November 30, 2006

Christine Brewer's Enthralling Night

By Stephen Brookes [Washington Post, 30 November 2006]

Christine Brewer may be the most powerful dramatic soprano currently striding the world's concert stages. Her voice is almost a force of nature -- more like a beautifully controlled tornado than anything else -- and it's no wonder she's been making a name for herself as a full-blooded and huge-voiced Wagnerian.

Posted by Gary at 9:39 AM

Salzburg Festival Looks for ‘Nocturnal Side of Reason’

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 30 November 2006]

Earlier this fall Jürgen Flimm, the acclaimed German theater and opera director, began his tenure as the artistic director of the prestigious Salzburg Festival. In New York on Tuesday Mr. Flimm made one thing clear: Even though he has long worked at the festival, “Mozart 22,” last year’s ambitious presentation of all 22 of Mozart’s operas and dramatic works in staged production, was not his idea.

Posted by Gary at 9:30 AM

Monteverdi's naked ambition

Bevan_Sophie.pngWarwick Thompson [This Is London, 29 November 2006]

Buff nude sex scenes. Steamy homoerotic clinches. Comical cross-dressing... When you see student productions this good, you know the future of opera is assured. Oh yes - and there's some great singing, too.

Posted by Gary at 6:56 AM

November 29, 2006

CHARPENTIER: Le Malade Imaginaire

At the request of Molière, who expected the first performance to take place at court in Versailles, Charpentier composed a very developed prologue entitled the «Eglogue en musique et en danse» («Eglogue in music and dance»), similar to the prologues which were to precede the lyrical tragedies of Lully, combining solo recitative and choruses, in praise of the king (Louis XIV). The Malade imaginaire is the last play by Molière, who died after its fourth performance, on the 17th February 1673.

As a genre, the comédie-ballet was invented by Molière and Lully in the 1660s and reached a climax with Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, in 1670. But the dispute between Lully and Molière (at the end of 1671), following the king’s musician being granted a monopoly for all dramatic productions with music in Paris — including those of Moliere — led the playwright to approch another composer, recently returned from Italy, who had not yet written any music for the stage: Charpentier.

The composer must have revised the music for the comedie-ballet at least twice, between 1673 and 1685, to meet the constraints imposed by the royal monopoly accorded to Lully and the Academie royale de musique, which after April 1673 held exclusive rights for all dramatic perfomances with music at the Palais Royal. These restrictions meant that Charpentier had to limit the number of singers and instrumentalists involved in each performance.

The recording presented by the Arts Florissants in 1990 and reissued here, has well stood the test of time. William Christie and his famous ensemble offer us a sparkling and dynamic interpretation. The group appears in its best form, giving the impression of freedom and exuberance — qualities which are lacking in another very good version recorded by Marc Minkowski and the Musiciens du Louvre also in 1990. Despite the homogénéity of the whole production, certain passages are particularly memorable; for example the opening Eglogue, where the orchestra and singers (Monique Zanetti, Noémi Rime, Howard Crook) are most impressive; the first interlude, includes an Italian aria «Zerbinetti», sung by an old woman (admirably depicted by the countertenor Dominique Visse) and dialogues between Polichinelle and the string orchestra, then another between Polichinelle and the ‘Archers’ which display all the skill and imagination of the musicians and actors. The latter include Alain Trétout and Jean Dautremay, who are dazzling. In brief, Le Malade imaginaire by the Arts florissants represents one of the best recordings of Charpentier’s music, which justifiably has attracted much attention during recent years. A pleasure that should not be missed.

Marie-Alexis Colin
Université de Montréal

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Posted by Gary at 1:41 PM

All the Ends of the Earth: Contemporary & Medieval Vocal Music

In some cases it is a modern use of modality and chant-like figuration; in some cases a modern adaptation of earlier formal structures; in still other cases the relationship emerges in the new use of early texts and cantus firmus melodies; and in yet other instances, the relationship is a less concrete one, rooted in a spiritual affinity between modern composer and her earlier counterpart. The music of Arvo Pärt and James MacMillan immediately come to mind, and it is no surprise that both of these composers have been significantly associated with early music performers: Pärt with Paul Hillier and MacMillan with The Sixteen.

“All the Ends of the Earth,” this recent recording from the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, celebrates this relationship with an array of compositions by modern composers from the UK (Judith Weir, James Weeks, Bayan Northcutt, Michael Finnissy, Robin Holloway, Jonathan Harvey, and Gabriel Jackson), paired with diverse works from early English and Scottish sources. Of the modern pieces, Weir’s “All the Ends of the Earth” and Jackson’s “Thomas, Jewel of Canterbury” are exceptionally impressive. The former, based on Perotinus’s famous “Viderunt,” retains the chant structure and layered texture of the organum, and brings to it new upper-voice counterpoint with intricate ornamental figuration. The latter sets a commemorative text in praise of Archbishop Thomas Becket (one of two texts in the original fourteenth-century motet; the other text is in honor of another Thomas, a martyred monk of Dover), and does so with tone clusters, a richly ornamental linear style, interesting canonic interplay, and shimmering effects.

The early works range from the Winchester Troper and the famous thirteenth-century St. Andrews Manuscript to John Dunstable’s fifteenth-century declamatory motet, “Quam pulchra es.” The range of pieces gives a fair idea of things that are being echoed in the modern works, though one wonders why, when some of the models are so specific, those particular works are passed by. The absence of “Viderunt” (Weir) and the fourteenth-century “Thomas gemma Cantuarie” (Jackson) is a lost opportunity, and one of the very few regrets in this excellent recording.

The performances here are extremely well prepared. The difficulty of much of the modern writing presents enormous challenges to the performers, and the choir meets them with unflagging confidence and expert control of difficult harmonies, complicated rhythms, and intricate figuration. On occasion one might wish for a greater brilliance of treble tone—it would well serve the color and dynamism of much of the writing—but in the end, the lingering impression is one of very satisfying and accomplished ensemble singing. High praise for that, and high praise for a program that does not recycle the “tried and true.”

Steven Plank

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image_description=All the Ends of the Earth: Contemporary & Medieval Vocal Music

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Posted by Gary at 1:20 PM

CHARPENTIER: Andromède; Ballet de Polyeucte

It presents several dance entries with varied titles that suggest the martyr’s internal conflict («Sentiments genereux et lasches» («Generous and cowardly feelings»).

Charpentier’s Andromède was also a revival; written by Corneille in 1650, this tragedy was performed again in April 1682, with new music composed by Charpentier to replace the original score of Charles Dassoucy. This revival, which was enormously expensive (above all for the costume and scenery ), doubtless aimed at restoring the glory of the Comédie Française, whose productions had been eclipsed by the new operas (tragédies lyriques) of Lully. In fact at the same time, Lully gave the first performances of his Persée — an opera composed on a libretto by Quinault which deals with the same myth. As Catherine Cessac explains in her book (Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Paris, 1988; rev. 2004; Engl. Translation 1995), Charpentier’s music was conceived in the same spirit as the decor and stage machines, which were the main attraction of the spectacle.

The recording by the New Chamber Opera and the Band of Instrument, directed by Gary Cooper, is uneven. In Andromède’s overture the musicians seem sometimes hesitant, which provokes a certain instability in rhythm as well as in dynamics; but the performance quickly picks up and gains in homogeneity when we hear the four singers (Rachel Elliott, soprano; James Gilchrist, tenor; Thomas Guthrie, baritone; Giles Underwood, bass) who are always very expressive. In this respect, the last two choruses of Andromède are quite successful.

The Ballet de Polieucte, opens with an overture originally composed by Charpentier for the revival, in July 1679, of Le Dépit amoureux, a play written by Molière in 1656. Here the instrumentalists exhibit a certain mastery of the style of the work, and manage to underline the contrasts between the dance entries (particularly in the striking «Marche de Triomphe», or gay «La joye seulle»).

Despite a few imperfections, we should be grateful that this recording presents us with two unknown works by Charpentier. But a recording cannot in any sense replace a stage representation and we hope that it may open the way for new performances (on stage). It is a pity that that these two musical plays have not yet aroused the interest and curiosity of stage directors, actors and musicians, particularly in this fourth centenary of the birth of Pierre Corneille (1606-1684). While in the Comédie Française in Paris Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, L’Amour médecin and the Sicilien, with music by Lully, have enjoyed considerable, well merited, success for many years now, Corneille remains very neglected. But John Powell, Professor at the University of Tulsa (USA), eminent specialist of the music and theater in 17th century, invites us to appreciate his reconstruction of Andromède on the following web site: http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~john-powell/Andromede/index.htm

Marie-Alexis Colin
Université de Montréal

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Posted by Gary at 1:00 PM

November 28, 2006

Opera on verge of caricature

ELISSA POOLE [Globe and Mail, 27 November 2006]

Verdi's Macbeth wastes no time on the psychology of its characters in its first act, and the king's murder is no sooner mentioned than accomplished. But the opera unfolds on two planes, at two separate tempos. On the one hand, there's the trajectory of violence, which moves extremely quickly and escalates with unstoppable momentum once the first murder takes place.

Posted by Gary at 10:41 AM

Andreas Scholl, Barbican Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 27 November 2006]

No performer of classical music has as limited a home territory as the counter-tenor. From a repertoire with a tiny base, almost all of it in the Baroque era, he is expected to go out and conquer an audience as fearlessly as any soprano or tenor.

Posted by Gary at 10:24 AM

MEYERBEER: Robert Le Diable

First Performance: 21 November 1831, the Opéra, Paris.

Principal Characters:
Robert, Duke of Normandy Tenor
Bertram, his friend Bass
Raimbaut, a Norman peasant Tenor
Alberti, majordomo to the King of Sicily Bass
Isabelle, Princess of Sicily Soprano
Alice, a Norman peasant Soprano
Un Héraut Tenor
Une Dame d’Honneur Soprano
Un Prêtre Bass

Background:

Robert Le Diable was such a success that it made the fortune of the Grand Opéra. Striking scenic effects, powerful contrasts, brilliant orchestration, effectively dramatic recitatives, and melody that was attractive and, although it contained many traces of the old Italian opera conventionalities, at times rose to a vivid dramatic power, unexpected and until then unknown, all combined to win universal approval, for there was something to please every taste. Meyerbeer’s music certainly saved the libretto, for in it the melodramatic and grotesque are carried to the point of absurdity. The opera has a certain historical interest in that, being the first of Meyerbeer’s works after his arrival in Paris, it shows the beginning of his later style; Italian influences are still strong, but there is also evidence of his study of French style. From a broader historical point of view “Robert the Devil” is also of interest, for it contains some of the earliest signs of the influence of the Romantic movement on French dramatic music.

Synopsis:

Robert, Duke of Normandy, is really the son of the Devil by a mortal woman, the chaste Princess Bertha of Normandy. Disguised and under the name of Bertram, the fiend follows his son about, constantly leading him into temptation in hope of winning his soul for Hell. The mother’s good influence clings to Robert in the form of a foster-sister, Alice. Banished from Normandy because of evil deeds inspired by Bertram, Robert has come to Sicily where he has fallen in love with the beautiful princess Isabella, and she with him. Bertram does his best to interfere with the match, and by his wiles keeps Robert from attending the tournament, the winner of which is supposed to have the right to claim Isabella’s hand. Having thus seemingly lost his chance to win her honestly, Robert is led by Bertram to a ruined convent at midnight. There Bertram summons the ghosts of faithless nuns, singing the impressive invocation: “Nonnes, qui reposez.”

The ghosts dance about Robert in wild diabolical revelry. With a magical branch he obtains here, Robert puts to sleep Isabella’s guards and tries to force her to his will, but she pleads with him so earnestly that he breaks the branch and thus loses its supernatural power. Once more Bertram tempts Robert and tries to induce him to sign a contract yielding his soul; he reveals himself as his father and the young man, overcome by emotion, is about to sign. But Alice repeats the last words of his mother, warning him against the fiend and thus delays the signing of the pact until the clock strikes twelve. The spell is broken, Bertram disappears to the nether regions, and Isabella is revealed in her bridal robes waiting at the altar for the redeemed Robert.

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Windows Media Player second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Robert_Le_Diable.wax product=yes product_title=Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864): Robert Le Diable product_by=Alain Vanzo (Robert), Samuel Ramey (Bertram), Walter Donati (Raimbaut), June Anderson (Isabelle), Michèle Lagrange (Alice), Jean-Philippe Marliére (Alberti), Michel Philippe (Un Héraut), Françoise Galais (Une Dame d’Honneur), Philippe Désert (Un Prêtre), Orchestre et Chœur National l’Opéra, Thomas Fulton (cond.)
Live performance, July 1985, Paris.
Posted by Gary at 9:27 AM

November 27, 2006

HOLD THE MOZART

by ALEX ROSS [New Yorker, 4 December 2006]
New works by John Adams and György Kurtág in Vienna

When, in October of last year, John Adams unveiled “Doctor Atomic,” his opera of nuclear hubris and fear, he might have been expected to take a week or two off, or, at least, a day. Instead, on the afternoon following the première, in San Francisco, he sat down with the director Peter Sellars to plot out a new piece. The two longtime collaborators looked over a volume of South Indian oral tales, as rendered in English by the folklorist A. K. Ramanujan, and chose one about a woman who transforms herself into a tree. “A Flowering Tree,” the result of their labors, had its première earlier this month at the MuseumsQuartier, in Vienna. The score is opulent, dreamlike, fiercely lyrical, at times shadowy and strange—unlike anything that the fifty-nine-year-old composer has written.

Posted by Gary at 9:58 AM

Renée Fleming: The last diva

fleming.pngWith her latest collection of rare arias, the flamboyant soprano Renée Fleming conjures up a golden era of magic, muses and operatic excess. Edward Seckerson salutes a woman for whom style is everything
[Independent, 27 November 2006]

The photograph is by Snowdon, the pose statuesque, the image one that Gustav Klimt might have dreamt up. And even if the words "Homage - The Age of the Diva" were not emblazoned across the artwork we'd still know exactly where Renée Fleming's new album was coming from - namely the turn of the last century. Now there was a time when the goddesses of opera and song really ruled. They dictated fashion, they dictated style, but most importantly they dictated the repertoire. Roles were created with their personalities and temperaments in mind. And on- and offstage their image was contrived to reflect their status - imperious, untouchable. The soprano Emmy Destinn was once photographed with a lion draped over her Steinway Grand; Mary Garden opted for a tiger when promoting her perfume. Product endorsement is nothing new.

Posted by Gary at 9:42 AM

Britten's Queen for the Ages

elizabeth_i.pngBY BENJAMIN IVRY [NY Sun, 27 November 2006]

The Queen, it seems, is all the rage. First it was television, on which Dame Helen Mirren made her wildly successful acting turn as Elizabeth I in the eponymous Golden Globe-winning TV film. Then it was the movies, in which Ms. Mirren played Queen Elizabeth II in film director Stephen Frears's much buzzed about "The Queen." Now such royal mania may extend to the opera stage, where there are signs that a longdismissed opera by Benjamin Britten about Elizabeth I,"Gloriana," may finally be gaining wide appreciation.

Posted by Gary at 9:16 AM

In Mozart’s Backyard, a Fraught Rebirth of an Opera House

theater_an_der_wien_eiserne.pngBy ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 26 November 2006]

A soprano opens her mouth to sing an aria and stutters, bringing out little fragments of a beautiful melody. A mezzo coaches a baritone, constantly interrupting to instruct him in proper technique. A tenor, auditioning, opens his mouth and falls silent. “Don’t you have anything that’s not by Mozart?” says the conductor he is auditioning for. “I can’t stand Mozart either,” the tenor says.

