July 31, 2006

Strong Tempest at Santa Fe

Sitting in at the final dress rehearsal Thursday night, this auditor tended to agree, and departed after Act I to rest his ears. The first act had seemed dense musically, over-loaded with exposition and narrative line and unrelieved by much lyric beauty. The much-hyped Ades has been criticized widely for ‘singing with the voices of others,’ and his prickly and disdainful outbursts against other composers, especially Johannes Brahms, have left a sour impression with many classical music audiences. “He’s not out to please,” one BBC official told me.

All negatives vanished Saturday (July 29) at the opening. The Tempest showed itself, in a masterful Santa Fe Opera production, a valid and even moving theatre piece, with a score that slowly develops into one of considerable beauty and emotional power. Ades, and his librettist Meredith Oakes, have condensed and somewhat rearranged the Shakespeare play, removed virtually all of its poetry, and made room for their own music to tell the story of the magician Prospero, more in love with his books than with life (perhaps), his innocent daughter Miranda and their adventures on a magical isle with the servant sprite Ariel and the earthy monster Caliban — figures much beloved in English literature over the centuries. You may still love them, as the comedy and humanity of the sweet old play remain and are reinforced by Ades’ beautiful and elegant music.

In terms of ‘singing with the voices of others,’ I will stick with that description of Ades, but not in any negative way. As the opera proceeds it increases in lyric quality, especially beginning with the Miranda/Ferdinand love scene closing Act II, and throughout Act III to its eloquent resolutions at the end. His inspiration is clearly Benjamin Britten — and the more ‘Britten’ we hear, the better the piece sounds.

Ades has his own way with harmonics and the musical rhetoric, but it is certainly sired by Wagner out of Britten, for without those two ancestors this score would not exist. The particular characteristics we hear are the uses of voice as another instrument of the orchestra, so to speak, and the moving back and forth between orchestra and stage of the special elements of musical drama. Wagner often claimed the real drama of his operas was in the orchestra; there is much of that here. But the colors and patterns of speech and line, familiar from Britten (especially Peter Grimes), inhabit this work and give it human scale and emotional availability. As one of the singers said of the closing pages of Act III, “in the end, it’s just open intervals and air.” The results are magical. The final act runs about ten minutes too long; I would have been happy to have Prospero close the piece with his benediction of the young lovers and acceptance of his need to forgive in life, but the creators wanted a reprieve for Caliban. “I have refocussed Caliban,” Ades said in a panel discussion before The Tempest’s opening, “and while Shakespeare was not looking, changed him a bit.”

There is so much more to say, and no room here. But the Santa Fe production team has to be given credit — and a major debt of gratitude it is! The unit set is an ingenious raked golden beach giving off into an edge of blue water at the footlights. Characters appear and disappear in surprising places — up from the sand or out of the water. A single barren tree overhangs the beach as a perch for Ariel and Prospero, while props and trappings come and go as if by magic. Costumes range from modern formal wear and stylish dresses for the court and chorus of survivors of the shipwreck that starts the action, to a magician’s robe for Prospero, and blue paint and not much else for the high soprano singing Ariel. The mise-en-scène delights, but it does not overshadow, for the music saturates everything and properly dominates the mood. Jonathan Kent’s direction and Paul Brown’s visual design are worthy supporting players in the scheme, as is Duane Schuler’s intense lighting.

The cast is uniformly strong, but out of a company of peers Rod Gilfry’s winning playing and resilient baritone singing as Prospero, as well as the high-pitched antics of Cyndia Sieden‘s Ariel predominate — as they should; their characters run the play and the opera. Young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand are attractive in the charge of Patricia Risley and Toby Spence, while familiar figures such as Chris Merritt and Gwynne Howell handle their lesser assignments well enough. Caliban is a nasty little brute energetically played and sung with a strong if reedy tenor by William Ferguson.

Much laud and glory are due Santa Fe Music Director Alan Gilbert for his musical control of the enterprise. He commanded the complex Ades score brilliantly; the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, which has thriven under Gilbert’s management, played with great effect. One regrets hearing this is Gilbert’s last season in his position with Santa Fe Opera, not yet officially announced, but much discussed in the community. He will be hard to replace. Gilbert, chief conductor of the Stockholm, Sweden Philharmonic, is said to be ambitious, and it’s to be regretted his aims may not include more Santa Fe seasons, for his contribution could be highly valuable to the long-term health of the opera company. Starting with his very first operatic assignment (Falstaff), in his Santa Fe debut (2001), Gilbert has developed into an eloquent operatic talent in only a few seasons.

General Director Richard Gaddes and his UK team of producers are to be complimented for presenting the North American premiere of an important new opera. It is in the best historic tradition of the pioneering festival company.

J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(c) 2006

Note: After posting this commenatry, your reporter received a telephone call from Richard Gaddes, General Director of the Santa Fe Opera, who reads Opera Today. He wanted to make the point that he is perfectly delighted to have Alan Gilbert as Music Director of the opera company, and further that Gilbert has never told Gaddes he will not continue to serve. When I mentioned that Gilbert’s contract is said to have run out this season, Gaddes responded, “Yes, we do have some talking to do.” He said further, “Alan and I have an excellent relationship.” I thought these facts were worth adding to my review. J.A.V.S.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/tempest_santa_fe.jpg image_description=Patricia Risley and Rod Gilfry in The Tempest at Santa Fe (Photo: Ken Howard, © 2006)
Posted by Gary at 2:49 PM

Patrizia Ciofi embrase Orange

ciofi.pngJean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 31 July 2006]

FESTIVAL Samedi aux Chorégies, la soprano a chanté magnifiquement avec Rolando Villazon dans «Lucia di Lammermoor» de Donizetti.

POUR SES 25 ans à la tête des Chorégies d'Orange, Raymond Duffaut a reçu comme cadeau le nouveau toit du théâtre antique et a offert au public deux des plus grands ténors dans des classiques du répertoire italien. Roberto Alagna avait rempli l'enceinte à l'ouverture dans Aïda, le public était sensiblement moins nombreux pour venir écouter samedi Lucia di Lammermoor et les absents auront eu tort. Le couple que formait pour la première fois à la scène Rolando Villazon et Patrizia Ciofi a, à juste titre, embrasé Orange. La soprano, familière du rôle de Lucia, dont elle a repris le flambeau à La Scala, des mains de Mariella Devia, a envoûté par la qualité de sa ligne de chant, un fil de cristal tendu dans l'air, aussi émouvant au premier acte où elle montre une diction impeccable que dans le célèbre air de la folie où elle affiche une maîtrise des vocalises. Une démence rendue encore plus émouvante et convaincante par cette soprano qui est aussi une magnifique actrice, donnant une vérité poignante à ce personnage pris dans les filets de haine et de la vengeance. Un drame qui aurait sûrement trouvé un écho à Baalbek où cette production devait être présentée après Orange.

Posted by Gary at 2:21 PM

July 30, 2006

PONCHIELLI: La Gioconda

First Performance: 8 April 1876 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

Principal Characters:
La Gioconda, a singer Soprano
Laura Adorno, a Genoese lady Mezzo-Soprano
Alvise Badoero, a member of the Inquisition and husband of Laura Bass
La Cieca, Gioconda's mother Contralto
Enzo Grimaldi, a Genoese prince disguised as a sea captain Tenor
Barnaba, a spy for the Inquisition disguised as a singer Baritone
Zuàne, a competitor in the Regatta Bass
A Singer Bass
Isèpo, a public scrivener Tenor
A Pilot Bass

Setting: Venice, 17th Century.

Synopsis:

Act I ["The Lion’s Mouth"]

Grand courtyard of the Ducal palace, decorated for festivities. At back, the Giant’s Stairway, and the Portico della carta, with a doorway leading to the interior of St. Mark's Church. On the left, the table of a public letter-writer. On the right, one of the historic Lion’s Mouths, with the following inscription cut into the wall in black letters:

FOR SECRET DENUNCIATIONS TO THE INQUISITION AGAINST ANY PERSON, WITH IMPUNITY, SECRECY, AND BENEFIT TO THE STATE.

It is a splendid afternoon in spring. The stage is filled with holiday-makers, monks, sailors, shipwrights, masquers, etc., and amid the busy crowd are seen some Dalmatians and Moors.

Barnaba, leaning his back against a column, is watching the people. He has a small guitar, slung around his neck.

The populace gaily sings, "Feste e pane" (Sports and feasting). They dash away to watch the regatta, when Barnaba, coming forward, announces that it is about to begin. He watches them disdainfully. "Above their graves they are dancing!" he exclaims. Gioconda leads in La Cieca, her blind mother. There is a tender duet between them: "Figlia, che reggi il tremulo" (Daughter, in thee my faltering steps).

Barnaba is in love with the ballad singer, who has several times repulsed him. She is in love with Enzo, a nobleman who has been proscribed by the Venetian authorities, but is in the city in the disguise of a sea captain. His ship lies in the Fusina Lagoon.

Barnaba again presses his love upon the girl. She escapes from his grasp and runs away, leaving her mother seated by the church door. Barnaba is eager to get La Cieca into his power in order to compel Gioconda to yield to his sinister desires. An opportunity soon arises. For, when the regatta is over, the crowd returns, bearing the victor in triumph. With them enter Zuane, the defeated contestant, Gioconda, and Enzo. Barnaba subtly insinuates to Zuane that La Cieca is a witch, who caused his defeat by sorcery. The report quickly spreads and the populace becomes excited. La Cieca is seized and dragged from the church steps. Enzo calls upon his sailors, who are in the crowd, to aid him in saving her.

At the moment of greatest commotion the palace doors swing open, revealing Alvise and his wife Laura, who is masked. Alvise sternly commands an end to the rioting, then descends the stairs with Laura.

Barnaba, with the keenness that is his as chief spy of the Inquisition, observes that, through her mask, Laura is gazing intently at Enzo, and that Enzo, in spite of Laura’s mask, appears to have recognized her and to be deeply affected by her presence. Gioconda kneels before Alvise and prays for mercy for her mother. When Laura also intercedes for La Cieca, Alvise immediately orders her freed. In one of the most expressive airs of the opera, "Voce di donna, o d’angelo" (Voice of woman, or of angel), La Cieca thanks Laura and gives her a rosary, at the same time extending her hands over her in blessing. She also asks her name. Alvise’s wife, still masked, and looking significantly in the direction of Enzo, answers, "Laura!"

"’Tis she!" exclaims Enzo.

Everyone, save Barnaba and Enzo, enters the church. The observant Barnaba has seen through Enzo's disguise as a sea captain and addresses him by his name and title, "Enzo Grimaldo, Prince of Santa Fior." He reveals the whole story: Enzo and Laura were betrothed, then separated, and Laura forced to wed Alvise. Though neither had seen the other again since the meeting a few moments before, their passion still is as strong as ever. Barnaba cynically explains that in order to obtain Gioconda for himself, he wishes to show her how false Enzo is, and promises him that he will arrange for Laura, on that night, to be aboard Enzo’s vessel, ready to escape with him to sea.

Enzo departs. Barnaba summons one of his tools, Isepo, the public letter-writer, whose stand is near the Lion’s Mouth. At that moment Gioconda and La Cieca emerge from the church, and Gioconda, seeing Barnaba, hides with her mother behind a column. She overhears the spy dictate a letter to Isepo, informing an unspecified person that his wife plans to elope that evening with Enzo. Having thus learned that Enzo no longer loves her, Gioconda vanishes with her mother into the church. Barnaba drops the letter into the Lion’s Mouth. Isepo goes. The spy, as keen in intellect as he is cruel and unrelenting in action, addresses in soliloquy the Doge’s palace. "O monumento! Regia e bolgia dogale!" (O monument, palace and den of the Doges).

The masquers and populace return, singing and dancing "La Furlana." In the church a monk and then the chorus chant. Gioconda and her mother come out. Gioconda laments that Enzo has forsaken her. La Cieca seeks to comfort her. In the church the chanting continues.

Act II ["The Rosary"]

Night. A brigantine, showing its starboard side. In front, the deserted bank of an uninhabited island in the Fusina Lagoon. In the farthest distance, the sky and the lagoon. A few stars visible. On the right, a cloud and a rising moon. In front, a small altar of the Virgin, lit by a red lamp. The name of the brigantine -- "Hecate" -- painted on the prow. Lanterns on the deck.

At the rising of the curtain sailors are discovered; some seated on the deck, others standing in groups, each with a speaking trumpet. Several cabin boys are seen, some clinging to the shrouds, some seated. Remaining thus grouped they sing a Marinaresca, in part a sea-chanty in part a regular melody.

In a boat Barnaba and Isepo appear, disguised as fishermen. Barnaba sings a fisherman’s ballad, "Ah! Pescator, affonda l’esca" (Ah, fisherman, lower the net).

He has set his net for Enzo and Laura, as well as for Gioconda, as his words, "Some sweet siren, while you’re drifting, in your net will coyly hide," imply. The song falls weirdly upon the night. The scene is full of "atmosphere."

Enzo comes up on deck and gives a few orders; the crew go below. He then sings the famous "Cielo! e mar!" (O sky, and sea) -- an impassioned voicing of his love for Laura, whom he awaits. The scene, the moon having emerged from behind a bank of clouds, is of great beauty.

A boat approaches. In it Barnaba brings Laura to Enzo. There is a rapturous greeting. They are to sail away as soon as the setting of the moon will enable the ship to depart undetected. There is distant singing. Enzo goes below. Laura kneels before the shrine and prays, "Stella del mariner! Vergine santa!" (Star of the mariner! Virgin most holy).

Gioconda steals on board and confronts her rival. The duet between the two women, who love Enzo, and in which each defies the other, "L’amo come il fulgor del creato" (I adore him as the light of creation), is the most dramatic aria in the score.

Gioconda is about to stab Laura, but stops suddenly and, seizing her with one hand, points with the other out over the lagoon, where a boat bearing Alvise and his armed followers is seen approaching. Laura implores the Virgin for aid. In doing so she lifts up the rosary given to her by La Cieca. Through it Gioconda recognizes in Laura the masked lady who saved her mother from the vengeance of the mob. Swiftly the girl summons the boat of two friendly boatmen who have brought her tinder, and bids Laura to escape. When Barnaba enters, his prey has evaded him. Gioconda has saved her. Barnaba hurries back to Alvise’s galley, and, pointing to the fugitive boat in the distance, bids the galley start in pursuit.

Enzo comes on deck. Instead of Laura he finds Gioconda. There is a dramatic scene between them. Venetian galleys are seen approaching. Rather than allowing his vessel to be captured, Enzo sets fire to it.

Act III ["The House of Gold"]

A room in Alvise’s house. Alvise sings of the vengeance he will wreak upon Laura for her betrayal of his honour. "Si! morir ella de’" (Yes, to die is her doom).

He summons Laura. Nocturnal serenaders are heard singing offstage, as they travel in gondolas along the canal. Alvise draws a curtain and reveals a funeral bier erected in the next chamber. He hands Laura a vial of quick-acting poison, telling her to drink it before the serenaders sing their last note. He will leave the room, and when the song ends, he will return to find her dead.

When he has gone, Gioconda, who, anticipating the fate that might befall the woman who saved her mother, has been in hiding in the palace, hastens to Laura, and hands her a flask containing a narcotic that will create the semblance of death. Laura drinks it, and disappears through the curtains into the funeral chamber. Gioconda pours the poison from the vial into her own flask, and leaves the empty vial on the table.

The serenade ends. Alvise re-entering, sees the empty vial on the table. He enters the funeral apartment for a brief moment. Laura is lying, seemingly dead, upon the bier. He believes that he has been obeyed and that Laura has drained the vial of poison.

The scene changes to a great hall in Alvise’s house, where he is receiving his guests. Here occurs the "Dance of the Hours," a ballet suite which, in costume changes, light effects and choreography represents the hours of dawn, day, evening, and night. It is also intended to symbolize the eternal struggle between the powers of darkness and light.

Barnaba enters dragging La Cieca, whom he has found concealed in the house. Enzo also has managed to gain admittance. La Cieca, questioned as to her purpose in the House of Gold, answers, "For her, just dead, I prayed." A hush falls upon the fête. The passing bell for the dead is heard slowly tolling. "For whom?" asks Enzo of Barnaba. "For Laura," is the reply. The guests shudder. "D’un vampiro fatal l’ala fredda passo" (As if over our brows a vampire’s wing had passed), chants the chorus. "Gia ti vedo immota e smorta" (I behold thee motionless and pallid), sings Enzo. Barnaba, Gioconda, La Cieca, and Alvise add their voices to an ensemble of great power. Alvise draws back the curtains of the funeral chamber, which also gives upon the festival hall. He points to Laura extended upon the bier. Enzo, brandishing a poniard, rushes upon Alvise, but is seized by guards.

Act IV ["The Orfano Canal"]

The vestibule of a ruined palace on the island of Giudeca. In the right-hand corner an opened screen, behind which is a bed. Large porch at back, through which are seen the lagoon, and, in the distance, the square of Saint Mark, brilliantly illuminated. A picture of the Virgin and a crucifix hang against the wall. Table and couch; on the table a lamp and a lighted lantern; the flask of poison and a dagger. On a couch are various articles of mock jewelry belonging to Gioconda.

On the right of the scene a long, dimly lit street. Two men advance, carrying Laura in their arms, who is enveloped in a black cloak. The two cantori (street singers) knock at the door. It is opened by Gioconda, who motions them to place their burden upon the couch behind the screen. As they go, she pleads with them to search for her mother, whom she has not been able to find since the scene in the House of Gold.

She is alone. Her love for Enzo, greater than her jealousy of Laura, has prompted her to promise Barnaba that she will give herself to him, if he will help Enzo to escape from prison and guide him to the Orfano Canal. Now, however, despair seizes her. In a dramatic soliloquy -- a "terrible song," it has been called -- she invokes suicide. "Suicidio!. . . in questi fieri momenti to sol mi resti" (Suicide! the sole resource now left me). For a moment she even thinks of carrying out Alvise’s vengeance by stabbing Laura and throwing her body into the water -- "for deep is yon lagoon."

Through the night a gondolier’s voice calls in the distance over the water" "Ho! gondolier! Hast thou any fresh tidings?" another voice, also distant: "In the Orfano Canal there are corpses."

In despair Gioconda throws herself down weeping near the table. Enzo enters. In a tense scene Gioconda excites his rage by telling him that she has had Laura’s body removed from the burial vault and that he will not find it there. He seizes her. His poniard already is poised for the thrust. She hopes for the ecstasy of dying by his hand.

At that moment, however, the voice of Laura, who is coming out of the narcotic, calls, "Enzo!" He rushes to her, and embraces her. In the distance is heard a chorus singing a serenade, the same tune as in Act III. Both Laura and Enzo now express their gratitude to Gioconda. The girl has provided everything for their escape: two of her friends will row them in a small boat to a larger, awaiting barque. What a blessing, after all, the rosary that an old blind woman bestowed upon the queenly Laura has proved to be. "Che vedo la! Il rosario!" (What I see there! The rosary!), sings Gioconda, while Enzo and Laura voice their thanks: "Sulle tue mani l’anima tutta stempriamo in pianto" (Upon thy hand thy generous tears of sympathy are falling). The scene works up to a powerful climax.

