15 Oct 2007
STRAUSS : Elektra
Whatever you do, don't give this DVD as a gift to people you don't want to alienate.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
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Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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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.
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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.