September 29, 2006

VERDI: Un ballo in maschera

The latter ranges from stark, modernistic exercises to over-the-top re-interpretations (such as the recent Berlin "Rigoletto" set on the "Planet of the Apes"). And between these two polar extremes lies a vast wasteland of unexplored territory, melding, one hopes, the best of both a production true to the essence of the opera's story and yet imaginative, evocative, and truly contemporary.

On this global picture of opera stagings, where does this Euroarts DVD of a Leipzig Un ballo in maschera fall? Nowhere. It is not on the same planet. Director Ermanno Olmi and designer Arnaldo Pomodoro appear to operate in their own dimension. "Cloud cuckoo land" would be your reviewer's guess.

The problem lies in the sheer baffling oddness of the production, which doesn't appear to be symbolic or referential. The singers perform as if they are in a traditional production. But where they are, dressed as they are, remains bewildering. After some fairly traditional peasants appear to sing the king's praises, military men appear in oddly cut tunic-jackets, carrying spears. Riccardo wears an upscale, monk-like gunny-sack brown affair, and the unfortunate Renato must perform in a laughable silver-lamè outfit. Court ladies stroll on in gowns with bizarre ruffled sleeves and hoop skirts. The men sport a sort of stiff beret, and the women have fan-like headdresses. The cast tends to move into position and stand stiffly before a painted backdrop of odd metallic slashes and cross-hatches. This is not the Boston of the revised libretto or the Swedish court of the original setting. In fact, it appears to be a cross between The Wizard of Oz and a Star Trek episode.

As odd as the opening act strikes the viewer, the Ulrica episode takes the production down several levels. Her psychic sessions are held in a run-down basement that has spike-like columns piercing through at odd angles. Costumed as an inter-stellar porcupine, Anna Maria Chiuri, a strong Ulrica, is allowed almost no physical movement above the waist, but give her credit - she makes use of some very expressive eyebrows.

For act three, a reasonable facsimile of a room gets wheeled onstage, and when Ricardo appears to sing his aria, he sings from behind a desk in a space beside a wall, on the other side of which Amelia sits despondently. The director and designers deserve credit for that effective idea, but then the ball begins, and the descent into weirdness resumes. With the cast so obviously in "maschera" to begin with, the production team goes for oddly shaped gold-flaked masks of various shapes, including a donut-shaped one for tenor Massimiliano Pisapia (emphasis on the "mass"). After Renato stabs the King (your reviewer expected a ray gun blast), four game dancers lift the hefty singer up and carry him around the ramp of a circular platform, at the top of which Amelia joins him for the final lines. This is not recommended emergency procedure for stabbing victims.

Non-sensical and laughable, the whole affair seems to be a display piece for the set and costuming inspirations of the creators, with no explicable rationale your reviewer could discern.

In the meanwhile, a cast of unfamiliar names gives decent performances. Pisapia has a lot of voice, although the top lacks the security and sheen that would help ameliorate the dulling effect of his unimpressive physique and deportment. Chiara Taigi, a striking woman with a passing resemblance to the slimmed-down Deborah Voigt, tends to get shrieky at the top. Judging her acting in this production would not be fair. Franco Vassallo gets the heartiest response at curtain; he has more even production from bottom to top than the two leads, though the basic instrument is not especially attractive.

The two best singers appear in smaller roles. Eun Yee You makes a charming Oscar, and has some fun with her cheesy ensemble at the end, as she totters around on outsized platform shoes. And the Samuel of Tuomas Pursio impresses with a rich, handsome bass.

The best contribution of the evening comes from conductor Riccardo Chailly and his Leipzig Gewandhausorchester. Verdi could ask no more in terms of energy, impetus, and drama. If only the production didn't work so hard to distract from the musical performance.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 5:30 PM

STRAUSS: Salome

Who knows, there may be those economy-minded individuals still cherishing their original vinyl copy who will finally be persuaded to move to CD! Perhaps some who own the older CD version will go for the latest Decca set; if not for the remastering (sharp and detailed, to these ears), then for the restoration of the gloriously lurid original cover art. This is a Salome ready to bite John the Babtist's head off, never mind the swordsman.

Salome has done well on disc. Going by its soprano exponents, excellent sets featuring Caballe, Rysanek, Studer, and Behrens remain easily available. The great Strauss highlights disc with the CSO under Reiner with Inge Borkh has recently been remastered, and some sleuthing should find the complete DG set with that soprano under Bohm.

But the Solti/Nilsson will always hold its own. Before letting the primal force of her vocal power roar in the final scene, Nilsson adopts a lighter, "girlish" tone. For a singer not always praised for her acting, she manages a very creditable vocal portrayal. Combined with that afore-mentioned cover photo, this is a Salome no one is wise to cross.

The rest of the cast, truthfully, does not come to the star's level, but the singers handle their jobs well. Eberhard Wachter's Jokanaan could use more vocal allure to explain Salome’s instant attraction. As the Palestine George and Martha, Gerhard Stolze and Grace Hoffman are convincingly repellent. Amidst all the cacophony, a sweeter voiced tenor than Waldemar Kmentt, the Narraboth, would be very much appreciated.

Solti is Solti. Aggressive, unsubtle, prone to sudden rhytmic lurches and stalls, the conductor seems to embody the opera's perverse, chaotic world. Understandably, it is all too much for some listeners, but his super-heated leadership has an undeniable charge. The score contains more subtlety than heard here, but all the excitement is captured, no doubt about that.

Now fans of Salome have a new toy to amuse themselves with, until the Met can find a company to crawl down into the cistern and bring up the DVD of the Gergiev/Mattila/Terfel Salome and let that sensational show dance into the world.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Salome.jpg image_description=Richard Strauss: Salome product=yes product_title=Richard Strauss: Salome product_by=Birgit Nilsson (Salome), Gerhard Stolze (Herod), Grace Hoffman (Herodias), Eberhard Wächter (Jokanaan), Waldemar Kmentt (Narraboth), Wiener Philharmoniker, Sir Georg Solti (cond.) product_id=Decca 475 7528 3 [2CDs] price=$22.98 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=874730&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 12:58 PM

La Traviata

latraviata_ENO.jpgRICHARD MORRISON AT THE COLISEUM [Times Online, 29 September 2006]

Chastened by the flops of recent years, English National Opera’s avowed new intent is to rebuild its much depleted stock of “bankers”: dependable productions of the most popular operas that can be revived again and again.

Posted by Gary at 9:32 AM

Opera Cleveland puts pieces together

Major_Leon.jpgDonald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 29 September 2006]

The leading players at Opera Cleveland will soon be in place.

Posted by Gary at 9:00 AM

Opera House Hints at 'Idomeneo' Reversal

Deutsche_Oper_Berlin.jpgBy DAVID McHUGH [AP, 29 September 2006]

BERLIN -- The Berlin opera house widely criticized for withdrawing a production amid fears it might provoke violence from Muslims may consider re-staging the opera if it receives security assurances.

Posted by Gary at 8:51 AM

CHERUBINI: Le Sposo di tre marito di nessuna

Witness this Dynamic release of a forgotten Cherubini opera, Le Sposo di tre marito di nessuna (Three engagements, no marriages). First performed in 1783, three years before Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, this playful, charming score foreshadows much of the rhythmic vitality of the later masterpiece's score, though without its unforgettable tunefulness.

The storyline points a little further ahead, however, to some of the cynicism about human amatory impulses depicted in Cosi fan tutte. A foolish older nobleman, Don Pistacchio, waits to meet his arranged bride, Donna Rosa. But Donna Rosa's former paramour, Don Martino, schemes to get her back by convincing Pistacchio than Martino's sister, Donna Lisetta, is actually Donna Rosa. This scheme unravels at the end of act one, prompted by the interfering Don Simone, Pistacchio's uncle. But instead of a resolution, the characters' resentment and jealousy lead to further complications, with on-the-rebound engagements to unsuitable partners, meant to spite one another. Throwing in the lower-class couple of a trickster and his girlfriend, manic couplings and uncouplings ensue; eventually Don Pistacchio ends up with no bride after having three fiancées. Everyone else is happily paired off.

Although the score ambles with a Mozartean flair, some of the plot machinations are reminiscent of the great Rossini comedies. The end of act one even has an ensemble of characters expressing their bewilderment and frustration, as Rossini's so often do, but Cherubini's music plays down the comic aspects where Rossini would have whipped up a crescendo of cries and cackles. Well-played by the Orchestra Internazionale D'Italia under conductor Dimitri Jurowski's leadership, the score never fails to delight the ear, but the melodies just do not stick the way Mozart's do.

Perhaps a starry cast could help the music make a greater impression. Here the voices offer enthusiasm and skill but seldom inspiration or beauty. The three sopranos (Maria Laura Martorana, Rosa Anna Peraino, and Rosa Sorice) tend to thin, edgy delivery. Tenor Emanuele D'Aguanno's Don Martino has no big romantic aria, which is just as well, considering his unremarkable tone. The two baritones (Giulio Mastrototaro as Don Pistacchio and Gabriele Ribis as the trickster Folletto) growl and bark as much as one would expect and more than one would wish.

Despite the unprepossing singing, this set deserves a warm welcome. The booklet photos suggest the production, apparently set in the 1920s, added its own level of enjoyment; perhaps Dynamic should have produced a DVD, as they have with increasing frequency. Unlikely to appear at a USA opera house soon, Le Sposo di tre marito di nessuna reveals itself, on this Dynamic set, to be an opera well worth reviving, both for its inherent musical quality and the insights it provides to a rich era of operatic history.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 8:39 AM

ZEISL: Lieder

Among its notable practitioners is Erich Zeisl (1905-59), whose tonal works are solidly based on the Romanticism his parents’ generation knew. Yet his knowledge of twentieth-century styles allowed him to enhance his works with strategically placed dissonances, tonal planing, modal inflections, ostinato-based structures, and other expressive devices that set him apart from such late-Romantic figures as Gustav Mahler and Hugo Wolf. At the heart of his Lieder is an engaging lyricism that makes the songs not only accessible, but memorable. His texts are of interest because he not only drew on such tradition sources as the works of Goethe and Des Knaben Wunderhorn, but like is older contemporary, Richard Strauss, modern poet whose verse attracted his imagination.

A Viennese by birth, who emigrated to the United States in 1938, Zeisl moved first in New York City and settled soon thereafter in Los Angeles. Unlike other composers of the time, Zeisl did not allow his style to change in reaction to world events or in response to popular trends. He did not give way to the various “isms” in the twentieth century, but composed in the style he knew well. Thus, while he may be regarded as a kind of hold-over from the earlier part of the century, Zeisl created works that are solidly constructed and quite original. If nothing else, the excellent recordings of these songs should help to inspire a reassessment of Zeisl’s work and interest in his other music.

This recording was issued at the centenary of Zeisl’s birth and offers a fine selection of the composer’s Lieder from the various collections he assembled at various times in his career. Among the more typical Lieder is “Vor meinem Fester” (from the Sieben Lieder, published in 1936), with its text by Arno Holz. In its straightforward style, this work is of interest for its details, with the piano figuration resembling birdcalls that set the context for the text. The more aggressive lovesong, “Janettee” (1925) has an innocent style that recalls the music of Sigmund Romberg, and those who know the early Lieder of Alban Berg can hear in Zeisl a very different treatment of the poetry of Otto Bierbaum. Yet other songs betray a more eclectic style, as with the setting of Goethe’s “Der Schäfer” (from Sieben Lieder, 1936) that has echoes of Tin-Pan Alley in the opening accompaniment and inflections of Middle-Eastern exoticism in the verses that describe the charms of a young maiden. This setting places Goethe squarely in the twentieth century in what is one of Zeisl’s more clever songs. Likewise, the Walter-Mitty humor of “Stillleben” (from Sechs Lieder, 1935) puts a cynical twist on the poem by Lessing in a setting that bears echoes of Cabaret numbers.

As to other well-known poets, the settings of Friedrich Nietzsche (“Die Sonne sinkt,” “Ecce Homo,” and “Das trunkene Lieder”) are of interest for the various approaches Zeisl took in setting them. The last of those three is the same text from Also sprach Zarathustra that Mahler used in the third movement of the Third Symphony, and even though the opening betrays some similarities, it is a different interpretation of the text that demonstrate’s Zeisl’s original voice.

Yet when it comes to Zeisl’s distinctive voice, the cycle Mondbilder, with texts by Christian Morgenstern, has much to offer. The four poems that comprise this cycle are more extended than some of the other ones that Zeisl set. Dating from 1928, this is a composition that reflects a mature composer, and in approaching this work, Zeisl created a persuasive work that bears numerous rehearings. The four parts include “Der Mond steht da,” “Eine goldene Sichel,” “Groß über schweigenden Wäldern” and “Durch die Abendwolken ziehen,” and while it is difficult to prefer any one of these over the others, the impassioned music of the third song is quite powerful. This is music that deserves to be part of recital programs so that the public can appreciate better not only Zeisl’s music, but the intriguing texts of Morgenstern.

In performing this rich and varied selection from Zeisl’s Lieder, Wolfgang Holzmair gives a laudable performance. Known well for his fine interpretations of traditional Lieder, Holzmair is the ideal interpreter for these songs. The pieces chosen for this recording fit his range well, and the music content allows him to express a variety of moods convincingly. He works well with his accompanist on this recording, Cord Garben, who brings a deft approach to this music. The nuances of both Holzmair and Garben emerge clearly in this recording, which is an exemplary contribution to the discography of modern Lieder.

James L. Zychowicz

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Posted by Gary at 7:59 AM

La traviata, Coliseum, London

Emma_Bell.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 28 September 2006]

It doesn’t matter where or when you set La traviata. What counts is that Violetta should bear the hallmark of the “working girl”, albeit witty and beautiful, and the characterisation of the principals is emotionally truthful. Then the prima donna must walk Verdi’s tightrope – different voice and persona for each act – and move us.

Posted by Gary at 1:00 AM

September 28, 2006

Il campiello, Salle Richelieu, Paris

Goldoni.jpgBy Clare Shine [Financial Times, 28 September 2006]

The winter wind wuthers, snow sprinkles the shabby piazza, doors and shutters pop open and close with the relentless regularity of a cuckoo clock. There is no escaping local colour realism in this diligent production of Goldoni’s little-performed comedy (from 1756).

Posted by Gary at 11:16 PM

That's Amore

A sort of audio calling card for soprano Beth Donnelly and baritone Douglas Feller (both of the Portland, Oregon, area), this handsomely presented set probably does not have wide distribution — there may come a time when the artists offer thanks for that, for the singing on display here does not show either singer off in the most complimentary fashion.

Donnelly, whose bio mentions some Portland Opera appearances, begins the CD with Doretta's song from La Rondine and then leaps into Violetta's Traviata act one showpiece. In both, her basically attractive instrument approaches each aria's challenges with that faint edge of hesitation and calculation which detracts from the accomplishment. As an example, she opts for the high ending to "Sempre libera," but a noticeable pause before the money note relays too much of a sense of gathering her resources, and then the note itself represents more the singer's aspiration than the character's exuberance. Later solos (from Lucia, Don Giovanni, and Don Pasquale) tend to run together, with no particular interpretation in evidence.

As compared to her partner on the CD, baritone Douglas Feller, Ms. Donnelly at least sings with attractive tone. Mr. Feller's unsteady, unsubtle baritone sounds equally unappealing in opera (arias from many of the same operas named above) and in pop pieces, such as the title track.

The album closes with the two duetting on the Bocelli/Brightman hit, "Time to Say Goodbye." An unfortunate choice of words, but entirely fitting for this CD at that point.

A second disc, on DVD, supposedly offers "film and images from Rome, Italy, the inspiration of the music, and from the Pacific Northwest." However, it would not play on your reviewer's equipment.

This being a 2005 release, one hopes that in 2006 both singers have grown and are offering the Pacific Northwest finer vocalizing than is, sadly, heard here.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 4:31 PM

September 27, 2006

The Met puts on the ritz, roaring into new season

By David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 September 2006]

NEW YORK - The Metropolitan Opera's new regime will be credited with and accused of many things in the coming weeks - but "demure" won't be among them.

Posted by Gary at 5:08 PM

Death of a ‘Butterfly'

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 27 September 2006]

We are supposed to have a new Metropolitan Opera, with the coming of Peter Gelb as general manager, and a huge public relations push. But, amazingly, there is still opera to judge: singers, a conductor, an orchestra, a production. No amount of PR can change the basic question: How did it go?

Posted by Gary at 4:59 PM

German Leader Warns Against Censorship

angela_merkel.jpgBy MELISSA EDDY [AP, 27 September 2006]

BERLIN -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against "self-censorship out of fear" on Wednesday, a day after a leading Berlin opera house decided not stage a production because of concerns it could provoke Islamic ire.

Posted by Gary at 4:51 PM

Flaviano Labo – Vol III

Well, for a totally forgotten tenor this third solo album (in reality, the fourth as Bongiovanni also brought out a long joint concert with Magda Olivero) is not a bad track record. In reality the tenor from Piacenza is now better represented in many collections than during his lifetime where he was indeed shamefully neglected. A DG Don Carlo and a Supraphone Lucia plus a Manon Lescaut highlights with Anna Moffo makes up almost all his official output. And then there was the strange solo album he recorded. In Europe Decca put a shabby ten-inch record on the market while in the States London preferred a fine LP with colour photograph and some extra arias (When do we get that album in the Classic Recitals series?).

Happily, Bongiovanni and other labels have corrected the omissions and a lot of Labo’s live performances can nowadays be bought. Therefore I’m sure that signor Bongiovanni didn’t produce the record under review solely to correct history’s injustice. I presume that the sales figures of the three other albums were not bad at all; and there is good reason to believe so as proved by this exciting record. “The biggest voice to come out of such a slight frame” an old Met stalwart told me. But it is not only the volume that impresses an audience. This is the real Verdi voice: a big burnishing sound with all the necessary virility for the great roles. A musical voice, too, even when he often lets it quiver from emotion without becoming unstylish. If Lauri-Volpi had still been with us he definitely would have added an extra chapter in his fascinating ‘Voci parallele’ as on record nowadays Rolando Villazon and Flaviano Labo have so much in common as to colour and singing though two differences remain: Labo had far more decibels and an easier top. It says something about the dearth of Verdi tenors that Villazon nowadays is on top of the world while Labo in his time had much stiffer competition.