Gioconda is alone once more, and remembers her agreement with Barnaba. She is ready to flee, when the spy himself appears in the doorway. Pretending that she wishes to adorn herself for him, she begins putting on the mock jewelry, and, utilizing the opportunity that brings her near the table, seizes the dagger that is lying on it.

"Gioconda is thine!" she cries, facing Barnaba, then stabs herself to the heart.

Bending over the prostrate form, the spy furiously shouts into her ear, "Last night thy mother did offend me. I have strangled her!" But no one hears him. La Gioconda is dead. With a cry of rage, he rushes down the street.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the complete libretto in English.

Click here for poster of performance at La Fenice, 7 January 1971.

Click below to download the featured performance in m4a format for iTunes.

Note: For faster downloads, select PP2, which is appropriate only if you have a broadband connection and a Bittorrent client.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Bocca_di_Leone.png image_description=Bocca di Leone audio=yes first_audio_name=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
WinAMP or VLC first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Gioconda1.m3u second_audio_name=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
Windows Media Player second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Gioconda1.wax product=yes product_title=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda product_by=Leyla Gencer (Gioconda), Luisa Bordin Nave (Laura), Ruggero Raimondi (Alvise), Mirna Pecile (Cieca), Umberto Grilli (Enzo), Mario Zanasi (Barnaba), Paolo Badoer (Zuàne), Giovanni Antonini (Singer), Guido Fabbris (Isèpo), Umberto Scaglione (Pilot), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Oliviero de Fabritiis (cond.)
Live recording, 1 January 1971, Venice
Posted by Gary at 10:32 PM

Daniel Harding: Conducting his life with brio

harding1.jpg(Photo: Eisuke Miyoshi ) Michael Henderson [Guardian, 30 July 2006]

This morning, the London Symphony Orchestra's new star will direct a celebration of Mozart's birth in Vienna. It's quite an achievement - but then this 30-year-old Briton is one of the most dynamic men in music today

Daniel Harding was as relaxed as a man can be last week as he rehearsed Don Giovanni with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival while keeping an eye on the Test match at Old Trafford. 'Mahmood's playing? So we've had a Sikh [Monty Panesar] playing against India and now we've got a Muslim playing against Pakistan. We live in interesting times.'

Posted by Gary at 10:57 AM

Deutsche Genies kann man nicht lieben

Frauen beschimpfen ihn, seine Geburtsstadt Zwickau feiert ihn mit Swing: Robert Schumann.

Von Kai Luehrs-Kaiser [Die Welt, 30 July 2006]

Als "depressives Genie", letzten Romantiker und "deutsches Mißverständnis" von europäischem Rang feiern wir dieser Tage Robert Schumann. Feiern wir wirklich? Die Düsseldorfer Schumann-Tage sind längst vorbei. In Bonn, wo er am 29. Juli 1856 um 16 Uhr starb, wird ein Klumpkopf des österreichischen Bildhauers Alfred Hrdlicka enthüllt. Und seine sächsische Geburtsstadt präsentiert am Fuße seines Denkmals "Jazz und Swing bei gediegener Gastronomie". Fast hat man den Eindruck, Schumanns Ruhm beschränke sich wirklich darauf, er sei "Zwickaus größter Sohn". War da was?

Posted by Gary at 9:03 AM

He Wrote the Words

MEGAN MARSHALL [NY Times, 30 July 2006]

ORCHESTRAS, opera companies, chamber groups and solo pianists have been celebrating Mozart’s 250th birthday all year, but surprisingly few writers have aimed to capitalize on the surge of interest in the composer considered by many to be music’s greatest genius. I’m reminded of the reaction I once got from an editor when I suggested writing a group biography of the Romantic trio Clara and Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms: “Books about musicians don’t sell!”

Posted by Gary at 8:53 AM

A Little-Known Opera That Was Fit for a Prince

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 30 July 2006]

IN November 1779, two heating ovens designed for decoration but lighted by mistake exploded, burning Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy’s private opera house to the ground. Joseph Haydn, the prince’s director of music, lost a prized harpsichord, not to mention the scores to his marionette operas and the orchestra parts to symphonies written since 1761. This was at Esterhaza, his employer’s home rising in the swamplands that separated Hungary and Austria.

Posted by Gary at 8:47 AM

Boris Godunov — Royal Opera House, London

borisgodunov.JPGErica Jeal [Guardian, 29 July 2006]

You would have to go a long way to find a staging as old as the Boris Godunov brought over from Moscow by the Bolshoi Opera for its first Covent Garden visit - or one so steeped in history. It's a museum piece, but it's worth the preservation. Boris is the quintessential Russian opera, and Leonid Baratov's staging is what it has looked like at the Bolshoi since 1948; it's fascinating to speculate as to exactly who must have seen it.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

Boris Godunov

Richard Morrison at Covent Garden [29 July 2006]

TRYING to modernise the Bolshoi Opera must be a bit like growing an oak tree. You plant an acorn, and if you are very lucky something resembling a sapling might just appear shortly before you die.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

Une nouvelle maison Mozart

kleines_festspielhaus.jpgSALZBOURG ENVOYÉ SPÉCIAL [Le Monde. 29 July 2006]

La reconstruction du "Petit Palais du festival" de Salzbourg aura été une course contre la montre, afin que tout soit fin prêt pour l'été 2006, sacro-sainte année Mozart oblige, qui voit donner, à Salzbourg, les 22 ouvrages scéniques du compositeur natif de la ville.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

Bayreuth: Nothung im Telegrafenmast

bayreuth_ring.jpgVON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 29 July 2006]
Die Walküre überzeugt musikalisch, szenisch aber überhaupt nicht.

Eitel Wonne auf dem grünen Hügel um die Premieren des neuen "Ring"-Zyklus. Regisseur Tankred Dorst zieht es offenbar vor, sich erst nach fertig geschmiedetem "Ring" dem Publikum zu stellen. Musikalisch gerät die Tetralogie offenbar ganz nach den Vorstellungen der Bayreuth-Pilger.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

Holender kritisiert "unverschämte" Kartenpreise

euro-small.png"Ich würde das nie bezahlen" - Zwiespältige Bilanz zu Intendant Peter Ruzicka [Der Standard, 29 July 2006]

Wien - Staatsopern-Direktor Ioan Holender übt Kritik an den Kartenpreisen bei den Salzburger Festspielen. "Da die Festspiele überwiegend durch Steuergelder erhalten werden, sind die Preise unverschämt. Ich würde das nie bezahlen. Es kann keine Opernvorstellung geben, die 600 Euro wert ist", so Holender im "Kurier" (Samstag-Ausgabe).

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

July 28, 2006

Figaro: Trauung und Triebe - da gibt's nichts zu lachen!

schafer_christine.jpg(Photo: Oliver Hermann)
VON WALTER WEIDRINGER [Die Presse, 28 July 2006]

Figaro in Salzburg. Nikolaus Harnoncourt und Claus Guth deuten die Oper als tristes Beziehungsmusikdrama.

Das nenn ich konsequentes Netreb ko-Marketing, die Festspielpre miere von "Le Nozze di Figaro" zu allem medialen Überfluss auch noch am katholischen Festtag der Heiligen Anna anzusetzen! Von der Mutter Mariens zur Mutter der Klassik-Umsätze, von der Hochzeit Susannas und Figaros zur Vermählung von Boulevard und Hochkultur. Und dann - ja, dann kam doch alles anders.

Posted by Gary at 9:18 AM

Wagner, a Musical Olympian, and CD’s of His Gods From ‘The Ring’

Festspielhaus.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 28 July 2006]

BAYREUTH, Germany

WAGNERITES from around the world have come here to the Bayreuth Festival for a new production of Wagner’s “Ring des Nibelungen,” which is already under way. The opera house here, designed by Wagner and dedicated exclusively to the performance of his works, opened in 1876 with the first complete production of the “Ring,” a four-opera, 16-hour, staggeringly ambitious creation.

Posted by Gary at 9:08 AM

The Fiery Angel, ROH, London

prokofiev1938_2.pngTim Ashley [Guardian, 28 July 2006]

Unperformed in the composer's lifetime, Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel attained something akin to cult status in the last decades of the 20th century. A study of demonic possession and collective hysteria, the opera hit raw nerves as the Soviet Union began to crumble: there were iconic performances in St Petersburg in 1992 and at Covent Garden a year later. Francesca Zambello's new production for Moscow's Bolshoi Opera, marking the start of the company's first ever London season, reimagines the work as a parable of totalitarian implosion.

Posted by Gary at 8:32 AM

July 27, 2006

Glimmerglass world premiere: Fine ensemble singing from large cast

worra_small.jpgBy STEPHEN G. LANDESMAN [Ithaca Journal, 27 July 2006]

COOPERSTOWN — Saturday evening's world premiere of Stephen Hartke's “The Greater Good” offered a taut, bittersweet comedy of manners informed with challenging but quite expressive music, moments of awkward staging, fine acting and well-performed ensemble singing by a large cast.

Posted by Gary at 4:01 PM

BUXTEHUDE: Membra Jesu nostri

The work is based on the medieval hymn, Salve mundi salutare, seven cantos, each of which address a different part of Jesus’ suffering body on the cross. Thus, there is a section devoted to the feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and face. (The text addressing the face of Jesus is, significantly, the precursor of the well-known Lutheran chorale, O Haupt voll blut und wunden.) Buxtehude’s setting provides, in essence, a cantata for each canto, consisting of a scriptural introduction and conclusion, with a strophic-bass variation form for the medieval poetry comprising the main body of the section. The sources for the scriptural framework are diverse, but in several instances, the texts are taken from the Song of Songs; here, the famously erotic love poetry underscores by allusion the somaticism of the texts and the piety they enshrine.

The music itself is not particularly strong in its evocations. A tremolo sinfonia, bits of chromaticism, the odd ninth chord here and there, and the occasional dissonance do address the affection and meaning of the text, but in a work so specific in its context, these seem rather few and far between. What is there, Cantus Cölln has used in a gratifyingly moving way. And in general, there is much to commend in the overall performance: the ensemble of soloists is well-blended, the solo singing is expressively contoured and sometimes interestingly elastic in its rhythm, and the instrumental forces are compelling in their richness, especially in five-part sonorities.

What seems less successful is the interpretation of some passages where Buxtehude adopts a relatively generic style. For instance, the “bloodstained head, all crowned with thorns . . . [a] countenance soiled with spit” is rendered at a rollicking fast pace, making the compound meter and dotted figures curiously gigue-like. Similarly, the concluding “Amen”—also a compound meter—is strikingly ebullient for the conclusion of a contemplative essay. Shorn of textual associations, the Terpsichorean ebullience may fit the music well—Buxtehude is once again in something of a generic mode here—but given the context of Passiontide, slower tempos here may have imposed a greater gravitas, and that to good effect.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/buxtehude_membra.jpg image_description=Dietrich Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri product=yes product_title=Dietrich Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri product_by=Cantus Cölln; Konrad Junghänel, Dir. product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMC901912 [CD] price=$14.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=789948&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 2:13 PM

WAGNER: Das Rheingold

Even when video tape and laser discs ventured into operatic fare, Ring cycles didn't exactly crowd the market. Not so today. The classic Boulez/Chereau set is in its second DVD incarnation, and lovers of the traditional have had the Metropolitan Opera's versions on silver disc for a while. The Barenboim cycle is emerging, and the last couple years have seen a controversial Stuttgart set and a recent Barcelona production. Now OpusArte offers on DVD a Pierre Audi-directed Ring, with sets by George Tsypin, which De Nederlandse Opera staged in 1999. At this rate, avid Wagner lovers will soon have so much of their master's work on DVD to contemplate that they may need social services to drop by and remind them to eat, bathe, change their diapers....

Das Rheingold, the so-called prologue to the three-opera Ring, can fit onto one DVD disc, but Opus Arte has included a worthy bonus feature of 50 minutes length, covering the production of the entire cycle, requiring an additional disc. Most remarkable for its candid interviews, this bonus has glowing remarks from the Wotan, John Bröcheler, on the rewards of participating in the production, and somewhat more ambivalent comments from Jeannine Altmeyer (who appears as Brunhilde, and therefore is otherwise not to be seen here). The soprano found one of the key features of some of the stagings - having the orchestra basically on stage with the performers - necessitated less detailed singing than she would like to have offered. That cannot be judged on the basis of this Rheingold, but she also suggests that the direction had her lost between very specific blocking and otherwise ambiguous, undefined instructions.

Perhaps that last attribute explains why the opera as filmed, while quite impressive in its individual elements, fails to achieve the grander, deeper impact that a fine production of Rheingold can. Some broader integral vision might have pulled together the striking moments into an impressive whole. Instead, this intermissionless opera feels episodic, rambling.

The staging is dominated by a huge platform of metallic scaffolding with a Plexiglass surface. This tilts at various angles, rising and lowering (sometimes alarmingly so, with respect to the singers' safety). A secondary structure intersects at times to suggests different planes, or locales. On the one hand, each different setting does have its own design, in a way. At the same time, the set never really looks all that different, just shifted around, and no real sense of "scene" develops - with the exception of Alberich's underworld, with its amazing explosions of fire and the slaves, looking like chubby versions of the aliens from Close Encounters, scurrying about.

Eiko Ishioka's costumes manage to be striking without assisting in developing character. The gods wear brightly colored robes of vaguely Greek design, and also rather silly looking rubber headpieces where hair should be. The giants appear to be made of stone, with something of an Aztec warrior look. Loge wears black, and Chris Merritt has been directed to strike vogue-ish poses, for no discernible reason. The trolls have misshapen, bald heads, and their gold-tinted clothing sprouts unruly hair. Of course, the various populations of Wagner's world must be differentiated, but whatever alchemy that makes them all part of a larger, coherent universe remains absent here.

The performers make valiant efforts. Graham Clark, a stellar Loge in the Barcelona cycle, offers his trademark energy as Mine. Henk Smit's Alberich lacks that edge of pathos which makes the character come alive. Merritt seems constricted by the odd directorial vision of Loge, but sings more than capably. Impressive vocally, Reinhild Runkel has no glamour as Fricka, but still manages to impress more than John Bröcheler does as Wotan. He lacks both the character's seedy grandeur and an attractive, powerful voice. Smaller roles are aptly done, and Hartmut Haenchen conducts with authority if not imagination.

Later releases of this cycle may offer more than the Rheingold. For many, the Boulez/Chereau staging will remain the benchmark for this "prologue."

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/DNO_Ring1.gif image_description=Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold product_by=John Bröcheler, Henk Smit, Graham Clark, Reinhild Runkel, Chris Merritt, Jurgen Freier, Residentie Orkest, Hartmut Haenchen (cond.) product_id=Opus Arte OA0946D [2DVDs] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EGD5JI/ref=ase_operatoday-20/104-3036514-1590301?s=dvd&v=glance&n=130&tagActionCode=operatoday-20
Posted by Gary at 1:41 PM

Salzburg Boos Future Festival Director Flimm for `Lucio Silla'

flimm.jpgShirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 27 July 2006]

July 27 (Bloomberg) -- The Salzburg audience wastes no time. Jurgen Flimm doesn't take over the Festival until 2007, but they are already booing him.

Flimm has announced that he won't foist his own productions on Salzburg once he holds the artistic director's scepter. On the strength of the July 25 premiere, that is a good thing. This co- production with Venice's La Fenice, played for a gala crowd in the Felsenreitschule, was well below the standards you might reasonably hope for at 330 euros ($416) a ticket.

Posted by Gary at 1:21 PM

Night of sultry Spanish style

florez.jpg[Daily Telegraph, 27 July 2006]

Ivan Hewett reviews the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Proms, with an inspiring performance by Flórez

For his farewell concert as principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth gave us a wonderfully entertaining programme which rang all the possible changes on the theme of Spain.

Posted by Gary at 1:05 PM

Das Rheingold, Bayreuth

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 27 July 2006]

A casually dressed man wanders across the stage, snapping some of the graffiti that litter the gods’ urban walkway. A factory worker takes a meter- reading in the power plant that is Nibelheim, oblivious to the presence of Mime and Alberich. Three children lark about as the gods enter Valhalla, playfully re-enacting the violence that saw Fasolt murdered and the ring wrenched from Alberich’s finger.

Posted by Gary at 1:01 PM

EMI and Warner Music shelve bids

78_rpm_record_player.jpgBy Emiko Terazono and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in London [Financial Times, 27 July 2006]

EMI and Warner Music on Thursday shelved their bids for each other, two weeks after a European court judgement cast doubt on whether regulators would allow further consolidation in the music industry.

Posted by Gary at 12:33 PM

July 26, 2006

Lucio Silla: Diktator oder Weichei? Alles eins!

sacca_detail.png(Photo: Markus Tordik)
VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 27 July 2006]
Wie man zweieinhalb Stunden nichts über die Oper aussagen kann.

Man sollte einmal unsere postmo dernen Bühnenbildner dazu verurteilen, die Müllhalden, die sie regelmäßig auf unsere Bühnen kippen, strafweise ein paar Tage lang konzentriert anschauen zu müssen. Auch in der wunderbare Felsenreitschule hat man für Mozarts "Lucio Silla" wieder einen Ramschladen ohne Sinn (oder gar Stil) arrangiert, der jeglichen Zusammenhang mit dem Stück, das angeblich erzählt werden soll, vermissen lässt.

Posted by Gary at 5:16 PM

How Mariinsky's Maestro Saved the Day for Opera Holland Park

Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 26 July 2006]

July 26 (Bloomberg) -- Opera Holland Park was in crisis. Producer James Clutton had taken a risk in staging Tchaikovsky's ``The Queen of Spades,'' a brilliant operatic study of obsession, twisted love and the occult.

Posted by Gary at 9:10 AM

Glimmerglass' 'Greater Good' isn't either one

maupassant_boule_de_suif_small.jpgBy JOSEPH DALTON [Times Union, 25 July 2006]

COOPERSTOWN -- People sitting around doing nothing in a claustrophobic environment is not the typical recipe for good drama, but screenwriter Sofia Coppola managed to get away with it in her 2003 film "Lost in Translation." She even walked off with an Academy Award for her efforts.

Posted by Gary at 8:00 AM

July 25, 2006

MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail — Part III

First Performance: 16 July 1782, Burgtheater, Vienna.

Principal Characters:
Selim, Pasha Nonsinging role
Constanze, a Spanish lady and Belmonte's bethrothed Soprano
Blonde, Constanze's English maid Soprano
Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman Tenor
Pedrillo, Belmonte's servant and now supervisor of the Pasha's gardens Tenor
Osmin, overseer of the Pasha's country palace Bass
Klaas, a sailor Nonsinging role
Mute, Osmin's servant Nonsinging role

Setting: The country palace of Pasha Selim.

Synopsis:

Background to the story

This is the tale of Constanze and Belmonte, two young Spaniards of noble birth. Constanze, her English maid, Blonde, and Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant, fell into the hands of pirates who attacked their ship. The pirates sold their captives at a slave market to Pasha Selim. After month of searching for them in despair, tormented by not knowing what had become of his beloved Constanze and the two servants, Belmonte sets out to find them.

