choice songs, the gemlike "Abendempfindung," in which one can find no less than the ultimate meaning of both life and death. Time-travel in the second half of the program sends us back to the high baroque, where we sample the operatic glories of Handel and Lotti, and the chamber music of the Venetian red-haired priest Antonio Vivaldi, who did compose music other than the Four Seasons concertos." Here are two reviews.

Countertenor Andreas Scholl Sings Songs From Baroque to Handel and Mozart
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 13 April 2006]

The popular German countertenor Andreas Scholl received his early training as a member of a professional boys' choir, and there is still choirboy purity in his singing. His pitch is perfectly focused, his sound tender and radiant. Moreover, at 38, this wholesomely handsome artist still has a boyishly eager stage presence.

Click here for remainder of article.

Whoops and Cheers for a Countertenor Star
By JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 13 April 2006]

Not so long ago, a recital by a countertenor would have been unusual. These days, however, countertenors are almost as common as mezzo-sopranos. And one of our most prominent countertenors gave a recital in Zankel Hall on Tuesday night.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Andreas Scholl

Posted by Gary at 9:26 AM

April 12, 2006

Il re pastore, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 12 April 2006]

It is probably a good idea not to push too many works by the young Mozart into the public eye in this anniversary year. The Royal Opera’s production of Il re pastore was sensibly assigned to its Linbury Studio Theatre – a suitably off-beat venue for the teenage Mozart to be allowed a night on the town.

Posted by Gary at 1:23 PM

Solomon, Barbican Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 12 April 2006]

Handel was not only the composer of the Messiah, most popular of all classical music works at Christmas. He also wrote an unrivalled series of oratorios to be performed during Lent.

Posted by Gary at 1:01 PM

April 11, 2006


mitchell_laquita_small.jpg(Photo: Lisa Kohler)
By CLIVE BARNES [NY Post, 11 April 2006]

SOME operas sing themselves, if you have the right singers. One of these foolproof - if not quite singer-proof - operas is Bizet's "Carmen," which returned to New York City Opera on Friday night, with a cast led by the sterling Kate Aldrich making her local debut as the wild and fiery Carmen.

Posted by Gary at 8:56 AM

The Indian Queen—Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Tim Ashley [Guardian, 10 April 2006]

The Indian Queen is Purcell's problem piece. It was written in 1695 and consists of incidental music and masques for an otiose play co-authored by John Dryden and John Howard 30 years previously. The mind-bogglingly complex plot deals with a war between Peru and Mexico, and the eventual ousting of the eponymous queen Zempoalla - usurper of the Peruvian throne, and a woman much given to religious intolerance. Legitimacy of rule and the moral probity of monarchs are the work's central themes: Dryden and Howard were clearly thinking of the restoration of Charles II after Cromwell's Commonwealth. By 1695, however, the play also carried awkward overtones of Protestant triumphalism after the expulsion of Catholic James II.

Posted by Gary at 8:45 AM

Bach's Passions Are Revealed From Different Angles

bach2_small.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 11 April 2006]

Imagine how different the history of music might have been had Bach been interested in opera. Suppose that instead of heading to Leipzig, Germany, in 1723 to become the cantor at the St. Thomas Church, he had settled in Dresden, where audiences had an insatiable passion for Italian opera.

Posted by Gary at 8:33 AM

Raunchy Melisande Startles in Salzburg Easter Festival Staging

debussy_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg, 11 April 2006]

April 11 (Bloomberg) -- Melisande, so often a waif in a nightgown, gets a sexy red dress in the Salzburg Easter Festival's new production by Stanislas Nordey of Debussy's enigmatic opera.

Posted by Gary at 8:11 AM

April 10, 2006

The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens

The recording is housed in a handsome, finely illustrated, hard-bound volume, admittedly jewel-case sized, but running to over 100 pages by the time translations are included—substantial enough to suggest this might be a book accompanied by a CD, rather than the other way around, although it is clear that it is the musical program that has elicited the text. More close to the mark is that “The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry” is something of a well-cultivated garden itself, where diverse elements—literary, iconographic, horticultural, and musical—blossom into a satisfyingly harmonious whole. Or, to adopt a more explicitly musical metaphor, the production offers a fantasia on gardens in the pre-modern world.

The diversity of the anthology is impressive. Although thematically unified around horticultural images, the music ranges over a three-hundred-year span from c. 1250 to the 1560’s and represents six national styles; the musical texts themselves move between the suffering pangs of amour courtois, the spiritual eroticism of the Song of Songs, and more earthly forms of conjugal pleasure. Additionally, the book presents short essays by various authors on the history and literary sources of the medieval garden, a modern evocation of the medieval garden, and extensive program notes on the music, published with handsome reproductions of period iconography and photographs of historic gardens. Interestingly, the recording and book are suggestive of the ways in which music was heard, not in isolation, but always in a context, and it further reminds us that gardens were not only images in musical texts, but also sensory-rich sites for music making. Our modern propensity for i-Pods and the like gives music a mobility that opens it to seemingly limitless numbers of potential contexts, but at the same time, mediated through the personal headset, the music and the hearer are both artificially isolated from surroundings. By contrast, it is the rich interaction of surroundings and music that the Orlando Consort so splendidly evokes and celebrates here.

The singing of the Orlando Consort is highly accomplished, characterized by both naturalness and flair. The ensemble sound is full and free in tone, vibrant and resonant, though with a tight focus. The fullness of sound can leave one wanting a taste of simpler, clearer timbres from time to time, but the characteristic exuberance is easy to appreciate.

One of the difficulties of anthology programs is making sufficient stylistic distinction between pieces, and admittedly, there is a strong degree of similarity in the Consort’s approach to the different works here. The use of period vernacular and geographically inflected Latin pronunciations adds a measure of distinction, certainly, but one wonders if the musical palette itself might have also been more varied. In the end, however, these are compelling and highly committed performances. In context of a so well conceived and richly produced program, it is an offering you will want for either your bookshelf or your CD cabinet . . . or perhaps even both.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Rose_Lily.jpg image_description=The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens product=yes product_title=The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens product_by=The Orlando Consort product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMU 907398 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=787980&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 10:11 PM

VERDI: Nabucco

Stage director Gunter Kramer begins with a pantomime scene under the overture – a strategy that can provoke immediate antipathy in some viewers. Here, a small group of children engage in solitary play, barely interacting. A ballerina twirls, one young boy plays with a puppet (Punch? Or Judy?) on a toy stage set, another boy with a rocking-horse, and a second young lady, in black, regards herself in a mirror, then shoves the ballerina aside and imitates her.

With the overture finished, the children leave, but their toys remain onstage, most conspicuously, the toy stage. It took two people – Manfred Voss and Petra Buchholz – to create the bare stage design of projected Hebrew script for a background, with a glass case holding the crown and a sword. The chorus crowds on, dressed in mid-century overcoats and hats, with baggage strewn about. This evokes the images of Jews being gathered for deportation, and although the validity of the historic parallel can be questioned, the dramatic intention is strong and provocative.

