December 30, 2006

Opera as you've never seen it: La Scala cancels controversial 'Candide'

By Peter Popham [The Independent, 30 December 2006]

La Scala, Italy's most famous opera house, is in the news again after the cancellation of a production of Voltaire's Candide that is drawing rave reviews in Paris. The show was to open in June.

Posted by Gary at 3:23 PM

December 29, 2006

VERDI: Aida

Traditional productions of Aida can become so encumbered with faux-Egyptian bric-brac and gaudy pageantry that the human heart of the story lies smothered underneath. For some, then, Wilson's approach cleanses the time-worn body of Verdi's masterpiece. For others, the bathwater may not be missed - but where's the baby?

OpusArte's DVD release of Wilson's Aida production at La Monnaie-De Munt from October 2004 will not be likely to add further converts to the store of Wilson fans. For whatever reason, the performers seem to be a rehearsal or two away from full comfort (if such is possible) with Wilsons' style. The close-up perspectives provided by the cameras reveal awkward countenances of forced concentration, as the singers try to remember at what uncomfortable angle their arms should should fold into next, or when to indicate a higher pitch of passion by twirling once. Wilson can be counted on to create at least a few moments of austere beauty, and those occur here too. But too often the blue pallor of the lighting suggests an Aida drained of its life-blood.

No fault for this lies with conductor Kazushi Ono, who guides the Monnaie forces through a lucid, detailed reading. In fact, the sheer energy and vitality of Verdi's score forces Wilson to actually allowing his singer/actors some more natural movement at times, with Ildiko Komlosi in particular taking the opportunity to unlock herself from a contorted pose and express Amneris's growing rage and frustration. As Amonasro, Mark Doss also manages to sing with such force (if not beauty) that he seems to have wandered in from a different production - at least until the ludicrous staging of the end of act three, when instead of fleeing he must follow the director's wishes and "glide" off the stage as the priest's guards stand immobile.

The best of the show comes at the end, in a scene often clumsy to stage in a traditional production. Radames and Aida do not find themselves in an actual tomb, but on a darkened stage, with eerie blue lights on their faces. This haunting spectral image serves as potent reminder of the latent power of an effective Wilson production - which most of the rest of this Aida does not.

Not helping matters, the three leads' singing fails to add any substantial insight or beauty to the proceedings. Norma Fantini stretches to encompass the demands of the title role, and the effort is felt too often. Marco Berti has a large, handsome voice, but one lacking true character. Not known as an actor in any staging, Berti's work here indicates that Wilson still needs some sort of vocal characterization to accompany his uniform approach to acting. Komlosi has the passion, as described above; the voice itself comes across as slightly worn and edgy.

Among the many other DVD versions of Aida, two especially come to mind as "antidotes," if you will, to the Wilson style. Franco Zefferelli leads a cast of very young singers in an intimate production from Verdi's hometown theater of Busetto. And from the 1980s in Verona comes a high-calorie staging, with a strong cast relishing the chance to eat into every square inch of granite scenery. Only the most confirmed Wilson devotees will find much to enjoy in this Monnaie version, however.

Chris Mullins

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image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Aida

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product_by= Norma Fantini, Marco Berti, Ildiko Komlosi, Mark Doss, Orlin Anastassov, Guido Jentjens, Symphony Orchestra and Choir of La Monnaie - De Munt, Kazushi Ono (cond.). Stage director Robert Wilson.
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Posted by Gary at 10:29 AM

December 28, 2006

Un "Idoménée" où la musique est reine

tilling_camilla3.png(Photo: Anna Hult) [Le Monde, 28 December 2006]

Idoménée (1781), de Mozart, n'a pas eu beaucoup de chance depuis dix ans à l'Opéra de Paris. On se souvient de l'échec que connut, en 1996, la mise en scène de feu Jean-Pierre Miquel, sous l'ère Hugues Gall, et du naufrage que fut, en 2002, celle que le même directeur avait eu la faiblesse de confier au chef d'orchestre Ivan Fischer.

Posted by Gary at 6:51 PM

Met's `Magic Flute,' Soul Stars, River Fireworks: London Picks

zauberflote_met.pngBy Iain Millar [Bloomberg.com, 28 December 2006]

Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Londoners need not fear the alarming, high-pitched sounds emerging from some movie houses over the next few days -- it's probably just the Queen of the Night doing her shtick in a long-distance production of the ``Magic Flute.''

Posted by Gary at 6:44 PM

Buying Classical CDs in a Post-Tower-Records World

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 28 December 2006]

When it’s time to recommend noteworthy recordings of the year, I prefer to focus on new releases, not reissues. Still, some of the recordings I was most excited by in 2006 were boxed-set releases of historic items. Before getting to that, though, an obvious question comes up.

Posted by Gary at 6:40 PM

MOZART: The Glyndebourne Collection

The answer is a simple one: those who like traditional productions that highly respect the intentions and instructions of the composer and librettists. Therefore, don’t expect a severed head of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, founder of Islam, to make its appearance in Idomeneo under review here.

It is ironic to read some of the original reviews in Opera Magazine. Editor Harold Rosenthal discusses the première of Die Entführung in the following words:

Mozart was really betrayed on this occasion. I cannot remember having seen so willful a production of this opera before, or one in which a producer seemed to break even the elementary rules of operatic production.
Then one is completely mystified at the breathtaking traditional production 27 years later and wonders if Rosenthal had gone out of his wits (after all, he was of the opinion, too, that Franco Corelli in one of the greatest live performances ever – La Scala’s Poliuto – was only so and so).

Of course, Rosenthal’s opinions betray how far we’ve come nowadays. He takes offence at a few extras performing some tasks during an aria, though there are no extraordinary antics taking place and everything is firmly placed in the time and the surroundings demanded by Mozart. Rosenthal has one valid point when he writes that “ a wretched cage of doves belting and cooing audibly in direct competition to the soprano was unforgivable”. However “routine, the great saviour of operatic production” as Marcel Prawy, the dean of Viennese critics used to say, had already killed this birdish competition the moment the performance was recorded for TV in which Valerie Masterson sings ‘Martern aller Arten’ without dovish accompaniment.

Seen from our point of view, it strikes me that director Peter Wood used this production (in pre-politically correct times) to show the cruelty of Islamic courts towards women and European prisoners. It is this seriousness that is the common theme of all the performances under review and this can be no co-incidence. John Cox and Peter hall (each 2 productions) and Adrian Slack (1 production) all underline that there is more to Mozart operas than light-hearted comedy. Hall in Le Nozze (still the best Nozze around in my opinion) proves convincingly that there is something dangerous going on between Cherubino and the countess. This something is more than the arousal of youthful hormones of an adolescent. Why would they otherwise lock the door ? One chillingly realizes that Cherubino probably wouldn’t have survived his infatuation if he hadn’t escaped through the window. There wouldn’t have been a complaint if the count had run him through or shot him in a duel. This Nozze anticipates the revolution that will soon tear France apart.

Similarly, Don Giovanni is not only a libertine but a vicious cruel man with a sadistic streak as well. Even Cosi fan tutte in Slack’s production is more than a comedy of manners but reminds us that it is the story of cheap betrayal. Cox in Die Zauberflöte doesn’t give us the somewhat simple bird catcher but introduces a Papageno who has killed all the birds he has caught and is now selling the cadavers at the highest price possible. Not that these productions are without humour. On the contrary, Stafford Dean is a magnificent Leporello, a master of sly wit, and James Hoback as Pedrillo in ‘Die Entführung’ has some very amusing and clever ideas to trick Osmin. Yet humour is not performed for its own sake but always to illustrate the seriousness and dangers around the corner.

It takes a viewing of all these DVD’s before one realizes this seriousness because at first one is distracted by the surprising sets and costumes. Nowadays we are so used to distortions, ugly dresses, stylized general all-purpose sets and costumes that it will take some time to register that Zauberflöte is indeed set, as originally intended, in old Egypt, that Cosi has Naples in the 18th century as a background, that Don Giovanni really plays in Spain. After this “great new discovery,” one realizes how much more this unity of music and libretto helps us to understand the drama without, for example, the irritatingly jarring anachronisms in Sellar’s Don Giovanni production. At the time of its première, New York’s crime rate had risen, with more than 2,000 murders a year. New Yorkers ridiculed the soft beating of Leporello in his Bronx surroundings; knowing all too well that even a blink of an eye could lead to a murderous spray of bullets.

Striking, too, in all these Glyndebourne productions is the eye for correct details. I’ve seen too many Cosi’s where Guglielmo and Ferrando take up their rifles or muskets to leave urgently for war. Here they pick up their sabres, as no officer would ever carry a musket.

Consistency is also to be found in the casting. According to Glyndebourne’s tradition, experienced singers and potentially gifted youngsters are judiciously mixed. There is even consistency in the weak point of almost all performances — the tenor’s lack of talent. Leo Goeke is especially a fly in the ointment. While he can still produce some decent sounds as Idamante in the 1974 Idomeneo, three years later the voice has lost all charm in Don Giovanni where the top is too open. A public generous with applause elsewhere doesn’t move a finger after his arias. In Zauberflöte one year later he is just stylish, which is all that can be positively said. Still, he isn’t the small disaster that Anson Austin is as Ferrando in Cosi — a voice with some metal, though no beauty, that always hovers on the brink of disaster. Richard Lewis as Idomeneo reminds me too much of the white sounding English oratorio tenor. One grudgingly admits that Pavarotti with his true Italian sound has spoilt us in a role that calls for a real tenor. Only Ryland Davis in Entführung makes a true hero with a bigger sound than we expect in the role. Perhaps James Hoback didn’t have a big career; but here he sings a splendid Pedrillo far from the usual castrato sound some lesser singers give us.

With the lower voices, however, we are often blessed. Benjamin Luxon stars in three roles: Don Giovanni (mean but very convincing with a high baritone that contrasts well with the lower voices of Masetto and Leporello), Count Almaviva (threatening but with much beauty of tone) and Papageno. Tom Allen is the rich voiced Guglielmo. Knut Skram a most convincing Figaro. Whillard White is not a deep bass, but what a rolling voice he employs as Osman and Stafford Dean gives everybody an object lesson in how to sing and to act Leporello. I was surprised to learn that Frantz Petri, a Frenchman notwithstanding his German name, had “a light and unsubstantial” voice as Alfonso according to the critics of the time. That is not the impression one gains from this DVD: the miracle of the mike?

Most of the ladies are particularly fine as well. No more words need to be said regarding Te Kanawa’s countess or von Stade’s Cherubino. These are definitive portraits by two singers in the bloom of their youth. The box is almost worth purchasing for these two singers alone. Add to them Cotrubas’ Susanna and one sighs “they don’t make them like that anymore”. In Cosi one enjoys two Swedish ladies, both shamefully neglected by the recording industry. Not all their coloratura is perfect but the voices are so impressively coloured and blend so well that one has look at their dresses to know who is Sylvia Lindenstrand and who is Helena Doese. Both beauties are so alike one would almost believe they are twins, which effect makes the simplistic story all at once very believable.

Don Giovanni has the surprise of the French soprano, Rachel Yakar. Now a respected teacher, she is one of the best Elvira’s around with that beautiful and supple Italian sound. She, too, is rarely to be found on record. Horiana Branisteanu’s lyric Anna is not on Yakar’s level but as the voices contrast so well, one finally has no trouble distinguishing between Elvira and Anna. Dame Felicity Lott and Valerie Masterson were still at the outset of their careers, both sounding fresh and lovely. These DVD’s remind us too that not all promising singers (wonderful Lilian Watson as Blondchen, spirited Elizabeth Gale as Zerlina and Danièle Perriers as Despina) make it into the big league, though judging from these performances they surely had the talent.

Another of the joys of these DVD’s is the consistency of the orchestral playing, no doubt also due to the fact that four of these performances are conducted by the somewhat underrated John Pritchard: urgent and sincere in Nozze, forceful in Idomeneo and unhurried but decisive in Cosi. Don Giovanni has the strong personality of Bernard Haitink at the helm, redeeming himself according to the critics from a less successful run of the same opera at Covent Garden. In this performance there is nothing to be found of the slackness he was accused of during the London performances. The appoggiatura cult, however, was still in its early days when it was still possible for a conductor to ban them as Haitink does here (at the reprise in 1978 he allowed them to make their appearance). In Nozze, Pritchard rather haphazardly introduces them as well.

Gustav Kuhn is a less well-known name but he proves he has Mozart in his fingers. As befits festival productions — this was still rare 30 years ago — we are always given the full scores. For example, the two tenor arias in Cosi and, even more remarkably, Arbace’s aria in Idomeneo are rarely performed today. One wonders if this wasn’t too much for the house. Figaro, which runs for more than three hours, includes the Marcellina and Basilio arias. On DVD full scores are a plus point however. TV director Dave Heather recorded the performances without using video tricks that later became annoying with the overuse of split screen, mixing of two heads etc. A small drawback may be that picture quality is not always pristine. Don Giovanni and Entführung are a little bit (and the accent is on little) murky but if you are in for fine traditional productions with often very well sung performances, this needn’t deter you. A splendid set.

