July 7, 2007

Love and death among battlements

Yet both stagings had in common a deep respect for — and knowledge of — the original dramatic concept and the underlying music, something increasingly rare nowadays.

In fact, both young directors have one more common feature, since their fathers Duilio Courir and Claudio Abbado rank among Italy’s shining stars — in music criticism and in conducting, respectively. Being born into the trade at such top levels may rather work as a hindrance, at least when a budding professional is determined to build his/her own independent career without relying on family connections. Ms Courir is one such case, having debuted in opera direction relatively late in 1994 with an appreciated staging of Vivaldi’s Tamerlano at Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico, at the age of 30 and after diverse experiences in spoken drama.

Elisabetta CourirActually, most of her educational curriculum pointed towards opera. The 10-year girl who used to sing in the children’s choir at La Scala grew up to study music at the Scuola Civica di Milano, alongside humanities, theater and musicology at the State University in the same town. For a period, she even took singing lesson from the vocal scholar Rodolfo Celletti, also attending the masterclasses held at Fiesole (Florence) by Walter Blazer, the well-known teacher from the Manhattan School of Music. As to direction, she apprenticed with such masters as Dario Fo and Luca Ronconi — but particularly Egisto Marcucci, noted for his rigor, discrimination of, and in-depth research on, texts, whether sung or spoken.

Courir’s latest opera staging, Verdi’s Il trovatore, generally counts as popular fare; however, her reading thereof appears unconventional, aristocratic and upstream — starting right from its location: an outdoor arena at Vigoleno, soaring high on the green hills between Parma and Piacenza in the Po Valley. The castle and hamlet of Vigoleno, built in its present form during the 1390s, was a meeting point for the culturati during the 1920-30s. Gabriele D’Annunzio, Max Ernst, Jean Cocteau, Artur Rubinstein among Europeans, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Elsa Maxwell from the USA; all were guests here at the duchesse de Grammont’s, born princess Maria Ruspoli (incidentally: from the same family who offered lavish hospitality to young Handel in Rome).

Il Trovatore — Act IIIThe castle itself, with its towers, battlemented walls and gates, provided a hyperrealistic backdrop to a plot set in no less than two castles in Spain during roughly the same age: Aljaferia and Castellor. Light years far from the current trend of European opera direction, where the setting would be typically a dilapidated industrial plant, a garage, a gay bar, a spacecraft or whatever else. Tall wooden boards, all crooked and scorched, served as a camouflage for covered bays were patrols were doing their rounds. A drawdbridge suspended over a dark gulf was alternatively the springboard whence Manrico was expected to launch his treacherous high Cs in “Di quella pira” and the stairway plunging into the dungeon “where the State prisoners languish”. Less blacksmiths than dyers, the Gypsies hanged out the garish product of their industry from virtual battlements mirroring the real ones, or celebrated and sung by torchlight while squatting down in circles around certain disquieting cauldrons. Tribal and gloomy with a shade of the Orient — such was the medieval Spain conjured up by Courir and her team: set designer Guido Fiorato, costume designer Artemio Cabassi and Fiammetta Baldiserri in charge of lighting.

Stage at Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), ItalyWithin that (basically reliable, yet never archaeologic) framework, bodies shaped their passions in the mould of unavoidable melodrama. The lecherous Count attained by bitter qualms of conscience in the end; Leonora a compassionate Madonna in light-blue train; Manrico a greyish bachelor, moonstruck by misfortune and clearly a noble born-looser. Azucena towered throughout in her fiery red gowns, as young and sexy as possible. Rather than Manrico’s mother, she looked like his paramour, while a manly Ferrando kept jerking her with ill-conceived desire. Side characters, nuns, warriors, courtiers and sundry extras navigated smoothly, then suddenly disappeared behind the boards. Perfect clockwork and grand opera on a grand scale, though with limited means.

The junior singing company was enough well-matched (a crucial requirement for Il trovatore), with baritone Claudio Sgura getting the best applause for both his vocal qualities and sensitive acting. Rachele Stanisci (Leonora) has her strongpoint in agility, as Laura Brioli (Azucena) in sheer power; yet a more restrained vibrato during their forte passages would not spoil. As Manrico, the experienced tenor Renzo Zulian sounded strangely fatigued and/or unhappy with his upper register, probably due to a last-minute stand-in for an ailing colleague. Orchestra Filarmonica Toscanini and Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, both emerging ensembles, were led by Massimiliano Stefanelli with unrelenting pulse, despite a troublesome acoustic environment. Outdoor venues have their pros and cons, particularly during a windy early Summer as this is proving to be.

