November 28, 2007

DONIZETTI: Adelia

Commissioned for the Teatro Apollo in Rome, the over-taxed composer commuted between the two capitals, actually arriving late in the game with Act III still in his suitcase. An unscrupulous promoter over-sold the house (Donizetti had to pay a scalper for his own seat to the premiere), and the opening night (11 February 1841) turned into bedlam when frustrated ticket-holders inside and out erupted in a shouting match. Subsequent performances thankfully confirmed “Adelia’s” success.

It is telling to know that the demanding title role was composed for the lauded gifts of diva Giuseppina Strepponi. Small wonder then that the piece has languished, even in light of the flourishing bel canto revival that began with the divine “Maria.”

The story is a far-fetched, and thin-stretched tale of Duke Carlo the Bold and his archers, returning victoriously from battle. Count Oliviero is discovered sneaking out of the Duke’s bodyguard’s (Arnoldo) house, and the meddling crowd decides that his daughter Adelia there-in must have had her honor despoiled by Oliviero, and that the two are therefore ill-fated. Our heroine hopes to persuade dad otherwise, but Arnaldo denounces Oliviero to the Duke, who anyway had “other plans” for Adelia. He sentences Oliviero to death for violating women -- of lower station! (I guess violating women of his own station might only have condemned him to listening to Christina Deutekom recordings.)

But Arnoldo wisely says that killing him will not restore the family honor, so Duke acquiesces that the two marry, with intent to simply behead the groom later. The wedding prep gets interrupted by the beheadee-to-be coming in to inform Adelia of a suspicious scaffold being erected just outside. (Hmmmm, what could that be for. ..?) They dream of happy love but a letter reveals Duke’s true plans. In a convoluted twist only tolerable to die-hard bel canto fans everywhere, she decides by not marrying her love she can actually save him, but dad in turn threatens her with death if she doesn’t marry him. (Huh? Are you following this?)

But fatherly Arnoldo can’t go through with slaying his daughter and breaks down in tears, emotionally manipulating Adelia into marrying Oliviero. Fast forward: bridegroom begins to doubt the bride’s feelings since she has been acting strangely, but recalling the ol’ scaffold makes him realize she is probably having a nervous breakdown. (By now, aren’t we all?) In an Emily- Latella-“Never-Mind” moment, Duke has a sudden and wholly unmotivated change of heart, sparing Oliviero, ennobling Arnoldo (to legitimize the match), and presumably finding a buyer for a like-new, never-used scaffold. Adelia weeps. Again. This time for joy.

Okay, this pat ending is silly even for routine Donizetti. In his defense, he had tried to get Felice Romani to provide the better original ending he had previously scripted for composer Carlo Coccia, but he got no response. So, he had to use a new, less effective text from Girolamo Maria Marini. For all the quirkiness of the plot twists, however, the libretto does at least provide the means for some wonderful music.

This CD set was was apparently recorded live over six days, and it does have some limitations as well as some wonderful compensations. Overall, the reading could have greatly benefited from a stage director to pump some dramatic fire into the proceedings.

The chorus especially seems uninvolved. If these are indeed Italians, they are the most bloodless Italians I have ever encountered. Starting with the opening, they are flat dramatically, and things do not improve too much, witness the lackluster “Viva all’amor de popoli.” The lilting 6/8 opening of Act II “Sull campo dell’onor” is joyless. What’s up with that? It is a shame, since the group phrases nicely, has good diction, polished presentation, and good internal balance, albeit with a rather weak recorded presence at times. But they are usually only “correct,” when they should be willing participants in the intriguing drama.

The soloists are captured in better balance, originally a little muffled but it corrects itself soon. There is clean orchestral playing throughout, and it is well-captured. The opening Sinfonia begins as a rather rumpy- tump affair, but soon blossoms into a delightfully jaunty prelude.

An overall observation is that everyone takes a little while to really warm up, or to warm to the piece. The reading builds in fire, but it should not trip over indifferent moments along the way, disturbing the overall crescendo of the piece. The end of Act II, “Folgi alfin al sacro rito” turns flaccid when the assembled forces lose their collective and individual sparks. It cried out for far more heat from the tenor in heartfelt cries like his repeated “Adelia, mia,” and the soprano goes slightly under pitch on swelling ascending phrases. The dramatic and musical tension just plain goes out of it. But then, just as suddenly, they recoup their mission, an exposed tenor solo hits the mark, the soprano shows real fire, and they ignite the orchestra, too.

Andrea Silvestrelli brings a mature, pliable, orotund bass to Arnoldo that is perfect for the heroine’s father. He contributes beautiful legato singing throughout, with a most pleasing sense of bel canto line displayed to advantage in his initial “Siam giunti,” and especially in a great duet with his daughter in Act Two, “Ah, no, non posso.” He is also capable of powerful declamation, and commands a full stylistic understanding of what his role, and this composer, is about. He “gets it.” Maybe he could use q touch more varied color on “Va, vendetta,” but he more than compensates later. Mr. Silvestrelli is an internationally successful singer and it shows.

Michela Sburlati essays Adelia having recently debuted as Isolde. Based on this recording I would guess she has the goods for it, since she is possessed of a clear, warm, big sound, with a full middle and lower range displayed to advantage right away in her first aria “Fui preaga; ah, tu lo vedi.” Her coloratura was initially a bit labored but no more so than we have heard from such esteemed Donizettians as Caballe. Her coloratura licks by the finale are fiery and accurate. She can’t quite float the touched-upon high notes like Sills or Dessay but then who can? She is capable of a poignant and limpid line. A few strident top notes not withstanding, she has the goods. This sounds like a big voice, and big voices are not always gratefully recorded. Although I enjoyed this account, I would love to hear her in the house.

Ms. Sburlati starts off dramatically tentative (as do all), but seems inspired by Arnoldo in their duet. She really has her first star turn moment with a beautiful judged introspective aria “Ah, le nostr’anime,” laden with meaning and gorgeously voiced. Later she hurls some excellent dramatic outbursts at Arnoldo in “Ah no, non posso,” a terrific father-daughter duet that stands up favorably against any other of Donizetti’s best.

The soprano’s (and the opera’s) high point is arguably the Act II duet “Tutto di te sollecito” for Adelia and the Oliviero of David Sotgiu. The two conjure echos of the famed Pavarotti-Sutherland partnership with his clear, bright, forward-placed lyric voice, and she with her warm, full, slightly covered sound. This is very beautiful music-making indeed.

Mr. Sotgiu has a lyric tenor, purity of tone, and good squillo ping in the upper register. It is hard to believe he has already sung the heavier role of Don Carlos. I hope he stops that stuff and concentrates on Bel Canto for a bit longer as he is welcome and needed.

Dramatically, he tends to be a loner. The role does have its Big Pavarotti Moment in “Che fia di me!” and he acquits himself honorably even if he does not yet have the panache in the ornamentation of the second go-‘round of the cabaletta. This scena of course requires a star turn, and what we get from him right now is “merely” very good vocalizing. He will likely grow. It did make me realize just how much we miss a tenor with Mr. Pavarotti’s gifts.

This solo also features compelling orchestral partnership from the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento: fine wind ensemble work, a haunting exposed clarinet solo, vibrant strings ripping off dramatic upward scales, pizzicato and bowed dramatic underpinnings, and an excellent instrumental “commentary” in the middle recitative section. Save the slack moment in the Act II finale, there is outstanding playing throughout under the baton of Gustav Kuhn. In fact, revel in their enthusiastic, infectious playing of the Act I finale, so reminiscent of early Verdi. You can just hear the Italian Polizia Marching Band waiting to take it over!

Odetta is portrayed with sympathy and a rich mezzo by Hermine Haselboeck. A bit unruly at first, she settled into even production throughout the range, and offered highly affecting singing from Act II onward. Indeed she is just lovely in the opening of Act II with the women’s chorus and Adelia who also scores with elastic phrasing and melting portamento.

The smaller roles are very well cast with baritone Giulio Mastrototaro, and tenors Xavier Rouillon and Giorgio Valenta.

While “Adelia” will likely not make you want to fore-go listening to other great stars in greater Donizetti operas, this is a welcome addition to the catalogue, and one which contains many pleasures that amply offset some minor quibbles. Listeners will also find a complete Libretto in pdf file on CD Two.

James Sohre

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Adelia.png image_description=Donizetti: Adelia product=yes product_title=Donizetti: Adelia product_by=Michela Sburlati, Hermine Haselböck, David Sotgiu, Xavier Rouillon, Giorgio Valenta, Giulio Mastrototaro und Andrea Silvestrelli.and Trento Haydn Orchestra and Chorus, Gustav Kuhn, conductor. product_id=RCA 88697108132 [2CDs] price=EUR 23,99 product_url=http://www.amazon.de/dp/B000R28KZS?tag=operatoday0c-21&camp=1410&creative=6378&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000R28KZS&adid=0NH349GQSK460MMMN1EB&
Posted by Gary at 12:43 PM

Thanksgiving in San Francisco

This year, the three productions from Friday through the Sunday matinee featured productions new to San Francisco. The Rake’s Progress premiered on Friday the 23rd, while the Saturday the 24th Macbeth came in the middle of its run. The weekend ended with a sold-out Sunday matinee of La Rondine, in its penultimate performance.

David Gockley seems intent to marry at least some of the envelope-pushing excitement Pamela Rosenberg tried to bring to SFO to a more star-centered, audience-pleasing approach. What he may find is that even the world’s best marriage counselor can’t help this coupling.

The War Memorial clearly did not sell out for the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s score to W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman’s libretto of The Rake’s Progress. An opera arguably more respected than loved, even the presence of audience favorite James Morris as Nick Shadow couldn’t fill every seat. Director Robert Lepage apparently flipped through a volume on the history of cinema, found a photo of James Dean in costume for Giant on the wide plains of Texas, and decided, “There’s my concept”! At any rate, such a picture found its way to the cover of the San Francisco program. The spare production has some showy, humorous effects, such as a heart-shaped bed into which the errant Tom Rakewell (William Burden) and Mother Goose (Catherine Cook) fall, which then swallows them and sinks into the stage as they canoodle. Later a silver balloon pops up from a similar crack in the stage, inflating until it becomes a tacky mobile home. In Lepage’s vision, once Tom has left Texas, he is seduced by Hollywood glamour, with Nick Shadow at one point in the role of film director. Following that schema, the last scene perhaps should have taken place in a ritzy Malibu rehab clinic, but Lepage simply has it in an all-white hospital ward. After the color and drive of the earlier scenes, the evening slowly deflates, but getting some emotional impact out of the brilliant but cold creation of Stravinsky, Auden, and Kallman would be a challenge for any director.

Morris sang with professional authority, but never for one moment suggested evil. Laura Aiken caught the essence of Anne Truelove’s naive innocence, even though it’s possible to imagine a sweeter tone. As Baba the Turk, Denyce Graves nearly stole the show, dipping easily into the vocal pool of dark colors while also slipping into an on-stage pool at one point, looking quite glamorous in a ‘50s-style one-piece bathing suit (with beard accessory).

But ultimately the evening belonged to William Burden, an American lyric whose name doesn’t seem to come up often when discussing star tenors of the day. He can be counted on for solid projection of a pleasing, though slightly anonymous, tone, and he is that creature both applauded and derided on today’s opera stage: an attractive, fit performer who can really act. Why some would prefer an out-of-shape singer who stands and barks is beyond your reviewer.

Donald Runnicles led the SFO orchestra in the performance one would expect: detailed, dynamic, and urgent. It’s good to know that even when he has relinquished his title as music director, he will return to the War Memorial.

From various reports, the premiere of David Poutney’s production of Verdi's Macbeth met with strong disapproval, except for its star lead, Thomas Hampson. Hampson appears in a DVD of this production of Verdi’s opera, from Zurich some five years ago. Apparently the opening night audience thought Pamela Rosenberg had gained possession of Gockley. By the fourth performance on November 24th, things seemed to have jelled. Pountney wants the audience to feel truly weirded out by the Scottish tragedy, and probably correctly feels that a traditional approach can no longer achieve the appropriate spooky effect. Here the castle takes the form of a rotating cube with a mirrored interior, emphasizing the cramped psyches of the Lord and Lady Macbeth as they murderously pursue their expansive ambitions. The weird sisters are truly weird, a spectrum of feminine archetypes from grande dames and grandmothers to hula-hooping teenyboppers and stern matrons, all dressed in various shades of red. At the banquet that Banquo’s ghost crashes, for once we do not have to deal with a crudely made-up Banquo wandering around the stage to little effect. Hampson is more than actor enough to make us believe he sees the ghost, while Pountney has him pawing through dirt-strewn dining tables (the dirt of the grave?).

Understandably, for some in the audience, this constant flow of ideas becomes sensory over-kill, especially if one is hesitant to engage with the director, perhaps feeling it is more the director’s duty to engage the audience. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that many who see this production will be forgetting it very soon.

Georgina Lukács, by many reports, had a difficult time at the premiere. On Saturday her Lady Macbeth did seem tentative in her opening aria, perhaps understandably since she sang it from the top of the cube/castle, with a safety rope around her waist clearly in evidence. The voice is wild and unruly, but by the middle of the performance her fiery temperament and commanding high notes, especially in ensembles, had most of the audience on her side. Raymond Aceto’s Banquo and Alfred Portilla’s Macduff paled, in contrast to Lukács’s exciting risk-taking, but in the small role of Malcolm, Noah Stewart made a strong impression.

Hampson showed what star power - and fine artistry - is all about. His voice rang out with authority, and though he tended to tower over the other performers, he still manged to create a portrayal of a big man trapped in a small, frightened psyche. Conductor Massimo Zanetti, in a house debut, provided strong support for the singers, with the ballet music energetic.

But the SFO audiences were ready for dessert after the Stravinsky and Pountney’s Verdi, and they applauded the lush sets of Puccini’s La Rondine almost as happily as they did Angela Gheorghiu’s star turn. Director Nicolas Joël and set designer Ezio Frigerio had the budget for a towering set of marble colonnades; almost every scene resembled the lobby of a four-star hotel with a tacky Egyptian theme. This had little to do with Puccini’s lightweight faux-operetta, but it looked great.

Is there any other Puccini opera where the lead soprano makes a less imposing entrance? Magda is simply hanging around the parlor as the curtain rises, and in Franca Squarciapino’s costumes, which looked both expensive and unappealing, Angela Gheorghiu couldn’t make her star presence felt until she opened her mouth. But that did the trick. No matter what publicity she generates, Miss Gheorghiu has built her career on very fine singing. She doesn’t have the largest voice, but she could be heard well enough in the cavernous space of the War Memorial, and she even rang out with nice power in the wonderful ensembles of act two. Ultimately, La Rondine is a dissatisfying opera, and Puccini’s music for the third act is probably the weakest of his career, as he can no longer sustain the illusion that the story or characters inspire him. Such is Miss Gheorghiu’s artistry, she makes the opera seem worth staging, if just as a showcase for her talent.

As Ruggero, Misha Didyk came across as more at ease than he had as Puccini’s Des Grieux opposite Karita Mattila last season. He really has neither beauty of tone nor raw power, but with Puccini tenors in short supply, he can at least get through the music in representable fashion. Anna Christy and Gerard Powers both delighted as Rondine’s equivalent to Musetta and Marcello, a second couple to contrast with the love story of the opera’s main pair. Ion Marin, apparently a favorite of Miss Gheorghiu, scaled the orchestral performance beautifully to her needs.

As Gockley’s reign proceeds, it will be interesting to see if he continues to risk the audience’s disapproval with productions such as Pountney’s Macbeth. His challenge is finding enough stars in today’s current opera scene of the stature of Miss Gheorghiu (or Hampson). Rosenberg never seemed interested in walking the fine line between tradition and innovation. Mr. Gockley may have to be forgiven a stumble or two, but the three productions reviewed here, from the edgy to the elegant, actually are to Gockley’s credit.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Rake_SFO.png image_description=William Burden (Tom Rakewell) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy] product=yes product_title=William Burden as Tom Rakewell in The Rake's Progress, San Francisco Opera
Photo by Terrence McCarthy
Posted by Gary at 12:25 PM

Tom Moore Interviews Marisa Rezende

Composer Marisa Rezende, born and raised in Rio, is a fundamental presence in the musical life of the city, not only for her compositions, but as perhaps the most important teacher of the next generation. We spoke in Portuguese during the 17th Bienal of Contemporary Music.

TM: What was the musical environment in your family like?

MR: There was a piano at home. My mother studied a little, and my father played quite a bit by ear, without ever having studied piano. My mother says that quite early, when I was not even four years old, she noticed me playing a “música de roda”. She thought that perhaps it was by chance, and she asked me to repeat it, and I did. After that I was always playing, so that my start in music was spontaneous, and quite early. My aunts and grandmother were always singing, but it was very informal – there was no one who was involved in music in a professional way.

I began to study with a teacher at five years old, who taught me to read before I had begun school, so that I could take piano lessons. I remember my father, when I was very young, and playing samba, insisting that I play it right. “It’s stiff! It’s stiff! Make it swing!” He was joking, but it was very important. Some things from this period were fundamental in relation to being relaxed, treating it as a game, to not being afraid of the instrument.

TM: Your family is from Rio de Janeiro. What is their background?

MR: My mother used to say that her family had been carioca for four hundred years, since she did not know of a single relative that was not from Rio. My father, and my paternal grandparents, were also from Rio. The previous generation was from the state of Rio, from Campos, close to the state of Espirito Santo. So we are from here.

TM: Was the family Portuguese originally?

MR: Very probably. My mother’s surname was Costa Pereira, and my father’s was Nunes de Barcellos – everything pointing to Portugal.

TM: You mentioned samba, playing music by ear. What was the musical scene like in the city when you were a child?

MR: My mother always used to take me to the Theatro Municipal to hear all the pianists who came through. I heard Guiomar Novaes many times, [Alexander] Brailowsky as well. When the first international piano competition took place here, I must have been twelve or thirteen, and I went to all the performances. My mother was very focused on giving me experience with the instrument.

As far as the rest – nightlife, bars – we had no connection. My father was a doctor. He liked to play, and I am sure that he went out on the town when he was younger, but not when I was a child. I have memories of blocos on the street during Carnaval. My experience with popular music comes from listening to him play by ear, and so I also began to play by ear. I listened to radio, which we heard a lot of when I was young, and my experience of classical music came from study. I started at five and stayed with the same teacher until I finished my education as an adult.

TM: Where did you do your undergraduate studies?

MR: That is a very complicated story. I began to do my bachelor’s in composition here in Rio, at the Escola de Musica. But I married very early, and a year and a half after starting school we went to live in Boston, Massachusetts, where we spent four years. I had two daughters there.

I came back with two daughters, and started the course in composition where I had left off. And three years later we moved to Recife. I lived in Recife for many years. So I got to Recife in the middle of the course in composition.

I had done three and a half years here in Rio, but as soon as I got back from Boston I became pregnant with my third daughter. I have three daughters who are very close in age. I finished my undergraduate work eleven years after I began, in Recife.

TM: Were you active musically in Boston?

MR: Almost nothing.

TM: When was this?

MR: We went in ’64, and returned at the end of ’67.

TM: A very interesting period in the USA. Did you feel a culture shock when you got to Boston?

MR: Yes – it was all very different, the way people functioned, winter was something completely new. It was difficult – we had little money, no relatives there, and two children to look after. It was a complicated period. I took some adult education courses at Harvard at night. It was glorious – to be able to get out of the house at night and go somewhere.

My husband had gone to do his masters’ at MIT. He was supposed to have returned after the one year of his fellowship, but it became obvious that it made no sense to return to Brazil, since he was there, and it was better to continue. It was something completely unplanned.

TM: Most of your training was in Recife, then?

MR: When I left Rio to go to Boston, I was already a finished pianist. I had completed the technical course in piano, and was playing a lot, with recitals and so forth. So my training in piano was all here in Rio.

The beginning of the course in composition was here in Rio also. I learned fugue and counterpoint with Morelenbaum and Virginia Fiuza. When I got to Recife, it was very odd, because the course in composition didn’t exist anymore. There were a couple of students who had to complete some course or other. So I had class with a musicologist, Padre Jaime Diniz, who has since passed away. He was a very interesting person, but was not a composer.

TM: Someone with a considerable interest in contemporary music.

MR: He liked contemporary music, but he worked with Baroque music from Pernambuco. He has books on organists in Brazil. He had a chorus – I sang in his chorus for a long time. I got to Recife in 1972, when he was already close to sixty.

It was he who introduced me to the Ludus Tonalis of Hindemith, Bartok, lots of things….

TM: How did you start your career as a composer?

MR: After eleven years of undergraduate work, I went immediately to the United States, to Santa Barbara, where I did a masters’ in piano, but I wanted to do composition while I was doing the program in piano, and the first two works that remain in my catalogue are from this period in Santa Barbara – a trio for oboe, horn and piano, and a trio for strings.

TM: Who was teaching composition in Santa Barbara at the time?

MR: It was already Peter Fricker. There were other people as well – [Edward] Applebaum, Emma Lou Diemer, but I studied with Frick, and did some other courses with David Gordon. This trip to the United States was very important for me. It was a good school, with a good library, good recordings, scores – I loved that. It was wonderful.

The building worked, places for everything, easy, calm – I took advantage of everything. It was a short time – the middle of ’75 until the end of ’76, because the children were getting big, and going to school. I said that I wanted to go back and do the doctorate, and went back in 1982 to UCSB to do the doctorate in composition.

TM: During your first stay at Santa Barbara you still considered yourself to be a pianist, and during the second you had come to think of yourself as a composer?

MR: For many years I did both. I played as soloist with orchestra many times in Recife – Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Brahms – I played a lot of piano, not just a little. When I went to do the masters’ I knew that I knew how to play piano – I got by very well. I was petrified by the idea of studying music there in the United States, I spoke English, and understood it, but had never studied music there, didn’t know the literature, and I thought it was a better idea to study piano, since I knew that I would only have a short time. I went back to Brazil for quite a stretch between the masters’ and the doctorate, and it was like this – part of the year there were concerts, and I didn’t compose. And the other part of the year, there were no concerts, and I composed. Even today I play in Musica Nova – I play less, and play fewer things that take work. I don’t play the Tchaikovsky with orchestra anymore. And as time has gone by I am working more and more on composition.

But I miss the instrument. I love to play.

TM: Your compositional esthetic is something that comes from Brazil? What were the influences of your study in Santa Barbara, your compositional models?

MR: I can’t really say. Everything that I heard and that I liked made an impression on me. The fact that of my having gone to Recife, where I studied composition with someone who was not a composer, but a musicologist, left me more open, freer ….

If I had studied here in Rio, with a professor who was more rigid, it might have gotten in my way.

I was able to choose – I was working with consonance in a period where people did not accept this easily. Why? It was in my head, in my ear, I liked it….why not? So my path was a little alternative.

There in the United States I heard everything that was available, but I never wanted to compose in the style of Boulez. I went to hear Boulez and Stockhausen in Los Angeles – there was a very nice festival of contemporary music at the California Institute for the Arts. I loved all that, and learned from all of it. I made a mixture, but I can’t say “Oh yes, I see that I have influence from this one or that one….”

I don’t know what sort of influence Peter Fricker had, because in my writing there is nothing similar to his. He taught me a great deal, taught me to carefully look over my scores – he did a very good job.

TM: California has the reputation of being a place with a tradition of independent composers, freer than other places like New York, Boston, Princeton, Philadelphia.

Could you speak about your activities at the Escola de Musica, and with the group Musica Nova?

MR: When I came back from doing the doctorate at the end of 1984, my daughters were already in undergraduate school, and beginning to move to Rio. I had already been wanting to move to Rio for some time, a competition opened, and I came to teach composition here. I was very happy to come back to Rio, because I had missed Rio and the people here, my parents….it was a great experience, because I had many good students – I won’t mention names, because if one does, one forgets, but you know most of my students.

We began the group in 1989. It was an important experience, because the group rehearsed twice a week, and the function of the musicians was to play the students’ compositions. They would play the pieces before they were completed, so people could hear them, and change things, discuss them with the musicians, and this gave a lot of energy to the course. Later I managed to bring Rodolfo [Caesar], and we began to work with electroacoustic music, which was a struggle, but we managed it. Then Rodrigo Cicchelli came, and we had the beginning of a nucleus bringing together people with a different background.

It was good. I didn’t like the place – the classroom building is very disagreeable, very noisy, with people giving class and three hundred different things sounding around you – it was very wearing. The bureaucratic and administrative part was not something that appealed to me.

I retired, a little early, in 2002, when I was 58. I thought “just because I have retired doesn’t mean that I can’t go back to give classes, teach students at home”, but I haven’t, since every other year I have had commissions for pieces for orchestra. I am writing the third. It’s odd, in a country where the orchestras almost don’t play contemporary scores. So I have a big score to complete. I keep very busy, so I have not taught very much.

