June 30, 2006

At Valencia's Flashy New Opera House, A Battle Over Flashy Business Expenses

Valencia_Palau_small.pngBy Vivien Schweitzer {Playbill Arts, 29 June 2006]

All eyes were on Valencia last October when the Spanish city opened its shiny new opera house, the Palau de les Arts — the final jewel in architect Santiago Calatrava's magnum opus, the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencias complex.

Posted by Gary at 7:47 AM

June 27, 2006

Belcanto: The Tenors of the 78 Era, vols. 1 and 2

Belcanto: The Tenors of the 78 Era was produced in 1997 by Jan Schmidt-Garre as a television series of thirteen episodes broadcast on a variety of European networks. The series was packaged as four videos and then as two DVDs. Highlighted in Volume I of this latest incarnation are Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa, Richard Tauber, Leo Slezak, and Joseph Schmidt (the episode on Schmidt received mention at the Louvre’s 1998 “Classique en images” international film festival). The second DVD features segments on Lauritz Melchior, Helge Rosvænge, Jussi Björling, John McCormack, Georges Thill, Ivan Koslovsky and others, including a final episode on “The Singing Robot”—the record player. Timed fairly equally at just under 30 minutes, each episode has a similar format: following a “canned” introductory film of a nameless tenor in a recording studio (usually singing from L’Africaine), the viewer is taken back into the lives of these great singers. In the case of Caruso, we are introduced to New Yorkers who knew the tenor when they were young; to get a glimpse of Slezak’s past, we are transported into the mountains where dirndl and lederhosen-clad mountainfolk with beer steins recall how the tenor loved his free time there among them. Other episodes offer less-stereotypical portraits, but the pattern remains: an exploration of where these men lived and performed, interviews with people who knew them as friends or colleagues, and various commentaries on recordings of their voices. Although the soundtracks of recordings of the singers, particularly of lesser known voices like Schmidt’s, are worth the viewing time, the dissections of their vocal styles not only leave much to be desired but make one question the overall point of the exercise.

In general, the listening “analyses” in these episodes are so subjective that one is reminded of the childhood game of “Telephone” in which everyone supposedly hears the same phrase yet each repeats it back differently. It is absolutely true that recordings have become “primary source” research materials, and historians of both opera and recording science use them to trace issues like the technical influences singers of the past have had on present performance practices. Yet such commentary often slips into the realm of subjective interpretation. Clearly, there are objective judgments that one could make about listening to recordings; one might, for example, note that an artist’s approach to a particular phrase was technically correct or that a certain critical pitch was delivered sharp or flat. One can also compare the recordings of singers to trace the transmission of stylistic elements from an important voice teacher to his or her pupils. However, comments—all too frequent in these episodes—such as “He caresses the melody” are senseless and, in fact, detract from the worthwhile moments. What is even more puzzling is why the producer would include contradictory comments one right after the other. For instance, one commentator will applaud a certain singer’s ability to control volume; the very next person interviewed will bemoan said singer’s dynamic weaknesses. One can only expect differences of opinion in a format such as this, but it becomes difficult for the viewer to know precisely whom to believe.

Most interesting in the series are the interviews with other performers who share their memories of working with these great artists. Next come the portions dedicated to recording historian Jürgen Kesting; it is a revelation just to watch him as he listens to recorded excerpts. He provides a living example of audience interaction with recorded sound. By far the weakest portions of the series are those featuring Stefan Zucker; he may well be an expert in this repertory but his comments do anything but demonstrate this. For example, he comments that when Joseph Schmidt sang in the synagogue, he was performing in the florid style of the nineteenth-century opera house; to cap off this reference to Rossini and his colleagues, the video cuts to a cantor who is singing a traditional prayer. Although there a thread of logic here—that cantors and singers embellish vocal lines—it is so poorly stated that Zucker’s point goes far afield of its intended mark.

Perhaps the wisest remark is offered by John Steane, who seems to be commenting on the series title: Bel Canto. The term, he notes, is “so vague. I sometimes think that the term should be banned. It’s used without any definition. Its principle use is negative—we know what isn’t bel canto.” In fact, the series title, Belcanto: The Tenors of the 78 Era, demonstrates the lack of focus of the entire series: does it center on the singers and their careers? On recordings of their voices? On clips that document their cinematic activities? The latter—even if they are the only ones available—offer unflattering profiles of Slezak’s activities with the Ufa and Gigli’s appearances in Fascist-era movies; the former would hardly appreciate being remembered in a scene that shows him singing “Kleine Frau” while surrounded by a roomful of merry Nazi officers. While there are moments of wonderful music and interesting information in these episodes, one can not help but wonder why the producer did not simply let the singers’ eloquent voices speak for themselves.

Denise Gallo

Click here to buy Vol. 1

Click here to buy Vol. 2

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/belcanto2.jpg image_description=Belcanto: The Tenors of the 78 Era, vol. 2 product=yes product_title=Belcanto: The Tenors of the 78 Era, vol. 1 and 2 product_by=Vol. 1: Caruso, Enrico; Gigli, Beniamino; Schipa, Tito; Schmidt, Joseph; Slezak, Leo; Tauber, Richard
Vol. 2: Bjorling, Jussi; Kozlovsky, Ivan; McCormack, John; Melchior, Lauritz; Rosvaenge, Helge; Thill, Georges product_id=Euroarts Vol 1 (2050207) [DVD] and Vol 2 (2050217) [DVD] price=$21.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0880242502070&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 5:36 PM

June 26, 2006

Soile Isokoski / Marita Viitasalo — Wigmore Hall, London

Tim Ashley [Guardian, 26 June 2006]

The final encore of Soile Isokoski's recital was a song by Finnish composer Aarre Merikanto entitled, quite simply, I Sing. It's a restrained, if ecstatic post-Romantic number, and in many respects, it sums Isokoski up. She ranks among today's finest sopranos by virtue of the fact that her voice is one of the greatest in the world, hitting you in the solar plexus each time you listen to it. On a concert platform, however, she's remarkably self-effacing, never indulging in self-conscious histrionics and concentrating all her energies on the expressive potential of the glorious sound that issues from her throat.

Posted by Gary at 3:09 PM

Weill Double Bill, Opéra national de Lyon

weill_lyon_7sins.pngBy Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 26 June 2006]

The Lindbergh Flight and The Seven Deadly Sins are stylistically opposed examples of Kurt Weill’s work with Brecht. The first, a little-known arid cantata that echoes Hindemith, is a didactic hymn to man’s courage, the second – frequently performed – is a withering satire on religious hypocrisy with Weill in a recognisably jaunty mood. Pairing the two is a long shot, but it pays off magnificently here thanks to François Girard’s imaginative, foot-sure stagings.

Posted by Gary at 3:02 PM

Mark Morris Talks About Purcell, Making Opera Sexy at the ENO

arthur_eno.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 26 June 2006]

June 26 (Bloomberg) -- When the Royal Opera House staged Henry Purcell's 17th-century opera ``King Arthur'' in 1995, it was four hours long and there was much snoring. Tonight, a new production opens at London's English National Opera. It's two hours long including the intermission, and it's unlikely there'll be any snoring with Mark Morris directing.

Posted by Gary at 2:53 PM

Puccini: Sogno d’or

Among the many composition assignments given students in conservatories in nineteenth-century Italy were songs and sacred pieces such as hymns and Mass movements. Young composers could then cut their teeth, so to speak, on setting texts for these more manageable works; the larger stage compositions would come later (were these young composers fortunate enough to survive in this profession).

Sixteen of Puccini’s songs and one hymn are presented on this fine album, sung exquisitely by soprano Krassimira Stoyanova with able accompaniment by pianist Maria Prinz. Both approach the songs with respect and integrity. In addition to enjoying Stoyanova’s interpretive style, there are the many delightful moments of recognition in the songs, for a young Puccini would later employ—recycle is too harsh a term—some of this materials for his operas. One may surprised, for instance, to hear the melody of “Canto d’anime” sung by a woman, for it prefigures Rinuccio’s “Firenze è come un albero fiorito” from Gianni Schicchi (with a much different text!). Other operas that appear in the midst of these songs include Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, Tosca and La rondine. The earliest songs, according to their editor Michael Kaye, were composed when Puccini was in his late teens while the latest was written in Torre del Lago just five years before his death.

The songs range from the delicate miniature “Casa mia” to the formalistic “Mentìa l’avviso,” interesting since it has the composer setting recitative and aria in a much earlier style that listeners may expect from his pen. Elegant in its simplicity is the one piece of sacred music on the recording, “Salve Regina,” done both with the piano and as a bonus with organ (perhaps a far more satisfying track). Listeners should not be fooled by the song “Ave Maria Leopolda,” clearly addressed not to the Virgin but to a family friend who had obviously greeted the Puccinis as they returned from a voyage somewhere: ”We (Puccini, his wife Elvira and their daughter Fosca) greet you as a chorus as you greeted us on the deck of the ship!”.

All told, this recording will be a revelation for Puccini fans who do not know these pieces. Whether a fan of the composer’s or not, though, the soloist and accompanist together present a noteworthy selection of charming and wonderfully-performed songs.

Denise Gallo

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/puccini_songs.png image_description=Puccini: Sogno d’or product=yes product_title=Puccini: Sogno d’or product_by=Krassimira Stoyanova, soprano, Maria Prinz, piano. product_id=Gega New GD 300 [CD] price=€ 8.00 product_url=http://www.geganew.com/index_en.htm
Posted by Gary at 11:30 AM

June 24, 2006

Vier letzte Lieder in Sofia and Varna

Together with Symphonia domestica in the 2nd part of the concert, the Symphony Orchestra of the Bulgarian National Radio led by Rossen Milanov celebrated the anniversary of the composer’s birthday (June 11, 1864). It was a wisely selected program in which the gorgeous soprano of Krassimira Stoyanova excelled. After Liù at the Met, Vitellia (Aix-en-Provence), Anna from Le Villi (Vienna), Donna Anna (Bilbao) in 2005 and Desdemona (Barcelona and Tokyo) in 2006, her voice acquired more dramatic sonority and greater artistic facility to use shades of color, fine details and accents to express the unsuspected depth of human soul—what these Vier letzte Lieder mostly demand. Her elegant phrasing and masterly control of dynamics (a fortunate heritage of her professional background as a violinist) make one forget the abundance of vocal difficulties that the singer must surmount to impart a sacred ritual convincingly.

Stoyanova sang the virtuoso passages in Frühling with stunning flexibility and fleetness; she saturated September and Beim Schlafengehen with warmth, tenderness and quiet melancholy; and, she performed Im Abendrot movingly, suggesting the approach of the end. The Orchestra of the Bulgarian National Radio and Rossen Milanov did their best to match the rich pallette of Stoyanova’s vocal mastery.

Vier letzte Lieder have always been a great challenge for the great singers. And no doubt Krassimira Stoyanova is one of them.