Maybe Labo’s only weakness was that he phrased musically but never probed very deeply into his roles. His remains a very beautiful voice yet without that flash of insight that made other tenors so unforgettable. His ‘Quando le sere’ is an example: well sung, with a few not too obtrusive sobs but without the personality of Carlo Bergonzi. The voice, too, lacks some of the honeyed sounds one knows from Gigli or Di Stefano in arias like ‘E lucevan’ or ‘Che gelida’ (but what a glorious C). But at his best, he is superb. His ‘Cielo e mar’ is an example for every tenor. Here he proves he can sing softly when necessary, though it is the shine and strength of the top notes that make his glory. That he was musical, is proven by his ‘Ah si, ben mio’ where the legato is perfect while he doesn’t forget the trill. The conductor (no name given) tries to pester him by rushing ‘Di quella pira’ at a breakneck speed but Labo’s breath control is such that he sings along and still has enough for a good top C. There are some duets with Protti, Mattiucci and Zeani (all singers like Labo who never became household names) which are testimony to the richness in great voices of those days. Of course this is not a CD for high quality sonic fanatics; but the sound is quite acceptable for the times. For the lovers of exciting tenor singing, this will be quite an addendum to their collection.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 3:29 PM

September 26, 2006

Wagnerian welcome for an arts centre

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 26 September 2006]

Opening a new opera house with Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen would seem an event charged with hubris. If the Canadian Opera Company recently did just that, it stemmed more from the fortuitous convergence of two long-term projects than from an audacious decision to inaugurate the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre with opera’s supreme musical and theatrical challenge.

Posted by Gary at 9:42 PM

Peter Gelb Era Begins at the Met

Peter Gelb era begins at Metropolitan Opera with stunning performance of 'Madama Butterfly'

By MIKE SILVERMAN [AP, 26 September 2006]

(AP) Let the news ring out from Lincoln Center. Send word by satellite radio. Trumpet it in Times Square. An exciting new era was born at the staid old Metropolitan Opera on Monday night.

Posted by Gary at 9:39 PM

Berlin opera canceled after religious threats

Idomeneo.jpgBy Judy Dempsey and Mark Landler [Int'l Herald Tribune, 26 September 2006]

BERLIN A leading German opera house has canceled performances of a Mozart opera because of security fears stirred by a scene that depicts the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, prompting a storm of protest here about the renunciation of artistic freedom.

Posted by Gary at 9:32 PM

A Mystery Opera, Played Out on Both the Stage and the Screen

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 26 September 2006]

In the 1930’s the Austrian-born composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, working in Hollywood, essentially invented the symphonic film score, thrilling audiences with his music for “Captain Blood,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and other swashbuckling favorites.

Posted by Gary at 9:25 PM

LEHAR: Schön is die Welt

Some of these recordings are from radio sources or made in collaboration with German broadcasting companies as this performance of Schön ist die Welt, originally produced at Bavarian Radio. Contrary to the aforementioned operettas this issue comes in with one disadvantage: very stiff competition. On the inexpensive Walhall label there is a fine 1954 performance with Schock and Schlemm and above all (on different labels) there is the magnificent 1942 performance conducted by the composer himself. And that last performance has such eminent singers as the young Anton Dermota, the best Mozart tenor before the advent of Wunderlich, and the admirable Adele Kern, a great Zerbinetta, Sophie and Despina. And to top it all we are lucky to have the creators of this version of the operetta (there was an earlier version ‘Endlich allein’) Gitta Alpar and Richard Tauber in the most important arias. And as everybody knows, Lehar didn’t only tailor his roles to Tauber’s voice, he even allowed the gifted tenor to make some compositional suggestions, too, so we sometimes don’t know for sure where Lehar finished and Tauber took over.

In short, this means that this modern version is up to formidable competition. Of course it is good to hear Lehar’s rich and luscious orchestration like the pastoral motive at the start of the second act which consists of one long love duet; Lehar’s not so subtle hint at Tristan. And the orchestra, ably conducted by Ulf Schirmer, has the necessary ‘schwung’ often more found by eclectic radio orchestras than with great symphonic ensembles who ‘deign’ to steep down a step. But in the end the singers will decide the issue and I don’t think they can compete with their predecessors.

Every operetta cliché is to be found in this 1930 version (the first 1914 one was more original) and this includes a second couple. It is somewhat strange that Bavarian Radio didn’t have the money or didn’t take the pains to engage the right singers for the part but simply asked the two main singers to double in these roles. Now even Tauber was not above recording a few of the songs of the second couple in a Lehar operetta but I doubt he would have sung that second tenor role as well on a complete recording (he didn’t in his movie recording of Das Land des Lächelns) as this makes dramatic nonsense of the whole operetta. The second couple has to have an extra dose of lightness and charm which is definitely lacking with tenor Zoran Todorovich. To put it plainly, he is somewhat a fly in the ointment. Tauber, Dermota and even Schock were fine Mozart tenors and they brought their art to Lehar. Todorovich is a Pollione, a Turiddu (and not a good one at Amsterdam) and the voice is not only too heavy, too charmless and too strident with some ugly fermata but it lacks sweetness, pianissimi and above all an exemplary legato. Every bawler with a few decibels can more or less succeed in ‘Recondita armonia’ but will fall through in Lehar as his operettas will never tolerate just decibels but need lightness and impeccable knitting of beautiful tone; indeed, only the best of Mozart singing will do.

Elena Mosuç is better than her male partner though she, too, was not born in the operetta tradition. She has behind her an impressive amount of Lucias, Olympias, Donna Annas and Violettas and the voice is no longer as fresh as some years ago. At the beginning of the recording there is a wobble that slowly disappears during the recording. She is at her very best in the great aria ‘ich bin verliebt’ where she modulates her voice very well and sings with charm and conviction, proving too that she has studied the role while listening to Adele Kerns elder recording as she uses the same effects. As the second soprano she makes less heavy weather of her role than does Todorovich. But I wonder who decided to change her tango song ‘Mein Buenos Aires’ into a ‘Rio de Janeiro’. Maybe the words are easier to sing but the Brazilian city was not known as the world capital of tango as did the Argentinean capital.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 9:11 PM

Met's Glam Opening Has Minghella's `Butterfly,' Rufus (Update1)

By Manuela Hoelterhoff [Bloomberg.com, 26 September 2006]

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- With huge screens recording her tiniest tear and smallest bead of sweat, ``Madama Butterfly'' opened the Metropolitan Opera season last night in a gala transmitted live to Lincoln Center Plaza and Times Square as the curtain rose on Peter Gelb's first season as general manager.

Posted by Gary at 8:54 PM

September 25, 2006

POULENC: Gloria and Stabat Mater

This turn is echoed in the 1950s with both his Stabat Mater (1950) and his Gloria (1959), two works re-issued here in recordings from 1985 and 1989, performed by the French National Orchestra and the Choir of Radio France with the American soprano, Barbara Hendricks, conducted by Georges Prêtre.

Poulenc’s Gloria is often brilliantly exuberant, and this quality finds the forces at their best. The choir and orchestra alike shimmer and sparkle with flair, and this exuberance goes a long way towards securing the success of the performance. It is also quite striking how fluent the performers’ command of the idiom is. If Poulenc winks his eye, it is clear that the performers have no doubt about what the gesture means, and they embrace it with an engaging naturalness.

Not all of the Gloria is extroversion. The “Domine Deus” section has a memorable moodiness about it with haunting melodic contours; contours that soloist Barbara Hendricks negotiates with expressive ease. In this section, as well, the soprano is frequently given a simple, chant-like refrain, which she renders with much poise and control. Yet overall, I suspect it is the radiance of her sound that proves most memorable. Here in the Gloria, Prêtre (or is it the audio engineer?) lets the radiance play against the background sound of choir and orchestra, and keeps it in interesting timbral relief.

The Stabat Mater is a longer work and an emotionally more complex one, treating the inner turmoil of Mary at the Crucifixion and devotional responses to that. Over the length of the work, Poulenc’s score presents strong contrasts; contrasts that give it a dramatic edge—sometimes, even a narrative sense. Regrettably EMI has not included text or translation, thus veiling the score’s more specific gestures.

The choral performance in Stabat Mater is less convincing than in the Gloria. Acoustically the choir seems often in the background, even when their material is primary. Additionally, much of the singing here is soft—given the text, that is unsurprising—but the soft seems to be more “undersung” than “less loud”; it has a wispiness about it that makes you fear it may soon sag. It doesn’t, but the fear remains.

In an age of recyclables, we can be grateful that EMI has given these performances a second life. The Gloria is wonderfully idiomatic and engaging, with soprano solos of distinctive beauty.

Steven Plank

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Posted by Gary at 9:10 PM

Metropolitan Opera Radio Launches on SIRIUS with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly

[Sirius Satellite Radio, 25 September 2006]
Metropolitan Opera Radio launches on SIRIUS with a LIVE broadcast of the Met’s gala performance of Madama Butterfly, conducted by Music Director James Levine and directed by Academy Award®-winning film director Anthony Minghella. Singing her signature role for the first time at the Met, Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domâs stars as the doomed Cio-Cio-San. The marvelous tenor Marcello Giordani is the unfaithful Pinkerton, and exceptional baritone Dwayne Croft sings the sympathetic role of Sharpless.

Posted by Gary at 5:19 PM

BACH: St. John Passion

And one must imagine then that performances of the Passions accordingly tend to call forth and inspire extraordinary results, in intent, at least, if not uniformly in realization: extraordinary works that we handle with extraordinary care. And extraordinary care is well manifest in this recent release of a live concert performance of the St. John Passion by Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan.

The choir of sixteen singers, which includes all of the soloists except the evangelist, sings with decorous control, careful phrasing and articulation, and an over-all tidiness that serves the musical style well. Particularly dramatic moments like the “Kreuzige!” exclamations are far from constrained, but more often than not, it is a careful control that is most characteristic . . . and beautiful for it. The chorales no less than the choruses are highly polished, and show a wonderful sense of alternating strong-weak stresses in the subdivision of the pulse.

Gerd Türk brings to the evangelist’s role (and the other tenor solos) a buoyant and light sound with an easy high register, as well as a compelling dramatic sense that especially surfaces in moments of heightened expression. The Swiss bass, Stephan MacLeod, gives a beautifully contoured “Betrachte, meine Seel” that complements the poetic reflection with a memorable musical warmth. Soprano Midori Suzuki’s bright and well-focused sound is an elegant contribution to the ensemble, and her agile execution is notable in the passage work of “Ich folge dir.” The English countertenor Robin Blaze also has a well-focused sound and sensitive expression. However, his sound is somewhat small-bored, an advantage when matched with the reediness of the solo viola da gamba in “Es ist vollbracht,” though lacking in heft in the triumphant “Der Held aus Juda” section of the same aria.

I much favor the degree of integration that results from having the soloists as members of the chorus. However, in the end I would have wished there were more soloists for the roles. MacLeod sings both the part of Jesus as well as reflective poetry on the plight of Jesus; Türk similarly sings both the narrative and reflective poetry with a blurring of dramatic voice and function the result. It was welcome to hear such fine singers sing more rather than less, admittedly, but dramatic structure suggests other priorities.

Suzuki’s performance is one to savor. Bach’s extraordinary work is well met with extraordinarily stylish and sensitive execution—a beautiful combination, indeed.

Steven Plank

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Posted by Gary at 4:50 PM

Pilar Lorengar: Prima Donna in Vienna

Still it’s worth taking the trouble as the writer defines the art of Lorengar in a few and extremely well-chosen words. ‘Luminous’ and ‘a ray of sunlight’ are the apt terms used for this wonderful record. I know that not everybody is so enamoured as McEwen (or myself) by the rapid vibrato of the Spanish soprano (vibrant sheen he calls it), by that pretty fluttery sound with the incredibly beautiful silvery edge but the loss is theirs.

Lorengar is of course fully at home in Le Nozze where she displays the charm and the tear (that too was in the voice) necessary in the aria, incidentally the only one in Italian as all the other pieces are in German; a language she felt at ease in as she lived in Berlin where her home theatre was. She is outstanding as Marzelline and Agathe thanks to her warmth and vocal assuredness in florid music, witness of her zarzuela past. ‘Dich , teure Halle’ is fine too though one has the impression she is overparted and the voice doesn’t quite ride over the orchestra as it ought too. Maybe a richer lower voice à la Lehmann is more apt for Korngold’s ‘Glück, das mir verblieb’ but by track 6 the real jewels shine brighter than ever. What a joy it is to hear a Mediterranean voice with all its colours and incisiveness as well to hear in ‘Aber der Richtige’, the operetta written by Hofmannsthal for Richard Strauss (I wonder if Kalman, Fall or lehar would have accepted so many co-incidences). And when the real operetta-arias start one can only sigh at the beauty in delivery. Such a ferm line, no over sentimentalizing but utter conviction make the arias from Zigeunerbaron and Vogelhändler a delight.

Maybe only that other silvery voice, Lucia Popp, could rival with Lorengar but she recorded pitifully few operetta arias in her prime and had to wait till she was 48 before she could record a full operetta CD. Schwarzkopf, Rothenberger, Moffo, Muszely, Streich are no match for Lorengar. Moreover this CD includes two miracles: the wonderful aria from Lehar’s Eva (a minor work it is called in the sleeve notes by someone who had probably never heard the only complete version, in Spanish and with young Alfredo Kraus) and then there is the aria from Die Csardasfürstin, a recording that I’ll take to my desert island. “Making the music better than it actually is” was the condescending phrase often used by British critics at the time. “Revealing the stunning melodic inventiveness of Kalman by a singer of genius” would be my reply. For Eva and Csardasfürstin alone this CD should be in every collection.


Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 4:37 PM

Birgit Nilsson — "Or sai chi l'onore"

Maybe a little bit more generosity would have been welcome. The sleeve note (singular) consists of a single page, detailing the titles, orchestras and conductors to be found on this issue and that’s it. A second page on her career, her voice or even on these recordings was probably too expensive. And the information on that page is not even correct. The Don Giovanni arias were not recorded in 1971 as stated here but are culled from the complete 1966 recording with Dieskau, Arroyo and Flagello. It was the recording that should have given us Fritz Wunderlich’s Ottavio; but his untimely death led to the last-minute casting of Peter Schreier (nomen est omen). Though Nilsson sang a lot of Don Giovanni’s in her youth, (it was the role of her début in Italy in 1954 and the first time she sang in Italian) she is not really a Donna Anna. Her fury in ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ is finely sketched but ‘Non mi dir’ lacks sweetness and the coloratura is tentative.

Her ‘Ozean’ from Weber’s Oberon is far better. The gleaming voice with the impressive steely high notes is perfect for the piece. By ‘Ah! Perfido’ however one understands why she was a wildly popular singer at the Met where her laser like voice was the ultimate answer to Bing’s prayers for voices who could fill that giant barn. But on record, in a programme of one aria after another, the relentless brightness is tiring and explains why she never was a really popular singer in places where people could only judge her on the strength of her records. The lack of natural vibrato doesn’t help either and there is no charm or even warmth in the voice as proved by her Tannhäuser arias. The strength to ride easily over the orchestra is admirable in ‘Dich teure Halle’ but due to that lack of warmth her ‘Allmächtige Jungfraus’ is not believable. She is of course at her magnificent best in the famous Liebestod from the complete 1966 Tristan, probably still the best around.

As this was a live recording, I wonder if the voice was not better captured in such circumstances than with a mike in front of her in a studio. There is more colour in the voice and even a little bit of vibrato. And I notice the same live drive and overwhelming sound in her famous Salomé-final on that legendary evening when Bing was pensioned off. For those who don’t want to buy all the complete recordings but would like to know what the fuss was about, this CD gives a very good picture of Nilsson’s strengths and relative weaknesses during her heydays, especially if you are able or lucky enough to play the CD at high volume. That’s when the impact of the voice hits you and gives you a real idea of her sound in the house before her decline with its wavering of the pitch surfaced a few years after the recordings on this CD.


Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 4:07 PM

Kenneth Montgomery Appointed Principal Conductor of Ulster Orchestra Society

montgomery_kenneth.jpg[Santa Fe Opera, 25 September 2006]

The Ulster Orchestra Society (Ireland) has announced the appointment of Kenneth Montgomery as its new Principal Conductor effective at the beginning of next season.

Click headline for complete announcement.

Posted by Gary at 3:28 PM

BACH: Mass in B Minor

Most obviously, favorable acoustics will invariably play a significant role. Less tangibly, but of equal significance, are ways in which the cultural associations of a site can heighten and enrich the meaning of a musical work. Concert performances of liturgical music performed in a church, for instance, can seem substantially different from that same music performed in a concert hall, even though in both instances the rendition may be offered with the same intent. Not unlike the way different frames can alter our view of a painting, the particularities of setting can become “contrapuntal” with the music, and our reception of a work can be powerfully shaped by that interaction. Moreover, the historicity of a venue can imbue a performance with a historic prestige all its own.

The pervasive availability of concert DVDs brings these matters into a new focus. We may view the concerts in our living rooms and dens or on our laptops in any number of locations, each of which distinctively creates a “frame,” but as we are viewing as well as listening to the concert, we have, in essence, a frame within a frame—the performers’ and our own.

The richness of all of this came immediately to mind with this present DVD recording of Bach’s B minor Mass. The performance was of a 2000 concert in Leipzig’s famed St. Thomas Church, sung by the St. Thomas Choir—the choir that Bach led for twenty-seven years—conducted by Thomaskantor, Georg Christoph Biller, the present successor to the post that Bach held from 1723 until his death in 1750. The camera is generous with excursions around the church, bringing the stained glass, the beautifully carved reredos, the vaulting, the organ case, and Bach’s memorial all into “counterpoint” with the Mass. In every way the performance of one of Bach’s most monumental works is here resonant with a setting that functions as a monument to Bach and his creedal and musical legacy. And because of this resonance, expectations naturally run high.

In this case, the expectations are amply met. Our modern concert life has tended to make Bach largely the province of early music specialists. Biller’s choir is not the historically fashionable ensemble of one-to-a-part and his orchestra is a modern instrument ensemble from the legendary Leipzig Gewandhaus, but the reading is one that is compellingly stylish and convincing by any standard. The reading may show a lessening of the gap between “period” and “modern” performance or perhaps it reveals an innate sense that in Leipzig, Bach is “theirs.” Regardless, it is Bach performance of a very high order. Fast movements are brisk and buoyant, undergirded by a strong feeling of dance; ornamental textures are elegant and gracious, rendered with an ease that marks them as truly ornamental, not belabored exercise; articulations and phrasing nicely follow the contours of text; and contrapuntal movements are both clear and dynamic.

Biller’s quartet of soloists come with strong early music credentials and take to their formidable tasks with great naturalness and understanding of idiom. The duets of Ruth Holton and Matthias Rexroth (“Christe eleison” and “Et in unum”) are among the best of the solo sections. Both command suavely focused sounds and elegant control, and Holton’s effortless high range is memorable long after the fact. Klaus Mertens’s bass arias are engaging in their phrasing and his tone is richly resonant, but in a way that keeps the sound enviably flexible. Tenor Christoph Genz, an alumnus of the Thomaschor, has an unforced high register that delights in the Benedictus, as he moves fluidly through large intervals and arpeggios. A quartet of distinction, indeed.

