March 31, 2007

Operatic flim-flam fun

haydn.pngAlan Conter [Globe and Mail, 31 March 2007]

It would have been pretty nigh impossible for the Atelier lyrique of L'Opéra de Montréal to match the stunning brilliance of last year's production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw. Probably best, then, that the company decided to go "light" this year with Joseph Haydn's delightful confection Il Mondo della luna, composed in 1777 for the wedding of Count Nicolaus Esterhazy.

Posted by Gary at 2:09 PM

Lyric Opera unmasks new 'Ballo'

BLO_Ballo.pngBy Jeremy Eichler [Boston Globe, 31 March 2007]

All hail Riccardo, Governor of Boston!

Er, which governor was that?

Colonial Boston surely seems light years away from the world of 19th-century Italian opera, but that was precisely the point when Verdi and his librettist, Antonio Somma, chose to appease the nervous censors of Rome by transporting their opera of political intrigue and regicide -- "Un Ballo in Maschera" -- to some place far from European shores. The place they chose was late 17th-century Boston, turning King Gustavus III of Sweden into Governor Riccardo.

Posted by Gary at 2:04 PM

Tote Diana, irrer George

when-she-died-start.pngWalter Weidringer [Die Presse, 30 March 2007]

London, 1810: König George III. beginnt, stundenlang „mit den Engeln“ zu sprechen, gibt Vögeln Gesangsunterricht, hält einen Baum für den König von Preußen. Schließlich erholt er sich nicht mehr und bleibt die letzten zehn Jahre seines Lebens regierungsunfähig.

Posted by Gary at 1:50 PM

March 30, 2007

José Carreras Collection

That would have been, of course, José Carreras, and ironically enough, he was the very reason for the “Three Tenors,” an event at least partly built around the celebration of the singer’s return to health after a frightening bout with leukemia.

Beloved before his illness for his handsome persona and beautiful timbre, with his survival Carreras meant even more to his core audience. As an acknowledgement of that devotion, ArtHaus Musik has boxed 6 DVDs as the “José Carreras Collection.” Many of his fans will have these titles in earlier media incarnations, but they may not be able to resist the call of the attractive packaging.

Before going into a few specifics about each title, a gentle declaration must come first - purely as singing, much of what Carreras produces in these concert appearances cannot match the standard he set for himself before the onset of his illness. In the middle range, some reminder of his appeal comes through. Too often he seems to force the tone, and if he lightens it too much, a wavery effect results. The top, unsurprisingly, fares poorest - often hoarse, sometimes painfully so. It is a tribute to the bond Carreras formed with audiences that he still manages to captivate them, and they give of their love unstintingly.

The ovation that greets Carreras in The Vienna Comeback has to touch one’s heart. He chose a fairly challenging program, in French, Spanish, and Italian, even ending the encores in Swedish for Grieg’s “Jeg elkser dig.” That was in September 1988. About a year later in Salzburg he offered a recital with some of the same selections, but the balance had shifted to somewhat lighter fare - more Tosti, some Guastivino, Halffter. Nonetheless, the top is as troublesome as ever. The ecstatic audience couldn‘t care less, insisting on the requisite 5 encores from the tenor.

Carreras only appears once in La Grande Notte a Verona, singing his crowd-pleasing “Granada.” The rest of the program is a gala affair of very variable vocal contributions and amusing reminders of late 1980s ABBA-influenced hairstyles, male or female. In 1990, Carreras sang a short program of 5 songs and then a “modern” mass setting called “Misa Criolla” from composer Ariel Ramirez. Lightly scored and sweetly melodic, this insubstantial piece poses no great challenge for Carreras, and able to relax, he delivers a pleasant performance.

The strangest of the 6 DVDs is A Bolshoi Opera Night. According to the booklet and credits, Carreras was a sponsor of this gala charity evening, but not only does he not sing, he does not even appear on stage (unless your reviewer blinked and missed him). Another hit-and-miss affair, as a gala this Bolshoi evening will appeal most to those with a fondness for stars near the end of their careers (Bergonzi, Kraus) and Gorbachev-era Soviet opera stars.

The most pleasing of the six CDs finds Carreras with the woman who in some sense discovered him, Montserrat Caballé. Singing solos and some duets, neither singer can be claimed to be in the best of voice, but their sheer joy in each other’s presence adds much more than a few tight high notes can subtract.

Perhaps as an even greater tribute to this fine tenor, a company can release some the filmed work of his from before his illness, when his voice was at its memorable best. The “José Carreras Collection” is for the most devoted fans.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Carreras_collection.png image_description=José Carreras Collection product=yes product_title=José Carreras Collection product_by=José Carreras - Vienna Comeback Recital, 1988 (101 401)
José Carreras - La Grande Notte a Verona 1988 (101 403)
José Carreras - A Bolshoi Opera Night, 1989 (101 409)
José Carreras & Montserrat Caballé (101 413)
José Carreras - Salzburg Recital, 1989 (101 411)
José Carreras - Misa Crolla, 1990 (101 405) product_id=ArtHaus Musik 101 417 [6DVDs] price=$92.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=143883
Posted by Gary at 11:31 AM

HANDEL: Poro, Re dell’Indie

It was completed and performed in 1731, in a typically fecund period of his life, being squeezed in between the light-hearted “Partenope” and the rather less obviously endearing “Ezio”. After 16 performances and a couple of quick revivals, that was it until the German exploration of the canon in the first half of the 20th century.

In the current boom years (as they must surely be called) for baroque opera, “Poro” has not been at the top of the agenda for most directors or conductors. Musically it has some fine arias and duets, but it suffers from a clunky plot with holes as large as a Mughal elephant’s foot. The characterisations can be laughable – literally – and even the most intricate and melodic of Handel’s compositions cannot save it from a kind of dramatic purgatory.

The libretto, adapted from Metastasio’s “Alessandro nell’Indie”, centres around a love-triangle taken from an actual event in recorded history. Alexander the Great in his march east defeats and captures an Indian king, Poro. Poro’s beloved, Queen Cleofide of a neighbouring Indian kingdom, seeks to help Poro by pretending to love the invader….and thus sets in motion a web of jealousy, mistaken identity and the usual Handelian sub-plot of secondary lovers (not in the recorded history) caught up in the spokes of confusion that surround the main protagonists.

In his day, Handel was happy to ignore any lack of dramatic cohesion because he knew he could rely on his own brilliance, and that of his three top-flight singers, to distract the ear and eye. The title role was created for, and by, the legendary alto castrato Senesino, that of Alessandro for the remarkable Italian tenor Annibale Pio Fabri, and the prima donna role of Cleofide for Anna Strada del Pò. And to this day the success of this opera depends absolutely upon the quality of the singing – and the modern day director has to rise to the considerable challenge of overcoming the dramatic shortcomings.

This production for the London Handel Festival, featuring young opera singers from the UK on the cusp of professional careers and a fluent, intelligent production by Christopher Cowell, rose to both challenges with aplomb and almost complete success. It was heartening to hear so many fine young voices now singing this repertoire with verve and style, and showing at least the beginnings of true stage awareness – even if nearly all badly needed lessons in deportment. A king or general should stand and look like a king or general, at least in a production that requires “realistic for the age” acting.

The part of Alessandro, part-time conquering hero and (in this production at least) full-time philosopher and marriage-guidance counsellor, was taken by Nathan Vale. This young tenor last year won the Handel Singing Competition from some high class opposition, and was obviously popular with the crowd at this, final, performance in the run. His tenor is very flexible and has an interesting darkness in the timbre that suggests that it may develop into something rather different, given time. His control in the many, many divisions (almost armies) of semi-quavers that his character is blessed with was remarkable. Tonally, he was generally consistent and smooth through the range, although he needs to learn to put more light and shade, more variation of dynamic, into his singing in response to the text; sometimes the machine-gun delivery quite took over from the meaning of the words themselves. But a most satisfying performance – it would be good to hear him in more legato material.

His rival in love and war, Poro, was sung by countertenor Christopher Ainslie and after a slightly shaky start his voice was the one which probably improved most during the evening’s entertainment. He has a strong, well-supported, alto voice with no hoot or wobble and – in contrast to Vale – had plenty of opportunity to display his natural ease and skill with the more poignant and reflective arias that Handel wrote for the master of that genre in the 1730’s. His acting skills were to be applauded too – he managed to find a number of ways to continually display jealousy without succumbing to routine.

The focus of both men’s attention as Queen Cleofide was Ruby Hughes, a young soprano with considerable gifts. She has a warm, expressive and easy soprano that gave promise of some weight and power to come, and of all the singers perhaps gave the most finished performance. Articulation, intonation, colour and dynamic were all there, and she has an attractive stage presence. Again, like the other young singers, she could benefit from some intensive “how to walk and stand” training, but that is easily fixed, and no doubt will be.

The more minor roles were taken by bass Hakan Ekenas (Timagene) of whom one wished for more in the way of arias as his voice was very appealing, and sounded quite at home in the idiom; mezzo Madeleine Pierard (Erissena) who, like Ainslie, grew in stature through the evening but lacked slightly in consistency; and countertenor Andrew Pickett (Gandarte) who had expressive moments but struggled a little with the recitatives in particular.

Although this opera tends to the London Bus style of format, (there’s always another da capo aria coming along behind), it is thankfully interspersed with some wonderful duets and ensembles – of which the Act Two “Caro amico amplesso” between Poro and Cleofide is an example. It wasn’t actually included in the Metastasio libretto but Handel decided to transplant it here from his “Aci, Galatea e Polifemo” – and all the better for it. Ainslie and Hughes’ work together here was delicious.

Throughout, Laurence Cummings kept the augmented London Handel Orchestra on its toes and allowed no unnecessary lingering – a good idea with this piece. As ever they were very stylish, and also rather less astringent than I have heard them, with some neat work from the flute and oboes in particular.

The production itself was in the “elegant but inexpensive” category, the costumes of old India and some vaguely 18th military gear for the Greeks supplying most of the vibrant colour and sparkle whilst the simple backdrop of gauzes were lit appropriately as the story progressed. A single hanging metre of vivid blue silk depicted the River Hidaspes, which divides the opposing camps, and with the exception of the odd cut-out tree and tea-chest, that was about it. But it worked. Cowell managed to get across the idea – one which Handel espouses in the music – of a meeting of cultures with mutual respect for each other. If there was a problem it was of our own making, in that the incredibly understanding, generous and fair-minded Alessandro was just too good to be true and we laughed. In 1731, I suspect, Handel’s audience would have been impressed and satisfied that those in power should show such noble and selfless ideals – it did rather remind us of how cynical we have become.

© Sue Loder 2007

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Poro_RCM.png image_description=G. F. Handel: Poro, Re dell’Indie (Royal College of Music - 2007) product=yes product_title=G. F. Handel: Poro, Re dell’Indie product_by=30th London Handel Festival
Royal College of Music, 28 March 2007 product_id=ABOVE: Christopher Ainslie and Nathan Vale (Photo courtesy of RCM)
Posted by Gary at 11:10 AM

March 28, 2007

Camacho’s Wedding (Die Hochzeit des Camacho)

There is unquestionably a need for a company such as this on London’s operatic scene; they continue to fly the flag for works which would not otherwise be performed, and are almost unique in offering these obscure works in staged performance rather than in concert.

The company exists independently of the academic functions of University College London, which does not even have a music department; instead the company draws its large and enthusiastic amateur chorus, orchestra and lesser principals from the University College Union Music Society, and hires in young professional artists for the leading roles – alumni include Felicity Lott, Robert Lloyd and Jonathan Summers, and Charles Mackerras served briefly as Musical Director during the 1950s.

Die Hochzeit des Camacho was written by Mendelssohn between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. It is a lively, folksy comic opera based on an episode from Don Quixote, about a conspiracy on the part of the young and amiable Basilio to save his beloved Quiteria from a forced marriage to the wealthy but unprepossessing Camacho. After many complications, some largely pointless interventions by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and a faked suicide, Basilio gets the girl; her father and Camacho accept their union and all live happily ever after.

The production, by Duncan McFarland, was set in the context of a bedtime story being told to a young boy (Oliver Kirk) by his nurse (Liz Lea). This gave the feel of a cosy Christmas family movie. Christopher Giles’s set was simple but imaginative and versatile, with three brightly-coloured moving wooden huts transforming the stage from the child’s nursery into all manner of different locations. There were bright, attractive costumes for the young cast too.

The opera was sung in English, and the best individual performances came from two fine tenors – medical student Hal Brindley gave a strongly sung and charming account of Basilio’s sidekick Vivaldo, while postgraduate linguist James Crawford gave an excellent characterisation of the eponymous Camacho (really quite a minor role). Stephen Brown’s Basilio and James Harrison’s Carrasco (Quiteria’s father) also sang well; Håkan Vramsmo’s Sancho Panza was likeable and smoothly sung. But elsewhere there were problems; Margaret Cooper’s Quiteria was strong in the upper register but weak in the middle; her conventionally operatic soprano was inadequately balanced by Sarah Rea’s treble-like Lucinde. The veteran professional bass Deryck Hamon was seriously stretched in the role of Don Quixote. Projection of dialogue was problematic for professional and amateur soloists alike; sometimes the singing was inaudible too. The chorus was excellent, but the biggest problem was the orchestra, an amateur ensemble, whose timing and tuning were simply painful at times despite Charles Peebles’s poised and well-phrased direction.

This is the fifth UC Opera production I have seen, some with high musical standards. This was far from the best. Perhaps they will fare better in 2008 with Lalo’s Fiesque.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

image=http://www.operatoday.com/mendelssohn.png image_description=Felix Mendelssohn product=yes product_title=Camacho’s Wedding (Die Hochzeit des Camacho) product_by=University College Opera
Bloomsbury Theatre, London, 21 March 2007
Posted by Gary at 3:58 PM

March 27, 2007

Deutsche Oper Goes From Bad to Worse With Weber Booed in Berlin

Carl Maria von WeberBy Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 27 March 2007]

March 27 (Bloomberg) -- Berlin's Deutsche Oper is in more trouble, with its latest production facing a storm of boos.

Carl Maria von Weber's opera ``Der Freischuetz,'' which opened at the crisis-ridden house on Saturday, could have proved a much-needed crowd-pleaser. Instead, it was a debacle.

Posted by Gary at 8:20 AM

Soprano’s Colorful Voice Undimmed, Despite a Cold

(Photo: Tanja Niemann)
By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 26 March 2007]

Some things are more memorable for their imperfections: the fly in the amber, the lopsidedness in a friend’s smile. Add to this list Diana Damrau’s cold at her recital on Wednesday night at Weill Hall.

Posted by Gary at 7:53 AM

BRUCKNER: Lateinische Motetten — Latin Motets

Of the latter, Bruckner composed a number of motets that reflect his nineteenth-century perspective on a sixteenth-century form. Not in the style of the solo motets that French composers of the nineteenth century created for virtuosic singers, nor the accompanied motets that eighteenth-century composers like Mozart wrote for use in church, Bruckner’s motets revivify the vocal polyphony associated with such composers as Josquin and Willaert, albeit with decidedly modern touches, mostly in the sometimes chromatic harmonies that point up the usually traditional texts he chose for these works. With these veritable miniatures, Bruckner offers a vocal contrast to his large-scale instrumental symphonic works.

This selection from Bruckner’s larger body of motets was recorded by the Philharmonia Vocalensemble Stuttgart, conducted by Hans Zanotelli, and with tenor soloist Oly Pfaff; some of the works include organist, Manfred Hug, while others include obligatti trombones, here played by Klaus Bauerle, Peter Redwig, and Fritz Resch. The dates of the recording, as listed with accompanying notes are 6 and 7 April 1979, without further identification of location and circumstances. Nevertheless, this recording makes available a representative selection of Bruckner’s works in this genre, and the performances are uniformly solid.

Those unfamiliar with Bruckner’s vocal music may be aware of his three Masses, which are comparable in scope to the composer’s symphony works. With the motets, Bruckner is working on a contrastingly smaller scale, essentially creating miniatures instead of remaining with the larger canvases associated with his style. Compressed in form and performing forces, the motets are works that do note benefit from the repetition and development of thematic material found in Bruckner’s symphonies and Masses. Instead, these through-composed pieces contain shorter, motivically based lines that sometimes benefit from points of imitation. The ideas seem fleeting, with the various internal cadences serving as points of arrival that define the harmonic idiom that supports these otherwise contrapuntal works.

The first piece in this selection, the unaccompanied motet Pange lingua is a contrapuntal setting of the traditional Easter sequence. It offers modern listeners a denser texture than the monophonic one found with the sequence, and in this piece Bruckner allows the contrapuntal lines to support each phrase of this familiar text. Composed in 1868, just before Bruckner worked on his watershed Third Symphony, this motet is a mature example of his vocal music, and a fine introduction to the pieces collected here. In this performance, the Philharmonia Vocalensemble Stuttgart offers a tight reading of this work, with the voices working together under the direction of Hans Zanotelli. Despite its allegiances with the past, this work reflects its modern sensibilities through the various points of arrival that betray a modern approach to harmony, and not the kind of chromatic idiom that would be the result of employing musica ficta.

While some of the pieces can sound similar, Bruckner sometimes varies the unaccompanied mixed chorus by using different voices, as with Inveni David, for men’s choir, which also stands apart because of the trombone accompaniment used in this piece. The solemn setting of Ecce Sacerdos, a text usually associated with ordination or the installation of a primate, is similarly rich for its use of mixed chorus, trombones and organ, which results in a more varied timbre and fuller texture. While the contrapuntal writing in the latter owes much to the Renaissance models that Bruckner knew, the actual compositions in Bruckner’s hands can be nothing but modern, as the nineteenth-century composer reinvented the style of an earlier era in much the same way that a painter like Makart created historic settings anew with a Romantic eye for forms and color. Just an appreciation of Bruckner’s symphonies can be heightened by knowledge of his Masses, the smaller works, like these motets offer a further glimpse at the composer’s imagination. Given Bruckner’s skill at crafting vocal music effectively, it is no wonder that the chorale-like passages in his symphonies are convincing even in that instrumental milieu. Yet Bruckner’s vocal music is convincing in itself, especially as found in the Latin motets that are found on this recording.

James Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Bruckner_Latin_Motets.png image_description=Anton Bruckner: Lateinische Motetten — Latin Motets product=yes product_title=Anton Bruckner: Lateinische Motetten — Latin Motets product_by=Philharmonia Vocalensemble Stuttgart, Hans Zanotelli, conductor product_id=Profil (Hänssler) PH07002 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=143952
Posted by Gary at 7:45 AM

La donna del lago, New York City Opera, New York

Sir Walter ScottBy Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 26 March 2007]

The New York City Opera – relatively poor and historically feisty – languishes forever in the shadow of the mighty Metropolitan. Now it finds itself contemplating a cultural crossroads.

Posted by Gary at 7:42 AM

Welcome back noble 'Chenier'

chenier_andrea_small.pngBY RUSSELL PLATT [Newsday, 26 March 2007]

"Andrea Chénier" has come back to the Met, and that's good news. Umberto Giordano's 1896 score - with a well-paced libretto by Luigi Illica, who would go on to do grand work with Puccini - possesses a noble strength and clarity that sets it apart from some of the gaudier efforts of the verismo school.

Posted by Gary at 7:32 AM

Julian Budden — BBC producer and Verdi scholar

budden_verdi_1.png[Independent, 26 March 2007]
As a musicologist Julian Budden was best known for his monumental work The Operas of Verdi, published in three volumes between 1973 and 1985. He worked for the BBC for more than 30 years, as a music producer, chief radio producer of opera and external music organiser. His opera productions on Radio 3 included many Verdi operas, but also such works as Massenet's Cendrillon and Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover.

Posted by Gary at 7:06 AM

March 26, 2007

Culture clash

haendel.pngWarwick Thompson [ThisIsLondon, 26 March 2007]

Handel's 1731 opera deals with the ancient campaigns of Alexander the Great in 'India', the region now known as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Director Christopher Cowell sets the story in the early 18th century and - without a single tub being thumped - its contemporary relevance is all the greater because of it.

Posted by Gary at 12:53 PM

RAMEAU: Platée, Pigmalion, Dardanus Ballet Suites

Although it would be incorrect to assume that the origins of the suite were exclusively French, it is safe to say that the popularity of French ballet in general, and the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully in particular, led to the creation of the orchestral suite toward the end of the 1600s. These works were initially formed by excerpting dance movements from operatic divertissements and placing an overture at the beginning. Conductor Roy Goodman has revived this practice for a Naxos recording on which ballet suites from three operas by the Jean-Philippe Rameau are drawn. The result is a welcome—if a slightly uneven—addition to the growing body of Rameau’s music recorded on CD. Goodman leads the European Union Baroque Orchestra, an ensemble of young musicians that is assembled each year to give the performers an opportunity to train under the direction of a variety of early music specialists. This CD includes performances by three different ensembles and three different recording sessions dating from 1999 to 2003.

The first suite is taken from Rameau’s witty comedy Platée, about the eponymous swamp nymph who falls in love with Jupiter. This music requires a deft touch that will allow its ironic humor to come through, and in general Goodman and the orchestra succeed in doing so. The overall sound is clear, buoyant and well-balanced, yet in some movements, the playing veers toward the prosaic. For example, in the “Air pour des fous gais et des fous tristes,” the aural depiction of the happy and sad fools would benefit from greater extremes of tempo and articulation. The performance is undeniably graceful and elegant, but this music is essentially parodic and deserves to be treated as such. At the premiere, the dancers, who dressed either as infants or Greek philosophers, were accompanied by the personification of folly playing a lyre that she had stolen from Apollo. The entire episode ridicules various conventions of the operatic stage, both musical and dramatic. Certainly overstatement is in order; the mock seriousness of the sad fools needs magnification, while the music of the happy fools could be much more manic. Especially at the end of this movement—when the two groups of dancers mingle and there are sudden shifts of tempo, dynamics and accent—the sharpest contrast is required.

