May 31, 2006

PFITZNER: Das Christelflein

To a libretto by Ilse von Stach, Pfitzner composed music that emphasizes physical beauty, like that of a winter forest landscape, glittering in silver and green. This subtle score, however, accompanies an odd libretto that mixes fantastical elements — a wise old Fir Tree and the elf of the title — with more adult elements, such as an “atheistic” family member who must be converted by a sort of Christmas miracle (the return to health of a sickly child). If trying to follow this mish-mash makes it understandable why the piece has not taken a firm hold in the seasonal repertory, cpo’s recordings still offers a chance to hear some exquisite music, well-recorded and professionally performed.

As opposed to a “singspiel” such as Die Zauberflote, this “spieloper” interweaves instrumental passages, entirely distinct from the rest of the score, with a narration (“zwischentext”) and dramatic scenes that develop into song-like sections. In other words, Das Christelflein hardly strikes the ear as an opera, or even much of a stage show; rather, it seems like a musical setting for a series of tableaux. At any rate, cpo offers a scene by scene synopsis, but no further text, making it difficult to judge, for a non-German speaker, the impact of the piece. It should be said that the speaker, Andrea Sokol, has such perfectly clear diction that your reviewer began to believe he understood her. Though he truly had “keinen Anhaltspunkt” (“no clue”).

At under 100 minutes, the work holds the attention mostly due to the appeal of its luscious orchestration, including a piece built around the classic carol “O Tannenbaum.” The thematic material, other than that song, makes no strong claims to the listener’s memory. If it did, undoubtedly the piece would be better known.

Claus Peter Flor leads the Munich Radio Orchestra in a translucent performance, and he has a most able cast. Most notable is Marlis Petersen, soprano, who sings the Elf without any mannerisms, staying true to Pfitzner’s elegant vocal lines. Friedmann Rohlig, who has sung memorably at San Francisco Opera in recent years, uses his attractive bass to characterize the old Fir Tree, “Tannengreis,” though the tessitura seems to get a little high for him in places.

Das Christelflein definitely deserved to be revived for this fine recording. It may never make it back into the world’s concert halls, even at the appropriate time of year, but cpo once again proves itself an invaluable resource for throwing light into dark corners of the repertory.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Christelflein.jpg image_description=Hans Pfitzner: Das Christelflein product=yes product_title=Hans Pfitzner: Das Christelflein product_by=Petersen, Rüping, Connors, Bauer, Volle, Hörl, Röhlig, Salter, Sokol, Tölzer Knabenchor (Ltg.:Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden), Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Claus Peter Flor product_id=cpo 777 155-2 [2CDs] price=$31.49 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=609902&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 4:55 PM

Delectatio angeli — Music of love, longing & lament

Among her many recordings there are only a few where she is the headliner, rather than a soloist among other musicians in ensemble. All the more surprising, then, that Hyperion has launched a sort of "early music top of the pops", where she surveys a variety of late-medieval repertoire, among which the most well-known are three songs of Dufay.

If it should be surprising, more's the pity, for this is one of the most consistent enjoyable and diverting discs that has come my way for a while. It begins with an unaccompanied English song from the 13th century, for which Bott adopts a breathy sound popular with "new-age" Celtic pop singers. Is it appropriate here? For me it connotes an ersatz and superficial look back at the past, which is not the message that I imagine Bott wants to send.

The soprano goes on to show what she is capable of in a beautifully spun-out "O Rosa Bella", lyrical, controlled, and passionate, which shows the listener why this was one of the most popular songs of the mid-fifteenth century. Here, and throughout most of the disc, she is accompanied ably by Pavlo Besnosiuk and Mark Levy on medieval fiddles, whether in notated polyphony or in improvised settings for monophonic originals.

My taste lies particularly toward the two works from the French Ars Subtilior, "Par maintes foy" by Vaillant, with its virtuoso coloratura in shifting rhythms delivered with verve and accuracy, and the dreamy "Le Greygnour bien" by Matheus de Perusio. This period of utmost complexity from the late fourteenth was followed by increasing simplification of rhythm and construction through the two centuries to follow, and Bott's readings give an idea of what was lost in moving in another direction. (If I am not mistaken, the listener can find thes e tunes sung by Bott on a Linn disc by the New London Consort which is devoted exclusively to this period). Bott is also heard to good advantage in three Dufay songs, including the warhorse Vergene Bella.

Bott is one of those singers who seems most at home in early music or in contemporary music (an area she has also been exploring), perhaps because her sound and intelligence is more appropriate for intimate, complex, and inward repertoire such as she presents here (rather than the big "bow-wow" that is often the ticket to success in the vocal world). Not so long ago she recorded an entire disc of troubadour song, which is now out-of-print. If you value a first-rate reading of some delightful repertoire, snap this one up while you still can.

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/bott.jpg image_description=Delectatio angeli — Music of love, longing & lament product=yes product_title=Delectatio angeli — Music of love, longing & lament product_by=Catherine Bott and Friends product_id=Hyperion CDA67549 [CD] price=$18.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=683388&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 4:29 PM

BÖHM: Cantatas

The curse and blessing of our Googling (rather than Golden) Age is that an enormous volume of superficial knowledge of all and sundry is available to all, cheap, quick and (almost) free. Thus your reviewer can confirm his dark imaginings about the “forerunners of Bach” (or, in German, “vorläufern von Bach”). The Germanocentric bent of American writing on music history means that all of European music (or all that is of any value) is crammed into the Procrustean bed of “Bach-forerunnerdom” or “Bachian influence” (and if Bach be not the central figure, 'tis Beethoven).

Perhaps the most egregious example of this is poor Georg Böhm (1661-1733). Were he not a Bach-forerunner (were he a Portuguese mestre de capela, let's say), he would not have already had a complete edition of his works seventy-five years ago. On the other hand, he would not suffer the ignominious fate of having the consideration of his influence on JSB come prior to the analysis of his own works in Grove, which goes on to scathingly condemn his vocal works (“derivative”).

The Capella Sancti Georgi and Musica Alta Ripa present almost half of the surviving cantatas from Böhm here, and what becomes immediately obvious to the listener that the problem for Grove is that unlike the keyboard works the same pen, where Bach found much ore to quarry for his own style, the cantatas are as un-Bachian as you might like. What that means is that the style is much more retrospective, reflecting a German 17th-century idiom that was interested in developing even older Italian models (recall that Böhm was a generation older than Bach or Telemann). No operatic succession of dry recitative and interminable aria, interrupted now and then by masterful choruses. No virtuoso obligatos for violin, oboe, flute, cello, and so forth. None of the grandeur and tedium of the Bach Kantatenwerk. These cantatas show the sort of flowing combination of different vocal soloists, supported usually by a trio-sonata texture, that recalls early seventeenth-century Venice, for example. And within this context Böhm is competent and the music charming. Any listener who knows and loves J.S. Bach's cantata “Wachet Auf” (no. 140) will find it hard to resist “Das Himmelreich ist gleich einem Könige”, which presents three verses of the “Wachet auf” chorale, with the familiar poetry of Philipp Nicolai.

Any more unfamiliar idiom is helped tremendously in performance or recording by a reading that is sensitive to the particular traits of that style, and the Capella Sancti Georgi and Musica Alta Ripa are warm and convincing here. The soloists are fluent and capable, particularly the first-rate singing of basso Markus Flaig, with a clear, resonantly manly tone, and excellent diction.

Warmly recommended. Perhaps cpo will see its way to a second disc?

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/bohm.jpg image_description= product=yes product_title=Georg Böhm: Cantatas product_by=Capella Sancti Georgi; Musica Alta Ripa; Ralf Popken product_id=cpo 777 143-2 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=601242&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 4:17 PM

JONES: The Geisha

Whether one does or does not have a taste for this genre — basically music hall Gilbert and Sullivan — the Asian stereotyping and parody here will either strike one as innocuous, perhaps at worst an unfortunate residue of a different time or place — or as completely beyond the bounds of civil etiquette.

From “Chon Kina”:

I’m the smartest little geisha in Japan
And the people call me Roli Poli San....

Chon kina, chon kina
Chon kina, chon kina
Nagasaki, Yokohama, Hakodaate ho!

From “Jolly young Jacks are we”:

We’ve seen all sorts and sizes too-
Some rather quaintly dress’d ones;
But give me eyes of English blue-
Believe me, they’re the best ones!

And — hold on — from “The Toy Monkey”:

Nobody doubts that this horrid Japanese
Wives — orientally has got;
One, two, three, or as many as you please....

Click! Click! he’s a monkey on a stick....
So I’ll keep him alive
Till my English friends arrive-
When I’ll wish him a polite good-day.

That number — written by a Lionel Monckton and inserted into Sidney Jones’s score — precedes the charming ditty, “Ching-a-ring-a-ree.” We will not go there.

Hyperion evidently has no compunctions recording — and then re-releasing — this material. The well-written booklet essay elaborates on Jones’s career and times, but never ventures a word regarding the material, other than to explain that Jones’s hit followed on the success of The Mikado. The score couldn’t hope for a better performance; Ronald Corp leads the New London Orchestra and a fine cast of singers, including Christopher Maltman and Sarah Walker.

Basically this is a series of songs, mostly relentlessly upbeat, in the “toe-tapping” mode, but with a weepy ballad or two thrown in. Most all the tunes start on the tonic and return there as often as possible. After about 10 minutes, how good some of Wagner’s knottiest chromaticism would sound. After 30 minutes, one longs for Wozzeck, some Moses und Aron, Die Soldaten. As the 75-minute mark approaches, keep any sharp objects away — the threat to do damage to one’s own eardrums is very real.

Evidently there is an audience for this music, as Hyperion has found the original recording worthy of re-release on its “budget” label, Helios. If Jack Bauer, during next season’s 24, must refrain from the more physical methods of extracting information from hideous terrorists, perhaps he will avail himself of a boombox and this recording, press the “repeat” button, sit back, and wait for the screaming to start. The world will be safe soon enough.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Geisha.jpg image_description=Sidney Jones: The Geisha product=yes product_title=Sidney Jones: The Geisha product_by=Lillian Watson, Christopher Maltman, Sarah Walker, Richard Suart, New London Light Opera Chorus, New London Orchestra / Ronald Corp product_id=Hyperion CDH55245 [CD] price=$10.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=788067&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 3:55 PM

MANFREDINI: 12 Concerti op. 3

Any Italian composer with some degree of success ( i.e. published works) must by now have multiple recordings of multiple concerti available on disc. Think of Leonardo Leo, Francesco Durante, Tommaso Albinoni, Francesco Manfredini. And yet virtually nothing in the way of operas is available on recordings from these same figures. Listening to vocal music takes a level of music concentration beyond that necessary for consumption of instrumental music, beginning with a willingness to enter the poetry of the text and the drama of the plot, and for most listeners, grappling with a language that is not their native tongue. Instrumental music is far more accessible. All this means that the present disc is far from a discographic debut.

Manfredini was from the provinces, born in Pistoia, and spending most of his career there. Then, as now, Pistoia was hardly a leading cultural center in Tuscany. Manfredini studied and was employed as violinist in Bologna as a young man, spent several years in Monaco, but returned to Pistoia in 1724 as choir director at the Cathedral, and remained there until his death in 1762. All of his published works were issued in Bologna between 1704 and 1718 (the concertos, op. 3), with one posthumous collection issued almost fifty years later in London.

These concertos are short (three movements, usually under seven minutes), easily digestable, far from challenging, the sort of thing you might expect on the radio between seven and nine AM, say. That is their virtue and their defect. They are well-made, but there is as much difference between the various concertos as there is between the contents of a nice box of petit-fours. Individually, they may be sweet and tasty, but only the hardiest or most gluttonous could imagine eating the whole box. Cloying, in a word. It is revealing that "in order to offer the hearer a varied listening experience" (in the words of the note), the producers have chosen to present the works out of numerical order.

As far as I know, this is the third complete recording of the set, with a deluxe set on Vox back in the glory days of the Italian baroque concerto on disc (1956), and a more recent set on Naxos. The Naxos set, by the Capella Istropolitana, is more in the vein of the modern performance on modern instruments, full tone, vibrato, etc., and Rémy and party follow the "historically-informed performance line", but it is not enough to bring these weak pieces back to life.

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/manfredini.jpg image_description=Francesco Onofrio Manfredini: 12 Concerti op. 3 product=yes product_title=Francesco Onofrio Manfredini: 12 Concerti op. 3 product_by=Les Amis de Philippe; Ludger Rémy. product_id=cpo 999 638-2 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=360699&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 3:11 PM

DONIZETTI: Marino Faliero

Singers had also been making the trek for as long as these cities had standing opera companies. Rossini, of course, was the first to make the trip in the post Napoleonic period, leaving for Paris after his Semiramide in 1823, and composed all his remaining operas for that city. The last, and most important, of these was Guillaume Tell, in 1829. Meyerbeer came next, and scored what was easily one of his greatest triumphs with Robert le Diable in 1831. Auber and Halévy were there already, with Auber having written several successes. Halévy's best year was to come in 1835. With Rossini entrenched in a position of power in the musical life of Paris, he extended invitations to both Bellini and Donizetti to compose new works for the 1834-1835 season.

In the meantime, some of Italy's greatest singers of the period: Giulia Grisi, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Luigi Lablache (later called the Puritani quartet) had already come North. They were splitting their seasons between Paris (autumn and winter) and London (spring and early summer), often performing as a unit. By the start of 1835, the stage was set for what was to become possibly the greatest single year in the history of opera. It started gloriously on January 25 with the premiere of I puritani, probably one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the Théâtre Italien. Less than a month after that, on Feb. 23, came the premiere of Halévy's La juive. Marino Faliero had to wait until March 12—more on that opera below. Not to be outdone, Auber's Le cheval de Bronze had its' premiere at the Opéra Comique eleven days afterward. By September, Donizetti was back in Naples for Lucia di Lammermoor, and in December, Halévy's second most important work, L'éclair was premiered at the Opéra Comique.

Donizetti, who had started working on Marino Faliero while still in Italy, arrived in Paris in time to attend the prima of I puritani, and put the finishing touches on in that city. The work was based on a drama by Casimir Delavigne, which, in turn had been based on Byron. The premiere came at the end of the Paris season, and, due to various problems, it was only possible to give a few performances. Donizetti was pleased with its success, although it was less tumultuous than of the Bellini work. Both operas were repeated when the singers traveled to London, Marino Faliero being given first, on May 14, actually one week ahead of Puritani, and repeated next season in both cities. It had a long and successful career, being given all over the world, and probably had about twice as many productions in the nineteenth century as Roberto Devereux. Its U.S premiere was in New Orleans in 1842 and it was later given in New York City.

The music of Marino Faliero has many strikingly beautiful moments. The first act has a wonderful, and fiendishly difficult, aria for the tenor, Fernando, followed by one of Donizetti's better love duets, and another duet, this time for the two basses. This duet is sufficiently similar to that in I puritani, that some have wondered if it was actually composed after Donizetti heard his rival's opera. The act ends with one of Donizetti's rousing finales. The second act starts with a stunning barcarole for the Gondolier and chorus (a part of which was reused in Il Campanelllo), and a second solo for Fernando, perhaps even more difficult than the first. The act finale is a big aria for Faliero, with the participation of the rest of the cast, except for Elena. Fernando dies a beautiful death between the slow and fast portions of this number. The highlight of the third act is a prayer for Elena, which, as Ashbrook states, "has moved a long way from the convention of the aria finale. And, if the singer should feel slighted, the actress has a golden moment”.* Before the premiere of his own I puritani, Bellini had been horrified to learn that Donizetti would again be competing with him—and feared another confrontation, as had happened three times before (Genoa, 1828, Milan 1830-31 and 1831-32). Puritani became a repertory work (being given in almost every season in both Paris and London for many years), and was probably the most successful Italian opera ever premiered in France. Marino Faliero never made it into the standard repertory, except in a few isolated cities, but did get performed somewhere or other for many years. In fact, it was one of the more successful of his operas. Its' last known performance in the nineteenth century was in Venice in 1888, after which it disappeared until it was revived in Bergamo in 1966. It has had sporadic revivals since, three of which being by the Opera Camerata of Washington D.C. in March 1998, followed by Parma in January 2002 and OONY that April. It was originally planned to issue the Parma revival commercially, but this has not yet taken place. The Parma cast featured Rockwell Blake as Fernando, Mariella Devia as Elena, Roberto Servile as Israele and Michele Pertusi as Faliero.

It might be interesting to compare the two bel canto operas, one by Bellini and the other by Donizetti, which had their primas in the same season with essentially the same cast: I puritani and Marino Faliero. The big differences are that the Donizetti has a tragic plot while the Bellini has a happy ending and a longer and more showy role for the prima donna, with two arias rather than one. Thus, Elena has little to do in the first two acts—a love duet, and the Act I finale and does not even appear in Act II. Elvira, on the other hand, has two major arias and a brilliant rondo finale.

This opera marks Donizetti's third attempt to do away with the established practice of giving the prima donna the final aria. Usually, of course, this honor went to her. It seems almost traditional, starting with Bellini's Il pirata, to give the penultimate aria to the tenor, and the last word to the soprano. But, there were exceptions—in Torquato Tasso, the baritone virtually had the last act to himself, his lady love having died while he was in prison. And, in Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti's next work, he reversed the order—first Lucia's mad scene, then the tenor's big aria.

But Donizetti had tried to eliminate this aria entirely in Lucrezia Borgia, only to have Méric-Lalande insist on her rights. He did eliminate it in Rosmonda d'Inghilterra, but the opera, beautiful as it is, failed. Finally, in Marino Faliero, Donizetti pulled it off. Mercadante also pulled it off in Il giuramento (1837), and although some more works still featured the bravura aria finale, Italian opera was never the same after that.

The performance presented by Bongiovanni is one recorded for Italian radio in 1976. It was previously released on LP. The cast, headed by soprano Marisa Galvany and the wonderful bass Cesare Siepi, together with Giuliano Cianella and Licinio Montefusco ranges from acceptable to great.

With the exception of some botched high notes by the tenor, the singing is generally fine. Marisa Galvany is one of the better sopranos of the 1970s and 1980s, but never had the career she deserved. She sang two seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, but only one performance (a Norma in 1979) was in New York. During her other season she took part in the 1985 spring tour singing one Ortrud and five Gertruds. She is perhaps best known for taking part in the revival of Mayr’s Medea in Corinto in 1970, which was released by Vanguard Records. The tenor, Giuliano Cianella, has a very attractive voice, and sang a varied repertoire during seven seasons with the Met. However, he would have been well advised to have stayed away from roles requiring an incredibly challenging top. It would be unkind to discuss his attempts at the high Ds in the tenor role, which had been created by Rubini. Licinio Montefusco is a serviceable baritone, while Cesare Siepi is one of the better basses of the last century. He was already slightly past his prime by 1976, but still gives but strikes me as the best reading of the score on records.

Those of us who view bel canto operas simply from the standpoint of the soprano and her role may be slightly disappointed, since some of them might consider her part as “too little and too late in the opera”. Actually, though, the fact is that they might be just a little bit spoiled by all the Donizetti operas where the soprano has two big arias to only one (if that)by the tenor. Both have four major numbers, and it just so happens that two of the soprano’s (her aria and final duet) come in the last act where the tenor is already dead. On the other hand, Donizetti fans and especially Donizetti completists like myself will be as delighted with this recording as I am.

In closing, I would like to return to Ashbrook, who states:

Marin Faliero marks a significant step forward for Donizetti. It provides clear evidence of his search to bend the conventions to his own dramatic needs.**

Tom Kaufman


* William Ashbrook, Donizetti and his Operas, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 1982, p. 373

** Ibid, idem, p.374

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Faliero.jpg image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Marino Faliero product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Marino Faliero product_by=Marisa Galvany sop. (Elena); Giuliano Ciannella ten. (Fernando); Licinio Montefusco bar. (Israele); Cesare Siepi bass (Marino Faliero); Ernesto Gavazzi ten. (Un gondoliere) Orchestra Sinfonico e Coro di Milano della RAI Maestro del Coro: Mino Bordignon, Maestro Concertatore e Direttore: Elio Boncompagni product_id=Bongiovanni 2408/9-2 [2CDs] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=692658&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 2:52 PM

BACH: Cantatas, vol. 10

Several complete recording series offer important renditions of these works with “period” forces under the direction of directors like Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt, and Ton Koopman. The Cantata Pilgrimage of John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir undertakes the complete corpus, as well, but within a new and decidedly ambitious context: recordings made from live concerts and dress rehearsals given weekly throughout the year 2000, each in a different ecclesiastical venue, and each devoted to the cantatas for a particular liturgical day. The context is one that certainly invites a resonance with the “frenzy of steady prolificity” that would have characterized Bach’s early years in Leipzig, a period in which he essentially wrote, rehearsed, and performed a new cantata every week. Gardiner’s performances are polished, often elegant, often dramatic readings that do not seem to betray the frenzy and vagaries that must have accompanied the production. However, from the standpoint of reception, our knowledge that these recordings are documents of this extraordinary undertaking shapes and forms the way we hear them; it alerts us at some level to the sense of these works as dynamic and fluid, and this is an important stamp for these recordings to bear. Additionally, given the works’ importance to our understanding of Bach, there is an appealing convenience to having them arranged by liturgical occasion: namely, we can savor Bach’s engagement of a common theological theme in juxtaposed styles that give us a rich sense of his development as a composer.

The recording aspect of the project was initially to be undertaken by Deutsche Gramophone. Their abandoning of the Pilgrimage recordings at an early stage prompted Gardiner to launch his own label, Soli Deo Gloria, and from the lavish look of the early volumes in the series, that independence has allowed the discs to be presented in distinctively engaging ways. Liner notes draw on Gardiner’s journal from the pilgrimage, thus allowing a congenial degree of anecdote as well as comment to emerge; jewel cases and program books are replaced with a hardbound volume and glossy page style; most striking are the cover photographs: highly compelling portraits of people from Afghanistan, Tibet, India, etc. by photographer Steve McCurry. The playing against expectation here is striking. Are the images ones that invite us to consider Bach as a somehow universal voice? Are the images ones that, in their geographic dispersion, invite us to linger with the idea of pilgrimage? One way or another, they prove dynamic and mark the volumes with distinction.

Volume 10 focuses on two liturgical dates, the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (BWV 48, BWV 5, BWV 56) and Reformation Sunday (BWV 79, BWV 192, BWV 80) with an additional cantata for Trinity XXV (BWV 90) added for good measure. Much here is a study of contrasts. The lessons for Trinity XIX underscore a Pauline division between body and soul, a contrast that itself is held in tension with the Gospel account of the healing of the body. The sin and sickness themes of these lessons are in turn strongly contrasted by the jubilant, celebrative tone of Reformation Sunday.

The Trinity XIX cantatas are richly affective—the lithe, incisive lines of the opening chorus of “Ich elender Mensch,” BWV 48, for instance, are hauntingly lamentative. And much in these cantatas plays on vivid imagery. The tenor aria in “Wo soll ich fliehen hin,” BWV 5 is based on the washing of sins in the blood of Jesus’ wounds, an image that Bach develops in richly melismatic, fluid writing for solo viola, played with notable fluency by Jane Rogers. Similarly, a bass recitative in “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen,” BWV 56 is also “liquid”—“My life on earth is like a voyage at sea,” imagery to which Bach familiarly responds with solo cello arpeggios: the waves of the sea. Particularly impressive is the aria for trumpet and bass in “Wo soll ich fliehen hin.” Both the instrumentation and the choice of voice embody a show of strength, elicited here by the text’s facing the “horde of hell.” And as is often the case with Bach’s trumpet and bass arias, the demands on both singer and player create a tour de force. In this case, bass Peter Harvey’s commanding execution and dramatic use of articulation combine splendidly with trumpeter Neil Brough’s difficult florid passage work, executed with unwaning confidence. (These two also perform a similar aria in “Es reisset euch, BWV 90, triggered by apocalyptic imagery, and equally impressive in the rendition.)

There is much to celebrate in the celebrative Reformation Day works. The general jubilance of the cantatas inspires brisk tempos, often full of dance-like buoyancy, and the ensemble’s ability to maintain an athletic agility is striking. This becomes especially significant with regard to the size of the ensemble itself. Gardiner has resisted here the trend to perform Bach’s choral works with a “choir” of one-to-a part, opting instead for seventeen singers. And while the argument for a solo choir does not rest on questions of agility—it is rooted primarily in historical documentation—one of the conspicuous by-products of one-to-a part singing is often greater ease with fast passage work. Gardiner’s ensemble belies that notion, however, giving ample proof of remarkable agility.

