January 30, 2007

"Colombe" reprend son envol à l'Opéra de Marseille

Gillet_Anne-Catherine.png[Le Monde, 29 January 2007]

Pour la troisième fois de sa carrière de directrice d'opéra, Renée Auphan fait la lumière sur l'un des "trous noirs" de la musique de la seconde partie du XXe siècle : l'oeuvre lyrique de Jean-Michel Damase (né en 1928). Après avoir chanté Madame de... (1970), Eurydice (1972), et L'Héritière (1974), Renée Auphan, qui fut une artiste lyrique d'envergure, aura monté Madame de... au Grand Théâtre de Genève, puis, à l'Opéra de Marseille, dont elle est l'actuelle directrice, L'Héritière (Le Monde du 13 mai 2004) et, cette saison, Colombe (1961), d'après la pièce de Jean Anouilh.

Posted by Gary at 8:26 AM

Michele Pertusi

Pertusi.pngANDREW CLARK [Financial Times, 29 January 2007]

There are a good few opera singers who make fine recitalists. There are many more who feel naked when addressing an audience without a costume. Perhaps that is why we have had to wait until now to hear Michele Pertusi in recital. He was an admired operatic bass in the 1980s and 1990s, appearing mainly in Rossini and Mozart, at Covent Garden and other leading European houses. But younger singers have usurped his signature roles, and judging by this performance in the Rosenblatt series at St John’s, Smith Square, he is a reluctant recitalist.

Posted by Gary at 8:10 AM

Marilyn Horne Puts Her Protégés on Parade in Song

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 29 January 2007]

The standing ovation came before a note of music had been sung. The Marilyn Horne Foundation’s annual gala recital is supposed to focus on song, but it also focuses on Marilyn Horne. Looking radiant in gold lace, apparently undaunted by a year’s struggle with cancer, she played host to Friday evening’s event at Zankel Hall, a night after giving a master class there, with every bit of her star flair. And at her first entrance the audience stood, with applause and shouts of “Brava,” to greet her.

Posted by Gary at 8:06 AM

In Opera’s Famous Pair of One-Acts, Tenor Doubles His Workload

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 29 January 2007]

The traveling sideshow of “Pagliacci” added a strongman act to its clowns, acrobats and derailed theatrical entertainments on Friday night. Salvatore Licitra was scheduled to sing Leoncavallo’s Canio at the Metropolitan Opera, while Frank Porretta would be Mascagni’s Turiddu in “Cavalleria Rusticana.” On Thursday Mr. Porretta reported in sick. Rather than let a cover singer be called for, Mr. Licitra said he would sing both operas.

Posted by Gary at 7:56 AM

January 28, 2007

Händel in Mozarts Gewand, welche Herausforderung!

Fischer.pngVON WALTER DOBNER [Die Presse, 29 January 2007]

Zur Eröffnung der Salzburger Mozartwoche enttäuschte Adam Fischer mit dem "Messias". Überzeugen konnte hingegen der Schweizer Komponist Jörg Widman.

Posted by Gary at 8:56 PM

Dresscode für die Opernbesucher

Von Kai Luehrs-Kaiser [Die Welt, 29 January 2007]

Die Mailänder Scala hat einen Aufruf für korrekte Kleidung erlassen - und druckt ihn auf der Rückseite der Eintrittskarten. Das Opernhaus ersucht um Kleidung, "die im Einklang mit dem guten Ton des Theaters steht". Die Maßnahme ist ein Hilfeschrei.

Posted by Gary at 8:46 PM

The Elixir of Love

Ryberg_Anna.pngRichard Morrison at The Grand, Leeds [Times Online, 29 January 2007]

Transposing 19th-century operas to the glitzy dolce vita world of 1950s Italy has become something of a cliché. You can see why. The stage can be flooded with light. Those curvy frocks and high heels flatter the fuller-figured soprano. And the more glamorous of the male chorus can whizz round on Vespa scooters, looking chic in shades.

Posted by Gary at 8:33 PM

Rodolfo and Mimi Soar Again

Giordani_Marcello_small.pngBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 26 January 2007]

Not many tenors these days excel in the full-bodied, lyric Puccini and Verdi repertory once owned by the likes of Carlo Bergonzi, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti. The closest we have may be the Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, who took over the role of Rodolfo on Wednesday night for the first of four final performances in the Metropolitan Opera’s current revival of Puccini’s “Bohème.” His Mimi was the Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, which united the stars of the Met’s acclaimed Anthony Minghella production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”

Posted by Gary at 8:26 PM

PUCCINI: La Bohème

First Performance: 1 February 1896. Teatro Regio, Turin

Principal Characters:
Rodolfo, a musician Tenor
Schaunard, a musician Baritone
Benoit, a landlord Bass
Mimi, a maker of artificial flowers Soprano
Marcello, a painter Baritone
Colline, a philosopher Bass
Alcindoro, a state councilor Bass
Musetta Soprano
A Custom-House Sergeant Bass
Parpignol, a toy vendor Tenor

Setting: Paris, mid-19th Century

Background:

La Bohème aroused quick public response, thanks to its heart-warming melodies and absorbing drama. Many early critics, however, objected strongly to its story, its music, even its romantic freedom. Turinese writers bemoaned what they called a decline in Puccini’s powers; some dubbed the new work a mere potboiler, others dismissed it as an operina or operetta, and here in New York the Tribune critic flailed the new work as “foul in subject and fulminant and futile in its music.” In due course, however, even the critics were won over by the bubbling verve and intense fervor of the music. Today most opera-goers would rank La Bohème among their favorite operas.

Synopsis:

Act I

Scene: In the Attic.

The cold, bleak garret dwelling of the inseparable quartet, Rodolfo, poet; Marcello, painter; Colline, philosopher; Schaunard, musician, is certainly large enough to accommodate such a family. The sparse furniture makes it seem doubly spacious. For the fireplace — devoid of fire — the few chairs, the table, the small cupboard, the few books, the artist’s easel, appear like miniatures in this immense attic. Marcello, busily painting at his never-finished canvas — The Passage of the Red Sea — stops to blow on his hands to keep them from freezing. Rodolfo, the poet, gazes through the window over the snow-capped roofs of Paris. Marcello breaks the silence by remarking that he feels as though the Red Sea were flowing down his back, and Rodolfo answers the jest with another. When Marcello seizes a chair to break it up for firewood, Rodolfo halts him, offering to sacrifice the manuscript of one of his plays instead. The doomed play now goes into the flames, act by act, and as it burns, the friends feast their eyes on the blaze, but gain scant warmth from it. The acts burn quickly, and Colline, who now enters stamping with cold, declares that since brevity is the soul of wit, this drama was truly sparkling.

Accompanied by errand boys, the musician Schaunard bursts in cheerfully, bringing wood for the fire, food and wine for the table, and money — plenty of it, from the way he flashes it. To his enraptured companions he relates how a rich English amateur has been paying him liberally for music lessons. The festivities are cut short by the arrival of the landlord Benoit, who begins to demand his long overdue rent, when he is mollified by the sight of money on the table. As he joins the comrades in several rounds of drinks, he grows jovial and talkative. The young men feign shock when the tipsy landlord begins to boast of his affairs with women in disreputable resorts, protesting that they cannot tolerate such talk in their home; and he a married man, too! The gay quartet seize the landlord and push him out of the room.

Rodolfo remains behind to work as his companions go off to the Café Momus to celebrate. He promises to join them in five minutes. He now makes several fruitless attempts to continue an article, and a timid knock at the door finally interrupts his efforts. Rodolfo opens, and a young girl enters shyly. While explaining that she is a neighbor seeking a light for her candle, she is suddenly overcome by a fit of coughing. Rodolfo rushes to her side to support her as she begins to faint and drops her candle and key. He gives her some water and a sip of wine. Rodolfo recovers the candle, lights it, and, after accompanying her to the door, returns to his work. A moment later Mimi re-enters. She has suddenly remembered the key and pauses at the threshold to remind Rodolfo of its loss. Her candle blows out, and Rodolfo offers his, but that, too, soon goes out in the draft. Left in the dark, they grope together along the floor for the lost key. Rodolfo finds it and quietly pockets it. Slowly he makes his way toward his visitor, as if still searching for the key, and sees to it that their hands meet in the dark. Taken unawares, the girl gives a little outcry and rises to her feet. “Thy tiny hand is frozen” (“Che gelida manina”), says Rodolfo tenderly; “let me warm it for you.”

Rodolfo assists the girl to a chair, and as he assures her it is useless to hunt for the key in the dark, he begins to tell her about himself. “What am I?” he chants; “I am a poet!” Not exactly a man of wealth, he continues, but one rich in dreams and visions. In a wondrous sweep of romantic melody he declares she has come to replace these vanished dreams of his, and now he dwells passionately on her eyes, eyes that have robbed him of his choicest jewels. As the aria ends, Rodolfo asks his visitor to tell him about herself. “Who are you?” he asks.

Simply, modestly, the girl replies: “My name is Mimi,” and in an aria of touching romantic sentiment, she confides that she makes artificial flowers for a living. Meanwhile she yearns for the real blossoms of spring, the meadows, the sweet flowers that speak of love.

Rodolfo is entranced by the simple charm and frail beauty of his visitor and sympathizes with her longing for a richer life. The enchanted mood is broken by the voices of Marcello. Colline, and Schaunard. calling Rodolfo from the street below. As Rodolfo opens the window to answer, the moonlight pours into the room and falls on Mimi. Rodolfo, beside himself with rapture, bursts out with a warm tribute to her beauty, and soon the two of them unite their voices in impassioned song. “O soave fanciulla (“O lovely maiden” ). Mimi coquettishly asks Rodolfo to take her with him to the Café Momus, where he is to rejoin his friends. They link arms and go out and as they go down the stairs their voices are heard blending in the last fading strains of their ecstatic duet.

Act II

Scene: A Students’ Café in the Latin Quarter.

It is Christmas Eve. A busy crowd is swarming over the public square on which the Café Momus stands. Street vendors are crying their wares, and students and working girls cross the scene, calling to one another. Patrons of the café are shouting their orders to waiters, who bustle about frantically. The scene unfolds in a joyful surge of music, blending bits of choral singing, snatches of recitative. and a lively orchestral accompaniment. Rodolfo and Mimi. walking among the crowd arm in arm, stop at a milliner’s, where the poet buys her a new hat. Then the lovers go to the sidewalk table already occupied by Colline. Marcello, and Schaunard.

Parpignol, a toy vendor, bustles through the crowd with his lantern-covered pushcart, trailing a band of squealing and squabbling children, who pester their mothers for money to buy toys. As the children riot around him, Parpignol flings his arms about in despair and withdraws with his cart. Meanwhile the Bohemians have been ordering lavishly, when suddenly there is a cry from the women in the crowd: “Look, look, it’s Musetta with some stammering old dotard!” Musetta, pretty and coquettish, appears with the wealthy Alcindoro, who follows her slavishly about. Musetta and Marcello had been lovers, had quarreled and parted. Noticing Marcello with his friends, the girl occupies a near-by table and tries to draw his attention. Marcello at first feigns indifference, and when Mimi inquires about the attractive newcomer, Marcello replies bitterly: “Her first name is Musetta, her second name is Temptation!” In an access of gay daring, Musetta now sings her famous waltz, “Quando me’n vo soletta per la via” in which she tells how people eye her appreciatively as she passes along the street.

The melody floats lightly and airily along, a perfect expression of Musetta’s lighthearted nature. Presently the voices of the other characters join in — Alcindoro trying to stop her; Mimi and Rodolfo blithely exchanging avowals of love; Marcello beginning to feel a revived interest in Musetta; Colline and Schaunard commenting cynically on the girl’s behavior. Their varied feelings combine with Musetta’s lilting gaiety in an enchanting fusion of voices. Musetta now pretends her shoe hurts, that she can no longer stand, and Alcindoro hurries off to the nearest shoemaker. The moment he disappears from sight, she rushes to Marcello. The reunited lovers kiss, and Musetta takes a chair at Marcello’s table. The elaborate supper ordered by Alcindoro is served to the Bohemians along with their own. As distant sounds of music are heard, the crowd runs excitedly across the square to meet the approaching band. Amid the confusion the waiter brings in the bill, the amount of which staggers the Bohemians. Schaunard elaborately searches for his purse. Meanwhile as the band comes nearer and nearer, the people along the street grow more and more excited. Musetta rescues her friends from their plight by instructing the waiter to add the two bills together and present them to Alcindoro when he returns. A huge crowd now rushes in to watch as the patrol, headed by a drum major, marches into view. Musetta, lacking a shoe, hobbles about, till Marcello and Colline lift her to their shoulders and carry her off triumphantly to the rousing cheers of the crowd. Panting heavily, Alcindoro runs in with a new pair of shoes for Musetta, and as he slumps dejectedly into a chair he receives the collective bill.

Act III

Scene: A Gate to the City of Paris (the Barrière d’Enjer).

A bleak, wintry dawn at one of the toll gates to the city. At one side of the snow-blanketed square stands a tavern, over the entrance of which, as a signboard, hangs Marcello’s picture of the Red Sea. From within the tavern come sounds of revelry. Outside the gate a motley crowd of scavengers, dairy women, truckmen, and farmers have gathered, demanding to be let through. One of the customs officers warming themselves at a brazier saunters over to the gate and admits the crowd. From the tavern comes the sound of Musetta’s voice. Peasant women pass through the gate, declaring their dairy products to the officials. From a side street leading out of the Latin Quarter comes Mimi, shivering with cold. A violent fit of coughing seizes her as she asks one of the officers where she can find Marcello. The officer points to the tavern, and Mimi sends a woman in to call him. Marcello, rushing to her side, greets her warmly with a cry of “Mimi!” “Yes, it is I; I was hoping to find you here,” she replies weakly. Marcello tells her that he and Musetta now live at the tavern: he has found sign-painting more profitable than art, and Musetta gives music lessons. Mimi tells Marcello she needs his help desperately, for Rodolfo has grown insanely jealous and the constant bickering has made life unbearable. In a tender duet with Mimi, Marcello expresses his sympathy, and her frequent coughing only deepens his concern.

When Rodolfo comes from the tavern to call Marcello, Mimi slips behind some trees to avoid being seen. Now Mimi overhears Rodolfo complaining to Marcello about their quarreling. Just as he announces his decision to give her up, Mimi reveals her presence by another coughing fit, and Rodolfo rushes to embrace her, his love returning at the sight of her pale, fragile beauty. But she breaks away, and sings a touching little farewell song, in which she says she bears him no ill will, that she will now return to her little dwelling, that she will be grateful if he will wrap up her few things and send them to her.

Meanwhile Marcello has re-entered the tavern and caught Musetta in the act of flirting. This brings on a quarrel, which the couple continue in the street. As Mimi and Rodolfo bid each other good-by — “Addio, dolce svegliare alia matina” (“Farewell, a sweet awakening in the morning”) — their friends almost reach the point of blows in their quarrel. The music vividly mirrors the difference in temperament of the two women — Mimi, sad, gentle, ailing; Musetta, bold and belligerent — as well as the different response of the two men. “Viper!” “Toad!” Marcello and Musetta shout to each other as they part. “Ah, that our winter night might last forever,” laments Mimi. Their resolve to part weakens in the new mood of tenderness, and as they leave the scene Rodolfo sings, “Ci lascieremo alla stagion fiorita” —     ‘”We’ll say good-by when the flowers are in bloom.”

Act IV

Scene: In the Attic (as in Act I).

Rodolfo and Marcello, having again broken off with their mistresses, are back in their garret, living lonely, melancholy lives. Rodolfo is at his table, pretending to write, while Marcello is at his easel, also pretending. They are obviously thinking of something else — of their happy times with Mimi and Musetta. When Rodolfo tells Marcello that he passed Musetta on the street looking happy and prosperous, the painter feigns lack of interest. In friendly revenge, he tells Rodolfo he has seen Mimi riding in a sumptuous carriage, looking like a duchess. Rodolfo

tries, unsuccessfully, to conceal his emotions, but a renewed attempt to work proves futile. While Rodolfo’s back is turned, Marcello takes a bunch of ribbons from his pocket and kisses them. There is no doubt whose ribbons they are. Rodolfo, throwing down his pen, muses on his past happiness. “Oh, Mimi, you left and never returned” (“Ah, Mimi, tu piu”), he sings; “O beautiful bygone days; O vanished youth.” Marcello joins in reminiscently, wondering why his brush, instead of obeying his will, paints the dark eyes and red lips of Musetta.

Their mood brightens momentarily as Colline and Schaunard enter with a scant supply of food. With mock solemnity the friends apply themselves to the meager repast as if it were a great feast. When a dance is proposed, Rodolfo and Marcello begin a quadrille, which is quickly cut short by Colline and Schaunard, who engage in a fierce mock duel with fire tongs and poker. The dancers encircle the, duelists, and just as the festive mood reaches its height, Musetta bursts in. She brings sad news: Mimi, who is with her, is desperately ill. The friends help Mimi into the room and place her tenderly on Rodolfo’s bed. Again Rodolfo and Mimi are in each other’s arms as past quarrels are forgotten. When Musetta asks the men to give Mimi some food, they confess gloomily there is none in the house, not even coffee. Mimi asks for a muff and Rodolfo begins rubbing her hands, which are stiff with cold. Musetta gives her earrings to Marcello, telling him to sell them to buy medicine and summon a doctor. Then, remembering Mimi’s request, she goes to get her own muff. Spurred by Musetta’s example, Colline resolves to sell his beloved overcoat to make some purchases for Mimi. In a pathetic song he bids farewell to the coat, and departs with Schaunard to find a buyer. Rodolfo and Mimi are now alone. Faintly her voice is heard: “Have they gone? I pretended to be sleeping so that I could be with you. There is so much to say.” The lovers unite their voices in a duet of poignant beauty as they recall the days spent together, of the first time they met, of how she told him her name was Mimi. Reminiscent strains of melody are spun by the orchestra as the couple dwell on their attic romance. Mimi wants to know if Rodolfo still thinks her beautiful. “Like dawn itself!” he exclaims ardently. Suddenly Mimi, coughing and choking, sinks back in a faint. Rodolfo cries out in alarm, as Schaunard enters and asks excitedly what has happened. Mimi, reviving, smiles wanly and assures them everything is all right. Musetta and Marcello enter quietly, bringing a muff and some medicine. Mimi eagerly seizes the muff, which Musetta insists Rodolfo has purchased for her. Growing weaker and weaker, Mimi at last falls asleep — or, so it seems. Marcello heats the medicine; the other men whisper together, and Musetta begins to pray. Rodolfo has fresh hope, now that Mimi is sleeping so peacefully. Schaunard tiptoes over to the bed. Mimi is not asleep — she is dead! Shaken, he whispers the news to Marcello. Rodolfo, having covered the window to keep out the light of dawn, notes the sudden change in his friends at the other end of the room. As he realizes the truth, the orchestra pounds out fortissimo chords full of tragic impact. Musetta kneels at the foot of the bed, Schaunard sinks into a chair, Colline stands rooted to one spot, dazed, while Marcello turns away to hide his grief. Rodolfo rushes across the room, flings himself on Mimi’s bed, lifts her up, and sobs brokenly, “Mimi! . . , Mimi! . . . Mimi!”

[Adapted from The Victor Book of the Opera, 1929]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Boheme.png image_description=Puccini: La Bohème audio=yes first_audio_name=Puccini: La Bohème
Windows Media Player first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Boheme.wax second_audio_name=Puccini: La Bohème
WinAMP, VLC or iTunes second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Boheme.m3u product=yes product_title=Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème product_by=Aristodemo Giorgini (Rodolfo), Rosina Torri (Mimi), Thea Vitulli (Musetta), Luigi Manfrini (Colline), Aristide Baracchi (Schaunard), Salvatore Baccaloni (Benoit/Alcindoro), Giuseppe Nessi (Parpignol), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Carlo Sabajno (cond.)
Recorded 1928.
Posted by Gary at 4:46 PM

ROSSINI: Il Viaggio a Reims

This production, a combined effort of the Kirov Opera and Théâtre du Châtelet, was premiered in 2005, and has made its way to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC as a part of the Kirov’s residency here, now in its fifth year.

Minimal staging (sets by Pierre-Alain Bertola) strips the “Golden Lily Hotel” to its scaffolding, revealing the opera for what it truly is — a collection of sparkling vignettes with hardly a semblance of a plot; a glorious divertimento; a concert in costumes — but what fabulous costumes! Among costume designer Mireille Dessigy’s creations, not to be missed are the Contessa de Folleville’s outrageous hats and Corinna’s ancient regime version of fuzzy slippers. The Russian general’s garb complete with a sailor’s tunic and a white horse (yes, an actual — and impressively well-behaved — animal) is hilarious. As for Corinna’s entrance costume, capped with a fantastic feather turban and illuminated from within by flashing electric lights, it is beyond description, and would surely land some Hollywood star enterprising enough to steal it a place on the “worst dressed, yet most memorable” red carpet list. The “English golf dandy” outfit of Chevalier Belfiore, on the other hand, was funny but not particularly convincing.

The Kirov’s performance started well before the opera began, with the orchestra players (with their instruments) and singers (with their luggage) making their way to the “hotel” from the auditorium, greeting the audience in two languages (none of them Italian), and then negotiating stage space with the “cleaning crew,” mops and vacuums in hand. The conductor — maestro Gergiev himself — did not carry a suitcase, was relieved of his coat by one of the choristers, but would keep his hat on throughout the evening. Both the conductor and the orchestra (dressed in white and reduced almost to a chamber group for the occasion) were positioned on stage, with a harpsichordist placed on the proscenium and dressed up in full ancient regime regalia, complete with high heels and a powdered wig. Similarly dressed was a harpist wheeled onto the stage on a special platform whenever her services were required to accompany Corinna the poetess (the lovely Irma Gigolashvili); and a fabulous flutist (unfortunately not identified in the program) who performed her second act solo flawlessly, all the while engaged in a clever pantomimed “duet” with Lord Sydney (Eduard Tsanga). 

