24 Sep 2006
VERDI: La Forza del Destino
The better can be the enemy of the good and this recording proves it.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal. Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms do occur.
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
The better can be the enemy of the good and this recording proves it.
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.