There are anachronisms here and there that seem either curious or, in one case, unsuccessful. I was amused to see the second bassoonist playing a contrabassoon at one point, I suppose in order to double the bass line at the lower octave. Thinking of the orchestra in organ terms—and I suspect in situ this is a strong temptation—the addition of a sixteen-foot reed in the plenum makes sense, though on the recording it was difficult to hear it one way or another. An interesting curiosity. Where anachronism seemed most to fall short was in the obligatto horn part to the aria “Quoniam tu solus.” Because of the difficult high register, the player opted to play this on a small descant horn, analogous to the piccolo trumpets of the trumpet section. The descant horn here sounded more toy-like than noble, a sad loss, made worse by tediously pecky articulation.

In the end, however, the complaints are few and the delights many. Perhaps in Leipzig Bach really is “theirs.”

Steven Plank

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Posted by Gary at 3:08 PM

The Man and His Music

By Shaun Walker [Russia Profile, 25 September 2006]

Shostakovich Centenary Brings a Flood of Performances

One hundred years ago today, Dmitry Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, into a country that had just experienced the first stirrings of revolution. Shostakovich’s body of work firmly ensconces him as one of the 20th century’s most important composers and one of the most notable musicians in history. But, given the revolution, war, and societal upheaval that formed a backdrop to his life, the music itself is often overshadowed by his complex relationship with the tumultuous events that unfolded during his lifetime.

Posted by Gary at 9:18 AM

A Delightful, Resourceful ‘Figaro'

amato_figaro.gifBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 25 September 2006]

Turning the corner of East Houston and the Bowery Saturday evening, I ran smack dab into a long line of prospective ticket buyers who appeared to be waiting to enter the Amato Opera for its current production of "The Marriage of Figaro." Closer examination revealed they were actually attempting to attend the rock joint just next door, but I doubt seriously that any of them saw a better show. Amato's "Figaro" turned out to be not only in good fun, but also — wonder of wonders — quite funny as well.

Posted by Gary at 9:00 AM

September 24, 2006

BELLINI: Norma

All those demerits fade into irrelevance when the singers are Montserrat Caballé, Jon Vickers, and Josephine Veasey at the Orange Festival. No other filmed version of Bellini's masterpiece comes close, and this latest one from Dynamic never gets within shouting distance (an apt term for some of the singing), despite its origin at the theater named for the composer.

Filmed at the Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini in June 2005, the staging clumsily combines visually dull traditional sets with goofy director's touches. The costumes appear to be made from hemp, which may have some historical validity but may only serve to induce sympathetic itchiness on the part of many viewers. A beautiful tree highlights the first scene; once the opera moves indoors the stage becomes barren of visual interest. Not so the Druid goddess, portrayed by Dimitra Theodossiou, whose short, flame-red hair gives her a proto-Punk appearance. Norma may be fierce, but she walks into fire, not dives into a mosh pit.

Theodossiou possesses some of the stately self-possession called for by the early scenes, but her "Casta Diva" could have more warmth and beauty to supplement her precision. As the rage erupts, Theodossiou comes into her own, with some scintillating delivery. The problem for some Normas, which Theodossiou does not evade, is to remain sympathetic in her anger. Pollione must eventually come back to her, even to join her in death. Theodossiou remains so edgy and angry that this development does not convince.

A better Pollione than Carlo Ventre's would help matters. Besides lacking an appealing appearance, he can't compensate (as many tenors have) with an attractive, impassioned tone. He tends to bark and sweat, long before he gets anywhere near the pyre. The mousy exterior of Adalgisa, sung by Nidia Palacios, hides a fine young singer who brings out at least a semblance of warmth in Theodossiou. Neither lady can make their dedication to Ventre's Pollione plausible.

As if to throw a little modern stagecraft into the proceedings, director Walter Pagliaro has Pollione brought on stage in act two with each of his hands tied to the end of long ropes. This ridiculous image gets even more ludicrous when Norma asks to be left alone with Pollione, and the ropes are extended off stage into opposite wings. The director would have been better off finding something to do with the chorus, who stand idly around throughout, arms at their sides.

The orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Massimo Bellini do a creditable job under conductor Giuliano Carlini. Despite the admirable sound and video quality, this Norma simply cannot claim artistic standards high enough to make it essential viewing.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 9:29 PM

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

As parts of this radio broadcast have circulated before, this means that the original acetates left the cupboards a few times and were put on tape. The sonic quality of the CD’s under review is high and I’m fairly sure the producers didn’t want to use some older tapes but employed the acetates. Unfortunately, acetates can be very fragile and some of them were already slightly damaged as one can derive from the hiss at certain moments. Several times this results in heavy blasts which are quite painful to hear, especially during some of the Stella-solos in act 1 and 2. So the better (using the originals all the time) is less than the good (using some older tapes).

Moreover, the sound picture is not exactly helped by Antonietta Stella. The soprano had made her début one year earlier and she is still finding her way. She gives the impression of singing her heart out in the Verona Arena instead of the rather intimate and not overly big Concertgebouw. She sings unrelentingly loud with almost no nuances. She often lashes out with a glottal bang and the voice doesn’t resemble much the fine Verdi soprano she would become later on. Indeed, only five months later she sang Amelia in Simon Boccanegra far more subtle and there the voice is immediately recognizable as witnessed by the recording Cetra years later put on the market (with Carlo Bergonzi in his first year as a tenor).

Loudness is the main quality of José Soler as well. Most collectors will know him from his Cetra Chénier with Renata Tebaldi and some from his aria album on the same label. An old hand at the Verona Arena told me he was present back in 1949 when Soler sang Manrico. The tenor had good high notes and he encored ‘Di quella pira’. Still the public didn’t let him go and clamoured for another encore. Soler however pointed at the pyre and shouted: “ My mother is burning” and off he ran. The Uruguyan tenor has the right material though he is more a lyric than a real spinto tenor. But he unmercifully puffs up his voice at every high note and has a tremendous success with a public starved of international tenor singing since the war. Soler is not really unmusical, using far less sobs than most tenors did at the time in the same role but phrasing is not his forte. Good strong tenor singing, yes, but bland at the same time.

The only one of the three title singers for whom less is sometimes more is baritone Rolando Panerai. With his lyric baritone he is less inclined to rely on volume and he succeeds in singing with style and nuance. His aria is well done and puts forwards the doubts Carlo has. It is a pity EMI asked the aging Carlo Tagliabue three years later for the Callas-Tucker Forza as Panerai would undoubtedly been an improvement. As far as I know this is his only known recording of the opera and so it is a pity that the second baritone-tenor duet was still cut at the time.

Enzo Feliciati starts out well as Padre Guardiano but soon proves himself to be a rough-and-ready bass. In the last act there is no smoothness at all, no consolation in the voice but just barking along. Amalia Pinta as Preziosilla has one of the biggest vibratos I ever heard which probably explains her lack of a career as the basic colours of the voice are fine. Melchiorre Louise is one of those comprimario-singers we remember well from the legendary recordings of the fifties. He sang Benoit in Bohème or Sacristan in Tosca but Melitone is a league higher and his exaggerated utterances are probably meant to hide his lack of a true baritone or bass voice. Aad de Rijk takes on three roles in one Verdi opera which must surely be some record. The Netherlands had a most austere economic programme after the war and this is one of the results: a bass completely strange to Italian roles. Argeo Quadri drives on his forces without any problem though he too is not too subtle and therefore not a conductor who can demand some lowering of the volume by his two main singers.

Forza is a difficult opera for labels. Even a cut version is still some 10 minutes longer than two CDs can bear and therefore some bonuses are necessary. The first one is quite a contrast with the complete performance. The idiosyncratic style of Helge Rosvaenge never appealed to me in Italian roles; nor does his permanent use of explosive sounds. Heinrich Schlusnus had the most Italian of all pre-war German baritones and he succeeds very well in overcoming the German translation and Hilde Scheppan has a better ear for nuance than Stella though the sound is not very Italian and reminds one of Gundula Janowitz. The second bonus is a strange one: ten minutes of the first act of a Covent Garden Forza of 1975; not exactly the most popular part. Still in those few moments Carlo Bergonzi gives us more real Verdi phrasing than Soler and Rosvaenge combined, even though by that time he flattened every time above the stave.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 9:10 PM

Katarina Jovanovic — Songs by Brahms, Strauss, Schubert

Her accompanist in what is essentially a vocal recital is Bruno Fontaine, who has worked with such performers as Julia Migenes and Ute Lemper. As a producer, Fontaine worked with Lemper on her CDs entitled Illusions and City of Strangers, both fine efforts for the team. On this CD Fontaine demonstrates his work as an accompanist in literature that shows his talents in this area.

As to the contents of the CD, it includes four songs by Brahms (“Mädchenfluch,” “Mädchenlied,” “Verscheller Schwur,” and “Das Mädchen”), six by Strauss (“Ruhe, meine Seele,” “Cäcilie,” “Heimliche Aufforderung,” “Morgen,” “Hat gesagt,” and “Schlechtes Wetter), and seven by Schubert (“Die junge Nonne,” “ Lietanei auf das Fest Allerseelen,” “Die Sterne,” “Bei dir,” “Erster Verlust,” “Rastlose Liebe,” and “Der Hirt auf de Felsen”). The literature is fairly standard, but the inclusion in a single program is something of a challenge, especially with the Strauss songs, which have demands of their own.

Jovanic has an engaging voice, and in approaching Lieder brings out the text clearly. At times, as in Strauss’s “Ruhe, meine Seele,” it can tend toward an arioso approach to the music. This serves her well in bringing out the rhythms of the poetry that are essential to this literature, which must be part of the line. In lines that require vocalizing, as at the end of “Cäcilie,” it is possible to hear Jovanic’s strong and consistent tone. This serves her well in delivering a good selection of Brahms’s Lieder, as its dramatic qualities allow the vocal line to emerge clearly from that composer’s sometimes dense accompaniments.

With the latter, Fontaine accompanies her sometimes impetuously, as in “Mädchenfluch,” the piece that opens the recording. Sometimes the performers seem to push the tempos just a bit, and that gives can bring out the drama implicit in the texts. Fontaine is a deft pianist, and his own interpretations are not without interest. While he can be aggressive with some of Strauss’s music, he also demonstrates exemplary finesse with Schubert’s song.

In fact, the most interesting selection on this CD is the final one, Schubert’s “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen,” D. 965, with the well-known clarinet obliggato. Joined by Florent Heau. This piece by Schubert resembles some of a Baroque solo cantata, and the demands of a piece of this length show Jovanic’s voice well. With the tone set by the clarinetist Heau, Jovanic offers a solid interpretation of this piece, where the clarinet and voice echo each other in lines that intersect in the manner of fine chamber music. Fontaine accompanies both soloists well, and the three performers offers a fine conclusion to this curious, yet satisfying recording of what is essentially a Liederaband. This recording is an excellent introduction to the young and talented soprano Katarina Jovanic, and those intrigued by her voice will, no doubt, want to see how she develops her promising career.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Jovanovic.jpg image_description=Katarina Jovanovic — Songs by Brahms, Strauss, Schubert product=yes product_title=Katarina Jovanovic — Songs by Brahms, Strauss, Schubert product_by=Katarina Jovanovic (soprano), Bruno Fontaine (piano), Florent Heau (clarinet) product_id=Transart Live TNS TRR109 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=685069&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 8:46 PM

ROSSINI: Moïse

On the other hand, Myto does the fans and the opera itself a disservice with its paltry presentation. The scrawny booklet has neither synopsis nor essay. A thorough track listing is appreciated, as are the biographies of the four leads. For another Barbieri, this scanty information might be acceptable, but not for an opera as little-known, or with as complex an origin, as Moïse.

That title indicates some of the problem. Based on an Italian original (Mose in Egitto), the opera's French title is usually given as Moïse et Pharaon. It complicates matters to have Myto resort to abbreviation.

Online research soon resulted in the discovery of a brief synopsis that matches the cast listing. The basic elements of the Moses story through the exodus appear, mixed in with an operatic standby, a love affair thwarted by the powers that be and historical circumstance. In the end, all that literally gets washed away at the opera's spectacular conclusion, when the Red Sea swamps the stage.

In adapting his Italian work of years earlier, Rossini added much music for chorus, and these sections provide great pleasure, with the ensembles at the end of act one (of four acts) being highlights. The 1975 live recording's predominant appeal will probably be, however, its capture of five singers in their prime.

Samuel Ramey takes the title role. His recent appearances have found him struggling with an intrusive wobble. Here he has a rock-solid delivery, with clear enunciation and agile coloratura. Deeper characterization may be absent, but this is not Schoenberg's Moses. Ramey does well for Rossini's.

Shirley Verrett and Cecilia Gasdia (respectively, the Pharoah's wife and a young Jewess in love with her son) pour out beautiful sounds, with Gasdia's freshness competing with Verrett's rather grand tone. As the Pharaoh, Jean-Philippe Lafont has only brief exchanges with Moses, and in fact only appears in the middle acts. His idiomatic delivery makes one wish for more of that character.

The tenor role of the Pharaoh's son requires the typical Rossinian high-flying acrobatics, and Keith Lewis sails through the role, with surprisingly ingratiating tone.

Recorded in decent stereo, Myto's release suffers slightly from stage noise and shifting perspectives; the Paris orchestra, led by Georges Prêtre, plays the lively score with flair. This opera may never reclaim a position in the standard repertory, but this CD preserves a performance that exhibits qualities well worth experiencing.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Moise.jpg image_description=Gioachino Rossini: Moïse product=yes product_title=Gioachino Rossini: Moïse product_by=Samuel Ramey; Cecilia Gasdia; Shirley Verrett; Keith Lewis; Jean-Philippe Lafont; Jean Dupouy, Orchestra e Coro dell’Opera di Parigi, Georges Pretre (cond.) product_id=Myto 083326 [2CDs] price=$31.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=902940&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 8:04 PM

HALÉVY: La Juive

These works started off with a big bang in 1828, when Auber’s La Muette de Portici was premiered in Paris. It was followed in rapid fire order by Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (Paris, 1829), and Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (Paris, 1831). The latter was the most successful of these, and caught up with the Rossini in number of performances at the Opera within a few years of its premiere There was a brief hiatus when Auber’s Gustave III (Paris, 1833) did not achieve the success of the previous works, but in 1835 the triumph of Halévy’s La juive brought matters back into their proper perspective.

The tenor leads in all these works, as well as the next in the series : Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots (Paris, 1836) were created by one of the giant figures of the French stage: Adolphe Nourrit, (Montpellier 1802- Naples, 1839).Nourrit was replaced in Paris by Gilbert Louis Duprez (Paris 1806-1896) in 1837 and reigned at the Opéra for close to 10 years, taking over most if not all of Nourrit’s roles and creating quite a few of his own, including works by Auber, Berlioz, Donizetti, Halévy and Verdi.. Halévy never repeated the success of La juive, although La reine de Chypre (Paris, 1841) remained in the repertory for years.

With Huguenots, these early grand operas constitute what is regarded by their fans as the culmination of the efforts to create a distinctive national school in the development of 19th century opera. Detractors, such as Debussy and the antisemitic Vincent d’Indy look at it differently. While writing a review of Les Huguenots in 1903, Debussy referred to these operas as embarrassments, while Vincent d’Indy, completely forgetting the contributions of Auber, Rossini, Verdi, and Donizetti, described this period as the decadent “periode judaique’ that had reigned from 1825-1867.*

It is now possible to hear all of the earlier grand operas (those created by Nourrit between 1828 and 1836) on CD, even the rarely performed Gustave III, since all of these have now been recorded. Unfortunately, this was not done with nearly the same variety of casts as the Italian bel canto operas of the same period. And, as a general rule, the available recordings do not exhibit the same attention to completeness as do the Italian and German works of the middle of the 19th century. This lamentable tendency is particularly well demonstrated by the available recordings of La juive, all of which are cut, some quite badly, and all of which have different cuts. There were two commercial CDs the Carreras on Phillips (with Varady, Anderson and Furlanetto) in 1988 and the Shicoff on an RCA import (with Isokosky, Schorg and Miles) in 2003. The cuts are different, and the Shicoff was issued without a libretto. There also are several “pirate” recordings.

The premiere cast of La juive featured four of the greatest stars in the history of the Paris Opéra: Cornélie Falcon as Rachel, Julie Dorus-Gras as Eudoxie, Adolphe Nourrit as Eléazar, and Nicolas Prosper Levasseur as Brogni.. The work was destined to become one of the cornerstones of the French repertory, being given with great regularity all over the world for about a century. It is one of the grandest of grand operas, with a formal ballet, major choruses, a spectacular procession in Act I, and the most impressive of celebrations in Act III. It culminates with the heroine being thrown into a vat of boiling oil in Act V, in another public “ceremony”.. Gustav Mahler admitted to being absolutely overwhelmed by this wonderful, majestic work”, which he regarded as one of the greatest operas ever created.

La juive did more or less disappear from the repertory during World War II, and only had sporadic performances, many of which involved either Richard Tucker or Tony Poncet, during most of the post war period. It had a very successful revival in Vienna with Neil Shicoff in Oct. 1999, which was repeated during many of the following seasons. Simone Young was the original conductor, Soile Isokoski the Rachel, and Alastair Miles the Cardinal. Several cuts were opened up, including the third verse of Leopold’s serenade which is actually sung by Rachel. This may well have been the first time in many years that this music was performed. But there were some unexpected cuts in music that had been given in many previous performances, especially in the fourth act duet between Eléazar and Brogni. Later performances added another major cut, the cabaletta “Dieu m’eclaire” after Eléazar’s big Act IV aria ”Rachel quand du Seigneur” where he is trying to decide whether he should save his daughter’s life by telling her real father who she is, or whether she belongs to God.

The original opera, as composed by Halévy to Scribe’s libretto takes place at time of the Council of Constance in 1414. When the work opens, the crowd, celebrating a public holiday, is enraged at seeing the jeweler, Eléazar working, and are ready to have him and his daughter, Rachel, burnt at the stake. But the cardinal, who knew Eléazar when they were both in Rome, preaches clemency and saves their lives. Rather than being grateful, Eléazar hates Brogni even more. Leopold then serenades Rachel, and persuades her to see him that evening. The crowd is again ready to throw the jeweler and his daughter into the lake, but this time it is Leopold and the soldiers who save them. The Act ends with a magnificent procession.

In Act II, Passover is celebrated in Eléazar’s house, and Leopold is present. Eudoxie enters, wishing to obtain a magnificent gold chain as a gift for her husband. Left alone with Rachel, Leopold asks her to elope with him, and she agrees. When Eléazar enters, Leopold admits to being Christian, and the old man curses him.

As Act III opens, Rachel asks the princess to permit her to be her servant for one day, and Eudoxie agrees. The scene soon changes to a banquet in a magnificent garden where the guests, including Brogni, Leopold, and the emperor, are entertained by means of a ballet. Eléazar comes in, presents the chain to Eudoxie, who, in turn, gives it to Leopold, referring to him as her husband. Rachel is deeply shocked, and accuses Leopold of the great crime of having had an affair with her. Leopold, Rachel, and Eléazar are all arrested after Brogni curses them.