It is not difficult to imagine that Gardiner and his forces faced many practical challenges along the pilgrim way. As the liner notes recall, balance in the wonderful canon that opens “Ein Feste Burg,” BWV 80, proved unexpectedly difficult to achieve in the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg: the instrumental bass was overwhelmed by its treble counterpart. Accordingly, at the last minute a sackbut player from Leipzig was recruited to “even up the sides.” The trombone’s entry in this most rousing of canons is thrilling, and one of the most memorable moments in the volume. One can but look forward to all of the surprise challenges of the Pilgrimage having equally felicitous outcomes.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Bach_10.gif image_description=J. S. Bach: Cantatas, vol. 10 product=yes product_title=J. S. Bach: Cantatas, vol. 10 product_by=The Monteverdi Choir; the English Baroque Soloists; Joanne Lunn, soprano, William Harvey, alto, James Gilchrist, tenor, Peter Harvey, bass; John Eliot Gardiner, Director product_id=Soli Deo Gloria SDG 110 [2CDs] price=$38.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=608049&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 2:11 PM

MASSENET: Le Roi de Lahore

He has given each a healthy dose of almost unknown French operas. There has been a lot of grumbling in sito and even complaints of a French overdose; but most opera lovers in the rest of the world are quite happy with the resuscitation of some scores otherwise only known by a few arias. Though Le Roi de Lahore is not unknown on record due to Mr. and Mrs. Bonynge, assisted by Milnes, Lima and Ghiaurov, these DVD’s will be a world première for most of us, especially as this is the first performance of a new critical edition by the conductor, the late Marcello Viotti, who died a few months afterwards.

There is a reason Le Roi was almost forgotten. Massenet was 35 when the work premièred and he scored his first big success—Puccini had almost the same age when he had his breakthrough with Manon Lescaut. There is much in the score, especially in the orchestral part, that reminds us of the genius the Frenchman would become. The music is lovely and tuneful in a general way but without the kind of melody that stays in the ear and that would result in the triumph for Hérodiade four years later. For a long time only the baritone’s aria ‘Promesse de mon avenir’ survived.

The singers of these Venice performances were not cast with an eye on “le fysique du role.” Ana Maria Sanchez especially reminds us a little bit too much of Sweet, Eaglen, Pollet, Neves and Voigt before her surgery. Normally I couldn’t care less; but on my plasma screen, and during the many close-ups, the credibility gap is sometimes a bit stretched. Nor is Mrs. Sanchez helped by some ungainly costumes during the first acts. A pity as she has something to offer. She has an exceptional warm enveloping middle voice (reminding me of the best of Françoise Pollet) and she can float her notes in a delicious way. Under pressure the voice sometimes (not always) will turn somewhat shrill and even flat. During duets and ensembles one hears that notwithstanding a soft grained timbre she has volume to spare. Her French is quite good and in general she is an improvement on Joan Sutherland, completely incomprehensible and no longer very fresh voiced as she had been singing for 30 years.

Albanian tenor Giuseppe Gipala too is a marked improvement on Decca’s Luis Lima. He has a clear, ringing voice, probably a bit kissed by the mike as the sound is less exciting and smaller in the house. Though he is best known for his Italian roles, no sobs or mannerisms cling to him in his stylish singing with an almost perfect pronunciation. At times he reminds me of a good Alfredo Kraus and that’s high praise indeed.

Almost the same can be said of baritone Vladimir Stoyanov as Scindia with his rounded and very homogeneous baritone. The voice is better focused than Milnes on Decca and he doesn’t quite get the applause he deserves after an impressive ‘Promesse de mon avenir.’ Indeed, the public throughout the evening is rather lukewarm; probably not completely at ease with the relatively unknown score.

Cristina Sogmaister as Kaled has a nice Falcon mezzo, with more colour in the voice, than most of these ladies show. She succeeds very well in her aria and in the big duet with Sanchez where for a moment one almost has the feeling Massenet has too intently studied the famous Lakmé/Selika duet until one realizes that Lakmé came into being six years later.

As Indra, Federico Sacchi sings with a bright and well focused voice. It is a short but important role. He, too, succeeds in bettering Ghiaurov’s rather woolly account.

Only Riccardo Zanellato as Timour disappoints. There is just loud noise at the start, though the sound marginally improves. He is not too sure of himself and is always looking at the conductor when he should be doing something else.

As conductor Marcello Viotti himself prepared the new critical edition, he has his work cut out for him. He is of course not handicapped as Bonynge was by a star on her way down. Viotti doesn’t linger and doesn’t push. There is no camera on him during the performance and he doesn’t think it necessary to use some antics during the overture. One doesn’t even notice that there is a conductor. So, naturally, the tempi flow.

I’m less enthusiastic about the production, though I realize that Le Roi is an almost impossible task. The first two acts are just another love triangle and then the hero dies. In the third act he is in heaven and gets permission to return to earth. He once again is reunited with his love until she commits suicide, whereupon he, too, according to the conditions of heaven, dies and the lovers ends the opera happily, once more reunited in death.

This theme that has much in common with the Greek legend of Orpheus doesn’t work very well in this Indian subcontinent version. And, Massenet treats it very seriously without a wink. In our cynical times some snickering is due, which director Arnaud Bernard helps provoke. While the two first acts are played at face value, the heavenly act makes fun of everything. Heaven for Bernard is a world where Indian lords and ladies can forget their heritage and all at once switch to Western evening clothes and have dinner in the best Western High Society style. God Indra makes his entrance wheeled in on a giant plaster elephant painted in silver. And, at the end of the act everybody, dead lover king included, pose proudly in front of a photograph. In the meantime we have the obligatory ballet, half Western, half Indian with an old movie running over the heads of the dancers who abundantly prove that even in heaven fully synchronized movement is not assured. After this amusing intermezzo, it is somewhat difficult to take the horrible fate and the resulting arias and duets of the protagonists seriously.

In such a colourful opera costuming is important and once more I have to grumble. Costumes are all somewhat vaguely Indian, all vaguely stylized; and, what is now almost a law in costuming, members of the same group are not allowed any individuality. For soldiers I can understand the reasons; but ladies in evening dress, or market women? Does the production team really think the audience is too stupid to understand who is whom? Mind you, nothing disturbs the music. The singers are not asked to deliver in difficult poses or with their back to the public. Mad ideas are not running loose. It’s just that the director either didn’t know what to do with the opera or didn’t take it too seriously. “Eurotrash” is definitely not to be seen and I’ve even a feeling Mrs. Harrington could have lived with it.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Massenet_Le_Roi.jpg image_description=Jules Massenet: Le Roi de Lahore product=yes product_title=Jules Massenet: Le Roi de Lahore product_by=Giuseppe Gipali (Alim), Ana Maria Sanchez (Sitâ), Vladimir Stoyanov (Scindia), Federico Sacchi (Indra), Cristina Sogmaister (Kaled), Riccardo Zanellato (Timour), Carlo Agostini (un capo), Orchestra e Coro Teatro La Fenice Venezia conducted by Marcello Viotti.
Directed by Arnaud Bernard
TV-director: Tiziano Mancini product_id=Dynamic 33487 [2CDs] price=$33.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0675754896225&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 1:36 PM

May 30, 2006

Wife-Killing Bluebeard Gets Perky New Spouse at Covent Garden

petra_lang.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 30 May 2006]

May 30 (Bloomberg) -- We all have secrets, but few are as disturbing as those kept behind Bluebeard's locked doors.

Posted by Gary at 4:10 PM

BOITO: Nerone

Up to now I only knew this opera by the San Carlo recording of 1957, which is an acceptable one. I never invested in the Queler-Hungaraton issue as I didn’t think such a rather difficult work would be served by Hungarians, even though there were some good singers in it. And I never saw the Zagreb DVD with former boy wonder, tenor Kruno Cigoy. But this set under review changed my perspective due to the excellent sonics, as Bongiovanni got the original tapes RAI made, which MRF didn’t have when they launched this performance as a pirate.

The first time I heard Nerone, my reaction was probably a common one: that someone who composed splendid arias like ‘Dai campi’ ‘Giunto sul passo’’Ave Signor’ and the hauntingly beautiful ‘L’altra notte’ had given all his inspiration to that one Mefistofele. But, even a second and a third hearing didn’t change much. This set did. Of course, the composer of 1902 (when La Scala announced a production) or 1912 when Boito asked Caruso to sing the title role was not the same one as the young man of 1868 (première of Mefistofele) or 1876 (reworked version for tenor, which is nowadays always performed). Too much had changed in those 30 years. There was Boito’s collaboration with Verdi and the revolution Mascagni wrought with his Cavalleria. But especially there was the all overwhelming influence of Wagner whose scores were now widely available for study and performance. The results of all those influences are clear to hear in this performance. There are melodies but they are not the long sweeping arches of before. The balance between orchestra and voice is far more equilibrated and often the parlando is more accompanying the orchestra than vice-versa; and that makes perfect sound so important if one wants to pick up the tune. Granted, there are several dry patches where ‘Sprechgesang’ takes over. Yet there are many fine parts as well and in his choral writing we surely recognize the composer of that grandiose Mefistofele-prologue.

The cast is a strong one. By 1975, Bruno Prevedi’s big international career was over. He mainly sang in Germany and Austria and some fine but still smaller Italian houses. He gladly accepted RAI-invitations to sing tenor roles in rarely performed operas like Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Fernando Cortez and this Nerone. In fact, between February, when he sang Maurizio at Bari, and this RAI-broadcast, no performance is to be found in his chronology. So he definitely took his time to learn this difficult score. The voice is still as we remember: a true Italian lirico-spinto that always betrayed his baritone origins. Though he is never unmusical, there are certain details that cloud some of his singing. He uses an unremitting forte and his technique with a lot of glottal attacks is somewhat crude. Picchi in Naples is a more accomplished singer and brings more nuance to the role but he hasn’t the power of Prevedi in some of Nero’s outbursts.

The real star of the set is Ilva Ligabue. During her heyday, she was shamefully neglected by the big labels. She recorded 3 MP-recitals in not always typical repertoire (together with tenor Nicola Filacuridi) and then there was the Solti-Falstaff. As more and more documents become available (an unforgettable Forza with Bergonzi at his very best on Bongiovanni) we realize what a great singer she was. The moment she starts her long scene in the first act, one sits up and takes notice. Here is a soprano with her own typical sound, basically a lyric voice but with enough steel in it to climb all vocal hurdles and to dominate the temple scene in the second act or the orchard scene in the third act. One regrets Boito wrote the libretto for a fifth act where her death scene is the culminating point of the opera and then never set it to music.

The rest of the opera, too, is cast from strength. Agostino Ferrin as Simon Mago has not the house rattling amplitude of Nicolai Ghiaurov but the voice is fine, cultivated and rolling along. In fact it is a bit too sympathetic for the bad guy he is supposed to be. Alessandro Cassis is nowadays mainly remembered as Michonnet in the DVD of the classic La Scala Adriana with Freni. But he had one of the best Italian baritone voices in the seventies and eighties, firm and rounded and with more than one hint of Bastianini. For reasons unknown to me he never had a big international career (or he didn’t want one) but his singing as Fanuel, leader of the Christians (not to be mixed up with the Magician in Massenet’s Hérodiade), is exemplary. The same can be said of Ruza Baldani’s performance in the lesser soprano role of Rubria. This recording is witness to the dying of a great Italian tradition. The many smaller comprimario roles are taken up by sometimes first class voices like mezzo Anna Di Stasio (Suzuki in the Bergonzi-Scotto Butterfly), tenor Corradi, mezzo Corinna Vozza (Lola in the Corelli Cavalleria) etc. Most of these singers would nowadays have major careers.

Gianandrea Gavazzeni was already a veteran at the time of recording and one of the last great Italian Maestri Concertatori with direct ties to the creators. Though he conducted the famous Corelli-Callas revival of Poliuto, he was something like a specialist of verismo; a love he later shared with his 50-years younger wife Denia Mazzola. This opera with hints of late Verdi, Wagner and Puccini of Fanciulla or Mascagni of Amica or Isabeau fits him to a T; and he brings it forth with a firm hand that reveals a score and a recording worth investing in.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Boito_Nerone.jpg image_description=Arrigo Boito: Nerone product=yes product_title=Arrigo Boito: Nerone product_by=Bruno Prevedi (Nerone), Agosto Ferrin (Simon Mago), Alessandro Cassis (Fanuèl), Ilva Ligabue (Asteria), Ruza Balsani (Rubria), Antonio Zerbini (Tigellino), Giampaolo Corradi (Gobrias), Alessandro Cassis (Dositèo), Anna Di Stasio (Perside), Corinna Vozza (Cerinto), Walter Brighi (Rimo viandante; il Tempiere), Renzo Gonzales (Voce dell’ Oracolo), Vinicio Cocchieri (Secondo viandante; lo Schiavo ammonitore). Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni.
Live recording : Torino 23th of August 1975. product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2388/89-2 [2CDs] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=682488&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 3:56 PM

Our cultural revolution

carmen_hong_kong_poster.jpgPeter Gordon [The Standard, 31 May 2006]

Opera Hong Kong's Sunday matinee of Bizet's Carmen was good - not just OK, but good. Hong Kong's own Warren Mok sang the lead tenor role of Don Jose. I like Mok; always have. His voice can be a bit rough around the edges on occasion; perhaps he needs to perform more, preferably here, but it is distinctive, unlike the rent-a-tenors that sometimes get flown in. He is also expressive in an appealing Italianate way.

Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

Carmen — Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Szanto_Andrea_small.pngRowena Smith [The Guardian, 30 May 2006]

Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's Carmen has been a sound investment for the two companies for whom it was created - both Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera are reviving it in coming months. In Scotland, thanks to the recently implemented smoking ban, this is a production without cigarettes, something of a challenge in the first act, which takes place outside the gates of a factory that produces them. However, revival director Aidan Lang's solution of wafting some smoke in from the wings is an elegant one; you can't see the factory, but you can smell it, which adds to the sensuous appeal of this production.

Posted by Gary at 2:14 PM

Exploring music fun with Barenboim, Hampson

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 30 May 2006]

Daniel Barenboim was acclaimed as a pianist long before he began adding conducting to his schedule decades ago. One of the greatest pleasures of his 15-year tenure as Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director has been his habit of inviting friends and CSO colleagues to join him in chamber music concerts at Symphony Center.

Posted by Gary at 1:57 PM

Check the Numbers: Rumors of Classical Music's Demise Are Dead Wrong

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 28 May 2006]

EVERYONE has heard the requiems sung for classical music or at least the reports of its failing health: that its audience is graying, record sales have shriveled and the cost of live performance is rising as ticket sales decline. Music education has virtually disappeared from public schools. Classical programming has (all but) disappeared from television and radio. And 17 orchestras have closed in the last 20 years.

Posted by Gary at 1:48 PM

May 27, 2006

At Los Angeles Opera, Questions and Costs Follow 'Grendel'

goldenthal.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 27 May 2006]

LOS ANGELES, May 26 — The 20th-anniversary season of the Los Angeles Opera was supposed to culminate on Saturday night with the premiere of "Grendel," a new opera by the composer Elliot Goldenthal, directed by Julie Taymor, who is also a co-librettist with the poet J. D. McClatchy.

Posted by Gary at 4:34 PM

May 25, 2006

DONIZETTI: Maria Stuarda

The performance finally succeeded in convincing me the opera has its moments. I yield to no one in my admiration for the master of Bergamo (one of the most beautiful cities of Italy) but I had difficulty in “getting” it. The melodic inspiration seemed somewhat thin to me and it didn’t come as a surprise that the opera was not very successful at its birth. Yes, the Neapolitan and later Milan censure made some drastic changes necessary as they refused to have a queen ordering the beheading of another queen; but this cannot be the main reason for the failure. After all, king François I had to become the Duke of Mantova and King Gustavus to become Governor Riccardo; and this didn’t prevent Rigoletto or Ballo each to become a staple of the repertory.

Luckily the Donizetti Renaissance and the advent of Gencer, Sutherland, Caballé and Sills made us aware of many a beauty in the Donizetti canon. In Antwerp, Maria Stuarda was sung by the Bulgarian soprano Darina Takova. She had been ill for some days, was replaced by Majella Cullagh (of Opera Rara fame as every true Donizettian knows) but was fully in command of her voice on the night I attended. Takova has a dark, creamy voice with a good strong top she was not shy to show off as if to prove to the audience she had really been ill and now was once more the moment to prove her worth. And, I admit she somewhat spoiled this set for me. Stuarda is a sombre drama of state and love and without the usual party music that lightens up the stage for a few moments. And I fear soprano Carmela Remigio is not in the same class as Takova or Sutherland or Caballé—ladies who were mistresses of some Wagner or Strauss at almost the same time they sang Donizetti. The voice of Remigio is clear and pure but too light for the role (which is a long and heavy one). There is little colour in the voice and she cannot dominate as she ought to. In the one scene where Donizetti’s melodic genius shines, the fine concertato with chorus in the third act, she has not the vocal strength to ride over all and everything. Worse, in the heart of the opera where the two rivals meet, Remigio is just bland at the denunciation of Elisabeth. Remigio is a more a lyric than a coloratura and she treads very carefully in an opera that needs to have all reins loosened. Only once does she take the higher option in an opera that cries for a few long held high C’s at the end of a cabaletta or ensemble.

Mezzo Sonia Ganassi’s sound belongs to the lighter variety, too, but has a bit more colour in it. Still, I cannot say I am really convinced by her interpretation. Here as well there is not much drama in the voice. Of course this CD is the sound track of a DVD which I have not seen. Some photographs in the set prove that both ladies (especially Ganassi) have the right look and thus could make an extra-musical impression on the audience.

Vocally there is but one real star in the set and that’s Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja. He has all the required goods—an exciting and very sweet timbre, a good top (though he too avoids too strenuous a top note) and some fine diminuendi. The voice sounds maybe a little bit too slender. But the recording was made in 2001; and since that time, I have personally witnessed the volume of the voice grow ( so has the body of the singer) without impairing the fine timbre.

Riccardo Zanellato and Marmzio Giossi are just right though not too exciting in their smaller roles.

Chorus and orchestra are ably conducted by Fabrizio Maria Carminati who succeeds well in keeping the forces together during the many ensembles but one has to admit that he has not the best of orchestras at his disposal and the chorus sounds somewhat thin.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/maria_stuarda.jpg image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda product_by=Carmela Remigio (Maria Stuarda), Sonia Ganassi (Elisabetta), Joseph Calleja (Leicester), Riccardo Zanellato (Talbot), Marzio Giossi (Lord Cecil), Cinzia Rizzone (Anna Kennedy). Orchestra Stabile di Bergamo “G. Donizetti”, Fabrizio Maria Carminati (cond.). product_id=Dynamic CDS 510/1-2 [2CDs] price=$13.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=789744&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 4:30 PM

DONIZETTI: Roberto Devereux

“Why not? He is so lazy!” 1

This comment is tinged with irony, coming from someone who would, in time, suffer the same reputation as the elder Maestro from Pesaro: a composer whose music came to him with too much facility, whose music was devoid of real emotion, and one who would rather plagiarize his own works than to come up with new musical ideas.

As with Rossini, opera fans could argue Donizetti's case either way, but in the end it is the undeniable beauty of his music, his ability to create engaging melodies and his acute understanding of the human voice, that speak to Donizetti’s real talent. Ultimately, this is what really matters and only the most stubborn listener would refuse to enjoy this composer’s music.

Donizetti was a master of his craft and he knew how far to push the musical and political envelopes with each new opera, and he knew how to bend the standards to fit his particular needs and those of the singers for whom he wrote the music. His libretti were written, at times manipulated, in order to ascribe qualities and situations to Protestant and non-Christian characters that the strict and narrow minded Italian and Austrian censors would never permit Catholic or their Royal personages. In the case of Devereux, Donizetti, not inclined to involve himself in political turmoil, used the rigid and tyrannical English Queen to paraphrase the social and political situation in his homeland. Musically, Donizetti understood the human instrument better than most composers, and he wrote elegant, sublime, and compassionate passages for all the voices, he had a unique appreciation of the dramatic musical situation, and he was as talented composing in the comic as in the dramatic genre: Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) remains the undisputed bel canto opera of the Ottocento, and his romantic comedy, L’Elisir d’amor has been a perennial favorite.

At the time of his death in 1848 one in four operas performed in Italy bore Donizetti’s name on the tittle page. In sad contrast, by the end of the century most of his oeuvre had been largely forgotten,2 and would remain in oblivion until the second half of the Twentieth Century. In 1964, the Teatro San Carlo in Naples revived Roberto Devereux3 for Turkish soprano, Leyla Gencer,4 leading to the most exciting revival period, to date, of neglected operas.5 The role of Elisabetta was later sung all over Europe by Monserrat Caballé and in the United States, Beverly Sills became a well known interpreter of the frustrated English monarch.

The libretto by Salvatore Cammarano is largely based on a play by Fran&ccdil;ois Ancelot, and Felice Romani’s 1833 libretto for Mercadante.6 Cammarano also used Jacques Lescène Desmaison’s Histoire secrète des amours d’Elisabeth d’Angleterre er du comte d’Essexas inspiration for his libretto.

The plot is simplistic, historically inaccurate and typical of the time: a love triangle involving the Queen, Elisabetta I, who loves Conte di Essex, Roberto Devereux, who is in love with Sara, who is married to Nottingham, who believes his wife is unfaithful with Devereux and takes revenge on the Conte by keeping Sara from delivering a life-saving ring to the Queen. Though it sounds trite, the plot is taut with dramatic situations and formidable music which carries the action to its dramatic end. As with many other Donizetti dramas, Devereux has never achieved the popularity it rightfully deserves.

For the Paris premiere at the Italiens, on December 27, 1838, Donizetti wrote a new overture which included the tune of God Save the Queen, as well as a new romanza for the tenor and a new duet.

This Myto re-issue of the October 2, 1972 La Fenice performance has long been considered by many to be the definitive recording of Roberto Devereux. Though it has been available at one time or another and for many years on different labels, this issue is in excellent sound. Adding to the benefits of improved sound in this recording is Gianni Raimondi who left few commercial recordings and, as with other famous Caballé “live” performances, fans of the Spanish soprano will regret she did not make a studio recording of this opera.

Gianni Raimondi, made his professional debut in 1947, as the Duke in Rigoletto, and quickly became one of of the most popular tenors in Italy. By the mid 50s, Raimondi had conquered La Scala where he went on to sing in productions of La Traviata, Anna Bolena, Mosé in Eggito, Semiramide, and Boheme. In 1963, after his overwhelming success as Rodolfo at La Scala, Herbert von Karajan invited Raimondi to conquer Vienna inLa Boheme, a production which later toured various European capitals. In 1965, Karajan chose Raimondi to repeat the role of Rodolfo in the Karajan/Zeffirelli film version of Puccini’s opera.7

Raimondi was a favorite Edgardo, Faust, Gabrielle Adorno, Arrigo in Verdi’s Vespri Sciciliani, Cavaradosi, Pollione, Rinaldo in Rossini’s Armida, Ferrando, Pinkerton, Arturo in Bellini’s Puritani, as well as Arnold in Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell. New York audiences missed out when the Metropolitan Opera ousted him in favor of a younger newcomer in productions of Boheme and L’Elisir. When the opera company later invited him back, Raimondi declined the invitation, choosing to stay in Europe.

Raimondi’s voice was not large, but as this recording shows his instrument had a warm, beautiful timbre, flawless phrasing, squillo and a brilliant top. Always in control of his instrument, Raimondi was blessed with superb understanding of the lyric line and a natural voice of immense beauty. This performance of Devereux, eighteen years after his professional debut, shows Raimondi in total control of his instrument and he imbues the character of Essex with the youthful naiveté and virility of a younger man so often lacking in more mature singers.

Raimondi’s opening lines are indicative of his ability to convey the character he is portraying: “Il petto mio, pieno di cicatrici...Domata in campo....” is filled with the arrogance of a young man blinded by his desire to wear the crown, wanting to impress the elder woman he has betrayed and immune to the accusations of those who plot against him. Raimondi matches Caballé note for note and emotion for emotion in “Un lampo, un lampo orribile/Nascondi, frena I palpiti...” to the end of the scene. With Wolff he is contrite when Sara begs him to run away and defiant with Elsabetta later in Act II. At the end of Act III scene II, Raimondi is rewarded with spontaneous shouts of “Bravo” and extended applause from every member of the audience. In the aria “Come un spirito angelico” and the cabaletta “Bagnato è il sen di lacrime” Raimondi displays his versatility as he follows the spontaneity of the melodic line straddling his inner emotions. In this, his last scene in the opera, Raimondi boldly demonstrates why he was the most underrated Italian lirico-leggere tenor of his generation.

It is regretful that Gianni Raimondi, like Gene de Reszke, did not like the timbre of his voice and shied away from studio recordings.

