Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

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

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

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

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

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

Hänsel und Gretel

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

G. F. Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto
28 Aug 2006

HANDEL: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

Sometimes an invidious comparison cannot be avoided, and such is the case with two recent DVD versions of Georg Frederic Handel's masterpiece, Giulio Cesare.

G. F. Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

Sarah Connolly, Angelika Kirchschlager, Danielle de Niese, Christophe Dumaux, Patricia Bardon, Christopher Maltman, Rachid Ben Abdeslam, The Glyndebourne Chorus, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment,

Opus Arte OA0950D [3DVDs]

$44.99  Click to buy

TDK offers a July 2004 performance at the Liceu in Barcelona. Directed by Herbert Wernicke, this staging deserves acknowledgment for its intriguing design and committed performers. When viewed, however, alongside the OpusArte release of the 2005 Glyndebourne production directed by David McVicar, the Liceu production pales. Sure to be a classic of opera on DVD, the Glyndebourne set is a treasure trove: generously proportioned, with two bonus features and one act per disc, an incomparable cast and orchestral performance, and a production design of delightful invention and dramatic strength.

Giulio Cesare requires a most sophisticated approach, as it veers from over-the-top comic villainy (Tolomeo and his henchmen), past heartfelt pathos (Pompey's widow and son, Cornelia and Sesto), and through heroism and seductiveness (Giulio Cesare and Cleopatra). The miracle of McVicar's direction for Glyndebourne resides in his complete mastery of these shifting tones. The performers play to the audience, but never wink at it. Each character has an individual profile, yet each interacts with the others as a true ensemble.

As McVicar maintains in the bonus feature centered on him ("Entertainment is not a dirty word"), the director feels at home with the da capo structures. Some other directors throw up their hands and let the stage picture grow stagnant during the longer arias. Others go in the other direction and throw on too much distracting business. McVicar employs character-based movement and brilliant choreography (by movement director Andrew Gorge) with an effectiveness that makes the arias essential and vivid pictures of emotional states suspended in time.

Robert Jones spartan set design features classic baroque elements, such as horizontal, rotating blue poles for an ocean effect, with a few handsome props. Brigitte Reifenstuel's costumes manage the neat trick of revealing the essence of each character while placing the character's in McVicar's chosen time setting of colonial, mid-19th century British rule. The taste of "Bollywood" McVicar injects in some numbers makes for an appealing spice.

But description can never serve to convey the sheer fun of this production. It has to be seen and heard. And what a cast McVicar assembled. Sarah Connolly redefines masculinity in her strutting and then besotted Cesare. Patricia Bardon and Angelika Kirchshlager make Cornelia and Sesto, respectively, into truly involving roles, instead of the tiresome victims they can often be. Christopher Maltman tears into the twisted psychology of Achilla, in love with Cornelia and realizing too late the depth of Tolomeo's duplicity. Rising counter-tenor Christophe Dumaux for once gives a Tolomeo without undue emphasis on his effiminancy, so that he can effect a truly worthy antagonism. Some may feel that Rachid ben Abdeslam prances a bit too much as Nireno, but his solos have an adorable quality that make them stand out much more than they usually do.

Opus Arte apparently considers Danielle de Niese, the Cleopatra, to be the star of the show, as she gets a 20 minute bonus feature, a sort-of "day in the life" vignette highlighted for your reviewer by a sequence in which she cheerfully babbles on about how much fun she is having with the show, while speeding down a country lane, her bracelet-laden hands casually draped over the wheel. And OpusArte is correct, for as consistently great as this Giulio Cesare is, it seems to get a rocket boost of energy when de Niese comes on. Her voice, though entirely satisfactory, has no special qualities. But her charisma and physical allure - not to mention her dancing ability - establish her as a performer to watch for.

The performers were given body microphones for the filming (as seen in the De Niese feature). The resulting audio picture offers little or no sense of perspective. The voices are well out in front of the excellent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, led with both precision and passion by William Christie. Some may wish for a more realistic stage sound.

Giulio_Cesare_TDK.gifThat sort of sound can be found in the Liceu production. Unfortunately, neither the orchestra nor the cast in Barcelona compares well with Glyndebourne's. Michael Hofstetter seems to lead a smaller ensemble; at least the sound is scrawnier and less flexible. Countertenor Flavio Oliver often cannot be heard well enough to establish Cesare's authority, although he has some handsome runs. Elena de la Merced's Cleopatra, unalluringly dressed in heavy brocades, has a pleasant voice but little of the allure that the role demands. The effete Tolomeo, Jordi Domenech, sings with that nasal whine of some countertenors, which underline the unpleasantness of his character, perhaps too well. Maito Beaumont does well as Sesto, and if one can overlook a most unfortunate striptease by the pale and plump Oliver Zwarg, he sings an effective Achilla.

For many, the star of the show will be Ewa Podles as Cornelia. In heavy black "widow's weeds" and a fiercely shellacked head of hair, Podles here stays mostly in the middle range of her voice, with little opportunity to display her pyrotechnics. Bolder casting, with Podles and Oliver switching roles, would have made for a more interesting, posibly even credible, production.

Wernicke has the action take place on a shiny black slab, with a reflective surface dangling above. He makes good use of this for many interesting stage pictures, in particular in act two when a maze of walls appears on stage and characters can be seen reflected above as they enter, exit, and dart around.

Elsewhere, the production offers ideas that don't coalesce into a meaningful interpretation. A "puppet" crocodile clambers around throughout the opera, sometimes menacing and sometimes as sweet as a puppy. The booklet essay proposes an explanation. Perhaps Opera Today readers will understand it better than yuour reviwer did. Especially unfortunate was the decision to have Cornelia and Sesto retain Pompey's head in every scene. This only serves to distance the viewer from the emotions that Handel wishes to express.

Wernicke decided to honor a practice of Handel's time by inserting a small number of arias from other works of the composer, including two for the relatively minor character of Curio and an additional aria each for Cesare and Tolomeo in the last act. Handelians can take up sides on the effectiveness of these additions and substitutions. For all others who merely want to enjoy the best possible version of Giulio Cesare, the OpusArte Glyndebourne set will be first choice.

Chris Mullins

Related Link:

HANDEL: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):