Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

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.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,



Jean Sibelius: A Film in Two Parts
29 Oct 2007

Jean Sibelius: A Film in Two Parts

The two short films about the composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), The Early Years and Maturity & Silence comprise a video biography of Finnish artist.

Jean Sibelius: A Film in Two Parts — The Early Years / Maturity & Silence.

The Christopher Nupen Films.

Christopher Nupen Film A05CND [DVD]

$26.99  Click to buy

Written and directed by Christopher Nupen, the result is a solid biographical study of the composer that takes its cue from the various shifts in the reputation of Sibelius, not only within his lifetime, but posthumously. Such a perspective is present from the start, with the narrator’s comments about the changing fortunes of Sibelius’s legacy part of the introduction to the first part of the film.

In presenting this the story of Sibelius’s career, Nupen avoided creating a biopic and, instead, chose the more straightforward approach of illustrating a solidly written narration with iconography associated with the composer as well as performances of his music. The latter include some fine excerpts by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, along with vocal music sung by Elisabeth Söderström. To augment the visual palette, Nupen included various natural scenes from the Finnish countryside, and the subtle motion in the landscapes contributes a subtle touch to the images that are otherwise static, albeit quite effective.

At the core of this film is the text that seems driven by the questions about Sibelius’s reputation, and in seeking answers, Nupen addresses not only the biographical details but seeks, at times, to approach the composer’s motivation in certain works. Ultimately the search for answers requires an exploration of both the music and its reception, which results in establishing a context for the success of Sibelius as a composer of both national and international standing. The connections between Sibelius and Finnish nationalism are known popularly through his famous tone poem Finlandia, and Nupen fortunately goes further to discuss this aspect of Sibelius’s career further. The aspiration behind Sibelius’s Violin Concerto and the Fourth Symphony, two works that have, in some respects, fallen short of the expectations behind them. Yet Nupen is keen to establish a context for the careful composition of the Fifth Symphony, which resulted in Sibelius’s enduring contribution to modern symphonic literature.

While the enthusiasm Nupen has for Sibelius’s music is apparent in this film, it never moves toward the kind of hero-worship that biases his work. The balanced and factual treatment of the issue of alcohol in Sibelius’s personal life is part of the narrative, but it becomes neither an excuse for what some may deem failings on the part of the composer nor a sensational topic. Again, the text bears attention for the choice of works, along with the judicious selection of sources from diaries and other primary sources. The reliance on firsthand accounts is selective, and contributes a sense of authenticity that films like this require.

Thus, when Nupen approaches the second part of the film, “Maturity & Silence,” he has already established the composer as an international figure with an individual style, so that he can explore the directions in which the artist could take his musical imagination. Never simplistic, Nupen is clear in the aesthetic success of the Fourth Symphony, without exaggerating the popular appeal and immediate success of the Fifth. The composer’s own comments about his flights of musical imagination at the time he wrote the work are, perhaps, more telling than reviews or other kinds of documents. Yet it is the performance of the music itself in the hands of the Ashkenazy that make the composer’s accomplishments vivid and appealing. The selections are well chosen and as much as some are expected, they are nonetheless welcome in this film. At times, one would want to hear the acclaim of the audience at the conclusion of as bold a statement as the Finale of the Second Symphony. At times the careful superimposition of the narration on the music is nicely balanced.

This is a carefully created film that goes far in describing the life and works of Sibelius. With each of the two segments lasting just over fifty minutes, the length of the film is sufficient to explore the subject in some depth, with time enough for sometimes extended musical examples. Fifty years of Sibelius’s passing in1957, the release of this film serves as a tribute to the composer at a critical anniversary and at the same time asks the question of the composer’s future. While Sibelius’s works are regularly part of symphony programs and recording releases, how does the composer ultimately fit into the various threads that comprise the twentieth century. Is the aspect of nationalism the enduring quality, or is the individual style that inspired the later works ultimately critical to Sibelius’s legacy? Answers to such questions are beyond the scope of the film, but the repeated hearings that Nupen’s efforts will provoke may bring audiences closer to understanding the contributions that Sibelius made in works that have lasted into the early twentieth century. All in all, this is a fine film that serves both its subject and the music well. The DVD is a useful means for making available material like this, with its easily searchable contents and excellent sound.

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):