American mezzo, Beverly Wolff (1929-August 14, 2005) was well familiar with the role of Sarah; she sang it at the New York City Opera and recorded it in 1969. Born in Atlanta, Wolff started playing the trumpet, later turning to voice at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. As comfortable singing contemporary works by Bernstein, Moore, and Douglas, Wolff also excelled singing Bach, Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Bellini, Rossini, Berlioz, Donizetti, Bizet, Strauss, Brahms, and Bartok. Wolff was a superb Amneris as well as a compassionate Adalgisa for which the Mexican government issued a medal in her honor after a sensational performance in Bellini’s Norma. Wolff started out as a concert singer and participated in the televised premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti in 1952. After she semi-retired to raise a family, Wolff made her operatic stage debut in 1958 at NYCO, repeating the role of Dinah in Bernstein’s one-act farce on upper middle class marriage, Trouble in Tahiti. Later she sang throughout Europe and North America and participated in the World Premieres of Douglas Moore’s Carry Nation and Giancarlo Menotti’s The Most Important Man. Wolff had a commanding sense of interpretation and intuitive drama to augment her magnificent instrument.

After a long and successful career Beverly Wolff retired from the stage and moved to Florida where she became a member of the Faculty of Florida Souther College.

As Sarah, Wolf delivers a solid, though at times laid back performance. Her interpretation is non-threatening, youthful, subservient to the other characters and perfect for the role of the young girl who knows the perils of her position. “All’aflito ” dolce il pianto...” is sung simply and Wolff deliberately does not show off when the opportunities arise. In “Ah! Quest” addiofatale” her voice blends perfectly with Raimondi’s as their singing takes turns in prominence, not competing but to emphasize their mutual grief and love.

As with the role of Sara, Nottingham is a thankless role: neither is there as primary characters but to indirectly further the action and give support to Elisabetta and Devereux. At the same time, Donizetti’s gift for writing equally beautiful music for all characters calls for first rate singers to interpret these two roles as in Act III scene I, where Wolff and Alberti deliver a more than fine performance.

Walter Alberti, though not very well known, was a popular baritone in Europe during the 60s and 70s and is well represented in a number of recordings. He made his debut in Spoleto, Italy, as Di Luna in Verdi’s Trovatore. Alberti appeared at all the major Italian opera centers as well as in Paris, London, Barcelona, Lausanne, Marseille, Bordeaux, Rio de Janeiro, etc., and the summer festivals of Wexford, Bremmen, Glyndebourne, and the Festival dei due Mondi. In the United States, he sang at Carnegie Hall. Alberti teaches voice in Rome at the Academia di Santa Cecilia.

In this performance, Alberti sings with authority and his instrument has a pleasant timbre, but at the beginning of the opera he appears emotionally detached from the character. In “Qui ribelle ognum ti chiama,” the listener gets a glimpse of what Alberti’s instrument can deliver when totally committed to the music and words. Alberti, as Nottingham, holds his own in the exchange with the Queen in Act II, and the subsequent exchange with Elizabetta and Devereux and to the end of the scene.

A few minutes into the opera, the audience breaks into applause, and one instinctively knows the reason. Little if anything can be said about, or added to, the legend that is Monserrat Caballé including all the criticisms levied against the Spanish soprano: lack of acting ability, abuse of pianissimo and the ever-disappointing cancellations. Yet upon playing this CD, one cannot help but go back in time, re-live the evening, and marvel at the outstanding performance, the magnificent instrument, the spellbinding moments, the ease of delivery whether singing endless high notes that float to the rafters, effective chest notes, parlando, or the exclamation of surprise, fear, and pain. Such is the stuff of legends.

The role of Elisabetta, the real “lead” character in the opera, is at the same time poignant, ruthless, helpless, vengeful, pitiful, as well as physically and emotionally demanding—and Caballé does not disappoint. She handles the intricacies of the music—the music for Elisabetta is peppered with with an inordinate amount of high notes, a two octave span, and impressive forte passages in the ensembles and individual arias—as easily as though she were singing a lullaby. This is no second rate Bette Davis imitation as the recent NYCO and Covent Garden productions. Caballé easily conveys the contradicting emotions of a woman trapped by her own ambitions, her misplaced sense of self, restricted by her insecurities, misguided by her hatred, and always living in the fantasy of her memories and what might have been. This Elisabetta is human and vulnerable, secure, regal, and commands the stage even when she is not present !

“Ah! Ritorna qual ti spero...Vieni, vieni t’affretta” is sung with youthful abandon; its childlike anxiety dotted with high notes and in sharp contrast to the preceding “L’amor suo mi fè beata” in which the soprano effectively matches the underlying sadness of the string instruments. Caballé imbues “Vivi ingrato” with pathos, emotion and poignancy the real Virgin Queen probably never experienced.

In the immediate scene “Quel sangue versato” and “Quel palco di sangue rosseggia” upon learning of Sara’s affair with Devereaux and Nottingham’s blockage of the delivery of the ring, Caballé’s tone rapidly turns to ice, with carefully placed forte, clipping words and flawlessly switching registers to expose chest notes whose vengeful tone cannot be denied..

After the customary outburst of applause at the end of a great performance, one member of the audience summed this opera best, “Molto bene ....”

This Myto recording of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux includes excerpts from the “Dress Rehearsal” which makes one wish that performance had been released, as well.

Donizetti has always had his share of detractors: Bellini conspired against him, William Ashbrook, in his biography of the composer refers to Vivi Ingrato as “... the wildly overdrawn final scene for Queen Elisabeth,”8 and Chorley, never a Donizetti fan, delighted in saying that by 1841 in England “only a song and a duet from Roberto Devereux are remembered.”9 Not a bad way to be remembered.

Devereux was well received when it premiered. Writing to a friend, Donizetti said of the first performance, “ ... I gave my opera the day before yesterday at the S. Carlo; it is not for me to tell you now how it went. I am more modest than a whore; therefore I should blush. But it went very, very well. They also called out the poet....”10 To Angelo Lodi Donizetti wrote, “I composed Il Conte di Essex and gave it two days ago at the San Carlo, and the results could not have been more flattering.” 11

It is difficult to understand the reasons for the neglect of this opera and the many others that have suffered the same fate, but in the words of Paul Henry Lang, “I must return again and again to the warning that this music is falsified by merely adequate singing. Moreover, it requires singers with that undefinable animalism that will carry them through the emotional situations, which cannot be resolved intellectually because this music is addressed not to our intelligence but to our sensibilities. The singers must be adept at those little inflections and accents that musical notation cannot indicate, and they must be able to scale the heights unflinchingly, effortlessly, and with secure footing.”12

Mr. Lang would have approved of the cast in this recording.

Daniel Pardo © 2006

Sources

Roberto Devereux
Liner Notes
Myto Records

Roberto Devereux
Liner notes
G.O.P Records

Playbill Arts

Metropolitan Opera Archives

The Complete Opera Book
© 1935 Gustave Kobbé
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, N.Y.

Donizetti
© 1965 William Ashbrook
Cassell & Company Ltd.
London

Donizetti
© 1963 Herbert Weinstock
Pantheon Books
New York

The Experience of Opera
Paul Henry Lang
© 1971 W. W. Norton Company
New York

Thirty Years’ Musical Recollections
Henry F. Chorley
Edited by Ernest Newman
© 1926 Alfred A. Knopf
London, New York


Endnotes:

1 Kobbé, 1935, p.308.

2 Donizetti was a prolific composer and his talent extended beyond the seventy known works for the operatic stage. He left two oratorios, twenty eight cantatas, five hymns, several masses and many religious works. In addition, he wrote instrumental music for orchestra, chamber and piano music, over two hundred songs, a number of miscellaneous works for the voice and sixteen unfinished or unwritten operas. Donizetti also left many sketches and drafts for unclassified works which never came to fruition.

3 Mistakenly referred to as the “Tudor Trilogy,” a term popularized in the second half of the Twentieth Century, Donizetti wrote four operas with a Tudor queen as the inspiration: Elisabetta al Castello di Kennilworth(1829, Queen Elizabeth I), Anna Bolena (1830, Queen Anne Boleyn), Maria Stuarda (1835, England’s Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, and Roberto Devereux (1837, Queen Elizabeth I). In addition, Donizetti wrote three other operas with an English Queen as the central character or moving force behind the story: Alfredo il Grande (1823, Queen Ealhswinth, “Amalia” in the opera), Rosmunda d’Inghilterra (1834, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaqine and England), and L’Assedio di Calais (1836, Queen Isabella).

4 Leyla Gencer shares with Montserrat Caballé the distinction of having the most revivals of neglected works associated with their names.

5 There have always been “revivals” of unknown operas, but by far the greatest period has been that of the second half of the Twentieth Century. In the last forty-five years when the public has benefitted from the performances of all of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Handel, Bellini and many of Meyerbeer, Gounod, Halevy, Pacini, Mercadante, Piccini, etc.

6 Mercadante’s Il conte d’Essex premiered at La Scala, Milan on March 10, 1833.

7 Bohème would be Raimondi’s vehicle for his sensational debut at the Metropolitan Opera on September 29, 1965. Mirella Freni would partner him as she had in Milan and Vienna, as well as in the Karajan/Zeffirelli film.

8 Ashbrook, 1965, p. 447.

9 Chorley, 1926, p. 129

10 Ashbrook, 1965, p. 210.

11 Weinstock, 1963, p. 130

12 Lang, 1971, p. 128.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Devereux.jpg image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Roberto Devereux product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Roberto Devereux product_by=Gianni Raimondi (Roberto Devereux), Monserrat Caballé (Elisabetta), Beverly Wolf (Sara), Walter Alberti (Nottingham), Guido Fabbris (Lord Cecil), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Bruno Bartoletti (cond.)
Live recording, 10 February 1972 product_id=Myto 053312 [2CDs] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=596863&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 3:15 PM

NICOLAI: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor

Well, it needs to reassert itself. In the US, at least, and probably anywhere outside the German-speaking world, Nicolai's vibrant, tuneful score has taken a very distant backseat to Verdi's late masterpiece Falstaff, adapted from the same Shakespeare play (not one of his most admired, either).

By putting the focus on Sir John from the first scene, Verdi and Boito loosened an undercurrent of human frailty that deepens the sometimes rough comedy of Shakespeare's original. Nicolai worked with librettist Hermann Salomon Mosenthal, and they start and end with the merry wives, with Falstaff making a grand entrance late in act one. In its way, this makes the comedy palatable, as the sheer outsize humanity of Verdi and Boito's Falstaff can evoke — as it does in your reviewer — feelings of antipathy for the bougie hausfraus who dump a foolish old man in a river and conspire to assault him with sticks. The German rendition focuses on good-hearted hijinks, in a lighter comic vein.

Nicolai's score has met a  fate not unlike many of Rossini's early comedies — it is best known for its overture, which sparkles with the opera's most melodic material, tunes that reappear in act three, giving a nice balance to the composition. Falstaff gets a rousing drinking song, Fenton a most delightful romanza, and the whole opera is tastefully peppered with duets, trios, and other ensembles. In other words, the music elicits smiles as much as the story. This opera needs to be staged more often.

Capriccio's recording has a fine cast. Juliane Banse, Andrea Bönig, and Regina Klepper sing the title roles with good humor, and the fine bass Franz Hawlata does a lusty take on Sir John. Dietrich Henschel, a solid if unexciting baritone, sings Herr Fluth (Ford, in the Verdi opera). As the young lover of Herr Fluth's daughter Anna, Jörg Dürmüller makes no particular impression.

The problem for this worthy set? The existence of a 1963 recording on EMI, with a cast including Gottlob Frick, Edith Mathis, and most damaging to the Capriccio set in the field of comparison, Fritz Wunderlich as Fenton. Just to hear his exquisite "Horch, die Lerche singt im Hain!" makes this older set eternally fresh.

The EMI set also includes the spoken dialogue, separately tracked for easy skipping for the dialogue-phobic. Capriccio spares such souls the effort by omitting the dialogue altogether, shaving about 10 minutes from each disc's running time. Helmuth Froschauer leads the Cologne Radio orchestra on the Capriccio set, and ably, but not quite with the verve of Robert Heger and the Munich ensemble on the EMI.

So go for the EMI set if the opera appeals, but if can't be found, the Capriccio recording certainly offers a commendable version of this regrettably under-performed work.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Weiber_von_Windsor.jpg image_description=Otto Nicolai: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor product=yes product_title=Otto Nicolai: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor product_by=Juliane Banse, Regina Klepper, Franz Hawlata, Heinz Zednik, WDR Rundfundorchester Köln, Helmuth Froschauer (cond.) product_id=Capriccio 60 094 [2CDs] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=544495&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 1:28 PM

Flights of Madness — Munich’s New “Orlando”

As it happened, “Orlando” was a turning point in Handel’s own career as an opera composer as it only lasted for ten performances before his singers defected to a rival theatre, with devastating consequences. As Sir Peter Jonas steps down as the Intendant at Munich Opera, another era is passing, one which has helped to change the face of baroque opera in Europe, and Alden, together with his equally significant design colleagues Paul Steinberg (stage) and Buki Shiff (costumes), has been a major innovative talent and pusher of boundaries. He also pushes the patience, particularly that of the famously-conservative Munich patrons, and, with this offering, he has thrown just about everything into the deliberately provocative mix: video wall, sex, anti-war clichés, ridiculously over-the-top props, a reference to suicide bombers, and a character obviously based on a well-known B-list celebrity. So the very mixed reception on opening night was hardly a surprise with the boos resounding loudly, only finally being out-gunned by the crowd’s appreciation of the excellent cast of singers and perhaps by some also appreciating the undeniable wit and zest of Alden’s work.

“Orlando” follows on the heels of his equally controversial productions of “Rinaldo”, “Ariodante” and “Poppea” and this time he places Handel’s take on Ariosto’s tale “Orlando Furioso” firmly in the present day, give or take a decade or two. We are invited to join our hero and the godlike sorcerer Zoroastro inside some corrugated military space research facility, and both Orlando (David Daniels, countertenor, as an unwilling general fixated on the pleasures of love rather than military glory) and Dorinda (Olga Pasichnyk, soprano, here transmuted from pastoral shepherdess into army-private-cum-personal assistant to Zoroastro) wear blue army camouflage fatigues. The non-singing actors continue the theme, although they seemed to have been chosen more for their athletic build than for their drill-skills. Zoroastro, (Alastair Miles, bass, in neat grey suit, shiny shoes and horn-rimmed glasses under abundant silver grey hair) presumably runs this rather malignant operation from a stark grey desk — just a desk, as Alden doesn’t believe in a superfluity of tokens. Miles achieved an amusing, if thought-provoking, conflation of Dr.Strangelove and Donald Rumsden. The lovely high-born Angelica who Orlando adores, (Rosemary Joshua) is more smitten with her mysterious Medoro, and is played as a flashy, trampish socialite with great relish by the English handelian soprano. Her lover Medoro, who once loved Dorinda, is sung by American mezzo Beth Clayton who adopts the disguise of a neo-Valentino in black Arab robes and beard, amid much flashing of daggers and swirling of black silk.

If the setting was pure Alden euro trash — all flashing orange walls and pink sequins — the singing and music was pure handelian delight from start to finish. Ivor Bolton in the pit once more with this excellent house orchestra made the most of their baroque experience and style and, if occasionally allowing them too much dynamic rein for the quieter lower voices of Clayton and Daniels, also encouraged some stunning playing — such as from the two viole d’amore in the third act who accompanied Daniels as he sang the exquisite lullaby Già l’ebro mio ciglio. Together they accomplished the most memorably beautiful music of the evening. Daniels is something of a Munich favourite and his following here has grown with successive triumphs in “Poppea”, “Rinaldo” and “Saul” and although he gets inside this role with his usual vocal artistry and dramatic sense, it cannot be said that it is one that showcases his voice as those certainly did. There is little writing high on the staff where his velvet-toned instrument loves to live and is heard most effectively in a house this big. When he does get the freedom to use his higher range — particularly in some liquid and stylish ornamentation — the Daniels magic is undeniable and was rewarded with both hushed attention in the lullaby and noisy appreciation of the more florid arias such as Fammi combattere and Cielo! Se tu il consenti. His sheer physical commitment deserves mention too, as the intensely demanding “mad scene” that ends Act Two culminates in Orlando throwing himself repeatedly up against an inward-curving wall depicting the inside of his skull. Incidentally, this scene was probably one of the most effective and interesting in the opera: the singer entangled in yards of coloured cables, representing, one assumes, the synapses of the maddened hero’s brain.

The soprano roles in “Orlando” are the fire-cracker ones and get most of the best traditional A-B-A da capo arias. Here Handel was playing safer than with his quite daring, more unstructured arioso and accompagnato work for Senesino to sing in the title role. Olga Pasichnyk was making her debut here as Dorinda, and quickly established her credentials as a most fluent and technically accomplished interpreter of the role — pin sharp coloratura, easy leaps and sweet legato were all added to an appealing stage presence of gamin charm. Her Amore è qual vento was attacked with verve and astonishing virtuosity, yet also a warm tone that perfectly suited the characterisation. She received some of the loudest applause of the night, which was well deserved. In contrast, Rosemary Joshua was a crystalline and razor-sharp Angelica, using her dramatic skills to underline vocally the rather brazen nature of this spoilt baby of the boulevards. Certainly she looked the part — slim, lithe and glittering — but she also managed to suggest the character’s insecurity with admirable skill. If occasionally she strayed a little too far down the path of vocal assertiveness, at the cost of some tonal irregularity in, for instance, Non potrà dirmi ingrate, all was forgiven when she returned just minutes later to quieter, more reflective work in Verdi piante.

In casting the role of romantic swain Medoro as a mezzo, Munich is in fact following Handel’s original casting plan, even though today the part is as often taken by a countertenor. Beth Clayton, a graduate of Houston’s Opera Studio, seems to specialise in the trouser role repertoire of Handel and Mozart and her facility with the genre was evident as she strode convincingly, yet elegantly, around as the “Bedouin warrior” of Buki Shiff’s imagination. However, her voice, warm and full-toned as it was, left something to be desired as she somehow seemed to miss the essential pathos and endearing honesty of the character. This was most evident in Medoro’s musing upon his writing of his own and Angelica’s initials on the rocket ship (Alden’s transposition from the original tree), expressed by Handel so evocatively in the ravishing, limpid aria Verdi allori. Of all the singers, she was perhaps the least accomplished in the baroque style stakes, although admittedly was up against stern opposition.

In contrast, Alastair Miles is a bass of huge experience in this type of role and it shows — he drew a nice portrait of a probably-mad Chief Scientist playing with the hearts and minds of those around him. Vocally he was secure and, for a bass, very adept at the demanding coloratura required by Handel who, unlike later composers, made few concessions to tessitura. It was unfortunate that one of his most demanding bravura arias, Sorge infausta una procella, co-incided with a particularly crass bit of Aldenesque jokeyness: he was expected to climb up and cling to the side of a large rocket ship as it “took off”, complete with billowing white smoke and strobing red light flames, by the slightly ridiculous means of a hefty “soldier” pushing it determinedly off-stage whilst trying not to be seen. It was too much for some: the boos started before the music had quite finished and whist the unfortunate Miles was still being shunted out of sight.

If the boo-ers thought that the worst bit of kitsch was over (they had managed to restrain themselves with mere stripping-off, simulated sex, putting gerberas down the muzzles of machine-guns et al) then they were to be disappointed: Alden had one more stroke of over-the-top genius dreamed up and it was certainly memorable. When Orlando is totally crazy, unable to cope with either his own split personality or being betrayed by his beloved, he resorts to violence in a dreadful acquiescence to the military prowess advocated by Zoroastro. This is where Alden, Steinberg and Shiff really throw down the gauntlet and dare us go along for the ride — but it’s a big call when, with lights flashing, walls trembling and guns booming, Orlando arrives on scene astride a monstrously funny robotic tank, which moves somewhat hilariously on individual legs like some huge sci-fi spider from a comic book. The audience laughed out loud. Equally comic-book was the hero’s attire: throughout the opera Daniels had been gradually upping the hardwear slung about his body, as the hero’s mental state deteriorated, but now he resembled nothing less than Arnold Schwarzeneggar in “Terminator”, pumped up and helmeted, eyes glittering madly through smears of camouflage paint as he rode his war machine into battle with the “evil spirits” — the boys in blue again — in his mind. Bang, crash, smoke and flame, and they all fell down.

Yet, paradoxically, from this chaos of ugly and frankly juvenile pastiche came beauty, in the form of Orlando’s final lullaby to himself; and the more so as it was sung from front of stage, the phalanxes of dead behind, with creamy tone and superb control — yet also with an eerie calm that sent shivers. From the ridiculous to the sublime in five minutes. Maybe that is this director’s saving grace.

It will be a shame if David Alden doesn’t direct Handel here again — for all his perverse and challenging ways, he has helped open up baroque opera to a new way of thinking, a new way of putting it into modern context, and he works with his singers rather than imposing upon them. Whether he takes all his audience with him is debatable — but as long as he takes most of them, and his singers continue to be willing to risk all for him, then he won’t end up like Mr. Handel in 1733 with an empty stage.

© S.C. Loder

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/DDOrlandoFlowers.jpg image_description=David Daniels
Posted by Gary at 1:06 PM

Enter David Gockley, stage left

San Francisco Opera's sixth general director talks to the B.A.R.
By by Stephanie von Buchau [Bay Area Reporter, 25 May 2006]

I couldn't believe my ears. David Gockley, the new general director of the San Francisco Opera, who looks like a cross between a choir boy and an investment banker, kept using this word that I had to ask him to repeat. Finally, he looked at me quizzically — he knew I was representing the B.A.R. — and asked, "Don't you know what fisting is?"

Posted by Gary at 11:46 AM

Duke Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung, Royal Opera House, London

The dangers of digging into a soul's secrets
By Michael Church [Independent, 25 May 2006]

As the willing bride of a serial wife-murderer, Judith embodies a quintessentially Freudian fantasy: Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle plugs directly into psychoanalysis. And when the curtain rises on John Macfarlane's richly suggestive set, that exploratory feeling will be reinforced. This one-act, two-character opera may last only an hour, but it's a huge challenge for the mezzo who stars in it. In Petra Lang, the Royal Opera have found a singer well equal to the challenge.

Posted by Gary at 11:41 AM

Valkyries ride in to surround sound

By Joyce Morgan [Sydney Morning Herald, 26 May 2006]

THE warrior maiden Brunnhilde might have destroyed Valhalla, but a tiny Australian recording company is set to resurrect the home of the gods.

Posted by Gary at 11:37 AM

Remembering A Peerless Wagnerian

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 25 May 2006]

In the 1950s, a groundswell of speculation turned into a torrent of rumors as piano aficionados venturing behind the Iron Curtain returned with tales of a great virtuoso. "Wait until you hear Richter!" they would say. The Russian Sviatoslav Richter finally arrived in America in 1960, and he turned out to be as phenomenal as advertised.

Posted by Gary at 11:29 AM

May 24, 2006

BACH: Alles mit Gott

The discovery of Bach works is not unknown in our day—the Neumeister chorale preludes saw light of day in 1984, for instance—but the occurrence is rare and much to be celebrated, as in this first recording of the ode from the Bach forces of John Eliot Gardiner.

For Bach, “Alles mit Gott” is something of an unusual piece: a strophic continuo air for soprano in twelve stanzas with lengthy instrumental ritornello between the strophes. The text is by Johann Anton Mylius, who penned the ducal salute as a trope on the duke’s motto, “Omnia cum deo et nihil sine eo” (All things with God, and nothing without Him). Both he and Bach imbedded separate patronal gestures in the ode itself: orthographically Mylius creates an acrostic of the Duke’s name; Bach, drawn we suspect to things numerological, supplies the continuo introduction to the air with fifty-two notes, corresponding to the Duke’s fifty-second birthday (1713), which occasioned the ode itself.

The discovery of any work by Bach is significant, and “Alles mit Gott” rewards the listener not only with the aura of novelty, but also with an engaging lyrical lilt in the dialogue between soprano and bass. Does the lilt wear out after twelve successive stanzas? We are not given the chance to find out, as Gardiner opts for a three-stanza abbreviation, likely a smart choice where listeners are not closely attuned to the details of the text. The length of the poem raises a significant issue of proportion with regard to the string ritornello, as well. In the abbreviated version, the nineteen string bars seem long relative to the thirty-some odd measures for the voice. With twelve stanzas, however, the need for a substantial variety is a more pressing one, to say nothing of the singer’s need for vocal rest, and the length of the ritornello would meet these needs well.

Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas sings the ode with a congenially youthful sound, light and bright with notably clear articulation. The string band is wonderful in its blossoming of major downbeats and also in its fluent ornamentation on repetitions of the ritornello.

The remainder of the recording is devoted to live cantata excerpts from Gardiner’s millennial Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, celebrating both the dawn of the new millennium as well as the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. In a mammoth undertaking, Gardiner led performances of the entire corpus of Bach’s surviving church cantatas on the appropriate liturgical dates in churches throughout Europe and in the US from Christmas, 1999 to Christmas, 2000. The present recording offers a number of movements from Pilgrimage performances, mostly arias,that highlight the rich interplay of voice and obbligato instruments. All are accomplished renditions, and one of the pleasures of the disc is the opportunity to hear so many different soloists in a unified context—four different sopranos, singing arias “side-by-side” is here a treat of riches. Of the four, I would particularly single out Gillian Keith, whose performance of “Süsser Trost” from Cantata 151 is memorable for her focus of tone and elegance of execution. Keith is joined in this aria by flautist Rachel Beckett who brings to Bach’s ever-inventive line a remarkable choreography of decorative grace.

