Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Tosca
04 Apr 2007

The Metropolitan Opera on DVD: Elektra, Luisa Miller and Tosca

With some deliberation the Metropolitan Opera releases DVD versions of live television broadcasts from its heyday as a PBS mainstay.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Hildegard Behrens, Plácido Domingo, Cornell MacNeil, James Courtney, Italo Tajo, Anthony Laciura, Russell Christopher, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Giuseppe Sinopoli (cond.). Stage Production and Set Design: Franco Zeffirelli.

Deutsche Grammophon 073 4100 [DVD]

$27.98  Click to buy

Those years have long since past, though Peter Gelb has managed to revive much interest with the innovation of the relays to movie theaters. Each of the three DVDs of concern here feels like “event” television: a rare Verdi opera featuring three of the Met’s biggest stars of the time (Scotto, Domingo, and Milnes in Luisa Miller); a new Zefferelli Tosca; and Birgit Nilsson’s return, in a full staging of Elektra, after years of absence from Lincoln Center.

Elektra.png

Ranging from January 1979 for the Verdi to March 1985 for the Puccini, all three DVDs show the Met at its traditional best, with elaborate sets often greeted by audience applause, charismatic stars, and the highly professional support of the Met orchestra (under James Levine for the Verdi and Strauss, with Giuseppe Sinopoli leading Tosca). The DVDs boast bonus features that actually supplement the viewing experience. The Verdi and Puccini have photo galleries that present fascinating information on each opera’s performance history, as well as interview segments apparently seen at intermission time during the broadcasts. No great insights are produced in these talks, but there’s always a fascination in seeing the performers in street clothes, so very different from the characters they have just been seen as. The Tosca also features a 20-minute walking tour of Rome with Zefferelli and a note-taking assistant (yes, a comely young man). The three locales of Tosca’s action are viewed, and Zefferelli occasionally says something of real interest. Ostensibly he wanted his Scarpia to be dangerously attractive to Floria — in the event, Cornell MacNeil is not able to pull this off. But the psychology behind Zefferelli’s insight remains viable. He also offers what amounts to almost his entire artistic philosophy: “Opera is essential! Opera cannot be sophisticated.”

Ultimately the performance counts above all else. Purely as singing, the Luisa Miller has the greatest success of the three. Renata Scotto triumphs as Verdi’s Luisa, a heroine whose trajectory of happiness to misery parallels Violetta’s, though without the depth and social impact of Traviata. Domingo is Domingo, singing handsomely and furrowing his brow with maximum exertion. Sherill Milnes manages the tricky feat of keeping Miller an appealing father figure as his character becomes a pawn to the tangled plot’s manipulations. As Wurm, James Morris reveals the talent that would soon move him into larger roles.

Luisa_Miller.png

The booklet essay focuses on Scotto; that’s understandable but preferable would be some comment on why the set, so traditional as to be almost laughable in its faux-Swiss kitsch, apparently features fake balcony boxes at the sides, populated with well-dressed supers. That touch of “regie-theater” makes no sense here. And neither does Domingo’s blond wig.

The Elektra disc serves as a tribute to Birgit Nilsson at the Met. The bonus features include her touching paean to Levine at his 25th anniversary gala, and her contributions to the centennial gala. Most fascinating is almost 20 minutes of backstage footage during the curtain calls for the Elektra. Cutting back and forth between the ecstatic reception out front and the genial camaraderie in the cramped area between curtain and set, this footage makes fascinating viewing, even if just to hear Birgit announce “I need a drink.”

While praising the performance, booklet essay writer J. F. Mastroianni acknowledges it “may not be flawless,” noting the “occasional pitch concern.” For your reviewer, Elektra’s opening monologue is pretty much a lost cause, and though Nilsson gradually finds a way to stabilize her vocal production, it is sheer charismatic energy that pulls her through. For acting she doesn’t do much more than raise her fists to heaven, but the fierceness of her spirit still comes through. And when Nilsson tussles with Leonie Rysanek’s Chrysothemis, the hallowed images of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford come to mind. In securer voice than those two leads, Mignon Dunn’s Klytämenstra and Donald McIntyre’s Orest still find themselves in the shadow of Nilsson and Rysanek’s dramatic conviction.

For the Met, Herbert Graf’s production (with sets and costumes by Rudolf Heinrich) appears almost modern, with its abstract, timeless space and minimal use of props. Levine’s reading of the score maintains a firm grasp of its rigor while embracing the very few moments of lyricism. As described above, Zefferelli’s Tosca, new for this 1985 filming, favors huge spaces, elaborately detailed, as well as the frequent use of extras, most of whom have some distracting bit of business. The best example here comes in act three, when two handsome hunks cross the stage, one with shirt wide-open to expose a gym-generated chest. They are carrying cleaning equipment, as if they are janitorial staff, and one lays down to enjoy the shepherd’s song, after which they both saunter off-stage. The auditions for these two roles must have been extensive and exhausting.

Tosca gets performed so often, at least in the USA, because the tight construction and supremely dramatic score almost guarantee a satisfied audience, even if the singing doesn’t compete with the best performances. Such is the case here. The great Cornell MacNeil is caught late, and though he knows the role and provides a worthy reading, the voice is rough-edged where Scarpia’s calls for oily smoothness. As contrast, Domingo is in fine voice and uses his manly persona well enough. What essential difference there is between his Cavaradossi and his Rodolfo mentioned above eludes your reviewer.

Hildegard Behrens was enjoying the prime of her career, and few dramatic sopranos will pass up a chance at Floria Tosca. As acting, Behrens does probably as good a job as anyone. The voice is simply not rich enough to provide the lyricism that Tosca relishes as much as she does hysteria. Only in Tosca’s final tragic declaration, “Avanti a dio!” does Behrens find a line that requires the edgy power she brought to Wagner. But she barks out some truly scary cries of “mori!” as Scarpia kicks the bucket.

While Italo Tajo’s Sacristan is hammy, Anthony Laciura gives a classically unctuous Spoletta. Sinopoli rushes at times but his energy brings a needed sense of risk to the evening.

As time passes a gentle coat of dust seems to be falling over much of the Metropolitan’s filmed heritage, but then again, what seems so fresh and exciting in today’s productions will have to face the test of time as well. For those eager to a trip back to Reagan-era opera, Met style, any or all of these three DVDs are just the thing.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):