Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

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):