Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

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

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

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

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

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

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

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

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

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

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

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

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

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

G. F. Handel: Giulio Cesare
21 Jan 2007

HANDEL: Giulio Cesare

This Sellars production had its origins at the 1985 Pepsico Summerfare Festival in Purchase NY.

G. F. Handel: Giulio Cesare

Jeffrey Gall (Giulio Cesare), Susan Larson (Cleopatra), Mary Westbrook-Geha (Cornelia), Lorraine Hunt (Sesto), James Maddalena (Achilla), Drew Minter (Tolomeo), Cheryl Cobb (Nirena), Herman Hildebrand (Curio), Sächische Staatskapelle Dresden, Craig Smith (cond.). Directed by Peter Sellars.

Decca 071 4089 5 [2DVDs]

$37.98  Click to buy

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

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):