TM: The piece from this year’s Bienal [Vereda] was from 2003. After this piece….

MR: … there is one that went to the OSB in commemoration of 40 years of the Sala Cecilia Meireles, called Avessia, which for me was a backwards fanfare. The one which I am working on now is for the arrival of the Royal Family, to be played next year. The piece evokes the Botanical Garden, since it was D. Joao VI who founded it.

TM: In Vereda the clarity of writing was impressive, and the fact that your voice is completely individual and original, but one which communicates. Where did this voice come from? It doesn’t seem to belong to any school, and doesn’t sound “Brazilian”, but it is an open voice, which communicates emotional states. A woman in the audience, after hearing it, asked me, “What does this piece mean”? , but she also was speaking of classical music more generally. What does classical music mean for you?

MR: A métier, a style of writing, in search of details, which would not happen if I were writing music that was lighter, more popular. I have already written music for theater, music for installations in the visual arts, in a language which is less elaborate. I think that classical music presupposes a certain level of elaboration in any parameter, whether it is timbre, harmony, whatever, a more intense level. So what happened? In 2000 or so, I wrote a piece for piano, Constrastes, in which I froze some sonorities – I had not moved toward set theory – I knew that it existed, but had not done anything with it. Then I worked with Orlando [Alves], who did a masters’ with me, and who is a maniac about this. I don’t like all that mathematics, but interestingly, and it was not a situation where

I said “I am going to do this”, but I did it. This question of exploring a particular sonority – Vereda, in the first twenty seconds, presents all the material, in terms of pitches, which the entire piece will work with. So there is something very closed there. Now, the fun is to give that material many different faces, since, because I am on the same ground, I can change clothes as many times as I like, and I will still have the same identity.

I like consonance. I don’t close off when I sense that I have a passage with a more emotional charge, and one which also recalls something from the past. I let it come out, I acknowledge it. That is how I am as a person – a mixture of many things. I still am emotionally moved by things which were important for my parents, for my grandparents. My experiences of breaking with the past, in my personal life, in my emotional life, were all very difficult. What I see in tradition is a sort of solidity, which anchors me, which is good for me, which I cultivate. I am not a person of the last century. I am a person who experiences all the anxieties of people who live in Rio today, and in a certain way this also comes out in my music, but what I value emotionally are things that have to do with things which are very old.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/marisa.png image_description=Marisa Rezende product=yes product_title=Above: Marisa Rezende
Posted by Gary at 12:06 PM

Guanajuato Opera a document of Mexican history

The structure, inaugurated in the once-rich mining town in 1903, fronts on a busy, narrow street. There is no square that allow a grand vista; indeed, the Juárez is best approached obliquely from the Jardin Union, the long rectangular square to its right with classically trimmed trees, wrought-iron band shell and outdoor cafes, where strolling mariachi musicians play. Only there can one pause and absorb the grandeur of the Romanesque facade with its gentle broad stairs and Doric columns topped in bronze. One’s eyes move up to the eight, copper-cast Hellenic muses that top the portal.

“Eclectic” is the word encountered everywhere in descriptions of the theater’s style. One enters a French lobby, for Paris’ Garnier was in the mind of Jose’ Noriega, the original architect. By comparison, of course, the Juárez is happily modest. There is no grand staircase after European models, but a stairs on the right of the lobby that ascends directly into the Green Room across from the first of four balconies.Opposite these stairs is the smoking room with hints of Art nouveau in its stained glass and handsome woodwork. Originally a retreat for men only, today it offers refreshments to all — and still tolerates smokers.

Up a small flight of stairs from the lobby, one enters the auditorium, a showpiece of multi-colored splendor, where Moorish arches frame the proscenium boxes. One looks up to the top of the horseshoe balconies to a six-pointed crystal chandelier that sheds subdued radiance on the 850-seat auditorium. The coming of Christianity to Constaniople is the subject of the huge painting on the fan above the stage. In words this mix — “eclectic” seems an understatement — might suggest a Disneyland hedge-podge, but in the Juárez it works — and works magnificently. One can sort out the stylistic components, but there is no temptation to do so. They flow easily into each other to blend in an esthetically pleasing whole.

Enrique Carlos Greenwell Castillo, a Guanajuato-born architect specializing in historic preservation, has been involved in the Jua’rez since 1953. Then 19, he helped paint interior walls to resemble the original wall paper. “The theater is a document of Mexico’s history, and you can’t understand it without knowing that history,” Castillo said one October morning in his studio in the heart of Guanajuato. “Napoleon, Emperor Maximilian II, Juárez — they were all involved in events leading to its construction.”

The 19th century was a turbulent time in Mexico, when — as Castillo summarizes — either Mexico was being invaded by someone or the country was caught up in civil war. A turning point was the declaration of the republic following the execution of Maximillian in 1865.“Eight years later things had stabilized,” Castillo says, “and that was when one first thought of honoring Juárez with a world-class theater in Guanajuato. “It was clear from the beginning that it would bear his name.”

Although Juárez, then president of the republic, was busy running from both the French and the Austrians, he spent some time in Guanajuato and for a few weeks made it his capital. “Modern Mexico was born in the 1880's,” Castillo says. “And it was a time of economic revival, in which a lot of theaters were built. “It was also a time when French culture dominated in the country, and this was a major influence on the original design of the Juárez.”

Teatro-Juarez.png

Cornerstone of the theater was laid in 1873 and work began on Noriega’s plans. Two years later work was suspended and then resumed in 1892, plans now revised by Antonio Rivas and Alberto Malo, who opted for greater ostentation in the building. “They were not architects!” Castillo laughs. “They were mining engineers.”

The Juárez finally opened on October 27, 1903, with the performance of “Aida” by a visiting Italian company. “It could have opened a decade earlier,” Castillo says, “but they had to wait until Porfirio Diaz could attend. “It took him 10 years to get here.” Diaz, the major heir of Juárez, was Mexico’s president — with a brief interruption — from 1876 to 1911.

Hard times descended on Guanajuato soon after the opening, and for decades the Juárez was used — Costillo points out — as everything but a theater. “It’s a sad story,” he says, “and it went on for almost 100 years.”

“In 1912 it was leased to a private company for movies — for silent films, but it went bankrupt in a few years,” he says. “It was a ballroom, a circus and a place for wrestling and boxing matches. “Political assemblies, pop concerts and local festivities brought in crowds that had no respect for the building. It continued to deteriorate.” In 1949 the Juárez again became a cinema, and Costillo recalls seeing films there when he was a boy.

“By 1957 it was a ruin, and the cinema’s lease was not renewed. The Juárez was turned over to the University of Guanajuato, founded in 1732 and long one of Mexico’s most respected schools. Influenced by the reconstruction of historic buildings in war-devastated Europe, the 50's brought renewed interest in the theater. In 1964 a congress of architects met in Italy and issued the “Venice Charter” that called for the conservation and restoration of historic buildings, monuments and sites everywhere. “Inspired by reconstruction in Europe, the charter was like a new Ten Commandments for us,” Costillo says. “But work was undertaken with no special criteria.”

It was in 1953 that Costillo had became actively involved in restoration of the Juárez. He his task then was painting the auditorium walls in the ornate pattern of wallpaper that could not be replaced in kind. “It had been stripped away in bits and pieces by movie-goers,” Costillo says.

In 1951 the University had organized the city’s first full symphonic ensemble and moved its concerts to the Juárez. It was, however, the launching of the Festival International Cervantino in Guanajuato that finally brought about the full rebirth of the Juárez. Although a contemporary of the conquistadors, Miguel de Cervantes didn't make it to the New World — at least not during his lifetime. In the past half-century, however, he has become a living presence in Guanajuato, now a city of 200,000. The author of “Don Quixote” first “arrived” there — so to speak- in 1953, when students at the university began outdoor performances of his short farcical plays known as “Entremeses.”

carreta-juarez-2.png

It was on that tradition that the Mexican government in 1972 founded the Cervantino, which staged its 35th season in October. It is Mexico’s major arts festival and one of the major artistic events in all of Latin America. “Don Quixote is the icon of this city,” general and artistic director Irma Gabriela Caire Obregón says, pointing to the 800 items in the local Quixote Iconographic Museum. “He is an adopted local son, the 'good fairy' of the festival.” (A heavy bronze plaque in the lobby of the theater celebrates 1972 of “the Juárez year,” celebrating the man who — as Costillo says - “was Mexico’s Abraham Lincoln.”)

“Local pride in the theater revived,” Costillo says, “but there were a lot of problems. The building had to be brought up to code in safety standards. “There were no emergency exits. The original furniture was gone, and wood had rotted. “The building was falling down!” A new wave of reconstruction was launched — under Costillo’s supervision — in 1989. “The muses above the entrance had rusted and were replaced,” he says. “Wood was restored; structural improvements were carried out — along with an up-grading of the electrical system.Something major is done every year; for 19 years the government has invested a significant amount of money in the Juárez. “The masonry of the building, having withstood major floods, is sound, and insects do not like the red pine of the roof!”

And although he does not work directly with the Cervantino, he shares the festival’s commitment to the Juárez. “We are constantly in touch,” he says, underscoring his admiration for Caire. For Caire, named to her post early in 2006, the Juárez is one of the most beautiful theaters in Mexico. “We want to stage more events there,” she says, “but it’s an old theater, and there are limitations on what we can present.”

If the Juárez long suffered from an absence of the art for which it was intended, rich compensation has come through the Cervantino. In 1980 Beverly Sills sang Rosina in “Barber of Seville” there. Birgit Nilsson, Aprile Millo and Dmitri Hvorostovsky have sung on its stage, and Yehudi Menuhin has played there. Leonard Bernstein and Mstislav Rostropovich have conducted visiting orchestra, while the Kronos, Cleveland and Kodaly Quartets have played chamber music in the theater.

Although at present the Juárez is little used outside the Cervantino season — the University’s orchestra now plays in the near-by Teatro Principal — Costillo tells of an annual event central to the life of the city. And one is awed by the celebration there of what Americans know as Halloween. “Every year on November 1 there is a performance of Jose’ Zorrilla’s ‘Don Juan Tenorio,’” he says. “It’s a tradition that we could not live without.”

Beyond its beauty and its importance as Guanajuato’s finest performing-arts venue is the iconic role of the Juárez in the city. It is in every sense the heart of the community, and on a fresh October evening young people who have never been — and probably never will be — inside the theater sit on its steps enjoying the scene at their feet.

Built on the ruins of a cloister, the Juárez sits today in a pedestrian zone, where countless cafes and street vendors serve a public that seems always in a festive mood — a reflection perhaps of the building itself. In 198 UNESCO designated Guanajuato a World Heritage Zone in recognition of its beauty and culture. The Juárez was no doubt a factor in granting that recognition. (Fans of “Citizen Cane,” by the way, will be delighted to know that actress Dolores del Rio was honorary president of the original Cervantino board.)

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Juarez_staircase.png image_description=Teatro Juárez product=yes product_title=Above: Staircase at Teatro Juárez product_by=All photos by Rafael Montero
Posted by Gary at 11:44 AM

November 27, 2007

Johann Pachelbel. Arien & Concerti

This present recording brings together a number of them written for both devotional use and secular occasions, such as weddings, name days, and salutes to patrons and teachers. Most are strophic airs for one or two singers and strings, the latter providing interludes that serve to punctuate and articulate the structural boundaries of the vocal setting. Occasionally the interludes are particularly rich in sonority—“Mein Leben, dessen Kreutz” and “Augen, streuet Perlen Tränen” use four violas, for instance—and often they are engagingly rollicking.

The concertos on the recording are through-composed works, affording more expressive range for singer and instrumentalist alike, intertwining both in equal measure of soloistic writing. In some instances the concertos are cantata-like with multiple sections, including triple-meter lilting airs, as in “Ach Herr, wie ist meiner Feinde so viel,” and the instrumental writing can be floridly soloistic, as in the scordatura violin part to “Christ ist erstanden.” Here, and in “Ach Herr, wie ist meiner Feinde so viel,” the unflaggingly stylish playing of Ingrid Seifert of London Baroque is impressively on display.

Somewhat singular among the arias and concertos is the aria “Mœcenas lebet noch,” a salute to a person whose likely high rank elicited the scoring for obligatto trumpet. Michael Maisch performs this part with a compelling degree of vocality, and the tunefulness of the aria has a gratifying lilt, a lilt captured with animated relish in many of the arias in the collection. If “Mœcenas lebet noch” is singular, nevertheless most of the arias are cut of the same cloth, and the similarity is underscored here by the repetition of the strophic form. Some of the arias survive with only one stanza of text, and given the uniformity of the style, one might wonder at their inclusion; fragments, they are of necessity brief, but in their brevity they also contribute little that is new. Archivally it is welcome to have them recorded, but programmatically they seem a bit anomalous.

The performers are an impressive assembly. Emma Kirkby continues to command the amazingly clear articulation that has characterized her singing for many decades, and the rapid passage work here is wonderfully fluent. Tenor Jan Kobow is strong and intense, though he also has some fine expressive forays into the soft range in “Wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig.” The most memorable singing is from bass Klaus Mertens, whose rounded tone and flexible agility offers much to savor.

The collection Arien & Concerti provides many rewarding moments. Programmatically the generic similarity between the arias may suggest it is more a recording to sample than to listen to straight through, but the sampling (or the larger serving) will not fail to gratify.

Steven Plank

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Pachelbel_arias.png
image_description=Johann Pachelbel. Arien & Concerti

product=yes
product_title=Johann Pachelbel. Arien & Concerti
product_by=Emma Kirkby, soprano; Kai Wessel, alto; Jan Kobow, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass; London Baroque
product_id=Cavalli Records CCD 332 [CD]
price=$18.99
product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?label_id=434&bcorder=6&name_id=9038&name_role=1

Posted by steve_p at 4:57 PM

STRAUSS : Elektra

Music composed by Richard Strauss. Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal .

First Performance: 25 January 1909, Opernhaus, Dresden

Principal Characters:
Klytemnestra, widow of Agamemnon Mezzo Soprano
Elektra, daughter of Klytemnestra Soprano
Chrysothemis, daughter of Klytemnestra Soprano
Aegisth, Klytemnestra’s paramour Tenor
Orest, son of Agamemnon and Klytemnestra Baritone
Tutor to Orest Baritone
Confidante of Klytemnestra Soprano
Trainbearer of Klytemnestra Soprano
Young Servant Tenor
Old Servant Bass
Overseer Soprano
1st Maid Contralto
2nd and 3rd Maids 2 Mezzo Sopranos

Setting: Ancient Mycenae

Synopsis:

Maids try to wash away the blood in the palace where Agamemnon was murdered by his wife Klytemnestra and her lover Aegisth. The princess Elektra, in dishevilled state, enters the courtyard for her daily ritual of lamenting her dead father. She swears vengeance and awaits the return of her brother Orest to enact the deed. Her sister Chrysothemis warns her of the royal couple’s plans to imprison Elektra and describes her yearning for motherhood. Elektra scorns her and, on hearing that Klytemnestra suffers nightmares of vengeance, is determined to confront their mother. Feigning a reconciliatory tone, Elektra gains Klytemnestra’s confidence, and they remember happier times when Agamemnon was alive. The Queen, plagued physically and mentally, begs her daughter to help but Elektra promises that only death can bring relief and describes how Agememnon’s murder will be avenged. Klytemnestra receives a message and leaves with joyous laughter. Chysothemis returns to tell Elektra that two strangers have arrived with news of the death of Orest. Elektra demands that the two sisters carry out the deed themselves but Chrysothemis refuses. Alone, Elektra digs up the axe that murdered her father. One of the strangers reveals himself as Orest, and brother and sister are reunited. Orest enters the palace and Klytemnestra’s death cries are heard. Aegisth returns and Elektra lights his way into the palace to meet his doom. As the court celebrates the return of Orest, Elektra dances in triumph and falls lifeless to the ground. Chrysothemis hammers on the closed doors of the palace calling her brother’s name.

[Synopsis Source: Boosey & Hawkes]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Orestes_Elektra.png image_description=Orestes and Elektra audio=yes first_audio_name=Richard Strauss: Elektra first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Elektra1.m3u product=yes product_title=Richard Strauss: Elektra product_by=Ursula Schröder-Feinen (Elektra)
Gwyneth Jones (Chrysothemis)
Christa Ludwig (Klytemnestra)
Theo Adam (Orest)
Hans Beirer (Aegisth)
Horst Stein (cond.)
Live performance: Wiener Staatsoper, 10 November 1977
Posted by Gary at 1:15 PM

November 19, 2007

Only in an opera: Miami's Elaine Alvarez rises from understudy to star

Elaine_Alvarez_small.pngBY LAWRENCE A. JOHNSON [Miami Herald, 19 November 2007]

It's the kind of improbable event that usually happens only in 1930s musicals.

The big-ego star becomes so obnoxious she winds up getting fired days before opening night. An unknown understudy goes on in her place, sings magnificently, garners rave reviews and kicks off a successful career.

Posted by Gary at 3:22 PM

Lyric's 'Frau' casts a mighty shadow

Tappan_Stacey_Frau_small.png(Stacey Tappan as the falcon (Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago))
By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 19 November 2007]

There's a trio of excellent reasons why you should run, not walk, to the Civic Opera House to catch Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of "Die Frau ohne Schatten."

Posted by Gary at 3:11 PM

Concert review: Fleming, Botti enchant at Dallas Opera gala

fleming_small.pngBy SCOTT CANTRELL [The Dallas Morning News, 18 November 2007]

A legendary concert with Maria Callas inaugurated the Dallas Opera in November 1957. Another star soprano helped celebrate the start of the company's second half-century in a Saturday- evening gala concert at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The hall was awash in chichi gowns and tuxes.

Posted by Gary at 3:02 PM

Verismo Rarities, Teatro Grattacielo

It could be a justly ignored trifle or a work underappreciated in bygone days, or a work overappreciated that gives you a clue to what the tastes of that era were. Audiences liked this? What did they like about it? And sometimes, when you least expect it, it’s a pleasure from start to finish.

Take Leoni’s L’Oracolo, now — Antonio Scotti recorded a bit of it (he played wicked Cim-Fen, proprietor of an opium den in San Francisco’s Chinatown), and there has even been a complete recording with Tito Gobbi and Joan Sutherland. The opera was rather popular at the Met in its day, during and after World War I — but how many of us have actually experienced a live performance? And as for Montemezzi’s swan song, L’Incantesimo — how many have even heard of it? Composed for radio during the Mussolini administration, it did get a staging at the Verona Arena nearly sixty years ago.

But you never know if you don’t go hear them, and sometimes that hearing provides astonishment, surprise in the amount of pleasure available. One of the most enjoyable operas I’ve heard this season was Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, performed by the American Symphony Orchestra last September at Fisher Hall. How much more awake we all were, alert to the unknown, the forgotten, the ignored, when Smyth’s expert orchestration came flooding out at us like some Cornish valkyrie?

You have to try it, or you will regret the chance lost. That, I am happy to report, was the conclusion of a happily dazed band of opera lovers at Fisher Hall again last Tuesday, when Teatro Grattacielo, an organization that presents one concert a year of a forgotten (often unknown) work of the verismo era. It was their thirteenth season and the prima donna withdrew with a sore throat, and the other singers were far from well known, and the double bill of one-acts particularly obscure — but no matter. However much we may have shrugged going in — there was a lot of “Here we go for another one” among a fatalistic crowd — all eyes sparkled and a happy babble of comment filled the air at intermission: If L’Oracolo is not a masterpiece of the first water (did verismo produce masterpieces of the first water? Isn’t that besides the realistic point of the form?), the opera is a thing of beauty, melodious and passionate and odd, filled with blood and lovely tunes and horrible destinies. Any decent orchestra will have fun playing it (there were times with this one when one wasn’t sure if the teeth-grating harmony was intentionally “oriental”or off key), and the singers all have parts that make it clear just how hard they are working. Best of all, Teatro Grattacielo had filled the cast with excellent voices, healthy, loud, urgent, and thoroughly schooled in the Italian manner.

Todd Thomas, a baritone of imposing malice — a man born to sing Scarpia, which he does — sang the monstrous Cim-Fen. Ashraf Sewailam, a young Egyptian bass of distinction, sang his nemesis, Win-Shee. Asako Tamura made a striking impression as Ah-Joe, one of opera’s many delicate oriental maidens with a larynx of steel (Teatro Gratticielo has already presented Mascagni’s Iris), and Arnold Rawls sounded attractive and ardent in the short but high-lying role of her unfortunate true love, San-Lui. Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee, as the wealthy businessman at the center of the plot, and Mabel Ledo in the brief role of a careless nursemaid, made one wish to hear more from them.

L’Incantesimo was another matter. Almost the end of the line for verismo and, indeed, for Italian melodic opera, it is Montemezzi’s tribute to the fairy tale works of Richard Strauss and his ilk, with a full, Germanic orchestra swirling us through a slight drama of lover (tenor) versus husband unable to love (baritone), contesting for the devotion of a wife more symbol than woman, all of them under the contrivances of the enchanter of the title. (This is the rare verismo fable with a happy ending.) José Luis Duval sang the desperately high-lying role of the lover as well as one could expect — he will find the awkward Strauss tenor repertory congenial, or at least possible — and Mr. Thomas scored again as a bravura heavy: hard, haughty, loveless Count Folco. Ms. Tamura gamely followed up her Ah-Joe by replacing an ailing colleague as Giselda, who doesn’t have to do much, but must do it at the top of her range, with the entire orchestra competing fortissimo. She, like Mr. Thomas, sounded at the evening’s end as if they gobble this stuff for aperitifs and could happily sing more — which cannot physically be true. Mr. Sewailam, in the brief but significant role of the sorcerer, was again highly effective.

For mastery of the forces he deployed, Montemezzi certainly deserves high marks for L’Incantesimo — though his finale is cruelty to singers. But for substance, for personality, for offering a story that took us to new or intriguing places, the opera seemed thin: a lot of bark, little bite. This was not the general reaction to L’Oracolo, which a performance like this one makes us think worthy of another look, even a staging (despite its hokey contrivances: opium addicts, kidnappings, mad scenes, murders, sewers — it’s all Chinatown, Jake), perhaps on a double bill with Puccini’s veristic Tabarro, another slice-of-brutal-life show. L’Oracolo was a reminder that the era did not only produce Cav and Pag.

The Teatro Grattacielo Orchestra was led, and the singers inspired, and the entire performance a triumph for David Wroe, a conductor new to me. The only down sides of the entire event were the unfortunate inclination of the company to use over-miked electronic sound effects — in this case a foghorn and a rooster — at moments when subtlety would have made the point better.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/L_Incantesimo.png image_description=L’Oracolo (Franco Leoni) and L’Incantesimo (Italo Montemezzi) at Teatro Grattacielo product=yes product_title=L’Oracolo (Franco Leoni)
With Todd Thomas, Ashraf Sewailam, Arnold Rawls, Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee, Asako Tamura and Mabel Ledo.

L’Incantesimo (Italo Montemezzi)
With Todd Thomas, Ashraf Sewailam, Asako Tamura and Ashraf Sewailam.

Teatro Grattacielo, conducted by David Wroe. Avery Fisher Hall, November 13.
Posted by Gary at 11:23 AM

Norma returns to the Met

It was certainly an era when the artist’s use of the voice to create character and drama were of the highest value, but the operas that survive (very few half a century ago, quite a few now), though the melodies are ravishing, call for singers who can bring them to life emotionally — they are never just vocal exercises for songbirds.

In the midst of that era, in 1831, Bellini’s Norma was created — by Giuditta Pasta, one of the most renowned singing actresses of her time, who had created Donizetti’s raging Anna Bolena and Bellini’s pathetic Sonnambula in the two years before Norma. And Norma is a curiosity in its era (more apparently now than at the time, when classical tragedies were often being turned into operas), calling as it does on the outsize character and emotional spectrum of a classical heroine: a Medea not just angry but deeply in love, a Phaedra who must also be a hypocritical politician and an edgy friend, a Clytemnestra wracked by jealousy and maternal misgiving.

Sopranos used to have a hearty respect for Norma — they didn’t take it on unless they were sure. Canny divas like Flagstad, Tebaldi and Price turned it down when management offered. Fewer ladies sang the role in eighty years at the Old Met than have attempted it in a mere forty at the New Met — the reason being that Callas made it sound supremely worth trying (it was her favorite role), while Sutherland and Caballe made it sound easy to sing; so that all kinds of singers took it on who had no business doing so. It’s a killer, demanding not only effortless floating tones and stunning coloratura on her first appearance (plus the ability to blend with the other soprano’s coloratura later on), but the dramatic capacity to hold an audience through the solo scene of attempted infanticide, the power to lead the war chorus, the concentrated fury of the duet with Pollione, and the authority to carry the superb finale.