Act One

Belmonte has arrived on the distant Turkish shore and approaches the high wall surrounding the seraglio. Here he encounters Osmin, the Pasha’s right-hand man, and questions him about the people he is seeking. Osmin, however, has not the slightest intention of giving this stranger any information whatsoever and sends him on his way.

Belmonte continues to look for a way to get into the seraglio.Through a prison window, he manages to catch a glimpse of Pedrillo. This confirms that Constanze and Blonde are also being held prisoner in the harem.

Pasha Selim has chosen Constanze to be the object of his affections. He visits the harem every day and does everything in his power to persuade her into accepting his suit. Constanze remains steadfast in adamantly refusing to succumb. She has no idea yet that her beloved Belmonte is so near.

Meanwhile, Belmonte has disguised himself as an architect an enters the First Courtyard of the seraglio. He teams up with Pedrillo and together they try to get past Osmin into the Second Courtyard.

Act Two

Osmin has taken a fancy to Blonde, but his persistent advances are met with resistance by the young English woman. The two of them are involved in constant battles of wit, which Osmin just can’t win.

Constanze makes it increasingly difficult for the Pasha to approach her and he finally loses patience. He threatens to punish her if she does not soon accept his suit.

Blonde learns about the plan for their escape from Pedrillo. Before they can put the plan into action, however, they first have to outwit Osmin. Pedrillo manages to persuade Osmin to help him empty a bottle of wine and the latter then falls into a deep sleep. The two couples are able to meet and plan their escape.

Act Three

Belmonte, still disguised as an architect, smuggles Pedrillo out of the Seraglio and they head for Belmonte’s ship. There they wait for night to fall.

At midnight, Belmonte and Pedrillo row round the coast to the foot of the harem. Pedrillo serenades his Blonde as a signal. Osmin discovers them in the boat and sends a fleet of ships out to capture them again.

The death penalty awaits them, but Pasha Selim decides to forgo revenge and sets the captives free.

[Synopsis Source: Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here to download this performance in m4a format for iTunes. image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Le_bain_turc_detail_medium.jpg image_description=Le bain turc by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1862) audio=yes first_audio_name=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
WinAMP or VLC first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Abduction3.m3u second_audio_name=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Windows Media Player second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Abduction3.wax product=yes product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail product_by=Erika Köth (Constanze), Lisa Otto (Blonde), Rudolf Schock (Belmonte), Murray Dickie (Pedrillo), Kurt Böhme (Osmin), Hannsgeorg Laubenthal (Pasha Selim), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, George Szell (cond.)
Live recording, 7 August 1956, Vienna.
Posted by Gary at 4:16 PM

Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Singspiel in 3 Acts.

Music composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). Libretto by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger, based on an earlier libretto by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Un_bain_au_serail_medium.png
image_description=Un bain au sérail by Théodore Chassériau (1849)

Posted by Gary at 3:51 PM

July 24, 2006

Katerina Izmaylova

Richard Morrison at the Coliseum [Times Online, 25 July 2006]

These days Katerina Izmaylova is a rarity. Western opera houses, at least, prefer Shostakovich’s opera about the repressed merchant’s wife who turns triple-murderer in its original 1932 version, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. That is regarded as being edgier and earthier, whereas the toned-down Katerina, produced 30 years later, is seen as a product of self-censorship on the part of a composer psychologically devastated by official attacks on his music.

Posted by Gary at 4:28 PM

`Betrothal' Shines at Glyndebourne for Quality of the Singing

petrova.png(Photo: Lisa Kohler)
Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 24 July 2006]

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- The West may have won the Cold War, but 16 years later it hasn't stopped Russia conquering the U.K.

Posted by Gary at 4:00 PM

WAGNER: Siegfried, The 100th Covent Garden performance

Their preservation in good state is thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Earl of Harewood”. Allow me to express some doubt on this statement to be found on the back note of these CDs. I don’t think that anybody in 1954 could know what flight the career of Sutherland would take. Nevertheless in the sleeve notes the producer repeats this presumption and further states that “unusually for the time, they (the records) were made on 33 1/3 rpm acetates instead of then more common 78 rpm discs lasting only 4 ½ minutes per side.” I’m even more surprised at this statement. I knew well the last technician at Flemish Public Radio who had cut quite a few acetates and who even possessed a turntable on which several acetates could be played at the same time. He explained to me that until the advent of the LP, it was quite common that an opera or even a long symphony was transferred from official 78 records to 33 1/3 acetates so that the audience wouldn’t have to wait every five minutes for a change of record. The trick for the technician was to record a few phrases more than necessary on the first acetate so that there would be no interruption at all when he started the second one and one got an uninterrupted flow of music.
But acetates were used (though they were very fragile) to record from time to time exceptional concerts or what the music producers thought to be exceptional. And that’s where my doubts come in with the above mentioned recordings. If they were recorded alone for Sutherland’s sake, there would be no first CD with 55 minutes of Siegfried and Mime. I think it far more logic that either the whole 1954 Covent Garden ring was recorded or even Siegfried alone and that a lot of records didn’t survive very long. Probably at one or another moment, George Lascelles remembered the performance of Sutherland. Lascelles is the founder of the British Opera Magazine and the General Manager of the English National Opera in the seventies. Lascelles maybe made inquiries with the BBC and these acetates were either all that survived or someone from Archives took out what he could find. After all, Lascelles and his operatic obsession was well known and the bosses at BBC didn’t easily say no to a man who, if his two full nieces Elisabeth and Margaret had met with an early accident, would have been king George VII (Lascelles father, the 6th earl of Harewood married the only sister of Edward VIII and George VI. Lascelles became no. 7 and always signed his articles with an aristocratic H.)

The question remains: is this remnant of Siegfried worth the investment? Sutherland fans needn’t doubt. The sound is unmistakably Sutherland, strong but sweet and very youthful and no hint of droopiness. I remember well the outcry when the Solti-Siegfried appeared. It was the first official recording of the opera and under the names of the main singers the box mentioned proudly in the best Hollywood tradition “and Joan Sutherland”. One critic wrote that he didn’t know that the woodbird was an eagle. By that time she was already in her Droopy Joan Phase and this performance under review is very superior. Now, if one isn’t a particular diehard Sutherland-admirer, those few minutes of singing may be too short to lure one into buying. Paul Kuën was for several years the Bayreuth Mime and his role is preserved in several recordings. Anyway, he is a prime example of Sprechgesang and his sound is definitely not a thing of beauty. Otokar Kraus as Alberich sings with a rather throaty sound. The surprise, if there is a surprise, is the Siegfried of Set Svanholm. The voice is unbelievably fresh and young after a career of 24 years and he makes a very believable ‘jung Siegfried’. Yes, he tends to flatten at the top and he knows extremely well how to pace his role, clearly sparing his vocal resources for the big outbursts. But then he is very fine and convincing. Nevertheless I doubt many people ever bought a set for Mr. Svanholm and if they did, they would probably prefer his complete recording of the role under Furtwaengler at La Scala, four years earlier.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 3:15 PM

‘Tancredi,’ a Neglected Work, Recalled With Care at Caramoor

rossini_balding.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 24 July 2006]

KATONAH, N.Y. — Though the Bel Canto at Caramoor series, directed by the conductor and vocal coach Will Crutchfield, has brought worthy but neglected works to public attention, it has never quite shed the veneer of a resuscitation effort of interest mainly to bel canto buffs.

Posted by Gary at 3:00 PM

MOZART: Don Giovanni (Highlights)

Now for a few dollars, buyers can acquire all the "hits" from both Prague and Vienna versions of Mozart's immortal score, performed by a fine cast of contemporary singers and the Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, led by Michael Halász..

Highlights discs probably have two markets - for neophytes who want to "dip their toes" into a work, and for the collector who has a complete set (or 2, 3, 4....) but would like to hear certain singers in certain roles. This disc should please both groups. For "toe-dippers," Naxos provides, in its slim booklet, a pithy note on the opera's composition and a scene by scene breakdown of the libretto, giving the context for each number. The complete libretto is also available online. With short bios of all the cast members included, Naxos really makes good use of limited space.

And the collector gets to hear some good voices. Bo Skovhus has settled into a successful career, possibly without quite reaching the star status he seemed aimed at a few years. His Don has a generic feel, in terms of characterization, but his is a handsome voice and he meets the role's requirements easily. The Don's servant Leporello gets an energetic run-through by Renato Girolami, and Boaz Daniel gives us a hearty Masetto without too much overplay of his "hickness."

At the far ends of the male vocal spectrum, Torsten Kerl's darker, more forceful Don Ottavio makes for an interesting contrast with the usual lighter tenor who takes on the role, and Janusz Monarcha thunders effectively as the Commendatore.

Recently the Calixto Bieito Don Giovanni came out on DVD, with Regina Schörg as Donna Anna; she takes on Donna Elvira here and the role seems a better fit. Her voice has an edge to it appropriate for the more troubled character. Adrianne Pieczonka sings Donna Anna with rich, substantial tone. Ildiko Raimondi at first strikes the ear as a little mature-sounding for Zerlina, but she manages to do well with her big solo, "Batti batti."

All in all, a well-sung, incisively played performance such as this one serves as more evidence that the classical recording industry can still make a profit on reasonably priced, quality product. Imagine that.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Don_Giovanni.gif image_description=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni (Highlights) product=yes product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni (Highlights) product_by=Boaz Daniel, Renato Girolami, Torsten Kerl, Janusz Monarcha, Adrianne Pieczonka, Ildiko Raimondi, Ildiko, Regina Schorg, Bo Skovhus, Hungarian Radio Chorus, Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Michael Halasz (cond.) product_id=Naxos 8.557893 [CD] price=$7.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=821480&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 2:51 PM

PHILLIPS-MATZ: Washington National Opera 1956-2006

Mrs. Phillips-Matz is one of America’s most talented writers on opera, who has already authored first class titles on Giuseppe Verdi, great singers such as Rosa Ponselle and Leonard Warren, and has now added a book on one of our premier opera companies to her list of accomplishments.

She starts out with a brief, but fascinating chapter on opera in Washington between 1800 and 1956. She discusses the theaters, singers and operas given. Some of the singers include the great tenor Mario, his common-law wife, Giulia Grisi, Francesco Tamagno, Enrico Caruso and many others such as Marietta Alboni, Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, Luisa Tetrazzini, and Giovanni Zenatello. This is a subject that I, among others, would certainly want to know more about. Perhaps there is more, since the name of Charles Jahant keeps cropping up in statements such as “According to Charles Jahant” or “As Charles Jahant reported”. But I was unable to find a footnote, a reference, or even a bibliography to get the precise source of these references to Mr. Jahant’s work.

This history of opera in Washington is followed by a series of chapters on the current opera company, beginning with its founding by Day Thorpe, and a triumphant first night on January 31, 1957 with Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. Such important world premieres as Ginastera’s Bomarzo and Beatrix Cenci were to come later. Other directors followed, including Martin Feinstein, who headed the company for a total of 16 seasons from 1979 to 1995. Finally, in Chapter III, we get to the great day, Domingo’s official inauguration as Artistic Director on Nov. 9, 1996 with Gomes’ opera Il Guarany, a work probably never before given in that city, although it had been given in both New York City and San Francisco in 1884. Phillips-Matz covers this major event in her usual fine style, providing both a brief history of the work, and key comments from reviews of the performance from several major newspapers. Later in the same chapter (III-Artistic Visionaries and Leadership) she mentions other highlights of Domingo’s tenure including Massenet’s vivid and dramatic Le Cid with Domingo singing the title role.

The next chapter (IV) appropriately entitled “Gracing the Stage”, talks about the leading ladies who had graced the WNO’s stage—the likes of Regina Resnik, Frederica von Stade, Catherine Malfitano, Veronica Villaroel, Mirella Freni, and many others. Male leads, villains and fathers are discussed in a chapter entitled “Heroes and Villains” and include a long list comprising, in addition to Domingo, Carlo Bergonzi, José Carreras, Marcello Giordani, Alan Held, Leo Nucci, Paul Plishka, and Justino Diaz among a panoply of stars. Other chapters include conductors, stage directors, set and costume designers, as well as the company’s homes in Washington. Finally, such other matters as fund raising, the company’s volunteer corps, their outreach program to the young, their young artists program, and their trips abroad are not ignored.

The mention of Carreras brings to mind that he was invited by Domingo to sing the title role of the American premiere of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s superb opera Sly, a work that Domingo later sang at the Metropolitan in New York. Since Domingo followed Sly with another long neglected late verismo opera in New York, Franco Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac, it is to be hoped that he will bring it to Washington as well. The tenor is to be complimented in the strongest terms for his repertoire choices, and I must admit to having been sorely disappointed that he was not named to a comparable position at the Metropolitan Opera. His artistic leadership is something that any major city can be as proud of as they are of his vast repertory and artistry as a singer and as a musician.

Perhaps, the most important section of all is the superb chronology in the appendix. Each production is listed together with all the dates, full cast, and an indication of whether it was a world premiere, an American premiere, or a new production.

This is truly a book that can be highly recommended.

Tom Kaufman

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Washington_opera.jpg
image_description=Mary Jane Phillips-Matz: Washington National Opera 1956-2006

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price=$25.00 (softcover)
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Posted by Gary at 2:36 PM

SHORT ON SALOME

It was the special province of the opera company’s late founder, John Crosby, who conducted Santa Fe’s first Salome in 1962 and led it as late as 1998, not long before his death. Now, some eight years later, the Strauss opera is back for the Festival’s 50th Anniversary season, in a presentation that makes one wonder why the effort was made. With one important exception, this year’s Salome is a surprisingly pedestrian affair.

Happily, a brilliant orchestral performance was achieved by the American conductor John Fiore, currently chief conductor at Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Dusseldof . Fiore led the best realization of the Strauss score I have ever heard at Santa Fe, and for the most part elsewhere, one of remarkable transparency, detail and color -- lacking only a final thrust of energy and excitement to find the real magic of Strauss’s score, a limitation imposed by a noticeably compromised cast.

Fiore, once a musical wunderkind (indeed, he was coaching singers in Wagner’s Ring Cycle at age 14 at Seattle Opera where his father was chorus master), is now a portly, somewhat Europeanized world-class conductor. We heard a highly competent orchestra, whose musicians obviously thrive on the strong direction they are now receiving at Santa Fe under the guidance of the company’s Music Director, Alan Gilbert. Fiore brought out the best of this group, playing the complex German music with a strong and secure hand, and balance that allowed Strauss to flow naturally and idiomatically.

If only the singers had been as good! Any Salome rises or falls on the success of its title soprano, in this case the English Strauss specialist Janice Watson. This artist has a good history at Santa Fe, where in 1996 she sang a brilliant Daphne, her voice well remembered for its thrust and thrilling high range. She sang a splendid Arabella a year later and was well regarded for Mozart performances.

Saturday night’s Salome was Watson’s debut in the role and it disappointed on all counts. Her acting was studied rather than spontaneous and it did not work; yes, the depraved teenager’s pouts and petulances were in place -- applied like makeup. Watson undertook her own Dance of the Seven Veils, which included hand-feeding grapes to King Herod in lieu of any better ideas, a great deal of rolling about on the grid covering Jokanaan’s cistern (so he could have a peek or two in case he changed his mind?). By the removal of the seventh veil it was all a faintly embarrassing non-event. The show could have been redeemed, of course, by a strong vocal performance, which was not forthcoming. Watson’s voice seems to have diminished and lost range and quality; her breathing was short and interrupted the vocal line, an uncomfortable situation at best. Hers was an odd piece of casting, especially since it has been known for some time, and was heard in Mozart performances last year at the Metropolitan Opera, that Watson was having problems.

Greer Grimsley’s bass has seen many Wagnerian nights over the years since he was last on the Santa Fe stage, and his voice is now rough and monochromatic; I found his Jokanaan’s religious pronouncements merely tiresome shouting and lacking in effect. We’ll not go into his costume or wig.

Alas, I am duty bound to report octogenarian Swedish tenor Ragnar Ulfung, who once owned the role of Herod, now can barely visit it. He was said to be hampered by an injured leg, but Ulfung’s singing was seriously inadequate. His limitations, along with those of Watson, undermined the show. The English contralto Anne-Marie Owens, the Whore of Babylon, Herodias , managed to muster plentiful volume but not much else of interest. Dimitri Pittes possessed a strong cutting tenor as Narraboth .

I wish he had enjoyed more becoming costumes in a production that was in every way conventional and routine. It played out on a large raked disc, slightly elevated above the stage, with Jokanaan’s cistern in the center – a thrice familiar but useful Salome concept. Duane Schuler’s lighting, again, was unatmospheric and almost surgical. We hope for better days for Salome, especially since Santa Fe Opera has a conductor on board who can do justice to Richard Strauss’s masterful scores.

(c) 2006 J. A. VAN SANT
Santa Fe, New Mexico

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Salome_Santa_Fe.png
image_description=Janice Watson as Salome (Photo: Ken Howard, © 2006)

Posted by Gary at 2:28 PM

SHOSTAKOVICH: The Execution of Stepan Razin

The works, recorded over the last decade, are performed by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz; Stepan Razin also utilizes the Seattle Symphony Chorale under the direction of Abraham Kaplan, with Charles Robert Austin as the soloist.

All three pieces seem to have suffered neglect over the years, not because of their unquestionable quality, but rather for the sake of ideological expediency. The Fragments, a series of aphoristic gems composed in 1935 as experimental sketches to the ill-fated 4th symphony, might have shared the symphony's fortunes then and are still rarely heard today. Which is unfortunate: this is a fabulously quirky little suite, and a wind lover's paradise. The opening moderato is written exclusively for the woodwinds, while the following andante combines their crisp, whimsical lines with an energetic double bass solo; no. 4, another moderato, is a contemplative fugue for a wind trio. The strings take the lead in a pensive, moody, lyrical Largo (no. 3) - a beauty even by the standards of a spoiled Shostakovich fan. The Allegretto finale opens with a tongue-in-cheek duet for a solo violin and a snare drum, followed by a violin-double bass duet - both combinations straight out of Histoire du soldat, although the violin sounds more like a Mahler scherzo than a Stravinsky "fiddle."

The other two pieces on the CD belong to a later period in Shostakovich's career - the 1960s. The 1967 symphonic poem October, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, is unlikely to be found on concert programs today, both Western and post-Soviet orchestras evidently embarrassed by the obvious ideological connotations. October is a high quality symphonic work, although perhaps lacking in either the biting irony or the gut-wrenching depth of its composer's greatest masterpieces. The main theme is an appropriate quotation of a so-called "partisan song" that Shostakovich appropriated from his own early film score, Volochayevskie Dni. Yet the overall mood of the piece is dark and somehow hollow - not at all appropriate for a laudatory offering the subject should have inspired and the reason for the composition's lack of popularity when it first appeared. It may not prove to be anyone's favorite, but it is an intriguing piece of a Shostakovich legacy, and the Seattle Symphony should be commended for resurrecting it.