Carlo Vitali

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Trovatore_E-Courir_Ferrando.png image_description=Il Trovatore at Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), Italy product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore
Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), Italy
Posted by Gary at 5:13 PM

July 5, 2007

Régine Crespin ne chantera plus

crespin2.pngLa grande soprano française s'est éteinte à 80 ans à Paris.

SYLVIE BONIER [Tribune de Genève, 5 July 2007]

C'était une grande voix. Et une grande dame. Régine Crespin n'est plus. Un pan d'histoire vocale se tourne. Soprano de référence, «grande ambassadrice de la culture française» selon Nicolas Sarkozy lui-même, LA Crespin s'est donc éteinte jeudi après-midi à l'âge de 80 ans, dans un hôpital de Paris.

Posted by Gary at 8:31 PM

French Opera Great Crespin Dies at 80

crespin.png[AP, 5 July 2007]

PARIS -- Regine Crespin, the French opera great who took her personal magnetism and soprano voice to the world's leading stages, died Thursday. She was 80.

Posted by Gary at 8:24 PM

Italy's Spoleto Festival as a Family Affair

menotti.pngBy Carlo Vitali [MusicalAmerica.com, 5 July 2007]

“The Festival of the Two Worlds … should be shielded from idle polemics ….The City of Spoleto has the duty to favor a further incorporation of such an important event into the city itself (also in order to train innovative professionals in the field of show-business), while working to restore the Festival’s former splendor.”

Posted by Gary at 1:59 PM

July 4, 2007

HANDEL: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

First Performance: 20 February 1724, King's Theatre, London.

Principal Characters:

Giulio Cesare (Julius Cæsar), first Emperor of the Romans Male Alto
Curio (Curius), Tribune of Rome Bass
Cornelia, Wife to Pompey Contralto
Sesto Pompeo (Sestus), Son to Pompey and Cornelia Soprano
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt Soprano
Tolomeo (Ptolomey), King of Egypt and Brother to Cleopatra Male Alto
Achilla, General and Counsellor to Ptolomey Bass
Nireno (Nirenus), Friend to Ptolomey and Cleopatra Male Alto

Time and Place: Circa 48 B.C.E. in Egypt.

The Argument (Argomento):

JULIUS CÆSAR Dictator, having subdued the Gauls, and not being able thro’ the Interest of Curius, a Tribune, to obtain the Consulship, carried so far his Resentment to the Subversion of the Latine Liberty, that he shew’d himself more like an Enemy than a Citizen of Rome. The Senate being apprehensive of his growing Power, in order to check it, sent the Great Pompey against him with a numerous Army, which was defeated by Cæsar in the Pharsalian Fields. Pompey after this Rout, remembering the good Services he had done to the House of Ptolomey, thought it best to shelter himself there with Nornelia his Wife, and his Son Sestus; in the very time that Cleopatra and Ptolomey (the young ambitious and licentious King) forgetting their Affinity of Blood, were like inveterate Foes, arm’d against each other in Contention for the Crown. Cicero was made Prisoner, the good Cato kill’d himself in Utica, and Scipio with the poor Remains of the Roman Legions wandered Fugitive in Arabia. Cæsar being sensible, that nothing but the entire Destruction of Pompey could establish him Emperor of Rome, pursued him even into Egypt. Ptolomey naturally cruel and void of Honour, in hopes to ingratiate himself with Cæsar, and procure his Assistance against Cleopatra, presented him with the Head of Pompey, whom he had murdered at the Instigation of Achilla. Cæsar wept at the horrid Sight, taxing Ptolomey of Treachery and Barbarity; who not long after, a the Insinuation of the same wicked Counsellor, infringing upon the Sacred Laws of Hospitality, attempted privately to take away his Life; which Cæsar narrowly escap’d by throwing himself from the Palace into the Water, where he saved himself by swimming; upon this, arm’d with Fury and Resentment, he turn’d his Forces against the bloody Tyrant, who was soon after kill’d in the Heat of Battle. Cæsar falling in Love with Cleopatra, plac’d her upon the Throne of Egypt, he being at that time Master of the World, and first Emperor of Rome.