The Met revives it nowadays, one gets the feeling, because audiences know the many Callas recordings (or Sutherland’s, or Caballe’s spectacular video from Orange), not because they have a real exemplar of the role to sing it. And without a Norma, you have pretty tunes but you haven’t really got a Norma.

The current revival began with Hasmik Papian in the role and is slated to continue with Maria Guleghina. After her Lady Macbeth — exciting and loud and flamboyantly acted, but with the ornaments fudged or flubbed — I have my doubts that Guleghina can handle this. Still, she will certainly play it; it will be a necessary event for all opera lovers sorry they weren’t in Lakehurst the night the Hindenburg landed. The casting of Papian, who has sung Norma to some acclaim in Washington and Toronto and whose Met Aida was impressive, spinning controlled pianissimi better than any Met Aida has in twenty years, gave one hope for her Norma, in spite of deficiencies those performances revealed in her dramatic imagination.

Such deficiencies necessarily undermine any well-sung Norma, but if the director is aware of them, appreciates a singer’s talents and weaknesses, they need not kill it. Papian is a handsome woman with a good figure; she can move on stage; and her tendency to fall back on the sort of antique dramatic gestures one sees in nineteenth-century engravings (Giuditta Pasta would recognize all of them, probably invented some of them) is not necessarily wrong for this role. Sutherland had little stage instinct, heaven knows, but she was a distinct diva presence in the part: no one wanted to tangle with this woman, and the vocalism was sublime enough to pull it off. Papian needs someone to walk her through the role, someone who really gets both Papian and Norma — she gives sympathetic performances on well-directed DVDs — but left to her own devices, she does not know how to join these attitudes into a woman torn by the requirements of priestess, lover, mother, friend, patriot, heroine: Papian only portrays a singer in search of a good spot on the stage.

Her vocalism, at least on the first two nights, did not justify her choice for this role either. Bereft of brilliant high notes, she took the lower choices — which are valid if one makes something of them — and she made pleasing use of grace notes in the “Vieni a me ritorna,” without, however, ornamenting the repeat. (What’s the point of repeating a cabaletta if you don’t vary it, make it individual?) She grew steadily more in command as the evening progressed, but she showed no sign of becoming Norma, the person Bellini invented, until the final furious duet with Pollione when gleaming metal furled from her throat, displaying a high register and a command that had no precedent all evening. Norma is not an opera for a diva who takes an act and a half to warm up to it, and if Papian ever truly was one, that time seems to have passed. (The only soprano of this generation whose Norma — she has never sung it — would arouse my real interest based on her evident abilities would be Krassimira Stoyanova: a fine actress and, based on her Anna Bolena, one able to sing brilliant coloratura expressing genuine rage.)

The Adalgisa of the evening was Dolora Zajick, who would make an interesting Norma. She, too, would sing it low, but she would sing it with the style and personality the part calls for — she would eat her Adalgisa alive, which no Norma would ever manage with Zajick’s Adalgisa. Well known and well loved for her powerhouse mezzo, a fiery Amneris who sadly has not been able to persuade the Met to trust her with such operas as Tchaikovsky’s Maid of Orleans (which she has sung in many venues, always triumphantly) or Donizetti’s La Favorite (which she could easily bring off, with the right tenor), Zajick scales her big voice down for the demands of bel canto style. Indeed, her grasp of that style, of the evenness and delicacy required, were lessons Papian could study with profit. (Zajick had similarly shown up a caterwauling Jane Eaglen when the production was new.)

Scene_with_Papian_as_Norma_.pngScene with Hasmik Papian as Norma

Pollione was Franco Farina, a handsome burly figure but an uneven singer. In fact, he gave more pleasure in this role than he has in others — either Bellini suits him or he’s growing up. There were honeyed phrases in his first aria, and when a line lay too high for him (this varied from night to night, apparently as he gauged his chances of reaching a C), he interpolated an attractive variation on Bellini’s melody instead — a practice the bel canto era would certainly have regarded with approval. He matched Papian’s passion in their final duet and looked genuinely thunderstruck when she proclaimed her guilt to her people. If the money notes come more easily and he continues to focus on flowing line, he could be a real asset in roles like Radames and Riccardo; he has power, and he doesn’t bark.

Vitalij Kowaljow made gorgeous sounds in the thankless part of Oroveso; one day, when he is the house’s reigning King Philip, we will remember his long apprenticeship. The tension I always feel at any performance of Norma — am I going to want to murder the children before she gets around to it? — kept me on pins till the final scene, when the already annoying tots appeared quite gratuitously. Dammi il ferro. (I don’t advise them to stick around when Guleghina arrives.)

Maurizio Benini led a swift-paced, bang-up account of the score. There were places that might have been more sensitive to emotional movement, and balances in the orchestra that favored the oom-pah-pah bass line over melodic flavor, but there was little chance of anyone going to sleep. John Conklin’s sets, with their profusion of coffee tables and an opening scene set in what appeared to be a glossy-floored Druidic art gallery displaying a show of overfed Giacomettis, generally managed to stay out of everyone’s way. Now if only a Pasta or Callas or Ponselle had cared to grab the center stage.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Norma_Met.png image_description=Hasmik Papian (Norma) and Franco Farina (Pollione) [Photo: Beatriz Schiller] product=yes product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: Norma
Metropolitan Opera, 12 and 16 November 2007
Hasmik Papian (Norma), Dolora Zajick (Adalgisa), Franco Farina (Pollione), Vitalij Kowaljow (Oroveso). Conducted by Maurizio Benini. Production by John Copley product_by=Above: Hasmik Papian (Norma) and Franco Farina (Pollione) product_id=All photos by Beatriz Schiller courtesy of Metropolitan Opera
Posted by Gary at 10:36 AM

Pascoe comes to grips with the Don

He was a bad man and he got what he deserved!” But did Mozart really see it this way? Could he have written the music that he did for this man without a strong sense of identification - without a sympathy rooted in his own experience of life?

In the staging of “Don Giovanni” at the Washington National Opera this fall, John Pascoe might not answer this question, but it’s clear that he — both director and designer of the handsome production — hardly takes a Bible-belt view of the Don and his fate. But what does Pascoe do to make this an unusually absorbing staging? And does he get this all-time Casanova off the red-hot spikes on which he is impaled on stage by Satan’s minions? (Remember that in “Man and Superman” Shaw sends Giovanni to Heaven, where he is bored by all the lily-white Goodness and spends his days lounging in Hell, where life is far more interesting.)

All of us — women and men alike — want to be Giovanni or be seduced by him, Pascoe writes, outlining his approach to the opera. And in comments on the WNO production, the seeds of which were sown in a 2003 staging while the company was “in exile” in Constitution Hall during the renovation of its Kennedy Center home, Pascoe points to the distinction between the Don as seducer and the Don as a demonic individual. “He should not be a demon figure,” the director writes. “He has to be an incredibly seductive figure . . . looking like a magnificent sexually driven animal in the first act.”

But losing oneself in interpretative speculation at this point overlooks the overwhelming excellence of the performance seen on November 13. “Giovanni” is a long opera of many scenes that easily become piecemeal in lesser hands. Pascoe picks up on the dramatic drive of the score in the opening D Minor chords of the overture and sustains this throughout both acts of the opera until the tension is broken by the epilogue the follows the Don’s demise.

One sits for three hours as if facing a headwind that blows with passionate velocity from stage and orchestra pit, where WNO assistant conductor Israel Gursky made his main-stage debut as a man closely attune to Pascoe’s concept of the work. (WNO general director Placido Domingo had conducted the first six of eight “Giovanni” performances.)

Although Pascoe opts for an essentially timeless approach in sets and costumes, references to Franco’s Spain place the story in an era of turbulence and repression. And his designs bring to the Kennedy Center stage a sense of cosmic space that enhances the universality of the story. The dark clouds that gather at the end of Leporello’s “catalogue” aria — to cite one example — clearly foretell the Don’s doom.

Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott, a leading Don of the day, was replaced in final performances of the run by Ildar Abdrazakov, who had sung Leporello to Schrott’s Don. His older brother Askar then took over the servant role. (Although Askar is the elder by seven years, the sibling collaboration recalls Peter Sellars’ 1991 casting of identical twins Herbert and Eugene Parry in these roles.)

ildar4a.pngIldar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni)

The brothers, born in Bashkortostan, have those huge, wonderfully rich and resonant voices unique to Russian singers and are perfectly paired in these roles. Ildar has the dash and daring of an ideal Don, whom he makes a study in internal combustion set to music. Askar stresses Leporello’s awareness that he is hopelessly caught in the web of his master’s desires. (Ildar, by the way, is married to top Russian mezzo Olga Borodina.)

Although Mozart buffs have long argued whether Donna Anna or Donna Elvira is the more important woman in this drama, for Pascoe Elvira is the frontrunner, and he supports his view by bringing her on stage with a baby in arms. “I want the audience to feel as though Don Giovanni and Donna Elvira are a lion and lioness who have been apart from each other,” the director states, “and who are in love with each other in a very deep and passionate manner.” In other words, had the Don stood still long enough to realize it, Elvira was the woman who might have sated his appetite.

And German soprano Anja Kampe, WNO’s resident Sieglinde, has the strength of voice and personality to make her the equal of the Don. As an elegant Anna, on the other hand, Canada’s Erin Wall is fired by an unrelenting desire for revenge, and Pascoe’s costumes give her a feline ferocity — with claws extended. And in Canadian tenor John Tessler she has at her side an Ottavio far removed from the Milquetoast figure that her fiancé commonly is. One is grateful that both his arias are included in the staging.

Amanda Squitieriz and James Shaffran are charmingly innocent as peasants Zerlina and Masetto. And as the Commendatore Morris Robinson is a chilling basso profundo in the cemetery scene. Denmark’s pre-existentialist Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was among the first to look beneath the surface of “Don Giovanni,” seeing there the parallels between the title figure and Goethe’s Faust. In “Either/Or” the “melancholy Dane,” a theologian by training, distinguishes between the “sensuous genius” of the Don and the “intellectual genius” of Goethe’s hero.

ildar1.pngIldar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni)

And the suggestion is clear that while Faust’s quest is for a single incarnation of “the eternally feminine” — “das Ewig-Weibliche,” the Don seeks rather to compose a mosaic, in which an infinite number of women merge. Although Goethe (1749-1832) lived both long before and long after Mozart, they were contemporaries. Indeed, Goethe repeatedly staged “The Magic Flute” at his Weimar theater and even attempted to write a sequel to the story. And when approached by composers eager to make an opera of “Faust,” he waved them off, saying that only “the composer of ‘Don Giovanni’” would be equal to that task.

British-born Pascoe, a man with 30 years experience in opera, has brought a “Giovanni” both beautiful and musically fulfilling to Washington National Opera. And he would agree, one thinks, with Kierkegaard’s conclusion that if he were ever to understand Mozart, he would know that he is mad, for no one will ever completely understand Mozart.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/WNO_Don.png image_description=Don Giovanni at Washington National Opera product=yes product_title=W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni
Washington National Opera product_by=All photos by Karin Cooper for Washington National Opera
Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

Nikolai Brucher — An Interview

Nikolai Brucher (b. 1979) is a young Carioca at the start of a career in music. In 2005 his work for orchestra, Tri Kartina (Three Pictures) won first prize in the first Claudio Santoro Competition, held under the auspices of the Brazilian Academy of Music. His music was heard at the 2005 and the 2007 Bienal of Contemporary Brazilian Music.

We spoke in Portuguese at the Sala Cecilia Meireles during the 2007 Bienal.

TM: How did you become a composer? Were there musicians in your family?

NB: My father, when he was young, many years before I was born, used to play recorder. He and my uncle had an early music ensemble.

TM: Where was this?

NB: Here in Rio. It was called Banda Antiqua, or something like that – early music, Renaissance music. Afterwards he became an engineer, gave up music, but continued to be interested in it, especially Bach, Handel, Baroque music.

When I was a child I was not very interested in music, and it was only when I was fourteen or fifteen that due to my father’s influence I began to listen to a few things. My interest was just through listening – I wasn’t playing anything. I had had music classes in school – I learned to play recorder, learned to read and write music, but then I forgot it all, because I was not interested in it.

TM: Was your father from Rio, or did he come from elsewhere?

NB: My father’s family came originally from Germany, but my father was born here in Brazil. My grandparents had left Germany and moved to Portugal, before or during the war, and at the end of the war they left Portugal and came to Brazil. We had this connection with Germany – my father always spoke a lot of German, we spoke German at home when I was little – less nowadays.

So I began to listen to a lot of things, began to buy a lot of records, but I didn’t play, didn’t have a practical connection with music, didn’t study music. My father said

“Maybe you might like to study an instrument, in case you want to study music in the future, and maybe piano would be the right thing.” I began to study piano when I was sixteen, and quit because I wasn’t interested. I only started again when I was eighteen, when I was finishing school. I studied at Pro-Arte. I began to study piano, because I always had in mind to become either a conductor or composer. I always liked the orchestra, ensembles, and was not very interested in individual instruments. The piano seemed like the most practical instrument for this type of career. And so I eventually decided on composition. I thought that a composer had a role which was more original, and more important than that of the conductor. I guess it’s a rather egotistic way of thinking….but that is how I was thinking at the time.

TM: The composer leaves traces behind.

NB: Perhaps. Even so I continued to be interested in conducting. I very much like the orchestra. Eighty percent of the music which I listen to is for orchestra. That is not the case for the music which I write – I write little music for orchestra – but my interest is very much focused in this direction.

TM: What sort of music were you listening to as an adolescent? Contemporary music? Baroque music? Classical music? Popular music? Jazz?

NB: I began with Brahms and Beethoven. I listened to a lot of Brahms, and even today he is one of my favorite composers, no doubt.

TM: Does this come from your German heritage?

NB: Perhaps. The first symphony was one of the first pieces that I listened to, and I got interested in music because of pieces like this. I continued in the Germanic/Austrian tradition, and then there was Bach, due to my father. My uncle, who had the ensemble with my father, had played guitar, and then went deeply into the lute, so much so that he went to England to study with a woman….

TM: Diana Poulton.

NB: Exactly. I began to study guitar with him, just playing around, but I think that because of him I became focused on polyphony, counterpoint. When music is lacking counterpoint, it becomes poorer. I didn’t like Saint-Saens, French music….”This music has no counterpoint…it’s very vapid”.

Later I became very interested in Mahler. Little by little, my horizons expanded. Brazilian music, Villa-Lobos, since I am Brazilian. I still buy lots of recordings. I listen to much more music than I write.

TM: Is popular music important for you? Or peripheral?

NB: In my case it’s peripheral. I am not very much involved, though it’s not that I don’t like it. I don’t know how to play popular music, I never studied it. Sometimes I go to Lapa to hear my friends play, since I have lots of friends who play popular music. But I don’t, and I don’t think it had much influence on me.

TM: You studied at Pro-Arte, and then went to study music at the university.

NB: I studied piano with Dona Elza, who is a character, for two years or so, and stopped because I went to England, and spent six months there in England and elsewhere in Europe.

TM: You went to see the world?

NB: I had a girlfriend, went to be with her, the relationship didn’t work out, but I stayed there. I went to concerts, bought records, and ended up getting very interested in English music.

TM: In London?

NB: I was mad about composers from the beginning of the twentieth century like Vaughan Williams, Holst, Walton….

TM: These composers are not as highly-valued as Mahler in general….they are undervalued.

NB: Their orchestration is very good…Britten, my God!

And then I moved back to Brazil. I had very much enjoyed living in England. I was working in a bar, since my cousin was married to the manager. I lived with them, made some money, wasn’t spending very much, could go to concerts….

After coming back I had to go to university, and I took the entrance exam for composition. I was lucky to pass, since I had gone for six months without studying piano. I had come back to Brazil in September, and the entrance exam was in November. I started at UniRio in 1999.

I studied with David Korenchendler, not only composition, but also counterpoint and orchestration.

TM: Counterpoint was already something that belong to your makeup.

NB: If you look at my earliest compositions you will always find a fugue.

TM: How was Korenchendler as a professor of counterpoint?

NB: He taught species counterpoint, and used a French text by Dubois. He used to give us rules of counterpoint from memory. I did fugue with him, very strict, but always tonal counterpoint, never modal, though that is something that would have interested me. His teaching is quite free – if you don’t want to do something, you don’t. You have to pull him. Sometimes I think that there are gaps in my education, due to the fact that there insufficient demands placed.

I like David a lot as a person and as a composer, but his focus is not so much on pedagogy.

There were other very important professors at Unirio. Guerreiro, in harmony. I studied analysis and choral conducting with Carlos Alberto at Pro Arte. And later I studied electroacoustic music with Vania [Dantas Leite]. Although I consider this genre important, I took the course more through respect for her – it was not something that particularly attracted me. I wrote some pieces at the time, but for the moment acoustic instruments are enough for me.

After undergraduate school, my father thought it would be a good idea to study abroad. But I didn’t really pursue it, and continued at UniRio for my masters’. At the time I didn’t apply in composition. I always felt unsatisfied, felt that my pieces were not good. Composition has never been a pleasure for me, it has always been very difficult. Of course, when I talk to people, they say “it’s the same for everyone!”

TM: Your Germanic superego giving you a hard time….

NB: Even if everyone feels the same way, I never hear anyone complaining….

Anyway, I was going through this phase, and I wanted to continue to do music. Music is the most important thing in my life, but I wanted to expand, to do musicology. I always was interested in the history of music, composers and their works, I always read much more in this area than in treatises on harmony. I read various biographies….So I took the test to do musicology. I got in, and planned a project on Brazilian symphonies from the Romantic period ...Nepomuceno, Leopoldo Miguez.

2005 was my first year in the master’s program. In the middle of the first semester, I participated in the competition of the Brazilian Academy of Music for young composers, with the Petrobras Orchestra, and I won. And so I thought “perhaps I should switch to composition”, made a request to the faculty, and switched.

TM: Where did this piece, Three Pictures, come from? How did you casually happen to produce a prize-winning composition?

NB: They announced the competition when I was finishing my undergraduate program, at the end of 2003, and you had to submit the piece by March of 2004. I was doing work in electroacoustic music with Vania, and I had no time to work until the end of the semester. Then there were the holidays, and by the time I could get started it was already January.

So I got started, and by February I had the feeling that what I was doing wasn’t good, wasn’t appropriate for the competition. But I didn’t want to lose the opportunity, so I took another piece, and orchestrated it. The only piece which I had which was appropriate, and was the right length, was a piano sonata, which I consider to be my first composition. I don’t even know if I have kept anything prior to this.

TM: So Opus 1 won the prize.

NB: More or less. I added some passages here and there, changed some things, and the orchestration increased the piece’s potential, but that’s basically it. It took a long time for the results of the competition to be announced, at the end of 2004, and the concert with the three finalists was the following year, when I switched to composition, and planned a project on contemporary symphonic music from Brazil, looking at Almeida Prado, Edino Krieger, and Ronaldo Miranda – the pieces which they wrote on commission from the Ministry of Culture to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Brazil – form, harmony, orchestration.

I continued with composition, but in a rather independent way, since I was not linking my creative activity with my research, though certainly I learned things in research that I would apply later.

Recently I have been very much concerned, perhaps too much, with the unity of the work, something which is almost repressing me. The most recent piece which I have completed is for violoncello and piano, which was written to be premiered at the 2007 Cello Encounter. The work is based on a series, but the series presents the same group of three notes four times – a minor second and a minor third. All of the harmony and all the melodic lines come from this series. Not that this is treated in a rigid way. But I feel like I am very tied-down.

TM: You feel like you are wanting to open your mind a little.

NB: Exactly. Contrasting two things which are completely different is something that I rarely do. Everything moves from one thing to the next. You transform the first thing until it becomes the second.

TM: Very Germanic.

NB: Perhaps. I think my training is lacking in some areas. I never studied set theory, for example. When I studied this in the masters program, I did a presentation on my quintet for winds (the one performed at the 2005 Bienal), since Carol [Gubernikoff] thought that this reflected set theory. But at the time I was writing the piece it never entered my mind.

TM: The music comes first, and the theory later.

NB: I want to make a music which is well-constructed, but I have to like it as well. I can’t take some notes which are symmetrically distributed, put together a chord – if the chord is ugly it is useless. If I don’t like the way it sounds it is useless.

TM: Do you think about the audience when you are composing? About communication? About structures?

NB: I also think about the public. I want my music to be played, and I hope that people will like it when they hear it played. Last year was the first time that they asked me to write a piece for Cello Encounter, and a group from outside Brazil was going to play it. I thought “what will they like? I haven’t got the least idea. Will they want something which is more modern? Or if it is too modern, perhaps they won’t like it. Who knows?”

I do have this concern, both with respect to performers and with respect to audiences. The director of the festival had to like it as well, since if they don’t like it they won’t ask me again.

There are three forces at work. One is the academy – you study at the university, you have colleagues in composition – all this has an influence. Things have to be well-made, you have to be concerned with the form, the music has to be modern, can’t be too conservative, can’t be too God knows what…..The environment itself is competitive. There’s not so much space, and everyone wants to be successful.

One is the public. In fact you are not making music for the academy, but for the public. I may think “this part is too aggressive”, “this part is too silly”, “this part will recall something that I don’t want to refer to”.

And then there is what I want. I like to think that what I want is the most important, that when I make a decision, if I am thinking about the academy, the public, and what I want, what has the most weight is what I want.

TM: Is your group of composers, the Companhia dos Compositores, still active?

NB: I was just talking about the level of competition in the musical environment, and when I was an undergraduate at UniRio, although I entered in a small class, little by little people started to do their own thing – one did popular music, one dropped out, one became a pianist….and the people who graduated with me were not the same ones that entered with me. So I never had much interaction with my colleagues, and had a certain fear of getting to know their music and feeling that it was better than mine, that I could get depressed….

There was a point in the master’s program where I was feeling unsatisfied, insecure, feeling a little lost, and somebody who had been a colleague in undergraduate school, who had been a pianist at the time, called me to say that he was studying composition, and had some colleagues who wanted to put together a cooperative, and we created this group of four people – Luciano Leite Barbosa, Pablo Panaro, Bruno Martagão, and myself.

We put together the group thinking that it is so difficult to find performances for your music as a student composer – you are almost limited to concerts at the university, so we would go after concerts, and it would be a stimulus for us to compose, everyone would write a piece for a concert, and arrange for the performers, publicize it….and although I got into this not knowing what the results would be, it turned out very well. Last year, our first season, we managed to put together four or five concerts.

Bruno finished his program here, and went to France for six months, came back for a little while, and went back. He has been gone for almost a year, and his absence has had an effect on the group. I was finishing my master’s this year as well, but we got together a few weeks ago to plan new projects. It’s something that I enjoy a lot, and I think it’s important.

TM: Future compositions, plans, ideas?

NB: Plans are the most important. As I was saying, there are areas in my education that I consider to be weak, and these are things I have to address if I want to be a composer.

I have been considering studying abroad for many years, and have just applied for a fellowship in Germany, and perhaps I might do a doctorate in the USA.

In the area of composition I need to compose a lot more.

TM: Are you particularly interested in composing for orchestra?

NB: Yes, but at the moment I have no way to get pieces for orchestra played.

So someone asks me for a piece, it seems interesting, and I do it. For the last two years everything I have written has been like that. I remember a piece which I wrote at the beginning of 2006, which was a project for the group – music for brass, which was my idea, since I had studied trumpet, knew the players. We did brass quintets. Then I wrote a piece for Diogo’s Camerata, which is going to be played at this Bienal (Combinacoes).

About two years ago I got involved with a project in the schools in Volta Redonda (RJ), which began, as things usually do, with music for winds. Now they have strings, string orchestras, all with students from the public schools. I got involved through a personal contact with the director, Nicolau de Oliveira, who invited me to do arrangements for band, something I had never done before, Brazilian traditional and folk music, arrangements using an appropriate language….various constraints. I knew more or less what they were looking for.

And after a while they asked me for an original piece, but within these limits of technique and language, and I did a piece which was traditional in format, and quite Brazilian, something which is not usual for my music, but this piece was modal, etc. It was for xylophone and band, since they had purchased a new xylophone, and wanted to show it off.

TM: If you are writing pieces by request, you get a good feedback. You will hear from the performers what works, what doesn’t work.

NB: In this respect the experience with the band was very useful. I always liked winds, and feel more comfortable writing for winds than for strings.

I think I have spoken about the various phases of my studies, and feeling indecisive. At the moment this is a little better. Even though I don’t know exactly what I am going to do in music, I can no longer see myself putting it aside. This is something positive. I want to be better – I don’t think I am good yet. I have to study more, but I am very lazy….I have to force myself. I want to study with someone interesting, who will demand the best of me.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Brucher.png image_description=Nikolai Brucher product=yes product_title=Above: Nikolai Brucher (Photo by author)
Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

November 18, 2007

BRUCKNER: Symphonie no. 7

The mono recording was digitally remastered for this 2006 release, and offers a finely detailed sound that conveys well the memorable performance that allowed it to be part of this impressive series. Derived, Gottfried Kraus mentioned in the liner notes, from the original tapes in the archive of Austrian Radio, this is a legendary performance that represents both the level of music making at the Salzburg Festival and the impressive leadership Knappertsbusch gave at the podium.