Peter Harvey’s performance of “Es ist vollbracht” from Cantata 159 with oboist Xenia Löffler is hauntingly beautiful, as well. One of Bach’s most sensuous arias, “Es ist vollbracht,” weds a slow-moving oboe line to string haloes and exquisite suspensions that underscore Bach’s affective depths. Harvey’s ability to keep the slow motion alive—a formidable challenge of control—and his lean and yet resonant tone combine to make this one of the best in the anthology.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/SDG_114.gif image_description=J. S. Bach: Alles mit Gott product=yes product_title=J. S. Bach: Alles mit Gott product_by=Elin Manahan Thomas, Joanne Lunn, Malin Hartelius, Gillian Keith, sopranos; Nathalie Stutzmann, Robin Tyson, alto; James Gilchrist, tenor; Peter Harvey, bass. The English Baroque Soloists. The Monteverdi Choir. John Eliot Gardiner, Director. product_id=Soli Deo Gloria SDG 114 [CD] price=$18.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=608046&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 10:11 PM

SCHUBERT: Die schöne Müllerin

Roman Trekel brings his own sense of interpretation and nuance to the present recording, such that the performance of individual songs is as noteworthy as the overall effect of an emotional and narrative cycle. The writer Wilhelm Müller, on whose poetic work the song-cycle is based, conceived the series of texts with a frame, the outer poems being entitled "Der Dichter als Prolog" ("The Poet as a Prologue") and "Der Dichter als Epilog" ("The Poet as an Epilogue"). Although these two poems were not originally set by Schubert as part of the cycle, the printed texts are included in the notes to the present recording. The introductory poem functions as an invitation to the listener and a means to whet the curiosity of those who would gladly hear more of the adventures and hopes associated with the "Müllersknecht" ("miller's lad"). The ambivalence of optimism and frustration, of the brook and the mill, are then summarized in the concluding poem, so that the listener of the recording might reflect on the varying moods represented by singer and accompanist in this performance.

Already in the first song, starting in Schubert's cycle with "Das Wandern" ["Wandering"], the characteristic motifs of water and stream combined with wandering during a journey are effectively expressed through Trekel's vocal colorations. Complementary rhythms of voice and accompaniment suggest in Trekel's and Oliver Pohl's interpretation � a regular, external motion interwoven with inner contemplation and shifts in emotion. Together with songs two and three of the presentation here, a triad of anticipation is formed indicating motion toward the goal of the Müllerin who is first mentioned in the fourth song, "Danksagung an den Bach" ["Thanksgiving to the Stream"]. Trekel's enunciation and emphases set up an intimate friendship and dialogue with the Bach, or stream, that will lead him to the mill and the presence of the maid. In the second song, "Wohin?" ["Whither?"], Trekel as wanderer enhances his relationship with the stream in strophe two by intoning "hinunter" ["downward"] for the direction of his staff in order to identify with the natural, vertical motion of the stream spilling from the rocks, already described in the preceding strophe. In this dialogue with his partner in nature, Trekel poses such requisite questions, as "War es also gemeint?" ["Is that what you meant?"], with the suggestion of a secret communication that is, at once, fulfillment yet anticipation. As part of this communication, Trekel's vocal modulations suggest the external ambitions of working at the mill together with the emotional and erotic attractions for the maid. When he catches sight of the miller's house in Song 3, "Halt!" ["Stop!"], his voice descends to a whispering intimacy of discovery and wonder; here the tone achieved by Trekel moves from self-reflective musing to further questions for his confidante, the stream. As the lad attempts to adjust to the perception of his goals, the possibilities are matched by Trekel's varying his emphases between enthusiasm and caution. Once he has reached the chance for fulfillment in both spheres — labor and emotion — Trekel's voice celebrates in a tone of peaceful satisfaction the conjoining of the two at the close of Song 4, "Für die Hände, für’s Herze / Vollauf genug!” [“For the hands, for the heart / Enough and even more!”].

In the interpretation here achieved of Songs 5-11, Trekel’s persona remains in the proximity of the maid and reflects on his opportunities to ensure an emotional satisfaction. The progression of thought and feeling is underscored by the singer’s and accompanist’s emphasis of thematic connections between these songs, hence showing an inner development while the external activities remain constant. The dew in the flowers of Song 10, “Des Müller’s Blumen” [“The Miller’s Flowers”], is intoned to prepare for the manifold associations of the tears in the immediately following song, “Tränenregen” [“Shower of Tears”]. In much the same way, the frenetic accompaniment of Song 7, “Ungeduld” [“Impatience”], leads into the later peals of joy in Song 11, “Mein!” [“Mine!”]: here Trekel’s eager lad banishes the control of the steam and natural forces in general by announcing to all that the maiden is “mein.”

Indeed the song “Mein” functions as a turning point after which the softer and more contemplative tones of Trekel waver between shades that are realistic or melancholy. At first the lad is so burdened with emotion that he cannot sing. He hangs his lute on the wall with a green ribbon attached in the song “Pause.” The use of “green,” with both positive and negative associations, functions as a recurring motif throughout the second half of the song-cycle. Although it is a color beloved of the maiden, her attentions are later focused on a hunter also associated with hues of green. Incipient attempts by the lad to please the maiden’s desire for the color alter with the jealousy and disappointment seen in its very essence. Those songs before the final resignation of the lad at the conclusion of the cycle display in this recording a range of competing emotions. Trekel invests Song 16, “Die liebe Farbe,” [“The beloved Color”], with a sense of elegiac sadness, so that the line “Mein Schatz hat’s Grün so gern,” [“My beloved likes green so much”] speaks still of his devotion with the realization that she is lost to him. In the second strophe the call to a joyous hunt, “Wohlauf zum fröhlichen Jagen!” [“Up we go to the joyful hunt”!] gives in this performance the impression not of joy in the wood, but rather of a funereal procession. An abrupt burst of feeling in the following song, “Die böse Farbe” [“The dreadful color”], signals for Trekel both a farewell to the maiden and a recurrence of his earlier enthusiasm. Such energetic feelings are, however, short-lived, as Song 18, “Trockne Blumen” [“Dried Flowers”], indicates. Here Trekel addresses the flowers given him by the maiden, now destined for his grave, and intones with poignant irony the most memorable verses in this recording: “Der Mai ist kommen, der Winter ist aus” [“May has arrived, winter has departed”]: his love, although unreciprocated, will match the cycle of nature. The final song is given to the comforting voice of the stream, “Des Baches Wiegenlied” [“Lullaby of the Stream”], in a resolution that points to an ultimate resting place in nature. In this longest song of the cycle, with an intricate strophic accompaniment, Trekel varies his intonation by singing vowels with a distinctly full tone, in order to give a different color to the voice of the stream. With an appropriate thematic gesture recalling the start of the cycle, Trekel and Pohl conclude a performance that will surely rank among the finest of Schubert’s “Schöne Müllerin.”

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/oc511.jpg image_description=Franz Schubert: Dieschöne Müllerin product=yes product_title=Franz Schubert: Dieschöne Müllerin product_by=Roman Trekel, baritone; Oliver Pohl, piano. product_id=Oehms Classics OC 511 [CD] price=$11.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=587222&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 5:21 PM

Orchestral Excerpts from Wagner Operas

Taken from the 1992 Proms concerts by the London Philharmonic, these live recordings from that season demonstrate the famed conductor’s master hand at presenting familiar works with energy and style.

The pieces included on this CD are the prelude to the opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; the overtures to Rienzi and Tannhaüser, along with the “Venusberg” music from the latter opera; “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” along with “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung; and the concert version of the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre. As familiar as these excerpts are, the performances preserved here are quite vivid and immediate with regard to the quality of the sound and, more importantly, the interpretation Tennstedt contributed to these performances.

The level of quality found in this CD is hardly unusual for Tennstedt, who left a number of solid recordings of various works that remain engaging. Most of all, Tennstedt’s legacy includes performances that are memorable for solidly musical reasons. Without resorting to artifice or innovation for its own sake, Tennstedt brought a certain vitality to familiar works like these by not sacrificing the musical line to sheer effect. At times Tennstedt would bring out details that may be less distinct in more routine performances of works like these. Yet the descending line of the upper strings at the end of the first section of the “Venusberg” music reinforces the transition to the more expressive middle section that offers a signal to the perceptive audience.

Likewise, Tennstedt’s treatment of the familiar overture to Rienzi stands out for the way in which the drama emerges in this interpretation, which is notably slower than some of the more familiar recorded versions of the piece. By approaching this overture in this manner, Tennstedt brought out some details that contribute to the sense of drama implicit in the score. The gradual crescendo toward the full orchestral statement of the principal theme is noticeable and thus highly effective. At the same time, the slower tempos help to accentuate the drum rolls that are critical for the way they suspend the pulse of the work – an effect Mahler would use to a similar end in the last movement of his Second Symphony. At the same time, the careful tempos found in this performance of the Rienzi overture allow the orchestra to shape lines. Thus, in this piece and the other examples a vocal quality emerges from these exquisite orchestral pieces from Wagner’s operas, such that the interpretations reflect the nuances that are in the score, but difficult, at times, to achieve in other circumstances.

Those familiar with Tennstedt’s fine recordings of Mahler’s symphonies will appreciate his similar command of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in these pieces by Wagner. They exhibit the level of performance mentioned in the program notes, in which the critic Hugh Canning is quoted as referring to the “exalted” quality of music-making in these performances. Released by the London Philharmonic’s own archives, this is one of the Orchestra’s own releases, and not a recording made through a commercial agency. It is laudable that the London Philharmonic has brought out such a fine set of performances that stem from a single season, rather than selections from various years which might involve some variance in execution and sound quality.

Granted, this is Wagner presented in concert and in excerpt, with the selections presented out of the context of the operas and music dramas to which they belong. Even so, performances like these have been instrumental in bringing the music to a wider audience and also in attracting audiences to the full versions of the works to which they belong. The quality of these performances certainly communicated the music effectively, as evidenced by enthusiastic applause retained in the recordings conveys the intensity in this recent release of some exceptional performances.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Wagner_LPO.jpg image_description=Orchestral Excerpts from Wagner Operas product=yes product_title=Orchestral Excerpts from Wagner Operas product_by=London Phiharmonic Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt, conductor. product_id=LPO 0003 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=605542&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

Tolomeo, Royal College Of Music, London Handel Festival

Handel1_small.jpgBy Edward Seckerson [Independent, 24 May 2006]

Handel plots are bewilderingly similar. Love changes everything. Rivalry brings deceitful disguises, mistaken identities and scorn - so much scorn. Tolomeo has more than its fair share. Cleopatra sits on the throne of Egypt. Her usurped son Tolomeo has fled to Cyprus where he lives in obscurity. As the curtain rises, a shipwreck deposits the other protagonists on the island - including his wife Seleuce.

Posted by Gary at 1:44 PM

Turn of the Screw at Kennedy Center

Turn of the Screw

Charles Downey [DCist.com, 23 May 2006]

Benjamin Britten, composerA decade ago, conductor Lorin Maazel and his wife started the Châteauville Foundation, based at Castleton Farms in Rappahannock County, Virginia. On Monday night, rather than have Washingtonians go down to the Shenandoah Mountains, Maazel brought his young musicians to the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

Click here for remainder of article.


'Screw' a tricky vocal turn

By T.L. Ponik [Washington Times, 24 May 2006]

The Kennedy Center's intimate Terrace Theater was transformed into a mini opera house Monday evening when Lorin Maazel, the New York Philharmonic's current music director, conducted a single performance of Benjamin Britten's chamber opera "The Turn of the Screw."

Click here for remainder of article.


Maazel & Co. Make Impressive 'Turn'

By Philip Kennicott [Washington Post, 24 May 2006]

When he isn't conducting the New York Philharmonic or any of the other orchestras around the world where he is in demand, Lorin Maazel lives in baronial splendor on a 550-acre farm in Rappahannock County. And when he isn't relaxing in the pool or the Jacuzzi, or knocking down pins on his private bowling alley, he runs (with his wife) something called the Chateauville Foundation, which presented a performance of Benjamin Britten's "The Turn of the Screw" at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Monday night.

Click here for remainder of article.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/benjaminbritten.jpg
image_description=Benjamin Britten

Posted by Gary at 1:41 PM

Fidelio, Barbican, London

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 24 May 2006]

The advantage of hearing Fidelio in concert, especially in a performance as eloquent as this, is that you appreciate the beauties of Beethoven’s conception and not its incongruities. In the theatre his only opera seems to house so many different, often conflicting, genres – from Singspiel to cantata – that it is not surprising the moral drama sometimes slips through the cracks. In concert that element comes out surprisingly well, and how noble and challenging it is, but what emerges even more strongly is the symphonic conception.

Posted by Gary at 1:36 PM

Rolando Villazón — Opera Recital

“In music there are no nationalities. In opera, you just go out there and sing, and music becomes everyone’s home country” the tenor is supposed to have been saying while recording this album. All composers on this CD would have had a hearty laugh when hearing this modern politically correct statement, though it’s possible that some of them like Verdi, Mascagni, Tchaikovsky and Strauss would have been angry as they often stressed the importance of national schools and their performance traditions. All over the Western world, critics and audiences are dead-tired of that vague international style that is so dear to general managers and directors as they can easily replace some Chinese soprano by an Argentine lady without anyone really noticing it. After all that’s why some American singers, proficient in several languages and musically strong, are so popular even if their singing talents are somewhat meagre. And singers, most of whom have to eat and to sleep and to earn the necessary money that goes with it, comply—even on recordings.

Back in the sixties James McCracken was the first tenor to record a solo album in three languages. Enter Domingo who added a fourth language on his first RCA album and, since that time, most singers have slavishly followed the trend. So does Rolando Villazón. Now nobody hearing the tenor would for one moment believe he comes from the British Isles or is an American of Anglo-Saxon descent and no known or yet unknown German tenor will ever sing this way. Even after a few measures of this and any other of his recitals, it is clear that here is an impassioned tenor with roots in Spain or its former South-American colonies, as the burnished dark sound of the voice hints more to those parts of the world than to the clearer sky of Italy. Villazón’s great and deserved success, therefore, derives not from his international outlook but from his decisively old-fashioned style of singing that throws us back to the good old days of Lazaro, Cortis or Granda. So it is no coincidence that his German arias are the least successful and he would have been better advised to sing "M’appari instead of Ach so fromm" (like Vickers used to do on his solo album, though his German pronunciation was far better than Villazón’s). Now I won’t grumble too much as it is still a treat nowadays to hear a top tenor sing the old war horse. But he remains somewhat mealy mouthed as well in the same composer’s Stradella though he shows some fine diminuendi. Compare his version with that of Joseph Schmidt and you immediately hear the difference when the aria is sung with as good a legato by a tenor steeped in the language and the performance tradition.

Villazón is better in the French repertoire though there too there are patches like in the Kleinzack aria where he is only mouthing words without a real understanding. I know he has already sung the complete role but I fear it is not yet completely under his belt. And he can sing in French. Several times I watched his Antibes recital of two years ago (with underrecorded Albanian soprano Inva Mula), which he had carefully prepared and where the pronunciation and, therefore, the musical phrasing deriving from the feeling for the words and the situations they tell, was almost perfect. In this his Carmen aria is far better. But as a Latin tenor, he most comes into his own in the Italian repertoire. There is some small chink in the armour too. His passion is more than overwhelming in Ernesto’s serenade and his forceful top note makes the song sound more like Manrico’s call to arms behind the scenes than the lovelorn yearning of a young bourgeois.

In the verismo repertoire, Villazón is of course at his best. His delivery, the emotional quivering of the voice he often uses, reminds us of the best pre-world-war tenors like Merli or Pertile. Contrary to these gentlemen he has a good fine piano which he has lately refined very much and which he uses in some excellent phrasing all over this recital like the recitative of the Ballo aria or the Pêcheurs aria, which few tenors with such a dark voice have sung better. But old-fashioned he remains in some of his choices and don’t expect him to sing the high B of Carmen or the “Tosca, sei tu” from “Recondita armonia” in pianissimo. There the voice rings out strongly and one wonders if he doesn’t put too much pressure on the vocal cords to strive for an effect so that he is in danger of damaging the instrument. At his début in De Munt he clearly oversang so much that at the end of Bohème he lost his voice for a few moments and he was only saved by Tony Pappano who immediately slowed the orchestra down so that he could regain his breath and voice. Villazón is at his best too in the Lensky aria (though I cannot judge his Russian) where he uses the whole rich spectrum of shade and passion in his voice to draw the despair of this young man. There he is in the tradition of some very Italian or Italianate tenors who wouldn’t go near German roles but were remarkable in this opera (e.g. Tucker and Di Stefano). There is only one rarity on this recital: the alternative aria for Ernani, recorded 26 years ago by Pavarotti but given here in its entirety with chorus and cabaletta.

This is one of the fine qualities of this record. All choruses or small comprimario bits are nicely filled in and Michel Plasson, a good and even underrated conductor, gives his tenor all necessary leeway where he wants it but never lets Villazón slacken the tempi to make an effect. I know some of this review sounds a little like carping but the length and detail only prove that I care very much for a tenor who after so many years of waiting is at least once again a reminder of the new golden age of singing we knew between 1945 and 1975. for the moment though 3 operatic recitals in a few years time will do and I hope he can convince his recording company to do a zarzuela recital. He has already sung a few items in concert and he is simply fabulous in it, combining Domingo’s rich middle voice with young Alfredo Kraus’ elegance.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/villazon.gif image_description=Rolando Villazón - Opera Recital product=yes product_title=Rolando Villazón — Opera Recital product_by=Rolando Villazón tenor with Theresa Blank contralto, Florian Laconi tenor, Bayerischer Rundfunkchor, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Michel Plasson (cond.) product_id=Virgin Classics 3447012 [CD] price=$15.98 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=683286&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 10:21 AM

PUCCINI: Turandot

So much for priorities though there may be a reason for it. This issue is mostly destined for the Spanish speaking countries and Arteta is quite a name there, popular too due to some zarzuela-recordings. I’m nevertheless more impressed by her Liu than by her solo-zarzuela-album. The voice on this Turandot is almost a cross between Mirella Freni and Renato Scotto; there is something of Freni’s sweetness and Scotto’s intensity. Moreover, Arteta has some magical pianissimi which she uses abundantly. Her performance nevertheless proves to be a real live one without Domingo-editings to cut away false or missed notes. She comes in too early in her ‘Signore ascolta’ and has to repeat the phrase and in my opinion, agreed not a very purist one, it makes for a charming effect. Less charming is the end of her second aria ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta’ where there is once more a misunderstanding between pit and scene.

The tenor is Ignacio Encinas, not a well-known name to most readers, but alas too well known to me who has suffered him a lot at the Walloon Opera. Encinas is today’s version of Franco Bonisolli. Acting means strutting around like a peacock. Singing means clinging to high notes, lengthening or shortening note values as it becomes him. Phrasing is sometimes fine and often clumsy and he often succeeds of doing that in one breath. The same goes for the sound. In one note he can combine a nice dark sound followed by a dry patch. He has a good top, not many decibels (less in life than this recording would suggest) but projects well. He can be rather exciting in some verismo roles like Chénier but I also heard him as Manrico or Gualtiero (Pirata) where the liabilities were greater than the advantages. In the first act of this recording he is on his best behaviour, singing a good ‘Non piangere’ but by the second act the discipline is going down the drain and all his tricks and eccentricities are clearly audible. Sometimes there is singing and then there is sprechgesang and of course a big breath before taking the high C in ‘ti voglio tutto ardente’. And like Bonisolli one gets irritated with the mannerisms because one realizes there could be quite a voice hiding under it all.

But the main reason for acquiring this set as a valuable addition to the many great classical recordings is the Turandot of Alessandra Marc. I cannot think of a better Turandot on modern records, be it live or studio since Gina Cigna in 1937. (Yes, I know the Nilsson recordings and I even heard her twice in the role in her heydays). The voice is big, easily riding over the orchestra but it is feminine as well and not just a laser beam. She magnificently succeeds in bringing anguish to her role the moment Calaf has solved the third riddle. And, she really melts when singing her second aria ‘Dal primo pianto’. Agreed, on top and at full throttle she not always succeeds fully but that is minor compared to the rich overwhelming and emotionally involved sound.

The sound of this recording is a little bit constricted as if the source were a TV-broadcast and it favours the singers over the orchestra. The chorus of the Bilbao Opera is definitely underpowered so that the climax of this classical Alfano-version suffers somewhat. Therefore it is somewhat difficult to judge the merits of the conductor though his tempi are fine. There is no libretto included.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/turandot_rtve.jpg image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Turandot product=yes product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Turandot product_by=Alessandra Marc (Turandot), Ignacio Encinas (Calaf), Ainho Arteta (Liu),Erwin Schrott (timur), lluis Sintes ( Ing), Eduaqrdo Santamaria (Pang), José Ruiz (Pong), Pedro Calderon (Altoum), José Manuel Diaz (Mandarin). Orquesta sinfonica de Euskadi conducted byJosé Collado.
Recorded on the 21th and 24th of September 2002 in Bilbao. product_id=RTVE Musica 65171 [2CDs] price=$33.49 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=685043&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 9:40 AM

May 23, 2006

Die Fledermaus at Glyndebourne

fledermaus_glyndebourne2006_small.jpgTim Ashley [Guardian, 23 May 2006]

Towards the end of Stephen Lawless's production of Die Fledermaus, Robert Tear, cast as the useless lawyer Blind, is discovered dressed in fishnet tights and a petticoat. "I'm wearing a Freudian slip," he announces. Cross-dressing and psychoanalysis are but two of Lawless's reference points in his darkly funny version of Johann Strauss's great critique of hedonism and the sexual vagaries of mid-life crises.

Posted by Gary at 2:02 PM

Da gelo a gelo, Rococo Theatre, Schwetzingen

Salvatore_Sciarrino.JPGBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 23 May 2006]

In 11th-century Japan, the services of personal pages enabled love notes to be exchanged with a frequency to rival today’s text messaging. The urgency and sentiments were similar but literary standards were, to put it mildly, higher.

Posted by Gary at 1:59 PM

Macbeth, Seattle Opera

william-shakespeare.gifBy George Loomis [Financial Times, 23 May 2006]

Startlingly, blood begins to ooze from the walls during the sleepwalking scene of Bernard Uzan’s production of Macbeth in Seattle, seeping down the panels of Robert Israel’s stark set in mockery of Lady Macbeth’s attempt at hygiene. This one sensational moment is effective because of Uzan’s perceptive treatment of the drama elsewhere.

Posted by Gary at 1:38 PM

May 22, 2006

Shostakovich: Settling old Soviet scores

Stalin denounced Shostakovich's opera but had a soft spot for his ballet. Now the Kirov wants to take the politics out of the music. David Lister reports

[Independent, 22 May 2006]

The relationship between the great 20th-century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the dictator Joseph Stalin was a complex one, and is still sometimes misunderstood.

Posted by Gary at 10:48 AM

Glyndebourne opens with Così fan tutte

Dispassionate look at young love

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 21 May 2006]

Women are like that – when they are in love with love. And so are men. That is the bit Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte left out when they called their opera Così fan tutte. When you are young, love is gullible, superficial, promiscuous. You get carried away with the very idea of being in love. It is puppy love, running the gamut of ecstasy and despair in a day. It blinds those involved but its effects and pitfalls are glaringly obvious to onlookers, usually middle-aged, who know better.

Click here for remainder of article.


A wobble at Glyndebourne as bland blancmange is served

Rupert Christiansen reviews Cosi fan tutte at Glyndebourne

[Daily Telegraph, 22 May 2006]

Pleasantly tasteful are the words that spring to mind as I think about this new production of Cosi fan tutte, Glyndebourne's tribute to Mozart on his 250th birthday. The frocks are pretty, nobody sits on the lavatory or wears a Guantanamo Bay jump-suit. It's just the thing for visitors to Glyndebourne who are more interested in its herbaceous borders than the art of opera.

Click here for remainder of article.


Glyndebourne `Cosi fan Tutte' Boasts Cleavage, Breeches, No Vim

By Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 22 May 2006]

May 22 (Bloomberg) -- I've seen Mozart's ``Cosi fan tutte'' (1790) set in a public toilet, in someone's mind, in a cheap diner and in a trendy London cafe. I'd almost forgotten it could be staged where the librettist intended, roughly in the period it was written, with pretty costumes and naturalistic action.

Click here for remainder of article.


