Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
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Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
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It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
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.
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”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
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.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
27 Feb 2007
As familiar Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser is, the opera benefits from solid performances that bring together fine singing, exquisite orchestral playing, and effective staging, and the Metropolitan Opera’s 1982 production conducted by James Levine gave audiences an exemplary performance that remains a touchstone for this work.
At the time this production was staged, reviews called attention to the quality of this particular effort on the part of the Metropolitan Opera and the leadership of James Levine. Based on performances given on 22 November and 20
December 1982 for a broadcast of “Live from the Met,” this 2006 DVD release demonstrates the
lasting power of this production of the Paris version of Wagner’s opera.
A tradition staging, akin to the Met’s famous broadcast and, later, DVD release of Wagner’s
Ring der Nibelungen, this production is faithful to the conventional treatment of the text as a
fully medieval tale, albeit, the medievalism that Wagner brought to the public. Eschewing
avant-garde theatrics and abstract imagery, the qualities of this production reside in the
faithfulness to the traditional settings associated with the opera, including the colors and shading
that bring the work to life on stage and in the imagination of the audience. The famous opening
scene in Venusberg benefits from the choreography that points to the sensuality the composer
intended, without necessarily indulging in excessive display. With the orchestral playing
underscoring the scene, it serves as a fitting introduction to the opening exchange between
Tannhäuser, as portrayed by the American tenor Richard Cassilly, and Venus, sung here by the
late Tatiana Troyanos. The reviews of the time praised Cassily for his fine sense of drama, and
this video preserves his nuanced performance, as well as Troyanos’s elegant and compelling
depiction of Venus. The two performers clearly worked well together, both vocally and
dramatically, with body language that reinforces the meaning of the text of the emotion of the
music in this Otto Schenk production.
After immersing the audience and performers in the seductive world of Venusberg in the opening
of the first act, the transformation to a stark countryside demonstrates the gulf between those
world. The chorale-lilke hymn of pilgrims awakens Tannhäuser in the real work, with the choral
textures flawlessly underscoring the scene. As traditional as this staging is, the flawless execution
demonstrates how effective such a setting can be.
The staging gives way in the second act to the German court, the staging recreates in tableau the
kinds of images found in illustrations from the period, and it is this sense of an authentic setting
that conveys the artistic space for the performers to make the work come alive. Playing off the
greeting of Venus at the beginning of the opera, Wagner’s overt parallelism is having the
Christian Elizabeth welcome everyone to the German court, and Eva Marton conveys an elegant
presence that stands alongside her other opera roles (notably a stunning Turandot from the Met,
also available on DVD). Marton’s vocal coloring helps to delineate her character. The overt
welcoming of “Dich, teure Halle” shifts to a more personal tone as Elizabeth interacts with
Tannhäuser and defends him. Yet her interpretation of the extended prayer scene in the third act
is even more impassioned in its parallel of the intensity that Troyanos brings to her sensual
interpretation of Venus.
As Wolfram von Eschenbach, Bernd Weikl is quite effective, with a ringing baritone sound that
plays off Cassily’s tenor. Yet the extended “Blick’ ich umher” shows Weikl’s commanding
vocality that anticipates his fine work in the third act. John Macurdy is a solid Landgraf, with
proper stage presence, and the other men fit well the court that Wagner created in what becomes
essentially a morality play in the final act. While the third act maintains the traditional staging of
the opera in its medieval trappings, the interpretation diverges a bit. Levine focuses on the more
recitative-like exchanges in the third act, which contrast pointedly the more isolated lyricism
“Song to the Evening Star” of Wolfram and Elizabeth’s “Allmächt’ge Jungfrau.” The dramaturgy
verges, at times, to expressionist images, as the closeups on Cassilly point to a Tannhäuser on the
edge of reality. This sets up the dénouement, which resolves the conflict implicit in the story, as
pure and sacred love redeem the more self-directed hedonism that attracted Tannhäuser almost to
the end. Wolfram is an agent of salvation, and Weikl acts well with Cassilly in bring out the
inner struggle that essentially involves both of them.
It is a triumphant presentation that is captured well on for television and preserved here on DVD.
The limitations that exist with filming opera on stage are mitigated by varying camera angles and
a careful selection of long shots and close ups. At times the production captures the intimacy of
the stage in ways that would be difficult to see from the audience’s perspective. A quarter century
after its presentation on stage and subsequent broadcast, this Met performance remains
compelling for musical, dramatic, and scenic qualities that coalesce here. The final bows seem all
to swift for such an impressive production, and it calls to mind the late evenings that typified
many productions of “Live from the Met.”
The two-DVD set is accompanied by a useful booklet that includes a detailed listing of the
tracks, along with a synopsis of the scenes. It does not include a full libretto, but the text is
readily available. In terms of presentation, the DVD is appropriate to an international audience
with subtitles available in German, French, English, Castillian Spanish, and Chinese. The sound
allows for DTS and Dolby Digital. Not listed in the booklet are the bonuses found on the DVD,
which include a photo gallery that documents the continuing presence of Tannhäuser in the
repertoire of the Met. (The other bonus is an extensive set of excerpts from Deutsche
Grammophon’s DVD of the Patrice Chereau’s Ring for Bayreuth, and it is unfortunate that space
was not devoted to the Met’s Ring, also available on the same label.) As a whole, this DVD
presents a solid production of Tannhäuser that bears repeated viewings.