Posted by Gary at 12:30 AM

November 25, 2006

Dardanus

rameau.pngNeil Fisher at the Royal Academy of Music [Times Online, 24 November 2006]

Once again you can blame the French for not looking after their own. They sniffed at Berlioz’s magnum opus, Les Troyens, gave nul points to Bizet’s Carmen, and, in 1739, it was the same story when it came to Rameau’s now largely forgotten Dardanus.

Posted by Gary at 10:42 AM

Public Voices: Juilliard's 10th Annual Alice Tully Vocal Debut Recital Features Philadelphia Native Raquela Sheeran

raquelasheeran.png[Evening Bulletin, 24 November 2006]

Perhaps one of the most important resources the Juilliard School can offer its young vocal artists is the annual Alice Tully Vocal Debut Recital series. This year, on Nov. 30, soprano Raquela Sheeran will become the 10th vocal debut with a program including Strauss' Mädchenblumen and a selection of Gershwin and Rachmaninoff songs. She will be joined by pianist David Shimoni and the AXIOM ensemble.

Posted by Gary at 10:30 AM

Lady MacBeth isn't evil, just ambitious

LOUISE PHILLIPS [Globe and Mail, 24 November 2006]

Few would argue that Vancouver Opera has grown into a darned good company over the past decade, but Covent Garden, it ain't.

And Verdi's 1847 Macbeth, although praised by critics for its orchestrations, has never enjoyed the same prominence as later works such as Rigoletto or A Masked Ball.

Posted by Gary at 10:19 AM

November 22, 2006

Direktor sein ist schwer

[Die Presse, 22 November 2006]

Mortier bleibt jung für Paris, Berlin sorgt sich um die Oper, Hans Neuenfels um Mozart und Gott.

Posted by Gary at 9:01 AM

A New Barber For a New Met

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 22 November 2006]

The Metropolitan Opera has a new production of "The Barber of Seville," Rossini's opera-buffa masterpiece. It comes courtesy of Bartlett Sher, director of "The Light in the Piazza," a hit at Lincoln Center.

Posted by Gary at 8:50 AM

A Sleepwalking Habit in Her Operatic Future

bellini3.pngBy ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 22 November 2006]

VIENNA, Nov. 21 — It’s like turning a book into a movie: sometimes an opera that you’ve loved on recordings can pale when you see it onstage. This is especially true of operas that aren’t performed enough to let operagoers get used to them.

Posted by Gary at 8:42 AM

Alessandro nell’Indie, Coliseum, London

Pacini_Giovanni.pngBy Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 21 November 2006]

Ah, to have been an opera lover in the 1950s and 1960s. That was when the adventurous went out prospecting for unknown operas and came back with gems from the bel canto era like Bellini’s Il pirata or Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda which had been lost for half a century or more.

Posted by Gary at 8:31 AM

Manon Lescaut, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

manon_lescaut_SFO_2006.png(Photo: Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago)
By Allan Ulrich [Financial Times, 21 November 2006]

While one is not suggesting for a moment that life imitates art, in opera, the bad girls really do have all the fun, even if they suffer for it more exquisitely than commonfolk.

Posted by Gary at 7:23 AM

November 20, 2006

Songs of Amy Beach

With the revival of interest in American Romantic music, Beach has begun to appear on more recital and concert programs. Now, this recital disc devoted entirely to Amy Beach’s songs, performed by baritone Patrick Mason and pianist Joanne Polk, should bring Beach squarely into the mainstream of serious American art song composers. It is refreshing to hear her songs in a man’s voice, and a special treat to hear the accompaniments, written by a composer who began life as a child piano prodigy and who clearly has a sensitivity for the instrument, performed by an artist who has already made a name for herself recording Beach’s complete piano works for the Arabesque label.

The program is presented chronologically, with an ear for contrast in mood, so that the 56-minute program gives a satisfying sense of the largely self-taught composer’s range and development. While her songs may not have broken much new ground musically, she was very good at what she did, and these songs are quite interesting and satisfying to listen to. Through Patrick Mason’s extensive notes, for which he acknowledges the help of Adrienne Fried Block, Beach’s biographer, we get a real sense of the composer as a person, and of her relationship with her husband, whose poetry she sometimes set and to whom each year, on his birthday, she dedicated a song, which he would sing as she accompanied him.

Block’s biography of Beach is entitled Passionate Victorian, which describes the songs on this disk quite well. The texts are for the most part contemporary with Beach herself, or from a generation earlier, so the poetic diction of some of the earlier songs contains some Victorianisms that may sound dated to us today. But the poems’ resonance with Beach’s passionate nature shows up clearly in the musical treatment she gives them. Mason points out in his notes on “The Summer Wind” (1891), “the sensuality of Amy Beach’s music…the eroticizing of Nature in poetry encourages unashamed expression of sexual feelings not otherwise appropriate at the time (for a woman at any rate). Amy seems liberated by these texts to reveal her true self.”

Mason’s straightforward, authentic delivery of these texts helps keep a song like “Baby” from slipping into simple sentimentality, instead profoundly expressing a parent’s wonder at the miracle of a newborn child. The singer’s diction is for the most part excellent, and I found it easy to follow most of this all-English-language program without having to consult the texts. My one regret is that, perhaps in an effort to achieve this clarity, Mason covers his higher notes more than I would like, making a less resonant sound at the tops of the soaring phrases than the music deserves. In the middle and lower range, however, his voice is quite beautiful (I particularly enjoyed the long held word “past” in his low range in the opening song, “Twilight”).

Listeners interested in exploring Amy Beach’s songs have a choice between this disc and another all-Beach collection on the budget Naxos label by mezzo-soprano Katherine Kelton and pianist Catherine Bringerud. Naxos’s disc is about half the price of this one and contains about twenty more minutes of music (36 songs, compared with 22 on this Bridge release). While there is some overlap between the two programs, many of the songs on each disc are not duplicated on the other, so the two may be considered supplemental rather than direct rivals. If I had to choose between the two, I would probably choose the Naxos disc if my interest were largely in getting intelligent, professional performances of the most songs, including songs in French and German, for a very reasonable price. On the other hand, while Katherine Kelton is an expert on Beach’s songs, the Naxos budget constraints don’t allow for the booklet to contain notes that are anywhere near as extensive as Mason’s. Thus, the Bridge disc enables us to feel that we’ve really gotten to know the woman whose photograph at age sixteen graces its cover. Furthermore, while Catherine Bringerud is comfortable in the Beach accompaniments, Joanne Polk’s extensive experience with her solo music gives the highly important piano parts of these songs a level of detail and excitement that helps to make the performances on Bridge more memorable and the overall program more interesting to listen to as a complete program.

Barbara Miller

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Posted by Gary at 10:10 PM

LASSUS: Lamentationes Jeremiæ Prophetæ; Requiem

In addition to this sizeable musical legacy, a body of letters from Lassus to Albrecht’s son, Wilhelm, also survives. The letters move between Latin, Italian, French, and German, a lingual range that aptly symbolizes his musical scope, as well, for his liturgical works are joined by Italian madrigals, French chanson, and German Lieder. All in all, a striking example of musical internationalism. Significantly, however, his output is so impressively large that it is easy to concentrate on particular genres, even particular affective moods, and not feel constrained in the choice. Such is the case with this present recording by Stephen Cleobury and Collegium Regale, the choral scholars of the famed Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. The program here is tightly focused on music of lament, including a five-voice setting of the “Lamentations of Jeremiah” (1585) and a four-voice “Requiem” (1578), as well as the motets “In monte Oliveti” and “Vide homo.” Lassus is much at home in this dolorous language—one is quickly reminded of his famous “Penitential Psalms,” as well—and the intensity of its affective substance is deeply moving.

As is the performance. Collegium Regale sings with a generous sound, wonderfully well focused and vowel rich. Their lines unfold with rounded contours that seem both natural and at the same time the product of highly cultivated technical control. And in low sonorities with close harmonic voicing, the blend, like that of a fine trombone choir, is simply exquisite. To savor the sound is in many ways to savor the pieces, for Lassus here often foregoes complex counterpoint in favor of textures that allow the sound to predominate. Thus, the recording is a felicitous match of an ensemble whose sound is irresistible and pieces that repeatedly offer it the chance to shine.

Enthusiasts will find nothing to complain about here. Others may find that the general consistency of much of the program is rather a lot of a good thing. On occasion where the text suggests it—words of derision or defilement, for instance—Lassus will respond with increased animation, a dissonant pang, and so forth—but for the most part, things seem more uniform than not. The enthusiast will, once again, relish it all, and not be tempted to look for diversity. There is, after all, so very much to savor.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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Posted by Gary at 9:51 PM

MAHLER: Symphony no. 3

One of the earliest recordings of this work, it is known in the discography of Mahler’s music through its previous release on the Fonit Cetra label and sometimes disparaged when compared to Mitropoulos’s live performance of the same work with the WDR Symphony Orchestra (Cologne).

While Mahler purists may prefer the conductor’s later recording, this one from 1956 is not without interest. This performance involved cuts, with the opening movement and Finale relatively shorter than customarily taken. Yet this recording documents one of those rare occasions when Mahler’s Third Symphony was performed in the years before the so-called Mahler revival assigned to the early 1960s. If tempos are somewhat out of character when compared to the understanding of the work five decades later, it is evidence of a lack of familiarity with the score and the taste of the particular conductor in shaping a work. In truth, the performing tradition for this Symphony was not as rich as that of other music by Mahler, which were heard more often in those days. From this perspective the revival of interest in Mahler’s work was not a wholesale discovery of his music, but in its full scope, so that performances of a monumental score like that of the Third Symphony become more common and audiences could be more discriminating when dealing with a conductor’s interpretation.

The matter of cuts, though, bears understanding in the spirit of the time that Mitropoulos performed the work. The performing tradition for Mahler’s music was not yet strong enough then for precedents to invoke. This was also the time when Mahler’s name brought along associations with Bruckner, as found in Redlich’s dual biography of the two composers, and Dika Newlin’s groundbreaking study entitled Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg. If Mahler was known alongside Bruckner, it is no wonder that a conductor like Mitropoulos would take cuts, since Bruckner’s music was known in editions that involved cuts and other manipulations of his scores. With the critical edition to begin only at the end of the 1950s and continue through the 1980s in presenting scores sanctioned by the Internationale Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft, in 1956 Mahler’s scores did not yet have the iconic status that would come with the establishment of a Gesamtausgabe. Without such a structure for establishing the shape of Mahler’s works in print, it does not seem unusual for conductors to consider cuts, especially when his style is tied to that of Bruckner, for whom cuts were part of the performing tradition for his music.

Beyond the substantial issues connected to cuts. Mitroupolos’s interpretation, it has merits in the intensity the conductor brought to this performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony. Quick tempos aside, Mitropoulos has captured the spirit of the work, albeit without the details entirely in place – sometimes without the continuity of the score as the composer intended it. While the Orchestral performs well enough, some passages also reflect a lack of familiarity with the score, as occurs with the trombone solo in the first movement. Valiant an effort, it is not the kind of approach someone like Jay Friedman would take decades later in the various performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or even those in the following decade, when Leonard Bernstein recorded his first cycle of Mahler’s symphonies.

With the virtuosic tempos of the first movement bringing it to an enthusiastic conclusion, the second movement has a similar urgency to it that gives it a less elegiac character than modern audiences may expect. The full orchestral sound is also a departure from the more subdued tone that Riccardo Chailly would give it. In Mitropoulos’s hands, the second theme has a more gypsy-like sound that offers stark contrast when the principal theme returns. The string textures are, perhaps, less rich than possible with slower tempos, and orchestral effects like portamento are not evident in this interpretation, which is also a product of its time, when twentieth-century modernism eroded some nineteenth-century conventions, like the overtly romantic slides that would have seemed archaic at the time of this performance.

The third movement is also brisk, but not without interest. The brass are particularly fine in this recording, and the trumpet – not Flügelhorn – for the Posthorn solo in this movement offers a clean reading of the passage. This kind of substitution changes the character of Mahler’s sound enough to call attention to the performance, but another performance choice that would not be tolerated today is the use of a translation of Mahler’s texts for the vocal movements. The also Beatrice Krebs offers a clearly enunciated reading that gives the text in English, rather than the preferred German. Yet is it entirely wrong to do this? Didn’t Mahler confide to Otto Klemperer that he did not might if conductors of future generations adapted his scores? After all, a performance like this one by Mitropoulos brought the then-unfamiliar score to a broader audience, and the understanding is aided by a translation that does not alter drastically the rhythms of the vocal line in the fourth movement (“O Mensch, gib acht”) and the following choral movement, “Es sungen drei Engel.” The choral forces are, perhaps, less clear than the solo work by Krebs, but the audience in Carnegie did not need to bury its head in the program to read the text when they could hear music with heads raised up. This is by no means a suggestion that Mahler performances return to rendering the works in translation, but this recording documents its time, when such a choice was permissible for the few concerts that would include a work like this.

With the Finale, albeit cut, Mitropoulos still evokes the majesty that is part of the movement, particularly the concluding gestures that bring the work to its climax. Again, the tempos may be somewhat quicker than today’s audience expect, but he achieves a clearly effective result in the final bars, with the relentless timpani and brass reinforcing the solid harmonic movement that Mahler used to create a fitting conclusion to the work. Even though the applause seemed to have been truncated, the audience responded enthusiastically that is still part of this remastered CD issue of an historic performance by one of the outstanding conductors of the twentieth century. This recording may not be the only one someone may want for their collections, but it remains significant for what it reveals about the performing tradition of this work and the legacy found in the discography that includes this release.

James L. Zychowicz image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/mahler3.png image_description=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 3 product=yes product_title=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 3 product_by=New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos (cond.) product_id=Archipel ARPCD 0344 [CD] price=$11.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0675754916824&bfmtype=music

Posted by Gary at 9:32 PM

November 19, 2006

Der Anfang ist Programm

Glänzender Auftakt: Drei kleine Henze-Opern im Prinze

Tobias Hell [Merkur Online, 20 November 2006]

Es war ein programmatischer Auftakt, den Klaus Zehelein für den Beginn seiner ersten Spielzeit als neuer Präsident der Bayerischen Theaterakademie gewählt hatte. Ein Stück Theater über das Theater, das mutig nach vorne blickt, ohne dabei seine Vergangenheit zu vergessen oder gar zu verleugnen.

Posted by Gary at 9:32 PM

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio

The essentially German-speaking cast includes the American soprano Gladys Kuchta in the role of Leonore and the tenor Julius Patzak as Florestan. While it is difficult at times to recommend an opera recording because of two principals, in this case the casting lends itself to such a stance. The performance of Kuchta in the first act is notable, and with Florestan’s entrance in the second act, Patzak’s interpretation is memorable for its nuance and passion. While a number of fine studio recordings of this opera exist, this live, idiomatic performance has much to offer in the excitement that comes from the single take that must suffice, without the opportunity to fall back to another take in the studio.

For this recording, the interaction between the principals is exemplary, but the dialogue presumably rendered by actors sounds overdubbed. While such a detail is sometimes unclear on live recordings of staged performances, those speaking seem too close to the microphones for an authentic sound. Nevertheless, this apparent broadcast is free of stage and hall sounds. Those interested in Kuchta’s legacy in Europe should enjoy this recording, which demonstrates her finesse in this role, among the others she performed well.