In Act IV, Eudoxie visits Rachel in prison. She tells her that she can save Leopold’s life by accepting all the blame for herself. Rachel agrees. Then, when Brogni comes to see her, in the hope of saving her life. She tells him she wishes to die, when Brogni has Eleazar brought in. Brogni asks Eleazar to renounce his faith, which would save Rachel.. Eleazar tells Brogni that he wishes to die, but first he wants vengeance on some Christian, that being Brogni. He then tells the Cardinal that when the Neapolitans entered Rome, and his house was set on fire, a Jew saved his daughter, and that he knows that Jew. Brogni begs him to identify the Jew, but Eleazar refuses in the strongest terms. Brogni leaves, after which Eleazar sings his great aria, “Rachel quand du Seigneur”, at the end of which he decides to save his daughter. But when he hears the crowd shouting “Death to the Jews”, he changes his mind and decides that Rachel will die with him.

As Act V opens, Eleazar and Rachel are brought in to their execution. Rachel has exonerated Leopold, but will make no effort to save herself.. Eleazar is again undecided as to what to do about Rachel, and, at the last moment asks her if she wants to live, and to shine in high places. He tells her she would have to be baptized, but neglects to tell her that she is really Brogni’s daughter. Brogni asks him, for the last time, to reveal his daughter’s identity. Eleazar points to her as she dies.

Eleazar is an unbending, vengeful fanatic. While Brogni is willing to forgive and forget whatever had caused their enmity years before the opera starts (this is not made clear in the plot), the jeweler repeatedly turns his back on him, and treats him as cruelly as he can. This is exactly how Shicoff plays Eleazar, and he is to be complimented for that.

I do not know the reason for the cuts, especially those in Act IV, and whether they are due to the great length of the role, or to a desire on the tenor’s part to skip the high C in the cabaletta, after singing for nearly 30 years. Krassimira Stoyanova, a very promising newcomer born in Bulgaria, sings Rachel beautifully. She had also sung another “Falcon” role, that of Valentine in Les Huguenots in NYC for the Opera Orchestra of New York. She has also sung and recorded lighter roles in works such as Il guarany and Fosca, both by Gomes. Walter Fink, who has been a regular in Vienna for years, succeeds in making Brogni a highly sympathetic character, and displays a beautiful rich bass voice.

It has become fashionable in recent years, especially in Central Europe, to make opera plots more relevant to the audience by moving them either to the present or to the recent past. This is the case in the production by Günter Krämer used in Vienna, and since loaned to Israel, Venice, New York, and soon Paris and other cities. This makes a lot of sense for repertory operas that are already very familiar to modern audiences, but may be a two edged sword for long neglected works such as La Juive. In this particular case, I think it was a mistake, especially since the necessary textual changes were not always made. It is a bit disconcerting to see references to events taking place 600 years ago being discussed as being in the present by people in modern dress.

As stated before, La juive is the grandest of grand operas, not only in terms of scenery, but also in terms of musical and dramatic values. The vigor and energy of the final strettas of the first and second acts is overwhelming, as are the passion of the great confrontational duet of the fourth act between Eleazar and Brogni. Unfortunately, the huge cuts in the music, the modernization of the production, and the removal of the usual elements of grand opera such as the ballet and the enormous processions fail to bring out the grandeur of the work. Still, that might have been a little too much to expect—where French grand opera is concerned, we have to be grateful for what little we get, and this Juive is far, far better than no Juive.

Tom Kaufman


* Steven Huebner, French Opera at the Fin de Siècle, pp. 306-308.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/juive.jpg image_description=Fromental Halévy: La Juive product=yes product_title=Fromental Halévy: La Juive product_by=Neil Shicoff, Krassimira Stoyanova, Simina Ivan, Walter Fink, Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Vjekoslav Šutej (cond.). Production: Günter Krämer product_id=DG 073 400-1 [2DVDs] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/Halevy-Shicoff-Stoyanova-Daniel-Monarcha/dp/B0002UNQGS/ref=pd_sxp_f_pt/102-5679264-6666515?ie=UTF8
Posted by Gary at 7:40 PM

Vienna during the Mozart Jahr

Amid the hype - and the whipped cream - Austria's capital connects past, present and future as it marks 250 years since the composer's birth

David Perkins [News and Observer, 24 September 2006]

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - You would never know that Mozart had problems with Vienna. Not in this, his 250th birthday year, when the Austrian capital is awash in Mozartkügeln (chocolates), sold at special Mozart shops on the Kärntnerstrasse. Not when bewigged and liveried salesmen in the Hofburg push concerts at you, given by pick-up bands, as if they were used cars. Not when banners across the city proclaim, enigmatically (and in English) "The Spirit of Mozart."

Posted by Gary at 9:27 AM

First Persson singular

persson_annalena_small.jpgAnnalena Persson is one of a trio of Swedish sopranos causing a stir in operatic circles

Ed Vulliamy [The Observer, 24 September 2006]

While preparing to sing opera's most demanding soprano role - Wagner's Isolde - Annalena Persson will probably pump herself up with either the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen or a favourite band from her native Sweden, Ebba Gron.

Posted by Gary at 9:14 AM

Magical production transforms ‘Orfeo’

By T.J. Medrek [Boston Herald, 24 September 2006]

The new opera season opened Friday night at the Shubert Theatre with a dazzling performance of Monteverdi’s “Orfeo,” presented by the Handel and Haydn Society in a superb production by Chen Shi-Zheng.

Posted by Gary at 9:07 AM

Madama Butterfly Is Ready for Her Close-Up

By MATTHEW GUREWITSCH [NY Times, 24 September 2006]

LAST Monday afternoon Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning director of “The English Patient,” was back where he has been happiest lately: within inches of the action. For several weeks before, work on his production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” had been unfolding on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, where the production opens Monday evening, raising the curtain on the regime of Peter Gelb, the company’s new general manager. But for one last day rehearsals were back in a basement studio, where Mr. Minghella could study nuances in close-up.

Posted by Gary at 8:43 AM

VERDI: I vespri siciliani

Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). Libretto by Augustin Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier, based on their libretto Le duc d'Albe.

First Performance: Les vépres siciliennes, 13 June 1855, Opéra, Paris.

Principal Characters:
Guy de Montfort (Monforte), governor of Sicily Baritone
Le Sire de Béthune, French officer Bass
Le Comte de Vaudemont, French officer Bass
Henri (Arrigo), a young Sicilian Tenor
Jean Procida, a Sicilian doctor Bass
Le Duchesse Héléne (Elena), sister of duc Frédéric of Austria Soprano
Ninetta, her maid Contralto
Danieli, a Sicilian Tenor
Thibault (Tebaldo), a French soldier Tenor
Robert (Roberto), a French soldier Baritone
Mainfroid (Manfredo), a Sicilian Tenor

Time and Place: Palermo, Sicily, 1282.

Historical Background: The libretto upon which this opera is based, Le duc d'Albe by Scribe and Duveyrier, was originally written for Halévy, who never used it. It was taken up by Donizetti in 1839; however, he never completed the work. Verdi eventually chose it as a vehicle for a grand opera at the Paris Opéra, albeit insisting that Scribe make important revisions. The original libretto was set in 1573 during a Flemish insurrection against the Duke of Alba, the governor of Flanders. For Verdi, it was reset in Sicily at the onset of the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282–1302), resulting in its retitling as Les vépres siciliennes.

Although Les vépres siciliennes has been criticized for removing the setting from 16th Century Flanders to 13th Century Sicily, the result is nonetheless valid. The French would have been more familiar with (and sympathetic to) this important event that laid the groundwork for the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. Charles I of Anjou, the younger brother of Louis IX of France, established control of northern and central Italy and of Sicily. Unhappy with heavy taxes and the relocation of the capital to Naples, the Sicilians revolted in 1282. The French garrison was annihilated. Knowing that they could not hold against Charles, the insurgents offered Sicily to Peter III of Aragon, which he took gladly. Charles' efforts to regain Sicily were repulsed. Meanwhile, the Byzantine Emperor allied with Aragon, thereby preventing a Latin attack upon Constantinople and diverting Papal attention away from the Crusade.

Ironically, the Kingdom of Sicily with its capital in Naples continued on, even though the island of Sicily was no longer within its control. In 1442, Alphonso V of Aragon conquered Naples and reunited the two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Two Sicilies remained in Spanish control more or less until Garibaldi's invasion in May 1860.

Synopsis:

Act I.

Piazza Grande. The duchess Elena is in mourning for her brother Federigo d'Austria who has been executed as a traitor. A French soldier, Roberto, obliges her to sing. With her song, she enflames the hearts of the Sicilians and a fight begins with the French. The French governor Guido di Monforte intervenes and establishes calm. Then he interrogates a young Sicilian, Arrigo, who had been talking with the widow, and forbids further contacts with the woman, suspected of being a revolutionary. But Arrigo manages to meet her anyway.

Act II.

In a valley near Palermo Giovanni da Procida, who had been exiled but has returned clandestinely, Elena and Arrigo meet. Giovanni announces that Pietro d'Aragona plans to intervene in Sicily if an insurrection starts. Arrigo declares his love to Elena: she will accept him and reciprocate if he will revenge her brother.

Act III.

Monforte, in his study, learns from a letter from a woman he had seduced, that Arrigo is his son. He summons the young man and tells him: Arrigo is perturbed, sensing that he will lose Elena. That evening there is a masked ball. Giovanni da Procida tells Arrigo that plans are ready to kill Guido di Monforte; Arrigo defends his father and the conspirators are arrested.

Act IV.

Giovanni da Procida and Elena have been taken prisoner to the fortress. Arrigo goes to them and justifies his actions: he had to pay his filial debt, but now he is once again with them in their battle. Elena confirms her love for him, and Giovanni reveals that the arms for the insurrection are being sent. Monforte, in the meantime, devises a way to blackmail Arrigo: either he publicly recognises Monforte as his father or the prisoners will be executed. Arrigo gives in, the prisoners are freed, and the governor announces an amnesty for the marriage of his son with Elena. She is unsure at this point whether to accept, but Giovanni da Procida urges her to go along with it: it will serve to buy time.

Act V.

In the gardens of the palace the wedding feast is starting. Elena is singing, When Giovanni da Procida tells her that at the peal of the bells the attack will be launched. The woman draws back, afraid; Arrigo is dismayed. Guido da Monforte cannot understand what is happening, he sees only that the wedding is in danger. To start the ceremonies, he has the bells rung. The opera ends with the invasion of the gardens by the rebels, the start of the insurrection.

[Synopsis Source: Giuseppe Verdi—il sito ufficiale]

Click here for the complete libretto (Italian).

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/tagliacozzo.jpg image_description=Charles I of Anjou at Tagliacozzo audio=yes first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: I vespri siciliani first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Vespri1.m3u product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: I vespri siciliani product_by=Anita Cerquetti (Elena), Mario Ortica (Arrigo), Carlo Tagliabue (Monforte), Boris Christoff (Procida), Mario Zorgnotti (Bethune), Giuliano Ferrein (Vaudemont), Miti Truccato Pace (Ninetta), Coro e Orchestra Della RIA Di Torino, Mario Rossi (cond.)
Live performance, 16 November 1955, Torino.
Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

September 23, 2006

La Finta Giardiniera

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 23 September 2006]

Many will wonder why the Royal Opera is presenting La Finta Giardiniera. Mozart wrote it in 1775 when he was 18. It's no masterpiece, and its appearance seems perverse at a time when major scores such as Idomeneo and Die Entführung aus dem Serial are absent from the company's repertoire.

Posted by Gary at 8:50 AM

Revisiting a Legend

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 22 September 2006]

The Metropolitan Opera Guild does many things well, and one of them is: stage a memorial tribute. In May 2005, the Guild put on a beautiful one for Renata Tebaldi, the great Italian soprano who died in December 2004. The host of that evening was Anna Moffo, the beloved Italian-American soprano. She did her job in a tasteful, low-key way.

Posted by Gary at 8:45 AM

September 22, 2006

MONTEVERDI: Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali

One might have suspected that on grounds of national pride, to say nothing of the advantage of native fluency with the language, Italians would have been in the forefront of the “early music revival,” where early baroque repertory has been foundational. Yet, for whatever reason—the strength of the modern opera tradition, perhaps—Italy’s robust participation in the world of historical performance has developed later than others. However, the brilliant work of Concerto Italiano, under the direction of Rinaldo Alessandrini, amply and welcomingly shows how robust! With a large discography that includes eleven recordings of the works of Monteverdi already, this present recording of pieces from the Sixth Book of Madrigals is, like its predecessors, one that overwhelms with the naturalness of the performing idiom and the sensitivity of the performers.

Monteverdi’s Sixth Book of Madrigals was published in 1614, shortly after his appointment as maestro di capella at the Basilica of St. Mark’s in Venice, but the madrigals are in the main (if not totally) from Mantua, and poignantly so. Several events lend a tragic hue to Monteverdi’s later years at the Gonzaga court. In September, 1607 he suffered the loss of his wife, the singer Claudia Cattaneo, and in the next year he faced the death of the young singer Caterina Martinelli. In 1603 Martinelli had come to Mantua as a young teen, and had lived in Monteverdi’s house for several years, perhaps studying with Claudia. She died suddenly of small pox in 1608 amid preparations for the opera, Arianna, in which she was to have sung the title role.

Almost inescapably then, we tend to interpret the lamentative bent of Book Six autobiographically. Much of the volume is devoted to two large-scale works, an ensemble arrangement of the famous Lamento d’Arianna, and a Sestina (“Lagrime d”Amante al Sepolcro dell’Amata”). The first is an arrangement of the only music that survives from “Martinelli’s” opera, and the latter is a memorial work for her, requested by the Duke. In the wake of Monteverdi’s deep personal losses, these works (and others in the volume) compel us to find in them echoes of the composer’s grief.

The ensemble version of Arianna’s lament is an interesting trope of the surviving monodic version. In both forms, Arianna’s abandonment by Theseus becomes the trigger for affective music of the highest order, be it born of her despair, anger, love, or inner ambivalence. In the ensemble arrangement, however, because of the independence of the individual lines, Monteverdi’s dissonances have stronger substance than that of a single voice against the basso continuo, and this gives striking weight to a work already heavy laden. In the monodic version, however, we not only hear the vocal line as the character “Arianna,”—and thus hear things dramatically—but the solo line can claim a performance flexibility that well serves the emotional contours of the text. Concerto Italiano’s ensemble remarkably manages to sing the lament as a group with all the power, expression, and flexibility of a soloist. In fact, in hearing the ensemble, one has no doubt but that each of the singers would render the solo version with great command, and they clearly bring this understanding to a cohesive ensemble performance, wonderfully exemplified in the explosively angry sections of the fourth stanza.

Lamento d’Arianna, of course, echoes the opera. Some of the madrigals here well show the potential closeness of the madrigal and the stage, as well. “Misero Alceo,” “Batto, qui pianse Ergasto,” and :Presso un fiume tranquillo” all present scenes where the ensemble offers a narrative frame while solo or duo textures render dialogue, sometimes at great length. The degree to which the madrigal is becoming soloistic shows its continuing response to an increasingly operatic world, as does the adoption of dramatic structures. And tellingly, this development may seem to bring Monteverdi’s output into a closer unity.

It is an output that Concerto Italiano performs with stunning fluency and dramatic flair. Their sound is forward, flexible and lithe, their skill unflaggingly impressive, and their results most sensitive, dynamic and memorable.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Monteverdi_893954.jpg image_description=Claudio Monteverdi. “Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali” product=yes product_title=Claudio Monteverdi. “Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali” product_by=Concerto Italiano. Rinaldo Alessandrini, Director product_id=Naïve OP 30423 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=893954&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 5:14 PM

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

Of course it’s wonderful to hear it performed live (if performed at all well). But I have yet to be persuaded that the work really benefits much from a dramatic staging, or at least, I have yet to see a really convincing staging. The recent semi-staged, semi-concert production directed by Peter Sellars with video installations by Bill Viola seen in Los Angeles, Paris, and elsewhere seems like maybe the best compromise with the unreasonable dramatic demands of the piece, if not a perfect solution in every respect. The opera should also be susceptible to the hyper-stylized slow-motion idiom of Robert Wilson. But in most respects it simply defies anything like naturalistic acting, and most sets –– whether traditionally representational, modernly abstract, or postmodernly deconstructive –– end up feeling oppressively inert in the face of the passionate, internalized musical-psychological “inaction” of the drama. So much is happening in the music, even in the text (after a fashion), but how to show it?

All the same, one can do better by Tristan on stage than this Barcelona production directed by Alfred Kirchner with sets by Annette Murschetz (first staged in Holland by De Nederlanse Opera). Three of the performances are top-flight: Deborah Polaski’s Isolde, Falk Struckmann’s Kurwenal, and Erik Halfvarson’s King Mark. Lioba Braun is also a vocally well-equipped and dramatically engaged as Brangäne, whereas John Treleavan struggles in both regards –– a noble struggle, but a struggle all the same. Conductor Betrand de Billy coaxes a more than creditable performance from the orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, forceful and nuanced in all the right places, and displays sensitivity to the vocalists in terms of balance and dramatic gesture. But a better than average, even good, performance with well engineered sound does not necessarily constitute a selling point for DVD format (granted, I was not able to sample the DTS surround-sound audio option).

I look forward to the day when opera directors will finally get over the idea that dingy modern-industrial spaces lend a special new relevance to “stuffy old” operas. This time Isolde has more than usual reason to sulk and fume in Act 1, having been confined to a prison-like berth somewhere in the hold of a hulking freighter. It does convey well enough a sense of her helpless, indeed immobilized condition as a captive on the ship that bears her to Cornwall, and the glimpses of the ocean surface occasionally projected above and behind this space offer an appropriate foil. At the moment Tristan and Isolde imbibe the love/death potion several blackbirds are seen, in silhouetted profile, winging their way over the waves. Not only a welcome contrast to the dismal, static quality of most of the act, it is also a nicely poetic touch, suggesting the freedom both characters believe to have won in death, and at the same time the baleful quality of the love that has suddenly been released.

Such freedom is exchanged for a peculiar enclosure (contrary to Wagner’s notion of a deep, enveloping night) in Act 2. Isolde awaits Tristan inside a dark, deconstructed shed of some sort, looking through a door to the outside. A large steel ladder leads up to Brangäne’s lookout, and at the front of the stage there sits (vaguely Walküre-like) an overturned tree with burning branches and a large rectangular slab of sod, or Astroturf. The fallen tree (shades also of the Ring’s “world ash-tree”?) with its several gas-jets, in place of the signal-torch, is merely a distraction throughout the opening scene. (Why is it there? Why is it sideways? How do the branches burn if the tree is otherwise living? How will Isolde put out the fires? – Quite effortlessly, in the event.) Part way through the lyric apotheosis of “Sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe” the upper reaches of this dark room do yield to a starry night sky –– indeed rather like the effect of Hunding’s hut opening up to the spring night for the love-duet of Siegmund and Sieglinde –– and the front stage lights dim to a silvery blue. One wishes that lighting designer Jean Kalman had made better use of the opportunities for dramatic and symbolic lighting effects in Tristan, one of the few areas in which it is theatrically generous. Still, this central scene is the one of the most effectively realized episodes, as Tristan and Isolde lie blissfully suspended below the stars on their slice of Astroturf. Vocally it is a different matter, since Treleaven has some truly awful moments (pretty much any time he sustains a note in the top fifth of his range). As if truly remorseful, he partially redeems himself in the following scene when expressing his sorrow to King Marke in some phrases of genuinely beautiful pianissimo, full of melancholy pathos and delicacy (for example, at “das kannst du nie erfahren”).

