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

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Jules Massenet: Le Roi de Lahore
31 May 2006

MASSENET: Le Roi de Lahore

Sergio Seggalini, former editor of Opéra International (now Opéra Magazine), is the artistic director of both La Fenice and the Festival of Martina Franca.

Jules Massenet: Le Roi de Lahore

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

Dynamic 33487 [2CDs]

$33.98  Click to buy

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

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):