The tenor Julius Patzak is also represented well in this recording for a role that he was known to have owned. Modern audiences may be familiar with Patzak for the legendary recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde he recorded with Kathleen Ferrier under the direction of Bruno Walter. In this performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio audiences can hear another aspect of his voice in an exemplary interpretation of the role of Florestan. Patzak offered lyricism, but not at the expense of drama, which emerges clearly in his scena at the opening of the second act, “Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!” His enunciation of the text is a model of clarity, despite the clicking of the transfer apparently from LP to CD. In Patzak’s ensemble work with Kuchta, the two performers play off each other as if they were one, as should occur in a number like no. 15 “O namenlose Freude.” Patzak neither strains in this role, nor forces his personality on the role. Entirely in character, his passionate interpretation is a remarkable aspect of this performance.

Yet the bonus tracks included on the second CD are part of another live performance, one led by Herbert von Karajan at the Salzburg Festspiel. Recorded on 27 July 1957, that production benefits from a strong cast the includes Giusseppe Zampieri as Florestan, Christel Goltz as Leonore, and Sena Jurinac as Marzelline. In some ways the quality of the bonus tracks rivals that of the primary recording. It is a substantial selection from the work, with nos. 2, 3, and 9 from the first act, and nos. 11-14 from the second. (The excerpts end with the music that precedes Pizzaro’s entrance.) In these cuts, Jurinac’s execution of the role of Marzelline is particularly effective, and, as with the Patzak performance, Zampieri’s interpretation of Florestan is powerful. It is difficult to compare two singers like these, as each has much to recommend in recordings made around the same time. The conducting of the Karajan performance benefits from the accompaniment by the Vienna Philharmonic, which offers a bit more polished sound that is needed in such virtuosic numbers as “Abscheulicher,” where the music of Leonore must be supported by an orchestra that can allow her to resonate the way that Goltz does so well.

In the Karajan tracks, the dialogue is rendered by the singers, and while the speaking voices are a bit more distant, they are simultaneously more natural sounding than in Bamberger’s recording. Yet more than those details, it is the ensemble of the Karajan performance that merits attention. The first-act quartet, “Mir ist so wunderbar” is outstanding for the clarity that Karajan achieved and resembles, in some ways, the tight ensemble that he elicited in a famous recording of Lucia di Lammermoor from approximately the same time, when the applause was so enthusiastic that he reprised the sextet in performance, before continuing with the rest of the opera. In this recording of Fidelio no such reprise occurs. Rather, the listener may want to return to various parts of numbers like the quartet no. 14 “Es schlägt der Rache Stunde,” where the voices emerge as individually as they do in the earlier ensemble in moving forward the emotional pitch of the score.

This release offers essentially two complementary interpretations of Beethoven’s Fidelio from the middle of the twentieth century. Recent audiences who know modern productions of the opera, like the one the New York Met offered several years ago (and preserved on DVD) can apprehend the traditionally strong interpretation that this work brings. In its message of the power of love and the importance of freedom, these performances of Fidelio resonate as strongly as when they were recorded half a century ago.

As to the release itself, the sound is good, with the minor noise at the end of the first disc suggesting a transfer from LP that is dependent on the quality of the source. Yet the source is essentially fine enough to result in a successful transfer. Those unfamiliar with the LP release will not be disappointed in the interpretations that this recent Gala release makes available in this format.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/fidelio_gala.jpg image_description=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio product=yes product_title=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio product_by=Gladys Kuchta, Julius Patzak, Melita Muszely, Helmut Kretschmar, Heinz Rehfuss, Karl Kümmel, Erich Wenk, Nord-Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, Carl Bamberger (cond.) product_id=Gala GL 100.772 [2CDs] price=$11.98 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FIGGQ4?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000FIGGQ4&adid=1RNWNFRZBMH7C3TYZYFS&
Posted by Gary at 9:05 PM

The Gondoliers

gondoliers_giuseppe_costume.pngHilary Finch at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2006]

You can’t blame easyjet for everything, but Venice isn’t quite the remote and exotic dream that it was in the days of Marco Polo — or of Gilbert and Sullivan. A company has to work pretty hard to make The Gondoliers a hot ticket — and English National Opera’s first staging doesn’t really work quite hard enough.

Posted by Gary at 8:24 PM

Mozart-fest without the Mozart

Flowering_Tree.pngBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 19 November 2006]

An impoverished Indian girl transforms herself into a tree so that she can sell her blossoms at the prince’s palace. The prince falls in love with her and they marry, but a jealous sister strips the tree of its branches, consigning the girl to the netherworld.

Posted by Gary at 8:16 PM

MARSCHNER: Der Vampyr

Music composed by Heinrich August Marschner (1795-1861). Libretto by Wilhelm August Wohlbrück after the play Der Vampir oder die Totenbraut by Heinrich Ludwig Ritter.

First Performance: 29 March 1828, Theater der Stadt Leipzig, Leipzig

Principal Characters:
Lord Ruthven, the vampire Baritone
Sir John Berkley Bass
Janthe, his daughter Soprano
Sir Humphrey Davenaut Bass
Malwina, his daughter Soprano
Edgar Aubry, employee of Davenaut's Tenor
The Vampire Master Spoken role
John Perth, Lord Ruthven's steward Spoken role
Emmy, his daughter and Dibdin's fiancee Soprano
George Dibdin, servant of Davenaut's Tenor
Berkley's manservant Bass
James Gadshil Tenor
Richard Scrop Tenor
Robert Green Bass
Toms Blunt Bass
Suse Blunt, Toms's wife Mezzo-Soprano

Setting: Sir Humphrey Davenaut's Estate in Scotland, 18th century

Synopsis:

The vampire Lord Ruthven appeals to his Vampire Master to grant him another year of life on earth before being condemned to hell. The Vampire Master agrees provided Ruthven can bring three more victims to him before midnight. Almost instantly, Janthe, daughter of Lord Berkley, falls into Ruthven's clutches and is despatched in the vampires' cave. Her father's rescue party comes belatedly onto the scene and Ruthven is accused of her murder. He is stabbed and left for dead. Aubry, a member of the house of Davenant, comes upon Ruthven's near-lifeless body, however, and helps him recover in the moonlight. Horrified at realising that Ruthven is a vampire, Aubry is nevertheless sworn to secrecy because Ruthven had once saved his life. At a wedding party among the local peasantry shortly afterwards, Ruthven sets his sights on the bride, Emma, lures her away and murders her. Finally, Malwina Davenant prepares to marry Ruthven himself according to her father's wishes (she would prefer Aubry), but Aubry reveals the vampire's true nature and Ruthven is straightaway dragged down to hell by a demonic crew. Davenant awards Malwina's hand to Aubry.

[Synopsis Source: Boosey & Hawkes]

Click here for the complete libretto (original 4-act version)

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/heinrich_marschner.png image_description=Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861) audio=yes first_audio_name=Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861): Der Vampyr
WinAMP or VLC first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Vampyr.m3u product=yes product_title=Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861): Der Vampyr product_by=Leo Heppe (Sir Humphrey), Liane Synek (Malwina), Fritz Sperlbauer (Edgar Aubry), Georg Oeggl (Lord Ruthwen), Peter Lagger (Sir Berkley and Robert Green), Gisela Rathauscher (Janthe), Kurt Equiluz (Georg Dibdin and James Gadshill), Traute Skladal (Emmy), Johannes Blaha (Toms Blunt), Erich Kuchar (Richard Scrop), Maria Nussbaumer (Suse), Das Grosse Wiener Rundfundorchester, Kurt Tenner (cond.)
Live performance, 1951, Vienna
Posted by Gary at 7:27 PM

Chilean Soprano Marambio Makes Met Debut

Marambio_Angela.pngBy MIKE SILVERMAN [AP, 19 November 2006]

NEW YORK -- Giacomo Puccini may never have been more popular than at the Metropolitan Opera these days. His "Madama Butterfly" opened the season, "Tosca" is playing in repertory now, and "Turandot" along with a new production of "Il Trittico," an evening of three one-acts, are due in the spring.

Posted by Gary at 10:44 AM

'Hansel and Gretel' magic

Hansel_Gretel_LA.png(Photo: LA Opera)
L.A. Opera sings a very different song of the forest
By Sandra Barrera [LA Daily News, 19 November 2006]

Douglas Fitch has created a "Hansel and Gretel" that's part paint-by-number artwork, part puppet show.

When asked to direct and design the L.A. Opera production, opening today at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Fitch — a 46-year-old New York visual artist who just spent the summer at Tanglewood Music Festival staging a triple-bill — says his mind immediately drifted toward his longtime fascination with paint-by-number kits.

Posted by Gary at 10:36 AM

November 17, 2006

Purity conquers passion

Anderson_June.pngIvan Hewett reviews June Anderson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall [Daily Telegraph, 16 November 2006]

June Anderson, who was standing in for an indisposed Barbara Frittoli, is no rabble-rousing diva. She is something rarer and finer. She is one of the great singers of Italian bel canto of the past 30 years, much talked of, but rarely seen in this country and not much recorded.

Posted by Gary at 1:25 PM

Soprano set for dramatic 'Manon Lescaut'

Georgia Rowe [Contra Costa Times, 16 November 2006]

WHEN CRITICS describe Karita Mattila, words like "intense," "passionate" and "incendiary" often come up. So it's no surprise that the Finnish soprano, in town to sing the title role of "Manon Lescaut" for San Francisco Opera, has strong feelings about Puccini's lyric drama.

Posted by Gary at 10:26 AM

Orphée aux enfers, Juilliard Opera Center, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 16 November 2006]

Everyone knows that Lincoln Center hosts two opera houses, the mighty Met and the brave City Opera. We tend to forget a third haven for the lyric muse: the academic Juilliard Opera Center. We remembered on Wednesday.

Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

Kunst im Zeichen ihres utopischen Potenzials

sellars_peter.pngEröffnung von «New Crowned Hope», dem Wiener Mozart-Festival von Peter Sellars

Peter Hagmann [Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 16 November 2006]

Ein Wirtschaftsmigrant sei Mozart gewesen - so sieht es der amerikanische Bühnenkünstler Peter Sellars. Die gesellschaftspolitischen Ansichten, die der Komponist in «Le nozze di Figaro» (1786), «Don Giovanni» (1787) und «Così fan tutte» (1790) im Verein mit seinem Librettisten Lorenzo da Ponte zum Ausdruck gebracht habe, hätten ihn in Wien um alle Aufträge gebracht und ihn zur Arbeitssuche im Ausland gezwungen.

Posted by Gary at 10:01 AM

November 16, 2006

MOZART: Idomeneo

Surely this fate derives from the disfavor that any work in the “opera seria” form faced, with the greater popularity of earthy, vital Italian opera, especially verismo. Recent decades have seen a renewed appreciation for all of Mozart’s work, and a blossoming of singers who shine in early Classical repertory.

Thus today Idomeneo makes frequent appearances on opera stages, usually with a musical performance sensitive to the orchestral and vocal practices of Mozart’s era. This Ponto CD, however, from a Vienna Opera staging in 1971, offers a bold, passionate, unashamedly Romantic take on the score. Many passages call to mind the darker edges and fuller sound of later Mozart, especially the final symphonies, and the final choral outburst sounds as if came from an early draft of the Requiem.

Purists may balk, but this Idomeneo may make many a listener who had never warmed to the opera feel the heat radiated from a truly exciting performance. Jarosloav Krombholc may not be a household name, but his conducting is expertly paced and committed. Unfortunately, the recorded sound tends to approach distortion at loud climaxes, but those who appreciate the excitement of a good in-house recording will know that allowances must be made. And for once the inclusion of applause, quite lengthy at times, adds to the atmosphere rather than detracts from the musical impetus.

The male voices triumph, though once again, what might be called “inauthenticity”rears its handsome, if you will, head. In the title role, Waldemar Kmentt sings with the grand authority and furious power of a Verdi Otello, while still managing an admirable agility in the great show piece “Fuor del mar.”Andrew Palmer’s informative booklet essay confusingly claims that this performance features a soprano in the role of Idamante, almost always sung by a mezzo these days. Well, the biographical note after the short essay correctly identifies Werner Krenn as a tenor, and as Idamante. He does sound like a younger Kmentt, and yet he is distinctive enough to have his own vocal identity.

Though far more well-known that the two tenors, the two name female voices on this set make troublesome contributions. Caught late in her career for the role of the princess Ilia, Lisa della Casa sings laboriously much of the time, with frequent lapses in intonation at the top of her range. Moments recall the greatness she had possessed, but that may not mitigate the overall weakness of her singing for many listeners. Sena Jurinac, by comparison, sings better in the fiery role of Elettra, and the role can lend itself to a certain amount of less than beautiful singing. Jurinac makes some unpleasant sounds as the tessitura rises and the coloratura gets more ornate. Those raw moments aside, hers is an exciting performance.

Is this an Idomeneo for those who don't really care for Idomeneo? Possibly. But anyone who enjoys full-bodied Mozart and strong tenor singing should find this set most enjoyable listening.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Idomeneo_Ponto.png image_description=W. A. Mozart: Idomeneo product=yes product_title=W. A. Mozart: Idomeneo product_by=Waldemar Kmentt, Werner Krenn, Lisa della Casa, Sena Jurinac, Reid Bunger, Manfred Jungwirth, Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Jaroslav Krombholc (cond.) product_id= Ponto PO-1044 [2CDs] price=$11.98 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FIGGWI?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000FIGGWI&adid=074HRJ026V12VCWYPC5R&
Posted by Gary at 8:54 AM

November 15, 2006

The Grove Book of Operas (2nd ed.)

Now in its second edition, the New Grove and its companion series, The New Grove Dictionary of Operas (1992) and The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2nd ed., 2001), collectively form the corpus of Grove Music Online, an online subscription research service. In contrast to this massive collection, the editor of the New Grove, the late Stanley Sadie, published in 1996 The Grove Book of Operas, a single-volume reference that offered “synopses of 264 of the most popular and most commonly performed operas,” arranged alphabetically according to title. This was hardly a new idea. However, with its content being derived from The New Grove Dictionary of Operas, yet written in a style aimed at a wide non-specialist audience, The Grove Book of Operas proved to be an immediate success.

Laura Macy succeeded Sadie as editor of the Grove Music Dictionaries in 2001 and Oxford University Press became their publisher in 2003. Although the focus of attention has been on the development of Grove Music Online, a second edition of The Grove Book of Operas now appears in which Macy acts as revising editor. The new edition, according to Macy, “retains the style and basic layout of the first,” albeit with a “more generous use of space and a more readable font.” Macy therefore limited her editing duties to updating entries, to selecting “the very few operas that we had room to add,” and to making “the tough decisions about which few operas could afford to be deleted.” In addition, she commissioned David J. Levin to write an introductory essay about trends in contemporary opera production.

Any compilation purporting to be a definitive selection of core repertory is bound to engender controversy as to what works are included and what works are excluded. The new edition adds entries on relatively new works, such as The Death of Klinghoffer (première 1991) and Sophie’s Choice (première 2002). Yet, no works by Thomas Adès or Jonathan Dove are included. Similarly, no works by Vaughan Williams, Barber or Copland, established composers appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic, are included; but, Harrison Birtwistle is ostensibly over-represented with three distinct entries (the same number accorded Prokofiev and Stravinsky). Time will tell whether these editorial decisions were made wisely. Thankfully, recommended recordings are not included,2 which would inevitably exacerbate the controversy and, over time, needlessly taint the book as dated. In any event, readers may consult The New Grove Dictionary of Operas for omitted material, although a new print edition is not currently contemplated.