These Facts are taken from the Comment. of Cæsar, lib. 3. & 4. Dion. Lib. xiij. Plut. in the Life of Pompey and Cæsar; which Authors affirm, that Ptolomey was vanquish’d by Cæsar, and slain in Battle; but how, was uncertain.

Whereupon it was thought necessary in the present Drama to make Sestus the Instrument of Ptolomey’s Death in Revenge for his Father’s Murder, varying from History only in Circumstances of Action.

GIULIO CESARE In Egitto. DRAMA Da Rappresentarsi Nel REGGIO TEATRO di HAY-MARKET, per La Reale Accademia di Musica, 3-4 (London: Tomaso Wood nella Piccola Bretagna, 1724).


Act One

The victorious general Julius Cæsar is welcomed with jubilation. He accords Cornelia, Pompey's wife, and their son Sestus, his respect, and is prepared to make peace with his opponent.

In order to win Cæsar's favour, the Egyptian king Ptolemy sends his general Achilla to present Cæsar with the head of Pompey who has been murdered. Cæsar is outraged by this deed.

Cornelia laments the death of her husband; Sestus swears to avenge his father's murder.

Cleopatra, Ptolemy's sister, as first-born child considers herself to be the legitimate ruler of Egypt. She is intent on winning Cæsar's affections in order to gain the throne.

Achilla tells Ptolemy of Cæsar's anger over Pompey's murder. He is prepared to murder Cæsar as well on condition that he be allowed to wed Cornelia. Ptolemy agrees to the bargain.

Prompted by Pompey's death, Cæsar reflects on the pointlessness of life and fame. At this moment Cleopatra appears. She pretends to be Lidia, one of Cleopatra's servants, and asks Cæsar for support against Ptolemy. Cæsar is fascinated by her and promises help.

Cornelia is mourning the loss of her husband. Sestus wrests from her the sword with which she intends to kill Ptolemy. He considers this act of vengeance to be his right alone. Cleopatra has overheard their plans and promises to help them gain entry into the palace.

Cæsar meets Ptolemy. He reproaches the Egyptian for the murder of Pompey. Although Ptolemy appears to be hospitable, Cæsar senses danger and withdraws. Accompanied by his mother, Sestus has entered the palace and challenges Ptolemy to a duel, which the latter refuses to accept. Instead he condemns Cornelia to serve in his harem. Achilla promises her and her son freedom if she agrees to become his wife. Both indignantly reject this offer. Lamenting their fate, they part.

Act Two

Cleopatra has instructed her confidant Nirenus to bring Cæsar to her chambers, where she receives him, still in the guise of Lidia.

Cæsar appears and is overwhelmed by her beauty.

Achilla asks Cornelia once again for her hand, but is rejected.

Ptolemy is also enchanted by Cornelia's beauty and desires to marry her. When she indignantly repudiates her husband's murderer, he threatens to use force. Cornelia is on the point of ending her own life, but Sestus holds her back. Nirenus promises Sestus that he will bring him to Ptolemy. Sestus again swears to avenge his father's murder.

Cleopatra is expecting Cæsar; she asks the goddess of love to help her seduce him. Cæsar promses Cleopatra marriage.

At this moment Curio enters to warn Cæsar of murderers that Ptolemy has dispatched. Cleopatra reveals her true identity to Cæsar and offers him protection. Cæsar, however, is undaunted and departs to do battle, leaving Cleopatra distraught and fearing for the life of her beloved.

Act Three

In the battle between Cleapatra's troops and those of Ptolemy, the latter are victorious. He has his sister taken prisoner. Cleopatra laments her fate and curses her brother.

Cæsar has managed to escape drowning at sea and hopes that he can once again turn fate to his own advantage.

Sestus has been unable to find Ptolemy on the battlefield. He and Nirenus discover Achilla mortally wounded. He admits to having instigated Pompey's murder in order to win Cornelia, to have planned the plot against Cæsar, and to have betrayed Ptolemy, by whom he believes to have been deceived. For this he must now pay the price of death. As he dies, he gives Sestus a seal. Whoever possesses the seal can command one hundred armed men who are concealed nearby. Cæsar, who has been listening to the conversation, demands that he be given the seal and departs with Sestus in order to liberate Cleopatra and Cornelia.

The captive Cleopatra is expecting to be killed and bids farewell to her companions. Cæsar frees her.

Ptolemy tries once again to force his attentions on Cornelia. As she draws a sword against him, Sestus steps between them. He throws himself on Ptolemy and kills him. His father has finally been avenged.