The title track of the recording is the monumental 1964 Execution of Stepan Razin - an unusual and conceptually difficult work, billed by the composer himself as a "symphonic poem" for a baritone soloist, mixed chorus, and orchestra. Conceived as a sort of companion piece to the 13th symphony, it shares many characteristics of the earlier work: both set the edgy poetry of Yevgeni Yevtushenko; both include a solo male voice and a chorus; both confront the themes of victimization, indifference, and sacrifice. Yet the approach to those themes taken in Stepan Razin is arguably more complex than in the symphony, due to the ambiguous nature of the protagonist - for some, a terrorist, for others, a freedom fighter who kills for a just cause and sacrifices his life for the people who scorn him. Shostakovich himself reportedly struggled with his character's image, and repeatedly asked the poet if, in his opinion, Razin was a good man.

The composer's setting may best be described as, in his own words, "the Russian style" typical of several compositions of the early 1960s, in which elements of pseudo-folksiness (such as the use of plagal cadences and natural minor characteristic of the Russian folk tradition) combine with a more recognizable Shostakovich idiom - flat-degree scales, dark orchestral hues with much use of low register and sharp high/low contrasts. Frequently dry instrumentation with an emphasis on winds and percussion is reminiscent of Stravinsky (an open homage to Histoire is recognizable in an orchestral interlude that illustrates the text "even the skomorokhi fell silent"). More evidently perhaps, the treatment of vocal declamation, the powerful choral scenes, and the overall structure of this unstaged "folk drama" suggests a pervasive influence of Mussorgsky whose opera Khovanshchina and song cycle Songs and Dances of Death Shostakovich was studying and orchestrating in the years immediately prior to composing Stepan Razin.

The Execution of Stepan Razin is an emotionally compelling and intellectually complex work that ought to be much better known than it has been to date. Hopefully, this recording will help change that. The only drawback perhaps is a sorely inadequate booklet that provides next to no help to the listener. I therefore direct my readers wishing more information on the composer and the pieces to Laurel Fay's excellent biography and other examples of first-rate Shostakovich scholarship of recent years.

Olga Haldey
University of Maryland — College Park

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image_description=Dmitri Shostakovich: Execution of Stepan Razin; October; 5 Fragments, Op. 42

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product_title=Dmitri Shostakovich: Execution of Stepan Razin; October; 5 Fragments, Op. 42
product_by=Charles Robert Austin, Abraham Kaplan, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz (cond.)
product_id=Naxos 8.557812 [CD]
price=$7.99
product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=787080&aff=operatoday

Posted by Gary at 1:59 PM

CHAPI: Margarita la tornera

As so often, truth lies somewhere in the middle. Chapi was a pupil of Emilio Arrieta, the successful composer of the zarzuela Marina which he later reworked into a three-act opera (try the first Kraus recording from 1960). Like so many aspiring youngsters, Chapi went for eternal glory in opera and orchestral music. So did Leo Fall, Imre Kalman and Franz Lehar. And after less than rousing success they opted for a genre which suited their talents best. Fall, Kalman and Lehar became masters of operetta and Chapi wrote some good zarzuelas like La Bruja, La Tempestad and maybe his finest and surely his most popular work, the one act La Revoltosa. But contrary to his Central-European colleagues, Chapi never gave up on his operatic dreams. He died, almost 58, a few days after the première of this Margerita which he had conducted. It is the one of his many operas that is from time to time resurrected and it is based on a legend that with some variations was told in most catholic countries. A nun is seduced by a nobleman and leaves her cloister. Two years later, she returns utterly disillusioned and discovers that nobody has missed her absence as a doorkeeper ( = la tornera). All the time the Virgin Mary had taken her place.

The last revival of Margarita la tornera was a series of performances at the Madrid Opera seven years ago. The sleeve notes state that “numerous reasons led to extensive cuts . . . affecting various choral passages and some vocal numbers”. So one has to be careful with one’s judgment. This certainly is no zarzuela. The music has a slower, more earnest tone. Exciting rhythms, love choruses etc. are conspicuously lacking but so is the easy tunefulness of Chapi’s best works. The orchestration is brilliant but doesn’t quite compensate for the fact that the emotional moments don’t strike deep as the composer did find the orchestral colours but not the thematic material to go with it. Neither the love scenes, the quarrels and especially the apotheosis of the story are particularly memorable. I’m sure this can be a pleasant evening in the theatre though not one that results in humming the leitmotivs for days to come. The sleeve writer emphasizes the influence of Puccini but I think he underestimates the influence of the “giovane scuola” as a whole. Some ensembles remind me more of Leoncavallo’s Bohème than Puccini’s. And there are hints of Mascagni and Giordano as well. In short, not a very original score but still worthwhile investing in if you are tired of the old warhorses and are exploring Siberia, Amica, Zanetto, Germania etc.

Contrary to many recordings of the lesser known verismo works, this Margarita is cast from strength. Though Placido Domingo doesn’t sing the title role, his name and photograph on the cover stand first; an acceptable marketing ruse. The tenor is in amazingly fresh voice; his rich middle voice ringing out and maybe deleting some high notes nobody knows are in the score due to a lack of performance tradition. Of course it is well possible that Chapi like all zarzuela composers gave some leeway to his singers: according to the available singers one could either use a tenor or a baritone or even a mixed version. That was probably the version chosen in Madrid as it suits soprano Elisabete Matos, too. The Portuguese lady has a vibrant, passionate voice, full of colours in the best Mediterranean tradition and she is a worthy partner of the tenor. Her shrill shriek at the end of the opera where a fine high C is needed proves that she is not too sure above the stave as well. Good top notes, therefore, come from Angeles Blancas, daughter of baritone Antonio Blancas and the late lamented dramatic soprano Angeles Gulin. She has probably the finest scene of the opera in a rousing theatre scene where as Sirena she dances, sings and seduces and she has the voice and the sense of rhythm the music asks for. Angel Odena is a convincing Don Lope, the rival of the tenor for the temptress. Only Stefano Palatchi in his Leporello-role sings with a dry and boring sound and is not up to the level of the other singers. The late Garcia Navarro clearly believes in the score and leads the orchestra with conviction, revealing the many beauties of the orchestral parts. Due to the cuts the second CD gives short value, lasting only 36 minutes. Notes and summary are both in Spanish and English but it is a pity that the libretto itself is in Spanish only.

Jan Neckers

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Recorded live at the Teatro Real de Madrid on the 16th and 19th of December 1999 product_id=RTVE Classics 65169 [2CDs] price=$33.49 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=671496&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 1:43 PM

The Italian Dramatic Lament

“The Italian Dramatic Lament,” performed by the award-winning Catacoustic Consort, brings together assorted laments by a trio of composers who figure prominently in any consideration of early opera: Claudio Monteverdi, Jacopo Peri, and Giulio Caccini. While not all of the works on the recording are operatic—there are some “unattached” songs as well as instrumental music—the collection richly evokes the highly emotional and highly stylized music that comprised the stilo rappresentativo.

Soprano Catherine Webster is an impressive singer with a commanding dramatic range, equally adept at impassioned verbalism and lyrical singing. This range famously comes into play in works like Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna,” a work that Webster handles with notable vocal flexibility and a compelling sense of style. Throughout the recording she sings with a mature understanding of the dynamics at play in the works, and the result is unflaggingly convincing. That which ultimately sets this recording apart, however, is the beguiling contribution of the instrumentalists. The interplay of lirone (a chordal bowed-string instrument with regrettably few modern practitioners), harp, and theorbo is unusually rich here, adopting a freely improvisational approach, full of dynamism and responsiveness. It is brilliant continuo playing, and the collaborative color and spontaneity do much to make the performances wondrously alive.

Several instrumental works by Hieronymus Kapsberger give the ensemble a chance to extend the lamentative theme. Tellingly, all are grounds, including a large-scale Passacaglia. The ground bass form is often associated with laments in the seventeenth century, where their descents became emblematic of falling tears and their obstinate repetitions seem to embody the inescapability of fate.

This is a stunning recording by a young ensemble well worth watching in the future. The performances here dramatically underscore the degree to which early seventeenth-century style is collaborative, and the “Catacousticians” amply show the rewards of a heightened collaborative approach. But moreover, the performances here remind as well of the degree to which manner of performance lies close to the heart of this repertory. And in this case, the heart is well served, indeed.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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Posted by Gary at 1:16 PM

DEBUSSY: Pélleas et Mélisande

Of course the opera has its fans and has long established itself in the repertory. However, it is very far from a crowd-pleaser, and the typical company that programs it is wont to pack the rest of the season with favorites such as Aida, Boheme, and Carmen. Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf, set designer Rolf Glittenberg, and conductor Franz Welser-Most have collaborated to produce a taut, ominous, and even propulsive account that, despite the referenced off-putting moments, strips the "airy" from the "fairy-tale" aspects of Maeterlinck's story and allows the characters to operate both on a symbolic level and as flesh and blood humans. That success trumps the niggling complaints, no matter how unavoidable they may be.

The staging emphasizes chillness - white as in ever-present snow, gray as in the metallic wall at the rear of the uni-set, and frosty gray-blues as in the costumes of the adult male characters. Mélisande, Yniold and Genevieve get deeper blues. Paradoxically, this cold environment heightens the seething passions below the characters' placid outward appearances.

The most controversial element of the production, the use of mannequins designed to resemble closely the singers for each role, is a risky move that pays off in many scenes - but also provides a few questionable moments. These doubles serve to reinforce the characters' misperceptions and obliviousness of others, and also toward themselves. Often characters sing to the double while the person actually being addressed is preoccupied elsewhere. For the most part, this does heighten the pathos of the situations. But oh, how one wishes Golaud did not take the head of the Yniold doll and place it on the roof of a car to "spy" on Pelléas and Mélisande. Or that Golaud did not walk off stage at one point and drag on the inanimate double of Pelléas. And touching on other directorial inspirations, did Mélisande really have to get her caught in the car door of the sedan that serves as her tower? Instead of panic as Golaud approaches, all one can think is "ouch!"

Taken as a whole, however, the conceit must be credited as something essential to the brooding power and forward momentum of this production. When Pelléas and Mélisande finally let down their defenses and express their love to each other, no doubles are visible. They have stripped away the facade that life with Golaud had forced upon them, and the tenderness they show each other makes the conclusion all the more shattering. At the end, it is the "doll" Mélisande that Golaud grieves over - the "real" Mélisande gambols away, playing with a golden ball that Yniold had lost earlier.

Welser-Most's conducting may be controversial for some adherents of a mistier, softer reading of the score. Here the rhythms are crisp, even emphatic at times, and a forward pulse like an impassioned heartbeat makes itself felt. The fine Zurich orchestra plays with real distinction. This urgent musical support matches the staging's impetus brilliantly.

If no member of the cast delivers a vocal performance of the highest standard, each of them sings and acts with dedication and a commitment to the director's vision, without which the staging would not hold together. Isabel Rey may not have the slim physique or ethereal appeal of some Mélisande's, but she is fully within the character, and her well-supported delivery makes her character less of an enigma or male fantasy. In fine voice, Rod Gilfry has all the notes and the physical appeal of a believable Pelléas, and he earns the title billing: this is his tragedy as well. The central character, however, is Golaud. Michael Volle never gets beyond the character's dark obsessiveness, and without at least some empathy for this sad man, Golaud becomes almost a movie character villain. Perhaps a little more softness and color in the voice would have helped.

Often confined to a wheelchair, László Polgár's Arkel manages to be both helpless to stop the unfolding tragedy and a warm presence in this frigid world. Eva Liebau doesn't have to struggle to appear boyish as Yniold, since the abstract nature of the production doesn't call for realism. Thus we can relish the ease and beauty of her voice, and firmer intonation than a child singer can usually provide.

As always with any non-traditional production, viewers who already know they have a preference for a staging which strictly adheres to the original libretto's dictates would not find much to enjoy here. For all others, and especially those who have found Debussy's masterpiece slow-going in the past, this Zurich production, despite the above-mentioned caveats, may be one that will open up the dark magic of Pelléas and Mélisande to them.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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Posted by Gary at 12:47 PM

MAHLER: Symphony no. 8

Originally released on then-high quality line of Philips Classics LPs and later reissued on CD, the Pentatone system reprocesses the multi-channel source by using the source without any artificial enhancement. As indicated in the liner notes, this issue in the RQR series preserves the original four-channel recording in its attempt, as the engineer Jean Marie Geijsen states, “to do justice to the original intentions of both artists and technicians.”

As a result, the reissue of this famous recording has an incredibly clear sound and dynamic sound. Moreover, a score like Mahler’s Eighth Symphony can be particularly telling in this regard because of the range of sounds, from the full orchestra, chorus, and soloists, along with organ and additional instruments, to chamber-music-like sonorities that stand in sharp contrast to those tutti sections. The famous LP release of this very work by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti on London was noted for its fine sonics at the time, and yet not all audio systems could reproduce the nuances that were part of that recording; yet with the advent of CD technology, clearer sound was more easily reproduced. Certainly this is true of the Philips issue of Haitink’s famous 1971 recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. Yet this remastering for SACD technology makes it possible to hear the recording anew with the assurance of well-grounded technology behind the release.

The technology certainly clarifies what is already present in this fine recording. Without changing any musical aspect of Haitink’s solid treatment of the score, the issue on Pentatone Classics is a direct transfer that takes advantage of recent advances in CD technology. The result is a very clear and focused sound that makes the recording sound direct and engaing.

With a conductor like Haitink, whose forte is in bringing out details with focus and balance, this is a fine example of his work. It is possible, for example, to hear the diminuendo of the horn line in the opening section, just before the entrance of the solo voices. Likewise, the counterpoint is audibly present, not just something apparent when the listener takes the score to the recording. When the texture is purely vocal, the recording system allows the sonority a certain presence that may not have been that pleasant to hear when rendered by some LP systems, even with the quadraphonic sound that Philips originally promised.

A telling spot is the section “Infirma nostri corporis” (band three of the twenty-one bands on this recording), where there is a pronounced exchange between the solo violin and the voices, a difficult texture to achieve in the concert hall, depending on its acoustics. The chorus must also balance the brass in this section without either overbalancing – the wise conductor leaves the sections the opportunity to challenge each other later in the work as it draws to a conclusion in the culminating “Gloria sit Patri Domino” (band 7). While critics have sometimes accused Haitink of holding back, it is his strategic adherence to the score that makes a performance like this one memorable for the drama that he allows to emerge from the music itself, rather than superimpose on it a faulty conception that forces climaxes into sonorities that should be solid and full – blocks of sound that Mahler used to build the architecture of this score.

It is reassuring to hear this kind of performance without in the medium of SACD technology. The sounds are focused and intense, such that it is possible to hear the clear articulations of the choruses in the section “Accende lumen sensibus” (band 5). The pure, white sound of the children’s choir is evident in this recording as a timbre as distinct from the other choral sounds. For those who enjoy Haitink’s mastery of this score, this reissue conveys its controlled intensity well.

With the second part, the fine sound helps to establish the tone at outset, with the musical depiction of the anchorites (band 8), a delicate, yet critical element in an effective performance of this work. As much as some audiences find the wash of sound with which Mahler culminates each of the two parts that comprise this Symphony, the full experience of the work also involves the delicate passages that are brilliant in their simplicity. “Gerettet ist das edle Glied,” a passage given to the children’s chorus (band 13) is solidly heard, as the chorus without vibrato evokes the angelic intention of Goethe’s text. When adult female voices enter, the richer tone colors are evident, in a passage that other conductors sometimes fail to emphasize with tempos that make it difficult hear the text enunciated so well.

A similar delicacy occurs in the section “Ich spür’ soeben,” again, where the differences between the vocal timbres are essential to the structure of the work. The male voices, William Cochran, Hermann Prey, and Hans Sotin match each other well, and this emerges well in the latter part of the second section. Like, the women offer some strong performances, with Ileana Contrubas, Heather Harper, and Hanneke van Bork handling soprano parts, and Birgit Finnilä and Marianne Dieleman on the contralto parts. This Pentatone issue treats the voices well, such that the intensity of Haitink’s conducting emerges clearly in the sonorities that he draws from the performers. The full chorus, which carries the conclusion of the movement (“Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis”, band 21) is fully present without a sense of any masked sound that might result from problems with impedance. Rather, the richness of the sound increases, along with the requisite volume as Haitink concludes the piece majestically.

It is a small quibble, but recordings like this are served better with the full text included in the liner notes. Likewise, some notes about the performers often help, as would a discography that traces the provenances of this recording in its various issues from LP to CD and, now, to this SACD. A product of a time when performances of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony were less common, this venerable recording brings to modern audiences a classic rendering of the score. Among the available performances of the Eighth Symphony, Haitink’s remains one that must be heard, especially on this newly remastered CD.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 12:30 PM

BURKHARD: Lieder

The Lieder collected on this recording span his career and include Sieben Lieder, op. 4 (1922-24); Sechs Lieder, op. 5 (1923-25); Vier Lieder, op. 6 (1924-26); Zehn Lieder, op. 25 (1930); and Neun Lieder nach Gedichten von Christian Morgenstern, op. 70 (1943-44). Except for two cycles of Rilke settings for voice and orchestra, these are essentially the entirety of Burkhard’s Lieder.

In pursuing his own voice as a composer, Burkhard used of dissonant sonorities and complex rhythms within his essentially tonal; likewise, he allowed the form of his texts to inform his musical structures. Yet within these songs, Burkhard indulged in some interludes that point to a conception of some Lieder beyond merely using music to set his texts. The first song, “Ein fröhlichs Ostlieder,” op. 4, no. 1, is an good example of his approach, which places the energetic rhythms that reflect the exuberant feast of Easter. In other places, the traditional-sounding melodic line becomes the point of departure for a more complex song. This occurs in “Der Gärtner” (op. 5, no. 3), a setting of a text by Eduard Mörike (1804-75). In that song, the folklike line at the opening is punctuated by an increasingly dissonant accompaniment, while the vocal line eventually moves into a freer harmonic idiom that sounds like some of the soaring melodies associated with the songs of Richard Strauss. Not a copy of Strauss – or anyone else, for that matter – Burkhard reflects an individual approach to modernism at a time when various styles coexisted.

In "Verborgenheit” op. 5, no. 6 (with a text by Mörike), Burkhard establishes the character of the song with an energetic accompaniment that becomes, in turn, the framework for the vocal line. The use of modality contributes to the meaning of the piece, which begins “Lass, o Welt, o lass mich sein! (“O world, let me be”) – a plea for isolation from all the things that can become painful in life, as does Burkhard’s inflection of the text in the melody itself.

Likewise, the relentless figuration of “Der Postillon” op. 6 no. 3, is reminiscent of the accompaniment Schubert used for “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” and the other motifs in Burkhard’s setting contribute to this effective setting of Lenau’s text. At the same time, the accompaniment should not be construed as an imitation of the earlier composer, since it its juxtaposition with a slower harmonic rhythm creates a different kind of effect. The last song in that set is “Nacht,” which makes use of a poem by Walt Whitman in German translation, and in it Burkhard’s setting includes the use of planing with parallel sonorities that contribute a stark, solemn character to the song.