The camera direction (Anton Reitzenstein) here strives too hard to add movement to a static scene, and by picking on details and individual faces, dilutes the theatrical impact of the crowd scene. Giacomo Prestia delivers Zaccaria’s aria with a sizeable but unsophisticated instrument, and he will be the lesser of the five principals of the evening.

Absolutely stunning in a white shift, Marina Domashenko would steal the show if she had more to do as Fenena. She delivers her solo impeccably, and when involved in a scene acts a most sympathetic Fenena. She can be a bit blank when not given something to do.

Miroslav Dvorsky (called Miro in the credits) may make for a surprisingly Slavic and strapping nephew to the King of Jerusalem, but he sings with robust passion, and certainly more impressively than he did in San Francisco in Tosca a season or two ago.

Ultimately, a successful Nabucco comes down to the title role and its Abigaille, and here Vienna scores with Leo Nucci as the King of Babylon and Maria Guleghina as his ostensible daughter. In a dark blue double-breasted suit, Nucci makes a dramatic appearance, suddenly rising amidst the Jewish refugees. The director places a lot of the dramatic action on Nucci’s shoulders, including his reaction to an invisible lighting bolt from above (where else?). Nucci has, if Opera Today readers will allow, a sort of homely dramatic power that works well in this role, and his long solo in part four earns a passionate response from the audience, perhaps more for his commitment than the occasionally raspy delivery.

Glamorous in a gorgeous dark blue gown, not unlike those worn at operatic galas, Guleghina is caught at the height of her powers. Never a beautiful voice, she provides instead a viscerally exciting performance, where any imperfection is irrelevant to the final effect. And here she is able to make Abigaille’s final scene more than an obligatory afterthought, and truly cap the evening off.

Thanks to these singers, this Nabucco has strengths enough to deserve viewing; ultimately, they triumph over an inconsistent, even incoherent production. If the updating is to mid-20th century, why does Zaccaria take a swig from a very 1990s’ water bottle before an aria? Why are Zaccaria and Fenena visible in the shadows behind Abigaille in her solo scene? Couldn’t Nabucco indicate his determination to save Fenena’s life by something other than straitening his tie with grim resolve? When Abigaille’s henchmen ostentatiously set fire to the toy stage set, does that equate the theater with a holy temple? And when those same henchmen carry mirrors to reflect Abigaille’s image back at her, does that mean she is the young girl admiring herself in the overture’s pantomime? So the other children must be….oh no. Too far to go for too little reward….

In the end, viewers would do well to forgive the production its failings and admire the singers and one other vital element – the brilliant performance of the Vienna orchestra under the inspired leadership of Fabio Luisi. His leadership blazes away with urgent rhythms and strong yet stylish attack.

The Metropolitan Opera filmed a Nabucco around this time, also with Guleghina. That production, although nothing brilliant, at least has a rough-hewn handsomeness and much less to quibble over. Samuel Ramey’s Zaccaria scores way ahead over Prestia’s in Vienna; otherwise, the Vienna cast has the edge.

And then there are the not inestimable pleasures of a Verona production, which beggars description and must be seen to be disbelieved.

So for those able to ignore some missteps in the production, the best moments of this Vienna Nabucco earn the DVD a cautious recommendation.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Nabucco_DVD_TDK.gif image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco product_by=Leo Nucci, Maria Guleghina, Marina Domashenko, Giacomo Prestia, Miroslav Dvorsky, Choir and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Fabio Luisi (cond.) product_id=TDK DVWW-OPNAB [DVD] price=$32.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0824121001544&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 7:39 PM

'Orazi & Curiazi' gets much-deserved U.S. premiere

mercadante_small.gifBY PAMELA HILL NETTLETON [Pioneer Press, 10 April 2006]

The Minnesota Opera's "Orazi & Curiazi" is more Romeo & Tybalt than Romeo & Juliet.

The most thrilling duet is between the two male leads, Scott Piper as Curiazio and Ashley Holland as Orazio, who share childhood memories, recall a battle in which one saved the other's life and then grumble about having to kill each other for the glory of Rome — everything short of "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Posted by Gary at 10:43 AM

'Norma': Bravura Coloratura

Bravo_Fabiana_small.jpgGrace Jean [Washington Post, 10 April 2006]

The most delightful moments in the Virginia Opera's scrupulous production of Bellini's "Norma" on Friday night at George Mason University arrived when the voices of the title character and her unwitting nemesis twirled together in a colorful burst of song.

Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

A No-Frills Passion Play

By GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Sun, 10 April 2006]

We will never know what it would be like to experience an opera by J.S. Bach because he didn't write any. But his consummate ability as a musical dramatist is abundantly evident in his two passion settings - the comparatively terse "St. John Passion" and the more contemplative "St. Matthew Passion" - which relate the events leading up to and including with Jesus's crucifixion.

Posted by Gary at 9:56 AM

Carmen, That Devilish and Dangerous Free-Spirited Gypsy, Is at It Again in a City Opera Production

aldrich_carmen2_small.jpg(Photo: Martha Mickles)
By JEREMY EICHLER [NY Times, 10 April 2006]

The New York City Opera has divided its spring season down the middle, with box-office safeties on one side and more adventurous fare on the other. "Carmen," which obviously falls in the first camp, dutifully returned to the New York State Theater on Friday night in a traditional production by Jonathan Eaton.

Posted by Gary at 9:53 AM

April 9, 2006

First shot Rings out in fight over classical downloads

BBC_Radio_3.gifNORMAN LEBRECHT [Scotsman, 10 April 2006]

WHEN BBC Radio 3 runs the whole of Wagner's Ring on Easter Monday, Rhine Maidens to Immolation, there will be free downloads once again - only this time with a difference.

Posted by Gary at 8:16 PM

Preview: Il Re Pastore, Linbury Theatre, ROH, London

She's just a sweet transvestite
By Michael Church [Independent, 10 April 2006]

When the American soprano Katie Van Kooten stepped into Angela Gheorghiu's role in the Covent Garden La Rondine last year, people thought this young singer was taking a risk.

Posted by Gary at 7:15 PM

The Guardian on Helen of Troy and Opera

By Tim Ashley [Guardian, 7 April 2006]

Just before Christmas 1864, La Belle Hélène, Offenbach's operetta about Helen of Troy, sex and impending war, opened at the Thêatre des Variétés in Paris. Offenbach had turned the myth of Helen, her elopement with Paris and the build-up to the Trojan conflict into an erotic satire on a hedonistic society oblivious to the fallout from its own actions. In the title role he cast a woman called Hortense Schneider. A great beauty and something of a grande horizontale, she was as famous for her raunchy delivery on stage as for the succession of lovers she took off it; the men in her life included the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863)

Posted by Gary at 7:05 PM

The Finnish Soprano Soile Isokoski Returns for New York Dates

By MATTHEW GUREWITSCH [NY Times, 9 April 2006]

A DISCIPLE of Maria Callas, la Divina? Who would have suspected?

The soprano Soile Isokoski, a preacher's daughter from rural Finland, is not the glamorous type. Onstage and off, her body language retains its rustic accent. Her Nordic timbre — true, clear silver — has nothing to do with Callas's thousand hues of smoke and fire. Of the roles in her eclectic repertory (Mozart and Richard Strauss, light Wagner, gentle Verdi, unfashionable French), none are associated with Callas.

