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

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Jules Massenet: Werther
06 Dec 2006

MASSENET: Werther

Who is the most annoying character in opera? Preziosilla from Verdi’s Forza del Destino drives some to distraction, while others wish the conspirators in Ballo would assassinate Oscar in act one.

Jules Massenet: Werther

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.)

Virgin Classics 3592579 [2DVDs]

$34.18  Click to buy

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

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):