Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Amore e Tormento

Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’ 

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi. 

Verdi at the Old MET

With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s major opera houses today.

Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions. 

Così fan tutte from DG

Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790. 

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.

Adriana Lecouvreur from Decca

Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.

Lawrence Brownlee’s Spiritual Sketches

It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.

Great Wagner Conductors from DG

As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive archives.

Great Wagner Singers from DG

There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled Great Wagner Singers.

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?

L’Incoronazione di Poppea from Virgin Classics

Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity. 

Saverio Mercadante: I due Figaro

Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.

Christian Thielemann’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation. 

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):