Our correspondent in Bulgaria

Related Links:

image_description=Krassimira Stoyanova

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

June 23, 2006

GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice

More and more the big companies mine through their vaults for re-releases in lines called "Great Conductors in Greater Halls with the Greatest Repertory" or "Adagios to take Valium by." Most of the best opera sets now appear in slim cases, with librettos unprovided (other than online).  And with every re-release, the price gets lower.

Even more modest companies, such as Capriccio, can get in on the act. The company has started a line called "editionopera," and if this Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice represents the quality throughout the line, Capriccio should do very well. At super-budget price, the packaging and graphic design don't promise much, but the performance is what matters, and quite a good one it is.

Recorded in 1978 in Budapest, the opera features Julia Hamari as Orfeo. She has a most warm timbre that neither comes across as uncomfortably masculine nor inappropriately feminine. Sounding most lovely in their relatively brief appearances are Veronika Kincses as Euridice and Maria Zempleni as Amore. The chorus of the Hungarian State Opera produces a full, robust sound.

The conductor, Ervin Lukacs, does have the traditional harpsichord for accompaniment. Otherwise, this performance will displease "historically informed practice" adherents. Most other listeners will revel in the lushness of the strings and the fullness of the orchestral textures. Lukacs does adopt some speedy tempos at times, and some may feel that the opera's favorite number, "Che faro senza Euridice" could have been lingered over a bit more. In such matters of taste, arguing avails nothing, but the overall spirit of the recording rewards the open-minded listener with its passion and professionalism.

The slim booklet has a detailed track listing, a brief note about the opera and an even briefer story summary (the opera hardly requires a lengthy one). The notes and summary come in German, English, and Italian. Capriccio must not feel as if the French market for this recording necessitates their inclusion.

This opera can be acquired in different editions, from the recent Minkowski set with Richard Croft in the tenor lead, to a vintage Monteux recording featuring Rïse Stevens, and even one with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau mourning the loss of his Euridice. Now, for a very agreeable price, collectors can add this worthy Capriccio set. It's is a bargain in all senses of the word.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Gluck_orfeo_euridice.jpg image_description=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice product=yes product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice product_by=Hamari, Kincses, Zempleni, Orchester & Chor der ungarischen Staatsoper, Lukacs (cond.) product_id=Capriccio 51 192 [2CDs] price=$9.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=719117&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 1:24 PM

"Castrato" — In Search of a Lost Voice

One might say they reflected rather neatly the subject of this film recently made for television by BBC Producer Francesca Kemp: those fabled creatures of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Castrati. These singers were such artists, such performers, such celebrities in their heyday of the mid baroque, that our musical folk memory is still full of them — they have never really died. It seems that each new generation of music lovers is re-discovering their story, is enraptured by the myth, and fascinated by the reality of their lives as we know it today. But the greatest fascination of all is the voice itself — what did it sound like? Would we recognise it as the marvel it was then considered? We are still chasing that holy grail, that rainbow’s end, with ever more sophisticated methods, and this film sets out to try to illuminate, if not answer, some of the questions we still have about it.

If you are wondering just why people might be tempted to watch, Kemp herself has no such doubts. “We're so much more interested in their repertoire now, especially the operatic; it’s a natural extension of the recent explosion of interest in the countertenor voice. And we're so much more aware of issues around period style — we know how exciting and revealing it is to hear Mozart concerti played on a fortepiano, and I think there's an equally valid interest in getting closer to understanding what this particular vocal quality might or might not have been.” She adds: “And more broadly, it's a fascinating model for understanding our eternal obsession with the humanly bizarre or unusual, and our current preoccupations with a whole host of socio-cultural issues such as fame at any price/body alteration/gender models/child abuse and so on.”

The film’s central scientific thrust is one of the attempted regeneration of the voice electronically, and unlike the well-known attempt to do this for the feature film “Farinelli” whereby the engineers rather crudely morphed a soprano and countertenor voice, here the professors and scientists seek to try to match electronically on a computer certain elements of what is probably our only recorded history of a castrato voice, that of Alessandro Moreschi, with elements of a tenor and treble voice. How they do this, and what they base their ideas on, makes for interesting viewing and listening. Whether the final result satisfies, or merely frustrates, will be up to the viewer to decide — certainly there is no definitive answer here even if intriguing pathways are opened up for exploration. As presenter Nicholas Clapton (author of works on the castrati) says: “In the recordings of Moreschi, which I do not believe are as bad as many people do, we have “documentary” evidence of the castrato sound. There is a strong tenor element in his voice, although because of his child-size vocal tract it is a tenor sound “up an octave”, with what sounds rather like a super-charged treble above that.”

During the experiments, we hear examples of several voices: boy treble, soprano, countertenor (Clapton himself,) and perhaps most exciting of all, that of the young American operatic male soprano Michael Maniaci. Excerpts of his rendition of the Alleluja from Mozart's motet “Exultate, jubilate”, K. 165, written in 1773 for the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, certainly raise the musical temperature of the film many notches and were impressive. (As a footnote, Mozart also created the role of Lucio Cinna for Rauzzini in his opera “Lucio Silla” — a role that Maniaci has recently sung at Santa Fe Opera).

In contrast to the music made by this male soprano, the electronic experiments seem only to have produced some, frankly, unattractive sounds so far and I asked for Francesca Kemp’s view. “Yes I agree Michael is completely wonderful. But I do wonder whether we're right to think that he's “closer” to the castrato sound than the other electronic or human examples ………we don't know what the end result should be, and as is pointed out in the film, we absolutely don't know that we'd like the sound of an 18th century castrato voice any more than we tend to “like” that of Moreschi”. Clapton agrees: “My hunch is that modern listeners would find the voice, manner and whole performance of a castrato like Farinelli extremely strange, indeed alien, much like we would find the conversation of Handel, Johnson, or George II extremely peculiar today”.

If so, despite our enduring fascination with these long-dead superstars, perhaps this is a reason for letting sleeping voices lie?

S.C. Loder © 2006

(The broadcast is scheduled for screening on BBC 4 television in the UK, on July 5th at 2100hrs.)

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/ManiaciCastratoTVws_detail.png image_description=Michael Maniaci during recording for the programme.
Posted by Gary at 12:38 PM

Gypsy Melodies

These feisty and caustic travelers who polkadot their way across continental Europe grow ever more peculiar as time passes. As most members of society grow and change with culture and technology, the gypsies remain seemingly dormant or frozen in time. Interacting with gypsies is much like Dorian Gray gazing at his own contorted painting: As we remain in touch with the changes of the world, the gypsies become ever more so pesky and grotesque.

In the mid to late 19th century there was a fascination with the lifestyles of these now begrudged people. Adolf Heyduk, a Czech poet, had in 1859 published an anthology titled, Ciganske melodie (Gypsy Melodies) which quickly inspired composers Karel Bendl and Antonin Dvorak, (both Czech) to set his words to music. The Suprahon label (which shares its homeland with the aforementioned artists) has uniquely compiled four composers (including Johannes Brahms and Vitezslav Novak) who had in the 1880’s and 90’s adapted their music to Heyduk’s poetry.

These songs capture gypsies as the unfettered and passionate people they once were conceived to be. In a distant time when they differed far less from the average citizen than they do now, their lifestyles were possibly viewed as more exuberant than the perceived nuisance they are today. This album simply titled, “Gypsy Melodies” consists of baritone Roman Janal and pianist Karel Kosarek breathing a new life into these seldom heard treasures.

Janal and Kosarek shift deftly through the four set of songs almost seamlessly. The pieces by Karel Bendl are the shortest and most epigrammatic of all of the Heyduk passages and prove to sound the most exotic of all four composers. The piano is used to evoke the authentic gypsy ensemble by acting as the triangle and cimbalon at several points. This gives the first fourteen pieces a flavorful almost non-western feel which is contrasted to the romantiscm of the Vitezslav Novak set.

Johannes Brahms’ set consists of text translated from Hungarian and prove to sound thicker and more like Brahms than non-western music. However, his pieces are lightly sprinkled with a few subtleties of gypsy music. Pianist Kosarek elegantly handles the change of style from the Bendl’s ethnological yearnings to Dvorak’s and Novak’s more lyrical sounds. Baritone Janal is superb in handling the upper tenor reaches of Novak’s pieces. He performs with a boundless and flawless air that enhances these recordings and provides the listener with a masterful range of emotion and sound. Together with Kosarek’s piano playing they make a truly magnificent record.

Overall, “Gypsy Melodies” captures a historical moment in time when the burgeoning middle class began to react with an estranged population. Though, more than a mere document of 19th century social class differences, the music and poetry revived here is thoughtfully fashioned with attention to detail and beauty. This album provides more weight than one imagines there to be. And even if you have ever haggled with the gypsies while vacationing in Paris it may bring a new perspective and adoration to those commonly regarded as vile and plunderous beings.

B. Fraipont

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/gypsy_melodies.jpg image_description=Gypsy Melodies product=yes product_title=Gypsy Melodies product_by=Roman Janal (Baritone), Karel Kosarek (Piano) product_id=Supraphon FL 3813 price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=602957&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 12:05 PM

Renato Bruson — Live in Concert

Here we have a release from a company called "Fabula Classics" of a 60 minute recital from 1983, with Renato Bruson singing 6 arias (mostly Verdi, with 2 by Donizetti)  and the Swiss-Italian Radio orchestra performing the Barbieri di Siviglia sinfonia and the intermezzos from Manon Lescaut and  I Pagliacci.

Undoubtedly, Renato Bruson deserves to have a record of his singing at the peak of his career preserved. He has been one of the sturdiest, most skilled of baritones, especially in the Italian repertory. This particular recital, as filmed, doesn't do him justice.

First, the source film hasn't been improved by the transfer to DVD. The video comes across as washed out, except for the brilliant blue of the hall's seats (and it doesn't seem to have been a sell-out, considering the scattered empty seats). Second, the camera work can serve as a standard for perfunctory direction. Bruson enters for an aria, acknowledges the audience, which is shown applauding, then the conductor waits for a nod from the singer before giving the downbeat. The aria then features close-up of the singer, then a stage view, alternating occasionally with a pan of the musicians. The crowd shows up again at aria's end, to applaud Bruson before he exits. Repeat 6 times.

With a singer of Bruson's talent, no recital would be without some distinction. He begins with a rarity from Donizetti's La Favorita, "Vien Leonora," and after "Di Provenza," features "Atanto amor" from the same opera. In this relatively unfamiliar music, Bruson offers style and masculine tone. However, by this third aria of the recital, a certain sameness of technique and approach also makes itself felt, and that sense lingers through Iago's credo, an aria from I Vespri Siciliani's Monforte ("In braccio alle dovizie") and Rodrigo's death scene.The hall's acoustic, or the placement of the microphones, also has the voice a bit too up front, with an unpleasant fuzziness to Bruson's louder singing, especially at high notes.