Act 3 is set in an empty observation tower with low ceiling and expressionistic angles, sparely and effectively enough conceived. (When the camera looks through the long vertical apertures facing out to the left, however, the lighting scheme becomes confused: is it light or dark out there? Otherwise Toni Bargallò’s camera work is thoughtful, varied, and well paced.) This act offers a welcome chance to hear Struckmann, as Kurwenal, in a more lyrical, expressive mode, in contrast to the bluff heartiness of the part in Act 1. Treleaven fares somewhat better as the stressed, delirious Tristan of Act 3 than as the ecstatic lover of Act 2. Both the young tenor shepherd and his English horn are capably performed, and unlike Brangäne’s watch-song in Act 2, the shepherd’s “pipe” is placed close enough to the stage (or microphones?) that we can appreciate the sound. On the whole, like Tristan, we spend most of this Act waiting for Isolde to arrive so that Tristan can die and she can sing her Liebestod. The actual moment of Tristan’s death is nicely realized, as he reaches out to Isolde, standing in the windowsill, but passes by her and sinks to his knees, overcome by a strange terminal ecstasy. (De Billy paces the episode beautifully, as well). Polaski delivers a splendid Liebestod, and what’s more, she knows how to “act” Wagner’s stylized poetic rhetoric with appropriate movements and facial expressions. Kalman’s simple lighting of this last sequence, gradually spotlighting her head and hands before fading to dark purple shadows, is another visual high point in a mostly lackluster staging.

The major assets of this production, then, are Polaski and Struckmann, as well as a fine performance by the Liceu orchestra under De Billy. Erik Halfvarson has a deep and sonorous bass adequate to Marke’s role, but I found his diction somewhat wooly. The singers are costumed in more or less shapeless robes or long jackets which once and a while seem to hamper their movements. Among recent versions available on DVD, the Bayreische Staatsoper performance (1999) of Peter Konwitschny’s production offers a somewhat better matched leading pair (Jon Frederic West and Waltraud Meier), though only Meier’s Isolde and Kurt Moll’s King Marke offer significant competition. Konwitschny direction is more imaginative, even somewhat jokey in the first act, though his final act resembles Kirchner’s in a number of details. If the Sellars/Viola video-concert staging were to come out on DVD with a suitable cast (like Christine Brewer, who sang Isolde in Los Angeles), that would by my first choice among newer productions.

Thomas S. Grey
Stanford University

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Posted by Gary at 10:04 AM

September 21, 2006

Lyric Opera to be back on radio!

chicago_lyric.png[Chicago Lyric Opera, 20 September 2006]
Terms of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new contract with the Chicago Federation of Musicians were released tonight following completion of negotiations and ratification by the orchestra members. The new contract includes media provisions that pave the way for the internationally renowned company to return to the WFMT Radio Network for local and national broadcasts. Live broadcasts could begin as early as November, with the entire season to be rebroadcast in the spring of 2007.

Posted by Gary at 4:59 PM

A Parade of Young Talent Brightens a Gala

clayton_beth.pngBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 21 September 2006]

Galas like the New York City Opera’s “Night at the Opera” on Tuesday night are part music, part self-celebration and part sales pitch. The targets and the beneficiaries were dressed-up patrons who, the company hoped, would enjoy the talent both young and older and leave behind some money afterward.

Posted by Gary at 8:19 AM

Gala Talent, New and Familiar

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 21 September 2006]

Tuesday was the night for the New York State Theater crowd to put on the dog, as City Opera fashioned their black tie event a little differently this season. Instead of an opening night performance of a new production, the company mounted a gala concert featuring much of their current young talent and a few battle-hardened alumni.

Posted by Gary at 8:15 AM

Nicole Cabell, Top Cardiff Competition Star, Sings at Barbican

By Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 21 September 2006]

Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Nicole Cabell has the glamour of Shirley Bassey and Nefertiti combined, one critic panted. Throw in a voice like a shimmering rope of pearls, an exquisite legato and an instinctive understanding of French style, and you begin to approach the blistering talent of this Californian soprano.

Posted by Gary at 8:07 AM

La Serenissima — Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

mhairi_lawson.jpgTim Ashley [The Guardian, 20 September 2006]

You can have too much Vivaldi. For all his popularity, he is a trickier composer than might initially appear, astonishing in his melodic and harmonic facility, yet apt to seem samey when heard in quantity. An evening of his music can be cloying, but violinist and enthusiast Adrian Chandler, founder of the period band La Serenissima, has discovered ways of making Vivaldi riveting.

Posted by Gary at 6:42 AM

La Juive, Barbican, London

halevy.jpgBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 20 September 2006]

How topical: an opera about religious intolerance. Jacques Fromental Halévy’s La Juive (The Jewess) ends with Jews and Christians exchanging abuse, both believing they have avenged themselves on each other through a brutal execution. But it was far from topical at its 1835 Paris premiere. What represents actualité to us was passé to mid-19th- century Europe. Jewish emancipation was in the ascendant. Intolerance could be viewed dispassionately, and anyway it was the tortured love element that interested Halévy and his librettist Eugène Scribe. La Juive was instantly popular – here was opera-spectacle verging on opera-soap – but, curiously, just as religious intolerance returned, it fell from favour.

Posted by Gary at 6:36 AM

September 20, 2006

CIMAROSA: Cleopatra

However, my encyclopaedia confirmed that Cimarosa was an 18th century composer, born in 1749 and dying in 1801. The notes themselves are always of interest in a Bongiovanni issue, though one better understand some Italian as the English translation is often ridiculous. We are told that soprano Giannini sang a lot with the ‘conduction’ M. Boemi, ‘the conduction’ Sangiorgi etc. probably all ‘conductioners’ instead of just plain conductors. Small roles are called ‘side roles’. The tenor in Zauberflöte is a certain Taminus, etc.

The opera itself (called more exactly azione teatrale) is brief, just two acts lasting barely 100 minutes. It premièred in St. Petersburg, where Catherine II tried to raise the cultural standard of her court. But to appease the court, it couldn’t be too long or too difficult, and the plot cannot be complicated. Certainly in this plot nothing really happens. Marc Antony prepares himself to do battle to Octavius and to his agreeable surprise Cleopatra arrives. Thus ends act one. He wants to leave and she wants to accompany him. He at first refuses and then consents. End of opera.

The opera is just one big sequence of aria’s, a few duets, one quartet, and of course the inevitable ballet and march. The music is pleasant, not very original and could be the work of any composer of the time, be it Mosca, Nicolini, Righini, Portogallo or Cimarosa himself. Better than run-of-the-mill are the ballet and the fine duet at the end of the first act. Yet there is one piece of genius: a very beautiful and melodious quartet at the end which if one didn’t know better, it could almost come from Cosi fan tutte. A simple story and pleasant music do not necessarily mean cantabile. The arias are pitched very high indeed and are full of much florid singing, which is where the main problem of this issue lies.

It is the curse of many an interesting Bongiovanni issue that the firm has to accept soloists engaged by the theatres, which perform these rarities. But gone are the days that small provincial Italian houses like Adria (20.000 inhabitants) could get good or even acceptable singers for an unknown opera. The title role is sung by Luisa Giannini, no longer a youthful lady though the possessor of a lot of diplomas according to her biography with only one lacking in my opinion: raw vocal talent. The sound is thin and shrill above the staff and completely undistinguished. She simply cannot take the many vocal hurdles asked for by Cimarosa. The coloratura is especially sketchy. Sung by a young Kathy Battle or a Lucia Popp the music would probably have made a far deeper impression. Dramatic soprano Patrizia Morandini, too, has a long career in minor houses behind her but the sound is still warm and firm and her Antonio is very convincing. Tenor Luca Favaron has mostly sung small roles and a few major ones and his fine Italian voice proves in his one aria he could go far. Conductor Franco Piva, a composer himself, has made a critical version of the original score as a lot of important markings were erased. He clearly relishes the music and succeeds in getting a very full sound from a small orchestra and chorus.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 9:58 PM

September 19, 2006

Old Music In a New Home — WNO stages a brand new production of Monteverdi’s “Ulysses”

And with this brand new production of Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” (The Return of Ulysses) in collaboration with the Royal Danish Opera, staged in WNO’s stunning new theatre at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, both sentiments are upheld. “In these stones horizons sing” is blazoned in huge letters across the gleaming metal carapace of the new building; words that Monteverdi himself might have set to music. It is an exciting and challenging greeting to any visitor, and WNO did not disappoint.

WNOext_medium.jpg

The genius of Monteverdi’s free-flowing music drama is powerfully displayed and faithfully reincarnated by two of today’s most brilliant exponents of baroque opera, director David Alden and conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini. Alden’s trademark wit and visual quirkiness is certainly present, yet his solid-seeming but softly-glowing sets always support, not detract, from the epic story that unfolds of the wandering hero and his loyal but beleaguered wife. Alden knows exactly when to interpolate the occasional visual joke, or dramatic flourish, yet when the music demands he steps back and gives it and the singers time and space. “Ulysses” is essentially an ensemble opera, and Alden is quoted as saying that his joy in working on it comes partly from the opportunity it gives him to work with, and be integrated with, not only the singers but the musicians as well. If there’s a caveat to his work here it is that he seems unable to resist the almost-obligatory rather sleazy bit of simulated sex from time to time; as with any stage business or comedy, there’s a fine line between joke and boorishness and at times he oversteps it.

However, the integration he speaks of is there for all to see and hear, for equally assured and committed to the brilliance of the old master’s musical invention is Rinaldo Alessandrini in the pit (and on harpsichord continuo) with the WNO’s own fleet-footed orchestra augmented for this production by some six or seven period instrument performers, including the now-essential theorbos. They, together with the baroque cello and harp support much of the vocal story telling and it was obvious that an intensely-felt rapport between director, musicians and singers had developed over many days rehearsal. What is left of the original score of 1640 is of course but bare bones - it is up to today’s directors and singers to extrapolate, interpret, and ornament. Last night’s music was spring-heeled and alert, subtle and elegantly attuned to the ever-changing moods of the characters and the mainly youthful band of singers also showed extraordinary command of the vocal idiom.

Although an ensemble opera, there are some characters whose place and import are crucial and here the production was graced with two extremely gifted and dramatically assured singers. The very experienced tenor Paul Nilon took on the title role of the wandering hero, twenty years away from his noble and loyal queen, Penelope, sung here by the richly voiced mezzo soprano Sara Fulgoni. Nilon showed his usual attention to text and detail and his great experience of the idiom, although he is far from being an early music only specialist. His quite soft-grained tenor is so characterful and expressive one sometimes forgets that he is singing, not speaking, yet when needed in moments of high drama such as the hero’s fateful shipwreck or final battle with his would-be usurpers, Nilon musters both thrilling power and heroic tone to great effect. Matching him in dramatic tone, Fulgoni gives us another sort of heroism: that of Penelope’s almost obsessive fidelity to her long-lost husband. Her mix of physical cool regality and warm dark passion simmering below was masterly.

wno int_medium.jpg

The supporting 16 characters who weave their way in and out of the story, each displaying an aspect of the human (or divine) condition, were sung well and sometimes excellently so by this quite youthful cast - in fact the standard of both vocal and stage technique was so high that it was heart-warming to think that in the oft-maligned garden that is British opera there are many good young voices pushing up through to the sunlight of international success. Those that caught the eye on opening night included Sarah Tynan, soprano, as Melanto, Iestyn Davies, countertenor, as Human Frailty/Pisandro, and Ed Lyon, tenor, as Telemacho; the latter’s beautifully sung contemplation on the beauty and tragedy of Helen of Troy being particularly memorable.

For a first night, the production seemed to go extraordinarily smoothly, despite some complicated special effects and “sets within sets” whenever the divine but definitely lubricious gods and goddesses became involved, and this was perhaps a direct result of WNO’s declared aim to give its singers and musicians plenty of on-set rehearsal time. Peter Bellingham, WNO’s Executive Director, told me during the single interval that this was one of the greatest benefits of their move just 18 months ago from their old cramped premises to this beautiful, spacious new building, as they now had not only three separate rehearsal spaces for musicians, singers and chorus but also had access to all the sets and practical devices throughout the rehearsal periods. This writer can confirm that the audience is equally well served by an auditorium that frankly takes the breath away upon entering - it was akin to entering some great warm cave deep inside a mountain, its walls appearing carved from solid blocks of purple hued slate, separated by gently curving horizontal strata of gleaming wood that are the balconies and slips. What isn’t Welsh slate (strangely silky to the touch) is honey-coloured wood (the seats, floors, doors) or Welsh wool (traditional tweed upholstery to the seats). The overall effect is a kind of natural sumptuousness, a Celtic chieftain’s palace perhaps, far removed from the painted and gilded houses of London, Europe, and the USA. And even more important, the acoustic has a clarity and brilliance that, I’m told, singers and musicians appreciate and which translates to all reaches of the building.

As Welsh National Opera enter their anniversary season, they have here a new production, and a new house, that they can be proud to show the world. The stones are truly singing, and their horizons can only become wider.

© Sue Loder 2006

“Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria”, at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 23rd September and then on tour to Oxford, Llandudno, Birmingham, Bristol and Southampton.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Ulysses_Penelope.jpg image_description=Ulysse et Pénélope -- Circa 450 BCE -- Musée du Louvre
Posted by Gary at 8:46 AM

September 18, 2006

Another Day, Another ‘Carmen'

shaham_carmen_glyndebourne_.png(Photo: Mike Hoban) BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 18 September 2006]

Can the world, particularly New York, use another "Carmen"? Yes, the same way we can use another pepperoni pizza. As long as it's good . . . And City Opera has a good "Carmen," as proven Thursday night. Bizet's opera can't fail to appeal, if done faithfully, attentively, and full-heartedly.

Posted by Gary at 9:49 PM

Domingo, Midori, Glass Open California's New Segerstrom Hall

Segerstrom_Hall.jpgBy David Mermelstein [Bloomberg.com, 18 September 2006]

Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The $200 million Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Southern California opened over the weekend with two gala concerts featuring tenor Placido Domingo, violinist Midori and new works by Philip Glass and William Bolcom -- not to mention canapes, Champagne and a seemingly endless red carpet to welcome Orange County's music-loving elite to the curvy, glass-fronted hall.

Posted by Gary at 7:05 PM

September 16, 2006

150 Years of Opera in Chicago

Usually, in looking at a book on an opera house, theater, or the history of opera in a given city, I find the appendices (especially the chronology or cast lists) to be the highlight of the book. This is not the case here, mainly because of the unusually high quality of the text, which comprises the greater part of the book, and partly because of the gaps in the chronology. As I started to read the text, I became more and more impressed with the unusual stylishness of the writing and its fascinating subject. It is the sort of writing where every line that you read demands that you keep going, and makes you read on and on. Robert Marsh also draws a wonderful self portrait, including an abiding love for Richard Wagner, apparently his favorite composer.

He later implies that he is an operatic Darwinist and a believer in the survival of the fittest. But, it has been my experience that operatic Darwinists tend to look at operas that were once popular but were eventually forced out of the repertory by newer works, through the prism of their own preferences, and this is what happens here. Marsh expresses no regrets at the fact that Meyerbeer was forced out by Wagner and Verismo, but fails to draw the logical parallel with many of Mozart’s operas having been forced out by Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi 100 years earlier.

Knowing from my own researches that Pacini’s Saffo was widely toured in the U.S. during the 1865-66 season, with performances in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis, this is one of the first things I checked. Yet, when Marsh encountered Pacini’s Saffo in the 1865 season, he jumped to the conclusion that it was Gounod’s. He drew the same conclusion for the local premiere of Massenet’s Sapho in 1918, but identifies it correctly when it was given later.

The chronology has no casts, and is also missing a number of professional seasons reported in the local press. These include at least one that I know of by the New Orleans company which made frequent tours of the Northern and Eastern States. There also are several by Emma Abbott, and some by various other touring companies including Antonio Scotti, Fortune Gallo’s San Carlo Opera company, and the Boston National Opera Company. These overlooked seasons also impact the list of operas given in Chicago.

All considered, this title is a fine book as far as the text is concerned, but also one that could have benefited by having more effort spent on the appendices.

Tom Kaufman

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Posted by Gary at 9:11 PM

A 'King,' a 'Messiah' and a conductor

j_glover.jpg
Allan Ulrich [SF Chronicle, 17 September 2006]

(09-17) 04:00 PDT London -- So how do you like your early music served? Do you enjoy it on period instruments, which means lean textures, no string vibrato, valveless brass, lowered pitch? Or perhaps you prefer modern instruments playing at contemporary pitches, making robust sounds that soothe the ear. No need to choose. With Jane Glover on hand, you can have it both ways. She is the ideal incarnation of a podium switch hitter in the ongoing musical game of ancient versus modern.

Posted by Gary at 8:26 PM

He had his dark, anguished side - but he loved women and vodka too

A season of films scored by Shostakovich, usually portrayed as a tortured soul, reveals the composer's warmth, says Ed Vulliamy [The Guardian, 17 September 2006]

The soldier pounces, but having watched his sweetheart wander pensively through the snow, his ambush is a gently predatory lover's leap. What follows is among the most enchanting love scenes in cinema. The lovers snuggle beneath a primal fur; they wander through forests together, lost in love and fleetingly free from the war which rages around them and in which she, as a nurse, is immersed. Most importantly, the music accompanying this passage - and the strength and fragility of its romance - is without irony: a lambent string serenade, sensuous, soft-hued and tender.

Posted by Gary at 8:14 PM

Runnicles won't renew contract with S.F. Opera

Joshua Kosman [SF Chronicle, 16 September 2006]

Conductor Donald Runnicles will not continue as music director of the San Francisco Opera after his contract expires in 2009, the company announced Friday. He will continue to appear with the company, however, most notably in the new production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle planned for the 2010-11 season.

Posted by Gary at 6:38 PM

September 15, 2006

Argento at Santa Fe

argento.jpgCraig Smith [New Mexican, 15 September 2006]

Santa Fe has heard a good share of American composer Dominick Argento’s fine vocal music over the past two decades, and more is on the way this weekend.

