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A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

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

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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

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Samuel Barber: Choral Music

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Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

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“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

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Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

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Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

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Donizetti: Les Martyrs

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A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

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Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

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Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.



W. A. Mozart: Die Hochzeit des Figaro
20 Feb 2007

MOZART: Die Hochzeit des Figaro

Yes, the German title must be employed for this filmed Nozze en Deutsch from 1967.

W. A. Mozart: Die Hochzeit des Figaro

Tom Krause (Count Almaviva), Arlene Saunders (Countess Almaviva), Heinz Blankenburg (Figaro), Edith Mathis (Susanna), Elisabeth Steiner (Cherubino), Maria Von Ilosvay (Marcellina), Kurt Marschner (Don Basilio), Members of the Corps de Ballet of the Hamburg State Opera, Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera, The Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg

Arthaus Musik 101 263 [DVD]

$29.98  Click to buy

That was the year of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Bonnie and Clyde, but the boisterous, iconoclastic mood of those times remains far, far away inside the Hamburg opera house. The cameras capture — in unsubtle color reminiscent of the “coloring” of b&w films by Ted Turner — a handsome, well-directed traditional production. As a snapshot of a typical, but classy, performance of a standard work at a German opera house in a time now long, long ago, this restored DVD makes for a charming treasure.

The charm begins with a “backstage” perspective as a prompter calls for the conductor, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, who offers an avuncular smile as he enters the pit and cues the overture. Cameras then go into the dressing room, briefly catching sight of most of the principals finishing their make-up or tidying their costume. Eventually our Figaro, Heinz Blankenburg (an American, by the way) passes by, and the camera follows him onto the stage, where the curtain rises at the end of the overture and we see a full house ready for the show.

But that is just a director's trick; this is not a performance filmed before a live audience, as the obviously canned applause at the end of each act indicates. The lip-syncing quickly becomes apparent, as well as a “studio echo” heard in forte passages. However, the film director (Joachim Hess) stays true to the essence of a stage performance, with many wide shots that wisely capture the stage action. Because of the opening sequence, the cast and credits roll after the first act.

The cast's winning verve and comfort in their roles trump any regrets about the dated nature of the presentation. While Blankenburg may play up Figaro's hearty good nature a bit much, he makes for a creditable foil to the excellent Count of Tom Krause. This is a classic portrayal, capturing the Count's lust, temper, frustration, awareness of his own bad behavior — and sung impeccably. Cute but not cutesy, Edith Mathis presents an adorable Susanna. Arlene Saunders doesn't quite have the richness of voice to really score in the Countess's big arias, but she acts well. Though Elisabeth Steiner never looks for a moment like a boy as Cherubino, her high spirits carry her through, along with her attractive voice.

Why has Arthaus provided such a hideous graphic design for the cover? A disgusting greenish wallpaper, thankfully unseen in the production, makes a backdrop for b&w photos of the cast, giving an incorrect impression of the film's content. The booklet essay, however, is a model of its kind, with a fine note on the opera, this production, and cast biographies. The subtitles have only one unfortunate misstep, when a character says of the Count that it is “not his wife who wets his appetite.” Kinky.

As the critical cliche goes, this should not be anyone's only DVD of the Mozart-da Ponte masterpiece. For the many, many lovers of this work, however, a lot of enjoyment awaits them inside that unfortunate cover.

Chris Mullins

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