The booklet essay, by Arrigo Quattrocchi, has some insightful comments about Bruson's career. Not all those comments, unfortunately, are borne out by the recital. More of Bruson's "beautiful, burnished sound" would especially have been appreciated. That essay appears in four languages, and then the aria's texts are printed in Italian. The DVD does not offer subtitles in any language.

Conductor Bruno Amaducci leads the Swiss-Italian radio Orchestra in the effective, if not exciting, instrumental selections.

All singers have fans eager to own every produced featuring their favorites. Only for Bruson fans can this DVD be recommended.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/bruson.jpg image_description=Renato Bruson — Live in Concert product=yes product_title=Renato Bruson — Live in Concert product_by=Renato Bruson, Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana, Bruno Amaducci (cond.)
Recorded live in Lugano (Switzerland), Palazzo dei Congressi June 22, 1983 product_id=Fabula 29911 [DVD] price=$25.00 product_url=http://www.qualiton.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=QIL&Product_Code=FABULA+DVD+29911&Category_Code=FABULADVD
Posted by Gary at 11:34 AM

June 20, 2006


Longborough.jpgGeoff Brown at Longborough [Times Online, 20 June 2006]

The Cotswolds’ green curves may lie outside the country-house venue; but inside Longborough’s skilfully converted agricultural barn everyone knows that space forbids anything fancy.

Posted by Gary at 10:45 AM

Heine and Schumann — Wigmore Hall, London

Heine.jpgTim Ashley [The Guardian, 20 June 2006]

"I am both the harvester and grave-digger of Romanticism," Heinrich Heine once announced, a statement typical of one of Germany's greatest, if most conflicted, writers. Heine's life, work, and influence on music, were the subjects of this two-concert event, the brainchild of pianist Graham Johnson. Serving as both narrator and accompanist, Johnson interwove a biographical study of Heine with extracts from his writings, read by Gabriel Woolf, and settings of his poetry performed by young singers from the UK and Germany. The result was a complex portrait of a poet who provoked some of the greatest songs ever written, yet whose range was never fully captured by the musicians he inspired.

Posted by Gary at 10:39 AM

Nixon in China — Coliseum, London

Mao_Nixon_1976.pngErica Jeal [The Guardian, 19 June 2006]

Nixon in China, first seen at ENO in 2000, was to have reopened the refurbished Coliseum in February 2004, but it fell victim to delays. Now a revival of Peter Sellars' seminal US production is finally here - and for anybody remotely interested in modern opera who hasn't yet seen it, it is required viewing.

Posted by Gary at 10:30 AM

'Angels in America,' Already Operatic, Is Now Presented as an Opera

Opera_Unlimited_logo.gifBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 19 June 2006]

BOSTON, June 17 — Much of life is spent thinking about death. Primary in our thoughts are the rate of its approach and hour of its arrival. It is a little like driving a car whose accelerator and brakes are out of our control. This idea may explain the public's hideous and enduring fascination with executions and suicides, for in both cases time races and the date is set. People are in control.

Posted by Gary at 10:21 AM

An Arcadian setting where rarities flourish

Garsington_Manor_small.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 19 June 2006]

The advice to patrons, delivered in clipped, headmasterly tones before every Garsington Opera performance, was to "remember to turn right when you leave". It became Leonard Ingrams's signature, and it always raised a laugh. This was Ingrams's way of acknowledging local sensitivities - a left turn would have disturbed the peace of the Oxfordshire village of Garsington after dark - but it was also a signal that with humour and determination, his country house opera festival would flourish.

Posted by Gary at 10:12 AM

June 19, 2006

WAGNER: Der fliegende Holländer

First Performance: 2 January 1843, Königlich Sächsisches Hoftheater, Dresden.

Principal Characters
Daland, a Norwegian seafarer Bass
Senta, his daughter Soprano
Erik, a hunter Tenor
Mary, Senta's nurse Alto
Der Steuermann (Helmsman) Tenor
Der Holländer (Dutchman) Baritone

Setting: A village on the Norwegian coast, c. 1650.

Act I

The vessel of the Norwegian merchant Daland has run into a severe storm shortly before reaching harbour and drops anchor in the little cove of Sandwike on the Norwegian coast. Daland decides to wait for the storm to abate and sends the crew to get some rest. Only the steersman is left to keep watch on deck. He, however, is also soon overcome by sleep and does not notice the mysterious things which are happening around him.

A second ship approaches. The captain goes ashore. It is the Flying Dutchman, who bemoans his fate: he had once wanted to sail around a cape in a furious gale and sworn that he would accomplish this feat even if he had to keep on sailing forever. The devil took him at his word and condemned him to sail the sea until Judgement Day. The only hope he has of being saved from this terrible fate is if an angel were to intercede for him: every seven years the Dutchman can go ashore. If he manages to find a woman who will redeem him by promising to love him forever, the curse will be broken and he will be able to die.

Daland discovers the strange vessel and its captain. The Dutchman asks him if he might be his guest for a while. The merchant is happy to agree when he learns of the treasures this mysterious man offers him in return. He is also willing to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the Dutchman when the latter asks his permission to woo her.

Meanwhile the storm has subsided and the wind has changed direction. The sails are quickly hoisted and Daland sails away, the Dutchman following him.

Act II

Unlike the girls around her, Daland’s daughter Senta is absorbed in dreamy contemplation of the Flying Dutchman, whose portrait she has with her always. The girls tease her about this. Tired of listening to their silly teasing, Senta sings them the ballad of the Flying Dutchman, finally proclaiming that she is the woman who will deliver the condemned sailor from his curse with her love. At that moment Erik, who has loved Senta for a long time, enters. He brings news of the return of Senta’s father. The girls set off quickly to greet the sailors.

Erik pleads with Senta to ask her father for his consent to their marriage. She, however, tries to make him understand that the fate of the Flying Dutchman affects her more deeply than his pleas. As a warning, Erik tells her of his dream in which Senta meets a stranger, a weird sailor. Senta interprets this as a sign that her secret wish will be fulfilled.

Daland and the Dutchman enter. The father introduces his daughter to the stranger whose wife she is to become. He shows her the Dutchman’s treasures to convince her that she is making a good match. He then leaves the two of them alone.

Senta and the Dutchman are immediately attracted to each other and realise that they have each found the answer to their deepest longings in the other. Although the Dutchman warns Senta not to underestimate the sacrifice she is making for him, she is determined to become his wife and swears to be faithful to him until death.

Daland returns and invites them both to join in the celebrations with the sailors, at which he plans to announce Senta’s betrothal to the Dutchman.


The Norwegians taunt the weird crew of the Dutch vessel, who do not want to take part in the celebrations. Finally the Dutch sailors retaliate, and everybody flees to escape the violence of their reaction.

Erik pleads with Senta but she does not respond to his reproaches. He reminds her of how she once said she loved him, which made him believe she would always be faithful. The Dutchman overhears this conversation and can no longer believe Senta truly means to keep her promise to him. Without giving her the chance to explain, the Dutchman turns to leave. In an act of despair, Senta confirms her pledge of fidelity.

[Synopsis Source: Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/senta.jpg image_description=Senta audio=yes first_audio_name=Richard Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Dutchman.m3u product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer product_by=Hans Hotter (Holländer), Helene Werth (Senta), Bernd Aldenhoff (Erik), Kurth Böhme (Daland), Helmut Krebs (Steuermann), Res Fischer (Mary), Chor und Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, Wilhelm Schüchter (cond.)
Live recording, 1951, Hamburg.
Posted by Gary at 10:07 PM

June 17, 2006

HURWITZ: Exploring Haydn—A Listener’s Guide to Music’s Boldest Innovator

Even on a scholarly level Haydn’s music is passed over in favor of who and what he inspired, innovated and crafted. His personal life never caught the attention of the public as he was probably never prone to smashing mirrors in local palaces either.

The elemental importance of Haydn’s music and artistry is brought to the forefront in David Hurwitz’s new book, “Exploring Haydn: A Listener’s Guide to Music’s Boldest Innovator”. Hurwitz mentions early on how Haydn is commonly ignored. He notes that his music holds many keys to one’s understanding of the immensity of Haydn’s influence on classical music that followed shortly after his time up through to today.

Though this book is more than a mere protest to prove how much Haydn was the father of the symphony. Instead, like Hurwitz’s other ‘Unlocking The Masters’ books, it scintillates in description and delves into the inner workings of not only Haydn’s music but the importance of his innovations at the time, his creativity and how these both carry on through to today.

Ultimately, the passion for the process in which Haydn composed and how the music developed over time and how the listener should hear these hidden masterpieces is the crux of Hurwitz’s book. The author’s goal is to show the novice or beginner music fan what one can expect from engaging in Haydn’s music. He takes apart each piece and examines it carefully and skillfully. Truly, by listening to either one of the accompanying compact discs then reading along with Hurwitz, a new level of perception and understanding music is presented to the zealous listener. His descriptions are useful to the unacquainted ear and he opens a new dimension of listening appreciation. Hurwitz is able to described the music without completely patronizing the reader into submission. With the knowledge one can cull from this book, anyone will not feel stifled by Hurwitz’s writing. If anything he promotes the usage of the reader’s imagination.

An inundated listener is taken on a pragmatic journey through the wild, colorful and often humorous realm of Haydn. Movements from symphonies and string quartets from various eras of the composer’s life and career are highlighted and poured over and dissected with a refreshingly friendly scholarly flair. Along the way, the music novice is given biographical information on the master composer. The music is discussed along with the development and evolution of Haydn’s compositions which give the reader a well rounded look into the creative process.

This book is a nearly infallible piece of work for the inexperienced and for those eager to learn more not only about Haydn, but also about music itself. It falls short only when it attempts to simplify certain matters. For example, when explaining the difference between major and minor we are left with an almost exasperating conclusion of: “major=happy, minor=sad”. Surely there is a middle ground for one to stray far from the philosophical and bloated writings of say a Theodore Adorno and yet not have to simply too far in the other direction..

However, these are merely picayune side notes rather than a weighty complaint. This book may not find it’s way into the hearts of the cognoscenti, but should serve its justice more fittingly in the class rooms of high school students on down. With the aid of this book many may find that there isn’t so much mystery to understanding music but the joy in discovery as Mr. Hurwitz shows. The overall experience of “Exploring Haydn” is one that educates with skill, patience and devotion; it wishes nothing more but for the reader to love and appreciate this underrated composer as much as the author.

B. Fraipont

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Exploring%20Haydn.jpg image_description=Exploring Haydn: A Listener’s Guide to Music’s Boldest Innovator product=yes product_title=Exploring Haydn: A Listener’s Guide to Music’s Boldest Innovator product_by=David Hurwitz, Amadeus Press, 2005 product_id=ISBN: 1-57467-116-2 price=$27.95 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=1574671162&bfmtype=book
Posted by Gary at 10:12 AM

Blutrot die Segel, schwarz der Mast

wagner_r.jpgVON GERHARD KRAMER [Die Presse, 17 June 2006]

Rückzugsort konservativer Bühnenkunst: "Der fliegende Holländer" beim Wagner Festival Wels.

