Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Cristóbal Halffter: Don Quijote
19 May 2006

HALFFTER: Don Quijote

I can’t imagine a more utopian enterprise for a composer than writing an opera at the end of the twentieth century.

Cristóbal Halffter: Don Quijote

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.

Glossa GSP 98004 [2CDs]

$41.99  Click to buy

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

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):