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

Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser
27 Feb 2007

WAGNER: Tannhäuser

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.

Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser

Richard Cassilly, Eva Marton, Tatiana Troyanos, Bernd Weikl, John Macurdy, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet, James Levine, conductor.

Deutsche Grammophon DVD (2-DVD set, Region 1 coding). B0006580-09

$34.99  Click to buy

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.

James Zychowicz

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):