Each entry follows a common format with (1) an opening statement about genre, première, librettist and cast, (2) a cast list, (3) an outline of background information and the synopsis, and (4) an editorial note. The length of the entries varies. Few entries exceed four pages, Orfeo ed Euridice being a notable exception because of its tabular comparison of the Italian and French versions.3 Some entries, such as Lucrezia Borgia, barely take up one complete page. No entry provides a bibliography or references. The book’s back matter, however, includes a glossary, an index of role names, an index of incipits (beginning words) of arias, ensembles, etc. and an index of operas and composers. An index of librettists and a general subject index would be welcome additions.

Where the entries vary the greatest is in the length and quality of the concluding editorial notes. Clive Brown’s note to Der Freischütz, for example, devotes half of a page to the work in its historical context. And Julian Rushton provides even more for Idomeneo. Richard Osborne, on the other hand, provides a short paragraph of commentary on each of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and L’Italiana in Algeri. It could be argued, of course, that the respective sections providing background more than make up for the brief conclusions.

Laura Macy wrote the entries for the newly added works, each of which follows the established format. One of these relates to The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams that merits some analysis. She makes it plain at the outset that “the story is told both in ‘real time’, with events unfolding on the ship, and in the witness accounts told after the fact.” The synopsis differentiates between these two modes of storytelling, along with a description of the chorus that concludes each scene. In her closing remarks, she helpfully points out that Adams was influenced by Bach’s Passions. Yet the choruses “disrupt the narrative; and their abstract themes have the unsettling effect of distancing the listener from the story.” She rightly states that the “virulent anti-Semitism voiced by ‘Rambo’, and not clearly condemned by Adams, and the composer’s general refusal to draw a clear good/evil dichotomy between the hijackers and their victims, has enraged many critics.” She then concludes that Adams and his artistic collaborators “were prescient in 1989, in realizing that terrorism — its causes and its effects on the survivors — was a reality that Art would ultimately be forced to confront.” Perhaps, but her observation that the choruses tend to “disrupt the narrative” is key to understanding this work. Traditionally, the opera chorus acted as interlocutor or commentator in the manner of Greek drama. Here, the chorus can be seen as representing the outside world — the public sphere in a Habermasian sense4 — where so far “no consensus has developed on how properly to define ‘terrorism’ generally,” as a consequence of which the “dismal truth is that the international community has dealt with terrorism ambivalently and ineffectually.”5 The choruses, then, confound the passing of unalloyed moral judgments upon the actions of the hijackers.

The introductory essay by David J. Levin, “Issues and Trends in Contemporary Opera Production,” provides an overview of the work product of operatic stage directors since Wagner.6 While the contributions of directors such as Robert Wilson, Calixto Bieieto, Peter Sellars and David Alden are discussed, the essay broadly outlines the various techniques and modalities taken in the modern staging of opera without unduly focusing upon any one director’s work. Mention is also made of the emergence of the DVD as the preferred medium to record opera productions, which permits consideration of performers’ dramatic and musical interpretations. According to Levin, “with the shift from LP and CD to DVD comes a shift from the aural to the audio-visual, a shift that stimulates as it reflects the increasing attention accorded opera’s scenic elements.”

As the foregoing may suggest, the subject of opera is so vast that no single-volume work could possibly deal with it in a comprehensive manner. Having said that, The Grove Book of Operas, second edition, should be on every opera-lover’s short list of indispensible reference books. Highly recommended.

Gary Hoffman

1. Only the 27-volume (projected) Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenhart, second edition (Kassel & New York: Bärenreiter; Stuttgart: Metzler, 1994 – ), rivals the New Grove in scope and scholastic quality.

2. One exception is the entry concerning Pfitzner’s Palestrina where reference is made to a “fine recording under Rafael Kubelik . . . with Nicolai Gedda (Palestrina) and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Borromeo).”

3. A similar exercise is undertaken in the entry respecting the various iterations of Boris Godunov.

4. See, e.g., Jurgen Habermas, The Divided West (Cambridge, Oxford & Boston: Polity, 2006).

5. Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F.2d 774, 807 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (Bork, J., concurring) (citations omitted).

6. Readers will have to wait for Levin’s larger study, Unsettling Opera — Staging Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Zemlinsky, which is expected to be released by the University of Chicago Press in June 2007.

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Posted by Gary at 5:15 PM

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier

He sings a passionate lament as he contemplates his approaching demise. Suddenly the woman he loves runs in, and a glorious duet in tribute to their love commences...though death awaits them both...

Tosca? No, Puccini's masterpiece lay a few years ahead. The above describes the brief final act of Umberto Giordani's Andrea Chenier, from a libretto by Luigi Illica (who would co-author the libretto for Tosca). Giordani's opera had a firmly held place in the repertory during much of the 20th century, but the last few decades have seen it lose its grip. The dramaturgy, it is true, can make Tosca seem like Harold Pinter. Nevertheless, the irresistibly melodic score offers fine showcases for a powerful triumvirate of tenor, soprano, and baritone, and so why not a wallow once in a while?.

This TDK DVD of a January 2006 performance features a cast about as good as our contemporary scene can offer. Carlo Guelfi, though without the beauty of a baritone such as Dmitiri Hvorostovsky, employs his dark sound to project the conflicted emotions of Carlo Gérard, the one-time servant who becomes a cynical force in the French revolution, all the while retaining a furtive desire for the beautiful aristocrat Maddalena di Coigny. That powerhouse Maria Guleghina does her best to tone down her innate strength, so that Maddalena's sensitivity can be felt. Almost girlish in the first act, frightened and desperate in the middle ones, and nobly passionate in the final, Guleghina succeeds, even though the sheer turbine power of her vocalism makes her "La momma morta" more a cry of anger than pain.

José Cura has the title role. As is typical of this handsome, masculine singer, he tends to let his looks serve as characterization. His throaty tenor will never make him universally loved, but he has the power and the high notes for roles such as Chenier. He and Guleghina, who have often sung together, make a formidable pair. Perhaps that is why director (and designer) Giancarlo del Monaco has the duo climb the outsized criss-cross bars of their prison cell at the opera's climax and reach out into space, rather than walk hand in hand toward the guillotine, as more common stagings end the show. Two indomitable singers aren't going out meekly.

Del Monaco's set and concept mix the traditional, especially in costuming, with modern stage craft. The shiny mirror-like walls of the first act encompass a bare stage. All the aristocrats wear grotesque make-up, an unsubtle touch that distances the viewer rather than supporting the drama. Transitions between acts and scenes, especially in the last half of the opera, occur seamlessly, allowing this somewhat fragmented drama to flow effectively.

Experienced conductor Carlo Rizzi provides his usual competent if not insightful reading, and the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna follow him with idiomatic skill.

A very good performance then, if hardly a great one.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Chenier.png image_description=Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chénier product=yes product_title=Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chénier product_by=José Cura, Maria Guleghina, Carlo Guelfi, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Carlo Rizzi (cond.) product_id=TDK DVWW-OPACH [DVD] price=$26.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FS9JBS/102-1794228-1665730?ie=UTF8&tag=operatoday-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000FS9JBS
Posted by Gary at 2:11 PM

Handel Unwrapped by Scottish Opera: “Tamerlano” at tea-time

The occasion was a special pre-performance event designed to offer local people the chance to get an insight into the operas that the Company are currently showing, and in this case it was Handel’s great drama “Tamerlano” written in that miraculous period of his life, 1723-25 when he also produced “Giulio Cesare” and “Rodelinda”. They call the series “Opera Unwrapped” and judging from the example last week, it is a resounding success.

The format is simple: the audience are invited to attend, for free, for an hour in the early evening prior to a performance that they may, or may not, be attending. All are welcome - on this occasion there were school children of about 8 or 9, and all ages above - and the musicians are members of the regular orchestra and the singers are the understudies, or covers for the first cast. What is essential is an excellent communicator as host to guide proceedings and explain what is being seen, and Scottish Opera certainly had that in Mark Hathaway, staff producer and assistant to the opera’s director John la Bouchardiere. He had the sort of engaging charm and self-deprecating wit that everyone responded to immediately - no High Artiness here.

In an hour, young and old in the audience were given a quick but informed resume of the baroque opera form, Handel and his times, the castrati and today’s countertenor voice, the de capo aria and - to the delight of the kids - how to replicate an angry tyrant spraying a room with machine-pistol bullets. That went down particularly well and judging by their faces in a box above me, it was a real “shock and awe” success. On the subject of the countertenor voice, our host invited second-cast Robert Ogden to demonstrate the entire range of his voice, from the top of his falsetto to the bottom of his root baritone voice - again this drew appreciative applause and much comment. It also presumably cleared up any lingering misconceptions about the singer’s masculinity that might have remained in the minds of those not yet familiar with the voice-type. Some more insights into high-level work in the set and safety lines - demonstrated by a brave soprano - concluded the entertainment, and entertaining it certainly was, judging by the buzz of fascinated and positive reactions all around the auditorium.

Scottish OperaMany opera houses already have outreach programmes, and pre-performance talks, but this most open and democratic of formats which encourages people to just pop into the theatre after work, or school, seems to work particularly well as a blue-print for extending and deepening the company’s relationship with its local population.

Anyone who saw the little nine year old girl leaning over the balcony and studiously mimicking the conductor as he guided the orchestra through a lively ritornello, or watched the twelve year old boy riveted by Tamerlano’s furious outbursts and gun-toting in Act Three, could only assume that they, at the very least, went home wanting to come again one day to the magical world of opera. Let us hope that Scottish Opera will still be there for them.

Sue Loder

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Tamerlano.png image_description=Max Emanuel Cencic (Tamerlano) on throne (Photo: Bill Cooper) product=yes product_title=Above: Max Emanuel Cencic (Tamerlano) on throne product_by=Photo by Bill Cooper. All photos courtesy of Scottish Opera.
Posted by Gary at 12:39 PM

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2007

The worldwide search is on for opera’s rising stars to compete for the coveted title BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2007 and a £15,000 prize.

Posted by Gary at 12:25 PM

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2007

Young singers from every continent are now taking part in auditions in the hope of being selected to represent their country in the world’s most prestigious singing competition.

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is organised by BBC Cymru Wales in association with Welsh National Opera and the City and County of Cardiff.

The Competition’s musical adviser Julian Smith is travelling the globe to hold auditions enabling singers from every continent to stake their claim for operatic stardom.

The 25 finalists will travel to Cardiff early next summer to sing at the National Concert Hall of Wales, St David’s Hall, before a panel of distinguished jurors and equally discerning audiences.

Julian Smith said; “Over 600 aspiring singers will be hoping to be selected to take part in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. Auditions will take place in venues ranging from Rio to St Petersburg and from Toronto to Melbourne. Those singers selected will have to demonstrate high levels of vocal talent, musicianship and communication skills.”

The series of concerts to find the 2007 recipient of opera’s greatest singing title will be held between Saturday, June 9, and Sunday, June 17.

The winner will follow in the footsteps of such operatic stars as Karita Mattila (Finland, 1983), Katarina Karnéus (Sweden, 1995) Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Russia, 1989), Lisa Gasteen (1991 winner) and the winner of the inaugural Lieder Prize in 1989, Wales’ Bryn Terfel.

The 2005 winner of the biennial Competition, American Nicole Cabell, has shot to international stardom. The lyric soprano has signed an exclusive recording contract with Decca with her first solo recital album scheduled for release in 2007.

In August 2006 Nicole made her BBC Proms debut in Britten’s Les illuminations and in September came her Royal Opera House début at the Barbican as Princesse Eudoxie in a concert performance of Halévy's La Juive.

The 2007 winner will receive £15,000 which is an increase in prize money of £5,000. The rewards for each of the four other finalists has been increased by £500 to £2,500. This has been made possible thanks to new sponsorship from the Richard Lewis Trust.

The winner may also be offered high-profile engagements with both the BBC and Welsh National Opera.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by John Nelson, and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, conducted by Carlo Rizzi, will accompany the competitors in the preliminary round concerts. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales will accompany competitors in the final.

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize

The 25 contestants are also eligible to compete for the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize. This competition takes the form of a series of four preliminary round concerts at the New Theatre, Cardiff, and a final at St David’s Hall.

The winner will receive a prize of £5,000 and may be offered a recital as part of the prestigious Rosenblatt Recital Series at St John’s Smith Square, London. The winner may also be selected to be one of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists.

The accompanists will be Llŷr Williams, Simon Lepper and Phillip Thomas.

Masterclasses will also be held during the competition, led by such operatic legends as Brigitte Fassbaender and Siegfried Jerusalam, on Saturday, June 16.

The St David’s Hall, TV, radio and online audience will again be able to have their say with the Audience Prize, sponsored by Visit Wales.

Booking details

Postal booking forms are now available for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World season tickets and the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize Final at St David’s Hall and Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize season tickets, which include the four preliminary round concerts at the New Theatre and Final at St David’s Hall. Tickets can also be purchased for the Masterclasses at the New Theatre on Saturday, June 16. Booking forms are available from St David’s Hall Box Office on 029 2087 8444 or online at bbc.co.uk/cardiffsinger

On February 24, 2007, bookings open for all tickets, including individual concert tickets for the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and the Rosenblatt Recital Series Song Prize. Bookings can be made in person or by post to St David’s Hall, The Hayes, Cardiff CF10 1SH, by calling 029 2087 8444 and online at stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk from February 24, 2007. A booking form can also be downloaded from bbc.co.uk/cardiffsinger

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Nicole-Cabell-portrait.png image_description=Nicole Cabell product=yes product_title=Above: Nicole Cabell (BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2005) product_by=Photo courtesy of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World
Posted by Gary at 12:14 PM

Jean-Marie Blanchard pressenti à l’Opéra de Paris

Jean-Marie_Blanchard.jpgLe directeur du Grand Théâtre genevois serait bien placé pour succéder à Gérard Mortier.

sylvie bonier [Tribune de Genève, 15 November 2006]

Décidément, le Grand Théâtre de Genève semble un tremplin idéal pour arriver à Bastille. Jean-Marie Blanchard serait bien placé dans la course à la succession de Gérard Mortier à la barre de l'Opéra national de Paris.

Posted by Gary at 9:26 AM

Wie geht es an Berlins Opern weiter?

Michael_Schindhelm.jpgDer Rücktritt von Michael Schindhelm als Chef der Opernstiftung heizt eine längst anstehende Strukturdebatte von neuem an. Das Repertoire-System wird nicht mehr lange bestehen können.

Von Manuel Brug [Die Welt, 15 November 2006]

Natürlich war der Posten ein Schleudersitz. Generaldirektor der Berliner Opernstiftung, das wollten weder Sir Peter Jonas noch Gerard Mortier werden. Beide, durchaus macht- und ausstrahlungsbewusst, ahnten, dass man auf diesem Wahnwitz-Posten nur scheitern würde.

Posted by Gary at 9:05 AM

Siegfried Act III

Geoff Brown at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester [Times Online, 15 November 2006]

“I’ve got an Act III next year in concert — in Manchester, I think,” Ben Heppner told a website interviewer in 2005. It was indeed Manchester, and there stood probably the world’s greatest high-flying tenor, taking one more step in his slow ascent of Wagner’s prize “heldentenor” role, Siegfried. Previously Heppner had sung only chunks from The Ring. Ahead in 2008 lies his Siegfried stage debut with Simon Rattle at Aix-en-Provence, with Götterdämmerung to follow in 2009. All perfect Wagnerites are aquiver.

