Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

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):