Jan Neckers

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image_description=W. A. Mozart: The Glyndebourne Collection

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product_title=W. A. Mozart: The Glyndebourne Collection
Così Fan Tutte (1975); Don Giovanni (1977); Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1980); Idomeneo (1974); Le Nozze di Figaro (1973); Die Zauberflöte (1978)
product_by=Click here for cast lists.
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Posted by Gary at 3:52 PM

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov

Now TDK has released another fine Decker effort, Boris Godunov, with sets and costumes designed by John MacFarlane. Recorded in October 2004 at the Liceu in Barcelona, the staging displays all of Decker's strengths, from the preference for contemporary costumes and a spare set with a few well-chosen props to, most importantly, a great talent for dramatic, involving stage movement.

In a short pantomime as the opera begins, the son of Tsar Ivan, Dmitri, plays with a crown as he sits on the frame of a huge, over-turned golden chair. Three sinister men approach him, surround him, and leave his murdered body on the ground, as the chorus streams in from the rear to call for Boris to take the throne. That huge chair dominates the action in most scenes, carried in and out, sometimes with Boris astride it. Decker also uses painted images of Dmitri as a constant reminder of the guilt secret behind Boris's rise to power. Decker manages to employ these devices without making overt, symbolic statements - the images truly highlight the action, rather than simply interpret it. The resulting effect makes the drama all the more involving, where a more plush, traditional approach can distance some audiences from the story.

Matti Salminen surely deserves a showcase performance opportunity such as this opera provides. A strong, commanding bass, he is also an imposing stage presence, never overplaying but always finding the heart of each moment. The roar of respect and affection at his solo curtain call shows that the Barcelona audience knew what a great singer had just performed for them.

Among the more well-known members of the strong supporting cast, special commendation must go to the wonderfully slimy Shuisky of Philip Langridge, Eric Halfvarson's conflicted Pimen, and Brian Asawa's amazingly effective Fyodor (Boris's adolescent son). Tenor Pär Lindskog makes an impressive contribution as the Pretender who claims to be Dmitri.

The production uses Mussorgsky's first version, with no intermission. Conductor Sebastian Weigle revels in the raw power of the composer's scoring, sometimes letting it ride over the singers.

Decker takes the work seriously, as a story that resonates with a contemporary audience, and that may be the greatest tribute that can be paid to Mussorgsky's masterwork. Visually entrancing and nobly sung, this Boris Godunov also ranks as one of the best of 2006. And those who want more of Matti Salminen after viewing this DVD are urged to view his devastating work in Einojuhani Rautavaara's Rasputin, also available on DVD.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 1:51 PM

BARBATO: O Cientista (The Scientist)

The edifices hosting these performances have succumbed to the ravages of time long since, though documents and scores relating to operatic life in Rio from this period are still to be found in local libraries.

The early years of the Republic (established by a military revolt which sent the Imperial family into exile, as a reaction against the abolition of slavery in 1888) saw an intense effort to modernize the capital. The population had been growing considerably as a result of the exodus of the freed slaves from the coffee plantations of the state of Rio, who went to the capital in search of better economic opportunities. They were joined by immigrants from abroad, particularly from Portugal and Italy.

The first decade of the 20th century saw a number of large scale efforts for modernization in Rio. These included improvements to the infrastructure of the port (which would have 3.5 kilometers of docks), the construction of broad avenues, particularly the Avenida Central (now known as Avenida Rio Branco), and the consequent demolition of large numbers of tenements in the center of the city. The opening of Avenida Central would make possible the construction of an imposing complex of public buildings in the area now known as Cinelandia, including the National School for the Fine Arts (now the National Museum for the Fine Arts), the National Library, and the Theatro Municipal, modeled after the Paris Opéra, and built sparing no expense, with the finest materials imported from Europe.

Rio's tropical location, and the extensive wetlands by the bay, had negative implications for public health, with regular outbreaks of yellow fever (transmitted by mosquitoes), bubonic plague (transmitted by rates), smallpox, and tuberculosis. President Rodrigues Alves (president, 1903-1906) entrusted to Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, who had studied at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the task of dealing with these problems. He began with campaigns to kill mosquitoes and exterminate rats. In 1904, with Rio facing an epidemic of smallpox, Cruz proposed obligatory vaccination, and it was approved by the government. Unlike his previous campaigns, this one met widespread and often violent resistance by a frightened population, known as the Vaccine Revolt, and finally obligatory vaccination was suspended. Today, his work is revered in Rio, with an avenue in the South Zone, and a suburb in the North Zone, and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation for public health all bearing his name.

Silvio Barbato's opera The Scientist is not so much a music drama as a tableau vivant presenting representative scenes from the life of this great Brazilian. Act I, Scene I reveals Cruz meditating alone on his mission as doctor. Later he is joined by his wife Emilia and friend Salles Guerra, and they sing (in French) of his departure for Paris. Scene II presents Lapa, a center of bohemian life and prostitution at the time. Scene III shows a religious procession asking for relief from the plague.

Act II is notably less static and more dramatic. In Scene I, the President, Rodrigues Alves, sings of the necessity of vaccination, with mocking responses from a sort of Greek chorus, seated on stage. In Scene II we see the effects of the revolt on the Cruz family. Scene III presents a group of capoeiristas (capoeira is a Brazilian martial art) in the favela of Providencia. The opera closes in Scene IV with Cruz, alone once more, walking upstage into the ocean.

One might think that a country famed worldwide for the quality of its televised dramas might likewise produce stageworthy sung dramas for the opera house. The static quality of the libretto, choosing to represent a life, rather than an episode in the life, is the chief problem. Barbato's music mixes a restrained modernism (most effective in the solo-chorus exchanges between President Rodrigues Alves and his critics) with pastiches of Brazilian popular genres (it must be noted that even if they were less artistically ambitious, they were warmly welcomed by the audience, especially the capoeira). The least effective moment for the work was the tedious on-stage solo saxophone in Act I, Scene II, in which the orchestra is not heard for what seems like an eternity (and worse, before it re-enters, the sax is joined on the scene by an accordion). The excellent chorus of the Theatro Municipal is generally heard offstage, muffling its impact, and causing problems with its coordination with the orchestra.

Of the singers, those making the most impact were bass Sebastião Teixeira as Cruz, and the excellent baritone Lício Bruno as Rodrigues Alves (he had turned in a stellar Papageno earlier in the season). The scenery and lighting were modern and effective (including projections), and with the blue fabric waves of the ocean in the closing scene making a memorable impression.

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Theatro_Municipal_Rio2.png image_description=Stained Glass at Theatro Municipal of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Photo: Thomaz and Deborah Moore) product=yes product_title=O Cientista (The Scientist) product_by=Composed and conducted by Silvio Barbato; libretto by Bernardo Vilhena; direction by Eduardo Alvares; scenography, projections and lighting by Eduardo Alvares; costumes by Marcelo Olinto; chorus master, Maurílio dos Santos Costa; Chorus and Symphonic Orchestra of the Theatro Municipal. Sebastião Teixeira (Oswaldo Cruz); Claudio Riccitelli (Emilia); Marcos Liesenberg (Salles Guerra – Act 1, Carlos Chagas – Act 2); Lucia Bueno (A Woman); Lício Bruno (Rodrigues Alves).
Performed Dec. 8, 10, 13, 15, and 17, 2006.
Posted by Gary at 10:15 AM

December 27, 2006

A Diva Who Breaks the Divadom Rules

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 27 December 2006]

A certified superstar operatic diva carries a lot of baggage. Not only are there the sundry suitcases, steamer trunks and Vuitton bags that are, by tradition, necessary to transport her various costumes for on and off the stage. There is also a whole freight of expectations, prejudices, comparisons with the past and, in the case of Anna Netrebko, the 35-year-old Russian soprano who is on her way to becoming opera’s biggest megastar since Luciano Pavarotti, relentless media hype.

Posted by Gary at 8:39 AM

Opera Audiences Return To Historic Raucousness

Palombi_Antonello.pngBY JOEL LOBENTHAL [NY Sun, 27 December 2006]

Two incidents of raucously censorious opera audiences seem to have caught the public unaware in recent weeks. At the Metropolitan Opera, Placido Domingo was booed when he conducted a "La Bohème," in which Anna Netrebko sang her only Mimi of the Met season. Five days later at La Scala in Milan, Italy, Roberto Alagna, singing Radamès in Franco Zeffirelli's new production of "Aida," was greeted with catcalls at the end of his "Celeste Aida," early in Act I. Mr. Alagna beat a hasty retreat, and Antonello Palombi was thrown onstage to pinch hit.

Posted by Gary at 8:23 AM

December 25, 2006

STRAUSS: Vier Letzte Lieder

Music composed by Richard Strauss (1864–1949). Texts based upon poetry by Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff.

First Performance: 22 May 1950, London, Kirsten Flagstad, soprano, Philharmonia Orchestra, Wilhelm Furtwängler

Frühling
Source: In dämmrigen Grüften träumte ich lang
Click here for text
September
Source: Der Garten trauert, Kühl sinkt in die Blumen
Click here for text
Beim Schlafengehen
Source: Nun der Tag mich müd’ gemacht
Click here for text
Im Abendrot
Source: Wir sind durch Not und Freude Gegangen Hand in Hand
Click here for text

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Live recording, Royal Festival Hall, London, 20 June 1956
Posted by Gary at 7:26 PM

December 23, 2006

ROSSINI: Il barbeire di Siviglia

But with an evergreen crowd-pleaser such as Il barbeire di Siviglia, companies won’t wait to put on new productions. San Francisco Opera debuted its revolving house set in recent years, and the Metroplitan just inaugurated a new production, favorably reviewed, this season. TDK now releases a 2002 staging from the Paris Opera, directed by Coline Serreau and designed by Jean-Marc Stehlè and Antoine Fontaine.

Under the creators’ conception, the Seville of the story remains under Moorish rule. In fact, the city seems to have been transplanted to a North African desert. Arab nomads accompany the Count as he walks through a desert landscape to serenade Rosina outside Dr. Bartolo’s stone and wood dwelling. Later, the interior of Bartolo’s home brings some welcome color, of turquiose and then gold. The final tableaux has the happy young lovers wandering off into an oasis of sprouting palm trees.

Why? Perhaps just because it looks cool. At least the creators had the good sense not to make the Count a European who rescues Rosina from her oppressive Arab master, which would have been a troublesome interpretation in this day and age. However, they have made Figaro a ridiculuously anachronistic figure, with a beach-umbrella hat and cell phones of various colors hooked to his sleeve. In other words, don’t think about it. Just enjoy the show.

The show can best be enjoyed once Joyce DiDonato’s Rosina appears. An appealing stage presence, DiDonato in her short career has already made her Rosina a classic interpretation: lively, clever, and always beautifully sung. The only singer near her class here is Kristinn Sigmundson, whose handsome bass makes Don Basillio a more appealing figure than usual.

The three other major male roles get adequate performances, not much more. Roberto Sacca’s Almaviva has the right energy but the tone isn’t especially attractive. Dalibor Jenis needs to expend a more energy in a role such as Figaro if he is going to deserve having the opera’s title. As Bartolo, Carlos Chausson does well by the character’s comic villainy; once again, the voice is nothing special.

Jeanette Fischer, the Berta, throws a few wild “hip-hop” moves in her very funny solo number.

Bruno Campanella conducts the score with the kind of affection that matters — an appreciation for Rossini’s orchestral color and flexibility.

With a cast that could match DiDonato’s inspiration, this DVD would be a must-see. As it is, lovers of this opera can still find much to enjoy, including an amusing credit sequence (under the overture) . And perhaps a helpful Opera Today reader can explain to this reviewer why, when Figaro schemes to get the house key from Dr. Bartolo, the subtitle has him wishfully thinking that with the key, “We’d be home and hosed.”

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 1:59 PM

December 22, 2006

BERLIOZ: Les Nuits d'Été

Music composed by Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869). Texts by Théophile Gautier (1811 - 1872).

Villanelle
Click here for text.
Le spectre de la rose
Click here for text.
Sur les lagunes: Lamento
Click here for text.
Absence
Click here for text.
Au cimetière: Clair de lune (Lamento)
Click here for text.
L'île inconnue (Bacarolle)
Click here for text.

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Recorded 5 April 1953
Posted by Gary at 12:33 PM

VIVALDI: Dixit Dominus, RV 807
GALUPPI: Laetatus Sum; Nisi Domine; Lauda Jerusalem

It is coupled here with three works by the latter held in the same library, also premieres, as far as I can tell.

