15 Oct 2007
STRAUSS : Elektra
Whatever you do, don't give this DVD as a gift to people you don't want to alienate.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive archives.
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled Great Wagner Singers.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Whatever you do, don't give this DVD as a gift to people you don't want to alienate.
This production focusses on the opera as the drama of a horribly dysfunctional family. Murderous they may be, but they're still recognisably human, not stereotypes. Elektra isn't just a raving madwoman but someone with whom we can readily identify. Dressed in a hoodie and fingerless gloves, she's the punky rebel we've all encountered. That probably says something disturbing about the society in which we live, but it's all the more reason for listening to this interpretation.
Gőtz Freidrich's visualisation of the Bőhm production was so powerful that it's hard to shake images of Rysenek and Varney, haunted and distraught, emerging from a murky background. Perhaps this new production is a conscious effect to break away, for the Zűrich production is lit so harshly that it hurts, achieving an oppressive effect by opposite means. The very ground beneath the singers undulates, underlining the shaky foundations of Klytemnestra's power. Holes in the floor provide burrows in which Elektra can hide, like a feral beast. Like abused children, she's had no support, and hardship has taken its toll.
This production places some emphasis on social commentary. Doors open and close along barren corridors, as if the palace were a hotel. I doubt that Kušej knowingly made the connection, but Klytemnestra and Aegisthus are indeed the type who think morals apply “only to little people”. The contemporary focus also brings out interesting secondary themes. Elektra and Chrysothemis represent completely different ways of coping with the family trauma, and by extension, illustrate the choices open to women in society. This is in the libretto and in the music, so it's not inappropriate and is not, in any case, overdone.
More developed, though, is the production's fascination with sexual ambiguity. The story wouldn't have happened in the first place if were it not for Aegisthus and Klytemnesrra having an illicit relationship, so there's clearly a sexual undercurrent. Yet Elektra's identification with her father and brother goes deeper than anger at her father's death. The scene in which she buries the apparition of a little blond girl ties in psychologically with her revulsion at being touched by Orestes and the frisson with which she imagines her sister's marriage. Her kind of madness would have fascinated Freud, and the wordly circles in which Strauss moved. But what do we make of the naked young men who flit across the stage in suspender belts and lipstick ? Or the butch mistress who manages the maidservants ? Or Aegisthus with so much rouge ? Definitely these things contribute to the idea of a court where aberration rules, but the scene in which half the cast turns up in feather tutus is a bit beyond me. It's certainly spectacular, though, and a visual release after all that repression .
Eva Johanssen convinces as this conflicted Elektra because she's a good actress, the subtlety of her portrayal captured better on film through close-ups and quick cuts than would come over in stage performance. Vocally, her range is more restricted, but this is not a role that requires prettiness. Just as Elektra had to hold out alone for years, awaiting vengeance, Johanssen's part heroically supports the whole opera. She creates the character even when she's not actually singing. Lipovšek's Klytemnestra is surprisingly sympathetic. She uses the natural roundness in her voice to balance the harshness inherent in the role. Klytemnestra has bad dreams, so she does have a conscience, not at that far from the surface. In comparison, Deiner, Muff and Schasching have relatively straight forward parts. The dialogues, such as between the sisters, and later when Elektra faces off Aegisthus, come over clearly. A pleasant surprise was Sen Gou. It's probably back handed compliment to single out one of the maids in a chorus, but her role is more important than it might seem, for she's the maid who defends Elektra when all the others condemn her. This maid, like Elektra herself, is “allein” and suffers for being an individual. Sen Gou's personality and singing definitely stood out. I also liked the orchestral playing, for Dohnanyi's lucid style did not submerge the spartan angularities in the music. Even when he's evoking the wild abandon of the final dance, his clear vision respects the modernity in Strauss's orchestration. This new production certainly won't supplant the Bőhm on DVD, but it's an approach which enhances the opera as a human drama.