Posted by Gary at 8:40 AM

Kritik Staatsoper: Der Luxus der Bohème

Angela Gheorghiu kehrte als Mimì nach Wien zurück. [Die Presse, 14 November 2006]

Eine kühne Idee, Neil Shicoff und Angela Gheorghiu in "La Bohème" zusammenzuspannen: Der Method Actor par excellence, der wie kein Zweiter Rotz und Wasser heult um seine Mimì, aber stets bereit ist, auf seinem Weg Richtung Opern-Oscar innezuhalten, wenn es gilt, sich in einer breiten Phrase samt Spitzenton zu suhlen. Und die rumänische Sopranistin mit ihrem prächtig dunklen Klang, die freilich nur in ausgewählten Inszenierungen auftreten will und sich auch als hustende Näherin meist mit dem hohlen Pathos großer Gesten begnügt . . .

Posted by Gary at 6:58 AM

November 14, 2006

BELLINI: I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Indeed, though most of the plot elements remain the same, this bel canto treasure springs from a different source than that used by Shakespeare. Sprightly and melodic, even as the story moves inexorably toward its tragic climax, composer Bellini's music focuses on the beauty in the pathos. And where the first audiences for Shakespeare's play would have seen male actors as both Romeo and Juliet, Bellini makes Romeo a pants role, bringing to the writing the same exquisite combination of female voices employed in his greatest work Norma, with the title character and Adalgisa.

In a brief note in the booklet of this Dynamic set, Sergio Segalini (director of the Festival della Valle d'Itria di Martina Franca where this production was staged) posits that Bellini's later revision of this opera (for La Scala) deserved staging, and so the front cover proclaims this CD a "first recording." Segalini points to the major difference, a revision that moves Romeo from a mezzo-ish Romeo to a more feminine soprano sound. For this staging the festival chose for Giulietta Patricia Ciofi, who has established herself well in Europe, if less so in the US. Carla Polito sings the soprano Romeo. The live audience came primed for the performance, by the sound of things - Dynamic has included extensive applause throughout the recording, peppered with fervent cries of brava.

Ciofi shines, if occasionally hard metallic glints burst through at the top of her range. Polito, no less distinctive, manages to differentiate her performance so that the ear does not become confused as to which of the two lovers is singing at any given moment. In the tenor role of Tebaldo, Danilo Formaggio impresses most in his recitative, delivered with force yet still attractively presented. In his arias the legato could be smoother.

Luciano Acocella conducts the Orchestra Internazionale D'Italia. Dynamic's sound does not favor the orchestra, which comes off as unsubtle, especially in the overture. As accompaniment for the singers, they serve well enough.

After initial success in its 1830 debut, I Capuleti e i Montecchi gradually sank below Bellini's three mature masterpieces, Norma, La Sonnambula, and I Puritani. In recent years the opera has enjoyed  reemergence, for both its familiar story and many opportunities for lovely, florid singing. Fans of the composer will want this set for the fresh take of this edition. For others, the extra edge of excitement of a live recording may make this set preferable to the small number of studio sets, if they can be located. Dynamic continues to be a resourceful and interesting label for opera lovers.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/capuleti.jpg image_description=Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi product=yes product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi product_by=Federico Sacchi, Patrizia Ciofi, Clara Polito, Danilo Formaggia, Nicola Amodio, Bratislava Chamber Chorus, Italian International Orchestra, Luciano Acocella (cond.) product_id=Dynamic CDS504 [2CDs] price=$20.98 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FIGGPA?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000FIGGPA&adid=1ZPR653B8Y1C3JC0B5ET&
Posted by Gary at 5:50 PM

Così fan tutte, Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, Geneva

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 14 November 2006]

The real draw, especially at the end of a year saturated in Mozart, was meant to be the pianist Stephen Kovacevich’s first attempt at conducting an opera. The Suisse Romande orchestra decided otherwise and forced him out barely a week before the first night. The diplomatic spin was that the parting was amicable.

Posted by Gary at 11:18 AM

Helping a Worthy Cause by Flexing a New Freedom

By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER [NY Times, 14 November 2006]

There was a festive atmosphere at the Richard Tucker Music Foundation’s annual gala on Sunday at Avery Fisher Hall. This was largely because Peter Gelb, the new general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, has raised the iron curtain that previously barred singers under Met contract from appearing at fund-raising benefits.

Posted by Gary at 11:10 AM

Royal Opera's `The Queen of Spades' Is Master Class in Tension

Pikdame.pngBy Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 14 November 2006]

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- If musical skills were transferable to other media, then conductor Semyon Bychkov could probably direct thrillers to knock Hitchcock's efforts into a cocked hat.

Posted by Gary at 11:02 AM

November 13, 2006

Bringing down the house

Sadlers_wells.jpgThe Royal Opera and ENO have ceased to be the only centres of operatic power in Britain, writes Nicholas Payne. And he should know - he's run both companies[Independent, 13 November 2006]

Sadler's Wells, where Lilian Baylis founded her native opera company in 1931, is today better known as London's dance house. The rebuilt theatre has, since Alistair Spalding assumed its leadership two years ago, become the place where the most innovative dance happens. Both artists and audiences have sensed that, and have been drawn to fill its programme and its seats. There is not so much room left for opera.

Posted by Gary at 11:26 AM

Figaro as a Big-Time Operator, With a Wily Rosina

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 13 November 2006]

Rossini’s “Barbiere di Siviglia” abounds in comic confusion. In the opening scene an amorous count in Seville has fallen at first sight for a feisty young beauty, who is kept under lock and key by her guardian, a pompous doctor. The count decides to pursue her disguised as a penniless but gallant student.

Posted by Gary at 11:13 AM

November 12, 2006

DONIZETTI: Don Sebastiano

Music composed by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). Libretto by Eugène Scribe, based on the drama by Paul-Henri Foucher.

First Performance: 13 November 1843, the Opéra, Paris.

Principal Characters:
Zaida (Zayda), daughter of Ben-SelimMezzo-Soprano
Don Sebastiano (Dom Sébastien), King of PortugalTenor
Don Giovanni di Silva (Don Juam de Sylva), Grand InquisitorBass
Camoens (Camoëns)Baritone
Abaialdo (Abayaldos), Arab leaderBaritone
Don Enrico (Dom Henrique Sandoval), the King's lieutenantBass
Don Antonio (Dom Antonio), the King's uncleTenor
Ben-Selim, governor of FezBass

Setting: Lisbon and the Moroccan desert in 1577.

Synopsis:

Act I

In Lisbon harbor, an armada is being readied to set sail to carry the army of King Sébastien to Morocco for a crusade against the infidels. The sailors describe their preparations for departure (“Nautoniers, mettez à la voile”). Dom Juam de Silva, the Grand Inquisitor enters with Dom Antonio, the King’s uncle. The latter preens because he will be regent during Sébastien’s absence, but Dom Juam (in an aside) mocks him, for he is determined to turn over all Portugal to King Philip II of Spain. A soldier approaches with a petition, requesting permission to address the King. Dom Antonio has just dismissed him rudely, when Sébastien appears and insists upon hearing the man’s petition (Camoëns: “Soldat, j’ai révé la victoire”). He explains that he is the poet Luis de Camoëns (Luiz de Camões), companion of Vasco da Gama and author of The Lustanians; he pleads for the privilege to accompany the King on his African expedition. The ominous voices of Inquisitors are heard approaching (“Céleste justice”) as they lead a Moslem maiden to the stake. Much to Dom Juam’s displeasure, Sébastien insist that she be released and aided to return to her native land. The girl, Zayda (mezzo-soprano), throws herself at the King’s feet in gratitude (“O mon Dieu, sur la terre”). A trumpet signals the hour of departure, and Sébastien invites Camoëns to predict the expedition’s fate (Camoëns: “Oui, le ciel m’enflamme”). As the sky darkens and thunder threatens, the poet prognosticates disaster for the King’s crusade. Undismayed and his optimism apparently widely shared, Sébastien boards his flagship. The populace bids the armada farewell, while Dom Juam cynically expresses his hope that Camoëns’ prediction will prove true.

Act II

Scene 1: A luxuriant African oasis. To one side is the entrance to the house of Zayda’s father, King Ben-Selim, in the distance a view of the city of Fez. Zayda confesses her love for the man who saved her life (“Sol adoré de la patrie”), an emotion that prevents her from being able to accept Abayaldos, the Moorish chieftain her father wants her to marry. Zayda’s companions seek to raise her spirits (“Les délices de nos campagnes”). Abayaldos appears and announces that the Portuguese army is approaching the plain of Alcazar Kebir, thereby rallying his followers to advance against the enemy (“Les chrétiens dans nos deserts”).

Scene 2: The battlefield of Alcazar Kebir is littered with bodies of slain Portuguese and Moorish warriors. King Sébastien has been seriously wounded, but he thinks only of trying to save his loyal companions: Camoëns and Dom Henrique de Sandoval. The King lapses into unconsciousness as Abayaldos and his troops whirl in to massacre any chance survivors (“Victoire, victoire, victoire!”). To draw attention away from Sébastien, Sandoval announces that he is the King as he dies from his wounds. His body is carried away in triumph by the Moors. No sooner are they gone that Zayda, veiled, enters and searches among the slain for Sébastien (Duet: “grand Dieu! as miser est. is grandee”). She recognizes him and soon they confess their irrepressible love. When Abayaldos and his scavengers return once more (“Du sange, c’est la loi du prophète”), Zayda begs him to spare the life of this man, offering to marry Abayaldos at once if he will only let this wounded man live, explains that as a Christian had once saved her life in Lisbon, she has vowed some day to save a life in return. Grudgingly and suspiciously, Abayaldos consents. Zayda leaves with the party of Moors. Alone on the darkening field, Sébastien laments the fate that has deprived him of all he cares for (“Seul sur la terre”).

Act III

Scene 1: In a room in the royal palace in Lisbon. Abayaldos confronts Zayda whom he has brought with him on his embassy to the court at Lisbon. Zayda has aroused his ferocious jealousy because, although now his wife, she murmurs someone else’s name in her restless sleep. She protests her innocence, but his suspicions and resentment are not placated.

Scene 2: In the great square of Lisbon in front of the cathedral, Camoëns, now in rags, apostrophizes his native town (“O Lisbonne, ô ma patrie”). Reduced to begging, he asks another soldier for alms, and is both shocked and delighted to recognize the tattered veteran as Sébastien, miraculously survived, in spite of all the rumors to the contrary (Duet: “O jour de joie”). In abrupt contrast to their jubilant reunion, a funeral chant is heard issuing from the cathedral (“Donne au coeur fidèle la paix éternelle”). To the accompaniment of a solemn funeral march, the cathedral doors are flung wide and a huge funeral procession leads on a catafalque so massive that it requires twenty men to carry it. Sébastien is watching what is purported to be his own funeral, for in the catafalque is the body that Abayaldos brought from Alcazar Kebir. Outraged, Camoëns protests the fraud. Dom Juam orders him seized, but Sébastien steps forward and, identifying himself, countermands the order. In the confusion attendant upon this announcement, Camoëns eludes capture and later determines to rouse support for the discredited king. Beside himself with rage, Abayaldos recognizes in Sébastien the man whom Zayda had begged him to spare and his hated rival (Sextet: “D’espoir et de terreur”). Dom Juam orders the pretender seized so that hem ay be tried by the Inquisition (“Scélérat, ah, en vain tu tentes”). Those opposed to Sébastien are determined he must die (Stretta of the finale: “Il faut qu’il périsse!”).

Act IV

In the subterranean hall where the Inquisitors examine and torture their prisoners, the hooded and masked officials assemble (“O voûtes souterraines”). The implacable Dom Juam urges them to fulfill their sacred obligations. Sébastien is led in and in answer to Dom Juam’s interrogation, he steadfastly insists upon his true identity. A veiled witness is produced, Zayda, who swears a solemn oath of her veracity as she recounts how she spared Sébastien’s life upon the battlefield. Dom Juam accuses her of blasphemy; Abayaldos, of adultery (“Va, perjure, epouse impie”). Although Sébastien and Zayda protest their innocence, Dom Juam charges them both with treason and orders them to prison, while the outraged curses of the Inquisitors pronouncing anathema fall about the ears of the hapless pair.

Act V

Scene 1: A room in the Tower of Lisbon. To one side there is a door opening upon a balcony; to the other, double doors that lead to the interior of the prison. Dom Juam has summoned Zayda, offering to spare Sébastien’s life if she can persuade him to sign a document denying that he is the rightful king and abdicating all claims to the throne. Zayda eagerly accepts this offer, thinking of the pleasure of sacrificing herself to spare her beloved (“Mourir pour ce qu’on aime!”). When Sébastien is taken to her so that she may explain the Inquisitor’s proposal, the King scornfully rejects the document, preferring death to dishonor. Yet, as he realizes the sacrifice that Zayda is intending to make (Duet: “Vain espoir, vain effort”), he declares that he would gladly renounce his throne if only they might live and love. Just then Camoëns voice is heard, as he makes his way up a rope ladder to the balcony (Barcarolle: “Pècheur de la rive”). He has come to help them escape and lead them to Sebastien’s loyal supporters (Trio: “De la prudence et du mystère”).

Brief final scene: Outside and beneath the tower, Abayaldos warns Dom Antonio that Camoëns is leading a conspiracy to free the King, a plot that the regent acknowledges he is perfectly aware of, as he awaits his prey. When the figures of Zayda and Sébastien are seen descending the rope ladder from the balcony, gunshots ring out and two corpses plummet into the harbor below. Dom Juam arrives exultantly, dismissing Antonio as he announces the annexation of Portugal by King Philip II of Spain. The distant voice of Camoëns is heard celebrating the memory of King Sébastien I.

[Synopsis Source: Opera Orchestra of New York]

Click here for the complete libretto

Click here for the complete libretto (Italian tranlsation)

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/donizetti.png image_description=Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) audio=yes first_audio_name=Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848): Don Sebastiano
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Windows Media Player second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Don_Sebastiano.asx product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848): Don Sebastiano product_by=Fedora Barbieri (Zaida), Gianni Poggi (Don Sebastiano), Giulio Neri (Don Giovanni Da Silva), Enzo Mascherini (Camoens), Dino Dondi (Abaialdo), Paolo Washington (Don Enrico), Angelo Rossi (Don Antonio), Ugo Novelli (Ben-Selim), Coro e Orchestra Del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Carlo Maria Giulini (cond.)
Live performance, 2 May 1955, Firenze
Posted by Gary at 10:30 PM

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut

Ten years later I was in New York and attended. Freni sang the title role and was stunning, looking and singing like she was 25 instead of 55. The production still looked fresh and fine, too, and it still does on this wonderful DVD. I’ve often taken offence at some self-styled sophisticated New Yorkers who think of their co-opera visitors as boorish and provincial because they applaud the sets (as happens here twice) but I can fully understand the delight of many Americans who have come for enjoyment and give the set designer (Desmond Wheeley, responsible for the brilliant costumes too) his rightful due.

Kudos too for Maestro Levine who stops his orchestra so that Domingo can have his applause after ‘Donna non vidi mai’. A lot of the time the applause is generous, though not overenthusiastic till the audience at last warms up. Of course at the time many spectators still had the sound of Tucker, Bergonzi and even Del Monaco and Björling in their ears. Honesty however commands me to say that the Spanish tenor is not to be despised in this very long and difficult role. The tone is homogenously golden, from bottom to top and without nasality. Stylistically he is faultless as usual and also as usual piano or a melting pianissimo is not in his vocabulary. If one listens carefully one notices that his legato is not 100% perfect as he often takes in a small breath, especially when he sails into the head register. Only at the fiendishly difficult ‘Guardate, pazzo son’ it becomes clear that a sure high B is not his anymore and the voice grates on for two seconds. The same happens in the last act duet where he cannot avoid flattening. Yet, there has been no better Des Grieux around for a quarter of a century.

