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
15 Oct 2007

STRAUSS : Elektra

Whatever you do, don't give this DVD as a gift to people you don't want to alienate.

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Eva Johansson (soprano) : Elektra, Marjana Lipovšek.(mezzo-soprano): Klytemnestra, Melanie Diener (soprano) : Chrysothemis, Alfred Muff (baritone) Orest, , Rudolf Schasching (tenor) : Aegisthus, Chor des Opernhauses Zürich, Orchester der Opernhaus Zürich, Martin Kušej (Stage Director), Christoph von Dohnnanyi (conductor) Zürich 2005

TDK DVWW-OPELEK [DVD]

$29.98  Click to buy

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.

Anne Ozorio

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):