Conductor Peter Kopp founded the Körnerscher Sing-Verein (a mixed chorus of about thirty voices) in 1993, and the group has two previous discs for Carus, both of 18th-century music for Christmas from Dresden. With a well-tuned and light choral sound, they make a good impression here, as does the accompanying band, on period instruments.Kopp’s tempi tend to be on the quick side, though rarely sounding rushed (the exception being the Tecum principium of the Vivaldi, for two tenors). I could well imagine these works making a more charming impression with a less-hurried pace, especially the very galant psalms of Galuppi. These are not profound works, but nevertheless Kopp could dig deeper for inflections. One gets the impression that one is skimming over the surface.

The vocal soloists are fluent and bright, the exception being the contralto Sara Mingardo, with what sound to me like artificially darkened vowels. Here she is out of context. Paul Agnew displays an excellent coloratura in the Dominus a dextris tuis of the Vivaldi.

To sum up, a worthwhile exploration of little-known music, that sheds some light on the styles leading to the creations of the Viennese masters of the close of the century.

Tom Moore

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Baldassare Galuppi: Laetatus Sum; Nisi Domine; Lauda Jerusalem product_by=Roberta Invernizzi, Lucia Cirillo, Sara Mingardo, Paul Agnew, Thomas Cooley, Sergio Foresti, Georg Zeppenfeld. Körnerscher Sing-Verein Dresden; Dresdner Instrumental-Concert; Peter Kopp (Cond.) product_id=Archiv 477 614-5 [CD] price=$15.28 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0028947761457&bfmtype=music
Posted by Gary at 8:07 AM

December 21, 2006

MONTEVERDI: Vespers

Even the connoisseur may not have a good sense of the context of the work in 1610, nor indeed of its place in Monteverdi’s production. It was the first of only two collections of music for the church published during the composer’s lifetime, and one can see it as an elaborate poke in the eye for Monteverdi’s critic Artusi, who attacked (not without some justification, indeed) Monteverdi’s supposed incompetence as a contrapuntist, as manifest in the latter’s 4th and 5th books of madrigals, published in 1603 and 1605, respectively. Though Monteverdi had studied composition with Ingegneri in Cremona, he was employed in Mantua as an instrumentalist, with a background in improvised dance music, and not as a singer. From Artusi’s point of view, the licenses permitted a string band had made their way into Monteverdi’s vocal works, where they were solecisms.

And so the first work mentioned in that Latin title is not the Vespers, but the mass in six parts In illo tempore, based on a motet by Gombert from fifty years earlier. Monteverdi, who prints the motives which he has taken from Gombert at the beginning of the mass in the partbooks, obviously wants to show that he has a mastery of the craft of composition as it was done “in those days” (the literal meaning of the title of the motet). This task being accomplished, the remaining works — the music for Vespers, with psalm settings and vocal concerti — show how Monteverdi could produce a sacred music which would combine traditional aspects (the use of the chanted psalm tone) with techniques from his years as an instrumentalist.

I can't claim to have heard all the rival claimants, but from what I have heard hear I can state that the recording by King and his collaborators must certainly stand out as one of the notable recordings of 2006, a thoroughly satisfying performance which brings this masterwork to vibrant life, combining deep resonance with ringing clarity, every moment, every phrase breathing as it should, the vocal soloists first-rate, the sounds of the winds and strings vital, the chorus beautifully blended and in tune. I wanted to be there in the hall to hear this music performed live, I wanted to be part of this sound. This recording is that good. Plaudits not only to the musicians, but to the recording technicians who made this sound possible.

Bravo!

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Monteverdi_Vespers_1610.png image_description=Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers – The complete 1610 publication. product=yes product_title-Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers – The complete 1610 publication. product_by=Carolyn Sampson, Rebecca Outram, Daniel Auchincloss, Nicholas Mulroy, Charles Daniels, James Gilchrist, Peter Harvey, Robert Evans, Robert Macdonald; Choir of the King’s Consort; The King’s Consort; Robert King (cond.) product_id=Hyperion CDA 67531/2 [2CDs] price=$39.58 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0034571175317&bfmtype=music
Posted by Gary at 12:44 PM

Quiet & Dignified, If a Bit Dull

JulianneBaird.pngBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 21 December 2006]

Soprano Julianne Baird is one of the 10 most recorded classical artists in the world today, with over 125 CDs to her credit. But don't feel out of touch if you are not familiar with Ms. Baird, as her art is rather specialized and arcane.

Posted by Gary at 7:42 AM

In a Multitude of ‘Messiah’ Choirs, One Group That Might Reign Forever and Ever

cooke_sasha.pngBy ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 20 December 2006]

“Messiah” performances are resounding in the city’s concert halls and churches this month, but few, if any, of the choruses singing them can match the Oratorio Society of New York for venerability. The society gave its first “Messiah” on Christmas, 1874, during its second season, and it has performed the work every year since. Given the way Baroque performance practice has changed since then, it would have been fascinating if the choir had adhered to a consistent tradition, passed along from generation to generation, so that the “Messiah” it sang at Carnegie Hall on Monday evening resembled the 1874 performance.

Posted by Gary at 6:51 AM

December 19, 2006

Professors Honored with Prestigious Musicology Awards

Eastman.png[Eastman School of Music, 19 December 2006]

DecemberTwo University of Rochester and Eastman School of Music professors have received prestigious awards from the American Musicological Society. Honey Meconi was named a recipient of the Noah Greenberg Award and Ralph P. Locke received the H. Colin Slim Award at the organization’s recent annual meeting.

Download press release

Posted by Gary at 5:09 PM

December 17, 2006

Charlottes Geheimnis

Grundehrliche Konvention: „Werther” an der Bayerischen Staatsoper[Merkur Online, 18 December 2006]

An den Seiten 16 bis 18 des Programmhefts bleibt man unwillkürlich hängen. In schöner, schwungvoll geneigter Schrift breitet da Jürgen Rose „Gedanken, Bildideen und Fragen” aus. Dabei unterzieht er, ganz neugieriger Theatermacher, Jules Massenets „Werther” einer Kurzanalyse und spinnt daraus ein vielversprechendes Konzept. Öffnet sich dann der Vorhang im Münchner Nationaltheater zur Premiere, ist man zudem erleichtert: Der Geschmacksunfall seiner „Norma” ist überwunden. Dafür gibt‘s die oft erprobte „Rose-Schachtel”, im aktuellen Design eine wunderbar lichte Bühne, deren Wände, Decke und Boden wild vollgeschrieben sind mit Werthers Worten. Hinten ermöglicht eine Öffnung malerische Auftritte, in der Mitte ein wie vom Himmel gefallener Meteorit, auf dem der Schreibtisch des aus der Welt geworfenen Werther thront.

Posted by Gary at 7:25 PM

Hänsel und Gretel, Philharmonie Berlin

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 17 December 2006]

Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel raises a number of questions. Why does it not put children off gingerbread? Why has the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra never performed it before? And why do we often overlook Wagner’s immense influence on the score?

Posted by Gary at 7:19 PM

December 16, 2006

HANDEL: Messiah

Some will find the first notes of the “Sinfony” to be the welcome knock at the door of a friend whose absence has been too long and whose seasonal visit, charged with associations of bygone days, will feel all too short. Others will find the sounds like the houseguest for whom hospitality has become a routine obligation—not unwelcome, but uneventful and unbidden. And one suspects that this range itself is a relatively long-standing one. The 1980s stirred things up, however, with the introduction of period-performance Messiahs. Now the “knock at the door” seemed to bring the old, bewhiskered uncle who, after decades of a beard, suddenly arrived clean shaven. The new visage admittedly played on our notions of familiarity, but also sparked a new engagement.

The new visage—Messiah shorn of symphonic notions—brought tempos that danced with buoyance, verbal inflection of musical lines, new degrees of timbral clarity, ornamental grace, fluency of embellishment, and new approaches to articulation, at once more subtle and yet more clear. And now, twenty years down the road, the new visage has become not only familiar, but expected.

Andrew Parrott’s period Messiah from the late 1980s was re-released a few years ago by EMI Virgin Classics, and the re-release amply documents the richness and staying power of this generation of Messiah performances—a richness now removed from the aura of novelty—the “uncle” has been clean shaven for quite a while now. In part, the richness of this performance derives from Parrott’s soloists, then the unrivalled stars of the English early music scene, including soprano Emma Kirkby, countertenor James Bowman, and bass David Thomas. Thomas’s renowned profundity combines here with his wondrous ability to spin a melodic line and his ever commanding melismatic prowess, marking the bass solos with memorable distinction. Similarly, Bowman’s electrically-charged melismas on “For he is like a refiner’s fire” are excitingly dynamic, and his vowel-rich grace in “And he shall feed his flock” is one of the high points of the recording.

The choir and orchestra are unflaggingly responsive to Parrott’s vision of the work—a vision that moves things along with dramatic urgency and vividly drawn affective content—and they respond with the stylistic fluency that we have long associated with the various Taverner ensembles. To this one can only add: “Hallelujah!”

Steven Plank

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Messiah.png image_description=G. F. Handel: Messiah product=yes product_title=G. F. Handel: Messiah product_by=The Taverner Choir & Players; Andrew Parrott, Director product_id=Virgin Veritas 7243 5 62084 25 [2CDs] price=$11.98 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00005TNMM?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B00005TNMM&adid=0Q5CHK0NY1X3YD0G7Y4K&
Posted by Gary at 4:04 PM

December 15, 2006

Made Up

impropera.pngRichard Morrison at Jermyn Street Theatre [Times Online, 15 December 2006]

Nothing, you might think, could bridge the divide between improvised comedy and grand opera. The former is pure wit conceived on the spur of the moment. The latter is usually a deadly serious tangle of conventions and techniques conceived centuries ago.

Posted by Gary at 9:52 AM

Tan Dun Puts Sound of Rocks, Placido in Met `Emperor' Premiere

Qin_Shi_Huang.pngBy Robert Hilferty [Bloomberg.com, 15 December 2006]

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- More than 2,000 years ago, the first emperor of China unified the warring states, burned books he didn't care for and built the Great Wall.

Posted by Gary at 9:32 AM

December 14, 2006

„Werther”-Premiere im Nationaltheater: Vom Klang der Seele

koch_sophie.pngGespräch mit Sophie Koch [Merkur Online, 14 December 2006]

„Die Musik ist ausgesprochen französisch, das Sujet aber ist sehr deutsch”, sagt Sophie Koch. Und genau diese Mischung ist es, die die Sängerin so begeistert. Wenn am kommenden Samstag in der Bayerischen Staatsoper „Werther” von Jules Massenet Premiere hat, dann ist die Französin in der Partie der Charlotte mit dabei.

Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

Bravo Alagna! Ban on Booed Star Is Absurd

By Manuela Hoelterhoff [Bloomberg.com, 14 December 2006]

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- At La Scala, where Maria Callas was once pelted with radishes, Roberto Alagna made history last Sunday.

Posted by Gary at 9:48 AM

December 13, 2006

Juan Diego Flórez

florez_ifkovits.png(Photo: Decca / Johannes Ifkovits)
Geoff Brown at the Barbican [Times Online, 13 December 2006]

At Carnegie Hall, just one week before, he’d cancelled a similar recital with the pianist Vincenzo Scalera at a few hours’ notice. Here in London a tell-tale cup of something soothing lay on a table beside him. But the Peruvian Adonis and tenor god Juan Diego Flórez wasn’t to be defeated. Valiantly placing what remained of a heavy cold behind him, he instituted a few programme changes, then gave fans and groupies, even hard critics, a pretty good show.

Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

George London: Spirituals

The plans for the release appear to have been far along to include plans for sides “A” and “B” of the LP, since that information is included on the cover. Over forty years later, the recording is available on CD. Issued in the same format as some of Deutsche Grammophon’s reissues of material that had been released on CD, this recording resembles them in the minimal information that accompanies the music. Thus, the terse blurb on the back cover mentions the fact that London would end most of his recitals with a spiritual as background to support the recordings with orchestra and chorus that he made in 1963. The notes mention the fact that London was not happy with the result, but go no further in explaining the reasons.

As self-critical as the bass may have been, this recording shows him in fine voice in some lively arrangements of traditional American spirituals. Given London’s other pursuits at the time, speculation may extend to the image the singer wanted to convey to the larger public that knew him as an outstanding exponent of Wagner’s music and a fine portrayer of the title role of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov. Perhaps the sometimes popular-sounding arrangements, like “Joshua fit de battle of Jericho,” did not fit the image the singer wanted to convey. Or maybe the racial connotations of the music did not sit well with the politics of the time, when sensitive white individuals would not presume to present on their own terms music that is part of the black experience.