Renata Scotto, already 47 at the time and thus more than 30 years older than the role she is assuming, has one of her Indian Summer days. In the first act she sounds and looks appropriately young and skittish, though not naïve. She sings an intense ‘In quelle trine morbide’, showing us with her messa di voce what an experienced singer can do. She continues in that vein till the passionate outburst of ‘Sola, perduta, abandonata’. Her well-known shrillness is not much in evidence and even when it appears she is such an experienced artist it becomes part of well-thought out interpretation. Pablo Elvira starts out with a few rough patches but soon gives us a well-rounded portrait of the most unthankful baritone role in the Italian repertoire. Almost no one can improve on Renato Capecchi’s Geronte (I heard Italo Tajo and he came near) while Philip Creech, with Afro-haircut in these early politically-correct days, is a lively though somewhat throaty Edmondo.

Apart from often great singing, great sets and costumes there is great acting too. A practical theatre genius as Gian Carlo Menotti (and his stage assistants too) must have done quite a lot of thinking. How to strike a balance between acting that still has meaning and is visible in the Met’s Family Circle without looking ridiculous during close-ups on small TV-screens? Menotti succeeds magnificently, helped of course by Scotto and Domingo who were always stage animals. There is nothing hammy in their acting. There are no over gross gestures which can be so easily ridiculed in cheap humour shows: remember Del Monaco in his Japanese telecasts? There are literally dozens of fine acting touches by everybody on the stage, important in those gone days without titles. TV director Kirk Browning probably has studied the production book till he could dream it as he misses nothing while at the same time he too succeeds in finding that balance between house and home audience.

Musically the whole of it is energetically and sympathetically conducted by James Levine who welds everything and everybody in one long and continuing sweep; no mean feat for an opera where there is such a deep abyss between the first and the later acts. Those too were the days when during the lovingly sculpted intermezzo the cameras remain on conductor and orchestra without a lot of extra musical activity on the scene to draw all attention too. Probably the best sung and best acted Manon Lescaut to be found on DVD.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/manon_lescaut_Met_1980.jpg image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut product=yes product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut product_by=Renata Scotto (Manon Lescaut), Placido Domingo (Des Grieux), Pablo Elvira (Lescaut), Renato Capecchi (Geronte), Philip Creech (Edmondo), Mario Bertolino (L’oste), Isola Jones (musico), Andrea Velis (maestro di ballo), Julien Robbins (sergente), John Carpenter (lampionaio), Russell Christopher (commandante). Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Levine. Production by Gian Carlo Menotti, TV director: Kirk Browning. product_id=DG 073 424-1 [DVD] price=$26.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000E5KOK2?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000E5KOK2&adid=0Z0T3HTSHXV0JK8FAMPZ&
Posted by Gary at 4:13 PM

MERCURIO: Many Voices

Six of today’s best singers (if gentle OperaToday readers will gracefully acknowledge at least the enormous popularity of Andrea Bocelli) perform on the Sony Classical release of Mr. Mercurio’s compositions for voice and orchestra, Many Voices. Soprano Sumi Jo sings two of the 7 selections, with soprano Ana Maria Martinez taking the only other piece for female voice. Besides Bocelli, who wrote the texts for two pieces, two other fine tenors appear: Marcello Giordani and Rolando Villazon, who takes on the 20-minute plus “Serenade for Tenor and Orchestra.” Baritone Gino Quilico brings a darker hue to the remaining of the seven selections.

Whatever personal or professional qualities drew these singers to make their talents available to Mr. Mercurio cannot be evaluated; the music doesn't present much vocal challenge, except for a few moments of almost operatic rhetoric. Many of the compositions feel like efforts in the genre of “easy listening,” with little dynamic variation, a tendency to slower tempos, and string-heavy orchestrations. The aforementioned website describes Mercurio’s association with Gian Carlo Menotti, and his love and respect for Puccini - certainly understandable. However, his music feels like a much later generation of the style of those two more esteemed composers. The music especially has a trait of seeming melodic without actually developing any memorable melodic material.

The review copy provided no texts (or attributions for the authors). The opening piece, “A White Rose,” can serve as a good example of Mercurio’s taste. John Boyle O'Reilly’s short love poem is an almost too tasteful tribute to amorous yet romantic love. Mercurio sets it as if it were a Hallmark card sentiment, with the “blush” of erotic attraction a distant suggestion.

Whatever the quality of Bocelli’s text for “Desiderio,” it does inspire some more dramatic music form Mr. Mercurio, and Bocelli himself gives evidence of the attractive tone and pleasure in singing that have earned him so much popularity. Marcello Giordani sings another Bocelli text, “Paternita,” where Mercurio’s orchestration has more than a faint resemblance to Canteloube’s “Bolero” from Songs of the Auvergne.

Most of the selection are not much longer than a typical pop song, but the final track, “Serenade for tenor and orchestra,” goes on for over 20 minutes of neo-Straussian (Richard) waltzes, with lurches into unprovoked climaxes. Villazon sings handsomely but indicates that his English is not at the same level as other operatic languages he has mastered.

If just one number stayed with the listener, enticing frequent revisits, the opera world could be glad to have a composer who knows the value of melodicism and heartfelt emotion. It’s all well to respect the greatness of Puccini. Following in his footsteps, however, seems to mean staying forever in the master’s prodigious shadow. That’s where listeners will find Many Voices.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Mercurio.jpg image_description=Steven Mercurio: Many Voices product=yes product_title=Steven Mercurio: Many Voices product_by=Sumi Jo, Andrea Bocelli, Gino Quilico, Marcello Giordani, Ana Maria Martinez, Rolando Villazon, Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Seven Mercurio (cond.) product_id=Sony Classical 82876872272 [CD] price=$14.97 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000G759NA?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000G759NA&adid=037K7C1GQRGPC799RKM7&
Posted by Gary at 3:44 PM

PUCCINI: Edgar

And as critics like to copy sleeve notes, one finds this same opinion in Opera News’ review. I don’t buy this argument. Too often libretti are thought to be ridiculous — Trovatore is an outstanding example — because people don’t take the pains to read them line by line (and then Trovatore makes perfect sense). As long as a libretto is able to inspire its composer, it may ramble along.

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut is a prime example. At the end of Act I, René des Grieux and Manon elope from the clutches of Geronte. At the beginning of Act II, Manon is firmly established as the mistress of the same Geronte. Newbie’s seeing the opera for the first time probably wonder if by coincidence the two acts are not erroneously switched. Still Manon Lescaut was a success and Edgar was not. The fault, if there was one, lies with Puccini. The Tuscan was a very slow starter and in his first two operas he still had not found the inspiration to write those short, catchy tunes that would make him the most popular composer of his time. In Edgar, his melodies sound a little laboured (e.g. the tenor’s ‘O soave vision’) though after a few hearings they are clearly recognizable and enjoyable.

A real performance of Edgar always is a pleasure as I can witness. It is one of three ‘Flemish’ operas which were all performed some years ago in Antwerp as the story plays out itself in Flanders (the two others being Lohengrin and Tote Stadt) and Sharon Sweet as Fidelia was exemplary.

On record, as in the theatre, Edgar didn’t have much of a career. We had to wait until 1976 when CBS finally brought forth an official recording made during an OONY performance (Bergonzi, Scotto, Killebrew, Sardinero, Queler). And then it took another 29 years when Varady and Tanner recorded a far less impressive performance. The issue under review is superior in all aspects to its predecessors except one: the title role. Domingo is no match for Bergonzi. Though the Italian tenor already flattened every note from high A on by the time of his recording, his sense of phrasing in his arias and duets is vastly superior. Bergonzi’s middle voice at the time sounds far more beautiful and sweeter than Domingo nowadays can master. At 64 and after a career of 45 years, the shimmering beauty of Domingo’s voice is slowly deteriorating and he sounds nasal a lot of the time. His top notes are more firmly sung than Bergonzi’s though one wonders how much is still Domingo’s and how much came out of DG’s vaults. Adriana Damato is a wonderful Fidelia, equalling Scotto’s expressiveness without the shrillness that was often there with the older soprano. Her ‘Addio, , mio dolce amor’ is a calling card that should open many an opera house’s door as she combines the strength and the morbidezza needed of every Puccini soprano. I never felt Juan Pons was just a creation of the Caballé clan (sister and brother/impressario) whose career was bigger than his accomplishments. Maybe he didn’t have the necessary snarl for some of his roles like Rigoletto but once more he brings his well-rounded always musical voice to the role of Frank and the warmth of his voice is ideal for a sympathetic character. Pons is vastly superior to Sardinero. So is Marianne Cornetti in the all-bad role of Tigrana where she brings more metal than Killebrew had.

It’s good to hear the Orchestra and Chorus of the Roman Academia Sancta Cecilia, an orchestra whose ancestors were so intimately connected with the glorious London/Decca recordings of the fifties and sixties. The orchestra still has the luscious Puccini-sound and is conducted by Alberto Veronesi who doesn’t over sentimentalize the score but still brings out the glowing melodies clearly and incisively. Orchestra and chorus are splendid in the famous funeral music, which would be the first track one would play as a proof of Puccini’s coming genius.

I wish to digress one moment on the historical setting of the opera. It originated with a poem by Alfred de Musset who set the action in Tyrol (like La Wally). For some obscure reason librettist Fontana reset it in medieval Flanders, before and after the battle of the Golden Spurs (11th of July 1302, still Flanders national holiday) which ended the French king’s attempts to incorporate the county into his own domains. Should you ever visit Flanders, you would look in vain on maps or at road signs for a place called ‘Courtray’. The real name of this magnificent medieval city is Kortrijk and it is and always has been Dutch-speaking. As during the 19th century, a lot of inspiration was derived from French plays by libretto and other writers (though by now Mr. Budden should know better) who used French translations of place names. One is still confronted with ridiculous names like Courtray or Aix-la-Chapelle and Cologne (Aachen and Köln in Germany) that nobody uses in reality.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Edgar.jpg image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Edgar product=yes product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Edgar product_by=Plácido Domingo, Adriana Damato, Marianne Cornetti, Juan Pons, Rafael Siwek, Coro e Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Alberto Veronesi (cond.) product_id=DG 00289 477 6102 [2CDs] price=$30.58 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0028947761020&bfmtype=music
Posted by Gary at 2:57 PM

ROSSINI: La Cenerentola

Shades of brown — think the “dun” of Shakesperae's time - dominate the scenery and costumes. Though Angelina (the title character) and her nasty half-sisters dress much as they always do, the unpaternal father figure, Don Magnifico, makes for an unappetizing sight, in his stained and worn clothes, too tight on his large frame, and scruffy, unshaven pudgeball of a face. All his money goes to his two female brats, it seems. meanwhile, in disguise as his master, Alidoro makes for a natty gentleman, and Don Ramiro's stringy dirty blond hair and bland attire make him a more than credible servant figure.

Viewers impatient or displeased by the murkiness of Sir Peter Hall's staging (costumes by Moritz Junge and set by Hildegard Bechter) should exert their patience, as the show gets noticeably brighter and much funnier in act two. Luciano Di Pasquale, the burly, brutish Don Magnifico, in particular comes into his own and makes his seedy, self-centered character into a more enjoyably comic villain. Nathan Berg, who hams it up a touch too much in act one, always sings attractively, as do Raquela Sheeran and Lucia Cirillo as the two sisters, who must somehow be both unappealing and yet possibly “princess” material. Hall does surprisingly little with Dandini, the opera's “fairy godmother” character, and the excellent Simone Alberghini tends to fade into the background too often.

The opera world currently enjoys a boom in promising tenors, especially in the lyric fach, led by superstar Juan Diego Florez. Maxim Mironov takes on a role Florez has made his own — Don Ramiro, Angelina's prince Charming. He has a solid if not spectacular technique, and that sweet, tangy tone of a true Rossini tenor. A subtle, engaged actor, Mironov inhabits the role with grace.

A more qualified success, Ruxandra Donose sings Angelina with a surprisingly deep, even chesty mezzo. Slim and attractive, with an appropriately demure demeanor at first, Donose manages to be represent her character's pathetic state without engaging the audience's sympathy. Her final showpiece has an air of forced elation, which may be due to the dark edges director Hall has cast throughout the evening. The stage even goes almost completely into blackout in some ensembles.

Young, almost amusingly handsome and self-possessed, conductor Vladimir Jurowski conducts with a lightness and grasp of dynamics that the London Philharmonic orchestra responds to energetically. In a 25-minute accompanying feature, he and director Hall share various unsurprising insights.

So not a great Cenerentola, but an interesting and occasionally quite enjoyable one.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/cenerentola.png image_description=Gioachino Rossini: La Cenerentola product=yes product_title=Gioachino Rossini: La Cenerentola product_by=Raquela Sheeran. Lucia Cirillo, Ruxandra Donose, Nathan Berg, Luciano di Pasquale, Maxim Mironov, Simone Alberghini, London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus, Vladimir Jurowski (cond.) product_id=Opus Arte OA 0944 D [DVD] price=$35.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000E1P3BQ?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000E1P3BQ&adid=1CM53RM44GPXNDHY0AZ1&
Posted by Gary at 2:23 PM

November 11, 2006

Music to slash your wrists to

joan_rodgers.jpgOpera North presents a fantastic double of stories the tabloids would kill for. Scottish Opera's take on Iraq, however, would make anyone suicidal

Anthony Holden [Observer, 12 November 2006]

Opera North seems determined to make us suffer this season. After a poor, beyond vulgar Rigoletto, it has now laid on near-perfect productions of two of the most harrowing works in the repertoire.

Posted by Gary at 8:55 PM

Historiker und Revolutionär in einem

Von Manuel Brug [Die Welt, 11 November 2006]

Nikolaus Harnoncourt eröffnet neue Klang-Sphären. Wenn es ihn nicht gäbe, man hätte ihn erfinden müssen. Jenen Herren, dessen Augen so unglaublich wild blitzen, funkeln, stieren können, wenn er sich als Dirigent in ein Werk hineinsteigert.

Posted by Gary at 8:50 PM

Opera: An unsuitable marriage

marriage_eno.pngENO’s superficial and sexless 1930s Figaro gets a poor reception from Hugh Canning [Times Online, 12 November 2006]

In a programme article, David Cairns describes The Marriage of Figaro as “a wonderfully funny opera”, but you would never know it after attending Olivia Fuchs’s laboured, strait-laced and humourless new production for English National Opera.

Posted by Gary at 5:51 PM

'Siviglia' premiere shows Met on a roll

By MIKE SILVERMAN [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11 November 2006]

NEW YORK -- From Letterman to Lincoln Center doesn't seem like such a stretch for the merry performers in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia."

Posted by Gary at 5:46 PM

Triumph over Adversity

Even in Handel’s own time, Orlando wasn’t a hit. Three years ago the Royal Opera House mounted a big budget production of Orlando. Despite the big name singers, the elaborate revolving scenery and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, it was not an artistic triumph. What chance is there then for the tiny Independent Opera Company? This is a fledgling organisation, run on a shoestring. Orlando is only their second production. It would be totally unfair to expect them to pull off a miracle which has eluded so many, up to and including the Royal Opera House.

The real problem with this opera is that modern audiences find it hard to sit through three hours of repetitive recitative, and a plot that defies logic. What impressed me is how the company turned the difficulties facing them around. In the process, they thought the opera through. They approach the opera on Handel’s own terms. Alessandro Talevi, the Artistic Director, has enough faith in the merit of the opera that he can dispense with fancy props and let its inherent ideas shine through.

