Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

ENNA: Lille pige med svovlstikkerne<br/>ZEMLINSKY: Die Seejungfrau
06 Dec 2006

ENNA: Lille pige med svovlstikkerne
ZEMLINSKY: Die Seejungfrau

Walt Disney has colored our perception of fairy tales, turning them, whatever their source, into egalitarian morality plays:

ENNA: Lille pige med svovlstikkerne
ZEMLINSKY: Die Seejungfrau

Inger Dam-Jensen, Ylva Kihlberg, Danish National Children's Choir, Danish National Choir, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (cond.)

Dacapo 8.226048 [CD]

$16.98  Click to buy

"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

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):