Likewise, the two suites that follow are convincing by and large, but occasionally include a few sections that sound somewhat perfunctory. In Pigmalion, Goodman and the orchestra artfully maneuver through the rapid changes of meter and tempo that distinguish the movement entitled “Les différents caractères de la danse,” a movement intended to accompany Galatea—the statue brought to life—as Cupid teaches her how to move. Yet later in the same suite the performance starts to falter. Throughout the slow and lyrical “Air gracieux,” the music remains graceful, but lacks the sense of momentum that is heard elsewhere. Similarly, Tambourins III and IV from the Dardanus suite are fast enough but are rhythmically a bit square.

In short, all three suites receive satisfying performances and despite the minor quibbles that I have mentioned, do justice to Rameau and his music. Of course, confirmed fans of Rameau will most likely prefer to seek out complete recordings of the operas excerpted on this CD. Nonetheless, Goodman and the European Union Baroque Orchestra should be commended for making some of the eighteenth-century’s most delightful instrumental music available in a highly affordable and unquestionably pleasing recording.

Michael E. McClellan

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Rameau.png image_description=Jean-Philippe Rameau: Platée, Pigmalion, Dardanus Ballet Suites product=yes product_title=Jean-Philippe Rameau: Platée, Pigmalion, Dardanus Ballet Suites product_by=European Union Baroque Orchestra, Roy Goodman product_id=Naxos 8.557490 [CD] price=$7.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=106592&name_role1=1&bcorder=1&comp_id=77881
Posted by Gary at 12:39 PM

GRÉTRY: Pierre le Grand

So, for no other reason than that, the recent recording of a live performance at Moscow’s Helikon Opera of that composer’s Pierre le Grand is reason to celebrate. Nonetheless, despite a clever production and some respectable singing, this DVD will not entirely satisfy fans of eighteenth-century French comic opera and will serve at best as a curiosity of limited attraction for the general opera lover.

Pierre le Grand is a rather fanciful retelling of Peter the Great’s courtship of his second wife, Catherine. The libretto, by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, is loosely based on an account written by Voltaire and depicts the Russian emperor as an earnest young man who, disguised as a shipyard carpenter, is living in the seaside community to which the young widow Catherine has retired. Complementing Catherine and Peter is another pair of lovers: Caroline, the daughter of Peter’s employer, and Alexis, a young orphan. The basic action of the three acts (condensed to two in this performance) is quite simple: Catherine and Peter reveal their love for one another in the first act; Peter is called away on an urgent matter of state in the second, leaving Catherine with the mistaken belief that he has deserted her; and in the final act Peter’s true identity is revealed, and the lovers are reunited. Although the story may seem to revolve around affairs of the heart, the fact that Peter is Tsar makes this a political opera. The work was premiered in Paris on 13 January 1790, during the early, idealistic days of the French Revolution when a constitutional monarchy seemed both desirable and likely. Within that context, Peter’s down-to-earth behavior and interest in the lives of his subjects assumed a revolutionary hue made explicit in the final vaudeville, which becomes a prayer for King Louis XVI.

The production on this 2002 Art Haus DVD makes no attempt at period musical performance, but as conductor Sergey Stadler states clearly in an brief interview included in the “extras” included on the disc, that was not the intention. Although purists may long for the lighter sound of historical instruments and vocal performances that are more soft-edged, the Helikon Opera’s performers do acquit themselves satisfactorily. The shortcomings of the production are not the fault of the musicians, but stem from a lack of physical space. The Helikon Opera uses the courtyard of a lovely eighteenth-century residence as their performance venue, but as a result the stage area is severely limited, having a depth of only four meters. Despite an ingenious set design in which wooden scaffolding and canvas serve as a ship, a shipyard, or the interior of house, the action always seems constrained and is visually rather static. This is compensated for, in part, by the adoption of a quick dramatic pace that is achieved through cuts, not to the music, but to the spoken dialogue that separates the musical numbers.

A curious feature of the dialogue in this performance is its blend of Russian and French. Although the principals typically converse in the original French, minor characters frequently speak Russian with a few French phrases thrown in for good measure. Moreover, after an extended French dialogue between principals, another performer will inform the audience of what has just been said in a Russian aside. Similarly, when the stage set is being reorganized to depict a new scene, a character may explain what the new configuration represents. Such self-conscious, meta-theatrical devices abound, but they work well given the intimacy of the theater and the gently ironic tone that characterizes the performance. In short, Helikon Opera’s Pierre le Grand is not likely to foster a revival of Grétry, but it may give aficionados of eighteenth-century opera-comique an inkling of what that underservedly ignored genre is like.

Michael E. McClellan

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Peter_the_Great.png image_description=André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry: Pierre le Grand product=yes product_title=André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry: Pierre le Grand product_by=Nikolai Dorozhkin, Anna Grechishkina, Mikhail Davydov, Chorus and Orchestra of the Helikon Opera, Sergey Stadler (cond.). Stage Production: Dimitry Bertmann. Sets and Costumes: Igor Nezhuy and Tatiana Tulubieva. product_id=ArtHaus 101 097 [DVD] price=$19.98 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=4741&name_role1=1&comp_id=151237&bcorder=15&label_id=4357
Posted by Gary at 12:19 PM

WNO's 'Walkure' Takes Flight

By Tim Page [Washington Post, 26 March 2007]

There is a very simple reason why the operas of Richard Wagner have become so extraordinarily popular over the past couple of decades, namely, the introduction of projected, line-by-line translations of the words the characters sing as they are performing.

Posted by Gary at 11:56 AM

Resurrecting Rossini's Leading Lady

Pendatchanska.pngBY GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Sun, 26 March 2007]

Under the leadership of its outgoing director, Paul Kellogg, the New York City Opera has made many ventures into repertoire traditionally neglected by New York's major opera houses. But for opera-goers of a certain inclination, none is more important than its investigation of serious operas by Rossini. Three years ago, the company presented "Ermione," another product of the composer's fruitful Neapolitan years, and Thursday evening it offered a stimulating new production of "La donna del lago."

Posted by Gary at 11:45 AM

The Modern ‘Magic Flute'

Mozart_silhouette.gifBY STAN SCHWARTZ [NY Sun, 26 March 2007]

The house lights fade. The Maestro gives the downbeat, and the auditorium promptly fills with the majestic opening strains of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Two minutes in, however, just as the music quickens to the lively tempo of the overture's main theme, squiggly lines materialize within the black limbo space of the stage.

Posted by Gary at 11:35 AM

March 25, 2007

Chicago Opera Theater springs forward

Mariele Lenormand(Photo: Lisa Kohler)
Company on a roll as it begins season with 'Return of Ulysses'

BY LAURA EMERICK [Chicago Sun-Times, 25 March 2007]

When composer John Adams deliberated over where the first fully staged U.S. version of "A Flowering Tree," his latest opera, would truly blossom, the usual prospects didn't arise.

Posted by Gary at 6:57 PM

VERDI: Rigoletto

Music by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse.

First Performance: 11 March 1851, Teatro La Fenice, Venice.

Principal Characters:
The Duke of MantuaTenor
Rigoletto, his court jesterBaritone
Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughterSoprano
Sparafucile, a hired assassinBass
Maddalena, his sisterContralto
Giovanna, Gilda’s duennaSoprano
Count MonteroneBass
Marullo, a noblemanBaritone
Borsa, a courtierTenor
Count CepranoBass
Countess CepranoMezzo-Soprano
Court UsherBass
PageMezzo-Soprano

Setting: Mantua and vicinity in the Sixteenth Century.

Synopsis:

Act I

Scene 1: A room in the palace.

The Duke has seen an unknown beauty in the church and desires to possess her. He also pays court to the Countess Ceprano. Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester of the Duke, mocks the husbands of the ladies to whom the Duke is paying attention, and advises the Duke to get rid of them by prison or death. The noblemen resolve to take vengeance on Rigoletto, especially Count Monterone, whose daughter the Duke had dishonoured. Monterone curses the Duke and Rigoletto.

Scene 2: A street; half of the stage, divided by a wall, is occupied by the courtyard of Rigoletto's house.

Thinking of the curse, the jester approaches and is accosted by the bandit Sparafucile, who offers his services. Rigoletto contemplates the similarities between the two of them - Sparafucile uses his sword, Rigoletto his tongue and wits to fight. The hunchback opens a door in the wall and visits his daughter Gilda, whom he is concealing from the prince and the rest of the city. She does not know her father's occupation and, as he has forbidden her to appear in public, she has been nowhere except to church. When Rigoletto has gone the Duke enters, hearing Gilda confess to her nurse Giovanna that she feels guilty for not having told her father about a student she had met at the church, but that she would love him more if he were poor. Just as she declares her love, the Duke enters, overjoyed, convincing Gilda of his love, though she resists at first. When she asks for his name, he hesitantly calls himself Gualtier Maldé. Steps are overheard and, fearing that her father has returned, Gilda sends the Duke away after they quickly repeat their love vows to each other. Later, the hostile noblemen seeing her at the wall, believe her to be the mistress of the jester. They abduct her, and when Rigoletto arrives they inform him they have abducted the Countess Ceprano, and with this idea he assists them in their arrangements. Too late Rigoletto realises that he has been duped and, collapsing, remembers the curse.

Act II

The Duke hears that Gilda has been abducted. The noblemen inform him that they have captured Rigoletto's mistress and by their description he recognises Gilda. She is in the palace, and he hastens to see her, declaring that at last, she will know the truth and that he would give up his wealth and position for her who had first inspired him to really love. The noblemen, at first perplexed by the Duke's strange excitement, now make sport of Rigoletto. He tries to find Gilda by singing, and as he fears she may fall into the hands of the Duke, at last acknowledges that she is his daughter, to general astonishment. Gilda arrives and begs her father to send the people away, and acknowledges to him the shame she feels of finding out his profession. The act ends with Rigoletto's oath of vengeance against his master.

Act III

A street. The half of the stage shows the house of Sparafucile, with two rooms, one above the other, open to the view of the audience. Rigoletto enters with Gilda, who still loves the prince. Rigoletto shows her the Duke in the house of the bandit amusing himself with Sparafucile's sister Maddalena, half-drunk in despair over losing Gilda. The Duke then sings the most famous aria of the opera, La donna e mobile, explaining the indifelty and fickle nature of women. Rigoletto bargains with the bandit, who is ready to murder his guest, whom he does not know, for money. Rigoletto orders his daughter to put on man's attire and go to Verona, whither he will follow later. Gilda goes, but fears an attack upon the Duke, whom she still loves, despite believing him to be unfaithful. Rigoletto offers the bandit 20 scudi for the death of the Duke. As a thunderstorm is approaching, the Duke determines to remain in the house, and Sparafucile assigns to him the ground floor as sleeping quarters. Gilda returns disguised as a man and hears the bandit promise Maddalena, who begs for the life of the Duke, that if by midnight another can be found to take the Duke's place he will spare his life. Gilda resolves to sacrifice herself for the Duke and enters the house. When Rigoletto arrives with the money he receives from the bandit a corpse wrapped in a bag and rejoices in his triumph. He is about to cast the sack into the river, weighting it with stones, when he hears the voice of the Duke singing a reprise of his bitter aria as he leaves the house. Bewildered, he opens the bag and to his despair discovers the corpse of his daughter, who for a moment revives and declares she is glad to die for her beloved. As she breathes her last, Rigoletto exclaims in horror, "The curse!" which is fulfilled upon both master and servant.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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Recorded 1930
Posted by Gary at 6:30 PM

MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Often stereotypes were cleverly turned on their head, with the seraglio-dwellers proving more modern and progressive than their western guests; Selim’s many wives accessorised their (reasonably) traditional Muslim dress with snazzy sunglasses, while the main quartet of lovers were in full period costume.

Each singer was allowed to keep his or her real accent, so there was a very Welsh Osmin, a Mancunian Pedrillo, and Blonde was even written formally into the English translation as an Australian girl. The youth and freshness of the cast allowed for further jokey concessions to the modern world; Pedrillo’s instrument of choice for the serenade was a brightly coloured electric guitar.

The dialogue fell victim to excessive cuts, which meant that the characters (especially Konstanze) remained a little sketchily drawn – and the break for a single interval after “Martern alle Arten” was misplaced.

Musical values were notably high, with energetic and bright conducting from Gary Cooper. Hal Cazalet sang Belmonte with a free, easy tenor which was never under pressure; Joshua Ellicott’s slightly weightier voice was no less attractive and he displayed considerable comic talent as Pedrillo. Elizabeth Donovan found herself taxed by some of Konstanze’s very highest sustained tessitura, but played the role with assurance and serenity; Lorina Gore’s no-nonsense Blonde sang with complete vocal security. Sion Goronwy’s lumbering Osmin had some terrific low notes; physically he towered above the rest of the cast, giving rise to much visual comedy. The ensemble work was excellent.

Richard Jackson’s Selim was a puzzle; there didn’t seem to have been much directorial thought given to his place in the context of the drama, and he was somewhat lacking in stage presence. Otherwise, the dramatic and comic rapport between characters was strong and well-developed.

Mauricio Elloriaga’s set was simple, consisting of shifting panels – ideally designed for maximum versatility in a touring production; the background and costumes were in cheerful candy colours.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

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London, 16 March 2007

Posted by Gary at 5:02 PM

Rebel Poet Loses His Heart (and Head)

heppner.pngBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 24 March 2007]

Not many singers today face the pressure that Ben Heppner must feel. His lean, burnished and powerful voice makes him the closest the opera world has right now to an ideal Wagnerian heldentenor. The Metropolitan Opera is not alone in counting on Mr. Heppner for “Tristan und Isolde” (which he will sing next season). And he is poised to portray the impossible-to-cast title role in “Siegfried.”

Posted by Gary at 4:56 PM

MOZART: Don Giovanni

All the essential elements for a success seem to be in place: a fine cast, a handsome production from Madrid's Teatro Real (updated to pre-WWII Spain), an impassioned performance from conductor and orchestra. Yet the net effect is much less than the sum of its parts. Why?

Attention to detail, at any level, cannot be the fault. Stage director Lluis Pasqual has each singer well into his/her character, and other than the firearms for swords and an occasional bicycle ride, no actions the characters take are removed from those of the libretto's "original intentions," as traditionalists would have it. Both set designer Ezio Frigerio and costume designer Franca Squarciapino have done outstanding work, at the level of a high-budget period film. The stone city walls stand solid, if aged. The amusement park setting for the scenes in the country side around the Don's home look ready to entertain real customers (especially the colorful bumper cars). The costumes, mostly in dark, heavy fabrics with the exception of some touches of color for the females, appear lived-in, and represent this production's view of the "good" people as staid, sheltered folk. This plays right into the dichotomy of the revengers' search for the Don speaking as much to his attraction for them as to the offenses he has committed against them.

And lighting designer Wolfgang von Zeubek should not be slighted, especially with the lovely blue-wash he lays over many scenes.

In a short interview on disc two, Carlos Alvarez says (in Spanish), "I am Don Giovanni." A rather distressing claim, as the Don he portrays in this production leans to the more aggressive, unpleasant side. Boastful, mean-spirited, and not all that attractive, this is not a Don who evokes much audience empathy for his transgressive pursuit of his own pleasure. Despite that, Alvarez definitely has the role down vocally, and one can imagine that in a production with a different interpretation, he could be more charming and seductive.

Lorenzo Regazzo's big-voiced Leporello parallels Alvarez's Don by seeming more grasping, cowardly than usual, and his catalog aria feels like his own boast. Likewise, Masetto, as sung by José Antonio López, doesn't emphasize the innocence of his character. He looks like a "Don-wannabe" in his heavy jacket and cap, a thug who just hasn't had the breaks the Don has. On the other hand, for once Don Ottavio is not a wimp. The excellent José Bros portrays a confident man who never doubts his woman and leads the revengers, rather than tags along.

Maria Bayo's Donna Anna doesn't have the plushness of the role's most esteemed exponents, but her experience and the sweetness of her tone make her very effective. Sonia Gannassi has more shrillness than even the character of Donna Elvira might require. Maria José Moreno's Zerlina is up to the smaller challenge of her role, even while pedalling a bicycle.

Favoring fleet tempos and energetic dynamics, Victor Pablo Pérez leads the fine Madrid orchestra. He and director Pasqual also get interview segments on the second disc.

If Pasqual had a larger message to his production, it evaded this viewer, even with the help of historic newsreel footage played under the final ensemble after the Don's descent to hell (in cold blue light, with Alvarez strangely waving goodbye to the audience). Perhaps only a Madrid audience can truly feel the power of some analogy between the early Franco era and the world of the Don.

This set offers so much that entrances the eye and pleases the ear, it feels wrong to dismiss it. Let it just be said that while the impact the production seems to promise never gets delivered, the effort deserves respect. Any number of traditional productions on DVD might please many a viewer. For those looking for a more successful exponent of the "dangerous Don" angle, go for the Bieto from Barcelona.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 2:50 PM

Eugene Onegin — English Touring Opera

Director James Conway chose to focus on the opera’s themes of lost opportunity and the contrast between dreams and shattering reality. Joanna Parker’s very simple reflective set gave a wistful, faded beauty to the stage, while the ‘snow’ for the duel scene was formed of a devastated mass of pages torn from Tatiana’s romantic novels. As Tatiana, Amanda Echalaz provided, rightfully, the opera’s emotional core. She knew how the cripplingly shy provincial Tatiana should walk and move; she knew how to update the character by seven years and several steps up the social ladder without losing her original identity. In recent years, Echalaz’s ETO appearances alone have earned her an exciting reputation; from a slightly one-dimensional performer with a hugely promising dramatic voice, she has developed into a versatile artist with impressive depth of interpretation.

Roland Wood, in the title role, gave a more sympathetic interpretation than most; it was clear that his stiffness and propriety were rooted in self-awareness. His tenderness towards Tatiana was obvious from the start; for once I found myself ‘knowing’ Onegin as well as I always feel I ‘know’ Tatiana.

Michael Bracegirdle’s Lensky didn’t seem at ease on stage, and his singing was monochrome and somewhat forced; as Olga, Marie Elliott was also a little stiff without the necessary weight in her lower register. Gremin’s aria should be the centrepiece of the final act, but Geoffrey Moses failed to bring it to life.

At the start there seemed to be a difference of opinion between the musical and dramatic moods; Michael Rosewell’s tempi were brisk from the outset, while the opening scene was dramatically almost over-restrained. This turned out to be a perfect piece of dramaturgical planning; emotion and passion burst into vivid life at the start of the Letter Scene. The chorus, a good size by ETO’s standards, sang and danced stylishly so it was a great shame that they were the chief victims of a catalogue of unnecessary musical cuts.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

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London, 15 March 2007

Posted by Gary at 2:38 PM

Central City vs. Opera Colorado?

Central City Opera HouseBy Kyle MacMillan [Denver Post, 24 March 2007]

Two opera companies angling for audiences and funds in the same midsized metropolitan area sounds like a perfect formula for a Hatfield-and-McCoy-style feud.

Posted by Gary at 10:08 AM

March 21, 2007

Opera star wins "underwear throwing" case

KiriTeKanawa.png[Reuters, 21 March 2007]

SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who refused to perform with an Australian singer because his female fans threw underwear at him, on Wednesday won a lawsuit against her for pulling out of the concert.

Posted by Gary at 3:25 PM

ROSSINI: Matilde di Shabran

Such. opera semiserie generally have elements of both comedy and pathos. Matilde di Shabran, is unusual in that the pathos is mixed with some dramatic incidents, especially in Act II, but it also has quite a bit of buffoonery. It turned out to be the last light opera he wrote for Italy, although he did write two other such operas (Il viaggio a Rheims and Le Comte Ory) for France a few years later.

The libretto by Giacomo Ferretti was originally very long and complicated, and Rossini soon realized that he could not finish it in time. He turned to his friend, the composer Giovanni Pacini, for help, and Pacini composed something like six numbers. The version given in Rome also included some self-borrowings from earlier operas. Most of these were removed when the work was given in Naples on Jan.21, 1822. But one duet by Pacini apparently remained. This is the cabaletta to the duet between Matilde and Aliprando in Act I (track19—Ah di veder gia parmi), which Pacini later used in his opera Il Corsaro (Rome, 1831), where it was used as the stretta to a terzetto. This terzetto was recorded in its entirety by Opera Rara as part of their CD “Paventa insano”, which consists of excerpts from unusual Mercadante and Pacini works.

After Naples, where it was performed as Bellezza e cuor di ferro, Matilde was given all over Europe under one of its three titles (the third being Corradino). Outside Europe, it was produced in Brazil, Algeria, Mexico, and the U.S. (NYC on Feb. 10, 1834). It continued to be given regularly until around 1850. Florence, however, heard it as late as 1892, after which it disappeared for over 80 years. It’s first post-World War II revival was in Genoa in 1974, when the original 1821 version with Pacini’s additions was given. It vanished again, only to be heard in its revised version in Pesaro in 1996. Bruce Ford was originally scheduled to sing the tenor role, but withdrew, and was replaced by Juan Diego Florez, making an auspicious Italian debut. It was later given in Bad Wildbad, and then for a second time in Pesaro in 2004 with Florez again singing Corradino and Annick Massis as Matilde . It is this performance that is presented by Decca Classics.