Das Richard Wagner Festival Wels bedeutet für Wagners Musikdramen eine Art letztes Rückzugsgebiet "konservativer" - das heißt dem Werk, nicht der Regie-Eitelkeit Einzelner verpflichteter - Bühnenkunst. Es war die Idee des Welser Industriellen Walter Just, dem Mainstream des sogenannten Regietheaters eine allein am Willen des Komponisten orientierte Werksicht entgegenzusetzen. 1995 begann mit "Tristan und Isolde" die Erfolgsstory des - inzwischen von Renate Doppler geleiteten - Festivals; die Mitwirkung von Weltstars und der Andrang des Publikums (ein Drittel davon aus dem Ausland) haben dem Festival den Beinamen "Klein-Bayreuth" eingetragen.

Posted by Gary at 8:28 AM

TSO program is all about Heppner

heppner_ben_otello.jpg(Photo: Clive Barda 2005)
ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN [Globe and Mail, 17 June 2006]

This seems to be opera week in Toronto, though there's no full production on any stage. The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts opened on Wednesday with the first of three programs of opera excerpts, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra followed suit the next night with the first of two concerts with tenor Ben Heppner.

Posted by Gary at 7:53 AM

Time bending backwards - and a 50ft wall of fire

viola_fire_woman.jpgVideo artist Bill Viola uses the elements on an epic scale to catch the essence of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. He explains his work to Martin Gayford [Daily Telegraph, 17 June 2006]

When Bill Viola first sat down to listen to a recording of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, he had an unpleasant surprise. "I was just in shock," says the renowned video artist when we meet amid the banks of flickering equipment of a Hollywood editing suite. "There were people just shrieking at the tops of their voices and bombastic music. It felt like one huge tsunami of ego. I thought, 'My God, what did I get myself into?'"

Posted by Gary at 7:42 AM

June 16, 2006

Tales of our times

adams_john.jpgPolitical operas are safe enough when they are historical, but what happens when the protagonists are still very much alive? Andrew Clements charts the groundbreaking works of John Adams [The Guardian, 16 June 2006]

When John Adams's Doctor Atomic premiered in San Francisco last October, it signalled a departure for the composer. In chronicling the events leading up to the explosion of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in 1945, Doctor Atomic dealt with issues and, more significantly, historical characters, far enough removed from the present to be presented in a detached, objective way, even if the consequences are still very much issues for us today.

Posted by Gary at 11:00 PM

June 15, 2006

Covent Garden 'Tosca' Is a Kitten, Not a Tiger

By ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 15 June 2006]

LONDON, June 14 — No less than the Metropolitan Opera of New York, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden has long counted on Franco Zeffirelli's lush and safely traditional productions to fill the hall for yet another revival of an opera evergreen. While music critics may grow tired of them, the public rarely complains.

Posted by Gary at 1:49 PM

Gluck's `Iphigenie' Ends Up in Old Folks' Home at Paris Opera

Iphigenie_Paris_Graham.pngBy Jorg von Uthmann [Bloomberg.com, 15 June 2006]

June 15 (Bloomberg) -- ``Iphigenie en Tauride'' is arguably Christoph Willibald Gluck's finest work -- finer even than his more popular ``Orfeo ed Euridice.''

Posted by Gary at 1:40 PM

BACH: Cantatas, vol. 14

Given the festal context of Christmas, it is no surprise that the music often takes a celebrative turn. The opening chorus of “Gelobet seist du” is exuberant energy superimposed on a sturdy chorale frame; the opening chorus of “Dazu ist erschienen” teems with sprightly rhythmic verve and regal horn writing (both of which are echoed in the rollicking tenor aria, “Christenkinder, freuet euch”); and the melismatic laughter of the opening chorus of “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” is a richly spirited example of seasonal joy. Instrumentation also plays a part in underscoring the affective propensities of Christmas, and the virtuoso trumpeting of Gabriele Cassone is certainly a case in point, especially in collaboration with bass Peter Harvey in the aria “Wacht auf” from “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens.” Harvey, as in other of the Cantata Pilgrimage recordings, is a joy to savor, rendering his solos with a sound that is lithe, resonant and flexible and with a remarkable flair for stylistic expression. Cassone, who impressively also plays the solo horn parts on the recording, brings to the demanding trumpet lines a fine combination of contoured phrasing, fluid articulation, and overall brilliance. “Wacht auf,” unsurprisingly, is one of the high points of the recording.

Certainly, this volume of Christmas cantatas manifests the high standards, the attention to stylistic detail, and the zest for performance that have long characterized the work of Gardiner and company. Not everything is equally successful, however. In “Dazu ist erschienen” the first two chorales are rendered with an exaggerated articulation that seems to turn rhetorical gesture into mannerism. Bach’s homophonic settings are no strangers to expressive content, certainly, as harmonic twists for the enrichment of particular words well document, but here the clipped consonants seem to do no more than surprise. The use of strong articulation to dramatic ends fares much better in the solo singing of tenor James Gilchrist, especially in this same cantata’s “Christenkinder, freuet euch.” Gilchrist is a powerful singer, to be sure, and the affective content and floridity of the aria are well met by his confidence. In other places in the recording, however, some may find his sound rather too complex and vibrant, especially in places where attention to the undulation of verbal stress offers the chance for more contour.

Organized by liturgical feast, the recordings in this series can make Bach’s developing compositional style conveniently visible. In volume 14 the cantatas are drawn from 1723, 1724, and 1725, a small chronological window, but significantly we see Bach embracing dramatically different approaches to cantata structure. While all use the familiar components of extended chorus, da capo aria, and declamatory recitative, Bach’s reliance on the chorale in the 1724 cantatas (BWV 91 and BWV 121) is distinctively extensive, using paraphrases of choral verses to accommodate the modern musical forms without obscuring the cohesion the choral text offers. And in one instance, he mixes the choral text and melody with paraphrased declamatory recitative, somewhat in the manner of a medieval trope. Thus, while in sound the four cantatas here remain close one to another, the varied structures behind the sound show Bach’s grappling with questions of form. This, along with the spirited music making, gives the listener much to savor, indeed.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/SDG_113.gif image_description=J. S. Bach: Cantatas, vol. 14 product=yes product_title=J. S. Bach: Cantatas, vol. 14 product_by=The Monteverdi Choir; Katherine Fuge, Joanne Lunn, sopranos; Tobin Tyson, William Towers, altos; James Gilchrist, tenor; Peter Harvey, bass; The English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner, Director product_id=Soli Deo Gloria SDG 113 [CD] price=$18.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=625713&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 12:29 PM

June 14, 2006

Arts Manager's Company Ends Suddenly

Janice_Mayer.jpgBy DANIEL J. WAKIN [NY Times, 14 June 2006]

A year ago Janice L. Mayer celebrated the first decade of her classical music management company. She looked forward, she said in a message on her Web site, to a bright future.

Posted by Gary at 2:15 PM

An opera you can't refuse

ohp_logo_black.pngOpera Holland Park’s management have been called yobs. Who cares, they tell Warwick Thompson

[Times Online, 14 June 2006]

They use blokey slang peppered with the occasional salty innuendo. Their vowels have a kind of diphthongy urban twang that would make a latter-day Professor Higgins rush for his notebook. They’ve even been known to drop the odd T. And they run one of the most exciting small opera companies in the country.

Posted by Gary at 1:48 PM

Karita Mattila, Barbican Hall, London

mattila.pngBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 14 June 2006]

Packing for a recital tour must be quite a business for Karita Mattila. First there are the evening gowns (she wore two at this recital, one white and elegant, the other a more racy, sky-blue number). Then there are the piles of music from as many different countries. And finally there is the outsize personality that can leave an audience feeling mildly shell-shocked, uncertain whether they have in fact been in the presence of a clandestine member of the camp torch song brigade.

Posted by Gary at 1:38 PM

London's New Old `Tosca' Has Mopey Gheorghiu, Stunning Terfel

ROH_Tosca.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 14 June 2006]

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- ``If it ain't broke, don't fix it'' might be the moral of this story. After 42 years, the Royal Opera decided to ditch its traditional, much-loved production of Puccini's ``Tosca'' and replace it with a gleaming new one which opened Tuesday with Angela Gheorghiu singing the title role for the first time on stage. They needn't have bothered.

Posted by Gary at 1:18 PM

Piero Cappuccilli: Recital

Not him again, I thought, as during the early sixties he was a regular of bel canto concerts at Flemish Public Radio where I worked. Well, I softened somewhat during the performance as he was in terrific form and had to encore “Il balen” (so did Bergonzi with “Di quella pira”).

Still, in retrospect, I don’t think my reaction was one of pure conceit as this magnificent CD proves so amply. All of the items derive from RAI concerts or RAI performances and, I presume, Myto got the original tapes as the sound is exemplary. For almost 80 minutes one gets a stream of that kind of beautiful dark sound which we all associate with the Italian baritone voice. And yet, after half an hour a little bit of tiredness sets in as a few things are lacking. There is no mellowness, no “morbidezza” in the voice which makes it less suited for Donizetti (as amply proved by his complete Lucia recording). The sound too is a bit rigid and not very supple. No one knew it better than Cappuccilli himself. After a tour of Germany in his early years, where he sang a lot of Figaros, he refused to sing another performance of Il Barbiere during the rest of his career. His use of dynamics is limited: forte and mezzo-forte but seldom a fine pianissimo. His phrasing, especially in Verdi, is almost perfect but there is rarely an unexpected insight which gives a small ‘frisson’. Introspection is not Cappuccilli’s forte and one sometimes longs for Gobbi’s far smaller voice and snarling but more interesting interpretations.

But a magnificent voice it is, homogeneous from the bottom to the high B-flat. Some tenors envied him. The CD starts with four arias from 1962. In Cascart’s “Zazà, piccolo zingara” the strength and weakness is immediately clear. The voice gleams with beauty and power but this is not the love song of an old man for a young girl like Gobbi so well suggests. The next four items date from four years later and here he is at his best: the strong and noble man in difficult circumstances, be it Nabucco, Trovatore or Forza. One hears the evolution of the voice: some of the shine is gone but the voice itself has become broader and more voluminous. A concert of 1967 reveals him in unexpected repertoire. His longing for Salomé in Massenet’s Hérodiade has little in common with the sick lovelorn uncertainty of the king the best of French baritones put in it. Cappuccilli sings straight on and there’s no doubt he’ll get the girl. In Ernani he misses the smoothness and introspection the very great like Battistini and Stracciari could put in Don Carlo’s abjuring his wild years. Cappuccilli’s contemporary Mario Sereni got those feelings far better.