Throughout, the production (directed by Alain Maratrat) was filled with stage business — always energetic, often clever, and occasionally detrimental to sound production: for instance, practically nothing performed on the back section of the scaffolding (behind the orchestra) made it into the hall. On the other hand, plenty of singing (and some very funny acting) occurred in the orchestra — among the orchestra seats, that is. This clearly delighted the audience but presented a significant challenge to ensemble performance — a challenge that the young troupe, to their credit, met and triumphed over, even in the lightning-fast stretti. Overall, the vocal performance of the young cast, including some tremendously difficult passagework, was almost uniformly superior: Anastasia Kalagina as Madame Cortese impressed with the precision of her coloratura; Larisa Yudina as the Contessa proved herself a comic talent, yet was ever ready with those breathtaking E-flats. Dmitry Voropaev as Belfiore, Daniil Shtoda as Count di Libenskoff, Vladislav Uspensky as Baron di Trombonoc, and particularly Nikolay Kamensky as basso buffo Don Profondo were all excellent. Anna Kiknadze as Melibea was less impressive, but she did occasionally enjoy her moments of glory (unfortunately, the final polonaise was not one of those moments). Only Alexey Safiulin as Don Alvaro was truly disappointing: he did well in the ensembles, but the solos — including the gorgeous “fake flamenco” song Rossini had smuggled into the grand finale — were almost entirely lost. The chorus — members of the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers — acted lustily and sang well; the orchestra sound was clean, crisp, and tastefully “classic” — in fact, barely recognizable as coming from an orchestra better known for the sweeping romantic sound of its Tchaikovsky and Wagner productions.

Grand drama devotees might find Il Viaggio a Reims annoyingly fluffy. Opera purists could object to the coloratura occasionally getting lost in the stage business or covered with the audience’s laughter. Yet, to those who think of opera as primarily a theatrical spectacle, the Kirov production proves deliciously watchable. It is just what King Charles X of France had ordered from his favorite composer — a splendid and frivolous piece of entertainment for a very special occasion.

Olga Haldey

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Il_Viaggio_Kirov.png image_description=Gioachino Rossini, Il Viaggio a Reims (Kirov Opera) product=yes product_title=Gioachino Rossini: Il Viaggio a Reims product_by=Kirov Opera and Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (cond.)
Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., 27 January 2007
Posted by Gary at 3:25 PM

EDER: Musik für die Felsenreitschule

Such is the case with two pieces by the Austrian composer Helmut Eder (1916-2005), whose Divertimento, op. 64, “…Missa est”, op. 86, are designated as Musik für die Felsenreitschule, that is, the outdoor riding school that is used for performances at the Festival. These two recordings date from two distinct performances, the Divertimento from 1976 and “…Missa est” from 1986, and from all indications, they are the premiers of the respective works.

In his fine notes that accompany the recording, Gottfried Kraus profiles Eder’s style, but aside from various influences that he discusses, it is possible to characterize the music as approachably modern. Eder relies on tonal structures, but his music uses modern techniques to arrive at them. Thus, dissonant counterpoint, ostinato patterns, pitch sets, and antiphonal textures are elements that shape such a work as the Divertimento. Not ends in themselves, the techniques are fully developed within the context of each piece. In fact, the textless soprano part in the Divertimento offers a fresh sound in the simple and poignant contrast it offers in the context of the prominent brass and percussion. This is particularly effective in the last movement, the section labeled “Canto II,” with which the work ends. The coloratura soloist, May Sandoz, offers a pliable sound in the extended melismas that Eder gave the voice. Various modal patterns are part of the vocal writing, which relies characteristically on longer lines, in contrast to the more motivic ideas that are accorded the instruments. A four-movement work, the piece itself is engaging for the timbres it brings, and the musical space it defines broadens the idea of the conventional Divertimento with its use of orchestral groups and solo voice.

In his Mass “…Missa est,” Eder offers a brash perspective on the traditional form. In theits instrumental opening of the Kyrie, the sound world is outlined in detail, with dissonant sonorities, stark sonorities, and extroverted percussion, which retreat to the background when the chorus enters. Even there, the chordal textures allotted the male voices are a springboard for the improvisatory-like lines of the women. When Eder brings choral forces together, the resulting unity serves the text well, as the traditional words find new declamation in this work from 1986. While the Kyrie can be perfunctory in the Mass settings of some composers, Eder’s is impressive for the weight he gave it, which balances the scope of the Agnus Dei with which the piece concludes.

Likewise, the Gloria is equally noteworthy for the festive mood created by giving the voices fanfare-like motives that complement the music accorded the instruments. Just as he achieves a full sound, Eder brings in the solo voices, a gesture that draws the listener closer to the text, which finds a thoughtful setting in this movement. A movement that lasts more than twenty minutes, the Gloria stands out with its length and the prominence that comes with such emphasis. Where conventional settings might have the Gloria and Credo roughly proportionate in length, the latter text is presented with less pomp. In fact, the chant-like treatment allows the text of the Credo to be understood clearly, but it is clearly less prominent. In arriving at this structure, Eder suggests, perhaps, the way in which simple faith may have retreated into the background in contemporary culture.

Yet after the almost hypnotic Credo, the bombastic sounds of the Sanctus return to the celebratory tone that the composer established in the Gloria. Here the chordal sonorities in the voices play off various sound masses in the instruments. In the freely dissonant accompaniment that underscores the bass solo, Eder has created some shimmering sounds that eventually give way to an austere conclusion, before the discrete Benedictus, which makes wonderful use of solo voices.

With the Agnus Dei, Eder returns sounds reminiscent of some sections of the Kyrie, with the voices intoning the well-known text in the chant-style found in the Credo. As he allows the movement to develop, Eder uses the kinds of sinuous lines found in the Kyrie, and eventually brings in solo voices to carry the text. In the final iteration of the tripartite text, “Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi”(“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”), the concluding invocation of “dona nobis pacem” (“grant us peace”) receives a subtle and quiet treatment. The more extroverted sounds associated with the jubilation of the Gloria and the celebration of the Sanctus give way to music that is more intimate, as the peace ends quietly. It is not the more aggressive “Dona nobis pacem” found in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, a peace that is challenged by martial sounds. Rather, Eder resolves the movement and with it the entire Mass by shifting to chamber-like sonorities that evidently resonated with the audience, whose applause is preserved in this recording.

Conducted by Leopold Hager and performed by the ORF-Chor, Vienna, the Arnold Schoenberg Chor, and the Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vienna, this is a convincing recording of a work that is probably known best from its premiere at the Salzburg Festival. The soloists are certainly noteworthy, with such accomplished singers as Eva Lind, Marjana Lipovsek, and Robert Hall, adding to the attraction of the piece. More, this recent setting of the traditional Catholic liturgy demonstrates a further artistic direction for this venerable form. A different side of the famed Salzburg Festival, this recording includes new works certainly contribute to the rubric “Festspiel Dokumente” to deepen the understanding of the kinds of music celebrated at this truly world-class event.

James Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Eder.png image_description=Helmut Eder: Musik für die Felsenreitschule product=yes product_title=Helmut Eder: Musik für die Felsenreitschule product_by=Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, Theodor Guschlbauer (cond.)
Salzburger Festspieldokumente product_id=Oehms Classics OC539 [CD] price= product_url=
Posted by Gary at 3:15 PM

ROSSINI: Semiramide

We are told this was a live recording for Austrian radio made in 1998. At that time the lady was 52-years of age and had already a career of thirty years behind her. Amazing, of course when one thinks of many singers who have spoiled their voices after half the amount of years. The result is still very fine: an object lesson as to what belcanto technically means; how to sing coloratura, how to embellish, how to trill. To be honest, one can regret the fact she didn’t record the role earlier. “Bel raggio” is fine but not quite sung with the same freedom as she did on her French/Italian aria record on EMI from 1982. I’m surprised, too, that the recording team didn’t ask her to re-record the top note at the end of the cabaletta (or didn’t use electronic wizardry) as it falls painfully flat and it is not a note one wants to hear everytime one plays this set; but honest it surely is.

Nevertheless not everything is a liability. The voice is somewhat more broad, more dramatic than in 1982 and this corresponds far better with the character of the role. Bernadette Manca di Nissa displays a fine, rounded mezzo though there is not much in her characterization that remind us of a young exuberant warrior which we remember well Marilyn Horne in the famous 1966 Decca recording. This is already more Azucena than Arsace and time. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo cannot quite compete with Sam Ramey at the height of his powers but the voice of the Italian bass is fuller, more beautiful and less dry than Rouleau’s in the Decca. The one singer in the recording under review fully on Gruberova’s level is Juan Diego Florez at the outset of his big career. He has the style and already knows all the ins-and-outs of Rossini. Moreover, he brings with him the sunny colours of a Mediterranean ancestry, which at the time immediately eclipsed fine Rossini singers like Blake and Ford — formidable technicians but without the Peruvian’s natural talent.

Marcello Panni’s conducting is not very inspiring, though one can never be sure on a prima donna’s label that the conductor has the last word on tempi. Even Richard Bonynge, always accused of indulging his wife, brings out the more tragic elements of this opera seria. With Panni one too often has the feeling he is conducting one of Rossini’s comic operas. In the end this rather well-sung and sometimes more homogenous sounding version cannot quite compete with the Sutherland-Horne-Bonynge version where each of the principals is superior to the singers in this recording.  

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Semiramide.png image_description=Gioacchino Rossini: Semiramide product=yes product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: Semiramide product_by=Edita Gruberova (Semiramide), Bernadette Manca di Nissa (Arsace), Hélène Le Corre (Azema), Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Assur), Juan Diego Flórez (Idreno), Julian Konstantinov (Oroe), José Guadalupe Reyes (Mitrane), Andreas Jankowitsch (Nino's ghost), Wiener Konzertchor, Radio Symphonieorchester Wien, Marcello Panni (cond.) product_id=Nightingale NC207013-2 [3CDs] price=$55.08 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=10388&name_role1=1&comp_id=32759&genre=33&bcorder=195&label_id=1299
Posted by Gary at 2:57 PM

VERDI: Aida

Perhaps avid fans of the actress will want this, as she is in her youthful prime here and, despite some rather heavy "darkening" make-up, a gorgeous spectacle in herself. Certain devotees of dated, even corny cinema may find some pleasure as well.

But for those who love the opera, this DVD should be avoided. Cut down to about 90 minutes, the film employs a dull narrator linking the scenes with rudimentary plot points, spoken in English over music. The first words? "As the opera begins...." That is damage enough. However, if the film were otherwise in good condition, some enjoyment might still be found. The film is not, however, in good condition. There are many slight skips and jumps in the editing. The overture is butchered, starting with the "triumphal march" before cutting back to what Verdi actually composed. The director even interposes a flashback at one point, showing the havoc the Ethiopians (looking like extras from a bad Tarzan movie) had wreaked on the Egyptians. The climax is butchered by both poor film quality and bad direction, and as a capper, recorded applause ends the show. Incomprehensible. The sets and costumes do have an old-time appeal, but the cinematography has lost its luster, with the colors often washed-out.

Besides Loren, the other actors try their best, although the lip-syncing is often inadequate. Only the Radames (sung by Giuseppe Campora) is weak, a skinny pretty boy named Luciano Della Marra.

The DVD offers no booklet (at least the review copy didn't). Neither are subtitles provided, and there are only a few chapter selections. But never mind. Even with those features, this DVD would not be a satisfactory Aida for any but those understandably besotted with the beauty of the young Loren.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Aida_DVD.png image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Aida product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Aida product_by=Sophia Loren - Aida; Renata Tebaldi - Aida (singing voice); Lois Maxwell - Amneris; Ebe Stignani - Amneris (singing voice); Luciano Della Marra - Radamès; Giuseppe Campora - Radamès (singing voice); Afro Poli - Amonasro; Gino Bech - Amonasro (singing voice); Antonio Cassinelli - Ramfis; Giulio Neri - Ramfis (singing voice). Directed by Clemente Fracassi. Screenplay by Clemente Fracassi. Rome Opera Ballet Corps. Italian State Radio Orchestra, Giuseppe Morelli (cond.). product_id=Qualiton 616 [DVD] price=$18.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Label?&label_id=3023

Qualiton 616

Posted by Gary at 8:35 AM

Nuovi documenti pucciniani

La Biblioteca Statale di Lucca ha recentemente acquisito una delle raccolte più cospicue di materiale pucciniano: si tratta della collezione Bonturi-Bovenzi costituita da oltre cinquecento pezzi che provengono dall'ambito familiare di Puccini (Ida Bonturi, sorella di Elvira, e suo marito Giuseppe Razzi).

Posted by Gary at 8:16 AM

January 26, 2007

Life in tune

Williams_on_Opera_small.pngJerry Fodor [Times Literary Supplement, 17 January 2007]

Bernard Williams
ON OPERA
224pp. Yale. £19.99.
0 300 08976 7

There are, in principle, two quite different kinds of opera books: the ones that are about opera and the ones that are about operas. There aren’t (to my knowledge) many of the second kind that are very good; and there are practically none of the first kind. It would be lovely if someone were to write a good book about opera, since the medium is a conundrum both for its devotees and for aestheticians. The litany of complaints is familiar: most libretti cannot be taken seriously; but for the music, they couldn’t hope to hold the stage.

Posted by Gary at 5:19 PM

Polish & Pastoral Charm

By George Loomis [NY Sun, 26 January 2007]

Handel's "Acis and Galatea," like his later "Semele," is rightly considered an opera, even if it went by other labels during the birth of English opera. Both works have rightly been accorded recent productions at the New York City Opera, "Semele" just last fall. But "Acis and Galatea," it seems, was originally given by quite modest forces, in a performance with soloists doubling as choristers and perhaps as few as seven or eight instrumentalists.

Posted by Gary at 9:13 AM

January 24, 2007

RAMEAU: In Convertendo Dominus

The prominent title is In Convertendo, a grand motet from Rameau's early years as a church organist; and the box is labeled Concert/Documentary. Things should be the other way around: this is in fact a DVD presenting an excellent documentary, The Real Rameau, with In Convertendo and three movements from the Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts as lagniappe (Lousiana French for "a small gift thrown in free along with a purchase").

Even such figures as Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, and Telemann are not well-supplied with documentaries on their lives and works, so a presentation of Rameau, certainly the least well-known of the great composers of the Baroque, is especially welcome. Rameau, who I like to think of as Puccini to Lully's Verdi, had the greatest second act in the history of music, making his debut as opera composer in Paris at the age of 50 after decades in the provinces as an organist (imagine J.S. Bach moving to Italy in 1735 to write operas!). The documentary begins with a dramatized discussion of the great composer lifted from Denis Diderot's Rameau's Nephew (you can read the complete text here), and moves through the course of Rameau's career with the engaging William Christie as our guide, along with musicologist Sylvie Boissou of the Institut de recherché sur le patrimoine musical en France, illustrated by clips from In Convertendo, the Pièces de Clavecin, and the operas (there are now four available complete on DVD – Les Indes Galantes, Platée, Les Paladin, and Les Boreades). Christie and Boissou do a fine job of explaining, within the context of a one-hour film, what is exceptional, striking, immortal about the work of this composer. Given more time, I would have loved to see more detail on the theatrical dance of the time (we are told that Rameau was the greatest composer for the dance before Stravinsky, but we are not shown why this is so), and perhaps some discussion of how French operatic singing differed from the Italian vocalism of the period (that it differed greatly is evident from the writings of such Italophiles as Charles Burney, who execrated French singers).

After the operatic stimulation of the documentary (who can see the singing frog-princess, Platée, without wanting to see the whole of the opera?), the more restrained idiom of the motet, as fine as it is, and as fine as its performance is, is a bit of a let-down. Had Rameau never composed for the stage, this work would have suffered the fate of all its fellows produced for the church – to remain unsung in a library archive – and we should never have had this documentary, a documentary which is a fine introduction to one of the greatest of composers and his works.

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/OA0956D.png image_description=Jean-Philippe Rameau: In Convertendo Dominus product=yes product_title=Jean-Philippe Rameau: In Convertendo Dominus product_by=Nicolas Rivenq, Sophie Daneman, Jeffrey Thompson, Olga Pitarch Orchestra and Chorus of Les Arts Florissants, William Christie (cond.) product_id=Opus Arte OA 0956 D [DVD] price=$20.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=140005

RAMEAU In Convertendo, plus The Real Rameau (by Reiner E. Moritz). Nicolas Rivenq; Sophie Daneman; Jeffrey Thompson; Olga Pitarch; Les Arts Florissants; William Christie. Béatrice Martin, Patrick Cohen-Akenine, Nima Ben David; Serge Saitta. OPUS ARTE OA 0956 D (All regions).

Posted by Gary at 8:59 PM

MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer; Symphony no. 1 in D

Presented in two discrete concerts, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen was recorded on 26 September 1991, and the First Symphony from 12 February 1985, with both given at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

A fine interpreter of Mahler’s music, Thomas Hampson was in fine voice for the 1991 performance, and the recording captures his sound quite well. If anything, his voice sounds more forward than the ensemble accompanying him, with the orchestral timbres blended appropriately. Tennstedt’s tempos support the vocal line well, with the interludes sometimes shaped to enhance the texts. With “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld,” for example, the orchestral slowing before the final strophe is essential to the emphasis that Hampson gives to the final two lines that convey the reversal of tone at the end of the song: “Nun fängt auch mein Glück wohl an? / Nein, nein, das ich mein’, / Mir nimmer blühen kann!” Here the vocalist and conductor must work hand-in-glove, and the performance is exemplary in conveying the shift in mood that is crucial to understanding the song and the rest of the cycle.

As to Hampson’s vocalism, the upper range is quite effective, and demonstrates the kind of lyricism that endeared him to audiences around the world. He shows his capacity to use register as an expressive device, and thus enhances Lieder like these without forcing onto the music affectations that compete with the musical text. A full voice, Hampson is by no means reluctant to start the third song aggressively, and thus suggest the almost hallucinatory state of mind that is crucial for “Ich hab’ ein glühen Messer.” Yet when the music calls for subtlety, he has the capacity to do so with full support, as in the subdued, but never vapid, approach he has given to “Die zwei blauen Augen.” Likewise, Tennstedt’s control of the orchestral never ventures into the singer’s realm, and always serves to support the characteristically Lieder-like style of this orchestral song cycle.

With the recording of Mahler’s First Symphony, a work for which Tennstedt was well known, and this performance predates the esteemed recording of the piece that he made with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1991. As difficult as it can be to describe conductors’ approaches, it is otherwise with Tennstedt. In this work he offers a spaciousness that allows the ensemble to render this demanding score effectively. The relatively slow opening movement allows the various motives to emerge clearly, without forcing the passage that translate the vocal line from “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld.” At the same time, the pacing gives the brass – especially the trumpet – the opportunity to use a sweet, ringing sound that comes across clearly as an individual color. Likewise, it is a fine tempo for demonstrating the cohesiveness of the strings that Mahler relied on to for the timbral core of much of the first movement.

The second movement, the Scherzo, conveys the sense of a Landler in its easy, almost rocking tempo. This movement has its challenges in the lengthy stretches that have no tempo markings to guide the conductor and, at the same time, shorter passages that are in contrast overly marked by Mahler. The conductor must resolve the issues himself, and Tennstedt has done so well, with nuances of accelerandos and ritardandos that underscore the music without become mannered or unnatural. Ultimately the Scherzo must accelerate the weight of its own texture to the climax that precedes the central, lyrical section, and Tennstedt did so well in this performance, with the center of the movement convincingly delicate.

For some Mahler’s innovation is the ironic funeral march of the third movement, and the recording captures that tone. The slow tempo that Tennstedt took in the opening section forced the unusual solo instruments to become prominent. There is a hint of a reaching in the tuba that does not sometimes occur, and that is entirely appropriate to the style of the piece. Likewise, the Bohemian wind band sounds – sometimes suggested to be influenced by Klezmer ensembles – is sufficiently colorful without becoming a caricature. The details, which are always essential in successful performances of Mahler’s music, are evident here, with trills that are long enough to be heard clearly, but never out of character. Yet the middle section, the passage that Mahler derived from “Die zwei blauen Augen” has a cantabile quality that sets it apart from the wry humor with which the movement opened. Here, the quotation of the song is as crucial to the direction found in the rest of the Symphony as the ritardando – almost a piacere style – that must occur before the final few lines of “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld.” It is as this point that Tennstedt sets the tone that is resolved and developed in the Finale. Thus, the attacca connection between the third and fourth movements is a critical element that must occur, and it is handled well in this concert performance, where no audience noise is evident.