The plot has some unusual aspects, featuring a different type of hero, Corradino, who is a combination of petty tyrant and mysoginist. Corradino starts out hating just about everybody, especially women and poets, but winds up getting the girl in the end. She is a bit of a spitfire, with a ready answer for everything. In the finale of Act I, she charms Corradino out of everything except his pants. Other characters include Isidoro, a wacky poet, Aliprando, the castle physician, and Edoardo, the son of Raimondo who owns a neighboring castle and is on bad terms with Corradin, as well as the Contessa d’Arco, who has designs on Corradino herself. The Contessa manages to throw suspicion on our heroine in Act II by claiming that she had freed Edoardo and producing a forged letter. Corradino believes the Countess, sentences Matilde to death by being thrown off a cliff into the raging torrent below, and orders Isidoro to do the dirty deed. Isidoro soon returns to announce that Matilde is dead, after which Edoardo relates that his jailer had been bribed by the Countess to loosen his bonds. Corradino is horrified at the thought of having put to death an innocent woman, when, surprise of surprises, she turns up, very much alive, and all ends well.

The libretto of the revised version has relatively few arias and duets, but an unusually high number of ensembles. Thus, there are four major ensembles: a quartet for male voices, a quintet, a sextet, and a lengthy finale to the second act. Even the “love duet” for Matilde and Corradino, which is a part of the first act finale, becomes a quartet since two of the other characters are hiding behind some columns, and comment on the action. The hero and heroine have only one aria between them, that being Matilde’s rondo finale. On the other hand, Eduardo has two arias (one in each act), Isidoro has one and Aliprando has an extended solo, with the participation of the chorus in the introduction. Corradino did have an aria in the Rome version, but that was removed for Naples since it was a self-borrowing from another Rossini opera.

Both of the principal artists should be fairly familiar to collectors of 19th century operas. Annick Massis has recorded La dame blanche for EMI, several works for Opera Rara, including Meyerbeer’s Margherita d’Anjou, and participated in the previously mentioned CD of Mercadante and Pacini rarities. Juan Diego Florez is the leading exponent of Rossini’s light roles of the day, having also recorded Le Comte Ory and a DVD of the Barber of Seville, as well as several aria recitals. He is regarded by some as the finest tenore leggero of the recorded era, and is gifted with a brilliant top and great ability with coloratura. I am also very much impressed by the basso cantante Marco Vinco, and predict a bright future for him. Other fine relatively new singers in the recording include the mezzo Hadar Halevy who sings Edoardo and the buffo Bruno de Simone, the Isidoro of the recording.

I enjoyed this opera very much, and can recommend it to fans of Rossini and/or bel canto without hesitation.

Tom Kaufman © 2007

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Posted by Gary at 10:21 AM

DONIZETTI: Roberto Devereux

I’m still searching which small detail director Loy succeeded in highlighting in this modern production that otherwise would have escaped me in a traditional one. It takes less than a minute to realize the ridiculousness of it all. At the royal palace in London cleaners enter with Royal Cleaning Service in bold letters on their uniforms; probably for fear we would otherwise not have caught the originality of the concept. Soon after, all members of Parliament are looking into their own copy of The Sun, England’s popular tabloid well-known for its coverage of royals. Loy had a special edition of The Sun printed telling us on its front page: “Seducer returned” “Devereux is back”. From that moment on the story turns from ridiculous to risible. If one uses telling and realistic details, one asks the audience to accept the rest of the story as really possible as well. Therefore one is asked to believe that modern Parliament can condemn anyone to death and that the actual Queen Elizabeth is able to act without a single member of Her Majesty’s Government to be noted within hundreds of miles — a problem not existing in a traditional production as the real queen Elizabeth I not only reigned but governed as well.

To muddy the waters somewhat more Loy asks his prima donna to remove her red wig at the end revealing a few tufts of grey hair (a wig as well) which is quite compatible with the last days of the real Tudor Queen. This reviewer doesn’t like traditional productions per definition. Update if you want and if it is possible; but do it consequently and put some work in it. That means more than just putting singers in modern dress and having them read The Sun. That means replacing the historical names and even changing the words in the libretto. No modern Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham would dream of referring to Rosamunde (mistress of King Henry II and incidentally another opera by Donizetti) as most members of parliament wouldn’t know whom she was singing about. In a traditional production this is of course wholly acceptable as every nobleman in the 16th Century, and even every Italian opera lover of Donizetti’s time, knew who fair Rosamunde was. But this means new and unfashionably hard work and maybe madame Gruberova would refuse to sing a wholly new text.

Updating means too that one knows how to handle a chorus but the only solution Loy finds during most scenes consists of chorus members and soloists shaking hands and clapping each other on the back in the most dreadful old-fashioned way possible. And when the Duchess hands over the ring which can save Devereux’ life to the queen, this cannot be done standing but has the two ladies crawling as worms on the floor.

As could be expected one of the main Munich papers hailed the production as “an overwhelming chamber play with precise gestures and unflagging dramatic conviction”. Their reviewer probably has the necessary hamburger-mentality this writer lacks. Opera according to one of its modern prophets, one Robert Wilson, has to be savoured as a hamburger; layer for layer and not as a whole. So there needn’t be a straight relation between music, text, surtitles, costumes and sets as long as each element is fine on its own. Mr. Loy is fine apostle of this creed. Moreover, I admit freely he is a great entrepreneur. His productions of Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg and Hänsel und Gretel which I saw at De Munt and De Vlaamse opera were almost identical. Now that’s the right spirit, cashing in twice for the same idea.

Such a production cannot but diminish the musical aspects which is a sorry thing indeed . Gruberova was 59 at the time of recording (almost the exact age of queen Elizabeth when she had her fling with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and stepson of the great love of her life, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) and thus she has, probably involuntary, ‘le fysique du role’. She is less than a minute on the scene and she already sings a stunningly beautiful trill. Throughout she is in very good voice — lashing out when necessary and proving her technical mastery with a series of examples of ‘messa di voce’, trills and pearly coloratura. There is no hint of a wobble or breathiness. She, as the saying goes, sings better than most coloraturas twenty years younger. She only betrays her age by the one weakness she always gives in to: no one is clearly able to convince her to renounce a difficult not to be found in the score C or D at the end of a cabaletta, as nowadays these notes are mostly flat and, as a consequence, she somewhat spoils her magnificent arias in the first act and during the final scene.

Tenor Roberto Aronica sings better than I remember from his live performances. His is not the most sensuous sound, but it is a real Italian voice with a good metal core. He sings sensitively with fine diminuendi and good and strong high notes.

Albert Schagidullin has a strong and beautiful bass-baritone, reminding me of the noble sound of young Ettore Bastianini. He too knows how to phrase and it’s probably not his fault his Duke of Nottingham looks rather comic with his modern horse tail hair.

Jeanne Piland has a clear fine mezzo but looks as old as the Queen herself. It’s difficult to believe in Devereux’ passion.

Conductor Friedrich Haider proves his reputation as a singer’s conductor to be true. Everybody is clearly at ease though there is vitality in his reading. He also gives us the full score and that means two verses of the many cabalettas.

The picture quality is very high but there is a problem with synchronizing. No actual date of performance is given. We only learn there were performances on four days in May 2005. This DVD therefore was probably culled from several performances but in the editing things went wrong from time to time as there are several moments where singing and mouth positions do not correspond.

Jan Neckers

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Posted by Gary at 9:51 AM

TELEMANN: Komm Geist des Herrn — Late Cantatas

The emphasis on Bach has not yielded a static sense of the cantata, by any means, but I suspect that we have tended to see its dynamic changes within the boundaries of Bach’s career and not much beyond.

The present recording offers a compelling glimpse of the cantata in the years after Bach’s death with three cantatas by Telemann from the late 1750s and early 1760s, works written when Telemann was an old man in his eighties. If an old man, his style here has nevertheless moved with the times. The cantata’s mix of recitative, aria, duet, and chorale shows a degree of continuity with the earlier cantata, but the style, compared to the Bach cantatas, is decidedly different. Telemann’s late cantatas feature line and phrases that are smaller-scale and more focused on small motives; the music is less contrapuntal and arguably simpler. Those who complained of the unnaturalness of Bach may have found in this music a more agreeable vocabulary. And a distinctive difference, as well, is the relatively little amount that the choir is given to do—some chorale verses and a few short movements. The orchestral and vocal lines alike are often intricately ornamental, but it is an intricacy that graces rather than overwhelms.

The strongest link with the earlier and better known Bach works is surely the composer’s engagement of the meaning of the text. Telemann will give melismas of delight in association with words of joy, chromaticism and harmonic alteration for darker words and affections; he will harness the orchestration to special sound effect, as for instance, in the use of timpani where God’s voice thunders from Sinai; and his choral setting depicting an eerily quiet extinguishing of the stars at the Last Judgement is highly atmospheric.

There is much to like in the performances here. Ludger Rémy reveals a fine sense of style and his performers tend to respond in kind. The Telemann Collegium of Michaelstein plays with an infectious buoyance and grace, and the Chamber Choir of Michaelstein, in what little they have to do here, is nicely attuned to that buoyance, as well. Additionally, in their contrapuntal passages, the tidiness of their articulation is a particularly welcome stylistic plus. Of the soloists, both soprano Dorothee Mields and bass Ekkehard Abele are outstanding, with resonant sounds that yet remain focused and flexible, and impressive execution of ornamental sections. The soprano aria “Itzt steigt er” from Er kam, lobsingt ihm is an especially memorable chance to hear Mields’ effortless and alluringly pure tone. Tenor Knut Schoch shares in the articulative grace and focused sound of his colleagues, though on occasion there is a hint of force in the high range. Alto Elisabeth Graf sings expressively, but with an unusual tone, sometimes strident, sometimes forced, and sometimes sounding like unresonant falsetto.

That criticism aside, this is a recording that will amply gratify, both in its stylistic flair and in its exploration of the cantata after Bach. The exploration is a journey well taken, indeed, and Rémy and his forces prove to be congenial guides.

Steven Plank

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Telemann_Late_Cantatas.png image_description=Georg Philipp Telemann: Komm Geist des Herrn: Late Cantatas product=yes product_title=Georg Philipp Telemann: Komm Geist des Herrn — Late Cantatas product_by=Dorothee Mields, soprano; Elisabeth Graf, alto; Knut Schoch, tenor; Ekkehard Abele, bass; Kammerchor Michaelstein; Telemannisches Collegium Michaelstein; Ludger Rémy, Director product_id=CPO 777 064-2 [CD] price=$14.49 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=11975&name_role1=1&genre=90&bcorder=19&comp_id=210865
Posted by Gary at 9:16 AM

DONIZETTI: Linda di Chamounix

It is one of Donizetti’s best and can easily stand comparison with Bellini’s Sonnambula which has the favours of opera managers. The Donizettean melodies are tuneful, the ensembles impressive and the self-borrowing inconspicuous though for opera lovers acquainted with the same composer’s Maria Stuarda, it can be a shock to meet the impressive Elisabeth and choir scene once more at the end of the first act in Linda di Chamounix. In an interview the conductor of this set reveals the difficulties he had in setting up a concert performance while a theatrical one is almost impossible to get. The main reason seems to be the naïve libretto where the heroine becomes mad and is returned to sanity when she is reunited with her beloved (the same theme as in I Puritani which is regularly performed). I fear the real problem seems to be the sad fact that such a libretto (rich boy loves poor girl, is not allowed to marry her, she gets mad and is cured when his mama relents) doesn’t pass muster with directors as it seems to be old fashioned in their eyes (which it isn’t; think of the horror nowadays in the eyes of parents when their college educated boy would introduce a girl with elementary schooling and no money at all). As a result there are not too many Linda’s on record available and most of them are barbarously cut. Happily this set under review has only a few minor cuts; the major one a cut of only a few minutes in the second act duet between Linda and Carlo and I wonder why that one couldn’t be restored.

The cast is a good one. Indeed, it is even an excellent one though name fanciers will at first shrink back a bit as it seems a bunch of second rate singes were just rounded up to assist the prima donna in a performance on her own label. Though most of the singers didn’t make it to the big league as we can now be sure of 14 years later after the recording was made, they are all worthy performers. Take American tenor Don Bernardini. He is indeed a little bit throaty but the voice is agreeable an manly. He has a fine sense of style and is excellent in his duets where he proves he can embellish his second verses. Finish mezzo Monica Groop will be somewhat better known as an excellent Mozartean and she brings a mellifluous voice to the role of Pierotto and proves that the role is worthy of a good Dorabella. Korean baritone Ettore Kim was not 30 when he recorded his role of Antonio and the sound is attractive and very Italianate. And as he was already singing Jago and Scarpia at the time one wonders if he is not one of those many talented Korean singers who damaged their material by singing too early and too heavy. On this set his fine lyric baritone blends very well with Stefano Palatchi’s firm but charming bass and their duet is sung with elegance and panache. Of course the reason of being of the recording lies with Edita Gruberova and this seems to be one of her best ones. It is probably no coincidence that she chose Friedrich Haider to be the conductor. He is one who allows his prima donna some leeway; not objecting to some interpolated top notes and indeed encouraging her though in the essay accompanying the set he tells that some were eliminated as being not compatible with the preceding music. It is indeed remarkable that none of Gruberova’s lunges beyond high C strikes one as sorely sticking out. She clearly enjoys singing the score and brings her outstanding technique to it, trilling and embellishing wherever it is suitable and in character. Maybe the voice (on record, less in the theatre) has not enough natural vibrato and sounds a bit stiff but this may depend upon personal taste. Anyway the main hit of the opera ‘O luce di quest’anima’ is brilliantly sung and she is equally fine and convincing in the madness scene. Friedrich Haider, one of the few conductors who actually enjoys accompanying singers, brings his love for belcanto and the prima donna to the score though without overly indulging her. His baton never comes to a stand still and his tempi are chosen with a fine eye on the balance between dramatic truth and the singers wishes. [Refer to his fine performance of Roberto Devereux] As there are so few recordings of Linda di Chamounix available this is a worthy addition to the catalogue. The live performance at La Scala with Alfredo Kraus and Margherita Rinaldi is too heavily cut to be a competitor. Only the Devia-Canonici-set is a rival to the Gruberova recording and probably it will be one’s individual liking of the singers that decides which one to purchase.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Linda_di_Chamounix.png image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix product_by=Edita Gruberova (Linda), Don Bernardini (Carlo), Monika Groop (Pierotto), Ettore Kim (Antonio), Stefano Palatchi (Prefetto), Anders Melander (Marchese), Ulrka Precht (Maddalene), Klas Hedlund (Intendente). Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Friedrich Haider product_id=Nightingale Classics NC 070561-2 [3CDs] price=$45.49 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=3144&name_role1=1&comp_id=32792&genre=33&bcorder=195&label_id=1299
Posted by Gary at 9:02 AM

Große Opernchöre — Great Opera Choirs

The selection offered here is as diverse as the function of the chorus in the works represented, and this points to the demanding role the chorus has in this genre.

Audiences may be familiar with the version of Borodin’s “Polevtsian Dances” from Prince Igor in its orchestral form, but the music properly belongs to the chorus, who commands the stage for the quarter hour of this scene. As an opening number in this compilation, it is impressive for the stylistic demands placed on the ensemble, and the skill of the Stuttgart group offers a convincing reading of this work. Full of the exoticism found in modal passages, spare and unusual scorings, percussive interludes, and other sound effects. To these sounds the choral forces contribute their own particular colors as Borodin juxtaposed men’s and women’s voices, contrasted smaller ensembles with larger ones, and otherwise manipulated the chorus just as he deftly scored the orchestra.

Some of the choruses are well known enough to have taken on a life of their own, as is the case with the “Triumphal March” from Verdi’s Aida, and its performance here conveys majesty without ostentation. Schrottner offers a crisp reading and avoids indulging the cliches that can mar the piece. As with the excerpt from Prince Igor, Verdi scored the chorus with a variety of colors to suggest the various groups enslaved by the Egyptian pharaoh, and the vocal timbres that the Staatsopernchor brings to the piece are varied sufficiently to create such a sonic tableau.

Other choruses can be more atmospheric, as with the one from Pagliacci, “Andiam, andiam,” which often blends into the staging of Leoncavallo’s opera. Performed apart from Pagliacci, this chorus is effective by itself, and resembles in some ways the famous chorus from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana with its nuanced choral scene-painting. It is an excellent choice for a concert of opera choruses because of the rare occasions when this excerpt from Pagliacci is heard on its own. Likewise, it is a pleasure to encounter the chorus “Wo ist Moses?” from Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron on this recording. A satisfying excerpt on its own merits, its presence here calls attention to the role the chorus has in that opera. Similarly, the chorus of nymphs and shepherds from Monteverdi’s Orfeo is a fine choice, which represents some of the earliest efforts to include the chorus in the genre. Balancing some of the more familiar choral excerpts, these latter two are worth hearing separately, so that audiences can appreciate their character and which, in turn, adds to the depth of the operas to which each belongs.

Such ensembles can function as characters in their own rite, as with the chorus of exiles from Verdi’s Macbeth or the Russian people in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. With the latter, the Stuttgart chorus is highly effective in creating the dramatic tension required in the prologue. The famous “Coronation Scene” requires a strong chorus to set the scene, and this performance offers a fine reading of Mussorgsky’s score. Its dark colors reflect the Russian populace well, just as the lower female voices needed in the first-act “Witches’ Chorus” from Verdi’s Macbeth is appropriately dark in its execution. A well-known excerpt, it is a fine example that uses exclusively women’s voices.

The performance is exemplary, and the recording suggests studio quality, with audience and stages sounds virtually imperceptible. Yet after the last track, the enthusiastic applause shows that this was recorded live and benefitted from the dynamism that arises when an audience is present. The chorus involved certainly would know how to react to the situation, and they carry themselves with elan and intensity. As much as recordings of opera choruses can sometimes, blur, this particular recording contains some fine choices that are not often encountered.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Great_Opera_Choirs.png image_description=Große Opernchöre — Great Opera Choirs product=yes product_title=Große Opernchöre — Great Opera Choirs product_by=Staatsopernchor Stuttgart, Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Peter Schrottner, conductor product_id=Profil PH 04046 [CD] price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=145215
Posted by Gary at 7:55 AM

MAHLER: Symphony no. 6

A two-CD set with the first three movements on one disc and the Finale on the second, the release includes the world premiere recording of Hans Werner Henze’s Sebastian im Traum: Eine Salzburger Nachtmusik nach einer Dichtung von Georg Trakl (based on performances given on 22 and 23 December 2005). Despite the overt reliance on three of Trakls’ poems and the inclusion of the texts with the recording, it is a creative pairing with Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.

The latter work, Henze’s Sebastian im Traum is a three-movement symphonic work that lasts about fifteen minutes. While the material by Henze included in the liner notes does not quote the composer as making any direct connection with Mahler’s music or, specifically, his Sixth Symphony, it is difficult not to view Henze’s piece as influenced by Mahler’s symphonic style. Sebastian im Traum is an instrumental work stands between the explicit program implied in the texts and the abstract idiom denoted by the tempo markings in the movement titles, and in this sense it resembles the symphonies from which Mahler had withdrawn his programs and that are still discussed in terms of those connotative texts. Existing between those worlds of meaning, Henze’s work benefits from the references found in Trakl’s verse. The three poems suggest a coming to maturity, and awakening suggested by the setting in Spring at the celebration of Easter, and Henze reflects that perspective in the structure of his music. The style of the piece reflects the dissonant idiom Henze used in his other music, but the clearly defined thematic units and control of tension make the piece accessible. The allusion to Salzburg's night music in the subtitle adds a further connotation that brings up association with the lighter orchestral music of Mozart. Notwithstanding those references, the music merits attention on its own merits. In fact, the middle movement, a Scherzo-like piece, is perhaps the most intriguing for the various ideas Henze expresses in it, and its position at the heart of Sebastian suggests its place in the structure of this work. A fine example of new music, it is a work that merits repeated hearings.

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony has received attention in recent years for the lively discussion in various circles about the order of the inner two movements. Eveline Nikkels mentions this in the notes that accompany recording, and it is important to realize that such concern transcends opinion or preference, but speaks directly to the need for a clearer understanding of performance practice with Mahler’s music and a practical knowledge of source materials that can be used in preparing reliable editions for conductors like Mariss Jansons and others to used. Mahler intended to have the Scherzo precede the Andante movement, but changed the order for the premiere. However the first edition reflects his original thought, rather than the way he performed the throughout his lifetime and as found in the revised edition of the score. For various reasons, the critical edition has been problematic in not reflecting this, and only recently has a new edition been planned to reflect this. In the attempts to convey the order of movements that represents Mahler’s intention, it is important, too, to understand the composer’s conception of the work at other levels. In the various revisions that Mahler pursued after the completion of the fair copy, the publication of the music, and the revisions that resulted from the first performances, he attempted to make the written score express the musical thoughts that transcend mere notation. The notation is like the text of a play that talented directors take to the stage to make it come alive for new audiences, and conductors have the same responsibility to create the music anew with each performance. Mahler’s attention to detail should not be construed as obsessive in his pursuit of nuance, but a laudable effort to remove as much doubt as possible so that others can render the score with the musical intensity that the composer wanted.

