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

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Richard Strauss: Elektra
06 Sep 2007

STRAUSS: Elektra

Among the available videos of Richard Strauss’s Elektra, the recently released DVD of the live broadcast from 16 February 1980 stands out for capturing the exciting of an all-star international cast that included the famous Birgit Nilsson in the title role.

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Mignon Dunn, Robert Nacy, Donad McIntyre, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, conductor.

Deutsche Grammophon B0007475-09 [DVD]

$24.98  Click to buy

For various reasons expressed in the booklet that accompanies the recording, Nilsson had been away from New York for some time, and her return for this performance was a special occasion that culminated in the live broadcast. This DVD reproduces the televised performance that conveys the immediacy of the experience at the Met. While the opening trailer is the same that has been used for other Live from the Met productions, the performance suggests the spontaneity that accompanied Nilsson’s return.

For this performance Levine used one of the Met’s reliable productions, one created by Herbert Graf and which is a conventional way of presenting the opera. The costumes by Rudolf Heinrich reflect the fin-de-siècle opulence in their stylized evocations of ancient Greece, especially in the accoutrements for Klytämnestra. Yet overall, the DVD gives the sense of being at the Met for one of the operas it has done well over the years.

Typical of the Met in 1980, the cast included Leonie Rysanek, who was also part of another video recording of this opera made around the same time that Karl Böhm led. Along with her, Mignon Dunn sang the role of Klytämnestra, with Robert Nagy as her lover Aegisth. Donald McIntyre was Orest, Elektra’s brother and the vehicle of revenge on Klytämnestra for her murder of Agamemnon, their father.

It is a quite competent performance that stands apart from other DVDs because of its single-take as a live broadcast. While some pitch problems occur, they are minor compared to the generally fine and spirited performances of all the principals. Rysanek works well with Nilsson in roles that are comfortable for both singers. As strong as both performers are, their voices are sometimes obscured by the orchestra, which emerges perhaps too strongly in the recording. It is possible to accommodate that imbalance through the fine acting that both of those performers brought to the stage.

Mignon Dunn contributed a suitably imperious quality to the role of Klytämnestra, and with it gave the part the lyrical quality that some performers eschew in deference to readings that can be closer to Sprechstimme. Likewise, Orest requires a heroic sound that must not seem like a caricature, and McIntyre captures the part well. He and the rest of the cast work well with Nilsson in bringing out the dramatic qualities of the music in this signally modern interpretation of the Greek myth. In the end, though, it is Elektra who must elicit the cathartic moment, and Nilsson delivers her part memorably. While her finale dance may not have the visual pathos that comes with the streaks of rain that characterize Böhm’s film, her mimed madness is effective in this live performance.

The disc includes the extensive curtain calls that demonstrate the respect the Met audience expressed for Nilsson and Levine. All of the curtain calls are left in, along with shots of the cast behind the curtain, as they heard the acclaim of the audience, It is particularly impressive to heard the rhythmic applause that started after almost eight minutes of the ovation and brought Nilsson out for a solo bow after twelve minutes. In addition to the opera, the DVD includes bonus tracks of Nilsson singing Isolde’s narrative from Tristan und Isolde, which Nilsson performed at the Met Centennial celebration in 1983. This concert performance of the excerpt is memorable and serves to document further Nilsson’s association with the Met and Levine.

Another excerpt included on this disc is a relatively short tribute that Nilsson gave at the 1996 twenty-fifth anniversary of Levine’s tenure at the Met. In that cut Nilsson alluded to the 1980 production of Elektra and the part it played in her career – she ended her salute to Levine with a solo Walküre call of “Ho-jo-to-ho.” A tribute to Levine, it is a valedictory to a career well sung.

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):