Cæsar embraces Sestus as a friend and declares Cleopatra Queen of Egypt.

[Synopsis: Bayerische Staatsoper (translation: Christopher Balme)]

Click here for complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/sills_cleopatra.png image_description=Beverly Sills as Cleopatra audio=yes first_audio_name=Georg Friedrich Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto
WinAmp, VLC or iTunes first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Cesare2.m3u product=yes product_title=Georg Friedrich Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto product_by=Norman Treigle (Giulio Cesare), Ricardo Yost (Curio), Maureen Forrester (Cornelia), Peter Schreier (Sesto), Beverly Sills (Cleopatra), Franz Crass (Tolomeo), A. Matilla (Achilla), G. Gallardo (Nireno), Karl Richter (cond.)
Live performance, 12 September 1968, Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires
Posted by Gary at 9:39 PM

DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale

Item: Pasquale’s handsome wood-paneled library folds into a box — to be trundled on and off at will. But on the side of the box is a grand baroque window to overlook the garden serenade of the last scene, and that ornamental window looks suspiciously like a jowly old man with bald pate, bulging eyes, pork nose and gaping, furious mouth — a pun on an ornamental style and on the story of the piece.

Item: Part one concludes with “Sofronia,” fresh from her convent and dressed in demure gray gown, bonnet and veil, usurping control of her new “husband’s” home; Part two then begins with the remodeled home full of rushing servants under the cold stare of that severe veiled figure — but it’s a trick; it’s only the costume on a dressmaker’s dummy, soon replaced by “Sofronia” herself in rather gayer attire.

Item: As “Sofronia,” now Norina, sings her last delicious waltz, a befuddled Pasquale sits alone, sadly isolated with “Sofronia’s” twinkling shawl — but Norina, with a kiss, and Ernesto, with an embracing arm, coax him to accept his defeat.

In short, the director’s “business” and the designers’ jokes take delicious advantage of opportunities found in the ancient story itself, but never push them beyond the bounds of wit or taste.

Ferruccio Furlanetto is the unsophisticated old rogue who learns a lesson; he sounds woolly and day-dreamy and fine, playing the unsophisticated aspirant roué who is in fact too shy to speak to a strange girl, though his delivery of the patter could be quicker. Nuccia Focile, whose soprano is gratefully, sensuously darker than the chirp of such classic Norinas as Grist and Sciutti, has no problem with the coloratura of “So anch’io la virtu magica,” but comes into her own in “Tornami a dir.” Her slimness and agility and very Italian features don’t hurt, and in her talent and vocal quality and care for the style she is, I think, the best candidate among young Italian sopranos for the mantle of Mirella Freni. Gregory Kunde gives Ernesto’s music an endearing bloom with fine arching phrases, and he makes a stalwart figure — for once our tenor is not a cipher. Lucio Gallo connives but does not distract as the doctor, whose plot is — well — the plot of the opera. Riccardo Muti, famous for following the score to the letter, seems to have noticed that Donizetti intended his last comic opera to sparkle; sparkle it does.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/don_pasquale.png image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Don Pasquale product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Don Pasquale product_by=Ferruccio Furlanetto, Nuccia Focile, Gregory Kunde, Lucio Gallo, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti (cond.). Production by Stefano Vizioli. Directed for TV and video by Patrizia Carmine. product_id=TDK DVWW-OPDPSC [DVD] price=$29.98 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=3144&name_role1=1&comp_id=12746&genre=33&label_id=4145&bcorder=1956&name_id=56262&name_role=3
Posted by Gary at 8:59 PM

SZYMANOWSKI: Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess; Harnasie; Love Songs of Hafiz

While he wrote in several genres, the works that involve orchestra are evocatively colorful and those with voice quite soaring. This single CD includes some of Szymanowski’s finest works, two orchestral song cycles, the three Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess, op. 31 (1933), and the Love Songs of Hafiz, op. 26 (1914), along with the ballet-pantomime Harnasie, op. 55 (1935). The latter work, regarded as one of his masterpieces, resembles more a cantata with its use of chorus and solo tenor. Conceived in two parts, Harnasie is an atmospheric piece that deals with the abduction of a bride from her wedding by the robber Harnaś and his eventual taking her as his not unwilling bride. The story is set in the Tatra area of Poland, and as such makes use of evoking local color through melodic and thematic motifs and also its sensitive and highly colorful orchestration. It is a tour-de-force that is highly dramatic when executed with the precision that Sir Simon Rattle brings to this performance.