While some hall noises emerge infrequently in the recording, the sound is almost devoid of interruptions that would mar the intensity of the performance. The recording shows the Vienna Philharmonic’s precision and evenness of tone. The strings are nicely balanced, with fine ensemble; the brass and winds match the sound without overpowering it, and while that may be assisted by the placement of the microphones, their sound is clean and incisive and, in general, always controlled. This mature work of Bruckner is known to audiences and familiar to performers, yet effective performances like this benefit from the sensitive ensemble a professional orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic offer.

Knappertsbusch seems to have had the rapport with the Vienna Philharmonic that allowed this work to emerge in an almost perfect rendering of Bruckner’s score. The initial tempos for each movement are appropriate, and in following the tempo markings, nothing is ever out of place. Nuances of tempo and pacing shape the performance, in the way that practiced singers can color their tone with vibrato. The effects of tempo shifts and tempo modulations support the music well.

At times the fullness of the sound creates an intensity that would be rendered better by the stereophonic approach to recording. It conveys, too, the hall in Salzburg, which is also part of the legacy represented by this recording. The intensity of the first two movements is matched by the spirited treatment of the Scherzo in the third, thus, with the weight of the Symphony pitched toward the first half of the work. The sometimes lighter style of playing in the Scherzo accentuates the otherwise intensive sounds the Knappertsbusch elicited earlier in the work. With the Scherzo, Knappertsbusch captures some elements that sound, in his hands, as playful as some of the lighter movements found in Dvorak’s symphonies. With the Finale, though, the fragmentary ideas with which the movement opens also represent a contrast to the opening movement of the Seventh Symphony, and in rendering it this manner, Knappertsbusch serves Bruckner’s score well. The lyrical elements of this movement emerge almost effortlessly, and thus become a foil for the more intensive motives and thematic groups that characterize the concluding sections of the Finale. Staged in this way, the Finale is as impressive as the opening movement, with an impassioned intensity that makes this performance as memorable as the enthusiastic applause found at the end of the recording.

This release of Bruckner’s Seventh from over half a century ago is a fine addition to the series of Festspiel Dokumente, and it preserves one of the outstanding performances from the Salzburg Festival from the years just after World War II. The fine sound quality gives the impression of a studio recording, and the overall ambiance creates a strong impression. Most of all Knappertsbusch’s interpretation stands out for its clear and effective presentation of Bruckner’s score.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Bruckner_7_Knappertsbusch.png
image_description=Anton Bruckner: Symphonie no. 7

product=yes
product_title=Anton Bruckner: Symphonie no. 7
product_by=Vienna Philharmonic, Hans Knappertsbusch, conductor.
product_id=Orfeo CD C 656 06 B.
price=$17.99
product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=1598&name_role1=1&comp_id=8323&genre=66&label_id=278&bcorder=1956&name_id=57174&name_role=3

Posted by jim_z at 10:24 PM

PAISIELLO: Fedra

Music composed by Giovanni Paisiello to a libretto by Luigi Salvioni after Carlo Innocenzo Frugoni.

First Performance: Naples, Teatro S Carlo, 1 January 1788

Click here for a summary of Phaedra and Hippolytus

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Phaedra_Hippolytus_Pompeii.png image_description=Phaedra tells her slave about Hippolytus (from Pompeii) audio=yes first_audio_name=Giovanni Paisiello: Fedra first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Paisiello_Fedra1.m3u product=yes product_title=Giovanni Paisiello: Fedra product_by=Agostino Lazzari (Ippolito), Angelica Tuccari (Aricia), Lucille Udovick (Fedra), Ortensia Beggiato (Tisifone), Renata Mattioli (Diana), Renato Cesari (Teseo), Thomas O'Leary (Plutone), Tommaso Frascati (Mercurio-Learco), Milan RAI Chorus and Orchestra, Angelo Questa (cond.)
Live performance c. 1958
Posted by Gary at 10:18 PM

Jan Neckers on Recently Released Reissues and Historicals

It confirmed three wisdoms I thought I knew about thanks to voracious reading. The sets and the actors clearly told me that it was a Swiss medieval drama and not the second Arab intifadah against Israel. The singers and especially Tony Poncet, the legendary last of a line of French fort tenors, exactly sounded live like their (his) singing on record; big voices and blazing top notes. And, confirming operatic lore, the house came down after ‘Asile héréditaire’ and of course Poncet encored the aria. Little did I presume I witnessed a moribund tradition. Most composers wouldn’t recognize their own works if they didn’t hear the music. A small voice like Bartoli’s sounds like Simionato or Cossotto. And in al these years of opera going this was the first and the last encore I ever got in a house (The Verona arena where Bergonzi and Domingo often encored and Corelli twice caused an uproar by refusing doesn’t count in my opinion as a regular theatre). At the end of the performance the Ghent Opera was on its feet.

This long introduction just serves to tell that I learned my Tell in the original language while, contrary to many especially Anglo-Saxon critics often unable to order a cup of coffee in French, I have no problem at all with an Italian version in general and this one in particular. Especially as I find back in this recording the generosity of delivery, the enthusiasm and the size and sound of extra-ordinary voices also present in the long ago performance. I possess and like the French language version on EMI (and it has an extra aria for Jemmy as a bonus) but Gardelli, Bacquier and Gedda are not in the same class as Chailly, Milnes and Pavarotti. The tenor, at the time only 45, was in his best voice. The sound is strong, not too subtle (after all he is promising vengeance to his death father) and typical of Pavarotti in his best years .He has the necessary ardour in his big duet with Milnes (reminding me of the classic Martinelli-De Luca recording) but the sweetness and lyricism as well in his love duets with Freni. Moreover Pavarotti and Freni’s voices blend so well. Gedda, for all his qualities, was essentially an non-Mediterranean tenor and for my ears he sounded too white , especially near partners like Callas, Freni or Caballé on the EMI-set. Freni, 45 too, is still her eager youthful self, pouring out beauty of tone in each note. And we get the often cut second Arnold-Mathilde duet. Milnes indeed sings somewhat too straightforwardly. He has not got the subtlety of Bacquier (and not the insight and mezza-voce Gobbi delivers in his famous 78-recording) but he brings with him the big sound, obviously lacking in Bacquier, to show off the rage of Tell. All other roles are cast from strength. Ghiaurov is a noble Melchtal and Mazzoli sounds the appropriate ruffian as Gessler. Della Jones is even a de luxe Jemmy and so is Elizabeth Connell as Edwige. When the set first appeared Chailly was accused of driving his forces unmercifully, making Rossini sound somewhat like middle Verdi. Indeed the conductor has a tendency to hurry up, especially in the first Arnold-Mathilde duet ( One admires the breathing capacities of tenor and soprano.) but it still suits the opera. This is not Barbiere anymore but a genuine new style for Rossini. It was his first French Grand Opéra though he didn’t invent the genre as Auber’s La Muette de Portici is one year older. But the style of composing with its stress on dramatic accents is closer to Verdi’s Oberto (only nine years younger) than to other Rossini’s operas. What a pity the revolution of 1830 killed Rossini’s contract for five operas as the second one after Tell would have been Faust.

Tokyo_recitals.pngVictoria de los Angeles: Tokyo recitals 1988-1990.
Songs by Schumann, Schubert, Ravel, Hahn, Garcia Morante, Nin, Granados.
Manuel Garcia-Morante at the piano.
Columna Musica 1CM0161

Common wisdom has it that a critic should always trust his own ears and not repeat along what others have said before. But common wisdom is often scarce in music criticism. When early 2005 the soprano died after a tragic life (a whoring gambling husband, one son who died young and another one mentally retarded) I wrote a long obituary for a Dutch magazine, telling that De los Angeles had to sing for money into her old age (true) with a thread (not true and repeating others) of what was once a luminous voice. The first Schumann songs on this CD initially confirm my lines; just a light and somewhat colourless voice. But by track 4 Der Nussbaum the voice has warmed up and once again there is that sweet sound, full of feminine charm; so very much like the young De los Angeles even at 70 (and sad to say, the photo proves that her tragedies have taken its toll as she is almost unrecognizable). She has wisely chosen songs (or has them transposed) that lie safely in her middle voice but wasn’t she always somewhat weak above the stave ? Some of these songs she recorded in her heydays and the differences are not very marked. But the sum of this recording is more than the separate part and it is the whole package that counts: a much beloved older lady who still proves she has the goods and who shares them with an appreciative public.

Gaetano Donizetti: Anna Bolena.
Joan Sutherland (Anna), Samuel Ramey (Enrico), Susanne Mentzer (Giovanna), Jerry Hadley (Riccardo), Bernadette Manca di Nissa (Smeton), Giorgio Surian (Rochefort), Ernesto Gavazzi Hervey).
Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera conducted by Richard Bonynge.
Decca 475 7910 6 [3CDs]

When Decca signed up Elena Suliotis in 1965 she got a contract for 4 complete operas. The reviews for the second one (Norma) were devastating, partly due to producer Erik Smith’s opinion that “some of the stage music could be omitted with advantage” and that “Oroveso’s scene holds up the great dramatic sweep”. The decision was made by Smith in advance and the missing scenes are not in Decca’s vaults as I was told myself by Silvio Varviso, the conductor. When two years later Decca recorded Anna Bolena Varviso and his team were encouraged to leave nothing aside. As a result the set was almost of Wagnerian proportions: 4 LP’s and rather expensive. The reviews were not better as critics wrote that in the few years since the Nabucco recording the voice of Suliotis was rapidly declining and her capacities for bel canto were small. Decca then waited 17 years before they once again recorded the opera as Joan Sutherland preferred to tackle the score in the house first. At Covent Garden scenery, costumes and the outpouring of love for their own prima donna made their due impact but on record visual and emotional elements don’t play a role. Therefore this recording made in 1987 simply came ten years too late. From the outset and till the last bar the voice of the soprano sounds a little bit fragile. There is even a permanent little wobble. There is still some silver in the sound but one may not compare it with that firm sure-footed voice of the sixties. The moment Dame Joan launches into a cabaletta the cleanliness and surety of attack is lacking. One hears the careful way she handles the notes and the aplomb of earlier recordings is absent. As a result the madness scene at the final comes out with the best results as here one ‘could’ argue that the lack of poise is wilfully introduced. By the end of the eighties the Bonynges lacked the clout they once commanded at Decca and as a consequence they couldn’t commandeer other and more worthy partners. John Alexander in that first Decca attempt was not everyone’s dream of a great tenor but at least he had style, easy topnotes and a well rounded though somewhat indistinct voice. Jerry Hadley is simply out of his league in this role. His white bleat, his overblown small voice (lot of help from the Decca engineers) and thick and difficult top is unsuitable. He was a good operetta tenor but by the time he started his career classical operetta and musical almost had died and therefore he could only earn his pay checks by singing opera. Of course Riccardo Percy would have been an ideal vehicle for a younger Pavarotti but at that moment in his career the gentleman would sooner have ended it than study a new role for a recording. Nor is mezzo Susanne Mentser a substitute for Marilyn Horne. A vibrato fan like myself likes her fresh, youthful and very believable assumption of the role though her top thins rather quickly but a quick vibrato is not to everyone’s taste. Best of the lot is Sam Ramey at the height of his powers. Though the voice never rolled along with the majestic volume of Nicolai Ghiaurov in the first recording, Ramey is the far more interesting artist. At times venomously, thundering, charming he puts forward a full portrait of the English king. Richard Bonynge doesn’t indulge his wife overmuch. Of course he takes care not to overwhelm her or to ask for impossible quick tempi which she can no longer follow but he still succeeds in giving us the flow of the music without making things too easy for the star. But a missed and over late opportunity this recording is and we are still waiting for one worthy of the music. The Callas-Simionato recording is fine for the fans of the two ladies but almost an hour of music was savagely cut by Gavazzeni. Sills in the 72-set is a few years past her absolute prime and so is Gruberova in the 94-recording. So we still have to wait for another generation and a new attempt.

Orfeo_Schweigsame.png

Richard Strauss: Die Schweigsame Frau.
Kurt Böhme (Sir Morosus), Donald Grobe (Henry), Reri Grist (Aminta), Martha Mödl (Haushälterin), Barry McDaniel (Barbier), Benno Kussche (Vanuzzi).
Chorus and Orchestra Bayerischen Staatsoper conducted by Wolfgang Sawallich.
Live performance of July 14th 1971.
Orfeo 2CD 516 992 I

There’s a chapter in Christa Ludwig’s autobiography called ‘Die Schweigsame Frau’ and written by her son. It doesn’t deal with the opera and in it he tells us how much dialogue ‘a silent woman’ is able to hold with just her eyes popping out and talking with her hands on a day of a performance. I cannot say that silence is a quality of this opera but for once I’m grateful for the conductor’s scissors. Strauss’ version on the same theme as Don Pasquale is long winded, noisy and in my honest opinion utterly boring till the composer finally finds some inspiration in the second and third act. I remember reading critic William Mann’s (an unrepentant priest of the Strauss cult) furious diatribe in the Festival issue of Opera Magazine back in 1971. He called the performance ‘a national disgrace’ because Sawallisch probably had the same feelings about the score as I still have. Mann had a point. Either you like the music and then you perform it in its entirety during a festival or you despise it and you leave it alone. But cutting the score by one third doesn’t seem to me to be the right decision. Therefore people who want ‘to enjoy’ it should purchase the Janowski version on EMI which lasts a full hour longer. Others who are less puritan should tackle the Böhm version on DG. Only half an hour cut but the glorious cast of Prey, Hotter, Gueden and Wunderlich will probably never be bettered. Not that the recording under review is badly sung. Kurt Böhme has a fully rounded authentic bass and is equal to his rivals on other recordings and Reri Grist is her charming sprightly self. But Donald Grobe and his somewhat artificial sound is no match for Wunderlich and Barry McDaniel hasn’t the sense of humour and the brilliance of sound which Prey shows in his every utterance. So I fear this recording is redundant.

Urania_E_lisir.pngGaetano Donizetti: L’Elisir d’Amore.
Giuseppe Di Stefano (Nemorino), Hilde Gueden (Adina), Fernando Corena (Dulcamara), Renato Capecchi (Belcore), Luisa Mandelli (Gianetta).
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino conducted by Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.
Bonus: Giuseppe Di Stefano and Rosanna Carteri in Grandi Duetti d’amore.
Urania 2CD URN 22.301

How badly informed can a recording firm be ? If one looks at the cover of the jewel box one recognizes the well-known Decca performance of 1955. Fans of Di Stefano will probably own either the original set or the re-issue on CD and leave it well alone. But if one picks it up and looks at the back there is that sentence in small print mentioning a bonus recital by the tenor and Rosanna Carteri, first issued in 1958 and republished a few times on LP. Let me tell you from the outset that this recital alone is worth the purchase and then a complete set of Elisir as a bonus is quite good value for the money. I’m not going to repeat all clichés on Di Stefano at that time of his career. The too open throated sounds, the thickening of the voice above the stave etc. are well known and true. But so is the exemplary and clear diction, the beauty of the middle voice and the utter conviction he brings to every duet on this record. The voice was too light for an Otello in the house (but still more apt than Pavarotti’s) but is deliciously lyrical in the love duet. Compare Domingo’s fine but all-purpose Osaka in the complete Iris-set with Di Stefano’s far more expressive phrasing in this second act duet. When the record first appeared Dutch critic Leo Riemens wrote he was so immersed in it he almost expected the opera to continue on the second side of the LP. Di Stefano is more than ably partnered by recently rediscovered lyric soprano Rosanna Carteri (magnificent historical DVD’s of Rondine and Traviata). Iris is a little too heavy for the voice but as Desdemona, Micalea, Leila and Marguerite she proves that Renata Tebaldi of the mellifluous sound was not the only outstanding lirico in Italy during the fifties.

The qualities of the Elisir set are well-known. Di Stefano is less the country bumpkin than Pavarotti or Bergonzi made him in their recordings. He may be simple but he is not a simpleton. The well-focused voice is splendid notwithstanding the vocal faults. He can start a phrase with such a purity of sound, such an easiness of emission that one indeed gets a little angry when he strains for more decibels than necessary. Hilde Gueden sings charmingly though in my opinion she sounds a little too ‘Wienerisch’, not really an Italian soprano. The skittishness of operetta is always lurking behind her singing. I don’t agree with other critics who think Capecchi not suited to the role of Belcore. The voice is still a firm baritone and not the bass-baritone of later years. He has the rolling sound for the role though indeed there is not the smoothness in the sound that ideally belongs to a fast talker as Belcore. For me the fly in the ointment is Fernando Corena. He was considered to be the best buffo in the world during the fifties and there were few Decca recordings without his contribution. But Dulcamara too is a real belcanto role and Corena’s gruff delivery, without any real legato in his phrasing, only makes a cheap clown of the good doctor. Dara, Capecchi and definitely Taddei would later show how wonderfully human Dulcamara can be sung. After all it is a role that reminds me a lot of Burt Lancaster’s classic and sympathetic assumption of the title role in ‘The Rainmaker’. Francesco Molinari-Pradelli is a little too much of a routinier in this repertoire. He was not a belcanto conductor (who was at the time ? ) and he doesn’t encourage his performers to add a little ornamentation. So indeed this is Donizetti sung and conducted as Puccini. And Molinari is responsible for the cut of maybe the most beautiful concertato of the opera in the last act.

Jan Neckers

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Guglielmo_Tell.png image_description=Gioacchino Rossini: Guglielmo Tell product=yes product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: Guglielmo Tell product_by=Sherill Milnes (Tell), Luciano Pavarotti (Arnoldo), Mirella Freni (Matilde), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Gualtiero), John Tomlinson (Melchtal), Della Jones (Jemmy), Elizabeth Connell (Edwige). Ambrosian Opera Chorus and National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly. product_id=Decca 00289 475 7723 [4CDs] price=$47.98 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=144812
Posted by Gary at 4:42 PM

Bryn Terfel: Tutto Mozart!

This recording is a fine opportunity for those familiar with Terfel’s voice to appreciate the depth of Mozart roles the singer has performed over the years, which includes familiar characters like Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro, title character and Leporello in Don Giovanni. At the same time, this recording, which was made in April 2006, affords listeners the opportunity to hear Terfel performing some fine examples from Così fan tutte, Bastien und Bastienne, as well as selections from Mozart’s concert arias. It is an excellent opportunity to hear Terfel perform music in which he excels, since he has a voice and stage presence to make characters like Papageno come alive. In the excerpt included in this recording, Miah Persson offers a well-articulated Papagena to Terfel’s fine performance. In working well together, the enunciation of the texts is clear and points to that aspect of Terfel’s approach to this literature in balancing the text with the musical phrases. The excerpt that follows, the first-act “Catalogue” aria from Don Giovanni, Terfel shapes the well-known text to give meaning – however ironic or humorous – to Don Giovanni’s list of questionable accomplishments. As an popular Leporello on stage, Terfel’s experience in the role is apparent in this recording, and his phrasing of the middle section of the “Catalogue” aria is memorable for its nuanced interpretation of this quintessential number from Don Giovanni.

In material less often heard or, in some cases, not always associated with Terfel, their inclusion in this recording makes Tutto Mozart! more than a compilation of famous pieces extracted from their sources. Some little-known pieces are highly effective in Terfel’s performances, such as “Io ti lascio,” K. Anh. 245 (621a), a piece associated with another composer, Gottfried von Jaquin. Yet the more often heard concert arias are a fine source of music for this collection, with “Così dunque tradisci” an effective piece for baritone, and performed well by Terfel.

In some cases the less familiar selections include music associated with Mozart, such as “Nun, liebes Weibchen,” a number in the collectively composed opera Der Stein der Weisen, which Benedikt Schack composed and Mozart orchestrated. A case may be made for comprehending Mozart’s achievement in Die Zauberflöte in the context of the earlier work, Der Stein der Weisen, and with the inclusion of “Nun, liebes Weibchen” in this recording, the idiom in which Mozart worked becomes evident. In following this selection with “Der Vogelfänger bin ich, ja” from Die Zauberflöte, the style of vocal writing associated with Viennese Singspiel in Mozart’s circle becomes evident as a vehicle for expressing the humor of situations and helping to flesh out characters. As much as Singspiel could involve stock characters, it took a composer like Mozart to bring the idiom closer to opera in this regard. Along these lines, then the details that Terfel brings to performance are useful in showing the full power of Mozart’s music, even in works associated with a lighter, perhaps, more popular style.

As such, Tutto Mozart! also offers audiences the chance to hear the way in which Mozart shaped the vocal demands for the baritone in some of his most influential works. While the role assigned the baritone in the composer’s early comic opera Bastien und Bastienne may be relatively perfunctory when compared to some of Mozart’s later baritone roles, especially those found in the Da Ponte works, the inclusion of music between the early and late Mozart is useful in presenting a fuller image of the roles of the baritone in this repertoire. The Don Alfonso of Mozart’s Così fan tutte has much more nuanced vocal demands that emerge well in the terzettino “Sovae sia il vento,” which involves Terfel, Persson, and Christine Rice. The three singers work well in this piece, and represent a nicely rehearsed ensemble.

This is a worthwhile addition to recent Mozart recordings and contributes nicely to the recorded legacy of Bryn Terfel. One should not need a Mozart anniversary to find such a well—thought selection of music, and of the various projects recently completed, this one should stand well for years as testimony of Terfel’s talent and a tribute to the art of the baritone. As with Charles Mackeras’s other performances of Mozart’s music, the interpretations are convincing, and the performances refined. The phrasing, articulations, and overall ensemble playing are appropriate to the fine music-making found on this CD.

James L. Zychowicz

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product_by=Bryn Terfel, Miah Persson, Christine Rice, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras
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Posted by jim_z at 4:28 PM

The Oxford Psalms

In the case of William Child, the Oxford tie includes degrees from the University; in the case of William Lawes and George Jeffreys, the relocation of Charles I’s court to Oxford would bring them to the “city of spires.” (Lawes also served the Royalist cause during the Civil War—with tragic results—in an Oxford-based regiment.) Several of the composers, such as Matthew Locke and John Blow, provided music at one time or another for the “University Act,” Oxford’s Encaenia, at which honorary degrees are conferred. Henry Purcell’s connection is more distant: his brother, Daniel, was the organist at Magdalen College.

The music is, in the main, settings of metrical psalm texts, a significant reminder that although metrical psalms might seem to have a Puritan resonance in the popular mind, they were sung in both the Royal and Puritan orbits. The musical sophistication of the settings recorded here is a strong contrast to the simple congregational singing of psalm tunes, however, and this distinction is one that falls along the Royalist-Puritan divide. (The Lawes psalms unusually present the composed settings in juxtaposition with the unison “common tune,” blurring the borders between the traditions. And though these juxtapositions are unusual, they recall both a degree of traditional psalmodic antiphony and also in alternatim practice.)

If the recording is interesting in helping to chart the history of the metrical psalm, it is also interesting in the way it bridges the gaps in our understanding of the verse anthem. The verse anthem’s reliance on solo singing is well known in early examples from Byrd and Gibbons; equally well known s the flourishing of the verse anthem in the large-scale “symphony anthems” of Pelham Humfrey, Blow, and Purcell towards the end of the seventeenth century. With the examples here from Child and Lawes we can fill in the space between and gain a new appreciation of the form’s continuity.


Many of the psalm settings are rhetorical in familiar ways, with ample text painting and affective musical contrasts to underscore the common antitheses in the psalms. The solo writing is occasionally declamatory, occasionally tuneful, but often it falls between these poles. In the later examples—Purcell, Locke, and Jeremiah Clarke—the lines unfold with an assurance that is perhaps less apparent in the earlier works, though the earlier pieces are no less interesting or demanding for it.

The singers embrace this repertory with gusto. In certain passages, such as “Such is his power, that is his wrath he made the earth to quake” (Ps. XVIII/1), the strength of the vocal sound serves well. However, some will find the tenor sound overly vibrant, I suspect, and miss the clarity of simpler timbres. Of the three singers--Rodrigo del Pozo and Simon Beston, tenors, and Nicholas Perfect, bass—it is Perfect who offers the most memorable singing, not least with his unflaggingly impressive profundity! (And with texts like “who shall worship thee, O Lord, in the infernal pit?” [Psalm VI], the profundity is both unavoidable and delicious.)

Various instrumental pieces are interwoven among the psalms. Susanne Heinrich’s elegant viol playing in a set of divisions by Frances Withy is especially well done, with compellingly contoured, tapered sounds. The counterpoint between the instrumental pieces and the vocal works is a welcome one, and one might have wished for perhaps a more generous allotment to the players.