On the other hand Cappuccilli has magnificent breath control—as a young man diving was his favourite sport and he attributed his long power to it—and sails up to a full and splendid high A; a feat those legendary baritones too did though nobody else in Cappuccilli’s generation. As an angry older Foscari he is at his very best while the duet from Pearl Fishers was probably just a courteous gesture towards his partner, Margherita Rinaldi. Myto added two bonuses: one is the last duet from Forza with Bergonzi, culled from a magnificent RAI performance that even surpasses the two gentlemen’s official Forza on EMI (though that set has the third tenor-baritone duet lacking in the RAI-concert). The last filler consists of two Don Carlo scenes with Bruno Prevedi. As Posa his breath control is ideal for the long drawn out phrases of the death scene. In short, this is Cappuccilli at his very best, surpassing his only solo album on Bongiovanni. That was a recording of a 1984 live recital and is not to be dismissed as he was a careful singer. He waited 15 and 18 years before singing Boccanegra and Macbeth. But of course the voice sounds less fresh than on this Myto.

Recently I listened to new recitals by nowadays baritones as Lado Atanelli and Carlos Alvarez, two singers lacking a bit of imagination too but proof that, as to pure vocal beauty and strength, nobody nowadays comes even close to the baritone from Trieste.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Cappuccilli.jpg image_description=Piero Cappuccilli: Recital product=yes product_title=Piero Cappuccilli: Recital product_by=Arias from Pagliacci, Zaza, Rigoletto, Andrea Chénier, Nabucco, Il Trovatore, La forza del destino, Roberto Devereux, Hérodiade, Ernani, I Due Foscari, Les pêcheurs de perles, Don Carlo. product_id=MYTO 055321 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=682656&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 9:16 AM

PUCCINI: Gianni Schicchi

Headlining the production in the title role, Alessandro Corbelli steals the show… if not only Buoso’s inheritance. Felicity Palmer (Zita) and Marie McLaughlin (La Ciesa) offset Corbelli’s caricature-like Schicci with comic panache.

Of course, Rinuccio’s “Firenze è come un alberto fiorito,” sung by Massimo Giordano, and Lauretta’s “O mio babbino caro,” sung by the youthful and beautiful Sally Matthews, were the typical highlights of this work. In this particular production, however, these familiar arias are woven into the fabric of larger than life drama created by the whole ensemble, and do not appear as the typical “number.”

What is so surprising about Glyndebourne’s production is their ability to transport this piece, originally set in Medieval Florence, to the Florence of the 1940’s. Sets, costumes, intricate staging, and comic action shaded with sinister intent color this production in a fascinating light. Vladimir Jurowski leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Total time: 77 minutes; extras include: interviews with stage director Annabel Arden, conductor Jurowski, baritone Alessandro Corbelli; a narrated and illustrated synopsis; a gallery of pictures of the cast. Sound: Stereo or DTS surround sound. Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian.

Sarah Hoffman

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Gianni_Schicchi.gif image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi product=yes product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi product_by=Alessandro Corbelli, Massimo Giordano, Sally Matthews, Felicity Palmer, Marie McLaughlin, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski (cond.). Director: Annabel Arden. product_id=Opus Arte OA 0918 D [DVD] price=$22.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0009K7J5A/ref=ase_operatoday-20/002-2501870-1146425?s=dvd&v=glance&n=130&tagActionCode=operatoday-20
Posted by Gary at 8:28 AM

June 13, 2006

Grendel, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

beowulf.gifBy Allan Ulrich [Financial Times, 13 June 2006]

The unenviable task of producing an opera in which the music approaches the expendable has fallen to the Los Angeles Opera. But Elliot Goldenthal and Julie Taymor’s version of John Gardner’s 1971 cult novel has set a standard in a city where spectacular trappings are sometimes confused with profundity. Whatever virtues elude this dramatisation of the Old English Beowulf epic, recounted from the monster’s point of view, sheer theatrical legerdemain is not among them.

Posted by Gary at 5:50 PM

Patricia Ciofi retrouve Dona Anna

Ciofi_Patricia.pngJean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 13 June 2006]

La soprano italienne jouera le rôle de ses débuts jeudi dans la nouvelle production du Théâtre des Champs-Élysées mise en scène par André Engel.

C'est avec un grand plaisir que Patricia Ciofi retrouve ce jeudi la scène du Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Elle y retrouvera le Concerto Köln dirigé par Evelino Pido avec lequel elle avait fait Les Noces de Figaro en 2001 et 2005. Lucio Gallo sera Don Giovanni, Lorenzo Regazzo Leporello et Alexandrina Pendatchanska chantera Dona Elvira.

Posted by Gary at 5:14 PM

June 12, 2006

WOLF: Prometheus — Orchesterlieder

He scored only twenty-four of his songs for voice and orchestra, including pieces from three collections, his Mörike-Lieder (13 Lieder), the Spanisches Liederbuch (4 Lieder), and the Goethe-Lieder (7 Lieder). Wolf’s inspiration for scoring these songs seems to be connected to the composer’s pursuit of opera as a means of expression. While that motivation seems to have culminated in the opera Der Corregidor, the orchestral Lieder he left should not be regarded as mere exercises in orchestration, but are remarkable for the details he elicited when he took the piano accompaniments into the orchestral score. This recording contains all of Wolf’s efforts in this genre, with the pieces divided between two fine singers, the soprano Juliane Banse and the baritone Dietrich Henschel, who offer some fine interpretations of the music. Both singers are well-suited to this repertoire; just as their recordings of Lieder with piano accompaniment are effective, they work well in the larger canvas of the orchestral settings.

Those familiar with the piano versions of these songs know the music, but these pieces are significant for the distinctive orchestrations that Wolf contributed to enhance the meaning and suggest some aspects of interpretations. When compared with the orchestral versions, the dynamic markings found in the Lieder with piano accompaniment seem more relative than the volume implicit in the scoring of “Prometheus,” for example. In that piece the volume and intensity of the orchestra not only underscores the vocal line, but enhances its focus. Wolf is not merely forceful, but sensitive to the timbres he can elicit from the full orchestra. Dietrich Henschel delivers a convincing performance of this particular piece, which relies, as times, on sonorities reminiscent of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer. In this venue, the song, which is used as the title of this recording, stands well alongside the version with piano accompaniment as a separate and yet powerful conception of the music.

In contrast the heaven-storming sounds of “Prometheus,” Wolf demonstrates a sense of delicacy with “Mignon” (the famous text “Kennst du das Land” that others, including Schubert and Schumann had already set) with a scoring that contains some carefully place woodwinds and horns to intersect the strings that carry the piece. This recording of “Mignon” benefits from the careful phrasing and sense of text that Juliane Banse brings to the music. Kent Nagano is likewise sensitive to the orchestral palette that demands a deft hand. The sometimes darker colors Wolf used in the latter part of “Mignon” contribute to the resolution of song in the final lines that are scored more brightly in which the singer points the way to another world.

The colorful orchestration of “Der Rattenfänger” suggests some techniques that Richard Strauss used in a contemporary tone poem, like Till Eulenspiegel, and suggest further the deft scoring that Wolf contributed to these versions of his songs. Not only are these settings of the Goethe-Lieder of interest, but a piece like “In dem Schatten meiner Löcken” from the Spanisches Liederbuch becomes, perhaps, a bit more dramatic in the orchestral version as the voice interacts with the orchestral in a structure that is comprised of a melodic line linked to its accompaniment. The scoring in these and other pieces is, perhaps, denser than the textures associated with the orchestral songs of Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss. In the fuller orchestrations, though, Wolf not only looks backward on some of the sonorities associated with German opera, but he also is able to extract from the larger forces some refinements that anticipate, in a way, the approach Arnold Schoenberg would take in his cycle Gurrelieder.

With, for example, “Denk’ es, o Seele,” Wolf reinforces in his scoring some of the colorful harmonies that can lost in the piano accompaniment, depending on the emphasis of the performer. In this song Henschel uses the spaces between the interjections of the orchestral to bring out his vocal line in executing this piece. Similarly, Banse shapes the line of “Gebet” as she plays off the orchestra. This resembles in some ways the way that Wolf structured “Karwoche,” with timbres reminiscent of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Yet “In der Frühe,” Wolf tends to be more expressionist in his use of orchestral colors, and Nagano brings out the careful scoring effectively.

All of the pieces on this recording are for solo voice except for the Mörike setting (from the novel Maler Nolten) entitled “Der Feuerreiter,” which Wolf scored for chorus and orchestra. An extended piece, “Der Feuerreitter” sounds more like an excerpt from a cantata than an orchestral song, and it has found its way into various concert programs. In fact, a performance of this very piece is part of a recently released retrospective CD of Daniel Barenboim’s tenure as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who included it in the repertoire he led with that organization. A larger piece because of its use of chorus, “Der Feuerreiter” is also impressive, with Wolf’s use of orchestra underscoring the drama implicit in his setting of the text.

In fact the commentator Habbakuk Traber refers to “Der Feuerreiter” as one of the two great ballads in this collection, with the other being the song “Prometheus.” In making such an assessment, Traber aptly describes these pieces and the other Orchesterlieder as being “between epic and drama,” a perspective that may have been in mind when Wolf decided to score these pieces from his other Lieder. The term “epic” seems best understood qualitatively, rather than the formal sense, with the love songs Wolf chose to orchestrate being, perhaps, have a slightly stronger emotional pitch than some of his other settings. Notwithstanding such a distinction, in creating these settings, Wolf certainly made the pieces that he had originally composed with piano accompaniment into impressive orchestral compositions.

The performers, Banse, Henschel, and Nagano each demonstrate their commitment to this demanding repertoire, which presents on a single CD all of Wolf’s orchestral Lieder. The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (founded under this name in 1993) brings a burnished quality to the performances, and the Rundfunkchor Berlin is adept rendering “Der Feuerreiter.” This is a fine recording that adds to the discography of Romantic Orchesterlieder, a genre that certainly deserves attention for its expansion of the German song beyond the traditional bounds of the solo recital with piano accompaniment. Those who know Wolf’s Lieder will want to explore the fine performances.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/wolf-prometheus.jpg image_description=Hugo Wolf: Prometheus — Orchesterlieder product=yes product_title=Hugo Wolf: Prometheus — Orchesterlieder product_by=Juliane Banse, soprano;Dietrich Henschel, baritone; Duetsches Symphonie-Orchester, Berlin, Kent Nagano, director. product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMC901837 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=683266&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 10:55 AM

The Rake's Progress — Aldeburgh festival

Tom Service [The Guardian, 12 June 2006]

Neil Bartlett's new production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress is an effervescent curtain-raiser to this year's Aldeburgh festival. It's the first time Bartlett has directed an opera. But with a cast of young soloists - all graduates of Aldeburgh's Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme - and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins, this is a staging full of wit, energy and expressive intensity.

Posted by Gary at 10:16 AM

Powder Her Face, Barbican Hall, London

Ades_Thomas.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 11 June 2006]

Sometimes one wonders how composers find the time to compose at all. Thomas Adès is artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival, but on the eve of this year’s festival he still managed to clear a space in his diary to conduct a concert performance of his 1995 opera Powder her Face.