The first part of the work sets the stage for the action, with the various pieces establishing the sonic and timbral idiom Szymanowski conceived for the work. It is more symphonic than the second part, which opens with a striking depiction of the Polish wedding scene. That scene makes use of choral forces that capture the mood well in this particular recording. The stark open sonorities suggest the kind of eastern European ritual that Stravinsky captured in more sustained fashion in Les noces. Harnasie is a different kind of work, and its musical narrative makes use of other impulses in its structure. The entrance of the bride, for example, brings into the wedding scene elements from the first part of the work, and the stylized songs and dances that follow bring make use of elements related to Polish culture. Rattle allows these elements to emerge clearly and without artifice. He brings to the score a sense of narrative that creates the seamless quality Szymanowski intended in the score. The sometimes unique scorings are articulated clearly and underscore the melodic and rhythmic ideas that Szymanowski develops in this complex yet accessible work.

With the final scene, the solo tenor voice that belongs to the character of the robbers’ leader Harnaś poses the question that brings about the dénouement. This brief number is the critical element that must strike the right tone in its function as the raison d’être for the entire piece. Harnaś asks the bride whether she wants to see him or another, presumably the intended groom (“Powiydyzze mi powiydz / do uska prawego, / cy mnie rada widzis, cy kogo innegi?”) and, in this single piece, Szymanowski brings the work to its dramatic conclusion. Robinson’s interpretation is moving, with the florid line expressing the passionate side of the Polish robber.

The two orchestral song cycles included with Harnasie are equally masterful works. The first, the Songs for a Fairy-tale Princess are three highly ornate works that demand the kind of accomplished coloratura that Iwona Sobotka brings to this performance. The topics of the songs are hardly exotic: “The Lonely Moon,” “The Nightingale,” and “Dance.” Yet the music conveys an exotic quality in the elaborate, almost improvisatory-sounding lines. In contrast to the extended harmonic idiom Szymanowski used earlier in his career, the music seems related to impressionism and more Eastern-influenced melodic patterns. While its underlying structure is diatonic, the details suggest more remote musical associations.

In a similar way the Love Songs of Hafiz belong to the same world as the Songs for a Fair-Tale Princess. The texts of the Love Songs of Hafiz are derived from the interpretations of Persian verse by the German poet Hans Bethge, the author Die chinesische Flöte, which Mahler used for his orchestral song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. In these Polish translations of the Bethge’s German verse, nothing is lost in the linguistic shifts. These are poems that bring the Eastern world to West through the brilliant musical mind of Szymanowski. More adventurous, perhaps, such the post-Romanticism of Zemlinsky’s Lyrische Symphonie, Szymanowski’s set of eight songs are a profoundly moving work. Rattle brings a fine interpretation to this recording, which benefits from the elegant voice of Katarina Karnéus. Her low range is burnished and she offers an even tone in the passages that require a higher and–at times–sustained tessitura. Unquestionably lyric in approaching this piece, Karnéus also demonstates her capacity for dramatic expression in interpreting this work.

Those who may not be familiar withSzymanowski’s music will find this recording to be an excellent introduction to his work. The performers with the City of Birmingham Symphony and Chorus offer are sensitive to his style, and with this choice of pieces. Rattle offers a masterful interpretation to some of Szymanowski’s finest compositions. The three works were were recorded in studio and date from three sessions, Harnasie from 23-25 October 2002, the Love Songs from Hafiz from 30 June 2004, and the Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess from 20 March 2006. While some may be familiar with these works through earlier recordings, these recent ones bear attention for the nuanced expression they bring to the scores. It is easy to recommend this recording not only for the choice of music included, but also its impressive execution.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Szymanowski_songs.png image_description=Karol Szymanowski: Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess; Harnasie; Love Songs of Hafiz. product=yes product_title=Karol Szymanowski: Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess; Harnasie; Love Songs of Hafiz. product_by=Iwona Sobotka, soprano; Timothy Robinson, tenor; Katarina Karnéus, mezzo soprano; City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle (cond.) product_id=EMI Classics 0094636443522 [CD] price=$13.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=11839&name_role1=1&comp_id=8537&bcorder=15&name_id=62024&name_role=4
Posted by Gary at 2:15 PM

DONIZETTI: Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal

For instance, would Bellini have bested the success of I puritani had he lived to compose again? Or what might Turandot have sounded like had Puccini not had that fatal post-surgery heart attack? “What if” musings about Gaetano Donizetti’s last opera are especially bittersweet. Unlike Bellini’s and Puccini’s, Donizetti’s final work, Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal, was composed some four years before his death in 1848. Even though Caterina Cornaro was the last work he debuted, it actually had been composed a year before Dom Sébastien, the five-act grand opéra that premiered in Paris in 1843. It was during its rehearsals at the Opéra that the symptoms of cerebro-spinal syphilis, the disease that would kill the composer, began to incapacitate him mentally and physically, signaling the end of years of frenetic professional activity between Vienna, Paris, and a variety of theaters in Italy.