Again, the aspect of spaciousness that Tennstedt brought to the opening movement is essential to his interpretation of the Finale. Never do the brass sound rushed or pushed prematurely to the brink of their abilities. At the same time, they never overbalance the string textures that Mahler used the movement, but rather color it. Here and there it is possible to hear some entrances that betray the recording as a live performance, but overall it holds together in ways that have sometimes escaped conductors in studio recordings. The anthem-like tone of the final section of the movement takes the listeners to the musical climax without allowing the coda to seem an afterthought. It is an effective performance that deserves to be heard in order to appreciate both Tennstedt’s legacy and the capacity of the London Philharmonic for performing this repertoire.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Mahler_Tennstedt.png image_description=Gustav Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer; Symphony no. 1 in D product=yes product_title=Gustav Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer; Symphony no. 1 in D product_by=Thomas Hampson, baritone; Klaus Tennstedt, conductor; London Philharmonic Orchestra. product_id=LPO-0012 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=138026
Posted by Gary at 8:41 PM

Carmen, Royal Opera House, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 24 January 2007]

You could have read it in the cards: a new production that was dubbed ineffectual in December, cancellation of the singer of the title role, a second cast sharing little in style or background. Fate had not dealt this revival a strong hand.

Posted by Gary at 11:29 AM

JANACEK: Káťa Kabanová

Since then, it is gradually on its way to becoming a repertory piece mainly due to directors vying with each other for trying their hands and ideas on a piece which lends itself to many an interpretation. My last Káťa was at the Brussels Munt and was played without a pause as if the lady falls in love, deceives her husband and commits suicide in the blink of an eye. Janacek wouldn’t have loved it as the last act takes place two weeks after the second one. The director had the brilliant idea of placing the piece in one of these dreary Russian “kommunalka’s” (common apartments) in the early 1960s. These were, and probably still are, places where gossip is rife and can be deadly indeed. Still, there is the small problem of the horse sleighs arriving and leaving, so magically invoked by Janacek’s orchestra and they were passed over as being contrary to the director’s concept. And in the midst of Chroestjov’s anti-religion campaign, I severely doubt the whole Kommunalka would enthusiastically have sung the praise of Easter and Orthodoxy.

Those ‘small’ problems don’t exist on record and therefore the listener can use his or her own fantasy if need be as everything is in the nervous short melodies so typical for the composer. This recording was issued in the Decca “Classic series” and rarely this definition will have been so right on the mark. Thirty years after its appearance on the market it is still unsurpassed though honesty obliges me to say that competition is small, which proves that the record buying public is not too fond of the score shorn from its strong theatrical impact. Only five complete performances exist; probably because the opera on record indeed has less striking musical themes than present in Jenufa. The first 1959 Czech version is a poor affair as to sound and singers, notwithstanding the fact that it was an all-Czech cast. In 1977 came the issue under review. Twenty years after this classic recording the same conductor once more led a new version but for Benackova the title role came rather late in her career. The latest version in the vernacular, conducted by Cambreling, has Denoke and Kuebler in the title roles at the Salzburg Festival in 2001. I never heard the set because reviews were not very enthusiastic, deploring Denoke’s harsh sound as Káťa and Kuebler’s dry tone as Boris. Those two singers were the principals in my Brussels performance as well and I indeed got away with the impression they were good actors and very mediocre singers.

Several DVD’s prove that Elisabeth Söderström who sings the title role in this issue knew how to act convincingly but with her there is the voice as well and what a beautiful voice it is on these CD’s: very feminine, rich, sensual and ringing during emotional climaxes. The silvery sound of her early years is still there but the strength is there too and as this was the first recording in her Janacek-cycle the voice is still fresh at 49-years of age. Striking is her enunciation. Even when one doesn’t speak or understand Czech like myself, one can still compare her interpretation with her Czech colleagues and I for one don’t hear a difference in pronunciation or emphasis on syllables. In those years rumors started to go around that there was a new good lyric tenor behind the iron curtain. Dvorsky made his West-European début as the Italian tenor at the Vienna opera in the same year he recorded this set and imaginative casting this is; going for a young promising unknown. I’ve never known him singing better with that unforced beauty that some of the old hands at the Met maybe remember from his two Traviata performances in 1977. Too soon his voice would thicken so that by the time he became a regular there was not much to enjoy anymore.

Kniplova was a very successful Kabanicha at the Prague opera but as this is a recording and not a DVD the aural impression is important. Some fans will probably argue that the sour sound corresponds with the mentality of Kata’s mother-in-law but I have doubts. The many Aidas, Brünnhildes and Leonores had taken their toll. As the husband Vladimir Krejcik is very convincing. But so are all small-bit players with a special mention for Zdenek Svhela in the important role of chemistry professor. I have rarely heard a more impressive performance by an almost voiceless comprimario tenor. Nevertheless the voice fits the role to a T.

Charles Mackerras immediately jumped to the forefront of Janacek conductors with this subtle and inspired reading, slowly building the tension so that one already feels the inevitable end during the intermezzi. Of course he has at his disposal the Vienna Philharmonic and he profits from their honeyed sound while at the same time always and scrupulously supporting his singers; never using this magnificent orchestra to overwhelm them. And he has a producer and recording engineer who cooperate and don’t bury the singers in orchestral sound as happens in the second Mackerras-Benackova recording of 1997.

I don’t know the 1989 re-issue of this classic set but I’m often cross at the ways labels just throw their older recordings on the market, more often than not skipping the original interesting essays that accompanied the LP versions. I’m glad that for once the very readable article by John Tyrell plus Mackerras’ personal views are printed and they should surely be read before playing the CD’s. If I remember well the set got the Gramophone’s Record of the Year award at its first appearance. It remains the set by which all new efforts will be measured.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Kata.png image_description=Leoš Janáček: Káťa Kabanová product=yes product_title=Leoš Janáček: Káťa Kabanová product_by=Elisabeth Söderström (Káťa), Petr Dvorsky (Boris), Nedezda Kniplova (Kabanischa), Vladimir Krejcik (Tichon), Libuse Marova (Varvara), Dalibor Jedlicka ((Dikoj), Wiener Staatsopernchor and Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Charles Mackerras. product_id=Decca 475 7518 [2CDs] price=$22.98 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=135840
Posted by Gary at 10:59 AM

Plain Speaking and Singing on Copland’s Family Farm

copland.pngBy VIVIEN SCHWEITZER [NY Times, 23 January 2007]

Aaron Copland worried about the durability of “The Tender Land,” his opera about a traditional, humble, rural 1930s family suspicious of outsiders and their morals. But it seems uncannily relevant: contemporary America is still often touted as a place whose small-town heartland, inhabited by plain-spoken, wary and conservative folk, is framed by cities teeming with deviants and elitists.

Posted by Gary at 10:26 AM

January 23, 2007

BROSSARD: Grands Motets

Over the last decade the works, chiefly vocal, of this seemingly peripheral figure, who spent his career in Strasbourg and Meaux, have been published in modern editions.

This superb disc by Coin and company, reissued here after its initial release on Astrée in 1997, presents the three grand motets by the composer. In Convertendo, on a text also used by Rameau, is an almost twenty-minute long piece full of joyful, dancing music to reflect the end of Israel's captivity (“then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with joy”). The style is reminiscent of Charpentier, with obligato flutes and oboes added to the strings of the orchestra, or indeed of Purcell’s choral works from the same decade. The Miserere is a text for Holy Week, altogether darker in character. The largest piece here is the Canticum Eucharisticum Pro Pace (Eucharistic Song for Peace) written to celebrate the treaty making Strasbourgh officially a part of France in 1698, a work of more than forty minutes, built on a text selecting verses from various parts of the bible. The compositional challenge here is to create a work with a structure to support such length, setting a lengthy text with no narrative, and no inherent structure, and within an idiom which is closer to the style of the verse anthem than to the cantata or oratorio with discrete numbers varying in character, orchestration, number of performers etc. In spite of the problematic character of the text, Philidor creates much memorable music, especially the spirited Amen which closes the work.

Not every listener will be attracted to these motets, which demand close attention to the interaction of musical setting and text to be appreciated (you can’t simply close your eyes and let the music wash over you), but Coin’s interpretations, and the excellent singing and playing by his forces, show an original and interesting composer, capable, fresh, tuneful, worth getting to know. (A tiny quibble: setting the text of the booklet in small blue type on a black background was not calculated to make it readable – rather the reverse).

Tom Moore

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Brossard.png image_description=Sébastien de Brossard: Grands Motets. product=yes product_title=Sébastien de Brossard: Grands Motets. product_by=Ensemble Baroque de Limoges;Accentus Chamber Choir; Christophe Coin, conductor. product_id=LABORIE LC02 price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=142761
Posted by Gary at 9:46 PM

Saving the Song

George Loomis [NY Sun, 23 January 2007]

In January 1994, an array of singers assembled in Carnegie Hall to celebrate Marilyn Horne's 60th birthday. Though any opera house would have envied the talent on hand, these musicians didn't sing opera — they sang songs. Ms. Horne's brilliant career as a mezzo-soprano was far from over, but she had embarked on a new crusade: the song recital. Ms. Horne had recognized a decline in its popularity, and she resolved to do something about it.

Posted by Gary at 4:20 PM

OONY Gives Rare Performance of Rossini's Otello

Though these arguments hold much weight, they also have little to do with Rossini’s expressive and thoroughly enjoyable score, as was evident in the Opera Orchestra of New York’s concert performance of the work on Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall.

Shakespeare’s work was not as well-known in northern Italy at the time of the opera’s composition, perhaps accounting for the free treatment that the story received. Berio’s retelling of the classic tale makes such a mess of things that there is little left of the original drama but the names of the characters. Lord Byron wrote of the opera in 1818: “They have been crucifying Othello into an opera,” and in my mind he spoke the truth. Indeed, the story never leaves the shores of Venice, the signal handkerchief becomes a furtive love letter, Desdemona is stabbed rather than strangled, and Jago’s role in the drama is lessened while the peripheral Rodrigo becomes integral.

Regardless, the work was hugely successful in the nineteenth century, its popularity lasting until Verdi’s Otello overtook it in the operatic canon. I would posit that the inevitable association of the two works is the principal reason that Rossini’s now lesser-known interpretation has fallen into obscurity as much as it has. Comparisons inevitably paint the earlier in a bad light by virtue of its much-maligned libretto.

Seen as the product of Rossini, the work is well worth its weight in gold. There are some truly beautiful moments, though it admittedly lags a bit in the middle. The opening, for instance, features not one, not two, not even three. . . but FOUR solo tenors singing their hearts out in one of the most exciting moments of tenor multiplicity in the repertoire. The Act Two confrontation between Otello and Rodrigo is also a moment of high drama, and Desdemona’s Willow Song is as hauntingly beautiful as is the more widely-known Verdi version.

The night also belonged to the performers that realized the impossible and sublimely beautiful bel canto score, for the work cannot stand on its own without talented virtuosos. In fact, this opera has always been at the mercy of willing and able singers; an abundance of virtuosic tenors in Naples precipitated the composition of myriad vocal fireworks for the tenor voice. The cast was led by veteran Rossini interpreter Bruce Ford, a last-minute stand-in for Ramon Vargas. Ford sang a lot of notes on Wednesday night, all with confidence and ease. Equally impressive was Kenneth Tarver as Roderigo, whose lyricism and light touch complemented the role. His high-lying aria, Ah, come mai non senti, was one of the best moments of the night. Solid too was Robert McPherson as the villainous Jago. His voice was that much louder, harsher than his colleagues’— well-suited for the antagonist. In the men’s camp it would be remiss not also to mention Gaston Rivero as the Doge (and later as the Gondolier), the fourth component in the opening.

The preponderance of tenors on the stage precludes any solo female voices for the first half hour of the work. Furthermore, in a seemingly concerted effort to keep the tessitura of the ensemble in the human voice’s middle range, the role of Desdemona is written for a mezzo. When we finally meet Desdemona, she remains a peripheral character — there is no entrance aria for her, nor is there ever a love duet. Ruxandra Donose nevertheless sang the role beautifully, and the impassioned Willow Song was the crown jewel of the concert.

If there was a drawback to the performance, it would be that the orchestra was not prepared, and perhaps more to the point, unenthused about the performance. It is eternally difficult to create cohesiveness in an opera orchestra, especially one that performs together only a few times per year. Still, the group was sloppier than most: brass instruments fracked, there was at least one blatant wrong note, and entrances were not together. On the other hand, the members of the orchestra performed solos beautifully. The virtuosic instrumental passages typical of Rossini were right on, and harpist Grance Paradise, Desdemona’s partner in the Willow Song, was as stunning in the aria as the mezzo.

So hats off to Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York, for performing such an undervalued work. Queler has long been a champion of lesser-known opera, and her choice of programming here was excellent. Carry on Ms. Queler!

Sarah Gerk

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Bruce_Ford_Otello.png image_description=Bruce Ford as Otello
Posted by Gary at 10:10 AM

Gustav Mahler. Letters to His Wife

Whether additional correspondence will in the future surface, the model presented here by the editors, and in the present revised translation, should prove to be a critical yardstick which would surely accommodate subsequent additions.

Although previous collections of the Mahlers’ letters have been issued in numerous preliminary and corrected editions, Beaumont lays forth convincing evidence for his translation as well as emendations to the 1995 German edition. For his revised English version of the German original, both accessibility and accuracy have been guiding principles. In the Foreword and — just as pointedly — the “Preface to the English Edition” Beaumont makes clear from comparative charts and commentary that a significant amount of correspondence appears here in English for the first time. Further, since the appearance in 1995 of the German edition of the letters, both the release of material from the Moldenhauer archives and the publication of Alma Mahler’s early diaries (Tagebuch-Suiten) have yielded a more complete picture of the decade or so of nearly regular correspondence.

The organization of the present edition and translation differs from previous attempts to catalogue and make accessible the letters and related material. As an example, in the edition of Alma Mahler, Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters (3rd revised ed. and trans., D. Mitchell, B. Creighton, K. Martner) the diary-entries and letters were presented in two separate parts of the volume. Beaumont’s edition, by contrast, attempts to integrate both aspects by interspersing the letters with excerpts from the diaries or recollections, and by inserting regular editorial commentary or elaboration as an aid to the reader. At the same time, surviving entries on postcards and telegrams directed by Gustav to Alma Mahler are included chronologically as equivalent testimony with the letters. Finally, because of the transfer of significant material from the Moldenhauer archives to the Bavarian State Library, individual dates for letters have been verified or corrected on the basis of new, available evidence.

Since the translation of letters which appeared in both the new and previous editions differs — for the most part — in style, we may concentrate on that which the present edition offers as supplementary data. Beaumont has devised a key to indicate, among other matters, 1) letters or communications that have not previously been published, and 2) portions of letters with passages marked that had formerly been “suppressed.” These passages are identified with parenthetical marking (<…>) and function, at times, as the introduction to substantial letters. The reader thus now has the opportunity to perceive some letters in their entirety and to consider subsequent paragraphs differently because of the potential for restored information at the opening. In other examples, internal passages in the letters, constituting groups of sentences or short phrases, have been restored, these also being marked with the key indicating previous suppression. It would be further helpful for scholarly purposes to have an exact specification of the source(s) for each of the restored passages; this could be supplied via a traditional apparatus. That having been said, scholars must now ask if the newly available parts of these letters yield a different or modified picture — or perhaps new interpretive insights — into the creative personalities of Gustav or Alma Mahler, if not both.

Many of the letters from Gustav to Alma were written during the period of their courtship or during extended times of professional separation after their marriage. These latter periods were inevitably occasioned by Mahler’s duties as conductor, during periods of isolation for composition, or as part of a related professional invitation. As a consequence, Mahler’s voice in this correspondence is divided between lover, husband, composer, conductor, mentor, and reporter of travel anecdotes. Several groups of the letters, taken from representative period of the correspondence, will provide a sense of the topics discussed along with the range of comments dealing with artistic and personal issues.

As a first such group, Gustav Mahler’s letters written to Alma during December 1901 — several months before their marriage — will show some of the modifications offered in the present edition. At the time Mahler had traveled to Berlin for a performance of his Fourth Symphony. A letter written to Alma on 14 December had — in previous critical editions — given rise to some concern on exact dating, since Mahler had inscribed the letter “15 December.” Beaumont’s edition confirms the dating of 14 December, proposed earlier by Mitchell and Creighton. In a subsequent letter from this Berlin sojourn [16 December 1901], Gustav Mahler’s explanation of his “flippant tone” in a previous missive to Alma has now been restored in Beaumont’s edition. This letter shows the effect of including, at both the start of the letter and within the body of the text, several substantial passages that had been stricken from the text as it appeared in previous editions. Again, the supposition of a correction to the dating is here affirmed [Mahler had written incorrectly 17 December 1901]; further, the lengthy first paragraph and a later, similar insert establish continuity and demonstrate a typical surge from personal to aesthetic before returning to the topic of a planned rendezvous, all within the text of one letter. Gustav Mahler’s attempt in the restored first paragraph to account for his flippancy was occasioned by Alma’s epistolary references to another man. Mahler explains in this newly available paragraph that she simply did not understand his tone — as related in print — and that she would have appreciated his jovial attempts to “educate” her, had they been physically together. He concludes this paragraph by glossing over a previous disgruntled attitude and referring to a future bliss in common. In the second paragraph, which had appeared in print previously, Mahler refers to his work and public opinion on the same; he cautions Alma not to respond to other, uninformed views — especially those of his detractors in Vienna, who surely did not understand his art. When read after the first, restored paragraph, the tone of the mentor continues logically between topics — personal and professional, emotional and aesthetic — so that the second paragraph does not bear as unmotivated a tone. Likewise, a later, restored paragraph in this letter elaborates on their planned reunion once Mahler had returned to Vienna. Alma had apparently suggested that he visit her immediately upon arrival; in the newly edited version, Mahler pleads “administrative duties” that would distract him from emotional concentration, if he did not settle these first before visiting Alma. Without this paragraph the earlier version of the letter depicts Mahler as an urgent suitor who relies on his beloved to prepare her family for their relationship on the basis of his falsely presumed accessibility.

During a similar series of communications in September and October 1903 Gustav Mahler commented to Alma on leading artistic figures in Vienna as well as his visit to Amsterdam to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra in performances of his Third Symphony. In a previously unpublished letter to Alma, inscribed “Vienna, 4 September 1903,” Mahler declares that he has “absolutely nothing to report.” After complaining of headaches and personal anxiety, he goes on to speak of decisive figures at the Hofoper: Alfred Roller and Anna von Mildenburg are discussed along with a visiting tenor who must be accommodated. Since this letter is now, for the first time, available, scholars have further evidence of the hectic parade of notables regularly accompanying Mahler’s duties at the opera. In the following month Mahler traveled via Frankfurt to Amsterdam. On a postcard depicting Goethe and his parents — now published in Beaumont’s edition — Mahler writes of a similar journey with Alma during the previous year and his wish to travel with her again. The following letters from Amsterdam compliment Willem Mengelberg’s kindness and the astounding preparedness of the Concertgebouw Orchestra which Mahler was rehearsing for performances of his Third. Although Mahler appreciated Mengelberg’s domestic hospitality, he suggests to Alma that they lodge at a hotel, should they visit Amsterdam as a couple in the future. Aside from objecting to restrictions on his freedom, Mahler seems to have revised his opinion — as witnessed in passages here restored — on a possible relocaton to Holland after eventual retirement. Finally, in a brief yet significant aside (previously deleted), Mahler confides to Alma in the letter of 20 October 1903 that the Concertgebouw Orchestra was intent on performing all of his symphonies up to that time. Although the comment is not equivalent to evidence of a contract, the inspiration of hope is clear. Such newly added details show that Mahler’s reputation and appreciation of his creativity was gaining in international circles, despite his complaints to Alma — less than two years before — of being misunderstood in his chosen home environment of Vienna. Surely these additions make the revised version of the letters from Gustav to Alma Mahler a significant source for further scholarship on the composer, his creativity, and the productive relationship between two individuals which helped shape the course of modern music.

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/mahler.letters.png image_description=Gustav Mahler. Letters to His Wife product=yes product_title=Gustav Mahler. Letters to His Wife product_by=Ed. Henry-Louis de La Grange and Günther Weiss, in collaboration with Knud Martner. Trans. and revised Antony Beaumont. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004) product_id=ISBN: 0-8014-4340-7 price=$32.00 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0801443407&bfmtype=book
Posted by Gary at 9:08 AM

January 22, 2007

"Rusalka, la ninfa che è in noi"

Rusalka_Teatro_Regio.pngGianandrea Noseda debutta mercoledì a Torino come direttore principale nel capolavoro di Dvorak
"La storia tragica e lieve di una donna incompresa e perdente con una musica fatta di acqua, terra e favole"

Sandro Cappelletto [La Stampa, 22 January 2007]

Ondina, figlia dello Spirito dell’acqua, però decisa - quale errore! - a diventare donna e conoscere gli abbandoni, i tradimenti, le tristezze degli amori tra esseri umani. Rusalka, capolavoro teatrale di Antonin Dvorak debutta mercoledì al Teatro Regio. C’è voluto più di un secolo perchè questa «favola lirica», lieve come un racconto di fate, aspra come un dramma, trovasse, finalmente, la strada di Torino. Sul podio Gianandrea Noseda, 42 anni, al suo debutto come direttore principale del Teatro, dove ha già lavorato per un Don Giovanni salvato in buona parte dalla sua direzione.

Posted by Gary at 3:22 PM

Ovation pour le "Don Giovanni" mis en scène par Haneke

haneke.pngMarie-Aude Roux [Le Monde, 22 January 2007]

Le Don Giovanni de Mozart, monté la saison dernière au Palais Garnier dans la mise en scène du cinéaste allemand, Michael Haneke, allait-elle supporter la transposition d'une reprise sur le grand plateau de l'Opéra Bastille ? La réponse est scénographiquement positive tant le dispositif de Haneke, qui a situé le drame mozartien dans les grandes tours de La Défense, prend ici tout son sens, soit une féroce âpreté dans un monde sans âme. Haneke a effacé toute légèreté et facétie pour verser du côté de la tragédie classique.