Posted by Gary at 11:48 PM

Semele, New York City Opera

eliz_futral.pngBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 14 September 2006]

It is difficult these days to cast Wagner’s music- dramas, and finding a proper baritone for Verdi is a strenuous challenge. Opera companies everywhere suddenly seem capable, however, of handling Handel. Never mind the ornate convolutions of line, style and plot. Basking in the baroque has become an international pursuit.

Posted by Gary at 8:59 PM

September 12, 2006

ASHLEY: Perfect Lives; Celestial Excursions; Foreign Experiences

Ashley puts into close proximity two dramatic states–the first, a long, process-like state of suspended intelligence, a kind of cultivated stupor, the second constituting brief, extremely clear moments of heightened awareness, a sort of penetrating focus that cuts through the trivial and then transforms it into the meaningful.

Celestial_Excursion.jpg

If my description sounds like life under the influence of a cocktail of antidepressants laced with the occasional stimulant, so be it, for Ashley’s oeuvre, more so than any other composer’s work in this reviewer’s experience, comes the closest to confronting consciousness in a modern world of tailored pharmaceuticals. This is not to say his work is programmatic, designed by intent or by accident to resemble the workings of a sedated mind, for it is anything but sedate. Instead Ashley’s work confronts us with the same kind of consciousness that a life on Prozac (or vodka, or mushrooms, or trancing) mixed with occasional lapses into recreational pharmacy must confront us with. It addresses the potential for a deep and prolonged depression derived from the consciousness of the fact that the world our parents promised us so as to get us to sleep at night–filled as it was with regularity and good design–is a phantom, and it makes no sense (in opera or in the conduct of one’s daily affairs) to pretend otherwise.

Ashley’s operas follow in the mold of Beckett’s drama. As much as it hurts to recognize this fact, the world is comprised of characters taking ultimately random trajectories amidst great swaths of trivial and quotidian detritus. If we can find a few diamonds sprinkled in the refuse, we are much the better for it. Our world, if it doesn’t make complete sense, makes a kind of sense, sometimes brilliantly. Ashley’s opera, if they don’t make complete sense, make a kind of sense, often brilliantly.

To reiterate, Ashley puts into close proximity two dramatic states. The first of these–Beckett like in quality–takes us through a long process of seemingly random verbiage produced as if one were flipping channels through a dozen talk radio shows. This is the quintessential North American experience of the meaning of meaninglessness, a kind of Zen mindedness produced unintentionally (but not without design) by the unbridled proliferation of individually innocuous media. The flow produced thus in Ashley’s work has a chant-like quality, hypnotic and drone-like, which the musical accompaniment to the drama compliments perfectly. Into this ribbon of detritus, Ashley sows little snippets of lyric with a deceptive regularity, snippets of extreme importance to us, both as listeners and (in a sense that makes his work so important) as citizens, or at least denizens, of our modern world. Although it is quite impossible to say precisely what the relevance of these phrases is, either to the work at hand or to our interests (and even our best interests), we are riveted by them. They are redolent of meaning, if they don’t actually mean anything themselves. Here are two such snippets from Foreign Experiences, the end of scene 10 in Act 1:

Take a shower shave and sauce
Kiss the wife goodbye
Finish up the drugs
Make a few phone calls
Check with my broker

Opinion blew him up against the wall
Then having suffered enough or having
Been cleansed depending on your point of view
He was accepted as a neighbor they even started
Speaking English he could buy a loaf of bread he could
Get his shoes shined....

Foreign_Experiences.jpg

In the first instance, our parents never told us about the drugs, when they were discussing the other parts (our normal routines, from the shower to the broker); the second instance describes perfectly the average North American’s reception as a stranger entering a new neighborhood in the friendly global village, where television and the computer have done absolutely nothing to break down territoriality.

The kind of meaning produced here is like that given off by Thorton Wilder’s absolutely maudlin peon to American domesticity, the play Our Town. The essential meaning is all sidereal, which, despite the playwright’s best intentions, draws us back to the play again and again. This is a meaning without a central core; these are lives that derive meaning from convention rather than substance. Substance–dependency on drugs, acceptance by neighbors (and thus access to bread and vodka)–is glimpsed only in haphazard fashion. Substantial meaning benefits from this approach, since to stare at substance for too long is to remove it from one’s awareness.

Given these parameters–a sort of evaporated content that gives way every now and then to glimpses of substance–Ashley’s work derives its greatest characteristic quality from text enunciation and setting. Ashley, himself, takes many of the principal roles. His is a suitably monotonic voice, roughly articulated in some barely identifiable drawl (indecipherable to a Canadian, but situated presumably somewhere between the Carolinas and Texas). He sounds like someone overheard in the adjacent restaurant booth, every so slightly agitated or merely overstimulated, who carries on a monologue just slightly above the volume observed by decorum, and thus as good as in your face, since you and everyone else in the restaurant is drawn to it as if it were an aural magnet. This is a person saying in full voice things that are normally whispered in restaurant booths. The text works its way into the psyche as both forbidden and yet necessary, as uncomfortable and yet intensely interesting.

Ashley’s characters are made generally to articulate the text in a sort of bare enunciation–in a stupor, or trance like–against sparse accompaniment (monodic, in the sense of the term monodrama hearkening back to Peri and the origins of opera as drama). Worked into the flow are songs, duets, choruses, dramatic interjections. In Wagnerian fashion, the singers segue into and out of these indiscriminately; they seldom plant their feet and bring forth an aria.

I liken Ashley’s operas to Richard Ford’s Independence Day. We sense that great things–monumental things–are going on, of which the musical moments in the operas are but mere symptoms. The greatness is left inarticulate, merely sensed, slouching behind the sheer volume of the whole. Like Ford’s novel, Ashley’s work is centrally American–about American real estate, so to speak. The images that emerge have a particularly American quality about them: witness protection programs will be invoked alongside Death Valley segueing to Death’s Door Hospital, to “Somewhere in the Great Southwest,” and the Bob Willis Band, the “Milk Cow Blues,” Subaru, the sharp sound of a rifle and the subsequent sharp blow to the chest, an adopted daughter, Walnut, an American Indian.

The participants in these operas are familiar faces in the Ashley circle: Sam Ashley, Jacqueline Humbert, Joan La Barbara, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Tom Hamilton, Thomas Buckner. Some have been with Ashley since the days of Perfect Lives (since the late 70's), and this familiarity is evident in the ease with which they perform his work. Of the three operas under review here, Foreign Experiences has a narrative tension unlike that seen before in Ashley’s operas–a taught quality that derives from the slightly paranoid nature of a protagonist. The two voices involved in this recording–Sam Ashley and Humbert–retain, however, the hypnotic quality of Ashley’s other work, paranoia aside, and the result is a very pleasant discrepancy between the obvious tension of the plot and the trance-like ease of the narrative. This calls to mind, again, pharmaceuticals, as if under heavy sedation one laughingly yields one’s now distant body into the waiting arms of a surgeon.

Ashley’s work is the central pillar of Lovely Music’s ever impressive catalog. Details can be had at their website: http://www.lovely.com/ . There is a thumbnail bio of Ashley at Wikipedia, with interesting links, and an excellent interview article at http://www.lovely.com/press/articles/Wire%20No.234.pdf . Early work is available through the “Art of the States” website and through the ever astonishing ubu.com.

Murray Dineen image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Perfect_Lives.jpg image_description=Ashley: Perfect Lives product=yes product_title=Robert Ashley. Perfect Lives. Lovely Music DVD 4917 [2DVDs]
Celestial Excursions. Lovely Music LCD 1007.
Foreign Experiences. Lovely Music LCD 1008. product_by=Various artists
Posted by Gary at 11:54 PM

A Relative Newcomer Makes Her Mark

BY JAY NORDLINGER [New York Sun, 12 September 2006]

Tomorrow night, City Opera will open its season with Handel's "Semele," and in the cast will be Vivica Genaux. Who's she? You will want to make her acquaintance: Ms. Genaux is an Alaska-born — yes, Alaska-born — mezzo-soprano who excels in bel canto and Baroque.Those who can't get to the New York State Theater should pick up her recent CD from Virgin Classics. On it she sings arias of Handel and Hasse.

Posted by Gary at 11:35 PM

Paris's Art-Deco Salle Pleyel Opens After Four-Year Restoration

salle_pleyel.jpgBy Jorg von Uthmann [Bloomberg.com, 12 September 2006]

Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Salle Pleyel is to Paris what Carnegie Hall is to New York and the Philharmonie is to Berlin. It opens tomorrow after four years of restoration.

Posted by Gary at 11:29 PM

Un ballo in maschera, San Francisco

UnBalloInMaschera-McCarthy4.jpg(Photo by Terrence McCarthy)
By Allan Ulrich [Financial Times, 11 September 2006]

Regime change in operatic duchies is never smooth, but need it always look and sound so wrenching? The first full season of David Gockley’s tenure as the San Francisco Opera’s general director has begun with the kind of bluntly voiced, minimally produced (marketing types call it “traditional”) fare promised by the new boss in the media since he arrived from the Houston Grand Opera in January.

Posted by Gary at 11:22 PM

Opera in Paris

Paris has several halls where music can be heard. In the center, you will find the Old venerable “Palais Garnier”, the Opera House build under Napoleon the third as well as the new Opéra-Bastille, both ran under the leadership of Gérard Mortier. Not far from these is the “Théatre du Chatelet” which beginning from this year, is run by JC Choplin. The Orchestre de Paris and the Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique, Christoph Eschenbach and Myung-wung Cung’s Orchestra will resume their residencies at the “Salle Pleyel”. Further East in the elegant and glitzy Avenue Montaigne is the “Théatre des Champs-Elysées”, better known as the place where Stravinsky’s Rite was created. It is a hall of the right size for chamber music or piano recitals, but where the Vienna Philharmonic comes three times per year and which will usually produce two or three Operas as well. There are other less known smaller places where interesting programs can be heard but I will leave them out in this article.

In recent years, the Paris orchestra was exiled in the “Théatre Mogador”, not far from the Galeries Lafayette. This hall was usually used for musicals and was an artistic disaster—musicians could not hear themselves well which is the basis for crafting good ensembles, nor could they have a regular place for rehearsals. This is over as the Salle Pleyel will officially reopen this week. It has been renovated and early impressions are very positive. Be aware though, that in order to improve the acoustics, the capacity has been reduced to less than 2 000 seats. Concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle, the London Symphony Orchestra under Haitink and Gergiev are nearly sold out.

The Théatre du Chatelet used to be for several decades Paris’s most exciting place. It used to be run by Stéphane Lissner who now runs La Scala, no less, and Jean-Pierre Brossman who has retired this year. Both managed the near impossible: develop a faithful audience as well as secure long-lasting relations with some strong artists who would come regularly on the strength of the working conditions. This is the place which could boast ambitious programs at full capacity: New works by Peter Eötvös, John Adams, Luciano Berio, … , a Strauss Festival with Dohnanyi and the Philharmonia Orchestra from London, Rattle conducting Janacek with his Birmigham Orchestra, Barenboim coming with his Berlin Ensemble for some superb Strauss, Beethoven and Wagner, Minkowski reinventing Offenbach, Paris’s last Ring and the first ever complete Troyens with Gardiner’s ensemble, month-long regular visits of the Mariinsky under Gergiev up to Baroque Operas. The Orchestral and recital season was also very strong and to make things even better, price ranges was wide, this enabling everyone to come at all budgets.

This seems sadly a thing of the past. The new administrator, Jean-Luc Choplin has made a first season whose new major production is the outdated Lopez operetta The singer from Mexico. There are other works by Rock composers or other operettas. The only real work is Pascal Dusapin Opera about Faust. The Orchestral season has been given away to Pleyel. In other words, this is a musical disaster.

This positions the Paris Opéra as the clear leader for years to come. Gérard Mortier in his third year, has put his mark on what Verdi used to call the old house. It is now clearly Mortier’s place. Do not come to expect extravagant Metropolitan-like productions of La Bohème with big names singers, expect to be challenged by thoroughly rehearsed productions with the artists that Mortier has always worked with: Singers like Angela Denoke, Christine Schäfer, Jose van Dam, … conductors like Sylvain Cambreling, Valéry Gergiev, Kent Nagano, … as well as producers like Peter Sellars, Luc Bondy, the Hermanns, ..

All that Mortier touches does not turn to gold: last year’s Cardillac did not manage to convince that it was a work worth resurrecting. The staging of Simon Boccanegra by the Dutch avant-garde producer Johan Simons as well as of Don Giovanni by Cannes Festival winner Michael Haneke were disappointing, …, however, there is always something to enjoy: Denoke as Cardillac’s daughter was superb and Boccanegra’s principals: Carlos Alvarez, Anna-Maria Martinez, Stefano Secco and Ferrucio Furlanetto could rival memories of La Scala’s Paris visit in the 70s. When Mortier gets things right, they are very very right: Two seasons ago, the Tristan staged by Peter Sellars, conducted in the spirit of Debussy by Esa-Pekka Salonen; and, with Ben Heppner and Waltraud Meier, this is the sort of evening that shows what an outstanding unique performance the Opéra can be.

Mortier has also taken some important initiatives:

  • He has worked on the acoustics of the Bastille by raising the orchestra which now is balanced better with the singers.
  • A last minute ticket scheme similar to Vienna has been created where 5 € can be bought on the day. Come early and be sure to enter.
  • Finally, he runs some fascinating conferences for every production with the artists where he proves to be a fascinating speaker. If you can understand French, look for these. They can be revelations.

The “Théatre des Champs-Elysées” pales by comparison. It has less coherence in its programming from either Pleyel or the Paris Opéra. It hosts however the French National Radio Orchestra whose director is Kurt Masur. Should Anna Netrebko give a recital with her frequent singing partner, Rolando Villazón. Do not think of finding a ticket, it is sold out. The key event should be at the end of the season a staged Pelleas with Madalena Kozena conducted by Bernard Haitink, who has already done several seasons ago this work in concert performance of which several French National Orchestra players were quoted saying this was the highlight of their careers.

In the end, if you come to Paris, look for programs carefully, there are many events happening. However, if you just have one place to go and want to experience something uniquely Parisian, go to Bastille or to Garnier. It is a safe bet that whatever will be performed is likely to be original, forward-looking and always stimulating.

Antoine Leboyer

(PS: this piece was written on September 11. As Opera Today’s readers are mostly American, I, like all of us here in France, want to join you in remembrance of this tragic day that no one will ever forget.)

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/paris_opera.png image_description=Paris Opéra
Posted by Gary at 11:09 PM

BEETHOVEN: Overtures
BRUCKNER: Symphony no. 4

Filmed on 24 June 1990 at the Dom in Lübeck, this concert is a fine example of Wand’s mastery of nineteenth-century repertoire. As flawless as his recordings sound on CD, the video reveals the fact that he conducted from memory, with the empty podium more a prop for the concert venue than something more utile.

Apparently filmed for television, the video brings the higher-definition images from German broadcasts to the DVD. More than the resolution, the sense of a concert is conveyed with the combination of long pans and, more importantly, and lingering shots. The frenetic quality that some directors bring to the concert videos is absent from this recording, and this helps to give it a sense of place. Not just a performance preserved in digital media, this recording conveys the feel of the performance and its venue.

The concert opens with the familiar “Leonore III” Overture by Beethoven, and as well-known as it is, Wand’s sense of drama makes it worth attention. His cueing is, perhaps, as intriguing as the sound it brings. Likewise, his range of gestures fits the breadth of the music and its implicit drama. Wand shapes the sound in this resonant cathedral, something that is welcome in live performances, like those of Helmut Rilling, and others of his generation. Not just automatons beating time, these musicians truly direct the musicians in their charge and create a dynamism that excites the audience.

As much as the “Leonore III” Overture may be seen as a way to warm up the orchestra, it the program is essentially Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the one called “Romantic.” Dating from 1874, and revised in 1878 and fitted with a new Finale in 1880, the Fourth is one of Bruckner’s better-known works. While Bruckner further emended the score in 1888, Wand used the Haas edition of 1936, which attempts to provide the Originalfassung of the work. Notwithstanding the complicated history of the Fourth Symphony, it may be regarded as the first of his works to embody the stylistic elements associated with the composer’s symphonic works. No longer relying on quotations as a structural device, as he had done in the Third Symphony, Bruckner’s voice is apparent in the Fourth without the need to rely on ideas from other composers to contribute to its substance.

Familiar to audiences because of its frequent inclusion in concert programs, Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony is accessible because of the concise motives that the composer develops throughout the work. The open intervals with which the work begins help to set the tone for a work that is built on fourths and fifths, with the horn calls stemming from them. As predictable as that may be, Bruckner intensifies the rhythmic interest with triplet figures that push three melodic notes against the underlying duple meter. These stylistic traits are associated with Bruckner and they have their origin in this work, which reflects, perhaps, more concision than the composer used in his previous work. As fine a composition as the Third is, the Fourth seems to be the quintessential Bruckner symphony.

In this recording, too, Wand allows Bruckner’s voice to emerge clearly and without affectation. From the first notes of the opening movement, Wand gives free rein to Bruckner’s music, as the horn call gives way to its response by the woodwinds and eventually the full orchestra. The setting in the Lübeck cathedral is an appropriate venue for the timbre, which reverberates warmly in the surrounding acoustics. The attentiveness of the audience is evidence of Wand’s command of the performance, which seems, at times, more like a studio recording than a live concert. Wand plays the orchestra as though he were Bruckner’s organist, with attention to every detail. From the subtle gestures that create intimate sounds to the majestic ones he used to bring out the structural climaxes in the score, Wand interprets the music as if he had composed it himself. The response of the musicians is evidence of the conductor’s presence, as is the attentiveness of the audience, whose faces blur into those of the orchestra in the various panned shots of the video.

The slow movement is no less powerful, and some of the images of performers framed by Gothic arches help to establish the solemn tone of the music. In this spirit, the Wand himself seems to have resisted the spirited facial gestures that he used in the first movement, averting his eyes, as it were, so as to avoid engaging the performers too vociferously. Such is not the case in the Scherzo that follows, which Wand opens with a precise and measured beat that keeps the lively spirit of the piece.

With the Finale, Wand allows the subtle orchestration to emerge clearly, and the unirhythmic passages come through with rare precisions. The control that is apparent in Wand’s conducting by no means restrains the expressiveness of the performance. Without hurrying along the players, Wand maintains a persuasive tempo that reinforces the sonata form of the Finale. Wand’s interpretation of the Finale matches his concept of the opening movement; the work revolves around the outer movements, with the inner ones supporting the overall structure.