In spite of Donizetti’s health problems, the onset of which had troubled Dom Sébastien’s genesis, the opera poses a critical “what if.” Had Donizetti been able to continue his prolific career, would he—indeed, could he—have outdone what he achieved in this opera? Dom Sébastien is a massive score of nearly symphonic proportions expertly colored with elements that portray Europe and exotic Africa. Moreover, by employing allusion to chant, Donizetti even reflected the austerity of the Inquisition. Although there are “signature” passages that identify the opera as his, its magnitude introduces a heretofore unknown Donizetti at his creative peak—ironic, of course, since it also signals his creative demise.

Those who know Donizetti through the “standards”—Don Pasquale, Lucia di Lammermoor, and L’elisir d’amore—owe it to themselves to hear Dom Sébastien. An 1984 recording on the Legato Classics label exists but to get the full power and sheer dynamic drama of the work, Opera Rara’s three CD box with (as always) exhaustive liner notes is a better choice. As usual, Opera Rara has issued a recording that boasts historical integrity; the score employed was based on the one edited by musicologist Mary Ann Smart and published by Ricordi in 2003 as part of its Critical Edition of Donizetti’s works. A critical edition painstakingly traces all authorized versions and revisions, thus allowing modern interpreters a number of performance choices that will still reflect the work in its original forms. Opera Rara has taken this responsibility to heart, even including libretto passages by Dom Sébastien’s librettist Eugène Scribe that Donizetti may never have set. Also, three tracks faithfully interpret the music of the opera’s ballet, that ubiquitous element in French opera. Recorded in concert version at Covent Garden in 2005, this production truly exhibits the entirety of Donizetti’s final work.

Even though this is the finest recording of Dom Sébastien available, it is not without road bumps. Although the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House plays flawlessly under the baton of Mark Elder and that house’s chorus supports the soloists admirably under Renato Balsadonna’s direction, the cast is uneven. Sharing honors as the best of the cast are tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, who sings Sébastian, and baritone Simon Keenlyside as his Moorish rival, Abayaldos. Both singers offer impressive interpretations, so impressive, in fact, that they often show off the weaknesses of their fellow cast members. Alone, Filianoti always offers a clear, strong voice, impressive in such arias as “Seul sur la terre.” Similarly, Keenlyside’s renderings are consistent and rich. He, too, is perhaps the performer who most ably, through his voice alone, exploits the drama of the role entrusted to him.

Vesselina Kasarova (Zayda) has a rich mezzo with lush dark overtones, but her use of portamento at times approaches “scooping,” a distraction as she often approaches her notes from below. She almost always interprets the Moorish girl with vocal intensity, but there are delightful moments, such as in the aria “O mon Dieu, sur la terre,” when she allows her lyrical abilities to shine. Generally, she pairs well with the other singers, absolutely critical in this opera which is heavily laden with complex ensemble singing. However, the final notes of her Act II duet with Filianoti (“Courage!...ô mon roi! Courage”) take her mezzo to an uncomfortable altitude; while Filianoti hits his pitch with ease, she almost screeches hers. On the other hand, she pairs perfectly with Keenlyside; especially noteworthy is the Act II duet “Ah! Eh bien! Je le préfère/ Ne crois pour te soustraire” in which the dynamic climax allows her to remain comfortably within her range.

One could have wished for a better vocal interpretation of the role of the poet/soldier Camoëns. From his first appearance, “Soldat, j’ai rêvé la victoire” baritone Carmelo Corrado Caruso disappoints. Certainly not lacking in dramatic ability, his consistent wobble distracts from the vocal lines Donizetti created for this character. He virtually circles his pitches, at times so busily that it is hard to know where his is aiming. Although this is particularly apparent in recitative, it also mars arias such as the poet’s elegant musing, “O Lisbonne, ô ma patrie!”