Cosi Fan Tutte

Tim Ashley [Guardian, 22 May 2006]

The Romantics of the early 19th century detested Cosi Fan Tutte, deeming it for the most part trivial and obscene. Mozart's emphasis on the irrational nature of desire and its attendant dangers, however, in many respects prefigures Romantic concerns - a fact not lost on Nicholas Hytner, whose new production re-imagines the opera as a parable of the threat posed by sex to classical certainties.

Click here for remainder of article.


Così fan tutte

Hilary Finch at Glyndebourne [Times Online, 22 May 2006]

Gales, rain and Mozart. It has to be the start of a new Glyndebourne season. But the sun was shining out of the eyes of a company clearly determined to celebrate to the full its first production in Mozart's anniversary year.

Click here for remainder of article.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/cosi_fan_tutte2.gif
image_description=Così fan tutte

Posted by Gary at 9:13 AM

May 21, 2006

DONIZETTI: Poliuto

First Performance: 30 November 1848, Teatro San Carlo, Naples.

Principal Characters:

Poliuto Tenor
Paolina, his wife and daughter of Felice Soprano
Severo, proconsole Baritone
Callistene, high priest of Jove Bass
Nearco, head of the Armenian Christians Tenor
Felice, governor of Mitilene Tenor

Time and Place: Mitilene, capital of Armenia, circa 257.

Synopsis:

Act I

Poliuto has converted to the Christian faith, which is a forbidden cult. During the night, Poliuto goes to join his brothers in faith at a secret cavern. He is met by Nearco, to whom he alludes to his jealousy toward Paolina. Poliuto enters the cavern where he receives the sacrament of baptism. Unbeknownst to Poliuto, Paolina has followed him to the cavern. Nearco confirms her fears that Poliuto has converted. He exhorts Paolina not to disclose his secret. Felice, the governor and father of Paolina, has decreed that those who embrace the Christian religion shall suffer death. But, Paolina is also anxious because her former lover, Severo, is arriving as the Roman proconsole. She had believed Severo had died in battle and thus married Paolina. The act concludes with Severo's entrance and his learning of Paolina's marriage.

Act II

At the home of Felice, Callistene, the high priest of Jove and rejected lover of Paolina, has arranged a meeting between Paolina and Severo. He has also arranged to bring Poliuto who sees them together just as Severo declares his love for Paolina. His honor stained, Poliuto vows revenge but then learns that Nearco has been arrested. He immediately go to the temple where Nearco is questioned by Callistene and Severo. He is asked to identify the person baptized the night before. Nearco refuses to answer. Poliuto, however, comes forward to confess. Paolina intervenes, beggin Felice, Callistene and Severo to save her husband. In a fit of pride, Poliuto curses Jove as a false god and rejects his wife. Poliuto and Nearco are dragged away.

Act III

In the sacred wood near the temple of Jove, Callistene is irate. He announces to the other priests that the Christians have decided to follow Poliuto's example and to seek martyrdom. Confined in a cell, Poliuto dreams of Paolina transfigured by a strange light. He awakes and finds his wife before him. She implores him to save himself and to reject the Christian faith. He refuses. Suspecting Callistene's treachery, he tells Paolina of Callistene's behavior. Paolina clarifies the situation. Poliuto explains that his first obligation is to save his soul. Paolina decides to embrace Christianity and asks to die with her husband. Poliuto and Paolina are then sent to their execution.

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the text of Polyeucte by Pierre Corneille.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Corneille.jpg image_description=Pierre Corneille (1606 - 1684) by Jean-Jacques Caffiere (Musée du Louvre) audio=yes first_audio_name=Gaetano Donizetti: Poliuto first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Poliuto.m3u product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Poliuto product_by=Maria Callas (Paolina), Franco Corelli (Poliuto), Ettore Bastianini (Severo), Nicola Zaccaria (Callistene), Rinaldo Pelizzoni (Felice), Piero De Palma (Nearco), Orchestra e Coro Della Scala di Milano, Antonio Votto (cond.).
Live performance, 7 December 1960, Milan.
Posted by Gary at 9:15 PM

Art Song Festival founder uses charm to bring in artists

vassos_small.gifDonald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 21 May 2006]

George Vassos has crammed an inordinate amount of varied musical activity into what he calls "a really checkered career."

Posted by Gary at 3:38 PM

Tolomeo, London Handel Festival, Britten Hall, London

An Egyptian bunny boiler to put Cleopatra in the shade
By Anna Picard [Independent, 21 May 2006]

Strange as it may seem from someone who loves Handel, I was not looking forward to Tolomeo. Every year, the London Handel Festival dusts off one of his 40-odd operas, casts them with the most promising students it can find, and presents a short run in the lovely acoustics of the Britten Theatre. Every year, one also has the sinking feeling that this will be the last time one will see that particular opera staged.

Posted by Gary at 3:03 PM

May 20, 2006

The Makropulos Case

janacek_small.jpgTom Service [Guardian, 20 May 2006]

The final act of English National Opera's new production of Janacek's The Makropulos Case is harrowing but uplifting theatre, a brilliant staging of some of the greatest operatic music ever written. As Emilia Marty - the 337-year-old heroine of the opera, desperately seeking the potion of eternal life to fend off her impending mortality - Cheryl Barker begins the act laid out like a corpse on top of a filing cabinet: an image of the living death her life has become. The production, directed by Christopher Alden, captures this ghoulish drama, making the stage feel like a mausoleum, with sheer, metallic surfaces and the harsh glare of strip-lights.

Posted by Gary at 3:49 PM

Finishing touches

New HGO director adds his visual flair to next season
By CHARLES WARD [Houston Chronicle, 19 May 2006]

Anthony Freud, the new, English-born general director of Houston Grand Opera, has delved into his company's psyche and discovered some good news.

Posted by Gary at 3:31 PM

May 19, 2006

Placido Domingo — Great Scenes

Moreover, the real Domingo-enthusiast will not be very happy with the strange selections. The DVD starts with a minute from a Vienna Fledermaus in which Frosch and the conducting tenor exchange a few jokes and the conductor sings a few phrases from ‘Celeste Aida’ to correct the jailer who had been humming the melody. Then comes the first selection from Ernani and it takes a few seconds before it dawns on you that the sleeve note is correct. Indeed you get the cabaletta of the first act aria ‘Mercè, diletti amici’ without the aria proper. Still, the cabaletta itself gets the two verses, no high note (Muti conducting and Domingo probably very much in agreement) and is a rounded piece. But in ‘La légende de Kleinzack’ the producers of this DVD go completely nuts. This is after all a classic A-B-A aria. After the A section and the middle part of the aria, everybody will expect the reprise of the main melody and the end of the aria. No way, the aria is simply cut off after two-thirds of the music. Therefore, one is not too surprised that the big final duet of Andrea Chénier, too, is given less than half its length and is cut from the moment the music really gets into a higher gear with ‘La nostra amor’. One wonders who made such decisions, all the more as 57 minutes are short value for a DVD.

One cannot help but wondering if the hand of Mr. Domingo is behind it all. In 1986 he produced a world première when he had the TV broadcast of La Gioconda delayed so that some “elder” high notes could be electronically inserted in places where he had cracked abominably. He had forgotten the radio broadcast that went directly into the air and his real ‘cielo e mar’ is still to be found on party tapes. Of course a small scandal erupted as Eva Marton was livid with fury. She, too, had missed a few notes and they were not edited and she loudly complained to the press.

The performances on this DVD are typical of Domingo in his middle period. The first period goes from 1966 (after a six year prologue) and ends in 1978 when the top was already shortening and he was barely able to sing a good high B. The second one goes till 1990 when he was still a fully committed tenor though avoiding high B roles and discreetly transposing (like he does with a semitone in ‘Ch’ella mi creda’ on this DVD). The third one up to today is well known for the no longer discreet transpositions that often embarrass his co-singers, as they have to adapt themselves to his weaknesses. That’s when he started talking about some tenors being in reality ‘baritenors’ like he did before the unveiling of the new Met Samson et Dalila production nine years ago, though in the 1974 book ‘The Tenors’ he boasted he would soon sing the C without any problem like he already did when practising. Typical for his whole career, however, are the brilliant and extremely beautiful lower and middle registers, which even after a strenuous activity of 45 years are still very much to be enjoyed. Typical, too, are the somewhat generalized interpretations he brings forth. It is always fine to hear them but one cannot say he has really probed the depth of his roles. He rarely disappoints; but he rarely does something unforgettable. Many of his predecessors and even one of his contemporaries (yes, that one) often succeeded in giving us ‘the magic phrase’; one or another utterance that you keep in your mind when listening to another singer. Bergonzi, Corelli, Di Stefano, even Del Monaco succeeded in doing this. Domingo doesn’t, at least not in opera though in some of his zarzuela recordings (the stuff he knew by heart long before he could read) everything comes together and he can be just wonderful (listen to his El ultimo romantico).

The 1982 Ernani on this DVD is not his best effort. The sound is sometimes nasal and comes out squeezed. Compare this with the opening of the La Scala season in 1969 and you immediately note the loss in richness. One year later, he is in better voice in Manon Lescaut touchingly acting young René des Grieux. The sound of the middle voice once again is golden though by that time the tessitura of the role lies already too high. He and Te Kanawa sing very flat in the climax of their final duet. As Dick Johnson he is very good indeed and the chopped up delivery that belongs to ‘Una parola sola’ suits his voice fine. In 1985 one hears that middle age as a singer has come. ‘Si fui soldato’ goes as follows ‘Va’ breath ‘la mia nave’ or ‘Ma lasciami breath l’onor’. And in the small part of the final duet we are allowed to hear he radically cuts short the note values. All productions on this DVD are fully traditional and sound and picture quality are excellent.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Domingo_scenes_DVD.jpg image_description=Placido Domingo – Great Scenes product=yes product_title=Placido Domingo – Great Scenes product_by=Placido Domingo with Kiri Te Kanawa, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Carol Neblett, Anna Tomowa-Sintow product_id=Kultur D 4048 [DVD] price=$19.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0032031404892&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 2:59 PM

ENO's `Makropulos Case' Has Mackerras, 337-Year-Old Heroine

barker_cheryl_small.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 19 May 2006]

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- Janacek's opera ``The Makropulos Case'' is about a 337-year-old woman who has discovered an elixir of life. Listening to the vibrant conducting of 80-year-old maestro Charles Mackerras in the new production at the English National Opera in London, you'd think he had been tippling at the forbidden fluid too.

Posted by Gary at 2:40 PM

HALFFTER: Don Quijote

If the composer is a Spaniard and the subject matter is Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the endeavor borders on the “Quixotic”—e.g. an unrealistic and impracticable goal, but also an idealistic and noble one.

This is exactly what Cristóbal Halffter (Madrid 1930) has done. Now in his seventies, Halffter claims that he never before tackled the genre of opera for many reasons, including lack of infrastructure and funding to produce it, suitable subject matter and librettist, and, of course, the controversial status of opera among avant-garde composers. What can a modern composer say within the limits and conventions of opera, if the genre is stripped of tonality, arias, choruses, and straightforward narrative and drama? On the other hand, what can be his or her contribution to the existing settings of Don Quixote, especially vis-à-vis such notable examples by Telemann, Strauss, and Manuel de Falla? Needless to say, Halffter has risen to the occasion and, having overcome all these challenges, has created a work that is an opera and is about Don Quixote, but provides a fresh spin on both the traditional genre and the legendary, over-exposed subject matter.

Written in one single act of six scenes and lasting a little over two hours, Halffter’s Don Quijote is pure joy, an endless source of musical surprises. (Extremist cyber critics, as is to be expected, have trashed it mercilessly.) It is, in addition, a work of “absolute” Halffter. Drawing on many modernist idioms such as dissonance, indeterminacy, and quotations, Don Quijote is characterized by some of the composer’s most recognizable trademarks. One of them consists of gradually building larger masses of sound by layering on top of each other musical motives or instrumental sections and, then, after a ferocious eruption or burst, continuing with a plodding recession into one single original stratum.

In this Don Quijote there are no conventional successions of recitatives and arias. The treatment of chorus, also, is unusual, being deployed as a Greek chorus, that is to say, not as a participant in the plot but rather a commentator on the events. On the other hand, quotes from historical music play an important role, contextualizing the action in Renaissance Spain with materials elaborated from Antonio de Cabezón and the joyful Juan del Encina. The handling of these materials oscillates between modernist settings to period ensembles such as one including a harp (the typical continuo in Iberian music), harpsichord, 2 violas, and cellos. The libretto, written by Andrés Amorós, is not really action driven, but settles on a selection of dialogue from Cervantes’ original book as well as from freshly written ones, and includes some liberties such as the character of Miguel de Cervantes sharing the stage with Don Quixote.

Some listeners will be surprised that good old Sancho Panza is a tenor and the Don a baritone. Needless to say, Halffter as a former enfant terrible of modern music still enjoys going against the expectations of listeners, and that is not necessarily bad. Listeners, being creatures of habit, resent newness, but once they take the leap, the rewards are often assured. The recording and the performers seem to be optimal, although to date there are no possible comparisons on CD. One can discern, nevertheless, the passion, the long hours, the enthusiasm performers and producers have put in this Quixotic adventure. That in itself is a plus.

Halffter has declared that he considers the “book” the highest achievement of humankind. There is a big truth in this statement and one need not to be reminded that, in Cervantes’s novel, the cause of Don Quixote’s lunacy is attributed to reading. An interesting coffee table book (Así se hace una opera: Don Quijote; Barcelona, Lunwerg, 2004) reproduces photos by José Antonio Robés Cuadrado of the original production in Madrid in 2000. Designed by the late Herbert Wernicke, the most prominent feature on the stage is a mountain of gigantic books, both symbol of Don Quixote’s madness as well as a vindication of utopianism. Books, we are often told, are being displaced by new forms of communication, as opera is being supplanted by other musical genres, and the modernist idiom has been superseded by postmodern tonality. Somewhere somewhat, however, these creative instances manage to survive in the hands of some artists. Halffter is one of them.

Antoni Pizà
Foundation for Iberian Music
The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Don_Quijote.jpg image_description=Cristóbal Halffter: Don Quijote product=yes product_title=Cristóbal Halffter: Don Quijote product_by=Josep Miquel Ramón (Cervantes); Enrique Baquerizo (Don Quijote); Eduardo Santamaría (Sancho); Diana Tiegs (Dulcinea); María Rodríguez (Aldonza); Fabiola Masino, Alicia Martínez, Ana Hässler, Santiago Sánchez Jericó, Fernando Latorre, Javier Roldán, supporting soloists. Coro Nacional de España; Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid; Pedro Halffter Caro, conductor.
Recorded July 2003, Auditorio Nacional, Madrid, Spain. product_id=Glossa GSP 98004 [2CDs] price=$41.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=595196&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 1:51 PM

Urge.com and Online Classical (Whatever That Is)

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 19 May 2006]

IT has been three years since iTunes burst on the scene and pushed the popularity of music downloads and the white iPod headset cords coming out of the ears of what seems like half the population.

Click image for screenshot.

Posted by Gary at 12:11 PM

Hvorostovsky Leads a Very Russian Decoding of Michelangelo's Writings

michelangelo.jpgBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 19 May 2006]

Michelangelo, in his off-hours as poet and writer, had bitter words for God and his works. Shostakovich lent them a sympathetic ear more than 400 years later when, nearing death in 1974, he set his "Suite on Words of Michelangelo." Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Russian baritone, sang this cycle of 11 songs, with Ivari Ilja playing the piano, on Wednesday as part of a Russian evening at Avery Fisher Hall.

Posted by Gary at 11:58 AM

VERDI: Don Carlo

Moreover, the opera still touches a nerve as the (Northern) Netherlands after their war with their legal count and duke (Philip was not an absolute king in the Netherlands) became a republic. The opera however is historically correct in having the revolt started by the Southern Netherlands (hence the Flemish and Brabantian deputies in the third act). A lot of space was devoted to Decker’s ideas and concepts and then everything was blown away, not by the wind, but by a voice. After the première critics, of course, dissected the production; but even they had to admit for once that some attention should be given to the singers. OK, make it one singer in particular.

The Amsterdam audiences are always keen to make everybody else believe that theatrical values score highest in their appreciation of opera. This time, they dropped their usual make believe and had mostly eyes (ears would be the more correct word) for Rolando Villazón. All at once these audiences, starved for a world class tenor, reduced opera to its main outstanding feature: good singing. People applauded hysterically and the frenzy became stronger with each performance. Villazón was almost mobbed when after some performances he agreed to sign his first solo album. The Amsterdam in-house-shop had to perform miracles to get the necessary copies, as more than 1500 people in all waited for hours to have their albums signed. Villazón himself was almost as surprised as everybody else as he had been engaged for the role when he was still a young promising tenor. Now it was probably the first time he realized how big a star he had become.

The inevitable question therefore is a simple one: is this Villazón performance the yard stick to measure all other interpretations with? And the answer can only be a no. On record Carlo Bergonzi (Decca) still reigns supreme with Placido Domingo (EMI) a good second; while in the live category, there are some stunning performances by Franco Corelli and Jussi Björling. But, it is surely a performance on the level of the unjustly forgotten Flaviano Labo (DG) whose voice has a striking resemblance with the Mexican tenor. Villazón sings with the by now well-known burnished sound and intensity, using a quivering voice now and then to show emotion. He phrases well, has a sense for the Verdian line and the voice remains fresh and lovely till the last measures with top notes ringing out clear and loudly. During the performance I attended, and on this DVD as well, there is proof too of a good control of dynamics; and it is good news indeed to hear from the tenor’s latest recitals that he has refined his singing still more so that nowadays pianissimi come easily to him. Moreover, Villazón is a most convincing actor, especially in a role asking for youth, agility and schizophrenics at the same time. One sometimes has the impression he crosses the line between acting and grand guignol; but the bonus documentary clearly shows he is encouraged to act that way by the director.

Not that Villazón is the only high class performance. Violeta Urmana, a stately Eboli (British critics would use “Junoesque” as they dare not utter the word ‘fat’) sang the role a few months before she definitely went soprano. The voice blazes with health and volume; the top notes are shattering and one can understand why Urmana was looking for roles in a higher tessitura. Soprano Amanda Roocroft as the queen has a more rounded and darker low register than mezzo Urmana, while in the middle register both voices are remarkably alike. But, alas, the moment Roocroft goes into higher gear everything sounds shrill and laboured. A pity as she acts a very vulnerable Elisabetta.

The men are a more mixed lot. Best of them all is baritone Dwayne Croft with smooth delivery, good phrasing and a fine thriller, maybe ultimately lacking a bit in richness and colour in the voice. Colour is surely lacking in Robert Lloyd’s Filippo. This is a solid, somewhat dry, voice though one without great power. Mr. Llloyd knows only two ways of singing: forte and sometimes (and more rarely) mezzo-forte. There is no real beauty in the voice and that magnificent monologue (being a historian I dare to say Verdi is probably nearer to the real king than all the biographers combined) goes almost for nothing at the same loud level all the time. Is it shortness of breath? or the conductors wish? But the bass chops up the line in those last magical phrases clearly breathing between each utterance. More is the pity as Lloyd plays one of the best kings I have ever seen: very near to the eternal doubter Philip was and not exaggerating his rage, his sorrow or his jealousy.

It is never a good thing when the king is oversung in big waves of sound by the great inquisitor. Not that Jaakko Ryhänen sails smoothly along; the sound is often too hollow or simply flat but after all he is supposed to be ninety.

Riccardo Chailly and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (this world class orchestra performs one opera production each year) are magnificent in the playing and the drive of the singers without looking just for effect. Chailly knows where to hurry a little bit faster or to temporize more than the score tells so as to create a real uninterrupted flow of music that goes to the heart of the unfolding drama. He is asked in the bonus documentary if he has thought this out all himself and he honestly admits he did not. But, as a young student, he carefully listened and took notes during performances of Votto, Molinari-Pradelli and especially Tullio Serafin: conductors who studied themselves with teachers who had often performed for Verdi himself. Chailly is clearly proud to have a direct line to the composer’s intentions. As an opera lover I can only regret that he didn’t go for the five-act version in this DVD (as a spectator in the house I was happy enough with three hours of music).

The production by Willy Decker is….well…..rather harmless. Decker is more interested in the father-son conflict than in the quest for liberty. He puts it somewhat vaguely in the right time frame and then opts for a few German director’s clichés without making stooges of his singers or deconstructing the original story. The sets are almost all the time a few (sometimes moving) giant walls of plaques behind which lie the deceased kings and queens of Spain. It is based upon the far smaller real heart of El Escorial near Madrid where King Philip lived most of his life. I fail to see why apart from some real names on the plaques the director has some of them named Horatius, Lucius or Eulalie. And (though not to be seen clearly on the DVD) there are Patricia I and Patricia II as well; probably a silly inside joke. Carlo’s, Posa’s and Elisabetta’s costumes are made from the same grey material: probably a deep hint that these three are one of a kind. Everybody else wears black, even all court ladies, with the exception of the great inquisitor who cannot fail to have a blood-red dress—you got it?—though only a cardinal of the church wears red.

Respect for the libretto is clearly not the strongest point in this production. Decker is clearly impressed with Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento movie and in the auto-da-fé-scene the chorus has to imitate exactly the marchers in the film. And the scene ends with the heavenly voice inviting the convicts into heaven while we see….a crucified Don Carlo. In the third act Philip’s grave is already open and the king sings his monologue on his own coffin. And of course the opera has to end on an original note: Carlo commits suicide. Maybe Robert Lloyd has the best reaction to it all as he tells that the singers are not handicapped by Decker asking them for difficult movements. Most of the time they can sing their hearts out lustily and therefore the performance, according to the bass, comes near to his ideal of Italian opera: singing first followed by a hearty applause.

The picture quality of the two DVD’s is fine though the sound suffers a bit from the movements of the singers on the scene. Not the ultimate Don Carlo but still a rewarding performance.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Don_Carlo.gif image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo product_by=Robert Lloyd (Filippo II), Rolando Villazón (Don Carlo), Dwayne Croft (Rodrigo), Jaakko Ryhänen (Il grande inquisitore), Giorgio Giuseppini (Un frate), Amanda Roocroft (Elisabetta di Valois), Violeta Urmana (Eboli). Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera conducted by Riccardo Chailly. Stage director Willy Decker. TV director Misjel Vermeiren. product_id=Opus Arte OA 0933 D [DVD] price=$41.38 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0809478009337&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 8:18 AM

Met Orchestra/Conlon, Carnegie Hall, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 18 May 2006]

If all had gone as planned, James Levine would have been on the podium on Sunday, conducting his splendid Met Orchestra in music of Mozart, Brahms and Wuorinen (top ticket $155!). Fate decreed otherwise.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

May 18, 2006

GLUCK: Alceste

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Librettist: Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, after Euripides (Italian version)
Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc Roullet, based on Calzabigi (French version)

First Performance:

Italian Version 26 December 1767, Burgtheater, Vienna
French Version 23 April 1776, Académie Royale de Musique, Paris

Principal Characters:

Italian version
Alceste, Queen of Pherae in Thessaly Soprano
Admeto, her husband Tenor
Eumelo, their child Soprano
Aspasia, their child Soprano
Evandro, a confidant of Admeto Tenor
Ismene, a confidante of Alceste Soprano
A Herald Bass
High Priest of Apollo Baritone
Apollo Baritone
Oracle Bass
Infernal Deity Bass
French version
Alceste, Queen of Thessaly Soprano
Admète, her husband Tenor
Their two children Silent
Evandre, a confidant of Admeto Tenor
Ismene, a confidante of Alceste Soprano
A Herald of Arms Bass
High Priest of Apollo Bass
Apollo Baritone
Oracle Bass
Hercules Bass
Thanatos, an infernal deity Bass

Time and Place: Pherae in ancient Thessaly

Synopsis (Italian version):

Act I

A herald announces to the people of Thessaly that King Admeto is gravely ill and that there is little hope. Evandro calls upon all to pray to the oracle at the temple of Apollo. Alceste joins them and asks Apollo for pity. The oracle says Admeto can be rescued if another voluntarily sacrifices his life. This causes great consternation. Alone, Alceste agonizes whether to give her life for that of her husband.

Act II

In a dense forest dedicated to the gods of the underworld, Ismene asks Alceste why she is leaving her husband and children. Alceste tells Ismene of her intentions. Meanwhile, Admeto has a miraculous recovery to the joy of all Thessaly. Evandro tells him that someone has apparently sacrificed himself for the king. When Alceste appears, he questions her until she confesses. The desperate king hurries into the temple to plead with the gods. However, Alceste says good-bye to the children.

Act III

The decision of the gods is not revoked. The people lament the approaching death of Alceste. Having said good-bye to Alceste, Admeto decides to follow her into death. Then the heavens open, Apollo descends and proclaims that the gods have given them their lives as a reward for their steadfast love.

Click here for the complete libretto (Italian version).