Posted by Gary at 10:09 AM

Fedora, Opera Holland Park, London

Aldo_Di_Toro.jpgBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 11 June 2006]

Operas do not come thinner than Giordano’s slip of a romantic Russian thriller, Fedora. One gust of wind at Holland Park’s semi-open-air theatre and there was a danger that this powder-puff of political intrigue and wispy music might be blown away.

Posted by Gary at 10:04 AM

Taymor's Flash Tops Goldenthal's Score in L.A. Opera `Grendel'

Grendel.gif(Photo: Constance Hoffman)
By David Mermelstein [Bloomberg.com, 9 June 2006]

June 9 (Bloomberg) -- Elliot Goldenthal's first opera, ``Grendel,'' made its much-anticipated official debut yesterday in a lavish staging at the Los Angeles Opera directed by Julie Taymor.

Posted by Gary at 9:56 AM

June 11, 2006

MOZART: Così fan tutte — La Scala 1956

First Performance: 26 January 1790, Burgtheater, Vienna.

Principal Characters:
Fiordiligi, a lady from Ferrara, living in Naples Soprano
Dorabella, sister of Fiordiligi Soprano
Guglielmo, an officer, Fiordiligi’s lover Bass
Ferrando, an officer, Dorabella’s lover Tenor
Despina, maidservant to the sisters Soprano
Don Alfonso, an old philosopher Bass

Setting: 18th Century Naples


Act I

It is early morning. Two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast about the beauty and virtue of their sweethearts, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi (“La mia Dorabella”). Don Alfonso, an older man and a friend of the two officers, insists that a woman's constancy is like the Arabian phoenix - everyone says it exists but no one has ever seen it (“È la fede delle femmine”). He proposes a wager of one hundred sequins that if they give him one day, and do everything he asks, he will prove the sisters are like all other women - fickle. The two young men willingly agree to Alfonso's terms and imagine with pleasure how they will spend their winnings (“Una bella serenata”).

Fiordiligi and Dorabella gaze blissfully at their miniature portraits of Guglielmo and Ferrando (“Ah, guarda sorella”), and imagine happily that they will soon be married. Alfonso's plan for the day begins when he arrives with terrible news: the young officers have been called away to their regiment. The two men appear, apparently heartbroken, and they all make elaborate farewells (“Sento, o dio”). As the soldiers leave, the two women and Alfonso wish them a safe journey (“Soave sia il vento”). Alfonso is delighted with his plot and feels certain of winning his wager.

As Despina complains about how much work she has to do around the house, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, upset by the departure of their fiancés, burst in. Dorabella vents her feelings (“Smanie implacabili”), but Despina's advice is to forget their old lovers with the help of new ones. All men are fickle, she says, and unworthy of a woman's fidelity (“In uomini, in soldati”). Her mistresses resent Despina's approach to love, and depart. Alfonso arrives to plan the next stage of his wager: he enlists Despina's help to introduce the girls to two exotic visitors, in fact Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise, and is relieved when Despina does not recognize the two men. The sisters are scandalized to discover strange men in their house. The newcomers declare their admiration for the ladies, each wooing the other's girlfriend, according to Alfonso's design, but the girls reject them. Fiordiligi likens her constancy to a rock in a storm (“Come scoglio”). The men are confident of winning the bet, but Alfonso reminds them that the day is still young. Ferrando reiterates his passion for Dorabella (“Un'aura amorosa”), and the two go off to await Alfonso's further orders. Despina, still unaware of the men's identities, plans the afternoon with Alfonso.

As the sisters lament the absence of their lovers, the two “foreigners" stagger in, pretending to have poisoned themselves in despair over their rejection. The sisters call for Despina, who urges them to care for the men while she and Alfonso fetch a doctor. Despina re-enters disguised as a doctor and, with a special magnet, pretends to draw off the poison. She then demands that the girls nurse the patients as they recover. The men revive (“Dove son?”), and request kisses. As Fiordiligi and Dorabella waver under renewed protestations of love, the men begin to worry.

Act II

In the afternoon, Despina lectures her mistresses on their stubbornness and describes how a woman should handle men (“Una donna a quindici anni”). Dorabella is persuaded that there could be no harm in a little flirtation, and surprisingly, Fiordiligi agrees. They decide who will pair off with whom, and fitting perfectly into Alfonso's plan, each picks the other's original suitor (“Prenderò quel brunettino”).

Alfonso has arranged a romantic serenade for the sisters in the garden, and after delivering a short lesson in courtship, he and Despina leave the four young people together. Guglielmo, courting Dorabella, succeeds in replacing her portrait of Ferrando with a golden heart (“Il core vi dono”). Ferrando apparently has less luck with Fiordiligi (“Ah, lo veggio”); but when she is left alone, she guiltily admits he has touched her heart (“Per pietà”).

When they compare notes later, Ferrando is certain that they have won the wager. Guglielmo, although pleased at the report of Fiordiligi's faithfulness to him, is uncertain how to break the news of Dorabella's inconstancy to Ferrando. He shows his friend the portrait he took from Dorabella and Ferrando is furious. Guglielmo blames it all on women (“Donne mie, la fate a tanti!”), but his friend is not comforted (“Tradito, schernito”). Guglielmo asks Alfonso to pay him his half of the winnings, but Alfonso reminds him again that the day is not yet over.

Fiordiligi rebukes Dorabella for being fickle, but finally admits that in her heart she has succumbed to the stranger. Dorabella coaxes her to give way completely, saying love is a thief who rewards those who obey him and punishes all others (“È amore un ladroncello”). Left alone, Fiordiligi decides to run away and join Guglielmo at war, but Ferrando, pursuing the wager, tries one last time to seduce her and succeeds.

Guglielmo is furious, but Alfonso counsels forgiveness: that's the way women are, he claims, and a man who has been deceived can blame only himself (“Tutti accusan le donne”). As night falls, he promises to find a solution to their problems: he plans a double-wedding.

Despina runs in with a double-wedding plan of her own: the two sisters have agreed to marry the “foreigners,” and she is to find a notary for the ceremony. The scene is set for the marriage, and Alfonso arrives with the notary - Despina in another disguise. As Fiordiligi and Dorabella sign the contract, martial strains herald the return of the former lovers' regiment. In panic the two women hide their intended husbands and try to compose themselves for the arrival of Ferrando and Guglielmo. The two apparently joyful soldiers return, but soon become disturbed by the obvious discomfort of the ladies. When they discover the notary the sisters beg the two men to kill them. Ferrando and Guglielmo reveal to them the identities of the "foreigners.” Despina realizes that Alfonso had let her in on only half of the charade and tries to escape. Alfonso bids the lovers learn their lesson and, with a hymn to reason and enlightenment, the day comes to a close.


Così has been seen as revealing a dark side to the Enlightenment, an anti-feminist sadism (Ford 1991). Yet by any showing the most admirable character is Fiordiligi. The girls develop more than the men. Dorabella at least learns to understand her own lightness; and ‘Fra gli amplessi’ suggests that Fiordiligi has matured through learning the power of sexuality. There is little sign that Guglielmo learns anything in the school for lovers, even that those who set traps deserve to get caught, although his vanity is wounded as deeply as his purse. Ferrando, however, comes to live as intensely as Fiordiligi, and may appear to have fallen in love with her. To suggest that they should marry (leaving Guglielmo for Dorabella) is, however, still less satisfactory than reversion to the original pairings. The conclusion represents not a solution but a way of bringing the action to a close with an artificiality so evident that no happy outcome can be predicted. The music creates this enigma, but cannot solve it.”

Julian Rushton: 'Così fan tutte', Grove Music Online (Accessed 11 June 2006).

Click here for complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/cosi_gibbs.jpg image_description=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte audio=yes first_audio_name=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Cosi1.m3u product=yes product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte product_by=Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Fiordiligi), Nan Merriman (Dorabella), Graziella Sciutti (Despina), Luigi Alva (Fernando), Rolando Panerai (Guglielmo), Franco Calabrese (Don Alfonso), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Alla Scala di Milano, Guido Cantelli (cond.).
Live recording, 27 January 1956, Milan

Graphic by Michael Gibbs product_url=https://www.michaelgibbs.com/illustration_poster.html
Posted by Gary at 4:08 PM

June 9, 2006

Daniel Rodriguez, New York's 'Singing Cop,' Tries an Opera

rodriguez_daniel.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 9 June 2006]

Daniel Rodriguez will probably always be known as "the singing cop." Mr. Rodriguez, then an officer with the New York City Police Department, comforted an anguished nation in the aftermath of 9/11 with his robustly operatic singing of "God Bless America" during an interfaith service held at Yankee Stadium and televised worldwide. He also appeared at many public memorial services and funerals in the weeks that followed.

Posted by Gary at 2:29 PM

`Fedora' Enmeshes Princess in Murder, Intrigue at Holland Park

fedora_small.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 9 June 2006]

June 9 (Bloomberg) -- Umberto Giordano's 1898 opera ``Fedora'' has it all: big tunes, passion, conflict, conciseness and a great central role. As a thrilling new production at London's Opera Holland Park proves, it hits every operatic G-spot.

Posted by Gary at 1:42 PM

June 8, 2006

ROSSINI: La Cenerentola

First Performance: 25 January 1817, Teatro Valle, Rome.

Principal Characters:
Cenerentola (Angelina), Don Magnifico’s step-daughter Contralto
Don Ramiro, Prince of Salerno Tenor
Dandini, valet to Don Ramiro Bass
Don Magnifico, Baron of Monte Fiascone Baritone
Clorinda, his daughter Soprano
Tisbe, his daughter Mezzo-Soprano
Alidoro, a philosopher, tutor to Don Ramiro Bass

Setting: Don Magnifico’s mansion and the court of Don Ramiro


Act I

Don Magnifico's palace.

Introduction: "No, no, no, no: non v'è": Baron Don Magnifico lives here with his daughters Clorinda and Tisbe and his stepdaughter Angelina, known as Cenerentola (Cinderella). The stepfather has cheated her out of her entire fortune, and keeps her in the house as a scullery maid.

Alidoro, the tutor and confidant of the local Prince, Don Ramiro, is looking for a suitable bride of equal rank and station for his protégé. Disguised as a beggar, he discovers how generous Cenerentola is, and how heartless her two sisters are. Some noblemen arrive to tell them that the prince is entertaining thoughts of marriage, and they invite all the young ladies in the land to his castle.

Recitative and cavatina: "Miei rampolli feminini" The two sisters are madly excited over the invitation to the castle, as is their father. Don Magnifico is enchanted with the thought of seeing a secret dream come true and having one of his daughters marry the prince.

Scene and duet: "Un soave non so che in quegl' occhi scintillò" Don Ramiro, disguised as a servant falls in love with Cenerentola.

Chorus and cavatina: "Come un' ape ne' giorni d'aprile" The servant Dandini, disguised as the prince, appears, escorted by the noblemen, and while Don Magnifico looks on, he courts the Baron's two daughters.