This is a fine video that captures a late performance by one of the finest conductors of the twentieth century in exemplary form. While some of the shots from one side of the cathedral might catch sight of film crew on another part, the overall quality is impressive. Moreover, the sound is quite fine, as should be the case with DVDs of concerts like this. This video has much to recommend, as it preserves an outstanding Bruckner performance for future generations to enjoy.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/DVWW-COWAND5.gif image_description=DVWW-COWAND5 product=yes product_title=Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture “Leonore III”
Anton Bruckner:Symphony no. 4 “Romantic.” product_by=NDR Sinfonieorchester, Günter Wand, conductor. product_id=TDK COWAND05 [DVD]
Posted by Gary at 9:29 PM

September 11, 2006

Tragic Love in a Garret, on the Brink of World War I

By STEVE SMITH [NY Times, 11 September 2006]

In a short behind-the-scenes documentary film screened before the third act of Puccini’s “Bohème” during the Opera-for-All celebration at New York City Opera on Friday, the director, James Robinson, called the piece “director-proof.” He was half right. While it’s probably true that the stirring passions and sumptuous music in this work can survive all manner of stage treatments, a smart production can definitely heighten the impact of Puccini’s powerful score.

Posted by Gary at 11:22 AM

September 9, 2006

Joshua Bell’s Good Taste

When ‘Joshua Bell, Voice of the Violin’ arrived recently (Sony Classical 82796 97779), a little voice inside my head said, ‘Wait! don’t throw it out – see how Bell is sounding these days.’

I followed that advice and am glad I did. This is a bon-bon record, almost elevator music – but not quite. Its salvation is Bell’s musicianship and taste. The fifteen selections for solo violin and small orchestra, in this case the splendid Orchestra of St Luke’s, Michael Stern, conductor, are all familiar vocal repertory, largely operatic, a pleasing selection, actually, including: Werther’s ‘Pourquoi me réveiller?’ (Massenet); ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ (Donizetti); and songs such as Schubert’s ubiquitous ‘Ave Maria’ and Rachmaninoff’s ‘Vocalise,’ plus some popular Spanish material – not exactly a ground breaking offering, fifteen selections in all, each three or four minutes in length. The happy word is that Bell’s performance is no less than gorgeous. He plays with a strong tone, dead-on pitch and only very light vibrato. This is no east-European gypsy; rather, a sterling American musician from Bloomington, Indiana, and a fine violinist. His program is old-fashioned and hackneyed, for sure. But it was meant to boil the pot, not offer musical innovation, and is a companion disc to Bell’s ‘Romance of the Violin,’ more of same issued earlier (Sony SK87894). Bell makes no artful attempts to ‘sell’ the music; he plays it straight and it works.

In the early 20th century, programs of transcriptions and operatic selections for piano or violin were common, and Albert Spaulding, the handsome and accomplished American violinist who became an international celebrity, played such recitals often, as did Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler and many another famed fiddler. Bell makes no apology for his violin transcriptions, in fact is happy to write, “In the end, playing these pieces compelled me to think like a singer – to breathe with the musical line, to articulate each note...and finally, with the help of my 1713 Stradivarius violin, to discover the very human-like voice of the violin.” No argument from me. Bravo!

Here is the ‘however’: The program ends with Richard Strauss’s heavenly song ‘Morgen’ (Tomorrow), played by Bell and the St. Luke’s, and sung by the noted soprano Anna Netrebko. A disarmingly simple-sounding series of ascending chords wafts the poem of the Scottish-German John Henry Mackay to memorable heights of quiet reflective sentiment. Thus the poem:

Tomorrow

And tomorrow the sun will shine again,
and on the path where I will go,
it will unite us, the happy ones, again,
amidst this sun-breathing earth...

And on the shore, the broad, blue swells,
we will climb down, silently and slowly,
speechless we will gaze into one another’s eyes,
and the silence of bliss will drop upon us...

[Sony gives the German and this English text, but no translation is credited.]

Strauss sets these sweet words so succinctly, with such restraint but with warm color and quiet longing. It’s a haunting song, that thrives in Bell’s violin. So, one wonders why Netrebko was hauled in to participate in this elegant closing number? If a singer were really needed (she was not, given the quality of Bell’s work), why an operatic prima donna who is only concerned with voice and makes no audible effort to enunciate the German text clearly or color it with emotion? Bell’s program survives but Strauss’s wunderbar song does not, and I missed a real lieder singer in the moment. Perhaps La Netrebko’s name will help sell the disc to the unsuspecting, though she is not featured on the cover or title pages. Otherwise, ‘Voice of the Violin’ offers good notes, wonderful recorded sound and delightful violin performances. This is a fine Mother’s Day gift. [Sorry, Joshua!]

© 2006 J. A. Van Sant, Santa Fe.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/J_Bell_Voice.jpg image_description=Joshua Bell — Voice of the Violin product=yes product_title=Joshua Bell — Voice of the Violin product_by=Joshua Bell (Violin); Anna Netrebko (Soprano) product_id=Sony Classical 097779 [CD] price=$14.48 product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=924864&aff=operatoday
Posted by Gary at 4:42 PM

`Gaddafi' Premieres at ENO, Raises Questions of Taste, Sanity

gaddafi_small.jpgBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 8 September 2006]

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- It would be easy to write a smirking, amused review of ``Gaddafi: the Living Myth,'' the world premiere that opened the new season at London's English National Opera last night. Everything lends itself easily to such a task.

Posted by Gary at 3:40 PM

September 8, 2006

VERDI: Un ballo in maschera

First Performance: 17 February 1859, Apollo Theatre, Rome.

Principal Characters:
Riccardo, conte di Warwick e governatore di BostonTenor
Renato, creolo, suo segretario e sposo di AmeliaBaritone
AmeliaSoprano
Ulrica, indovina di razza neraAlto
Oscar, paggioSoprano
Silvano, marinaioBass
Samuel, Tom, nemici del conteBass
Un giudiceTenor
Un servo di AmeliaTenor

Setting: Boston and its outskirts near the end of the 17th Century.

Synopsis:

Act I

Riccardo, count of Warwick, English governor of Massachusetts, opens a hearing. Among those present are his enemies, Samuel and Tom, who together with their followers, connive to murder him. Oscar, the page, brings to Riccardo the list of those invited to a ball; on seeing the name of Amelia, whom Riccardo is secretly in love with, he winces. The Creole Renato, secretary and confidant of Riccardo, and Amelia's husband besides, arrives and warns him of a plot against him, but Riccardo takes no heed of the warning. A judge proposes to banish the black Ulrica, accused of witchcraft, but a lenient Riccardo magnanimously proposes to all present to go visit the fortune-teller's hovel. Here Ulrica, who is invoking the "king of the abyss", is questioned by the sailor Silvano to whom she predicts a lucky future. Amid general exultation, the prophecy turns out to be true, since Riccardo had previously slipped money and a nomination of advancement to official into the sailor's pocket. Then one of Amelia's servants comes forward, asking for a private interview for his mistress. The fortune-teller sends all the others out and counsels Amelia, who asks her how she can free herself of a sinful passion, to go to the sinister execution grounds, where she will find an herb of forgetfulness. Riccardo, hidden and listening, is overjoyed to learn that Amelia is in love with him. He disguises himself as a fisherman and goes to the fortune-teller who, however, recognises his hand as that of a noble commander, but refuses to pronounce her prophecy. Finally, at the insistence of Riccardo and the others present, she predicts the death of the count at the hand of a friend, he who is the first to shake his hand. Renato arrives and gives him his hand. Amid the general consternation, Riccardo minimises the affair, while the people extol his virtues.

Act II

Amelia goes to look for the magic herb and is followed by Riccardo who declares his love for her; Amelia is shaken: she too loves him, but does not want to be unfaithful to her husband. Renato, worried for Riccardo's safety, arrives on the scene and advises Riccardo to leave that solitary spot. Before going, Riccardo entrusts the woman to him (she had covered her face with a heavy veil and has not been recognised by her husband), making him promise that he would not attempt to learn the woman's identity. The conspirators burst onto the scene surprised to find Renato, who tries in vain to protect the woman from their curiosity. In the confusion that follows, Amelia's veil falls. The husband is mortified and angry, and Samuel, Tom and the others comment the event with terrible irony. Upset, Renato makes an appointment to meet Tom and Samuel the next day.

Act III

Renato is determined to avenge what he presumes to be his wife's infidelity in blood. She asks to be allowed to see their son for the last time. Moved to pity, Renato then decides to satisfy his anger by killing his friend rather than his wife. Samuel and Tom on their arrival are incredulous when they learn of Renato's intentions, but he offers the life of his son as guarantee of his sincerity. The three determine that chance shall decide which of them shall carry out the murder of Riccardo and oblige Amelia to extract a name from the urn: it is Renato. The page Oscar arrives with the invitations for the masked ball. The three agree to take advantage of the occasion to carry out their design, while Amelia tries to think of a way to save the count. Riccardo has decided to renounce his love for Amelia and order their repatriation to England. Oscar brings him an anonymous letter urging him to forego the ball for his own safety, but the count, wanting to see Amelia for the last time, takes no heed of the warning. During the ball, Renato astutely makes Oscar tell him which is the disguise of Riccardo. Meanwhile, Amelia, recognised by Riccardo, implores him to flee and receives his last adieu. He barely has time to finish his dialogue with the woman when he is struck by Renato's dagger. The assassin is arrested, but Riccardo, dying, orders him released. He shows Renato the decree for their repatriation and reveals that Amelia had never been unfaithful. With his dying breath he pardons all the conspirators. All present bless his magnanimity. Renato is left alone with his remorse.

Synopsis Source: Giuseppe Verdi — Il sito ufficiale

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the complete score.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Gustav_III_of_Sweden_medium.jpg image_description=Gustavus III audio=yes first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
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Windows Media Player second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Un_ballo1.wax product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Un ballo in maschera product_by=Luciano Pavarotti (Riccardo), Shirley Verrett (Amelia), Piero Cappuccilli (Renato), Elena Obraztsova (Ulrica), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Claudio Abbado (cond.)
Live recording, December 1977, Milan
Posted by Gary at 12:34 PM

San Francisco Opera Opens Season with Voigt in Verdi's Ballo (and a Free Concert in Golden Gate Park)

By Matthew Westphal [Playbill, 8 September 2006]

There will be a masked ball by the Bay tonight, in more than one sense, as San Francisco Opera opens its 2006-07 season with Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. Deborah Voigt stars, with Marcus Haddock, Ambrogio Maestri, Tichina Vaughn and Anna Christy; Marco Armiliato conducts. And the post-performance gala for patrons includes, naturally, a masquerade ball.

Posted by Gary at 6:28 AM

Auschwitz Women's Orchestra Provided a Soundtrack for Suffering

auschwitz.jpgBy Shirley Apthorp [Blomberg.com, 8 September 2006]

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Women musicians were forced by the Nazis to provide a soothing soundtrack as prisoners arrived at Auschwitz or were marched to the gas chambers.

Posted by Gary at 6:20 AM

VERDI: La Traviata

Myto had the good (or bad, some would say) idea of including Violetta’s big act 1 scene from the famous opening night of this production 8 months earlier and the difference is telling. Of course, the 1955 performance was broadcast and the sound is so much better whereas I don’t know who recorded this evening with some bad blasting and distortion. Still the voices do not suffer too much and can easily be compared. It is immediately clear that during the earlier performance Callas’ voice is somewhat steadier, less strident and surer in the high register. It belongs to the politically correct creed to preach that this Traviata was Callas at her zenith, but compared to the 1951-1952 Mexican performances and her 1953 Cetra recording there is a marked deterioration on all fronts. This particular recording has the soprano in a still more shaky sound. As the middle voice is still relatively unimpaired, Callas often pushes for volume that is lacking elsewhere. The moment she goes beyond the stave, the sound becomes thin and there is often a marked beat. She transposes the ‘Sempre libera’ because no real prima donna, and definitely not Callas, could get away at La Scala at the time without a top note. I don’t buy the story of Callas fans saying she purposely made her voice weak and sickly. Indeed, in the fourth act this has a meaning and the difference is easily audible between this gimmick (or interpretative nicety) and the audible shrill sounds in the first three acts. Another article of the Callas creed tells us to believe that though some vocal power had disappeared, this nevertheless was more than compensated by deeper insights. This is belittling Madame Callas’ artistry during her best vocal years. Maybe her partners are not ideal in the Cetra recording but the small telling utterances, the phrasing in the big duet with father Germont is as perfect as in her later performances and the Cetra recording is not handicapped by strident sounds.

I cannot honestly say I was very much impressed by Callas’ colleagues, either. Gianni Raimondi certainly doesn’t sob his way through the role. In fat, he is one of the most insensitive Alfredo’s I have ever heard. His big and youthful voice fills La Scala, and this seems to be sufficient. However, he lacks finesse, belting out ‘Croce e delizia’ where every tenor worth his salt makes a diminuendo, and singing ‘Lunge da lei’ much too straightforward without the smallest try to diminish the volume. In the end, he is rewarded by a huge ovation… so much for those cognoscenti of the fifties. Only in ‘Parigi, o cara’ does Raimondi decide to give us some tenderness.

Almost exactly the same can be said of Ettore Bastianini. “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas Giorgio Germont”. The baritone’s gruff voice, the relentless stream of big sound can be exciting in Trovatore or Rigoletto, Traviata is certainly not its place. Each ‘Donna son io ed in mio casa (A lady I am and in my own house)’ wouldn’t for have thought to acquiesce to such a father’s request, completely lacking subtlety, warmth or empathy. Even in ‘Di Provenza il mar’ its just a big voice ringing out, and for only a small second at the end of the first verse does he think that this stream of unrelenting sound may not entirely convince his son to return to Provence. Unfortunately at this moment Bastianini’s breath runs out.

The opera is well paced by maestro Giulini, though the orchestral sound is poor. I fail to see the greatness of a version where almost half an hour of music is cut in the most barbaric Italian provincial style, and where every utterance of Alfredo, Giorgio Germont, Grenville and Anina after Violetta has died is thrown out because the last human sound in the performance has to belong to the prima donna. This is strictly a recording for fans of one or more of the three principals.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/traviata.jpg
image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

product=yes
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
product_by=Maria Callas (Violetta), Silvana Zanolli (Flora), Luisa Mandelli (Anina), Gianni Raimondi (Alfredo), Ettore Bastianini (Giorgio Germont), Giuseppe Zampieri (Gastone), Arturo La Porta (Douphol), Dario Caselli (D’Obigny), Silvio Maionica (Dr. Grenvil), Franco Ricciardi (Giuseppe), Vittorio Tatozzi (domestico), Carlo Forti (commissario). Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.
Live recording January 19th 1956.
product_id=Myto Historical 062.H111 [2CDs]
product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=789377&aff=operatoday
price=$18.49

Posted by Gary at 6:08 AM

Los Angeles Opera Is Given $6 Million for a ‘Ring’ Cycle

By EDWARD WYATT [NY Times, 7 September 2006]

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 6 — Eli Broad, the financier, has donated $6 million to underwrite the Los Angeles Opera’s first production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, the opera company said on Wednesday. The initial production of the four operas is tentatively planned to stretch over two years, starting in about two years.

Posted by Gary at 5:54 AM

MAHLER: Symphony no. 7

The excitement of a performance contributes an element of tension that is, obviously, not possible in all studio recordings. This is certainly true of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, and this is borne out in the response to some recordings when the result may not convey enough excitement for all listeners. Yet in a live performance this pointed cues. Seeing him lead this work demonstrates his own vision of the work, which work is often quite moving, and it is possible to understand its attraction in this recently released DVD of Claudio Abbado’s concerts on 17 and 18 August 2005. Granted, this recording is based on recordings of two performances, but it is, nonetheless, a fine replica of the way this work can be experienced in the concert hall.

Given the number of fine recordings of the Seventh Symphony that have appeared in the last decade, it is unfair to continue to treat the work as the stepchild of Mahler’s symphonies. The Cinderella analogy that may be traced to Deryck Cooke is an artifact that need no longer be used, and Abbado’s performance helps to reinforce the strength of the score. This “Song of the Night” as commentators – not Mahler – have called the Symphony may be regarded as a work that moves from night to day, as it starts with a wonderfully forward-looking movement in which quartal sonorities mask the otherwise diatonic harmonic at the root of the symphonic structure.

Abbado’s clear grasp of the structure of the first movement is evident in his clear gestures and the firm concept he brings to the movement. This becomes clear in the DVD since it captures the conductor’s cueing and nods to the ensemble as he shapes the work. Hardly impassive, Abbado sometimes appears like a coach, when he smiles at a particular passage’s successful execution. As much as it is possible appreciate Abbado’s interpretation by listening to the result, seeing the conductor work with his ensemble makes a difference in understanding the driving vision behind the performance.

The second movement, “Nachtmusik I,” is masterfully executed, but some of the pans to specific sections seem, perhaps, a little reminiscent of a more agitated score than this. A quick cut to the violins, just to capture the pizzicato is out of character with the content of this movement, where longer phrases are important. Likewise, the pacing between the crosscuts seems, at times, counter to the musical content that they are conveying. Just as a video of an orchestral performance without any close-ups and pans would seems less than perfect, it can be equally distracting when the video sometimes interrupts the musical narrative in a performance like this. As with other cinematography, the visual techniques should support the subject, and longer, lingering shots, such as those found in the recently released videos of Gunter Wand conducting Bruckner’s music.

That aside, the Scherzo draws much attention on Abbado himself, and it is possible match his gestures with the passages he crafts well. This is a well-paced interpretation of the Scherzo, with the details so essential to the score carefully placed and played cleanly. If fault may be found with the performance, it is, perhaps, just a bit too lively a sound for a movement that is marked at the outset “Schattenhaft” (“shadowy”). The antithesis of the elfin Scherzos associated with Mendelssohn, this nocturnal movement deserves a bit of ambiguity to convey its character.

Such ambiguity is essential to the second “Nachtmusik,” which is essentially a piece of chamber music that happens to be written for orchestra. The entrances blend well, as if the ensemble were one that performed together more regularly than at the Lucerne Festival alone. Within the ternary structure of the movement, Mahler has created some intricate thematic connections that unify the piece. It is especially in this movement that the deft hand of the conductor needs to shape phrases and to control the balances so that the effect is subtle and persuasive in its highly romantic affect.

Yet in presenting the Rondo-Finale, the one in which the nocturnal images associated with the previous movements are dissipated by the light of day, Abbado’s opening gesture stands out for the notably brisk tempo he established in the timpani. As much as the stark contrast certainly sets the final movement apart from the others, this single element seems out of place for the way it sets the opening motif out of context. At times some of the entrances that follow seem perilously fast, and although the players succeed at executing the music at Abbado’s tempos, they are certainly virtuosic.

At another level, though, the orchestration and scoring match the form of the movement; as the refrain of the Rondo recurs with increasing familiarity, so too does the intensity of the ensemble. The movement culminates in the massive sound of the final statement, which must leave the hall awash with sound, and Abbado achieves this well. It requires an ensemble to sustain its intensity throughout a movement of this scope that balances the opening one, which is no mean feat. The Rondo-Finale is famously criticized for its overly optimistic tone, but Abbado’s approach certainly does not make the movement seem as prosaic as some critics would have it. It caps the entire Symphony well, and only falls short with the overly anxious “Bravo” that some member had to yell before the sound reverberated sufficiently.