Posted by Gary at 3:06 PM

In Austin, Echoes of a Distant War in an Opera’s American Premiere

glass_philip.pngBy STEVE SMITH [NY Times, 22 January 2007]

AUSTIN, Tex., Jan. 20 — The state capital of Texas takes great pride in a live music scene that cherishes tradition while also valuing innovation. The city is a hotbed of both roots music and experimental rock; classical music, by comparison, claims a considerably smaller share of attention. Austin Lyric Opera has long been overshadowed by older, larger, better-financed companies in Dallas and Houston.

Posted by Gary at 12:50 PM

January 21, 2007

A Tenor Cashes in on His Money Notes

By MATTHEW GUREWITSCH [NY Times, 21 January 2007]

IT’S ancient history, but the Sicilian tenor Marcello Giordani makes it a point of honor to acknowledge the crisis. His career got off to a promising start in Spoleto, Italy, with Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in 1986. He was 23, and he had plenty going for him: musicality, easy high notes, a handsome face, a good physique. And he was tall — a godsend to leading ladies.

Posted by Gary at 8:56 PM

Lebanon's Christine Brewer is respected for her voice, admired for her personality

By Sarah Bryan Miller [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 21 January 2007]

Soprano Christine Brewer has a voice made for the repertoire of Strauss and
Wagner. She's an international star in the many-are-called-but-few-are-chosen
world of grand opera. In a field noted for justifiable hypochondria, she is
startlingly unfussy about chills, germs and other possible threats to her vocal
health. She's down-to-earth and downright funny. And when she's at home, she
lives a most un-divaish life.

Posted by Gary at 8:52 PM

CUYÁS: La Fattucchiera

It would be an error nowadays tot try to equate the two.” Well, I invite every opera collector to listen to the few bars of orchestral accompaniment in the first act. I’m fairly sure every one of them will tell me that this is Norma and I’ve rarely heard such blatant copying of the Sicilian’s score. I agree willingly that some of the arias and duets seem to have more of a Donizettean whiff than a Bellinian one but this only proves that Cuyàs’ contemporaries recognized what they heard. This is not to say that the opera is just uninspired piracy. But a first opera by a 22-year old composer will naturally follow the examples of his elders. Cuyàs honours all true and tried forms of his time. Conjuring up evil spirits is done with a nice and lilting waltz which makes one smile (the witches in Verdi’s Macbeth are truly impressive in comparison). Some of the joints between musical numbers are often clumsy. On the other hand the composer succeeds very well in the often long dialogues between singers and a chorus which has a far bigger role than usual at the time. And I’m glad to say that Cunyàs knows how to write a tune. It struck me after repeated hearings that while some of Donizetti’s works on Opera Rara don’t get under your skin, Cunyàs’ labour does. As he died of tuberculosis at only 22, nobody can be sure he would have kept his promise but promise it definitely was.

The recording is boosted tremendously by the strong cast though some of the names will mean next to nothing to a lot of collectors. The best known singer is tenor José Sempere, a lyric tenor with quite a lot of steel in the voice; not unlike Alfredro Kraus. Sempere’s sound is a little bit fuller and less nasal. Often he doesn’t have the older tenor’s sense of style but here he is on his best behaviour and sings with restraint and power when necessary and his high notes ring out. Ofèlia Sala is a splendid sure-footed Ismalia, technically astute in her coloratura with only an acid hint at the top of the voice. Claudia Marchi as the witch shows off a high and rich mezzo while Simon Orfila offers a full bass-baritone. Even Javier Franco as the second baritone has the necessary volume and voice needed for the role; often rare in such almost world premières where record companies (witness Bongiovanni) have to accept less talented singers willing to learn a role for just one or two performances. Josep Pons conducts the able orchestra of the Barcelona Liceu and he is rhythmically alert and gives a nice flow to the music, nicely skating over some of the crudities of some entries and exits.

It’s a pity that the recording, magnificently presented as a small book, is marred by carelessness in the sleeve notes which are so important for a completely unknown opera. I know of more than one collector who buys every Opera Rara issue just for the wonderful notes. Cunyàs is not helped by just 20 lines of biography which moreover are mistakenly printed twice in Spanish instead of English. The libretto is in Italian only and one sorely misses a page with track information (nor is there a hint in the libretto to tell one where a new track starts). And there should at least have been a small line for non-Italian speakers telling them that La Fattucchiera means fortune-teller. A pity, as every lover of the bel canto age will enjoy the music.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/La_Fattucchiera.png image_description=Vicenç Cuyàs: La Fattucchiera product=yes product_title=Vicenç Cuyàs: La Fattucchiera product_by= Simón Orfila, José Sempere, Claudia Marchi, Montserrat Benet, Javier Franco, Ofelia Sala, Barcelona Teatro Liceo Orchestra, Barcelona Teatro Liceo Chorus, Josep Pons (cond.) product_id=Columna Música 1CM0101 [2CDs] price=$27.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?label_id=2214&bcorder=6&name_id=148879&name_role=1
Posted by Gary at 8:38 PM

MARTIN Y SOLER: La Madrilena

Martin y Soler was a Valencian who as a child heard the exciting news that this magnificent city once more had a theatre thanks to the king. Some years before his birth the archbishop had pulled the theatre down, believing that the immorality of some plays was responsible for earthquakes sent by god as punishment. As a young man the future composer experienced the visit to the theatre by such luminaries as Piccinni, Gallupi an Boccherini. Martin y Soler started composing operas at an early age. Up to now nothing has been found of his first opera ‘I due avari’, but the score of his first three-act opera ‘Il tuttore burlato’ still can be found in the Bibliotheca Historica of Madrid. The composer was only twenty at the time of its première in the capital. The libretto as was usual is in Italian and so were the singers. Three years later an impresario reworked the score, had the Italian text changed into Spanish and replaced the recitatives by spoken dialogue. The new title became ‘La Madrilena’ and the opera was transformed into a zarzuela. (Vice versa was possible too: Emilio Arrieta’s most successful zarzuela ‘Marina’ was changed into an opera). Lovers of the genre should pay a little attention however and look at the dates. There is nothing in the music resembling the romantic scores of Chapi, Chueca, Barbieri, Valverde and other masters of the well known romantic zarzuelas of the 19th century.

This is still a rococo score and as can be expected the music by such an inexperienced maestro is pleasing though not very original. One is somewhat reminded of the not very scintillating works of very young Mozart like ‘La finta semplice’ or ‘Mitridate’; one aria following another one with a few ensembles thrown in for good measure. The singers of this recording too are probably adapt in singing young Mozart as the modern custom requires white, small and even sexless voices. Olga Pitarch is a charming though impersonal Violante. Antoni Aragon employs the same small sound. Tenor (?) Ricardo Sanjuan is almost voiceless and would never be acceptable in roles like Ruiz or Gastone. Only baritone Miquel Ramon in the important role of Pipo shows natural vocal talent. Carlos Magraner and the ‘Capella de ministrers’ are the best of the lot thanks to his lively though not hurrying conducting that avoids boredom in this immature work.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/soler.png image_description=Vicente Martin y Soler: La Madrilena product=yes product_title=Vicente Martin y Soler: La Madrilena product_by=Olga Pitarch (Violante), Miquel Ramon (Pipo), Antoni Aragon (Caballero), Patricia Lorens (Menica), Santiago Santana (Fabricio),Ricardo Sanjuan (Anselmo), Capella de ministrers conducted by Carles Magraner product_id=Dahiz Productions CDM 0410 [CD] price=$17.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=134319
Posted by Gary at 8:31 PM

DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Melissande

There is no indulging in overdramatic dynamics or in turning a French opera into an Italian opera as he did with Carmen (Corelli/Price) nine years later. I’ve never heard his 1978 version; but I doubt the elder Karajan had the same grip on the music as he did a quarter of a century earlier. Still, I have some small doubt on the conductor’s insights. He would probably have poured all possible scorn on a critic who would even have dared to think, let alone make such a scurrilous suggestion. Yet, I have a feeling he looked at his score while at the same time listening to the classic 1941 version conducted by Roger Désormière—one of the glories of shellac recordings. Differences in tempi are too small (usually Karajan is a few seconds quicker) to be just a co-incidence. Karajan, of course, would have been silly to ignore Désormière. When he conducted his version, Debussy had been dead for only 23 years and many present at the recording sessions knew very well what the composer and first conductor (André Messager) had in mind.

Apart from Karajan’s exemplary conducting, this recording has other advantages as well. The great surprise is Dame Elisabeth: warmth, youth, spleen. You name it and she has it. This set is worth purchasing alone for the lady’s perfect portrait. And as it was a RAI production husband Legge couldn’t tamper with his wife’s interpretation too much (insofar as Karajan would have allowed it). There is nothing artificial in her singing in a role that on its own would already invite mannerism. Swiss tenor Ernst Haefliger is a worthy Pelléas, happily recorded during his heyday. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always thought a tenor voice better suited Pelléas than the usual French bariton-martin. Debussy chose Jean Périer for the première, indeed a high baritone, though that was probably more for his histrionic capacities. In the recording under review nobody will wonder who is singing: is it Golaud or Pelléas? Haefliger has a sweet but still a manly sound; and his French style is admirable. So is Mr. Roux’s Golaud. He is one of the very best singers in this role as should be expected from someone who claimed the role for a decade and who has at least three other recorded versions. I was surprised, too, at the impact of Mario Petri’s weightier than usual Arkel. Yet, he too succeeds in bringing the deep sorrows of the old king into being. After all Petri was a fine Don Giovanni and he never belonged to the Italian school of stand and deliver. Maybe some American and surely most British ears will find Christine Gayaud’s Geneviève too fluttery but this is a matter of personal taste. Graziella Sciutti also brings more beauty of voice than we often get as Yniold and she is almost as good as Leila Ben Sedira who owned the role.

All in all, if you want a budget version, this is the one to go for as it is on two CDs only. You may even get the best sung and conducted version of them all. Personally, and with some hesitation, I think this version has a small edge over the Désormière version because I prefer more colour in the voices than the older conductor had at his disposal. The Karajan version, however, and this may clinch your decision, has no libretto and for those less versed in French this can be a drawback. There is only a track list (with a hideous spelling mistake) and once more I’m struck by the negligence of the producing Italian company. Most collectors want to know the names of the small part singers as well but if you’d look at the sleeve note you would never know there is a ‘médecin’ and a ‘berger’ as well singing some lines. I’ve no idea who the ‘berger’ is but Franco Calabrese sings the role of the doctor.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/pelleas.png image_description=Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Melissande product=yes product_title=Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Melissande product_by=Ernst Haefliger (Pelléas), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Melissande), Michel Roux (Golaud), Mario Petri (Arkel), Christiane Gayraud (Geneviève), Graziella Sciutti (Yniold), Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI conducted by Herbert von Karajan
Original recording RAI Roma 12/1954 product_id=Urania 267 [2CDs] price= product_url=
Posted by Gary at 7:52 PM

La Pietra del paragone, Châtelet, Paris

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 19 January 2007]

Stendhal loved it. Some see it as Rossini’s first great work but The Touchstone (1812) is more a harbinger of greater things to come than an accomplished work. Like Cenerentola it presents two bad girls vying with a goodie, here the disinterested Clarice, and both operas get their business done in the first act, leaving the second as an epilogue. Played straight it would take the best singers around to keep our attention.

Posted by Gary at 3:35 PM

STRAUSS: Die Fledermaus

The CD is a faithful and therefore easy to produce copy of the LP Highlights. It lasts 53 minutes and therefore, even as a budget issue, doesn’t give value for the money. All ‘big moments’ are on it but a modern CD can easily include all introductory music, often underlining some dialogue and so giving us the full score. After all, the complete performance was recorded 35 years ago and I don’t think that issue will stand high on most collector’s favourite list due to some dubious casting decisions.

The most obvious mistake is Rothenberger as Rosalinde. Though the voice was not so fresh anymore and the top had become less easy, she still could have given us an acceptable Adèle. But in those days she was a big star in Germany with her own TV-show as I well remember and therefore well bankable. A ‘seconda donna’ was out of the question and as a result she is completely out of her league. Her czardas in the second act, admittedly one of the most taxing arias for any soprano due to Strauss’ way of using the voice as another violin, is 4 minutes of strain, driving or trying to drive her small voice over the Vienna Philharmonic. She cannot dominate the big ensembles at the end of the second act and one sighs for Gueden and doesn’t even want to think of Lehmann. Her partner in many an operetta recording was Nicolai Gedda and here he sings Eisenstein. I’ve never liked Prey or Waechter in this role, good singers as they were, because together with Franke and Falk this made for three baritones. Gedda with all his talent nevertheless is only a bleak unimpressive Eisenstein without the sprinkling so necessary in the second act (how one longs for Tauber). Waldemar Kmennt, far less gifted than Gedda, in the second Karajan recording is more convincing and proves that many years of operetta experience in the theatre have the edge over Gedda’s flying in and out and re-recording a role he only sang in the famous Schwarzkopf/Karajan I Fledermaus. Renate Hom is a charming Adèle though she lacks the complete vocal security at the top of the voice (she started out as a pop singer). Adolf Dallapoezza on the contrary has the necessary virility for Alfred and the apt sound. After all, though born in the conquered part of Austria by Italy, his name betrays Italian ancestry. Fischer-Dieskau in his many worthwhile books with memories freely admits that contrary to others (meant is his great rival Prey) he was not able to sing roles in a lighter vein. Still his Falke is amusing and charming and definitely not the unmitigated disaster his Homonay was in Der Zigeuneraron (where Mrs. Dieskau sang the title role). As always in Fledermaus the Vienna Philharmonic conducts itself very well though officially the name of the conductor is Willy Boskovsky, for many years the orchestra’s beloved ‘Konzertmeister’.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Fledermaus.png image_description=Johan Strauss: Die Fledermaus (highlights). product=yes product_title=Johan Strauss: Die Fledermaus (highlights) product_by=Nicolai Gedda (Eisenstein), Anneliese Rothenberger (Rosalinde), Renate Holm (Adèle), Brigitte Fassbaender (Orlofsvky), Adolf Dallapozza (Alfred), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Falke), Walter Berry (Frank). Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Willy Boskovsky.
Recorded in November and December 1971. product_id=EMI Classics 0094635569124 [CD] price=$4.53 product_url=http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41277783&bfpid=0094635569124&bfmtype=music
Posted by Gary at 3:17 PM

DITTERSDORF: Il barone di rocca antica

Which is fortunate, because the stage at the royal palace appears to be about the size of a dressing room at the Metropolitan Opera.

In this small space two couples cavort: a "noble" couple and a pair of servants. Librettist Giuseppe Petrosellini (who saw the libretto first set to music by Mozart's buddy Salieiri) manages to juggle enough complications to keep the inevitable happy romantic resolutions postponed until the end of two acts, each about 50 minutes long. As great a wonder as that is, Ditters von Dittersdorf matches that level of craftsmanship, with consistently delightful and charming, if hardly original, music.

Pál Németh serves as both director and conductor. In the latter function, he leads a very small ensemble of musicians on period instruments in a delightful performance. As director, however, he has given every performer some bit of business to do at almost every moment, so that no one ever seems to simply listen to another character. In such a constricted space, one camera can easily pick up on all this hyper-activity, and it becomes wearing after a while.

The baron of the title is sung by tenor Tamás Kóbor, possessor of a light but pleasant tenor. His character spends an inordinate amount of time hectoring his manservant Giocondo. Gábor Bretz takes this role, his somewhat rough baritone appropriate for a pre-Figaro manservant. Beatrix Fodor performs as the baron's female counterpart, Beatrice. She sounds a bit overripe at her entrance, but as the evening progresses she settles down into a pleasing singer. The best of the cast takes the role of Giocondo's ladyfriend, Lenina. Edit Karoly has an attractive mezzo and a naturally charming stage persona.

The booklet essay by Katalin Tamás should be a model of its kind: extremely informative about every aspect of the opera, and stylishly written as well.

Yes, ultimately Il barone di rocca antica is a curiosity, but it makes for a most entertaining one on this DVD. If one feels like playing the lord or lady of the manor for a couple hours, pop this in the royal DVD player.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 2:56 PM

Montserrat Caballé: Französische Opernarien

What is meant that Caballé indeed often came unprepared to a recording session but as she is such a marvellous sight-reader one scarcely notices is. But it is true that during her great years between 1965 and 1980 she often relied on the sheer beauty of the voice, without taking the trouble to get under the skin of the score. This French operatic recital from 1970 is an example. Only Faust was in her theatre repertoire, as even by the more relaxed standards of the time nobody would have thought of asking her to sing Mireille, Thaïs or Juliette. So there is a supreme but rather generic beauty in her interpretations on this recording. No soprano nowadays comes near her in luscious sound, excellent trills and floated pianissimi but there is nothing of the anguish of Mireille or the exultant jubilation of Thaïs or Louise one often find with lesser talented singers. It is no surprise she is at her best and most moving in Faust. As DG gives us a Manon Lescaut bonus from the Bing Farewell Gala (though you will look in vain for that information on the sleeve), it is clear Italian opera is nearer to her heart. So don’t look for insights but enjoy the spotless vocalism. There is one restraint and it is not the diva’s fault. I heard her several times in the flesh if I may say so and she always impressed me with a voice, not overly large at first hearing, but extremely well projected and the moment she opened up the voice could shake the rafters. There was no hint of shrillness which is now and then audible on this and other recordings. Placido Domingo once told me how unhappy he was during the LP stereo age because the engineers never seemed to get it right the moment he went into full throttle. Franco Corelli too often sounded duller on records than in life and I fear the same problems with a beautiful big voice apply to Caballé.

Jan Neckers

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Faust, Mireille, Roméo et Juliette, Les Huguenots, Louise, Carmen, Thaïs, Manon Lescaut (with Domingo).
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Deutsche Gramophon (1 CD), 00289 477 6191

Posted by Gary at 2:39 PM

Giuseppe di Stefano: Opera Recital

Theoretically it is meant to pleasure collectors who want to replace their worn LP’s but I think economy is more important to the company than just faithful reproduction . It’s nice to read the original sleeve notes but as a lot of it is nonsense, indulging the tenor’s vanities, some historical correction could have been added as well. Moreover the exact recording dates should have been given (March – May 1962). Those not familiar with the recital should start with track 12, the beautiful serenade of Pietri’s Maristella; incidentally not an operetta as it is so often described but a tragic opera. There you will get the best and a fair example of the worst of this recording. One is immediately struck by the still existing beauty of the middle register and by Di Stefano’s imaginatively phrasing, partly due to his perfect enunciation, a quality that remained with him till the last days of his career. The moment he comes into the passagio, the voice thickens and on high A the sound starts to grate alarmingly before he sails into half singing half shouting (witness his Bflat in Celeste Aida). Di Stefano is perfectly summed up in his colleague Del Monaco’s definition: “the heart of a dramatic tenor with the voice of a lyric one”. It’s no use crying over spilt milk and by now we have to accept living with Di Stefano’s fall from vocal grace. By 1962, apart from his before mentioned qualities, there was still the exciting beauty of the timbre, a sound of honey or velvet. As he is pushing his voice unmercifully, it soon becomes clear he is better in declamatory tracks than in early Verdi or Meyerbeer. He only sang Otello once, in 1968 (a disaster, though the rehearsal tape is fine) but the way his monologues of Otello are half sung and half spoken are most convincing, and few Otellos have the breathtaking beauty of sound or the energy he uses to pronounce his lines. When compared to his earlier recordings the decline due to his open throated singing is marked, especially in the ‘Cielo e mar’ and the ‘Or son sei mesi’ from La Fanciulla which he recorded 7 years earlier and with the recitative included here conspicuously lacking. In short this is the recital by a great has been but still a ‘great’ one.

Jan Neckers

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Arias from Aida, Luisa Miller, Otello, Mefistofele, L’Africana, La Gioconda, La Fanciulla del West, Adriana Lecouvreur, La Bohème, Fedora, Maristella, Il Calzare d’Argento.
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Posted by Gary at 2:22 PM

Die Göttliche Liturgie

Formed in an interment camp in 1921, the choir, under the sole leadership of Jaroff, persisted until 1979. With an institution of such longevity and popularity it is not surprising that someone would pick up the torch and seek to maintain the tradition. Thus, Wanja Hlibka and George Tymezenko, soloists under Jaroff, formed a “successor group,” the Don Cossacks Soloists in 1991. This present recording of liturgical music preserves a live concert given by the Don Cossacks Soloists in 2000 at Maulbronn Monastery, a German Cistercian monastery from the twelfth into the sixteenth century, with a long history as a school following that.

There is certainly much here to like. The full-throated, vibrant singing can be thrilling in its strength, while less exuberant sections remain haunting in their ponderous weight and gravity. And the recitational chanting is, like an aural whiff of incense, powerfully, and sometimes poignantly, evocative of the dynamics of the liturgy. Compellingly, too, the choir favors a wide range of volume, and one is left to ponder whether it is the fullness of sound or the hush of pianissimo that creates the most lasting impression.

That said, other aspects are less favorable. One need not impose a Western notion of blend in order to question balance in the ensemble. Outer voices, the profound basses and high tenors, tend to predominate, leaving the middle range wanting more presence and heft. Additionally, the program itself, heard at full length as a “concert,” will be too narrowly drawn for some tastes, I suspect, for the works, while often beautiful examples of liturgical art, can seem less engaging when removed from that rich context and heard as a long succession of concert works.