Posted by Gary at 7:00 PM

BELLINI: La sonnambula — La Scala 1955

First Performance: 6 March 1831 at Teatro Carcano, Milan.

Principal Characters:

Il Conte Rodolfo, Signore del Villaggio Bass
Teresa, Molinara Mezzo-Soprano
Amina, Orfanella raccolta da Teresa, fidanzata ad Elvino Soprano
Elvino, ricco possidente del Villaggio Tenor
Lisa, Ostessa amante di Elvino Soprano
Alessio, Contadino, amante di Lisa Bass
Un Notaro Tenor

The Scene: A village in Switzerland.


Act I

A village with a mill on one side and an inn on the other.

It is a festive occasion in the village square. That afternoon Elvino and Amina, an orphan raised by Teresa, are to sign a marriage contract. All but Lisa, the innkeeper's daughter, celebrate. Lisa is in love with Elvino. She is consoled by Alessio, a villager who wants to marry Lisa. The notary arrives, followed by Elvino. Elvino has visted his mother's tomb to pray for her blessing of the marriage. He gives Amina his mother's ring, together with a bouquet of violets.

A stranger arrives. He is traveling to the castle. As he looks about, he recognizes the mill, the fountain, the wood and the farm. As night begins to fall, the villagers become fearful. Teresa explains to the stranger that a strange ghost wanders through the village wrapped in a white sheet, spreading terror everywhere. Incredulous, the stranger nevertheless accepts Lisa's invitation to stay at the inn. The stranger greets Amina and tells her that he hopes her husband will love her "as I would love you," much to the annoyance of Elvino.

A room in the inn.

Lisa comes to the stranger's room. She addresses him as Count, for he is Count Rodolfo, the son of the deceased lord of the castle. Lisa makes it clear to the Count that she is available, of which the Count is quite willing to take advantage. There is a sudden noise. Lisa runs out of the room, dropping her handkerchief in the process. Amina comes in through the window. Wrapped in a white sheet, she is walking in her sleep. She is dreaming of tomorrow's wedding ceremony and speaks to the Count as if he were Elvino.

As the entire village gathers to give the Count a hearty welcome, the Count escapes through the window to avoid being caught with a woman in his room. Everyone is surprised to find Amina sleeping on the sofa. Elvino, having been informed by Lisa, becomes extremely jealous. Amina awakes. She cannot explain her presence in the Count's room and, despite her pleas, Elvino calls off the wedding. Dismayed, Teresa picks up the handkerchief dropped by Lisa.

Act II

A shadowy valley between the village and the Castle.

A group of villagers is enroute to the Castle to ask the Count to exonerate Amina. Amina and Teresa, who are among them, and stop at Elvino's estate, where they find Elvino venting his grief. Amina again expresses her innocence, which Elvino refuses to accept. When the villagers return, they proclaim that the Count has exonerated Amina completely. Elvino will have none of it. Furious, he tears the ring from Amina's finger.

The village square.

As Alessio tries to convice Lisa that Elvino will never marry her, others announce that Lisa is his chosen bride. The Count confirms Amina's innocence, explaining that she is a sleepwalker. No one believes him. Realizing that Elvino is about to marry Lisa, she produces the handkerchief that she found in the Count's room. Lisa blushes, much to the despair of Elvino. Just then, Amina, who is sleepwalking again, comes out the window of the mill and walks along the edge of the roof above the revolving wheel. Seeing that she is in grave danger, the Count orders everyone to be silent. Amina awakens unscathed and in the arms of Elvino. He realizes that she is innocent. The entire village celebrates.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/bellini_medium.jpg image_description=Vincenzo Bellini audio=yes first_audio_name=Vincenzo Bellini: La sonnambula first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Sonnambula1.m3u product=yes product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: La sonnambula product_by=Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti, Gabriella Carturan, Giuseppe Modesti, Eugenia Ratti, Pierluigi Latinucci, Giuseppe Nessi, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Leonard Bernstein (cond.)
Live recording, Milan, 5 March 1955

Posted by Gary at 5:05 PM

April 8, 2006

Farewell, Maestro

nagano2.jpgKent Nagano Prepares for His Final Bow With L.A. Opera

by Lea Lion [LA Downtown News, 10 April 2006]

Some of the photographs are grainy, black-and-white images of a body animated with furious movement. Others reveal a smiling man posing with friends and family. One shows a meditative figure, in a stance reminiscent of Rodin's "The Thinker."

Posted by Gary at 4:24 PM

Netrebko Romps Through Met's 'Pasquale'

By MIKE SILVERMAN [AP, 8 April 2006]

NEW YORK -- This will go down as the season Metropolitan Opera audiences fell in love with Anna Netrebko.

The Russian soprano, with voice and acting ability to match her raven-haired beauty, is currently romping through the company's first production in a quarter-century of Donizetti's sometimes-frothy, sometimes-poignant comic opera "Don Pasquale."

Posted by Gary at 4:15 PM

April 7, 2006


While listening, I noted that the voice doesn’t resemble much the far throatier sound of Sordello in his best known official recording, the Decca/London Butterfly with Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Cossotto of one year later. The catalogue of Myto and the print on the CD, however, state that Sardinero was Silvio. If so, this must be one of the world records as the Spanish baritone was only 19 at the time. The La Scala site isn’t much help either. The very detailed and helpful archives are no longer to be found on the net. Still, I know that Pagliacci had a run of 6 performances and that Walter Monachesi also sang Silvio. So for the moment my money is on him and I’d appreciate any reader’s help in pinpointing an exact date on this live recording.

The sound is not always perfect. Sometimes it is a little bit murky and a few times it wavers. Luckily, it’s mostly the chorus that suffers, though that still is a pity as the La Scala chorus of that time sounded as if every singer could have a solo career. Such a CD’s (and the whole performance is on one) interest is concentrated on Giuseppe Di Stefano, though his admirers maybe possess this performance already as it was published previously on GDS and Movimento Musica. For those without this recording, I can only say the tenor is in terrific voice. Yes, the weaknesses of the time are there and they are well-known. He doesn’t cover enough and his open-throated singing sometimes results in squeezing the sound out. Above the staff, the voice starts thickening and is sometimes flat. But for most of the time, he sounds very fresh-voiced with that beautiful, unequalled timbre very much intact. Indeed, he sounds better than on his official recording of 1954. Maybe his is not the voice to sing Canio; but one wouldn’t be without this beautiful, lyric interpretation. And sometimes the experienced singer knows how to have the listener sit up when he unexpectedly introduces a beautiful diminuendo, where other tenors just bawl on as in his “tu sei Pagliacco” in a magnificent Vesti la giubba where he doesn’t use the “Gigli-improvement-sob” of “Infamia, infamia” during the postlude, as so many other tenors did (Del Monaco, Corelli). Yet, I admit I was quite surprised when he didn’t sing or sob the final “La commedia è finita” but prefers roaring it.

There is more to be enjoyed than the tenor, too. Clara Petrella is a magnificent Nedda. She was one of the three great veristas of the age (the other two being Olivero and Gavazzi) and maybe she had the best instrument of them all. A big, rich and luscious soprano with the small quivering of emotion in it that endears those singers to us. Though she never breaks the line, the emphasis and the voluntary pressure on the voice make her unforgettable. Yes, she can snarl but she snarls musically.