With the Zehn Lieder, op. 25, six of the settings are to texts by Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914), whose shorter, more pointed verse were met by Burkhard with some equally focused music. The lyricism in even these relatively short songs has a counterpart in some of the Lieder of Strauss. In such a song as “Schwalben” op. 25, no. 4, the melismatic phrases for the voice convey the text well, with flourishes that composer’s enthusiasm for the poetry. Yet in a more syllabic setting, like “Was Liebe ist - ?” (op. 25, no. 6), Burkhard achieves a kind of poignancy about the mysterious nature of love that even the Romantics could not express. This setting of Knud Hamsun’s poem is pursues love without the cliché trappings and is hardly the overly evocative piece that some could create. It is modern in the understatement that helps to create the meaning, an element that may be found in both the text and its music.

The later songs in the opus 70 collection are equally strong and benefit, perhaps, from the focus exclusively on the poetry of Christian Morgenstern, whose evocative lyrics evidently affected Burkhard. The first of the songs in the later set, “Präludium,” contains some imagery that would inspire any composer, and Burkhard not only captures that in the melodic line, but also underscores it in the accompaniment. This song, for example, conveys an exuberance associated with Strauss – this song evokes Die Liebe der Danae, albeit on a small scale which is nonetheless not an easy feat.

Without commenting on each of the songs in this recording, it is difficult not to find something to recommend in each of them. The songs are the work of a solid composer who contributed some fine pieces to the genre. The modernism that Burkhard used does not reflect a bygone trend that might have been part of the isms that were part of twentieth-century culture. Rather, the pieces have a timeless quality, another aspect of their attraction.

As to his poets, the use of texts by Mörike, Lenau, Gotfried Keller, and other Romantic authors shows Burkhard’s connection to the mainstream of Lied composition. Yet it is interesting to find among his songs settings of non-traditional authors, like Whitman, and contemporary figures, such as Richard Dehmel (1863-1920). Like generations of composers before him, Burkhard respected the tradition in which he was working and, at the same time, took inspiration from the poets whose work was being published and circulated in his day.

All of these songs are performed by Annemarie Burkhard, who brings a clear, elegant soprano tone to the music. Simon Burkhard accompanies his wife, and his facile and expressive style serves his father’s music very well. They are fine interpreters of music that clearly deserves a wider audience. Like some of the other Swiss composers of the twentieth century, like Frank Martin, Burkhard is an engaging composer. Like Martin Burkhard’s ability to integrate elements from various styles goes beyond mere eclecticism to arrive at a personal style.

It is a pleasure to encounter this kind of music in a recording, so that it is possible to know that these works exist. At the same time, it would be a delight to hear these songs included on recital programs and performed by various singers, who could bring them to audiences from time to time. While Burkhard may never displace the hegemony of the German Romantics, his Lieder exist in their tradition and demonstrate a vital outgrowth of their presence in the repertoire the composer knew. Would that more performers could take Burkhard’s music forward and, perhaps, inspire yet another generation of composers to take the artsong further in the twenty-first century.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 12:18 PM

Salzburg im TV: Wie wird die Netrebko-Show?

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 24 July 2006]

Salzburg 06 Im TV. "Figaro" unter Harnoncourt geht in die Endphase der Proben.

Das Festspielhaus, umgebaut. Anna Netrebko, der Fernsehstar - wo rum es wirklich geht in Salzburg, erfährt ein Proben-Kiebitz, der die hysterisierte Aufregung rund um die Neuinszenierung von "Figaros Hochzeit" miterlebt. Schon zur Hauptprobe bilden sich vor der neuen Glasfassade Menschentrauben, die Einlass finden möchten, um zu erfahren: Wie wird die "Netrebko-Show" 2006?

Posted by Gary at 12:00 PM

July 23, 2006

MENOTTI : Concerto for Violin and Orchestra / Cantilena e Scherzo / Canti Della Lontanza / Five Songs

But his instrumental music, and even his songs, are likely to be unfamiliar territory. At least they were for me, and would have remained so, if this CD had not shown up on my radar screen because the final 30 minutes or so of the 71-minute program comprise two sets of Menotti’s songs, performed beautifully by Christine Brewer and Roger Vignoles.

Both of these artists bring their considerable talents to presenting these songs, and the resulting performance certainly makes a case for the songs to be better known. Unfortunately, the listener is given little help in this area because the texts (written by Menotti himself) are not included in the booklet. We find out that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf commissioned the Canti della lontananza and are told that the songs are said to have been written in response to the departure of Menotti’s partner, Samuel Barber, from their life together. And, since Brewer’s English diction is quite good, a determined listener (e.g. one who has to write a review) can catch about 90% of the words to the Five Songs, enough to get the sense of what the songs are about. And perhaps a fluent Italian speaker can do the same with the Canti della lontananza, but I had to go through a network of colleagues to find a copy of the Italian texts, and work out my own translations from that—again, enough to know what the songs are about. But how many listeners are going to work that hard? Whether attributable (charitably) to copyright difficulties or (uncharitably) to a producer whose background may be so firmly in instrumental music as to be unaware of the importance of text in vocal performance, this is a grievous omission.

These songs have been likened to operatic scenas, and in some spots they do sound that way, particularly at the end of “La Lettera”, when Brewer brings her full vocal and emotional force to express a phrase that calls for it. But I hear a great deal of intimacy in these pieces, and the piano line is as important as the voice in many places. I would not say the texts are truly poems so much as an attempt by a sensitive and observant mind to make sense of one’s feelings (or, at some points, one’s curious lack of feelings) in the course of letting go of a relationship (which is why it is easy to believe that they could have been written in response to such an experience). Consistent with Menotti’s musical work, the pieces are tonal, and the 1983 Five Songs in particular are quite melodic. The Canti della Lontananza, while certainly not completely declamatory or unmusical, sound more melodic in this performance than perhaps they really are: one of the strengths that Brewer brings to this music is the ability to sing a rather unlikely vocal line with expressive phrasing and consistency between registers so that the line flows very naturally. While there is a general sense of melancholy and loss pervading both sets, songs like “My Ghost” and “Il settimo bicchiere di vino” have a light enough touch to keep the keep the mood from being too much of a downer.

Fans of Christine Brewer will not be disappointed in her performance of these songs. Listeners whose main interest is in the songs themselves should know that there is another recording of them available on Chandos, which I have not heard, but it’s possible that the texts are included, which would be a big plus. Those primarily interested in vocal music might also prefer the other disc because it includes Menotti’s opera Martin’s Lie, which may be even more of a rarity than the passionately lyrical 1952 violin concerto, which receives a masterly performance on this disc by Ittai Shapira and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Thomas Sanderling, and the charming 1977 Cantilena e Scherzo for harp and string quartet, equally well served by the Vanbrugh Quartet and harpist Gillian Tingay.

Barbara Miller

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Cantilena e scherzo for harp and string quartet: Vanbrugh Quartet; Gillian Tingay, harp
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Posted by Gary at 9:26 PM

July 22, 2006

The Nose

Richard Morrison at the Coliseum [Times Online, 22 July 2006]

IF THERE is a crazier or noisier night at the opera, I had better stay away on medical grounds. My head is still reeling from the manic sights and sounds of this surreal, exuberantly over-the-top whirlwind of a show, which launched the Maryinsky (formerly the Kirov) Theatre’s short London season of Shostakovich’s stage works.

Posted by Gary at 10:35 AM

MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail — Part II

First Performance: 16 July 1782, Burgtheater, Vienna.

Principal Characters:
Selim, Pasha Nonsinging role
Constanze, a Spanish lady and Belmonte's bethrothed Soprano
Blonde, Constanze's English maid Soprano
Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman Tenor
Pedrillo, Belmonte's servant and now supervisor of the Pasha's gardens Tenor
Osmin, overseer of the Pasha's country palace Bass
Klaas, a sailor Nonsinging role
Mute, Osmin's servant Nonsinging role

Setting: The country palace of Pasha Selim.

Synopsis:

Background to the story

This is the tale of Constanze and Belmonte, two young Spaniards of noble birth. Constanze, her English maid, Blonde, and Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant, fell into the hands of pirates who attacked their ship. The pirates sold their captives at a slave market to Pasha Selim. After month of searching for them in despair, tormented by not knowing what had become of his beloved Constanze and the two servants, Belmonte sets out to find them.

Act One

Belmonte has arrived on the distant Turkish shore and approaches the high wall surrounding the seraglio. Here he encounters Osmin, the Pasha’s right-hand man, and questions him about the people he is seeking. Osmin, however, has not the slightest intention of giving this stranger any information whatsoever and sends him on his way.

Belmonte continues to look for a way to get into the seraglio.Through a prison window, he manages to catch a glimpse of Pedrillo. This confirms that Constanze and Blonde are also being held prisoner in the harem.

Pasha Selim has chosen Constanze to be the object of his affections. He visits the harem every day and does everything in his power to persuade her into accepting his suit. Constanze remains steadfast in adamantly refusing to succumb. She has no idea yet that her beloved Belmonte is so near.

Meanwhile, Belmonte has disguised himself as an architect an enters the First Courtyard of the seraglio. He teams up with Pedrillo and together they try to get past Osmin into the Second Courtyard.

Act Two

Osmin has taken a fancy to Blonde, but his persistent advances are met with resistance by the young English woman. The two of them are involved in constant battles of wit, which Osmin just can’t win.

Constanze makes it increasingly difficult for the Pasha to approach her and he finally loses patience. He threatens to punish her if she does not soon accept his suit.

Blonde learns about the plan for their escape from Pedrillo. Before they can put the plan into action, however, they first have to outwit Osmin. Pedrillo manages to persuade Osmin to help him empty a bottle of wine and the latter then falls into a deep sleep. The two couples are able to meet and plan their escape.

Act Three

Belmonte, still disguised as an architect, smuggles Pedrillo out of the Seraglio and they head for Belmonte’s ship. There they wait for night to fall.

At midnight, Belmonte and Pedrillo row round the coast to the foot of the harem. Pedrillo serenades his Blonde as a signal. Osmin discovers them in the boat and sends a fleet of ships out to capture them again.

The death penalty awaits them, but Pasha Selim decides to forgo revenge and sets the captives free.

[Synopsis Source: Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Live recording, 11 July 1954, Aix-En-Provence
Posted by Gary at 9:24 AM

July 20, 2006

Ingeniously staged, well-sung ‘Barber of Seville' at Glimmerglass

By STEPHEN G. LANDESMAN [Ithaca Journal, 20 July 2006]

COOPERSTOWN — Glimmerglass Opera's current production of “The Barber of Seville” is happily neither a rumbustious farce nor an overly-refined exercise in bel canto singing punctuated by comic interludes.

Posted by Gary at 10:27 AM

Previews: Betrothal in a Monastery, Glyndebourne, East Sussex

By Michael Church [The Independent, 20 July 2006]

Based on Sheridan's comedy The Duenna, Prokofiev's opera Betrothal in a Monastery was described by Shostakovich as one of his "most radiant and buoyant" works. Yet it was composed in the dark days of the Second World War: good therapy, but at the same time reflecting sinister undercurrents.

Posted by Gary at 8:34 AM

Salzburg rüstet sich für Rekord-Festspiele

Auf dem Programm stehen Mozarts 22 Bühnenwerke [Merkur Online, 20 July 2006]

Salzburg - Die Festspielstadt Salzburg rüstet sich im Mozartjahr für eine Rekordsaison: Noch nie wurden so viele Karten aufgelegt, und noch nie wurde so viel Oper gespielt.

Posted by Gary at 8:22 AM

Sovereign sound

Cult contralto Ewa Podles storms Caramoor in Tancredi.

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg [Time Out New York, July 20–26, 2006]

To write about Ewa Podles is to wrestle with contradictions. Dwelling on the Polish contralto’s huge, one-of-a-kind sound—which rises from inky depths to a steely brilliance on high—means slighting the selflessness of her art, her ability to disappear into the works she brings to life.

Posted by Gary at 8:09 AM

'The only star here is dead'

Conductor Christian Thielemann tells Stephen Moss why the Bayreuth festival is unique

[The Guardian, 20 July 2006]

It is a blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon in Bayreuth. The Festspielhaus, the theatre Richard Wagner built to house his operas, squats in the sun. In a week or so, when the festival begins, it will teem with Wagner obsessives, fighting for tickets, but today it's just me and a middle-aged German couple out for a stroll, enjoying the calm before the storm.

Posted by Gary at 8:02 AM

July 19, 2006

Leyla Gencer in Concert

And then there are the more, shall I say, ‘modern’ singers, usually not from Central Europe, who know all too well the public is there for the voice and less for high art. When the official programme is over, the public sighs a bit and waits for the real meat: some unabashed opera aria where the singer can finally lash out. Grace Bumbry was one of the first to use the method. Studer, Kasarova and Hvorostovsky refined it by often choosing such lieder (often by Strauss or Tchaikovsky) that could easily have been an aria. And Renée Fleming really found the solution to it all by carefully choosing a theme, like music inspired by Goethe so that she could hop from Gretchen am Spinrade to “Roi de Thulé – Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle” from Gounod’s Faust a long time before the encores were on.

This Gencer-recital still goes back to the time when opera was reserved for the encores but make no mistake. The La Scala public puts up with the music out of love for the soprano and not out of reverence for Bartok or Liszt. Though the Hungarian songs are divided into groups according to a theme, Gencer already gets a hearty applause after the first song while the second one goes without though it concludes the theme. If anyone should still have doubts, try track 3; a slow Transylvanian dancing song. Gencer finishes it with her trade mark: an ascending pianissimo that seems to last for eternity and the house comes down as this is the exact thing they came to hear. Not that the record’s worth is limited to Gencer’s famous head voice. She is in fabulous voice: warm and charming and at her best behaviour. The many glottal attacks she often used and which sometimes marred her operatic performances are almost completely absent. The voice stands like a house and there is no trace of a wobble. With her peculiar sound, she is of course at her best in slow melancholy songs like the Lamento Panaze (track 8). I cannot judge her Hungarian but she is probably one of the few non-native speakers at the time to get away with it as Hungarian is not a European but an Asian language that adapted a lot of Turkish words; and Gencer is, after all, the most famous Turkish singer.

In the Liszt songs she is even better, especially in Pace non trovo (track 18) where she can mix pathos with her virtuosic agility borne out from long experience with Donizetti. And then it’s time for the public to sit back and relax and listen to her encores: a noble rendering of Roberto Devereux, a heart warming ‘Ah non credea’ from Sonnambula, a role she had only sung twice in her long career. And, being an old pro, she refrains from adding the cabaletta ‘Ah! Non giunge’ which probably would have put too much strain on the voice after such a long career. She ends with an aria from Les Martyrs, the reworked version of Poliuto which she had created in modern times and which she would sing once again two months after this La Scala recital (available on CD; a must). I would advise to have the sleeve notes in hand when purchasing this record. They are really informative and are written by Franca Cella, who wrote a big Italian-language biography of the soprano (which was sadly never translated into another language).

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 1:53 PM

BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis

The DVD offers a bonus feature, admirable in its restraint and brevity, detailing this story. Viewing it before the performance would be a good strategy, as the camera work in the DVD spends so much time gliding along the walls and sliding off the musicians in order to focus on some aspect of the interior. If one does not appreciate the occasion, this might irritate many viewers (and some may not find the occasion sufficient rationale either). Camera technology has developed so that the constant movement and birds-eye view angles can become a distraction.

The hall does have much to enjoy, visually. With its ornate friezes and blocks of pastel blues and pinks, the impression is as if a very traditional wedding cake had been inverted and we are inside it. The recorded sound, remarkably clear and not at all rattled by loud crescendos, suggests that the church will make a fine venue for more musical performances.

Fabio Luisi leads this one, looking quite aware of the profundity of the occasion, even tense, yet managing a fervent, detailed job of leading the Dresden Staatskapelle. The four soloists stand before the chorus and behind the orchestra. Contralto Birgit Remmert lacks a distinctive tone but never offers less than a competent performance. Tenor Christian Elsner also has somewhat of an anonymous tenor sound, and when the tessitura climbs, some strain becomes noticeable.

A gorgeous woman, Camilla Nylund also impresses with her ability to sustain the challenging soprano line without letting the effort mar her rich tone. Surely the most well-known of the four singers, bass René Pape shows why he has made a world-wide reputation for himself. He sounds beautiful, relaxed and yet urgent as necessary.

The long credits play over several minutes of ovations for the musicians from the audience, who made hardly any sound during the performance, based on the DVD's audio. So for those who want to watch the effort that goes into making Beethoven's massive mass come to life, while enjoying the architecture of the new Frauenkirche, this Euroarts set can be highly recommended.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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Posted by Gary at 1:23 PM

GUERRERO: Missa Surge Propera

Moreover, given the flourishing of mysticism (Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, for example) and the rich body of religious paintings associated with El Greco, we can place this “holy trinity” in a cultural milieu where religion assumed an unusually strong hold.

There are several things that make Guerrero distinctive among this three, not least the biographical color that derives from his trip to the Holy Land and his confrontation with pirates on the voyage. He also is, of the three, the only one to compose a significant body of secular works in addition to masses and motets, a notably wider range of compositions. And while this recording from Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars restricts itself to liturgical works, it is Guerrero’s range that once again seemss notable. We are treated here to music that ranges from abstract counterpoint to highly affective, emotional expressions, and the affective qualities themselves span luxuriant dolor to exuberant joy.

The Missa Surge Propera is a more abstract work than the motets, with closely controlled counterpoint and long stretches of uniform texture and procedures. Phillips, however, remains alert to the text and sculpts the architecture of the piece with dynamic and tempo inflections, and also a fine ear for large-scale effects. Sometimes Guerrero points the way, as in the Credo where the incarnation section becomes simpler, but in all cases, Phillips is intent—successfully so—in uniting classically constrained contrapuntal writing with engagingly dynamic interpretation.

Occasionally, when the interpretation evokes strength, the reading seems perhaps overly strong. For example in the “pleni sunt caeli” section of the Sanctus, long notes are unusually intense and square shaped in a way that seems less rather than more expressive. This is all the more apparent in that the well-contoured, shapely line is a hallmark of Phillips’ beautiful conceptions of the motets.

Some of the motets are lamentative, like “Usquequo, Domine” and “Hei mihi, Domine,” and this musical lamentation was particularly resonant with the Spanish spirituality that defined the “dark night of the soul.” “Usquequo” is poignant with its lachrymal descents and homophonic settings of individual phrases, all of which receive a finely attentive response from Phillips and the Scholars. (And the last chord is simply sublime!) At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the “Regina caeli” highlights a joyful richness of sound, and the performance dazzles with its brilliant dynamism.