As arrangements, though, the presentation of this selection of popular spirituals is articulate and sensitive. At times the choral textures sometimes echo the style sometimes used for Christmas specials of the time, with “Hebb’n” sounding as though it were taken from a Broadway musical. In the subtler arrangements, as in “Poor, wayfarin’ stranger,” the discreet chorus and thinner orchestration is striking. Likewise, the inclusion of organ is highly evocative in “Oh, what a beautiful city,” an arrangement that could be performed more frequently to good effect.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to fault the execution, especially London’s articulate rendering of the melodies with his resonant and smooth bass voice. With the opening song, “Swing low, sweet chariot,” he gives a sense of the richness of the source. This is a serious and persuasive interpretation that London bears out in the other numbers. Whether this is authentic is another matter, and it’s best to understand the stylization implicit with arrangements removes spirituals from the living tradition in which they exist. Even with a black singers like Florence Quivar in her collection entitled Ride on, King Jesus (on EMI), arrangements are a step removed from the churches in which this music finds spontaneous expression in performance, and not necessarily in being performed from four-square execution.

Even so, the starkness of “Hard trials” can be found only in an arrangement like the deft one found in this collection. In fact, the more familiar “Deep river” makes fine use of the chorus to enhance the character of the piece. With the chorus of the Bavarian State Radio at his disposal, London worked with some excellent forces to compile this CD. All of these pieces lie well for London, whose resonant voice commands attention throughout the recording. This is a side of the singer’s career that is not well known, but nevertheless relevant for the interest London had in this repertoire. For whatever reasons London had in proscribing the release of this recording during his lifetime, it should not be taken for any over reasons in his performances. While audiences will always remember London for his Boris, his Wotan, his Scarpia, and other familiar opera roles, his interest in spirituals took shape in a recording that benefits from this posthumous release.

James L. Zychowicz

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Posted by Gary at 9:35 AM

LOEWE: Lieder and Balladen

Popular in his lifetime, Loewe’s music has since failed to remain in the repertoire in the twentieth century except, perhaps, for his setting of “Erlkönig” that has coexisted for years with that of Franz Schubert. Loewe’s name appears at times in lists of practitioners of Lieder, and the music itself merits attention for the qualities it possesses, as well as the facility of the composer in extending the idiom as a means of expression for a variety of texts.

Such variety may be found in the current selection of Lieder, which include settings from a variety of sources. Of the twenty pieces found on this recording, most texts are by poets who have been long since forgotten, but whose lyrics were enough to inspire Loewe to use them in his songs. The texts also include translation from Greek (with the odes “An die Grille,” “An die Leier,” and “Auf sich selbst [two settings]), as well as modern versions of Middle-High German in ‘Der Treuergebene.” Loewe also found inspiration in contemporary verse, as with his setting of Goethe in “Mahomets Gesang” and also Friedrich Rückert in “Jünglings Gebet.” Moreover, the songs in this collection date from various times in Loewe’s career, and seem, at times, connected more to thematic ideas, than the groupings in which the composer published the songs. At the same time, Loewe set such esteemed poets as Goethe alongside figures that are now all but forgotten, like Dilia Helena or Ignaz Julius Lasker, and he made did not distinguish between the sources of his poetry when he set it. Songs with texts by Lord Byron do not sound stylistically different than settings of less well-known figures. In fact, it is this kind of egalitarianism that sets Loewe apart from some of his contemporaries.

Many of Loewe’s settings are ballads, and in conveying the narrative found in multiple stanzas of the poems that inspired him, he varied the strophic presentation by manipulating the accompaniment. While some of the shorter songs are less challenging, it required greater effort for him to compose the extended narrative of “Johann van Nepomuk,” a piece that requires over ten minutes to perform, as if it were a scena of an opera or the kind of extended song more often associated with Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss later in the century. Such is the case with “Mahomets Gesang,” another more challenging piece for performers to sustain the mood. Despite this kind of consideration, Loewe did not imbue the music with inflections to evoke the Oriental atmosphere suggested by Goethe’s text in this poem, or anything overtly related to the Bohemian milieu of Nepomuk to cause performers to underscore the text with meanings that music can encapsulate. With translations from Classical literature, as in the odes “An Aphrodite” (Sapho) and “An die Grille” (attributed to Anacreon), Loewe does not adopt a forced solemnity with sustained pitches, but allows the joyful spirit of the verses to emerge in the appropriately energetic rhythms. In these pieces and elsewhere, Loewe’s style brings all the music to his early Romantic idiom, thus making his own compositional idiom the vehicle for approaching some quite intriguing texts.

Yet most of the songs are more typical of nineteenth-century Lieder, and the settings are quite competent. Moreover, the tenor Robert Wörle and pianist Cord Garben are evidently familiar with the music, as evidenced in their solid execution. Wörle’s voice is suited to the sometimes high tessitura of several of the songs, and delivers the works with ease. Garben likewise displays a polished flair with the accompaniment, with the solo passages emerging with clarity in performances that are well recorded and nicely balanced.

Even so, the consistent tenor sound of Wörle suggests the resilience of an experienced performer. The songs are suited to his voice, with a pleasant sound at the upper reaches of his instrument. Wörle’s legato is appropriate to the style of the music, as found in the melismas Loewe used in the first of his settings of “Auf sich selbst.” He renders these pieces ardently and with a familiarity that suggests a solid study of both the music and text of Loewe’s Lieder.

Those who might be familiar with Loewe’s music through his setting of “Erlkönig” or have only a passing knowledge from Mahler’s reference to the earlier composer’s Humoresken can gain a better understanding of his legacy in this collection. The fine collection released by CPO includes an excellent set of liner notes, which include the full texts and translations. Those interested in the German Lied should find this recording and others in the series of Loewe's songs enlightening because of the fine music it makes available to a wide audience.

James L. Zychowicz

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Posted by Gary at 9:13 AM

Central City Opera Announces Casting For 75th Anniversary 2007 Festival

central_city_logo.pngDenver, Colo.— The artists have been selected for Central City Opera’s (CCO) historic 2007 75th Anniversary Festival. This monumental year is celebrated with the world premiere of Chinese opera, Poet Li Bai, presented in partnership with the Asian Performing Arts of Colorado as a special offering with only six performances. The company’s regular 2007 festival season features three new productions, including Verdi’s La Traviata, Massenet’s Cinderella and Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street. Four operas will be presented in one festival for the first time in the history of Central City Opera during the 2007 Festival, which runs June 30 through Aug. 19 at the Central City Opera House in Central City, CO.

[Click here for the complete press release.]

Posted by Gary at 8:59 AM

Best of All Possible Worlds, Updated for the Paris Stage

voltaire.pngBy ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 13 December 2006]

PARIS, Dec. 12 — In the early 1950s, after Lillian Hellman was interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, she sought revenge by persuading Leonard Bernstein to work with her on a musical adaptation of Voltaire’s great satire, “Candide.” To both playwright and composer, it seems, the parallels between the Inquisition and the McCarthyist witch hunt were self-evident.

Posted by Gary at 8:42 AM

A tantrum too far

alagna_gheorghiu.pngFirst tenor Roberto Alagna storms out of Aida, then his wife Angela Gheorghiu quits the Royal Opera House. Are they too big for their boots, asks Martin Kettle

[Guardian, 13 December 2006]

It is the perfect grand opera story. A superstar tenor sings underwhelmingly at the world's most exacting opera house and storms off stage with a shake of the fist amid a torrent of booing. An understudy in jeans is thrown on in his place and has a night of triumph. Roberto Alagna's walkout from La Scala's season-opening Franco Zeffirelli production of Verdi's Aida is an opera story with everything - and with the bonus that it confirms all our prejudices about the art form, too.

Posted by Gary at 8:29 AM

December 12, 2006

New Mozart Edition online

The Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum (ISM; International Mozart Foundation) has digitized Mozart’s music, and in this groundbreaking project is making it accessible to everyone on its web site. The ‘NMA Online’ is a digital version of the Neue Mozart Ausgabe (NMA; New Mozart Edition), a scholarly edition of Mozart’s complete works that was compiled by musicologists from around the world in the last 50 years. ‘NMA Online’ has been produced by the ISM in Salzburg in cooperation with the Packard Humanities Institute in Los Altos, California. It aims at facilitating the systematic research on Mozart for musicologists and performers as well as making Mozart’s scores available to non-specialists with a simple, user-friendly interface. The initiators have acquired all digital rights to the NMA from Bärenreiter-Verlag in Kassel, the publisher of the printed edition.

Posted by Gary at 7:56 AM

Don Juan in Prague

Bittova.pngMarion Lignana Rosenberg [Time Out New York, 7-13 December 2006]

Søren Kierkegaard, E.T.A. Hoffmann, George Bernard Shaw: Artists and philosophers have had at Don Giovanni almost since its 1787 premiere.

Posted by Gary at 7:30 AM

December 11, 2006

Tenor Walks Off Stage at La Scala

[Associated Press, 11 December 2006]

MILAN, Italy -- Tenor Roberto Alagna broke his contract by walking out of a performance of Franco Zeffirelli's "Aida" at La Scala after being booed, and he will not sing for the remaining scheduled performances, a spokesman for the opera house said Monday.

Posted by Gary at 4:09 PM

Stirring Moments, But Off Night for Blythe

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 11 December 2006]

One of the best song recitals of last season was given by Stephanie Blythe, together with John Relyea. The mezzo-soprano and the bass-baritone sang jointly in the Metropolitan Museum's Temple of Dendur. Warren Jones accompanied them on the piano.

Posted by Gary at 3:58 PM

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Grand Théâtre, Geneva

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 11 December 2006]

Hans Sachs’ concluding ode to German art means Wagner’s only “comic” opera has become a political hot potato. A producer who stages it with traditional medieval pomp is accused of ducking the issues raised by German nationalism; treating it as an anticipatory apologia of National Socialism looks like a cheap trick based on questionable hindsight.

Posted by Gary at 3:51 PM

December 10, 2006

Il tenore lascia la scena, fischi alla Scala

Alagna.pngRoberto Alagna dà forfait subito dopo l'aria «Celeste Aida». Alla ripresa dello spettacolo entra il suo sostituto in pantaloni e camicia

[Corriere Della Sera, 10 December 2006]

MILANO - Dopo aver terminato l'aria «Celeste Aida», fra gli applausi e qualche fischio, il tenore Roberto Alagna è uscito dal palcoscenico del Teatro alla Scala ed è stato sostituito nella seconda rappresentazione dell'opera di Verdi. Al suo posto in scena è entrato Antonello Palombi non in costume, con un paio di pantaloni e una camicia nera, fra le grida di parte del loggione «vergogna, vergogna» e «questa è la Scala». Nonostante l'inatteso «cambio in corsa» di Ramades, una delle figure principali dell'opera, la fine del primo atto è stata segnata dagli applausi.

Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

Was alles hinter den Paravent gehört

Pieczonka.png(Photo: Johannes Ifkovits)
VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 11 December 2006]
"Arabella" in der Staatsoper. Recht indezent inszenierte Sven-Eric Bechtolf Strauss' letzte Hofmannsthal-Oper.

Jubel über die Neuinszenierung der "Arabella" an der Staatsoper. Doch be ruht die Produktion, wie mir scheint, auf einem Missverständnis. Von hintergründiger Bedeutung schien nur, dass die Wahl für Franz Welser-Mösts erste Wiener Premiere auf dieses Werk gefallen ist. Denn mit Strauss' letzter Hofmannsthal-Vertonung können nur gelernte Kapellmeister reüssieren. Die müssen Phrase für Phrase, manchmal gar Takt für Takt geschmeidig dem Verlauf des Textes anpassen, sich aufs Modellieren kleinster Einheiten verstehen - ohne dabei die großen Atemzüge zu zerhacken, aus deren Abfolge ein Opernakt seine rhythmische Dynamik bezieht.

Posted by Gary at 4:49 PM

Carmen becalmed

Antonacci.pngBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 10 December 2006]

If the new Carmen at Covent Garden is to be judged by the number of bums it will put on seats, we should consider it a rip-roaring success.

Posted by Gary at 4:32 PM

WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder

Music composed by Richard Wagner (1813–1883). Texts based upon poetry by Mathilde Wesendonck (1828–1902).

Der Engel
Source: In der Kindheit frühen Tagen
Click here for text
Stehe still!
Source: Sausendes, brausendes Rad der Zeit
Click here for text
Im Treibhaus
Source: Hoch gewölbte Blätterkronen, Baldachine von Smaragd
Click here for text
Schmerzen
Source: Sonne, weinest jeden Abend dir die schönen Augen rot
Click here for text
Träume
Source: Sag’, welch wunderbare Träume
Click here for text

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/wesendonck.png image_description=Mathilde Wesendonck portrayed by K.F. Sohn, 1850 audio=yes first_audio_name=Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Wesendonck Lieder first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Wesendonck_Lieder.m3u product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Wesendonck Lieder product_by=Kirsten Flagstad, soprano, Bruno Walter, piano
Live performance, 23 March 1952, New York
Posted by Gary at 4:02 PM

December 9, 2006

At La Scala, an Egypt That Looks a Lot Like Hollywood

By ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 9 December 2006]

MILAN, Dec. 8 — Even for those who embrace opera as a celebration of excess, it seemed almost a provocation to open the Teatro alla Scala’s season on Thursday with an extravagantly lavish new production of “Aida” created by Franco Zeffirelli. Indeed, after the buildup that preceded the show, how else could the audience respond but by cheering the singers, the orchestra, the director, La Scala — and themselves for being there?