Baritone Aldo Protti probably was the favoured black beast of English critics at the time; but, Decca/London soon dropped him. He was considered to be dull and uninspiring. True he doesn’t have Gobbi’s inflexions and colouring; and he phrases far less imaginatively than his great contemporary, though he had far more voice at his disposal. Out comes a wonderful big stream of a voice, though almost always at the same level. In the house, one marvelled at the voice (and at the small size of the man); but on records, indeed, one could use something more.

Walter Monachesi is a good solid Silvio though he sings the role more like a Rigoletto than a young lover. And Luigi Alva as Peppe is casting from strength of course. No theatre nowadays would probably think of asking Juan Diego Flórez for this important second tenor role. A comprimario would do.

Nino Sanzogno has some original thoughts on tempi. Quick is better with him and already during the first measures of Canio’s entrance he is at loggerheads with Di Stefano for a few seconds. He soon slows down as he well knows that, in the pecking order of La Scala, he clearly comes behind the tenor; but, the moment Di Stefano is gone, he hurries up. This must be the fastest Ding Dong Chorus I know; and I marvelled at Petrella’s breath control when he rushed her through her aria. The moment Di Stefano appears, things once more revert to normal. All in all, a performance that surely must be heard. They don’t make them like that any more.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/myto_061108.jpg image_description=Ruggero Leoncavallo: Pagliacci product=yes product_title=Ruggero Leoncavallo: Pagliacci product_by=Giuseppe Di Stefano, Clara Petrella, Aldo Protti, Luigi Alva, Enzo Sordello, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Nino Sanzogno (cond.)
Live Registration 1956 Milano. product_id=Myto Historical 061H108 [CD] price=$10.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=685400&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 4:56 PM

Rosie Millard on the price of tickets at Covent Garden

[New Statesman, 3 April 2006]

In London, an early-evening injection of rigorous debate has become quite the thing, and this past week the Italian Institute was dissecting opera. Not the art form, but the financing. In the Italian corner was Antonio Cognata, general manager of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily. He introduced himself by saying: "I am an economist." In the British corner was Elaine Padmore, director of opera at Covent Garden, whose rejoinder went something like: "I'm no good at figures, but I know a lot about music."

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Royal Opera House

Posted by Gary at 2:56 PM

La Belle Helene, Coliseum, London

Trouble in the Greek camp
By Edward Seckerson [Indepdent, 7 April 2006]

What's this, a scene from Desperate Housewives? A suburban bedroom: the door to the en suite bathroom is ajar, the light on, a familiar overture playing on the radio, and the sound of gargling. Ablutions complete, a female form floats into view and with barely a cursory glance at the reclining, snoring figure in her marital bed, joins him. But this is no ordinary housewife. Desperate or not, this is La Belle Hélène and the face that launched a thousand ships has had better nights. At last the overture proper strikes up and Laurent Pelly's campy production of Offenbach's racy operetta is up, up, and away.

Posted by Gary at 2:42 PM

BELLINI: I Capuleti e i Montecchi

First Performance: 11 March 1830 at Teatro La Fenice, Venice.

Principal Characters:

Capellio, head of the Capuleti Bass
Giulietta, his daughter Soprano
Romeo, head of the Montecchi Mezzo-Soprano
Tebaldo, partisan of the Capuleti, betrothed to Giulietta Tenor
Lorenzo, doctor and adviser to Capellio Tenor

Time and Place: 13th Century Verona


Part One

Act I, Scene 1: A gallery in the Capuleti palace.

The city of Verona is torn apart by civil strife. The followers of the Capuleti family (the "Guelfi") oppose the followers of the Montecchi family (the "Ghibellini"). Fearing an attack, Capellio has called his people to exhort them to continue the struggle. He informs them that Romeo, the head of the Montecchi, is sending an envoy with peace proposals. Capellio hates Romeo, who recently killed his son. Lorenzo counsels them to hear the proposals. Tebaldo, however, promises vengeance with the blood of Romeo. Capellio thereupon offers Tebaldo his daughter, Giulietta; and they are to be married that evening. Knowing of the secret bond between Romeo and Giulietta, Lorenzo advises against the marriage because Giulietta is ill. Romeo, who is known by the Capuleti only by name, arrives to discuss peace. He proposes that the peace be sealed by the marriage of Romeo and Giulietta. Capellio refuses and promises future bloodshed. Romeo is informed of Giulietta's betrothal to Tebaldo.

Act I, Scene 2: A room in Giulietta's apartment.

Giulietta learns of her father's decision. She sadly calls out to her beloved Romeo. Lorenzo arrives with Romeo through a secret door to Giulietta's room. Romeo embraces Giulietta and urges her to run away with him. She refuses because of her duty to obey her father.

Part Two

Act I, Scene 3: A courtyard in Capellio's palace.

The Guelfi celebrate the imminent wedding of Giulietta and Tebaldo. Romeo, disguised as a Guelfi, confides to Lorenzo that there are a thousand armed Ghibellini outside the city preparing to attack. Lorenzo urges him to abandon his plans, all to no avail. The attack begins. During the commotion, Romeo races to join his men. Giulietta enters in her wedding dress. Romeo reaches her and urges her to follow him. Capellio and Tebaldo arrive leading the Guelfi. They recognize Romeo as the envoy. Romeo identifies himself and escapes with the assistance of the Ghibellini.

Part Three

Act II, Scene 1: An apartment in Capellio's palace.

Giulietta is anxious. Lorenzo tells her that Romeo is safe; however, the wedding will take place the next day. Lorenzo devises a stratagem. He advises her to take a potion that will produce a deathlike condition. Giulietta immediately grasps the potion and drinks it. Capellio enters and instructs her to retire and to prepare for the wedding. Giulietta implores him to embrace her. Disturbed, Capellio begins to feel remorse. Harboring suspicions of Lorenzo, he sends for Tebaldo and orders him to guard Lorenzo.

Act II, Scene 2: A deserted place near Capellio's palace.

Alarmed by the lack of news, Romeo searches for Lorenzo. He comes upon Tebaldo who challenges him to a duel. Just as they are about to engage in combat, they are taken aback by funeral music. It is a funeral procession to Giulietta's tomb. Both overwhelmed with grief, Romeo and Tebaldo disengage.

Part Four

Act II, Scene 3: At the tombs of the Capuleti.

Led by Romeo, the Ghibellini arrive to mourn. He orders her tomb to be opened and bids farewell to Giulietta. He then takes poison. Giulietta awakens and calls out to Romeo. She sees him at the foot of the sepulcher, thinking that he is there at Lorenzo's instructions. She soon realizes the truth when Romeo tells her he has taken poison. They embrace. Romeo dies and Giuletta falls dead upon his body. The Guelfi and Ghibellini rush in and observe the tragic scene. Capellio blames himself for the consequences of the hatred between the two factions.