“The Oxford Psalms” is a recording of interest, certainly, and a performance rendered with care.

Steven Plank

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Posted by steve_p at 4:24 PM

Karlsruhe‘s Don Gets Down

And happily, unlike Waters’ film, this production scored all the right points for compelling dramatic relevancy.

The world’s most famous libertine (pace, Bill Clinton) is after all a sexual compulsive in need of a Twelve Step Program. Director Robert Tannenbaum has chosen to place heavy (though not heavy-handed) emphasis on the title character’s wanton and unfulfilling abuses of his prodigious sexual powers. Mr. Tannenbaum can always be counted on for a fresh and inventive, yet honest interpretation. True, he can perpetrate the odd moment here and there that doesn’t quite click; but mostly I find that he excels at telling the story, presenting the character relationships that the authors created, and staying out of the way of the music.

Indeed, the only character in this modern dress, minimalist production that is not presented as a sexually active being with a gnawing appetite, is the “Commendatore” The “Don” first appears in pantomime during the overture, disguised as a cleric who seduces “Anna” from her evening prayers in the chapel. She capitulates to his attentions quite willingly and is soon pinned against the wall, writhing in increasingly pleasurable foreplay until interrupted by daddy.

“Elvira” is presented as compulsive about all things: she reveals, and consumes a chocolate cake during “Mi tradi”; tipples wine immodestly from a bottle through much of the rest; and lengthily swaps some serious spit with a “Leporello” who appears quite happy to have his tonsils cleaned by his master’s sloppy seconds.

“Ottavio,” usually a cipher, was here a troubled divinity student who was very receptive to having an intimacy-starved “Anna” remove his Roman collar, and tear his cassock open to nuzzle his heaving bare chest during the allegro section of “Non mi dir.”

And the young and shallow Love Couple, “Zerlina” and “Masetto,” (mis-)behave like feckless horny wedding peasants from Nutley, New Jersey sporting the best polyester wedding apparel that money can rent. His coral prom tuxedo with ruffled shirt was just one of the many witty and telling costumes by Ute Fruehling.

Peter Werner’s wholly effective modern setting consisted of a series of high walls joined at disparate angles, creating a central hallway of sorts, mounted on a turntable, and trimmed in with walls as matching legs. The neutral textured ecru was an ideal surface upon which to project endless lines of countless names of “Giovanni’s” conquests, the image varying in intensity and legibility from scene to scene. No one was credited with the wonderful lighting design which alternately used isolated areas and spotlights, and mood- enhancing washes with excellent results.

Giovanni5.pngDiana Tomsche (Zerlina), Mika Kares (Masetto), Konstantin Gorny (Don Giovanni), Christina Niessen (Donna Elvira), Ina Schlingensiepen (Donna Anna) and Bernhard Berchtold (Don Ottavio) [Photo: Jacqueline Krause-Burberg]

The whole scenic structure rotated and spun with judicious directorial thought and attention. Only once did it seem to create unwanted dead space while we waited for a new positioning. In fact, the set facilitated many successful groupings and offered opportunities for meaningful dramatic reinforcement, none more so than the attempted party rape of “Zerlina.” The deed itself was happening on stage right with the roiling mob stage left, all the while separated from each other by a jutting piece of wall that came right to the stage’s edge. This was undoubtedly the most chilling and suspenseful staging of this moment I have yet encountered.

Later, at the “Don’s” final fateful party, he is portrayed much as the dissolute, impotent Jack Nicholson at the end of “Carnal Knowledge,” sitting in his designer leather easy chair, distractedly clicking his remote and viewing his own Mozartean “Ball Busters on Parade” slide show, with photo after photo of past conquests flashing on the wall.

Giovanni8.pngKonstantin Gorny (Don Giovanni), Stefan Stoll (Leporello) and Christina Niessen (Donna Elvira)

When the “Commendatore” finally nabs his arm in a death grip, hell arrives in the form of a sex-guilt-induced hallucination of these same images that now flood the stage, disorienting the audience with strobe-like rhythmic interweaving that make the “Don” appear to be floating in a visual hell of his own creation. This was emotion-laden, first-rate stagecraft.

Less effective was the closing sextet. The set did not quite turn in time for them to be singing full front at its opening, and all were sharing breakfast at a Victorian dining table, “Masetto” and “Zerlina” with baby carriage in tow and (judging from “Zerlina’s” Britney Spears bare bulging belly) another tot on the way. I guess they were all being hosted by the nun-garbed “Elvira,” now in her convent. It was a bit of a miscalculated visual, especially after an evening of utmost clarity.

For Robert Tannenbaum knows how to direct singing actors. He knows how to position them so they can be heard to maximum effect. He knows how to draw focus to the soloist when there are others on stage. He knows how to illuminate their relationships and enhance our appreciation of the piece. This is a director serious about serving the work at hand, and hey, I can live with an odd, well-intended dining table or two. Tannenbaum scores a significant achievement with memorably inventive work on this evergreen standard.

But no amount of fine design or direction could have saved indifferent music-making, and here, too, Karlsruhe came up with the goods in spades. At the center of it all, the fine (guest) international baritone Bo Skovhus was virile, potent, mesmerizing, and troubled; singing all the while with beauty of tone, dramatic fire, and star power. His effervescent, articulate “Champagne Aria” was as fine as I have ever heard.

One non-musical note about our star: the production should consider losing the long straight-haired wig he is made to wear until the final scene, when he is blessedly “au naturel.” It may be meant to convey a rock star image, but ends up looking a bit like Ali McGraw on a bad hair day.

Giovanni9.pngUlrich Schneider (Commendatore) and Konstantin Gorny (Don Giovanni)

Tenor Bernhard Berchtold literally stopped the show with a breath-taking, superbly controlled sotto voce rendition of “Dall sua pace.” His second aria was also sung very well, and if a couple of upward leaps sounded a bit squally, he nevertheless inspired his public to deserved rapturous ovations.

Guest bass Christophe Fel’s rather stock “Leporello” was well-served by a big, grainy voice of pleasing timbre, and ample projection. It must be said that his generally good comic timing lacked in subtlety, and his singing was marked by several patches of casual acquaintance with the downbeat. And upbeat. Or any beat.

“Masetto” found a pleasing physical/dramatic embodiment in Mika Kares, who produced a suave and rolling bass-baritone. His Partner in Peasantry was the delightful, petite Diana Tomsche as “Zerlina.” Her clear, free lyric voice wanted a bit more fullness in “La ci darem,” especially since she otherwise brought a delectable tone and substantial vocal presence to the stage.

Another guest star, Carmela Remigio offered us a beautiful, pointed, well-schooled soprano of ample size; always in command of “Anna’s” heroic music; wedded to a good realization of the role’s dramatic and directorial demands. While this was a very credible and enjoyable turn, I hope I may be forgiven if I say that she is not just yet in a league with my “Anna’s-of-Christmas-Past” including Leontyne Price, Carol Vaness, and Joan Sutherland. However, time and further experience could certainly bring her into that company, as she already has a lovely presence and considerable gifts. (She has recorded the role.)

“Elvira” was a bit of a mixed blessing in Christina Niessen’s competent hands. Hers is a unique, metallic sound that aptly suited the shrewish aspects of this role as she unrelentingly pursued her once and (she wishes!) future prey. I found that although she was always completely in service of the role and the director’s concept, her technique did not wear especially well on me, seeming almost strident by opera’s end. Perhaps some modulating of her heated dramatic zeal would correct some of this impression.

In his small role, Ulrich Schneider was an imposing, dark- hued “Commendatore.” The Badisches Staatskapelle played with stylish vitality and solid commitment under the sure hand of Jochem Hochstenbach.

This “Don Giovanni” strikes a welcome balance between “traditional” and “what-was-that-about?” and clearly pleased its public. The raw power of the libido-driven action, coupled with persuasive musical results made a great case for Mozart’s masterpiece. Not only would Wolfgang have approved, but he assuredly would also have giddily joined in this pleasurable evening of “goin’ sexin’.”

James Sohre

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Giovanni7.png image_description=Ina Schlingensiepen and Berhard Berchtold product=yes product_title=W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni
Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe product_by=Above: Ina Schlingensiepen (Donna Anna) and Berhard Berchtold (Don Ottavio) product_id=All photos courtesy of Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe
Posted by Gary at 3:45 PM

November 16, 2007

Gruberova on Nightingale Classics

This label focuses on Gruberova, and has now reached the stage of issuing the “Edita Gruberova Edition,” which seems to be themed collections of highlights from previous recordings.

Edition 3, Siente Me, bears the subtitle “popular avenues.” Some of the chestnuts here are pieces one would expect from Gruberova, including a flamboyant “Bell Song” from Delibes’s Lakme and the high-spirited “Ah! Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. Somewhat less expectedly, Gruberova does very well by two of Puccini’s greatest hits for soprano, “O mio babbino caro” and “Ch’il bel sogno di Doretta.” The latter, exquisite performance makes one wonder if Gruberova ever attempted La Rondine on stage.

Although by no means a native speaker of English, Gruberova does a decent job with Bernstein’s “Glitter and be gay.” The listener won’t catch very word, but she seems to get the humor and certainly has the technique to deal easily with the challenges the music poses. This disc ends with two pieces of Euro-pop composed by one Gunnar Graewert. On one hand, for many people these synth-heavy but lightweight songs will seem out of place for Gruberova. On the other hand, she doesn’t sound so nearly out of her element as, for example, Kiri te Kanawa does on the “Kiri and Karl” CD. In fact, Gruberova’s ethereal tone is well used by the producer, especially in “Ecco la primevera.” Think of it as high-class, up-tempo Enya. The booklet has no texts, and only a scanty note in German or English, only slightly more comprehensible in the latter than in the former to this non-German speaker.

Gruberova_Adagio.pngThe booklet for edition 2, “Adagio: Between heaven and earth,” has no notes at all, just track listings, photos of album covers, and production details on the original recordings. It’s a beautiful collection, however, although the point of the title (let alone the tacky cover art) proves elusive. Anything with a vaguely “spiritual” bent seems to have qualified, including an absolutely luscious run-through of Lakme’s duet with Mallika (sung by Natela Nicoli). The opening track is a rare vocalise from Saint-Saens, “Le Rossignol et la rose,” allowing Gruberova to put on a master class in sustained breath control and floating notes. A series of lieder duets with Vesselina Kasarova makes one want to hunt down the complete recording they came from. All in all, the collection is much more heavenly than earthy.

Gruberova_Hymnus.pngPerhaps on some other disc of the “Edita Gruberova Edition” we will find tracks from Hymnus, a collection of pieces from Bach, Handel, and Mozart. Strangely, Gruberova does not seem at home in this repertory, although it provides some opportunity for her skill at quick runs. Here the light color of her instrument blanches, the high notes pop out a bit too ostentatiously. There are fine moments, to be sure, but even in Mozart’s “Exsultate Jubilate,” Gruberova sings as if disconnected, even disinterested.

Gruberova_Beatrice.pngShe is much more at home in Bellini, and Nightingale has released many a complete set of her in his operas. The Beatrice di Tenda comes from 1992, recorded live for Österreichen Rundfunks. This time Nightingale provides a full booklet, with a libretto in German and English. Niel Rishoi’s fine essay argues for a reconsideration of the opera’s merits, and the music is indeed as impassioned as in the more performed Norma or I Puritani. However, even those operas appear less often than they deserve, probably due to the difficulty in gathering casts adequate to the demands of true bel canto style. So the chances that Beatrice Di Tenda will be staged more often in the world’s opera houses seems slight.

The story is a romantic rectangle, if the reader will allow. Count Filippo would like to be rid of his wife Beatrice, so he can be with his beloved Agnese. However, Agnese actually loves Orombello more, but he has his heart set on...Beatrice! When the Count finds Orombello and Beatrice together, he accuses them of treason, and the opera ends with Beatrice’s noble ascent of the scaffold. Actually, the story is less incredible than that of the more frequently performed La Sonnambula. If the score, though of uniform quality, had a couple of arias with more distinctive melodic profiles, perhaps the opera would be better known.

Nightingale’s cast is capable, with a young Vesselina Kasarova as Agnese, Igor Morosow growling away as the bitter Filippo, and Don Bernardini coping well with the usual stringent demands of Bellini’s writing for tenor. Gruberova, the star, is not in the very best of voice, with high notes in particular sounding more effortful than usual, and not always perfectly on pitch. Pinchas Steinberg’s leadership of the ORF-Symphonieorchester provides fine support. Her fans at the live recording, it should be noted, reward her with vociferous enthusiasm.

A DVD of the opera, also with Gruberova, was available at one time; it may be difficult to track down at this time. A diligent hunt may also produce a copy of the studio recording Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland brought forth.

Gruberova fans will want all of her releases, surely. For those with favorable impressions of the singer but less devotion, the Adagio compilation earns a strong recommendation.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Gruberova_Siente_Me.png image_description=Siente Me: Popular Avenues product=yes product_title=Siente Me: Popular Avenues product_by=Edita Gruberova, soprano, et al. product_id=Nightingale Classics NC 8254162 [CD] price=$14.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=133839
Posted by Gary at 11:31 AM

November 15, 2007

Macbeth - Glyndebourne on Tour

Svetlana_Sozdateleva.pngChristopher Smith [EDP24, 15 November 2007]

All hail Macbeth! Just a minute, though, whose Macbeth is this really? Shakespeare wrote his Scottish tragedy, most likely for its performance in Edinburgh in about 1600. With politics and murder in an atmosphere of mystery, the grand tale of a powerful chieftain, dominated by his wife and undermined by doubt, has been played out in many variations.

Posted by Gary at 12:25 PM

Edward Hopper paintings inspire opera

HopperAutomat.pngBy Aaron Chester [Baltimore Sun, 15 November 2007]

The average museumgoer would not look at a series of paintings about loneliness and think "live theatrical adaptation."

Posted by Gary at 12:02 PM

Who Was That Masked Composer?

By David Schiff [Atlantic Monthly]

On May 26, 1953, Aaron Copland testified before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The committee seemed to have only a vague sense of Copland's value as a witness (or as a musician), and probably called him simply because he had become a well-known public figure — an unprecedented accomplishment for an American composer of concert music.

Posted by Gary at 11:56 AM

Mozart's life in letters

The importance of letters to the gregarious Wolfgang and the parallels to be found with his musical writing

Jane Glover [Times Literary Supplement, 14 November 2007]

Mozart learned much of his letter-writing technique from his father. Throughout his childhood, on various lengthy travels across Europe, he observed Leopold writing accounts of their activities and sending them back to Salzburg, first to his friend and landlord Lorenz Hagenauer, and later to his wife Maria Anna, when she and their daughter Nannerl were left at home; to many letters, the growing boy would add postscripts.

Posted by Gary at 11:47 AM

Seattle Opera's version of Iphigenia: an exchange

By David Brewster [Crosscut Seattle, 12 November 2007]

Seattle Opera's recent production of Gluck's rarely performed Iphigenia in Taurus was reviewed by Crosscut music critic Fred Hauptman, in an appraisal that was basically positive but critical of the cuts and substitutions of some music, calling them "disfiguring cuts and additions imposed upon a perfect original."

Posted by Gary at 10:17 AM

November 14, 2007

Libera — Angel Voices

So begins the short note on the inside of the booklet from Angel Voices, a new release on EMI Classics in the endlessly replicating lifeform called "classical crossover." if the emphasis on Libera being a band of boys doesn't produce a slight grimace of distaste, perhaps the page after page of photographs of the "lads," if you will, will begin to make one wonder to what particular demographic EMI Classics has aimed its marketing expertise. Their shining, smiling faces are caught in a blur of white, as they are posed before a white background and all war identical white jerseys. Is this in Michael Jackson's collection yet?

The CD booklet credits a Robert Prizeman as having directed and conducted the proceedings. He wrote some of the selections himself, with either title or some of the lyrics in Latin: "Salva me," for example. Prizeman has also arranged familiar melodies such as Sibelius's "Finlandia" ("Be Still, My Soul") and Gustav Holst's "Jupiter" theme from The Planets ("I Vow to Thee, My Country). In the end, everything sounds pretty much the same. Keyboards dominate, especially a bland synthesizer supplying an all-purpose harmonic haze. Occasionally a solo instrument, such as violin or recorder, will toot a few notes.

Shamefully, your reviewer must admit that despite all his reservations regarding the genre of classical crossover and this particular enterprise, Angel Voices actually does a decent job of fulfilling its own mandate (boydate?): presenting a suitable background for some lovely boys' voices in light, unchallenging fare. An hour is a bit much, but in small doses the singing of Libera has a purity of tone and sweetness in delivery that insists on pleasing the ears. Strangely, one of the least satisfactory tracks is repeated. There is a "radio edit" of Prizeman's adaptation of Dvorak's "Going Home" theme from the New World Symphony, and at the end of the disc comes the same performance except with the moody opening chords from the symphony movement included, all of about 20 additional seconds of music. The boys' aural loveliness here gilds the lily of Dvorak's melody, and a listener hearing this tune for the first time would likely never guess that it was long mistaken as a folk tune Dvorak appropriated from African-Americans.

Of course, any number of CDs are available of actual choirboys singing great music of authentic scores. Libera, as declared in the booklet note quoted above, make no claims to such status. This is a "boy band," and if unlikely to reproduce the success of NSYNC, at least Robert Prizeman's little legion of lads makes some appealing sounds.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Libera_Angel_Voices.png
image_description=Angel Voices

product=yes
product_title=Angel Voices
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product_id=EMI Classics 0946 70523 2 7 [CD]
price=$13.99
product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=144700

Posted by Gary at 5:00 PM

ROSSINI: Torvaldo e Dorliska

Operas that had middling (or less) success during the composer's lifetime have been recorded, with music that often strikes the ear as quite familiar, since Rossini, understandably, employed the scores as a sort of treasure chest to draw from for later projects.

And so in the Naxos recording of Torvaldo e Dorliska, the second theme of the overture will surely evoke smiles from many listeners, who may search their musical memories before identifying the tune from its use in Cenerentola. Torvaldo e Dorliska, however, is no comedy. Instead, Martina Grempler, in the booklet essay, argues that the precedent for the opera is Beethoven's Fidelio - a rescue drama centered on marital fidelity. Let that suffice for a description of the plot - historical commentary referenced in the essay indicates that the weakness of Cesare Sterbini's libretto doomed the opera. Naxos does provide a detailed track-by-track synopsis for those who want to follow every melodramatic twist and turn.

For the rest of us, the reward here is purely aural, as Rossini's score, while no lost masterpiece, possesses the style and creative energy of the master. Arias, duets, trios, quartets - the music streams by in rippling variety, with Rossini's orchestration skills, particularly with winds, always evident. Each of the title leads has a fine solo number in the first act. Soprano Paola Cigna (a good soprano name!) delivers her "Tutto è vanno" with energy and precision, with the runs precisely articulated in the cavatina. Occasionally, higher tessitura brings some acid into her tone; the middle is attractive enough. Tenor Huw Rhys-Evans (no reward for guessing his nationality) has an even more pleasing voice, all the way through a secure and ringing top. His scena, "Tutto è silenzio," is more sweet than potent, and it would be an excellent choice for any artist (think Juan Diego Florez) searching out rarer but rewarding arias.

The bad guy role, Duca d'Ordow, goes to a bass. Michele Bianchini has no big solo scene, but his sonorous voice has ample opportunity to sneer and threaten in various ensembles. His subordinates, who end up betraying him and helping the title characters, are well sung by baritone Mauro Utzeri (Giorgio) and bass-baritone Giovann Bellavia (Ormondo). Giorgio even gets the last aria leading into the joyous finale. In the small role of Giorgio's sister Carlotta, Anna-Rita Gemmabella finds herself in the spotlight as the drama thickens (at least supposedly) in act two - rather like Berta's bouncy number in the very different Barbiere. Gemmabella's warm mezzo suits the number, "Una voce lusinghiera," very well.

Conducting from the harpsichord, Alessandro de Marchi leads the Czech Chamber Soloists in a secure, detailed performance sensitive to the ostensible drama while pressing forward. Naxos compiled the recording from three performances dates during the 2003 Rossini in Wildbad Festival. The sound is fine, with little distracting stage noise.

Sooner or later Opera Rara may turn to this opera, but if they do, the performance had better employ superstars who can clearly outshine the more than capable singers on this Naxos set. For at budget price, this Torvaldo e Dorliska can be recommended to anyone with an affection for Rossini, or the lost glories of bel canto.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Rossini_Torvaldo.png
image_description=Gioachino Rossini: Torvaldo e Dorliska

product=yes
product_title=Gioachino Rossini: Torvaldo e Dorliska
product_by= Torvaldo - Huw Rhys-Evans, Tenor; Dorliska, his wife - Paola Cigna, Soprano; Giorgio, castle custodian - Mauro Utzeri, Baritone; Duca d'Ordow - Michele Bianchini, Bass; Ormondo, henchman of the Duke - Giovanni Bellavia, Bass-baritone; Carlotta, Giorgio's sister - Anna-Rita Gemmabella, Mezzo-soprano; Chorus of Servants, Soldiers, Peasants and Grenadiers. ARS Brunensis Chamber Choir (Chorus-master: Dan Kalousek). Czech Chamber Soloists Brno (Leader: Ivan Matyás). Alessandro de Marchi, Conductor and Harpsichord.
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Posted by Gary at 4:43 PM

Portraits of Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Olga Borodina

But the company is more than happy to recycle selections from the recordings the two artists made for the label and issue them in two-CD sets in their "Portrait" series.

The slim booklets for each set feature a cover photograph of the artist, with both clutching themselves and turning an enigmatic, suggestive smile to the camera. After the track listing comes a short bio in three languages, and then a page of all the producers, engineers, and recording locales of the original releases. No texts, of course.

As a retrospective of each singer's early maturity, the Hvorostovsky Portrait has an edge over Borodina's. CD 1 of the baritone's set has three Verdi arias from a recording with Valery Gergiev, and then 5 bel canto selections with Ion Marin. Then Gergiev returns, leading the Rotterdam Philharmonic in providing Hvorostovsky's support for the big Tchaikovsky baritone arias from Eugene Onegin and Pique Dame. The Kirov plays for Gergiev in the final 5 tracks of more Russian repertory (Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, and Rimsky-Korsakov).

This gives the listener an excellent taste of Hvorostovsky's operatic skills, his gorgeous tone and enviable breath control on display in every selection. Some find the voice almost too pretty for Verdi, but surely the baritone's Rodrigo from Don Carlo is without peer on the contemporary opera scene. The Largo al factotum is high-spirited, even without that traditional last falsetto cry of "Feeee-ga-ro." In the Russian pieces, the years have only added to the artist's depth of characterization, though these early 1990's recordings certainly satisfy on the sheer basis of vocal splendour.

Borodina_Portrait.png

Disc two begins with some "antiche arien," including Handel's Ombra mai fu. As Borodina also sings this on her set, this allows for a point of comparison. The mezzo lets her gorgeous voice fill out the melodic line, lusciously but ostentatiously. Hvorostovsky somehow seems to let his voice support the melody's innate loveliness, rather than compete with it, and his version is the lovelier for it. Some Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff songs follow, with piano accompaniment. An excellent recitalist, Hvorostovsky manages the tricky feat of making a recording feel like an intimate encounter. The dramatic conclusion of the set comes with Gergiev again leading the Kirov as the baritone sings the Shostakovich orchestration of Moussorgsky's "Songs and Dances of Death." Hvorostovsky's is not the darkest of voices, and he doesn't try to force an ugly edge. Instead, the very silkiness of his delivery plays against the text in a way that presents a sinister effect. There are more potent versions, but the music is very well served.

Borodina's set does more skipping around in musical eras. It starts with Dalila's big aria, then two from Rossini's Rosina. The Ombra mai fu is followed by Preziosilla's numbers from the Gergiev La Forza del Destino set. Instead of showing off the singer's versatility, unfortunately, this arrangement tends to emphasize the sameness of her artistic approach, which basically amounts to a reliance on the beauty of her instrument over characterization. Yes, she can sing Ponchielli, and Berlioz, and Purcell - but the singing doesn't reflect much of an awareness that these are very different composers.

The second disc, thankfully, is dedicated to Russian repertory (except for three quite charming songs from Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas. Whether in song or opera, Borodina in her native tongue has a life and a sensitivity in her singing less apparent in other languages. Here the undeniable lusciousness of her instrument is partnered with a detailed interpretative stance, and the greatness of her artistry is undeniable. The disc ends with a luscious performance of a Psalm from Rachmaninoff's Vespers. Even the famously glum Rachmaninoff would have smiled at the beauty here.

The many original releases that both these compilations came from would be very hard to track down these days, so fans of either singer who missed out on those discs should look for these "Portrait" CDs.