Posted by Gary at 4:44 PM

'Arabella' Is Near-Perfect

By GEORGE JAHN [AP, 9 December 2006]

VIENNA, Austria -- What happens when some of the world's best musicians are paired with top voices under a masterful conductor in an opera production that plays it straight instead of usurping what the composer and librettist were trying to say?

Posted by Gary at 4:40 PM

December 8, 2006

The Deepest Desire

So writes Joyce DiDonato in her personal introduction to The Deepest Desire, a title that names the theme of the recital as she sees it. I also see in her allusion to “stamping a select few songs with my voice” a secondary theme of personal identity that resonates throughout the songs as well.

The five songs by Leonard Bernstein that energetically open the recital include Two Love Songs, written in 1960, and three songs from Songfest, a project setting texts by a variety of American poets that was originally a commission for the Bicentenniel celebration in 1976 but was not completed in time. According to Bernstein, even when the commission was withdrawn, he completed the project, which had taken on great meaning to him as a way, in Bernstein’s words, to “reflect the experience of the American artist.” DiDonato sees in Bernstein’s life story a “torment” resulting from his desire to be recognized as a serious composer, and in the songs that she has chosen a “haunting desire for something unreachable.” Indeed, the Two Love Songs set Rilke poems in which love’s desire is so strong as to erase the boundaries of identity. In the first of the Songfest songs, “Music I heard with you” the intense closeness is only remembered after the affair has ended, and next, in “What lips my lips have kissed,” a succession of past loves have been forgotten individually, but live on in the poet’s sense of having been enlarged by past love. This set ends with “A Julia de Burgos,” a setting of a Spanish-language poem by the Puerto Rican poet of that name to what one might call her social self. In pianist David Zobel’s energetic presentation of the rhythmic accompaniment we hear the galloping “runaway Rosinante” metaphor for the artist’s inner fire.

The best-known repertoire in the recital is Aaron Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson. While “desire” may not be the first theme that comes to mind when thinking of this poet, DiDonato is correct in seeing in her poetry a desire for answers, and I would specifically point to the poet’s desire to find her place in the cosmos, her identity as a saint, sinner, or simply a seeker within the Calvinist world-view that surrounded her. DiDonato characterizes the music of Copland’s Dickinson settings as “sometimes stark, sometimes assaulting,” and she can certainly further these effects with her voice, although her tone is also quite beautiful in the gentler moments of “Nature, the gentlest mother”, “The World Feels Dusty”, “Heart we will forget him”, and the final note of “The Chariot”, in which the speaker rides into eternity with her gentleman caller Death.

The Deepest Desire is the title of the closing set of songs, settings by Jake Heggie of texts he requested from Sister Helen Préjean (the model for the character of Sister Helen in Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking), describing the source of her spirituality in “the deepest desire of her heart”. Here the piano and voice are joined by the flute of Frances Shelly, which has a lengthy solo at the opening, reminding me of the flute solo I heard at the beginning of a Whirling Dervish ceremony in Turkey, where the improvisation of the flute represented the soul’s desire for the ultimate. This ushers in a Prelude followed by “Four Meditations on Love”, in which Sister Helen describes her experience of love as “the pure energy of God” and how it led her away from her original desire to “be with God in Heaven” and instead to “loose yourself!” and work with all her being to realize “the deepest desire,” that for justice on earth. The songs, while not exceptionally melodic, are varied, expressive, and listenable, particularly when presented by a singer as thoughtful, communicative, and vocally endowed as DiDonato.

Indeed, there is another “deepest desire” present in this recital, that of Joyce DiDonato to communicate. She has given a great deal of thought to the texts, the music, and to her own relationship to them, and, when she speaks of “stamping [them] with my voice” it is a voice of considerable strength and range that she uses to produce a wide variety of vocal colors, from meltingly beautiful to hard and edgy. While this tonal variety brings the songs’ details into high relief, I personally found the many color changes rather distracting in some places, detracting from the clarity of the words in others. On the other hand, in the phrases of “Extinguish my eyes” that are essentially vocalises on an “oo” vowel, and in the playful nonsense syllables of the Bernstein “Piccola Serenata” that acts as an encore “bonus track”, her sound can be fascinating and ravishing. Overall, this is a recital to hear when one is willing to be energized and challenged to think by the music, rather than in the car on the way home from an intense meeting (as I first tried it, quickly putting it aside for a time when I was better able to receive it). Listeners desiring to hear DiDonato’s considerable artistry in the service of an interesting but more relaxing set of songs will be pleased to know that her Wigmore Hall recital of songs themed around the city of Venice has also been released by the BBC this year (under the Wigmore Hall Live imprint). In the Rossini, Michael Head, Fauré, and Hahn songs that make up the program (as well as in the Handel and Rossini arias that act as encores) we are treated to a very satisfying dose of the beautiful singing that has justly earned her a position among the exciting young bel canto singers.

I find it interesting that The Deepest Desire, a debut recital exploring the theme of personal identity, begins with a set of songs written for a mezzo-soprano of several generations ago, Jennie Tourel, and ends with a set written for another mezzo who is still very active, Susan Graham, who created the role of Sister Helen in the original production of Dead Man Walking, a role that DiDonato went on to perform with the New York City Opera. In light of the intelligence, artistry, and sheer vocal talent that she brings to these songs, I would not be surprised at all if her recitals in the not-too-distant future include songs written for her as well.

Reflecting this disc’s production in France, where it won the Diapason d’or de l’année, the notes (both DiDonato’s personal introduction, and the notes on the songs by Benjamin Sosland) and artist biographies, as well as the texts of the songs, are presented in both English and French (“A Julia de Burgos” is, of course, also in Spanish).

Barbara Miller

  

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Posted by Gary at 7:30 PM

Die "Idomeneo"-Köpfe sind weg

Idomeneo_heads.pngTrotz Diebstahls in der Requisite will die Deutsche Oper ihre Inszenierung wie geplant zeigen

Von Manuel Brug [Berliner Morgenpost, 8 December 2006]

Da werden die Requisiteure der Deutschen Oper einige Extra-Arbeitsstunden einlegen müssen: Denn Berlins Skandal-"Idomeneo" ist im Augenblick gänzlich kopflos. Die vier abgeschlagenen Religionsstifter-Häupter sind verschwunden. Vor einigen Wochen hatten sie Furore gemacht als Steine des Anstoßes für eine angebliche Islamismusbedrohung, die mit der vorläufigen Absetzung der Hans-Neuenfels-Inszenierung durch die Intendantin Kirsten Harms beantwortet worden war. Was einen weltweit beachteten Skandal und eine wild wirbelnde Diskussion um die Freiheit der Kunst auslöste.

Posted by Gary at 10:09 AM

Lincoln Center Revitalized

Lincoln-Center.pngBY KATE TAYLOR [NY Sun, 8 December 2006]

This is a propitious moment for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to commission an institutional history. Having soothed various rivalries and minor rebellions among its 12 constituent organizations, Lincoln Center this spring finally broke ground on the first stage of its massive renovation project.

Posted by Gary at 9:55 AM

Zeffirelli opens La Scala season with 'Aida'

Zeffirelli.png[AP, 8 December 2006]

Franco Zeffirelli was cheered and showered with roses on the opening night of his new production of Verdi's "Aida" at La Scala on Thursday night, making his triumphant return after a 14-year absence from the opera house where he first made his mark.

Posted by Gary at 9:38 AM

The Once and Future King

novaya_opera.pngIn a new "Nabucco," Novaya Opera turns the Babylonian king who enslaved the Jews into a tyrant from the 1930s.

By Raymond Stults [Moscow Times, 8 December 2006]

Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Nabucco" first came to the Russian stage for a few performances in 1851. It wasn't much of a success and appeared again only a full century and a half later. Times have changed, however, and these days Russia is giving "Nabucco" quite a workout. Last season in St. Petersburg, the site of the opera's Russian premiere, it was taken up by the Mariinsky Theater. And over the past few weeks, Moscow audiences have witnessed performances by three of the city's four principal opera companies -- in the Bolshoi Theater's staging that revived the opera in Russia five years ago, in a concert version by Helikon Opera and, finally, in a new, fully staged production by Novaya Opera that premiered last weekend.

Posted by Gary at 9:28 AM

December 7, 2006

Austrian Writer's Heirs Seek Royalties

hofmannsthal.pngBy MARIA MARQUART [AP, 7 December 2006]

MUNICH, Germany -- A German court on Thursday began considering a lawsuit seeking royalties from the heirs of German composer Richard Strauss for nine works, including opera favorites "Der Rosenkavalier" and "Elektra."

Posted by Gary at 9:48 AM

December 6, 2006

MASSENET: Werther

A number pine for a Turandot with no Ping, Pang, or Pong. A few of us wish that the three ladies never remove Papageno’s mouth trap in Magic Flute.

However, none of these potential candidates dominates an opera as does the title character of Massenet’s Werther, a mopey, pretentious, suicidal stalker. From the time he wanders in, intoning a hymn to nature that comes across as syrupy self-love, until he finally and laboriously takes his final breath, this over-educated proto-hippie draws a whole family into his morbid solipsism. In other words, your reviewer does not care for the bloke.

But what music! And to fully appreciate the rich beauty of Massenet’s score, give a listen to Michel Plasson and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, the musicians on the Virgin DVD of an in-concert staging at the Châtelet from April 2004. The recorded sound puts the listener mid-orchestra, surrounding the ears with a pulsing, sighing, aching performance that makes one wonder why a suite from the opera hasn't been created.

After a moody credit sequence, which pans an anticipatory audience (David Daniels is briefly glimpsed), the direction and editing indulgently fades and wipes between frequent perspective changes. Thankfully things settle down as the singers appear, and once our two stars are on stage, the focus remains on them. Thomas Hampson in the lead role indicates, obviously, that the performing edition here re-scores the title role for baritone. A brief note in the scanty booklet dances around the apparent absence of any evidence that Massenet authorized, let alone actually created, this alternative version. At any rate, it existed during his lifetime, and apparently he never made any effort to suppress it, either.

For much of the role, Hampson’s dark and forceful projection fits the character of Werther well, if lending itself too much to the dreary side of his persona (if there is any other side). After the brief opening scene featuring some chums of Werther, the score has only Sophie’s light soprano for a voice in the higher range. The great aria, “pourquoi me revellier,” is extensively rewritten, and it disappoints ears such as your reviewer’s, accustomed to the soaring urgency of the tenor version.

Susan Graham’s Charlotte showcases the beautiful fit of her voice to French repertoire, and despite her almost inherent vivacity and charm, she manages to create a truly conflicted Charlotte, devoted to family and duty but open to the urgent passion of this youth. She towers over her Sophie, charmingly underplayed by Sandrine Piau (but whatever does she see in Werther?!). Stéphane Degout does not go for the usual dull, even hard Albert, instead offering a man who is very clearly worthy of the devoted affection of his wife. His handsome voice and impeccable enunciation add to the attractiveness of his performance.

While leading the fine musical performance described above, Michel Plasson is captured many times mouthing the words enthusiastically, but with rather distracting facial expressions.

So this DVD offers a fine performance of the rare baritone version, with no staging but a dramatic and well-acted series of performances from the cast. If the visual elements does not retain its appeal, the musical performance can hold its own. For some of us, however, the curiosity factor won't be enough to eliminate a wish for a vivid staging of the standard tenor version.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/werther.png image_description=Jules Massenet: Werther product=yes product_title=Jules Massenet: Werther product_by=Thomas Hampson, Susan Graham, Sandrine Piau, Stéphane Degout, René Schirrer, François Piolino, Laurent Alvaro, La Maîtrise de Paris, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Michel Plasson (cond.) product_id=Virgin Classics 3592579 [2DVDs] price=$34.18 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000EQHSDC?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000EQHSDC&adid=1J987GZ9K1BPS5XBM8ZE&
Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

ENNA: Lille pige med svovlstikkerne
ZEMLINSKY: Die Seejungfrau

"When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are.
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you."
In the past couple of decades both The Little Match Girl and The Little Mermaid, fairytales by the legendary Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, have been transformed by Hollywood from tales of the thwarted hope of innocent souls into heartwarming tales of hope rewarded. The two late-romantic works presented in a new release on the Dacapo label place these beloved stories back into the crueler world that Andersen was most often wont to describe.