Not many of the works will be familiar to western listeners. Gretschaninow’s setting of the Creed is perhaps an exception, as is surely the Kiev melody (“Holy God”) that Tschaikowsky so movingly borrows in the 1812 Overture. As we know it best “in quotation,” it is particularly rewarding to hear it here shorn of the inverted commas, sung with fluency of style, presence, and native attachment. And it is these qualities that pervade the recording as a whole, commendably so.

Steven Plank

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Posted by Gary at 2:00 PM

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut

Introduction

It may be difficult to believe, but in 1889 there was serious doubt whether Giacomo Puccini would succeed as a composer of operas. The premiere of Edgar met a cool, if not hostile, reception. It was canceled after three performances. In its original form — it was revised numerous times without success — Edgar followed the style of grand opera, a style that would be obliterated the following year with the performance of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, the first verismo opera. Further, Puccini was drawn to musical developments in Germany, particularly those of Wagner, the reception of which in Italy was mixed at best.

Puccini, with the backing of his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, pressed on. He proposed two operas — one based on Prévost’s novel Manon Lescaut and another on Sardou’s play Tosca. Sardou was unwilling to license his work to an unestablished composer; and Ricordi was reluctant to underwrite Manon Lescaut given the wide success of Massenet’s Manon that premiered in 1884. In any event, Puccini moved forward with the project. There were many difficulties in producing a libretto that met Puccini’s standards. Many hands contributed to the libretto, including Domenico Oliva, Marco Praga, Giulio Ricordi and Ruggero Leoncavallo. It was the introduction of Luigi Illica to the team that rescued the libretto.

The libretto, while more faithful to Prévost than Massenet’s work, sentimentalizes Manon and Des Grieux. The first act closely resembles that of Massenet’s Manon. The second act reduces the magnitude of Manon’s infidelities as portrayed by Prévost, yet captures her avarice. Des Grieux remains a lovestruck sap. The third act, which begins with an intermezzo, is dark, undoubtedly influenced by Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, according to Julian Budden. The last act is a static setting that features only the final moments between Des Grieux and Manon.

Characters

Dancing-Mastertenor
Edmondo, a studenttenor
Geronte di Ravoir, Treasurer-Generalbass
Il cavaliere des Grieux, a studenttenor
Innkeeperbass
Lamplightertenor
Lescaut, Manon’s brother, Sergeant of the Royal Guardsbaritone
Manon Lescautsoprano
Naval Captainbass
Sergeant of the Royal Archersbass
Singermezzo-soprano

Synopsis

Act I

Young Manon Lescaut is very beautiful and attracts a great deal of attention. Des Grieux, a student, addresses her and falls in love with her. At first she is rather shy and withdrawn, as she is in the company of her brother. Geronte, a rich old man, also has his eye on her. He questions her brother, Lescaut, about the family circumstances and decides to abduct Manon. Des Grieux is warned by his friend Edmondo, who has overheard what Geronte is planning, and wastes no time in confessing to Manon that he is in love with her, a feeling which she reciprocates. The young couple flee. Lescaut comforts Geronte; he tells him that it will not be long before Manon comes to him as he knows how fond of luxury she is.

Act II

Lescaut’s plan has been successful. Manon has left Des Grieux, tired of living in modest circumstances, in favour of a more luxurious life with Geronte. In a conversation with her brother, however, she admits that in spite of her new-found wealth she has still not been able to find true happiness. When she meets Des Grieux again, the latter reproaches her for leaving him. She begs his forgiveness, entreating him to remember their love for each other. He again succumbs to her charms and Geronte returns to surprise the two lovers. Des Grieux urges Manon to flee with him immediately, but she lingers, wanting to keep some of Geronte’s wealth for herself. The couple learn from Lescaut that Geronte intends to have Manon arrested. Their attempt to escape fails.

Act III

Des Grieux and Lescaut have hatched a plan to rescue Manon from imprisonment, but the plan fails. Her disgrace is made public. Des Grieux remains loyal to her and stays at her side.

Act IV

Manon and Des Grieux remain alone. Manon dies.

[Synopsis courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click her for an introduction to Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut

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Recorded 1930

Posted by Gary at 12:16 PM

HANDEL: Giulio Cesare

I saw it as performed during a four-performance run in the regular subscription season of Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston in February of 1987 (an exception to the usual practice of the company, where productions were conceived and directed by the late Caldwell). I recall being irritated at the time by the fact that librettos were NOT available for purchase, meaning that the almost four hours of the production were only intelligible as dumb show (even the best operatic diction in Italian is not particularly intelligible up in the balcony to native English speakers). This seemed at the time to be a deliberate decision by the director, perhaps trying to avoid the cognitive dissonance produced by the collision between the libretto and his conception of the opera, and it is worth noting that the DVD reviewed here includes neither a libretto, nor subtitles in Italian, reinforcing my impression of his motives in 1987. The performance recorded here is based on a production from the Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie in Brussels.

Peter Sellars certainly has his partisans (those who awarded him the MacArthur Prize), but to my eyes and ears his work is sophomoric to the extreme. There are some worthy moments and performances here, but the overall impression it leaves is of an amateurishness appropriate to a high-school theatrical (and a bad one, at that). His contemporary Middle-East setting for the opera sabotages any seriousness that might be achieved by the work. There is little that one might describe as acting among the cast (the exception being the absolutely incomparable Lorraine Hunt, of whom more below). Jeffrey Gall's singing in the title role is virtuosic, fully matching the composer's demands, but his characterization of Caesar is far from the alpha male one might imagine. Cleopatra is fluently sung by the lyric soprano Susan Larson, with the character presented as a combination of the vamp Theda Bara (who played Cleopatra in a silent from 1917) with the porno queens of the seventies (particularly evident in the frequent close-ups in the DVD). Contralto Mary Westbrook-Geha produces a rich and expressive tone as Cornelia, whose husband Pompey's head appears from a hat box (!) in the first act, but her wooden acting is far from that required of the role, and her girth makes it unbelievable that Achilla and Curio should both be attracted to her, particularly in the frumpy power suit she must wear. Drew Minter's Tolomeo is imagined as a sort of teen punk with dyed hair (reminiscent of nothing more than Seth Green's Scott Evil in the Austin Powers franchise, though Green gets much more mileage from his punk than does Minter). The absolute nadir here (as in the OCB production) is Minter's aria sung in a minimal bathing suit. The estimable baritone James Maddalena manages to preserve his dignity as a general in military mufti.

The few redeeming moments of an almost unwatchable production belong to Lorraine Hunt, whose acting and singing is of a blistering intensity which shames the rest of the cast (compare, for example, her presence in the duet which ends Act 1, with that of Westbrook-Geha). Hunt would have been capable, had she not chosen a career as an opera singer, of exceptional work as a film actress, something that could not be said about her colleagues.

I would be remiss if I did not register the extremely variable quality of the audio. Not infrequently the singers go off-mike, which might be expected in a stage production, but in addition to this the audio levels go up and down unpredictably, so that it is impossible to simply set the volume at a comfortable level and relax. No, one must have the remote control always at hand to boost or lower the sound. I was also not much enamored of the simply functional contributions of the orchestra, playing modern instruments, seemingly at a constant mezzo-forte, and without subtlety or grace, sometimes threatening to overbalance the singers' contributions.

Tom Moore

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Posted by Gary at 11:11 AM

January 19, 2007

Graz Opera Names New Intendant

graz_oper.pngBy Frank Cadenhead [MusicalAmerica.com, 19 January 2007]

Austria’s Graz Opera has named Elisabeth Sobotka to succeed Jörg Kossdorff as Intendant, effective with the 2009-10 season. A native of Vienna, Sobotka, 42, has been since 2002 opera director at Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden, where her name appears third after Peter Mussbach (Intendant) and Daniel Barenboim (music director).

Posted by Gary at 9:11 PM

Seldom Heard, but Worth Hearing

queler.pngBy JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 19 January 2007]

On Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall, New York had the opportunity to hear "the other ‘Otello'" — the one that Rossini wrote in 1816. This was 70 years before Verdi tackled that same play. Presenting the Rossini was Opera Orchestra of New York, under its founderconductor, Eve Queler. We had a satisfying evening, thanks to both Rossini and OONY.

Posted by Gary at 9:02 PM

WAGNER: Lohengrin

This doesn’t mean that ‘the next swan’ puts in an appearance in the Everding production at the Met ( brilliant lighting does the job) but the designs and costumes transfer us to Antwerp in the early middle ages. Exact dating of the opera is even possible: between 919 and 936, as those were the years Heinrich der Vögler was German king (though to be honest, the duchy of Brabant, where this reviewer is living, only got its name some 150 years later). Anyway, the Met production’s sets and costumes are roughly apt for the period and Elsa at least, wears some robes fit for a duke’s daughter instead of the same ugly colourless night gown Friedrich and his team thought fit for the Bayreuth production. Peter Hofmann too looks far better in his fine Met costumes than in the now hopelessly dated half knight/ half astronaut plastic (or is it metal ?) he has to wear in Germany. Friedrich probably had some ‘democratic’ problems with the king being graciously attended to, and so he has the singer seated on the steps of the stairs among all the other nobles. At the Met the king gets his throne during his hearing and the scene all at once doesn’t look ridiculous anymore. Time and again one sighs at Friedrich’s solutions and with relief one returns to Everding.

The Bayreuth production, however, has one distinct advantage over the Met’s. Four years and a lot of heavy Wagner roles later have taken their toll on Hofmann’s voice. The shine of it has somewhat disappeared and there is more strain in the high register. Granted, there is more refinement and some fine piannismi phrasing too at the Met, but these don’t quite compensate for the loss of vocal strength. This doesn’t mean the Bayreuth performance is perfect. After all this is Wagner’s most Italian opera and the recordings of De Lucia and Pertile prove what an Italian tenor could do with it. I sorely miss the ‘morbidezza’, the sweetness and sensuality, a good tenor can bring to the role, and next to Sandor Konya, Hofmann pales. Leif Roar too has not improved in the few years between the two recordings. In Bayreuth he is an impressive Telramund and he sings with the dark-burnished sound apt for the role. At the Met his singing is often crude and soon becomes barking before degenerating into shouting. Siegfried Vogel too at Bayreuth is vocally more impressive than the Met’s John Macurdy, who has some flat notes. Both Bernd Weikl and Anthony Raffell (a name unknown to me) sing a sturdy and strong Heerrufer. I don’t think nowadays both houses are still able to cast this small role with such outstanding talent.

On the ladies front, however, the Met wins hands down. Karan Armstrong is rather passive and colourless compared with the bigger and more creamy sound of Eva Marton. Elisabeth Connell is a South-African soprano and therefore can more easily cope with the high tessitura of the role but she is no match for the acting and the rich secure top of Leonie Rysanek, stunning at age 60.Woldemar Nelsson is a solid Kapellmeister but already at the prelude there is an aura of magic lacking. James Levine, with his long experience in German and especially Italian opera, immediately plunges into the mystery of the score and keeps it up till the end of the opera. The Met’s orchestra and chorus too are on the same level as the Bayreuth phalanx. As often one wishes one could take the best of these two worlds but in the end Levine, Marton and the production give the Met’s performance a slight edge.

Jan Neckers

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Euroarts 2072028 [2DVDs]

Peter Hofmann (Lohengrin), Eva Marton (Elsa), Leif Roar(Telramund),Leonie Rysanek (Ortrud), Anthony Raffell (Heerrufer), John Macurdy (König Heinrich). Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Levine. Production: August Everding, set design: Ming Cho Lee. Recorded at the Met January 1986.
Deutsche Gramophon 073 417-6 [2DVDs]

Posted by Gary at 7:50 AM

January 18, 2007

Second Annual Opera News Awards

Opera_News.pngNEW YORK, NY. October 10, 2006 – The Metropolitan Opera Guild today announced the winners of the second annual OPERA NEWS Awards. Designed specifically to recognize distinguished contributions from leading figures in the world of opera, the awards salute some of the most admired and successful individuals working in the field.

Posted by Gary at 3:51 PM

Celebrating a Fabled Conductor

toscanini.pngBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 18 January 2007]

Tuesday night's concert in Avery Fisher Hall had a headline: "A Tribute to Arturo Toscanini." It also had a description: "A Joint Gala Benefit Concert by the Symphonica Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic." Toscanini, perhaps the most fabled conductor of the 20th century, died on January 16, 1957 — and this event was held 50 years later, to the day. It was a most satisfying evening, too.

Posted by Gary at 3:30 PM

January 17, 2007

SILVER: The Thief of Love

If the audience for new American art music seems small and is (supposedly) shrinking, then the audience for new American operas is even more exclusive. All too often, freshly composed operas, if they are performed at all, are promptly shelved—even when they are received with much praise from opera enthusiasts. Opera production is simply too expensive and labor intensive for unproven works to receive many performances; and without the exposure afforded by a long run, there is little chance for an opera to enter the repertory. Filmmaker John Feldman has attempted to break this oft commented-upon cycle with his film production of The Thief of Love, an opera by his wife, Sheila Silver.

Composed between 1981 and 1986 and revised in 2000, The Thief of Love received its premiere in March 2001 by the Stony Brook Opera and Orchestra conducted by David Lawton. In the days leading up to the performance, Silver and Lawton were so impressed with the students’ work, as well as with the lighting, set design, costumes, and makeup, that they readily agreed when Feldman offered to digitally record the performances. Feldman used several cameras to record both the Friday evening and Sunday afternoon performances, rather than stationing a single camera in the back of the auditorium, a practice that many small opera companies use to create an archival tape of their performances.

Over the next three years Feldman edited the footage on his own time and between projects to produce a film version of The Thief of Love complete with subtitles special effects, and thoughtful use of the various camera angles. In a panel discussion following the DVD’s premiere screening on December 4, 2006 at the 92nd Street Y’s Steinhardt Building, Feldman pointed out that the film production was more or less a gift to his wife. The cost of his time, had she been required to pay him is far beyond the budget of most university opera companies. This production of The Thief of Love is a rare opportunity for viewers to experience a production that otherwise would be available only to the members of the audience present on March 9 and 11, 2001.

For The Thief of Love, Silver wrote her own libretto based on an 18th-century Bengali court tale as translated in 1963 by Edward C. Dimock. Vidya (Gwendolynn Hillman) is an independent and learned princess who has vowed to marry the man who can beat her in debate. Over the course of the opera, she is seduced by a clever prince (James Brown)--the title character--who has challenged her to a debate. The prince sneaks into Vidya's bedroom with the help of his former nursemaid and wins her heart with his good looks, clever poetry, and persistence in wooing her. Through arguing with him, Vidya learns the “true meaning” of love, and sets aside her previously insatiable appetite for knowledge. In the public debate the next day the prince—now disguised again as an ascetic—uses Vidya's own words against her to run the debate to his favor. Vidya, realizing it is the handsome man from the night before cedes the debate immediately. It is surprising to say the least, to encounter a work created in the United States in the late twentieth century that does not at all consider the gender politics of the story told. Vidya’s story, while not the most egregiously patriarchal tale ever told, could certainly have been treated with some irony. One character who comes close to redeeming the plot with her playful treatment of and reaction to gender stereotypes is Hira, played by Manami Hattori. The redemptive quality of Hira’s character is due in part to the excellent execution of the role by Hattori. A lesser actress would not have achieved such subtle facial expressions or dead-on timing.

Overall, the student cast performed admirably, though at times they were over-powered by the orchestra. The imbalance may have been more the fault of the recording equipment than lack of ability to project; Act I was affected by irritating background noises—some from the audience, some from the fountain on stage, and others that were unidentifiable on first hearing. In Acts II and III, these noises receded considerably.

Another somewhat troubling element of the film production was the prominence of “sub” titles, which actually appear all over the screen, not just below the action. Feldman explained that for him, once the decision was made to include titles, they became a part of the performance, not just something that one pretends not to look at. While I found the title obtrusive at times, I commend his use of color-coded text for the different characters’ utterances, and also for the careful timing of the appearance of the texts. I admit, I am a little old-fashioned and I prefer my subtitles tiny and always in the same place on the screen.

The Thief of Love DVD accomplished what its creators set out to do: it makes accessible an entertaining work that would otherwise be unavailable. The Thief of Love is available for purchase through the filmmaker’s site and you can also find it through Amazon.com.

Megan Jenkins

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Posted by Gary at 4:29 PM

Opera Night

The evening is a fund-raiser for the German AIDS foundation, and after a brief (and strangely awkward) filmed statement in English from soprano Michèle Crider, the show gets underway with an exciting "Entry of the Guests" from Tannhäuser, with Marcus Stenz leading the Opera Cologne orchestra and its excellent chorus (all sporting the familiar red ribbon).

The contribution of the emcee, a "cabaret artist" named Konrad Beikircher, may damage the enjoyment of some viewers. Clearly reading from notes, with an unmotivated chuckle behind much of his spiel, the emcee's palaver should have been separately tracked for easy skipping. Instead, the "fast forward" button will have to be exercised in order to avoid mostly old and tiresome anecdotes and such gratuitous commentary as an unctuous trashing of the Forza libretto. Perhaps in his native environment this gentleman puts on quite a show; here, the cameraman pans the audience anxiously to find the occasional audience member breaking a smile.

The singing, fortunately, makes up for this annoyance. Thomas Quastoff appears first, with a "Lied an den Abendstern" of rare handsomeness and sensitivity. Much later in the show he comes back with a delightful rarity, "O sancta justitia" from Lortzing's Zar und Zimmerman. After Quastoff's Wagner, the show then shifts to bel canto, with young tenor Saimur Pirgu delivering an able "Una Furtiva Lagrima," his tone only lacking that mysterious charismatic quality that tenors such as Rolando Villazon and Juan-Diego Florez possess. But Pirgu may yet attain that status; towards show's end he sings a very sweet "Non ti scordar di me."

Vivica Genaux appears after Pirgu's Donizetti to give a demonstration of impeccable technique in "Nacqui all'affanno" from Cenerentola, which Isabel Bayrakdarian has to follow. She imparts a sense of drama into Semiramide's "Bel raggio lusinghier," though she is not in Genaux's class as a Rossinian. Genaux is just as exciting later with a surprising choice, a zarzuela number about a tarantula from Jerónimo Giménez.

Upstaging the females in the "hair" department, Carlos Alvarez's wild black lion's mane impresses just as much as his forceful "Leonore, viens" from La Favorite. The vibrato will either appeal or come across as a touch too heavy, depending on taste. Tamar Iveri's healthy soprano may be a touch too strong to deliver a truly tender "Dove sono." Later in the program, however, she does very well by the exquisite "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's Rondine. Ms. Crider, a reliable if unexciting singer, works earnestly through "Pace pace mio Dio." Her "Summertime" (which also serves as the inexplicable "theme" of the gala) finds her approach much too overbearing for a lullaby.

Neil Shicoff sings the two big Tosca tenor arias, with distractingly strenuous facial exertions. The "Recondita armonia" doesn't quite come off, but "E lucevan le stelle" earns him one of the evening's most lively audience responses. The tenor also seems to have found his way to Pavarotti's hair colorist.

In the middle of the program Edda Moser and two young singers, Claudia Rohrbach and Regina Richter, perform the Rosenkavalier trio. Unfortunately, Ms. Moser's experienced (to put it kindly) voice doesn't blend well with the freshness of the two others. Once again, to put it kindly.

The last solo appearance has Carlos Alvarez reappear for the rarest of the evening's repertory choices, "Bless your beautiful hide" from the Gene de Paul score for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Without necessarily forgoing his operatic training, Alvarez imbues the song with easy masculine charm, making for a delightful performance.

Then most of the singers (Shicoff noticeably absent) trot on to perform "Tonight" from West Side Story as an ensemble piece. Odd, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The disc also offers as bonus items a speech thankfully cut from the main DVD program, a short documentary of some of the work the German AIDS foundation has done in South Africa, and a bizarre trailer for this very gala. All in all, the ratio of fine performances to those less so and some innovative repertory choices make this one of the better gala DVDs, if one can tolerate the host.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/101105.png image_description=Opera Night product=yes product_title=Opera Night
Live Concert from the Opera Cologne 2005 for the German AIDS Foundation
Famous Arias and Songs by Wagner, Donizetti, Rossini, Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, R. Strauss, Gershwin, Giménez, Lortzing, De Curtis, De Paul, Bernstein product_by=Carlos Álvarez, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Michèle Crider, Vivica Genaux, Tamar Iveri, Edda Moser, Saimir Pirgu, Thomas Quasthoff, Regina Richter, Claudia Rohrbach, Neil Shicoff, Chorus of the Opera Cologne, Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne. Markus Stenz, Conductor. Presented by Konrad Beikircher. product_id=ArtHaus Musik 101 105 [DVD] price=$27.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?label_id=4357&bcorder=6&name_id=66659&name_role=4
Posted by Gary at 12:49 PM

Serious opera? You’re having a laugh

ravel.pngConrad Wilson [The Herald, 17 January 2007]

Clocks and coffins are what, in designer terms, connect Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi in the double-bill to be launched by the RSAMD's opera school at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, on Friday.

Posted by Gary at 10:45 AM

Opera on tap: Program puts classical music in pubs

beer.pngBy Keith Powers/ Music [Boston Herald, 16 January 2007]

“I don’t think of it as dumbing down,” said Gil Rose, music director of Opera Boston and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

Posted by Gary at 10:39 AM

Caligula, Oper Köln, Cologne

caligula.pngBy Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 16 January 2007]

What makes tyrants tick? With Saddam’s surreal demise competing for attention with Dani Levy’s Hitler comedy, there is room in the operatic market for more tyranny than Tosca.