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/bellini3.jpg image_description=Vincenzo Bellini audio=yes first_audio_name=Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Capuleti.m3u product=yes product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi product_by=Agnes Baltsa, Sona Ghazarian, Kurt Rydl, Ottavio Garaventa, Tugomir Franc, Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Giuseppe Patané (cond.).
Live performance, Vienna, 8 October 1977 product_id=
Posted by Gary at 11:38 AM

Daniel Barenboim Talks About Wagner and the Nazis, Fame

berlin_staatsopper_small.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp and Thomas Bauer [Bloomberg.com, 7 April 2006]

April 7 (Bloomberg) -- Ticket prices surge to 260 euros ($320) a seat and an international crowd swishes to the Staatsoper Unter den Linden for the Festtage, an Easter festival where the music of Richard Wagner tops the bill and the art of Daniel Barenboim draws the crowds.

Posted by Gary at 10:15 AM

April 6, 2006

The maestro and his demons

barenboim_small.jpgOn the eve of delivering his first Reith Lecture, in an exclusive interview, Daniel Barenboim tells Jan Moir how music makes sense of the world
[Daily Telegraph, 6 April 2006]

Walking at a fast clip along the corridors of an empty opera house is a small man with tiny hands, but an unmistakeably powerful presence. I note that his entourage treads carefully around him, as watchful as cats. No wonder, for the mood swings can be volcanic. However, today has been a good day. Only one screaming fit.

Posted by Gary at 10:58 AM

Farinelli: The first pop star

Farinelli and his fellow castrati were fêted all over Europe. Michael Church explores a new exhibition that explains why
[Indepdendent 6 April 2006]

"Mention the word castrato to any male music lover," says Nicholas Clapton, "and he'll go green about the gills, because the idea is a terrible threat to his sexual identity." As a counter-tenor who has twice impersonated Farinelli, the most famous castrato of them all, Clapton is in a position to know. And as curator of an exhibition entitled Handel and the Castrati, which has just opened at the Handel House Museum in London, he's determined to bring these monstres sacrés into focus for the first time as people, rather as a historical freak-show.

Posted by Gary at 10:48 AM

April 5, 2006

La Belle Hélène, London Coliseum

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 5 April 2006]

The problem with Offenbach on this side of the Channel is that his comedy tends to translate with all the freshness of a limp croissant or a flat champagne. So it was ingenious of English National Opera to import La Belle Hélène direct from Paris, where Laurent Pelly’s production was a hit at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2000.

Posted by Gary at 9:56 PM

The Opera 'Adriana Mater' Addresses Motherhood in a War Zone

Bardon_small.jpgBy ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 4 April 2006]

PARIS, April 4 — At its most powerful, opera takes human, religious and political dramas of the past and gives them enduring relevance. "Adriana Mater," the new opera by the heralded Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, borrows its haunting narrative from our own age and shows it to be a story for all time.

Posted by Gary at 1:52 PM

April 4, 2006

ROSSINI: Il signor Bruschino

Recently Opera Today reviewed a Cimarosa opera from this source; now we have an early Rossini one-act comedy, performed and recorded in May 1989. The Rokokotheater has a cramped floor holding maybe 100 seats, circled by three tiers of boxes. It might not be the height of ornate ostentation, but the theater earns its “rococo” designation honestly enough.

And it makes a fine setting for Rossini’s early farce, in which young Florville decides the only way to get the hand of the woman he loves is to impersonate the man her father has arranged for her to marry. Eventually this involves convincing the father of the true fiancé, the eponymous character, that he is wrong, even delusional, to claim that Florville is not his son. The comic developments here will delight some and irritate others, but the opera’s brevity means that after an hour or so of energetic Rossini music, everything gets wrapped up quickly, with the lovers married and everyone else willing to let bygones be bygones.

Director Michael Hampe gives us a chance to imagine what the opera looked like at its premiere, although with modern lighting and stagecraft. Still, we have handsome, traditional costumes and a simple living area set with garden doors opening onto a painted backdrop of golden hills.

Hampe’s cast mugs appropriately, considering the material. As the father of the house, Alessandro Corbelli gives us the quintessential petit bourgeois, and delivers some fine, effortless bel canto singing. Alberto Rinaldi portrays the obstreperous but befuddled father to the intended groom, who complains about the heat as the situation gets more complicated and confusing, in a running joke that never earns much of a laugh.

David Kuebler, who also took the tenor role in that production of Il Matrimonio Segreto referenced above, has the technique for the role of Florville, though some more charm to the voice would be appreciated. An energetic actor, his right eyebrow (or left to us viewers!) has more energy than many an opera singer.

Until about halfway through the opera, Amelia Felle has little to do as the daughter/bride-to-be, but then she is rewarded with one of Rossini’s finer set pieces, including a really rousing cabaletta (“Ah, donate il caro sposo”).

With a top cast, Il Signor Bruschino could make for an excellent companion to a production of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Both pieces have impersonations at the heart of the plots, and presenting them together would give an excellent picture of how comic opera developed in the approximately 100 years between the two, Otherwise Rossini’s work will live on in its sparkling, delightful overture, a staple of many classical radio station’s play lists. Gianluigi Gelmetti leads the Stuttgart ensemble in a satisfying rendition of both that music stand-rattling number and the rest of the score.

At less than 100 minutes, including lengthy curtain calls, this EuroArts DVD will best be appreciated by die-hard Rossini lovers and those who enjoy the most traditional opera productions.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Gioacchino Rossini: Il signor Bruschino

product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: Il signor Bruschino
product_by= Alessandro Corbelli, Amelia Felle, Alberto Rinaldi, Vito Gobbi, David Kuebler, Oslavio di Credico, Carlos Feller, Radio-Sinforieorchester Stuttgart, Gianluigi Gelmetti (cond.)
product_id=EuroArts 2054988 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 1:46 PM

Adriana Mater, Paris Opera, Bastille

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 4 April 2006]

Six years after the success of her first opera, L’Amour de loin, Kaija Saariaho is back with a modern fable, a striking story of lust and desire for vengeance.

Posted by Gary at 1:38 PM

Alice Coote Sings Mahler and Schubert

With Mahler and Schubert Through a Galaxy of Moods
By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 4 April 2006]

The British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote made herself known to New York fanciers of song on Sunday afternoon. With her pianist, Julius Drake, she sang Mahler and Schubert at Alice Tully Hall and introduced a voice of quality and a deeply connected sense of musical style.

Click here for remainder of article.

A Snakebit Song Cycle
By FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 4 April 2006]

The Schubert-Mahler connection was much in the air on Sunday afternoon when British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote presented a recital at Alice Tully Hall. Mahler grew up within the Central European vocal tradition, and his early works for voice and orchestra are reminiscent of two great men of lieder, Franz Schubert and Carl Loewe. His first song cycle, "Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen" ("Songs of a Wayfarer") is dramatic, like Loewe, and touched with poignant Schubertian sadness. This is Mahler's "Winterreise," full of youthfully ardent emotions of loving and losing, with all the words written by the composer.

Click here for remainder of article.

image_description=Alice Coote

Posted by Gary at 11:59 AM

New Documents Suggest Mozart Wasn't Poor

By WILLIAM J. KOLE [AP, 4 April 2006]

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- For centuries, historians have portrayed Mozart as poor, but new documents suggest the composer was not nearly as hard-up for cash as many have believed.