Click here for a view of La Mort d'Alceste ou L'Héroïsme de l'amour conjugal by Pierre Peyron, 1785 (Musée du Louvre)

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/mort_alceste_detail.jpg image_description=Detail from La Mort d'Alceste ou L'Héroïsme de l'amour conjugal by Pierre Peyron, 1785 (Musée du Louvre) audio=yes first_audio_name=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Alceste
Windows Media Player first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Alceste.wax second_audio_name=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Alceste
Alternate stream (VLC) second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Alceste.m3u product=yes product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Alceste product_by=Maria Callas (Alceste), Renato Gavarini (Admeto), Rolando Panerai (Apollo), Giuseppe Zampieri (Evandro), Paolo Silveri (High Priest), Nicola Zaccaria (Oracle), Coro e Orchestra del Teatra alla Scala di Milano, Carlo Maria Giulini (cond.)
Live recording, 4 April 1954, Milan.
Posted by Gary at 5:21 PM

Glyndebourne Season Features Strange Rituals, Bollywood Handel

glyndebourne.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 18 May 2006]

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Year after year, the opening of the Glyndebourne season turns out to be cold, damp and gloomy, and yet women dress in expensive scraps of chiffon and silk and pretend it's the French Riviera.

Posted by Gary at 8:49 AM

At times you have to behave operatically

[Financial Times, 17 May 2006]

New York is aquiver. On Saturday the Metropolitan Opera will close its season with a snazzle-dazzle variety show honoring Joseph Volpe, its grandiose, self-aggrandising, about-to-be-ex- general-manager, writes Martin Bernheimer. He steps down after 16 years at the helm of what may be the world’s leading haven for the lyric muse.

Posted by Gary at 8:44 AM

Missing Opera's Lost Generation of Stars at a Gala for Volpe

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 18 May 2006]

Galas are a big part of operatic tradition. You need to have one every few years. At the Met they have become practically part of the standard opera landscape. This Saturday's season-ending gala, a tribute to the departing general manager, Joseph Volpe, is being billed as a particular blockbuster. Yet, inevitably, people are already comparing it to another blockbuster gala in recent memory, the 1996 celebration of James Levine's 25th year at the house, which went on for more than seven hours.

Posted by Gary at 8:37 AM

May 17, 2006

PETRELLA: Jone

The last confirmed performance in Italy took place in Palermo in 1924. After that, nothing anywhere in the world, except for the revival in Caracas in 1981, that was recorded and issued. First on an Italian LP, and now on a CD released in Argentina.

There is a bit of a mystery here. How could a composer have been so successful and popular about 100 years ago, with at least three operas (Jone, La Contessa d’Amalfi and Le precauzioni) in the standard repertory, and be so completely forgotten and neglected today? Unlike the works of Pacini and Mercadante, and several other composers of the period, those of Petrella have not experienced any return to popularity. In fact, the last Petrella opera to be given in Italy was I Promessi Sposi, in Naples, back in 1950, over 55 years ago. I don’t have an answer to that, except perhaps that there may have been a greater interest in reviving the works of composers who influenced Verdi, like Pacini and Mercadante, than those who, like Petrella, were influenced by him. Another factor may well have been that Petrella had earned Verdi’s scorn.

Petrella had been born in Palermo on December 10, 1813, the same year as both Verdi and Wagner. But while he did lack the greatness of the other two, especially Verdi, much of his music, certainly including Jone, makes for pleasant listening. He was a very popular composer in his day, both of comic and tragic operas. None of his early works, premiered between December 1829 and 1839 were particularly successful. It was not until Il carnevale di Venezia (Naples, Teatro Nuovo, May 20, 1851) that he really became noticed. Elena di Tolosa (Naples, Fondo, Aug. 12, 1852) followed. Then, in 1854, he took the Italian operatic world by storm with Marco Visconti (Naples, San Carlo, 1854). L'assedio di Leida (La Scala, 1856) was his fourth straight triumph, while Jone (La Scala, 1858) was a major event and remained in the repertory well into the 20th century. The creators were Augusta Albertini in the title role, the prominent spinto tenor Carlo Negrini, who also was the original Gabriele in Simon Boccanegra as Glauco, and Giovanni Guicciardi, the first De Luna as the wicked Arbace.With two exceptions (La Contessa d'Amalfi and I Promessi Sposi) his operas during the 1860s generally failed.

I was already very familiar with Simon Boccanegra, when I first heard Jone, the two operas having their premieres within less than a year of each other, and found it hard to understand how the Petrella work, which may have had as many as 600 productions, could have been so much more successful than the Verdi, which was produced about 60 times (counting both versions) during the 19th century. To give a better idea of the popularity of Jone, it was given all over Italy and Spain, and as far away as Melbourne, Alexandria, Calcutta, Jakarta, Santiago, Lima, Manila and Tbilisi. But it was never staged in Paris, Berlin or Moscow, and only once each in London (by amateurs) and Vienna (by an Italian company returning from a season in Bucharest). Its one time popularity was almost certainly due to such striking pieces as two fine numbers for the tenor (a drinking song and a romanza), the baritone’s great aria and cabaletta in Act III, and one of the most effective funeral marches in all of opera.

Much as I have enjoyed this performance of Jone in its several incarnations, I am convinced that a better cast than the one provided here could have made a much better case for the opera. Of the three principals, only baritone Gian Piero Mastromei really acquits himself with full honors. He is a fine “Verdi baritone”, and has proved himself time and again in many leading roles all over the world’s stages and on CD. Negri also had a fine career, including several season at the Metropolitan Opera. But, until another Verdi baritone of Mastromei's stature is found, and a tenor of the same caliber utilized for Glauco, this will be the only game in town.

The presentation of the opera is basically of the “bare bones” type. There is no libretto, no liner notes, and only a plot of the opera in Spanish, but without translation, not even into Italian or English. It is apparently intended for the Argentine market, not surprising since it is part of a series of CDs featuring the soprano Adelaide Negri, herself Argentinian.. A look at Adelaide Negri’s web site (www.adelaidanegri.com) tells us that they are dedicated to issuing Ms. Negri’s performances of a vast repertory, much of which originates in Buenos Aires. Others in the series include many Donizetti, Rossini, and Verdi operas. Most have been recorded many times, but other relative rarities include Spontini’s Fernando Cortez, Pacini’s Saffo and Meyerbeer’s L’africana.

If you are looking for a masterpiece sung by an all-star cast, this recording is not for you. On the other hand, if you cannot resist important 19th century works that once had a great appeal to the audiences for whom they were composed, you should get quite a bit of enjoyment from it.

Tom Kaufman

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/jone.jpg image_description=Errico Petrella: Jone product=yes product_title=Errico Petrella: Jone product_by=Adelaide Negri sop. (Jone); Stella Silva mez. (Nidia); Bruno Sebastian ten. (Glauco); Gianpiero Mastromei bar. (Arbace); Louis Lebherz bass (Burbo); Coro de la Fundación Teresa Carreño Orquestra Sinfónica Municipal de Caracas; Edoardo Müller, conductor product_id=New Ornamenti 121 [2CDs] price=$30.00 product_url=http://www.adelaidanegri.com/discografia_eng.htm
Posted by Gary at 2:10 PM

CHARPENTIER: Te Deum and Grand Office des Morts

This present recording of liturgical music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier is no exception in this regard, for what impresses most is the naturalness of the performance idiom. The intricacies of French ornamentation, the timbral richness of French Latin, the shapely contours of line, the elegant embodiments of dance all prove second nature to Christie and his ensemble, elevating manner and artifice to true eloquence.

The opening “Te Deum,” one of several by Charpentier, is well-known, at least for its opening Marche en rondeau, a rousing bit of splendor out of which we moderns have constructed a musical icon of Louis XIV’s France. In its diverse aspects—alternately martial, dance-like, and intimate—the “Te Deum” evokes the close unity of church and state, often impressively so. And the variety makes for interesting listening. If the straight-ahead D major gloire is the brightest hue, there are also shimmering dissonant mixtures in luxuriant moments that underscore the richness of Charpentier’s harmonic palette—luxuriant moments to which Christie remains ever sensitive.

The “Grand Office des Morts” brings together a funeral mass, the Requiem sequence (“Dies irae”) and a motet on a purgatorial theme, all of which share proximity in Charpentier’s “Méslanges autographes,” the composer’s extensive collection of compositions in his own hand. There is little to suggest the pieces were composed or performed as a unified work, although the present performance amply demonstrates how effective that can be. Like the Te Deum, this “Grand Office” is also varied, but its prominent hue is often a dark one, as in the quietly controlled tristesse of the opening “Kyrie” or the pronounced languish of the harmonically rich “Agnus Dei.” The most memorable instance of this lamentative darkness is the instrumental prelude and final refrain of the motet. Low strings and hushed vocal dynamics cloak the plea for mercy in sepulchral shadows whose darkness is sublimely affective. Rapture is also close at hand in the chain of suspensions that begin the “Pie Jesu,” reminding of the formidable influence of Italianism in Charpentier’s works.

The recording is of a live concert given in Paris at the Cité de la Musique in 2004. On occasion the balance seems askew, with solo parts disproportionately loud relative to a somewhat distant sounding tutti, surely the result of the challenges of live recording in public venues. A regret, to be sure, but a small one relative to the many pleasures the performance affords.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/charpentier_te_deum.gif image_description=Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Te Deum and Grand Office des Morts product=yes product_title=Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Te Deum and Grand Office des Morts product_by=Les Arts Florissants. William Christie, Director. product_id=Virgin Classics 7 24354 57332 3 [CD] price=$14.98 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=602514&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 12:33 PM

Deborah Voigt and Renée Fleming vs. the Ghosts of Met Divas Past

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 17 May 2006]

It was just the first intermission at the season-opening performance of Puccini's "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera on April 22, and already some hard-to-please buffs in the lobby could be overhead complaining about Deborah Voigt's performance. This was Ms. Voigt's first appearance as Tosca at the Met, a daring departure from the Strauss and Wagner roles with which she had established her reputation.

Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

Earthy 'Parsifal' is fresh and fine

nietzsche_munch_small.jpgBY MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG [Newsday, 17 May 2006]

"Drink, O my friends, the philters of this art! Nowhere will you find a more agreeable way of enervating your spirit, of forgetting your manhood under a rosebush."

Posted by Gary at 8:47 AM

May 16, 2006

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs 4

This completes the remarkable set with a recording that matches the other volumes of the set in quality and attractiveness. Such laudable consistency may be fond at all levels, including the high level of performances, the meticulous program notes, and the careful planning that allowed for each recording to be arranged thematically.

Taking its title from one of the songs included in this volume, “Dans un parfum de roses blanches” (“Amid the scent of white roses”) the seventh piece in the cycle La chanson d’Éve, which is a late work of the composer. In La chanson d’Éve Fauré explores the primeval Garden of Eden by setting poetry that offers some sensual delights of Paradise – a Gallic “Earthly Paradise,” to evoke that image of the composer’s contemporary, William Morris – which is especially prominent in the first song in the cycle. As a late work, the music is sometimes more declamatory than Fauré’s earlier songs, with accompaniments that are sometimes sparse. Yet within those accompaniments are textures that suggest some evocative timbres, and Graham Johnson is sensitive to those aspects of the music. Jennifer Smith offers an exemplary reading of La chanson d’Éve, which contains some exquisite vocal pieces. This is apparent is the wonderfully sustained “Paradis,” one of Fauré’s longest songs, which benefits from the length he used to fine effect, as he indulges in details to portray a well-thought scene. .

Some of pieces are notable for other reasons, such as “Crépuscule,” the song with which Fauré began work on the cycle. In this song, Fauré attempts to evoke the atmosphere in Eden at night and, in doing so, hints at the fragile nature of primeval creation. This song is, in a sense, Fauré’s “Urlicht,” the song which Mahler used to establish in microcosm his vision of Resurrection in the final movement of the Second Symphony. With Fauré, such a parallel does not look to such a large-scale work as Mahler’s, but the less grandiose cycle is nonetheless poignant, especially in the interpretation found on this recording. Smith approaches this song with a fine sensibility to the nuances of the text in shaping the musical line, which benefits from the subtleties she brings to it and the rest of the cycle.

The elegiac aspect of the cycle should not be taken as something pejorative, since Fauré created in this work a sequence of songs in which he uses harmonic and rhythmic tension without resorting to the grand gestures. In “Prima verba” Fauré gives expression to Eve as she attempts to translate the majesty of the garden to mere words – albeit set to his wonderfully charged music. Likewise, “Roses ardentes” focus on the fiery roses that become a metaphor for various levels of interpretation. In these and the other songs that Fauré assembled in the cycle La chanson d’Éve the images of gardens to be portray a world that is at once lost to human existence and at the same time inescapable in the hopeful imagination of those who can apprehend the blending of poetry and sound .

While the cycle is, in toto, the greater part of the CD, the other songs included are also worthy of attention. In fact, some of pieces from early part of Fauré’s career are quite memorable. With its extroverted accompaniment, “Aubade,” (Opus 6, no. 1) shows a different approach to the textures of the chanson in Fauré’s hands. At the same time, the “Nocturne” (Op.s 43, no. 2) is memorable for its modal inflections that connote an exotic aspect. Beyond the color contributed by modality, the accompaniment contains some flourishes that add to the charm of this piece, which Stephen Varcoe delivers convincingly. His contributions to this CD are as consistently fine as his others in this set. Likewise, Dame Felicity Lott’s performances in this collection are equally fine. With “Les roses d’Ispahan” (Op. 30, no. 4) Lott offers a model of execution, with her clear diction contributing to the shape of the musical line. Here Graham Johnson supports the performance in giving the accompaniment a contour on which Lott can build her own phrases. “Le parfum impérissable” (Op. 76, no. 1) is similarly nuanced in delivering the images expressed in the poetry that attracted the composer.

In fact, all the performances resemble those of Lott in their mature and satisfyingly competent execution. With Fauré’s unique English-language song, “Mélisande’s Song” that sets a translation of Maeterlinck, for example, Geraldine McGreevy exhibits a clear expression of the text and also phrasing in a tongue not always celebrated for being singable. In fact, McGreevy does not need language to express emotion, since her performance of Fauré’s “Vocalise-étude” is quite effective in its purely musical expression that stands apart from the otherwise texted pieces in this collection. Elsewhere, the male singers, like Varcoe and Jean-Paul Fourécourt deliver similarly effective renderings of the repertoire recorded under the title of this CD, “Dans un parfum de roses.”

As the final installment of the four volumes that make up the Complete Songs of Gabriel Fauré, this CD has much to offer. Like each of the other recordings, it can stand alone through the guiding theme with which it was compiled. With the music divided among the various performers, the works benefits from the strengths each brings to the effort which is unified by the fine efforts of Graham Johnson’s exquisite pianism. The entire approach to Fauré’s songs taken in this release by Hyperion is well-thought and sensible, thus, making this multi-volume set a touchstone for future interpretations of this important repertoire. In addition to comprehensive listing of all of Fauré’s melodies found in the Hyperion set, the liner notes for this volume contain much information about the songs that will be of assist in rehearings of the fine performances on this CD. Those who are not yet familiar with the other volumes of the Complete Songs of Gabriel Fauré could start with this recording, since it not only completes this excellent set, but stands on its own as a fine compilation of the composer’s memorable chansons.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/faure_songs4.jpg image_description=Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs 4—Dans un parfum de roses product=yes product_title=Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs 4—Dans un parfum de roses product_by=Felicity Lott (Soprano), Jennifer Smith (Soprano), Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Tenor), Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano). product_id=Hyperion A67336 [CD] price=$18.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=625383&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 1:55 PM

What Happened To the Orchestra?

conlon.jpgBy FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 16 May 2006]

Wait. Wasn't the whole point of creating a Carnegie Hall season for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra so that the ensemble could explore the symphonic repertoire?

Posted by Gary at 12:05 PM

Delectable talent elevates this elixir

BY MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG [Newsday, 16 May 2006]

Remember this name: Giuseppe Filianoti. The Italian tenor's Metropolitan Opera debut last fall in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" whipped up more genuine, word-of-mouth excitement than any of the season's more ballyhooed events.

Posted by Gary at 12:01 PM

PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly

Recently several vintage 1980s' stagings appeared on DVD; your reviewer heartily recommends a viewing of the Tosca with Eva Marton, Giacomo Aragall, and Ingvar Wixell. The energetic scenery-chewing here has a reckless, dentist-be-damned quality, as every scene is built into a rock face - including Scarpia's office! Just to see Wixell fly flamboyantly into the chapel, wearing a purple cape and pumps to match, makes the show a classic.

A Madama Butterfly from July 2004 becomes the latest to appear from this hallowed ground of over-the-top spectacle. None other than Franco Zeffirelli supplies the staging, with the innovation of an opening setting in the very busy streets of Nagasaki, before a rock face splits in two and the future home of the Pinkerton's slides into view. The pedestrians all seem to be meeting each other, as they wave delightedly and scramble around. Goro has the blueprints to the traditional Japanese house (?!?!) to show Pinkerton before they get around to climbing the hill. In yet another trademark Zeffirelli touch, quite a few handsome young men stroll languidly through both the openings of both acts one and two (this staging takes two intermissions). A younger male makes a memorable appearance behind the Pinkerton of Marcello Giordani during his first aria; the tyke not even trying to stifle a huge yawn. Overall, perhaps a little less busy stage business might have suited this intimate drama - but it is Verona!

For an ostensibly "traditional" staging, Zeffirelli makes the odd decision to have Butterfly make her entrance to her future home from its interior! Yes, she and her attendees appear behind the sliding doors and advance toward the waiting Pinkerton and Sharpless. Our Cho-cho-san (as the subtitles spell it, and as actually matches most romanizations of that sound in Japanese), Fiorenza Cedolins, goes for the high ending - it is Verona, after all - and holds it for such a long time that the Verona audience breaks out into wild, noisy approval. As recorded, the note could have used just a tiny boost up into the pitch, but it makes an exciting impression anyway.

The sound throughout features a slight echo to the most strenuous exertions of the singers, and one suspects an amplification system to deal with the large Verona arena. Even so, none of the singers (including the Sharpless of Juan Pons) provides much evidence of an interest in softer singing, with Cedolins in particular becoming quite wearing on the ears with her mostly unmodulated volume. She also lacks fragility in her portrayal, though she really convinces in some of Butterfly's outbursts at Suzuki in act two - the servant might well have fled for her life at the next assault. Though she has some impressive moments, ultimately Cedolins's Butterfly is more an assault on the ears than on the heart.

Giordani makes a tall, attractive Pinkerton, although he appears to have green highlights in his hair. Is that supposed to make him seem blond, to explain the golden-haired tyke who appears as his son later? Or is Zeffirelli suggesting that as a sailor, he has algae growing in his hair? Only Franco knows. Most importantly, Giordani (who will sing this role for the opening of the Met's 2007 season) offers some handsome singing, although he gets a little dry at the end of the love duet. Pons's stage deportment suggests that Sharpless is more peeved at being drawn into this drama than anything else, but he is in good voice.

Zeffirelli's most amazing conception occurs during the Humming chorus, when four ghostly wraiths appear in flowing, dark-colored shifts to offer an interpretive dance. They then take their place on rock ledges around Butterfly's house to watch the tragedy unfold. When Butterfly finally takes out her father's sword, these spectral figures join her in her fatal collapse. Perhaps the dramatic impact would be greater if they didn't have what appear to be oversized chicken bones poking through their messy gray hair. In fact, they seem to have wandered on stage from a production of Macbeth.

Daniel Oren, not a conductor done any favors by the director's predilection for close-ups, leads a reading of the score as exuberant, and as unsubtle, as the production. He even allows a most grating break in the music before the flower duet. But then again, fighting the Verona audience's urge to reward loud singing at musical climaxes might well be a losing battle.

Does the review sound negative? It shouldn't necessarily - if one knows the Verona style, this DVD makes for a most entertaining diversion. Puccini's masterpiece is indestructible, it seems - and this DVD, if nothing else, offers ample proof of that.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Butterfly_Verona.gif image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly product=yes product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly product_by=Fiorenza Cedolins, Marcello Giordani, Juan Pons, Orchestra e Coro dell’Arena di Verona, Daniel Oren (cond.). product_id=TDK DVWW-OPMBUT [DVD] price=$32.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0824121001438&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 11:40 AM

ROSSINI: La Scala Di Seta

As with Il Signor Bruschino (reviewed recently here), La Scala di Seta retains some renown for its lively, melodious overture. The rest of the score doesn't quite match the opening's melodic memorableness, but it certainly reflects Rossini's early mastery of comic energy.

Beautiful Giulia has married her tutor, Dorvil, in secret, while her obtuse guardian, Dormont, tries to arrange a "suitable" match with one Blansac. For the early 19th century, the details make for a "racy" situation, with the silken ladder of the title providing access for Dorvil to his wife. When their plans for a midnight assignation are overheard,  Giulia's cousin Lucilla steals into the room for an "education" in romance. Other complications ensue due to Giulia's reliance on the house servant, Germano, who at first has the affrontery to believe that the assistance his mistress requests would be of a more direct, amatory nature. Meanwhile, Dorvil tries to get Blansac interested in Lucilla. The inevitable mad scramble of confusion resolves itself fairly expediently at the climax, and the ladder becomes an inessential accessory.

Director Michael Hampe allows for some broad comic acting from the principals; in context, that style suits the material. Costumes are colorful and immaculatetly clean and pressed (except for the servant's, of course). The set, very reminiscent of that used for Il Signor Bruschino, accommodates all the action handsomely, with the one distinctive touch being a fascinating replica of an authentic gas chandelier of the era. The Arc de Triomphe, visible in the painted backdrop, serves as a reminder that the ostensible setting is France, though the Italianate flavor of the piece remains dominant.

By far the most interesting part of the opera is the character of Germano, with a relatively youthful-looking Alessandro Corbelli relishing his character's sexual aspirations, as well as delineating his boredom with his duties and the "superiors" he works for. Late in the opera Germano gets a genuinely honest emotional expression of romantic anguish, and as the realest moment in the opera, the impact just about throws the comedy off balance.

Luciana Serra enjoys her florid music, and David Kuebler, apparently the resident tenor of this festival, does his usual efficient job. All other principals sing well for conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti, who makes a quite goofy appearance himself in the overture, although not clearly intentionally so. The sound needs more sharpness in that opening, especially for the wind solos, but once the opera begins, the voices carry the day anyway.

Once again, as with the others in this series, for those who love Rossini and want to see some rarer pieces, staged traditionally and sung by a committed cast, this La Scala di Seta fills that bill.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/la_scala_di_seta.gif image_description=La Scala Di Seta product=yes product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: La scala di seta product_by=David Griffith, Luciana Serra, Jane Bunnell, David Kuebler, Alberto Rinaldi, Alessandro Corbelli, Harpsicord and fortepiano: Simone Young. Directed for Stage by Michael Hampe. Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Gianluigi Gelmetti, conductor. product_id=EuroArts 2054978 [DVD] price=$32.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0880242549785&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 11:22 AM

MAHLER: Symphony no. 6

To release a recording of this work now almost requires that the Andante precede the Scherzo. While this is the way the composer himself performed the work and also the order in which Mahler saw the revised edition of the Symphony into print, the work has been also performed and recorded for decades with the inner movements in the other order.

Without dwelling on editorial issues, it is indeed difficult to dispute the authority of the composer’s own choices for performance. However, it remains for succeeding generations to deal with the editorial decision made by Erwin Ratz, the editor of the first critical edition of the Sixth, who returned the inner movements to the original order. More importantly, his edition influenced at least a generation of conductors. Thus, the discography of Mahler’s music includes some fine performances that follow the critical edition of in having those inner movements reversed. Jascha Horenstein’s recording of the work with the Stockholm Philharmonic is one of those performances earlier of the earlier version of the score, and it still comes up in various comparative assessments of recordings.

Other performances aside, the present recording of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony by the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Ivan Fischer offers a fine reading of the work. It is a creditable performance by this ensemble, which Fischer has shaped in the mold of other festival orchestras, like the famed one in Lucerne, Switzerland. The liner notes include some comments about Fischer’s rehearsal techniques with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and his emphasis on chamber-music ensemble textures. Such an approach should be useful for works like Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, in which the composer used various smaller groupings of instruments within the larger structure of a four-movement symphony.

Fischer’s reading of the first movement is intense for its relentless pace, which fits the music well. This approach certainly keeps the ensemble tight, but it also lacks the shape that occurs in some other conductors, where the phrases stretch, and short pauses offer cues to the audience to apprehend the structure of the music. Those kinds of nuances are welcome, but certainly not part of the notated score, to which Fischer adheres faithfully.