The whole point of Orlando is “triumph over adversity”. Orlando was a hero in the past but is now beset by problems he can’t comprehend. The opera begins with the usual conventions of love and false love, but from that point everything unravels. Misunderstandings and mishaps pile up relentlessly. This production takes the very deviousness of the plot as a starting point : its focus is the anarchy of fate, not the solution. Suddenly, Handel seems surprisingly relevant to our times.

The seats in the cramped Lilian Baylis Theatre rise steeply upwards, barely a yard from the platform edge, and the stage itself is impossibly narrow. To increase performing space, a tilted ellipse was built on the main platform, with a pit in the middle. Obviously, it would have seemed less claustrophobic in a more spacious theatre, but the ellipse had practical benefits. It created a four dimensional effect with an illusion of foreground and background. Moreover the hollow gave the cast cover so they could disappear, move and pop up again at will. It also meant that the orchestra, (conducted by Gary Cooper), could be accommodated literally in the heart of the action. Seeing them as well as hearing them enhanced the sense of “circles within circles”.

Ultimately, what made this production was its thoughtful understanding of the dynamics of character. William Towers’ dark timbres portray Orlando as an action man more prone to mindless violence than to thinking, but by Act Two, he convincingly turns the violence inwards. Even the ties that bind his costume unravel as he descends into madness. Tower has natural stage presence and has sung Medoro and Farnace at Covent Garden. rj--orlando-718.pngRebecca Ryan’s extensive experience showed in the aplomb with which she created the demanding role of Angelika. Joana Seara, a recent Guildhall graduate, was a charming Dorinda, tending her garden and pet nightingale. Christopher Ainslie was a golden Medoro vocally and visually. Nicolas Warden’s Zoroastro had authoritative presence. In this spare, minimalist production, lighting propels the narrative where scenery might do so otherwise. Shadow puppets and silhouettes make much more mysterious monsters. Zoroastro gets some wonderful moments, such as when he raises his hand and the lighting creates a pattern of words, rising up to fill the stage in synch with his arms. When he calls on the heavens, suddenly the stage is lit up by a projection of the earth seen from space. It’s a cosmic moment, with timeless, magical resonance.

It is imaginative details like this which show that there’s genuine talent in small companies like Independent Opera. There’s no way they can, or should be expected to perform at the level of major houses. Nonetheless, they should be nurtured, supported and cherished. Channel their enthusiasm wisely, and it could benefit all opera in the long term.

Anne Ozorio

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/rj--orlando-0649.png
image_description=William Towers as Orlando

product=yes
product_title=Above: William Towers as Orlando
product_by=All photos courtesy of Independent Opera at Sadler's Wells

Posted by Gary at 2:30 PM

November 10, 2006

MEYERBEER: Les Huguenots

First Performance: 29 February 1836, the Opéra, Paris.

Principal Characters:
Raoul de Nangis, a Huguenot gentlemanTenor
Marcel, his servantBass
Margaret of Valois, betrothed of Henry of NavarreSoprano
Urbain, her pageSoprano
Valentine, daughter of the Count of St. BrisSoprano
Count of St. Bris, a Catholic noblemenBass
Count of Nevers, a Catholic noblemenBaritone
De Retz, a Catholic gentlemanBass
Cossé, a Catholic gentlemanTenor
Méru, a Catholic gentlemanBass
Tohré, a Catholic gentlemanBass
Tavannes, a Catholic gentlemanTenor
Bois-Rosé, a Huguenot soldierTenor

Setting: 1572 in Touraine (Acts I and II) and Paris (Acts III–V).

Synopsis:

Act I

Scene—House of the Count of Nevers

The Count of Nevers, who is entertaining a party of Catholics, seems so preoccupied that his guests ask the cause. He replies that another guest is coming, the Protestant, Raoul. “A Huguenot!” they exclaim. Although they know that Margaret of Valois, the betrothed of the King, is eager to reconcile Catholic and Protestant, and that he who furthers her purpose is apt to win royal favor, yet they receive Raoul with ironical politeness when he arrives. His frank open nature is undisturbed by this, and when Nevers toasts the ladies and proposes that each tell of some adventure with the fair sex, Raoul willingly complies, although he being the last to arrive is chosen to be first to respond. In a Romanza he tells them of the unknown beauty whom he rescued this very morning from some drunken revellers. He does not know her, but is wildly in love with her because of her beauty.

The applause which greets this romantic recital is interrupted by Raoul’s sturdy old Huguenot servant Marcel, who distrusts his master’s Catholic friends and sings the Lutheran chorale, “Ein feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress is Our God). The guests accept Raoul’s apologies for his behavior and ask the old fellow to sing again. He responds with a vigorous Huguenot ditty against the “snares of Rome.”

The resulting rather constrained feeling is quickly forgotten when a servant announces that a veiled lady wishes to speak to Nevers, who at once retires to meet her amidst the banter of his friends. All are curious regarding the lady, and Raoul himself joins in peeping behind a curtain, ft is none other than the unknown beauty he rescued that morning; at once he believes that some disagreeable liaison exists between this woman and Nevers. Still another unexpected diversion occurs in the arrival of a page, who, in the very ornate but melodious “Page’s Song,” informs them that one of their number is addressed with the unusual request to go blindfolded in a carriage wherever his guide may take him.

Raoul, though highly puzzled when he learns that the message is addressed to him, gallantly accepts. He also wonders at the sudden respect with which he is treated, for he does not realize that the seal on the letter is that of Margaret of Valois.

Act II

Scene—Castle and Gardens of Chenonceaux

Margaret of Valois, surrounded by her maids of honor, rejoices in the pleasant sunny field of Touraine after the stress of life at court. Valentine, daughter of the Count of St. Bris, enters and tells Margaret news—she has succeeded in breaking her engagement to marry the Count of Nevers, news in which both rejoice, for Valentine does not love the man, and Margaret has other plans for her. Valentine and some of the ladies go away as Raoul is brought before Margaret and the bandage removed from his eyes; though astonished to find himself before Margaret of Valois, he gallantly offers her his sword and service. She tells him of her desire for him to marry Valentine and as he knows of Margaret’s ambition to reconcile Catholic and Protestant by this union, he consents. The nobles of the Court are summoned and when they appear they gather around the Queen and in commemoration of the union of Raoul and Valentine swear an oath of eternal truce between their parties. Valentine is brought in to be presented to her betrothed, Raoul recoils in horror and exclaims, “I her husband?” for he recognizes in Valentine the woman who called secretly on the Count of Nevers. All present are filled with the greatest consternation; Valentine is overcome with shame, and St. Bris, furious at the insult to his daughter, joins with Nevers in swearing vengeance. Margaret’s presence does indeed prevent immediate bloodshed, but her hopes of uniting the warring factions are forever shattered.

Act III

Scene—A Square in Paris

Near the entrance to a chapel on the banks of the Seine, a group of Catholic students has gathered about the doors of an inn; and at another inn across the way a number of Huguenot soldiers have met to drink and play dice. Townspeople of all sorts pass to and fro, their many-colored costumes adding glamour to the brilliant sunlight. A bridal procession passes—Valentine and the Count of Nevers are to be married. While the bridal party is in the chapel, Marcel enters with a message for St. Bris, from Raoul. The wedding over, Valentine remains in the chapel to pray alone and Marcel presents the message to St. Bris; it proves to be a challenge. The nobles re-enter the chapel.

Twilight falls, the curfew sounds, and the people disperse. Valentine comes from the chapel in deathly terror, for she has overheard the nobles plotting to kill Raoul. She finds Marcel waiting for his master, and warns him of the plan. It is too late for him to see Raoul before the hour of the duel, so he hastily gathers a group of Huguenot friends nearby. The two parties prove to be evenly matched, a serious fray is threatened and, in fact, is prevented only by the arrival of Margaret of Valois, who happens to be passing. Raoul also learns that he has deeply wronged Valentine, for her visit to Nevers was made at the request of Margaret merely to break off the engagement. His remorse comes too late, for now Valentine is married to this man she never loved, and a boat, gay with lanterns and music, has come up the Seine to take her to the Count’s home.

Act IV

Scene—A Room in Nevers’ Castle

Alone at her new home, Valentine still thinks of Raoul, who suddenly and unexpectedly appears. He so longs to see Valentine that he has entered the castle at the risk of his life; she warns him but he insists on remaining and scarcely has time to hide behind the tapestry before St. Bris, Nevers, and other leaders of the Catholic party, enter. Thus the young Protestant overhears the whole ghastly plot for the massacre of the Huguenots. Nevers alone among them refuses to swear allegiance to the plan; he is led away under guard. While all draw their swords, three Monks who have entered bless them.

The crowd having departed, Raoul comes cautiously from his hiding place; he would run to warn his friends. Valentine meets him, and fearing he may kill her father she will not let him go. They sing a surpassingly beautiful duet which is interrupted by the sinister tolling of the great bell of St. Germain, the preliminary signal for the slaughter. Raoul makes an effort to rush to the aid of his people; Valentine clings to him. Pointing to the street below he shows her that the massacre has already begun, then tears himself from her arms and leaps through the window.

Act V

Scene—Ballroom of the Hôtel de Nesle

The Huguenots are celebrating the marriage of Margaret to Henry of Navarre. Raoul enters calling his brethren to arms. He describes the murder of Coligny and the slaughter in the streets of Paris.

Valentine finds Raoul in a cemetery in front of a Protestant chapel. She implores him to convert. Raoul refuses. Valentine then decides to embrace Protestantism and asks Marcel to bless their union. Inside the church, women are singing the Lutheran chorale. The trio that follows is one of the highpoints of the opera. Marcel blesses the two lovers and asks them to confirm their faith. The scene culminates in the unison singing of “Ein feste Burg.”

Valentine and Marcel are supporting a mortally wounded Raoul. St. Bris arrives leading a group of soldiers. Recognizing Raoul as a Huguenot, they fire their muskets. Raoul, Vallentine and Marcel all fall to the ground. St. Bris only then realizes that he has killed his own daughter. Margaret arrives, putting an end to the massacre.

[Note: In many productions, because of the great length of Meyerbeer’s work, the fifth act is drastically cut, sometimes in its entirety. Also, “Ein feste Burg” is a Lutheran chorale that was not part of the Huguenot liturgy. Being Calvinists, tunes from the Geneva Psalter would have been more appropriate, the most famous of which is the Old Hundredth. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Hundredth]

Click here for the complete libretto

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Huguenot.png image_description=The Huguenot bySir John Everett Millais audio=yes first_audio_name=Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864): Les Huguenots
WinAMP or VLC first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Huguenots1.m3u second_audio_name=Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864): Les Huguenots
Windows Media Player second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Huguenots1.wax product=yes product_title=Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864): Les Huguenots (Sung in German) product_by=Valerie Bak (Margaret of Valois), Karl Terkal (Raoul de Nangis), Walter Berry (Count of St. Bris), Maud Cunitz (Valentine), Eta Köhrer (Urbain), Gottlob Frick (Marcel), Franz Fuchs (Nevers), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Grosses Wiener Rundfunkorchester, Robert Heger (cond.)
Live performance, December 1955, Vienna
Posted by Gary at 3:59 PM

VIVALDI: Sacred Music 2

And with the second volume in this complete series from Naxos, the Canadian Aradia Ensemble under the direction of Kevin Mallon, with soprano Tracy Smith Bessette and contralto Marion Newman present a cohesive program of solo works.

Some of the music is sublime: the opening stanza of the Stabat Mater, for instance, with its expressive use of chromaticism, augmented-sixth harmony, and sumptious sequences is memorable by any standards. Other works, by contrast, fail the memorability test--the “Alleluia” to “Canta in prato,,” for instance, never rises above the pedestrian--but in a recording of the complete sacred works, the mighty must be taken along with the meek.

The performances, like the music itself, are also uneven. Both soloists execute Vivaldi’s florid writing—writing that Denis Arnold long ago aptly likened to Vivaldi’s violinistic passage work—with confidence, although the vibrancy and fullness of their tones makes it seem like hard work. Smith Bessette’s gentler passages, like the “Sit nomen” from “Laudate pueri” are more successful, for here she can bring her attractive warmth of sound to the fore. Elsewhere the extent of her vibrato creates stylistic issues, particularly where the vibrato on weak syllables in a “strong-weak” pattern subverts the rhythmic contour, as in the “Excelsus super” in “Laudate pueri.”

Newman’s tone is beautifully rich. However, the richness occasionally detracts from the contours of Vivaldi’s sinewy lines, as in the opening of “Stabat Mater.” For many, I suspect, the touchstone performance of the “Stabat Mater” remains James Bowman’s with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Musick (L’Oiseau-Lyre 414 329 2), a performance difficult to rival in terms of sheer sonic beauty. In referencing the earlier recording an important contrast emerges: that between female alto and male countertenor. Generalizations are both difficult and unwise—falsettists and “contraltos” come in all sizes and shapes and make a wide variety of sounds. In this particular case, however, the contrast is between a rich female timbre, sometimes in an awkwardly low register, and a highly focused, lean, vowel-rich falsetto sound. The clarity of the line and its contours seem advantageously served by the latter.

The Aradia Ensemble is an orchestra that plays with a fine sense of historical style. However, too often here one seems to want more . . . more rhythmic exhilaration in those passages of typical Vivaldi drive, and more extravagant tone in sensuous passages. In the final reckoning this is a recording perhaps more welcome for presenting the repertory than for the actual renditions themselves. The performances are competent and more, certainly, but rarely are they distinctively compelling.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Vivaldi_Sacred2.png image_description=Antonio Vivaldi: Sacred Music 2. product=yes product_title=Antonio Vivaldi: Sacred Music 2.
Laudate pueri Dominum, RV 600; Stabat Mater, RV 621; Canta in prato, ride in monte, RV 623; Clarae stellae, scintillate, RV 625. product_by=Tracy Smith Bessette, soprano; Marion Newman, contralto; Aradia Ensemble; Kevin Mallon, Director. product_id=Naxos 8.557852 [CD] price=$8.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0747313285228&bfmtype=music
Posted by Gary at 1:34 PM

A '50s-style 'Cinderella' pops

By David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 November 2006]

Producing anything far out of the ordinary often seems beyond the Opera Company of Philadelphia and so not to the taste of its often-cranky subscribers.

Posted by Gary at 10:02 AM

BSO unlocks the secrets of young Bartok's 'Bluebeard'

By Jeremy Eichler [Boston Globe, 10 November 2006]

Bartok's arresting one-act opera, "Duke Bluebeard's Castle" is an implacably dark tale about untethered emotions, padlocked secrets, and the dangers of prying open the hidden chambers of the soul. James Levine led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a chilling performance of this rarely heard work last night, paired with Brahms's First Symphony.

Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

Porgy and Bess

Michael Billington [Guardian, 10 November 2006]

Opera or musical? A piece of low-life realism or racial condescension? Arguments have raged about George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess; but, if Trevor Nunn's lovingly detailed revival proves anything, it is that the work itself is an intriguing period-piece rather than a timeless classic.

Posted by Gary at 9:50 AM

November 9, 2006

Franco Corelli: The 1971 Tokyo Concert

He didn’t believe for a moment that Dynamic had used the original Japanese NHK tapes though the sleeve mentions ‘licensed by NHK’. I’m not sure this less than pristine quality is Dynamic’s fault. By the early seventies filming a broadcast (kinescope) was replaced by early video taping. I remember one old pro at my own company (Flemish Public TV) saying that such a video needed to be recopied each year or otherwise it would lose its quality. Of course no TV-station had the money and the people necessary for such an operation and ten years later the results were clearly there for everybody to see or, more exactly, not to see.

