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

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Dmitri Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
28 Oct 2007

SHOSTAKOVICH: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Among the signal operas of the twentieth century, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is a powerful transformation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, based on the 1865 short story by Nicolai Leskov.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Vladimir Vaneev, Lani Poulson, Carol Wilson, Eva-Maria Westbroek, L'udovit Ludha, Christopher Ventris Mariss Jansons, conductor, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Opera Chorus.

Opus Arte OA0965D [2DVDs]

$39.98  Click to buy

The negative spiral of evil at the core of Shakespeare’s drama inspired Leskov to retell the story in prose for Russian readers of the nineteenth century and it, in turn, became the basis of the libretto by Alexander Preis Shostakovich, who gave it a contemporary setting. In telling the story of Katerina Ismailova, Shostakovich portrayed the woman, his Lady Macbeth, with perhaps more sympathy than his nineteenth-century predecessor. The comments by Shostakovich quoted in the notes that accompany this DVD give a concise statement of his intentions:

Leskov finds no moral or psychological justification for murder. I [Shostakovich], however have portrayed Katerina Ismailov as a strong, talented and beautiful woman who succumbs to the bleak surrounds of a Russia populated by merchants and serfs. For Leskov, she is a murderess; I depict her as a complex and tragic character. She is a loving woman, a deeply sensitive woman, by no means without feeling. . . .

In this opera the dissonant idiom Shostakovich used is effective as a sonic foundation for the passionate, if angular, vocal lines. The sometimes harsh orchestral accompaniments not only support the vocal lines, but also offer cues to the audience about the emotional pitch of the scenes, and the sensitive conductor Mariss Jansons offers a perceptive reading of this score. By no means an simple work. Jansons is clear in his interpretations, which offers a clear shape in each scene. At the same time the staging of Martin Kušej offers an appropriate foil for the story, with its outline-like structures of glass and metal that support the work. This DVD is based on the televised version of that staging, which Thomas Grimm directed for film. As a filmed opera, it preserves the sense of being on stage, yet reproduces some of the necessarily intimate blocking for some scenes, with close-ups that would be difficult to capture from a live performance of the work.

The staging itself is realistic and sometimes brutal in depicting murder or sexual longing, thus bringing out further the modernist aspects of Shostakovich’s work. As Kušej is quoted in the booklet that accompanies the DVD, “Orgasm and murder are two diametrically opposed poles, two extreme amplitudes of love and hate, the two fundamental relationships between human beings. This climactic and yet unfathomably deep essence of human behavior is the linchpin of my production. . . .” On this basis, the production brings out the sometimes primal striving of characters to survive both the situations in which they find themselves and also their or drives. Such a perspective is, perhaps, what makes the heroine Katerina intriguing, and Eva-Maria Westbroek succeeds in depicting the character as someone who is at once victim and perpetrator. She is the match for Sergei, whom Christopher Ventris plays convincingly. Early in the opera, a member of the crowd warns that Sergei is troublesome, but that does not deter Katerina in her liaison with him. It is too simple to make Sergei the scapegoat for Katerina’s actions. He is, rather, the enabler, whose passion for Katerina is at the root of her fateful response to her father-in-law’s discovery of their affair.

In performing their roles, the two principals display a command of the music and its nuances. Westbroek is as compelling in her solo numbers as she is when her entrance heightens the ensemble numbers. As much as the performance requires physicality, her voice matches those demands well, and remains inviting and vibrant. Ventris, whose own presence balances that of Westbroek, is equally adept at the role of Sergei, whose brutality is convincingly offputting. Yet his singing is, on the contrary, what makes Ventris’s Sergei memorable.

The chorus serves a actor and commentator, and the members of the Netherland Opera offer a vivid sense of the crowds when necessary. The involvement of the crowd in the sexual attack is stark, and the staging stops short of being graphic. Yet the rendering of Sergei’s liaison with Katerina benefits from the stop-action clips of the performers at various angles that suggests, rather than tells. As such, the stage action balances the musical content without overwhelming it.

Beyond the sensuality associated with Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the opera conveys a sense of the starkness that affects the characters in different ways. In interpreting the score Jansons is sensitive to that aspect of the music and maintains the intensity throughout the performance. This, in turn, drives the work to its conclusion, which is at once fitting and tragic.

This is a powerful production that makes available on video a fine production of the opera by performers who know the work well. The first two acts fill the first disc, with the third on the second. In fact, the latter contains a documentary about the film by Reiner Moritz, which offers some details about the production and the film itself. Recorded in 2006, this recent release is an impressive contribution to opera on DVD, and serves Shostakovich’s work well.

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):