Chris Mullins

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Posted by Gary at 4:20 PM

Aida at ENO

The company currently seems obsessed with ‘hooking’ a new audience, while giving little thought to delivering a consistent standard of meaningful theatrical output which might encourage this audience to stay and explore the operatic medium further.

The ‘hook’ for Jo Davies’s new production of Aida (in collaboration with the opera companies of Houston and Oslo) was the prospect of sets and costumes by the iconic British designer Zandra Rhodes – hence the dress-up doll – and it was Rhodes’s name which dominated the publicity material.

Rhodes’s creation is a riot of colour in stylised, exaggerated versions of authentic Ancient Egyptian designs. The men’s chorus sport voluminous gold skirts and bald-caps painted with turquoise zigzags; Amneris is entertained by orange-clad child dancers in a room with intricate wing-patterned windows, and Radamès makes his Act 2 triumphal entrance on a fabulous turquoise-and-gold elephant puppet amid a shower of gold. These are the garish ceremonial colours of the Egyptian armies; the Ethiopians have earthier colours, browns and burnt reds and yellows. Diagonally-hung scenic draperies slide back and forth to create pyramid-shaped spaces; the final scene is highly effective as a triangular space closes in on Aida and Radamès.

Crucially, behind the zany turquoise headdresses and lavish visuals, Jo Davies has created a straightforward, ultra-traditional reading of Verdi’s drama which focuses on the central love triangle and Aida’s internal struggle. It is refreshingly gimmick-free and invites the audience to care about the characters. Furthermore, the singing is terrific.

Two singers are particularly outstanding; Claire Rutter, who sings the title role for the first time and does so with total commitment and unfailingly lovely tone, and Iain Paterson, also in his role début as Amonasro, a former ENO Young Artist whose bass-baritone is now impressively refined and compelling (his future engagements include Gunther at the Met).

Aida_ENO_02.pngFull stage with Jane Dutton (Amneris) and Gwynne Howell (The Pharaoh) centre

Tenor John Hudson may be short on vocal ‘edge’ but he sings Radamès with power in the big moments at the end of Act 1 and the Nile Scene, and remarkable sensitivity in the quieter passages, including a proper diminuendo on the final B-flat of ‘Celeste Aida’. Jane Dutton’s Amneris is vocally capable, but it’s her characterisation that would really benefit from more depth. For the first two acts at least, she comes across as little more than a smug, two-dimensional cartoon villain; there’s little evidence of the personal pain behind her victimisation of Aida. After the Nile Scene, suddenly there’s some depth and real drama. (One weakness of the staging as a whole, in fact, is that it doesn’t really start to take itself seriously until the second half.)

Add into the mix the two distinguished basses – Gwynne Howell as the King of Egypt and Brindley Sherratt as Ramfis – and the cast is one of which any top-rank international house would be proud. In the pit, conductor Edward Gardner makes delicate work of the score’s soft opening and the calm reverence of the ‘Possente Ptha’ scene, but pulls the stops out for the warmongering in Act 1 and the big stuff of Act 2.

For once, the formula seems to be right. Attract the punters with a well-known opera title and a big-name designer, and keep them entertained with first-class music making, a visual spectacle, and a production which acknowledges that the intimate stuff is most important of all. ENO should treat this as a salutary lesson.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Aida_ENO_01.png image_description=Claire Rutter as Aida product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
English National Opera, 8 November 2007 product_by=Above: Claire Rutter as Aida
All photographs are copyright English National Opera and TRISTRAM KENTON
Posted by Gary at 3:18 PM

Macbeth in Istanbul

Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, loved opera, ballet and theater and recommended them strongly – along with such Western artifacts as the Roman alphabet, the panama hat, and votes – and scarfless hair – for women. He saw the theater as a key to entering the modern world – and isn’t it?

You will know you have come to the right place on Taksim because colorful posters for the opera season cover the wall to the left of the Ataturk Center. (Tickets are sold at a kiosk to the right of the building.) The Center was built in 1969 and is sedately modern, neither flamboyant nor hideous – 1969 was a dull time for international architecture from New York to New Delhi. The auditorium is comfortable and of a comfortable size.

A Turkish friend who sings himself spoke unkindly of opera in his native land, but I thought, if their Macbeth is as good as the Forza del Destino (or Moč Sudbine) I heard in Zagreb seven years ago – honest, idiomatic, provincial Verdi starring the stoutest woman in Croatia, lovely voice, no top notes, and only the basso embarrassing – then I’ll enjoy myself. It was my last night in Istanbul, and much as I delight in Turkish folk music, I longed for an evening free of the Middle Eastern wail. To my great pleasure, what I got was honest, idiomatic, provincial Verdi, in a production set on telling the story, not some director’s interpretation of the story, with an all-Turkish cast who knew how to sing Italian opera and did so, led by a soprano with a lovely voice (including the top) who was easily the stoutest woman I saw in Turkey.

Perihan Nayır Artan knew her business. Passionate in her entrance without fudging the coloratura, keyed up during the duet, her pretty voice abruptly hard at such moments as “Dammi al ferro,” when she demands Macbeth give her the bloody daggers, and convincingly lost in an inner hell during the sleepwalk, when the voice floated, contradicting the horrors she sang of. I’d like to hear her Aida someday. Murat Güney gracefully sang a somewhat distanced Macbeth, regretful but not exactly tormented as his world falls apart, still a warrior despite an aluminum sword that bent at the first blow. Tenor Hüseyin Likos, Macduff, seemed ready for Verdi’s shriller leading roles like Radames and Manrico. After a few rough spots in the overture, Markus Baisch kept the orchestra pumping if not exactly eldritch in this score’s often highly original use of winds and strings to produce uncanny – in 1847, unprecedented – effects.

Yekta Kara’s production was basic but not risible. (From house photos, I gather the real money is saved to dazzle in Arabian Nights operas like Mozart’s Sihirli Flüt and S. Ada’s Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. They also give Mozart’s Seraglio every summer – in the Topkapi seraglio.) Special effects were minimal, but the story was clearly and effectively told. The witches wore white – appearing to be surgical nurses, with bloody aprons they lent to Banquo’s murderers. The men were in black and only Lady M got to wear a color – guess which. The direction rather privileged the witches, who were shown manipulating all the other characters, even in scenes where they do not usually appear (Lady M’s cabaletta invoking “ye spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” and also, their fingers dripping blood down a wall, during “Le luce langue”). The witches handed Macbeth paper and pen to write home, delivered the letter, rescued Fleance, undermined victorious Malcolm, and sang the lines behind the apparitions in the cauldron scene – forces of chaos, enemies to all human effort. This, I think, gives them too much power and takes it from Macbeth – in Shakespeare, he is clearly the author of his own misfortunes, committing his crimes though imaginatively aware of how how disastrous this choice will be. In Kara’s production, he has an alibi – the devil makes him do it – and thus his own character becomes less interesting.

The words were easily comprehensible to anyone familiar with opera Italian, but there were no surtitles – which may be why the story was so clearly told. There was also no prompter’s box – instead lines were hissed from stage right. This would annoy hell out of me in Wagner or Mozart, but in a creep show like Macbeth, it rather added to the atmosphere.

John Yohalem

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Istanbul State Opera and Ballet, Ataturk Center, 23 October 2007 product_by=Perihan Nayır Artan (Lady), Murat Güney (Macbeth), Hüseyin Likos (Macduff), Gökhan Ürben (Banquo). Conducted by Markus Baisch. Production by Yekta Kara.
Posted by Gary at 3:17 PM

“The Sacrifice” – Welsh National World Premiere Tour

Based on the Branwen story from the ancient Welsh collection of folktales known as the The Mabinogion, it is nevertheless uncompromising in its attempt to bring the opera into a 21st century context. Whether this works is open to question and, on first acquaintance, the answer would seem to be a regretful “no”. Not for the fact of its contemporary-looking setting, (supposedly a few decades in the future but actually reminding one more of an East German hotel circa 1985) but because it confuses an audience as to what and when that world is meant to be. Here, the the storyline follows a politically arranged wedding of two significant members of opposing armed political camps which is intended to bring together the two warring factions and, seven years later, the investiture of their son which is meant to cement the union. This is a timeless story, and as such it needs no making “relevant” to our recent experiences of Northern Ireland, Bosnia or Palestine. Indeed, in so doing, the authors have weakened the strongest points it is trying to make. Some ten years in the making, perhaps The Sacrifice has suffered the perennial problem that besets all long-winded projects, be they artistic or commercial: what seemed vital and relevant a decade ago now projects to today’s audience as predictable and, worse, disappointing.

However, what does work in a devastatingly effective way is MacMillan’s visceral and multi-textured score where every aspect of the modern orchestra is used in imaginative and compelling ways: the strange opening triad chords of the overture immediately evoke an atmosphere that captures the essence of the piece and this magic continues throughout. Robert’s ingenious libretto of semi-rhyming couplets gives the music plenty of space and expertly conveys the tensions and uncertainties of the protagonists. Over 70 musicians and percussionists of the WNO Orchestra are conducted by the composer in this inaugural run, and they play with intense musicality and commitment, obviously relishing the detailed chromatic sound world he has created. Equally successful is his writing for the WNO Chorus and the solo singers and it was on hearing some of the most potent arias and ensembles for the first time that one was struck by how very traditional, in some ways, this opera is: full orchestra, a substantial acting Chorus, a soprano heroine, a second soprano sub-plot character, tenor and baritone opposing male leads and a “father figure” bass-baritone. The only slight difference, on paper, between this and any 19th century mainstream opera is that our heroine loves the baritone, not the tenor, who turns out to be the nearest thing to the traditional “baddie” – although no-one in the story is morally clear cut.

Act One sets the scene of the two warring “tribes” or factions, holed up in the same depressing, shoddy hotel, scarred by the occasional bullet hole, and awaiting the fateful wedding of Sian, the first faction’s General’s daughter to Mal, the opposing faction’s famed “freedom” fighter. Sian’s real love, Evan, a soldier in the General’s army, watches with increasing bitterness and jealousy as the woman he loves appears ready to betray both him and their faction in the cause of a peace brokered by her father, in what will be an attempt to end the decades, or maybe centuries, of conflict. The final scene ends in violence with Evan attempting to kill Mal, but only succeeding in wounding him.

In Act Two, seven years having passed and Sian and Mal now have two small boys, but with Evan newly released from captivity the semi-crippled Mal is convinced his wife is still seeing her old love. He is right – they do meet, and sing the marvellously emotive and soaring duet “Your heart is my homeland” before Evan is again forced to flee. Meanwhile, the first born son of the unhappy couple is due to be crowned “regent” – a new king in waiting who will, the General hopes, finally confirm the transition from uneasy truce to unified nation. Again violence and horror dash all such hope in a way all too familiar in the history of human conflict.

The final Act begins with a funeral, and some sumptuous choral writing that is communicative of all the longing and distress of any war-torn nation. In a final act of sacrifice to his dream of a unified country and an end to the eternal conflict, the General opens up the possibility of hope, although the auguries are not good.

Many people have commented on MacMillan’s use of musical “signposts” in his writing, his quotations and borrowings of musical forms and ideas. Nothing new in that of course, and in The Sacrifice, many of these quotes work extremely well and indeed suggest aural landmarks in the wider landscape of the score. Echoes of a Bach passacaglia, Purcell word-setting (especially noticeable in Sian’s funeral lament) and even some Wagnerian-style leitmotifs on the percussion and strings all float in and out of our conscious perception without ever compromising the essence of the original music which is in turns richly melodic and tangentially percussive. Boring or repetitive it is not.

The score is lit from within by the solo work of the excellent singers who without exception give fine readings of both their music and their characterisations. There was no weak link, although probably one must single out the opulent-voiced Lisa Milne as Sian who rose magnificently to the challenge of some difficult yet rewarding writing. Her duet with Leigh Melrose as Evan was eloquent and fine-spun, working well with Melrose’s warm yet appropriately edged baritone. He was able to suggest the knife-edge character of Evan – a Celtic split personality capable of great love and great hatred at one and the same time. Christopher Purves was deeply convincing as the General, his voice easy in the lowest registers, and able to communicate the desperate hope, and final realisation, of what he has to do. As her possibly-autistic, certainly not “normal” sister Megan, Ailish Tynan had the most pure physical acting to do, but she also was able to subtly shade her bright soprano to suggest an underlying fear and fore-knowledge of events as she chanted lines of runic verse and obscure forecasts. The most complex role is that of Mal – freedom fighter/guerrilla, killer turned political leader, jealous husband and loving father, desperately trying to understand a changing world, and changing moralities. Peter Hoare’s highly-charged and robust tenor was a perfect instrument for Mal, flying high with rage but also able to colour and darken with emotional intensity. Rosie Hay, Samantha Hay, Amanda Baldwin sang the supporting roles of the Three Birds with conviction, even if one might question their necessity in the drama. All the soloists were superbly supported and enhanced by the WNO Chorus, who seemed completely at home with their music with some nuanced singing, producing an admirable amalgam of light and shade.

The caveats regarding setting aside, it was a tremendous evening of music theatre, and Welsh National, MacMillan and Roberts are to be congratulated on a work that is, without doubt, an important one, and one that will take its rightful place in the repertory.

© Sue Loder 2007

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Sacrifice_WNO.png image_description=Lisa Milne (Sian) and Peter Hoare (Mal) [Photo by Catherine Ashmore] product=yes product_title=James MacMillan: The Sacrifice
Welsh National Opera product_by=Above: Lisa Milne (Sian) and Peter Hoare (Mal)
Photo by Catherine Ashmore
Posted by Gary at 3:12 PM

November 13, 2007

Macbeth at the Met

(Shakespeare wrote the play, remember, for James I, a descendant of Banquo’s, a passionate believer in witchcraft and the author of a book on demonology. There’s no way to know how much of this credence the author shared.) In the opera, the witches’ off-kilter polka in the opening scene is peculiar but not exactly sinister; their whirling waltz in the cauldron scene is not music for a ballroom but does not stink of black magic. He does much better with the ghostly evocations of bagpipes (bassoons and oboes) for the apparitions of the kings.

Stage directors tend to share Verdi’s ambivalence (if that’s what it was), and they have the additional problem of making sense of what modern audiences no longer take seriously. In a recent production in Istanbul, the witches were humorless demonic forces motivating all the wicked actions of the opera – which I think is a mistake. Ludicrous witches, however, were the great flaw in Adrian Noble’s new production at the Met – an enormous crowd of bedraggled park bench ladies in ratty housecoats, clunky shoes and socks, pin-on hats, and handbags wielded like the weapons of Monty Python drag queens. Are they intended to be funny or eldritch? Though this is a puzzlement Verdi may have shared, it seemed a desperate attempt to find a modern equivalent in gooseflesh to Shakespeare’s voices of Fate who vanish into thin air. (The Met’s witches do not vanish at all; they run offstage.)

The scenes that tend to stump the average director stumped Noble as well: Banquo the soldier vet sings his haunted aria to Fleance after acknowledging the tramps gathered around a steel-drum fire; their casual friendliness then turns inexplicably to menace. The omission of a forest of cut branches for ambulatory Birnam Wood is regrettable. The sensuality at the core of the Macbeth marriage is clear enough from their duets and complete trust in each other; it isn’t necessary to have every encounter conclude rolling into bed. The Sleepwalking has been cued by Verdi’s highly original choice to have the Lady’s snatches of dream uttered while the orchestra plays – but no one ever sings – the melody; this is undercut when the two witnesses’ interjections of horror come from seated psychiatrists observing the patient from a therapeutic distance.

Noble’s production achieved most when it tried least hard. The gloomy forest semicircling the stage area gave an appropriate mood to the tale, and the sequoia-sized columns that move about to become Duncan’s trapping bedchamber or an imperial banquet hall (with the splendid addition of grotesque chandeliers and grotesque choreography) are highly effective uses of the Met’s enormous stage. The blazing light show (probably only visible from downstairs) that accompanies the apparitions is a thrill, as are the mouthing faces in glass bubble monitors.

And the singing, you ask? Well, after October’s underpowered Lucias (both casts), it was a great pleasure to hear five (yes, five) Met-sized voices easily filling the cavernous theater. Maria Guleghina sang a sumptuous “Vieni t’affretta,” filling one with anticipation for her Norma, but followed it with a cabaletta that was sloppily all over the place to fill one with alarm at the thought of her as Norma. The coloratura of the drinking song also lurched, but for this scene it’s appropriate; she acted the woman who loves being the life of her parties – and seemed humiliated when the her husband’s hysteria ruined her moment. The murky suspense of “Le luce langue,” sung on her back on a couch as she idly daydreams of power, curdled the blood, but the Sleepwalking Scene was a distraction, delivered full voice as she histrionically clambered over chairs and played with a rocking ceiling light – perhaps she can deliver this climactic scene introspectively, with some exposure of character, but as staged, it went for very little.

Macbeth_Act_IV_scene_9581.pngA scene from Act IV of Verdi's "Macbeth."

To Guleghina’s weird, wet and wild bra-popping Lady, Željko Lučić’s Macbeth made a contrast and a complement, brooding where she was flamboyant. This is appropriate: action is taken by Macbeth, but only after long consideration (and wifely exhortation), the great soliloquies state the point of the play, of Shakespeare’s essay on the self-destructions of ambition. Stout and weary in formal clothes already drenched in the sweat of ghostly visitations at his big party, he sits disconsolate, exhausted, an impersonation of has-it-all-been-worth-it? success. Lučić has a voice of true Verdian warmth and heft, though a few sustained notes troubled him. The beauty of his singing underscored the tragedy here: Macbeth is not intrinsically evil; he’s an ambitious man who knows he is doing wrong but cannot stop himself. Lučić should prove an elegant interpreter of many another of Verdi’s introspective baritones.

John Relyea, a bit young and sexy for a role that sounds and usually looks patriarchal, sang an impressive Banquo. (He makes a sexy ghost, too.) Dimitri Pittas, a New Yorker who’s been coming up through the Met ranks, sang Macduff with a brash but interesting sound, a clarion Verdi tenor with a youthful ping. Macduff, with his one aria and one-fourth of a finale, is a popular spot for a not-yet-star-Verdi tenor to make a first impression, and Pittas made it. Richard Thomas was impressive in Malcolm’s few lines: another bright, focused tenor.

Relyea_and_Lucic_in_Macbeth.pngJohn Relyea as the ghost of Banquo and Zeljko Lucic in the title role of Verdi’s “Macbeth.”

James Levine is said to have campaigned for the new production of this opera: the charm for anyone with an appreciation for Verdi’s mastery, his originality, in this breakthrough score was clear in his guidance of its many shivery effects. My only objection was the battle fugue and the “bardic” finale, which did not sweep the theater with an arc of relief as, after three hours of horror, they should.

Despite its imperfections, this was a production that (unlike the Lucia) inspired me to wish to see it again. That will be possible in May with very different singers, among them Gruber’s Lady, Alvarez’s Macbeth, Pape’s Banquo and Calleja’s Macduff – and I wouldn’t miss it.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Guleghina_and_Lucic_in_Macb.png image_description=Maria Guleghina (Lady) and Željko Lučić (Macbeth) [Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera] product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Metropolitan Opera House, performance of November 3. product_by=Maria Guleghina (Lady), Željko Lučić (Macbeth), Dimitri Pittas (Macduff), John Relyea (Banquo), Richard Thomas (Malcolm). Conducted by James Levine. Production by Adrian Noble. product_id=Above: Maria Guleghina (Lady) and Željko Lučić (Macbeth)
All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera
Posted by Gary at 10:37 AM

November 12, 2007

Le Nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera

There are so many variables that a critic can easily find something to object to. A Countess short of breath in “Porgi amor,” with which (no warm-up) she opens Act II; a Cherubino too feminine for adolescent male outpourings; a Count insufficiently virile for his masculine vanity (the engine that drives the plot) to be credible; a Marcellina too young to be Figaro’s mother (Beaumarchais turns Oedipus into farce here, showing how close tragedy and comedy really are); a lackluster conductor; a “concept” staging that ignores half the plot; an ugly set; an incompetent fandango or leap from the window – there is always (as Gilda Radner would say) something. Attending the Met’s Figaro in a year when few world-famous names have signed on for it, the manipulator of the poison pen whets his fangs in malicious anticipation.

At the matinee of November 10, the Met fooled me: until the last two minutes of the staging (and then it was Jonathan Miller’s unaltered original direction that let me down, not anything the performers did), Le Nozze was as near perfect as you are likely to get, and none of those obvious lapses occurred. Anja Harteros sang both the Countess’s arias flawlessly and was, in addition, a radiant beauty whose neglect by any husband puzzled everyone and made him look an oaf. She won the ovation of the afternoon – even for one who missed the angelic quality Kiri Te Kanawa brought to the Countess’s final lines of forgiveness. (The opera – and buffo in general – is primarily about forgiveness for everybody’s human imperfections – which is why the original, imperial audience found it easy to overlook the revolutionary subtext.) Ekaterina Siurina, a plump Russian tidbit, as Susanna sang a radiant “Deh vieni non tardar” and a “Venite, inginocchiatevi” with the proper giggly bounce. Kate Lindsey is a real find – her Cherubino looked like an adolescent boy, a very pretty one to be sure but with an arrogant chin and a “street” sort of strut that made this cocksure kid a credible threat to the older males. She sang gloriously too. Marie McLaughlin made an ardent but not preposterous Marcellina – for once one regretted the omission of her aria – and Anne-Carolyn Bird, though a bit tall, sang a sweet Barberina.

Harteros_Countess.png Anja Harteros as the Countess

Among the men, Bryn Terfel naturally stood out in the title role. I did not like his Figaro when the production was brand new – he seemed so anxious to show what an actor he was that he huffed and puffed and groaned and grimaced instead of singing; Mozart took a back seat to Beaumarchais. He has calmed down considerably over the years, and though still a bouncing buffo-man with plenty of time for comedy (if his pretence of jumping off the balcony is not quite believable), he now sings the arias at a less frenetic pace, with more of the elegance they require and reward. Simon Keenlyside played the Count as an elegant fop, forever tossing his curls and pratfalling on the polished floors, but this never interfered with his musical authority. Maurizio Murano’s blowhard Bartolo, Greg Fedderly’s slithy Basilio, and Patrick Carfizzi’s lumpish Antonio earned most of the day’s laughs.

Philippe Jordan is a young Swiss who conducts with zest and delight, as if he wanted to grab you by the ears and prove this is a masterpiece with charms you never suspected – hardly necessary with Figaro, but what I mean is, he takes none of it for granted, he is thrilled by the music and eager to share.

Siurina__Terfel_and_Keenlys.pngEkaterina Siurina (Susanna), Bryn Terfel (Figaro) and Simon Keenlyside (Count)

And what did I object to about the conclusion? In the Met’s rush to get the Countess into a new and glittery gown for the finale, no one has thought (and Mr. Miller years ago did not think) to have her show the ring to the Count, revealing to him that she is the mysterious lady he made love to in the dark. The audience knows this, and Figaro and Susanna know it, but the Count does not, and his heartfelt, aristocratic apology is inexplicable if he doesn’t. The laws of farce are immutable: If you do not tie all the knots, the machine unravels. It’s such an easy piece of business to fix – and so satisfying when it’s fixed. Patch it up, Met.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Siurina_and_Keenlyside_5666.png image_description=Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna) and Simon Keenlyside (Count) [Photo copyright Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera] product=yes product_title=W. A. Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera
10 November 2007 product_by=Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna), Anja Harteros (Countess), Kate Lindsey (Cherubino), Marie McLaughlin (Marcellina), Bryn Terfel (Figaro), Simon Keenlyside (Count), Maurizio Muraro (Don Bartolo), Greg Fedderly (Don Basilio); conducted by Philippe Jordan. product_id=Above: Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna) and Simon Keenlyside (Count)
All photos © Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera
Posted by Gary at 11:33 AM

Armida

Looking at the history of the prolific treatments of this story, the liner notes proclaim her to be way “ahead of Medea as the stage’s Number One Sorcerer.” If quantity of composers’ interest alone didn’t put “Armida” in the lead, surely these superlative readings by German soprano Annette Dasch and company would alone propel our heroine to the forefront of operatic accomplishments.

Ms. Dasch encompasses all of the roles’ technical and artistic demands with aplomb. Moreover, she succeeds quite admirably in creating a different aural persona for each composer’s treatment. No matter how celebrated the artist, I often find such solo recitals eventually suffer from a certain sameness, unbroken by the variety of other vocal timbres in full opera recordings. Not really so with this one. The disc leads off with some splendid cuts from Gluck’s “Armide,” which slowly build in emotional conflict, tension, and release, characterized by increasingly plangent singing.

Immediately, I was drawn in by the soprano’s subtle word accents, coloring, and sensitivity to the text. Not to say that musical lines were slighted, oh no. She mined every delight in these offerings, from charming floated high notes, to phrases of throbbing and weighted dramatic conviction, to meaningful dramatic development of emotional state, to effective crescendi, to lyrical ascents of high tessitura. The voice is even throughout the range, capable of soaring with well-shaped legato phrases, as well as clean execution of angular and arpeggiated demands.

