Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

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

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

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

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

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

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

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

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

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

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

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

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

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

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

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

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

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

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

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

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

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

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

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

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

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Jacques Offenbach: Orpheus in der Unterwelt (Orphée aux enfers)
02 May 2007

OFFENBACH: Orpheus in der Unterwelt (Orphée aux enfers)

Filmed for television in 1971, this performance of the German translation of Orphée aux enfers (1858) as Orpheus in der Unterwelt breaks the conventional wisdom that some espouse about the weaknesses of opera or opera when conceived for the small screen.

Jacques Offenbach: Orpheus in der Unterwelt (Orphée aux enfers)

William Workman, Franz Grundheber, Inge Meysel, Theo Lingen, Liselotte Pulver, Elisabeth Steiner, Kurt Marschner, Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, with Marek Janowski, conductor.

ArtHaus 101267 [DVD]

$24.98  Click to buy

Even at the distance of over 35 years, this production of one of Offenbach’s best-known works transcends the screen as a quite engaging video that works well in this well-conceived translation.

In using fantasy to parody the conventional story of Orpheus, Offenbach created an operetta that at once through the story on its ear and also satirized the bourgeois aspects of his culture. With Euridice as not entirely unwilling about leaving her mundane existence, Offenbach creates a character who is also skeptical about her life in the supernatural domain. The trade-offs that are part of the world weigh strongly in the plot. At the same time, the revolt of the gods and goddesses against Zeus because of their unflagging diet of ambrosia and nectar is a foil that reflects the uprisings in Europe, including France in 1848. Characterized by some as frenetic when it comes to the flow of ideas, Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers demands an a style of production that allows the ideas to flow easily between musical numbers and pieces. While this is possible on stage, it is impossible to miss when filmed, and this production succeeds in capturing the momentum that is essential to this work. Janowski and the crew responsible for this production created production that is works cinematically, while not losing any sense of theater and, most of all, the musical style.

Over the years, productions have depicted the setting in various ways, with some degree of contrast supporting the difference between earthly life and the divine. This production uses the frame of the television to allow the character eponymously named Public Opinion to lead the viewer to the television screen that reveals the production. As to earthly existence, it is somewhat plainly German and definitely peasant, while the gods have the obligatory gowned costumes that are sometimes adorned with accouterments connected to the identity of various individuals.

As to the specific character of this production, it is a product of the 1970s, with some of pop-art primary colors characterizing some sets, while several of the women’s costumes suggest the Carnaby-street sensibility that may suggest the time. One element that dates the production is Public Opinion’s skirt made of covers of Life magazine, which is no longer published in the format popular at the time. At present, the slender pictorial entitled Life that some US newspapers carry is a shadow of the more substantial periodical that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet these are minor quibbles, that should not detract from the overriding quality of the production that remains evident after three decades.

Notwithstanding the involvement of forces from the Hamburg Opera, this production is essentially a film of the operetta, not a film of a performance on stage. By using this approach, the director can effect the quick transitions and establish pacing that allows the production to flow smoothly between scenes. Likewise, the audience is absent, but unlike some filmed opera that suffer from the lack of the dynamic involvement of the audience, the performance is as vital as if it were performed in a theater.

The production included actors from the popular stage, both musical and otherwise, as well as some fine singers, William Workman as Pluto and Franz Grundheber as Mars stand out for their fine vocal work. Yet the singing actress Inge Meysel as Juno plays the role affably, with her moment of confusion between revolution and resolution is worthy of a seasoned Ruth in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. As John Styx, a role akin to that of the jailer in Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, Theo Lingen delivers a finely comic line that emerges both in his acting and singing. The other performances are equally fine, and the entire cast works well in the various ensembles that interweave the work. Overall the spoken German is a model of clarity, but those who do not understand the language have the benefit of subtitles in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, thus making this fine performance accessible to a wide audience. The sound is quite good, and the recording quality high. From the display, it appears that this is a transfer, but there are no distortions in the digital images.

Of course, Offenbach’s famous “Can-can” occurs at the end of the work, and it conveys the spirit of the work, albeit with a Teutonic accent. That number, as well as the entire production, is worth viewing. Although some may prefer their Orphée in French, this German translation is every bit as lively as some of the finer Gallic productions. Listed on the DVD case as a “Historical Studio Production from the Hamburg State Opera 1971,” this rubric should by no means convey the sense of a dusty, old artifact. Even the warning about the quality of the original film is, perhaps, overly cautious, this is a fine production that has much to offer decades it was first viewed.

James L. Zychowicz

Send to a friend

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

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):