That stated, Mariss Jansons offers a compelling reading of the first movement, with the driving, marchlike rhythm with which the piece opens not overpowering the thematic material that it underscores. Likewise, Jansons does not overplay the shift from the major to the minor mode melodramatically, and his understatement draws the listener closer to the passage. That effect supports a transition that some conductors force into a more overt separation of ideas. All in all, the lyrical qualities of the movement emerge quite clearly, without appearing out of place. It is reassuring to hear this movement performed with sensitivity not only to the loud and soft portions, but also to the crescendos and diminuendos that are part of the content, especially in the development section in which the interplay of ideas must occur to resolve when the recapitulation occurs. The recording quality is spacious enough to capture details like these that are essential to Mahler’s style and the interpretation of this complex movement.

With the Andante, the recording presents a very forward sound that brings the listener close to the sound. It is not so much loud, as immediate, as if the sound were recorded from the stage rather than the hall. Such an intimate perspective is not without some advantages, as it helps to clarify the details that Jansons brings out. The woodwinds in the first part of the movement are clear, but sometimes the horn sounds seem to overbalance the rest of the ensemble. Again, it may be from the recording technique, which seems to create a vivid sound that sometimes benefits from more distance. Nevertheless, Jansons gives the movement shape and direction, as he masters the entrances that should be anything but jarring. The dynamics levels are, perhaps, more vividly audible in this recording, and they support the structure of the work. Portamento is audible in the strings, and not elided; percussion remains balanced and supportive, with the cowbells prominent when necessary, but never overly so. Jansons captures the atmospheric character of the slow movement, with figuration from Mahler’s Rückert settings drawn out a bit, as if to call attention to the connections between the Lieder and this instrumental movement. Jansons bring the slow movement to a definite climax, and then allows the intensity to subside, audibly shaping the structure as he brings the movement to its conclusion. In giving such emphasis to the slow movement, Jansons brings out the classical form that Mahler used in this Symphony.

The Scherzo that follows – in the order that the composer performed the work and eventually published it – offers a contrastingly jarring mood. The character of the Scherzo offsets the weightier tone of the Andante that precedes it, and in this recording, the rich and full sounds of the slow movement are contrasted by the thinner, less sustained approach that Jansons uses in the Scherzo. The tempos allow the figuration to emerge clearly, and the articulations in the percussion and brass introduce an appropriately pointed character to the piece. As with the Andante, the percussion are clearly placed in Jansons’ sound structures, but never overly loud. As the movement develops, Jansons plays with with the tempos, allowing the thematic content to guide his fluid beat. The Scherzo may not be as driven as other conductors have taken it, and in doing so, Jansons draws out the character of the Scherzo in his interpretation of the movement.

In the Finale Jansons approaches the music with a pacing that gives the impression of being studied. Details become apparent in this interpretation, but the opening of the movement seems atmospheric without necessarily connecting the various theme groups together in the larger structure of the movement. As the movement proceeds, the tempo increases a bit, but the details of supporting lines, accompaniment figures, and various figurations sometimes fade from the balanced vision found in the opening measures. When contrasting sections occur the differences in tempo sometimes make them sound disconnected, rather than integrated in the Rondo-Finale structure that presumes a varied repetition that sets up the movement for its inevitable conclusion.

At some point, though, the question arises about the relationship between the movement order and the interpretation of the work. While the ultimate significance of the Sixth Symphony may not rest on the order of the Andante and Scherzo, the placement of those two movement is meaningful in the context of the perspective they offer each other in the overall structure of the work. Mahler was certainly sensitive to such considerations in other works, since he worked through various plans of movements for the Third Symphony, albeit in terms of finding a place for the song Das himmlische Leben, which he eventually jettisoned and used as the focal point of the Fourth Symphony. Yet even there, the relationship of movements preceding the Song-Finale was critical because of the thematic links that Mahler placed in the slow movement of the Fourth Symphony, and the erstwhile copyist’s error in placing the Scherzo before Das himmlische Leben would have detracted from the increasingly lengthy thematic links to the song. In this regard, the movement order in the Sixth operates at a different plane, but the character of the movements reflects larger structural concerns that Mahler wanted to express when he himself when he conducted the premiere. Such architectural concerns are especially important in live performances, where the dynamic situation in the concert places demands on the conductor to shape the work for the audience in lieu to bringing it to an effective presentation, including a convincing conclusion. With recordings, it can be otherwise, as when Barbirolli’s recording was adjusted for the release, and not as the conductor performed the work. A live performance of the work presumes a tension that is not effective when the movements are treated interchangeably, and this is critical not only for the present work but any music of Mahler or other composers who used similar structural techniques that affect the overall structure.

Yet with this recording, it is important to realize that it is distilled from several concerts. The title “RCO Live” suggests a concert recording, rather and one made in the studio, but when the Concertgebouw uses three performances to create the release suggests a sufficient amount of work in the studio to remove it from the realm of a live concert. Granted the quality of the recording relies on multiple performances, but the label “RCO Live” seems at odds with the efforts involved. That aside, it is difficult to dispute the quality of the recording, which is vibrant and demonstrates the caliber that this Orchestra continues to bring to its performances. Jansons should be commended for his interpretation of this complex score, and his record can stands alongside others. Like other works of commensurate gravity, this is a score that is best understand in the context of several recordings for the nuances various conductors bring to it, and Jansons’ new recording with the Concertgebouw, an ensemble that Mahler knew firsthand in his lifetime, is worthwhile choice to include with other fine performances of this complex work.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Mahler_6_Jansons.png image_description=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 6 product=yes product_title=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 6 product_by=Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mariss Jansons, Chief Conductor. product_id=RCO CD 06001 [2CDs] price=$21.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=133571
Posted by Gary at 7:26 AM

March 20, 2007

Munich Mussorgsky Revival Mixes Liturgy With Torture and Murder

Burchuladze2.png[Paata Burchuladze (Iwan Chowansky)]
By Shirley Apthorp [Bloomberg.com, 20 March 2007]

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- Things are getting rough on the stage of Munich's National Theater. Soldiers in bulky jackets and balaclavas tape corpses into body bags. Some swig vodka, others gaze vacantly into space. These are hardened men, cynics, still traumatized by what they have seen.

Posted by Gary at 6:28 PM

Teseo — Handel by the Sea

The opera house itself is a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean and, with the pale blue shallows merging into the proverbial “wine dark sea” of legend beyond, it didn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to envisage these waters carrying the ships of Theseus, Aegeus and Medea to their immortality. Helping this conceit along was the fact that this particular production designed by Gilbert Blin and conducted from the violin by Gilbert Bezzina pulled absolutely no punches in terms of the oft-maligned term “authentic”. If the great man himself had time-travelled from 1714 to 2007 and walked into the theatre as the curtain rose, he surely would have nodded approvingly at everything he saw beyond the footlights and, mostly, heard from the pit.

Make no mistake; this was very serious opera seria. From the painted clouds to the bewigged and silken-gowned protagonists, from the hand-shaken thunder machine to the monsters rolled on from the sides, this was as near to an authentic experience of baroque opera as might be achieved today. Its quaint charm - not to mention the gorgeous stuffs of the costumes - beguiled the eye at every turn. So much so in fact, that it was all too easy to almost ignore occasional vocal lapses that elsewhere in a starker, more real-politik, setting might have been more prominent.

These lapses were highlighted by the fact that in terms of even Handel’s soundscapes, Teseo is unusual. There is no bass or tenor role, and the characters are sung by sopranos (both male and female), mezzo-sopranos and, today, counter-tenors. When the mixed chorus including lower voices occasionally makes a vocal entrance it thus has a surprisingly sonorous effect. The mainly French speaking cast of principles are not widely known beyond western Europe: soprano Brigitte Hool as the heroine Agilea, who loves Teseo, the returning warrior to the court of King Egeo, was by far the most accomplished and appealing of voices on display with a nice line in delicate ornamentation, good diction and a charming stage personality. In contrast, the wicked-witch character of Medea, that epitome of woman-wronged and vengeful, sung by mezzo soprano Aurelia Legay, was anything but delicate – except in volume which was sadly lacking in the early Acts. By the fourth and fifth she seemed to have found her full voice, but a little late. Egeo, not a large role, was sung by the very experienced French counter-tenor Pascal Bertin who showed a real baroque feel for this music, if not exactly setting the stage alight with his vocalism. The “sub-plot” pair of lovers, so often used by Handel to fill out the stories and the score, were sung by soprano Valerie Gabail (Clitia) and young French counter-tenor Damien Guillon (Arcane). The latter was certainly the most exciting discovery of the performance with a firm vocal production, consistent through the range, and with true alto warmth with no hootiness or recourse to root voice. A young man to watch in this field. Of the principles, that leaves the title role, and here there was disappointment. Having heard male soprano Jacek Laszczowski sing this role in England last year, it was perturbing to hear his obvious vocal problems throughout this production. They seemed to centre on his inability to produce his male soprano effectively in the lower reaches of the recitatives and ariosi. The sounds produced then were not pleasant – in contrast to some of his arias where when he sang at the top of the staff and beyond and his voice produced both beautiful pianissimos and clarion fortes. Let us hope that this is a temporary situation.

Apart from the singers and costumes, much of the authentic feel of this production came from the musical support of the “Ensemble baroque de Nice” – one of the major baroque groups in southern France – ably if somewhat pedantically led from the violin by their Director, Gilbert Bezzina. One could not argue with his reading of the score, but his tempi sometimes dragged down an already-top-heavy (if only by the huge wigs) staging even more than was perhaps inevitable.

Sue Loder © 2007

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Bertin-Guillon-Hool.png image_description=Pascal Bertin, Damien Guillon and Brigitte Hool (Copyright Nice Opera) product=yes product_title=G. F. Handel: Teseo product_by=Opéra de Nice, 18 March 2007
Photo courtesy of Opéra de Nice
Posted by Gary at 6:16 PM

Das Gänsebuch (The Geesebook): German Medieval Chant

The manuscript, preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, derives its name from an internal illustration here reproduced on the cover of the CD-booklet. In the featured scene a group of geese singing in choir is assembled before a music-lectern upon which rests an open score. To this presumably liturgical musical piece a wolf points with his baton as he directs the geese in chant. Standing behind this choral group a fox is positioned in astute observation of the performance. The Gänsebuch’s commission has been traced to the church of St. Lorenz, although the masses included in the gradual were associated with parish churches of both St. Lorenz and St. Sebald in late medieval Nürnberg. Feast days in honor of specific saints or blessed figures who were of special importance to the city were incorporated in this extensive compilation, which also represents the larger context of the medieval Roman liturgy. As such, the Gänsebuch represents both local and more wide-ranging cultural traditions and has further been recognized as a significant document for theological, hagiographic, and musicological studies. For the present recording a selection of masses from the Gänsebuch has been chosen, some of which celebrate blessed figures whose official association with churches in Nürnberg was recognized only in the century or so before the commission of the book. These choral selections are performed in the style of traditional chant, indeed hearkening back to an earlier period. In order to underscore the late medieval intent of the performance, the masses are here interspersed with shorter hymns and liturgical selections by fifteenth- and sixteenth-century composers and here performed by the organist Matthias Ank. As a concluding band a brief performance features the famous bells of the Church of St. Lorenz.

The intricate mass for St. Sebaldus, included here in its world-premiere performance, makes evident the importance of this blessed figure in fifteenth-century Nürnberg especially after his official canonization in 1424. Most versions of the vita of Sebaldus locate his youth in Denmark where he was betrothed to a French princess. An early decision to renounce this potential union and to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome marks the beginning of a series of miracles associated with Sebaldus both during and after his life. A selection of these is narrated in the present mass especially in the Sequentia after the introduction of Sebaldus in the “Alleluia.” As the liturgical order is here presented, an intricate alternation of male and female choral parts is used as a structural device in the six parts from Introit to Communion. The actual narration of the “Vita Sebaldii” proceeds in the fourth division of the mass, or Sequentia, as a relatively unadorned declamation. In opposition to the regular rhythmic patterns in this narrative part of the mass, those symbolic associations connecting the blessedness of Sebaldus and the divinity are performed with much greater decorative emphasis. Before the citation of Sebaldus’s name in the Alleluia, the Gradual of the mass features the phrase “Lex Dei … in corde ipsius” (“the law of God resides in his heart”). The phrase is performed by male chorus with an extended, and here skillfully performed, melisma on the words describing the heart of Sebaldus. Likewise in the Offertorium a female chorus recites the symbolic phrase “in capite eius coronam de lapide pretioso”(“upon his head a crown of precious stones”) with significant decoration in contrast to the actual vita. The performance by Schola Hungarica emphasizes the inner, spiritual beauty of Sebaldus as an exemplary figure. Corporeal symbols are thus performed here as a magnification of internal sanctity. In consequence, the events of his life and death are given credence, such as the narration of his post-mortem transportation by oxen to a chosen spot in Nürnberg. According to legend and the text of the present mass, the animals refuse to move further until the designated area is declared as hallowed ground. The Church of St. Sebaldus was allegedly erected later in this very location.

In the mass from the Gänsebuch dedicated to St. Martha aspects of her vita are integrated throughout all the individual segments. Already in the Introit and the Gradual Martha is named and her legendary encounter with a serpent is noted. By contrast, the actual narrative of the deeds of Sebaldus in his corresponding dedicatory mass begins only in the Alleluia and the Sequentia. The bipartite nature of legends surrounding the figure of Martha, and the attempts to integrate both traditions into the service here presented, could explain the more expansive treatment of the saint in her titular mass. As mentioned in the Gospel of John, Martha is identified as the sister of Lazarus and Mary. In their home in Bethany Martha serves the supper during which the feet of Christ are anointed by Mary. The behavior of Martha here would explain domestic associations with the saint, just as she had gone out to welcome Christ when His arrival in Bethany was made known earlier in John’s Gospel. Her attributes in this report include both a ladle, or similar kitchen tool, and a set of keys, in either case indicating associations with the home. An alternate legend associated with Martha locates her together with Lazarus and Mary in a boat which lands at Marseilles. Since this journey occurs after the death of Christ, it is generally associated with Martha’s contribution to spreading the new belief. After leaving the boat, Martha frees the people of Aix from the repeated attacks of a dragon and converts them simultaneously to Christianity. She was allegedly able to defeat the beast by holding forth a cross or by sprinkling it with consecrated water. Both symbols are reckoned as attributes of Martha in this version of her legend, in addition to her depiction with a dragon in a tamed or defeated pose. Such associations of Martha with physical and spiritual strength are featured in the Introit of the Gänsebuch mass: here a chain or girdle, with which Martha bound the dragon, is related to her personal commitment to the sign of the cross. The succeeding parts of the mass alternate between both versions of Martha’s legendary nature, signifying either domesticity or spiritual power. After reference to the dragon’s fury in the Introit, both divisions of the mass which follow immediately, the Gradual and the Alleluia, highlight Martha’s skills at hospitality. In the performance by Schola Hungarica these are assigned for the Gradual to a male and for the Alleluia to a female choral group. In the first of these two parts Martha’s solitary duty is emphasized by the choral decoration extended on the word “solam” in the phrase “soror mea reliquit me solam ministrare” (“my sister leaves me alone to serve”). The Alleluia features similar melismatic decoration of the names Martha and Mariae Filio, Son of Mary. Here Martha’s hospitality to welcome Christ in her home is a precursor to the future joy that she will sense when welcomed by Christ in heaven. The female chorus in this performance expresses the ideal mutual exchange of domestic welcome as a symmetrical effect in both worlds.

Other pieces chosen from the Gänsebuch for this rich sampling by Schola Hungarica give a picture of late medieval religious culture in central and southern Germany. As an example, the Mass for the Holy Lance and the Nails, originating at the court of Emperor Charles IV in the fourteenth century, survives as one of the most significant religious feast days in fifteenth-century Nürnberg. Its premiere recording here leaves open the welcome prospect for future attention to the specific mass, its liturgical and cultural importance, and its potential relation to other religious celebrations in the late Middle Ages.

Salvatore Calomino

Madison, Wisconsin

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Posted by Gary at 6:03 PM

PAISIELLO: Gli Astrologi immaginari

I don’t even know if that performance is complete. Maybe it’s not as this new Bongiovanni issue states “prima esecuzione integrale in tempi moderni”. Anyway, the Empress Catherine II (also known as the Great) immediately and enthusiastically endorsed the music at its première in St-Petersburg where Paisiello was chapel-master for several years at her court. He had already composed four operas when he asked for a salary increase and he argued that he at least was as good a composer as one of his predecessors (Baldassare Galuppi) had been and so should get the same amount of money. Catherine granted Paisiello his wish and lo and behold his inspiration was mightily stimulated. In three weeks time he composed this small masterpiece. There is a second reason we ought to be grateful to the great Catherine. Paisiello could be a little bit tedious as is proven by his Il Barbiere di Siviglia where a few times the inspiration runs dry. The Empress asked for an entertainment that wouldn’t last for eternity; and Paisiello limited himself to two acts and one hour and a half of music. The opera was regularly repeated for the Empress and soon found its way to Italy, France and Germany. The mature Mozart even used one of Giuliano’s arias to compose ‘Sechs Variationen in F über die arie Salve tu, Domine’ (KV 398). High praise indeed from the master and I’m sure that anyone unknowingly hearing the score will attribute it to the young Mozart of La finta giardiniera. The music is charming and even more melodious than some early operas of the master of Salzburg. I caught myself humming a few phrases after a first listening and I’ve got a feeling the Empress Catherine probably had the same reaction after the first performance.

If there is a small problem, it lies with some of the singers as the conducting is lively and brings out the strong points of the score. Stefania Donzelli who has a lot of arias and duets to sing sounds very convincing but the voice is a bit too harsh, too steely in the old Italian provincial custom of the leggiero. It has the necessary kittenishness but lacks warmth and sweetness. Kathy Battle would have been ideal in the role. Tiziana Spagnoletta has a vibrato which will not please many Anglo-Saxon listeners; indeed eve for Mediterranean ears it is probably too intruding. The men are better. Mauro Utzeri sings with authority though he is not too fluent in his coloratura and I presume Montarsolo did better in this music. Donato Di Gioia (the higher baritone of the two men) doesn’t put a foot wrong though his voice is less attractive. If you like young Mozart you will be agreeably surprised by this issue.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/gli_astrologi.png image_description=Giovanni Paisiello: Gli Astrologi immaginari product=yes product_title=Giovanni Paisiello: Gli Astrologi immaginari product_by=Mauro Utzeri (Petronio), Stefania Donzelli (Clarice), Tiziana Spagnoletta Cassandra), Donato Di Gioia (Giuliano Tiburla). Orchestra da Camera Giovanni Paisiello conducted by Lorenzo Fico. Recorded Live on November the 10th 2004 Teatro Orfeo Taranto product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2406/7 – 2 [2CDs] price=$34.98 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=9068&name_role1=1&comp_id=85852&bcorder=15&label_id=290
Posted by Gary at 4:36 PM

March 19, 2007

Sing Like An Egyptian

Damrau_Tanja_Niemann.png(Photo: Tanja Niemann)
BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 19 March 2007]

In the middle of the 1920s, Richard Strauss composed "The Egyptian Helen," along with Hugo von Hofmannsthal, his trusty librettist. In 1928, this work had a staging at the Metropolitan Opera, with the glamorous Maria Jeritza in the title role. She appeared on the cover of Time magazine. From 1928 till last Thursday night, the opera was not heard at the Met. And when it came back, we had Deborah Voigt singing Helen, in a production by the Englishman David Fielding.

Posted by Gary at 9:40 PM

Angela Gheorghiu, Los Angeles

The soprano delivered on the glamour big-time, with three gowns, glittering jewelry, and a happy, even flirty manner. She sang beautifully too, if without the total captivation of her physical presence.

French music comprised the first half of the evening, with Eugene Kohn leading the orchestra in a bumptious “Rakoczy March” from Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust. The musicians seemed to need more warming up than the vocalist; the horns in particular struggled, possibly due to their recent exertions with the LAO’s run of Tannhäuser.

Gheorghiu swept on in flaming red, and the ovation that greeted her spoke to the impression she made with local audiences in her previous appearances with the company, as Nedda and Mimi. She launched into the so-called “Jewel song” from Faust, a number that spotlights her easy, bright top. Next was the program’s one rarity, “Pleurez, pleurez, mes Yeux,” from Massenet’s El Cid. Though not the composer’s most memorable tune, the piece has enough dramatic crescendos and darker passages to contrast well with the Gounod aria. After a gown change and the orchestra’s tepid run-through of the Béatrice et Bénédict overture, Ms. Gheorghiu reappeared and sang a tender “Adieu, notre petite table.” The first half ended with Ms. Gheoghiu’s somewhat controversial essay into Carmen, but for a recital, her “Habañera” succeeded wonderfully. She took a light-hearted approach, playful more than siren-ish, and the aria’s range seemed to suit her well.

The second half went to Italian composers, with Kohn choosing the Mascagni overture to Le Maschere, an unsubtle but fun piece. Gheorghiu’s Puccini Manon had a real poignance in “In quelle trine morbide.” Then she offered one of her specialities, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” another opportunity to display her lovely top notes. She left for another gown change, and Kohn led the orchestra, finally sounding like the excellent group that has played for James Conlon recently, in Verdi’s overture to Les Vêpres Siciliennes. Now clad in glamorous black, with a sort of spider web motif, Gheorghiu sang Forza’s “Pace, pace, mio dio” and closed the second half with “Un bel di.”

These last two pointed up the relatively soft volume of Gheorghiu’s middle voice. She can be heard, even in a larger hall such as the Chandler, but it is not until the vocal line takes her higher that the voice has real force. Nevertheless, this listener would not trade the warm textures of her middle voice for a pushed sound.

