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