Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Richard Strauss: Notturno

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

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

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

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

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

Hänsel und Gretel

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

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

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

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

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

Amore e Tormento

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

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

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

Verdi at the Old MET

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

Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

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

Così fan tutte from DG

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

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

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

Adriana Lecouvreur from Decca

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

Lawrence Brownlee’s Spiritual Sketches

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

Great Wagner Conductors from DG

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

Great Wagner Singers from DG

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

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

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

L’Incoronazione di Poppea from Virgin Classics

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

Saverio Mercadante: I due Figaro

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

Christian Thielemann’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Claudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria
01 Jun 2006

MONTEVERDI: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria

This Opus Arte set not only captures a mostly satisfying performance of Monteverdi's opera based on the last books of Homer's Odyssey, but features something even rarer: a booklet essay by the musical director (Glen Wilson) of remarkable lucidity.

Claudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria

Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Graciela Araya, Toby Spence, Jaco Huijpen Christopher Gillett, Brian Asawa, De Nederlandse Opera Orchestra / Glen Wilson. Stage director: Pierre Audi.

Opus Arte OA0927D [2DVDs]

$41.38  Click to buy

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

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):