Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

The Thief of Love
17 Jan 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.

Sheila Silver: The Thief of Love

Gwendolyn Hillman, James Brown, Manami Hattori, Michael Douglas Jones, Myeongsook Park, Stony Brook Opera, David Lawton (cond.)

Hummingbird Films

$19.99  Click to buy

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

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):