Posted by Gary at 10:23 AM

Scaling a Bach Monument With a Masterly Touch

By JAMES OESTREICH [NY Times, 15 January 2007]

It seems remarkable at first glance that the annual weeklong Carnegie Hall choral workshops, founded by Robert Shaw in 1990, have only now gotten around to Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” perhaps the cornerstone of the Western choral literature. But anyone who attended any of the workshop sessions last week must have come away with a new appreciation of just how vast and varied a canvas the “St. Matthew” is, and how difficult to prepare in a mere six days with an ad-hoc chorus.

Posted by Gary at 10:19 AM

Everything in the Garden looks lovely

Passion, conflict, drama... and that's before the curtain rises. After six magnificent and stormy decades, the Royal Opera still hits the high notes.
By Jessica Duchen [Independent, 15 January 2007]

The house lights dim, the atmosphere subsides into an expectant hush. A crackle of applause, a flowering of sound from the orchestra and the red velvet curtain swishes aside. That moment never loses its magic: you're transported from the crimson shadows straight to Seville or Valhalla, St Petersburg or Paris. Opera at its finest brings together more arts than any other medium: music, live performance, design, drama, sometimes dancing and even film. And once the opera bug has bitten you, nothing can compete with a night at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Posted by Gary at 10:10 AM

January 16, 2007

WAGNER: Tannhäuser

Now available on DVD, the opera performance as filmed has a stage-bound perspective oddly hitched to the occasional "movie" editing effect, such as a sudden and seamless fade from Venusberg to Wartburg in act one. Not a hint of a live audience can be detected (which is also true of other Bayreuth filmed performances), and many of the singers throw a glance slightly off-screen at times, as if to catch a glimpse of the conductor (this is especially noticeable with Richard Versalle, singing the lead role). All this underlies the unsatisfactory sense that this filming neither captures the electric charge of a live performance nor the smooth perfection of a studio-filmed affair.

The brief booklet essay (apparently authored by a Werner Pfister, although that name only follows the synopsis) relates Wolfgang Wagner's inspiration for the set: "the archetypal shape of a circle symbolizing both the life cycle and the terrestrial globe," per the essay. For Wagner the director, the circle's center "may be likened to an ancient place of worship occupied by Venus and Mary." It may indeed, but it also may be visually dull - a stark space that neither captures the rich eroticism of Venusberg nor the verdant terrain of Wartburg. The ballet of cape and thong-clad dancers might possibly have been "steamy" at the original time of production; in 2006, the effect is more of bad mid-80s music video. However, the act two hall set succeeds in putting some realistic detail into a sort of timeless limbo, with a deep gray-white galaxy serving as backdrop.

The essay details how the original leads for the production's debut dropped out, leading to a major debut for Cheryl Studer and a worthy effort by Richard Versalle. Studer's basically lovely tone, though lacking much distinctive character, meets the role's demands. Responses to intonation often have a subjective cast; suffice it to say, to your reviewer's ears, Ms. Studer often seems slightly below the note. Her dignified, properly feminine Elsa could use some other shades, and she is not flattered when the camera catches her at the end of act two perspiring under the camera lights.

Versalle's impassive countenance hardly captures much of the torment and potency of Tannhäuser, although an excellent make-up job in act three helps him find some conviction for the final collapse into despair. However, for a notoriously difficult role, Versalle manages well vocally, with just some occasional tightness at the top.

Costumed in a most unsexy white nightgown, Ruthild Engert-Ely as Venus cannot produce any erotic spark in the inert first scene of the opera (after an overture featuring the Pilgrims wandering around the stage as if lost). William Pell's unfocused tone as Walther makes his an unimpressive contribution to act two, which is otherwise the most effective part of the staging. A youthful Wolfgang Brendel produces the vocal highlight here, as well as at the start of act three, with his fresh tone and appealing stage presence most welcome as Wolfram. Sinopoli leads the Bayreuth forces to a fresh, vital reading of the score.

The Met has a handsome Tannhäuser on DVD, in a typically lush traditional production, and with the priceless Venus of Tatiana Troyanos but a troubled Richard Cassilly. Rene Kollo, the originally signed lead for this Bayreuth production, appears in a controversial Munich staging. Your reviewer has not seen a more recent DVD with Peter Seiffert, who will be singing the role shortly in Los Angeles (March 2007). Lovers of the opera will probably find some enjoyment in this Bayreuth DVD. Otherwise, Wagner's supremely melodic grand opera awaits a truly all-around successful DVD incarnation.

Chris Mullins

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image_description=Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser

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product_title=Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser
product_by=Richard Versalle, Cheryl Studer, Ruthild Engert-Ely, Hans Sotin, Wolfgang Brendel, Siegfried Vogel, Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele. Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor. Wolfgang Wagner, stage director.
Recorded at the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, 23 to 28 June 1989
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Posted by Gary at 2:19 PM

SHOSTAKOVICH: The Complete Symphonies

The Shostakovich centenary in 2006 brought new attention to the composer and resulted in a barrage of recording projects, including the reissue of Haitink’s classics from the late 1970s and early 1980s with the London Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw; a collection put out by the composer’s son Maxim Shostakovich with the Prague Symphony; and even a boxed set by the Giuseppe Verdi Symphony of Milan, conducted by Oleg Caetani. Meanwhile, among several earlier releases still available, the most prominent ones are those by two conductors who, like Maxim Shostakovich, can boast a direct link to the composer, but who are arguably better musicians than he: Mstislav Rostropovich who recorded his cycle in 1998, and Rudolf Barshai, whose 2003 set with the WDR Sinfonie Orchester Köln is (at least according to Victor Carr Jr. at ClassicsToday.com) still “the one to beat.”

The Shostakovich cycle by Mariss Jansons released by EMI this past September stands out even in such illustrious company, and not just for its stunning Sotz-art décor. The set has been a life-long project for the conductor, spanning eighteen years of his career and involving eight different ensembles across two continents. Starting with a harrowing rendition of Symphony no. 7 by the (still at the time) Leningrad Philharmonic on its 1988 Scandinavian tour, it presents Europe and America’s premiere orchestras: the Berlin Philharmonic in Symphony no. 1 and the London Philharmonic in no. 15; the Philadelphia Orchestra in nos. 10-11 and the Oslo Philharmonic in nos. 6 and 9. There are live recordings of Symphony no. 5 by the Vienna Philharmonic and of no. 8 by the Pittsburgh Symphony; and the superbly engineered studio recordings by the Bavarian Radio chorus and orchestra performing Symphonies 2-4 and 12-14 (finished in 2005, these are the most recent ones in the set). Finally, the symphonies are supplemented by excerpts from the Gadfly Suite (London Philharmonic) and the two Jazz Suites, as well as the inimitable Tahiti Trot (all Philadelphia Orchestra), and even a rehearsal fragment of the 8th with the Pittsburgh Symphony, with Jansons talking about the war symphonies.

Throughout, Jansons draws uniformly superior performances from the ensembles with which he works. His crisp woodwinds sparkle in their virtuoso passagework at break-neck speeds; the strings are alternatively sonorous and intense, the brass powerful but not overbearing; the solos are excellent almost without exception, and cataclysmic tutti climaxes are compelling, particularly in the 4th and 8th symphonies. Furthermore, the conductor manages to downplay the peculiarities of each orchestra’s sound and imprint a single, unified vision onto the cycle that bears his own recognizable signature, particularly in his impeccable sense of timing and in his relentless, terrifyingly mechanical driving rhythms. His tempos tend to be on a faster side, which privileges the sarcastic and grotesque over the soulful and lyrical in his interpretations — in Shostakovich’s case, almost always a winning strategy. There is much of Mravinsky recognizable in Jansons, although some of the maître’s edginess seems to be softened at times — perhaps too much so in some moments of the 5th (this criticism, however, does not apply to the work’s truly extraordinary finale).

Mariss Jansons’s cycle is a remarkable achievement from a remarkable musician. Like Rostropovich and Barshai, he possesses that coveted “born-in-the-USSR” label to boost his Shostakovich credentials, but unlike them, his principal training was as a conductor, leading to an apprenticeship with Mravinsky, still the definitive Shostakovich interpreter, and a long fruitful association with the Leningrad and then St Petersburg Philharmonic. While still keeping the City on the Neva in his artistic blood, so to speak, this one-step distance from the composer brings a unique color to Jansons’ approach. He addresses a Shostakovich score as an interpreter who demonstrates an affinity with and appropriate reverence for his source yet allows himself a certain creative license in bringing the music to life. An interview with the conductor included in the enclosed booklet is particularly illuminating in this respect. For instance, Jansons defends his decision “not to follow too faithfully Shostakovich’s metronome markings” by invoking the authority of “the people who knew Shostakovich personally” (p. 12), that is, appealing to the original source. At the same time, his penetrating comments about the “emotional tightrope” the composer had to walk, and the multiple layers of meaning hidden “behind the notes” of his music (p. 11) reveal his comprehension of that music’s message primarily from the point of view of its contemporary Soviet listeners. Apart from Evgenii Mravinsky, few conductors can claim that particular interpretive pulpit. Mariss Jansons is one of these select few; and his voice is certainly worth hearing.

Olga Haldey, Ph.D.
University of Maryland—College Park

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/928408.png image_description=Dmitri Shostakovich: The Complete Symphonies product=yes product_title=Dmitri Shostakovich: The Complete Symphonies product_by=Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Wiener Philharmoniker, Berliner Philharmoniker, Philadelphia Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Mariss Jansons (cond.) product_id=EMI Classics 0946 3 65300 2 4 [10CDs] price=$63.63 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=143348
Posted by Gary at 10:07 AM

January 15, 2007

Era La Notte

In the famous “Lamento d’Arianna” by Monteverdi, the emotions are strikingly dynamic and mutable, as Arianna,, abandoned by her lover, Teseo, moves variously through rage, regret, uncertainty, anguish and love in one of early opera’s most memorable scenes. Barbara Strozzi’s “Lagrime mie” offers a pining for death in the face of a love that cannot be returned. Pietro Giramo’s “Lamento della pazza” is a remarkable mad-song, whose text embodies the wayward meanderings and quick turns of one driven mad by unrequited love. The last of the four, Monteverdi’s opuscolo in genere rappresentativo “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda,” sets a scene from Tasso’s Renaissance epic, Gerusalemme liberata in which the combat of lovers in knightly disguise ends with poignant death, transformed into happiness.

Given the moving dramatic nature of these highly affective works, it is not surprising that they have also been staged by Juliette Deschamps. She writes: “I imagine scenes from the life of a woman who, we realize, is lost forever—lost through love, no doubt about it. She relates to us, with elegant crudeness and in language at once precious and raucous, the episodes of her existence, made up of dreams of love and the pain of loving.” Although the recording cannot convey the staged elements—one quickly wishes for a DVD release—the dramatic quality of Antonacci’s vocal renditions leave little doubt of the theatrical potential, both of the singer and the program.

Antonacci’s great strengths here are her responsiveness to the dynamics of the texts and her well-cultivated beauty of tone. Her sound is bigger than one sometimes finds in early music circles—much of her career is devoted to later operatic repertories—but she maintains a sharp focus to the sound that suits early opera well.

The instrumental forces of Modo Antiquo are well attuned to Antonacci’s emotional flexibility, and with imaginative use of dynamics, instrumentation, and even choice of technique, their contribution to the evolving dramatic sense is strong. In the “Combattimento,” Monteverdi famously gives the instruments passages in the stile concitato: vigorously articulated tremolos to arouse the passions of war. The ensemble presents these moments of combat with great flair. In the end however, it is the poignance of Clorinda’s death that proves most convincing. Sung with consummate control against a halo of string sound, Clorinda’s last words, “Heaven opens, I go in peace,” become a hauntingly beautiful conclusion, not only to Clorinda’s life, but to the program’s journey, as well. Moreover, as the control is Antonacci’s, they also become one of the most memorable instances of her high artistry.

Steven Plank

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/788089.png image_description=Era la notte product=yes product_title=Era La Notte. product_by=Anna Caterina Antonacci, soprano; Modo Antiquo, Federico Maria Sardelli, director. product_id=Naïve V5050 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=17417&name_role1=2&bcorder=2&label_id=174
Posted by Gary at 5:18 PM

Fans of the Esoteric Emerge

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 15 January 2007]

When Mozart fashioned his own version of Handel's Messiah and prepared to mount it in Vienna, Austria, he was confronted by a dearth of talented trumpet players, and so scored the solo passagework for "The Trumpet Shall Sound" for French horn instead. Robert Mealy, first violin and guest director of the New York Collegium, used this story Friday evening at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer to illustrate the decline of musical life in Vienna in the period just before Haydn and Mozart and to underscore the prior brilliance of the years of the mid-17th century under music loving emperor Leopold I. In a fascinating program, the Collegium players presented music in a variety of styles from those glorious early days.

Posted by Gary at 3:09 PM

PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly

Music composed by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on the play Madame Butterfly by David Belasco.

First performance: 17 February 1904, La Scala, Milan.
Revised edition: 28 May 1904, Brescia.

Background:

Early in 1900, David Belasco, an American producer, needed a play with which to save a rather disastrous season, and finding possibilities in John Luther Long’s “Madame Butterfly,” he fashioned from it a drama in the short space of two weeks. His season was saved, for the play was a success, the all-night vigil making a particularly great appeal. Soon the play was produced in London, where the manager of Covent Garden saw it, and knowing that Puccini needed a successor to “La Tosca,” he wired him. Puccini came to London immediately, and was charmed with “Madame Butterfly” as an operatic possibility, even though, it is said, he did not at that time understand a word of English.

At its first performance the opera was a distinct failure. Perhaps the strangeness of a Japanese setting antagonized the audience; the second act, moreover, with its miniature all-night watch, so successful in the drama, became too long in the opera. The opera was withdrawn, Puccini made a few slight changes, and through necessity ruthlessly interrupted the vigil, making two parts of the second act. Produced three months later at Brescia, Madame Butterfly was a success, and since that day has become one of the most popular of operas.

While much of this success is due to the dramatically conceived play, much more is due to Puccini’s music. For the sake of local color the composer has introduced a number of genuine Japanese melodies—melodies that he was enabled to obtain exactly from Victor records made in Japan. Puccini also shows that he was aware of musical progress in the rest of the world, when, for instance, at the entrance of Butterfly, lie effectively makes extensive use of augmented triads after the fashion first brought into prominence by Debussy. In the more emotional parts of his opera, however, lie is thoroughly Italian and Puccinian in style.

Principal Characters:
Madame Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San)Soprano
Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s servantMezzo-Soprano
B. F. Pinkerton, Lieutenant, U.S. NavyTenor
Kate Pinkerton, his American wifeMezzo-Soprano
Sharpless, U.S. Consul at NagasakiBaritone
Goro, a marriage brokerTenor
Prince Yamadori, suitor for Cio-Cio-SanBaritone
The Bonze, Cio-Cio San’s uncleBass

Setting: Nagasaki, Japan, circa 1904.

Synopsis:

Act I

Scene—Exterior of Pinkerton’s House at Nagasaki

It is all vastly amusing! This matchbox of a house and its sliding panels, or shosi, in place of walls, neat and ingenious devices; and ridiculously inexpensive! Pinkerton, Lieutenant in the United Stales Navy, is charmed and amused as the self-important matrimonial agent, Goro, shows him over the little house he is to make his home during a not-too-prolonged stay in Japan. Presently Sharpless, United States Consul, turns up. Pinkerton tells him delightedly about the beautiful Japanese girl by whom he has been captivated, and whom he is to marry Japanese fashion for nine hundred and ninety-nine years, but with the privilege of annulling the marriage any month. The consul has a dim suspicion that the experiment may turn out more seriously than his friend anticipates, but Pinkerton will not listen to hints of tragedy. “Whisky?” proposes the Naval Lieutenant. Having filled their glasses the men drink to the toast “America forever!” then to the folks at home and to the time when Pinkerton will have a “real” wedding back in “God’s country.”

The two men stand looking out over the glorious scenery, so different from the homeland that to an American it is a make-believe world. From the foot of the hill girlish voices are heard, gradually drawing nearer. The music pulsates glowingly while the girls chatter about the beauty of the day and the flowers. Among them is Cio-Cio-San, “Madame Butterfly,” and to Pinkerton this little creature in her kimono is a butterfly indeed. Her voice soars above the others in broad, lyric phrases while she sings of the ecstasy of her love.

As the music reaches its climax the girls appear on the terrace and prostrate themselves before the “augustness” of Pinkerton. Sharpless enters into a conversation with Butterfly and learns that since the death of her father she has had to support herself and mother by becoming a Geisha.

The bride’s relatives, great numbers of them, now arrive. While the guests are all busied with the refreshments, Pinkerton amusedly watches Butterfly, who draws from her capacious sleeves her possessions . . . such trifles as handkerchiefs, a jar of carmine, a fan . . . and with great solemnity a long sheath. The officious Goro whispers an explanation to Pinkerton . . . the dagger was sent to her father by the Mikado . . . and he was obedient, Goro adds grimly. Thus is Pinkerton reminded that he is in the land given to seppuku, or “hara-kiri,” a condemned gentleman’s privilege to die by his own hand. Butterfly also shows him her ottoke, images of her forefathers; but she confides to Pinkerton that she has been to the Mission and adopted his religion, innocently adding that she will try to be frugal for she knows that he has paid for her the whole sum of a hundred yen. She declares that for his sake she is willing to forget race, kindred and ancestors; to prove this last, she throws away their images.

Goro commands silence and the quaint ceremony of signing the marriage contract takes place. The gaiety of congratulations is suddenly interrupted, for Cio-Cio-San’s uncle rushes in, violently enraged. Being a Bonze, or Japanese priest, he has learned that Butterfly has forsaken the faith of her ancestors upon marrying this foreigner. Therefore, he curses her with threats of eternal punishment, all her relatives likewise denounce her, for in deserting her gods she has likewise deserted her people! All rush away in horror leaving Butterfly weeping bitterly. Pinkerton consoles her, and in the thought of his love she is again happy. Night falls over the scene and they sing of their happiness together.

Act II

Scene—The Interior of Butterfly’s House

Part 1

Beyond the room one can see the garden with cherries in blossom, bright in the spring sunshine, but the wall panels being only partly open, the room remains in semi-darkness. Before an image of Buddha kneels Suzuki. Occasionally she rings a handbell while she prays that Butterfly’s weeping may be ended. Butterfly, who is standing motionless near a screen, tells her that the gods of Japan are lazy—her husband’s God will answer her more quickly. Although the money that Pinkerton left is almost gone. Butterfly is still so firm in her belief that her husband will return, that she commands the doubting Suzuki to say that he will. Suzuki complies in spite of her tears.

Greatly touched at this, Butterfly, to reassure herself as well as Suzuki, affirms her belief (in a famous aria), that some day (Un bel di) a great ship will appear far in the horizon . . . the boom of cannon will announce its arrival in the harbor . . . they will see him coming from a distance . . . climbing the hill. Butterfly will hide for a moment to tease him. . . he will call for her by the old names of endearment. . . so let fears be banished, Butterfly declares, utterly carried away by the joy of her anticipation, for he will return, she knows it!

At the moment she has finished this declaration of her trust, Sharpless appears. Goro, who has conducted him here, waits outside. “Madame Butterfly,” he calls. “Madame B. F. Pinkerton, beg pardon!” the wife corrects, then turning and recognizing her visitor, greets him cheerfully. He has a letter from Pinkerton, he tells her. She is the most happy of women, she replies, and then without waiting for Sharpless to read she asks him when the robins build their nests in America . . . for, she continues, Pinkerton had said that he would come back in the happy season when the robins return . . . now, for the third time the robins are building their nests. Sharpless, in his embarrassment, is forced to reply that he never studied ornithology. Goro laughs outright at this. The marriage-broker now presents Yamadori, a wealthy suitor, who, though he has had many consorts and divorced them all, says that he is madly in love with Butterfly and will swear eternal faithfulness to her. She repulses him and his proffered wealth, for she is married to an American, and in his country people remain faithful! Broker and suitor disposed of, Sharpless attempts to resume reading the letter; everything he reads is interpreted by Butterfly into some happy assurance that her husband will soon return. The consul has not the heart to go on, he asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were never to come back to her. As if struck by a death-blow Butterfly gravely replies that she might again become a Geisha or she might kill herself. Sharpless is horrified and advises her to marry Yamadori. This greatly insults Butterfly . . . ordering Suzuki to bring in “Trouble,” the name she has bestowed on her little son, she points to the child in agitated pride, and exclaims “And this? Can such as this be forgotten?” She asks Sharpless to write to her husband and tell him what a beautiful son he has. Thus does the consul learn to his surprise that unknown to Pinkerton there is a child. In true motherly joy, her attention concentrated entirely on little “Trouble,” she bids him not to believe the bad man when he says that father will not return, but leave them to wander through the streets for a living.

Sharpless leaves, fearful for the future. Soon after he has gone a cannon shot is heard booming from over the harbor, announcing the arrival of an American warship. With the help of a telescope Butterfly spells out its name—“Abraham Lincoln,” Pinkerton’s ship!

So, then, the agony of waiting is over! He has come with the robins—her lover, her husband, her adored one! In a moment the two women are feverishly rushing to the garden lo gather cherry blossoms to deck the house. They sing the joyous “Duet of the Flowers”, throbbing with the excitement and exultation of the rejoicing Butterfly, who then hastens to put on the wedding dress she wore on that day long ago, so that she may greet her lover as he first knew her. Little “Trouble,” too, is arrayed in his finest.