This recording grew from the Danish celebration of Andersen's bicentennial birthday, and features the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Thomas Dausgaard. The first composer on the menu is also Danish, and this was my first exposure to his music. August Enna was a largely self-taught composer who wrote 17 operas—some of which achieved considerable success during his lifetime. Enna's operas were inspired by his admiration for Richard Wagner, yet Enna was the more practical composer. While he wrote large scale works for the major theaters, he also penned more modest efforts aimed at provincial houses with limited resources, and it was in this mold that The Little Match Girl was conceived. History has a mind of its own, and though I suppose Enna might have guessed that he would be remembered for one of his grander efforts, it is by this modestly scaled work, written for two soloists and chorus, that he is best known today.

Enna’s score is melodic, skillfully woven, and easily accessible. The drama, brief as it is, grips the listener, and well evokes our sympathy for the little blond-haired orphan girl trying to sell matches to oblivious passers-by as she freezes to death on Christmas Eve, eventually hallucinating visions of happy children celebrating the holiday with toys and games. It is a bitter tale, only somewhat ameliorated by a final vision of the girl's white-robed mother descending from the sky on a marble staircase to take her child to heaven.

With the exception of a brief monologue sung by a happy mother who appears in one of the match-girl's hallucinations, the show is dominated by the girl herself, and Inger Dam-Jensen sings with the right note of earnestness and simplicity. The Little Match-Girl piqued my interest to hear other operas by Enna--maybe one of those larger scaled efforts. Sadly, there are no others commercially available, except for a competing account of The Little Match-Girl on the CPO label.

While Enna's opera is efficient and modest in its demands, Alexander Zemlinsky was a composer who never failed to write the word “art” with a capital "A"! From the first measures of his three movement 1903 "fantasy for orchestra" Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) the composer's ambition and gift for pictorial expression are fully in evidence. As the massive waves of orchestral sound roll over the ear, it's hard not to see, in the mind's eye, shafts of sunlight filtering down through the deep ultramarine and illuminating an endless forest of brilliant corals, fishes, and maybe an occasional mermaid or sea-witch!

Die Seejungfrau is the first of several Zemlinsky compositions to express the composer's agony at the loss of his love Alma Schindler, who dropped him abruptly shortly after meeting Gustav Mahler, whom she married a few months later. Zemlinsky would return to this experience for inspiration over the following two decades, with a final, more explicit expression of the tragic love affair in his 1922 opera Der Zwerg.

Die Seejungfrau was initially conceived as material for "a great symphony of death" in the aftermath of his rejection. Eventually it took form as a symphonic telling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, in which The Little Mermaid, as Zemlinsky had, reaches out for something wonderful but ultimately out of her reach. Unlike Disney’s animated version, here the mermaid does not marry the Prince, but rather, as the final bars so richly describe, throws herself back into the sea, where her body is united with the sea-foam.

Zemlinsky's symphonic fantasy premiered in 1905, paired with best friend Arnold Schoenberg's symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande. The concert was meant to be the first by a new musical society dedicated to the performance of new music, and founded by Zemlinsky and Schoenberg, with Mahler as honorary president. But the huge forces called for by both composers ended up bankrupting the society, which shortly thereafter disbanded. Die Seejungfrau was well received, but after a couple more performances in other cities, it fell from the repertory, and the score was eventually separated into two parts. It was assumed for many years that part of the score was lost, but, fortunately for us, it eventually resurfaced, and Zemlinsky's early masterwork was heard again for the first time in many decades in 1984. Since then, it has gone on to become the most performed of the composer’s compositions. As such, it has now been commercially recorded numerous times, and this new release will be competing with recorded accounts by James Conlon, Riccardo Chailly, Anthony Beaumont, and even an earlier account by Dausgaard himself with the Danish Radio Symphony. But the new recording holds its own, even with such big-time competition. The sound is vibrant and detailed, and Dausgaard well captures the emotional power of the score. Attractively packaged with multi-lingual notes and libretto, this new Dacapo release is well worth owning. My only complaint about the booklet is that the translations of the opera's libretto were placed on separate pages of the booklet, rather than being printed together in parallel, thus making it harder to follow the Danish text in detail.

Eric D. Anderson

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Enna_Zemlinsky.png image_description=ENNA: Lille pige med svovlstikkerne
ZEMLINSKY: Die Seejungfrau product=yes product_title=ENNA: Lille pige med svovlstikkerne
ZEMLINSKY: Die Seejungfrau product_by=Inger Dam-Jensen, Ylva Kihlberg, Danish National Children's Choir, Danish National Choir, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (cond.) product_id=Dacapo 8.226048 [CD] price=$16.98 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0636943604823&bfmtype=music
Posted by Gary at 1:16 PM

Frederica von Stade sings Mozart and Rossini arias

At the same time, Philips was experimenting with quadraphonic recording techniques, which never really took off at the time, but enabled Pentatone to release the performances now on a multi-channel Super Audio CD, bringing the young Von Stade to our attention once again.

It is a great pleasure to hear the smooth line, the sensitive musicianship, and the intelligent artistry that she brings to this program of arias that are largely what one would expect to hear from a young lyric mezzo bel canto specialist (“Una voce poco fa” and “Non più mesta”, the Cherubino arias, “Vedrai carino”), although there are a few surprises: the Vitellia and Sesto arias from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito might not be expected from such a young singer, and the lovely “Assisa a piè d’un salice” from Rossini’s Otello is something of a rarity, since the libretto has relegated the opera itself to relative obscurity.

The role of Cherubino was originally written for an actress rather than a trained opera singer, and Von Stade’s fine acting ability, evident in the expressive vulnerability she brings to his arias on this disc, no doubt accounts for the fact that she was in great demand for this role throughout her career, until she announced that it made no sense any longer for a 14-year-old boy to be played by a woman whose age was a approaching half a century. Her voice does not have the richness of some mezzos (particularly in the lower range), but she achieves a great deal of warmth, while the contrast between the exquisite legato in the main theme of “Voi, che sapete” and the paradoxical effect of breathless excitement in a well-supported phrase in the modulating section is not only emotionally affecting, but is a fine instructive model to voice students.

In the lengthier, more complex arias from La Clemenza di Tito, another paradox emerges in that the higher notes often have a more glorious impact than the lower ones. Thus we have a fabulous pianissimo at the conclusion of the recitative of “Non più di fiore,” and the climactic “che si dirà” in the aria, but her voice gets lost a bit in the low, chesty phrases of “Veggo la morte verme avanzar.” Nevertheless, I find her legato impressive in the huge skips in “Pietà di me”near the end. Since she made such an impact in the trousers roles for which her slim figure and consummate acting skills suited her so well, it is hard now to imagine her career without them, but listening to her voice at this age can lead to idle thoughts about the perhaps equally glorious career she might have had as a soprano.

The Rossini arias that begin the disc are examples of fine bel canto singing in which the ornamentation is sung with assurance but always in the service of the music itself. So there are fewer pyrotechnics than in the more recent performances of, say, Cecilia Bartoli or Vivica Genaux, but there is a delightful sense of playfulness in “Una voce poco fa” and joyfulness in “Non più mesta”. They are separated by the slow, sorrowful lyricism of the Otello aria, which is the “Willow Song” followed by a prayer, a sequence familiar from Verdi’s Otello¸ although the prayer in this case is for respite and the arrival of the beloved, crying for her in death if not able to console her in life. (Verdi’s prayer, an “Ave Maria,” seems a more profound recognition of approaching death, but it is interesting to note that, in the Shakespeare play, there is no prayer at all at this point). The arpeggiated harp introduction helps make this aria a particularly beautiful moment of peace between the more energetic and famous arias it separates. The lengthy and difficult “Non più mesta,” which closes the Rossini section, is beautifully sung and full of vitality; but once again her lower tones get lost occasionally, most sadly in the skips on the second syllables of the words “Un lampo, un sogno” down to a single E or F in the middle range, which are notes in the aria that I normally listen for with anticipation and was disappointed not to hear.

I should add a word or two about the SACD itself, as all these performances were available a few years ago, along with some Haydn arias, on a Philips CD with the straightforward but not terribly imaginative title “Haydn Mozart Rossini”. What is new here is the technology that makes use of the original quadraphonic recording from the 70’s to create multi-channel sound. Owners of the older CD may wonder whether it is worth buying this new one. My ears listening to these discs on my good, but not great, stereo sound system did not pick up a significant difference between the two. I took advantage of a visit to the Bay area to borrow the much more sensitive ears of my brother-in-law. We compared both CD’s on his excellent speakers attached to a mid-level system in a small room. While I didn’t hear a big difference myself, he reported hearing “absolutely no hiss” on the SACD Pentatone disc (I hadn’t heard it on the other one, myself), but he felt that there was also a certain liveliness of the performance that was lost (while her breaths were never heavy, he could hear them on the older Philips disc but not on the Pentatone one, which in his opinion detracted from the listening experience). I will also say that, when I then took the disc to another friend with a home theater and listened to it on that, the sound on the disc filled the room wonderfully (although my more technically-accomplished friend confessed that he was unable to get his theater system to decode the four channels in exactly the same way as they had been encoded, so the channels we were hearing were not necessarily the ones that the engineers had intended).

More mundane differences between this disc and the earlier one are the new notes in French, German and English, which discuss Von Stade’s career and the roles represented by the arias on this CD. (The notes describe them in the order in which they appeared on the earlier disc, however—there the Mozart preceded the Rossini, whereas on the SACD the Rossini comes first). Also included are the Italian texts of the arias, with French, German and English translations, and some notes about the recording technology.

Barbara Miller

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/von_stade.png image_description=Frederica von Stade sings Mozart and Rossini arias product=yes product_title=Frederica von Stade sings Mozart and Rossini arias product_by=Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Edo de Waart (cond.) product_id=Pentatone Classics PTC 5186 158 [SACD] price=$19.99 product_url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0009KBMMQ?tag=operatoday-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B0009KBMMQ&adid=12F13T4RK24JWK51YKDA&
Posted by Gary at 12:36 PM

“Poppea” - Heartless in L.A.

He might also have added that it was an opera that suited this particular city so very well: a web of drama and danger, political ambivalence and lack of moral centre. The baddies come out on top; the goodies, if they exist at all, fade into the sunset.

Los Angeles has become synonymous with downtown decay, the inhumanity of its suburban landscapes and an artistic immorality crystallized over decades by the Hollywood film machine. Today, as the city fights its own traditions to restore and renew what used to be good and worthwhile, the formerly conservative LA Opera has been making its own statement of change by allowing and encouraging productions that challenge audiences to leave their comfort zone. “Poppea” was an inspired choice, and although originally envisaged as a new production, it became necessary to import Pierre Audi’s celebrated staging for Netherlands Opera. To sell this to their less adventurous patrons LA Opera engaged world-class performers like Susan Graham (Poppea), Kurt Streit (Nerone), David Daniels (Ottone), Frederica von Stade (Ottavia) and got Harry Bicket to lead a thirteen-strong period band, complete with theorbos, lirone, and baroque cello, from the harpsichord. For many in the audience on first night, this was a revelation indeed: to be able to hear a vocal line with absolute clarity, where the words were everything, the music supporting rather than over-whelming.

In the early 1640’s, as opera was moving from the ducal palaces to public theatres, Monteverdi emphasised plot, drama and virtuoso vocal writing, leaving the gods and mythological creatures behind and concentrating on real human beings for the first time. With “Poppea”, opera entered a new age. Today, his problematic drama still causes an audience to stop and think: can these two rather awful people really win it all - and deserve that happy ending and sublime duet? Of course Monteverdi’s audience knew as well as we do (and probably better in many cases) what was to come later in the story of Nero and Poppea - the vicious violence, the bloody nadir of a tyrant’s rule. They knew that this was a snapshot in time, and that Virtue didn’t always conquer, that Fortune and Love were powers as fickle as dice.

These last three characters, opening the proceedings to set the stage and give warning of what is to come, were well sung by young singers Stacey Tappan, Tonna Miller and Hanan Alattar respectively, although the latter sounded least convincing stylistically. Throughout the opera the minor roles were mixed and matched between some very promising young artists with not a single voice sounding ill-tuned, nor a character looking under-rehearsed. Outstanding among them were tenor Nicholas Phan (Lucano/soldier/friend) and Keith Jameson, another young tenor, singing the role of page Valetto. Jill Groves gave an outstanding performance as Ottavia’s ancient Nutrice.

The roles of philosopher/poet Seneca and Drusilla, hopefully in love with Ottone, were taken by Reinhard Hagen, bass, and Christine Brandes, soprano. Hagen possesses a deep, warm bass that reverberated convincingly around the theatre, giving substance to a character that Monteverdi suggests is essentially morally weak, and even pretentious in his stoicism. Brandes is a baroque singer with world-class credentials and she made the most of the slightly put-upon character of Drusilla, making every word count with a pure soprano that sounded completely at ease in the idiom. Veteran performer Frederica von Stage might not be known for her Handel or Monteverdi, but she showed her immense versatility with a finely-drawn portrayal of Ottavia, vengeful spurned wife of Nerone. The voice might not be what it was in terms of sheer vocal beauty, but it still had power and a fine dramatic sense.