Likewise, the second movement, the Andante moderato, is paced well, but it is ensemble, rather than tempo that is crucial for this piece. At times, some of the winds seem a bit overbalanced, as oboe passages soar out uncharacteristically from some of the supporting string textures. In fact, the winds are, perhaps, a bit richer sounding than might occur in an actual performance. This is not to detract from this performance, but rather the way it was preserved in this recording. It is a minor point, but the balance seems off when the cowbells enter, later in the movement, giving the impression of being, perhaps closer, than the effect the Mahler wanted of suggested sounds in the distance in a more evocative than direct sense. A similar directness may be found at the conclusion of the movement, where entire orchestra seems to be recorded perhaps a bit closely, with some of the sonorities seeming closer to the speakers than might occur in a live performance.

With such a presentation in place, there is no question about the direct opening of the Scherzo, which opens unequivocally. In his extroverted approach to this movement, it is possible hear some thematic connections with the Seventh Symphony that result from the balance of sonorities that Fischer brings to this movement. After the opening, the textures thin as if to offer a sense of release, and this approach to timbre allows the nuances of the Scherzo to emerge. While the brass can be quite forward in the middle of the Scherzo, they strings often match them in intensity. As much as commentators quibble about the success of various conductors’ interpretations of this movement, the approach Fischer has taken sounds convincing.

Likewise, the Finale of this cyclic work offers challenges in concert that are successfully overcome in a studio recording like this one. To convey the structure of this complex movement requires the sensitivity to thematic connections, as Fischer has done. At times the string textures are, perhaps, less resonant than found with other orchestras, but the ear can compensate for that weakness. What emerges is a well-connected rendering of the movement in which the various thematic linkages relate to each other while they also evoke ideas from other movements. Fischer presents a vivid concept of the Finale, which is one of Mahler’s more complex structures.

It is difficult to think of a single recording of this work that overshadows the rest, but those who appreciate the work will find some insights in Fischer’s interpretation. Again, his sound is generally forward, and those who want to find their concert experiences reproduced on recordings may be disappointed with sometimes unrealistic balances. Nevertheless, the ear can accommodate those moments where the trumpet might be a bit too prominent or the overly percussive entrance of the low strings. At the same time, this allows the conductor to capture the drama of the work in this recording, which Fischer maintains throughout the final measures in the incredibly intense code with which Mahler ended this magnificent work.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/mahler_6.jpg
image_description=Mahler: Symphony no. 6 in A Minor

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Posted by Gary at 11:01 AM

VERDI: Nabucco

Italian audiences lack the patience to tackle the maverick inventions of modern experimental directors. Here the director shows scant regard for any such post-modern interpretation of the dramatic action.”

So true, but I’m still not sure I myself wouldn’t walk out of this hotchpotch production that, moreover, is so badly sung.

To quote another sentence from the book, “Panizza’s production is a veritable feast for the eye and firmly in the Italian mould”. Colourful it definitely is but I don’t believe that “Italian mould” is a synonym for ridiculous costumes and ugly make-up. The moment Maestri appears, one simply has to laugh. Due to his huge frame, he is already not a snappy dresser; but the blue costume with some wings and a most ridiculous giant headgear only make him look like a surreal Aztec wizard. His big arms are painted in red all along (a blood-thirsty tyrant? even during his powerless days?). Andrea Gruber looks like a demented Medusa, her hair entirely in long dreadlocks while her face is painted yellow. When she appears in the last act to ask for pardon and to die, the yellow is gone. This has probably a very profound reason which however escapes me. Nazzareno Antinore looks not too comfortable in his Roman toga, a few hundred years before the costume came in vogue. The armies of the conqueror mostly resemble science fiction soldiers out of Flash Gordon. The loveliest moment comes at the start of act 3 when for several minutes one thinks one has stumbled in a performance of “Cirque du soleil.” A quick look at the box reveals one isn’t wrong very much as the ‘participation of Sonics acrobatic dance group” is duly noted. Mr. Panizza’s sets are stylized realism though a big plastic (or metallic) horse for Nabucco’s entrance once more is not my idea of the Italian mould.

I hoped the singing would be the redeeming feature but alas that too is not the case. The best of the lot (the most beautifully costumed too) is Nino Surguladze who has a rich darkly coloured voice (at least on DVD); but Fenena is hardly a role that shows us a soprano’s true mettle. Tenor Nazzareno Antinori is painful to watch and even more painful to hear. Antinori was never a refined singer but now he is a very old looking bawler without a sense of style or without breath to show some style. The High Priest has a short role too but that’s no reason bass Carlo Striuli rambles along with a most vile sound. Paata Burchuladze sings with the well-known hollow sound, forceful delivery and the lack of a real supple legato that have been his trade marks for at least ten years. With Ambrogio Maestri things at first somewhat clear up. He seems to have a big lyric baritone somewhat reminiscent of Mario Sereni. Still the timbre is not always homogenous and he really doesn’t dominate the crowds, not withstanding his big frame. There is no incisiveness in his singing the way Gobbi used to show though the elder baritone maybe had half the voice of Maestri. The opera may be called Nabucco but it’s of course Abigaille who runs the show. Gruber is handicapped by her ugly make-up and probably by the stage director’s orders. She pulls faces and acts like a small child imitating Snow White’s bad stepmother. She probably produces a lot of noise but her main weapon is just snarling. There is no beauty or even expression in the singing, just shrillness.

Conductor Daniel Oren is somewhat too conscious of the camera and thinks he has to deliver as well. Dancing on the roster seems to be a specialty and he already takes a bow after the overture. He belongs to the faster the better school and this doesn’t always work out very well: especially in the concertati the singing is not always concerted.

Colour, sound and TV registration are fine.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Nabucco_ArtHaus.gif image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco product_by=Ambrogio Maestri (Nabucco), Andrea Gruber (Abigaille), Paata Burchuladze (Zaccaria), Nazzareno Antinori (Ismaele), Nino Surguladze (Fenena), Carlo Striuli (Il Gran Sacerdote), Paola Cigna (Anna), Enzo Peroni (Abdallo). Chorus Teatro Municipale di Piancenza. Orchestra Fondazione Arturo Toscanini conducted by Daniel Oren. Stage direction by Paolo Panizza. product_id=Arthaus Musik 101241 [DVD] price=$32.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0807280124194&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

Vanessa, Teatro Massimo, Palermo

Jeanne-Michèle_Charbonnet_small.jpgBy Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 15 May 2006]

With so much brazenly retro new opera coming from American composers, Palermo has commendably gone back to the superior source material. Barber’s Vanessa (1958) cobbles together ideas from other composers in a patchwork that often raises a sneer from knowing critics. But his cribbing from Janácek, Richard Strauss and Berg – the ball scene owes a lot to Wozzeck – is so cleverly filleted that only a jaundiced mind could object.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

May 15, 2006

Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera, New York

parsifal_poster_small.gifBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 15 May 2006]

Wagner called Parsifal a “stage-consecrating festival play”, and most companies these days apply modern sensibilities to the complex narrative. Some adapt abstraction, others impose stylisation. Some focus on symbolism, others invoke sociological, even political commentary. There can be more here than meets the ear.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 PM

GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice

Composer:
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Librettist:
Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (Italian version)
Pierre Louis Moline based on Calzabigi (French version)

First Performance:

Italian Version 5 October 1762, Burgtheater, Vienna
French Version 2 August 1774, Paris Opéra

Principal Characters:

Italian version
Orfeo Alto Castrato
Euridice, his wife Soprano
Amore Soprano
French version
Orphée Tenor
Eurydice, his wife Soprano
Amour Soprano

Time and Place: Ancient Thrace

Synopsis:

Act I

A chorus of nymphs and shepherds accompany Orfeo around Euridice's tomb in a solemn chorus of mourning. Orfeo is only able to utter Euridice's name. Orfeo sends the others away and sings of his grief in the aria Chiamo il mio ben cosi, the three verses of which are interrupted by expressive recitatives. Amore (Cupid) appears telling Orfeo that he may go to the Underworld and return with his wife on the condition that he not look at her until they are back on earth. Orfeo resolves to take on the quest (in the 1774 version, both Amore and Orfeo have extra songs).

Act II

In a rocky landscape, the Furies refuse to admit Orfeo to the Underworld, and sing of Cerberus, canine guardian of the Underworld. When Orfeo, accompanied by his lyre (represented in the opera by a harp), begs for pity in the aria Deh placatevi con me, he is at first interrupted by cries of "No!" from the Furies, but they are eventually softened by the sweetness of his singing and let him in. In the 1774 version, the scene ends with the Dance of the Furies.

The new scene opens in Elysium. The 1774 version includes here the much-excerpted Dance of the Blessed Spirits (Reigen der seligen Geister) in which a chorus sings of their happiness in eternal bliss. Orfeo finds no solace in the beauty of the surroundings, for Euridice is not yet with him. He implores the spirits to bring her to him, which they do.

Act III

On the way out of Hades, Euridice is delighted to be returning to earth, but Orfeo, remembering the condition related by Amore in Act I, lets go of her hand and refuses to look at her. Euridice takes this to be a sign that he no longer loves her, and refuses to continue, concluding that death would be preferable. Unable to take any more, Orfeo turns and looks and Euridice; she dies. Orfeo sings of his grief in the famous aria Che farò senza Euridice?

Orfeo decides he will kill himself to join Euridice in Hades, but Amore returns to stop him. In reward for Orfeo's continued love, Amore returns Euridice to life, and she and Orfeo are reunited. All sing in praise of Amore (in the 1774 version, this finale is greatly expanded, including a ballet).

[Synopsis: Wikipedia]

Click here for complete libretto (Italian version).

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Orphee_et_Eurydice.jpg image_description=Orphée et Eurydice from Relief d'Hermès (Musée du Louvre) audio=yes first_audio_name=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
Windows Media Player first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Orfeo.wax second_audio_name=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
Alternate stream (VLC) second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Orfeo.m3u product=yes product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice product_by=Margarete Klose (Orfeo), Erna Berger (Euridice), Rita Streich (Amore), Chor & Orchester Der Städtischen Oper Berlin, Artur Rother (cond.)
Live recording, 1952, Berlin
Posted by Gary at 2:47 PM

Three Releases from Nightingale Classics

Yes, even classical artists can have labels which exist predominantly for the distribution of their own creative efforts.

For well over a decade Nightingale Classics recorded for posterity the voice of superstar (at least in Europe) Edita Gruberova, in complete sets of the operas with soprano roles which best display her amazing coloratura agility and crystalline high notes. Now a new distributor in the US seeks to bring renewed attention to these sets, and three will be considered here: I Puritani, La Fille du Regiment, and Die Fledermaus.

Fabio Luisi's career as a conductor has grown rapidly since he led this I Puritaniin 1994. His efforts here are compromised by rather distant sound and the proficient but not convincingly idiomatic reading of the Bellini score by the Munich Radio Orchestra (the ensemble for all three recordings discussed here). neither of the principal male leads offers anything distinctive. Justin Lavender manages the high notes for Lord Arturo, but not with much impact, and his tone throughout his range lacks beauty. Ettore Kim's Sir Riccardo has more personality, if not any more basic attractive vocal quality.

This set then truly serves as a showpiece for Gruberova, raising the question of whether a highlights CD might have been a better option. She has full command of the role's demands, and that plaintive aura in her middle range works well for Elvira, who spends most of the opera despondent, when not insane. A better cast overall can be heard on the recent DVD release (reviewed on OperaToday), and though Gruberova is fresher, obviously, on this recorded set, seeing her in the role does make a greater impression.

gruberova_fille.jpgMarie in La Fille du Regiment has two sad-tinged arias as well, despite the comic setting, so Gruberova gets to display most of finest attributes in this set, probably the best overall of the three. The contribution of Deon van der Walt as Tonio must be respected here; this role, currently a favorite for Juan-Diego Florez, requires a charismatic tenor with reliable high Cs for this great "Mes Amis" aria, and van der Walt delivers, if without Florez's greater tonal allure. The rest of the cast and Marcello Panni's conducting all keep the fun feather-light.

gruberova_fledermaus.jpgThe best cast for any of these releases distinguishes the Die Fledermaus set. Gruberova 's classic Adele supports Thomas Moser as Eisenstein and Adrienne Pieczonka as Rosalinde. Friedrich Haider conducts capably. However, two mitigating factors make a whole-hearted endorsement unlikely. First, once again, a DVD with Gruberova is available, with an even finer cast: Wiekl, Popp, Fassbaender, recorded in Vienna, and also reviewed here on OperaToday some time ago. Second, some may object to all the dialogue being cut, while others may be grateful. very few, one suspects, will be glad to have the third act comic relief character of Frosch lead us through the opera's story with monologue interludes, in German (of course). Translations are included in the libretto (all these sets have good booklets, although the English translations of the essays have an unintended comic quality).

So for those who have a taste for Gruberova and an indifference, if not dislike, for DVDs, the Donizetti and Strauss sets can be recommended. Fans of the Bellini score should look for an alternative, with sopranos as great as Callas, Sutherland, and Sills all still available on disc.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/gruberova_i_puritani.jpg image_description=I Puritani product=yes product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: I Puritani product_by=Edita Gruberova (Elvira Valton), Justin Lavender (Lord Arturo Talbo), Ettore Kim (Sir Riccardo Forth), Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Sir Giorgio), Katja Lytting (Enrichetta di Francia), Dankwart Siegele (Lord Gualtiero Valton), CarloTuand (Sir Bruno Roberton), Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Fabio Luisi (cond.) product_id=Nightingale Classics NC170562-2 [3CDs] price=$47.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=788701&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 11:16 AM

Deep Baritone: Dmitri Hvorostovsky

By Alicia Zuckerman

Dmitri Hvorostovsky may be the opera world’s favorite baritone these days. Sixteen years after he was catapulted to stardom by winning the Cardiff prize at 26, the Siberian-born Londoner is now booked way into 2010. He’ll perform a recital of Russian art songs Wednesday at Lincoln Center and appear next week at Joseph Volpe’s Metropolitan Opera farewell gala. In a chat with Alicia Zuckerman, he reflected on his image, his complex relationship with the motherland, and an onstage flash of anger that almost turned ugly.

Posted by Gary at 10:29 AM

In Concert With Camilla Tilling: A Sweet Scandinavian Sampler

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 15 May 2006]

It is always a mistake to speculate, as a listener, what a performer might be thinking. But it was tempting to project onto the Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling, who sang at Weill Recital Hall on Friday evening, a desire to focus her program on ravishingly pretty music. Ms. Tilling has a lovely voice, and her program featured some of the prettiest songs in the Scandinavian and German repertory: Grieg's "With a Water Lily," Sibelius's "Black Roses," Schubert's "An Silvia" and "Im Frühling," Strauss's "Rosenband."

Posted by Gary at 10:08 AM

The Pageantry of Wagner in 'Parsifal' at the Met

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 15 May 2006]

In the dark days before CD's, DVD's and bootleg boutiques, piracy of intellectual property thrived, though on a more primitive scale than today. In 1903 the Metropolitan Opera was itself a culprit in the "Case of the Pilfered 'Parsifal.' "

Posted by Gary at 10:07 AM

Barenboim and La Scala Have Deal

[AP, 15 May 2006]

MILAN, Italy (AP) -- Daniel Barenboim will be the principal guest conductor at La Scala for the next five to six years, officials said Monday, in also announcing a new collaboration between the Milan opera house and Berlin's Staatsoper.

Posted by Gary at 10:05 AM

May 14, 2006

For Tan Dun's 'First Emperor,' the Met Does a Way-Out-of-Town Tryout

By LOIS B. MORRIS and ROBERT LIPSYTE [NY Times, 14 May 2006]

THE first fitting of "The First Emperor's" new clothes was outsourced from New York to China last month in an unusual workshop for the most expensive and complex opera the Metropolitan Opera has ever commissioned.

Posted by Gary at 10:10 AM

May 12, 2006

Who dares, wins

He has been ridiculed for tackling Bach with Japanese musicians. But it looks as if conductor Masaaki Suzuki is going to have the last laugh.

By Erica Jeal [Guardian, 12 May 2006]

It's Easter Saturday in an orderly suburb in a capital city's commuter belt, and a group of musicians is performing Bach's St Matthew Passion. Nothing unusual about that - except this is Tokorozawa, outside Tokyo; the ensemble is Japanese; and they're playing, in impeccable baroque style, on period instruments.

Posted by Gary at 11:06 AM

Barenboim Faces Heady Welcome, Thorny Challenges at La Scala

By Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 12 May 2006]

May 12 (Bloomberg) -- Is Daniel Barenboim the right man for La Scala? When the Argentina-born maestro is announced as principal guest conductor of Italy's leading opera house on Monday, there will be rejoicing in Milan. Barenboim, 63, is the personal choice of the La Scala orchestra, a favorite with the public and admired by the Italian music press.

Posted by Gary at 8:49 AM

May 11, 2006

Into the cave with Antonio Salieri

'La Grotta di Trufonio' is as rewarding as an opera by Mozart
By by Tim Pfaff [Bay Area Reporter, 11 May 2006]

One of the most important additions to the CD catalogue in this Mozart Year may turn out to be an opera by Salieri. If you can put aside for a minute your memories of (and fondness, if any, for) the worst music movie ever made, the idea is not so perverse. Give Christophe Rousset's brilliant new recording of Antonio Salieri's La Grotta di Trufonio (Ambrosie) a spin, and then tell me you haven't had an opera experience as rewarding as most of the ones you've had watching and listening to Mozart operas.

Posted by Gary at 9:09 AM

Contralto enflames the ears

JOHN TERAUDS [Toronto Star, 11 May 2006]

There is nothing more expressive in music than the human voice. But even this knowledge cannot prepare the ear for contralto Ewa Podles.

She was on stage at Roy Thomson Hall last night, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra arrayed behind her and Canadian Opera Company general director Richard Bradshaw on the podium. When she opened her mouth, it sent chills up and down the spine.

Posted by Gary at 9:05 AM

Barenboim Takes On Role at La Scala in Milan

By DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 10 May 2006]

Daniel Barenboim will take on a prominent role at Teatro Alla Scala opera house in Milan, a Scala spokesman said yesterday, and will partly fill the vacuum created by Riccardo Muti's stormy departure a year ago.

Posted by Gary at 8:58 AM

The Music of Joseph Dubiel

He's been an active member of the theoretical community for at least two decades now, teaches at Columbia University, has co-edited the evergreen Perspectives of New Music, and published a quite impressive body of work, some of it devoted to elucidating the inimitable thoughts of Milton Babbit, a veritable doyen of music theory, not given to the short and succinct in written expression.

That's Joe's professional side. Hearing this recording is like being invited to his house for a beer and a chat. Here's a side I never knew before: Joe composer.

With a dozen works in various genres done by several performance ensembles, the recording offers up a miscellany of Dubiel's compositional interests, including some very good vocal writing. Some of it is edgy, notably a setting of three songs for female voice and double bass to texts by Margaret Atwood, "Pig Song," "Owl Song," and "Siren Song." Some of it is witty: a setting of three stanzas by Gertrude Stein is just as clever as Stein's stanzas themselves. Hilda Doolittle's "At Baia" merits particularly close listening; it is a subtle work for double string quartet, string bass, and soprano.

Of the remaining works, three involve clarinet: "Down Time" for bass clarinet and piano, "Precis" for clarinet and piano, and a quartet for clarinet and strings. These are all very good, showing a nice familiarity with the instrument (perhaps another personal dimension to Dubiel?). The recording rounds out with two works for piano solo, both with enigmatic titles, "Neither Here Nor There," and "Still Getting Nowhere."

The style on the whole is American modern-expressively atonal, albeit gently so. The musicians would seem to have Princeton, Manhattan, or U. Wisconsin at Madison associations, thus they must all be friends with Joe, since he's been resident in all three locations at one time or another. And that sort of makes the whole thing a celebration of friends, all centered on one friendly guy.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/dubiel.jpg image_description=The Music of Joseph Dubiel product=yes product_title=The Music of Joseph Dubiel product_by=Mimmi Fulmer, soprano; Jeffrey Farrington, piano; Donald Palma, double bass; Michael Webster, bass clarinet; The Pro Arte Quartet; The Sonare String Quartet; Hans Sturm, double bass; James Smith, conductor; Michael Webster, clarinet; Kenneth Goldsmith, violin; Karen Ritscher, viola; Norman Fischer, cello product_id=Centaur CRC 2661 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=588826&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 8:28 AM

May 10, 2006

Plans for 2006-07 Radio Broadcasts on the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera Int'l Radio Network

0607seasonathumbnail2.jpgIconic broadcast series to feature dynamic new intermission content

May 09, 2006

New York, NY –The Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcasts—now heard over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network—will begin a new chapter with the 2006-07 season. The longest-running classical music series in American broadcast history will continue to feature the finest operatic performances, complemented by dynamic new intermission programs designed to give listeners a virtual backstage pass to the Met. The broadcasts will include live interviews with singers, designers, and directors; pre-produced features with behind-the-scenes stories and additional context for the music onstage; and the beloved Opera Quiz.

Posted by Gary at 3:24 PM

`Dead Man Walking' Arrives in Dresden With Sobbing Violins

jepson_kristine_small.jpg(Photo: Lisa Kohler)
By Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 10 May 2006]

May 10 (Bloomberg) -- Joseph De Rocher, in his orange prison jumpsuit, has just learned the date of his execution. ``My little brother's birthday,'' he sings, and an oboe pipes a few bars of ``Happy Birthday'' in the orchestra pit.

Posted by Gary at 12:52 PM

May 9, 2006

MONTEMEZZI: L’amore dei tre re

Since then, the opera’s popularity has eroded severely, and now it lingers on the outermost fringes of the canon, emerging from time to time like an elderly lion to remind us that it, too, once held audiences in thrall with its roar. One of the surest signs of L’amore’s near-obsolescence is the simple fact that the Opera Orchestra of New York decided to conclude its 35th anniversary season at Carnegie Hall with a performance of the work. Eve Queler’s organization has made its name over the years by reviving neglected operatic scores, and its concert presentation of L’amore on 4 May was no exception.

The reason for the opera’s fall from grace cannot have much to do with its actual merits. By any standard, this is a powerful and well-crafted work, both musically and dramatically. Sem Benelli’s libretto is a naked melodrama of raw emotion elevated and concentrated by its archaic setting in 10th-century Italy. The barbarian king Archibaldo is suspicious of his son Manfredo’s new bride, Fiora. The suspicion is justified: Fiora has been secretly trysting with fellow Italian Avito, the man she was supposed to marry before the barbarians conquered their homeland. Archibaldo’s blindness prevents him from discovering Fiora in flagrante delicto, but when she finally admits her transgression to him and refuses to reveal her lover’s identity, the king strangles her. In the opera’s final act, Avito kisses Fiora’s corpse, but he dies from the poison the barbarians have placed on her lips. Manfredo, unable to master his grief, cannot restrain himself from kissing Fiora as well, and the opera concludes with Archibaldo holding his dying son in his arms.

Montemezzi’s music fills out this tale of betrayal and passion with all the high-stakes energy it can bear, yet the score never devolves into hysterics. Although it clearly lives within the borders of verismo, the opera owes more than a little to Wagner and Debussy. There is a distinctly Wagnerian swagger to the end of Act One, for example, as Manfredo takes Fiora to bed and Archibaldo laments his son’s ignorance. And when Fiora defiantly confesses her guilt to Archibaldo at the heart of Act Two (“Allora...Allora...Quello ch’io baciavo”), it is hard not to think of the similarly electric moment in the second act of Parsifal when Kundry drops her seductress routine and finally confronts Parsifal with the truth about her identity. Meanwhile, the evocative orchestral atmospherics of the opera call Pelléas to mind, and certainly Benelli’s storyline and dramatis personae refer back to Maeterlinck’s drama. Nevertheless, the opera is quintessentially Italian in its approach. All the characters are fully aware of their motivations, and as they maneuver toward their aims, their emotions surge directly to the surface, finding expression in line after line of wide-ranging, ardent melody. Today, with our predilection for late Wagner and Pelléas, we expect a story like this to receive an elusive, psychologically layered musical treatment. Perhaps this tacit assumption can help to explain why Montemezzi’s opera has not managed to retain its allure over the past half-century. In any case, it certainly deserves attention on its own terms.

Even if the opera’s overall quality was in doubt, no greater excuse could be proffered for its revival than to give Samuel Ramey the opportunity to sing the role of Archibaldo. Ramey’s performance on Thursday night was strong and self-assured, and yet there was room in his interpretation of Archibaldo for hints of the self-pity and despair that sap the soul of this blind and aging king. Ramey’s voice, on the other hand, seems not to have aged much, at least not on this occasion. His bass sound, rich and unforced, filled the hall throughout the evening, and the climax of his first-act aria (“Italia! Italia!...è tutto il mio ricordo!”) was thrilling. As Fiora, the soprano Fabiana Bravo seemed content at first to indulge in histrionics rather than tap into the considerable resources of her instrument. Her weak Callas impersonation, peppered with the usual gasps, sobs and wails, was applied just as assiduously to her love duet with Avito in Act One as it was to her dissimulating dialogue with Manfredo at the beginning of Act Two. As the second act progressed, however, Bravo let her voice do the work, and it soared. The iron core of her middle range communicated Fiora’s resolute pride, while the glitter of her high notes made us understand what attracted these men to her in the first place. Fernando de la Mora (Avito) was the only principal who sang his role from memory, and the deeper level of dramatic commitment on his part was evident and much appreciated. Unfortunately, his quintessential lyric tenor voice, naturally honeyed and supple, was pushed beyond its limits in many places, and the result was diffuse and flat. Much the same could be said of baritone Pavel Baransky in the role of Manfredo.