So a rapturous audience called Ms. Gheorghiu back for several encores. Ironically, it was in the Lerner-Loewe “I Could have Danced All Night” that Ms Gheorghiu’s softer approach teased the ears a bit too much, but her irresistible delight in performing the song could not be denied. She treated the crowd as well to a Romanian song, to “Granada” and Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro,” and finally to “Non ti scordar di me.” She then grasped the first violinist by the hand, and led the musicians off the stage.

A delightful evening, but one that might have left some listeners eager for some heavier fare. Perhaps on her next visit, Ms. Gheorghiu will offer a program of more challenge. And one gown will do fine.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Angela_Gheorghiu.png image_description=Angela Gheorghiu product=yes product_title=Angela Gheorghiu in Recital product_by=Los Angeles, 17 March 2007
Posted by Gary at 9:26 PM

The Tempest at Covent Garden

There are also commemoratives in Paris and Oslo. This revival of the Tempest was almost completely sold out : in short, Adés most certainly has arrived in the mainstream.

Much of the appeal of this opera must lie in its sumptuous, spectacular staging. Bathed in jewel-coloured light, it evokes the sense of fantasy and unreality that is central to the plot. The eye is seduced by this fabulous magic, and the ear responds. The dischordant, difficult music doesn’t seem nearly as raw in the context of such beauty. This music may be modern but it’s based on a very traditional premise: that is should be dramatic. It most certainly is exciting — the overture that depicts the demonic storm teems with trumpet alarums, crashing cymbals and drum rolls. It’s so busy that it’s quite a shock to hear the words “Hell is empty”.

Cyndia Sieden’s Ariel is emblematic. Her image, swathed in luminescent neon green and black will be forever associated with the opera, however many future productions it receives. Her role is far more crucial to the action than the somewhat under-developed other characters. Ariel symbolises the elusive and quite unsettling magic on this bizarre island. Above all, she has the most unusual music. Its tessitura is cruelly high, and really does seem written for a non-human elemental. Few singers could manage this, and for hours at a time, and still act with complete charisma. This role will immortalise Sieden, for it won’t be easy to improve on.

Similar torture is inflicted on the other vocal parts, so much so that, despite their familiarity with this opera, even experienced singers like Philip Langridge and Simon Keenlyside were stretched by extremely high pitches, often reached by swoops upwards from the lower register. This is no criticism. The writing is completely counter-intuitive to “normal” vocal practice, for it imposes choppy, angular rhythms on syntax, breaking up what might be “normal” vocal lines. There may be duets and arias and set ensembles, here, but they serve as an extension of the orchestral writing, rather than being vocal star turns in themselves. Perhaps that’s the rationale behind the libretto, which is, frankly, ugly and facetious. Maybe we’re being asked to forget the words and listen instead to their musical effect. Alas, I’m not sure this is the case as there are supposedly clever jokes written in to lighten the atmosphere. In any case, the extreme demands on the singers meant that diction took second place to simply getting the notes right. This was less of a problem than might be expected, because musical logic here was antithetical to the text : meaning for the most part was conveyed through voice as used a supra-musical instrument, rather than through what was being sung. Adés himself conducted, so the reading was electric.

Luckily, Adés has given some of the best music to semi-abstract vocalise. Most people know the words to “Full Fathoms Five”, so Sieden’s incredibly long, high legato transcended text altogether, literally creating a “sea-change, into something rich and strange”. Particularly lustrous string writing gave way to simple, but poignant single triangle, evoking the distant bells. It really was a moment of wonder.

Keenlyside, as Prospero, and Langridge, as the King of Naples, characterised their parts well. Sadly, in this score, Miranda and Ferdinand are fairly wooden caricatures, without much depth. Spence spiced his singing with vivid nuance. Royal merely had to look beautiful. The genres, too, were well played, and the chorus was remarkably precise, in true Covent Garden tradition. Apart from Sieden, the revelation of the evening was Bostridge’s Caliban. In recital, Bostridge can be unpredictable, but in opera, when he’s consciously playing a “part”, his inhibitions evaporate. Here, he inhabited Caliban instinctively, creating him as a complex, sympathetic and deeply interesting figure. Now there’s a subject for an opera…? Vocal pyrotechnics and emotional range come naturally to Bostridge, inspiring great things from Hans-Werner Henze.

Should I have given the impression I didn’t like this opera, that isn’t the case. I learned it initially without having seen it in production, so my approach is accordingly influenced by it “as music”. This remarkable, atmospheric performance illuminated it for me immeasurably. This production has already been mounted in Strasbourg, and Copenhagen. Don’t miss it if you get a chance.

© Anne Ozorio 2007

image=http://www.operatoday.com/tempest_38.png image_description=The Tempest, ROH product=yes product_title=Thomas Adés: The Tempest product_by=Royal Opera House, London, 15th March 2007
Posted by Gary at 9:06 PM

March 18, 2007

BOITO: Mefistofele

First performance: 5 March 1868 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan (second version: 4 October 1875 at Teatro Comunale, Bologna)

Principal Characters
Mefistofele Bass
Faust Tenor
Margherita Soprano
Marta Alto
Wagner Tenor
Elena Soprano
Pantalis Alto
Nereo Tenor

Prologue

In Heaven Mefistofele offers God a wager: he says that he can succeed in seducing the learned Faust onto the paths of evil and that he will gain possession of his soul. God accepts.

Act I

Mefistofele travels to Frankfurt disguised as a Franciscan monk. He enters Faust’s study and convinces him to sign a contract.

Act II

Mefistofele and Faust are in a garden with Margherita and Marta, her neighbour. Faust converses with Margherita and seduces her. To prevent their being disturbed, he gives Margherita a powerful sleeping-draught for her mother. Mefistofele and Faust travel to a witches’ sabbath on a mountain top. Faust beholds a vision of Margherita, pale as death with a blood-red rope around her neck. He hears Mefistofele's curse upon the world.

Act III

Margherita is in prison awaiting her execution. She has been accused of having killed her child and poisoned her mother. Faust attempts to convince her to flee with him, but she refuses. She recognises Mefistofele as the devil and prays for forgiveness. Choirs of angels announce the salvation of her soul.

Act IV

On the banks of the Peneios in ancient Greece, young girls perform a dance in honour of the full moon. Helen of Troy and her companion Pantalis lament the fate of Troy. Mefistofele and Faust appear. Faust professes his love for Helen and they withdraw to a cave.

Epilogue

Faust sits in his study in Frankfurt. He has grown old and thinks back upon all he has experienced. He realises that his life has been mere vanity. He dies with the Bible in his hand, without giving in to the last temptations sent by Mefistofele. Faust is welcomed by the angelic host into Heaven.

Click here for the complete libretto. image=http://www.operatoday.com/Arrigo_Boito.png image_description=Arrigo Boito audio=yes first_audio_name=Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele
Windows Media Player first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Mefistofele2.wax second_audio_name=Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele
WinAMP or VLC second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Mefistofele2.m3u product=yes product_title=Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele product_by=Nazzareno De Angelis (Mefistofele), Antonio Melandri (Faust), Mafaldo Favero (Margherita), Giannina Arangi-Lombardi (Elena), Ida Mannarini (Marta), Giuseppe Nessi (Wagner), Rita Monticone (Pantalis), Emilio Venturini (Nereo), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Lorenzo Molajoli (cond.)
Recorded 1929
Posted by Gary at 8:36 PM

A soprano spreads her wings

Nash_Rebecca.pngChitra Ramaswamy [Scotsman, 18 March 2007]

SOPRANO Rebecca Nash is talking about the first time she heard an opera. Nash grew up in Melbourne and her mother owned an old vinyl recording of the highlights from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Whenever Nash returned from school, it would be blasting out of the house. "I remember coming home and thinking 'Oh God, Mum's playing that annoying thing again,'" she says. "Then one day she sat me down and told me the story of Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton and I just felt a connection. Not long after that, my mum arrived home to find me playing it at full volume instead."

Posted by Gary at 10:24 AM

Historic opera makes plea for tolerance

halevy.pngBy Rebecca Assoun [European Jewish Press, 18 March 2007]

PARIS (EJP)--- "La Juive" (The Jewess), a renowned 19th-century opera by French composer Halévy is currently on show in Paris.

Created in 1835, “The Jewess” marked a whole generation of French musicians and drew praise from masters such as Wagner and Berlioz.

The 19th-century composer and music teacher Jacques Fromental Halévy was is the author of numerous works, including 22 operas that went on stage in Paris. He is best known for his monumental opera, “The Jewess”, which received wide acclaim in Paris.

Posted by Gary at 10:10 AM

The Tempest, Royal Opera House, London

Tempest.pngBy Anna Picard [Independent, 18 March 2007]

Three years ago, intoxicated and frustrated in equal measure by the Covent Garden premiere of The Tempest, I wrote optimistically of a day when Thomas Adès would present a more polished and consistently brilliant version of his second opera.

Posted by Gary at 10:01 AM

That Face of Beauty, the Chaos It Creates

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 17 March 2007]

If a concert pianist wants to champion an overlooked work, all he needs to do is to program it on a recital tour. But if a leading soprano wants to perform a challenging role in a little-known opera, she needs an entire opera company to mount the work, with all the money, time and risk such a commitment entails.

Posted by Gary at 9:54 AM

A ‘Barber' Debut for DiDonato

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 16 March 2007]

In November 2005, a mezzo-soprano made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro." It was one of those debuts we describe as "sensational." The world is lucky enough to have several excellent Cherubinos at the moment, but, even in this group, the singer onstage that night stood out. She was Joyce DiDonato, from Kansas. She was accurate, stylish, and loaded with personality. In brief, she delivered all the operatic goods.

Posted by Gary at 9:49 AM

Dido and Aeneas, Sadler’s Wells, London

Dido.pngBy Gerald Dowler [Financial Times, 15 March 2007]

German Tanztheater, a huge water tank, outlandish costuming, nudity and mime – expectations were running high for Sasha Waltz and Guests in their reading of Purcell’s 1689 masterpiece. You had to forget the huge water tank, which, according to the programme, is supposed to represent Troy . . . no, I don’t see it either.

Posted by Gary at 8:53 AM

March 15, 2007

Imelda de’Lambertazzi, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 15 March 2007]

It used to be assumed that because Donizetti had composed so many operas – his nickname was “Dozzinetti”, man of the dozen – only a handful could withstand serious consideration. That view is looking increasingly suspect, thanks to a recent surge of recordings, revivals and research.

Posted by Gary at 9:17 AM

Imelda de’ Lambertazzi

Hilary Finch [Times Online, 14 March 2007]

Do you like your Donizetti rare, or well done? Well, when Opera Rara joins forces with Mark Elder and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment you relish it both ways at once.

Posted by Gary at 7:26 AM

"Figaro" in Zürich: Revolution, Kind der Komödie

Figaro_Zurich.png{Malin Hartelius, Erwin Schrott, Martina Janková (Photo: Opernhaus Zürich)}
Wilhelm Sinkovicz [Die Presse, 12 March 2007]

Franz Welser-Möst und Sven-Eric Bechtolf gelang eine aufregende Neudeutung von Mozarts Meisterwerk aus dem Geiste des Ensemblegedankens.

Es gibt noch so etwas wie Ensemblegeist in der Opernwelt. Zumindest in Zürich. Dort hat sich über die Jahre hin ein junges Sängerteam um den Generalmusikdirektor Franz Welser-Möst geschart, das sich in unterschiedlichsten Stücken der Repertoires als verschworene Künstlergemeinschaft bewährt. Aufführungen von heute sonst kaum erreichter Geschlossenheit sind das Ergebnis einfühlsamer Aufbauarbeit. Wo sonst als bei Mozart sollte sich das in idealer Weise offenbaren? Die „Figaro“-Premiere am vergangenen Sonntag gelang denn auch auf international kaum egalisierbarem Niveau.

Posted by Gary at 6:44 AM

March 14, 2007

PONCHIELLI: La Gioconda

First Performance: 8 April 1876 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

Principal Characters:
La Gioconda, a singer Soprano
Laura Adorno, a Genoese lady Mezzo-Soprano
Alvise Badoero, a member of the Inquisition and husband of Laura Bass
La Cieca, Gioconda's mother Contralto
Enzo Grimaldi, a Genoese prince disguised as a sea captain Tenor
Barnaba, a spy for the Inquisition disguised as a singer Baritone
Zuàne, a competitor in the Regatta Bass
A Singer Bass
Isèpo, a public scrivener Tenor
A Pilot Bass

Setting: Venice, 17th Century.

Synopsis:

Act I ["The Lion’s Mouth"]

Grand courtyard of the Ducal palace, decorated for festivities. At back, the Giant’s Stairway, and the Portico della carta, with a doorway leading to the interior of St. Mark's Church. On the left, the table of a public letter-writer. On the right, one of the historic Lion’s Mouths, with the following inscription cut into the wall in black letters:

FOR SECRET DENUNCIATIONS TO THE INQUISITION AGAINST ANY PERSON, WITH IMPUNITY, SECRECY, AND BENEFIT TO THE STATE.

It is a splendid afternoon in spring. The stage is filled with holiday-makers, monks, sailors, shipwrights, masquers, etc., and amid the busy crowd are seen some Dalmatians and Moors.

Barnaba, leaning his back against a column, is watching the people. He has a small guitar, slung around his neck.

The populace gaily sings, "Feste e pane" (Sports and feasting). They dash away to watch the regatta, when Barnaba, coming forward, announces that it is about to begin. He watches them disdainfully. "Above their graves they are dancing!" he exclaims. Gioconda leads in La Cieca, her blind mother. There is a tender duet between them: "Figlia, che reggi il tremulo" (Daughter, in thee my faltering steps).

Barnaba is in love with the ballad singer, who has several times repulsed him. She is in love with Enzo, a nobleman who has been proscribed by the Venetian authorities, but is in the city in the disguise of a sea captain. His ship lies in the Fusina Lagoon.

Barnaba again presses his love upon the girl. She escapes from his grasp and runs away, leaving her mother seated by the church door. Barnaba is eager to get La Cieca into his power in order to compel Gioconda to yield to his sinister desires. An opportunity soon arises. For, when the regatta is over, the crowd returns, bearing the victor in triumph. With them enter Zuane, the defeated contestant, Gioconda, and Enzo. Barnaba subtly insinuates to Zuane that La Cieca is a witch, who caused his defeat by sorcery. The report quickly spreads and the populace becomes excited. La Cieca is seized and dragged from the church steps. Enzo calls upon his sailors, who are in the crowd, to aid him in saving her.

At the moment of greatest commotion the palace doors swing open, revealing Alvise and his wife Laura, who is masked. Alvise sternly commands an end to the rioting, then descends the stairs with Laura.

Barnaba, with the keenness that is his as chief spy of the Inquisition, observes that, through her mask, Laura is gazing intently at Enzo, and that Enzo, in spite of Laura’s mask, appears to have recognized her and to be deeply affected by her presence. Gioconda kneels before Alvise and prays for mercy for her mother. When Laura also intercedes for La Cieca, Alvise immediately orders her freed. In one of the most expressive airs of the opera, "Voce di donna, o d’angelo" (Voice of woman, or of angel), La Cieca thanks Laura and gives her a rosary, at the same time extending her hands over her in blessing. She also asks her name. Alvise’s wife, still masked, and looking significantly in the direction of Enzo, answers, "Laura!"

"’Tis she!" exclaims Enzo.

Everyone, save Barnaba and Enzo, enters the church. The observant Barnaba has seen through Enzo's disguise as a sea captain and addresses him by his name and title, "Enzo Grimaldo, Prince of Santa Fior." He reveals the whole story: Enzo and Laura were betrothed, then separated, and Laura forced to wed Alvise. Though neither had seen the other again since the meeting a few moments before, their passion still is as strong as ever. Barnaba cynically explains that in order to obtain Gioconda for himself, he wishes to show her how false Enzo is, and promises him that he will arrange for Laura, on that night, to be aboard Enzo’s vessel, ready to escape with him to sea.

Enzo departs. Barnaba summons one of his tools, Isepo, the public letter-writer, whose stand is near the Lion’s Mouth. At that moment Gioconda and La Cieca emerge from the church, and Gioconda, seeing Barnaba, hides with her mother behind a column. She overhears the spy dictate a letter to Isepo, informing an unspecified person that his wife plans to elope that evening with Enzo. Having thus learned that Enzo no longer loves her, Gioconda vanishes with her mother into the church. Barnaba drops the letter into the Lion’s Mouth. Isepo goes. The spy, as keen in intellect as he is cruel and unrelenting in action, addresses in soliloquy the Doge’s palace. "O monumento! Regia e bolgia dogale!" (O monument, palace and den of the Doges).

The masquers and populace return, singing and dancing "La Furlana." In the church a monk and then the chorus chant. Gioconda and her mother come out. Gioconda laments that Enzo has forsaken her. La Cieca seeks to comfort her. In the church the chanting continues.

Act II ["The Rosary"]

Night. A brigantine, showing its starboard side. In front, the deserted bank of an uninhabited island in the Fusina Lagoon. In the farthest distance, the sky and the lagoon. A few stars visible. On the right, a cloud and a rising moon. In front, a small altar of the Virgin, lit by a red lamp. The name of the brigantine -- "Hecate" -- painted on the prow. Lanterns on the deck.

At the rising of the curtain sailors are discovered; some seated on the deck, others standing in groups, each with a speaking trumpet. Several cabin boys are seen, some clinging to the shrouds, some seated. Remaining thus grouped they sing a Marinaresca, in part a sea-chanty in part a regular melody.

In a boat Barnaba and Isepo appear, disguised as fishermen. Barnaba sings a fisherman’s ballad, "Ah! Pescator, affonda l’esca" (Ah, fisherman, lower the net).

He has set his net for Enzo and Laura, as well as for Gioconda, as his words, "Some sweet siren, while you’re drifting, in your net will coyly hide," imply. The song falls weirdly upon the night. The scene is full of "atmosphere."

Enzo comes up on deck and gives a few orders; the crew go below. He then sings the famous "Cielo! e mar!" (O sky, and sea) -- an impassioned voicing of his love for Laura, whom he awaits. The scene, the moon having emerged from behind a bank of clouds, is of great beauty.

A boat approaches. In it Barnaba brings Laura to Enzo. There is a rapturous greeting. They are to sail away as soon as the setting of the moon will enable the ship to depart undetected. There is distant singing. Enzo goes below. Laura kneels before the shrine and prays, "Stella del mariner! Vergine santa!" (Star of the mariner! Virgin most holy).

Gioconda steals on board and confronts her rival. The duet between the two women, who love Enzo, and in which each defies the other, "L’amo come il fulgor del creato" (I adore him as the light of creation), is the most dramatic aria in the score.

Gioconda is about to stab Laura, but stops suddenly and, seizing her with one hand, points with the other out over the lagoon, where a boat bearing Alvise and his armed followers is seen approaching. Laura implores the Virgin for aid. In doing so she lifts up the rosary given to her by La Cieca. Through it Gioconda recognizes in Laura the masked lady who saved her mother from the vengeance of the mob. Swiftly the girl summons the boat of two friendly boatmen who have brought her tinder, and bids Laura to escape. When Barnaba enters, his prey has evaded him. Gioconda has saved her. Barnaba hurries back to Alvise’s galley, and, pointing to the fugitive boat in the distance, bids the galley start in pursuit.

Enzo comes on deck. Instead of Laura he finds Gioconda. There is a dramatic scene between them. Venetian galleys are seen approaching. Rather than allowing his vessel to be captured, Enzo sets fire to it.

Act III ["The House of Gold"]

A room in Alvise’s house. Alvise sings of the vengeance he will wreak upon Laura for her betrayal of his honour. "Si! morir ella de’" (Yes, to die is her doom).

He summons Laura. Nocturnal serenaders are heard singing offstage, as they travel in gondolas along the canal. Alvise draws a curtain and reveals a funeral bier erected in the next chamber. He hands Laura a vial of quick-acting poison, telling her to drink it before the serenaders sing their last note. He will leave the room, and when the song ends, he will return to find her dead.

When he has gone, Gioconda, who, anticipating the fate that might befall the woman who saved her mother, has been in hiding in the palace, hastens to Laura, and hands her a flask containing a narcotic that will create the semblance of death. Laura drinks it, and disappears through the curtains into the funeral chamber. Gioconda pours the poison from the vial into her own flask, and leaves the empty vial on the table.

The serenade ends. Alvise re-entering, sees the empty vial on the table. He enters the funeral apartment for a brief moment. Laura is lying, seemingly dead, upon the bier. He believes that he has been obeyed and that Laura has drained the vial of poison.

The scene changes to a great hall in Alvise’s house, where he is receiving his guests. Here occurs the "Dance of the Hours," a ballet suite which, in costume changes, light effects and choreography represents the hours of dawn, day, evening, and night. It is also intended to symbolize the eternal struggle between the powers of darkness and light.

Barnaba enters dragging La Cieca, whom he has found concealed in the house. Enzo also has managed to gain admittance. La Cieca, questioned as to her purpose in the House of Gold, answers, "For her, just dead, I prayed." A hush falls upon the fête. The passing bell for the dead is heard slowly tolling. "For whom?" asks Enzo of Barnaba. "For Laura," is the reply. The guests shudder. "D’un vampiro fatal l’ala fredda passo" (As if over our brows a vampire’s wing had passed), chants the chorus. "Gia ti vedo immota e smorta" (I behold thee motionless and pallid), sings Enzo. Barnaba, Gioconda, La Cieca, and Alvise add their voices to an ensemble of great power. Alvise draws back the curtains of the funeral chamber, which also gives upon the festival hall. He points to Laura extended upon the bier. Enzo, brandishing a poniard, rushes upon Alvise, but is seized by guards.