Night has been falling; the servant closes the shosi and brings in several Japanese lanterns which cast a dim glow over the darkened room. But they must await Pinkerton’s return . . . be ready to welcome him. In her anxious, joyful expectancy Butterfly has pierced three little holes through the wall so that they may watch for him. “Trouble” sits before one, supported by cushions; at another kneels Suzuki; close up against a third stands Butterfly, rigid and motionless . . . watching . . . waiting . . . A wonderful melody first heard during the reading of the letter, floats across the scene, softly hummed from a distance. “Trouble” soon nods, then falls asleep . . . next Suzuki . . . Butterfly keeps her vigil alone.

Part 2

The grey light of dawn begins to enter the room. Butterfly still stands, motionless, watching; Suzuki and “Trouble” still sleep, profoundly. The lanterns become even more dim while the day grows brighter; like the morning sunlight the music sparkles with vagrant Japanese melodies. Suzuki having awakened and begged her to lie down to rest awhile, Butterfly takes little “Trouble” and goes with him into an inner room. No sooner has she gone than Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive. Suzuki is overjoyed at seeing them, but they motion her to keep silent. She points out how Butterfly has decorated the house, and tells how she waited all night. The servant, on opening the shosi, exclaims in surprise for she notices a strange woman in the garden. Fearfully she asks who it is. Pinkerton’s wife, Sharpless explains. Suzuki cries out in grief.

Sharpless asks Suzuki to prepare Butterfly for this bitter revelation and tells her that the American woman has come to adopt the child. Pinkerton. overwhelmed with remorse, leaves the house after asking Sharpless to console Butterfly the best he can. A moment later Butterfly rushes in joyfully expecting to find Pinkerton. Instead she sees Sharpless, a foreign woman, and Suzuki in tears. She begins to realize the heartless truth. She asks if he is alive, her voice hushed with expectant fear. Only Suzuki’s broken “yes” is needed, and she knows that she has been deserted. Mrs. Pinkerton expresses her helpless sympathy, and asks to take the child. Butterfly, having listened in pathetic dignity, replies that only to Pinkerton will she yield her son . . . she will be ready in half an hour. Sharpless and Mrs. Pinkerton take their leave; Butterfly orders Suzuki to go into another room with the child.

Then she takes from its sheath the dagger with which her father had fulfilled the law of his people, and reads the inscription written upon its blade: “To die with honor when one can no longer live with honor.” She raises the knife to her throat. At that instant, the door opens and little “Trouble” runs to her with outstretched arms. She drops the knife, impetuously seizes the child and covers him with kisses. Having bade him a heart-rending farewell, she gives her son a doll and an American flag, urges him to play with them, then gently bandages his eyes. Again she takes the dagger, goes behind the screen. A moment later the blade is heard falling to the floor. Butterfly staggers forward groping her way to her child, takes its hand, and smiles feebly. She scarcely has strength to give her son one final embrace, then falls beside him, dead.

Pinkerton is heard calling her name. A moment later he rushes into the room followed by Sharpless. He kneels beside Butterfly sobbing with grief and shame; Sharpless takes the child and turns away.

The orchestra thunders out a solemn Japanese melody . . . over and above the very last note of that melody there sounds a poignant, questioning chord, as though this tragedy were not yet, nor ever would be, ended.

[Adapted from The Victrola Book of the Opera (Victor Talking Machine Company, 1929).]

Click here for the complete libretto, including alternate versions.

Click here for Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long

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Recorded 23 October 1929 – 3 January 1930, Milan.
Posted by Gary at 2:07 PM

January 12, 2007

Madcap Soprano, Brave Tenor Enliven Donizetti Opera in London

By Warwick Thompson [Bloomberg.com, 12 January 2007]

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Donizetti's ``La Fille du Regiment'' has a poorly motivated plot, flimsy characterization and plenty of rum-ti-tum accompaniments. It also needs a tenor who can pump out nine top Cs at the drop of a hat, and a high soprano who doesn't mind taking the odd pratfall. No wonder it hasn't been heard at London's Royal Opera House in 40 years.

Posted by Gary at 4:13 PM

Tristan und Isolde, Aalto Theater, Essen

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 12 January 2007]

Isolde travels with the severed head of her dead betrothed in a jar. Trapped in the claustrophobic confines of a plush ship’s cabin, she is a formidable woman surrounded by brutal men. Her passions are too big for her world, and her doomed love for Tristan will eventually explode from the confines of stifling convention.

Posted by Gary at 4:00 PM

La Fille du Regiment, Royal Opera House, London

[Financial Times, 12 January 2007]

Her first word was “Merci”. Then came some moderately intelligible French patter, followed by a lot of huffing and puffing. That, for Dawn French, must have been the challenging bit. Thereafter, as the star of The Vicar of Dibley and other popular British TV shows strutted her stuff at Covent Garden for the first time, it became clear that the worlds of television comedy and operatic comedy don’t really mix.

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

WAGNER: The Ring Cycle

How can so much be put into possibly the greatest of artistic undertakings, Wagner’s masterpiece of a prologue and three operas stretching over 19 hours, and yet seem incomplete?

Conductor and artistic director Valery Gergiev and his designer George Tsypin are credited with having created this epic production with no mention of a director. And there lies one of this extravaganza’s key weaknesses.

If more time and effort had been put into giving the cast stronger direction rather than worrying about the impenetrable concept this would have been a more rounded experience.

The orchestra under the baton of one of music’s current demi-gods certainly lived up to the huge expectation, albeit after a lackluster start with the first of the four parts of the Ring, Das Rheingold. Ultimately, there were indeed moments (well long periods as this is Wagner) of exquisite beauty, including an awe-inspiring ‘Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March’.

Vocally we had some world class performances but equally some frankly disappointing voices that sounded either tired or just badly cast.

Being performed over four consecutive days requires different singers to take on the same roles, so, for example, we had three Wotans. I liked Yevgeny Akimov but none bowled me over.

Similarly we had two Siegfrieds and these could not have been more different, down to Leonid Zakhozhaev having a flowing brown mane and the second Viktor Lutsyuk sporting a shock of white hair.

Zakhozhaev coped with the demands of Siegfried and at least looked the part. Poor old Lutsyuk looked like one of those gonks children stick on the end of a pencil. I could have forgiven the dopey grin if the voice had been as memorable.

There was no such problem with Olga Sergeyeva’s striking Brünnhilde who was a dominating presence, emotionally intense and vocally heroic. Her show stopping scenes were indeed show stopping and she seemed totally unfazed by some of the comings and goings around her.

Just as enjoyable were some of the relatively smaller roles such as Vassily Gorshkov’s Loge, Svetlana Volkova’s Fricka and a splendid Hagen from Mikhail Petrenko. Larissa Diadkova sang Waltraute’s great aria in Götterdämmerung as if she had been waiting all her life for the opportunity.

It is one of the wonders of the Ring Cycle that virtually whatever a producer or designer throws at it Wagner’s music manages to rises above it. This was such a case. While Tsypin’s sets are monumental, with vast figures, rising and descending rocks and multi-coloured internal lighting that is presumably deeply significant but quite what they had to do with what the singers were doing was unclear.

This is very much a Russian ring but with references to gods from a myriad of ancient world religions. Some are more recognizable to us in the West than others, especially Egyptian deities including Wotan as Anubis, the god of death and embalming, which made perfect sense.

I thought I would start to understand other elements of the staging as the Ring proceeded. Instead, by the end of the second evening, Die Walküre, I had decided not to hurt my brain any more and enjoy the music.

Yes, we had some powerful dramatic performances but we also had times when singers seemed to be wandering around the stage. The Valkyries, for example, sounded superb could have been in a concert performance, being reduced to a dreadful little choreography that involved changing places and rotating several times. Likewise, the giants Fafner and Fasolt had to overcome being wheeled on, their pin heads protruding from cumbersome pretend “rocky” bodies.

But the physical side of the show did have its plus points. The figures dressed in black with long fluorescent hair worked very well as the Rhine and, combined with Gleb Filshtinsky’s lighting, such theatrical cleverness created much atmosphere.

Production aside, the flashes of musical genius from stage and pit, however, made the whole experience an exhilarating experience, justifying this massive undertaking.

This was a remarkable event to be staged in Cardiff, establishing Wales Millennium Centre as one of the top houses for large scale opera, and feeding a hunger for the best the world can bring.

Mike Smith

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Posted by Gary at 3:41 PM

ARBOS: El Centro de la Tierra

Nevertheless people in the past often were far more superstitious than we are, and certainly were less cynical and naïve. Even then, one sympathizes with the bafflement of the Madrid public at the first (and probably last, one is not sure) performance of ‘El Centro de la Tierra’ at its première. Rarely has a more ridiculous libretto inspired a composer. Three Madrilenos fall into a crevice and arrive in the middle of the earth where they are considered to be gods by the gnomes, the minerals (living persons) and the natives of a hidden civilisation. They succeed in stealing a huge diamond and the few natives with doubts as to their godly descent are reassured by the tenor . . . playing an accordion. Though there are some comical scenes as in all zarzuelas, the central theme is treated seriously without satirizing a society as Paul Lincke did when he sent some heroes to the moon in his ‘Frau Luna,’ where they meet all the Greek and Roman gods.

Enrique Arbos’ music cannot really save the situation. The composer was the ‘Konzertmeister’ of the Berlin Philharmonic for several years and thus no mean musician. He knew his classics, especially Wagner, very well as is proven by the use of a Tristan chord and the triumphal march of the Gods in this zarzuela. But the composer had his roots firmly planted in his own country. When he was offered the conductorship of the newly formed Madrid Symphony, he returned home and conducted it for 35 years. Conducting meant the end of his composing years. The 100th anniversary of the orchestra was duly celebrated and the whole of Arbos’ output appeared on 3 boxed sets with his one zarzuela unexpectedly being unearthed. Arbos is not another Sorozabal, Morreno Torroba, Chapi, Luna or Vives and he probably couldn’t be after only one trial. Zarzuela lovers may regret the fact that more worthwhile zarzuelas are still awaiting a complete recording. On the other hand any zarzuela from the great century between 1840 and 1940 is welcome as the music always lies easily on the ear and is often very charming. The problem, if there is one, with Arbos is the fact that he is, as could be expected, an orchestral composer. The many dancing numbers in this long score are well worth listening too. But his vocal writing is marred by his being not accustomed to writing for the voice. The singers’ solos are not very distinguished and remain dancing numbers in disguise. All the singers are fine zarzuela performers, with good though not unexceptional voices to match their numbers and ensembles. Best of them all is baritone Javier Franco as the High Priest. José Luis Temes conducts the orchestra with a lot of conviction, not lingering on some awkward moments but making the best of the agreeable and indeed somewhat forgettable music.

One complaint: once again a Spanish recording label fails to give us a fine and exact translation of the sleeve notes. In the Spanish text the composer is born in 1863, in the English one in 1963. The biography of tenor Sanchez is deleted in the English version, etc. As a lot of visitors know the ‘mañana’ mentality has not completely died out in Spain and maybe some producers think the international market is not to be taken seriously. They forget that thanks to an outstanding generation of Spanish singers zarzuela is now to be found in many a collection of non-Spanish speaking people.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 3:19 PM

Le Donne di Puccini

Though no mention is made of an anniversary tribute, it can be no coincidence the concert almost exactly takes place 70 years after the composer’s death in Elsene (one of the separate municipalities which make up the Brussels metropolis).

The trouble with this kind of collection is the harsh reality that most opera lovers nowadays admire and recognize Puccini’s genius while at the same time feeling slightly bored by the umpteenth recorded version of “Vissi d’arte”. After having listened 130 times to “Nessun dorma” for an article on the aria, I experienced a myriad of responses, as I had forgotten this one or that one, and together with new acquisitions there must be more than 160 tenors who have recorded the aria. I’ve never wanted to repeat that experience but most collectors will inevitably compare Gruberova and company with all the legendary recordings to be found in most opera lovers’ collections. I readily believe a live audience still can have fun with such a Puccini concert but on CD, the challenges are so much bigger as a recording is theoretically meant for eternity.

Gabriela Benackova opens the show and after having listened to the whole CD it can firmly be stated that she is the best suited to this kind of music, as she has the warm enveloping sound necessary. She has the good idea to open with the less hackneyed “Addio, addio mio dolce amor” from Edgar; the one aria sung at the composer’s burial by the formidable Hina Spani. Benackova is a match for Scotto and Varady and a lot of other Puccinians who have recorded the piece. In Manon Lescaut, however, she cannot hide her frayed top which becomes a yell at the high C. Her vocal means nevertheless outdistance Eva Marton’s efforts. By 1994 the Hungarian soprano was still the possessor of a very large voice though the amount of decibels was no longer marked by beauty of sound. In “Vissi d’arte” she is clearly short of breath; in “Tu, tu, piccolo iddio” she flattens and sings shrilly. Strangely enough, she is at her disciplined best in Angelica’s “Senza mamma,” a role one doesn’t associate with Marton. The other big voice, Gwyneth Jones, carefully husbands her voice in “Laggiù nel Soledad”, singing light on the breath and with the infamous wobble not very obtrusive. “In questa reggia” is even steady though she never had a very distinct vocal personality. It’s only in the ‘tre enigmi’ part of the aria she goes wrong and finishes the aria with a painfully flat note, honestly recorded and not smoothed away but maybe not the best way to conclude a CD.

I’ve left discussion of Gruberova for the last (as this is her own label) and Puccini isn’t the repertoire she is known for. I was quite surprised as she is excellent in every aria she sings. The sound has more vibrato and colour than usual (the voice was often not kissed by the mike as her volume is far bigger than one assumes from some recordings). Moreover she can easily float her voice in such pieces as Doretta’s dream or Liu’s request to Kalaf. She is not a real rival for young Price’s ‘blue’ recital but she is a good contender. Of course she gets the “Babbino caro” in this concert and here she is very convincing as well though on record she must give place to De los Angeles or Te Kanawa. The late Garcia Navarro is a good accompanist though it is clear (very clear indeed with Gruberova) that on such a night the sopranos decide the tempi and the conductor courteously indulges them.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 3:02 PM

Maturity, Femininity & Smarts

Hei-Kyung_Hong.pngBY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 12 January 2007]

At the moment, there are several outstanding Violettas in the world: Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Renée Fleming. These are sopranos who can fill the title role of Verdi's opera "La Traviata." (That word, "traviata," describes a woman who has gone astray, as Violetta has.) None of the aforementioned stars sang the part when "Traviata" returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Wednesday night, in Franco Zeffirelli's 1998 production.

Posted by Gary at 2:39 PM

WNO Season to Include Domingo Singing Handel

By Tim Page [Washington Post, 11 January 2007]

Washington National Opera General Director Placido Domingo will make his first-ever appearance in a baroque opera when he takes on the role of Bajazet in Handel's "Tamerlano" with the opera next spring. It will be the 127th operatic part that the tenor, who turns 66 on Jan. 21, will have sung in what will by then be a half-century-long career.

Posted by Gary at 2:00 PM

New Operas at the Met: What Works?

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 11 January 2007]

The Metropolitan Opera has to be discouraged by the mostly negative critical reactions to “The First Emperor,” Tan Dun’s ambitious opera, which had its world premiere at the house on Dec. 21. The good news for the Met, though, is that its run, through Jan. 25, is sold out, including this Saturday’s matinee, to be broadcast on radio and in high-definition screenings at more than 100 movie theaters around the world. Could opera companies have better proof that today’s audiences are hungry for new works?

Posted by Gary at 12:59 PM

January 10, 2007

MOZART: Così fan tutte

Kraus also suggests that this 1983 production turned out to be the last truly successful one in Salzburg, without detailing why Così fan tuttes since then have failed to find success in his eyes.

Michael Hampe’s handsome production moves quickly, with a white curtain descending for scene changes in acts during recitatives. The muted colors, detailed costumes, and tasteful furnishings give a sense of realism to the goings-on — not necessarily a good thing for this opera with its plot of two sisters in love with two men whom they are unable to recognize when they appear under disguise, to test the women’s virtue in a gambit proposed by the elder, cynical Don Alfonso. However, it is also best not to ham up the comic aspects, as the emotional repercussions of the stupid game begin to cut deeply in act two. Hampe directs intelligently, keeping each moment true to that scene’s shade of the story’s shifting tones (sets and costumes are by Mauro Pagano).

TDK has chosen as its star the conductor, Riccardo Muti. He has a large cover shot on the case, another on the rear (the men are only seen in their “Albanian” disguise, and the Don and Despina the maid, not at all). Open the booklet, and there is Muti again, looking handsome and vaguely satanic, all in black amongst the brilliant red seats of the auditorium. The brisk, emphatic overture reveals the maestro in full control. There may be more tender Mozart, or more majestic, but for detail and precision, Muti is hard to beat.

The cast lacks star glamour, but certainly not talent. The sisters receive strong portrayals from Margaret Marshall (Fiordiligi) and Ann Murray (Dorabella). Each captures the essence of her role (Fiordiligi’s wavering pride and Dorabella’s sensual flightiness). However, a more sumptuous soprano could bring more to Fiordiligi’s music, and as Dorabella, Murray’s dark instrument lays on a certain heaviness.

The “boys” are a youthful, strong James Morris (Guglielmo) and the dependable lyric tenor Francisco Araiza. Morris’s second act solo scene earns him the strongest ovation of the night.

Veteran Sesto Bruscantini so far underplays his character’s cynicism and misanthropy that it becomes unclear why he bothers with his nasty little ploy. At least he does not growl his way through the role, as has been known to happen. And stealing the show every time she appears, Kathleen Battle’s Despina sings and act with charm and wit and most gratefully, allows us a few moments away from the opera’s claustrophobic focus on its leads.

So as essay writer Gottfried Kraus suggests, this traditional production has classical elegance. For those looking for a more contemporary approach, check out the recent Berlin production set in the Swinging Sixties.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 4:35 PM

MARTINŮ: Peach Blossom; The Orphan and Other Songs

While Martinů had composed over a hundred songs around 1910, those remain unpublished and do not represent his efforts in this area of composition as the works he composed later, in the 1930s and early 1940s, when he composed many of the works recorded on this CD. In contrast to his earlier music, Martinů had already turned to folk music for his inspiration, and without entirely abandoning entirely some of the stylistic traits as French music, which had been a force in his creative life, he infused his efforts with ideas found in his native Bohemian folk tradition. Almost the domain of cognoscenti of solo vocal music, this recording brings Martinů’s efforts in this area to a wider audience in a single CD that offers a representative selection of his music in this style.

The various songs in this recording date from around 1930–1942, when Martinů indulged in song writing. While some of the songs used texts translated into Czech from other languages, most of the pieces are based on Czech poetry, either from collections of verse or found with folk songs. Some songs are from collections of two or three pieces, while others, like the 1942 collection Nový Špalíček (New Anthology), based on specifically Moravian texts, are more extensive. Two of the pieces derive from a larger work, Hry o Marii (1935), the so-called Miracles of Mary that is included in work-lists with Martinů’s sixteen operas.

As to the music itself, it is difficult not to find the works engaging musically. Sometimes the overt simplicity is captures the folk idiom well, while elsewhere the speech rhythms urge the listener to pay attention to the text and what is being said. The rhythms are, at times, reminiscent of those found in Janáček’s late vocal works. The interplay between vocal line and accompaniment is critical, and an excellent example of this may be found in Martinů’s setting of Guillaume Apolinaire’s Saltimbanques, a playful piece in which the music fits well into the title of the piece that involves tumblers — acrobats, as the musicologist Geoffrey Chew, the translator of the text in the accompanying booklet has it.

In fact, it is useful for those interested to listen to the music with the texts in hand, so as not to miss any of the nuances of the pieces that are found in the texts. While some recent Naxos recordings include just a URL to texts and translations at its website, this particular recording includes all of them in the booklet that accompanies the CD. To understand the composer’s intentions in these pieces, it is important to listen to the music with the texts in hand. Without suggesting anything obscure or otherwise pejorative about the music, the works require such close reading because they are hardly as familiar to modern audiences as the more standard Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler, and Strauss, and thus require more effort to listen to Martinů’s well-crafted settings as the music of those other composers, whose text are relatively more familiar. This is not to suggest anything arcane or remote about the music, which is in itself quite effective.

The performances of Olga Černá and Jitka Čechová demonstrate their familiarity with the music. As a native speaker, Černá brings nuances to the performances that others simply cannot convey, and her readings are engaging for the inflections she offers that go beyond the literal meaning of the texts. Likewise, the accompaniments benefit from the approach Čechová has taken in executing it well. While the music may be, at time, simple sound, its qualities stem from the clear articulations and chiseled rhythms that Čechová brings to all of the pieces. Her strengths are apparent throughout the recording, and are all the more appealing in the solo passages that allow her move out of the role of accompanist and take on the solo part. At the same time Černá’s fine voice deserves to be heard in other music, including works by Janáček, because of her sensitivity to the language, and element that is almost necessary for the effective performance of Smetana’s operas.

While Martinů’s reputation rests mainly on instrumental music, the vocal works reveal of different side of his art. Like the operas that are part of his compositional legacy, the songs deserve attention, and it is good to know that the International Bohuslav Martinů Society and the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation sponsored the performanced and supported the production of this CD that brings to light a fine selection of songs by this Czech composer. While this selection is just under and hour in duration, it serves well in bringing to light a further development of the artsong in the hands of one of the finest exponents of Czech music in the twentieth century.

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Posted by Gary at 4:00 PM

January 9, 2007

A Night at the Opera ... With Nachos

Met_Live_in_HD.pngBY FRED BAUMANN [NY Sun, 9 January 2007]

The Metropolitan Opera began its live broadcasts into movie theaters with "The Magic Flute" on December 30. Nearly 30,000 people around the world saw the broadcast. On Saturday, the broadcast of "I Puritani" sold out in 19 of 83 American venues, which reached 67% capacity. So what's it like to see an opera in a movie theater?