Recitative and quintet: "Signor, una parola": Cenerentola begs Don Magnifico to allow her to go to the prince's ball, but he refuses. Don Magnifico tells Alidoro, who would like to meet all three daughters, that Cenerentola is just a lowly scullion, and his third daughter has died.

Recitative and aria: "Vasto teatro è il mondo": Alidoro comforts Cenerentola and promises to escort her to the ball.

Prince Don Ramiro's palace.

Recitative: "Ma bravo! Ma bravo!": Dandini, still disguised as the prince, appoints Don Magnifico chief wine steward.

Chorus and aria: "Intendente, reggitor" Don Magnifico performs the duties of his new office.

Duet and finale: "Zitto, zitto, piano, piano": Dandini reports to Ramiro how stupid the two sisters are. Unexpectedly Cenerentola appears, grandly attired. Everybody is struck by this beauty's remarkable similarity to Cenerentola. Banquet.

Act II

Prince Don Ramiro's palace.

Recitative and aria: "Sia qualunque delle figlie": Don Magnifico and his two daughters discuss their prospects: they are firmly convinced they will win the game.

Recitative and aria: "Si, ritrovarla io giuro": Cenerentola gives Don Ramiro a bracelet, and before disappearing she tells him look for her. Another bracelet, which she always wears, will enable him to recognize her.

Recitative and duet: "Un segreto d'importanza": Don Magnifico tries to get Dandini to tell him whether he has chosen Clorinda or Tisbe. Dandini, in response, reveals his true identity.

Don Magnifico's palace.

Song: "Una volta c'era un re": Cenerentola has returned to her usual place.

Recitative and thunderstorm: Don Magnifico and his two daughters return home in a fury.

Recitative and sextet: "Siete voi": Don Ramiro appears, this time clad in his princely raiment and escorted by Dandini. He recognizes the bracelet on Cenerentola's wrist. He wishes to make her his wife. Don Magnifico and his two daughters are beside themselves with anger.

Chorus, scene and rondo finale: "Nacqui all'affano, al pianto": The courtiers pay homage to their new princess, Cenerentola. Clorinda and Tisbe beg her forgiveness, which she generously grants. With everyone deeply moved, the curtain falls.

[Synopsis: Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/cenerentola.jpg image_description=Gioacchino Rossini: La Cenerentola audio=yes first_audio_name=Gioacchino Rossini: La Cenerentola
Windows Media Player first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Cenerentola.wax second_audio_name=Gioacchino Rossini: La Cenerentola
Alternate stream (VLC) second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Cenerentola.m3u product=yes product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: La Cenerentola product_by=Teresa Berganza (Angelina/Cenerentola), Nicola Monti (Ramiro), Sesto Bruscantini (Dandini), Mario Petri (Don Magnifico), Ornella Rovero (Clorinda), Mitì Truccato Pace (Tisbe), Leonardo Monreale (Alidoro), Chorus of Teatro San Carlo and RAI Symphony Orchestra, Naples, Mario Rossi (cond.)
Live performance, 1958, Naples.

Graphic by Rafal Olbinski (2001) product_url=http://www.poster.com.pl/olbinski-7.htm
Posted by Gary at 9:38 PM

June 6, 2006

Don Giovanni — Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Purves_Christopher.jpgRian Evans [Guardian, 6 June 2006]

In Katie Mitchell's production for Welsh National Opera, the emphasis on the full title - Il Dissoluto Punito, Ossia Il Don Giovanni - ensures that the final outcome is never in doubt. The dissolute Don - smooth talker, brutal rapist and murderer - will be punished in hell. But in this revival by Elaine Kidd, 10 years on from the premiere, Mitchell's parallel emphasis on divine retribution has been all but removed.

Posted by Gary at 9:24 PM

Thaïs, Grange Park Opera, Hampshire

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 6 June 2006]

It must be tempting to let oneself go directing a production at a country house opera festival. Knowing the audience will have overdosed on champagne, you can serve up theatrical excess knowing it will be greeted by barely sentient gurgles of intoxicated delight.

Posted by Gary at 9:17 PM

Sumi Jo at the Kennedy Center

sumijo.jpgCharles Downey [DCist, 6 June 2006]

Sunday night, celebrated coloratura Sumi Jo gave a recital in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. This concert, which should have been a major musical event, was not publicized well -- I did what I could by recommending it the previous Sunday -- and therefore sadly undersold. Jo is celebrating her 20th anniversary as an opera singer with a recital tour, apparently self-funded. In true diva style, she wore three different gowns, of increasing levels of outrageousness, over the course of thirteen pieces of music.

Posted by Gary at 9:10 PM

There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Pavarotti

Spence_Nicky.jpgBy Hugh Davies [Daily Telegraph, 7 June 2006]

Long nights earning as little as £1.70p an hour in a fish and chip shop are firmly in the past for opera's latest star.

Posted by Gary at 9:03 PM

June 1, 2006

MAHLER: Lieder

Fischer-Dieskau is known for his work with Lieder, which includes live performances and recordings as a singer, as well as his teaching, in which he has perpetuated his musicianship to the next generations of musicians. Barenboim’s work as a conductor, most recently with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has involved performing as a pianist. This CD makes available recordings both performers made together in 1978, in which Barenboim accompanied Fischer-Dieskau on 35 of Mahler’s approximately 50 songs. Included in this two-CD set are the entirety Mahler’s Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit, the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the set of Fünf Rückert-Lieder, and twelve of Mahler’s settings of texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

While no longer actively performing and recording, Fischer-Dieskau remains an authoritative voice when it comes to Lieder, and those who wish to grasp his approach to Mahler’s songs may find an excellent representation in “Ich ging mit Lust,” one of the Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit. In this song, Fischer-Dieskau has taken a slightly slower tempo than some singers use, and this gives him the opportunity to bring out the melodic line and also to express the nuances of the texts. The diction in this song and the others in this recording is as clear and idiomatic as occurs in his recordings of Lieder by Brahms and Strauss. With the tempo fitting the text so well, Fischer-Dieskau makes the most of genre, which requires such a mutually expressive approach to exceed the limitations that occur when poetry is recited or melodies simply played. Likewise, Fischer-Dieskau brings out elements are sometimes passed over, such as the braying lines JKJKJKJK that Mahler accentuated more broadly in the later setting of “Lob des höhen Verstandes,” one of the songs in which he used texts from the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn. At the same time, Fischer-Dieskau sensitively allows poetic meter to modify the agogic accents of the melody in the song “Selbstgefühl.” It is this very sensitivity to the text that makes Fischer-Dieskau’s interpretation of the third song of the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, “Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer” memorable for the drama and intensity often approached but rarely executed so well.

Hand in hand with Fischer-Dieskau’s vocal mastery is the expert pianism of Daniel Barenboim, who added nuance and color to the accompaniment without either exaggerating anything that is already present in the composition or adding elements that are not in the scores themselves. Pianists can take cues from the Lieder that Mahler orchestrated, which is in itself not only fair, but something that should be expected. In fact, it may be that knowledge of the orchestral version of such a powerful song as “Um Mitternacht” forces some pianists to emote unabashedly in that song, while Barenboim stops short of such overstatement.

Yet such delicacy is also part of Barenboim’s performances of Mahler’s earlier songs, which convey a freshness that sets this set apart from others. More than competent, Barenboim has set a standard from which other performances can take a cue. The sheer energy he exhibits at the opening of “Scheiden und Meiden” sets the tone for the singer to use in expressing the opening lines of the text. In other places, Barenboim defers to the voice by supporting it carefully, such that it is Gestalt of voice and piano that emerge in this uniformly fine set of recordings. Barenboim’s talent in the intimate setting of Lieder cannot be overestimated, particularly with regard to the details that are at the core of Mahler’s music.

When it comes to the settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the versions of the songs with piano accompaniment clearly deserve a place in the concert repertoire. Mahler intended both scorings for performance, without one superseding the other. The Orchesterlied was an idiom that Mahler used to fine effect in his music, yet he was not alone in writing for this genre, which includes works by Liszt, Wolf, Richard Strauss, and others. In pursuing works for this idiom, though, Mahler made use of the symphonic aspects of the orchestral accompaniment to set his scores apart from some of his contemporaries. While some of the Wunderhornlieder may be perceived immediately as symphonic because of their connection with his symphonies, the accompaniments of others contain scorings that resemble some of the passages in his symphonies. In executing these songs with piano accompaniment, though, it is too much to ask the pianist to emulate the orchestra, when the purpose is to support the vocal, which Barenboim does with finesse.

Take, for example, “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt,” a piece that is known in at least contexts by the composer himself – a song with piano accompaniment, an orchestral Wunderhornlied, and its adaptation in a symphonic milieu as the Scherzo of Mahler’s Second Symphony – with a further use of the song by Luciano Berio as part of his Sinfonia. Given the resonances that come to mind with this song, Fischer-Dieskau and Barenboim deliver the Lied well with piano accompaniment, with the accompaniment idiomatically pianistic. Barenboim follows the score and avoids evoking orchestral effects that would, indeed, distract the listener. Yet in the intimate setting of the piano accompaniment, Fischer Dieskau treats the setting with subtlety and grace. The assonances that occur with the verb endings that conclude many lines in the first part of the poem help to reinforce the images of the various kinds of fish intermingling, as one word intersects another, yet remains clearly enunciated in Fischer-Dieskau’s precise phrasing.

Another familiar Wunderhornlied, “Revelge” may be familiar from Fischer-Dieskau’s earlier recording of the orchestral version (with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf), and yet the setting with piano accompaniment remains a convincing and effective performance of the piece. Sustained in mood, more like a dramatic scene than a typical example of Lieder, “Revelge” is not an easy song to perform because of the demands Mahler placed on the singer. In this interpretation Fischer-Dieskau and Barenboim interact well to create the mood and to draw on the musical and textual tension that is at the core of this piece. Other examples from this collection of settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn are also effective for the masterful approach both musicians took to the music.

Fischer-Dieskau and Barenboim recorded these performances in the Siemensville Studio, Berlin between 5 and 10 February 1978, a necessarily brief to capture so much music and, thus, to achieve an interpretive focus. The recordings were digitally remastered in 2005, thus achieving a good quality of sound. Nevertheless some aspects of the sound are reproduced here, which includes a fine sense of the piano and the nuances Barenboim delivers. At the same time, the placement of the microphone by the voice gives a clear image of Fischer-Dieskau’s instrument. Yet from time to time the baritone sound overbalances the ensemble and sounds somewhat forward. It is never strident, but can be a bit ringing. As with any recordings, though, the ear can compensate for such unintended results, just as it is able to hear past the noise and static of inferior recordings, which this is clearly not. Yet it helps to put the sometimes highly present sound of the voice into the perspective of the recording and not allow its liveliness to affect the assessment of the model performance by both musicians. The reissue of this set of recordings is welcome for making available some fine performances that continue to merit attention.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Mahler_lieder.jpg image_description=Gustav Mahler: Lieder product=yes product_title=Gustav Mahler: Lieder product_by=Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Daniel Barenboim, piano. product_id=EMI Classics 7243 4 76780 2 [2CDs] price=$14.98 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=683446&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 3:29 PM

BERNHARD: Geistliche Harmonien

Like Schütz, and for the same socio-political reasons, his compositional output is almost exclusively sacred. Unlike Schütz (forty years older) and numerous other northern contemporaries of Schütz, he did not have the benefit of "graduate study" in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli. Protestant Germany since Luther had been extremely conservative in its religious music, and religious strictures mitigated against the cultivation of music outside the church. This meant that what erudite music there was limited to apeing Italian models, and not the most modern of models either. Bernhard is chiefly known to our day as a theorist, since as a German (and hence outsider) he needed to consciously consider the details of Italian style, rather than imbibing like a native at the source (his Tractatus of the 1650's reflects information gleaned from a visit to Rome).