Act IV ["The Orfano Canal"]

The vestibule of a ruined palace on the island of Giudeca. In the right-hand corner an opened screen, behind which is a bed. Large porch at back, through which are seen the lagoon, and, in the distance, the square of Saint Mark, brilliantly illuminated. A picture of the Virgin and a crucifix hang against the wall. Table and couch; on the table a lamp and a lighted lantern; the flask of poison and a dagger. On a couch are various articles of mock jewelry belonging to Gioconda.

On the right of the scene a long, dimly lit street. Two men advance, carrying Laura in their arms, who is enveloped in a black cloak. The two cantori (street singers) knock at the door. It is opened by Gioconda, who motions them to place their burden upon the couch behind the screen. As they go, she pleads with them to search for her mother, whom she has not been able to find since the scene in the House of Gold.

She is alone. Her love for Enzo, greater than her jealousy of Laura, has prompted her to promise Barnaba that she will give herself to him, if he will help Enzo to escape from prison and guide him to the Orfano Canal. Now, however, despair seizes her. In a dramatic soliloquy -- a "terrible song," it has been called -- she invokes suicide. "Suicidio!. . . in questi fieri momenti to sol mi resti" (Suicide! the sole resource now left me). For a moment she even thinks of carrying out Alvise’s vengeance by stabbing Laura and throwing her body into the water -- "for deep is yon lagoon."

Through the night a gondolier’s voice calls in the distance over the water" "Ho! gondolier! Hast thou any fresh tidings?" another voice, also distant: "In the Orfano Canal there are corpses."

In despair Gioconda throws herself down weeping near the table. Enzo enters. In a tense scene Gioconda excites his rage by telling him that she has had Laura’s body removed from the burial vault and that he will not find it there. He seizes her. His poniard already is poised for the thrust. She hopes for the ecstasy of dying by his hand.

At that moment, however, the voice of Laura, who is coming out of the narcotic, calls, "Enzo!" He rushes to her, and embraces her. In the distance is heard a chorus singing a serenade, the same tune as in Act III. Both Laura and Enzo now express their gratitude to Gioconda. The girl has provided everything for their escape: two of her friends will row them in a small boat to a larger, awaiting barque. What a blessing, after all, the rosary that an old blind woman bestowed upon the queenly Laura has proved to be. "Che vedo la! Il rosario!" (What I see there! The rosary!), sings Gioconda, while Enzo and Laura voice their thanks: "Sulle tue mani l’anima tutta stempriamo in pianto" (Upon thy hand thy generous tears of sympathy are falling). The scene works up to a powerful climax.

Gioconda is alone once more, and remembers her agreement with Barnaba. She is ready to flee, when the spy himself appears in the doorway. Pretending that she wishes to adorn herself for him, she begins putting on the mock jewelry, and, utilizing the opportunity that brings her near the table, seizes the dagger that is lying on it.

"Gioconda is thine!" she cries, facing Barnaba, then stabs herself to the heart.

Bending over the prostrate form, the spy furiously shouts into her ear, "Last night thy mother did offend me. I have strangled her!" But no one hears him. La Gioconda is dead. With a cry of rage, he rushes down the street.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the complete libretto in English.

Click here for poster of performance at La Fenice, 7 January 1971.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Bocca_di_Leone.png image_description=Bocca di Leone audio=yes first_audio_name=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
WinAMP or VLC first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Gioconda2.m3u second_audio_name=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
Windows Media Player second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Gioconda2.wax product=yes product_title=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda product_by=Giannina Arangi-Lombardi (La Gioconda), Ebe Stignani (Laura Adorno), Camilla Rota (La Cieca), Alessandro Granda (Enzo Grimaldo), Gaetano Viviani (Barnaba), Corrado Zambelli (Alvise Badoero), Aristide Baracchi (Zuane), Giuseppe Nessi (Isepo), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Lorenzo Molajoli (cond.)
Recorded 1931
Posted by Gary at 6:43 PM

March 13, 2007

Mark Morris Directs and Choreographs Orfeo ed Euridice in Met Debut

Morris_Mark.png[Metropolitan Opera, 12 March 2007]

On Wednesday, May 2, Mark Morris makes his Met debut directing the company’s new production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, marking the first time a choreographer has directed at the Met in 50 years. A creative force in the world of opera and dance, Morris is joined by a team of designers and previous collaborators, including famed fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, who makes his Met debut designing the costumes; set designer Allen Moyer makes his Met debut.

Posted by Gary at 8:29 PM

The Gondoliers — English National Opera

It would seem that the production has taken a while to come together — fortunately the result is a funny, well-sung, polished family show.

Ashley Martin-Davis’s primary-coloured 1950s stage and costume designs, lit by Paul Pyant, were sunny, fresh and cheerful with an air of La dolce vita. It certainly provided easy escapism from a rainy evening in London in early March! After a slightly weak start, partly the fault of the piece itself, a young and elegant cast brought to life the gondolieri and contadine roles. Toby Stafford-Allen’s red-blooded Giuseppe offset the campery of the chorus choreography, and as Marco, David Curry gave a sincere performance despite not being especially strong of voice (it was a shame that conductor Richard Balcombe didn’t give him a little more flexibility in ‘Take a pair of sparkling eyes’).

They were partnered by Sarah Tynan’s delightful and poised Giannetta, and Stephanie Marshall’s beautifully-sung Tessa (though she did not seem entirely comfortable in the role).

The one new member of the cast (since the show opened in December) was Henry Goodman — a hugely likeable comic actor — as the Duke of Plaza-Toro. At his side, Ann Murray was an imperious Duchess, while Rebecca Bottone’s haughty and limpid-toned Casilda was well-matched with Robert Murray’s ardent Luiz.

The characters in this operetta live in two very different worlds — three if you count the land of Barataria for which the crown is up for grabs — and the single lynch-pin is Don Alhambra del Bolero, the bloodthirsty and lecherous Grand Inquisitor of Spain. Donald Maxwell delivered his dialogue with lip-smacking relish.

The show was practically stolen almost at the end by Deborah Davison’s Inez, who in eight lines of recitative made a greater comic impression than any principal singer besides Donald Maxwell. The chorus were near-impeccable throughout, with tidy choreography and poised phrasing.

Following their disastrous attempt at The Pirates of Penzance a couple of seasons ago, hopes were tentatively high that ENO’s latest Gilbert and Sullivan production might prove a hit to rival Jonathan Miller’s perennially popular staging of The Mikado. While I can’t say that this Gondoliers quite reaches that level, it is an infectiously enjoyable production with a high-quality ensemble cast. This is the sort of show that ENO should be best at. I hope there will be more where this came from.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Gondoliers_ENO.png image_description=The Gondoliers — English National Opera product=yes product_title=The Gondoliers — English National Opera
London, 2 March 2007
Posted by Gary at 7:35 PM

LA Opera “Recovered Voices”

He likes to speak to early-comers to the Dorothy Chandler as part of the “lecture” events, and his work with the orchestra so far, and their response to him, indicates a solid relationship being established.

He has also brought with him a passion for the music of a particular set of the composers who were exiled, banned, or killed by the Nazi regime. He expressed his happiness at having Brecht and Weill’s Mahagonny as part of this season, and he also helped find the support (primarily from Marilyn Ziering and the Ziering Family Foundation) for two concert evenings called “Recovered Voices.” At the second performance, March 10th, he appeared before both halves of the program to speak with enthusiasm and erudition about the composers and their works. The evening, it seems, is a preview of repertoire that Conlon intends to bring to the regular LAO season schedule. In fact, next season he makes a start, with a double-bill evening of Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg and Ullman’s Der Zerbrochene Krug.

The first half consisted of a sort of suite that Conlon devised from the music of six composers. The conductor asked the audience to hold its applause until the end of the final segment, and they dutifully did so. First came the dark swirl of textures in Franz Schreker’s prelude to Die Gezeichneten. Somewhat ironically, this opera recently appeared on DVD in a performance conducted by Kent Nagano, Conlon’s predecessor at LAO.

Stacy Tappan, a soprano who has specialized in high-lying roles so far (she sang the Dew Fairy in LAO’s recent Hansel und Gretel), appeared first on the bare stage, with a screen for projections behind her. Maiko Nezu designed the tasteful images that evoked the moods if not always the settings of the various selections. Ms. Tappan sang a charming aria from Walter Braunfels’ Die Vogel, left and then reappeared with a pianist (uncredited in the program) for a number from Ernest Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf. A huge hit in its day, even in this short excerpt one could hear why the opera has become a curiosity today - the jazz elements not very well incorporated into a timidly modernistic fabric.

Donnie Ray Albert (the father in that same Hansel und Gretel) sang “The Emperor’s farewell” from Viktor Ullamn’s The Emperor of Atlantis. Out of context, the aria still managed to create a mood of wistful resignation, an amazing achievement for a man writing in a concentration camp, and too soon to die there.

Tenor Roderick Dixon took on an aria from Erwin Schulhoff’s Flammen, a discursive affair that gave a more prominent role to orchestral texture rather than to the vocal line.

All of this music boasted to one degree or another a power and sweep to the orchestration, but rather less in the way of memorable thematic material. That cannot be said of the final segment, from Erich Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. Unlike the other operas represented, Korngold’s has managed to keep a precarious hold on a place on the fringes of the standard repertory. It helps that the opera features two smashing arias. First Tatiana Pavlovskaya sang “Marietta’s lied,” with Mr. Dixon joining her. Although her top grew a little wild, Ms. Pavlovskaya had the warm sensuality needed for Korngold’s exquisite tune. Then the fine baritone Martin Gantner, currently singing Wolfram in the new Tannhäuser at LAO, sang a poignant “Pierrot’s Tanzlied.”

After intermission came a one-act opera from Alexander Zemlinsky, with only minimal direction for the singers and a few chairs as props, while the projections became a bit more literal in an attempt to convey the essence of Oscar Wilde’s A Florentine Tragedy. Speaking before the audience, Conlon detailed Zemlinsky’s unhappy love affair with Gustav Mahler’s future wife Alma, and suggested that Zemlinsky at least took that pain as a form of creative inspiration. Basically a psychological battle of wills between a gruff merchant and a young nobleman over the merchant’s wife, the piece ends with the sort of “twist” which smacks a bit too much of a Freudian-era Twilight Zone episode. Never short on drama and formal invention, the score would probably be better known if it had more memorable melodies. And that was true of most of the evening’s fare. Albert, Pavlovskaya, and Anthony Dean Griffey as the nobleman had to work against the minimal staging and the story’s claustrophobic nature, and all managed to deserve the audience’s respect for their efforts.

Much of this repertory was written in the first third of the last century, and in an opera world eager for fresh material, it seems unlikely that an undiscovered masterpiece lies among the works of these composers. The works must stand on their own, regardless of the tragic fate of their composers. Conlon’s passion, however, makes him a brilliant advocate, and Los Angeles Opera audiences will at least know that a steady diet of Traviata and Bohème will be interspersed with the dark, sometimes acerbic work of these composers over the coming seasons.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/RV_2093.png image_description=Donnie Ray Albert as Simone and Tatiana Pavlovskaya as Bianca in Alexander Zemlinsky's Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy) Photo by: Robert Millard product=yes product_title=Above: Donnie Ray Albert as Simone and Tatiana Pavlovskaya as Bianca in Alexander Zemlinsky's Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy)
Photo by: Robert Millard
Posted by Gary at 7:24 PM

Native-American Drama at Opera Omaha

Rossini, employing the formulae of his day, could dash off a new work in a week or two; the collective responsible for “Wakonda” - composer Andrew Davis, librettist Yusef Komunyakaa, director Rhoda Levine and OC general director Joan Desens - began their brain storming in 2002. “Wakonda” was five years in the making.

Originally focused on the 1879 trial of Ponca Chief Standing Bear, the story changed into a “meditation” - to use Davis’ designation - on the court decision that first recognized the rights of Native Americans. (They were not granted citizenship until 1948.) In its many meetings the collective decided upon a family drama set in the present, heavy with the dreams - and nightmares - faced still today by Native Americans.

Standing Bear - now positioned among the chorus at stage rear - has become a reference point for two generations intent upon keeping “their feet on the path” while finding “a place beyond shame and sorrow.” And although Louisiana-born Komunyakaa, the Pulitzer prize winner noted for his writing on the Vietnam war and now a professor at Princeton, feels that he delivered a “straightforward narrative,” he also wanted to tell a story that goes “beyond history.”

A plethora of problems has found its way into the opera: the kids- even Native-American kids - playing “Cowboys and Indians” all want to be Cowboys, and there’s discrimination and alcoholism. Budding romance between a young Indian and white girl Laura leads an irate father to threaten violence. It’s more than can be handled comfortably in a two-hour work, and thus it’s not surprising that “Wakonda’s Dream” ends a bit up in the air. Davis and his colleagues might have done better to keep the focus on the trial that made Standing Bear a legend.

Davis’ creative concern with racism brought him early fame with his widely praised “Malcolm X” (1986) and “Amistad” (1997). Yet one understands his hesitation to compose yet another trial after the courtroom scene at the center of “Amistad.” The changed plot stresses the continuing dilemma of Native Americans, for whom “the past is one long death march to nowhere.”

Blue-collar Justin Labelle (Eugene Perry) dreams of a better life for his son Jason (William Ferguson). But in an alcoholic haze, confused by the spirit of the trickster Coyote, the father shoots - and kills - his son. It’s a tragic tale, and on the heels of this murder the consolation of the finale - even with the American Indian Dance Theater on stage for the ceremonial dance that returns Justin to his tribe - seems a facile resolution of the many problems involved.

Davis is a gifted craftsman and has done is utmost to tailor a score suited to the subject matter at hand. Indeed, in the first act he has perhaps gone too far in giving primacy to words over music, for here he largely restricts himself to the illustration of narrative. One anticipates - but waits in vain - for an outburst of melody in an aria or duet.

The score is more engaging in the conflicts and confrontations of the second act - especially in the meeting between Jason and Standing Bear that is at the heart of the story. Davis has written music of particular strength and beauty for the chorus that sits with immobile dignity in an arc at the back of the stage throughout the opera.

He faced a major challenge in writing a score “that lets the audience in,” that brings emotional weight to the experience of the story by causing the listener to identify with the characters on stage. The opera opens with a “soundscape,” recorded sounds of Nebraska nature that fill the Orpheum before giving way to instrumental voices. Davis weaves jazz and folk motifs, along with Native-American hip-hop, into a score that keeps the listener alert. And Opera Omaha has assembled a strong cast for the staging. In addition to Perry and Ferguson and Ricker, Phyllis Pancella is a lovingly concerned wife and mother, while Arnold Rawls portrays a regal Standing Bear. Kids Lilly Nunn and Jonah Davis excel as central figures in childhood.

Peter Harrison designed a single set that evokes an inner landscape of desolation. Costumes were by Paul Tazewell; lighting by Stephen Strawbridge. Steward Robertson conducted an enlarged chamber ensemble drawn from the Omaha Symphony.

Opera Omaha made the work the center piece of a month-long festival of outreach events designed to provide the community with background on this chapter of early Nebraska history. This, in turn, no doubt accounted in part for the many Native Americans in the opening-night audience.

“Wakonda’s Dream” joins such earlier operatic “meditations” on the fate of America’s natives David Carlson’s “Dreamkeepers” (Utah Opera, 1996) and Henry Mollicone’s “Coyote Tales” (Kansas City Lyric Opera, 1998) as an admirable endeavor to focus attention on a dreadful heritage. Whether it moves beyond Omaha remains to be seen. Before the March 7 premiere Rufus White, a spiritual leader of the Omaha Nation, blessed the cast of the production.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Standing_Bear_1877.png image_description=Chief Standing Bear c. 1877 product=yes product_title=Above: Chief Standing Bear, c. 1877
Click here for information on the trial of Chief Standing Bear
Posted by Gary at 2:31 PM

WAGNER: Die Walküre; Götterdämmerung

The Ghent Walküre was fully updated and didn’t yield in the least to familiar Wagnerian staging (with the exception of five magnificent Lippizaner horses which brought the fallen heroes to Walhalla: the sure method of getting the attention nowadays of television). Due to the literal translation of the libretto, some snickering was inevitable when the ‘Schwert’ of the surtitles turned out to be a laptop. And, yet this reviewer preferred this brilliant madness over a hotchpotch of modern clichés and old-fashioned antics as often will be found on these Amsterdam recorded DVD’s. In Walküre Mr. Audi (the Amsterdam boss who handed out this plum to his own highly esteemed self) uses a giant ramp in the form of half a ring (you get it?) with the orchestra stuck in the space between two ends. That will do for Hunding’s place, a rocky desert and Walhalla as well and it reminds me very much of the failed Carmen production at the same house where the same ramp was doing service. Nevertheless traditionalists will enjoy a few swords and spears plus Wotan’s eyepatch. Less traditionalists will be happy thanks to Brünnhilde and her sisters wearing metal (or plastic) wings and a ‘ballet’ at the start of the third act which makes for one of the most embarrassing scenes I’ve ever seen. The costumes are of an ugliness seldom rivalled and are a cross between Robin Hood and traditional Iraqi-clothing; the exception being Siegmund who looked like Papageno in a wrong opera.

In his direction of his singers Audi never rises above many worn clichés of ‘Das Regietheater’. Of course it’s not the director’s fault that Goethe’s ‘In der Beschränkheit zeigt sich der Meister (Brevity proves genius)’ didn’t appeal to Wagner. But during those often overlong monologues or dialogues, Audi too doesn’t come up with anything better than ‘drop a coat, pick it up, drop it again etc’. Sometime there is variation when the singers are busy with winding, unwinding, winding again of a long scarf between them. Yes, I know the scarf is a symbol of ….(fill in whatever you fancy). It’s all superfluous and there is no compelling idea to be found in this production. Even Wotan’s machinations and the controversy between raw power and the force of the law as represented by Fricka doesn’t stick deep. This Wotan doesn’t seem more than a hapless intriguer.

The redeeming factor therefore must come from all things musical and honours surely go to the orchestra which plays magnificently for Haenchen. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra is the second Amsterdam orchestra and plays most of the productions at Het Muziektheater. Once a year the more famous Concertgebouw orchestra takes over and though the sound may be a little more brilliant it always strikes me as an orchestra on an outing while the Philharmonic’s warm sound and disciplined reading is more suited to opera. Haenchen prefers a transparent and lighter reading than usual. During these Ring performances he was the first to use the new Richard Wagner Gesamtausgabe and this results in an energetic reading, doing away with some of the slow tempi which were so loved by the German conductors of the thirties. One wonders if one reason for Haenchen’s lightness of texture doesn’t lie with the available casts. Amsterdam has a solution for the dearth of real Wagner voices. The editor of Opera Nostalgia was present at the performance and told me that the singers were blatantly miked. But even a microphone cannot hide Jeannine Altmeyer’s lack of vocal heft. She has a warm and youthful sounding voice eminently suitable for Brünnhilde but she is overstretched and flat at the top of the voice. Then main vocal disappointment of the set is John Bröcheler’s Wotan. He starts out carefully, obviously pacing his voice for a long evening. The volume at least enhances during the evening but so does the barking in the worst Bayreuth tradition. He uses some effective diminuendos but no beauty appears in the throaty sound and his lack of legato spoils the moving ‘Leb wohl, du kühnes herliches Kind’. John Keyes is an acceptable Siegmund with good rounded tones, fine in his big two arias though one has to live with his slightly beefy voice. Nadine Secunde sounds thin an wobbly on this DVD but, sadly to say, not so in the house: the case of a voice not responding well to a microphone. Reinhild Runkel is a good solid though maybe too small sounding Fricka and she doesn’t dominate her husband. So the honours must go to Kurt Rydl as Hunding who is the only one fully at ease in his role, rolling out his fine big voice with ease. And with his experience he is a most menacing villain in whatever Walküre production one is lucky to meet him.

In Götterdämmerung we meet the same Ring set though this time the designer has it almost full circle and has added an upwards rampart which can serve Siegfried coming down or anyone going up. The costumes are even more ugly and probably clumsy to wear. Siegfried with a straw hat on his back looks like Ingrid Bergman in ‘the Inn of the Sixth Happiness’. Later on the hat reveals itself to be the Tarnhelm. Gunther and Gutrune are clothed like hussars while Hagen shows his naked torso and wears trousers with suspenders. The chorus too will not have been too happy with costumes that make them look like giant Oscar figures. And the worst sin of all concerns the Rhinemaidens. Each of them looks exactly like Spiderman and it is a prime example of a director and a costume-designer conceitedly sticking to their concept when common sense tells them not to as one of the ladies is spectacularly endowed and not an example of the use of health food. Nevertheless the lady has to run and to crawl and to make lewd gestures as well. And once again as in Walküre, when singers mention the glow of fire an appropriate small electric bulb appears.

Nevertheless Pierre Audi is more inspired than in Walküre because the gloomy story and the spectacular ending appeal more to his visual sense. He makes very good use of magnificent lighting which he shrewdly, and happily often colourfully uses to illustrate the unfolding story. Audi was always obsessed by the elements and red and blue are prominent, symbolizing water and fire while green only appears very effectively once at the end to prove the birth of a new world. The Brünnhilde immolation is very impressively and yet simply done. Brünnhilde is in the midst of a giant red cloth, blown up and down by the wind machine and though this may sound unpromising the visual effect is still stunning. The lighting and the involvement of the singers therefore succeed in offering us probably the best part of the Amsterdam Ring. It is not a version one will turn too again and again but the Götterdämmerung-part at least is worth while watching. Audi didn’t tamper overmuch with the story too though not every director has Hagen killing Gutrune as well but at least the villain is punished for his crimes as Wagner prescribed.