It’s hard to blame these singers for overexerting themselves, however, since Maestro Queler never accommodated them by limiting the sound of her orchestra. Concert presentations of opera always come up against the problem of balance, but for this performance Queler seems to have ignored the problem altogether. Still, the orchestra made its way through the score without too much calamity, and some of the players memorably rose to the occasion in featured moments (the flute solo in Act One, the viola solos in Act Three, the offstage trumpets throughout). Let’s hope that this performance inspires a few opera companies to assemble a fully-staged production in the near future.

Benjamin Binder

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Queler_conducting.jpg image_description=Eve Queler
Posted by Gary at 10:17 PM

Cyrano de Bergerac, Royal Opera House, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 9 May 2006]

Whatever you do, don’t leave at the interval. For 2½ hours this operatic version of Edmond Rostand’s celebrated play about the nasally challenged Frenchman has all the vitality of a body gripped by rigor mortis and it seems impossible that the last 30 minutes could give it the kiss of life.

Posted by Gary at 6:50 PM

Bostridge and Andsnes Pan Through the Bits and Pieces That Schubert Left Behind

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 9 May 2006]

Like novelists or, for that matter, music critics, some composers first work out the overall draft of a composition and gradually refine it, edit it and fill in the details. Others begin with the first phrase and get it right before adding the next, and so on.

Posted by Gary at 6:46 PM

A shining production of Mozart's 'Tito'

By Tim Smith [Baltimore Sun, 8 May 2006]

"Not everyone has the heart of Tito."

You can say that again.

Those words, spoken by the captain of the Praetorian Guard, refer to the emperor of Rome, circa 80 A.D. Tito is either the wisest and noblest of leaders, or the silliest.

Posted by Gary at 6:39 PM

MARTÍN Y SOLER: Una cosa rara

First Performance: 17 November 1786, Burgtheater, Vienna.

Principal Characters:

Queen Isabella Soprano
Don Giovanni (the Prince), her son Tenor
Corrado, a great squire Tenor
Lilla, a shepherdess Soprano
Lubino, a shepherd and beloved of Lilla Baritone
Tita, brother of Lilla Bass
Ghita, beloved of Tita Soprano
Lisargo, chief magistrate Bass

Time and Place: 15th Century Spain.

Synopsis:

Act One

As Queen Isabella returns from a hunt, she is met by her son, Don Giovanni. Lilla suddenly bursts into the room, appealing for help from the Queen. She and Lubino are in love. But her brother, Tita, has promised her to Lisargo, the local chief magistrate. The Queen refers the matter to Corrado, much to the chagrin of Don Giovanni who is quite taken with the maid.

Don Giovanni attempts to woo Lilla, but she resists his charms. She confirms her love for Lubino.

As they exit, Tita enters arguing with Ghita. Lisargo follows and interrupts them. Lubino then appears looking for Lilla, whereupon Lisargo departs. Not finding her, Lubino swears vengeance if anything should have happened to Lilla. Lisargo, however, returns with his men to arrest Lubino. Alone, Ghita admonishes Tita to allow the marriage between Lilla and Lubino.

Ghita goes to the Queen's residence where she finds Lilla. They argue but are interrupted by the Queen. She sends Ghita to bring Tita and Lubino. Meanwhile, Corrado tells Lilla of Don Giovanni's love for her. The Prince arrives to renew his courting. Lilla hides when Lubino interrupts them. He asks the Prince for help. The Queen reappears and Lubino repeats his request. Tita and Ghita arrive. The Queen orders Lubino and Lilla to be released. Lilla emerges from her hiding place. To a suspicious Lubino, Corrado attests to the Lilla's loyalty. The Queen orders that there shall be a double marriage of Tita to Ghita and Lubino to Lilla. All are forgiven.

Act Two

While Lubino and Tita are purchasing presents for their betrothed, Ghita tries to convince Lilla to yield to the Prince's courtship. She enumerates the many advantages, including the acquisition of many gifts. Corrado arrives. He too urges Lilla to accept the Prince's advances. Lilla resists these attempts.

The Queen arrives with the Prince. He asks for permission to attend the wedding ceremonies. Lubino and Tita arrives with their gifts, which they present to the Queen. The Queen accepts them and gives them to Lilla and Ghita.

Don Giovanni and Corrado discuss Lilla's refusal to accept the Prince. Lilla and Ghita are looking for Lubino and Tita, who are late. In the darkness, they see two figures whom they believe are Lubino and Tita. They soon discover that they are the Prince and Corrado. Lubino and Tita arrive at that moment, their suspicions aroused.

Later that evening, they vent their suspicions, which are fiercely denounced as baseless. As all doubts are dispelled, the Prince arrives to serenade Lilla. A confrontation ensues. Lisargo comes forward so as not to compromise the Prince. In hiding, the Prince fires his pistol to prevent more of his followers from coming. Lubino and Tita attack Lisargo with the help of Lilla and Ghita. The Prince comes forth to bring peace. Tita angrily walks away, followed by Ghita.

After finding presents given by the Prince, Tita remains suspicious. Tita tries to turn Lubino against Lilla. Lubino, however, remains steadfast. Nonetheless, Tita convinces Lubino to go to the Queen to seek justice. Lubino asks who is trying to seduce his betrothed. The Prince asks Corrado not to reveal the truth. Corrado then steps forward and accepts the blame. The Queen dismisses him and orders him to be sent into exile.

Lilla and Ghita enter and thank the Queen for upholding their honor. The Queen returns to the hunt with all in celebration.

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for a biographical essay on Martín y Soler.


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image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/young-shep.jpg image_description=Adolphe-William Bouguereau: The Young Shepherdess, 1895 audio=yes first_audio_name=Vicente Martín y Soler: Una cosa rara first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Cosa_rara.m3u product=yes product_title=Vicente Martín y Soler: Una cosa rara product_by=Cinzia Forte, Luigi Petroni, Luca Dordolo, Rachele Stanisci, Yolanda Auyanet, Lorenzo Regazzo, Bruno de Simone, Pietro Vultaggio, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Giancarlo Andretta (cond.).
Live recording, 17 September 1999, Teatro Mancinelli, Orvieto
Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

May 8, 2006

London's Wigmore Hall Evades Cash Crunch With 300-Year Lease

By Farah Nayeri [Bloomberg.com, 8 May 2006]

May 8 (Bloomberg) -- London's 105-year-old Wigmore Hall, one of the world's top chamber-music and recital venues, faced a cash crunch with a lease expiring in 2012 and the threat of doubled rent under a new owner. No longer.

Posted by Gary at 2:30 PM

Hello, cruel world

But it hides a darker truth: the composer's doubts about the Enlightenment.

By Jane Glover [Guardian, 5 May 2006]

Of the great trilogy of operas written by Mozart with Lorenzo da Ponte, Cosi Fan Tutte is often considered the weakest. After the fierce revolutionary fervour of Le Nozze di Figaro, with its profound sympathy and human understanding, and then the shocking violence of Don Giovanni, the couple-swapping of Cosi Fan Tutte seems almost frivolous. Even Mozart's widow Constanze confessed, in her late 70s, that she had never really cared for the plot.

Click here for remainder of article.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/cosi_fan_tutte.jpg
image_description=Cosi fan tutte (Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin)

Posted by Gary at 2:13 PM

Lohengrin, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 8 May 2006]

The Metropolitan Opera is a company that, for better or worse, wants a tree to resemble a tree. A swan is certainly supposed to look like a swan. Robert Wilson offered a notable exception to the rule, however, with his abstraction of Lohengrin, last seen in 1998. Essentially it is a lovely light-show with music.

Posted by Gary at 1:55 PM

May 7, 2006

Andrew Clark: All the world’s his stage

Violence ensues, the old man is gunned down. The young man grabs a beer can and disappears.

A modern television thriller? No, the opening scene of Don Giovanni, as interpreted by Calixto Bieito.

Click here for remainder of article.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/mozart_piano_medium.jpg
image_description=Mozart at the piano

Posted by Gary at 9:54 AM

May 3, 2006

Czech Mezzo Dagmar Peckova Talks About Cutbacks, Kids, Silence

peckova.jpgBy Douglas Lytle [Bloomberg.com, 4 May 2006]

May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Dagmar Peckova, the mezzo-soprano who has become one of the best-known Czech interpreters of Mahler and Mozart, was in Prague recently to promote the 2006 Prague Spring International Music Festival.

Posted by Gary at 8:39 PM

SEXUALITY EXPLORED

Drag queens, trannies, quasi-sexuality, oh my!

By Leonard Jacobs [NY Press, 3 May 2006]

Five minutes before the house lights dimmed, my partner, who loves theater but has never seen a Bertolt Brecht play, asked what The Threepenny Opera is about. My first impulse was vaudevillian shtick: “about two and a half hours, dear.” Instead, I suggested he find out for himself.

Posted by Gary at 8:33 PM

A Big Voice Inaugurates A Smallish Concert Hall

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 4 May 2006]

It's not often that concertgoers in New York can hear a singer of the renown of the baritone Thomas Hampson in a recital hall that seats only 280. But the Morgan Library and Museum, which this weekend opened the doors to a splendid new pavilion that unites its existing and expanded building, wanted to call attention to a special component of its new campus: Gilder Lehrman Hall, a new space for chamber music, recitals, lectures and readings. So the Morgan secured the services of Mr. Hampson, along with the pianist Craig Rutenberg, a noted accompanist and opera coach, and the Vermeer String Quartet, to inaugurate the hall with an engaging program on Tuesday night.

Posted by Gary at 8:22 PM

New York City Opera Fails to Reach Agreement to Build New Home

opera-map.jpgBy Philip Boroff [Bloomberg.com, 3 May 2006]

May 3 (Bloomberg) -- The New York City Opera said it won't proceed with a plan to build a costly opera house west of its current home at Lincoln Center.

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Posted by Gary at 12:00 PM

May 2, 2006

Three Mozart Collections from Universal

His debts troubled him, but the financial picture was bright, especially with the success of The Magic Flute.

And a timely report that was, coming in this year of celebration for the 250th anniversary of his birth. If his estate could still collect royalties, what a bonanza it would reap. Universal Music, the huge conglomerate that owns Deutsche Grammophon, Philips and Decca, has assembled its own loving tribute to its financial bottom line — excuse me, to the memory of Wolfgang — in the form of many re-releases and compilations. The market for these must be either newcomers with next to no CD collection, or just the sentimental sort who wants to honor the composer's memory by buying a sampling of excerpts from complete versions which might very well already be in the purchaser's collection.

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The two CD items here collect arias from recent stars — Netrebko, Terfel — and from the greats of the DG heritage — Janowitz, Wunderlich. Great Opera Moments I goes to the beginning and end of Mozart's career, with the unfinished Zaide, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Idomeneo, and finally, Die Zauberflöte.Beginning the collection with Kiri te Kanawa's lovely "Ruhe sanft" is a masterstroke, as this aria gets less exposure due to its origin in the incomplete Zaide. The Idomeneo selections — 6 tracks of 18 on the disc — feature the star power of Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, though neither is most esteemed in Mozart. Netrebko and Gruberova — the latter featured prominently on both these CDs and the DVD collection — offer more idiomatic interpretations.

Wisely, the set turns to Wunderlich for the great tenor arias from both Entführung and Zauberflöte. The selections from Solti-conducted sets for both operas have his typical virtues and deficits — energy and precision, but a lack of sensitivity and insight. Sumi Jo's Queen of the Night, for example, has all the notes but no edge, no sense of the malevolence of the character. Then the disc ends with the very cute Papageno/Papagena aria delivered very cutely by the cute Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel. Listeners must consider their cuteness threshold.

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Disc II has the three DaPonte operas and, somewhat surprisingly, Mitridate (instead of, perhaps, Clemenza di Tito). That early opera seria surely has star power to thank for its inclusion: the two tracks are from a Bartoli set, the first with its star and the second featuring one of the first recorded performances from Juan-Diego Florez. Most of Nozze comes from a James Levine set, although the Countess' great arias are performed by Gundula Janowitz under Böhm. The seven tracks from Don Giovanni have 5 different conductors, but then the three selections from Cosi all come from the great Böhm recording. Perhaps having one philosophy for this collection would have made more sense: either feature particular sets, or make the entire affair a hodgepodge of artists and performances. Certainly this "greatest hits" approach does not convey the dramatic strengths of Mozart's art.

The slim CD booklets have a format for ADD sufferers, with brief notes, an analysis of one aria with text (not provided for any others), and ostensibly intriguing "Did you know" factoids.

DVDs haven't raced to the compilation format, so Amadeus: Mozart DVD Collection may be a test run. Choosing the same title as the famous play/film doesn't raise one's respect for the enterprise, but buyers who think they are getting Forman's endeavor will have to ignore the back of the case, which describes the contents as "pivotal performances of Mozart's operatic masterpieces." At 90 minutes, a more generous collection can be imagined. On the other hand, jumping from opera to opera with no concern for dramatic coherence makes that 90 minutes seem longer.

The DVD opens with color film of Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Don Giovanni overture. The historic and artistic values coincide here, but one might wish that Furtwängler's barber had been informed that the back of the esteemed conductor's head would be prominently featured. His neck makes for a distracting, even disturbing sight.

Next come four selections from the recent, starry Metropolitan Opera Don Giovanni. This production has neither bold innovation or lush traditionalism, and Terfel's aggressively unpleasant Don won't win universal approval.Showing its age, the Böhm Entführungstill has the appeal of its fine cast (Araiza, Gruberova, and Talvela) and a fine orchestral performance. Only four selections from Nozze seems rather stingy. Three come from the Ponnelle film (once again a Böhm affair), and the standout here is a gorgeously languid "Porgi, amor" from Kiri te Kanawa, looking as beautiful as she sings, and really conveying the Countess's — well, sad frustration at her husband's sexual indifference. Terfel's Figaro from a Gardiner set also puts in an appearance.

The Sawallisch/Everding Zauberflöte has only faint charm, and the Met's Hockney production looked better live than it does here, for one of Sarastro's arias, delivered well by Kurt Moll.

Rainer Trost has nothing special to offer in Cosi's "Un'aura amorosa," although Gruberova puts on quite a show in her "Per pieta" from another Ponnelle film. But no trio? No "Come scoglio"? A short aria from Ponnelle's Mitridate comes next, sung by an inspired Yvonne Kenny, and then Pavarotti at the Met delivers a beautiful but passionless "Fuor del mar" from Idomeneo. The disc concludes with Bernstein leading Marie McLaughlin (a little off form) in the "Introitus" from the Requiem.

Once again, Clemenza di Tito gets slighted. What does that say about the performance advertised on the inside back cover of the booklet, featuring Troyanos? Only Universal can say. All the bonus features for this disc, by the way, are advertisements for Universal product.

Essentially, these CDs and this DVD are advertisements as well. Which is all fine — if they lead the buyers not just to other Universal product, but into a greater love for Mozart and opera in general. What value they would have for those already confirmed in such affections remains doubtful.

[Click CD images to buy.]

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Excerpts from Così fan tutte · Don Giovanni · Die Entführung aus dem Serail · Idomeneo · Mitridate · Le Nozze di Figaro · Requiem · Die Zauberflöte product_by=Various artists product_id=DG 073 423-3 [DVD] price=$19.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0044007342336&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 4:53 PM

BROPHY: Mozart the dramatist

At a time when amateur evaluation of composers and their music was giving way to scholarly, musicological examination, Brophy published this volume in 1964 as both a passion and a love. She did a revised edition of the book in 1988, of which this is a 2006 reprint.

The 1988 preface indicates a number of expansions and amendations from the 1964 edition. Obviously, the references section was revised and updated. Brophy goes into an extended diatribe in her preface about musicological performances of Mozart operas, which hide the drama and feeling of opera seria just because the plot is based on Greek mythology or history. She then goes into some of the historical background of the composition of the operas Idomeneo, La clemenza di Tito, and Die Zauberflöte.

The chapter titles throughout the book hint to the reader of a previous music writing style that was then moving towards extinction. Chapters like Singing and Theology, Compulsive Seduction, The Quest for Pleasure, and Society’s Guilt are geared more towards the music-listening and music-loving public, rather than a small group of scholarly colleagues or a profession. Here, the purpose of the book is to explore one person’s love and passion for a composer and his works vividly, and to share that listening and historical experience with others who share the same feelings. As Brophy goes through each of Mozart’s operas, providing both historical background as well as biographical information, she also links the musical experience of listening to these operas as a valued and important component of understanding and enlightenment. Neither musicologist nor musician, Brophy’s writing nevertheless is detailed and poignant, more like hyperextended program notes instead of a dry, sterile accounting of tonal modalities or rigorous musicological research.

I remember finding and reading books like this as a young adult, looking for others whose fascination and love of music was the focus of the writing. One cannot find these types of writing today, as it has been subsumed in the larger sphere of “music appreciation,” which oftentimes is as sterile and unfeeling as scholarly works on the subject. I found Brophy’s book nicely written and wonderfully personal, something that was written as a personal passion rather than as a scholarly requirement. In this sense, anyone who loves Mozart and his operas will find this book to be a real treat, a sharing of interest and feeling from one Mozart lover to another.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Mozart_dramatist.jpg image_description=Brigid Brophy: Mozart the Dramatist product=yes product_title=Brigid Brophy: Mozart the Dramatist product_by=(London: Libris, 2006) product_id=ISBN: 1 870352 90 4 price=£ 16.95 product_url=http://www.librislondon.co.uk/books/1870352904.html
Posted by Gary at 3:28 PM

ATTRAZIONE D'AMORE / VOYAGE TO CYTHERA

It is possible to find a fine expression of this in Attrazione d’amore, a film by the director Frank Scheffer, which features the work of the world-renowned conductor Riccardo Chailly. The series of Juxtapositions DVDs released by Ideale Audience offers pairings of music films that are often unique. Scheffer’s work is already represented on a single disc that collects Conducting Mahler and I Have Lost Touch with the World, and in the present DVD he returns to Mahler’s music and also explores the work of Luciano Berio. In the notes that accompany the disc, Jessica van Tijn states that in the former film, “Scheffer wants to introduce the viewers to the great tradition of classical music and exciting innovations of modern composers through the eyes and ears of a passionate conductor and his fantastic orchestra.” To do so, Scheffer draws on various works, including Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which frames the film, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466, Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, Puccini’s Tosca (from a production that involved Malfitano, Margison, and Terfel), Varèse’s Ameriques, and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. In fact, Scheffer carefully placed examples from the works at strategic points in the film, so that excerpts from Tosca are not found in one segment, and music from all five movements of Mahler’s Fifth intersect the beginning, middle, and concluding segments of this carefully constructed film.

While Scheffer devoted a portion of his film I Have Lost Touch with the World to the work of Chailly, Attrazione d’amore offers further documentation of the conductor’s association with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The tenth anniversary of Chailly’s work with the Concertgebouw provided the opportunity to make this film, which serves as a fine tribute to the relationship. While the music is paramount in the film, Scheffer also provides a judicious selection of interviews with Chailly to convey a sense of the conductor’s perspective on his art and its relevance.

Chailly’s love for the music emerges in his work, and the comments that the late Luciano Berio contributed to the film reveal the esteem the great modern composer had for a conductor who simultaneously embraces tradition and also champions new music. Such passions are not incompatible, and the fact that Chailly feels so strongly about both is further evidence of his devotion to music. His comments about the nature of music as an art that must emerge dynamically out of the air leads him to believe in the importance of individual experience in apprehending it. Beyond the physical limitations that exist with paintings and sculpture, music is recreated each time it is heard, and that element underscores the importance of tradition with regard to performance. At the same time Chailly makes it clear that he prefers musical substantiated than novelty that exists for its own sake, and his candor on this matter is quite welcome.

Yet the value of this video is not just in preserving Chailly’s expressed credo, but also in his work as a conductor. In the various clips, which come mainly from performances, it is possible to see his enthusiasm and watch him interact with performers. This gives a sense of Chailly’s charisma as a conductor, an element that emerges in the performances excerpted here. While the film is overtly about Chailly’s work with the Concertgebouw, it also offers a wonderful survey of important works that are essential to the repertoire. The choice of music seems difficult, especially when both the conductor and his ensemble exhibit a wide range of strengths. Yet it is important to view the chosen works for their historic breadth, which extends from Bach to Varèse, with an effective performance of the St. Matthew Passion framing the video.

One of the critical works represented is Varèse’s Ameriques, which shows Chailly’s enthusiasm for the piece, as well as his ability to give it shape. His insights about the position of Varèse have yet to be borne out, and it may that convincing performances like his will help to establish a stronger place for the composer in the repertoire. Chailly’s openness to new music and contemporary composers may be also perceived in the comments about him by the late Luciano Berio. Berio qualifies his judgment about Chailly in expressing his esteem for the intelligence with which the conductor approaches music, and it is, at bottom, this deeper knowledge that ultimately emerges in Chailly’s expressed comments and the leadership he brought to the Concertgebouw.

With the other film, Voyage to Cythera, Scheffer explores modern music by using the work of Berio as a point of departure. This film is, perhaps, more cinematic than some of his others about music, with some memorable nature images underscoring the sounds. In contrast to the images of the Berio shaded blue, the golden-hued scenes that involve water or nature scenes seem surrealistic. Moreover, the shots of Berio in his studio, with the camera capturing the names of various composers on the spines of scores aptly matches some of the passages of his Sinfonia, where the music relies on traditional ideas from Mahler and others in its expressive modernism. The flickering of the light that Scheffer uses for other images sometimes approximates the tempos of the music, to create a fine synthesis of sound and image. Effects like these lend further interest to the film.

Beyond that, Voyage to Cythera serves as a tribute to Berio’s contributions to the musical tradition that Mahler represented with his eclectic style. Berio exhibits a similar eclecticism in his use of various elements within his own pieces, which also reflect the continuities he espouses in the course of the interviews Scheffer included in this film. Moreover, Riccardo Chailly attests to the significance of this aspect of Berio’s work in an excerpted interview. Yet the segue between his comments about Berio and the example from Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra seems to be a bit of a leap without some further explanation of the linkage seems out of place, especially with the interjections from various pieces. The sound-montage returns to the Sinfonia, which certainly deserves the kind of attention that Scheffer offers, and it would have been ideal to include a performance of that work with the present DVD.

That aside, this is a fine DVD, which forms an intriguing set wth Scheffer’s other release in the Juxtapositions series, the one which collects Conducting Mahler with I Have Lost Touch with the World. There is another short subject, though, which the packaging of Attrazione d’amore/Voyage to Cythera, a piece entitled Ring that is listed on the DVD cover. Yet the piece is not included with the track listings and the navigation on the disc. No matter, the stated contents have much to offer in the two films by Frank Scheffer, who promises to be a fine source for capturing the attraction of classical music in images. Those interested in Berio’s music will want to consult Voyage to Cythera, particularly for the interviews with composer himself and also Louis Andriessen.

Yet Attrazione d’amore is, perhaps, a stronger film for the enthusiasm it contains about classical music and the living tradition in which Chailly and the Concertgebouw belong. It is rare to find such a spirited film about music which can be appreciated by a wide range of viewers. For some, it can serve as an effective introduction to classical music, while those familiar with the composers and works represented should enjoy the level of performance that Chailly achieved with the Concertgebouw in the music as found in this film.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 3:07 PM

Lost-and-Found Tale for the Ages

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 2 May 2006]

Massenet has always gone down easy. He did when he was one of Paris's most popular composers in the late 19th century, and he did even when his works were rather dismissed as sweet trifles, and for much of the 20th century he was remembered mainly for the Meditation from "Thaïs."

Posted by Gary at 11:37 AM

May 1, 2006

Madam Butterfly — Coliseum, London

janicewatson.jpgTim Ashley [Guardian, 1 May 2006]

Less than six months after it opened, Anthony Minghella's English National Opera production of Puccini's Madam Butterfly is receiving its first revival. It caused considerable controversy when it was new, and it remains problematic - largely because it ducks most of the issues raised by this most disquieting of operas.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 PM

Joseph Volpe Bids the Met a Most Operatic Adieu

volpe.gifBy DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 30 April 2006]

NEARLY 700 opera supporters crowded the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria this month at a lovefest for Joseph Volpe, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera who is retiring this season. Anna Netrebko and Mariusz Kwiecien serenaded him. Renée Fleming gave a gracefully barbed but affectionate tribute to Mr. Volpe, a famously demanding impresario. At the end, singing luminaries from four decades of Met history crowded the stage and gave him warm hugs.

Posted by Gary at 9:20 AM