Singing the traditionally “travesti” role of Arnalta, Poppea’s foolish old nurse, British tenor Chris Gillett was a great success with the local audience, as he played the part with a fine balance between farce and pathos. This opera is full of wonderful comic moments, vignettes and asides, that lighten the overall gravity of what is going on “main stage” - and the ridiculous old snob is a major source of that light relief.

But the centre of this opera lies in a triangle of love, ambition and power, represented by Ottone, Poppea and Nerone himself. With David Daniels singing his first (and not last, we hope) Ottone, the audience was treated to a real baroque specialist at work. His exquisitely beautiful instrument is perfectly suited to the melismas and tonal contrasts of the work, not to mention the idiomatic musical style of the period - something not always quite so well accomplished by others. If the part doesn’t allow him to soar to where his voice really blooms, it certainly displays his other vocal and dramatic talents at their eloquent best. One of Audi’s adjustments this time around was to allow Daniels to extend the character from the rather one-dimensional and droopy “spurned lover” into something much edgier, much more scheming. One had only to watch Ottone’s eyes, whilst assuring Drusilla of his suspiciously new “love” for her, to know that she was being cruelly misled.

Ambition, impure and simple, is what the character of Poppea is all about and if Monteverdi had any sympathy for her, it doesn’t show. But there is a kind of awful magnificence about so driven a soul, so determined a woman in the man’s world that was ancient Rome, and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham was in many ways the perfect embodiment of those arguable virtues. Her pinpoint intonation, and expressive and assured control of dynamics ensured that she dominated scenes where Poppea set out her stall to become the most powerful woman in the land; there were also gorgeous pianissimo notes reflecting her occasional inner self-doubts. If there was any doubt in Nerone’s mind, it could only have been “when” not “if” he would gain Poppea as his empress. Kurt Streit is an immensely accomplished dramatic singer and he engaged all his abilities in this portrayal of the despotic emperor who uses absolute power with complete disregard for consequence. If his rich tenor seemed sometimes stretched beyond comfort, it was never to the extent of pain for either singer or audience. He too was able on première night to display some beautiful high soft notes that almost convinced us of his character’s ability to love. Baroque aficionados might argue about the decision to transpose the role of Nerone down from the high alto/male soprano range, as it certainly changes the musical balance between him and Poppea and Seneca, losing those delicious dissonances and “crunches” in the big duets. However, now that Daniels no longer sings Nerone, there are precious few male singers able to cope with the tessitura of this role at the original pitch - and fewer still with a name big enough to fill the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Before long, would it be too much to ask for a big house to use both Daniels as Ottone and perhaps young Michael Maniaci as Nerone? The one thing that the two principal singers could not offer in this production of “Poppea” was youth - and we therefore lost an essential element in the story, that of youthful arrogance and bravura. This Nerone was unpleasant, but he wasn’t the brattish young killer of history. This Poppea was beautiful and scheming, but she wasn’t the teenage temptress, nurse in tow, for whom Monteverdi wrote his melodious lines. This is where financial reality, in the form of box office receipts, meets artistic vision - a modern dilemma that the composer would have recognised full well even in the 1640’s.

One cannot leave this production without mentioning the superb costumes, for they were in fact the major scenic vehicles of story and character progression that gave focus and colour within Audi’s stark metallic sets. David Daniels (Ottone) and Christine Brandes (Drusilla) The renowned Japanese designer Emi Wada recreated many of the costumes for LA Opera, as the originals were too complex to re-size and each was a masterpiece in textural and expressive design. Both colour and complexity of materials are used to mark the moral and social rise and fall of the characters - for instance Poppea starts out in almost virginal cream and progresses through richer red and gold until she matches Nerone in imperial magnificence for her coronation. Much like Monteverdi’s great gift to modern opera as we know it today, Wada’s costumes are not time specific; they defy categorisation and remain as a work of art in themselves. In a city that is busy trying to re-invent itself, such timelessness shines out like a beacon of hope for the future.

© Sue Loder 2006

Remaining performances at 7pm on December 7th, 13th and 16th; matinee at 2pm December 10th.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Streit_Graham.png image_description=Kurt Streit and Susan Graham product=yes product_title=Above: Kurt Streit (Nerone) and Susan Graham (Poppea)

Below: David Daniels (Ottone) and Christine Brandes (Drusilla) product_by=All photos courtesy of LA Opera
Posted by Gary at 11:45 AM

December 5, 2006

A Mezzo's Winning Radiance

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 5 December 2006]

Next Sunday afternoon, Angelika Kirchschlager, the excellent Austrian mezzo, will give a recital in Alice Tully Hall. But if you can't wait till then, you might want to check out her latest CD, which is a collection of Handel opera arias (on Sony/BMG).There are a million collections of Handel opera arias, of course. But they are very much worth making.

Posted by Gary at 9:39 AM

Renée Fleming

Neil Fisher at the Barbican [Times Online, 5 December 2006]

The trouble with Renée Fleming isn’t the self-indulgence. What else does it take to be a diva if not the ability to hold yourself and your voice in more esteem than the conductor, orchestra or even the music?

Posted by Gary at 9:35 AM

Houston “rescues” Hansel and Gretel

Humperdinck’s siblings have been turned into depraved teen-agers, wayward members of a sorely dysfunctional family, sometimes headed by an alcoholic father and a shrew-like mother. And drag-queen witches on motorcycles have brought lip-smacking realism to hints of cannibalism in the story, thus outdoing the fairy-tale original in grotesque ghoulishness.

In a holiday production the Houston Grand Opera has taken a happily refreshing “less-is-more” approach to Humperdinck’s one great hit, enhancing the appeal of the work to both children and adults. To achieve this Anthony Freud — in his first season as HGO general director and CEO — paired the talent of puppeteer Basil Twist with the acumen of newly appointed head of the HGO music staff Kathleen Kelly, who reorchestrated this score for chamber ensemble.

For almost a decade Twist, a third-generation puppeteer, has focused his career on music. His 1998 underwater visualization of Berlioz’” Symphonie fantastique” won both an Obie Award and a Drama Desk nomination. Two years later he staged Stravinsky’s ballet “Petrushka” with puppets and then directed two operas written specifically for puppets: de Falla’s “Master Peter’s Puppet Show” and Respighi’s “Sleeping Beauty in the Woods.”

In Houston Twist, doubling as designer and director, has combined humans and puppets on stage simultaneously for the first time. For the production Twist engaged eight professional puppeteers who — invisible to the audience — work both above and below the stage. In addition, from Japan’s Bunraku theater he has added black-clad assistants who bring puppets on stage.

Most impressive, however, is the illusion that he has created in the size of the singers involved. As the opera opens Hansel and Gretel seem truly child-size as they move among mammoth pieces of furniture. And the parents, when they appear, enforce this impression. With enlarged heads and walking on stilts, they recall “tricks” often used to make Wagner’s “Rheingold” giants Fafner and Fasolt larger than life.

Twist has outdone even himself with a femme fatale Witch, a 12-foot swivel-hipped diva in flaming red directly from the grandest of operas. To execute Twist’s design for the figure, Houston’s Jm Jensen Company mounted baritone Liam Bonner on a vintage rolling camera pedestal that is moved around the stage with fluidity and speed by two men beneath the Witch’ skirts. A third is responsible for the figure’s body movements, while Bonner sweeps the air with long-fingered hands and arms that extend from his own.

Twist calls the Witch “an extended opera singer,” whom he finds “pretty cool.”Her physical stature, he notes, reflects her power. And while the Witch, sung by Bonner without affectation, might scare the daylights out of kids, for the audience she speaks more of fun than fear, an impression enforced by an ornately colorful house built of gingerbread from a batter obviously rich in Russian Easter eggs.

Other impressive “twists” of the staging include 14 diaphanous angels — puppets all — who dance an aerial ballet above the sleeping children after their “Prayer” and the addition to the cast of an entourage of gingerbread people recruited from HGO Children’s Chorus. Following the demise of the Witch they shed their costumes to be real boys and girls, now liberated from captivity. (Karen Reeves rehearsed the children.)

Twist shares the success of the production with Kelly, whose reduction of Humperdinck’s Wagnerian orchestra to an ensemble of a mere eight — string quartet, horn, flute, clarinet and piano — gives the opera a whole new lease on life.Kelly undertook this task — independent of the HGO — for the Berkshire Opera, where she premiered the new version last summer in several Massachuset communities with small venues. (One theater was without a pit, making itnecessary for the instrumentalists to share the stage with the singers.)

As a chamber opera “Hansel and Gretel” is a kinder and gentler work than the original as it is often encountered today. “The score is lush,” Kelly says, “but its bone structure is clear and clean.” And it is the strength of these qualities that bring to the HGO staging a feeling of rebirth and rediscovery that make “Hansel and Gretel” a masterpiece of classic restraint.

In this lean environment the German children’s songs that Humperdinck built into the score retain their authenticity, and the transparency of the reduced orchestration brings to the surface a charm often obscured by the forces of the original version.

“The music at the heart of any work is greater than the forces that create the sound,” Kelly comments. “Hansel and Gretel” is sung here in Cori Ellison’s delightfully unmannered and infinitely singable English translation of the libretto, which includes such lines as these sung by the Witch:

“I plan to set his heart aflutter
With Belgian waffles and cinnamon butter.”

The production, seen at the opening-night performance on December 1and slated for 10 further December performances in the Cullen Theater in Houston’s Wortham Center, is in its entirety a product of the HGO Studio, the company’s highly regarded training program for young artists, which Kelly serves as music director.

A delightfully boyish Fiona Murphy and a convincingly adolescent Rebecca Camm sang the title roles on opening night; they alternate with Maria Markina and Alicia Gianni in later performances. Jennifer Root and Ryan McKinny are the parents, while Russian-born Albina Shagimuratova, a first-year Studio artist, makes her HGO debut, doubling as Sandman and Dew Fairy.

Regarding her collaboration with Twist, Kelly points first to the number of Baroque operas written for puppets — again, small venues prompted the practice — and to the favor that transcriptions and arrangements enjoyed before the age of recorded sound. “And it’s ideal for younger singers — artists still in their 20s or early 30s,” she says. Kelly conducted the overwhelmingly charming and convincing staging.

It is perhaps surprising that Anthony Freud chose “‘Hansel and Gretel” rather than “Turandot” or “Meistersinger” for his first new production in Houston. “It’s been interesting for me to look at a favorite opera with new eyes,” says Freud, speaking of his choice of Twist for the staging. “Basil has never directed humans before, and the combination of puppets and real people has been a fresh challenge for him.” Freud points to plans for projects designed specifically for the 1100-seat Culllen, less than half the size of the Brown Theater, the 2200-seat venue for HGO major productions. “And the talent of our Studio makes such projects doubly appealing, for they are of benefit both to the training program and to the company as a whole,”Freud says.

This “Hansel and Gretel,” a co-production of the Houston Grand Opera and Atlanta Opera, rescues the opera from the over-the-top productions that have become a modern tradition. It gives the score a new lease on life.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/HGO_Hansel_Gretel.png image_description=Hansel and Gretel (HGO)
Posted by Gary at 9:20 AM

December 4, 2006

Tragedy Triumphs For Opera

By KURT LOFT [Tampa Tribune, 3 December 2006]

TAMPA - The language of Shakespeare, for all its intense lyricism, often speaks of the most sordid human traits. Too bad the Bard of Avon never wrote an opera.

Posted by Gary at 12:54 PM

Don Carlo, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 3 December 2006]

The glorious, poignant sprawl of Don Carlo returned almost triumphantly to Lincoln Center on Thursday. Equally responsive to Verdi’s dramatic bravado and lyrical introspection, James Levine sustained breadth and tension in the pit. He also reinforced his reputation as a masterly accompanist.

Posted by Gary at 12:48 PM

'Barber' delivers a delicate touch

By SCOTT CANTRELL [The Dallas Morning News, 3 December 2006]

Longtime operagoers sometimes lament that the Dallas Opera no longer presents the star singers – the Maria Callases, the Joan Sutherlands, the Jon Vickerses – that early on made it such an international sensation. But in its 50th season the company has assembled a Barber of Seville cast hard to beat anywhere.

Posted by Gary at 12:44 PM

L'incoronazione di Poppea, Britten Theatre, London

By Anna Picard [Independent, 3 December 2006]

The Benjamin Britten International Opera School of the Royal College of Music exists to train young singers for professional careers. Recent years have brought some excellent productions to the Britten Theatre but few have met the educational remit as comprehensively as Paul Curran's production of L'incoronazione di Poppea.