Posted by Gary at 11:27 AM

April 3, 2006

Young Man in a Hurry — Iestyn Davies

I_Davies_small.jpg[Sue Loder, 3 April 2006]
I met with Iestyn Davies at 1330 hours precisely, on the steps of the Hippodrome theatre, Bristol, England, where he was singing the role of Hamor in Welsh National Opera’s riveting production of Handel’s “Jephtha”.

Posted by Gary at 2:16 PM

Young Man in a Hurry — Iestyn Davies

He had arrived in the city with the rest of the cast a little earlier, and we spent the next sixty minutes of his busy day in a nearby hotel discussing not only his musical past, but also his plans for the next ten years of his life as an opera singer. If time seemed to weigh heavily on his mind, it was in a most positive way: he was, at only twenty-six, anxious to grasp the best opportunities whilst not backing himself into any musical backwaters or cul-de-sacs. Not a bad idea with some of Europe’s best known musical directors knocking at his door.

In the world of baroque opera, which has blossomed both on stage and on disc in the past twenty years, there seems today to be an almost bewildering plethora of that once-rare voice-type: the countertenor. Just six or seven years ago, it seems one was able to count on the fingers virtually every countertenor currently then singing in opera—today it is a very different story with every conservatory and music college regularly turning out a growing number of this popular, if particular, voice-type and with literally dozens now singing regularly throughout the world in repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to Dove. However, inevitably, this also means that the competition is becoming ever more intense.

Having read some glowing reviews of his work, I was interested to hear how Iestyn Davies fitted into this picture, and wasn’t surprised to learn that he comes from a musical family. So often this seems to kick-start a young talent and enable connections and decisions to be made with minimal error. Despite his very Welsh-sounding name, (for those unsure, it should be pronounced as “Yes-tin”—the Welsh form of “Justin”) which he derives from his father’s homeland of South Wales, Iestyn was in fact brought up in the north of England with his mother a teacher and his father the cellist in a well-known chamber quartet of the 70’s and 80’s, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. So music, if not singing, was integral in his young life and he was introduced to the piano before he was even four years old—something of which he thoroughly approves. “When you’re only four, with no experience of life to make choices, I think it’s important for parents to open music up for you when you are so young—before you can really speak—whilst your ear is still training your brain. I didn’t actually enjoy learning the piano but I had to practise to achieve happiness in the lessons and I went through all the grades (examinations) so at least now I am proficient enough to accompany myself in rehearsal—although I must say my score-reading is pitiful!”

From those early days he followed what might be termed the quintessential musical path for the classic English countertenor voice: boy chorister, then choral scholar at an Oxbridge college, in his case St. John’s, Cambridge, a college that has recently risen to musical eminence alongside its more famous brother, King’s.

However, unlike his renowned predecessors such as James Bowman, Michael Chance, and Robin Blaze, Iestyn Davies has determined to find himself a niche in the world of opera from the very start of his professional career, and reviews of his performances to date suggest that this is probably a good move. He has enjoyed his time in choral and ensemble work, but feels that it’s not good to mix that with solo or operatic opportunities. “I don’t feel it’s right if you want to sing opera and develop a solo career to try to do both, such as singing in a “St. Matthews Passion” as a chorus member and then stepping out to do a solo “Erbarme Dich”. Your audience is going to be confused as to who you are. I’m lucky that I’ve worked with Robert King and The King’s Consort but I had to make a decision to tell Robert that I felt I needed to take a cover job being offered at the English National Opera in “Semele”—which meant leaving the Consort. But the upside is that Robert is now booking me as a soloist.”

Such decisions can’t be easy for a young singer to make, and it prompted me to ask if there was any pivotal moment in his career when he suddenly found himself taking that step from promising student singer to young European professional? “Yes, there was, but nothing dramatic I’m afraid. By chance I heard that a friend of mine, another young singer, had signed with this agency and was getting work so I decided to take a chance and invite them to my performance in the Finals of the Handel Singing Competition in London in 2004. And it all went from there……I came second, and won the Audience Prize—which delighted me I have to say—and the agency, van Walsum of London, took me on there and then. So it was a good decision! Now I have people who know the opera scene, know how it works, and can advise me with a long-term, strategic view of my career. And I’ve been offered plenty of work.” I wondered how he was coping with making decisions about what to do, and what not? “That’s where I find my agent’s experience really helpful. I’ve recently had to turn down good roles due to clashes of dates—always a problem due to the advanced planning of the opera world—and at first I was a bit concerned about this. But after talking it through, I now realise that I have plenty of time and other such roles will come and also that certain others will expose me to working with wonderful directors who really understand the voice-type, such as David Alden. I’m singing Human Frailty/Pisander in his production of “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria” for Welsh National next September and I can’t wait to do it—such a great opportunity and I hope to learn a lot from it.”

How does he categorise his voice? “Well, essentially it’s a “Senesino” voice—if Handel wrote for that singer, then it’s a role I can sing I think. So a lower-lying countertenor/alto voice would best describe it and I’m happy in that sort of tessitura and that style. However, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy learning and singing modern compositions that really test the voice and expect me to leap around the staff in a way that Handel would never do…. But I approach that sort of work in a different way. Strangely, I find that learning the more “difficult” modern repertoire easier than the baroque material that is perhaps “easier” to sing…..something to do with the way you have to really learn each note of the new music, one by one, whereas your brain thinks it knows where the Handel or Vivaldi is going! Yes, I like doing modern repertoire but I can’t say I’m naturally attracted to lieder or mélodie of the 19th and 20th centuries—it doesn’t really gel with my background or academic interests—but I’ve nothing against other countertenors who do enjoy it, and whose voices suit it, such as David Daniels, exploring non-standard repertoire on their recordings and in recital. I just don’t think that it’s something I’d naturally want to do myself yet.”

I mention that some people have compared him to certain other well-known countertenors, such as Andreas Scholl, and this brings forth a robust response. “I think there’s a problem there when people try to categorise your voice by reference to another singer’s recordings that they’ve heard. They forget that recordings are just that, and not perhaps representative of that singer’s live singing voice, and they can tend to regard just one or two recordings of arias as benchmarks, or stylistic patterns that you should be trying to emulate. That doesn’t give a young singer much opportunity to develop his own style. And it can happen with musical directors too—I’ve seen how certain conductors can have a set idea of a character’s “sound”: for instance, Tolomeo in Handel’s “Cesare”, which is often thought of as a rather aggressive, chest-voice-driven alto. That’s their decision of course, but I think that for me that would be an unnecessary, and unhealthy, way to sing. I know that James Bowman is still singing in his 60’s but he is an exception really, and some countertenors seem to have trouble with their voices in their mid to late forties, even if they then come through it and continue, so I’m keen to try to sing correctly as much as possible. I’m sure it’s something to do with the fact that we use a different, thinner, part of our vocal cords, but we’ll learn more as time goes on and more of us mature into that age-group. In opera terms, the voice-type is still quite young.”