The Tallis Scholars, now in their thirty-third year, remain among the best interpreters of sixteenth-century liturgical polyphony. And in this Guerrero anthology, it is the commitment to an expressive mode of interpretation itself that marks the recording with trademark distinction.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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Posted by Gary at 1:08 PM

CHAUSSON: Le Roi Arthus

The work premièred at De Munt in Brussels in 1903 as no house in Paris wanted to perform it. A few years ago De Munt commemorated the première with a new production, a courtesy that was not given in 1984 to Massenet whose Hérodiade too had its première in Brussels. But Ernest Chausson is Art while with Massenet there is the lurking fear the public would actually enjoy the opera. I cannot say the experience was unforgettable but neither would I go as far as a colleague who defined Le Roi Arthus cynically as “Tristan und Isolde without the many hilarious jokes Wagner put in it”. Nor would I call it “sprawling, directionless” “singers drowning in orchestral waves” as The Gramophone does in its review.

In fact, and contrary to custom, I liked the recording better than the live performance, though the reasons have nothing to do with the quality of the performers. When playing the recording, one doesn’t have to digest the whole opera at once (this recording lasts 2 hours 47 minutes). One can replay a particularly fine part (the song of the labourer at the start of act 2) and one can even skip some of the indeed very loud and overlong scenes like the first scene of the first act that seems to last an eternity (in reality only 17 minutes). Chausson is not a very good tune smith: he never gets atonal but his melodies seem too laboured and, indeed, owe a lot in the duets of Lancelot-Guinevere to the master of Bayreuth. The composer worked for 7 years on and off to his score and it shows. Some parts like the prelude to act 1 and the impressive final scene are more in the mood of Chausson’s teacher, Jules Massenet, reminding us of the best parts of Le Cid. To me they seem far better suited to the story of Camelot than the many Wagnerian longueurs elsewhere.

The conductor, Leon Botstein, explains in a small essay why he loves the piece as he does. It is probably too much to ask of a conductor to restrain his orchestra a bit if the score allows him to wallow in big gorgeous sounds; but I wish Mr. Botstein would have restrained his forces a bit during the concertato of the first act. In the rest of the opera he is certainly admirable, not lingering in the duets and keeping an eye on the balance between orchestra and singers, which are definitely not drowned. As could be expected, he is handicapped by his performers. A young Alagna and a young Fleming would have been ideal but notwithstanding the generous contribution by a maecenas it is nowadays almost impossible to hire the few available top singers for a BBC-broadcast or even a recording, as the chances for further performances are almost non-existent and the rewards for studying far less difficult roles so much greater. Only baritone François Le Roux is ideal with his mellow voice as Merlin. Baritone Andrew Schroeder has the advantage of experience as he sang the title role in the Brussels performance but it is a serviceable sound of good size; English National Opera quality but nothing of beauty that would lead him to a major career. Even less beauty is to be found with Simon O’Neill. The voice is tight and not very appealing; and though he sings ardently one hears his is not the big lyric the role requires. In the many love duets, there is not much charm or sweetness that would explain the queen’s infatuation. Susan Bullock as Genièvre is a well-known English Wagnerian soprano in the Jane Eaglen-mould; that means quite a lot of volume, not too rich or unforgettable a timbre and definitely shrill in the upper register. All the main performers sing a very understandable French. In Brussels the only sinner against pronunciation was the one native French speaker. All small roles are excellently done with special praise for Arthur Kennedy as the ploughman.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 12:52 PM

MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Headlined with excellent singers, including Valerie Masterson, the demure yet powerful Constanze, Lillian Watson, a particulary spry and comical Blonde, Ryland Davies, the famous Welsh tenor as Belmonte, James Hoback , the wide-eyed Pedrillo, and Willard White, the fantastic Jamaican bass as Osmin, this opera brilliantly shines.

Under the direction of Gustav Kuhn, the London Philharmonic beautifully underlines the action in an understated, yet compelling manner. Kuhn’s tempos keep the comic action light and perfectly accelerated. William Dudly, the designer, creates the typical Turkish harem setting, but the sheer size and intricate detail of each piece is visually compelling. As far as the stage direction, Peter Wood chose the more traditional route, with tepid blocking and stagnant emotional drive. However, the production draws on the comic panache of both Watson and Hoback to bring freshness to the show.

It is exciting that Glyndebourne chose to release this production onto DVD, not only because of the high quality performers, but because it is certainly wonderful to see a more traditional production in order to truly appreciate Mozart’s original intentions for the work.

Sarah Hoffman

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Posted by Gary at 12:16 PM

The Russians Are Coming: Kirov, Bolshoi to Compete in London

Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 19 July 2006]

July 19 (Bloomberg) -- ``A boot stamping on a human face -- forever,'' George Orwell wrote of totalitarian regimes. If you cheekily insert the word ``accidentally,'' the description might almost apply to the BBC Proms as well.

Posted by Gary at 8:15 AM

July 18, 2006

CINDERELLA GLITTERS

The Old Master of French opera would have been delighted that his fairy tale show was so well treated. Indeed, Broadway would be lucky to welcome such an audience-pleasing and musically polished light entertainment.

Santa Fe Opera, not known as a French house, pulled off a high-style, energetic production with enough excellent singing and good orchestral playing to let you know you were not in a vaudeville theatre. Otherwise,
the presentation was strictly show-biz and for this mild, melodious bit of operetta fluff, that is a very good thing.

French producer/designer Laurent Pelly was hero of the occasion. His conception of the musical fairy tale was low-farce with touches of romance and sentiment, and when it was not over-illuminated by the inconsistent lighting designer Duane Schuler, it glowed with youth and, dare I say, modernity. With no special effort to bring the old 19th Century show into a later era, the feeling was always up-to-date and fresh. The boy-girl plot is a slight one; Cinderella's trials and tribulations are thrice familiar and just barely endurable, but couched in Massenet's beautifully written score and graced by his buoyant melodies the package was a delight to enjoy on its own terms. A few solo numbers and lovely duets took care of expectations of operatic music, otherwise all was romp and posturing.

Set in a series of sliding walls, panels and free-standing backdrops entirely covered with the artfully inscribed text of the fairy tale (in French) - it was fun to sit there and translate - the show was alive visually due to vividly colored costumes (rouge ruled), comical and over-stated, that had the audience laughing and applauding at every turn. Cinderella's coach, pulled by two dancers charmingly gotten up as horses, was the French word for coach - carrosse - most artfully wrought into a carriage of sorts, that wheeled gracefully onto the stage and off again bearing its beautiful cargo to the Prince's Ball - yes the glass slipper was visible as was a pungent Fairy Godmother issuing her charge to be home by midnight.

What made it all work? Aside from Massenet's music, the performance of Joyce DiDonato, a winsome young lyric mezzo-soprano from Kansas City, galvanized the show. Cinderella is a big sing, and DiDonato had the vocal strength and quality to last the evening. Her acting was simple and natural, while she played against Richard Stilwell, as her loving father Pandolfe, with sincerity and touching sentiment. This is likely a hard role to master as it requires unfailing energy, a lot of high notes and strong emotion, and it cannot seem artful. DiDonato was in every way appropriate to the occasion, as was the sympathetic veteran baritone, Stilwell, a favorite at Santa Fe since 1972.

The important role of Fairy Godmother, engine of the action all evening, was a big success for Cuban-born coloratura soprano Eglise Gutierrez. Her mock magical heroics on stage and her remarkable high soprano singing were assured and engaging. Cute, bosomy, delightfully costumed, with an illuminated wand and amusing gestures to control those in her spell, this was one Fairy in a million. Watch for the name, she's to be heard from. Billie Burke is envious!

Most of the remainder of the cast was in a lesser league. Judith Forst, the distinguished Canadian mezzo, seemed ill-cast as the caricatured social-climbing stepmother, Madame de la Haltiere, disappointing in both vocal force and comic creativity. She was quickly a worn cliché, as were her 'ugly' daughters sung by faint voiced Ann-Carolyn Bird and Gabriela Garcia. Special dispensation must be given to a young mezzo soprano, Jennifer Holloway, a second year apprentice in the Santa Fe Opera young artist program. She replaced the noted Kristine Jepson, through on several months' notice, as Prince Charming - normally the other leading role of the opera. It was otherwise with Holloway, not that she did not look the part and have a promising voice - for indeed she was convincing to the eye as a lean young man and her voice encompassed all the notes. Stage experience, however, was not hers and she seemed too often dramatically pallid and emotionally uninvolved. It was probably unwise to cast young Holloway against a major talent such as DiDonato; let's check back in five years.

A few members of the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet graced the stage as presenters at the Prince's Ball, and after a rather insipid start, conductor Kenneth Montgomery and his fine-sounding orchestra settled into good routine. Cinderella at Santa Fe is a winning show, maybe even the hit of the five-opera summer season, with seven performances to go through August 24.

We are advised the season is largely sold-out, though there are turn-backs.

J. A. Van Sant, Santa Fe

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Cinderella_detail.png
image_description=Eglise Gutierrez & Joyce DiDonato (Photo: Ken Howard, © 2006)

Posted by Gary at 5:03 PM

July 17, 2006

MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail — Part I

First Performance: 16 July 1782, Burgtheater, Vienna.

Principal Characters:
Selim, Pasha Nonsinging role
Constanze, a Spanish lady and Belmonte's bethrothed Soprano
Blonde, Constanze's English maid Soprano
Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman Tenor
Pedrillo, Belmonte's servant and now supervisor of the Pasha's gardens Tenor
Osmin, overseer of the Pasha's country palace Bass
Klaas, a sailor Nonsinging role
Mute, Osmin's servant Nonsinging role

Setting: The country palace of Pasha Selim.

Synopsis:

Background to the story

This is the tale of Constanze and Belmonte, two young Spaniards of noble birth. Constanze, her English maid, Blonde, and Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant, fell into the hands of pirates who attacked their ship. The pirates sold their captives at a slave market to Pasha Selim. After month of searching for them in despair, tormented by not knowing what had become of his beloved Constanze and the two servants, Belmonte sets out to find them.

Act One

Belmonte has arrived on the distant Turkish shore and approaches the high wall surrounding the seraglio. Here he encounters Osmin, the Pasha’s right-hand man, and questions him about the people he is seeking. Osmin, however, has not the slightest intention of giving this stranger any information whatsoever and sends him on his way.

Belmonte continues to look for a way to get into the seraglio.Through a prison window, he manages to catch a glimpse of Pedrillo. This confirms that Constanze and Blonde are also being held prisoner in the harem.

Pasha Selim has chosen Constanze to be the object of his affections. He visits the harem every day and does everything in his power to persuade her into accepting his suit. Constanze remains steadfast in adamantly refusing to succumb. She has no idea yet that her beloved Belmonte is so near.

Meanwhile, Belmonte has disguised himself as an architect an enters the First Courtyard of the seraglio. He teams up with Pedrillo and together they try to get past Osmin into the Second Courtyard.

Act Two

Osmin has taken a fancy to Blonde, but his persistent advances are met with resistance by the young English woman. The two of them are involved in constant battles of wit, which Osmin just can’t win.

Constanze makes it increasingly difficult for the Pasha to approach her and he finally loses patience. He threatens to punish her if she does not soon accept his suit.

Blonde learns about the plan for their escape from Pedrillo. Before they can put the plan into action, however, they first have to outwit Osmin. Pedrillo manages to persuade Osmin to help him empty a bottle of wine and the latter then falls into a deep sleep. The two couples are able to meet and plan their escape.

Act Three

Belmonte, still disguised as an architect, smuggles Pedrillo out of the Seraglio and they head for Belmonte’s ship. There they wait for night to fall.

At midnight, Belmonte and Pedrillo row round the coast to the foot of the harem. Pedrillo serenades his Blonde as a signal. Osmin discovers them in the boat and sends a fleet of ships out to capture them again.

The death penalty awaits them, but Pasha Selim decides to forgo revenge and sets the captives free.

[Synopsis Source: Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Live recording, 19-21 December 1949, Berlin
Graphic by Boris Gusev, 1990
Posted by Gary at 9:58 AM

July 14, 2006

Opera Throws Farewell Fest; Artists Hit Streets: Munich Outings

Mariana Schroeder [Bloomberg.com, 14 July 2006]

July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Munich's Opera Festival this year has a nostalgic feel, taking place in the last weeks of the reign of Peter Jonas and Zubin Mehta at the Bavaria State Opera.

Posted by Gary at 9:17 AM

Don Pasquale, Royal Opera House, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 13 July 2006]

For such an experienced Donizetti conductor, Bruno Campanella makes heavy weather of the Overture. Hardly a phrase is allowed to pass without being held up for examination, as if the music is stuck at traffic lights that refuse to turn green – symbolic, perhaps, of a revival that never really gets going.

Posted by Gary at 9:04 AM

July 13, 2006

Castrato is heard from the grave

By Dalya Alberge [Times Online, 13 July 2006]

THE remains of the legendary castrato Farinelli were disinterred in Bologna yesterday for scientific research.

Posted by Gary at 8:08 AM

Armide at Buxton

Alfred Hickling [Guardian, 13 July 2006]

The quality at Buxton goes up and down, but Aiden Lang's farewell production as artistic director is, in every sense, dazzling. Retina-searing rope lights - such as you might expect around a provincial night-club rather than a baroque opera - bounce from the reflective surfaces of the set.

Posted by Gary at 7:54 AM

July 10, 2006

Will Crutchfield's 'Bel Canto at Caramoor' Gives the Potential of the Voice and the Possibilities of the Style

musicroom.jpgBy ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 10 July 2006]

KATONAH, N.Y., July 8 — When Will Crutchfield began directing his Bel Canto at Caramoor series at the Caramoor International Music Festival here in 1992, he insisted on the flexibility offered in the series title. He mainly wanted to give new life to the bel canto repertory, a distinct body of Italian opera defined historically by the careers of Rossini and Verdi, at either end, and stylistically by a focus on the beauty and the virtuosic potential of the voice, to the virtual exclusion of other theatrical and operatic values, like sensible librettos and deeply considered orchestral writing.

Posted by Gary at 1:06 PM

Turandot — Royal Opera House, London

Georgina_Lukacs.jpgGeorge Hall [Guardian, 10 July 2006]

Andrei Serban's production of Puccini's dark, oriental fairytale has been a staple at Covent Garden for more than 20 years. Once again neatly and effectively staged by Jeremy Sutcliffe, its vitality and spectacle continue to provide a strong visual frame for the score's alternately garish and delicate colours and its disturbing blend of blood-lust and eroticism.

Posted by Gary at 12:57 PM

Hugh Macdonald prepares performing edition for Eduard Lalo's previously unperformed opera Fiesque

lalo.jpgWorld premiere to take place July 27 in Montpellier, France

By Liam Otten [Washington Univ., 10 July 2006]

July 10, 2006 -- Hugh Macdonald, the Avis H. Blewett Professor of Music in Arts & Sciences, has prepared a performing edition of Fiesque (1866-68), a previously unperformed opera by French composer Eduardo Lalo (1823-1892).

Posted by Gary at 12:48 PM

The Beast Who Became an Opera — Lincoln Center Festival 2006

Grendel.gif(Photo: Constance Hoffman)
BY STUART ISACOFF [NY Sun, 10 July 2006]

Even monsters have mothers. That message is at the heart of John Gardner's 1971 novel "Grendel," a reshaping of the 10th-century Danish tale, "Beowulf." While that epic is named for the warrior-hero who slays a murderous beast, Mr. Gardner's story is told from the point of view of the beast, Grendel. And in his novel, the repulsive, Dane-eating monster appears more recognizably human than any of the stiff-necked, blinkered men who seek his demise.

Posted by Gary at 12:42 PM

Going Out in St. Petersburg: Mantegna Loans, `Godunov' Turmoil

ognovenko.jpgJohn Varoli [Bloomberg.com, 10 July 2006]

July 10 (Bloomberg) -- The State Hermitage Museum tomorrow opens an exhibition of two canvases by the 15th-century Italian painter Andrea Mantegna on loan from the city of Mantua's Galleria e Museo di Palazzo Ducale.

Posted by Gary at 12:29 PM

HAYDN: Arias & Cantatas

Although Haydn is commonly recognized for his contributions to the symphonic genre, many music lovers view him as just that, a composer of symphonies. Perhaps they have not yet had their ears tickled by the beauty of Haydn’s vocal writing, which some scholars believe exceeds the symphonic. This recording of Haydn’s Arias and Cantatas, with soprano Arleen Auger, conductor Christopher Hogwood and the Handel and Haydn Society, is a fantastic way to introduce ones’ self to the vocal music of this multi-faceted composer who is often placed second to Mozart…but should he be? And why was it that the most significant symphonic composer in history, Ludwig Van Beethoven, who consequently studied from Haydn, struggled inherently to compose what he wanted to be his finest work, an opera: Fidelio. Was Haydn more influential than we think, and are we perhaps ignoring his position as a composer of vocal works?

There is no question, that at a time imbued with classical ideals: symmetry, form, and melodic gesture, Haydn single handedly influenced the symphonic genre and expanded it from its early beginnings in Mannheim into a dramatic machine that could express the most intimate emotions of the private sphere, and yet scream out the social demands of the public one. And yet, the eighteenth-century is really one of the most interesting epochs because opera was certainly the entertainment of choice, a significant reason why Mozart and Haydn composed so many operas. In effect, without the popularity of the opera, the symphonic genre may never have developed as it did, to combat the popularity of opera and to effect a large-scale instrumental work that could be both dramatic and sensitive. A master at symphonic structure, as is noted in his London Symphonies, and the magical properties of the Sturm und Drang (a period of works that exhibited high strung emotions through driving, dotted-rhythms, and a propensity for dark and light shades (chiaro-scuro)) one cannot argue that Haydn was not a great symphonic composer, but perhaps Haydn’s true genius is noted when his mastery of the orchestra is combined with an elegance of vocal writing and melodic treatment; a mastery that is exemplified in this recording of Arias and Cantatas. Of course, no matter how good the music is, it cannot achieve its greatest potential without the contributions of competent and diligent performers.

Arleen Auger’s performance here is not only competent, but extraordinary. Her attention to detail, technical prowess, and the care with which she effects every single note, almost as if caressing each pitch to make it as beautiful as it could ever be, is truly a definition of a true performer and interpreter. She is most widely known for her performance at the 1986 British Royal wedding where she performed Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate. Auger died on June 10th, 1993 of brain cancer and, although she is no longer with us, this CD stands as a memoriam and an everlasting impression of her artistry. Through her recordings, she will remain with us through her incredible musical gifts.

Nowhere are her vocal abilities more exquisitely expressed than in the Scena di Bernice, Hob. XXXIVA: 10. Cantata composta per la Signora Banti in “Antigono” di Pietro Metastasio. This dramatic evocation of a woman abandoned by her partner is marked by an authoritative entrance by Christopher Hogwood and his orchestra, only to be equally matched by Auger’s opening statement and questioning manner. Her Italian is well enunciated and her diction is impeccable and superbly inflected. The upper notes of her melody are silvery and shimmery and yet she easily flips into the mid and lower tessitura where her vocal colour is a luscious crimson. The opening recitative culminates in a thrilling climax at “Fermati” (Wait!), a true example of what squillo means to the soprano voice. Auger’s approach is like lightning. It strikes and is gone, leaving the listener to anticipate the next bolt with exhilaration. Part II of the recitative suggests the influence of Gluck’s reform opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, where in the middle section of Orfeo’s aria, Che Faro Senza Euridice, the mood changes rapidly from sadness to agitation in confronting the darkness of death. Here Auger vocalizes the “aspetta, anima bella” (wait my exquisite soul) with a loving caress that foreshadows the beauty of the ensuing aria.