No theatre nowadays can take its pick among the few singers who are able to stick more or less to the score. One has to take what is available. Heinz Kruse is not a bad Siegfried. He enunciates clearly and there is some metal in the voice though it seams the voice is rather small which is not unusual for one who till his 46th birthday was a . . . buffo. Still his many meetings with Mozart and operetta composers have given him a legato that at least on DVD makes him better than many a bigger voiced Siegfried. One weakness he cannot overcome is his lack of height. I’ve seldom seen a less imposing hero and he clearly has orders to avoid when possible each opportunity to stand on the same level as the other singers as he is clearly some inches shorter than his Brünnhilde while Gunther towers a full head over him. Jeannine Altmeyer is in better form than in Walküre: the voice carries better and she is a very feminine and vulnerable lady. Her final scene is impressive and the flatness noticeable in earlier evenings is happily absent. Wolfgang Schöne is a warm-voiced Gunther while Eva-Maria Bundschuh sings somewhat too shrilly. And then there is that tower of strength that is Kurt Rydl. The house comes down when he takes his bow and rightly so as the sound is rich, big and with exemplary legato. And as an actor too he peers over everybody else. Hartmut Haenchen proves once more to be a master at the helm of his orchestra. He doesn’t milk the score for effect but Siegfried’s Rheinfart is beautiful in his quick silvered handling while the funeral music has one sit up and marvel once again at Wagner’s inspiration and orchestration. Haenchen gives his singers time to breath without hurrying them and the report between pit and scene is excellent. There seems to have been no incidents and if there were, the editing was done professionally. Synchronization between mouth position and sound is perfect and the picture quality is excellent.

Jan Neckers

Walkure_DNO.pngGotterdammerung_DNO.png

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Walkure_DNO.png image_description=Richard Wagner: Die Walküre product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Die Walküre product_by= John Keyes, Nadine Secunde, John Bröcheler, Jeannine Altmeyer, Kurt Rydl, Reinhild Runkel, De Nederlandse Opera / Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Hartmut Haenchen (cond.). Stage Director Pierre Audi. product_id=Opus Arte OA 0947 D [3DVDs] price=$46.49 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=12732&name_role1=1&comp_id=3773&genre=33&label_id=4585&bcorder=1956&name_id=56057&name_role=3
Posted by Gary at 12:13 PM

March 12, 2007

Which Is the People’s Opera? Let the Fireworks Begin

gelb.pngBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 12 March 2007]

THE announcement late last month could not have been more stunning.

Gerard Mortier, the controversial Flemish-Belgian director of major European opera houses and music festivals, a passionate and intellectually voracious provocateur, will become the general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera starting in 2009. Mr. Mortier? Running the “people’s opera,” as Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia affectionately dubbed the company at its inauguration in 1944?

Posted by Gary at 10:49 AM

This Time, Tragic Butterfly Lives in a Low-Frills Zone

Angela Maria BlasiBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 12 March 2007]

“Madama Butterfly” is a lot of opera for 25 bucks. At the Salzburg Festival $25 would probably get you half the overture, at the Metropolitan Opera a little more. The New York City Opera’s Opera-for-All series offered five of these all-for-one-low-price attractions last fall and came back with Puccini’s weepy, ever-winning study in Japanese-American relations on Friday.

Posted by Gary at 10:26 AM

March 8, 2007

PUCCINI: La Bohème

The opening of this filmed La Bohème prompts the question. First we see the facade of La Scala, from whence this staging — before being adapted to the soundstage of some film studio — originated, in 1965. And then we see the stern, handsome conductor, ostentatiously raising both his arms high to bring that baton down, the red of the house behind him contrasting with the glorious silver of his hair and the black of his tux.

What an ego, to appear before the film audience as if he were about to lead a live staging. As soon as the orchestra rips into the famous opening notes of Puccini’s score, and we are in the three walls of an old-fashioned movie studio “garret,” his image disappears, but his presence remains, not relinquishing any more of the spotlight to his singers and director/designer, Franco Zeffirelli, than necessary. No one could get away with this kind of thing today — but isn’t that at least partly because, few if any have the credentials and impact Karajan could boast of?

At any rate, this La Bohème DVD has treasurable qualities, with one big caveat. The singers mime to their recorded performances. As is often the case, the lip-syncing is erratic at best. More worryingly, there is a disconnect between the naturalism of film and a soundtrack that has no sense of immediacy, of place. Your reviewer found it hard to get involved through the first two acts, but finally succumbed to the eerie beauty of the act three set.

Among an excellent cast, Mirella Freni’s Mimi stands out as a classic portrayal. Looking both appropriately fragile and heart-meltingly lovely, she brings the very great added bonus of singing like an angel. If only she were not costumed in act four in a lovely, perfectly clean and well-pressed dress of baby-blue, with bonnet. She doesn’t look ill for a moment.

Gianni Raimondi’s passionate Rodolfo and Rolando Panerai’s energetic Marcello play off each other well. Adriana Martino manages to capture Musetta’s capricious nature without pushing into obnoxiousness, as some have done. Gianni Maffeo (Schaunard) and Ivo Vinco (Colline) fill out the cast ably.

The washed-out color reminds one of ‘60s TV shows. Yes, this is a dated production, but to some extent that just adds to its charm.

If the above-described demerits sound like dire warnings, stay away. Otherwise, this beloved opera has here an affectionate, rich rendering, thanks to Zefferelli, Freni and her co-stars, and also that faded figure from the long lost days when classical music mattered, Herbert von Karajan.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Boheme_Karajan.png image_description=La Bohème product=yes product_title=Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème product_by=Mirella Freni. Adriane Martino, Gianni Raimondi, Rolando Panerai, Gianni Maffeo, Ivo Vinco, Carlo Badioli, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Herbert von Karajan (cond.). Stage Production and Set Design: Franco Zeffirelli product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 073 407-1 [DVD] price=$27.98 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=9762&name_role1=1&name_id2=56047&name_role2=3&label_id=5813&bcorder=361&comp_id=2329
Posted by Gary at 4:52 PM

WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

As a televised production, the overture lacks the usual audience shots or pans over the orchestra. Instead, the period line drawings of Nűrnberg, along with maps of the city, offer a departure that also maintains the visual interest. Unlike some other operas released by Deutsche Grammophon, this performance was made for television and, as such, represents a studio recording rather than the kind of live stage performance broadcast on "Live from the Met" or other, similar means. As such, the visual aspect of the performance is quite effective, with lighting and angles responsive to the studio used for the recording. That stated, the ambiance is not as full as can occur in a conventional opera house, where a level of resonance adds to the overall effect.

That aside, the staging is by Wolfgang Wagner, who also directed the production, which included an essentially all-star cast. The principals are, for the most part familiar names and voices, and there is no question about the talented musicians involved with this particular Meistersinger. Since this performance was recorded over two decades ago, some of the then-new singers have become familiar to many audiences, and the choices seem well-thought. One anomaly, though, occurs with the character of Hans Sachs. It is customary to encounter relatively young performers cast in the roles of David and Walther, but the choice of then-young Bernd Weikl as Hans Sachs contributed a new and effective dynamic to this recording.

Much can be said, though, for the attention to detail that emerges in a filmed production like this one. Conducted by the durable Horst Stein, it is a solid performance that delivers the score without any surprising or idiosyncratic interpretations. At the core of this production is Hans Sachs, whose humanity precipitates the resolution of the drama, and Weikl has created memorable interpretation. His rich, supple tone is consistently present, as he anchors the fine cast from the opening through the end. He clearly knows the role, both vocally and dramatically, with gestures and body language that are fully in character — his Sachs is worth knowing, and Weikl's performance stands well with that of other fine singers who have made him come alive on stage. Yet it is hard to appreciate the character of Sachs without a believable Beckmesser, and Hermann Prey rendered the thorny personage well. It seems all too easy to portray Beckmesser as a caricature, but that kind of depiction falls short of the needs of this libretto. Prey brings out the earnestness of Beckmesser from the start, with a fine delivery of the role.

With the rest of the cast, the performances are reliable, but undifferentiated. It seems that in the conception of this production, the various characters and their music merge into a more unified ensemble, just as the various themes coalesce in the overture and other instrumental portions of the opera. This approach is not without its interest, as it calls attention to the various musical elements of the work. Yet the concept of music drama that Wagner had delineated by the time he composed Die Meistersinger requires a balance between the dramatic elements with musical finesse, and some overt theatricality has its place in performances of this opera. With several other fine DVDs of Die Meistersinger von Nűrnberg currently available, it is difficult not to draw comparisons with other performances. The dynamic tension of the other Deutsche Grammophon DVD, the more recent one from the Met, stands in contrast to this more stagey one from Bayreuth, and a comparison of the two points to the differences that can occur when an audience is part of the recording. It is, perhaps, the lack of the live stage that affects the sense of drama that is critical to opera, and if the present Bayreuth DVD is lacking, the absence of such dramatic tension must be noted.

While the sound is a bit dry, it is nonetheless clear, without balance problems. As a DVD, rather than a CD, a choice of sound exists, to PCM Stereo or DTS sound, as is the case with other releases from Deutsche Grammophon. This particular DVD appears to be marketed to the English-speaking world, since information about the production, like rubrics for stage direction, costumes, etc., as well as the digital navigation, are in English. The booklet includes full track listings, plus a synopsis of the libretto for each of the tracks. All in all, this is a fine performance that preserves performances of excellent Wagnerians, and it is for their work that this recording has much to recommend.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Meistersinger_Bayreuth.png image_description=Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg product_by=Bernd Weikl, Siegfried Jerusalem, Hermann Prey, Mari Anne Häggander, Graham Clark, Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele, Horst Stein (cond.). Directed by Wolfgang Wagner. Video Director: Brian Large product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 073 416-0 [2DVDs] price=$34.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=12732&name_role1=1&comp_id=3419&genre=33&label_id=5813&bcorder=1956&name_id=56968&name_role=3
Posted by Gary at 4:31 PM

Verdi Gala from Berlin

To know that the man continues to share his artistry with us in 2007 gives great reassurance. But even more comfort comes with the skillful, detailed support he provides for some fine singers in an evening devoted to the music of Giuseppe Verdi.

For once a gala evening commences without some ubiquitous overture. Andrea Rost pipes merrily as Oscar in the conclusion to Ballo’s act one, scene one, soon joined by Ramon Vargas, Massimo Giordano and Lucio Gallo. Alan Titus and Anatoly Kocherga step in, and soon we’re in Ulrica’s cave, with the psychic sung by Carmela Remigio. Rost concludes the Ballo segment with “Saper vorreste.”

After viewing so many galas, your reviewer appreciates the avoidance of the “walk-on-sing-walk off” ritual. Still, viewers should have no high expectations about witnessing some of the dramatic intensity of a stage performance. The singers are all fine, but this is very much a concert.

Remigio reappears with Stella Doufexis for “ball scene” from the French Don Carlos, an interesting choice of repertory, followed by the traditional tenor gala fare of the Duke’s first and last act arias, sung handsomely by Vargas. Then Abbado leads a rousing Traviata “Libiamo.” Rost offers a sweet, almost cheerful “Sempre libera,” joined by Vargas.

The gala concludes with three large sections of Falstaff, with Alan Titus as the corpulent cavalier, however, not appearing until the third, the opera’s concluding scene. Larisa Diadkova and Elizabeth Futral join Rost and Doufexis as the merry wives, with Gallo, Kocherga, and Giordano as the men, supplemented by Anthony Mee and Enrico Facini. So it’s a Falstaff without much Fat John, for what that’s worth.

As a rousing encore, Abbado leads the orchestra in Johann Strauss’ “Maskenfest-quadrille,” an irresistibly bouncy conflation of some of Ballo’s tunes.

Elegantly performed, this DVD offers 90+ minutes of enjoyable music. And as with so many galas, the whole event vanishes from one’s musical memory fairly quickly. So this DVD allows one to refresh that memory with ease. Treat oneself if so inclined.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Verdi_gala.png image_description=Verdi Gala from Berlin product=yes product_title=Verdi Gala from Berlin product_by=Andrea Rost, Ramón Vargas, Alan Titus, Lucio Gallo and other soloists; Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado, conductor product_id=EuroArts 2050858 [DVD] price=$18.49 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=12554&name_role1=1&name_id2=52952&name_role2=3&genre=30&bcorder=319&comp_id=132316
Posted by Gary at 4:08 PM

Berlin “Ring” remains a sterling achievement

He completed it the following season.

Orwell’s chimera of total state control then still existed in communist Eastern Europe, and cold-war tensions were brought to a new height by new Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles implanted in East Germany and — in response — Pershing II warheads sowed in West German forests by the US.

It was not a happy time. Germans saw their country as a nuclear battleground. Today, however, the nuclear threat is only an added feature of global terror.

Small wonder that Friedrich took Wagner’s gods and giants underground, suggesting refuge from a nuclear holocaust. And it’s hardly a surprise that this “Ring” continues to pack its wallop two decades after it was new.

Friedrich literally found his “underground” in the Washington, D.C. Metro, the model for the “time tunnel” designed by Peter Sykora as the site of this “Ring.”

In this hermetic refuge time and space are fused in a contemporary comment on the human condition.

Before Wagner’s music begins the curtain rises on immobile gods shrouded beneath white cloths. They come to life as actors in their own drama, knowing well a story they have told and re-told through the ages. And, as beginning and end merge in mythic recurrence, the gods return to their shrouds as the Rhine rises over Valhalla’s ruins at the end of “Götterdämmerung..”

This, one the one hand, is a new “Oresteiä;” on the other, it’s Beckett’s “Endgame” revisited. It engages the audience in a critical confrontation with the gods; the listener asks whether there might not be a way out of this complex labyrinth of greed, envy and death.

Thus Friedrich’s “Ring” achieves new relevance with each return of the production to the stage. (In its early years it also traveled to Japan and Washington.)

Even Bayreuth would find it difficult to assemble the cast on stage at the DOB for the cycle that ran from February 20 to 25.

Norway’s Terje Stensvold is a thoughtful Wotan, a man of authority and awesome both in vocal and physical stature. The cycle’s Sieglinde, Danish Eva Johannson will soon sing her first Brünnhilde in Vienna, and American Robert Dean Smith brings the heft of the baritone that he was earlier in his career to her “twin” Siegmund.

Richard Paul Fink, another American and today’s reigning incarnation of the role, takes obvious delight in Alberich’s evil machinations, while tenor Burkhard Ulrich eschews the emasculated, hand-wringing Mime now common elsewhere to offer a full-blooded portrait of this unattractive figure. And veteran American bass Eric Halfvarson sings an impressively dark and demonic Hagen.

Most versatile member of the cast is mezzo Marina Prudenskaja, who finished studies in St. Petersburg — her home town — just a decade ago. Here, on the heels of a regal Fricka, she sings Erda in “Siegfried” and both the Second Norn and Waltraute in “Götterdämmerung.”

Evelyn Herlitzius, Bayreuth’s 2004 Brünnhilde, could easily be taken for an energetic, teenaged athlete; she transcends the stereotypical image of the corpulent Wagnerian soprano.

She is a passionate singer in every range and at every dynamic level. Her portrayal of the betrayed Brünnhilde is as tragically moving as it is chilling. A bit of Edith Piaf grit in the lower register adds a special frisson to her work.

Beyond this overall excellence one member of this cast is truly remarkable: Alfons Eberz, who as Siegfried can simply be taken at face value. Indeed, if this character had a historic progenitor, one can only hope that was the match of this young German tenor.

Eberz, Parsifal at Bayreuth last season, isn’t merely young, blond and handsome, he’s that kid from the country whose innocence in the opening acts of “Siegfried” is totally unfeigned. He has no need to fake the pure fool that Wotan’s grandson is, he’s the blank page who makes it all genuine.

Eberz is obviously the Heldentenor that the world has dreamed of since World War Two; his voice balances beauty and power, and his stamina is endless.

With Herlitzius he elevates the “Awakening” scene that concludes “Siegfried” to a legendary level, for it is here that this “Ring” pays telling tribute to Götz Friedrich.

Friedrich, born and schooled in the East of then-divided Germany, was an assistant to Walter Felsenstein, who as mastermind of East Berlin’s Komische Oper in the first post-war decades taught Europe that opera isn’t just about singing, but that it is music theater.

His imprint is clearly felt in Friedrich’s direction of this scene.

True, the love of Siegfried and Brünnhilde was preordained, yet the text tells of the ex-goddess’ hesitation to surrender herself to her impassioned suitor. Compared, however, to the study in incipient eroticism that these two singers make of this scene, everything else is at best greasy kid stuff.

Indeed, Herlitzius makes clear here that even her earlier response to Wotan’s incestuous fondling was only the reaction of an inexperienced young woman to the advances of a man of high authority.

The greatest single contribution to the overwhelming success of the cycle, however, comes from conductor Donald Runnicles, the Scottish-born maestro now moving toward the end of his tenure as music director of the San Francisco Opera.

Through Runnicles’ intimate knowledge of — and experience with — this vast work, one hears things overlooked by Wagnerian wanna-bees. His attention to inner voices is relentless and never in the 16 hours of cycle does he resort to mere routine.

And the DOB orchestra, now heard in concert several times each season, is a superb ensemble. It was an unusual touch that after “Götterdämmerung” the entire group appeared on stage with Runnicles to accept the acclaim of the audience that packed the house.

Two concurrent events underscored the priority that Wagner is at the DOB: a single program that offered all the composer’s songs and “Klein-Siegfried,” Curt A. Roesler’s introduction to the “Ring” for kids eight and above.

A “Ringless” night was well spent at the Komische Oper, where Astor Piazzolla’s “María de Buenos Aires,” premiered in 1968 as a secular oratorio, has been fully staged by Katja Czellnik.

The libretto by Horacio Ferrer equates the sensual Mari’a both with sin-stained Buenos Aires and the Virgin Maria, sung on February 25 by Julia Zenka, while Daniel Bonilla-Torres delivered the lines of the spirit Duende in Sprechstimme. Tenor Matthias Klein was a gripping Cantor.

And although Berlin is home to three companies of international stature, opera in the city is not restricted to them.

On 19 February Texas-born soprano Laura Claycomb was the soloist in a program of Baroque opera with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm, a young French woman who brings a winning combination of grace, charm and energy to the podium, where she presided in part from the harpsichord.

A decade into her career, Claycomb, a product of Southern Methodist University and the San Francisco Opera studio, is without a peer among today’s young American sopranos.

In a packed Philharmonie, Hans Scharoun’s hall built under the watchful eye of Herbert von Karajan, Claycomb sang suites arranged by Haïm from two operas by Rameau and Handel’s 1707 cantata “Il delirio amoroso,” all works suited to the agile flexibility of her gifts.

Since German unification in 1990 pride of place among Berlin’s three opera houses has gone to the once-Eastern Staatsoper, at home in the historic Unter den Linden house built by Friedrich the Great.

 Happily, this “Ring” confirms that the Deutsche Oper remains a formidable force in the city’s vibrant musical life.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/wagner_willich_1862_sandig.png image_description=Richard Wagner product=yes product_title=Above: Richard Wagner (1862)
Posted by Gary at 3:48 PM

Conlon makes his mark at LA Opera

He is, on the one hand, an enthusiastic Wagnerian, busy already in his first LAO season with plans for the company’s first-ever staging of “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” On the other, he is the world’s leading advocate of those composers persecuted, exiled and killed by the machinations of the man who made Wagner the court composer of National Socialism.

Thus it’s not surprising that a recent weekend found Conlon on the podium in Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for performances of both Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” and “Mahagonny” by Kurt Weill.

“I’ve been a total Wagner freak since I was 12 or 13,” Conlon said in a telephone interview before the weekend. “It was then a Wagnerian heyday at the Met with Birgit Nilsson, Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, Jess Thomas and Karl Böhm.

“I went with my brother; we saw ‘Lohengrin’ several times.”

When a question arises about his love for Wagner, Conlon calls it a “non-issue.”

“In 1989, when I offered the position as general music director of the City of Cologne, I was asked what they could offer to get me to accept.

“I said I’d come only if I could do all of Wagner in the opera there.”

During his years in Cologne Conlon conducted the “canon” — Wagner’s 10 mature works — and he repeated most of them at Paris’ Garnier Opera as well.

With a new “Tristan” slated for next season and the completion of the “Ring” scheduled for 2010 he brings that same commitment to Los Angeles.

“I can’t imagine not conducting Wagner,” he says. “I can’t imagine living without Wagner.

“He’s a giant, the greatest creative genius in Western civilization, and he will never be out of fashion.”

Despite the demands on his energy, the performances of “Tannhäuser” and “Mahagonny” in less than 24 hours found Conlon in good form.

In Wagner’s early celebration of the Middle Ages he sustained long, lyric lines and extracted burnished beauty from the brass of his orchestra. He kept things under careful control, resisting any temptation to wallow in the steamy sexuality of the Venusberg. He brought the guests to the second-act battle of the minstrels on stage crisply and did not allow the pilgrims to lag.

And in Weill’s 1930 collaboration with dramatist Bert Brecht Conlon conducted decisively, stressing the craftsmanship of this one-time student of Busoni.

As a production, however, “Tannhäuser” was a sadly updated affair, in which the minstrels thumped a Steinway on stage, while a harp played in the pit.

Conlon opted for a now-standard hybrid of Dresden and Paris versions of Wagner’s score, while director Ian Judge and designer Gottfried Pilz outdid themselves in a skin-show Bacchanale on the level of Sex Education 101.