While the Handel pieces were more familiar, they did not at all suffer in comparison to other well-recorded versions. “Ah, crudel, il pianto mio” (“Rinaldo”) was a model of a controlled “torment,” witness her skilled start with a hushed, straight tone, which she then lets bloom into a full throbbing lamentation. The middle agitato section almost out-Bartoli’s-Bartoli with trip-hammer, spot-on, rapid-fire coloratura.

Jommelli’s “Armida Abbandonata” is well represented by “Ah! ti sento, mio povero core” (oh, that again!), featuring a silvery filigree of a voice over 3/4 pulses, superbly ornamented with immaculate trills and wide-ranging arpeggiated accents.

If the two perfectly fine selections from Handel’s “Armida Abbondonata” are the least “interesting” to my ears, perhaps it is because they are so familiar; or perhaps because by this point in mid-play I just wholly took it for granted that Annette Dasch is some kind of special singer; sort of, “oh, yeah, here is that rich tone, intelligent artistry, and knowing display of wide-ranging, arching lines. Again. Still.”

However, just as I might have been in danger of taking all this terrific singing for granted, I was jarred right back to proper attention with the juicy offerings from Haydn’s “Armida.”

Bold legato statements alternate with introspective moments of uncommon beauty, that give way to busy, hushed, mosquito-like fioritura and ornamentation, the whole of which amounts to an awesomely controlled display of idiomatic virtuosity.

It’s hard to believe that the Jommelli “Odio, furor, dispetto” (“Armida Abbandonata” again) is listed as a “Bonus Track.” I mean, who in their right mind would have thought to leave this fiery jewel off the recording? First, it is a wonderful contrast to the other introverted melodies, and second, Dasch sings the living hell out of it. Like Mozart’s “Elettra” in full meltdown, this is passionate, bravura singing complete with staccato ascending and descending laughs and cackles that are as meaningful as they are accurate.

The Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie under David Syrus is a satisfying accomplice in this accomplished music-making. Always solidly supporting Ms. Dasch, I especially delighted in their shimmering bucolic murmurings that marked portions of the Gluck set; the lilting, even sassy three-quarter-time playing in the first Jommelli aria; and of course, the stand-alone instrumental treats of the Gluck “Chaconne” and the Jommelli “Sinfonia.”

If there is truth in advertising, Ms. Dasch is also a lovely young woman as evidenced by the evocative cover and liner art. On disc, her handsome voice seems to have good size and potent allure. I look forward to hearing her live, with the hope that she would make as favorable and commanding an impression in person as she does on this wholly successful theme album.

James Sohre

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Armida_Dasch.png image_description=Armida -- Annette Dasch product=yes product_title=Armida product_by=Annette Dasch, soprano, with the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie, David Syrus, conductor product_id=Sony 88697100592 [CD] price=EUR 15,95 product_url=http://www.amazon.de/dp/B000RJVT0E?tag=operatoday0c-21&camp=1410&creative=6378&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B000RJVT0E&adid=0A8DH2ENM3SN4G7P6CP8&
Posted by Gary at 10:16 AM

November 11, 2007

'Cosi' -- the joys and despair of deep love

Martinez.pngBY LAWRENCE A. JOHNSON [Miami Herald, 11 November 2007}

Beethoven hated it. Most 19th century commentators condemned it as immoral and unworthy of its composer's genius. In modern times, it has been cited as an example of the dark side of the Enlightenment and even as a work imbued with ``anti-feminist sadism.''

Posted by Gary at 5:49 PM

'Fledermaus' singer prince of a gal

blythe_small.pngRichard Nilsen [Arizona Republic, 11 November 2007]

Metropolitan Opera star Stephanie Blythe is back.

The mezzo-soprano made a splash with her performance of Juno in Arizona Opera's 2006 production of Handel's Semele, an updated, jazzed-up version of the Baroque opera.

Posted by Gary at 5:40 PM

Dallas Opera's 'Macbeth' makes for a distracting season opener

Gazale.pngBy SCOTT CANTRELL [Dallas Morning News, 10 November 2007]

It would be a pleasure to report that the Dallas Opera has begun its second half-century with a triumph, but, well, ahem, shuffle, mumble ...

The production of Verdi's Macbeth that opened Friday night at Fair Park Music Hall does have its assets. Chief among them is the playing of the orchestra under music director Graeme Jenkins, who has a visceral connection to the score and the skills to bring it to life. From snarling brass and screeching winds to delicate wisps and shivers of muted strings, the sounds from the pit are fine-tuned and generously expressive – and, where appropriate, hair-raising.

Posted by Gary at 5:36 PM

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio

Traditional in his setting of the opera, Otto Schenk’s period-style production has much to recommend for its solid footing in the libretto and in the performing tradition associated wit this opera. While the staging of the recent production in at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, may be a bit more dynamic, this recording includes performances by some of the equally strong singers. Of the cast, Gundula Janowitz was passionate in her interpretation of the title role.

The challenge of any production is to arrive at a guise for Leonore to seem credible as Fidelio, and Janowitz does a fine job in carrying the part. Yet her singing is – as it should be – the critical feature in this performance of the opera. She delivers the role with an appropriate intensity, without overcompensating or otherwise exaggerating her characterization of Leonore. Her emotional pitch is evident from the start, where quartet “Mir ist so wunderbar” shows Janowitz and her colleagues, Lucia Popp (as Marzelline), Manfred Jungwirth (Rocco), and Adof Dallapozza (Jaquino) wholly in character. If Janowitz is, perhaps, a bit more lyrical than some singers’ interpretations of “Abscheulicher,” it is not without effect. Janowitz is worth hearing in this role, as is Popp with her portrayal of Marzelline. Kollo is a fine Florestan, a role that he delivered well in this performance. His tone and bearing at the opening of the second act is remarkably effective in conveying Florestan’s plight, and Kollo himself is a fine counterpart to Janowitz.

In fact, the cast is nicely balanced throughout in what resembles a festival-style production of the opera. Yet that is almost to be expected of a performance of Fidelio in Vienna, where this opera seems to hold a special place in its repertoire. As the work with which the Staatsoper reopened in 1955, Fidelio may be regarded as a kind of signature for the house. This particular performance also benefits from the attentive leadership of Leonard Bernstein, whose conducting is crisply and effective. Without deviating from the spirit of the opera, his interpretation brings out some of the details from the score. With a light and somewhat dramatic touch, the sometimes banal characteristics of the first-act “Prisoners’ Chorus” disappear. Likewise, the adherence to Gustav Mahler’s introduction of the third “Leonore” Overture to the middle of the second act is notable for its quiet opening that allows the music to blend into the scene effectively. The applause that Bernstein receives at the ending of the Overture reflects the warm reaction of the audience to his interpretation. In fact, the choral scene that follows in the final part of the opera is also impressive.

As a film of a single take of Fidelio, rather than a compilation from multiple performances, as sometimes occurs, this video is laudable for its sharp images and excellent sound. Unlike some other DVDs of operas, the subtitles appear in the original language, as well as English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese. While the camera can sometimes move a little quickly within a scene, it can also withdraw a bit into long shots, as at the conclusion of “Abscheulicher.” The blocking is suited to the stage, with the film crew having done its best to capture the performance from some relatively limited angles within the Staatsoper. Despite these reservations, the close-ups offer some glimpses of the singers in character and working together on stage. The drama remains prominent throughout the performance, including the sometimes static final scene, which retains a tension that leads to the music with which the work ends. This is a solid, traditional Fidelio that preserves performances by some of finest musicians of the day. Moreover, it remains an excellent choice among the available DVDs of this opera.

James L. Zychowicz

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Fidelio_DG.png
image_description=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio

product=yes
product_title=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
product_by=Gundula Janowitz, René Kollo, Hans Helm, Hans Sotin, Manfred Jungwirth, Lucia Popp, Adolf Dallapozza, Karl Terkal, Alfred Sramek, Orchestra and Chorus of the Vienna Staatsoper, Leonard Bernstein Conductor.
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 073 4159 [DVD]
price=$27.98
product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=148620

Posted by jim_z at 5:28 PM

Houston pays homage to opera’s living legends

It is thus coincidence — but therefore doubly touching — that the season opened with two operas that pay tribute to America’s first true supersoprano, felled by cancer in May, and to the most legendary tenor of the late 20th century, who died in September.

The season opened in the Wortham Theater Center with Verdi’s “Masked Ball” on October 19; Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment” followed on October 26. Luciano Pavarotti spoke of Riccardo, the king-hero of Verdi’s “Masked Ball,” as his favorite Verdi role and the one he would chose if he were to be allowed to sing only one opera for the rest of his life.

Indeed, “Masked Ball” — with Renata Tebaldi as Amelia — was the tenor’s first Verdi recording, made before he sang the opera on stage. He made his role debut as Riccardo at the San Francisco Opera in 1971. And 20 years later he was the star of a Metropolitan Opera production released at a DVD by Deutsche Gramophone. For the story of “Masked Ball” librettist Antonio Somma turned to the 1792 murder of Swedish King Gustav III. This was uncomfortable subject matter for the crowned heads of Verdi’s day, and to placate them the composer moved the opera to Boston, where Riccardo was a obviously crownless governor.

In this production from the Chicago Lyric Opera French-born, Vienna-educated director Oliver Tambosi combined Sweden and Boston to set the opera “in a kingdom, once upon a time.” Designer Frank Philipp Schlössman joined Tambosi in what — to use a buzz word of the day — is a deconstructionist approach to the work.

The King wore a paper gold crown that spoke more of the proximity of Halloween than of royal grandeur, and all in attendance at the final ball were garbed in the same crowns and ermine-trimmed robes as Riccardo. Although colorful, this “take” impeded the dramatic force of Verdi’s music, leaving this a largely well-sung, but unengaging drama.

As Riccardo Mexico-City-born Ramón Vargas left no doubt that he is one of the world’s leading Verdi tenors today. Born in 1960, Vargas is now at the peak of his powers, and his voice that has previously cast him as a lyric tenor has a darkness that qualifies him for heavier roles.

Vargas was well matched by veteran Italian baritone Carlo Guelfi as a troubled Renato, husband of Amelia, caught in the clutches of unrequited love with Riccardo. It was premature, however, to cast Tamara Wilson as Amelia, for, although a young artist of promise, the HGO studio alumna is not yet ready for a role of this weight.

High point of the production, seen on November 2, was the sinister scene in which Eva Podleś as witch-like Ulrika forecasts the doom about to descend upon these unhappy characters. And Podleś — a true contralto of the old school — brought high passion to her portrayal of Ulrika.

Coloratura Lyubov Petrova, one of today’s most impressive Zerbinettas in Strauss’ “Ariadne,” was seriously overdirected as a hyperactive feline Oscar. HGO music director Patrick Summers again extracted superb playing from the orchestra that he has brought to a level of exceptional excellence.

In dedicating his HGO Riccardo to Pavarotti Vargas recalled student days in Vienna, where he heard the tenor in this role at the Staatsoper. “His identification with the role, his generous singing, his electrifying phrasing and exuberant voice left an indelible impression, which has been a fountain of inspiration for me,” Vargas wrote in the program.

Beverly Sills sang Maria in “Daughter” at the HGO in 1973. It was a signature role for which she had a special affection and just a year ago she gave her vocal ornaments for the opera to vocal coach Gerald Martin Moore, asking that they be shared. Laura Claycomb, a vivaciously youthful Marie in the current HGO staging, used them in this production, seen on November 3. The Texas-born soprano further wrote a verbal tribute to Sills, her “Queen of Hearts,” for the HGO program book.

And to give concrete meaning to these sentiments, Claycomb headed the cast in a “Daughter” that was anything but traditional. In a production first seen at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale director Emilio Sagi moved the story of the 1840 work forward from the age of Napoleonic wars to the final days of World War Two. “My aim was to bring greater insight into the psychology of the opera’s protagonists,” Sagi wrote in a program note. “I wanted them to be human beings, not puppets, and to make them more lifelike and entertaining.”

But whether Donizetti’s simple village souls have thus achieved the “greater sense of reality” that Sagi sought is open to question. The opening act, now set in a village bar, is excessively overrun by stout-hearted men of the military, who at times make the stage a blur of khaki. However, with the second act — all too brief in this production — Sagi comes into his own in the Art Deco salon of Marquise of Berkenfield, smashingly sung by Eva Podleś, who exceeds Ethel Merman in comic elan.

Podleś, now well into her 50s, is a cult object wherever she sings, and it was a coup for the HGO to cast her in these two very different roles. Sagi further peopled the stage with outrageous servants, inspired — he admits — by the films of Ernst Lubitsch — and a bevy of party guests rich in local references.

Texas-born Claycomb is always at her best when she returns to the HGO, and here the beauty of her voice — tinged at times by melancholy — was of magic appeal. And she paired with tenor Barry Banks to bring this “Daughter” to a hilarious close.

In his HGO debut British Banks, a man short in stature but a giant in vocal power, was an ideal Tonio — naive and innocent and with a voice that hit the 9 high C’s of “Ah! Mes Amis” with ease and exactitude. And in another debut Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza underscored the easy charm of Donizetti’s idiom. (Frizza, by the way, conducts a Genoa staging of Sagi’s “Daughter” with Patrizia Cioffi and Juan Diego Florez on a Decca DVD.)

The production was designed by Julio Galán.

The HGO dedicated this production to Sills’ memory; in the context of the season, however, it also recalls that it was as Tonio that Pavarotti achieved superstar status as “King of the High C’s” when he sang “Daughter” at the Met in 1972. (Joan Sutherland was his Marie.) And Pavarotti spoke of Riccardo, the king-hero of Verdi’s “Masked Ball,” as his favorite Verdi role and the one he would chose if he were to be allowed only one opera for the rest of his life.

Indeed, “Masked Ball” — with Renata Tebaldi as Amelia — was the tenor’s first Verdi recording, made before he sang the opera on stage. He made his role debut as Riccardo at the San Francisco Opera in 1971. And 20 years later he was the star of a Metropolitan Opera production released at a DVD by Deutsche Gramophone.

Pavarotti made four appearances in Houston: a recital in 1979, two concerts, one with Joan Sutherland in 1983, and a solo appearance in 1987, and he was a guest artist at the Houston Grand Opera Ball in 1982.

Beverly Sills made her HGO debut in 1966 as Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute.” She returned in 1970 to sing the three heroines in “Hoffmann” and later appeared in the leading roles in “Lucia,” “Traviata,” “Merry Widow” and “Don Pasquale.”

The current HGO further marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of its home, the Wortham Theater Center, on May 9, 1987.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Sills_Pamira.png image_description= Beverly Sills in her Metropolitan Opera debut as Pamira in Rossini's Siege of Corinth on April 7, 1975. product=yes product_title=Above: Beverly Sills in her Metropolitan Opera debut as Pamira in Rossini's Siege of Corinth on April 7, 1975.
Posted by Gary at 5:27 PM

José Orlando Alves — An Interview

His work, Insinuancias, was heard at the 2007 Bienal of Brazilian Contemporary Music in Rio de Janeirio. Presently he lives in Joao Pessoa, Paraíba, where he is professor of composition and co-ordinator of the Laboratory of Musical Composition (www.compomus.mus.br/) at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB – www.ufpb.br). We spoke in Portuguese.

Oct. 23, 2007, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro

TM: Let's begin by talking about music in your family.

JOA: My mother studied piano, was a pianist, and still is, though presently she is more active with popular music. When I was little, she was always practicing, and I loved it, and was always close to the piano. I remember that when I came home from school, instead of watching Sitio do Picapau Amarelo, I would turn off the TV so that I could listen to my mother play piano instead. In a moment I will be teary-eyed. My mother is still alive, but this is such a strong memory. It was fundamental. With the first pieces that I wrote I involved my mother in the process, since they were for piano four-hands. I wanted to be there playing with my mother. They were trifles in terms of composition, but they worked.

TM: How did she come to be a pianist? Was there a tradition of music in the family?

JOA: There was my grandfather, who was a violinist, and my mother, who studied piano. She got to an advanced level, played the Well-Tempered Clavier, and then she married, and stopped, moved to Belo Horizonte. I am not aware of anyone else in the family who was musical.

TM: What are the origins of the family? Where were they living, whether in Brazil or abroad?

JOA: On my father's side they were Portuguese – my grandfather immigrated from Portugal by ship. On my mother's side, they are Alvarenga – Italian, but more than that I don't know.

TM: If I am not mistaken that is a name from northern Italy, in the Veneto.

JOA: That may well be. There are many Alvarenga in Brazil. My family is all from the southern part of Minas – from Lavras, which is an hour away from S. Joao del Rey. S. Joao del Rey has a very strong musical tradition. Recently they opened a school of music there as part of the federal university. They are all there.

I moved to Rio de Janeiro to study music in 1987, when I was 17. My father made me enter a course in business administration, since he thought there were better professional possibilities there than there were in music, and since at the time I was financially dependent on him, there was no way that I could say no. And so I also have a degree in administration from Bennett [a Methodist college located in Flamengo], and this was very good for me in the sense that I had just arrived in Rio, and needed to make friends. Many of the friends I made there continue to be friends until today. The department of administration was more important for my social connections than it was for the material in the curriculum

I went to the School of Music of UFRJ in the technical course for piano at the same time that I was finishing the course in administration [at Bennett]. In my last year in administration I took the entrance exam for the undergraduate course in composition at UFRJ. The undergraduate course in composition was immense – a seven-year program. In my last year in the undergraduate course, I had already entered the master's program. So my education was all inter-linked. The only time when this was not the case was with my doctorate, where I had a year between the master's and the doctoral program.

TM: What was the instruction in composition at UFRJ like at the time? Was it traditional?

JOA: I began in 1991. It was super-traditional, and for me it was even more traditional, since I had professors from the "old school" My salvation there at the School of Music was that I was the first composition student of Pauxy Gentil-Nunes, who was very open, very modern, wide open to innovation. For me it was a moment for me to get free of the restraints of tradition. I remember that the first piece which I wrote for him was a suite. Our composition program was based on forms – you had to pass through the suite, the sonata, the symphony. My suite, for flute and piano, was very traditional – quite modal, very much within the canon. The allemande – we would look at allemandes by Bach, Couperin – how are they put together, what is the rhythm, etc. Bouree….Everything was very closed, very traditional With Pauxy things opened up.

My sonata was very traditional as well, although set theory was already present. Pauxy's influence was very important, because he made me enter a universe of control of pitches. I tell him now that this was something that was already present inside me, but at the time I thought "my god, what the heck is this? I am going to have to learn to use this to compose". I went home depressed thinking that I was going to have to use set theory. Normal form, prime form….more and more BS.

Well, you know there can be a sort of prejudice against knowledge until you began to understand, and you say "wow, there's actually something to this!" And so my compositions began to be organized, with control of pitches. To such a degree that my other professor, Marisa Rezende, tells me "Enough! You have to move on! " Time to move on to other forms of expression, without having to be so fixed on control of pitch. (Confidentially). But it's so good…..

TM: Which composers did you look at in studying with Pauxy?

JOA: We didn't do much analysis, since that was a separate topic. At the end of the course, we talked a lot about Penderecki. I remember going to the National Library to study the St. Luke Passion by Penderecki. This was something that made a deep impression, particularly in the area of texture, which is something that I am now beginning to develop, thank God. The Threnody…all these scores were at the National Library, so you could listen while following the score.

Ligeti came later, during my masters and doctoral studies, but the strongest influence as an undergraduate was Penderecki.

TM: In Brazil there are composers who seem to be fundamental, such as Penderecki and Ligeti, who are perhaps less present in the study of composition in the US. Why are these so important in Brazil?

JOA: In Brazil? I think they are important for composition in general.

TM: Which techniques in particular?

JOA: The manipulation of texture. The idea of micropolyphony in Ligeti is something fantastic, something, polyphony, which comes from tradition, but a new kind of polyphony, a new way of thinking about musical texture, which has a tremendous impact on the listener. You listen and think "My God, this is an orchestra playing. It sounds like a work for tape. Lux Aeterna – the first time I heard it shivers sent up my spine…even today it does. All of Ligeti has this effect…the Requiem… When I first heard it I didn't know why it worked this way – my listening was very intuitive. After I did some research I began to see the complexity of his style of writing, the quantity of divisi – every stand has a separate part. I thought it was fabulous. This made a big impression.

The Eastern European school – Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Ligeti – they are of prime importance in music at the close of the twentieth century. Music changed.

TM: Does Western Europe have such important figures?

JOA: You had Stockhausen, Boulez, with a great impact in the area of serialism. But the torch passed to Eastern Europe. Musicology will have to look at these currents of influence, transmission of techniques, but will have to wait for the dust to settle. Ligeti only died last year. Penderecki is still living, and was here conducting in Rio last year. Of course his process of composing has changed. Everything is much more traditional. What apprentice composers value is precisely his music of the sixties.

TM: Was there a phase in which you were involved in popular music?

JOA: I very much like popular music – Chico Buarque, bossa nova. I listen to it, I think there is a moment for it, but in the process of composition, it was always purely classical music. I never worked with popular music. My reference was always classical music, from the time when I was young. I studied Chopin waltzes, and so I composed waltzes inspired by Chopin. When I was studying Beethoven, I composed pieces in the style of Beethoven, as a sort of game. One thinks "this was compositional exercise fundamental to my training" – yes, but at the time it was a game. I would take a theme from Mozart, and write variations.

My training where I grew up was very much lacking, since I only had piano lessons, with no lessons in theory, solfege, dictation. When I got to Rio de Janeiro, and had to do a test in dictation, in solfege, I was royally screwed, so that I could not go directly into composition, but had to go through the technical course in piano to get the training that was lacking.

So what did I do? I recorded my pieces. I was lucky with my teacher, because instead of saying "this is foolishness – you have to study, etc. etc." she encouraged me, saying "how beautiful! Since you don't know how to write it down, let's record it."

TM: Do you still have the tapes?

JOA: I don't have the least idea what happened to them. I have been away from Minas for many years. But we recorded them, and listened to them later. It was only much later that I learned how to write music down. Composition was something much earlier.

TM: Your teacher Marisa at the Escola de Musica is a brilliant composer. How were your studies with her? My impression is that she encourages students to follow their own paths.

JOA: Exactly. Marisa was someone who was essential. After studying with Pauxy I went to study with her for my master's. It was fantastic. I regret not having been able to study with her longer. The masters was only a two-year program, and very much directed toward research. She is a great researcher as well as composer.

She was my adviser. I had already studied composition with Pauxy, and she liked my work. I didn't have classes in composition with her, but analysis and theory. What is fantastic about Marisa is her humanity. You have class at her house, converse, she understands your problems. There is friendship which goes beyond the class. She is a very, very enlightened person. Words are inadequate. She was essential for me because she had a very solid background in research. A year later I was doing a doctorate. Had I been frustrated in the masters program, which happens, it could have held me back in continuing my studies. But with Marisa, things went quickly, calmly. I owe a great deal to her for the knowledge she shared with me.

TM: Where did you do your doctorate?

JOA: In Campinas, at UNICAMP. My adviser was Jônatas Manzolli, who opened other possibilities for me in terms of composition, of language, of systematization of knowledge. My only regret is not having been able to enter the field of electroacoustic music. I never had time. UNICAMP would have been the right time, since they have various composers in that area - Denise Garcia, Silvio Ferraz, as well as Manzolli. Nowadays at UJRF they have Rodolfo Caesar and Rodrigo Cicchelli, but while I was doing my masters there Rodolfo had just arrived from England.

My doctorate at Campinas was great – three years of my life where there is nothing that I could complain about. I was granted a leave from work. I always worked, and that had an effect on my studies. Everything went right at Campinas from the moment I arrived. All my works were for solo piano, and I even managed to arrange a heavyweight pianist, Ingrid Barancoski, who came to Campinas, played forty minutes of solo piano, didn't charge a cent for artist fee – I managed to

cover her travel and expenses through UNICAMP.

My travel back and forth was tiring. I didn't live in Campinas – only for the first semester.

TM: Living in Rio, and studying in Campinas.

JOA: Seven and half hours by bus. When I was active as teaching assistant there, which was very important, I had to go every week. I would take the bus from Rio on Monday nights at 10 PM, and arrive in Campinas at 5:30 AM.

Was it exhausting? Yes. But I wasn't working, so when I returned to Rio I had my time available for to do research. I got used to it, and when I finished my doctorate I even missed them. You know that nostalgia? It happens with people who travel every week. In Paraiba, since it is the only center for composition, there are people who come from Recife, from Natal, from the interior of Paraiba, so we talk about this a lot.

TM: Here in Rio you have been active with Preludio 21, a group of composers which will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2008.