I yield to no one in my admiration of Franco Corelli. After all, he clinched my musical future on that day of April the 20th 1958 when, together with Sarah Vaughan and Vico Torriani (a Swiss pop singer), ‘a young promising Italian tenor’ as Flemish Public Radio announced, would end the Opening Concert of the Brussels World Exhibition. I was 14 and liked Lanza and Schmidt; but I was still susceptible enough to listen to popular singers like Vera Lynn, Edith Piaf and especially Freddy Quin (a fine German popular singer). That went all out of the window with Corelli’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’, ‘Una vergin’,’Nessun dorma’ and ‘Granada’ as an encore. That ‘young promising tenor’ already proved to have the most exciting tenor sound of the last fifty years. That doesn’t mean I'm blind or deaf. Corelli often attacked a high note from below; he was not always a paragon of style; and, during his later years, the conductor had two choices: either indulging the tenor in everything (as does Alberto Ventura on this tape) or lay down his baton.

The Corelli voice evolved a lot during his twenty years at the top. The pronounced vibrato disappeared completely by the second decade of his career. When he disappeared after his Verona performances in 1975 to emerge only for two last Bohèmes one year later, there was (and there still is) talk of a singer who couldn’t stand the heat any more, whose nerves had melted down and who disappeared at the height of his career. This is simply not true. Loretta Di Lelio recorded every performance of her husband and Corelli clearly knew that his voice was going down the drain. There were still some good days (my Verona Carmen in August 1975 was one) but the bad days were far more numerous. There seem to be two important dates. In 1969 he stopped singing for six months altogether due to the Metropolitan strike and I wonder if he kept up his daily exercises. In his live recordings dating from the end of 1969 there are some dry patches. But the real watershed came three years later. His Werthers of 1971 still give us a lot of Franco Corelli of yore. The live recordings of 1972 give us a voice in difficulties: the big sound is still there but the tenor sings in short guffaws of explosive sound and there is no longer beauty on the voice which has dried out remarkably.

This is quite an introduction to discuss the well-known Tokyo concert of 1971; recorded (lucky for us) during the last months of his better though not of his great days. By that time he had a lot of experience in resting his voice: at the Met he often lipped instead of singing during ensembles. In a concert like this Tokyo one he prefers very short arias like ‘Questa o quella’ or ‘Ch’ella mi creda’; he cuts the recitative to ‘Un di all’azurro’ and his four encores of famous Neapolitan songs are extremely shortened versions. Though he is in excellent voice, he cuts notes short and makes grating noises in his lower register due to his lowered larynx technique. ‘Che gelida manina’ is transposed one full tone and ‘O Paradiso’ needs an extra breath here and there. On the other hand, there is still the incomparable power of the voice. The sheen is still there. He is at his best in the Chénier piece and he makes some magnificent noises in some of the Italian songs. The well-known nervousness is there too and it lasts some arias before he relaxes and smiles. Remarkable is his use of ‘stolen breath’ or ‘fiato rubato’. For someone with a shattering volume, Corelli almost imperceptibly catches his breath. Apart from the tremendous live Forza of 1958 there are almost no live recordings of the great tenor (most are synchronized ones) and therefore this is still an important issue.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Corelli_Tokyo.png image_description=Franco Corelli: The 1971 Tokyo Concert product=yes product_title=Franco Corelli: The 1971 Tokyo Concert product_by=Franco Corelli, tenor; NHK Orchestra; Alberto Ventura, conductor product_id=Dynamic 33515 [DVD] price=$30.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FI9OG8?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000FI9OG8&adid=11CHTKS21783PFX2HM7D&
Posted by Gary at 5:11 PM

New Babylon

commune_barricades.pngGeoff Brown at the Barbican [Times Online, 10 November 2006]

No Shostakovich bonanza would be complete without some live performance of New Babylon, his only silent-film score, written in a flurry of experimentation early in 1929. But reviving Kozintsev and Trauberg’s whirling drama of the 1871 Paris Commune has never been an easy task.

Posted by Gary at 2:51 PM

An Opera Returns, Like the Tide

Kasarova_Hosl.png(Photo: Wilfried Hösl)
By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 9 November 2006]

The argument doesn’t exactly rage but it does go on — why does some music live past its own age, while some is very nearly left behind? One answer is a certain kind of quality, a genetic makeup that appeals as much now as it did then. There is also luck, good and bad.

Posted by Gary at 2:40 PM

Orlando, Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London

By David Murray [Financial Times, 9 November 2006]

The old Handel Opera annual series at Sadler’s Wells, which enlisted even the likes of Dame Joan Sutherland, have been greatly missed. In England, at least, Handel’s many operas have been ignored by the Covent Garden and English National Opera repertoires – yet they are regularly performed at most other opera houses in the west, as they deserve to be.

Posted by Gary at 2:28 PM

A Rarity in Top Form

By JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 9 November 2006]

Opera Orchestra of New York, or OONY, performs two main services: It gives us operas rarely seen in opera houses. (These are concert performances, in Carnegie Hall.) And it gives us singers: sensational ones, often unorthodox ones. OONY is a presenter for voice nuts. And on Tuesday night, they were appeased and gratified.

Posted by Gary at 2:23 PM

MOZART: Die Zauberflöte

In other words, this Die Zauberflöte is a live recording — for all intents and purposes, the only sort of opera set the larger recording companies release these days. Live recording techniques have advanced so remarkably that until the applause breaks out (as it only does at the opera's conclusion), this well-engineered release could pass for a studio effort.

What it gains, as long-time collectors of live recordings already know well, is the immediacy and cohesion of actual performance. But with the DVD market burgeoning, why not just present the entire performance, not just the audio? The photographs inside the CD booklet suggest an attractive staging.

The focus of DG's marketing seems to be on the conducting of Claudio Abbado. His name has the largest font size on the cover, and a sticker on the front proclaims "Abbado's first ever Magic Flute." So if the emphasis is on the conductor, a CD makes sense. A brief note tells us that Abbado went back to Mozart's autograph, but then continues to sheepishly inform the reader that the chief product of this research involves the instrumentation of "four string chords" before a Pamina number. Abbado has always been a beloved person, and his opera credentials cannot be questioned, especially considering such classic Verdi sets as his DG Simon Boccanegra. Since his recovery from a near-fatal bout with cancer, his reputation has taken on a spiritual aura. Thankfully, this Die Zauberflöte doesn't come across as a pontifical pronouncement. Instead, Abbado relishes the high spirits and exuberance of the score, with the weightier music of the second act given its due but not slowing the opera down. With crisp playing from the Mahler Chamber orchestra, Abbado produces a lean, but never mean Die Zauberflöte.

A strong cast somehow falls shy of bringing as much individuality to their performances as Abbado does with his orchestral leadership. A star Sarastro, René Pape, relies on the undeniable tonal pleasure of his oaken timbre. His wry humor and sensuality, of course, don't belong here, but they are missed. Erika Miklósa goes for a lighter, brighter Queen of the Night sound, and she scores points with the sharpness of her attack in her second act showpiece. On stage Hanno Müller-Brachmann's burly, even boorish Papageno presumably came across better. As the young lovers, Dorothea Röschmann and Christopher Strehl lack memorability, especially in comparison to great singers in earlier recordings.

Pape will star soon in Kenneth Branagh's film version of this opera, and numerous DVDs are available. In fact, the Metropolitan Opera will begin its series of relayed broadcasts to movie theaters with the hit Julie Taymor production at the end of this year. No one, it seems, need fear a lack of access to a recording of this beloved classic. For collectors of Abbado, no more need be said. All others need to strictly evaluate their shelf space. If there's room, this set should be a pleasant addition.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Zauberfloete.png image_description=Die Zauberflöte product=yes product_title=W. A. Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (K. 620) product_by=Sarastro: René Pape; Königin der Nacht: Erika Miklósa; Pamina: Dorothea Röschmann; Tamino: Christoph Strehl; Papageno: Hanno Müller-Brachmann; Papagena: Julia Kleiter; Sprecher: Georg Zeppenfeld; Monostatos: Kurt Azesberger; Erste Dame: Caroline Stein; Zweite Dame: Heidi Zehnder; Dritte Dame: Anne-Caroline Schlüter; Drei Knaben: Alexander Lischke, Frederic Jost, Niklas Mallmann (Soloists from Tölzer Knabenchor); Erster geharnischter Mann: Danilo Formaggia; Zweiter geharnischter Mann: Sascha Borris; Erster Priester: Andreas Bauer; Zweiter Priester: Danilo Formaggia; Dritter Priester: Tobias Beyer; Drei Sklaven: Matthias Bernhold, Martin Olbertz, Tobias Beyer; Arnold Schönberg Chor (Chorus Master: Erwin Ortner); Mahler Chamber Orchestra; Claudio Abbado (cond.) product_id= DG 00289 477 5789 [2CDs] price=$30.58 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0028947757894&bfmtype=music
Posted by Gary at 12:58 PM

Preview: The Queen Of Spades, Royal Opera House, London

khudoley.pngA passionate journey from light into dark
By Michael Church [Independent, 9 November 2006]

With Semyon Bychkov in the pit, Larissa Diadkova as the Countess, Vassily Gerello as Tomsky and Vladimir Galouzine as the doom-laden Herman, this revival of Tchaikovsky's dark masterpiece will be Russian through and through. Mlada Khudoley, the Muscovite soprano new in the role of Lisa, will feel perfectly at home.

Posted by Gary at 10:22 AM

November 8, 2006

Tamerlano, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

tamerlane.pngBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 8 November 2006]

Reduced to four productions per season, Scottish Opera’s choices are unenviable. As a subsidised company it can’t just do Tosca and La traviata – but if it is to go beyond the “popular” without depleting its audience, it needs to choose carefully. Better follow the ensemble principle – establish the resources, then see what is possible – than choose an opera and see if it can be cast. But Scottish Opera has taken the latter route.

Posted by Gary at 2:31 PM

November 7, 2006

On The Academy of Vocal Arts

Established in 1933 during the Great Depression, Helen Corning Warden, a prominent member of Philadelphia society, recognized the need for a school where talented Amerian singers could receive the highest quality operatic training they needed to master their art. Until the school’s establishment, American singers typically turned to European training, where well renowned voice teachers and coaches were easily accessible. But such training was long and costly, especially during America’s troubled economic times. With the encouragement of voice teacher Edgar Milton Cooke, Mrs. Warden and her friends established “The School for Vocal Scholarships,” a school that would provide tuition-free education.

The Helen Corning Warden Theater at The Academy of Vocal ArtsAVA_Stage.png



AVA continues to provide tuition-free vocal and opera training of the highest quality, and financial support during training, to exceptionally talented and committed young singers who have the potential for international stature, and to present them in professional performances that are accessible to a wide community. Resident artists receive intensive training in voice, acting, stage combat, repertoire, languages, (Italian, French, German, ESL as well as diction in Spanish and Russian.) and other related subjects necessary for an operatic career. In recent years, AVA has presented four to five operas, as well as concerts and recitals. Some operas are presented with full orchestra, sets and costumes. Others are concert form with and without orchestra, and some are staged, with piano accompaniment. All are performed in the original language with English supertitles.

Gifted singers come from throughout the world to seek the exceptional training that The Academy of Vocal Arts offers. AVA is unique, not only because it is a fully tuition-free institution that focuses solely on operatic training, but also because it has established a niche as an organization that produces opera, thus integrating both professional and educational components. Admission into AVA’s four-year program is highly competitive. AVA receives over 200 applications each year and accepts eight to ten singers on average. The total student population numbers between twenty-seven and thirty. Those who are accepted are immersed in an intensive performance program led by some of the most dedicated and inspired teachers and creative artists in the world of opera today.

Eric T. Dubin as Rigoletto, James Valenti as the Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto, May, 2006) AVA_Rigoletto.png



Over the past seven decades, outstanding singers of international stature have attended AVA, including David Adams, Lando Bartolini, Gwendolyn Bradley, Thomas Carson, Elizabeth Carter, Richard Clark, Dominic Cossa, John Darrenkamp, Joyce DiDonato, Harry Dworchak, Ryan Edwards, Wilhelmina Fernandez, Allan Glassman, Vernon Hartman, Nancy Herrera, Luis Ledesma, Daniel Mobbs, James Morris, Stuart Neill, James Pease, David Poleri, Julien Robbins, Valerian Ruminski, Jane Shaulis, Hugh Smith, Ruth Ann Swenson, Indra Thomas, Richard Troxell, Victoria Vergara, Stephen West, and Beverly Wolff.

Sarah Hoffman

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/AVA_Don_Giovanni.png image_description=Elspeth Kincaid as Zerlina, Jesús Ibarra as Masetto (Don Giovanni, Nov. 2005) product=yes product_title=Above: Elspeth Kincaid as Zerlina, Jesús Ibarra as Masetto (Don Giovanni, Nov. 2005) product_by=All photos courtesy of The Academy of Vocal Arts
Posted by Gary at 2:41 PM

Der doppelte Diven-Geburtstag

Jones_Gwyneth.jpgAuch engelstrompeten müssen authentisch sein: Die australische Sängerin Joan Sutherland feiert am Dienstag 80. Geburtstag, und Gwyneth Jones, ihre Kollegein aus Wales, wird 70 Jahre alt.

Von Manuel Brug [Die Welt, 7 November 2006]

Beide waren sie stupend - jede auf ihre Weise. Doch nur eine bekam auch den Ehrentitel "La Stupenda" verliehen: Joan Sutherland, die Australierin, die auf den Spuren ihrer Landsfrau Nellie Melba, vor allem aber der Callas (mit der sie 1953 als Anfängerin in Covent Garden bei "Norma" auf der Bühne stand) mit einer Perlenschnur von Raritäten den Belcanto zu einer im 20. Jahrhundert nie gekannten Blüte führte. Die Waliserin Gwyneth Jones war in ihrer Glanzzeit in lyrisch-dramatischen Rollen eine Menschendarstellerin von eindrücklicher Statur.

Posted by Gary at 8:38 AM

The diva, the director and a fight at the Russian opera

Vishnevskaya.jpgBy Andrew Osborn in Moscow [Independent, 6 November 2006]

Russia's world-famous Bolshoi Theatre is at war. It is a battle that has pitted the traditionalists against the modernists and left the illustrious theatre scrabbling to defend its hard-won artistic reputation.

Posted by Gary at 8:27 AM

La voix humaine, Grand Theatre, Leeds

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 6 November 2006]

Elle, the jilted lover at the end of a telephone line in Poulenc’s monodrama, does not need beautiful looks.

Posted by Gary at 8:11 AM

Following a Bread-Crumbed Trail From the 1890s

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 6 November 2006]

There’s a basic problem with children’s opera: it’s still opera. That is, it may be framed for children, but you still need big voices to get across an orchestra, and you still have to be prepared for opera’s generous scale and time frame. And yet you don’t get the big emotional or intellectual payoffs of a “Traviata” or a “Walküre” because it’s, well, for children.

Posted by Gary at 8:07 AM

November 3, 2006

A very political Querelle

pergolesi.pngThe story of how one modest opera changed the face of France

Guy Dammann [Guardian, 3 November 2006]

On the first evening of August 1752, the audience of the most prestigious theatre in Paris witnessed an unusual lack of spectacle. With none of the lavish sets, enormous companies or elaborate stage machinery employed for its standard repertoire, and with the uneasy steps of a troupe of unknown Italian players more used to outdoor stages and provincial theatres, the boards of the Opéra played host to a modest production of a simple comic opera - La Serva Padrona by Pergolesi.

Posted by Gary at 8:15 AM