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

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
16 May 2006

PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly

All is right and good in the world of opera as long as the Arena di Verona puts on vivid productions, in questionable taste, with impassioned singers pouring out the volume, in questionable taste, and the audience roaring its approval - in questionable taste.

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Fiorenza Cedolins, Marcello Giordani, Juan Pons, Orchestra e Coro dell’Arena di Verona, Daniel Oren (cond.).

TDK DVWW-OPMBUT [DVD]

$32.98  Click to buy

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

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):