Other roles are handled ably: Alastair Miles as Dom Juam de Silva, tenor John Upperton as Dom Antonio and the First Inquisitor, Andrew Slater as Ben-Sélim, Robert Gleadow as Dom Henrique, Martyn Hill as Dom Luis, Nigel Cliffe as the Soldier, and John Bernays as the Third Inquisitor. Despite a wonderful orchestra, cast, and chorus, the glory in this recording belongs to Donizetti, whose score remains a wonder to this day. Because of its sheer size, Dom Sébastien would rarely be cost-effective for any company to produce (hence, the Royal Opera’s concert performances). Opera Rara’s recording, then, is the safest way to hear a magnificent opera that promises to have its listeners wondering “what if?”

Denise Gallo

image=http://www.operatoday.com/dom_sebastian.png image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal product_by=Vesselina Kasarova, Giuseppe Filianoti, Simon Keenlyside, Carmelo Caruso, Alastair Miles, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus, Mark Elder (cond.) product_id=Opera Rara 33 [3CDs] price=$59.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=3144&name_role1=1&genre=33&bcorder=19&comp_id=165467
Posted by Gary at 11:52 AM


Music composed by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908). Libretto by Vladimir Nikolayevich Bel’sky, based on Alexander Pushkin’s treatment of stories from The Alhambra by Washington Irving (rev. ed., 1851).

First Performance: 24 September 1909, Solodovnikov Theatre, Moscow.

Principal Characters:
King Dodon Bass
Prince Guidon Tenor
Prince Afron Baritone
Commander Polkan Bass
Amelfa, royal housekeeper Contralto
Astrologer Tenore-Altino
The Queen of Shemakha Soprano
The Golden Cockerel Soprano


The bumbling King Dodon talks himself into believing that his country is in danger from the neighbouring State governed by the beautiful Queen Shemakhan. He asks for advice from a mysterious Astrologer, who gives him a magic Golden Cockerel, which promises to look after his interests.

The Golden Cockerel confirms that Queen Shemakhan certainly has some territorial ambitions, so King Dodon foolishly decides to make a pre-emptive strike against the neighbouring State, and sends his army, led by his two sons, to start the battle. However, his sons are both so inept that they manage to kill each other on the battlefield.

King Dodon then decides to lead the army himself, but further bloodshed is averted because the Golden Cockerel ensures that the old king becomes besotted when he actually sees the beautiful Queen. The Queen herself encourages this situation by performing a seductive dance - which tempts the King to try and partner her, but he is clumsy and makes a complete mess of it.

The Queen realises that she can take over Dodon’s country without further fighting — she engineers a marriage proposal from Dodon, which she coyly accepts.

The final scene starts with the great Bridal procession in all its splendour - and when this is reaching its conclusion, the Astrologer appears and says to the king “You promised me anything I could ask for if there could be a happy resolution of your troubles.......” “Yes, Yes, “ said the king, “Just name it and you shall have it”. “Right,” said the Astrologer, “I want Queen Shemakhan!”. At this, the King flares up in fury, and strikes down the Astrologer with a blow from his mace. The Golden Cockerel, loyal to his Astrologer master, then swoops across and pecks through the King’s jugular.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete score.

Click here for the complete The Alhambra.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/sills_beverly_Shemakha.png image_description=Beverly Sills as Queen Shemakha audio=yes first_audio_name=Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Coq d’or
WinAmp, VLC or iTunes first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Coq1.m3u product=yes product_title=Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Coq d’or product_by=Norman Treigle (King Dodon), Beverly Sills (Queen Shemakha), Enrico di Giuseppe (Astrologer), Muriel Costa-Greenspon (Amelfa), Gary Glaze (Guidon), David Rae Smith (Afron), Edward Pierson (Polkan), Syble Young (Le Coq d’or), Orchestra and Chorus of the New York City Opera, Julius Rudel (cond.)
Live performance, 9 November 1971, New York (sung in English).
Posted by Gary at 11:13 AM

July 2, 2007

Beverly Sills Dies

beverly_sills_head.pngBY VERENA DOBNIK [AP, 2 July 2007]

NEW YORK (AP) - Beverly Sills, the Brooklyn-born opera diva who was a global icon of can-do American culture with her dazzling voice, bubbly personality and management moxie in the arts world, died Monday of cancer, her manager said. She was 78.

Posted by Gary at 9:14 PM