The aria, “Non Partir, bell’idol mio” (Do not leave, my beautiful one), is effected with a luscious legato where the character’s dramatic impetus is one of wanting to share death with her love. Auger’s vocal passages are creamy and well-connected from the low tessitura to the higher, with profound agility and an inner-depth that is indicative of her artistry. The following recitative demands a mood change to show the anger that now affects the character, thus a thicker orchestral texture and rapid vocal virtuosity move the recit towards its peak at “Misera Bernice, ah tu deliri.”

Perché se tanti siete,” the final aria of the scene is agitated and drama is created orchestrally by Haydn as the low strings play in unison matching the vocal melody on “Che delirar mi fate” (How you make me suffer). The agitation culminates towards a lovely descending string passage that suggests both tenderness and sorrow at “Affanni del mio cor?” (Worries of my heart). Haydn creates even more drama here by moving the next phrase into a harmonic direction that is eschewed. The listener anticipates a movement into a major harmony, but instead Haydn diverts our attention by moving the harmony to a minor sonority on “L’eccesso del dolor.” On the repeat of this phrase, Auger offers a dynamic display of range from low chest tones that are growly and intense to the highest shimmery peak of her range. Oftentimes, sopranos use vowel modification in the upper range to allow for a more open sound, but this leaves the diction unclear. This is definitely not the case here. Auger’s diction is impeccable and her vocal production is even and liquid from the top of her range to the bottom. Her triplets and display of fioritura is magnificent and Hogwood is supportive with his orchestra but yet captures the full effect and emotion of her character.

The following track, Son Pietosa, son bonina, Hob. XXXIIb: 1, Aria per “La Circe, ossia L’isola incantata” di Pasquale Anfossi e Gottlieb Nauman is a pastiche based on two operas. In two parts, the aria begins with an orchestral introduction that features a clear and brilliant flute with strings doubling the melody; from this, the voice enters and Auger’s tone here is a beautifully rounded crimson. She takes specific words, such as “poverina” (poor one) and vocalizes each to match their emotion; in this case, pity. The point of the aria is to educate women on how “all” men are deceivers. It is in typical ABA format, but Auger doesn’t make this typical form boring by any means. At the repeat of A, she adds appropriate ornaments that are presented with elegant taste. They are not overdone and relegated to the ends of phrases. Auger also changes moods vocally, often applying a more breathy sound to evoke her character’s being out of breath and even short staccato spurts to suggest laughter. Her portrayal of this character is a precursor to the heroines of Rossini, a kind of Isabella from L’Italiana in Algeri who possesses similar qualities.

Another heroine who intrigued many composers, not just Haydn, is Arianna auf Naxos and here in Hob. XXVIb: 2 (orchestral version: Cantata) her character is portrayed with an elegant and yet strong persona. Originally sung by the Italian castrato, Pachierotti, in 1791, Haydn wrote this Cantata for pianoforte and voice, but later an adaptation for orchestra was written by an anonymous composer. Hogwood opens the Cantata with a regal orchestral motive that includes dotted rhythms and continuo. The oscillating ostinato increases the tension of the ensuing vocal entrance, as the strings effect ascending scale motives. The recitative opens tentatively and caring as Auger sings “Teseo” (Theseus) in a most yearning manner. The entrance of the next phrase “Vicino d’averti” (I need to have you near me) is so well effected that Auger’s voice seems to be born out of the orchestral texture. An effect that Richard Strauss would later view as crucial to operatic success, the voice should be viewed as an instrument that could emanate from the orchestral texture. This popular late nineteenth-century effect is used here by Haydn, and some 100 years earlier. The orchestra is in a descriptive role as it creates the atmosphere for Arianna’s aria. The last section before the aria discusses Arianna’s heart, and Haydn’s genius is evident, as he uses the orchestra as a heartbeat, to intersperse with the vocal texture. The aria, “Dove sei, mio bel Tesoro?” is begun with a lovely legato line in contrast with rapid ascending 16th note passages in the strings. Auger effects another one of those magnificent entrances here on, “se non vieni, io già mi moro” (if you are not coming here, then I will die) where her voice seems to emanate from within the orchestral texture. Immediately following, the orchestra begins to interrupt the voice with low strings and woodwinds to create a dark and sinister effect. The idiom of “interruption” is not uncommon in Haydn and is found most effectively in The Creation. This section also foreshadows the orchestral style of Verdi, where the accompaniment to arias is often chordal ostinati.

The second recitative of the Cantata contains the typical mood change, as Arianna asks, “to whom am I speaking.” She makes continual reference to Theseus in this section; a common Baroque trait of pleading for a deus ex macchina. The mood becomes even more somber and Hogwood does an excellent job of projecting his low basses to create a rumbling effect that might suggest that God is, in fact, listening to Arianna. One of the most affective moments on the entire CD occurs in the following section, at “Già più non reggo,” where the orchestral ostinato creates a lulling and almost hypnotic effect that is matched by Auger’s breathless quality in the voice. The text here, “I can barely stand, with knees trembling” is understood aurally as well as textually. An appropriate orchestral introduction for the concluding aria, “A che morir vorrei in sì fatal momento” is followed by a very simple orchestral accompaniment with commenting inflections at the ends of each vocal phrase, such that the orchestral responses never interfere with the vocal line. At “Misera Abbandonata,” Auger maintains a rapid and clear tone with a spinning vibrato. The onset of her phrases are remarkable and she is in even voice throughout every technical difficulty. This Cantata would be an excellent study for voice students as an example of a technically sound and precise vocal production.

The Solo e Pensoso, Hob. XXIVb: 20, Aria da “Il canzoniere” di Francesco Petrarca (Sonetto XXVIII) was actually written in 1798, the year of The Creation’s première. The orchestral introduction is typical Haydn, with lovely treatment of the melody and consonant harmonies that support the vocality of a melody that is passed on to the voice in the aria, “Solo e Pensoso.” Sparse in orchestration, the voice carries the drama of this opening with Auger effecting a creamy legato and exquisitely carried phrases. At the second stanza, the orchestra enters more fully and supports the ends of phrases by rounding them off with its own commentary. Auger is in grand vocal form, even while producing the most intense vocal pyrotechnics. She takes on the character of the orchestra in the B section, with a light, airy tone which is a testament to her musicianship and interpretive skills.

Miseri noi, misera patria! Hob. XXIVa: 7 Cantata, is one of those works for which not much information is known. It was composed before 1786 and describes the destruction of a city by invaders. The opening is ominous and the homophonic chordal texture suggests that the invasion is being represented musically. The woodwinds, in their melancholy tone, carry the melody over an oscillating string ostinato. Accents begin to interrupt the melody (an idiom of the Sturm und Drang period). Culminating in the recitative, an ode to a country in ruins, the low strings continue to support the textual description: il ferro, il foco (the iron, the fire). Auger’s Italian here is impeccable and her artistry is made evident as she gives a eulogy-like listing of all those who have perished: “I padri, figli, mariti, spose, dolci amici” (fathers, sons, husbands, wives, sweet friends) with such poignancy that the listener feels that they too have lost someone to this catastrophe. Her following aria, “Funesto orror di morte” is sung as wonderfully as anything else Auger has performed on this recording. Her lovely spinning triplets and resonance is breath-taking. Hogwood’s orchestra is sensitive, especially during imitative moments where woodwinds respond to the vocal phrases. However, here Auger’s voice is presented in its fullest grandeur in a thrilling cadenza on the word “risuonar” (resounds). Present day performers, such as Cecilia Bartoli, Renée Fleming, and Jose Cura are known for their impeccable fioritura and their ability to make coloratura passages seem effortless, but here Auger was doing the very same thing more than 20 years ago. Do we pay her the same respect? We most definitely should.

Overall, this CD is worth a listen to, and especially if you haven’t experienced Haydn’s vocal music. If anything, it is an excellent purchase for any soprano fans or anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of hearing Arleen Auger. It has been a distinct pleasure reviewing this last of her recordings, and it is with great respect and honour that I write her name here as a truly remarkable performer, and a gift to the music world for the short time we had her. Wherever you are, Arleen, we listen, and we remember.

Mary-Lou Patricia Vetere, PhD (abd), M.A. Mus.B

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Posted by Gary at 9:35 AM

July 8, 2006

Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait

This new offering from Naxos is an unusual addition to a growing Shostakovich discography: it offers an overview of the composer's life and work in a 92-page (booklet-size, of course) biographical essay, illustrated by 26 tracks of listening examples supplied by an accompanying two-CD set. One of several similar projects recently undertaken by Naxos (others include the "portraits" of John Taverner and Arvo Pärt), Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait presents an overwhelming and emotionally exhausting journey through the composer's life and creative work.

The list of compositions includes sample movements from symphonies nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, and 15; the passacaglia from the 1st violin concerto, and the Andante from the 2nd piano concerto. Chamber music is represented by a movement each from the string quartets nos. 8 and 12; a scherzo from the piano quintet in G-minor; 2nd movement from the 2nd piano trio in E-minor, and the 1st movement of the viola sonata. Among examples of the solo piano repertoire, there is one of the early Fantastic Dances, and excerpts from piano preludes op. 34 and from the 24 preludes and fugues op. 87 - the latter in the composer's own rendition. Film and theater music is represented by excerpts from the ballet suites Bolt and The Golden Age, and the film suites Gadfly and Hamlet. Finally, a brief 1941 radio address in which the composer mentions his work on the "Leningrad" symphony acknowledges, if you will, his "public persona."

The biographical essay penned by Richard Whitehouse is the centerpiece of the experience (the reader may choose to see this project as a compact version of a music appreciation-style textbook with accompanying CDs). Based on material provided by the Shostakovich Society of the United Kingdom, the essay offers a discussion of an enormous number of compositions (some - but not the majority - of which are included on the CDs). It also aims to present an overview of historical and social conditions that shaped the composer's life and informed his work. A Russiannist (or a Russian) may notice quite a few factual inaccuracies in this overview, as well as some questionable interpretations of historical events - some misrepresented, others dismissed or omitted; for instance, one may find it hard to forgive a glib, perfunctory reference to the premiere of the 7th symphony by starving musicians in blockaded Leningrad. Yet overall, Whitehouse's essay is an admirable attempt at a balanced "portrait" of Dmitri Shostakovich that, while acknowledging the competing one-dimensional views of the composer as either a loyal puppet or a closet dissident, thankfully subscribes to neither.

The musical selections included on the two CDs may raise a few eyebrows. Many choices are obviously informed by space limitations and a desire to cast the broadest net possible. Yet, some decisions still seem questionable - for instance, including one of the op. 34 piano preludes instead of the 1st piano concerto arguably much more representative of Shostakovich's style during the same time period. Perhaps the most glaring omission - as I am sure, any subscriber to Opera Today would agree - is vocal music. There are no excerpts from either operas or art songs (even though both genres are discussed at length in the essay); in fact, the composer's contribution to vocal repertoire is represented only by a movement each from the 13th and 14th symphonies, both of which include voices. Another weakness of the recordings - unfortunately a common complaint for Naxos - is the sometimes questionable quality of performances. While the selections by the New Zealand Symphony and much chamber music are very nicely done, and the composer's own performance of excerpts from the op. 87 preludes and fugues that frame the recording is a welcome addition, performances of the symphonies by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra are frequently problematic with respect to their basic quality as well as interpretation (particularly of the 1st and 15th symphonies).

Overall, the way one approaches Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait will determine the quality of the experience. Do not buy the recording if you are looking exclusively for a listening experience - the fragmentary nature, as well as the quality of the selections would ultimately leave one unsatisfied. Meanwhile, approaching the packet in the spirit in which it was created - that is, reading the essay along with the listening examples that are cued to the text - is a surprisingly powerful experience, even for a true Shostakovich devotee. For a Shostakovich novice - the kind of listener Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait appears primarily to address - it will provide an eye-opening introduction to the great composer's life and work.

Olga Haldey
University of Maryland — College Park

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Posted by Gary at 7:06 PM

Central City's "Poppea" skips the easy listening

poppea_central_city.jpgBy Kyle MacMillan [Denver Post, 6 July 2006]

Fans of 18th- and 19th-century operas by such notable composers as Mozart and Verdi might have to shift their expectations and listen in different ways as Central City Opera presents "The Coronation of Poppea."

Posted by Gary at 5:38 PM

Celebrating a trailblazing mezzo-soprano

stevens.jpgBy Richard Dyer [Boston Globe, 7 July 2006]

Mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens was a star of opera, radio, television, stage, and screen. Always focused on opera, she was a pioneer in using new media to advance her career and the cause of opera.

Posted by Gary at 5:28 PM

BIZET: Carmen

First Performance: 3 March 1875, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), Paris.

Principal Characters:
Carmen, a gypsy Mezzo-Soprano
Don José, a corporal Tenor
Escamillo, a bullfighter Bass
Micaëla, a country girl Soprano
Zuniga, a lieutenant Bass
Moralès, a corporal Baritone
Frasquita, a gypsy Soprano
Mercédès, a gypsy Soprano
Lillas Pastia, an innkeeper Nonsinging Role
Andrès, a lieutenant Tenor
Le Dancaïre, a smuggler Tenor/Baritone
Le Remendado, a smuggler Tenor
A Gypsy Bass
A Guide Nonsinging Role
An Orange-Seller Contralto
A Soldier Nonsinging Role
The Alcalde Nonsinging Role

Setting: Sevilla, c. 1830.

Synopsis:

Act I

Soldiers and townspeople mill around in a square in Seville. A young peasant girl, Micaela, asks the soldiers if they have seen her sweetheart, Don José. Telling her he'll be back soon, they try to persuade her to stay with them, but she declines. The relief soldiers, including Don José, arrive. Factory bells ring, and a group of cigarette girls emerges from the factory where they work, including the popular gypsy beauty, Carmen. She focuses her attention on Don José, who pretends not to notice. Before leaving, she seductively tosses a flower at him. Alone, Don José recovers the flower and reflects on Carmen's charms. Micaela finds him and delivers both a letter and a chaste kiss from his mother, who asks her son to marry Micaela. Don José promises his love and fidelity to Micaela, despite the temptations of Carmen. A ruckus erupts from the cigarette factory. Carmen has injured another woman, and the officer Zuniga commands Don José to jail Carmen. But Don José succumbs to her charms. He agrees to a rendezvous and lets Carmen escape.

Act II

At Lillas Pastia's inn, Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercedes consort with Zuniga and other soldiers. A group of revelers arrives, celebrating Escamillo, the illustrious bullfighter. The crowd cheers as Escamillo boasts of his victories. He notices Carmen, but she remains indifferent. Zuniga, also smitten, tells Carmen that he plans to return to the inn later to visit her. When the crowd disperses, the smugglers Remendado and Dancairo try to enlist the aid of Carmen, Frasquita, and Mercedes. Mercedes and Frasquita agree to help them smuggle contraband, but Carmen, expecting Don José, wants to stay at the inn. Don José arrives, and Carmen dances for him. But distant bugles signal him to return to his quarters and he prepares to leave. Carmen mocks his obedience and encourages him to run away with her and lead the free gypsy life. Don José remains unconvinced until Zuniga returns to the inn seeking Carmen. In a jealous rage, Don José defies his officer's orders to leave. As the smugglers pounce on Zuniga and escort him out of the inn, Don José has no choice but to remain with the gypsies.

Act III

At the mountain hideout of the smugglers, Don José longs for his mother, who still believes him an honest man. Carmen taunts him and urges him to leave, but he refuses. Frasquita and Mercedes tell their fortunes with a deck of cards. When Carmen takes her turn, the cards foretell death for her and Don José. The gypsies set off to smuggle contraband, leaving Don José behind to guard the camp. Micaela arrives at the mountain hideout searching for Don José and hides among the rocks. Escamillo approaches the camp looking for Carmen. He and Don José exchange words and begin to fight. But the smugglers return in time to stop Don José from wounding Escamillo, who invites them all to the bullfight in Seville. Her hiding place discovered, Micaela begs Don José to return home to his mother, who is dying. Despite his violent jealousy, Don José leaves with Micaela.

Act IV

At the bullfight, a crowd gathers to watch the procession of toreadors. Escamillo and Carmen arrive together. Mercedes and Frasquita warn Carmen that Don José is lurking about. Carmen, unafraid, waits alone for Don José. He approaches and begs her to leave with him. She insists that their affair is over, that she does not love him anymore, and that she now loves Escamillo. As Don José's demands become more desperate, Carmen throws at him the ring he once gave her. Don José murders Carmen, while the crowd inside the bullring cheers Escamillo.

[Synopsis Source: New York City Opera Project]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the complete score.

Click here for the full text of the novella.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/carmen.png image_description=Georges Bizet: Carmen audio=yes first_audio_name=Georges Bizet: Carmen
WinAMP, VLC or iTunes first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Carmen.m3u product=yes product_title=Georges Bizet: Carmen product_by= Graziella Sciutti, Hilde Gueden, Michel Roux, Nicolai Gedda, Giulietta Simionato, Mario Carlin, Luisa Ribacchi, Enzo Sordello, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Vienna State Conservatory Children's Choir, Herbert von Karajan (cond.)
Live performance, 1954, Vienna
Posted by Gary at 3:35 PM

July 5, 2006

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Was Ferrier of Our Era: Norman Lebrecht

Liebersons.jpg(Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, with her husband Peter Lieberson (photo: Kathy de la Torre / The Santa Fe New Mexican))
July 5 (Bloomberg) -- It's not often that you hear a singer and know that you will never hear her like again.

Posted by Gary at 5:56 PM

GESUALDO DA VENOSA: Quarto Libro di Madrigali
MONTEVERDI: Madrigals Book 4

Similarly, recent recordings of the two books illustrate the development of early music performance by Italian ensembles at the turn of the twenty-first century. The composers are Carlo Gesualdo and Claudio Monteverdi; the performers, respectively, La Venexiana and Delitiæ Musicæ.

La Venexiana has been producing high-quality recordings for some ten years now, and their contribution to the discography of the madrigal is substantial. The present recording, Gesualdo: Quarto libro di Madrigali (Glossa GCD 920934) is in fact a re-release of a CD made in 2000, with the well-designed gatefold packaging now favoured by Glossa (not that the previous version was in any way substandard in this regard). Gesualdo’s Fourth Book dates from 1596, and embodies the ‘transitional’ style, identified by Glenn Watkins in his study of the composer, between the contrapuntally-based writing of the early years and the ‘highly personal and affective style’ of Books Five and Six. The composer had been in residence at Ferrara for two years at the time of publication of this volume, and had adopted certain traits of Luzzasco Luzzaschi, a major figure in the development of the madrigal but as yet one lacking a modern edition. (Luzzaschi is, however, the subject of a previous CD by La Venexiana.)