Posted by Gary at 12:40 PM

The ‘Don Carlo' Dream Cast

racette.pngBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 4 December 2006]

When the Metropolitan Opera's 2006–07 season was announced, many people said that "Don Carlo" boasted the very best cast — even a "dream cast." They had a point. And "Don Carlo" — Verdi's masterpiece from 1867 — had its season premiere on Thursday night.

Posted by Gary at 12:25 PM

Antonio Pappano: Local hero

Pappano_small.png(Photo: Sheila Rock)
For opera-lovers it's a great relief that Antonio Pappano, Italian but London-born, has just signed a new contract as Covent Garden's Musical Director. Anna Picard asks him about the highs - and occasional lows - of this high-pressure job
[Independent, 3 December 2006]

Antonio Pappano is famously the youngest conductor to have command of Covent Garden since 1955. Yet his was not the meteoric rise of popular fiction. Though small of stature, he cuts a powerful figure. There's bulk in those shoulders, and grit behind the affable pragmatism of a busy man. Were we to come to blows over the highs and lows of his four-year career at the Royal Opera House, I wouldn't fancy my chances.

Posted by Gary at 9:45 AM

KORNGOLD: Die Tote Stadt

First Performance: 4 December 1920 at Hamburg and Köln.

Principal Characters:
PaulTenor
Ghost of Marie, his deceased wifeSoprano
Marietta, a dancerSoprano
Frank, Paul's friendBaritone
Brigitte, Paul's housekeeperMezzo-Soprano
Fritz an actorBaritone
Juliette, a dancerSoprano
Lucienne, a dancerSoprano
Gaston, a dancerTenor
Victorin, the directorTenor
Count AlbertTenor

Synopsis:

Act I

Since his wife's death, Paul has saved a braid of her hair, her scarf and her lute as mementos. She lives only in his memory. Paul's housekeeper, Brigitta, declares that his friend, Frank, has returned to Brügge after a long absence. He tells Paul that has met a young woman who closely resembles the dead Marie. Frank warns him to let the dead rest in peace, but Paul dreams of her return. He has Brigitta procure red roses.

The young lady, Marietta, arrives. She is a dancer on tour. Paul gives her the roses and then gives her Marie’s scarf and lute. Marietta sings a song that Marie always sang. Marietta uncovers Marie’s portrait and notes the striking similarity with her. She must leave to attend a rehearsal of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, in which she plays Hélène. She urges him to join her at the theater; but, he stays behind. The apparition of Marie appears from the portrait and transforms into the dancing figure of Marietta.

Act II

Paul and Frank meet outside Marietta’s house. Brigitta has left Paul’s service. Frank has the key to Marietta’s apartment. Paul wrestles the key from him. Marietta’s troupe arrives. They begin to rehearse the resurrection scene from Robert le Diable, with Marietta as the risen Hélène. Paul interrupts, humiliating Marietta. Nevertheless, Marietta wishes to win over Paul. She goes with him to his house. There she will battle with the ghost of Marie.

Act III

The next morning, Marietta stands before Marie’s portrait, triumphant. She challenges the dead woman. Paul’s conscience is in turmoil, which only increases as a holy procession passes by the window. Marietta mocks Paul because of his piety. She takes the braid of hair. Paul snatches it away from her and strangles Marietta with Marie's hair. Now dead, Marietta resembles Marie completely.

Paul awakens. Brigitta reports that Marietta has forgotten her roses and umbrella. After Marietta leaves, Frank invites Paul to accompany him on a trip to get away from the city of the death. Paul, who determines that a reunion with the dead is not possible in this life, follows him.

Click here for the complete libretto

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Live performance, 1952, München
Posted by Gary at 9:40 AM

December 2, 2006

Das Rheingold

Richard Morrison at the Wales Millennium Centre [Times Online, 2 December 2006]

The Russians don’t exactly have Wagner in their blood. Before Valery Gergiev reintroduced the Ring cycle to the Maryinsky Theatre in St Petersburg three years ago, it had not been staged in the country since 1913.

Posted by Gary at 9:52 PM

La mort de Tower Records symbolise l'agonie du CD

Le Monde [1 December 2006]

Fondé en Californie, à Sacramento, en 1960, par un passionné de musique, Russ Solomon, la chaîne de magasins de disques Tower Records va disparaître. En dépôt de bilan, elle a été reprise auprès du tribunal des faillites de Wilmington (Delaware) par le liquidateur Great American Group pour 134,3 millions de dollars, tandis que ses dettes dépassent 200 millions. Le juge a préféré cette offre, supérieure de seulement 500 000 dollars à celle de Trans World Entertainment, qui offrait pourtant de conserver certains points de vente.

Posted by Gary at 9:43 PM

Being there as Mozart dies

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 1 December 2006]

Imagine you are a fly on the wall of Mozart’s home in Vienna 215 years ago. Wolfgang Amadeus has been in bed for a week with fever. He invites three friends to his bedside to sing parts of his unfinished Requiem. In the evening his condition suddenly worsens. Within hours he is dead.

Posted by Gary at 9:33 PM

December 1, 2006

Scaled-down La Scala

With small houses and budgets to match, local companies fill a niche for singers and fans.
By Chris Pasles [LA Times, 3 December 2006]

FORGET about actors. Los Angeles is a town full of opera singers looking for work. They're your waiters, computer programmers, kindergarten teachers, even your letter carriers. Small companies have been springing up all over town and around the country, some even started by the singers themselves, to give them opportunities — not to mention offering budget-minded audiences an affordable way to see opera.

Posted by Gary at 3:14 PM

New head of Berlin Philharmonic: classical music needs to attract broader, younger audience

The Associated Press [Int'l Herald Tribune, 1 December 2006]

Pamela Rosenberg, newly installed as managing director of the 124-year-old Berlin Philharmonic, wants to liven the place up a bit.

Posted by Gary at 3:03 PM

Welsh welcome for a Russian Wagner

WMC.png[Financial Times, 1 December 2006]

Just when questions are being raised, in the wake of the Litvinenko affair, about Russia’s trustworthiness as a superpower, along comes a 15-hour operatic allegory about the abuse of power – interpreted by a Russian company. Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is being performed this weekend in Cardiff, Wales, by St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, has nothing to say about Russian spies or nuclear contamination.

Posted by Gary at 1:11 PM

Proud Music of the Academy

BAM.pngBy FRANCIS MORRONE [NY Sun, 1 December 2006]

The Brooklyn Academy of Music, wrote Walt Whitman, is "so beautiful outside and in, and on a scale commensurate with similar buildings, even in some of the largest and most polished capitals of Europe."

Posted by Gary at 1:01 PM

MARSCHNER: Hans Heiling

First Performance: 24 May 1833, Königliches Opernhaus, Berlin.

Principal Characters:
Queen of the Erdgeister Soprano
Hans Heiling, her son Baritone
Anna, his bride Soprano
Gertrud, her mother Alto
Konrad, a hunter and Anna’s sweetheart Tenor
Stephan, a blacksmith Bass
Niklas, a tailor Tenor

Synopsis:

Prologue

Hans Heiling has fallen in love with a girl he found during a trek on the earth. He wants to leave the empire of the Erdgeister forever, despite all warnings of his mother, the Queen.

Act I

Hans Heiling ascends to the earth from his home in the underworld. He brings a magic book and jewelry for his would-be bride. With these in hand, Heiling approaches Anna. But Anna is terrified by the book. Heiling burns the book on Anna’s request. They renew their vows of fidelity. They then go to the village festival. There are many people at the tavern drinking, dancing and singing. Konrad joins them, who has loved Anna for a long time. Konrad asks Anna to dance. Hans Heiling objects angrily; but, Anna ignores him. Heiling suspects that his bride doesn't love him.

Act II

Anna leaves to go home through the forest and becomes lost. She is concerned because she loves Konrad, but she is Heiling’s bride. Suddenly, the Queen appears and beseeches the girl to release her son, who is not a human being but a prince of the underworld. Anna faints. Konrad finds the girl and takes her home.

Once again, Hans Heiling approaches Anna to win her over. However, the girl returns the jewelry. In a rage, he stabs Konrad. Heiling then runs away, laughing scornfully.

Act III

Hans Heiling is tired and returns to the Erdgeistern. He finds out that Konrad is not dead and that Anna will marry him the next day. Heiling returns to the earth to take revenge on the faithless.

Konrad and Anna are wedded in the forest chapel. Following an old custom, they must now find each other while blindfolded. Hans Heiling steps in and seizes Anna’s hand, who pleads for mercy. Konrad rushes to help his wife; but, his knife shatters as he strikes Heiling. Heiling summons the Erdgeister to destroy all the people. The Queen appears and persuades her son to reconcile. Hans Heiling returns to the underworld.

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Live performance, July 1966, Köln
Posted by Gary at 9:35 AM

Sweet was the Song

The recital’s actual theme is Elizabethan poetry as set by British composers of the period or of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, all performed by tenor Robert Bracey and pianist Andrew Harley. The final 15 minutes of the 70-minute program are given over to a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Four Hymns for Tenor, Piano and Viola, where they are joined by a fellow member of the University of North Carolina faculty, violist Scott Rawls.

Within the vocal music world, Dorumsgaard is best known for his 22-volume Canzone Scordate, sensitive arrangements for voice and piano of a wide variety of songs that would not otherwise be available to artists in vocal-piano recitals: European folk songs, old songs in French, Italian, and German, as well as the songs on this disc, most of which were originally lute songs by Elizabethan-period composers John Dowland, John Bartlet, and John Attey. Other artists who have recorded his arrangements include Frederica von Stade and Gerard Souzay, as well as Kirsten Flagstad, who recorded a recital of Dorumsgaard’s original songs in Norwegian along with a selection of his arrangements. (The best source of information on him that I have found online is his obituary.)

The present disc begins with five settings of Elizabethan poetry by Roger Quilter, whose skillful settings of the texts and interesting but unobtrusive accompaniments draw us in and introduce three texts that we will hear again later in the program: Shakespeare’s “O Mistress Mine” and “Come away death”, and the anonymous “Weep you no more”, all of which intertwine the themes of love and death, through grief for the beloved, grief for oneself at being scorned by the beloved, or an exhortation to love now as death will come soon enough.

This set is followed by a generous selection of Dorumsgaard’s arrangements. As the tunes, if not the arrangements, are contemporary with the poetry itself, this section gives a taste of the musical environment in which the poets wrote the texts. The difficulty I have with this section is that there is insufficient contrast among the songs to keep my interest engaged all the way through. With the exception of the minute given over to the energetic “What thing is love?” the music is fairly languid. There are ten English lute song arrangements available in the Canzone Scordate; the artists present six here, then wisely follow with Dorumsgaard’s arrangement of Thomas Arne’s eighteenth-century setting of Shakespeare’s “Come away death”, which adds some stylistic contrast and eases the transition toward the more modern music.

We re-enter the twentieth century with Eric Thiman’s “The Silver Swan”, a bird whose song in dying makes the statement “More Geese than Swans now live—more fools than wise”, which is curmudgeonly but perhaps fitting as a follow-up to the work of Dorumsgaard, who gave up original composition and devoted himself to arrangements of earlier music. As if to emphasize the contrast between the earlier era and the present, the next song is Gustav Holst’s “Weep you no more”, a text heard twice before as set by Quilter and Dowland, but noticeably different from either in Holst’s Wagner-influenced harmonies. The Germanic influence continues into Ivor Gurney’s delicately lush setting of “Sleep”, a text which reappears two songs later in an equally fine setting by Peter Warlock, who counted among his many musical influences both Roger Quilter and the music of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Thus it is fitting that the Elizabethan-inspired section of the program closes with several more of Warlock’s songs to Elizabethan texts, finishing with the lively “As ever I saw”.

By this point in the program, we have spent about 55 minutes hearing a variety of musical styles unified by the poetry of a single glorious era in English literature. Bracey sings the songs in an engaged but straightforward style that doesn’t vary in color much beyond a consistently ringing timbre that grew a bit tiring for this listener after a while. But when the sonic landscape opens out with the addition of the viola and the more triumphant, extroverted music of Vaughan Williams’ 4 Hymns, Bracey comes into his own. According to the CD booklet, he won first prize in the Oratorio Society of New York’s Annual International Solo Competition in 2002, and his skill with that style of music translates well to this piece, which opens with the two instruments playing at full volume and the voice cutting through as a triumphant recitative. In the more meditative second and third songs, the warmth of the viola brings out a warmth in Bracey’s voice which, if it was there, was not as pronounced earlier in the recital, when it would have been welcome. An echo of the triumph of the first song is heard in the concluding “Evening Hymn” with its evocative ground bass in the piano part of the first and last verses of the voice, continuing under the viola’s postlude that gradually fades into quiet as evening falls.

The booklet includes texts of the songs and notes on the composers represented in the program, as well as biographies of the artists and publication information on the songs.

Barbara Miller

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Posted by Gary at 8:12 AM