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

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

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

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

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

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

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

Grands motets de Lalande

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

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

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

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

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

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

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

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

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

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

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

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

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

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

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

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

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

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

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

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

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

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

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

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

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

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

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

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

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

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

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):