Related articles:

  1. Houston Cheers A Local Hero
  2. Close Quarters & Curtain Calls
  3. Up Close & Personal in Philadelphia

Posted by Gary at 9:16 AM

January 8, 2007

War Requiem

Richard Morrison at St Paul's Cathedral [Times Online, 9 January 2007]

If every concert in 2007 affects me as much as this, I will be an emotional wreck by Christmas. By the time that the male soloists, Philip Langridge and Stephen Roberts, had launched into the last, unutterably sad lines of Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting — the repeated “Let us sleep now” echoing round the shadowy cathedral like a prayer for grieving souls — my old eyes were moist, and a large lump had somehow lodged itself in my throat.

Posted by Gary at 10:29 PM

Gergiev’s Opus: A New Concert Hall

By GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Times, 9 January 2007]

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — When Daniel Barenboim announced almost three years ago that he would leave the Chicago Symphony, one reason he gave was that music directors of American orchestras have too many “nonartistic” responsibilities. Fund-raising is chief among them, but conductors are also expected to be community leaders, educators and shrewd business leaders.

Posted by Gary at 10:22 PM

"Schauspieler sollten musikalisch sein"

Von Martina Helmig [Berliner Morgenpost, 8 January 2007]

Als Conférencier in der Komischen Oper: Ulrich Matthes moderiert ein Konzert mit Schostakowitschs Filmmusiken

Posted by Gary at 7:31 AM

Tweaking a Few Lines (They’ll None of Them Be Missed)

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 8 January 2007]

Albert Bergeret and his New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players have been plying the Savoyard repertory for more than three decades — starting at a time when small operetta companies were plentiful in New York — and outliving all the competition. That isn’t how fans of this repertory, and even admirers of this company, would have wanted it; although the groups that flourished in the 1970s worked on tight budgets that barely allowed for makeshift sets and costumes, their combined activity kept the scene lively and the music on the stage.

Posted by Gary at 6:42 AM

Go East, Young Stars, Go East

Russian_Album.pngBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 8 January 2007]

Apparently you can go home again, as two new CD releases on sale tomorrow from classical music's megasuperstars explore the repertoire of their native lands.

Posted by Gary at 6:35 AM

January 7, 2007

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier

Music composed by Umberto Giordano (1867–1948). Libretto by Luigi Illica.

First Performance: 28 March 1896, Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

Principal Characters
Andrea Chénier, a poetTenor
Carlo Gérard, a servantBaritone
Madalena de CoignySoprano
Bersi, her maidMezzo-Soprano
Madelon, an old womanMezzo-Soprano
La Contessa de CoignyMezzo-Soprano
Roucher, a friend of ChénierBass
Pietro Fléville, a novelistBass
Fouquier Tinville, the Public ProsecutorBass
Mathieu, a sans-culotteBaritone
An IncroyableTenor
The Abbé, a poetTenor
Schmidt, a jailer at St. LazareBass
Master of the HouseholdBass
Dumas, president of the tribunalBass

Setting: The environs of Paris, 1789–93.

Synopsis:

Act I

As the curtain rises, the servants of the Countess of Coigny are preparing for a ball. Among them is Gérard, afterward to become a revolutionary leader; he is filled with indignation at the sight of his aged father bent from years of set vile labor for the aristocrats. When the guests have arrived, a typical eighteenth century court pastoral is performed for their entertainment: while the chorus, dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses, sing idealized rustic music, the ballet mimic a rural love story in stately court fashion. Among the guests is the poet, Andrea Chénier, whose work is growing popular just at this time. When the Countess asks him to improvise he refuses, but when her beautiful daughter, Madalena, pleads with him he consents. She has rather coquettishly suggested the subject “Love,” but he soon forgets this, and singing of the misery and suffering of the poor, he launches into a tirade against those in power in church and state.

All but Madalena are outraged by the idealistic social and human creed shown in this dramatic song; and when a crowd of ragged men and women appear headed by Gérard, only to be ordered from the castle, Chénier follows them.

Act II

Chénier, now a revolutionary, is advised to flee by his friend. “Roucher. who has managed to bring a passport for him. Chénier refuses to leave without Madalena. Strangely enough, she arrives, incognito, and begs now a revolutionary power and attracted to her. They linger for a brief love scene, and are about to go, when they are caught by Gérard. While the rivals take to their swords, Madalena is spirited away. Gérard, wounded, he believes mortally, magnanimously warns Chénier to flee from the wrath of his revolutionary enemies, and asks him to save Madalena also. When the mob arrives on the scene a few minutes later, he tells them that his assailant is unknown to him.

Act III

Gérard has recovered and is presiding over a revolutionary tribunal. A spy announces Chénier’s arrest for having dared criticize Robespierre’s cruelty. This is too good an opportunity to make away with a rival, and as he is about to put his signature to the fatal document, he laughingly asks himself, “An enemy of his country?” ... he knows well that is the standard charge against one’s personal enemies. Yet he hesitates for a moment recalling that it was Chénier’s inspired verse that first awakened his own patriotism . . . now to satisfy his passions he sacrifices a friend. The struggle of honor and desire is beautifully expressed in the music ... a bit of the Marseillaise is suggestively quoted by the orchestra. Finally desire triumphs and Gérard signs in a mood of cynicism.

Hurried before the tribunal, Chénier pleads for himself vehemently, saying that he, a soldier, fought for his country; if he must die, let him die fighting for it, not shamefully executed.

Madalena, whose mother has meanwhile perished, also puts in an appearance. She offers to give herself to Gérard to save Chénier’s life. Gérard then pleads for the poet; but it is now too late. The mob thirsts for blood.

Act IV

Confined in the gloomy St. Lazare prison, Chénier awaits execution while writing his last verses, “Come un bel di di Maggio” expressing his belief in truth and beauty.

Madalena having bribed her way, is ushered in by Gérard, who then goes for a last vain appeal to Robespierre himself. At dawn, the death tumbril comes for the prisoners. Madalena, when the name of some condemned woman is called, rushes out beside Chénier and dies with her lover.

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Recorded 1930.
Posted by Gary at 9:06 PM

PUCCINI: Tosca

Now under the double sobriquet "Legendary recordings - The originals" comes a remastering, with the original cover art restored. The sound effects come across as vividly as ever, including hands down the best cannon-shot accompaniment to Scarpia's act one closer. In headphones, the channel-switching from line-to-line could be more subtle; otherwise, the recording has a clarity and presence that fully complement the dramatic reading of the score.

Of course, for studio recordings of Tosca, the appellation "benchmark" invariably goes to the early 50s set with Callas, di Stefano in his prime, and Gobbi under Victor de Sabata. But greatness in recordings need not be a zero-sum game - and this Decca set very much has its own strengths. Your reviewer can't say one set is better than the other - they are both tremendous.

Callas, of course, portrays a Tosca on the edge - as fierce in her love for Cavaradossi as she is passionate in her desperation before Scarpia. With Price, one has a Floria whose incomparable tonal beauty in act one tilts the drama, effectively, toward the perspective of a tragically doomed love affair. When she sings of the little house she wants to share with Cavaradossi, Price's security and creaminess have no equal; the sense of an erotic idyll conveyed here haunts the memory when much later Cavaradossi in despair also recalls their meetings. Similarly, "Vissi d'arte" does not get pulled and huffed to underline the drama of the moment - Price understands that the music can speak for itself. Her performance has no rivals for sheer gorgeousness.

Di Stefano had come through some rough years by 1963, and he responds to Karajan's confidence in him by providing one final great performance. Yes, the freshness that marks his performance 10 years earlier has gone. In its place a new depth, a rough-edged heroism appears. From the second act onward, at any rate, Cavaradossi is a man who has been tortured and faces death. A little hoarseness should be expected. The core quality of di Stefano's great instrument still comes through.

And what a Scarpia this set has - Giuseppe Taddei, in total command of every vocal aspect of the role, and riding the creepy slow-pace Karajan sets for the "Te deum" section with ominous power. As with the comparison of Price to Callas, we have with Taddei, as opposed to the undeniably great Tito Gobbi on the earlier set, a singer who lets his impeccable performance of the music itself provide the drama. From wicked enjoyment in his own cruelty to the silky murmurings of a smooth seducer, Taddei's Scarpia finds all the characterization necessary in the glory of Puccini's writing.

The Vienna Philharmonic roars and purrs under Karajan's leadership like a barely domesticated lion. As is not unknown with Karajan, a sense of manipulation lies just behind the amazing display of conducting craftsmanship, but why fight the maestro? Give in.

Whether those who already own this set need the remastering must be a personal decision. But for lovers of this opera who do not know this recording - get it. It makes its own case for greatness, all comparisons aside.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 3:30 PM

WAGNER: Siegfried

But that alone doesn't make Clark's Mime worthy of the cover - he simply dominates the performance due to both his own inimitable energy and commitment, and also, unfortunately, due to the lesser success of his colleagues.

Pierre Audi's production, with designs by George Tsypin, can't really be defined by locale or time period. The innovation here is a ramp between the audience and the orchestra, corralled into a modified pit and nearly always visible behind the singers, the musicians' score desks' lights making an eerie backdrop. The conventional stage area comes into play only for a few key moments, such as the awakenings of Fafner and Brunhillde (neither particularly well-staged). Singing on the ramp, before the orchestra, may have had some advantages for the singers. This DVD has refreshingly realistic sound, and all the singers at least seem capable of delivering their individual role's requirements.

Don't expect much more, however. Heinz Kruse takes on the notoriously difficult title role, and vocally, he does a decent job. His tone lacks the heroic glamour Wagner probably wished, and there are times in act one where there seem to be two Mime's on the stage. Out of respect for Kruse's capable performance, your reviewer will not belabor the fact that as a stage presence he is decidedly not the handsome young hero of the libretto.

The cycle's Wotan, John Bröcheler, makes his way through the role without touching any of the many veins of this complex character: tragic, lustful, bombastic, visionary. The final confrontation between the hero Wotan wanted to save his world, and Wotan himself, realizing his world is beyond salvation, is twice-injured: by the singers' lack of inspiration and the clumsy depiction of the spear (here a sort of metal pole hanging from who knows where).

One risky but successful venture has the Forest Bird sung and performed by a boy soprano, Stefan Pangratz. The intonation issues that usually plague such young singers are thankfully absent, and he makes an appealing figure in his brief time on stage. Henk Smit's Alberich, Carsten Stabell's Fafner, and Anne Gjevang's Erda fill out the cast adequately.

And at opera's end, of course, Brunnhilde welcomes the sun (here an enormous bank of lights looking rather like an oversized tanning bed). A beautiful and affecting Sieglinde in the Boulez Walkure from Bayreuth, Jeannnine Altemeyer has the stage charisma to portray Wotan's rebellious daughter. Her passion and fear come across, but when the music asks for ecstasy at a higher level, the tone loses strength. The final duet becomes more a test of endurance, with both singers straining.

But Clark's odious Mime saves the show, clambering, scheming, scampering, and singing with wicked delight. The star of the show gets the cover, quite naturally.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 3:10 PM

NIELSEN: Complete Symphonies

The choice of presenting the recordings on DVD is wise in affording fine sound and also preserving the concerts for a wide audience who might not be acquainted with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the conducting of Michael Schønwandt. The six symphonies are presented on two DVD, with three on each disc, and the package includes an extensive booklet as well as an additional DVD that presents the documentary On the Light and the Darkness: On Carl Nielsen’s Life and Music. The music alone extends to just over three-and-one-half hours, and the documentary is just about an hour in length. Neatly packaged and priced fairly, this is a model of presentation for concert music. It seems designed to make the music and performances easily available. Moreover, those who interested in viewing the performance can do so, while computers with DVD utilities can allow for the sound alone, if desired.

As to the recordings themselves, the DVD issued in 2006 include performances that Schønwandt conducted on 2 and 4 November 2000 – an impressive feat itself, for the solid results that emerge from live concerts given in such a short span. The concerts were filmed well, with sufficient cameras that captured not only the long views from the audience, but also added various angles on stage or behind the orchestra. In addition, close-ups of individual players and sections contribute variety to the video imagery, which can be a challenge with DVDs of orchestral concerts. The panning is well thought, with smooth transitions that avoid any sense of frenetic motion and, thus, erode the continuity found in the passages the visuals underscore. At the same time, the crisp and vivid video quality matches the clean, full sound on the DVD. Overall the balance is quite good, with the sonics capturing the subtleties that are crucial to these specific works.

The content of the DVDs themselves benefit from the performances that they preserve. Those familiar with these works will appreciate the even hand and attention to detail that Schønwandt has brought to the music. His tempos are convincing, as in the appropriately brisk opening of Symphony no. 4, op. 29 (1914-16), which stands in contrast to the lyrical section that soon follows, one of the memorable sections of this, perhaps the best-known of Nielsen’s works. It is at points like this that the shots of Schønwandt demonstrate his command of the orchestra in conveying the mood with both facial expressions and physical gestures to the ensemble. He does not conduct for the audience, but seems to elicit the music from his players on stage, without indulging in excessive displays or meaningless gesture.

Later in the same movement, to cite one example, Schønwandt brings out the brass entrance masterfully, so that the timbre emerges from the ensemble, rather than piercing through the string texture that preceded it. It is in such a controlled performance that erodes the credibility of the famous bon mot of Richard Strauss in warning conductors not to look directly at the brass for fear of encouraging them. Rather, the eye contact and body language Schønwandt uses here serve to guide the players in executing this work and the others in this set. Thus, with the Finale of “the Inextinguishable,” Schønwandt has established a solid tempo with the strings in order to establish a context for the confident and clean entrances of the various timbres that intersect it, including the intricate timpani passages, as the work moves toward a satisfying conclusion. In this performance, Schønwandt allows the dissonances Nielsen used in his harmonic language to intensify the structure, by using the dynamics and balance to control the sound. In fact, the rhythmic applause at the end of this Symphony and also the Fifth stands as evidence to the audience’s enthusiasm. Without drawing comparisons with other recordings, the manipulation of the ensemble for this movement is one of the high points of the DVD. Those interested in this recording may wish to start with the movement to gain a sense of the style of the performances found on the set.

With the Fifth Symphony, op. 50 (1920-22) Schønwandt offers another fine reading, and from the start brings out the chamber-music-like character that may be found throughout the work. Rather than allowing the sometimes isolated sounds to stand apparent, he handles the entrances deftly. The result is a convincing interpretation of the first movement which, in turn, becomes a point of departure for the rest of the work. The interpretation of Scherzo is notable for the clarity that emerges in the contrapuntal writing with which it begins. Formally closer, perhaps, to the Scherzos of Bruckner than those of his contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich, Nielsen’s mastery of form and structure are apparent in this concise movement. While the Scherzo characteristically offers some opportunity for raucous and popular elements to become part of the symphonic structure, this movement offers an opportunity to maintain the integrity of the thematic content without diluting it with extraneous elements. It is, perhaps, these aspects of formality that Nielsen himself enhanced by refraining to give this Symphony a subtitle, as he did with the three that preceded it. At the same time, Schønwandt brings out various sound masses to suggest the group polyphony that Nielsen aspired to use in his symphonic music.

In fact, it is in the Nielsen’s last symphony, Sixth (without opus number, composed between 1924 and 1925), subtitled “Sinfonia semplice,” that some of the modernist elements emerge most clearly. This is, perhaps, the most challenging of the composer’s scores and Schønwandt delivers a powerful reading of the work. The spare sonorities characteristic of Nielsen’s late works emerge here quite effectively, but this work also evinces a different approach to structure. In the Sixth Symphony, Nielsen has designated the usual Scherzo as a Humoresque, thus evoking the aspect of temperaments and also calling to mind his Second Symphony, which is subtitled “The Four Temperaments.” The “Proposta seria” serves as the point of departure for the third movement, which takes as its point of departure the term used in the Baroque era for a fugue subject, and thus introduces a contrapuntal structure to the usually closed form of the slow movement. Yet in the Finale, the composer has a set of theme and nine variations, thus bringing yet another structural innovation to this work.

At the same time, this Sixth is most modern sounding of Nielsen’s symphonies. Schønwandt approaches this work with the same intelligence that has guided his interpretations of the earlier ones. Schønwandt’s enthusiasm for Nielsen’s First Symphony (1889-94) is apparent in his extroverted gestures, which set the tone of the performance from the start. The late Romantic style emerges clearly in this recording, which also looks forward to some of the symphonic elements the composer would explore in his later works in the genre.

The Second Symphony, op.16 (1901-2), called “The Four Temperaments,” is a musical depiction of the humors, as indicated by the tempo designations of each movement: (1) Allegro collerico; (2) Allegro comodo e flemmatico; (3) Andante malincolico; and (4) Allegro sanguineo. Schønwandt brings out the character of each movement convincingly, in a performance that also shows cohesiveness of the ensemble. While a perceptive and attentive ensemble is de rigueur for these works, it is essential for this work, which spans the interpretive distance between absolute and programmatic music. The Andante is notable for its expansive sonic effect and emotional impact, and the Schønwandt delivers the Finale in a fittingly spirited manner.

Likewise the Third Symphony, op. 27 (1910-11), the “Sinfonia espansiva,” benefits from Schønwandt’s command of the orchestra. While Nielsen adhered to the conventional four-movement symphonic structure in all his works in the genre, he used voices in the second movement, the Andante pastoral, with the solo parts delivered by Inger Dam-Jensen, soprano, and Poul Elming, tenor. In this movement Nielsen anticipates the Finale of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Third “Pastoral” Symphony (1921), which uses a wordless female chorus for a similar effect. This innovative touch is particularly effective in the balance that Schønwandt has achieved, with two fine singers whose timbres enhance the finely hewed orchestral colors that are already present in the work. The program notes found in the extensive booklet that accompanies the set, provides some useful information about the ideas behind the work, based on firsthand accounts from the composer himself.

In addition to the symphonies, the third DVD in the set contains the roughly hour-long documentary “The Light and the Darkness: On Carl Nielsen’s Life and Music” by Karl Aage Rasmussen. Those unfamiliar with Nielsen’s work will find this to be an intelligent introduction, while those who know his music will appreciate the insights that are offered in the film, as well as the fine iconography that is rendered well in the DVD. As a bonus DVD, the documentary is a welcome addition to the set, and complements the set of symphonies quite well. Priced affordably and packaged neatly, Da Capo’s DVD of Nielsen’s Complete Symphonies is a fine offering that has much to recommend.

James L. Zychowicz

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Posted by Gary at 1:53 PM

January 6, 2007

Lille célèbre la musique de Canteloube, l'Auvergnat

557491.png[Le Monde, 6 January 2007]
LILLE ENVOYÉ SPÉCIAL

Le compositeur Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957) est un inconnu célèbre : ses arrangements de Chants d'Auvergne qu'il a collectés, harmonisés, orchestrés et assemblés en cinq recueils, publiés entre 1924 et 1957, ont fait sa réputation. Ces airs en langue occitane, relevés dans sa région natale du Sud de l'Auvergne, ont été enregistrés par les plus grandes cantatrices - surtout étrangères : Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, Victoria de los Angeles, Dawn Upshaw et Natania Davrath qui, la première, en a gravé l'intégrale en 1963 (2CD Vanguard Classics).

Posted by Gary at 7:18 AM

January 5, 2007

Sheet Music: Sing in the new year with Agenda

SheetMusicCover.jpg[Independent, 5 January 2007]


Song is an integral part of the new issue of Agenda poetry magazine, entitled "Sheet Music". The attractive cover illustration of a musical stave by the artist and composer Nancy Wynne-Jones introduces and unites poets who all have unique pulses and tunes. They come mainly from Ireland and the UK, but there are also voices from Australia, New Zealand and St Lucia. This issue also celebrates the work of the meditative American poet Wallace Stevens, who sings distinctively about song, and wanted poetry to restore health, offer consolation, and mitigate poverty of spirit and unhappiness.

Posted by Gary at 7:09 AM

Laugh? I nearly did

[Guardian, 5 January 2007]

Have you heard the one about the comic opera that was actually funny? No, thought not. Philip Hensher on the pitfalls and pratfalls of trying to crack a joke with classical music

Posted by Gary at 6:59 AM

January 3, 2007

Harmony that transcends boundaries

catherine_bott.jpgBy David Honigmann [Financial Times, 2 January 2007]

Catherine Bott is a Hispanophile soprano specialising in the Renaissance repertoire. She also presents BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show, fronting earnest inquiries into matters such as whether Tallis’s Spem in Alium was first performed at Nonesuch Palace. (Eventual anticlimactic conclusion: probably not.) When the modern art gallery owner Fred Mann established a record label, he asked whether there was a recording she had always wanted to make.

Posted by Gary at 6:48 AM

January 2, 2007

Callas: "Pubblico mio, perdonami"

callas.pngMIRELLA SERRI [La Stampa, 2 January 2007]

In bacheca i costumi, le lettere d’amore a Pier Paolo Pasolini e un inedito storico: il biglietto scritto la sera tempestosa di "Norma", quando abbandonò la scena

Posted by Gary at 3:43 PM

I Puritani, Metropolitan Opera, New York

bellini.jpgBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 2 January 2007]

Anna Netrebko is our diva du jour. All over town advertisements beam her pretty face over a lofty logo: “Just be forewarned – Netrebko can be habit- forming.” Met puffery heralds her as “the charismatic Russian soprano who has created a sensation”.

Posted by Gary at 3:13 PM