Overall this fine recording benefits from caliber of musicians who participated in the Festival, and it would have been useful to see some of Abbado’s rehearsals en route to the concerts that were used to make the DVD. The medium of the concert DVD lends itself well to being supplemented by footage from rehearsals, which may be quite useful for other musicians to gain from the insights of the conductor or, given the level of players involved in this recording, the questions or suggestions that might come from the ensemble itself. This is not a defect as much as a missed opportunity that would enhance such a recording. As interesting as it is to hear such a convincing performance of a work like this, it is all the more intriguing to learn how the musicians worked together at arriving at the interpretations. While the usually private matter of rehearsals have become fair game for inclusion in CDs of concerts, the festival performance at Lucerne, with such an impressive group of musicians, makes it all the more interesting to learn how they related to each other and\, more importantly, how Abbado communicated his interpretation of the Seventh Symphony to them in what must have been a relatively short time.

Abbado demonstrates with this DVD his nuanced and convincing approach to Mahler’s music. Those unfamiliar with his recordings of the composer’s works should find this DVD to be an excellent point of entry and, if intrigued, should pursue his impressive recording of the Second Symphony that also came from the Lucerne Festival.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Mahler7.gif image_description=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 7 product=yes product_title=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 7 product_by=Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, conductor. product_id=EuroArts 2054628 [DVD] product_url=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000F6YWM6/operatoday-20?creative=327641&camp=14573&adid=0BVF5TYVNFYVBNTJFZNG&link_code=as1 price=$22.99
Posted by Gary at 5:39 AM

PUCCINI: La Fanciulla del West

Frazzoni of course was never blessed with a real record career. Her only official recording is the second Cetra Tosca (Tagliavini, Guelfi) plus a solo album on the same label, re-issued in 1995 on Eklipse together with some live recordings. She was one of those excellent Italian spintos without whom La Scala and the main Italian scenes couldn’t have functioned in the fifties and the sixties and which are nowadays are so sorely missed. Gone are the days of Frazzoni, Hovnanian, Coleva, Maragliano and, somewhat later, Santunione and Orlandi. Frazzoni’s big warm enveloping sound takes a little bit of time to come into her own. Her first high note in ‘Laggiu nel Soledad’ is still blasted out, but then the voice improves. Her ‘Non son che una povera fanciulla’ is particularly fine and in the second act she becomes better and better, combining a wrenching interpretation with brilliant top notes. Of course, she is a soprano in the old veristic way, using effects like sobbing, declaiming words instead of singing, and she certainly was not above some cries at the end of the second act. In short, she resembles the fabulous Magda Olivero (Olivero’s recording was made nine years later) though with far more impressive vocal means.

Tito Gobbi was supposed to sing the role of Jack Rance in the 1958 Columbia recording, but he was replaced at the last minute by veteran Andrea Mongelli. Fortunately a recording of Gobbi does exist. Here Gobbi brings his great powers of vocal acting with him, and he is at his best in ‘Minnie dalla mia casa’ and the moments of the second and third act where he can show his fury at the success of Johnson. Still, there is something lacking in his interpretation. This is clearly Scarpia in California, snarling his way throughout the role and clearly not above any trick to get Minnie in his bed, but this is less than the whole of Jack Rance. The loneliness, the emotional longings of Rance are not even suggested. Sympathetic he may not be, but Gobbi’s characterization , in the best Scarpia-manner, laughs at Minnie’s win in the card-play and still has his way with her. However Juan Pons, so often said to be bland, is the far more believable Rance in the Sony recording, showing rage, sorrow and gentleman-behaviour at the same time.

And then there is Franco Corelli. The jury is still out deciding what his best years were, before or after his Met-appearances. Corelli himself believed the sixties heard his best performances, but not everybody will agree. True, he had refined some of his singing technique. His breath had even become almost infinite. He could sing pianissimo, and as a result of his eternal competition with Carlo Bergonzi, he had acquired a magnificent messa di voce he was not shy to show off. However, after his short vocal crisis of 1964, he more or less became a law unto himself, recomposing most of his scores to suit his voice or his mood depending on the day,and shortening or lengthening notes. In 1956 however, he was still a young singer and probably in awe of a conductor as Antonino Votto, who would never have allowed him such musical liberties. In the first act Corelli is at his best behaviour, trusting his formidable voice, which sounds so beautiful and manly, shimmering with youth and power and more of a vibrato that some (this reviewer too) regret disappeared later on. Piano is still not in his vocabulary, but his mezza-voce on ‘non pinagete Minnie’ is full of tenderness. So is his heart-breaking beauty in ‘Minnie, che dolce nome’ in the second act. In ‘Or son sei mesi’ he opens up and uses some sobs, probably to help his breathing. The sound is overwhelming, though he has to cut short a bit on his last top note (no cracking) as he has given so much. His ‘Ch’ella mi creda’ is powerful , but the last B is a little bit laboured. The grating in the lower register, a consequence of his lowered larynx method, has not yet appeared, and from top to bottom there is a unique richness. A performance no fan of Corelli and no fan of great singing should miss.

The orchestral sound favours the voices and is not perfect, though well listenable. A pity, as the orchestration is so important in Fanciulla and Votto is one of those great ‘routiniers’ that knew all there was to know on Puccini-operas. No wonder Claudio Abbado has said on several occasions how much he listened to Votto, taking notes because he knew that this was the way the composers themselves wanted their operas to be conducted.

The bonus with Myto belongs to the most important singer. We get the greatest part of a legendary Cetra-LP of arias and duets of La Forza del Destino with Franco Corelli and Gian Giacomo Guelfi, the only Italian baritone of the day who could compete with Corelli and even surpass him in decibels. The whole LP (including Guelfi’s aria and cabaletta, lacking on this issue) was reissued by Myto together with a selection of Carmen with the same two artists and Pia Tassinari; incidentally the only highlights of Carmen you’ll ever find with the tenor’s ‘Dragon d’Alcala’ included. I would have hoped Myto could have found some more exclusive Corelli than this recycling of one of their own CD’s though Corelli is fabulous in these 1956 Forza extracts (he would only sing the complete role two years later). La Fanciulla del West is a blessed opera as it has an almost perfect official recording (Decca/London: Del Monaco, Tebaldi, MacNeil) and two magnificent live ones: the Mitropoulos, Del Monaco, Steber, Guelfi that opens up the usual cut in the second act and this Corelli-version. Though it says much of the recent situation in this repertoire that all those recordings were made half a century ago.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Fanciulla_Myto.jpg
image_description=Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West

product=yes
product_title=Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West.
product_by=Gigliola Frazzoni (Minnie), Franco Corelli (Dick Johnson), Tito Gobbi (Jack Rance), Enzo Sordello (Sonora), Nicola Zaccaria (Jake Wallace), Franco Ricciardi (Nick), Ugo Novelli (Ashby), Athos Cesarini (Trin), Michele Cazzato (Sid), Pierluigi Latinucci (Bello), Gino Del Signore (Harry), Angelo Me,rcuriali (Joe), Carlo Forti (Happy), Giuseppe Morresi (Larkens), Eraldo Coda (Billy), Maria Amadini (Wowkle), Vittorio Tatozzi (Josè Castro), Erminio Benatti (Postiglione).
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala conducted by Antonino Votto.
Live recording Teatro alla Scala 1956.
product_id=Myto Historical 061.H110 [2CDs]
product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=685395&aff=operatoday
price=$18.49

Posted by Gary at 5:07 AM

September 7, 2006

MAHLER: Symphony no. 8

This recording of the Eighth Symphony is the latest, and it is a fine addition to his cycle and to the recent spate of CDs of this work. Given the strength of the choral forces association with the Warsaw National Philharmonic, this recording is particularly welcome. This experienced ensemble brings a remarkably clear diction and fine sense of intonation to this demanding piece of music. If it lacks anything, the sometimes distant sound does not serve the performers well enough. Yet after several minutes of concentration, the ear acclimates itself to the quality of the sound, and it is possible to hear past the sonics of the recording and apprehend its merits.

In recent years, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony has become more widely known through a number of recordings, and with his recent recording, Wit has made a fine contribution for the details he brings out in a reasonably priced and easy to find release. Those familiar with the work may wish to begin with the “Chorus mysticus” at the end of the second part, which begins with the familiar text of Goethe, “Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis.” Perhaps one of the best-known parts of Mahler’s Symphony, the choral forces alone deserve merit for the resonant and dynamic sonorities that Wit uses to draw out the connotations of the otherworldly nature of the text. The massed voices create a resonant and supple sound that stands in contrast to the solo passages and other vocal ensembles that precede it in the work. While the opening of the passage is relatively soft, the full power of the ensemble is impressive for not only the amplitude, but the depth of sound that conveys the sense of the subtitle, that is, truly a “Symphony of a Thousand.” More than a fine sense of the choral drama, Wit controls the orchestral forces, such that the sound bodies move together to create a convincing ending from what appears to be a tireless ensemble.

The soloists are also worth noting, with the fresh and pure sound of the Mater gloriosa, Marta Boberska. Those familiar with recent recordings from Poland may be familiar with the fine singing of Barbara Kubiak and Jadwiga Rappé.Rappe has a depth of range and color, which is noticeable her presentation of the music for the Samaritan woman (Mulier Samaritana); likewise the other alto Ewa Marciniec matches her timbre with a somewhat lighter sound. Of the men, all three of the solo voices are notable in their own right, each bringng a distinctive quality to their respective voice types ad the characters associated with them in Goethe’s drama. The American tenor Timothy Bentch noted for his work with the Hungarian National Opera offers an impressively interpretation of the demanding part of Doctor Marianus. This critical role is rarely delivered with such mastery. Wojciech Drabowicz offers an engaging baritone sound. The Pater profundis, Piotr Nowacki delivers his part with resilience and articulation enunciation.

Yet the choral quality critical to a successful performance and recording is evident not only in the final chorus, but throughout the first part. Wit shapes the choral sounds with an ear for the textures that can be elicited from the forces involved. The pure sounds of the children’s voice retain their distinctive and engaging sound without emulating the adult voices around them. Nowhere does Wit allow one element to overshadow the others and, more importantly, it appears that each detail has its place in this conception of what is one of Mahler’s more demanding scores. Wit’s command of the forces involved is apparent in the clean entrances and uniformly fine intonation.

Overall Wit’s tempos demonstrate his respect for the clear presentation of the text, and the diction, in a sense, propels the performance. At no point does his careful pacing seem bogged down nor, when tempos pick up, ever give a sense of being rushed. It is to Wit’s credit that he gave the score the attention it deserves in discerning its profound meaning.

This is a fine addition to the recent spate of recordings of this festival work of Mahler. It is an impressive recording on its own merits, and demonstrates the level of music-making that bears watching. Recorded on 1 to 6 June 2005, this is a studio recording that retains the freshness associated with live performances. Wit’s other Naxos recordings of Mahler’s symphonies are worth attention, but this particular one is all the more engaging for its strong interpretation and overall fine execution.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Mahler8.gif image_description=Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8 product=yes product_title=Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8 product_by=Barbara Kubiak, Izabela Kłosińska, Marta Boberska (sopranos); Jadwiga Rappé, Ewa Marciniec (altos); Timothy Bentch (tenor); Woytek Drabowicz (baritone); Piotr Nowacki (bass); Antoni Wit, conductor; Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra product_id=Naxos 8.550533/4 [2CDs] product_url=http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?id=816424&aff=operatoday price=$13.99
Posted by Gary at 9:46 PM

The Metropolitan Opera Reaches Groundbreaking Agreements

with its Unions and Develops an Extraordinary Range of Media Partnerships to Build Audiences and Expand its Reach
Arrangements with National CineMedia, Cineplex Entertainment, Odeon/UCI, RealNetworks, PBS, and Thirteen/WNET Announced

New York, NY (September 6, 2006) – Following extensive, groundbreaking negotiations with its three largest unions, the Metropolitan Opera announced plans today that will revolutionize the live electronic distribution of its productions.

Click title above for the complete press release.

Posted by Gary at 11:52 AM

September 6, 2006

All 22 Mozart Stage Works for TV and DVD

Unitel/Classica, BFMI and the Salzburg Festival Present a Project of Superlatives: "Mozart 22"

Salzburg, 16th of August 2006. Unitel/Classica, BFMI and the Salzburg Festival are setting new standards in the audiovisual documentation of operatic works. "Mozart 22," the unique production cycle of all of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's stage works at this year's Salzburg Festival, is currently being recorded with the best and most advanced audiovisual technology. 20 one-hour documentaries and 22 opera recordings illuminate the musical interpretation and stage concepts of the works. The entire duration of all recorded stage works totals about 51 hours. Deutsche Grammophon and Decca will be releasing the DVD edition of the works in late fall 2006.

Click the tile for the full text of this press release.

Posted by Gary at 3:31 PM

September 5, 2006

Le retour de l'opéra français

GARNIER_Charles_Paris_Opera_1862-1875_Paris.jpgJean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 5 September 2006]

Saison très éclectique dans laquelle Mozart sera toujours présent. Gérard Mortier donne un coup de projecteur sur des oeuvres françaises peu jouées. Le Châtelet réhabilite Francis Lopez et le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées poursuit son cycle Haendel.

Posted by Gary at 5:42 AM

Meet the iTunes Wannabes

By Catherine Holahan [Business Week Online, 5 September 2006]

From MySpace to AOL, the list of would-be iTunes rivals is getting longer, but don't expect them to knock Apple from its perch just yet

Posted by Gary at 5:12 AM

September 4, 2006

Science Says Kandinsky Was Right - Paintings Can Be Heard

kandinsky_contrasting-sounds_small.jpg[Medical News Today, 4 September 2006]

We all link music and art, but only a tiny minority of us is aware of the crossover of senses in our brains, according to a UCL (University College London) neuroscientist, speaking today at the BA Festival of Science. New research has found that vision and hearing are inextricably interlinked in everyone's brain, but only synaesthetes, who have a rare condition in which the senses mingle, are conscious of it.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 PM

Opernsängerin Astrid Varnay gestorben

varnay2.jpg[Spiegel Online, 4 September 2006]

Fast zwei Jahrzehnte lang hat sie mit ihrem dramatischen, dunklen Timbre die Bayreuther Festspiele
mitgeprägt. Auf dem Grünen Hügel feierte die in Stockholm geborene Künstlerin Triumphe. Nun starb Astrid Varnay im Alter von 88 Jahren in einem Münchner Krankenhaus.

Posted by Gary at 5:11 PM

September 3, 2006

The Magic Flute -- Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Abbadogroth.jpg(Photo: Cordula Groth)
Tom Service [Guardian, 2 September 2006]

From the very first chord, there is something special about this Magic Flute. Conductor Claudio Abbado achieves a performance of such radiance and refinement from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, it is as if you are hearing Mozart's score for the first time. Every note and every phrase has a clarity and directness of expression that makes you gasp at the virtuosity of the players and the brilliance of Abbado's music-making.

Posted by Gary at 5:35 AM

September 1, 2006

The Bostridge Phenomenon

All this came sharply to mind as I finally got round to listening to a CD issued several seasons back, EMI’s “The Noël Coward Songbook,” with Bostridge assisted by modest soprano Sophie Daneman and sparkling Jeffrey Tate at the piano (EMI 57374). The musicians offer 19 selections from the 1920s and 1930s, covering just a bit over one hour of playing time. It seemed a generous serving.

Let me explain. First of all, one is accustomed to faux voices singing Coward. The enchanting Gertrude Lawrence went from little voice, to less voice, to, alas, no voice at all during her stage and recordings career, during which she nevertheless gave much pleasure. The master himself, Sir Noël, was the most wispy of popular vocalists – a pale tenor of little quality that could not carry without amplification. Coward never made any bones about it, and I always assumed his enormous verbal wit and cunning emphasis on words and their projection were to a degree in compensation for his lack of vocal quality. In any case, it worked. If Bostridge comes from the same school, as one might argue, there is just one hitch – he has not got the genuine style, not the way with words, in the Coward sense, and seemingly has little or no ability to create sentimental effect. Such is very hard to do, when one is as self-conscious as Bostridge. Oddly enough, and contrary to expectations, he has plenty of voice for this repertory. Though an undistinguished, rather monochromatic tenor, it’s an honest one, with adequate support and projection.

So what’s the rub? Let’s take our cue from Bostridge’s own short introductory paragraph written for this collection: “My first concern while contemplating a disc of Noël Coward songs was finding a voice for them.” The voice he seems to have found is not Coward’s and surely it would always have been a search in vain – there is a Coward voice, so why look further than the master himself?

Affected, manipulated vowels (perhaps intended to sound upper-class or maybe just campy, or who knows what?); patter-song rapidity; little dynamic swells or sighs or diminuendos; self-conscious ‘phrasing,’ the god-awful need to do something with what is already well-wrought, – these do not constitute ‘style’ or the Coward ‘voice.’ I’ll be terribly blunt – they don’t amount to anything but blathering affectation, a song that is always for the singer, or to use an old-fashioned term, “fruity.” One quickly tires of Bostridge singing Bostridge in the guise of Noel Coward.

Consider the introduction to a duet scene from Bitter Sweet,

“Though there may be beauty in this land of yours,
Skies are very often dull and grey,
If I could but take that little hand of yours,
Just to lead you secretly away....” etc.
The mood set by Bostridge is strictly solipsistic: it does not project beyond the end of his nose. Yet, he is singing to his young lady and soon will move with her into the celebrated duet “I’ll See You Again,” in an arch, over arranged version that does not convince – in part because the tenor does not seem to be singing to her. Can one run off to Vienna with oneself? Ummm....interesting thought!

A little later in Bitter Sweet, the lead-in for “Ziguener,” that starts, “Many years ago,” becomes, “Many years aguh....” illustrating one of the singer’s most consistent annoyances – manipulating the natural ‘o/oh’ vowel into something oddly akin to, “aguh.” Coward’s most popular song (Winston Churchill listened to it frequently, demanded it at parties), “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” in a cutesy- kitschy, re-harmonized arrangement with sound-effects (don’t ask), is a travesty in these meddling hands. If nothing else, maestro Jeffrey Tate should have known better than to soil his reputation participating in these pathetic maneuverings. If there is one lesson to be learnt here it is this: Coward’s songs are all about words, largely in natural conversational style; if you treat them otherwise, they don’t work. Make his music honestly, for it is that to begin with!

J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Bostridge_x175.jpg image_description=Ian Bostridge
Posted by Gary at 12:01 PM

The Mysterious Wagner Archive in Hitler's Bayreuth Residence

Bayreuth_Festspielhaus_small.jpgBy Manuela Hoelterhoff [1 September 2006]

Sept. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The Richard Wagner National Archive in Bayreuth, Germany, has a mysterious and slightly sinister reputation. From 1936, it was here in this modest yellow house that Wagner nut Adolf Hitler resided during the summer when he would visit the festival.

Posted by Gary at 4:37 AM