Moving on to subjects dear to every singer’s heart, mature and young, I wondered how he was managing the practical difficulties of both making money and retaining personal relationships in the chaotic and itinerant world of opera. Unfazed, his response was typically direct and optimistic. “Well, I’m making a living I’m pleased to say, and the real problem is one of cash flow—you don’t get the money immediately and you can’t foresee how the money will actually come in. And at the moment (a small smile) there’s no problem with my girlfriend as we’re in the same opera!” He is referring to young Welsh soprano Fflur Wyn, who sings the role of Hamor’s lover Iphis in “Jephtha”. “We have a place in London at the moment, but who knows what will develop and where we will live as our careers go in different way; at least at the moment we’re enjoying working together and getting reviews like ‘Davies and Wyn exhibit real chemistry on stage’—I’d be worried if they said ‘no chemistry at all’!”

Finally, I asked him where he would like to be in five years time in his career—what would his performance schedule look like in the year 2011? “ Ideally, I’d like to be doing one baroque opera, either Handel or Vivaldi perhaps, a series of concerts working with sympathetic musical colleagues and—fingers crossed—maybe some weeks devoted to a recording?. But just thinking back to what I was saying about vocal health and the countertenor voice, I’d also like to project even further ahead and hope that in twenty years, I’d still have a “happy” voice!” Anything else he’d like by then? “Oh yes, to be able to decide myself when I take my holidays!”

As we parted in the grey light of mid afternoon, he looked at his watch. We’d been talking for over an hour, and there was still a meal and technical rehearsal in the new venue to accommodate before curtain-up at 7pm. With a cheery wave he was away onto the next stage of a promising career, and the clock was ticking.

© S.C. Loder 2006

Iestyn Davies next appears at English National Opera in Purcell’s “King Arthur” opening June 26th; and with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in the same opera, opening on 30th September in Berkeley, CA. USA.

image_description=Iestyn Davies

Posted by Gary at 2:09 PM

Performance Cancellations at the Bavarian State Opera as a Consequence of the Ongoing Ver.di Strike

nationaltheater.jpg[Bayerische Staatsoper, 3 April 2006]

Since February 13, there has been a strike by stage crew and workshop personnel at the Bavarian State Opera. By dint of every effort, we have so far succeeded in avoiding any major impediment to our performances.

The organizational consequences, however, are catastrophic. Because of overstresses on the non-striking personnel and the collapse of the logistical system in the largest operatic operation in the world, the Bavarian State Opera is now forced to cancel performances.

Posted by Gary at 1:06 PM

Nine German Arias—An Urban Baroque Film

It is introduced with the words: “Filmed entirely in London in the year 2000, on video, and premiered at the 22nd Moscow International Film Festival, this award winning and groundbreaking first feature by opera director Peter Shayne is a conceptual dramatisation of Handel’s Nine Arias, composed in London c1725.

So far so good. Handel and the poet Barthold Brockes were students at the same time in Halle, and it's often assumed that they knew each other and were perhaps even friends. Brockes wrote a nine-volume anthology, from the first volume of which Handel set his Nine German Arias around 1725. In translation, the Brockes work is titled "Earthly Delight in God, Consisting of Physical and Moral Poems," the texts reflecting pleasure in the glory of God's natural creation. If one needs reassurance as to the quality of these works, then there are several excellent audio versions available - with Dorothea Roschmann’s on Harmonia Mundi an excellent example.

Reading the advertising for Peter Shayne’s work, made in 2000 but only just released on DVD last December, it sounds an interesting enough visual accompaniment to these last works the master wrote in the German language: “Three haunting apparition-like female figures wander the city singing three arias each. They extol the glories of nature and the divine, transporting us to a world of baroque ideals.”

Unfortunately, the realisation comes woefully short of the aspiration in a mass of crass and insensitive visuals that are obviously desperately trying to do something novel and challenging, yet end up just causing this reviewer to seriously consider throwing the DVD box at the screen. There are a few good ideas - but then they are endlessly repeated, ad nauseum. The film itself as a whole - tricksy “arty” shots included - reminded me of something a third-year Film Making student might produce - on a bad day. If the incessantly repeated shots were meant to be an ironic comment on the baroque aria form, then I can only say that Mr. Handel is poorly served by someone who doesn’t seem to have any real affection for, or understanding of, his music. The musicians (some first rate ones are listed) do their best and my heart goes out to the three sopranos who must be wondering now why they ever agreed to take part in this caricature.

S.C. Loder © 2006

image_description=Nine German Arias

product_title=Nine German Arias
product_by=Cara McHardy, Rona Israel and Saffron Van Zwanenberg, sopranos; Rodolfo Richter, Graham O'Sullivan, Zilla Gillman and Alison McGillivray, instrumentalists, Robert Howarth (harpsichord and musical director); Peter Shayne and Sophia Panayiotopoulos, producers; Peter Shayne, director.
product_id=Antahkarana DVD

Posted by Gary at 10:39 AM

Judas Maccabeus

Hilary Finch at St George's, Hanover Square [Times Online, 3 April 2006]

The London Handel Festival opened with a capacity audience in Handel’s own Hanoverian church. But if that audience was moved on occasion to rise to its feet it was not for the sake of ovation, but rather to provide relief for its backside. It seemed a long, long evening on the pews to wait for the three-act oratorio’s single big number, See the conqu’ring hero comes. Although it rang out from a splendid trio of voices, it had been something of an endurance test to weather Handel at his most formulaic for most of the evening.

Posted by Gary at 9:23 AM

Fame at last for the diva in waiting

sunnegardh_erika2_detail.jpg(Photo: John Purrick)
From James Bone in New York [Times Online, 3 April 2006]

A FORMER waitress became an operatic diva at the weekend with a triumphant debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York that was broadcast to millions around the world.

Posted by Gary at 9:09 AM

Don Pasquale at the Met

'Don Pasquale' in a New Production at the Met by Otto Schenk
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 3 April 2006]

Savvy directors and actors understand that the only way to make a rich comedy truly funny is to take it seriously. For a brilliant demonstration of this principle in action, go to the Metropolitan Opera for the director Otto Schenk's wonderful new production of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," which opened on Friday night.

Click here for remainder of article.

A Grand Night at the Opera

By JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 3 April 2006]

It promised to be a wonderful time at the Metropolitan Opera - and it was. What had been so promising? Well, first, the opera was "Don Pasquale," Donizetti's fabulous farce about an old man who contrives to get married, wanting to disinherit his nephew, and ... But if you get into the plot of an opera buffa, you get into the weeds.

Click here for remainder of article.

Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 3 April 2006]

It was one of those gosh-we’re-great nights at the opera. The mighty Met, ever true to yesterday, celebrated stylistic retrogression while mustering its first Don Pasquale in 26 years. Otto Schenk, grand old man of Austrian kitsch, was coaxed out of retirement for a final fling at let’s-pretend stage-direction. Rolf Langenfass provided dauntlessly picturesque decors. The cast looked stellar on paper, and the proud first-nighters registered push-button approval. Too bad the wonders ceased.

Click here for remainder of article.

Vamping taints an all-too-merry widow


It all looked so promising on paper: Four winning principals in Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," the wise and urbane 1843 masterpiece last heard at the Metropolitan Opera more than a quarter-century ago.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for an overview of Don Pasquale.

image_description=Gaetano Donizetti

Posted by Gary at 8:37 AM

April 1, 2006

Stepping Onstage as a Waitress, She May Exit the Met as a Star

(Photo: Leif R. Jansson)
By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 1 April 2006]

Until 18 months ago, Erika Sunnegardh, a soprano, had never sung an opera role on stage.