JOA: In 1998 I was beginning my master's. It was excellent, something unheard of. Of the composers who made up the group in 1998, Sergio [Roberto de Oliveira], Neder [Nassaro], and myself have been there from the start until today. It was something informal that worked. I believe that it continues to work today because of one factor: friendship. There is friendship, togetherness that links these people. If these links break, with disputes and suspicions, it is like shellfish by the sea – they close up, and the group almost doesn't exist. And then you have to get over the trauma, and get back to work. The principal thing is friendship – we are all friends, thank God.

TM: The group doesn't have a single esthetic, but seven composers and seven esthetic points of view.

JOA: Everyone is doing his own thing, but little by little you move closer. You begin to take in influences from other people in the group. There are lots of thing that I have "stolen" from Marcos Lucas, from Caio Senna. Through proximity, since we have so many concerts each year, there are influences flowing from own to the next.

TM: I suppose rather than "Les Six", you are The Seven.

JOA: But that was a group which had a mentor, Nadia Boulanger, who was behind the scenes, something we don't have. One could perhaps even elect someone for that role, for example Marisa, who was teacher for at least three of us – myself, Caio and Alexandre Schubert. Fewer than 50 percent of the group

The group is something which I like a lot. I was nervous when I left Rio to work in Paraiba that I could lose the group. Our most important concert was the first one at the Theatro Municipal, and on the very next day I left for Paraiba. When I traveled I was exhausted, but the concert at the Muncipal was something that could not be missed.

TM: Your work has an economy of means, with a small number of motives for which you develop the various possibilities. A music which is minimal, perhaps in the original sense, not like the American minimalists. Instead of a tropical profusion, a la Villa Lobos, you create a work from a tiny nucleus.

JOA: Exactly. There are compositional processes in my head, and perhaps I need to free myself from them. This piece at the 2007 Bienal [Insinuancias] is a classical example of working with sets of pitches – tritones and semitones. This set pervades the whole work, perhaps not as systematically as when I was studying for the doctorate. Here I work with sets, but more freely, with more liberty.

When the piece was commissioned for a concert of Preludio XXI at the Centro Cultural Telemar, there were problems with bringing in the percussion instruments, with the size of the stage, there were only two percussionists – a series of problems. We had a meeting, and so the percussion available was limited to glockenspiel, vibraphone, suspended cymbal, triangle, and tam-tam

This was something based on circumstances. I like to work with a larger set of percussion. The piece by Caio at the 2005 Bienal with two pianos and percussion – I thought "this is something I have to do". In fact it is something that I am going to do, not two pianos, but one, with seven large percussion instruments.

This question of organization of pitches is something that I have very much internalized. Now I am beginning to look at the question of texture. I have a piece written for the brass quintet in Paraiba, which was very well-received – I wrote an article on it for ANPOM – which is entirely based on the question of texture.

I am writing a piece now for Preludio XXI, for orchestra and percussion, which has been difficult, because I need to manage time for both teaching and composition, and texture is speaking to me more insistently. What is textural music? It means not working with motives, with predetermined rhythms – music will flow depending on texture. I am very much taken with this.

TM: What projects do you have for 2008?

JOA: I want to get back to entering competitions. Here in Brazil I have won five prizes, but nothing from abroad. There are plenty of opportunities. There was a competition in Luxembourg which seemed made-to-order for me – for an instrumental combination that I had mastered, no age limit, no entry fee…So now I am focusing my efforts in this direction, in addition to my compositions for Preludio XXI.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Alves.png image_description=José Orlando Alves product=yes product_title=Above: José Orlando Alves
Posted by Gary at 4:46 PM

Verdiland Revisited

‘My presence here — he declared on entering office — is linked to Parma’s ongoing process of internationalization [as official seat of the European Union’s Food Authority]. It’s high time that Parma, by merging its many resources, does for Verdi what Salzburg did for Mozart or Bayreuth for Wagner. The Regio will spearhead the building of a cultural district of international appeal’. Besides the regular Winter season, since 1913 a highlight in the billboard is the Festival Verdi, named for Parma’s illustrious son and usually running in late Spring. For organizational reasons, this year it was postponed by a few months, thus allowing to center its timeline around the Maestro’s birthday anniversary (October 10), and to recruit into the project such neighboring towns as Modena, Reggio Emilia and Busseto under the logo ‘Le terre di Verdi’ [Verdi’s lands]. Number of events and attendance both profited from the innovation; as to artistic quality, new entries like Riccardo Muti, Yuri Temirkanov, Denis Krief, witness enough to the festival’s productive effort.

In the same vein of Salzburg and Bayreuth, the Parma series embraced the philosophy of completism, aligning established masterpieces alongside rarely performed works. Is the young Verdi underrated? Even among the composer’s staunchest fans there is a feeling that some apology needs to be made for such early operas as Alzira, Stiffelio or Giovanna d’Arco. However, this is hardly the case for Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, the 1839 opera marking Verdi’s debut at La Scala. It lacks neither memorable tunes, nor a surprising instinct for drama, nor the depiction of strongly individualized characters. Also a towering father’s figure — a feature due to acquire so much momentum in Verdi’s later dramaturgy — is already there. Sure, the dark color of cloak-and-dagger drama is a bit conventional and less psychologically nuanced than — say — in Simon Boccanegra or Don Carlo; yet, compared to the average output of Mercadante or Donizetti in the same genre and at approximately the same time, Oberto can stand up to the benchmark — maybe a few inches above it.

Anyway, offering a run of seven nights for Oberto (nowadays mostly a fare for CD collectors) sounded all too confident, particularly considering the venue: the cosy Teatro Verdi in Busseto, a small town some 40 kms northwest of Parma, roughly midway between the roadside inn at Roncole, where Giuseppe saw the light of day, and Sant’Agata, the country estate he built out of his musical industry. In the event, all of the house’s 307 seats were regularly sold out, with standing rooms impartially used to accommodate those local socialites, globalized opera tramps and critics from far-away places who had failed to make timely reservations.

The Florentine director Pier’Alli, also in charge of sets, costumes and lighting, is reputed as the ultimate Oberto specialist worldwide. His new production, adapted to fit the small stage, stems from those already seen at Macerata in July 1999 and at Genua in October 2002, whose basic concept may be summarized as ‘moderate disbelief’. The characters’ geometric and emphatic gesticulations, not unlike a Greek tragedy staged at Epidaurum by some Balinese coreographer who earned his master from the Comédie Française, are less and less impressive as time goes by, since he tends to peruse them in any possible context. However, his sets are both simple and effective: a semicircle of rotating panels showing in turns tainted mirrors, walls, gilded hyper-baroque friezes, castle gates and more. As to the costumes, their dominant note points towards the 1830-40s, which could possibly amount to a (once more) ‘moderate’ updating from the original 13th century to the score’s time of composition. We have already seen such and worse applications of the time-machine gimmick — once in a while not without arguably good grounds. A judicious use of extras, as well as the choir’s partial displacement in a number of front boxes and in various locations within the hall so to provide stereo effects, were also to be counted as added value.

Despite the house’s crisp acoustics (highly defined, with a fast decay not giving approximation the slightest chance) the said choir and the forty-odd Regio instrumentalists squeezed into the pit delivered a flawless performance under the lively and finely-tuned tempo choices of Antonello Allemandi. He and the Bulgarian mezzo Mariana Pentcheva, impersonating Cuniza, reaped salvos of applause from an enthusiatic audience. Having not heard Pentcheva for quite some time, I was apprehensive about how she might curb her powerful and owerflowing (once Soviet-style) organ in such belcanto highlights as the Rossini-like cabaletta ‘Più che i vezzi e lo splendore’ at the beginning of Act II. Well, I gladly avow that I was wrong. Without losing anything of her usual firm intonation, polished dark color and authoritative acting, she seems to have now acquired a more mature style awareness and all the desirable fineries in utterance.

The same is unfortunately not true for Fabio Sartori as the treacherous (but in the end repentant) count Riccardo, although his beefy tenor and sustained clarion notes provided elementary excitement. He might well aspire to heavier roles, provided he refines his dynamics — and loses some weight. Soprano Irene Cerboncini’s undeniable acting sophistication doesn’t match her poor breath control, sometimes leading her astray in phrase endings. Her Leonora featured an irritating mixture of natural talent, good looks and imperfect pitch in the lower range. With imposing physical vigor and uncommon accuracy in arioso and recitative passages, Paolo Battaglia (Oberto) made up a noble loser; a defiant old gentleman-cum-bass partly in the mould of Mozart’s Commendatore. But the company’s strong point was indeed in their ensemble numbers: the finale of Act I, starting in a menacefully subdued tone and developing in continuous crescendo through multiple twist and turns, ended in a stormy stretta of wild energetic impact, arguably beyond the composer’s intention, yet much appreciated by the audience.

Carlo Vitali

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Teatro-Verdi_Busseto.png image_description=Teatro Verdi, Busseto product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio
27 October 2007, Teatro Verdi, Busseto
A Fondazione Teatro Regio (Parma) production product_by=Teatro Verdi, Busseto
Posted by Gary at 4:30 PM

Preparing G.B. Pergolesi’s tercentenary — with a fair advance

All you need is three (good) singers and a youth orchestra that, with a bit of a squeeze, can be fitted into an estate car. Plus, of course, a starry conductor, a living myth whose very presence on the podium is enough to make news. After several cancellations due to his state of health, old glory Claudio Abbado is back again from a convalescence of two months in sunny Sardinia, apparently in good shape and in a relaxed state of mind. On November 6-7, at Bologna’s Teatro Manzoni, he led an all-Pergolesi recital inaugurating the extended celebrations for the birth tercentenary of the ‘Neapolitan’ master, who actually saw the light of day on Jan 4, 1710, rather far from the Vesuvius: in Jesi by Ancona, then a part of the Papal States and a hot district for opera. In fact, motors of the venture are the Jesi-based ‘Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini’ (thus named for both composers, who were born only a few miles apart) and Bologna’s Orchestra Mozart, since 2004 Abbado’s pet creature.

Halfway between chamber and symphony ensemble, the Orchestra Mozart includes some forty instrumentalists aged 17-25, plus five experienced principals. A selection of 17 players — budding professionals from several countries who are still practising, with some residual degree of compromise as to strings and bows, on period instruments — tackled the Concerto in B flat for violin, strings and continuo, one among the handful of instrumental works whose Pergolesi authorship has been validated by recent research. Curiously, it’s written in a Venetian style closely resembling Vivaldi’s; so Giuliano Carmignola, the concert master who ranks as a specialist in the field, sounded quite at ease in his most familiar territory, despite a venial slip at the very start.

Until this point, Abbado kept a non-committal attitude, mostly mirroring Carmignola’s tempo choices with smiling nods and subtle gestures that seemed to highlight the structural framework just for the audience’s benefit. He definitely took the lead in the following Salve Regina, featuring soprano Julia Kleiter in the solo part. Though not an adept of flamboyant singing, Kleiter commands crystal-clear uttering, fine legato, sensitive dynamic, precise intonation even in treacherous chromatic passages (such as those found at ‘misericordes oculos’). Her weak point resides in the passage to the upper register, ending in explosive high notes after a transient black hole.

mingardo_abbado_harnisch_sm.png

Two terrific primadonnas then stepped in for the celebrated Stabat Mater: soprano Rachel Harnisch and alto Sara Mingardo. Widely diverse in their looks, the skinny, nervous Austrian brunette and the motherly Italian newly donning henna-colored hairdoes and professoral spectacles, share panache, deep understanding of the sung text and sophisticated technical strokes. Harnisch, notable for her sustained clarion tones throughout, ignited trills and downward appoggiaturas of penetrating dramatic strength, such as in the famed ‘pertransivit gladius’. Mingardo deployed her bronze-polished centers in all their might, stretching down without apparent effort to cavernous bassoon-like notes and then soaring backward to the highest peaks. (A non-written cadenza in ‘Fac ut portem Christi mortem’ was particularly astonishing to that respect).

Without ever stealing the show, Abbado kept the primadonnas together in strict duo textures, while launching vigorous contrapuntal sections with his typical blend of passion and clarity, all in the right places. The final chord in the ‘Amen’ fugue plunged the spellbound hall into silence for a seemingly endless while. Ovations, stamping and (unfulfilled) calls for encores ensued. Yet, after a moment of such perfection, little could be added to the experience.

Carlo Vitali

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Pergolesi_medium.png image_description=Giovanni Battista Pergolesi product=yes product_title=Bologna, Teatro Manzoni
6 November 2007
Posted by Gary at 3:35 PM

This “Swallow” Makes November Summery

With simple, repetitious but ravishing melodies, this updated story of “La Traviata” (good-hearted courtesan finds and loses true — if impecunious — love) is almost as rare as hen’s teeth.

In fact, the San Francisco Opera production opening tonight is only the second time it’s seen in the War Memorial. There was a single performance in 1934 (and Spring Opera Theater productions elsewhere in the city).

David Gockley took a chance on this cotton-candy Italianate Viennese-Hungarian operetta (the best Franz Lehar piece he never wrote) about love in Paris, reviving it after a hiatus of seven decades. The risk of filling the house seven times is ameliorated by engaging Angela Gheorghiu to sing the title role in her San Francisco Opera debut — and, equally important, assembling a very good cast.

Gheorghiu — a soprano of beautiful, soaring voice — sang heck out of the role, but the diva also fit into an excellent ensemble. In the role of Ruggero, the man who takes the “fallen woman” away from her comfortable den of cheerful depravity, Misha Didyk had by far his best outing in the War Memorial. He has it all: a lyrical lilt, a strongly projected voice, in a seemingly effortless performance.

Anna Christy is the lively Lisette, the maid; Gerald Powers is making his local debut as world-weary, happily exploitative poet, Prunier. Adler Fellows Rhoslyn Jones, Melody Moore, Katherine Tier, and Ji Young Yang make fine contributions in this large production. So strong is the cast that the minor role of sugar daddy Rambaldo is assigned to Philip Skinner, the mighty bass-baritone.

The Nicolas Joel production, coming from London and Toulouse, is quite beautiful, with Ezio Frigerio’s sets and Franca Squarciapino’s costumes. Stephen Barlow’s direction is misguided, however, forcing artificial, exaggerated movements on the principals, taking away whatever possible realism there is in the work. Gheorghiu and Christy especially overdid the frisky ACTING at the beginning, Gheorghiu settling down in the second act, and creating a dramatically more valid portrayal in the long duet that makes up most of the final act.

Angela Gheorghiu (Magda de Civry) and ChorusAngela Gheorghiu (Magda de Civry) and Chorus

Overdoing is also the hallmark of Ion Marin’s conducting, those already large, sweeping melodies made to thunder as if Walhalla went up in smoke in a misplaced Twilight of the Cafe Society. In the few passages not written fortissimo, Marin’s hard-working orchestra stepped all over the vocal lines.

And yet, the pleasantness of the score, the excellence of the principals’ performance, and the likelihood that “La Rondine” may not come around again in this century add up to an easy recommendation to attend the tale of the Swallow.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org

Click here for introduction to La Rondine by Gavin Plumley

image=http://www.operatoday.com/SFO_Rondine.png image_description=Misha Didyk (Ruggero) and Angela Gheorghiu (Magda de Civry) [Photo: Terrence McCarthy) product=yes product_title=Above: Misha Didyk (Ruggero) and Angela Gheorghiu (Magda de Civry) product_by=All photos by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera
Posted by Gary at 2:58 PM

An Operatic Voice Retuned for Cabaret

PatriciaRacette.pngBy BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 10 November 2007]

Listening to Patricia Racette sing popular songs at the Neue Galerie on Thursday and recollecting her “Madama Butterfly” this season at the Metropolitan Opera posed the interesting question of where her natural voice lies, or if “natural voice” means anything.

Posted by Gary at 1:45 PM

Who will follow this lieder pairing?

Upshaw-Dawn.png[Telegraph, 9 November 2007]

Matthew Rye reviews Dawn Upshaw and Richard Goode at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Among the innovations at the revamped Southbank Centre is a new series of artists in residence.

Posted by Gary at 12:51 PM

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens

Music composed by Hector Berlioz. Libretto by the composer based on Virgil’s Aeneid.

First Performance: 6–7 December 1890, Karlsruhe (complete)

Principal Characters:
Enée [Aeneas] Trojan hero, son of Venus and Anchises tenor
Chorèbe [Coroebus] Asian prince, Cassandra’s fiancé baritone
Panthée [Panthous] Trojan priest, friend of Aeneas bass
Narbal minister to Dido bass
Iopas Tyrian poet to Dido’s court tenor
Ascagne [Ascanius] 15-year-old son of Aeneas soprano
Cassandre [Cassandra] Trojan prophetess, Priam’s daughter mezzo-soprano
Didon [Dido] Queen of Carthage, widow of Sichée [Sychaeus] Prince of Tyre mezzo-soprano
Anna Dido’s sister contralto
Hylas a young Phrygian sailor tenor/contralto
Priam King of Troy bass
A Greek Chieftain bass
Ghost of Hector bass
Helenus a Trojan priest, Priam’s son tenor
Two Trojan Soldiers basses
Mercure [Mercury] baritone/bass
A Priest of Pluto bass
Polyxène [Polyxena] Cassandra’s sister soprano
Hécube [Hecuba] Queen of Troy soprano
Andromaque [Andromache] Hector’s widow silent
Astyanax her 8-year-old son silent

Setting: Troy and Carthage

Synopsis:

Act I

The site of the abandoned Greek camp on the plains of Troy

The Trojans are rejoicing that the Greeks have departed after 10 years of war and they prepare to drag into the city the great wooden horse which the Greeks have left behind.

Cassandre alone, daughter of King Priam, gifted with prophecy, fears the fall of Troy. She knows that her marriage to Chorèbe is doomed, and grieves that he thinks she has lost her mind since, along with the gift of prophecy, she carries the curse of never being believed. Chorèbe urges her to join the rejoicing, while she begs him to leave her and the doomed city before it is too late, but he refuses.

The royal family of Troy joins the people in thanking the gods for their deliverance. They are interrupted by Énée with strange tidings of the fate of the priest Laocon who, fearing Greeks bearing gifts, had been trying to urge the people to destroy the wooden horse when two serpents had emerged from the sea and devoured him.

Fearing the wrath of the gods who, it is concluded, must have punished Laocon for sacrilege, Priam orders the horse to be taken into Troy at once and the people prepare to make offerings to appease the gods. Cassandre watches, helpless, crying out that the city is doomed.

Act II

Tableau 1. A room in the palace of Énée

The ghost of Hector warns Énée to flee the city and take the gods of Troy to Italy, where he is destined to found a great nation. The priest Panthée runs in wounded, carrying the sacred images, with the news that the Greeks have burst out of the horse and are destroying the city. King Priam is dead. They prepare to fight, joined by Ascagne, the young son of Énée, and Chorèbe.

Tableau 2. A room in Priam's palace

Cassandre tells the praying Trojan women that Énée will escape and found a new Troy in Italy. Chorèbe is dead and she prepares to kill herself and exhorts the women to join her. As the Greeks burst in Cassandre and the women kill themselves.

Act III

A hall in the palace of Didon in Carthage

Surrounded by her people Didon celebrates the seventh anniversary of the founding of Carthage — after her husband had been killed she and her people had been forced to flee from their home in Tyre. Her sister Anna tries to encourage her to think of loving again; but she calls down a curse on herself if she is ever false to the memory of her husband, symbolised for her by his ring which she wears.

The poet Iopas announces the arrival of storm-tossed travellers seeking refuge, which she grants in memory of her own trials. nÈe is disguised as a sailor and it is Ascagne who asks for asylum, offering the riches of Troy in return. Panthée tells Didon their leader is Énée, whose destiny it is to find a glorious death in Italy, and she welcomes the Trojans.

Didon's minister Narbal brings news that Iarbas, fierce king of the Numidians, whose suit had been refused by Dido, is attacking Carthage, which is not strong enough to withstand him. Énée throws off his disguise and offers assistance. He leaves Ascagne in Didon's protection as he prepares to lead the Carthaginians into battle.

Act IV

Tableau 1. An African forest

The pantomime of the royal hunt and storm, with the word Italy punctuating the tumult.

Tableau 2. Didon's gardens by the sea

Narbal is worried that now that the Numidians have been defeated, Didon no longer attends to affairs of state, but spends the time hunting and feasting. When Anna explains that Didon loves Énée, he is concerned, knowing that fate calls Énée to Italy. But Anna sees no problem, feeling that Énée is equally bound to Carthage. She is delighted by her sister's happiness.

Didon, Énée and other Trojans appear and are entertained by songs and ballets, but Didon dismisses them and asks Iopas for something simpler. He sings a hymn to the goddess Ceres, but even that Didon finds not to her taste.

She asks Énée to tell her of the fate of Andromache, widow of Hector and is horrified to learn that Andromache has married her captor Pyrrhus, who had killed Priam and whose father Achilles had killed her husband Hector; but Didon also feels in some way absolved for her own love for Énée.

Unheeded by her, Ascagne playfully removes her former husband's ring from her finger. All leave except Didon and Énée, who confess and consummate their love. As they leave the moonlit garden the god Mercury appears, strikes the shield of Énée and shouts "Italy!"

Act V

Tableau 1. The sea shore

Hylas, a young Trojan sailor, sings of his lost homeland as he falls asleep.

Énée et DidonÉnée et Didon by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1815) [Musée du Louvre]

Panthée and other Trojan leaders prepare to leave: the ghosts of Hector and other dead Trojans have been seen along with other portents warning them they must be on their way. They expect that Énée will be strong minded and leave Didon. Two Trojan sentries have no desire to leave, having found girls and comfort in Carthage. Énée has told Didon he must go. Though grieved by her suffering, he remains firm in his resolve and prepares to bid her a last farewell, his resolve being strengthened by the appearance of the Trojan ghosts urging him on to Italy. When he tries to answer Didon's reproaches with explanations about his duty, she curses him and his gods.

Tableau 2. A room in Didon's palace

Didon begs Anna to plead with Énée. Anna feels guilt at having encouraged Didon to love Énée, but assures her that he loves her. They learn that the Trojans have already sailed.

The distraught Didon announces her intention of sacrificing Énée's gifts as an offering to the gods of the dead, intending to kill herself at the same time.

Tableau 3. A garden by the sea

The pyre has been built and the offerings placed on it. When the fire is lit, Didon mounts the pyre and stabs herself.

A vision of the glory of Rome appears, invisible to the bystanders, and Didon dies, prophesying that Hannibal will avenge the wrongs of Carthage on the Romans. The Carthaginians curse the race of Énée.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for information on the New Berlioz Edition.

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image=http://www.operatoday.com/Trojan-horse.png image_description=Replica Trojan Horse at the site of Troy audio=yes first_audio_name=Hector Berlioz: Les Troyens first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Troyens1.m3u product=yes product_title=Hector Berlioz: Les Troyens product_by=Enée: Jon Villars
Cassandre: Deborah Polaski
Didon: Deborah Polaski
Chorèbe: Franck Ferrari
Anna: Elena Zaremba
Narbal: Kwangchul Youn
Panthée: Nicolas Testé
Ascagne: Gaële Le Roi
Iopas: Eric Cutler
Priam: Nikolaj Didenko
Hécube: Anne Salvan
Hylas: Bernard Richter
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris
Chorusmaster: Peter Burian
Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling
Live Performance, 4 November 2006, Opéra Bastille, Paris
Posted by Gary at 11:36 AM

'Vanessa' at the New York City Opera

Samuel_Barber.pngBY MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG [Newsday, 9 November 2007]

Opera teems with women who wait: Puccini's Madame Butterfly, for example, who waits in vain for the caddish Lieutenant Pinkerton to return to her. One of the earliest operas, Monteverdi's "Return of Ulysses," depicts the faithful Penelope at the end of a 20-year wait for her man. Wily and skeptical, she demands hard proof of her husband's identity before welcoming him back to their home and bed.

Posted by Gary at 7:07 AM

November 2, 2007

Seraglio, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Le_bain_turc_detail_small.pngBy Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 1 November 2007]

The opera most conspicuous by its absence from the Mozart 250th anniversary was Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Harem). It’s not as if Mozart’s Singspiel suffers from over-exposure or lacks tunes – far from it. More likely there are too many sensitivities surrounding its subject-matter – the imprisoning of Christians by Muslims who threaten them with rape and death.

Posted by Gary at 3:04 PM

Bounty of Countertenors in 1631 Opera

Landi.pngBy STEVE SMITH [New York Times, 31 October 2007]

New York performances by William Christie and his brilliant early-music ensemble, Les Arts Florissants, have long been dependable sources not only of historical elucidation but also of vibrant entertainment. Such was the case when the group presented “Il Sant’Alessio,” an opera by the 17th-century Roman composer Stefano Landi, at the Rose Theater of Lincoln Center on Monday night.

Posted by Gary at 11:23 AM