The Geistliche Harmonien is his only published collection (though since it is subtitled "Erster Theil" there must have been a a continuation or continuations planned), and is very much in the Schützian style. The present disc presents about half of its contents (an earlier two-disc set on Christophorus from the nineties seems to have been deleted). To these ears the performances, though fluent, do not make a good case for Bernhard as composer rather than theorist, because the results are rather bleakly the same, with no charm, no wit, no spark, no variety (at least half of the motets here are in A minor, and only one from the dozen in the major mode). One might argue that such music is properly pious, but I prefer my sacred music with more blood and guts to it (if in the minor mode), or radiant joy (if in the major). Unless you are a historian and completist, you can afford to give this one a pass.

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/bernhard.jpg image_description=Christoph Bernhard: Geistliche Harmonien product=yes product_title=Christoph Bernhard: Geistliche Harmonien product_by=Veronika Winter; Nele Gramss; Henning Voss; Henning Kaiser; Ekkehard Abele; Das Kleine Konzert; Hermann Max. product_id=cpo 777 046-2 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=605626&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 3:15 PM

MONTEVERDI: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria

Wilson covers the major issues in performing and staging a Monteverdi opera, and presents his justifications for his own decisions. Working with stage director Pierre Audi, Wilson has most fortunately helped to create a performance that reflects the insight and knowledge the essay indicates are in his possession.

However, no one would buy a DVD for the booklet essay. Wilson and Audi have put together an effective staging of as old an opera as any that gets staged (first performance, 1641), and it is Monteverdi's genius that makes the DVD worthy. The ecstatic excitement of Verdi lay two centuries in the future, and the lusher melodicism of Puccini another generation or two beyond that. Monteverdi's operas will likely never be as essential to the core repertory as his operatic descendants' work is; but this DVD shows that his work still makes its claim to the stage.

The spare set works well with the spare music. Handsome wooden floors support a few well-chosen props - a simple throne, a huge rock - with a gravel walkway slashing across the front. To supple some color, Penelope and her suitors are dressed in handsome solids of green, red, blue and yellow. Otherwise, the costuming, especially for Ulisse, remains on the drab side. Stage director Audi keeps the performers moving without indulging in frenetic over-activity, and the stage picture never grows stagnant. The most memorable stage effect occurs at the climax, when Ulisse drops his disguise as an old man and wreaks vengeance on the suitors against a background of flame. A fearsome hawk (seen with its trainer in an enjoyable bonus feature) also makes an impressive appearance as the suitors try to string Ulisse's bow.

The supporting cast features some very strong performances, including Diana Montague as the goddess Minerva (Wilson edited out other sections about the gods), Brian Asawa as both a symbolic human figure in the prologue and as a suitor, and Toby Spence as Telemaco. In what amounts to a cameo, the portly Alexander Oliver almost steals the show as Iro, one of the more disgusting abusers of Penelope's hospitality, who survives the final carnage long enough to sing of his gnawing hunger without the suitors to feed him, and then dies before us. His sweaty, blood-stained appearance may haunt many a viewer, but what really matters is the powerful way he uses a not every attractive voice to bring the scene to life (and then to his character's death!).

Though the two leads both give committed performances, neither completely satisfies. As Ulisse, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson relies on the audience's suspension of disbelief, as his hefty frame hardly suggests a man who has been through many a brutal trial over 10 years of war and 10 more of wandering. He has the resources for the role's vocal demands, but seldom puts a personal stamp on the music. Graciela Araya has the dignified posture for Penelope, but her rather homely tone doesn't earn her character much sympathy.

This may not be, then, a performance of a Monteverdi opera to attract opera lovers who have found the composer's works less than appealing in the past. However, for those open to the experience, the set, recorded at the Netherlands Opera in 1998, has much to recommend it.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Il_ritorno.gif image_description=Claudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria product=yes product_title=Claudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria product_by=Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Graciela Araya, Toby Spence, Jaco Huijpen Christopher Gillett, Brian Asawa, De Nederlandse Opera Orchestra / Glen Wilson. Stage director: Pierre Audi. product_id=Opus Arte OA0927D [2DVDs] price=$41.38 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0809478009276&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 2:55 PM

LE JEUNE: Autant en emporte le vent — French Chansons

Claude Le Jeune, perhaps the most important of Protestant composers, lived to see the accession of Henri IV, a Protestant who abjured his religion and returned to the Catholic Church in order to become King (1593), but who managed to achieve a cease-fire between the sides with the Edict of Nantes, which allowed freedom of religion to the Protestants (1598). Le Jeune died at about seventy in 1600, and we are fortunate that, though politics prevented his works being printed during his lifetime, they were issued posthumously. Until recently few had been issued in modern editions (though I recall being entranced as a teen by his Te Deum, recorded in the Anthologie Sonore in the fifties).

Le Jeune's output reflects a wide variety of styles — the more traditional Parisian chanson, the settings of vers mésuré by the poet Baif, Protestant psalm settings, and even a substantial number of canzonettas to Italian texts (I have yet to see these last on disc). This is the third disc by the Ensemble Clément Janequin to mine this rich vein (the two previous devoted to chansons and sacred music respectively). The ECJ is one of our treasures, resuscitating a huge and fascinating repertoire in almost four (!!) decades of recordings, and it is to be expected that this collection is first-rate. The quibbler/curmudgeon in me just sees a few mis-steps here. I can't imagine that the arrangement of Laute joun (a rustic piece in Gascon dialect) reflects the original — it's just too folk. As I don't have access to the source, I can't nail this down in chapter and verse. Povre coeur, entourné de de passions, de tant de nouveautés, de tant de fictions makes ample reference to the musical novelties and musica ficta of Le Jeune's Italian contemporaries (Marenzio, Luzzaschi, Gesualdo). Unfortunately the busy lute added here confuses rather than clarifies the musical difficulties. This should be a cappella, and much more Italian in style — flexibility of rhythm, lingering over the chromaticisms. And finally, the booklet, though it has notes in French, English and German, gives the French texts, with no translations. Shame, shame, shame! I would not like to see this continue. Even Anglophones with some French may need help once in a while.

But these niggles are not enough to detract from your enjoyment of a well-programmed and beautifully sung recording of important repertoire, a worthy addition to the oeuvre of a fundamental ensemble. Warmly recommended.

Tom Moore

* Editor's Note: The Protestant composer, Claude Goudimel, was also a victim of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in August 1572. He is best known for his contributions to the so-called Geneva Psalter. See Paul-André Gaillard/Richard Freedman: 'Goudimel, Claude: Works', Grove Music Online.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/le_jeune.jpg image_description=Claude Le Jeune: Autant en emporte le vent - French Chansons product=yes product_title=Claude Le Jeune: Autant en emporte le vent - French Chansons product_by= Ensemble Clément Janequin, Dominique Visse product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMC 901863 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=597800&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 2:29 PM

The worst of all possible worlds

voltaire.jpgThe Czech premiere of Candide is as troubled as the piece

By Steffen Silvis [Prague Post, 31 May 2006]

Is there any piece of theater outside of the "Scottish play" with a more troubled history than Leonard Bernstein's Candide? The maestro's Broadway operetta, based loosely on Voltaire's hilariously scathing novella, has had no less than two different books, with lyrics patched in and discarded by a roll-call of some of America's greatest writers and theater artists: Dorothy Parker, Richard Wilbur, Lillian Hellman (who also supplied the first book), John Latouche and Stephen Sondheim. If Candide contains some of Bernstein's finest music, it also comes with a rickety structure that demands a very talented team to interpret it.

Posted by Gary at 2:04 PM

Small wonder: Opera in Wexford

The annual festival of opera in the tiny town of Wexford is proving so popular that it is raising money for a state-of-the-art venue, reports Jessica Duchen

[Independent, 1 June 2006]

The music world's most creative thinking often occurs in unlikely spots far from the madding crowd. And tucked away in the south of Ireland is a venue that remains one of the most unexpected of all. A small, picturesque port founded by the Vikings, Wexford is the setting for an annual festival of opera that, since its foundation in 1951, has focused entirely on the rarest of rare repertoire. A tall order, one might think; opera audiences are notoriously conservative - aren't they?

Posted by Gary at 1:57 PM

L’Elisir d’amore, Paris Opera (Bastille)

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 1 June 2006]

Donizetti’s delightful comedy has been cold-shouldered in the past at the Paris Opera. It only turned up in 1987 in a borrowed Otto Schenk staging first seen in Vienna in 1973. Now Laurent Pelly has applied his trusty technique in a production destined to become core repertoire. The irony is that this is occurring during the reign of Gerard Mortier, who hates this sort of harmless entertainment.

Posted by Gary at 1:45 PM

Das Rheingold, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 31 May 2006]

Alberich is exceptionally well-endowed. Rejected by the Rhinemaidens, he rocks on his haunches, cradling his metre-long member. For a moment, when he swipes the disco-ball Rhinegold from these blue-frocked party-girls, self-castration looks likely. But no. He keeps the appendage, and it reappears in Nibelheim, thick as a man and as wide as the stage.

Posted by Gary at 1:34 PM

This Time, the Elephant Man Sings

walker_david.jpgBy HEIDI WALESON [Wall Street Journal, 31 May 2006]

St. Paul, Minn.

The recent vogue for Handel operas -- for example, nine were performed by U.S. opera companies last season, compared with none 15 years ago -- has fueled the emergence of a generation of countertenors, high-voiced men who take on the heroic male roles originally written for castrati. Non-Baroque roles for these singers are few, but the Minnesota Opera came up with one in its most recent production, "Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man" by Laurent Petitgirard.

Posted by Gary at 12:28 PM

Europe's June Festivals Explore Afterlife, Wagner's Mythology

nightwatch.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 1 June 2006]

June 1 (Bloomberg) -- June is the start of Europe's summer festival season and a good time for the operagoer. City houses are competing to pull one last trick out of their bag of season premieres and a growing number of festivals are vying to steal the thunder of their bigger rivals later in the summer.

Click here for information on Holland Festival 2006.

Posted by Gary at 9:39 AM