For nearly 20 years she toiled as a waitress, caterer and tour guide in New York. Sure, there was singing: a few recitals and plenty of funerals as a church cantor in the Bronx. Often the choice boiled down to rent or voice lessons.

Posted by Gary at 9:46 AM

A New Spark for a Don Beyond Compare

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 1 April 2006]

"Don Giovanni" is as close as you're going to get to a perfect opera. That statement may draw forth a chorus of protests: it's long, it's sprawling, it hasn't figured out whether it's a comedy or a tragedy, and it lurches from one extreme to the other. But at the New York City Opera on Thursday night, at the second performance of the opera's run there, I was struck by how tightly and satisfyingly the sections fit together, each falling into place with an audible click, like some sort of aural Rubik's Cube.

Posted by Gary at 9:40 AM

Gala Concert—50th Anniversary of the Reopening of the Vienna State Opera

Director of the Vienna Opera Ioan Holender claims in a short note at the front of the enclosed booklet that this gala is not a celebration but “an opportunity to recall the great dedication and the many sacrifices that Austrians brought to the task of rebuilding their beloved” opera house, critically damaged in an air raid in March 1945. Ten years from that event, in November, a rebuilt opera house opened, and 50 years on, this gala took place. Quiet moments for reflection do not, however, appear in the two-disc DVD record of the gala. Five conductors, a huge cast of fine singers, including superstars such as Placido Domingo and Edita Gruberova, and an elegantly dressed and coiffed audience all seem in the mood to enjoy the glory of the operatic tradition till going strong in the Austrian capital.

However, a couple of distinguishing characteristics separate this DVD from typical galas, affairs which may entertain a live audience but make for less than riveting viewing later. First, instead of a random assortment of arias without theme or sensible order, this concert focuses on selections from several of the operas presented in that first season after the rebuilding of the house—and all of them operas central to the house’s repertory. As each section begins, the director cuts away from the concert to the poster with the cast listing for the 1955 production. Second, longer scenes dominate the evening, which allows for a level of characterization not usually found in the formats that center on isolated arias.

The advantages of this strategy do not make much of an impression, unfortunately, on the first disc. Seiji Ozawa opens with the third Fidelio overture, and then Zubin Mehta takes the baton for a Don Giovanni section, which begins with two solo arias. Ferruccio Furlanetto sings Leporello’s catalog aria. Edita Gruberova then appears (to an ecstatic reception from a house audience she has entertained for many years) with a most impressive “Non mi dir.” Finally a fuller cast enters for the act I finale, but Thomas Hampson goes for a gruff sound and a grating smile of self-infatuation. Ildiko Raimondi and Boaz Daniel don’t come across as gala-level signers in their roles as Zerlina and Masetto, although they are unobjectionable. The return of Gruberova, with the glorious Soile Isokoski as Donna Elvira and Michael Schade as Don Ottavio, helps bring this section to life at last.

Disc one ends with another gala favorite, the Rosenkavalier trio. In fact, Angelika Kirschshlager sang Octavian in the recent Berlin Opera Night DVD, and perhaps in the same glamorous female tux. Here she joins Soile Isokoski’s splendid Marschallin and the sweet but unprepossing Sophie of Genia Kuhmeier. West Coast readers may want to make plans to attend Isokoski’s run in this role in summer 2007 in San Francisco. Christian Thielemann conducts, and seems to be a Vienna favorite. Perhaps some of his fans can recommend a better barber. Warning to viewers who like the titles on: the banal translation of the trio seriously undermines the sublimity of the music. Turn them off here.

So far this DVD has been fair entertainment, but disc two takes it to another level. Danielle Gatti leads a dynamic, detailed act three from Aida, and shortly into the other thirty minutes of this section, the gala frou-frou disappears and the drama comes to life. Especially outstanding is Violetta Urmana’s Aida. She only manages a soft ending to “O patria mia,” and the lack of floating high notes may dismay some. But everywhere else, she pours out the dignity and pathos in an uninterrupted stream of gorgeous tone. Franz Grundheber still has a lot to offer, and though his habit of scrunching up one side of his face makes one wish the director backed off on the close-ups, his fearsome King contributes mightily to the scene. Though not in their class, Johan Botha does have enough voice to make a fine aural impression. An attempt at a soft singing in the top range goes awry; otherwise, he holds his own.

Then the crowd goes crazy for Placido Domingo and Agnes Baltsa in the great Radames/Amneris confrontation scene. Domingo can come on stage beaming with an almost childish glee at the fun of the occasion, and then turn on the dramatic power as easy as flipping a switch. Although she is also done no favors by the director’s insistence on close-ups, Baltsa digs into Amneris’s dark infatuation with undeniable relish. And the crowd goes even crazier.

Thielemann comes back on for the Meistersinger prelude, and then we learn the conductor is not the tallest man performing that night, as Bryn Terfel joins him for two of Hans Sachs arias. Terfel will grow further into this role, but what a treat to have his glorious tone and dramatic restraint—yes, that’s right—in this role. He lets his eyes do the acting, and Hampson would have done well to do the same.

Falk Struckmann and Deborah Polaski now join conductor Franz Welser-Most for arias and the finale from act three of Die Frau ohne Schatten, with Botha’s Kaiser, the Kaiserin of Ricarda Merbeth (little to do here but capable), and some lovely “stimmen der Ungeborenen.” Struckmann struggles a bit at the top, and as the tune here is one of Strauss’s loveliest, a more lyric baritone might have impressed more. Polaski’s Dyer’s wife employs her power and edge well, certainly better than in some lines from the finale of Fidelio, which closes the program under the baton of Seiji Ozawa. Polaski’s edginess gets too pointed there. Botha, seemingly the only power tenor employed by Vienna these days, takes on the few lines for Florestan. Hampson, Walter Fink, and Struckmann fill out the scene, with Hampson redeeming himself with some unmannered and handsome vocalizing.

EuroArts ends the disc with something your reviewer loves—a complete round of ovations for the artists, including solo bows. This credits section goes on over 9 minutes, but viewers of a successful live DVD recording, whether of a gala or complete performance, want to celebrate the performers along with the audience present.

And “celebration” is the word, no matter what the house Director writes. Especially for that Aida section, this Vienna State Opera gala concert deserves no less.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Gala Concert—50th Anniversary of the Reopening of the Vienna State Opera

product_title=Gala Concert—50th Anniversary of the Reopening of the Vienna State Opera
product_by= Plácido Domingo, Agnes Baltsa, Thomas Hampson, Bryn Terfel, Edita Gruberova, Angelika Kirchschlager, Violeta Urmana, Deborah Polaski, Falk Struckmann, Michael Schade, Ferruccio Furlanetto, et al., Orchestra & Chorus of the Vienna State Opera, Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta, Christian Thielemann, Daniele Gatti, Franz Welser-Möst, conductors
product_id=EuroArts 2054928 [2DVDs]

Posted by Gary at 6:30 AM