Silly as the efforts of Judge and Pilz were, they did little to detract from Conlon’s work with Wagner’s sublime romantic view of the world.

There is, however, little left of the robust tenor that made Peter Seiffert a memorable Tannhäuser two decades ago, and there was slight suggestion of searing sensuality in Lioba Braun’s Venus. Indeed, the most sensuous voice in the cast came from Petra Maria Schnitzer as the virginal Elisabeth.

Among her colleagues she had an equal only in Franz Joseph Selig, who was a commanding Landgraf. Martin Gantner warmed the heart with the serenade to the “Evening Star,” the opera’s greatest hit.

It was Conlon’s conducting that made the staging worthwhile.

Director John Doyle, who has made his mark staging Broadway musicals, missed it totally — alas — in “Mahagonny.” He decided upon “big” Weill, intent on proving that this too is grand opera.

It didn’t work. Absent was the bite of the story and the grit of the music. And rock-level amplification only underscored the wrongness of the approach.

(Does no one listen to Lotte Lenya’s historic recordings of her husband’s songs today?)

Superbly talented Audra McDonald, of course, can do no wrong, yet it was an effort to ignore Doyle’s overwrought direction in order to enjoy her artistry as the prostitute Jenny. And Patti LuPone, gussied up as a Mae West look-alike, was simply the wrong choice for that paragon of capitalism Leocadia Begbick.

(Memory again! Does anyone recall the gutsy, depraved Begbick that an ageing Astrid Varnay sang for a Met telecast of “Mahagonny” a quarter century ago?)

As fall guy Jimmy Anthony Dean Griffey, the first Mitch in Andre Previn’s “Streetcar Named Desire,” proved himself a formidable tenor. Donnie Ray Albert was a snarling Trinity Moses.

But it was only Mark Bailey’s minimalist stage sets that paid homage to the true spirit of “Mahagonny.”

LAO “Ring des Nibelungen”

The Los Angeles Opera will launch its first-ever production of Wagner’s “Ring des Nibelungen” during the 2008-2009 season. Germany’s Achim Freyer will both design and direct the staging; LAO music director James Conlon will conduct.

Conlon will conduct, in his first performance of the cycle in the US.

The four operas that make up the “Ring” will each be performed seven times during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, and in the summer of 2010 the company will present three full “Ring” cycles.

“Wagner’s Ring cycle has become today almost a ‘statement of identity’ for an opera company,” says LAO general director Placido Domingo. “Not only does it mean that the company has the financial means for such a mammoth undertaking, but it is also a sign of the artistic vision of its management team.

“This is truer than in almost any other operatic venture, because Wagner himself laid down very specific staging details — certainly more so than any other composer who comes to mind.”

Total estimated cost of the project is approximately $32 million.

“I want the LA Opera to become a hub of Wagnerian activity in coming years,” Conlon says. “Los Angeles, as one of the cultural capitals of the world, needs to have a giant Wagnerian magnet just as do New York, London, Paris and Vienna.”

Between 2001 and 2010 the LAO will have presented all of Wagner’s major operas, beginning with “Lohengrin” in 2001 and continuing with “Der fliegende Holländer” in 2003, “Parsifal” in 2005, the current staging of “Tannhäuser” and up-coming productions of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” and “Tristan und Isolde.”

 The “Ring’ cast will be headed by Linda Watson (Brünnhilde), John Treleaven (Siegfried), ViAalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), Michelle DeYoung (Fricka) and Eric Halfvarson (Fafner).

Domingo plans to sing Siegmund in “Walküre.” Although he has sung the role for many seasons, he will be 67 when the LAO “Ring” begins and 69 when it is completed. There is thus the possibility that he will retire from the stage before then.

“Recovered Voices” at the LAO

On the heels of its production of “Mahagonny” James Conlon conducted two concerts that make the inauguration of the company’s “Recovered Voices” project, an endeavor unique to any opera in the world today.

The multi-year project focuses attention on composers affected by the Holocaust, the effort of Germany’s National Socialists to “cleanse” the country of what was labeled “degenerate art.”

Slated for performance are works by many composers who were forced to leave Germany and by others who died in the Nazi death camps.

The opening programs on March 7 and 9 featured scores by — among others — Erich Korngold, Erwin Schulhoff, Ernst Krenek and Viktor Ullmann, along with a complete performance of Alexander Zemlinsky’s “Eine florentinische Tragödie.”

“Recovered Voices” is made possible largely by a donation of $4 million by Los Angeles philanthropist Marilyn Ziering.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/James_Conlon.png image_description=James Conlon product=yes product_title=Above: James Conlon
Posted by Gary at 3:13 PM

March 6, 2007

OONY Performs Cilèa’s L’Arlesiana

OONY Music Director Eve Queler’s personal magnetism (and no doubt hard work) attracts a rich array of talented operatic voices, both of the internationally known and more fledging variety, in order to perform rarely performed gems that have fallen out of—or have never made into—the opera repertory.

Most recently, OONY presented Francesco Cilèa’s L’Arlesiana, a lyric drama in three acts, on Wednesday, February 21, 2007 in Carnegie Hall. Cilèa’s opera, which was premiered in 1897 by Teatro Lirico in Milan, is based on the same Daudet play for which Bizet wrote incidental music that is still popular. The libretto for L’Arlesiana was created for Cilèa by Leopoldo Marenco.

The opera portrays the story of Federico, a handsome young man who is smitten with a woman from the nearby town of Arles. The first act reveals that the woman’s character is suspect, and that her love for Federico is quite likely feigned as she has compromised her purity with the stableman Metifio. Ultimately, despite the interventions of his mother, the local girl Vivetta, and the advice of the wise shepherd Baldasarre, Federico is plunged into a jealous frenzy over the Arlesian and takes his own at the end of the tale.

Most of the cast performed well, though perhaps not with all the musicality and flair that is expected from OONY. Making her debut with OONY in L’Arlesiana , Marianne Cornetti performed convincingly in the role of Rosa Mamai, Federico’s doting mother. Ihn-Kyu Lee made brief appearances as Federico’s rival—an ill-mannered stableman also obsessed with the woman from Arles, who never makes an appearance nor is named beyond “L’Arlesiana.” Weston Hurt performed the role of Baldasarre with charm and wooed the audience with his warm voice, which befit the role of the wise, older shepherd. Collette Boudreaux played the L’innocenza—Federico’s simpleton younger brother.

This third performance of the season was the last opera-in-concert of the 2007 – 2008 series; however, those who attended will be glad to know that Latonia Moore, who made her OONY debut as Vivetta in L’Arlesiana, will also be showcased in a recital on May 3, 2007 with OONY as the 2007 Vidda Award recipient. The Moore graduated from the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, was acclaimed as Micaëla in the New York City Opera production of Carmen earlier this season. Moore’s performance in L’Arlesiana indicates that big things will happen for this young soprano who has many debut performances in the U.S. and in Europe coming up in the next season.

The most generous portion of the applause for the evening went to the young tenor, Giuseppe Filianoti as the lovelorn Federico. Filianoti made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2005 as Edgar in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, but L’Arlesiana was his only appearance in the U.S. this season. The tenor aria “Lamento di Federico” is featured in many tenors’ repertoires, although the rest of the opera is rarely performed. Filianoti’s interpretation of this aria that helped sparked Caruso’s career more than a century ago caused the house to erupt into applause so enthusiastic that Filianoti repeated the aria. A gentleman near me remarked somewhat incredulously, “It was even better the second time!”—a sentiment with which I fully agree.

Megan Jenkins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/cilea.png image_description=Francesco Cilèa product=yes product_title=Francesco Cilèa: L’Arlesiana
Opera Orchestra of New York, Carnegie Hall, 21 February 2007
Posted by Gary at 9:52 PM

Adams/Sellars “Tree” blossoms sublimely at SFS

True, the young lovers of “The Magic Flute” sometimes emerge from realistic stagings of Mozart’s last opera dripping and singed around the edges, but their trials are nonetheless symbolic. And, furthermore, they follow the traditional pattern of boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl with the two living happily ever after.

Kumudha and her Prince — they come from a 2000-year-old South India folk tale — invert the process; they start out blissfully together, but their happiness is soon shattered by their imperfect world.

There is good reason to draw parallels between the two operas, for Sellars asked Adams to compose a score for Vienna’s 2006 New Crowned Hope Festival. Sellars, curator of the program, sought new works from a cross-section of artistic genres sparked by “a conversation with the luminous music of Mozart’s final year.”

(New Crowned Hope was the name of the Masonic lodge to which Mozart belonged in Vienna.)

Adams immediately chose “Magic Flute” as his point of departure, stressing, however, that “the connection is more one of spirit than of substance,” yet pointing out that “both operas share a central theme of youth, the evolution of moral consciousness, transformation — both physical and spiritual — and magic.”

And like the “Flute,” “Tree” too is essentially a fairy tale, which the Storyteller begins: “Children, I want to tell you a story.”

It is a story excitingly told through the intense interaction of text, music and dance that makes it a unique achievement of music theater.

Music theater?

Yes, for the collective concept avoids the question of whether “Tree” is actually an opera. Scholars will argue the point, stressing — after all — that the three San Francisco performances of the work were given by the Symphony in Davies Hall, not across the street in the War Memorial Opera House.

And, indeed, ‘Tree’ has something of an oratorio about it, with the Storyteller functioning much as does the Evangelist in the Passions of J. S. Bach.

But why worry about the label for a work so endlessly moving?

“Tree” calls for only three singers — Kumudha, the Prince and the Storyteller, who are seconded by a trio of dancers, Doppelgänger, as it were, who bring animation to the narrative and amplify the inner emotions of the singers.

Vocalists in San Francisco — as in Vienna and Berlin — were soprano Jessica Rivera, stellar as Nuria in Osvaldo Golojov’s “Ainadamar” at the Santa Fe Opera in 2005, tenor Russell Thomas and bass Eric Owens. All three are young artists of promise, distinguished by their thorough command of this score and their obvious commitment to it.

The Javanese dancers — Rusini Sidi, Eka Supriyanto and Astri Kusuma Wardani — were also responsible for the choreography for this semi-staged production.

Action was confined to three overlapping ovals that shared the Davies stage with the orchestra and to a smaller space above and to the left of the ensemble. The simplicity of the staging complemented the leanness of Adams’ score and of the libretto. Written by Sellars and the composer, the text runs a mere 9 pages in the SFS program book.

The overwhelming quality of the work is its beauty, a word that one uses with hesitation in talking about new music. Too often suggests the warmed-up Brahms of the now largely forgotten New Romanticism of a few decades ago or the embarrassed hovering at the edge of dissonance where many modernists dwell, fearful of losing their audience should they move one step further from the triad.

Adams’ embrace of tonality is unashamed and without apology, for it comes from the heart; this — like its story — is music with a soul.

And, yes, Adams’ early minimalism (he turned 60 in February) is still present, but only as a subtext in a score, in which craftsmanship and accessibility are remarkably balanced.

For “Tree” too, one might say, marks a transformation in the career of this, America’s most-performed living composer. Here it is the lyricism of long sustained lines that dominates; rhythmic figures, although subtle, are never complex.

The work is through-composed — without big arias or “numbers” — and this accounts for its easy and seamless flow.

“Tree,” which runs 2.5 hours with a single intermission, is clearly a major work. It centers on four scenes of transformation, for — recalling Richard Strauss’ Daphne — Kumuhda is able to change herself into a tree, which she does to escape the recurrent miseries of her life.

For these scenes, the backbone of ‘Tree,” Adams has written music that is truly transcendent — rich in its sonorities and textures and mesmerizing in communicating the emotional impact of the story.

Like the “Sea Interludes” in Britten’s “Peter Grimes,” these sections of the score will no doubt become an orchestral suite.

Essential to the work is the chorus, which Adams says should number at least 40 singers. The SFS gave him more than twice that number, superbly rehearsed by David J. Xiques, the brightly dressed ensemble was a major participant in the drama at hand.

“Tree” is scored for a symphonic ensemble of medium size with a massive percussion battery.

At a pre-performance interview Sellars characterized the work as a masterpiece of “joyful transformation,” which sums up its essence and its impact.

Kumuhda and her Prince find each other and their love again at, but only after a journey through pain and adversity, and it is this honesty about life and the blows that it deals that account for the authenticity of “Tree.”

Like the last two of Mozart’s 40 symphonies — the pensive D Minor and the exuberant “:Jupiter” — this is the other side of the coin explored by Adams and Sellars in their 2005 “Doctor Atomic,” the tale of physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer’s Faustian flirtation with the force of infinite destruction.

Indeed, Sellar’s recently referred to the earlier opera as ‘Adams’ ‘Götterdämmerung.”

“A Flowering Tree” is a co-commission of the San Francisco Symphony, Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival, the Berlin Philharmonic, London’s Barbicon Centre and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York. The composer conducted the Viennese premiere; Simon Rattle was on the podium for the Berlin performance.

And, by the way, “Doctor Atomic” will be on stage at Chicago Lyric Opera between December 14, 2007 and January 19, 2008.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Adams_John_official.png image_description=John Adams (http://www.earbox.com/index.html) product=yes product_title=Above: John Adams
Posted by Gary at 4:52 PM

A pleasure for all

Iolanta.pngBy Fiona Maddocks [Evening Standard, 6 March 2007]

Audiences at London conservatoire opera productions, now essential diary dates, tend to divide into friends and family and talent-spotting agents and opera professionals.

Posted by Gary at 10:35 AM

A Recital To Last the Ages

BY JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 6 March 2007]

Have I got a voice recital for you — or rather, Weill Recital Hall did, Thursday night. Onstage was Joyce DiDonato, the Kansas-born mezzo (and her accompanist, the London-born Julius Drake). Ms. DiDonato sang a recital that should last in the memories of all who attended.

Posted by Gary at 10:09 AM

March 5, 2007

Die Walküre, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon

Vick_Graham.pngShirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 5 March 2007]

Die Walküre is the point at which most Ring cycles get serious. Graham Vick’s, in Lisbon, does not. There is no socio-political context, and work’s central conflicts unfold with flippant levity.

Posted by Gary at 10:15 AM

March 4, 2007

VERDI: Il Trovatore

Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901). Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano after El trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez.

First Performance: 19 January 1853, Teatro Apollo, Rome

Principal Characters:
Count di Luna, a young nobleman of AragonBaritone
Leonora, a lady-in-waiting to the Princess of AragonSoprano
Azucena, a gypsyMezzo-Soprano
Manrico, an officer in the army of Prince Urgel, and the supposed son of AzucenaTenor
Ferrando, a captain in the Count's armyBass
Ines, Leonora's confidanteSoprano
Ruiz, a soldier in Manrico's serviceTenor
An Old GypsyBass
A MessengerTenor

Setting: Biscay and Aragon, 1409

Synopsis:

Act I

Scene 1:

The guard room in the castle of Luna (The Palace of Aljaferia, Zaragoza, Spain). Fernando, the captain of the guards, orders the guards to keep watch while Count Luna wanders restlessly beneath the windows of Leonora, lady-in-waiting to the Princess, whom he loves. Luna's heart is torn with jealousy against his fortunate rival, the troubadour Manrico. In order to keep the guards awake, Fernando narrates the history of the count to the guard. (Fernando: "Once upon a time a father of two sons lived happily.") It appears that a Gypsy of dreadful aspect had once exercised her magic arts upon the little brother of the count, making the child weak and ill, and for this had been burnt alive as a witch. Dying, she had commanded her daughter Azucena to avenge her, which vengeance had been partially accomplished by the carrying off of the younger son. Although no news had been heard of him, the father refused to believe in his son's death, and dying, commanded his son, Count Luna, to seek for the Gypsy.

Scene 2:

Garden in the palace of the princess. Leonora confesses her love for Manrico to her confidante, Inez. ("The story of love.") When they have gone, Count Luna hears the voice of his rival. (Manrico, behind the scenes: "Alone and forsaken am I.") Leonora in the darkness mistakes the count for her lover, when Manrico himself enters the garden, and she rushes to his arms. The count recognises Manrico as his enemy, who has been condemned to death, and compels him to fight. Leonora tries to intervene but cannot stop them from fighting. Manrico could have killed the count but, as he explains later to his mother, he mysteriously restrains himself, and escapes.

Act II

Scene 1:

Camp of the gypsies. The gypsies sing the famous "Anvil Chorus". Manrico at the bedside of his mother, Azucena (Chorus: "See the clouds in heaven's vault."), the daughter of the Gypsy burnt by the count. She is old, but still nurses her vengeance. (Aria: "Flames rise to heaven.") The gypsies break up camp while Azucena confesses to Manrico that after stealing him she had intended to burn the count's little son, but had thrown her own child into the flames instead. Manrico realises that he is not the son of Azucena, but loves her as if she were indeed his mother, as she has always been faithful and loving to him. A messenger arrives and reports that Leonora, who believes Manrico dead, is about to take the veil. Manrico rushes away to prevent her from following out this purpose.

Scene 2: In front of the convent. Luna and his attendants intend to abduct Leonora. (Aria: "Her enlightening smile.") Leonora and the nuns appear in procession, but Manrico prevents Luna from carrying out his plans and instead, joins Leonora and proposes matrimony.

Act III

Scene 1:

Luna's camp. (Chorus: "In the midst of conflict.") Fernando brings in the captured Azucena. She is recognised by Luna and sentenced to be burnt.

Scene 2:

Chamber in the castle, which is besieged by Manrico. Leonora and Manrico live only for each other. (Aria, Manrico: "Yes, I am yours forever.") Ruiz, Manrico's comrade, reports that Azucena is to be burned at the stake. Manrico flies to her aid. (Stretta: "Of the funeral pyre.") Leonora faints.

Act IV

Scene 1:

Before the dungeon keep. Leonora attempts to free Manrico, who has been captured by Luna. (Miserere of the prisoners and aria of Manrico in the turret: "Born on rosette wings.") Leonora begs Luna for mercy and offers herself in place of her lover. She promises to give herself to the count, but intends to take poison before the marriage.

Scene 2:

In the dungeon. Manrico and Azucena are awaiting their execution. Manrico attempts to soothe Azucena, whose mind wanders. (Duet: "Home to our mountains.") At last the gypsy slumbers. Leonora comes to Manrico and tells him that he is saved, begs him to escape. When he discovers she cannot accompany him, he refuses to leave his prison. He believes Leonora has betrayed him until he realizes that she has taken poison to remain true to him. As she dies in agony in Manrico's arms she confesses that she prefers to die with him than to marry another. The count enters to find Leonora dead on his rival's arms and orders Manrico to be led to execution. Azucena arises from her couch and when Luna, dragging her to a window, shows her the dying Manrico, she cries in triumph: "He was your brother. Now my mother really is avenged!" and falls dead at his feet. The opera ends with the count screaming in despair.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/trovatore.png image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore audio=yes first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore
Windows Media Player first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Trovatore1.wax second_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore
WinAMP, VLC or iTunes second_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Trovatore1.m3u product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore product_by=Aureliano Pertile (Manrico), Maria Carena (Leonora), Apollo Granforte (Il Conte di Luna), Irene Minghini-Cattaneo (Azucena), Bruno Carmassi (Ferrando), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Carlo Sabajno (cond.)
Recorded 1930.
Posted by Gary at 8:13 PM

Unterm zappelnden Monde von Le Havre

Manon_Netrebko_Alagna.png[Welt Online, 4 March 2007] Ein Event, kein Ereignis: Anna Netrebko singt Jules Massenets „Manon" an der Wiener Staatsoper. Im Publikum sitzt, was Rang und Namen hat.

Sonntag früh morgens verkündete die Boulevardzeitung „Österreich“ – nicht zu verwechseln mit der gleichnamigen Republik – auf der Titelseite „Netrebko: Ihr Operntriumph. So sensationell war ihre gestrige Manon-Premiere.“ Drinnen im Blatt naturgemäß keine Silbe über die Qualität des draußen gefeierten „Events“.

Posted by Gary at 10:24 AM

March 2, 2007

Eclipsing Beauty

Heather Mac Donald [City Journal, 1 March 2007]

Gerard Mortier threatens to “update” City Opera—with trendy nihilism.

With the appointment of Gerard Mortier to head New York City Opera, one of America’s leading houses may be about to plunge headlong into the anti-musical narcissism now prevalent in Europe. The consequences for American musical life could be dire, not least for that great institution across the plaza from City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera.

Posted by Gary at 11:54 AM

Julian Budden (1924-2007)

puccini_budden.jpg[Centro studi Giacomo Puccini, 28 February 2007]

È morto a Firenze Julian Budden, studioso insigne, presidente del Centro studi GIACOMO PUCCINI. Il mondo della musica piange uno dei suoi protagonisti più intensi e discreti.

Posted by Gary at 8:46 AM

Daniels/Le Point du Jour

DDaniels.png[Guardian, 1 March 2007]

Singers keen to explore unfamiliar baroque repertoire could devote many years to the music of Alessandro Scarlatti. His son Domenico famously composed more than 500 keyboard sonatas, but Alessandro had already set the family standard with more than 70 operas, and somewhere between 600 and 800 chamber cantatas.

Posted by Gary at 8:24 AM

March 1, 2007

Orlando, Royal Opera House, London

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 28 February 2007]

Comparing our own taste to that of Handel’s London, a programme essay for this Royal Opera revival says “it is hard to pretend that, for modern purposes, Orlando is some kind of Shakespearean masterpiece” – the implication being that it is little more than a string of virtuoso arias. But the point about Orlando, surely, is that Handel intended neither, and the productions that trust him – of which this is not one – vindicate his creative intuition.

Posted by Gary at 11:25 AM