The beauty of singing on this disc is quite wondrous: simply the opening phrase of the first track, ‘Luce serene e chiare’, captivates the listener with its perfectly weighted trajectory. If anything, the tenderness that La Venexiana bring to some of Gesualdo’s utterances perhaps lends a certain detachment from the passionate texts. For instance, the second madrigal, Tal’hor sano desio, ends with the words ‘eterno duolo’ (eternal sorrow). The performing style here is careful rather than deeply involved: it is as if the ensemble were observing the poet’s anguish from a distance, commenting sympathetically, rather than embodying the poetic voice.

Ultimately, though, the trade-off between poetic involvement and musical virtuosity is one worth making when the level of vocal skill is as high as this. The extreme harmonic juxtapositions of madrigals such as Ecco, morirò dunque are handled not just with rhetorical aplomb but with control of tuning so adept that these pieces come across as more mellifluous than one had ever supposed. Perhaps, indeed, if he had known that La Venexiana would smoothe the edges of his madrigals so effectively, Gesualdo might have written yet harsher dissonances.

Monteverdi_madrigals4.jpg

A contrasting approach is taken by the Italian ensemble Delitiæ Musicæ,
directed by Marco Longhini. This group appears to be working its way through
the entirety of Monteverdi’s madrigalian output on the Naxos label,
having released the first three books prior to the appearance of this disc
(Claudio Monteverdi Madrigals Book 4: Naxos 8.555310). The group
claims to be ‘dedicated to plausible reconstructions of a cappella
music of the Italian Renaissance’, ‘plausible’ being the
operative word. The ensemble here consists of a flexible combination of six
singers, five of whom are used in any one piece; half of the tracks are
accompanied by theorbo, harpsichord, or both. Among the singers, the two
countertenors and the bass are ever-present, with two tenors and a baritone
sharing the middle parts according to cleffing and range. It is noted on the
back of the jewel case that the use of exclusively adult male voices reflects
recent research into seventeenth-century performance practice. It does,
however, bring some performance problems of its own: individual madrigals can
range as widely as twenty-four notes (three octaves plus a minor third), and
the book as a whole frequently employs the extremities of these ranges. It is
rather difficult to find a suitable pitch even for a mixed choir to cover
such a wide span, and with countertenors on the top lines, the only way to
achieve it is to have a bass who can extend well below the stave with comfort
– happily Walter Testolin on the present recording fulfils this
requirement with apparent ease – and to require the countertenors to
sing higher than they, or the listener, might wish. In the original
performance circumstances, Monteverdi had castrati available to him, and in
their absence today, a more pleasant effect is achieved by the use of female
voices on the higher lines of this music, as is the case with La Venexiana,
than countertenors are able to create. The availability to a mixed ensemble
of a higher performing pitch than employed on the present recording is also
an advantage, as the excessive muddiness of passages such as ‘I vivi
ardori miei’ in the fourth madrigal, ‘Sfogava con le
stelle’, can then be avoided.

As to the performing style of Delitiæ Musicæ: the extent to which the madrigals are subjected to variations in tempo is well beyond anything that could be called tempo rubato, and at times leads the listener to suppose that the piece has actually ended prematurely (an instance being the cadence before the repeated last phrase of ‘Ah, dolente partita’). The rhetoric of the poetry is depicted on a large scale, as if the madrigals were being projected into a stadium rather than through one’s living room speakers. At times the effect achieved by these huge rhetorical devices is extremely powerful: such moments are particularly noticeable in the earlier parts of ‘Sfogava con le stelle’, for example. However, often the degree of manipulation applied to the musical text – in terms of tempo, extreme dynamics and indeed extreme vocal range – overshadows the composer’s contribution: although Delitiæ Musicæ’s ideas are often interesting, I would prefer to view Monteverdi’s madrigals through a less highly-coloured lens.

Stephen Rice

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Gesualdo_madrigal4.jpg
image_description=Gesualdo da Venosa: Quarto Libro di Madrigali

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product_title=Gesualdo da Venosa: Quarto Libro di Madrigali
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product_id= Glossa GCD 920934 [CD]
price=$18.99
product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=682563&aff=operatoday

Posted by Gary at 4:41 PM

Ana María Sánchez: Zarzuela

In 1977 I visited Spain for the first time as the great days of phenomenal singers at the Verona Arena were over. Incidentally, it was while listening to a short wave broadcast of Flemish Radio I heard that Callas had died. But, apart from the magnificent scenery and important historical buildings, what impressed me most was the astounding amount of zarzuela recordings by so many wonderful artists and I returned home loaded with recitals by Aragall, lots of Kraus and tons of LP’s. In those 30 years the rise of so many good Spanish tenors has made zarzuela a household world with many vocal buffs, even if they are not able to understand one word of Spanish. The internet has played its role, too, with one of the best sites I know, the wonderful www.zarzuela.net hosted by British director Chris Webber, author of The Zarzuela Companion. It is the best book in English about the genre and it provides in great detail the stories of almost all recorded Zarzuelas. As a result, most of the music nowadays sounds as familiar to me as the operas of Verdi or the operettas of Lehar.

But not only tenors made their mark with the music. Though most of the world famous Spanish female singers never sang a zarzuela on the scene, all of them recorded a lot. Victoria de los Ángeles, Montserrat Caballé, Teresa Berganza have recorded several recitals. Maybe the best work of Pilar Lorengar and Angeles Gulin is to be found in the many complete recordings or highlights they sang. Only the fabulous spinto María Rodriguez, and she is a real zarzuela singer, never got her chance though happily she can be found on a cheap, but exciting, 12 DVD-set recorded during actual performances. Therefore, Ana María Sánchez has some stiff competition as some historical recordings can hardly be equalled. She probably realized this as well and found a very acceptable solution. Almost all arias on this record are from well known zarzuelas; but, with the exceptions of La Tempranica and La Gran Via, they are not the hits of the genre to be found on the CD’s of the truly great. This somewhat unhackneyed soprano repertoire is perhaps the greatest quality of this CD. But there are some drawbacks as well. Sánchez has a big lyric voice that, like many big voices, doesn’t record too well (Caballé and Domingo always sounded to me far better in the house than on records). Actually the impression one gets here is of a rather common voice, lacking somewhat the enveloping warmth the soprano displayed in her recording of Massenet’s Le Roi de Lahore.

Sánchez is at her best in introspective arias like the one from Gigantes; but she is too placid the moment some firework is needed in the Sorozábal arias because the notorious Spanish temperament is almost completely lacking. The soprano is not a top note huntress as the voice is limited. It often spreads above the stave and gets a sour edge. She therefore stays on the safe side, sometimes even on the too safe side as she opts for the mezzo-tessitura and then almost has to scrape the bottom of the voice as happens in the second Tempranica aria. I think Ana María Sánchez is foremost an opera singer lacking the lightness of touch and some of the ability for rapid fire singing that is necessary if one wants to bring this music completely alive.

Jan Neckers

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Recorded at the Teatro Monumental de Madrid, 12–16 July 2004 product_id=RTVE CD 65225 price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=685054&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 4:24 PM

PUCCINI: Il Tabarro
LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci

The term verismo awakens strong feelings among opera lovers. Some view it as cheap, musically undernourished entertainment. For others it is a great love. Yet for all that, the term “verismo” can be rather hard to pin down. It was originally coined to describe the operatic incarnation of literary realism, and was initially attached to two brief but passionate shockers—Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana in 1890, and Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci two years later. Both related tales of adultery and murder among the peasants of southern Italy. But before long, both composers turned to wildly different subjects—Leoncavallo started writing operettas, and Mascagni wrote such non-veristic fare as Isabeau, a fairy-tale retelling of the Lady Godiva story, and the Wagnerian-scaled Parisina which took on the decadent, stylized, medieval world of Gabriele d’Annunzio. Eventually the term verismo, depending on the context of its usage, grew to embrace the musical style which clothed all these dramas, realistic or not.

And then, to complicate matters, there is Puccini. He’d been Mascagni’s roommate during their conservatory days, but none of his early subjects fit very neatly into the verismo-as-realism category. This has led many to exclude him from being part of the “verismo movement”—especially those who look down their noses at verismo. After all, without the wildly popular Puccini, verismo appears to be a bit of a dud, as movements go—at most producing three or four candidates for the central repertory. But with Puccini, verismo suddenly looks a lot like one of the most successful movements in operatic history, and the number of verismo warhorses suddenly triples. And Puccini did, after all, write an opera that fits the verismo category like a glove: his 1918 drama Il Tabarro, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera as part of a triple-bill of Puccini shorts.

In 1994, the same Metropolitan Opera put two contrasting pieces of the verismo puzzle side by side—the belated verismo of Puccini’s Il Tabarro and the classic verismo of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, which had reached the stage some twenty-six years earlier. The comparison is enlightening. The stories are very similar. The music is clearly fruit from the same tree. And yet the many intervening years have also clearly left their mark. Leoncavallo’s warhorse is passionately and unashamedly Italian, painted in primary colors. There is no guilt in his hummable, clearly delineated melodies.

By contrast, Il Tabarro was written by a composer who’d studied the shadowy world of Debussy, and the frenzied brilliance of Richard Strauss. He knew Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and Schoenberg’s atonal Pierrot Lunaire. Puccini was a great melodist, yet here he is sly in their use—maybe too sly here for some tastes. Leoncavallo’s primary colors have been replaced by a thousand subtle shades. Yet everywhere in the score Puccini’s mature musical genius and his judgment as a dramatist are well in evidence. The end result is an opera of rare sophistication and dramatic truth, if at times it is a little less memorable in its melodic material than is Pagliacci. Leoncavallo’s opera would be a good selection for a newcomer to opera. Puccini’s is more a connoisseur’s choice.

In this particular production, the Met cast the major roles from strength, featuring the era’s two most renowned tenors in the leading roles. In Il Tabarro, Placido Domingo sings the role of the interloper Luigi with his characteristic golden tone and impassioned acting. The role of the older, jilted husband was sung with impressive power and gravitas by Juan Pons. If there are reservations to be felt about the cast, they might be directed towards the Giorgetta of Teresa Stratas—a great singing actress who knows how to thrill. My complaint is not directed towards any lack of ability or dedication on her part. Rather she perhaps presses a little too hard—turning a believable and human character into a bit of a caricature. Her Giorgetta is a Parisian variety of “white trash”—loud, loose, and lacking in feminine grace or refinement, with chemically damaged red hair to match. Stratas regularly reaches for something guttural in her lower register which reinforces this rather brassy impression and makes her singing at times unlovely. Also, some things which would go unnoticed on the stage spring to mind when viewed with the intimacy of video. Pons, playing the older Michele, is clearly much younger than are Domingo and Stratas, our “young” lovers! A vibrant cameo performance is turned in by Florence Quivar as La Frugola.

Stratas and Pons reappear in I Pagliacci, with Stratas’s Nedda largely being a reprise of her Giorgetta. Pons again does an admirable job, though this time in the far less sympathetic role of Tonio. Luciano Pavarotti, however considerable his vocal assets, is often a bit of a dramatic dud—especially in comparison to the passionate Domingo. And though Pav was no spring chicken in 1994 either, somehow he came across very strongly on this night. Sure, he does sometimes revert to his old “stand and sing” acting style, but there is a dignity in his bearing that makes his Canio all the more human, and when he smears the greasepaint on his face before launching into “Vesti la giubba”, he generates pathos in spades. Dwayne Croft is a convincing Silvio.

It’s a shame the James Levine ventures into the verismo repertory so rarely, as his reading here, at the helm of the now legendary Met orchestra, is revelatory. The productions are of the most traditional variety, with lots of period detail—especially Franco Zeffirelli’s Pagliacci. Other fine accounts of the latter exist on video, but if you’re looking for a compelling pair of verismo shorts in riveting, top notch performances, you could do worse than this DVD.

Eric D. Anderson

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Ruggiero Leoncavallo: I Pagliacci product_by=Il Tabarro: Juan Pons, Teresa Stratas, Plácido Domingo, Charles Anthony, Federico Davia
I Pagliacci: Luciano Pavarotti, Teresa Stratas, Juan Pons, Kenn Chester, Dwayne Croft, John Hanriot, Glenn Bater
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine (cond.) product_id=DG 073 402-4 [DVD] price=$29.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0044007340240&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 3:31 PM

Three Sopranos: Elena Obraztsova, Ileana Cotrubas, Renata Scotto

I fail to see why this date is omitted as nobody in the prehistoric days of BTT (Before first Three Tenors Concert of 1990) would have thought of assembling three sopranos (let alone two sopranos and one mezzo as is the case here). So this copycat took place later—one year later, to be exact. Of course, by now maybe people have forgotten that 1990 was the date of a new era and just mentioning 1991 would result in prospective buyers to look up the birth dates of the three ladies. And, yes, this makes some sense as Cotrubas and Obraztsova were each 52 at the time and Scotto had already reached 58.

Cotrubas at the time was nearing the end of her career and was probably already writing her famous autobiography, where she relentlessly attacks every director who doesn’t abide with the original production book. Her voice was never very rich; but by 1991 the sound was definitely thin and even more colourless. She produces quite a wobble in her first aria, Nedda’s balatella. Her Mimi is somewhat better but it is only in the Hoffmann barcarolle that she reminds us of the better singer she was in the seventies. This improvement doesn’t last long. She fails completely in Musica Proibita by Stefano Gastaldon, a magnificent melody recorded extremely well by a lot of singers, Beniamino Gigli’s version of 1930 probably being the best. The soprano’s voice has no charm and sweetness left and with her short breath (already a main problem in her best years) she cannot sustain the long phrases. I feared the worst when her last solo number turns out to be the Czardas from Fledermaus, one of those so called operetta numbers most operatic sopranos try to avoid as being far too difficult but this time the Rumanian soprano has more control of the wobbly sound and it is only the final high C that defeats her and becomes a shrill cry.

Madame Obraztsova’s appearance is distinguished by a fearsome hair-do, blonded in the best Soviet-style. The big voice happily is still there, though she often uses a hollow sound and likes to use some rather vulgar chest tones. Her French pronunciation in Carmen makes the lady more of a slut than she already is and almost the same can be said of her Dalilah. In the Hoffmann Barcarolle, Obraztsova is somewhat more restrained and better. In the Aida duet she really comes into her own, leaves hollow tone behind her and easily dwarfs Scotto.

The eldest artist is nevertheless the most interesting one. An old trooper like Scotto has, of course, given some thoughts to her repertoire and she has wisely chosen those pieces that can make an impression without exposing too much her vocal faults. She starts out with a rewarding lesser known piece by Puccini: Anna’s aria from Le Villi and she sticks to that kind of music the whole evening: somewhat dreamlike or reflective arias that can be sung a lot of the time in mezza-voce, revealing the still outstandingly beautiful and warm middle voice. The technique is still there too as she spins out deliciously long held pianissimi in Gianni Schicchi and especially in the beautiful A Vucchella and she can phrase imaginatively in the Morro, ma prima in grazia from Un Ballo. In all those pieces there are no exposed high notes but the moment there is one like in the Ballo aria the voice all at once goes horribly flat. And she proves in the big duet with Obraztsova that she is no Aida. While Cotrubas and Obraztsova just stand and deliver, Scotto acts as well, using her hands well to make some elegant and beautiful moves. This works for the first aria before it becomes clear she has intently studied the available footage of the Callas’ concerts and is unashamedly imitating the American soprano.

The picture quality is fine, though the sound is less good. Several times there are pre-echoes. The Czech Symphony Orchestra is better known for the thousands of recordings of movie scores it made during its long life. The sound is not overwhelming though they were much in demand after the fall of the iron curtain as they could be had rather cheaply in the early nineties. The director had the good idea to cut off a lot of the entries and goings of the ladies and probably some part of the applause as well without being too rude so that things move quick and fast.

Jan Neckers

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Recorded at the Roman Amphitheatre of Siracuse product_id=Immortal DVD 960011 price=$26.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0675754883621&bfmtype=dvd
Posted by Gary at 2:32 PM

Aix-en-Provence Festival Begins Its First Ring Cycle

aix_ring.pngBy ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 5 July 2006]

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France, July 4 — Given the dizzying number of arts festivals around Europe every summer, opera festivals need to offer something special — perhaps a world premiere or a new theater or a display of star power — that can stir excitement and justify the scramble for (and price of) tickets.

Posted by Gary at 9:36 AM

Fidelio, Glyndebourne Festival, Sussex

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 4 July 2006]

Almost 200 years after its premiere, Beethoven’s opera seems as painfully relevant as ever. Deborah Warner’s 2001 production for Glyndebourne came too soon to transport this drama of prisoners held without trial to Guantánamo Bay, but it is still set in the present. Costumes and surroundings are unspecific enough to suggest that the events could be happening anywhere, but they are certainly happening now.

Posted by Gary at 9:22 AM

Mozart's `Magic Flute' in Tedious Drag Draws Loud Boos at Aix

AixFestival.gifShirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 5 July 2006]

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- Drag is in at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The shock of Loge's evening gown in Wagner's ``Das Rheingold'' on Sunday evening was trumped by Mozart's ``Magic Flute'' on Monday. This time, the transvestites are under age.

Posted by Gary at 9:10 AM

City Opera, After Frustrating Year, Still Longs for New Home

NYCO_logo.pngBy ROBIN POGREBIN [NY Times, 4 July 2006]

In May, after years of trying to find its own home, New York City Opera learned that its latest plans, for a new concert hall at Amsterdam Avenue and 66th Street, had fallen through: just the latest setback in the company's nearly 25-year effort to improve its location, including a very public and unsuccessful recent push to be part of the arts complex at ground zero.

Posted by Gary at 12:01 AM

July 4, 2006

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Singer of Bach, Handel, Dies at 52

61.jpgJuly 4 (Bloomberg) -- Mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, 52, died of cancer on July 3 at the height of her musical and expressive powers.

Posted by Gary at 3:13 PM

July 2, 2006

Sturm und Drang, daß die Fetzen fliegen

Kraus.jpg[Welt am Sonntag, 2 July 2006]

Heute endet mit der Uraufführung von "Aeneas in Carthago" eine Ära, in der Stuttgarts Staatsoper zum führenden Musiktheater Deutschlands wurde. Ein Gespräch mit dem scheidenden Generalmusikdirektor Lothar Zagrosek über peinliche Klassik-Events und die Notwendigkeit, das Publikum zu fordern

Posted by Gary at 9:04 AM

Opera review: ‘Carmen’ opens season with passion, high drama

BY Craig Smith [The New Mexican, 2 July 2006]

The Santa Fe Opera’s 50th-anniversary season opened Friday with musically lustrous, dramatically vivid reading of Bizet’s Carmen under the combined hands of SFO music director Alan Gilbert and director Lars Rudolfsson, and with acclaimed mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter making her company debut in the title role. It was as far from the Spanish travelogue type of production as you could get.

Posted by Gary at 8:30 AM

The Dreams and Drama of Two Unconventional Operas

Andriessen_Vermeer.jpgBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 2 July 2006]

WHAT constitutes a suitably dramatic concept for an opera? It is only natural that as composers continue to grapple with this formidable genre, they seek new answers to this old question.

Posted by Gary at 8:12 AM